Nationwide Coalition letter
linked at Florida’s Stop Common Core Coalition here.
January 9, 2017
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
428 Senate Dirksen Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and Members of the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee,
We, the undersigned leaders of a nationwide coalition of grassroots parent groups, wish to raise significant concerns about Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos, and request that you ask her these questions about education, standards, privacy and autonomy issues:
1) We understand that your website statement right after your appointment that you are “not a supporter – period” of Common Core was meant to reassure activists that you oppose the standards and will honor Mr. Trump’s promise to get rid of Common Core.
Please list your efforts during your extensive period of education activism and philanthropy to fight the implementation of the standards.
2) In your November 23 website statement you mention “high standards,” and in the Trump Transition Team readout of your November 19th meeting with the president-elect, you reportedly discussed “higher national standards.”
Please explain how this is different from Common Core. Also, please justify this stand in light of the lack of constitutional and statutory authority for the federal government to involve itself in standards, and in light of Mr. Trump’s promise to stop Common Core, make education local, and scale back or abolish the U.S. Department of Education.
3) Would you please reconcile your website statement that you are “not a supporter – period” of Common Core with your record of education advocacy in Michigan and elsewhere – specifically, when you have, either individually or through your organizations (especially the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) that you founded and chaired, and of which your family foundation is still the majority funder):
Been described as supporting Common Core by Tonya Allen of the Skillman Foundation in the Detroit News?
Actively worked to block a bill that would have repealed and replaced Michigan’s Common Core standards with the Massachusetts standards, arguably the best in the nation?
Actively lobbied for continued implementation of Common Core in Michigan?
Financially supported pro-Common Core candidates in Michigan?
Funded Alabama pro-Common Core state school board candidates?
Threatened the grassroots parent organization Stop Common Core in Michigan with legal action for showing the link between GLEP endorsement and Common Core support?
4) The Indiana voucher law that you and your organization, the American Federation for Children (AFC), strongly supported and funded requires voucher recipient schools to administer the public school Common Core-aligned tests and submit to the grading system based on those same Common Core-aligned tests. The tests determine what is taught, which means that this law is imposing Common Core on private schools. Indiana “is the secondworst in the country on infringing on private school autonomy” according to the Center for Education Reform because of that and other onerous requirements, and the state received an F grade on the Education Liberty Watch School Choice Freedom Grading Scale.
Do you support imposing public-school standards, curriculum and tests on private and or home schools?
5) Through Excel in Ed and the American Federation for Children, you have influenced legislation that has made Florida a “leader” in school choice, yet the majority of students, especially those in rural areas, in states like Florida, still chooses to attend traditional public schools. Public school advocates in Florida complain that expanded school choice has negatively affected their traditional public schools, even in previously high performing districts.
As Secretary of Education, how will you support the rights of parents and communities whose first choice is their community’s traditional public school?
6) You and AFC have been strong supporters of federal Title I portability. As Secretary of Education, would you require the same public school, Common Core tests and the rest of the federal regulations for private schools under a Title I portability program as Jeb Bush recommended for Mitt Romney in 2012 (p. 24)? If yes, please cite the constitutional authority for the federal government to be involved in regulating schools, including private schools, and explain how this policy squares with Mr. Trump’s promise to reduce the federal education footprint.
7) The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires secretarial approval of state education plans for standards, tests and accountability. Will you support state sovereignty by approving the state plans in line with Mr. Trump’s vision of decreasing the federal role in education, or will you exercise federal control by secretarial veto power over these plans?
8) The Philanthropy Roundtable group that you chaired published a report on charter schools, but did not mention the Hillsdale classical charter schools, even though they are in your home state of Michigan and Hillsdale is nationally renowned for its classical and constitutional teaching and for not taking federal funding. Have you or any of your organizations done anything substantive to support the Hillsdale model aside from a few brief mentions on your websites? If not, do you want all charter schools in Michigan and elsewhere to only teach Common Core-aligned standards, curriculum and tests?
