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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Part 3: Classroom Video Camera Project Spending Millions to Extend Teacher and Student Surveillance

Part 3: Classroom Video Camera Project Spending Millions to Extend Teacher and Student Surveillance
Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn

As educators and parents, we must be diligent in protecting the democratic institutions that insure protections for children and human rights for all people.  Currently, unelected billionaire power brokers are eroding the individual right to privacy, the public’s right to steer public education policy, and the human right to dignity over profitability.  The current use of cameras in Washington County, Tennessee is a perfect example of the accelerated erosion of all three rights [see Part I & II].

Due to Arne Duncan’s unilateral decision to weaken the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to better fit the Gates business model of Cloud Computing and Big Data, student data in Washington County, including video, may be collected, stored and used without parental notification or consent.  Duncan made this change in conjunction with the Race to the Top Grants allowing private companies, who will profit from access to student data, to develop 360 longitudinal databases for use by multiple agencies and, potentially, for profit from access to data for new product development.  

What we know is that in accepting the federal money for Race to the Top, Tennessee became an investment and ongoing cash cow for Bill Gates and other billionaires interested in the 500+ billion dollar “industry” of public education in the U. S..  Tennessee agreed to implement Common Core, more and harder tests to label and sort children, a 360 database, and teacher evaluation using TVAAS as part of RTTT.  Gates has already invested $173.5 million to create and publicize Common Core and an estimated $354 million on PARCC assessments—plus the $45 million spent for the MET study that supports cameras in the classroom and teacher evaluation grounded in value-added assessment, despite research from 1996-2013 that shows the use of value added assessment to be unreliable, invalid and unfair to teachers.  What has resulted is no less than a corporate coup, whereby Gates and corporate investors have more influence on education policy in Tennessee than elected officials, appointed officials, and the citizens of the state, specifically parents and educators.

Diligence is required and diligent teachers and parents are investigating and bringing lawsuits to restore the human rights in a democratic society.  In New York, parents have filed a lawsuit against the State Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Regents to stop the collection, storage and use of student data by third party vendors.  In this case, a third party vendor, InBloom, Inc., “established by a $100 million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation, [to design] a multi-state data store, to collect and format personal student data and make it available to vendors to help them data mine, develop and market their software learning products,” Is it a coincidence that Gates is returning to Microsoft as a product and technology advisor? 

In Tennessee, a parent organization called The Momma Bears are considering a class action lawsuit to stop what they believe is an inappropriate climate survey that asks fifth graders about their families, religion, drug use and sexuality issues.  And in Washington County, educators and parents concerned with where student images collected without parent notification and consent were going and for what purposes those images might be used, have succeeded in delaying the use of cameras in classrooms until the Washington County Board of Education has completed a thorough investigation.  Additionally, the Washington County Board has amended its Duties and Powers of the Board of Education Policy 1.101 to make the Board responsible for sharing information related toapply[ing] for and receiv[ing] federal or private grants for educational purposes.” This amendment allows for the public viewing of all grants and their requirements on students and school personnel.
In partnership, parents and educators are making their concerns known to Tennessee legislators as well.  In Washington County, Rep. Matthew Hill, introduced a bill to decouple value-added scores from teacher license renewal, which immediately generated 60 cosponsors in the House.  Hill has also introduced a bill (HB2481) stating “The [Tennessee State Department] shall not require any LEA to record by audio or visual means any student or teacher in the classroom.”  This bill was referred to the State Senate Education Committee on 02/10/2014. 

From Knoxville, Rep. Bill Dunn introduced HB1549 that prohibits certain personally identifiable information from being collected, tracked, housed with, reported to, or shared with the federal government. . . [and] prohibits student data from being collected in order to develop commercial products or services or for political use.” Dunn’s bill is on the House Subcommittee calendar for February 25.
A number of other bills have been introduced this session to protect student privacy in the Tennessee Legislature.

What can you do in Tennessee and elsewhere?  Ask many questions of your school district’s Board of Education and Director of Schools concerning the use of Gates-funded curriculum, assessments, evaluations and research interests that your students are participating in now.  

Look up the education bills being introduced in the State Legislature now by your state representative or state senator [In Tennessee: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/] to see the list of bills he or she is proposing or supporting.  Then write to let them know how you feel about them and why.  We must be ever diligent to protect the rights of our children, families, and educators.  

You can make a difference for your children, your neighborhood school, and the future of education in your state.

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