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How Data Analytics In Education Could Create a New Class of Haves and Have-nots 268

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-algorithm-says-you're-bad-at-math dept.
mattydread23 writes "Every student learns differently. Some educators are starting to use data analytics to figure out how to tailor teaching techniques to individual students, rather than using the 'one size fits all' approach. But Alec Ross, a senior advisor on innovation at the U.S. State Department, worries this would create a new class of haves and have-nots. Speaking at the Schools for Tomorrow conference last week, Ross said, 'A lot of what I see is the ability to productize and commercialize very intensive assessments of individual limits. So what I imagine is parents getting their kids essentially a $30,000 educational checkup where they extract enormous amounts of data about the kinds of learners their children are, the kinds of education deficits they have.'"
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How Data Analytics In Education Could Create a New Class of Haves and Have-nots

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  • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:35PM (#45038019) Homepage

    In other words, the parents that already are able to blow large sums of money on the education of their children will have yet another way to do so in future.

    So nothing changes really.

    • by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:38PM (#45038043)

      Agreed. Compare 1st world educations to 3rd world educations. Actually I love the idea of making kids smarter and having individualized education. What's the problem with smarter people?

  • by nebaz (453974) on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:36PM (#45038021)

    Great, so someone laments the fact that some people may end up more educated than others. Wouldn't it be better if we taught everyone to their potential instead of holding back the more gifted students so everyone is equal? Lowest common denominator is "lowest" for a reason.

    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:55PM (#45038241)

      Great, so someone laments the fact that some people may end up more educated than others.

      No, what they object to is that how well educated you are may depend mostly on how much money your parents' have. It's already like that to a large extent. Welcome back to the old, and reviled, British class system. I thought we were Americans.

      Most people believe in a meritocracy to a large extent, but the merit should be based on your abilities, not your parents' income.

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:18PM (#45038477)

        Most people believe all kinds of lies. We have never been a meritocracy. We have always had a rather class based system. A great example was Romney speaking of being in a bad spot financially so he had to sell some stock one time. That was his idea of a financial struggle and of those like him. He advised students to borrow money from their parents to start a business. He was not being a bad person he just has no idea about reality for 99% of people. Just like you have no idea what it is like to live like those people. To him spending ~$80k a year on a dancing horse is normal. To us that would be lunacy.

        We like to all pretend we are middle class for some reason, when this is clearly not the case.

        • Most people believe all kinds of lies.

          Most people believe in a meritocracy as an ideal to be striven for.

          We have never been a meritocracy. We have always had a rather class based system.

          Don't be Manichean. The degree of one vs. the other has changed over the years, and we're now headed in the wrong direction.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          He was not being a bad person he just has no idea about reality for 99% of people.

          Attempting to lead people, while having no idea what reality is for 99% of those people is being a bad person.

      • The problem is that when we set up schools that are tailored to the kids that are easy to educate, we tend to separate them from the kids that are hard to educate. At that point, someone will decide that because the classes are made up of 42% white kids and 58% minority kids and they are being taught arithmetic and sixth grade reading instead of calculus and creative writing, we are trying to bring back segregation. In fact they will almost certainly file a lawsuit based on the Civil Rights Act and talk ab
    • by metlin (258108) on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:02PM (#45038305) Journal

      It is important to distinguish between equality in opportunity versus equality in accomplishment.

    • by sjames (1099)

      No, he laments that the dumbest rich kid will likely get a better education than the smartest poor kid.

    • For each pupil you've got $10,000 to service capital debt, maintain facilities, procure and maintain learning tools and resources, provide transportation, and hire educators and management. Direct contact with the instructor shall not be less than 1000 hours per year.

      Go - tell me how you create and implement a personalized learning plan and provide full-time, tailored individual instruction for every student. You've got almost $10/hour to do it, I'm sure you can make it work.

    • by s.petry (762400)

      Your logic is not quite correct. Historically, education never focused on the slowest or fastest learners, it focused on the middle. That is what public education is supposed to do. If you compare the number of truly gifted people to the number of true idiots, the numbers favor the idiots. So historically, schools were in the right game and _should_ be targeting the middle. Not the upper, and not the lower ends. A real intelligent kid can still get an accelerated education. If a person is too smart,

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)
      Yeah, this applies to any innovation: "We've invented something amazing and revolutionary!" "But not everyone in the world can have it right away, so the people without it will be an underclass! Stop inventing wonderful, revolutionary things! Don't you see they destroy the world?"
  • It's increasingly becoming the case, especially in the US, that the only real way to make money is to have money. Investment returns compared to work returns have skyrocketed, top marginal tax rates(and particular capital gains) have dropped absurdly, and mobility supporting institutions have been increasingly privatized, disestablished, or defunded.

    Due to broken and even anti-democratic electoral processes, I can't actually see that trend reversing normally. It's not revolution-worthy yet, but it couldn

    • It's not revolution-worthy yet, but it couldn't hurt to start planning a guillotine.

      Way too French for America (with the possible exception of New Orleans). American style would be a firing squad.

    • by khallow (566160)

      It's increasingly becoming the case, especially in the US. Investment returns compared to work returns have skyrocketed, top marginal tax rates(and particular capital gains) have dropped absurdly, and mobility supporting institutions have been increasingly privatized, disestablished, or defunded.

      I disagree. What is happening is that labor is just not as valuable as it used to be in the developed world, that is, your little corner of reality. That's the spur for all these imaginary problems. The rest of the world is benefiting just fine.

      • by nomadic (141991)
        Never been to Europe, have we. Or China.
      • What is happening is that labor is just not as valuable as it used to be in the developed world, that is, your little corner of reality.

        So in the Gilded age labor was even less valuable than today, but then in the first half of the 20th century it became more valuable? Please explain why.

  • Conformity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:45PM (#45038113)

    Ve must make sure that no one person can excel above anyone else, no matter what the cost!

    You, Citizen, are not allowed to show deviation from the norm. Intelligence is deviation. Non-Conformity is deviation. Beliefs not held by your leaders is deviation.

    Carry on (without deviation).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You are missing the point totally.

      The spirit of this "fairness" mindset is not to make sure no one person can excel - but to ensure everyone has a fair chance to succeed by placing them on the same *starting line*, to make sure success later in life has more correlation to individual intelligence and diligence than how much money their parents have.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mveloso (325617)

        No, he's not missing the point. The only reason you bring up a point like that is to ensure that the initiative gets squished, because only the rich will be able to afford it. That's a kiss-of-death statement in committee, made in such a way that it's deniable - which is exactly what Ross did in his statement.

        "I don't think it's a bad idea, it's just that we're just going to make rich, achieving students richer and more achieving. I'm not saying that's bad - I'm just saying what about everyone else?"

        • Re:Conformity (Score:4, Insightful)

          by ebno-10db (1459097) on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:24PM (#45038537)

          So if we can't afford it for every student, let's give it to every N'th student. The lucky students can be picked via a lottery. That's just as reasonable of a way of providing this to only a portion of the students as choosing only rich kids. Still can't afford it? Just tax the parents of the rich kids. Be careful though - this might create a meritocracy instead of a class system. Wealthy parents are often concerned that their little darlings wouldn't excel if they actually had to compete on an equal basis with the riffraff.

    • by baKanale (830108)
      Obligatory Kurt Vonnegut story: Harrison Bergeron [tnellen.com]
  • So what I imagine is parents getting their kids essentially a $30,000 educational checkup where they extract enormous amounts of data about the kinds of learners their children are, the kinds of education deficits they have.'"

    What the hell costs $30k? And if it can be done cost effectively, why not do it in public schools?

    • $30k? Pshaw, that's nothing. You can blow that in a month-long summer camp that characterizes your kids individual learning traits and tailors a specific program for each type of learning they do. Heck, that's barely 120 hours of evaluation by a top professional - you'll probably get an assistant for most of the time at a lower rate, and then conference with the behavioral and learning expert maybe an hour a day to make sure progress is being made. Add in the facility charges, activity and learning material

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Maybe they're including the cost of treatment for all the new "learning disorders" that will be invented.

