Obama Touts Education Legacy, But Ignores Dismal Reality

President Barack Obama (photo credit: Daniel Borman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Susan Berry of Breitbart reports on President Obama’s recent speech to an audience of high-school students, describing the state of his administration’s education policy. Parts of the speech obviously emerged from his parallel universe. Other parts provided warnings, disguised as promises, about what the federal government might do to children and families in the future.

Obama claimed “real progress” in educational achievement during his almost eight years in office. He bragged about his Race to the Top program, which “inspired students to set higher, better standards [Common Core] so that we could out-teach and out-compete other nations.” Like his comrade-in-arms Jeb Bush in a Harvard speech last week, Obama didn’t explain why he considers Common Core “higher” or “better.” Maybe because college-dropout and well-known education expert Bill Gates says so.

As evidence of the effect Common Core has had on educational achievement, Obama could have cited scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP, called the “nation’s report card”). But he chose not to, perhaps because NAEP scores have stagnated or fallen since most states fully implemented Common Core.

But what about his claim that his Common Core and other policies will improve college-readiness, especially for minority students? NAEP college-readiness scores also declined last year. And in Kentucky — the state that has implemented Common Core longer than any other — the achievement gap between white and non-Asian minority students is increasing. Well done, Mr. Obama.

Now for the threats. Continue Reading

Not a Conspiracy Theory: Educrats Discover Alarming New Ways to Data Mine Our Children

Opponents of the progressive-education elitists on issues such as the Common Core scheme are routinely accused of spouting paranoid conspiracy theories. This smear is particularly common in discussing technology-driven “digital learning.” It’s ridiculous, educrats say, to suggest that schools — meaning the government —and their corporate ed-tech allies will be probing the psyches of our children. Track children’s eye movements or scan their brains? That’s crazy talk!

Except that federally funded researchers now brag about doing just that.

Ed Week reports that Carnegie Mellon University researchers are using brain scans to create computer software to adapt to what a student is actually thinking as he solves math problems. The premise is this:

Researchers can now use brain-imaging techniques to identify the mental stages humans go through while solving math problems. From there, they can use machine-learning algorithms to find the connections between patterns of human brain activity and patterns in the data generated by students as they interact with math software. Armed with that information, the researchers hope, they can build better educational software programs capable of quickly detecting how students are attempting to solve a given problem, then responding in a personalized way.

For years the U.S. Department of Education (USED) has promoted this cutting-edge research, in pursuit of “transforming” education by “personalizing” it. One reportPromoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance” — describes USED’s goals in creepy detail. The Grit report explains how a child’s emotions, such as 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” (p.

Continue Reading

Democrats Wage War on Themselves Over Opt-Out Movement

An unintended consequence of the Common Core standards-and-assessments scheme is dissension among liberal interests over the testing. The “opt out” movement comprises essentially two categories: parent activists seeking to protect their children from the useless or even harmful Common Core computerized testing, which is designed less to assess academic content knowledge than to collect psychological data on students; and the liberal, no-accountability, never-test crowd, who object to students’ taking any standardized tests, even validated academic tests not aligned to Common Core. But a powerful liberal cohort also resides in the Common Core education-establishment universe, which pushes more and more computerized assessments not only to collect psychological data on students, but also to enrich the testing companies and other hangers-on that profit from testing accoutrements, such as the required technology. (There is also a powerful, parallel GOP cohort that pushes the same agenda.)

The tangle of agendas illustrates that centralization schemes can create the strangest allies.

Photo credit: Alberto G. via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

One arena for combat is the proposed regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). John King — who was pretty much chased out of New York State when he doggedly pushed Common Core standards and testing there — continues to do the bidding of the Common Core establishment as Secretary of Education. His proposed ESSA regulations would penalize any school in which more than five percent of the students opt out of the testing. Such schools would be designated “in need of improvement” and subject to (so far undefined) punishment.

Continue Reading

Common Core’s National Curriculum Has Arrived

In May 2014, conservative columnist George Will warned that Common Core represented the “thin edge of an enormous wedge” and that “sooner or later you inevitably have a national curriculum.”

Will’s concern is now closer to realization. One lever the U.S. Department of Education (USED) may use to hasten this outcome is the #GoOpen Initiative, through which USED will push onto the states Common Core-aligned online instructional materials. These materials are “openly licensed educational resources” (Open Educational Resources, or OER) – online resources that have no copyright and are free to all users. Utah is part of the initial consortium of states that will be collaborating in #GoOpen.

