Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Testimony before the Board of Ed on student privacy

I submitted the following in writing, as their time for public testimony was full.

Mr. Secretary, Commissioner Chester,  Madam Chair, members of the board:
My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick and I live in Worcester, where I serve on the Worcester School Committee. I am here today to urge you to direct the Commissioner and the Department to end their agreement with inBloom and to establish and maintain policies that keep student information beyond the access of private vendors.
It is only because I follow national education news that I was aware of this agreement at all. It is remarkable the extent to which an agreement which puts all of our student information statewide in a single database--something which previously has been specifically banned by DESE policy--posts it in the cloud, vulnerable to hackers, and makes that information about our children available to those looking to make a buck off our students has utterly failed to make the news.

From the responses I have seen thus far, it is clear that the privacy of students is held in very little regard by those making decisions. It is also clear that there is very little understanding of exactly how vulnerable that information is in the cloud. Suffice to say that every person I know who understands technology has gone pale at the thought of millions of students’ information--addresses, grades, test scores, disciplinary records, identification numbers--being up online. It cannot be effectively protected there; inBloom has said as much on their own website.
Further, students do not attend the Worcester Public Schools or schools across the Commonwealth to provide information for those looking to sell things. While I realize well that education has recently been seen as the latest gold rush for those looking for a quick return, our educational system on the contrary was created and is maintained for the good not only of our students but of our society as a whole. That is not served well by their becoming so many “consumers” of whatever it has become the latest fashion to sell. The federal law which did protect our students, FERPA, has been gutted in these past years with a clear eye to sharing information with vendors, and our own privacy laws do not appear sufficient protection.
I tell you today plainly: you do not have my permission to share my children’s information. Further, you do not, I know, have the permission of the Worcester Public Schools to share our students’ information. This agreement is not in the best interest of our students and poses the threat of being a “hack” beyond any previous perpetrated.
Please: don’t go through with this agreement. End it and reinstate policies that protect student information.
Our children should not be used as marketing tools. That is not what parents send them to school for.

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