Get your oil changed at the local dealership and you will likely get a phone survey asking if you
were satisfied with the service. Check out at that big discount store and they give you an extra long cash register receipt with the phone number and internet address for—you guessed it—a customer satisfaction survey! Everywhere you buy, eat, or get any service, they are pushing surveys at you. The internet age has given way to the “age of surveys.”
So are you a good parent? To be certain, better give your kids a survey. Have them answer a few questions:
“My weekly allowance is: too much; just right; not enough”
“School requires: too much homework; right amount of homework; not enough homework”
“I should go to bed: earlier; same time; later”
Sure you may “think” you know your children from everyday life. But without hard data, how can you really know? At least that is the reasoning behind the super-surveyors. They accuse anyone who bases decisions on interpersonal interactions rather than “hard” numbers as living on wishful thinking.
And with “hard” numbers, you can apply mathematical analysis and claim your conclusions are “scientific.” Of course, those of us who actually work with statistics and genuine data know that such survey data are usually pseudoscience that goes way beyond any mathematical significance.
For instance, just as any teenager is highly unlikely to mark that their allowance is adequate or too much, the responders to many surveys are unlikely to say they want less service. Some respondents will be polite when they are actually unhappy. And some responses may reflect their attitude after a family argument rather than a calm thoughtful response to the customer survey.
Why discuss surveys in an education column? Surveys and data gathering are the latest education school cure-alls. In education, you can’t have enough data. It is called “data-based decision making,” heralded as the only way to decide what programs and teachers are good and bad. Any principal or supervisor who insists on making decisions on direct personal observation rather than data-on-paper is just being old-fashioned.
Intuition bad. Judgement bad. Data good.
There are many problems with this pseudoscience. As you can see from many surveys, they are constructed to get the answers they ask for. What child is going to say the weekly allowance is too much, that they are getting too little homework assigned, and that they should go to bed earlier. Even when the data is a measurement rather than an opinion, like the tons of data being gathered in school records, the dozens of sterile scores parsed among various math skills is outside of the context of really knowing the student in day-to-day classroom interaction.
Simply, a supervisor who pays attention to the check-out clerks’ interactions at that big discount store should be able to discern a lot more about justified customer satisfaction than an after-the-fact survey that may reflect their off-site mood and fallible memory.
But in this economic downturn, we must also realize that these surveys are not free. The cost of customer surveys rolls into higher costs for the products. The excess surveys and data production in school cuts into learning time and raises educational costs for staffing and expensive hardware and software dedicated to generating a mountain of questionable data. As I often mention, “the more time you take to weigh them, the less time you have to feed them.”
But what teachers do in the classroom is more art than science. What teachers do is similar to Picasso. But surveys and data dumb teaching down to paint-by-number.
So, one last survey: “This column is: really good; great; best I have ever read!”