Pennsylvania Parents Concerned About Student Data Collection

Published December 20, 2014

The concept of a “permanent record” has become even scarier under Common Core, according to a group of parents in Pennsylvania. Parents Against Common Core has petitioned Gov. Tom Corbett to put a moratorium on data collection practices. The parents say inappropriate and sensitive personal information about students is being collected and added to a federal database to track each student’s development.

The data collection process, referred to as “womb to tomb” by critics, was originated by the U.S. Department of Labor, and it includes personally identifiable information for every U.S. citizen under 26 years old. The information is collected from K-12 grades, and it consists of identifiers such as behavioral patterns, disciplinary issues, health history, and test performance.

Pennsylvania was one of the earliest adopters of data collecting, but it is far from alone in the practice. All 50 states are preparing and designing longitudinal statewide databases. Pennsylvania was one of the first 20 states to receive a combined $250 million in federal funds to create testing systems able to monitor a student’s progress from kindergarten to college.

Creating Psychological Profiles

The motive behind establishing these psychological profiles is to gain a better understanding of what a child is capable of, by tracking his or her academic progress over time. Testing a child’s non-cognitive abilities allegedly allows for a more personalized approach to education, or at least that is the hope of predictive testing. Some parents, however, worry about so much personal data regarding their children being in the hands of the federal government for years. They also fear their children may be treated differently by teachers and administrators based on the records.

On Nov.21, Anita Hoge released an open letter to Carolyn Dumeresq, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In the letter, Hoge acknowledges each state “has the freedom under the Constitution to not accept the Common Core standards.” Her main concern, and it is a concern of many critics of data mining, is the scope of information being released to third parties without written parental consent. “Is informed parental consent used in these experimental programs? Do parents understand that their children will be used for research that aligns a psychometric record on their personalities?” Hoge asked.

Hoge says she was told by email the list of “interpersonal skills” had been removed from the Standards Aligned System, and that nothing remained on the website portal that was not specific to academic learning. This is only a temporary fix, Hoge says, until proof can be obtained that these practices are not being used in the classroom. In her letter she says Pennsylvania parents want all traces of the standards removed from curriculum.

Karrie Zimmerman, a Fawn Grove parent of two, says she doesn’t agree with the data collection process, because each child deserves a fresh start.

 “I feel that a child should start the school with a clean slate, not judged from the school year prior. My child had a horrible year in fourth grade, and the teacher incorrectly assumed that he had a learning disability. He is now in seventh grade, with all honors classes, and he gets straight A’s,” she said.

Is Student Data Really Protected?

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), originally enacted in 1974, was put into place to protect students, allowing only parents or guardians to access or amend personal records. The act does not, however, protect the online educational services and social media a student may use on any digital device. This is a major concern for some parents, as there are many digital tools evaluating fluid intelligence in today’s classrooms.

The information protected by FERPA may still be available to third party vendors, for educational product development or any other reason the school deems appropriate. FERPA regulations changed in 2012, and some critics of Common Core argue no information is safe at this point. As the law is currently worded, third party vendors can obtain aggregate information without written consent of parents.

Those in favor of the data collection argue this is the only way for schools to monitor educational progress effectively. Critics of the data mining express concerns about how the psychological information will play out in disciplinary actions. If a child is found to have mental health problems and is doing poorly academically, how will the school handle it?

Concerns Regarding Rights

“Children are linear thinkers, naturally programmed to respond respectively unless conditioned otherwise,” said Tara Jenner, a concerned Florida parent and owner of Brain Trainers, a cognitive therapy consulting firm. Though Jenner decided to homeschool her own children, she works closely with students and teachers every day. She says her main concern with data mining is the government may be violating constitutional rights.

Jennifer Serio, mother of two school-aged children in Maryland, feels parental involvement is key.

“Parents and members of our school system need to work together as a unit, and keep the lines of communication open,” said Serio.

 Diana-Ashley Krach ([email protected]) writes from Lake Worth, Florida.

Image by Kevin Jarrett.

On the Internet

Anita Hoge’s Open Letter to PA Department of Education, ABC’s of Dumb Down, November 29, 2014

“Common Core And Data Mining: Fact And Fiction Part II,” The American Conservative, March 10, 2014

“Critics Say Common Core Includes Collecting Psych Data on Kids,” Fox News, December 7, 2014