A Possible NCLB Rewrite – Act Now #ESEA

This week (April 14-16, 2015) begins NY statewide ELA testing. Testing refusals are well underway and I am expecting huge refusal numbers not just on Long Island, but across New York state. The open Facebook group, Long Island Opt Out, has further details and both official and unofficial numbers.

However, we need not lose sight of the fact that the US Congress is taking up possible revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the 2001 No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). Congress (the Senate is discussion the revisions this week) can either call for an end to annual high stakes testing, revise it, or keep it as is. It is imperative that we contact our federal legislators as much as we did recently with our local ones regarding the NYS budget vote. Right now, these politicians in Washington are making a HUGE decision. A decision that very well may  determine what teaching and learning looks like in America’s public schools over the next decade.

Don’t let this slip under the radar. Our US Senators and House representatives need to hear from us this week and until they vote on any proposed changes or this madness will continue and the state can continue to hide under the wording of “it is a federal requirement for students to be standardized tested every year.” The annual testing requirements under NCLB also set in place the punitive effects of testing we are experiencing today from possible loss of funding, to loss of teachers, to labeling students as potentially “not career or college ready.”

Below is a sample of what you can tell them in emails. Please feel free to use it. Come up with your own shortened version for posting to the attention of their social media accounts. Here’s how to find your US Senator and House rep.

______________________

Dear Senator (or Representative),

It is time to reduce annual standardized testing in our public schools.

As you consider the next re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), I urge you to roll back the amount of federally-required high-stakes standardized testing to give students more time to learn and teachers to teach—especially to work closely with students most in need. Further, test scores should not be used to punish schools or teachers nor be used as a wedge to drive a split between what takes place in the classroom and what those in charge want to take place in the classroom.

No nation over tests children, especially those children most in need, more than America. None. Not Finland, Singapore, China, Poland, Canada…none. It is excessive, unnecessary, and actually harmful. You cannot find any research or evidence that the excessive amount of standardized testing that has occurred since NCLB has actually improved schools. None.

I will continue to work hard to advocate for parents to refuse these “federally mandated” annual standardized tests until changes are made. To borrow the motto of one of my local Long Island heroes, Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, “Stop It. Fix It. Or, Scrap It.”

Respectfully sent,
______________________

Some reading for you on this topic.

Follow the tweets of Politics K-12 here https://twitter.com/PoliticsK12
http://thejournal.com/articles/2015/04/07/senate-ed-committee-unveils-draft-legislation-to-fix-no-child-left-behind.aspx
http://www.nysape.org/nysape-comments-on-esea-draft-legislation.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sens-alexander-murray-propose-bipartisan-measure-to-replace-nclb/2015/04/07/c6c37b3c-dd36-11e4-acfe-cd057abefa9a_story.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/senators-propose-bipartisan-bill-to-revise-no-child-left-behind-law.html
http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/13/mercedes-schneider-part-4-of-her-close-reading-of-the-alexander-murray-bill-to-reauthorize-nclb/
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/04/senate_education_committee_con_1.html

NY’s Proposition 3 Passes – Now What?

NY’s $2 Billion Smarter Schools Bond Act passed statewide:

Yes 48.97%  1,806,939 votes
No 30.29%  1,117,639 votes
Blank 20.72%  764,417 votes
Void 0.02%   760 votes

Total statewide votes 3,689,795 out of 10,827,434 active registered voters (approx 34% voter response). Only approx 10% of registered voters marked a Yes on this proposition. Totals as of Wednesday Nov 5 11:30pm

Results from the two counties here on Long Island:
Suffolk
Yes 47.07 %    151,325 votes
No 34.35 %    110,442 votes
Blank 18.56 %    59,669 votes
Void 0.02 %    53 votes
Total votes  321,489 out of  ??

Nassau
Yes  49.84 %    155,187 votes
No  30.66 %    95,446 votes
Blank  19.44 %    60,524 votes
Void 0.06 %    189 votes
Total votes  311,346 out of ??

Once again, a minority of the voting population makes the decisions that impact the majority of us. In the NY City counties of Bronx, Queens, Kings and Manhattan the blanks were even higher varying in the upper 30% to mid 40% range. I feel there should be a 60% minimum needed to pass any statewide proposals (Florida and other states have this threshold).

Here’s what this means for ALL NY’ers.

1. Blanks? Really? 1 in 5 voters did not vote on it statewide. However, 100% of NYers will suffer the long term debt and interest payment for these expenditures. The man filling out his ballot next to me mumbled under his breath “I don’t have time to read all these” after he flipped his ballot over. That’s exactly what the politicians expect and it is exactly what they get. Nearly as many blank votes as No votes is incredible. It impacts every single tax payer. Everyone complains about school taxes being too high and here we have a chance to prevent a massive borrowing scheme used for questionable items that NO DISTRICT ASKED FOR. Only roughly one-third of registered voters even bothered to have their say on the issue. That is very depressing.

