Monday, September 29, 2014

Data Dopiness Survives in Indiana

You may recall that back in the day, one of the items on our List of Terrible Things About Reformy Stuff was data mining. Featured in RttT and RttT Lite Waivers, the mandate to hoover up giant mounds of data was one of the great hated evils of reformsterdom, loathed by conservatives and liberals alike.

The Leonie Haimson led a fight against InBloom in New York, and won.

Since then, we've dialed back the data fretting considerably.

That's a mistake. The federal requirements for massive data management have not gone away. None of the advocates for cradle-to-career data tracking have stepped forward to say, "Gee, we now realize that's a horrifying idea that out-Big-Brothers George Orwell." The Data Overlords do not sleep, and a reminder of that comes through Shaina Cavazos at Chalkbeat's Indiana bureau. 

Steve Braun would like to use oceans of data to match up students and jobs, and that suits Governor Mike Pence fine-- he's been pushing the connection between education and workforce development since his days as a state representative. He would now like to see a new state office for a data czar created to manage an ocean of K-12 and college data, along with coordinating with an outside company to "identify trends and opportunities."

It's a dopey idea for several reasons.

First, it further enshrines the reformster notion that "education" actually means "job training." It's a small-minded meager vision of education which vastly shortchanges our students in the short term and our culture, country and society in the long term.

Second, it requires a level of prescience not generally associated with government in general or actual human beings in particular. Do you think you can say today, right now, what a six-year-old's career ought to be? Our students will be employed in jobs that don't exist yet. Hell-- in the late 1970s I correctly deduced that computer knowledge would be good to have, so kudos to me-- except that my ground-floor computer training consisted of learning to program in BASIC, so, never mind my kudos.

Third, it turns students into fodder for corporate interests. My standard response to "Your school needs to produce more people who are employable as widget twiddlers" is "I'm comfortable preparing 100 students to be widget twiddlers if you're prepared to guarantee that all 100 will have jobs waiting for them at your company when they graduate." But if you want me to produce 100 twiddle ready widgeters so that you can pick the best ten and leave ninety others to twist in the wind, I'd say you are deeply confused about the purpose of public education.

The idea is to collect long-term data from three state agencies — The Indiana Department of Education, Department of Workforce Development and Commission on Higher Education — and, hopefully, merge it with data tracked by private employers. Four other states — Washington, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Maryland — have similar data systems but none have yet harnessed the information in the way Indiana envisions.

Of course, one of the most common concerns about the Great Data Mines is privacy. Exactly who will be poking through student records, and how safe will they actually be. But Braun says those concerns "should not come into play." The network will just study trends, not individuals. No word yet on whether or not the network would like to sell you a bridge.

When it’s operational, state officials hope Indiana can use the network to be a national trailblazer for using data and collaborating with business.

“There is big social and economic value if we do better,” Braun said.

One would hope that some educational value would appear as well.

There's more ridiculousness. Braun says that data is so far just snapshots of the past; he would like to...I don't know? Take snapshots of the future? Is there a TARDIS in this plan?  No-- he would like to align educational processes around workforce analytics. Cavazos notes that "thinking of education that way is sometimes hard for teachers." Perhaps in the same way that is hard for doctors to think of medical treatment as only fixing broken legs.

Accountability? Indiana has dopey ideas for that, too.

Braun thinks the Indiana’s forecasting can be good enough that training kids to assure they get jobs should be more than a goal. It should be expected. In the future, he said, that state should consider tying data about how many graduates earn good jobs to its school accountability system.

Super idea. Perhaps we could also link economic performance to jobs for politicians and bureaucrats-- if the employment rate drops too low, governors and their appointees can be automatically ejected from office, and their failures can be noted in their permanent data records as we try to counsel them into new jobs.

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