What parents don’t know about the massive data collection that is taking place in public schools

Last November, the Washington Post headline read, The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children.  The article reported on the “Brave New World” of data collection and data mining that is taking place in the nation’s public schools and how private companies are accessing and using that information for profit.

The media coverage in the Washington Post continued this past January with a piece entitled, New student database slammed by privacy experts.

Although the issue has yet to generate a lot of media attention here in Connecticut, all across the United States parents and advocacy groups have been highlighting the growing problem and demanding that public officials take steps to protect students, parents and teachers from the government and corporate education reform industry’s efforts to collect and utilize information.

Here in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration have been moving “full-speed head” with national and state plans to collect large amounts of data on Connecticut’s public school students and teachers, some of which will undoubtedly end up in the hands of companies looking to market their products.

As a result of a series of policy changes, parents not only have little knowledge of this growing problem, but have little say over what information is being collected about their children and how it can be used.

At the recent State Department of Education meeting in which a group of school superintendents were instructed on how to mislead parents about their right to opt out of the Common Core SBAC testing scheme, one high ranking employee with the state department of education mocked concerns about the potential misuse of the data collected during the SBAC testing process.

However, whether their statement was due to intention or ignorance, their dismissal spoke volumes about how little public officials care about what parents think or want.

Officials can’t hide the truth forever.

Jennifer Jacobsen, a public education advocate in Connecticut, serves as the director of the Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education and is among the most outspoken leaders in the effort to force public officials to address the very serious issues regarding the use and misuse of the data being collected in public schools.

In a recent CT Mirror commentary piece, Jennifer Jacobson wrote;

The Connecticut Alliance for Privacy in Education– CAPE- represent a diverse membership of organizations who have come together to advocate for a comprehensive student data law in our state. Our members include:

The Connecticut Parent Teachers Association, Connecticut Parental Rights Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union -CT, Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, Connecticut Association of Private Special Education Facilities, CT Council of Administrators of Special Education, CT Federation of School Administrators, CT Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut Education Association College Student Program….and growing.

The mission of CAPE is to protect the children, students, families, and educators of Connecticut by addressing the risks associated with the collection of student data and other educational records.

There is great potential for the appropriate use of student data to bring positive outcomes for our children and students. However, the use of student data also brings with it immense responsibility and great risk to the safety and civil liberties of children and their families.

Policymakers, educators, parents, and communities must ensure that all individuals and entities who have access to student data take steps to protect the lives behind the data.

Thirty-three states have enacted 55 laws thus far around the issue of student data. Legislatures around the nation continue today to have this important discussion. Connecticut is among a minority of states that have yet to enact legislation pertaining to the protection and use of student data, leaving our children and families inadequately protected. As such the Education Committee of the General Assembly has raised HB 5469: An Act Concerning Student Data Privacy.

HB 5469 does accomplish some welcome changes in policy:

The prohibition on student tracking and profiling, limiting data collection by school contracted apps and websites, the limitation on advertising, the requirement of de-identification of student information for use to improve a site or product, and the limited use of directory information are examples of such improvements. Further, the inclusion of a parent notification provision that their child has become a party to a contract or when there has been a breach are additional strengths of the bill. However, the bill is limited only to contractors who store education records and operators of websites and apps, and excludes state data collection and other third parties who have access to student information.

Based on testimony that was submitted at the public hearing on March 2, we feel that additions to the bill should expand to include the following provisions:

Marne Usher of the CT PTA stated their organization’s concern surrounding the limited scope of the bill and advocated that they would “like to see legislation that ensures consistent policies for ALL student data regardless of who is collecting it. Parents have the right to know about ALL data that is collected in their child’s record. Parental consent should be the first step before any data collection and we see no mention of this in the legislation”

ACLU-CT, David McGuire primarily focused on civil liberties protections for students in regards to baseless searches and seizures of students’ personal electronic devices and passwords citing “the patchwork of unequal privacy policies” used in districts around the state, urging the committee to expand protections in the bill that would uphold students Constitutional 14th amendments rights.