2. I’ve documented enough why I felt this bond  should have been voted down. What to do now? Hammer your local district once they release the spending plan for their share of the bond money. Question everything and ask for detail. Find out not just how and why they are buying and building now, but how they plan to pay for it next year, in 3 years, in 5 years and more. For example, if they want to build out classrooms for new pre-K programs, how will they pay for staff, supplies, and more? How many kids are they expecting will fill those rooms? Based on what data that they have? How many pre-K kids do they anticipate they will have in 5 years from now? Etc…

3. Districts are REQUIRED to involve parents (see FAQ posted here). Make sure they do and make sure you have the chance to publicly comment and discuss the expenditures. Send emails so you have a documented paper trail of questions and responses.

4. Hold the districts accountable for the expenditures. In 1, 3, 5 years time make sure they prove the worth of the expenses.

5. These new tech purchases will cement computer based Common Core testing in NY. The state can now move to quickly adopt the PARCC exams. Wait till you see how much these tests will costs districts (and the state) next year and the year after and after. After the dust settles, start to do your own research about PARCC and ask lots of questions of your districts. When they say they are now buying new devices, get them on record as saying they will not be used for testing purposes (or that they will be used for that purpose). Districts across the country have literally bought computers and tablets that are used for nothing more than testing.

6. This vote was actually about an education issue that the people could change. We could have made a difference and prevented a massive amount of financial borrowing. Instead, voter apathy won the day.

7. Governor Cuomo threw this bond, seemingly from out of nowhere, into the state budget in January 2014. No one asked for these funds including the state Board of Regents who only asked for $1million more in the budget for tech spending. So now he got what he wanted even though he recently said this about NY public schools:
““I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly. The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it,” Cuomo said. “I feel exactly opposite.”

Problem is that’s not what the teachers have said. At all.

8. Once an expenditure plan is created, start looking into any and all possible data privacy issues associated with any new purchases, subscriptions to online services, contractors, etc.  All the data related questions you’ve heard about over the last two years are in play here with any 3rd party service and vendor. It is finally on everyone’s radar so make it the focus on your research.

Above all, please educate yourself, family, and friends on not just candidates, but the issues and proposals before heading to the polls the next time. A 20% blank rate is not acceptable. Take a stand for or against something and leave your mark.
________________
References:
http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx
http://ballotpedia.org/New_York_Bonds_for_School_Technology_Act,_Proposal_3_(2014)
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10bond.h33.html
http://www.empirecenter.org/publications/smart-sounded-good-to-62/
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/10/30/10bond.h33.html

Thank You, NY Voters, For Leaving Prop 3 Blank

Thank you to the over 20% of NY voters who chose not to answer the ballot proposition #3. Thanks. Really. Thanks for taking the time to care. I am convinced that the majority of voters had no clue what the proposals were for and what they meant. They read the few sentences and voted yes or left blank based on that little info. That is scary. The pols who put those proposals there know that and they could do anything they wanted and it would most likely pass. Prop 3 will probably pass with under 50% of the vote being yes.

http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx

Here’s percentages of voters as of 10:45 pm that left Prop #3 blank:
Bronx 42%
Queens 36%
Manhattan 28%
Kings 37%
Rockland 33%
Suffolk 18%
Essex 27%

Thanks again for those blank votes. But I do know this: 100% of voters will be paying for the outcomes of this $2 billion of NEW borrowing you just gave the Governor and his chosen few. You will be paying for this for up to 30 years with over $155 million in interest payments alone every year. This will now officially put NY pretty much at it’s state debt ceiling limit. After all, this was just free money, right? Who says no to that.

And on top of it NY voting numbers and turnout are dismal. Once again a minority of the people making decisions for the majority of us. 2% of NY voters left blank their choice for governor. That’s half as many than voted for Green Party candidate Hawkins.

All politics is local.

(Data from link above as of 11:15pm 11/4/2014)

NY’s Smart Schools Bond Commission Report – Followup Post

First, thank you to all who read and shared my original post about the Nov 4th vote on Governor Cuomo’s Smarter Schools Bond Act.

Gov Cuomo’s Smarter Schools Commission just released a detailed report yesterday (Oct 27, 2014), to the governor, outlining suggestions for spending the bond money … a week before the vote on the bond. I asked my local district last week if they saw the report since the Governor’s Office had previously indicated it would be available this fall. The district did not reply to that question, but I knew they did not see it because last week it did not exist. It does now and in my opinion, the report makes several suggestions that do not appear to jive with the four bullet points listed as items that can be obtained with the grant.