    • by sjames (1099)

      As a likely successful program, the GOP will feel honor bound to sandbag it in order to 'prove' their rants about privatization.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      Licensing the patent.

  • I wonder if he was advocating for Common Core [wikipedia.org] at the time. It's an education standard which apparently attempt to create a system of K-12 education where schools are synched up so that a student could transfer across the country near seamlessly. Individual-based teaching, if it should take root on a large scale would screw that system up.
    • by i.r.id10t (595143)

      I think the two can coexist.

      After all, the individual-based teaching is about how student A learns best, how student B learns best, and letting them learn Subject Y in whichever way they are better able to process it.

      Moving cross country while you are in 4th grade and learning all the states and capitols? Have current school document how you are learning for next school.

      "Yeah, Johnny? He does the route memorization moving thru the states in a grid like pattern, but his sister Jane does better trying to sin

    • Sadly, Common Core is being implemented here in New York in a horrible way. First, they paid Pearson $4 million to run these extremely difficult exams. Then, the results same in: Only 30% of students passed. (Some of the failing students were kids who did very well on previous tests. It was almost designed to make students look horrible.) They called it a "benchmark" but also began calling for the "death penalty" for public schools who don't raise their test scores.

      How do you raise your test scores?

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Tests are easy to measure and make a nice private company rich. Making the administrations lives easier and enriching their friends is the point of public education. If you disagree with that someone will be along shortly to call you a Marxist or worse.

        • And if you need help raising the test scores, the private company can sell you textbooks, and sessions for teachers, and sessions for kids, and sessions for administrators, and test-prep materials, etc. Thus the big business gets richer as do the politicians that get lobbied by the big business to focus more education on testing.

  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday October 04, 2013 @01:53PM (#45038219) Homepage

    So let me get this straight... the "senior advisor on innovation" thinks that data analytics will pinpoint successful systems for an individual, and do so accurately enough that parents would pay $30,000 a piece for it. I think I see the problem.

    Data analytics can't predict the future. It can, however, give a good indication of statistical probabilities, such that the average effect over many individuals will be predictable. This is much more suited to evaluating new general techniques, rather than specific curricula. Evaluate a few tens of thousands of students, analyze what worked and what didn't, and try that as a program for everybody. On a widespread basis, you'll get good results.

    For individual good results, the old way still works best: Encourage students and teachers to work together to understand each other, and take the time to understand what the student wants or needs to learn effectively. While the teacher can create a good learning environment in the classroom, the parents should continue that at home. If you're looking for a way to ensure your kid has a successful education, $30,000 of specialized data analysis won't help, but an hour of parent-teacher conferences just might. Then take the extra $30,000 and add it to teachers' salaries.

  • It is off course good that people finally recognize that pupils are different. For example, dyslectic people often have a good visual insight. So they would learn mathematics much easier if it was brought as Greek mathematics (drawing lines, squares, etc.) instead of as Arabic mathematics (i.e., in formulas). But I never met a mathematics teacher with such an insight.
    • Unfortunately classical geometry will only get you so far. Also, it's already taught as a standard subject.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Have you TAKEN classical geometry? Yes, it's taught, or it used to be taught. It's a series of statements, logical processes, and permitted rules of inference ABOUT squares, triangles, etc. You are not permitted to actually use the figures in the proof, they are only to allow you to visualize what the proof is about. (Yes, you need to draw construction lines, etc., but those aren't actually a part of the proof. They are just aides to visualization.)

        N.B.: If this weren't true, then it would, indeed, be

  • Just to put $30K in the perspective of education: it's approximately the cost of one year of tuition private school in my area (Boston), or 1.5 times the public expenditure for a year of public school.

  • Oh No! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh (582462)
    Some people might be smarter than others??? That completely conflicts with the Democratic party ideal of equality for everyone. Either we're going to have to tax people based on how smart they are and use the money in a futile attempt to increase the ratings of the lowest scorers, or we may have to go to more invasive means to lower the scores of those who are unfairly smarter.
    • Some people might be smarter than others??? That completely conflicts with the Democratic party ideal of equality for everyone.

