Beyond “Smarter Balance”: Protecting Student Privacy

The new Common Core Standards (CCSS) have generated controversy around the country.  In a recent Huffington Post article, “How the Common Core Lost Teacher Support”, Peter Green explains why support among teachers is plummeting.   Green highlights the numerous reasons why teachers are seeing significant problems associated with this latest education reform fad.

Within this latest education reform is the data mining of information on students and their families.

In 2010, two assessment consortia (PARCC and SBAC) won money from the federal “Race to the Top” Grant.  The Smarter Balanced Consortium (SBAC) will be the assessment New Hampshire schools will be administering in 2015.

The SBAC received funding from the Federal Government and within the cooperative agreement the consortia had to agree to deliver student-level data to the U.S. Department of Education.

While Common Core does not require data collection, the data mining of information is part of a broader scheme.

“Race to the Top” required states to use one of the national assessments and to implement a longitudinal database.   Since there is a federal law that prohibits the Federal Government from developing a national database, the “Stimulus Bill” provided funding to states to develop identical databases.  This essentially created a de facto national database.

Through the cooperative agreement with the SBAC, the Federal Government now has the means to see any data collected on students who take the test.  This has drawn such concern from parents around the country that U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a letter directly to President Obama.

Some states have wisely abandoned their commitment to using one of the two national assessments and now we are seeing a large number of parents refusing to allow their children to take the standardized tests too.

Secretary Duncan has said he wants to track children from pre-K to the workforce.  This is why New Hampshire expanded the Unique Pupil Identifier Number.  Instead of collecting information on children k-12, they now can collect that data starting in pre-School all the way through college.

The National Education Data Model, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, recommends collecting over 400 data points on each child.  This would include information on disciplinary history, health history and family income.

In 1974 the FERPA law was passed to protect the privacy of students, however a few short years ago FERPA was gutted by the Obama Administration. Now schools can share data with anyone in the world and without parental consent as long as they use the right language.  Not only would parents not have to consent to this, parents will never know this is happening.

Abandoning the Smarter Balanced Assessment would be helpful, however there are other initiatives by the Federal Government to collect more data on students.

  1. Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI)
  2. Common Education Data Standards
  3. Assessment Interoperability Framework

It’s important to know that Common Core is not an Education Model, it is a Workforce Model.  The data can now be shared with the U.S. Labor Department, Health and Human Services, etc.  Centralizing education into “workforce development” means children are now considered human capital and as such, will be tracked accordingly.

Requiring parental consent prior to sharing any data would be a big improvement.  This can be done as a school policy passed by the local School Board and through state and federal legislation.

Parents should also be aware of the digital learning platforms that allow data to be collected through the electronic devices that measure the “fine grained data” on students.  Parents need to fully understand what those platforms can do and what data they collect like “physiological” data.

There is good information available to those who want to learn more. The Pioneer Institute has issued a White Paper on this subject: Cogs in the Machine, Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing.

Parents should first read this report then send the link electronically to their local and state representatives.  Once everyone is educated on the lack of privacy then they can work together to fill in the gaps.

Editorial by Ann Marie Banfield, Cornerstone’s Education Liaison. Her email address is