By Leo Hohmann
The Obama administration, shortly after taking control of the federal bureaucracy, changed student privacy laws so that government can track their progress from "cradle to career," monitoring everything from math and reading skills to values, opinions and attitudes.
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More and more people don't like that. And they are just saying "no" to the government.
It is the amount of student data being collected that ballooned under the new Common Core national education standards, fueled fears of abuse and sparked a growing backlash against the testing system used to scoop up highly personal information.
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The "opt out" movement in which parents opt their children out of the standardized tests has spread in recent weeks from New York to Georgia to Alabama.
Some teachers have also started to buck the system. Just last week teachers at Prospect Heights International School in Brooklyn, NY, refused to administer a standardized test tied to Common Core.
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The cost of resisting, however, can be steep.
Meg Norris was forced out of her job as a Hall County, Ga., teacher last year after she ran afoul of mandatory testing for Common Core.
"We were one of the first counties in the nation to implement Common Core, and at first the teachers felt like we were special, we were all excited. I drank the Kool-Aid," said Norris. "But after teaching Common Core in my class for about 18 months, I started seeing a lot of behaviors in my students that I hadn't seen before. They started becoming extremely frustrated and at that age, 12 years old, they can't verbalize why they couldn't 'get it.'"
The frustration, she believes, came from Georgia's adoption of a set of unproven educational standards and then constantly testing students against those standards. Some schools administer up to a dozen or more high-stakes tests in a single school year.
"I had some kids that were cutting themselves, some were crying, some would stab themselves in the legs with their pencils," Norris said.
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One of the complaints about Common Core standards voiced by Norris and other teachers is that they require pre-teens to learn abstract concepts their brains aren't yet able to grasp.
One day a student came up to Norris and asked, "Do we have to take the test?"
"No, you don't have to do anything your parents don't want you to do," Norris responded.
That was when the school district opened a secretive internal investigation on its wayward teacher and she resigned.
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Will Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said the assessments tied to Common Core collect more than 400 points of data on every child.
"It's their likes and dislikes, grade-point average all the way through school, their home situation, health questions," he said. "It's an incredibly invasive collection of information that they are trying to collect in what they call P-20, or pre-K through workforce."
The idea behind opting out is to "starve the beast," a reference to the corporations and nonprofits that feed on the $8 billion student assessment industry. They analyze the test data, come up with recommendations on how to "remediate" the students' weaknesses, then sell that information back to the school districts at a profit.
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This type of student data mining by private contractors was made possible only after the Obama administration moved unilaterally to dilute privacy restrictions in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. The new rules took effect in January 2012 without congressional approval.
Even before FERPA rules were weakened, some in Congress had concerns about the U.S. Department of Education's "cradle to career education agenda," as DOE Secretary Arne Duncan described the president's plan.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a February 2010 letter to Duncan saying the department's efforts to "shepherd the states toward the creation of a de facto national student database raises serious legal and prudential questions. Congress has never authorized the Department of Education to facilitate the creation of a national student database. To the contrary, Congress explicitly prohibited the 'development of a nationwide database of personally identifiable information' under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and barred the 'development, implementation or maintenance of a federal database of personally identifiable information …including a unit record system, an education bar-code system or any other system that tracks individual students over time.'"
Fordham University Law School's Center on Law and Information Privacy published a study in late 2009 warning that private student data was at risk and that many school systems across the U.S. were not following the rules under FERPA, basically ignoring key protections of the nation's school children.
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Fordham found that sensitive, personalized information related to matters such as teen pregnancies, mental health, family wealth indicators and juvenile crime is stored in a manner that violates federal privacy mandates.
Some states outsource the data processing without any restrictions on use or confidentiality for K-12 children's information, the Fordham study found. Access to this information and the disclosure of personal data may occur for decades and follow children well into their adult lives.
"If these issues are not addressed, the results could be catastrophic from a privacy perspective," warned Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham Law School. He urged Congress and state officials to take "rapid steps to ensure the data is collected and stored properly and used in compliance with established privacy laws and principles."
Two years later, instead of heeding those warnings, the U.S. Department of Education went in the opposite direction and watered down the FERPA protections with respect to releasing data to third-party private contractors.
The Obama administration also required all states receiving federal Race to the Top funds to put in place longitudinal databases capable of tracking students' progress over time. These databases are designed to be "interoperable," essentially creating a uniform data chain across the 50 states.
Defeating a monster of this size and scope would seem daunting.
But one education activist with some experience in this area says it's a battle worth fighting.
