Great Education Needs Great Standards…and Data

Otha Thornton
National PTA President

As the nation’s largest volunteer child advocacy association with more than four million members who are parents, students, and teachers, National PTA is uniquely positioned to be an influential and credible voice in advancing the Common Core State Standards. We have held discussions across the country, and have even developed an online toolkit to provide information to those who wish to advocate for Common Core.

But even as a staunch supporter of Common Core, we understand that there are still questions surrounding the standards, including a great deal of misinformation. Some of that misinformation is focused on the data collection aspects of Common Core.

I think that it is important to make it clear that the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, No Child Left Behind legislation, amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Education Reform Sciences Act of 2002, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act all prohibit the creation of a federal database with a student’s personally identifiable information (i.e., name, place and date of birth, SSN, or any other information that could be used to distinguish an individual’s identity). Federal law prohibits the reporting of aggregate data that could allow individuals to be identified. Common Core doesn’t change that. It doesn’t require any data collection beyond what is already being collected in No Child Left Behind.

The standards are a set of grade-level expectations for what students should know and be able to do. Data plays no part in Common Core. However, National PTA does recognize the benefits of data use, which is why we are working with the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) to produce a “What Every Parent Should Be Asking about Education Data and Privacy.” The goal of this parent’s guide is to empower mothers, fathers and caregivers with questions that they can ask about education data and student privacy. The front side of the guide provides questions, examples, and tips to help parents demand value from the data their state and district collect. The back side of the resource has questions parents can ask to be confident that their child’s data are being protected.

As a parent, I understand the desire to have the best education for our children. An important part of building a great education system is using data to help form best practices that are effective and results driven. Data-driven decision making for teachers is the practice of using information—including test scores, behavior, attendance, past performance, and multiple other student-level indicators—to inform professional judgment to tailor instruction and improve student learning. States have always collected data, and will continue collect data, and independently decide where that data goes and how it will be protected. The fact is that, without good data, our educators are operating in the dark. Accurate data makes intensive improvements and turnaround strategies in schools possible.

So as you advocate for Common Core, also become an advocate for data. We are all education stakeholders. Becoming literate on the positive uses of data collection will ensure that we all understand how valuable it can be in improving outcomes for students. And in the end, isn’t that what we all are looking to achieve?


  1. Jennifer Proseus says:

    The Data Quality Campaign you linked to is funded by Bill & Melinda Gates and by major corporations. The missing information regarding on the PTA fliers regarding the changes to FERPA, inBloom, and the requirement that states agreed to in conjunction with common core to receive tax dollars for schools makes me even more suspicious. PTA, you are using our children for profit. I am so disappointed.

  2. Angel says:

    So how much money have you all received for supporting CCSS? How much are you making from donations made by companies that profit from these standards and test?

    Lets be serious here. These standards are nothing but a farce and will do nothing but stigmatize communities. PTA, I’m ashamed.

  3. Elizabeth Hooper says:

    I am a PTA member from Georgia. I am saddened to read that the PTA feels that standards and data have any relationship to improving educational outcomes for all children. Is this what Finland, one of the highest performing countries ( with a high percentage of immigrants ) emphasizes ? No. It is no secret anymore that the Gates Foundation feels that personalized learning or adaptive learning must be integrated into every public school. To realize personalized learning you must collect massive amounts of data on each child and student year after year. This is not child centered education It is data collection. Please be honest and please post this. Parents have the right to be told about personalized learning .

  4. Melissa Westbrook says:

    Mr. Thorton,

    You have not read about inBloom, the Gates Foundation’s student data “cloud”. Because, if you did, you would know that some states DO use Social Security numbers for student ID AND inBloom, while they don’t like this, will also USE them in the data cloud.

    What national PTA is doing is NOT supporting parents by giving them real information and providing a platform for discussion (and, as a former PTA co-president, shame on you for that).

    As for misinformation, you are wrong about the number of types of data that could be provided to inBloom or any other state student data collection cloud. InBloom, at its website, lists 400 separate items including adoption, financial status and discipline records. This IS wrong.

    And the reason, which you conveniently leave out in this message, is because FERPA, the law meant to protect student records, has been amendment two times since 2009. It allows school districts to name ANY third-party as a “school administrator” and give access to student data.

    This is THE most important issue that PTA could take up. As adults, we worry about the data that the NSA is collecting but we can vote and act. Children don’t have any one but US to protect them. We MUST protect their student data until they are adults.

    I note that one high school in Seattle Schools has left PTA because they felt PTA no longer spoke for them. Another is scheduled to have that same discussion this fall. Understand that parents are NOT going to fall in line for PTA as a pro forma action.

    You continue to allow the Gates Foundation and others to set the PTA agenda and you will see parents leave in droves and public education advocates like me (and I have the most widely-read public education blog in Seattle), to push for PTOs rather than PTA.

  5. Tami Roberts says:

    I don’t understand why we have to have all this non-sense Common Core and pounding our children with TCAP testing on a daily basis! What ever teaching our children the fundementals of academics ” called the basics of education”. We have gotten away from what is really important to our children which is learning. Not taken in DATA OR BECOMING A NUMBER IN THE SCHOOL INSTEAD OF A STUDENT! Moving the education level up 2-3 grade levels to make it even harder on children( and you wonder why so many of them have problems- because the SCHOOLS ARE PUTTING TO MUCH PRESSURE ON KIDS). Lets wake up and put the academics learning back in school, before its to late.

  6. Lee Ann Kendrick says:

    It is important to identify the real cause of concern; many parents are finding that their concerns are not actually related to Common Core, but rather, issues surrounding implementation (teacher training, aligning curriculum, etc.) and assessments (testing schedule, accountability, privacy). All parents are encouraged to read the actual standards which are on National PTAs website National PTA also has a wealth of factual information regarding the standards, assessments and accountability. For specific information about educational data: PTA has had positions dating back to 1981 supporting clear, high, common standards.

  7. Dora says:

    The Common Core Standards also come with collecting data on students, more than most parents can imagine. For more on this, google:

    The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates, a national data bank, Wireless Gen…and FERPA?

  8. Kathy Barker says:

    The National PTA also came out several years ago in support of an opt-in to having student information sent to military recruiters (required by NCLB) instead of an opt-out.
    It would make sense that it also come out with a requirement that ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a military placement test given as a career test, and mandatory in many high schools) testing does not result in the names of students being sent to the military.

    This article should mention that parents and students still want to protect their privacy and not have student names sent without their knowledge to the military.

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