Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What Is Your State's Grade For Data Privacy Protection?

If data is the new oil, then schools are the new Ghawar field. Nearly every single person in a generation passes through a school, and virtually all of them encounter computer-based technology. And everything that a computer assesses, measures, and facilitates, it can also record and store.
You may think that such data is fiercely protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). As originally passed, FERPA did not even allow schools to share student data with other government agencies. But in 2008 and 2011 the law was weakened, allowing student data to be shared with just about any agency or company authorized by the school district, or authorized by a company authorized by the school district--and this sharing can occur without parental permission or notification.
Teachers must now be aware that every use of technology in the classroom represents a possible exposure of student data. Google has been hugely successful in getting its apps into classrooms--but Google has also admitted to mining student data with those apps. School districts have had their data banks hacked and taken hostage. Companies are anxious to gather up all the data about each child; Knewton once bragged that given the access to data, they could tell children what to eat for breakfast on the day of a math test. Some people look with admiration at the Chinese system which stores data from cradle to grave to be used by government and employers to decide a citizen's fate.
Schools are where one thorny modern issue--data privacy--meets our most vulnerable population--students. As a parent, you may carefully monitor your child's phone, her social media use, and all her other online activities. But how well-protected is your child at school?
A new report from The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Network for Public Education (of which I am a member) takes a state by state look at that protection. The 2019 State Student Privacy Report Card takes a look at seven categories and scores each state, then averages those scores for an overall grade. The picture is not pretty; no state earned an A, and 28 states failed with either a D or an F. The report card looks primarily at 99 laws passed in the last five years, considering their thoroughness and quality. Those covered a wide range, from those based on California's landmark Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) that addressed issues such as targeted advertising to laws that regulate school access to students' social media accounts. Eleven states were found to have no student data privacy laws at all.
Through the seven categories, the study considered how many different groups were covered (i.e. pre-K, K-12, higher ed), how transparent the policies are (are parents aware of what's going on), how well does the law recognize the principle that parents and students own their data, how freely the data may be used for commercial purposes, how well-protected the data must be, how strongly the rules are actually enforced (serious fines or wrist slaps), and other miscellaneous laws that some states have cooked up.
For a quick interactive view of the report results, the report comes with an interactive map that lets you see how states score in each category at a quick color-coded glance.
The picture is not pretty, and it the battle over student data privacy is not likely to be settled any time soon. The last big dustup started in 2011 when $100 million (most of it Bill and Melinda Gates money) was used to launch inBloom, a plan to harvest huge amounts of student data to store and market, without parental notification or permission. The company was unveiled publicly in 2013 and shut down in 2014, victim of huge public backlash. Years later, tech folks were still conducting extensive autopsies of inBloom and concluding that the problem was a "failure to communicate the benefits of its platform and achieve buy-in from key stakeholders." In other words, they failed to properly manage the PR.
The lesson was expensive, and it has led to a bigger role for data "advocacy" groups like the Future of Privacy Forum, an organization funded by Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, among others. This is not a list of organizations known for their fierce support for data privacy, and in fact their spokespersons can be found writing op-eds like this one, arguing that Louisiana's student privacy laws are too harsh. FOPF has also expressed its objections to the Student Data Privacy Protection report card.
The issues here are many and complex, and only become more so as social and emotional learning software becomes a big new push. Are we looking at a future in which human resources can just order up employees who are strong in math, fair at writing, and have never had trouble with authority figures? Are we looking at a future in which the old "this will go on your permanent record and you'll never get a job" threat will become reality? Will the Cambridge Analytica scandal become quaint and moot because full voter profiles, based on voters' first 18 years of life, become readily available for a price?
The other question worth asking-- how hard is it to protect the privacy of people who are barely wiling to protect it themselves? In the news this week, Facebook was caught buying rights to all of the data accessible through users' phones, apparently in perpetuity. The amount of money necessary to get people to download an app that would spy on them 24/7? Twenty bucks.
The report is a good look at where each state is right now. If parents want the state of student privacy to get better, they'll need to speak up, because the prevailing winds are not currently in the direction of more data privacy.
Originally posted at Forbes

