Pushing Back on EdTech

I am on my annual quest to limit my children’s exposure to screens and overuse of technology in their educational lives. Last week I met with my son’s middle school principal to discuss the Opt Out letter that we submitted a few weeks back. Although the principal was supportive of most aspects of the request, he did have one concern. Here is the excerpt from the letter that outlines what we ask that our son be opted out from:

Our child is to be exempted and excused for the 2017-18 school year from the following activities:

  • SBAC Pre-tests and Tests
  • STAAR Pre-tests and Tests
  • Any formative or summative assessment or practice/sample test related to the SBAC and STAAR tests
  • ALL online testing and online curricula. The Children’s Online Privacy Protecting Act (COPPA) allows us to control what information is collected online for children 12 and under; therefore, we are refusing her participation in such programs.
  • All "Social Emotional Learning assessments”

The section that is italicized is the one that we met to discuss. He wanted to know why we wanted to opt out of the Google environment. I explained to him the limitations of the Google Classroom and the role that COPPA plays in allowing me to make such a request. I also reminded him that Google’s policies of “assuring that data will not be mined” is not a guarantee, and therefore violates the COPPA legislation.

We reached a compromise that our son would be given a fictitious account with a unique login name and password. At the end of the year, all of his data that was used to assess his qualification to move on to the next grade, will be deleted and given to me in a portable device (thumb drive). We will be speaking with the district contact this week to finalize this arrangement.

After speaking with some parent friends of mine about my concerns and what I’ve chosen to do about them, I found that most don’t know or do not have the time to concern themselves with this issue. Perhaps my concern comes from a privileged position - I am an educated woman, living in an upper-middle class community that more than sufficiently funds its schools. My degree is in education and I have full access to the knowledge that educators have and I can speak on their terms. I know what questions to ask when all of the options are not made clear. I know how far I can insist on my rights and the rights of my children within the educational world.

When the principal told me that most of the ELA (English Language Arts) and History curriculum classes at the school require the use of Chromebooks, I was troubled. All data is then stored in the cloud, but more disturbingly this is typically in a one-to-one relationship with their own personal account and that it is not condusive to collaborative thinking. Ironically for a cloud-based service, this creates a norm that actually moves away from working collaboratively in the “real world”, a know-how to express oneself orally and socially, and focuses the interactivity with technology rather than human beings. Over time it creates adults who cannot function on their own without the help of a machine to tell them what to do, which reduces one’s sense of independence, problem solving skills and self-confidence.

Ultimately, this is not the type of person I want my children to grow up to become. I want them to develop into people who can play and work well with others, can critically think about difficult questions, and develop a healthy interdependence with technology – knowing when and how to utilize it. I want them to be able to function equally well in person as they do online.

Educators are in a difficult position to help our children overcome the negative effects of poverty, neglect, intellectual challenges, racial inequality. In addition, they now also must teach our children technological best practices, digital citizenship, and how to protect themselves from cyberbullying. While technology is often intended to help alleviate inequality, theunintended outcome in school is that it actually amplifies it. Without support and instruction on how to best integrate technology so that learning outcomes are met, teachers are left to do what is best given the knowledge they may or may not have.

As a society, we must do better in integrating technology into the educational lives of our youngest citizens. “It’s cool” should not be the metric with which we decide whether to use a technological tool in the classroom. The allure of collecting, aggregating, and monetizingmassive amounts of data, the iconic "Big Data" we so often read about, should also not be a motivation, especially not with minors. When districts cannot control who sees and uses the data of minors in their care, who is then making sure it is not misused?

Ultimately, there is no such thing as “free access” to Google and similar services - there is a vested interest there and it cares little about learning outcomes unless this learning is geared to creating more consumers. We should actively question whether we are selling our children’s information for profit. That is too high a price to pay for my child’s intellectual property.

For more information on COPPA and protecting your child’s intellectual freedoms, please see the following links: