Who’s data mining your kids?

Who’s data mining your children? asks Stephanie Simon on Politico.

The NSA has nothing on the ed tech startup known as Knewton.

The data analytics firm has peered into the brains of more than 4 million students across the country. By monitoring every mouse click, every keystroke, every split-second hesitation as children work through digital textbooks, Knewton is able to find out not just what individual kids know, but how they think. It can tell who has trouble focusing on science before lunch — and who will struggle with fractions next Thursday.

The data helps teachers track students’ progress, spot their learning problems and analyze what works best for each child.

Expanding the use of data in K-12 schools and colleges could improve teaching, make education more efficient and spur $300 billion a year in economic growth, according to a 2013 McKinsey report.

But there’s nothing to prevent private companies from sharing or selling the information, writes Simon. The federal education privacy law, written in 1974, is badly out of date, writes Simon. And only 7 percent of school districts bar tech companies from selling student data, according to a recent study.

Data “could be used to target ads to the kids and their families, or to build profiles on them that might be of interest to employers, military recruiters or college admissions officers,” she writes. So far, there’s no proof any company has exploited metadata or student records. But the door is open.

It’s all going on your permanent record

Data mining kids crosses the line, argues Joy Pullmann, a Heartland Institute fellow, in an Orange County Register commentary.

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how public schools can collect information on “non-cognitive” student attributes, after granting itself the power to share student data across agencies without parents’ knowledge.

The feds want to use schools to catalogue “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intrapersonal resources – independent of intellectual ability,” according to a February DOE report, all under the guise of education.

To get stimulus funds in 2009, states had to agree to share students’ academic data with the Education Department, Pullmann writes. But federal databases could expand to include “health care history, disciplinary record, family income range” and more — potentially lots more.

The department recommends schools start tracking and teaching kids not just boring old knowledge but also “21st Century Competencies” – “recognizing bias in sources,” “flexibility,” “cultural awareness and competence,” “appreciation for diversity,” “collaboration, teamwork, cooperation,” “empathy,” “perspective taking, trust, service orientation,” and “social influence with others.”

What will the feds do with all this information? It’s a “disturbing question,” writes Pullmann.

Data miners can figure out your intelligence, sexual orientation, politics, religion and more by looking at what you “like” on Facebook, according to University of Cambridge researchers. Men who “like” Glee tend to be gay! Who knew? People who “like” curly fries tend to be intelligent. That’s because curly fries are tasty.

Colleges greenlight data mining

Data-mining can predict which online students are “green” (likely to pass with a C or better), “yellow” (headed for a D) or “red” (likely to fail). An Arizona community college that’s pioneered online courses is looking for ways to green its students.

At a magnet high school in Florida, students can graduate with college credits and certifications in information technology.