August 14 2014

Schools Playing Show and Tell With Students’ Private Information

Vicki E. Alger

It’s back-to-school time, and a growing number of parents are worried about all the personal data schools are collecting about their children and sharing with third parties without their permission. It all started as states began implementing Common Core national standards and signing on with federally subsidized third-party companies that administer Common Core tests. Just some of the non-academic information being collected from students concerned their familes' religion and their parents' political parties (here, here, and here.) Watchdog.org Education reporter Mary Petrides Tillotson details one mother’s experience in School Reform News:

“I had a conversation with my high school assistant principal and asked him how much data was being collected. He chuckled and slapped his knee and he said, ‘It’s a lot. It’s getting to be more and more,’” said Dawn Sweeney, a Pennsylvania mother.

Sweeney has two children in public schools and homeschools her younger three. She had planned to enroll the younger three in public schools when they reached seventh grade, as she did with her two oldest, but because of the data collection, she’s reconsidering.

“Nobody can say exactly what is being collected, but it’s a lot, and it concerns me. ...You don’t need parent permission for that. However, you do need parent permission to hang artwork in the hallway.”

More and more parents are fighting back., including the new Student Privacy Matters coalition. Just this summer they helped end a pilot project involving massive student data collection, inBloom. Federal privacy protections do exist, but chairwomen Rachael Stickland and Leonie Haimson said they’ve been sorely weakened in recent years. Schools certainly do need basic information about students, but there’s no good reason any school official should be sharing it, and parents can help put a stop to it.  Strickland explains that:

The most important thing for parents to do is to start asking questions of their education officials. Ask the superintendent, ask the school board what is being collected on their kids, how it is being secured, who are the vendors that it’s being shared with and how it’s being used…Once parents start asking those questions and they find out the reality of the environment, awareness will skyrocket. At the moment, everyone’s under the assumption that it’s just the registration information that we provide, and it’s so much more.

Parents should have the right to send their children to Common Core- and data mining-free schools. At a minimum, what parents can do now is to refuse to provide school officials information until they start providing real answers about what information they’re collecting and sharing about students and their families.

 

 

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