Browsing articles in "State Education"
Apr 15, 2013

RNC Adopts Anti-Common Core Resolution & Florida Goes in Wrong Direction

Karen R. Effrem, MD  – President

Despite the fact that the Republican National Committee has listened to the grassroots and moved towards freedom in education and student privacy by unanimously adopting an anti-Common Core resolution, the Florida Legislature has moved in the completely opposite direction.   The education appropriations bill, SB 1076 that implements the Common Core standards and aligned assessments passed the full legislature and is being sent to Governor Scott and SB 878, the horrific data tracking bill passed the full Florida Senate. (See our reports about SB 878 here and here).

Although there were some good efforts to protect some sensitive student data and Florida activists used their best efforts to warn senators about the truly invasive data collection in SB 878, Jeb Bush and corporate interests whispered in the ears of leadership and other senators and won the day.  The bill passed on April 10th unanimously, because the senators had been deceived into believing that student data had been protected.  Although Senator Galvano did put some stronger language in to shield some of the more sensitive data and make it anonymous from outside researchers and corporations, for which he deserves thanks, the fact remains that far too much personal data is still being collected by the State of Florida on innocent children and their families and given to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  Thanks to the weakening of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that data can be shared with other federal agencies.  The attitude is that all of this data on our children belongs to the government and if we, their benighted parents scream and beg, maybe they will protect it or say they are going to do so.  The questions never get asked, “Why are you collecting so much data on our children without consent?” and “By what authority do you do so?”

Although he may not have intended it to come off that way, when author of SB 878, Senator Galvano, was interviewed for the Bradenton Herald after Chrissy Blevio and other members of Liberty in Action who live in his district protested the still alarming amount of data collection in the passed bill, his remarks seemed very patronizing.  He said these parents “are well-intended but they misunderstand” and the paper portrayed his views of his constituents as laboring under a cloud of “confusion” and “a case of misinformation.”  For the edification of Senator Galvano and the rest of the legislature, these parents are not confused or misinformed, they are justifiably angry as the rest of the parents in the state will be when they find out what has happened to their children’s privacy.  Here are the facts:

1)      Although the bill limits some of the sensitive data given to corporations and outside researchers, all of that sensitive data that we showed from the National Center for Education Statistics National Data Model is and will still be collected by the state and given to the federal government whether parents like it or not. This data still includes:  Bus Route, Bus Stop, Arrival Time, At Risk Status, Amount of Non-school Activity Involvement, Distance From Home to School and hundreds of other data points.  Because the bill requires the Governing Board to “promote adoption of a common set of data elements identified by the National Center for Education Statistics to support the effective exchange of data within and across states,” one can be sure that those data points will still be included.

2)      The data that is not covered by Senator Galvano’s good amendment (“student’s or a student’s family’s juvenile delinquency records, criminal records, medical records, biometric information, religious affiliations, beliefs, political affiliations or beliefs, and sexual or attitudes, or behavior”) will still be given or sold to outside corporations and researchers.

3)      Hopefully the data will be aggregated, anonymized and de-identified as stated in the amendment.  However, because of the wording used in the amendment,” the Florida Department of Education is not required to, but “may assign an anonymized random identification number to each record before providing access to data.”

4)      Conspicuously absent from the list, despite our multiple pleas, are mental health records and psychological data such as the  “psychological resources, mindsets, learning strategies, effortful control, attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources” that the U.S. Department of Education plans to measure in the Common Core aligned assessments (p. 17 and 49 of pdf) via all of their fancy affective computing equipment, such as wireless skin conductance bracelets, facial expression cameras, etc. (See p. 62 of the pdf from the same report).

In addition to all of the data privacy issues in SB 878, SB 1076, the education appropriations bill about to be signed by Governor Scott is moving full steam ahead to force Common Core standards and their aligned, psychologically manipulative assessments on every public school, student, and teacher in the state of Florida.  Here are some of the many issues with this bill:

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Mar 26, 2013

Issues with Florida SB 878 – Common Core Linked Data Warehouse Bill

Issues with Florida SB 878 – Common Core Linked Data Warehouse Bill

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President, Education Liberty Watch

Executive Summary – SB 878 is a huge danger to the data privacy of Florida’s children and their families for the following reasons:

1)      It is being written to comply with the longitudinal data system requirements of the Stimulus bill in general, the Race to the Top grant program, and the No Child Left Behind waivers so that the state can receive funds, not on behalf of the students of Florida and their families.

