(This will be a long one, and has some ranting folks, so buckle up.)
Is student privacy hopeless?
Sadly, this may be little more than a rhetorical question after the last week of horrible setbacks on the student privacy front. I’ve been gathering information and leads for months now, researching some, and holding onto others. I was hoping some of these issues would become non-issues if EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, was successful in their lawsuit against the US Department of Education’s change to FERPA that allows vendors to use student data and resell it as they see fit, for any reason and without parents or students having any rights or say in the matter. Unfortunately the lawsuit was thrown out because the courts did not believe EPIC had the standing to bring the suit.
But Judge Amy Berman Jackson of U.S. District Court in Washington issued summary judgment for the Education Department, ruling that the plaintiffs have not suffered any real legal injuries stemming from the regulations and thus they lack legal standing to bring their suit.
In order for someone to have “standing”, they must first be victimized. When that happens it won’t be one child affected. The data being transmitted and bartered belongs to every child on any DOE databases, many of which are now adults. We are not talking about just one child, but quite likely millions, if not all of them. All of our kids data will have to be sent to third party vendors, and then shared or sold based on the policy change, then many years of lawsuits and appeals will have to take place, during which vendors will continue to collect and sell student data for students through cloud based infrastructures, with no liability for the damage they cause. If you went to school after computer records were kept in your state, probably the eighties or nineties, then your data is at risk too. This data can be used, abused and misused by anyone, and because the federal government changed the policy defining what student privacy is, and what vendors can do with this data, even if the lawsuits are successful, this will be of small comfort for the millions of children and adults who have their data permanently dispersed throughout cyberspace, in the hands of criminals, pedophiles, and companies selling information and making employment decisions based on this information. Our students will become adults, and they will never be able to reclaim their data or their identity that other adults like John White and Arne Duncan have stolen from them.
It will be impossible to fix the damage done, to unring the bell and much if this information will be incorrect, and haunt our citizens, our children, ourselves, throughout life. In the very near future, every job interview, every interest rate they or you get, every credit score, every rejection for college or a job, every insurance rate or refusal, every mortgage rate, every failed background check could be directly related to this information, and you will never know, and never, ever, be able to remedy this situation. This will make many people very rich. Many of these soon to rich, or richer, people are those who secretly lobbied the US Ed Department to change this policy to render it worse than worthless. This is not an overstatement. I say worse, because not only does it not actually protect children from the ones their data needs to be protected from most, strangers, thieves, criminals, corporations, hucksters, it outright protects the despicable uses and users. FERPA is now an indemnification clause to allow anyone to harvest and use student data without anyone having any way to stop them. How can you take any recourse against those who have been told by the federal government to take our data it use it however they see fit? Are you going to sue the federal government? Would you sue them for not having a law that does what its supposed to do? When wouldn’t you sue the government if that was something you could do? The other harmful thing this law does is It makes average people be deluded into believing there is a federal privacy law that protects them, when FERPA is anything but. You almost have to admire the corporations that distorted a student privacy law into a legal blanket for themselves to use children’s data however they see fit.
The way the law now works, the less direct contact you have with a student, the less legitimate reason you have for possessing it, the more freedom you have to exploit a child and their data. Schools still have to notify parents if they plan to share student data, but once that data is handed over to a corporation that corporation has no restrictions on use or misuse, no liabilities and the only restrictions they have are ones they place on themselves. These terms can be modified at any time, as often as Apple modifies your iTunes terms of service, but leaving you with less recourse. If you don’t like the iTunes terms of service, you can throw out your iPhone and discontinue using the ITunes store. You can’t throw out your children or yourself, or disconnect yourself from the data being used against them.
