School Reform and Treating Your Kids As a Commodity

One of the things that goes unsaid in the fight over education ‘reform’ is that a lot of people stand to profit by it. In and of itself, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: doing right should be rewarded with doing well. But then there’s this sort of appalling profiteering:

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.

…private-sector data mining has galloped forward — perhaps nowhere faster than in education. Both Republicans and Democrats have embraced the practice. And the Obama administration has encouraged it, even relaxing federal privacy law to allow school districts to share student data more widely.

The goal is to identify potential problems early and to help kids surmount them. But the data revolution has also put heaps of intimate information about school children in the hands of private companies — where it is highly vulnerable to being shared, sold or mined for profit.

Bet you didn’t know that. But what could possibly go wrong? Well, the odious organization known as ALEC:

Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy project for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, can imagine another scenario: Companies with rich student dossiers could market aptitude and attitude profiles to college admissions or corporate recruiting offices.

“As an employer, that’s the sort of profile I would want to buy: Who can solve a problem quickly? Who has the tenacity to finish all the problems? Who drops off quickly?” Barnes said.

Ferreira, the CEO of the New York data analytics firm Knewton, said he’s not planning to create such profiles. “But I suppose I can imagine a future where it happens,” he said. “I’m not sure how I feel about that.” If such profiles were to come into use, he said, Knewton would not sell or share them without students’ consent.

A model state bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC], a conservative lobbying group, could make such targeting more likely; it would set up a central state database for student records and allow colleges or businesses to browse them in search of potential recruits.

Companies might also seek to mine student profiles to find customers uniquely vulnerable to their sales pitches. For instance, young adults who struggled with high-school math could be bombarded with ads for high-priced payday loans, Barnes said.

Awesome. Always follow the money. Always.

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3 Responses to School Reform and Treating Your Kids As a Commodity

  1. Another thing that happens with school reform is the bashing and trashing that goes on so that the school, obviously in need of assistance, can keep asking for money. If It was reported that things were okay, or even that it seemed like there were too many things going right, people would say the schools had enough $$$.

  2. doug says:

    Of course if a student is found to be struggling with content or a question, the assumption will always be that it is the student or his/her teacher that is a fault, never that the content or question was set by some nincompoop at the for-profit factory.

    ALEC has got to rate as one of the most odious organizations anywhere on the planet.

  3. Hi

    Could you sign this petition:


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