The latest cash grab : Teacher/charter school villages

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TFA recognizes the value of the Centers concept and has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Seawall Development Company to replicate the Centers for Educational Excellence model across the country. Philadelphia, along with Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, is a TFA-identified growth area, and TFA has committed to being the lead commercial tenant in these developments, with their corps members making up the majority of residential tenants.

TFA: The New Gentrifiers

As I noted in a previous article titled The Battle in Seattle Against Yet Another Charter School Invasion, a developer plans to build a project that includes retail, low income housing and at one time, a charter school, the Green Dot charter school chain, in Southeast Seattle.

Based on further research, I found this is not an anomaly but a national trend.

Bankers, developers and real estate brokers are working together with Teach for America (TFA) and charter school enterprises to offer low income housing mainly for Teach for America recruits and other teachers who do not have adequate pay for clean and safe housing along with free space for charter schools through city and state support. These are our tax dollars paying for highly lucrative business ventures where all the profit goes back to the bankers, developers and brokers.

These people are not developing these projects out of the goodness of their hearts, they are doing it for, of course, the money.

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So how does this work?

Basically, developers will get money from the city or state to provide low income housing in blighted areas or low-income communities. A charter school is brought in to sweeten the pot along with teachers who will begin the process of gentrification.

In a few years, the local community becomes popular for basically the creative class or white middle and upper classes and before you know it, you have a Soho, a Mission district in San Francisco, a Northeast Portland.

Property values begin to rise and an investment made with public money goes into the pockets of the bankers, developers and brokers.

For Teach for America, Inc. it’s a perk. They can retain recruits at very low pay because they now have “affordable housing” for the working poor and charter schools can come in with little to no cash required because of city and/or state subsidies.

Sweet deal for the 1%, not so good for the rest of us.

When the value of the property around the school begins to skyrocket, those who were to benefit from the developments will not be able to afford to live anywhere near the original charter school/low income housing sites.

And, if a charter school goes belly up, as a large percentage of them do, less money has been lost and the space is move-in ready for the next charter school venture.

According to an article titled Why Are Community Development Lenders Financing Charter Schools?  published in ShelterForce:

Some CDLF [Community Development Lenders] practitioners also believe that charter schools are conducive to urban revitalization because they provide middle-class families with “safe” educational alternatives that encourage them to move to and stay in urban areas, helping to break up the concentrated poverty found in many of those areas. Research documents that charter schools are used by higher-income, primarily white urban residents who do not want to send their children to local public schools serving large numbers of low-income, black and brown students.

Other studies provide evidence that charter schools are used by more affluent whites in non-urban communities as well, as a means of facilitating segregation. More generally, numerous studies have found that charter schools lead to increases in segregation in education by race, ethnicity, and income, across metropolitan areas

  1. It’s Where the Money Is

CDLFs are mission-driven organizations, but they also respond to the market. There are substantial and growing public and private incentives for investing in charter schools. Those incentives are particularly attractive given the limited availability of other forms of subsidy.

One of the most effective forms of subsidy to encourage CDLFs to support charter school expansion is the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDOE) Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities (CECSF) program. The USDOE awarded $280.9 million in CECSF grants between 2002 and 2015 “to public and nonprofit entities to develop innovative credit enhancement models that assist charter schools in leveraging capital from the private sector.” CDLFs received at least 75 percent of these CECSF grant dollars

Indeed, the program has been very successful in leveraging private capital with federal funding sources. LISC calculated that, through 2012, approximately $250 million in CECSF dollars leveraged an additional $3.2 billion in charter school facility financing, with private investors attracted by the lower risk and greater financial profitability.

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Before heading to other cities where this is happening, I thought it would be worth noting that the Homesight low-income housing development in Southeast Seattle that was to house Green Dot charter school and populated by Teach for America recruits has one financial backer of note, Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a proponent of school privatization. The Gates Foundation provided Homesight with $100,000 to support the Regional Equity Network to advance a community-led agenda in the Puget Sound region”* and $16 million to Green Dot “to support the expansion of Green Dot Public Schools into the state of Washington”. Also of note, two of Washington Teach for America’s “Supporters” are Goldman Sachs (who finances several of these charter school/low income developments around the country) and Avenue Properties.

So, let’s see what’s been happening elsewhere.

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One of the first examples of these business ventures was one Cory Booker pushed back in 2012. Cory Booker is no friend of public education because of his ties to the donor class so this comes as no surprise to those who have been following him.

As the then Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker stated at the groundbreaking of the Teachers Village per NBC New York:

“This is how we reinvent and rebuild a great American city,” Mayor Cory Booker declared when ground was broken for Teachers Village, a downtown development of eight buildings planned to have 200 apartments for teachers, three charter schools, a day care center and stores. It’s being designed by architect Richard Meier, a Newark native best known for designing the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The $150 million price is being covered by a combination of private and public funds.

In the next paragraph, the reporter writes:

The hope is that schools will be better with teachers who live in the community, and that it will create a middle-class enclave in a city where nearly one-third of families with children live in poverty. Middle-class residents can bring neighborhoods stability, attract more businesses and ultimately improve tax revenue.

Per New Jersey Business:

The project was awarded nearly $40 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority and allocated $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion. Other public financing came from the city of Newark, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, according to an EDA memo. Private financing came from Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial Corp., TD Bank and New Jersey Community Capital, Beit said. In the early months of the recession, Beit said, Berggruen’s unwavering commitment to the project — Berggruen said he considers his investment “long-term” — brought everyone else together.

Teachers Village now has three charter schools.

All of this out of public coffers at an estimated $200 million.

Originally, leaders of the teachers’ unions were all for Teachers Village until they came to realize the concept was not for public school teachers but for Teach for America recruits. (It’s hard to imagine these folks were that naïve.)

According to Ed Week in an article titled Projects Couple Affordable Teacher Housing With New School Construction:

Newark Teachers Union President John M. Abeigon says the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, initially backed the project because it thought it would benefit more traditional public school teachers. At the start, he says, the developers had emphasized its planned support for such educators.

But Abeigon contends that the project then became aligned with what he calls the “corporate charter school movement.” For evidence, he cites the complex’s three charter schools and the fact that most of the apartments are rented to charter teachers and staff.

Abeigon’s concerns are echoed by Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT.

“This was supposed to be a way to recruit and support and retain Newark public school teachers,” she said. “That was the basis on which then-president of the Newark Teachers Union Joe Del Grosso [now deceased] and the AFT said this makes sense, because we really do believe in the idea of teachers living in the communities in which they teach. But Teachers Village came to be about charter teachers alone and that was dead wrong.”

Abeigon also argues that the complex’s close ties to charter schools belie the developers’ professed commitment to the long-term health of the community—a sentiment shared by other critics of the project.

“It’s a known fact that traditional public school teachers, who I refer to as career educators, stay longer than charter school teachers, so their commitment and investment in the community is that much greater,” he said. “Those living in Teachers Village are going to be turnaround tenants. They’ll do their two-year stints with [Teach For America] or a charter school, beef up their résumés, and then go get a job elsewhere. They aren’t going to really be invested in Newark.”

And in New York, another housing development. Per Affordable Housing Finance:

A new vibrant, mixed-use development that is providing much-needed affordable housing, a charter school for underserved students, and nonprofit office space has been built on an underutilized area of a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) site in East Harlem.

Jonathan Rose Cos., Harlem RBI, and Civic Builders partnered to create the East Harlem Center for Living & Learning on the site of George Washington Houses. The development includes the 89-unit Yomo Toro Apartments; the DREAM Charter School…

The total development cost for the project was approximately $84 million, including $30 million for the Yomo Toro Apartments. The affordable housing portion was financed through low-income housing tax credit equity provided by Enterprise Community Investment and sourced by JPMorgan Capital Corp., first and second mortgages from the New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC), a loan from New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Reso A funding from City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

In San Diego, there was a push to revise code requirements that would allow a charter school to be a part of a low-income housing development.

The community had issues with the school bringing with it additional unwanted traffic to the neighborhood causing the variance for the charter school to be tabled.

The difference between what happened in San Diego and what occurred in Seattle is that the variance request was reviewed by way public meetings in San Diego, not behind closed doors as was done in Seattle.

Thanks to the efforts of former School Board Director Sue Peters, the school board and the public were alerted to the second attempt by Green Dot charter school to receive special treatment by the City of Seattle in terms of receiving a code variance.

RBHGroup-logoThe RBH Group, who were the developers for the Newark project and whose CEO Ron Beit sits on the board of Teach for America, Inc. in New Jersey, then went to Hartford, Connecticut.

According to a report published by Goldman Sachs:

RBH Group, the developer of Newark’s Teachers Village, announced the completion of financing and the start of construction on Hartford’s Teachers Corner, a mixed-use apartment complex in downtown Hartford aimed specifically at teachers

RBH Group’s founder and president Ron Beit said, “Teachers Corner represents a public and private partnership committed to urban reinvestment, building affordable and workforce housing and contributing to revitalizing the center of the city.

Following the Teachers Village project in Newark, NJ, the RBH Group, through its joint venture with the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, partnered with Prudential Social Investment Group, the City of Hartford and State of Connecticut to build the $20M project

Funders include City of Hartford, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, State Department of Housing, Capital Region Development Authority CRDA, State Department of Economic and Community Development, Prudential Social Investment Group and Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.

In Baltimore, per Urban Land magazine:

The $21 million renovation of a long-vacant, century-old former tin box manufacturing plant in Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood was completed in summer 2009 by Seawall, founded by father and son Donald [Previously on the Teach for America, Baltimore Advisory Board] and Thibault Manekin. The project includes 40 apartments—ten reserved as affordable—and 35,000 square feet (3,250 sq m) of commercial space.

All the apartments are rented to school teachers at substantial discounts to market rental rates, and all office space—with the exception of Seawall’s headquarters—is leased to education-related organizations, including Teach for America.

Over 70 percent of the residents are members of Teach for America who work in Baltimore’s public school system, Morville notes. Several others are participating in the Baltimore system’s City Teacher Residency program, and some teach in parochial schools…

The financing mechanism that really made the project pencil out was the pairing of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) with federal and state historic tax credits, Morville says. The project is located in a census tract defined as “highly distressed” under the NMTC program.

And in San Jose:

Developer proposes project with charter school, affordable housing for San Jose ‘urban village’.

With affordable housing and a [Aspire] charter school, the mixed-use project would be a first for San Jose and transform a currently vacant industrial property in the Alum Rock area.

As with charter schools and the Common Core Standards, venture capitalists are cashing in on public school funding making school districts even more strapped for cash while desperately trying to keep schools together, employ certified teachers and adequately staff their schools.

Make no mistake about it, these “teacher villages” are not about the children or the communities they live in. This is yet another big grab for cash by financial enterprises.

Dora Taylor

*Post Script:

It’s a devious web that Bill Gates and others weave particularly in the Seattle area where many of us caught on several years ago to the efforts by a few to privatize public schools in the US.

For that reason, it’s important to explain some connections.

Homesight and Regional Equity Network (REN):

Tony To, the Executive Director of Homesight is a co-chair for REN. Thus, the grant from Gates describes two receiving parties, Homesight and REN.

 

Recommended articles:

SIX REASONS WHY WE DON’T WANT GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS IN SEATTLE

This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America: An internal memo reveals how TFA’s obsessive PR game covers up its lack of results in order to justify greater expansion.

Why Are Community Development Lenders Financing Charter Schools?

Public Schools to Community Development (A highly recommended deep dive into what the thinking is on the part of the moneyed community.)


Critics rip plans for $22M charter school at Cayce Homes

Who Will Live In Newark’s Teachers Village? TFAers

TFA: The New Gentrifiers

Policy Link: A recent find that shows who is connected to what organizations in Washington State

Projects Couple Affordable Teacher Housing With New School Construction

WHEDco Bard Academy Charter School to share space in Bronx with affordable housing and music center in 2013  

It’s an East Harlem DREAM come true: a new charter school beneath affordable housing 

EMAILS REVEAL THE “GATES MACHINE” IN ACTION AFTER THE WASHINGTON STATE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

BILL GATES IN WASHINGTON STATE: MAYORAL CONTROL AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

WHAT BILL GATES HAS SPENT SO FAR IN OUR STATE TO SUPPORT CHARTER SCHOOLS

Washington State: Charter School Backers Want to Oust Judge Who Authored Anti-Charter Decision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A note about changes on the blog

To our readers:

You might have noticed that this site has been quiet for a while.

Carolyn, my co-editor and good friend, discovered she had a medical condition that needed to be treated immediately. Carolyn is recovering but is on continued medical care and will not be able to write her wonderful articles and keep everyone updated on issues affecting students and teachers in Seattle and beyond.

She wants to extend a huge thank-you to those in our community who have supported her through the last few months. Your food donations, cards, balloons, chocolates, visits, texts, emails and well wishes have gone a long way in helping her stay upbeat and positive.

The site will remain relatively quiet for now. I will continue to post on issues as they are brought to my attention but not as I used to do.

If you have an article or opinion related to education you would like to submit for publication, please let me know. All articles will be considered except for those that have anything to do with commercial enterprises promoting a product, an online service or a charter school.

I can be reached at dora.taylor@icloud.com.

Dora

League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County Urges “No” Vote on Proposition 1

LWV King County

From the League of Women Voters of King County October Newsletter

The Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County unanimously voted to oppose Seattle Proposition 1, the Families, Education and Preschool Promise (FEPP) Levy. In addition to urging the city to convene a coalition to address concerns about the proposed levy before taking further action.

Although the Board’s decision to oppose Proposition 1 was unanimous, it was not made lightly. Children from low-income families deserve high-quality preschools. High school graduates deserve to attend college, even when they cannot afford it. But the levy’s vague language and regressive nature make it an inappropriate vehicle for funding these priorities.

Chief among the League’s concerns is the confusing language in the proposition on how levy funds will be spent. Specifically, the measure providers that:

Proceeds may only be leveraged to support Seattle School District and Seattle Colleges, programs or functions with the existence of a current, effective Partnership Agreement (emphasis added). (Prop. 1, Sec. 10)

This clause creates the possibility that levy funds will flow to charter schools, a possibility that city officials have yet to deny. The League has consistently opposed public funding of charter schools because they lack transparency and public accountability. They can also exacerbate segregation and educational disparities.

Moreover, the League has opposed the use of levies as long-term funding sources, particularly in areas where funding responsibility lies with the state. “Taxpayers cannot continue to bear the burden of filling the funding gaps in our communities, the importance of these services notwithstanding,” said LWVS-KC President Stephanie Cirkovich. “Homeowners can expect their taxes to increase by an average of $112 annually under this levy, and they deserve to know how those funds will be spent.”

The League also opposes the Levy because it prioritizes special programming over basic education. Officials concede that it would reduce funding for K-12 over the expiring levy, straining Seattle Public Schools during a period of economic hardship. The timing of the FEPP Levy vote puts public schools in further jeopardy. In February, SPS will be asking voters to renew its operations and capital levies through its sole funding source— property taxes. If voters approve the FEPP Levy in November, they may reject additional taxes desperately needed by SPS. The city has a duty to ensure that K-12 is fully funded before expanding services under the levy.

Earlier this year, the city modified Proposition 1 in response to public outcry when an earlier version cut key services. The city owes voters the same transparency now and should invite further public input on the content, scope, and implementation of this measure. Unless the city commits to resolving the concerns of the League expressed her, voters should reject Proposition 1.


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LETTER: Why I’m opposed to the next Families and Education Levy

By Melissa Westbrook of the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog

Mon, 09/17/2018

I’m Melissa Westbrook; I’m the writer/moderator of the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog, the most widely-read public education blog in the state.  I’ve been a public education advocate for more than 20 years.

I’m writing to you today to let you know that I oppose the City of Seattle’s renewal of the Families and Education levy, slated for the November 2018 ballot. 

I came to this decision with sadness because I have voted for and publicly supported this levy since its inception.  But this current levy is a fairly radical change from previous ones – not to mention it is not just a renewal but a larger cost renewal to voters.

I would be happy to talk to you about this issue as you start your coverage of the November elections.

Basically, my issues with the levy are these:

– The Mayor and City Council have chosen to roll the City’s Pre-K levy into the F&E levy.  The majority of the levy, about 52%, will go to the expansion of Pre-K. 

I don’t argue that pre-k isn’t a good thing.  But Seattle’s Pre-K program is costly and now it’s a larger portion of the levy than K-12 which has traditionally been where the bulk of the levy dollars have gone.

– The City has been unclear about whether they will continue to support in-school Family Support Workers as part of the K-12 portion of the F&E levy.  As someone who volunteers in a Title One school, I can tell you first-hand how greatly needed in-school Family Support workers are for low-income or immigrant families who need that support.

– With the larger property tax enacted by the Legislature to fulfill the McCleary decision, I question a dollar increase AND an expansion of the F&E levy to both pre-K and community college.  And, Seattle Schools has its own two levy renewals in Feb. 2019 and I believe that with those four large property taxes, there might be voter fatigue. 

It would be sad if the F&E levy lost but it would be catastrophic if the district were to lose one or both of their levies.

– There is no language in the new F&E levy that says that the K-12 dollars can only go to Seattle Public Schools.  Meaning, any charter school in Seattle could access those dollars. 

I had a lawyer check that language and there is nothing there in the levy language that protects the K-12 dollars for Seattle Public Schools.

The city of Seattle itself voted – in a firm majority – against charter schools.  I don’t think that has changed much and I think voters need to know this is what will happen.

Given that earlier this year, Green Dot Charter Schools was able to get an illegal zoning departure for one of their new schools, I suspect there are those on the City Council who may support charter schools.  (That zoning departure was quite deliberate and done outside of city code and I think there was help/support from a couple of CMs.)

I’m glad to discuss these issues with you and your media outlet.

Sincerely,

Melissa Westbrook

And from the Seattle Times:

Here’s what you need to know about the city’s largest-ever education levy, and whether the expiring tax has made a difference in schools, before you send in your ballot.

By Neal Morton, Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle voters will soon decide whether doubling the city government’s investment in public education is worth a property-tax hike. 

The city’s existing levies to pay for certain K-12 programs and a subsidized preschool pilot both expire at the end of this year. And after campaigning on a promise to make community college free for high-school graduates, Mayor Jenny Durkan has pitched the city’s largest-ever education levy to combine the K-12 and preschool programs with her proposed scholarships. On your ballot, this initiative will be called Seattle Proposition No. 1.

Here’s what you need to know before you make this Election Day decision. If there are any more questions you want answered, ask us at edlab@seattletimes.com.

How much would it cost? What tax hike can homeowners expect?

If approved, the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy would raise about $619.6 million over seven years and expire after 2025.

If approved, the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy would raise about $619.6 million over seven years and expire after 2025.

The ballot language states that the city’s property-tax rate would be limited to 36.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a home with the median value of $665,000 would pay $242 next year to support the levy. The average yearly tax bill over the seven-year life of the new levy would be $248, up from $136 this year.

Disabled veterans and low-income Seattleites could qualify for exemptions under state law.

What’s different this time?

The city’s education levy has funded K-12 programs, family support workers in schools and school-based health clinics. The new proposal for the first time would include the city’s preschool program, which subsidizes tuition on a sliding scale, and college scholarships.

The new levy also would provide $4.2 million to address the rising number of homeless students in Seattle.

What programs would go away if it fails?

A spokesperson for the city’s education department, the Department of Education and Early Learning, would not specify. But in an email, the spokesperson said the city would be ready to present “contingency plans.”

“If the levy does not pass, our programs such as the … (preschool program) would be at severe risk of losing funding,” the email said.

What do levy supporters point to as past successes of these programs?

Overall, it’s a mixed bag. We’ll know more Monday, when the education department releases a third-year evaluation of the city’s preschool pilot.

As for the Families and Education Levy, the department said it’s helped reduce the opportunity gaps at four high schools on measures like attendance and core-course performance. The department’s most recent annual report, however, for the 2016-17 school year, shows those high schools met just 2 of 8 targets for underserved students passing their core courses with C’s or better.