Ray Rossomando of the Connecticut Education Association focused on changes to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which historically prohibited the disclosure of education records of students unless a parent consented. Parental consent is no longer required in many instances simply by using the correct exception to the law, ironically at a time when parents report having a harder time garnering access to their own child’s data.

Rossomando also requested that the committee consider providing guidelines to educators and other school personnel to learn about safe and secure data handling strategies and extend the bills coverage to include educator information since they too are exposed to similar risks. Greater oversight and citizen input were further themes of his testimony that would strengthen the comprehensive intent of this bill.

Understanding the potential for the misuse of lifetime data collection on children Pam Lucashu, Legislative Liaison to TEACH CT cited banning “the use of this information being used to influence or determine the employability, criminal liability, financial standing or the reputation of the student”, which is a protective provision in human subject research protections in policy that should be codified into law to exclude such use. In fact, many other states have explicitly prohibited juvenile delinquency records, medical records and criminal records of students from being included as education records for exactly this reason.

Finally, any law that does not contain an enforcement process and a penalty for violation of that law, which HB 5469 does not, relegates its purpose to a guideline. There must be a means of enforcement and liability.

When sensitive student information enters into a data system or leaves the school building to an outside party risk ensues. It is at the point when student information is poised to leave the school, that the system to protect that data must begin.

Connecticut’s system to protect student information needs to be far more effective, uniform, and transparent than it is today. This is an attainable goal. The clarifications, amendments and additions to this bill suggested in here and at the public hearing by the members of CAPE and others would take us far toward accomplishing that goal.

It is with this vision of care and protection of this generation’s future, free and unhindered from a lifetime of collected information that may come to be used against them that we, the members of CAPE, in partnership with countless thousands of people around Connecticut call on the Education Committee, General Assembly and leadership to do the right thing for the students of this state and enact an comprehensive student data security, transparency, and privacy law.

Our kids and our families deserve no less than those in other states. We cannot allow for interest in the data, special or otherwise, to supersede the digital security of our children, nor infringe upon their civil liberties, nor keep our parents and guardians in the dark any longer.

New Canaan parent and education advocate Maria Naughton submitted testimony stating “parents, families and children do not have corporate backing, PAC’s, large philanthropic organizations or venture capitalists funding our efforts to protect our children. We are relying on those who have been elected to represent our interests and to do what is in the best interest of our children.”


The Connecticut’ General Assembly’s Education Committee will soon be taking up the legislation Jennifer Jacobsen addressed  in her commentary piece.

Legislators will be faced with the opportunity to strengthen this proposed new law or continue to look away while the education reform industry and their supporters undermine the privacy rights of students, parents and teachers.

For more about the legislation go to Cape4kids.org

The names and contact information for the members Connecticut’s Education Committee can be found here – https://www.cga.ct.gov/ed/

Some previous Wait, What? articles about big data, data mining and privacy can found here:

Will CT elected officials enact appropriate safeguards on student privacy this session?

Public Good or Private Gain – the story behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s Data Mining Effort

Are Governor Malloy’s new Google Chromebooks data mining our kids?

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

Additional background on the data and data mining issue can also be found at Diane Ravitch’s blog.  As the nation’s leading pro-public education advocate she has reported and written extensively about the issue.  Examples include;

U.S. Department of Education Still Pursuing Your Child’s Data

Grit and Data Mining

What You Need to Know about Data Mining of Students

CONNECT THE DOTS: Competency-Based Education, Digitized Instruction, Data Mining, The Vanishing Teacher, and Profit

Parents to New York Education Leaders: No Snooping on Our Children’s Private Data

Your Child’s Personal Records Are Part of a Massive Government Database


Google Spying on 40 Million K-12 Students…

But it is okay, because as one industry professional put it,

“We understand that any data collected is not used for behavioral advertising and all other data uses are aggregated and anonymous.”

Oh, well then, nothing to worry about (NOT)

Alternet’s Steven Rosenfeld has written a “MUST READ” investigative article examining how Google is  collecting massive amount of information on tens of millions of children who use Google Apps at their schools, despite the Internet Giant’s pledge not to engage in such unethical practices.

