Personalized ed raises privacy concerns

Digital software can personalize instruction for students working at different levels and speeds. But fears about the privacy and security of students’ personal information are on the rise, reports PBS NewsHour.

At Miami’s iPrep Academy, Nicole Rasmuson teaches math, using “smart” software that analyzes mistakes, tracks how long a student takes to answer and checks for understanding, reports John Tulenko.

The software uses student data to customize lessons. “It’ll ask them, what are your interests?” says the teacher. “And so, in the word problems, it’ll — if one kid’s really interested in food, it’ll talk about cookies and that kind of stuff. It’ll even ask them, what are your friends’ names? And then it’ll put their friends’ names in the problems, too.”

Does it matter if software remembers that Jayden struggled with fractions, Maya likes soccer and Kim’s best friend in third grade was Jamie?

Are you a cissy? ‘Privilege’ survey annoys parents

“privilege” survey asking middle-school students to list their skin color, gender and sexual orientation, religion and disability status — in Spanish class — annoyed Tampa parents, reports WTSP. The teacher, who said she meant to teach about inequality, has been suspended pending an investigation.


The seventh- and eighth-graders were asked to specify “skin color” as well as race.

“Muslim/Sikh” and “Hindu/Buddhist” were among the religion choices.

Children could choose “intersex,” rather than male or female, and go on to identify as “cisgendered,” “transgendered,” “genderqueer,” straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual or asexual.

Regina Stile’s daughter circled “mental disability” on the survey because the teacher had said ADHD is a mental illness, Stile told WTSP.  “To me ADHD is not a mental disability,” Stile said. She also said her daughter, who’s 12, did not know what some of the gender  choices meant.

I’m 64 and I didn’t know “genderqueer” till I looked it up. And I’m still a bit fuzzy.

I learned “cis” a few years ago. It means you’re a male who identifies as male or a female who identifies as female. I think it’s possible to be “cis” and “genderqueer.”

I’m not sure about the difference between “pansexual” and “bisexual.” Perhaps I don’t want to know. Here’s a story about a transgender woman who’s transforming itself into a dragon. (It prefers “it.”)

I gather that “transgender” is out of fashion with those who don’t like the idea of two genders, but . . . I am 64. You’d have to ask a 12-year-old.

Or watch this and get a definition of “demi-girl” and “demi-guy” too.

Teacher forced out for nude photo on stolen phone 

Leigh Anne Arthur, who teaches mechatronics at a South Carolina high school, was forced to resign because a student who’d stolen her phone found and broadcast a semi-nude photo of the teacher via text and social media.

Leigh Anne Arthur was forced to resign after a student stole her phone and circulated her semi-nude photo.

Leigh Anne Arthur was forced to resign after a student stole her phone and circulated her semi-nude photo.

David Eubanks, the interim superintendent, said it was the teacher’s fault because her phone was unlocked.

Students had access to very inappropriate pictures of a teacher,” he said.  “I think we have a right to privacy, but when we take inappropriate information or pictures, we had best make sure it remains private.”

Arthur said she took the picture for her husband as a Valentine’s gift.

“Eubanks said he was unsure whether the student who took Arthur’s phone would face any discipline,” reports The State.

I shouldn’t be surprised at the depths of administrative stupidity, but — really!

Do special-ed kids need teacher-cams?

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Texas will require schools to videotape classrooms with special-ed students, if a parent or teacher requests it.

The law applies to any self-contained classroom in which at least half the students receive special-ed services for at least half the day, reports NPR.

Last year, an NBC-5 investigation exposed “calm rooms” — padded closets — at some North Texas schools.

Some of these rooms had cameras. In one cringe-worthy video recording, a teacher forced an 8-year-old boy with autism inside a room, forced him to the floor and held the door shut despite his protests.

Parents protested. State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Texas, sponsored legislation to “give a voice to someone who could not speak up when they were abused at school.” He says videotaping also will protect teachers from false accusations.

It’s not clear how many cameras will be required or how much it will cost to record and store footage.

If one parent requests camera, other students’ parents can’t block the videotaping.

School apologizes for survey on parents’ views


What do your parents think about race and economic equality? Who’s more “caring,” your mother or your father?

A Boston-area school district is apologizing for asking middle and high school students to fill out a survey for the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Making Caring Common Project.”

“How fair do your parents think it is that some people in this country have a lot of money and others just have a little money?” asks one question, prompting students to select responses ranging from “very fair” to “unfair” to “I’m not sure.”

“Do your parents do anything to help people who have less money?” another question asks.

Although the survey was optional, parents complained the questions were intrusive.
No mistake: Other questions ask about parents' views on race and ethnicity. Harvard agreed to delete all the data submitted by students in the Trident School District but the graduate school is standing by their survey. 'We don't think it was a mistake,' said Harvard psychologist Richard Richard Weissbourd

“My kids have no idea how much money I make and how much money I give to people,” one  mother told Fox News. “And frankly, it’s none of the school’s business or Harvard’s for that matter.”

Christopher Farmer, the superintendent of Triton Regional School District, agreed some questions were inappropriate. The district has withdrawn from the project. Data from Triton students will be deleted.

