By Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O'Neil -
The public, even parents of school aged children, tend to trust those in authority to make good decisions and enact credible laws regarding our public education system, believing that any changes made would be in the public’s best interest. While that is largely true, citizens should remain vigilant and carefully examine any and all new laws and mandates. Complacency invites corruption. Our nation’s education system must always be one in which we can fully trust. Anything else is unacceptable.
The implementation of Common Core Standards, and its resulting curriculum, initiated a major shift in our nation’s education system, and the changes it requires have caused enormous controversy throughout America for numerous reasons that we have outlined in previous articles.
Let's focus on the Data Mining element of Common Core. Now that the public has had a chance to “read the rules”, we discover Common Core violates the privacy of students and their families, through the gathering and sharing of personal information and worse yet, that the private information is being sent and shared with the federal government.
Parents are particularly concerned about three major issues: 1. The safety aspect of schools and government entities being able to keep personal data safe from “hackers”; 2. The reasons our federal government intervened and interfered with state rights, and require the gathering of personal data from students and their families; and 3. How parents can use legal ways to avoid divulging intrusive private information to schools.
The Problem of Keeping Private Information Safe
We are living in an age in which most information is being stored electronically. It is popular due to the ease, convenience, and ability to store so much data without requiring massive space to do so. With these wonderful attributes though, there is one unfortunate problem. The stored data is not as safe as we once had believed. A new study indicated almost half of all Americans’ private information was compromised/revealed due to hackers. Hackers have successfully infiltrated and gleaned information from sources that were once considered impossible to “hack”, such as chain stores like Target and even our government agencies. For that matter, our government has used sophisticated tech equipment to spy on other countries. Nobody is safe from prying technology today, and thus neither is any electronically stored information garnered through schools.
Therefore, parents should be exceedingly cautious about giving personal information to schools. Some have suggested Common Core itself could be considered one of the more dangerous domestic spying programs. This came about when Bill Gates, one of the leaders and most avid promoters of Common Core, put millions of dollars of his own personal money into its development, implementation and advertising of the new national education program. Consider that much of the data mining will occur via Microsoft’s Cloud system.
Even the Department of Education is concerned with the issue of privacy, admitting that some of the data gathered may be “of a sensitive nature.” This is indeed an understatement by the DOE as much of the data collected will be completely unrelated to education. Data collected will not only include grades, test scores, name, date of birth and social security number, it will also include parents’ political affiliations, individual or familial mental or psychological problems, beliefs, religious practices, income and other incredibly sensitive, highly private information about the student and the student’s family.
There is also concern that private companies donate education apps to schools in exchange for children’s information, increasing the threat of children’s personal data being abused.
According to The New American, schools in Delaware, Colorado, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina have committed to "pilot testing" and information dissemination via sending students' personal information to the InBloom database (a non-profit group funded by the Gates Foundation and supported by Amazon). Not yet known is whether parents know and/or approve of the dissemination of that personal information.
Reasons for the accumulation of student/family Data
We have all heard the quote: “Information is Power”. New York Times Columnist Matthew Lesko expanded upon that theme with this statement: “Information is the currency of today’s world. Those who control information are the most powerful people on the planet - and the ones with the most bulging bank accounts.” Imagine the power of those who receive the collection of student data from most every student in America.
Common Core supporters will point out that there is nothing within the standards or rules which requires personal data be acquired; and that any data gathering is entirely up to the individual states. Ah, but it isn't that simple or even true! That statement is highly disputed, with a little research.
The federal government had been prohibited from gathering students’ specific data for a national database, but shortly after Obama became president, the Stimulus Bill provided a loophole. Money was given to each of the states to develop longitudinal data systems to catalog data generated by Common Core aligned tests. Permission to release student information collected since 2009 was then authorized to be shared among federal agencies without the consent of parents.
The federal government encouraged states to participate in data collection initiatives such as the Data Quality Campaign, the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, and the National Student Clearinghouse, all of which helped to increase the collection and sharing of children’s formally protected data.
In addition, the National Education Data Model suggests that states increase their collection of information about students to over 400 data points on each one. That leaves little doubt that the construction of their data systems has been purposely increased.
Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, students under Common Core will begin taking state standardized tests, and student-specific specific data will be stored by the states in their newly create longitudinal data system, designed to track student progress from K through 12th grades. That data will be dissected, supposedly for the purpose of improving education. However, as a nation, we must ask ourselves whether we want to respect individual rights of privacy or whether we want a more "collective" approach that claims it is permissible if the action benefits the common majority. Consider, if such a benefit is at the expense of others. It is moral? Leo Tolstoy said: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
What will be collected?
The type of material being collected due to the changes by the current administration, is so extensive, one could say “almost everything will be included, some of which is highly personal ". Of course test scores will be collected, and be aware, Common Core encourages massive testing. What is strange and should be a red flag to reasonable people is why schools are also asking about student's hobbies, psychological evaluations, medical records, religious affiliation, political affiliation, family income, behavioral problems, disciplinary history, career goals, addresses, and bus stop times, with their locations. It was even suggested schools use cameras and/or special equipment to judge facial expressions and a student’s posture in the classroom, supposedly for the purpose of assigning stress levels.
The Department of Education claims to be concerned with the issue of privacy, admitting that some of the data gathered may be “of a sensitive nature.” This is indeed an understatement by the DOE. Knowing much of the data collected will be completely unrelated to education, in 2012, a combination of 24 states and territories struck a deal to implement data mining to receive federal grants. “Personally Identifiable Information” was allowed to be extracted from each student. Examples below are some of the more extreme examples of data mining, causing reasonable people to question why the government would venture into such an invasion of our privacy.
1. Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or parent;
2. Mental and psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
3. Sex behavior or attitudes;
4. Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior,
5. Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
6. Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
7. Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent; and
8. Details of Income.
The information, will be sent to federal agencies that were put in place once the States accepted Common Core.
Local Control Compromised
When the federal government first interfered with the States' responsibility to educate our children, a line was tragically crossed. Local control was compromised, as higher levels of officials took more responsibility and dictated more rules from their level of government. While Common Core apologists try to minimize problems their changes caused, discerning people know there has been this breach in America's laws and traditions. Power transferred from the local governing agencies to the federal government. Any advantage parents had for any significant control over their children's school or curriculum has been greatly reduced. It is easier to facilitate potential changes, act on complaints, and make specific adjustments when local government has the power to consider logical adjustments, rather than have to go to a state or federal level to be heard.
While Common Core supporters argued states still have the same control as always, many parents remained skeptical. It did not take long to discover just how much control the federal government now has. Our wise forefathers did not want the federal government in charge of the education of our children. Too much power! Remember the warning by Sir John Acton in the 1500's. "Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely." When we see that power has corrupted a local politician, it is fairly easy to remove and replace the person. That is not as easily discovered or accomplished then the official lives and works outside of our community.
What Parents Can do to Protect their Children from Data Mining
A California law firm, the Pacific Justice Institute has developed a from parents can use to opt-out of all statewide performance assessments, including academic, achievement tests, and Common Core assessments, as well as any questionnaire, survey, or evaluation containing personal questions about their child's beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, politics, income, religion, and other highly personal information.
Parents in other states can contact The Pacific Justice Institute for specific information, and to see if there is a similar agency in their state with a similar "opt out" form.
There was a time in our history in which schools needed the permission of parents for their children to go to school. Decades later that was reversed and a law enacted that made it mandatory for all children to attend school. Laws were eventually enacted giving schools more authority than the parents over their children’s schooling. The current administration has taken federal control to a whole new level, which includes loss of local control and parents subjected to invasive data mining. This did not make the front page of our newspapers. In fact Common Core was a surprise to most teachers and local school boards, who scrambled to comply with the new law and education standards and curriculum.
Something as important as major changes in our nation’s education system deserved more input, more openness, public involvement, a public comment period, and certainly proof through trial programs that the new system is superior to the one it replaced.
Instead, our federal government and most every state government unleashed an unproven education program, resulting in our nation's children becoming guinea pigs in an experimental program that could prove disastrous. That is why concerned citizens throughout America are having meetings and conferences to educate other about Common Core problems to encourage state officials to enact legislation that would stop Common Core, or at the very least put a "hold" on the program until it can be proven the new system has merit, and to enact strong privacy laws that will protect both students and their families from invasive data mining.