Category Archives: Invades Privacy

CCSS Invades Your Privacy

We Continue to Build the Machine

We were all deeply disturbed when we learned last week that JFC voted 8-7 to fund the Statewide Student Information System (SSIS).  At the very same time that the legislature is considering data privacy measures, it is essentially funding the construction of the machine that will make data mining possible.  Though painted as an information resource for parents and teachers, the SSIS has ties into Department of Workforce Development, the University of Wisconsin System, the Technical College System, Department of Health, and many other systems throughout the state.  DPI will warehouse personally identifiable information for all the students in the state and link it to various other state agencies.

While it’s true that many people with access to this system will not be able to personally identify students using the system and will only view statistical information, nonetheless, full, personally identifiable information is retained centrally by the SSIS at DPI.  This is the machine by which data mining can occur.  It would only take a small change the the law, or the interpretation of the law, and data could flow to third parties and the federal government.

Some of those legislators have said not to worry, that bills are being introduced in the assembly will protect our children, ensuring that their data remains private.  Indeed Assembly Bill 618 prohibits contractors, consultants and volunteers from viewing personally identifiable information.  That is important, because recently the United States Department of Education has reinterpreted the FERPA laws to allow such people and even corporations to access personally identifiable information.  AB618 also prohibits sharing data with the Federal Government.  However, AB 618 also supports setting up the linkages between state agencies, DPI, the University and Technical College system, and local school districts to build the SSIS.  So, the we’re essentially building the machine to hold massive amounts of student information centrally.  Any agency which the state sees fit to deem in need of such information, will ultimately be linked into the SSIS or Longitudinal Data system.

Limiting who can see student information and prohibiting sharing of such information with the Federal government is great.  However, building a centralized system to hold all the information and encouraging sharing of such information among many state agencies at the same time is counterproductive.  We should be looking to defund the SSIS and prohibit the sharing of personally identifiable information from school districts with any state agency, including DPI, without explicit parental consent.  There is absolutely no need for the State to get between parents, students and their teachers and any bill that purports to support data privacy should not countenance the building of a system that enables the exploitation of personal data.

States Should Move Swiftly to Protect Student Data

States and schools are signing over private data from millions of students to companies and researchers who hope to glean secrets of the human mind.

Nine states have sent dossiers students — including names, Social Security numbers, hobbies, addresses, test scores, attendance, career goals, and attitudes about school —to a public-private database, according to Reuters. Standardized tests are beginning to incorporate psychological and behavioral assessment. Every state is also building databases to collect and share such information among agencies and companies, and the U.S. Department of Education has recently reinterpreted federal privacy laws so schools and governments don’t have to tell parents their kids’ information has been shared.

Promises of researchers’ and governments’ good intentions are not enough to justify this, especially when spending tax dollars, directing government energy, and invading privacy without parent or even school officials’ knowledge. Anything conducted in this manner should be immediately tabled and publicly examined. Stop. Collaborate. And listen to how parents and taxpayers react, after explaining what’s happening.

Very few U.S. citizens want to move even gradually toward a government like that of China, which keeps dossiers on all citizens’ performance and attitudes. These records influence work, political, and school opportunities. Because “everything they do will be recorded for the rest of their life … the dossier discourages any ‘errant’ behavior,” says Chinese professor Ouyang Huhua.

This is not to say big databases equal communist oppression, but here in the United States we do things differently because we believe in self-rule. When the government we are supposed to control has amassed a thicket of data about how we think and can thus manipulate our actions and opportunities, self-rule ends.

Any researcher or organization wanting to plumb data to potentially help kids learn more, faster, can do so without trampling individual rights. Here’s how.

First, historic practice with student records has been to keep them anonymous when shared outside schools. Researchers and even government accountability gurus don’t need to know Sally Smith failed Algebra 1. Her parents and teacher do. Researchers do not need personally identifiable information such as names, Social Security numbers, and addresses. They just need to know, for example, whether lots of students are failing Algebra 1, and in what context. Schools and states should check these privacy firewalls.

Second, students and their guardians should have full access to their records, with the ability to correct false information. They also should be informed of and able to opt out of all data-sharing involving their records. Schools need parent consent to give children an aspirin. They should get consent to share a student’s psychological evaluations or test performances.

Third, agencies should be required to explain exactly how they will keep the sensitive information in their hands from being hacked or exposed. The more people and organizations with access, and the bigger a treasure trove these databases become, the more likely security breaches will be. Hundreds of thousands of people were put at risk of identity theft in 2012 because of security breaches in government databases, including one affecting three-quarters of South Carolinians. And child identity theft is often not discovered until adulthood, which makes their records even more attractive to thieves.

Because the U.S. Department of Education has unilaterally knocked down federal privacy protections, lawmakers should rebuild that wall. Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Oregon are a few states considering such legislation. They should act swiftly, and so should others.

By Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org), a research fellow of The Heartland Institute.  Reposted from this article with permission of the author.

Education Department Helps Leak Students’ Personal Data

States and schools are signing over private data from millions of students to companies and researchers who hope to glean secrets of the human mind.

Nine states have sent dossiers on students —including names, Social Security numbers, hobbies, addresses, test scores, attendance, career goals, and attitudes about school —to a public-private database, according to Reuters. Standardized tests are beginning to incorporate psychological and behavioral assessment. Every state is also building databases to collect and share such information among agencies and companies, and the U.S. Department of Education has recently reinterpreted federal privacy laws so that schools and governments don’t have to tell parents their kids’ information has been shared.

Promises of researchers’ and governments’ good intentions are not enough to justify this, especially when tax dollars are involved and government entities are helping invade students’ privacy without parents’ or even school officials’ knowledge.

Very few U.S. citizens want to see their government even slightly imitate that of China, which keeps dossiers on all citizens’ performance and attitudes. These records influence work, political, and school opportunities. Because “everything they do will be recorded for the rest of their life … the dossier discourages any ‘errant’ behavior,” says Chinese professor Ouyang Huhua. This is not to say big databases equal communist oppression. But we do things differently in the United States because we trust our citizenry and we believe in self-rule.

Any researcher or organization wanting to plumb data – perhaps to help kids learn more, faster – can do so without trampling individual rights. First, the historic and accepted practice with student records has been to keep them anonymous when shared outside of schools. Researchers and government accountability gurus don’t need to know that Sally Smith failed Algebra I, even if her parents and teachers do. Researchers do not need personally identifiable information such as names, Social Security numbers, and addresses. They just need to know, for example, whether lots of students are failing Algebra I. Schools and states should check these privacy firewalls.

Second, students and their guardians should have full access to their own records, with the ability to correct false information. They also should be informed of and able to opt out of all data-sharing involving their records. Schools need parent consent to give children so much as an aspirin. They should get consent to share a student’s psychological evaluations or test performances.

Third, agencies should be required to explain exactly how they will keep the sensitive information in their hands from being hacked or exposed. The more people and organizations have access, and the bigger a treasure trove these databases become, the more likely security breaches become. Hundreds of thousands of people were put at risk of identity theft in 2012 because of security breaches in government databases, including one affecting three-quarters of South Carolinians. And child identity theft is often not discovered until adulthood, which makes youngsters’ records even more attractive to thieves.

Because the U.S. Department of Education has unilaterally knocked down federal privacy protections, lawmakers need to rebuild that wall. Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, New York and Oregon are a few states considering such legislation. They should act swiftly, and so should others.

By Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org), a research fellow of The Heartland Institute.  Reposted from this article with permission of the author.

Data Mining Kids Crosses Line

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how public schools can collect information on “non-cognitive” student attributes, after granting itself the power to share student data across agencies without parents’ knowledge.

The feds want to use schools to catalogue “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intrapersonal resources – independent of intellectual ability,” according to a February DOE report, all under the guise of education.

The report suggests researching how to measure and monitor these student attributes using “data mining” techniques and even functional magnetic resonance imaging, although it concedes “devices that measure EEG and skin conductance may not be practical for use in the classroom.” It delightedly discusses experiments on how kids respond to computer tutors, using cameras to judge facial expressions, an electronic seat that judges posture, a pressure-sensitive computer mouse and a biometric wrap on kids’ wrists.

And that’s not all the feds want to know about your kids. The department is funding and mandating databases that could expand each kid’s academic records into a comprehensive personal record including “health care history, disciplinary record, family income range, family voting status and religious affiliation,” according to a 2012 Pioneer Institute report and the National Center for Educational Statistics. Under agreements every state signed to get 2009 stimulus funds, they must share students’ academic data with the federal government.

As Utah blogger Christel Swasey has documented, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act used to protect highly personal psychological and biological information, including items mentioned above and, according to the DOE, “fingerprints; retina and iris patterns; voiceprints; DNA sequence; facial characteristics; and handwriting.”

Under the DOE’s 2011 FERPA reinterpretation, however, any local, state or federal agency may designate any individual or organization as an “educational representative” who can access such data as long as the agency says this access is necessary to study or evaluate a program. These can include school volunteers and private companies. A lawsuit against the regulations is pending.

Meanwhile, several agreements the DOE has signed with two organizations writing national Common Core tests insist the information these tests collect must be “student-level” – meaning these would not be anonymous records but instead tied to specific children.

Previous FERPA interpretations required data collectors to identify students by random numbers. No one knows what personal data the Common Core tests will collect, because those tests have yet to be written and released. But this information mother-lode has to come from somewhere. Since the tests are being written by private organizations, although entirely funded so far by the federal government, no one can do a public records request to find out.

In short, the government wants to collect a dossier on every child, containing highly personal information, without asking permission or even notifying parents. Officials believe “federal agencies should invest in programmatic portfolios of research” to monitor and influence student attitudes through schools, says the February DOE report.

The department recommends schools start tracking and teaching kids not just boring old knowledge but also “21st Century Competencies” – “recognizing bias in sources,” “flexibility,” “cultural awareness and competence,” “appreciation for diversity,” “collaboration, teamwork, cooperation,” “empathy,” “perspective taking, trust, service orientation,” and “social influence with others.” I’m really looking forward to seeing how psychologists profiling children for government reports interpret each of these characteristics.

