The Old Man and a Sea of Data: Social Entrepreneurship at Grauer

by Dr. Stuart Grauer on February 26, 2013

Max Rafael Levchin (Максиміліан Левчин), born in 1975, is a Ukrainian-born American computer scientist. This year, Mr. Levchin, along with Peter Thiel, two of PayPal’s co-founders, mentioned that they were writing a book together called “The Blueprint.” According to the authors, we need to get the United States back on the road to innovation. (They think the country is in a funk in terms of big, new ideas.) Is it a good bet these two young engineers are going to recapture what’s best about our nation? There are a lot of engineer entrepreneurs these days, the days of digital existence. But what of their innovations? They all claim they are major drivers of social entrepreneurship, but what are they innovating? And what is their impact on innovation in our schools and on The Grauer School? It’s rather safe to say that US high schools are hardly becoming great breeders of entrepreneurship!

There is a one-word answer for how schools could harness the power of all our phenomenal social media: data!

To the tech gurus, to Silicon Valley, and to today’s rising social entrepreneurs, data is King! For our engineers and technological leaders, the more data you collect about people, the more you can sell them. It’s quite concerning if not scary. The Children’s Online Private Protection Act (COPPA) is being widely ignored as kids under 13 routinely lie about their ages and companies like Facebook go “wink, wink,” then crank up personal profiles on all their habits. Here’s something even scarier: Today’s fast rising, young techies like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who seem to naturally favor prefrontal cortexes (where we scheme and plot) over right temporo-parietal junctions (home of moral judgment) are serially making pronouncements that profoundly impact the moral, ethical and social development of the next three generations of our children and teens. Indeed, it appears that our culture is on a major collision course between the public interest and the self-interest of data-driven tech companies.  So when a young Ukrainian engineer says he’d like to create more innovation for the good of our nation, it might not be exactly the innovation you’d want.

Engineers traditionally have been hired by, hence balanced by, experienced organizational leaders. Now, with a singular focus on efficiency, a generation of young engineers are reorganizing our lives, personal behaviors, and consumption patterns. Reid Hoffman, the young founder of LinkedIn, was interviewed about the unprecedented privacy losses across the country and offered up this mind blowing flash of insight about it:  These are “old people issues,” he explained. Got it! Thanks, Reid! So here we see one of the nation’s great computer engineers making one of the stupidest comments in the history of human civilization. That’s actually quite an achievement in and of itself.  I hope you all see how insane it is when we assign general wisdom to people just by virtue of their talent in math and engineering. But hey, maybe general wisdom is just another old people issue. Besides, if not engineers barely out of their teens, I suppose we’d be left to find our wisdom from rock stars and pro athletes, the other two categories of American gurus.

Are we trapped? Will the data dictators take us down as they increasingly take access to the deepest dark recesses of our private information and use them for their own profit and domination? What can we do? Let’s see if the old guy’s still got mojo. What if …

What if our schools started using these same data collecting techniques used by Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, and the others to capture data about what our kids were doing best? What if we unleashed a team of digitally outsized, under-thirty, Millennials into the school databases of the country? What if, at our own school, at The Grauer School, we identified the data that was not most profitable but most valuable for our kids, and started measuring, disseminating, and rewarding that? What if we identified the specific values we want our kids to show and tracked their development of them with the same precision that Google tracks their personal habits?

And guess what?: We have!

Grauer students and teachers are now collaborating in creating authentic, digital forums where real relationships blossom and where outcomes are authentic and helpful. This is happening behind classroom doors, across digital networks, and around the world. We are doing this for whole school direction, curricular efficiency, and for external social entrepreneurship.

Among the most exciting developments is our school “dashboard.” Student data not just on grades but on more important things like values and service are gathered, aggregated, disaggregated, displayed, and used to inform our administrators and teachers. We track trends on all sorts of measures that drive the real quality of the school—not just grades and attendance. We’re looking at scholarship percentages, giving patterns, alumni connections, teacher evaluations, and even values. Students and teachers all weigh in daily with their perceptions of our core values such as resourcefulness and perseverance and these observations are converted on scales into quantitative measures which flow through as measures of progress at the class, teacher, department and whole school level. We can see how these change over time and which need attention now.

Almost all schools espouse core values, but we know of none other than Grauer that so rigorously measure whether they are achieving those values.
“Connectedness” is not only a key to successful social media like Twitter, it is a huge measure of school quality and effectiveness. It could easily be the ultimate educational sleeper. Consider: Our school has its own full set of social media for students, parents, teachers and various special groups that stay connected. The math department web page, created by department chair Morgan Brown, now has an area for students to connect with other students for peer tutoring. Students that are available to tutor can enter their information in a form that then displays live on the webpage. Students who need a tutor can view the webpage to see the list of tutors available. Want to connect with a math guru? Here is the link to give students:

(Readers, especially parents: Please encourage honor students to sign up as tutors. The more who sign up, the better it will work. Teachers in other departments reading this, if you want to set up something similar, Morgan is happy to help / show you how.)

We’re creating social media connections with schools around the world, too. The Ameson Foundation is ready with Chinese exchange students and teachers. Our sister school, Maui Prep, links to our newsletter, and we belong to an extraordinary network of schools globally: the UNESCO Schools. We have several trademarks and own many domain names: “Learn by Discovery,” “Zenbells,” “Real Teachers,” and a few more. Don’t try using them commercially: we own ’em! We invent programs all the time. We are a school of and for social entrepreneurs!

We have created our own database, Gradescape, in a market where virtually no school really likes the available online commercial alternatives. And at the same time, we continue studying commercial gradebook designers to help them do something better.

The Grauer School has good news, although it goes against the national grain: we are engaged in a rich array of social entrepreneurship that is even more important for our community than your buying preferences on Facebook or Amazon. And we don’t even know about those recent purchases you made. Or do we?

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