Saturday, January 22, 2011

Data Mining: An Education Reform Strategy

Posted for Sandra in Brevard
If you got mad a few years ago, when you found out Motor Vehicles was sellng information, this won't make you at all happy

If you buy a book through Amazon, rent a movie through Netflix, or have a Facebook account, your information and choices are "mined" to market new products catered to what the data reveals about you. In these large databases, your choices are compared with others and a book you liked might be offered to others who seem to have similar tastes or interests. Specialized algorithms are developed that "mine" in an effective process to sell products.

Wikipedia defines algorithms in part this way:
"Algorithms are essential to the way computers process information. Many computer programs contain algorithms that specify the specific instructions a computer should perform (in a specific order) to carry out a specified task, such as calculating employees' paychecks or printing students' report cards."

NY Times contributor Seth Freeman wrote this week a clever article this week titled "Me and My Algorithm" of which he said:

If this is a case of my algorithm, my cyber personal shopper, coach, guardian angel and avatar, knowing me better than I know myself, I really do need to figure out why I, a guy, get repeated offers — tied to a e-mails on vastly different subjects — for mastectomy bras and for something called a vaginal ring. Is the idea that these items make lovely gifts? Since articles I have written have circulated through the Internet by e-mail, it could easily turn out that my algorithm will soon get the opportunity to read what I have had to say about it here. What, I wonder, will it think?” (1)
Last year, Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives obtained a patent for a personal data mining system that "would analyze information and make recommendations with the goal of aiding a person's decisions and improving quality of life. The patent abstract described the system this way: "Personal data mining mechanisms and methods are employed to identify relevant information that otherwise would likely remain undiscovered." Users supply personal data that can be analyzed in conjunction with data associated with a plurality of other users to provide useful information that can improve business operations and/or quality of life. Personal data can be mined alone or in conjunction with third party data to identify correlations amongst the data and associated users. Applications or services can interact with such data and present it to users in a myriad of manners, for instance as notifications of opportunities. Of course, it's not all about improving lives: Further down, the patent explains that "such data can be afforded to businesses involved in market analysis, or the like, in a manner that balances privacy issues of users with demand for high quality information from businesses." (2)
Building Longitudinal Data Systems for Education

What does this have to do with education? Plenty. There is a widespread belief that the development of longitudinal data, from early childhood through the 12th grade and beyond is a necessary element to educational reform. The Data Quality Campaign (DQC), "a national, collaborative effort to encourage and support state policymakers to improve the availability and use of high-quality education data to improve student achievement." The organization articulates a widespread belief that "States have made remarkable progress in developing longitudinal data systems that can follow student progress over time, from early childhood through 12th grade and into postsecondary education through implementation of the 10 Essential Elements. The 10 State Actions are the fundamental steps states must put in place to change the culture around how data are used to inform decisions to improve system and student performance."

Florida received a federal grant for $9,975,288 with funding starting in July 2010 and ending in June 2013 and cited these major outcomes in their proposal
a) Upgrade the four major source data systems that are incorporated into Florida’s Education Data Warehouse (EDW)

b) Employ a unique identifier system so that social security numbers are no longer the key field for tracking students between the Local Education Agencies and the State

c) Provide several different reporting capabilities for use by a myriad of stakeholders

d) Implement a data mining tool for FLDOE to analyze and evaluate its program and policies more efficiently and effectively (3)

The Data Quality Campaign reaffirmed that "Florida is among the top states in collecting data (10 of 10 criteria along with 11 other states) and using it (5 of 10 criteria, better than all but two states). "When states collect the most relevant data and are able to match individual student records over time, they can answer the questions that are at the core of educational effectiveness." (4) According to their website, the founding father of the Data Quality Campaign is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with additional support from Casey Family Programs, Lumina Foundation for Education, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. You can follow DQC on Facebook.

