Student Database Raises Alarms

From Reuters, well, I'll let their headline say it all:
 "K-12 Student Database Jazzes Tech Startups, Spooks Parents."  

From the story: (bold mine)

An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares.

But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.

In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school - even homework completion.

Local education officials retain legal control over their students' information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.

Entrepreneurs can't wait.

"This is going to be a huge win for us," said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week's SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products - educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

So many of you have sent me articles about this database and this one is shocking.
The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states - Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts - have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide.

Thanks, Bill.  The next person who says to me, "I don't know how you make money off public education" or "Gates doesn't make any money off public education."  This is Exhibit A.


Federal officials say the database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any "school official" who has a "legitimate educational interest," according to the Department of Education. The department defines "school official" to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.

The database also gives school administrators full control over student files, so they could choose to share test scores with a vendor but withhold social security numbers or disability records.

So frankly, you are only as good as your principal or district.  And, you'll note the district has the choice. 

While inBloom pledges to guard the data tightly, its own privacy policy states that it "cannot guarantee the security of the information stored ... or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted."

Fans of the project respond that the files are safer in the database than scattered about school districts. Plus, they say, the potential upside is enormous, with the power to transform classrooms across the U.S.

Really? And you know that how?

Johnny's teacher can watch his development on a "dashboard" that uses bright graphics to map each of her students' progress on dozens, even hundreds, of discrete skills.

"You can start to see what's effective for each particular student," said Adria Moersen, a high school teacher in Colorado who has tested some of the new products.

The sector is undeniably hot; technology startups aimed at K-12 schools attracted more than $425 million in venture capital last year, according to the NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit that focuses on the sector. The investment company GSV Advisors tracked 84 deals in the sector last year, up from 15 in 2007.

In addition to its $100 million investment in the database, the Gates Foundation has pledged $70 million in grants to schools and companies to develop personalized learning tools.

Education technology companies can use the same platform to design their software, so their programs will hook into a rich trove of student data if a district or state authorizes access.
That prospect has some companies dreaming big.

Larry Berger, an executive at Amplify Education, says the data could be mined to develop "early warning systems." Perhaps it will turn out, for instance, that most high school dropouts began to struggle with math at age 8. If so, all future 8-year-olds fitting that pattern could be identified and given extra help.

Those of you that don't like tracking in classrooms - this is uber-tracking.

Companies with access to the database will also be able to identify struggling teachers and pinpoint which concepts their students are failing to master. One startup that could benefit: BloomBoard, which sells schools professional development plans customized to each teacher.

I just can't believe this is really worth the downside which is the loss of your child's data and even privacy.


mirmac1 said…
I hate to be an "I told you so, but..."

Jessica DeBarros and CCER has your child's info

So, if I wanted to exempt my disabled child's data, I CAN'T! You have your elected officials to thank for gutting FERPA so that it is essentially meaningless.
dw said…
Yes mirmac, I've been following this for a while as well. I left a comment related to this topic a couple weeks ago on the Strategic Plan thread, but no one seemed to notice. The first (more detailed) comment oddly disappeared, but I'll repeat the 2nd attempt here:


@mirmac1: now we have the RoadMap Project. I urge you to read the grant proposal on their website. There is a little of there for everyone, including data analysis consultants.

For others who aren't aware of this, here's a link to the Road Map Project web site. I've been poking around their site, but haven't run into a grant proposal yet, do you have a direct link?

There's Pre-K readiness, there's college preparedness. But there's alot of opening the kimono with regards to your child's personal info. Gee, did you learn that through community engagement. I'm sure it was through phony feel good meetings like the SP Taskforce.

You're absolutely right about the kimono opening. All this P20 stuff is intended to track each individual kid from preschool through college (and beyond, to their first jobs as well, if they can get that data). It's tied to edu-reform throughout the country. Look up SLDS (Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems) to find tons of information about these kinds of projects.

The NCES Grant FAQ states:

These data systems securely follow students from early education through the workforce and facilitate the disaggregation, reporting, and analyses of longitudinal data.

and: In addition, states have developed Memoranda of Understanding for data sharing, access and reporting when working with other agencies, universities or outsides researchers.

So we can see that they are collecting data, disaggregating it and providing it to 3rd parties (like these guys: ?), none of which we have any control over. Or do we?

Mirmac1, there was a recent question about public directory information, and the right to opt out. Are you aware of any way to opt out of this type of data collection and dissemination? I want to opt out right now.


So I take it from your comment above that you've verified (how?) that there's no way to opt individual kids out of this egregious misappropriation of kids' personal data?

Parents from all corners need to put our heads together and figure out how to stop this, or at least ensure that there's a way for parents to opt out. The only thing I can think of at this point is for our School Board to create a policy that clearly gives that option to parents. Thoughts?
mirmac1 said…
Yes, all 600+ pages worth. I'll get that link for you.

I've read the new and improved FERPA, and there is an exception for "studies and research". So edu-preneurs can use little Johnny's data to make $$$. Ka-ching!
Yes, and thank you to everyone who does this research and has been on about it. Parents need to know this is happening (or coming).
mirmac1 said…
Check that, make that 1000 pages including appendices.

scroll to the middle of this web page

And CCER put this proposal together out of the goodness of their hearts at no cost to the 8 districts. That's because their salaries are already covered by Gates.
dw said…
But iirc they reserve the right to charge later. It's only "free" for now.

Seriously people, how can we put a stop to this kind of data gathering of our kids?! Even facebook (supposedly) doesn't allow kids under age 13 to use their service. Pretty bad if your privacy policy is worse than facebook and there's no way to opt out.

Once this data is out in the wild, it's never going to go away. And it will, over time, get married with other data. This is bad, bad, bad.
Watching said…

Thank you SO much for this information. I knew states were releasing information, but I've never seen Wa. State included in the list.

I'm really not happy that Banda and Mary Jean Ryan signed off on this.

Do we know specifically which information will be released? I"ve signed a paper so my kids information isn't released..does it matter?
Watching said…
It appears the District cannot release student personal information, but OSPI may.
uxolo said…
The Road Map grant came before Banda arrived
mirmac1 said…
Right, but Banda signed away our student's data. He got sucked into the reform maelstrom.
Linh-Co said…
This isn't exactly on topic but the student data base idea came out of the Race to the Top initiative and Common Core State Standards. Some might find this map useful of the states that have already rejected CCSS and the states that have legislation pending for rejection.

Washington should wake up and reject Federal intervention.

Anonymous said…
This is so concerning. Any ideas how we opt out? Is it even possible? I'd be willing to educate the parents at my school and write to the board/Banda en masse.

QAE Parent
Dora said…
First, you have to opt out of the MAP test. That's one piece of information that is not collected and provided anonymously.

Then you can start a collective lawsuit as parents in Massachusetts did. You can go to
The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates, a national data bank, Wireless Gen…and FERPA?
to see the letter that the ACLU wrote on their behalf.

Other than that, I don't have any other answers. This deal was done in an underhanded manner, behind closed doors. If you look at the Road Map website, you can see all that is promised but after the money is spent on collating information, there will be no money for these wonderful sounding projects.

The district made a deal with the Federal government and is receiving money for this. I don't think they can renege. At this time, it's in our hands.
Dora said…
The worst part, is that the most personal information that we are to provide is from individuals who have the least and are the most vulnerable.

If you look at the list that is shown on
The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates, a national data bank, Wireless Gen…and FERPA?
of all of the information promised to the Federal government, a lot of it is very personal information such as a child's birth weight.

Dora said…
This is from the Class Matters website and pertains to New York although we can do this in our state, some of the players will be different. We would write letters to Randy Dorn at OSPI, instead of the Commissioner, Banda, our school board members because I can't imagine that they weren't aware of what was going on, the WSPTA, although I have my doubts about them doing anything. I'd also contact the Casey Foundation because out of the list of "Supporters" on the Road Map website, I can't imagine that they understood what has going on and maybe throw in a letter to the Gates Foundation just for the heck of it.

Anyway, here is the excerpt from
Class Size Matters

What can parents do?

Ask your elected officials, CEC, PTA, or other parent or community group to send a letter to the State or DOE, protesting this violation of student privacy rights.

Email the following letter to NYS Education Commissioner John King, with a copy to Chancellor Walcott, the Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation, which is in charge of governance, demanding that your child’s confidential educational records NOT be shared with ANY third parties.

