Student Privacy Is in Danger, but Arizona Is Fighting Back

One of the most pernicious aspects of Common Core is the data collection that has come hand-in-hand with the standards.

The Department of Education has been extremely tight-lipped about what kind of information schools are actually collecting, but we know from anecdotal evidence that students are being asked to surrender all sorts of personal details without parental knowledge, much less parental consent.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated that he wants to be able to track students from preschool all the way to their careers using personally identifiable information (PII), and a report from the Department of Education presented a wish list of data collection, including the terrifying concept of monitoring facial expressions and eye movements for diagnostic purposes.

Photo Credit: David Mercer/AP
Photo Credit: David Mercer/AP

Once this data is collected, it is sent to the federal government, where it can be shared across agencies, and any number of bureaucrats can learn sensitive information about your children.

In response to this, a state representative from Arizona is spearheading an effort to stop this unconstitutional practice.

Rep. Mark Finchem is working on a project called “It’s My PII,” which is seeking an injunction against the federal government’s ability to collect PII without parental consent, and challenging executive action from the Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is supposed to protect student-data privacy and parental rights, but in 2012, the Department of Education issued regulations greatly loosening those protections.

While the executive branch has the authority to direct the actions of Cabinet agencies, it cannot unilaterally alter existing laws without Congress writing new legislation. In spite of this, educational authorities are using the president’s order as a justification for collecting data in violation of FERPA as written.

“It’s My PII” contends that this is illegal, and is collecting resources to launch litigation against the government, as well as preparing legislation to stop the further collection and distribution of PII in the state.

The idea that the government can track everything about students should be frightening to anyone who values the right of self-determination. The data collected through standardized testing can be used to create a profile on children that follows them throughout their whole lives, especially given that the data is able to be shared across many governmental agencies.

What’s worse, the Arizona attorney general determined in 2014 that parents cannot opt their children out of state-mandated tests. So not only is data being collected without parental consent, but it is actually illegal for parents to refuse the tests where that data originates.

The opt-out movement is one that has been sweeping the nation in response to Common Core’s onerous testing requirements and the gross violations of student privacy. The issue has gained such attention that federal education bills currently working their way through Congress have been peppered with amendments intended to stop the government from bullying students over opt-outs, authored by pro-liberty lawmakers Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona.

The effort to stop this kind of federal meddling in education — for which the Constitution grants no authorization whatsoever — has implications far broader than Arizona. A successful challenge could greatly restrict the government’s ability to violate your privacy in general, and reduce the Department of Education’s regulatory power considerably.

The federal government has shown itself incapable of restraining its own power on issues of regulations and data collection. If meaningful reforms are going to be made, they are going to have to originate in the states. Once successful, they can then serve as a springboard to national change.

The Arizona effort to protect parents’ rights and student privacy is a great first step towards a freer education system for us all.

Logan Albright is a research analyst at FreedomWorks.

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