Week before last I tried to attend the Data Quality Campaign’s National Summit here at a hotel in DC, but was made to leave by hotel security. (I had literature on the quality of educational data, and gave some out to other registered guests.)
I later wrote to the leadership of DQC asking them either to apologize or to clarify that indeed I deserved to be put out.
They wrote back saying it was a mistake in communication between the DQC, the conference vendor itself, and hotel security; they assured me that I am always welcome at DQC events.
I will let you read the exchange of email letters between myself and Elizabeth Laird.
My letter first:
Dear DQC Staffers,
I am writing to ask you for either a clarification or an apology about an incident last week that involved me and some subset of your organization, the Data Quality Campaign.
As you may know, on 1-18-2012 I was ejected from DC hotel where the DQC was holding a summit on educational data quality. If you were unaware of this, it was reported by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/retired-dc-teacher-says-he-was-thrown-out-of-ed-data-summit/2012/01/18/gIQAldgY9P_blog.html (or http://wapo.st/yfit25 ) and by myself on my own blog at https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/so-much-for-freedom-of-speech/ and https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/read-the-leaflet-that-the-data-quality-campaign-funded-by-gates-got-thrown-out-of-a-hotel-for/
( or at http://bit.ly/xm32q4 and http://bit.ly/xA2ZwD ) .
Here is my question: was this was a local DQC conference staffer being overzealous and committing a mistake, or is it indeed DQC policy that Guy Brandenburg is persona non grata at any of its events, no matter what he does?
I was told quite clearly by hotel security that the DQC conference leadership had specifically stated that I not be permitted to enter the Summit conference hall outside which I was quietly standing and contemplating what to do. They clarified that I could not remain in the hotel unless I rented one of the hotel rooms. It didn’t matter if I got rid of any printed material or leaflets I might have, and it made no difference that I had registered (and pre-registered online)
for the convention.
The topic of this conference was improving data quality regarding education. It is clear from your website and printed materials that you have done a lot of work in creating a national series of data pipelines. Some of the work I see appears to be quite laudable, or it would be if it were part of a well though-out whole. But as a retired 30-year veteran public school mathematics teacher who has administered many a standardized test, I have come across a lot of data. I have yet
to see a standardized test that really gives important information about things that teachers really need to consider: How can we get our children and our students to be more kind, brave, helpful, inquisitive, and inventive? Instead, it seems like the constant emphasis on test prep and test administration and test analysis in the schools is driving out all the good and fun aspects of school, replacing them with the type of dross and slag that I also hated when I was young.
What’s more, I am alarmed by the way that defective data is being used by folks with pre-existing agendas to promote already-agreed-upon but divisive and dubious goals, through needlessly complicated statistical manipulations that may or may not have any relationship to the real world. John Ewing of the American Mathematical Society and Math for
America has called it “mathematical intimidation”. I could point out that classical mathematical studies of voting have shown that there are many instances in which identical data can produce antithetical outcomes, depending on the algorithm that is used to count and weight the data. Remember the 2000 Florida elections? Different counting methods would have produced different outcomes, producing different presidents. We also have seen many publicized, documented, and wide-spread incidents of flat-out cheating and fraud on NCLB tests, producing illegitimate winners and undeserving losers. Unfortunately, I see no evidence in the DQC literature or website that you guys appear to have any awareness of the dangers of fraud, misrepresentation, cheating, or misuse of statistics. A search of your entire website produced not a single hit for any of these terms: fraud, dishonest, erase, erasure, erasing, forensic [ as in analyzing answer sheets forensically in order to detect cheating or fraud].
There was only ONE hit for “cheat’ – and it led to a page discussing the theft of social security numbers, but I saw nothing anywhere acknowledging that there have been widespread erasures of incorrect student answers, leading to promotions and cash bonuses for some and firings for others. Don’t you guys even read books like Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt, or How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff? Since I wasn’t allowed to attend, I don’t know how many of my concerns were addressed by audience members or speakers. I heard that you even screened the questions, not allowing those you didn’t like.
But back to my request.
It appears to me that you have three logical choices:
(1) Do you folks want to affirm that no, we don’t want anybody like you (GFB) to raise such concerns about accuracy and honesty in data, as well as concerns about whether these models really represent the real world; we do not want to consider them at all, and shame on you (GFB) for being so disruptive as to even raise the issue on a leaflet or position paper of some sort? And, to be precise, no, you (GFB) were definitely NOT to be permitted to attend the conference or even remain in the hotel, even if you (GFB) put away the leaflets?
(2) Or would you prefer to lay the blame for my expulsion at the feet of one of your DQC underlings or security personnel who misunderstood official intentions, so that this is just a simple mix-up; that I (GFB) am perfectly welcome to come to any of our events and help contribute and work on stuff for free, please accept our apologies?
(3) Or was I ejected because I had on the wrong color suit, tie, and shoes? (If that’s the case, my feelings will really be hurt.)
I’ll be sending these letters electronically and by registered mail to all the other DQC board members I can find addresses for, and to members of the press and other friends and bloggers. If I don’t get any response at all from anybody on your board, then a logical conclusion is that you are engaging in a silent, passive-aggressive form of answer number one. You hope that I and all the other critics of your RTTT/NCLB/Education-by-numbers movement will disappear and go away.
Guy F. Brandenburg
Here is the response that I received:
Dear Mr. Brandenburg,
Thank you for your email. We are indeed very sorry about what occurred. As I shared in response to the inquiry from the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss last week, here’s what happened:
Although the event management firm with which we contracted to support this event did ask Mr. Brandenburg to stop handing out the pamphlets at the entrance of the meeting room, he was invited to place his materials on the resource table and enter the meeting room. When he refused to stop distributing his flyers at the entrance of the meeting room, hotel security spoke with him separately. Neither DQC staff nor our event management staff were privy to his conversation with security, and DQC staff never interacted directly with Mr. Brandenburg. We would have welcomed him to participate in the open dialogue we had during the event like many other participants did during the Q&A sessions. In fact, one of the speakers at the event, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, mentioned a similar concept to that in Mr. Brandenburg’s flyer when he referenced the problem with data quality of, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” We welcome open, constructive debate at DQC and regret that Mr. Brandenburg was unable to be a part of that yesterday.
Mr. Brandenburg, you are always welcome at future DQC events.
Elizabeth Laird | Director, Communications and External Affairs | Data Quality Campaign
1250 H St., NW| Suite 825 | Washington, DC 20005
Here’s what I wrote back:
Dear Ms. Laird,
Thank you for writing back, and for what you wrote.
BTW, the first two requests sounded like well-intentioned but not-obligatory suggestions, like “you must have some of this delicious plum pudding”. By third request, it was clear that you guys were serious (a mistake, in my opinion, but there it is), and I asked for time to ponder what to do. I had only done a very little pondering when the security fellow came over to me.
In parting, I hope that more folks at DQC begin looking into the corrupting tendencies in high-financial-stakes standardized’ commercial testing, and that more staffers and partners begin exploring the question of whether children are being well-served by having every single minute of a classroom lesson scripted in advance and contrived so that it fits such a multiple-choice test. Maybe a future DQC site search will reveal pages where words like “cheating” won’t just refer to SSNs.
I added a PS:
PS, do you mind if I forward our exchange of letters so others can read them?
and received this reply:
Thanks for your reply. You are welcome to share our email exchange.