In a piece published earlier this week, Rosenfeld writes;

“Unlike its website declaration, Google’s “Apps for Education” isn’t a tool that “schools can trust,” because it is spying on 40 million K-12 students and compiling all their online activities even though it pledged not to do that, according to online privacy advocates.

“Google is violating the Student Privacy Pledge in three ways,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission. “First… student personal information in the form of data about their use of non-educational Google services is collected, maintained, and used by Google for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purposes.”

“Second, the “Chrome Sync” feature of Google’s Chrome browser is turned on by default on all Google Chromebook laptops – including those sold to schools as part of Google for Education – thereby enabling Google to collect and use students’ entire browsing history and other data for its own benefit,” EFF continues. “And third, Google for Education’s Administrative settings, which enable a school administrator to control settings for all program Chromebooks, allow administrators to choose settings that share student personal information with Google and third-party websites.”

EFF’s complaint to the Federal Trade Commission urges it to open an investigation into the company’s violation of privacy pledge drafted by the Future of Privacy Forum and Software & Information Industry Association, which Google signed last January.

The complaint filed against Google goes on to read;

 “Such data reveals highly personal information about students and is not necessary to deliver educational services,” EFF’s complaint said. “Google not only collects and stores the vast array of student data described above, but uses it for its own purposes such as improving Google products and serving targeted advertising (within non-Education Google services), as Google has represented to EFF.”

Google contends that it “anonymizes” this data—stripping off student identities—but that still violates the student privacy pledge, EFF said, “because Google still uses the data for its own benefit, unrelated to authorized educational or school purposes… and without authorization from the student or parent.”

For all intents and purposes, Google’s response to the extraordinary serious allegations is…


The Alternet article quotes the Director of Google Apps for Education who writes;

 “While we appreciate the EFF’s focus on student data privacy, we are confident that our tools comply with both the law and our promises, including the Student Privacy Pledge, which we signed earlier this year,” he wrote. “The co-authors of the Student Privacy Pledge, The Future of Privacy Forum and The Software and Information Industry Association have both criticized EFF’s interpretation of the Pledge and their complaint.”

In its non-defense, defense, Google relies on the assurances of two industry aligned organizations who step up to blast the complaint against Google, claiming that it lacks “Merit.”

However, a review of the facts surrounding Google’s practices hardly create the impression that the concern that have been raised are without merit.

The Alternet article concludes with,

[Google and Industry group statements] appear to confirm that Google is tracking and compiling information on student online activities. That data may be rendered anonymous, may not be used for commercial purposes, and may be controlled in part by parents and educators. However, it’s clear that the basic allegations by EFF appear true…

If your child’s school uses Google’s Education Apps including Google’s Chrome Internet browser, or your child has a Google Account you will certainly want to read Steven Rosenfeld’s article which can be found at:  http://www.alternet.org/education/google-spying-40-million-k-12-students-privacy-advocates-call-federal-sanctions

Will CT elected officials enact appropriate safeguards on student privacy this session?

The Connecticut General Assembly will soon be acting on House Bill #7017, An Act Concerning Student Data Privacy.

However, as of now this critically important legislation is little more than an empty shell and it falls far short of what is needed to ensure that Connecticut law properly protects the state’s children by instituting appropriate safeguards on data collected by the state and school districts about students.

Although few parents are presently aware of the problems, as a result of federal action, the Common Core testing frenzy and the ever increasing desire to collect and warehouse massive amounts of data on everybody and everything, the notion of protecting student data at the federal, state and local level has been severely undermined.

Today student data is not properly protected.

In response to these developments, states all across the country have passed new laws aimed at putting appropriate safeguards in place on student data.

This year alone, 41 states have or are considering legislation that would increase the level of protection on student data.

The Connecticut’s General Assembly’s opportunity to step forward and protect Connecticut’s children rests with House Bill #7017, but significant changes would be needed if the legislation is to have a significant impact.

