Trust Us – Your Data Is Safe
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The Data Quality Campaign, whose mission is to “make the case for education data while ensuring state policymakers meet their moral and legal responsibilities to safeguard this information and ensure its appropriate and ethical use,” has released a Primer on data safety that includes myths and facts about data collection.
Data Myth: The federal government collects academic and other information about individual students.
The primer goes on to describe all the reasons why this statement is false.
- There are federal laws prohibiting the development of a federal database.
Reubttal – True, no federal database has been developed. But there has been considerable effort and money spent to get the states to create databases that all collect the same data coded in the same way. If the federal government had no interest in individual student data, why all the focus on the P20, state longitudinal data systems? At the end of the day someone has a goal for all those databases to talk to each other. And if all the states have access to each other’s data, why would the feds not as well?
The federal government does not have access to the student-level information housed in state data systems.
Rebuttal– True they do not currently have access to the state data systems. But they do have access to student level data collected by the assessment consortia according to the memorandum of understanding signed by SBAC and the US Dept of Education January 7, 2011
“A. Recipients Responsibilities (5) Comply with, and where applicable, coordinate with teh ED staff to fulfill the the program requirements established in the RTTA Notice…including but not limited to working with the Department to develop a strategy to make student-level data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis for research, including for prospective linking, validity and program improvement studies”
In essence, only pay attention to what actually exists today and ignore everything we have said about our intentions. After all, it is only federal law which prohibits us from doing these things and we have discovered that, as a regulatory agency, we can simply change that law when we need to, as we did with FERPA.
Myth – Federal grant programs such as the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems program and Race to the Top are a way to create one database that will house a national collection of student information.
- States that receive federal grants are not allowed to report student-level data to the federal government.
- These data systems were often under construction before federal grants became available.
Alternate Reality – The data systems created in the states were made possible by federal money. The states did not all spontaneously decide to create statewide databases with their own limited education funds. It was a coordinated effort as could be seen in the DESE presentation on the P20 system which said,
I saw medical records (immunization, allergy, etc) and a letter from a doctor stating the child was prescribed Ritalin and his dosage. I saw a list of student ID’s with their names and whether they were receiving free lunch or not. I saw report cards. District registration documents (including name, address, date of birth, parent info.) I saw disciplinary records – a letter to a parent (name and address included) stating their child had been suspended for smoking marijuana on the bus. BOTH the parent’s and child’s name and address were on the letter.
One particular concern is that throughout the last two years running up to the end of this year, Sachem will have spent $2,337,881 on central data processing. These are more or less the maintenance, support and protection costs that are required to keep the schools computer network running and secure. Unfortunately, the money was either completely wasted or embezzled, as Sachems network does not have a two million dollar security infrastructure. The extremely minimal security that was in place was defeated in a very trivial manner, and the system administrators were informed of the issue multiple times. They were unable to fix the issue, as the districts networks utilize mostly free tools and are extremely vulnerable. After repeated attempts to get the problems corrected were practically ignored, it was discovered by many users that extremely sensitive personnel and private information could be accessed with little effort.
“Over a postsecondary academic career, every student leaves a wealth of data in her wake concerning the schools she attended, her performance at those schools, her ultimate graduation, the financial cost of her attendance, and her success in moving from school to the work force. In the quest to usefully compile this information, the Holy Grail for researchers is a federal unit-record system.”
Parents in New York have filed a lawsuit against ACT Inc. for selling their children’s personal information. ACT is a private business who, in the course o their business, collects student information and has found a lucrative market in selling this information to other vendors. They regularly collect information such as a child’s name, home address, self reported GPA, date of birth, extracurricular interests, social security number, phone number etc. The suit claims the price ACT charged was 33 cents per child which netted them over $5 million. If the ACT can’t resist the profit motive to use this data, how can we expect the government to do otherwise should they ever have access to it.