Student Data Privacy: Where's Your Line?

From Marketplace:

Meet the most measured, monitored and data-mined students in the history of education. 

Your children.

How about this district in California, tracking every kid who uses social media.  From Tech Dirt:

The Glendale School District in California is facing some backlash from the recent news that it has retained the services of Geo Listening to track its students' social media activity.

After collecting information from students' posts on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, Geo Listening will provide Glendale school officials with a daily report that categorizes posts by their frequency and how they relate to cyber-bullying, harm, hate, despair, substance abuse, vandalism and truancy.

As the article states, the district was starting to use this service at the end of the year but waited until the start of THIS year to tell parents.


The company's About Us page is, as the article says, pretty overwrought:
Your students are crying for help. We have heard these cries of despair, and for help and attention, loud and clear from students themselves via their public postings on social networks. Many feel as though no one is listening, and they are falling away from societal connections. This trend can be reversed with more timely information that we can provide to the appropriate school staff.​
What Geo Listening appears to do is nothing more than aggregate public social media posts linked to either the students or school district. Geo Listening repeatedly points out that it doesn't "monitor email, SMS, MMS, phone calls, voicemails or unlock any privacy setting of a social network user." 

So what do they do?

Geo Listening is a social media monitoring system that allows school districts to locate and process publicly available social media content.   It includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others.

Then there's the question about how it searches for offending posts. 
- Does it only run current students through its digital sifter or does it include anyone who lists a Glendale school on their profile? 
-  Does this dragnet also capture comments, tweets, etc. from non-students who interact with Glendale students? 
- If a student interacts with a non-student's post that falls afoul of the guidelines, can they be punished? 

These are just a few of the many questions this monitoring service raises. 

They note that kids can "opt-out" by not having public posts.  Which would fly in the face of what most students actually do (and they know this).

Most users below the age of 25 do not utilize the available privacy settings because they are seeking to be recognized for their respective posts. They have chosen to post in the public domain in exchange for popularity and a decreasing ability to communicate effectively face to face.

Kids/parents/teachers/administrators can also out students with a handy "report" button app.

Marketplace has been having a whole series on student data including "A Day in the Life of a Data-Mined Kid." 
In most states, the data are fed into a giant database, known as a “statewide longitudinal data system.” Different states collect different elements of personal student data.

In the last decade, the federal government has handed states more than $600 million to help them create these databases. The idea, says Stephen Balkam, head of the Family Online Safety Institute, is that “if we could keep track of our kids from kindergarten to 12th grade we'd have a much greater handle on what's working, what's not working, what needs to be added to the curriculum.”

Mr. Balkam is right; there is potential in that data.  There is also danger.

But it's not just the government:

Sales of educational technology software for kids in kindergarten through high school reached nearly $8 billion last year, according to the Software and Information Industry Association.

One of the biggest players is the field is Knewton. It analyzes student data that it collects by keeping track of nearly every click and keystroke your child makes during digital lessons.

Jose Ferreira is Knewton’s CEO.  In a video posted by the Department of Education, he says “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.”

Knewton claims to gather millions of data points on millions of children each day. Ferreira calls education “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far.”

“We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has,” he says in the video.  “We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.”

Other problems?

There are federal laws in place that limit what type of information can be gathered on kids and how educational records can be shared. But many of these laws were written for an age of paper records.
Though states have started writing tougher student data privacy protections into their laws, privacy experts think there are still big holes.

A study released last year by Fordham Law professor Joel Reidenberg found that very few school districts explicitly restrict the sale or marketing of student information in contracts with service providers.

There are also privacy issues with third-party educational apps, often brought into the classroom by teachers. Those apps may have weak privacy policies, or, in some cases, none at all.

Here's comments from Microsoft's own CTO for Microsoft Education:

“At the beginning you would think there is no risk, that this is completely benign,” says Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education.

But, if you start combining that data with other data sets, like addresses and phone numbers, you start getting into trickier territory. Especially if the tracking data doesn’t match the data on record.

Imagine, says Evans that “over a period of time the IP address where that computer connects to the Internet is not where near the address on file for them. In fact, it's not even in the same school district."

A school could investigate. And maybe find out the child doesn’t live in the district or that the reason he’s going to another part of town is because his parents have divorced. That may be enough to have that child labeled as "at risk."

It's a label, says Evans, that could follow a kid through school.

“In the past, (schools) would have never had this data, but now that it's electronic, we can correlate data in a way that we never ever had the opportunity to do before."

The larger concern, he says, is that connecting all those dots can create a profile of a student that can follow him from kindergarten through college. Maybe even into the workforce.

And that, kids, is EXACTLY what likely to happen over the next couple of years.  That's what's going to happen with the City's preschool measure should it pass.

And yes, the feds AND our state have created a pre-K -age 20 longitudinal databases.  

The story has a handy look-up feature to see how your state is doing on data collection.  They say about Washington State: very comprehensive.  

It includes birth country, language spoken at home, homelessness, race, and behavior.  WA state says they want to know birth country for "physical location" knowledge, not to track citizenship.  As well, the "ethnicity" code seems to only be there for "non-hispanic" or "hispanic."  See page 93.  Race seems to break down into many more categories.

Also, interestingly, the state only requires homeless reporting, not foster kids.  I think this is for legal reasons but you'd think they would care as much if a child was a foster child.

The state is apparently still unresolved on the issue on data for F/RL status but expects to figure this out by the end of the school year.


Anonymous said…
Melissa, while there is much more to do, one relatively simple thing to do is to get a parent representative on the state Data Governance Group {}, managed by OSPI.

While I don't think OSPI would be prohibited from adding a seat for the PTA (or some other organization), it would be better if the PTA were a required member. This would require legislative action.

--- swk
SWK, funny you mention that group. They are having a meeting today and I was going to attend but they had no agenda posted. (It's hard to give up the time without knowing what the discussion is to be. I should have called but really, I think the agenda should have been posted.)
Anonymous said…
It should be posted. But, you could also email Tim Stensager for the agenda.

BTW, while the meeting would be required to be open, I don't think there's ever been an "audience" at the meeting. And I don't think there's a public comment period.

I could be wrong on both accounts.

--- swk
Anonymous said…
Turns out, all I needed to do was look at the agenda from the previous meeting. Looks like there is an public comment period. Who knew?

--- swk
Eric B said…
In a way, I'm not sure that I have a problem with schools mining the public social media universe, provided that they are looking at school related issues only (bullying, truancy, vandalism at school, hazing, etc.). Law enforcement issues (substance abuse, vandalism elsewhere, etc.) maybe not so much. If nothing else, it might encourage kids to use privacy settings and save themselves a world of hurt when their future employers look at their public Facebook postings too.

As far as whether former students are brought into the dragnet, let's look at a not very hypothetical. Say a student gets expelled for assaulting another student. The expelled student is no longer in the district. I think the district would be very interested in whether that student is encouraging other students still in the district to go after the victim.
Eric, you are so trusting but honestly, districts/schools will certainly not stop at school-related issues.

You want hypotheticals?

- what about having sex? Would a school/district follow up on those kinds of e-mails? Tell parents?

- what about sexuality/gender issues?

- in your example, if an expelled student is no longer in the district, what if that student did nothing and was still tracked based on one incident?

No, I believe this is Pandora's box that would not end well.

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