Louisiana’s Privacy Legislation and Testimony – Setting the Record Straight

On March 19th the Louisiana House and Senate Education Committee’s both heard testimony at the same time on the same types of legislation. This legislation was about student privacy. Holding meetings on the same subject at the same time required folks to split up their resources. Since most of us do not have ready doppelgangers, or clones, this meant parents went unrepresented on either the Senate side or the House side. This was pointed out as a little fishy by passionate privacy advocate, Sara Wood, in testimony delivered to the Senate during the hearing on Senator Conrad Appel’s “privacy” bill 449. She points that out as her first point in this YouTube video. Sara Wood’s testimony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFEjudTEDSk#t=30

Prior to Sara Wood, I said my piece on SB 449. All of the points I covered, with the exception of the Amendments that were introduced that day, were included in my earlier analysis of the various privacy bills.

If you would like to get a look at my actual testimony you can see that here. My testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoHK3TqeksE (I rock – although my “rocking” is certainly of a lower intensity variety than Sara’s.)

Meanwhile at virtually the same time Superintendent of Louisiana Schools, John White, was giving some of his own testimony at the House Education Committee. His testimony and the amendments he offered came after all the parents spoke, and I was told there would not be a chance for anyone else there to weigh in on what he was saying. Nevertheless, I feel it’s important that someone does. You see, when I gave my testimony I had to sign a card stating the testimony I was prepared to give would be accurate and truthful. I assume John White was required to make a similar statement when he gave his testimony. However upon reviewing the testimony he gave I have my doubts about the truthfulness of it. That’s probably putting it too tactfully. I think it would be more accurate to say he perjured himself on at least one point and omitted several details and context about numerous others. I won’t dissect every statement he said, but I’d like to pull out some relevant ones I feel are important. I’m guessing he made these statements to cover his . . . back. To protect himself from angry parents and lawsuits, but he boldly lied about these issues at least.

John White claimed the department only had Social Security numbers for State IDs and that the department had applied for a 700,000 grant to try and switch over to another system that did not rely on SSN’s. This is a lie many times over. I know this because I was in charge of the Student Information System for almost 9 years before leaving the department to tell folks about John White and his reformers. Our first ID was first used for the 1996 data collection, about 18 years ago. This ID was called the “Generated ID” and lasted until about 2008. This ID was used to calculate dropouts, and was generally held to be more accurate than SSN, although SSN was used to help define whether a new Generated ID needed to be created for a new student. John White also did not share that SSN’s are not required. Parents have the option to “opt out” of sharing their child’s SSN and asking their school district to create and report a Temporary ID. Both of my children have temporary IDs in the EBR parish school district. I switched them over after John White sent millions of children’s SSN’s (including my daughter’s) to an unregulated third party vendor, inBloom, despite my refusal to allow her information to be included or shared sent right to him and the head of his legal department. Obviously the Department feels FERPA does not apply to them, and the rights of parents and children are non-existent. (They are right which is why we need our own State privacy law.) That’s why I find John White’s statements that he is concerned about student privacy a lie. Had he been concerned he should and could have been concerned when letters, calls and e-mails form other parents flowed into the department once I published my letter. (I heard John White’s actual reaction was cursing me quite soundly as other letters rolled in. Interesting reaction for someone concerned with protecting the rights of parents and students, no?)

But I’ve digressed. As I reported, Generated ID was created 18 years ago, by the department, without a grant of any size. It lasted quite well. Louisiana then applied for a new grant from the IES (Institute of Education Sciences), a division of US ED. Louisiana received this 4 million dollar grant. The data system created was called LEDRS.

LOUISIANA EDUCATION DATA REPOSITORY SYSTEM (LEDRS)

Project Start Date: 3/1/2009

Project End Date: 2/28/2012

Amount Awarded: $4,056,510

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) proposes to use the US Department of Education

longitudinal data systems grant to build the Louisiana Education Data Repository System (LEDRS). The

LEDRS will allow the LDOE to organize and link all of its data into a centralized repository. The LEDRS

project will consist of three main tasks:

The creation of a data repository that will centralize and link the data that currently reside in

isolated silos.

The creation of a data reporting system that will enable the LDOE to automate its EdFacts

reporting and provide tools for routine and rapid ad hoc reporting.