FERPA also protects many of the lying education reformers running US Ed, State departments of education and our local LEAs. FERPA allows dishonest superintendents like John White to share data with whomever they want, with any restrictions they choose to apply or not apply such as was done with CREDO recently. They can also refuse to turn over data anyone for any reason, but the reasons it is being denied right now is to protect people from learning the truth. What is happening in Louisiana and in many states is our state departments of educations are failing in epic ways. All of their reform schemes are colossal utter failures that cost anywhere from 2 to 10 times as much as other solutions, but which gets terrible results, almost without exception. I suppose I should clarify, the results they get are often great for charter schools, contractors, reformers and their bottom lines and salaries. For children and taxpayers the results are nothing short of criminal, but you will never know, thanks to FERPA.
What these DOE thieves and charlatans, like John White, are doing is preparing completely false reports, reports with absurd self-serving conclusions, results that they slice and dice the data to find something remotely positive to report. These results are often reported as percentages without any context, without history, without magnitude, without mitigating factors, without costs either direct or opportunity costs (programs terminated to fund vouchers or teachers fired to pay for Common Core.) These reports in some cases are simply outright false. Our department of education also fails to report anything they can get away with not reporting that shows them in a bad light, even if that same information was used in the past to create a sense of urgency in the public for the need for “education reforms.”
For instance, RSD sucks bad. No pretty phrasing needed for the shithole that RSD, the state takeover of public schools, has become. No RSD schools have ever been returned to their original districts, as was the original intent of the legislation. RSD conquered schools are sold off to unscrupulous charter operators who apply for charter grants they use to pay themselves exorbitant salaries. Many of these charter schools treat students and parents like your butt treats toilet paper, use once and dispose of. Charters falsify exit reasons to hide the fact they exclude disabled students, English language learners, and students with behavior problems. I’ve been told many of them cheat on state tests, remove students that will do poorly after they get funding for them but before they take state exams, or simply don’t administer the exams to many of their students they don’t expect to do well. They report fantastic success, but what they don’t tell you about their high completion rates is that only 5 students were tested. What they don’t tell you is that 90% of the students that could have taken the tests don’t take them so their score look fantastic, for the few students that end up taking them.
Our DOE thinks that if they simply deny access to this data, no one will call them on it, but I am. LDOE is lying to you about graduation rates, dropout rates, class schedules, VAM, COMPASS, test scores, enrollments, student classifications, enrollments and exit reasons and test scores. They are lying outright and through admission and they are using FERPA to do this. I saw the data. I collect the data. I analyzed the data. I knew the data, the data was a friend of mine. And believe me, John White is no data steward . . . but he is a paragon of pure dishonesty and disdain for the people of Louisiana. White has fired, force retired, or driven off everyone who collected or analyzed, audited or evaluated data in LDOE so he can now almost honestly say he has no earthly idea what’s going on. He’s driven off all the programmers that maintained our databases and systems and used their salaries to hire scores of unqualified TFA spawnlings who he gives fancy titles to so they can spread their filthy incompetence and corporate welfare programs throughout the world on the backs of their unearned titles, on the backs of needy children, on the backs of our children. LDOE has no chance of processing accountability scores themselves, collecting data themselves, maintaining data systems themselves and this is entirely a planned situation. This was done so White will have no choice but to contract out data collecting, processing, and analyzing services to vendors who will charge much more, magnitudes more, than it ever cost to do in-house. inBloom was just the tip of the iceberg, which is why White was so cavalier about sharing and selling it our student’s data through them. To him that is nothing, and we are nothing. That data will be given to anyone and everyone if it has not already, through dozens of other contracts we can never hope to keep track of.
