Friday, November 14, 2008

Tracking Students Is One Thing – But Tracking Your Entire Household?

What is the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) really tracking? We have written before such as here and here about the teething problems with the KDE’s new student tracking system – at least we thought it was a STUDENT tracking system.

Now, a news report hints that the KDE’s new “Infinite Campus” computer database system may be something more – a household tracking system!

Why is the department of education setting up a system that tracks students not as individuals, but only as members of households? Does the department of education have legitimate reasons to track anything organized by households?

Certainly, the Times Tribune article raises lots more questions than answers about a computerized tracking system so involved that some educators say it’s “scary” just to implement the thing. Could there be even more to be scared of than anyone in the public knows?


Anonymous said...

As a pretty suspicious libertarian working for a school district, I'd have to put you in the "they're coming to take me away, ha-ha" category.

Infinite Campus is a national database program, nothing developed internally by KDE.

Being household based allows eventual parent access through the web to keep track of all their kids daily attendance and grades. It should also keep emergency contact information more up-to-date and save in any mailing one per household instead of one per student.

So what black helicopter reasons can you come up with that KDE is planning on using the household information for?

Anonymous said...

If one child in a household qualifies for free-or-reduced-price lunch, all children in the household do.

They also all qualify for waived or reduced school fees.

The district also qualifies for Title 1 and SEEK at-risk funding to serve all of them.

Richard Innes said...

Anonymous Nov 14/4:20 PM needs to do less scoffing and more researching. Perhaps his or her position within the education system makes it harder to see the potential for abuse.

One big issue is that Infinite Campus is part of an enormous plan to interconnect all the computer data bases for all state agencies in Kentucky. That may include databases holding everything – from voter registration data – to medical information on your entire family that doctors reports to Frankfort – to your social security number.

State agencies will have access to data from other agencies in this extensively networked system, and that could allow unprecedented ability for someone in any given state agency to assemble an absolutely enormous amount of information about you, and – thanks to Infinite Campus – your children. Do you have AIDS? Is one of your kids in the Gay-Straight Club? Someday, that information might be widely and rapidly accessible across all governmental agencies.

While there will undoubtedly be attempts to create firewalls to preclude someone in one agency from accessing inappropriate data from another agency, there will be difficult questions to answer about exactly what is appropriate data, and who makes those decisions. I’ve attended several presentations on the plans for this interconnected system, and the obvious ethical issues involved have not been discussed. Actually, I don’t know if there is a precedent to help anyone make so many crucial decisions on such a massive scale. But, firewalls won’t be effective without first addressing these problems.

Furthermore, computer security is a huge issue today. Identity theft is a major crime problem, and computer hacking is a world-wide issue. Kentucky’s highly interconnected system is going to be a goldmine of extremely valuable – and sensitive – information. That creates a tempting target for illegal access, which could even include inappropriate activity by officials who have database access.

The question is, how much information should big government have about you, and how many, if any, people in big government should have access to all, or even most of it? And, where do we find the Solomon to make those decisions?

If you don’t see the potential for serious privacy issues here, better re-read Orwell’s 1984.

And, if you don’t see the huge data entry problems that the massive amount of information collected in Infinite Campus is creating, better read some of the links in the main blog item for this comment thread. Along with the other problems that Infinite Campus might lead to, it takes a lot of expensive time and talent just to upload all that privacy-sensitive information.

Anonymous said...

Richard, where do you get the idea that Infinite Campus is going to be linked to other state databases? Like the other anonymous commenter, I am also a suspicious libertarian who works for a school district. Infinite Campus has to potential to make the dead-weight educational bureacracy more efficient--a worthy libertarian goal.

We lose our credibility as libertarians when we act like every single idea that comes out of government is some kind of Marxist conspiracy.

Richard Innes said...

RE: Anonymous November 15, 2008 5:00 PM Comments:

There is an effort under way to link all the state’s databases together. It’s been discussed at education committee meetings where STI, Infinite Campus, and the KIDS (Kentucky Instructional Data System) programs were discussed. The plan hasn’t been well covered in the popular media, mostly because education reporting has been severely cut back in Kentucky, so I am not surprised at the skepticism. But, this is coming, and it is already somewhat further along than I realized.

Aside from hints in the news article referenced in the main blog item, another on-line glimpse into the database interconnecting that is already under way is in this source:, which talks about yet another database called the Technical Education Data System.

This Power Point presentation indicates among other things that TEDS includes all data for Perkins reporting from all our high schools and a number of technology centers and even middle schools. It also integrates data from a number of postsecondary institutions and 10 correctional facilities.

TEDS isn’t run by the KDE, but rather the Education Cabinet. Yet the PPT indicates TEDS is definitely interfaced with Infinite Campus.

Some of the sensitive data in TEDS includes social security numbers linked to student ID numbers created by the school system and even “student organization activity.” TEDS also contains information on disabilities, limited English proficiency, single parent and single pregnant woman identifiers, industry certificates earned, current employer, CATS scores (even though these are not individually reliable and are not supposed to go on transcripts until they are).

One slide in the PPT says that TEDS can import data from any other source that matches its file layout. Another slide says that data is imported from “STI/IC”, while the following slide clearly indicates that “IC” is the Infinite Campus system, which is replacing the older STI program.

Reports can be generated by schools, districts, and state agencies.

So, we already have data on incarceration, single parent status, social security numbers and a way to link that to the student IDs, employment status, and CATS scores all collected together in one database that isn’t even under KDE control. But, KDE can access all of that data, too. And, the Infinite Campus data is definitely going into this larger database.

Check the Power Point out for yourself.

Now, what do you think?

Anonymous said...

Original 4:20pm poster here.

My scoffing was aimed at the idea that KDE had ulterior motives to organizing by household instead of student. I think that's just the national evolution of student databases because of the benefits it has over individual records.

I can wholehearily agree with concerns about SS#'s being plastered all over the place and no accountability or tracking of who has access to that information. Something everyone in school districts should be sensitive to and trained to watch for.

And I can see the eventual Orwellian abuse. Modern database structures make data sharing much more possible. All valid points.

Just not the subject of the original post I responded to.

Anonymous said...

I think a better way to say it is, if someone raises the household theory with a school official or school board member, they'll be seen as too far out there and not listened to.

If they bring the data privacy, access, and sharing info from your comments, then it might raise some eyebrows.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of databases; One would assume that all the Cabinet for Health and Familily databases would also be connected to this one.

That is confidential records by social workers. So instead of 3000 CHFS employees being able to read that I supposedly picked feces out of a toliet and put it in my childrens bag (Never happened, I was never asked if it happened- social worker put it in record AS A FACT just based on what a former spouse said)

Now I guess 20,000 plus people will be able to read all about it from the department of education?!?

There are so many problems unaddressed already by state databases.

1)The information placed in the records are often fraudulent. OIG report stated as such in report issued.

2)The fraudulent information is often not known to the individual whom it is about- so they don't know about to fix it. See OIG report.

3)Even when the fraudulent information is discovered- there is no way private individuals can petition to have it changed-That is my records still state that I put a turd in my child's bag- even though Legal Counsel for CHFS is aware it is false and won't have the social workers redact it. If you don't believe me call Jon Klien and ask him.

4)THERE IS NO SYSTEM WHICH MONITORS WHO ACCESSES PRIVATE INFORMATION AT CFHS. If nothing else about this post gets your attention this should. EASILY, a social worker can steal private information such as home addresses, social security numbers, drivers license Id's, and mothers maiden names from tens of thousands individuals on the TWIST database. There is no tracking whatsoever to keep identity thieves from stealing this info.

So if the databases already in place have no protections why in the heck would anybody want to connect databases to open them up to even further potential abuse?

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments! If you don't think this kind of thing can happen, just look at the situation in Ohio with "Joe the Plumber". After he gained national media recognition, Ohio government officials in multiple state agencies dug in to his personal life using state systems looking for information to discredit him in the media. We all saw the results of that data being misused as story after story was told about him not being officially licensed, having liens on his home, back taxes, etc.

Read this article!

"When it came to light that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and the Ohio Department of Taxation all initiated investigations on Mr. Joseph Wurzelbacher for no apparent reason other than that the partisans within those agencies were seeking to discredit this private citizen..."

Very scary! This could happen to any of us.