Making student data “liquid” makes the data safer and increases world economic value? Really?


by David Safier

I know my harping on the issue of student data mining can seem repetitive, maybe even a little obsessive. But any scheme funded by $100 million in Gates Foundation money that puts sensitive, personal student information in the hands of Rupert Murdoch's educational enterprise and stores it on leaky Amazon servers needs to be exposed. Thanks to journalists and bloggers getting the information out, the inBloom data storage project has lost five of the seven states which were part of the company's test run. Only Illinois and New York remain, and New York school districts are opting out one by one.

So naturally, the PR push is on to salvage the data mining scheme. Sharren Bates, chief product officer for inBloom, claims the corporation's electronic storage will be much more secure than old fashioned methods of storing and sharing student data.

For decades, she said, districts have stored the same data in unlocked filing cabinets, or relied on educators to email spreadsheets to each other.

I guess Bates thinks file cabinets and spreadsheets are more vulnerable to massive hacking than data stored on a single electronic source. She must imagine that bad actors are going to break into schools late at night, pry open counseling office doors and microfilm the millions of pieces of paper storing student information, then sort through the unorganized mess. When they're done with that, they'll  plow through teacher emails one by one searching for random bits of student data on random spreadsheets — most of which contain student scores, not personal information like health records, learning disabilities and disciplinary actions.


The most recent PR claim is that making the student data more "liquid" will unlock billions of dollars in economic value each year. Here's the reasoning. First, releasing all that student data to education software companies will mean students will be better educated, which means they'll earn more money in the future. That conclusion is based on the unstudied, untested assumption that gathering together obscene amounts of student data and giving education companies unlimited access to the information will make students learn better. On top of that, school districts will save money "through improved procurement processes and other means." All those improved processes, they assure us, will result in $400 billion a year in savings to school districts nationwide.

Ridiculous claims like these are the stock in trade of political and economic obfuscators everywhere. Unfortunately, they tend to work if no one challenges them.