August 1, 2013
There’s an intense debate right now over “Common Core,” an effort to implement a set of education standards in public schools nationwide. The Common Core State Standards thus far have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Though it isn’t my area of expertise, I’ve received numerous impassioned emails on the subject. Among them, one person’s concerns particularly struck me.
This person is an expert in the field of education. She is thoughtful, serious, and no foe of public education. Her concerns especially hit home given current fears over privacy intrusions by the federal government. Those fears have swirled around the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, and the IRS. But they don’t end there. There are likewise potentially serious privacy problems involving current and proposed education policy, which likewise relate to data collection, dissemination, and use.
To that end, my friend is hoping to at least help kindle some public awareness.
“The portion [of current education policy] that I believe is most important for raising public awareness,” she writes, “is the changes to the FERPA regulations which have greatly expanded who has access to student data.” FERPA is the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Changes have been made to FERPA that (some believe) will leave parents uninformed as to how their children’s records are shared. “Parents seem totally unaware of what data is being collected,” she adds. “In Pennsylvania it is collected under something called the PIMS system, but in other states it has different labels.”
There’s more. There’s also the problem of a rise in “outside vendors and providers to manage student data—again, without parental consent.”
How, specifically, would this happen?
For starters, Common Core standards, as was the case with previous standards, lead to much testing, which involves a great deal of data collection on students. Coupled with this heightened collection of student data is the prevalence of so-called “longitudinal state reporting systems.” According to my friend, as part of the “Race to the Top” initiative, a federal educational initiative, states were encouraged to create “robust data collection systems.” These systems were touted as a mechanism to provide school districts, state governments, and federal policymakers with more data to analyze trends in student achievement and improve educational efforts. While this might seem benign, notes my friend, we cannot ignore the sheer volume of data that will be collected and how that data might be misused. For instance, most parents have no idea that their child’s “personal information” includes not just test scores but social security numbers, attendance records, records of interaction with school counselors, identification of learning disabilities, and even disciplinary records.
All of this is being collected.
This essay first appeared July 22, 2013 on the Visions and Values website and is reprinted with permission.