Specifically the new report lists the following 7 “Keys to Success”

1. Embrace and expand online learning which will break down geographic barriers, provide access to the best sources of instruction in the world, and level the playing field for students in rural and smaller school districts.
2. Utilize transformative technologies, such as tablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards to deliver differentiated instruction tailored to students’ specific abilities and needs that lets them learn and advance at their own pace.
3. Connect every school to high-speed broadband using technology that is capable of scaling up over time and deliver sufficient wireless capability to serve every student.
4. Extend connectivity beyond the four walls of the classroom so students from all backgrounds have equal access to the information superhighway.
5. Provide high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers, principals, and staff to ensure successful integration of technology into the teaching and learning experience.
6. Focus on in-demand STEM skills to ensure that students graduate with 21st century skills.
7. Plan, plan and plan again.

I say #4 and #5 are not listed as items you can obtain via bond money when you compare it against the list available here. Am I wrong?

#6 is even debatable as everything I have read says there are currently too many STEM graduates and not enough STEM jobs (see here and here and here). Plus, in-demand today is not in-demand in say 10 or 20 years. It is a short-sighted approach that panders to certain audiences.

Additionally, I found the example of a shining school on page 16 of today’s report to be suspect. The district mentioned, Colton-Pierrepont Central School District, is a Chromebook district. Chromebooks are Google. Google is Eric Schmidt. Eric is one of the 3 on Cuomo’s Smart Schools Commission who prepared the report and will help determine how funds are used. Here is district mention of their Chromebooks here and here.

Page 33 of the report also lists Clifton Fine Central School District listed as shining example in the box at the top. Also a Chromebook district here.

Showcasing the Chromebook districts in the report is exactly what I, and others, ‘feared’ with Schmidt on the panel. He clearly has an interest in seeing this bond pass. Hold up, as a shining examples, what districts have done with his Chromebooks.

The Mineola School District shows up as another example of districts that are integrating tech. What I found odd about that mention is how this bond will ‘work’ compared to a district’s regular budget process. Here the Superintendent of Mineola details how districts can pay for tech purchases through regular budgets while working with their local BOCES offices. As far as I understand it, that is clearly not what this bond is setup to do.

“How did you afford all of this technology? (from interview here)
There are many ways you can afford to purchase things. We go through our local BOCES, which is a collaborative which allows us to pay for things over time. So we purchase everything on a five-year lease purchase on the end. What that allows us to do is that in year six we can go back to year one and determine do we want to replace everything that we purchased in year one or do we want to buy new technology? But the beautiful thing is that it’s already built into your budget. If you build a budget over time, you won’t feel the massive effect of $100,000 hitting your budget at one time. You can pay for that $100,000 of equipment over five years so it’s only $20,000 hitting your budget at one time. Those methods really make it easy if you plan how you can phase things in.”

Additional points about the report include:

Page 23 lists CK-12 as a resource for Open Educational Resources, which they are. However, one of their technology ‘partners‘ is Google.

Page 30 discusses expanded student broadband access AT HOME! Put taxpayers on the hook for increasing home broadband speeds? Don’t think so. “As was previously discussed, students’ connectivity needs do not end when they walk out of the school building at the end of the day, so districts may consider pursuing community projects that enhance students’ connectivity outside of school as well, including projects that impact public libraries and students’ broadband access at home”.

Also from page 32: “By improving access to reliable, robust and cost-effective broadband in school and at home, we can ensure that New York’s students are prepared for digital learning.” I wasn’t aware that this bond covers improving HOME Internet access. That’s not listed in the talking points from the Governor’s office.

I can’t spend the time to research line-by-line and page-by-page the details in the report. However, I did immediately see this inconsistent wording:

(bottom of p.31): “Over 500,000 households lack access to basic broadband service that meets New York State minimum broadband speed standards.  More than 4.6 million households in New York lack access to broadband speeds of 100 Mbps. Worst of all, five percent of all New York students lack even basic access to the Internet at home, leaving students in these households unable to complete even simple school-related online tasks at home.”

(bottom of p.32): “Addressing broadband gaps not only requires robust broadband networks at the school and home, but also includes affordable broadband service and computer equipment. With more than 6 million New Yorkers not subscribing to Internet services, broadband affordability at home presents a major challenge. In New York State, approximately 30% of students, particularly those from low-income households, are still not connected to the Internet at home.”

Funny, how one can play with data, isn’t it? Which is it 5% or 30% of students don’t have access to the Internet at home?

The jury isn’t out on anything technology related in schools. Not use of mobile devices, interactive white boards, computers in lab settings, etc. This new report mentioned NOTHING of any opposing viewpoint about use of technology in, and out, of schools. The report also fails to show what success might look like. Does getting all this tech mean increased test scores? Guarantee employment? Make for happy and healthy kid and teachers? Define it. The report ends with :”The Commission was charged with advising the State and school districts on how best to invest the proposed $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act to enhance teaching and learning through technology” (page 49). I think the report suggests using the funds for purposes (professional development and student home Internet access among other questionable items) that are not listed in the bond act proposition.

