One of the cheapest and least effective interventions in struggling public schools is to require teachers to hang very specific items on their walls. From a teaching standpoint, these interventions do nothing for students, especially in the early elementary grades when students can neither read nor process most of the mandatory items hanging on walls. Things like data walls, detailed objectives, standards based bulletin boards, and other measures of “conformity” do not improve practice. I can’t think of any instance where they have actually improved practice or student outcomes.

Can you?

Teachers must inevitably rob Peter to pay Paul; that is, time must be taken away from one thing to accommodate another. A teacher will be less likely to find trouble if they rob from their practice than they will if they ignore a mandated display. You can be sure that an administrator or other official will be around to make those “environment checks” before they’ll have the time to spend more than five minutes in your room to check on your teaching.

Mandatory wall hangings are not for students, they’re for the hit and run clipboard crowd. You know the types. They sometimes come in groups, stare at the walls for a few moments in stone silence, maybe check off a couple of boxes, then move on. You’ll hear about what you’re missing perhaps a week or up to a month later.

Ask someone from the clipboard crowd about the benefits of having a data wall. For instance, I’ll ask how a data wall, or even posting detailed objectives, benefits my Kindergarten students. I’ll actually hear some nonsense about a parent who might eventually wander the halls and read it to their child (parents’ movements in our building are highly restricted) or that a student might recognize a sight word here and there, and that there is a valuable learning opportunity (Can you catch those valuable sight words in “Students will be able to compare numbers in standard form?” I’m sure you can because you’re an adult and not five years old).

Data walls and similar displays make administrators and other officials feel like very important and very scientific work is happening. It takes very little or almost no investment to make these requests, and all a principal or other authority figure has to do is demand that they go up on the wall, and they’ll feel like they’re being good leaders.

The nadir of administrative leadership today is mandating superficial measures like data walls without actually questioning their effectiveness, and wasting their teachers’ time with meaningless tasks. Many teachers will slap anything on the wall to forestall any harassment, with nary a second thought, and they’ll be rewarded for their compliance.