I listened to LAUSD’s head honcho call himself a “numbers guy” recently: “…mathematics, chemistry, physics – I get that; I’m a numbers guy”. With breath-taking self-righteousness for one with such shady academic credentials, he asserts the common, insidious mistake of believing that just because some concept is quantified it holds inherent meaning.

Sure, numbers can be manipulated. And mathematical models can be built to parse its constituent components. That’s what statisticians do – they try to identify all the bits that together compose reality.

But those constituent components – which are just numbers – have to themselves have some tie to reality. Without knowing what a number represents – what it measures, how and why – without that backward tie to reality, any mathematical modeling has no practical interpretation, no meaning.

So numbers guys can do all the numbers-manipulation they want, all the mathematical modeling and calculating that so intimidates far too many. But in the end the interpretation of numbers that do not measure a parameter accurately, amounts to just so much magical thinking.

And therein lies the difference between a numbers guy, who admires numbers for their purity alone, and a statistician, who searches for a valid mathematical argument to capture reality. And, by the way, it is the difference between these two that provides cover for the public’s disdain for statistics. (Ethical) Statisticians do not lie with numbers, people with statistical software do.

Of course this all matters, a lot. When the entire enterprise of a school, including its “permission” to expand, its teachers’ livelihood, its students’ educational future, its community’s integrity — when all this is dependent on some one number like, say, API or a “proficiency” score improvement over a short period of time, that number had better represent some clear, uncontroversial metric of excellence.

But it doesn’t. It is folly to attribute a false degree of objectivity to an undertaking as inherently subjective and transcendental as ‘Education’. Else, one day you awaken to discover the educational landscape revolutionized, and to no good end.