Concerns over the privacy of student and parent data led the Williamsville Board of Education on Tuesday to formally withdraw from the federal Race to the Top education initiative.
School Board members voted unanimously to end the district’s involvement in the federal program because of a state requirement that the district send student and parent information to a new online statewide data system.
“The overall arching issue here is privacy, and the privacy of our students,” School Board Member Patricia M. Losito said during a meeting on Tuesday. “What that could mean to them in the future, we don’t know.”
A resolution approved by the board provided formal backing to a decision made by Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff earlier this fall to decline to choose a “data dashboard” that would have served as an interface for parents and teachers for a new state data system known as EngageNY Portal.
Martzloff told board members that the district does not expect to forfeit any funds it has received under the Race to the Top grant program because it has already applied for and received all of the money it was allotted through the federal program. The school district already uses a districtwide system to share digitized information with parents and teachers.
The state Department of Education agreed to create the new data system in its application for federal Race to the Top grant funds. The aim is to make it easier for school districts to share data between schools and with teachers and parents.
But some school administrators have expressed concern about the ability of private vendors to keep the data secure, as well as the longevity of student information and the cost of the new system to school districts once federal grant money runs out.
Martzloff and members of the Williamsville School Board also expressed concern that a private education group, inBloom, will process and store the student data.
“We don’t know how long the data is going to exist and how long it’s going to follow a particular student,” Martzloff said. “Is today’s kindergartner who may have a learning disability going to have that data follow them to the college application process? We don’t know.”
State education officials have said measures will be in place to keep the student data secure and that private vendors are prohibited from selling the data.
Ken Wagner, associate commissioner for curriculum, assessment and educational technology for the state Department of Education, has previously told The Buffalo News that the state plans to provide data from all districts to inBloom whether or not individual districts select to participate in the data dashboards.
The Williamsville district received about $70,000 from Race to the Top during the first three years of the program, Martzloff said.
“It would be a prospective opt-out, meaning moving forward from here,” Martzloff said. “If we had additional funds that we had not yet applied for and received, those funds would be in jeopardy. However, since we don’t have that scenario, we’ve been told that that’s not the case.”