Predictive Analytics Inform Changes in Outreach and Instruction
After studying decades of U.S. census data, Joshua Goodman, associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, found that raising state-level minimum requirements for math instruction improved earnings for black students: “Closing racial disparities in high-school math could help limit disparities in earnings later on."
The New York Times reports that universities across the U.S. are using analytics to better pinpoint specific skills and knowledge needed to advance toward two- and four-year degrees. While the analytics can reportedly help focus resources into creating climates of success for students (e.g., course recommendations, early interventions), some have raised concerns about the potential to weed out students identified as at-risk by the analytics.
The New York Times also reports that new data analysis from the College Board is enabling college administrators to improve efforts to recruit rural students. The article describes an achievement paradox for rural students, whose graduation rates are similar to suburban students (80% for rural, 81% for suburban), but college enrollment rates are much lower. Additionally, 100,00 rural students have signed up for personalized SAT practice freely available through a partnership between Khan Academy and the College Board.
A new report from the Data Quality Campaign explores a decade of data use in schools. Improved data infrastructures in schools are shown to improve retention rates, provide longitudinal data for students’ individual progression, and inform teacher preparation. The report authors caution that data can be used as a hammer, in the case of harsh accountability measures, but recommend considering it as a means to answer critical questions to help improve student learning outcomes.
A study by the University of Michigan and Blackboard finds that no one-size-fits-all approach works for real time feedback. The study used positive feedback via student data dashboards to encourage improved performance, and found mixed results for students with high GPAs, but those with a B average or lower reported finding the messages helpful.
Why Do We Still Talk About inBloom?
Data & Society Research Institute has released a study of the factors leading to the closure of inBloom, a $100 million ed tech initiative funded by the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Foundation. The study finds that inBloom catalyzed discussions of student data privacy, resulting in the development of policies and protocols to better safeguard student data and also access opportunities for data-informed instruction.
A few leading thinkers in the student data privacy space responded to the report. danah boyd, founder of the Data & Society Research Institute, says that a “huge elephant in the room” when discussing student data is “where’s the data going to come from?” Brenda Leong and Amelia Vance of the Future of Privacy Forum reflect that some projects have impact "by their failures as much as by their successes." In response to the report, Bill Fitzgerald, Director of the Privacy Evaluation Initiative of Common Sense Media says that "[e]ducational technology is a human endeavor, and we forget that at our peril" and describes inBloom as a Rorschach test for educational data policy.
Olga Garcia-Kaplan, a student data privacy advocate, reflects that: “Wealthier schools already had technology solutions that could serve their students, teachers and parents. At the time, I was a parent in the NYC public school system. A system with over 1 million students and all we had available was a system that had information I had provided to it. I did not have the ability to connect to other data reporting systems, and I had no real time insight into my children’s academic progress.” Recent struggles reported in school districts in Arizona to continue funding of a large-scale student data system reflect that many issues around student data remain ongoing and unresolved.
Happenings. The Future of Privacy Forum released their top 10 student data privacy news stories for December and January. What can be learned from 100 years of data on gifted children? Psychology Today explores the findings of a synthesis study. Positive learning outcomes for personalized learning platform Odyssey Math are now included in the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) of educational research. The WWC review examined 22 research studies on Odyssey Math’s contributions to students’ academic performance. Over 2,768 students in 41 schools participated in the research, with research published between 2007-2013. According to the report, as of June 2016 Odyssey Math is no longer available for purchase, which points to a need for more timely evaluation of the efficacy of digital learning tools.
In “Toward a digital sociology of school,” Neil Selwyn et al. explore methods for studying the realities of data use and digital technologies in schools. Selena Nemorin explores the ethics of embedding robots into K-12 environments. Claire Fontaine unwinds the apparent contradiction between anxiety around screen time at home and support for screen time at school. Carnegie Learning signed the Student Privacy Pledge. A recent post by Nathaniel Calhoun notes that: “As long as school administrators make big decisions based on the inexpert opinions of one or two colleagues, and as long as they decline to undertake serious needs assessments, publicly-funded classrooms are likely to continue being mismatched with tech solutions.”
Concerns Continue to Mount Over Impacts of Trump’s Immigration Policies on Students and Their Families
In our last newsletter, we shared Ben Herold’s reporting of emerging concerns around potential abuses of student data, such as country of origin information, to identify family members who may be vulnerable to deportation under the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. Chalkbeat explores the implications for the New York City Schooling system. For K-12, concerns are that families may avoid registering their children in schools or withdraw them to avoid potential consequences of proposed policies. The Data Quality Campaign has offered recommendations for actions the White House and Department of Education can take to ensure safe use of student data. City school boards are passing resolutions to safeguard student data. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, a resolution aims to “protect student personal data, and not allow Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents onto school property without prior written approval of the superintendent.” Audrey Watters expresses grave concerns about student data collection under the new administration, offering a syllabus of the questions and readings those working in ed tech under Trump should undertake.
Concerns continue following Trump’s Executive Order issuing a travel ban on visa holders from seven countries, which could potentially impact the estimated 17,000 students from the listed countries currently studying in the U.S. College administrators across the U.S. issued public statements affirming their support for students affected by the ban. Teen Vogue reported that many universities do not require campus safety officers to check immigration status, nor do they intend to do so.
