kitchen table math, the sequel: Allison on big data

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Allison on big data

12 months ago, you could raise funding for your startup overnight if you were doing "big data" for education (even though the data was quite paltry in size). The future hope of a Diamond-Age like mechanism to have kids worked in flipped classrooms at their ZPD ["zone of proximal development"] all without teachers needing to do anything to differentiate instruction was the holy grail.

6 months ago, the perfect storm of Anti-Common Core backlash, NSA domestic spying, and IRS abuse of 501c4 citizen groups meant Bog Data for Ed was in serious jeopardy.
I first realized this at a talk I was giving at a school that had chosen in May of 2013 to improve their math program: a goal of Singapore Primary Math in K-6, Shoseki in 7, Dolciani in 8, complete with real math training for all teachers and a FT BS math degreed teacher for 6-8. Oh, and state standrads-based standardized tests for the first time ever to measure student progress relative to their peers and state requirements.

The parents were on board in May. I gave the same talk in September, and the climate had changed.

Parents were so anti-data that they wanted no standardized test. Never mind that there was no way to measure student progress without a benchmark.

In order to make some basic determination about where these students were mathematically that first May, MSMI had devised a test based on state sample item. In September, I actually had a parent say to me "I know you took data on my child."

Another parent who stood by as I spoke to a family asking for how I could help their child get a bit of higher content in their math class said "I heard you ask that family for their child's name and grade."

The paranoia was rampant. The push to "opt out" was so great that we were in serious jeopardy of having any way of measuring if we'd done any good, let alone if kids had learn a year's math in a year's time.

Parents no longer trust their schools. This is perhaps the biggest legacy of the politicization of civic institutions. It is earned in many cases, but probably is worse in result than even lousy curricula. It will take a long long time to fix.
On the one hand, people habituate: the bad gets normal, as Temple always said. So this may blow over.

On the other, sans habituation almost at the level of mass amnesia, I don't see how this gets fixed.

I remember, very clearly, the moment a few years back when our district was suddenly required to weigh students, record their weights, and report the data to Albany.

I was furious. Chris had always struggled with his weight and was very sensitive about it (he lost 50 pounds last summer and has kept it off since!): it's not as if overweight children don't know they're overweight.

And it's not as if the grown-ups passing these regulations are universally thin themselves.

Needless to say, I protested, as I always do, and, needless to say, the administration and board blew me off, as the administration and board always do. High-school students would be weighed "with sensitivity," they said. And that was that. Everyone seemed to agree that weighing students and reporting the data to Albany was a bad idea, but admin & board follow regulations, good or bad. Except when they don't, of course.

The obstacle to habituation this time, as I see it: Americans believe that American schools are locally run.

Schools haven't been locally run in a very long time; superintendents speak in tongues, and bamboozled boards rubber stamp. The people vote, but the people don't get the schools they vote for.

Until now, though, parents busy with kids and jobs and volunteer work for the PTSA could lead their lives without knowing the schools aren't run by them, or that our overlords in Albany (or, even worse, Washington) don't give two figs for what we think, want, or hope.

With the constant, visible presence of Bill Gates and David Coleman and Arne Duncan and "Albany" and Washington D.C. in our lives, not-knowing has become a great deal more challenging.


Anonymous said...

"The obstacle to habituation this time, as I see it: Americans believe that American schools are locally run.

Schools haven't been locally run in a very long time; superintendents speak in tongues, and bamboozled boards rubber stamp. The people vote, but the people don't get the schools they vote for."

John Taylor Gatto has been telling us this for 20 years. And why.

Heck, John Holt was telling us this 50 years ago. And why.

Catherine Johnson said...


Laura in AZ said...

Thank you for pointing out - what has been so painfully obvious for some of us... but others just don't seem to see. I honestly don't know when some people will see the light.

I got into a Facebook "discussion" with the daughter of a friend on my wall - she just left teaching when her son was born. She was thinking I was being too critical of CCSS - after her mother posted a page from a workbook example.

