New Shared Learning Collaborative Will Hand Over Confidential Student Data to For-Profit Corporations
Advocates for privacy, children, and education are demanding that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reconsider a controversial plan to share confidential student data with the Gates Foundation’s Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The Gates Foundation is building a national “data store” of personally identifiable information including student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, and most likely, special education needs, economic status, and racial identity as well. Today, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Citizens for Public Schools (CPS), the Massachusetts PTA, and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) sent a letter to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education urging the Board to make public its contract with the SLC, require parental consent before any data is shared with the Gates Foundation, and pledge that data will never be used for commercial purposes.
"This program forces public school students to trade their personal privacy for access to education — even without their knowledge or their parents' consent. Students in the Commonwealth should be able to trust that state officials will not quietly hand over intimate information about them en masse to private corporations or other third parties," said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at ACLU of Massachusetts.
Added Erik Champy, president of the Massachusetts PTA, "We have deep concerns about a commercial entity having access to private information about students and teachers and potentially using it for profit, and encouraging others to do the same. This data should never be used for commercial purposes and this matter should be investigated very carefully."
The Gates Foundation intends to turn over its trove of student data information to inBloom Inc., a newly formed corporation which plans to make that information available to commercial vendors to help them develop and market their “learning products.”
“Parents trust schools to safeguard their children’s confidential and sensitive data,” said CCFC’s Associate Director Josh Golin. “Sharing that data with marketers and commercial enterprises is a clear violation of that trust.”
Advocates’ concerns about the partnership include inBloom’s statement that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” to third party vendors. These concerns are heightened by the fact that the data store’s operating system is being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, which has been investigated for violating the privacy of individuals both here in the United States and in Great Britain.
"CPS members are concerned about the privacy of our student information and the use of that information by private outfits for profit-making ventures,” said CPS president Ann O'Halloran. “We seek clear information and assurances that private student information will be protected, and that parents will have the right to consent before their information is shared with such databases.”
Massachusetts is one of nine states, including New York, North Carolina, Colorado and Illinois that have agreed to turn confidential public school student records over to the Gates Foundation as part of Phase 1 of the Shared Learning Collaborative. Phase II states that have agreed to pilot the system starting in 2013 include Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Parents in New York expressed outrage when they learned that the New York State Education Department planned to give their children’s private information to the Gates Foundation without their consent.
“This entire project represents an unprecedented violation of the privacy rights of children and their families,” said Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of a New York-based organization Class Size Matters. “New York parents who are aware of this plan are horrified. I think it’s absolutely crucial that the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education widely publicize their plan, disclose the contract with the Gates Foundation, and give parents the right to consent before this highly sensitive information is shared with any organization or corporation that intends to provide it to commercial vendors.”
The organizations’ letter to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can be found at http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/sites/default/files/mass_bese_letter.pdf.