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The Data Quality Campaign: Encouraging States to Ramp Up Data Collection

November 12, 2013

In April 2013, I wrote a post about the inBloom database and Louisiana Superintendent John White’s secret arrangement with inBloom. White’s inBloom arrangement is not the only student data sharing agreement into which White has entered.  It is one of many arrangements White has made and about which the public has been kept in the dark.

So much for transparency.

Corporate education reform is designed to turn profits for privatizers. That said, in corporate reform, there are two huge money makers that will “outprofit” all other profiteering: standardized testing, and data sales and storage.

The two are inextricable. Consider the mandates for state participation in Race to the Top (RTTT). In order to compete for RTTT funding, states were required to demonstrate both a standardized testing dependence and establishment of a “statewide longitudinal data system.”

While the federal government insists that reform is being driven “by the states,” it is clear that the USDOE is actively clearing the way for reforms that it supports, one of which is the collecting of an unprecedented amount of data on America’s school children. Consider US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s January 3, 2012, revision of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to include the definition of the term “educational program”:

Amend § 99.3 to define the term ‘‘education program’’ as any program principally engaged in the provision of education, including, but not limited to, early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, special education, job training, career and technical education, and adult education…. [Emphasis added.]

This, my friends, is the open door for education companies to gain access to student data. It takes little imagination to conceive how such profit-driven companies might easily couch their financial motives in terms of accessing data “for the sake of the children.”

This brings me to the featured organization of this post: The reformer-run, data management nonprofit, Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

Created in 2005 by once-National Governors Association-affiliated Aimee Guidera, DQC is described as follows:

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is 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 campaign will provide tools and resources that will help states implement and use longitudinal data systems, while providing a national forum for reducing duplication of effort and promoting greater coordination and consensus among the organizations focused on improving data quality, access and use. 

DQC “encourages and supports states” in data collection.

Let us consider who is “encouraging and supporting” Guidera and DQC.

Where there is need for millions to fund massive education data collection, there is Bill Gates.

Just as Gates is connected with inBloom, so Gates is connected with DQC. Gates was instrumental in launching inBloom. Gates was also central to launching DQC. In November 2005, Gates donated $750,000 to the National Center for Educational Achievement, which is linked to DQC (see web address on Gates grants site). Coincidentally, Guidera reports working for the National Center for Educational Accountability. I cannot help but notice how similar the two names are.

Up to the time of this writing, the Gates Foundation has funded DQC $12.7 million.

Now, DQC reports its other funders as including the Dell Foundation, Alliance for Early Success, ALEC corporate board member AT&T, and Target. It just so happens that the Alliance for Early Success has also taken a half million from Gates.

The DQC-Gates connection does not end here.

In December 2012, the Pahara Institute named its newest class of its “fellows”– those “educational entrepreneurs… committed to transforming public education.” Guidera was among this group.

Only two months earlier, in October 2012, Gates gave Pahara Institute $2 million “to support the Pahara Institute and its two leadership programs, the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship Program and a new emerging leaders program designed to accelerate the development of high potential emerging leaders of color.”  [Emphasis added.]

Next, let us consider the DQC board of directors. One member is Kati Haycock of Education Trust, an “education advocacy group” that maintains, “our schools aren’t doing the job we need them to do” so we need “accountability systems that set ambitious achievement goals… and require decisive action when achievement goals are not met.” As it stands, Education Trust has taken $39.2 million in Gates money.

Another DQC board member is Chris Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a state superintendents organization that happens to “co-own” the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with the National Governors Association (NGA)– the same NGA where DQC founder Guidera was once employed.

CCSSO has taken $82.2 million in Gates money.

NGA has taken $26 million.

Aside from its multiple connection to layers of Gates funding, the DQC board includes another interesting member, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) President Sharon Robinson.

In September 2013, Robinson congratulated the newly-formed Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) for deciding to measure teachers in training using student test scores.

I think it safe to say that DQC strongly represents the pro-privatizing interests of corporate reform.

And don’t miss the fact that DQC’s calling itself a support “for states” is a poor disguise for a nationwide data collection effort.