Monday, February 18, 2019

Wasting Time In School

It's tax season, so it's time for this sort of meme--

These are just another version the compliant that teachers hear all the time-- why are we learning this? When am I ever going to use it? Every discipline has its own version. English-- when will I ever need to know subjects and verbs? Math-- when will I ever need to know the quadratic equation? Phys ed-- when will I ever have to do a shuttle run? History-- when will I ever need to know any history at all? (History teachers have it he worst.)

The answer, of course, is that we have no idea. Maybe life will take you to a place where you need to pick apart sentences. Maybe it never will.

When I was teaching, I had three main responses to this general complaint. Here they are-- and you can feel free to use them, because until the Board of Directors and my grandchildren get a little older, I won't be using them for anything.


Nobody ever said, "Dammit-- I wish I hadn't learned so much. Being educated totally messed up my life."


Most of our athletes spend a ton of time in the weight room, even in the off season. Why do they do that? Has anyone ever been at a football game and the play action totally stopped so that they could bring a bunch of equipment on the field so that the teams could have a bench press competition? Of course not. Operating those weight machines is a skill you will never use doing an actual game, so why bother going in for weight work?

The answer's obvious-- you won't use those particular weight machine skills, but you will absolutely use the muscles you developed. I was an English major in college. I took some advanced math in high school, and I have never used it since I took my last algebra test in 1975. But I do use the muscles I developed, the mental math-flavored thinking that becomes another tool for picking apart and taking in the world.

Every course develops a particular set of muscles, muscles that you can continue using long after the coursework is done.


Consider the game that was played last week. It was just that two minutes of play that determined the outcome. So why waste time playing the whole game. Next time we'll just play for two minutes-- you know, the two game-deciding minutes. We won't waste time on the rest of it.

Of course, we can't. Nobody has any way of knowing ahead of time which moments will be the critical ones, or for that matter, how much those two minutes were influenced by the other "unimportant" minutes.

This is life. Some moments are unimportant, some are very important, and some change everything, and despite our best efforts, we can never know ahead of time which are which. Any attempt to fix school by paring it down to "just the important parts" is a fool's game. Or to put it another way, it's not possible to really educate people without seeming to waste time.


Bonus round: The more educated you are, the more jokes you get.

Double bonus: A person with a well-rounded education might learn about how to do taxes-- but that decent education might also render us capable of figuring out things like how to do taxes all on our own.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

ICYMI: Winter Is Forever Edition (2/17)

I do this every Sunday, so you can skip back week by week, or just search "ICYMI" in the search bar in the upper left to read some of the good stuff coming from other writers in the education world. Remember to share-- that's how this stuff gets around and finds the audience it should have.

Rahm Emanuel's Non-Apolgy for Being School Privatization Cheerleader

Rahm released an essay that was billed as a change of direction, but which might be better described as a branding exercise.

Getting To The Root of the Public Education Crisis

I have mixed feelings here, but this op-ed spinning off the issues of segregation in Rochester is still worth a look.

3 States Tried To Shutter Failing For Profit Online Charter Schools

Sometimes the 74 does real journalism, and this story is a stunner. In three states, officials tried to shut down cyberschools; what happened next is chilling-- a stealth campaign to smear officials.

Pcops, Pensions and Picket Lines

Yes, it's settled for now, but this is a great look at what exactly got Denver to the point of a strike in the first place.

On Responsible Social Media Use

A handy reminder about the use of compelling-yet-groundless statistics on line, and other ways to behave better

Teach For America Overwhelmingly Exits The Classroom

Mercedes Schnieder with a reminder that TFAers are mostly just passing through.

Testing Chaos in New Jersey 

Dr. Jazzman with a look at the latest developments in the continuing saga of New Jersey's exit exam fiasco.

Writing as Threat

From Jose Luis Vilson, the challenge of being a writer and owning that idenity.

Friday, February 15, 2019

PA: The Death of Cyber Charters (Maybe, Finally)

In the entire education ocean, cyber charters continue to be a festering garbage patch, and a recently proposed bill could clean them out of Pennsylvania.

It is not that cyber charters could not be useful for a select group of students with special needs. But in the whole panoply of failed reform ideas, none have failed harder and more thoroughly than cyber charters. In fact, they have failed so hard that among their opponents you will find many supporters of bricks and mortar charters. CREDO, the clearing house for choice friendly research, found them hugely ineffective. Their problems are legion. Even The 74, a generally pro-choice site, recently took a hard swing at cybers. In at least five states, cybers are being shut down.

But in Pennsylvania, it's still cyber-Christmas. Pennsylvania has one of the largest cyber-sectors in the country, and provides no oversight or accountability? How little? No PA cybers have yet "passed" a single year of school accountability scores. One of the biggest fraudsters had to be caught by the feds. And perhaps most astonishing, we learned last month that ten of the fifteen Pennsylvania cyber charters are operating without a current charter agreement! In one case the charter expired in 2012.

PA cybers are huge money makers; they are reimbursed at the full per-pupil formula, but spend far less. So a cyber collects generally from $10,000 to $25,000 for each student, and spends a fraction of that on each student, pocketing the rest.

Several lawmakers in Harrisburg would like to put a stop to that.

Senate Bill 34's prime sponsor is Judith Schwank of Berks County, a former dean at Delaware Valley College who's been in the Senate since 2011. Her bill's principle is pretty simple-- if a district has its own in-house virtual school, it does not have to pay for a student to attend an outside cyber. If a family pulls a student from Hypothetical High and decides that instead of Hypothetical's own cyber school they want to send Junior to, say, K12 cyber school, then the family has to pay the bill-- not the school district.

“It’s crazy,” said State Sen. Schwank, of the fees districts pay to cyber charters. “It’s not based on actual delivery of educational programming.”

What the impact be?

“I think cyber charter schools would no longer exist,” said Maurice Flurie III, CEO of Commonwealth Charter Academy, the state’s second-largest cyber charter.

Most school districts already have that in-house cyber-capability, either within the district or through the state's regional Intermediate units, and could start handling the cyber influx tomorrow.

How important would this be to school districts? Well, the commonwealth's 500 school districts paid about $454,000,000 to cyber schools in 2016-2017. So financially the impact is huge. There is also the human impact-- a large number of cyber charter students return to public school, academically behind (and if the charters hold onto the student past a certain date, they get to keep all the money but jettison the costs back to public schools). In short, the financial cost is huge, but the human and educational costs are incalculable.

Cybers are complaining that families could not afford the tuition, but then, the tuition is grossly over-inflated (the cybers have none of the expenses of a school with a physical school, yet collect the same funding as a bricks and mortar charter), so maybe they would go out of business or maybe they would have to cut tuition costs and lose their huge profit margins if they really wanted to stay in business.

How likely is it that any of this will happen? Well, a similar bill is slated for the House of Representatives by Republican Curt Sonney of Erie, who is now the new head of the education committee, so that's good-- but this bill has been raised in Harrisburg before, where it died a quiet death. Our GOP controlled legislature is not very public school friendly. And when you are making truckloads of money, you can afford some pretty aggressive lobbying. Just two companies-- K12 and Connections-- spent tens of millions of dollars over fifteen years to keep legislatures friendly, and plenty of that has been spent in Harrisburg.

And yet. And yet.

