The Potential of Big Data in K12 Education

Great teachers know their students. They know their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, their learning styles, and information about their family and friends. Prior to computing systems, access to this information was limited to what each teacher could gather and remember among a class of 20-25 in younger grades or over 100 students in a high school. “Having a data and information management strategy in place in IT is no longer just a luxury, but quickly becoming a necessity” (Kelly, 2018). In K12, the advent of student information systems assists educators with access to interconnected student databases containing information from simple parental contact data to logs and information inputted by attendance, guidance counselors, and other teachers to help gain better insight into the students’ lives beyond their classroom.

Bringing this approach to the classroom level to create easier access to meaningful and actionable large student learning outcome data sets, commonly referred to as big data, has tremendous potential in education. Big data is “a term that first appeared around 2000, which refers to data sets that are so large and complex that processing them by conventional data processing applications isn’t possible” (Strauss, 2016). Data warehouses and computerized systems that employ artificial intelligence can connect formative and summative assessment data with adaptive learning platform results linked to common. While these platforms are still in their infancy and have not been without controversy (Taylor, 2015), (Gootman, 2008), however they hold incredible potential to help educators know their students better than was previously possible.


Gootman, E. (2008, October 23). As Schools Face Cuts, Delays on Data System Bring More Frustration. Retrieved August 1, 2018.

Kelly, R. (2018, January 11). 7 Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2018. Retrieved August 1, 2018.

Strauss, V. (2016, May 09). ‘Big data’ was supposed to fix education. It didn’t. It’s time for ‘small data.’ Retrieved August 1, 2018.

Without Risk th…

Without Risk there is no Reward

There is a great article in today’s Los Angeles Daily News entitled Don’t let fears stop necessary technology reform in L.A. schools: Guest commentary by Frederick M. Hess, Director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and John E. Deasy, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Hess and Deasy counter the negative press surrounding the recent iPad roll-out by describing the potential of leveraging technology to provide greater and improved opportunities for teaching and learning. They write that “it creates new opportunities for students to learn and grow; these opportunities should not be driven by community politics, grand promises or state procurement deadlines, but by helping students learn and teachers teach.”

However change is a messy process. Technological innovations don’t happen overnight. The Wright brothers began their experimentation with flight in 1896 and were not successful until 1902, no doubt after many many failed attempts. Thomas Edison had “1,093 patents for different inventions“, however many failed to see the light of day. There are many, many examples in nearly every industry, but we know in hindsight how technology has had a transformative effect.

I am not advocating to enter foolheartedly without sufficient planning for a 1:1 roll-out. To the contrary, we must develop clear expectations, identify, measure, and reflect on frequent benchmarks, and what I have not seen done enough, apply practices developed by change process sociologists and experts. When done with sufficient planning and visionary leadership, we can avoid simply layering technology upon existing classroom practices and achieve the true transformative potential of technology.

In summary, schools and districts need to adopt a change process theory model by treating the pedagogical shift to fully leverage a 1:1 environment to empower the learner to move beyond digitized worksheets and $1,000 pencils. However as with any innovation, leaders and stakeholders must also acknowledge a willingness to embrace some level of ‘mess’. We must attempt to plan for the 99% of what can/will happen and acknowledge that there will be unknowns along the way. Without risk there is no reward.

As Hess and Deasy state, this “should not hold students back from a 21st century learning experience”, and I couldn’t agree more.

The most succes…

The most successful students are those who feel real “ownership” of their education

Thomas Friedman in his Op Ed post in the New York Times Can’t We Do Better? summarizes the results from “the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which compare how well 15-year-olds in 65 cities and countries can apply math, science and reading skills to solve real-world problems” as “the most successful students are those who feel real ‘ownership‘ of their education. In all the best performing school systems, said Schleicher, ‘students feel they personally can make a difference in their own outcomes and that education will make a difference for their future.'”

Alan November has been asking for years, Who owns the Learning?, and the results of this assessment further confirm that this essential question is right on target.

So to take this to the next step, we as educators and educational leaders must continue to reflect on what we can do to empower students, teachers, and schools to own their learning. This is our challenge, and with access to a global network of subjects, resources, and people, we need to leverage technology to tap into students’ interests, make assignments more authentic, and use tools to create more powerful teaching and learning experiences.

Thank you Passaic

I will be leaving the Passaic Public Schools. This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. The past eight years have been professionally extraordinary and personally rewarding and I am humbled by this experience. When changes around you prevent one from being effective, the realization of having to make this decision becomes clear.