The department also cited an analysis of the same groups of middle-school students over time. “Students were three times more likely to attain math proficiency by the end of the (8th grade) if they attended” a levy-funded middle school. But the department’s annual report shows fewer than half of those schools — 7 of 16 — met their academic targets in math. Only 4 in 7 met their targets in reading.

Who supports — and opposes — this tax hike?

Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed the levy and the City Council voted unanimously to send it to the ballot, with minor alterations. The politicians say it would help close the opportunity gap between kids from more- and less-privileged backgrounds.

The city’s largest business and labor groups, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, have endorsed the measure, as have five Democratic Party legislative-district organizations with territory in Seattle.

Top contributors to the political campaign supporting the levy include Amazon, Mariners board member Chris Larson, hotel owner Howard S. Wright and the Service Employees International Union.

No one has registered a political campaign opposing the levy.

But the League of Women Voters has come out against the measure. And Melissa Westbrook, a local education activist and blogger, has argued against it

Does this have anything to do with charter schools in Seattle?

As of last week, it’s unclear.

The city spokesman on Wednesday said its attorney’s office still hasn’t answered two lingering questions about whether charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, could benefit from the levy: Can graduates from those schools also access the college scholarship program, and can charter schools compete with the traditional Seattle school district for K-12 grants from the levy?

The Washington State Charter Schools Association, however, hasn’t ruled out that its members in Seattle will seek the levy money.

Stay tuned for more coverage.

Who would oversee how the city spends the levy revenues?

Ultimate authority would rest with the mayor and City Council. But a standing oversight committee would include the mayor, a council member, the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, a director on the Seattle School Board, the chancellor of Seattle Colleges and a dozen appointed members.

The oversight committee would review a report of the levy’s impacts each school year and recommend changes.

How does this proposal fit in with all the other tax hikes in Seattle?

In 2018, the statewide property-tax rate rose to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for a new K-12 budget. Lawmakers earlier this year agreed to offer homeowners some relief, and approved a one-year cut to the statewide rate by 30 cents in 2019.

The new state budget also capped the local property taxes that individual school districts can collect to pay for so-called enrichment activities, such as extracurricular programs or smaller class sizes.

The Seattle school district currently taps its separate local levy to hire more school nurses and provide special services for students with disabilities.

In February, the district will ask voters to renew that levy but plans to propose a higher tax rate than the state’s cap allows, just in case lawmakers offer some flexibility.

Also in February, the district may ask voters to approve more than $1 billion in its capital levy for new school construction and renovations. Voters last approved that levy, with a price tag of nearly $700 million, in 2013.

How does the fate of this levy affect the finances of Seattle Public Schools, if at all?

The Seattle School Board’s budget for the 2017-18 school year topped $850 million, so the $20 million that Seattle Public Schools received from the city this year made up a little more than 2 percent.

The district’s own operations levy, which voters consider every three years, typically represents about 15-20 percent of the overall budget. That reality has left district officials worried about voters’ willingness to support yet another tax for education on the ballot next year — after they’ve already voted on the city’s education levy.

“The (city’s) levy is important to us and our families,” said JoLynn Berge, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance. But, “we can’t make it without the maintenance and operations levy.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Dahlia Bazzaz and Daniel Beekman contributed to this report.

*This post was submitted by Dora Taylor

Saying No To Naviance: Active Non-Cooperation Is The Best Form of Resistance

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

free library

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

John Trudell espoused a policy of non-cooperation. To his way of thinking, when confronted by oppression, it is our responsibility look for ways to gum up the system. This week my wrench-throwing target was Naviance, a subsidiary of Hobsons, a company that promotes itself as a college and career readiness solution.

The Philadelphia School District entered into a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Naviance in 2015. The William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia School Partnership, both proponents of school privatization, pitched in with $750,000 to cover half the cost. An article from Inside Philanthropy stated the software is “essentially, a high school guidance counselor in a website form.”

It is a program that seeks to replace human interaction with digital ones, which is bad enough, but the company also builds its bottom line collecting data mined from students’ tender, just-forming identities starting as early as middle school. The software deploys intrusive surveys and “strengths assessments” to develop robust profiles used to track kids into career pathways.

I would have fared poorly in such a system. I was a humanities-loving art history student, who took up a graduate degree in historic preservation with a focus on cultural landscapes. Over time, and with the guidance of friends who helped me open my eyes and look hard at the world, I developed an analysis that led me to become a radical researcher intent on exposing purveyors of predatory digital disruption.

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

But now, as a senior, she had to figure out how to get transcripts to apply to college. In a growing number of school districts Naviance holds families hostage. If they refuse to set up an account and complete all the surveys their children cannot graduate, request letters of recommendation, or have transcripts sent. Naviance, a private company whose profits are manufactured from the student data they collect, is becoming a gatekeeper to college admission. Plus, our district paid them $750,000 (plus the $750,000) for the privilege! Below is a comment on a recent blog post to that effect.

After several email exchanges with school district officials and a productive meeting with our daughter’s lovely human (not web-form) guidance counselor, we came up with a plan to do the application process sans-Naviance. We’d do it the old-fashioned way with embossed seals, paper copies, signatures across envelopes and snail-mail postage. Sure, she’ll have to pull her submissions together a bit sooner to give us a buffer in case something gets lost along the way, but in exchange we’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing her “strengths” remain beyond the reach of Hobson’s predictive analytics.

Below are two emails I sent to the Chief Information Officer of our district with Superintendent Hite copied, as well as the Head of Student Support Services. It explains our thinking and affirms the stance we took was not just for ourselves, but to keep the door open for others who desire to pursue the same course.

If you can opt out of Naviance at Masterman, you should be able to opt out of Naviance anywhere in the School District of Philadelphia and be supported in your decision to do so. Support your school’s guidance counselor. Opt out and demand funds used to pay these data-mining companies instead be used to reduce counselors’ caseloads and free them up to spend more quality time with their students.

Our concerns about Naviance:

Email dated September 20, 2018

Dear XXXX,

I think you were looped in later, so I wanted to make it clear to all involved that our desire to opt out of the Naviance platform is grounded in concern over:

1) use of student data to create profit streams for private companies

2) use of data to generate profiles of students that may in fact cause them harm, especially given its use of surveys and strengths assessments

3) outsourcing student services to private companies when public funds would be better spent expanding access to HUMAN counselors in our schools

4) Naviance, a private company, becoming a de facto gatekeeper for access to post-secondary opportunities

See the excerpt from a market report for Hobson from 2013.

“Hobson is also developing a third business line – data and analytics – which focuses on this data, much of it proprietary, that flows through its solutions at both K-12 and HE (higher education). The recent acquisition of National Transcript Center (NTC) from Pearson enables Hobson to capture data along the student lifecycle by facilitating e-transcript exchanges…The company’s acquisition of Beat the GMAT in October 2012, together with its College Confidential business, also supports Hobson’s strategy in creating communities with strong underlying data, which has a value to HE institutions and CAN BE MONETIZED.”

Most people don’t take the time to dig into the corporate underpinnings of the online platforms their children are supposed to use, but in this case it does merit serious consideration. Naviance is owned by Hobson, a division of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. Lord Rothermere, former owner of the Daily Mail, consistently gave positive press to Hitler throughout the 1930s link.

Hobson is also based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is quite interesting in that that is also the corporate headquarters of Knowledgeworks, one of the primary advocates for a shift to a learning ecosystem model. This model seeks to replace schools with drop-in centers, badged credentials, and a combination of digital and out of school time learning opportunities. I have seen the data fields for Naviance, and it appears this platform is aligned to such a model. As a person who values the importance of neighborhood schools as physical places, this worries me greatly.

Among the primary responsibilities of public school districts is the management of student records and support of students in accessing those records. I feel strongly this is a responsibility that should not be delegated to a for-profit, third party company that has a stated interest in expanding their market share through data-mining children. While some families may find this “service” a convenience, we do not.

Our daughter has two institutions to which she intends to apply early action. Those deadlines are the first of November. She is in the process of finalizing her materials now, but we need to know how we can transmit official copies of her transcript and her letters of recommendation to the institutions to which she is applying outside of Naviance. We need to have this information by the end of September.

I very much appreciate the School District leadership’s assistance in helping us with this matter.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Post-Meeting Follow Up Email

September 20, 2018

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to share an update. XXX and I had a very productive meeting with XXX this morning. There is indeed an embossing stamp of approval for printed transcripts and provisions to obtain paper copies of letters of recommendation in sealed envelopes. I very much appreciate the school’s flexibility in accommodating our desire to pursue the college application process outside this platform, and we have a plan over the next month to pull everything together for her early action forms.

That said I want to re-emphasize that the School District of Philadelphia would do well to revisit its contractual agreements with Naviance, given the fact that their business model is fueled by student data. The amount of data being poured into this company, including sensitive behavioral data, is extremely troubling given its historic origins. It is imperative that adults do all they can to protect the children in their care from being harmed or used as a profit center. Many families do not have access to the background information I do and may not be aware that they have the option to apply to colleges outside of this third-party platform. I hope the district would extend the same level of support to other families that choose to opt out of Naviance.

As a parent and taxpayer I would prefer to see public funds used to reduce caseloads for school counselors so they have more time to spend with students. XXX has been great to work with over the years.

Once again XXX, thanks for your time today and your knowledgeable input.  We look forward to coordinating with you as we plan XXX’s next steps.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Soft Corruption

Reposted with permission from Anarchoeducator.

broke monopoly guy

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corrupt.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the balance of power in our schools. Administrators feel no compulsion to respond to the actual needs of individual teachers in their classrooms. It starts with the principal whose main function is to coordinate the implementation of a predetermined policy which they have come to believe they have the liberty of implementing in their own way, giving them the false hope that their actions are their own and that the results will be due largely to their interpretation of policy. How naïve of them.

