"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Data Collection Gets High Tech and Personal

How many of us heard, as a child growing up, that we were not living up to our potential? I remember taking some comfort in the belief that the person doing the chastising had no idea what my potential was and that I was perfectly happy with my level of performance. A young child's world of rationalization, true, but it was based in my following my definition of happiness. Like most kids I resisted efforts to push my performance beyond levels I felt I was ready for. Like most kids I pushed myself when I was finally physically, intellectually and emotionally ready to do so and I achieved some level of success  that ultimately made me happy.

The US Department Of Education released a draft report last month that arrogantly says they believe they can determine what your success looks like and therefore what potential you must reach in order to be deemed successful. The report defines success as performing "for the benefit of everyone in society." Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, February 14, 2013 details the vision for collecting data to help the system help children become high achieving individuals. "There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors, attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability that high achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success."

To do this they will need to collect more data than just standardized test scores. The report goes on to spell out exactly where they see all this data collection going. If I've learned anything through my research it is to believe the academic intelligentsia ensconced in our government bureaucracies when they say they want to do something. One way or another, they will find a way to do it. That is what makes this report by the USDoEd so disturbing.

I credit our folks over in Oklahoma at ROPE for uncovering this. The report tells what data gathering tools the government envisions using in the future and what data on student learning those tools hope to collect. "Data mining techniques can track students’ trajectories of persistence and learning over time, thereby providing actionable feedback to students and teachers." Here is just a sample of what they envision collecting:
  • "functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and physiological indicators offer insight into the biology and neuroscience underlying observed student behaviors.
  • Researchers can examine consistency in participant’s ratings to determine the strength of the belief or skill. Self-report can also be used to measure process constructs; for example, in the Experience Sampling Method (ESM), participants typically carry around a handheld device that “beeps” them at random intervals, prompting self-report of experiences in that moment (e.g., Hektner, Schmidt, & Csikszentmihalyi, 2007). Such data can be used to make inferences about emotions, thoughts,and behaviors within and across specific situations.
  • Sensors (attached to the student) provide constant, parallel streams of data and are used with data mining techniques and self-report measures to examine frustration, motivation/flow, confidence, boredom, and fatigue. [plan for the]... development of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate aspects of human affect. Emotional or physiological variables can be used to enrich the understanding and usefulness of behavioral indicators. Discrete emotions particularly relevant to reactions to challenge -- such as interest, frustration, anxiety, and boredom -- may be measured through analysis of facial expressions, EEG brain wave patterns, skin conductance, heart rate variability, posture, and eye-tracking.
  • The MIT Media Lab Mood Meter (Hernandez, Hoque, & Picard, n.d.) is a device that can be used to detect emotion (smiles) among groups. The Mood Meter includes a camera and a laptop. The camera captures facial expressions, and software on the laptop extracts geometric properties on faces (like distance between corner lips and eyes) to provide a smile intensity score. While this type of tool may not be necessary in a small class of students, it could be useful for examining emotional responses in informal learning environments for large groups, like museums."It's not a field trip. It's a data gathering session. 
  • Another source of data about students’ perseverance is school records about grades, standardized test scores, attendance, dropping-out, discipline problems, social services used, and so on. 

As we have said, the data tracking wiht Common Core is setting up the infrastructure to facilitate the easy collection of data on our students for someone else's benefit. "The Expanding Evidence report points to important trends in the availability and application of technology-supported institutional-level data for supporting at-risk students (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2013). Data at the institutional level is becoming increasingly streamlined and cross-referenced, improving the capacity to link student data within and across systems."

They will examine your data to see where you are deficient (their definition of deficient) and provide additional resources so you can reach the level of proficiency they have decided in the time frame they determine. Sounds like they are just ignoring the Declaration of Independence, although that just makes sense. They are setting up a system to make everyone dependent on the government.

I wonder if the geniuses developing all these testing techniques and data gathering modes have stopped long enough to consider what their data may find. Because their collection scope is so all encompassing, their data may actually prove that not everyone is equal and some people have no hope of achieving the same level of "success" as others. They will prove there is an inferior human. What will they do then?


  1. I can't say I agree with your conclusions. Half of the difficulty in education is trying to keep up the challenge for all children. I see this as an attempt at figuring out how to sense if a kid is really performing and exceeding their limits, or just coasting (or in over their head). Given the expense and difficulty of the cognitive tests and tracking they and you enumerate, it is doubtful that they are going to do anything like that.

    But if they were to somehow have a cheap and effective test to see if students were giving their all - they would have a better chance to help motivate the student to give it 100% - then as an adult, they would be used to doing it. IN this world of hyper competition between countries - I'd rather look at this as an edge we could have over our economic (and military!) rivals.

    But ... since it is change, and some might work well, and some doesn't - and change is a political process - and Missouri (my home state) is notoriously bad at innovations as the state tends to be moribund.

  2. So I guess a child must be trained to smile to look as if he or she is "giving it his or her all"? We need to attach sensors to children for educational purposes?

    Educating children today seems to be nothing more than methods conditioning children to regurgitate "correct" answers or express "acceptable" emotions. If these are innovations proposed by the Department of Education and embraced by the governor and DESE, God help us and those fighting against Common Core.

  3. Hi-Tech eugenics.

    "They will prove there is an inferior human. What will they do then?"

    The better question is what won't they do? And as aninnymouse #1 said, in this globally competitive world, something just must be done, mustn't it.

    Scarier and scarier.

    1. all too valid of a point!

    2. Yep! Eugenics was the first thing that came to mind for me, too! They'll try to weed out those of "inferior" stock by using the same methods they've been doing for years (pushing birth control & abortion, and performing forced sterilizations on minorities and other "undesirables", etc.), only now they'll be able to pick people out more quickly and easily. Of course, they'll never test themselves, just in case they find results they don't like.

      The other potential misuse is limiting jobs based on their scores. It's one thing to, after evaluating someone, advise them to go into a certain field or area of study, but another to forbid them from anything they're not "suited" for. It may sound paranoid now, but I guarantee you if this goes into effect, it's only a matter of time before the government starts dictating your life to you "for your own good."

  4. When I went to that hell hole parochial school, everybody had to fit Their mold. So this is just a more expensive way of running the Conformatories. Any Japanese kid can tell ya.

  5. My children don't need to be monitored by the government and recorded for future reference! How about the teacher does her job, makes a connection with her students and we pay them properly.


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