Thursday, October 31, 2013

NYC Parents star at Senator Flanagan's hearings on Common Core, testing and privacy

Wednesday's NY Senate hearings on the Common Core, testing and privacy were long but revealing.  After our press conference, the morning started off with Merryl Tisch, head of the Regents, saying that the tests had caused much upset and displacement but the state must move ahead with the program, no matter what.

Many of the Senators present were former teachers who decried the amount of standardized testing and test prep, the stressful effect on schoolchildren, and their total uselessness for the purposes of diagnostic assessment or teaching.  But Tisch said that it was important to carry on, given the low rates of college-readiness throughout the state (as though flawed, lengthy and stressful tests are necessary to prepare kids for college.)

Sen. Hoylman asked her why Commissioner King is holding 16 forums around the state, but none are scheduled so far in NYC, where one third of the entire state's public school students are enrolled.  She said they would be announcing some NYC forums soon -- either three or five, she was unclear.  She used as an excuse that the DOE had adopted their teacher evaluation system later than the rest of the state. (Why this is relevant?)  When asked about why the state's providing personal student information to inBloom, Tisch deferred to Ira Schwartz of SED, saying the issue was "too technical for me", although she has been supporting this unconscionable plan from the beginning.

Schwartz repeated the bland SED talking points that many districts already have contracts with vendors, and the state's sharing data with inBloom is not different from what they do currently.  Of course, superintendents and school boards throughout the state oppose inBloom and disagree vociferously.  He added that the new system will simply make it easier for personal student data to be used more efficiently, as though why should assuage the anyone's fears.  Senator Tkaczyk asked, what about parents with special needs children?  Schwartz: this is not a cause for concern.  Glad you've cleared that up, Ira!

Tisch claimed that many teachers think the Common Core curriculum modules provided by the state are helpful, though this seems to be contradicted by voluminous statements made by teachers at the forums around the state, where the poor quality of these scripted modules seem to be their  #1 complaint.  She said that she came from a family of immigrants, and she was sympathetic to the needs of English Language Learners.  She was "appalled" by the federal requirement that ELLs have to be tested with the same state exam after one year, and that NYSED would be asking for a waiver.  She decried the "inflammatory rhetoric" being used around the state, and then claimed that if we want New York state to remain civilization's "centric" we must proceed apace with the Common Core and the testing regime, or "families won't stay here." (Talk about overheated rhetoric.)

Senator Felder commented that he himself wasn't a good student when he was in school, and many other students who don't do well on tests excel in art, music or other areas. He wrapped up by saying that "Kids aren't robots" and that the state's emphasis on exams do little to help them. (much applause and no response from Tisch.)

Then came Michael Mulgrew of the UFT, who wholeheartedly supported the Common Core and its premise, that we need it because international comparisons show that our country is "falling behind other nations."  (A new study seems to dispute this.)  The roll out, though has been "terrible," because there's "no curriculum" (what about those modules that teachers are complaining about?)  Until there is a curriculum, we should have a moratorium on the high-stakes of tests, but not halt the tests themselves, and the tests should be made harder more gradually, as "there's a human cost to students and parents to suddenly impose a new baseline".  Senator Martins smartly pointed out that he wasn't sure about the validity of the cut scores, (along with many others) and "how does failing on exams help kids learn, anyway?  Mulgrew said he wasn't a psychometrician, and Martins should ask King about that.

Deputy Chancellor Suransky was up next, and made all sorts of debatable claims, like the new state tests were far better than the old ones (really?) and that the DOE just needed more "flexibility" from the Legislature in implementation, though he could give no specific examples.  He said that the DOE didn't want to have to give the much-criticized bubble tests to Kindergarteners in their Early Childhood Centers, but had been forced by SED because of their teacher evaluation system. His major thrust was that whatever problems existed with the Common Core would be solved by giving teachers more common planning time and professional development -- though this would likely cut into their time with students, and/or raise class sizes.  Already with DOE permission, schools have converted one day a week of their extra 37 minutes per day to  planning time, scoring tests or training, time that was originally designed to help struggling students with small group instruction; and many schools are also instituting half days to do more of the same.

While Suransky said much of the angst among teachers about the new evaluation system was misplaced, since only 1% of them across the state were rated ineffective, he neglected to mention that 6% of teachers in the tested grades and subjects were rated ineffective, putting the credibility of the entire system in doubt. While the next administration may want to make "adjustments," he didn't expect any major shifts since there is agreement between SED and the UFT that this important work.  (Parents don't seem to enter into the equation.)

Finally, he said that only 3% of students who fail 3rd grade exams pass their 8th grade exams, showing how early education is important, but to him and too many others, early childhood education seems to stop at preK.  With the highest class sizes in 14 years in grades K-3, the DOE has taken away one of the most effective ways to ensure children, especially poor children of color and English language learners, can have a decent chance to succeed.

Though neither Mulgrew nor Suransky mentioned class size, the next panel did and were passionate, articulate and pointed in their remarks. The panel of parents, Nancy Cauthen, Lisa Shaw and Karen Sprowal, were all terrific. Nancy focused on the Common Core, and how parent's concerns have been ignored.  She explained how she pulled her oldest son out of school to homeschool him because she was fed up with all the testing. Lisa and Karen focused on inBloom and spoke eloquently and convincingly about how the state's plan to share their children's most personal data with vendors and "profile" them could imperil their futures. Nancy's testimony starts at 2:36, Lisa and Karen at 2:52 in.  Be sure to check them out; they were the stars of the day (at least in my eyes.)

They both also spoke about how they would no longer sign Medicaid reimbursement forms because of the state's data-sharing plans -- which could cause the city to lose millions of dollars if other parents do the same.  After their testimony, Senator Martins, the prime sponsor of S. 5930, the bill to protect student privacy, thanked them because he knew that now he "will have five or six more co-sponsors on his bill."

Monte Neill of FairTest gave terrific testimony, about the rebellion against hi-stakes standardized testing that has erupted in NYC and across the country, and that no other nation gives so many exams; also Marco Battistella of Time Out from Testing

Then a trio of "specialists" appeared, first the VP of a for-profit company selling an online credit recovery program (really?), and two reps from StudentsFirst NY, Michelle Rhee's organization, selling the line that despite all the evidence, most teachers and parents really support all the testing and the Common Core. One of them actually claimed that in the past year, the organization had had face-to-face conversations with over 300,000 New Yorkers!  (Another ridiculous claim, like Rhee's statement that StudentsFirst has a million members -- mostly made up of people who signed their deceptive petitions by mistake.) Both StudentsFirst reps also claimed that the Common Core would somehow provide educational equity to all students.  Nuff said.  Ernie Logan, head of the NYC principals union spoke at 3:58 min in, explaining how missteps and miscommunications had angered parents and others.

My testimony is at 4:12 in, if you want to check it out here ( in written form) or orally below.  Zakiyah Ansari was great  at 4:22 in.

Many others spoke with great passion and insight, including Fred Smith from Change the Stakes, Rosalie Friend, and Dr. Ruth Silverberg.  Watch them all -- and especially the shocking testimony of John Owens, former teacher, about the systemic data manipulation and corruption behinds the scenes at one of the "model" new small schools, at 5:16 in.  All the written testimonies are available here.  The Senators seemed to be listening.  Let's hope they take it to heart.

Southold Superintendent demands right to opt out of data sharing, citing state's contract with inBloom

Superintendent David Gamberg credit: Suffolk Times
As more and more districts give back their Race to the Top funds to protect student privacy, so they don't have to sign up for data dashboards that will be populated with personal data from the inBloom cloud, they also realize that this does not spare their student data from being uploaded by NYSED anyway.   

Commissioner King has been adamant that personal and highly sensitive data from the entire state's public school population will be shared with inBloom whether districts sign up for dashboards or not.  
See this comment from the School board President in Spackenkill NY, Arij Kurzum, upon returning these funds and turning down the dashboards, because it "was what people in the community wanted and the reaction seems favorable.
“I think our job is not done by just pulling out of Race to the Top,” she said. “The state is still going to get that information ... and they’re still going to put it in inBloom.

But see the letter written to inBloom by Superintendent, David Gamberg of Southhold LI, below.  He identified a provision in the state's contract with the Shared Learning Collaborative (which later became inBloom Inc.) allowing districts to opt out -- despite what the state currently maintains. 
The relevant clause appears on page 9 of Exhibit C, of the Data Privacy and Security Plan, under the heading “District Opt out from SLI.” It states: “If a school district decides they no longer wish to use the SLI system, they may request that district student data be deleted from the SLI data store."
The SLI stands for the Shared Learning Infrastructure, inBloom's data system. According to NYSED officials, this contract or "service agreement" has not been amended or updated since it was signed last year, and it is still posted at the SED website here.  
Other Superintendents should emulate Southhold's demand, and follow up with a lawsuit if inBloom does not agree to comply.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Press conference and Senate hearings on Common Core, testing & privacy

It was a long day today at Senator Flanagan's hearings on the Common Core, testing and privacy.
My written testimony is here.  Other testimonies are linked to here, where hopefully the webcast will be posted soon.  Meanwhile, below is the media  release from our press conference this morning.

