Two Proposed State-level Bills Involving Student Data Are Rejected
A proposed bill to establish the Alabama Network of Statewide Workforce and Education-Related Statistics (ANSWERS) was rejected last week. An aim of the bill was to create a new state office to use education and workforce data from multiple agencies to provide training and work placement. In Colorado, a proposal to prohibit “private providers such as standardized-testing companies from asking students questions about their citizenship status or religion, or about similar information on their parents or other family members” was also rejected.
Cayla Doll Banned in Germany
The Cayla doll, an internet-connected toy that records and also uploads a child’s conversations to a remote server, has been banned in Germany due to surveillance concerns. President of the German Federal Network Agency, Jochen Homann addressed the covert nature of the surveillance built into an unassuming toy: "Items that conceal cameras or microphones and that are capable of transmitting a signal, and therefore can transmit data without detection, compromise people's privacy.” Parents in Germany were instructed to destroy the dolls. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), along with other consumer protection groups, filed a claim with the FTC in December against toys that spy, including Cayla in its list, stating that the toys “subject young children to ongoing surveillance and are deployed in homes across the United States without any meaningful data protection standards. They pose an imminent and immediate threat to the safety and security of children in the United States.” In response, Senator Markey (D-Mass) initiated a congressional investigation into Genesis Toys, the creators of the Cayla doll, stating: “Given the sensitive nature of children’s recorded speech, I believe that Genesis Toys and Nuance must take responsible steps to protect children’s privacy and comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).”
Happenings. The New York Times reports that new studies of voucher programs show poor results for student achievement, finding that the availability of choice does not automatically lead to improved learning experiences and support. Despite the support of virtual K-12 schools by Betsy DeVos, recent research shows online only education to be detrimental, especially to vulnerable children. Sara Mead argues that education issues are complex and likely there is no single fix. When considering data-driven technologies, an article in EdTech magazine urges a focus on pedagogy first. The U.S. Office of Education Technology shares updates to the National Education Technology Plan.
During a recent EdCon 2.9 panel, community college students expressed grave concerns that predictive analytics programs would sort them into categories before they even start a class, potentially pre-disposing teachers to write them off. A rigorous review of research on formative assessments, which are often a feature of personalized learning systems, show positive effects on student achievement, particularly in mathematics. A study published by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, identified statistically significant gains for four blended learning programs that offer differentiated instruction: Cognitive Tutor Algebra I, LeapTrack, READ 180, and Time To Know. New America published guidelines for ethical use of predictive analytics in higher education. Artificial Intelligence assessment systems are closer to being a reality in education, according to an article in Nature. The development costs are estimated to be around $600 million and still to be determined are ethics of how student data might be used in modeling responses and the impacts of AI on equity. Yet Richard Palmer questions how much of learning analytics are actionable. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission halted new data security rules, including those that would require a customer’s permission before internet service providers collected data on web browsing and app usage.
Immigration Policies Cause Uncertainty and Fears Around How Student Data Will Be Used
The immigration travel bans imposed by Executive Order on January 27 and March 6, as well as new administration policies on deportation, are causing confusion and fears about what student data is required to be shared with immigration officials. Legal scholar Leah Plunkett provides an overview of what school decision-makers can do to protect their students. A headline in Chalkbeat asks ‘Could fear of Trump’s immigration policies keep New York City students out of school?’ The article reports that families in cities across the U.S. are keeping their children home, particularly in the wake of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials arresting parents as they drop off or pick up their schoolchildren. During a town hall meeting to respond to the grave concerns of parents and students, one educator stepped parents through the laws that protect students from providing information about their immigration status. Another educator observed that the uncertainty and unpredictability of these immigration policies are interfering with student learning. Students have genuine cause for alarm, as indicated by news reports that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly outlined plans to separate children from their parents as part of increased deportations of immigrants without legal status trying to cross into the U.S. from the Mexican border. A thirteen year old student filmed her father being arrested by ICE while driving her to school. A prospective college student in Washington D.C. was reportedly denied city tuition assistance because of her mother’s immigration status, even though the prospective student is an American citizen. Jade Davis advises teachers to consider the ways in which social media assignments might increase risks for vulnerable students.
Many professional organizations are speaking out against the immigration policies, including the Association of American Medical Colleges, which stated: “Impeding these U.S. immigration pathways jeopardizes critical access to high-quality physician care for our nation’s most vulnerable populations.” Immigrant children in a Denver school used the hashtag #immigrantsrock to tweet to Trump about the contributions of their families that make America great.
Data from the Department of Homeland Security does not support the immigration ban. In a review of 88 cases, country of citizenship was found “unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity . . . most foreign-born, U.S.-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States.”
In an article for Amnesty International, Tanya O’Carroll and Joshua Franco challenge the notion that a Muslim registry would involve a large scale data collection effort and outline the many ways in which personal data is already collected and brokered, arguing that personal data needed for the registry is already available to be purchased and used.
Also under consideration this week are revisions to the Affordable Care Act, which could impact the estimated $4 billion per year funding that school districts receive through Medicaid to provide services to special education students, according to an EdWeek report.
Happenings. Researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara and University of California, Los Angeles examined the economic consequences of increased dropouts resulting from school suspensions: “They calculate a total statewide economic burden of $2.7 billion over the lifetime of the single 10th grade cohort. The $2.7 billion total includes $809 million in direct fiscal costs to taxpayers, such as higher criminal justice costs and reduced revenue generated, and $1.9 billion in social costs, such as reduced economic productivity and higher health care expenses. A single non-graduate generates $579,820 in economic losses over his or her lifetime, on average.” Alexandra Mateescu of Data & Society reports on the use of electronic monitoring (e.g., ankle bracelets) on alleged offenders as young as 12 years: “Vendors like Omnilink are touting ankle monitors as a solution to juvenile truancy, claiming to prevent not only absenteeism, but also the ‘adult criminality’ and ‘reduced earning power’ foreseen in these noncompliant kids’ futures.” Jeff Asher argues for better data around gun violence, recommending that data around shootings is a more reliable measure than the more commonly used statistics around murders.
There is a dearth of federal data to quantify how many students identify as transgender. According to EdWeek, a likely explanation is “publicly collected data on transgender individuals—part of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey—is not collected in every state, and participating states only survey adults.” A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August 2015 of 25 states and 19 urban school districts in grades 9-12 found that up to 12% identified themselves as lesbian, gay, or bi-sexual and up to 5% said they were uncertain. The study found that LGB students were more likely to be victims of violence. The Ithacan reports that the software colleges use for registration excludes non-binary (male/female) students by not providing more options. In the type of incident that is becoming more frequent, a private school in Los Angeles published a public statement promising disciplinary action for homophobic and racial slurs initially posted to students’ private Facebook accounts and shared publicly by a non-student.
As a result of multiple donations including one large donation of $1 million, the New York Times has announced that they will be able to provide free subscriptions to 1.3 million students that will include teaching tools and opportunities to speak with journalists in an effort to “empower . . . students with the news and information they need to help them understand the world around them.”
New Research Reveals “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape”
A new report from the Knight Foundation and Data & Society Research Institute, How Youth Navigate the News Landscape, shows that young people (ages 14-24) today have less trust in traditional media platforms than did their predecessors. Instead, according to authors Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, and Claire Fontaine, this cohort relies heavily on social media for news– and “news” itself is an increasingly complex and multifaceted category. The method of receiving news is different for teens and young adults today: instead of actively searching for news, news increasingly follows them through places like Instagram or on their Facebook Newsfeed. However, reliability and trustworthiness of a given story is likely only to be confirmed after using a “form of ‘distributed trust’” where a story “first encountered on one platform, most commonly Facebook, is often corroborated or complicated by other sources . . . [which may include] perspectives from across the political spectrum.” Furthermore, the growth of citizen-journalism (through live videos and other techniques) is increasingly blurring “the boundaries that Americans traditionally associated with the Fourth Estate,” both in the lives of young people and adults. Madden, Lenhart, and Fontaine conclude that “[s]ome of the most interesting and challenging news-related behaviors [for young people today] may not be measurable with traditional research methods.”
