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Student data is being collected at rapid pace, and may not be safe

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5 2014 9:55 a.m. MST

A Global Studies class of 10th and 11th graders at Bedford Academy High School listen during class on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 in New York. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott held a press conference at the school to announce a record high Advance Placement (AP) and SAT exam scores for students city-wide.

Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press

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The National Security Agency isn’t the only government entity mining personal data from unknowing U.S. citizens over the last decade.

The Department of Education and organizations related to it have created "an omnipresent data archive" that "will track students from preschool to graduation," and follow them "well after they leave school," according to Salon.com.

Department of Education official Jim Shelton told USA Today that government has to ensure that data are used responsibly, and that collecting enormous swaths of it is a "small price for progress."

By studying details on successful students and programs, proponents anticipate forging better-informed education policy. Salon.com notes that, in addition to legal problems, these technologies further normalize mass surveillance in our society.

One parent told the New York Times, "It's a new experiment in centralizing massive metadata on children to share with vendors ... and then the vendors will profit by marketing their learning products, their apps, their curriculum materials, their video games, back to our kids."

InBloom is the biggest repository of student information. The non-profit is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Most states provide inBloom with up to 400 specific data points on their students. According to an interview with an inBloom official, states and districts contract with third parties to access and analyze student data.

At the same time, the Department of Education is nearing completion of a program it calls P-20. The name is meant to indicate that data gathering will begin before kindergarten and last until sometime after graduation.

USA Today reports that 44 states are participating in these ventures, as are dozens — and perhaps hundreds — of companies. Universities and colleges are signing up, too.

Salon.com reports that P-20 is believed to be cooperating with quite a few other federal agencies, including the Department of Labor and Department of Health.

Based on an extensive review of state privacy laws and data, a Fordham University Center on Law and Information Policy study shows how sensitive, personalized information related to academics, teen pregnancy, mental health, crime, and family wealth are already archived by states and are being transferred to third parties in violation of legal mandates.

InBloom assures the public that student records will only be shared when “authorized by a state or district with legal authority over those student records," or in other words, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

FERPA regulates the federal government as well as organizations that receive federal funds, including most schools across the country. One of its key provisions guarantees parents the right to inspect and review student records and be apprised of what is disclosed and to whom. In 2011, the Department of Education promulgated new rules — as found on its website as well of those such as the Eletronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) — on how FERPA is interpreted and applied, and it is now lawful for federal departments to release student records for non-academic purposes.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Ma., has suggested amending FERPA, the EPIC website reports. He hopes to ensure that: first, information is never used for marketing purposes; second, parents may access and amend information held by private parties; third, all parties adequately safeguard data; and lastly, companies delete information after it is no longer needed for educational purposes.

In addition to inBloom and P-20, Salon.com reports on other education sector players that are implementing their own data collection and management programs, including the American Association of School Administrators that is partnering with the Consortium for School Networking and a for-profit company, Gartner Inc.

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