9) During the primary campaign, President-elect Trump indicated that he strongly supported student privacy by closing the loopholes in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), saying the following to a parent activist:
I would close all of it,” Trump replied. “You have to have privacy. You have to have privacy. So I’d close all of it. But, most of all, I’d get everything out of Washington, ‘cause that’s where it’s all emanating from.
Will you commit to reversing the Obama administration’s regulatory gutting of FERPA and to updating that statute to better protect student privacy in the digital age?
10) We are sure you are aware of serious parental concerns about corporate collection and mining of highly sensitive student data through digital platforms, without parental knowledge or consent. But the Philanthropy Roundtable, which you chaired, published a report called Blended Learning: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Tech-assisted Teaching that lauds the Dream Box software that “records 50,000 data points per student per hour” and does not contain a single use of the words “privacy,” “transparency” [as in who receives that data and how it is used to make life-changing decision for children], or “consent.”
Will you continue to promote the corporate data-mining efforts of enterprises such as Dream Box and Knewton, whose CEO bragged about collecting “5-10 million data points per user per day,” described in your organization’s report?
11) Related to Questions 9 and 10 above, there is currently a federal commission, the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking, which is discussing lifting the federal prohibition on the creation of a student unit-record system. If that prohibition is removed, the federal government would be allowed to maintain a database linking student data from preschool through the workforce. That idea is strongly opposed by parent groups and privacy organizations.
Will you commit to protecting student privacy by recommending to the Commission on EvidenceBased Policymaking that this prohibition be left in place?
12) As outlined in a letter from Liberty Counsel that was co-signed by dozens of parent groups across the nation, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) plans to add subjective, invasive, illegal, and unconstitutional survey or test mindset questions to the 2017 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
What will you do to rein in NAGB and protect the psychological privacy and freedom of conscience of American students?
13) Through commissions, programs, federally funded groups, the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the proposed Strengthening Education Through Research Act, and other entities, there has been an explosion of effort to expand invasive, subjective social emotional learning (SEL) standards, curricula and assessment.
What is your view of SEL and what will you do to protect student psychological privacy and freedom of conscience?
Thank you for your willingness to hear and address the concerns of hundreds of thousands of parents across this nation.
Should you need any further detail on any of these issues, I am acting as point of contact for this coalition.
Karen R. Effrem, MD President – Education Liberty Watch
National Organizations and Education Policy Leaders
Karen R. Effrem, MD – President, Education Liberty Watch
Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education emerita, 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality, University of Arkansas
Eunie Smith, Acting President & Mary Potter Summa, National Issues Chair – Eagle Forum
Angela Davidson Weinzinger – Leader, Parents and Educators Against Common Core Standards
Donna G. Garner, Retired Teacher and EdViews.org Policy Commentator
Christel Swasey – Advisory Board Member, United States Parents Involved in Education
Shane Vander Hart – Caffeinated Thoughts
Teri Sasseville – Special Ed Advocates to Stop Common Core
Michelle Earle – Founder and Administrator, Twitter Stop Federal Education Mandates in the U.S
Gudrun & Tim Hinderberger – Founding Administrators & Michelle Earle, Co-administrator, Americans Against Common Core Group
Alice Linahan, Vice-President – Women on the Wall
Teri Sasseville – Stop Early Childhood Common Core
Lynne M Taylor – Common Core Diva, education researcher and activist
State Organizations and Education Policy Leaders
Betty Peters – Member, Alabama State Board of Education
Jennifer Helms, PhD, RN – President, Arkansans for Education Freedom
Orlean Koehle – President, California Eagle Forum