Utah officials told Swasey no student may attend schools there without being tracked, even those in non-public schools. The personal data are currently being collected through the tests public schools are required to administer, but part of the agreement the states signed for stimulus money includes a requirement that schools collect data on students who are not tested.

All of this looks like another step in the federal government’s push to compile an intimate, cradle-to-grave dossier on every American. What they might intend to do with all that information remains a rather disturbing question.

By Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org), a research fellow of The Heartland Institute.  Reposted from this article with the author’s permission.

Unwritten Tests Present Major Common Core Obstacle

Education leaders are beginning to publicly worry that two coalitions attempting to determine mandatory tests for some 40 million U.S. students by 2014 can’t pull their massive enterprise together by deadline or at all.

This threatens the entire Common Core project, which in 2014 will tie national tests to grade-by-grade education requirements 45 states adopted in math and English in 2010. Two networks, called SMARTER Balanced (SBAC) and Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), are creating separate tests.

“It’s easy to say Common Core is revolutionary, but implementing it is a completely different story,” said Andy Smarick, a former U.S. Education Department official who is now a partner at consulting nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners. “High-ranking state officials are … betting the farm on PARCC and Smarter Balanced, hoping it’s going to be rigorous and delivered on time. If they have any reason to question any of that, they’re going to have great incentive to pull the reins and say, ‘I’m not going to ask my governor for millions for common assessments’ or ‘We’re not going to depend on someone else’s decision on cut scores.’”

Some big questions include: where the testing groups will get money once federal grants run out six months before the tests appear in classrooms in 2015; whether testmakers and states can handle the technical problems of creating and administering ambitious, online tests; and whether states will tolerate higher passing score requirements.

SBAC’s 25 member states educate 19 million U.S. K-12 students, and PARCC’s 22 member states educate 25 million (a few states are members of both).

Queasy Feeling About Testmakers
A January survey of “education insiders” from consulting firm Whiteboard Advisors found concern growing about SBAC and PARCC. Fifty-five percent thought PARCC was on the right track, while 27 percent thought the same of SBAC.

“Both continue to operate with such opacity it is hard to know where things stand,” the survey quoted from one responder.

“PARCC is focused on providing a higher quality product,” another respondent said.

The insiders include current and former state and federal education department officials, state school chiefs, governors, congressional staff, and education organization and think tank leaders.

“Both consortia are struggling mightily with getting the work done on time and with quality,” another said.

Technical Difficulties
Many school districts do not have the computers, bandwidth, and IT staff to administer Common Core tests, which will be entirely online by 2016-2017. These items are costly, and states are facing growing costs, particularly in healthcare and pensions.

Testmakers are also attempting to pull several testing advances together, which ambition may exceed possibility. This includes attempting to have artificial intelligence score open-ended test answers and create “adaptive” tests that throw up harder questions after correct answers and easier questions after incorrect answers, according to Tony Alpert, SBAC’s chief operating officer.

Even writing the software for such tests is incredibly complex, said David DeSchryver, Whiteboard’s vice president of education policy. It must work on a wide variety of computing devices, operating systems, and internet browsers, and operate simply for non-techies like most teachers and principals.

“If you’re taking an assessment for certain kids at the school [what if] you’re going to shut down wireless access in the cafeteria?” he said. “How do you manage this in a way you don’t have failure? We just don’t know. This hasn’t been tested in reality.”

The massive undertaking has a very small margin for failure, he and Smarick said, because state and school leaders will quickly abandon a glitchy, frustrating system.

Lifting ‘Cut Scores’
A major complaint against previous state standards and tests was that the federal government required states to have all students testing “proficient” by 2014 under the now-defunct 2001 No Child Left Behind law. In response, states set low “cut scores,” or passing grades. The Common Core consortia have promised to set higher standards, but that’s politically tricky because fewer children will pass the new tests, Smarick said.

Elected officials will feel heat from parents and teachers when many more students fail, but lowering standards for that reason essentially means lying to the public about U.S. schools’ quality, Thomas B. Fordham President Chester Finn Jr. wrote recently. States with big differences in average student achievement will likely tussle over setting one pass rate.

Show Me the Money
The federal government jumpstarted SBAC and PARCC with 2010 grants, but that money runs out by fall 2014. This means strapped states must soon pitch money at a new, complicated testing program likely to make their schools look bad, Smarick noted.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s big, it’s expensive, it’s technically challenging. If you get that right, then states are going to continue. If states get concerned about this, we’ll quickly realize the governors, state chiefs, legislators, and board members in power in 2014 are not the same ones who signed on to Common Core.”

The vastness of the project, and its likelihood of changing nearly everything about U.S. education, means a small accumulation of problems can derail it, Smarick said: “Under the best of circumstances it’s going to cause heartburn.”

Learn More
“The Complicated Economics of Testing in the Era of Common Core Standards,” Andy Smarick, January 23, 2013: http://educationnext.org/the-complicated-economics-of-testing-in-the-era-of-common-core-standards/.

“Cutting to the Chase,” Chester Finn Jr. January 24, 2013: http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-weekly/2013/january-24/cutting-to-the-chase.html.

By Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute.  Reposted from this article with permission of the author.