"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, February 08, 2013

Stopping MA DESE from Turning Over Student and Teacher Records to Corporations

Letter from ACLU to MA BESE:

February 5, 2013
Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street
MaldenMA 02148

Dear Board Members,

It has come to our attention that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education intends to share confidential student and teacher data with the Gates Foundation, as part of its Shared Learning Collaborative, consisting of personally identifiable information including student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, and most likely, special education needs, economic status, and racial identity as well. 

The Gates Foundation is building a national “data store” of such information, and intends to hand all this information to a new, separate corporation, which in turn plans to make it available to commercial vendors to help them develop and market their “learning products.”[1][1] The operating system of this “data store” is being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, which has been investigated for violating the privacy of individuals both here in the United States and in Great Britain.[2][2]

The Foundation has stated that this new corporation, inBloom, will be financially sustainable and independent of philanthropic support by 2016, meaning that states, districts, and/or vendors will likely have to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the “data store,” which is to be placed on a cloud run by Amazon.com.[3][3] Of particular concern, inBloom has stated that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” to third party vendors.”[4][4]

We have grave concerns about this unprecedented plan to disclose highly sensitive information with private entities, and we urge you to take the following steps to ensure that student privacy rights are fully protected:

1. 1.   Provide and post publicly the contract between the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Gates Foundation concerning this matter;
2.  2.  Hold hearings and explain to the public what specific confidential information will be shared and for what purposes;
3.  3.  Require parental consent before a child’s data is shared with the Gates Foundation or any other private corporation that intends to store it and/or make it available to others, as FERPA requires[5][5];
4. 4.  Promise that this data will never be used for commercial purposes;
5.  5. Ensure maximum protections against data breaches and explain who will be held liable if a child’s personal information leaks out or is used in an unauthorized fashion;
6.  6. Explain what resources are being used to facilitate this project, and what further costs will accrue to state taxpayers for the long-term maintenance of this “data store,” once the new corporation becomes independent of philanthropic support;
7.  7.  Create an advisory group to oversee this project, including public school parents, advocates, independent experts in data security and privacy, and other stakeholder groups.

The Federal Trade Commission has recently strengthened restrictions on the capture and use of a child’s personally identifiable information, in recognition of the huge risks to safety and privacy that occur when commercial entities obtain access to it.[6][6] The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should be leading the effort to protect this data, rather than involved in facilitating its disclosure. The Board should have as its top priority securing the privacy rights of the state’s schoolchildren and their families, rather than serving the interests of private corporations. Until and unless the above steps are taken, we trust that you will not allow any disclosures to occur.

We await your reply,

ACLU of Massachusetts
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Citizens for Public Schools


  1. Anonymous5:28 PM

    Holy Moses Batman!

  2. Education gets more and more like Brave New World (or 1984) every time I look. This is deplorable.

  3. Anonymous11:25 PM

    Who wrote this draft? Was it ever delivered? Why is there no response or memo concerning further action?