Questionable contract?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The PARCC censorship controversy, and what the NY Times left out



Update: For more on this controversy, see today's NY Times, which sadly omits mention of the Fair Use exception to the copyright law, and quotes  Michael Petrilli, who claims that "most states are not using test results for teacher evaluations or school quality judgements."  Really?  He also says that the PARCC exams are of "exceptionally high quality."  If this is true -- and there are many who disagree -- then PARCC should be obligated to release their entire exams and not attempt to evade scrutiny.   

The NYT article also omits mentioning how unusual it is to expect to keep the items on a national test secret that is given to millions of students over the course of a lengthy testing window, which for PARCC lasts more than three months --March 7 to June 10 .  In fact, according to an authoritative source, the College Board changes the questions on the SAT  when it's administered on the West coast from the East coast version --because they assume the questions will be shared within that three hour period.

Finally, the NYT links to my blog post, one of the few (?) that still remains up, complete with the PARCC questions.  So you should check it out if you haven't already --- because the post will likely be taken down by Blogger by tomorrow.

See also articles in Slate, USA Today, the Progressive, Washington Post Answer Sheet, and by bloggers Peter Greene, Mercedes Schneider, Daniel Katz and Diane Ravitch, who discovered that her own blog on the PARCC was deleted overnight without warning.


On May 7, Celia Oyler, a professor at Teachers College, posted a column by an anonymous teacher critiquing the 4th grade PARCC exam, as featuring three reading prompts that were  grades higher than the recommended benchmark, and asking questions that were not even aligned to the Common Core standards in that grade.  

Professor Oyler subsequently received a warning letter on May 12 from the CEO of PARCC, Laura Slover, which threatened her with legal action unless she removed the post, claiming it violated their copyright, and demanded that she also disclose the name of the teacher who wrote the column.
She promptly deleted the excerpts from the exam, and renamed the post, The PARCC Test: Exposed [excerpts deleted under legal threat from Parcc]

Others who had tweeted links to Celia’s blog, including me, had their tweets deleted, following complaints by PARCC to Twitter that these tweets had also somehow violated their copyright.  I was annoyed but then when I heard about the PARCC letter to Celia, I reprinted the original post on my  blog on May 14, along with the excerpts of the 4th grade exam, and urged other bloggers to do the same as “an act of collective disobedience to the reigning testocracy.”  

Critical to my outreach efforts was the Education Bloggers Network, a collection of more than 200 grassroots bloggers, managed by Jonathan Pelto , who communicate with each other in order to become better informed and expand their reach.  Few if any of these bloggers, mostly parents and teachers, get paid for their efforts but they see their role as critical in fighting back corporate reform, unmasking propaganda, and advocating for real improvements to strengthen our public schools. [Jonathan is reliant on individual contributions to keep his work going, please consider making a donation here.]

Then, one by one, many of these bloggers had their posts with PARCC excerpts deleted, sometimes without even receiving explanatory emails. You can see many of these deletions listed on the  Lumen website,  showing 27 takedown notices from Twitter and Google (owner of Blogger) between May 12 and May 16, 2016, all claiming copyright violations.  

PARCC put out a press release, arguing their position; yet many bloggers, including  Julian Vasquez Heilig  and  Anthony Cody, have pointed out that it is impossible  to critique an exam without featuring some of the questions, and thus should be allowed under the Fair Use exception to the copyright law.  

As Anthony wrote, “Just as we needed to read the question about the talking pineapple to understand how lousy it was, we must be able to discuss and criticize the content of the PARCC test. These are not sacred texts. They ARE, however, being used to make Godlike judgments about children and teachers, with potentially life-altering or career-ending consequences.” 

What's the next chapter in this saga?  Stay tuned, for possible legal challenges if PARCC continues its attempt to evade accountability for the flawed nature of these exams through censoring any critiques that contain excerpts from the exam.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Warning! Field Tests ahead!



For all of you parents who thought the testing season was over, here is an alert from Fred Smith, testing expert:

Memo To Parents and Guardians of 88,000 NYC Children Regarding Upcoming Field Tests:

Good morning. Its late in this school year. I hope that you and your sons and daughters are well.  I know you have been busy with everyday matters.  Therefore, the field tests your children are expected to take are not high on the list of things you want to hear about.

Evidently, NYC Chancellor Farina respects that too and has chosen not to disturb you with information about them.  But, we know that you are capable of multi-tasking.  Here are a few points you should be aware of:

Over the next three weeks, field tests will be administered to students in grades 3-8.  The tests may be given any day through June 10.   

