- The Houston School District's student badge system for buses, which began as a pilot at some two dozen schools in October, now stretches across the district, Houston Public Media reports.
- As part of the system — which is "an effort to improve safety, efficiency and communication with parents," the article notes — students swipe a form of identification when they get on or off a school bus, keeping parents in the loop with where their child is, when they've boarded a bus and when they've reached their destination.
- The system also gives the district more insight on ways to adjust its "hub" transportation system, which requires certain students to leave their immediate neighborhoods to catch their bus. By using these IDs to track their movements, the article says, not only can parents can keep tabs on their children and make sure they're safe, but the district can also use data of who's riding the bus to continue evolving its routes.
Tracking student movement makes sense from a practical perspective, but it is not a new idea. The use of student badges began in some school districts as early as 2005, and it came with mixed reception. Initially, badges were used primarily to track attendance and to allow a school district to capture more dollars based on attendance —dollars that could be lost if a student was in another part of the building when homeroom attendance was counted. Though that idea had merit in keeping better records, it did not result in significantly higher attendance numbers.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has opposed the idea from the beginning, especially if badges are equipped with RFID or GPS technology that allows school personnel to monitor students' every move. There are also safety concerns about improper data use. One district even faced a lawsuit from a parent who objected on religious grounds, but lost that battle in federal court.
However, many students and parents have been accepting of the idea, especially as the technology becomes more familiar. While privacy is still a concern, some adults are now more comfortable with the idea of GPS tracking on their phones in an app-happy world where things like stores and restaurants appear based on your location. Plus, many colleges use badges regularly for meal plans, book purchases and other reasons.
For minor students, the idea could make even more sense, especially in a safety-conscious culture. School officials can more easily track students' locations, and parents can stay informed through texts or apps if a student is not where he or she should be. Badges can also be used for other purposes, from buying food in the cafeteria to voting for prom queen. For better or worse, the technology could be here to stay.