Parents fight Department of Education Surveillance and Big Data
If you're OK with Surveillance Because You Have Nothing To Hide Think Again
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
AND THE SURVELLANCE STATE
The possibilities of Big Data will leave George Orwell in the dust.
Financial Literacy: It is the Oligarchy vs. democracy or anything else . . .
The Purpose of Big Data is to Get Kids Ready to work for robot bosses. Imagine your boss was a machine. For some people it’s almost a reality, says Jane Palmer, so will we all end up working for robots and algorithms?
K12 Testing, Surveillance, Evaluation is dominated by unelected Educrats. Education Policy is run by unelected Big Business and Politicians.
The K12 Factory
The factory was instigating new scientific management practices – innovated by Frederick Taylor and known as Taylorism – to increase productivity and efficiency. But the workers rebelled. Taylorism, which required industry to run factories like military operations with managers barking out orders to hapless subordinates, treated workers as mindless drones, the strikers argued.
Under the Taylor system, managers armed with stopwatches timed how long workers took to complete their tasks (Wikipedia /CC-PD-Mark1.0) Fast-forward to the present day, and a new form of hyper-efficient management may be about to arrive, but with a technological twist. In the never-ending quest for productivity, automation has already come to many spheres of industry. If so, your next boss might not be a tyrant or even a softie. Your next boss could be a machine. The idea that robots and algorithms will take jobs is a common concern about the future. As Bill Gates argued earlier this year: “20 years from now, labour demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower.” Automation has already removed the need for humans in many workplaces, from building cars in factories to taking bookings in call centers. And scientists at Birmingham University in the UK are testing whether an autonomous security guard can do a real job in a working office.
The Factory Model
They are Watching You
and K-12 school
They're Watching You at Work What happens when Big Data meets human resources? The emerging practice of "people analytics" is already transforming how employers hire, fire, and promote. Many companies are beginning to use – historic information on an individual’s online behavior – to analyse prospective job candidates. Analytics teams in human-resources departments of large corporations such as Google and General Motors, for example, use algorithms to comb through the vast amounts of data collected on online interactions. In goes every forum comment, tweet, or public Facebook status, and out pops a number representing a candidate’s suitability for a position. The idea that robots and algorithms will take jobs is a common concern about the future. As Bill Gates argued earlier this year: "20 years from now, labour demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people perform better with encouragement, respect and a sense of affinity for where they work. “To have these you need a real human, right there in front of you,” Amabile says. And if the eventual backlash against Taylorism in the 20th Century taught us anything, it is that dehumanising work comes at a cost, most of all to human happiness. Robots and software may soon be more than capable of doing your boss’s job, but the ultimate question may be whether you would choose to work for them.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Moms and dads from across the political spectrum have mobilized into an unexpected political force in recent months to fight the data mining of their children. In a frenzy of activity, they’ve catapulted student privacy — an issue that was barely on anyone’s radar last spring — to prominence in statehouses from New York to Florida to Wyoming.
A months-long review by POLITICO of student privacy issues, including dozens of interviews, found the parent privacy lobby gaining momentum — and catching big-data advocates off guard. Initially dismissed as a fringe campaign, the privacy movement has attracted powerful allies on both the left and right. The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing for more student privacy protection. So is the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization of conservative legislators.
The amateur activists have already claimed one trophy, torpedoing a privately run, $100 million database set up to make it easier for schools to share confidential student records with private companies. The project, known as inBloom, folded this spring under tremendous parent pressure, just 15 months after its triumphal public launch. Now, parents are rallying against another perceived threat: huge state databases being built to track children for more than two decades, from as early as infancy through the start of their careers.
Promoted by the Obama administration, the databases are being built in nearly every state at a total cost of well over $1 billion. They are intended to store intimate details on tens of millions of children and young adults — identified by name, birth date, address and even, in some cases, Social Security number — to help officials pinpoint the education system’s strengths and weaknesses and craft public policy accordingly.
The Education Department lists hundreds of questions that it urges states to answer about each child in the public school system: Did she make friends easily as a toddler? Was he disciplined for fighting as a teen? Did he take geometry? Does she suffer from mental illness? Did he go to college? Did he graduate? How much does he earn?
