More on Common Core: It’s about Snooping, Not Standards

Common Core national standards are weak, costly, politicized, and unconstitutional. That last fact tends to be downplayed among the education expert set, but it’s worth emphasizing that there’s a very good reason our federal government has no authority over education—a word, by the way, that does not even appear in our Constitution.

Recent revelations about what in fact is going on in government-run K-12 classrooms across the country in the name of  Common Core national standards underscore a leading rationale why Washington politicians and their special interest allies are not granted Constitutional authority over education: to protect students and their families.

Students’ privacy rights are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). As the Heartland Institute’s Joy Pullman noted earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a report with some chilling implications for student and family privacy:

Previous FERPA interpretations required data collectors to identify students by random numbers. No one knows what personal data the Common Core tests will collect, because those tests have yet to be written and released. But this information mother-lode has to come from somewhere. Since the tests are being written by private organizations, although entirely funded so far by the federal government, no one can do a public records request to find out. In short, the government wants to collect a dossier on every child, containing highly personal information, without asking permission or even notifying parents.

Those dossiers, or “programmatic portfolios” as ED calls them (here p. 94, and here p. 48), could contain such information as students’ disciplinary records, family income, health history, religious affiliation, and voting history.

In 2011 ED amended FERPA, including provisions relating to personally identifiable information (PII). And who will have access to this information? Well, just about anybody based on the revised statutes:

[C]ontractors, consultants, volunteers, or other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions…may be considered school officials with legitimate educational interests in students’ education records. …We agree that it is preferable to obtain consent before disclosing PII from education records… Nonetheless, Congress explicitly provided in FERPA that for certain purposes, PII from education records may be disclosed without consent. (here pp. 75607-75608)

It turns out privacy concerns were well founded because  non-academic, personal information is being collected through the two Common Core testing consortia (which received $170 million and $160 million in federal grants). Just last month the New York Times reported that information about family income, parents’ political affiliations, their religion, and students’ disciplinary records are being gathered—all without parental consent.

That information, including Social Security numbers of students in at least one state, is being shared with third-party data collection firms.

After reading the New York Times article, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demanding to know why his department had authorized such expansive data collection. Secretary Duncan was supposed to have responded by yesterday, but if he did, the response wasn’t readily available on the ED website earlier today.

As interesting as any official response would be, there is still no legitimate, much less Constitutional, reason for  the federal government to be spying on American citizens or their children.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
Full Biography and Recent Publications
Beacon Posts by Vicki Alger
  • Catalyst