Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Save the date! NYSED wants to hear from parents on student privacy starting May 2!

As many of you may remember, our fight against NY state sharing loads of personal student data with a Gates-funded corporation called inBloom Inc. aroused much concern among parents.  This concern led to the passage of new NY student privacy law in March 2014.  One part of the law  blocked inBloom , which closed its doors shortly after, and the other part of the law had a number of other provisions to help protect and secure personal student data, most of which have not yet been implemented or enforced.

The best thing about the legislation is that it included a Parent Bill of Rights, that was supposed to be expanded through the input of parents and other stakeholders.  We have been pressing the NY State Education Department to reach out to parents to ask them what the Parent Bill of Rights should include, and how the law should be strengthened and enforced.  They are finally doing this.  

In a series of forums beginning on Wednesday May 2 in West Seneca NY and ending on June 18 in Queens, parents will have the opportunity to express their concerns to NYSED and its chief privacy officer,  Tope Akinyemi, about the ways in which their children's personal data is being collected by schools and districts, and shared with a variety of vendors and other third parties, often without their knowledge or consent.

Districts, schools and classrooms across the state are doing very different things with student data, without much oversight, but all of them are collecting more and more of it,  and sharing it with the state, leading to an increasing numbers of breaches and other instances where the data has been misused for commercial or other non-educational purposes.  Here is a list of the personal data elements that the state currently collects from districts and schools, including their suspension, attendance and disability records, whether they have been determined to be homeless, neglected or delinquent, and their date of entry to the United States (which could be used as a proxy to immigrant status).

It was also recently reported that Pearson has done experiments on students in one of their instructional software programs, by embedding different "messages" to see how this affected their scores, without their knowledge or consent.  To this day, we would never have known about this experiment if Pearson hadn't reported on the results at a recent educational research conference.   The company says they were doing this to improve their products and/or develop new ones-- which is clearly a commercial use but even so, is allowed in many contracts and in many state laws.  The New York state law bans the commercial use of data, but doesn't define what that means, so that this one of the areas that needs to be clarified and addressed.

We will be providing a list of possible talking points soon, but I wanted to alert you to these important forums so you can save the date and plan to attend. See the schedule below.

You can also email your comments and suggestions on this issue to NYSED from May 2- June 18 to PrivacyForumComment@nysed.gov  If you can, please copy me at info@studentprivacymatters.org as I'd like to hear your concerns as well.  Thanks! 

Leonie Haimson, co-chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

Monday, April 23, 2018

Hearings on NYC's dysfunctional school planning and siting process begins with DOE saying there is no negative impact of school overcrowding on students

Elizabeth Rose, Deputy Chancellor of NYC DOE and Lorraine Grillo, President, School Construction Authority
On Wednesday there were joint hearings at the City Council of the Education, Finance and Land Use committees on their comprehensive new report, Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge, as well as five bills introduced to address the school overcrowding crisis which has led to more than 575,000 students crammed into overutilized schools according to the DOE's own data.  Here is the overcrowding by type of school, as included in the report -with elementary schools at 106% overutilizaiton, and the citywide average at 96%:

From Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge

Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose and School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo testified on behalf of the city.  Rose refused to admit that school overcrowding was a problem or disadvantaged students in any way, and claimed that "some of our more successful schools are overcrowded."

Rose remained obdurate on this point even in the face of repeated questioning from Council
Council Member Mark Treyger
Education Chair Mark Treyger, who pointed out that overcrowding leads to huge class sizes, loss of art and music rooms, and other evidence of a substandard education.  Using closets for intervention services  and increasing class size does have an impact on opportunities for kids, he pointed out. Moreover, educators aren’t robots and need working space too. But Rose refused to budge.

(One can only imagine the scandal that would ensue if a Department of Health Commissioner testified that hospital overcrowding, with patients receiving treatment in hallways or closets, had no effect on the quality of care provided.  Yet to my knowledge, no media outlet reported on Rose's claims.) 

Lorraine Grillo admitted that the SCA has only four real estate brokers on retainer in the entire city to help them find sites for schools, and yet claimed "we’ve had enormous success with our brokers" and didn't need any more help locating sites.  Yet Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Danny Dromm pointed out how it was they who had recently identified sites for new schools in the Bronx and in Queens and had forwarded them on to the SCA. In fact,  when asked, Grillo couldn't name one school site that had been located by their brokers.

