Some school districts in California, Texas and Kentucky are using a GPS student tracking and mentoring program called Attendance Improvement Management (AIM). This service has been steadily gaining schools as clients since 2005 and has made huge fans of some school administrators and judges dealing with chronic truancy cases.
The AIM program has two aspects to helping kids at risk of dropping out or with chronic truancy. The first is mentoring, and there is a body of evidence supporting the benefits of providing additional mentoring to at risk kids.
The second aspect is tracking, by providing each at risk student with a bulky cellphone sized GPS device, and this raises a red flag for me. The ramifications of tracking students’ locations should be very carefully considered before we proceed down this path.
Frankly, I side with those who believe the GPS tracking aspect of this program is an inappropriate way to address school truancy. These kids aren’t violent criminals who represent such a threat to society that a permanently affixed GPS ankle bracelet is a needed safeguard. If this is an adequate reason for schools to track teens every movement, what’s next?
The company points to their success results and they are impressive, but what isn’t clear is how much can be attributed to the GPS element. See the sidebar about the company’s very hands-on mentoring, and I suspect this much attention from a mentor is the real driver of change. In fact, the company itself says it is the mentoring aspect that is the most important factor in success.
I question the accuracy of results on a GPS device that isn’t firmly affixed to the user. If I had been a truant teen, I’d have just left it with a friend who was at school. If I had to enter a code periodically, the friend would do that too. If I can figure this out, truant teens are already doing it.
I also am concerned about the motivation of the schools adopting the program. I firmly believe all schools want to help kids succeed, but what came up frequently in the interviews posted on the company’s website, as well as in the company’s own results (see below) is another, very different motivator.
When money is part of an equation about whether we should track our students’ every move, we’re in very murky water.
If the AIM program did not raise school revenues, would they still find it acceptable to trample their student’s privacy by monitoring their locations?
I’m against tracking the location of students at all. But if we somehow got past that hurdle, a host of other questions arise. Who can access that data? What if it’s hacked or abused? These devices track teens location 24/7 not just during school hours – where’s the justification for that? What if law enforcement wants the information? Or parents? Or…
Just because there is technology to help solve a problem, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use it. When technology tramples privacy, it’s time to ask hard questions