Today’s Boston Globe’s Ideas feature has a brief article describing Big Data as a vocational field where the number of vacancies exceeds the number of applicants. This comes at the end of a weekend where I read articles about how Big Data is being abused by the government, where the IRS targeted returns of anti-tax Tea Party groups, and business, where Bloomberg apologized for the data snooping his firm engaged in. Additionally, recent blog posts by Diane Ravitch flag ways the Big Data being collected by schools and testing companies is being sold to commercial enterprises. I’ve also read several articles questioning the security of individual health data once it is all compiled in an efficient Big Data base and, less malevolently, read how Google can help public health officials identify the spread of illness based on a geographical analysis of searches. Oh, and there was an article in the Times about how credit ratings can affect employability, yet another way Big Data can be put to use in a fashion that arguably penalizes people for misdeeds or misfortunes that occurred in the past. And as one who “window shops” on line it is unsettling to see ads for wooden garden benches and Newfoundland lodging appear on Facebook within minutes of conducting Google searches on those very topics. I’ve read that if I were window shopping for a health problem I might get ads that promote a product that would offer a cure.
I love the fact that I can quickly research studies on income inequality, NAEP scores, and quotations on education… but wonder who is examining my aggregated searches to draw conclusions about my political and religious leanings, about my travel plans, or where I am at this very moment. It is too late to stop the collection of data, but it might not be too late to make some decisions on how we might ensure our privacy and to ensure that information about us in those massive public and private data bases is available only to those who have a need to know. When parents start getting banner ads for tutoring services when their child gets low grades on their report card or standardized test, we’ll know the line has been crossed… but by then there will be no turning back.
Th ASCD Blog recently linked to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune describing how the state is moving away from textbooks and into a wholly digital format making extensive use of open source materials. According to the article:
…At least two state math texts are already available and the first of the science texts will be released this summer.
The state texts will be open source, meaning anyone or any school in the state may use them for free.
Proponents say digital textbooks can be cheaper, more up to date and interactive, better suiting the needs of today’s tech-savvy learners.
The notion of “crowd sourcing” the materials in textbooks is appealing not only saves money but also honors teaching as a profession. As one state official said:
States realize “they can continue to have districts serve as a flow-through mechanism to funnel public money to textbook publishers,” Wiley said, “or they can redirect those funds into supporting master teachers and others and pulling together materials that are free.”
There are some logistical glitches that need to be overcome: not all the students have their own devices, not all student homes have access to the internet, and not all students take care of the equipment the school issues. But Utah, wisely I think, sees these as issues that can ultimately be resolved. Will the notion of open source textbooks gain traction? As long as there is money to be made in the textbook industry I fear that ideas like open source courseware will face an uphill battle in legislatures when State governments seek funds for teachers to develop materials in lieu of serving as “flow through mechanisms to funnel public money to textbook manufacturers.” I try very hard not to be cynical… but those “text book manufacturers” have lots of money to lose if they go out of business and lots of money to spend on legislative campaigns to make sure they DON’T go out of business. We have some interesting times ahead!
In yesterday’s Washington Post Bill Gates wrote an op ed piece entitled “A Fairer Way to Evaluate Teachers” that seems to backtrack on his purported position that value added measures should be the primary factor in measuring teacher performance. As indicated in previous posts, I’m not sure that Bill Gates is the demon he has been made out to be. Rather, like most Board members with a business background, he is maddened at the slow pace democracy takes compared to the business world where top-down edicts are standard operating procedure… and arguably that kind of management is even MORE prevalent in the high-tech industry than it is in any business sector. A careful reading of Gates’ article indicates that he opposes “…using student test scores as the primary basis for making decisions about firing, promoting and compensating teachers” (emphasis added). While he doesn’t want test scores used as a primary basis, he does see a place for them as one of several multiple measures and doesn’t call for the abandonment of value added metrics. Nor does he call for the abandonment of linking compensation to performance. Instead of linking additional pay to a competition among colleagues, he seems to embrace the same concepts included in my essay “Race to the Top: NO”, suggesting that teacher-mentors or teachers assuming curriculum leadership roles get higher compensation and/or stipends for their additional responsibilities. In this way I think he parts ways with some of his business counterparts and indicates an understanding of the public school culture and ethos.
Will Bill Gates make more revenue if schools expand their use of technology? YES! Is his interest in public education completely selfish: I don’t think so… Has Bill Gates changed his ideas about education based on what he’s learned over the years? YES. Will he ever say the views he’s abandoned were “wrong”? I don’t think so…. but from my perspective it doesn’t matter so long as he keeps an open mind about how schools can improve, listens to practitioners, and keeps trying out new ideas. At some point, he might show some of his fellow philanthropists that an investment in pre-K education will yield the greatest yield for the least amount of money.