FunnyMonkey Blog

Bill Fitzgerald | January 7, 2014

EdWeek has an article up about inBloom. It commits many of the standard errors when writing about data collection and student privacy. The entire piece is filled with minor errors, but rather than nitpick the entire thing to death I want to highlight some of the general types of mistakes that get in the way of a coherent discussion of data collection and student ownership of their data.

We'll start with the article's incomplete characterization of what inBloom does:

InBloom provides school districts and states with a service that allows them to store data in an encrypted, cloud-based system. Educators can access that centralized system to pull together data that is usually stored in many different locations, often by third-party vendors. Though current clients are using its service for free, the company is phasing in a charge of $2 to $5 per student by 2015.

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Bill Fitzgerald | January 6, 2014

In 2013, there has been a burst of attention on data collection and student privacy. Much of the attention has linked data collection to the Common Core rollout, but these arguments are not grounded in fact. Data collection predates Common Core. Here are a few simple examples pulled from the "Customers" page of a single vendor, eScholar.

In this post, I link to case studies included on eScholar's "Customers" page; I also include the case studies as attachments to this post in case the eScholar links change or go dead.

Pennsylvania

From http://escholar.com/documents/Pennsylvania_CaseStudy.pdf

In the quotations below, PDE stands for Pennsylvania Department of Education.

PDE kicked off this project in December of 2005 with a very aggressive timeline of assigning a statewide identifier, known as PAsecureID, to each of...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 5, 2014

In 2001 with the passage of No Child Left Behind, the previously existing data collection efforts of schools, districts, and states became central to high-stakes accountability. Data collection predates NCLB, but the requirements of this law gave shape to the current discussions around data collection and privacy. This Data Quality Guideline brief from the Education Department (doc download) does a good job showing the high level requirements:

The accountability provisions included in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) significantly increased the urgency for States, local educational agencies (LEAs), and local schools to produce accurate, reliable, high-quality educational data.

The EdFacts Overview page has additional information about data required at the federal level.

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Bill Fitzgerald | December 29, 2013

Even under the best of circumstances, using value-added modeling (or VAM) is not a reliable tool in identifying teacher effectiveness.

Recently, in Washington, DC - a leader in using VAM to inform hiring decisions and merit pay - the formula that attempts to quantify the added value was applied incorrectly. As a result, "nearly 10 percent of the teachers whose work is judged in part on annual city test results for their classrooms" were given inaccurate ratings. One of the affected...

Bill Fitzgerald | December 23, 2013

I'm normally not a fan of RadioLab - it reminds me of baked sophomores trying to be profound - but over the weekend, they had an interesting piece about cooperation. One segment of this piece included a story about an experiment and contest on the prisoner's dilemma. The contest was run by Robert Axelrod - to compete, selected participants mailed programs in (this was pre-internet days), and the programs would be entered into a computer. Once all submissions were entered, each program would play every other program two hundred times.

The relevant section begins at 6...

Bill Fitzgerald | December 22, 2013

In conversations about student privacy and data collection, we often go off track due to a lack of clarity about what information needs to be collected, and with whom that information needs to be shared.

Some of the federal data collection requirements at the K12 level are expressed and described in the information describing EdFacts. The file specifications appear to vary by year; for the 2012-2013 school year, states needed to report on over 100 topics, ranging from migrant students supported, special needs students supported, disciplinary incidents, and types of staff evaluation.

This is aggregated data, submitted by the states to the federal government. This data does not contain personally identifiable information, although some data...

Bill Fitzgerald | December 20, 2013

There is a lot of misinformation spewed about data collection in schools, and this is unfortunate, because it gets in the way of important conversations. At a high level, here are some concerns that merit greater attention as we talk about the role of data and the rights of learners.

Current methods of storing data are more permanent than anything we have ever used. When student, teacher, and school data is funneled into a datastore, that datastore is easy to replicate and move. If a single backup of a database is compromised, the entire dataset can potentially be accessed. This is not something that is caused by cloud storage, but poorly managed remote storage could exacerbate the issue.

Security around data storage and data handling is incomplete, inefficient, and/or poorly explained....

Bill Fitzgerald | December 17, 2013

Between the Snowden revelations and the swirling misinformation about data collection and Common Core, there have been an increased number of conversations addressing student privacy. While the conclusions reached within these conversations are unchanged, it's nice to see the topic even being addressed. The calculus generally follows this arc: "free" and "convenient" provide an acceptable reason to downplay or ignore privacy concerns.

There are wonderful things that can be done with free or low-cost tools online. The point of this conversation has nothing to do with the usefulness of working online.

However, if you are not paying (much) for the product, YOU ARE THE PRODUCT.

For the sake of argument, let's say that the US Government created a web...

Bill Fitzgerald | December 5, 2013

If I buy and read a copy of Gatsby, is the value of my "ownership" of the text diminished if someone else buys an identical copy of the book?

How about if someone checks the book out from the library?

How about if I buy a copy of Gatsby and don't read it? While I own the physical text, do I actually own the novel?

If I check out a copy of Gatsby from the library, read the text, and return the copy to the library, does my "ownership" of the text end when I return the book to the library?

Writing books, and creating other works of art, costs money, and requires time, and considerable effort. None of that should be overlooked, and creators deserve fair and adequate compensation for the work and creativity. Texbooks, assessments, and learning materials for K12 education, however, are largely designed to be subsidized via public money; burdening these materials with copyright restrictions that...

Bill Fitzgerald | December 3, 2013

As reported in EdWeek, 68% of school districts in the United States are planning on buying new Common Core aligned textbooks.

This represents an enormous amount of money. The districts that buy new curriculum will also need to devote significant resources to teacher professional development. Among states and districts spending money to prepare for the Common Core, early trends don't look good. As part of Los Angeles Unified School District's iPad 1 billion dollar iPad rollout, the district bought professional development content from Pearson. As the contract with Pearson clearly states, the District doesn't own what they bought, they can't modify it, and they can't share it.

In New York State, the Education Department...

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