Happenings. NPR reports the number of college students who are homeless or without food is rising. The FCC makes it more difficult for “poor people to get subsidized broadband.” The FCC has also rescinded its recent report on the success of its E-rate program, which made broadband access more affordable for libraries and schools. Emily Deruy reports on new film The Bad Kids and the effects of poverty on staying in school: “The filmmakers don’t offer sweeping reforms or policy suggestions. But they do strive to point out that helping poor and at-risk students succeed is about more than just academics. A kid can’t focus on philosophy if he’s hungry or exhausted because he slept on a recliner outside someone’s shed.”
Chalkbeat reports that in Colorado, teachers receiving high evaluation scores are more likely to teach in affluent school districts, causing disparities for students of color. Analysis of data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district finds that Black students were suspended nearly nine times as frequently as White students, with school leadership calling for immediate need for training in recognizing bias. In response to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights data, a school board in North Carolina is discussing ways to limit suspensions for pre-K to second graders and a bill has been introduced in Maryland that would ban early childhood suspensions and expulsions. Participation increased in Advanced Placement courses for Hispanic and Black students in New York City Schools. In response to data showing low participation among students of color, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced “AP for All” to increase the number of AP courses in schools, particularly for low income students. Trans in College describes the difficulties of navigating college paperwork, health, and housing as a transgender student, highlighting the prejudices and limited protections at most U.S. universities. Nichole Pinkard and Deb Roy will speak on February 15 at the MIT Media Lab about how to design education systems and develop supporting technologies that create a more equitable learning ecosystem. New report examines how financial data transparency around school district spending can improve equity. The Atlantic reports on a new study that finds “even within a single school, black students were six times as likely to be suspended as white students….even after controlling for income—as well as other relevant factors, including gender and participation in special education—black students were suspended at three times the rate as their white peers, suggesting that race itself plays an important role in the discipline rates.”
Can Civics Education Help Address the “Fake News” Problem?
As concerns grow among many stakeholders about the potential reach and power of “fake news” to influence public life, the role of educational institutions in providing civics education, including media literacy, is being examined from many angles. In a recent article for Slate, Dana Goldstein highlights studies of youth and adults that suggest troubling gaps in their basic understanding of government’s structure and role, as well as individuals’ rights and responsibilities with respect to the government. For example, one study out of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education found that 80% of middle-schoolers are unable to tell the difference between native advertisements and news coverage and, in a study with adults by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, less than one-third of respondents could name all three branches of government. There are signs, however, that the tide may be starting to turn; for instance, a recent nationwide survey by the Knight Foundation concluded that: “Support among American high school students for the First Amendment is stronger today than it has been in the last 12 years, according to the latest in a series of large nationwide surveys of the nation’s rising voters.”
But how can decision-makers across institutional lines continue to foster this nascent civic spirit? Goldstein argues that “the media literacy movement is a historically newer attempt to deal with the same problems that civics education tackles: the ability of students to grow into informed and empathetic citizens.” Fostering this ability is crucial yet particularly challenging when it comes to media literacy skills for the digital age. Today, “fake news” can be an epithet or critique rather than an accurate description of content’s veracity– a prominent example being how quick President Trump is to claim that “[a]ny negative polls are fake news.” In an atmosphere where the “[t]he same internet that enabled false stories to run unchecked through news feeds during the election year [recently] dispatched new white blood cells that attacked ... ‘alternate facts’ with ‘true facts,’” determining whether and how digital literacy can foster “true facts” instead of furthering “alternate facts” is a pressing challenge. Goldstein suggests that possible solutions may be “‘old hat’: better teacher training, stronger curricular materials, and more funding for schools that are especially struggling to provide good instruction.” Some schools are enlisting tried-and-true grassroots resources such as their local librarians who have “always helped people sort fact from fiction, reliable sources from deceptive ones.” Media literacy resources are also emerging from somewhat unexpected quarters; for instance, the recent response to the fake “Bowling Green Massacre” story gained momentum from a spoof Saturday Night Live: “In the end, social media and journalistic scrutiny aligned with comedy to right a wrong pretty definitively. That it happened so organically showed that false ‘facts’ might not always be the stubborn things so many people fear they are becoming.” Send in the clowns!
Happenings. On January 31, Dan Greene, postdoctoral researcher at the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England, presented Not Bugs, But Features: Hopeful Institutions and Technologies of Inequality, which drew on “three years of fieldwork among Washington, D.C.’s public libraries, and interviews with librarians and homeless patrons, to explore how poverty comes to be understood as a ‘digital divide’ and how that framework changes the nature and purpose of public institutions in an era of skyrocketing inequality;” a recording of this talk at the Berkman Klein Center is available here. Meryl Alper, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, is celebrating the release of her new book Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality at the MIT Press Bookstore in Cambridge on February 28. Also on February 28, Juan Carlos De Martin, faculty co-director of the NEXA Center for Internet & Society at the Politecnico di Torino, Italy, and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center, will speak on the role of the university in addressing global challenges in the democratic, environmental, technological, economic, and geopolitical spheres. A new European study conducted by Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics, Giovanna Mascheroni, lecturer in sociology of communication and culture at the Università Cattolica of Milan, and Elisabeth Staksrud, associate professor in the department of media and communication at the University of Oslo, “reflect[s] critically on the research agenda on children’s Internet use … taking as our case study the three phases of research by the EU Kids Online network from 2006 to 2014.” The LearnLaunch Institute held its fifth annual Across Boundaries Conference on February 2 in Boston. A drone pilot school now offers eighth grade students the opportunity to start learning– online– how to fly unmanned aircraft. Some county jails and state prisons have seen positive rehabilitative, educational, and other outcomes for inmates who have been given access to programming through digital devices.