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Parents fight for their right to protect privacy

Published: Tuesday, June 10 2014 8:15 a.m. MDT

The concerns over the government's collection of student data has led parents to advocate for stricter privacy laws and more consideration for the parents' right to know what information is being gathered on their children and how it's being used.

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Some activist parents are attempting to take down the corporations responsible for mining student data in the most recent attempt to prove that parents know best.

Data analytics and education technology companies track students' online habits, gathering hundreds of data points for each student. The companies monitor the students from pre-kindergarten onward for years, watching everything from their school absences to their online habits, according to NPR and Politico.

In 2005, the government funded the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems to help states gather data on students to develop better teaching strategies to address actual student needs, but many parents are concerned about what information is being gathered and who has control over the information.

“Every parent I’ve talked to has been horrified,” Leonie Haimson, a New York mother and public education activist, told Politico. “We just don’t want our kids tracked from cradle to grave.”

John Eppolitio, a former math teacher and father of four, told The Blaze that when he discovered that his home state of Nevada was gathering data, he tried to find it and see what information was being collected about his children. He tried to talk to the school, but they didn't have the data, so he called the Nevada Department of Education. He was told that it would cost $10,000 to extrapolate and deliver the files.

Another parent and student privacy activist, Sheila Kaplan, told NPR, "My younger son's records were breached when he was in college. Why would you collect records that you can't protect?"

Parents have already helped shut down inBloom, a firm designed to help schools easily gather and store data, over concerns that the data wasn't secure and could be sold to marketing companies, according to Businessweek.

“We tend to be too defensive about privacy and not proactive and positive enough about the benefits of data,” InBloom Chief Executive Officer Iwan Streichenberger said on the day he announced the closure of his company. “We believe in personalized learning, or the use of data to drive instruction — I do."

The activists are now turning their attention to supporting privacy laws that will hopefully make the data gathering less of a government secret and more of a conversation between parents and schools about how best to help the students, according to Politico.

"Many (ed tech entrepreneurs) said they had always assumed parents would support their vision: to mine vast quantities of data for insights into what’s working, and what’s not, for individual students and for the education system as a whole," Politico reported.

The battle over data gathering is not only the area where parents are fighting against nationwide education changes. The Columbus Dispatch reports that in Ohio a new law will mandate that all school districts have a parental advisory board review Common Core materials to make sure they are appropriate for the students.

Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.

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