Biocapitalism, Corporate Colonialism & Education Policy

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

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To learn more about how biocapitalism controls bodies and minds of children via public education policy read Clayton Pierce –Education in the Age of Biocapitalism: Optimizing educational life for a flat world. Pierce explores how generations of “extractive schooling” (of which standardized testing has been a part since the birth of the Eugenics movement in the early 1900’s) and how this has begun to transform itself through “technologies of control” of which the increasing push toward computer learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as the mode of education delivery for all children. He concludes, “education life is ever more becoming the target of an expanding range of sophisticated technologies of control (p. 142) … calling for greater and greater degrees of regulation and discipline over the body of the students” (p. 143). This makes me wonder even more about Class Dojo and other uses of privately owned technologies to monitor the student body and mind. And the purpose of them becomes yet more evident.

In the last few years a lot of debate has been had over promise and perils of ESSA. Many education advocates argued we must embrace ESSA because it promised to reduce federal choke hold of high stakes standardized testing that was wielded starting with NCLB and ramped up further under Race to the Top. The promise of EESA seemed too good to be true. Why would the same people who devoted decades to dismantling public schools, creating avenues for defacto segregation, and privatizing a public system suddenly want to turn around and “do the right thing?” ESSA authors (Lamar Alexander) claimed that testing would take a “back seat” And it has. The argument in support of ESSA was “to restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.”

And so many supporters of democratic public education “bought in” to the hype. Exactly what ARE states deciding to do instead? Those are the details we need to examine, and it’s vital (if we are really to reclaim public spaces and democracy) that we understand that there is a global paradigmatic shift occurring beyond the scope of what we already think we know or can anticipate. We must broaden our understanding of the end-game.

In unwritten or loosely defined ways, ESSA also ushers in a host of opportunities for corporations and private entities to avail themselves of every child’s most private funds of data. See Emily Talmage. The data surveillance tactics have found their ways into what otherwise might have been meaningful community and classroom practices.

Companies and government agencies still have access to students test scores (via online daily competency based education data), despite claims of reducing end-of-year testing. ESSA may in fact be reducing the role that HST testing does play in education policy and practice. But don’t be fooled. It is not because those of us in the opt out movement “won” the battle. The powers-that-be manufactured that move as a distraction. The formulators of ESSA have created the illusion that these new policies will be what we want. The opposite is true. The new avenues of data collection formulated for ESSA, in addition to academic (test) data,  include social emotional data, measuring such things a “grit and tenacity.”  They evaluate “mindfulness.” Some might be asking the question “why?”—what is to be gained from this data collection? The answer is: A great deal if you are keeping up with the research. You know this answer– at least in part.

In part, it is because in the traditional neoliberal framework, any data means money. For example, “Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020.”

Data also means knowing how to anticipate outcomes through predicative analytics, how to sort and track students as future consumers, workers, or prisoners (using 3rd grade data to build prisons goes back decades). But wait….there’s more. We need to understand what this “more” is, and why HST (as insidious as it is/was) PALES in comparison to the new data collection mechanisms and forms of data being mined, and the ways in which this data will significantly erode global democracy and human rights. This is because “a mechanism that is at the heart of biocapitalism in its ever-expanding attempts to commodify all aspects of life.” (Haraway).

The capitalist/consumer paradigm is shifting beneath our feet. With the growing capacities of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the push for Big Data (McKinsey),  we have seen in the last few decades the development of education policies mirroring something more (i.e. Common Core becomes CBE which becomes online learning which means more and more uses for AI and tracking student behavior because now the computers must monitor the children once the teachers are all gone)…. See a summary here. The growing technological advances are slowly forming a new relationship between human and capital. It’s called biocapitalism. And the education policies underway, invited in through the gates of ESSA and other tactics such as social impact bonds, are the way forward for biocapitalism to successfully engender us unto it. Those “innovative assessments” being developed for ESSA are a vehicle by which corporations can build a new biocapital world for all of us. In a biocapital reality, data becomes surveillance becomes total control.

Biocapitalism transforms the interdependent systems of capital and labor (as external phenomena) into a capitalist system that utilizes more abstract form of labor that are internal and intangible. The relationship between man and machine is far more enmeshed in a biocapital relationship.

One website describes it as follows:

“(T)he concept of biocapitalism refers to the production of wealth by means of knowledge and human experience, through the use of those activities, both intellectual and corporeal, that are implicit in existence itself. We might add that every process of production reflects not only material realities, but also social contexts. Thus, relations of production not only characterize different modes of production, but also societal forms. Gradually, the process of production turns into a process of production and reproduction of itself, which is the fundamental activity of a living organism. Although this basic idea is shared by all social forms of life, it becomes absolutely central in biocapitalism.”

As this article Harpers from 1997 clearly describes, “Scratch the surface of information and biotech revolutions ….and what one discovers underneath is a ‘control revolution’….a massive transfer of power from beauracries to individuals and corporations. In an unregulated control revolution free markets and consumer choice become even more dominant forces and in virtually every arena social regulation gives way to economic incentive. …even such social intangibles as privacy become commodified.”

To learn more about how biocapitalism controls bodies and minds of children via public education policy read Clayton Pierce –Education in the Age of Biocapitalism: Optimizing educational life for a flat world. Pierce explores how generations of “extractive schooling” (of which standardized testing has been a part since the birth of the Eugenics movement in the early 1900’s) and how this has begun to transform itself through “technologies of control” of which the increasing push toward computer learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as the mode of education delivery for all children. He concludes, “education life is ever more becoming the target of an expanding range of sophisticated technologies of control (p. 142) … calling for greater and greater degrees of regulation and discipline over the body of the students” (p. 143). This makes me wonder even more about Class Dojo and other uses of privately owned technologies to monitor the student body and mind. And the purpose of them becomes yet more evident.

So as we continue to fight yesterday’s battle, i.e for a reduction in standardized testing and believe that that’s a “win” while also ignoring the profound destruction these other education policies (see McDowell) being quietly floated under our noses are having, the effort to control the next generation (our children) will be complete. We cannot become distracted by a bait-and -switch set of tactics.  Look for the forest, not the trees. We have to see the picture for these corporate reformers is much bigger than most parents and teachers and citizens can even imagine. It explains why global billionaires and tech giants like Bill Gates and Google have such a vested interest in “disrupting” education and taking education over with “21st century technology.” Biocapitalism relies on “the use of the relational, emotional and cognitive faculties of human beings.” LINK. In a biocapitalist framework of which 21st century education is a necessary part, “what is exchanged in the labour market is no longer abstract labour (measurable in homogeneous working time), but rather subjectivity itself, in its experiential, relational, creative dimensions. To sum up, what is exchanged is the ‘potentiality’ of the subject. Whereas in the Fordist model it was easy to calculate the value of labour according to the average output and professional skills based on workers’ education and experience, in bio-capitalism the value of labour loses almost any concrete definitional criterion.” LINK

The goal is not merely to sell us all iPads or market education materials and services. The scope is greater than that, and personal data (to be gathered via educational systems sold out to private interests) will use our children’s data not simply to sort and track them by test scores, not simply to close schools in black and brown neighborhoods to profit Wall Street charter schools)….sure all of that is true….but that’s not the end game. We cannot continue to fight yesterday’s demons and expect to reclaim the rights to our schools, our children’s futures, or our democracy. First, we have to see and understand the nature of biocapitalism as an all encompassing and global phenomena and the clear pathways between the new ESSA assessments and education delivery systems and the mechanisms of control being constructed.  We have to construct systemic avenues of wholesale resistance instead piece meal compromises. We cannot afford distractions or avoidance.