Jennifer Jacobsen, a long time educator, mother of three, a founding member of Connecticut Unites for Student Privacy and a member of the Connecticut Parental Rights Coalition has been a leading voice in the effort to ensure that Connecticut improves its laws on student data privacy.

In a recent letter Jennifer Jacobsen highlighted the steps needed to update loopholes with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), to institute appropriate provisions for dealing with online and third party vendors who contract with the state and schools that collect student data, and changes needed to ensure proper procedures for regulating Connecticut’s “state longitudinal data system,” known as P20-WIN, so that there is transparency, accessibility and protection in place.

The proposed law needs to include the following provisions;

  • Clarification that All student records are the property, and are under the control of, the parent or legal guardian of the child, and may be held in trust by the local board of education. The local board of education shall safeguard the privacy of student records, and shall protect student records from all unlawful release to third parties, in accordance with state and federal statutes and regulations.
  • A requirement that, upon request, the local board of education shall provide immediately to the student, parent, or legal guardian, a copy of any student record, or data of any kind, that is in the possession and/or control of the local board of education and its agents and the state longitudinal data.
  • Adding language ensuring that certain data elements cannot be disclosed to third-parties without parental consent including; (a) Juvenile court delinquency records; (b) Criminal records; (c) Student biometric information; and (d) Student medical Records.

In addition, tougher provisions are needed to limit the likelihood of a data breach and ensure that proper steps are taken if and when a breach of data security occurs. As Jacobsen notes, the legislature should add that:

The State Department of Education and its agents, and the local board of education and its agents, shall notify the student and parent or legal guardian of a student of any unauthorized access, or suspected unauthorized access, to any student record or data of any kind that is collected, maintained, or in the possession and control of the State Department of Education and its agents, the local board of education and its agents, and any other authorized third party.

Each unauthorized release of, or breached access to, any student record or data of any kind that is collected, maintained, or in the possession and control of the State Department of Education and its agents, the local board of education and its agents, and any other authorized third party, shall be considered a separate violation, punishable by (add appropriate penalties- fines, denied access to data systems, etc).

Upon notification of an unauthorized release or breach, or suspected unauthorized release or breach, of student records or data of any kind, the State Department of Education and its agents, the local board of education and its agents, and any authorized third party, immediately shall ensure that all necessary corrections are made to prevent further release or breach, and shall repair and rectify all harm caused by the unauthorized release or breach.

These additions are necessary to update Connecticut’s law on protecting student data.  As Jacobsen explains,

“These proposed changes and additions allow third party vendors and state agencies the opportunity to ensure their proper handling of the data they collect with ultimate responsibility to safeguard the students behind the data while still having access to de-identified data for research or product development purposes.

These recommendations also permit parents the access they need to ensure the accuracy of the data collected on their children and assures them that the state has taken every measure possible to protect their children’s information with serious consequences for those who would either intentionally or unintentionally misuse that information.”

The Connecticut General Assembly should add these provisions, Connecticut’s parents and students deserve nothing less.

They have your child’s data and they aren’t afraid to use it.

The first in series about the lack of adequate protections related to student data and privacy

Over recent weeks the focus of this blog has been on parental right and the importance of opting out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, but that issue is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the unprecedented activities of the Corporate Education Reform Industry and their supporters like Governor Dannel Malloy.

While the vast majority of parents are blind to the issue, one of the most serious problems associated with the transformation of the nation’s education system is the creation of massive databases that track a broad array of data about children and how a variety of public and private entities mine that data for various uses including marketing to children and parents.

Just as troubling is the fact that few school administrators seem to understand the extent of these recent developments.

State and local school officials continue to tell parents that their child’s data is safe as a result of the federal government’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was originally designed to protect students and ensure that parents knew what data was being collected on their children and how that data was being used.

But even a basic review of the communications being sent out by Connecticut’s Department of Education and local superintendents reveal that these officials either don’t know about the massive changes that have been made to the FERPA law or are intentionally misleading and lying to parents.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was designed to control the use of “educational records” and any agency or institution that violates the FERPA law and its regulations can be denied funding. As the law is written, school officials cannot share student data with outside entities without parental consent.

However massive changes to the FERPA privacy law in 2008 and 2011 undermined the most important elements of the nation’s student privacy law.  The United States Department of Education now defines “school officials” to include “contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions it would otherwise use employees to perform.”

This means the nation’s federal student privacy law allows schools to provide the data it collects on students to private companies, without parental consent, if the contract is related, in some way, to educational activities.

In addition, revisions to the FERPA privacy regulations, “removed limitations prohibiting educational institutions and agencies from disclosing student personally identifiable information, without first obtaining student or parental consent,” a change that now gives private companies access to data that specifically identifies each student.

The changes in the nation’s student privacy laws were pushed by the Corporate Education Reform Industry and companies that are financially benefiting from getting access to student data.

As Politco.com observed at the time, the private sector was overjoyed.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

Politico went on to report,

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

And we’re not talking about just a few companies using a few limited databases.

Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service),  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and dozens of other companies have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to weaken privacy laws or stop the federal and state governments from reducing their access to student data.

Just this week, The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado released a major report entitled, ON THE BLOCK: STUDENT DATA AND PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE.  The report references a 2013 study conducted by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School which looked into how California school districts were handling student data.  The report found that;

“[In California] 95% of school districts now rely on cloud-services providers for a wide variety of services, such as data mining for student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, and data hosting.

However, fewer than 25% of the agreements specify the permitted purposes for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to unilaterally change the terms. Many also allow vendors to retain student data into perpetuity.”

After reviewing federal and state laws, the new NEPC report makes it extremely clear that while more than 20 states have passed their own student privacy laws to fill in gaps in the federal laws, Connecticut is one of the states that has completely failed to develop appropriate student privacy laws designed to protect the state’s children.

In Connecticut, for example, there is no requirement that contracts with vendors:

Restrict the use of data collection for advertising and marketing purposes

Require that parents are notified and have an unlimited right to review data that is being handed over to third parties

Require that third parties have and maintain appropriate data security procedures.

Require that data must be destroyed following intended use.

Require parents be notified about breaches or that third parties be held accountable for breaches. (In fact, when it comes to protecting student data, Connecticut actually has a statute that provides for immunity of liability for data breach and NO notice to parents that a breach has occurred.) 

This year a group of Republican legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly introduced H.B. No. 7017, an Act Concerning Student Data Privacy, but following a public hearing, the Education Committee passed an extremely weak version of what might be called an attempt at beginning to address the student privacy problem.

As the proposed legislation now stands, Connecticut parents would continue to have virtually no meaningful protections when it comes to the use of data collected about their children.

Check back for much more on the key issues surrounding student data and privacy, the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s efforts and the failure of public officials to address this growing problem.

Connecticut parent on why she opted her children out of the Common Core SBAC test

Jennifer Jacobsen is a parent, education advocate and has become a leading voice in the effort to educate parents about the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium SBAC Test and the unprecedented effort by the government and corporate education reform industry to collect data about our children.

Here letter was first published in the CT Mirror and can be found via: Parent explains why she can’t allow her children to take the SBAC test

On that first sunny day of this school year, sending my children off with their new backpacks in hand, I never dreamed of how I would be spending this year.

For the better part of eight years I have in full faith sent my children off to their wonderful schools and teachers in anticipation of all that they would learn and participate in while under their care. I never imagined feeling the need to spend my time in research on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, Education Reform and the Preschool to 20 Workforce Information Network or advocating for change in Hartford.

But alas, that is how I have spent this year.

After months of reading our contracts, memorandums of understanding, many grant applications and our waiver to No Child Left Behind, what I have discovered has not been an easy realization. I do not fault anyone in particular for what we have agreed to be a part of, since most states have agreed to do just the same. I do, on the other hand, greatly admire and thank the state representatives and senators that have taken the time to listen and who have proposed legislation to address some of the following concerns and questions.

Where I do find inadequacies is how we have implemented what we have in our schools and in our state.

Although there are different concerns for different people, my particular area of concern is how we as a state and a nation have unlocked our children’s information for research, “innovative” development of technology, and a whole host of other unknown purposes,  yet have left parents and college students out of the conversation on how their children’s information is being used and accessed.

Schools continue to tell parents that their information is safe under theFamily Educational Records Privacy Act. But what they don’t tell you is that federal law was amended at the end of 2011 so that schools may disclose children’s education records under a number of exceptions. It allows for schools to act as a child’s authorized representative without a parents’ knowledge or consent.

I don’t like that. That amendment wasn’t done the right way. Under protest by many in Washington, it was just done.

Who has had access to my child’s records? Where do children’s SBAC tests go when they hit the submit button, and who has access to that? What are the state laws and regulations surrounding the P20-WIN database which will hold personal information on every citizen from before preschool until the time he or she goes to work and then allow third parties to access it for research purposes? How are we informing parents of all of these things? Is there notice and disclosure and breach policies should these systems be hacked?

I see plenty looking out for organizations and foundations and consortiums and ed tech vendors, but who is looking out for the children? Who is also looking out for our teachers and our parents, because they are included in this as well?

We have made a lot of changes in a short amount of time. Things were rushed. But isn’t it more important to not meet a deadline and make sure we are implementing things correctly by first safeguarding our students above all else? I do not think the time was taken in implementing all that we agreed to change and build while balancing information given to parents or regulating things first, or just putting into practice legal protections for the lives these changes effect the most, the children of our state.

For this reason and because I do not have full confidence nor trust in this test, what it is measuring , nor where it goes, or to whom, I feel compelled to say I just do not have enough of a guarantee that this test is as safe as it could be.

I and others have asked the education committee to pass student data privacy laws in our state as many other states have already enacted. That means being honest about what we are going to say is OK and what is not OK for schools to collect, store, and provide outside access to, while providing for notifications and disclosures to be given to parents and a breach response law that is applicable to the state agencies involved — again, as so many other states already have.

In defense of our legislators, our educators and even our administrators I think they sometimes are put in a precarious situation by no fault of their own. It is not they that agreed to do most of this. They are simply following what others have agreed to do. But they can empathize with parents concerns and address them when they arise. What should be simple and easy answers to questions, for reasons unknown to me, are not easily answered. That tells me that something isn’t quite right.

We have allowed for a divide between the State Department of Education and parents, putting administrators, superintendents and teachers in the middle of that divide. I don’t think that is a fair position to put anyone. It doesn’t need to be that way.

The lack of information isn’t all on Washington either. There is no directive by them to not inform parents about many of these things. In fact they have actually given directive of the opposite nature so that parents are included and informed. The decision not to do so falls on the state.

When hiring our next commissioner I hope it is someone who likes talking to parents and sees them as a partner in their children’s education and one who believes in the true spirit of collaboration with all stakeholders — including teachers and parents and even students as well, be they old enough to participate in such dialogue.

As a mom I can honestly say I would rather be asking our legislators to get rid of most of what we have adopted. However, reaching down deep I can see the other side as well. There is value in the data for them and others.

That being said, we are currently out of balance in an all-take no-give situation. I can only point out that these things pose a risk to children. To that there is no dispute. As a result I can therefore only ask the education committee to recognize that risk and to recognize how parents are not being given all that they could be and in the end to pass regulations and laws that makes all of this a lot safer for the children of Connecticut and which would also bring us more into balance together.

There is a public hearing on the student data privacy bill on March 19 starting at 11 a.m. [The legislature’s Education Committee meets in the Legislative Office Building room 2C — Ed.]

I hope that things can change to a more open dialogue so that I can say it is now safe to participate in the state test. For now I just cannot say that is true. It is also why I have to be the one who protects my children from what has been left unprotected thus far and any potential harm that could come from that.

That is my job as a parent. To assess the situation as best I can, sprinkle in my mother instincts and make a decision that is in their best interest.  I also hope that the state can turn toward understanding of the difficulty in that decision for many, work with the committee to enact needed protections and not continue to return a response to parents that is less than one of compassion.

