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Love Cannot Be Measured; Does It Count?

To ease my mind and get a bit of exercise, I like to take long walks everyday.

Recently, I traveled to visit my mom. On day two of the trip, I went to take my daily promenade and a strange thought hit me--why bother? Let me be clear, the weather was sublime with none of the stifling humidity I am used to during North Carolina summers. The sky was clear and my mom lives in a beautiful neighborhood where an occasional deer, hawk and even fox might be sighted. Much nicer than my more urban neighborhood.

So what was my hesitation? Well, I forgot to bring my watch charger and since I have an Apple watch with its pathetic one day charge, my watch was dead. As a result, if I went on a walk no steps, mileage, or calories burnt would be recorded. They would be lost forever to my monthly totals. Why bother to walk if it cannot be counted?

Albert Einstein once purportedly commented, “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. ( credits the expression to William Bruce Cameron.) I did go on my walk and I enjoyed it immensely even if imy monthly totals reported to Apple were unchanged.

It seems to me that too many of us have forgotten the wisdom of the Einstein/Cameron quotation.

We no longer just have goals, we have SMART goals with the M for measurable. Along the same lines, when I was leading schools, my board was constantly demanding measurable metrics for all the school's departments.

Particularly in schools, the obsession with data and measurability strikes me as misplaced for at least two reasons.

The first is that people can manipulate data to make themselves look good. For boards who are focused on net tuition revenue, an admissions office may enroll fewer students focusing on full pay families. While NTR will rise, the school and the families not enrolled suffer (as may the school’s bottom line). Schools that insist on keeping expenses down may hire less experienced and less accomplished teachers resulting in a lesser student experience. Focusing on a few measurable data points often leads to unintended consequences.

More importantly, no metric yet devised captures the most important element of schools--the totality of the experience and how it resonates with students and their parents. The quality of a school does not lend itself to easily captured metrics.

An education professor (I forget whom) tried to devise one such metric. He commented you know your child got a good education if he is not living in his parent’s basement at 30. Whether that is a good metric or not, most leaders and their boards won’t wait the requisite decade to measure independent living among alums.

When board members would ask me why I was so resistant to capturing the educational experience through data points, I would ask them this, “How much do you love your partner?” There would be an awkward pause, and then the response, “Very much.” I would then ask them to provide metrics to prove their assertion. No-one supplied me with good ones because none (or maybe an infinite number) exist. The quality of love cannot be captured with a metric or two--much like the core business of education.

Don’t spend too much time trying to measure your school’s educational experience with specific metrics; instead work on improving that experience.


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