Pearson’s Strategy to Disrupt the Education System

(PRNewsfoto/Pearson Education, Inc.)

I recently received a link to a report about Pearson.  Prior to reading it I thought the report was produced by Pearson and would be promoting and justifying their plans for taking over education around the globe.  How wrong I was.  The report, Pearson 2025: Transforming teaching and privatizing education data, was produced by Education International and does not support or promote Pearson’s plans and efforts.  It is informative and alarming.

The first paragraph of the summary the report starts off with raises a number of red flags for me.

Pearson aims to lead the ‘next generation’ of teaching and learning by developing digital learning platforms, including Artificial Intelligence in education(AIEd). It is piloting new AI technologies that it hopes will enable virtual tutors to provide personalised learning to students, much like Siri or Alexa. This technology will be integrated into a single platform— Pearson RealizeTM—that has now been integrated with Google Classroom. It seeks to develop direct and lifelong relationships with customers to whom it will provide virtual schooling, professional certifications, assessments, and other services.  (my bolding to emphasize a few red flag items)

The next paragraph talks about a corporate strategy of creating disruptive changes to the teaching profession, delivery of curriculum and assessment, and function of public schools.

These disruptions do not follow a coherent set of educational principles, but capriciously serve the interests of the company’s shareholders.

In my eyes, the above statement pretty much describes the majority of education reform measures we have seen in the last fifteen to twenty years.

Facebook and Google, while possibly the most well-known, are not the only corporations actively collecting data about their users.  Pearson has been collecting user data for some time.

Pearson collects a range of data from customers, including assignments, student coursework, responses to interactive exercises, scores, grades and instructor comments, details of the books the customer has read or activities the customer has completed.  Consent to collect and use the various kinds of data outlined above is not always explicitly sought.

The first of three strategic priorities provided on Pearson’s website starts off “Grow market share…”  Does it come as any surprise that the driving force isn’t educating people but using education to generate profit?  Let’s get back to the report.

Studies of the development of Pearson’s education business have been critical of its prioritising of shareholder profit over the interests of students, teachers, schools and communities (see for example, Ball, 2012; Ball, Junemann & Santori, 2017; Hogan, Sellar and Lingard, 2015; 2016; Hogan, 2018; Hursh, 2015; Junemann, Ball & Diego, 2016; Riep, 2017a; 2017b; Srivastava, 2016; Willamson, 2016).

Pearson’s focus on ‘personalised learning’ is prominently featured in the report.  (see Personlized Learning for more info)  I have broken one paragraph up into the next three quoted sections.

The most significant shift in education in this context will be the move toward ‘personalised learning’ provided by computer-based ‘instructional systems that contain empirical models of the student to predict student behaviors and knowledge, and to act upon these predictions to make pedagogical moves as students progress towards gaining expertise and mastery of the target domain’ (Arroyo et al., 2014, p. 388).

More about such predictions to be presented later.

Pearson’s focus on providing personalised learning as a private service will answer the question of what we should teach today in narrow and partial ways that are shaped by its corporate interests and the demands of its customers.

This raises questions for me about conversations that should take place:  Who should determine what should be taught?  Parents?  The local community?  The state?  The federal government?  Corporations?  Influential foundations and wealthy individuals?

The expansion of the GEI potentially undermines the social purposes of public education (e.g. preparing national and global citizens) and the public transparency, consultation and accountability that should characterise debate about what is taught, how it is taught and for whom it is taught.

Additional conversations should take place to address the purpose of education, what is to be taught, how it is to be taught, and for whom?  Should education help students develop academically, culturally, and intellectually or should it prime the workforce pipeline pump?

The report goes on to address how data will be used to make predictions.

Pearson’s corporate strategy also raises questions about how data will be used to make predictions in relation to people’s capabilities and propensities.

As Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier (2013) have shown, predictions
made about people’s future actions based on such analyses are correlational and may lead to erroneous assessments and decisions. If such predictions are used to steer customers through Pearson’s digital services, then opportunities to learn may be shaped in opaque ways by the algorithms that are used to assess and predict customer’s capabilities. More troublingly, such predictions could be used to grant or withhold access to opportunities offered by Pearson and its partners, such as allowing customers to progress to the next stage of their education or to access other services within its learning platform. The key issue here is the possibility of intervention on the basis of predicted actions, without letting fate play out and providing the opportunity for students to surprise us, as they so often do.

