Take it slow with student database
About a month ago, the following headline caught my eye: “NY Gets Good Grades For Student Data Tracking.”
“Sounds creepy,” I thought.
Perhaps I was just recalling my own school days, and thinking how unhappy I would have been if my math grades had been uploaded into a database and stored there for years on end.
I glanced at the article, which informed me that a Washington, D.C., nonprofit called the Data Quality Campaign had given New York high marks for collecting and using student data. But I would have preferred to see the state receive low marks, or maybe even an incomplete. There’s been far too little public discussion about how the data will be used, and whether the state is doing enough to address privacy and security concerns.
Much like the controversial Common Core curriculum, the new statewide database has been developed with little input from parents and teachers and has the support of rich people and wealthy organizations. The company tapped to create New York’s database, the Atlanta-based inBloom, was founded last February with $100 million in seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp, and the infrastructure was built by Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Supporters say that collecting and storing student data will enable schools to better monitor student progress and craft individualized lesson plans.
But I’d argue that the database’s benefits are being overstated to justify uploading vast amounts of private, personal information into a giant database managed by a newly created nonprofit organization with no track record of success. Why should New York parents trust inBloom, which stores information online, in what’s known as the cloud, with their children’s grades, attendance records, discipline records and standardized test scores?
According to a recent study from the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School, they shouldn’t.
The Fordham researchers found that schools throughout the country are handing over vast amounts of student data to private companies without sufficient safeguards or adequate parental consent. “As a result, school districts frequently fall short of federal privacy standards and of community expectations for children’s privacy,” the study found.
These findings come at a time when the state is facing increasing criticism over its new database and is trying to reassure parents that the database is benign in purpose. But it will take some convincing. Last month, 12 New York City parents sued to block the state Department of Education from sharing information about 2.3 million students with inBloom.
“If the state’s current data collection system is breached, it can be contained to the local district or regional center in which the breach occurred,” the lawsuit states. “If inBloom security is breached through inadvertence, negligence or sabotage, the data of millions of students will be at risk.”
What’s clear is that parents are growing frustrated by the state’s heavy-handed approach to educational reform.
Even people who can see the benefit in a statewide student database might have questions about what information is being collected, and why, and who gets to access it.
They might wonder why they cannot opt out of the system, and whether the state is telling the truth when it claims that it “would be virtually impossible — or extraordinarily more expensive — to conduct much of the day-to-day data management work of schools” if parents were permitted to opt out.
Impossible? Schools have been getting along just fine for decades without the services of inBloom. Now we’re supposed to believe that it will be virtually impossible to schedule courses and transportation if we don’t store student data in an online database?
The state would like people to believe that only good can come from its database.
But anyone paying attention knows that’s not true.
Data is collected and misused all the time, often by government agencies.
If the state wants to reassure parents, it should delay the implementation of the database, which is scheduled to go live early next year, hold some public meetings and explain why it’s doing what it’s doing.
Sara Foss, a Gazette columnist, can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.