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Officials join anti-data push, but Sheldon Silver sides with state

Parents concerned that a new student database could break privacy laws are getting the support from a new high-profile set of allies: elected officials.

Several City Council members joined parents and privacy advocates outside the Department of Education today to protest the state’s involvement with a nonprofit organization called inBloom. The state is pouring detailed student information into inBloom’s database, which grew out of a Gates Foundation-funded project called the Shared Learning Collaborative that was meant to help states use data to improve student achievement without individually underwriting data system.

The state will retain control of the data, but critics of the project say the state is putting students at risk by handing information about them over to a third party. Their protest has the support of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a leading candidate in the Democratic mayoral primary, and another candidate for mayor, Republican longshot Tom Allon, appeared at the Tweed Courthouse rally today. Allon compared the database to “child pornography.” Meanwhile, an Albany lawmaker, Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, this week introduced legislation to allow parents to opt their children out of the database altogether.

But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver threw cold water on O’Donnell’s proposed bill tonight, telling concerned parents that he supported the state’s data initiative and that there was little to worry about.

“The data system is to provide information to teachers to improve instruction, as well as provide access to students and parents to facilitate instruction and learning,” Silver wrote in his letter. “However, SED does not intend to allow personally identifiable student records to be used for commercial purposes.”

Some parents said they remained unconvinced that officials could guarantee that their student’s information, which is protected by federal privacy laws, would remain private and secure. Lea Mansour said she feared her childrens’ data could be leaked and end up being used against them later on in life.

“I don’t want colleges to know,” said Lea Mansour, a parent whose son attends P.S. 75. “I don’t want his future employer to know.”

Local critics have allies elsewhere, too. Michelle Malkin, the right-wing pundit, has said the data project represents “yet another encroachment of centralized education bureaucrats on local control and parental rights.”

State education officials have begun transferring student data, which they said is already being collected at the district level, into the database. Spokesman Dennis Tompkins said that teachers would begin to have access to the new database during the 2013-2014 school year.

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