Yong Zhao On Data

A Pretense of Science and Objectivity: Data and Race to the Top

Education has a new god: data. It is believed to have the power to save American education and thus everything in education must be about data—collect more data about our children, evaluate teachers and administrators based on data, and reward and punish schools using data.

The US federal government has been dangling $4.35 billion to recruit worshipers through the Race to the Top (RTT) program, and possibly a lot more through the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Already 40 states have somehow made the conversion, although only two (Delaware and Tennessee) were deemed to have developed a system powerful enough to generate more converts in schools and thus rewarded with a total of $600 million. Other states will have a second chance and many are working to rewrite their pledges.

Both Delaware and Tennessee did an excellent job pledging to build an education system around data. The Delaware application for RTT lists three strengths that “few states can match:”
  1. Delaware’s state-of-the-art system (emphasis original) captures longitudinal information about both students and teachers, and links them together. Today, the State can quickly analyze the performance of any teacher’s students over time, can track how graduates perform in college, and can link teachers to teacher preparation programs, providing rich opportunities to use data to drive performance at the system, school, and classroom levels.
  2. Delaware’s rigorous statewide educator evaluation system is based on the most respected standards for teaching and leading. The system provides a multi-measure assessment of performance that incorporates student growth as one of five components…an educator can only be rated effective if they demonstrate satisfactory levels of student growth.
  3. Delaware’s newly-defined regulatory framework for school turnaround gives the State the authority to intervene directly in failing schools and requires schools to demonstrate results b achieving AYP within two years. (p. A4-A5)
All three are about data. With the RTT money, Delaware promises to become even more faithful—moving from data-rich to data-driven (watch the panel interview on Youtube). The State will “administer up to three formative and summative assessments per year per student in core subjects” (p. B-10), provide “immediate information that a teacher will use” (p. B-10), “provide data coaches to aid in the use of assessment data,” make tenure and licensure decisions for new teachers based on student performance (D-8), and include in teacher and administrator annual evaluations (p. D-16). With all these plans, Delaware will be “poised to promote data-driven instruction across all schools” (p. B-23). (http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase1-applications/delaware.pdf)

Tennessee embraces data as enthusiastically as Delaware. Its RTT application begins with a poetic piece that asks the reviewers to:

Imagine, for a moment, a new day that is coming for Tennessee’s children and families, teachers and principals, and the State’s economic future….It is a day when middle school students will have the benefit of formative assessments, with immediate results so their teachers can measure their progress and make adjustments in time for the annual test. And then principals will use that student achievement data as a significant part of more rigorous teacher evaluations, and work with their teachers to help them succeed (p. 10).

I could go on, but you could read the applications and/or watch their presentations/panel Q&A on youTube (quite fun, actually).
More at the link.

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