Orlean Koehle – Director, Californians United Against Common Core
Karen R. Effrem, MD – Executive Director, Florida Stop Common Core Coalition
Meredith Mears, Debbie Higgenbotham, Stacie Clark – FL Parents RISE Keith Flaugh – Florida Citizens Alliance
Janet O McDonald, M.Ed., LMT, Neurodevelopmental Specialist & Instructor – Member, Flagler County School Board, District 2
Catherine Baer – Chairwoman, The Tea Party Network
Suzette Lopez – Accountabaloney
Sue Woltanski – Minimize Testing Maximize Learning
Beth Overholt, MSW – Chair, Opt Out Leon County
Deb Gerry Herbage – Founder, Exposed Blog
Lamarre Notargiacomo – Indian River Coalition 4 Educational Freedom
Charlotte Greenbarg – President, Independent Voices for Better Education
Teri Sasseville – Georgians to Stop Common Core
Stephanie Froerer Zimmerman – Founder, Idahoans for Local Education
Donald Bauder – V.P Hamilton County Grassroots Conservatives
Shane Vander Hart and Leslie Beck – Iowa RestoreEd
Lisa Huesers, Courtney Rankin, Rosy Schmidt – Kansans Against Common Core
Shirley Daniels – Kentucky Eagle Forum
Dr. Elizabeth Meyers, Dr. Anna Arthurs, Mrs. Mary Kass, Mrs. Terri Temmcke – Stop Common Core in Louisiana
Deborah DeBacker, Tamara Carlone, Melanie Kurdys , & Karen Braun – Stop Common Core in Michigan
Linda Bell, founder; Kerstin Hardley-Schulz, & Chris Daniels – Minnesota Advocates and Champions for Children
Jennifer Black-Allen and Anne Taylor – MACC Refuse the Tests
Karen Briske – Stop Common Core in Nevada
Ken Eyring – Member, Windham School Board
Michelle Earle – Founder and Administrator, Stop Common Core and Federal Education Mandates in the Fingerlakes, NY
Alphonsine Englerth – Advocate & Founder, Flo’s Advocacy for Better Education in NYS
Heidi Huber – Ohioans for Local Control
Oklahoma Jenni White – Education Director, Restore Oklahoma Parental Empowerment
Karen Bracken – President/Founder, Tennessee Against Common Core Bobbie Patray – President, Tennessee Eagle Forum
Lynn Davenport – Parents Encouraging A Classical Education (PEACE)
Mellany Lamb – Texans Against Common Core
Meg Bakich – Leader, Truth in Texas Education
A. Patrick Huff – Adjunct Professor, University of St. Thomas
Utah Michelle Boulter – Member, Utah State Board of Education, District 15, as an individual
Wendy K. Hart – Member, Alpine School District Board of Education, ASD2, as an individual
Oak Norton – Executive Director, Agency Based Education
Gayle Ruzicka – President, Utah Eagle Forum
Oak Norton and Christel Swasey – Co-Founders, Utahns Against Common Core
Dr. Gary Thompson – Founder, Early Life Psychology, Inc.
Angela Summers – WV Against Common Core
JR Wilson – Stop Common Core in Washington State
Leah Huck, Karen W. Larsen, and Breann Treffry, Administrators – Washington State Against Common Core
Jeffrey Horn – Stop Common Core in Wisconsin
A news bomb about the theft of student data exploded in Utah’s Deseret News last July, but nobody noticed, apparently.
The article’s headline — “Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on Utah Autism Rates” — focused primarily on things other than the data theft. It highlighted former University of Utah research professor Judith Zimmerman’s allegations that university researchers were falsifying Utah’s autism rates.
But to me, the unheadlined bomb that the article dropped was the 750,000 students who had their data and their families’ data stolen by unauthorized “researchers”. The families now have no way of knowing this happened.
Zimmerman was fired for raising concerns about protected student data that she said the researchers had “compromised and accessed without proper authority.” She told the Deseret News that unauthorized individuals took 750,000 sensitive records with neither parental nor schools’ consent. This private “medical and educational information” included “names, birthdays, information about medical characteristics… special education classification and parents’ names and addresses,” reported the Deseret News.
How would these families now be notified? I wonder: with the whistleblower fired and with a years-long lawsuit and likely gag orders pending, the only people who now could potentially contact those families would be still employed at the university –who, being accused of the wrongdoing, certainly won’t go out of their way to inform the affected families right now.
I’m not going to discuss the ways in which the stolen records, and the children they represented, are vulnerable to potential crimes of credit card fraud, health insurance identity theft, crimes of predatory stalkers or the mandates of well-or-ill-intentioned governmental activists.
I’m here to ask –and answer– a very simple question that I hope readers are asking: how could this have happened? How were three quarters of a million records of children just lying around under the noses of any unscrupulous university researchers?
It’s simple. Utah has a STATE LONGITUDINAL DATABASE SYSTEM (SLDS) and it’s managed by the UECP at the University of Utah.
You, your children, and your grandchildren are in the SLDS whether you like it or not –unless you pay 100% of your own money in tuition for a 100% private school, and always have. There is no other way to opt out. I’ve tried.
Don’t get me started about how blindly stupid Utah is (all states now are) for having –and continuing to support– the SLDS.
We’re subject to this SLDS data surveillance system simply because in some USOE cubicle, some clueless grant writer responded to Obama’s mess of pottage and decided that the state of Utah might exchange students’ privacy for a $9.6 million dollar federal grant.
Utah traded all students’ data records, longitudinally (permanently) into this data-slurping machine, euphemistically titled the State Longitudinal Database System, which the feds designed and oversaw— all for the love of money and nonconsensual research.
Without parental consent, Utah children’s data now is daily being collected –using schools to vaccum it up. This is not a legitimate situation, but you can’t blame schools. They are being used. They have to give daily data to the state/fed system, or they lose funds/grind to a halt. In a recent Utah rulemaking statement, we read: “all public education LEAs shall begin submitting daily updates to the USOE Clearinghouse using all School Interoperability Framework (SIF) objects defined in the UTREx Clearinghouse specification. Noncompliance with this requirement may result in interruption of MSP funds.”
So we can’t believe the ear candy we’re told, about how this data mining is about keeping data on kids so teachers can do their best teaching. It’s not staying in the local school for teachers and administrators to legitimately peruse, but it goes into the federally designed, federally interoperable SLDS database held at UECP/U of U which many state agencies can peruse and which the feds can already partially peruse.
(Side note: the feds are feverishly working to get much greater unit-record access as we speak. If you’re interested, livestream the CEP’s federal public hearing on that subject today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvvatB_NBWI )
Every state has an SLDS system. The feds paid the states to build them. The feds told the states how the SLDS’s had to be built. Utah got nearly $10 million to make Utah’s federal SLDS in 2009. And the grant’s been renewed to keep trading cash for students, in recent years.
Utah children and their families thus have their data sucked away to where unelected, unaccountable “researchers” are entrusted with data via SLDS. The University’s “Utah Education Policy Center” (UEPC) is a founding partner in the Utah Data Alliance, which controls Utah’s SLDS system. According to UEPC’s website:
“Five other partners include the Utah State Office of Education (public education), Utah System of Higher Education, Utah College of Applied Technology, Utah Education Network, and the Department of Workforce Services. UEPC serves as the research coordinator for the Utah Data Alliance. UEPC coordinates access for individuals and organizations interested in collaborating with the Utah Data Alliance, or researchers interested in accessing data for research purposes.”
That’s a long answer to a short question. That’s how the data got stolen.
Here’s the follow up question: what’s keeping the other millions of records of students from going the same way that those 750,000 records went?
Ask your legislator that question. Ask him/her to show you any proper privacy protections that are actually in place. (FERPA was shredded; don’t let them pretend there’s protection anymore under FERPA.)
We do not even have the freedom to opt out of SLDS tracking. But all of this can change– if more good people speak up– act.
How did the fox persuade the gingerbread boy to get on his back? The fox said that he would never eat him, but would surely protect the gingerbread boy from everyone who was trying to eat him on the dangerous side of the river.
On shore stood the hungry horse, the farmer, the dog, the others– and the fox said that he could help the gingerbread boy to get away. The fox protected the gingerbread boy like the federal government is protecting your child’s personal data.
Every time I read an official promise like this recent CEP statement (and there are so many; even the federal alterations to FERPA sounded like the CEP statement) –I think of the gingerbread boy. The CEP (federal “Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking”) promises that the government only wants more individual “data in order to build evidence about government programs, while protecting privacy and confidentiality.” I think of the fox “protecting” the gingerbread boy.
That fox wanted to eat the boy just as much as the dog and the farmer and everyone else did. Even the gingerbread boy probably suspected it, but he really, really wanted to cross that river.
When the government says that it can and will protect privacy while accessing greater amounts of data, I think:
River = money
Gingerbread boy = a child’s sensitive data
Horse = educational sales corporations
Farmer = educational researchers
Fox = federal government
Dog= state government
The oven where the boy was born = SLDS database
Senate President Niederhauser and House Speaker Hughes
The State School Board race has never drawn much attention before. But this year, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, businesses and even top-tier elected officials are personally campaigning and fundraising for and against certain candidates.
Yesterday’s headline was: “Niederhauser and Hughes ask Business Leaders to Help Defeat UEA-Backed School Board Candidates“. Yesterday, too, business organizations such as the Utah Technology Council and the School Improvement Association joined Niederhauser and Hughes in a fundraising webinar that promoted a slate of pro-Common Core candidates who happen to be not favored by or funded by national teacher’s unions.
I understand why someone with a conscience would campaign against out-of-state big UEA-NEA money buying Utah’s state board election. So they should.
But I don’t understand why these groups have chosen to campaign against both the anti-Common Core candidates (in blue) as well as against the UEA-backed candidates (in red) as they showed in this slide at yesterday’s insider fundraising webinar:
Nor do I understand why our House Speaker and Senate President don’t see the hypocrisy in speaking against big money buying votes (NEA) while both of them are personally funded by big business money (Education First).
But my bigger questions are: how do the Speaker and the Senate President dare to campaign for Common Core candidates, thus going directly against Governor Herbert’s call to end Common Core alignment in Utah?
How do they dare campaign against the resolution of their own Utah Republican Party that called for the repeal of the Common Core Initiative?
Have they forgotten the reasons that their party is strongly opposed to all that the Common Core Initiative entails?
Have they forgotten Governor Herbert’s letter that called for an end to Common Core and SAGE testing just four months ago? (See letter here.) For all the talk about wanting to move toward local control and to move against the status quo, this seems odd.
Next to the governorship, there aren’t more powerful offices in the state than those held by House Speaker Hughes and Senate President Niederhauser. So what does this powerful endorsement of a certain slate of candidates signify?
First, it signifies what is probably a sincere concern for (partial) local control: In the fundraising webinar held yesterday (by Hughes, Niederhauser, the School Improvement Network and the Utah Technology Council) the following slide was displayed: Out of $308,512 raised for the political action of the Utah UEA (teacher’s union) $300,000 of it came from out of state. Hughes and Niederhauser are right in being alarmed at that money’s probable effect on local control.
(What they didn’t highlight is this: all of the anti-Common Core candidates’ funding, combined, doesn’t come close to what even one of the UEA-funded candidates are spending because none of them are backed by corporate or political powers.)
Secondly, it signifies Utah leadership’s alignment with Obama’s vision for education, which among other things mandates sidelining certain subjects in favor of others. Niederhauser told the Tribune that he didn’t want any board member’s vision to “dominate the board” which, to him, meant to “supplant business and technology representatives.” So he wants to make sure that business and technology is at least as dominant as any other interest. The School Improvement Network is of the same opinion.
We could ask why. Why, specifically, would legislators be endorsing the fields of business and technology over the fields of languages, medicine, history, social work, the arts or any other thing? And where’s the idealogical division between what NEA wants and what Niederhauser-Hughes want? Is it fair to speculate that NEA corporate funders are in competition against the Education First corporate funders, and all of this is just an economic struggle pretending to be a struggle for the children’s best interests? Utah tax dollars are, after all, the passionate pursuit of multiple players in the now $2 Billion per year ed tech sales industry.
Many people know that both Hughes and Niederhauser’s political campaigns are heavily funded by Education First, a Utah political action committee for Prosperity 2020 that puts businesses first.
Not voters first. Not education –broadly– first; this is education as defined by the ed-tech sales industry and by Obama’s 2020 vision. Read it in their own words. In an Tribune op-ed taking credit for passing legislation that Education First had lobbied for, you’ll see little focus on funding for paper and pens, school basketballs, violins, gluesticks, old-fashioned books, or heaven forbid, large teachers’ salaries– no, ed funding to Education First means to fund the priorities that precisely (coincidentally?) match Obama’s 2020 vision: early childhood education (which competes with free enterprise/private preschools), workforce development (China-styled central planning) “community schools” (Obama’s vision to integrate healthcare with academics and with socio-political movements “using government schools as a hub”) and standardized personalized learning (an oxymoron that cements Common Core academics and its data tags).
Don’t mistake this as a fight between tech lovers and tech haters. None of the candidates for state school board are anti-technology, though the smart ones are pushing for improved laws governing student privacy in this modern age.
So what are Hughes and Niederhauser really saying when they say they’re for the pro-tech candidates? What does that really mean? That Utahns should sit back and let the ed tech sales industry, or businesses, sit in the driver’s seat for educational decision-making? That’s the stated aim of Education First (in Utah) and of Obama’s 2020 (nationally) and, according to his Tribune quote above, it’s also the aim of President Niederhauser.
Education First doggedly, directly, lobbies citizens, governments, and school districts, to strong-arm their narrow vision, that businesses should “help” direct education. They refer to my child and yours as the economy’s. They call children “human capital” on their website. This is, when ripe, the 1992 Hillary-Tucker dream coming true, with the collective economy dictating to the individual on the assembly line.
Education First wants a high “concentration of science and engineering occupations” in Utah, which you may or may not agree with; what I hope you do agree with is that this new, business – public ed partnershipping governance system, with business being handed power to influence schooling, when taken to the extreme, is fascism. In fascism, there’s no distinction between government and business. And the voter has no say.
Do we want to walk down that slippery slope? Do we want the Education First business community to be given power in schools?
Whether promoting science and engineering at the expense of other subject and careers is the will of the people, or not, really doesn’t come in to the discussion. Prosperity 2020 has said that businesses will “provide a business oriented plan to improve results” for schools.
If Hughes or Niederhauser would respond to my emails to them, I would ask them this: how is it any more helpful toward Constitutional local control– if that is what you really want– to let businesses take over the driver’s seat for educators, as your financial backers aim to do, than for out of state (NEA) funding to call the same shots? Either way, students and schools and voters lose personal freedoms to self-appointed experts who think they know best.
So when Niederhauser worries that “big money groups effectively buy the election,” he is right. The hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring in to NEA-UEA approved candidates’ purses should raise eyebrows. But shouldn’t the same eyebrows rise too, seeing in-state big money groups like Education First and Prosperity 2020 now, as in the past, funding the pro-Common Core candidates –and funding Hughes and Niederhauser themselves– effectively buying the election in the very same way?
Meanwhile, none of the liberty-first, anti-Common Core candidates, Alisa Ellis, Lisa Cummins, Michelle Boulter or Dr. Gary Thompson, are richly funded. All they really have to stand on is true principles of liberty –and word of mouth.
Many voters know that Common Core is anti-local control. The Governor almost lost in the primary to anti-Common Core challenger Jonathan Johnson because of this. The Governor was repeatedly booed at political conventions this year because he had been such a promoter of the Common Core, prior to his turnaround. What will the governor say about Niederhauser’s and Hughes’ current effort? More importantly, what will voters say?
Dr. Gary Thompson, a district 10 candidate for state school board, said today:
“I was pleased the that the Speaker of the House and Senator Neiderhauser identified who the “anti common core” education candidates are in this election. I was pleased to be labeled as one of them. This provides a clear choice for members in the community to chose from as they please. Comments made by the Speaker in regards to the UEA did not receive a prior endorsement by this campaign. I look forward to having a professional, cordial discussion with my UEA endorsed opponent on September 28th regarding education issues that will affect our children in District 10″
For anyone wanting to watch the debates between state school board candidates, please check that schedule here.
