Dear Congress, you are being duped. HR4174-S2046 is a Privacy Fail. Here’s why. ( And please no more suspended rules and voice votes on these bills. )

Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

not_for_sale

I will say it again… When it comes to their own children, parents have little to no say in education matters. Parents are not invited to fancy conferences, we often aren’t even allowed to attend them. Parents don’t have a travel budget, a lobby budget, or a paid assistant to help write rebuttals and policy briefs. Nope, we are moms and dads and grandparents doing the best we can to protect our children. And that is why I am responding to the federal government’s response to my blogpost opposing their bill(s) HR4174 and S2046, Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017.

Dear  Congress,

The GOP Majority Staff of the Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote and distributed a response to my November 12  blogpost  that opposed HR4174.  This response, which folks can see here begins with,

The Eagle Forum and other groups representing interests such as home schooling have raised concerns about H.R. 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017The concerns relate to how the bill would affect the privacy of citizens (especially school-aged children) whose data  is being stored by the federal government. Those concerns arise from a misunderstanding of what the bill does to the personal data that the government already has.”

Let me clear something up.  I am not a member of Eagle Forum nor am I a member of a home school group, not that I have anything against them; I just don’t want them to be responsible for what I say.  Missouri Education Watchdog lets me write on their blog but my views are my own. I am a mom. My special interests are my children. I write as a parent, because like many parent advocates, blogging is the only (small) way to be heard.

And No.

My concern DOES NOT “arise from a misunderstanding of what the bill does to the personal data that the government already has.”  You have it sort of right;  let me restate it:

MY CONCERN IS THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS CITIZENS’ AND ESPECIALLY SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN’S PERSONAL DATA, WITHOUT PERMISSION…AND IS EXPANDING ACCESS, ANALYSIS OF THIS DATA, AGAIN WITHOUT PERMISSION.

It’s not your data. Data belongs to the individual. Data is identity and data is currencyCollecting someone’s personal data without consent is theft. (When hackers took Equifax data, that was illegal. When the government takes data… no different.)

If you support parental rights, you should not support HR4174 or its sister bill S2046.  Parents are often left out of the conversation about laws affecting their children.

I will say it again… When it comes to their own children, parents have little to no say in education matters. Parents are not invited to fancy conferences, we often aren’t even allowed to attend them. Parents don’t have a travel budget, a lobby budget, or a paid assistant to help write rebuttals and policy briefs. Nope, we are moms and dads and grandparents doing the best we can to protect our children. And that is why I am responding to the federal government’s response to my blogpost opposing their bill(s) HR4174 and S2046, Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017.

I invite members of Congress and policy makers, rather than refute, or ignore, please have a discussion with those closest to the children: parents.

You impose legislation that directly impacts our children and our families, without our input. We elected you to represent us, “we the people”.    Please hear us, the parents. These are our children, not your human capital, not your data, not your property.

What follows are sections on:

  1. Brief status of student data collection
  2. History and mission of CEP Commission, current linking of IRS data, Census Data, Education data.
  3. China, the US, tech companies and collection, analysis of citizens’ data, dangers of algorithms, metadata profiling.
  4. Status of HR4174, voice votes and suspended rules (why this controversial bill should have had neither)
  5. FACTS. Links to bill text, refuting the House Oversight rebuttal.
  6. Here is a two pager citing only facts, bill text.   http://tinyurl.com/HR4174twopage

The current state of student data collection– You need to know this.

Bill Gates, who has spent billions on reforming education, creating and sharing standardized data, state databases, also wants a national student database, linking k-12 and higher ed data. According to The Gates Foundation 2016 Priorities, this is the national database infrastructure he has in mind. Coincidence?

Gates data infrastructure

State agencies currently maintain personally identifiable data about citizens, including  k-12 school children. My focus is on student data because student data are collected and shared  and analyzed without parent consent. Parents have a right to direct our children’s education and citizens have a right to be secure in their property.  …or do we?  Taking personal information about a child, and sharing it, without the parents’ knowledge or consent is (SHOCKINGLY)  legal, thanks to a 2011 executive rule change that weakened FERPA.

Any Congressperson who would like to spend his or her Thanksgiving dinner explaining to friends and relatives why you think taking personal information about a child and sharing it without parent consent is ethical or principled, please go ahead. Also, let them know that you passed a bill giving more access to this ill-gotten, personal information of students. Be my guest.

As for me, I find HR4174 collection, sharing of a school child’s personal data without parent consent, unconstitutional and unethical and a violation of children’s privacy and parental rights.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also challenged nonconsensual sharing of students’ personal information and the weakening of FERPA. See the EPIC lawsuit against the US Department of Education here.

Very personal information about k-12 students (ie: personal background info on kindergarten-12  registration forms, demographics, race,  health records, disability status, income status, a multitude of invasive surveys, even personality tests, etc.)  is currently collected at all public k-12 schools and can be shared outside of the school, without the parents’ knowledge.  Many have said for years,student data collection is out of control and we are not protecting children:  Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking.

Meta data and mouse-clicks to predict a child, measure their behavior. Amazon and Facebook and Google and Microsoft and many other edtech companies are invading the classroom. Edtech companies like  DreamBox, Khan Academy, and Knewton use adaptive or “personalized” online programs that collect large amounts of data on each child.  Knewton claims 5- 10 million data points per child, per day.  DreamBox claims 50,000 data points per hour on each student. These  “Personalized” software programs embedded in education technology are collecting data about a student, secretly determining which questions students will see, measuring how fast a child reads, what he or she clicks on, how long he or she takes to answer a question. This meta data is sometimes being used to measure a child’s  “social emotional learning” and engagement. One assessment company, NWEA, measuring test item response times, says if a child responds to a test question too quickly, this will give him/her a low engagement score.  NWEA thinks a child’s rapid response means the child is guessing and this disengagement can be applied to other “deep rooted problems” in a student’s life such as,

“a student’s likelihood of disengaging on a test was associated with his or her self-management and self-regulation skills, the ability, for example, to show up for class prepared and on time. “As they disengage from tests and the course material, a whole host of other things come up … attendance, suspensions, course failure … that have been connected to risk of dropping out of school,”

In a digital environment, everything a child does online can be captured, connected and catalogued. The LearnSphere project funded by the National Science Foundation and handled by Carnegie Mellon, explains this project which began in 2014:

“There are several important initiatives designed to address these data access challenges, for individual researchers as well as institutions and states. LearnSphere, a cross-institutional community infrastructure project, aims to develop a large-scale open repository of rich education data by integrating data from its four components.[17] For instance, DataShop stores data from student interactions with online course materials, intelligent tutoring systems, virtual labs, and simulations, and DataStage stores data derived from online courses offered by Stanford UniversityClick-stream data stored in these repositories include thousands and even millions of data points per student, much of which is made publicly available to registered users who meet data privacy assurance criteria. On the other hand, MOOCdb and DiscourseDB, also components of LearnSphere, offer platforms for the extraction and representation of student MOOC data and textual data, respectively, surrounding student online learning interactions that are otherwise difficult to access or are highly fragmented. By integrating data held or processed through these different components, LearnSphere will create a large set of interconnected data that reflects most of a student’s experience in online learning.” http://www.sr.ithaka.org/publications/student-data-in-the-digital-era/

Shouldn’t parents be able to see and consent to this information being collected and analyzed about their children? Will researchers and edtech companies be granted MORE access to the personal student data held by theDataShop, that HR4174 creates? (Yes, according to the bill excerpts below.)

Personal information about a student is already shared to a state longitudinal database, SLDS. See here for what data elements are stored in the state data dictionary. The states share this personal student data (personally identifiable information, pii) with other agencies, corporations, researchers–again without parent notification or consent, and parents cannot opt out. See here for example of state agreements to share student pii with companies, researchers, agencies, etc.

The Department of Defense also has access to student data through the Federal Learning Registry is a joint student data gathering project between the Department of Defense and the Department of Education. The Learning Registry and US Department of Education are also “encouraging districts and states to move away from traditional textbooks” and instead use the Learning Registry’s openly-licensed online materials, (Online Educational Resources, OERs), facilitated by Amazon, Microsoft, Edmodo, ASCD, Creative Commons. Can parents see this data or opt out? Nope.

The safest way to protect data, is minimize its collection. HR4174 does not minimize data collection, nor does it decrease disclosures. Schools and student databases across the country are currently being hacked and held for ransom, students threatened by cyber terrorists. With the federal government’s track record of failing FITARA security scores,  and recent data breaches, the thought of the federal government coordinating and maintaining expanded access to state level student data is concerning.

History and mission of CEP Commission

HR4174 is a result of the CEP (Commission for Evidence-based Policy); as stated in the bill and in the CEP final report, its purpose is identifying and reducing or removing barriers to accessing state-level data. The CEP commission held several meetings and three public hearings.  I suggest you review the minutes, video and audio of these meetings and hearings. You can read about the history of the CEP commission, watch the first public hearing, see written testimony submitted here.

The testimony from Oct 21, 2016 CEP hearing panelists is enlightening:

 For example: RK Paleru of Booz Allen Hamilton’s testimony, said that BAH supports, among other things, linking student data from surveys and multiple agencies, public-private partnerships, and data analytics, and “bringing the private sector perspective to the conversation.” He also stated the need for a data clearinghouse to be self-service and like a “Pinterest for data“, or data as paid service, and wanted to promote inter-agency data sharing.

Another Oct 21 CEP hearing panelist, Rachel Zinn, Workforce Data Quality Campaign, WDQC, said because of the current ban on a federal student database, “stakeholders” don’t have access to student information, she goes on to say in order to link and share data, stakeholders often have to use “non-standard processes, often goes through personal relationships or particular capacities within agencies at particular times” .   

Panelists at Feb 9, 2017 CEP hearing (listen to Audio at 57 min to 1hr14min mark):

Panelists discuss making it easier to link personally identifiable information from IRS records and personal information from Census population survey, personal information from education records and SLDS. With the CEP Commission making this personal data more accessible, more available, the researcher feels “like a kid in candy store“.  There are great barriers that prevent researchers from getting this data, currently researchers have to get it by “hook or crook” or  “by leveraging personal relationships”… CEP questions the coercive nature of obtaining this data.  At 1hour 11 minutes, they discuss how currently they can link Census population survey data and personal IRS data, with persistence any academic researcher can access these data, you just have to know the steps to get there and I think that’s the Commission’s charge“…

The Feb 24, 2017 CEP meeting:

Again, panelists discuss how they are already linking personally identifiable state-level education records with IRS records, but cite it is difficult and barriers need to be removed to make it easier to link this pii data between agencies.

IRS and student data.jpg

CHINA and US: Meta data, predictive algorithms, analyzing and generating data, social engineering

Linking all this personal data on citizens reminds me of why I mentioned that China collects and links data about its citizens.  Is there anything in HR4174 that says personal data cannot be used to rank a person, create a reputation score, or profile a person? HR4174 allows meta data analysis, generation of new data that can be  used to predict and profile. Algorithms can be biased and wrong. HOW can you possibly police this? A good start would be Europe’s General Data Protection Rule.

Tech companies in the US are ramping up their use of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, despite dire warnings of existential risk  . This article on Twitter, Facebook and Google analytics is a warning on why we should be concerned. Do Facebook and Google have control of their algorithms anymore? A sobering assessment and a warning,

““Google, Twitter, and Facebook have all regularly shifted the blame to algorithms when this happens, but the issue is that said companies write the algorithms, making them responsible for what they churn out.”

Algorithms can be gamed, algorithms can be trained on biased information, and algorithms can shield platforms [tech companies] from blame.”

YET, have you ever heard of Yet Analytics? To quote this article,  Yet, HP and the Future of Human Capital Analytics: AI and your reputation score,

“querying of big data comprising information on learning, economic and social factors and outcomes gathered by the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations and elsewhere. The outcome is the ability to predict multi-year return on investment on a great variety of learning, economic and social measures. We knew that variables including adolescent fertility rates, infant mortality rates and the balance of trade goods all had significant relationships with GDP per capita.”

Microsoft of course uses artificial intelligence and analytics with Cortana technology, but also has MALMO built in the MINECRAFT platform, “How can we develop artificial intelligence that learns to make sense of complex environments? That learns from others, including humans, how to interact with the world? Project Malmo sets out to address these core research challenges, addressing them by integrating (deep) reinforcement learning, cognitive science, and many ideas from artificial intelligence.”  Microsoft also has PROJECT BRAINWAVE capturing real time artificial intelligence data.

Facebook and your credit score? Facebook reportedly has a patent for technology that could potentially be used for evaluating your credit risk, which they say could be used to view your social network connections and determine your credit worthiness.

Status of HR4174

HR4174 was introduced on 10/31/2017 and was passed on voice vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform.  Yesterday, the US House of Representatives suspended their rules, something that, according to this document, is only done on non-controversial bills. Judging by the public outcry and the rebuttal response from House Oversight, I would argue this bill is controversial and should not have been voted on suspended rule. With rules suspended and another voice votethe House unanimously passed HR4174 on 11/15/2017. Watch the vote, starting at 4hr 52min mark here.

Myth or Fact?  You decide.

myth or fact

The rebuttal

FACT:  Parents cannot opt students out of this state data collection that is obtained without consent.

HR4174 will increase access to this state-level student data, allowing data to be linked or disclosed with government agencies, researchers, again without consent.