_______________
Related resources:
https://www.governor.ny.gov/press/10272014-smart-schools-commission
http://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/SmartSchoolsReport.pdf
http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/223333/smart-schools-commission-releases-report
http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5389-how-bright-smart-schools-bond-act-prop-3
http://nypost.com/2014/10/07/new-yorks-school-bond-boondoggle/
http://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/10/26/editorial-new-york-proposal-schools-bond-misplaced/17848377/

NY’s $2 Billion Smart Schools Bond Act – My View

Let me go on record as saying that I love technology. I love our public schools. I love adding technology components to school assignments and classwork and learning. I love technology used to solve very specific academic and administrative problems. I love helping my kids prepare for their future and not my past.

Let me add that I am not anti-educational technology, not anti-technology, not anti-preK, and not anti-security. Not one bit.

On November 4th I will be voting no on the $2 billion NY Smart Schools Bond Act. Here’s why.

1. I oppose:
– Money thrown at solutions to problems that don’t exist. In this case we will have state residents paying for ‘things’ that may be needed outside their region.
– Additional money added to our state’s overall debt putting NY really close to the debt ceiling limit.
– Money thrown towards administrators who haven’t expressed a need for the money ahead of time in the form of a plan or rationale for why such money is needed.
– Money borrowed and used to buy technology that will be outdated and in need of upgrades just two or three years after purchase.
– Having to pay millions on interest for the bonds each year that could be better spent on other more pressing educational needs.
– A member of a the appointed state Commission that oversees the distribution of these funds may possibly profit from the spending of bond money.

2. In the related studies section (linked here) and provided by the state as ‘evidence’ that we need this, two of the four links are vendor supported ‘research’; one from guess who, Pearson, and the other from guess who, Gates Foundation. They can’t even find non-vendor, non-interested party, research that warrants this massive expenditure. The state provided zero non-vendor related resources in their measly “Related Studies & News” section. No long term study on the effective use of “interactive white boards”. No needs analysis. No real rationale for why this is needed other than, “…build out schools and classrooms for the 21st Century to ensure that our students graduate with the skills they need to thrive in the economy of today and tomorrow.”

3. Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch is ambivalent about the bond according to recent reports. (Read here) Governor Cuomo threw this proposal into the state budget that passed last January without any consultation with educators. Note the quote here from a recent story about this act: “Even the State Board of Regents, which nearly always recommends at least a billion dollars more per year be spent on schools, only asked for $1 million in additional money for technology for schools.”

“No education group is actively backing the proposal. And many, including the teachers union and the state school boards, have expressed reservations.” (Read here)

4. Tech will be bought and curriculum won’t be adjusted. I mean REALLY adjusted. Not just the technology side-show that takes place in most schools now. Schools have had over 20 years to figure out what to do with technology. Ask yourself this: “What does my child’s school actually do with technology? How is it used to improve student learning and experiences?” I’ve lived this for nearly 20 years working in the ed-tech field. If the plan doesn’t come first, and the devices do, the initiative always fails. What are the pedagogical reasons for requiring more technology? For increasing WiFi access? For getting tablets? Have districts evaluated their use of technology to date? If so, where are both the local and statewide reports? Where is the local report that examines the return on investment to date of any past technology expenditures? Where is the list of schools districts who asked for this money that also outlines how much they requested?

5. Money randomly thrown at technology for the stated purposes of catching our kids up to the rest of the world (whatever that means) rarely works. The most glaring example of this was on the west coast where the LAUFSD school superintendent recently, and abruptly, resigned. Let’s learn from the Los Angles UFSD’s iPad debacle, shall we. I am all for adding more technology into the curriculum when it has a purpose other than test taking or simply “getting students prepared for the competitive world” nonsense that is used as a rationale for these initiatives.  (Read here)

“All told, the nation’s second-largest school system has purchased 109,000 iPads so far; 62,000 contain the Pearson curriculum. It was left off devices purchased late last year for use in state standardized testing. To date, the district has spent $61 million on the iPads, including carts to charge them.” (Read here)

Check out one of the comments on the site here:
“Our principal just sent out a message that we are getting 40 iPads for taking the new smarter balance assessment. They will be not used for anything else and when the children are done with the test we are sending them back. They do not get to practice the assessment on the iPad or use it for anything else. That is an expensive test taking machine. I wonder who’s forward thinking this is.”

That’s the predictable road we are heading towards in New York State.

6. I had a lengthy back and forth email exchange with my local district administrators about it (well one admin … no one else chimed in to date). I’ll give you the short version and frankly the wrong administrator responded. The curriculum admin should have stepped up to explain the need for new tech, not the business admin. I was sent a hastily organized series of documents and files as rationale for why our district needed the funds. It was basically a wish list of needs. Computers are old, we need new ones. Servers and infrastructure are old, we need to update it. A long term investment in pre-k is needed. More high tech security cameras, more WiFi, interactive white boards, projectors, art centers (did not realize that was allowable), publication centers, etc. Bullet points of desires. Nothing in the supplied files sent to me, nor in the email exchange, tied these purchases to increased, or improved, student learning or teaching. I scoured my local district site to try and find a current Technology Plan. There is none publicly posted that could find. I was told there is one and I asked to be sent a copy. Still waiting. I also asked if that plan clearly expressed the need for any and all of these ‘things’ the bond may cover. No response to date.

