A survey of more than 600 school board members across New York state found that 75 percent overwhelmingly oppose the education department’s plan to provide student data to a third-party vendor, according to the New York State School Board Association.
The poll also found that 78 percent of the school board members believe that parents should be able to opt out of having the educational and developmental records of their children shared with InBloom, a data storage company that has a contract with the State Education Department to collect student information such as names, addresses, disability, grades, standardized test scores, attendance, disabilities, psychological testing results and suspensions. Thirteen percent say they approve of sharing the information while 11 percent indicated that they were not sure.
“The majority of school board members who responded to our poll do not want the education department to share student data with InBloom,” said Timothy Kramer, the organization’s executive director. “Obviously, we have serious concerns about the security of the student data, how it will be used, and whether the collection of data will be useful to school districts around the state.”
New York State Education Commissioner John King got a loud laugh from the mostly-hostile crowd at Mineola High School on Nov. 13 when he admitted that the new data site being rolled out by the state and several non-profits —called InBloom — was as secure as they could make it, but there was never a guarantee that online data couldn’t be hacked.
“Tell that to the national security agency,” one man yelled out, referring to the breach in the super-secret agencies data last year.
One participant took up the question head on, asking King if she could opt-out of the program for her elementary school student.
“I am concerned about protecting the privacy of my student,” she said. “As he is a minor, I should be the one to decide which information about him goes into the cloud and which does not.”
King told her that the state needed the information to make decisions and that federal law required that the state collect that information.
"There can be no opt-out because we are required to aggregate that information,” he told the parent, assuring her that it would be kept safe, and never given or sold to an for-profit corporation or other entity.
Our goal is to protect our students, but to provide the same information available now in richer districts to poorer districts as well,” he said, drawing boos from the audience. “Some districts now have teacher portals and parent portals. Some districts can’t afford that, but now the state will be providing that for everyone in a cost-effective, yet secure way.”
“What every you put in there about my son will be there forever,” the parent said. “Will it be used someday for college entrance, or by prospective employees? You’re turning over my child’s private information to a corporation, albeit a non-profit. Nobody can tell me that any data that’s online or in a cloud can’t be mined by somebody with good computer skills.”
Another parent who had apparently gone to InBloom’s website, read the site’s disclaimer to the commissioner, pointing out that the company said in that disclaimer that it could not be held responsible for any information that leaks from the site
“I don’t want platitudes from you about security,” she yelled at King. “I want my child’s information withheld from the cloud, or I and others will file a lawsuit to keep you from putting it there.”
“We’ll do everything possible to keep it secure,” King answered to loud boos and catcalls.
Digitizing student data, which ranges from test scores to statistics on absenteeism from special education placements (and their attendant psychological evaluations) to disciplinary information, which the Education Department wants to eventually make available to parents through local school system online “dashboards” is funded, at least in the beginning, largely through federal funding as part of the Race to the Top Program.
But along the way, lots of questions cropped up about the protection of the data and on Wednesday the curiosity turned to outright ire against the Atlanta-based grant-funded non-profit firm that is organizing and maintaining the data. “Our ability to protect our privacy has not caught up with the mechanisms we use to collect and store data,” added Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who earlier told a state hearing that it was “outrageous” for state education officials to suggest school districts couldn’t operate without the data program. O’Donnell has proposed an opt-in bill.
State Sen. John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said that he was going to propose legislation early next year to create a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” in regard to student’s privacy and their school data. There would be an opt-out provision, penalties for privacy violations and a new “chief privacy officer” within the state education department who would be tasked with keeping student data secure from unauthorized third parties.
Flanagan called last week for a year’s delay in implementing the state plan.
“I think we need to take a step back,” he said. “The public I would say, at this point, is beyond frustrated.”
Education department spokesman Jonathan Burman defended the plan, saying that the state agency already supports measures that insure security of the information in the database. ices to parents or school staff.