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Student Database Shares Highly Personal & Private Data
K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents
An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares.
But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Federal officials say the database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any "school official" who has a "legitimate educational interest," according to the U.S. Department of Education. The department defines "school official" to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.
The database also gives school administrators full control over student files, so they could choose to share test scores with a vendor but withhold social security numbers or disability records.
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.
Fans of the project respond that the files are safer in the database than scattered about school districts. Plus, they say, the potential upside is enormous, with the power to transform classrooms across the U.S.
Whether all this data, and all the programs that use it, will transform education is another question. Most data-driven software has only been tested on a small scale; results are often mixed.
"The hype in the tech press is that education is an engineering problem that can be fixed by technology," said Frank Catalano of Intrinsic Strategy, a consulting firm focused on education and technology. "To my mind, that's a very naive and destructive view."
Saint Paul, MN
And I'm sure that the entire database is protected by state of the art security. (Quickly bypassed by the post-its under the keyboard)
Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something. ¯ Robert A. Heinlein
On The Road
|reply to FF4m3 |
the gates of hell have opened wider. should never have names, addresses, ssn. never!
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Fort Wayne, IN
|reply to FF4m3 |
It's digital, government officials assure us it complies with privacy laws, and it involves school bureacracies. What could possibly go wrong? --
The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money. A. de Tocqueville