Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The biggest scandal of Teach for America?

There has been much discussion and debate about how Teach for America undermines our public schools by encouraging the deprofessionalization of the teaching force, and perpetuates systemic inequalities especially in urban schools. In many districts, TFA has used its political clout to get its recruits hired, as in Chicago, while thousands of experienced teachers are being laid off.  Gary Rubinstein, a former TFA corps member, has been a fierce critic of the inadequate training that the organization provides.  Edushyster recently wrote that the TFA has become a primarily a “placement agency” to staff charter schools rather than public schools – and in the process is fueling the privatization movement. 
All the above is true; but in my mind, the most shocking aspect of the organization is how in many districts, including NYC, raw TFA recruits are assigned to special education classrooms almost exclusively --because this is the biggest shortage area.  See the recent Independent Budget Office report  on p. 24 – showing that 80 percent of TFA recruits in NYC public schools in 2010-11 were working as special education teachers; and 68 percent of Teaching Fellows (a similar program for mid-career recruits, run by TNTP).
That to me is the biggest scandal.  Instead of doing something to stanch the outflow of special education teachers assigned to those children who clearly need teachers with the MOST training and experience,  TFA and TNTP fill in the gap, year after year, with the least-trained recruits, who only stay one or two years and perpetuate the problem.
For all the endless rhetoric about teacher quality that issues from TNTP, about the need for more rigorous teacher evaluation and getting rid of sub-par teachers, they along with TFA are actively participating and benefiting from a system in which children with disabilities -- who require the most specialized instruction -- are relegated to the poorest-trained teachers.  The same phenomenon has been noted in Philadelphia – in which about 20 percent of the TFA recruits were assigned to special education classrooms in 2010:
Conventionally certified special education teachers in Pennsylvania must complete a comprehensive course of study combining a degree program at an accredited university and field experience in a special-education classroom.
For Joseph Ciesielski, a fully certified, third-year special education teacher at Olney Elementary, his studies helped him understand the laws governing special education as well as specific skills like writing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Ciesielski went through five years of schooling, 190 hours of classroom observation, and 12 weeks of student teaching.
He said he regrets that his training at St. Joseph’s University didn’t include “more outreach from the District and a mindset of ‘Let’s make it easier for you to come work here.’” Absent that push, many of his classmates headed for jobs in the suburbs, he explained.  But he said that his coursework on disabilities and how they affect each child’s learning is “very valuable” and “sometimes undervalued.”
TFA corps member Julia Cadwallender, now a second-year special education teacher at Spring Garden Elementary, had her advance training crammed into one summer.
Milwaukee also relies heavily on “alternatively certified” or “emergency-credential programs” like TFA and TNTP teachers to staff special education classes, and about one fourth of all its special-education teachers held emergency licenses in 2009. 
“…experts and advocates argue that a few weeks of preparation over the summer — and even less time for teachers who start training in the winter — isn’t enough to help individuals, regardless of their passion and motivation, deal with the often profound needs of special-education students.”
According to the Hechinger Report, about 12.5 percent of the TFA corps worked as special-education teachers in 2009.  I would suspect that the figure is even higher now.  How can the organization justify this?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The city's latest -- and outrageous -- attempt to avoid public scrutiny and parent input on class size

In June, in response to a lawsuit, New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter Moulton ruled that the NYC Department of Education is obligated to hold annual borough hearings on its Contract for Excellence (C4E) plan and include the transcript of these hearings when it submits its plan to the state – both of which the city has failed to do since 2008.  The law is clear that both borough hearings and presentations at Community Education Council meetings are required by the C4E statute passed by the NY State in 2007.  

On Friday, the city announced it will appeal the judge’s decision and deny parents the right to provide substantive input on its C4E plan, a plan that determines how more than $500 million per year is spent; and how much is allocated towards reducing class size.

Over the last decade, the Bloomberg administration has shown a profound disrespect for parent input and disinterest in following the letter of the law.  One of the most egregious examples of this is its refusal to adhere to a robust public process in regards its plan to reduce class, required in the Contracts for Excellence law.  Instead class sizes have increased every year of the past five, are now the largest in the early grades in 14 years.  Even higher class sizes are expected this fall.

Wendy Lecker, senior lawyer for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center, explained:   “In June, a court ruled the state Contract for Excellence law mandates timely public hearings in all five New York boroughs so parents can react to City’s school spending plan for 2013-14.  These hearings give parents the opportunity to provide input on how vital education dollars are spent in their schools.  Chancellor Walcott has decided to appeal which automatically puts the court order on hold.  It's deeply disappointing that the Chancellor is wasting time and taxpayer money fighting parents in court rather than holding public hearings so the City's parents can be full partners in their children’s education.”

Shino Tanikawa, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the president of District 2’s Community Education Council in Manhattan, said: "The 15 minutes or so we can devote to this at a CEC meeting is inadequate both in terms of the depth of discussion and the amount of public input parents are able to provide given this important issue – which makes borough hearings essential.  The court agreed with us that the DOE did not follow the law, yet rather than do what is right, the DOE continues to find ways to minimize the voice of parents.  When will parents be treated as meaningful partners in educating our children?"

Isaac Carmignani, co-president of the CEC 30 in Queens and another plaintiff, agreed: “We sincerely hope that the Department of Education looks to uphold the law rather than try to circumvent it.  The presentations CECs receive are sketchy as best; well-publicized borough hearings are required by law and DOE should hold them, to allow for full public scrutiny and input on the need to reduce class size and the DOE’s failure to do so.  Class size reduction is one of the top priorities of parents both in my district and citywide.”

According to Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “It is outrageous that the city is determined to waste thousands of dollars just to try to delay the attention to their failure to reduce class size until Bloomberg is safely out of office; and to block parent input in this way.  Instead of achieving more accountability with the nearly $600 million NYC receives annually as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit,  we have less, as the administrators at Tweed have used this program as a slush fund and principals have used it to fill in the gaps resulting from the DOE’s egregious budget cuts to our schools.” 