As to the SCA's enrollment projections, Grillo repeatedly claimed that they were accurate within 1-2 percent citywide.  However, that claim cannot be verified since neither the DOE nor the SCA release these projections publicly, and even if true, it could still mean that from district to district, neighborhood to neighborhood the projections were completely off.  Finally, given how many schools are at or near 100% capacity, the difference of only a few students could bring many of them above the tipping point.

Dromm also pointed out that the majority of seats funded in current five year capital plan won’t be ready till after 2022- wouldn't it be better to do rolling ten year plan instead? By 2022, it is likely that school construction will have fallen even further behind the need.  Grillo said that "we're mandated only to do a five year plan", implying that they couldn't go beyond that.
Salamanca also questioned why there was no effort made by the City Planning to address these issues: City Planning comes to us and says, we want 4000 new units in my district, but they have NEVER mentioned the need to build any new schools for the new families living there.  Why?  In many districts school overcrowding has existed for decades; and as we expand preK and 3K, and available land gets scarce and the population grows, the challenges increase to provide enough schools.   We must revise our methodologies to ensure all students have the maximum chance of success.

But perhaps the biggest revelation came when Council Member Treyger asked representatives from City Planning and DCAS (Department of Citywide Administrative Services) to join the DOE and the SCA at the witness table.

He then questioned them if they regularly communicate with the DOE about the need for new schools.  While they didn't answer the question directly, it soon became clear that there was no ongoing collaboration between these city agencies on the issue of school overcrowding, and that they are only involved when it came to major rezonings (City Planning) or when identifying available city-owned or other buildings for expanded preK and 3K (DCAS).

After the questioning of government officials was over, I testified, followed by disability advocates who spoke on the need to retrofit schools for better access.  Then CM Treyger asked if we felt that there was any real coordination between city agencies on tackling school overcrowding.

I answered that there was no effective collaboration that I could see, and that city agencies responded
Leonie Haimson at NYC Council hearings
only to the Mayor's top priorities, which up to now have been expanding preK, implementing 3K and building more housing, all of which actually contribute to worse school overcrowding rather than counteract it. Meanwhile, the only schools that are built are those where there is a tremendous grassroots effort undertaken from parents and their elected officials to demand this.

An example of what it requires occurred in the hugely overcrowded community of Sunset Park last year.  There have been five additional schools for Sunset Park funded in the capital plan for over 20 years without a single one built or even sited, with the DOE claiming there was simply no room in the neighborhood for new schools.  Then last year, four sites were acquired by the SCA for schools but only as a result of a tremendous organizing effort of parents, community organizations, and CM Menchaca, who identified these sites and pressed for their acquisition.

Not every community can do this, of course, and with the capital plan for school construction only half funded, many children will be left out.  Without the active involvement of the Mayor to prioritize this issue, and without a substantial boost in spending in the capital plan, along with systemic reforms to the process of school planning and siting, the problem of school overcrowding will likely grow even more severe, and NYC children will suffer the consequences.

Our testimony is posted below and here; and includes suggestions for strengthening the five bills already introduced.  It also proposes four additional bills:

  • A bill to to ensure that the CEQR formula used by City Planning is based upon the latest census data –  and that it includes enrollment projections for UPK and 3K students as well as charter schools already co-located in DOE buildings.
  • A bill to reform the ULURP process, so that proposed residential projects in areas where the schools are already overcrowded or likely to become so would require the building or leasing of new schools to provide sufficient seats to keep the schools below 100% utilization.  Right now the thresholds are far too high, even in areas where the schools are already overcrowded.
  • Any large-scale development project or rezoning should also be referred to the district Community Education Council for their comments. Often CECs are more aware of specific issues related to school capacity and overcrowding than local Community Boards. Like Community Boards, the CECs should hold public hearings and vote on whether to recommend approval, modification or rejection to the proposed project, based upon its likely impact on schools.
  • DOE should be also obligated to report each year on how many schools seats have been added and lost, whether through lapsed leases, elimination of TCUs, annexes or for other reasons. Right now, they only report on the number of seats added rather than lost each year, which gives a highly inaccurate picture of the progress made towards alleviating school overcrowding.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Epic Fail of Last Week's State Testing; Parents Demand Commissioner's Removal