  • If HR4174 does allow parental consent, does allow parents to opt out of student data collection and sharing, please correct me. It would be imperative to specifically state parental consent and opt out rights in the bill, so schools and parents are aware of this provision. There’s still time to add this opt out provision in the Senate.

FACT: HR4174 removes barriers to state-level data access and creates a National Secure Data Service (NSDS) with a Chief Evaluation Officer in each federal department; the NSDS will be coordinated through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Data officers in each agency oversee the dissemination and generation of data between state agencies and private users, contractors, researchers while finding new and innovative ways to use technology to improve data collection and use.

Does that sound like a national  system to manage and disclose data?  …Keep reading.

  • § 3520A. Chief Data Officer Council

“(a) Establishment.—There is established in the Office of Management and Budget a Chief Data Officer Council (in this section referred to as the ‘Council’).

“(b) Purpose and functions.—The Council shall—

“(1) establish Governmentwide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination, and generation of data;

“(2) promote and encourage data sharing agreements between agencies;

“(3) identify ways in which agencies can improve upon the production of evidence for use in policymaking;

“(4) consult with the public and engage with private users of Government data and other stakeholders on how to improve access to data assets of the Federal Government; and

“(5) identify and evaluate new technology solutions for improving the collection and use of data.

FACT: HR4174 requires each agency (see list of 17 different agencies, A-Q below, who will maintain and disclose data) and will make any data asset maintained by the agency available to any statistical agency. The head of each agency shall …make a list of data the agency intends to collect, use, or acquire. This data may be in an identifiable form and may include operating and financial data and information about businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and government entities. 

  • HR4174 PART D—ACCESS TO DATA FOR EVIDENCE

    § 3581. Presumption of accessibility for statistical agencies and units

    “(a) Accessibility of data assets.—The head of an agency shall, to the extent practicable, make any data asset maintained by the agency available, upon request, to any statistical agency or unit for purposes of developing evidence.

  • § 312. Agency evidence-building plan

    “(a) Requirement.—Not later than the first Monday in February of each year, the head of each agency shall submit to the Director and Congress a systematic plan for identifying and addressing policy questions relevant to the programs, policies, and regulations of the agency. Such plan shall be made available on the public website of the agency and shall cover at least a 4-year period beginning with the first fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the plan is submitted and published and contain the following:

    “(1) A list of policy-relevant questions for which the agency intends to develop evidence to support policymaking.

    “(2) A list of data the agency intends to collect, use, or acquire to facilitate the use of evidence in policymaking.

    “(3) A list of methods and analytical approaches that may be used to develop evidence to support policymaking.

    “(4) A list of any challenges to developing evidence to support policymaking, including any statutory or other restrictions to accessing relevant data.

Agencies involved in the HR4174 Federal evidence-building activities.

HR4174 “SUBCHAPTER II—FEDERAL EVIDENCE-BUILDING ACTIVITIES

§ 311. Definitions

“(1) AGENCY.—The term ‘agency’ means an agency referred to under section 901(b) of title 31.

901(b) of title 31 :
(b)
(1) The agencies referred to in subsection (a)(1) are the following:
(A) The Department of Agriculture.
(B) The Department of Commerce.
(C) The Department of Defense.
(D) The Department of Education.
(E) The Department of Energy.
(F) The Department of Health and Human Services.
(G) The Department of Homeland Security.
(H) The Department of Housing and Urban Development.
(I) The Department of the Interior.
(J) The Department of Justice.
(K) The Department of Labor.
(L) The Department of State.
(M) The Department of Transportation.
(N) The Department of the Treasury.
(O) The Department of Veterans Affairs.
(P) The Environmental Protection Agency.
(Q) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/31/901

FACT: Data is shared between designated statistical agencies and can be personally identifiable data. Agencies and the Director can promulgate their own rules about data disclosure and sharing. The overseers of disseminating and generating can make their own rules.

  • “(c) Sharing of business data among Designated Statistical Agencies.—

    “(1) IN GENERAL.—A Designated Statistical Agency may provide business data in an identifiable form to another Designated Statistical Agency under the terms of a written agreement among the agencies sharing the business data that specifies—

    “(A) the business data to be shared;

    “(B) the statistical purposes for which the business data are to be used;

    “(C) the officers, employees, and agents authorized to examine the business data to be shared; and

    “(D) appropriate security procedures to safeguard the confidentiality of the business data.

 

  • “(e) Designated Statistical Agency defined.—In this section, the term ‘Designated Statistical Agency’ means each of the following:

    (1) The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.

    (2) The Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce.

    (3) The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor.”.

  • “(3) BUSINESS DATA.—The term ‘business data’ means operating and financial data and information about businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and government entities.  [Note: Schools are tax-exempt and government entities.]

 

  • “§ 3562. Coordination and oversight of policies“(a) In general.—The Director shall coordinate and oversee the confidentiality and disclosure policies established by this subchapter. The Director may promulgate rules or provide other guidance to ensure consistent interpretation of this subchapter by the affected agencies. The Director shall develop a process by which the Director designates agencies or organizational units as statistical agencies and units. The Director shall promulgate guidance to implement such process, which shall include specific criteria for such designation and methods by which the Director will ensure transparency in the process.
  • “(b) Agency rules.—Subject to subsection
  • (c), agencies may promulgate rules to implement this subchapter. Rules governing disclosures of information that are authorized by this subchapter shall be promulgated by the agency that originally collected the information.

FACT: Data is linked between agencies.

  • § 316. Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building  During the first year of the Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee shall—

    “(B) evaluate and provide recommendations to the Director on the establishment of a shared service to facilitate data sharing, enable data linkage, and develop privacy enhancing techniques,

FACT: Data may be shared with private organizations, researchers, consultants, contractors, employees of contractors, government entities, individuals who agree in writing to comply with provisions.

  • “(e) Designation of agents.—A statistical agency or unit may designate agents, by contract or by entering into a special agreement containing the provisions required under section 3561(2) for treatment as an agent under that section, who may perform exclusively statistical activities, subject to the limitations and penalties described in this subchapter.

 

  • “(2) AGENT.—The term ‘agent’ means an individual

    “(A)(i) who is an employee of a private organization or a researcher affiliated with an institution of higher learning (including a person granted special sworn status by the Bureau of the Census under section 23(c) of title 13), and with whom a contract or other agreement is executed, on a temporary basis, by an executive agency to perform exclusively statistical activities under the control and supervision of an officer or employee of that agency;

    “(ii) who is working under the authority of a government entity with which a contract or other agreement is executed by an executive agency to perform exclusively statistical activities under the control of an officer or employee of that agency;

    “(iii) who is a self-employed researcher, a consultant, a contractor, or an employee of a contractor, and with whom a contract or other agreement is executed by an executive agency to perform a statistical activity under the control of an officer or employee of that agency; or

    “(iv) who is a contractor or an employee of a contractor, and who is engaged by the agency to design or maintain the systems for handling or storage of data received under this subchapter; and

    “(B) who agrees in writing to comply with all provisions of law that affect information acquired by that agency.

  • SEC. 202. OPEN Government Data.(a) Definitions.—
  • Section 3502 of title 44, United States Code, is amended—
  • “(15) the term ‘data’ means recorded information, regardless of form or the media on which the data is recorded;
  • “(16) the term ‘data asset’ means a collection of data elements or data sets that may be grouped together;
  • “(17) the term ‘machine-readable’, when used with respect to data, means data in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention while ensuring no semantic meaning is lost;
  • “(18) the term ‘metadata’ means structural or descriptive information about data such as content, format, source, rights, accuracy, provenance, frequency, periodicity, granularity, publisher or responsible party, contact information, method of collection, and other descriptions;

FACT: You are correct that HR4174 does repeal E–Government Act of 2002 (Public Law 107–34744 U.S.C. 3501 and re-insert it in title 44. However, the CIPSEA penalty of $250,000 fine or 5 years prison is not new; it has been in place since 2002. Student data has been collected and shared without consent since 2012-CIPSEA was not applicable or not enforced. Ironically, HR4174 weakens CIPSEA.

CIPSEA is amended to expand access to data. Additionally, once again, the Director can promulgate regulation on what data to share.

  • 3582. Expanding secure access to CIPSEA data assets

“(a) Statistical agency responsibilities.—To the extent practicable, each statistical agency or unit shall expand access to data assets of such agency or unit acquired or accessed under this subchapter to develop evidence while protecting such assets from inappropriate access and use, in accordance with the regulations promulgated under subsection (b).

“(b) Regulations for accessibility of nonpublic data assets.—The Director shall promulgate regulations, in accordance with applicable law, for statistical agencies and units to carry out the requirement under subsection (a). Such regulations shall include the following:

“(1) Standards for each statistical agency or unit to assess each data asset owned or accessed by the statistical agency or unit for purposes of categorizing the sensitivity level of each such asset and identifying the corresponding level of accessibility to each such asset. Such standards shall include—

“(A) common sensitivity levels and corresponding levels of accessibility that may be assigned to a data asset, including a requisite minimum and maximum number of sensitivity levels for each statistical agency or unit to use;

“(B) criteria for determining the sensitivity level and corresponding level of accessibility of each data asset; and

“(C) criteria for determining whether a less sensitive and more accessible version of a data asset can be produced.

“(2) Standards for each statistical agency or unit to improve access to a data asset pursuant to paragraph (1) or (3) by removing or obscuring information in such a manner that the identity of the data subject is less likely to be reasonably inferred by either direct or indirect means.

“(3) A requirement for each statistical agency or unit to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of any data asset acquired or accessed under this subchapter prior to any public release of such asset, including standards for such comprehensive risk assessment and criteria for making a determination of whether to release the data.

Continually saying that you aren’t collecting new data is meaningless – because the data was illegally obtained in the first place. HR4174 allows personal data to be shared without consent and importantly, allows generated data, meta data analysis of citizens without consent.  Personal data belongs to the individual. Data collection without consent is theft. It’s time the US updated our privacy laws  – not to further weaken them. Instead, it’s time for Congress to be a leader: minimize the data collected, protect privacy and security,  and look to Europe’s General Data Protection Rule, the strictest privacy law in the world.

-Cheri Kiesecker

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An Interview with Alison McDowell: KEXP’s Mind Over Matters Community Forum

headphones

On August 5th Alison McDowell was a guest on KEXP’s news program Mind Over Matters. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the link below ( be patient – it takes a little bit of time for the file to load). A transcript of the interview follows.

Alison McDowell Interview

My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

Mind Over Matters – KEXP

Community Forum

Interview with Alison McDowell

Mike McCormick:  It’s time once again for Community Forum, and we’re very lucky to have with us live in the studios this morning, Alison McDowell. Alison McDowell is a parent and researcher, into the dangers of corporate education reform. She was presenter this last March this year here in Seattle. The talk entitled Future Ready schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. Alison, thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Oh, I’m very glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Mike:  So, tell us, how did you get interested and involved with the issue of corporate education reform?

Alison: Well, I’m a I’m a parent. I have a daughter who is sixteen in the public schools of Philadelphia. And we’re sort of a crucible for many different aspects of education reform. We’ve had multiple superintendents from the Broad Academy. We’ve been defunded. Our schools have been, numerous of our schools have been closed, teachers laid off and about three years ago I became involved in the Opt Out movement for high stakes testing. Because at that point I felt that if we were able to withhold the data from that system we would try to be able to slow things down. Because they were using that testing data to close our schools. So I worked on that for a number of years until I saw that the landscape was starting to change. And a lot of it was leading up to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. That that passage. And it seemed at that time that our school district, which is challenging in many respects, was all of a sudden actually interested in Opt Out, and making that, sharing information and materials… Pennsylvania has a legal Opt Out right on religious grounds…and making materials available in various languages. And something just didn’t compute in my head. I’m like, well, even if, if we’re entitled, the fact that they were interested in engaging with us on that, made me sort of question why that was. And then so post ESSA, it became clear that the shift that was going to be taking place was away from a high stakes end of year test and more towards embedded formative assessments. So in our district we’ve seen an influx, even though there isn’t funding for many other things, lots of technology coming in, lots of Chromebooks. Every, all of the students have Google accounts. Google runs our school district. Even though they say philsd.org, their Google accounts, and each student, their email address is actually their student id number. So to access a Chromebook as soon as you login, you know all of that information is tied back into their id number. So the technology was coming in. Many schools were doing multiple benchmark assessments. So there was less and less time for actual meaningful instruction throughout the school year and there were more and more tests taking place, many computerized. So, at that point, we were looking into like, what did this mean, what is the role of technology and the interim testing, in this movement And so, I had come across my…I have a blog. It’s called Wrench in the Gears. It’s a wordpress blog. So you, I have a lot of information there, and it’s all very well documented and linked. My colleague Emily Talmage, who’s a teacher in Maine, who has seen this first-hand. She has a blog: Save Maine Schools. And so I had found her blog and at one point she said, you know…you know, only click on this link, you know, if you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole. And at that point it was, it was a website called Global Education Futures Forum, and they have this agenda for education up to 2035. And it is their projection. And it’s a global…global membership led by Pavel Luksha, who’s connected with the Skolkovo Institute, in Russia. But the local person here, actually he’s very local, is Tom Vander Ark, is one of the US representatives. And so he was former Gates Foundation. And has his own consulting firm now. And it’s based out of Seattle. And, but anyway, so they have sort of what they call a foresight document, a sort of projecting based on trends and patterns, where they see things going for education, like over the next 20 years. And so really, they have a very sophisticated map. And all you have to do is sort of look at their map. And then match it up to current events. And you can see, like, where they’re pretty much on target where things are headed. And there, they have some really interesting infographics and, one of them, it’s a very decentralized system. So education is just like the individual at the center. So everything you’re hearing, personalized learning, and and individual education plans, like it’s one big person and you’re the center of your own universe. And sort of around you, there aren’t teachers or schools. It’s it’s many sort of digital interfaces, and devices, and data-gathering platforms. And this idea that education is a life-long process. Which I think all of us generally agree with, but the idea that you’re sort of chasing skills in this new global economy, and like constantly remaking yourself. Or like the gig economy and what that means. And managing your online reputation. Not just your skillsets. But your mindset. And your social outlook. And your behaviors. And the role of gamification. So there are many many elements to this, that if you look into it, I think raise a lot of questions. And increasingly, really over the past five years there’s been a lot of discussion about remaking education. Re-imagining education. You know, education for the 21st century. Future Ready Schools. And I think for the most part, parents and community members have been left out of this conversation, of what really does Future Ready Schools mean? And the folks who are running the conversation, are running the agenda, are largely coming from a tech background. And this is something that’s built up since the mid-nineties, when the Advanced Distributed Learning Program was set up within the Defense Department, and the Department of Education.  To have like you know, Tech Learning for all Americans. Which, you know, again  I think we all need to be tech knowledgable, I, the question is, how is the tech used and how in control of of your education are you, and your educational data. So anyway, a lot of this is being driven by interests of digitizing education. And really, through austerity mechanisms, pulling out more human interaction, out of the equation. So we’re, we’re seeing things that a number of years ago, Detroit, had a kindergarten, where they would have a hundred kindergarteners, with like one teacher and a couple of aides, and a lot of technology. So there’re lots of questions increasingly about the use of technology especially in early grades, and I know in, in Washington State there’ve been a big push for tablets down to the kindergarten level. Our children are being part of this sort of larger experiment that has health considerations that have not been closely examined. In terms of eyestrain, audio components, even hygiene with earphones. The wifi aspects. And then also the data collection. So, there’s this grand experiment going on for Future Ready Schools, and parents and community members aren’t really aware of the fact that it is an unproven experiment, and what the implications are long-term.