This is just one of the many failures of DOE to be accountable for the spending of these critical funds.   There has been no public disclosure of NYC’s C4E plan -- either by the state or city -- since 2009. There has been no listing of the city’s approved class size reduction plan since 2009 as well.

The lack of accountability and transparency with hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds, meant to provide NYC children with their constitutional right to a sound basic education, is nothing short of appalling.

Here is an excerpt from the state law:

 4.  a.  A district's contract for excellence for the academic year two thousand eight--two thousand nine and  thereafter,  shall  be  developed through a  public  process,  in consultation with parents or persons in parental relation,  teachers,  administrators,  and  any  distinguished educator appointed  pursuant  to  section  two hundred eleven-c of this chapter.

    b. Such process shall include at least one public hearing. In a city   school  district  in a city of one million or more inhabitants, a public   hearing shall be held within each county of such city

A transcript of the testimony  presented at such public hearings shall be included when the contract for excellence is submitted to the commissioner, for review when making  a  determination  pursuant  to  subdivision  five  of  this section.

    c.  In  a  city  school  district  in  a  city  of one million or more  inhabitants, each community district contract for  excellence  shall  be  consistent with  the  citywide  contract  for  excellence  and shall be  submitted by the community  superintendent  to  the  community  district education council for review and comment at a public meeting.

 Here is the judge’s decision.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FAQ on inBloom Inc.: what is the state and your school district doing?

A shorter version of this FAQ was published in Schoolbook yesterday; please go leave a comment.  A pdf version of the below you can download  is here.  And please make your voices heard by sending a letter to your school board, your elected officials, and the Regents about this important issue.

FAQ on inBloom Inc.

Just as the federal government has been far from forthcoming about its surveillance and data-mining of ordinary Americans, education officials in New York and elsewhere have been remarkably secretive about their plans to share substantial amounts of students’ personal information with a corporation called inBloom Inc., and through inBloom, with for-profit vendors.
Though Class Size Matters and our attorneys urged the New York State Education Department to hold hearings about their participation in this data-sharing project in October 2012, then called the “Shared Learning Collaborative,” the state replied that this was unnecessary because they had “made significant efforts to inform the public …and to provide details about what the system would do and how it works.”  At the time, however, few if any parents or elected officials knew about their plans, and even now, many parents are not aware of the state’s intention to share their children’s most sensitive data with third parties. Moreover, the state has refused to answer many of our questions, including which data in particular is being shared, or respond to the concerns of parents.
Indeed, to this day much confusion persists.  An editor of a major New York daily recently wrote to a reader that they were unable to confirm that any personal student information was going to be shared with third parties, and that this was only a “rumor.”  Chancellor Walcott has repeatedly claimed at town hall meetings that “student information will remain confidential” and that “We will never, ever pierce student privacy.”  Yet over the course of the last six months, contrary information has slowly leaked out via public documents, the media and the efforts of parent activists throughout the nation who have demanded answers.  The following FAQ is meant to clarify what we now know about inBloom Inc. and their plans in New York and elsewhere in the country.

What is inBloom Inc.?  inBloom Inc. is a non-profit corporation, funded by the Gates and Carnegie Foundations to the tune of $100 million, created to collect personally identifiable student and teacher data from states and districts and share it with vendors. The data is being stored on a cloud run by Amazon.com, with an operating system created by Wireless/Amplify, a subsidiary of News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch.  inBloom is planning to commercialize this data, with the agreement of states and districts, by offering it up to for-profit companies.  All this is being done without parental notification or consent.
What states and districts are participating?  According to its website, at least nine states originally planned to disclose their personal student data with inBloom.  After protests, four states have now officially withdrawn or claim they never intended to share data in the first place: Louisiana, Kentucky, Delaware, and Georgia.  In Illinois, schools in Bloomington and Normal are participating in data-sharing, and state officials say they intend to expand the program to 35 districts in 2014, including Chicago.  The district superintendent in Jefferson County, Colorado insists she will start sharing data with inBloom in the fall of 2014.  Massachusetts and North Carolina education officials, who were originally planning to upload student data for students who attend public schools in the city of Everett and Guilford County, respectively, now say they are reconsidering.  New York is currently the only inBloom client that is sharing student data from the entire state at this point, at least as far as we know.
What is the status of the program in New York?  According to the NYC Dept. of Education, the state has already transmitted student data to inBloom.  By the fall of 2013, according to NYSED, all districts are supposed to sign up for an “Education Data portal” (now euphemistically renamed EngageNY portal), which is a “data dashboard” accessible to teachers and school administrators that will pull data from the inBloom cloud.  The three companies with state contracts to receive personal student data for these dashboards are ConnectEDU (subcontractor CaseNex/Datacation), eScholar and NCS Pearson/Schoolnet. The NYSED fact sheet reports that these dashboards will be available for the school year 2013-2014; a more recent update from NYC DOE says that these dashboards and additional software “tools” will be ready “over the next year or so.”
What data is being shared with inBloom?  inBloom Inc. is planning to collect about 400 student and teacher data points, going back as far as 2006.  Many of these data points are highly sensitive and controversial.  (A full list is posted here; and an excerpt is posted here.) New York State officials have said they are sharing student names, test scores, home addresses, grades, disciplinary and attendance data, economic and racial status, and “program participation”, including whether or not a student is entitled to special education, 504 indicator, English Language Learner educational services and accommodations.”  inBloom is also collecting teacher data, including names, addresses, social security numbers, and detailed employment histories, all linked to student test scores; whether New York is sharing this teacher data with inBloom is currently unknown. 
NYSED officials told DOE that they would post online a complete “data dictionary” in June 2013, or a list of all the data elements they are providing to inBloom.  Yet July is almost over and they have still not done so.  At the same time, the state is also encouraging districts to upload even more personal student data into the inBloom cloud, and to sign up with more vendors who will provide “interoperable” learning products and be able to access this information directly. 
For which students is the New York sharing data with inBloom?  The state has uploaded the data of all New York public and charter schools into inBloom cloud, according to DOE officials. 
Who has opposed this?  Parents, teachers, advocacy groups and privacy experts throughout the country have protested this unprecedented plan to commercialize children’s most sensitive information and share it with private corporations and for-profit vendors. The organizations opposing this data-mining include Class Size Matters, the Learning Disability Association of New York, Alliance for Quality Education, New York State Allies for Education, the Coalition for Educational Justice, the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Commercial Free Childhood, and Citizens for Public Schools. These groups have pointed out that a breach of this highly sensitive information, or its inappropriate use, could put children’s safety at risk, or mar their prospects for life. 
In New York, the NYC Comptroller, the Public Advocate, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as well as Cathy Nolan, chair of the Assembly Education Committee and Robert Jackson, the chair of the City Council Education Committee, and many other elected officials are on record against the state and city disclosing this data without providing parental notification or consent.  Many Assemblymembers and State Senators of both parties oppose this plan.
Is this being done with parental consent? And if not, doesn’t this violate legal privacy protections?  Though originally Stacy Childress of the Gates foundation wrote on the SLC website that “…Under federal law, school districts must manage and honor parent requests to opt out of programs that require the use of student data”, inBloom and Gates later reversed their position and said it would be up to states and districts to decide what their parental notification and opt out policies will be.  According to a spokesman for the NY State Education Department, parents have no right to opt out or consent, because "when parents register a child for school. They give up” the right to keep their children’s information private. The DOE now claims that according to state guidelines, “there is no formal provision for parents to opt their children out of inBloom.”
NYSED defends its position by saying that they are compliant with FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal law that governs student privacy.  Yet FERPA’s regulations were rewritten and considerably weakened in 2009 and again in 2012, to facilitate the sharing of confidential student data without parental consent. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed suit in court against the US Department of Education, on the grounds that the federal government has rewritten and weakened FERPA’s regulations in a way that violates the language and original intent of the law.
What is the purpose of inBloom?  According to the DOE, inBloom, along with the software tools it will provide to vendors, “will allow educators and families to use data to understand student needs and target instruction.” Having access to this data will supposedly make it easier for vendors to create and market their “personalized learning tools”.  However, whether this will actually benefit students is unproven; as of yet, no online system of instruction or data analysis has been shown to improve student outcomes. In any event, there are multiple ways in which student data could be formatted in a uniform manner to make it easier for schools to acquire and operate software programs, without providing personal data to inBloom or any third party vendor.
What does inBloom have to do with the federal grant program called “Race to the Top” (RTTT)?  States received many points in their RTTT applications if they agreed to create “data systems to support instruction.” If they were awarded these funds, they were supposed to use them to build these systems. This appears to explain why NYSED is now requiring that any district that received RTTT funds sign onto one of the “data portals” of the vendors that will have data from the inBloom cloud. 
Yet many states that won RTTT funds are not sharing data with inBloom (for example, FLA, OH, MD, RI and TN) – and others that are did not win RTTT funds have signed up (CO, IL).  In addition, RTTT certainly did not require any state to outsource their entire student data system to a private company, as it appears New York has done.  In any case, whether or not a NY district received RTTT funds, its student data is being uploaded by the state into inBloom anyway.
Why does the state need to share this data with inBloom and/or vendors? Don’t many schools have “data dashboards” already?  Yes, many schools already have contracts with companies to produce data dashboards, separate from inBloom.  Yet school officials we have spoken to in NYC and the rest of the state insist that the current contracts they have do NOT allow vendors unfettered access to any personalized student data.  Instead, these companies provide them with the software and the schools populate the data themselves. They also say the only time a vendor now might gain access to the data is if there is a technical glitch or virus, and then the vendor would have to be given a temporary password to go in and fix the problem, under strict security conditions. Presumably, once the inBloom plan is fully implemented and new contracts with vendors are signed, access to the data will no longer be under the strict control of individual districts or schools.
Some schools view the list of three companies provided by the state as unnecessarily restrictive, limiting their autonomy and squeezing out other companies that might have a better product. Other districts do not currently use data dashboards and see no need for them.  But none of the district or school officials that we have spoken to believe there is any need for the sort of unfettered data sharing that is occurring with inBloom, under such unrestricted conditions, and believe that this represents a serious threat to the privacy and security of their students. 
Didn’t ARIS provide data dashboards to NYC schools?  Yes, the DOE spent $100 million building the ARIS data system that was supposed to produce many of the same benefits to teachers and students that are now being claimed that inBloom will provide.  In fact, Sharren Bates, the Chief Product Officer of inBloom, was formerly in charge of the ARIS project for NYC DOE.  Yet ARIS is now widely considered a failure, and according to independent studies, is rarely used by teachers or parents.  In any event, the fact that DOE has said it will allow ARIS to lapse as soon as the new data dashboards are operable, “alone says a lot about their mismanagement”, according to a NYC principal, who added: “Ideally, had ARIS been built properly we would not be paying any vendor fees and schools could use that money in other ways to support students.”
How much will inBloom cost?  Starting in 2015, inBloom says it will charge states and districts two to five dollars per student per year for storing the data and making it accessible to vendors.  These fees do not count the additional costs charged by vendors if districts sign up for other software or hardware receiving data from the inBloom cloud. As of now, it is uncertain whether New York state or individual districts will be obligated to pay these fees; or if a district will be able to pull out of inBloom if it chooses not to cover the costs.
Is the data being sold?  Currently, New York State and New York City are providing this very valuable personalized data to inBloom for free, and they, as well as inBloom, insist that the data will never be “sold.”  However, inBloom’s board members and funders have said that inBloom is “exploring cost recovery partnerships with select vendors for the services that it provides.”  If not selling the data, this could be likened to renting it out.
What about the security of the inBloom cloud?  Though inBloom and NYSED claim that the cloud storage used in this project “exceed the security measures in place currently in most states and school districts,” this is highly debatable.  Most districts and states keep personal student data on site, either in paper files or on localized systems,  and do not upload it onto offsite clouds where it can be more easily hacked into. 
Recently, the personal information of 50 million customers of Living Social, a discount company, was breached, after a cyber-attack on the Amazon.com cloud on which it was stored. A survey of technology professionals found that 86% do not trust clouds to store their more sensitive information. inBloom Inc. has itself warned that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored...or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” The more personalized data that is aggregated on a cloud the more attractive it is to hackers; and the more it is transmitted to vendors the more likely it is that it will breach or be used in an unauthorized manner.  Disability and health data is considered particularly sensitive, and cannot be shared with third parties without parental consent if this information is contained in a child’s medical records rather than their educational files.
The state and DOE claim that school districts share personal student information “all the time.”  Is this true?  Unclear, but if so, it should never have happened and cease immediately. DOE has cited two examples in which NYC currently provides personal student information with vendors without consent: First, busing companies “receive a limited subset of data for special education students who require to be picked up from their home….the student’s name, home address, and other information about the student that is needed to provide the required services (e.g., knowing that a non-ambulatory student would require a wheelchair) in a smooth manner.”
Yet busing information is on a student’s IEP, or individualized education plan, which requires a parent’s signature, so it’s not clear this is provided without implied consent.  In any event, it would be relatively simple for parents of children with disabilities to sign a separate consent form, giving their permission for this information to be shared with busing companies for the purpose of allowing them to transport their children to school.
The other example that DOE has offered is their disclose an array of personal data to CTB McGraw Hill, including “student ID, student first name, student last name, school location code, school name and network, grade level, class, date of birth, demographic information, and indicators of Individualized Education Plan and English Language Learner status.”   According to DOE, this is doneso that the company can upload it into the online tools teachers use to view and analyze students’ results on formative assessments.“
Unlike the busing example, there is no need for the company to be provided with this level of sensitive detail for any student, and it should cease.  Teachers can view and analyze individual student test scores without this company receiving any personalized information about their students. In any case, the inBloom operation goes far beyond these two examples, and is unprecedented in scope, as it will aggregate a huge amount of highly sensitive data, store it on a vulnerable cloud, with the explicit purpose of commercializing the data and making it available to as many vendors as possible, while insulating itself from any liability for breaches.
What don’t we know?  Many unanswered questions remain. NYSED officials have not yet revealed what exact student data is being shared with inBloom, and for many years back in time.  We don’t know if the data of students in preK programs is also being shared, either those run by districts or in CBO’s, or if student information at state-funded, non-public special education schools is being disclosed. They have not told us whether they are also sharing teacher data, and/or who will have to pay for inBloom’s “services” starting in 2015.  They haven’t explained who will be financially or legally responsible if the data breaches, though DOE has said the state and/or vendors would be liable. They haven’t said whether districts can choose to pull their student data out of inBloom in 2015 or at any other point. The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Illinois State Education Commissioner allows its districts to pull their student data out whenever they choose, but New York’s contract contains no such provision.
What can parents do to stop this data-sharing? Two bills to protect student privacy passed the State Assembly in the last session.   A.6059A would have blocked re-disclosures without parental consent, and A.7872A would have allowed parents the right to opt out of the state or district being able to share their child’s data with third parties. Though a similar bill was introduced in the Senate, and had strong bipartisan support, it did not pass.  In any case, parents, advocates and concerned citizens should put pressure on their legislators, their school boards, Commissioner King and the Board of Regents to pull all student data out of inBloom as soon as possible. 
We have drafted a sample letter you can send your school board, with a copy to your Superintendent, your Board of Regent member, and your legislators. The letter urges your school board to hold a public meeting about their data sharing plans, and asks them pertinent questions about their current practices concerning the disclosure of personal student information to third parties without parental consent.  

