Apr 16, 2016
ELW

Message to Congress: Our Children Do Not Exist to Provide Data to Researchers & the Feds!

The US House Education and Workforce Committee recently held a hearing titled “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students.” Although there were some great positives such as hearing from a parent from the organization that took down inBloom, The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, there was an alarmingly pervasive attitude that student data belonged to the government and researchers and that parent concerns about privacy are over blown. What follows is the introduction, a summary of the pros and cons from the hearing, our conclusions and  recommendations from our extensively referenced document written by our president, Dr. Karen Effrem – Response to US House Privacy and Research Hearing. A summary of this document is available HERE.

INTRODUCTION:

We are grateful that the committee convened the very important recent hearing, “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students, and for the opportunity to comment on it. With the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act being 40 years old; the Strengthening Research Through Education Act (SETRA) continuing dossier building via state longitudinal databases; and the expanded efforts to psychologically manipulate and profile our children via social emotional and mindset assessments in standards, curriculum and tests; it is extremely important that these bills be updated. Government data gathering on our innocent children must be very significantly pared back in content and kept to the local level and privacy protections strengthened. It is not just the data security that is an issue, but the type and amount of data that is gathered.

POSITIVES:

It is wonderful that Rachel Stickland from The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, an organization that receives no government or special interest funding, founded and composed of parents, which brought down the Bill Gates multi-million dollar inBloom operation, was able to testify. Ms. Stickland did an excellent job given that she was defending herself and parents from three other Big Data witnesses. (See NEGATIVES below).

Some of the questions by members seemed to indicate a good understanding about the dangers of the extensive student data collection taking place and took parental concerns on that topic seriously, particularly Mrs. Foxx, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Brat, and Ms. Bonamici.

Ms. Stickland’s description of the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) was excellent and correct, especially the part about the result of this longitudinal data collection resulting in dossiers from birth.  This includes genetic data at least in Rhode Island. I would just add that although the funding push for SLDS occurred during the stimulus bill, in a separate provision, in the Race to the Top grants, and in the America COMPETES Act, they were codified in ESRA in 2002 and continue in SETRA, which is why the data transparency language she mentioned is so critical for both SETRA and FERPA. If, as Dr. Hannaway mentioned, it is really true that the data is completely anonymized, this should not be a problem.

This question by Mr. Heck and Ms. Sticklands’s response as reported by Politico:

“He asked whether Common Core has ‘required new depths of data mining’ of students. ‘I’ve heard the same concerns from parents across the country,’ said Rachael Stickland, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy co-founder and co-chairwoman.  ‘There’s a lot of new measurements of student achievement that doesn’t necessarily have academic purposes – grit and tenacity and those sorts of things, the sort of emotional factors. There are a lot of parents who are very, very concerned about this.’”

This is not just a concern, but absolute fact, and we applaud her for saying so.  There is much evidence  that non -academic social emotional teaching is being promoted through Common Core standards  which means that there is psychological data gathering happening in the federally mandated mostly Common Core state tests.

NEGATIVES AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES:

The incontrovertible and unbalanced Big Data bias of the rest of the panel besides Rachel Stickland
Except for Mr. Heck’s excellent question, there was no discussion of the large elephant in the room – the social emotional data mining in ESSA, SETRA, the NAEP, etc. The social emotional research language in SETRA in Sec. 132 is completely unacceptable both to parents and even education researchers and professionals like Dr. Angela Duckworth that used to support the idea of gathering this data for accountability purposes due to subjectivity and validity concerns. There is also concern from school board members in California that is leading the way in trying to implement this very unwise idea.
There seemed to be little awareness or concern by the committee of the whole section of FERPA regulations allowing sharing of personally identifiable student information with the federal government and third parties without parental consent.
These same regulations say that personally identifiable information may be “redisclosed” to other entities without consent, again justifying the concerns of parents about loss of control over their children’s longitudinal data that can have life-changing consequences.
Closely related to this “re-disclosure” concern is the fact that the FERPA regulations allow the use of personally identifiable information for “predictive testing.” To have this subjective, validity-challenged socioemotional data not only stay in a longitudinal database that follows a student for life, but also be used to make predictions of future academic or workforce performance used for critical life decisions appalls and horrifies parents when they learn of it.
There was no mention of the two very important and illuminating recent hearings convened by Chairman Chaffetz and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee [HERE and HERE] showing the deplorable state of data security at the US Department of Education. A November Inspector General’s report showed how vulnerable those data are to hackers and that by comparison, it would dwarf the Office of Personnel Management data breach.

CONCLUSIONS:

We believe that student privacy and parental consent should always be considered pre-eminent compared to the research desires of the government or private sector, especially in the realm of psychological profiling.

The government has no constitutional, statutory, or moral right to collect data on highly personal and sensitive socioemotional data on our children.

According to data presented to this committee by the Cato Institute several years ago, federal involvement in education has yielded either stagnant or declining academic performance:

The vast majority of federal education programs are unconstitutional because the entire US Department of Education is unconstitutional, meaning that most of these programs should be eliminated with any remaining that can be shown to be effective and constitutional programs being block granted to the states.

Many studies showing the ineffectiveness and or harm of current government education and child social programs and the effectiveness of two parent family structure and other non-government academic and social measures are ignored raising the question of why we need so much research in the first place.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Remove the social emotional research language from Section 132 of SETRA.

Prohibit social emotional data gathering and the use of data for predictive testing in the FERPA reauthorization.

Put in strict data transparency language and update the data security language per the recommendations of technical experts like Dr. Joel Reidenberg or Barmak Nassirian in any FERPA reauthorization.

Require third party software and testing vendors to notify parents of what data is collected on students and how it is used.

Find a way for students whose identity and privacy is compromised to be compensated, not just researchers or private vendors to be penalized.

Close the curriculum and assessment loophole for invasive surveys in PPRA.

Immediately demand that the US Department of Education repair the federal data security failures found in the Inspector General’s recent report and uncovered by the House Oversight Committee.

Strongly consider a moratorium on further federal research until programs already shown to ineffective and harmful are transformed or eliminated and until actually effective measures are actually implemented.

 

 

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