Seattle Times and OSPI Sign Deal for SPS Student Data

I learned of this yesterday but was waiting.  KUOW has done a good job showing the issues around student data privacy.

To note:

- 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.

"Wow," 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.

The 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 performance.

But he said access to this level of data is valuable.

“There’s 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 credentials."

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.

"The 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.

"Here, [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 through."

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.



Concerned said…
This is incredibly upsetting. Would opting out of any/all testing help protect my kid? What are the downsides to opting out?
Concerned, not testing would not protect your child. (But opting out is a vote for more oversight. If masses of people pull out, both the district and OSPI would pay attention.)

Downsides, that depends on your personal beliefs. Teachers are being evaluated with test scores part of that (as are schools). Some might say to you that you hurt your school if you opt out.

However, if you believe your child is being hurt, not being served by some policies of the district or state, it is within your right to opt out.
Maje said…
I know that some of this has already been covered in other posts... but did any of those data opt-out forms that we filled out at the beginning of the year cover this release of data?

I can't think of a single reason why letting the Seattle Times have my child's SSN will be helpful to anyone except identity thieves.

Is there any way to opt out of this now?
Anonymous said…
If you check the information sharing agreement you will see that the Seattle Times has requested the following fields:

-Student enrollment/demographics/program flags
-Student schedule/courses
-Staff schedule
-Student grade history
-Student absences (school year 2012-13)
-Student discipline (school year 2012-13)

They are not requesting, nor will they receive student names, SSN, or other identifying information. They will receive a data file with research IDs, an alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies each student in the data file.

I still am uncomfortable with the request because they are not a research body and with small cell sizes students could possibly be identified with a bit of work. However, the suggestion that names and SSNs are being shared is clear hyperbolic baiting.

Anonymous said…
I wonder if there are any grounds for a lawsuit.

Ivan Weiss
I need to review the agreement again which is not very well-written (as it contradicts itself in a couple of places). I don't believe SSN and other PII would be accessible but that does NOT mean that students could not be identified.

Honesty, people are just learning about and asking pertinent questions. Asking about SSN is not hyperbolic baiting at this point.
Anonymous said…
Note that the Road Map Project has access to this and much more. This post on the Seattle Eduction 2010 blog has more about where FERPA stands right now:

Ann D
Ivan, checked with the ACLU. Probably not but it is the best worst-case example you could find.

I suspect the fine (and powerful) hand of the Gates Foundation in all this. The Seattle Times may be doing "research" but they are not doing it for OSPI or Seattle Schools. They are, in fact, a for-profit company.

This is just the beginning.

I note that the Times has remained silent so far.
Ebenezer said…
The one bright spot in this is it reinforces our decision nearly a year ago to cancel our Seattle Times subscription. Otherwise, it's pretty sickening. I can imagine this motivating more people to drop their subscriptions, although the Gates Foundation can supply the Times with funds. Who knows, maybe they'll even buy the paper from Blethen someday, ala Jeff Bezos.

I'm sad that Randy Dorn isn't up for re-election until 2016. I don't think he's immune to pressure from constituents. Even though the Times won't cover it, I think making a ruckus about this, including writing to the Governor and state legislators, is a good idea.
Watching said…
Who is funding Seattle Times Education Lab?
Eric M said…

This is Gates behind the curtain.

Torches and pitchforks.

On the other hand, how is it worse than any of the other indignities heaped upon students and teachers in the last decade by the Ministry of Truth?

I'm sure we can get used to it pretty quickly.
Stop This!!! said…
My son's classmate is an investigative journalist at the Seattle Times. He is one of the people entitled to see this information!
Stop This!! said…
Who will utilize and manipulate this data??
Stop this!! said…
Write Randy Dorn regarding this issue. Here is his e-mail address:
Greenwoody said…
Are there any grassroots organizations focused on education in Seattle that can help mobilize to stop this? I know there are orgs like League of Education Voters, Alliance 4 Ed, and others but they've been totally co-opted by the reformers. I'd love to join an org that is opposed to this "ed reform" nonsense. I know they exist in many other states.
Who is funding Seattle Times Education Lab?

The Gates Foundation, of course.

Greenwoody, there are several of us that are working on this issue and yes, may need to organize. Stay tuned.

One thing to keep in mind in this whole education discussion - there are still a few of us who do NOT have funders or bosses.

And we fear no one.
Unknown said…
Just because the Times can get the date doesn't mean it should get the data.

Data sharing issues have been very hard for the common person to grasp. I think this is an excellent time for people to get educated and demand better protection for school students' information privacy. We would want it for ourselves. Unfortunately, the nation's largest parent advocacy group-the National PTA has fallen down on the job and is distributing "information" to parents that seems to pander to the interests of data mongers. Parents need to wake up and demand that school boards, OSPI, and legislators start paying better attention.

There will be more and more instances of data being abused, data being stolen and data being sold.

Interestingly and paradoxically, the Data Quality Campaign, which as far as I can tell has been encouraging parents to drink the koolaid, now has the following posted on their website (in response to the report by Fordham University's Center on Law and Information Policy):

"When states and districts are only focused on compliance with federal laws, we don’t end up with the transparency and strong governance we need..."


"We can do a better job of protecting and using data through policy actions that involve transparent discussions about why we need data, how we are using and protecting them, and outlining how decisions are made within the state of how data are collected, stored, accessed, shared, and deleted.

