Should corporations be watching our kids?
April 24, 2015
As a mom, I have to address the reality of social media in my children’s lives, along with balancing the privacy they need to grow and mature in a world I am handing off to them. Part of that is keeping them safe from predators by teaching them how to navigate technology they are more comfortable with than I am.
Which is why, when I learned recently that behemoth testing company Pearson is spying on our kids online, my protective instincts flew into high gear.
In case you missed it, here’s what happened: A New Jersey superintendent raised the alarm last month after she was contacted by the state Department of Education and asked to discipline a student because of a tweet about PARCC testing (as if standardized testing isn’t stressful enough). The department had been contacted by Pearson, who admitted that it was indeed monitoring students’ social media accounts for any mention of the standardized tests, calling it standard “test security” procedure. In fact, Pearson later admitted that it was cross-referencing the names on social media accounts with school districts’ lists of students scheduled to take the PARCC tests.
Pearson has since agreed to stop the cross-referencing—however, it hasn’t agreed to stop spying on our kids. Its reasoning?
In every state where Pearson has contracted to deliver the PARCC test—that’s 21 states plus Washington, D.C., or 39 percent of all standardized tests in the United States—it claims it also is under contract to monitor for potential breaches of sensitive information online. In New Jersey alone, it is being paid $96,574 for that service, according to NJ Advance Media.
As Michael Yaple, director of public information for the New Jersey Department of Education, said (as quoted by Forbes.com): “When students circulate test questions online, it is akin to a handing out test questions on the steps of the school–except in this case it can be seen globally. Students may not realize that each test item involves a substantial commitment of taxpayer expense and a great deal of time and effort of dozens of educators in New Jersey and across the consortium who review and design each test question–which is proprietary, copyrighted material.”
“Students may not realize…” That comment in particular caught my attention for its revelation that, despite the fact that some of the most inspiring movements have been led by youth, both historical and current, testing authorities and Pearson would rather characterize them as naive. Basically, your kids and my kids should know better than to mess with a billion-dollar corporation. My kids weren’t taught—in home or at school—to sit quietly and let authority walk all over them. I am the recipient of my own lessons in that regard on a regular basis, whether I’m ready to be or not. Our kids have been taught to think critically and question—and we have seen thousands of students do just that across the country with actions and demands, including Black Lives Matter; the inspirational fight for comprehensive immigration reform; sit-ins in Newark, N.J., against schools superintendent Cami Anderson and Gov. Chris Christie; and walkouts in New Mexico and Colorado against high-stakes testing.
There is evidence all over this country that students continue to expect a seat at the table to shape their world. We all underestimate students’ determination and acumen at our own peril—even an international testing conglomerate. Testing authorities and Pearson may want to consider that it might not be ignorance that leads students to post these things on their social media sites, but that it is actually their acute critical-thinking skills.
This is why I’m asking students and their parents to continue to put their critical-thinking skills to use and question Pearson’s actions. I’m listening to what our students are telling us. Our children’s online privacy and safety is too important for us to allow ourselves to be bullied by a billion-dollar testing giant. So I hope you will join me in listening to those students, and in demanding that Pearson immediately stop monitoring students on social media and disclose any contract language about test security for full public review. Together, we can stop Pearson from spying on our kids and move on to the real work of constructing the world our children deserve together.
Take action here.
Note: AFT President Randi Weingarten is in London, taking our concerns straight to Pearson's shareholders. Check out her tweets from across the pond here or #TellPearson.