Feb 25, 2015

S227 (SETRA) is a Federal Data Mining Bill that Destroys Student Privacy

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

Besides urging a no vote on HR 5, the Student Success Act that replaces No Child Left Behind, please contact your US representatives and Senators to vote NO on S 227, the Senate version of the federal data mining bill.  Having already passed the Senate last year and about to be passed again, it was scheduled for a vote today, Wednesday February 25th in the US House.  That vote was contingent on easy passage in the Senate.  Thankfully, however, as more information comes out about this bill, it is no longer seen as non-controversial, and easy passage is no longer assured in either chamber.  It has been removed from the House calendar pending Senate approval, but thanks to the work of Education Liberty Watch, The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, American Principles in Action, Eagle Forum and others, Senators are objecting.

S 227, the Strengthening Education through Research Act (SETRA) reauthorizes the 2002 Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) that has been very problematic, because it started the concept of state longitudinal databases, stepped around the prohibition on a national database by creating “national cooperative education statistics systems,”  allowed personally identifiable information to go to international agencies, and removed the  previous penalties of fines and imprisonment for misusing individual student data. SETRA continues or worsens all of that. Here are four major problems with SETRA (A detailed analysis of these points is available HERE):

1.  SETRA seeks to expand federal psychological profiling of our children
Section 132 of the bill (page 28, line 16-21) inserts the following:
”and which may include research on social and emotional learning, and the acquisition of competencies and skills, including the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, evaluate evidence, and communicate effectively…” (Emphasis added).
The US Department of Education (USED) is already a flagrant violation of the Tenth Amendment.  The amount of data collected on individual children, families, and teachers via USED through this law and the weakening and loopholes of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) that provided individual data to the federal government is appalling and a complete violation of the Fourth Amendment as well.  To then give the federal government the right to research the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors of free American citizens, especially innocent children, is completely unacceptable and without justification.
2.  SETRA only appears to prohibit a national database.
Section 157 of the bill takes out the word “national” and still only by words, prohibits a national database. While this appears to be an improvement, it unfortunately doesn’t do anything to stop the egregious loss of privacy that has happened since ESRA established the national cooperative statistics systems and state longitudinal databases in 2002.  These databases have been enhanced by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, Stimulus), Race to the Top, and the America COMPETES Act.  In addition they are relying on outdated and weak student privacy laws (FERPA and PPRA), there is no enforcement mechanism, and we have seen how the federal government repeatedly and flagrantly violates its promises not to extend its authority, as with Race to the Top, Common Core and the national tests.
3. The bill continues to rely on a severely outdated and weakened FERPA to protect student privacy.
Both ESRA and SETRA refer to FERPA (20 USC 1232g) in Section 182 and requires data privacy to be handled according to that law.  However, FERPA passed in 1974 long before the presence of interoperable databases and cloud computing.  It also only discusses sanctions on entities that mishandle the data and those, which used to include fines and imprisonment, were severely weakened when ESRA was passed in 2002.  Students, families, and teachers whose sensitive personal and family data about everything from “social and emotional” issues to genetic data in newborn screening data, have no redress.  According to an investigation by Politico, education technology companies are scooping up as many as 10 million unique data points on each child, each day.” (Emphasis added) Finally, FERPA has been severely weakened via regulatory fiat to gut consent requirements and broaden access to data by federal agencies and private entities.

4. SETRA continues the large loophole that renders PPRA ineffective in preventing nosy social questions in curriculum and assessments.
PPRA, cited in section 182 as 20 USC 1232h, prohibits the collection of psychological, political, religious, and other sensitive data in surveys, but not in curriculum and assessments such as in Common Core.


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