Education Featured Article
March 04, 2013
Student Learning Database Incites Interest, Controversy
By Rory Lidstone, TMCnet Contributing Writer
With the SXSWedu Conference and Festival occurring this week, a number of startups will be showing off the latest in education technology. However, one product has already caught the attention of the entire education industry, but what makes it influential isn't any new technology, but rather the information it contains.
Put simply, it is database which charts the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through to high school.
The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states, while the infrastructure was built by Amplify Education over a period of 18 months. Upon completion, it was turned over to a newly created not-for-profit called inBloom Inc.
This $100 million database has only been operational for three months now, but already holds information — including names, addresses and even social security numbers in some cases — on millions of children. The database of course includes test scores and attendance as well as learning disabilities in order to provide a detailed view of students' educational experiences, which is further fleshed out with hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school and homework completion.
Legal rights to this information go to local education officials, who will be able to share files with private companies that sell educational products and services.
Meanwhile, federal officials say the database complies with privacy laws. Of course, though, many parents are afraid that the information may be accessed and abused, leading to protest in some states. The upside, however, is tempting: Students could receive personalized lesson plans that take into account all their strengths and weaknesses. What's more, analysis of student information could lead to identifying patterns — for example, students struggling with math in grade eight ultimately dropping out of high school — and implementing ways to respond to these patterns.
Still, though, some remain unconvinced. As Frank Catalano of education technology-focused consulting firm Intrinsic Strategy put it in a statement, "The hype in the tech press is that education is an engineering problem that can be fixed by technology. To my mind, that's a very naive and destructive view."
Edited by Brooke Neuman
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