The devil is in the details.

The devil is in the data.

-Morna McDermott

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Chris Reykdal’s Statement on Opting Out

We asked all of the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) candidates their position on opting out of the SBAC.

Four of the candidates responded to our query and we are publishing their answers today.

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OSPI Superintendent candidate Chris Reykdal

Opting your child out of a standardized test is a parent’s right.  Parents have always had the right to opt their child out of particular courses or content areas.  It is not the role of the federal or state government to question the motivations of parents; they are parents and a standardized test mandate does not supersede a parental rights.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is better than No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but a few glaring faults remain.  The contradiction of a 95% test requirement while simultaneously acknowledging a parent’s right to opt out their child is still the cause of great confusion.  States are now assigned the task of compliance to 95%, and the sanctions, if any, for districts that don’t comply.  And yet the U.S. Department of Education still claims the power to withhold certain funds from states. This is where our State has to take a stand!

To address this contradiction of policy we must do five things:

1) Delink standardized tests as a high school graduation requirement;

2) Defend the right of parents to opt out their child;

3) Clearly define alternatives for students to show proficiency if they chose not to participate in federally-mandated testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

4) Do not require a student to test and fail first before utlizing alternative demonstrations of proficiency; and

5) Use assessment results to create intentional strategies to improve districts, schools, and where applicable, targeted interventions for students.

I believe very few parents would opt their child out of assessments if they believed the tests would be used to help their child improve AND they were confident the test would be used for  system accountability only and not to penalize or stigmatize.

Professional educators should determine a student’s grade promotion and ultimate graduation – not a test.  Incredibly, the research continues to tell us that high school GPA in combination with transcript evaluation is the better predictor of college success – not standardized tests.  Colleges and universities across the country, and the world, are reducing the weight of SAT and ACT in college admissions; for some they don’t require any tests as part of admissions.  Instead, they are seeking multiple measures – GPA, course evaluations, writing samples, community engagement, and so many other factors that are far more predictive of student persistence and success.  Clearly,  48 diverse teacher grades (4 years X 2 semesters X 6 classes per semester) are more  valid and reliable than one single measure in time.

Standardized assessments do have a role to play– to measure state, district, and when statistically significant, school building progress toward closing the achievement gaps.  But, no single test should ever be used as a high stakes factor in grade promotion or graduation and they should never be used as a hammer. 

Ultimately, educators should decide the best diagnostic tools to propel students to greater cognitive and social/emotional growth. It’s time to put the teaching and learning process back in the hands of educators!

-Chris Reykdal, Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Chris Reykdal for Superintendent of Public Instruction

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.

Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors

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This article was written by Anthony Cody and first published in Education Week in November, 2013 and then reposted on his blog Living in Dialogue.

Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors

The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of “informational texts.” This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not disguise their intention to transform “literacy” into a “critical” skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.

A recent book described the “Reign of Errors” we have lived through in the name of education reform. I am afraid that the Common Core continues many of these errors, and makes some new ones as well.

The Business Roundtable announced last month that its #1 priority is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likewise making a full-court press to advance the Common Core. Major corporations have taken out full-page ads to insist that the Common Core must be adopted. Many leading figures in the Republican party, like Jeb Bush, have led the charge for Common Core, as have entrepreneurs like Joel Klein. And the project has become a centerpiece for President Obama’s Department of Education.

Yet in New York, the first large state to implement the tests associated with the new standards, students, parents and principals are expressing grave concerns about the realities of the Common Core. Common Core proponents like Arne Duncan have been quick to ridicule critics as misinformed ideologues or delusional paranoiacs.  Defenders of the common standards, like Duncan and Commissioner John King in New York, insist that only members of the Tea Party oppose the Common Core. In spite of this, the opposition is growing, and as more states begin to follow New York’s lead, resistance is sure to grow.

With this essay, I want to draw together the central concerns I have about the project. I am not reflexively against any and all standards. Appropriate standards, tied to subject matter, allow flexibility to educators. Teachers ought to be able to tailor their instruction to the needs of their students. Loose standards allow educators to work together, to share strategies and curriculum, and to build common assessments for authentic learning. Such standards are necessary and valuable; they set goals and aspirations and create a common framework so that students do not encounter the same materials in different grades. They are not punitive, nor are they tethered to expectations that yield failure for anyone unable to meet them.

The Common Core website has a section devoted to debunking “myths”  about the Common Core—but many of these supposed myths are quite true.  I invite anyone to provide factual evidence that disproves any of the information that follows. (And for the sake of transparency, I ask anyone who disputes this evidence to disclose any payments they or their organization has received for promoting or implementing the Common Core.)

Here are ten major errors being made by the Common Core project, and why I believe it will do more harm than good.

Error #1: The process by which the Common Core standards were developed and adopted was undemocratic.  

At the state level in the past, the process to develop standards has been a public one, led by committees of educators and content experts, who shared their drafts, invited reviews by teachers, and encouraged teachers to try out the new standards with real children in real classrooms, considered the feedback, made alterations where necessary, and held public hearings before final adoption.

The Common Core had a very different origin. When I first learned of the process to write new national standards underway in 2009, it was a challenge to figure out who was doing the writing.  I eventually learned that a “confidential” process was under way, involving 27 people on two Work Groups, including a significant number from the testing industry. Here are the affiliations of those 27: ACT (6), the College Board (6), Achieve Inc. (8), Student Achievement Partners (2), America’s Choice (2). Only three participants were outside of these five organizations. ONLY ONE classroom teacher WAS involved—on the committee to review the math standards.

This committee was expanded the next year, and additional educators were added to the process. But the process to write the standards remained secret, with few opportunities for input from parents, students and educators. No experts in language acquisition or special education were involved, and no effort was made to see how the standards worked in practice, or whether they were realistic and attainable.

David Coleman is credited publicly as being the “architect” of the process. He, presumably, had a large role in writing the English Language Arts standards; Jason Zimba of Bennington College was the lead author for the math standards.  Interestingly, David Coleman and Jason Zimba were also members of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst original board of directors.

