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Monday, February 24, 2014

Sharing Student Data In The Cloud: Should We Be Worried?

Students take a quiz in Eric Miller's eighth grade algebra class at Lakes Magnet Middle School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. (Jessica Robinson/Northwest News Network)

The majority . (Jessica Robinson/Northwest News Network)

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is addressing educators in Washington today on the issue of student data — everything from attendance and health records to test scores and disciplinary data.

There’s a big fight going on in many states over whether that data should be stored online and managed by third parties like inBloom, a nonprofit funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Inbloom declined Here & Now’s request for an interview, but we are joined by two people with very different views on this: Mary Fox-Alter, superintendent of schools in Pleasantville, N.Y., and Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign.

Interview Highlights

Mary Fox-Alter on why the sharing of student data concerns her

“We firmly believe that the release of student data into this big gigantic data storage facility called inBloom has devastating consequences for children in three areas: the area of privacy, the area of profiteering and the area of profiling. The idea that this big data box that doesn’t have any windows, just one door with a secure access, often equated to a super big Costco and then any software vendor can get a key to that door and have access to all of this data and they will come out with this inBloom certified stamp of approval on that. You can have access to student transcripts, you can have access to student suspension records. A teacher of a next year student can take a look at their discipline files, and again I believe that that is profiling. The state of New York actually says that results of the 3 through 8 tests which will be in there that will tell a second grader, a third grader, a fourth grader whether they are career and college ready at a very young age.”

Aimee Rogstad Guidera on the benefit of sharing student data

“We believe that data is the great equalizer, and you know the truth is we’ve always had data in education but we’ve never used it to really change conversations, to change actions and to change outcomes. And we’re now on the cusp and it’s starting to happen around the country where we’re starting to see where educators and families are having access to quality, actionable information. And as a result, it’s changing the teaching and learning process, it’s providing better transparency about whats going on, it allows us to have richer conversations about accountability, and most importantly it’s empowering individuals to make great decisions for their own kids. And I just want to reinforce, this is about — more than anything — empowering parents with actionable information about their own kids that they’ve never ever had before.”

Mary Fox-Alter on parents already having access to the data they need

“We’ve been monitoring fluency rates and how kids read and reading levels for a number of years now. All of that information is revealed to parents right now. A parent can log on in my district, log on to a teacher grade book and and look at all of the information. They could look at attendance records. I pay good solid money for that. This whole idea that we have to take all of this information, put it up into a big cloud called inBloom, pay additional money per child for doing this — it’s a waste of tax payers money, it’s a redundancy and it’s based upon assumptions that aren’t valid.”

“Do you realize that this new system is going to allow the collection of student suspension records by name? I put forth that this system does not afford the same protection to children’s privacy as our criminal justice system. So a child that might, for example, get an in-school suspension as a seventh or eighth grader or a high school student. And a child who’s been out in the criminal justice system will have his or her records sealed if they’re in the criminal justice system, but not in my student data inBloom cloud? It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Aimee Rogstad Guidera on many schools not yet providing this data

“Not every family is as lucky as those that get to live in Mary’s district. The vast majority of parents and families in this country do not have access to the information that Mary just said her families do in Pleasantville. And that’s a travesty. We shouldn’t limit the access to information based on where you’re lucky enough to live in a zip code that provides the kind of of information that Mary has. And that is an important role of the state education agencies — to ensure that they can guarantee that every parent, every citizen gets the information that they need to make informed decisions. And that’s a critical role of the state to play that.”

“On the issue about privacy, we believe so strongly — protecting and safeguarding data is a critical part of promoting the effective use of data. No one is going to use data that they believe is going to hurt their kids, or that’s going to come back and hurt them. And we need to do everything possible in the education sector to ensure parents and teachers and students themselves and taxpayers and citizens, that this sensitive data is being private and secure and confidential.”

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