Privacy advocates are calling for a moratorium on the Pennsylvania school system’s sweeping data-collection program, which they say is part of the federal government’s goal of being able to track the development of every child “womb to workforce.”
All 50 states have been mandated by the U.S. Department of Education to establish inter-connected “longitudinal databases” accumulating information on every student from pre-kindergarten through college.
Two groups, Pennsylvania Against Common Core and Pennsylvanians Restoring Education, are asking Gov. Tom Corbett to place a moratorium on data collection in the Pennsylvania Information Management System or PIMS. The system gathers information on students in all 500 school districts across the state and some schools have started collecting behavioral data that goes beyond testing for academic knowledge, according to the two organizations.
The two groups are also asking the state attorney general’s office to launch an investigation into possible violations of student privacy laws.
“We are asking the governor to rescind all contracts and written agreements that the Pennsylvania Department of Education has with any commonwealth entity and any outside contractor who can access personally identifiable information on our children in violation of federal law, state policy, and Chapter 4 (state code) regulations,” reads a statement issued by Pennsylvania Restoring Education and Pennsylvania Against Common Core.
While Pennsylvania has become ground zero in the backlash against what is seen as an increasingly invasive student tracking system, all 50 states are in the process of expanding and digitizing their student records under the direction of the U.S. Department of Education. The goal is to have all state systems plugged into a centralized database storing sensitive student information.
The expanded data collection has been enabled by federal stimulus grants issued as far back as 2010. Growth in the student data-mining industry has also been buoyed by President Obama’s 2011 executive order weakening the rules against releasing student data, which is regulated by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Obama’s proposed rule change showed up in the Federal Register in April 2011 and took effect in January 2012, setting the stage for the development of a nationwide data-collection system capable of tracking individual students throughout their school and college careers.
The administration sold the policy as an advancement in “personal learning” with some vague parameters spelled out in a January 2012 press release.
But Obama’s executive order allowed more than just personal learning. At the stroke of a pen, it opened access to highly sensitive student data to third-party contractors, as reported by WND in May. That story also reported the growing backlash among parents in several states who are now “opting their children out” of standardized tests. The number of such tests being administered in public schools has exploded since the implementation of Common Core while the scope and nature of the testing has also been greatly expanded to include skills outside the traditional academic realms of math, social studies and language arts.
But the full scope of the data being scooped up is even more breathtaking than previously thought. It goes beyond standardized testing to include surveys, observations of student behavior and other subjective analyses made primarily by teachers. The more advanced a school is in the process of digitizing records, the more likely they are to require teachers to feed data into the system documenting attitudes, beliefs, values, dispositions. These are known as “interpersonal skills” or “soft skills.”
Each student assigned a ‘unique’ number
Activists in Pennsylvania led by Anita Hoge have gathered documents that show the state is allowing contracts with third-party vendors who have access to confidential student records without the informed written consent of parents. Hundreds of data points are connected to each individual student through a “unique number” assigned to the student in direct violation of state law, said Hoge, a member of Pennsylvanians Restoring Education and an expert on the student assessment industry.
The information gathered can be used to create a psychological profile on each student, said Hoge.
“We are well documented and we have parents who are ready to come forward and demand access to all of the data that has been collected on their children,” Hoge told WND.
She said each teacher under this system is also assigned a unique identification number to ensure that they are inputting the required data on their students.
“Innovation Lab Network piloted the program and they said the teachers were the key to the whole thing,” Hoge said.
Tim Eller, press secretary and director of communications for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, told WND in an email that the department “does not collect anything outside of what is required by law.”
Even though Obama weakened FERPA, the data-collection system still violates the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment to the General Education Provisions Act, Hoge said.
Code 22, chapter 4, of Pennsylvania law also forbids the Department of Education from giving out students’ personally identifiable information. The law states that only aggregate information may be released to certain third parties.
“All of those contracts they have with outside providers will have to be rescinded,” Hoge said. “So they’re in violation of Chapter 4. They can’t give out that information. That’s why we are asking for the attorney general to investigate.”
The two groups issued the following statement to WND:
“We demand a moratorium on the collection of data because of contracts that have been discovered and are signed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to disclose personally identiﬁable information, which is personal data on the students and his/her family, without the parent’s knowledge or consent. This includes information on every student’s personality, attitudes, values, beliefs, and disposition, a psychological proﬁle, called Interpersonal Skills Standards and Anchors. This data has been illegally obtained through deceptive means without the parents’ knowledge or consent through screening, evaluations, testing, and surveys. These illegal methods of information gathering were actually fraudulently called ‘academic standards’ on the Department of Education website portal.”
Hoge said two members of Pennsylvanians Restoring Education and a parent of school-aged children met Oct. 20 with state officials in Harrisburg.
“This is when we exposed the contracts,” she said.
Present at the meeting were several legislative-aide attorneys, a state legislator and a representative of the governor’s office.
Two days later, Hoge received an email stating that the list of “interpersonal skills” had been scrubbed from the state Department of Education website portal called Standards Aligned System or SAS. Hoge’s group is now demanding all curriculum aligned to the “illegal psychological standards” also be removed from the classroom.
The state has notified all 500 school districts that the portal had been cleansed of all “affective domain standards” that had nothing to do with academic content.
This is a “temporary ﬁx,” Hoge said. Just because they have been removed from the website does not mean they are no longer being used in the classroom.
“These standards and interventions continue to be forced on students and remediated in the classroom every day. A search on the SAS portal reveals over 2,394 lesson plans that align to these now repudiated ‘standards,'” Hoge said. “The parents of Pennsylvania want all affective domain standards, all curriculum and related lesson plans expunged from the classrooms, as well as from the website portal.
“Parents are demanding that Gov. Corbett and the Pennsylvania Department of Education cease collecting and disclosing personally identiﬁable information on Pennsylvania students and their families immediately.”
A model for the nation
Hoge, a longtime education activist, said her investigation concluded that Pennsylvania’s system is a model for the nation. The goal is to develop a dossier on each U.S. citizen feeding into a national database, she said. The local school is the head of the beast, the place where data collection begins on each child.
But before such an all-inclusive data system could be implemented, there needed to be a national ID number created for each student, a number that would follow the child from pre-K through college and into the work force.
Enter eScholar of White Plains, New York. This data-management firm was awarded a contract to create a unique tracking number for every one of Pennsylvania’s 1.8 million students. It performed the task within six months in 2006, apparently without the knowledge of any of the students’ parents.
The system eScholar created “allows the Pennsylvania Department of Education to track and share data for students from pre-kindergarten all the way through their post-secondary education,” according to a summary of the contract on the firm’s website.
State officials started laying the groundwork for the system in 1999. That’s when the Pennsylvania Department of Education commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of implementing a statewide student identification system.
“The study concluded that because of the strong local-control sentiment in the state, there would never be such a system. But that was before No Child Left Behind (NCLB),” according to an analysis of Pennsylvania’s system by eScholar.
The eScholar document goes on to describe how it took several years to build support for the creation of such an all-inclusive student-tracking system. But a system of this nature would eventually be seen as necessary to comply with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education initiative.
The document states:
“It took a few years before state education agencies realized the impact of the data requirements for NCLB. (Pennsylvania) was no different. However, it soon became apparent that the way data were collected and managed was about to change forever. It was virtually impossible to meet the reporting and accountability requirements of NCLB without a longitudinal data system. A longitudinal data system required some way of tracking students from year to year, a student identification system. Governor Rendell responded during the first year of his administration by launching the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) initiative. In 2004, a statewide advisory council of education and government stakeholders was formed to help move PIMS forward and help build support.”
All 50 states involved in massive student data project
Hoge said the 50 states are at varying stages of designing and implementing their own statewide longitudinal databases.
“Some have them set up, some are in the process of setting them up, it depends on the state and how much money they have,” she said.
The first two federal grants to Pennsylvania exceeded $20 million.
“The contracts are huge, absolutely huge, to implement this system,” Hoge said. “So you had to have a state department of education that was willing to take the lead and set up the entire system.”
Pennsylvania’s former secretary of education, Gerald Zahorchak, was among the first state education chiefs to take the millions in federal money and run with the program. For his efforts, he received a national leadership award in 2008.
Pennsylvania was one of 20 states that initially received a combined $250 million in federal stimulus funds to develop and implement data systems capable of tracking student progress from early childhood through college graduation.
“The Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) grants will help deliver much-needed data into the hands of educators and policymakers,” according to a Pennsylvania Department of Education press release from 2010.
All 50 states submitted applications for the database grants in late 2009.
“In three short years, we have gone from having no comprehensive SLDS (database) to becoming a national leader in this regard,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell said in the state’s grant application. “In 2008, the Data Quality Campaign, a national collaborative campaign to improve the collection, availability and use of high-quality education data, awarded Governor Rendell and former Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak its annual Leadership Award.”
To help school districts get acclimated to the intensive data-mining system Pennsylvania bureaucrats established a statewide electronic help desk.
“They set up the whole system with a huge help desk because the data has to be entered perfectly and if any of the districts are having problems entering the data they can call the help desk,” Hoge said. “It’s the whole package: The national ID with ‘womb to workplace’ tracking and the model curriculum from Common Core. And the teacher also has a unique ID so they can make sure the teacher is teaching from the model curriculum. We can prove it now. We can prove what they are doing. We have the documents.”
She said the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics “has its fingerprints all over this system.” In one of its grant contracts the state of Pennsylvania actually used the term “womb to workforce” to describe the statewide database that will track each of its young citizens.
“PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) has made great strides designing a comprehensive K-12 data system and creating a solid foundation for a ‘womb to workplace’ information system,” states Pennsylvania’s 2009 grant application with the National Center for Education Statistics, a copy of which has been obtained by WND.
The state’s application goes on to boast that it had already stored two years of data in a “state data warehouse.”
“Equally important, we have successfully fostered a data-rich culture, supporting continuous educational improvement at all levels of the system,” the application explained.
Hoge says Pennsylvanians Restoring Education has documented evidence of a “systemic collusion” between the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics to create a national ID without the knowledge of citizens.
The next step for the education database is to link it with the Department of Labor with the addition of the last five digits of the student’s Social Security number or link to the unique ID created by eScholar, she said, citing written correspondence between former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Zahorchak and former Secretary of Labor Sandi Vito, a copy of which has been obtained by WND.
Creating a modern ‘Stasi’
“This creates a database of human capital — your worth, or non-worth — to the economy,” Hoge said. “The government wants to know how you think and what you think and everything about you. This is a government intelligence operation using education to create a dossier on every family in this country. Attitudes and practices of each family are unwittingly revealed in the students’ responses in the classroom and on tests through the “Special Ed Student Snap and Student Snap.” (Source: Pennsylvania State University, PennData Grant: Project Number 062-14-0-042: Federal Award Number: HO27A130162)
Every person age 28 and under, schooled in Pennsylvania, has a psychometric proﬁle, an intelligence proﬁle kept by the state of Pennsylvania, Hoge said.
“In 10 years, every Pennsylvania schooled person, age 38 and under….In 20 years, every person age 48 and under…In 30 years, Pennsylvania will have a complete psychographic on every person in the workforce and on every child born thereafter in the workforce,” she said. “This is an American electronic model eerily similar to East Germany Stasi of yesteryear.”
Common Core as the vehicle
The Common Core national standards are the “vehicle” used to standardize the data collection as the autonomy of the local school district is stripped away and teachers in the classroom are reduced to virtual automatons, Hoge said.
“The individual mandate, similar to the Obamacare individual mandate for health care, requires students to conform to this national agenda,” she said. “There is no privacy.”
She described the system as a top-down form of federal control that bypasses state legislatures. The goal is to standardize the entire nation’s educational system.
Teachers must “remediate” each child to ensure he or she is absorbing the attitudes, values, beliefs and dispositions required by the system.
And teachers are constantly monitored by the system to make sure they are doing just that.
This turns teachers into virtual psychologists, despite the fact they are not state-licensed practitioners and vulnerable to malpractice issues, Hoge said. If students don’t meet the required proficiency in “interpersonal skills,” teachers can be threatened with reprisals including possible termination, according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act “flexibility waiver” issued by the Obama administration. These waivers absolved school systems from certain requirements of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, but exacted a heavy toll in the form of states losing their autonomy over classroom instruction.
An organized, ‘national system of surveillance and monitoring’
The contracts uncovered in Pennsylvania refer to Common Core as the “model curriculum.”
Common Core provides 2,394 fool-proof validated scripts with which to “remediate” each child to achieve proﬁciency in the “interpersonal skills.”
“We have also discovered that these Interpersonal Skills Standards are also embedded in other academic areas of Career Education and Work, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Health Safety and Physical Education,” according to the statement from Pennsylvanians Restoring Education. “The test contract in Appendix B for the Keystone Exams states, ‘The diagnostic assessments are intended to be easily administered online and provide immediate feedback of students ‘strengths and weaknesses.'”
This is nothing more than a sophisticated method of brainwashing, Hoge said.
“Clearly this data-collection system has utilized education funds to set up a national system of surveillance and interventions on our students that is structured from the federal level down into each classroom,” she said. “Huge amounts of our taxpayer money have been used to fund this system of surveillance creating a dossier on each student and their family for the purpose of creating the worker desired by big business and enforced by the arbitrary, authoritative state.”
She said the plan to transform America’s school into factories that churn out “human capital” began in 1990 when the U.S. Department of Labor established the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills or SCANS. ACT was awarded the contract to develop the list of skills seen as necessary for the 21st century global economy. This skill list formed the basis of what would later become Common Core State Standards, which was copyrighted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and adopted by 43 states.
In 2013, the Council decided to add non-academic “soft” skills to the list.
“We are requesting Gov. Corbett to stop the data collection, stop the invasion of privacy… We want legislation NOW, to protect our families, protect our children, and protect our children’s future,” stated Pennsylvanians Restoring Education.
The group ended its statement with a chilling conclusion.
“America used to educate its children and let them create their own world. Now, we are creating their world and forcing them to live in it.”