The organizations leading the creation of the Common Core invited public comments on them. We were told that 10,000 comments were submitted, but they were never made public. The summary of public feedback  quotes only 24 of the responses, so we are left only with the Common Core sponsors’ interpretation of the rest.

The process for adopting the Common Core was remarkably speedy and expedient.  Once the standards were finalized and copyrighted, all that was required for states to adopt them were two signatures: the governor and the state superintendent of education. Two individuals made this decision in state after state, largely without public hearings or input. Robert Scott, former state Commissioner of Education in Texas, said that he was asked to approve the standards before there was even a final draft.

The Common Core process could not have been directly paid for by the federal Department of Education, which is prevented by law from enacting or promoting national standards. So Bill Gates footed the bill. The Gates Foundation has, so far, paid $191 million to develop and promote the Common Core. Of that sum, $33 million was earmarked for the development of the Common Core. The remaining $158 million was spent on myriad organizations to buy their active support for the standards—with $19 million awarded just in the past month. Many of the voices in the public arena, including teacher unions, the national PTA, journalistic operations like John Merrow’s Learning Matters, and the National Catholic Educational Association, have received grants for such work.

Although specifically prohibited from interfering in the curriculum or instruction in the nation’s classrooms, the federal Department of Education has used threats and bribes to coerce states to adopt Common Core. Indeed, the active role of the U.S. Department of Education in supporting, advocating for, and defending the Common Core may be illegal,  as may the Department’s award of $350 million to develop tests for the Common Core. The Department might reasonably argue that it was appropriate to encourage the development of “better” tests, but in this case the tests were specifically intended to support only one set of standards: the Common Core.

Public Law 103-33, General Education Provisions Act, sec 432, reads as follows:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, [or] administration…of any educational institution…or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials…

In spite of this prohibition, Race to the Top gave major points to states that adopted “college and career ready standards” such as Common Core.

Here is what the Memorandum of Understanding that state officers were asked to sign said about federal support:

…the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards.

When the Department of Education announced Race to the Top there was a complex application process with a short timeline. The Gates Foundation created a process where their staff would assist states in applying for RttT grants. In order to receive this help, state leaders had to fill out a qualifying questionnaire. The first question on the qualifying criteria questionnaire is, “Has your state signed the MOA regarding the Common Core Standards currently being developed by NGA/CCSSO? [Answer must be “yes”]”

Thus, the Gates Foundation worked within the Race to the Top process to apply additional pressure on states to sign on to the Common Core.

Coming at a time when state education budgets were under great pressure, these inducements were significant in overcoming any hesitations on the part of most governors. The pressure continues, as NCLB waivers depend on the adoption of “college and career ready standards,” which are most readily provided by the Common Core.

It is also worth noting that alongside the adoption of Common Core standards, both Race to the Top and NCLB waivers being issued by the Department of Education require states to include test scores in the evaluations of teachers and principals. This is a package deal.

Error #2: The Common Core State Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.

One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core.

In response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were:

1.            Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.

2.            They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing

3.            Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.

4.            There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.

Many states are now developing standards and tests for children in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade, to “prepare” them for the Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2 school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to do so.

Error #3: The Common Core is inspired by a vision of market-driven innovation enabled by standardization of curriculum, tests, and ultimately, our children themselves.  

There are two goals here that are intertwined. The first is to create a system where learning outcomes are measurable, and students and their teachers can be efficiently compared and ranked on a statewide and national basis. The second is to use standardization to create a national market for curriculum and tests. The two go together, because the collection of data allows the market to function by providing measurable outcomes. Bill Gates has not spoken too much recently about the Common Core, but in 2009, he was very clear about the project’s goals.

He said that

…identifying common standards is just the starting point. We’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards. Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests – “Next Generation assessments,” aligned to the Common Core. When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well. And it will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn, and every teacher get better.

This sentiment was shared by the U.S. Department of Education, as was made clear when Arne Duncan’s Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, wrote this in 2011:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In the market-driven system enabled by the Common Core, the “best products” will be those which yield the highest test scores. As Gates said: “The standards will tell the teachers what their students are supposed to learn, and the data will tell them whether they’re learning it.”

Thus, the overriding goal of the Common Core and the associated tests seems to be to create a national marketplace for products. As an educator, I find this objectionable. The central idea is that innovation and creative change in education will only come from entrepreneurs selling technologically based “learning systems.” In my 24 years in high poverty schools in Oakland, the most inspiring and effective innovations were generated by teachers collaborating with one another, motivated not by the desire to get wealthy, but by their dedication to their students.

Error #4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional timelines and curriculum.

At the heart of the Common Core is standardization.  Every student, without exception, is expected to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates, and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them “behind” at an early age.

The Common Core also emphasizes measurement of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking of the “complexity” of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score. This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and we discover that Mr. Popper’s Penguins is more “rigorous” than Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates.

This sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures often seem to trump the qualitative.

Carol Burris recently shared a 1st grade Pearson math test that is aligned to the Common Core standards for that grade level.

Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question, “Which is a related subtraction sentence?”  My nephew’s wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one.

Keep in mind that many New York State first graders are still 5 years old at the beginning of October, when this test was given.

You can review the first grade module for yourself, and imagine any five or six year olds you might know grappling with this.

The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:

If you read Commissioner John King’s Powerpoint slide 18, which can be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were “backmapped” from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills.  There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners.  Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a “back map”–young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.

Error #5: The Common Core was designed to be implemented through an expanding regime of high-stakes tests, which will consume an unhealthy amount of time and money. 

It is theoretically possible to separate the Common Core standards from an intensified testing regime, and leaders in California are attempting to do just that. However, as Bill Gates’ remarks in 2009 indicate, the project was conceived as a vehicle to expand and rationalize tests on a national basis. The expansion is in the form of ever-more frequent benchmark and “formative” tests, as well as exams in previously untested subjects.

Most estimates of cost focus only on the tests themselves.  The Smarter Balanced Common Core tests require the use of relatively new computers. Existing computers are often inadequate and cannot handle the “computer adaptive tests,” or the new Common Core aligned curriculum packages. This was one of the reasons given to justify the expenditure of $1 billion of construction bonds on iPads and associated Pearson Common Core aligned curriculum software in Los Angeles. The Pioneer Institute pegs the cost of full implementation of the Common Core at $16 billion nationally – but if others follow the Los Angeles model those costs could go much higher.

The cost in terms of instructional time is even greater, so long as tests remain central to our accountability systems. Common Core comes with a greatly expanded set of tests. In New York City, a typical 5th grade student this year will spend 500 minutes (ten fifty-minute class periods) taking baseline and benchmark tests, plus another 540 minutes on the Common Core tests in the spring. Students at many schools will have to spend an additional 200 minutes on NYC Performance Assessments, being used to evaluate their teachers. Students who are English learners take a four-part ESL test on top of all of the above.

Thus testing under the Common Core in New York will consume at least two weeks worth of instructional time out of the school year. And time not spent taking tests will be dominated by preparing for tests, since everyone’s evaluation is based on them.

Error #6: Proficiency rates on the new Common Core tests have been dramatically lower—by design.

Given that we have attached all sorts of consequences to these tests, this could have disastrous consequences for students and teachers. Only 31 percent of students who took Common Core aligned tests in New York last spring were rated proficient.  On the English Language Arts test, about 16 percent of African American students were proficient, five percent of students with disabilities, and 3% of English Learners. Last week, the state of North Carolina announced a similar drop in proficiency rates.  Thus we have a system that, in the name of “rigor,” will deepen  the achievement gaps, and condemn more students and schools as failures.

Because of the “rigor,” many students—as many as 30 percent—will not get a high school diploma. What will our society do with the large numbers of students who were unable to meet the Common Core Standards? Will we have a generation of hoboes and unemployables? Many of these young people might find trades and jobs that suit them, but they may never be interviewed due to their lack of a diploma. This repeats and expands on the error made with high school exit exams, which have been found to significantly increase levels of incarceration  among the students who do not pass them—while offering no real educational benefits.

It should be noted that the number of students (or schools) that we label as failures is not some scientifically determined quantity. The number is a result of where the all-important “cut score” is placed. If you want more to pass, you can lower that cut score, as was done in Florida in 2012.  The process to determine cut scores in New York was likewise highly political, and officials knew before the tests were even given the outcome they wanted.

Error #7: Common Core relies on a narrow conception of the purpose of K-12 education as “career and college readiness.”

When one reads the official rationales for the Common Core there is little question about the utilitarian philosophy at work. Our children must be prepared to “compete in the global economy.” This runs against the grain of the historic purpose of public education, which was to prepare citizens for our democracy, with the knowledge and skills to live fruitful lives and improve our society.

A group of 130 Catholic scholars recently sent a letter expressing their opposition to the Common Core.  They wrote,

The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of “informational texts.” This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not disguise their intention to transform “literacy” into a “critical” skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.

Error #8: The Common Core is associated with an attempt to collect more student and teacher data than ever before.

Parents are rightfully alarmed about the massive collection of their children’s private data, made possible by the US department of education’s decision in 2011 to loosen the regulations of FERPA , so that student data could be collected by third parties without parental consent.

There are legitimate privacy concerns, for both students and teachers, as data, once collected, can be used for all sorts of purposes. The vision that every student’s performance could be tracked from preschool through their working lives may be appealing to a technocrat like Bill Gates, but it is a bit frightening to many parents.

This is one aspect of the project that is already in big trouble. The Gates Foundation invested about $100 million to create inBloom, a nonprofit organization that would build a system to store the massive amount of student data their reform project requires. However, as parent concerns over privacy have grown, seven of the nine states that had signed up to  use the system have withdrawn. Only Illinois and New York remain involved, and in New York this week a lawsuit was filed to block the project.

Error #9: The Common Core is not based on any external evidence, has no research to support it, has never been tested, and worst of all, has no mechanism for correction.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by state leaders to opt in to the Common Core allows the states to change a scant 15 percent of the standards they use. There is no process available to revise the standards. They must be adopted as written. As William Mathis (2012) points out,

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself.

Error #10: The biggest problem of American education and American society is the growing number of children living in poverty.  As was recently documented by the Southern Education Fund (and reported in the Washington Post) across the American South and West, a majority of our children are now living in poverty.

The Common Core does nothing to address this problem. In fact, it is diverting scarce resources and time into more tests, more technology for the purpose of testing, and into ever more test preparation.

In conclusion: Common standards, if crafted in a democratic process and carefully reviewed by teachers and tested in real classrooms, might well be a good idea. But the Common Core does not meet any of those conditions.

The Common Core has been presented as a paradigmatic shift beyond the test-and-punish policies of NCLB. However, we are seeing the mechanisms for testing, ranking, rewarding and punishing simply refined, and made even more consequential for students, teachers and schools. If we use the critical thinking the Common Core claims to promote, we see this is old wine in a new bottle, and it turned to vinegar long ago.

For all these reasons, I believe any implementation of the Common Core should be halted. The very corporations that are outsourcing good jobs are promoting the Common Core, which deflects attention from their failure to the nation’s economy and their failure as good citizens. I do not believe the standards themselves are significantly better than those of most states, and thus they do not offer any real advantages. The process by which they were adopted was undemocratic, and lacking in meaningful input from expert educators. The early results we see from states that are on the leading edge provide evidence of significant damage this project is causing to students already. No Child Left Behind has failed, and we need a genuine shift in our educational paradigm, not the fake-out provided by Common Core.

The frustration evident in recent public hearings in New York is a powerful indicator of a process gone badly awry. The public was not consulted in any meaningful way on decisions to fundamentally alter the substance of teaching and learning in the vast majority of schools in our nation. This process and the content of these standards are deeply flawed, and the means by which student performance is measured continues to damage children.

This did not happen by accident. Powerful people have decided that because they have the money and influence to make things happen, they can do so. But in a democracy, the people ought to have the last word. Decisions such as this ought not be made at secret gatherings of billionaires and their employees. The education of the next generations of Americans is something we all have a stake in.

And so, fellow citizens: Speak Up, Opt Out, Teach On!

What do you think? Is it time to end the reign of Common Core errors?

i REFUSE !…the Common Core Standards

From the Long Island Press:

‘We’re Not Gonna Take It!’ Thousands of Long Island Students Opt-Out of Common Core Testing

New York State United Teachers union President Richard Ianuzzi blasts Common Core at the "iRefuse!" rally at Comsewogue High School on March 29, the eve of the first round of the education reform's state tests. Hundreds of parents and teachers participated in the protest. (Jaime Franchi/Long Island Press)

New York State United Teachers union President Richard Ianuzzi blasts Common Core at the “iRefuse!” rally at Comsewogue High School on March 29, the eve of the first round of the education reform’s state tests. Hundreds of parents and teachers participated in the protest.

 

“We will not allow the New York State Education Department to use our children to aid in the systematic breakdown of our public education system.”

-Jeanette Deuterman, a mother from Bellmore who spearheaded the Long Island Opt-Out movement

 

Speakers opposed to the state’s new public education policies whipped an audience of hundreds into a furor at Comsewogue High School on March 29, 2014 as Opt-Out supporters, preaching from the stage in the auditorium, vowed to “starve the beast”—calling on parents to have their children skip the rigorous standardized tests and deprive the school system of the data upon which the system depends. Long Island’s own Dee Snyder’s voice blasted from the speakers as his refrain has become this multifaceted group’s mantra: “We’re Not Gonna Take It!”

Many Long Islanders were true to their word. More than 20,000 school children here did not take the first round of state tests that began April 1.

