Cyber-attack targets personal info of students and parents in Splendora ISD

SPLENDORA, Texas - Splendora ISD says a cyber-attack has compromised information of families within the district and could potentially give rise to threatening messages made directly to parents, students and staff. The school district said it was first notified of the threat early Wednesday that is targeting confidential information such as phone numbers and addresses. On Friday, Splendora ISD stated it continued to receive the threats, saying this prominent hacking group intends to send violent and graphic messages through text and email [...] The school district believes the hackers have targeted districts throughout the country in the past, including a Montana district earlier this month.

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cameras to data-mine our children’s emotions in the classroom…

A rise in artificial intelligence and cognitive computing is creating a new workforce of robots, simulating human thought and transforming industries. At the apex of this emerging tech is a new field of sensory technology known as emotive computing.

This is not teaching robots to have emotions. Rather, it is about teaching them to recognize human emotions, based on signals, and then react appropriately based on an evaluation of how the person is feeling. Robots may actually be more useful than humans in this role, as they are not clouded by emotion, instead using intelligent technology to detect hidden responses.


In the last three years, there has been an emergence of new businesses pioneering facial recognition technology in the classroom. Companies like SensorStar Labs use cameras to capture student responses, which feed into algorithms to identify if their attention is wandering. The system, called EngageSense, measures smiles, frowns and audio to classify student engagement.

Psychologist Paul Ekman has taken this to a whole new level, cataloging more than 5,000 facial movements to help identify human emotions. His research is powering new companies like Emotient Inc, Affectiva Inc and Eyeris, each using a combination of psychology and data-mining to detect micro expressions and classify human reactions.

So far this technology has focused on aiding federal law enforcement and market research, but San Diego researchers are also trialling this technology in healthcare, to measure children’s pain levels after surgeries.

Applying this in the classroom means teachers can gather more in-depth data to measure understanding. This can be used on a one-to-one level but also to assess class engagement as a whole, in response to varying teaching methods, informing teachers where additional support may be required.

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IES Audit Finds Problems With Screening for Contractors Using Student Data

The U.S. Department of Education's office of inspector general has released an audit sharply critiquing the Institute of Education Sciences' security screenings for federal education contractors.

IES, the Education Department's research agency collects data on millions of students nationwide, and it is one of the primary agencies connecting researchers to student data, but the audit suggests the agency needs to tighten its processes to ensure researchers know how to safeguard student privacy.

Auditors looked at a a sample of 95 employees assigned to IES's five largest contractors, all of them long-standing research groups: Research Triangle Institute, the American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences, NCS Pearson, Inc, Westat, Inc, and the Educational Testing Service. All told, they represent more than $462 million, or 29 percent of IES's active contract funding.

The auditors found nearly half of the 81 employees who needed a screening in order to work with student data had no evidence of receiving one. Another 15 employees had been screened while under a previous contract or while working for another agency, but IES had not verified their screenings.

In general, the problems seems to be caused by confusion about which employees met different levels of risk in working with students' personal data. IES is in the process of revising a guide for contractors on student data, but it has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

In a response to the audit, IES delegated director Thomas Brock said that the agency has written clarified guidance to its contractors and added additional staff as "personal security representatives" for contractors, and that it is continuing to work on security screening processes.

‘Weapons Of Math Destruction’ Outlines Dangers Of Relying On Data Analytics

Heard on  All Things Considered

NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with data scientist Cathy O'Neil about her new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, which describes the dangers of relying on big data analytics to solve problems.


We are in a time of big data. In recent years, NPR's done stories about how data analytics are being used to help political campaigns, rally supporters, compare the cost of similar surgeries in different cities, track public buses in real time and even maybe identify police officers at risk of committing misconduct. But the question is are we putting too much faith in big data? That's the question we're asking in this week's All Tech Considered.

MCEVERS: In her new book, mathematician Cathy O'Neil says we are in a techno utopia. And she does not mean that in a good way. Her book is called "Weapons Of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality And Threatens Democracy." And she is with us now. Welcome to the show.

