Common Core: Who's Watching the Kids?

Common Core is about more than just a shift in educational standards.  The architects of Common Core have always planned to integrate computer technology with Common Core standards under the guise of “closing the digital divide” and “preparing our children for the 21st-century workplace.”  They want us to envision “educational equality,” where each student has access to the same technology and resources, including his or her own one-to-one device (one student, one device).  These sound like worthwhile goals, but we know better.

Initially, in order to continue to be eligible for Obama’s “Race to the Top” federal funding, states were obligated to implement a Student Longitudinal Database System (SLDS), used to track students from preschool through college (P20-WIN).  Some of us may recall the many reports about measuring 400 data points.  This is part of SLDS.  Those of us who are paying attention may have assumed that these data points were going to be gathered via the Common Core assessments.  Perhaps some of us assumed that “opting out” or refusing the test would keep us safe.  Not so fast.  Could these one to one devices be another carefully disguised method of software-driven mass surveillance of students?  And in what other ways is data being collected?  Parents, you need to take a closer look at this.  

We are headed back to school, and this year, all across America, more and more classrooms will be filled with children innocently using their iPads or other handheld devices.  Children may be playing interactive educational games, doing interactive assignments, and writing stories that can be easily shared with the teacher and other students.  These seemingly harmless activities are in fact being used to collect personal and private information without the parents’ consent or knowledge.

Could that educational game be used to measure your child’s mental state?  Could those interactive assignments involve morally ambiguous questions that can be used to create a psychological profile of your child?  Could that shared story be used to predict violent behavior?

Besides the one-to-one handheld devices, there are other methods of collecting data, such as written school surveys and notes taken by teachers, guidance counselors, and other school officials who may not even realize that every word they type about a student is stored and analyzed.  The obvious “personally identifiable information” is being collected, including student tests scores and grades, and also information such as name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, place of birth, and mother’s maiden name.  In addition, “sensitive information” is being collected.  This data includes political affiliation and beliefs of students and their parents; mental or psychological problems of the students or their families; illegal, anti-social, or self-incriminating behaviors; gun ownership and beliefs about firearms; and legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships such as those of attorneys, doctors, or priests, among many other things.

What our government might do with all this data is a troublesome question.  

All of this data from multiple sources (exams, assignments, handheld devices, surveys, conversations with school officials, et al.) now feeds into a larger collection of databases that will be mined for patterns and insights.  This data can be accessed and created by the federal government and educational corporations.  Parents assume that FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) provide protection, but too many loopholes exist.  COPPA protects only up to the age of 13.  FERPA’s privacy protection language was weakened when it was reinterpreted by the U.S. Department of Education to allow greater access by third parties (big business).   

There are many yet to be known ways in which this information may be used and abused.  Our federal government has extensive plans to use this data for a variety of purposes such as workforce education, shaping student behavior, perhaps forcing compliance to the will of the state, and definitely providing “direction” for our kids in their careers.  The data sets on individual students gives government the ability to impose heavy-handed regulations which will direct children’s futures. These handheld devices are the key enabling technology for the marriage of convenience between big government and big business called “public-private partnerships.”  Since the government didn’t build the handheld devices, big business provides the ability to collect the student data, while big government provides the regulations that force the collection of the student data.

If you comfort yourself with the belief that this information is desired simply so that companies can market products for your children, for example (as if that weren’t bad enough), think again.  This data will be stored forever, and parents will have very, very limited access to it, if any at all.  Maybe you think “predicting future violent behavior” is a step in the right direction.  What if your kid is flagged because he did something that most of us did growing up, such as draw a picture of a gun?

So who will be watching and analyzing our kids?

National standards plus the universal use of one-on-one devices are sold as “closing the digital divide.”  Like every other aspect of Common Core, there is more than meets the eye: these are also necessary pre-conditions for mass surveillance.  They are inseparable.  This Orwellian vision of “educational equality” enables the kind of mass surveillance that can be characterized only as an educational police state.  We the People are watching it happen to our children, and most of us still won’t believe our eyes.

Mary Anne Marcella is a parent and New York City public school teacher.  She cares about her children and her students and wants the best for them.  Her opinions are her own. MaryAnne@maryannemercog

Cort Wrotnowski is a management consultant in biotechnology and president of BioSpark Associates, LLC.  Over the last two years he has been fighting Common Core, over-testing, and the assaults on local control in public education.