Data Addiction: Why Commissioners Need a 12-Step Program to Cure Data Compulsion and Save Hundreds of Millions, and, Perhaps, Return Sanity to Classrooms.

When the number of initiatives increases, while time, energy and emotional energy are constant, then each new imitative … will receive fewer minutes, dollars and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.
Doug Reeves

Some years ago The Department of Education, with fanfare, and an 80+ million dollar price tag, announced the creation of the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS)”… a single place where educators can find important information to use to accelerate student learning.”

“ARIS,” the Department gloated, “… provides New York City educators with a secure online platform for:

• Exploring data they can use to improve student outcomes
• Sharing what they have learned by publishing documents and taking part in discussions and blogs
• Finding other educators facing similar challenges
• Creating collaborative communities to solve problems together
• ARIS Parent Link

I sat at an ARIS training session a few weeks before the rollout run by a training company – we got to play around with a beta version of the final product – it was cool! The “one-stop” stopping was useful – the collection of a number of systems on one site, the promise of a platform on which teachers can post and discuss and blog.

The promise was not the reality, the Department realized that “discussions” and “bulletin boards” and “blogs” on a Department site had to be curated and the Department did not have the will or the capacity to curate a site with tens of thousands of users.

Today ARIS “clicks per school” by teachers are meager, the goal of a “data central” that would drive instructional practice and invigorating conversation has morphed to a convenient site to access student bio-data.

The answer to a key questions is embarrassing: do “high-click” schools show higher student growth? How do end users utilize the ARIS data?

The answer, I am told, there is no correlation between the use of ARIS and pupil achievement growth, and, the use of ARIS is overwhelmingly not for instructional purposes. (Commonly checking attendance and bio-data)

Sadly, over 400 schools in New York City purchase a proprietary product, DataCation, which principals find far more useful. You will note I write “principals,” not teachers.

The State Education Department is in the midst of creating its own version of ARIS, called an Education Data Portal (EDP), a tool that was in the Race to the Top application is under construction, at a cost well north of 50 million plus.

“The EDP,” says the state, “will help educators, students, and their families improve student outcomes by:

• Providing tools to accurately monitor academic progress and other indicators, such as attendance.
• Providing access to curriculum and instructional resources aligned with standards, including curriculum modules and teacher practice videos.
• Bringing all of these resources together on one site that can be enriched with additional local school and district data and curriculum resources to support data driven improvement to practice.

Sounds just like the ARIS campaign.

The State Ed dataphiles have joined a Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), run by InBloom, a not-for-profit funded primarily by Gates-Murdoch dollars.

Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) – a not-for-profit, state-led effort created to help states, districts, schools and teachers more easily and effectively personalize education for students through open and non-proprietary standards and services.

SLC work will allow SED, school districts and schools to build or buy technologies that work on open, non-proprietary standards and services so that fiscal resources can be used to provide the most educational value and choice at the lowest cost for teachers, students, and their families.

A State Ed generated power point attempts to answer the many, many criticisms of this data-sharing collaborative.

While InBloom is a not-for-profit the data they collect and the tools they create will be for sale around the nation. Why doesn’t New York State share in whatever dollars are generated by the tools?

When the dust settles, a year or two down the road school districts will have a vast array of tools, if they wish to expend local dollars; however, will the tools make John Doe and Linda Smith better teachers?

The answer is no. The tools will enable superintendents to produce glossy power points, not help the folks in classrooms.

Currently principals can use state testing results without these new tools – download and disaggregate the scores by question – create an error matrix and ask teachers to address deficits in lessons.

The most common use of technology by teachers is Dropbox and Google.Docs, free available apps that allow teachers within or among schools to collaborate.

The feds, state departments of education and school districts use data – simple uses like creating report cards or student scheduling or tracking lunch forms – all necessary – the tools are not driven by the needs of the end users – the classroom teachers, in fact, the endless data entry and report creation adds needless complexity to the lives of teachers.

“Data-envy” is an infatuation, a compulsion, we lust after each new tool, perhaps we need a “twelve-step program” to cure this compulsion which is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, endless energy and alienating end users.

Mike Schmoker in Focus makes a simple proposal:

There will be no more initiatives – at least for a time. Instead we will focus only on what will have an immediate and dramatic impact on learning in your classrooms: ensuring implementation of a common, content-rich curriculum; good lessons; and plenty of meaningful literacy activities (such as close reading, writing and discussion) across the curriculum. What is essential? Three simple things: reasonable coherent curriculum (what we teach), sound lessons (how we teach) and far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline (authentic literacy).

Simplicity always trumps complexity.

UPDATE: See just released reserch paper “If You Build it Will They Come? Teachers’ Online Use of Student Performance Data,”

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7 responses to “Data Addiction: Why Commissioners Need a 12-Step Program to Cure Data Compulsion and Save Hundreds of Millions, and, Perhaps, Return Sanity to Classrooms.

  1. When you can use glossy to describe any promotion of an educational “reform/initiative” you can be sure the program is devoid of real value! Money was never the cure-all. The solutions are within reach if driven by common sense and following programs that are working in many districts around the country. Simplify should indeed be the operative word.

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  2. Data is neutral. Each data point is a student, a parents son and/or daughter. The key question is how do we connect the two. If any system is to be successful, effective, valid, and reliable it MUST have a corresponding section which give a series of specific strategies, techniques, and suggestions to use the data to make the CONNECTION!

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  3. Parental involvement !!!!!! ……… data points ?? glosssy ???? common core ???? are you kidding me ? seeing the forest through the trees… we are facing a social / economic issue here….. one than can not be solved through teacher intimidation or data points or a difficult test

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  4. I experimented with and used data when I taught. The common denominator was—was the effort of using the tool (data collected) worth the results and therefore worth my time? Often the answer was–NOT! It was more productive to use that time grading and planning. Teachers are overwhelmed with To Do’s as it is. One thing I did was to run an item analysis on any multi-choice test I gave. The small added time to rescan yielded info that was instructively invaluable to me. Administrivia on the other hand? Like the plague!

    Don’t add another task to a teachers load. Want more data? Hire people to get it, input it, clean it, validate it, reorganize it, analyze it, and regurgitate it. Just don’t ask an educator to do that on top of his already heavy load, and don’t pay for that in lieu of a teaching position.

    And to those who think that the job of a teacher is easy— come in and do it for a year!

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  5. ARIS is a piece of junk and a big waste of taxpayer money. It should be dismantled. Enough said.

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  6. Pingback: Data Addiction: Why Commissioners Need a 12-Step Program to Cure Data Compulsion and Save Hundreds of Millions, and, Perhaps, Return Sanity to Classrooms. ← NPE News Briefs

  7. The sad part of this is the fact that Datacation existed before ARIS in the work of a great and talented DOE employee who was told to stop working on a DOE student database because it was going to be doing the same thing ARIS was but it did not cost $80 M. It cost what the DOE was paying in salary to the future founder of Datacation. I used this database when I was a LIS to see what my 19 high schools data looked at and shared it with the schools. Then ARIS could not do high schools. This was one person who had the brains to create this on their own and we told them to stop because the DOE wanted to pay IBM instead.

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