NJ parents furious after publisher caught spying on students’ social media for ‘any discussion of Common Core tests’; Publisher Pearson has ‘very sophisticated system that closely monitors social media for pretty much everything.’
The First Rule of Common Core is, Don’t Talk About Common Core.
Why? Because they are apparently watching very closely, and punishing any students or teachers who dare to speak up about it – or even discuss the details of the curriculum.
It’s testing season for the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams, which many parents have been opting out of in protest. So it’s no surprise – and not without rationale – that the publishers of the Common Core standards material would be on edge about how the testing goes over, how people are responding to it, and the possibility of cheating and/or sharing test questions.
But clearly they have taken it too far.
There is no doubt that this new era of “education” requires some old thinking and old wisdom. There’s the Latin phrase: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? or Who Watches the Watchers? But perhaps we must also amend this phrase and ask: Who instructs the instructors? Who teaches the teachers? And who educates the educators?
More importantly, what are our children really learning? And what kind of society are they being prepared for?
With Common Core, we find important clues to all these questions with an episode surrounding Pearson, the publishing giant who creates testing and curriculum materials for PARCC, the association of states using Common Core standards.
Pearson, it has emerged, has been actively spying on students’ social media accounts. According to reports, the publisher has been using a sophisticated surveillance system to keep tabs on not only the schools where the tests are being administered, but the activity and discussions of the students and faculty as well.
With a contract for $108 million with the state of New Jersey, and comparable contracts in 11 other states that are PARCC, including Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia, Pearson has a big stake in how Common Core plays out, and is taking control over its influence in the education system.
According to an exclusive from Bob Braun, veteran reporter for the Star Ledger, on his blog:
Pearson, the multinational testing and publishing company, is spying on the social media posts of students–including those from New Jersey–while the children are taking their PARCC, statewide tests, this site has learned exclusively. The state education department is cooperating with this spying and has asked at least one school district to discipline students who may have said something inappropriate about the tests. This website discovered the unauthorized and hidden spying thanks to educators who informed it of the practice–a practice happening throughout the state and apparently throughout the country.
Pearson alerted a superintendent in a New Jersey school district, claiming a student had photographed and shared a test question, then demanded the school discipline the child.
Only in the United Corporations of America could a giant conglomerate think it has the power to dictate student discipline decisions to the schools.
Here’s a portion of the letter that was emailed by superintendent Elizabeth Jewett:
Last night at 10PM, my testing coordinator received a call from the NJDOE that Pearson had initiated a Priority 1 Alert for an item breach within our school. The information the NJDOE initially called with was that there was a security breach DURING the test session, and they suggested the student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it. After further investigation on our part, it turned out that the student had posted a tweet (NO PICTURE) at 3:18PM (after school) that referenced a PARCC test question. The student deleted the tweet and we spoke with the parent – who was obviously highly concerned as to her child’s tweets being monitored by the DOE. The DOE informed us that Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing. I have to say that I find that a bit disturbing. – and if our parents were concerned before about a conspiracy with all of the student data, I am sure I will be receiving more letters of refusal once this gets out (not to mention the fact that the DOE wanted us to also issue discipline to the student). I thought this was worth sharing with the group.
According to Braun, he contacted Jewett by email and found she had discovered “three instances in which Pearson notified the state education department of the results of its spying.”
Braun said Jewett wrote to him:
In reference to the issue of PARCC infractions and DOE/Pearson monitoring social media, we have had three incidents over the past week. All situations have been dealt with in accordance with our Watchung Hills Regional High School code of conduct and academic integrity policy. Watchung Hills Regional High School is a relatively small district and a close-knit community; therefore, I am very concerned that whatever details your sources are providing may cause unnecessary labeling and hardship to students who are learning the consequences of their behavior.
In a follow up story, Bob Braun reported that notification of this spying is happening on a regular – even daily – basis, not only in New Jersey, but in other states where PARCC is administered and Pearson holds a contract. Braun contacted an education official in Maryland who confirmed that student monitoring was widespread and pervasive:
“PARCC has a very sophisticated system that closely monitors social media for pretty much everything (comments like the one you shared, test item questions that students use cell phones cameras and take),” said Henry Johnson, the state assistant education commissioner in Maryland. The state, like New Jersey, has a contract with Pearson.
Meanwhile, the story extends to Bob Braun himself, the Star Ledger journalist who exposed the story, as he claims his blog was hit with a denial of service (DOS) attack, suggesting retribution for a story critical of Pearson and Common Core:
My blog has been subjected to a “denial of service” attack for exposing Pearson., Please let hem know you won’t stand for it.
— Bob Braun (@BobBraunsLedger) March 14, 2015
Now, Pearson is apparently being called to state legislature to explain its student surveillance policies:
NJ legislators want Pearson and state education commissioner to explain Internet surveillance of students taking PARCC exam. Thursday, 10 am — Bob Braun (@BobBraunsLedger) March 16, 2015
Another big question may be: how did Pearson obtain a comprehensive list of students’ social media accounts, given that they are clearly tracking them with accuracy? That’s definitely data sharing gone too far…
— State-of-Shambles (@JustinShambles) March 15, 2015
Likely, the answer is that Pearson keeps comprehensive lists of students’ vital info and known social media activity, and is using a custom algorithm used specifically to track discussion, reactions and dissent to not only its tests and curriculum, but its policies and political intrigue throughout the nation and its mostly “independent” schools.
Obviously, one of the most important – but unstated – lessons in “education” here – is that privacy is extinct in the digital age. Monitoring and surveillance are default activities now, which are increasingly disregarded by the general public. Today’s students will reach adulthood knowing nothing meaningful about the 4th Amendment and believing that so-called “authorities” have a right to spy.
How far does the tracking and surveillance of students and members of the education system really go? How pervasive and invasive are the activities of this company and other related entities?
And who really controls education, what is being taught, and ultimately the minds of the next generation of Americans?