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Education Databases Government Privacy

Parents Mobilize Against States' Student Data Mining 139

theodp writes 'Politico reports that parents have mobilized into an unexpected political force to fight the data mining of their children, catapulting student privacy to prominence in statehouses. Having already torpedoed the $100 million, Bill Gates-funded inBloom database project, which could have made it easier for schools to share confidential student records with private companies, the amateur activists are now rallying against another perceived threat: huge state databases being built to track children for more than two decades, from as early as infancy through the start of their careers. "The Education Department," writes Stephanie Simon, "lists hundreds of questions that it urges states to answer about each child in the public school system: Did she make friends easily as a toddler? Was he disciplined for fighting as a teen? Did he take geometry? Does she suffer from mental illness? Did he go to college? Did he graduate? How much does he earn?" Leonie Haimson, a NY mother who is organizing a national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy says, "Every parent I've talked to has been horrified. We just don't want our kids tracked from cradle to grave." For their part, ed tech entrepreneurs and school reformers are both bewildered by and anxious about the backlash — and struggling to craft a response, having assumed parents would support their vision: to mine vast quantities of data for insights into what's working, and what's not, for individual students and for the education system as a whole. "People took for granted that parents would understand [the benefits], that it was self-evident," said Michael Horn, a co-founder an education think tank."
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Parents Mobilize Against States' Student Data Mining

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  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:00PM (#47182953) Homepage Journal

    Facebook's evil laughter as their monopoly on distributing childrens' personal information becomes secure from local governments inadvertent competition. Elsewhere a "marketing expert" begins the process to pony up an extra half-cent per human being whose privacy is permanently and irrevocably destroyed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:04PM (#47183003)

    The benefits are indeed obvious, as long as you trust the people holding the data....

  • Re:Not Anticipated (Score:4, Insightful)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:08PM (#47183045) Homepage Journal

    No, it's just that privatization has become incredibly normalized, and the idea of pushing out government duties to contractors(and the potential abuse that entails) is second nature nowadays. If you honestly think this is the only time student records got entered into a third party system without consideration of the effects, I've got some minor's personal data to sell you.

  • Idiots... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:09PM (#47183055) Journal
    Anyone who thought that the virtues of this scheme would be 'self-evident' must be a real pleasure to deal with... I'm just curious whether it's the cluelessness or the arrogance that you notice first.
  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:14PM (#47183093) Homepage Journal

    There are two ways for this not to be a disaster, and we can't make up our minds about what we want:

    1. Information wants to be free and we live lives where everyone can find out whatever they want about us, and we collectively use that to hold those in power responsible too.
    2. We find a way to secure and limit the availability of data both to regular people and powerful people.

    As it stands we're on a course where information inflates a information imbalance that exacerbates a power imbalance that already exists.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:19PM (#47183139) Journal

    Damn right it's good. It's high time parents started ripping out the Surveillance State infrastructure by the roots before their kids find themselves in a world without privacy.

    There's no issue more important than this. Ubiquitous surveillance impacts negatively on every other important issue. Economy? You will never have broad-based prosperity in a surveillance state. Health care? It's obvious. Education. Read TFA.

    The explosion of intrusion over the past decade has completely transformed me politically. We've got individual privacy eroding at an accelerated pace and institutional secrecy doing the same. That's a really bad trend.

    There can be no free society among people who are being watched.

  • More likely they were just high. It's ridiculous to think that what works for kids in Florida works for kids in Hawaii, or what works for kids in Arizona works for kids in New York. This kind of data is just meant for tracking, it wouldn't be used to improve a thing.

    That's why they include location data.

    Really: the goals are pretty good -- use machine learning to get the correlations instead of depending on the all-too-fallible "common sense". The problem is, the goals and the implementation are only loosely related. The researchers are trying to do the right thing, but in the process they're creating a database that can be abused intentionally or inadvertently for other goals. There's a reason HIPAA exists; this system would not just do an end-run around HIPAA, it would do much more. This data would become one of the most valuable assets to many corporations and government agencies in the US (and beyond).

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:33PM (#47183277)

    "People took for granted that parents would understand [the benefits], that it was self-evident,"

    Oh, I think that the parents understand the benefits fairly well. They just realize that they don't accrue to them or their children.

  • Re:Lack of Trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by x0ra ( 1249540 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:47PM (#47183377)

    Do you realize that everybody does not share your belief that your child should make as much money as possible, but instead, do what they like. There is other metric than "money" to measure "success". If you are skilled for music and enjoy it, even if you make 50% less than a pure breed mathematician, you are still doing what you like. And you give no crap to geometry, or calculus.

    Moreover, all teacher are not skilled the same way. I never understood anything in my bachelor linear algebra course for months. The teacher was utterly incompetent. A year after that, I read the book about AES, with an introduction to linear algebra, and I learnt more in a few page read in the library, than in months listening to the teacher...

    Finally, the government isn't pure. I'd not be surprised to see the following happening:
    [at an FFL dealer:]
    John Doe: Hi, I'd like to buy this firearm
    Vendor: Sure, sir, let me run the background check...
    [time passes]
    Vendor: Sorry, sir. The system has found out you fought a younger boy when you were 13, your background check failed. Please wait for the local LEO to come proceed to your arrest."