DQC offers this justification for what it considers are the “Ten Essential Elements” of “state-level” data collection. I will highlight a few such “elements” in this post.

The first on the list is a “unique student identifier,” or a means of identifying students by number “to get a complete picture as students move through their education careers.”

The disclosure of this unique identifier appears to be the one option parents and students 18 or older can still opt out of as per Duncan’s modified 2012 FERPA. That is, states can still collect data on these students and link the data to this unique identifier. However, the identifier can be “kept secret” at parental request.

Make no mistake: The identifier does not go away. It is still there whether parents want it to be or not.

The second “essential element” is the need to collect demographic data on students. Though it offers free lunch and special education status (information that I cannot publicize as a classroom teacher) as examples, DQC does not close the door on exactly how much demographic data could be collected.

In Louisiana, John White “accidentally” handed over student social security numbers to inBloom. I wonder whether DQC will “encourage” him and other state superintendents not to be so sloppy with others’ sensitive information.

All I see in this second “essential element” is an open door for multiple instances of compromised information at the hands of reformer incompetence.

Moving on.

The fifth “essential element” introduces teachers into the mix, the goal being to connect specific teachers to students. DQC declares this is necessary in order to assess teacher training program effectiveness.

Given what I know about the privatizing push to annihilate traditional public education, I can readily see such data as being used to punish. DQC insists that data will not be used “to blame and shame.”

It’s too late to argue that point.  Attaching teacher job security to student test scores via unstable value-added attempts demeans the complexity of the teacher-student relationship and is indeed blame. Setting passing thresholds so high as to fail scores of students and causing student to require counseling is indeed shame.

Teaching as a profession has been devalued. Teachers are devalued. Here’s some recent evidence:

More DQC “essential element” sales pitch to go.

In the eighth “essential element,” DQC argues that collecting student dropout and graduation data “provides the clearest picture of whether students graduate, drop out, or move.” However, there are any number of ways to define “graduate” and “drop out.” Indeed, the lack of any consistent definition of “graduate” or “drop out” allows for constant manipulation of graduation and drop out data. Is a “graduate” one who completes high school in four years? Five years? Via GED? Via night classes? What if a student leaves high school without a diploma and decides to return the following year? Is this student a “drop in”?

Shifting definitions of “graduate” and “drop out” make this eighth “essential element” a potential field day for reformers to declare victory or judgment according to whichever suits their purposes in a given moment.

The ninth “essential element” is also a reformer field day: “Rigorous exams like ACT, SAT, AP, and IB.” There is no mention of the use of student test scores potentially fire teachers and close schools. The explanation is benign– the use of test scores to simply inform.

Not in 2013. We are Racing to the Top. High Test Scores Will Ensure Our Superiority As a World Power.

One more.

The tenth “essential element” notes the need for “a robust data audit system.” Here’s a question: To whom will this “audit system” be accountable? In Louisiana, John White runs his Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) show behind closed doors. No one knows who is in charge of the data, whether raw data are verified, or whether high-stakes data outcomes such as school performance scores have really been calculated correctly. Certainly no one holds John White accountable for consistency of calculation from one year to the next. White sends raw data to whomever he chooses. There is no transparency. There is no accountability. What does exist are the consequences to students, teachers, schools, and communities as a result of White’s unchecked data capriciousness.

Am I to embrace the likes of White on a national scale simply because Duncan altered FERPA in order to make way for a Gates-funded DQC that cries, “Trust me”?

If what happens with data in Louisiana is any indication of what could well happen nationwide with this USDOE-Gates-DQC push for mammoth data collection, DQC founder Guidera needs to move on to her next reformer career already.

11 Comments
  1. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    Good analysis. Here are My notes from 2011/13: The Teacher-Student Data Link Project (TSDL) is one part of a “data quality’ campaign funded at $390,493,545 from 2005 to early 2011 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for projects to gather current and longitudinal data on the performance of individual students, teachers, schools, districts, states, and educators ranging from principals to higher education faculty. This data will be used to determine the “best value” investments to make in education and to monitor improvements in outcomes, taking into account as many demographic factors as possible, including health records for preschoolers.
    The data-will be used to “1. Determine which teachers help students become college-ready and successful, 2. Determine characteristics of effective educators, 3. Identify programs that prepare highly qualified and effective teachers, 4. Assess the value of non-traditional teacher preparation programs, 5. Evaluate professional development programs, 6. Determine variables that help or hinder student learning, 7. Plan effective assistance for teachers early in their career (sic), and 8. Inform policy makers of best value practices, including compensation.’
    The system will ensure all courses are based on standards, and that all responsibilities for learning are assigned to one or more “teachers of record” in charge of a student or class. A record is generated whenever a teacher has some specified proportion of responsibility for a student’s learning activities. Learning activities must be defined in terms of the performance measures for a particular standard, by subject and grade level. The TSDL system will enable period-by-period tracking of teachers and students every day; including “tests, quizzes, projects, homework, classroom participation, or other forms of day-to-day assessments and progress measures.” Teacher Student Data Link Project. (2011). Use and purpose of teacher-student data link. Retrieved from http://www.tsdl.org/UseandPurposeofTSDL.aspx.
    This Gates-funded campaign works in tandem with the USDE initiative authorized under Title II, Educational Technical Assistance of the ‘‘Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 H. R. 3801.” The first grants were made in 2005, the same year that The Gates’ Foundation started its Data Quality Campaign. Since 2006,USDE has invested over $700 million in the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant Program “to enhance the ability of States to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, and use education data, including individual student records…to help States, districts, schools, and teachers make data-driven decisions to improve student learning, as well as facilitate research to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps” See http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/
    A USDE issue brief (2012) outlines in breathless prose a program of data mining and learning analytics in partnership with commercial companies. The envisioned program includes an automated, instant access, user-friendly “recommendation system” for teachers that links students’ test scores and their learning profiles to preferred instructional actions and resources in real time (p. 29). U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Enhancing teaching and learning through educational data mining and learning analytics: An issue brief. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/technology/files/2012/03/edm-la-brief.pdf
    WHO is the OZ that makes these recommendations?

  2. It’s ironic that the educational deformers are so insistent on collecting data when they’ve demonstrated a total inability to use data in any responsible way.

  3. Terri Timmcke permalink

    BEWARE of the RTTT-D grants which will bypass the state to reach right into Parishes and even individual Charter schools with more grant $$$$ for more data mining, collecting, and sharing.
    “Though the last RTTT grants were awarded to states in late 2011, on August 6, 2013, the Department of Education announced the [color=red]Race to the Top-District (RTTT-D) competition. [/color]The purpose of this program “is to build on the momentum of other Race to the Top programs by encouraging bold, innovative reform at the local level.”10 Grants ranging from $4 million to $30 million are being offered to local education agencies (LEAs) in states that have adopted the Common Core.[color=coral] Applying LEAs must detail their efforts to institute rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems, data systems that specifically connect individual teachers with individual students, and data systems that compile student-level data from preschool through higher education. [/color]Winners of RTTT-D will be announced in December 2013″. http://www.hslda.org/commoncore/topic3.aspx

  4. I am informing my parents in Sand Springs but what can we do to stop this. I sometimes feel like we are beating our heads against a brick wall that is showing no signs of cracking. How do we as parents really get our voices heard. Any suggestions would be gratefully accepted.

    • Linda, I have two possible contacts for you: Jason France, who used to work in data for the Louisiana Dept of Ed (jasonfrance@hotmail.com), and Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters in NY (leonie@att.net).

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Data Quality Campaign: Encouraging States to Ramp Up Data Collection | The Education Report - your source for education news, updated all day
  2. Schneider on the Federal Demand for Student Data | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. Hyperbole Alert! Now Parents Who Opt-Out Of Testing Are The Same As Parents Who Opt-Out Of Vaccinations | Engaging Parents In School…
  4. Twelve Embarrassing Years of NCLB and RTTT: Time for Arne to Blame USDOE | Georgia SchoolWatch
  5. inBloom, BloomBoard, and the Undeniable, Corporate Reform “Need” for Student Data | Dr. Rich Swier

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