Prepared by Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, 7/23/13

Selected reading list
(For more articles, check out our inBloom/privacy newsclips):

New York City Department of Education. “Supplemental Information Regarding Privacy and Security of Student Data in inBloom.” (2013) http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/20C87CC4-0C95-4DBE-A5BE-12219A5015F8/0/supplementalinformationregardingprivacyandsecurityinbloom.pdf

New York City Department of Education. “Frequently Asked Questions about Privacy and Security of Student Data in Education Data Portal.” (2013) http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/9720D65F-2287-451C-92DA-BD61B92829D1/0/PrivacyandSecurityofStudentDatainEDPFAQ_041262013.pdf

United States Department of Education. “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Regulations.” (January 2009) http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferparegs.pdf

Gerry Grealish. “Living Social’s Data Breach – The Importance of Encrypting or Tokenizing Personally Identifiable Information.” (May 7, 2013) http://www.perspecsys.com/living-socials-data-breach-the-importance-of-encrypting-or-tokenizing-personally-identifiable-information/
Leonie Haimson.  “Video and news from our explosive Town Hall meeting on student privacy.”   NYC Public School Parent Blog (April 30, 2013)http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2013/04/video-and-news-from-our-explosive-town.html

Wendy Lecker. “Private data on children must stay that way.” Stamford Advocate. (May 31, 2013) http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Private-data-on-children-must-stay-4566834.php
Jason Lewis, “Who is Stockpiling and Sharing Private Information About New York Students?”  Village Voice. (March 22, 2http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2013/03/data-sharing.php
Adina Lopatin. “Town Hall Meeting regarding Student Policy Data and inBloom.” (May 22, 2013) http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Adina-Lopatin-inBloom-Follow-Up-Q-A-055222013.doc

Stephanie Simon. “K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents,” Reuters. (March 3, 2013).   www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/03/us-education-database-idUSBRE92204W20130303

Stephanie Simon. “School database loses backers as parents balk over privacy,” Reuters, May 29, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/29/us-usa-education-database-idUSBRE94S0YU20130529

Valerie Strauss. “An exchange on controversial $100 million student database.” (June 12, 2013) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/06/12/an-exchange-on-controversial-100-million-student-database/

Ken Wagner. “Memorandum on Education Data Portal and Common Core Implementation.” (March 2013) http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/data/edp-memo.pdf

Audrey Watters. “More Details on InBloom’s Plans for Student Data.” (April 4, 2013) http://hackeducation.com/2013/04/04/inbloom-more-details/

Monday, July 15, 2013

The curious case of John White, Louisiana, Gates Foundation & inBloom: FOILed emails reveal clues to his involvement & decision to pull out

Superintendent John White (credit: Shreveport Times)
Thanks to the inspired digging of bloggers like Jason France of Crazy Crawfish and Tom Aswell of Louisiana Voice, parent and student activists like Deborah and Rachael Sachs, and the FOILed emails obtained by Aswell and activist Lee Barrios, we now have a better picture about how John White, newly appointed Louisiana state Superintendent, went from knowing nothing in January 2012 about the student data-sharing project called the Shared Learning Collaborative, that soon morphed into inBloom Inc., to having decided to share the entire state’s student data less than a year later.
Then a mere four months after the decision was made to become a “Phase I” inBloom state, White suddenly announced he was withdrawing from the project, after parents and state board members had erupted in protest about the plan’s violation of student privacy.   How did this happen?  Some clues can be found below.
April 26, 2011:  Paul Pastorek, State Superintendent of Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), appoints John White as head of the Recovery School District (RSD).  White is the former NYC Deputy Chancellor, controversial for his support for closing public schools and installing charter schools in their place.  Pastorek instead cites White’s “collaborative” work “with principals and teachers to design a teacher effectiveness program in New York City that effectively supports and evaluates their achievement.”
June 2011: The Gates Foundation gives the Louisiana Department of Education a $7.6 million, three year grant.
July 2011: The Gates Foundation gives a $1 million, one year grant to the Recovery School District (RSD).
August 22, 2011: Julie Fabrocini, senior program officer for the Gates Foundation writes John White and asks to speak by phone to him to “talk about an opportunity with math and literacy instructional tools (LD and MD) that support CCSS (Common Core State Standards) in some RSD charters.”
September 9, 2011; Pete Gorman, senior VP of News Corporation’s new education division, later named Amplify,   asks White to spend time with him  to “understand what is happening in the Recovery School District…like your insights on a few News Corp /Wireless issues [Wireless is the primary education subsidiary of NewsCorp, and the designer of inBloom Inc.’s operating system]…” Assures him that “one of the great parts of my job is I don’t sell anything to anyone, I am sharing information with our team about what is really happening in the schools.  So no sales pitch or pressure!”
White replies; “Dude—you are my recharger!  Dinner it is, of course.  Then let’s visit some schools…I’m really looking forward to it.”
Oct. 20, 2011: Neerav Kingsland, Chief Strategy Officer of New Schools for New Orleans, writes White:  “Might be good for some of us to attend [Gates confab of Compact Leaders] esp if we can meet with Shalvey [Deputy Director at Gates Foundation] re: funding.” (Earlier in May 2011
New Schools for New Orleans had received $301K “to fund a road map for community engagement around school closure”. The following year the organization receives a Gates’ $3 million grant.]
Oct 27, 2011; Pete Gorman of NewsCorp follows up, thanking White for the time they spent together: “Joel [Klein] said he may be seeing you soon and he is looking forward to it.”  Announces that he would like to return with the president of Wireless, Josh Reibel, to discuss how the company can “help increase achievement…assist with “school turnarounds” and give “a preview of ‘new curriculum.’”  White says that sounds great.
Dec. 31, 2011 Erin Bendily, Asst.Superintendent at LDOE, writes that they need to push “more on the CCSS [Common Core State Standards] alignment/integration throughout.  This sounds harsh, but we should show that our current/old educator evaluation system is crap and the new system is stellar.  We should also highlight the Gates integration project in a major way as well, as there’s little detail about exactly how the two initiatives are being rolled out together…”
Jan 11, 2012: White is officially named Louisiana’s State Superintendent of Education, replacing Paul Pastorek.
Jan 20, 2012:  White receives an invitation from the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT), a Gates grantee, asking him as well as the other Shared Learning Collaborative  State chiefs to a meeting about the data-sharing project– with reimbursement for travel expenses.  CELT had received a multi-million dollar Gates grant to “focus on developing recommended practices and business processes for collecting and validating linked teacher and student data,” with Louisiana one of the participating states.
Jan 21, 2012: White asks Vicky Thomas, executive assistant at LDOE:  Did Paul [Pastorek, his predecessor] participate in this for real? To another staffer: “I know what it is, but I don’t know if we are really invested since I haven’t heard anyone mention it.”
Jan 22, 2012 Vicky Thomas: “Yes the DOE is participating in this.  I’m not sure if we are part of Phase I or II, but Erin and Jim Wilson, (LDOE Chief Information Officer), have been working on this through the Gates Foundation. Paul did not attend these kinds of things but would send staff.”
Feb.23, 2012: Pete Gorman asks to visit with him about “the new curriculum and device that Joel [Klein, former NYC Chancellor and president of NewsCorp’s education division, Wireless] has discussed with you as well as talk about a few other items.  Josh Reibel of Wireless would be joining me.” Asks to meet during afternoon and have dinner together on March 12. John White:  “Yep would love that.   Have been hoping you all would call on us re some of the work you’re doing. “[I wonder who paid.]
March 2, 2012 – Julie Fabrocini of Gates asks that they be able to spend a whole day briefing “pilot superintendents.”  Turns out that there is a larger group of “advisory” Louisiana Superintendents meeting on March 22. .
March 5, 2012 – Fabrocini again asks to meet with the “grant” or “pilot Superintendents” to tell them about MET [Gates’ teacher evaluation project] and the SLC. “My hope was to light some fire and unity among the Superintendents along with some principals and HC and curriculum leads in the Integration pilot districts…I don’t want to be presumptuous here.  White says to staff; the whole group of Superintendents should meet with Gates about only MET project, the data/SLC only with the five grant district Superintendents.
March 6, 2012:  Fabrocini asks to give presentation on MET and SLC to all the advisory Superintendents on March 22.  White responds to staff “Beyond brutal.”
March 7, 2012 – Fabrocini asks if they can schedule an hour for him to get together with Henry Hipps, Senior Program Officer of Gates on March 21st.  White agrees.
March 8, 2012 – Fabrocini now asks for two hours for all superintendents; White gives her one.   After more pressure, he okays 1.5 hours.
April 30, 2012: email from Megan Matthews, director of communications for the Dell Foundation, asking for a quote in press release for Ed-FI (another data system) to “share your plans /vision for Ed-FI how this will affect students/teachers of your state and what you are seeing or expect with dashboard use.  She says “our hope is to stimulate the vendor market.” Jim Wilson tells White to hold off of until “we find out if we get the Fed grant.” 
White:  “Let’s send them a generic quote that doesn’t commit to anything in particular.”  (Ed Fi’s final press release here http://www.ed-fi.org/news/2012/05/ed-fi-gains-momentum-k-12-education-sector/]
Jun 14, 2012: White receives another invitation to SLC Convening meeting, with travel expenses etc. paid Gates.  Vicky Thomas to White: “Do we need to send someone?  White: Nick [Nicholas Bolt, Deputy Chief of Staff].”
July 18, 2012: Kunjan Narechania, White’s chief of staff: “We have this meeting with Gates on SLC…Julie wants to invite Jim W [Wilson, Chief Information Officer] and Ken [Bradford, Assistant Superintendent] and all kinds of other people.  I don’t even know what this is so I’m hesitant to invite anyone.  [She adds: “Charlotte Danielson, expert on teacher effectiveness, is being a pain again.  Apparently some reporter interviewed her about us using a version of her rubric for our system.  She said she thinks it’s a bad idea for us to use an abridged version of her rubric and that we should have piloted for a year.  So lame…” 
White replies:  “when is meeting?  I’d like to stay close to this.”
July 19, 2012: Narechania: “You have a meeting with Henry [Hipps, Senior Program Officer at Gates] on 7/30- and two hours on 7/31.” 
July 25, 2012:  White receives another invitation to White to attend the Gates-funded Shared Learning Collaborative meeting in Sept. 2012– from Sarah Krongard, Instructional Designer, of CELT, including forms to fill out for travel reimbursement.  White says might be helpful for Ken to go. (Ken Bradford, Assistant Superintendent for Content). 
July 30, 2012: After seeing the Gates’ agenda for SLC and LDOE meeting of superintendents, his   Chief of staff Kunjan Narechania writes to White: “Another brutal meeting.”  White: ” This sounds terrible.”
July 30, 2012: Jim Flanagan of Wireless/ NewsCorp asks newly appointed head of Louisiana Stand for Children Rayne Martin, previously at Louisiana DOE, for help in getting a contact in LA DOE to help him sell “some very cool assessment and literacy programs, strong professional services practice with data coaching, school improvement & Common Core transition offerings.”  Martin responds copying Kunjan: “I have been fan of Wireless generation’s work for a while now.’
August 8, 2012: Jim Wilson, Chief Information Officer of LA DOE writes: “Next step is for Ken to attend the September SLC/SLI [Shared Learning Infrastructure] meeting.  Since we are a Phase II state there are no urgent steps.  Additionally, keep in mind that there are no alpha or beta SLI apps developed yet.  The key focus area for Ken initially will be to participate and get plugged into the data tagging approach SLC/SLI is pushing in the Education industry and with the search engine companies (GOOG, MSFT, etc).  It will be important that we understand the approach as we begin to make use of internally/externally developed curriculum content.”
August 12, 2012: Pete Gorman of Wireless/Amplify/NewsCorp thanks Vicky Thomas, White’s assistant, for the “letter of support you and John White provided Wireless Generation in our application for a IES grant [Institute for Education Sciences, of the US DOE.]  We have been awarded funding by IES to evaluate the efficacy of Burst; Reading!’... ‘Burst helps teachers to target intervention instruction to student needs and adjusts that instruction as the students progress, as indicated by assessment results.’  Asks White if they will partner with the company and use the curriculum for a longitudinal study.
August 28, 2012:  Pete Gorman complains he never ‘heard back from Vicky’ and asks White who to ‘follow up with the IES grant we were awarded and talked with you about partnering on.’
Sept 17, 2012: John White writes to Mark Leuetzelschwab, SVP Product and Marketing Executive, at Agilix Labs, Inc.:  “We have been in long discussions about a number of routes with the donor [Who?  Gates?]  and have ironed something out, which means funding for our project is secure.”
Meeting of state SLC chiefs occurs.
Sept. 22, 2012:  Don Shalvey, Deputy Director at Gates, writes White and piles on the accolades: “Congratulations of work well done.  Thanks for a very inspiring set of meetings.  You and your colleagues will most certainly change the opportunity equation for the youth of Louisiana.  Your elegant design you are operationalizing via the networks, Compass [the LDOE the teacher evaluation system], the SLC and the talented team you’ve assembled has so much promise.  I can see how all of you will continue to energize every educator and then as the student results emerge, the transformation will be palpable and long lasting.  Please accept a very large BRAVO!!!”(etc. etc.) 
White replies: “Your notes mean a great deal to us.  Our team is working hard for sure and they don’t hear often enough how they are opening doors for hundreds of thousands of children.  Thank you for being our friends and guides in this work.  I’m looking forward to more of the most exciting work on earth.”
October 3, 2012: email from Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director for the Council of Chief State School Officers, another major Gates grantee and on the board of the Shared Learning Collaborative to SLC chiefs – “If you are aware of any districts planning to apply for the RTTT district funds we would like to provide an opportunity for them to consider potential connections to the SLC work taking place in your states.  As we continue to develop and scale the SLC technology, RTT-D may be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of additional funding in this area.”  
Oct. 9, 2012:  Amrit Singh, Education Data Portal Project Director for the Regents Research Fund  (which is also Gates-funded) Regents Fellow at the NYS Education Department  and former colleague with White at NYC DOE writes, “attached are two practical guides on developing and implementing an enterprise architecture with an IT organization …
October 10, 2012:  Nicholas Bolt, Deputy Chief of Staff, expresses concerns re “money/Time ($6 Mil) & District buy-in – if we can’t figure out how to market this for their participation and show them real value, it’s going to fall apart.  It thus appears that the district superintendents are not enthusiastic about buying into this project.
October 14, 2012: Class Size Matters, along with parent leaders and attorney Norman Siegel hold press conference in NYC, releasing a letter to the New York State Education Department  (NYSED) demanding that it reveal its contract with the Shared Learning Collaborative, hold public hearings, and require parental consent before sharing any student’s personally identifiable information [PII]. This generates the first round of negative publicity about the violation of student privacy involved. 
At this point, New York appears to be the only SLC client sharing data from the entire state’s student population. The Gates Foundation now appears intent on persuading White to accelerate the timeline, and convert Louisiana from Phase II to Phase I state, and agree to involve the whole state’s data in the project, as if to take the heat off NYSED officials.
November 18, 2012 Julie Fabrocini of Gates writes:  “John, we have been talking in the Foundation about the next steps with the Shared Learning Collaborative and doing some thinking about possibilities for accelerating Louisiana.  I think it would be important for us to get together for 60-90 minutes to discuss strategy, infrastructure and commitment? “
Dec 15, 2012:  NYSED Regents Fellow Amrit Singh gets into the act, and also writes John White: “Below is a link to a great article that connects SLC, LRMI, and Learning Registry and may help your team get on the same page re the value and interconnection of these initiatives: 
https://www.edsurge.com/n/potent-alphabet-soup-how-sli-lr-and-lrmi-will-shape-education-technology-content  Singh tells him how to subscribe to EdSurge (also funded by Gates.)
