Memo to Big Data: Parents Are Furious — Not Fearful — About Data-Mining

A recent column by Brenda Leong of the Brookings Institution condescendingly intones that parents are clueless and fearful about the glories of womb-to-tomb data-collection for our children, including social-emotional (psychological) data. Here is an excerpt:

The role of technology within schools expanded at an unprecedented rate, general awareness of consumer data security and breaches increased, and student databases at the state or national level were established or proposed, which drew great public scrutiny and fear. This maelstrom yielded a tremendous output of legislative activity targeted at education technology companies, that was overwhelmingly focused on protecting and limiting the sharing and use of student data—in rare instances, to the point of forbidding research uses almost completely. There are signs that this wave of fear-driven response has finally crested, and that more measured conversations are occurring; conversations that prioritize the fundamental requirement for appropriate privacy and security, but with a clear focus on the invaluable role of research and analysis and the need to enable it.

Leong and Brookings are among the corporate/foundation/government education cartel that supports the invasive Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA – S 227), which would expand federal government snooping into children’s social-emotional data:

[The Senate’s passage of SETRA] is one of the recent signs that Congress takes seriously the research value of student data. Another encouraging moment occurred in March, when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing which addressed stakeholders’ concerns about student data . . . Unfortunately, as of now, SETRA is stalled (or “held hostage”), potentially because of continuing distrust about broader student privacy concerns.

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Government-Sponsored “Research” Putting Children’s Privacy At Risk

Photo credit: Lucelia Ribeiro via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Much has been written about the dangers of the proposed Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), especially the bill’s extension of student data-collection to socioemotional data. But parents should realize the broader privacy problems with government-sponsored education “research.”

Student data-privacy is supposedly protected on the federal level by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 2012, however, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) gutted FERPA via Obama administration regulation. Among other outrages, the new regulation allows USED (and other entities) to take student personally identifiable information they receive from states or educational institutions and redisclose that data to researchers, without obtaining consent from or even notifying the entities that provided the data in the first place.

So as long as someone claims to be doing research “to improve instruction, administer student aid programs, or develop, validate, or administer predictive tests,” and signs an agreement promising with all his heart to protect confidentiality, he has a good shot of getting his hands on personally identifiable student data. The relaxation of FERPA protections creates dangers that highly personal student data will be shared among interested “researchers” – and neither the students nor their parents would have any idea this is happening.

According to data-privacy expert Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, “’research’ has become the easiest incantation by which virtually anyone could get direct access” to personally identifiable information.

A case in point is presented in a May 2, 2016 announcement from USED that it plans to “offer other federal agencies and affiliated researchers data access to conduct research that can inform and advance policies and practices that support students’ postsecondary success and strengthen repayment outcomes for borrowers.” Highly sensitive financial information about students and their families will be opened up to other government agencies to allow them to “match administrative student aid data files with other survey and administrative data .

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Why Does Congress Want to Psychologically Profile Your Children?

Photo credit: Lucelia Ribeiro via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If the GOP-led Congress had not done enough damage to public education by passing the statist Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it’s poised to make things even worse. The new threat is the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA). If SETRA passes in its current form, the federal government will be empowered to expand psychological profiling of our children. Parents must understand this threat so they can mobilize to stop it.

SETRA is a proposed reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act, which created bureaucracies and funding for education research (the results of which are routinely ignored if they contradict the dogma of the progressive education establishment). But SETRA would go beyond merely wasting money and plunge the government into an area it has no constitutional, statutory, or moral right to invade: the psychological makeup of children.

Section 132 of SETRA expands authorized research to include “research on social and emotional learning [SEL] . . . .” SEL is defined as “the process through which children . . . acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

SEL is all the rage in public education. The idea is that imparting academic knowledge is passe’ because if a student wants to know something, he can Google it (seriously – this is a common theme in education circles).

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Jeb Bush’s Friends Spend Big to Support Student Data Grab

Just as the Common Core pushing textbook publishing giants like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson have had financial incentive to support Jeb Bush and his now former organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), corporate cronyism is also alive and well via those companies involved in Big Data.

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is a corporate-backed front group that spends all its time trying to portray the ugly and invasive womb-to-tomb data grab and psychological profiling of our children as helpful, necessary, and the government’s right. They strongly support the incredibly invasive Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA) which sadly has already passed the Senate after an unannounced voice vote, with fawning praise after an earlier version passed the House in 2014:

DQC sees immense value in the ability to link data across early childhood education, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce systems. The most pressing questions for education stakeholders (alignment, feedback, etc.) require data to be shared from disparate collections, which means that it’s vital to align these systems to effectively answer these questions. SETRA would require grantees to do that. By linking data systems across the P–20/workforce spectrum, states will gain the ability to evaluate whether students, schools, and districts are meeting their college- and career-readiness expectations. [Emphasis added]

DQC also loves having data on the workings of our children’s minds:

Early warning systems (EWS) are one of the best examples of transforming data into actionable information that, when used effectively, can improve student outcomes. EWS, developed around research-based indicators such as student academic performance (grades) and attendance and discipline records, help educators accurately and quickly identify students who are most at risk of academic failure, not being on track to graduate college and career ready, or dropping out of school.

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

There 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).

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