States that were awarded grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top (RttT) stimulus bill program agreed to implement the Common Core standards and to comply with the “Four Assurances,” one of which was the requirement of “Building data systems that measure student growth and success.”
The problem? Private student data is off-limits to parents.
In July of 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “[W]e have more than $300 million available to help states build data systems that will drive reforms.”
In Colorado, for example, in addition to its $73 million RttT award, the state also received $17.4 million additional dollars to build the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) in 2010. Since all states now have an SLDS database, regional data centers have also formed that allow states to share and compare student data, creating what amounts to a national database of student information.
As Watchdog Wire reported in late June, local Colorado school districts are collecting detailed educational and psychological data on their students for use by private companies and the federal government. Parents, however, are having a hard time getting their hands on their own children’s information.
Ft. Collins parent Cheri Kiesecker, for example, has written to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), asking for her children’s data, but was told the CDE cannot share that data with parents.
“The Colorado Department of Education does not have a mechanism for verifying parent/guardian relationships to students — and the release of student information to an unauthorized entity would be a violation of Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” replied Dan Damagala, CDE’s CIO of Information Management Services.
“First CDE said that they do not share student’s personal identifying information, with name, birth date, address, SSN, then we found their policy and video on how they do share it,” responded Kiesecker. “Now CDE tells us that we can’t see the data or who it has been shared with? It seems crazy to me that complete strangers and vendors can have access to my children’s data, but I cannot.”
Natalie Adams received a similar response by CDE. After personally contacting both the State Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond and his Special Assistant Elliot Asp, Adams was told she could not be connected with her children’s data.
Yet another Colorado parent, Brandi Butticaz, interviewed by Watchdog Wire, asked for her child’s records when she withdrew him from school to homeschool instead. School officials said her child’s file could not go to parents and that parents were not permitted to even look at the records.
The data collected about children is not just limited to their educational progress, but also psychological information collected through teacher observations, classroom videos, digital programs, and tests – like the Common Core-aligned PARCC and SBAC assessments – that are taken online.
For example, as Donna Garner of Education Views observed in May, schools that have adopted the Common Core standards in various parts of the U.S. have begun to require students (without parental knowledge) to take the Pearson Clinical Tests. Teachers, using the BASC-2 test form, enter their own personal observations about their students directly into the Pearson database.
Unfortunately, the child data collection issue is even more expansive.
Despite the efforts of lawmakers like Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), a bill to reauthorize federal funding for newborn DNA data collection passed the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote on June 26.
As Heartland reports, the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007 currently mandates the collection of blood samples from every newborn baby by heel prick. The blood samples are then screened for diseases.
Though many states provide for disposing of the samples after testing, the bill that was just approved by the House would collect each newborn’s DNA in federal databases for subsequent medical research and, in Rhode Island, for the purpose of tracking the child’s school progress.
A critical aspect of both the existing law and the reauthorized version, which extends the measure until 2018, is that neither requires the informed consent of parents for the DNA data collection.
Returning to Rhode Island, the Ocean State appears to be the only one that ties a child’s newborn blood screening data to his state education record, though more states are likely to follow suit especially if federal funding is attached to the activity.
When the state submitted its RttT grant application, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) said it would link the state’s child health information database, known as KIDSNET, to the state’s K-12 database. Data in KIDSNET includes laboratory reports from newborn bloodspots and screenings that include DNA testing.
The RttT application states:
Rhode Island currently houses two universal data warehouses, the State Longitudinal Data System managed by the Rhode Island department of Education, and the KIDSNET, the newborn screening and public health data system managed by the Rhode Island Department of Health. Currently key data about children, early learning programs and the early childhood workforce are stored in separate databases managed by four separate State departments and one non-profit organization. The goal for the State is to build one integrated and coordinated Early Learning Data system building on the expertise and resources in both the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services under the leadership of the Rhode Island Early Learning Council which is made up of a private-public partnership.
Heartland reports that RIDE claims it will not use DNA information provided in newborn screening data and denies that information will be available to them.