I called and left a message for two different people at OSPI today to get a comment about OSPI signing an agreement with the Seattle Times for student and teacher data (it was November 13, 2013 to be exact). No one called back.
I called and talked to Jim Simon, who is the managing editor at the Times. He's very busy, says that KUOW got it wrong on the personally identifiable student or staff-related data and they were preparing a statement. That was about 10 am this morning and yet, the Times remains silent, both in sending anything out via e-mail or at their newspaper.
(Update: Mr. Simon phoned me late Friday afternoon. He told me that they had talked to KUOW about the inaccuracy of their story in saying that personally identifiable information would be given to the Times via the agreement with OSPI. He said it was a "significant" update. I told him that was his view because, while the update is true, it does not mean that students could not be identified other ways.
He said that they had requested this agreement to get data to have a "richer" analysis for their stories. He said that this was not an "unusual" agreement. I told him in my research I had not found many like it and he said he didn't know what was going on in the rest of the country.
I asked about who would get the data and he said he didn't remember everyone's name on the agreement. I asked if any were researchers and he said no, they were reporters but one, Justin Mayo, is a data analyst. As per my reporting below, Mr. Mayo has requested "demographics" on students and that a rather large amount of data.
I mentioned that the Times got the grant from the Gates Foundation for the Times' Education Lab and now are leveraging it to get the agreement with OSPI. He said the Times had been upfront about the grant and that they would not be told by the Foundation what to write about.
I asked why this story - between the only daily newspaper in the state and the state education department - had not appeared in their newspaper. He said there
would be a blog post. There is and boy, is it buried. There is no
link to it anywhere on the front page, despite it being new. I asked
if, as the editor of a newspaper, that this was not a newsworthy item.
He said they chose to put it on their blog area and that's part of the
An irony here about their blog piece is two-fold. First, the Times itself NEVER reported on this agreement and yet decides the only time they WILL is to bad-mouth KUOW. Two, is that the blog piece says that the Times asked for data from OSPI to "spot trends that might be newsworthy.
The Times is picking and choosing what is "newsworthy" but are choosing to ignore the real story they created. They say that KUOW has been "misleading" but to that I say, "oh pot, meet the kettle.)
End of Update.)
It's almost as if it didn't happen.
But hey, it's the holiday weekend and folks are busy and distracted.
I'm sure that's exactly what they are hoping will happen.
So sure, let's embrace the season (and hopefully, our loved ones) and eat and watch movies and take walks, etc.
But folks, let's vow that your students' information is not available to anyone and everyone who asked.
Let's vow to get our legislators going on a law to protect student data privacy. They have one already on the books in Oklahoma and I know other states are ramping up to that as well
Let's vow to tell our Superintendent and our School Board that we want to see real teeth to these agreements. Not "may" or "can" audit safety of our service providers who get this information but "shall" and "will." And that there will be no data going out that is not thoroughly vetted as to who is getting it, why and for what use.
And, let's vow that parents get to know each and every time data is released. (I don't know if an parental opt-out will be a viable option - I think it should be - but you should be notified.)
On this subject of parental notification, I want to tell you about the Operations Committee meeting that I attended on October 28, 2013 where data privacy was discussed. I talked about this before but I didn't tell you how disturbing the discussion got.
There were four Board members there; Kay Smith-Blum, Marty McLaren, Sharon Peaslee and visiting the committee, Michael deBell.
During this discussion, there was also a person from the Technology Department (not the head and I did not get this woman's name), a service provider (who was not on the agenda but also spoke, did not get her name either) and district legal counsel, Modessa Jacobs.
The question was why parents could not be notified, NOT asked for permission, just notified that their students' data was going out to service providers and others.
The pushback came from the above three individuals and Director DeBell.
To a person, they all said this about parental notification of student data being released (and keep in mind, we are talking about parents who may be immigrants or whose children are at-risk):
- it's hard to get forms back from these parents
- some immigrant parents may not be legal and may not want to return a form
- that there are "strategic and tactical" partnerships with the district they don't want to hurt and it's a "real necessity" to make academic data available to them.
- it's so tutors know what to focus on (another in that line of thinking that people who teach don't know their students very well)
- there is an "impression" that the Road Map project is more "cautious" than others in the country
- it could cost the district money to notify parents
- at one point, the SPS tech person said "there's nothing to protect against" which is a very odd thing for a technology person to EVER say. Mr. Wright said the district would do a "reasonable" job to protect the data. (Whew! Well, now we're all relieved, right?)
All those "reasons" and yet here's what they also all said (except for the lawyer) - that the parents of these types of students probably would not understand what the notification was for and that the parents would probably want the service for their child more than the notification.
Do you know what I instantly heard in all that?
That immigrant or at-risk children have fewer rights than other students.
That parents of these students really don't need the same rights as parents to make their OWN decisions about the lives/rights/data of their own children.
It was the most paternalistic, "we know better than they do and it's really for their children's own good" nonsense I have ever said and heard.
No district, no district official, no elected official, no foundation, no service provider, NO ONE has the right to decide what happens to a student's data if they don't at least have the decency to NOTIFY parents.
But the Times isn't going to do that.
The people named in the agreement - Jim Simon, Justin Mayo, Cheryl Phillips, Linda Shaw, Claudia Rowe, Katherine Long, Janet Horne Henderson and John Higgins - they weren't going to tell Seattle Public School parents.
Neither is Randy Dorn or anyone at OSPI.
We found out because Seattle Public Schools was aghast to find out that they, too, can lose control over where data goes and why. (Good time for them to wake up and smell the coffee.)
So, what does the Times want to start with?
Justin Mayo (employee/researcher), firstname.lastname@example.org
OSPI Contact - Deb Came or Lisa Ireland
Project Title: Seattle Times solutions journalism project and other news reporting
Summary Data Requested
CEDARS -- student enrollment, demographic, program, student/staff schedule, grade history and student absence & discipline.
Assessment - MSP, HPSE, EOC, WAAS, portfolio, WELPA
Student Growth Percentile data
Requested timeframe for data - "as soon as it is available"
Data files to contain: Research ID
Duration of agreement: through December 31, 2016