In 2009, Race to the Top (RTTT) replaced No Child Left Behind as the nation’s guiding educational policy.  Under Race to the Top, states could apply for funds as long as they agreed to meet and implement certain criteria.  The increased testing your son/daughter will be subject to next year is part of New York State’s adoption of RTTT.  I will write more about next year’s testing requirement to meet state mandates in a future blog post.

Another RTTT provision, which has gained both local and national attention, requires the New York State Education Department (NYSED) “to provide a sign-on portal that allows authorized educators, students (grades 6 through 12), and their families (all grade levels) to log in and view student educational data through data dashboards.”  The type of information that will be collected for each student includes: student name, birth dates, parent contact information (phone numbers and email addresses), economic states, race, gender, student enrollment, program participation, special education records, dates of absence, out of school suspension, course outcomes, and State assessment scores.  The State has assured the public that social security numbers will not be collected.

Although this Educational Data Portal (EDP) seems content neutral and even helpful to track a student’s progress, parent groups believe otherwise.  The opposition to the release of student data for the EDP stems from four concerns.  The first concern involves the security of the data.  Parents and others question the security of this data and believe children will be put at risk by having sensitive data stored that can potentially be hacked and used for nefarious purposes.  New York State has contracted with inBloom Inc. to provide services for the EDP.  InBloom’s own web site states, however, that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”  This has parents concerned about privacy and security of their son’s/daughter’s personal information.

The second concern is the lack of parent choice to “opt out” from having personal information released and transmitted to vendors.  A spokesperson for NYSED, Tom Dunn, recently stated: “I’m not sure there’s consent involved. This is regular student information that when parents register a child for school. They give up.”  In a recent post appearing in the Hechinger Report, InBloom attempts to disclaim all responsibility and argues no one should blame them if parents are not notified or asked for consent before they share their son’s/daughter’s private information with vendors since inBloom is just following procedures.  Some parents, however, disagree with the lack of parental notification.  Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of the non-profit group Class Size Matters, has been publicizing the lack of privacy protections for over a year.  Haimson advocates that all parents should have an option to withhold their son’s/daughter’s information from being shared.  Haimson provides an extensive description about the type information that will be shared through the EDP on her blog.

The third concern involves another unfunded state mandate.  In a recent memo I received from the Associate Commissioner of the NYSED, the issue of costs are addressed as follows:  “…these EDP tools will be available to all districts at no cost during the 2014 and 2014-15 school years.”  The footnote at the bottom of the page states the following disclaimer:  “Pending approval of a no-cost extension of New York’s RTTT award.”  As a school administrator, I have the following four questions that remain unanswered:  1) Will school districts receive additional state funds to implement the EDP? 2) What will happen if additional funds are not forthcoming to New York State to implement the EDP provision of RTTT?  3) Who will pay for the staff that is required to actually implement, upload, and maintain all this information?  4) How will the EDP mandate be funded after the 2014-2105 school year?

The final concern is best stated by New York City Councilman, Steve Levin, as reported in The Village Voice:  “Our children are not commodities. They are not something to be bought and sold on the market place.”  A recent Reuters article reports that companies are waiting to profit from these new measures.  “This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.  Some parents and educational professionals believe that students are more than widgets to be tracked and statistically analyzed.  These advocates believe that education is not a problem to be solved by technology and software and using statistical techniques to define the strengths and weaknesses of learners is a narrow and even damaging approach.

As a result of these concerns, a student privacy bill has been introduced in the New York State Assembly.  A companion bill is also being introduced in the State Senate.

Additionally, parents and concerned educators are organizing various panel discussions are being held throughout the state to address student privacy issues and other controversial RTTT mandates.  Some events in our area include:

  • On Wednesday, April 10, a panel discussion, More Than a Number, is being held at Hofstra University (Long Island, NY).  For more information, please click here.
  • On Thursday, April 11, a panel discussion, Cheating Our Children: The Emotional and Educational Impact of High Stakes Testing, is being held at SUNY New Paltz at the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.
  • On Saturday, May 4, a panel discussion, Reclaiming the Conversation on Education, will be held at Barnard College in Manhattan.  For more information, please click here.