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Education News

Connecticut Teachers Union Spars With Reform Group Over Student Data Access

Hamden_High_School.jpg
Wikipedia
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Hamden High School

A controversy has erupted between the state’s largest teachers union and an education reform group over student privacy. 

The Connecticut Education Association claims that Hamden Public Schools gave an education reform group school data that risks exposing personal information about students.

The Hamden district entered into a memorandum of understanding with the non-profit Connecticut Council for Education Reform in October 2014. CCER agreed to conduct a “district needs assessment,” and under that agreement, Hamden shared data on students and school buildings.

Mark Waxenberg is the executive director of the teacher’s union, which represents roughly 40,000 teachers in the state. He said that, in addition to possibly outing kids' names, the non-profit group now has detailed maps on Hamden schools that could pose a safety risk.

“Our legal department believes that that borders on a violation of state statutes regarding that issue,” Waxenberg said.  

Our legal department believes that that borders on a violation of state statutes regarding that issue, Waxenberg said.

This comes as CEA is advocating for legislative action on a bill concerning student data privacy. The CEA is also trying to limit the sharing of information on teachers.

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the non-profit, said the accusations by the teachers’ union are “irresponsible” and “inflammatory.”

“The work that we're doing with Hamden is a partnership, we've actually completed it weeks ago, so the timing of all this is questionable as well,” Villar said.

With the legislative session wrapping up, the union leader said he wants the information out to help lawmakers act on a pending privacy bill.

The proposed bill would also require parental consent before student data is given to a third party.

The non-profit reform group said it spent its own money to try to find more efficient ways for the Hamden school district to operate. CCER’s mission is close the achievement gap, and focuses on improving the 30 lowest performing school districts in the state. The Hamden project cost about $100,000.

The agreement stipulates that CCER cannot share the information without Hamden’s consent, and that the school district retains ownership of the data.

However, as Waxenberg pointed out, the agreement gives ownership of the work product to CCER. The work product would include Hamden’s student data, since that is the purpose of the agreement.

Two other entities will also have access to Hamden’s data. The memorandum states that CCER will work with a Boston-based company called Education Resource Strategies to “analyze the district’s data and development recommendations...” The reform group also worked with the Leadership and Learning Center, a division of Houghton-Mifflin/Harcourt, to analyze Hamden’s data.

All three organizations are subject to the confidentiality agreement, the memo states, and cannot divulge the data without Hamden’s consent.

However, most, if not all, of the information sought by CCER is already publicly available through the State Department of Education. Waxenberg argued that individual student identification numbers were divulged, which could lead to someone determining the students’ names.

Student I.D. numbers are not typically provided to the public. 

Here's the confidentiality agreement: 

confidentiality_clause_2.png

Both Villars and Waxenberg issued statements seeking apologies from the other over the controversy.

State officials deferred comment to the local district. Hamden officials have not responded to requests for comment.