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 The federal education privacy law, written in 1974, is badly out of date, writes Simon.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.

InBloom doomed by privacy concerns

Privacy and security concerns doomed the InBloom Student Data Repository, reports the New York Times. The Gates-funded non-profit, which offered to manage student records, will close.

The system was meant to extract student data from disparate school grading and attendance databases, store it in the cloud and funnel it to dashboards where teachers might more effectively track the progress of individual students.

But inBloom was set to collect more than academic data, notes the Times.

An inBloom video offered a vision (using fictional students) of new uses for data in education.An inBloom video offered a vision (using fictional students) of new uses for data in education.

The inBloom database included more than 400 different data fields that school administrators could fill in.

. . . some of the details seemed so intimate — including family relationships (“foster parent” or “father’s significant other”) and reasons for enrollment changes (“withdrawn due to illness” or “leaving school as a victim of a serious violent incident”) — that parents objected, saying that they did not want that kind of information about their children transferred to a third-party vendor.

Parents in Louisiana were upset to learn their children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom. 

With states and school districts bailing, inBloom wilted.

 

Higher ed lobby creates info ‘blackout’

Without tracking college students’ success — or failure — it’s impossible to evaluate how colleges are performing, argues a New America Foundation report, College Blackout: How the Higher Education Lobby Fought to Keep Students in the Dark.

Ever-rising college costs, more than $1 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt, and graduates doubtful that they’ll be able to earn enough to repay their loans have driven college value to become a major concern for most prospective students. Yet students, families, and policymakers are finding their questions can’t be answered—because the higher education lobby has fought to keep it that way.

The private nonprofit colleges, which “rely heavily on federal financial aid, drove efforts to preempt the creation of a federal student unit record system,” charges the report.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’s higher education commission proposed a federal database in 2005. Congress banned it in 2008.

Such a database would be able to track students as they move into higher education and through college — or, increasingly, multiple colleges — and into the work force, notes Inside Higher Ed. “It would produce more robust information about student outcomes, such as graduation rates and salary information.”

Despite privacy concerns, support is growing for a federal database.

Open classrooms are noisy, distracting

Open-plan offices — cubicle farms — make it hard to concentrate, say workers in a new survey. There’s no place to have a private conversation. It’s noisy. Open classrooms are the norm in K-12 schools, writes Anya Kamenetz in Hechinger’s Digital/Edu blog.

A new study (sponsored by an office-furniture company, Steelcase, so take it with a grain of salt) compared students in classrooms designed for “active learning,” including dynamic grouping of seats in small and large groups, multisensory engagement at different stations around the room, as well as the use of screens and other technology, to the more traditional “rows of seats” classrooms that are all but disappearing now. “90.32% of students perceived an increase in their engagement in the class with layouts designed for active learning, 80.65% said the new layout increased their ability to achieve a higher grade, and 70.04% their motivation to attend class.”

Even these layouts don’t give students a chance to “be alone with a teacher or with their thoughts,”  Kamenetz writes. “So much classroom management effort is really spent on managing the noise-pollution issue, while sound privacy matters when a teacher needs to give a student critical feedback or just time to reflect on a question.”

Social, emotional, but where’s the learning?

First graders react to the question, “What face do you make when your mother compliments you?” during a class session called “Feeling Faces” at Public School 24 in New York City. — Emile Wamsteker for Education Week

Teachers are using Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) to manage classes, reports Education Week.

Already dubious about SEL’s claims to make children nicer and prepare them for the 21st century, Katharine Beals sees SEL for classroom management as intrusive and manipulative.

It starts with an obvious tactic: “Giving students input in classroom rules and making them make amends and apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings.” Students also learn simple vocabulary words related to feelings, practice identifying their emotions and act out their feelings.

It all takes more time than a traditional incentives-based classroom management system, a teacher tells Education Week.

The program also invades students’ privacy, writes Beals.

Students convene for class meetings, during which they express their feelings and solve problems.

