The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Coalition for a Commercial-Free Childhood released their Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy on May 16th. Full disclaimer, I actively participate and sometimes contribute to discussion surround student data privacy with the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.
As our schools dive into more and more digital technology in classrooms, many parents have seen things that disturb them. Is our children’s data protected? Not as much as you think it might be. The laws surrounding student data privacy are filled with loopholes and confusing wording. It is more imperative than ever that parents wake up to this new reality facing their children.
To that end, I highly praise this report and believe every single school, state agency involving education, and any organization around education should give this to every single parent. Opting out is NOT just about standardized tests, it is also about unwelcome intrusions into things about our children that, frankly, are nobody’s business.
Leonie Haimson, the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, allowed me to share a press release issued by today by the following groups: Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, American Civil Liberties Union, Network for Public Education and NPE Action, Parents Across America, Badass Teachers Association, and New York State Allies for Public Education.
This morning a letter was sent to the federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking from parent groups, education advocates, and privacy experts, urging them against proposing that the ban on a centralized federal database of student personal data be overturned.
Recently, several DC-based groups testified before the Commission, urging that this ban be lifted, which was established by Congress as part of the Higher Education Act in 2008. The Gates Foundation has also announced that the creation of a centralized federal database to track students from preK through college, the workforce and beyond is one of their top advocacy priorities for 2017.
In the letter, parent, privacy and education organizations warned that eliminating this ban would risk that highly sensitive information would breached, as has occurred with sensitive data held by many federal agencies in recent years. A hack into the Office of Personal Management released personnel records of about 22.1 million individuals. More recently, an audit of the US Department of Education found serious security flaws in their data systems, and a government security scorecard awarded the agency an overall grade of D.
Moreover, K-12 student data currently collected by states that would potentially be incorporated in the federal database often include upwards of 700 specific personal data elements, including students’ immigrant status, disabilities, disciplinary records, and homelessness. Data collected ostensibly for the sole purpose of research would likely be merged with other federal agency data and could include information from their census, military service, tax returns, criminal and health records.
Said Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, whose members led the fight against inBloom, designed to capture and share the personal student data of nine states and districts, “A centralized federal database containing the personal data of every public-school student would pose an even greater risk to individual privacy than inBloom. It would allow the government to create dossiers on nearly every United States resident over time, and if breached or abused would cause immeasurable damage.”
As privacy advocates in England recently discovered, the personal information in a similar national student database that the government promised would be used only for research purposes has been secretly requested by the police and by the Home Office, in part to identify and locate undocumented children and their families.
“Our disastrous data privacy situation here in England should serve to warn Americans of the grave dangers of this sort of comprehensive student surveillance and database. The personal confidential information in our National Pupil Database was supposed to be used only for research, but we found out recently that data on thousands of students and their families has been secretly requested by the police and for the purposes of immigration control in just the last 15 months. It would be unwise and irresponsible for the United States to create a similar database, which can so easily be used for political purposes which are not in all children’s best interests,” said Jen Persson, coordinator of defenddigitalme, a privacy and digital rights group in the UK.
Chad Marlow, Advocacy& Policy Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Improving educational opportunities for children and protecting student privacy are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, it is our responsibility as parents, educators, and Americans to doggedly pursue both objectives. Creating any type of centralized database for personally identifiable student data would pose real and significant risks to the privacy of America’s students, and that is why such databases have consistently been rejected in the past. With education policy, as with privacy, ‘do no harm’ is a reasonable place to start, and here, doing no harm clearly requires rejecting any attempts to establish a universal database that compiles and tracks students’ most sensitive information.”
Diane Ravitch, President of the Network for Public Education and NPE Action pointed out, “Whether Democrat or Republican, the one thing parents agree on is the importance of their child’s privacy. To allow the federal government to collect personal and sensitive data on every public-school student in the nation risks that this information would be misused by the government and corporations. “
“Parents Across America opposes any effort to establish a national student record system. Ever since the federal government weakened protections for student privacy, parents have been in a crisis mode. Our children are exposed every school day to a growing mish-mash of screen devices and online programs that capture mountains of their data. We know that the threat to privacy will only get worse if there’s a national record system; education profiteers will line up to tap into an even more convenient source of private student information. But we are determined not to let that happen to our children’s data,” said Julie Woestehoff, Interim Executive Director of Parents Across America.
Lisa Rudley, Executive Director of the NY State Allies for Public Education, observed, “Data collection and sharing of our children’s personally identifiable information should require a parent’s informed consent. Just because the technology of data mining is here, it doesn’t mean children’s privacy rights should be sacrificed.”
“Our children and their families deserve protection of their data. More importantly, we must understand that protecting our children relies upon protecting their personal information from breach or abuse,” concluded Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the Badass Teachers Association.
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:
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:
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!