Archives for category: Data and Data Mining

Leonie Haimson is a New York-based education activist who has two passions: reducing class size and protecting student privacy. She is co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. She writes today in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” about legislation that threatens the privacy of every college student. Do your part to stop this invasion of privacy by writing your member of Congress. Use the link to contact your representatives.

Haimson writes:

With practically no public notice and no public hearings, the House of Representatives passed the College Transparency Act (CTA) on Feb. 4, 2022, by slipping it into a much larger unrelated bill called the America Competes Act, intended to better position the United States to compete with China. The bill is now slated to go to conference with the Senate…

The CTA would authorize the federal government to create a comprehensive data system that would include the personal information of every student enrolled in college or another higher education institution, and track them through their entire lives, by collecting their names, age, grades, test scores, attendance, race and ethnicity, gender, and economic status, directly from their colleges, along with other highly sensitive information pertaining to their disabilities and/or “status as a confined or incarcerated individual.”

Then, as they move through life, this data would be “matched” with their personal data from the other federal agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and the Social Security Administration.

No student would be allowed to opt out of this database, and there are no provisions for their data ever to be deleted. Instead, this bill would essentially allow the federal government to create a perpetual surveillance system, vulnerable to breaches and abuse.

This bill would overturn the legal ban on the federal government’s collection of personal student data, otherwise known as a “student unit record” system. The ban was established as a privacy safeguard in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which “prohibits the creation or maintenance of a federal database of personally identifiable student information.”

Yet the federal creation of cradle-to-grave tracking system has been among the top priorities of the Gates Foundation and many of the groups they fund for years. In September 2016, Dan Greenstein, then the director of the foundation’s postsecondary division, told Politico that “[c]losely tracking student-level data remains at the top of the foundation’s list — something the foundation says can be accomplished by working around the federal government, which is banned from tracking students as they move through college,” although he hoped that “collective efforts could also work as a ‘lever’ to push Congress to reconsider the federal ban.”

The report that the foundation put out at the same time, entitled “Postsecondary Success Advocacy Priorities,” showed clearly that their goal was to overturn this prohibition and allow the federal government to directly collect this data for all children, starting at birth. This report has since been scrubbed from their website but is archived on the Wayback Machine here.

It says in part:

GOAL: Support the development of a comprehensive national data infrastructure that enables the secure and consistent collection and reporting of key performance metrics for all students in all institutions [emphasis theirs]. These data are essential for supporting the change needed to close persistent attainment gaps and produce an educated and diverse workforce with career-relevant credentials for the 21st century.

BACKGROUND: In this era of escalating costs and uncertain outcomes, it is important that prospective students, policymakers, and the public have answers to commonsense questions about whether and which colleges offer value: a quality education at an affordable price.

The Gates report included a chart that revealed the overarching and comprehensive nature of the infrastructure it envisioned, in which all “entities” would share their data, including “institutions/providers” before children even entered school, followed by state K-12 systems, colleges, and federal agencies such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, etc. Together, this data would be fed into a “National Postsecondary Data System.”

The year before, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP) had been established by Congress, with the stated goal to consider “whether a federal clearinghouse should be created for government survey and administrative data.” The commission first held hearings in Washington, D.C., on October 21, 2016, where many Gates-funded groups, including New America Foundation, Data Quality Campaign, Education Trust and Young Invincibles, testified in favor of weakening or overturning the ban on the federal collection of personal data.

The organization that I co-chair and co-founded, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, submitted comments to the commission, co-signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Network for Public Education, and other organizations, strongly opposing the overturning of the ban, noting that the potential risks to privacy were enormous from such a huge, centralized, comprehensive system.

According to the commission’s final report:
The Commission heard many substantive comments about the student unit record ban and received more feedback on the issue than on any other single topic within the Commission’s scope. Nearly two-thirds of the comments received in response to the Commission’s Request for Comments raised concerns about student records, with the majority of those comments in opposition to overturning the student unit record ban or otherwise enabling the Federal government to compile records about individual students.
Nevertheless, the commission recommended that the “Congress and the president should consider repealing current bans and limiting future bans on the collection and use of data for evidence building.”

In the meantime, it recommended the creation of a “National Secure Data Service to facilitate access to data for evidence building while ensuring privacy and transparency in how those data are used. … to temporarily link existing data and provide secure access to those data for exclusively statistical purposes in connection with approved projects. The National Secure Data Service will do this without creating a data clearinghouse or warehouse.”

In any case, in May 2017, a bipartisan group of senators, including Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Orrin G. Hatch (who was a Republican lawmaker from Utah at the time), introduced the College Transparency Act, which would overturn the ban on the federal collection of student data, and instead enable the government to track the employment and outcomes of college students throughout their lives.