Also as part of this exchange I frequently mentioned two additional points:
– Since I bought my house in this district (10 years ago) enrollment is down 1150 students.
– I asked for the 1 yr, 3 yr, and 5+ yr costs associated with any new purchases.

No comment from district officials to either point. Enrollment down 1150 students at what $15000 per student cost to educate = $17.2 million savings, right? There’s your money for tech upgrades. The pattern of borrow and spend, borrow and spend all while enrollment is declining must stop.

Summarizing: First, show me the curriculum plan, the research on improved pedagogy, the drive towards creativity and innovation. Then, explain to me what tools you need to get there. Anything else is unacceptable and laced with profit driven motives only.

I will be voting no on this bond. My no vote isn’t a vote against my district. Rather, it is a clear protest against the wrong way to pay for technology. I recommend that districts first develop the plan that outlines how much they need, what they need it for, and what educational goals the expenditures are linked to. The plan must include a multi-year approach to using the technology that includes an upgrade or removal path. Take that plan and present it to your community. Then, take that plan and present it to the state. If warranted, funds are granted, used to implement the plan, oversee the plan, assess the plan, and act accordingly.

Telling my local district you may get a blank check for $11.06 million is absurd. Of course they will try to spend that. Almost every district would. After all it’s free money that grows on trees, right?

_____________________

Questions for your local district
I would suggest spacing them out over a few emails to the entire board of ed and the superintendent and any other local admin who may have answers (business, curriculum, testing, technology, …). Also, scour your local district web site to find the documentation that indicates there is a need for more ‘tech money’.

1. What is the plan for spending up to $_____ million as our district allotment from the possible passage of the NY Smarter Schools Bond Act on Nov 4th?
(Find your tally to include on the blank line at the web site here.)

2. Considering enrollment is trending down, why should district residents vote yes/no on this?
(Question obviously used if your local enrollment is trending down … mine is and is on a 10 year spiral down.)

3. What are the short and long terms costs associated with any expenditures made as a result of this bond? What is the cost of the migration and upgrade both in the immediate first year of install, the 3-yr projected cost to maintain and upgrade (e.g., those 1000 new computers will need a memory upgrade by year 3 … I’ll discount the memory upgrade at that time to $40 a computer x 1000 = $40,000 plus time for technicians to install it), and then 5-year projected cost which is exactly where the NEXT upgrade path will begin. Do the math on all these costs for each server, switch, backup system, etc. that need to upgraded now. What is the 1-yr, 3-yr, and 5-yr cost for training, maintenance and support, then the upgrade path for the replacement of this new tech?

4. As stated here: “Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, the Smart Schools Commission will lead a research effort into best practices into technology-enabled education and broadband connectivity efforts. In preparation for the Commission’s final report that will be developed in Fall 2014, we will invite local and national experts to present best practices for the Commission’s consideration over the coming months at public symposiums and Commission meetings.”

Has the district received this report? Have any district administrators attended these public symposiums and Commission meetings?
(I’ve not been able to find the “Commission’s final report” posted online. There are three presentations from public forums at the link above, but no final report.)

5. Have you had any discussion with parents about this bond and how the money could be spent? If so, are there public records of this?
(The FAQ posted at the link above clearly states schools must discuss this with their community.)

6. Is the district concerned that one of the three Commission members selected by Governor Cuomo, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, has a clear interest in seeing this pass since his company could easily benefit financially from any purchases made as a result of bond spending?

7. Are you concerned that in each of the three public events listed on the web site above, there was no speaker who opposed the use of technology in the classroom? Shouldn’t we hear from both sides before asking taxpayers for this amount of money? Shouldn’t we see verifiable research that this is both needed and useful?
(That leads me to the next question …)

8. Where is the verifiable, non-vendor specific, research that indicates OUR district and students need more “… interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers?”

9. What are the specific educational goals you feel the district will reach with the purchase of these new devices that you just can’t obtain without them?

10. How will curriculum be adjusted to integrate the new high-tech purchases?

11. Is this bond driven by the fast statewide move towards PARCC? Do you know if the purchase of any new technology from this bond will be used to administer computer based testing? If so, how much?
(Yet another NEW high stakes testing system…this time one that is computer/tablet based. Read more here.)

12. Where is the local report that examines the ‘return on investment’ to date of any past technology expenditures?
(This is a big question in my opinion because I’ve not yet seen a district have this kind of report. How can you ask for money of anything before first seeing if what you last purchased is actually working and you have evaluated it’s effectiveness?)

13. If the district wants to use the bond for pre-K, there are a whole host of other questions: What does the pre-K program look like now and how will the bond change the picture of it? How many new students will the bond cover? Does it cover costs associated with staffing pre-K? If not, how much will that cost and where will the money come from? Are classrooms going to be reconfigured? If so, how many? Are students going to be shuffled to new buildings? Buildings going to close, open, etc.? How many pre-K students will be accommodated?

14. Does every single classroom need an interactive white board? If so, based on what non-vendor supplied educational research? If only a few classrooms would ‘need’ these boards, which ones? Did teachers specifically ask for them or are administrators deciding the classes need them? How about for the tablets?
(Question obviously used if the district has made it clear they desire interactive white boards and tablets.)

15. Same is true about any stated desire to “incorporate wireless technology in buildings.” For what purpose, a BYOD initiative? What will connect to that expanded WiFi access? Will WiFi be installed only to then be secured and locked down so students can’t use their devices on it? Or teachers as well? Who is asking for an expansion is WiFi? What does WiFi look like now and what do you hope it will look up with acquisition of this bond money? What are the stated educational goals and objectives for needing expanded WiFi? Will there be public access to use of WiFi for open meetings, concerts, sporting events, and other events where the public use the facilities outside of regular school hours? You get the point.

________________________
Related resources:
http://ballotpedia.org/New_York_Bonds_for_School_Technology_Act,_Proposal_3_(2014)
https://www.diigo.com/user/the999ers/Smart_Schools_Bond_Act

Brief Late Summer 2014 Data and Testing Update

Apologies to my blog readers for a quiet summer. It was a busy few months for my family and I just did not get a chance to post. I was reading and researching … that I did not put aside. This post is still a summer update even though fall has started. Better late than never.

It was a surprisingly busy summer, as well, in the education world with regards to protecting educational data and the administration/use of high stakes testing. I wanted to use this blog post to pick out a few of the stories that made the news either locally on Long Island/New York or elsewhere.

There are two major areas I think we should address between now and the November elections:
1. The failure of the NYS Education Department to comply with the new legislation put forth by the state last spring with regards to protecting student data. NYSAPE  has posted their letter on this topic here and Class Size Matters has blogged about this extensively (here’s a sample). Additionally, two informed Long Island moms have also been leading the charge to get NYSED to comply (see here).

Try doing a search on the NYSED web site for any details about all these wonderful new privacy changes they are working towards. I’m not finding anything about it. See here. Only thing there is the link to the Parent Bill of Rights on the main page. Try doing a search for the new interim privacy officer on the site and there is nothing about her bring appointed to that position, no office page … nothing. So much for openness and transparency moving forward. I can only explain this using two terms: it is either intentional or incompetence.

2. The pending $2 Billion NYS Smarter Schools Bond Act. The voting public needs details on this massive new expense. Details from both local districts and from NYSED/Governor Cuomo. So far all we have is a web page with some seemingly random links and files that try to explain the purpose of the bond. My post and thoughts on this topic will be available mid-October here on this blog.

Data and Data Privacy
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US Senate Ponders Student Data Privacy Bill :: here

US Senators Markey and Hatch submitted a student privacy bill :: PDF here

Student Privacy Matters response to Senators Bill :: here

Student data: New guidance from the feds :: here

Delayed student data ‘bill of rights’ met with concern :: here

NYSED Posted a Prelim Parents Bill of Rights :: PDF here

[ If you want to send comments to the new interim NYSED Privacy Officer, Tina Sciocchetti, or urge her to hold hearings so that she can hear directly from parents their views on this critical issue, you can email the new privacy officer at CPO@mail.nysed.gov ]

10 privacy steps for every district :: here

A National Look at Student Data Privacy Legislation :: here

NY State Testing
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State education department releases test questions – via Newsday :: here

Details of NY’s test cut scores :: here

Meet the NY panel that set the cut scores :: here

Time For An Investigation Into New York State’s Test Score Results, Data Tracking :: here

NY Teacher Ratings (APPR) :: here and here and here

But, then there’s this: “States Given a Reprieve on Ratings of Teachers” :: here

Critics Question High Ratings on New York State Teacher Evaluations Amid Poor Test Scores :: here

US schools give kids standardized tests so much more than top performing countries. :: here
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“The bottom line is that students are getting hurt, money is being wasted and precious time is being spent on high stakes testing at the expense of more meaningful instruction,” Dutchess County parent Anna Shah said in a statement from New York State Allies for Public Education, a parent-teacher coalition seeking an overhaul of the state Education Department.