Of course principals are merely the first layer in the hierarchy that comes into contact with actual classroom teachers. There are many layers up to the Superintendent and many side spurs as well. But one thing is clear. The hierarchy is self-sustaining and not really dependent on the schools it is meant to manage. Each layer of the hierarchy protects the next layer up from the layer just beneath, so that classroom teachers never see the principal’s boss, the executive director. But all of the administrators see each other, even the principals, because they are all in a club with its own social conventions that are quite different from the social conventions in the schools. Yes, there is a class difference. This is where the corruption begins to be evident.

Just to be clear, the schools are only one hierarchical system within a network of hierarchical systems that relate to each other hierarchically. Superintendents live on the border of the next hierarchy up, government and the political system. Above that, of course, are the banks, big business and the military industrial complex.

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corruption. “Corruption” conjures images of brown paper bags stuffed with cash. But the corruption I see has to do with the culture within the central administration offices. The people who place the orders with ed companies like Pearson are solicited by sales people who pump up their buyers’ self esteem. It is not that difficult to stroke the ego of someone with an important job, an advanced degree and a budget. They earned their place after all and have the credentials. They deserve the free lunch that comes with the territory, since they are so important and meritorious. The problem is they tend to listen to the sales people and the expert colleagues in their offices more than the stakeholders they are supposed to be responsible to. They have a self sustaining culture of “we know better”.

The actions they take, buying worthless text books or expensive solutions to non existent problems, are taken to reinforce their positions. That is what they are paid to do, (along with protecting the next, even more comfortable layer up). Their actions can be seen as job protection. It is self serving . That is corrupt. They actively justify racist policies because the comfort to which they have become accustomed is an easier choice to make than the choice to fight for what their teachers and student families want. Standardized testing has been locked into the system by legal contract. What a waste.

Ultimately, it is the profit motive that messes everything up, not just for the schools but for our society as a whole. Competition inevitably leads to cheating. When competition is monetized it goes into a completely different dimension and that dimension is corrupt. Once the idea “What’s in it for me?” has taken over, displacing it with the more humanistic notion of “How does it affect the next person?” becomes next to impossible. But that is where we are with our school system and its soft corruption. And one last thing; when an administrator claims the tough decision has to be made and it is “for the kids”, there is more than just a bit of insincerity in it.

-Anarchoeducator

No Thank You to Naviance

Reposted with permission from Feral Families.

feral families

The district has designed a scope and sequence of how to use Naviance with a focus on 11th and 12th grade but actual implementation will be left school to school. Once parents have forfeited their chance to opt out there will not be any other chances to give consent for certain portions. They told me it is an all in system with individual schools being left to make decisions about how they will accommodate students who opt out….

Through my daughter’s eighth grade year, I started to familiarize myself with how high school is organized nowadays in SPS. It’s been a long time since my Ingraham days of “tennis shoe registration” where we ran station to station with little index cards and golf pencils signing up for our courses manually. So with a few weeks until school let out when I received this email from Seattle Public Schools, my interest was peaked,

Dear families,

We are pleased to announce the district’s college and career planning tool, Naviance, will be available in the 2018-19 school year to support your student’s personalized journey through high school. This is a web-based, mobile-friendly tool that you and your student can use to explore interests and options, consider post-high school plans, and ensures all students can have access to post-high school planning supports.

The Naviance college and career planning tool will allow students to:

• Research careers and colleges: Learn about career fields linked to personal interests, compare data from college admissions offices, take personalized surveys to understand strengths and goals.

• Get involved in the planning process:Build a resume, manage timelines and deadlines for making decisions about colleges and careers; organize and track documents related to the college application process, such as requesting and submitting letters of recommendation and transcripts.

• High School and Beyond Plan: Schools will be using Naviance to deliver high school and beyond plan lessons in grades 8-12.  The high school and beyond plan is a graduation requirement, which helps students and counselors make sure graduation requirements are met and are aligned to identified goals.

• Scholarship search: Students can search a database of scholarships based on their interest and goals, and organize materials for scholarship applications in one place.

Student Data and Opt-out Information

The district thoroughly vetted Naviance’s policies and practices with respect to preserving data security and student privacy. Families can choose to opt their students out of using this tool.

For students to utilize the college application support tools in Naviance, some student demographic and academic records need to be shared.  This may include gender, ethnicity, and transcripts. Students will also have the opportunity to add information about themselves when developing their high school and beyond plan and using other college and career exploratory resources within the Naviance tool.

We will be importing student information beginning on July 1 so counselors can use their training days during the summer to prepare for supporting your student in the fall. The window to opt out will be June 4-22, and will open again at the start of school.

Read more about Naviance’s commitment to data security and student privacy and opt out instructions

Each of our students is on a unique educational journey. We are committed to ensuring every one of them receives the support needed to prepare them for college, career and life. High school and beyond planning is one way we are supporting this commitment.

Thank you,

The College and Career Readiness Team

Seattle Public Schools

To which I responded,

Dear Superintendent and Directors,

I received a letter about Naviance informing me that I could opt out but not how to opt out. I found the information on the district website and it says I have to change the preferences on my Source account but I do not participate in the Source. I consulted our upcoming high school principal and guidance counselor and neither of them know how to opt out without a Source account. I also tried replying to the College & Career team but the email was sent with “no reply” options or contact info.

Please advise. The opt out window ends on 6/22.

Thank you,

Shawna Murphy

I was surprised by a quick reply from the College & Career Readiness team offering to teach me how to set up a Source account. I said no thank you and let them know that for a variety of choice and access issues they need to offer families another way to opt out. Their department sent me a computerized form a day or two later which I remember finding funny because if you don’t have computer access to use The Source, how would you fill out a computer form? By this time I had talked to several friends who wanted to opt their children out of Naviance too, but the form stopped working. I contacted the College & Career Readiness team again and it turned out THEY HAD MADE THE FORM ONLY FOR MY USE! Now I do appreciate that I am a privileged outlier but I reminded them they need a simple way for ALL families to opt out; not just the well known agitators. They thanked me for the feedback and said that they would work on that for the next opt out window of 9/5-9/19. They asked me to check back at the beginning of the school year.

On the first day of my daughter’s high school experience I emailed the SPS Director of College & Career Readiness, Caleb Perkins to loop back about what kind of outreach they were doing for families about Naviance and how one might elect to have their child opt out of this new system. Many parents of middle school and high school students I had spoken with were wary of this new system over data sharing, privacy and tracking concerns. Mr. Perkins responded to my email requesting a phone meeting we scheduled one for the following day.

I knew what questions I wanted to ask and they mostly centered on how parents will learn about this system so they can make an informed choice whether they would like to participate. My friend and educational blogger, Carolyn Leith is much more knowledgeable about some of intricate details of the system and she sent me a list of questions to use for my meeting, they are as follows,

1. How is Naviance going to be used? What classes will be using the software and what surveys will students be expected to participate in. Will the district inform parents of what surveys their students will be expected to complete.

2. Some surveys used by Naviance were intended to be filled out by students under the supervision of a parent. Will parents have access to student accounts?

3. How will students who opt out of Naviance be accommodated? How will this work if Naviance is part of a planned curriculum? For families who object to their student’s participation with Naviance, will a counselor be made available to help students navigate the last two years of high school.

4. How will opting out be handled with courses such as career essentials?

5. Does answering/ using different surveys change the data sharing agreement signed between the district and Naviance? What data is being shared (or made available for access via API’s ) and with whom?

6. What platforms ( such as Google Suite, Clever ) have access to Naviance? Does Naviance also have access to the data collected in Google Suite, Clever, and other platforms?

7. Is Naviance interoperable with other platforms and software used by Seattle Public Schools? Will parents be informed of what data is being shared and with what programs?

8. Is Seattle Public Schools willing to put in writing that it holds student personality tests and other sensitive data collected by Naviance and does not share it and will be liable for any breaches or misuse?

9. Is Seattle Public Schools willing to make transparent what algorithms and weighted factors are used to put students on specific career tracts? Is Naviance willing to share this information?

I started the conversation casually, moved on to the questions, without recording their answers and then moved into a friendly discussion of the larger issues at stake. Mr. Perkins has committed to sending me written answers to these questions, but since the opt out window only runs until 9/19, I decided to write a blog post about our conversation now while it’s still fresh. Incidentally the College & Career Readiness team has set up five regional Naviance Information Sessions but to date they have been poorly publicized and offered only from 5:30-6:30, which is a tricky for many families.

A few things I learned at the beginning of my meeting on speaker phone with Caleb Perkins and Krista Rillo were that SPS paid a little over $600,000 total to Hobson for the use of Naviance for three years. The district paid for Naviance using a voter approved technology levy. The district believes their legal team has thoroughly vetted the contract and has stiff penalties in place for any future theoretical data breach.

The district has designed a scope and sequence of how to use Naviance with a focus on 11th and 12th grade but actual implementation will be left school to school. Once parents have forfeited their chance to opt out there will not be any other chances to give consent for certain portions. They told me it is an all in system with individual schools being left to make decisions about how they will accommodate students who opt out. In addition to The Source, families can also opt out by informing their school office. I gave strong feedback that these were not enough options. Not all families feel comfortable working with their school office and not all school office staff are going to welcome opt outs. I gave the example of how differently SBAC opt outs are handled school to school. At my daughters’ school, it was seen as no big deal with as many as 10% of our students opting out of standardized testing. But other schools are much more hostile to test refusers. At nearby Denny Middle School there was a school carnival that only students who had taken the SBAC could attend and other friends around the district reported having principals want to schedule parent conferences in response to their opt out emails. These parents were then strongly encouraged to have their students take the SBAC. I suggested publicizing a phone number that parents could call directly to opt out of Naviance.

Both Caleb and Krista talked about aspects of Naviance they are excited about. Students can apply directly to colleges, send transcripts and apply for scholarships. Mr. Perkins is especially excited about a set of videos featuring underrepresented groups in non traditional careers. I asked if parents would have access to this information. The answer was a little shocking. They said they were not building in parent access this year and that parents would potentially have “read only” account access next year. They also said that based on what types of searches and inquiries the student was making, they would receive more info in those areas. So if your student was surveyed to show interest in engineering, they would start receiving notices about STEM opportunities in the area. For me, this is a red flag for tracking, and between that, lack of parent access and the idea that my child may be sending my financial information to multiple parties through this system, I am alarmed.

