Personalized Learning Fuels Data-Privacy Worries
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Personalized Learning Fuels Data-Privacy Worries

– But first, school
districts across the country are going high tech, incorporating educational
apps and digital programs into the classroom. The theories about the
privacy and security of students’ personal information are on the rise. Special correspondent, John Tulenko, of education week reports as part of our
Tuesday night series, Making the Grade. – [Voiceover] Miami, Florida is taking on one of public education’s oldest problems. With so many students, how do
you personalize instruction? One answer is with computers. At Miami’s iPrep academy, one size fits all lessons
are a thing of the past. – We all started at the very beginning, then some just took off. – [Voiceover] Nicole Rasmuson teaches math using innovative software. – It’s about 70% online. It’s a smart program. It checks, are they understanding? Are they answering questions
correctly right away? Are they struggling? It is taking them a long
time to answer questions? Do they keep making mistakes? – [Voiceover] All the while, the computer is crunching and storing
data about the students and sending back customized lessons. – It’ll ask them, “What
are your interests?” In the word problems, if one kid’s really interested in food, it’ll talk about cookies
and that kind of stuff. It’ll even ask them, “What
are your friends’ names?” Then it’ll put their friends’
names in the problems too. – [Voiceover] All that gets uploaded along with students’ schedules, grades, discipline records,
homework, and even emails. The makings of what some have called a digital profile that
privacy expert Joel Reidenberg fears could someday be
used in unauthorized ways. – We’re going to have a
lot of data floating around with a lot of very detailed information that can be quite surprising. One example, what a child
eats in the school cafeteria is collected using student ID card. We can envision a day, for example, that a health insurance
company wants to see what they ate when they were third graders to decide how they’re going
to underwrite insurance. Is it far fetched? Could be. We don’t know. – [Voiceover] Already students’
data has been misused. Google was recently sued for scanning students’ email accounts in order to build advertising profiles. The tech giant has since stopped and pledged, along with
244 other companies not to use student data
for commercial purposes, but there are a whole lot
more companies out there. – I’m trying to protect my kids. There’s so much data collection
that’s going on right now, that we’re not even aware of. – [Voiceover] Suzette
Lopez is a graphic designer who sends her children
to Miami public schools. – It’s these third party vendors
that we’re partnering with that we’re bringing them in, but then how much oversight
is there with these partners? Who’s keeping an eye on that data? – I think that’s absolutely
a legitimate concern. I think responsible school systems that have the appropriate
policies and safeguards, quite frankly, reduce that threat. – [Voiceover] To protect personal data, Miami superintendent Alberto Carvalho requires the teachers and
students use a web portal. All the apps and software
inside have been vetted. The companies must sign
contracts that prohibit any unauthorized or commercial
use of students’ information. These rules are strictly enforced. – I can tell you the penalties
that we apply in Miami when private companies default on their contractual obligations, which is, we bar them from future business with a school system. – [Voiceover] So far the district says the tech companies have
stuck to the rules, but at iPrep, teachers say
they go outside the portal to use unregulated apps everyday. They’re not the only ones. – I’d love to go around this little group and ask you to name some apps that you’ve downloaded
on your school computer that are not part of the portal. – I’ve downloaded Oovoo, Skype, Spotify, Octagon, just the basic stuff. – Yeah, I found several
very easy reach arounds to the school WiFi. Then different barriers are put up. They’re pretty easy to go around. It’s not the most comprehensive
barriers in the world. – Isn’t that the definition
of true human ingenuity? There is no gadget, no
amount of technology that stands up to the ingenuity of a kid. That’s where the social and
behavior teaching come in. That is the most important thing we can do is actually teach
students responsible use, liabilities, but also the benefits of using this new technology
in this new environment. – [Voiceover] Even if students
took those lessons to heart, their personal data,
including names, addresses, and social security numbers
can still be compromised. It happened in the case
of Pamela Rhim-Grant. – Pamela Rhim-Grant was
a food services manager at the Horace Mann Elementary
School here in Miami. She was found to have been
stealing student identities from the Miami-Dade public
school computer system. – [Voiceover] 2014, assistant
US attorney Frank Maderal prosecuted Rhim-Grant for
stealing social security numbers from 400 students and using them to file fraudulent tax returns. – [Voiceover] Exactly what did
she have to do to walk away with a child’s social security number? – Log in. Access the
information. Print it out. – My son’s social security was stolen. He was stolen and it took
three years to clear up and three years to keep on telling the IRS that my son was my son. – [Voiceover] Lopez family
was victimized in 2008. Well before the Rhim-Grant case, but the effect was the same. – I went to go file my
taxes and I couldn’t. I’m extremely protective and
I’m very careful about stuff. For his number, which is not readily used, was shocking. – [Voiceover] Miami school
officials say hackers on the outside have never successfully broken in and stolen student data, but the growing amount
of sensitive information stored electronically has driven law makers
in at least 15 states to restrict what companies can collect and mandate steps to protect it. That heightened security
could put a damper on digital tools that
personalize learning. In Miami, Florida, I’m John
Telenko of education week reporting for the PBS news hour.

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