Archives for category: Data

As a nation, we worry far too much about PISA scores, which rank and rate students according to standardized tests. Many nations have higher average scores than we do, yet we are the most powerful nation on earth–economically, technologically, and militarily. What do the PISA scores mean? In his new book, “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and the Worst) Education in the World,” Yong Zhao says that the East Asian nations have the top scores because they do heavy-duty test prep. One thing is clear: the PISA scores do not predict the future of our economy. They never have. Our students have never had high scores on international tests, not since the first international test of math was administered in 1964, and our seniors scored last among 12 nations. We went on over the half-century since then to outcompete the other 11 nations with higher test scores.

Let’s look at some other international measures, those that reflect the well-being of children. According to a UNICEF survey (, we lead the industrialized nations of the world in child poverty. (Actually, UNICEF finds that Romania has even higher child poverty than we do, but anyone who has been to that nation would not rank the mighty, rich, and powerful U.S. in the same league with Romania, still struggling to overcome 50 years of Communist misrule and impoverishment). When it comes to child poverty, we are number 1.

While we obsess over test scores, we ignore other important indicators, for example, the proportion of children who are enrolled in a quality preschool program. The Economist magazine published an international survey of 45 nations, in relation to quality and availability, and the United States ranked 24th, tied with the United Arab Emirates. The Nordic countries led the survey with near universal high-quality preschool.

Another number reflects our government’s failure to invest in what works. The March of Dimes in partnership with other organizations conducted an international survey of the availability of good prenatal care programs for pregnant women. Preterm births are the leading cause of death among newborns; it is also a significant cause of cognitive and developmental disabilities. Of 184 nations surveyed, we ranked 131, tied with Thailand, Turkey, and Somalia.This problem could easily be solved by just a few of our billionaire philanthropists.

So what do you think matters most? The test scores of 15-year-old students or the health and well-being of our young children? Might there be a connection?

Standardized tests are an accurate predictor of family income and education. Reduce poverty, and scores will rise. Scores on the SAT college admission test, for example, mirror students’ family background. Students from the poorest families score the lowest, and students from the richest families score the highest. The gap between those at the bottom and those at the top is 400 points. As one Wall Street Journal blogger put it, the SAT might just as well be known as the Student Affluence Test.

Our policymakers’ obsession with test scores is unhealthy and counter-productive. They think the way to raise scores is to make the standards and curriculum harder and test more. Today, little children are taking 8 or 9 hours of tests, and as the standards grow “harder,” the failure rate goes higher. We are the most over-tested nation in the world, and the benefits accrue to testing corporations like Pearson and McGraw-Hill, not to children. The tests themselves are a dubious measure. There are better ways to know whether children are learning than standardized tests. Why else would our elites send their children to schools that seldom use them? What’s good enough for the children of Bill Gates and Barack Obama should be good enough for other people’s children.

We should stop obsessing about test scores and start obsessing about the health and well-being of children and their families. The gains would be far more valuable than a few points on a standardized test. That is the only way we will assure children a good start in life and a fair chance to succeed in our society.

This is very sad. It was written in response to this post. This is a report on the technocratic data collection about preschool readiness of children with disabilities 0-3. There is not a whiff of humanity in this data collection. What are they thinking in the Tennessee State Department of Education? Does any of this help children? Is it part of Race to the Top? What is the point? What benefit to the children? What am I missing? A reader writes: “Tennessee has been using this measure for 4 years. (I am in no way condoning this) Target Data and Actual Data for FFY 2012-13: FFY 2012-13 was the third full year in which Early Childhood Outcomes (ECO) data (entrance and exit) were collected from all nine TEIS Point of Entry offices (TEIS-POEs). Since FFY 2010, ECO data have been collected in the Tennessee Early Intervention Data System (TEIDS) based upon the seven-point scale of the ECO Child Outcomes Summary Form (COSF). The Lead Agency calculates and reports only on children that have been in TEIS a minimum of 6 months (defined as 183 calendar days between entry [ECO entrance date] and exit [ECO exit date]). Outcome entrance ratings are made by the IFSP team using assessment/evaluation, eligibility, and parent information at the initial IFSP meeting. Statewide, assessment/evaluation information is obtained from the Battelle Developmental Inventory-2 (BDI-2). Outcome exit ratings are made by the IFSP team at a review change or transition meeting for children who have been in early intervention services for a minimum of 6 months prior to exit or at three years of age. Exit data from Part C are utilized by several Local Education Agencies (LEAs) as entry data for children who are determined eligible for Part B, preschool special education services.

