Rethinking Branstad’s Executive Order and Student Data Privacy

I was listening to WHO Radio this morning.  Tamara Scott was guest hosting for Jan Mickelson and the topic of the Common Core State Standards was being discussed.  Tamara had a colleague of mine at American Principles Project, Jane Robbins, on and she said something regarding Governor Branstad’s executive order dealing with the Common Core that got me thinking.  We both see it doing very little.

I had given Governor Branstad props for his statement on data collection however.  If you need a recap, here is the language:

The collection of student data by school districts and the Iowa Department of Education shall be done in a manner consistent with state and federal laws intended to protect student and family privacy. Only aggregate student data shall be provided to the federal government to comply with federal laws.

The first sentence I always thought was completely meaningless and have ripped different executive orders for only saying they will handle student data “in a manner consistent with state and federal laws intended to protect student and family privacy.” 

This is meaningless.  Crazy Crawfish had a great article today explaining why it is meaningless.  Branstad’s order goes further since it says “only aggregate student data shall be provided to the federal government to comply with federal laws.”

In my mind I had thought that it would prevent third parties from sharing it with the Federal government, but now I admit I was wearing rose color glasses.

Mea culpa.

Jane rightly pointed out the loophole (perhaps I needed a law degree like her to see the obvious).  Smarter Balanced has a separate contract with the U.S. Department of Education to provide student level data and Governor Branstad’s executive order does nothing to stop them from doing that.

What is needed to close the loophole is for Governor Branstad to amend his executive order to include 3rd parties.  Better yet have the Iowa Legislature address this by codifying it.

In dealing with Smarter Balanced however it would be best for Iowa to pull out of it.  Fortunately there is a legislative hurdle for Smarter Balanced.  The Iowa Legislature has to approve any additional assessment, beyond the Iowa Assessments, that will be mandated on school districts.  That is a fight that still needs to be had.

Regardless the Iowa Legislature must take steps to protect student privacy from the Feds, Smarter Balanced and anyone else.

About Shane Vander Hart

Shane Vander Hart founded Iowans for Local Control in 2012 which later merged with Iowa RestorEd. Shane also is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts and the founder and president of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Google +.


  1. Have you seen the Michigan report recommending Smarter Balanced Assessments?

    Page 8 covers student data–suggests the state retains sole and exclusive ownership of student data although the details in Appendix B (SBAC starts at p. 173, with student data question on p. 186) sound a bit different (state controls the flow of data to schools/students).

  2. Meg Norris says:

    The same holds true for the EO in Georgia. It prevents the federal government from receiving the data, but says nothing of private companies. Governor Deal’s EO states “That no personally identifiable data on students and/or their families…shall be collected, tracked, housed, reported or shared with the federal government.” It isn’t the government that wants it. Very scary. And the government has no ability to stop it from going to private companies.

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