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:
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;