The conversation then took a turn into the big picture and that’s when I really began to question what Seattle Public Schools has gotten themselves into trying to fulfill the legislature’s high school and beyond requirements. Mr. Perkins told me that there had been discussion by the School Board Directors, with some directors in opposition, to naming this new project “Seattle Ready” after the idea that in order to live in Seattle now one will need to have a high paying job. They argued that this idea is “economy driven” and I argued that the opposite is actually true. Not only is child care highly sought after in Seattle, as working class person, a child care provider making about $20, I took strong offense to this notion that students might be dissuaded from pursuing a meaningful career like mine, that gives me so much joy, and supports so many people, because it does not pay “Seattle Ready” wages. I pointed out to them that they were actually doing a disservice to their own workforce by promoting these classist and elitist ideas and I suggested they look to the example of our First Student bus drivers. A “Seattle Ready” system is never going to suggest that a student might enjoy a career as a bus driver and yet what vacancies have not been able to be filled this year and last? School bus drivers. The school bus driver shortage is wreaking havoc on our Seattle working families who’s school buses are frequently late and sometimes don’t show up at all.

Another example I gave, is the district’s own IA’s who often do not earn enough to afford housing in Seattle and have long commutes into the city. These are the same people that the district relies on to care for our most vulnerable students, a position I hold in high esteem and yet the district would deem this career not “Seattle Ready” viable.

I would rather that my student were taught the value of a day’s work and learn about social justice and organizing for better pay for all workers than be taught that some jobs are better than others. I don’t buy it. And what about my friends who ARE artists and musicians and writers but that is not the job they do for money. This early emphasis on what job we have and how it defines us is misguided at best and troubling for me as a parent of kids who dance to their own drum. My youngest has always said she will be an animal communicator and a fortune teller when she grows up and my oldest would like to write for sitcoms but is interested in retail while she starts working on her scripts. It seems highly unlikely these tracks are available in Naviance or any “economy driven” system but I want my children to be who they are, loving, kind and interesting people, who also will some day have jobs, and maybe many many different kinds of jobs; this is why I have chosen to opt out of Naviance.

-Shawna Murphy

Black Boxes, Student Data & Playing Moneyball for Education

black-Box_2

We’re rapidly entering a world of evidence-based decision making in public education. These decisions will be powered by vast amounts of data run through proprietary black boxes that parents will have no way of understanding. The approach is called Moneyball and the goal is to justify ration resources to students –while investors make a tidy profit.

One of the most difficult challenges I’ve had as a parent is convincing other parents that the endless collection of our kids’ data isn’t benign and technology isn’t inherently benevolent.

Big Data, Like Big Brother, Isn’t Your Friend

As adults, we’ve chosen to ignore this cold hard fact: that by using electronic devices, we are allowing ourselves to become a product. Von Shoshana Zuboff calls this evolution in big data mediated economics surveillance capitalism:

It’s now clear that this shift in the use of behavioral data was an historic turning point. Behavioral data that were once discarded or ignored were rediscovered as what I call behavioral surplus. Google’s dramatic success in “matching” ads to pages revealed the transformational value of this behavioral surplus as a means of generating revenue and ultimately turning investment into capital. Behavioral surplus was the game-changing zero-cost asset that could be diverted from service improvement toward a genuine market exchange. Key to this formula, however, is the fact that this new market exchange was not an exchange with users but rather with other companies who understood how to make money from bets on users’ future behavior. In this new context, users were no longer an end-in-themselves.  Instead they became a means to profits in  a new kind of marketplace in which users are neither buyers nor sellers nor products.  Users are the source of free raw material that feeds a new kind of manufacturing process.

As adults we’re vaguely aware that certain choices we make will impact our credit report. The inputs seem arbitrary and frankly ridiculous. Unless, there’s a problem, THEN, the unfairness of the system quickly comes into focus.

How your credit report is determined is an example of a black box. Inputs go in, something happens inside the box, and then your credit report comes out. What happens inside the box? Who knows? It’s a proprietary predictive model.

What sorts of random digital bits could impacts your credit report? Things like what operating system you use, if you do your browsing using a desktop or cellphone, even what you decided to use as your email address.

This excerpt is from New Study Shows You Can Predict Credit Rating from Your Online Tech Fingerprint.

A Community of Resistance: Building Sanctuary Part 6

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

A Community of Resistance: Part 6

They were the original off-liners, people who never had to unplug, because they’d been written out of Solutionist society from the outset. They gathered together among the gravestones under the shelter of venerable trees to build their own community. With no stake in the old system, the cemetery contingent became the core of resistance in the borough.

When I started writing this story, a few people suggested I include some hope in it; good organizing comes when you have anger, hope, and a plan. I’ll admit that hope is hard for me. I tend towards the dire, the energetically dark even. I know too much. My preference, of course, is that you all read this, and we begin to organize and resist to avoid full lock down. But if that doesn’t happen, what then?

Can a just society be rebuilt in the ruins of a Smart City or not? The next two installments are informed by my experience attending the Saturday Free School here in Philadelphia. I try to evoke elements of the black radical tradition and marronage, though perhaps not as successfully as I would have liked. Once I wrap this series, if there are others who would like to write an alternate ending, I would certainly be open to posting it. My goal with this project is to create a base of knowledge off of which others might riff, in new stories, graphic novels, plays, or visual art. The themes here need to be explored in other media, and I see this as a jumping off point. If this interests you drop me a line in the comments. To start this story from the beginning click here for Building Sanctuary Part One: Plugging In.

Part Two: A World Without (Much) Work

Part Three: Smart and Surveilled

Part Four: Data Mining Life on the Ledger

Part Five: Automated Education

It had been a challenging spring for Cam and Li’s family. Uncontrolled fires burned through California, disrupting both the tech and entertainment industries. Virtual Reality and gaming companies were recycling old content rather than offering new gigs, so the family’s income suffered. What made it worse was that Talia had entered into an income-sharing agreement to pay for VR classes, and their devices constantly buzzed with aggressive complaints from her investor.

Cam has been logging extra hours of SkywardSkills when she normally would be reading. The college prep partner she goes to once a week is running a competition, and the student who logs the most time gets a substantial payment to their Citi Badge account. Cam has put a lot of pressure on herself to stay ahead of the other students, but everybody is desperate for Gold Coin, and as the deadline approaches it is harder and harder to keep up. She’s lost a lot of sleep the past couple of weeks and it is getting harder and harder to focus.

Li responds to the stress by shutting down. She refuses to log on to her education modules, and it is getting harder and harder to drag her out of the house, even to go to her maker space placement. Her relationship with her AI learning assistant is on the rocks. She’s been entering false information into the social emotional surveys as a way of rebelling against the system, without realizing the long-term implications her actions will have.

Academic participation by minors is a key indicator that affects the family’s citizen score. If Li’s activity levels dip any further it will likely trigger a home visit, something Talia wants to avoid at all costs. Cam harbors suspicions that Li might be cutting herself. Even though temperatures are rising, Li hadn’t pulled out any t-shirts, preferring long sleeves even when it gets into the 80s. She doesn’t want to alarm her mom, but clearly Li needs professional help. All the local clinic can offer is an evidence-based chat-bot therapy program. That won’t be enough.

Cam is vaguely aware that her mom has been meeting with grandpa Rex online and has an uneasy feeling about it. Talia calls a family meeting to discuss a possible solution. Rex had been living alone in the family home after Talia’s mom died of medical complications after the lockdown. He’d been able to hold onto his property through the Bitcoin crash, but now seemed like a sensible time to let it go.

He’ll move in with them into the apartment in Queens. It will be tight to have all four of them there, but the proceeds from the house will surely be enough to pay for real therapy for Li; therapy with a real person, off the books, with no data collection. They expect it will be expensive, but worth it. Through word of mouth they find Mak, a counselor who still offers a face-to-face treatment.

Mak is an outsider who keeps his personal life under wraps. He sees clients in an office located in a former library in Queens. He serves mostly off-liners, doesn’t take Gold Coin, and prefers payment in bartered goods or services, especially books. Public libraries had been shut down years before the Solutionists finally seized power. As people were drawn inexorably into the digital life, fewer and fewer read actual books.

Some libraries were turned into maker spaces or even micro-schools, but the Richmond Hill branch, an antiquated building dating back to the Carnegie era, was deemed too small to be useable. The city simply closed it up, locked the door and walked away. Even though the building has much more space than he needs for his practice, Mak acquired it with the intention of supporting broader organizing, political education, and resistance efforts. He eliminated all sensors and removed RFID tags from the remaining books. He doesn’t take clients with chips, and no devices are allowed in the building. Anyone with an IoT tattoo must remain outside.

The building sits on a small triangle of land along a commercial corridor situated a half-mile from Forest Park between the Maple Grove and Cypress Hills Cemeteries. There are five rooms, in addition to Mak’s office in the basement. One is a reading room, another a spare parts and bicycle repair space, a third holds clothing and domestic items (non-IoT) for sharing, while the fourth is set up as a communal food prep area. The fifth, locked, is used for resistance strategy meetings.

An expansive arbor shades the south side of the building and provides a space where visitors who have IoT tattoos are still able to gather and join in discussions. As long as the weather cooperates, weekly political education sessions take place there in the shade of the grape, melon, and squash vines. The sound of jazz and blues emanating from the hedge is a sure sign people are sitting out. Music sets the mood and masks conversations from noise sniffers. Sometimes there is live music, but often it’s vinyl recordings. They never use digital, because authorities are keen to identify those accessing revolutionary music through streaming services.

Even though Mak owns the building, the community directs how it is used and gives the space its vitality. Most people come from the cemetery encampments at Maple Hill and Cypress Grove, settlements created shortly after the work camps closed. Targeted by the authorities, people of color, immigrants, the homeless, and veterans comprised the first wave of forced labor. Disenfranchised, lacking papers, or with mental health diagnosis, they found it impossible to acquire Citi Badges.

They were the original off-liners, people who never had to unplug, because they’d been written out of Solutionist society from the outset. They gathered together among the gravestones under the shelter of venerable trees to build their own community. With no stake in the old system, the cemetery contingent became the core of resistance in the borough.

They are a creative bunch, devising ingenious guerrilla tactics that target the Solutionists’ surveillance and police systems. The expertise of veterans has proven invaluable, as they have direct knowledge of the technologies’ military applications. A number of edge-computing technicians, software engineers, and roboticists have found their way to the encampments. Most went underground in the months prior to the lockdown, knowing that refusing to comply with authoritarian demands would lead to their execution.

These experts, in collaboration with encampment residents, continue to refine low-tech ways to decommission IoT monitoring systems, robot patrol charging stations, and the solar Bitcoin dust miners that keep the ledger running. Nan is one of the Maple Hill Cemetery elders. She retired from a career in telecommunications, and saw the Internet evolve from broadband to 5G and edge computing. People look to her for her technical insight, foresight, and people skills. Nan has been a guiding force in efforts to destabilize Solutionist control of their sector. The resistance has been able to secure a corridor of relatively free movement between the encampments and Forest Park and hopes to expand its reach into Flushing Meadows once they train more teams.

The resistance cautiously embraced Mak when he arrived two years ago; access to power, water, and secure storage was a compelling reason to partner. The cemetery contingent shares provisions they scavenge and help keep the space secure, while Mak provides a satellite base of operations where members of various encampments can come together and strategize. Behind the locked door in the basement, the inner core of the resistance has been working on a lab to investigate more technologically advanced techniques to undermine the Solutionists’ systems.

That first year they bestowed the name “Wheel House” on the library, understanding that a wheel steering a course forward was a powerful image, even if the final destination remained unknown. Bringing people together to imagine a world in opposition to the terror of the Solutionist regime keeps hope alive. It is a space where each person, like the spokes on a ship’s wheel, is essential, and by coming together around a central hub they will move in a new direction. In a surveilled, digitized world, the Wheel House offers a safe place where people can strengthen the relationships needed to build a different future.

Mak comes from a moneyed family, a sanctuary family, which is how he was able to acquire the Wheel House, and why he is so concerned about technology; he knows its power. He grew up on Gonave, an island off the coast of Haiti. Before he was born, Gonave was sold to an investment consortium that expelled the local population and remade it as a sanctuary zone. He grew up surrounded by self-absorbed people whose lives revolve around what they own. Most made their fortunes in defense contracting, software development and social impact investing, as militarism and rising global poverty created unlimited financial opportunities.

Mak never fit in there. As a child, he spent most of his time reading and hanging out at the helipad chatting up pilots about the larger world. Rather than material wealth, Mak is interested in books, ideas, and the natural world. He has a rebellious streak. His late father named him after Francois Mackandal, the eighteenth-century revolutionary who believed in freedom for all people and used his knowledge of native plants and medicine to wage guerrilla warfare against Haitian slave owners. Mackandal’s weapon of choice was poison, because the slaves had no guns. He understood that you use the knowledge at your disposal to disrupt oppressive systems.

As a teen, Mak became increasingly disaffected with island life. His mother, an executive with a global VR outfit, eventually packed him off to New York for a community service placement, feeling certain the harsh environment there would be such a shock that Mak would run back home, chastened. This didn’t happen. Instead, Mak trained in social work and made a life for himself in a world unlike anything he had ever known.

Sanctuary kids are raised with very little technology. Being raised on an island community, the small population means everyone knows everyone else’s business. You can find space to be alone, but you really have to go looking for it. When Mak first arrived in the states, the level of social isolation he felt in the midst of so many people was hard to process. Everyone was absorbed in a world of their own, mediated through devices. He’d never seen anything like it.

Mak joined a large health system once he completed his training. It was run by Alphadata and specialized in urban populations with “complex” mental health needs. He left that position after less than a year. It hadn’t taken long to realize that the protocols that had been developed were intended to force people to conform to and manage themselves within the Solutionists’ oppressive systems rather than lead them to healing.

There was tremendous pressure on counselors to expand caseloads to the point that they were primarily data managers and had very little time with patients. Treatments like Virtual Reality, prescription video games, and text supports had taken priority over face-to-face treatment. This approach generated the data demanded by the municipal contracts, but did little for his clients, many of whom were veterans of the drone wars before operations shifted to AI and facial recognition.

After leaving Alphadata, Mak spent several more years in self-directed training, finding through informal networks elders who knew the work before it became data-driven and had experience with alternative, non-digital therapies. He returned to Queens and slowly began to build a network of contacts. He gets no algorithmic referrals, has no online reviews, no online reputation presence at all. In fact, you can only find him by word of mouth, and since few people actually speak to one another anymore, those who end up on the doorstep of the Wheel House are generally of a like mind.

Mak’s treatment goals are to connect his clients with their humanity and empower them to find personal agency in a world where Solutionist systems undermine both. A key part of this approach is connecting his clients to community. In this sector of Queens, a community has grown up in the encampments, at the farm, and at the Wheel House. They are a community of the unplugged. Through their connection to Mak, Li, Talia, Cam, and Grandpa Rex have been brought into the fold.

Continue to the final segment: Choices

Supplemental Links

Income Sharing Agreement: Link and Link

Chat / Text Therapy: Link and Link

Social Impact Bonds and Behavioral Health Home Visits: Link

Gonave Island, Haiti: Link

Francois Makandal and Haitian Revolution: Link

Closing Libraries: Link and Link

RFID and Internet of Things: Link

Micro Schools: Link

Marronage: Link

Citiblock Health Care: Link

AI Drone Warfare: Link and Link

Drone Swarms: Link

Robotic Security: Link

Saturday Free School: Link

League of Revolutionary Black Workers: Link

-Alison McDowell

 

What’s Stored in your School Google Drive Account? You Might be Surprised.

Reposted with permission from Missouri Education Watchdog.

Don't Be Evil

If you or your child have a Google account through school, you are going to want to read this.

WATCH THIS FOX 5 NEWS CLIP from Springfield, MO. They show one teacher log into her school issued Google Drive account where her personal information, including 139 passwords and audio of voice to text messages and Siri searches were stored, allegedly unencrypted.

While many have questioned Google’s invasion of the classroom and how Google Apps for Education, (now called G-Suite), collects and uses student or teacher information, few have really gotten much in the way of answers. What is reportedly happening with Springfield Missouri Public School’s use of Google Drive offers a rare glimpse into Google’s potential to collect data. School-issued student Google accounts connect to Google Drive which can allow for the ability to Auto-Sync devices to Auto-Save passwords, browsing history and other digital data points from numerous devices used by a single user. For students in SPS this could include digital data from non-school related accounts.  This July 17, 2018 Fox 5 KRBK  news story explains how one family discovered this practice and reported it to the school district.

“The Elys claim that the SPS Google Drive, given to all SPS employees and students, automatically begins to store information from any device the drive is accessed on. This includes browser history, but also personal information such as files and passwords. They add that even if you log out of the drive, it stays running and recording in the background.

After bringing their concerns forward this past May, they say that despite the evidence presented, no serious action has been taken on behalf of the district.

“They have a lot of evidence and have had it since December, and we have not heard one word from any of them, said Dianne Ely.

With more searching, the Elys have now found even more sensitive information that’s been stored to their daughter’s Google Drive, including 139 passwords to both her and her husband’s different accounts and also voice recordings of both her and her children.

“My voice to text was being stored as well as any search my kids did, and I could say ‘sure my daughter was searching on Google,’ but my phone uses Safari. When I used my texting app on my iPhone, it recorded my voice, as well as typing out the words and saving it on my Google Drive,” said Brette Hay, the Ely’s daughter and a teacher at Pershing Middle School.

The Elys hope with this new evidence, not only will parents, employees and students take action to check what private information of their own could be stored on the drive, but that the school district will also take the appropriate steps to make their Google Drive safe.” [Emphasis added]

Parents want to know: Why is Auto-Syncing of devices and Auto-Saving of passwords allowed on any school-issued Google account?

Google changed its Google Drive syncing in September 2017. This new policy raises several questions:

  • How does this Google change affect privacy and security and access to school-issued Google Drive accounts? Does it allow cross device tracking?
  • Are students, parents, school employees, (who are often required to use the school-issued Google Drive), informed that their devices could be automatically synced, and remain synced even when the log out? Are  users informed of what information, including personal passwords, could be stored on their school-issued Google Drive?
  • Since district administrators can set permissions, do districts have the ability to disable the Google Auto-Sync and Auto-Save function?

Each state has consumer protection laws and state privacy laws that may prohibit the collection or reporting of individual’s biometric information such as facial or voice recognition. There are also several federal privacy laws, highlighted below, that apply specifically to student information.

PPRA  The law requires that schools obtain written consent from parents before minor students are required to participate in any U.S. Department of Education funded survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning the eight protected areas.

FERPA    34 CFR § 99.3 defines an education record as “The term education record means those records that are: (1) Directly related to a student; and (2) Maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution.  Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.” However, FERPA allows schools to disclose covered information in education records, without consent, in certain situations.

The auto-syncing capability of Google Drive raises additional concerns for schools using this technology:

  • If personal devices are synced and passwords stored, and if a student’s personally identifiable (PII) is collected, does the district’s or Google’s access to student Google Accounts meet the requirements of federal and state laws? Should the district be required to obtain informed written parental consent prior to this PII data being aggregated on the Google Drive?
  • Has covered information stored on the Google Drive ever been accessed by anyone other than the student, parent, or school official?
  • Is posting a student’s ID on each school device, and generating a uniform password for all students, in compliance with best practices and FERPA? (See Dr. Ely’s May testimony for an example of this practice.)
  • If parents feel their student’s personally identifiable information has been disclosed improperly, they can file a FERPA complaint.

COPPA  “The primary goal of COPPA is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. The Rule was designed to protect children under age 13 while accounting for the dynamic nature of the Internet. The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services (including mobile apps) directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, and operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13. The Rule also applies to websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information directly from users of another website or online service directed to children.”