. . . Ms. Diaz said she has conversations with the class about not repeating what they hear from members of their “class family.” In addition, she explains that as a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, she must pass on certain information to counselors and administrators.

Also, Ms. Diaz said, she warns parents at the start of the year that their children may open up to her about what’s going on at home.

One activity sounds like “emotional abuse” to Beals.

Maria Diaz’s 5th graders were revisiting a lesson in social-emotional learning they’d done recently in which they drew pictures of themselves and then listened to a story. Each time students heard a “put-down,” or a hurtful statement about someone in the story, Ms. Diaz had them tear off a piece of their self-portraits in a show of empathy.

. . . The “put-downs” activity . . . brought much of the class to tears.

The goal is to make kids “more responsible and empathetic,” writes Beals. These are “two traits which the teachers we’ve read about, as well the architects of these programs, appear to be lacking in spades.”

“SEL-based classrooms also do not work for every child,” Ed Week admits. “Students with behavioral issues may require an extrinsic-rewards system or a more structured approach.”

Beals asks: “Why are we forcing students who don’t have behavioral issues to waste so much time on these privacy-invading, time-wasting exercises?”

Is SEL useful, harmless or manipulative?

Teacher suspended for profane outburst

A high school English teacher was suspended by Los Angeles Unified for a “profanity-laden outburst” that was recorded by a student. It went viral.

In the clip, which was recorded by a student on Sept. 26, the teacher yells “I know my f–ing s–t. Don’t f— with that. I’m tired of trying to educate you, and you guys resist every step of the f—ing way. Get the f— out of here.”

“You know, I had a weak moment,” the suspended teacher told the Daily Breeze.

The outburst occurred at new school for performing arts, HArts Academy, located on the campus of Narbonne High.

The teacher added that the clip was recorded by a student who had been heckling her in front of the 12th-grade class. That student then allegedly brought the recording to a Narbonne High faculty member with whom the teacher has had an adversarial relationship. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.

Narbonne has refused to let 90 students transfer to HArts, which forced the smaller school to lay off four teachers and let the comprehensive high school hire three teachers, reports the Breeze. Bad blood between the two faculties explains why Narbonne teachers publicized the sound clip, the English teacher said. “These are people who used to be my friends.”

Students are not allowed to have cell phone in class, much less to record their teachers.

Iris scans are the new school IDs

In the sci-fi movie Minority Report, ubiquitous iris scanners reveal shoppers’ identities so advertising can be targeted — and they can be tracked everywhere.

Iris scanners are replacing ID cards at schools ranging from preschools to universities, reports CNN.

South Dakota-based Blinkspot manufactures iris scanners specifically for use on school buses. When elementary school students come aboard, they look into a scanner (it looks like a pair of binoculars). The reader will beep if they’re on the right bus and honk if they’re on the wrong one.

The Blinkspot scanner syncs with a mobile app that parents can use to see where their child is. Every time a child boards or exits the bus, his parent gets an email or text with the child’s photograph, a Google map where they boarded or exited the bus, as well as the time and date.

Parents already can slip a GPS tracker in little Aidan’s backpack, but I guess that’s not good enough for helicopter parents. Kids can lose a backpack, but they aren’t likely to lose their eyes. (But kids will forget to use the scanner and be reported missing . . . )

Eyelock, which makes scanners used in foreign airports and at high-security offices, is “entering the school market, piloting their devices in elementary school districts and nursery schools around the country.”

A San Antonio school district will stop using microchip-enabled ID cards to track attendance, despite winning a lawsuit. The cards didn’t raise attendance enough to cover the cost.

Privacy fears derail K-12 database

States are backing away from a $100 million database set up to track millions of public school students amid privacy protests by parents and civil libertarians, reports Reuters.

The database, funded mostly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is intended to track students from kindergarten through high school by storing myriad data points: test scores, learning disabilities, discipline records – even teacher assessments of a child’s character. The idea is that consolidated records make it easier for teachers to use software that mines data to identify academic weaknesses. Games, videos or lesson plans would then be precisely targeted to engage specific children or promote specific skills.

