Testimony to the Illinois Senate Education Committee
on behalf of Parents United for Responsible Education, More Than a Score, and Parents Across America
by Julie Woestehoff, PURE executive director
March 25, 2014
PURE, MTAS, and PAA strongly believe that parents must have control over any use of their children’s school data outside of the school building and the district. PURE and other parent groups are very concerned that the federal education department under Arne Duncan has made changes in federal FERPA laws that have opened the door to potentially massive sharing of student data without parental knowledge or consent. In late 2013, we became aware of a proposal in Illinois to share student data with the inBloom company and possibly other third parties in connection with the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE). PURE and More Than a Score joined with the ACLU of Illinois, Parents 4 Teachers, Raise Your Hand Illinois, the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the CReATE organization of university researchers, and the national group EPIC, to educate parents and others about this move, and to share our concerns with Chicago Public Schools and school board officials. I’m happy to report that CPS subsequently decided not to share student data with inBloom. While we are pleased that District 299 has chosen to opt out of the inBloom program, we are concerned that there are still districts in our state that may soon begin to transmit confidential student information to the state database, data that may be shared with third party for-profit companies without parental notification or consent. In fact, few parents have any idea that this is about to happen, and soon. When PURE and MTAS first began to talk about this issue, it was clear that many state officials, school board members, and the media, among others, were only hearing about it from us here in Chicago and Illinois, and from Parents Across America and a handful of other groups nationally. That is why we are so grateful to Senator William Delgado, sponsor of SB3092, and chief co-sponsors Senator Don Harmon and Senator Chapin Rose, for bringing forward this important bill. It is especially important considering what little information has been communicated to parents about the plans Illinois has for sharing their children’s school information. PURE supports SB3092 because, while state and local agencies claim that any data sharing will comply with applicable state and federal privacy laws, with FERPA recently weakened to omit parental oversight parents are not reassured. FERPA allows districts to decide what data is shared and with whom it will be shared. PURE supports SB3092 because, while we are further told that “industry best practices” will be in place to ensure that the data is protected, none of this provides adequate assurance to parents who know that, despite the sincerest of efforts, data breaches will happen that may dramatically impact children’s futures. PURE also supports SB3092 because the issue of student data privacy is deeply connected to the growing misuse and overuse of standardized testing, which I will just touch on here briefly. You may have heard about a recent dust-up in Chicago when some parents opted their children out of the state test. Parents are sick of the way testing has taken over schooling. Opting their children out of one test was a reflection of that frustration. People may disagree with these parents about the value of giving dozens of standardized tests every year to children as young as 4 or 5. But the fact that the district met this opposition with harassment and disinformation, and even pulled children out of class later to interrogate them (their words) about opting out, shows a level of focus on testing that is only going to get worse. In fact, implementation of the Common Core state standards and the associated tests is about to usher in a feeding frenzy in the “education marketplace.” And student data will become one of the main currencies in that marketplace. I will conclude by quoting Todd Farley, a recent guest essayist on the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog:
(T)he United States seems to be heading towards taking the decisions about American education out of the hands of American educators and instead placing that sacred trust in the welcoming arms of an industry run entirely without oversight and populated completely with for-profit companies chasing billions of dollars in business. When next some standardized test scores are found to be incorrect or fraudulent (because they will), or some standardized testing company commits or tries to cover up another egregious error (because they will), perhaps then we can admit large-scale assessment isn’t the panacea it’s often been touted to be. Perhaps then we can concede that an educational philosophy based on a system of national standardized tests isn’t any Brave New World of American education; it’s just a bad idea that even the Chinese are already turning away from as being too inefficient and antiquated.
SB3092 will provide a good start for refocusing education on learning and not testing.