The drumbeat about charter funding general and cyber charters in particular has been heard in this state for years now, particularly from local boards of all political stripes who are getting tired of taking heat for decisions made by the legislature (I have heard more than one board member express "They yell at us for mismanaging the money, but it's the damn state!" There's no reason this couldn't be the year we hit a tipping point. There's a big state push for full funding for public schools and if your representative wants to ask where he's supposed to find the money, well, there's a whole big pile marked "cyber schools" that is essentially thrown away.

So if you're in PA, contact your legislator and tell him the time has come to pull the plug on the most failed experiment in education. Tell him to put the taxpayer's money back where t belongs-- financing public schools.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Speedbumps on the Road to Curriculum's Golden Age

Among the recent shifts in reform thought is one to a focus on curriculum and content, and I don't hate it. One of the hugely screwed up features of the last two decades has been the content-stripped focus on hollow skills. Reading is not a set of skills that can somehow be taught and practiced in a content-free vacuum, but that's what we've been trying to do for most of the 21st century, so far.

So this piece by Robert Pondiscio on the Fordham's blog is a welcome addition to the ongoing conversation about education. Pondiscio has been a rich content guy all along, and it's good to see him arguing how strong content can push aside the bad practices of recent years rather than making twisty arguments that Common Core and rich content are somehow two peas in a pod.

There are several points in the piece I want to underline, but I also want to note a huge roadblock or two on the trail to Contentville.

Most important: Under NCLB and Common Core, curriculum is judged strictly on its "alignment."

There are a variety of problems like this, not the least of which is that "alignment" can be completed successfully as a complex paperwork problem. But as Pondiscio correctly points out, alignment doesn't care about content:

“Alignment” also tells us nothing about literary merit, quality, or lasting value. You can explore themes of fratricide and revenge by studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Disney’s The Lion King. In no way are they “equal.” A three-star restaurant and Taco Bell may both get “A” ratings from the board of health if they’re aligned (as they must be) to safe food handling standards, but they are not otherwise comparable.

Pondiscio also notes that the skills-centered movement we've been living under completely ignores the importance of prior knowledge in reading-- and writing, too, for that matter. This is huge. At the lower levels, it is useless to decode a word you've never heard of. At higher levels, it's hard to comprehend what you know nothing about, no matter how well you've practiced your drawing inferences and context clue reading. When you don't know anything about the context, it will not yield any clues.

The article is written mainly to plug a new tool for measuring ELA curricular sweetness, and I have no opinions about it at this point. As described by Pondiscio, it sounds like a good idea.The team to watch for is David Steiner and Ashley Berner, and their tool is about knowledge mapping. For the moment, I'm agnostic. At the same time, Chiefs for Change are involved, so I am hesitant to get excited. But all of that is for another day and the general topic of "How are reformsters going to screw this up?"

One line of Pondiscio's piece brought me up short and reminded of other major obstacles in the path of any golden (or even bronze or pewter) age of curriculum:

It’s been a pleasant surprise to see curriculum come into its own in the last few years as a potentially powerful lever for improving student outcomes.

Please, God, no. "Improving student outcomes" still means "raising test scores," and as long as that's our metric, the quartz age of curriculum is doomed.

Test scores are still tied to the skills-centered baloney of the last two decades. They still ignore, for instance, any of the type of learning involved in reading an entire work, chewing on it for a week or two, and then writing a thoughtful self-directed response to the work as a whole. The tests are still based on reading a short excerpt and answering some multiple choice questions.

It would not matter if we could some how drop a rich curriculum into the hollow heart of the current test-centered practices. But that's not quite possible, for two reasons.

First is that high stakes testing drives curriculum. We may measure curriculum in the abstract by checking on its alignment, but on the ground, in schools, the test is driving the curriculum. For example, the standards include speaking and listening standards, but nobody cares because they aren't on the Big Standardized Test. Meanwhile, English teachers are being pummeled with test prep materials and practice and giving the NWEA MAP test or some other pre-test test and crunching the "data" to see what they need to teach harder in hopes that students will get a couple more questions correct.

