Numbers Don’t Lie, Unless Someone Wants Them To (By Barth Keck)

“Never in my career as a high school English teacher — as an instructor of reading and writing, as a purveyor of literature — have I been asked to collect more “student data” and create more “spreadsheets” than I have in the past several years.”  – Barth Keck

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

You can find Barth Keck’s commentary pieces at

His latest piece is entitled “Numbers Don’t Lie, Unless Someone Wants Them To.”

Keck writes;

“But science is where public education is hanging its hat right now, from the “metrics” applied to teacher evaluations to the data collected from standardized tests. And why not? Science turns a frustratingly nebulous concept — educational progress — into a black-and-white, numbers-don’t-lie picture.

If only it were so easy.

Call me a cynic, but numbers can lie. Or, at least, they can be manipulated by people who want to prove a point.

Take the recent results of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compares 15-year-olds in 65 global locations by their ability in math, science, and reading skills.

“Three years ago, I came here with a special report benchmarking the U.S. against some of the best performing and rapidly improving education systems. Most of them have pulled further ahead,” said Andreas Schleicher of the Department of Education. “The math results of top-performer Shanghai are now two-and-a-half school years ahead even of those in Massachusetts — itself a leader within the U.S.”

So there you have it — a scientifically-calibrated test proves that American students continue to fall behind schoolchildren from the rest of the world. A closer look, however, reveals a murkier picture.

“Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the school system in Shanghai is not equitable and the students tested are children of the elite because they are the ones allowed to attend municipal schools [due to] restrictions such as those that keep many migrant children out. ‘The Shanghai scores frankly to me are difficult to interpret,’ Loveless said. ‘They are almost meaningless’.”

While the corporate education reformers would dismiss Barth Keck since he is “only a school teacher,” those who care about our public schools and the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers who make up our education community would do well to read his pieces.

Barth Keck’s previous commentary piece on education policy can be read at CTNewsjunkie:

  • speaking up

    Numbers are fascinating; Americans’ fealty to them even more so. My child was a bright, enthusiastic kindergartener who read science books for fun from the time that my child was 3 or 4. My child couldn’t wait to start “real” school; the first day of kindergarten (2010) couldn’t come quickly enough in our home. We live in a suburb, I’d moved to this particular town because of the very good reputation of its school system.

    Standardized testing has wreaked havoc in our home.
    My child was reading chapter books (approx 4th grade level) to me at home, and my child tested at “below kindergarten” level in school. The standardized test called for each child to read a paragraph aloud; each word was an opportunity for another “ding” if the child mis-read or skipped any of the words. My child, in kindergarten, did not read one. word. at. a. time. My child read phrases and sentences and my child retained almost all of what my child read. My child said “the” instead of “this” and my child skipped a “she” or a “then” and when I asked my child’s teacher (a very good teacher, by all accounts) to give my child more challenging work to alleviate some of the behaviors that my child was displaying in her classroom I was told that most of my child’s classmates were “more advanced” than my child and it was suggested (in only the most appropriate ways) that I might want to talk with my child’s pediatrician or perhaps a counselor or professional of some sort.
    I had spent the last 5 years teaching my child to think and to always question any answer once my child came up with one. I was and am not interested in the numbers assigned to my child after taking a standardized test. I am not interested in encouraging my child to learn how to select the same answer that most others will select as “the right one” to any question. I sought another schooling option for my child.
    I heard about Dr. Steve Perry’s school and his partnership with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth (CTY). I was told by Dr. Steve Perry that my child would attend Cap Prep (no lottery issues) and that my child’s giftedness would be well-served by a rigorous, individualized curriculum.
    I pulled my child out of the neighborhood school (where all of my child’s friends attend) in order to give my child what Dr. Steve Perry promised.
    My child was brutally bullied at Capital Prep and I was unable to make anyone listen to me. After only 4 months I removed my child from the school and we still are dealing with the issues that this has caused my child. My child did complete a number of Johns Hopkins online courses in the 4 months that my child was enrolled at Cap Prep. Other than those self-taught, graded by JHU, courses, my child was not given any kind of special or extra learning opportunities. My child was given the message by Dr. Steve Perry that my child was different and odd and that the bullying that my child endured was “kids will be kids” behavior. My child learned that the man in charge of the big, beautiful new school building that my child now spent all of his days in was not interested in listening to a child and, in fact, my child learned that how you look and obey is much more valuable to the man who was in charge than telling the truth and asking questions. My child was taught that cruelty and even physical assaults are to be expected – this is just a part of life – and my child learned that my child “played a part” in all that happened (my child asked for it).

    I felt guilty and ashamed for having pulled my child out of our neighborhood school and subjecting my child to what occurred at Cap Prep… and then I read the posts here on Wait What. I still feel badly for having made such an uninformed decision; I trusted the school official who told me everything that every parent wants to hear. I don’t feel ashamed any more; today I feel anger and a sense of responsibility. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Someone has to stand up (thank you Jon Pelto) and anyone who has something to say needs to speak up so that this can stop happening to CTs children.

    • Luv2Teach

      Jon, this parent’s post could stand alone as a future “Wait, What?” column. It reveals much about the real Steve Perry, the bullying at Capital Prep, and that Perry “creams” to build a school population that makes him look good. I believe the evidence that Perry circumvents the lottery to self-select students who he projects will score high on tests reveals that Perry is using illegal practices to select kids for the school rather than adhere to the lottery process. He heard about this child reading well above grade level, with a parent who has high aspirations and commitment to the child, and told the parent the lottery wouldn’t be an issue, the child would get into Perry’s school. Could you check on that?

      • $$CAPITAL$$ prep

        I agree. I would hope that “speaking up” has emails or other documentation to support her claims. I really hope so… Perry needs to go bye-bye! Without the burden of proof he and his followers will only claim that this is just another union attempt to discriminate by zip code.

        Curious, with his claim to have hundreds of students on a waiting list, how was speaking up’s child permitted to bypass the wait list? Hmmm any chance that this was opportunity to get some “snow”?

    • Ebony in Hartford

      “my child learned that how you look and obey is much more valuable to the man who was in charge than telling the truth and asking questions”

      “My child was taught that cruelty and even physical assaults are to be expected – this is just a part of life – and my child learned that my child “played a part” in all that happened (my child asked for it).”

      I learned all that, too, during my tenure at Capital Prep and I am a married taxpayer and homeowner with a master’s degree! You can tell by the blistering comments I have received from ‘realityed’, an anonymous former colleague, that Perry’s school is a place where bullies (adults and kids) are given free reign. Steve Perry views ‘intellectualism’ as ‘being soft’; truly an odd trait for a school principal! He views kindness as weakness, and this applies to adults as well as children.

      I worked with a wonderful teacher, a wonderful human, whose lower school bulletin boards were torn down while she was at lunch. When Perry decides you are of no use to him (which may mean you question him in anyway, and don’t appear 100% ‘on board’ with any aspect of his program. That is why his anonymous employees never EVER accept any criticism of him AT ALL. This means that NO ONE in Perry’s inner circle tells him when he is wrong. NO ONE. And you know the adage about absolute power.

      I understand the shame, I do. The most generous thing you can do for the kids left behind is to keep speaking out. Don’t let Perry win. You might consider looking into therapy for your child. I hope I am not overstepping my boundaries here, but bullying can really lead to self-loathing. Your child needs to know that what happened at that place was not his or her fault.

      • speaking up

        I am here… and will continue to speak up in order to let my child know that what happened to my child at Cap Prep was not shameful – to my child or to my family. I will continue to speak up in the hopes that others with similar experiences and information will join me. I was unable to get any response when I spoke up 2 years ago. I am hoping that today, together, we will be heard. Regardless of outcomes, my child will know that my child’s mom didn’t quietly accept unacceptable treatment of her child. My child will grow up knowing that, even after removing my child from this situation (because we had the option… in large part because of our zip code) my child’s mother was not willing to remain quiet and move on. My child will see that my child’s mother tells the truth and asks questions, and my child will grow up knowing that my child’s mother spoke up for my child and for everyone’s child. The actions taken by other children at Cap Prep were damaging to my child. Much, much more damaging was Dr. Steve Perry’s treatment of the situation. I will be here… continuing to speak up in order to let my child know that I share the qualities/traits that my child was bullied for, and that I’ve always believed in the right steps that my child took when my child was confronted with a terrible situation.

        • Tom Burns


      • Tom Burns

        Thank you–Tom

    • Tom Burns

      Thank you

  • Jim Spellman

    I join the discussion only to encourage Jon to take that which “speaking up ” has shared and make it what the posting is – the ultimate indictment of the abusers. No one of heart and intellect can not read what is written – cry – and rally to action.

  • jrp1900

    Powerful arguments by Barth Kleck. It’s all too true that numbers can be made to say almost anything. As Mr. Kleck observes, numbers (operating as “metrics”) are supposed to represent “truth” in educational “outcomes.” And truth here follows the canons of “science.” Contrary to what is taught in many education programs, education is not now, and has never been, a “science” after the fashion of physics or chemistry. No social science is really a “science” in that sense, and education even less so, for the simple reason that its “object of study” is developing children of all ages and from all backgrounds, and there is no objective or hypothetical context in which all the variables affecting children can be controlled for to arrive at “truth,” in the natural science sense.

    It’s an (unjustified) academic prejudice that physics and mathematics are “hard” subjects, fit only for the greatest of minds, but the humanistic pursuits (including education) are so imprecise and “nebulous” that just about anyone with a tad of sensibility might do alright in their terrains. It seems to me that a developing child–a human mind and body in the making–is as complex an issue as exists in the universe. In fact, in some respects, every child is a cipher: and the art of teaching is finding out just what makes THIS child tick. Just consider: every culture that has ever been has given plenty of thought to the raising of children, in ceremony, ritual and education–and it is STILL the case, after centuries of trying, that we haven’t arrived at the best and most sensitive model. Educational theory is at its best precisely when it takes account of just how complex people are. And educational theory is at its very worst when it pretends to be a “science”; when it acts as though people were “objects” in an experiment, as though people were like chemical agents or physical forces that can always be reduced (behaviorally) to numbers.

    I remember on one occasion Steven Adamowski claimed that “researchers” had discovered that a child’s development was 60% influenced by the school and 40% influenced by the home. I said to him that could only be true if people were simple entities susceptible to explanation by algebra; but as far as I knew (and common sense seemed a reliable guide here) people were not at all straightforward and there was no reliable way to divide up the complex totality of a child’s world by the application of mathematical principles. In brief, the “researchers” who make such claims are not scientists, they are kabbalists or numerologists, committed to the magical significance of numbers. In short, they are charlatans and frauds.

    Bravo to Barth Kleck for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes!

  • jrp1900

    Speaking Up: I’m sorry your son had to endure brutal bullying in Steve Perry’s kingdom, otherwise known as Capital Prep. Your story reveals something fundamental about the great deceiver, “Dr.” Perry: he is only interested in children to the degree that they can function as positive metrics in his overall school profile. For Perry, your son was a high test score and not much else. HIs dismissal of the cruel treatment your son received as simply a matter of “kids being kids” is an utter disgrace. He failed to protect your son and therefore he is unfit to be the guardian of a community of children. A principal who will not deal with bullying is no principal; he or she is really an enabler, a silent and covert accomplice of the bullies.

    You did the right thing in removing your son from a dangerous situation and I hope he is thriving in the school he currently attends.
    A pox on Steve Perry for his cynical exploitation of test score numbers and his cavalier disregard for real, living children.

    • Tom Burns

      Get Steve Perry away from children–NOW–make him get a real job where he has a boss and is accountable–won’t happen and he will be praying for those unemployment benefits –cause he is caustic and negative–he had his moment in the sun–in a fake way–and now either prison or oblivion is his future–and to think he actually thought he could get away with his charade–I hope his wife doesn’t have to pay in a criminal way as I am sure he talked her in to this hoax–she needs to come clean now in order to exonerate herself–goodbye Steve–please stay away from our children–I am 55 years old and have been disturbed by the actions of many adults–but you are the most disturbing individual I have ever known–Tom

  • Max Brunswick

    As Samuel Butler said “Figure never lie but liars often figure.”