Protecting the privacy, security, and confidentiality of student data is not in contradiction with effective data use; rather it is an essential component of effective data use. States and districts need to act now to fulfill the tremendous value of data, by protecting privacy and using data effectively and appropriately to give our kids the education they deserve.”

I see this posting by the Data Quality Campaign as a disingenuous attempt to have their cake and eat it, too.

The Gates Foundation (who funds the Data Quality Campaign) need to stop blaming these kinds of issues on the foibles of individual districts and schools and admit that they are driving the charge. The Gates Foundation has been relentlessly banging the drum for data, and not just any old data, but personally identifiable horizontal data (tracking.)

Sarah said…
What is going on? We can no loner visualize the data-sharing agreement between OSPI and the Seattle Times unless we log into a cloud, and I'm not comfortable signing onto a cloud.

Concerned, I was going to tell you to look at section 2 of the agreement. The Seattle Times will have access to your address and a lot of information about you and your family.

There needs to be a protest in front of the Gates Foundation AND the Seattle Times.
Maple Leafer said…
Question - the OSPI is saying it's not going to release SS#s -- but did the data sharing agreement say they could?

As for the Education Lab project, that's something to watch. It's all about "Solutions Journalism" - which means journalism that gives "helpful suggestions" to solve societal problems. I'm just wondering whose agenda is being served by those suggestions.

Education Lab is here:

Team for Solutions Journalism is here:
Sarah, such an opportunity presents itself at the Gates Foundation on Saturday, December 28th. Let's all see what we can get going.
mirmac1 said…
Ironically, for all the faux protections FERPA exercises over our students' education records, in return those who would be most damaged have no legal cause of action against those clamoring for the "...giant welter of new data..." (!!).

As someone who has spoken out aggressively against those who would take over our public schools and my child's education, I figure the unscrupulous Times could easily try to silence me, given the info they can now triangulate to identify my child.
mirmac1 said…
BTW, I believe KUOW's Ann Dornfeld has added to her report.
Unknown said…
The KUOW article has been changed to emphasize that OSPI says it will remove identifiable information, including names (and social security numbers,) from data it supplies under the agreement.

Even so, as one privacy expert points out, that does not preclude someone from being able to identify students.
mirmac1 said…
Write to your state elected representatives and tell them to come down on OSPI.
Unknown said…
Error correction: in a previous post, I discussed horizontal data. This is the wrong term, although I meant vertical data, a more precise term would be longitudinal data.

Getting back to the issues, I would like to point out that both the Times and KUOW receive funds from the Gates Foundation to report on education.

Something that I find really ironic about all this is that Supt. Banda and apparently some members of the school board are upset about the fact that a data agreement was made without their knowledge or consent. I say, "Welcome to the club."
Anonymous said…
From the updated KUOW story.

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to strengthen its focus on student data privacy. The original version, which contained more specifics from an agreement between the state schools office and The Seattle Times, left some of our readers mistakenly believing that their children’s names and Social Security numbers had been released to the Times. While the story did not say that, we want to remove any doubts. The agreement can be viewed below.

I don't know whether you have an updating policy, but it might be good to reflect that in the blog post as well?

Gee Honesty, you just want to nail everyone on everything. Sure, I'll update it when I can but do I believe that the update means much? I do not.
Unknown said…
Another error correction: KUOW does not receive any funds from the Gates Foundation. There are many media outlets who do, including some public media outlets, but KUOW is not one of them.

Additionally, OSPI has put out the following statement. From Nathan Olson, Communications Manager for OSPI:

"The recent KUOW story about student data being provided to The Seattle Times is inaccurate.

OSPI takes student privacy laws very seriously. No identifiable information will be given to The Times. All student records have been “de-identified,” meaning that we will remove student names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers. Furthermore, the data sharing agreement prevents Times’ staff from trying to identify individual students, as well as from reporting anything that would allow others to identify individual students."

I guess more than anything else, this incident points out that FERPA is a lousy law, deserving of legislative attention. If a group purporting to be doing education research wants educational data, there is currently little any parent can do to prevent their child's confidential information from being accessed. A parent has no right to be notified and no right to opt out.
Anonymous said…
I'm providing the link below for CEDARS, OSPI's comprehensive data collection system on students, schools, teachers, districts. It would be worth exploring all of the info on the link. Even without SS numbers, there are many ways the data can at least narrow down who the student is. And for schools in small rural districts it will be particularly easy to identify the student.
Really Honest said…

Please go to the KUOW link and read the contract between OPSI and ST.


Identification of Authorized Contractor Officials:

"The Seattle Times may request access to and limited use of information contained in student assessment as well as OTHER CONFIDENTIAL DATA for the purposes...."

In other words, the Seattle Times has access to a wide variety of student information. Claims of not releasing SS numbers may be true, but that does not mean ST won't have access to student discipline records and other sensitive information related to special need students etc.
Anonymous said…
I'm not a lawyer but from what I can see only a school can make exceptions and disclosures and that the exception needs to be noted in the student's record.

How would OSPI be able to add any such notation to a student's district records?

Here are some links in case you can figure something else out from them:

Safeguarding Student Privacy

FERPA for Students

FERPA for Parents

Family Policy Compliance Office

Ann D

Watching said…
Ann D is correct. We do not know anything about the information OSPI disclosed to the Seattle Times.

Clearly, OSPI considered Seattle Times a research organization and they are not. OPSI released our children's information to a data analyst and journalists.

I recommend individuals write to OSPI and ask for them to terminate their agreement with Seattle Times.

Also looks like FOIA time.
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