The Stories Data Tell

Day 160

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 18: The Stories Data Tell

Data tells a story. The dangers of data of course, is that it can tell whatever story you want it to.

Data can be manipulated. This was true in the case against Ivor Memorial and its value among the Board’s network of schools.

For one, it’s capacity as a vocational school was 550 pupil places. At 300 students, 55% utilization doesn’t look good to the Ministry or a local board. That alone, has school closures graffitied all over it.

With much smaller class sizes however, the school was technically at capacity. That didn’t matter to the Ministry however. It’s capacity model was one size fits like inclusion itself. The board already had one remaining facility in its network of schools for low functioning students with such a small population, that the ministry wouldn’t fund a principal for the school.

Second on the lineup of strikes against IMH, was low graduation rates. There were many factors in this category swaying their numbers to the side of closure.

First, many students found their way to IMH from other high schools in the district. This meant that graduation credit was tied to the school in which the student started their secondary education – even if that meant other Boards.

The third factor in these faulty numbers was that many IMH students were guaranteed a place in the system until they were 21, meaning they would fall out of range of graduation rates based on a four year cohort.

The fourth item as it related to grad rates, was hidden from any reports the ministry collected. It was about a sense of belonging. Staying in school and being around positive influences. At least gaining life skills, making new friendships, and feeling important enough to be treated with patience, kindness, and love. How did graduation rates tell the story of the number of students that simply stuck it out for four to eight years even after battling day in and day out the first 10 years of their elementary education?

As well, students with IEP’s writing standardized tests affects any schools scores, never mind a school that is completely geared to these students. You didn’t want to get Jack started on this waste of public funds, especially how it wrongfully and blindly labeled a school like Ivor Memorial. The Fraser Institute used these test score results to ghettoize schools and entire communities. Data doesn’t highlight the many wonderful school and community programs behind the scenes.

Lastly, the board of education didn’t hold IMH in any regard. It should have been a beacon. A flagship for special education training and highlighting what personal inclusion looks like. People had to find the school on their own most often when it should have been a facility the board was proud of for how it changed the lives of its students and their families. Heck, for how it changed the lives of its staff and the many volunteers too. The entire city should have known about this school and held it in the same high regards. Jack himself only learned about Ivor Memorial and what it had come to represent, when the decision to close it had already been made.

The success of this school went so far beyond numbers. When you value a car, you are looking at a guestimated number based on age and mileage but if that car was well maintained, technically it’s worth more. Were those highway miles? Was it oil sprayed? Was it constantly towing a large trailer or moving heavy loads? At least with a car you are comparing the same model vehicle when you are generalizing it’s worth. With IMH, they were comparing a minivan to a Cadillac. Both have their value but a family of four and a young doctor are going to have different evaluations of these vehicles and at different times in their lives.

Jack was great at math. It was always a strong point of his which continued into his career managing digital information and building databases. He knew the power of data and the many ways you could manipulate it. He himself had written many data stories over the years, so seeing information negatively shaped to justify closing a school that didn’t fit into the ambiguous ministry definition of inclusion angered, changed, and inspired jack.

The truth was, there was no data on IMH. This is both because the local board never planned for the school to become what it’s last principal and staff formed it into, and because Board staff didn’t understand it, see any value in it, or wanted it to continue.

There is of course that data that lay between the 1’s and 0’s. Hidden to only those deeply impacted by that with which we try to extract numbers from. Not unlike a great novel leaving much to the imagination, the story of the Ivor Memorial students was really only truly known to those that lived it, and those who took enough time to genuinely listen to what wasn’t easily visible, audible or tangible to those so tangled in political and  corporate edubabble.

The story that data will tell of these IMH students is one that will take a lifetime to formulate. Jack already knew how it would end. So many did. Four years out and the students and staff still talked so fondly of their experience at Ivor Memorial. If his own experiences and the love he still fostered for his own high school was any indicator, Jack knew the result of IMH’s data story would be the same. One of great fondness and admiration for all of those who were touched by that school from the moment it had a purpose instead of a place where misfit staff and students were cast. That’s the data that truly matters where education is concerned.

Math is extremely important. Especially how it empowers us with the tools to tell the other side of the story that the data you’ve been given so carefully omits.

Although it was criminal how IMH met its demise, it was for a good reason. That reason is why Jack (why everyone) was here today.

IMH could have never truly been what it needed and deserved to be the way the system was modeled then.

The time and climate was now ripe for Ivor Memorial’s rebirth. The reality post-IMH’s story was telling was increasing suspensions and expulsions, more students transitioning to alternative learning plans outside of mainstream schools, and new generations of students slipping through educations cracks without a choice like IMH to get them excited about education again.

The ministry and the local board had their shot to get it right. Jack and company were now taking education into their own hands.

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