Why Use Biometric Technology in K12 Schools?
Dr. Anne Marie Dunphy
Dr. Raymond J. Fry
Biometric technology has become an accepted method of identification in many aspects of our lives.
Specifically, biometrics provide an ideal solution for school administrators in their efforts to identify students, deliver accurate and auditable student records and ensure a safer and more secure environment for students, teachers and staff.
One of the many challenges facing school administrators today is accurately and quickly identifying students. The bottom line is that schools receive federal and state funds based on accurate and auditable records. In addition, schools need to ensure a safe and secure environment for everyone on campus.
Now more than ever, accurate student identification is key to the efficient operations of a school. Schools in the U.S. and world-wide have been implementing biometrics in order to streamline operations, increase teaching time and improve security.
The purpose of this paper is to provide information and guidance to those who are either unfamiliar with biometric technology and/or are unfamiliar with the unique needs and requirements of schools.
What are Biometrics?
Biometrics are automated methods of recognizing a person based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic, for example, fingerprint recognition, face recognition, iris recognition, retinal recognition, palmprint recognition, speech (soundprint) recognition, vein recognition, gene recognition – anything that’s a part of you. Fingerprint recognition is by far the most adopted technology. The technology is mature, trusted, cost-effective and easy to use.
Biometrics is not a new technology. The ancient Egyptians used bodily characteristics to identify workers to make sure they didn’t claim more provisions than they were entitled - just like companies today are using biometrics to reduce fraud, for example, employees clocking-in with biometric time clocks. Chinese merchants in the fourteenth century used palmprints and footprints to identify children.
When people think about biometrics, they often think about security for their smart phones or banking applications. What most people don’t realize is that biometrics, specifically finger scanning biometrics, have been used in schools in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
♦ There are more than 2 million students who use biometrics every day in their schools in 48 states, U.S. territories and international American Schools.
♦ West Virginia, a pioneer in biometrics in K12 education, is leading the country with over 70% of their districts using biometrics in their school food service operations to increase efficiency, accuracy, accountability and speed.
♦ According to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), West Virginia also has been leading the country in school breakfast participation for four years in a row. Biometrics plays a big part in implementing efficient breakfast programs so more children can eat.
More than 2 million students
are using biometrics everyday.
♦ The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students be given enough time to eat their school lunch. Biometrics can speed lunch lines up to 23%. This means enough time to eat and more children who can have a nourishing meal.
♦ Biometrics can speed tardy student identification and processing up to 93% allowing students to quickly get to class, improving their instructional experience and freeing up valuable staff time to be used for more important educational activities.
♦ Biometrics for staff time and attendance can significantly improve administrative operations and efficiency by reducing payroll errors, which account for 1% - 7% of total payroll costs. Biometrics also appears to be the most effective method for preventing time theft, or "buddy punching," which costs up to 7% of gross payroll annually. According to studies by the American Payroll Association, 43% of employees interviewed committed some sort of time theft. Only 3% of those were able to do so using biometric time clocks.
When did fingerprint biometrics start?
Fingerprint biometrics began to be scientifically developed at the end of the 19th century with the work of Sir Francis Galton. Galton detailed the first classification system for fingerprints and identified three types of characteristics for fingerprints - loop, whorl, and arch - which are still in use today.
Fingerprinting technology began to come into widespread use in the United States in the early 20th century. By the 1990s, a computerized system of storing and cross-referencing records known as Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems, or AFIS, was being used throughout the country.
In the US, the National Child Identification Program was launched in 1997 with the goal of using fingerprints in a national database to help locate and identify missing children. Since its inception, the National Child ID Program has distributed more than 4.2 million ID kits to the parents of students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Fingerprint identification is the oldest method that has been successfully used for many decades in numerous applications. Each of our ten fingerprints is different from one another and from those of every other person. Even identical twins have unique fingerprints. That makes them ideal for personal identification. A fingerprint is made of a series of ridges and furrows on the surface of the finger. The uniqueness of a fingerprint is determined by the pattern of ridges and furrows as well as the minutiae points. Minutiae points are local ridge characteristics that occur when a ridge splits apart or a ridge ends.
What’s the difference between finger printing and finger scanning?
There are several significant differences between law enforcement fingerprinting applications and consumer finger scanning identification software. Finger printing captures rolled images of all ten fingers. Rolled images capture unique identifying points on the entire finger surface in order to collect the maximum number of unique identifying points. The purpose is to identify suspects based on fingerprint images directly taken from a crime scene.
On the other hand, finger scanning uses flat images of only two fingers to create templates. Flat images reveal the center of the finger and require only a minimum of unique identifying points in order to make a match. The purpose is to identify a person who has already voluntarily enrolled in the software for the expressed purpose of identification.
How does finger scanning biometrics work?
Here's how finger scanning biometrics work.
When the person returns to be identified, the biometric software again scans the finger. The software now compares the new template with the other templates in the database. When a matching template is found, the person is identified. The whole process takes about one second to complete.
Why do school administrators want to use finger scanning biometrics?
Biometric technology is a tool that helps them to simplify the school day, to save time and money, and to improve operations. Finger scanning biometric technology can also provide benefits in terms of convenience, safety, speed, accuracy and security.
Finger scanning has been used to improve efficiency, operations and security in U.S. schools since the late 1990s and in European schools since the early 2000s. Biometric finger scanning technology offers a cost-effective, reliable, easy and efficient way for school administrators to know for certain who is in their schools, where the students are each period of the day, and that they receive the services they require and deserve. For example, accurate records in the cafeteria are critical for reimbursement from the federal government’s $14 billion National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.
While biometric identification has been used in specific applications for more than a century, we’re now living in a world that is making a real push toward biometrics for both identification and access-based technology in consumer goods. For example, according to Acuity Market Intelligence, biometric technology is experiencing rapid growth with fingerprint biometrics occupying the lion’s share - about 60% - of the market.
As biometrics are becoming an integral part of our daily lives, the use and acceptance of biometrics in schools is rapidly growing, as well. The technology is most often being used for food service, attendance, library, transportation, applied learning, and security purposes with finger scanning being the primary modality.
Biometrics is also growing in other areas of the world. For example, four out of ten secondary schools in the United Kingdom – more than 1 million students – currently use finger scanning to identify their students. In the Osun state in Nigeria, all students use biometric smart cards. India, which has the largest biometric database in the world, expects to complete cataloging biometric and demographic data for each of their 1.25-billion residents, including students, in the next several years.
What are some practical applications for finger scanning in schools?
Many areas in a school require identification. The most common kinds of identification currently in use are picture ID cards, Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), and, of course, visual identification. Each of these methods creates its own issues and is a drain on the time and resources of IT departments.
Cards are regularly forgotten, lost, mutilated and shared; PINs are easily forgotten, swapped or stolen. Also, visual identification is a poor solution, especially with today’s considerable security concerns, employee turnover and reporting issues. By using biometrics for identification, the problems and costs associated with the current methods are avoided and new standards of accountability are put into place.
Food Service: A typical first installation in a school is for food service operations where accurate records are critical for reimbursement from the federal government’s $14 billion National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. Virtually all cafeteria debit systems use swipe cards or PINs. Schools are now using finger scanning biometrics to eliminate the expense and problems associated with these systems and to ensure accurate reporting. Finger scanning biometrics are also being used in the classroom for grab ‘n go breakfast and lunch, on food carts and food trucks and in vending machines to increase reimbursements and decrease costs.
By implementing a finger scanning biometric system with the cafeteria point-of-sale application, accurate reporting for students entitled to free or reduced meals is provided anonymously, with the important result of increasing participation by eliminating embarrassment. In addition, student accounts are secure, eliminating the time and expense for administration and parents investigating and paying for student account breaches. The School Nutrition Association encourages the evaluation of biometric technology to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in school nutrition program management in their Keys to Excellence: Standards of Practice for Nutrition Integrity document.
Attendance: As the National Center on Time & Learning suggests, learning takes time. Places where students get more school hours with “time on task” are places where students tend to learn more. Every second of a class meeting matters and taking attendance requires time. The larger the class, potentially the more time required. And with today’s innovative learning solutions like student-directed resource centers, attendance taking is even more complex.
Finger scanning biometrics streamlines this administrative task that is a critical part of classroom management. Finger scanning biometric solutions eliminate errors by creating accountability and transparency. Hidden costs are dramatically reduced. Productivity and efficiency are significantly improved.
School administrators are being held accountable by federal and state governmental funding sources for accurate and auditable attendance records because certain funding is provided based on the number of students who attend the school each day. Finger scanning biometric technology provides administrators with irrefutable proof of student attendance for accurate and auditable reporting. In addition, administrators can be provided with period-by-period attendance records in real-time, quickly identifying students who are not in the appropriate classrooms.
There is a myriad of uses for finger scanning biometrics and attendance. For example, meeting attendance in the classroom, daily attendance at the front entrance or homeroom, tardy management and early dismissal, minute-based attendance, simulated workplace in the classroom, secondary school and college dual credit, individualized learning programs, open campus solutions and clocking in and out. In addition, teachers of large classes, such as band, orchestra, chorus, study hall and physical education can use the entire classroom period for instruction instead of using valuable time to take attendance.
Library & Media Center: Today’s school libraries are complex media centers. School libraries store hundreds of thousands of dollars of schools’ assets such as books, periodicals, recordings and pieces of art. Librarians are using finger scanning biometrics to replace library cards eliminating the sharing of library cards with students who have overdue materials as well as speeding up the check-out process.
Irrefutable proof for accurate
and auditable records.
School Access: A controlled environment is critical to a school’s success. Access to the school must be permitted only to authorized persons. Students, teachers, staff and recurring visitors can be accurately time-stamped and identified using finger scanning biometric technology and attendance or check-in applications. Administrators then have an irrefutable record of the date and time of each person’s entry into the building. Finger scanning biometric systems can assure administrators that those entering their schools are authorized to be there.
Health Center: School nurses are charged with dispensing medication to students every day. In many schools, teachers and substitutes dispense medication when the school nurse is unavailable. Finger scanning biometrics provides an irrefutable record of medication dispensing and reduces the risk of potential life-threatening errors, a growing concern with more and more medication being dispensed every day.
Transportation: School students get lost or get off at wrong schools and bus stops each day, especially young students. New bus drivers are hired throughout the school year due to turnover. This makes it difficult for them to get to know the students well enough to visually identify them and where they belong. School districts use finger scanning biometrics on buses in order to help the drivers know if the students are on the correct bus and get off at the correct stops. Parents know in real time exactly when and where their child got off the bus. In case of emergencies, school administrators know in real-time which children are still on the bus.
Staff Time & Attendance: Finger scanning biometric time & attendance solutions eliminate errors by creating accountability and transparency. Hidden costs of payroll are dramatically reduced. Productivity and efficiency are significantly improved. Finger scanning biometrics eliminates “buddy punching,” dramatically reduces the time it takes to fill out, submit and approve timesheets and reduces overpayments by creating accountability. Employees know that they are being monitored and cannot get away with arriving late, taking long breaks and making early departures. Finger scanning biometrics also improves scheduling for better workforce utilization by eliminating unnecessary overtime costs caused by an unbalanced distribution of work.
Other Applications: Finger scanning biometrics can assist large schools in hallway monitoring. This technology can also be applied to off-site student identification for field trips and outdoor events. Emergency identification as a result of a fire or school shooting is a critical use of this technology. Other applications include student identification at athletic events and school dances.
What about privacy issues with finger scanning?
Overall acceptance of biometrics has risen substantially over the past two decades due to the aftermath of 9/11, the proliferation of identity theft, technology improvements, biometric security and payment features on smartphones, and a better understanding of biometrics in general. Most people now recognize that finger scanning biometrics actually protect their privacy. However, there are still some who are fearful of “someone stealing my identity.”
Unfortunately, the inability to separate myths from facts has resulted in certain legislators proposing to ban or restrict the use of biometrics in schools. We recommend that lawmakers learn and understand the facts, rather than banning technology that facilitates daily administrative tasks for school administrators and provides safeguards for children. The focus should be on how the technology is being used, what data is being collected and what safeguards are in place to protect students’ privacy.
Banning technology is a huge step backward and takes away the freedom of choice for communities and their school administrators. Whether it’s banning books or banning technology, we believe that a blanket prohibition by politicians based on unwarranted fears is irrational and irresponsible.
The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) introduced the Student Privacy Pledge to safeguard student privacy regarding the collection, maintenance, and use of student personal information. These organizations provide excellent guidelines and resources in the area of student privacy. A Best Practice is to make sure that any vendor who provides technologies that impact student privacy is a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge.
Another recommendation is to communicate, educate and train the people who will be involved in your biometric programs. This is usually the weak link in implementing any new technology and implementing biometrics is no different. Make sure everyone – parents, teachers, students, administrators, the school board and the media have up to date and accurate information about biometrics and your biometric program. This will ensure the whole process is transparent and runs smoothly and easily.
Is the use of biometrics safe during Covid-19?
Yes! Biometric finger scanners are still a safe, hygienic solution for student and staff ID management in schools during Covid-19.
Studies show that ID cards, PIN pads, swipe card machines and even cellphones are downright filthy and contaminated with viruses, bacteria and germs. Talking produces potentially dangerous respiratory droplets if the infected person is close enough. Even “contactless" ID card solutions require the user to present a card that’s full of contamination, easily spread onto your sanitary surfaces.
The beauty of the biometric finger scanner is that the outside covering is a simple plastic casing with a small glass plate about the size of the tip of an index finger. There are no nooks and crannies that harbor germs. It has only one spot to touch with the tip of one finger. Most importantly, in a world where there is little control over the sanitation of people and objects, you have control over the cleanliness of the finger scanners and the finger tips that touch them by using recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and the research literature.
First, the CDC suggests that “based on what is currently known about COVID-19, spread from person-to-person of this virus happens most frequently among close contacts (within about 6 feet). This type of transmission occurs via respiratory droplets. On the other hand, transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented.”
The CDC goes on to say that it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Transmission of Covid-19 occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through objects and surfaces, like doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, toys, finger scanners, etc.
In terms of cleaning and disinfecting, the CDC suggests that frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. According to the CDC, the use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol to disinfect electronics is recommended.
The research literature is full of studies about the effectiveness of alcohol as a germicide and disinfectant. Many of the studies are focused on the hospital setting where hygienic and surgical hand disinfection is crucial. For example, a study by M.L. Rotter entitled Arguments for Alcoholic Hand Disinfection, suggested that alcohols exert the strongest and fastest activity against a wide spectrum of bacteria and fungi as well as enveloped viruses. They are of low toxicity, simple, economical and offer acceptable skin tolerability.
A Purdue University study done by researchers Blomeke, Elliot, & Walter entitled Bacterial Survivability and Transferability on Biometric Devices found that biometric finger scanners were no dirtier than doorknobs. The researchers concluded that a person is not any more likely to become ill from touching a biometric device than from a plain, old-fashioned doorknob.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, our whole world has changed. The cleaning process for finger scanners has not. A 70% alcohol solution or alcohol wipes have always been recommended to clean biometric finger scanners. This is one area in your school that can operate "business as usual."
Eventually, schools will open to full-time attendance, not only with the same challenges as before, but with new challenges, for example, the difficulty in communication wearing masks. School districts continue to see the value in finger scanning biometrics - not in spite of these times – but because of these times. Not only is finger scanning biometrics simple, easy and fast, it also provides the additional value of efficiency, accountability and, most importantly, safety. None of that has changed.
In our current world, school administrators are faced with a myriad of problems never encountered in previous decades. Accurate and auditable attendance and reporting is vital in not only securing, but also maintaining, essential governmental funding. Security has become a significant concern. It is now crucial that school administrators know who is in their schools and where the students are at all times. Accurate identification of students is now critical in all aspects of the day-to-day management and administration of our schools.
By utilizing finger scanning biometrics for identification and security, the problems and costs associated with the current expensive or inaccurate methods of identification are avoided. Finger scanning biometrics is the missing component that provides the irrefutable accuracy that has long been needed in our schools. School administrators can take control of their student and staff ID management and focus more on what they do best - providing an engaging environment for educating students and operating superb programs.
About the Authors
Anne Marie Dunphy, Ph.D. is the Chief Financial Officer and co-founder of identiMetrics. Anne Marie brings a diverse background of professional expertise to identiMetrics, including Investment Banking and Technology Management, and has served in executive positions for several financial institutions and private companies. Anne Marie owned and operated a successful chain of childcare centers in the Philadelphia area and started her career as a teacher. She received her Masters in Business Administration in Finance & Marketing from Villanova University and her Doctorate in Industrial & Organizational Psychology from Grand Canyon University.
Raymond Jay Fry, Ed.D. is the President, CEO and co-founder of identiMetrics. Jay has a wealth of experience, having been a Teacher, a College Dean and the Principal and Senior Administrator for a public school district in the Chicago area where he planned and opened a school for about 1,000 students. He also served as that district’s technology coordinator, playing a significant role in the development of educational and technology policies and instruction. As a published author and an accomplished musician, Jay is also a two-time Fulbright Scholar, holds a list of professional and honorary accomplishments and received his Doctorate in Educational Administration from the University of Illinois.
Since co-founding identiMetrics in 2002, both Jay and Anne Marie have had numerous articles published and have made numerous presentations using their expertise in, among other topics, biometrics in education.