I am most proud of the lives that I have had the privilege to impact, and the people that have had an impact on me. During my first five years, I was fortunate to lead the GEAR UP project and support the PHS Class of 2011 beginning when they were in 7th grade, truly one of the most talented group of students I have ever met. Hundreds of students earned college credits, enrollment in honors and AP courses more than doubled, and most importantly students graduated high school and enrolled in colleges in greater numbers. The perseverance and success of these students, in spite of many obstacles, has taught me more than what I think they learned.

When I started in Passaic, technology was extremely limited and use was mostly application based. Over the last few years, I partnered up with an incredible group of teachers and techies to provide 21st century learning opportunities for our students. Educational benefits drove every decision and we focused on how technology can be leveraged to truly empower the student and developed our own curriculum and vocabulary focusing on Transformative Teaching and Learning.

We accepted the challenge and executed over five years worth of technical upgrades and professional development offerings in under two. We overhauled the entire district network installing 1.7 million feet of Ethernet cable, 21,000 feet of fiber, 6,200 new data drops, and provided WiFi access to 95% of all schools for the first time. Internet bandwidth increased more than 10 fold and we are providing Chromebooks in the hands of all 4,800 students in grades 7-12, laptops for teachers, and mounted interactive projectors in every K-12 classroom. I now walk through the schools and see students engaged on their Chromebooks and in classrooms collaborating on shared docs and projects. Truly inspiring.

Finally, I would like to thank the Passaic Board of Education for providing me this opportunity, the students for always rising to the challenges, the dedicated teachers for embracing the change, and of course my awesome tech team, an exceptional group of professionals without equal. Passaic will always be part of me.

Weighing options: 1:1 initiatives in AL, NJ, and SC

Weighing options: 1:1 initiatives in AL, NJ, and SC

Excellent, well researched article by Tajuana Cheshier in the Jackson Sun describing the salient points schools and districts should research how a district decides to go 1:1. Included are interviews and narratives from the Huntsville City Schools‘ 1:1 implementation from Huntsville, AL, our experience from the Passaic Public Schools in Passaic, NJ and fromDonna Teuber from the Richland 2 School District in Richland, SC.

Some key points from the article include:

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve when deciding to go 1:1
  • Provide ample opportunities for teacher Professional Development
  • Plan, plan, and plan some more

Article one page (click “cancel” when prompted to print)

Avoiding the Post-Conference “Cinderella after the Ball” Blues

NY/NJ Google App SummitI just left the NY/NJ Google Apps Summit and had a very interesting conversation with Samantha Morra and a few of our Passaic City Public Schools Technology Coordinators about how it sometimes feels like how Cinderella must have felt the day after attending her Ball when returning to work and school the day after attending an event like this.

Things go back to normal and high-level conversations and discussions about educational best-practices take a back-seat to replacing ink and toner, resetting email passwords, and helping with PowerTeacher and Gradebook.  While each of these requests are important and must be answered, that “next day after the ball” feeling does not have to happen, at least not entirely. To keep the positive vibes going, I have found collaborating with colleagues to implement the concepts from the conference as the best way to keep the ball moving, and I have the following three concrete recommendations:

1. Get together with other teachers, coaches, or administrators frequently, make a plan, and execute. To further this, I have learned based on the experience of our own Technology Coordinators in Passaic at the middle and high school that working in isolation as our PreK-6 coaches do limits our effectiveness. As a result, next year I am going to arrange for Elementary Tech Coordinators to work in groups at a few locations a minimum of one (1) day per week to collaborate, plan, submit the post-classroom observation forms, etc. Consider this a ‘modified’ Google 20% time.

2. Continue to develop your Personalized PLN’s (or PPLN as we in Passaic have named it) with conversations on Twitter and other social media. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned this year by following and interacting with educators online.

3. Put your thoughts down and publish! One of our high school Technology Coordinators, Mary Howard, just this weekend created her own personal WordPress blog, published her first entry on “Flattery“, announced it to the world on Twitter, and started a new Twitter chat at #celebrateED. This is in addition to #Techpass Corner Blog documenting our 1to1 journey managed by own LMS and PHS Tech Coordinators featuring a great recent entry by Michael Grant sharing what we are doing.

I too could do more to model this and launched this blog directly as a result to put my thoughts down on ‘paper’.

Finally, to combat the post-conference “Cinderella after the Ball” Blues, three of my take-homes are to continue to collaborate online and in-person with many of the educators who I both follow and interact with on Twitter, many of whom I met for the first-time in person and connect with Joel Handler and the folks at the Hillsborough Public Schools, my alma mater, who are doing some amazing things with their 1:1 Chromebook initiative, and of course work with our amazing @PassaicSchools team!

Thanks and keep that “Cinderella AT the Ball” feeling going!