#GoOpen is part of a larger global and federal effort to institute OER in place of books and traditional education (in fact, USED appointed a new advisor to help school districts transition to OER). More disturbingly, another part of this scheme increases the federal government’s ability to monitor and track teacher and student use of these online resources – and perhaps even influence the content.

This outcome could result from a related, joint USED-Department of Defense initiative called the Learning Registry. The Registry is an “open-source infrastructure” that can be installed on any digital education portal (such as PBS) and that will facilitate the aggregation and sharing of all the linked resources on the Registry. The idea is to “tag” digital content by subject area and share on one site supposedly anonymous data collected from teacher users (content such as grade-level, recommended pedagogy, and user ratings).

Continue Reading

Grassroots vs. Establishment Battle Evident in GOP Education Platform

Photo credit: Erik Drost via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Although present in many other areas of the Republican Party Platform, the struggle between parents/grassroots activists and corporate education reform/data overlords is no more evident than in education. That fight is between parents who are demanding their inherent right to control the educational destinies of their children and the corporate titans, politicians of both parties, and bureaucrats that have imposed Common Core, invasive testing, psychological profiling, and data mining.

Grassroots Wins

Jane Robbins has already done an excellent job noting many of the same grassroots and parental wins. I heartily agree with her list of wins for our side (a complete list of my points and quotes is available here):

  • Affirming the need to eliminate or greatly reduce the unconstitutional, expensive, and ineffective federal role in education
  • Rejecting the view of students as products or “human capital”
  • Affirming the primacy of the parental role in education
  • Protecting data and psychological privacy and rejection of social emotional profiling and mental screening
  • Opposition to national standards and test based accountability
  • Supporting local control
  • Rejection of the Title IX bathroom edict and contraceptive based sex education as dangers to privacy, safety, and health
  • Affirming academic basics like phonics and other important foundations like history from original documents and the Bible as literature

One other significant piece the RNC should be commended for adding in the overall section on families is the plank acknowledging the incredibly important role of two-parent families that is foundational to education and to preventing so many social ills that plague our nation. Continue Reading

New GOP Platform: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Concerning

Photo credit: Erik Drost via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Republican Platform was released on Monday, the first day of the convention. Much of the K-12 education plank is good; parts are concerning. Here are a few initial impressions.

The platform begins with a strong statement of the purpose of education — that true education goes beyond transmission of “knowledge and skills” and encompasses “handing over of a cultural identity.” The platform observes, correctly, that “centralizing forces outside the family and community . . . have done immense damage,” and it states flatly that the strongest centralizing force — the federal government — “should not be a partner in [the educational] effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education.”

Citing the celebration of human dignity in the Declaration of Independence, the platform states: “That truth [of the Declaration] rejects the dark view of the individual as human capital – a possession for the creation of another’s wealth.” In so doing, the platform dismisses the foundational principle of Common Core and other education-as-workforce-development schemes. This statement is a welcome indication that at least some of the people who worked on this language actually understand — and reject — the Chamber of Commerce view of education.

Turning to parental rights, the platform also acknowledges that parents “have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing” and even supports a constitutional amendment to protect that right from “interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.” It strongly endorses local control in education, opposes all national standards (specifically Common Core) and assessments and, while it endorses tests that “serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs,” rejects “excessive testing.” (There is no mention of parental rights to opt out of the testing.)

The platform also recognizes that more spending isn’t the solution to our education problems, noting the singular lack of effectiveness of the $2 trillion of federal money spent on education over the last 50 years. Continue Reading

The Left Wants All of Your Personal Data. Yes, All of It.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building in Washington, DC (photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The far-left Center for American Progress (CAP) recently sounded another volley in the campaign to collect and share enormous amounts of personal data on American students. CAP argues the federal government should enhance interoperability among its various data networks and modify privacy protections that currently prohibit sharing of information housed in those separate databases. The ostensible benefit would be to give “policymakers and consumers … access to comprehensive information in order to make informed choices about how well colleges and universities are serving their students.”

There’s been an ongoing debate about whether federal law should be changed to allow creation of a “student unit-record system” — a central data repository combining student higher-education data with employment data to track individual students and analyze the correlation between their education and their employment and earnings. The “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio, would facilitate this outcome, in the name of advising consumers about colleges and the best (meaning most lucrative) courses of study.