In response to an earlier post about the U.S. Department of Education setting “measurable and rigorous targets” for children with disabilities, ages 0-3, Laura H. Chapman writes:

“This is nothing more than an extension of the Data Quality campaign that Bill Gates has funded since 2005 along with USDE– initially limited to Pre-K through college, but now clearly starting at birth, and likely in a race to get as much data into “the cloud” on each cohort of kids ASAP along with some hard-wired policies such as do this or we will gut the health and human services funding and IDEA funding for your state.

“Comply or else.

“Of course, closing the achievement gap will be easy enough if you just demand more of the parents and hand over all of the “evidence-based interventions” to instant experts. They will have conjured all of the necessary and sufficient measures for ratings of “infant and toddler and parent effectiveness.”

“Don’t forget checklists for observation, with rubrics for properly identifying all-purpose and specialized remedies for every condition, Instant experts on “disabilities” are sure to be ready (for a fee) to share their power points and modules for corrective action.

“Let’s see, let’s have some infant and toddler SLOs with targets to reach every three months, so quarterly reports can be filed at the state level. Or some VAM calculations with grand inferential leaps from scores on cognitive function, locomotion, eye-hand coordination, new scores for versions of the old Piaget experiments. Add some body sensors to pick up rigorous data on pee and poop and tantrum control, a measure of infant and toddler grit in retaining gas or vomit.

“Perhaps the real aim is to privatize the US Census, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, etc., etc., etc.

“I think that Arne Duncan and Bill Gates have never been in the presence of infants and toddlers and adults who are struggling to make sense out of the booming buzzing confusion that marks you as alive and human and doing your best even if you are not blessed from birth with “the right stuff,” plenty of money and connections with people who give you a bunch of tax dollars and discretionary authority to spend these at will..

“I hope the over-reach on this idiotic plan makes big news.

“My fear is that it will not.”

The National Science Foundation has awarded grants of $4.8 million to several prominent research universities to advance the use of Big Data in the schools.

Benjamin Herold writes in Education Week:

“The National Science Foundation earlier this month awarded a $4.8 million grant to a coalition of prominent research universities aiming to build a massive repository for storing, sharing, and analyzing the information students generate when using digital learning tools.

“The project, dubbed “LearnSphere,” highlights the continued optimism that “big” educational data might be used to dramatically transform K-12 schooling.

“It also raises new questions in the highly charged debate over student-data privacy.

“The federally funded initiative will be led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, who propose to construct a new data-sharing infrastructure that is distributed across multiple institutions, include third-party and for-profit vendors. When complete, LearnSphere is likely to hold a massive amount of anonymous information, including:

“Clickstream” and other digital-interaction data generated by students using digital software provided to schools by LearnSphere participants;

“Chat-window dialogue sent by students participating in some online courses and tutoring programs;

“Potentially, “affect” and biometric data, including information generated from classroom observations, computerized analysis of students’ posture, and sensors placed on students’ skin.

“Proponents say that facilitating the sharing and analysis of such information for research purposes can lead to new insights about how humans learn, as well as rapid improvements to the digital learning software flooding now flooding schools.”

Whoa! The Gates-funded “galvanic skin response monitors” are back! Two years ago, it seemed to be a joke but it’s no joke. Researchers are still trying to gauge biometric reactions with sensors placed on students’ skin.

This really is Brave New World stuff.

Just think: Your tax dollars will help to fund a project to mine your children’s data and turn that data over to for-profit vendors to sell things to the children and their schools.

What can we do about it? Refuse to use digital learning tools in school. Don’t give them the data. Use pencils and pens. Now we understand why the two federally-funded Common Core testing consortia must be tested online and online only. This is the means of producing the data that will be mined.

This is all very sick. It has nothing to do with education and everything to do with violating the rights of families and children. No child will be better educated by mining their data, observing their posture, and monitoring their skin responses. this NOT ABOUT LEARNING. This is about money. Greed. Profits. And we are paying for it.