2)      According to the US. Department of Education, the Common Core related assessments will be assessing students on various psychological parameters, not just on academic issues, so that the assessment in Florida’s K-20 Warehouse will definitely include psychological assessment data.

3)      According to numerous sources, health and psychological data in education records covered by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are not subject to the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA) privacy protections.

4)      The bill aligns Florida’s data system with the National Center for Education Statistics National Data Model which contains hundreds of data items on each and every child in the state that include both academic and non-academic data, such as religious and political affiliations, mental health data, medical data, bus stop and bus route description, and even DNA sequence.  The federal and state governments have no legal or constitutional right to this amount and detail of information on innocent American citizens, especially since it is being stored without parental consent.

5)      Although the bill language strives to make it appear that privacy is protected by the various provisions that rely on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) passed by Congress to protect student privacy, the Obama administration’s weakening of the law via regulation have created broad exceptions to the requirement to obtain parental consent before releasing individual data that many entities including a “contractor, consultant, volunteer, or other party…”  Therefore, this very sensitive, private data will go to outside parties and many government entities without parental consent.

6)      The bill combines the K-20 Data Warehouse with the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Wage Record Interchange System so that all of your child’s personal and private data will follow them not only throughout their academic careers, but throughout their work lives as well.

7)      The U.S. Department of Education is being sued by the Electronic Privacy Information Center because it has so weakened the FERPA. [1] And parents, the PTA and the ACLU in states that are part of the inBloom database that already holds data on millions of children from nine different states[2], are protesting to education officials and seem poised to bring lawsuits in those states.  Florida will be open to this kind of legal action if this bill becomes law.

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Mar 21, 2013

Major Problems with Common Core in Florida

Karen R. Effrem, MD

The Common Core Standards and related assessments being implemented in Florida have many problems including lack of rigor and transparency; loss of state, local, family, and teacher autonomy, as well as loss of data privacy; and high costs that will be borne by the state and counties analogously to the proposed Medicaid expansion.  The citizens of Florida and their elected representatives on county school boards and in the legislature should consider carefully before spending hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars more  and irreversibly changing the state’s education system with enormous impact on our children’s future, freedom, the economic health of the state, parental and teacher autonomy and data privacy.

Lack of Academic Rigor

Although the Thomas Fordham Institute is a strong Common Core proponent, their grading scale found that Florida’s current standards were near or above the level of the Common Core.  Why should so much be spent to change them?


Common Core Grade

Florida Grade




English Language Arts




The standards define college readiness as being the same for 4-year, 2-year, and vocational colleges[i]

Despite claims by Commissioner Tony Bennett and proponents that the standards are “internationally benchmarked,”[ii] repeated data requests by members of the Common Core validation committees were ignored[iii]


English (Much more detail available on request)

High school level, “college ready” standards actually at 6th to 8th grade level[iv]
Chief architects, David Coleman (now head of College Board) and Susan Pimentel, have had no experience teaching English or reading at any grade level from K-12[v]According to experts the standards are described as empty skill sets;  significant reduction in literary study leading  “to fewer opportunities for students to acquire the general academic vocabulary needed for college work;” and the division of reading standards leading to completely incoherent literature curriculum in grades 6-12[vi]
Texts being taught without historical context – e.g. Animal Farm[vii] and the Gettysburg Address[viii]


Mathematics (Much more detail available on request)

Chief architects, Professors William McCallum and Jason Zimba, have never taught mathematics at any grade level from K-12[ix]

According to experts, Common Core removes the mathematical concepts that are critical for four year college readiness, STEM careers, international competitiveness, and are major delays and steps backwards from the most highly rated state standards and those of other countries.[x]

Florida Not Ready for Implementation – Florida, the state leader of PARCC, the 22 state testing consortium, admits that the state is not ready to implement Common Core. Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said within the next few months his staff will devise  a “Plan B” in case implementation cannot proceed as planned by 2015.[xi]

Testing and Costs

Because computer adapted testing will change the difficulty of questions for each student depending on the answer to the previous question, there will be no uniform testing standard so that there cannot be uniform comparison between students, much less between states.[xii]

Florida   $1,024,163,000 (projected cost for testing, technology, textbooks, and professional development)[xiii] – $905,838,000 (grants received) = $118,325,000 (costs to FL taxpayers)

Given that Tony Bennett and the SBOE are asking for $400 million in one year[xiv] to implement assessments equivalent to what the Florida has already spent on the FCAT between 1996[xv] and 2008, that $118 million amount might well be low and will serve as a huge unfunded mandate to already strapped county districts.

