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LDS/Government Use Your Children To Invade Your Privacy In The Name Of Educational Excellence

January 5, 2012

Big brother is here, in 2012, and he is learning everything about you through your children, via the public schools. How would you like the public schools to track information about you and your children such as health care history, family income and voting status? In an article published, last week in the New York Post, Emmet McGroarty and Jane Robbins outline how the Obama administration put into place, regulations that allow for public schools to gather data all in the name of supporting and evaluating educational programs. The kicker is, it’s happening in all 50 states, and they can share the information without your consent or knowledge.

The administration wants this data to include much more than name, address and test scores. According to the National Data Collection Model, the government should collect information on health-care history, family income and family voting status. In its view, public schools offer a golden opportunity to mine reams of data from a captive audience.

The article caused such a stir throughout the country that FOX and Friends picked up the story and interviewed  McGroarty about the issue, however, they didn’t seem to treat him with much credibility as they tried to paint the problem with a conspiracy theory brush.

Perhaps they should have given McGroarty’s article a little more respect and inquired as to why would the collection of such data be of interest to the government.

In July of 2010, the Joyce Foundation released a report outlining the benefits of collecting data for the improvement of workforce programs. On page two of the report they state:

By linking their education with workforce data and tracking education and employment program participants over time, states can see how well students in education programs are securing career-path jobs in fields of importance to local economies.

Page one reports how data systems will be funded through a federal grant and some information to be utilized will incorporate data from the Federal Employment Data Exchange System (FEDES).

The WDQI will provide funding to selected state workforce agencies (SWAs) to strengthen and expand longitudinal data systems (LDSs) to facilitate the tracking of individual participants through education and employment programs and into the labor force.

Page 9’s endnotes state clearly they also intend for states to share the data with the Federal Employment Data Exchange System.

2While the Department of Labor Solicitation for Grant Applications (SGA) does not include FEDES in the list of sources which must be incorporated in the longitudinal data system, the SGA does require states to discuss how they will link to FEDES.

Longitudinal Data Collection been a reported on extensively by Missouri Education Watchdog. In a March 2011 posting MEW chronicled how a study in St. Louis tracked children from birth to age 21 for the CDC and  National Institutes of Health. In May of the same year, MEW reports how Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, instituted regulations to change FERPA laws to facilitate data collection between schools and workforce institutions. As long as its all done in the name of educational research, it’s perfectly legit in the eyes of Big Brother. Are you seeing the common linking threads?

And if you still think this would never happen in your own back yard, think again. Watch this video of the Parkway School Board as they approve monitoring devices (50 minutes into the video) for their students. Parkway is a school district in the suburbs of St. Louis and it would seem that data collection concerns here, mirror issues raised the New York Post article.

St.LToday published an article detailing the concerns and questions surrounding the need to monitor the activity and sleep patterns of its students in an effort to enhance fitness and raise student achievement. Apparently, parents were not involved in the decision process to implement the program, but parental consent will be required to participate due to the fact they will be responsible for care of the monitors while their children wear them 24/7 for a week at a time. Yes, that’s right. Students will be monitored outside of the school day, evenings and weekends. In fact their every activity and even their sleep patterns will be tracked for a week, straight.

Similarities in data collection in Parkway seem mirror concerns outlined in the New York Post article. Not only were parents alarmed at not being notified about the devices being used during the school day, they want to know what the long range ramifications are of such intrusive information gathering.

Beth Huebner, PTO co-president at Ross and mother of sons in first and fourth grades, said she wasn’t aware of her older child wearing one of the devices and she was never asked for consent.

“I’d want to see data generated to help me understand calories burned and sleep patterns,” said Huebner, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “I would ask the district tell me about it particularly if the information would be used for district analysis.”

Cara Bauer, PTO president at Shenandoah Valley and mother of a son in first grade and a daughter in fifth grade, said she’s heard about the monitors from her daughter, Caroline. She said her daughter doesn’t like wearing one and calls them “the funny watch.”

“I wish Parkway would let parents know what’s going on with the program,” Bauer said. “I feel they’re getting into privacy issues, into people’s personal lives, when they have to be worn at home. That kind of makes me a little leery, and, though I think the monitors are a fantastic idea in school, I don’t want that at home.”

She questioned how the data will be used.

“What will they do with all this information they’ll glean from my kid?” Bauer asked. “I’d be curious to see what information they’re getting off these contraptions. They’re OK in PE, but they make me question why the district isn’t being up front with parents about what the program will be at home.”

Neil Richards, a professor of law with Washington University in St. Louis who teaches privacy and civil liberties courses, said he feels the plan for the devices constitutes “a major privacy issue.”

“The school district eventually will be engaging in surveillance of kids’ sleep and exercise patterns outside the school day,” he said. “Though physical activity is important and obesity is a problem, the district could not require kids to wear them because I think it would be a violation of their and their families’ Fourth Amendment rights, which is pretty easily unconstitutional.”

And wearing them voluntarily doesn’t eliminate privacy concerns, Richards said.

“They’ll create a record of medical information about children around the clock,” he said. “Even if it serves laudable public health goals, it’s a fairly Orwellian step for a school district to engage in.”

Neil Richards, a Washington Law School professor, raises several questions in the article about privacy issues and invasion of constitutional rights.

Still, parents should be asking what data is being collected from those devices and when, Richards said. They should ask what rights they have to control the data, whether data is anonymous, what safeguards will be in place to protect data, whether the district is going to give it or sell it to anyone, when data will be destroyed, and whether the district has a privacy policy available to parents.

“If a university would do this study, they’d need to have lots of approval and consent from our internal review board, because this is a form of human subject research,” Richards said. “Though the district should be applauded for ensuring kids are healthy, this kind of biological surveillance seems to go far beyond what they should be concerned with.”

He wonders what’s next.

“Will they start monitoring kids’ nutrition at home or how many hours they spend reading at home?” Richards asked.

The bottom line here? No one is explaining clearly how the collection of data that tracks eye color, sleep patterns, voting trends, and family income helps children memorize math facts or read and write with greater proficiency. And wasn’t student achievement greater when students had less technology in the class room and taxpayers had less government in education? Perhaps, if you want to make sure Big Brother doesn’t have his nose in your business it would be a good idea to start asking some of these questions at your local school because it is apparent the local school isn’t going to ask you first for your consent to pry into your personal business.


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