Data Collection and Your Children: Is Your Kid Just Another Brick in the Wall?

Back to one of my major concerns - data collection on children and student data privacy.

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.

For example:

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.
You should also demand to see the specific data the SLDS holds for your own child, and to challenge it if it’s incorrect – and the state cannot legally deny you this right nor charge you for this information under FERPA.

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. 


Anonymous said…
The McKenna editorial came out of left field. It almost seemed like he was paid to write (submit) it. When I saw it in the paper yesterday, it was striking how much he he emphasized that the federal laws do not REQUIRE extensive data collection. But he did not talk about what student data the federal laws (or state or local laws) actually protect. It is remarkable to see a former public official say, don't worry about what data is being collected and transmitted by private for-profit companies without any discussion of restrictions or limitations on how they use that data. This is a public school system we are talking about. McKenna says at one point that Common Core has no "impact" on how states and schools collect and use data. There is a big difference between mandating data collection and failing to regulate how states, schools, and private entities use data that they are exchanging all the time. I'm convinced now that someone or something is trying to hide something. The McKenna piece really misses the mark. I'm not worried about what the feds are telling the schools they have to collect; it's the government's failure to make sure that my public school student's personal records do not fall into the wrong hands or become abused for for-profit purposes.

Anonymous said…
Marmauset, et al, you are not the audience for Rob McKenna's op-ed and the topic really isn't data, but rather Common Core. His audience is Republicans and moderate Democrats (who don't immediately write him off simply because he is a Republican), not people like the readers and authors of this blog.

The intent of his op-ed is to support Common Core and to convince those that can be convinced that data collection and Common Core are not synonymous. Too many people conflate the two issues. He is trying to get to those people who might support Common Core if they were convinced that Common Core is not a conspiracy to track their children/grandchildren cradle to grave.

Republican legislators and moderate Democratic legislators are hearing from constituents who are conflating Common Core and student data privacy. McKenna is trying to separate the issues so Common Core can be judged on its merits.

This is a political piece. It was not written in response to Haimson/Kiesecker. You can argue this and that; but you are not the audience.

--- aka
So Common Core "can be judged on its merits." Well, that should be an easy one and luckily, some states are figuring this out all by themselves.

But yes, they need to collect that data and you can't miss McKenna's Yoda-type push, "Data good."
Anonymous said…
Again, Melissa, you in no way are an audience for this op-ed since you intentionally perpetuate the very conflation that McKenna and others are trying to address.

You aren't going to convince anyone of your conspiracy who doesn't already agree with you. But keep on keeping on.

--- aka
Nope, I said they are two different and yet, very troubling changes, in public ed.

And you keep on as well. Keeps a lively discussion.
Anonymous said…
If our children's data is to be shared with outsiders, then all identifying information should be stripped off. Let the data be analyzed for whatever statistical uses, but keep individual children out of the equation.

kellie said…
Two years ago, I wrote a letter asking the board to NOT approve the growth boundaries plan as written and Mel published it here.

I highlighted that a six year plan had far too many unintended negatives and would too severely restrict the ability to make changes when projections did not meet expectations. When the BEX to BTA cycle is three years, a two-cycle commitment would effectively "break the bank" when there was little to no flexible space.

So two years later, we have this draconian proposal

* The effective-end of any and all waitlists. If you don't get in during open enrollment, you won't get in.
* Plans to end grandfathering, and a new plan to use geo-splits as capacity management.

These changes are NOT small and incidental. They are the effective end of any choice and/or predictability. Students will be assigned and then re-assiged at-will.

Few people will remember this but here is a version of that story. Back in 2004, at the beginning of closure and the NSAP conversation, the story was ... You are not picking a school, you are picking a Kindergarten. Your student will go to that kindergarten and then once we create boundaries, you will be re-assigned.

The following year, there was a huge shortfall in Kindergarten enrollment and that conversation ended and the closures went into high gear.

So now ten years later, everything old is new again. This proposal can easily be summed up as follows.
Trust us. Your student will be assigned somewhere and then they will be re-assigned somewhere else. You don't need to worry about it. They will go to some school, somewhere.

While only some families will feel this at elementary, every family could have this ripple effect at high school as there will likely be multiple geo-splits in place to support opening Lincoln.
Anonymous said…
So let me get this straight. If I am not the target audience of an Op-Ed, I therefore have no business commenting on said Op-Ed? Interesting. Stultifying, but interesting. Yes, he is clearly attempting to smooth the waters of those who fear data-collection and it's alleged linkage to the Common Core.

And while I might agree that the Standards themselves do not request/require data collection, unfortunately, many Districts have misused Common Core Standards as an "excuse" to collect said data. Teaching to the test, teacher evaluations based on student scores - all that kind of stuff.

Its not an inaccurate conflation on the part of people like Melissa et al. Its a misuse/misunderstanding of the Standards by School Districts. There is power in language and the fault here lies with the School Districts who either do not understand or are, perhaps taking advantage of a situation for different goals than those set out by CCSS.

However, the fact that "they" are using Rob McKenna to tout this conflation as wrong and problematic etc is interesting to me. But then, I'm not his audience, so it would be, wouldn't it? ;o)

Anonymous said…
---aka, I don't know you, but you seem to have assumed my political views simply because I criticized Rob McKenna's editorial. Sadly, your assumption is just wrong. One of the reasons why I commented on this blog is because I actually respect Rob McKenna and thought he was a good AG, and for those reasons was very disappointed at the content of his editorial. I've heard him speak multiple times, he is clearly a smart, thoughtful person. And I am too. I don't reject a viewpoint simply because of who the author is. To the contrary, I expected more from McKenna BECAUSE of who he is. You correctly identified the intent of McKenna's article - I got that too. To the extent that McKenna went beyond that intent and said don't worry about Common Core because it does not require data collection, it presents a false comfort. That is the point I was trying to make. I have a kid in public school, poised to take Common Core this year for the first time. Absolutely I am the target audience. And not just because my political views falls within the categories of persons to whom you think he was directing this article. There is a huge benefit in discussing the flaws (and benefits, to the extent they exist, which is questionable) of the Common Core program, as well as data collection. As Melissa says, keep up the discussion.

Anonymous said…
Wow, reader47, you took your own reading of my comments and ran with them, didn't you? Impressive. No one said you have no business commenting on the op-ed. I think Melissa, et al were looking for a more robust discussion via the op-ed of the pros and cons of data collection, access to data, uses of data, etc.

My point was that this was not the intent of the op-ed. McKenna's audience are not those people who have already decided that Common Core is bad, regardless. There's little to no hope that he's going to bring those people around. His audience are those people who are skeptical of Common Core but could be supporters with more information.

And why is Rob McKenna "interesting" as a voice on this topic? With that asked, I would agree with you that, since you're not his audience, you would find this interesting. But for those of us in the moderate middle, McKenna seems like a good spokesperson. Not everything is partisan and ideologically pure.

--- aka
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Marmauset. Again, upon re-reading your original comment and now this second, I think you had larger expectations for the op-ed (which is not a treatise, by the way) than was intended (or even possible). And I disagree that the op-ed delivers the message that people shouldn't worry about Common Core "because it does not require data collection." I think, as I stated previously, that he was saying not to conflate the two issues. Feel free to debate Common Core and debate data collection, etc. But assuming these two issues are one and the same won't allow for an honest debate of either.

--- aka
C'mon aka, no one said that Common Core and data collection are one issue. Not even me.
Anonymous said…
No one on this thread may have suggested they are the same, but what I said was, "Republican legislators and moderate Democratic legislators are hearing from constituents who are conflating Common Core and student data privacy."

--- aka

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