For immediate release: October 29, 2013
For more information contact:  Leonie Haimson,; 917-435-9329

Council Member Robert Jackson

This morning, at a press conference at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, before hearings of the NY Senate Education Committee, members of Class Size Matters, Change the Stakes, and New York State Allies for Public Education, along with elected officials and education professionals, spoke out against the way the New York State Education Department is subjecting public school students to unproven programs, excessive high-stakes testing, and privacy violations, undermining the quality of their education and putting their future prospects at risk.
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, said: “New York is now the worst state in the country when it comes to student privacy. Commissioner King plans to share personally identifiable data from the entire state’s public school student population with inBloom Inc. and other vendors, including highly sensitive disability diagnoses, disciplinary records, and even teen pregnancy and immigrant status.  Parents in NYC and elsewhere have protested this plan at every turn, and demanded the right keep their children’s data out of the inBloom database, without success. There is now a grassroots rebellion brewing among parents, school board members, and district superintendents against inBloom.  We welcome the opportunity to speak to Senator Flanagan and other members of the Education Committee, to let them know that personalized learning can only come through smaller classes, not testing or data-mining our children, and to urge them to pass legislation to stop this unconscionable plan.”
"In recent years, some education officials have gotten awfully cavalier about handing over private, personal data on our kids to outside vendors and third parties seeking to use it in commercial product development," said Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan). "None of this data should ever be shared with outside vendors and third parties without the informed consent of parents, at a bare minimum.  'Big data' analysis can yield tremendous benefits, but data-sharing run amok can yield disastrous consequences as well. Protecting our kids must always come first."
NYC parents Karen Sprowal, Lisa Shaw & Nancy Cauthen
Nancy Cauthen, parent of a 7th grader and a member of the group Change the Stakes says, "Education officials have justified imposing costly, large-scale and unproven reforms based on an overly-simplistic and unsubstantiated narrative about American high school graduates not being 'college and career ready.' Reasonable people can debate the pros and cons of having national standards, but we never had that debate. Instead, the push for Common Core was driven by a corporate vision of education that sees students only as future workers and public funds as a source of private enrichment."
 “Our children continue to be negatively impacted by ill-conceived education policies that have nothing to do with teaching and learning.  We must rid the school environment of the pressure of doing well on tests and bring back learning and teaching to a student’s academic level.  A student’s achievement should be measured on the totality of their school work and progress not on the scores of high stakes tests.  Only then can we develop a curriculum that truly supports to their success,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson, Chair of the New York City Council’s Education Committee.  
Lisa Rudley, an Ossining parent and founding member of NYS Allies of Public Education says, “As districts in Westchester and Long Island give back their Race to the Top funds, to try to protect their children's private records from being shared with dashboard vendors, I am outraged that the state still plans to share our personally identifiable student data, including highly sensitive discipline and disability information, with inBloom Inc. This is morally reprehensible and incomprehensible not only to parents, but to superintendents, who have made their opposition to this plan known.  Six states have pulled out of inBloom or put their data-sharing plans on hold; the other two are allowing either districts or parents to opt out. It is time that the NY State Education Department do the same.”
Santos Crespo, the President of Local 372, the school aide union, says: “The Common Core Curriculum Standands created by non-educators has taken the joy out of learning for our children. The excessive testing and test prep is traumatizing our children. The violation of student privacy through schemes like InBloom designed to exploit and profit off our children must be stopped. The Regents' Reform Agenda is clearly an attempt to corporatize and privatize education. Local 372 vehemently opposes this agenda that seeks to undo Public Education and stands united with parents to ensure every child receives a high-quality, well rounded public education.” 
According to Lisa Shaw, “As a parent of four children I can't sleep at night.  I am so desperate to protect my children's personal information from inBloom that I am considering sending them to a private school, moving out of state, or even out of the county. My pleas to the DOE and NYSED to opt out have been ignored.  I now refuse to sign any school forms, including Medicaid or school lunch forms, and encourage other parents to do the same.  If Commissioner King had his own children in a public school he might understand how I feel.”
“How do you build a baseline from last year’s poorly constructed tests--a weak foundation standing on shaky field test data?” asks Fred Smith, a testing expert and former employee of the NYC Board of Education.
Karen Sprowal, a NYC parent of a special needs child and a member of Class Size Matters, explains:  “Once again the NY State Education Department has dismissed the rights of public school parents by trampling all over our children's privacy. These ‘personalized learning’ tools that inBloom intends to facilitate are experiments on public education children. No private schools are signing up for them, so I must question why my child is being subjected without my consent. Parents will not share financial information if they know that it will be shared with for-profit vendors. As a result, New York City and New York state may lose millions in Medicaid reimbursements, Title one funds and, if there are breaches, from lawsuits.  We cannot allow our children to become experimental subjects in a manner that puts their future at risk.”
Ruth Powers Silverberg, Associate Professor in the School of Education at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, asks: “Am I meeting my responsibility to my students, future principals, if I don’t focus on practices designed to increase test scores? I came to the College of Staten Island to prepare school leaders with research-based approaches to school improvement: nurturing a collaborative culture with the focus on learning, and developing the supportive relationships that are the foundation of all learning and growth.  I implore the Senate Education Committee to reverse the current test-driven course so that my graduates can do this work.”


