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Bill Fitzgerald | January 16, 2014

At the outset of this post, I want to make my biases clear: I am an open content advocate. There are many reasons why I am an open content advocate; foremost among them is the belief that unfettered access - including the ability to freely access, modify, and redistribute material used while learning - helps eliminate barriers to learning. Additionally, the ability to freely access, modify, and redistribute material puts both teachers and learners at the center of the process. It shifts how we look at both texts and learning. If our texts are fixed and malleable, it's easier to see learning as a process of acquiring and remembering a set of "facts." If, however, we look at a text - or a lesson - as the starting point in the conversation that we call learning, we reinforce the role of the teacher and learner as active participants in the process.

There are other reasons that I support open content, and see widespread adoption of open content as a cure for some of what ails...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 13, 2014

In a classroom setting, as in life, a gulf often exists between the conversation we want to have and the conversation that we get. Understanding why that gulf exists - why what we wanted isn't what we got - can be frustrating and painful.

Yesterday, Grant Wiggins wanted to have a conversation about school climate, and how the general practice of separate lunchrooms and bathrooms for students and teachers could impair the relationships between students and teachers.

However, to make his point, Wiggins compared separate facilities to apartheid. Jose Vilson and Tressie McMillan Cottom did an effective job describing the myriad issues with Wiggins' original post.

Fortunately, I was able to retrieve a cached version of Wiggin's original...

Bill Fitzgerald | January 9, 2014

This post started off as a comment in reply to Leonie Haimson, but it morphed into something more substantial so I made it a separate, new post.

Hello, Leonie,

I'm glad that we agree about the need to safeguard student privacy.

I see the issues related to privacy and data collection playing out against a backdrop where the rights of learners are systematically downplayed and ignored. If we limit our work to stopping data from being shared in a single instance - to a single entity, in one type of datastore - we've delayed the problem but we haven't solved it. Students are still exposed to the next collection effort that comes along, and they have no new rights.

If, however, we shift the frame to include and emphasize the rights of the learner to own their own data, we are having a different conversation that empowers learners over time, across systems, and - most importantly - doesn't...

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.

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.



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.

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....


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