Professor David Wiley is to be applauded for engaging in actual debate on the Common Core/FERPA issue with people like me. I appreciate it. He is rare for being willing to discuss these things without resorting to dismissive name calling as others have done. Here is what he posted today, along with what Kristen Chevrier and I had to say back, below:
July 20, 2012 at 12:00 am
Thanks for this ongoing conversation. I apologize for the choppy nature of my response, but I’m trying to reply point by point to your last post without copying your entire post into the body of mine.
You need PII to conduct the district / university study because you can’t learn anything meaningful by asking, “60% of the people in our district passed algebra – what percentage of our students tested into remedial math at the university?” and getting the answer “49%.” Are all 40% of people who didn’t pass algebra included in that 49%? Clearly some people who passed algebra still tested into remedial math. But what percentage? How well *are* we preparing our kids for college math? To get a meaningful answer you have to ask this question for each individual – did this person pass algebra in the district? Did they then test into developmental math at the university? And you need PII to connect the grade in the high school to the placement exam at the university level. I would guess somewhere between 1 and 3 researchers would see PII as this question was answered.
The exceptions to FERPA are important, but not because they make researchers’ jobs easier. The exceptions are important because some critical forms of large scale research are literally impossible without them. Everyone parent says that they want the teachers and staff in their schools to use research-based practices proven to be effective, but no one seems to want their child’s data to be collected or analyzed so that we can understand what is effective. I will nickname this issue the “freerider problem.” While it is possible to ask some meaningful questions without disclosing PII – and many of these questions have been asked and are well studied – the freerider problem prevents us from answering the important questions that require PII.
The idea that a random person on the street could acquire PII for their neighbor’s child with a persuasive verbal argument – and all due to the exceptions in FERPA – is hyperbole. Please reread the mandatory elements of the written agreements required to govern the un-consented disclosure of PII (in the documents you linked to previously) if you really thought this was possible. But I don’t suspect you did. Hyperbole of this kind does not productively advance the conversation.
For every quote from a prophet or general authority that purportedly proves one non-religious point, you can easily identify another quote that supports the opposing non-religious point. I don’t know that this type of dialogue is particularly productive. You offer Ezra Taft Benson’s quote, “An important test I use in passing judgment upon an act of government is this: If it were up to me as an individual to punish my neighbor for violating a given law, would it offend my conscience to do so?” (I find ellipses often hide important detail, so I’ve listed the complete quote.)
I will offer you Thomas S. Monson’s statement “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of performance accelerates” as a counter to your Ezra Taft Benson quote. I don’t believe Thomas S. Monson was talking about measuring and reporting the aggregate performance of nameless thousands of people. But I’m sure you’ve already thought of another religious leader’s quote that supposedly counters this quote of Thomas S Monson’s, but this game can be played ad infinitum and is, consequently, uninteresting in the grand argument.
Your brief history lesson re: Orwell and Communism comes tantalizingly close to fulfilling Godwin’s Law.
You say, “Public schools sit as a golden grape of opportunity for the data-hungry feds.” A large collection of educational data will be interesting to anyone who cares about using rigorous scientific techniques to improve American schools – but it doesn’t mean they can access it without conforming to the law.
How large a role would you hypothesize parents play in the academic success of their children? If you believe they play a large role, then you already know why researchers would be interested in understanding more about students’ parents.
If the new interpretation of FERPA is so clearly unconstitutional, as you or EPIC (it was unclear) suggest it is, I’m sure the Supreme Court will let us know. Based on my current understanding, I don’t believe it is unconstitutional. However, I am always open to being persuaded by data. As my favorite saying goes, “The facts are always friendly.”
While I won’t go so far as to use your “flabbergasted” language, I guess I just don’t understand the paranoia. The idea that someone would proactively fight to *not* know how to improve their local school’s math instruction – in order to insure that their child’s PII aren’t seen by a couple of researchers – confuses me. That is the scale of un-consented disclosure we’re talking about, and that is the scale of benefit we’re talking about.