Ora Tanner discusses research on the data collection and collation of information about schoolchildren in Florida at an October 1 Aspen Institute event.
Researchers from the Aspen Institute are raising concerns about a Florida initiative meant to collect and collate huge amounts of data on schoolchildren in the state, according to a report released Thursday.
Florida schools are now required to collect, store and crunch data on students in the name of predicting school shootings. The Florida Schools Safety Portal, or FSSP, executive order was issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year in response to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The initiative comes at a time when large social media companies and app developers have encountered withering criticism and regulatory scrutiny over their collection of children’s data and possible violations of students’ privacy in using that data improperly.
“No evidence-based research has demonstrated that a data-driven surveillance system such as the FSSP will be effective in preventing school violence. In addition, no information is publicly available about how the database was designed, developed, or tested,” according to preliminary findings by researchers.
The Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Data is not knowledge
The law requires Florida school districts to store huge amounts of data in one database, including thousands of hours of video footage, grade cards, student disciplinary records and teacher memos. It also includes information on children collected through “social media monitoring, local law enforcement agencies, the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Baker Act admissions, and the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System, which aggregates data on crime, violence, and disruptive behaviors,” researchers wrote.
Ora Tanner, a tech policy fellow with the Aspen Institute, who led the research, said there is no evidence showing the collection of this type of data can predict whether a student will commit a school shooting.
“It’s a common misconception that the more data we have, the more we know,” said Tanner, a physicist by training who previously served as a science teacher and elementary school teacher in the Florida school system.
She told CNBC she will work on further research on how the law is applied. “There’s a massive amount of data going into this database, but they still haven’t been transparent about what algorithm they are using. Using administrative data to predict future behavior, it’s not evidence-based.”
Tanner also said researchers are concerned that the records will disproportionately affect students with disabilities and African American males, two groups that have traditionally received disproportionately higher disciplinary actions than other students. There’s also no evidence, she said, that students who have discipline problems in school go on to become school shooters.
Tanner said one of the goals of researchers is to highlight the limitations and problems of collecting this type of “big data” with the hope of predicting future crimes.
The research released Thursday is primarily for parents and students, informing them of the law, what it means for their personal information and their rights, she said.
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