Prepare Your Children for “a Lifetime of Surveillance”

Published on
Diane Ravitch's blog

Prepare Your Children for “a Lifetime of Surveillance”

The data mining industry is far from dead. (Photo:  Lucélia Ribeiro/flickr/cc)

The data mining company inBloom died, killed off by parent opposition, but the data mining industry is not dead. Far from it. It is growing and metastasizing as investors see new opportunities to profit from the data surreptitiously collected while children are using computers, taking tests online, chatting online, and practicing for state tests online.

According to this article in Model View Culture, investors have poured billions of dollars into new technologies to track students’ movements.

Designed for the “21st century” classroom, these tools promise to remedy the many, many societal ills facing public education with artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, and other technological advancements.

They are also being used to track and record every move students make in the classroom, grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance and turning education into one of the most data-intensive industries on the face of the earth. The NSA has nothing on the monitoring tools that education technologists have developed in to “personalize” and “adapt” learning for students in public school districts across the United States.

The federal government and the law called FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, passed in 1974) were supposed to prevent invasions of privacy, but the U.S. Department of Education loosened the FERPA regulations in 2011 to make it easier for vendors to data mine. Make no mistake, this is big business. It will not easily be stopped.

“Adaptive”, “personalized” learning platforms are one of the most heavily-funded verticals in education technology. By breaking down learning into a series of tasks, and further distilling those tasks down to a series of clicks that can be measured and analyzed, companies like Knewton (which has raised $105 million in venture capital), or the recently shuttered inBloom (which raised over $100 million from the Gates Foundation) gather immense amounts of information about students into a lengthy profile containing personal information, socioeconomic status and other data that is mined for patterns and insights to improve performance. For students, these clickstreams and data trails begin when they are 5 years old, barely able to read much less type in usernames and passwords required to access their online learning portals.

These developments are alarming. Why should commercial vendors have the right to monitor our every move? Why should the government? This must be stopped, and the successful fight against inBloom proved that it can be stopped. Parents will have to inform themselves and protect their children by demanding legislation that puts an end to the surveillance of their children at school and at home, whenever they are online.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University. Her most recent book is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.  Her previous books and articles about American education include: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, (Simon & Schuster, 2000); The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003); The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (Oxford, 2006), which she edited with her son Michael Ravitch. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Share This Article