Parents are speaking up about a $100 million national database, funded primarily by the Gates Foundation, that will hold detailed online records for millions of public school students, including everything from mental ability test scores to disciplinary incidents.
“Frankly, I am adamantly against this new program,” said P. Rush Daly, a parent and teacher in Jefferson County Public School District in Colorado. He said he doesn’t trust the government and other third parties with all that information, some of it highly personal and sensitive. The data will be used to create and market educational products. Daly and 450 parents in his district have signed a petition opposing the database.
inBloom, the non-profit behind the database, claims the information gathered is already tracked by school districts. The database just collects it all in one place. The service can then tailor curricula to each student, depending on his or her learning style.
But Daly said that as a teacher, he already has the information he needs to assess his students, and additional databases won’t help.
Many parents in New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, and North Carolina—states inBloom currently works with—share Daly’s fear. Parents in New York held a townhall meeting over student privacy last month, urging officials to stop the data mining. Legislation allowing parents to opt out of the data collection is pending in the state.
Some worry about information security: inBloom states in its policy that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”
“What are the remedies for parents?” Norman Siegel, a civil liberties attorney in New York, asked Reuters. “It’s very troubling.”
Changes in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act enabled the data collection and sharing. According to EPIC, a nonprofit public-interest center based in Washington, D.C., public school students’ information may be released to “third parties of student information for non-academic purposes.” Schools no longer need parental consent to share student records with any school official who has a legitimate educational interest, according to the Department of Education. inBloom also acknowledges who is in control of the data: “Only school districts can determine who has access to student data and for what purposes.”
Public school teachers’ home addresses, employment history, and performance reviews also appear in the database. inBloom measures the ability of the teachers by their students’ standardized test scores.
While parents worry, education companies are ecstatic.
“This is going to be a huge win for us,” Jeffrey Olen, production manager at education software company CompassLearning, told Reuters in March.