By Virginia Starrett, Director of Nevadans Against Common Core, August 12, 2015
Why is it I can’t hear you? Why aren’t all of you, all of my fellow Nevadans screaming from your rooftops, or using bullhorns, or at least posting a rant on Facebook about the constant surveillance going on? But wait, you say. We are. We think the NSA might be violating our privacy and we have demanded that it be reined in. Okay… but I’m talking about Nevada surveilling all of Nevada’s children at the behest of the U. S. Department of Education.
You see, in July, Nevada joined 19 other states in linking kindergarten through 12th grade to workforce data (under the Nevada P-20 to Workforce Research Data System which Nevada’s education policymakers designate alphabetically as the “NPWR”). “This has great potential for Nevada,” said Kim Metcalf, dean of the College of Education at UNLV, according to an isn’t-this-just-about-the-best-thing-since-sliced-bread article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (by Neal Morton, July 25, 2015). I’m not sure who created the title of the article: “Nevada’s New Super-Data System Makes School Records Permanent,” but how could anyone think having school records (records that contain highly personal information and thus, records that could be misused and abused and perhaps ruin a person’s future) in existence for eternity would be something to brag about? Moreover, much of the data stored in the School Record file comes from responses given by the students themselves. Considering their immaturity, how reliable a source is that? Young people who are arrested for youthful indiscretions are far better off. At least those records are sealed when the individual turns 18.
Troubling question: How is Nevada accomplishing this dreadful feat? Easy answer: By utilizing the data-mining technology (the Statewide Longitudinal Data System) it put in place over the last several years. The developed world is in a Big Data revolution. The word on the street where progressives reside is that data analysis can solve all of mankind’s problems. So naturally those same folks who decided Common Core should be embraced nationwide also envisioned collecting loads of data on every student so that “educational experts” could feast on the information.
School computers facilitate data collection, as do the SBAC tests that accompany Common Core. It’s worth noting that both SBAC and the U.S.DOE has as one of its partners regarding preparation and analysis of educational tests and test takers, a Washington, D.C. company called American Institute for Research (AIR), whose founder, John Flanagan, headed up a U. S. Government-sponsored eugenics research project around the time of World War II. His project involved studying the offspring of American pilots to determine if “superior” genes produced “superior” results. Since Common Core appears also to be a winnowing device, separating the “elite” students (who will go to the best universities) from the laborers (who will learn enough to be useful in their third or fourth tier careers), AIR fits in quite nicely. And, just as with Common Core, to get states to “voluntarily” participate, a Federal money carrot was held out (and the accompanying punishment for not reaching for the carrot was also put in place). Nevada grabbed with both hands. Federal grants to the tune of tens of millions of dollars flowed in, and voilà! all of Nevada’s students became nuggets for the eager (and well-paid) data-miners.
“The ability to examine the relationship between educational and demographic and employment and student outcomes, among various factors, is going to be great for everybody,” declared Metcalf (I assume with a straight face) to the reporter who wrote the article. “Great for everybody.” Really? Just who does that “everybody” include? More on that later (Hint: The article should have been entitled, “Nevada’s New Super-Data System Makes Personal Information on Students Available to Everyone but Parents.”) But first, did you notice those three little potent words, “among various factors”? Just what various factors might this blanket over? If you are under the impression that data being collected concerns merely test scores or other measures of academic proficiency, you might want to sit down. Seems that the National Center for Education Statistics, which is the Federal Agency that oversees the SLDS systems, prepared a list of desired data collection points that includes, among a host of other highly sensitive information, political affiliations of the student or parent, mental and psychological problems of the student or in the student’s family, sexual behavior or attitudes, and anti-social or demeaning behavior characteristics. Information like this is solicited in student surveys, questionnaires, and gleaned from answers students give on tests (through psychometric analysis, a speciality at AIR).
