Tuesday, February 18, 2014

ALEC Hopes to Surveil Your Children and Direct Their Futures

Introduction.

Edward Snowden brought many citizens into the debate about national security, rights to privacy, the National Security Agency, the FISA court, cell phone communication, and electronic messaging. Americans seem to have awakened from a deep sleep, one induced by 9-11, and they now are alarmed about their personal privacy, but are they willing to stand their ground in behalf of their children?

Conventional Wisdom.

According to popular myth-makers, our public schools have failed; many are dysfunctional. One remedy is standardized testing, originally intended to be formative assessments; i.e., the results would help teachers tweak instruction so that students master essential content and progress in learning. Assessments have become summative, however; i.e., individual student learning is juxtaposed against a predetermined benchmark to measure student learning, teacher effectiveness, school effectiveness, district effectiveness, and state effectiveness.

The formative assessment value of scores has not been lost on anyone, however. Many still assert that test scores must be reported quickly so that states, districts, schools, and teachers can remediate and re-teach to insure student progress and success. Unfortunately, quick, timely reporting is rare. Test results are often sent to schools after students have advanced to another grade and the purview of a different teacher responsible for a different set of objectives. Furthermore, classroom teachers do not have easy access to each student's test results and therefore, cannot use them efficiently or effectively.

The ALEC Model Legislation.

To overcome deficiencies in current test reporting practice, ALEC suggests a Student Achievement Backpack Act, another piece of model legislation to create a means by which records can be transported from place to place and authorized person to authorized person so that counselors and teachers can access a student's assessments in order to place students correctly and provide remediation. Such transparency and accessibility will also allow districts and States to judge how best to fund programs and schools.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute argues a Backpack Act’s advantages in the following: 

“Current technological deficiencies and restrictions on data sharing limit teachers’ access to student data, leaving them inadequately prepared to build off individual students’ strengths and nurture their weaknesses. … The Data Backpack would act as one common official transcript, tracking many more indicators (like prior years’ test scores, attendance, and behavior reports) than current transcripts. The Learning Profile, a customizable data tracker for more qualitative points like students’ goals and teachers’ comments, would supplement.” The ALEC model legislation also suggests a writing sample and more and has been implemented, word for word, in Florida and Michigan.

Warning.

The Backpack Act will add to the cost of education. Hardware and software must be developed and/or purchased and secured. The last necessity is possibly the most important. Do we wish to authorize digital cloud storage of so much information about our children? We are not comfortable with so much information about adults being mined and collected; shouldn’t we protect our children from the same?

No program is safe from hackers. Potential employers, college and university admissions committees, insurers, credit agencies, lending institutions could also access a child’s school record, as they now access utility billing, arrest records, and credit reports with subscriptions to data bases, and with such reports, infer from discrete data pulled from a year or day that was complicated for reasons that have nothing to do with the person’s work ethic, integrity, or abilities.

Most important, the scores to be stored digitally are not accurate determinants for future performance, yet decisions will be made as if the data were reliable. Just one of the many problems with these summative assessments is that the benchmark moves upward as it chases a poorly defined high-jump bar called rigor. An additional problem is that standardized testing or summative assessments are based upon a core set of standards determined by test-makers and corporate interests rather than teachers or even school boards.

Still ALEC proponents believe that a child’s scores on every year’s set of summative assessments should be available in a digital cloud provided by and secured by a contractor. The potential abuses are greater than rewards if such a system were adopted.