Thursday, March 21, 2013

So let's talk student privacy

I've been putting off posting a full rundown on this inBloom thing as there's so much to say, though I've posted about it here and here. At the state Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, however, they'll be taking the topic up, so it's time to be sure we're all clear.

inBloom is the "using data to improve instruction" bit on Tuesday's agenda, and you can see that the Commissioner largely is dismissing concerns raised by the state PTA, ACLU, Citizens for Public Schools, and the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood regarding how the information will be used, how it will be secured, and the amount of information given to parents regarding what is being done with information having to do with their children.
inBloom is a private entity which has signed an agreement with eight states to gather and hold data on the students in their states; it will be held "in the cloud" meaning (as most of us think about it) "on the internet." Note that these systems are notoriously vulnerable to security breaches; inBloom itself states "it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” to third party vendors."

Think for a moment about what information a school district has on its students: certainly, names, birthdates, addresses, family information, and grades. Test scores are in there. Legal guardianship information.
Discipline records.

Both the Commissioner and inBloom are careful to cite FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as something with which they will have to comply. As has been discussed elsewhere, however, FERPA has been substantially weakened under this administration:

...will make it increasingly easier for administrators to put the students privacy rights secondary to the commercial interests of businesses and other third parties including foundations.
..which is why inBloom exists, of course: to work with corporations who then will attempt to sell districts stuff based on our students' information.

We don't send our kids to school to be data points for vendors.This isn't why the school system exists.

The state doesn't have my permission to use my children to create or market products.
Nor does the district or the state have my permission to put my children's information up online where it is very vulnerable to being hacked.

I'm still pulling together something for an agenda on this (I'm looking, for example, at this bill which has been filed in New York state, which would put definite restrictions on data sharing), but, in the meantime, I plan to go to the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday and testify against this contract.

And if you have concerns, I would send an email to Deputy Commissioner Wulfson, and I would cc both the School Committee and your legislative delegation.

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