Literally almost every move (or keystroke) a student makes will be embedded in the student’s PERMANENT record. But there’s more: according to Politico, in addition to the data being provided for educational research, tech companies intend to mine student data for profits. For example, a top executive at Pearson, the main provider of Core-aligned materials, boasted that his company was the largest “custodian” of student data anywhere because Pearson administers so many of the required tests students take. The same Federal law (FERPA) that was tweaked to get around student privacy (in anticipation of the implementation of Common Core), also suffered the creation of a giant loophole in the restrictions on who can get access to the government’s stored data, allowing education companies to be classified as “school officials” and thereby qualified to study every Suzy or Johnny’s data file (which, under recently passed Nevada law, is more than Suzy’s or Johnny’s parents have a right to do).
What a tech company will do with data on a student is worrisome. At present, it appears the motives of this group have to do with increasing company earnings by uncovering specific weakspots concerning the child’s learning abilities and materials and then marketing suggested solutions to the child’s family. Something needs to be done to curtail this intrusion, that’s for sure.
But imagine what the government might do with that data. Wait, we don’t have to imagine. Arne Duncan, head of the U.S. Department of Education (whose children do not attend public school and whose children do not attend a school that follows the Common Core Standards) has been most transparent on the subject. He and a host of other government hirelings and associates claim they intend to “guide” students into appropriate education pathways and careers. By the way, that crashing sound is the American Dream exploding into little pieces.
Consider this Arne Duncan confession (of sorts): “We want to see more states build comprehensive systems that track students from pre-K through college and then link school data to workforce data. We want to know whether Johnny participated in an early learning program and then completed college on time and whether those things have any bearing on his earnings as an adult. To know all this, of course, we have to know pretty much everything Johnny does throughout his lifetime” (emphasis added).
I would be remiss if I didn’t reveal “they,” naturally, also justify data collection by promising they will use the information gathered to improve education. In which case “use the information” pretty much translates into their creating mandates and Federal grant incentives to coerce school districts into following the tune the “theys” sing (which is not new behavior, but “business as usual.”) Yet we needn’t look too far to see the dismal results of this kind of “we-know-better-than-you-how-to-fix-your-problem” top-down approach from the Feds. Decades of failing attempts to stem poverty come to mind.
Finally, I know Dale Erquiaga, Nevada’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, will swear that no student’s identity will be connected to any shared data (and, additionally, he will swear that Nevada isn’t actually sharing any data with anyone outside the state – which, by my way of thinking is absurd, since the Federal Government handed over all those dollars specifically so Nevada would develop a computer system that could share data nationwide), but it takes only a handful of personal data points to pierce the anonymity sham cooked up by the data-mining fanatics in an attempt to reassure people like me. Plus, even if Nevada isn’t sharing now; the plan is that it will. Trust me. Only a fool could tabulate all that has been put in place to handle the harvested data and come away thinking there wasn’t going to be a harvest.
You’ve undoubtedly been made aware of how successful hackers have been in stealing information right from under the nose of Uncle Sam. Add that to the IRS Scandal where officials abused their power in order to thwart the goals of political groups who disagreed with the current administration. Now consider ways the government, either state or Federal, could use a person’s personal information to meddle in the person’s life and future. Does Suzy want to attend Harvard? Sorry, our research shows that is not a suitable school for her. Does Johnny aspire to be a lawyer? Sorry, our research indicates he would make a good office worker. Who knows what the criteria for “aiding” a student will be. Intelligence? Cultural background? Political affiliation? Religious beliefs?
No one, nowhere, no how (except, perhaps, the child’s parents) should have permission to build a file (especially a virtual and eternal one) on a child starting at kindergarten and continuing until the child has been “expertly” guided into the job market. That is what is in the works right now, and this appalling (and, in my book, un-Constitutional) activity has garnered no real resistance. All those who value freedom (and hope to pass it on to future generations) need to wake up and start protesting often and loud.
We need to become a blaring chorus of such magnitude we can’t be ignored.