NYSUT -- the state teachers union -- also sent out a message today entitled "This year's tests are a disaster!" explaining:
"Last week's disastrous foray into computer testing, coupled with ongoing concerns about the benchmarks and developmental appropriateness of the tests, left children frustrated and teachers angry that their warnings were ignored. If SED wants to restore the trust and confidence of parents in its testing system, this isn't the way to do it.  NYSUT asks members to Email the Commissioner and the Regents and share your experience with this year's first round of state testing.
For more on the experiences of students and observations of teachers about last week's ELA exams, check out the comments on my blog posts and comments here and here..
More information contact:
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; nys.allies@gmail.com
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; nys.allies@gmail.com
NY State Allies for Public Education - NYSAPE
Link to Press Release

Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents Continue to Fail New York’s Children; Parents Demand the Immediate Removal of Commissioner Elia

Parents across the state demand that the Board of Regents act immediately to remove Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. It is time the Board of Regents exercises control over the State Education Department to stop the runaway train of anti-public school “reform” that the commissioner represents.

Last week’s 3rd-8th grade ELA testing was an epic--and avoidable--fail for the children of New York State. The problems began before the tests were even administered, continued during their administration, and will persist unless there is a radical shakeup in the leadership of the State Education Department; in the way in which information about the tests and participation in the tests is communicated to families; and in how the tests themselves are constructed, administered, and scored.

The twin disasters of this year’s botched computer-based tests and an even more flawed than usual ELA test design prove that Elia is unequal to her duties and lacks the competence to helm the education department. Our children deserve better.

Leading up to the tests, some districts sent letters to parents asking whether their children would be participating in the assessments. Others, including the state’s largest district, New York City, sent home testing “info” riddled with spin, distortion, and outright lies regarding test refusal and its consequences. Many disadvantaged communities told advocates that they did not know they had a right to refuse the tests, even though it is their children who are most likely to suffer the negative effects of school closure.

Amy Gropp Forbes, a mother active in NYC Opt Out, wrote in a letter addressed to Chancellor Betty Rosa, “I urge you to issue a formal statement that clarifies a parent’s right to refuse state testing for their children. If the state allows some parents the right to opt out of state exams, it MUST give ALL parents this right, and consequences to schools and districts across the state must be equitable.” Gropp Forbes received no reply.

That the BOR and SED stood by and let this situation transpire despite having been made fully aware of the inequity--a statewide NYSAPE letter writing campaign generated over 200 complaints of “misinformation and intimidation”--is inexcusable. The absence of state-issued guidance also allowed some schools and districts to intimidate potential test refusers by instituting “sit and stare” policies.

Further evidence of a dereliction of duty on the part of BOR and SED came last week during the state ELA exam. The problems far exceeded the typical complaints associated with the state’s standardized exams. In fact, the problems were so egregious that one Westchester superintendent felt compelled to apologize to his entire community for what students had to endure. Social media flooded with teacher and proctor reports of children crying from fatigue, confusion, angst, hunger, pain, and more.

“Any good teacher knows how to judge time in lessons and assessments,” stated Chris Cerrone, school board trustee from Erie County. “As soon as I saw the format when I received the instructions I knew something was wrong. Day 1 would be short. Day 2 would be too long.”

Jeanette Deutermann, founding member of NYSAPE and LI Opt Out questioned, “Who was actually responsible for the construction and final version of these assessments? SOMEONE is responsible; that someone is Elia and the Board of Regents. The worst test since the new rollout has happened on their watch. Until a more capable leader is in place, we demand that all work on the construction of future tests be suspended immediately.”

Ulster County parent, educator, and NYSAPE founding member Bianca Tanis attributed last week’s fiasco in part to the state’s adoption of untimed testing. “Both SED and members of the Board of Regents continue to ignore the egregious consequences of untimed testing, misleading the public by claiming that the tests are shorter. For many educators, administering this test was the worst day of their career. The truth is out, and it cannot be ignored.”

“Enough is enough,” declared Dr. Michael Hynes, Superintendent of Long Island’s Patchogue-Medford district. “Not only are children and educators suffering, but with this untimed policy the state is in violation of its own law, which caps testing at no more than 1% (9 hours) of instructional time. Where’s the enforcement?”

“For a decade or more, SED and its vendors have proved themselves incapable of creating valid, well-designed, non-abusive exams that can be reliably used for diagnostic purposes or to track trends in student achievement over time,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

“Since the Common Core was introduced, these problems have only gotten worse, with tests so difficult and confusing that teachers themselves are at a loss as to how the questions should be answered. A recent report from the Superintendents Roundtable revealed that the NYS exams were misaligned to excessively high benchmarks, meaning far too many students are wrongly identified as low-performing,” said Marla Kilfoyle, Long Island public school parent, educator, and BATs Executive Director.

