It’s all going on your permanent record

Data mining kids crosses the line, argues Joy Pullmann, a Heartland Institute fellow, in an Orange County Register commentary.

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how public schools can collect information on “non-cognitive” student attributes, after granting itself the power to share student data across agencies without parents’ knowledge.

The feds want to use schools to catalogue “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intrapersonal resources – independent of intellectual ability,” according to a February DOE report, all under the guise of education.

To get stimulus funds in 2009, states had to agree to share students’ academic data with the Education Department, Pullmann writes. But federal databases could expand to include “health care history, disciplinary record, family income range” and more — potentially lots more.

The department recommends schools start tracking and teaching kids not just boring old knowledge but also “21st Century Competencies” – “recognizing bias in sources,” “flexibility,” “cultural awareness and competence,” “appreciation for diversity,” “collaboration, teamwork, cooperation,” “empathy,” “perspective taking, trust, service orientation,” and “social influence with others.”

What will the feds do with all this information? It’s a “disturbing question,” writes Pullmann.

Data miners can figure out your intelligence, sexual orientation, politics, religion and more by looking at what you “like” on Facebook, according to University of Cambridge researchers. Men who “like” Glee tend to be gay! Who knew? People who “like” curly fries tend to be intelligent. That’s because curly fries are tasty.

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  1. George Larson says:

    Not only does this sound like big brother, but it may not even be useful:
    Beware the Big Errors of ‘Big Data’
    By Nassim N. Taleb
    We’re more fooled by noise than ever before, and it’s because of a nasty phenomenon called “big data.” With big data, researchers have brought cherry-picking to an industrial level.
    Modernity provides too many variables, but too little data per variable. So the spurious relationships grow much, much faster than real information.
    In other words: Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.
    Just like bankers who own a free option — where they make the profits and transfer losses to others – researchers have the ability to pick whatever statistics confirm their beliefs (or show good results) … and then ditch the rest.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      It’s science. Nobody argues with science.
      Although I am reminded of Mark Roulo’s reminder of the Rosenhan affair in a different context.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      Taleb seems to be writing about the mistakes that researchers can make when mining big data. And there *ARE* a lot of pretty standard mistakes to be made.


      The good news is that many (probably most) of these mistakes are well understood by the statistics community. The bad news is that the non-statistics community (and, in my biased opinion, the education research community especially) tends to make these mistakes on a fairly regular basis.


      Keep in mind, however, that the ed research community as a group doesn’t seem to have mastered the concept that correlation is not causation (*) … so in many respects this just gives them tools to generate many more random correlations.



      (*) To support this I offer: early exposure of children to Mozart as a mechanism to boost IQ; sending books home with newborns as a way to boost IQ; 8-th grade algebra as a mechanism to increase college success rates.