Formal Response to the Chief State School Officers’ Letter on Student Data Privacy
Karen R. Effrem, MD
President of Education Liberty Watch and Co-Founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition
On January 23rd, 2014, thirty-four chief state school officers sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan trying to reassure the public that individual student test data will not be given to the federal government and that that data is safe as the Common Core national standards and federally funded and supervised national tests are put into place.
Here are the important quotes from that letter:
- “We are writing today to confirm that the consortia will not share any personally identifiable information about K–12 students with USED or any federal agency.” (Emphasis in original)
- “Our states have not submitted student-level assessment data in the past; the transition to the new assessments should not cause anyone to worry that federal reporting requirements will change when, in fact, the federal government is prohibited from establishing a student-level database that would contain assessment data for every student.”
- “As we have historically done, our states will continue to provide USED with school-level data from our state assessments as required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended in 2002. Our states and local education agencies will continue to retain control over student assessment data and will continue to comply with all state and federal laws and regulations with regard to the protection of student privacy.”
- “We are confirming that our states will not provide such information to USED and that everything we have said here is consistent with our understanding of the cooperative agreement between the consortia and USED.”
These statements are problematic on a multitude of levels for the following reasons:
- The testing consortia are under obligation to the U.S. Department of Education to provide individual student test data via the cooperative agreements that they signed:
“Comply with and where applicable coordinate with the ED staff to fulfill the program requirements established in the RTTA Notice Inviting Applications and the conditions on the grant award, as well as to this agreement, including, but not limited to working with the Department to develop a strategy to make student – level data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis for research, including for prospective linking, validity, and program improvement studies; subject to applicable privacy laws” (Emphasis added)
- The most applicable privacy law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), has been so weakened via regulation that there is no real protection of individual student data.
- There is a whole section of current federal FERPA regulations allowing the disclosure of individual student data without consent (All quotes in this next section are from §99.31 of the FERPA regulations):
§99.31 Under what conditions is prior consent not required to disclose information?
- Individual student data may be released without consent to organizations and entities that have “legitimate educational interests,” which basically means for any reason that a state or the federal governments or researchers or corporations want to use the data in conjunction with any state or federal program.
(a) An educational agency or institution may disclose personally identifiable information from an education record of a student without the consent required by §99.30 if the disclosure meets one or more of the following conditions:
(1)(i)(A) The disclosure is to other school officials, including teachers, within the agency or institution whom the agency or institution has determined to have legitimate educational interests.
- The regulations give private corporations, foundations, and researchers or even volunteers access to our children’s data without parental consent.
(B) A contractor, consultant, volunteer, or other party to whom an agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions may be considered a school official under this paragraph provided that the outside party— (Emphasis added)
(1) Performs an institutional service or function for which the agency or institution would otherwise use employees;
(2) Is under the direct control of the agency or institution with respect to the use and maintenance of education records; and
(3) Is subject to the requirements of §99.33(a) governing the use and redisclosure of personally identifiable information from education records.
- FERPA currently allows data to be given without consent to authorized representatives of the following entities including the US Department of Education, which combined with the cooperative agreement quoted above make the state chiefs letter MEANINGLESS. The authorized representatives include the “contractor, consultant or volunteer” entities quoted above :
(3) The disclosure is, subject to the requirements of §99.35, to authorized representatives of—
(i) The Comptroller General of the United States;
(ii) The Attorney General of the United States;
(iii) The Secretary [of Education]; or (Emphasis added)
(iv) State and local educational authorities.
- The regulations give the states and the consortia carte blanche to “legally” give individual student test and other data to the federal government without consent to continue to develop and evaluate the national tests and “improve instruction” meaning the NCLB waivers that require the Common Core standards.
(6)(i) The disclosure is to organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions to:
(A) Develop, validate, or administer predictive tests; (Emphasis added).
(B) Administer student aid programs; or
(C) Improve instruction.
- So, even though the letter says the states will comply with current federal law and regulations, nothing is stopping the states entering into an agreement with the consortia and the consortia from “redisclosing” this data to the feds.
(ii) Nothing in the Act or this part prevents a State or local educational authority or agency headed by an official listed in paragraph (a)(3) of this section from entering into agreements with organizations conducting studies under paragraph (a)(6)(i) of this section and redisclosing personally identifiable information from education records on behalf of educational agencies and institutions that disclosed the information to the State or local educational authority or agency headed by an official listed in paragraph (a)(3) of this section in accordance with the requirements of §99.33(b). (Emphasis added.)
- The data is supposed to be protected but may be given to any entity with a “legitimate interest” in the information, which as has been explained is defined very broadly.
- Although there is a prohibition against a national student database in one section of federal law called the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) that says, “Nothing in this title may be construed to authorize the establishment of a nationwide database of individually identifiable information on individuals involved in studies or other collections of data under this title; (Section 182)” that language appears to be negated by this language in Section 157:
“The Statistics Center [meaning the National Center for Education Statistics] may establish 1 or more national cooperative education statistics systems for the purpose of producing and maintaining, with the cooperation of the States, comparable and uniform information and data on early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, postsecondary education, adult education, and libraries, that are useful for policymaking at the Federal, State, and local levels.” (Emphasis added).