Our reader and commenter Chiara writes:

“Just so we’re clear, the SIIA is a trade organization:

“We introduce this Pledge as a clear industry commitment to safeguard the privacy and security of all student personal information,” said Mark Schneiderman, senior director of education policy, Software & Information Industry Association. “Current law provides extensive restrictions on the use of student information, and this industry pledge will build on and detail that protection to promote even greater confidence in the appropriate use of student data.”

And this is their mission:


Promote the Industry: SIIA promotes the common interests of the software and digital content industry as a whole, as well as its component parts.

Protect the Industry: SIIA protects the intellectual property of member companies, and advocates a legal and regulatory environment that benefits the entire industry.

Inform the Industry: SIIA informs the industry and the broader public by serving as a resource on trends, technologies, policies and related issues that affect member firms and demonstrate the contribution of the industry to the broader economy.”

#1 is promote the industry, #2 is protect the industry, and # 3 is inform the industry.

They “advocate a legal and regulatory environment that benefits THE INDUSTRY”

Several tech companies promised not to compromise the privacy of student data. Advocates of student privacy were not reassured by their promises. See here and here and here. As Politico points out, neither Apple nor Google signed the pledge.

Here is a statement by leaders of the student privacy movement.

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Not Satisfied with Tech Industry “pledge”

While parents and advocates involved defeating inBloom are appreciative that the voluntary pledge released by members of the software industry bars the selling of student data and its use for targeting ads, its provisions fall far short of what would be necessary to uphold the rights of parents to control access to their children’s personal information and protect their privacy. It appears that technology vendors and their supporters are trying to forestall stronger federal and state laws that would really hold them accountable.

The provisions do not include any parental consent or notification requirements before schools hand over the highly sensitive personal data of their children to vendors, and contain no specific security or enforcement standards for its collection, use or transmission. It would also allow for the infinite disclosure or sale of the data from one company to another, when the first one goes bankrupt, is merged or acquired by another corporation.

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters based in NYC and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said: “We need legally enforceable provisions requiring parental notification and consent for the disclosure and redisclosure of personal student data, as well as rigorous security standards. This pledge will not achieve these goals, and will not satisfy most parents, deeply concerned about protecting their children from rampant data sharing, data-mining and data breaches.”

As Rachael Stickland, Colorado parent and co-chair of the Coalition pointed out, “The pledge explicitly allows for the use of student personal information for ‘adaptive learning.’ Parents are very worried that predictive analytics will lead to stereotyping, profiling and undermining their children’s future chance of success. At the least, industry leaders should support full disclosure of the specific student data elements employed for these purposes, and understand the need for informed parental consent.”

Said Melissa Westbrook, moderator of the Seattle Schools Community Forum and co-founder of Washington State’s Student Privacy Now, “This so-called pledge, filled with mumbo-jumbo, has one glaring item missing – legally enforceable punishment for K-12 service providers who don’t protect student data. Without that, students and their data have no real protections. ”

Concluded Josh Golin, Associate Director for the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, “Across industries, self-regulation has been proven inadequate when it comes to protecting children, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that students’ most sensitive information can be safeguarded through voluntary pledges. Only federal and state legislation that have clear enforcement mechanisms and penalties will give students the protections – and parents the peace of mind – they deserve. It’s disappointing the ed tech industry’s main takeaway from the inBloom fiasco is that they need better PR.”

Leonie Haimson,; 917-435-9329

Rachael Stickland,; 303-204-1272

Danielle Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana’s graduation rate is deeply flawed by missing data in several districts.

When students transfer out, are they leaving for private school, home school, another school, or another state?

“Education officials audited 2012-13 transfer records of 34 of the state’s 69 systems and found one third of these exits could not be properly documented.”

“Much is at stake with the record-keeping, for students must be considered dropouts if their transfers are not properly documented. That depresses the school’s graduation rate. But if the transfer papers are in order, the student is not counted in their high school’s graduation rate.

“The graduation rate counts for 25 percent of the school performance score. That score determines whether conventional schools may be taken over by the state and whether charter schools may stay open.

