An Open Letter to CEA President Kerrie Dallman

Dear Ms. Dallman,

As an educator, you must be aware of one of the greatest dangers facing our children: predators who, using seemingly-attractive bait, lure naïve youngsters into very bad situations which compromise their safety, privacy, and general well-being.

At first, many predators seem friendly and well-intentioned—and certainly the bait they dangle in front of children is attractive on the surface. Unfortunately, though, their ultimate goals are dangerous.

Not only are predators a danger to innocent children, they are a danger to our public school system—of which you, the President of the Colorado Education Association, surely must be a defender.

As major cities close schools public schools all over the country, billionaires like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch use their money, power, and jargon to impose corporate reforms that will ultimately lead to privatization of our system. And to see that you are advocating for one such reform (which, among other things, encourages an over-reliance on the standardized testing that accompanies it) is thoroughly disheartening. The inBloom system itself is controversial for many different reasons, but what inBloom represents for public schools as we know them is the much bigger problem.

Your editorial in The Denver Post seems disingenuous to me, as it’s rife with empty jargon that is characteristic of so many corporate reforms that are bad for children. Your claim that you and your colleagues log into “30 different information systems” every day to gather student data is troubling in and of itself, because it validates the importance reformers place on the use of endless, problematic, and often meaningless data to drive instruction. But more troubling is that your claim echoes, just as paid advertisements do, the inBloom FAQ page, which cites a pilot district (yours, can we assume?) whose teachers log into “30 different technology systems.” Was your public praise of the system part of the deal when the CEA accepted hundreds of thousands in grants from the Gates Foundation?

Aside from your support of inBloom in Colorado and the glaring ethics and privacy issues the system poses, I have some real problems with your argument that teachers need inBloom as a “tool.” First, you claim that inBloom fixes the problem that teachers “don’t have enough time to truly personalize learning for every student to meet their individual needs.” Sure: teachers who log into 30 systems with different usernames and passwords each day (this really happens?) waste time. But the solution to that waste of time isn’t to consolidate confidential information about students into one database; it’s to reevaluate the overuse of data that you describe. After all, the best teachers in the world have been successful for hundreds of years without staring at test results and other flawed data on spreadsheets, and those teachers will continue to be successful whether the Gates Foundation gets its hands on children’s personal information or not. The idea that storing loads of statistical data about our children can “personalize learning” is counterintuitive, as the testing culture that accompanies corporate educational reform reduces students and teachers to numbers and depersonalizes the personal culture of learning teachers work so hard to achieve. As you note, “nothing can ever replace the instincts of a teacher.” Unfortunately, the people making decisions about education don’t trust the instincts of a teacher.

Another problematic assertion you make is that a system like inBloom is necessary because it will help “reduce the need for teachers to reinvent the wheel for each new lesson and instead focus more time on quality of instruction and learning.” Such a claim is wildly misleading, particularly to those who have no understanding of what it is that teachers actually do. Collaboration is certainly important, but in the age of technology in which we currently live, teachers already have plenty of resources at their disposal. Maybe I’m too much of a cynic, but I see the “resource-sharing platform” as a way to can, cheapen, and standardize a “wonderful presentation on the Declaration of Independence.” We all know that the mark of a great teacher is that he or she “reinvents the wheel” all the time; to suggest that printing out and teaching a lesson someone else created is a practice that will lead to better instruction undermines and insults those of us who work so hard to develop lessons that are personalized for the different children who are in our classrooms each year.

Your case for inBloom is lukewarm at best, and an unintended (I hope) consequence of your argument is that it affirms reformers’ claims that teachers are failing at their jobs and that data collection is the answer. The inBloom benefits you describe are certainly not justification enough to warrant manipulation of existing privacy laws to circumvent confidentiality issues and allow private corporations access to student information.

Back to my original point: the bait used to lure children isn’t always inherently evil. The intentions of the predator, though, extend well beyond the original offertory. I’m not necessarily doubting that inBloom could be useful in some educational settings, but the implications of allowing corporations to infiltrate the system they claim is broken for the purposes of meddling in our children’s educations are alarming. In short, Ms. Dallman, you’ve fallen victim to the Gates bait. In doing so, you’ve further compromised the future of public education for our children—all in the name of a data-mining system that will ultimately, unjustly, and unnecessarily track sensitive information on the children we teach and the teachers you were elected to represent.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “An Open Letter to CEA President Kerrie Dallman

  1. Pingback: Teacher: Predatory Uses of Data Endanger Children | Diane Ravitch's blog

  2. With friends like Dallman, teachers don’t need enemies.
    Turning teachers into data gatherers and dispensers doesn’t help kids learn important stuff.
    None of the data I saw collected by any standardized test was at all useful for helping me (or anyone else) teach.
    Having all this confidential data on every child in one place is asking for it all to be compromised sooner or later. After all, none of us can keep all of our passwords straight in our heads anyway,

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