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All Right, Boys and Girls, Step Up to the Milking Machine

 

Things have actually reached that stage figuratively, if not literally, in the developing trend to gather “student data” and send it to the Cloud or to other repositories. Advocates of the vanishing ecology of privacy have even started to propose legislation to govern how the data will be handled in and distributed from these repositories. Future-of-the-month enthusiasts in education often buy into their latest projects without thinking them through; hence as usual the second thoughts about the decisions to store data—second thoughts that do not come from the education administrators making the decisions or from the commercially connected foundations encouraging them to do so, but from concerned parents, whose stake in their children is not to turn a profit.

Another worrisome thing is the trend towards “data-based education” that tallies, orders, and divines from test results to provide “diagnosis” “in real time” to teachers (and perhaps to a data repository). All they or their employers need to do is pay lots of money for the software systems and tests provided by commercial enterprises, instead of using good teachers, who can make subtler judgments and exercise a more profound influence on students, all in real time. Of course, the tests are largely multiple-choice “instruments” that have no ability to gauge the kinds of skills, understanding, and consecutive thought developed in pointed conversation and in essay-writing. My own brief experience feeding in to this commercial system left me profoundly disquieted by the expense and unsatisfactoriness of it all. It is creepy to think that we are moving towards thinking of education as a kind of “behavior” that can be sized up by multiple-choice tests.

One thing that we must remember in distinguishing between philanthropic educational enterprises (or eleemosynary institutions, if you prefer) and profit-making “educational” businesses is that the mission of the first is to provide education, while the twofold mission of the second includes making a profit. Sometimes that mission eclipses the educational one, as a breaking story about an allegedly corrupt chain of for-profit schools suggests. Past postings of mine have shown that not just for-profit enterprises are subject to corruption pressures, but we should not go off half-cocked buying into these systems.

As an alternative, why not examine a philanthropic institution like Loreto College? It is what in England is called a 6th-form school, a kind of academic junior-and-senior-year college preparatory school. It is located in a poor inner-city neighborhood in Manchester. 57% of its students live in “council wards” classified as impoverished, and a third of them have parents who did not go to university. Yet it is rated in the top 1% of secondary schools nationally, and a whopping 50% of its applicants to Oxford and Cambridge are accepted. Surely a school that does so well without skimming a profit has something to teach us all?

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