  • If personal information of children under the age of 13, such as their browsing history or location was collected when they were online (including when they accessed non-educational websites outside of school, while not actively logged into their synced Google Drive) and if the information from this synced device was stored on the school-issued Google Drive, along with saved passwords, who has access to this information? Is informed parental consent required?
  • Can this personal information in the Google Drive ever be accessed by anyone other than the student and their parent?

HIPAA  “The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop regulations protecting the privacy and security of certain health information. To fulfill this requirement, HHS published what are commonly known as the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule.”

While information contained in a student’s education record is generally not covered by HIPAA, it is generally covered by FERPA.  This leads to a larger set of questions when Auto-syncing devices and storing  information in a school-issued Google Drive:

  • Is a student’s personal information stored in a school-issued Google Drive considered part of a student’s education record? What if the personal information was obtained outside of school, without the student’s or parent’s knowledge?
  • Does HIPAA apply if information stored on a school-issued Google Drive, is personal information about someone other than a student?
    • Is access to your family’s health record part of a student’s educational record, both FERPA and HIPAA compliant if you did not knowingly supply the information to the school?
    • Is audio of a parent discussing personal medical information considered part of a student’s education record?
    • If a relative or friend is a medical professional and you used his/her computer to log into your Google Drive, and now the device is synced, are the auto-saved passwords and medical information on this personal computer part of the student’s education record?
  • In general, is Google Drive HIPAA compliant? If passwords are exposed, does the district and Google follow the necessary steps to ensure Google HIPAA compliance?

Best Practices

In the Fox 5 news story, the School District claims that they followed best practices and there is no breach within the SPS system.  In response to these allegations, SPS stated:

“We believe that our data systems remain safe and secure. In reviewing the concerns brought forward, no data breach has been identified within the SPS system, nor are we aware of any personal information on our servers beyond the appropriate staff and student information provided to the district. We want to assure our community that SPS will always support any investigation into allegations, such as these, in order to address concerns. SPS is committed to doing all that is necessary to keep our staff and students safe and secure. This is true for both facility and cyber security. We work with third-party vendors to regularly monitor and evaluate our procedures and information systems. We implement ongoing updates to our best practices and information systems to maintain and strengthen, wherever appropriate. Our IT Department continues to review best practices in the industry, refining and enhancing district procedures on a regular basis, while also strictly adhering to the manufacturer’s terms of use for any software or other product. We know that ongoing training is essential to protecting the security of each individual and the district-at-large. Over the past three years, we have focused on new training for both staff and students regarding how to be responsible digital citizens. Because this is a personnel matter, we are limited in the details that we can provide, but we remain vigilant in our work to protect the safety and security of our systems, in the best interest of all SPS constituents. At this time, our internal and independent assessments do not indicate that there is a reason for the community to be concerned.”

Screenshot of teacher checking passwords saved on the SPS Google Drive account. The teacher has shown that if you click on the eye icon of any of these accounts, the passwords are exposed. (We redacted the email addresses and the Amazon account that shows the password has been deactivated.)

We wonder about the reported non-school related information and non-school related passwords to accounts (including accounts with personal banking information, medical accounts) that are allegedly stored unencrypted on school-issued Google Drive accounts?  Would this situation comply with Missouri’s new law, HB1606,  on student cybersecurity and breach reporting?

Regardless of the school district’s claim that there is no reason for concern, many people are concerned and are questioning the ethical and legal implications. Many are wondering if Google Drive Auto-Syncing and Auto-Saving is happening in other school districts across the nation. We have posted videos and links to public testimony presented at Springfield Public School Board meetings with detailed explanations from people who have experienced this first hand and have reported it both to the school district and have filed a police report. We have also posted instructions at the bottom of this blog for you to check what is in your (or your child’s) school-issued Google Drive account.

 

Public testimony of the July board meeting begins at the 4 minute mark.

 

Public testimony of the May board meeting begins at the 18 minute mark.

 

What do you think?  

If personal, non-education related information is being stored in school-issued Google Drives, would that data collection cross the line? After reading this blog and reviewing the testimony etc, let us know what you think and let us know what you find in your school Google Drive. 

(You can post a comment on this blog but please do not share your passwords or personal log-in information that would leave you open to hacking; just tell us the types of information you found in your Google Drive.)

We wonder why any school district would want the liability and security risk associated with storing personal information and allegedly unencrypted passwords to personal accounts. With cyber hacks targeting schools at an alarming rate, think of the security issues and potential for harm.

Ask your school district how their Google Drive is set up and look at the information stored in your school-issued Google Drive.

Here’s how to see what is in your school-issued Google Drive, according to May 2018 testimony provided by Dr. Ely. (It may look slightly different depending on the device you are using. )

Steps for checking your/your child’s/your grandchild’s SPS Google Drive Account

Sign- in and security (passwords and devices)

  1. Log into your account.
  2. Once into the Google Drive click on the top left the 3 lines, which pops open your Google drive account info. Look all the way at the bottom and click on the round picture of the round circle with your initial in it.
  3. Click on my account
  4. Click Sign-in & security
  5. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the sign in and security page to where it says saved passwords. This is where you can see all of the passwords stored to the SPS Google Drive Account. For the passwords, it might look like an eye but you just need to click on it to reveal the password.
  6. From the sign in and security screen you can also see what devices have been used to log into your sps Google account and allow you to see what devices have been synced with your account.
  7. You may need to click on “Mange My Activities” to see stored voice to text speech, location tracking, YouTube and search history.

 

References and related links:

May 15, 2018 Springfield Public Schools Board Meeting. Public comment starts at about 18 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIbjpjsKAc8

May 15, 2018 Written testimony from Dr. Norman Ely https://drive.google.com/open?id=1HKBAAvyZ39pSxASq2p6OCM-EoL9BbU2L

July 17, 2018 Springfield Public Schools Board Meeting. Public comment starts at about 4 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDREN3CCO3E 

July 17, 2018 Written testimony from parent and teacher Brette Hay https://drive.google.com/open?id=1PdFLlqaR-gvUB32nFsz-_ILoEt3fkpPA

July 17, 2018 Written testimony from Dr. Norman Elyhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/14Ikjd8TkQhhnGnwh7RdLdGGlo6VnFzKQ2GdXEjImPjs/edit?usp=sharing

July 17, 2018 Written testimony from Brooke Hendersonhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1zvqD2p54Co1zStAkj7AoH1RDxx8Ys3LdwXtDSEkHHDQ/edit?usp=sharing

FOX 5 KRBK Family claims SPS Google Drive is storing personal information http://www.fox5krbk.com/story/38669634/family-claims-sps-google-drive-is-storing-personal-information#.W09T9C4KOr0.facebook

KOLR10 Parents of SPS Employee say Their Family was Hacked  https://www.ozarksfirst.com/news/parents-of-sps-employee-say-their-family-was-hacked/1181643101

Computer hacking, massive data breach revealed to Springfield Board, Attorney General reportedly investigating https://rturner229.blogspot.com/2018/05/computer-hacking-massive-data-breach.html

Springfield Public Schools 2017-18 School Handbook  https://isharesps.org/websitedoc/CommunityRelations/Student%20Handbooks/2017-2018%20handbook%20final%20complete.pdf

Springfield Public Schools 2018-19 School Handbook https://www.sps.org/Page/2623

How Google Took Over the Classroom https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/technology/google-education-chromebooks-schools.html

EFF: Google’s Student Tracking Isn’t Limited to Chrome Sync
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/12/googles-student-tracking-isnt-limited-chrome-sync

State Attorneys General are next headache for Google 2017 https://www.wired.com/story/state-attorneys-general-are-googles-next-headache/

37 Attorneys General settle against Google for Consumer tracking violations 2013 https://www.privacyandsecuritymatters.com/2013/11/google-pays-big-to-state-attorney-generals-for-improper-consumer-tracking/

YouTube is Improperly Collecting Children’s Data, Consumer Groups Say  https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/business/media/youtube-kids-ftc-complaint.html?smid=tw-share

Transparency and the Marketplace for Student Data
https://www.fordham.edu/info/23830/research/10517/transparency_and_the_marketplace_for_student_data/1

U.S. Education Dept. responds to TheDarkOverlord attacks with new cyber advisoryhttps://www.databreaches.net/u-s-education-dept-responds-to-thedarkoverlord-attacks-with-new-cyber-advisory/

Missouri Consumer Protection Law https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/identity-theft-data-security/identity-theft

New Student Data Breach Reporting Requirements in Missouri  https://k12cybersecure.com/blog/new-student-data-breach-reporting-requirements-in-missouri/

Missouri Student Privacy Bill  HB14-1490 as found on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Data System Management website.   https://dese.mo.gov/data-system-management/data-access-sharing-and-privacy

HB-1490:

(4) Develop a detailed data security plan that includes:

(a) Guidelines for authorizing access to the student data system and to individual student data including guidelines for authentication of authorized access;

(b) Privacy compliance standards;

(c) Privacy and security audits;

(d) Breach planning, notification and procedures;

(e) Data retention and disposition policies; and

(f) Data security policies including electronic, physical, and administrative safeguards, such as data encryption and training of employees;

 3. The department of elementary and secondary education shall not collect nor shall school districts report the following individual student data:

(1) Juvenile court delinquency records;

(2) Criminal records;

(3) Student biometric information;

(4) Student political affiliation; or

(5) Student religion.

4. Any rule or portion of a rule, as that term is defined in section 536.010, that is created under the authority delegated in this section shall become effective only if it complies with and is subject to all of the provisions of chapter 536 and, if applicable, section 536.028. This section and chapter 536 are nonseverable and if any of the powers vested with the general assembly pursuant to chapter 536 to review, to delay the effective date, or to disapprove and annul a rule are subsequently held unconstitutional, then the grant of rulemaking authority and any rule proposed or adopted after the effective date of this section shall be invalid and void.

