FunnyMonkey Blog

Bill Fitzgerald | June 1, 2014

Right now, there is a very good possibility that at least some of the candidates for the 2056 presidential election are in elementary or middle school.

To meet federal accountability requirements, their schools collect detailed information about their behavior and performance. This information - tied to a unique identifier - gets stored in a state database that records detailed information about learners. All states collect this information for K12 education; 41 track information from preK through college.

Many of these state level datastores are managed, supported, and accessed by external vendors like - for example - Pearson, eScholar, and Infinite Campus.

If this candidate goes to a school that uses Powerschool, then their personal...

Bill Fitzgerald | May 31, 2014

If you are collecting data on students, students need to be able to see, interact with, review, comment on, and dispute data points to which they have objections. Parents deserve these rights as well. Anything short of full, complete transparency - where students and parents can see the full range of data collected, and interact with it, and learn from it, and interject when the implications suggested by the data are wrong - won't be sufficient.

Whether you see this as a systems design issue with pedagogical implications, or a pedagogical issue with systems design implications, the starting points look the same.

If you are building or working with a data system, it needs to have these two components:

  • Student dashboard - a student should be able to see everything that is collected about them. More importantly, the application should have a mechanism that allows students to comment on, review - and in some cases, remove - data points, or assumptions based...
Bill Fitzgerald | May 23, 2014

One of my major motivating factors in writing a book on data and education policy through the lens of inBloom is to make the details of education policy more accessible to a broader audience.

It should surprise absolutely no one that many discussions about educational issues take place among people who are deeply immersed in education or edtech, and that the people engaging in these conversations have deeply ingrained beliefs that are unlikely to change. When I talk with people outside this bubble, they express a degree of confusion and horror - confusion about what the actual issues are, and horror at what appears to be the intractability of vaguely defined yet strongly held convictions.

From watching - and participating in - many education policy discussions over the years, I'm no longer surprised when these conversations take place in an ahistorical...

Bill Fitzgerald | May 20, 2014

One of my goals in writing a book looking at how education policy and privacy decisions evolved over the last three years is to examine and clarify the different potential meanings of data within education.

When we talk about data, we often skip the specifics. When it comes to discussing issues and concerns related to data collection and privacy, a lack of specificity at the outset leads to confusion and miscommunication as the conversations progress. Within education, "data" means many things.

This Might Be What We Talk About

When we talk about data, are we talking about the data that is required for school report cards, as required by federal law? Are we talking about data that supports federal...

Bill Fitzgerald | May 8, 2014

In talking about education, it's very easy to get bogged down in the rabbit holes of policy debates, who supports what and how fervently, and other details that circle around education, but aren't directly tied to education.

To break that pattern of thought, I started asking myself these questions relative to some of the work we do, related to how learning and teaching environments are created and sustained:

  • What does an hour of learning look like? How about a day?
  • What does teaching look like, and is "teaching" even the right word to use?
  • What does school look like, and is "school" the right term to use?
  • For someone supporting learners, who do you talk with while planning?
  • For learners, who do you talk with while learning?
  • If someone asks you to explain why you are doing a specific thing, or what questions you are trying to solve, how would you respond?
  • If someone asks you to prove that it works...
Bill Fitzgerald | May 7, 2014

I've spent the last few weeks reading and re-reading This Is Not A Test by José Vilson. In my past life, as an English teacher, I would churn out responses like no one's business. It was a simple pattern - read --> cogitate --> time and caffeine --> pronto! Occasionally, though, the pattern wouldn't work - with books where I got stuck on the corners - books where I kept returning because there were pieces of the conversation (and yes, I see all text as an invitation to a conversation) that I missed. These books - the ones that keep calling you back, the ones that push you - are, over time, the most enjoyable.

This Is Not A Test defies easy categorization - the text is equal parts essay, coming of age story, history lesson, and primer in what it means to teach - and each facet is equally necessary. Reading through the text, I kept returning to the idea that our concept...

Bill Fitzgerald | April 29, 2014

As is now painfully obvious, Oregon wasted milions of taxpayer dollars on the failed Cover Oregon site. A sizeable amount of these millions went to Oracle, the main contractor on this failed build that didn't sign up a single person for health coverage.

President Obama showed his outrage at this incompentence and waste of taxpayer money by playing a round of golf on Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's private golf course this February. Nothing says "I'm outraged!" like leaving an extra divot on the green.

Let's contrast this with the position of the Federal Government on teachers who are not performing:

...

Bill Fitzgerald | April 25, 2014

On April 24th, Washington State became the first state in the country lo lose its No Child Left Behind (or NCLB) waiver. The state lost the waiver because the Washington State legislature refused to tie teacher evaluations to student scores on standardized tests.

The letter, and the attached conditions, make for an interesting read. The implications also point to additional showdowns in the near future. The adequate yearly progress goals of NCLB, broadly criticized as unrealistic, will result in many schools that have been considered successful to become failures overnight. Randy Dorn, Washington State superintendent, describes the situation as follows:

"You have to write the letter to everyone that you're a failing school," he says. "You're supposed...

Bill Fitzgerald | April 8, 2014

In conversations about privacy in schools, it's easy to get mired in the details of what isn't working. The incomplete list below provides some starting points for making things better. This list isn't comprehensive by any means, but it's intended as a starting point for people looking to dig deeper. In an ideal world, we could round up funding to bring together a team of people for 2 two day work sessions (a total of four days) to begin working through this list. All work would be released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

  1. For non-lawyers, finding and accessing the text of federal privacy laws can be a challenge. The ideal would be to create online versions of FERPA,...
Bill Fitzgerald | April 3, 2014

NOTE: An earlier version of this post included language from a draft version of a NY Assembly bill. Thanks to Paige Kowalski for pointing this out. END NOTE

Earlier this week, New York State pulled out of inBloom. While this has been hailed by some as a victory for privacy, it's worth noting that the data points that are collected - and have been collected for the last several years - haven't changed. The federal accountability requirements driving much of the data collection that currently occurs haven't changed. In New York, the withdrawal from inBloom means that districts are right back where they started: managing data collection and accountability...

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