I learned of this yesterday but was waiting. KUOW has done a good job showing the issues around student data privacy.
- To be clear, SPS did NOT know this was happening and was not asked.
- No data has been released as of today.
- OSPI said the data it planned to give the Times is not available through a public records request.
From the KUOW story:
KUOW obtained a copy of the two-year agreement between the Office of
Superintendent of Public Instruction and The Seattle Times, signed last
month, which authorizes eight Times journalists to work with, but not
publish, confidential student and staff information, including names
and Social Security numbers.
said Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda. "I wasn't aware
of [this agreement], and I don’t think any of my staff was aware that
this was being considered and approved."
"This is really
disconcerting for us, because we've been assuring families that we are
really mindful about following [data privacy] rules," Banda said.
contract outlines measures the Times must take to secure confidential
data it receives, including allowing OSPI to inspect Times facilities
and requiring any confidential information to be returned or destroyed
when the contract expires.
One sour note - KUOW did not explain the "grant-funded" Education Lab project at Seattle Times is thru the Gates Foundation.
What did the Times say?
Simon said he wasn’t sure which stories, if any, would come from the
data, or whether the Times would actually look at individual student
But he said access to this level of data is valuable.
a giant welter of data out there now,” Simon said. “I think it’s really
in the public interest to pick that apart a little better and see what
trends are actually happening. And I think having that kind of data, and
being able to analyze it, is a way to hold the system accountable for
the performance of schools.”
The Times is NOT an education service provider. The Times will not be doing research to shape/help education. They have access to data through OSPI thru public disclosure just like anyone else. But OSPI says:
"In this instance, we consider the Times a research organization," said
OSPI spokesman Nathan Olson in an email. "They received a grant, and
came to us with a proposal, and established with us their data analysis
A state education department giving journalists the same kind of
access as university researchers is "not common," said Fordham
University law professor Joel Reidenberg, who studies technology and
privacy and has served as an adviser to the Federal Trade Commission and
the European Commission. He reviewed the OSPI/Times contract for KUOW.
federal privacy statute that allows districts to transfer their data
for research purposes is really contemplating an education policy
research project, the kinds of things that would be conducted by
universities or specific research centers," Reidenberg said.
[the data] is going to a newspaper, which has a variety of commercial
interests, and other sorts of interests that you wouldn’t see in the
context of a typical researcher," he said.
Again, about privacy:
It takes more than removing students’ names to make them anonymous,
said Krish Muralidhar, a professor and data security expert at the
University of Kentucky.
It would be "an easy matter" to identify
students from the detailed data OSPI plans to release, he said by email,
because the more pieces of information you have about people, the
easier it is to identify them.
"People often think that once the
data is 'de-identified' it automatically assures anonymity.
Unfortunately, it does not,” Muralidhar said.
For instance, if
there is only one white female special education student in a
kindergarten class, removing her name from her educational record does
not protect her identity.
The data-sharing agreement "is likely
to provide little or no privacy," Muraldihar said. "Like many other
data-sharing ideas, this does not sound like one that has been thought
Oh but don't worry, says the WA State Attorney General's office who drew up the agreement:
Dierk Meierbachtol, an assistant attorney general for the state,
acknowledged it may be possible to identify students listed in the data
OSPI has agreed to give the Times. That's why the contract bars the data
from being shared outside the reporting team, Meierbachtol said.
Munson of OSPI said that if the Times violated the contract, her agency
would no longer provide the newspaper with individual student data.
Well, that's a relief. If the Times screws up, then OSPI will do something.