The Fight to Return NY Schools Back to Local Communities Enters Year 3

Back to school already? That’s right parents and that means it’s time for that game we like to call “high stakes testing that is used to judge and grade your teachers and principals, but has no real purpose”. Have you asked your school and/or principals when testing starts? You think it is the spring-time you say? Guess again. Here’s the early testing schedule for our local district:

Math SLO and Local – September 4th and 5th
ELA SLO and Local – September 9th and 10th
Special Area SLO and Local – September 8th-19th

That’s right. Starting the year off with a few high stakes tests (these count toward the teacher’s APPR scores and can be a test of content the kids have not yet learned…a real confidence booster there.) For our kids’ teachers the APPR score is 60% observation, 20% State tests and SLOs, 20% Local assessment.

NYSED’s previous statement that referred to “no standardized testing for K-2” is BS. There was none to begin with. These are not considered standardized tests.

Now here’s the kicker…among all the others…ALL of our local area school districts are spending millions to give, track, and monitor these early assessments. And for what? Neither the SLO or the local is being used to guide instruction. There are purely used as a “judgement” tool at the waste of precious early bonding and learning time in the classroom. And guess what? NYSED wants the tests scores to count for 40% and get rid of the SLOs and locals. Can you say even more “teach to the test” worksheets and curriculum. (see here)

So, yeah…here we go again and welcome back to yet another year of meaningless high stakes testing. The fight to bring back local control of our classrooms enters the 3rd year for not just our family, but pretty much for all of the Long Islanders who have researched, studied, questioned, and fought hard against the well-funded corporate driven takeover of the state/local public school system. This will most certainly be the most important yet because once our state gets too far into this mess we call “education reform”, there will be no turning back.

I ask you fellow Long Island parents of school-aged children: take note of what happens in your child’s classroom this year. What kind of work comes home? What is hanging on the walls when you visit? What does school look like before and after winter break? What message about testing is your kid’s teacher conveying? What do YOU want your kid’s classroom to look like? Do you want performance or innovation?

Wish your kids well this week and help them achieve happiness and success. Tell them to always do their best and to try not to let the pressures of school break them down. Wish your kid’s teachers and principals well this week and tell them you will help to fix the mess that is NY public education.

Oh, and don’t forget those green laces, bracelets, and scrunchies.

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Sachem BOE Meeting and Data Discussion

Below are just my bullet point notes from the meeting. What follows are the questions I still want the district to address. If audio or a written version of the presentation and questions is ever made available, I will revise the items below if necessary.

Sachem BOE Meeting Wed Dec 18, 2013

4th item on agenda under presentations: “Data shared with the state”, Chris Clayton (attorney who represents the district)

These are paraphrased comments from Mr. Clayton
– Let me make this clear, Sachem does not have a contract with inBloom. The state does.
– The use and transmission of data is behind all of the current state education initiatives.
– The district has, for perhaps the last 10 years or more, always sent student level data to the state.
– He provided an overview of Race to the Top and what NY did to obtain the $700 million of federal money. Sachem only received roughly $87,000 spread out over 3 years with funding running out at the end of this year.
– Sachem can’t direct the state where to store or how to use the data.
– RttT requires, at minimum, the following data be sent: student demographic, enrollment, absenteeism, suspension, parent contact, and more. Those were only the ones mentioned I could hear. He only referred to a few.
– There was a mention that report card data was sent to the state. (I would like more clarification on that.)
– Sachem’s obligation under RttT was to select a portal (data dashboard) and make it available to parents. (Superintendent Nolan spoke up only once to say, “We are not using the dashboard.”)
– The district can terminate the MOU with the state for RttT.
– Doing so would possibly relieve the district of “the burden of participation in data dashboard.”
– The district will still have to send data to the state even if we withdraw from RttT.
– FERPA was revised recently to permit more sharing of data from the state level.

-One BOE member read from a local district withdrawal letter some of the key reasons for opting out of RttT.

BOE Questions that I could hear:
1. Does the state generally honor the district letter to withdraw from RttT? Answer: Appears so, but not really clear on what that means.
2. Would we be relieved of other RttT responsibilities? Answer: It sounded like a “Not sure”, but I can’t be certain of that.
3. By opting out, is state still able to send data through to inBloom and then over to 3rd party? Answer: Appears so. State will still use inBloom, but not sure how Sachem will then see that data or how parents will if they ask.
4. Where does state put the data if we opt out? Answer: Unsure
5. Are we aware of the state contract with inBloom? What that looks like? Answer: Yes, but … contracts can change.

