Dear Commons Community,
Reuters News Service reported yesterday on a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school has just gone into effect.
In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even 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. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.
Local education officials retain legal 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.
“Entrepreneurs can’t wait.
“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.
CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.
States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states – Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts – have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide.
“We look at personalized learning as the next big leap forward in education,” said Brandon Williams, a director at the Illinois State Board of Education…
That’s hardly reassuring to many parents.
“Once this information gets out there, it’s going to be abused. There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Jason France, a father of two in Louisiana.
Parents from New York and Louisiana have written 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 abused, “What are the remedies for parents?” asked Norman Siegel, a civil liberties attorney in New York who has been working with the protestors. “It’s very troubling.”
There is no reason for a database of this kind other than to provided for-profit education companies with a mailing list for selling their products. Furthermore, why should all the details of our children’s school records be available on a national database where they can be tracked throughout their lives.
Lastly, how can American parents trust a database develop by Rupert Murdoch and The News Corporation. Murdoch and his company have been the subject of systemic hacking scandals in the United Kingdom. Key managers in his company have been indicted for hacking private citizens email including those of children and bribing public officials. What an affront to the American people and what a danger to our children.
I thank Erik Bennett, a student in our program in Urban Education here at the Graduate Center for drawing my attention to this article.