Monday, November 18, 2013

PCS Not Concerned About Student Data Collection?

While many national and state leaders (as well as NYS Boards of Education, superintendents of schools, parent organizations) are alarmed about risks to student privacy posed by the student data collection and sharing that is going on in NYS, PCSD officials appear to support such data collection and apparently see no need to alert the public about possible risks.

When the district was recently FOIL'ed for a list of the categories of student information being sent to the State Education Dept.(like student names, addresses, test scores, special ed. designations, disciplinary records, etc.), they said no such document exists at PCS. (The BOE should have requested such a document already.) Instead, they sent a 246-page NYSED document entitled 2013-14 SIRS (Student Information Repository System) Manual. In addition, they sent two documents from DQC (Data Quality Campaign) - a national group touting the value of student data collection to inform instruction.

The district was also FOIL'ed for any correspondence between school officials and the public in which school officials warned the public of possible student privacy risks related to the massive collection of student data that will ultimately end up stored in a cloud and shared with certain for-profit private companies. School officials responded that no PCS documents (alerting the public) exist.

When public officials support transparency, they make information easily accessible to the public and they put it in a user-friendly form. When they want to be opaque, they bury the public in mounds of information that most do not have the time to sift through. In addition, the DQC documents can surely be construed as reflecting the district's pro data-gathering position since no other documents were forwarded that presented an opposing point of view to DQC.

Given the importance of student privacy, adults (elected officials, administrators, and community members) need to be aware of facts so they can take action to protect children. Board members must insist on transparency and ensure it is occurring. When only one side of an issue is made transparent by officials, ostensibly in order to sway public opinion or keep the public quiet, then trust is lost and advocacy efforts are thwarted.

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