If the Commissioner does not respond within five business days, follow up with a phone call to his office at (518) 474 – 5844. And please let us know his response by emailing us at
Dora said…
You could also start a petition, start up a Facebook page and get the word out through blogs and the press.

The most important action to do right now is to make others aware of what is happening.
Dora said…
I just found this gem, the doc that shows Banda agreeing to provide student data to Gates' backed CCER. Unfortunately, Bnda didn't know all of the players in Seattle and I believe got snookered into this deal,
Anonymous said…
This is really disturbing. It is not clear to me - is this actually happening in our state or school district currently or will it be in the near future. I have heard nothing about it and yet surely this is a huge thing that needs to be shared with parents via state or district (or even school administration).
We must have a way to opt out - surely it violates every privacy policy out there if not. Even facebook can't do this sort of thing when it comes to kids - and you know it's pretty bad when facebook has the moral highground when it comes to privacy! This is about protecting our kids futures - who knows who will have access to this info (and additional info from other sources over time) and how it will be used in 10, 20, 30 years time. I value my privacy immensely (have opted out of facebook etc) and I will fight for my kids privacy!

Private person
Dora said…
Private person,

Our district, along with six other school districts, were awarded the Race to the Top funds in December of 2012 and I am sure that CCER is working as we speak on developing the framework to collect the data with the help of Microsoft who was a contributor to this cause. See the list of supporters here,
Our Supporters

For more information on this grant, check out
Race to the Top Results are In: 16 Winners, More than 300 Losers
Dora said…
Private person,

I would also contact Banda to confirm when the student data is to be turned over to Gates/CCER and copy your school board representative on the correspondence.

Anonymous said…
to gather supporters of an opt-out option, we could consider a petition at - it would be more professional than facebook and wouldn't require a facebook account?

~would opt out
mirmac1 said…
I found it very interesting that the executed MOU with CCER NEVER came up before the board for intro and action. That to me demonstrates underhandedness.

Here is the only third-party named that will get to see this data. The MOU leaves it open for other third-parties to share our kids info in the name of "research"
Anonymous said…
So, even if we signed FERPA disallowing the release of data on our children, the release to the RoadMap (via SPS or OPSI) is outside FERPA protections? Or permitted via a loophole in FERPA?

Is that correct?
-grumpy mom
mirmac1 said…
"The studies exception allows for the disclosure of PII (personally identifying information) from education records without consent to organization conducting studies..."

The new reformie FERPA
Ray Pompon said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Hmm.... took a poke around their website and read through their documentation. They rely almost entirely on Rackspace for the security. So basically, they've outsourced all of their protection.
Anonymous said…
How can we get word out to more folks about this. I am sure a LOT of parents would object strongly to their kids privacy being compromised in this way - but this is happening under the radar. I don't feel like I understand it well enough, but if I did, I'd be wanting to publicize it far and wide, PTAs, media etc.
Private organizations should not be given the right access this kind of info about our children by stealth, without parents/community input.

Private person
Anonymous said…
Private Person and Others...

Copy the URL of this page and post it to your FB page, Twitter and send via emails to friends/neighbors...

Solvay Girl
mirmac1 said…
private person,

At the end of the guidance document I just posted, you will see that the district has NOT followed best practice in preparing this MOU or informing ANYONE!

I want to point out to Dora that the MOU does not mention MAP (if I remember right). They seek HSPE, EOC and MSP scores and will get them.
Anonymous said…
Solvay girl

Privacy is important to me so I'm not on Facebook, twitter, other social media - maybe other folks can spread the word about this though.

Private Person
A-mom said…
First, undermine public education by convincing the public it fails- tests created to be failed by half of the students.
Second, come to the rescue with privatization schemes and technology, at a generous discount of course!

A link about Walmart's benevolent efforts in LA
suep. said…
@ mirmac1,

And yet, apparently the Gates Foundation has made the purchase/use of MAP® part of its requirements for awarding the Hartford School District in Connecticut a $5 million grant.

(See: OP-ED | Beware of Foundations Bearing Gifts)

But here's the particularly chilling part -- mandated data-sharing. Another Gates stipulation apparently states that NWEA, Inc. will provide (student? test scores? private info?) information to "Gates Partners."

