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PARCC Security Breaches Revealed; Microsoft, InBloom, News Corp. Implicated

Written by  // Friday, 20 June 2014 08:27 //

educationWritten by Tom Aswell, publisher of Louisiana Voice.

When LouisianaVoice broke the story about the stealth agreement between the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. whereby DOE would provide News Corp. with personal information on Louisiana’s public school students for use by a company affiliated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the resulting firestorm resulted in cancellation of the agreement.

Or did it?

 Remember, too, that it was Murdoch who, in 2010, speaking of the enormous business opportunity in public education awaiting corporate America, said, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S.”

In June of 2012, Erin Bendily, assistant deputy superintendent for departmental support and former education policy adviser to Gov. Bobby Jindal emailed Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White:

“I think we need to start with a very strong introduction and embed more CCSS (Common Core State Standards) alignment/integration throughout. This sounds harsh, but we should show that our current/old educator evaluation system is crap and the new system is stellar.”

Common Core, passed by the Legislature, was vetoed last Friday by Jindal who, like John Kerry and the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002, was for it before he was against it, but the controversy continues. Remember, it was our old friend Dave “Lefty” Lefkowith, that super commuter who flies back and forth between Baton Rouge and his Los Angeles home on a weekly basis, who first advised White to “forget” about communicating with the media or public about departmental plans to launch DOE’s Course Choice program in March 2013.

On Jan. 2, 2013, White emailed Lefkowith at 6:19 p.m., asking, “How we doing on communications? We have a huge launch in two months.”

“We just decided amongst ourselves: ‘Forget it,’” Lefkowith responded at 7:20 p.m. “Problem with that?”

“Fair,” White responded one minute later.

But at 6:53 p.m., 34 minutes after White’s email to Lefkowith and 27 minutes before Lefkowith’s response, White emailed Ken Bradford, assistant superintendent for the department’s Office of Content: “Okay. Time to start the blitz, as we roll up to launch.”

It was, however, the spate of emails scattered throughout the 119 pages of documents referencing the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC), a project of the Gates Foundation that provided the link between the department and Murdoch and his News Corp. operation. Those emails confirmed the department’s intent to enter sensitive student and teacher information into a massive electronic data bank being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corp.

“Over the next few months, the Gates Foundation plans to turn over all this personal data to another, as yet unnamed corporation, headed by Iwan Streichenberger, former marketing director of a(n) (Atlanta) company called Promethean that sells whiteboard,” according to a news release by Class Size Matters, a non-profit organization that advocates for class size reduction of New York City’s public schools.

It was that revelation that should cause Louisiana citizens in general and parents of school children in particular the most cause for alarm.

Class Size Matters in January of 2013 released a copy of a 68-page contract between SLC and the New York State Educational Department which said in part that there would be no guarantee that data would not be susceptible to intrusion or hacking, though “reasonable and appropriate measures” would be taken to protect information.

Remember that “reasonable and appropriate measures” claim. It comes into play later.

The Gates contract also allows for the unrestricted subcontracting of duties and obligations covered under the agreement.

Remembers Gates as well; it, too, becomes important momentarily.

Fast forward to March of this year.

“The Louisiana Department of Education, in partnership with 15 other states, conducted the first phase of the PARCC Field Test March 24-April 11,” came the boast from DOE.

“More than 24,000 students in grades 3-8 successfully completed the Field Test: 24,415 students across 76 Local Education Agencies (LEA) participated in the Field Test, many of whom practiced for the Field Test’s look and feel by using the tutorial and sample test questions published by the Department,” DOE said. “All students who participated in the Field Test had the opportunity to experience the new technology features of the assessment, and many reported that the new features were engaging and easy to use, which enabled them to more easily complete the assessment.”

But a report in the Arizona Daily Independent on Monday by Brad McQueen, a former Common Core insider and currently a public school teacher in Tucson and author of The Cult of Common Core, offered some disturbing revelations about the field test.

McQueen said PARCC, the Common Core testing company, “knew it had major data security flaws in its computer-based field tests, administered by Pearson Testing this past spring…but they went ahead with the field test anyway.”

He cited an email from PARCC to all PARCC states on March 12 that said:

“The down time between when students are exited from the secure test mode in TestNav (the online test platform) and when the proctor resumes the testing leaves a gap that is a security risk.”

There were also flaws external to the PARCC computerized test that posed additional threats to student data security when using certain versions of Internet Explorer with the Accelerator feature, he wrote:

Common applications like anti-virus updating, screensavers, pop-up blockers, or the computers accessing other programs had the capacity to exit the student from the test, thereby exposing them to data security risks until they were manually logged back onto the test by the test administrator.

“Sounds like there were loads of ways for your kids’ data security to be breached during the PARCC field test, huh?” he wrote. But PARCC, Pearson and state departments of education, instead of delaying or cancelling the field tests in order to correct the flaws, stayed on schedule, keeping the security flaws a secret.

In other words, choosing profits over security.

DOE currently has a $1.2 million contract with Pearson that calls for the company to “provide authorized testing center licensure for each public high school in (the) state of Louisiana that is part of the statewide Microsoft IT Academy.”

Now, let’s return to Gates and those “reasonable and appropriate measures.”

Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for London’s Guardian newspaper, has a new book entitled No Place to Hide. The book is about Edward Snowden and his leak to Greenwald about the National Security Agency’s widespread, almost universal, indiscriminate spying on Americans as well as foreigners whether or not they posed a threat to U.S. security.

Among those thousands upon thousands of pages of leaked documents were several emails that revealed Microsoft’s complicity in the NSA’s hacking into our telephone, email and other electronic communications. In late 2011, Microsoft purchased Skype, the internet-based telephone and chat service, assuring us at the time that “Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic, and communications content.”

The perception, however, was far different than the reality; NSA, it turned out, was given carte blanche access to Skype data as an NSA email proudly proclaimed on March 4, 2013:

“SSO (Special Source Operations, a division of the NSA) expects to receive buddy lists, credit card info, call data records, user account info, and other material.”

Another Snowden-leaked NSA email, dated Dec. 26, 2012, said, in part:

“MS (Microsoft), working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal with the new SSL (one of the most common Internet cryptographic protocols designed to protect hacking). These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec. 2012.”

Still another document, Greenwald wrote, “describes further collaboration between Microsoft and the FBI, as that agency also sought to ensure that new Outlook features did not interfere with its surveillance habits. ‘The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU—just the name sounds intimidating and ominous) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature inOutlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking process…There are compartmented and other activities underway to mitigate these problems.’”

If that is not sufficiently chilling to cast extreme doubt on data sharing, PARCC, and any other such proposals being put forward by Microsoft, InBloom, former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, News Corp. and any other individual or entity that wishes to profiteer off public education, then you are part of the problem.

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