Archives for category: Data

Angie Sullivan, elementary teacher in Nevada, reports that the state finally put new money into the schools. But not for children or instruction. For Big Data.

Nevada is systematically destroying its public schools. It has authorized charters, some of the lowest performing in the nation. It has adopted a universal voucher program, whose only requirement is that the student previously attended public school for 100 days. It is already one of the worst-funded public school systems in the nation.

Angie writes:

“We spent money.

“And it’s another computer database.

“And it doesn’t work yet.

And we are supposed to believe it is for our safety?

“And this will be necessary and important to who since it is not supposed to have any identifiable information? People outside the state who do not care about our kids?

“These are my questions:

“1. Does this database include charters which use tax payer money?

“2. Does this database include voucher recipients (homeschoolers and private schoolers) who use tax payer money?

“3. Does this database include for-profit and non-profit higher education – especially if students at those institutions have students benefitting from government loans?

“It would be difficult to be transparent and accountable unless every group using tax payer money was included.

“Especially if the purpose is to make every child participate in a longitudinal invasive study from preschool to career – possibly death.

“Sometimes I really worry. And this is one of those times.

“The privacy invasion and labeling is not helpful or necessary for me as a teacher or to my students.

“Statistical sampling has been used on purpose for good reason – routinely documenting everything and paying large amounts to store it or compare kids all over the nation at very young ages is weird and scary.

“For ten years we have over tested and over documented and it has helped ZERO kids. We are doing worse than we did before testing and becoming data driven. Across the nation, these number based reforms are failing.

“We are doing worse – money is being spent on the wrong remedies using assumptions based on numbers and return on investment formulas.

“My students are more than a score.

“I need supplies and support more than I need another database. And teachers need to be using best practice and spend almost all the instructional day on instruction -not preparing for a test or a report for a politician who does not know their name.

“These numbers have not helped me or my students get things we actually need and we have waited 15 years.

“God help us all – creating a record that follows babies into adulthood. What for?

“I’m so worried.


Jeannie Kaplan decides it is time to rename “reform.” She thinks it should be called “Dataism,” as in a religious faith or political ideology connected to the worship of Data. She lives in Denver, where she served on the school board for two terse. She has seen corporate reform up close, and it was not pretty. It smelled of Data-ism.

She writes:

We all know education reform is all about DATA. Data is used to fire employees, data is used to rank and rate schools, data is used to close schools, data is used to open charter schools and other non-union schools, data is used to make budgetary decisions, data is used to produce chaos and churn, data is used to outsource and privatize. Data is everywhere. Education reform is all about DATA. DATA is the driving force of education “reform.” It has become the be-all and end-all of public education, the king and queen, prince and princess of public education. DATA and education “reform” are often synonymous but only when the actual DATA can be Ignored, Spun, Manipulated if it doesn’t show “reform” success (which is most of the time). DATAISM: where data is IGNORED, SPUN, or MANIPULATED to give false results to the public. DATAISM. What do you think?

Open the post to see which terms are highlighted or linked.

Big data has captured the imagination of many corporate executives, but it has its limitations. When evaluations are turned into numbers and used to rank employees from best to worst, it crushes motivation. This was W. Edwards Deming’s advice many years ago, but then Bill Gates of Microsoft and Jack Welch of GE emerged as gurus of stack ranking.

But, lo! New studies confirm that stack ranking has negative consequences.

An article in the business section of the Néw York Times reports that stack ranking hurts morale.

“Big Data has made it possible to measure employee performance more thoroughly than ever. But two recent studies offer a warning: Be careful about how you deploy that data.

“Many managers assume that distributing a ranking of their employees’ performance is an effective motivational tool, said Iwan Barankay, an associate professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea is that lower-ranking employees will strive to improve, while higher-ranking ones will work to maintain their edge.

“Professor Barankay sought to test this assumption in a study of 1,500 furniture sales workers that he conducted over three years in North America. One group of sales workers was shown how their sales ranked compared with their colleagues. Another group was not shown a comparison, but only their individual results.

“Professor Barankay found that the sales representatives who did not know how they ranked achieved higher subsequent sales than those who were aware of their comparative ranking. The results of the workers who had received high rankings neither improved nor worsened.

“Human nature combined with simple math caused the lower-ranking workers to falter, according to Professor Barankay. Most people optimistically assume that they are above average in their performance, he said. But real life is not Lake Wobegon, and most people, when measured against one another, will inevitably rank as average or below average. For these people, seeing their rank is demoralizing, causing their performance to wilt.”

Now it is time to read Deming. I recommend chapter 9 of Andrea Gabor’s book about Deming titled “The Man Who Discovered Quality.” Deming was adamantly opposed to perfoance pay or anything that undermined employees’ morale and collaboration. His message was to choose your employees well and give them the support to succeed. Most failures are system failures. Don’t blame the frontline workers for problems caused by the system.

Laura Chapman read this post about proposed legislation to allow massive collection of college student data, and she did some research. This is what she found:

The proposed law to monetize the worth of a degree certainly reflects the values of Bill Gates and his “Data Quality Campaign,” and his desire to stack rank almost anything he can, preferably with publication in U.S. News and World report. I recall vividly that he once said he wanted kids to “get a college degree that is worth something,” meaning worth money.

In prior posts I have noted that, beginning in 2005, Gates funded the Data Quality Campaign” (Orwellian name), as if in tandem and designed to complement USDE funds for the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program.

The Teacher-Student Data Link system (TSDL) system envisioned by Gates is in place as the records system for local to state reporting to USDE. In Ohio that system actually structures the categories for teacher evaluation. So, InBloom may be gone but the Gates vision has prevailed and, from the get go, his campaign was intended to “keep current and longitudinal data on the performance of teachers and individual students, as well as schools, districts, states, and educators ranging from principals to higher education faculty.

Moreover, as articulated in the Data Quality Campaign, one of the main purposes of the data gathering was to determine the “best value” investments to make in education and to monitor improvements in outcomes, taking into account as many demographic factors as possible, including health records for preschoolers. Access to such records has been made easier by USDE’s poking holes in the FERPA law that offered a bit of protection for the use of student data.

Now this proposed legislation is about higher education. Suppose it passes. Whether the oversight is done by a special agency or USDE is not clear. But if USDE has oversight of the law and the program, then all of the data management and cost/benefit on programs and degrees are likely to be outsourced to a private company, just as USDE’s data management is outsourced now. I discovered this by snooping around at the USDE website. In the process I discovered that USDE has two key people as privacy officers. One is Kathleen Styles, USDE’s first “Chief Privacy Officer”—Email: The second is Michael Hawes, who is her advisor and the person who oversees USDE’s extremely important “Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).” Email:

Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) is supposed to be a “one-stop” resource for learning about “data privacy, confidentiality, and security practices related to student-level longitudinal data systems and other uses of student data.” PTAC provides timely information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality, and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and opportunities to receive direct assistance with privacy, security, and confidentiality of student data systems.” This technical assistance is targeted to meet the needs of state and local education agencies and…… institutions of higher education.

PTAC is really at the center of everything–The contractor for PTAC is responsible for working under “the guidance of the Chief Privacy Officer and in close collaboration with the FERPA Working Group,” which consists of representatives of the Office of Management, the Family Policy Compliance Office, and the Office of General Counsel. PTAC also “regularly consults” with the USDE’s Privacy Advisory Committee, whose members include Chief Statistician of National Center of Education Statistics, the program officer of the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS), and representatives from the office of Federal Student Aid, the Office of Civil Rights, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (among others).

The for-profit company managing and warehousing USDE data and at the center of all of the work of all of these agencies is Applied Engineering Management Corporation (AEM). Since 2010, (AEM) appears to have been awarded about $12 million to set up the resources at PTAC.