Connecticut Pumps Millions into Google Books But….

Once again, Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate has honored me by re-posting one of my Wait, What? blog posts.

This one about Governor Malloy’s decision to put $25  million more on the state credit card to buy computers for the absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Testing extravaganza.

Ravitch says;

Jonathan Pelto reports that Connecticut districts are spending lavishly on Google Chromebooks, while Google admits it is data mining to promote advertising and sales.

Here is the original post from last week:

Are Governor Malloy’s new Google Chromebooks data mining our kids?

“Google explicitly admits for the first time that it scans the email of Google Apps for Education users for ad-serving purposes even when ad serving is turned off.” – Safegov.org 1/31/14

Late last year, Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Commissioner Stefan Pryor, like governors and education commissioner across the country, proudly announced that they were charging an additional $24 million to the state’s credit card to buy computers and expand internet capabilities so that Connecticut’s public school students could take the inappropriate and absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test.

Much of the money is being used to purchase Google’s Chromebooks.

The wild cheering could be heard across Connecticut.

For example, from Bridgeport’s came the news;

“Superintendent Paul G. Vallas today announced that Chromebooks for every student have been installed in Bridgeport high schools as the district completes its citywide technology upgrade. The upgrade includes 5,220 new Google Chromebooks to ensure every high school student has laptop access… Additionally, Google Apps for Education accounts are now available for all teachers and staff in order to fully operationalize the benefits of using online technology in the classroom.”

From Farmington came the report;

A grant of $350,000 from the state will help implement the state’s new computerized smarter change assessment.  The money will be used for getting computers and wireless Internet access in all schools.”

And from Cheshire the announcement;

The Cheshire Board of Education will use a $202,575 technology grant funds from the State Department of Education to purchase laptop computers for 7th and 8th grade students to support our work in transitioning to the Common Core State Standards and SMARTER Balanced (SBAC) assessments.”


“All seventh and eighth grade students will receive Chromebooks to use throughout the school day in order to access the learning resources, Google Drive, and the Internet as needed in every class.”

But as Malloy, Pryor and their corporate education reform industry allies high-five each other for a job well done, there is new and extremely disturbing news from SafeGov.org, a “forum for IT providers and leading industry experts dedicated to promoting trusted and responsible cloud computing solutions for the public sector.”

The January 31, 2014 headline from SafeGov.org read;

Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps

Take a look at what these industry experts discovered.

“When it introduced a new privacy policy designed to improve its ability to target users with ads based on data mining of their online activities, Google said the policy didn’t apply to students using Google Apps for Education. But recent court filings by Google’s lawyers in a California class action lawsuit against Gmail data mining tell a different story: Google now admits that it does data mine student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school, even when ad serving in school is turned off, and its controversial consumer privacy policy does apply to Google Apps for Education.

This issue has come to the fore as companies like Google and Microsoft have launched a worldwide race to introduce their web application suites into as many schools as possible.


While Google pledges not to serve ads to students without schools’ permission, its Google Apps suite, which is a repurposed version of Google’s Gmail and other consumer services, was designed from the ground up to include ad-serving as well as highly sophisticated user profiling and data mining capabilities. Google explicitly offers schools the option of enabling ad serving to student users of Google Apps for Education. Although it does not yet offer to share the resulting ad revenues with schools that choose the ad-serving option, it has clearly left the door open to such revenue sharing in the future. Indeed, it is hard to see why Google would explicitly write the ad-serving option into its standard contract with schools if it did not hope one day to make ads for students a default and perhaps even mandatory feature of Apps for Education.


