"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sex Surveys and Other Invasive Information Compiled on Students

Open Missouri is a project of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia that aims to make state and local government data more available to citizens and journalists. Its goal is to:
  • Inform Missourians about public data held by government agencies
  • Inspire journalists, citizens, web developers, entrepreneurs, businesses and non-profits to access and use public data in ways that enhance their civic, professional and personal lives.
  • Serve as a platform that connects people who are using data from state and local government agencies.
  • Educate Missourians about how they can access and use public data.
The openmissouri.org website has information about the educational data sets in Missouri and their functions. Two sets that may concern students and families are the the workforce investment act:

Category: Education, Human services and social programs, Jobs, employment and occupations
The Employment Training Section uses this database to track students and schools that participate in the workforce development training funded by the U.S. Department of Labor under the federal Workforce Investment Act. Data includes information about students' eligibility, tuition assistance and schools attended.

and the Education Data Exchange Network (EDEN):

Category: Education
Data in system is collected under federal law and is shared with the U.S. Department of Education. Data goes down to the school level and includes demographics, program participation, implementation, and outcomes. The data is used at all levels for planning and programs.

You can track the different areas of information being requested in the name of education and supplying the workforce. Even teachers will be tracked extensively through data systems under the Educational Surrogate data set:

Category: Education, Human services and social programs
Database in development. When finished, it will contain detailed information about educational surrogates and the students whom they serve. Student data to include name, birthday, school attending and residence. Educational Surrogate data to include name, contact information, special experience, training, approval date, performance evaluations, status, special skills related to knowledge of students with disabilities.

The data set labeled Highly Qualified Educators relates to teachers as well, signifying a hallmark goal in Race to the Top:

Category: Education, Laws and regulations Database in development.
Lists details about teachers who are deemed to be highly qualified teacher under state guidelines. Highly qualified teachers must have full state teaching certification, at least a bachelor's degree and demonstrated subject-matter competency in each of the teacher's academic subjects.

What DESE doesn't list is the specificity of the information the government wants to be able to get from your child in the name of "education" and share with other agencies:

  • 1. Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or parent;
  • 2. Mental and psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
  • 3. Sex behavior or attitudes;
  • 4. Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior;
  • 5. Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
  • 6. Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
  • 7. Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent; or
  • 8. Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).
This information is to be guarded by privacy laws and no identifying information is to be stored. I am certain this makes parents feel better about this invasive information in the interest of education, right? The invasive information request is not just for collecting data set information, as the vast majority of states participate in surveys for the Center for Disease Control (see above map).

Massachusetts received national attention after being called out by a parent for giving students a Youth Behavior Survey:

It includes questions about tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors that might lead to unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, dietary behaviors, physical activity, and behaviors associated with intentional or unintentional injuries.

Principal Fran Thomas told Fox News Radio that students were indeed given the survey – and admits it was graphic. But Thomas said the school has nothing to do with the content and they were required to administer the survey to fulfill a grant requirement.

“I can take no responsibility for what’s on that survey,” Thomas said. “It’s not generated by the school system.”

Thomas said the survey was funded by a federal grant and administered by LUK Inc., a local social services agency -- in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control.

A spokesperson for the CDC denied any involvement in the Fitchburg sex survey. The CDC said only seven states and six urban districts include sexual identity questions on their YRBS surveys – and the questions are optional.

But Principal Thomas disputed that notion.

“It was not optional,” he said. “It’s part of a grant that they applied for and the district said you have to administer this survey.”

(You can find a sample questionnaire here from 2011 given to high schoolers; the sexual activity questions are included in this sample which is labeled a "standard sample". Other questions asked include use of violence, thoughts of suicide, bullying, and eating habits.)

Is the compiling of this information furthering the education of your child? Will it equip them with the skills necessary to be "STEM" (Science, Technology, Education, Math) ready? Will it vault them into the global competitive system?

Should DESE and other state educational systems be required to inform parents and taxpayers what questions are asked of their children and for what purpose? Is it time for states to say "no" to federal grants that demand invasive personal information?

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