Data collection could be used positively and privately to lift students and teachers and create great public schools. But the fear is that data is currently misused in many ways. Data has also been used to misrepresent America’s schools. Parents have often been deceived, or data collection has been a waste of time because the results have not been used to benefit students. Sometimes data collection is scary.
Like when children in communities around the country came home talking about a survey they took in class. Parents, most of whom hadn’t heard their kids were taking a survey, learned some of the questions were too personal for their taste.
The Tripod, created by a Harvard professor and peddled by the MET project (Gates Foundation) asks children personal questions about their families, for example: how many adults and children live with them, how many books they have in their home/bedroom, and how many years of school the adult with the most education in their home has.
The Tripod also wants to get to know teachers. Here is a sample of the student questions for that:
Early Elementary (K-2) survey:
- In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.
- My classmates act the way my teacher wants them to.
Upper Elementary survey:
- My teacher wants me to explain my answers – why I think what I think.
- In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.
- In this class, my teacher accepts nothing less than our full effort.
- My teacher takes the time to summarize what we learn each day.
What’s wrong with the Tripod and other data collecting instruments like it? Shouldn’t teachers want feedback from their students about their teaching? Doesn’t it make good sense that parents inform schools about what they need? Wouldn’t good data truly help in personalizing learning for students?
Parents and teachers have watched schools shuttered and teachers fired. Their children have been manipulated with high-stakes standardized test scores. Common Core State Standards were created with little feedback on the part of parents or teachers, and they worry how such standards will affect students in the long run.
No one trusts data collection. Many find it hard to believe the data will be used to personalize their child’s education positively. Parents and teachers worry they are living in a “gotcha” world when it comes to public schools and beyond.
I would also argue that surveys like this could be considered a waste of time and money. If teachers know their students and they team with parents, as they should, they already know about each other. Most parents welcome teachers who want to work with them on behalf of their child. They don’t need to tell them all about the problems in their personal lives unless those problems affect their child and the child’s progress in school.
If schools are good schools and teachers care, parents will feel comfortable with schooling. If this interaction isn’t going on, no survey is going to make it better. In fact, a survey, if anything, will raise distrust. Asking personal questions of children, especially without a parents’ knowledge or understanding, will break whatever trust a parent has with a school!
Is data all bad? Are there times when it can be helpful?
Harold O. Levy who was once New York City schools chancellor (2000-02), made a compelling argument, I think, in a recent Wall Street Journal article on behalf of data. Here is what he says it has yielded.
- It has provided more accurate information about truancy.
- It has demonstrated that low-income gifted students graduate from college less than their wealthier counterparts.
- That there is not one study to show grade retention works (listening Jeb Bush?).
- And that summer school is very beneficial.
My only criticism of this is that, except for the truancy issues, we have known these facts for a very long time. While more data might help support the facts, the research on retention, for example, and its association with dropping out, has been available for many years. Most researchers knew the harm caused by retention before it became associated with the FCAT and holding students back in 3rd grade. The State of Florida chose not to use the research findings of the data in this respect, and many 3rd graders have been retained.
Collecting more data might help support the right issues, but those with the power have to want to use the data correctly. If nothing different or better occurs due to the data, what good are the expense and the time taken to collect more data about the same issues? Data is often ignored, or made-up data is used, or the data is skewed to mean the opposite of what it really means.
Ed reformers often use incorrect or weak data to emphasize the need for change in public schools. These are the changes they want to privatize public schools. The Tripod, for example, raises suspicion in teachers. We know Mr. Gates likes Teach for America types. If he truly supported teachers, perhaps there would be less controversy over such data collection.
An overall example of the misuse of the data was presented yesterday on Morning Joe, where one can always go to feel the pulse of the anti-teacher/public school movement. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García argued very well I thought against harmful inaccurate data about standardized testing comparisons. HERE. But the wrong or uninformed use of the data was seriously on display, and when beliefs are strong against public schools and teachers, there appears to be little chance of changing minds.
Instead of funding more data and getting all wrapped up in facts that are inaccurate, and instead of gleaning more information about students, whether it be testing or personal information, we need to use truthful data and find solutions for the problems we already know exist.
Fewer tests and more genuine understanding of the problems facing families, and more analyzing of valid research, is what we need to help public schools and the students they serve succeed.
Levy, Harold O. “Education Officials Flunk Statistics 101: ‘Big data’ analysis provides insights into everything from school attendance to the progress of talented students,” The Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2014.