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who runs Making Caring Common, said, “We stand by the survey.”

“We are trying to gather information that will help schools and parents engage young people in discussions about race and inequality,” Weissbourd said. “Hard to have those discussions if you don’t hear from young people.”

Crunching keyboard clicks– anonymously

Privacy concerns sank the Gates-funded inBloom, which aimed to analyze student data. Now, LearnSphere, a new $5 million federally-funded project at Carnegie Mellon University, is reviving the idea, writes Jill Barshay for the Hechinger Report.

Professor Ken Koedinger, who developed “cognitive tutors” and co-founded Carnegie Learning, wants to help researchers analyze data “to test educational theories and boost learning outcomes from elementary school to college,” writes Barshay.

LearnSphere will not collect any personal information such as student names, addresses, social security numbers, race, family income or special education designations.

The ultimate goal is to translate research questions into computer commands that can be run on any dataset. For example, how many times does a student need to repeat or practice something before it becomes knowledge? Or when is the optimal time to give feedback, right away or after a bit?

. . . He recently studied how much students learned when they were taking a free online course, a MOOC, in introductory psychology. He asked what increased student learning the most:  videos, reading assignments or online interactive tasks? “Most instructors are spending their time on videos. But our model suggests, for every activity you do, you get six times the bump than for every video you watch,” said Koedinger. “Maybe someone will say, ‘I don’t believe it for my course, I think the videos are more valuable.’ Let’s see for yourself with your own data and see what you get.”

LearnSphere will not store school records on its servers. It will allow researchers to analyze “keyboard clicks as students are using educational software, the millions of keystrokes they make as they answer questions, hit backspace or sit idly daydreaming and uninterested.”

De-identifying student data is the next front in the privacy wars, reports Benjamin Herold at Ed Week. Does it have to be a war?

Parents can check kids’ schoolwork, but should they?

I Will Not Check My Son’s Grades Online Five Times a Day, vows Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Her son’s high school offers a “parent portal” to its information system. Parents can check their child’s attendance, grades and test scores online.

“Our best data suggests that over 80 percent of parents and students who have access – meaning their school has enabled remote access – use the system at least once a week…and many users check multiple times a day,” said Bryan Macdonald, senior vice president of PowerSchool.

Lahey trusts her son to tell her how he’s doing. But some parents love the information portal, she writes.

Teachers also have mixed feelings. The portal makes it easy to communicate — and for overanxious parents to drive their kids (and their kids’ teachers) even crazier.

Schools monitor students’ social media use

Concerned about cyber-bullying, suicidal students and threats of violence, more schools are monitoring their students’ use of social media, reports Skipease.  

In Orange County, Florida, the school district is paying Snaptrends, a social media monitoring tool used by numerous police departments, to monitor the online activities of students and staff.

In the first few weeks, the monitoring alerted school officials to a student’s suicidal posts and several other issues, said Doug Tripp, senior director of safety and security for Orange County Public Schools. The software will track messages that show an “unhappy, sad or depressed” emotional state.

Posts are public, so it’s not a privacy issues, says Tripp.

It sounds creepy, but . . . Is there a “but?”

‘College Promise’ isn’t likely

From Whiteboard Advisors, Education Insiders predict the future:

Demerits go high-tech

ClassDojo — a popular behavior-tracking app — is raising privacy concerns, according to the New York Times. Tracking technologies make it easy for teachers to award points for good behavior or demerits for bad behavior. Parents can track their child’s conduct, if they choose to sign up.

But some fear a young child’s misdemeanors could be recorded for posterity. The “permanent record” really would be permanent.

HUNTER, N.Y. — For better or for worse, the third graders in Greg Fletcher’s class at Hunter Elementary School always know where they stand.

One morning in mid-October, Mr. Fletcher walked to the front of the classroom where an interactive white board displayed ClassDojo, a behavior-tracking app that lets teachers award points or subtract them based on a student’s conduct. On the board was a virtual classroom showing each student’s name, a cartoon avatar and the student’s scores so far that week.

“I’m going to have to take a point for no math homework,” Mr. Fletcher said to a blond boy in a striped shirt and then clicked on the boy’s avatar, a googly-eyed green monster, and subtracted a point.

The program emitted a disappointed pong sound, audible to the whole class — and sent a notice to the child’s parents if they had signed up for an account on the service.

In one out of three U.S. schools, at least one teacher uses ClassDojo, which is free. (There are plans to raise money by targeting ads to parents who sign up.) And there are other tracking apps available.

Critics don’t want teachers to reward of penalize students for subjective acts such as “disrespect,” reports the Times. In addition, they fear “behavior databases could potentially harm students’ reputations by unfairly saddling some with ‘a problem child’ label that could stick with them for years.”

The concerns seem silly to me. Teachers have been using points to maintain order — and to communicate their expectations — for decades. This just makes it simpler.

As for privacy, the app doesn’t require the student’s last name. ClassDojo won’t know who’s who –unless the parents sign up to track their child.

Some think it’s wrong to award points and demerits in front of the whole class — again, nothing new. Teachers can use the app privately.