If you thought Louisiana’s Compass teacher evaluation system was controversial, take a look at what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is spending $1.1 million to study: ‘Galvanic’ bracelets to physiologically measure student engagement in the classroom.

The Washington Post reports that studies are under way at both Clemson University and the National Center on Time and Learning to measure the feasibility of “galvanic skin response” bracelets that students would wear to measure how effective their teachers are in engaging the kids they teach.

The goal of the Clemson study, according to the description of Gates’ $498,055 grant for the university, is to work with a “Measuring Effective Teachers” team to explore “using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.” Say what?

The purpose of the $621,265 grant given to the time and learning center is “To measure engagement physiologically with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Galvanic Skin Response to determine correlations between each measure and develop a scale that differentiates different degrees or levels of engagement:”
That’s more than $1.1 million that could have been spent on things that schools actually need, such as books, teachers, librarians, etc.

The foundation gave the awards as part of its Measuring Effective Teachers project , which is experimenting with teacher evaluation systems in seven school districts nationwide. Millions of dollars have gone into these evaluation experiments, which, among other things, have involved the use of standardized test scores to assess teacher effectiveness (a bad idea), as well as the questionable videotaping of teachers. And now, bracelets.

[Longtime teacher and national reform opponent Susan] Ohanian notes here that the kind of technology needed to develop galvanic bracelets is part of the “emerging field of neuromarketing,” which “relies on biometric technologies to determine a participant’s emotional and cognitive response to certain stimuli.”

Wa-Po notes that the Gates grants were awarded more than seven months ago but weren’t brought to light until Ohanian and Diane Ravitch, an education reform critic and former policy adviser under President George W. Bush, discussed the studies recently on their blogs.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a generous donor for the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans, ponying up millions to aid in the conversion of the city’s public schools to privately run charters, according to the Louisiana School Boards Association website. 

Read more here.

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