Breaking Math


Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil
Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, September 6, 2016

Educators score, weigh, and measure achievement using data to quantify and evaluate every aspect of teaching and learning. In Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil, a self-proclaimed lover of mathematics, argues that our over-reliance on data maintains systemic inequity instead of providing a mechanism for change. O’Neil offers examples of how “Weapons of Math Destruction” (WMD) such as the value-added model for teacher evaluation are flawed and lead to teaching to tests rather than innovative pedagogy. She discusses the frantic and anxiety-inducing college admissions process wherein schools use algorithms to meet external ranking qualifications and college coaches use models to determine an applicant’s chances of admission. She cites examples of WMD that hurt students, including zip codes, and concludes that the system “tilts against needy students, locking out the great majority of them – and pushing them down a path toward poverty.” WMDs impact our criminal justice system, job applications, voting, and the future of our democracy. O’Neil challenges us to redefine success and move away from a cultural model of prizing profits and efficiency over fairness and true accountability. O’Neil reminds us that humans, not data, must be decision-makers and that “mathematical tools should be our tools, not our masters.”

Submitted By: Louisa Polos, Ed.M. Candidate, Klingenstein Center, New York, NY

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