Monday, October 28, 2013

Press conference tomorrow & District Superintendents rebel against inBloom & state's data sharing!

Please join us tomorrow, Tuesday morning, Oct. 29 at 9:15 AM outside of 250 Broadway near City Hall (map here), where we will be holding a press conference about the Common Core, excessive testing and privacy violations by the NY State Education Department.  
Elected officials, parents, education professionals, and members of the group Change the Stakes will be there as well.  Immediately afterward, at 10:00 AM the NYS Senate Education Committee will hold hearings on these critical issues at 250 Broadway, 19th floor, chaired by State Senator John Flanagan.  Stay, if you can, to hear testimony about how the state is actively undermining our children’s education and privacy.  

Meanwhile, District Superintendents and elected school boards throughout  the state are pushing back against NYSED’s plan to share highly confidential student data with inBloom, Inc. and other vendors.  The last few days there have been several articles, here, here and here, about how districts are even  returning Race to the Top funds, in hope that this will persuade the State Education Department  from sharing this highly sensitive information with inBloom, Inc.
So far Commissioner King is hanging tough, insisting that even if districts return these funds and don’t sign up for dashboards, their personal student data will be uploaded to the inBloom cloud anyway.  Before, he claimed that parents were merely confused, and didn't understand how districts have long shared this personal information with vendors and need to do this to efficiently operate. This argument is much harder to make when he is trying to convince Superintendents that they just don’t understand how their own districts need inBloom, for reasons that they find impossible to grasp.
Watch the video below, in which Pleasantville Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter explains their opposition to this data-sharing plan:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Comments on the city's Contract for Excellence plan from CEC District 2

Dear Chancellor Walcott,
We, the Community Education Council District 2, submit this letter to register, yet again, our objections on the Contracts for Excellence Proposed Plan FY14. 
We remain firmly committed to the letter and the intent of the 2007-2008 Education Budget and Reform Act, arising out of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York litigation.   We believe reducing class sizes is one of the most effective ways to improve instruction.  Much has been said about the importance of the effectiveness of teachers but anyone who has spent any time teaching in the classroom knows even the most “effective” teacher teaches better in a smaller class.   Today with the Special Education Reform that places more students with special needs in the least restrictive environment (i.e., general education classes), making individualized instruction even more critical, smaller classes are the key to successful classrooms. 
We are therefore deeply concerned that not only have class sizes not been reduced as a result of the Contracts for Excellence plans of recent years, but the NYC Department of Education has seemingly abandoned efforts to reduce class sizes.
In District 2 despite several new elementary schools coming online in the past four years, many of our schools continue to have class sizes that are higher than the target class sizes of the City’s Class Size Reduction Plan.   More alarmingly the trend appears to be upward, due largely to the series of budget cuts.  It is a travesty that schools in District 2 now have the capacity to reduce class sizes at long last but are unable to do so for lack of resources.  It is also difficult to simply blame the sluggish economy for lack of resources when we see hundreds of millions of dollars going into private hands in the name of the Common Core Standards and associated assessment tools. 
We also object again to the continued blatant disregard by the Department of Education for the legally mandated process for developing the Contracts for Excellence plan.  While the timing of the “public hearing” was earlier than the last year, it was still held after the school budgets have been allocated with much of the funds obligated, rendering any public input meaningless as in the past. 
Principals must begin the school year with a budget.  Presumably the budget in September included Contracts for Excellence funds.  We do not understand why public comments were not solicited when budgets were in development. 
Furthermore despite the fact in June 2013 Judge Moulton found your department in violation of the law, the DOE continues to substitute presentations at CEC meetings for the required borough-wide hearings.  We have objected to this practice because our meetings often have multiple agenda items and presentations at our meetings are made by a Network representative, who is not directly involved in the development or the implementation of the Contract for Excellence plan.   We again urge the DOE to hold borough-wide hearings with someone from the central DOE offices with detailed in-depth knowledge of the Contracts for Excellence. 
The CECD2 has developed a collaborative process with the DOE through our zoning efforts in the past several years.  We have honest and frank dialogues and have developed mutual trust with the staff from the Office of Portfolio Development.  We would welcome a similar collaborative effort on this important program.  In a district where overcrowding and large class sizes have been a chronic problem, we can only make improvements to our schools through collaboration. 
We hope the public hearing process for the Contracts for Excellence will be a better one for the school year 2014-2015.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Letitia James: a new national star in educational justice takes the stage