DQC’s executive director believes that there is education data collected that is not necessary and cited Kansas and Tennessee as “leaders in establishing rules for data control.” However, the Fordham Law School Center on Law and Information Policy conducted a study (5) on the massive data collection efforts and concluded that states "are collecting far more information than necessary, failing to take appropriate measures to safeguard student privacy and protect them from data misuse, and failing to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Fordham's investigation also reveals that 80% of the states "do not have a system to delete student records. "Fordham law professor Joel R. Reidenberg, who oversaw this study, had this to say of the Center’s findings:

“Ten, 15 years later, these kids are adults, and information from their elementary, middle and high school years will easily be exposed by hackers and others who put it to misuse. States, he said, "are trampling the privacy interests of those students." (6)

Bill Gates and the entire computer industry need a literate population with financial means to buy and make use of their products. Therefore, at some level, these efforts are intended to spur improvements. I do not mean to suggest any nefarious intent. Clearly, there is business development intent. Then, I wondered what other benefits a massive data collection has. Could it be a way for an industry, like the computer industry, to be able to identify minds early on with potential to join that workforce, nurture them, and ensure that the U.S. has sufficient minds here versus importing from abroad. Right now, the jobs in this sector are blooming in China and India and likely a destination for unemployed U.S. computer guru's, leaving the potential for a U.S. brain drain. Whatever the reasons, I find it troubling. What do you think?

© SandraInBrevard, All Rights Reserved


  1. Do you believe that collecting data from pre-school through post-secondary education is a good use of money that will lead to improvements in education?

    Should parents be informed and consent to the collection of data on their child?

    I am interested in your take.

  2. Hmmm, Dick Nixon, J Edger and Joe McCarthy would have loved it

    I can see it as a good use of money for something, clearly so can the Feds since they're funding it to:

    Provide several different reporting capabilities for use by a myriad of stakeholders

    Frankly the question is; Is there any intent to improve education? Or is that just spin to justify the government collecting personal information

  3. Grumpy: Good points. The current rampant theory is that testing and collecting data over a long period of time will inform educational improvements. So, your question is well-taken. How will algorithms do that? Such tools are great in production oriented industries, but kids? The influence of industry on this initiative is notable. So, intent is a good question. There is no data without lots of tests.

  4. More information is available on everyone but the folks seeking our information.
    I don't understand how we are to make individual choices, to mange our own lives, if all we see tells us what to do,think or what to buy.
    I'm beginning to think that some people don't think too much of the common man.
    I blame Madonna.

  5. DFTTS, Yeah, Lots of standardized tests and who profits from that? That could be an entire conversation by itself.

    Don't misunderstand, I can see how long term collection of data could be used to determine what works best with whatever demographic group. Whatever sub group and on down to the affect the relative age of siblings and.... The ultimate profiling tool

    I also remember a few years ago when states were selling peoples Drivers License information.

  6. I hadn't thought about that Madpole! Who are all these "stakeholders" that seek our information! I'm going to get riled up all over again. What is the intent?

  7. You'll have to explain Grumpy cuz I don't see how collecting data will determine what works best with students. What kind of data do you think they will collect?

  8. It's the ultimate profiling device, inside of 5 years they'll know what will sell in a given schools vending machines and

    What classes, taught by what textbook are most likely to get the desired results out of mixed race females with an IQ between 94 and 100, with a single parent and a family income of

    Since the stake holders could have multiple uses for the information. It could also provide valuable information to everyone from drug dealers to politicans

  9. As a programmer and data analyst I find it appalling that this type of system is even being considered.

    The algorithm has not been and probably will not be made public. It is true that an algorithm are the instructions the computer relies such..I can make a computer believe that 1+1=1,000,000.

    The whole process of building a computer program begins with humans creating points of data that define the purpose and rules of the program.

    When determining educational needs there are many objective decisions to be made. A computer lacks objectivity...even the best Artificial Intelligence algorithm is incapable of applying this type of objectivity.

    The data that "educational planners" seek is already available, unless they are suggesting that the various tests they have been using to create "educational plans" are flawed? Which I believe they are.

    What scares me more than the fact this type of information could fall into the wrong hands, is the fact that it may be used by planners.

    Sort of reinforces my belief that anyone who stays in school to get a PHD is a complete retard.

