Student privacy concerns continue to grow (Guest Post by Maria Naughton)

Maria Naughton is an educator, educational consultant and public school parent.  She is a frequent guest columnist here at Wait, What? and writes commentary pieces for the New Canaan Advertiser where this piece was first posted. See: http://ncadvertiser.com/43686/student-privacy-concerns-continue-to-grow/

It is all about the Data – The uncomfortable truth about teaching in America

Privacy protections for our youngest citizens are undergoing a troubling transformation due to recent policy changes, and requirements in education. As a result, both state and private entities are gaining expanded access and use of individual-level student data. Upon closer examination, it is becoming abundantly clear that greater controls need to be put in place.

To explain further, a key requirement of the education-related Race to the Top program mandated collecting data on students to “ensure” their successful navigation into the workforce. This has resulted in an almost non-stop (and ever-expanding) stream of information being collected and stored on our children, starting as soon as they enter formalized schooling, and possibly sooner.

At the state level, data on children will be aggregated from various state agencies into one system. This personally identifiable information (PII), will be collected from birth and into the workforce, and will be made accessible to Federal agencies. Maintained in federally-funded state repositories (P20WIN in Connecticut), this data, we are told, is necessary to ensure that our children are “college and career ready.”

However, in order to make that PII more accessible than in the past, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA was redefined by the Obama administration, removing longstanding federal protections for children. Most of us would agree that teachers making data-driven decisions to ensure student success make perfect sense. But the lack of insight as to how this state-level digital dossier will be used, or where captured data is stored, is disturbing.

This information gathering will begin early. Nationally, in grant-funded preschools, educators are learning that those much-needed federal dollars come with strings attached. Teachers are finding they have endless reporting requirements about their young students, which cover everything from toileting habits to cooperation skills, to expressions of understanding and “empathy” towards others. Schools are being mandated to use programs like Teaching Strategies Gold, into which teachers spend inordinate amounts of time entering up to ten “domains” of information, even submitting photos and videos to provide what they call evidence, to ensure toddlers are on the track to success.

Behaviors common in preschool, like biting or whining, while just a blip on the radar of child development, may now be logged forever in an electronic student record. And while the appropriate course of action would be for a teacher and parent to discuss the behaviors, entering them into a database will allow unseen analysts to perceive them as indicators of a potential mental health issue, when in fact, a child might just be having a bad day.

Of course, preschool teachers have always monitored the progress of the children in their care. What is disturbing is the submission of this data to unknown entities and the lack of understanding about where it goes. In Connecticut, the Early Childhood Information System (ECIS) is under development, and will be part of the newly-funded Office of Early Childhood. This ECIS system will connect to the P20WIN, ensuring contiguous progress monitoring on children. The P20WIN is overseen by an appointed Data Governance Board, which holds the authority to release that data upon request to organizations meeting the “educational use” requirement. This illustrates just how far removed parents and families have become from how these agencies are using their children’s information.

Data gathering does not stop at preschool. As children move through the public school system, they will continue to generate personal data, often through online programs and third-party vendors not under the direct control of the schools. A key component to education reform involves the concept of “personalized learning.” Parents should familiarize themselves with this term. This involves students using an electronic device, and an online program, with or without teacher instruction, to learn. Theoretically, by using analytics and algorithms, the online instruction is tailored to the student’s individual needs.

Recent online programs in use in the Norwalk public schools include programs like mClass for literacy or Total Motivation, a program meant to teach critical thinking. These programs capture online responses and behaviors, in order to be personalized. While it is easy to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of the new products flooding the market as a result of the educational reforms, conflicts begin to emerge about who benefits most from the use of these innovative, albeit new teaching methods.

To clarify, using methodologies with a proven track record for students makes sense. However, that proof may not be evident with some new web-based products, which are under continuous development. As an example, a recent Grossman Family Foundation study in Connecticut looked at the impact of using mClass in certain pilot schools, over other reading programs and found the differences in achievement, “statistically insignificant.” Yet, while the benefits to students are negligible, the vendors do benefit from student feedback through use of the product. As a direct result of the FERPA law change, those responses may be used by the organization for future product development, without parental consent, effectively putting students in the position of being unsuspecting, and unpaid, product testers, instead of receiving time-tested and effective instruction.

