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The Hazards of Unfettered Data Sharing and Poorly Crafted Red Flag Legislation

March 4, 2019 Comments off

Over fifteen years ago I wrote an article for Education titled “A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education“, an article that advocated the sharing of pertinent information among social service case managers, medical professionals, school districts, and police. I reasoned that the various staff member’s confidentiality pledges precluded them from sharing important information with the other agencies in a timely fashion, citing several cases from my work experience where such sharing would have benefitted the clients they were striving to help.

Of late, similar recommendations have come forth in the form of “red flag” legislation that would allow police or family members to take weapons away from individuals with documented mental health problems, individuals who might pose a harm to themselves or others. These “red flag” laws seem to be eminently reasonable. Indeed, some NRA officials and politicians who reflexively oppose any effort to limit anyone’s access to any weapons whatsoever are seemingly open to considering “gun violence restraining orders“.

After reading a recent Motherboard article about the use of data collected by social service agencies, schools, and police in Canada and in several US cities, though, I am having second thoughts about my recommendations and about the efficacy of “red flag” legislation. The Motherboard article underscores the importance of carefully crafting any legislation and/or regulations that deal with data access, for once an individual receives a “red flag” it is difficult to reverse that designation. The article opens with these paragraphs:

Police, social services, and health workers in Canada are using shared databases to track the behaviour of vulnerable people—including minors and people experiencing homelessness—with little oversight and often without consent.

Documents obtained by Motherboard from Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) through an access to information request show that at least two provinces—Ontario and Saskatchewan—maintain a “Risk-driven Tracking Database” that is used to amass highly sensitive information about people’s lives. Information in the database includes whether a person uses drugs, has been the victim of an assault, or lives in a “negative neighborhood.”

The Risk-driven Tracking Database (RTD) is part of a collaborative approach to policing called the Hub model that partners cops, school staff, social workers, health care workers, and the provincial government.

As you can see, the description of the “Hub model” is eerily similar to what I recommended in my 2003 Education Week article. But when I wrote that article, I did not foresee the advent of facial recognition technology… or the widespread use of data warehousing by schools, the medical profession, social service agencies, and law enforcement… or the  avalanche of data that would be collected by social media sites. With all of these technology tools in play, it would appear that some kind of failsafe algorithm might come into play, a means of identifying an at risk individual with laser like accuracy. Such pin-pointing would presumably target those individuals likely to engage in mass shootings or crimes. But it begs the problem of how and when to engage law enforcement officials and how and when to compel an individual to seek treatment for mental illness. As Valerie Steeves, a University of Ottawa criminologist, noted in a VICE article on the use of the Hub model: “As soon as you’re identified [as at-risk], it changes how people interact with you. At that point, you become the problem: ‘we need to watch you, all the time, so we can fix you.’” As one who worked for six years as a high school disciplinarian, I can recall how difficult it was for a youngster who misbehaved as a freshman to shed his or her image as a “troublemaker”… and, as we’ve seen in recent years, Google never forgets. Ill advised posts on social media can limit one’s opportunities as much as poor report cards or low SAT scores.

If we hope to use the massive amounts of data we are collecting on individuals to screen them for “risky behavior” or “mental fitness” we need to enact legislation that sets clear guidelines for the collection and use of that data. We now have surveillance cameras gathering data in schools, shopping areas, at intersections, and, in some cases, on our phones and on our home computers. Who owns that data? Who decides how it can be used? Social media records our “likes” and “loves”, the things that make us laugh, the things that make us cry, and the things that make us angry. Who can buy that data? Who has access to it? Virtually all of our purchases and media consumption results in the collection of data, making it possible for some agency to determine the books we read, the movies we watch, the foods we purchase, the places we are planning to take our vacations, and the major purchases like houses and cars we are examining on-line. Who has access to this data? How is it being used.

15 years ago, I thought that the notion of data sharing was straightforward. The school district’s guidance counselor assigned to a student, the social worker assigned to that student, the probation officer working with that student, and the mental health counselor working with that student, and the physician(s) working with the should all feel free to share information with each other. Each clearly had the student’s well-being at heart and they would each benefit from sharing whatever they knew without completing reams of paperwork or getting clearance through their chains-of-command. Now, I’m not so sure, particularly when the data platforms like those used in the “Hub model” are privately operated and owned and there are no clear parameters on how and when the data are purged.

These questions are complicated and thorny. Presumably we would want to know that someone who is planning a mass shooting has acquired a stockpile of weapons. We would also want to be able to confiscate weapons from someone who is a potential terrorist and know who is communicating with on-line ISIS recruiters. But is everyone who is stockpiling weapons a threat to us? Is everyone who is researching Arabic and Muslim websites a potential terrorist? Is a website purporting to be an ISIS recruitment site a bona fide site?