Just about everyone who is forced to attend RSD hates it and would rather any other solution which is why in Baton Rouge only 1500 of the more than 6000 RSD seats are filled, and RSD is still seeking to expand until students have not choices, but RSD. (So much for choice, eh parents?) In St Helena RSD made the case that its presence is helping the cause of desegregation. RSD claimed that if the local school board opened up new grade levels, white students would flee and the segregation would be worse. They also claimed they were doing a good job in St Helena. RSD provided data that to a casual observer might back up their case. They removed all the data from their website that might disprove their assertions, but I have folks that archived just enough for me to prove show them as completely deceptive unscrupulous liars that they have always been. St Helena’s white population is increasing since RSD came to town, but only in the non-RSD schools. In RSD the population is declining by about 20-40%, in the elementary school it has increased by that much. The data RSD showed the judge was for a single year, between October and February, which shown as a percentage after students left at mid-year and a few students transferred in looked like a small increase. Over the actual 7 years they have been there the trend is completely opposite. RSD and LDE knew this, they have all the data, but chose to submit a legal document to a federal judge that lied about this. RSD also showed how their schools have been improving. RSD has schools all over the state. Instead of showing the progress at the middle school, which has gotten progressively worse, they showed information about RSD as a whole, including most of the schools in New Orleans. (Incidentally I have evidence of systematic cheating at RSD New Orleans schools to incrementally increase their scores, more on that on part 2 of John McDonogh story .)
Here are a few of the stories detailing St Helena, but replace St Helena with the name of your own school district, because this, or some version of it, will be the story of your district soon enough. The methods and actors might change, but when you have someone without a shred of human decency, honor, or morality determined to destroy you, he will win.
Even now, the voucher case Jindal and White are making much hay about is nothing more than poor theatre to prevent people from learning the truth about the voucher program and the destruction it is quietly wreaking on minority communities. Laws and agreements were already in place that Jindal and John White violated with his voucher program, in much the same way Jindal violated our very state Constitution, repeatedly and viciously throughout his tenure as our tyrannical governor. As part of the agreement consent decrees in many parishes throughout the state, White and Jindal were supposed to notify the Attorney General’s office about programs that might have an impact on desegregation progress, as vouchers have clearly done. Jindal and White knew this, and refused to comply with existing law and legal agreements because they were afraid their plans might be stalled or found to be out of compliance, so they willfully violated those agreements and orders. In response a federal judge asked for data to determine whether the programs had a negative impact on desegregation. White and Jindal refused to comply (knowing full well that their voucher program was removing poor black children from public schools and putting them in substandard schools that teach kids with DVDs, teach kids with uncertified teachers, and teach kids so poorly they score on average 30 points lower on state tests than their public school counterparts) and instead characterized that request, that the Federal government was bound by existing law and orders to uphold, into a power grab. Read the MOU for yourself.
So to reiterate the absurdity and dishonesty of John White and Bobby Jindal: In the span of the same three months John White and Jindal argued allowing parents the choice to attend a public school instead of RSD would jeopardize desegregation. (Knowing full well that not only was this not true, but that in fact RSD was driving white students out of the system and intentionally misleads a federal judge with irrelevant data) They also refused to turn over data that would show their voucher program was having a negative impact on desegregation in numerous other parishes, knowing full well that it did. Their argument was that since most of the recipients of the scholarships statewide were black it would be absurd that the impact could be harmful. This is a ridiculous argument. There could be local issues where every single white student in a majority black district pulled out for instance. The vouchers could make the public schools less financially viable (as was the case RSD also made for rejecting St Helena to add grades to their existing schools). The results could be sporadic since they only reported a majority of students statewide, individual parishes could have been unharmed, and some dramatically harmed. As time goes on, these impacts could get much much worse, but Jindal and John White have successfully fended off the feds, and fooled the majority of the public with their grandstanding. Have children been the losers in this equation? Quite likely, but neither of these phonies cares one whit about other people’s children. They care about images and political careers and their donors, not ordinary people.
Our only hope is if we resist the status quo and momentum Jindal and John White have built around their plans, their multilayered deceptions. Drastic methods are required to confront and prevent this and keep them from succeeding. White knows you are onto him, which is why he is signaling his reformer kin to change their tactics and brand parents the enemy. I knew this was coming. I’ve seen it and said it form months now, but he has branded us the enemy now.
“An aggressive form of populism has asserted itself in the rhetoric of our day,” White is expected to say at the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s headquarters in Washington. “I see it in a tone that is skeptical of reformers in the same populist way our country today is skeptical of authority generally. This is, I believe, greatly damaging for an education reform effort that has done good in America and that needs to be sustained. And it needs to be addressed, lest this generational effort wash out with the tide of the next administration.”
“How we manage our newfound authority in a populist time is a critical and tenuous question,” White will say. “Our most important responsibility as reformers is no longer just to clamor for change but to sustain and expand the positive direction of our nation’s education system. The greatest risk we face in doing this is not the validity of our ideas but the pitfalls of authority itself.”
The aggressive populism White speaks of is you, is parents, is children, is teachers who are tired of being told what is good for our children by folks who don’t have them. Teachers are tired of being told how to educate children by folks who took a 5 week TFA correspondence course, or who never taught a day in their life, like Bill Gates, who says his reforms will take 10 years or more to see if they were effective! These bastards want to literally experiment on a whole generation of our children, on their hunches, that data has heretofore proved not just wrong, but damn wrong. The few reformers, who have children, enroll them in exclusive private schools that do the opposite of everything they preach is great for our kids. Put Bill Gate’s kids and Michele Rhee’s kids in a class of 50+ students, glued to a computer all day, learning Common Core drilled mathematics.
They preach choice, but deny us ours. They choose different than what they choose for us! I choose different than what they would choose for us! Who is with me?!?! Do these cowards who hide behind wealthy donors and speak at secret meetings beyond parents dare subject their own children to these education tortures, these heinous crimes against education that they would subject the rest of us to in the name of choice, in the name of global competitiveness they have never documented? Do they dare face us! They are miserable sniveling cowards picked by even more cowards to lead us like lemmings of the cliff while they parachute down to their pavilions paid for on the backs of our children. If that be an aggressive form of populism, letting the people decide what is best for their own children than wealthy overlords, then sobeit. I am a populist. I am a knuckle dragger. I am for the people. I am for what is best for my children and what is best for yours, not what is best for their wallets. When you see them at your schools, at your town halls, at your school board meetings, at your churches wearing their smug smiles of confidence and control, let them know you are onto them and their little game. Let them know you are for people, for your children, for your neighbor’s children, and not the filthy blood money lining their pockets.
Do I seem angry? Damn straight I’m angry. You should be too. This has gone on long enough. The time for politely making 3 minute statements in a highly staged BESE meeting or before an orchestrated legislature is over. They are told how to vote by Bobby Jindal before they even set foot in those venues. They think they have this and you all wrapped up in a pretty little bundle, and I tell you it’s time to blow that package apart.
John White sees this as just a little game where their only problem is the messaging, not the horribly destructive agenda. White is so arrogant he tells us “reformers” are manipulating us with meaningless semantics and “framing.” In White’s play we are merely actors with parts he has written for us. In this passage he says as much.
To prevent that from happening, White is offering a three-part solution. “First, if we are to sustain our positive impact on the future of American education, reform leaders will shift their mission to national responsibility over self-righteous sympathy,” he will say. Reformers who rely too much “on an easy sympathy for the urban poor” can hurt the cause, he will say.
Second, he will call for the narrative around reform to be “refreshed.” This means taking the fight to enemies beyond teachers unions. While White argues that the media paint reformers as “ideologues,” what he calls the real “establishment bureaucracy” — the management of huge federal programs like Title I and Head Start — takes little flak.
“Without the new fight, what we have is stale story,” White will say. “We are letting the populist story of reformer versus working person tell itself.”
But John White is no Shakespeare either. Those of us that were educated before Common Core supplanted real Shakespeare with “informational texts” recognize the real stuff versus a pathetic imitation.
So in answer to my initial question. Yes. As long as we have people like Bobby Jindal and John White calling the shots, student and parent privacy is impossible.