‘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.

Homework: Report on your medicine cabinet

What’s in the family’s medicine cabinet? At a Utah junior high, students were told to report the contents — including prescription drugs — as a homework assignment in health class.

Students were told were to list when the medications expire and if the medications are FDA approved.

One parent — and only one — complained. “Although it may be a good idea for parents to do an inventory of their medicine cabinet, I believe it is inappropriate for students to counsel their parents or report to the school what that inventory is,” said Onika Nugent, mother of a student.

The district issued an apology.

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.