Last Dec. 2013, the New York Times ran an article that didn’t get much attention: “Schools use Web Tools and Data Is Seen at Risk.” School districts have been in a rush to get lap tops, I-Pads and other electronic devices into the hands of our children with the funding from good ole Uncle Sam, but is this a smart idea with the NSA age we live in?
“Public schools around the country are adopting web-based services that collect and analyze personal details about students, (pre-K through 12th grade) without adequately safe-guarding the information from potential misuse by service providers, according to new research.”
When students work or play on these devices at school-home-or elsewhere they are creating a digital record. More and more that record is becoming a “permanent” record. Storing data is cheap and the schools never know when it might be helpful, for instance in a lawsuit. Schools have always had a policy that information follows a student through high school but that data was limited to test scores, report cards and courses taken.
In today’s digital age with big brother NSA spying they will have collected and stored every click your child performed: of the mouse, every keystroke, every word written, test question answered and every web- site visited and it will become their record and follow them throughout their life. It will be a profile on your child’s thinking.
Common Core standards.org, having “Forty-four states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense of Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State standards.” The Hallmark of Common Core is not getting the correct answer but the “thought process” that the student took to get the answer.
What seems inevitable here is that computers will be programed to analyze how each child thinks and the thought process will become part of their permanent record.
NSA-Ira Hunt, chief Technology officer, CIA, said last year, “We fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.” This allows the government to chart each child’s maturity level as well as the technology vendors they (sell) this information to.
Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy School NY, study found “95 % of districts rely on Cloud services like (I-cloud) for a diverse range of functions including: data mining related to individual student performance and progress, aggregate performances of classes and schools, support for classroom activities, student guidance, data hosting as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation planning.”
Fordham University study found weaknesses in protection of student’s information in the contracts that school districts sign when out-sourcing web-based tasks to service companies. Many contracts, the study found, “failed to list the type of information collected while others did not prohibit vendors from (selling personal details) like names, contact information or health status, or using that information for marketing purposes.”
The Times points out that some contracts between local school districts and the companies providing these services actually allow the companies to sell that data on children that they have gathered. The Fordham study suggested that some districts might not fully grasp the implications of out-sourcing data handling or may lack the negotiating power to insist on contracts that restrict information use.
“We found that when school districts are transferring student information to Cloud service providers key privacy protections are absent from those arrangements,” said Joel R. Reidenberg, a law professor at Fordham who led the study. “We’re worried about the implications for students over time, how their personal information may be used or misused.”
Fordham did a little test to examine how schools approached student data privacy by first calling officials at a cross-section of small, medium and large school districts in different parts of the country. Then they used open-record law to request copies of each districts Web service contracts and policies for staff technology use. Microsoft provided and (unrestricted) grant for research.
School systems were required to respond to the request for information but only 20 of 54 districts provided full documentation by the deadline. Researchers said they encountered “significant difficulty reaching any district personnel who were familiar with the district’s out-sourcing practices.”
Among the districts that did provide documents, less than (¼) of the contracts specified the purpose for which student information would be disclosed and less than 7% of the contracts restricted companies from selling student data or using it for marketing.
Several districts lacked policies about staff member’s computer use, meaning that teachers were enticed to sign up for free apps or sites that collected information about their students without school officials vetting the program.
Steve Mutkoski, the government policy director for Microsoft’s worldwide public sector business, recommended that the technology industry voluntarily agree to [not use] student data for advertising, marketing or profiling students as his company has done for schools that use certain Microsoft software. “At a bare minimum, if that is not going to reach an industry consensus, there should at least be greater transparency about the use the vendors plan to make of the data,” said Mr. Mutkoski.
Under (FERPA) schools that receive federal funding must obtain written permission from parents “before” sharing student’s educational records. Only exception without parental consent is sharing with companies that provide student ‘information systems’, like Microsoft.
According to the (EPIC.org) Electronic privacy information center, the Federal Government Student Privacy Law, better known as FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) has been watered down by the Department of Education. “Following the department’s changes to the federal government student privacy law, private companies and government agencies now has access to student records without obtaining consent.”
Without explicit prohibitions on the non-academic use of this information, specialists warn that unflattering data could be shared with colleges or employers to the detriment of the student.
The Fordham study urged the contracts to contain specific types of services a company provides, list the type of information collected and limit the re-disclosure of students details. “Parents needed to be notified about the information disclosed to third parties and post information about privacy protection on district web-sites.”
Education technology software for pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade is an estimated ($8 BILLION dollar) market according to the Software and Information Industry Association.
With that kind of money on the line is there any wonder the rules have been relaxed in writing these contracts without parental consent or barring the records from being sold? These companies are receiving continual intimate data on our children and we have no idea who these vendors are selling our kids statistics to.
Sex trafficking is a global money- making industry as well. Name and contact information is on the list of items being sold. How hard would it be to have a Pedophile do a little homework and grease the palm of one of these vendors, teachers, coaches or judges? There are nefarious people in cyber-space scouring sites daily for prey.
As concerned parents this is one responsibility we cannot relinquish to the already influenced “rule bending” school officials selling this data. We must protect our children by making our teachers and school officials abide by the FERPA rules. As the study suggest parents should be notified and should get involved. Parenting does not stop at the school yard door anymore, these days it continues all the way up to the Clouds…