santaModern technology has been helping jolly old St. Nick for quite a while.  The U.S. Postal service was replaced over two decades ago by e-mail as the most efficient way to let the North Pole-bound elf know whether you were naughty or nice. A digital drop to emailsanta@santaclaus.com let him know exactly what you wanted and your own personal estimate of your worthiness for receiving such a gift. Along came amazon.com allowing you to attach links to the toys in question, so poor Santa wouldn’t struggle to understand exactly what a Flip Force Supercharged: Construction To Destruction set is.

With the advent of social media, Santa’s job actually got a little more complicated. Suddenly  he had to monitor his Santa Claus Facebook page and try to boost traffic by writing frequent pithy status updates and approving literally millions of friend requests. That job was quickly pushed off to the elves through a special agreement with Facebook to grant his page “real” status while acknowledging that persons other than the “real” Santa Claus might be posting as him. The basis for the agreement lay in the precedent set by the  practice of Santa stand-ins operating in good faith as the real Santa in stores, churches and shopping malls all around the world. A similar arrangement was made with Twitter for the verified  @Santa account. It didn’t take long for children to figure out that the #nice hashtag was their express route to getting on the correct list.

But the explosion of social media options has been a problem for the North Pole in the last few years, drawing more and more human resources away from toy production and into the office to manage a YouTube channel, as well as accounts on Foursquare, Instagram, Tumblr and Google Plus.  Mrs. Claus’s time has been diverted from watching over the welfare of the elves to hourly pinnings on Pinterest of handmade holiday decorations, delicious Christmas treat recipes, weight control tips to get you through December and ways to manage the holiday stress.

“There are times I’d rather be filling the hot cocoa in the break room, but I have over 2 million followers who are strangely addicted to what I pin,” said the older but computer savvy Mrs. Claus. “I hate to tell them I don’t make most of those holiday treat recipes. You think Santa is big now? The reindeer would go on strike if I fed him all that I pin.”

While their social media popularity was rising, the Clauses were still highly dependent on self reporting for classifying children. Sure they received reports from the numerous mall Santas who could look into the hopeful eyes of the child on their lap to see if they were telling the truth. And if that failed, they could look at mom or dad’s body language to know whether the kid on his lap was their pride and joy or bane of their existence.  But that was not the most efficient intelligence gathering.

And before you run to the NSA for intelligence gathering, consider that they essentially collect a digital dump of everything everyone does that leaves an electronic fingerprint.  Even they don’t have the means to sort through all that data annually and determine whether you are naughty or nice. They only go through it when they want to, for people they have already determined (through other low tech intelligence gathering techniques) are of concern or suit some political purpose. It is just not efficient enough for Santa.

But thanks to a recently signed agreement between Santa and the state longitudinal data systems (SLDS), the North Pole may finally be able to concentrate on what they do best there, make and deliver toys to good little girls and boys.  Thanks to changes in the Congressional Act known as FERPA made unilaterally by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan almost two years ago, third party vendors may now have access to student data. Getting his operations classified as a third party vendor who has an interest in education (some of his toys are educational you know, even though they find their way disproportionately into the homes of families who believe in the value of education), was not that difficult for Santa Claus and will grant him access to the SLDS’s in the United States. By picking key fields, he will not only know whether a child is really trying academically, but can also gain insight into some behavioral indicators as well. The great news for Santa is that bureaucrats are working on uniform coding techniques for attitudinal classifications which will make his placement on the naughty or nice list more objective and consistent across the country.

“I just can’t tell you how much easier this will be than using a search algorithm on my email inbox to try to figure out where to put a child,” Santa said with a twinkle in his eye.

“Just think  about the motivation for students,” replied one enthusiastic teacher when asked to comment. “Kids don’t worry about their ‘permanent record’ but they sure do want to get something from Santa. I expect to have much more control over the classroom because of this agreement.”

When asked what he thought about the new agreement, little Tommy said, “Whatevs. With the new standards based grading system, I can’t fail. They let me retake the test until I get a better grade. Everyone is going to look golden to Santa.”

Parents seem to be the only ones not fully on board with the new agreement. They don’t know what is in their children’s digital files or whether it is accurate and worry that it might give Santa the wrong impression. “For all I know my child is listed as a bigot, “said one father who worried because his children have been taught to say grace before eating a meal.

The new agreement only helps with placement on the naughty or nice list. Santa still uses the social media and email to collect present requests from children. When asked whether he worried about getting bad data from the SLDSs pére Noel said, “It will be nice to have the additional data but, you know at the end of the day, I still know who’s naughty or nice. I’m Santa Claus.”

 

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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