The data-driven intensification of teachers’ work … tales from early childhood education

One of the important questions to ask about data and schools is how datafication impacts on teachers’ work – for example, how data practices alter workload pressures, teachers’ professional identities, and the everyday work of teaching.

There is a small (but growing) body of writing that explores how the implementation of data-driven systems can shift teachers’ role from being a central figure in the classroom to assuming a new role as ‘coordinators, orchestrators, and interpreters of feedback’ (Shaffer et al. 2015, p.18).

Adding to this literature, Koeun Kim (2018) offers a study of teachers’ engagement with a commercial online system rolled out in US early years classrooms during the early 2010s. Of course, Early Childhood professionals have always observed children and recorded those observations. Nevertheless, this is a sector where commercial online reporting tools are now increasingly being used to support the process of ‘doing’ data.

The ‘TS Gold’ online system in Kim’s case study schools required teachers to input anecdotal records of their pupils’ learning and development, and then rate these reports on a 0-9 scale against predetermined objectives aligned with state standards. The system subsequently uses this data to produce instructions and recommendations that the teacher then can drop and drag into their online plans for the forthcoming week

The paper details a number of ways in which the TS Gold system intensified the teachers’ work. For example, Kim’s interviews highlight a succession of pressures being brought to bear on teachers through the system. These ranged from the added work of having to train oneself to use the system, through to the additional stress and panic caused by the regular deadlines imposed by the systems. Throughout these descriptions, Kim draws attention to the system’s promises of ‘time-saving’ versus the realities of increased time demands of getting familiar with the system, and ensuring that it functioned.

Elsewhere, in contrast to notions of the system augmenting teachers’ professionalism, teachers were found to be excessively driven by the system’s view of child development and learning. For example, teachers would tend to defer to the system ratings and judgements, and be mindful of the need to make teaching decisions that the system will ‘like’. Some felt a pressure to base their classroom decisions in ways that would ‘count’ in terms of being successfully recorded and processed on the system.

Yet, notwithstanding these issues, Kim notes the ‘paradox’ of how most teachers continued to see the TS Gold system as ultimately beneficial for their pupils. For example, Kim’s interviewees argued that Early Childhood education needed such systems in the long term on the basis of “Because we need proof” (p.935). Teachers reassured themselves by imagining a possibly unattainable near-future where they will have mastered the system and where it will start to work for them. Part of this, Kim suggests, is due to teachers’ sense of vocation coupled with the performative nature of the profession. As she reasons, the data-driven intensification of work is exacerbated by …

“… individual teachers’ commitment, a strong desire for recognition as competent professionals, and ‘willingness to change’ to do the very best for their children” (p.936)


[Notes on: Koeun Kim (2018) Early childhood teachers’ work and technology in an era of assessment, European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 26(6):927-939]