Why the Data Quality Campaign wants states to keep the Common Core


On Friday, Rob McKenna, board chair of the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign, wrote an oped for the Seattle Times that appeared to be a response to the article Cheri Kiesecker and I wrote for the Washington Post Answer Sheet on Thursday.

In our piece, we explained how the Gates Foundation and the federal government, with the encouragement of the Data Quality Campaign, has spent millions of dollars to fund student longitudinal databases (SLDS), designed to track children from birth or preK onwards, amassing a huge amount of their personal information to be shared among state agencies, between states, and with third parties, all without parental knowledge or consent.

Before heading DQC’s board, Mr. McKenna was the Washington Attorney General from 2005 to 2012, before leaving to run for Governor, unsuccessfully.  It was Mr. McKenna who apparently told the Gates Foundation that the multi-state student database it was planning, and that Washington belongs to called WICHE, was illegal under federal privacy law, and that FERPA would have to be amended to allow this – which Arne Duncan promptly did in 2012.  As one of the founders of WICHE explained,

….based on a subsequent [to October 2010] conversation with a member of the Washington State Attorney General’s office, our plans to actually exchange personally identifiable data among the states would be impermissible under the FERPA guidance in effect at that time. …Changes in the federal government’s guidance on FERPA that went into effect in January, 2012 resolved this problem.

Not surprisingly, Mr. McKenna does not mention this fact.  Nor does he focus on the main topic of our article, student longitudinal databases, but instead, on the need for the state to remain committed to the Common Core, which he argues “has no impact on how states and schools collect and use student data. If a state were to repeal Common Core tomorrow, no changes would be made to schools’ data-privacy protocols. What’s more, four federal laws prohibit the creation of a federal database with students’ personally identifiable information.”

While this is narrowly true, the creation of multi-state databases will mirror what the federal government has wanted to achieve, but has been legally prevented from doing.  In addition, sharing and comparing student data among states is far less useful if they have different standards and different tests, which is presumably why Mr. McKenna is so insistent that Washington not abandon the Common Core standards, and their aligned exams, produced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

If the member states agree, SBAC will also be able to pool personal student data, and disclose it to vendors and other third parties without parental consent.  Most worrisome is how SBAC has refused to provide parents with its privacy policy, even after being repeatedly asked to do so.  I would urge Washington parents and those in other SBAC states to request its privacy policy, and if they do not receive it, opt their children out of these exams.

The state of Washington has just received a new $7 million federal grant to further expand its student database, to analyze and share with third parties the “data explosion” they have amassed, in their words.  Here is an excerpt from their proposal abstract (emphasis below is mine):

“… significant resources are devoted to increased data access, more and more effective data visualization, the expansion of online reporting, and to increasing the understanding of the use of P20W data not only for analysis but also for decision-making. Just as important will be new ground that will be broken by the project through analyzing and researching outcomes for student populations receiving social services, students involved in the state’s juvenile justice system, and students receiving state financial assistance. ..The project would provide resources to ERDC and its partners to more quickly exploit the massive amounts of data available as well as create new research partnerships and cement old ones.”

All parents, including those who live in Washington, should demand to see what personal data your state is collecting for your children,  amend it if it is incorrect, and find out what third parties may have been given access to it –which is still your right under federal law.

See also the response to McKenna’s oped by WA privacy activist, Melissa Westbrook.