Sold to the Highest Bidder: Lack of Protections Put the Privacy of Students and Their Families at Risk

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado issued a very damning report on the commercialization of America’s public schools as digital technology and “personalized learning” continue taking over our schools.  The report, issued today, shows how private companies have invaded the classroom and children’s private information is in jeopardy like never before.  Here in Delaware, we have seen a very large push for this from the Rodel Foundation.  If you haven’t been paying attention, you really need to start now.  And don’t buy their Social-Emotional Learning push either.  Just another way for private companies to profit from student data.  From the press release:

BOULDER, CO (August 15, 2017) – Digital technologies used in schools are increasingly being harnessed to amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives. In addition to the long-standing goal of providing brand exposure, marketing through education technology now routinely engages students in activities that facilitate the collection of valuable personal data and that socialize students to accept relentless monitoring and surveillance as normal, according to a new report released by the National Education Policy Center.

In Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking, the NEPC’s 19th annual report on schoolhouse commercialism trends, University of Colorado Boulder researchers Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Kevin Murray examine how technological advances, the lure of “personalization,” and lax regulation foster the collection of personal data and have overwhelmed efforts to protect children’s privacy. They find that for-profit entities are driving an escalation of reliance on education technology with the goal of transforming public education into an ever-larger profit center—by selling technology hardware, software, and services to schools; by turning student data into a marketable product; and by creating brand-loyal customers.

Boninger points out that “policymaking to protect children’s privacy or to evaluate the quality of the educational technology they use currently ranges from inadequate to nonexistent.”

“Schools and districts are paying huge sums of money to private vendors and creating systems to transfer vast amounts of children’s personal information to education technology companies,” explains Molnar. “Education applications, especially applications that ‘personalize’ student learning, are powered by proprietary algorithms, without anyone monitoring how student data are being collected or used.”

Asleep at the Switch documents the inadequacy of industry self-regulation and argues that to protect children’s privacy and the quality of their education, legislators and policymakers need to craft clear policies backed by strong, enforceable sanctions. Such policies should:

  • Prohibit schools from collecting student personal data unless rigorous, easily understood safeguards for the appropriate use, protection, and final disposition of those data are in place.
  • Hold schools, districts, and companies with access to student data accountable for violations of student privacy.
  • Require algorithms powering education software to be openly available for examination by educators and researchers.
  • Prohibit adoption of educational software applications that rely on algorithms unless a disinterested third party has examined the algorithms for bias and error, and unless research has shown that the algorithms produce intended results.
  • Require independent third-party assessments of the validity and utility of technologies, and the potential threats they pose to students’ well-being, to be conducted and addressed prior to adoption.

Additionally, the report authors encourage parents, teachers, and administrators to publicize the threats that unregulated educational technologies pose to children and the importance of allowing disinterested monitors access to the algorithms powering educational software.

Find Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Kevin Murray, on the web at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2017

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Finance Sub-Committee For District Consolidation Task Force Shuts Out The Public

I received an email yesterday for the meeting schedule for the District Consolidation Task Force Finance Sub-Committee.  ALL the meetings are in the morning, split between Dover and Wilmington.  I get that legislative staffers and the Delaware Department of Education sets all this stuff up, but they are doing a huge disservice to the public by holding these meetings in the mornings.  The number one item on the public’s radar is if district consolidation is worth it financially.  These are taxpayer dollars at stake here.  I volunteered for this committee and while I don’t mind morning meetings, I would rather it was scheduled at a time when the majority of the public can attend.

Here is the schedule.  All meetings are on Thursday mornings.

September 7th, 9am to 11am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

October 5th, 9am to 11am, Office of Management and Budget, Hazlet Armory, 3rd Floor, 122 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dover

November 2nd, 9am to 11am, Government Center, 87 Reads Way, New Castle, DE

December 7th, 9am to 11am, Office of Management and Budget, Hazlet Armory, 3rd Floor, 122 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dover

Once again, I have to ask why the person running this sub-committee is NOT an actual member of the task force.  I understand Fred Sears has been very active with the Delaware Community Foundation and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, but why isn’t Mike Jackson with the Office of Management and Budget running this sub-committee?  Why are none of these meetings happening in Sussex County?  We need the public’s input on this task force.  This is a very ominous start for what should be the most transparent of all the sub-committees.