As for a student’s education, will such predictions pigeon hole students with the possibility of stifling their opportunity to develop their full potential?  There are greater implications for the use of data to make predictions.  What if the government started intervening in people’s lives using predications based on data accessible via various interoperable data bases?  Or is this already happening?  Is it possible people could be arrested based on a prediction that they might commit a crime?

The report seems to be making the case that Pearson is encouraging the privatization of schooling, reducing the need for trained teachers, and the accumulation of data.  The bottom line appears to be that Pearson does what it does to make a profit.

Is this report predicting what Pearson will be like in 2025 or is it providing a description of Pearson in the current day?

Cross-post.

A New Student Privacy Policy Office to Be Created for U.S. Department of Education

Politico reported yesterday that one of the upcoming changes at the U.S. Department of Education will be the rcreation of a new Student Privacy Policy Office.

Caitlin Emma writes:

— Other changes that haven’t been reported include the creation of a new Student Privacy Policy Office, which would be housed under the department’s Office of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development. The new approach would essentially break up the current Office of the Chief Privacy Officer, which has been housed under the Office of Management. The Education Department’s former chief privacy officer, Kathleen Styles, was reassigned earlier this year. 

— The new Student Privacy Policy Office would be created by combining and moving two offices out of the Office of the Chief Privacy Officer — the Student Privacy Policy and Assistance Division and the Family Policy Compliance Division. A new rulemaking effort would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law that protects the privacy of student education records, so the Family Policy Compliance Office can administer the law.

— The Student Privacy Policy Office would be charged with providing student privacy assistance to states and school districts, in addition to investigating FERPA complaints. The position of chief privacy officer will move over to the Office of the Chief Information Officer, which has historically dealt with information technology issues. The chief privacy officer would have jurisdiction over issues related to the Privacy Act, which regulates federal record-keeping, and other privacy safeguards.

FERPA desperately needs to be updated, but unless schools, states, and the Feds stop collecting student data, privacy will always be an issue.

Do You Know What Data Is Being Collected On Your Student?

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Toward the end of the school year in May, a sophomore at Sharpsburg, Georgia’s Northgate High School (in the Coweta County School System) texted her mother to find out her blood type. She said she needed the information for an assignment in her American literature class. Wondering how students’ blood types could possibly be relevant to American literature, the mom investigated and uncovered an appalling invasion of privacy and possible violation of federal student-privacy law.

What she discovered should be a warning to all parents of school-age children: Monitor everything that goes on in the classroom.

The Northgate teacher had required students to fill out a “dossier” of personal information, including height, weight (“DON’T LIE,” she warned), distinguishing features (“tattoos, scars, gold crowns/caps, particular speech/mannerism, or walking traits”), blood type, hair type or texture, and handwriting sample. Each student was also told to imprint a fingerprint on a piece of tape, and to supply a photo and a hair sample (for DNA analysis). When some students objected to providing this personal information, the teacher responded, “It’s supposed to be fun,” and warned that failure to complete the dossier would result in a lower grade.

If this weren’t bad enough, the teacher then posted the dossiers on the classroom wall – in full view of all students and visitors. 

Shocked and perplexed, the investigative mom contacted the principal. It took two emails, but he finally responded with a bare statement that her daughter’s information would be returned to her. No apology, no acknowledgement of impropriety, no information about how this happened.

Not until local school board member Linda Menk contacted the district superintendent did the mom receive any explanation of this bizarre assignment. In response to several direct questions, the principal said the teacher acted on her own in assigning the dossier, that no one else in the department participated, and that it was intended to introduce STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) content – as part of forensic science — in conjunction with (already completed) study of the book Twelve Angry Men. 

How could such a dossier help students understand an utterly unrelated book? And why was an English teacher wasting time with STEM? No explanation of that. The principal also claimed all the dossiers were collected and destroyed, even though at least two students were known to have taken theirs home.

Dissatisfied with this explanation, Northgate parents and Menk contacted public-interest law firm Liberty Counsel. The lawyer there analyzed the facts and wrote to the district superintendent to lay out the multiple federal violations involved in the dossier assignment. The Coweta County School System’s lawyer denied the assignment violated federal law but agreed, in an understatement, that it isn’t “best practice” to gather such personal information. He claimed all the dossiers that could be recovered had been shredded.

