Is Big Brother watching us through our students?

OKLAHOMA CITY —  The federal government’s prying eyes are reaching deeper into our lives under the guise of education reform.

It wants states to gather more invasive personal data of public and private school students, home school advocates charge, and they fear they are next.

Critics charge that expanded privacy law could let the government learn about such data as student disciplinary issues, health/medical problems, drug abuse, academic performance, school transfers, social security numbers, free and reduced lunch participation, mother’s maiden name, family income, parental marital status, religious affiliation, voting status and even biometric data. For example, DNA, eye color and iris recognition.

Expanded student disclosure requirements are now attached to receiving certain federal funding, plus bonus federal funding (“Race to the Top”), and Oklahoma is scrambling to get its share.

But home school educators are alarmed, saying they don’t trust the system and how far it might reach.

The “P-20 Council” was formed as coordinator/overseer of data collection. It’s headed by John Kraman, student information executive director for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. 

Ultimately, the result of its efforts will be an information database tracking student information over a period of time.

He insisted families shouldn’t worry because personally identifying information is redacted before being sent to the feds.

Home school educators, fiercely private, fear their kids are also being scooped up in this new, wider net, said Jenni White, who heads Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE).

“Our concerns are the depth and breadth of data that’s being collected,” White said. “Also, the fact that it’s being done without parental control. And the fact that they’re trying to get information from home schoolers and private schoolers,” she said, and it’s all “under the guise of education reform.”

White furnished with supporting transcripts from P-20 Council meetings. 

Kraman tried to reassure home school advocates, saying, “The short version is, the only thing the state collects on home-schooled children is if the reason they’re exiting their school is that they’re going to be home-schooled.”

The Federal Electronic Privacy Information Center charges that the broader collection guidelines open up greater amounts of personal data to a broad range of the (ever vaguely-worded) “persons with a need to know.” It says the new rules also fail to safeguard students from the risk of re-identification. It sued the U.S. Department of Education to stop the additional privacy loss for students, to no avail.

Kraman conceded that the federal government is moving toward capturing information on all students, noting it desires “a comprehensive list” for its database. Those three words alarm advocates of less government intrusion such as White.

Kraman also conceded federal student privacy protections have “have been evolving” since first established in the 1960s.
A former public and private school teacher turned home school educator is also alarmed.

 “Homeschoolers want the least government in everything they do,” said Suzy McCracken, the coordinator for the Edmond Home Educators’ support group. “I think there’s definitely going to be government involvement in homeschooling. 

Homeschoolers, especially in Oklahoma, are the least regulated. It’s written in our Constitution.

“(The government) just doesn’t have good records of home schoolers. That’s for a reason. We don’t want them to know. In this day and age we have such big government that wants to regulate everything we do. It’s troubling at the least and very invasive.”

Home school families don’t have to divulge personal information to the state education department. 

Home school educators say with about $500 in text books, they can set up their in-house operations for their children.

There is no count of how many home school children exist in Oklahoma. And don’t ask.

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