Schools collect a whole lot of information about their students: demographics, grades, test scores, special education status, discipline information, medical information, and lots, lots more.
Seriously. Because they’re not going to tell you, unless you ask, that they can and do disclose personally identifiable information to the private sector.
I covered the “can” in another post, What are our students’ privacy rights, really? The short version is that recent changes to the federal privacy law (FERPA) allow schools to disclose personally identifiable information to “school officials” without parental consent, with “school officials” being defined to include people in the private sector.
Here is the “and yes, they do” bit. And yes, they do, without even telling you. If you are a parent with a child at any of these schools, your child’s data has been released to the Community Center for Education Results. It’s for a research study aimed at increasing the number of kids ready for college in South Seattle and districts farther south in King County.
Schools whose data was released:
- Aki Kurose Middle School
Arbor Heights Elementary School
Beacon Hill International School
Brighton Elementary School
Cleveland High School
Concord Elementary School
Dearborn Park Elementary School
Denny Middle School
Dunlap Elementary School
Emerson Elementary School
Franklin High School
Garfield High School
Gatewood Elementary School
Gatzert Elementary School
Graham Hill Elementary School
Hawthorne Elementary School
Highland Park Elementary School
John Muir Elementary School
Kimball Elementary School
Leschi Elementary School
Maple Elementary School
Mercer Middle School
Orca @ Whitworth
Rainier Beach High School
Roxhill Elementary School
Sanislo Elementary School
Sealth High School
Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center
South Lake High School
South Shore K-8 School
Thurgood Marshall Elementary
Van Asselt Elementary School
Washington Middle School
West Seattle Elementary School
Wing Luke Elementary School
And here is a link to the authorization form signed by a previous interim superintendent, Susan Enfield, in October of 2011. It authorizes the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to release data from the 2009-2010 school year through the 2011-12 school year such as:
- student and staff schedules
- student enrollment and demographic information, including special programs information
- state test data
- student grades
If it had been available, student discipline data would also have been included.
Was it a good thing to release this data? Do the benefits of the research outweigh the privacy concerns? Was there a need to release personally identifiable data (as opposed to de-identified data)? Were enough safety precautions taken with the data?
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.
But I do think that parents should have had the opportunity to decide whether or not this was an appropriate release of information. However, they weren’t even notified. Nor are they being notified about the follow-up data release authorized by current superintendent Jose Banda in Sept 2012. It permits release of data through the 2019-20 school year.
Nor are they being notified that Seattle Public Schools is telling third-party organizations that they can get access to private student data. In this Power Point presentation, the district explains that they will share data as allowed by FERPA to “school officials” including “third parties to whom the school or district has outsourced institutional services or functions.”
What about the security of data, when it’s shared? The SPS Best Practices are woefully inadequate. For example: “Never send your student level data through email without it being password protected.” Sorry, but password protection just doesn’t cut it.
Have there been other releases of information?
I don’t know the answer to that, and this worries me.