Similar legislation was soon introduced in the House. As the reporter from Inside Higher Ed pointed out at the time: “While the bill has support from some Democrats and Republicans alike, its passage remains in doubt because opposition to a federal data system remains on the right and the left, based on privacy concerns and philosophical differences over the role of the federal government in higher ed.”

And while the CTA was resubmitted annually, there was little action by Congress during the intervening years. Nevertheless, the Gates Foundation and its allies kept pushing this idea, and last May, in yet another report, they again promoted the idea of a “federal student-level data network (SLDN) that provides disaggregated information about all students’ pathways and post-college outcomes, including employment, earnings, and loan repayment outcomes.”

With little warning, a few weeks ago, the CTA suddenly reappeared, at the last minute folded into the America Competes Act (ACA), although the ACA was an essentially unrelated bill focused on increasing the competitiveness of the United States with China. Even reporters who had in the past written about the CTA were not alerted in advance. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy heard about it from a D.C. insider two days before its passage, and rushed out a news release the day before, with quotes from several different advocacy groups in opposition, as well as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).

As Rep. Bowman pointed out:

We have been down this road before and know how people’s personal data can be abused. Under the Trump Administration we saw this play out in the form of ICE stakeouts in our communities that put people in danger of being deported, separated from their families, and having their lives completely destroyed from one day to the next. The College Transparency Act raises serious concerns about how the data of our students can be used and abused.”

The next day, the bill passed the House by a vote of 238-193, with only a few Democrats opposed, including Bowman and two of his colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.).
The bill will now go to conference with the Senate. The Senate passed its version of the legislation, known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), S.1260, last summer. And though the Senate version did not include the College Transparency Act, “supporters of the bill are very hopeful it will be approved by the conference committee that will review differences between the two bills,” according to a recent article.

On March 14, our student privacy coalition released a letter — co-signed by several other national privacy, consumer, education and parent groups — urging Congress not to pass this bill. As our letter pointed out, the bill would authorize the federal government to not only collect a huge amount of personal information, but also add to this nearly any other kind of data in the future, as long as the Department of Education thought it “necessary to ensure that the postsecondary data system fulfills [its] purposes,” although those purposes are not clearly defined.

And we once again emphasized how the risks of such a surveillance system outweighed the potential benefits by far:

Although the CTA’s supporters maintain that creating this massive federal system holds value for prospective students, history shows clearly how this sort of data collection has been used to target and violate the civil rights of our most vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities. We have also learned that whatever guardrails exist to protect student privacy and anonymity in the current bill could easily be amended in the aftermath of a national crisis, like 9/11, so the CTA data could be used to target current and former students simply because they are a member of a disfavored racial, ethnic, religious, or other vulnerable group. Whatever the value of such a system in terms of promoting accountability for higher education institutions may be, such benefits must be pursued through far less invasive means that do not threaten core American rights and values.

Surely, there are many less intrusive options that could be used to analyze and evaluate higher education outcomes, by using data sampling and use of aggregate data. The existing federal College Scorecard has been enhanced via the collection of aggregate, non-personally identifiable data drawn from colleges, and could be further strengthened by including aggregate data on part-time students, as well as data related to transfer students, contributed by the National Student Clearinghouse, an independent, non-governmental group. This would obviate any need for the federal government to collect and amass personal data from students and follow them throughout their lives.

Such a data system would not only be vulnerable to breaches, but also could have unanticipated negative consequences, by discouraging colleges from accepting the highest-need students to boost their ratings, and/or cause them to discourage their students from entering into careers that have great social value, but lower than average salaries, like teaching.

Please use this link to write your members of Congress and urge them to reject this Orwellian legislation.

The Financial Times reported a major data breach of personally identifiable student data on a website funded by the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, as we know, is a data aficionado. Several years ago, he created an ill-fated project called InBloom with the intent of gathering the personal data of millions of students. Fortunately it was killed off by parent activists Leonie Haimson and Rachel Stickland, who created the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. The “cloud” is not secure.

The personal details of hundreds of thousands of US students were exposed to hackers after a database was left unsecured by Get Schooled, an education charity set up by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom. Get Schooled was set up a decade ago to help students from low-income, minority and immigrant backgrounds with their college applications and financial aid, and to offer job advice. But it left a database of 125m records, including 930,000 email addresses belonging to children, teenagers and college students, “open and accessible” earlier this year when it overhauled its website, said the UK cyber security company TurgenSec. TurgenSec said the database included names, age, gender and school and graduation details of the individuals. Contact information such as addresses and phone numbers was also accessible.

Naomi Klein coined the iconic book Shock Doctrine, about the way that the powerful elites use emergencies to expand their power because of the crisis. New Orleans was one of her prime examples of “disaster capitalism,” where the devastation of a giant hurricane created an opportunity to break the teachers union and privatize the public school system.

In this brilliant essay, published in The Intercept, Klein describes the many ways in which the plutocrats of the tech industry are turning the pandemic into a gold mine for themselves and planning a dystopian future for the rest of us.

Please read this provocative and frightening essay, which has numerous links to support her argument.

What she details is not just a threat to our privacy and our institutions but to our democracy and our freedom.

It is no coincidence, she writes, that Governor Andrew Cuomo is enlisting a team of tech billionaires to reimagine the future of the Empire State. They know exactly what they want, and it’s up to us to stop them.

She writes:

It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

Anuja Sonalker, CEO of Steer Tech, a Maryland-based company selling self-parking technology, recently summed up the new virus-personalized pitch. “There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology,” she said. “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”

It’s a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails. Of course, for many of us, those same homes were already turning into our never-off workplaces and our primary entertainment venues before the pandemic, and surveillance incarceration “in the community” was already booming. But in the future under hasty construction, all of these trends are poised for a warp-speed acceleration.

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploition. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Alan Singer writes her about the massive data breach at Pearson, which was covered up for nearly a year.

He writes:

“And you thought it was safe to sign into a test at Pearson Vue. Well you better think again. At least one Pearson online product was hacked exposing student data from 13,000 schools and one million college students. The hack occurred in November 2018, the F.B.I informed Pearson in March 2019, and Pearson, covering itself for as long as possible, finally went public with the disclosure in July 2019.

”The hacked product is Person’s aimsweb®, that is used to monitor student reading and math skills. Pearson’s assessment sub-division markets the product with claims that “its robust set of standards-aligned measures, aimswebPlus is proven to uncover learning gaps quickly, identify at-risk students, and assess individual and classroom growth.” A side benefit, especially useful for authoritarian regimes, is that aimsweb® also monitors student online “behavior.””

Parents who sued were offered a year of free credit monitoring. They said no thank you.


Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gates apparently feel they are not winning enough battles in the court of public opinion, so they have created a lobbying organization to promote their ideas in Congress and state legislatures. 

Will the Gates lobby push for Common Core? For more high-stakes testing? For more federal funding for charter schools? For evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students? For more technology in the classroom?

These are but a few of Bill Gates’ failed education initiatives. Has he learned from failure or will he use his C4 lobby to push his failed ideas even more?

Bill and Melinda Gates have launched a lobbying organization to advocate for issues in health, education, and poverty, The Hill reported on Thursday.

The Gates Policy Initiative, which was announced on Thursday, will work with lawmakers on issues such as global health, global development, moving people from poverty to employment, and education for black, Latino, and rural students. The initiative, which will be a 501(c)(4) organization under the US tax code, is independent from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the billionaire couple’s philanthropic organization.

Rob Nabors, the director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the former White House director of legislative affairs during the Obama administration, told The Hill that the Gates Policy Initiative would work in a bipartisan way.

In an article in The Hill, Rob Nabors said the new lobbying organization would reflect the work of the foundation.

Much of what they’ve learned running their foundation will help them through the process of establishing a lobbying shop.

“Probably the most important point for us is similar to the way Bill and Melinda have approached their philanthropic giving and other things that they do. They are interested in learning what works and what doesn’t work,” Nabors said.

He said that if they are not successful in a couple of years, they will “shutter the shop and figure out what else could potentially be done.”

“I think that experimental type of approach, that innovative type of approach, is both relatively unique in this space and embedded into the DNA that Bill and Melinda bring with them,” he said.

Nabors said that when he worked in the Obama White House, his job was often described as the White House chief lobbyist.

“I’m excited to get back into the mix of talking to people specifically about the work that they are doing every day, trying to put bills together that will make people’s lives better,” he said.

He added that Bill and Melinda Gates also bring a unique lens to a lobbying shop.

“They are very data-focused so a number of the types of issues that we will be exploring and the solutions that we are exploring are based on data that we collected from programs that we funded,” he added.


Well, here is a nice development for those of us who object to depersonalized learning. The data analytics firm called Knewton is going out of business. Knewton was acquired by Pearson and was supposed to be the ultimate refinement of data mining.

Peter Greene describes the rise and fall of Knewton here.

The founder and CEO of Knewton was Jose Ferreira, who believed he was bringing Big Data into the classroom. He claimed in a video that with his techniques, his company knew more about students than their parents did. Here is an article from 2013 in which his vision is portrayed as the wave of the future, one of those inevitable phenomena that would envelop us whether we liked it or not.

Here he is, extolling the virtues of data mining. 

Knewton sounded too much like Brave New World to me, and I resented the fact that investors were creating a technology to spy on our children.

Peter Greene writes:

Adaptive learning. Computer-enhanced psychometrics. Personalized learning via computer. Knewton was going to do it all. Now it’s being sold for parts.

Knewton started in 2008, launched by Jose Ferreira. By 2012, Ferreira led the ed tech pack in overpromising that sounded both improbable and creepy. In a Forbes interview piece, Ferreira described Knewton as “what could become the world’s most valuable repository of the ways people learn.” Knewton could make this claim because it “builds its software into online classes that watch students’ every move: scores, speed, accuracy, delays, keystrokes, click-streams and drop-offs.”

Developments like this offer hope that other massive invasions of privacy, which are inherently dehumanizing, will fail. I’m on the side of flawed and fallible human beings. Teachers and parents, not machines.

Please join this free webinar on protecting your privacy and the privacy of students.


A few weeks ago, it was reported that the personal information of 500,000 San Diego students, former students and school staff was exposed in a massive breach. At about the same time, education institutions and organizations were rated as the worst sector for cybersecurity in a 2018 report.

We invite you to join us for a short webinar on Jan. 20, with important tips on how teachers and district/school staff members can better protect their students’ privacy of and their own.

We will be offering guidance along with Marla Kilfoyle of the Badass Teachers Association from our Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy, released this fall. Educators will receive a certificate of participation. Don’t miss out! Space is limited!

When? Sunday, January 20 from 6-7 PM EST (3-4 PST). We’re saving lots of time for questions!

How? Sign up here – it’s free!

We hope to see you on the 20th.

Leonie Haimson and Rachael Stickland
Co-Chairs, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

The New York State Allies of Parents and Education issued this “action alert”:

Dear Allies,

URGENT – PLEASE TAKE ACTION and DEMAND the Board of Regents and NY State Education Department RETURN the MISGUIDED Gates Foundation Grant.

Last month, NY Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia asked the Board of Regents to approve a new $225,000 grant from the Gates Foundation for enhanced communication efforts around the standards, testing and data collection — to convince parents that State Ed is on the right track in all these areas. The Board voted 14 -2 to approve this grant, with only Regents Cashin and Ouderkirk voting no and Regent Johnson was absent.

The Gates Foundation has been behind some of the most controversial — and unsuccessful — education policies in history, including persuading states to adopt the Common Core standards, evaluate teachers based on test scores, and expand the collection and disclosure of highly personal student information as part of its $100 million dollar inBloom project. .

Luckily, New York parents and educators across the state defeated inBloom, but the state is still planning to expand its collection of student data from early childhood through college. The new standards that NYSED has developed are still developmentally inappropriate and little different from the Common Core and there is still too much emphasis on flawed high-stakes testing. Moreover, NYSED has failed to enforce the state student privacy law, passed in 2014 in the wake of the controversy over inBloom — though the legal deadline for implementation was more than four years ago. Meanwhile, NYSED’s own data system has been audited twice by the NYS Comptroller, and found to be highly insecure and vulnerable to breaches.

PLEASE CLICK HERE to TAKE ACTION and DEMAND that the Regents give back the Gates funds and instead of trying to hoodwink us into accepting State Ed’s flawed policies, include parents in authentic decision-making on all issues affecting our children, including standards, teacher evaluation, and privacy. The State Education Department should also be barred from any effort to expand student data collection until the 2014 student privacy law has been fully enforced and the SED’s own data system made secure.

Thank you,

Larry Cuban was asked this question by a reporter. His answer was no, because part of the job of a teacher is to conduct surveillance of students and to monitor their work.

“..Maintaining order and constant surveillance of students has been, historically, what teachers have to do in order for students to learn. Before there were computer devices and monitoring software, teachers walked up and down aisles of desks and around the perimeter of the classroom inspecting what students were doing.

“It was the job of the teacher to know that students were working on what the teacher asked them to do.

“In my judgment, when a teacher looks at student screens while a lesson is underway, there is no invasion of student privacy. It is simply what teachers do as part of their role in guiding student learning.”

He does not engage in the issues that most concerns readers here: the mining of student data collected by the software corporation as students work and the relentless drive by tech companies not only to monetize personally identically information, gathered without the knowledge or consent of students, but the effort by those corporations to replace expert teachers with technology.

Take this short survey.

The Badass Teachers and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy are working on a Teacher Privacy Toolkit and would like educators and other school or district staff to respond to a survey about data practices in their schools. This is important to ensure that the toolkit is as useful as possible and responds to educators’ concerns about their students’ privacy and their own.

The link is here:

The survey will close on March 18 so please help them out!