Wednesday, April 29, 2015

New Jersey Parents, Activists Raise Student Privacy Concerns

Parents and other interested parties in New Jersey skirmished with state education officials in March over the Pearson testing company monitoring students’ social media posts regarding Common Core-aligned PARCC testing. Pearson contacted the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) over a Twitter post the company found objectionable. NJDOE then contacted the school district of the student who posted the tweet, and the student removed the post. Parents came forward to say they have concerns over student privacy and free speech rights of students regarding educational testing companies such as Pearson.

“This issue is both a free speech and a privacy issue,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “Pearson has good reason to suppress any discussion of its exams, which have been shown to be very low quality in the past.”

Upset Parents 

“Parents are upset across the spectrum,” said Julia Rubin, a volunteer for Save Our Schools NJ. “Nobody knew what was going on. Not just that they were monitoring. I think it’s the idea that they are monitoring in coordination with the NJDOE. NJDOE then went to the district.”

Rubin says students were not told they couldn’t talk about the testing at all, but had only been told they couldn’t take photos of the tests.

“I put a lot of the blame on the NJDOE,” said Rubin. “This type of behavior may lead to an environment where students are afraid to talk about the standardized tests at all.

“You get to a point where students don’t know what is and is not allowed, which means you might not say anything,” Rubin said. “That definitely infringes on the free-speech rights of these students.”

Haimson and Rubin both question how realistic and plausible it is to keep students as young as eight from speaking about testing, which takes place over the course of a month. Many parents and activists say students should be able to talk about the tests, including talking about questions and content after the taking the tests, unless they are doing so in order to cheat.

Massive Data Collection

“[Pearson representatives] provided staggering information about the personally identifiable information that [Colorado school] districts upload to the Pearson testing system, as well as ‘device and response’ information they gather during test administration,” said Rachael Stickland, who is based in Colorado and co-chair of Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

Among the information collected during PARCC testing is data on economic status, race, and ethnicity, whether a student has migrant or immigrant status, whether a student is homeless, and even whether a student has ever been expelled or not, Stickland says.

“Pearson told our state board that any student data they collect belongs solely [to] the state and that they, Pearson, are expressly limited in their contract with the state of Colorado to ‘use’ student data only under specified terms,” said Stickland. “I would like to know if there is a provision in the contract that allows Pearson employees to access student-level information in their database to identify individual students with the intent to locate those children. If so, this puts children at great risk of identity theft as well as other vulnerabilities. If not, how will the Pearson employees be disciplined for unauthorized access to student records?”

Another Data Dump Halted

Both Stickland and Haimson say the Colorado case is not the only example of uploading of large amounts of student data online without consent from parents. Parents in several states fought for more than two years to stop inBloom, which eventually shut down following public outcry. Officials in those states were uploading personal student data to third-party vendor inBloom. The data sometimes included Social Security numbers and details of familial relationships such as whether a student was a foster child, and reasons for enrollment changes, such as a student leaving school as a victim of a violent incident.

Pearson’s monitoring of social media posts is considered a common business practice, but the amount of information and what the information is being used for raise questions for parents and activists, Haimson says. Pearson uses Caveon Test Security, a subcontractor, to monitor social media posts regarding PARCC testing. Pearson and Caveon say searches only pull from publicly available web pages, which are viewable by anyone.

“We are also very concerned that Pearson and its tracking vendor, Caveon, is monitoring students and locating them through the data they’ve scooped up through PARCC,” Haimson said. “PARCC itself has a very weak privacy policy. Like inBloom, it is a way for states to get access to a huge amount of personal student data and share it with third parties without parental notice or consent—and Pearson claims the right to use this data to help states and districts decide which kids should be held back, and how teachers and schools should be rated. Caveon has had its own problems, with many questioning the quality of its work in DC and Atlanta.

“In [the New Jersey] case, either Pearson or Caveon apparently reported erroneous information to the NJDOE claiming the student had posted a photo of the exam, which was incorrect,” said Haimson.

Legislation Proposed

New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) are sponsoring a bill to require employees of state-contracted companies to undergo the same background check as public school employees before receiving access to students’ personal information.


Tennessee's Common Core Repeal Bill Is Weak, but an Encouraging Start

Common Core standards are about to go away in Tennessee, but will their replacement be any better?

