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K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents

Posted on March 6th, 2013 at 14:47 by John Sinteur in category: Privacy -- Write a comment


An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares.

But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.

In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.


The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states.


Federal officials say the database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any “school official” who has a “legitimate educational interest,” according to the Department of Education. The department defines “school official” to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.

The database also gives school administrators full control over student files, so they could choose to share test scores with a vendor but withhold social security numbers or disability records.

That’s hardly reassuring to many parents.

“Once this information gets out there, it’s going to be abused. There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Jason France, a father of two in Louisiana.

I liked it a lot better when Bill was trying to fight the musquito.

  1. Yes. What could possibly go wrong here? :rolleyes:
    Heck, Gates stole MS-DOS from Seattle Computer (purchased, but not paid for until the courts forced the issue). Why do we think we will act any more ethically with our kids’ data?

  2. As a parent, while I share concerns about my children’s privacy, I also want to be able to track what are the “best” schools for my kids. If the data could be normalized, I’d love to have something to compare schools which offers more depth than just standardized test scores.

  3. The data probably also contain demographic, economic and educational information about the parents of these children. If I remember rightly this includes very detailed data about race, educational achievement of parents, whether family is receiving government assistance e.g. free school meals, and other possible explanations for poor achievement like “migrant worker”.

    Record formats include fields with student location at any time of day (for scheduling classes) and school bus timetables/routes.

    The demographic detail was originally mandated by the government to try to root out inequality and is already kept for every child as part of the rules to get federal funding of education. It is supposed to be kept private to the system 🙂

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