• Kelly E. Middleton

Student Advocates: A Public School Twist on Data Mining

Updated: Oct 4, 2018



When it comes to customer service, Cheers got it right: "You want to go where everybody knows your name." But how they know your name can be the difference between great customer service and invasion of personal privacy.


A current controversial topic is data mining. Facebook and Google use this strategy to show ads that are relevant to what we are interested in based on information we share and what we look at on the internet. These companies then use our information to try to sell us stuff - for their own personal gain and profit.


In the education world, Student Advocates engage in similar behavior by trying to find out as much information as they can about their students: their hobbies, interests, life goals, personal life issues, school issues, etc. It's strange to think about this as data mining, but at the heart, that's what we do when we ask questions about students' lives. So why does it seem so harsh to call what a Student Advocate does data mining?


It's because of the context in which the term came into general usage. There's a difference between data mining for personal and business gain and a Student Advocate data mining for the benefit of the student and his or her family. There's no personal agenda for a Student Advocate, it's just an effort to forge relationships (see Concept #4 in my book Competing for Kids for more on this). In this age of increased consumer suspicion about invasion of privacy, it is important to understand this fundamental difference between for-profit data mining and what Student Advocates do in public education.


Now, as I say ad nauseam, when it comes to giving great service to customers, it all comes down to how well you know the student and can meet his or her specific needs. Companies like Facebook and Google are more successful at anticipating our needs than school staff is with their students. That's why schools need Student Advocates.


There are many ways schools can utilize Student Advocates. Every student should have a staff member (teacher, coach, cafeteria worker, bus driver, guidance counselor, etc.) who will go to bat for him or her just like every teacher has a union representative and every incoming college freshman gets an academic advisor. Every parent should have a teacher they can reach when they have issues or questions that are school-related. A Student Advocate giving a family member his or her business card with contact info is a great way to build that relationship.


I love having Student Advocates hand their students diplomas upon graduation. This is a very touching moment and one way to for the school to show appreciation for that particular student. Student Advocates can help with college applications if the student doesn't have parents or people who can help. They can also help guide the student with which classes to take and where the student's skills or interests lie. The student can open up about struggles with classes or teachers and the advocate can follow up with colleagues and maybe bridge that gap or mend the fence in that relationship disconnect.


So what are the stakes for public schools? Well this is a test score issue, a school safety issue and a finance issue (losing kids means losing staff). Yet, we seldom ever have a system in place to forge relationships with our students. Without a system - a plan to connect with students - we leave to chance that each and every student will find a connection with the school. Do we really want to take that risk?


Consider this. Research shows that disconnected students perform worse on testing. School shooting data shows that the majority of shootings are perpetrated by students who feel alienated from the school and peers. In addition, students who don't feel connected to anyone - students or staff - at the school are the first to leave for other schooling options. Today, students and families have choices for education. So odds are they are going to leave if the school doesn't show interest in keeping them around, just like a business that could care less if you shop there or not and gives you poor service.


Now think about the risk of leaving student-school relationships to chance. Initiating a Student Advocate program at your school can eliminate that risk and a lot of the potential fallout mentioned above. It's never too late to start and no start is too small to matter, so commence data mining on your students. It's one type of information-gathering they surely won't mind!

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