South Carolina Senator Mike Fair cites data that testing cost will increase from $12/student to $100/student[xvi] in that state which is a member of the other testing consortium called SBAC.  Both PARCC & SBAC require multiple computerized assessments during one school year. Florida’s testing cost for the FCAT in 2008, the most recent year available, was $19.44 per student[xvii]

All states in each of the large testing consortia (PARCC, of which Florida is a part, and SBAC) must agree on cut scores and the test item banks despite wide disparities in education philosophy, attainment, and funding[xviii]

Without enough computer equipment and IT staff to allow every student to take multiple tests every year, students will have to rotate through computer labs creating less than uniform administration for students as well as major test security problems[xix]

Student Data Collection

The Electronic Information Privacy Center is suing the U.S. Department of Education over the weakening via regulation of FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) passed by Congress to prevent the use of student level data without consent in the state longitudinal data systems required for Race to the Top.[xx]

“A new database tracks learning disabilities, test scores, attendance, as well as student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school, even homework completion. Federal Department of Education officials say that the “database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any “school official” who has a “legitimate educational interest,” according to the Department of Education. The department defines “school official” to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.”[xxi]

Information from the U. S. Department of Education leads one to conclude that our children will be used as psychological guinea pigs:[xxii]

Conclusion 10: There are important opportunities to leverage new and emerging advances in technology (e.g., educational data mining, affective computing, online resources, tools for teachers) to develop unprecedented approaches for a wide range of students.

Recommendation 10: Researchers should work closely with technology developers to continue to explore how to integrate best practices into new and emerging digital learning environments that are well positioned to promote grit, tenacity, and perseverance, and key psychological resources (mindsets, learning strategies, and effortful control) for a range of purposes. Continue reading »

Feb 10, 2013

DFL Stops Republican Effort to Uphold Legislative Authority

Again without notice on the publicly available agenda documents, the Senate took up the confirmation votes for several major commissioners, including Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius, about whom we raised many significant concerns in our last alert.  The Senate Republican Caucus deserves great thanks and congratulations. Despite being in the minority and having several other candidates about whom they could have raised concerns, they decided to take their stand by discussing in detail two of the many statutory violations and constitutional sidesteps that we listed in that update in order to make the very necessary points about this commissioner’s violation of separation of  powers and the rule of law.

The effort was led by Senator Sean Nienow, Ranking Minority Member for the Education Finance Division, who made a motion to re-refer the appointment to the Education Committee until the Administrative Law Judge Barbara Nielson finishes ruling on whether the DOE under this commissioner has violated the statutes covering the extensive rewriting of the standards and benchmarks. He did an excellent job of explaining how it was not about the social studies standards or qualifications, but how important it was to delay the vote until the judge ruled in order to uphold legislative authority.  He was ably assisted by Minority Leader David Hann, Ranking Member on the Education Policy Committee, Carla Nelson, as well as Senators Paul Gazelka and Scott Newman.  They effectively argued against the misstatements of Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Torres Ray and Senator Dick Cohen.  Ultimately, however being in the minority was the deciding factor, and the motion to re-refer was defeated on a vote of 26-39 and the confirmation going through on a vote 45-20.

Please see below for details such as roll call votes, links to the video, summary, and quotes.  More importantly, please contact and thank Senate Minority Leader David Hann (651-296-1749) and Senator Sean Nienow (651-296-5419), as well as the others listed and your own senator if appropriate (info here).  This incident gives us hope that there are senators that won’t roll over and play dead and that are willing to do what is right even if in the minority.  Let us keep encouraging our legislators to stand on these important principles!

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