New York City

STUDENT DATA EXPOSED: Parents eye city plan to give individual student records to private biz

Parents worry about privacy of children

April 29, 2013 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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“Is this even legal?”

That’s what officials, education advocates and parents are asking about the city’s plan to share their children’s confidential data with private corporations — and they’ve called a Town Hall meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall Monday night, April 29 at 6 p.m., to find out more about the plan and what parents can do.

Representatives from the New York State Education Department, the New York City Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, inBloom Inc., and the Board of Regents have been invited to the meeeting.

The student data being collected and shared include names, addresses, emails, photos, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary, health and attendance records, race and ethnicity, and economic and disability status. Reportedly, information is being collected from as far back as 1996.

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Many parents are incredulous that they will not be allowed to “opt out” of sharing their child’s personal information with for-profit corporations.

“I’m horrified!” said one Brooklyn mom who didn’t want her name used because of privacy concerns. “It sounds like a massive violation of privacy. How can this even be legal?”

New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the state DOE have agreed to share the students’ data with a Gates-funded corporation called inBloom Inc., which plans to share this information with for-profit vendors to help them market “learning products.”

The children’s data will be stored on a cloud built by Wireless/Amplify, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation –- another fact children’s advocates find disturbing, considering News Corporation’s history of violating the privacy of individuals in Great Britain and in the United States.

Wireless/Amplify is headed by former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who joined News Corp after leaving city government in 2010. News Corp paid $360 million for Wireless Generation, a company that makes hand-held digital tablets they say will modernize the educational system.

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of the student advocacy group Class Size Matters, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday, “The inBloom project is potentially the greatest threat to student privacy in the nation’s history.”

Haimson said had “no idea” why schools would go along with this plan. “Perhaps they have been enticed with promises of Gates funding,” she speculated.

Data experts say information stored on a “cloud” will likely – if not inevitably — be hacked. LivingSocial, the deals site owned in part by Amazon, suffered a massive cyber attack on its computer systems this week affecting 50 million customers. Other companies like Twitter, Apple, Facebook and Dropbox have all recently been hacked, exposing users personal information.

The inBloom privacy statement says the project “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored.” The inBloom project also does not take responsibility for any damage that could occur if the child’s personal information is illegally viewed.

Last month Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wrote a letter to state DOE Commissioner Jon King, Jr. and NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott reading in part, “I am concerned that through this contract, students’ confidential information is being allowed to be disseminated in the marketplace for the purpose of generating revenue rather than improving educational outcomes. It is also disconcerting that parents have no choice in whether their child’s private information is disseminated.”

De Blasio requested that parents be allowed to opt out of the data collection plan and that a system be put in place to ensure that use of the information was restricted to “the sole use of improving instruction.” He also requested that third-parties who received the personal information be audited to make sure they used it “legitimately.”

DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday that the new Education Data Portal will abide by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). “Consistent with FERPA, the New York City Department of Education will continue to set the privacy and security policies that govern how that data are protected, including who has access to it and for what purposes.

“If commercial vendors are hired to develop applications that use the inBloom data system, in order to access student data their contracts will continue to require FERPA compliance,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg said that commercial vendor will not be allowed to use student data “for any purpose other than the one outlined in its contract.”

Other states considering sharing students’ private data include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.  Louisiana Superintendent John White announced he was pulling his state’s student data out of inBloom last week, following protests by Louisiana parents and school board members about privacy.

The Town Hall was co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Parent Academy, Assemblymembers Danny O’Donnell, James Brennan, William Colton; NYS Senators Liz Krueger and Martin Golden; NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, NYC Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, Council Members Gale Brewer and Letticia James; Class Size Matters, the Learning Disabilities Association of NY, Community Education Councils of Districts 1, 3, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 and the Citywide Council for Special Education, Alliance for Quality Education, Coalition for Educational Justice, and Urban Youth Collaborative.

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