Thursday, June 13, 2013

Maryland's Adoption of Common Core and Race to the Top Puts Student Privacy at Risk


The Maryland State Department of Education is creating a massive database of student information, and due to the state’s acceptance of federal stimulus money and adoption of Common Core Standards, that data including a host of personal information may not be kept private as mandated by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

When Maryland accepted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds in 2009 it agreed to build a broad state longitudinal data system (SLDS), and as part of its successful Race to the Top application, the state agreed to strengthen, and enhance the capabilities of the database.

The Maryland Statewide Longitudinal Data System (MLDS) captures and analyzes student data from preschool through high school, college and the work force.  MLDS collects more than 400 data points on students including healthcare history, disciplinary records, family income range, family voting status, and religious affiliation.

According to Maryland’s Race to the Top application the state education Department already shares student level date with the state Department of Human Resources, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and is working on a memorandum of understanding to share data with the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation. 

Race to the Top prioritizes how well states make student data accessible to “key stakeholders,” which are defined as “parents, students, teachers, local education authorities, community members, unions, researchers, and policy makers.”




Maryland is also basing the sharing of student data on State Stat, Governor O’Malley’s much ballyhooed, yet flawed performance-measuring system.  The State Education Department is implanting 10-step initiative to for MLDS enabling it to gather more student-level data, integrate it with existing data, and make it more accessible to other state agencies, and “stakeholders.”

Federal law forbids the creation of a national student database, and Maryland’s MLDS enabling legislation SB 275, signed into law in 2010, requires the newly created Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center to comply with FERPA.  However, the Federal Department of Education has—through regulation—found a way to circumvent FERPA. 

According to a white paper Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core is Bad for America written by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins for the Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project, the Department of Education issued new regulations last year that circumvent FERPA. 

The new regulations allow transmission of students’ personal identifiable information—without parental consent—to any governmental or private entity designated by the Department and others as an “authorized representative,” for the purpose of evaluating an education program.


Any personal student information the Department of Education acquires can now be shared with whomever they deem an “authorized representative” without parental approval or even notification.  How many parents would be happy to have sensitive information about their children and families made available to “unions” or “community members” as spelled out in the Race to the Top application?

While the federal government hasn’t directly created a national database, they’ve coaxed the states—with billions in stimulus cash—into creating it for them. 

McGroarty and Robbins note that the two assessment regimes aligned with Common Core are explicitly required to make student-level assessment data available.  ARRA provided $362 million to fund two state assessment consortiums Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  In exchange for stimulus funds, the authors note: 

..the cooperative agreements between the Department and those consortia explicitly require PARCC and SBAC to “develop a strategy to make student-level data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis for research, including for prospective linking, validity, and program improvement studies; [sic] subject to applicable privacy laws.”

Maryland is a PARCC member state.

With the revelation that the National Security Agency is collecting troves of data on our Internet activity, Americans are rightly concerned about privacy and the fourth amendment.  Now, Maryland parents need to be concerned about what data about our children our schools are collecting, and who else may have access to it. 





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