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Big Brother is Watching...Our Kids' Test Scores

Corporations, like Murdoch's Wireless Generation, are paid big bucks to collect students' personal information.
 
 
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Last week, students across New York finished a set of tests taken over a two-week period designed to measure their proficiency at reading and math against new federal college readiness standards known as  Common Core.

Some parents  opted their children out of the exams in protest against what they described as the school system's over-emphasis on testing and its use of data as the principle indicator of their children's achievement.

Starting next year, those scores, along with students' personal information--race, economic background, report cards, discipline records and personal addresses--will be stored in a database designed by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

That's right, Rupert Murdoch can read your child's report card anytime he likes, and he knows where your kid is sleeping. The database will be managed by inBloom Inc, a nonprofit outfit that, like Wireless Generation, is under the domain of billionaire Bill Gates--who, together with the Carnegie Corporation and other philanthropic organizations, set up the company via his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

inBloom is receiving $50 million for their services from the New York Education Department through a contract awarded last fall. Data analyzing firms, educational software designers and other third-party venders, both for-profit and not-for-profit, will be granted access to student information.

New York is not alone in turning to student data tracking system to measure performance. Some 200,000 U.S. teachers use Wireless Generation software as part of a national trend in which education administrators are increasingly turning to data analysis to grasp why  America's pupils are flunking when compared to the rest of the world.

"I am a deep believer in the power of data to drive our decisions,"  said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan shortly after his appointment to the post in 2008. "Data gives us the roadmap to reform. It tells us where we are, where we need to go, and who is most at risk."

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But the consolidation of individual student information has been raising eyebrows--and sparking a backlash.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center is suing Duncan's Education Department for amending privacy regulations in 2011 that allow student data to be accessed for non-educational objectives without informing parents--a violation, EPIC contends, of the Family Educational Rights Privacy and Privacy Act.

According to inBloom's privacy policy, the company is not responsible for security breaches; though it will "use reasonable administrative, technical and physical safeguards to ensure student records are kept private," inBloom "cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted."

Last week,  a group of New York parents sent a letter to the Board of Regents, which oversees the state's public schools, decrying the "plan to share highly confidential, personally identifiable student data" with inBloom. They expressed fear that the company intends to share their children's information "with for-profit vendors without parental notification or consent."

After parents in Louisiana raised similar concerns,  plans to hand over student data to inBloom were put on hold two weeks ago. Contrary to statements from Louisiana Education Superintendent John White, the state has not cancelled its contract with the company, according to a spokesperson for inBloom.

The spokesperson also said it is up to inBloom's clients, not inBloom, to determine what data the company possesses and who is granted access. In Louisiana, that could include student social security numbers, which double as student ID digits in most districts.

Besides New York and Louisiana, inBloom has contracts with seven other states. All are part of the  Shared Learning Collaborative, a pilot program set up by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to help implement Common Core standards through the tracking of student data. The Council of Chiefs, also a non-profit, is composed of the heads of America's state school systems who work together with corporations to collectively design education policy, in mold of the  American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.