Big data is here to stay. Parents and teachers need to be aware of the risks big data brings to education. A.P. Dillon alerted me to No Child Left Un-Mined? Student Privacy at Risk in the Age of Big Data. The piece opens:
On Facebook, it’s the season where parents are posting pictures of K-12 graduations, including moppets in tiny mortarboards. But unlike a generation ago, today’s smallest graduates are amassing a big data trail. Just as medical and government files have been digitized — some to be anonymized and sold; all susceptible to breaches — student data has entered the realm of the valuable and the vulnerable. Parents are paying attention. A recent study by the company The Learning Curve found that while 71 percent of parents believe technology has improved their child’s education, 79 percent were concerned about the privacy and security of their child’s data, and 75 percent worried about advertiser access to that data.
The fear is that the multi-billion-dollar education technology (or “ed-tech”) industry that seeks to individualize learning and reduce drop-out rates could also pose a threat to privacy, as a rush to commercialize student data could leave children tagged for life with indicators based on their childhood performance.
“What if potential employers can buy the data about you growing up and in school?” asks mathematician Cathy O’Neil, who’s finishing a book on big data and blogs at mathbabe.org. In some of the educational tracking systems, which literally log a child’s progress on software keystroke by keystroke, “We’re giving a persistence score as young as age 7 — that is, how easily do you give up or do you keep trying? Once you track this and attach this to [a child’s] name, the persistence score will be there somewhere.” O’Neil worries that just as credit scores are now being used in hiring decisions, predictive analytics based on educational metrics may be applied in unintended ways.
Such worries came to the fore last week when educational services giant Pearson announced that it was selling the company PowerSchool, which tracks student performance, to a private equity firm for $350 million. The company was started independently; sold to Apple; then to Pearson; and now to Vista Equity Partners. Each owner in turn has to decide how to manage the records of some 15 million students across the globe, according to Pearson. The company did not sign an initiative called the Student Privacy Pledge, whose signatories promise not to sell student information or behaviorally target advertising (151 other companies including Google have signed the non-binding pledge).
North Carolina uses PowerSchool. While North Carolina has a student privacy law, it was just a first step and needs to be strengthened. The General Assembly has not taken action to improve the law this session. Instead they have proposed bills to expand data sharing and increase data collection. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is all in on expanding data collection on our youngest students. Back to the article for some key highlights:
PowerSchool intakes a large variety of data. Its site touts administrator tools including discipline management and reporting; student and staff demographics; and family management.
“Teachers are vulnerable. When they don’t have budgets for software, they’re encouraged to use free online resources. When teachers force students to use free sites they’re essentially giving away student data for free.”
Susan McGregor, a data journalist and the assistant director of Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, sees the need for research but adds, “Both in the popular consumer sphere and from the research perspective the way we’re handling big data privacy doesn’t work.” University review boards have more stringent rules about how information is anonymized than many private companies. Still, she says, “these days you can take a small data set from one place and cross it with another data set and de-anonymize people. And we’re in a commercial culture that’s very interested in collecting everything forever and never destroying it.”
We have been raising concerns about the risks of tracking more data and the loss of parental rights. We have also raised concerns about legislation in the General Assembly and Congress. There is much more to cover on big data and loss of parental rights. Not only does the GOP effectively own Common Core, they now own testing and data collection on your children.
For those who would like to dive deeper into data tracking: