Opt Out: “The Data We’re Receiving Would Look Like Swiss Cheese”, The Easter Egg At A Congressional Hearing On Student Privacy

On Tuesday, the Education and Workforce Committee held a Congressional hearing called “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students”.  With one parent advocate, one data guy from the Georgia Department of Education, and two corporate schills (yes, there were two, more on that one later).  The hearing was stacked with U.S. Representatives who are, shall we say, sympathetic to the data-testing regime.  We all know the type!

If you looked at the witness list for who was giving testimony at this hearing on the EdWorkforce website, you can see who they were:

WitnessList

So who are these people?  Rachael Strickland is the co-founder and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.  Neil Campbell is the Policy Director for Next Generation Reforms at the Foundation for Excellence in Education (Jeb Bush’s company).  Jane Hannaway is with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.  Robert Swiggum is the Deputy Superintendent for the Georgia Department of Education.  But one of these four has another job, which the Education and Workforce Committee did not include on their website.  During the hearing, this person’s other job wasn’t even discussed at all.  But it is a whopper.  So which one was it?

The day before the hearing, I received an email from the EdWorkforce Committee notifying me of the hearing.  They had the exact same witnesses in the email, but one of them has a different job:

EdWorkforceCommitteeEmail

Take a good look at Dr. Jane Hannaway… Institute Fellow, American Institutes for Research.  Also known as AIR, this is the company that was instrumental in creating the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  They are my state’s vendor for Smarter Balanced.  They are all over the place.  Now why would the United States Education and Workforce Committee not mention that glaring fact at all?  Why would they not include it on their website and have the witness, sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, not mention this at all?  In fact non-Government employees are required to fill out a “Truth In Testimony” form prior to any Congressional hearing.  Ms. Strickland and Mr. Campbell both listed their affiliated sources, but Ms. Hannaway didn’t list any organizations.  Even though she wrote about her affiliation with AIR in her testimony, it wasn’t spoken out loud.

There are some key points I want to highlight from Hannaway’s testimony, with my thoughts in red:

Almost every state has developed an individual student level longitudinal administrative data system. These data systems have substantive and technical research advantages, as well as efficiency virtues.

Substantive, technical, and efficiency virtues: Can we say cha-ching?  Show me the money?

Because the data are existing working files – created, maintained and used by the state for administrative purposes – they are readily available for approved research purposes.

I have no doubt the states are making these “readily available”.  And I’m sure they pay a pretty penny to make it so!

Having data already in hand means the turnaround time for getting feedback on the results of new policies is short, allowing informed decision making about whether to discontinue, modify or continue particular policies and practices. Indeed, some decisions of interest can be made almost in real time.

Decision making, policies, practices: This lady is combing through your child’s data.  She doesn’t at a government agency, but I’m sure she does work for government agencies.  How are these corporations setting policy?  Very frightening…

The files include data on all students and all teachers in the state over a number of years. So data on students of interest for a particular intervention or for a particular study, say 8th graders, or high performing students, or disadvantaged students can be easily selected.

“A particular intervention”… sounds like something every parent should worry about.  Note the word “all”: all teachers, all students.  They have it set up so they can “shop” through the data for any possible category they want.  I didn’t underline this for emphasis.  It was underlined in her testimony.

Indeed, because teachers can be linked in the data to their students and students’ test scores, teachers can also be compared in terms of their performance. Indeed, some of the most important finding from studies using longitudinal data have focused on teacher effectiveness.

Because that data has given us so many unreasonable conclusions, I find that data inconclusive.  And yet, here is Hannaway continuing to use the biggest fallacy of our time…

For example, regression discontinuity designs can assess the effect of, say, receiving an award on subsequent behavior by comparing results for students just above and below the performance award threshold.

In other words, they set the “performance award threshold”, aka, the high-stakes standardized test scores, based on a point where there would always be some above or below the threshold.  We will NEVER have maximum proficiency.

The advantages in terms of policy insights of individual education data are also substantially expanded when linked to later individual measures in areas beyond education, such as labor market (employment and earnings), justice and health outcomes.

Basically, she is saying we are going to use this data to track and catalog every individual student and determine your outcome for you based on high-stakes standardized testing data.

The state anonymizes the data before researchers receive them. Each student is assigned a state-constructed unique student id (USI) that is used by researchers to link data for each student across years and schools.

So instead of giving a name and social security number, I’ll call this the number of the beast scenario.  For “each student”… has anyone read “Revelations” recently?

Hannaway said, when asked about opt out and what it does to the data: “The data we’re receiving would look like Swiss cheese.”  She couldn’t have said it any better!  If you never had a reason to opt your child out before, know that your child’s “unique” number of the beast, assigned by your state, is given to all education agencies who ask for it from your state.  They base conclusions and policy and decisions, which become laws, based on that crappy test your child takes once a year.  Do your child a favor: make some Swiss cheese for companies like American Institutes for Research.  It is the ONLY way this nonsense will ever stop!  We need MORE Swiss Cheese!

To watch the full video, watch below.  The hearing doesn’t begin until the 6:37 mark.

Campbell looks really nervous at several points during this hearing.  He keeps wringing his hands.  Is that because he is afraid of what will come out or guilt?  Or is he generally a nervous guy?

I love how Swiggum says that states own the data.  Really?  Does the Delaware DOE “own” the data on my child?  His academic performance, social-emotional behavior, all that… they “own” it?  I don’t think so.  If they own it, they should take better care of it!

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Delaware Senator Sokola Introduces Student Data Protection Legislation

Delaware Senator David Sokola introduced Senate Bill 79 on May 1st.  This bill would force school districts and the Delaware Department of Education to effectively govern the use of student data in conjunction with existing state and federal law.  I would have thought most of this was part of state law already.  Certainly, federal FERPA law already trumps state law, and even they have allowed student data and information to get out to contracted vendors for “educational benefit”.