I know this might be boring.
I know there are five hundred things you could be doing. But this will take awhile.
SETRA, or “Strengthening Education Through Research Act,” a federal bill that passed the U.S. Senate on December 17th has not yet passed the House of Representatives, and must not.
(Call 202-224-3121 to speak to your representative in Congress.)
There is a lot to explain about SETRA, and I won’t even hit it all tonight.
SETRA was written “to strengthen the federal education research system”. That’s sentence number one. It begs this question: where does the U.S. Constitution permit federal education or federal education research?
Is this communist China, where nationalized education is normal? Did I dream that the Constitution gives zero power to the federal government to dictate even a crumb about education?
Why are we even considering a bill that starts out with that sentence? Furthermore, when did a single parent in this entire country give informed consent for a single child to be used as an unpaid, unwitting guinea pig for federal research? How dare the government research the thoughts and beliefs of my child and yours, using our tax dollars, without our consent?
In section 132 of SETRA, the government aims to collect, from your child and mine, “research on social and emotional learning”. –How so? Sensitive surveys are forbidden by PPRA, right?
Education Liberty Watch notes that PPRA (a federal law that is supposed to prohibit collection of psychological, sexual, or religious mindsets) only applies to student surveys– not to curriculum! It’s a loophole. Check out Cornell law school’s information on PPRA.
So what SETRA aims to do, in gathering sensitive “social and emotional” data, it can do, because of that loophold. SETRA’s aims are not prohibited. The data miners simply have to hide their psychological stalking inside the curriculum. And this is easier and more common than most of us realize.
Psychological or belief data can be mined without openly labeling the effort a psychological, religious, or emotional survey– and even without the knowledge of teachers or school administrators. For example:
Education Liberty Watch points out that an English Language Arts curriculum that is being used in over 40 Florida school districts and several California districts, a curriculum published by the College Board, called SpringBoard, contains many psychosocial, or belief-based, questions such as this:
Activity 4.9 Justice and Moral Reasoning
I should pay all my taxes because-
- I could go to jail if I do not
- people will think of me as a good citizen
- my taxes along with those of others will help to pay for services used by all
Students are then made to rate themselves, based on having mostly “a” or “b” or “c” responses, as “pre-conventional,” “conventional” or “post-conventional” based on psychological, moral levels and stages of reasoning. This is a psychological test, yet parents are not given notice nor asked for their consent.
Even math tests can contain psychological tests. They gather information about student “perseverance,” “grit,” and other nonacademic “competencies”. In fact, perseverance is one of the nonacademic standards tracked by Common Core math.
It’s not a bad idea to teach math students to persevere. It is immoral, though, to pretend that a math test is testing only math, when it is also testing the psychological attribute of perseverance or another nonacademic attribute or belief– without the informed consent of a parent.
And if politicians and corporate giants get their way, it won’t be possible for a student or parent to avoid this type of psychological data mining by opting out of the high stakes tests, because stealth testing is here to take high-stakes testing’s place.
Did you notice how the parent-and-teacher-generated, national opt-out-of-testing movement has been hijacked by top level politicians siphoning the grassroots’ energy toward the newest ed reform: “integration of testing into an aligned curriculum,” or “embedded testing” to replace the big-assessment tradition? This is also known as “stealth assessment“.
Hiding the test from the student (and from the teacher and from the parent) by embedding it in the curriculum does solve many of the problems of high-pressure testing. But it makes the problem of nonconsensual data mining worse. And it would make opting out of the governmental inventorying of human beings impossible. Thanks to “integration of testing into an aligned curriculum, the aims of SERTA can still mine your student’s data– with or without high-stakes testing.
Some people still don’t believe that federal and state governments really aim to gather data about the mind, heart and soul of each child. In the bureaucrats’ own words, read it.
The Department of Education wrote that 21st century “competencies” would include “noncognitive” (nonacademic) factors. Read that report, entitled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perserverance,” if you can find it; recently, the White House has removed its prior link to the published report.
Similar language about schools needing to gather belief-based, or social/emotional data, is found in countless other places.
See, for example, Utah’s own 2009 federal SLDS (State Longitudinal Database System) grant application language, which promised the state would gather noncognitive student data from Utah’s children, about “resiliency” and “social comfort and integration” via “psychometric census.” (Utah did “win” that federal grant, twice, and so we do have the federally designed SLDS system, as does every single United State.)
Ask your congressman: where is the language in SERTA that would prohibit state SLDS systems from feeding personally identifiable information to the federal agencies?
Where is the language in SERTA that would penalize governmental and private entities who shared or sold student information?
Where is the prohibition on sharing personal student information with international entities, such as PISA, TIMSS, or SIF?
Where are the enforcement remedies when student information is mishandled?