Conclusion: The BOE decides they will discuss this (not sure what this is whether it is withdrawal from RttT or the data sharing issue) further with Mr. Clayton in executive session.

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My conclusion: There wasn’t much new that came out of this presentation. Many parents have already emailed their concerns to the BOE members and plenty of information to review. While it appeared that perhaps 3 BOE members who spoke had “concerns”, it wasn’t really clear if the concerns were directed towards the implications of withdrawing from RttT or from the data sharing. The data sharing capabilities and possibilities really wasn’t discussed in depth. I am not sure the BOE understands the vastness of it and what the state actually plans to do with Sachem data. That’s where we need answers from NYSED. I think more time was spent discussing possible withdrawal from RttT than the topics of “data shared with the state.”

RttT funding is scheduled to run out at the end of the school year. It is my understanding if we don’t apply for it again we don’t have to abide by the obligations of the program. So table that discussion until the spring and focus specifically on the data collection, sharing, mining. As of this January, NYSED officials are on the record as saying, they will be requesting data that is, for the first time, attached to student personally identifiable info. Up until now, according to the same NYSED officials, it wasn’t. Why wasn’t it up to now and why, going forward in January, will they need to connect it?

Glaring questions that not only were not asked by BOE members, but information not provided by Mr. Clayton in the presentation (the question list below was revised on Dec 19 and items #16 and 17 were added and emailed to the BOE):

1. Who is liable for a data breach of district information stored with inBloom, or used by a third party vendor through inBloom? My understanding, after researching this, is that the local district is liable for the breach and the consequences, even though we don’t technologically control the data once it passes up to the state.

2. With whom does the state share Sachem data? With what state agencies? With what third party vendors now and in the future? How will that be tracked and how will parents be notified? What is the educational purpose of sharing the data with other state agencies, if that is taking place, and with various third party vendors? Who approves those contracts? Do the Sachem attorneys get to review those contracts?

3. How long does the state plan to hold data on Sachem students? Until graduation? Through college? For life? What happens to the data of a student who leaves the district? Of a family who leaves the district?

4. Did Sachem offer up to NYSED the ability to voluntarily share student data with vendors necessary for state use of the data, but not necessarily district use?

5. What specific data does Sachem send to NYSED and how is it transmitted? Literally spell out the fields for everyone to see (much like is now law in Oklahoma.) That should be easy to do since a student, teacher, principal record can easily be extracted to see fields and personally identifiable information (Pii) stripped from the records. This would be any and all data sent under various portals, systems, spreadsheets, and reporting mechanisms. I understand the amount of data the state wants is “breath-taking”, according to an unnamed district source.

6. What new data fields is Sachem required to send this year and next? What new data elements is the state collecting specifically as a result of using inBloom or because of the technological capability that inBloom provides? What about in the future?

7. If we did opt out of RttT, and one of the requirements of RttT was to send parent contact info, is that data still sent to NYSED and if so, for what purpose? This is just one example of the various data fields that are sent along without a clear educational purpose. It was stated in tonight’s meeting that the parent contact info is needed in order to provide the data dashboard to parents. If we don’t plan to provide the dashboard, why send the data?

8. There is a provision in the state’s contract with inBloom that clearly states that it is up to the district to participate in the inBloom initiative AND the district can withdraw from inBloom and request that data be removed. That’s the loophole used by Southold, Comsewogue, and others. What is our attorney’s view of that loophole or wording in the state’s contract with inBloom?

9. inBloom Inc. states that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored, or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” Please detail any communication between representatives from inBloom, the New York State Education Department, and Sachem BOE members or administration regarding this statement.

10. Please cite the specific wording and definitions in both federal and state law that requires data collection. Please also cite the specific pieces of data these laws are requiring Sachem to collect and send to the state.

11. What happens if a student transfers from one district to another within the state? What data is sent electronically to the new district without parent consent? What about medical records associated with special needs students? What happens if the student transfers out of state, to a non-inBloom state?

12. Why does all the state data collected about students need to be personally identifiable to each individual student? Please provide evidence and educational rationales that support that decision.

13. Please explain how the new inBloom database/system fits into New York’s larger plans for a statewide P-20 Longitudinal Database System. What is the educational value of the statewide longitudinal databases? Where has one been setup, tested, and used for an extended length of time (a decade or more) and found to be a valuable tool in making statewide decisions? What is the direct educational benefit of a P-20 system to the Sachem community?

14. Is the state held Sachem student data held within systems that are maintained within the United States or is the data stored on servers outside of America? What specific laws govern the storage, transmission, use, and maintenance of the data stored overseas, if it is? If a data breach happens, that involves Sachem data, on a system stored overseas what legal implications does that present to the district? (This hints at the fact that inBloom is contracted with Amazon Web Services for data hosting and could potentially be storing data on American school kids on systems outside of America. Funny enough, but FERPA was changed recently to permit this exact scenario.)

15. When the inBloom initiative began last spring, there were 9 states committed to some part of the process. Not even a year later and there are only 2 standing: Illinois which only has 35 districts that might participate under a pilot program WITH district opt out and no medical information being sent and the Chicago Public School system that has withdrawn – and New York which is literally all in. No wavering. No concerns. No problem. So this begs the simple question: What do these 7 others states know that we don’t? Why have they withdrawn?

16. Who verifys that the state remains in compliance with all data privacy protection laws and the inBloom contract/agreement?
17. How is the inBloom and data dashboard project funded in the short term and what are plans for long term costs and funding? What will this cost Sachem because it appears that even if we withdraw from RttT and choose not to use the dashboard, we still have to pay the state for the data storage at up to possibly $3-5 per student. In essence, we are paying the state to see the data we sent them.

LI Education Forum Summary: The King Is Still Not Listening

Topic: NYS Education Regents Reform Agenda, blah, blah, blah
In attendance: NYS Education Commissioner, John King, Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch (not this one, the real one), State Senator John Flanagan, and lots of special interest groups.
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I have to say, tonight was powerful. The passion, energy, commitment, and dedication of our Long Island parents and educators was palpable in Ward Melville High School tonight. Tomorrow it is your turn Mineola area!

Last spring, before my wife and I made our final decision to have our son refuse the NYS assessments, I attended a parent/educator meeting in Mt. Sinai. The meeting was very well attended on just a week’s notice. Again, I thank Jeanette Deutermann for her tireless efforts to both raise awareness of the misguided NY educational reform agenda and for inviting me to that forum. I left that forum feeling inspired, educated, and determined. I vividly recall coming home that night and saying to my wife: “Dear, we just found ourselves a cause around which we can rally.” Actually, I don’t think I said it that nicely as a result of drinking a beer, or two, at the time. That was my first “no turning back” moment. Tonight was my second.

For starters I missed my fellow green lacers from the Lace to the Top group and my fellow district parent advocates from SCAPE outside. I arrived later than planned (but did make nearly 17 traffic lights in a row all the way from the south shore to Old Town Rd – all green lights) and wanted to rush inside since a friend was holding a seat. Thank you, Jane St. Pierre, for attending. It really means so much to me and my family to have your support, insight, and expertise. So I missed all of you “cool kids” hanging out stirring up trouble literlaly on the corner. Mark, Kevin, Jeanette, Sara, Janet … next time. I did arrive with 12 22″ green glow-stick-necklaces, proudly wore mine inside, and drove home will all of them in my windshield. I also did go out to look for you a little after the mid point, but then returned to sit with the overflow crowd in the cafeteria. Out of guilt for missing everyone, I came home and forced myself to have a bowl of green ice cream. It was terrible. I did spot the educational rockstar, Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joseph Rella literally standing in the back the entire time after coming in from hanging out with the cool kids.

The crowd. What can I say. Were they loud? Yes. Were they sometimes rude? Yes. Did the Commissioner expect anything else? No. The way these “public” forums are setup, the organizers left themselves open for these types of passionate outbursts. That and the fact that Commissioner King refused, yet again, to address any questions presented to him in these forums. He literally opened his first talking segment with, “Let me tell you why 45 states adopted the Common Core…” When you see someone like Commack Superintendent Dr. James cut off after a measly two minutes you ask yourself, “What’s the point?” Of course, every speaker went over time. The holding up of the time warning signs right in the field of vision for the speakers was a little much in my opinion. Here we have years of frustration all boiling over and you are supposed to package it up nicely into a nice 2 minute box. Not going to happen.

Speaking of packaging things up nicely … have you seen the video of PJSTA President Beth Dimino presenting her case at the forum? She was one of the first few to speak and it was shocking that she did not have that much to say. I mean she only had 50 letters, and mailed 300 others, asking for Commissioner King’s resignation. Maybe that just wasn’t enough letters? I bet we can drum up a few more. She had her red on for public ed and her green lace around her neck. Standing ovation #1.

My view of Beth’s powerful message is here.

I don’t have a list of speakers, but up to the point I left, they were all really good. Even the ones I may not have agreed with 100% were still making an effective case for their message. These were all points we could sit down at the table and discuss with the NYSED officials and the Board of Regents, but you see, that will just never happen. This is clearly a dog-and-pony show, smoke-and-mirrors, or whatever other over-staged phrase you want to use (feel free to comment below with some good ones.)  This King is still not listening.

I was proud to listen to Sachem Schools Wenonah elementary principal, Christine DiPaola speak. She made very powerful comments about every educational reform item that concerns me as a Sachem parent. If I can find her video or transcript, I will repost it here. I am sorry to have missed the other two Sachem speakers. Principal DiPaola was standing ovation #2.

As the speaker is called from the Smithtown school district, I am thinking, “I wonder what she will say considering I saw some resistance last spring from Smithtown with regards to the parent refuse movement.” I have to say, Smithtown parents and educators your Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Bradshaw spoke very eloquently about this current mess. I sense some support there and hope it was genuine. I believe she was standing ovation #3.

There was another star tonight and that was Eric Gustafson from the Three Village School District. Watch for yourself and you’ll see why he received standing ovation #4.

There were some quotes and quick moments that stood out.

– “The Mommies in NY don’t abuse their children.” –Beth Dimino
– Paraphrasing this one: Please explain to me Mr. King why I was rated 19/20 last year and only 11/20 this year. I am the same person. I lead my students the same. –Longwood Middle School Principal, Dr. Levi McIntyre
– “What has happened to the common sense of the Common Core? If this intiative does fail it will be due to pilot error with you and the state at the controls.” –Sachem Schools Wenonah Principal, Christine DiPaola
– “What about the kids? What about the kids?” -Yelled by a special interest group member from the back of the auditorium

And my favorite one-liner of all: “We agree more than we disagree about these points.” – John King

Is that so?

One of the things that really struck me while I listened to Commissioner King provide a “timed” response three different times was exactly what others online have said about him, and his speeches: he did not once mention the students. Hours of thoughtful, passionate pleas from these many educators and parents who see what all these new education reforms are doing to these kids presented before him and he doesn’t once mention the students, the children. Every single reform buzz word/phrase was used. He barely, I mean barley, remotely referred to anything the speakers mentioned. He picked up on a keyword or phrase like “professional development” if someone mentioned that. Then he’d go on and on that he’d help and he’ll get more money, but it never addressed the point the speaker was making about professional development, or whatever else the topic might have been. He has failed his Common Core listening skills module.

And here’s a few online comments I just discovered:
– ” Tonight I heard such articulate speakers ask very intelligent questions and Commissioner King did not answer any if them.” -LM
– “So proud of all the amazing people who spoke on behalf of the children tonight and ALL the green laces that were inside and out! Bad news…. King is STILL NOT LISTENING….” -JR
– “If there is a better parent organizer than New York Ed Commissioner John King, I have yet to meet him! He has single handedly turned thousands of parents in New York State into education activists!!!” -MN

A common comment from the audience during a lull, was: You’ve rallied the mommies. Something of that sort. My response … don’t forget about the daddies, too! So, that’s all I can recall from memory from tonight.  I urge all New York residents to get out and attend one of these meetings. Don’t sit there and complain all day about teacher pay, standards, testing, your taxes paid to the schools. Listen to these people. Hear their message and understand the concerns. Don’t be like Commissioner King and pretend to listen knowing full well your mind is already made up.

Here’s some local media coverage of the event.

Patchogue Patch:  State Ed Commish Slammed in Common Core Forum
Port Jefferson Patch:  Realtime Live Updates (now archived)
Newsday:  Hundreds attend East Setauket forum about state testing
News12 Long Island: LI Residents Gets Heated at Common Core Forum
Times Beacon Record North Shore of LI: State Education Commissioner Faces Heated Criticism

Note: I edited the text above to include the name of my “friend” who held my seat after receiving her permission to do so. The original wording when first posted kept her anonymous. That is no longer needed.