An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares.
But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.
In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school - even homework completion.
Local education officials retain legal control over their students' information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.
Entrepreneurs can't wait.
"This is going to be a huge win for us," said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.
Yeah, maybe. Parents are pretty creeped out over the idea of tracking their kids' school performance over their K-12 educational careers. I have some ambivalence about the whole idea, but it's a non-starter for me when I see how they've structured it, and particularly knowing Rupert Murdoch is involved.
The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.
States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states - Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts - have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide.
Former New York Public Schools chancellor Joel Klein signaled the onslaught last December:
Asserting that the K-12 education market is “ripe for disruption," Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, now executive v-p at News Corp. and director of Amplify, its education unit, offered a presentation of Amplify’s business model and plans to release hardware and software solutions optimized for a new generation of digitally savvy students and teachers. Klein outlined plans to release an open source tablet device, and specialized teaching software tied to it and to Common Core standards and data analytics, all in an effort to transform the basic model of American education.
What protections will there be for student privacy? And who's going to pay for this? Taxpayers, of course. As the budget for data mining grows and Murdoch's pockets bulge, will there be any money left for teachers?