The best thing about the legislation is that it included a Parent Bill of Rights, that was supposed to be expanded through the input of parents and other stakeholders. We have been pressing the NY State Education Department to reach out to parents to ask them what the Parent Bill of Rights should include, and how the law should be strengthened and enforced. They are finally doing this.
In a series of forums beginning on Wednesday May 2 in West Seneca NY and ending on June 18 in Queens, parents will have the opportunity to express their concerns to NYSED and its chief privacy officer, Tope Akinyemi, about the ways in which their children's personal data is being collected by schools and districts, and shared with a variety of vendors and other third parties, often without their knowledge or consent.
Districts, schools and classrooms across the state are doing very different things with student data, without much oversight, but all of them are collecting more and more of it, and sharing it with the state, leading to an increasing numbers of breaches and other instances where the data has been misused for commercial or other non-educational purposes. Here is a list of the personal data elements that the state currently collects from districts and schools, including their suspension, attendance and disability records, whether they have been determined to be homeless, neglected or delinquent, and their date of entry to the United States (which could be used as a proxy to immigrant status).
It was also recently reported that Pearson has done experiments on students in one of their instructional software programs, by embedding different "messages" to see how this affected their scores, without their knowledge or consent. To this day, we would never have known about this experiment if Pearson hadn't reported on the results at a recent educational research conference. The company says they were doing this to improve their products and/or develop new ones-- which is clearly a commercial use but even so, is allowed in many contracts and in many state laws. The New York state law bans the commercial use of data, but doesn't define what that means, so that this one of the areas that needs to be clarified and addressed.
We will be providing a list of possible talking points soon, but I wanted to alert you to these important forums so you can save the date and plan to attend. See the schedule below.
You can also email your comments and suggestions on this issue to NYSED from May 2- June 18 to PrivacyForumComment@nysed.gov If you can, please copy me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I'd like to hear your concerns as well. Thanks!
Leonie Haimson, co-chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy