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Sunday, November 3, 2013

More districts opt out of Race to the Top but NYSED insists their personal student data will "travel" anyway -- without their consent

UPDATE: 11/11/13 We are now keeping a list of the growing number of districts opting out of Race to the Top funding and data dashboards, hoping to protect student privacy. Please let us know at if you have additions or corrections.

I wonder if any NY district Superintendent is refusing to share with the state the personally identifiable details described below, including student disabilities and disciplinary records, knowing that they will be disclosed to inBloom and dashboard vendors, despite the lack of parent consent.  Please let me know at if your district is considering holding back this data from the state, has joined the growing list of RTTT opt outs, or has written a letter to inBloom, like this one, demanding their data be deleted.

There’s a good article in today’s Buffalo News, about at least two more NY school districts upstate, Williamsville and West Seneca, that have decided to turn down Race to the Top funds to try to protect their students’ privacy, joining the growing list of suburban districts that have already announced this. 
Here are just some of the districts that have announced their withdrawal so far:  Spackenkill (See here); Hyde Park ( here); Pleasantville ( here); Comsewogue (here); Rye Neck,  Pelham, Pocantico Hills, Hastings-on-Hudson, and Mount Pleasant(here)  Districts considering doing the same include Dobbs Ferry, and South Orangetown (here).  (Thanks to No DATA NY blog).
According to an article in Capital NY, 90% of the state’s 700 districts were originally participating in the RTTT program, and of these, one fourth of them, or about 160, failed to sign up for dashboards by the official deadline of October 30.
This is despite the fact that Ken Wagner of NYSED has made it clear, including again in the Buffalo News, that this does NOT mean the state will spare their personal student data from being shared with inBloom and via inBloom with the dashboard companies. 
One recourse that people are saying is, ‘OK, then let us at least opt out of Race to the Top,’ ” Wagner said. “That is, of course, an option, but unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to answer their particular question, which is, does that mean my data won’t travel? The answer to that is, yes, the data will still travel.”
Though he is clear about this, he doesn’t explain why inBloom needs this data if a district doesn’t want the dashboards.  A suggestion is provided here, in NYSED’s updated FAQ: “NYSED will provide statewide data to inBloom so that dashboard providers may meet their contract requirements.”
Though Wagner doesn't explain what contract requirements are meant here, reporters say that the state has indicated that inBloom, as well as the three dashboards companies, including Datacation, E-Scholar, and SchoolNet/Pearson, need statewide personalized student data, so they can do comparisons of achievement data of “selected sets of students,” based on their demographic, discipline and disability status.  Yet why ANY individual, personalized student data is necessary for this goal is beyond me.  Such comparisons are commonly done and are already widely available through de-identified aggregated student data.  
Even more obfuscation from Wagner is quoted in the Buffalo News:
“Wagner said the parent information would be used to verify the identity of a parent. The details of a student suspension or disability are not required to be submitted.” 
This depends on what you mean by “details”; according to NYSED's data dictionary every student’s disability diagnosis IS required to be submitted to the state, which in turn will be shared with inBloom and apparently all the dashboard companies, as well as any special education services he or she  receives.  Highly sensitive information will also apparently include whether the parent is a “displaced homemaker, whether the student is an immigrant and/or a pregnant teen.
NYSED has demanded more and more personal student data  in recent years, as the article makes clear, all of which is apparently to be shared with inBloom and the dashboard companies.  Moreover, King is encouraging districts to disclose even hundreds of more details pertaining to a child’s disabilities, behaviors, learning style, health conditions, and disciplinary issues– to help vendors data-mine and develop their software products. 
Meanwhile, some legal experts say that according to FERPA, the district not the state is the controlling party for the use of personal student data.  NYSED’s contract with inBloom seems to admit this, as it appears to allow districts to opt out of inBloom’s data bank, though the state has denied districts this right. See this Suffolk Times article about Southhold’s Superintendent letter to inBloom, citing the state’s contract and demanding that their student data be deleted. 
Indeed, from the beginning New York has been the only inBloom “partner” out of the nine original states that refused to allow districts to decide whether they wanted to participate in data-sharing with inBloom or not, and is still the only state sharing data with Bloom regardless of district consent.
Jefferson Co, the only participating district in Colorado, is refraining from sharing ANY disciplinary data with inBloom and is allowing parents to opt out.  Illinois is allowing districts to decide for themselves.
Meanwhile, even the Medicaid forms that NYC uses to obtain federal reimbursement for students’ special education services require a signed parental consent; so why doesn’t sharing this very same information with private vendors require the same consent?

1 comment:

Heather Ann said...

Excellent post, thank you so much!