Sometime during this period, White agrees to convert Louisiana into a Phase I state.  Though no superintendent apparently signed up to pilot inBloom, White decides to  upload entire state data into SLC cloud -- to populate their controversial “Course choice” program, in which students can sign up for courses for credit “a la carte” with a range of for-profit providers; this program is being implemented by another company called Agilix.
Dec. 22, 2012: John White – to Amrit Singh, the NYSED Regents Fellow, “Agilix is going to route course choice data through the SLI, our first foray. Off and running.”
Jan 1, 2013:  White signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gates Foundation for the Shared Learning Collaborative.
Jan 2, 2013: Ken Bradford gives John White updates on their “Choice” program “Both Agilix and SLC-Gates  Alvarez [Alvarez and Marsal, Gates consultants] team to be here Monday 1/7/2013 to walk through the steps for getting our LDOE student data into the SLI warehouse…to transform our data file and co-devise a solution for Louisiana’s identity management needs.”
January 19, 2013:  Diane Ravitch reprints on her widely-read blog a post written by Leonie Haimson for the NYC Parent blog the day before, entitled “Parents beware! NY and eight other states plan to share your child’s confidential school records with private corporations without your consent!” The post warns parents about the Shared Learning Collaborative project.
January 27, 2013: Shan Davis, Administrator at the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education [BESE] writes to Kim Nesmith, LDOE Data Quality Director: “could you provide me with a summary of the Shared Learning Collaborative/ Ms. Beebe [Lotte Beebe, a member of BESE] would like the details regarding what this is, the funding sources, and when it will be implemented, etc.”
January 31, 2013: Mick Hall, Director at Alvarez and Marsal writes to Ken Bradford, cc; Hipps and Bates of Gates, and Genevieve Haas, Account Director at WaggenerEdstrom, the Gates PR consultants:
Dear Ken: As you are aware, a letter critical of the Shared Learning Collaborative and its partners was recently posted to a blog belonging to Diane Ravitch, an education policy analyst.  The letter was written by NYC activist Leonie Haimson who is an outspoken critic of the Gates Foundation and other education reform efforts.  Haimson, who heads the organization, Class Size Matters, is calling on parents to challenge the right of states and districts to leverage the SLC’s infrastructure to facilitate the sharing of student data with third party providers.  For context, a version of the letter originally appeared on Haimson’s blog in October 2012, at which time the NY State Education Department took steps to address the concerns raised. “ [Note by LH: NYSED did little or nothing to address our concerns, and to this day has refused to answer our questions.]
“While we agree that privacy and data security are important issues, Haimson’s letter and ongoing critique of the SLC contain distortions and inaccuracies that we feel are important to correct and the SLC has posted several resources on its site that address these issues as well as posting a comment on Ravitch ‘s blog post.  We also we recognize that you will need accurate information and tools to allay concerns among your stakeholders.  In view of this, we propose to hold a call to discuss any concern and identify what resources and strategies would be helpful to you…”
Ken Bradford forwards the above email to Nicholas Bolt, who is unconcerned and responds “I don’t think a call is necessary at the moment.  Kim, have you heard anything else beside that on BESE member?”
January 31, 2013; Shan Davis, BESE administrator, complains to Kim Nesmith about how Lottie Beebe has not received a response to her email the previous week. 
January 31, 2013:  Mike Hall of Alvarez and Marsal emails Ken Bradford, Sharren Bates of Gates, Henry Hipps, and their PR firm; asking for phone meeting to allay potential privacy concerns. 
February 4, 2013: Kim Nesmith finally responds to Lottie Beebe, with a statement copied from Gates:
“The Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) provides a standardized technology infrastructure that will allow states, districts, and schools to link to various curricular resources…  And adds:  “Recently there was a letter critical of the SLC posted on education policy analyst Diane Ravitch‘s blog.  This letter was written by Leonie Haimson…etc.”   Links to the SLC website at http//slc.edu/technology/privacy-and-security
Feb 4, 2013: Hipps of Gates emails the SLC states and pilot districts, telling them tomorrow the SLC with transition to inBloom Inc.  He gives them brand usage guidelines, and alerts them to media briefings, etc.
Feb. 6, 2013: Email from Mike Hall of Alvarez and Marsal to the entire list of participating state chiefs and pilot district superintendents:   “Thanks for your time this week to align on privacy issues and messaging.  Attached is the situation overview and messaging that Henry shared on the call.” Attachment [not included]:   “InBloom Privacy Guidance”
Feb. 6, 2013: Brady Isom, software engineer at Agilix asks “do we have an ETA as to when the StudentUniqueStateId will be changed to the student’s SSN [Social Security Number]?
Feb. 8, 2013: Dave Lefkowitz, Education Deputy for Louisiana Department of Education, asks about “availability of SSN student data for testing” among other things.  
Feb. 20, 2013: Message from Gates Foundation about their cross-state monthly call, scheduled for Feb. 22 to prepare for the transition from the SLC to inBloom Inc., to discuss highlights of SXSW show, to give a status update on “Vendor engagement” and “pilot site updates.”
March 3, 2013: The Gates-funded SXSW Education conference opens in Austin, Texas, with Bill Gates as keynote speaker, which is organized around a major push to promote inBloom Inc. and persuade more states and vendors to sign on. 
At the same time, Stephanie Simon of Reuters publishes a devastating expose in Reuters about how the most private details of students’ lives will be made available to inBloom and through inBloom to for-profit vendors, and how these companies are slavering at the prospect.  This is the first time the national media has reported the unprecedented scope of the Gates Foundation plan, and the apparent willingness of nine states to share their personal student information without parental consent.  She also reveals is that inBloom is collecting student Social Security numbers – something that inBloom later attempts to deny in tweets to other reporters, calling her reporting inaccurate.
In the weeks to follow, the Gates Foundation, their PR agents, and numerous consultants seem surprisingly flat-footed in coming up with a cogent rationale or explanation for their data-sharing plans.
March 6, 2013: Tandra Oubre, IT programmer at LDOE, writes that “the SSN is the primary data element that is used to retrieve the viewable student information.”
March 11, 2013: A charter school parent writes LDOE to ask if her child’s charter school will be included in the inBloom database.
March 13: Louis Boullion, Director of Information Technology at St. Tammany school board, emails John Fielding at LDOE: “Can you please give me a call regarding the article Darlene spoke with you about… [Reuters] I need something in writing that says the data is not being released.  Our Board and parents are flooding us with calls.  I would like the correct info before we respond.”