In addition, the “digital dossier” will grow as more and more students submit to online instruction as part of their public education. As of right now, there is little protection for a child’s online profile, or the sharing of that data with others. Proposals like President Obama’s recently introduced Student Digital Privacy Act, while appearing to protect students, actually only clarifies that personal student data may be shared as long as it is for “educational purposes.” This new act, which does nothing to keep this data out of the hands of the educational product vendors, is a cleverly titled fig leaf which allows States to assuage the growing privacy concerns being raised by parents.

These concerns are real, and state lawmakers, including those in Connecticut, are listening to their constituents. Several bills have been introduced in this legislative session, which will go further to offer privacy protections for students and their families. Additionally, legislators are seeking to understand how students’ time is being used in school with regards to online learning. These are sure to gain bipartisan support. Please stay engaged, and check in at cga.ct.gov/ to learn which Bills have been put forth, and how you can make your voice known to the Committees, which will be discussing them.

Note:  Many data collection products are being used by Connecticut public school systems.  For example, Norwalk uses mclass (mentioned above) which is a product of Amplify, the massive corporate education reform industry entity owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and education reformers Joel Klein –   http://www.amplify.com/assessment/mclass-reading-3d.

When THEY say “personalized learning” it is time to be afraid, very afraid

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) are among the most vocal Connecticut champions of the Common Core and the unfair, discriminatory and expensive Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme.

Although the three organizations are funded primarily from local taxpayer funds and are supposed to be advocating for local public schools, all three have spent the last three years lobbying for Governor Malloy’s restrictive, centralized and top-down Corporate Education Reform Industry agenda… An agenda that undermines local control of education, seeks to limit the rights of parents, denigrates teachers and turns Connecticut’s public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories.

In fact, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), perhaps more than any other entity in Connecticut other than the Malloy administration itself, has been promoting the “big lie” that parents cannot opt their children out of the absurd Common Core SBAC tests.

But yesterday, in a moment of supreme – (ah) – irony – representatives of these three entities held a press conference at the Legislative Office Building to announce that the solution to Connecticut’s educational achievement gap is “personalized learning.”

And what pray-tell is “personalized learning?’

Thanks to an article in CTNewsJunkie entitled, “Education Organizations Tout ‘Personalized’ Learning,” we learn that according to the representative of the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), personalized learning is,

“recognizing that all children learn differently and it’s about helping them learn the way they learn best. For example, if a grade schooler is interested in dinosaurs, it’s giving him an assignment related to dinosaurs that allows him to demonstrate his abilities.”

Now who would have ever thought of that idea?????

And the director of the Superintendent’s organization added, “Everybody wants to have the time they need to learn something and everybody wants to be taught in the way that they learn.”

Truer words have never been spoken, but the concept of true personalized learning is about as far from the Common Core and Common Core SBAC testing system as one can get.

And as if to prove the hypocrisy of their commitment to true personalized learning, the “White Paper” the group of Common Core advocates released reiterated their support for Governor Malloy’s inappropriate Teacher Evaluation System, a system that relies on the test results of the unfair and discriminatory Common Core SBAC Test.

Out of one side of their mouths the education reformers claimed they were holding their press conference to promote a more individualized approach to learning, while out of the other side of their mouths they were re-dedicating themselves to a teacher evaluation system that seeks to rank order teachers based on a Common Core SBAC test program that is purposely designed to make sure that 6 in 10 children are deemed failures.

So what exactly is this concept of “personalized learning” that these education reformers are talking about?

Interestingly, not one of the spokespeople at the press conference explained what “personalized learning” really means in today’s world of education reform.

The harsh reality is that “personalized learning” has become a buzzword of the corporate education reformer industry.

About four years ago media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced that he was splitting his massive multi-national corporation into two pieces.

