Saturday, August 13, 2011

North Carolina student data revealed online: State Longitudinal Data Systems Revisited

A phone call from a parent alerted North Carolina Department of Public Instruction officials that private data on school students was posted online.

"Data housed on a N.C. State University computer server that contained private information for about 1,800 schoolchildren from Richmond and Wilson counties was inadvertently made available online, university officials said Tuesday.

The data, gathered from 2003 to 2006 as part of a research study on classroom practices, included names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth. The three affected elementary schools are the now-closed Ashley Chapel in Richmond County and Gardners and Wells in Wilson County."

Read more on this breach of data here.

Although the source of the error is not described, the news report alludes to a computer "glitch" of some type. How seriously should this breach be taken? Could student data be hacked, repackaged, sold, and revealed?

Recent reports reveal an Anonymous group of overseas hackers have threatened attacks on U.S. law enforcement computer systems. Of the 70 attacks claimed by the group, only Arkansas and Louisiana attacks have been verified. Officials say that no sensitive data was accessed.
Last month the U.S. National Security Council released a report in which it named cyber crime as a major threat to national security, and costing the U.S. $1 billion annually in losses.

With Race to the Top dollars, states have been developing State Longitudinal Data Systems using federal parameters and guidance. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that California's Governor Brown recently decided to reverse that State's decision in development of the SLDS saying districts had the data they needed.

In a February 2010 letter, U.S. House Representative John Kline wrote Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last year regarding this initiative:

"As part of what you described as a "cradle to career agenda," the Department of Education is aggressively moving to expand data system that collect information on our nation's students. I am concerned by recent reports that indicate the Department's hasty pursuit of this goal could compromise student privacy rights."

Kline goes on to say: "The Department's efforts to shepherd states toward the creation of a de facto national student database raises serious legal and prudential questions. Congress has never authorized the Department of Education to facilitate the creation of a national student database."

Read Rep. Kline's full letter here.

Teacher performance pay is described as the rationale for this massive data collection initiative. Does a performance pay structure through data collection outweigh the costs, risks, and privacy considerations?

For facts and details on SLDS, go to Truth in American Education.

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