It would be helpful to have these issues brought to the forefront now, before the data being collected are made available to whomever is willing to pay for it for whatever purposes they wish. I just googled myself. I have 36,000+ that came forth in .42 seconds. The 8th item on the list from MyLife.com indicates that I once lived in Portland, OR. That is demonstrably false…. but there it is for all to see and draw their own conclusions. I’m leaving it there because their is no way I can keep track of all the misinformation that is accumulating. But if I were identified as someone “we need to watch…, all the time, so we can fix you” I might not sleep too soundly as the misinformation accumulates.

 

 

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Goodwill MOOCs Surpass All Others for Enrollment. Why? They Provide What THEIR Customers Need: Job Training

March 2, 2019 Comments off

Many education writers and bloggers, including yours truly, have predicted that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) would someday replace the traditional post-secondary offerings, But like many others, I was completely surprised to read that Goodwill— yes, THAT Goodwill that sells used clothing— has the second most robust MOOC program in the world! Why? Because while start-ups like Udacity, edX and Coursera all fought over the traditional post secondary market, Goodwill seized the larger and more urgent market: those seeking fundamental job skills. As Brandon Busteed of Forbes writes:

…there’s good reason to believe it could quickly surpass all MOOCs in total users.  Why?  It’s simple.  Goodwill got the premise right.  And that premise is all about jobs.  It’s providing the education and skills that help move people from unemployed to employed, from a low-paying job to a higher-paying one, from a bad or average job to a good job.

And in our country, unemployed and under-employed workers all agree that getting a job that pays well and offers benefits is the way to get off the treadmill of pointless and low-paying work… and that getting job skills is essential to securing a better job! And the good news from my perspective as one who sees the world through the lens of social justice, Goodwill, unlike its competitors, is not interested in profit:

Goodwill’s entire focus, though, is a market of people who arguably have both the highest degree of motivation and the least means of accomplishing their goals.  Their model may be the ultimate application of the MOOC educational model – free courses for those who desperately want jobs and can’t afford to pay for education or training.  If Goodwill and its donors and partners can find ways to sustain offering their courses for free to those who need them most around the world, they will most certainly become the world’s biggest MOOC.

I wish them well, and hope that the Federal government, who seems to feel free to bail out and /or support profiteering private post-secondary schools, might find a way to support Goodwill’s MOOCs.

NYTimes Asks “Can America Still Build Big?” The Answer Is Yes…. IF

February 25, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an article by Thomas Fuller, Jennifer Medina and Conor Dougherty that suggests the days of huge infrastructure investments are over in our country. Why? Here’s one answer: we’ve bought into the Reagan notion that government is the problem and subsequently lost confidence in government in general:

“California built the world’s greatest water conveyance system, one of the great highway systems, a great university system,” said Dan Richard, who stepped down as chairman of the rail project’s board of directors on Tuesday. “When did we lose our confidence in our ability to do this stuff?”

And here’s another answer: we’ve invested in too much in projects that require too many logistical challenges which, in turn, leads to too many opportunities for lawsuits which, in turn. protracts the time required to complete the projects thereby adding to their costs. The project that Fuller, Medina, and Dougherty focus on is the high speed rail project in California… a project that required land acquisition, environmental waivers, and lots of planning by lots of bureaucrats. The sad reality is that had this money been used to build sold farms on empty lots or on rooftops in economically depressed cities like Fresno it could have generated lots of cheap electrical power which, in turn, could have attracted businesses and promoted the use of electric cars. Or the money could have been spent to make it possible to use existing highways to operate electric powered driverless trucks and buses.

And since this blog is primarily about education, here’s another idea: the money could have been used to refurbish or replace the scores of dilapidated public schools in the state that need repairs, money that could have been readily spent to good ends.

I believe we CAN continue to think big… but we need to do so by accepting the reality that there are many big projects that do not require complicated plans, plans that invariably result in NIMBY protests that “prove” that government can’t work.

Christiansen’s Clarification: Technology Will Not Disrupt Public SCHOOLS… it WILL Disrupt School SYSTEMS

February 3, 2019 Comments off

In a recent Christensen Institute blog post, Thomas Arnett asserts that the Clay Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, Disrupting Class, never claimed that public education would be disrupted in the sense that that term is applied in business. Here’s his reasoning (with the bold emphases applied by Mr. Arnett and the red italics applied by me):

First, charter schools are not disruptive innovations relative to traditional schools.Disruptive innovations always start out serving people who lack access to mainstream options. But in the United States today, all students have access to some form of public education. This means that charter schools cannot be disruptive because they compete head-to-head with district schools for enrollment.

