Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 10.04.51 AMLast month Pioneer Institute released a report titled, “Cogs In the Machine: Big Data, Common Core and National Testing.” It’s 57 pages every parent should read before sending their child back to school this fall.

It all starts with the federal desire to track every citizen (child) and, using the excuse of wanting to minimize the State’s financial liability for remedial training, unemployment and crime, assure that they will find gainful employment and a place in civic life in this country. They call this the federal unit record system. According to federal law they cannot create their desired national data base, but they have been working through statute to create the infrastructure for a surrogate of such a system. The State Longitudinal Data Systems are that surrogate; created, populated and maintained by the individual states but with federal authority to access them. how great that our state and really our individual school districts get to do all the work and hold all the liability and accountability for the federal government’s benefit.

Talk about only following the letter of the law, but not the spirit!

The spirit of the federal prohibitions against such an individual file on every citizen stems directly to our belief in the freedom of the individual and the right to individual privacy. Your data is your property.  Such rights, according to our Bill of Rights, are inherent to our very existence, not something granted by our government. Here, the government chooses to ignore the letter of the law as spelled out in things like the 4th amendment.

Cogs in the Machine says, “Even if government were to keep the information private, the very existence of a ‘dossier’ is immensely intimidating and inhibiting. This alters both civil society and the private realm, and not in the direction of greater freedom.” The IRS scandal, the VA scandal and the DOR scandal here locally are critical examples of why government cannot be trusted with the collection, protection or even proper reporting of data. Who has believed the government’s unemployment numbers in the last two decades?

Those who attempt to support the SLDS and the school’s role in collecting the data for such dossiers try to minimize the importance of the data itself. “It’s just grades, and scores on tests which every parent wants to know on their own child anyway.” Or “They are just trying to be good stewards of your money and make sure there is accountability in the system.” Or “It’s just basic demographic data that the government has anyway from other sources, so what’s the big deal if we collect it?”

Pioneer responds, “In a free society, governments cannot demand to know the inner workings of citizens’ minds and their daily habits, especially since such intimate information allows government to control rather than be controlled by the populace.” This is a concept that many in academia truly struggle to understand, a sign that the progressive infiltration of higher ed has been very successful. They are far too trusting of a benevolent government. They did not study what happened the people of the Weimar Republic. They should.

This concern is consistent with the type of data being collected by the schools and the assessments. Buried in those test scores, on tests parents currently are not allowed to see, are questions that probe the child’s attitudes, values and dispositions. In the USDoEd report “Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance” they acknowledge that “There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success.”  That is the justification for all the invasive methods of data gathering discussed in that report. A paper and pencil test on content is not going to give you insight into a child’s attitudes and social skills.

This is not just a U.S. desire. The United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development report said UNESCO’s goal is to “integrate the values inherent in sustainable development into all aspects of learning…. incorporate the “knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life” in schools, colleges, and higher education programmes and activities, as well as in non-formal educational initiatives.”

How convenient that Common Core’s ELA standards cross all content areas so, if you wanted to, you could insert your value statements into the social studies or science curriculum and call it part of the language arts standards. Common Core was absolutely necessary to the collection of uniform data on students. It focuses on skills that involve attitudes and dispositions, instead of content knowledge, knowing that the associated on-line assessments will begin  to measure these attributes. Schools will then begin to shift these attitudes and values. Otherwise, what would be the point in knowing all the different beliefs held by students? This is social engineering at its most basic level.

Back in the 90’s when we were all following the Outcome Based Education fad, former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett called OBE “a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary school version of the kind of ‘politically correct’ thinking that has infected our colleges and universities.” Common Core and the complete education reform package that it is a part of is OBE in hyper drive.

Pioneer includes this mantra that every parent, school board member and school administrator should memorize.

“They [the government] should also only have the least amount of information necessary to provide basic accountability.”

Parents must be empowered to draw the line on data collection on their children.  You are your child’s only advocate in the public school system.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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