  10. That's what struck me odd upon my retuen to school here in my 50's, that so many of these "educated" folks don't have any ability for critical thinking. They push the student to think outside the box yet they spew the party line and accept whatever premise of the manin stream bottom feeders regurgitate.
    I challenge them and they immediately back down and change subjects citing hurt feelings and rising passions may give way to something unfortunate.
    How are we going to combat these encroachments on our liberty and freedoms when so many are willing to bend over?
    P.C. actually means Pitifully Complacent

  11. Captain Eagle: I am trying to lay out a complex story in manageable chunks. Your perspective is imperative. I don't think Bill Gates has a PhD. Brings me back to "why."
    Are the test "flawed"? I have a guest blog brewing on tests and a few more pieces that Grumpyelder will review for posting as a guest contributor here. It is not the educational establishment that concerns me, they are by and large opposed and effectively shut out. I am sitting on my hands because blogging and a full time job are bad for my health. There is more to come.

  12. Sandra. I understand the job and health thing. LOL. I will go into more detail about Bill in a comment for you a bit later..busy day off. For now you have to look at who Bill and Melinda Gates think they are.

    Madpole..The statement I remember most from college was.."In the real world..." Not sure what real world the profs lived in..but it was not on this planet.

  13. For those who value individuality, data mining will not be thought of as a good use of the education dollar. However I fall into that other 10% rule. One exteme 10% will excell regardless, and the opposite 10% will fail regardless. The best use of funding has to be geared toward the 80% that are not at the extremes. In those cases data mining will show patterns and averages. Curriculum and teaching strategy can be adjusted accordingly.

    Now if we could get back to "Tracking" and NOT "Mainstreaming", a lot of wasted time in education could be eliminated. These extreme 10% could be placed in Accelerated or Advanced classes or Special Ed for their individual "Learning Disability" I also think to save money too many Districts mis-label (LD, BD, EMH) children in need of Special Education.

  14. For now you have to look at who Bill and Melinda Gates think they are.

    would analyze information and make recommendations with the goal of aiding a person's decisions and improving quality of life. -- Bill Gates

    Why does the word God come to Mind?

  15. Gates got this AGRA thing it "works to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers"
    "AGRA was founded in 2006 through a partnership between The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation."
    Why push Bio technically enhanced seeds on the Africans?---" Impact investing in the poor, the next big thing
    January 10, 2011 by Microfinance Africa
    Filed under Latest News, News
    Leave a Comment
    By CosmasButunyi, The East African -

    Over the next 10 years, investors across the world will not just be preoccupied with financial returns, but will also pay closer attention to the social, environmental and development impacts of their activities, says a report.

    This will see impact investment, as this trend is known, rake in up to $667 billion in profits over the period and achieve the billing of the newest emerging asset class of the next decade, according to the report prepared by JP Morgan and Rockefeller Foundation.

    It indicates that market opportunity for investment is vast, including among the poor population, who earn less than $3,000 a year.

    In this category of the population, the potential for invested capital is estimated at between $400 billion and $1 trillion over the next 10 years, realising profits of between $183 billion and $667 billion."

  16. The New World order;

    Your computer and the government will know what you're thinking before you've figured it out, You're computer will guide your thought process by recommending information, (music, videos, reports, news stories etc) to help you make the right choices. From there appropriate advertising will guide you selection.

    This will seem completely normal because Microsoft has monitoring you since you were four years old

  17. A long time ago I met some folks in Western Montana who claimed that none their children had social security numbers and never would. I thought that they were "kooks" back then. After reading this article, it seems that we are the "kooks" and the joke is on us (or our children).

    Give your children common names like Bob Jones or John Smith. Join the resistance and confuse them.
    Register their dates of birth in binary numbers 011011. List socials in complex algorithms that lead to Pi.

    I am just joking (no I'm not).

  18. . . .and the mark of the beast shall be place on their heads and that mark will be the number 666.

  19. Man , like I said #uck Obama
    This kid is STUPID

  20. I don't see the necessity for any of it. The more data gathered the stronger the indication our education system is failing. We don't need computers or data mining for that. FL's 70% high school graduation rate is a pretty good indicator. It begins with parents, continues through the way we train (or don't train) teachers and refuse to acknowledge failure as a part of the learning process. Don't get me started on this. Examiner.

  21. Examiner

    Getting smart, opinionated people STARTED, is what keeps politicians, big business and well intended special interests from determining, for us, what is proper to think, say or do.


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