University research will evaluate physical data to gauge teacher effectiveness

“It’s unclear … just how you’re going to read the average teenager who is thinking of many different things, going through adolescence, worrying about a bad hair or skin day, and be able to say that the teacher is good or bad,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based digital rights organization. “I know I would absolutely object to anyone outfitting me with a device that purported to measure my emotional state, for both privacy and dignity reasons. After all, if it were valid, I’d be disclosing information about whether I’m anxious or depressed or whatever. Why would I do that?”

GSR is used in the burgeoning field of neuromarketing, which relies on biometric data to tell advertisers how consumers are reacting to internet ads, for instance. GSR bracelets would allow marketers to better understand shoppers’ emotional and physical reactions to advertisements, and how those ads can be altered to persuade people to click on a web ad.

Susan Ohanian, a longtime educator and a fellow at the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University, said school districts should think twice before adopting neuromarketing technology used by some of the country’s largest corporations, including Google and Frito-Lay.

Adoption of GSR bracelets in education, Ohanian said, is an invitation down the futuristic dystopian rabbit hole.

“Maybe the next step is for the bracelet to zap them with electric current when their attention wanders,” she wrote in a blog post.  “And then the next generation will be the Galvanic Skin Response bracelet on every teacher—to zap her when she veers from the Common Core curriculum.”

Objective measurements for teacher performance has become a centerpiece of school improvement, Ravitch wrote, but using funding from large nonprofits to develop GSR bracelet use in university labs won’t be greeted kindly by many in education.

“Yes, there is a line that separates educationally sound ideas from crackpot theories,” she wrote. “Yes, there is reason to be concerned about the degree of wisdom—or lack thereof—that informs the decisions of the world’s richest and most powerful foundations.

“And yes,” Ravitch continued, “we must worry about what part of our humanity is inviolable, what part of our humanity cannot be invaded by snoopers, what part of our humanity is off-limits to those who wish to quantify our experience and use it for their own purposes, be it marketing or teacher evaluation.”

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