Mike: And it’s being driven heavily by corporations that are producing these platforms, this software, the electronics, kind of behind the scenes, because no one knows this is going on except a select group of administrators and teachers?

Alison: Yeah, well so they have, there are a number of like pilot districts. So the idea is sort of, you get a beachhead, and then you, you roll it out. You convince, I mean they have very sophisticated marketing manuals. Like Education Elements, they say, this is how you do it. You know first you, you have a social media campaign, you get the young teachers who are really into tech and you train them up in the way that you wanna do things, and then they mentor all the veteran teachers and you get the principal on board and then you have the parent meetings and it’s…again…with…if you understood it as, like selling a corporate product as opposed to public education, it might not be so disturbing. Like for me, I find having this sort of corporate approach to marketing, a new approach to public education. That’s, that’s what, what I find disturbing. I’ve called this Education 2.0, because I think we’re, we’re about to see a shift from the earlier version of privatization, which was the high stakes, end of year high stakes testing, vouchers, charter schools. Those things will all still continue, but they’ve, they were never the end game.  So they have been used as a way to de-stabilize the, the landscape of neighborhood schools. And in many cases they’ve been used to, you know, acquire real estate, further sort of gentrification, insider contracts, like there are many aspects that allow that to become a profit center. But there’s going to be a point of diminishing return. Where sort of like all the easy pickings have been taken. And if you’re pursuing sort of a tailoristic model , like the ultimate efficiency, lean production, Cyber-Education is the end game. So creating a system of education that really has very little in human resources.  There’s lots of folks within Pearson and IBM and Microsoft who are looking at AI, like everyone will have your own artificial intelligent, like learning sherpa for your life. You know, and this isn’t just K12, this is forever.  You know, someone on your shoulder telling you what you should be doing next. But removing the humans out of the equation and putting more technology in place. So I think that’s what this shift to Education 2.0 is going to be about, is largely cyber but I think most parents at this point are not comfortable with that model. They wouldn’t say, you know, and I will admit, like there, there’s a small group of kids who are highly motivated for whom a cyber, exclusively cyber model may work. I mean a lot of the research shows that for most kids the outcomes are not great. So what they will be selling is project based learning. And that’s what you’ll hear a lot about, coming up, like in the next couple of years. But those projects won’t necessarily be linked to schools. So you’ll hear more and more about, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any pace learning. So they’re looking to de- disconnect education from physical school buildings, and actual teachers in classrooms, to sort of what’s called a learning eco-system model. So something that’s more free-flowing, you’re just out in the world collecting skills. And that’s what was so interesting about, like the Common Core State Standards set-up. And I know a lot of states have sort of rolled back or renamed them. But the idea of having education tied to very specific standards, was a way of atomizing education and making it available for digitization. So if, if education is a human process of growth and development, that’s very murky to try to put in a metric, right? You need bits and bytes. And so if you create an education that’s strictly around standards and like sub standards and little sets, you can just aggregate those, and collect them or not collect them, and run that as data in a digital platform. So that push toward standards, yes it allowed for school report cards and value added modeling and things that hurt schools and teachers, but it also normalized the idea that education was less a human process and more people collecting things. Like collecting skills and standards, which is what you need for like a competency based education approach.

Mike: So, talk about some of the specific examples…one of the advantages to going into your site is you have links to so many different documents from the very corporations and people that are producing these systems. And one of the examples you’ve talked about in your talk back here in March was something called Tutormate? That was involved, kids getting pulled out of class, to go see, basically AI icons talking to them and they become attached to them…

Alison: Yeah…

Mike: …it’s disturbing.

Alison: Well there were a couple of, there’s a couple of interesting things. I had sort of a slide saying who’s teaching your children? Because increasingly it’s not necessarily their classroom teacher. The chatbot was actually Reasoning Mind, which is a math program. It was developed in Texas. And so it’s been like long-running and gotten a lot of funding, both from public and private sources. About refining sort of a personalized learning towards math. But kids were interacting with these online chat bots and developing connections and relationships to these online presences in their math program. I’m in Pennsylvania. So a lot of, a lot of things are developing in Pittsburgh. They have a whole initiative called Remake Learning in Pittsburgh which I believe is sort of early-stage learning ecosystem model and a lot of that is coming out of Carnegie Mellon because Carnegie Mellon is doing a lot of work on AI and education. And they have something called Alex. So they like the idea of peer-based learning. That sounds attractive like, yeah, kids like to learn from their peers. This, their version of peer-based learning is that you have a giant avatar cartoon peer on a screen and the children interact with this peer on a screen. So that’s something that’s being piloted in southwestern Pennsylvania right now. And then Tutormate is actually a different variation but they were pulling kids out of class, away…these were young children, from their classroom setting to put them in a computer lab to do tutoring with a corporate volunteer via skype, and an online platform. So in this case it actually was a human being, but this was during school hours. This was not a supplement to classroom instruction, this was in lieu of having direct instruction with a certified teacher. They were being put into an online platform with a corporate volunteer and you know, it turns out a number of the sponsors of that program had ties to defense contracting industries. You know, Halliburton, and Booz Allen Hamilton. You know, things that you might wanna question, is that who you want your second grader spending their time chatting with? You know, in lieu of having their second grade teacher teach them reading. So again, there is this shift away from, from teachers. There’s, there’s a model that’s going on right now, within many one-to-one device districts, so districts where every child has their own device. Young kids often have tablets, older kids have Chromebooks, in high-end districts you might have an actual laptop, with some hard-drive on it. The Clayton Christensen Institute, or Innosight Institute, they’ve been pushing blended learning. So blended learning is this new model. Where, there are a number of different ways you can…flipped classrooms, which many people have heard of…but there’s one called a rotational model. So children only have direct access to a teacher a third of the time. Like the class would be split into three groups. And you would be with a teacher for a third of the time, doing peer work a third of the time, and doing online work a third of the time. So again, it’s a way of increasing class size supposedly, like supposedly the quality time you have when you’re with the teacher with the ten kids instead of thirty is supposed to be so great even though maybe you only get fifteen minutes. What’s happening in other districts is they’re saying the time where kids are not with their teachers, and they’re just doing online work, they don’t really need a teacher present, they could just have an aide. So that’s again, in terms of pushing out professional teachers, is that, well if kids are doing online learning, maybe you just need an Americorp volunteer, in the room, to make sure that no one’s  hurting them…each other. You know, and that they’re on, supposedly on task. You know I think that’s a worrisome trend. And even though they’ll sell blended learning as very tech forward and future ready, the kids don’t love spending time on these devices, like hour after hour after hour. And my concern as a parent is…we’re all starting to realize what the implications are for big data. And how we interact with online platforms, either in social media, or other adaptive situations. And how, that these devices are actually gathering data, on ourselves.. .so, they they gather information through keystroke patterns, they all have cameras, they all, you know, the tablets have TouchSense, so theoretically there’s body temperature and pulse sensors. Like there’s many many elements, are they all being used now? No, but there is that capacity for using them to develop that level of engagement. To understand how you’re interacting with these programs. And that’s being developed through, with the Army Research Lab and USC, their Institute for Creative Technologies. And they are developing, a lot of this is being developed in conjunction with the Defense Department, for their interactive intelligent tutoring systems and with the Navy actually, which is relevant to Seattle. A lot of these early prototyped intelligent tutoring systems have been developed specifically with the Navy in mind. Training very specifically on computer programs, and optimizing that. But once they develop the infrastructure, then they’re able to apply that in non-military settings. And so it’s, it’s making its way out. So there’s a lot of data that can be collected and the other, the other push that you’ll start to see is gamification. So games, like gaming in schools. And kids love games, like parents love games. It sounds so fun. But I think what we have to realize is there’s a lot of behavioral data that’s coming out of the gaming too. That we’re not necessarily aware of.  And so this push for gamification, or sometime…like gamified classroom management systems. So Google has something called Classcraft. And all the kids have avatars. And like if they’re behaving in class, they can, you know they earn points, or have points deducted, and you’re on teams, and you can save your team member or not. And with ESSA, having passed, you know, they’ll tell the story that like we care about more than just test scores, we really wanna care about the whole child, we wanna, you know we we care about children as individuals. Really they wanna collect all of this data, not just on your academic skills, but on your behaviors, and your mindset. And are you gritty, and are you a leader, or are you, you know, flexible, are you resilient. And these, these gamified platforms, whether they’re run by the teacher, or gaming that’s done with the students in these simulations, and also AR/VR, augmented reality/virtual reality games that you’re starting to see. There’s just a lot of information going through, and you have to wonder, how is it being used, what are the privacy implications, and also what are the feedback loops being created? In terms of how you interact with a platform. Is it reinforcing aspects of your personality that you may or may not want reinforced. My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

Mike: In some of the documentation you present, they have systems that wanna pay attention to whether a person that is working with the program is getting bored, or falling asleep, or whatever, so they were like watching like you know, the eye, literally to see if it’s like where it’s wandering off to…you said they potentially could be checking your, your temperature, your heart rate…

Alison: I mean, you know, are they doing it right now? I don’t know that they, but the capacity is there. And…

Mike: And all that data is being saved somewhere. And shared. In some capacity. We don’t know.

Alison: W…and I think it’s very unclear. And I think they’re, they’re many parents who are very concerned about privacy and working that angle of controlling what data goes in…I mean I think all of us are aware that once something is up in the cloud, even if there are promises made about privacy and protections, that nothing is really safe up there. In terms of from hacking, or even just legal. Like FERPA is very, the education records, sort of, privacy has a lot of loopholes. You know anyone who, many of these organizations, companies are third parties are designated agents of school districts. So they have access to this information. And I will also mention Naviance, because the other shift that we’re seeing happening is the shift towards creating an education system that is geared towards workforce development. That, that, that children at younger and younger ages should, should be identifying their passions, and finding their personal pathways to the workforce and the economy. And so Naviance is one of a number of companies that does strengths assessments and surveys. And many states you can’t get your diploma unless your child does a complete battery of assessments, personality assessment through Naviance, which is this third-party program. Also linking towards like their future college plans, and other things linked in, and very detailed information about people’s family situations. So again, the, the amount of data that’s being collected on many many different levels to supposedly like guide students moving forward into the economy, I think it merits a larger conversation. And I’m not saying that everyone needs to agree with my position, but I think that the, the agenda that’s being moved forward is being done in a way that for the most part, parents and community members, there’s not been a consensus reached, with us. That this is okay. That this new version of school is, is what we desire.

Mike: And being a parent in the Philadelphia School District, when these new systems are, have been implemented, you know, and the potential use of all, gathering of all your child’s data, I mean, have you been consulted on that prior? Did, every time they bring in a new system did they let you know, oh, we have another piece of software here that potentially could be, you know, data-mining your kid, are you okay with that?

