There’s an intense debate right now over “Common Core,” a major effort
to implement a set of federal education standards in public schools
nationwide. The Common Core State Standards thus far have been adopted
by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Though it isn’t my
area of expertise, I’ve received numerous impassioned emails on the
subject. Among them, one person’s concerns particularly struck me.
person is an expert in the field of education. She is thoughtful,
serious, and no foe of public education. Her concerns especially hit
home given current fears over privacy intrusions by the federal
government. Those fears have swirled around the National Security
Agency, the Justice Department, and the IRS. But they don’t end there.
There are likewise potentially serious privacy problems involving Common
Core, which likewise relate to data collection, dissemination, and use.
To that end, my friend is hoping to at least help kindle some public awareness.
portion [of Common Core] that I believe is most important for raising
public awareness,” she writes, “is the changes to the FERPA regulations
which have greatly expanded who has access to student data.” FERPA is
the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Changes have been
made to FERPA that (some believe) will leave parents uninformed as to
how their children’s records are shared. “Parents seem totally unaware
of what data is being collected,” she adds. “In Pennsylvania it is
collected under something called the PIMS system, but in other states it
has different labels.”
There’s more. There’s also the problem of
a rise in “outside vendors and providers to manage student dataagain,
without parental consent.”
How, specifically, would this happen?
starters, the Common Core standards include a heavy testing component,
which involves a great deal of data collection on students. Coupled with
this heightened collection of student data is the prevalence of
so-called “longitudinal state reporting systems.” According to my
friend, as part of the “Race to the Top” initiative, a prior educational
initiative, states were encouraged to create “robust data collection
systems.” These systems were touted as a mechanism to provide school
districts, state governments, and federal policymakers with more data to
analyze trends in student achievement and improve educational efforts.
While this might seem benign, notes my friend, we cannot ignore the
sheer volume of data that will be collected and how that data might be
misused. For instance, most parents have no idea that their child’s
“personal information” includes not just test scores but social security
numbers, attendance records, records of interaction with school
counselors, identification of learning disabilities, and even
All of this is being collected.
yet, because such enhanced data collection exceeds the resources of
many districts and states, schools will be forced to contract the
service to corporations that collect, manage, and store such dataand
possibly share it. In other words, outside data managers must be
employed to maintain this personal data on your kids. Is there any level
of oversight to ensure this data is protected?
My friend writes
that “this trend of data collection relates to changes in the FERPA
regulations by the Education Department in 2011. These changes, made
without congressional approval, now allow third party access to student
data without the consent of parents. For example, vendors, seeking to
market particular products, can access this data.”
still more, relating specifically to private religious schools. My
friend adds: “One particular concern that I think speaks to Catholic
interests is the rush on the part of some dioceses (and other private
schools) to adopt the Common Core and buy-in to the assessments
connected with such systems (and as such the data collection).”
Indeed, the Catholic press is hot on this issue
realizing the distinct impact that Common Core can have on Catholic
schoolsthe nation’s largest segment of private/religious schooling.
Nationwide, groups of Catholics
have sprung up in protest. The National Catholic Education Association
hasn’t endorsed the standards, but is helping Catholic schools prepare
Perhaps most troublesome, all of this derives
from federal/national influences, even as Common Core is instituted at
the state level. As my friend states: “the push for the adoption of the
state longitudinal data systems and the Common Core assessment
collection all stem from national influences. Certainly, the changes in
FERPA were undertaken through the U.S. Department of Education.”
friend sums up: “I find the level of data collection on individual
students to be excessive, and the transparency … to be lacking.” Such
data collection methods “put the federal government in a position to
track student achievement in ways that have been previously unavailable
due to the sheer size of data mining, and have been (until recently)
safeguarded by privacy regulations. As an educator I care deeply about
the ability for our nation’s school children to achieve high levels of
learning, yet I believe the decisions for student learning are best
accomplished at the classroom and school level, not the federal level.”
facing, in essence, unchecked data collection as part of a significant
and sweeping federal educational mandate. Are we ready for this, and all
My friend pleads for some “public awareness and dialogue in this area.” Who could object to that?