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Feeding the Edu-Tech beast

| Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Common Core school standards' gold rush is on. Apple, Pearson, Google, Microsoft and Amplify all are cashing in on the federal one-size-fits-all standards/testing/textbook racket. But the Edu-Tech boondoggle is no boon for students. It's more squandered tax dollars down the public school drain.

Even more worrisome: The stampede is widening a dangerous path toward invasive data mining.

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the Edu-Tech sector “is expected to more than double in size to $13.4 billion by 2017.” That explosive growth is fueled by Common Core's top-down digital learning and testing mandates.

Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District dumped $1 billion into a disastrous iPad program. Educrats paid $678 per glorified Apple e-textbook, pre-loaded with Common Core-branded apps created by Pearson.

Students breached the iPad firewalls and made a mockery of their hapless adult guardians. Despite hefty investments in training and development, many teachers couldn't figure out how to sync up the tablets in the classroom. Taxpayers now realize they were sold a grossly inflated bill of goods, but the district wants to buy even more iPads for computerized test-taking.

By its own account, Apple dominates 94 percent of the education tablet market in the U.S. Microsoft is pushing its own Common Core-aligned Surface RT tablet and app suite, along with “Bing for Schools.” Rival Google wants in on the game on the taxpayers' dime, too. The company's “Chromebooks,” which use a cloud-based operating system mimicking the Google Chrome browser, are gaining market share rapidly.

But is this about improving students' academic bottom line — or Google's bottom line?

In one school district, the Google devices are used as glorified whiteboards. A recent news article touting Chromebook adoption in Nebraska's Council Bluffs school district described how kindergartners drew “dots on the rubber-cased tablets clutched in their hands. Then they wrote what they'd done as a math equation: 3 + 3 = 6.” No one explained why pencil and paper were insufficient to do the elementary math, other than a teacher gushing that she likes to “mix it up” and provide a “variety of experiences.”

Google also is building brand loyalty through a questionable certification program that essentially turns teachers into tax-subsidized lobbyists for the company. The Google Apps for Education (GAFE) enrollees are “trained” on Google products.

Google can collect student/family data to target ads through related services outside the GAFE suite, such as YouTube for Schools, Blogger and Google Plus. These are not covered under the already watered-down federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Under the Obama administration, Grand Canyon-sized loopholes in the act have opened data mining to third-party private entities.

One savvy mom noted, “If you think Google won't be handing over any and all data it gets from your kids using their Chromebooks, you're nuts.”

Let's be clear: I am not opposed to introducing kids to 21st-century tools. What I'm against are bungled billion-dollar public investments in overpriced, ineffective technology. Fed Ed's shiny education toy syndrome incentivizes wasteful spending binges that no school district can afford.

Michelle Malkin is the author of “Culture of Corruption: Obama and his Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies” (Regnery 2009).

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