One company would seek to continue to buy up and dominate the world’s mainstream media outlets and the other would focus on what Murdoch famously described as the $500 billion untapped market called America’s Public Education System.

To head the new operation, Murdoch hired Joel Klein, the former NYC Education Chancellor who had done so much damage to New York City’s public schools.

They named their new company Amplify and claimed that it would serve as the foundation for a new education system based on “personalized learning.”

As reported at the time, the new company was developed around the concept of the Amplify tablet, a mini-computer that would provide students from kindergarten through the 12th grade with “personalized learning.”

According to the company’s marketing propaganda Amplify would serve as a “student’s centralized education hub.”

Amplify and its products would not only take the place of textbooks but it would also provide games, simulations, “and even a curated library tailored to each student.”

In an interview with WiredAcademic.com in 2013, Joel Klein laid out the fundamental concepts behind Amplify and their strategy of promoting “personalized learning.”

As the article explained,

“These tablets come pre-loaded with curriculum from Amplify, the education company Klein leads. The company wants every student in every K-12 school to use a tablet. It also provides data services to schools to help them track student progress in coursework.

Many school districts that have the money and will to buy tablets for students are currently buying iPads from Apple or Android devices, which they customize for their students. Amplify says it has created a more education-focused tablet than tech rivals such as Apple or Google are currently offering.

“We work with special development people who work with teachers hand in glove,” Klein said, noting that his company sold 20,000 devices to schools in Guilford County, NC, rolling out a system there this Fall. Amplify has also piloted the tablets with a dozen school districts. “It’s about the software we are putting on there that makes this a really optimal learning platform.”

[…]

At the same time, Murdoch hopes Amplify buoys News Corp.’s journalistic holdings such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post by creating a hybrid news and education business model on par with Pearson PLC, which owns The Financial Times, and The Washington Post Co., which owns education company Kaplan (but recently sold the namesake Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos).

Klein says Amplify’s strategy fits in well with the newly launched Common Core education standards that are going into use in more than 40 states. They “enable you to align your curriculum across the country,” he said. “Because we don’t have a legacy publishing business, we can align our curriculum right away with the Common Core. It gives us an advantage.”

We asked him his views on some states such as Indiana that are bucking against the Common Core and whether that could potentially set back his business. “I don’t think it is consequential. Some states might come off the Common Core… There were never 100% that were part of the Common Core (there were 45 state to begin with). Most states that aren’t on the Common Core may still require the curriculum we are building,” he said. “You make some differences for Texas. But the students in Texas will want the good curriculum we are developing.”

Klein’s impact on education reform in New York had ripple effects around the country. He’s helped mold and select several new superintendents in other cities ranging from Baltimore to New Orleans. He’s involved with the Broad Center, funded by L.A. billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, which aims (among its other projects) to train and place reform-minded superintendents in the education sector.

[…]

Amplify acquired its way into the education business, buying up Brooklyn-based education data systems Wireless Generation for $360 million in 2010. It also provided professional development training to teachers. Klein hopes to sell news content and educational curriculum on the tablets and to disrupt the textbook market at the same time, posing a huge risk to other large textbook publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, and Pearson, which together have $2.6 billion in annual revenue. “I think the printed textbook should be given a respectful and decent burial,” Klein said, during a recent interview with THE Journal. “I think it should be gone.”

[…]

“It’s not about tech for tech sake,” Klein says, about putting tablets into the hands of every student at every school. “It is about facilitating the learning process. If it doesn’t do that, it is not succeeding. I’ve had teachers in many places who say kids who were not engaged are now engaged and writing on the tablet. It gives them a feeling of responsibility.”

All of this brings us back to The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS).

When they say “personalized learning,” do they mean the “personalized learning” that is being forced upon our children by companies like Amplify, Pearson and the other corporations and corporate executives behind the Corporate Education Reform Industry?

If that is what they are saying, then they need to stand down and back off before they do any more damage to Connecticut’s public schools.

You can read the CTNewsjunkie article about yesterday’s press conference at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/education_organizations_tout_personalized_learning/