Why Does The Educational Data Movement Mention Specific People and Organizations?

The book The Educational Data Movement: Crossing Boundaries, Searching for Student Success mentions many individuals and organizations by name  and often discusses connections between them.  Some of these individuals and organizations are associated with philanthropies and some are part of the Federal government.  Many are academics.  The reasons I did this were neither to focus on them as part of a conspiracy nor to show them as models of reform.  In the book I make efforts to judge the intentions or results (except in the few cases where there is a solid research base) of these people or organizations.  Instead, I want my reader to ask questions and draw their own conclusions.  There are three primary reasons I did this.

The first reason is that the educational data movement, while it has many dimensions, is really a national story with some important principal actors.  This book in many ways is a news story of this important shift in education that is still unfolding.  I firmly believe that years from now the educational data movement will be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime process, that education 10 or even maybe 5 years from now will be fundamentally different because of the availability and use of data.  This shift, however, does not have universal participation or representation.  Some kinds of organizations and perspectives are leading and others following.  There are questions in this time about the use of principles from other fields, including businesses, that are important to address.

The second reason to be specific about organizations and people is to be able to bring together different types of perspectives into the same story.  Certain types of work, for example education reform organizations (TFA, KIPP, etc.) are often not mentioned in mainstream education research.  When they are, it is often only critically.  And, the reform communities often do not draw upon the work that has been done in traditional research.  As it turns out, the educational data movement is spread out over these different communities and there is often a lot to be learned from the different perspectives, but that doesn’t happen if important actors are excluded from the story or just mentioned without some explanation of the context.  Being specific allows us these different areas to be discussed and hopefully help the reader synthesize these different perspectives and understand this movement more fully.

The third reason to be specific about individuals and organizations (and connections between them) is that conceptual.  In much social research and this is the case for much of educational research it is common for real things to become “generalized.”  For example, a study about a specific district becomes reported as “a district” or several teachers that were studied become “middle school math teachers” when in fact there are specific things about the districts or teachers studied that matter.  What ends up happening is that important areas of what is being studied become like analytic black boxes where the investigation doesn’t explore. Where we do see specific and detailed methods, these are usually applied to very local things like a single school or professional community rather than a large social process.  The educational data movement is a large social process and involves many different types of organizations that each is different and we lose important differences when they get grouped into general categories (theoretically this approach is called Actor-Network analysis).

My main argument is that the data movement is happening and leading education in a particular direction and that it is important to understand the movement even if it is messy at times and raises fundamental questions.  I have made efforts to share parts of this book with those individuals and organizations mentioned to find out it if is accurate and fair.  Many have given good and important changes.  Hopefully the book will be considered fair.


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