“Teaching and learning in our state would benefit if we could reduce the fixation on testing and test results,” the New York State Council of School Superintendents said. :: here

Here’s another:
Do New York State Education Officials Ever Tell the Truth? :: here

Outside NY
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From Florida (this should honestly be a crime for waste of tax payer money and damage done to these kids)
A school system’s stunning standardized test schedule for 2014-15 :: here

From Vermont: Vermont to the Nation: This Is What Good Education Looks Like (or a lack of testing at least) :: here

From Oklahoma: “Oklahoma education department says it will withhold fifth-, eighth-grade writing scores from report” :: here

From California: California Protects Student Data Privacy with Two Bills :: here

Thoughts on Data Protection Wording of NY Assembly Bill A8929

Here’s my take on the data collection/storage/sharing wording in the much discussed and debated NY Assembly bill A8929 that passed in the NY Assembly by a vote of 117-10 this past week. See the full bill here

I’ve copied out the data related sections and added my comments. I had to remove the ALL CAPS to make it easier to read (why is it in all caps like they typed it on a typewriter?)

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S  12. 1. Prior to July 1, 2015, the commissioner of education and the state education department are  hereby  prohibited  from  providing  any personally  identifiable information or de-identifiable student information to any third party vendor pursuant to any contract or memorandum of understanding for the purpose of collecting, storing  and/or  organizing student  data  or information in order to provide access to such data or information to third party vendors operating data dashboard solutions.

The wording above does not mean the state still can’t collect massive amounts of student, teacher, and parent personally identifiable information (PII). It just indicates NYSED can’t provide it to any third party for a year. Then, this gets revisited again next school year which simply prolongs this and we have to go through this all over again next year. The state can, and most likely still will, collect all the data it wants and will keep using it, just not work it into the new inBloom type systems. They won’t be able to provide the data dashboards to parents for at least another year. The wording below does not halt data collection.

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2. A parent of a student, a person in parental relation to a  student, or  a  student  eighteen  years  of  age  or older may request that such student’s personally  identifiable  information  and/or  such  student’s biometric  record  not  be  disclosed to any third party. The department and/or any school that receives such request shall  be  prohibited  from disclosing such information to any third party unless such disclosure is required  by law, pursuant to a court order or subpoena, for the purpose of a state or federal audit or evaluation to authorized  representatives of  entities  identified in section 99.31 (a)(3) of title 34 of the code of federal regulations implementing  the  family  education  rights  and privacy act, or is necessary due to a health or safety emergency.

The wording above indicates disclosure of PII might be required by law. So, spell it out. Which laws and when applicable?

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3. The department shall develop a form that shall be used for requests made pursuant to subdivision two of this section. Such form shall be made publicly available and shall allow such individuals the option to opt-out of disclosure of personally identifiable information and biometric records to any third party or to certain types of third parties. The department is authorized to identify a list of types of third Parties that individuals may opt-out of disclosure of such information and records and such individuals may opt-out of disclosure of such Information and records to any type and/or all of the listed third parties. Such list developed by the department shall not require the Names of such third parties to be listed. Such list may identify the Types of services such third parties provide.

This section above could cripple current school technology practices, which would be bad. The key phrase is “or to certain types of third parties.”  In modern-day 2014, we have to permit districts to use tech systems to facilitate transportation, scheduling, and other educational technologies including those used for instruction and learning by classroom teachers (Learning Management Systems, free/paid web based tools, cloud based email systems like Google Apps, etc.)

Wording also indicates NYSED will develop the list of services third party vendors can provide. The state doesn’t have to indicate the name of the vendor (e.g., inBloom) just what they do (e.g., data store). So NYSED can simply list out one of the possible services that parents cannot opt out from as “data store”, “data organization” or any other clever term used to continue their needs for collection, storage, analysis, mining, and sharing. Again, the prior paragraph indicates the storage tied to sharing is on hold until July 2, 2015, so NYSED can simply use next year to work on the list of services necessary and wait for July 2 hoping that no new legislation is brought forward to extend that temporary halt. This is also going to be a nightmare for schools to monitor and track what parent has opted out of what database/system/tool. The better approach is to simply eliminate PII from moving its way up the data levels to the ultimate spot of the NYSED offices.  Long term, I’d like to see a rework of the data levels 0, 1, 2, etc so PII never reaches the state level and never leaves the local BOCES offices. I still have not heard from NYSED why they need student/parent/teacher PII.

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5. Schools and the department may not under any circumstance  disclose personally  identifiable  information  or biometric records to any third party unless such third party has agreed in writing to:   a. Provide the department or the  contracting  school  with  a  breach remediation plan acceptable to the department or the school;   b.  Report  all  suspected  security  breaches  to  the  department or contracting school as soon as possible but not  later  than  forty-eight hours  after such suspected breach was known or would have been known by exercising reasonable due diligence; and   c. Report all actual security breaches to the department or  contracting  school  as  soon  as possible, but not later than twenty-four hours after such actual breach was known or would have been known by  exercising reasonable due diligence.

This section above is a good common sense approach. I would like to see added to that section details about performing security audits and making the results of such audits public. A state representative should be working with these third party vendors to verify that data is secure and not just take their word that it is.