CAP now argues that beyond a unit-record system, much “useful” data already exists in federal databases and could be leveraged with a few tweaks. Considering the existing data pools at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Veterans Affairs; the Social Security Administration (SSA); and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), CAP salivates about the wonders that would result if all this data were traded back and forth with the Department of Education (USED).

Continue Reading

Memo to Big Data: Parents Are Furious — Not Fearful — About Data-Mining

A recent column by Brenda Leong of the Brookings Institution condescendingly intones that parents are clueless and fearful about the glories of womb-to-tomb data-collection for our children, including social-emotional (psychological) data. Here is an excerpt:

The role of technology within schools expanded at an unprecedented rate, general awareness of consumer data security and breaches increased, and student databases at the state or national level were established or proposed, which drew great public scrutiny and fear. This maelstrom yielded a tremendous output of legislative activity targeted at education technology companies, that was overwhelmingly focused on protecting and limiting the sharing and use of student data—in rare instances, to the point of forbidding research uses almost completely. There are signs that this wave of fear-driven response has finally crested, and that more measured conversations are occurring; conversations that prioritize the fundamental requirement for appropriate privacy and security, but with a clear focus on the invaluable role of research and analysis and the need to enable it.

Leong and Brookings are among the corporate/foundation/government education cartel that supports the invasive Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA – S 227), which would expand federal government snooping into children’s social-emotional data:

[The Senate’s passage of SETRA] is one of the recent signs that Congress takes seriously the research value of student data. Another encouraging moment occurred in March, when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing which addressed stakeholders’ concerns about student data . . . Unfortunately, as of now, SETRA is stalled (or “held hostage”), potentially because of continuing distrust about broader student privacy concerns.

Continue Reading

The Dark Side of Student Data Mining

Janice Gobert’s recent op-ed in US News & World Report is another classic example of the huge disconnect between parents and the big government and corporate education-technology “Big Data” machine. Big Data seems to believe computers can teach children better than teachers or parents. It also claims entitlement to constant data from our children, including psychological data, handsomely profiting corporations and government but destroying privacy and the student-teacher interaction, all without evidence of effectiveness. This is why informed parents and teachers in droves are rejecting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Common Core State Standards (CCSS), high-stakes testing, and “competency based” (“individualized”) education.

Gobert, whose company develops the software she lauds (no conflict of interest there), attempts to justify both the invasive data-mining and the NGSS, which have received poor reviews from many, varied organizations. She raises the favorite bogeyman of the establishment — American students’ 21st place in international rankings of science performance, supposedly endangering US global competitiveness. Yet, she ignores contrary data and research showing no correlation between these rankings and national economic performance.

More alarming is this paragraph, containing the kind of language that sends parents running for the exits of public schools and possibly towards attorneys:

Educational data mining offers more than the traditional statistics used on typical, multiple-choice tests. These high-fidelity data are in the form of log files from mouse clicks within the digital learning environment. They also measure and monitor things like students’ saccadic eye patterns as students learn from visual and textual information sources, data from sensors tracking facial expressions and posture, and more.

Continue Reading

Government-Sponsored “Research” Putting Children’s Privacy At Risk

Photo credit: Lucelia Ribeiro via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Much has been written about the dangers of the proposed Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), especially the bill’s extension of student data-collection to socioemotional data. But parents should realize the broader privacy problems with government-sponsored education “research.”

Student data-privacy is supposedly protected on the federal level by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 2012, however, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) gutted FERPA via Obama administration regulation. Among other outrages, the new regulation allows USED (and other entities) to take student personally identifiable information they receive from states or educational institutions and redisclose that data to researchers, without obtaining consent from or even notifying the entities that provided the data in the first place.

So as long as someone claims to be doing research “to improve instruction, administer student aid programs, or develop, validate, or administer predictive tests,” and signs an agreement promising with all his heart to protect confidentiality, he has a good shot of getting his hands on personally identifiable student data. The relaxation of FERPA protections creates dangers that highly personal student data will be shared among interested “researchers” – and neither the students nor their parents would have any idea this is happening.

According to data-privacy expert Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, “’research’ has become the easiest incantation by which virtually anyone could get direct access” to personally identifiable information.

A case in point is presented in a May 2, 2016 announcement from USED that it plans to “offer other federal agencies and affiliated researchers data access to conduct research that can inform and advance policies and practices that support students’ postsecondary success and strengthen repayment outcomes for borrowers.” Highly sensitive financial information about students and their families will be opened up to other government agencies to allow them to “match administrative student aid data files with other survey and administrative data .

Continue Reading