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 tall corp logo label tshirt



Dear schools and parents, forget grades, we’ll soon have corporate sponsors and badges to label your kids, help predict their workforce or college future. Take a look at the members listed in this newly created badging collaborative, funded by Lumina in partnership with NGA, Pearson, Broad, Walton, Exxon and Business Round Table, etc. They, along with the folks participating in the October 2015 Close It Summit want to know how your children feel, how your children think, so they can “predict workplace success” and close those pesky workforce gaps, with a corporate endorsed data badge.  WHY? because education is not about teaching children anymore.  Exxon reminds us that schools are job suppliers, children are products.
close it markel summit CROP
                   “The economic and education agendas are most certainly intertwined.”

Meet Digital badges: ranking and sorting children as products, endorsed by businesses,  branding children, and starting in kindergarten (sometimes preschool).  Badges have been part of the Common Core plan all along, as seen here in this 2013 paper: Badges and the Common Core. Take a look at this PDF for a helpful, side-by-side, badge-displayer comparison chart. (Keep in mind that this badge comparison is from 2013!)  Digital badging is also linked with gamification and  Competency Based Education (CBE) now part of the new ESSA, and also  mentioned in the White House testing plan. Why is the National Governor’s Association (NGA) urging states to introduce bills, to change education policy, making way for schools as factory workforce talent pipelines, allowing businesses to dictate K-16 curriculum then shop for, groom and cherry-pick (endorse) our children?  It’s all about the data, and that data will be delivered via Digital Badges. It will begin as apprentice programs, where students “win” internships and earn “credentials”…

digital badges icon

What’s a digital badge? (AKA data badge, merit badge, badge credential, competency based badge)

“Badges identify skills that businesses deem the most desirable, skills they think will predict a child’s future success,” based on data.Top companies, like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, see this as a way to recruit…without having to physically go to campus.”

Data badges are portable data, uploaded to the internet, via a badging company,  affiliated with a corporate partner. The data is personally identifiable. It is  “evidence” of a skill acquired, A COMPETENCY,  and is often in the form of  personal essays or videos and photos of students completing a task. The uploaded video and pictures, can be easily data mined using facial and emotional algorithms. And once uploaded, data are nearly impossible to track and delete, becoming a potential Pandora’s box, and amassing a huge profile of very personal information out in the cloud.   Keep in mind that Student Data is a multi-billion dollar per year market.

Badges are measuring  “21st century” social-emotional skills 

Businesses want to know your child’s non-cognitive, behavioral, social emotional, 21st century “soft skills”.  These skills are difficult –if not impossible to accurately quantify  — behavioral “skills” such as awareness, advocacy, leadership, life-long learner, critical thinker.  What algorithms are being used to quantify and predict children?  Who sees the data on these badges?  Despite the known dangers of labeling children’s behaviors, the badges are presented to children as prizes, embracing the current push of gamification (uploading and sharing your personal data is fun! and profitable for businesses!). You can visit one school’s website to see video of 10 and 11 year olds explaining how they upload videos of themselves to win these badges. This particular school district is piloting workforce badges, (using the Credly badging platform),  district-wide, starting in preschool.

 Who sees the video, photos and uploaded “evidence”?

That’s a good question.  According to the standard privacy policy posted by the data badging company, Credly, (who recently received a huge 2.5 Million investment by the Lumina foundation and other venture partners)  they state they can share the data with anyone they choose, worldwide. Credly claims the right to use any uploaded data, with a worldwide, royalty free perpetual right to use or modify the data in anyway, even in other countries. But the contract also says they take no responsibility for how third parties will use the data and Credly is not liable for any harm caused by data misuse or breach.  The Credly website also states their badging product is not to be used by children under the age of 13.   Wow.  Interesting that schools are having children under the age of 13 use this product.

Data badges are being falsely advertised as “just like scout badges”.

Well, let’s see. Scout badges are optional, don’t mandate that children upload personal videos or pictures to the internet and scouts always require parental consent and participation. Scout badges stay on the uniform.   Digital badges are portable,  personal data uploaded to the cloud, no parent participation needed.  The interface of children’s sensitive information with outside contractors like Pearson, LinkedIn, Mozilla, and Credly…as well as partnerships  and “endorsements” from private parties like Goldman Sachs and other businesses is concerning.  The only thing that data badges have in common with scouts is that Barbie tried to get in on the workforce data badging action- and was met with some serious flack from parents and consumer privacy groups.

ban the barbie badge

“Advocacy groups are calling on the Girl Scouts of the USA to end its partnership with Mattel Inc. (NASDAQ:MAT) in a new Barbie-themed program. Participants ages 5 to 8 would learn about career choices to earn a badge emblazoned with “Be Anything, Do Everything” along with the Barbie logo.”   The $2 million deal was announced last August, but members of the Center for a New American Dream and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) called on the Girl Scouts to put an end to the program, which includes completing an “I Can Be…” activity booklet where girls explore career choices.” “Girl Scouts should be a safe place for girls to be who they are and not be fed images of corporate falsehoods on who they should be,” said Christie Parker, a troop leader who was quoted in a CCFC press release, which added that the [badging] program would turn Scouts’ uniforms into “walking advertisements.”

According to research from NEPC, National Education Policy Center,  Corporate Sponsorship of Schools Can Harm Children.

“After analyzing cases of corporate engagement in schools in North America and Ireland, researchers concluded that the missions of schools and the goals of corporations are inherently at odds: “When corporations enter the schools, there is going to be pressure to create student experiences and shape student attitudes in ways that support, or at least do not undermine, the corporate bottom line.  The goal of it is to become more integrated into the pattern of everyday school life, so it’s hard to tell where the advertising begins and ends. … These businesses are there for the kids? No, they’re not. They’re there for themselves; they’re there to make money.”

Before we turn children into walking advertisements and product endorsements please consider this:

Badges are children’s personal behavioral data, shared outside of the school. 


Are the badge data educationally relevant and necessary? Are meaningful privacy, security safeguards in place? What do we need to do to ensure that children are not being incorrectly labeled or profiled with these badges?

How this private information is transferred, stored, further shared to third parties needs to be carefully weighed, in a public venue, giving parents input on how their children’s data is used.  Before badging programs are implemented, there should be many years of small-scale, parent opt-in pilots to determine if the perceived benefit outweighs the many risks.

Cheri Kiesecker