That language is even more worrisome in light of the grants to fund and promote state longitudinal databases in section 208 of ESRA, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and even more heavily promoted in the Race to the Top K-12 and Early Learning Challenge programs. Although the federal government will not be developing a national database, the SLDS and other regulatory language allow it to happen in a de facto manner. (Here is a full analysis of the federal issues).
- This loss of data privacy when the federal government is both funding and supervising the development of the national tests is extremely worrisome, especially, as shown below, because the standards and assessments are meant to teach and test psychological parameters.
“The [federal] review will focus on two broad areas of assessment development: the consortium’s research confirming the validity of the assessment results and the consortium’s approach to developing items and tasks.” (Emphasis added)
- Given that the federal government admits that the Common Core standards will be teaching and the aligned national tests will be assessing psychological or “non-cognitive” traits, parents should not be reassured by this letter:
“In national policy, there is increasing attention on 21st-century competencies (which encompass a range of noncognitive factors, including grit), and persistence is now part of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” (Emphasis added.)
“[A]s new assessment systems are developed to reflect the new standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science, significant attention will need to be given to the design of tasks and situations that call on students to apply a range of 21st century competencies that are relevant to each discipline. A sustained program of research and development will be required to create assessments that are capable of measuring cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills.” (Emphasis added).
The only way to truly protect our children’s data is to restore local control of education that has been usurped by the unconstitutional presence and actions of the US Department of Education. Until that ultimate goal is reached, we will work to remove each of our states from the state longitudinal data systems and demand genuine state developed standards and assessments, instead of name changes, cosmetic adjustments to the Common Core standards, and deceptive reassurances about state control of test data.
WorldNetDaily Features Education Liberty Watch in Major Expose on Common Core Data Mining and Psychological Manipulation
WorldNetDaily, the major national and international website did an in-depth article about the dangerous Common Core linked psychological manipulation and data mining. They interviewed Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch, and Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project. Here are some excerpts:
Dr. Karen Effrem, president of the national watchdog group, Education Liberty Watch, is sounding an alarm about Common Core, the federal education standards that almost all states are adopting by accepting federal “Race to the Top” funding.
Under Common Core, Effrem said, students’ personal information increasingly is being collected, measured and assessed while the standards shift the focus away from academics and toward psychological training and testing of personal attitudes and behaviors.
Jane Robbins, senior fellow with the American Principles Project and a Common Core expert, shares Effrem’s concerns.
She said an agreement between a group that develops the Common Core tests and the DOE requires the consortium to give the DOE “complete access to any and all data collected at the state level.”
Robbins said parents will not be notified if personal information about their children is released, nor will they be told who gets it
The issue of psychological manipulation, testing, and data collection was also presented:
Effrem said many Common Core standards and assessments will be used to collect data that go beyond academics to focus on student’s psychological attitudes, values and beliefs.
She points to documents from the National School Boards Association, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and the U.S. Department of Education that promote teaching children beyond academics to focus on “non-cognitive” “21st Century skills” that include the disposition, social skills and behavior of children.
“Various elements of SEL can be found in nearly every state’s K-12 standards framework and in the Common Core State Standards for the English Language Arts,” states the National Association of State Boards of Education in an October 2013 paper, “From Practice to Policy.”
SEL (social emotional learning) is also starting to be incorporated in federal policies and initiatives, such as the Race to the Top, according to a 2013 CASEL report, “The Missing Piece, How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools.”
Dr. Karen Effrem, President of Education Liberty Watch, presented oral and written comments to the Missouri State Board of Education on January 14th. The event also included an excellent presentation by Dr. Mary Byrne, a brilliant and dedicated special education teacher and leader of the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core also testifying against the standards and Cheryl Oldham of the Chamber of Commerce offering the same tired talking points without data about why Common Core should be fully implemented.
Here are excerpts of a report from St. Louis public radio:
“We’re turning five- and six-year-olds into good little corporate board members,” Effrem said.
She said the emphasis on skills that students are too young to have can lead to symptoms such as avoiding schools, insomnia, panic attacks and self-mutilation.
“It is turning teachers who do not necessarily have training in psychology essentially into psychologists,” she told the board, “and that could be potentially dangerous because these assessments will go into child’s record and essentially follow them for life.”
Since my move to Florida, I have been trying to divide my policy work between the two states. As you can imagine, with all that is happening on the education front that has proven a difficult task. Therefore, after discussion with our wonderful board, the decision has been made to more fully focus on the massive problems caused by the Common Core system of national standards, federally funded and supervised national tests and invasive data collection in Florida. Florida has become “ground zero” for the imposition of Common Core due to the political (of both parties), corporate, and foundation Establishment that wants a nation of trained workers instead of educated citizens. If we can stop it here where it is most entrenched, we have great hope that other states will follow suit. And with your financial help, we can!
