"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who Benefits From Data Collection?

"These datasets have been gathered from various agencies to provide detailed information on the state of education on all levels, from cradle to career and beyond. - Education Data Community

You are your digital footprint.

Almost a year ago the White House released a fact sheet UNLOCKING THE POWER OF EDUCATION DATA FOR ALL AMERICANS. The three page document contains the commitments of various partners to collect data on every student in America and make it as easy to access as possible for as many interested parties as possible. Ok, they may not have phrased it that way, but if you read what they wrote, that clearly is the intent.

What has been committed?

Federal Student Aid (FSA) commits to providing a "MyData download button to allow students to download their own data into a simple, machine-readable file that they could share – at their own discretion – with third parties that develop helpful consumer tools."

The goal is for you to hand out your personal information to application developers who will use it to make education products to sell. The most important thing is for other machines to be able to read your data, that means collect it and incorporate it into their own databases. They don't say why you would want to voluntarily give your data away so someone else can make money off of it, but at least the government won't be the one sharing the data. They have just made it easy for you to do so.

Who are these third parties you may want to share your data with?  Let's look at the next participant, the Department of Defense. Yes DoDEA (Education Activity) will also be using the MyData Button. "This download capability is a simple concept -- parents would be able to download their own children's school information in a common, interoperable [there's that reference to machine readable again] format at any time, and any place by clicking a button on a secured website hosted by DoDEA." (emphasis added) Why would DoD be so concerned about families having access to their student data?  "Parents with such access can better plan for and manage their children's educational needs, particularly during school transitions."  Isn't that great. The Department of Defense is worried about student stress when you move. And we can be sure it's secure because the Chinese have never succeeded in hacking the DoD systems.

The Fact Sheet also refers to the Learning Registry which is a "joint effort of the Department of Education and the Department of Defense, with support of the White House and numerous federal agencies, non-profit organizations, international organizations and private companies."  This is a database of education tools that purports to be for the benefit of teachers to show what resources are effective and what works over time.

Who partners in the Learning Registry?

ADL Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) from Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (OUSD P&R)

SRI International which " brings its research and development innovations to the marketplace by licensing its intellectual property and creating new ventures. SRI’s 2011 revenues were approximately $585 million." Using all the data that students and teachers provide for free, SRI will no doubt increase that bottom line by a few hundred million.

Lockheed Martin "is the largest provider of IT services, systems integration, and training to the U.S. Government." They describe their business as "global security, aerospace, and information technology." The masters of global security and IT services is taking on student education databases. I feel safer already.

National Science Digital Library (NSDL) is the National Science Foundation's online library of resources and collections for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. "The primary goal of the NSDL Math Common Core Collection project is to explore new processes for associating digital learning objects with educational standards."

Navigation North who provides "a critical body of research, analysis and writing to create the Technology Strategy Framework and Planning Documents for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Common Core)"

Is the connection between the student database and Common Core becoming any clearer for folks now?

Butte County (CA) Office of Education/CADRE - "is a team of education technology professionals that specialize in the design and development of digital resources supporting various educational P-20 initiatives." While I think of the P-20 initiatives as a terrible government invasion of privacy and a dangerous practice which puts too much information in a single set of hands, CADRE views their work as "A place where resources and practice are intentionally coupled with technology and meaningful design in order to improve the skills of those who are shaping our children's intellect
We are attempting to forge the space where perspectives and insights can be focused on effectively educating students that is open, unbiased, and unfiltered. Where the role of the practitioner is valued and the needs of the children they support are held reverent." Their vision is admirable but I'm not sure they have put their trust in the right place. 

Lastly there are the Data Locker partners.

Microsoft which commits to creating a cloud-based platform for a Lifelong Learning Record (LLR). The same folks who gave us the HealthVault, you know that computer system that your doctor now pays more attention to than you when you are in an exam room, is now going to turn their sites on education.  This can only be good for us, right?  "Developers and partners will be able to use the open, cross-platform HealthVault application programming interface (API) to build “apps” in support of individual learners, facilitating an ecosystem of services that help students not only manage their lifelong learning profile, but also use it in novel ways—for example, automatically demonstrating proof of competency in a work setting, or earning academic achievements and reputation points with peers."

I hope colleges pay attention to that last bit because, you see, that is what colleges do right now. They provide proof of competency to employers through academic achievements. Microsoft doesn't seem to think they should have a monopoly on that.

Teachers should also pay attention because Microsoft wants to help learners by providing an entire "ecosystem of services" that they can choose from to "manage their lifelong learning profile." Since Microsoft does not have physical campuses and is THE powerhouse in digital products, it would be logical to assume that these services will only be available digitally. Think Common Cartridge. If we use the Learning Registry to identify the best teaching practices, then provide those teaching moments digitally, how many actual teachers do we really need?

Parchment, another Data Locker partner, takes it a step further promising to "unleash education credentials by unlocking the critical data they embody."  They plan to use the "MyData Button" to "put [student's] education data to work in their personal credential account." Kind makes the threat "this will go on your permanent record young man" have a lot more impact, doesn't it? Parchment's goal is universal standardization of this format which, just ask Apple, means control of this market.

Throughout the Fact Sheet each entity promises secure data. But anyone with just a little bit of tech savvy knows that data security is the unicorn of IT. There's no such thing. A system is only as strong as it's weakest link. A system that promises any parent access anywhere at any time has a weakness. A system which the Department of Education has promised to share with other government agencies is only as strong as the least qualified, conscientious or scrupulous employee who is given access to it. But I guess as long as everyone PROMISES to keep the data secure then it will be ok.

1 comment:

  1. The lives of others. This makes East Germany look like child's play.


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