Where is any actual prohibition on a national database, while SERTA encourages states to share and feed out data, ironically calling it “voluntary” sharing –though neither students nor parents ever gave consent to gather or use SLDS-nested information?
There’s more that really needs to be pointed out about SERTA.
The thrifty seeming concept of nonduplication, or not overlapping and wasting energy, is used falsely, repeatedly, in SERTA, to justify the data grab.
The idea that database meshing is needful “in order to reduce burden and cost” (page 4) is supposedly justified so that the federal Secretary of Education shall “use information and data that are available from existing federal, state and local sources”. On page 12, it extends the database meshing to private entities, too: “such research and activities carried out by public and private entities to avoid duplicative or overlapping efforts”. Where are the rights of the people being data-mined?
Will state, local, and private sources just idiotically hand this student data over to the federal agencies, buying the absurd notion that privacy rights pale in comparison to the opportunity of unburdening the federal workday or bank account?
Not Just Children’s Data; Adults’ Data, Too?
It is discouraging to note that SERTA strikes the “children” from the previous bill to replace it with the word “students,” repeatedly (page 77, page 117). This replacement may broaden the reach of the data mining capability of the federal system to include not only children in public schools, but anyone in any environment that can be called a learning environment– I’m guessing: workplaces, libraries, universities, public housing facilities, rehabilitation facilities, hospital learning centers, refugee camps? Adults are repeatedly mentioned in SERTA, in addition to being included in the more generic term “students.” And SERTA says that “adult education” and “adult education and literacy activities” are used as they are defined in section 203 of the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, which is part of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. The federal link to that bill is currently broken, so I have not read that definition yet. But I think it’s safe to say that SERTA is not just about “improving research” for kids. It feels as if it’s all about Big Brothering every single citizen.
Cementing the SLDS (de facto federal) Database Systems?
In fact, on page 109, SERTA mandates that a year after it passes, and every three years thereafter, the federal Secretary of Education will prepare a report about each state’s “progress” and “use of statewide longitudinal data systems”.
Fact: SLDS databases are, by federal mandate, designed with interoperability frameworks that mean they create one big, connect-able database of fifty matching state databases. Utah’s grant application reveals, “the current School Interoperability Framework (SIF) v2 standard fulfills the needs of LEA to LEA, LEA to postsecondary, LEA to USOE, and USOE to EDFacts data exchanges.” In plain talk, that means that schools, universities, the state office of education, and the federal EDFacts data exchange use the same interoperabilities so they can share any data that their policies will allow them to share. These groups will say that “it’s just grouped data, not personally identifiable, that is shared.” But the personally identifiable data is housed and CAN be shared, if and when policy allows. Proper protections are not in place. Even federal FERPA privacy laws, upon which SERTA relies, and which SERTA mentions –was shredded by the Dept. of Education in the same year or two that it pushed Common Core tests, common SLDS systems, and Common Core Standards, on all the states. FERPA no longer requires parental consent for the sharing of personal student data. That’s a “best practice,” now, and not a requirement, and government failing to get any consent carries no punishment.
Yet SERTA relies on FERPA each time it (repeatedly) says something like “adhering to federal privacy laws and protections” (for example, see page 111).
When SERTA says potentially reassuring things, such as the idea that “cooperative education statistics partnerships” are not to be confused with a national database system (page 44) or that “no student data shall be collected by the partnerships… nor shall such partnerships establish a national student data system,” I do roll my eyes.
National student data systems are ready to plug in, like fifty separate puzzle pieces in a fifty piece puzzle; there are fifty SLDS systems– one per state. So the federal plan has already been established with state SLDS databases. The hole is dug; the concrete is poured. Now, with SETRA, they are asking for a permit to build. Congress can say no!
They must. Privacy matters. It is a basic freedom.
Do not believe the people who say that it does not matter, or that it’s already gone– because of Facebook or NSA or Social Security numbers being used as national I.D.s. It’s not yet true. Privacy is still far from “all gone,” and it is worth fighting for!
The autonomy of your child, free from Big Brother in his or her future, is worth fighting for.
Remember the Declaration of Independence. It says that governments derive their just powers from the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.
Without consent, government actions are unjust. The SLDS systems are nonconsensual systems.
They came via federal bribe, aka federal grant when unelected, unthinking, nonrepresentative bureaucrats in each state office of education applied for the federal money in exchange for the federally designed and nationally interoperable SLDS systems; no citizen nor representative voted.
These monstrous State Longitudinal Database Systems use schools and other entities to create even huge “data alliances;” this is the basis for SERTA’s potentially frightening, increased powers. Any language in SERTA implying that there is no plan for any national database is deception.
Don’t give the feds the authority to build that glary-eyed, Big Brother skyscraper on top of us, just because they already dug a foundation and poured concrete under us while we weren’t all paying attention.