The Delaware Senate passed a bill dealing with the Freedom of Information Act on Wednesday but placed an amendment on the bill. The amendment on Senate Bill 258 removes the terms “data dictionaries” and “file layouts”. By including those terms in the potential law, it would essentially prevent parents from finding out what type of student information is going to outside companies from the Delaware Department of Education. I wrote about this bill on May 19th in a very long article about student data privacy and technology in our schools. I emailed the entire Senate at the same time. As a result of my efforts, an amendment was attached to the bill removing the term “data dictionaries” and “file layouts”.
Sources informed me the state was receiving an abnormal amount of requests about the state IT infrastructure which caused much concern. While it is not unusual to receive these requests, one source who requested anonymity stated, “It was an excessive amount of requests within a short period of time. Red flags went up!”
By preventing parents from being able to find out this kind of information regarding student data, the bill could have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). As part of FERPA, parents do have certain rights in asking for information about what records are released about their child. I am glad the Delaware Senate Executive Committee took this step and listened to my concern. I’m not sure if others expressed the same concern, but if they did, thank you! A special thank you to the sponsor of this legislation, State Senator Brian Bushweller, who immediately responded to my thoughts on the matter and took action.
Google describes data dictionaries as the following:
a set of information describing the contents, format, and structure of a database and the relationship between its elements, used to control access to and manipulation of the database.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell sure is going out with a bang. New legislation introduced a week ago in the Delaware Senate all but ensures any citizen requesting information on student data mining in Delaware will be met with a resounding no. While the legislation mentions nothing about student data, it talks about the Delaware information technology system. This bill would prevent a citizen from filing a FOIA request for the following:
Information technology (IT) infrastructure details, including but not limited to file layouts, data dictionaries, source code, logical and physical design of IT systems and interfaces, detailed hardware and software inventories, network architecture and schematics, vulnerability reports, and any other information that, if disclosed, could jeopardize the security or integrity of an information and technology system owned, operated or maintained by the State or any public body subject to the requirements of this Chapter.
On the surface, it looks like a great bill. But the key words in this legislation are in the data dictionaries. This defines how a system operates and what is included in it. You can see one from the Delaware DOE below, from 2012:
The below are recommendations made to the Delaware DOE from Education Insight. Some of the key words in this document pertain to exactly what is happening now, in current talk and pending legislation. But the parties who come up with these ideas are trying to make it seem like this is brand new. The jig is up. This was planned a long time ago.
The four-year plan for DOE data systems as outlined in Race to the Top will result in a significant expansion in the amount of data available for use within the Department and for sharing with outside organizations. This expansion has implications for how data quality and data access will be managed in the future, and how DOE needs to be organized to meet this demand:
And the below document gives it all away:
Expansion of the warehouse to subject areas such as early childhood, higher education, workforce and social services will increase the need for more formal management of the data interchange process and increasing the demand for sharing of this data with owner organizations.
I have talked to quite a few tech people and none of them understand why “data dictionaries” would be included in this. Especially when it comes to student data. But this bill would exempt them from FOIA requests. So what’s the big deal? Who cares if your child’s data is tracked and catalogued? If they aren’t doing anything wrong it should be no big deal, right? Wrong.
Over a year ago, the documentary “Defies Measurement” showed parents the flaws of standardized testing. Back in February of this year, members of the Pennsylvania Parents Across America in Lower Merion Township began showing the documentary to other parents. As a result, opt-outs in Pennsylvania grew bigger by the day. The Philadelphia Inquirer covered what was going on one weekend in February. One teacher from New Jersey spoke about the threats and intimidation going on:
“They’re trying to use the fear and lack of information to coerce parents,” she said.
The documentary, clocking in at over an hour, is very informative. I encourage all Delaware parents, along with any parent in America who cares about education, to watch the entire thing.
In Delaware, parents opted their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment which began it’s second year of testing a week on March 9th. Because Delaware agreed to replace Smarter Balanced with the SAT for high school juniors, it is expected opt-out numbers may be less than last year, but it is unknown how many parents opted their children out of the SAT this year. There is one documented opt out from, of all schools, the Charter School of Wilmington according to a draft of their April 26th board meeting. Meanwhile, many Delaware legislators played a high-stakes game of chicken in the Delaware House of Representatives. They had an opportunity to override Governor Markell’s veto of Delaware’s opt-out legislation, House Bill 50, back in January. Instead, they hung onto stagnant and outdated excuses by refusing to suspend rules to allow for a full House vote on the override. Even though the legislation does sit on the Ready List for a full house vote, Delaware Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf has given no indication he will put it on the agenda for a full House vote.
Last June, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed House Bill 2655 which allowed parents to opt their child out of the state assessment. The feds pitched a fit, but Brown heard what the people of Oregon were saying.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, their Senate passed their own opt-out legislation with a 39-9 vote. Georgia Senate Bill 355 is also called the “Student/Teacher Protection Act”. This is very similar to how the votes went down in Delaware last spring in our own Senate and House of Representatives. Did Georgia Governor Nathan Deal sign the bill? Not a chance. He vetoed the bill on May 3rd. Like Markell, he defied the will of the people and his own legislature to cater to corporate interests. But of course he covers it up under the guise of, get this, making sure there is “local control”:
Veto Number 15
Senate Bill 355 allows federal, state and locally-mandated assessments to be optional for certain students. At present, local school districts have the flexibility to determine opt-out procedures for its students who cannot take the assessments in addition to those who choose not to take such assessments. As there is no need for state-level intervention in addition to the regulations already set in place on a local level, I VETO SB 355.