Second, full-time virtual schools and other purely online options are not disrupting traditional public schools either. Disruptive innovations need a technology that can improve over time until customers see it as comparable to traditional options. But when it comes to schooling, technology cannot substitute for everything parents value in a traditional school. In addition to academic learning, most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents. This important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute, which means only a small segment of the population will ever be interested in full-time virtual schooling.

Charter schools and virtual schools certainly compete with district schools, but their differences relative to district schools do not make them disruptive.

Mr. Arnett DOES contend that disruption has a place in public education, and that place is at the SYSTEMS level… and because it is taking place at that level it is requiring much more time!

As Disrupting Class points out, online learning enables disruptive innovation in K–12 education. But online learning is not disrupting the K–12 education system. Rather, it fuels disruption within the markets that provide resources to K–12 schools….

Disruptive entrants in the K–12 marketplace offer schools fresh opportunities to better support their students. But using technology to make learning more student-centered will be neither automatic or intuitive. In an EdSurge article, my colleague Julia Freeland Fisher explains that many of the most innovative online-learning technologies have slow adoption curves because they are not plug-compatible with traditional schools. Similarly, some of my recent research points out that schools trying to personalize learning might want to rethink traditional school staffing models; but redefining educator roles and responsibilities is no easy task. Even with all the new opportunities that online learning has to offer, transforming schools still comes down to the hard work of change management.

Disruptive innovation is happening in K–12 education. But it isn’t going to replace traditional schools. Rather, it will change the menu of instructional resources that schools can use to serve their students. To take advantage of these resources, school leaders first need to carefully consider how new tools impact educators capacity. Then they need to implement new tools, programs, and approaches in ways that actually motivate teachers to change how they teach.

As one who attended two presentations to Superintendents where Clay Christensen’s co-author, Michael Horn, talked about the concepts in his the book Disrupting Class, I don’t recall this emphasis on this need for systems changeRather, Mr. Horn was promoting the idea among our group that online learning was going to transform public education the same way the transistor radio changed music and cell phones were transforming communication and media transmission, which meant that delivery of education in brick and mortar schools would go the way of plug-in radios and landlines. Systems change is far more marketable to parents than change that completely uproots the care taking role parents expect from schools and the human interaction that only a teacher can provide.

I think public education needs to change the same way that book stores and public libraries are changing. The old model for book stores and libraries, where there were large endless shelves of books, is being replaced by smaller gathering places where customers can linger on their devices, sip coffee, and seek the advice of the bookseller or librarian on books that are on the market that might be of interest to them. They might even have meeting rooms where like-minded individuals can gather to share insights on a book or do an activity together. Instead of being a single minded store or institution that deals only with printed text, book stores and libraries are becoming gathering places where there is a menu of options for their clientele.

But unlike book stores and libraries, public schools play an important care-giving role. They need to embrace the idea that “…most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents.” and that “this important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute”.  To that end, when public schools develop their menu of options for parents they might also include space for after school activities like music instruction, medical services, unstructured play with their classmates, and a safe space to hang out. 

This expansion of the school’s menu from offering only academics to providing care-giving would clearly cost more… but I believe a case can be made that it would also save more in the long run. Working parents would not have to fret about whether their children arrive home safely and what activities they are engaged in, the endless shuttling to-and-from after-school activities would cease, and children would have more opportunities to play with each other with light adult supervision. If that is “disruption”, I say bring it on!

Koch Brothers Plan to Disrupt Public Education, the “Lowest Hanging Fruit”

January 30, 2019 Comments off

The Koch brothers are the most disreputable of all the “reformers”, blatantly seeking profit at the expense of those who were unfortunate enough to be born into families where there wasn’t a billion dollars per year in trust funds…

Meanwhile… in the USDOE, Ms. DeVos is contemplating undoing the supplement vs. supplant language… From where I sit this is related to the Koch takeover: it reinforces the notion that efforts to provide equity is “government overreach” and the regulations that accompany federal dollars are onerous and interfere with innovation… just merge those dollars into local budgets, lower taxes, and use more technology that can be managed by low-wage paraprofessionals… and bingo: the low hanging fruit is picked!

via Koch Brothers Plan to Disrupt Public Education, the “Lowest Hanging Fruit”

Oregon Legislators Mull “Too Young to Test” Legislation… But Luddite Parents Across the Country COULD Undercut Effectiveness of Tests Altogether

January 28, 2019 Comments off

Some Oregon legislators have had enough high stakes testing… and to ensure that it does not spread any further than it already has they’ve introduced a “Too Young to Test” bill that will forbid the use of standardized tests in the early grades. But there may be a way to end all testing according to a Eugene Weekly Op Ed piece by Roscoe Caron and Larry Lewin, retired Eugene School District middle school teachers, and Pat and Jan Eck, retired elementary educators.