Brooklyn public school parent and founding member of NYC Opt Out, Kemala Karmen, is calling on SED to notify every single parent of their right to refuse May’s upcoming math assessment. She added, “The state can and should halt its hellbent race towards computerized testing, for which it is clearly ill-prepared; stop farming out test construction to dubious for-profit companies; truly shorten the exams; and, most important, remove high stakes attached to the assessments.”

Here’s a compilation of observations made by parents, administrators, and teachers about the numerous problems with this year’s NYS ELA state test, and the suffering it caused students.
NYSAPE calls on the Board of Regents to stand up for equitable and authentic learning & assessments and immediately remove Commissioner Elia.

#OptOut2018 Test Refusal Letter: English & Spanish
NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition with over 50 parent and educator groups across the state.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Yes indeed, the word "obeisance" was on the 6th grade ELA exam -- with no definition

Who and why writes these exams -- designed to fail our kids and close our schools?

Advocates and Parents Sue in Court to Demand City Reduce Class Size Now

The Daily News reported on our lawsuit , as did Queens Chronicle, WNYC radio, and Our Time Press.

For immediate release: Monday April 16, 2018
Contact: Leonie Haimson, leoniehaimson@gmail; 917-435-9329

 Advocates and Parents Sue in Court to Demand City Reduce Class Size Now

On Thursday April 12, 2018, Class Size Matters, the Alliance for Quality Education and nine parents from all five New York City boroughs filed a lawsuit against the NYC Chancellor Carranza, the Department of Education, and NY Education Commissioner Elia in the State Supreme Court in Albany, to demand that class sizes be reduced in NYC public schools.  The plaintiffs were represented in court by Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center.

The Contract for Excellence Law was passed in 2007, requiring that the NYC Department of Education lower class size in all grades over five years. Instead, class sizes have risen substantially since then. In July 2017, these same plaintiffs appealed to the NY State Education Commissioner, to demand she enforce the C4E law and require the NYC Department of Education reduce class sizes in all grades. The Commissioner dismissed the petition in December 2017, wrongly claiming that the city’s obligation to reduce class size had “expired” even though the class size provision remains in the law. Now advocates and parents have challenged that decision in court.

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “It is unconscionable that the state
and the city have flouted the law and are subjecting over 290,000 students to overcrowded classes of 30 students or more. It is time for the new Chancellor to finally do the right thing and provide our children with a better opportunity to learn. Class size reduction is one of only handful of reforms have been proven to work to boost student learning and narrow the achievement gap. The fact that NYC test scores have stalled over the last four years, according to the most reliable national assessments, shows that our students desperately need smaller classes.”

“Studies have shown us time and time again that when class sizes are too big, children do not get the
attention and resources they need to thrive,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Despite a legal obligation to reduce class sizes, the Department of Education has continued to allow classes in New York City to grow substantially, denying our children the education they deserve and putting far too much pressure on teachers. I am proud to continue standing with Class Size Matters and parents until the City makes good on their commitment to our children.”

JoAnn Schneider, a Queens parent and plaintiff, agreed: “The other day I encouraged my son to raise his hand during 5th grade math. He had just received a "0" for participation. In a class of 32 kids, his chance to participate and his chance to learn has been squashed. He needs a smaller class size now.”

“Smaller classes are necessary to create the vibrant, interactive learning environments our students need to succeed. Far too many of our city’s students are currently trying to learn in overcrowded classrooms, and we can no longer accept the status quo on this critical issue,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“My daughter has been in huge classes since Kindergarten,” said Naila Rosario, another plaintiff whose children attend public schools in Brooklyn. “This year, in fifth grade, her class size is 34. Like other children, she needs and deserves more personal attention and feedback to thrive. Despite the Mayor's claims, there can be neither equity nor excellence when NYC children are disadvantaged in this way."

In a newly-released report entitled Planning to Learn, the New York City Council acknowledged that “NYC has still not met the agreed-upon class size reduction goals established in 2007.”

"It is unfortunate that it has come to the point where a lawsuit is needed to address the issue of reducing class size," said NYC Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, NY). "As a former NYC public school teacher, I know how important small class size is to improved student outcomes. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of our students are still crammed into classes of 30 or more and do not receive the attention they need to succeed. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately."