AEM also has contracts with OTHER federal, state, and local governments and agencies.. Their work for USDE includes management of data gathering required to support the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, including the 180 data descriptions for EdFacts. EdFacts is the destination for all of those disaggregated test scores, and other data that law requires. AEM can do heavy-duty data warehousing.

AEM has also operated the National Student Loan Data System receiving data from every college, university, and agency that participates in Title IV loan guarantees and related programs. That work gives AEM a leg up as a possible contractor for more work under the proposed legislation.

AEM’s website also says it helps “educators in developing high quality longitudinal P-20 data warehouses and business intelligence solutions that stand the test of time and enable data-driven decision making.”

AEM–-the go-to corporation for USDE’s data management and privacy–-has managed to suppress its identity as the conduit for USDE’s “big data” projects and USDE’s (pitiful) guidance to state and local agencies on privacy. Use this phrase to get to the PTAC resources “Privacy Technical Assistance Center.”

Legislation called “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” has been introduced in both houses of Congress. Nice name, no? Don’t you think you should have “the right to know before you go” to a college or university?


What it really means is that the federal government will:


authorize the creation of a federal database of all college students, complete with their personally identifiable information, tracking them through college and into the workforce, including their earnings, Social Security numbers, and more. The ostensible purpose of the bill? To provide better consumer information to parents and students so they can make “smart higher education investments.”


Big Data, the answer to all problems. All you need do is surrender your privacy and become someone’s data point, perhaps the point of sales.


Barmak Nassirian, writing on the blog of Studentprivacymatters, warns about the dangers this legislation poses. He wrote originally in response to an article endorsing the legislation by researchers at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who viewed the invasion of personal privacy as less significant than the need for consumer information about one’s choice of a college or university:


First, let’s be clear that the data in question would be personally identifiable information of every student (regardless of whether they seek or obtain any benefits from the government), that these data would be collected without the individual’s consent or knowledge, that each individual’s educational data would be linked to income data collected for unrelated purposes, and that the highly personal information residing for the first time in the same data-system would be tracked and updated over time.


Second, the open-ended justification for the collection and maintenance of the data (“better consumer information”) strongly suggests that the data systems in question would have very long, if not permanent, record-retention policies. They, in other words, would effectively become life-long dossiers on individuals.


Third, the amorphous rationale for matching collegiate and employment data would predictably spread and justify the concatenation of other “related” data into individuals’ longitudinal records. The giant sucking sound we would hear could be the sound of personally identifiable data from individuals’ K12, juvenile justice, military service, incarceration, and health records being pulled into their national dossiers.


Fourth, the lack of explicit intentionality as to the compelling governmental interest that would justify such a surveillance system is an open invitation for mission creep. The availability of a dataset as rich as even the most basic version of the system in question would quickly turn it into the go-to data mart for other federal and state agencies, and result in currently unthinkable uses that would never have been authorized if proposed as allowable disclosures in the first place.


This is a bill that conservatives and liberals should be fighting against. Imagine if such a data-set existed; how long would it be before the data were hacked, for fun and profit, exposing personally identifiable information about students who had never given their consent? Didn’t the government recently become aware of a massive hack of its personnel records?



According to the New York Times:


For more than five years, American intelligence agencies followed several groups of Chinese hackers who were systematically draining information from defense contractors, energy firms and electronics makers, their targets shifting to fit Beijing’s latest economic priorities.


But last summer, officials lost the trail as some of the hackers changed focus again, burrowing deep into United States government computer systems that contain vast troves of personnel data, according to American officials briefed on a federal investigation into the attack and private security experts.


Undetected for nearly a year, the Chinese intruders executed a sophisticated attack that gave them “administrator privileges” into the computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management, mimicking the credentials of people who run the agency’s systems, two senior administration officials said. The hackers began siphoning out a rush of data after constructing what amounted to an electronic pipeline that led back to China, investigators told Congress last week in classified briefings.


How long will a treasure trove of personally identifiable student data remain confidential?


