There is an insidious plot unfolding all around us that poses a grave danger to our children, and to many adults. Not many people know about this yet, or understand the implications of what is happening, so I thought you would like to know. I’ve seen a few pieces that show both sides of this issue, the good and the bad, but I really don’t think the “bad” has received nearly enough attention. The bad far outweighs the good that is being touted, but most of the articles I’ve read touch on the bad, and don’t delve into the dirty details or address the scope of just how “bad” things could get. I will attempt to do so, by thinking like the soulless profiteer and ruthless predator, and I will show you what you can do about this. Hopefully I can scare you enough that you will be inspired to do something about this before it is too late. There is still hope for many of you, but you must act now.
For starters, FERPA, the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, has been gutted. You can’t tell that from the summarized version that is posted on the US Department of Education website. However under Arne Duncan, software vendors lobbied the DOE to permit the sharing of all student data, without parental permission or notification, and for them to use this information without significant restrictions, and certainly none that couldn’t be removed secretly.
Until I investigated, I thought my children’s data was still protected, but I was wrong.
But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.
In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.
Local education officials retain legal control over their students’ information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.
Entrepreneurs can’t wait.
“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.
CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.
The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.
States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states – Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts – have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide(emphasis added): ( Stephanie Simon/Reuters)
After working to change the rules sell out children to unscrupulous software vendors, one of Arne Duncan’s top people, Press Secretary Justin Hamilton, went to work for one of the companies that lobbied for the relaxed standards, Amplify. Amplify is a for profit company owned and run by Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. I expect a number of USDOE folks that worked on removing FERPA barriers will be going to these types of companies over the next few year to reap the rewards of their efforts.
If you are in one of these nine states your children’s data as already been shared or is about to be shared:
- North Carolina
- Louisiana (Shared)
- New York (Shared)
Please read this section again:
“In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.”
In Louisiana we collect SSNs for our student ID, while most states do not. Louisiana has built a data system from a 4 million dollar IES grant that de-identifies students by name and SSN. Louisiana could have provided these vendors de-identified data to protect our children, but they are choosing not to do this because the vendors don’t really want that. What these vendors want is your children’s verified, intimate identities; their educational-DNA, if you will.
These companies want to know everything about your children and your family so they can direct sell products to you and them. But that is just the start. They don’t need your name, SSN, or actual date of birth to simply sell products to you, but they do need that information to sell your data, and your children’s data, to others.
- They want to know if your child was ever diagnosed with ADHD, or dyslexia, or hearing, visual, emotional or cognitive disabilities. Medical information is protected under HIPPA, but no longer under FERPA. . . and that information is valuable to lots of people. . . . “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, we’re going to hire the applicant without dyslexia. Company policy.”
- These vendors and their clientele want to know if your child has discipline problems in second grade, or if they were bullied or sexually assaulted (I was protecting victim data with anonymous IDs. However an LDE employee contacted me recently to find out how to remove that constraint because Kim Nesmith – the Data Quality Director and ironically the FERPA compliance officer – was insisting on having that information to make adjustments to reports such as Valued added – and to share with external vendors apparently.) “As you well know Mrs. Kennedy, victims of sexual assault may pose a greater risk for mental breakdown or higher mental health needs, so we’ll just have to adjust your premium. . . And we won’t be able to accept your application into the police academy or issue you a gun permit.”
- On the plus side, all bullies will be flagged for life, which might make getting jobs a little harder even if they clean up their act.
- Studies show kids who are corporeally punished are prone to more violent behavior in adulthood it might be good to account for that in their permanent psychological profile. Some kids in Louisiana, including disabled students, are paddled dozens of time a year with 2 foot long wooden paddles for minor infractions like chewing gum or uniform violations so it probably would be a good idea to keep track of them, and to prohibit them from certain types of jobs.
- Did you know that many schools and school districts keep photos of children for student IDs, along with descriptions of their physical characteristics, in their data systems? How great would that be for a dating service or pedophile oriented group to get a hold of? Combine that info with your home address, and phone number and your kids will be easy pickin’s for criminals to drop by and abuse or kidnap at their leisure. Criminals already steal SSNs and sell that info to each other, now they can trade your kids info to pedophiles like baseball cards. They can use the bubble gum to lure your kids out of your houses while you’re at work. They’ll of course call the cell phone number you provided the school, to make sure you’re not home yet.
- Even if your data is nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t worry about things like identity theft, or eternal targeted marketing, there is no provision for fixing data that is incorrect, nor for allowing you to review your data or your children’s data. From working in a state department of education I can promise you that thousands of these records get jumbled up every year with just a single student data system. Now imagine what can happen with you combine the data from dozens of systems over more than a dozen years. . . Have you ever tried to get something fixed on your credit report? Now imagine that situation, but with dozens of unregulated private companies that have no laws governing their behaviors, and no oversight.
It appears there is no way to prevent this disclosure from happening, at least for Louisiana. But you should be aware this is not just an issue for children. Louisiana, and most states, have decades of detailed student data in their repositories. Louisiana has student data going back to the 1993-1994 school year, and is not shy about sharing this with vendors, so you can be sure this data will be shared with one of the SLCs (Shared Learning Collaboratives) Louisiana is courting. The only hope we have protecting our children’s data is raising this issue with our Legislators.
We must force them to act to protect our children, and our adults 38 and under, from John White and his cronies. There are some ways we can work together to accomplish this. I can’t do this alone, but with your help we can work on this together . . . if you are interested in saving your children’s future.