Educating Kids in a Data-Driven World

Editor’s Note: As summer winds down, Research Access will be getting you ready to go “back to school” with two weeks of posts on the topic of education. Between August 20 and 31 we will be doing a series of posts that will have you ready to put on those new clothes, pack your lunch box and shine up that apple for the teacher.

In our increasingly data-driven world, it is will be more important than ever for the next generation to get a proper statistical education.

I’m not just talking about nurturing the next wave of market research geeks, or, as we are more likely to be called in the future, “data scientists.”  That is undoubtedly very important. But it’s even more crucial that we educate the next generation to be critical consumers of data – across every domain and every application in modern life.

Educators have responded to the new paradigm, at least to some degree.  The data education my own children are getting in our local Maine public school system is more sophisticated than that which I received some 30 years ago.

Through the EveryDay Math curriculum utilized in our school district (developed at the University of Chicago, sometimes referred to as Chicago Math), children begin reading, taking and interpreting surveys as early as kindergarten.

For example, here is a worksheet my daughter completed in 3rd grade last year:

A survey worksheet my daughter completed last year in 3rd grade.

And my oldest child, a tenth grader, will take AP Statistics this Fall.  In this class he’ll learn about topics such as the normal distribution, analyzing data, surveys samples, sampling distributions, inference and more.  This simply was not an option for me, or, I suspect, anyone in my class cohort regardless of where they lived. I never got a whiff of statistics instruction until I was an undergraduate Psychology major.

So what are the most important elements that need to be taught?

In my interview with Census Director Robert Groves earlier this year, I asked him what is important for an educated individual to know about social science and surveys.

“I think that basic lessons of statistics needs to be more fully dispersed in the country,” Groves said. “So it is important, as a resident of any country, to be able to query a number that’s purported to be true, to be critical of it.”

“And the basic lessons of how measurements are done on humans, and what ‘sampling error’ means, and how question wording and measurement tools affect the outcome – the more our society knows that, the more they can absorb and critique different alternative estimates. This is a good and important thing to try to achieve.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Groves. By the time they graduate from high school, kids should be very facile with data. They should be able to critically evaluate its source and method of creation, be able to extract and manipulate, and be able to make intelligent conclusions based on proper evaluation and manipulation of it.

The American Statistical Association and the Population Association of America are sponsoring a program called “Census at School” that “engages students in grades 4-12 in statistical problemsolving using their own data.”

Census at School uses techniques pioneered in the UK and which now have spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Japan and the United States. The ASA is looking for volunteers to help expand the program.

As researchers, we should be actively supporting statistics education. Not just for the future of our industry, but for the future of our world.

About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. So true. This will be the basis for critical thinking and critical evaluation that the next generation will need to do with the out-of control proliferation of information that will never slow down. I’ll be looking at what our children’s Department of Defense school will be doing along those lines.

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