Conspiracy Theory

This school year the IT department here in our overly-large school district implimented a new system that allows students to connect their personal devices to the network without all the paperwork previously required. As best I can tell, it works as advertised about 85% of the time (with lots of noise about the other 15%).

However, the interesting part is that this process seems to have triggered a growing number of students, especially in high school, who suspect that someone, somewhere in some mysterious district office is watching all their traffic and digitally inspecting all the files they’re carrying.

How charmingly naive!

I wonder if many of the same kids think about the vast amounts of data they volunteer every day to Google, Facebook, Instagram, their wireless carrier, SnapChat, Twitter, Candy Crush, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, and so many more.

Not to mention the little bits of data sucked up by the NSA and other government agencies, organizations for which they were never offered 34 pages of a terms of service or privacy policy followed by an “I accept” button to be clicked without reading.

For this particular conspiracy theory, we try to explain to them that our school system, as bureaucratic as it is, doesn’t have the resources to monitor all the traffic on our little corner of the internet.

However, I think the bigger issue we do not address is helping students (and their teachers) understand all that information about them that’s being collected and stored every second they are online. Not to mention the many other data points they contribute to the mix as a standard part of attending school.

The Year in Phony Education Reform

I’m not a big fan of year-end reviews, especially the many simple lists of events with little or no context. Which makes this year in “phony education reform” very different, and better, than most of the retrospectives I’ve read this season. All focused on the big lie that is charter schools.

In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams.

What follows is a long collection of stories of financial waste, fraud, and abuse from charters all over the country. Problems about which the public seems clueless.

Surveys show the public generally doesn’t get what charter schools are and don’t understand whether they are private or public or whether they can charge fees or teach religion. Charter operators themselves have muddled their image by arguing successfully in numerous confrontations with legal authorities that “they are exempt from rules that govern traditional public schools, ranging from labor laws to constitutional protections for students.”

Charter operators want to take the public money while making their own rules about how it can be spent. With quality student learning being a lower priority and the return on investment.

Unfortunately, growth in the “business” of education, along with the greed and deception, will likely continue into 2015.

Forecasts about what 2015 will bring to the education landscape frequently foresee more charter schools as charter-friendly lawmakers continue to act witlessly to proliferate these schools. But make no mistake, the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.

It would be nice if all the 2014 scandals, not to mention multiple studies showing kids in charters do no better than their peers in the public schools, would alter the narrative. But in the current political climate, I’m not hopeful.

Kerfuffle

I’ve decided I like the word “kerfuffle”. Wiktionary defines it as “A disorderly outburst, disturbance, commotion or tumult.”, but I have a better use.

It has a very silly sound, almost Seussian, so I think it should be narrowly applied to any kind of pointless or artifically contrived controversy.

The kind of stuff that fills most of the day on cable news.

Understanding Data

We’ve been told that all students should learn to code, in part because business will have a lot of coding jobs to fill. (“1.4 million openings by 2020] but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the necessary skills to fill the positions”

Now, according to one report, we also need to have kids learn data analytics because… jobs.

By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

Here’s a better idea.

Rather than turning K12 schools into training academies for whatever industry is feeling slighted this week, let’s help students graduate with a good understanding of how the real world works. How code makes their magic devices possible. How data impacts their lives. How they can have more control over all of it.

In this case, that means a solid awareness of how all those little bits of information are collected and used, too often misused, by corporations, organizations and governments. Especially the personal data they themselves generate, knowingly and not, in and out of school.

Then we can worry about the staffing problems of the Oceans of Data Institute.

Faking Wisdom

One more short idea from the Neil Gaiman graduation address quoted in the previous post.

So be wise because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.

I think I will make that my new life philosophy. :-)