Student Privacy Concerns Add to Common Core Resistance

There are many things to hate about Common Core standards. From convoluted, unsolvable math problems, to an increased reliance on soulless standardized testing, to a lack of local control and adaptation to individual circumstances, just about everyone can find something to object to. One of the most concerning aspects of the program, however, is the invasive collection of personal data from students, an area that has received far too little attention in media discussions of education.

All states opting into Common Core have agreed to substantially expand their State Longitudinal Data Services program, which allows schools to collect and store student data. In exchange for this enhanced data collection, states received federal grants from Race to the Top, essentially a cash prize for schools that do things the Department of Education wants them to do under the blanket terms “innovation,” “reform,” and “excellence.”

The exact nature and extent of the data to be collected remains the subject of disagreement. Several groups are alleging that extremely sensitive personal information, such as mental health info, is being collected, although this has been denied by state Departments of Education. The words and actions of government officials, however, tell a different story, and indicate that we should be loath to take such dismissals at face value.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in outlining the administration’s goals, said the following in a 2009 address:

We want to see more states build comprehensive systems that track students from pre-K through college and then link school data to workforce data. We want to know whether Johnny participated in an early learning program and completed college on time and whether those things have any bearing on his earnings as an adult.

This is a bit creepy in its scope, but at least it focuses on academic metrics. A 2013 study from the Department of Education paints a far more chillingly Orwellian picture of the future of American schools. The study recommends the tracking of student moods and psychological conditions, even going so far as to suggest that technologies such as facial expression cameras and eye-movement trackers be used to evaluate student attitudes. Are we really meant to trust these people when they claim they are not interested in invasive data mining of every student?

At the very least, we should be worried about the lack of transparency. When experts of different political persuasions can look at the same program and come to different conclusions about what it actually does, there is obviously a need for greater clarity. Parents need to know what sort of information is being collected from their children, and who has access to it.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents have a right to access the data if they are willing to invest the time and effort. However, the Department of Education has acted unilaterally to allow other government agencies—or even third parties such as companies that make education products—access to student data without any parental notification requirement. Furthermore, FERPA does not protect data privacy on students who are homeschooled by their parents.

Some states, such as Florida and Louisiana, have passed legislation in an attempt to curb student data collection, but analysts have warned that these programs are not severable from the main thrust of Common Core, meaning that states will need to go further in removing the standards altogether if they want a functional education system.

Fortunately, the trend appears to be promising for opponents of Common Core. No fewer than three governors—Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker—have rescinded their earlier support for the standards, several states have withdrawn entirely, and several more, such as Ohio and Tennessee, are taking affirmative steps to withdraw early next year. Teachers, parents, children, and even some of the country’s largest unions have turned against Common Core, recognizing what an unworkable disaster the program represents.

The Department of Education has succeeded in promoting a policy so dangerous to student privacy that opposition is rapidly nearing unanimity. If only government regulators were always this self-defeating.

Watch FreedomWorks’ video on Common Core’s failures HERE.

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