STUDENT AND EDUCATOR DATA AND PRIVACY

by , under Legislative Issues

On Wednesday, November 20th, NYSUT Executive Vice President, Andy Palotta, testified at the NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Education on the disclosure of personally identifiable student information by school districts and the State Education Department.  The following are excerpts from his testimony:

  • When New York was awarded $700 million dollars in Race to the Top funding, part of the framework of this education initiative required New York to build a data system that intends to measure student success and inform teachers and principals on how they can improve their practices. NYSUT believes that this data can be used effectively to improve teaching and learning while ensuring the privacy, security and confidentiality of students and educators.
  • The Education Department has now begun implementation of the Educational Data Portal, which has been cause for concern for educators and parents around the state. To host the new Education Data Portal, The State Education Department has contracted with inBloom, Inc., a nonprofit organization.  inBloom itself has generated some of the concern in the field, as educators and advocates question the lack of public oversight with inBloom, since the board is privately selected and not accountable to the public. The use of inBloom, and the Education Data Portal is already being overshadowed by a growing lack of public trust and concerns about security, privacy, sharing and exploitation of data.
  • inBloom has the following disclaimer on their website “inBloom, Inc. cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” The sensitivity of student and educator data that could be collected is of great concern. The collection points of data are vast, the 400 category data points which will be transmitted to inBloom and third parties include data not previously submitted – disability, religious affiliation, disciplinary and incarceration background.
  • Data and data driven instruction have been used by school districts for years. What is different in this transition is that for the first time ever, vast amounts of student data will be stored in a centralized location with a vendor that is contracted by the State Education Department. Further, the districts themselves will not be directly contracting with the vendor for data storage, a seeming loss of local control. It will also be the first time ever that a non-governmental organization will have a monopoly on all data in this state.
  • Further, the continued use of the new educational data portal will force districts to make a difficult financial choice. Although school districts are now able to use inBloom’s data portal for free, in two years, beginning in 2015, school districts will be required to pay an annual fee of no more than $5 per student and over time it could be as low as $2 per student.  This raises both fiscal and practical concerns, as it is unclear what happens to the data inBloom would have within their system if school districts choose to no longer use them as a vendor. How long will they keep both student and educator data?
  • We must protect the privacy and confidentiality of students and educators.
  • The use of cloud computing and cloud based security has also come under discussion. We must ensure that whatever polices are set, security of data must be addressed. Just two weeks ago there was a security breach of data in the Sachem Central School District. The state must continue to have oversight and data systems must be transparent to ensure that our student and educator data is protected – no matter what system the data resides in.
  • As you are aware, there is an increasing number of school districts that are forgoing future Race to the Top dollars so they can opt-out of the data portal system; we expect this to continue. The concern is so great that in an increasing trend, districts are actually forgoing educational funding from the federal government to opt-out of the data portal system.
  • To date, six out of nine states have pulled out of inBloom or put their plans on hold because of concerns over privacy: Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Delaware, Massachusetts, and as of last week Colorado.
  • Lastly, it is important to again note that we have used data systems in school districts for many years. But many in the field believe this may be too much change, too soon, at a time when school districts are already dealing with a poorly implemented and problematic roll out of Common Core, increased testing of our students, a new evaluation system, and decreased funding, resources and staff.  And now, we have to deal with the implementation of a new data system. It is one more thing that educators have to find the time to do.