It appears that Tennessee will be next state in line to repeal the increasingly unpopular Common Core education standards, joining South Carolina, Missouri, and Oklahoma. This week, the state House passed HB 1035 unanimously, a bill that calls for Common Core standards to be repealed and replaced with standards designed by the state. The state Senate followed shortly thereafter, passing the bill by a vote of 27-1.

As Common Core repeal bills go, this one could certainly have been stronger. There is no language in the bill about testing requirements or the student data collection that is concerning to many parents, and the multi-commission process for replacing the standards will seem overly bureaucratic to many. Moreover, there is nothing in the bill forbidding standards common to a large number of states, or partnerships with the federal government on standards.

The local group, Tennessee Against Common Core has warned of a mere rebranding like what we saw in Indiana, where Common Core was replaced with nearly identical standards. This is certainly a valid concern, given the current federal laws require standards similar to Common Core in order to qualify for federal education funding.

Whether or not a mere “rebranding,” as opposed to more substantive reforms, will occur in Tennessee will be left in the hands of the education commissions set up by the bill, and the work they do. There is little in HB 1035 to reassure skeptics of a good outcome.

The fact that a repeal of Common Core was able to achieve unanimous support in the state House and near unanimous support in the state Senate is a testament to how bad these standards really are and how much we need to reverse them. While HB 1035 is far from perfect, it is encouraging that so many lawmakers of both parties were able to agree that something has to be done to fix education.

As the public becomes more educated on the issue and more states fight to regain control over their education systems, we can look forward to stronger bills in more states, until we finally end Common Core nationwide.


Army Cadets on Campus Forced to Wear Red High Heels and Raise Awareness of Debunked ‘Rape Culture’

Those who did their homework in 2008 knew that when Barack Obama was elected, all aspects of American society would suffer unprecedented levels of  left-wing lunacy, but did anyone think it would come to this?

Patriotic young cadets — America’s future warrior — pressured to walk around in bright red high heels on campus — against their will  – or face retribution.

Via the Washington Times:

Army ROTC cadets are complaining on message boards that they were pressured to walk in high heels on Monday for an Arizona State University campus event designed to raise awareness of sexual violence against women.

The Army openly encouraged participating in April’s “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes” events in 2014, but now it appears as though ROTC candidates at ASU were faced with a volunteer event that became mandatory.

“Attendance is mandatory and if we miss it we get a negative counseling and a ‘does not support the battalion sharp/EO mission’ on our CDT OER for getting the branch we want. So I just spent $16 on a pair of high heels that I have to spray paint red later on only to throw them in the trash after about 300 of us embarrass the U.S. Army tomorrow,” one anonymous cadet wrote on the social media sharing website Imgr, IJReview reported Monday.

The only silver lining to this story is that comments on social media – Twitter, Facebook,  Reddit, and Tumblr –  have been overwhelmingly negative. In fact, I have yet to see a comment in support of this embarrassing nonsense.

“This makes me want to throw up!” said one Twitter user. “No doubt…. Too many mentally ill people have gotten into positions of power who then put their mentally ill friends into power,” said a another savvy tweeter.

In a Reddit discussion thread on the subject — titled, “Okay, who put the cadets up to this?” — a user confirmed that the claims were legitimate and added, “I just don’t understand why [General] Combs would court political controversy like this. Isn’t the military supposed to avoid faddish political movement and religious issues.”

During the Obama years, the military has become a hostile environment for Christian chaplains, and Christians in general. By the spring of 2013 — after Obama had been safely reelected — the hostility became palpable. That April, it was widely reported that an Army instructor in Pennsylvania had labeled evangelical Christians, Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Mormons “religious extremists” alongside Hamas and al Qaeda during an Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief on extremism.

Later that month, an Army officer at Ft. Campbell, KY, sent an email to subordinates using similar descriptions to describe two mainstream Christian ministries that were put in the same category as Neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan. Shortly after that, the United States Army blocked the website of the Southern Baptist Convention from government computers.

Now we see the fundamental transformation of our military taking giant (and high-heeled) strides at ROTC detachments at college campuses.

Said my 14-year-old daughter as she happened by my computer while the photo of the cadets wearing heels was displayed: “Welp — there goes the military.”


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