The inappropriateness of this assignment should have been glaringly obvious to any teacher. Not only did it shatter the privacy boundaries of students, but it had no connection to the subject supposedly being taught. 

But this is where our students find themselves. Little by little, they are acclimated to losing any expectation of privacy – for their own good, of course.

In the name of “personalized” and “social-emotional” learning, students are required to interact with sophisticated software that vacuums up enormous amounts of data about not only their knowledge, but their mindsets and attitudes. Some of this software comes in the form of video games, which gather sensitive data while heightening the propensity toward addiction. (In Georgia, even the youngest schoolchildren are put on video games as a means of “assessment.”) Digital software uses the data to create algorithms that predict a child’s future behavior, capabilities, or accomplishment based on analyzing his keystrokes. The federal government even touts software that observes students’ physiological reactions to a lesson and feeds that data into the algorithms. Some schools are buying apps that allow constant surveillance and sharing of information about students’ emotional states. And there is little or no control over what technology vendors do with this data, or to whom they might sell it.

In this atmosphere, privacy is downgraded in the name of developing the “whole child.” Is it any wonder that a particularly obtuse teacher might fail to see the harm in asking probing personal questions and posting the answers on the wall?

This strange episode at Northgate demonstrates that parents must be ever vigilant about what’s happening in their children’s classrooms. The days when students’ personal information was off-limits to prying eyes – and when American literature meant American literature — are over. Can the same be said of common sense?

Malkin’s Right: Silicon Valley’s-Beltway Ed Data Mining Has Been Ignored

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Writing for National Review, Michelle Malkin points out the gaping hole in Senators’ questioning of boy billionaire Mark Zuckerberg last week. The politicians vented their outrage about Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, censorship of conservative content, etc., but “not a peep was heard about the Silicon Valley-Beltway theft ring purloining the personal information and browsing habits of millions of American schoolchildren.”

Few if any members of Congress, of either party, seem concerned about what Facebook and the other tech companies are doing to the nation’s children in public schools – with the active complicity of the federal government. From Malkin:

Facebook is just one of the tech giants partnering with the U.S Department of Education [USED] and schools nationwide in pursuit of student data for meddling and profit. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Pearson, Knewton, and many more are cashing in on the Big Data boondoggle. State and federal educational databases provide countless opportunities for private companies exploiting public schoolchildren subjected to annual assessments, which exploded after adoption of the tech-industry-supported Common Core “standards,” tests, and aligned texts and curricula.

Malkin recites the sorry litany of tech-based threats to our students and their privacy: the workforce-development model of education that uses student data to align kids’ learning (or rather training) to “skills” and “competencies” desired by politically connected corporations; Facebook’s partnership with USED in the federal Digital Promise program to grant adult students “microcredentials” that will benefit, coincidentally, Facebook; Facebook’s Messenger Kids app designed to hook young children on the technology; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which seeks to “personalize” each child’s training experience by using reams of his most highly personal psycho-social data; and the scam of “free” education products that allow companies such as Google to build brand loyalty, use teachers as marketing representatives, and relentlessly compile highly personal data on each student, beginning at the toddler level, for the benefit of the companies and the government’s longitudinal data systems.

And Malkin identifies an aspect of the most recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that should shame all the “conservative” members of Congress who voted for it: 

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act enshrined Government collection of personally identifiable information including data collected on attitudes, values, beliefs, and dispositions – and allows release of the data to third-party contractors thanks to Obama-era loopholes carved into the Family Education (sic) Rights and Privacy Act.

Malkin didn’t uncover all this information by breaking a code or surreptitiously reviewing classified documents. Instead, she simply listened to what parent activists have publicized widely for years now. Those activists have sent the same information to members of Congress, repeatedly and relentlessly, and begged them to pay attention. 

Will anyone in Congress – and in the Trump administration — take notice?

Jane Robbins is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project. She is a graduate of Clemson University and the Harvard Law School. Emmett McGroarty is Director of Education with American Principles Project and an attorney with degrees from Georgetown University and Fordham School of Law. They, along with Erin Tuttle are co-authors of Deconstructing the Administrative State.

