Surveillance world is spreading
Can we stop the "College Transparency" Act?
Oh my, friends. It’s been just over one entire calendar year since I last posted a newsletter.
And though I haven’t told you about them, good things have been happening for our schools. The Right To Play bill is now law—ensuring 30 minutes of recess per day for all students K-5. Thanks for any calls you made for that one. The Too Young to Test bill passed—preventing K-2 from having a new standardized test imposed on them 3 times per year. This one’s waiting for the governor’s signature. So these are wonderful small ways to allow our school children to have something like a normal educational experience, with at least a small amount of recess, and without constant testing starting in preschool.
There’s a big new problem on the horizon now, though.
You know it’s big because it lured me back here to my newsletter. (I don’t know about you but I’ve been having a hard time keeping a focused eye on the many moles popping their heads up to be whacked over the last couple of years.) Let me tell you about it.
The College Transparency Act, championed on the left and right, will track an immense amount of data from every student in the US enrolled in college through their college years and beyond. We’re talking about decades of tracking—demographic information, race, income, job history, you get the idea.
There are two real problems this terrible non-solution is intended to fix: 1) college costs so much and it’s hard for students to know if they’re investing in the right program; and 2) institutions must be held accountable for what they say they offer. Ostensibly, if the federal government tracks every person (NB: every person) who attends college full time or part time, four year or community college, and finds out what they do afterwards, how much money they make, what jobs they work at, and how much value they add, we will all be led into a rosy future of knowing if a particular college will offer a good ROI.
Any time someone brings up ROI, or return on investment, as the main reason for an education, I start to get a little twitchy, but we’ll save that conversation for another day. For today, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of comprehensive data tracking of your child or your own self through college and the rest of your life, please call Dick Durbin’s office today at one of the numbers below, and leave a very brief message:
Oppose the College Transparency Act. We do not need a federal student surveillance system.
DC office: 202/224-2152
Chicago office: 312/353-4952
Springfield office: 217/492-4062
Carbondale office: 618/351-1122
Rock Island office: 309/786-5173
Do you want some reasons? Reasons are good. Here you go, courtesy of Cassie Creswell:
It’s missing basic privacy protections and will require a current federal ban on data collection to be overturned. Third party commercial use of the data is not prohibited.
Other sources of this information already exist, such as that already collected for the US Department of Ed’s College Scorecard.
Data collection has not solved equity issues at the K-12 level; in fact, what it results in usually is hysteria about test scores, the removing of students who are poor performers, the cutting of budgets, the firing of teachers, and the closing of schools.
There are no constraints on this data collection. It is defined as anything “necessary to ensure that the post-secondary data system fulfills [its] purposes,” and includes at least grades, test scores, race, disabilities, and carceral status, matched with personal data from Social Security, the Department of Defense, and the census.
Data collection has been used in the past to target and violate the civil rights of marginalized communities. In fact, a different US Department of Education could use this data for very different reasons than those stated at present.
The reality of data breaches is very well known to us in Chicago Public Schools, which has had massive data breaches at least 3 times in the last 4 years.
Data-driven ratings systems have unintended outcomes. College admissions are already data-driven. Schools buy data already to drive down their acceptance rates. The same games will be played as the emphasis on outcomes increases—that is, colleges will be even more reluctant to admit students who have a lower chance of graduation, want to pursue lower paying vocations, or have lower lifetime earning prospects. This does not lead to equity.
Thanks, friends, for throwing your weight against this bad bill. Learn more here from student privacy advocate Leonie Haimson. Keep up to date on the bill and send some letters too, here at the Action Network.
And for those of you who are CPS families, have a lovely spring break next week. I hope you can go somewhere warm and sunny. If not, hang in there, spring will eventually come to Chicago. Until then, here’s a goat enjoying some sunshine.
(Taken by my daughter at her goat dairy job in Washington State.)
Follow me on Twitter @JulieVassilatos.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Julie. I'm calling Dick Durbin Monday. I'm curious who initiated this bill.