She didn't realize that CC involved tracking students or that Bill Gates was involved in such extensive funding of CCSS. She didn't understand the issues involved for kids with special needs... *sigh* and she was a teacher until just this year.

Allison said...

CC doesn't involve "tracking students". What does this mean to you?

For the history of ed, "tracking" has meant placing kids in fixed bands of high-med-or-low coursework.

If you mean that states *need data on kids to see if the kids have learned anything at all*, why yes, states do that. To not do so is irresponsible, as states must find a way to hold schools accountable..

Allison said...

Catherine, I don't agree with your assessment of the issue of schools at all.

This school, the one where MSMI has spent nearly a year working to improve the math program, was locally run. A private parochial school, it was in a diocese that until 2 years ago basically had no requirements for its schools at all. So most of these schools *had no standards* at all. These same schools basically did *no testing* at all. Schools taught whatever they felt like, with whomever they liked as teachers.

They had no transparency or accountability, and parents didn't complain until their first few kids went to high school, and they finally figured out something must be wrong with elementary ed. But usually, by then it's too late, or worse, you find out it is irrelevant.

This was the paradigm of local control at work. It did not produce results worthy of pride.

And that, to connect to the Ze'ev thread, is why CC standards are more pedagogical: because our elementary schools do not know how to teach k-6 math well, and there is no other lever to push on to change that. So yes, the pro CC camp chose to push to where at least k-6 could have a chance at being taught the way Singapore did, by defining some simple pedagogical and mathematical concepts that kids should have yo have a modicum of number sense in place value..

Anonymous said...

"CC doesn't involve 'tracking students'. What does this mean to you?"

Possibly Laura means tracking in the KGB/CIA sense of the word. Bill Gates is pushing Common Core and also pushing the inBloom database. Whether inBloom is related to Common Core or not, I can't tell.

-Mark Roulo

Cassandra Turner said...

Most private & parochial schools take either the ITBS or ERB's, which havbe always been nationally normed. I'm finding ERB's more prevalent at high cost private institutions.

Laura in AZ said...

Yes, Mark Roulo ... that's exactly what I meant. The inBloom database (couldn't think of the name of it). Thank you.

They may not be related but they are used in conjunction with one another. Isn't Pearson (textbook co.) involved with it as well? Data mining of student information is being pushed alongside of the CCSS and that scares me. If the info was kept within the school, or even the district, I wouldn't mind... but it isn't.

momof4 said...

I have heard that the school data collection is designed and intended to be merged with the Obamacare database - which, given the current state of governmental overreach and intrusion, I don't find surprising. Of course the tech companies - hello, Bill Gates - will make bundles, along with Pearson, College Board etc. I have little faith that privacy and need-to-know will be valued.

SteveH said...

Shop & Stop knows how many Twinkies I buy, and EZ Pass knows when I go over the bridge to buy those Twinkies. How difficult would it be to get your consent to collect non-anonymous GPS location information? Just charge a lot for opting out. EZ Pass charges $4 to cross our bridge each way or 83 cents with EZ Pass.

Our town installed community cameras "for security", and I think that something should be done about what goes on in everyone's head. I'm sure many could be locked up for those thoughts. Do you or do you not want bad things to happen!

I distinctly remember the time when my son figured out that we (parents) didn't know what he was thinking. I don't remember how old he was, but things changed after that. That has GOT to stop!

Privacy issues will be huge in the future. For the next time a satellite passes overhead to take pictures for Google Earth, I want to paint something really nasty on my roof. Hey, that's a business opportunity. Roof advertising. OK. This is another battleground for the Democrats and Republicans to compete. Flood Google Earth with political ads. You heard it here first. My roof will probably just say "Screw You." Gee, I'm getting cranky in my old age. Roofers should get ready for a huge new market.

I think another big business opportunity is to provide a privacy layer between individuals and modern services. All accounts will be anonymous. You can pay with a debit credit card that is anonymous and paid for with cash. One could have reverse ATM machines that take in cash, but charge up your anonymous debit card. I could then use that card to pay for my EZ Pass service. That issue will go to the supreme court.

So many creative ideas and golly, I was raised on nasty, rote, traditional teaching.