Parents, Here’s a Resource to Help You Protect Your Student’s Privacy

Photo credit: Bartmoni (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Even parents who understand some of the threats to their school-age children’s privacy may not know how serious the situation really is, especially in the increasingly technology-driven classroom. All parents should download the Parent Toolkit just released by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy to educate themselves about the problems and learn how to protect their children.

The Toolkit is a well-sourced guide to statutes that affect student privacy and to parental rights under those statutes. It includes guidance on how to protect privacy, both at home and at school; how to evaluate a school vendor’s privacy policy; how to talk to schools, teachers, and districts; and how to advocate for better protections. Parents will especially appreciate the clear FAQs and model forms for opting out of certain types of data-collection and -disclosure.

Policymakers won’t pay serious attention to student-privacy issues until parents begin to demand it. Armed with the Coalition’s information, parents can better protect their own children and advocate for greater protections for all children.

(Video) Student Data: The Troubling New Currency

This video is the second video in a series launched by FreedomProject Media. They record a roundtable with two activists that I’m certain most of our readers are familiar: Lynne Taylor from North Carolina and Kirsten Lombard from Wisconsin. In part one they talk about a shift in the education model to a workforce development model. In this video, they discuss student data mining.

They describe the video:

No child’s data is safe today. The collection, sharing, and mining of personally identifiable student data are all avenues to direct and indirect exploitation of your children and family for profit—so much so that many now call student data “the new currency.” A discussion of where this trend is headed, how data is collected and used, and why not even private or homeschoolers are exempt.

Student data collection is one of the key “reforms” introduced along with Common Core (aka college and career ready standards) and aligned assessments through the Race to the Top program. While Race to the Top is a thing of the past with the Trump administration these reforms are held in place through state accountability plans required under the Every Student Succeeds Act. There have been other federal education bills that have negatively impacted student data privacy as well.

Alabama Workforce-Data Bills Threaten Student, Family Privacy

Photo credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

What with manipulation of currency and theft of jobs, China is held in fairly low repute, especially down South. But some Alabama legislators seem enamored of at least one part of the Chinese system – the one that compiles enormous amounts of data on citizens, beginning when they’re toddlers and continuing through their careers, and swaps this data back and forth among various government agencies for government purposes. One might expect this kind of dangerous nonsense from, say, California, but . . . Alabama?

Parents and citizens are alarmed at two companion bills (SB 153 and HB  97) currently moving through the legislature to create a massive centralized warehouse of education and workforce data. This system would be called ANSWERS, or the Alabama Network of Statewide Workforce and Education-Related Statistics, which would be administered by a new Department of Labor bureaucracy called the Office of Education and Workforce Statistics (the “Office”).

The reach of ANSWERS would be sweeping. Operated by the Office, the system would combine education data (beginning in pre-K) and workforce data to provide information on the effectiveness of educational and workforce-training programs, and to assess “the availability of a skilled workforce to address current and future demands of business and industry.” (The bills don’t explain how the government can predict the “future demands of business and industry”; the Soviet Union tried it, but without much success.) The data could then be analyzed for whatever purposes the bureaucrats come up with, and used for “research” which, if history is any guide, will be ignored if it doesn’t support what the bureaucrats want to do.

How would this work? An Advisory Board would be established to identify the types of data that certain listed governmental entities would have to dump into the centralized warehouse. The statutory (and non-exclusive) list of such data sources includes all education agencies in the state, from pre-school through four-year universities – plus the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Veterans’ Affairs. So these billions of data points on practically all Alabama citizens would be centralized into one repository to be sifted and shifted by central planners.

But surely the Advisory Board will be constructed so as to protect the interests of children and their parents. Not exactly. Of the 24 members, 22 must be either politicians, bureaucrats, or representatives of specific entities such as higher-education systems. One must represent private industry and know something about data-security (the bills’ only nod to security concerns), and the last shall be a lonely “representative of the public” (not necessarily a parent). The fix, ladies and gentlemen, is in.

The privacy concerns with ANSWERS are staggering. For one thing, although certain proponents have suggested the data would all be de-identified, the bills clearly contemplate the presence of personally identifiable data (by requiring “security clearance . . . for individuals with access to personally identifiable data”). Indeed, the bills specify that the Office would be considered an “authorized representative” under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the only point of such a designation is to be entitled to receive students’ personally identifiable without parental consent or even notification.