The protest against the Common Core Standards and state testing has reached a fever pitch, sparking a profound debate that is about more than preset standards or global competition, but about the civil rights of our schoolchildren. By coming together, parents, educators and students have brought their growing concerns over the future of public education to the front pages of local newspapers, into social media forums reaching tens of thousands, and into the speeches of those who profess to govern for all.

In March, their collective voices were heard at three major events. Two expert panels on education convened on college campuses on Long Island to discuss the current peril students and teachers face and to propose possible solutions. And at Comsewogue High School, hundreds gathered on the eve of the state tests to communicate one message: We refuse.

Education experts gathered in Long Island University’s Tilles Center on March 10 at a panel hosted by Long Island University’s Dr. Arnold Dodge, the chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at LIU-Post and a retired superintendent from the East Rockaway School District. Discussing the theme, “A Return to Common Sense: Restoring Developmentally Appropriate Education to Our Schools,” were a current superintendent, Dr. Bill Johnson; a principal; a mother, Jeanette Deuterman; a teacher, Dr. Anthony Griffin; and student Nikhil Goyal  to give a full report from the frontlines of education reform.

Three days later, Stony Brook University hosted its own expert panel, framed by a discussion of the book, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, by Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, both of whom participated in the discussion; Hargreaves in person, Fullan via Skype. Other panelists included Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg and Carol Burris, South Side High School principal and 2013’s New York Principal of the Year, aptly filling in for headliner Diane Ravitch who couldn’t make it.

The Common Core initiative put into place in New York by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and overseen by the Board of Regents and the State Education Department has been the subject of scathing critique by both parents and educators alike that has not escaped the governor’s attention.

“The flawed implementation of the Common Core curriculum has resulted in frustration, anxiety, and confusion for children and parents,” he has said.

That the implementation has been a disaster is almost universally acknowledged, but where to go from here is something upon which almost no one can agree. The Cuomo administration has put together its own panel to make recommendations.

At Comesewogue High School on March 29, Richard Ianuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, said that the state education department needs to “stop it, fix it, or scrap it.”

With state tests for grades 3 through 8 beginning April 1, trying to salvage New York education has grown in urgency. State testing is at the heart of the issue, thanks to unrelenting criticism from educators and parents who argue that the tests, upon which the entire Common Core initiative rests, are invalid.

What determines the validity of the assessment is whether the data from the tests can be used to improve instruction. Since teachers are banned from seeing the graded exams their students took, they cannot know where their students’ weaknesses lie. Therefore, they cannot use that information to strengthen their skills. The data instead is used for a rating system to determine the teachers’ effectiveness.

Parents and educators are taking strong issue with that. Under the guidance of Jeanette Deuterman, a mother from Bellmore who spearheaded the Long Island Opt-Out movement, many parents are exercising their rights to opt their children out of the tests this year. Deuterman projected the unofficial tally that more than 20,035 Long Island students refused this year.

“We will not allow the New York State Education Department to use our children to aid in the systematic breakdown of our public education system,” Deuterman said at the Tilles Center. “We will not allow them to use our children to unfairly evaluate our teachers, principals, and schools through their test scores. Parents know that test scores do not correlate with good teaching. The teacher evaluation system is broken, and our children are the ones that have suffered the consequences. Our children will not participate…until significant changes are made.”

Dr. Bill Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre Schools, agrees.

“One of the sad things about it is that I truly believe that assessment should be an important component of every child’s life in school,” he said. “But in fact when the state has developed tests that are quite frankly never found to be valid, it is very difficult for me to encourage parents to have their children sit for a nine-hour exam knowing full well that the results are not going to used by anybody in the school district to do anything with at the end of the day.”

“As a superintendent,” he continued, “I need to honor the rights the parents have within their school.”

But what about the rights of the child?

Pasi Sahlberg, an author and educator from Finland, speaking at the education forum at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center, dissected the difference between the education system in the United States and the much-lauded system in Finland. Finnish law dictates that between each 60-minute lesson, students are allotted a 15-minute recess. In Finnish culture, children are entitled to recess as an inherent part of their rights.

“Children must play,” Sahlberg stated.

Finnish children do not start academic lessons until they reach 7 years old and do not experience standardized tests until they take their college entrance exams.

In the United States, educational reform financed by federal Race to the Top funds and standardized through the Common Core State Standards Initiative has brought buzzwords like “grit” and “rigor” into the national lexicon, while quietly doing away with play-based developmental learning in the lower grades in favor of an increasingly academic structure. This approach has been sold to the American people by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a way to elevate the educational system and produce students who can better compete in the global economy. South Side High School principal, Carol Burris, believes that rationale to be false.

“There is this myth that there was once this great American school system and somehow, we have fallen to the bottom and we are hopelessly falling behind the rest of the world,” Burris said. “The truth of the matter is, since the beginning of international tests, we’ve always been kind of in the middle. Sometimes at the bottom. If you take a look at the performance of American students, it is actually stronger than it’s ever been before. Our graduation rates have never been higher.

“We’re creating this myth that everything is awful, which then gives people permission to just say, ‘Well, let’s blow the whole system up. How can it possibly get worse?’ Well, it can get worse,” she continued.

That’s not the only falsehood, Burris added.

“There’s another myth that somehow rigorous standards are going to solve all of the problems,” she said.

Compared to American standards, she explained that the standards of Finland were “almost skeletal.” Their guidelines were left to the teachers’ discretion based on their experience with their individual students’ needs.

“I’m afraid for [our] kids,” Burris continued. “Because I’m afraid that all of the advances that we’ve made in equity in my school, where teachers have learned to work together collaboratively, where they’ve been able to take a special-ed kid and find a place for him in an international baccalaureate class, that all that good work will be undone by all of these reforms.”

Here, standardization is the goal. Based upon modules offered by the state Education Department and sanctified in these Common Core tests, they are the antithesis of innovative thinking. And innovation is at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit this country prides itself on.

Sahlberg said that the United States already has an exemplary education system—it just needs to be allowed to flourish.

“I would say all of the successful education systems have one thing in common: They have built their success on American education, innovation and ideas,” Sahlberg said. “Same thing if you go to Singapore, China, or even Canada. This proves that you have everything it takes to build not only schools that work, but to build a system that’s successful. It’s about sharing what you do, what you know; having the policies and reforms in place that are encouraging.

“Your problem is not that you need to invent again with new ideas,” Sahlberg said, “but so you can learn again from one another and make the best use out of the ideas that you already have. If you want proof that the American ideas and innovations of education really work, come to Finland.”

The mother from Bellmore who spearheaded the Long Island Opt-Out movement, Jeanette Deuterman, issued a stern warning to those who she believes are threatening the education of her children.

“To all of the corporations that stand to make billions at the expense of our children, education officials with little or no education experience, Board of Regents members that put status quo over common sense, and legislators that place politics over the protection of our children, watch out!” she said. “The parents of New York are awake. We’re organized. And we will not stop until we return common sense to the education of our children.”

