Policy Documents

Cogs in the Machine: Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing

May 1, 2014

With the federal government’s increasing involvement in education, advocates of this national education system claim gathering immense amounts of data is necessary for the system to properly function. This data is more than simple aggregate of test scores, but rather it is personal information about individual students, including their values and facts about their family life.

Through the implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the increasing use of technology in the classroom, the federal government has a greater capability to access individual students’ personal information. Additionally, with vast amounts of data being released and collected in comprehensive data banks, the chance that this personal information will be hacked is greatly heightened.

In addition to merely gathering overall performance standards, the government, through state and the federal education departments, desires to collect information regarding the student’s values, religion, family status, and attitudes.  The purpose of collecting these types of facts is for “correcting” these alleged prejudices that parents pass on to their children.

In the Pioneer Institute study “Cogs in the Machine,” Emmett McGroarty, Joy Pullmann, and Jane Robbins argue that the government has no right to collect this massive amount of student data. Individuals have a right to their own personal information, and it should be protected as personal property. When the state desires to seize private property, it must provide a reason. In the same way, the government should provide reasons why it needs individual student data, who will be able to see this information, and for what purpose it will be used.

As the authors articulate, this data-amassing scheme dates back to the ideas of Progressives like John Dewey. Progressives believed (and still believe) that government need not be limited by the principle of individual autonomy. The Constitution, they claimed, was outdated and no longer applicable to modern society. This view maintains that the government and “experts” know better than individuals how to solve modern-day issues. Because of this superior knowledge, these experts need access to large amounts of data, including personal information, to form solutions to modern problems.

John Dewey, the famous social engineer, desired to use education as a means to liberate children from their parents’ values and the biases of religion and tradition. In his eyes, the goal of education was to quash individualism and create Progressive citizens, reliant on the government.

Later Progressives, such as Marc Tucker continued this trend in education citing the necessity of gathering data so that experts can use this information to form education in such a way that is beneficial to society. In Tucker’s view, schools exist to serve the economy and produce the kind of workers, with specific skill sets, that the economy requires.  Under this model, the purpose of education is no longer to produce learned individuals capable of discerning their own career paths.

Tucker advocated implementing national standards, created by a board that forms the standards based on skills needed for particular jobs. Children would receive admittance into postsecondary education if they met the criteria and developed the skills dictated by the standards.  Labor market boards would post all jobs, public and private, that the students with specific skill sets could earn. In Tucker’s system, the purpose of individuals is to serve the economy, and the economy does not exist to serve the individual. The purpose of this type of education is to create workers to drive the economy instead of to create free citizens. This shift is manifested in the Common Core, which follows the system Tucker supports.

This view of education promotes Outcome Based Learning; however, it is not based on the knowledge that students obtain but rather the attitudes they form. Progressives use “transformational” outcome based learning to engineer students into the types of workers, with the right attitudes, they deem necessary for society. Data collection is part of the Progressive master plan for government to control society through education by transforming students into human capital to fuel the economy.

This view of education fundamentally alters what America is and has always been—a free nation created by the people and for the people. This country was built on the power of the free individual, capable of flourishing into a respectable citizen and choosing what type of job serves him. The government and the economy are created by and for the use of the people; the people do not exist to serve the government.