Oregonians have an opportunity to change things in a good way. We have the chance to say “No” to the developmentally inappropriate and harmful practice of testing-sorting-tracking little children.

We can say “No” to the drive to minimize their other important qualities, such as creativity, divergent thinking and problem-solving.

One way to change things is for all of us to tell our legislators to support the “Too Young to Test” bill (HB 2318) that has been introduced by Rep. John Lively (D- Springfield). It would prohibit the state government and local districts from standardized testing children from pre-kindergarten through grade 2.

It is modeled on legislation in New York, New Jersey and Illinois. It would allow teachers to make their own professional decisions about which assessments to administer.

The second way is for parents to “Just Say No” to every form of standardized testing that they can.

This is where the ultimate power is: If parents say “no more” — by opting their children out — the testing juggernaut will begin to collapse. We could then join much of the rest of the world in giving a few well-constructed, classroom-based assessments, and save our kids from harm, save our teachers and principals from dispirited burnout and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

It struck me as I read the second option— a complete bail out of testing— that parents who opt out of standardized tests are the modern day version of the Luddites. Here’s a description of the Luddite movement from Wikipedia:

The Luddites were a secret oath-based organization of English textile workers in the 19th century, where a radical faction destroyed textile machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices.

I see a clear analogy between the opposition to standardized testing and the opposition to textile machinery. Luddites did not oppose “technology”, they opposed the erosion of skills that accompanied the spread of technology. Wikipedia continues:

Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry.

The standardized testing “machinery” undercuts the “standard labor practices” of teacher-craftsmen in the same way that textile machinery was a means of undercutting the “standard labor practices” of making stockings by hand… and the use of machine scored standardized tests as a substitute for the hand-crafted tests of teachers IS letting the craft of teaching go to waste.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to note that the Luddite movement was grassroots, emerging over time as a result of economic hardships:

The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise of difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. Luddites objected primarily to the rising popularity of automated textile equipment, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of skilled workers as this technology allowed them to be replaced by cheaper and less skilled workers.[20] The movement began in Arnold, Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England over the following two years.[21][22] Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery. Textile workers destroyed industrial equipment during the late 18th century,[20] prompting acts such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.

We haven’t gotten to the point of having organizations burn boxes of standardized test scoring sheets or vandalizing the various computer centers where high-stakes tests are scored. But in many respects, the recent decision of the Regents to punish schools where parents opt out of tests is analogous to the Protection of Stocking Frames Act of 1788.

History has not been kind to Luddites. Their movement ended badly as profiteers eventually replaced hand crafted stockings with those made by machine and the craft of stocking making has gone to waste. But more and more people are coming to the conclusion that machinery of all kinds reduces the humanity of all… and that awareness is at the root of the movement to address climate change. MAYBE the teachers, parents, and grandparents who oppose the displacement of teacher judgment by standardized tests can join with workers whose work has been displaced by technology and develop a vision for a different kind of economy.

 

The Conversation We SHOULD Have About Schools vs. the Conversation We ARE Having

December 28, 2018 Comments off

Medium contributor Arthur Chiaravalli’s recent article, “We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about the Future of Schools” crosswalks many of the points made by Anand Giridharadas in Winners Take All into public education. Like Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli notes the subtle ways the tech plutocrats and testing industry have changed the conversations we are having about public policy in a way that undercuts the structural problems of our economy that are the result of the status quo.

And like Mr. Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli sees the so-called “agents of change” as champions of the status quo, a status quo that rewards “entrepreneurs” and marginalizes or penalizes those who raise questions about the status quo.

After laying out his case that we are having the wrong conversation about public education, Mr. Chiaravalli concludes his post with this:

…reformers peddle the so-called empty doctrines of individualism, personalization, objectivity, entrepreneurialism, and meritocracy—all while exacerbating inequities and deprofessionalizing teachers.

….The primary effect is always to atomize: content into itemized bits, classrooms into individualized projects and timelines, and each of us into solitary individuals pursuing personalized pathways.

Among the many omissions implicit in (the reformer’s) vision is the notion that each student has equal access to a pathway of choice. Once that false premise is established, you are truly on your own.Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, find your own personal road less traveled, dive headfirst into the entrepreneurial shark tank. Unfortunately, far too many smaller-scale reform movements espouse a similar ethos, often flooding Twitter with a toxic positivity that ignores intransigent inequities and injustices.

The reformers who want to isolate us from each other, who promote the idea that since one individual overcomes poverty thanks to grit means that every individual born into poverty can do so, who see the purpose of education as improving the economic growth of our country are leading us down the wrong path and causing us to engage in the wrong conversation about the future. In fact, they are envisioning a future that is based on the premise that what worked for them in the past is what should work for everyone else going forward. That is not reform… it is reinforcement.