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:58PM (#47183483) Homepage

    "People took for granted that parents would understand [the benefits], that it was self-evident," said Michael Horn,

    I'm sure they do. The benefits are self-evident. It is the people who have been advancing these programs who are lacking foresight, for not considering the costs.

    The problem is not that these programs have no value, it is that the cost is large and not well understood, and that once built it is very hard to make these things go away. As a society we have not begun to seriously examine the threat of these massive databases. Recent [slashdot.org] big data [slashdot.org] research has shown us the approximate threat level: In terms of influence power, it is "very big, larger than even the researchers expected."

  • Re:Lack of Trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @05:59PM (#47183485) Homepage Journal
    Educational research is profoundly flawed, and often reflected the biases of the researchers. Most education are humanities people, without the decades of training in the scientific process and statistics. Some school districts expect adolescents to begin school at before 8 am, even though real research indicates that adolescents do not function as well as adolescents at that hour. A decade ago educators started taking about how brain research could help them, even though conferences on the subject were uniformly saying that brain science was no where near at a level to make this so. In fact a recent study of Lumonsity showed that transference was almost non existent for users of the site.

    This is not to say that educators and educational researches are incompetent. It is just that the standards of research are often not as high. Research standards are, as they should be, focused on protecting the student. Really, the problem is isolating variables and proving causation. If you look at most results of the data analysis, one can still predict outcomes primarily on SES of the location of the school and whether the school is comprehensive or has some level of selectiveness. This is because no matter what the studies say, most researchers do not do a good enough job controlling for these variables. The problem is that flawed data will be used used against educations and students. Lets look at an extreme example. I know a very smart kid who got kicked out of every 'good' school in his city because he had a lack of impulse control. When confronted with tougher teachers who expected him to complete the AP and dual level classes he excelled, and matured. My concern about this database is stuff this kid did when he was 14 would effect his opportunities when he is 18. In general the 14 year old kid and 18 year old kid are completely different people. The good thing that might come out of this is that the good schools that failed the 14 year old kid would lose points for the failure, and the school the succeeded in helping him might gain points, but that did not happen. On a personal note, I went to a good good school, which is different from the average bad good school. They did the work to force me mature and excel. Every teacher there treated me as an individual to push to succeed, not a entry in database. I never felt like I was less of a student, even though I was below average for the school. This is what education is about. Not tracking who gets a job or goes to the best colleges, but conning kids into learning more that they think they might.

  • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @07:02PM (#47183839)

    "Information wants to be free" is incredibly misused.

    If I learn something, chances are I want to spread that information to others. The number of YouTube instructional videos for which there is no conceivable audience is a testament to that. Also, the number of mis-informative videos is likewise a testament.

    If I invent something e.g. patentable, I may not be able to share the details with people, but I am probably going to tell people I have a patent. It's part of the "I would like to tell you but I can't so I'll tell you I know something" sort of mentality. Learn a secret? Either you tell someone the secret, or you tell them you have a secret.

    Learning, knowledge, and facts want to be free. Quotable movie lines, which summarize and in part relive the experience, want to be free. Shocking or unusual details want to be free, such as that celebrity who showed up nearly nude to that event.

    Copyrighted works don't want to be free, and big data certainly does not want to be free - if it even wants to be collected in the first place. There are reasons why "Information wants to be free" might be applicable to copyright cases - especially when the prosecution thinks copyright applies, but it really doesn't. Same for patents et. al.

    In summation, "Information wants to be free" does not belong in an argument about collecting data on children. Not for people in general for that matter, but especially not for children.

    So yes, we can make up our minds. Uninformed parents have seen what's wrong with this, and have taken action. They still use FaceBook, web mail, cell phones with location data turned on, and all sorts of ridiculous privacy invading tools and apps and everything else, but they aren't going to allow this. "We", defined by enough people to make a difference, as opposed to the slashdot audience that makes up fractions of a percent, have made up our minds.

    I don't disagree with your last sentence. But it stands without needing support by the rest of your post.

  • Re:If. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sabri ( 584428 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @07:14PM (#47183901)

    I can see CSI: Nosy Neighbors TV show, questioning a guy, "According to your school info, you have trouble making friends and once pulled up a girl's skirt. You murdered Mr. Body, didn't you?"

    Exactly that.


    No, when.

    Somewhere 5-10 years downstream, some politician/NYPD-chief will use the next Sandy Hook event to say "We had the troubling information in the school's database, but we couldn't use it. Let's change the law".

    And we all know it's going to happen at some point.

  • Re:Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2014 @07:15PM (#47183909)

    Data mining of children is sooooo wrong.
    These gov's and corp's wish to know, indoctrinate and own your souls into a lifetime of servitude as young as they can possibly get you. FUCK THAT!!!
    REVOLT NOW you stupid sheeple!!!

  • Re:2 Decades (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blackiner ( 2787381 ) on Friday June 06, 2014 @08:03PM (#47184207)

    Now, they prosecute somebody, and simply say that the defendant doesn't have a right to hear the evidence against him, and the Constitution doesn't apply.

    Oh it is worse than that. Nowadays they send in US Marshals to destroy evidence so that the courts do not even get a chance to deny access to the evidence.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun