4. ‘Big Data’ infiltrates education, bringing privacy concerns as well.
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At the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas, in early March, the most influential new ed-tech product unveiled to the masses might have been the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.
The database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address, and sometimes Social Security number, Reuters reported. It includes information about learning disabilities, test scores, and attendance. In some cases, it even tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school, and homework completion.
The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and school officials from several states. A nonprofit organization called inBloom was created to run it.
Local education officials retain control over their students’ information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.
The database had ed-tech entrepreneurs salivating over the possibilities for using data to enhance instruction. But parents from New York and Louisiana have written to state officials in protest. So have the Massachusetts chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and Parent-Teacher Association.
If student records leak, are hacked, or are abused, “what are the remedies for parents?” asked Norman Siegel, a civil liberties attorney in New York who has been working with the protesters. “It’s very troubling.”
Siegel’s concerns have been echoed across the country as states and school districts have ramped up their efforts to collect useful student information and make it available to educators and administrators through the cloud.
Supporters of the inBloom project argue that the information is safer in the database than scattered throughout school districts. Plus, the project’s upside is enormous, they say, with the power to transform classrooms nationwide.
But as efforts to link Big data with educational outcomes continue, school leaders can expect the privacy concerns of parents and privacy activists to linger.
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