      Some of the riffraff's kids might be smarter than the 1%'ers kids? That completely conflicts with the Republican party ideal of a self-reinforcing class system.

  • Idiot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:10PM (#45038377)

    But Alec Ross, a senior advisor on innovation at the U.S. State Department, worries this would create a new class of haves and have-nots.

    Please fire this advisor without delay. He apparently doesn't understand process optimization. This is nothing new; Educators have been aware for decades that everyone has their own learning style, and therefore curriculum is tailored to try and use as many of those methods as possible for mass education. However, it is highly inefficient -- someone who learns best from hands-on is sitting bored out of their skull while the teacher asks everyone to copy what's on the blackboard into their notebooks to help the people who learn best by doing that. And both groups are bored to tears during the Q&A where you invariably get those two people that need to talk their way through the material to understand it.

    By tailoring curriculum individually and/or grouping students by learning style, the teacher wastes less time, the students remain more engaged and retain more of the material, and the overall program costs go down as the grouped students are able to learn faster. It's a dirty little secret that most of public education is busywork... homework doesn't work for many people, but because it helps "enough" people, everyone gets it.

    So you have students being forced to learn in a way that is unnatural and awkward -- it's like forcing a left handed person to write right handed. Schools do this, and it causes neurosis and MRI scans of these people's brains a few years after being forced to use the wrong hand shows clear and unique changes to their brain. Now imagine we're doing that to everyone and it quickly becomes clear just how toxic our public education system is with its "one size fits all" approach.

    Customized curriculum is a win for everyone. There are no losers in this; Everyone has a learning style, they're well documented, and we know what the percentages of each in the general population they exist in. Schools can plan for this. It's all statistics... and the larger the school, the more efficient it becomes, unlike the current model. Everyone talks about ratios of teachers to students, but that's the wrong model. We need to be thinking of ratios of types of students.

    • Here! Here!

      Right now there's a big push for "analytics" in the form of testing, testing, and more testing. We "need" the tests (they say) to make sure students are performing up to par. Then, to make sure teachers have an incentive to raise scores, the teachers' jobs or salaries are put on the line. (If you don't raise your scores consistently, bye-bye! No, we don't care that you teach special ed and your kids don't do well on tests.) All this does is heap piles of anxiety on students, make teachers te

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Here! Here!

        Right now there's a big push for "analytics" in the form of testing, testing, and more testing. We "need" the tests (they say) to make sure students are performing up to par. Then, to make sure teachers have an incentive to raise scores, the teachers' jobs or salaries are put on the line. (If you don't raise your scores consistently, bye-bye! No, we don't care that you teach special ed and your kids don't do well on tests.) All this does is heap piles of anxiety on students, make teachers teach to the test, drive good teachers from the profession, and decrease the quality of education all around.

        But at least we'll have metrics for analyzing performance.

        What you are describing is a sure way to make sure that teachers teach to the test instead of imparting knowledge. The two are not synonymous. It is far less important to know that the War of 1812 was in 1812 than to know what it was about. Distilling what it was about to a few multiple choice questions is a great thing if you are into revisionist histories, but doesn't measure if a student has grasped what was going on. Then again, maybe the standardized test won't even ask about that.

        In the US, there are

        • It is far less important to know that the War of 1812 was in 1812 than to know what it was about.

          Sadly, teaching to the test means that students will know neither. History isn't high on the list of tested subjects. English and math are. So they push English and math and ignore everything else. At best, they claim to teach those other subjects by working them into the occasional an English/math question.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:18PM (#45038467)

    The author's arguing against finding effective teaching models for individual students because there's a cost involved in doing so. Yes, there's always a cost for new technologies. Over time, we find efficient ways to deliver technology and the cost comes down.

    There's no set cost currently for applying data analytics in education anyway; if costs end up low, the author's point may be altogether moot.

    • They don't even have to be all that low. Thousands of dollars per student would be an acceptable expense for a public school system if it meant students could graduate several years earlier than they otherwise would. It makes even more sense when you consider an individuals whole life, since the students who would normally slip through the cracks and end up in jail or on welfare would have a better shot at being accepted into society.

  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:29PM (#45038583)

    Here in NY we've given Pearson $4 million to give overly difficult tests to our kids. The result? 30% passing rate. To which the governor threatened to shut down schools who don't raise their scores. (He actually called it a "death penalty for schools.")

    The quirk here is that charter schools and private schools are exempt from the testing. So if public schools are closed for not meeting ridiculous standards, more charter schools will be opened. Charter schools are run by businesses and - although they take public money - act more like private schools in that they can decide who attends. If your kids has ANY special needs at all, they can find themselves kicked out or rejected. So you'll wind up with the "haves" (students whose parents can afford private schools or who get into charter schools) and the "have nots" (students with special needs who are herded into the poorly funded remains of the public school system).

  • The more the stay the same. Using analytics to tailor education isn't new. In th 1950s and 60s, the analytics used were called IQ tests. Kids with high IQs were pushed into math and science, the rest took shop or home ec. Many countries, particularly in SE Asia still do this. So, the only thing that has changed is that today, we have more sophisticated analytics than before.

  • by greywire (78262) on Friday October 04, 2013 @02:47PM (#45038743) Homepage
    I work for a company that does (among other things) online assessments and data analytics. We're all about the data and how we can use that to help teachers help their kids. How is this a bad thing? The more you know about how the kids are doing, the more you can help them. I don't know how they are getting this idea of something equivalent to an expensive full body physical scan that most people cant afford (besides the fact that over time such scans will get cheaper and cheaper...).
  • Forget standardized tests, they don't measure anything meaningful. The metric society should be looking at is of the graduating high school seniors who go on to a college or university, how many graduate with a degree withing five years? And for those who do not go on to college or university, how many are gainfully employed five years out?

    If schools are turning out students that can get degrees or keep jobs, then they are a successful school. OTOH, if they aren't able to do that, then they aren't a success

  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Friday October 04, 2013 @03:03PM (#45038903)
    I remember in middle school there was a special 'gifted talent' class for the bright kids and a special ed class for the slow kids. I mentally kept track of who was who and as the years went by many of the slow kids went on to excel academically simply because the extra time they needed on the basics was taken and the class was always small so they received a lot individual attention. Many went on to graduate with honors and most went on to college. A lot of the so called gifted kids went on to become academically mediocre and most did not go to college and in some cases dropped out. I assure you it was not a matter of 'they were so smart they were board' - it was a mystery how some of those kids made it into the gifted class in the first place. In fact I later found out that the gifted class was self-learning with no structure at all so they basically learned nothing. Personally, I started college at 16 (didn't finish like an idiot) but was considered by the public school system to be mediocre in all subjects but science.

    No opinion here, I'm just saying is all. Make of it what you will.
  • The brain at births is not equal in all babies. The home is not equal for the first three years for all babies. After the age of three the outcome is already determined. Those born with ability and nurtured in a really good home will tend to do well and those that have a child that are not so great or an environment that is not so good will tend to fail no matter what. The only known programs that do well with the lesser children involve removal from the home and put in a very advanced learning env

  • Will they be an tech school / apprenticeship track as in some cases can be that on both sides they are a better fit to learn some skills.

  • by sugar and acid (88555) on Friday October 04, 2013 @03:21PM (#45039077)

    My wife handles a lot of the data analysis at a UK school. She essentially is there to track students and the schools progress throughout the year against the various national standards, so the school can intervene when something is going wrong.

    From a schools point of view, it is primarily about the "value added". A student arrives at the school, with an education achievement history that sets a bar of expectation of achievement. The goal of the school is to improve the grades for the students as they progress and eventually leave the school.

    When it is applied well, this approach works. Underachieving students get identified and intervention can take place. Coasting students are also identified and pushed. If you doing well, well than keep it up :) About the only real issue is that the national standards are a arbitrary, and keep getting changed by Michael Gove.

    But this data is built up over months and years of internal and external assessments.

  • by russotto (537200) on Friday October 04, 2013 @08:55PM (#45041387) Journal
    More like "can" and "cannots". The question of how to handle the "cannots" doesn't go away just because you refuse to identify them.

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