New education program collects personal data

At a friend’s request, I recently began looking into the new Common Core Standards that have been adopted across the country. While there are many things to dislike about the Standards, the one area I find most alarming is the mandated data collection on both students and their parents. If you are not familiar with this topic or are just beginning to learn about Common Core, I would urge you to do some research (Jane Robbins & Emmett McGroarty at the American Principles Project have done some fine work on this) on the creation of what are called State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS).

As part of the 2009 Stimulus Bill, the federal government created what is known as the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to distribute much-needed monies to the states. In order to qualify for these monies, however, states had to set up their own SLDS. In the end, all 50 states agreed. The federal government further ensured the building of these systems by tying Race-To-The-Top grant monies to the completion of an SLDS system. According to the US Department of Education website, the purpose of these systems is to “capture, analyze, and use student data from preschool to high school, college and the workforce.”

I question whether many Americans really want a federal government that is involved in tracking their every movement from preschool through the workforce. One does not need to be an alarmist to find this level of government intrusiveness disturbing solely from a privacy standpoint. How will the gathered information be secured? By what rules will it be disseminated? Will parents have some constitutional protection regarding what information the government can gather on them and their children?

Student information was previously protected by a federal law called the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but this law was gutted by the current administration in January of 2012. As a result of the 2012 changes to FERPA, schools can now share a wealth of information not only about students but their parents as well, and this can all be done without parental consent! How long is it going to be before the schools, pressed for money as they are, figure out they can sell personal data to the highest bidders?

As I communicated in the opening, there are a number of things not to like about Common Core, but to me this is the most unsettling. Who exactly made the changes to FERPA and why were they made? Is it just coincidental that these changes were made to coincide with the implementation of the state longitudinal data systems? Who’s going to profit by the collection and possibly the selling of private student information? What does this massive data collection effort have to do with preparing the next generation to become productive and responsible citizens? The Michigan House of Representatives just voted to defund Common Core in their state. Maybe its time for the Buckeye State to give this program a thorough vetting.

Leslie Haas