Four Reasons Why Student Privacy Is in Grave Danger — Unless Congress Rejects This Bill

Students_computersThere is no rest for the weary. Congress continues to erode student privacy along with parental autonomy. In February, we warned of the bill to reauthorize the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This reauthorization bill, called the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), allows the federal government to collect, analyze, and share the most intimate details about our children — the workings of their minds.

Concern about SETRA derailed its passage earlier this year. But just before adjournment for the Christmas holidays, while everyone was reeling from the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the $1.1 trillion spending bill, the Senate slipped SETRA through with no discussion and no recorded vote.

Here is a recap and update of what we wrote earlier about the extremely serious problems with SETRA:

SETRA reauthorizes the 2002 Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) that has been very problematic, because it started the concept of state longitudinal databases, evaded the prohibition on a national database by creating “national cooperative education statistics systems,”  allowed personally identifiable information to go to international agencies, and removed the  previous penalties of fines and imprisonment for misusing individual student data. SETRA continues or worsens all of that. Here are four major problems with SETRA (A detailed analysis of these points is available HERE):

1. SETRA seeks to expand federal psychological profiling of our children.

Section 132 of the bill (page 28, line 16-21) inserts the following:

“and which may include research on social and emotional learning, and the acquisition of competencies and skills, including the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, evaluate evidence, and communicate effectively…” (Emphasis added).

The US Department of Education (USED) is already in flagrant violation of the Tenth Amendment.  The amount of data collected on individual children, families, and teachers via USED through this law and the weakening . . .  of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) . . .  is appalling and [violates] the Fourth Amendment as well.  To then give the federal government the right to research the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors of free American citizens, especially innocent children, is completely unacceptable . . . .

2. SETRA only appears to prohibit a national database, but actually promotes it.

Section 157 of the bill takes out the word “national” and ostensibly prohibits a national database. While this appears to be an improvement, it unfortunately doesn’t do anything to stop the egregious loss of privacy that has happened since ESRA established the “national cooperative statistics systems” and “state longitudinal databases” in 2002.  These databases have become more invasivevia The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, Stimulus), Race to the Top, and the America COMPETES Act.  In addition, they are relying on outdated and weak student privacy laws (FERPA and PPRA), there is no enforcement mechanism, and we have seen how the federal government repeatedly and flagrantly violates its promises not to extend its authority, as with Race to the Top, Common Core, and the national tests.

3. The bill continues to rely on a severely outdated and weakened Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to protect student privacy.

Both ESRA and SETRA refer to FERPA (20 USC 1232g) . . .  and require data privacy to be handled according to that law.  However, FERPA passed in 1974 long before the presence of interoperable databases and cloud computing.  It also only discusses sanctions on entities that mishandle the data and those [sanctions], which used to include fines and imprisonment, were severely weakened when ESRA was passed in 2002.  Students, families, and teachers whose sensitive personal and family data about everything from “social and emotional” issues to genetic data in newborn screening data have no redress.  According to an investigation by Politicoeducation technology companies are “scooping up as many as 10 million unique data points on each child, each day.” (Emphasis added) Finally, FERPA has been severely weakened via regulatory fiat to gut consent requirements and broaden access to data by federal agencies and private entities.

4. SETRA continues the large loophole that renders PPRA ineffective in preventing nosy social questions in curriculum and assessments.

PPRA, cited in section 182 as 20 USC 1232h, prohibits the collection of psychological, political, religious, and other sensitive data in surveys, but not in curriculum and assessments such as in Common Core.

In addition to the Rep. Tim Ryan’s gushing admission during ESSA floor debate, here is another of many pieces of evidence that a key purpose of the Common Core standards and aligned assessments is to psychologically manipulate and profile our children:

“ASCA [American School Counselors Association] Mindsets & Behaviors align with specific standards from the Common Core State Standards through connections at the competency level. (Emphasis added)”

Apparently even the NAEP test will be revised to psychologically profile our children. According to Education Week, the National Assessment Governing Board plans to use NAEP to assess “mindsets” and other parameters starting in 2017. Although this is supposedly illegal under federal law governing NAEP (not changed by the new language of SETRA), the prohibition is meaningless because there is no enforcement mechanism.

Colluding with large corporations that want our children’s data for their own purposes or theorizing that psychological “skills” instead of academics will improve the workforce, the federal government is expanding the areas of law and policy where psychological profiling is encouraged. Here is a list of several of those areas (also including early childhood programs). Big Brother seeks to remove every shred of student privacy — if parents can’t keep even their child’s psychological makeup safe from government probing, their God-given autonomy has been obliterated.

SETRA is not listed on the House of Representatives schedule for the week of January 4th, but will likely come up very soon, probably on the consent calendar. Fortunately, if only one House member objects and calls for a recorded vote, we’ll see who in the House believes in the psychological invasion of our children. Please call your House member at 202-224-3121 and ask him or her to object to SETRA if it appears on the consent calendar. It should be removed from the consent calendar and, at the very least, the social emotional research language should be removed via amendment.  If it is to be passed regardless of these serious objections, it must be done via a recorded vote. Any politician who supports exposing our children’s psyches to the federal government should at least have to do so in the light of day.

Dr. Karen Effrem is trained as a pediatrician and serves as president of Education Liberty Watch and the executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.