The uncanny power of Google’s data mining and user profiling algorithms to target ads effectively has made it the world’s largest advertising company. To cite just one data point, the Mountain View giant last year generated more ad revenue in the American market than the entire U.S. newspaper industry. While we take Google’s word that it does not serve ads to its student users unless it has permission from schools, an important question that until now has gone unanswered is whether the targeting algorithms that power Gmail are still running in Google Apps for Education even when ad serving is turned off. Google’s own web site once supplied an explicit and quite satisfactory answer to this question. Specifically, in a FAQ on its web site devoted to Google Apps for Education, the firm promised that:

‘If you are using Google Apps (free edition), email is scanned so we can display contextually relevant advertising in some circumstances. Note that there is no ad-related scanning or processing in Google Apps for Education or Business with ads disabled.’

However, at some point during the past year the crucial second sentence in this statement was deleted from Google’s web site.

In a remarkable pretrial document filed by Google’s lawyers, Google explicitly admits for the first time that it scans the email of Google Apps for Education users for ad-serving purposes even when ad serving is turned off. The issue at stake in the case is whether Google has properly informed its users and obtained their consent for data mining and ad serving in Gmail and, by extension, in Google Apps for Education. In the filing in question Google’s lawyers seek to prove that email users must have consented to Google’s email scanning practices – if only “impliedly” – because these practices have been widely discussed in the press and can thus be considered to be universally known. The lawyers seek to establish this point by supplying a long list of published articles that discuss these practices.

In other words, Google’s own lawyers here confirm in a sworn public court declaration that even when ad serving is turned off in Google Apps for Education, the contents of users’ emails are still being scanned by Google in order to target ads at those same users when they use the web outside of Google Apps (for example, when watching a YouTube video, conducting a Google search, or viewing a web page that contains a Google+ or DoubleClick cookie).

In sum, then, we have learned from Google’s own statements that:

  • Ad serving remains a standard option in Google Apps for Education,
  • Even when ads are turned off (as they currently are by default) Google still data mines student emails for ad targeting purposes, and
  • Google’s consumer privacy policy is incorporated in standard Google Apps for Education contracts.

Considering governors all across the nation are picking up the tab for all the new Google Chromebooks, perhaps the could force Google to come clean about exactly how much data mining they are doing when it comes to our public school students.

Getting the truth from Google is certainly the least Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor can do in Connecticut considering the damage they have done by opening up the Pandora’s Box known as the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test (SBAC).

You can read the full safegov.org article at:http://safegov.org/2014/1/31/google-admits-data-mining-student-emails-in-its-free-education-apps

Education Blogger Mercedes Schneider warns: Beware of Data Sharingcheerleaders Offering Webinars

Fellow pro-public education blogger Mercedes Schneider is one of the most powerful and important voices in the anti-corporate education reform industry movement.  Her research is extraordinarily thorough and her writing is amazing.

As proof, the nation’s leading voice on behalf of public education, Diane Ravitch, links to Mercedes’ work on a regular basis.  If you don’t subscribe to Mercedes’ blog you can do so by going to http://deutsch29.wordpress.com

In one of her latest blogs Mercedes Schneider continues to confront one of the most important problems with the corporate education reform industry….the effort to data mine and share information about our children.

Mercedes Schneider writes:

Perhaps the most sobering component of the privatization push is its unprecedented demand for data collection (data “mining”) on American students. Data mining is not just an American issue. However, on the American front, two education activists have been at the forefront of the fight against this mammoth student data collection: Louisiana’s Jason France (here’s a great example of his writing on the subject) and New York’s Leonie Haimson (her is her testimony on student data/privacy issues in a September 2013 New York city council meeting).

(For those unfamiliar with the data mining issue, see this concise yet thorough summary on the WhatIsCommonCore blog.)

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes that there is “power” in data for “school reform”.

Indeed there is. The issue isn’t whether there is “power” in data collection and storage, and its potential sharing. There certainly is power. That is precisely why the public is wary of the federal push to develop statewide, longitudinal data systems.

The question is whether state and federal governments (and the privatizing interests nurtured by state and federal governments) should have control of over 400 data points per student.

As is true with any attempt to hand over the public to privatizing interests (i.e., the heart of corporate reform), the potential for exploitation abounds is this so-called “data storing/ data sharing” endeavor.

You can read the full blog at: http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/beware-of-data-sharing-cheerleaders-offering-webinars/