There was an important article published last week at The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post by Leonie Haimson and Cheri Kiesecker who are both public ed advocates and in leadership for the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, a national alliance of parents and others, standing up for the rights of parents and their students to protect their data.
Into the fray, via the Times, comes...Rob McKenna? You remember him, former Washington State Attorney General and failed candidate for governor? Look where he landed? At the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign.
He does not directly address the Haimson/Kiesecker article but his op-ed seems to have been generated from it. His op-ed is mostly content-free and basically "data good" and "don't worry" (and oddly, he brings Common Core into it.)
The name of the Post article is "The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children." From the article:
Remember that ominous threat from your childhood, “This will go down on your permanent record?” Well, your children’s permanent record is a whole lot bigger today and it may be permanent. Information about your children’s behavior and nearly everything else that a school or state agency knows about them is being tracked, profiled and potentially shared.
What's in that record?
A student’s education record generally includes demographic information, including race, ethnicity, and income level; discipline records, grades and test scores, disabilities and Individual Education Plans (IEPs), mental health and medical history, counseling records and much more.
Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), medical and counseling records that are included in your child’s education records are unprotected by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress in 1996). Thus, very sensitive mental and physical health information can be shared outside of the school without parent consent.
Since that time, the federal government has mandated that every state collect personal student information in the form of longitudinal databases, called Student Longitudinal Data Systems or SLDS, in which the personal information for each child is compiled and tracked from birth or preschool onwards, including medical information, survey data, and data from many state agencies such as the criminal justice system, child services, and health departments.
Every state has created a database. Washington State's is called CEDARS.
Every SLDS uses the same code to define the data, aligned with the federal CEDS, or Common Education Data Standards, a collaborative effort run by the US Department of Education, “to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20W institutions and sectors.”
You can check out the CEDS database yourself, including data points recently added, or enter the various terms like “disability,” “homeless” or “income” in the search bar.
In relation to discipline, for example, CEDS includes information concerning student detentions, letters of apology, demerits, warnings, counseling, suspension and expulsion records, whether the student was involved in an incident that involved weapons, whether he or she was arrested, whether there was a court hearing and what the judicial outcome and punishment was, including incarceration.
This type of information is obviously very sensitive and prejudicial, and often in juvenile court, records are kept sealed or destroyed after a certain period of time, especially if the child is found innocent or there is no additional offense; yet all this information can now be entered into his or her longitudinal record with no particular restriction on access and no time certain when the data would be destroyed.
But it's just for each individual state, right?
Nearly every state recently applied for a new federal grant to expand its existing student longitudinal data system, including collection, linking and sharing abilities. You can see the federal request for proposals. Pay special attention to Section V, the Data Use section of the grant proposal, requiring states to collect and share early childhood data, match students and teachers for the purpose of teacher evaluation, and promote inter-operability across institutions, agencies, and states.
Guess who won a grant? Washington State.
The federal grants encourage participation in these multi-state data exchanges. One existing multi-state database is WICHE, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which includes the 15 Western states that recently received an additional $3 million from the federal government. This WICHE document explains that the project was originally funded by the Gates Foundation, and that the foundation’s goal of sharing personal student data across state lines and across state agencies without parental consent was impermissible under FERPA until it was weakened in 2012:
The authors include a long list of what you can do including:
- Ask what methods your state is using to protect the data that the SLDS already holds, and if the data is kept encrypted, at rest and in transit.
- Ask what categories of children’s data they are collecting, which agencies are contributing to it, and what third parties, including vendors and other states, may have gained access to it.
- Ask to see any inter-agency agreements or MOUs allowing the sharing education data with other state agencies.
- Ask if any governance or advisory body made up of citizen stakeholders exists to oversee its policies.
- You should urge your state Education Department to create advisory or governance boards that include stakeholder members, to provide input on restrictions on access and security requirements.
Schools could use this data to reject students, push them out, or relegate them to remedial classes or vocational tracks.
If you send your children to a public school, under current federal law you have no way of opting out of the P20 profile that has been created by your state and potentially shared with others. You also have no right to refuse to have your child’s data disclosed to testing companies and other corporations in the name of evaluation and research.