Basehor-Linwood was one of the first school districts to enter the Matrix. This week the superintendent and one of his principals shared their experiences at the Kansas State Department of Education’s (KSDE) annual conference in Wichita.
To enter the Matrix, they didn’t have to plug themselves into a computer network the way Neo did in the movie. They just had to sign a contract with AllofE Solutions, a limited liability company based in Lawrence, Kan., that specializes in developing computer software for educational institutions.
In their conference presentation, “Driving Instruction With Data,” Superintendent David Howard and Basehor-Linwood High School Principal Sherry Reeves discussed their experience with the Matrix, which is a computer dashboard educators can use to organize and analyze data about students and teachers.
According to the “Driving Instruction With Data” description in the KSDE conference program, “Today school districts have a greater need for analyzing the assessment data that they are collecting than ever before.” Among reasons cited for this increasing need, the program cites “meeting expectations on state assessments” and “assessing teacher performance.”
This fall, the state education department is piloting a new teacher evaluation program that will likely be required for all districts — including Basehor-Linwood — starting next year. National interest in teacher evaluation has been prompted by the federal government’s Race to the Top grant funding program. And student assessments are required by the federal government’s No Child Left Behind act. Because of increasing federal requirements like these, districts are generating more data than ever before, and they are faced with the challenge of trying to make sense of what all the numbers and statistics mean.
When AllofE released its Matrix software and data storage package last fall, Basehor-Linwood already had a relationship with them through its virtual high school. Marketing of the new package emphasized its user-friendly interface allowing educators to store large quantities of data to sort it for analysis. For example, an administrator can use the Matrix dashboard to find out how students living in poverty performed on the most recent standardized test. Teachers can sort data about students from previous years to find out how they are doing academically, tracking them over time. Counselors can sort data by risk factor in an attempt to predict who is in danger of dropping out. Essentially this is a form of data mining, only instead of marketers mining consumer interests in order to make ads follow them around the internet, educators mine data in order to follow the progress of teachers and students through public education.
By signing on with the Matrix data mining service, Basehor-Linwood and other school districts are spending public money on the services of a private, for-profit company. Some critics charge that federal requirements such as those contained in the No Child Left Behind act have left just about everyone behind except for companies selling services and products to districts. However, in this case the expenditure may also be helping to generate technology jobs in Kansas. AllofE, the company that developed Matrix, also has other software packages that it markets to public schools and higher education institutions. It is a small business based in Lawrence with annual sales of about $2.5 to $5 million a year and a work force of about 20 people.
Just who are these AllofE employees benefiting from the patronage of the Basehor-Linwood School District? If this were a movie like The Matrix, our hero at Basehor-Linwood would choose to swallow the red pill and learn the true nature of reality. Instead of realizing that the world is ruled by sentient machine overlords, though, the awakened one might discover instead that the Matrix is being developed and maintained — at least in part — by young people not much older than the district’s high school students.
For example, featured in the AllofE blog is Drew Manderfeld, an AllofE intern who is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in computer science. At AllofE, where he hopes to continue working after graduation, ” his main focus is Matrix where he is translating assortments of student data into useful and readable information.”
Another intern is Bryce Minter, who is also a KU student. At AllofE, he works on “a little bit of everything,” and what he likes best is “The sheer amount of projects and code base to work on and the calm, relaxing atmosphere.”
As a matter of fact, AllofE — appropriately enough for a company focusing on the needs of students and teachers — appears to be very youth oriented.
One of the videos they feature on their blog is A Vision of Students Today created by Mike Wesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Kansas State University. One of the points the video makes is now conversant students are with technology. Although college students are featured, Wesch’s insights are equally relevant to the reality of high school (and even younger) students:
In addition to Basehor-Linwood, a handful of other public school districts were among the first to enter the Matrix. Independence and Park Hill on the Missouri side of the state line are also early adopters.
Basehor-Linwood’s presentation took place at this year’s annual conference hosted by the Kansas State Department of Education. The conference started Monday and concluded yesterday at the Hyatt Regency and Century II Convention Center in Wichita.
Read more about the 2011 Kansas State Department of Education Annual Conference: https://kceducationenterprise.org/2011/11/02/data-driven-kansas-education-department-annual-conference/
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