Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Student Privacy Concerns Add to Common Core Resistance

There are many things to hate about Common Core standards. From convoluted, unsolvable math problems, to an increased reliance on soulless standardized testing, to a lack of local control and adaptation to individual circumstances, just about everyone can find something to object to. One of the most concerning aspects of the program, however, is the invasive collection of personal data from students, an area that has received far too little attention in media discussions of education.

All states opting into Common Core have agreed to substantially expand their State Longitudinal Data Services program, which allows schools to collect and store student data. In exchange for this enhanced data collection, states received federal grants from Race to the Top, essentially a cash prize for schools that do things the Department of Education wants them to do under the blanket terms “innovation,” “reform,” and “excellence.”

The exact nature and extent of the data to be collected remains the subject of disagreement. Several groups are alleging that extremely sensitive personal information, such as mental health info, is being collected, although this has been denied by state Departments of Education. The words and actions of government officials, however, tell a different story, and indicate that we should be loath to take such dismissals at face value.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in outlining the administration’s goals, said the following in a 2009 address:

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 completed college on time and whether those things have any bearing on his earnings as an adult.

This is a bit creepy in its scope, but at least it focuses on academic metrics. A 2013 study from the Department of Education paints a far more chillingly Orwellian picture of the future of American schools. The study recommends the tracking of student moods and psychological conditions, even going so far as to suggest that technologies such as facial expression cameras and eye-movement trackers be used to evaluate student attitudes. Are we really meant to trust these people when they claim they are not interested in invasive data mining of every student?

At the very least, we should be worried about the lack of transparency. When experts of different political persuasions can look at the same program and come to different conclusions about what it actually does, there is obviously a need for greater clarity. Parents need to know what sort of information is being collected from their children, and who has access to it.

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents have a right to access the data if they are willing to invest the time and effort. However, the Department of Education has acted unilaterally to allow other government agencies—or even third parties such as companies that make education products—access to student data without any parental notification requirement. Furthermore, FERPA does not protect data privacy on students who are homeschooled by their parents.

Some states, such as Florida and Louisiana, have passed legislation in an attempt to curb student data collection, but analysts have warned that these programs are not severable from the main thrust of Common Core, meaning that states will need to go further in removing the standards altogether if they want a functional education system.

Fortunately, the trend appears to be promising for opponents of Common Core. No fewer than three governors—Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Scott Walker—have rescinded their earlier support for the standards, several states have withdrawn entirely, and several more, such as Ohio and Tennessee, are taking affirmative steps to withdraw early next year. Teachers, parents, children, and even some of the country’s largest unions have turned against Common Core, recognizing what an unworkable disaster the program represents.

The Department of Education has succeeded in promoting a policy so dangerous to student privacy that opposition is rapidly nearing unanimity. If only government regulators were always this self-defeating.


First new grammar school for 50 years likely to win approval

Britain's first new grammar school for 50 years is likely to be given the go ahead in a move which will help quell a Conservative rebellion.

Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, is expected to approve the new school in Kent in January following a submission of updated principles by a local Conservative council.

Her decision is likely the be applauded by senior Tory MPs, who have called for an expansion of grammar schools to be included in the Conservative manifesto.

The new school will open in the town of Sevenoaks, officially as an "annexe" of the existing Weald of Kent school nine miles away. The new school – which already has planning permission and a £16 million building fund – will admit 90 pupils a year from 2016.

Previous proposals were rejected by Michael Gove, then education secretary, after they failed to clear bureaucratic hurdles put in place by the previous Labour government.

Kent county council has insisted the updated plan will be "compliant with the regulations" which state that any new grammar school must be the satellite campus of an existing institution.

The previous plan would have created a mixed "annexe" to the existing girls' grammar school. Under the new plan the Sevenoaks site will also be girls – only.

The Daily Telegraph understands the Mrs Morgan believes the new application is "much stronger" and is likely to approve it in January.

David Cameron and his education ministers have so far resisted calls to repeal a ban on the opening of new grammar schools, which select pupils on the basis of their academic ability through the “11-plus” exam.

But a grassroots Tory group, Conservative Voice, is building support among backbench MPs for a change in policy which it says would be popular with millions of middle-class parents.

Damian Green, one of the MPs, said: "I'm delighted that this will be the first new grammar school for decades. I hope it's the first of many. It shows that it is possible to create grammar schools even under the existing laws.

"I would like to see a change of law so this is an option for parents in many other parts of the country. There is room for grammar schools because they are the best way of spreading opportunity to children from disadvantaged backgrounds."

There are 164 grammars in England. The best dominate secondary school league tables for exam performance, as their pupils outshine their peers in fee-paying private schools.

Mr Cameron, who was educated at Eton, triggered a furious row within the Conservative party in 2007 after ruling out an expansion of grammar schools, saying parents do not want their children “divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11”.

Last week, it emerged that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is backing similar plans for a grammar school annexe in her Maidstone constituency. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary and MP for Sevenoaks, has supported the Kent plan, saying it is "deeply unfair to parents in my constituency" that the town does not have a grammar school.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, became the latest leading Conservative to back the expansion of academic selection, saying grammar schools have been the "great mobilisers and liberators of people".


Nicky Morgan: ex-soldiers to teach children 'grit'

Pupils will be taught the value of “grit" and "determination” under plans to use former soldiers to strengthen the “character” of the nation’s schoolchildren.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, has allocated almost £5 million to eight projects in England to help pupils learn resilience, self-confidence and respect.

Schools that are particularly successful at developing “well rounded” pupils will be given awards by a panel of education experts, under the plan.

Mrs Morgan, who became Education Secretary in the summer reshuffle, said the courses would help pupils develop the “character and resilience” they need to succeed afer leaving school.

“For pupils who may have faced challenges or difficulties in their personal life, these initiatives run by former armed services personnel can offer a sense of greater aspiration and can help build the skills and confidence they need to go on to good jobs and successful futures," she said.

“Coupled with the new character awards schools will now have the tools and support they need to ensure they develop well rounded pupils ready to go onto an apprenticeship, university or the world of work.”

Last year, more than 52,000 pupils took part in projects run and designed by former service personnel to instil a “military ethos” in schools.

The courses encourage pupils to volunteer, understand how to learn from mistakes and overcome failures, try out new activities, and develop aspirations for their lives. The government has now allocated an extra £4.8 million to these “military ethos” projects.

In a separate move, schools that build character, resilience and grit in their pupils will be recognised through a new national competition.

The "Character Awards" will offer cash prizes of £15,000 each for up to 27 schools across England. One further national prize of £20,000 will be given to the school judged to be the best in the country at developing character.


No comments: