I’ve been promising for some time to cover some of the many secret and not-so-secret grants and data operations that will result in your data, and your children’s data being stolen and shared without your permission or knowledge. Now that it is clear the EPIC lawsuit against the US Department of Education has failed, the only solution to fix this problem is a state privacy law to protect the rights of parents, students and teachers. Considering the federal government can’t even agree to fund the federal government for a minute to protect our nation from terrorists or the prevent children from staving or dying from cancer, I have feel pretty confident they will not try to address student privacy concerns anytime soon. I’ve provided details to others on how this privacy law/framework would work and the necessary elements for meaningful legislation, but for now I will provide the documentation in a series of posts that shows why such a law is needed.
I will try to cover at least one scheme a day for the rest of the week. Some of the projects I’m considering covering are Kickboard, WDQI, MSIX, among many others like inBloom and Ed-Fi. Today I will mention a new database I learned about for tracking disabled students in a federal database.
This database grant awarded to Weststat Inc., by the US Department of Ed, is intuitively called the “National Technical Assistance Center to Improve State Capacity to Accurately Collect and Report IDEA Data.” (Or I guess NTACTISCTACARID for short?) This grant is aimed at creating a:
. . .national center aimed at improving the quality of data on educating America’s 7 million children and youth with disabilities.
However this database is not designed to help children. It is designed to guide and produce PR pieces for reform, according to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
“More than ever, we need good data to guide reform,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Good data promotes transparency and accountability. It shows the public the value that they’re getting in their investment in education. It gives teachers information they need to change their practices to improve student achievement. And, data shows us when students are making progress and when they’re not.”
Duncan tries to characterize this database as something that will simply “assist states” but that make no sense base don’t he tasks and goals assigned to this project.
Among the areas the center will focus technical assistance to states:
- Gathering more accurate, reliable data—from all appropriate resources in a state.
- Providing training to states to help school and district officials submit better data.
- Improving data infrastructure among the states.
Arne Duncan speaks with a forked tongue, telling us one thing, while clearly meaning another.
This is clearly a data collection, not an “assistance center.” The purpose of this database is to “guide reform” or in other words, define opportunities for advertisers and companies to exploit our most vulnerable children for profit. US Ed clearly plans to intervene if states are not meting multiple measurable and rigorous targets for infants and toddlers.
For infants and toddlers with disabilities, states must provide baseline data, measurable and rigorous targets, and improvement activities for 12 indicators. . .
With the information, the Education Department is required to make determinations on how well each state is meeting its obligations to serve its children and youth with disabilities. The determinations can include: “Meets the requirements of IDEA;” “Needs assistance;” “Needs intervention;” or “Needs substantial intervention.”
Intervention in the past has required school districts to turn their children overt o charter operators that do not need to meet the same rigorous targets or oversight traditional school districts do. That is quite likely the case here as well.
However what I find most disturbing is Arne Duncan is arguably the one most responsible for altering FERPA to make it ineffective for protecting student privacy. Duncan has converted FERPA into a warm blanket of protection for anyone who wants to collect and exploit students and student data for profit. By issuing guidance that it is “ok” for private companies to use data as they see fit, for educational and non-educational purposes alike, Duncan has opened the floodgates for abuse of student data, and abuse of students. By issuing this guidance he has given a blank check to corporations and a “get out of jail free card” all at the same time. Under Federal law, based on Duncan’s guidance, anyone can collect student data, sell it, use it for purposes other than for which it was intended, do a poor job guarding it, and retain it indefinitely and parents and students have no recourse whatsoever.
This data belongs to our most vulnerable children. Identity thieves, scam artists, pedophiles and corporations that obtain this information through legal or illegal means can use it for predatory commercial practices, or any other predatory practice under the sun and the corporations that collect and guard, or fail to sufficiently guard this information can never be held accountable for any damage done. Students and adults that have mental illness or limited mental capacity will be targeted by hucksters for the rest of their lives if this information falls into the wrong hands. Students with missing limbs, poor eyesight or hearing can be targeted by thieves at their homes who will be able to easily prey upon those documented weaknesses. Corporations that learn your child has down syndrome or a weak heart may refuse to employ them, perhaps without even realizing they are discriminating against them. This will be done through complex ranking systems that will evaluate everyone based on suitability for specific jobs or tasks, just like credit reports determine credit worthiness. Employers may never be aware they are using data to discriminate against people illegally, but they will use these systems nevertheless as there are not laws and there is no oversight to prevent this from happening. The only defense we have right now is that of refusing to share or allow our data to be harvested and shared.
John White and Chas Roemer frequently claim national and federal collections are no different than the local vendors and arrangement school districts use. There is video tape of this at various BESE meetings if you are interested in looking for it. However there are major differences between what local vendors use and collect and what a national vendor does.
- Are answerable to local districts and local parents.
- Parents and local districts have financial leverage over their vendors
- Their contracts are locally controlled and defined.
- Local vendors collect data for a specific contracted reason, that directly serves students, parents and families in the school district
- Local vendors are usually excluded from using student data for commercial purposes (and should always be)
- Superintendents and IT staff that sign contracts with local vendors are answerable to the people in their districts. If they screw it up, they can lose their jobs and be found personally liable in the event of negligence or criminal activity
- LEAs are required to notify parents and ask for their permission before they provide student data for directory information
- Parents have a direct line of contact with their schools and their school districts and personnel if they suspect a problem
- Are smaller target for hackers and thieves. A single breach does not reveal everyone’s data all at once.
- Are necessary for the day to day operations of a school district
Local vendors are selected by school districts and relationships can be terminated at any time
Federal and National data collections and vendors:
- Are answerable only to themselves
- Can use their leverage to force districts to comply with their policies
- Engage in monopolistic practices eliminate rights for parents, states and school districts
- Parents, students, local districts and sometimes states have no rights to object (in the case of federally mandated collections)
- Parents have no financial leverage over national players
- May have hundreds or thousands of partners and contract relationships which exponentially increase the likelihood of intentional or unintentional disclosure
- Are exponentially more attractive and visible targets for hackers and thieves and the damage done from a breach is irreparable
- Can ignore parents and students with impunity
- Can rename themselves, create shell companies, and sell student data and contracts to third parties without consent making tracking of responsible parties impossible (as inBloom as done or created clauses in their contract with Louisiana and other states to allow.)
- Are not necessary for the day to day operations of a school district
Federal collections and vendors are never selected by local districts or parents, and these relationships are not usually terminable under any circumstances controlled by parents or students
So which arrangement are you more comfortable with? Who do you think you will be able to hold more accountable for mistakes, your local superintendent and school board, or Iwan Streichenberged who is likely zooming around on his yacht paid for by the exploitation of your children?
For these reasons we should limit what national collections are permitted to collect. Congress is currently unable to function enough to fund the government for a single minute, even though this game of political chicken makes us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, more vulnerable to foreign invasions, more vulnerable to natural disasters, and makes it very likely we will have children starving or dying from cancer. It is unlikely a Congress as dysfunctional as this will be able to pass legislation to protect our children from the threats they face from data predation and exploitation.
We must push our State governments to pass privacy legislation that truly protects our children. If they refuse, or if they do a poor job, then they will be directly answerable to us, their neighbors, fellow church members and little league coaches.