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The major item I think is missing from not just this proposed bill, but any relating to data that I have seen to date, is what our fellow citizens in Oklahoma added to their new legislation on this topic last summer: an explanation of data fields. There bill isn’t perfect, but it better than what they had there. I want to see a law that mandates that ANY state department or entity that collects, stores, share, and uses data or is in contract with any third party vendor to collect, store, use, share  any PII related to the citizens of the state outline for citizens the specific types of data it collects (field names), the very specific purpose of the field (so in the NYSED databases they would have to explain in detail why every piece of data is needed), the length of time the data element is keep in the data base, if it is connected to any other state databases, and the specific details about any third party use of the data. Notice should be given to state citizens in much the same way the health care providers and insurance agencies have to notify customers of data use.

NYS Assembly Education Hearing on Disclosure of Student Personally Identifiable Information

02November 20, 2013 NYS Assembly Education Committee Hearing on Disclosure of Student Personally Identifiable Information
Full video with agenda here

I was only able to hear portions of the hearing and jot down a few notes and quotes. The details and quotes below are not in order of appearance.  I will listen to the entire hearing at some point and add to my summary below. If anyone else watched it and wants to comment, please feel free to use the area at the bottom of the post.
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Assemblymember’s question (missed who asked this): What has been collected to this point?
NYSED response: State has provided student data to inBloom, but not with names. As we move closer to final implementation, we will provide names to finalize testing process and dashboard use (says Ken Wagner)
– Commissioner King says over and over we are not sharing data, they are jsut storing it. Also says the data can’t be used for research purposes. (Not sure that is accurate, but have to research this. I thought I read in several places online they do provide data to researchers.)
– King says “we are not collecting new data”  … Wagner later says “We have collected new data elements over the past couple of years. Student level attendance started last year and student level suspension started this year. But those data elements are something we would have collected independent of the inBloom project.” So a grey area here. Are they playing games with the wording? Appears to be. Better question would be: What new data elements are you collecting specifically as a result of using inBloom or because of the technological capability that inBloom provides? What about in the future?
– King says districts can’t opt out of providing data to state. Must comply with state and federal law. (So, what are the federal and state requirements for data collection?)

– Ken Wagner says we do not provide student level data to the federal government. Also says data collection is a must for federal accountability purposes. “We have a federal requirement to monitor school programs” (says Wagner.) Ok, spell it out. What has to be monitored and what data must be collected to abide by the “federal requirement?” It is never definied or explained.

“Doesn’t the parent have the right to selectively withhold info?”
-Assemblymember O’Donnell
(He grilled King and Wagner and made it real personal. That’s what we need to do as parents. Make it personal.  NYSED: No reply to the question. Have to abide by the requirements of the laws.)

“Our ability to protect our privacy has not caught up with mechanisms used to protect the data. Parents ought to have a choice. Parents should have the right to not have child’s data sent to X.”
-Assemblymember O’Donnell

“I don’t understand why the names of each child need to be attached to this data.”
-Assemblymember Jaffee
(Bingo. Please ‘splain it NYSED. She also asks a great line of questioning about the contract line that appears to indicate districts can request info be deleted from inBloom. NYSED: No reply.)

“There will be a move in the legislature to revisit those laws that require so much data collection.”
-Assemblymember Nolan
(Bingo. Just because it is law doesn’t mean now, considering our current technological capabilities and potential security issues, it is good law. Please examine the laws and adjust.)

“Has any money changed hands between NYS and inBloom?”
-Assemblymember ? (missed who asked this)
NYSED reply from King: inBloom is funded until Dec 2014 by philanthropic ventures. $50 million of state money has been spent for the portal project so far. Past Dec 2014 how much will it cost? (???)

“What are the penalities for a breach?
-Assemblymember ?? (missed who asked this)
(Wagner: “No idea.”  The recent Sachem School Distrcit breach is mentioned, although it has nothing to do with inBloom.)

“Commish King, you are a master at avoiding questions.”
-Assemblymember Abinanti
(He questions why the state’s agreement with inBloom is specifically referring to the laws of the state of Washington. NYSED: No reply. Not aware of this.)

Assemblymember Abinanti refers to the NYS P-20 plan as a result of a tweet I sent him during the hearing. Bravo! First time I recall hearing it in public in any hearing or discussion. He is shocked to just discover this via an email he received during the hearing (it was a tweet, but that’s ok). More on this here. This, my friends, is something to dig into. Mr. Little’s reply was very good.

NY refusing to have a parent opt out. Illinois has up to 35 districts that might participate, with a parent district opt out option AND are not including health info. NYSED has not put limits on what data the districts can send into inBloom.
-Leonie Haimson
(Corrected the word parent as per Leonie’s comment below.)

* Listen to every one of Assemblyman Abianti’s questions and the responses he is given. There are almost no direct answers to questions.
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Press on the hearing includes:
inBloom is not in the room
Ed Comm King Faces Bi-partisan Grilling by Assemblymembers
Assembly Education Chair Threatens Subpoena Against Data Company