When lobbyists for the tech industry are SUPPORTING a student data privacy bill, you know it has to be good. /sarc.  

We are seeing a pattern across the country of existing student data privacy LAWS attempting to be weakened by tech industry supported bills. The example above is from the state of Illinois.  Why exactly are  CompTIA, self-claimed as “the world’s leading tech association”,  Facebook, who knows what you look like, who your family and friends are and what they look like, and your income and oh so much more, the Cable Television and Communications Association of IL, who has tax exempt nonprofit status, while earning over $1.185 Million last year, whose mission is to “ADVOCATE LEGISLATION BENEFITING THE CABLE TELEVISION INDUSTRY“,  and the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance,  a LOBBYING TEAM which includes the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and the Illinois Principals Association, again–WHY are these tech giants and a lobby team representing schools and businesses advocating for this particular student data privacy bill?


What’s in the bill -vs- existing Illinois student data privacy law?

Illinois already passed the Illinois School Student Records Act  a few years ago and it requires each school to designate an official student records custodian and also allows parents to collect damages for violations of privacy, which is something many other  state privacy laws do not have.  This existing Act, while a good start, is not all encompassing, (ie: does not address breach and could do more on transparency).  The important thing: Illinois is one of the few states which does not currently have massive exemptions allowing the tech industry to mine student data for advertising nor does it exempt algorithms and adaptive/personalized learning.  THAT is important and it is about to change with SB1796 .

The bill currently in IL legislature, SB1796  which Amends the Illinois School Student Records Act, was amended and has already passed the Senate Committee . SB1796 is sponsored by Senator Michael Connelly (R) and Senator Michael E. Hastings (D) and it gives many gifts to the tech industry when it comes to accessing and using student data:

SB1796  Section 30 Applicability section above,  gives loads of exemptions to tech vendors.  SB1796 allows, among other things, for the ability of an operator to use student data, including covered information, for adaptive learning  or customized student learning purposes (AKA  hidden algorithms). You can contact the Illinois state legislators and ask them to stop this bill that protects tech industry far more than it does students.

Why should you care about hidden algorithms and  online adaptive “personalized” learning data collection?

We along with many researchers, have written extensively about the ethics and danger of biased and unknown algorithms, embedded data collection known also known as “competency based learning“, and the decisions they are making about children’s lives here and here and here we asked:

Are legislators ignoring algorithms? Who are they protecting?

One has to wonder WHY nearly every data student privacy bill being passed comes with language that resembles this exemption for algorithms, found in Jeb Bush’s   Foundation for Excellence in Education model student privacy legislation:

jeb model bill underline

There’s that phrase again–adaptive learning–and most student privacy laws don’t cover it.

There are no laws prohibiting adaptive learning algorithms  and no laws requiring the companies to disclose what the algorithms are collecting.  Why bother writing a privacy bill that doesn’t protect privacy? The word oxymoron comes to mind. How can educators or legislators promote a student privacy bill that in fact exempts any and all unknown data mining algorithms? That is like an auto insurance company covering all accidents that don’t involve an automobile.

Illinois and other states would be wise to remove these concessions for the tech industry and write / pass laws that protect children, require informed consent and transparency surrounding algorithms and personalized learning.

As for the lobbyists we mentioned at the beginning of this blog,  it’s not surprising that CompTIA wants access to student data, not surprising that the Television and Communication Association wants access to student data (consider that Congress recently  voted to overturn FCC privacy rules which allows these broadband providers to see a user’s web history, everything they search for online). Facebook has actually started its own charter based on personalized learning and student data collectionBut one question remains: 

Why is the Illinois Association of School Boards and Principals lobbying for this bill that would  weaken protections on student privacy, exempt personalized learning from privacy laws?

Perhaps the answer comes in this blog by teacher, Emily Talmage, who discovered this iNACOL meeting featuring NEA head Becky Pringle.  She writes,  “In 2015, the heads of the National Education Association (NEA), received an invitation from a newly formed group known as “Convergence” to attend a series of meetings sponsored, in part, by the  Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.”  In the blog, entitled Anatomy of Betrayal, the author continues,

“…within only a few months, the presidents of both major teachers unions had signed their names to a document, along with representatives from Samsung, Microscoft, LEGO, Disney, and a variety of corporate-sponsored foundations, that all but pledges to do away with the very professionals the unions claim to protect.

The document reads like a promotional handbook for the decades long push toward “personalized,” competency-based learning, which puts a child and their electronic device at the “center” of the learning experience, while moving teachers aside in a new role of “facilitator.” [emphasis added]

So, the head of NEA is promoting “personalized learning”,  the US Department of Ed has been promoting edtech and personalized learning for years,  and now school boards and principals and state policy makers are supporting bills to exempt personalized learning algorithms from privacy laws.  Some say this data driven agenda will result in computers replacing teachers and will collect endless streams of hidden data to predict students.  States like Colorado have passed laws requiring online education, spending nearly $1million in taxpayer money to hold Blended Learning advocacy meetings around the state, while simultaneously laying off teachers for years.  Some say this national pattern of teacher non-renewals  is the result of “pressure from state and federal accountability legislation to produce evidence of student learning on standardized assessments.” Others go further and say it was a set-up to usher in Competency Based computer teaching.

Will computers replace teachers? Should parents have a choice between computer screen or teacher?

Are Computers Teachers? This question is being posed to an appeals court in Tennessee and the decision is one to watch as it will have ripple effects across the country.

Do the rights of Tennessee students to a public education extend into the right to have a teacher, and if so, does a computer program count? Those questions were posed to a state appeals court Tuesday during oral arguments in a case involving a Nashville student, Toni Jones, that could set a statewide framework defining school districts’ obligations to their students.

…He said precedent set in Tennessee court cases entitled Jones to a teacher, and that due process protections were violated when she was moved into the other class without notice to Jones or her family.

“The slippery slope so to speak is that if a teacher is not essential, then a school system can be offered entirely by computers,” he said.

“Students can be placed in a gymnasium and put a computer on a desk, and say, here is your teacher. And we’re going to have a hall monitor to keep you from acting up. That is basically what happened to Toni Jones. That’s not teaching.”  http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2017/03/21/computers-teachers-tn-appeals-court-may-weigh-toni-jones/99446902/


This move to personalized online blended learning has no evidence to show that it is as effective as a human teacher. In fact, there is much evidence to the contrary and research that shows risks associated with screen use here and here.

So, what happened to local control and parents having a say in their child’s education? Why the push to put school children in front of a glowing screen?   Data and money.  

Computers are a choice, teachers are real.  #KeepItReal  Nothing replaces human.

TIME Magazine: Screens in Schools are a Billion Dollar Hoax http://time.com/4474496/screens-schools-hoax/
Online Adaptive learning is no better https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/23/study-finds-inconclusive-results-about-efficacy-adaptive-learning#disqus_thread
NEPC 2016 Report Online, Blended, Virtual Schools lagging http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2016
Stanford CREDO study: online and blended learning fails to perform http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2016/04/virtual_blended_schools_NEPC.html
Propublica series on Big Data bias and machine algorithmic injustice. https://www.propublica.org/series/machine-bias
Blackbox algortihms https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/the-black-box-society-the-secret-algorithms-that-control-money-and-information-by-frank-pasquale/2018918.article
When personalized (online) learning gets too personal http://www.recode.net/2015/12/9/11621282/when-personalized-learning-gets-too-personal-google-complaint-exposes
Student data collection is out of control http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/09/24/protecting-student-privacy-in-online-learning/student-data-collection-is-out-of-control
Measuring children’s emotions and creating Standards to rank emotions https://missourieducationwatchdog.com/sel-commission-standards-rating-sorting-children-based-on-emotion/
Edtech is Billion dollar market https://marketbrief.edweek.org/marketplace-k-12/market_for_education_software_digital_products_has_grown_analysis_shows/
American Academy of Pediatrics Issues New Recommendations to Reduce Exposure to Cell Phones, Wireless Devices  http://www.releasewire.com/press-releases/american-academy-of-pediatrics-issues-new-recommendations-to-reduce-exposure-to-cell-phones-726805.htm
The Global Education Future (GEF), Vision 2030, GEF map here:http://edu2035.org/pdf/GEF_future-map_en.pdf
and Exec summary of GEF here: http://tinyurl.com/jsfjt4j





Cheri Kiesecker

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