Starve the Beast
Deuterman’s voice was amplified at Comsewogue High School. Torrential rain did little to dissuade the hundreds of people who came out to express their opposition to the state tests this April. Against the backdrop of the aptly named Comsewogue Warriors logo, Superintendent Joe Rella and parent advocate Mark Ferraris hosted speakers such as clinical social worker Mary Calamia, Assemb. Al Graf (R-Holbrook), president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association Beth Dimino, co-founder of Stop Common Core in New York State Yvonne Gasperino, Michael Bohr, the founder of advocate group Badass Parents, and upstate principal Tim Farley, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the newly announced Republican gubernatorial candidate running on the anti-Common Core platform—whose own kids have opted out of taking the tests.

The lobby was full of advocacy groups such as the Badass Teachers Association to the Guardians, Stop Common Core in New York State, Lace to the Top, and Badass Parents selling T-shirts and stickers, sharing battle stories and offering support to each other.

Tim MacDowell, a concerned father, said that his Longwood fourth grader Lucas will refuse the test this year. His son took the test last year.

“I didn’t want him to,” MacDowell said, “but I thought I was alone. I didn’t know any of this existed. And he passed. But I don’t know what he passed. He got a 3 on the ELA [English Language Arts] and a 3 on the math. But as a parent, one who really rides him hard, I don’t know what that means. I’d like him to get a 4, but I don’t get any feedback. The teachers don’t get any feedback. They don’t individualize the results. They just tell me he got a 3. It’s useless.”

MacDowell certainly doesn’t feel alone any longer. These protesters have little common ground in other issues but in this increasingly polarized political atmosphere they stand together against Common Core.

Richard Ianuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers, hammered home that message.

“The New York State United Teachers will stand behind every one of our members and every parent in this audience and every parent in New York State who makes that choice,” he said. “The moment a choice is taken away from a parent, that’s the moment when public education is destroyed. The moment when choice is taken away from a teacher, then public education is destroyed.”

Bookends: Anti-Common Core advocates Mark Naison (L), co-founder of Badass Teachers Association, and Michael Bohr, of Badass Parents Association, lent their voices to the opt-out movement at the "iRefuse!" protest rally on March 29. (Jaime Franchi/Long Island Press)

A vocal opponent of this reform, Dr. Mark Naison, history professor and chair of African-American Studies at Fordam University and co-founder of the Badass Teachers Association, railed against what he called the “Walmart-izaton of Education.”

“It implements a kind of authoritarianism that we’re seeing more in the workplace,” he said. “It is unacceptable. Children need freedom, they need self-expression, they need space and they need to be allowed to make mistakes; they need to learn from those mistakes.

“This issue is not going away,” he continued. “We have found a fault line in education policy that is so profound that we’re going to flip the script in terms of how this issue is going to be regarded in American politics. Some people think it will take a year. I think it will take five to 10 for us to win it.”

Naison stopped to take in the surroundings: a group encircling a candidate for governor, parents and children awash in green shoelaces and t-shirts proclaiming “I refuse!” and a camaraderie born of a shared cause.

Naison smiled at the audience assembled at Comsewogue.

“I see this as a step forward,” he said.

We ARE winning. Here’s the scorecard

From the Network for Public Education:

Top-Ten-Graphic
Top Ten “Why We Will Win” Stories of 2014

At the 1st annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Austin, Texas in March, NPE President Diane Ravitch delivered a speech titled “Why We Will Win.” She told the crowd of over 400 public education activists from around the country that everything the “faux reformers” are doing is failing or has already failed, and that “students, teachers, parents, and communities” are organizing to fight back.

In that spirit, here are the Top Ten stories of 2014 (in no particular order) that highlight the pushback to the failed policies of the faux reformers, and the crumbling foundation of the reform movement.

These stories can carry us into the New Year with a sense of hope and purpose that together we will save our schools.

Multiple states drop out of Common Core, PARCC/Smarter Balanced

Click on the link above for an informative map of where each state currently stands on Common Core, and whether they are in or out of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortiums. The interactive map also includes an analysis of which states are contemplating measures against the standards and the standardized tests that accompany them. The smart money says 2015 will see more states dump either or both.

Race to the Top defunded in 2015 omnibus bill

Race to the Top has been the signature education reform program of the Obama administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. RTTT began in 2010 with $4.35 billion dollars to distribute to state that were still crippled by the recession. States were forced to compete for federal education funds, with winners coerced into adopting the reforms favored by the administration, such as the Common Core standards and aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests. The complete defunding of the grant program is quite a blow to the Obama education agenda.

Collapse of inBloom

In a true win for grassroots advocacy and student privacy rights, data management behemoth inBloom was toppled in 2014. Fortified with 100 million dollars from Bill Gates, and toppled by parent activists in New York City and beyond, the demise of inBloom is a righteous example of parent power.

First Annual NPE Conference

2014 marked the first annual Network for Public Education Conference in Austin, Texas. The powerful event brought together education activists from around the nation to talk about the issues of the day, with livestreamed panel discussions and keynote addresses from education luminaries Karen Lewis, John Kuhn and NPE President Diane Ravitch. You don’t want to miss the 2015 conference in Chicago, April 25-26!

Pro Public Education Candidates elected

Education issues were the central focus of numerous high profile, big money races around the country in 2014. The election of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Newark, NJ Mayor Ras Baraka focused not only on the pro-public education views of the candidates, but on the failed policies of their corporate reform predecessors Michael Bloomberg and Cory Booker. Also critical was the California State Superintendent race, where incumbent educator and legislator Tom Torlakson kept his seat despite an onslaught of corporate reform money backing his challenger, Marshall Tuck. Tuck, a Broad Residency graduate and former Wall Street and charter school executive, was eager to uphold the Vergara decision, which declared tenure unconstitutional in California. Visit our website to learn more about other successful pro public education candidates endorsed by NPE.

Michelle Rhee leaves StudentsFirst

When Michelle Rhee founded StudentsFirst in 2010 she boasted that she would raise $1 billion to create a public school system that conformed to the policies she favored. Not only did Rhee never accomplish her fundraising goals, she fell far short on her policy goals as well. StudentsFirst’s National Report Card became somewhat of a joke too. The Report Card gave high performing states like Massachusetts and New Jersey D grades, and low performing states like Florida and Louisiana B grades (the highest score any state achieved on the report card) for their willingness (or unwillingness) to submit to the StudentsFirst policy agenda.

Louis CK takes Common Core opposition mainstream

Lois CK, a New York City public school parent, took to twitter to express his frustration with Common Core and how the increased focus on standardized testing is impacting students and teachers alike. His tweets led to articles about his criticism of Common Core and standardized testing in Salon, Politico, and the Huffington Post, and was even part of his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Pro public education books hit the shelves

Make sure to peruse the list of books written by pro public education bloggers, teachers, administrators, professors, activists and NPE Board Members. The list includes the book Diane Ravitch named “the most important book of the year,” Bob Herbert’s Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. And don’t miss the book by NPE 2015 conference keynote speaker Yong Zhao, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. In her review for the New York Review of Books, Diane wrote that “Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators” need to read Zhao’s book.

