Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Selling Student Data

Student Privacy For Sale to Highest Bidder?


How safe is the personal information of public school students? This is a question that parents are starting to ask themselves. We teach them to keep their personal information as private as possible. We teach them how to protect themselves from predators who may be lurking on social media sites. Yet some of their sensitive information is already available to the highest bidder and it isn’t because of Facebook. It’s available through their school records.
Most parents know about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act(FERPA). It was enacted in 1974 and is supposed to protect the privacy of students educational records. Originally, it required parental consent for any access to a student’s educational records.
(Photo: Okko Pyykkö/CC)
(Photo: Okko Pyykkö/CC)
In 2009, however, several important amendments(pdf) were made to parts of FERPA. One of them was an amendment to 34 CFR § 99.31(a)(1), which now allows the disclosure of education records, without the consent of a parent or guardian, to third party consultants, contractors, volunteers, or any other group to whom an educational institution has outsourced services or functions.
So, a school or educational institution can share whatever information they want with whoever they want without you knowing about it. In fact, in New York City, it’s already happening.
inBloom is an open source, cloud-based education data portal. It will be used to store student information. According to inBloom’s website, they’re “dedicated to bringing together the data, content and tools educators need to make personalized learning a reality for every student.”
It is partly funded by both the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation and was partially built by Wireless Generation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Wireless Generation, part of Amplify, has already had its hands on some NYC student data for some time now. They created the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS). They recently got a $12.5 million contract to develop assessments and teaching tools for Common Core tests  inBloom also claims to be a tool for transitioning to Common Core standards.
All of these groups have something else in common – they’re at the forefront of education “reform”.
There is also a question of security. Parents who are not tech savvy are uncomfortable with cloud-based storage because they are not aware of just how secure it is. While they know that moving data to the cloud will cut costs in the long run, how do they know their children’s information will be properly protected? Fears are exacerbated by news that in March of this year it was discovered that Amazon’s cloud storage system was improperly configured, resulting in 126 billion files being accidentally exposed to the public.
Opponents of inBloom are worried about just what kind of student information is going to be made available and to whom. As of now, all information can and is being shared with third party groups, including identifiable information such as a student’s name, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, pictures, test scores, grades, attendance records, race/ethnicity, health records that are available to schools,  economic and disability status. In states where Social Security numbers are used as student ID numbers, that information will also be made available.
Leonie Haimson, founder and Executive Director of Class Size Matters, organized a student privacy town hall meeting in Brooklyn on April 29. During her presentation, she pointed out that confidential disciplinary records could potentially be leaked. “This could damage our children’s prospects for life if it leaks out.”
It is important to note that both The Gates Foundation and inBloom were invited to participate in the meeting. Neither group sent representatives.
What if you don’t want you child’s information to be stored with inBloom? Too bad.
Since your child’s educational record is considered property of their school district you have very little say in what they can do with it.
Part of inBloom was built by Wireless Generation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (Photo: David Shankbone/CC).
Part of inBloom was built by Wireless Generation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (Photo: David Shankbone/CC).
What do groups like the Gates and Carnegie Foundations, Amplify, News Corp.–people who clearly do not send their own children to public schools–want from their involvement in the corporate “reform” of public education ?
In the most generous interpretation of what’s happening, it can appear as an effort by the 1% to improve education by making it a business, a model they’ve had experience and success in.
And yet, as more and more parents are coming to find out, they have good reason to question both the supposed successes, and the underlying motivations, of the corporate expansion into public education under the guise of “reform.”
Their for-profit charters can target the cream of the crop in public schools and lure them away with the promise of a chance at a better education (even though it has been proven (pdf) that charters often do not out perform public schools), leaving the rest of the student body with a one-size-fits-most educational program.
More probably, this is about money. Public education is funded by about $500 billion a year in taxpayer money and that has for-profit companies and venture capitalists drooling. With access to student data, marketers have their research done for them.
At worst, this is a way for the 1% to pick and choose which students have the potential to rise to the top of corporate success and segregate them from the 99%, further widening the socio-economic gap.
In March of this year, Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell introduced the Student Privacy bill to the New York State Assembly. The bill, A06059 and S04284, would prohibit the release of personally identifiable student information where parental consent is not provided.
Imagine walking into a third grade class and choosing which students will be economically successful. Can you predict which will be wall street moguls or small business owners? Doctors or lawyers? Civil servants or artists? Or which ones will struggle to get by and live paycheck to paycheck? And is this how we want our kids to grow up? Measuring their self-worth by what their take home pay is at the end of the year?

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