“In addition, the State of Connecticut is moving to NWEA providing additional information to Gates Partners.”

(Also see:

So even if it's not stated in this particular MOU at the moment, I wouldn't assume that MAP® data isn't also being trafficked between our school district and businesses.

Also, in order to 'recalibrate' its data, NWEA, Inc. has to collect the student test scores from all the markets where it has sold its product (MAP®). I'm not willing to be naive enough to assume that those data points do not have all kinds of private student info attached to them too.
suep. said…
A-mom -- I think you've nailed it. It's the "shock doctrine" applied to public ed.
dw said…

Privacy is important to me so I'm not on Facebook, twitter, other social media - maybe other folks can spread the word about this though.

Many parents don't do the facebook crap, myself included. However, we can ALL put the word out to our friends and fellow parents about this ridiculously invasive scam. Simply put, it was an agreement made in secrecy, that sells our kids' personal data. The best way to fight something done in secrecy is to daylight the heck out of it.

There are a lot of ways to get the word out.

Make sure the parents who send out communications for your kids' classrooms get word of this; they can send out a quick note, perhaps with a link to Sue/Dora's page ( Road Map Project ... National Data Bank of kids' personal information )

If your kids play sports, be sure to mention it to the other parents when you drop off and pick up.

If you have high schoolers, mention that this might make a good topic for the school newspaper.

There may (or may not) be good intentions with a program like this, but it's inexcusable that there is no way for parents to opt out.
dw said…
Also, it looks like the ACLU is getting involved with this same issue in Massachusetts. Perhaps some legal action will take place?

If anyone picks up the ball here and files a lawsuit locally on this, please post on this blog. I don't have a lot to spare, but I will definitely contribute to any such action.
Linh-Co said…
You won't be able to opt out of the EOC because it will be used as a high school graduation requirement starting 2015.

And the PTSA will be of no help in advocating for parents. Over a year ago when the legislature was taking public comments on CCSS and Race to the Top, several of us went down to Olympia to testify against giving up state's rights and local control. Stand on Children and the president of Washington State PTA were there to endorse both CCSS and Race to the Top.

dw said…
Stand on Children and the president of Washington State PTA were there to endorse both CCSS and Race to the Top.

Then perhaps it's time to make a concerted effort to change the leadership of WSPTA? (there's no hope for Stand on Children) It would take a strong, grass roots effort because the powers-that-be have infiltrated many (most?) education-related groups. And make no mistake, there's both good and bad to most of these programs, like CCSS and RttT.

But there's absolutely no excuse to be building massive data stores of kids' personal data with no way for parents to opt out, and I think that if WSPTA leadership wants to play games on this one, they risk getting dragged through the mud.

Campaign debate question: "Do you, or do you not, favor a provision that allows parents to opt out of student data collection that can be sent to private companies?"
mirmac1 said…
It appears that CCER wrote the data-sharing MOU based on a draft provided by...?! SPS staff did NOTHING by way of due diligence or FERPA best practice. And Banda's earnestness not to make waves, (and buried by the Alliance/CCER/LEV tsunami) just blithely signed our kids info away.
Watching said…

Do you know who provided the draft for CCER?
mirmac1 said…
No I don't. I'll do some poking around.
Anonymous said…
There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to special ed services. However, I don't think all schools can accomodate all kids. It would be nice if every school have the money, physical environment, and staff to accomodate all kinds of need. My niece in CA is in special ed and requires significant speech, OT/PT therapy along with learning support. She had to switch schools several times to find one that best met her needs. A lot of the turmoil is due to all the budget cuts, staff cuts, staff rotation, growing enrollment, and the usual red tape with special ed services. The family realized a long time ago their neighborhood school wasn't going to be enough. Her level of care and therapy requires her to go to a bigger school which has a larger spec ed staff and offer more services while still getting an inclusive learning environment.

real world
Watching said…
Thank you, Mirimac. I appreciate the fact you let us know about this.
mirmac1 said…
Here an interesting matrix from the state data warehouse.

Evergreen State P-20W Personally-Identifiable Data Set Sharing Matrix
mirmac1 said…
you're welcome Watching.