“The worst results in the audit were found in Jefferson and East Baton Rouge parishes, and in the New Orleans schools run directly by the Recovery School District. Only 27 percent of East Baton Rouge transfer records — and none of the Recovery-New Orleans records — had proper documentation. In Jefferson, the verification rate was 31 percent.”

Veteran educator Mike Deshotels believes that school officials might be cooking the books. The state, of course, vigorously denies that claim.

We should have learned from Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay of Enron that data are highly malleable.

Which is the most powerful player behind the scenes in corporate reform?

This article says, without doubt, McKinsey.

Where did David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards, get his start: McKinsey.

Which firm pushes the narrative of a “crisis in education”: McKinsey.

Which firm believes that Big Data will solve all problems? McKinsey.

Look behind the screen, behind the curtain: McKinsey.

A teacher in Texas wrote this comment, which depicts (to me) a system where data matters more than teachers or learning or children, either the system is on autopilot or is run by people who confuse numbers with learning.

“They recruited from NC and from Spain (for bilingual teachers) this year because they did expect vacancies. I think it’s important to mention that all are not based on EVAAS because not everyone has those standardized scores. They are also based on Stanford testing in 1st and 2nd grade and for classes like PE, a district made assessment. I teach Kinder and am still waiting to find out what growth they calculated for my scores last year (and yes, they were bubble-in multiple choice tests). No one could explain to me how it was going to work, what percentage growth was required to be considered effective and how that was going to be calculated– so I’m very anxious about it. I was rated highly effective in the professional and instructional areas but who knows. We are supposed to use 2 different assessments for more validity but that doesn’t happen-they end up using the reading and math versions of the same test given the same week. I did wonder how many vacancies they had to start the new school year yesterday?”

Joel Westheimer is a professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada, where he serves as the University Research Chair in Democracy in Education. He wrote this tribute to Mr. Keating, the fictional teacher in “The Dead Poets’ Society” before Robin Williams’ death.



He wrote:





In a popular scene from the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society, the eccentric Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams), asks one of his students to read aloud from the preface of a high school poetry textbook:


To fully understand poetry, we must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme and figures of speech, then ask two questions: 1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and 2) How important is that objective? Question 1 rates the poem’s perfection; question 2 rates its importance. And once these questions have been answered, determining the poem’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter. If the poem’s score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.
The fictional author of the text, Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, PhD, continues with an example: “A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great.” Pritchard concludes by asking students to practice this rating method (using the provided rubric) because “[a]s your ability to evaluate poems in this matter grows, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry.”


Although both the textbook and its author are fictional, the satire is worrisomely apt. In fact, the fictional passage was based closely on a real text found in a popular 1950s poetry textbook currently in its twelfth edition and still used by high school students across the country: Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. In other words, the demand for standardized measures of quality and success in education has not abated but increased


The relatively uncritical and universal acceptance among school reformers of the importance of so-called standards, rubrics, and uniform assessment tools for teaching and learning is at once predictable and misguided. It is predictable because the idea that we should clearly articulate educational goals and then devise methods for determining whether those goals are met is irresistibly tidy. After all, how can teachers pursue high quality lessons if they do not know what they are trying to teach and whether students are learning? Uncritical acceptance of even such a common-sense seeming idea, however, is misguided for the following reason: education is first and foremost about human relationship and interaction, and as anyone who tried to create a standardized test for family fealty or for love or for trust would discover, any effort to quantify complex human interactions quickly devolves into a fool’s errand.


This does not mean that there is no place for evaluation in education, or for standards, rubrics, and common curriculum frameworks. A new book, Rubric Nation, coming out this Fall edited by Joseph Flynn and Michelle Tenem-Zemach takes a critical stance at the same time many of the contributing authors make the need for thoughtful measures and learning frameworks clear.[i] Moreover, I have rarely met a teacher who did not have standards; most have their own forms of rubrics or evaluative frameworks as well. But “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” legislation and related reforms that call for ever-more standardized rubrics and frameworks have severely restricted teachers’ abilities to act in a professional capacity and exercise professional judgment on behalf of their students.


Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg calls the kind of school reform that elevates the pursuit of rubrics and standardization above all other educational considerations GERM (for Global Education Reform Movement). He describes GERM as follows:


It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.[ii]
Not only do kids learn less. What they learn also tends to follow prescriptive formulas that match the standardized tests. In the process, more complex and difficult-to-measure learning outcomes get left behind. These include creativity and emotional and social development as well as the kinds of thinking skills associated with robust civic engagement. As a result, teachers’ ability to teach critical thinking and students’ ability to think and act critically is diminished.


Almost every school mission statement these days boasts broad goals related to critical thinking, global citizenship, environmental stewardship, and moral character. Yet beneath the rhetoric, increasingly narrow curriculum goals, accountability measures, standardized testing and an obsession with rubrics have reduced too many classroom lessons to the cold, stark pursuit of information and skills without context and without social meaning – what the late education philosopher Maxine Greene called mean and repellent facts. It is not that facts are bad or that they should be ignored. But democratic societies require more than citizens who are fact-full. They require citizens who can think and act in ethically thoughtful ways. Schools need the kinds of classroom practices that teach students to recognize ambiguity and conflict in “factual” content and to see human conditions and aspirations as complex and contested.


As our cultural obsession with standardization, rubrics, and accountability measures in only two subject areas (math and literacy) increasingly dominates school reform, the most common complaint I now hear from both teachers and administrators is this: I have been stripped of my professional judgment, creativity, and freedom to make decisions in the best interests of my students. When education reforms turn away from an emphasis on supporting positive conditions of practice and move towards technocratic strategies for “compliance,” the profession suffers and so do students. Many teachers would echo the sentiments of Gloria, a teacher in a recent study I conducted of the 10th grade civics curriculum in Ontario. She told us this:


In my 22 years of teaching, never have I experienced a climate that has turned all educational problems into problems of measurement until now. Poor citizenship skills? Raise their math and literacy scores. Poor participation? Doesn’t matter. Poverty? Inequality? The solution is always always to give the students more tests. These days pedagogically, I feel like I can’t breathe.
But education goals, particularly in democratic societies, have always been about more than narrow measures of success, and teachers have often been called upon and appreciated for instilling in their students a sense of purpose, meaning, community, compassion, integrity, imagination, and commitment. Every teacher accomplishes these more artful and ambiguous tasks in different ways.


Much as Darwin’s theory of natural selection depends on genetic variation, any theory of teaching in a democratic society depends on a multiplicity of ideas, perspectives, and approaches to exploring and seeking solutions to complex issues of widespread concern. Parents, administrators, and politicians alike all must acknowledge that educators in a democratic society have a responsibility to create learning environments that teach students a broad variety of lessons – including but not limited to the kinds of learning goals easily captured by standardized assessments.


Talented teachers need the freedom and professional autonomy to work the magic of their art in a myriad of different ways that defy standardization and regimentation of practice. Talented teachers need manageable class sizes in which they can provide the right conditions for that magic to take root. And talented teachers need policymakers who have the courage to marshal the resources necessary to create the best possible conditions of practice and then let teachers do their jobs free of interference and corrosive mistrust.


Nothing about the kinds of standards that school reformers are pursuing with such certainty is black and white. That’s why scholars of education must work together to create a space for dialogue around the tensions inherent in the teaching profession between autonomy and committee-rule, between spontaneity and uniformity. Far from allowing the poetry of teaching and learning to be reduced to facile measurements, educators must demand a fuller framing of assessment and educational progress.


You may recall in Dead Poets Society that after allowing his students to listen attentively to the detailed instructions on measuring the quality of poetry (even drawing a graph on the blackboard to show just how to execute the formula for evaluation), Keating proceeds to demand that students rip out that entire chapter from the text. “Be gone J. Evans Pritchard, PhD!” he exclaims to the sound of students tearing out the offending pages. He was asking them, of course, to revel in the radical possibility of unquantifiable teaching and learning. In honor of Mr. Williams’ irreverent humor and his complex portrayal of Mr. Keating, I hope every teacher enters the new school year with just such an attitude.



[i] J. Flynn & M. Tenam-Zemach (Eds.), Rubric Nation: A reader on the utility and impact of rubrics in education. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.


[ii] Sahlberg, P. (2012, June 29). How GERM is infecting schools around the world. The Washington Post. [The Answer Sheet web log by Valerie Strauss]. Retrieved


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