54328Rye Neck, Pleasantville, Pelham, Pocantico Hills drop RttT funding - privacy concerns
- Oct 28, 2013http://www.lohud.com/article/20131027/NEWS/310270027/Several-area-districts-forfeit-funding-over-state-plans-student-data-collection
Several area districts to forfeit funding over state plans for student data collection
Data tied to federal funds is 'profiling'
School officials have become so uneasy about state plans for collecting data — and what they call potential “student profiling” — that several districts are dropping out of the Race to the Top initiative to try to avoid its requirements.
“There are real concerns about profiling , since the state wants us to provide disciplinary records, economic and social data, and more,” Rye Neck Superintendent Peter Mustich said. “Student data is sacrosanct. It’s disturbing to me that we don’t really know where the data will go.”
Superintendents say they don’t understand why the state wants about 400 categories of data, including student pregnancies, single-parent households and disciplinary records.
Mustich convened a meeting Thursday among about 35 local school officials and representatives of the state Department to discuss concerns about student data collection and its potential use. Educators came away unimpressed.
“Their answers to our specific questions about student privacy were ‘I’m not sure,’ ‘I don’t know,’ and ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ” Pleasantville Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter said. “They were not sure which personally identifiable student information will go to third-party vendors. But our students’ data is precious to us.”
The school boards of Rye Neck, Pleasantville, Pelham and Pocantico Hills voted this week to drop out of New York’s participation in the Race to the Top program, hoping they will be able to withhold at least some data from the state. Districts considering doing the same include Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson and South Orangetown.
Officials have two main concerns. First, the state is requiring all districts participating in Race to the Top to choose by Oct. 31 one of three new data “dashboards” prepared by contracted vendors. These dashboards are supposed to present student data in such a way that educators and parents will be better able to analyze student needs.
Second, New York plans to use inBloom, a nonprofit funded by big education players such as the Gates Foundation, to store encrypted student data in a Web-based “cloud.” New York’s participation is key to launching the would-be national project. Colorado and Illinois are participating on smaller scales, and other states are involved without submitting data for now.
New York plans to begin transferring data on more than 2 million students to inBloom by winter.
Ken Wagner, associate state education commissioner, said Friday that the state’s data plans constitute a “complicated initiative” that has been difficult to explain. He said district officials may not realize that the state has long been collecting extensive student data from them with the assistance of private companies. Federal law requires that much of this data be collected, he said.
“I guarantee that all 35 of those superintendents who met with us have been providing information to third-party vendors for 10 years,” he said. “If a superintendent is not aware of this, it’s because they haven’t asked the question until now.”
But Fox-Alter said educators are concerned with giving the information to inBloom for unclear purposes.
“We’re fine with the data staying in a New York-based warehouse,” she said. “Why doesn’t the state understand the difference?”
Wagner said inBloom will not release any student information without the consent of the state and school districts.
Pocantico Hills Superintendent Valencia Douglas said she can’t believe that extensive student data won’t be misused.
“Why are we desensitizing children and about sharing confidential information?” she said. “Sure, the state believes it will ensure privacy. But we have seen examples all across the country of information being hacked. I don’t believe this information will only be used in the appropriate matter, no matter what people’s intentions are.”
Districts dropping out of Race to the Top and forfeiting their fourth and final year of federal grant hope they will not have to provide as much data to the state. But Wagner said that while these districts won’t have to choose dashboards, they will still have to submit much of the same information.
“The vast majority of reporting requirements are federal,” he said.
Most suburban districts got small grants of $10,000 to $50,000. But for larger districts, dropping out of Race to the Top is a tougher question.
Ossining, for instance, could forfeit a $500,000 teacher-training grant that may be tied to Race to the Top participation, Superintendent Raymond Sanchez said. At the same time, more than 100 parents have asked that their children’s data not be sent to the state.
“We shouldn’t be put in this position,” Sanchez said. “The state needs to consider all the discomfort over the use of this data.”