IT Infrastructure & Management Opinion

Glenn Beck Takes on the Common Core: Is Big Data Big Brother?

By Anthony Cody — March 29, 2013 2 min read
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It is safe to say that Glenn Beck has millions of politically conservative followers, even now, on his less visible cable TV and radio program, TheBlaze. In recent weeks, Beck has turned his attention to the dangers posed by the Common Core.

I do not usually pay close attention to Glenn Beck’s work. On his Fox channel show, he took on a professorial air, and often led viewers down a rabbit hole into a shadowy world of Muslim conspiracies. However, the case of the Common Core there may be some substance, and it could begin to erode further the fledgling project.

The most hard-hitting elements of Beck’s critique focuses on the data system attached to the Common Core.

What that money again goes to in the stimulus, you know, 40 or 50 pages later: Improving collection and use of data. The State will establish a longitudinal data system that includes elements described in Section 604(e)(2)(d) of the America COMPETES Act. So you have to look that up. But that's the key. If you want any money, you have to put together a data collection service. What is the data collection service? Well, this I contend is one of the reasons why we had the turtle tunnels and everything else that everybody talked about. Because it kept you away from things like this: $5 billion.
Now, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, called this a historic opportunity. I call it bribery. Race to the Top gave the federal government billions of dollars to dangle in front of the cash starved states and they dangled and said, 'All you have to do is sign up for this program. You'll get the cash.' And state after state signed.
These databases will track all kinds of personal data, including but certainly not limited to healthcare histories, income information, the religious affiliation of your family, voting family status, blood types, blood test result, homework completion, hair color, eye color, whether a child was premature or not, do they have any birthmarks, even bus stop arrival information. It goes deep, deep. If they have 44 data points, they can tell you an awful lot about they can tell you just pretty much anything. These are hundreds of data points collected on your children for over 20 years. This is the groundwork for a national student database that will track your kids and their personal information from preschool until the stated end of 20.

This video shows some recent discussion along these lines.

This connects to opposition to the Common Core from conservative circles, which I discovered in a recent visit to Arizona. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin has likewise been speaking out against the Common Core.

Parent activists such as Leonie Haimson have been raising similar concerns for several years. The group Class Size Matters has posted a fact sheet on that highlights their concerns, and ways that parents can take action. I posted a blog addressing these issues last June, around the time the Gates Foundation’s infamous “galvanic skin response bracelets” came to light. I also shared a guest post in November exploring the changes in privacy guidelines. And activist Susan Ohanian has been cataloging concerns about the Common Core for several years as well.

And the mainstream media is beginning to note the issues. Reuters reporter Stephanie Simon filed a report earlier this month that called the push for data a “venture capital magnet,” and shared this description of the genesis of the database:

The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

This recent noise from Beck and company reflects a split in conservative ranks. Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Educational Excellence has been pushing hard for the Common Core, and perhaps because of the profits to be made, the corporate sponsors of ALEC have also been on board.

But the more populist, Libertarian elements of the conservative movement have been growing louder. This has begun to take a toll in some of the conservative states that were previously signed on to the Common Core. Opposition to Common Core may have shifted some votes to teacher Glenda Ritz in her victory over Tony Bennett in Indiana last fall. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell just this week responded to a question, and said,

I don't want to have a federal bureaucracy monitoring whether or not we are having the right programs in our schools. [snip]
The bottom line is we don't need the federal government with the Common Core telling us how to run our schools in Virginia. We'll use our own system which is very good. It's empirically tested.

Defenders of Common Core have begun to respond. A lawyer working for inBloom offered a response to privacy concerns on the Answer Sheet yesterday.

I have to say that as someone who grew up learning about the snooping the FBI was doing on American citizens, I am disturbed by the pervasiveness of this data collection. If you think about all the ways data is being gathered from our children, from kindergarten onward, it is not comforting to imagine this information being made available to corporations. I do not even like the idea of all that data existing, because once it is there, it can be leaked or distributed. This is one thing I may have to agree on with Glenn Beck. I do not want the government, or Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify, to have access to all this data. And the only way to prevent that may be not to collect the data in the first place.

What do you think? Is Big Data our friend? Or is this just too much information?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.