As organizations like the National PTA, the United Negro College Fund, and other Gates Foundation supported organizations come out with “position statements” against opt-out, parents are figuring things out on their own. They are putting the pieces together and realizing how bad these tests really are. What many don’t realize is the data mining that is happening right under our very noses. With these computer-adaptive tests, as well as all the personalized or blended learning modules students log into, there are embedded data mining algorithms involved. These algorithms are sent to a joint system owned by the United States Department of Education and the Department of Defense.
Back in 2011, the US DOE and US DOD partnered together to create the Federal Learning Registry. This joint system purported to be a massive sharing mechanism so anyone involved in education could contribute and access. In an article from Local Journal in November, 2011, it describes the Federal Learning Registry as being designed specifically “so that both commercial and public sector partners could freely take part.”
Even Education Week got in on the upcoming data mining explosion that was about to take place in education:
Predictive analytics include an array of statistical methods, such as data mining and modeling, used to identify the factors that predict the likelihood of a specific result.
It is hard for any federal agency to work with another. So why this unprecedented partnership between US DOE and US DOD? Technology has certainly advanced to this point where collaboration can save taxpayers a lot of money. But in looking at the University of Southern California’s report on potential funding opportunities with the Department of Defense, there are some very distrubing ideas presented. One of these is something called the Minerva Initiative:
Human Social, Cultural, and Behavioral Modeling (HSCB) http://minerva.dtic.mil/
In addition to Service core HSCB programs, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) funds S&T programs to address understanding and modeling of human behavior in social and cultural contexts. The basic research component is entitled the Minerva Initiative (see MAPS DOD Chart 128); it is presently administered by ONR.
Another one of these budget items shows where algorithms are changing technology at a rate faster than any of us can imagine or even keep up with:
What is a data-mining algorithm in this case? Microsoft defines it as:
A data mining algorithm is a set of heuristics and calculations that creates a data mining model from data. To create a model, the algorithm first analyzes the data you provide, looking for specific types of patterns or trends. The algorithm uses the results of this analysis to define the optimal parameters for creating the mining model. These parameters are then applied across the entire data set to extract actionable patterns and detailed statistics.
Microsoft, along with Google and Amazon, lobbied heavily against legislation introduced in many states last year. In most of the states, the legislation was amended which allows for these data mining algorithms to go out to different sources. Your child’s data, despite what legislation passed, is not safe. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not recognize the algorithms generated by these types of tests and personalized learning modules. It does forbid any personal identifying information to go out. This is otherwise known as PII. This type of information includes name, social security number, address, birth date, and other easily recognized information. This is the information that schools aren’t allowed to get released to everyone. But the information does go out, in a “de-identified” format. So how would a state DOE keep track of what information is going out? They assign each student a student identification number. So while the PII information doesn’t go out, it is attached to a number.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) covered student data privacy and legislation in several states meant to protect student data in their online April magazine. But like the legislation it glorifies, the article didn’t even touch what happens when outside companies get the de-identified data, make assumptions on it to form policy or assessments, and then send it back to the state. The Every Student Succeeds Act is meant to limit federal control in education. The states and local districts will have more control. But because of the horrible federal mandates of the past eight years, the states are now just satellites of the same corporate education reform madness that infected the US DOE. Instead of one central agency, we now have fifty calling the shots.
When you look closer at NCSL’s “concerns” about student data privacy, it is very alarming to see a study done by the Aspen Institute about the need for outside education companies to obtain student data. This is an organization stacked with more corporate education reform leaders under one membership roof than any other organization I’ve seen. There are many organizations like Aspen, and they all spit out the same bad methodology and education double-talk: high-stakes testing, Common Core, personalized learning, student data “privacy”, school choice, charter schools, turning schools into community centers, and so much more. The problem is more and more of the education organizations that are supposed to be the last wall of defense against these corporate intrusions are joining them. We saw this with the National Educators Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National PTA with the rushed passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Parents have never been more alone in their education battles. In Delaware, our state PTA can’t even talk about opt out due to the immense bullying of the National PTA.
As long as we have high-stakes testing, we will have opt out. But now, happening everywhere across the country, there are many other reasons to opt your child out. Out of anything that could allow your child’s data to be released to any outside organization. Until legislation is passed in every single state stopping this charade, assume your child’s digital footprint is making some company a lot of money. Because the states pay these companies to do the research on YOUR child. And if Delaware has their way, you won’t even be able to track it.
It was for all of these reasons and more that I wrote a Parents Bill of Rights for Education and the accompanying petition. Please sign the petition today and let our political leaders know our children are not data, to be bought and sold. They are human beings. They need to be children, not a part of this absolute destruction of their spirit in the name of corporate wealth. And if you are a parent of a special needs child, a minority student, an English Language learner, or a low-income or poverty student, the time is now to stop listening to civil rights and advocacy groups that spread this disease in public education and start asking yourself- what is this really about?