Alison: So I think on the, on the plus side, because we have been so severely defunded, we haven’t seen quite as much of an influx of tech yet. Although I, I anticipate it’s coming. We’ve just had a big roll-out of Minecraft I think in schools. That’s their new thing that they’re, they’re all…there are a number of schools, like within turnaround sort of, that, that are being piloted for these one-to-one devices. I will say that there was an opt-out form for Google Apps for Education. Which is, and I so I opted, I opted my child out of Google Apps for Education. I may have been the only parent in the Philadelphia School District who did that, and it, it makes it complicated because again, there, it’s convenient, you know, it’s a nice, you know, way for teachers not to have to carry around lots of papers, and they have kids put it all on their Google drive. But I, I think we’re all starting to be a little wary about the amount of information and power that Google has, you know, in the world and what the implications are for that. So I think if, if people have concerns around some of these privacy aspects, you know, that’s, that’s a potential starting, starting place, is to opt out of Google Apps for Education, and see where that goes. Or even have targeted like device and data strikes, during the school year. So we don’t get a notice every time there’s a new program. I guess long story short.

Mike: Just a few minutes left. And again, some of the companies, in addition to Defense Department having early hooks into education reform, and online learning, some of the companies involved, and heavily investing in this, as an example, like Halliburton and Booz Allen, which to me, let’s say Booz Allen which is also heavily tied into doing, they have access to data bases that the NSA does and, Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen.

Alison: I would say like right now, like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, is huge and they’re pushing Summit Basecamp. I know we just have a few min…minutes in closing so I also wanna mention, in addition to tech, we also have global finance interests involved, because in ESSA there are provisions for Pay for Success. Which is where they’re looking to use private venture capital to affect educational outcomes. Either right now it’s in universal pre-k, also early literacy. So we need to be aware of the role that Pay for Success is going to play in this, and that’s essentially like “moneyball” for government. Where they’re looking to save money. I mean there’s a conference that they, they’ve put this together. Evidence based policy. That’s what they call it. That’s sort of the code word. Is that if you can come up with a computerized program that will give you specific success metrics, venture capital can make money on that. So a lot of global finance interests, and impact investing interests are looking, I believe at education as a market, a futures market in student education data. So I have more information on that on my blog. But social impact bonds and Pay for Success are a critical piece to understanding why education is being digitized. Also Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, IBM, the tech interests, Summit Basecamp, AltSchool, Micro Schools are another big component of this. These value-model private schools, if vouchers go through, that, we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of that. The tech is also focusing on Montessori school models, and, and very high-end. So you have Rocketship Academy, which are sort of stripped down versions for low-income districts and, but they’re also marketing tech to affluent families and aspirational families as being sort of future-ready. So it’s really a, there’s many different branded versions of education technology.

Mike: So long story short, you have a kid in, going through school, or, you know, anyone you care about then, this would be something to look into.

Alison: Yes. Understand how much time they’re spending on devices. Advocate that school budgets prioritize human teachers, and reasonable class sizes, and not data-mining, not adaptive management systems. And and have this conversation in your community. Is education about creating opportunities for students to learn and grow together as a community, or is it these isolating personalized pathways, where people are competing against one another. And and I think that’s a larger conversation we all need to have in our school districts.

Mike: Alright. We’re speaking with Alison McDowell. She is a parent and researcher in the Philadelphia school system. Produced a series,  Future Ready Schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. And again, your website is…

Alison: Wrenchinthegears.com

Mike: Wrenchinthegears.com. And with that we’re unfortunately out of time. I want to thank you for coming and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Thank you.

Why Delinking Graduation from the Smarter Balanced Assessment & Other Tests is the Right Thing to Do.

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I am writing to encourage everyone who values the 13 years of hard work completed by students as they reach their senior year to call their state legislators. My request is simple: ask your legislator to pass HB 1046. This bill will serve to delink all high stakes testing requirements in all subjects from high school graduation.

While this bill does not eliminate the state tests, it DOES eliminate the high stakes attached to these tests, which is a big step forward in supporting students whose futures have been severely damaged by high stakes testing.

In 2013, Seattle Times writer Donna Blankenship notified her readers about some stark facts tied to the state’s End of Course Math tests:

“But that doesn’t make life any easier for the nearly 7,000 students in the Class of 2013 who have yet to pass the newly required math test and didn’t get their diplomas last month.”

2013 was the first year the state required students to pass an end of course math test in order to graduate and earn their diploma.

This got me thinking. Since 2013, how many students in Washington State have been denied a diploma for failing a high stakes tests required for graduation? I don’t see the numbers posted clearly anywhere, despite the state’s creation of these high stakes.

It gets worst. In 2017-18, students will  be required to pass three high stakes tests in order to receive their diplomas, per OSPI:

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I wrote OSPI and asked them about the number of students who will be denied a diploma because of end of course tests required by the state. After all, we know approximately 7,000 students were denied graduation in 2013 because of one math test. What will happen when three tests are required?

Hello OSPI Communications and Community Outreach,

I have a question about SHB1046. Does OSPI have an estimate of how many students will fail to graduate if testing is not delinked from graduation, please?  How many failed to graduate last year due to testing?

Thank you kindly, Susan DuFresne

OSPI’s  response:

“As of late April, there were 15,645 students in the Class of 2017 who had not met the assessment graduation requirements.  Students are required to pass an assessment – or a graduation alternative – in each of the three subject areas ELA, math, and science.  The 15,645 number includes students who may have passed 0, 1, or 2 of the requirements, but haven’t met all 3.  Also note that these numbers only reflect their status with respect to the assessment grad requirements; it does not include information about whether the student has met other graduation requirements such as credits.”

15,645 students in Washington State are at risk of being denied graduation after investing 13 years of their lives in school.  In years past, a child attended 13 years of school, received passing or failing grades by their professional educators, earned their credits, and graduated with their diploma.

Shannon Ergun, ESL 9-12 Mt Tahoma High School, Tacoma Public Schools is highly concerned about the undue stress level these high stakes create for students and she states:

“I estimate based on there being 1.1 million students in WA that there are 70K-75K seniors that means that about 20% of current seniors are waiting on test scores to know if they can walk at graduation in 4-5 weeks. That is an inappropriate level of stress for a 17 or 28 year old to carry while still faced with AP exams, final exams, and final plans for beyond high school.

Until large numbers of kids are actually impacted everyone will continue to believe it will all be ok.”

I think Shannon makes a great point: What about the ordeal our kids experience just by taking these high stakes tests, knowing graduation is on the line? As adults, it’s sometimes easier to ignore rather than face the pressure these tests place on our kids.

For instance, did you know some students find these tests so stressful there’s an actual protocol for what to do should a student vomit on a test? That’s a lot of pressure. When was the last time you vomited at work over the pressure you felt to perform? I’m guessing this would be a highly unusual occurrence, not likely covered by a particular protocol in the employee handbook.

And what’s the message we’re sending to those kids born without the very particular gift of being a good test takers? You only have value if you can score high on a standardized test?

The State Board of Education is offering a compromise solution: delinking the biology end of course exam, while continuing to use the other end of year course exams as graduation requirements.

Why would it be acceptable to offer a deal to 3,302 students but leave 12,343 behind?

As an educator, I want ALL students who have otherwise completed their graduation requirements based on grades and credits earned to receive their diplomas – despite failing one or more of any of the three high stakes tests imposed by the state.

And what happens to the chances of bright futures for those left behind?

High school exit exams contribute greatly to the school-to-prison pipeline as noted here by FairTest:

“High school exit exams (FairTest, 2008) push many thousands of students out of school. As a result of these factors, urban graduation rates decreased. Some students see no realistic option other than dropping out; some are deliberately pushed out or fail the tests. Either way, these young people are much more likely to end up in trouble or in prison. One study found that high school exit exams increase incarceration rates by 12.5 percent (Baker & Lang, 2013).”

Sadly, youth who are unable to acquire a diploma are often relegated to minimum wage employment, live with state support through DSHS, or become homeless. In 2012, for example, DSHS reported that 69% of their “Opportunity Youth” did not have a high school diploma.

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And what about earnings for youth who do not receive a high school diploma?

“The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF). That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

PBS Frontline reports in Dropout Nation by Jason Breslow and per the 2012 US Census here:

“The challenges hardly end there, particularly among young dropouts. Among those between the ages of 18 and 24, dropouts were more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty according to the Department of Education. Dropouts experienced a poverty rate of 30.8 percent, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 13.5 percent.

Among dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24, incarceration rates were a whopping 63 times higher than among college graduates, according to a study (PDF) by researchers at Northeastern University. “

Conclusion

Are we OK with throwing away the futures of kids who are unable to perform on high stakes tests – after they’ve devoted 13 years of hard work to their education? What message does this send to kids about hard work when it doesn’t payoff and they end up rejected by the system.

What if OSPI was required to report how many students have been denied graduation due to high stakes testing each year? What if our US Department of Education had to file a yearly report which focused on the living conditions of each state’s youth denied a diploma due to high stakes tests?

Perhaps outraged parents, educators, and students would rise up and stop the high stakes testing; the state’s means to punish children, educators, and schools would be lost forever.

By delinking ALL high stakes tests from graduation we can protect thousands of students in Washington from being denied their rightfully earned diploma for simply missing a few questions on a test.

Also by delinking these tests from graduation requirements, we will also save our state between $9-$11 million dollars. Money that could be better spent on actual teaching vs testing.

Call 1-800-562-6000 and ask your legislators to protect our students by delinking high stakes testing from graduation – vote YES on SHB1046! Delink them all! Give our youth the bright futures they deserve!

-Susan DuFresne – Integrated Kindergarten Teacher with General Education and Special Education endorsements – 7 years in the Renton School District, Teacher of Professional Conscience, Co-Owner of the Opt Out Bus, Social Equality Educator, Artist, progressive and social justice education activist, unionist, mother and grandmother – The views I express are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. #FreeSpeech

The Myth of Local Control and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): Why do the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners Get to Independently Review State Plans?

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As more cards are laid on the table, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the much hyped local control provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was designed to keep the locals, especially parents, under control.

A perfect example is the rushed creation of Washington State’s ESSA Plan.

This is what I discovered and wrote about in the blog post: Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – $8 Million from the Gates Foundation and the Myth of Local Control. 

Were parents “meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of” Washington’s state plan? So far, the evidence I’ve found points to “No”.

When I look over the list of the voting members of the ESSA Consolidated Plan Team, I see no parents listed.

What’s even more egregious: Of the 70 member of the ESSA workgroup, only one is designated as a parent representative – and THEY’RE also associated with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

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Even the Parent and Community Engagement Workgroup had minimal parent input. Of the 22 voting members, three were parents: Ellie Hutton, Laura Regala, and Stacey Klim.  But get this, of the three parent representatives, only one – Ellie Hutton, attended the three meetings of the workgroup. (Meeting minutes: May 20th 2016June 17th 2016, July 15th 2016.)

Even at the state level, it looks like the deck is stacked against parent input.

Now Politico is reporting this:

GROUPS TEAM UP FOR THEIR OWN ESSA PLAN REVIEWS: The nonprofit education groups Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners are teaming up to review state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Each state plan is already subject to a federal review, in which a team of educators and experts examine the plans to ensure they gel with the law. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will have the final say on approving the plans. But the Collaborative and Bellwether — in addition to a number of other education groups — are doing their own independent reviews, too. The unofficial third party reviews come as advocates anxiously await the level of scrutiny state plans will receive under the Trump administration and whether DeVos will take a backseat approach, as Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander has suggested.

Let’s take a moment to review the current situation.

In August of 2016, the Gates Foundation awarded over $8 million in grants to support states as they developed and implemented their ESSA plans -with the understanding that adoption of personalized learning was job one. Now, Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners – and other un-named education groups – get to conduct their own independent reviews of individual state ESSA plans BEFORE they’re submitted to the Department of Education for official review.

What part of this long con would inspire any individual – hopeful of maintaining any of their personal credibility – to boast that this process is an example of the local control?

Let’s take a look at Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners.

Here’s the mission and funders for Collaborative for Student Success. Yes, the Gates Foundation is on the list. Along with ExxonMobil and the Hewlett Foundation.

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Following the money for the Bellwether Education Partners was trickier. Per their website:

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Except when you look over the website, there’s no funders to be found. Then I did some Googling and found this blog post: Three Non-Profits Selling Out Public Education…in the name of “public education”. Guess who’s the first non-profit on the list? Bellwether. Go read the blog post. It’s all there: Bain & Company, The Mind Trust, McKinsey, TFA, and on, and on.

Why did Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners get to jump the line and give their final stamp to state plans before they’re submitted to the Department of Education?

I don’t have an answer, but it’s a question worth pondering.

What I do know is this: The Every Student Succeeds Act was a perfectly executed confidence game, promising everything, and costing us dearly.

Welcome to the ESSA dumpster fire. It’s gonna burn for a long, long, time.

-Carolyn Leith

Postscript: Here’s one interesting grant from the Gates Foundation to Bellwether Education Partners.

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Look What You’ve Done – An Open Letter to My Mother

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When you announced your plans, at your 70th birthday last summer, to vote for him, I patiently explained why a vote for Trump was a direct vote against the safety and well being of your only two grandchildren. You didn’t listen. You spouted rhetoric about how much you hated Hillary and didn’t trust the government. As we drove away from your house that day I knew in my heart that it would be the last time I would bring my children there. Something in the way your husband blurted out, during lunch, about his gun not being secured while Beezus was alone in your house made me realize that this was no place for my most beloved humans, my children, your only grandchildren.

Over the next few months I tried to appeal to your rational side. I don’t believe you are racist and I know you’re not homophobic. I’ve also always known you to be a feminist, maybe you’ve changed and I just didn’t notice. Maybe I assumed you were still the mother I had in 1969, 1974, 1980. I kept sending articles your way and sharing the writings of your very astute LGBTQ 12 year old granddaughter. You did not budge.

