Bari Anhalt Erlichson, an assistant New Jersey education commissioner and chief testing officer who supervises PARCC testing throughout the state, has a personal connection of sorts to PARCC’s developer, the British publishing giant Pearson. Anhalt Erlichson is married to Andrew Erlichson, a vice president of a company named MongoDB. MongoDB (the name comes from humongous database) is a subcontractor to Pearson, that helped to develop its national student database that provided the larger company with access to student records. Pearson later sold the center to Hobsons which no longer deals with MongoDB.
Anhalt Erlichson wrote a memorandum to New Jersey educators March 17 defending the actions of her department and Pearson in monitoring the social media of New Jersey students while they took the PARCC tests. She blamed the uproar caused by the revelation of the cyber-spying on the failure of parents and educators to understand social media.
She did not mention her personal ties to a company that profits from a business relationship to Pearson which, in turn, has a contract with the state education department. Bari Anhalt Erlichson and Andrew Erlichson own a home in Princeton valued at $2.9 million, according to property records.
A state education department spokesman said Bari Erlichson had no connection with any of the work done by MongoDB. Michael Yaple, the spokesman, said her husband’s company was not listed among any of the Pearson subcontractors working in New Jersey. However, he did not answer how MongoDB and Pearson could develop a National Transcript Center without New Jersey. He said New Jersey was not part of the project.
Erlichson is expected to appear Thursday before the Legislature’s Assembly Education Committee to answer questions about the revelations of spying–or monitoring, to use Pearson’s term– by Pearson of students sitting this month for the PARCC exam, a statewide standardized test given to children from grades three through high school. Anhalt Elrichson and Pearson have defended the monitoring as a means of safeguarding the test’s security.
According to MongoDB’s website, this is what the company did for Pearson before it no longer had any involvement after the sale to Hobsons:
“High school students only have to worry about one transcript: their own. But for Pearson, a multi-billion dollar learning company that operates in over 70 countries and employs some 36,000 people, its transcript management problem is much bigger. Pearson Education manages the transcripts for over 14 million students from more than 25,000 institutions, and makes and allows NTC member institutions to securely send records and transcripts to any of over 137,000 academic institutions, not to mention employers, licensure agencies, and scholarship organizations.
“To manage this big data problem, Pearson turned to MongoDB as the underlying database for its National Transcript Center.
“Pearson’s National Transcript Center isn’t merely a data store for student transcripts. Pearson stores student data and also transforms it from one standard format to another, including PESC High School Transcript XML, PESC College Transcript XML, SPEEDE EDI, SIF Student Record Exchange, and others. Pearson also generates PDF copies of a student’s records, and provides print copies when electronic delivery is not available.
“The impetus to use MongoDB was a request to archive student data at the end of each year, rather than deleting it. If the student had graduated, why keep her records around? As it turned out, there was plenty of reasons, including the potential need to transfer records between higher educational institutions or on to employers.
“But how best to store and manage this student data?”
MongoDB did it for Pearson–but that was not the only contract it has with the testing company. It also operates Pearson’s database for OpenClass, the publishing company’s new venture into virtual learning or, as it calls it, “open learning.” Pearson’s OpenClass is partnered with Google’s Chromebooks–and Chromebooks are the computers school districts needed to buy to be used by students taking PARCC tests.
Pearson and Erlichson’s MongoDB plan to grow profitably together. This also is from MongoDB’s website, an answer to a question and answer with Pearson. A Pearson representative was asked what the future looked like for the Pearson-MongoDB connection. The answer:
“Our MongoDB footprint is only going to continue to grow. More and more development teams are playing with MongoDB as the foundation of their new application or OpenClass feature.”
The future does, indeed, look good for the Pearson and MongoDB as well for Mr. and Mrs. Erlichson.
After the Pearson monitoring program was revealed, many parents and others expressed concern about the possibility that the company was invading the privacy of students and their families. Others dismissed the fears, noting that Twitter–the only social media so far known to be monitored by Pearson through another subcontractor, Caveon Test Security. The question left hanging–and the question neither Pearson nor the state education department will answer–is how Pearson could identify students from often pseudonymous Twitter handles.
Pearson owns PowerSchool and PowerSchool was part of Pearson’s National Student Transcript Center. And PowerSchool is linked to NJSMART, the statewide student and teacher database that assigns to every child and school employee a number it can trace to find out more and more about those who work in, or attend, the state’s public schools.
So, there you have it–connections all around between the data collection, the spying and the state education department official who runs the show and chides parents for not understanding social media.
There is more to the story, but its direct relevance to New Jersey is unclear. The history of MongoDB is an interesting one. It was once called 10gen. That company got funding from another tech firm known as In-Q-Tel, or IQT. This is how MongoDB announced it:
“10gen (the MongoDB company) today announced a strategic investment and technology development agreement with In-Q-Tel (IQT), the independent strategic investment firm that identifies innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
IQT is a CIA company. So says The Washington Post. So says MongoDB.
And Pearson spies on our children.