The bad news is that Common Core is the culmination of everything that the Maple River Education Coalition, EdWatch, and now Education Liberty Watch have been fighting these many years. It consists of national control of education standards resulting in a national curriculum of low level, psychosocially-based workforce training skills, monitored by national assessments that test attitudes and beliefs far more than academic knowledge, and very invasive data collection.All of that results in a “womb to tomb” dossier on every child that will include career tracking that continues the School to Work system, psychological profiling, genetic data from early childhood and home visiting programs and many other tyrannical and unconstitutional outcomes about which we have been warning and fighting for many years. We need your support to stand for truth and freedom against this extremely well-coordinated and funded effort.
The great news is that parents and citizens in Florida, Minnesota, and across the country are standing up to protect their children and grandchildren and the future of our republic. The first of our special announcements is that under the auspices of Education Liberty Watch, I, along with Randy Osborne, a very experienced lobbyist and political strategist and Chrissy Blevio, a phenomenal grassroots organizer, have had the privilege of co-founding the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition (FSCCC). This statewide organization, is composed of almost 40 state and national groups including Heritage Action for America; The American Principles Project; FreedomWorks; The Tea Party Network, a Florida coalition of 80 tea party groups; and the Florida Parent Educators Association, the largest homeschooling organization in the country.
Besides bringing together this coalition, here is a sample of what FSCCC has been blessed to be able accomplish with much more detail available on our website (www.flstopcccoalition.org):
- Stop one of the most invasive student data mining bills in the nation
- a bill written by Jeb Bush’s foundation.
- Produce an extensively documented forty-five page policy analysis and an informative, eye-catching bookmark discussing the major of many problems with the Common Core system.
- Move Florida Governor Rick Scott from being an ardent supporter of Common Core to writing an executive order to hold three public hearings on the standards, and not even mentioning the standards in public any more. FSCCC and our coalition partners were heavily involved in those hearings.
- Get former Governor Jeb Bush, one of the nation’s leading proponents of Common Core and despite the millions of dollars from the corporate and political establishment as his disposal, to admit at a national education conference, “This is a fight on the right. This is not a happy, little place where we’re having a debating society. This is a fight…Right now, I would say, it’s a draw at best.”
- Conduct debates, forums, and interviews all over Florida resulting in over forty media mentions or interviews of FSCCC or its leaders, including nationally respected writers and media personalities like Glen Beck, Michelle Malkin, Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute, Shane Vander Hart of Truth in American Education, and Richard Viguerie of Conservative HQ.
- Because of your support, I have also had the privilege of speaking at several national conferences; attending the national data conference of the National Center for Education Statistics thanks to the great work of former board member Polly Sorcan to understand the plans of the other side, and meeting with multiple congressional aides regarding Common Core and data privacy issues.
Meanwhile, lest you think that nothing is happening back in Minnesota, please know that while quieter on the surface, much has been happening in the North Star State as well. With much support and excellent comments from many across the state Education Liberty Watch took a stand against the illegal and revisionist social studies standards and offered testimony to the Minnesota legislature on many topics. Our wonderful treasurer and board member, Marjorie Holsten, has been speaking all over the state on the dangers of Common Core and advising a new group, Minnesotans Against Common Core (www.commoncoremn.com). And most exciting, our second big announcement is the formation of the Minnesota Child Protection League, also under the auspices of Education Liberty Watch.
MNCPL was founded by ELW’s predecessor group, EdWatch president Renee Doyle, and vice president, Julie Quist, as well as long-time child and family advocate Barb Anderson, and activists Michelle Lentz and Mimi Anderson, who is now a new ELW board member.
Here is some information about their very important goals and focus in the next year from their excellent website - www.mnchildprotectionleague.com:
- The MN Child Protection League is united in action to protect all children from exploitation, indoctrination and violence.
- The MN Child Protection League’s number one issue for 2013/2014 is protecting children from Dayton’s Bullying Bill, HF826, because it is UNSAFE, UNFAIR and UNFUNDED!
- No one should be bullied, including LGBT. But HF 826 is NOT about stopping bullying.
- They have developed a popular and compelling movie HF 826 “EXPOSED” that is available on their website.
Your past support has been an amazing blessing and has set in motion all of this tremendous work. However, the forces working to expand government, indoctrinate our children, limit educational options and destroy liberty have really stepped up their efforts and are spending hundreds of millions of dollars.Like David in the Bible and our nation’s Founders that stood against the most powerful empire on earth, because we have the truth on our side, with God’s Providence and your continued and gracious help, we can defeat this evil plan.
On behalf of Education Liberty Watch, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition, and the Minnesota Child Protection League, I humbly ask you to continue supporting our efforts. Any donation of any size is a great investment in the freedom and future of our children and this nation. Fully tax deductible donations are gratefully accepted online on the front page of our website at http://www.edlibertywatch.org or by mail to:
Education Liberty Watch
9601 Annapolis Lane North
Maple Grove, MN 55369
Karen R. Effrem, MD
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