You may recall when teacher Peter Greene asked a brilliant question years ago, “Are Common Core Standards Actually Data Tags?”  Greene said, “We’ve been saying that CCSS are limited because the standards were written around what can be tested. That’s not exactly correct. The standards have been written around what can be tracked.”

Absolutely, and now CCSSO has joined forces with Project Unicorn to promote data interoperability.

Data interoperability allows data to be seamlessly shared across platforms and,can provide a common technical manner to exchange data and information between all of the software systems within the education enterprise –schools, districts, state departments of education, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and Test Publishers.  Because FERPA was weakened in 2011, students’ data can be taken and shared outside of school, without parent consent.  When lobbying for this  2011 rule change to weaken FERPA, the Data Quality Campaign’s attorney is quoted as saying removing parental consent was necessary because “we don’t want parents to get in the way.

Supporters of standardized data collection.

The Data Quality Campaign was launched in November 2005. They are funded by Bill Gates and are promoters of data interoperability; they are also a Project Unicorn partner.  The Data Quality Campaign mission is to promote standardized data collection and sharing. The Data Quality Campaign 2005 founding partners: Achieve, Inc, the Alliance for Excellent Education, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), The Education Trust, National Center for Educational Accountability, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, National Governors Association (NGA),  Center for Best Practices, Schools Interoperability Framework Association (SIF), Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, State Higher Education Executive Officers.  (Note that NGA and CCSSO hold the copyright to Common Core State Standards. For a history of the Common Core, read here and here and here and here and  here. )

As per this October 2017 Federalist article, Bill Gates Tacitly Admits His Common Core Experiment Was A Failure, Joy Pullman writes,

“The Gates Foundation has spent more than $400 million itself and influenced $4 trillion in U.S. taxpayer funds towards this goal. Eight years later, however, Bill Gates is admitting failure on that project, and a “pivot” to another that is not likely to go any better….In lieu of ramming his preferred, untested education theories through a mindhive of unelected bureaucrats elated to be showered with Gates money and attention, over the next five years the Gates Foundation will spend $1.7 billion on myriad smaller initiatives. “We anticipate that about 60 percent of this will eventually support the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions,” Gates says. This curricula, however, will be explicitly tied to Common Core and its cousin, the Next Generation Science Standards…”  Pullman quotes Gates from his blog, “Based on everything we have learned in the past 17 years, we are evolving our education strategy”

But… Was Common Core really a failure?

Student learning and test scores may have dropped, with 2018 ACT seeing the lowest scores in decadesbut what if the mission of Common Core was not learning?  If the mission of Common Core was in fact standardized data tags, data collection and sharing, as the Data Quality Campaign mission suggests, then, Woo-hoo! Common Core has been a huge success, and the data collection and sharing isn’t over.

Data interoperability and its overlap with Common Core.

You will remember we wrote about Project Unicorn, a national initiative to promote interoperable student data–the seamless exchange of data between applications. Project Unicorn’s steering committee and partners are funded by the likes of Palantir, Bill Gates, Dell Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, and countless others.  It is important to see the people and the money behind Project Unicorn.

Project Unicorn is a national project run by a Brooklyn-based nonprofit InnovateEDU.  As parent, Mary Murphy points out, Public Schools & Privacy Advocates Should Be Wary of Project Unicorn, InnovateEDU Inc., its Funders, and their Motives.

Interestingly, InnovateEdu’s mission is to both promote Common Core aligned next generation tools  AND  k-12 data interoperability. Take a look at their most recent 990 tax returns.

InnovateEDU NY 2015 990 28 $686,887.00 46-3636238
Innovateedu Inc NY 2017 990 39 $3,230,311.00 46-3636238
InnovateEDU, Inc. N 2016 990 37 $1,120,063.00 46-3636238

Per their 2017 form 990:

“InnovateEDU is a Brooklyn-based non-profit whose mission is to eliminate (see schedule o) the achievement gap by accelerating innovation in Common Core-aligned, next generation learning models and tools that serve, inform, and enhance teaching and learning. Most significant activities for the year include 1) afterschool program for middle school students, 2) urban education fellowship, 3) work on data interoperability in field of K-12 education, 4) support for partner schools during startup phases of new schools and campuses, 5) development of Cortex next generation learning platform” [Emphasis added]

Project Unicorn has added new partners to its steering committee:  CCSSO, SETDA and Access4Learning, powered by SIF. 

CCSSO, the owner of the Common Core copyright and recipient of vast amounts of Gates money (we counted roughly $125 million) who promotes Common Core,  is on the steering committee of Project Unicorn and is also promoting data interoperability.  EIMAC, the CCSSO Education Information Management Advisory Collaborative’s mission is to influence, advance, and sustain the innovative use of data and technology.  At a EIMAC CCSSO meeting in May of 2018,  data interoperability is stated as the #1 priority.

