ALBANY, N.Y. – The Common Core experiment is starting to unravel in New York.
To be clear, the new math and English learning standards that make up Common Core aren’t in danger of being repealed. New York students will still be educated according to terms of the so-called rigorous standards for the foreseeable future.
The part of Common Core that’s in jeopardy is the related K-12 technology industry that is designed to use student information – as found in massive state databases – to create personalized learning experiences for students.
Plans for personalized learning in New York schools are in doubt because parents in the Empire State are turning against the state’s plan to gather student-specific data from each school district and store the information in a central database.
For months, parents have been pleading with education officials and lawmakers to pull the plug on the database. Education Commissioner John King defends the plan as a cost-effective, highly secure way for teachers and parents to track how their students are performing in the classroom.
But a large number of parents are repulsed at the idea their children’s most personal and sensitive academic and behavioral information will be collected by the state. They also worry that inBloom – the Bill Gates-funded technology company chosen to manage the database – won’t do a sufficient job of protecting the information from hackers.
The brunt of the parents’ outrage, however, is directed at the state’s plan to make student-specific information available – without parental consent – to third-party, for-profit vendors that work with school districts to provide various educational and school management services.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of parent-led Class Size Matters, has condemned the data-sharing practice as “unethical” and possibly in violation of the state’s Personal Privacy Protection law of 1984.
State lawmakers are finally starting to listen to the parents’ loud complaints.
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Late last month, a bipartisan group of Assembly members aired their concerns about the database – known as EngageNY Portal – with Education Commissioner King.
“The fear that everyone has is that you were a jerk when you were in high school, you do something stupid and you get suspended,” Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan said, according to NYNow.org. “And now, five years later, you’re going for a job and Big Brother has found out that when you were a junior in high school you did something stupid.”
King defended the EngageNY Portal as very secure and praised the database as essential to getting important information to parents and teachers.
Lawmakers didn’t appear overly impressed with that defense, and indicated they will be considering legislation early next year to give parents more control over their child’s data, reports StarGazette.com.
State Sen. John Flanagan, the Republican chair of the Senate’s Education Committee, suggested the state could create its own version of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which would give parents considerable control over who has access to their child’s personal information.
Newsday.com reports, “Flanagan’s prediction that some sort of privacy measure could be drafted by the time the legislature opens its new season marks the Senate leadership’s first indication that it backs such a move.”
The news site also notes the other legislative chamber “passed two student privacy bills last spring,” and that Nolan, a Democrat, has expressed interest in “working with Flanagan and state education officials” to tighten “security of student records.”
Some New York districts aren’t even waiting for lawmakers to act. At least 28 districts have notified the state they’re dropping out of the inBloom-EngageNY Portal experiment, even though they’ll have to forfeit their share of the state’s Race to the Top federal K-12 grant to do so, reports StarGazette.com.
‘Waking up to this nightmare’
If New York lawmakers pass new data privacy laws, it will be a serious blow to the Common Core experiment.
The nationalized, one-size-fits all learning standards are designed to produce apples-to-apples data that – along with other personalized information collected by schools – can be used by K-12 technology companies to design software that customizes learning experiences for students.
For example, a K-12 technology company could craft a special math lesson for a struggling student using examples related to his favorite hobby. The company might even offer an animated computer game that reinforces those skills.
Education leaders are excited by the potential of those types of tailor-made learning experiences – almost as much as K-12 technology company officials are excited about the amount of money to be made off of such programs.
News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch, who owns Amplify, one of the nation’s largest educational technology companies, has described K-12 education as “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone.”
Some observers believe the main purpose of Common Core is to facilitate this personalized approach to learning – that the math and English standards (and the science and social studies standards that are soon to come) are primarily the building materials of this high-tech education system that’s being put in place.
As evidence, these observers point to the federal government’s decision two years ago to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to make third-party data-sharing possible. They also note the feds used a big slice of the 2009 stimulus bill to help states pay for longitudinal data systems that store the personalized information that’s necessary in making the K-12 technology revolution a reality.
But if parents in New York and other states are allowed to withhold their children’s information from third-party contractors, this entire system might sputter out.
Should that happen, all that would be left of the Common Core experiment are the standards themselves, which even some supporters acknowledge aren’t as strong as the ones they’re replacing in several states.
It’s fair to say this is not how Common Core advocates pictured their bold experiment would work out.
Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin hinted at that during last week’s hearing.
“They view this as a revolution in education. But the revolution that’s occurring is that the parents in New York State are waking up to this nightmare and saying ‘enough is enough.’