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Data Mining: Florida students leaving their privacy at the schoolhouse door

Recently when Governor Rick Scott was asked if he supported the data mining aspect of Common Core, Scott answered ‘no’ to the question. It appears the Governor did not get the memo from the Florida Department of Education that public schools have been data mining for years using “student surveys“.

Florida parents were shocked when their children came home from their first day of high school with surveys asking personal questions about their habits, family and beliefs. Students at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida were given forms to fill out by their teachers. Riverview high school English teacher Dr. Elinor Wachs sent students home with a “Multiple Intelligence Survey” (MPI) created by Surfaquarium to fill out. MIS questions included:

  • Ecological issues are important to me
  • I believe preserving our National Parks is important
  • Religion is important to me
  • I wonder if there are other forms of intelligent life in the universe
  • I value relationships more than ideas or accomplishments
  • I like to be involved in causes that help others
  • Fairness is important to me
  • Social justice issues interest me
  • I am willing to protest or sign a petition to right a wrong

Ms. Susanne Johnson, an Algebra teacher at Riverview, sent home a two page survey with her students (Note: Students received multiple surveys). Johnson’s survey asks:

  • Who lives in your home?
  • How many brothers and sisters do you have? How old are they?
  • Have you travelled outside the United States? If so, where have you travelled?

WDW – FL sent an inquiry to Superintendent Lori White about the district policy on student surveys. Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist for Sarasota County Schools, in an email provided the following:

The multiple intelligences forms do not require approval at the district level.

Other teachers may use these forms or other forms at their discretion. We don’t track the number of teachers who use them.

Teachers use this type of form to learn more about their students. Teachers have various ways to get to know students so they can engage them in lessons by keeping students’ individual interests, learning styles and personalities in mind. Multiple-intelligences surveys such as these are one way for teachers to get to know students, but students may opt out of answering the questions.

Various forms may be used by teachers at various levels. Whatever forms are used are age-appropriate.

I don’t know how long the forms you sent me have been used in the district, but teachers have long used various ways to get to know their students, for the reasons stated above.

Regarding teachers requesting “private information,” see third paragraph above. If students believe the answers to the questions are “private,” they can refrain from answering them.

The forms simply help the teacher get to know the student in his/her class for that semester or year; they’re not considered educational records and do not become part of the student’s permanent record.

The use of such forms is not prohibited by School Board policies. These policies are posted on our website in the School Board section and are searchable by keywords.

Nothing on the forms sent home by either Ms. Wachs or Ms. Johnson states it is “optional” or that a student may “opt out”. Surfaquarium offers multiple surveys. WDW – FL asked Surfaquarium about the uses of their surveys in Florida by teachers and schools. We are awaiting answers to our questions.

One parent, who requested to remain anonymous to protect their student from retribution, stated, “These questions absolutely do look like data mining to find out the political leanings of the family of the student … perhaps then they ‘target’ those students for further brainwashing efforts or give the data to other groups for same purpose.”

Data mining is front page news, few believed it would already be in public schools. It appears public education has a thing or two to teach the NSA?

To view all survey responses click here.

RELATED: Florida School District lied and student privacy died

Dr. Richard Swier

Dr. Rich Swier is Publisher of www.DrRichSwier e-Magazine. Twitter: @drrichswier He holds a Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, a Master's Degree in Management Information Systems from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Richard is a 23-year Army veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his years of service.

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