Second. Although I like to call the skills-centered standards hollow and without any content knowledge involved, that's not exactly true. There is content, but it's content along the lines of "Types of Distractors Preferred by Makers of the Big Standardized Test" or "What Testmakers Mean by Terms Like Mood and Best." The test manufacturers have their own language, their own preferred lines of reasoning. That's why they think opinion questions like "Which sentence best supports the author's intent" only have one answer-- their answer. This is not valuable content, and it certainly isn't rich content, and it has no use except to prep students for the test-- but it is content and as such takes up space, time, and oxygen in the classroom. And while plenty of teachers are quietly thumbing their nose at it and ignoring it, many are using it as their course content.

Which means that in order to make space for an actual rich curriculum, this other crap has to be cleared away. And that won't happen as long as too many administrators are "data driven" acolytes of testing.

In order for the golden age of curriculum to dawn, the chintz age of testing has to end. The Big Standardized Test has to be swept away, drawn and quartered, killed with fire then its ashes spread to sea-- pick your metaphor. It has to go. Otherwise school districts and administrators and policy makers are going to look at curricula certified by knowledge maps and go back to the same old question-- Will this raise test scores. Administrators and school districts will look at a rich content curriculum and say, "Yeah, this looks great. You can definitely go ahead and do this once your kids are ready for the test-- hey! maybe you could do this in the last half of May once the testing is over!"

For us to enter a golden age of curriculum, tools like the one Pondiscio describes will be necessary, and they will involve a fight that will never ever end about which works, exactly, belong in such a curriculum. But we have other work to do before those tools can be used. Perhaps a silver or wooden age of curriculum-- then we could make bullets and some stakes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

NY: Parents Call For Charter Pause and Evaluation

NYC school district's parent board has come out in opposition to raising New York's charter school cap. Will Governor Cuomo hear them?

The New York City schools are under mayoral control (never, ever, an ideal system), so they have no school boards. What they do have is thirty-six Community Education Councils composed of elected parents. Those CECs in turn have an Education Council Consortium, composed of representatives from each of the CECs. Their stated purpose is "to address issues that affect schools and communities throughout all the boroughs and meets regularly with the Chancellor to help shape, advise, provide feedback and comment on educational policies, visions and goals."

Time to check his hearing.
The CECs are more like a community school board than, say, a PTA, and they have been known to get feisty and vocal. Last fall they wrote to the state legislature to ask the mayoral power over NYC schools be "reined in."

Now the ECC has issued a unanimous statement about both the charter cap and the subcap (the cap for the state and for the city, respectively). The resolution, passed last Saturday (Feb 9) is heavy on the whereas, but it has some strong points to make:

The resolution characterizes charters in New York  as a "charter experiment" or the "unproven experiment" and describes New York City as "oversaturated" with charter schools (NYC has 39% of the state's students, but 71% of the state's charter schools). Noting that the city also has plenty of private and public options, the resolution asserts that NYC "is demonstrably not a region with a lack of alternatives as originally contemplated" in the original charter law. Meanwhile, other parts of the state have few or zero charters. If choice is so important, the resolution suggests, why aren't charter fans working on areas that have few options instead of focusing on the hot market in the city.

Charters take "substantial"resources from public schools, to the tune of $44 million in NYC (in part because NYC charters are allowed to commandeer public school buildings for free).

Charter schools lack sufficient oversight and accountability by design. Increasing the number of charters operated by CMOs would "further weaken public accountability by placing even more public funds and space resources under private CMO management" basically acting as "parallel independent school districts that operate free from public oversight"

The ECC also takes on the issue of audits. "The substantial use of public resources by Charter schools combined with a lack of oversight merits regular financial audits of all Charter schools and their CMOs through the state or city comptroller with enforced recommendations." According to law (§2854(1)(c), the charters are sub sect to audit by the state or city comptroller. The ECC is only aware of four audits actually occurring, and of course we know that some charters have fought hard against being audited. ECC notes that after the 2016 audit of Success Academy, the charter simply ignored the recommendations of the auditor.

Meanwhile, there has been no full-scale examination of what effect charts have had on the NYC system, no look at the fiscal impact of collocation, no look at the academic impact across the city, no look at the social impact on factors like diversity, no look at how waitlists actually work, no look at recruitment and retention practices.

It's a lot of whereasing, a lot of issues that the ECC would like to see addressed. But finally we arrive at the conclusion:

The Education Council Consortium, therefore,

RESOLVES, to propose a five-year moratorium on issuing new Charters in New York City and complete a system-wide impact evaluation by an outside evaluator.

Via email, Antonia Ferraro of CEC15 said yesterday:

We understand that the NYC Charter Center as well as other Charter school lobbyists and advocates are descending on Albany tomorrow [Tuesday, Feb 12]. We have been told the Governor may slip a Charter Subcap increase into the budget without consulting the public. This can’t happen. Frankly, a Charter Cap/NYC Subcap increase should be a ballot measure, not a backroom deal.

It should be noted that the parents are not pushing for a rollback of charters or an end to to charter schools in NYC,  but are asking to hit pause and evaluate, to take a few years to figure out exactly what charter schools are doing to the NYC educational landscape. Will charter-loving Governor Andrew Cuomo or the charter-friendly legislature in Albany listen to them? Well, if all their rhetoric about how choice is needed so that parent voices can be heard and n to just ignored by the system-- if all that rhetoric isn't just political banana oil, then certainly they'd stop to take seriously the resolution passed by the elected representatives of all the school parents of NYC.

We'll see if they really want to listen to parents, or if parent voices only matter when they are pro-charter.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Problem with "Monopoly."

A standard piece of charter/choice rhetoric is to refer to the public school monopoly, the suggestion being that school choice is needed in order to break the public school stranglehold.

I'd argue that the term is not accurate, that it suggests a single nationwide education entity that imply doesn't exist. Can an enterprise be a monopoly if it's actually several thousand individual entities?

But that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about what the use of he word "monopoly" reveals about the choice cheerleaders ho use it.

Let's think about this for a second.

What is a monopoly, anyway? It's a way to capture all of the market for a particular business. If I have a monopoly on widgets, that means everyone who wants to buy a widget will be giving their money to me. If you want to start a widget business, your problem is that I have captured all the customers and therefor all the money.

For many choice fans, the complaint is that the public school system had boxed out all competitors. "We would like to make money in the education business," they opine. "But the public system has captured all the customers. We could collect some of those sweet, sweet tax dollars, but first we have to bust some of the market loose."

Now look at what this framing does to students and their families. They are now part of a market to be captured in order to generate some revenue, not people to be served by fulfilling the promise of a free education for every single student. We are back to free market thinking, which has not, does not and will not serve education or students well. Where providers fight for a slice of the market, they will fight for the best parts of the market. In the free market, all customers are not created equal, so that competition to deliver mail to customers fifty miles out past East Nowheresville, to build roads through less-traveled regions, to educate students who have costly special needs--that competition isn't going to happen.

The use of "monopoly" is a signal that someone sees education as just one more market to be "liberated," and while I like the free market just fine for many things, I'll argue at length that it does not fit the needs or aims of public education. (Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters.) It signals that someone wants to have an argument about business, not education. But education is not business, and students and families are not a market.

Does public education have issues? You betcha. Are there some students who are not as well-served as they ought to be? Absolutely. But in the search for solutions, there's no reason to jump immediately to "how about a bunch of privately owned and operated schools with no transparency or local control." Even if a charter fan is not simply a privatizer looking for a way to score some tax dollars, framing education problems as business problems leads, unsurprisingly, to looking only for business solutions.

The use of "monopoly" is a signpost that tells you you're on the wrong road. It often, but not always, signals that you're dealing with someone who's more interested in privatizing education than actually solving education problems.