Teach for America to shut NYC training site

Facing declining recruitment in New York City, TFA will close the city’s only training site. The Executive Director of TFA in NYC attributed the low recruitment numbers to “a contentious national dialogue around education and teaching in general, and TFA in particular.” TFA has been called out, both by critics and alumni, for placing recruits with only 5 weeks of training into some of the most challenging schools in the country, with a commitment of only 2 years, adding to high turnover and instability in the communities that need the most support.

Two Oklahoma first grade teachers refuse to give the MAP test

First grade teachers Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones wrote a poignant letter to the parents of their students explaining why they would refuse to administer a mandated standardized test know as the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress). In their letter they point out that the increased focused on testing has “gradually squelched the creativity and learning from our classrooms.”

Possible end to yearly standardized testing?

Education Week reported that a draft bill reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act would drop the federal requirement for annual standardized testing. This would leave the decision to the states to either continue with annual standardized testing or to return to grade span testing, which would require testing once in elementary, once in middle and once in high school.

Happy New Year!

 

Together We Can Stop The Testing Madness

opt-out5 The public elementary schools we attended as children no longer exist. The buildings may be there, but everything else has changed. Why? Public education has been radically altered by the dictates of Clinton’s Goals 2000, Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and Obama’s Race to the Top. These changes have made elementary education almost unrecognizable to most adults.

Sure, kids still sit at desks, have rug time, and do worksheets. But the school nurse is long gone, unless the PTA can afford to keep her. The cafeteria ladies have been cut too. Now you’re lucky to have one, who no longer cooks meals. Most kids have never had access to an art teacher and only know about school counselors by watching television.

What’s most alarming is the emphasis to evaluate and sort children based on standardized test scores, specifically math and reading. Sure, growing up we took some bubble tests. But did we study for them? Were our schools at risk of losing funding or closure if we scored poorly?

No Child Left Behind was a turning point for public education.

Today children spend more and more time preparing for standardized tests. They practice getting their writing rubrics straight. They make sure the writing prompt is used as their topic sentence.

They do sheets and sheets of complicated math problems. They make sure every math problem is solved using the approved method and was checked using a second authorized method. Finally, they make sure each answer is written out using a complete sentence.

But here’s the cosmic kicker: all this hard work won’t help those already doomed to fail. Before a single 3rd grader takes the test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has predetermined that 35% will fail the English Language Arts/Literacy portion and 32% will fail the math. To add insult to injury, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will require a “principal/parent conferences for students not passing” the English Language Arts test.

Make no mistake, shaming 3rd graders isn’t just a district thing. This goes all the way to the top. Word has it, a bill will be re-introduced during this legislative session requiring all 3rd graders “who scores below basic on the state’s third grade English Language Arts (ELA) assessment may not be promoted to fourth grade unless the student meets a “good cause exemption.”

That’s right, nothing motivates kids like labeling them as failures. But in case these kids don’t get the message, the plan is to drive the point home by making them repeat 3rd grade.

So, what can be done to take back our public schools?

First, opt your child out of every single standardized test given during the school year. Remember, it doesn’t matter if your child is the only one who sits out the tests. Other parents will take notice, when they do, politely explain what you are doing. “No” is a powerful word. Use it.  Simply write your principal telling them you want your child not to take the standardized test (here is the list, it’s on page 3) and ask them to provide an alternative activity during the testing time. Provide a copy to the teacher who will be involved in administering the test.

Second, let your child’s teacher know you trust their professional judgement and understand they have your child’s best interest at heart. Explain that you believe their in class assessments have value, and will be the only tests your child will be taking during the school year.

Finally, read More Than A Score. There are many practical and inspirational stories about how parents, teachers, and communities have successfully organized against standardized testing. Once you finish the book, go out and do it.

Together we can stop the testing madness.

Carolyn Leith Parent of two children in Seattle Public Schools

“Pre-School for All” in Seattle, student information sharing, Jump Start, Teach for America and more

red flag

 

I have written two posts on Universal pre-K which in Seattle is now termed “Preschool for All”; Race to the Tots: Universal (for profit) Pre-K, DFER and the suits and Universal Pre-K in Seattle: Reasons to be cautious. Now it’s time to look more closely at the two initiatives that will be on the ballot in November during the general elections and the “Action Plan” that the initiatives are based on.

At this writing the titles have not been selected for the two initiatives or a description of each ballot item. When that is determined, I will reference them in this post. For now, I will refer to the first resolution that was presented to the Seattle City Council by Tim Burgess as Bill #1 and the alternative bill as Bill #2.

The two initiatives are different in terms of four items.

1) Alternative Bill #2, which was proposed by Councilmember Sawant, states all child care teachers and staff that are part of a new business shall be paid not less than $15 per hour. In January of 2016 and each year thereafter, the minimum wage is to increase based on the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners for the Seattle, Tacoma and Bremerton metropolitan areas.

All previously established small businesses will have the opportunity to phase in over a three year period the appropriate minimum wage as described in the paragraph above.

2) Alternative Bill #2 states that a family should pay no more that 10% of income on child care thus making it affordable for all.

3) Alternative Bill #2 would prohibit “violent felons” from providing child care in licensed and unlicensed facilities.

4) Alternative Bill #2 would require all child care teachers and staff to obtain training and certification through the Professional Development Institute, an all-online program.

As an aside Tom Stritikus, the former Dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington and former Teach for America recruit who pushed for a Teach for America five week training program within the College of Education, helped create an all-online bachelor’s degree for early childhood education before moving on to work at the Gates Foundation.

Coincidence? I think not.

Burgess’ plan, Resolution 31478, advocates for preschool teachers to have four year degrees.  The plan also supports “alternative teaching pathways” which in the past has referred to Teach for America.

5) Alternative Bill #2 would create a City of Seattle Early Care Workforce Board to recommend policy and investment priorities. The board would reflect the ethnic, racial and economic diversity of the city’s children and would include parents, child advocates and low income communities.

6) Alternative Bill #2 would require hiring an organization to facilitate communication between the City of Seattle and “facilitate the expression of child care teachers and staff’s interests in workforce development and training programs”. The selection of this organization would include involvement of child care teachers and staff.

Now, let’s look more closely at The Seattle Preschool Program Action Plan that Burgess based his proposal on and the initiatives as they are written so far.

Much of how the program is to be structured and implemented is to be developed if and when one of the initiatives passes.

As per page 22 of the Action Plan:

The City of Seattle’s Office for Education will develop an Implementation Plan that addresses all program standards outlined herein. The Implementation Plan will be included in an ordinance package to be approved by City Council by 2015.