The system is set up to identify millions of children by name, race, economic status and other metrics and is constructed in a way that makes it easy for school districts to share some or all of that information with private companies developing education software.

The nonprofit that runs the database, inBloom Inc, had nine states as partners in March when the project was announced. Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware have backed out, Louisiana will hold hearings before providing any data and Massachusetts and North Carolina are wavering. That leaves New York, Illinois and Colorado as active participants.

Districts already store student data and often share it with private vendors hired to crunch the numbers, said former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who sits on the inBloom board of directors.

InBloom simply consolidates in one secure, cloud-hosted database the reams of student information now scattered among an array of computer servers, teacher grade books and file cabinets, Wise said. The districts retain complete control over which data to store in inBloom and whether to let third-party vendors use it.

In Colorado’s test district, suburban Jefferson County, software lets teachers look at digital “dashboards” that show which students are having trouble with which skills.  When teachers got a sneak peek, “by far the most common question was, ‘Could we get this in my classroom tomorrow?’” said Greg Mortimer, the chief information officer for the 85,000-student district.

Some inBloom supporters, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, are backing away from the database and focusing on phase two, an online library of lesson plans, quiz questions and other teaching resources that won’t use student data. However, some states already have joined together to create their own online library.

Officials at inBloom vow to do a better job of explaining how the database will help teachers improve teaching. And the nonprofit will ask districts to assign each student a random numerical ID instead of using students’ Social Security numbers. “But spokesman Adam Gaber refused to say whether Social Security numbers might be included elsewhere – not as a label but as a basic data point, along with ethnicity, address, parents’ names and other personal information routinely collected by public schools.”

I don’t think inBloom has a sinister purpose, but it’s a tough time to persuade parents of that. The government is tracking your phone calls, emails and texts and now the public schools want to make it easy to track your children’s academic, behavioral and health records in a giant database — a “permanent record” in the cloud — that can be accessed by officials and private companies.

Teaching the 5th draws suspension

When Batavia High School students were asked to reveal their drug and alcohol abuse on surveys marked with their names, social studies teacher John Dryden told them they didn’t have to answer. It’s in the 5th Amendment.

The 20-year veteran was reprimanded and suspended without pay for a day for what the school board called “inappropriate and unprofessional” conduct. In a letter, he was ordered to refrain from using “flippant” or sarcastic remarks, providing “legal advice,” and discrediting any district initiative, reports the Chicago Tribune.  “Other requirements in the letter include that when Dryden is given a directive in a meeting, he must now repeat the directive back at the end of the meeting and agree to comply.”

District officials said the survey was meant to target students “in need of emotional and social interventions,” not to penalize students who admitted breaking the law.

Dryden is unrepentant.

“This un-vetted survey was and is a massive invasion of privacy and students do have a Fifth Amendment right not to give to a state institution any information that might incriminate them regardless of the intentions of that institution,” he wrote in an emailed response to the board’s letter. “The administration has argued that they intended to do the right thing and that we should have simply trusted them to act responsibly with the information provided by students.”

Dryden wrote that that the new requirements are “demeaning, vague, overly broad and constructed to entrap me in a future infraction for the purpose of termination.”

Where is the teachers’ union? Will they take action only when Dryden is fired for future flippancy or failure of allegiance?

Many teachers, former students and parents of current students turned out at the hearing to support Dryden, writes Joe Bertalmio, a local businessman, in the Tribune comments. “High school is a place where you send your kids to become adults, and if the only knock against John Dryden is that he speaks to his students like they are adults then I want every single one of my kids taking his classes. I can’t wait for the day that we get to vote in a new school board, I’ll be right there with a bull horn and list of names to oust.”

Feds may track college students’ success

The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would let the Education Department track students through college and into the workforce, creating a federal database of remediation and graduation rates, salaries by major and program and success rates for recipients of Pell Grants and veterans’ benefits. Policymakers and consumers want to know. Privacy advocates hate the idea and some colleges oppose it too.