 

I was one of the key members of the LEDRS team. The objective of the LEDRS grant was to pool data strewn about the department, to eliminate redundant data collections, and to merge disparate data systems using a new Generated Universal ID. This ID was called a GUID. LDOE had a fully functional GUID when I left in February of 2012 and was using this GUID to fulfill the data request to CREDO, to the Governor’s office for the BP lawsuit, and to calculate dropouts and graduate cohort reports and rates. The department still uses the GUID to perform these functions. The objective of the LEDRS grant was to make us more internally self-sufficient, so we could save the State money by eliminate redundant data collections and numerous third part contractors that built and maintained those data collection systems. John White essentially fired or drove off all the full time state employees that ran the LEDRS system and turned it over to full time contractors being paid 2 to three times as much as state workers, that rotate out frequently, and owe no allegiance to Louisiana or our children or citizens, just to their out-of-state CEOs. This is the mockery of privacy and efficiency that John White has created with His department of education, and our children and their information.

So let me reiterate restate the lies given to the House Education Committee on April 19th, 2014, in case anyone would like to go review the tapes for themselves. (Just Sayin’)

  • John White stated SSN’s are required: This has never been true. It is illegal under federal law to require an SSN to enroll in a school. Louisiana allows “Temporary IDs” for this reason, as well as if a parent is uncomfortable providing an SSN because they believe the State Superintendent of Education is an incompetent buffoon and liar.
  • John White stated LDOE was applying for a 700,000 grant to create an ID that was not a SSN to address the concerns of parents over SSN’s: While the department may have applied for this grant, it was unnecessary. The Department has employed at least 3 IDs that are not SSN. Two of these IDs are currently in use, Temporary ID, and GUID. I’m not sure what this third ID would be, but it’s not necessary to protect students. John White is just using this as a dodge because he thinks the legislators are too lazy to verify his statements, or too stupid to understand that the Department already has these IDs. (Quite a ballsy approach actually. I’m curious to see if it pays off for him.) I will be happy to speak to any legislator that wishes to chat about this. My folks will be at the House hearing tomorrow – any of them know how to reach me one way or another.

Oh, one more thing. I wonder if John White knows that detailed data is not required to receive Federal funding, certainly not the vast sum he quoted of 900 million. I would like to see him break down that 900 million by the exact data the Feds required. I bet that would be pretty interesting (and likely inaccurate, sadly) Many states did not have student level systems just a few years ago, just aggregate systems. Before LDOE stopped sending me DOE’s national data conferences in DC, I went to a number of presentations from states that did not have a decent student level system at the state level. Alaska only had details on about a third of their children (American Eskimos and Indians do not have to submit data to get federal funding and often choose not too.) I recall California has had a very difficult time pulling in all their data from all their school districts although they are doing better now. However I think it’s worth mentioning that the data states (including Louisiana) report to the Federal government to the EdFacts or EDEN data collection system is aggregated data.

In the House hearing, John White claimed Louisiana had to collect student level data to report to the Federal government and satisfy existing legislated tasks. I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. For instance, just because the state requires LDOE to develop and implement a state accountability system, that doesn’t mean that student level data needs to be used to that end nor that LDOE needs to collect or possess it. After all, the data released is highly summarized and aggregated data. . .

John White also claimed LDOE had to collect student level data to perform audits, but that is also an overstatement. You see, I’ve taken a few auditing classes enroute to getting my Accounting degree from LSU. I’ve never heard of any big accounting firms collecting all data from their clients to perform an audit. Much of what the department uses the detailed info for is to determine which students to audit, by selecting a randomized sample, and then asking the school districts to provide detailed records in an electronic/scanned or hardcopy form; proving they have those students. You don’t need a lot of sate to do that. Do you think you need all of this?

SIS User Guide

I see no reason the state could not do something similar with school districts more directly. Most auditing is not done by collecting all the data from a client year after year. That’s a bit of overkill, actually. Moreover, current law actually requires school districts to have their own audits of just about everything already! Perhaps you’d like to ask your school district’s business office manager about those? Those audits include finances, student counts, classes enrolled, etc. I see no reason the state could not participate in those processes, or review those reports that are required annually already. So that reasoning holds as much water as a colander.

But hey, what do I know? I just collected this data for 9 years in the Finance Department, working closely with the auditors, and have a degree in accounting. I didn’t go to the Broad Superintendent Academy for a few weeks and TFA for a few more to get all my experience like our State Superintendent of Education, who ironically seems to have obtained very little of the necessary education to be holding his current post. I’ll give him this though. What John White lacks in knowledge, he more than makes up in telling convincing lies. If I didn’t know much, much better, why I might almost believe him myself. . .

Enjoy that House Hearing tomorrow, John. I’ll be thinking of you.

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3 thoughts on “Louisiana’s Privacy Legislation and Testimony – Setting the Record Straight

  1. Thank you so much Jason, for all that you are doing. Your testimony was very important and informative.

    The one thing I’ve learned since becoming “politically aware,” is that it takes one principled person to change anything, and everything. In this fight against Common Core (and the danger that it brings our children and our country), we have an army of principled people, and each and every one, such as you, are worth your weight in gold.

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