On Common Core Bills General Assembly Says Yes to MSEA, No to Parents

Several pieces of Common Core legislation backed by the state teacher’s union are advancing through the Maryland General Assembly, while legislation favored by parents are dying in committee.  
Last week the Senate passed SB 676 sponsored by Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery), and the House of Delegates unanimously passed its companion bill HB 1167 sponsored by Sheila Hixson (D- Montgomery).
Those bills, supported by the Maryland State Education Association, delay the implementation of using Common Core testing results in teacher evaluations.
Other bills like HB 1001 also sponsored by Hixson mandate that any state waivers to federal education law be consistent with state law and come under review by the governor and the legislature prior to submission.   HB 1164 sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) calls for the creation of a Common Core work group to study implementation of the standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers or PARCC.
That these bills advanced through both chambers shows the clout MSEA holds in Annapolis.  The state teachers union is powerful constituency in the Maryland Democratic party.  Since 2007 the MSEA and its PAC have contributed more than $843,000 to state and local candidates and nearly all of it to Democrats.  Over a three-year period between 2010-2013 Hixson, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, where these bills were reviewed, received $7,500 from MSEA.  Luedtke received $12,000 from the union over the last four years.
Not that MSEA’s concerns about PARCC-based evaluations aren’t legitimate, but it should be no surprise that the Democratically controlled legislature saw to MSEA’s priorities. 
Contrast MSEA’s success to bills favored by concerned parents, who lack the union’s political clout.
HB 76 sponsored by Del. Mike Smigiel (R-Cecil County) proposed a total repeal of Common Core.  The parents who showed up to testify in support for the bill got the cold shoulder from Democratic legislators, and one Del. Melvin Stukes (D-Baltimore City) even fell asleep during their testimony.  Smigiel’s bill never even received a committee vote.
HB 1154, filed by Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel), would place restrictions on Common Core data collection.  The bill would have limited the collection of student data without express written consent of parents, and limited storage of that data without parental consent, according to George.
The massive data collection related to Common Core is a major concern of many parents. 
In 2009, as a requirement for receiving federal stimulus funds, Maryland created the Maryland Longitudinal Data System to capture and analyze student data from preschool to through high school and work careers.  As part of accepting federal Race to the Top funds the state agreed to implement Common Core and enhance MLDS.  Race to the Top prioritizes how well states make student data accessible to “key stakeholders,” which are defined as “parents, students, teachers, local education authorities, community members, unions, researchers, and policy makers.”
Even though Maryland law requires the MLDS to comply with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the U.S. Department of Education has amended FERPA through the regulatory process to allow broader access to student data, to anyone the department designates as an “authorized representative” for evaluating the data. 
Data collected by MLDS is kept on servers hosted by the Maryland Department of Education, and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Given that two legislative audits revealed serious deficiencies in network security at both MSDE and DPSCS, parents—and legislators—should be concerned about the safety of their children’s personal information. 
A 2013 audit of MSDE found that the department’s network “was not adequately secured through from internal and external threats.”  Among many network security deficiencies, auditors found that several critical firewalls were not configured to send email alerts to administrators about possible attacks on the firewall, and network traffic from an untrusted source to other critical parts of the network was not subject to intrusion detection measures. 
In 2012, legislative auditors found a lack of assurance that the DPSCS Information Technology and Communications Division’s firewalls were accurately secured.  An untrusted third party gained network level access to several network devices the department used to manage the network.  According to the audit, DPSCS staff did not have “adequate understanding of firewall rules on its critical internal and external firewalls and, therefore, lacked assurance as to the adequacy of the rules on these firewalls and their ability to properly protect the DPSCS network.”

Parents will have to live with constant fear about the privacy of their children’s personal information, but thanks to General Assembly Mr. Hand won’t have to worry about those PARCC scores showing up on her performance evaluation.

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