The Battle In Favor Of and Against “Fake News”
While exploring whether mainstream media is in fact dead, as President Trump has insinuated– (or not dead yet!)– Carole Cadwalladr found herself looking at a part of the media landscape that is clearly alive and well: “fake news.” In her recent Guardian article, Cadwalladr posits that “[t]here are two things, potentially, going on simultaneously: the manipulation of information on a mass level, and the manipulation of information at a very individual level. Both based on the latest understandings in science about how people work, and enabled by technological platforms built to bring us together.” The article traces the activities of and the links between key institutions and individuals at home and abroad who are deploying fake news as a strategy to engage in these two levels of manipulation to influence government and other societal spheres. Strategies that can super-charge the spread of fake news include using “‘sleeper’ bots . . . Twitter accounts that have tweeted only once or twice and are now sitting quietly waiting for a trigger: some sort of crisis where they will rise up and come together to drown out all other sources of information.” Cadwalladr warns that individuals are becoming increasingly drawn into this new “battleground where the ambitions of nation states and ideologues are being fought – using us. We are the bounty: our social media feeds; our conversations; our hearts and minds.”
Americans looking to better understand how to combat fake news can look to techniques used overseas. For instance, well before “fake news” entered the American lexicon, Ukraine was already reeling from intense bombardment of Russian propaganda. With the explicit aim of undermining the government in Kiev, fake news was truly an existential problem. A recent New York Times article by Andrew Kramer unpacks how some Ukrainian journalists are fighting fake news with StopFake News, a weekly broadcast (on the air since 2014) that seeks to debunk fake news stories by featuring only fake news items presented by newscasters, then exposing the items as false. StopFake has grown rapidly: “What began as a volunteer-run website grew into a news organization with 26 paid employees and researchers in several European countries and the United States, funded by grants. The show airs on about 30 Ukrainian television stations.”
The show’s popularity dovetails with with some recent research findings that it may be possible to inoculate people against fake news: “‘If you give people a short exposure to a weakened version of the disinformation, it actually then protects them — protects their mind, essentially — from the effect of that disinformation.’” (Teachers thinking about how they might incorporate this into their teaching should consider Greg McVerry’s recommendation to move beyond critique of fake news and have students generate their own fake news as part of the learning process.) These and other potential protective factors against the intrusion of fake news and similar threats are of vital importance; writers from Scientific American argue that “we are now at a crossroads . . . Big data, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and behavioral economics are shaping our society—for better or worse. If such widespread technologies are not compatible with our society's core values, sooner or later they will cause extensive damage. They could lead to an automated society with totalitarian features. In the worst case, a centralized artificial intelligence would control what we know, what we think and how we act.”
Happenings. Teen Vogue offers advice to young people about digital security: “Heading to a protest, organizing with activists, or suddenly concerned about the politics of your parents? Don’t use SMS or Snapchat to chat about it – you need something safer.” Khan Academy announces that it will soon provide free LSAT prep to “help empower a new generation of lawyers.” The non-profit organization We Teach Science is using a “Remote Tutoring and Mentoring (RTM) program . . . a [customized] web-based interactive whiteboard and communication platform” to connect STEM mentors with “economically underserved students, especially minority populations and females.” A new video game, Walden: a Game, “based on [Henry David] Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations;” the game’s designer hopes the effects of the game might cross-over to bring more pockets of tranquility to users’ analog lives. A new graphic novel by Robert Sikoryak, Terms and Conditions, took the “complete text of Apple’s mind-numbing corporate boilerplate, which users must agree to before accessing iTunes, and mashed it up with art invoking more than a century of comics.”
We are delighted to announce a new feature of our newsletter! In addition to providing a curated round-up of relevant news, from time to time, our newsletter writers will also more deeply explore key issues in student data privacy, equity and digital literacy. This week, Leah Plunkett examines the contemporary implications of Plyler v. Doe, a thirty-five year-old Supreme Court Decision that forbids the use of governmental policies to effectively bar undocumented youth from attending public school in “How the New Immigration Agenda Violates the Promise of Plyler v. Doe & What School Decision-Makers Can Do to Protect Their Students & the Constitution.” Monica Bulger and Mikaela Pitcan interview Jade Davis about social media assignments in the midst of new anti-immigration policies in “When Social Media Assignments Increase Risks for Vulnerable Students.”