Anita Hoge filed a federal complaint against the state of Pennsylvania under the Protection of Pupils Rights Amendment in the early 1990s over that state's invasive Educational Quality Assessment. She believes that project was a model for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, that illegally measured attitudes, values, opinions, and dispositions on tests without informed parental consent. Her successful lawsuit dealt a blow to the plans for a universal data tracking system that follows every student from pre-K through college and into their careers.
Twenty years later, Hoge sees Common Core as the centerpiece of a renewed effort to implement a testing system that again seeks to identify values and dispositions in students.
"Opting out is really the key," said Hoge, now an education consultant and expert on student assessments. "Everything depends on the data. You start with data collection at the local level and that is your weakest link. That drives the whole thing. From there you score it, you analyze it, you can cross-reference it with census data and you can identify the individual student and the individual teacher, the curriculum, the interventions. You can now make a decision as to why scores are not up to par. Is it the teacher not teaching to the test? That's why teachers are so upset."
Hoge believes Common Core is to education what Obamare is to healthcare.
"It's exactly like the individual mandate in Obamacare. Common Core is the federal mandate in education," she said. "Before, you had federal aggregates for schools and school districts but not individual students and teachers being tracked."
Common Core mandates that each child must meet certain standards at each grade level.
That would be great if every child was the same, Hoge says.
"It's creating the same standard for every student. It's taken the bell curve and made it flat. So what happens next? To make sure everyone is meeting the same standards you eliminate grades, you eliminate timeframes, you dumb down the tests. You force everyone to be average.
"The reason all the parents and teachers are so upset is because this is the massive socialist system coming down on them, grading them, not on how well they teach but on things that are outside of their control."
But testing a student's grasp of reading, writing and arithmetic is only part of the plan that the education bureaucracy has for your child.
Attitudes and values
Testing for "attitudes and values" is something many parents are not even aware is going on in their schools.
How does the state "assess" a student's honesty or integrity?
Common Core provides the answer with its "Grit" program.
Citing "changing workforce needs," a U.S. Department of Education draft document from February 2013 titled "Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century" calls for public schools to cultivate "non-cognitive factors" in students, including "attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes" that are "independent of intellectual ability."
The "Grit" perspective was included in the Common Core standards in 2013 and represents a "shift in educational priorities to promote not only content knowledge but also grit, tenacity and perseverance," according to the DOE document.
"This brief explores the possibility that grit, tenacity, and perseverance can be malleable and teachable," the summary of the document concludes.
"What they are doing is building a total psychological profile," Hoge said. Any "weaknesses" in a child's attitudes or values could then be targeted for "remediation."
The only thing lacking then was a way to standardize the system and make sure teachers addressed various problem areas. Sufficient data was also lacking to drill down to the individual level of each teacher and student.
"That’s why Common Core had to be standardized across the 50 states," Hoge said. "They had to translate and link the data so they were able to compare one school to another, one student to another, one teacher to another. So now we're saying 'stop the data collection.'"
If America’s schools are moving toward testing attitudes, values and opinions of its students, the obvious question Hoge and others are asking is, who will be the final authority in judging such subjective qualities in people? What are the guarantees the data won't end up in the wrong hands?
"How much honesty is too much or not enough?" asks Hoge. "If these attitudes and values are found to be deficient, how are you going to remediate that? Who is the final authority? The parent or the state?"
Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan, thinks she knows the answer to those questions.
Iserbyt sees Common Core as just the latest in a long line of programs put forth over the decades by globalist elites intent on transforming America from a free-market to a socialist system. Schools have always been the preferred tool of implementation for such changes, she said.
'Evil' Common Core
"As evil as Common Core is, it's a diversion," said Iserbyt, author of several books including "The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America" and "Back to Basics Reform."
The real genie in the bottle, she says, is the takeover of education by corporations pushing "school choice," a very seductive concept to conservatives who have soured on traditional public education. But the schools would still be funded by tax dollars. The main difference, she said, would be that locally elected school boards would be shut down or stripped of any meaningful authority.
Iserbyt believes the burgeoning charter-school movement is being readied to create a pipeline of "school-to-work" graduates that fulfills the needs of corporations but does little to encourage real education.
It was called "mastery learning" in the 1960s and 70s and that morphed into "outcome-based education" in the 1980s and 90s with assessments to measure the outcomes.
Now the final building block has been introduced – Common Core. Unlike previous standards, teachers cannot ignore Common Core. They must comply because their evaluations are being tied directly to their students' performance on the Common Core tests. If they weren't teaching to the test before, they are now, Iserbyt said.
The Soviet and Chinese systems use the same model, Iserbyt said. The vast majority of children get "trained" for specific "outcomes" while traditional education is reserved for the top 10 percent of elite students. The global drive toward school-to-work, outcome-based training comes packaged with the full backing of the United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and tax-exempt foundations funded by the Carnegie, Gates and Rockefeller families.
David Hornbeck, former chairman of the Carnegie Corporation, is one of the leading change agents" working in this realm. He described students as "human capital" to be trained for their appropriate place in the global economy in a 1993 book he edited under the title "Human Capital for America's Future."
"Community education is the plan, womb to tomb," Iserbyt said. "Is it the value of the child that matters? No, it's the value of that person to the state. You can train an animal, but only the human has the unique ability to be educated."
Iserbyt traces the school-based plan to transform America from a capitalist to a socialist country to a little-known document funded by the Carnegie Corporation in 1934 called "Conclusions and Recommendations of the Commission on the Social Studies in Schools."
On pages 16 and 17 of that book, the authors state:
"Under the moulding influence of socialized processes of living, drives of technology and
science, pressures of changing thought and policy, and disrupting impacts of economic disaster,
there is a notable waning of the once widespread popular faith in economic individualism; and
leaders in public affairs, supported by a growing mass of the population, are demanding the introduction into economy of ever-wider measures of planning and control."
It goes on to say that "evidence supports the conclusion that, in the United States as in other countries, the age of individualism and laissez faire in economy and government is closing and that a new age of collectivism is emerging."
The book predicts that individual economic actions and individual property rights "will be altered and abridged."
Opting out gaining steam
"What we're ending up with is their plan from 1934; it is going in place now. Everything is Carnegie," Iserbyt said.
But if "opt out" and other grassroots movements continue to gain steam, then it's not too late to save America’s education system from the central planners, she said.
Parents who resist or push back will face many challenges as the system tries to force its will upon them.
"Resisters have to be dealt with," Iserbyt said. "I think they're really upset because there's a lot of opposition out there, but they're clever. They could take our opposition and then pretend that they're giving us something, maybe you can opt out but then you'll have to let your child do a locally controlled assessment. Because how are they going to remediate for the work force, for the training, if they don't have this data? This is a huge performance-based system, a global system. They have to have the data if they want the planned economy."
Most states have laws demanding that all students take part in standardized assessments.
In Georgia, those who fail the test or refuse to take it are entitled to a hearing among the child's teachers and principal, which will then vote on whether to pass the student to the next grade.
"Of course the parents often aren't told they have the right to appeal," Norris said.
The opt out groups are active and organized. They use Facebook to form groups that offer support and vital information on parental rights.
Norris posted May 3 on the Facebook page Opt Out Georgia: "The Georgia testing window is closed! Wow! What a ride! Parents, we will keep moving forward, ready to refuse retests, and helping prepare anyone with an appeals hearing. Next year we go full force on the refusal train. We are here, we are fighting, and we are legion."
Reactions to the test refusals varied. Some parents were politely threatened with retention of their children, others were told they had a right to appeal. Some New York students who refused the test were reportedly required to "sit and stare" into a corner.
One school in Marietta, Ga., arranged for an opt-out parent to be met at the school by a police officer, who warned them they would be considered trespassers if their children did not take the test and escorted them out of the building.
Other schools in Georgia have punished children not taking the test by not allowing them to participate in end-of-year field trips.
Norris tells parents that Supreme Court rulings have a history of affirming parental rights dating back to the 19th century.
"Supreme Court decisions will always trump state law," she said. "Parents have for years opted their children out of sex ed classes and this is no different."
Estrada also believes desperate times call for desperate measures, and it's about time the American people wake up and realize that local control of schools is slipping away.
"That's the silver lining with Common Core. We are seeing something we haven't seen in a long, long time, and that is parents standing up and saying 'these are our children and we're tired of the elites telling us how to educate them,' and I think if we stay with this we could win," he said. "And that’s why we see the intensity of the opposition. They're used to parents just rolling over and giving up. And that's just not happening on Common Core.
"I think they're forgetting who the child belongs to. Children are not the little subjects of the state, and if the state says they should all get in line like good little soldiers, we have to realize that children are too important for that. These young people are more than just a data point. That's why this battle must be fought and more power to the parents who are saying 'we're fed up and we're going to opt them out of the test.'"