There were many great speeches last night at the Panel for Education Policy, protesting the awful
long list of co-locations that will damage our schools and hurt NYC children, pushed through by a lame duck administration to give away maximum space to   their cronies among the charter school operators. Council Members Chin, Fidler, Recchia and Greenfield were all eloquent, incisive and compelling, as were the parents, teachers and students of Murry Bergtraum HS, Seth Low, and Roy Mann, and so many others. 

There was one electrifying moment in which CM Letitia James, our future Public Advocate, spoke against charter co-locations, showing how these proposals would create "separate and unequal" conditions that were ruled unconstitutional in Brown Vs. Board of Education.  In case you are wondering about her comments that they shouldn't dare delete their emails, see this DNA info article about how the DOE is considering erasing all its communications before Bloomberg leaves office; James has tried to forestall this by FOILing them.

But watch this awe-inspiring speech below in which Leticia James, in which I predict a new national star for educational justice is born.

Send in your comments on the DOE's Contracts for Excellence plan by Friday 5 PM!

The deadline for comments on the NYC’s Contracts for Excellence plan (or non-plan) is this Friday, October 18 at 5:00 PM.   We have a sample letter you can use with plenty of bullet points about all the violations of law in the public process and deplorable results in terms of class size below; but the reality is that since the court made its decision in the CFE case that NYC children were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education in large part because of excessive class sizes, class sizes have instead INCREASED each year in every grade in the city’s schools.

In grades K-3, class sizes are now the largest in 14 years, and the C4E plan that the city has submitted will do nothing to address this critical problem, which is the top priority of NYC parents according to the DOE's own surveys.  Please be sure to send in your comments before the deadline at 5 PM Friday to  and   

And feel free to adapt or change  in any way you'd like!

Sample letter to send on DOE’s proposed 2013-2014 C4E plan
Please send by 5 PM, Friday Oct. 18, 2013!

I am a parent of a x grader at x school.  My child’s class size is x this year.  This is unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to the NYC Department of Education and the NY State Education Department. 
In the CFE decision, the state’s highest court said that NYC children were unfairly denied their constitutional right to an adequate education, in large part because of excessive class sizes.  And yet since that decision, class sizes have increased each year.  This is contrary to the intent of the Contract for Excellence law passed in 2007 that mandated that NYC measurably reduce class size each year to attain specific annual targets and five-year goals.    To this day, DOE officials have refused to allocate a single penny of the more than $500 million they are awarded each year in state C4E funds towards reducing class size, in their targeted allocations to schools or district wide initiatives.
The DOE has refused to  hold borough hearings since 2008, as the law requires, and the state has set a timetable for public comment months after the C4E funds have already been allocated to schools and mostly spent, making a mockery of the public input and accountability procedures set out in the law.  The DOE also eliminated its early grade class size funding program, even though they promised to retain it as part of their original C4E plan.
This year’s “pre-approved” class size reduction plan requires only that in 75 schools out of more than 1500, class size should not increase more than half of the amount class sizes increase citywide. By no definition and by no reasonable standard does this constitute a class size reduction plan, and by no means will it lead to “measurable progress” in lowering class size.  Moreover, even in these 75 schools, DOE has given them no support or extra resources to lower class size; many of them are already being phased out, and others have other schools co-located in their buildings, which will deprive them of the space needed to reduce class size.
Class size reduction one of only four reforms cited by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the US Department of Education, as proven to work through rigorous evidence.  The benefits are especially large for disadvantaged & minority students. Eighty six percent of NYC principals say cannot provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes, and smaller classes have been the top priority of parents on DOE’s learning environment surveys every year.
I urge you to listen to parents, school administrators, and research,  and also heed the law, by amending the city’s plan so that it includes “measurable progress” in class size reduction citywide, so that someday soon, NYC students may receive  their right to an adequate education.
Name, school, district