Advocates and parents are asking the court to overturn the Commissioner’s decision and order New York City to fulfill its obligations under the law to lower class size, so that the city’s children have an opportunity to obtain the sound basic education to which they are entitled under the state constitution. The state’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case said could not occur in NYC schools without smaller classes.

The complaint is posted here.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Colorado vote this weekend: does it signal that DFER is on the decline and the Democratic Party has regained its soul?

Amidst the bad news of abusive state testing and stagnant student achievement, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds yesterday when the news broke that members of the Democratic party in Colorado voted by a huge margin to dissociate themselves from Democrats for Education Reform and demand they take the word "Democrats" off their name.

After booing down the head of the education reform organization, who described herself as a lifelong Democrat, delegates voted overwhelmingly Saturday to call for the organization to no longer use “Democrats” in its name. While it’s unclear how that would be enforced, the vote means a rejection of DFER is now part of the Colorado Democratic Party platform.

Even though the Los Angeles County Democratic Party demanded DFER "remove all reference to the Democratic Party...from your name" in 2012 and the California Democratic party passed a similar resolution denouncing the organization the next year,  this is a far more momentous event since Colorado for many years has been a stronghold of corporate education reform. Senator Michael Bennet, Rep. Jared Polis and State Senator Michael Johnson are all true-believers, adhering to the tenets of charter school expansion, school closings and high-stakes testing with near-religious obeisance, and until recently, the Denver school board has been made up of members who unanimously supported these policies and were elected with the help of DFER "dark money."

In a speech quoted by Chalkbeat, Vanessa Quintana, a political activist and a fromer student at Manual High School, described her experiences as a victim of school reform.  The school was restructured and broken up into three separate high schools with funding and a push from the Gates Foundation, and then closed by Michael Bennet when he was Denver superintendent:
She said that before she finally graduated from high school, she had been through two school closures and a major school restructuring and dropped out of school twice. Three of her siblings never graduated, and she blames the instability of repeated school changes.

“When DFER claims they empower and uplift the voices of communities, DFER really means they silence the voices of displaced students like myself by uprooting community through school closure,” she told the delegates. “When Manual shut down my freshman year, it told me education reformers didn’t find me worthy of a school.”

Since its founding in 2005 by NYC hedgefunder Whitney Tilson, DFER has been very influential.  Led by former Daily News reporter Joe Williams, the organization was an early supporter of Barack Obama when he was running for Senator in Illinois, and directed Wall Street money to candidate Andrew Cuomo when he was a candidate for Governor of New York.  The organization had a strong hand in developing the pro-privatization, market-base agenda of both men, as well as the positions of far too many other Democratic officials across the country.  Here is the story of the marriage of convenience between DFER and Cuomo, as recounted in the NY Times:

When Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to meet certain members of the hedge fund crowd, seeking donors for his all-but-certain run for governor, what he heard was this: Talk to Joe.
That would be Joe Williams, executive director of a political action committee that advances what has become a favorite cause of many of the wealthy founders of New York hedge funds: charter schools.... Hedge fund executives are thus emerging as perhaps the first significant political counterweight to the powerful teachers unions, which strongly oppose expanding charter schools in their current form.

Perhaps the vote in Colorado this weekend results from the fact that the battle lines are clearer in the age of  pro-privatization Trump and Betsy DeVos.  Or perhaps the corrosive damage done to our public education system by charter expansion, high -stakes testing and school closures has become even clearer with the passage of time.  Joe Williams himself left DFER in 2015, and now works for the Walton Family Foundation, funded by the conservative billionaire heirs to the Walmart fortune. The NAACP passed a well-publicized resolution in 2016 and again in 2017, calling for a moratorium on charter expansion. Popular support for charters has fallen precipitously in the polls.

Yet Andrew Cuomo, running for a third term as Governor, still gets big contributions from the the charter lobby ($30,000 from Coalition for Public Charter Schools PAC and $50,000 from the Walton family in 2018 alone ) and predictably retains his political preference for charter schools.  Daniel Loeb, head of the board of Success Academy charters, and his wife have donated more than $170,000 to Cuomo in recent years, according to the NY Times.

In any event, let's remember how Whitney Tilson explained the founding of DFER in a film called "A Right Denied"  (reported previously on this blog):

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

Lets hope that the Colorado vote is a turning point, and that it is no longer politically or ethically acceptable for progressive Democrats to act like Republicans when it comes to education policy.