Pictured below are the candidates for state school board that I endorse, whom the UEA, NEA, UTC, SIN, Senate President and House Speaker do not:
For true local control of education:
Alisa Ellis, Michelle Boulter, Lisa Cummins, Dr. Gary Thompson.
Jane Robbins and Jakell Sullivan co-authored this article at Townhall.com, which is reposted here with permission. Please note the links to learn more.
In May 2014, conservative columnist George Will warned that Common Core represented the “thin edge of an enormous wedge” and that “sooner or later you inevitably have a national curriculum.”
Will’s concern is now closer to realization. One lever the U.S. Department of Education (USED) may use to hasten this outcome is the #GoOpen Initiative, through which USED will push onto the states Common Core-aligned online instructional materials. These materials are “openly licensed educational resources” (Open Educational Resources, or OER) – online resources that have no copyright and are free to all users. Utah is part of the initial consortium of states that will be collaborating in #GoOpen.
#GoOpen is part of a larger global and federal effort to institute OER in place of books and traditional education (in fact, USED appointed a new advisor to help school districts transition to OER). More disturbingly, another part of this scheme increases the federal government’s ability to monitor and track teacher and student use of these online resources – and perhaps even influence the content.
This outcome could result from a related, joint USED-Department of Defense initiative called the Learning Registry. The Registry is an “open-source infrastructure” that can be installed on any digital education portal (such as PBS) and that will facilitate the aggregation and sharing of all the linked resources on the Registry. The idea is to “tag” digital content by subject area and share on one site supposedly anonymous data collected from teacher users (content such as grade-level, recommended pedagogy, and user ratings). That way, Registry enthusiasts claim, teachers can find instructional content to fit their particular needs and see how it “rates.”
Putting aside the question whether USED should push states into a radical new type of instruction that presents multiple risks to students and their education (see here, here, and here), the Learning Registry threatens government control over curriculum. Here’s how.
USED has proposed a regulation requiring “all copyrightable intellectual property created with [USED] discretionary competitive grant funds to have an open license.” So, all online instructional materials created with federal dollars will have to be made available to the Registry, without copyright restrictions.
[Federal law prohibits USED from funding curricular materials in the first place, but this Administration’s violation of federal law has become routine.]
The Registry will compile all user data and make “more sophisticated recommendations” about what materials teachers should use. So federal money will fund development of curricular materials that will be placed on a federally supported platform so that the feds can make “recommendations” about their use. The repeated intrusion of the word “federal” suggests, does it not, a danger of government monitoring and screening of these materials.
And speaking of “user data” that will fuel all this, the Registry promises user anonymity. But consider the example of Netflix movie ratings, in which two researchers were able to de-anonymize some of the raters based on extraordinarily sparse data points about them.
Despite Netflix’s intention to maintain user anonymity, its security scheme failed. How much worse would it be if the custodian of the system – in our case, USED – paid lip service to anonymity but in fact would like to know who these users are? Is Teacher A using the online materials that preach climate change, or does he prefer a platform that discusses both sides? Does Teacher B assign materials that explore LGBT issues, or does she avoid those in favor of more classical topics? Inquiring bureaucrats want to know.
In fact, in a 2011 presentation, USED’s bureaucrat in charge of the Registry, Steve Midgley, veered awfully close to admitting that user data may be less anonymous than advertised. Midgley said, “[Through the Registry] we can actually find out this teacher assigned this material; this teacher emailed this to someone else; this teacher dragged it onto a smart board for 18 minutes. . . .” [see video below]. The Registry will also use “the math that I don’t understand which [will] let me know something about who you are and then let me do some mathematical operations against a very large data set and see if I can pair you with the appropriate relevant resource.”
Sure, all this will supposedly be done anonymously. But teachers should hesitate to embrace something that could possibly reveal more about them than they bargained for.
USED would protest that this is all hypothetical, and that it would never abuse its power to influence teachers and control instructional content. But with this most ideological of all administrations, denials of ill intent ring hollow (remember Lois Lerner?). If the power is there, at some point it will be used. Never let an “enormous wedge” go to waste.
Thank you, Jakell Sullivan and Jane Robbins, for this eye-opening report.