David Brooks on "Data"

Thanks to a reader for this heads up on this column by David Brooks, "Driven to Distraction by Too Much Big Data" - it is well worth reading and pondering especially for public education.

I want what is done in our state to be based on some degree of data and experience BUT I agree with Brooks - there are many other factors to consider in any kind of decision-making especially about children and learning.   But unlike Michelle Rhee, I don't want change for change's sake especially with a statement like this:

“Given where we are today, given how poorly things are going in large part, we can’t afford to wait until all the studies are done on a single issue,” said Rhee..."

Well, given our scarce education dollars, we can't afford NOT to make sure that the changes we make are based on some kind of real, verifiable and scalable evidence.


mirmac1 said…
Not to worry, our district is well on its way to hand over our students data to Gates-funded groups.

MOU between SPS and CCER for Data Sharing

Soon CCER and "authorized contractors or agents" will have:

ELL status
SpEd status
Test scores
Courses and Grades
School Climate surveys, including student input
# of instructional days
CTE enrollment
WaKIDS score
EOC results
AP and IB exam results
Health survey data
HS transcipts with social security #

The district gave CCER permission to obtain your students data from OSPI. They also authorized CCER to get your students information from the Washington State Education Research & Data Center to match students with data from community and technical colleges or other institutions of higher or vactions education. Finally, the district gave the green light for CCER to access data on recent graduates at Washington State community and technical colleges to see what remedial courses their taking.

How much of this RTT $40M is going to go to consultants' data-mining?

How is it this MOU was signed without the board's approval? When was this discussed at a public meeting? When were parents informed that their students personally-identifiable data was going to unnamed contractors and agents? Oh yeah, congress changed FERPA so that we don't have the right to opt-out.

This needs to be daylighted.

Anonymous said…
It is difficult for me to understand the logic of people saying, "what we have clearly isn't working," phrasing it in totality like that. Instead, were they honest and sincere, wouldn't they instead say, what we have works well for about two-thirds of our students, while about 1/3 continue to drop out, struggle, etc? Why is it always phrased as a dramatic, inaccurate, dishonest lie, to gin up a crisis mindset in the public?

The preface to any discussion of Ed Reform should be stated accurately and honestly. Why isn't it? Why is it always misrepresented by reformers who prefer anecdotes to accurate "data."

How can I ever trust the motives of people who initiate every discussion with falsities and under false pretenses?

Jan said…
You are absolutely right, Melissa. The "we have to hurry up, we can't afford to wait" paradigm is one that leads to waste, failed initiatives, and damage almost every single time. This is one reason I was so happy, almost elated, when the Board decided to (gasp) WAIT to start the JAMS. People with an agenda to move your money (or data) to their pockets have a vested interest in getting you to hurry, hurry, sign before you think. They often need to stay ahead of data collection (either because they have no intention of actually collecting any -- that would cut into profits -- or because the data is quite likely NOT to support their proposals). Good enterprises (wither government or business) do not operate this way.

These are kids' lives we are talking about. When public education is, in fact, working well for millions, we cannot afford to hurry (ahead of thought and analysis) to potentially screw up what currently works, while utterly failing to fix what does not.
Unknown said…
Rhee reminded us of one of the greatest dangers of "data" when she said, don't worry about fairness in teacher evaluations: we'll just factor poverty, ELL and other potential variables into the test scores!
What is saying is that children can be thus categorized (and measured) as if being poor makes one the same as another poor child, as if being a child literate in Mandarin and learning English makes one the same as a child illiterate in Spanish learning English...These are the most dangerous "data points", these little check boxes - Now we have people like Rhee saying that if a child is poor, their life experience is exactly like another poor child's - if they factor in some sort of value weight when doing regression analysis on tests used to evaluate teachers, that is EXACTLY what they are doing. It's dehumanizing and cruel.
dan dempsey said…
Hey Gordon,

Speaking of factoring in "stuff" in the interests of a "better more accurate" picture or NOT ...... Look for more crap coming with the proposed grading of each school from the Gov. & legislature.

How about grading the state on its "funding of schools"?
Anonymous said…
I wonder if we aren't too far from the day when a kid's genetic code is offered up for "studies and research", without our consent of course.

missing some chromosomes
Anonymous said…
And btw, speaking of data, the most recent article I read about Everett and Renton, indicated they both expected to break 90% graduation rates this year or next, all through the use of counselors, not computers.

MW: Is anyone in SPS considering replicating those models? What would Rhee & Co do if we graduated 90%? Would they still say what we're doing "is a failure?"

dan dempsey said…

I am unimpressed with high graduation rates as I read about "credit recovery" classes in use in WA DC and elsewhere. These classes were bogus as they bore little resemblance to actual classes.

A high graduation rate may tell us little about the "education received" by graduates.
Unknown said…
"impatient optimism" is one of the gates that leads to the foundation of education policy idiocy.
Eric B said…
The sad thing is that we already have a pretty good handle on what works and what doesn't. Sure, we need to do more study, but we also have the groundwork for a good start. The only problem? The studies don't support what Rhee and co. want. I guess that's why they need to move fast before the studies are complete.
WSDWG, I've been beating that drum for Everett, Renton (and Tukwila) for years. They have seen steadily climbing high school grad rates by PAYING ATTENTION.

Not waiting until the end of the semester when a kid is failing 2+ classes and is discouraged. You miss more than 5 days of class or are failing a class? They get you to the graduation specialist and get help for you.

It's not rocket science - it's establishing relationships, giving a kid a chance before he gets too far down the road of dropping out.

Clearly, it's working.

Part of the money in the F&E levy is directed towards just such efforts in our most challenged high schools.
Unknown said…
One must ask: data in the service of what agenda? Data centered arguments never win unless it's in an argument where everyone shares the same basic values framework. Data are just so many dots that people can connect in so many different ways to serve their various agendas.

Conservatives, the principled ones in the Burkean tradition anyway, have always understood that values, relationships, communities, experience, practical wisdom and common sense provide a context in which the data are interpreted. Context is everything. The Jacobin or technocratic mentality behaves as if context does not matter, that history and the particular don't exist. Conservatives like Brooks earn their paycheck if from time to time they remind us that it does exist and that it matters.

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Weirdness in Seattle Public Schools Abounds and Astounds

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals