No, Comparable Education Standards Are Not a Federal Plot to Spy on Students

Citing a report by the California Attorney General, which finds “evidence of companies mining data from school children beyond what’s necessary for their education,” Joe Wolverton claims in the New American that high, comparable academic expectations are responsible for student data collection.

“Naturally, much of this data mining comes from the adoption by so many states of the Common Core Standards.” Calling rigorous, comparable standards “a bid by the federal government to take over the education system,” Wolverton adds, “the vast collection of personal information and the accompanying data-mining are intricately linked” to states’ efforts to raise academic expectations.

Make no mistake, we don’t agree with private companies capturing data “above and beyond what’s necessary” for educational purposes. But these actions can’t be blamed on the Common Core – or any other academic standards.

States’ education standards have no impact on what student information they collect, how they collect it or how that information is used. In fact, if a state were to repeal its education standards (whether it uses the Common Core or any other set of learning goals), it would have no impact on its data collection policies.

“While such Orwellian predictions are effective in raising alarm, they simply aren’t true,” Rob McKenna, the former attorney general of Washington State, explains. “I encourage parents to read [their state’s education standards]. They will find no mention of data-collection mandates… Standards do nothing more than establish rigorous learning goals at each grade level that ensure all public-school children are held to levels that prepare them for higher levels of learning and ultimately for college or a career.”

Paige Kowalski, executive vice president for the Data Quality Campaign, reaffirms McKenna’s position. “Absolutely nothing has changed in terms of what the state is collecting from districts as a result of adopting Common Core standards” – or, she might add, any other current education standards for that matter.

“States are still responsible as they were previously to report their accountability (on tests and other student assessments), but Common Core doesn’t add any new data reporting,” explains Margaret Millar of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“If a state chooses to collect achievement data, that is a decision the state chooses to make. But it is not lumped in with Common Core,” explains Kathleen Porter-Magee, superintendent and chief academic officer at the Partnership for Inner-City education and fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Certainly, student information is sensitive. It should never be used to single out a student or to predetermine a young person’s success. That is why nearly all data is aggregated, meaning it is scrubbed of personally identifiable information, which prevents it from being traced back to an individual student.

In fact, federal and state laws explicitly prohibit schools and institutions from releasing data that could jeopardize a child’s privacy. These laws ensure only parents or a legal guardian can access their child’s academic records. Policymakers must be resolute in upholding such protections. Educators and parents, too, share a responsibility to hold officials accountable.

While claim’s like Wolverton’s may be effective at raising alarms, they are patently untrue and should not discourage policymakers, parents and teachers from insisting on high, comparable education standards for their children.