CATHY O'NEIL: Honored to be here, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So tell us what you mean by techno utopia.

O'NEIL: Well, techno utopia is this idea that the machine-learning tools, the algorithms, the things that help Google, like, have cars that drive themselves, that these tools are somehow making things objective and fair when, in fact, we really have no idea what's happening to most algorithms under the hood.


O'NEIL: Yeah, well, so everybody knows about the sort of decades-long attempt to improve public education in the United States. It goes by various names like No Child Left Behind, you know, Race to the Top. But at the end of the day, what they've decided to do in a large part is to sort of remove these terrible teachers that we keep hearing about. And the way they try to find these terrible teachers is through something called the growth model. And the growth model, mathematically speaking, is pretty weak and has had, like, lots of unintended consequences.

When I say weak, I interviewed a teacher from New York City public schools named Tim Clifford. He's been teaching for 20 years, multiple awards, he's written quite a few books. He got a 6 out of 100 one year and then a 96 out of 100 the next year. And he says his techniques didn't change. So it's very inconsistent. It's not clear what this number is actually scoring in terms of teachers and the teaching ability. I interviewed a woman named Sarah Wysocki in the D.C. area who actually got fired because of her low growth model score.

MCEVERS: There must be other examples, though, where people, you know, good teachers got good scores.

O'NEIL: Yeah, I mean, there certainly are, but I would say it's relatively close to a random number generator. So the fact that some good teachers got good scores doesn't say enough. I guess the point is that you might have some statistical information when you hear a score, but it's not accurate enough to actually decide on whether a given teacher, an individual teacher is doing a good job. But it's treated as such because people just trust numbers, they trust scores.

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The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy: a Fantastic Website

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy was founded in July 2014 by Leonie Haimson of New York and Rachael Stickland of Colorado, two parent advocates who successfully led the battle to stop nine states from disclosing their personal student data to inBloom Inc.  inBloom was designed to be a massive student database, with the goal of more easily sharing this information with for-profit data- mining vendors and other third parties without parent notification or consent.

The inBloom controversy made parents aware for the first time how widely schools, districts and states were engaged in risky data sharing, and how few privacy and security protections were employed.  It kick-started a national debate on student privacy that has not yet abated. After inBloom closed its doors in April 2014, Leonie and Rachael decided to form a national coalition of parents and advocates who would defend the rights of parents and students to protect their data.

We have written letters to Congress to strengthen federal rights to student privacy; authored op-eds and provided resources to parents, informing of their current rights to protect their children’s data under federal law. We have also drafted five principles for student privacy that every educational institution, agency and third parties should respect and incorporate in their data policies.

You can join our mailing list to receive updates on how you can help us advocate for stronger student privacy protections by providing your information here. You can email us at or call us at 303.204.1272.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy is a project of Class Size Matters, a 501C3 non-profit headquartered in NYC.  Please consider making a tax-deductible donation by indicating on the page that you would like your contribution to be used for this effort; you can also send a check to the address below.

Please also join our Facebook page and follow us on twitter at @parentsforprivacy


Leonie and Rachael

Co-chairs, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy



The Scary Thing You Don’t Know About ‘Free’ Scholarship Searches

How to Search for College Scholarships Safely

Privacy and college experts have this advice for scholarship seekers who want to avoid becoming a target for marketers:

  • Set up a scholarship email address. Create a new email address from one of the free service such as Gmail that you’ll use as the contact information for scholarship applications. “If your public ‘throwaway’ address gets spammed enough to become annoying, you can simply kill it off, and start a new one,” recommends the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Beware of the easy scholarships: The easier it is to apply to – in other words, if there’s no requirement for an essay or grade information or a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – the more likely it is that the scholarship is a marketing tool for a company seeking information about teenagers and their parents. If you’re interested, go ahead and apply, but be aware that you’re trading your information for a lottery ticket.
  • Take a minute to read a website’s privacy policy before you provide any personal information. Search through the gobbledygook for notes about whether information is made available to third parties or marketing partners.
  • File a complaint with the FTC if you find a scholarship search engine or contest you think is misleading.
  • Try out scholarship search tools that don’t collect or sell personal information. Start with you high school counselor or college financial aid office, suggests Jill Desjean, a policy analyst with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Ask around your community: Chambers of Commerce, churches, civic organizations and parents’ employers can also be helpful, Desjean adds. There are a few web sites that allow you to search for scholarships without requiring personal information, such as and

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The Top 10: Student Privacy News


The Future of Privacy Forum tracks student privacy news very closely, and shares relevant news stories with our newsletter subscribers.* Today, we are launching “The Top 10,” a monthly blog with our top student privacy stories from the past month (or month-and-a-half, in today’s case).

  1. Today, the Data & Society Research Institute released their great new report exploring “The Legacy of inBloom.” Simultaneously released were a few blogs from stakeholders responding to the report, including a response from FPF.
  2. The California Student Privacy Alliance (a branch of the Student Data Privacy Consortium, made up of districts from 13 states who create a model contract for vendors) has released their CA model contract.
  3. The Mississippi Attorney General filed a complaint against Google, alleging that Google was violating the Student Privacy Pledge. Co-creators of the Pledge SIIA and FPF disagreed. There were also some great responses and thoughts about the allegations from Bill Fitzgerald and Jim Siegl.
  4. A school district has been found in violation of FERPA due to a little-known clause in the federal law which requires that family law courts suspend FERPA rights proactively (as opposed to their automatic suspension when custody rights are suspended).
  5. There is a great deal of concern about student data potentially being used to identify and deport undocumented students (read the fantastic EdWeek article). Nominated USED Secretary DeVos was asked whether she would allow federal authorities to arrest those students at school, and she deferred the question to DOJ.
  6. Today, Common Sense Media released the script from their encryption test of ed tech products late last year (see that study here) so others can run this test themselves on any ed tech product.
  7. FPF filed comments with the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking on privacy in the context of a federal student-level data system.
  8. There has been a great deal of contradictory information on DREAMers and DACA over the past month and a half: the former Homeland Security Secretary said that federal authorities should not use DACA data to deport students; immigration handliners are upset that the President may not end DACA; Vox obtained an alleged draft order that ends DACA; and Congress has introduced a bill that requires that DACA data cannot be used for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings. While many colleges have said they will not turn over data about immigrant student to the federal government following the President’s immigration Executive Order, the Chronicle for Higher Education reported that these pledges “don’t mean much.”
  9. PTAC issued guidance on “Integrated Data Systems and Student Privacy” and “Use of Financial Aid Information for Program Evaluation and Research.”
  10. A London university “admits to monitoring student emails under pressure [from] Government anti-terror programme.”

*Want more news stories? Email Amelia Vance at avance AT to subscribe to our student privacy newsletter.

Trump urged to overturn ban on federal collection of student data

PostsecData Collaborative Shares Data Policy Recommendations with Trump Administration

This week, the Postsecondary Data Collaborative (PostsecData) submitted a letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump's transition team, offering an agenda to guide the incoming administration's efforts to support student success through improved postsecondary data. PostsecData, a coalition of thirty-six organizations led by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, is committed to the use of high-quality postsecondary data to improve student outcomes, particularly for low-income students and students of color.

In this letter, the signers offer a series of administrative actions for President-elect Trump's first 100 days in office, as well as strategies for the longer term. These recommendations focus on improving data quality, consistency, stewardship, and use, while leveraging existing data systems and ultimately reducing burden on institutions.

This letter's signatories, listed below, appreciate the opportunity to work with the incoming Trump administration to pursue data-driven policies that will help inform decision-making, institutional practice, and ultimately, student success.

To learn more about the Postsecondary Data Collaborative, please visit or sign up for the weekly PostsecData newsletter.

Signatories to Postsecondary Data Collaborative letter to President-elect Trump's transition team:

Advance CTE

Achieving the Dream

Association for Career and Technical Education

Center for Law and Social Policy

The Education Trust

George Washington Institute of Public Policy

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

Institute for Higher Education Policy

New America

The Institute for College Access & Success


Workforce Data Quality Campaign

Young Invincibles