If this bill passes, farewell to privacy.



Audrey Beardsley reveals the answer to the intriguing question: Why is D.C. hiding VAM data? The answer was earlier leaked to blogger and retired math teacher G.F. Brandenburg. Beardsley cites him in this post.

The VAM data show that VAM is junk science. Keep it a secret. D.C. school officials are trying to.

“In Brandenburg’s words: “Value-Added scores for any given teacher jumped around like crazy from year to year. For all practical purposes, there is no reliability or consistency to VAM whatsoever. Not even for elementary teachers who teach both English and math to the same group of children and are ‘awarded’ a VAM score in both subjects. Nor for teachers who taught, say, both 7th and 8th grade students in, say, math, and were ‘awarded’ VAM scores for both grade levels: it’s as if someone was to throw darts at a large chart, blindfolded, and wherever the dart lands, that’s your score.”

Susan Ochshorn of the ECE Policy Works, questions our society’s obsessive compulsive demand for data, especially data about our youngest children.


She writes:


“Americans love data. We cannot get enough of it. Collectors on speed, we measure every indicator in sight. Children are the youngest, most fragile casualties of our obsessive compulsive disorder. How many words do they have in their emergent lexicons? Do they know their letters? Can they count up to 20? Are they ready for school? Are they reading The Sorcerer’s Stone ahead of the third-grade benchmarks? They’re on treadmills, each milestone anxiously awaited, and dutifully recorded….


“Assessing readiness “a somewhat narrow and artificial construct of questionable merit,” as one early childhood expert put it, is daunting. Kids develop on wildly different timelines, their progress difficult to capture in a snapshot. But that doesn’t stop us. Today, a growing number of states are adopting universal assessment of kindergarten students, grappling with the challenges of reliability and validity in the instruments they use.”


Nothing can stop us from collecting Big Data about little kids. Or can it? What if parents should said no?

A regular commenter on the blog who calls him/herself “Democracy” posted these insightful thoughts about the state of “leadership” and its willingness to follow the corporate reform script instead of standing up for sound policies and practices that promote good education:




Part 1


I’ve been commenting on this blog for a while, lamenting the state of “leadership” in pubic education.


The fate of Joshua Starr in Montgomery County, MD is a good example. Starr was actually trying to bring more equity to the system, he wanted to de-emphasize testing, he opposed merit pay, and he was collaborative, generally. A teacher rep said Starr made sure teachers were “included in the decision-making process for most major decisions.” Still, Starr seemed to favor the Common Core, and in an interview with NPR he bragged about the county’s “SAT and AP scores.” Sigh.


Starr’s replacement was to have been Andrew Houlihan of Houston, who later withdrew his name from consideration.


Houlihan’s dissertation was on the use of data. He has described himself as “a big data person. I love using data to make decisions.” Except, apparently, Houlihan never really understood what the “data” said. He bragged about an Arnold Foundation grant that, he said, was “transforming” the recruitment of teachers. And he bragged about Houston’s merit pay program – ASPIRE – that, he said, rewarded “our most effective educators” for “accelerating student progress.”


The Arnold Foundation is a right-wing organization founded by a hedge-funder who resists accountability and transparency in derivatives markets but calls for them in education. Its executive director, Denis Cabrese was former chief of staff to DIck Armey, the Texas conservative who now heads up FreedomWorks, the group that helps to pull the Tea Party strings and gets funding from the billionaire arch-conservative Koch brothers.


Fairfax County recently hired Karen Garza, who was also in Houston. Garza led the ASPIRE program, a pay plan that was funded (in part) by the Broad, Gates and Dell foundations, the very same groups that fund corporate-style “reform” and that support the Common Core. And while researchers point out the dangers of value-added models, noting that they “cannot disentangle the many influences on student progress,” Garza said they were “proven methodology” that are both “valid and reliable.”


Fairfax and Montgomery, by the way, are considered two of the better school systems, nationally.