Can somebody compare this sample agreement and see if the CCER MOU stands up to muster, please?
DemocracyMom said…
Not to creep anybody out, but the overall goal of this "cradle to career" data tracking is to keep a national database of this information. Read up on the National Education Data Model at

Something else that bears watching is the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER Center). More information on them is at
DemocracyMom said…
Forgot to mention how the NEDM and the Calder Center are connected. The NEDM is done by the federal National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the federal Institute for Education Sciences (IES). The CALDER Center is supported by a grant from IES. From the CALDER web site: "CALDER is one of the new federally funded National Research and Development Centers and is supported by a five-year, $10 million grant from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. Led by Jane Hannaway, the Center is a joint project of the Urban Institute, where she directs the Education Policy Center, and scholars at Duke University, Stanford University, the University of Florida, the University of Missouri, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Washington."

Sorry for all the acronyms. Public/private partnerships get confusing that way.
dw said…
So is this it? It sounds like there's some outrage about this (rightly so), but this is an active blog, so posts roll off the first page pretty quickly.

Is anyone interested in taking an active role in raising awareness about this issue and creating pushback?

We can start by leaning on our school board directors, but they are also dealing with huge capacity problems right now. Still, they should all be made aware of what's happening, and that parents are upset.

Anyone know how to dig (deeply) and find out if we, as parents, truly have no rights whatsoever to opt out?

How about a national push to allow opt-out? Perhaps one of the citizen complaint polls like the one pushing to allow people to change cell phone providers.

I don't want this to be like so many issues where parents complain and then roll over and take whatever comes.
Don't let the ball drop said…

Don't let capacity issues deter you from writing the board. It is unclear if the board is aware of this issue. I plan on asking if we can have an opt- in vs. opt-out.

I encourage you to take the MOU and present it to your PTA for discussion. It is important for parents to become aware.

Tell friends and parents of children in your kid's classroom.

Dora did a great piece on this. Looks like the ACLU might have an interest.
Watching said…
I double checked with the district- we can NOT opt our children out of this study.
dw said…

But is it the district that is in control, or is some part of this at the state level. I guarantee I've never given information like "birth weight" to the district.

There are multiple levels to attack, and the state might (or might not) feel more empowered to act on behalf of kids/families on something like this.


That's a great idea about presenting the MOU at PTA meetings.

People, THE WORD HAS TO GET OUT QUICKLY ON THIS! Don't assume that others will be doing it for you, most people have no clue this is happening.

Everyone, please click the link at the top of this page (mirmac1's first comment), print out the MOU, highlight all the information that will be shared, and present it at every PTA meeting or other grouping of parents that you can. It would be great to print out the SeattleEducation2010 article as well, so people can have more info. Heck, print out a few copies so others can take them as well.

Something else people need to be aware of is that data-hungry organizations like these never stop at one source. They will get data from multiple sources and marry the data together to get as many details as possible.
Don't drop the ball. said…
The district signed a MOU giving the state (OSPI) permission to release our children'as information. I'm unclear if BOTH the district and OSPI will release informaiton.

The Fed. government creates FERPA laws. FERPA laws have been relaxed to allow student information to be given to research companies; I suspect Bill Gates is behind this:

Yes, there are multiple levels to attack. I would begin at the local level- Banda is the one that signed the MOU. I'm uncertain if the board is even aware. I would encourage you to distribute the MOU amongst the parents in your school and PTA. Encourage parents to write to the SPS board and testify at school board meetings. School Board meetings are taped and is broadcast to a wider audience.

At the state level, I suggest you inform your senator and legislators that our children's private information is allowed to be distributed to research companies.

I would also encourage you to inform the community that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is behind a lot of this


The district has informed me that we can NOT opt our children out. Please share this with your community.

I understand the MOU was signed as a requirement of RTT funding. I'm unclear how long the district will share our children's informaiton.

The MOU states the district will personalize our children's information using their ID number. How can we be sure? What about kids receiving services? CCRE can ask for additional information.

Think about contacting the ACLU. Here is what happened in Mass.:

Don't let the ball drop said…

Section 3 describes the data that will be released. Please point out section 3.1 which will allow CCRE to ask for additional information. So, really, CCRE can get any information they want.
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