Additionally, on page 10 of this EIMAC CCSSO Strategic Plan for 2018-19, they again state how important it is to adopt data interoperability:

Data analysis, longitudinal data warehousing, accountability reporting, and knowing and accessing the challenges and needs of all districts at the state level requires interoperability at the multiple levels of the technology ecosystem. In order to achieve innovative technology and data centered goals, such as individualized personalized learning , interoperability is a necessity.”  CCSSO, EIMAC

  SETDA, the State Educational Technology Directors Association is a nonprofit membership association representing US state and territorial educational technology leaders. Their mission is to build and increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology policy and practice.  As you can see by this SETDA symposium on leveraging student data, sponsored by Dell Foundation and EdFi (both are also Project Unicorn steering committee), SETDA “highlights how state leaders tackle data interoperability with the emergence of data standards for student information, assessment, digital content, and other educational applications.” 

SETDA also receives Gates money and has been promoting data interoperability for years. (ie: See their 2012 Gates grantto develop the next level of digital identifiers necessary to make the Common Core State Standards interoperable with curriculum, instructional, professional development, and accountability systems“)

Access4Learning, previously the SIF Association, has long been involved in student data interoperability, as you can see from this SIF vimeo:

“The SIF Implementation Specification (US) 3.0 is this standard. It has been architected to incorporate the entire CEDS 3.0 Logical Data Model, and as a result, contains the full breadth of the CEDS 3.0 Data Model, from Early Childhood to K12 to Higher Education to the workforce, as well as support for other important data initiatives such as Race to the Top Assessment, Common Core State Standards, the SLDS Program, and in Bloom Initiatives! The SIF (US) 3.0 Data Model, doesn’t stop there – the 3.0 data model is really CEDS ‘PLUS’ as it also contains additional district critical SIF-based objects not currently incorporated into the CEDS Logical Data Model!” [Emphasis added]

Speaking of Common Core, together with IMS Global (a Project Unicorn partner) SIF and IMS worked on Common Core assessments PARCC and SBAC to create an interoperable assessment framework in 2012.

“One of the critical components when building comprehensive assessment systems involves the various technical considerations and the advantages of utilizing open technical standards. These standards, when used effectively, can provide a common technical manner to exchange data and information between all of the software systems within the education enterprise –schools, districts, state departments of education, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and Test Publishers.

The SIF Association (SIF) and IMS GLC (IMS) communities, in partnership with the SBAC and PARCC
consortia, have joined forces to develop a standards -based technical solution in support of the Race to
the Top Assessment Grant Program for deployment in states and schools”

SIF has a global arm, and also has worked on ways to exchange student records. This A4L SIF 2015 press release states, ” Today marks the release of SIF xPress, a suite of APIs that are designed to provide a standard template for interoperability for in-demand data sharing use cases in PK-12 education“...[including] the SIF xPress Roster and SIF xPress Student Record Exchange (SRE).”  [Emphasis added]  It is not surprising that Access4Learning, SIF is on the Project Unicorn steering committee promoting data sharing via interoperability.

Not Surprising.

It’s not surprising that these edtech companies,  the Project Unicorn supporters and partners, are the same ones who pushed Common Core. These companies continue trafficking and benefiting from students’ data that they have taken without parent consent.  It’s also not surprising that none of the tech giants at a recent Congressional Hearing on privacy wanted informed, opt-in CONSENT before collecting data.

It’s not surprising that EdWeek, whose funders include Bill Gates, recently ran a series on data interoperability but failed to mention that student data is taken and processed without parent consent.  EdWeek is also hosting a twitter chat on “how to achieve in your district.”

Also not surprising that data interoperability will lead to more data sharing and is raising concerns among parents and privacy advocates.  As this recent RAND study admits, privacy is a concern:

“While better access to centralized education technology databases would  help teachers, administrators, researchers, and policymakers, many of the changes that could improve data availability—increased and standardized data collection, simplified access controls, profile generation and tracking, online access—could threaten student privacy in both predictable and unpredictable ways.”


And as a recent 60 minutes asks, WHO OWNS THE DATA?

Data should belong to the individual.

Are we really a country that is willing to give children’s personal data to government agencies, corporations, outside entities as a condition of receiving a public education?  Rather than increase data sharing with interoperability, we should protect children and demand consent prior to students’ data collection, marketing, and processing.  Europeans have GDPR. We should too.


Cheri Kiesecker

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