Even if all data were to be de-identified, data can be frequently re-identified – especially when there are hundreds of data points on each individual to enable data-matching. And the bills even specify that the Office is to “link educational, workforce, and workforce training data from multiple sources through quality matching.” In such a vast repository, anonymization will be difficult if not impossible.

No more comforting is the bills’ requirement that the system comply with FERPA and other unspecified privacy laws. Five years ago the Obama administration gutted FERPA by regulation, thus enabling almost unlimited disclosure of personally identifiable student data as long as certain terms are used to justify the disclosure. Do the bills’ sponsors not know this? If not, what are they doing writing legislation that relies on FERPA “protections”?

The bills require no particular system of data-security, leaving that up to the Office. But the Office will have an unenviable task, given that this wealth of extremely sensitive information (including student education data, Social Security numbers from the Labor Department, family income information from student-loan programs, and on and on) will be conveniently assembled into one neat package and therefore made enormously attractive to hackers. One might as well assemble all the crown jewels of Europe into one room and hope jewel thieves don’t notice.

If enacted, ANSWERS would be among the most intrusive longitudinal data systems in the country – only 16 states and D.C. have such an Orwellian system. But most Alabama parents understand that the government has no right to collect highly personal data on their children, or on adults for that matter, and give it to other agencies to track their journey through the workforce and through life. It is none of the government’s business. One would have expected Alabama officials to understand this as well.

An equally fundamental, and troubling, aspect of this contemplated data repository is its adoption of the statist “socialization,” workforce-development philosophy of education. Traditional education in America has been designed to develop each individual to the full extent of his talents, to expose him to the best of human thought; statist education is designed to train him to be a cog in the economic machine. Only if the State adopts the latter philosophy does it need a data repository to track citizens and see how the training is working out.

Fortunately, Alabama State Superintendent Michael Sentance has a strong history in a true educational system rather than a workforce-training system. His experience as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts back when that state educated children better than any other state in the nation should prepare him to recognize the dangers of the ANSWERS network.

In public statements so far, Sentance has focused on the critical problems with data security. The parents of Alabama students are counting on him to go further – to reel in the dangerous inclination of the all-powerful State to collect data on free-born citizens and use it to analyze them as though rats in a laboratory. If Sentance comes out against ANSWERS, that ill-advised scheme will probably go down. Alabama is not China. Supt. Sentance can ensure that it doesn’t become so.

Urgent! Comments Against Global Pre-K SEL Data Mining Needed!

Please submit comments before MIDNIGHT, MONDAY 2/13 opposing this latest global taxpayer funded psychological data mining scheme of our youngest children for invasive, ineffective, and harmful government pre-K programs at the federal register. It can be as short as:

I oppose this latest study because there are already dozens of studies showing that preschool is minimally effective, that beneficial effects fade with time or is academically and emotionally harmful. Social emotional assessment, especially for young children, is extraordinarily subjective and unreliable, violates parental autonomy, and the private right of conscience of free American citizens. This is especially true when data security within the U.S. Department of Education is so poor.

You can also do something more in depth. Here are details:

The federal government is joining with the globalists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a new study that seeks to expand social emotional data gathering (psychological profiling) on our very youngest children, collect sensitive family information and try yet again to show that preschool is effective when there are so many studies to the contrary. Here is the pertinent language from the federal register notice:

FR Doc No: 2016-29749
Abstract: The International Early Learning Study (IELS), scheduled to be conducted in 2018, is a new study sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. In the United States, the IELS is conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The IELS focuses on young children and their cognitive and non-cognitive skills and competencies as they transition to primary school. The IELS is designed to examine: children’s early learning and development in a broad range of domains, including social emotional skills as well as cognitive skills; the relationship between children’s early learning and children’s participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC); the role of contextual factors, including children’s individual characteristics and their home backgrounds and experiences, in promoting young children’s growth and development; and how early learning varies across and within countries prior to beginning primary school. In 2018, in the participating countries, including the United States, the IELS will assess nationally-representative samples of children ages 5.0-5.5 years (in kindergarten in the United States) through direct and indirect measures, and will collect contextual data about their home learning environments, ECEC histories, and demographic characteristics.

We have warned for years of the dangers and ineffectiveness of both government preschool programs and the indoctrination and profiling inherent in social emotional learning. This study combines the worst of both. Here is our bullet list of why this study should be opposed:

1) According to this compilation of over two dozen studies, there is already plenty of evidence that, at best, preschool is only minimally effective and there is significant evidence that these programs cause academic and emotional harm.

2) With so much evidence of ineffectiveness and harm, there is no reason to embark on yet another study at taxpayer expense.

3) This data gathering is unconstitutional – There is no constitutional, statutory or moral authority for the federal government to create standards and norms for the attitudes, values and beliefs, for innocent American citizens, conduct psychological research on them and to keep this data in perpetuity in federally mandated state longitudinal databases that according to this proposal are going to be shared with a large international agency with unknown data privacy protection standards.

4) It goes against several Supreme Court precedents affirming parent’s inherent rights to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

5) These types of standards and questions are highly subjective, especially when used for young children, as admitted by leading experts and organizations in the fields of education and mental health.

6) Overworked, untrained teachers essentially become psychotherapists to their classrooms of patients.

7) There is a clear link to Common Core and potential for both indoctrination and danger to student and family freedom of conscience covering such controversial topics as climate change, Buddhist mindfulness techniques, social justicetransgenderism and the LGBT agenda.

8) Because of the weak and gutted federal privacy law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), this very sensitive data can be shared with various agencies of the federal government and third parties and re-disclosed and used for “predictive tests,” which are notoriously subjective and inaccurate. Data may then well be used to make life altering decisions for children affecting college entrance, employment, etc.

9) According to information uncovered by the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings, the state of data security at the US Department of Education is appallingly bad, so this sensitive data, that the government should not have in the first place, is not safe from hackers. We have no idea what the data protection situation is at OECD.

Wearable Tech in Schools

Google Glass, an augmented reality device and wearable computer, received complaints about privacy.
Photo credit: Dan Levielle 

Education Dive published a brief last week entitled “Now is the time to consider wearable tech in schools.”

Probably the most well known wearable tech would be Google Glass pictured above, which currently has a price point and is not in the stage of development where it would be introduced into schools… yet.

They note:

Wearable devices like heart-rate monitors and virtual reality headsets are expected to become mainstream in the education space within four to five years, and schools should be thinking now about how to prepare to handle them.

They are not the first to pick up on this topic. At Ed Tech Magazine Courtney Pepe and Stephanie Talalai wrote back in October that wearable technology can boost student engagement and motivation.

According to the NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K–12 Edition:

Well-positioned to advance the quantified self movement, today’s wearables not only track where people go, what they do, and how much time they spend doing it, but now what their aspirations are and when those can be accomplished. This category also has potential to interest a variey of students in STEAM learning, as classroom activities can encompass multidisciplinary efforts of design, building, and programming.

This sounds perfectly creepy doesn’t it.

Education Dive continues:

Wearable technology brings the promise of data aggregation, but schools must consider student privacy in deciding how to collect and store data, and successful rollouts will require thorough planning, testing and training.

They should consider student privacy, but frankly if they’re talking about data aggregation they’re just giving lip service to privacy.

It’s My PII

privacyIn December 2011, President Obama signed an Executive Order amending The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), dramatically expanding disclosure exceptions and authorizing increased sharing of student personally identifiable information (PII) without parental consent.  The changes to FERPA stripped away every shred of privacy protection students and their families have with respect to sensitive personal information.

The Obama Administration downplayed the changes by describing them as “unlocking the data,” which sounds innocuous, but is a gross oversimplification of what actually happened.   The Administration counted on the ambivalence of the American people, and complicit state governments.  For the most part, parents don’t know what or how student information is protected, much less who has access to it outside teachers and school administrators.  State officials, well aware of the elimination of privacy protections, have turned a blind eye.

With the big push toward functional literacy, Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS), anti-bullying legislation, and the expansion of Title IX to include gender identity as a protected class, education records contain a dearth of highly sensitive information far in excess of academic data.  Private information about students (criminal history, discipline records, and history of pregnancy and child birth, for example), is available for use in behavioral, psychological, and social science research unrelated to academics.    