And then the morning after, when the rest of the nation was mourning our loss, when my 6 year old was too sad to go to school-trying to grasp why grown ups would elect a bully for their president, you went on Facebook to gloat in his victory. You told us that he would fix everything that was wrong with our country. When I reminded you that you had chosen to vote against your own granddaughters’ well being, you chose to ignore me.

And now it has begun. First he and his cronies, white men who have never known a day without extreme privilege, have made plans to dismantle my children’s health care coverage. We are income eligible for Apple Health and since enrolling after the ACA was enacted my children have received free medical and dental coverage. In the past, when my daughters, your granddaughters, were uninsured we didn’t take them to the doctor except in the most extreme of circumstances. It has been such a relief to know that they have finally been receiving the medical and dental care that all people deserve. Beezus is worried about how we will be able to afford to continue with their now regular dental visits. I’m worried too.

I’d like to take a brief aside to mention why it is that my children are eligible for free health care coverage through the state. Am I unemployed? No. I work full time, more than full time usually, about 50-55 hours a week. I am also a college graduate, Dean’s list UW 1996. But I happen to do “women’s work”. I am a child care provider, one of the most feminist and necessary occupations in our country. I am here every day making sure that six other American families can go to work. I make about $11 per hour.

But I digress, back to health care. We should be ok, we’ve gone without healthcare before, but I worry a lot about my friends’ children with asthma and life threatening allergies, and of course all of our friends with Type 1 Diabetes. What about you and your other friends with MS? You use Medicare, didn’t you think to worry about all of your friends with pre existing conditions and how a lifetime spending cap would affect them? My elderly neighbor feels lucky he had his heart attack early in November. His 11 day ICU visit to Harborview came in at just over $200,000-his portion will be about $1,500. But what will it be for my neighbors who have their heart attacks after Paul Ryan has his way with Medicare?

But maybe you’re like your president and think my neighbors don’t matter? After all many of them are black and brown and certainly some of them don’t pray to your Christian God. My next door neighbors are Muslim, recent immigrants from Iraq. The next house down, Muslim also, from Somalia. In fact of the twenty children who live on my block, only 2 of them are white, your granddaughters. Maybe you were counting on their whiteness to save them from this new administration and it’s devastating policies?

But it won’t. Because you made me a liar. And this is what pains me most of all. When your granddaughter came out at age 9, I told her this was the best time, best city and best family to grow up gay. Your granddaughter already knows Mike Pence thinks she should be electrocuted. And now Donald is sponsoring the anti LGBTQ “First Amendment Defense Act” that would legalize discrimination against your granddaughter in all aspects of her life.

Your vote made my daughter unsafe. Your vote made my friends’ trans kids unsafe. Your vote made my friends’ gay sons unsafe. You know who made me an ally though? You did. You worked at the phone company in the seventies when it was one of the only safe work places for the LGBTQ community. They were relegated to working as phone operators on the night shift with all of the others who were seen as weirdos and freaks. And you being a night owl, and something of a freak yourself, loved that shift and loved going out dancing at Shelly’s Leg after work with all your wonderful Gay and Lesbian friends. You were the one who taught me about the struggles of trans people when our friend Kelly, who had once been our big beautiful black friend Eric, was going through his transition and surgeries. You were the one who introduced me to Gay marriage when I was 4, in 1974, when we went to your friends’ house and they showed me the photo album of their recent nuptials and I mistakenly asked, “but where’s the bride mommy?” I’ll never forget how those two lovely men took my hand and explained to me that THEY had gotten married. I have carried that moment and their pure joy, with me always.

And what about your granddaughters’ education? That’s something that has always been important to you. They’re both Special Education students, you know that, so maybe you know that your president’s pick for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, didn’t know about the federal protections my children are afforded through IDEA. She would prefer I be given some vouchers so that my children might attend a parochial school or one of the full day online, screen time schools. Betsy DeVos doesn’t care about my children and their right to an amply funded high quality education at a public school by highly trained union teachers. But I know you did. You and my father made sure that I attended the finest public schools in our city. In fact, you were so discouraged with the lack of racial diversity at my neighborhood school that you enrolled me as a “voluntary racial transfer student” in 1978. I rode the bus all the way from Lake City to John Muir Elementary because you believed it was important for children to grow and learn in diverse schools.

I believe that too. That’s why my children go to a very diverse public school. A science school, by the way. Up until recently science didn’t seem very revolutionary but it is now that our Forrest Service is on the forefront of the resistance movement simply by speaking their truth and the daily evidence they see of climate change. Our science school is breeding its own resistance movement. Twice already the middle school students have held classroom walk outs in opposition to your president and his position on our Civil Rights. Both of your granddaughters were out on the sidewalk in front of school chanting, “This is a Safe Place!”

And they are right. Our city, Seattle and our friends in nearby Burien, have declared our cities, Sanctuary Cities. Your president has said that he will withhold funding to penalize us for this but our city’s Mayor Ed Murray held a press conference yesterday in direct defiance of that threat. We shall not be moved.

And then there is the earth. But if you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for the safety of the children, and your own friends, I’m guessing you don’t care about the earth either. Your granddaughters do though. They wept when I showed them the photos of the brave people who have camped out all winter to protect all of us, and our Mother, from the pipeline. Water is life.

But your president is only concerned about protecting the life of the unborn. Smugly signing away funding for Women’s access to reproductive health care services by global organizations, simply because some of those providers might also provide, or just mention abortion services? That photo of he, and the other white men in their suits signing away women’s health care was so vile, so unsettling-their hatred for women so palpable.

I still feel powerful though. I can thank you for that too I suppose. You didn’t know how to drive so we walked and bussed all over this city when I was a little girl. Often just the two of us, after dark. You were never afraid. If anyone tried to bother us you always said, “Move along now, move along,” quietly but firm. I took that quality from you and I’ve passed it to my girls. But I am loud. Our girls are so powerful, too, marching through the streets with 150,000 of our friends who believe that your president is wrong. We had signs from their Uncle Derek and the girls had pussy hats from my old friend Sara in Jersey and DIY buttons. They looked like mighty Power Puff versions of young revolutionaries as they chanted and marched for miles and miles.

I believe that me and my people will make it through this time, but I also believe that you and the people you have chosen to lead us are going to do a lot of damage that will not be easily repaired. Irreparable. What you’ve done is irreparable. I will work to clean the mess. I will march and post. I will display signs of commitment, Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights Matter, Muslim Rights Matter, Immigrants Rights Matter, LGBTQ Rights Matter, Worker’s Rights Matter. And most important, I will do my job as a Citizen and a Mother to raise 2 voters who always think of the greater good of ALL people and our earth, first. When that time comes, we will truly be able to say it was WE not he, who made America great again.

-Shawna Murphy
Editor’s note: To learn more about Shawna’s work, please read Fighting for Fairness: A Family Portrait in Activism from Seattle’s Child. 

Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – $8 Million from the Gates Foundation and the Myth of Local Control

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Remember when a return to local control was the biggest selling point for the passage of The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

States would be allowed to set their own education policies. Principals, teachers, and parents could escape the long shadow of the “broken” No Child Left Behind.

I’ll let Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers take us back.

For years, educators, parents and members of our broader communities were the canaries in the coal mine, crying out that hypertesting was hurting students, demoralizing teachers and frustrating parents. We will continue to be vigilant as work shifts to the states to fix accountability systems and develop teacher evaluation systems that are fair and aimed at improving and supporting good instruction. This new bill promises the creation of better accountability and support systems, and our students, their parents and their educators deserve nothing less.

To be fair, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, was sure passage meant teacher and parent input would matter.

But “shrinking” doesn’t describe Garcia. She firmly declares that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act earlier this year, the major federal education overhaul, opens the way for her members, in partnership with parents and other groups, to reinvent education for the better — this time, with an eye toward equity and educating the whole child. “I think the next big thing is doing the opposite of all the bad things,” she says.

Sounds so wonderful, right?

But how does this play out in the brutal and dysfunctional world of state politics? Where lobbyists rule, money is king, and the lack of the proper connections gets you nowhere.

For the Gates Foundation, this deplorable state of democracy is a distinct advantage. All that foundation money and non-profit proxies willing to do your bidding – for a price. It’s the perfect playing field for keeping the locals from having any real control.

Case in point:

In August of this year, the Gates Foundation awarded over $8 million ($8,725,010) in grants to:

  • support states as they development and implement ESSA plans
  • support Personalized Learning adoption in states leveraging the new ESSA guidelines

Wow, $8 million in Gates money to “help guide” the implementation of the ESSA.

Just in case you missed it: the local control provision in the ESSA means squat if Gates can use his money to co-opt the process. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.

But wait, there’s more.

Politicians, like Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander, get political cover from the soon to be horrible implementation of the ESSA by arguing that they fought hard for local control – knowing full well Gates had the interest, money and influence to exploit this “in” to dominate and shape how the ESSA would be implemented. What an ingenious scam.

Back to grants. Let’s take a look:

$7,900,010 to the New Venture Fund

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$75,000 to Rodel Charitable Foundation DE

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$750,000 to Education Commission of the States

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Parent Involvement?

This got me thinking: What was the quality of the parent involvement that went into the development of Washington’s ESSA state plan?

According to a white paper by the National PTA, parents are supposed to play a big role:

ESSA specifically calls for parents to be meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of state and school district education plans. These education plans provide the framework for how a state and school district will deliver education services to public elementary and secondary school students. Additionally, the law requires that parents must be involved in the creation of “state report cards” that provide information on how all schools in the state are performing—such as graduation rates, attendance and student achievement levels. The report cards must be written in a parent-friendly manner so that families can understand the information provided and take action to support their child’s education.

Were parents “meaningfully involved and consulted in the development of” Washington’s state plan? So far, the evidence I’ve found points to “No”.

When I look over the list of the voting members of the ESSA Consolidated Plan Team, I see no parents listed.

What’s even more egregious: Of the 70 member of the ESSA workgroup, only one is designated as a parent representative – and THEY’RE also associated with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-11-08-29-am

Even the Parent and Community Engagement Workgroup had minimal parent input. Of the 22 voting members, three were parents: Ellie Hutton, Laura Regala, and Stacey Klim.  But get this, of the three parent representatives, only one – Ellie Hutton, attended the three meetings of the workgroup. (Meeting minutes: May 20th 2016June 17th 2016, July 15th 2016.)

Even at the state level, it looks like the deck is stacked against parent input.

Which bring up the uncomfortable question: How do parents stand a chance against the Gates Foundation money and the insider approach to the development of the ESSA plan?

Answer: They don’t.

Final Thoughts

Randi Weingarten, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and the rest of the ESSA promoters have a lot to answer for – and we should make them do it.

Randi and Lily both seem to love accountability for other people, especially children.

Now is the time for both union leaders to step up and own their mistaken faith in and active promotion of the ESSA as the answer to the wrongs created by No Child Left Behind. Otherwise, they’re just more empty suits spouting empty talk. (I’m not holding my breath.)

The rest of us need to get over the idea that our leaders hold our best interests above their own. Here’s the hard truth – they never have and never will.

You can’t outsource your activism. Protecting public education is too important to trust to politicians or any other leader. It’s something we have to do for ourselves.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

The US Department of Education’s Digital Promise to advance the ed-tech field and online learning in public schools

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Editor’s note: Cheri Kiesecker was a panelists for the Webinar: Stop the Ed Tech Juggernaut hosted by Parents Across America. Click here for links to the video recording and slides from the program.

-Carolyn Leith

The USDoE’s Digital Promise to advance the ed-tech field, CBE, and online education

In 2011 the US Department of Education (USDoE)  launched the nonprofit Digital Promise,  and Digital Promise helped create The League of Innovative Schools. (Click to see the map of Innovative Schools in your area).  Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools are involved with Relay Graduate School, Bloomboard, the use of standardized student hand gestures, real-time data from student white boards, data badges (micro-credentials) and Competencies. Click to see details.  According to former US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s speech, the nonprofit marriage of Federal Government and Edtech, Digital Promise was created ” to advance the education technology field”.

“This is not a task for government alone. We can create the environment for innovation. But experts in schools, research labs, and entrepreneurs big and small will do the difficult work of developing new technologies, getting them adopted in homes, schools, and districts across the country.

Digital Promise will aid that work by bringing together people from business, education, and the research community to advance the education technology field.
Even as we’re launching this new effort, a group of school districts have stepped forward to lead this transformation. We’re calling them the League of Innovative Schools.
Digital Promise will be a truly collaborative effort across all sectors.”

Arne Duncan, Sept. 16, 2011 Launch of Digital Promise  

However, launching  Digital Promise in the U.S. was not enough.  The nonprofit GLOBAL Digital Promise was  launched in 2013.  Global DP’s work “supports learner agency” and US DP and Global DP  have “a formal agreement and informal relationships between the two organizations [to] enable deep and fluid collaboration.”  One has to wonder, what kind of  information and resources are shared in this formal and informal relationship?

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Digital Promise’s roots go deeper than its launch in 2011

Digital Promise was previously authorized in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, and Arne Duncan reminded us of that at the 2011 Digital Promise launch when he said:

“I especially want to thank Representative John Yarmuth, for his leadership. Along with Senator Dodd, Representative Yarmuth worked to authorize Digital Promise in the Higher Education Opportunity Act. That’s the reason we’re all here today.”

The US Department of Education has been ACTIVELY engaged in promoting businesses, corporations, and edtech in public education.

In 2012 the USDOE joined with the FCC in creating “DIGITAL TEXTBOOK PLAYBOOK,” A ROADMAP FOR EDUCATORS TO ACCELERATE THE TRANSITION TO DIGITAL TEXTBOOKS“:

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The US Department of Education later followed up on its promise to advance the edtech field and accelerate the transition from textbook to online education with their Open Education Resources, #GoOpen initiative in 2015.  Once again the USDoE joined forces with others: Department of Defense (Federal Learning Registry) , Microsoft, Amazon, Edmodo,  and a host of others to deliver this “free” online curriculum.  You can see from the USDoE Press Release that it appears that Microsoft will be handling the interchange of data sharing.

The seemingly urgent push to transform education into a global workforce talent pipeline, creating k-12 badge pathways, allow workforce to “utilize student data and develop curriculum to meet market demand”,  measure 21st century (non-cognitive) soft skills and competencies,  creation of workforce data badges /credentials and Competency Based Education (CBE) seems to be coming from the many sectors mentioned in Digital Promise.

This excerpt from a 2015 NGA  letter to all states explains the workforce-education competency based transformation and also mentions the NH Innovative testing model as an example of future CBE assessments:

“Communicating the Change (page 14) A policy change to a CBE system is unlikely to occur unless a governor who supports a move toward CBE can communicate the need for change, the potential value of CBE, and strategies to overcome the associated challenges. The basic message a governor can communicate is that a CBE system is responsive to the learning needs of individual students. CBE would benefit students and families, teachers, communities, and businesses. Well prepared individuals have a greater potential to be productive members of society who better use taxpayer money by staying in the education system only for as long as necessary to meet their professional goals. Despite the appeal of CBE and its potential benefits, the structure does not fit within society’s current entrenched vision of education and existing policies.

State policymakers and the public at large habitually picture desks, a blackboard, and students facing a teacher at the front of the classroom when thinking of a typical K-12 educational environment. Higher education produces a similarly traditional vision of 18-year-olds in ivy-covered buildings. These systems do not work for enough of today’s students. CBE is one way to respond to the evolution in the demands of current students and offers a new way to overcome existing shortcomings. Governors are well positioned to lead and encourage a discussion on the potential value of a move toward CBE.”

“K-12 Policy Environment  – If governors want to discuss the benefits of CBE for K-12 students, they should emphasize the ability to provide more personalized instruction so that far more students can meet more rigorous and relevant standards, regardless of background, ability, or stage of development. CBE is designed to meet students where they are and get them the help they need when they need it so that they can master the defined standards of learning. In a CBE system, the support and incentives are in place to increase the likelihood that students have mastered content and are ready for the next step. Maine produced several communication resources to educate the public about its progress toward a CBE system. The Maine Department of Education home page prominently features the state’s plan, Education Evolving, for putting students first and a separate Web site devoted to CBE in the state.  In addition to providing easy-to-navigate resources, the state created several informational videos that explain what CBE is and how it is benefiting Maine’s students. Governors in other states can use similar resources and work with their departments of education to develop plans and tools to publicize the benefits of CBE to students, families, educators, and state and local policymakers.”

Governors who seek to move their states toward a CBE system should consider several policy changes to overcome the barriers embedded in the current system. In a CBE program, the role of the educator and how he or she delivers the content can look different from current practice. Educators must be able to guide learning in a variety of ways, not simply supply content. Changing the role of the teacher has significant implications for teacher-preparation programs, certification, professional development, labor contracts, and evaluation. Computer-based learning is likely to be even more important in a CBE system than in the current time-based system. In addition, robust assessment is a key element of CBE, designed to facilitate more flexible and better testing of students’ learning. Assessment is frequently tied to accountability in K-12; therefore, policymakers might have to reconsider what they want their accountability systems to measure.

Finally, policymakers who want to implement CBE will need to figure out how to fund the transition to such a system and create the right incentives for educators and administrators. If policymakers want to pay for student learning instead of seat time, they will have to fundamentally change the way they budget and allocate dollars to school districts and higher education institutions.”

“ To deliver high-quality instruction in a CBE model, educators require access to assessments that measure learning progress along the way so that they can modify their teaching based on each student’s progress toward mastering the desired content and skills. To draw on the power of those assessments in a CBE system, assessments should be offered on a flexible timeline instead of during one window at the end of the semester or school year. No state has yet figured out how to make the switch to such a model at the K-12 level, but New Hampshire is working toward that goal.

You can read more here.

…and remember that NGA is part of another nonprofit, launched at a USDoE education summit in 2005 and created to implement student-level data sharing in every state:  The Gates funded, Marc Tucker managed Data Quality Campaign, whose 10 founding partners are at the forefront of Common Core and data driven  accountability.  

And if that weren’t enough, there is also a WORKFORCE Data Quality Campaign, whose focus is using K-16 student data to fuel workforce needs. As you can see, they were “giddy” when “The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor released joint guidance to help states match data for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) reporting. (For more on School Workforce and data badges see here, here, here, and here.)

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Data and Dollars

Aligning student data bases and workforce pathways is also in line with the US Department of Labor-Workforce Data Quality Initiative which plans to use personal information from each student, starting in pre-school, using the states’ SLDS data system.

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KnoweldgeWorks,  iNACOLEdutopia are just a few of the edtech organizations who have managed to influence policy and declare the need for online Competency Based Education, “personalized learning”, online “blended learning”, and measuring children’s social emotional soft-skills (SEL).

Keeping track of all the reforms and special interest groups is a difficult task. Luckily, there are a few maps for you to follow.  We suggest you look at the Global Education Futures map or do a quick search in the GEF Executive Summary.  Additionally, Silicon Valley has created a History of the Future playbook, listing the hurdles of incorporating ed-tech into education, they list the problem and what they did or plan to do, to “fix” it.

The push to advance online education does not take into regard the warnings and mounting evidence of health effects, inappropriate use of screen time, concerns over data privacy and profiling children, and the repeat studies that say online education does not enhance student learning and blended learning fares even worse.

Why then, is every sector promoting ed-tech, online competency based assessments and workforce data badges? ….Could it be the money?

Time Magazine: Screens in school a $60 Billion Hoax

EdWeek: Edtech is a $7.7 Billion Dollar Market

EdWeek: Sweetspots in K-12 assessment market, Computer Adaptive and non-academic assessments

McKinsey Global estimated that increasing the use of student data in education could unlock between $900 billion and $1.2 trillion in global economic value.

-Cheri Kiesecker

Questions We Should Be Asking About “Future Ready” Schools

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How far are we from the day we’ll be forced to rely on online education modules to inspire and excite the minds of young people; where badge collections replace diplomas; and virtual reality games substitute for Friday night dances, track meets, spelling bees, and school plays?

Editor’s note: Original post written for Wrench in the Gears and re-published with permission. Visit Wrench in the Gears for more information on the danger of “learning eco-systems.” -Carolyn Leith 

Questions we should be asking about “Future Ready” schools

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How far are we from the day we’ll be forced to rely on online education modules to inspire and excite the minds of young people; where badge collections replace diplomas; and virtual reality games substitute for Friday night dances, track meets, spelling bees, and school plays? How much time do we have before certified human teachers are replaced by “Task Rabbit” pathway designers and AI personal “tutors?” Before we lose all expectations for privacy surrounding how and when we access our educations? Before the entirety of our educational lives becomes consolidated under a unique ID number and its associated digital shadow?

Online learning is claiming ever-larger blocks of instructional time in bricks and mortar schools. Budgets prioritize technology purchases over investments in human staff and facilities. Increasingly responsibility for assessment is being taken away from teachers and placed under the purview of data dashboards and black boxes that monitor in minute detail our children’s academic and social-emotional “progress” towards standards we had no part in setting.

For all of these reasons, we need to take a critical look at school redesign programs that are showing up in communities across the nation. Our government is rolling these initiatives out right now in coordination with think tanks, philanthropies, and the education technology sector. If thousands of superintendents nationwide are signing on to “Future Ready Schools” it is imperative that as citizens we start considering the far reaching consequences a data-driven, technology-mediated system of public education will have for the health and wellbeing of our children and our democracy.

As we move into the era of the quantified self. I find myself worrying. I worry a lot. I worry that we should be asking questions, a lot of questions, and that our window for questioning is shrinking by the day.

Many who spend their days in our nation’s schools have been put into positions where they are almost compelled to welcome the concept of “school redesign.” They have been living for years in the test-and-punish nightmare that No Child Left Behind created. They’ve been coping with austerity budgets, toxic buildings, staff shortages, lack of respect, frozen wages, and the ongoing challenge of meeting the needs of students living in poverty with far too few resources at their disposal.

Current conditions in many of our nation’s schools are appalling, and that is by design. It is through this dissatisfaction with our current situation that they hope to accomplish a shift away from a “standardized” education based on a single high-stakes test given at the end of the year to a “personalized” digital education that employs ongoing online data collection as children progress through the curriculum year round.

So with that in mind, I invite you to consider the questions below. Hopefully they will give you some ideas you can use to start your own conversations with parents, teachers, and school board members in your own community. In my heart I believe the 21st century schools parents and human teachers desire for their children are very different from the version being pushed, behind closed doors, by the educational technology sector.

Questions we should be asking about school redesign and “Future Ready Schools:”

Technology-mediated education is considered to be a disruptive force. Many “innovative” 21st century education approaches seek to undermine traditional concepts like “seat time,” the Carnegie Unit, age-based grade levels, the centrality of teachers in classrooms, report cards, diplomas and to extend credit-based learning beyond the school building itself. Before moving forward with these ideas, shouldn’t there be a wider public discussion about which aspects of traditional schooling we want to retain moving forward? Disruption for the sake of creating new markets for businesses is an insufficient reason to dismantle neighborhood schools.

Why should we allow our children to be human subjects in this grand data science experiment? This is particularly troublesome given the fact that ethics codes for data scientists are not nearly as well developed as codes of conduct for bio-medical research.

What are the implications of expanded 1:1 device use and screen time on children’s health and emotional states?

How does the use of embedded “stealth” assessments contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society in the United States?

What overlap exists between data analysis used to monitor national security interests and data analysis used to assess educational content and activities in our nation’s schools? How does the Office of Educational Technology interface with the Department of Defense and how comfortable are the American people with those relationships? See xAPI or Tin Can or Douglas Noble’s 1991 extensively-researched book “Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, and Public Education” for additional background information.

As nano-technology advances make wearable devices more commonplace, shouldn’t parents have the right to refuse the collection of live data streams on behalf of their children? What types of monitoring (bio-metric and otherwise) have been enabled through the expanded presence of devices in our schools? Cameras, microphones, touch screens, and fit bits for example?

While personalized learning platforms tout their “individualization,” to what extent do these programs recognize our children’s humanity? As systems thinking becomes embedded within public education policy, are our children being valued as unique human beings possessed of free will, or merely as data points to be controlled and managed?

Feedback loops influence human behavior. In what ways could large-scale implementation of adaptive education programs and online educational gaming platforms contribute to the collective brainwashing of our children?

Personalized education means that algorithms decide what educational content your child CAN see, and what content they won’t see. Is it the duty of education to expose children to a wide range of content that will broaden their view of the world? Or is it the role of an adaptive learning program to feed the child information for which they have already expressed a preference? Consider the implications of a “Facebook” model of education.

How much data is too much? Data is never neutral. Who is collecting the data and to what end? Data is always a reflection of the ideology in which it is collected. Why should we trust data more than the professional expertise of human teachers?

We caution children about their online presence, but through the imposition of digital curriculum we are forcing them to create virtual educational identities at very young ages. Should that worry us? What are the implications of our children having digital surrogates/avatars that are linked to comprehensive data sets of academic and social-emotional information? Do we really understand the risks?

Who owns the intellectual property that students create on school-managed cloud-based servers? Do they have the right to extract their work at will?

What roles do teacher education programs and certification policies play in furthering a technology-mediated approach to public education?

Will students enrolled in private schools have their data collected at the same level as public school students? Is privacy something that will become ultimately be available only to the rich and elite? Will we allow that to happen?

Should it be the basic human right of all children to have access, if they choose, to a public education model in which humans teach one another in (non-digital) community in an actual school building?

-Wrench in the Gears

Opposition to the Common Core now has bipartisan support in Washington State

From Truth in American Education:

bipartisan-logo

Washington State GOP Supports Student Privacy, Opposes Common Core

The Washington State Republicans passed a student privacy resolution at their recent state convention last month in Pasco, WA.  They also passed language opposing Common Core into their state party platform. Opposition to Common Core has crossed party lines, and is truly a bipartisan issue in Washington State. Last year, you may recall, the Washington State Democratic Party passed a resolution opposing Common Core.

Here is the resolution language which was written by our own J.R. Wilson.

Student Privacy Resolution

Whereas, privacy rights of students and parents are not forfeited upon public or private school enrollment and attendance or providing home based instruction; 

Whereas, non-cognitive factors include, but are not limited to, such things as attitudes, beliefs, attributes, feelings, mindsets, social and emotional learning, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, tenacity, perseverance, self-regulation, and social skills; 

Whereas, the collection and retention of personal and non-cognitive data about students and parents is contrary to the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution;

Whereas, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) intends to begin assessing non-cognitive factors which may be in violation of federal law;

Whereas, the proposed federal Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA S227) expands research and the collection of student level data to non-cognitive factors and social emotional learning and allows for sensitive data prohibited in surveys to be collected in curriculum and assessments;

Be it resolved that parents and eligible students shall be informed of the student level data that is collected and who will have access to it; 

Be it resolved that parents and eligible students shall be entitled to and guaranteed free access to any and all information collected about their child by a local school, the state of Washington or contracted entities with provisions for correcting inaccurate information; 

Be it resolved that local public or private schools or the state of Washington or other entities shall not collect and retain student level personal and non-cognitive data through surveys, curriculum, assessments, or any other means without informed prior written parental consent.

Below is the pertinent language in their platform supporting local control of education and opposing Common Core:

We support the elimination of the Federal Department of Education and returning its control and funding to the States. Teacher performance should be monitored and rewarded at the local level. We recognized the educational needs of students vary throughout the country, which cannot be met with a single mandate requiring one size to fit all. We support the elimination of Common Core standards.

The ESSA: A renewed attack on parents’ and students’ rights

Reposted from SocialistWorker.org:

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John King, Secretary of Education, with President Obama

 

The education deform empire strikes back

by Marilena Marchetti

The battle over high-stakes testing and the future of public education is back in play after the Obama administration’s latest moves.

THE PROPOSED regulations for national implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signal that new Education Secretary John King is determined to continue the Obama administration’s relentless emphasis on high-stakes testing–by financial blackmail if necessary.

The passage of ESSA in late 2015 appeared to offer a concession to the growing concern that public schools are being taken over by high-stakes testing, which degrade curriculums and are misused to shame and blame teachers for the outcomes of an impoverished public education system and justify closing public schools in order to privatize the system with charters.

Enacted after a spring of historically high boycotts of exams around the country, ESSA gives each state the ability to determine how to meet the prescribed 95 percent participation rate in federally mandated tests that are given each year from 3rd to 8th grade and once in high school.

But in what can only be read as a tightening of the noose around the growing movement to “opt out” of state tests, King’s new regulations threaten states with financial sanctions should they fail to put a stop to test boycotting.

Here is how a Department of Education (DOE) summary puts it:

The proposed regulations do not prescribe how those rates must be factored into accountability systems, but they do require states to take robust action for schools that do not meet the 95 percent participation requirement. States may choose among options or propose their own equally rigorous strategy for addressing the low participation rate. In addition, schools missing participation rates would need to develop a plan, approved by the district, to improve participation rates in the future.

For many supporters and participants in the opt-out movement who believed that the tide was finally beginning to turn in their favor, these regulations are a sobering alert that the fight to ensure that students are treated as more than a score is far from over.

King might be the new Education Secretary, but he is making the same old mistakes: not respecting the voices of parents, teachers and students; doubling down on threats to financially punish students for boycotting tests; and digging in his heels to prevent the long overdue termination of standardized testing.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NEW YORK, where King was the state education commissioner before his promotion this January, has been at the center of these swirling crosscurrents as officials scrambled to contain the crisis of testing legitimacy.

More than 200,000 students opted out of the New York’s standardized tests in 2015, and it’s estimated that similar numbers refused the tests this spring–one of the largest test boycotts in U.S. history.

When the record-breaking opt-out numbers were released last August, King’s successor as state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, warned that schools with high test refusal numbers could lose funding, but then quickly backpeddled in the face of public pressure.

Then in December, momentum seemed to decisively shift away from over-testing. On the national level, there was the passage of ESSA, an updated version of George W. Bush’s awful No Child Left Behind Act that maintains the overall testing apparatus, but at least reduces the power of the federal government to use test scores as a weapon against schools.

Meanwhile, the New York Board of Regents unexpectedly voted to suspend some of the harmful practices associated with the tests, like tying teacher evaluations to student scores.

But now what looked like significant victories for the opt-out movement on both a local and national level appear to have been just temporary respites. Soon after the DOE’s punitive new regulations were announced, DNAInfo reported that 16 New York City schools had been ruled ineligible for up to $75,000 in grants because of their high test refusal numbers.

Betty Rosa, the new state Board of Regents Chancellor, who is widely seen as sympathetic to the opt-out movement, claimed that the loss of potential funding wasn’t a punishment from the state, but was instead an “unintended consequence” of the grants being tied to test scores.

Semantics aside, it appears that these schools might be the test case for New York to determine whether “robust actions” are capable of reining in the powerful opt-out movement.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SO IT looks like the heated battle over public education is still on. It’s a battle that pits those who work for and/or send their children to public schools against those with a stake in seeing more funding diverted to testing companies and charter schools.

High-stakes standardized tests imbue toxic levels of stress into a school–as anyone who works in one knows quite well–bringing profit to education corporations at the expense of children’s well-being. John King is the mediator of this conflict between everyday people and a hugely profitable testing industry, and it’s clear what side he is on.

The opt-out movement has its work cut out for it, not least because both leading presidential candidates have dismal platforms for public education.

Donald Trump wants to gut the DOE and bust teachers’ unions, and Trump University is an infamous example of the horrors of privatized education. But Hillary Clinton has a long record of backing charter schools and high-stakes testing. She should be confronted at every turn this fall by public education supporters demanding that she oppose these DOE regulations.

Parents, teachers and students fighting for everyone to have the right to a rich and meaningful education are going to have to continue building on the grassroots strategies that have made the movement to into the impressive force that it is today in order to meet this next round of challenges.

 

The original post can be found here:

https://socialistworker.org/2016/06/15/the-education-deformers-strike-back.

The grifters of corporate ed reform: KIPP charter schools with the aid of the DOE

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KIPP is a taxpayer-subsidized school franchise that pays no taxes on its revenue and provides a tax-deductible vehicle for uber-wealthy families to promote the school “choice” agenda.

KIPP charter schools have been touted in Washington State as the savior of all black children.

Among those people is the now State Representative (Charter School) Chad Magendanz who, while active in the Washington State PTA back in the day, sang their praises when attempting to put a plank in the PTA platform on charter schools. (Also see: The Washington State PTA Convention: Be There.)

Others chimed in although year after year KIPP charter schools proved to be far less than perfect.

See:

KIPP charter schools and the behavior modification of…teachers

How KIPP charter school handles Special Ed/IEP students

For KIPP charter schools, more computer time, less class time

Michael Feinberg’s selling of KIPP in New Zealand: FAIL

A look at KIPP, Michael Feinberg, NCTQ and Bill Gates

A former KIPP teacher comments on her experience

KIPP charter chain and torture adviser Marty Seligman: A match made in hell?

Of course, that didn’t stop the Washington State Charter School Commission, in their rush to get charter schools established in our state, from approving KIPP’s application to set up their green tent next to the highway.

Recently the following article was published by PR Watch and is well worth a read.

Exposed by CMD: KIPP’s Efforts to Keep the Public in the Dark while Seeking Millions in Taxpayer Subsidies 

charter school oversight

By Lisa Graves and Dustin Beilke

Charter schools are big business, even when they are run by “non-profits” that pay no taxes on the revenue they receive from public taxes or other sources.

Take KIPP, which describes itself as a “national network of public schools.”

KIPP (an acronym for the phrase “knowledge is power program”) operates like a franchise with the KIPP Foundation as the franchisor and the individual charters as franchisees that are all separate non-profits that describe themselves as “public schools.”

But how public are KIPP public schools?

Not as public as real or traditional public schools.

New documents discovered on the U.S. Department of Education’s website reveal that KIPP has claimed that information about its revenues and other significant matters is “proprietary” and should be redacted from materials it provides to that agency to justify the expenditure of federal tax dollars, before its application is made publicly available.

So what does a so-called public school like KIPP want to keep the public from knowing?

1. Graduation and College Matriculation Rates

KIPP touts itself as particularly successful at preparing students to succeed in school and college.

Yet, it insisted that the U.S. Department of Education keep secret from the public the statistics about the percentage of its eighth graders who completed high school, entered college, and/or who completed a two-year or four-year degree.

A few years ago, professor Gary Miron and his colleagues Jessica Urschel and Nicholas Saxton, found that “KIPP charter middle schools enroll a significantly higher proportion of African-American students than the local school districts they draw from but 40 percent of the black males they enroll leave between grades 6 and 8,” as reported by Mary Ann Zehr in Ed Week.

Zehr noted: “‘The dropout rate for African-American males is really shocking,’ said Gary J. Miron, a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research” at Western Michigan University, who conducted the national study.

Miron’s analysis was attacked by KIPP and its allies, who said KIPP’s success was not due to the attrition of lower performing students who leave the school or move to other districts. One of its defenders was Mathematica Policy Research, whose subsequent study was used to try to rebut Miron’s analysis. (That name will be important momentarily.)

The Department of Education has been provided with the data about what percentage of KIPP students graduate from high school and go on to college, but it is helping KIPP keep that secret—despite the public tax dollars going to these schools and despite KIPP’s claim to be operating what are public schools.

Real public schools would never be allowed to claim that high school graduation rates or college matriculation rates are “proprietary” or “privileged” or “confidential.”

Why does the Education Department’s Charter School Program “Office of Innovation and Improvement” defer to KIPP’s demand to keep that information secret from the public?

Meanwhile, the KIPP Foundation regularly spends nearly a half million dollars a year ($467,594 at last count) on advertising to convince the public how great its public charters are using figures it selects to promote. Almost no public school district in the nation has that kind of money to drop on ads promoting its successes.

2. Projected Uses of Federal Taxpayer Dollars (and Disney World?)

Even as KIPP was seeking more than $22 million from the federal government to expand its charter school network, it insisted that the U.S. Department of Education redact from its application a chart about how much money would be spent on personnel, facilities, transportation, and “other uses” under the proposed grant. KIPP also sought to redact the amount of private funding it was projecting.

The agency’s compliant Office of Innovation and Improvement obliged KIPP.

However, after the grant was approved, KIPP did have to comply with IRS regulations to file a report on its revenues and expenditures, as all entities given the privilege of having their revenue tax-exempt or tax-deductible do. (Those filings usually are made available a year after the revenue and expenditures accrue.)

That is, the federal government’s Office of Innovation and Improvement redacted information about KIPP’s revenue and expenditures on the basis of an unsupportable assertion that such information was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act as proprietary, confidential, or privileged even though it is not.

Here are some of the key details from KIPP’s 2013 tax filings (uploaded below):

  • KIPP received more than $18 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $43 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;
  • KIPP spent nearly $14 million on compensation, including more than $1.2 million on nine executives who received six-figure salaries, and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;
  • KIPP also spent over $416,000 on advertising and a whopping $4.8 million on travel; it paid more than $1.2 to the Walt Disney World Swan and Resort;
  • It also paid $1.2 million to Mathematica for its data analysis; that’s the firm that was used to try to rebut concerns about KIPP’s performance and attrition rates.

KIPP’s revenue and spending in 2014 were similar, but there are some additional interesting details (uploaded below):

  • KIPP received more than $21 million in grants from American tax dollars and more than $38 million from other sources, primarily other foundations;
  • KIPP spent nearly $18 million on compensation and nearly $2 million more on retirement and other benefits;
  • KIPP paid its co-founder, David Levin, more than $450,000 in total compensation, and its CEO, Richard Barth, more than $425,000 in total compensation, in addition to six-figure salaries for eight other executives;
  • KIPP also spent over $467,000 on advertising and more than $5 million on travel;
  • It also paid nearly $1 million to Mathematica for its data analysis.

In that tax year, which covers the 2013-2014 school year, as traditional public schools faced budget cuts across the country, KIPP spent more than $3.5 million on “lodging and hospitality,” including more than $1.8 million alone at the posh Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Since its revenue from taxpayers is commingled with its revenues from wealthy charter school advocates and the foundations they control, there is no way to sort out how much of taxpayer money has directly gone into luxurious trips for KIPP employees versus how much having revenue from taxes helps subsidize such largesse.

But, there is no public school district in the country that would be allowed such travel and promotional expenditures for its executives or teachers if the voters knew about it or had a say in it.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that KIPP would want the grant-makers at the U.S. Department of Education to redact the amount of its expenditures for personnel, facilities, transportation, and “other uses”—especially with extravagant expenditures like its transportation and lodging at fabulous resorts, as opposed to transportation for kids to school—but why would the federal agency charged with oversight go along with redacting information about how much KIPP was projecting to spend in those categories?

KIPP did request that budget information about how much it or its affiliates paid the executive directors for individual charters, principals, accountants, grant managers, community coordinators, and IT teams be kept from the public, under a claim that such information is proprietary.

But the Office of Innovation and Improvement did not accommodate that request.

Notably, KIPP’s grant application sets forth “regional leadership” expenses that total nearly $5 million of the projected budget for the grant. There is no indication how much taxpayers are directly or indirectly subsidizing the six-figure salaries of its executive suite including the nearly half-million in total compensation for each of KIPP’s two highest paid employees. (This grant application only pertains to one source of federal and state grants that annually provide revenue to KIPP.)

3. Full Disclosure of Attrition and Performance Results

Not only did KIPP seek to keep the public in the dark about how it spends tax-exempt funding and how many KIPP students make it to high school graduation or college, it also sought to redact information “KIPP Student Attrition” by region and “by subgroup” and “KIPP Student Performance” on state exams on “Math and Reading.”

The Office of Innovation and Improvement did as KIPP requested.

But why would KIPP, which advertises its claimed superiority, and the Department of Education, which uses KIPP as an example of the success of charters, keep information about attrition and performance secret, especially when that subject is one of great public interest as noted by the Economic Policy Institute?

Page after page after page in KIPP’s application that shows the percentage of school students who leave KIPP is blacked out along with information about student test results by school for the three years prior to the grant application.

How can the Department of Education acquiesce in a request by a charter it cheerleads for to keep data about that charter’s retention or dropout rate secret?

If both sets of redacted figures were truly excellent, why wouldn’t both KIPP and the Department of Education release those results? After all, KIPP included glossy PR documents on some of its schools in its application materials touting select data about test results.

Why should unelected bureaucrats at the federal agency get to see the data about attrition and performance in awarding millions in taxpayer dollars to KIPP but go along with KIPP in keeping those specific statistics from the public?

In short, what are KIPP and the Department of Education hiding from the American people?

4. The CEO Foundations Pushing School “Choice” and Subsidizing KIPP

KIPP also asked the Office of Innovation and Improvement to redact the amounts of funding provided to KIPP by foundations that wrote letters of support for KIPP to receive federal taxpayer money under the grant.

The grant documents the Center for Media and Democracy has examined reveal that these are the names and amounts that KIPP sought to keep the public from knowing and that the Department of Education blacked out at KIPP’s request:

  • Robertson Foundation: $20M
  • Atlantic Trust/ Kendeda Fund: $15 million
  • Marcus Foundation: $4.5M
  • Zeist: $1.7M
  • Lowe Foundation: $357,000
  • Webber Family Foundation: $351,780
  • Sooch Foundation: $675,000
  • Tipping Point Community: $2M
  • Schwab Foundation: $2.5M
  • Koret Foundation: $2,135,000
  • SAP: $297,389
  • Kobacker: $100,000
  • Todd Wagner Foundation: $1,000,000
  • El Paso, $1,000,000
  • Charles T. Bauer Foundation: $1,242,000
  • Karsh: $8M
  • Charter Schools Growth Fund: $2 million
  • Formanek: $526,000
  • Goldring Family Foundation: $1,000,000
  • Charles Hayden Foundation: $1.393 million
  • Victoria Foundation: $626,000
  • CityBridge Foundation: $2.9M”

Almost all of these donors are foundations that have to annually disclose to the IRS and make available to the public the names of their grantees and the amounts granted. So this information is not privileged, confidential or proprietary.

Why would the Office of Innovation and Improvement go along with a request to keep secret from the public information that is subsequently required to be made public?

While many of the foundations listed above are led by corporate CEOs or their families, only a few are corporations whose donations might not be routinely disclosed.

SAP, for example, is the name of a German corporation that made headlines 18 months ago for dumping the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after Google dumped ALEC for its climate change denial and obstruction. Should Americans be concerned that a foreign multinational corporation is influencing American “public charters” through KIPP? The truth is foreign multinationals are exercising increasing influence over American charter schools and testing. Just look at the growth in U.S. business of the British firm, Pearson.

At the same time, the volume of such private philanthropic support begs the question of why the American taxpayer ought to be subsidizing schools that are touted as public but act like private ones when it comes to executive compensation and roadblocks to transparency, especially at a time when traditional public schools are facing such budgetary pressures?

KIPP is a taxpayer-subsidized school franchise that pays no taxes on its revenue and provides a tax-deductible vehicle for uber-wealthy families to promote the school “choice” agenda.

And, the fact that taxpayer money is going to a group spending millions on luxury trips to resorts in Las Vegas is mind-boggling in an age of austerity when many public schools are going without basic necessities.

With each new fact that comes out, the charter school industry is looking more like the military defense industry with the scandals of the 1980s as with the infamous $600 toilet seat. There’s no indication of fraud by KIPP.

But from an optics standpoint some might consider a $600 plastic seat small change, compared with a “public school” spending more than a million to go to Disney World in one year, even if only one-third of KIPP’s funding comes from taxpayers directly and the remainder comes at taxpayer expense due to CEOs writing off donations to foundations that help underwrite KIPP.

Plus, separate from the grant application discussed here, KIPP has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education to conduct leadership training summits for KIPP principals and other personnel. That application also includes significant redactions, including about key components of the budget for what it calls KIPP “summits” or annual meetings and other gatherings (as well as a total redaction of the Mathematica analysis commissioned by KIPP).

Meanwhile, KIPP told the Education Department that in its first 10 years it had raised more than $150 million from private philanthropic sources, which underscores the question of why taxpayers are subsidizing an operation that already has ample support from the corporate community and those taxpayer dollars could be going instead to strengthen traditional public schools that are truly public and that are not subsidized by tax write-offs for the one percent through their foundations.

Indeed, those tax write-offs serve to diminish the base of revenue available for tax revenue to fund public schools and other genuinely public goods in the first place.

A Closer Look at KIPP

It appears that all the redactions were in response to “proprietary” instructions KIPP dictated to DOE through a four-page document titled, “Proprietary Information.”

The Education Department complied with almost all of KIPP’s instructions, despite how contrary they are to public policy and even to publicly available information.

These black marks come at a time when cracks are starting to show in KIPP’s once beyond-reproach veneer.

KIPP is the largest and most lauded charter school chain in the United States and the recipient of many millions of dollars in taxpayer grants, foundation gifts and handouts from billionaire charter school enthusiasts.

A new book by Jim Horn, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through ‘No Excuses’ Teaching, focuses on the experiences and perspectives of dozens of former KIPP teachers who have become critics of the chain and many of the principles it is based on, including the Teach for America program that supplies KIPP with many of its teachers.

The book’s title is a reference to “Work Hard. Be Nice” the book-length puff piece authored by Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews about KIPP’s founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levine.

In a review of Work Hard, Be Hard that is excerpted on Diane Ravitch’s blog, education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig writes that screaming at students is accepted teaching practice in KIPP schools:

Why does KIPP encourage and/or allow these practices? Horn writes, school leaders relayed that ‘because of cultural differences, black students are accustomed to being screamed at…because that’s how their parents speak to them.’ A KIPP teacher characterized the worst offender at her school as a ‘screamer, swearer and humiliator.’

“KIPP might also argue that they are the beneficiaries of widespread support in communities across the nation. It is very clear that KIPP benefits from powerful influential and wealthy supporters in government, the media, and foundations. Their no excuses approach to educating poor children has resonated with the elites in society and they have showered the corporate charter chain with resources for decades. So it may be surprising to some to read the counternarrative from KIPP teachers that is quite different than what you typically read in the newspapers, see in documentaries like Waiting for Superman, and generally experience in the public discourse. I proffer that the KIPP teachers’ counternarratives in Journeys should be required reading for all of KIPPs influential supporters.”

So what is the disgruntled KIPP teachers’ counter-narrative? For one, the model seems to create lousy working conditions for the purpose of encouraging high teacher turnover. One former teacher says, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who wanted to be a teacher for the long-term…It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing.”

And this is where Teach for America comes in. “Without a constant infusion of new teachers to replace all those who burn out,” Horn writes, “KIPP would have to shut its doors… The role of Teach For America and programs based on Teach For America’s hyper-abbreviated preparation are crucial, then, for the continued survival of… KIPP.”

In short, the new book offers a devastating critique of the KIPP business model at a time when KIPP and the Department of Education appear to be aiding each other in trying to keep critical information out of the public debate through redaction.

PDF icon KIPP redactions 137.84 KB
PDF icon KIPP redaction list 45.7 KB
PDF icon KIPP 2013 990 1.93 MB
PDF icon KIPP 2012 990 1.82 MB

There’s a reason why so many people oppose having charter schools in Washington state.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

More on KIPP

How we got the Common Core Standards: Federal Manipulation Through Race to the Top

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From the Truth in American Education, An admission of Federal manipulation through Race to the Top:

Arne Duncan’s former chief of staff pulls back the curtain on Race to the Top

We couldn’t keep up with the enormous load of data that the competition generated—and we learned that we didn’t have to. The public did it for us. State and local watchdogs kept their leaders honest by reviewing and publicly critiquing applications. Education experts provided analyses of competition data. And researchers will be mining this trove of information for years to come.

Joanne Weiss was the director of the Race to the Top program at the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s chief of staff. She wrote an essay at Stanford Social Innovation Review that is enlightening in that we finally have a USDED official admit the truth about the federal role in foisting Common Core on to the states.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, but I’ll pull a few excerpt f interest.

Weiss acknowledges that budgetary challenges along with offering larger awards induced states to apply.

The competition took place during a time of profound budgetary challenge for state governments, so the large pot of funding that we had to offer was a significant inducement for states to compete.

This process is typically different than how federal grant making has been done before as she explains:

…we decided that winners would have to clear a very high bar, that they would be few in number, and that they would receive large grants. (In most cases, the grants were for hundreds of millions of dollars.) In a more typical federal competition program, a large number of states would each win a share of the available funding. The government, in other words, would spread that money around in a politically astute way. But because our goal was to enable meaningful educational improvement, we adopted an approach that channeled substantial funding to the worthiest applicants.

When you see “worthiest applicants” read those states whose priorities matched ours.

They leveraged the governors.

…we placed governors at the center of the application process. In doing so, we empowered a group of stakeholders who have a highly competitive spirit and invited them to use their political capital to drive change. We drew governors to the competition by offering them a well-funded vehicle for altering the life trajectories of children in their states.

Weiss acknowledges their criteria was too broad.

Our commitment to being systemic in scope and clear about expectations, yet also respectful of differences between states, was a key strength of the initiative. But it exposed points of vulnerability as well. In our push to be comprehensive, for instance, we ended up including more elements in the competition than most state agencies were able to address well. Although the outline of the competition was easy to explain, its final specifications were far from simple: States had to address 19 criteria, many of which included subcriteria. High-stakes policymaking is rife with pressures that bloat regulations. In hindsight, we know that we could have done a better job of formulating leaner, more focused rules.

Weiss touts that states who didn’t win a grant still followed through on their “blueprint.”  Perhaps that had something to do with having to adopt Common Core and join Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or PARCC before they submitted a final application?

In applying for Race to the Top, participating states developed a statewide blueprint for improving education—something that many of them had previously lacked. For many stakeholders, moreover, the process of participating in the creation of their state’s reform plan deepened their commitment to that plan. In fact, even many states that did not win the competition proceeded with the reform efforts that they had laid out in their application.

The plan behind the grant was meant to diminish local control and serve the state agenda which in turn was informed by the federal agenda behind the grant.

The overall goal of the competition was to promote approaches to education reform that would be coherent, systemic, and statewide. Pursuing that goal required officials at the state level to play a lead role in creating and implementing their state’s education agenda. And it required educators at the school and district levels to participate in that process, to support their state’s agenda, and then to implement that agenda faithfully.

Weiss explains further.

To meet that challenge, we required each participating district to execute a binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its state. This MOU codified the commitments that the district and the state made to each other. Reviewers judged each district’s depth of commitment by the specific terms and conditions in its MOU and by the number of signatories on that document. (Ideally, the superintendent, the school board president, and the leader of the union or teachers’ association in each district would all sign the MOU.)

….The success of the process varied by state, but over time these MOUs—combined, in some cases, with states’ threats to withhold funding from districts—led to difficult but often productive engagement between state education agencies and local districts.

Tyranny by contract as a friend of mine likes to put it.

Catch this next excerpt as it’s pretty disconcerting.

…we forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state—the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education—by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.

They forced alignment?  Indeed the Race to the Top application required signatures from all three officers.

Weiss acknowledged that the program drove education policy change at the state level before any grant was awarded.

One of the most surprising achievements of Race to the Top was its ability to drive significant change before the department awarded a single dollar to applicants. States changed laws related to education policy. They adopted new education standards. They joined national assessment consortia.

She then explained that three design features in the grant program spurred the change.

First they had to get rid of those pesky state laws that stood in the way before they were eligible to compete.

…we imposed an eligibility requirement. A state could not enter the competition if it had laws on the books that prohibited linking the evaluation of teachers and principals to the performance of their students. Several states changed their laws in order to earn the right to compete.

I remember Iowa ramrodding through poorly written charter school legislation just so they could have a seat at the trough.

They then also awarded points based on what states did before submitting their application… Clever right? Get states to work towards these reforms in order to be competitive.  This manipulative tactic also ensured that states not awarded a grant would continue to follow-through on some of these reforms.

…we decided to award points for accomplishments that occurred before a state had submitted its application. In designing the competition, we created two types of criteria for states to address. State Reform Conditions criteria applied to actions that a state had completed before filing its application. Reform Plan criteria, by contrast, pertained to steps that a state would take if it won the competition.

The State Reform Conditions criteria accounted for about half of all points that the competition would award. Our goal was to encourage each state to review its legal infrastructure for education and to rationalize that structure in a way that supported its new education agenda. Some states handled this task well; others simply added patches to their existing laws. To our surprise, meanwhile, many states also changed laws to help meet criteria related to their reform plan. To strengthen their credibility with reviewers, for example, some states updated their statutes regarding teacher and principal evaluation.

Race to the Top created a “treasure trove” of data to mine through.

We couldn’t keep up with the enormous load of data that the competition generated—and we learned that we didn’t have to. The public did it for us. State and local watchdogs kept their leaders honest by reviewing and publicly critiquing applications. Education experts provided analyses of competition data. And researchers will be mining this trove of information for years to come.

What a stunning admission of manipulation and coercion perpetrated by the U.S. Department of Education.  What is lacking in Weiss’ piece is mention of how unpopular this program actually was, and no mention of Congress’ push to ensure that future U.S. Secretaries of Education can ever use a grant program in this way again.