March 14: John Fielding responds:  “Louis, as I mentioned to Darlene, I am not sure who could provide you the documentation you’re looking for.  I am copying Kim Nesmith because I believe she will know who should try next…” Kim Nesmith:  “Hi Louis, I do have a prepared statement that I will get to you tonight.”

March 15: Boullion to Kim Nesmith:  “are you able to provide us a statement, do you need more information.”

March 18:  Kim Nesmith: “Hi Louis, Sorry that I’m just getting back to you. Here’s the statement from our Public Affairs Office:

We follow all applicable laws and expect the same of school systems.  We deeply respect the right to the privacy for children and families.”

Boullion responds, “Kim this is pretty generic and will not satisfy our Parents or Board.  The parents are now talking about sending in forms to opt out of the State’s ability to release their student’s data.  These 2 sentences do not even mention the database.  Can we please get a little more detail and description, so we can calm our parents and Board?’

March 18, 2013:  Daniel Kim, Manager at Alvarez and Marsal, consultant to inBloom and the Gates Foundation, writes Ken Bradford and others at LDOE:  “With the increased level of press and public discussion on inBloom after SxSW, our primary topic for this month’s cross site call will be on communications and public relations…”

March 27, 2013: As the issue of Social Security numbers heats up, Kim of Alvarez writes (with subject heading “inBloom/lD sync – Student IDs”):  thank you for the call today.  Here are the next steps we agreed on: inBloom/Dan Draft a temporary waiver with our legal counsel and connect with Kim Nesmith by EOW;   LDOE /Nick: Organize a call with Mark Wolfgramm, [VP of Development] and Chipp [Walters, General Manager] @ Agilix to consider potential options in place of SSN…

March 29, 2013:  Marie DeMego, VP at Connect Edu, a participating vendor, asks to meet to “introduce the leadership team spearheading ConnectEDu’s inBloom efforts.”

April 2, 2013: In an attempt to calm the growing furor over student privacy, John White sends a letter to the state’s superintendents, arguing that the inBloom storage is no different from what the state currently does. This does not allay the controversy.

April 10, 2013:  Thomas Schmidt, attorney of the Home School Legal Defense Association, emails to ask if homeschooled Louisiana student information will be sent to inBloom. 

April 16, 2013: Sue Millican, who oversees the LADOE Home Study Programs, responds to Schmidt that “no home study student information is planned to go into the inBloom database.  If you should have further questions regarding the new process, please contact Brian Darrow, in the LDOE Office of Parental Options.”  

April 17, 2013:  What was described as a “lively” BESE meeting ensues, with parents and students testifying against the data–sharing, privacy-busting inBloom plan.  16 year old Rachael Sachs tells the boardmembers,

How would you feel if your house got broken into and all of your personal belongings were stolen? And later when you went on the Internet, you discovered that your belongings were being sold to the highest bidder?

How you would feel then, is how we feel now. Our personal information is being sold to anybody who has money, whether it is a company, or a predator, not to mention hackers. We are being put in danger.

I don’t have a Facebook for this reason. These companies are treating us as though we are theirs to sell to make a profit off of . . . it is almost as if we are being prostituted.

Under pressure, John White promises to release all MOUs and contracts related to data sharing agreements with inBloom and Agilix.

April 18, 2013:  The following day, John White announces he is pulling all student data out of inBloom Inc. – and writes the following letter to the BESE board:
At Wednesday’s meeting we heard some compelling testimony regarding the state’s and school districts’ data storage practices. It’s an issue worth continued discussion with the board.
The data storage agreement with the inBloom database was undertaken with caution and a sense of responsibility. However, because of the concerns expressed by some parents, and because we have not yet had an in-depth discussion with the board and public about data storage at the agency or district level, I think that it is best for now that we withdraw student information from the inBloom database. I have told our staff to do so and have informed inBloom of our decision.”  

April 19: After this news is reported in the media, inBloom tweets: 

Louisiana parents and advocates don’t know whom to believe.  White contradicts inBloom and insists he has pulled all the student data out of inBloom.

May 29, 2013: Stephanie Simon writes a follow-up article in Reuters, School database loses backers as parents balk over privacy, revealing how “officials in several states [are] backing away from the project amid protests from irate parents.”  More specifically, “Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware - all initially listed as partners on the inBloom website - told Reuters that they never made a commitment and have no intention of participating. Georgia specifically asked for its name to be removed.” Massachusetts and North Carolina are said to be seriously reconsidering their involvement as well.  


June 20, 2013: The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agrees to form a task force to examine what the state’s policies should be in regards to sharing private student data should be.