Field tests let vendors like Pearson try out questions on children in order to develop future exams. 

Since 2012, Pearson has given separate field tests in June (aka stand-alone field tests) to a large sample of students throughout New York State.  Results dont count for the students.

The way students respond to the try-out material is used to select the reading passages and items that will go on the English Language Arts and Math tests to be given next April to New York States 1.2 million test populationwhich encompasses 440,000 children in New York City.

The cost of the field tests is borne entirely by taxpayers, free of charge to their producer.  They take less than an hour to administer but disrupt the school day.  

New York Citys Department of Education does not call attention to the field tests.  It fails to mention that 774 of our schools have been assigned to give them or that 87,330 children have been targeted to try out items in the service of a commercial test publisher.

The bulk of the stand-alone field testing wont begin until May 31.  Thats when 85% of the ELA and Math tests are due to start.  These are the Paper-Based Tests.  The PBTs are aimed at 517 of our schools and 61,000 students.

We have also been asked to do Computer-Based field testing for the first time.  This experiment will kick off on Monday, May 23 and involve 11,000 city children.  Enlisting their participation is intended to help transition us from PBTs to computerized exams.

Introducing CBTs will accelerate the profit-making encroachment of technology in the classroom. This objective must be important. Just this week the State Education Department posted a cheerful online letter anticipating technology issues but assuring us that the benefits outweigh the bugs.

Over the last four years, the stand-alone approach has proven to be ineffective.  Teachers have roundly criticized the poor quality of the resulting operational exams given each April. They complain that the test material is inappropriate and the items are flawed. Yet, the bad exams were built via the same kind of field testing process that will be repeated here over the next few weeks

A large majority of parents (and many teachers, too) have not been informed about the upcoming tests or their purpose.  The DOE has made little effort to notify parents in a forthright way.

Chancellor Farina, who speaks about the importance of parent engagement, apparently wants the field tests to go forward without parents knowing much about them or learning that taking them is voluntary.  Some parents might even say they dont want their children to participate.

In fact, since 2012, more and more moms and dads have become aware of these extra tests and have refused to let their children sit for them.  Here is a letter parents can submit when they choose not to not let their children take the field tests.

Please find out if your children are in a school that has been assigned to give the field tests by checking the list of schools posted here.

Even if your child is not in one of the grades that is scheduled to be tested, please alert other parents in targeted schools about the field tests and share information with them. 

At least you will have a chance to engage in whats happening and decide whether you want to exercise your right to say Yes or No.  Knowledge is power.  Thank you. -- Fred Smith

Friday, May 20, 2016

Capital plan comments; $14.9 billion Capital Plan and Contracts amounting to millions approved by PEP without discussion or debate

The below comments expressing our concerns with the five year capital plan were sent to the members of the Panel for Educational Policy on May 17.  A good article about some of the flaws in the Plan and the entire school planning process was published by DNA Info here.
Sabina Omerhodzic of CEC 30 also attended the hearing at the May 18 PEP meeting at Long Island City HS, and made an eloquent speech about the inadequacy of the capital plan.  Nevertheless, the $14.9 billion five-year plan was unanimously approved by the Panel members, without a single question or comment.

The same was true of the proposed contracts, about which Patrick Sullivan and I submitted many questions and serious concerns  on behalf of the Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, well before the hearing.  Every contract on the list, totaling millions of dollars,  was unanimously approved without any discussion or debate.

Comments on March 2016 Capital Plan by Leonie Haimson

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mayoral control hearings and my testimony about why it's an undemocratic and frankly racist governance system

See this Gotham Gazette piece with quotes from Shino Tanikawa and me about the lack of parent voice at the hearings.

At today's Senate hearings on Mayoral control, most of those who invited to speak said they supported Mayoral control without  reservations or much analysis, only that things are less chaotic now.  Here were the witnesses:

Chancellor Carmen Farina
Chancellor Farina and Ursalina Ramirez
Mark Cannizzaro, VP of CSA
Tenicka Boyd, StudentsFirstNY
Teresa Arboleda, ECC
Ellen McHugh, CCSE
Mona Davids, NYC Parents Union
3 Charter school principals
Kathy Wylde, NYC Partnership
Marcus Winters, Manhattan Institute
Leonie Haimson, CSM
Laura Altschuler, League of Woman Voters
Richard Kahan, Urban Assembly
Dennis Walcott (he was originally scheduled 2nd, but had to leave and then returned)

The fact that the Mayor did not show up seemed to have pissed off both the Republican and Democratic senators,  who grilled Farina about this repeatedly and asked her if Bill de Blasio planned to go to Albany to negotiate the issue in the next 12 days before the Legislative session has ended.

Senator Felder asked if the Mayor had met with Flanagan.  Chancellor Farina said she didn't know. Senator Peralta asked if it was true that the Panel on Educational Policy was a rubber stamp and had never turned down a contract. Ursalina Ramirez, the DOE COO, said five times - four revisions and once rejected, but I think she was referring to co-locations, not contracts.  I've asked past and current PEP members and they've said they know of no contract that the Panel has ever turned down.

Standing room only at the hearings today (see Walcott standing?)
The Chancellor said that she spends lots of time listening to parents, though she doesn't always agree with them.  She said that Mayoral control works as shown by the fact that de Blasio appointed her.

She said she told CECs to deal with diversity (!!) and David Goldsmith of CEC 13 has done a great job.   Senator Golden asked about school overcrowding, and the Chancellor said that there are siting problems and that there should be some sort of committee formed.

Senators asked the Chancellor if she had any proposals for improvements to the governance system, which she didn't.  Instead she spoke about changes to teacher certification. A few witnesses suggested tweaks to the PEP and the authority of the CECs,  including the CSA (Principals Union) and the ECC (Consortium of CECs).

In response to Senator Perkins' insistent questions about charters, Farina said they are working with charters to spread their best practices to public schools, including Uncommon Charters which uses Relay to train their principals and teachers with good results (like the highest suspension rates in the city?)

The charter school principals then complained bitterly about how they had been unfairly denied space and resources, including the principal of Girls Prep who bewailed the fact that she had not been provided space for a band (!!).  Another charter principal, either from Success or Coney Island Prep, said though he believes in Mayoral control, de Blasio doesn't deserve it.

Me giving my spellbinding testimony
The fact that the UFT was invited and didn't show up was mentioned twice by Senator Marcellino, who seemed very disappointed and added that he was a former NYC high school teacher and UFT delegate. Marcellino also seemed concerned when Mona David testified that the DOE has closed SLT and PTA meetings to the public.  Hopefully soon the video will be posted online and then I will share.

My testimony is below. I added a comment about how more parents should have been allowed to testify. The high point of the hearings for me was when Sen. Felder said the KidsPAC report card we released yesterday looked good.  Take a look!  - Leonie Haimson


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NYC KidsPAC Report Card for Mayor de Blasio

See the NYC Kids PAC press release below the report card.  Please leave your comments if you agree or disagree with our assessment!   Reposted from NYC Kids PAC website here.

DeBlasio's Ed Report Card 2016 Final by Leonie Haimson

For immediate release: May 18, 2016

Contact: Shino Tanikawa, 917-770-8438, estuaryqueen@gmail.com
Leonie Haimson, 917-435-9329, leoniehaimson@gmail.com



NYC Kids PAC Issue Education Report Card for Mayor de Blasio

Today, NYC Kids PAC released their second annual report card on Mayor de Blasio, grading him in several education categories based primarily on whether he has followed up on his campaign promises.   The report card is posted here: http://tinyurl.com/huu57xa

It has been more than two years since Bill de Blasio became Mayor, and Carmen Fariña was appointed Chancellor.  The good news is that the Mayor has restored the district structure, increased funding for the arts, rescinded the ban on cellphones, and imposed a moratorium on closing schools, though the moratorium has now ended.  He has also begun to reform school discipline, without providing sufficient resources or staff to ensure a positive school climate.  

The members of NYC Kids PAC include four sitting Presidents of Citywide and Community Education Councils, three past presidents of CECs, and one member of the Panel for Educational Policy.  Though these individuals would like to make it clear that they speak for themselves and not on behalf of their organizations, they have deep experience of how the current governance system and policies work, or do not work, for parents, students and schools.  

The report card exhibits particular disappointment with the lack of parent input at the school, district and citywide levels.  Citywide and Community Education Councils remain largely disempowered, with little or no say as to co-locations and space planning, and the DOE has argued in court that School Leadership Teams have only advisory powers, in an effort to keep their meetings closed to the public. School overcrowding and class size also continue to be major concerns.

Naila Rosario, President of the CEC in District 15 in Brooklyn, explained: “As a parent in one of the most overcrowded districts in the city, I am disappointed by the Mayor’s response. Our district, which is economically and culturally diverse, has experienced enormous growth as gentrification and immigration have expanded. Families are anxious as they wonder where their children will attend school, because enrollment is capped at their neighborhood schools.  Students are crammed into overcrowded classrooms year after year, and we have experienced the stress of losing space for specialists, interventions and even lunch. We urge this administration to show leadership and to press for expedited, responsible approval and construction of new schools.”

Gloria Corsino, President of the Citywide Council for District 75, says: "As a public school parent and committed advocate for all children and children with special needs, I remain hopeful that the campaign promises that Mayor De Blasio's made continue to move in the direction that they were stated.  I look forward to the growing relationships of CEC's and Citywide Councils with the DOE and becoming more than simply advisory boards, as parents are huge stakeholders in the education of their children.”
   
Eduardo Hernandez, President of the CEC in District 8 in the Bronx adds, “Although this new administration has taken some strides toward engaging parents and addressing their concerns, most of the time this engagement is simply done to fulfill regulations and mandates.  Parents are still dealing with some of the same issues that have been plaguing our school system for years,  like overcrowded classes, student enrollment,  and lack of diversity,  just to name a few."

“Parents are disappointed that specific promises de Blasio made during his campaign to reduce class size have not been fulfilled, especially considering that this is their top priority for their schools, according to DOE’s own surveys.  In addition, transparency and accountability in spending has not improved, and large contracts with vendors who have engaged in fraud and other questionable activities continue to be pushed through and approved by the Panel for Educational Policy,” points out Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

Shino Tanikawa, President of NYC Kids PAC as well as the CEC 2 in Manhattan and co-chair of the Blue Book Working Group concludes, “While we recognize Mayor de Blasio and his administration have made some improvements, we want to remind him of the unmet promises he made during his campaign.  We hope this report card will motivate him to review his campaign promises and implement more of them in the coming year.”


Monday, May 16, 2016

Should excerpts from the high-stakes PARCC exams be allowed under the "Fair Use" doctrine?

See the post I reblogged with excerpts from the PARCC exam here.  Thanks to SO MANY of you who have reblogged it as a collective act of defiance after PARCC demanded that the excerpts from the 4th grade exam be deleted from the original post on Celia Oyler's blog, claiming that these excerpts violated their copyright.

Since then, others have pointed out that publicizing items from an exam is critical for demonstrating how unfair and inappropriate these exams really are.  See this column by Anthony Cody, for example, who writes:

In 2012, the patent absurdity of Pearson’s talking pineapple made that story irresistible to mainstream media, and Haimson’s report made its way into the New York Daily News and other major newspapers. Pearson initially defended the pineapple question, However the pressure became too great, and New York removed the question from the test. The underlying issues this time are similar. Fourth grade students are being given questions that cannot be justified educationally. The test cannot be seen as a legitimate means of measuring their learning. Just as we needed to read the question about the talking pineapple to understand how lousy it was, we must be able to discuss and criticize the content of the PARCC test. These are not sacred texts. They ARE, however, being used to make Godlike judgments about children and teachers, with potentially life-altering or career-ending consequences.

I have heard from others that these excerpts should be allowed under the "Fair Use" exception.  Here is a discussion of the "Fair Use" doctrine, on the Stanford University website dealing with Copyright and Fair Use:


What Is Fair Use?

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.

So what is a “transformative” use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague, be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only general rules and varied court decisions, because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit its definition. Like free speech, they wanted it to have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.

Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: (1) commentary and criticism, or (2) parody.

Commentary and Criticism

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work — for instance, writing a book review — fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:
  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.
The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.

- See more at: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/what-is-fair-use/#sthash.miyRCr5D.dpuf 

Clearly, the brief excerpts used from the 4th grade PARCC exam were used in the context of a larger critique and should be allowed under the Fair Use exception.  What do others think? Comments welcome, especially from attorneys!

In its most general sense, a fair use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and “transformative” purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an illegal infringement.
So what is a “transformative” use? If this definition seems ambiguous or vague, be aware that millions of dollars in legal fees have been spent attempting to define what qualifies as a fair use. There are no hard-and-fast rules, only general rules and varied court decisions, because the judges and lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit its definition. Like free speech, they wanted it to have an expansive meaning that could be open to interpretation.
Most fair use analysis falls into two categories: (1) commentary and criticism, or (2) parody.

Commentary and Criticism

If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work — for instance, writing a book review — fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:
  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson, or
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.
The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.
- See more at: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/what-is-fair-use/#sthash.miyRCr5D.dpuf