"Every parent I’ve talked to has been horrified," said Leonie Haimson, a New York mother who is organizing a national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. "We just don’t want our kids tracked from cradle to grave." Eager to support technological innovation and wary of new regulations, Congress has taken little notice of parent concerns. But state legislators have raced to respond.
THE PARENT LOBBY GOES TO WORK
The mom and pop privacy lobby built its muscle over the past year with the prolonged fight to dismantle inBloom, a privately run student database funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
InBloom staff stressed that states and districts would have complete control over student records stored in the database — but they also emphasized the value of opening up those records to private entrepreneurs developing educational software.
Outraged parents circulated petitions, swarmed school board meetings, demanded statehouse hearings and filed lawsuits and freedom-of-information requests. They launched blogs and websites, created Facebook groups and endlessly tweeted their alarm. Many said they were at first treated like kooks by fellow parents, not to mention school and state officials. "They looked at us like we had two heads. Like we were conspiracy theorists or crazy mommas," said Karen Sprowal, a former social worker and mother of three in New York. "We were parents with no resources, other than ‘We the people’ power."
But they kept pounding away and winning converts. In many places, the fight against inBloom became entwined with the growing opposition to the Common Core academic standards. That only amped up the volume. "It was a surreal experience," said Greg Mortimer, the information technology manager of a Colorado district that worked with inBloom. Speaking at the SXSWedu conference this spring, Mortimer said he and his colleagues were taken aback by the intensity of the opposition and soon "lost control of the message." One by one, all nine states and districts that had agreed to partner with inBloom dropped out. The last to quit was New York. Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell said he had barely even heard of inBloom when parent activists first began pressing him on the issue. "They were a little, ‘The sky is falling,’" he said. "I thought it was kind of odd." The parents kept pushing. O’Donnell listened. He wrote a bill to block the state’s participation in inBloom, only to find his colleagues indifferent. "It wasn’t like I got a whole lot of people slapping me on the back," said O’Donnell, a Democrat.
But as parents continued to bombard the statehouse with calls and emails, legislator after legislator took notice. Nearly four dozen, from both parties, asked O’Donnell if they could co-sponsor his bill. (It passed the Assembly unanimously but was set aside in the Senate in favor of an alternative that accomplished much the same.) Parents "did a very good job of educating legislators," O’Donnell said. InBloom representatives declined to comment.
In addition to withdrawing the state from inBloom, New York’s law created the position of chief state privacy officer and mandated a "parents’ bill of rights for data privacy." Big Data watches you, unchecked
In the past five months, 14 states have enacted stricter student privacy protections, often with overwhelming bipartisan support, and more are likely on the way. None of the bills address all the concerns parents have raised, but the latest iterations — in Louisiana and New Hampshire — take strong steps to limit the scope of state databases and restrict the use of information collected on students. All told, at least 105 student privacy bills were introduced this year in 35 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Our voices are getting stronger," said Rachael Stickland, an energy-efficiency analyst who had never worked on anything more political than a community garden until she began organizing a student privacy campaign in Colorado. "We are being heard."
The POLITICO review found ed tech entrepreneurs and school reformers both bewildered by and anxious about the backlash — and struggling to craft a response.
Many said they had always assumed parents would support their vision: to mine vast quantities of data for insights into what’s working, and what’s not, for individual students and for the education system as a whole.
"People took for granted that parents would understand [the benefits], that it was self-evident," said Michael Horn, a co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, an education think tank.
WHISPERS OF 'BIG BROTHER'
When he heard about the state databases, retired math teacher John Eppolito got curious. He wanted to know what information his home state of Nevada had collected on his four children. So he requested their records.
The state’s response: No such records exist. At least, no records as the law defines the term, said Judy Osgood, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Education.
While the database stores "literally millions of pieces of data" about Nevada students, it’s not kept in a format that allows officials to easily extract the complete file on any one child, Osgood said. The department estimated it would cost $10,000 in staff time to respond to Eppolito’s request. The state attorney general issued a formal opinion that it did not have to go to those lengths.
Nevada is not alone. Just 14 states make student-level data easily accessible to parents, according to the Data Quality Campaign. That opacity infuriates parents and spurs dark whispers about Big Brother. "We don’t know what they’re tracking and we don’t know what the implications are going to be for these children in the future," Eppolito told TheBlaze TV. "Going for jobs in the future, trying to get into college — we’re in uncharted territory and we just don’t know the implication it’s going to have for the children. We need to slow down."
Database advocates say there’s nothing sinister about the projects. On the contrary, they see them as a prosaic — if powerful — tool for improving public policy.
Do kids who struggle with mastering emotions as toddlers get suspended more often than their peers as teens? Are they more likely to drop out of high school? End up in low-wage jobs? And which interventions, at age 3 or 4, might improve their trajectory? The hope is that databases will answer those questions.
Advocates also talk with excitement about using the data to identify an individual student’s precise needs — and the best way to meet them. "The vision is, this changes outcomes," Guidera said.
Kathleen Styles, chief privacy officer for the Education Department, said she has reviewed many states’ security and privacy plans and is confident they’re strong.
Outside experts, however, see a great deal of worrisome ambiguity in states’ plans.
"It’s like when Homeland Security gave out grants for video surveillance cameras after 9/11 — you said, ‘Great, we’ll take it,’ even if you had no idea what you were going to do with it," said Fred Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University. "When the Department of Education says, 'We’re going to give you money to build a longitudinal database,’ you say, 'Terrific!' without having thought through all the security and privacy implications."
The POLITICO review found some states still working through basic questions about their databases.
In Delaware, for instance, project manager Reese Robinson said his team hasn’t yet determined how long the database should hold student records — a crucial point for parents who don’t want every bad test score and disciplinary infraction to become part of their child’s permanent digital record.
The Delaware team is also still working through key privacy issues, such as whether researchers should be given access to individual files or only to aggregated data.
DENTAL PLANS AND DOG DANDER
The Education Department’s list of recommended data points, developed with state officials, is exhaustive. It includes what type of dental insurance a student carries, whether she’s allergic to dog dander and whether she belongs to a sorority in college. Each disciplinary incident is broken down into more than a dozen data points, including the type of firearm involved, if applicable.
Other suggested data points relate to early childhood and K-12 teachers, who are included — and linked to their students — in many state databases. The department recommends, for instance, tracking their salaries, retirement benefits and union membership.
The department promotes the list as a "shared vocabulary" that will "streamline the exchange, comparison and understanding of data" if adopted widely. It makes clear states don’t need to embrace every element.
But to be eligible for more than $500 million in federal grants doled out in recent years, states had to commit to comprehensive "P-20" data systems, meaning they start tracking children in preschool and continue for more than two decades.
At least 19 states now link school records to workforce data, tracking which students end up collecting disability or unemployment benefits or enrolling in adult literacy classes. Some states plan to build an even richer data set by linking school records to public health, social service or criminal justice databases. Others aim to start even before pre-K, inputting data on infants enrolled in state-funded programs.
Parents have also raised concerns that more intrusive data collection could be on the way.
The Education Department circulated a draft report last year that explored using biosensors, eye tracking and facial recognition software to log data about students’ noncognitive skills, such as persistence and self-control. Some school districts have experimented with using iris scans or palm prints as a form of identification.
Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman, said the department has "no plans to encourage" that type of data collection. Advocates of the longitudinal databases emphasize that most analysis is conducted on files that have been stripped of student names, birth dates and addresses. In Georgia, for instance, researchers have no direct access to the longitudinal database. They put in a request for data; the legal department reviews it; and if it’s approved, officials hand over files that identify students by demographics such as race and gender, but not by name. Personal identity "is obfuscated," said Bob Swiggum, who runs technology services for the state education department.
In New York, student names will be replaced with a numerical ID before K-12 files are matched up with other state records to track individuals into adulthood, said Kathleen Moorhead, executive director of data systems and educational technology. "When we’re talking about the P-20 database and researcher access, Johnny Smith isn’t really Johnny Smith," Moorhead said. "Johnny Smith is #27850, which is meaningless."
