Over at Getting Smart, a website devoted to selling educational product, guest writer Aimee Rogstad Guidera makes her case for more data collection for each student-- because it's what parents want.
Parents are eager for information about their child’s education. As a mom, I want to know if my daughter is struggling in math before she comes home in tears. I need information to support my child’s learning at home, and to support my child and her teacher in making the best decisions for her learning in the classroom.
Maybe I just don't get it, but I'm inclined to think that if you didn't know your child was having trouble in math before the coming-home-in-tears part, you're just not paying attention. I have heard this pitch enough times to make me occasionally wonder if there is, in fact, some place where teachers keep every scrap of information carefully hoarded, students never speak to their parents about school, parents never ask about school, and all parent requests for conferences and information are denied by all school personnel. Maybe there is some place where parents are so deeply clueless and helpless that they have no idea how their students are doing.
Or maybe Guidera is the CEO and President of the Data Quality Campaign, a group interested in student data and funded by the Gates Foundation, the Waltons, the Dells, and the Ford Foundation. They do have some rules about how such data should be kept in a safe lockbox, but they are clearly Big Data fans.
Guidera is advocating for student data backpacks-- little (or not so little) bundles of data that just follow students around, providing parents with all sorts of longitudinal data (because, again, parents don't know much about their own children).
Guidera says the backpack should be available, timely, portable, secure and understandable, and none of that sounds unreasonable until you start thinking about how it's going to work.
First, the data itself. I'm a fan of transparency-- my school makes our electronic gradebook accessible to parents, so my students' families are able to log on and see their student's current grade-by-grade standing in my class. That's a high level of transparency, but my data isn't any more granular than that-- there are no copies of the work on line, nor does the grade break down to anything other than the grade itself. Of course, my students are able to take their work home, and parents who want further clarification can email me or call.
Why is the data not more detailed and specific? Because there are only twenty-four hours in the day. If you want me (as some Big Data folks do) to tag every single item on every single assignment and test with the exact standard number (which may well have been part of the original intent of Common Core), then you have just tripled the time involved in creating and recording every assignment.
If we somehow accomplish that feat (who knows-- maybe I'm finally getting an administrative assistant), that backpack is chock full of data. It exists. It's out there. And as a parent who works in education, I'm not going to be moved by all the assurances on the planet that the data will only be used for purposes I approve of. Major corporations and the US Government can't keep critical information secure; a school district that has to hire IT guys who will settle for far less than the going rate has no chance.
Is there a huge payoff from the data backpack that would justify the risk? In a word-- no.
Look, what are the two questions that the vast majority of parents want answers to?
1) Is my kid doing okay?
2) If not, what does she need help with?
Can anybody think of a reason that the classroom teacher could not handle both of those questions? Anybody?
Yes, I can think of one reason-- the teacher is not competent. And you know what? If the teacher is not competent to answer those two questions, the teacher is certainly not competent to carefully tag and bag and process the detailed data of assignments and tests and etc.
Likewise, a parent who is incapable of communicating with her own child or with that child's teacher is unlikely to be adept and unpacking the data in the backpack.
I don't think student data backpacks serve the interests of parents or teachers. Here are the groups that I think data backpacks might serve.
1) People who are neither the parents, the teachers or the students, but who would still really like to get their hands on that sweet, sweet data.
2) School operators who would like to "teacher-proof" their classrooms by hiring warm bodies and saying, "No, you don't have to know what you're doing. Just unpack the box, deliver the packaged content lessons, administer the pre-written assessments, and enter the data. The software will do the rest."
3) School operators who want to make parents go away and leave them alone. "No, Mrs. Wassamatta, you don't need to schedule a conference. Everything you need is right there in the data backpack. Go look at that and just leave us alone."
4) People who want to market and sell data backpack software.
My advice to Ms. Guidera-- put down the backpack and pick up the phone.
UPDATE: Leonie Haimson reminds me that the student data backpack is straight out of model legislation by ALEC. So you know it's all about educational excellence, and not about ways to leverage fake education reform into great profit-generating possibilities. Nossiree.