NY Governor Cuomo’s Comments on Elem Testing: He Said What?

What is going on with the powers that be in NYS government and education? The recent comments of Governor Cuomo are a striking difference from recent comments made by the Chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch. Add to the mix comments by state legislators and we have the setup for a potential steel cage match in Albany’s state capitol building.

Here’s where we start.

March 31, 2014 (here): Governor Cuomo comments about delaying the impact of the new tests on teacher evaluations at an afternoon event at LIU-Post in Brookville: “I think that parents can now exhale. Students can now exhale,” Cuomo said. “The test scores don’t count.” According to the Newsday report of the event, “Under a deal approved by the Senate and Assembly, Common Core-aligned tests for students in grades 3 through 8 won’t be included on their transcripts through 2018. Further, school districts can’t use the scores as the sole way to determine student placement.”

Fast forward another year to more recent comments.

March 20, 2015 (here): Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever responds to concerns expressed by parents of children with learning disabilities and parents attending a pro-teacher rally by dismissing “…the protests as the tantrum of “special interests.”

April 2, 2015 (here): Dr. Kathleen Cashin, a member of the New York State Board of Regents, representing Brooklyn, pens a statement to Diane Ravitch and states: “As a Regent of the State of New York, I cannot endorse the use of the current state tests for teacher/principal evaluation since that was not the purpose for which they were developed.” She continues, “How can we criticize people for opting out when the tests have not been verified? We need to cease and desist in the use of these tests until such time as we can be confident of their reliability and validity. If tests do meet those criteria, the tests must be released to teachers and to the public after they are given, in the spirit of transparency and accountability.”

April 15, 2015 (here): Board of Regents Chancellor Tisch downplays the opt-out movement and paints parents as confused patsies of a labor action in a discussion with Diane Ravitch on MSNBC. Chancellor Tisch said, “The intent of the test is to give a snapshot of performance and allow parents to know where their children are at any given point in their educational career as compared to their peers.” She continued with this rebuttal to one of Ravitch’s comments: “I would say that the tests are really a diagnostic tool that is used to inform instruction and curriculum development throughout the state.” She later added, “…school districts report to us all the time that they design curriculum around the results of these tests. I would say to our parents that our kids have got caught in the labor dispute between the governor and the teacher’s union.”

April 24, 2015 (here): Governor Cuomo provides the most telling sound bite to date: “The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo said in a brief press gaggle following an Association for a Better New York breakfast event in New York City. Cuomo said he believes they haven’t done a good job of publicizing the fact that the tests, for at least the next five years, won’t count at all for the students.”

“They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count,” Cuomo said.

He said what?

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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.
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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

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.

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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/

All I Can Do to Say Thanks

Thank you to my online friends and followers for putting up with my education posts and not all blocking me, unfriending me, or unfollowing me. At least, not yet.

Whether you had your kids refuse testing or not, or if you discussed it with family and friends or not, today was one of the greatest days in parent activism this nation has ever seen, led by knowledgeable and concerned NY parents.

Last year it was estimated between 1000-1200 refused the tests on Long Island out of nearly 215000 who could be tested. Today, we are over 15000 refusers and still counting out of 204000 possible test takers. My home district, where my son was only one of 3 in his whole building last year, topped out at 1398 refusers, 20% of test takers. His school had 32 this year. These numbers will go up in 3 weeks when the math exams are thrown at these kids. There were massive numbers in many districts. Numbers so high the tests are completely invalid and these kids are “More Than a Score.”

Consider this: no other nation over-tests their kids, especially their youngest and most vulnerable (those with special needs), every year from grades 3-12 with countless hours of high stakes exams. None. We stand alone in abusing these kids, hammering their confidence, and killing their creativity all so we can “evaluate their teacher”. Actually, so we can find a way of labeling them ineffective all because these kids could not sit for 540 minutes of high pressure exams. Almost every other nation simply tests students entering high school (or vocational school) and exiting. No, not us.

LI Principal Carol Burris, Education Historian Diane Ravitch, and CW Post Professor Arnold Dodge can sum up this movement much more eloquently than I can. Please read their thoughts here and here and here respectively.

So, one of the many points of this movement was not to coddle our kids, teach them to rebel against authority, nor shake up the schools this week. It was to send a message to Albany. A clear and loud message to NYS Education Commissioner John King and our Governor Andrew Cuomo: You refused to hear us for 2 years, now deal with us. And look what breaking news we have today. Low and behold…it’s our Governor with a “deal.”

Now, Cuomo plans Common Core changes for teacher evaluations

Oh and PS: just watched him on ch 5 news and he said the tests will not count for students and it will be good practice for them. I don’t even think he can make that decision. So, the kids now know it means $&@” and will not care how they do. How could he possibly allow that to be part of teacher evaluations. What a mess!!!!

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.

Three Ideas for Educational Change in New York: Testing Schedule, Formal Opt-Out, Budget Lines

Here’s my ideas for impacting immediate educational change in New York State that I am willing to pursue with the appropriate elected officials.

Formal Testing Schedule
1. Mandate that districts provide a formal testing schedule to parents each year. This would include all tests used to evaluate the schools, teachers, admin and students where the results, or data collected, are sent to the State Ed Office. Field testing would be included as part of this schedule. We would not need a list of any summative, end-of-unit type, tests.

Formal Parental Opt-Out
2. Provide a formal means for parents to direct the schooling of their children by permitting parental opt-out of high-stakes state assessments and other factors that influence.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (262 U.S. 399).

In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)

New Budget Guidelines
3. Mandate that districts create a new line items in the budget that clearly show how much money is spent towards the investigation, implementation, and administration of state mandated testing and teacher/principal evaluations. This would include accounting for all costs associated with implementing these tests and evaluations including, but not limited to: trips outside of the district to learn about, score, or administer the tests, acquisition of testing materials, providing subs to cover teachers and admins who leave the building for testing or eval purposes, time to input any data into a data collection mechanism, etc.