Archives for category: Privacy and Privacy Rights

Oklahoma has just experienced a fraud involving an online charter school called EPIC, which was accused of collecting money for ghost students and billing for excessive administrative overhead. It’s amazing how many of the big scandals in charter land involve the highly profitable online charters.

Now parents in Oklahoma are outraged that a new virtual charter obtained the names and addresses of their children. The charter is aligned to the Gulen movement.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has promised get to the bottom of this breach of student privacy.

The surveillance state is bearing down on us, our children, our grandchildren, all of us.

Audrey Watters is watching.

There is money in this business.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and co-founder of the national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy (and a member of the board of the Network for Public Education) writes here about the threat to student privacy in New York.

The New York Board of Regents is currently considering whether to approve a radical weakening of the state student privacy law, which would allow the College Board, the ACT and other companies that contract with schools or districts to administer tests to use the personal student information they collect for marketing purposes — even though the original New York law that was passed in 2014 explicitly barred the sale or commercial use of this data.

Starting in 2014, many states, including New York, approved legislation to strengthen the protection of student privacy, because of a growing realization on the part of parents that their children’s personal data was being shared by schools and districts with a wide variety of private companies and organizations without their knowledge or consent. The U.S. Department of Education had weakened the federal student privacy law known as FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) twice over the past decade, rewriting the regulations during the Bush and Obama administrations to allow for nonconsensual disclosures for different purposes.

At that time, few parents knew that federal law had been altered to allow their children’s information from being passed into private hands. Then controversy erupted over the plans of nine states and districts to share personal student data with a comprehensive databank called inBloom, developed with more than $100 million of funding from the Gates Foundation.

InBloom Inc. was designed to collect a wide variety of personal student data and share it with for-profit vendors to accelerate the development and marketing of the education technology industry to facilitate the adoption of online instruction and assessment. As a result of widespread parental activism and concerns, all nine states and districts that had originally intended to participate in the inBloom data-sharing plan pulled out, and 99 new state student privacy laws were passed across the country between 2014 and 2018.

New York was one of the first to pass a new student privacy law. In March 2014, the state legislature approved Education Laws §2-c and §2-d, which among other things, prohibited the state from sharing student data with inBloom or another comprehensive databank, and also regulated the way schools and vendors must secure student data, including imposing a complete ban on the sale of personal student information or its use for marketing purposes….

Yet to the frustration of many parents and privacy advocates, it would be nearly five years before New York State Education Department drafted any regulations to implement its 2014 student privacy law. In October 2018, the Education Department finally released proposed regulations for public comment. In March 2018, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, along with the statewide coalition New York State Allies for Public Education, submitted recommendations on how to strengthen and clarify those regulations, as did more than 240 parents and privacy advocates.

Yet after the initial period of public comment had ended, instead of strengthening the regulations, the state Education Department gutted them, and now proposed allowing student data to be used for commercial purposes as long as there was parental “consent” — a huge loophole that would create the opportunity for districts, schools and vendors to misuse this data in myriad ways.

Do you think it is okay to sell students’ personal data to marketers and vendors?


Leonie Haimson warns that New York State is considering changes that would make students’ personal data available to vendors without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

She writes:

“The New York Board of Regents is currently considering whether to approve a radical weakening of the state student privacy law, which would allow the College Board, the ACT and other companies that contract with schools or districts to use the personal student information they collect for marketing purposes – even though the original New York law that was passed in 2014 explicitly barred the sale or commercial use of this data.

“Parents and all others who care about protecting children’s privacy should send in their comments to the state now, by clicking here or sending their view to Deadline for public comment is Sept. 16. More on this below.”

Open her post to learn more about privacy laws and why they must be strengthened, not weakened, to protect students.

People can comment to NYSED here:

Chalkbeat reports that a parent has filed a federal complaint against Success Academy for releasing her daughter’s records to the media.

A former Success Academy parent filed a federal privacy complaint Thursday claiming the charter network violated her daughter’s rights by releasing her education records to a reporter, including notes from psychologists and her special education learning plan.

The complaint — which is unlikely to result in consequences for Success — comes in response to a Chalkbeat story published Saturday about Jazmiah Vasquez, a seven-year-old student with autism who has not been in school for a year and a half.

Lisa Vasquez, the student’s mother, claimed that Success Academy Prospect Heights, the last school Jazmiah attended, effectively pushed her out by repeatedly calling home about behavioral issues, threatening to call child services, and sending her back to kindergarten after she started first grade.

In response to questions from Chalkbeat about those allegations, Success officials provided detailed records of Jazmiah’s time at the city’s largest charter network, including contemporaneous notes from multiple educators and psychologists, progress reports, and a copy of Jazmiah’s individualized education program, a document that lays out students’ special education needs and services….

Success officials defended their disclosure of student records on the grounds that parents implicitly waive their rights if they go public with their complaints about a school.

An expert quoted in the article disagreed that the parent had waived her rights by filing a complaint and going public. 

Apparently FERPA is toothless since no school has ever been sanctioned by loss of federal funds for violating the privacy rights of students. 

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.

This report is a 50-state analysis of privacy laws, compiled by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Its leaders are Rachael Strickland of Colorado and Leonie Haimson of New York.

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,

Susan Edelman of the New York Post reports that the NYC DOE is under investigation by federal and state officials for giving personal information about students to a marketing firm hired by charter schools.

Wait! What about the long waiting lists?!

She writes:

“The city Department of Education reduces its enrollment by giving student names and addresses to a private vendor that produces mass mailings to help charter schools woo families.

“The longtime marketing practice has now come under investigation by state and federal officials after a Manhattan mom complained it violates student privacy rights.

“Each year my family receives a large number of pamphlets and flyers from charter schools, promoting and marketing their schools and urging me to apply, ” Johanna Garcia wrote to state and US officials.

“While Garcia has three kids in public schools, flyers have targeted her daughter who qualified for a gifted and talented program, she wrote, but not two other children with special needs.

“The DOE says it gives only student names, grade levels and addresses to Vanguard Direct, a bulk-mailing company, and forbids the company to share the data with anyone else.

“Charter schools — which are privately run but get taxpayer funds based on enrollment — hire Vanguard to send out hundreds of thousands of marketing materials aimed at recruiting kids.

“Major customers include charter chains Success Academy, Uncommon, KIPP, and Achievement First, said DOE spokesman Douglas Cohen. The DOE receives no payment from Vanguard, he said.

“In response to Garcia’s complaint, the New York state and US education departments said they are probing whether the marketing deal violates FERPA — a federal law which requires schools to get parent permission before releasing student information, except in limited cases.

“But Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said the reasoning makes no sense: “School districts lose funding and space when students enroll in charters. Why would the DOE use its own employees for that purpose?”

“Garcia agreed. “Vanguard makes money. Charter schools make money. All on the backs of regular public-school students.”

“The practice began more than a decade ago under ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg, when Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz said she needed the DOE data to market her charter schools. It has continued despite Mayor de Blasio’s less-friendly relationship with charters.

“Chancellor Richard Carranza told a town hall meeting in Harlem last week that DOE schools should better market themselves to stem the rise of charter schools, reported.

“But charter schools say they rely on the mailings to fill seats.”