P-20 Data Systems $$$$$$
Privacy advocates are not reassured. For one thing, even if researchers don’t see student names, that information is still generally held by the state — either in the P-20 database itself or in a "crosswalk file" that links record #27850 back to Johnny Smith. A careless mistake, or a determined hacker, could spill such information over the Internet.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS P-20 Data Systems: INTEL / IBM / PRUDENTIAL / GOVENORS /
Michael Cohen President, Achieve
Phone: (202) 419-1566
DOESN'T REPRESENT PUBLIC EDUCATION. HE WASN'T ELECTED BY CITIZENS.
Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization based in Washington, DC
States must collect, coordinate, and use K-12 and postsecondary data to track and improve the readiness of graduates to succeed in college and the workplace. And even when a file is scrubbed of personal identifications, it isn’t necessarily anonymous. A recent White House report on big data described a flurry of investment in software designed to reattach identities to such records.
"Once data is collected, it can be very difficult to keep anonymous," the report cautioned.
SURVEILLANCE IS UNCHECKED
FLAGGING FUTURE DROPOUTS
Another warning from the White House report: "Once information about citizens is compiled for a defined purpose, the temptation to use it for other purposes can be considerable … If unchecked, big data could be a tool that substantially expands government power over citizens."
That’s what worries Barmak Nassirian, an education policy analyst and father of two who works on privacy issues in his free time. "Once that rich of a longitudinal database is populated, the urge to tap into it for other reasons will be almost irresistible," Nassirian said. "Corrections types might want to get into it to understand crime better. I can see Homeland Security looking for terrorists, or the military looking for recruits." Even if the database is tapped only by education officials, privacy advocates fear students will be profiled and steered into academic or career paths accordingly.
"The horror story would be what they have in communist China, where they identify kids at age 4 and say, ‘Now you’re going to be a gymnast’," said Michael Zimmer, director of the Center for Information Policy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "We don’t want to have it happen that because as an 8-year-old you test a certain way, we’re going to tailor the next eight years of your education a certain way," Zimmer said.
Already, Indiana officials are talking about using their database, plus information from employers, to begin counseling children in elementary and secondary school about career options. They also plan to adjust the academic curriculum every few years to focus on building the skills employers say they will need from up-and-coming workers.
"We want to begin counseling kids in K-12 so they can set their aspirational career goals at a fairly early stage, as it relates to what jobs will be available," said state Rep. Steve Braun, who supports the state database, known as INK for Indiana Network of Knowledge.
2014 Indiana Data Network Draws Opposition critics are drawing connections between INK and similar concerns that led to the demise of inBloom.
Braun, a Republican, said the data in INK will be aggregated, so individual kids are not identified or pushed into specific careers. But the database will be used to hold schools accountable for producing graduates with useful, in-demand skills, he said.
Other states and districts are mining data to identify children who could be at risk for failure.
In Montgomery County, Maryland, for instance, a data analytics program flags children as young as 6 as having an elevated risk of dropping out of high school. Geoff Sanderson, an associate superintendent in the district, is acutely sensitive to parent fears about this type of data mining. The risk profiles are not included in a student’s official record, he said. They’re simply shared with teachers, who can then work with parents to get the child on track. "The design of the model is not meant to put kids on a pre-determined path," Sanderson said. "The intent is to figure out who needs more support."
POLITICO examined a dozen other state bills and found that while none is comprehensive, each tackles different elements of the parent agenda. Kentucky’s new law bars ed-tech companies that work with schools from mining student data for commercial purposes. West Virginia prohibits the state from gathering medical, biometric or criminal records. Florida forbids collection of student fingerprints, iris scans, facial structure or voice prints.
New Hampshire has passed some of the most stringent restrictions: The state cannot collect or maintain even basic information like the student’s address, email address or phone number, parents’ names — or any workforce information.
A Louisiana bill, which has passed both Houses unanimously but has not yet been signed into law, goes even further. It bars schools from sharing any personally identifiable student information with the state, unless parents consent in writing. The bill also prohibits mining personal information "to make generalizations about a student or to predict outcomes and behaviors of a student."
Stephanie Simon 5/5/14