Part 2


Meanwhile, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) recently concluded its Spring conference, titled “Inspiring Leadership for Innovation.” The conference was focused on “college and career readiness,” “leadership skills essential to changing school cultures,” and “superintendent success stories.” The featured speakers were Jean Claude Brizard and Marc Tucker.


Brizard has been a failure as a superintendent in Rochester and Chicago. According to a columnist who followed him closely, Brizard “engaged in gross misrepresentations of data and sometimes outright lied. He made promises he didn’t keep. He did one thing while saying another.” As to his two failed superintendencies, Brizard admits that “there were some mistakes made.”


Marc Tucker says that he wants high-stakes tests in grades 4, 8 and 10, and “the last exams would be set at an empirically determined college- and work-ready standard.” Additionally, “every other off year, the state would administer tests in English and mathematics beginning in grade 2, and, starting in middle school, in science too, on a sampling basis. Vulnerable groups would be oversampled to make sure that populations of such students in the schools would be accurately measured.” Tucker wants all schools systems to take PISA, because he thinks that the test scores of 15-year-olds are somehow tied tightly to economic growth and competitiveness. You know, jobs.


Sigh. Tucker just keeps regurgitating the same-old song, all over again: college and career “readiness.” To Tucker, that’s why public education exists. He says nary a word about citizenship.


And what about those jobs? The Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that most new jobs created in the United States over the next decade will NOT require postsecondary education. These are jobs like personal care aides, retail clerks, nursing assistants, janitors and maids, construction laborers, freight and stock movers, secretaries, carpenters, and fast food preparers.


In addition to its Spring fling, VASS selected its 2016 superintendent of the year. While the award comes from VASS, a VASS-selected panel –– comprised of the state superintendent of instruction, and the heads of the Virginia Education Association, state PTA and state school boards association, the state ASCD, and the directors of the state associations of secondary and elementary school principals –– picked the winner. In other words, the top education “leaders” in the state –– those who should be familiar with research and evidence –– were responsible for choosing the state’s “best” superintendent.


A few years back, this recently-named “superintendent of the year” forced a test-score-tracking software program called SchoolNet on teachers. She was advised against it because of its problems, but she went ahead anyway. It ended up being a $2 million-plus failure. SchoolNet was later bought by Pearson. The superintendent is still withholding 268 SchoolNet-related emails from public scrutiny, claiming they are “exempt” from the Freedom of Information Act.



Part 3


This VASS-award-winner’s school division sent out what it called a “leadership” survey several years back. It was a skewed-question survey designed to produce pre-determined results. But it did allow for comments. And they were instructive. They included comments such as “..this is the worst leadership the county has ever had,” and “Honesty, integrity and fairness are lacking,” and “…teachers have very little voice, and “…the system does not care about me or most other employees as individuals, and “county schools leaders seem to be increasingly inept and far-removed from the day-to-day realities of public education.” Again and again and again, commenters said these things about the top “leadership:”


“does not listen to teachers…”
“does not ask what people think before it accepts major policies…”
* “…teachers are not listened to…our opinions have been requested and ignored…”
* “…when I offer my opinion, i has been dismissed.”
* “l..leaders seek input, but then usually, disregard the opinions of those not in agreement with the administration…decisions are made top-down before input is received.”
* “decision making is so top-down — stakeholders are seldom consulted…”
* “…decisions have already been made…”
* “…teachers feel that their professional judgment is not valued…”
* “most administrator are arrogant…and remove themselves with any type of collaborative dialogue with teachers.”
* “…they do not want to hear complaints, or you are labeled as a troublemaker…”
* “the county asks its employees for input but these requests are superficial…the decision have already been made by the people ‘downtown’…”
* “you ask people to think critically but we must toe the party line…”
* “We are not asked what we think…it is common knowledge here that you are not allowed to address concerns that may be negative…”
“I see few examples of teachers being involved in decision making.”


