Please Put a Stop to New NYSED Student Data Project, Write a Letter Today!

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January 8, 2015

Dear Friend,

Welcome back! I hope you had a good holiday break. This morning, we learned that the Board of Regents recently approved a grant from the Gates Foundation for the Regents Research Fund, “to support NYS to launch, execute and utilize implementation data collection at the state level.”

Along with NYSAPE and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, we sent a letter today to the Board of Regents, Commissioner Elia and State legislative leaders, to object to this project until there is more transparency as to which personally identifiable student and teacher data will be collected, with whom the data will be shared, how the data will be stored, and what their ultimate disposition will be, as well as why aggregate anonymous student data is not sufficient for the purposes of this study. I hope you will send your own letter to them by clicking here.

Our concerns about this issue are intensified by the following egregious failures on the part of the NYS Education Department:

  • More than a year and half following the legal deadline, there is still no Chief Privacy Officer with expertise in privacy law, as the NY student privacy law passed on March 31, 2014 requires. The temporary CPO, Ms. Tina Sciochetti, has no background in privacy, and refuses to meet with parents or improve the current faulty Parent Bill of Rights that was supposed to be strengthened through parent input with a legal deadline of July 29, 2014. She has also failed to respond to parent requests for their children’s data in a timely manner, as required by FERPA.
  • With the help of a large federal grant, NYSED was supposed to have created a data “Stakeholder Advisory Council” by 2010 to oversee the collection of student data. Yet when asked, NYSED officials have refused to divulge the members of this Council, and instead have demanded that a Freedom of Information Law request be filed.
  • NYSED officials have also decided that the personal student data collected by the state should be placed into the State Archives, eight years after a student’s graduation from high school, with no date certain when it will be destroyed. Neither NYSED nor the State Archives will answer questions about what restrictions will be placed on access to this data, or if the data will ever be deleted.
  • This morning, the Washington Post revealed yet another research projectinvolving the collection of a large amount of highly sensitive personal student data by the federal government, including student IEP and free lunch status, race/ethnicity and discipline records. Given the fact that the US Department of Education has been repeatedly cited for lax data security practices, it is important to ascertain whether NYSED’s new Gates-funded data project is related in any way to this larger federal study, and if so, whether this will put the personal data of the state’s students and teachers at even more risk of being breached or abused.
  • We also have grave concerns about the continued existence of the Regents Research Fund, in which salaries of Regents Fellows are paid by private donors and especially the Gates Foundation. Too often, the Regents fellows represent the private goals and interests of the Gates Foundation, and not the citizens of New York.

We strongly believe that until a permanent Chief Privacy Officer is appointed, with expertise in the area of student privacy, and a strengthened Parent Bill of Rights developed with full parent input as the law requires, as well as a data Stakeholder Advisory Council with representatives from parent groups and privacy experts, this new data project should not go forward. There also must be rigorous restrictions for access to the personal student data in the State Longitudinal database and assurances that this data will never be placed into the State Archives. Until these events occur, there should be an indefinite hold on this project and any other plans to expand student data collection.

The previous Commissioner John King faced intense opposition from parents, school board members, superintendents, teachers and elected officials over his plan to share personal student data with the Gates-funded corporation called inBloom Inc. We were forced to wait a year and half after FOILing the state’s communications to the Gates Foundation, which were only supplied the day after King announced his resignation as Commissioner. Over the holidays, I wrote up the story of this FOIL, and what his emails and those of other state officials revealed about their appalling plan. See Part I that links to the rest of the saga on my blog.

Because of NYSED’s stubborn refusal to change course, the Legislature was forced to pass a new law in 2014 to block the state’s participation in the inBloom project. The controversy over inBloom and student privacy was one of the issues that contributed to the public’s loss of trust in Commissioner King’s leadership, as well as his eventual resignation. It would be unfortunate if controversy in regards to this new data collection plan were to cause the public to resume that battle over student privacy again.

Please send your letter to Commissioner Elia and the NY Board of Regents, and your state legislator by clicking here.

Thanks so much,

 

Leonie Haimson

Executive Director

Class Size Matters

 

124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
212-529-3539

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