Thursday, December 19, 2013

Common Core and your family’s data

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an 8-part series exploring Common Core

In May 2010 the New York State Education Department reveled in the receipt of a $20 million grant from the federal government that was dedicated to the implementation of a statewide longitudinal data system (LDS). The alleged goal of the new system was to begin the matching of student, teacher, and course information at the pre-school through Grade 12 levels and ultimately link the vast amount of amassed information with the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY).

This master plan was not the result of an independent need as determined by the State. Rather, it was a submission to the federal government, as the only way to secure more of the $4 billion in Race to the Top funds was to include an LDS project in the application. Race to the Top is also the Obama Administration’s funding tool – and attractant -- for Common Core adoption.

Common Core’s reliance on individual and aggregate student data was not entirely unexpected as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation remains the largest funding source for Common Core, Inc. Look at who benefits from new, mandated computer systems: Bill Gates’ Microsoft (more on this in part 8 of the series). Data-mining is also par for the course in modern government --- look at what the National Security Agency (NSA) gleans from our cell phones, emails, and internet searches. 

As is the case with the NSA’s data collection, citizens should look at Common Core’s with a concerned eye.

The primary software manager and data hoarder behind Common Core’s computer system is inBloom, an Atlanta-based company founded by the Carnegie Corp. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (they they area again!). inBloom will manage every students’ grades, test scores, and attendance reports. On top of that, New York will also collect suspension records, medical diagnoses and economic status. All of the information will be held in a cloud managed by which is accessible by every school administrator across the state, unknown numbers of SUNY and CUNY personnel, federal officials, and inBloom’s commercial clients who will allegedly use the data only to develop teaching modules and learning products. Many more may gain access because inBloom openly admits – despite the expertise of its backers – that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored…or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

Parents across the country have raised a stink about the data-mining. Beyond the security fears, many parents see their child’s school records as being something that only they and their local districts can possess and only the parents should be able to decide who else sees. It’s not something that should be shared with just anyone without consent. The thinking is that detailed school history – especially with the finer nuances included - is just as sensitive as an individual’s medical records and should be treated with the same dignity. 

This invasion of privacy and sharing of information across multiple sectors was not what was intended or, more accurately, it’s not what was originally portrayed to the masses. In the press releases that accompanied New York’s acquisition of the database grant in 2010, Senior Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education John King was quoted as saying, “We are building a data rich foundation for the continuous analysis and improvement of the state’s education structure.” There was no mention of federal or commercial interests and their ability to acquire the same information for their uses.

It just so happens that King is now the state education commissioner and he remains the only education head in the US still pushing ahead with a statewide data-mining plan. Other states that received grants (like Georgia and Delaware) have pulled out while Massachusetts is experimenting with inBloom in just a select few districts.

Others still are watching and waiting. Educators and bureaucrats across the nation want to learn from our experience with inBloom: They want New Yorkers to work out the bugs for them; suffer the consequences of software and security flaws and lawsuits; and make the initial abandonment of families’ right to privacy.

New York is, for once, a leader --- but not in a way any self-respecting parent would like.         

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