For a while now, some anti-Big Government privacy activists have argued that the Common Core learning standards are actually just a front for data collection. But when it comes to student data, Big Brother is the private sector. The private sector is mining student data, from ethnicity to number of tardies. There are companies that offer free services like letting teachers log attendance, helping schools start computer science classes, and helping track students' health in physical education classes. The only cost is the kids' information.
Educational data mining has a long history (here's a report on data mining trends from 1995 to 2005), and companies argue that their products help students by providing targeted assistance, among other things, Politico's Stephanie Simon reports on Thursday. A program that can predict when a student will struggle with a concept and then sends lessons to that student isn't necessarily a bad thing, but parents and some teachers worry that companies that give away their services might be tempted to sell their data to the highest bidder. The nightmare scenarios Simon suggests range from student profiles sold to colleges to math records sold to predatory lenders.
While there are valid privacy concerns at play here, it also resembles the anti-Common Core paranoia seen on the right. Several conservatives have argued that the standards require schools turn over student data to private companies like Bill and Melinda Gates' inBloom, but Politifact rated that claim "mostly false." The Gates' inBloom is still collecting data on students, but not because of Common Core. Either way, parents are upset about the privacy violation — even Bill de Blasio spoke out against New York's contract with the company last year.
So far the federal government hasn't been much help alleviating these privacy concerns, both the valid and hysterical. In 2008 the Education Department declared that schools can share student records without written consent to for-profit companies. In 2012 the department gave institutions even more leeway in how they choose to share student data.
It's only in recently that lawmakers have decided to update student privacy laws. A White House report released earlier this month called for an update to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and Sens. Ed Markey and Orrin Hatch began circulating a bill on Wednesday that would allow parents greater oversight of their student's official records. That doesn't, however, include the tiny bits of metadata companies collect. If your kid is sick with the flu, that data will still be out there.