Common Core – Big Data

Origins of federal data collection

The push from the federal government for access to your child’s private information all started long before the stimulus and Common Core,  but it is all connected in the same tangled web.

The Educational Technical Assistance Act of 2002, Title II, (yes, that would be George Bush)  created the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The IES distributes federal taxpayer dollars in the form of grants for the creation of State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS, or what I call ‘Birth and Beyond.’)  Even before that, the America Competes Act 2000 mandated 12 elements of data collection that states must implement. These elements are:

  1. An unique identifier for every student that does not permit a student to be individually identified (except as permitted by federal and state law) [Interesting to note that federal privacy law was recently changed to ease up the restrictions];

  2. The school enrollment history, demographic characteristics, and program participation record of every student;

  3. Information on when a student enrolls, transfers, drops out, or graduates from a school;

  4. Students scores on tests required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;

  5. Information on students who are not tested, by grade and subject

  6. Students scores on tests measuring whether they’re ready for college;

  7. A way to identify teachers and to match teachers to their students;

  8. Information from students’ transcripts, specifically courses taken and grades earned;

  9. Data on students’ success in college, including whether they enrolled in remedial courses;

  10. Data on whether K-12 students are prepared to succeed in college;

  11. A system of auditing data for quality, validity, and reliability; and

  12. The ability to share data from preschool through postsecondary education data systems.

The grant money flowing into PA to create this data system came from a variety of sources,  including the federal stimulus, called American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and its subsidiary Race To The Top (RTTT) as well as the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which gave $24+ million directly to PA’s Information Management department (called PIMS) and to the Department of Labor and Industry to expand the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS).

Each new distribution of grant money was predicated on fulfilling the requirements of the previous grant application. The Data Quality Campaign tracks states’ compliance with the data system requirements.

‘Birth and Beyond’ Data Collection

The PK-20 ‘Birth and Beyond’ data program has been developed to capture and store data on our children. What I have discovered is that the “Core” of “the Common Core” initiative is data and assessments. Assessing not only the students, but the education staff as well.  You can get rid of the “standards,” but what is really at the heart of everything is Big DATA. These so-called “college-and-career-ready” standards and the stimulus and federal grant money are just the mechanism for ushering it all in. There is nothing wrong with using data as information, but these “reforms” puts data in the driver’s seat.

When I researched the grant applications for the ‘Birth and Beyond’ data system, I found they were actually submitted and processed through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) whose purpose, per the website, is to:

“fulfill a Congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.”

The NCES site also contains a link to something called Common Core of Data … there’s that phrase again.

“The Common Core of Data (CCD) is a program of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics that annually collects fiscal and non-fiscal data about all public schools, public school districts and state education agencies in the United States. The data are supplied by state education agency officials and include information that describes schools and school districts, including name, address, and phone number; descriptive information about students and staff, including demographics; and fiscal data, including revenues and current expenditures.”

Further research found the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project, which is

“a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20W institutions and sectors.”

Under the website’s Frequently Asked Questions section:

“How is CEDS different from the Common Core State Standards?

“…The Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) is a set of commonly agreed upon names, definitions, option sets, and technical specifications for a given selection of data elements. CEDS focuses on the meaning of data stored in longitudinal data systems, and is being developed by a stakeholder group facilitated by NCES. CEDS will support systemic education reform efforts by making it possible for states to collect the data they need to fully understand their progress on successfully adopting the Common Core State Standards or any other standards.”

In order for data collection and reporting to work across state lines and across entities, they must have the same data sets, labeled the same way. But as we all know, not every person “fits” into one particular data label (also called tags). These “tags” that are used to label each data field must match perfectly in order for the data to be useable. But not everyone fits into a particular “tag.”  I experience this all the time when I’m filling out forms – sometimes my answer just doesn’t match any of the options on the form. So you either end up with a check mark next to the box that says “other” with a free form fill in space that throws a wrench in the works for the data collector, or you must force everyone to choose from a pre-defined consistent set of acceptable responses or else that data is meaningless and useless. We are people, not points of data.  We are not easily categorized and sorted into neat little reports.

Unique Student & Teacher IDs

In the second round of Race to the Top grant applications, PA lauds all it has accomplished by telling the US Dept of Education (and this was in 2009) that  it has “assigned 1.8 million unique student IDs as well as staff IDs.”

The grant applications also state that the database “Must link student data with teachers.” This includes teachers and teacher’s aides. So, if you must link student data with teachers how can they possibly say the unique identifier will not identify individual children and individual teachers?

In the 2009 grant application, there is a section titled ‘Lead Collaborative Effort to Establish National Unique ID for Students’ which states:

“Pennsylvania shares a common approach and software product with 8 other states and the US Department of Education …”

Then, later on in the document, under a section titled ‘Outcomes’ the application states:

“PDE electronic records exchange will increase the efficiency of our PK-20 organization by: … Connect[ing] to National Clearinghouse data.”

A search for National Clearinghouse led me to yet another “non-profit” organization website called “College Ready” which is funded by, guess who, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and says “Together we will ensure all students graduate prepared to succeed in college, careers, and community.”  It touts the National Student Clearinghouse as a method of tracking students long after they graduate high school into their college and career, across state lines.

A September 18, 2008 letter from Gerald Zahorchak, then Secretary of Education, to Honorable Sandi Vito, Acting Secretary Department of Labor and Industry was included in the Race to the Top grant application, in which Secretary Zahorchak identified “two obstacles to implementation of the early childhood through a workforce longitudinal data systems” the first being cost, and the second:

“the fact that the PIMS system does not currently collect Social Security Numbers (SSN) of students while the Wage Record dataset is dependent on individual SSNs.”

He goes on to say there is a “critical need for the PDE (PA Dept of Ed) to collect the last five digits of a student’s SSN to enable this system to merge, and we are working on resolving this.”

Did they do it?

Well, Dave Ream, PA’s Data Quality Manager, responded to the 2013 Data Quality Campaign’s Data for Action survey on behalf of the Office of Governor Tom Corbett  that:

“The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry was awarded a $1 million Workforce Data Quality Initiative grant in June 2012. PA-WDQI’s mission is to link data from the Departments of Public Welfare, Labor and Industry and Education to gauge the outcomes of taxpayer supported programs.”

This survey also mentions that Pennsylvania is part of  the Teacher Student Data Link (TSDL) project:

The Teacher/Student Data Link (TSDL) Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is being conducted by the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT) with guidance and dissemination support from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). This project is a cross-state, collaborative effort focused on developing a best practice framework for a “Teacher of Record” (TOR) definition and business processes for collecting and validating linked teacher and student data.”

Data in itself is not a problem, but who can access it (beyond the classroom teacher and principal) and the manner in which it’s used is of a great concern, especially when there are so many entities who seem determined to gain access to it.

Next: Big Data & Early Learning

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