A blue ribbon resources utilization committee recommended a climate survey of the schools years earlier, noting that one had been done repeatedly in county government. Teachers asked for a climate survey in the schools too, and even offered to help write one. A climate survey still hasn’t been offered.


This “superintendent of the year” forced STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) “academies” on all of the county high schools. The original claim was that research showed a STEM “crisis” in America, and that this move was “visionary.” Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin – which has laid of thousands of STEM workers – was invited to the schools to make his STEM spiel. When asked for the “research,” the superintendent couldn’t produce any. There’s a reason for that. The research shows there is no “crisis,” no “shortage.” In fact, there’s a glut.

For example, Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote this stunning statement recently in the Columbia Journalism Review (see: ):

“Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.”


When VASS selected this “superintendent of the year” for 2016, it noted certain “indicators of success.” What were they? It cited an increase in the “number of students enrolled in AP courses” and SAT scores that were higher than the state average. Never mind that the SAT is not tied to the school curriculum and that this school division is one of the most affluent in the state. There is no better predictor of SAT score than family income.


The research on SAT – and ACT – and AP courses finds that they are mostly hype. The SAT and ACT just don’t do a good job of predicting success in college or life. Moreover, research finds that when demographic characteristics are controlled for, the oft-made claims made for AP disappear. In the ‘ToolBox Revisited’ (2006), a statistical analysis of the factors contributing to the earning of a bachelor’s degree, Adelman found that Advanced Placement did not reach the “threshold level of significance.” Other research finds that while “students see AP courses on their transcripts as the ticket ensuring entry into the college of their choice…there is a shortage of evidence about the efficacy, cost, and value of these programs.”


This is the current state of public education’s “leadership.”


Unlike the Allstate commercial, I don’t think we’re in ‘good hands.’

Carol Burris posts a letter from a young teacher in DC who graduated from Burris’ school in Long Island. She is not happy with the high-stakes testing, test-based accountability, and Common Core. Want to know why so many teachers are leaving? Corporate, punitive, gotcha reform.

Last weekend I attended a joyous family wedding and thus was preoccupied and failed to notice one of the seminal moments in reformer history. This was Michael Barber’s speech on “Joy and Data.” Barber is the chief education adviser to Pearson, and he gave this speech in Australia, hoping to debunk the claim that an undue emphasis on data takes away the joy of learning. Barber’s goal was to demonstrate that joy and data go together like a horse and carriage.

Valerie Strauss wrote about Barber’s speech here, and Peter Greene did his usual sharp vivisection of Barber’s ideology here. Strauss collects some of the witty Twitter responses to Barber’s speech; Greene contrasts it with Pearson’s activities and Barber’s publications.

Strauss summarizes:

“In his speech, Barber argues that the pursuit of data has wrongly been accused of sucking the creativity out of learning but that in his world view, data and joy are the two elements that will together improve learning systems around the world in the 21st Century.”

Greene says that Barber’s speech was a celebration of Oxymoron Day. He summarizes Barber’s Big Speech:

“The future of education will be more joyful with the embrace of data. Also, don’t get things wrong– the data does not undermine creativity and inspiration, nor does it tell us what to do, nor does it replace professional judgment. And I don’t even know how to link to all the places where Pearson has contradicted all of this. I would be further ahead to find links to Jeb Bush condemning charter schools and Common Core….

“If we lump all of Pearson’s visionary writing together, the picture that emerges is a Brave New World in which every single student’s action is tagged, collected, and run through a computer program that spits out an exact picture of the student’s intellectual, emotional and social development as well as specific instructions on exactly what the teacher (and, in this Brave New World, we’re using that term pretty loosely) should do next with/for/to the student to achieve the results desired by our data overlords.”

Greene is struck by the scary thought that Barber actually believes what he is saying; arguing with him would be like debating a religious fanatic.

As I read this contemplation of joy and data, I found myself wondering whether Mike Barber might be a cyborg. So I started reading about cyborgs and became persuaded that thos is not the right term to describe a man who confuses quantification with emotion. The right word seems to be android.


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