Maja Wilson (Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Instruction) best articulates my attitude about the dirty word data in an Answer Sheet article, "Data: My New Dirty Word":
Teaching itself has become redefined as generating, collecting, and using data, and learning has become redefined as the curve connecting data points. This is a fundamental shift in how educators think, talk, and go about educating our children. Unfortunately, it is not a shift that serves anyone but the data-collectors very well.
Maja wrote her post in 2010, and things are much worse now, as a recent blog from Diane Ravitch attests. Ravitch published testimony from New Jersey teacher Douglas McGuirk decrying the data-driven dystopia teachers endure. In his testimony McGuirk writes:
I am no longer certain about what my job description is these days; am I a teacher, one who attempts to engage students and help them understand subject matter and their world, or am I a data collector, one who keeps statistics on all manner of measurables in a theoretical attempt to improve the process of teaching in which I am often not engaged because I am busy collecting the data?
McGuirk describes the impossible task teachers face in the virtual reality of data collection. We can no longer teach students, respond to their writing, conference with them, etc. because so much of the job is relegated to playing the numbers.
I blame Arne Duncan. Under his tenure, not only have we seen a ballooning of required tests students must take, an increase in the use of flawed data to evaluate teachers, more money flowing to for-profit testing companies, and the continued shrinking and standardization of curriculum, but we have also seen new threats to student privacy.
Duncan talks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he calls for protecting student privacy by having "vigorous self-policing by commercial players." On the other hand, he advocates for the "extraordinary learning opportunities" data collection provides (via Education Week).
|via Google images: free to use and share license|
The Education Week article offers many platitudes about industry self-policing and Duncan's claimed concern for students' privacy. We've heard this rhetoric before. The bottom line is the bottom line. Businesses, even educational ones, are, after all in the business of doing business. That means making a profit. They're the kings in the counting house. The rest of us--students and teachers--are simply pawns.
*Updated to correct typos at 3:46 MST.