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Biden Education Department worried AI in the classroom might be used to spy on teachers

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The Department of Education is worried that artificial intelligence systems could be used to surveil teachers once the systems are introduced into the classroom and warned in a new report that allowing that to happen would make teachers’ jobs “nearly impossible.”

The department released a report this week on “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning,” which also argued that AI should never be used to replace human teachers.

The report is aimed at assessing the prospects of expanding AI into the classroom. While it says that AI could make teaching more efficient and help tailor lesson plans to individual students, it warned that AI might also expose teachers to increased surveillance once deployed.

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“When we enable a voice assistant in the kitchen, it might help us with simple household tasks like setting a cooking timer,” the report said. “And yet the same voice assistant might hear things that we intended to be private. This kind of dilemma will occur in classrooms and for teachers.”

The report envisions the possibility of AI being used in live classroom settings to capture data that helps teachers do their jobs, such as by recommending certain resources based on the topics being taught, but that comes with the added risk for teachers.

“The same data might also be used to monitor the teacher, and that monitoring might have consequences for the teacher,” it said. “Achieving trustworthy AI that makes teachers’ jobs better will be nearly impossible if teachers experience increased surveillance.”

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The department concluded that when AI is considered for use in the classroom, efforts should be made to ensure “adequate” protections against teacher surveillance. Other questions that need to be asked are whether AI is easing the teaching burden, whether teachers have control over AI-enabled tools, and how AI might be used to “improve equity, reduce bias, and increase cultural awareness.”

The Biden administration’s push for AI systems that avoid teacher surveillance has the potential to reignite the political fight over how much authority teachers have over students, and what rights parents have to know what is being taught. Just last week, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona tweeted that “teachers know what is best for their kids,” and “we must trust teachers,” which led to complaints from prominent Republicans that parents need to have substantive input into school curricula.

The administration has also been under attack from Republicans and parents groups after the Department of Justice released a memo in 2021 that urged officials to investigate threats of violence against local school administrators and teachers. That memo came out after the National School Boards Association urged the administration to consider these threats as a form of “domestic terrorism.”

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The group later apologized for using that term, but Republicans have since accused the Biden administration of siding with teachers and working against parents who seek information about what their kids are being taught and aren’t always getting answers.

The Department of Education’s report also stressed several times that AI should never be a substitute for human teachers.

“Some teachers worry that they may be replaced — to the contrary, the Department firmly rejects the idea that AI could replace teachers,” it said. “At no point do we intend to imply that AI can replace a teacher, a guardian, or an educational leader as the custodian of their students’ learning.”

The report recommended that as AI becomes a part of the classroom, policymakers should work to “always center educators (ACE).”

“Practically speaking, practicing ‘ACE in AI’ means keeping a humanistic view of teaching front and center,” it said. “ACE leads the Department to confidently respond ‘no’ when asked ‘will AI replace teachers?’”

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