Think TankNot everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. — Albert Einstein

So much of what really matters in education just can’t be measured. — Independent school educators everywhere

Count me in. The quotes above are words I’ve uttered not dozens or scores but hundreds of times during my 15 years of independent school administration—and I very much believe I am in good company. Indeed, how can I argue with Albert Einstein?

But perhaps I am wrong. I’ve been enjoying reading this month a book which shakes my conviction that there is much of value that cannot be measured—and which gives very good guidance in how we can improve the way we capture in data just about anything we desire to know more about. The book is entitled How to Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard—and although in my experience it is not a much discussed book in educational circles, I think it should be.

Grant Wiggins, author of the essential education book, Understanding by Design, is a fan of this book, directed me to Hubbard’s work in a blog post entitled “Oh You Can’t Measure That.”

Recently, I read a great book that might be of interest to anyone who wants to get beyond a knee-jerk reaction about what can and can’t be measured. The book makes the point from the git-go, in its title: How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, by Douglas Hubbard. Don’t let the ‘in Business” part throw you off. Almost everything in the book speaks to educational outcomes.

Hubbard writes with an axe to grind, and what becomes clear in the reading is that education is far from the only field or profession where managers express, frequently, their view that something, or most things, can’t be measured. This is Hubbard’s bête noir, one he is determined to confront with this book.

Often an important decision requires better knowledge of the alleged intangible, but when an executive believes something to be immeasurable, attempts to measure it will not even be considered.

As a result, decisions are less informed than they could be. The chance of error increases. Resources are misallocated, good ideas are rejected, and bad ideas are accepted.

Hubbard embeds as foundations to his argument three genuinely inspiring and impressive stories of measurement—times when individuals generated creative, ingenious methods for measuring something thought to be immeasurable—most famously and wondrously, Eratosthenes’ uncannily accurate measurement of the circumference of the earth two hundred years before the Common Era, using nothing more than shadows of the sun.

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