Here's the New York Times story Markey refers to in his letter:A lawmaker who is a staunch advocate of children’s privacy is investigating whether the data collection and analysis practices of the growing education technology industry, a market estimated at $8 billion, are outstripping federal rules governing the sharing of students’ personal information.
On Tuesday, Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, sent a letter to Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, about how K-12 schools are outsourcing management and assessment of student data, including intimate details like disabilities, to technology vendors. The letter cited an article in The New York Times this month about concerns over the proliferation of student data to companies.
“By collecting detailed personal information about students’ test results and learning abilities, educators may find better ways to educate their students,” Senator Markey wrote in the letter. “However, putting the sensitive information of students in private hands raises a number of important questions about the privacy rights of parents and their children.”
School districts nationwide are increasingly using digital technologies that collect and analyze academic and other details about students in an effort to tailor lessons to the individual child. But privacy law experts say that many schools are employing student assessment software and other services without sufficiently restricting the use of children’s personal data by vendors. Researchers at Fordham University School of Law in New York, for example, recently found that certain school districts have signed contracts without clauses to protect information like children’s contact details, the locations where they wait for school buses every morning, or the food items they buy in school cafeterias. - New York Times, 10/22/13
Here's what Markey said in his letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan:WHEN Cynthia Stevenson, the superintendent of Jefferson County, Colo., public schools, heard about a data repository called inBloom, she thought it sounded like a technological fix for one of her bigger headaches. Over the years, the Jeffco school system, as it is known, which lies west of Denver, had invested in a couple of dozen student data systems, many of which were incompatible.
In fact, there were so many information systems — for things like contact information, grades and disciplinary data, test scores and curriculum planning for the district’s 86,000 students — that teachers had taken to scribbling the various passwords on sticky notes and posting them, insecurely, around classrooms and teachers’ rooms.
There must be a more effective way, Dr. Stevenson felt.
InBloom, a nonprofit corporation based in Atlanta, seemed to offer a solution: it could collect information from the district’s many databases and store it in the cloud, making access easier, and protect it with high-level encryption.
The company has name-brand backing: $100 million in seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Beyond storing data, it promised to help personalize learning — by funneling student data to software dashboards where teachers could track individual students and, with the right software, customize lessons in real time. Also, districts could effortlessly share student records with developers seeking to create educational tools for schools. In other words, for Dr. Stevenson, it represented not just a fix to a narrow technical problem, but also a potentially revolutionary way to help educate students.
“We are joining the new generation of data management,” Dr. Stevenson said enthusiastically in the March issue of “Chalk Talk,” the school district’s newsletter for parents.
She did not imagine that five months later, she would be sitting in a special school board meeting in the district’s headquarters, listening as a series of parents, school board members and privacy lawyers assailed the plan to outsource student data storage to inBloom. What troubled the naysayers at that August session was that the district seemed to be rushing to increase data-sharing before weighing the risks of granting companies access to intimate details about children. They noted that administrators had no policies in place to govern who could see the information, how long it would be kept or whether it would be shared with the colleges to which students applied. - New York Times, 10/5/13
Markey also had this to add:"[D]isclosure of such information, which may extend well beyond the specific private company hired by the school district to a constellation of other firms with which the district does not have a business relationship," Markey wrote, "raises concerns about the degree to which student privacy may be compromised."
Markey asked Duncan to explain the agency's position on student privacy and data issues in a number of areas, including how regulatory changes made to FERPA in 2008 and 2011 affect schools' ability to outsource scheduling, data management, and other functions.
"Did the department perform any analysis regarding the impact of these changes on student privacy?" Markey asks. "If yes, please provide it. If not, why not?"
The lawmaker also asks if the department has assessed whether various types of information are shared by schools with third party-vendors, such as contact information, and disciplinary and attendance records.
A former, longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Markey's been a player in attempting to craft policies to protect student data for year. He was a co-author of the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act, which became law in 1998. - Education Week, 10/23/13
I'll be looking forward to what answers Duncan gives Markey. I'd like to thank Markey for staying on top of this. If you would like to thank him, please consider donating to his 2014 election campaign so he can continue to look out for our children's privacy:Markey, who co-chaired the bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus while a member of the House, is a big proponent of parental consent for the sharing of children's info online and is focusing increased attention in his Senate post on privacy issues.
"While the increased use of data analysis of student performance holds promise for increasing student achievement, at the same time there are perils from a privacy perspective," Markey said in a statement. "Putting the sensitive information of students in private hands raises a number of important questions about the privacy rights of students and their parents, who the right to control information about their children."
Markey has a bunch of questions he wants the DOE to answer by Nov. 12, including whether it monitors third party use, whether DOE recognizes any possible risks of sharing students' personal information-like behavior or school participation patterns — with third parties, and whether there are "minimization" requirements — requiring those third parties to delete any info not necessary for enhancing educational quality. - Broadcasting & Cable, 10/22/13