Since the election of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in 2014; a man whose campaign platform included strong opposition to federal involvement in public education, conservative Arizona legislators have been unsuccessful pushing through legislation that would, among other things, prohibit the collection and distribution of personally identifiable and non-cognitive data.  Early in 2015, legislation passed in the Arizona House and the Senate Education Committee, giving privacy advocates some hope.   Interestingly, Lisa Graham-Keegan, a former Superintendent of Public Instruction and education co-chair of the governor’s transition team, testified in opposition to the bill at the Senate hearing.  Governor Ducey’s response to the proposed legislation was markedly different.

Not only did the governor not give vocal support for the bill, he actively pushed back against the legislation.  Governor Ducey publically rejected the proposed legislation before a final hearing in the Senate.  Faced with a veto, the bill failed to secure sufficient votes and the privacy provisions intended to protect Arizona students went down in flames.

In April, 2015, a group of parents met with the governor to discuss concerns about Common Core and its progeny; testing, accountability, and the collection and release of increasing amounts of non-cognitive student data.  When privacy concerns were raised, Governor Ducey seemed surprised by the fact the Arizona Department of Education was releasing PII, and made assurances he would investigate.

Five months later, Governor Ducey was asked what, if anything, he had done since the April meeting to protect the students of Arizona and stop the release of PII.  His answer was elusive and referenced an unnamed “duly elected official.”  Needless to say, there has been no movement by the state’s Chief Executive to halt the release of student PII to outside vendors not under the control of any local, state, or federal agency.

A group of Arizona parents and legislators have finally decided enough is enough.  Led by Representative Mark Finchem (R), 11th Legislative District, a movement has been born; a movement fueled by the desire to protect our most valuable natural resource, our children.  Rep. Finchem spearheaded the creation of an organization called It’s My PII, a grassroots effort to do what state officials have chosen to ignore.

Rep Finchem said about the birth of It’s My PII, “The impetus was a response to many parents contacting me from around the state for help. Between the bullying of parents by out-of-control school officials obsessed with the pursuit of ‘federal education funding’…, and the unrestricted harvesting and distribution of personally identifiable data, parents are outraged.”

The parental call for action resulted in a review of data collection and sharing agreements at the office of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Once we found out that the agreements were in direct violation of federal law, it was clear that litigation would be unavoidable,” said Finchem.

The organization’s goal is threefold:  educate parents and community members, network with like-minded organizations around the country, and seek redress through litigation and legislation at the federal, state, and local level.

Finchem noted, “The frustration of parents in Arizona, and around the nation, is off the charts. The Legislature can only move so fast, and that is by design.  We are engaged in a two pronged effort to restore parental authority, over which government school officials are running rough shod, citing a presidential executive order as their excuse.”

Regarding legislation, Rep. Finchem said, “I will be introducing legislation on the opening day of next session to do three things: provide parents the power and legal standing to opt out of high stakes testing; reinforce the parental authority that has been trampled on by the United States Department of Education, and prohibit the harvesting and distribution of personally identifiable information without specific and informed parental consent.”

But none of the It’s My PII officers and committee members are so naïve to believe legislation alone is the answer.  Only through litigation will parents and communities have their voices heard by those who have chosen not to hear.  Therefore, the group is working diligently to expand grassroots support and raise the necessary funds to secure legal representation. The plan is to seek injunctive relief preventing the distribution of PII, until the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s backroom amendments to a federal statute is determined.

“The purpose of the injunction is to enjoin the use of executive orders that interfere with FERPA, force the Arizona Department of Education to observe and fulfill the elements of FERPA [as intended by Congress], to prohibit certain actions that interfere with parental rights and responsibilities, and [to halt] the collection and distribution of personally identifiable information,” continued Rep. Finchem.

An independent non-profit research center in Washington D.C., attempted to do just that in February 2012. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Education Department.  The lawsuit argued that the agency’s December 2011 regulations amending the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act exceeded the agency’s statutory authority, and were contrary to law. The Court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing; however, the Court did not reach EPIC’s substantive claims asserted in the complaint.

The litigation is a civil, class action law suit to force the government school systems around America to respect parental authority and student privacy.  If you would like more information about It’s My PII and joining the grassroots movement, or have interest in supporting the organization with a donation, visit the website at www.ItsMyPII.com, or contact Rep. Mark Finchem directly at (520) 906-8081.