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Opponents of Common Core Raise Concern over Student Data Collection

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The controversy surrounding federal data collection has spilled over into education, prompting debates over student data collection. NPR reporter Cory Turner spotlighted critics and defenders of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which seeks standardized curricula across state educational systems.

Opponents charge that central planners have used the initiative to intrude on citizens’ privacy by soliciting information about students’ and parents’ religious views, voting habits, income level, blood type, and health history. Defenders dispute that improper data is being collected or that information being gathered differs from what schools have collected for decades.

The controversy isn’t likely to diminish, so it’s important for parents, students and voters to know the facts and their implications.

The Common Core program is sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and promoted by the U.S. Department of Education through Race to the Top grant incentives. States participating in Common Core receive support from the federally-funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

In response to charges that Common Core calls for collecting personal information, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan denied the initiative called for federal collection of student data. Duncan insisted the federal government wasn’t allowed to do this and wouldn’t do it. But Turner’s investigation found the facts didn’t neatly fit either Duncan’s denial or opponents’ charges.

SBAC does solicit data about students’ sex, age, race, ethnicity, and lunch discount qualifications. However, the data is collected in clusters and stripped of individual information, such as names and Social Security numbers. There was no evidence that the initiative collects individual information about blood types or voting records.

Turner also quoted state educational officials who pointed out that state systems have been collecting information for decades about student attendance, grades and disabilities. However, critics such as Michigan State Representative Tom McMillin remain unpersuaded that such information is not open to abuse.

For states’ rights and local government advocates, one concern is that Common Core’s practices bypass constitutional protections against unwarranted federal search and seizure by outsourcing data collection to states.

States participating in Common Core programs receive funding from the ED Recovery Act under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. This empowers the DOE to award $48.6 billion to governors supporting reforms affecting all levels of schooling, from early learning through post-secondary education. These include an Early Learning Challenge program to reshape state pre-school programs.

Common Core thus empowers federal authorities both to collect student data and to determine what will be taught for all ages. To critics, governors’ participation in the program could be seen as surrendering individual and states’ rights to the federal government in return for funding.

Another issue is whether the data collected is really as anonymous as defenders say. Educational data services seek to provide sufficient data for teachers to work with individual students and parents to address not only learning concerns, but also disciplinary issues. If local and state school systems can collect this information, what prevents it from being passed on to federal agencies?

Another risk is data leaking through the private sector to government or business entities. One partner supporting Common Core is inBloom, a nonprofit seeded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in cooperation with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and state school officials. Together, inBloom and its educational software partner, Compass Learning, offer Common Core participants data collection tools geared toward collecting enough information to provide each student a personalized learning experience, delivered through an online gateway.

Compass Learning’s privacy page acknowledges collecting personal information and while pledging not to share data with third parties indiscriminately, it does admit exceptions, and it disclaims responsibility for how school hosts handle data security. The company’s terms of use page disclaims liability for damages caused by loss of data.

What protections are in place and what recourse does the public have if privacy leaks occur? Prevention is always the best solution and one alternative is for parents and college students to seek educational solutions that fall outside Common Core’s scope. These include homeschooling, private schools, and online educational opportunities such as those available through CollegeOnline.org and similar services.

Common Core defenders stress that educational data is subject to privacy restrictions, such as those protecting medical information. Given this, the same set of issues that drive the debate over health care privacy are likely to fuel educational controversies as well. While no solution to either issue appears imminent, perhaps a positive outcome of the debate is public awareness that educational data faces the same challenges, and also needs to be addressed.

Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.

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The subject of data collection is so complex, particularly with education, because while one wants to defend the right to privacy, others point to the  advantage of collecting data in measuring student performance and academic achievement across several factors. I think its too soon to assert whether there is some covert data collecting operation run and controlled by the federal government hat sacrifices privacy. However, I do believe there can be a conversation on which types of data are collected ad to what extent it is collected.


On one hand, I really do believe that data collection (like P-20 systems) are important for figuring out whether or not our education system, from beginning to end, is effective in creating a better workforce. I delved into that a little bit with California's attempts to establish a system like that.

But again, any sort of data collection can lead to terrible unintended consequences. And it doesn't have to do with the "nothing to hide" mentality, cause the concept of privacy is much more than that.

Shawn M Griffiths
Shawn M Griffiths

I don't think there is enough evidence to say the federal government is collecting mass information on individual students, personal or otherwise. Right now, it seems to be a fear spurred by the controversy surrounding data collection by the intelligence community. Before people say common core is just a tool for the federal government to spy on Americans as some have, there needs to be evidence current reform is leading to that and there is very little if any.


i wouldnt be surprised if test scores from high school started showing up in IRS audits and criminal investigations. at some point there should be a wall of separation