5. Each violation of any provision of any rule promulgated pursuant to this section by an organization or entity other than a state agency, a school board, or an institution shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to one thousand dollars. A second violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to five thousand dollars. Any subsequent violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to ten thousand dollars. Each violation involving a different individual education record or a different individual student shall be considered a separate violation for purposes of civil penalties…

 

Missouri Student Privacy Bill  HB14-1490 as found on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Data System Management website.   https://dese.mo.gov/data-system-management/data-access-sharing-and-privacy

HB-1490:

…The department of elementary and secondary education shall develop criteria for the approval of research and data requests from state and local agencies, researchers working on behalf of the department, and the public
(3) Shall not, unless otherwise provided by law and authorized by policies adopted pursuant to this section, transfer personally identifiable student data;

(4) Develop a detailed data security plan that includes:

(a) Guidelines for authorizing access to the student data system and to individual student data including guidelines for authentication of authorized access;

(b) Privacy compliance standards;

(c) Privacy and security audits;

(d) Breach planning, notification and procedures;

(e) Data retention and disposition policies; and

(f) Data security policies including electronic, physical, and administrative safeguards, such as data encryption and training of employees;

 3. The department of elementary and secondary education shall not collect nor shall school districts report the following individual student data:

(1) Juvenile court delinquency records;

(2) Criminal records;

(3) Student biometric information;

(4) Student political affiliation; or

(5) Student religion.

4. Any rule or portion of a rule, as that term is defined in section 536.010, that is created under the authority delegated in this section shall become effective only if it complies with and is subject to all of the provisions of chapter 536 and, if applicable, section 536.028. This section and chapter 536 are nonseverable and if any of the powers vested with the general assembly pursuant to chapter 536 to review, to delay the effective date, or to disapprove and annul a rule are subsequently held unconstitutional, then the grant of rulemaking authority and any rule proposed or adopted after the effective date of this section shall be invalid and void.

5. Each violation of any provision of any rule promulgated pursuant to this section by an organization or entity other than a state agency, a school board, or an institution shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to one thousand dollars. A second violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to five thousand dollars. Any subsequent violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to ten thousand dollars. Each violation involving a different individual education record or a different individual student shall be considered a separate violation for purposes of civil penalties…

 

-Cheri Kiesecker

Seattle’s Naviance Opt-Out Go Round

merry go round

Unfortunately, what looked to be a simple step to empower parents, when implemented, morphed into a bureaucratic and technical barrier.

Much to the credit of Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors, an opt-out provision was included in the contract signed with Hobson to bring Naviance, a career and college online planning tool, into the district.

Unfortunately, what looked to be a simple step to empower parents, when implemented, morphed into a bureaucratic and technical barrier.

How?

First, parents were required to have an account with The Source, an online dashboard which gives parents access to their student’s grades and assignments.

Yes, I know the district wants every parent to have an account with The Source.

I also know the district has been ratcheting up the pressure to get holdouts to comply with the district’s vision.

But is using opt out as leverage to get parents to comply with the district’s wishes the message our board and superintendent want to send to parents?

The Second Barrier: No Option to Opt Out

If you happened to have a Source account, the second barrier you would encounter while trying to opt out of Naviance would be the option to opt out didn’t exist.

Really.

According to the district, the option to opt out of Naviance would be available under the “preferences” section of The Source — except it wasn’t.

After I spent two days trying to opt out via The Source and then writing a letter to the school board sharing my experience, this mysterious “technical glitch” was finally solved.

Hmm.

If you have to write the school board to exercise a basic parental right something is very wrong.

Why am I writing about this now?

The second window for parents to opt their students out from Naviance is September 4-12, 2018. This option is available for students in grades 8-12.

This time I expect no mysterious technical errors. Seriously, I find it baffling that in one of the tech hubs of the United States, no one thought to test to see if the opt-out option was functional before going live for the first opt-out window.

More Helpful Hints for Administrators Who Want to Do the Right Thing.

If the district is serious about empowering parents I would also expect other, less tech specific and rigid routes for parents to exercise their rights.

In a community centered district, the option to meet with a counselor instead of leaving this work up to a software program would also be a option.

Why would a parent want to opt their kids out? Please read Naviance Not so Transparent & Cooking Up Data Starting in Kindergarten?  and then make up your own mind.

Was the Bungled Naviance Opt-Out a Nudge?

My summer reading list included two books: Inside the Nudge Unit by David Halpern and Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism by Cass Sunstein.

Both books describe how behavioral economics was incorporated into policy making decisions in the U.K. under the Blair and Brown Administrations and in the United States during the Obama Administration.

Nudges are used by choice architects to encourage people to make some choices while avoiding others. For instance, choosing healthy food, getting your steps in, or insulating your attic.

One of the key elements of the nudge is making the preferred behavior easy. According to Inside the Nudge Unit (page 65), Richard Thaler, Chicago Economist, Nobel Prize Winner, and Choice Architect is credited as saying, “If you want to encourage something, make it easy.”

Choice architects use the concept of easy by eliminating friction or hassle in choosing the preferred behavior. This can be done by setting the default to the preferred choice (opt-in instead of opting-out) and elimination unnecessary steps.

Was opting out of Naviance easy?

No.

Could it have been?

Absolutely.

In my opinion, the requirement for a Source account, then finding an obscure choice box – buried at the bottom of the page – when it was available at all – sure felt like a nudge.

Here Comes the Hard Sell

Another disturbing development is once parents started expressing interest in opting out, the district suddenly decided to have community meetings during the second opt out window to help parents make an “informed choice” about opting out of Naviance.

Here’s my question: Why weren’t these meeting held for parents BEFORE the district purchased Naviance?

In a district that has trouble covering the basics and even paying its teachers and support staff enough to live in the city they work in, why would the district be so gosh darn over enthusiastic about investing $600,000 in something parents may not even want?

It makes me wonder.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should be Asking

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

monitors

I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night.

As we enter this new era of blended/hybrid classrooms, the clamor of ed-tech entrepreneurs pitching their digital curricula is getting to be truly overwhelming for parents. Rather than critiquing individual programs, I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night. I’d love to know what the response is.

1. Does the program require aggregating PII (personally identifiable information) from students to function properly? And even if it doesn’t REQUIRE it, does the program collect PII?

2. Does the program supplement face-to-face human instruction, or function as a substitute for it? How many minutes per day of face-to-face human instruction is being sacrificed or substituted? Will it lead to increased class sizes?

3. Does the program encourage active student-to-student engagement and face-to-face discussion? How does it accomplish this? Or does it create an environment where kids are often working in isolation with their devices? How much of the time are students working alone with their devices?

4. What are the associated costs with respect to your district’s budget (not just the program fees, but the devices required to operate it) and how will participation in the program affect other areas of the student experience? For example given the austerity budgets many districts are experiencing, implementing a 1:1 device program to support digital curriculum could impact a school’s ability to offer art instruction, employ a school librarian, or provide a full range of extracurricular activities.

5. How much screen time is involved, per day? per week? Consider the health impacts of machine-mediated teaching, especially on elementary school-age children.

6. Does the program offer “training” or “education?” There is a difference.

7. Will participating in the program expand student awareness of the larger world and allow them to engage with it on their own terms, or is it a way to channel students into a particular workforce sector?

8. Does the program monitor, tutor, or assess behavior and social-emotional aspects of learning?

9. Assuming the program is used during the school day, what is this program replacing? What aspect(s) of instruction formerly offered will be eliminated if this program is implemented?

10. How does adopting a blended/hybrid learning program, which has been developed by outside interests, impact local control and autonomy within your school and district?

What percentage of instructional time being turned over to outsourced online education results in your neighborhood school no longer fully being YOUR school? 10 percent? 25 percent? 40 percent?

Many ed-tech proponents like Reed Hastings are looking to remove local control of schools due to their “inefficiency.” Would adopting this program in your school further that agenda?

-Alison McDowell

What School Safety Reports Ignore: Reducing Class Size

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

gettyimages-918330158_custom-3f37851970bc440f28c09daf8102d8a39e3d0dfd-s900-c85

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

Over the summer we have seen a glut of school safety reports. Local, state, and federal agencies have written possible solutions they think will thwart future school violence. Some suggestions might be well-advised, but others have created concerns about questionable student surveillance. It’s difficult to believe any solutions will be successful if no one addresses class size.

In the July report from Homeland Security, “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence,” they report:

When establishing threat assessment capabilities within K-12 schools, keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker.

There have been male and female attackers, high-achieving students with good grades as well as poor performers. These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular (p.1).

Most teachers understand that middle and high school students experience hormonal changes and rapid physical growth. It’s sometimes difficult to separate mental health difficulties from general teenage angst, moodiness, impulsivity, or a variety of other developmental factors.

The omission in the report is lowering class size. Teachers who teach the same students, get to know their students. But this is difficult to do when teachers have over thirty students breezing in and out of their classrooms daily. In total, that’s 150 students!

The plan includes forming a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, establishing central reporting mechanisms, identifying behaviors of concern, defining the threshold for law enforcement intervention, identifying risk management strategies, promoting safe school climates, and providing training to stakeholders. It can also help schools mitigate threats from a variety of individuals, including students, employees, or parents.

The report’s Table of Contents emphasizes attention to a variety of issues concerning students in school including:

  • Motives
  • Communications
  • Inappropriate interests
  • Weapons access
  • Stressors
  • Emotional and developmental issues
  • Desperation or despair
  • Violence as an option
  • Concerned others
  • Capacity to carry out an attack
  • Planning Consistency
  • Protective factors

They mention school climate but refer to a 2014, U.S. Department of Education Report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (p. 26).

Smaller class sizes are still not addressed. Teachers are better able to identify unusual student behavior if they know their students. When classes are smaller school feels more like home.

In the movie The Edge of Seventeen, a troubled student confides in her history teacher when life’s problems seem overwhelming. Students need to know that adults and other students in their lives care. But it’s unrealistic to assume this can happen with unmanageable class sizes. Teachers need time to connect with students. Students need smaller class sizes to connect with each other.

School reformers fight against lowering class size. They demand proof that it raises test scores. But lowering class size involves other benefits that are far more important.

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

While reducing class size may seem expensive and unattainable, giving students some smaller classes should be a reachable goal. School and school district officials should work towards that end.

-Nancy Bailey