For that reason, I am referring to the City of Seattle’s Preschool Program Action Plan for clues on what the implementation plan will be.

One of the items noted in the introduction of the Action Plan is that one of the consultants hired to create this Action Plan was BERK Consulting. BERK was also the consulting firm used to develop “The Road Map Project/CCER Local Race to the Top Application Development”.

For more on the Road Map Project as developed in conjunction with Community Center for Education Results (CCER) , see CCER, the Road Map Project and the loss of student privacyThe Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates and your student’s privacy and A Look at Race to the Top.

Will the Preschool for All program in Seattle be taking Race to the Top money for that program?

It’s happening in Federal Way with the concomitant Common Core Standards and testing as the basis of their preschool program. With the acceptance of Race to the Top money also comes a requirement to share all student information. Is this what we want in Seattle?

As Susan Ohanian wrote in the Burlington Free Press:

Putting pre-schoolers in a race

Gov. Shumlin and congressional representatives Leahy, Sanders and Welch couldn’t make it to the October 2013 ceremony honoring the state teacher of the year, but all except Leahy were at the December press conference announcing Vermont’s “winning” a federal $37 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

Unmentioned at the money announcement was this sentence from page 352 of the 451-page application: “Our request will be leveraged with $61,999,383 of other funds.” So in an unexplained fiscal scheme, Vermont is expected to spend $62 million to receive $37 million?

But there’s a larger cost than money.

I worry about how the very real needs of the pre-K set will be met. Vermont politicos have promised to obey the federal directive to align this new program with the controversial Common Core State Standards.

This sends shivers of apprehension down my spine. The Common Core chief architect emphasized that kids must be taught that “as you grow up in this world you realize that people really don’t give a **** about what you feel or what you think.” Common Core expects all students in a class to read the same text, and here’s the chief architect’s advice to a student reading several grade levels below the complex text assigned to his class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again … so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.”

As a longtime teacher I know that no good can come from such theories. And holding four-year-olds captive to this kind of pedagogy is child abuse.

The real winners in this Race to the Top grant seem to be managers, data collectors and assessors. At the same time the feds cut food stamps and heating subsidies, they offer money for a gaggle of coordinators and consultants. One can only guess how the job functions of a home visiting data analyst differ from those of a home visiting coordinator. There is also an expert evaluator, an expert researcher, and a contractor to manage data governance process.

On and on

Faculty members from each Vermont college with early childhood education programs will be brought on board — to make sure everything is aligned. Plus a consultant to support the colleges’ work. And on and on and on.

Consultants abound.

This whole deal looks like bureaucratic careerism, not child care. Data collection is mentioned a lot. Just how children’s lives will be enriched is not.

According to the grant application, 42 percent of Vermont children age five or younger are “high needs,” primarily as the result of being low-income. I’d like our politicos to explain just how data collection addresses the very real needs of these children.

Read the grant application and you’ll see new positions for upwards of five dozen consultants, managers, trainers, inspectors, technologists, assessors, and one graphic artist. As the grant writers admit, Vermont already has a remarkably strong and enduring commitment to the early learning and development of young children, particularly children with high needs. Kids Count ranks us No. 2 in the nation for the overall well-being of our children. 

If it ain’t broke, why let the Feds break it? 

-Susan Ohanian

For more on the Common Core Standards, see Truth in American Education and Stop Common Core Standards in Washington State.

An excellent response by a teacher to David Coleman’s remarks is Children the core of our schools.

Here in Seattle, if one of these measures passes, we will need to carefully watch what funding sources are part of the implementation plan that has yet to be written.

Health and Nutrition

Another concern of mine is ensuring that these children have a well-balanced breakfast and lunch during their time in this program. I don’t know how it is now in the Head Start program but when my dad was Director of Head Start for Southern California, he was always pleased to say that the children received two hot meals a day knowing that those might be the only decent meals they got. You can’t focus when you’re hungry.

I did not come across any language pertaining to ensuring these children are fed and fed well in the Action Plan, the Resolution or the Initiative. When I say “a good meal” I am not referring to what the Title 1 students are given for what is termed “breakfast” in the Seattle Public Schools. I saw what they were fed first hand when I was teaching an early morning enrichment class at an elementary school and what the children received could not possibly be called a healthy, well-rounded meal.

The reason so many lower income children are not learning in school is because they’re hungry, homeless, sick, or have a myriad number of other issues that are brought on by poverty.

Pre-School/Kindergarten will work only when issues of poverty are addressed.

The Involvement of the Seattle Public School District

On page 7 of the Action Plan it is stated:

The program will be provided through a mixed-delivery system, with classrooms offered by Seattle Public Schools and community providers.

The School Board of Seattle was never officially contacted about the Action Plan, the Resolution or the Initiative and yet these documents refer to the contribution that Seattle Public Schools will make to the program.

As of now, our schools are bursting at the seams. There is not enough space for the students who have enrolled in our district.

On page 15 of the Action Plan:

The City will:

Work alongside Seattle Public Schools Special Education department to meet the needs of children with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs).

This sounds like a wonderful idea but no one has officially consulted with the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Board about this either.  SPS is financially stretched as it is, how are we to pay for the district to add more staff and time to work with these various pre-K programs that will be popping up?

There is a lot of pie in the sky with this plan that some pricey consultants have put together.

Assessments

On page 9 of the Action Plan it states:

The plan calls for ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure we meet our school readiness, quality, and achievement Goals.

REFLECTED IN:

A comprehensive evaluation strategy for the program, designed with independent evaluation experts

Ongoing assessments of classroom quality, which includes making full use of existing assessment infrastructure

Use of developmentally-appropriate, performance-based assessments

External evaluations of implementation and outcomes

“Existing assessment infrastructure”…what does that mean? What existing infrastructure?

This language is vague with lots of room to fill in the blanks with costly assessments we wouldn’t want our children to go through. See A Kindergartner’s Nightmare as an example.

Program Eligibility

On page 11 of the Action Plan:

To be eligible to contract with the City to provide preschool through this program, qualified organizations will need to meet the following criteria:

They must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Early Learning to provide preschool services (or exempt from licensing requirements by virtue of being a public school or institution of higher education).

Charter schools like to call themselves “public schools” because they are benefiting by using our tax dollars, but when it comes time for transparency, they are no longer “public”. See Are Charter Schools Public or Private? Neither or Both?

The KIPP charter school chain has geared up for yet another business opportunity. See  A Model Built on Rigor, Structure Adapting to the Schooling Needs of a Younger Group of Students.

Yes people, our three and four year olds must have “rigor” as part of their pre-school programs.

KIPP has gotten its foot in the door in our state and I am sure they are rubbing their hands gleefully at the thought of bringing “rigor” to Seattle.

And who staffs KIPP? Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruits and they are rip-roarin’ and ready to go to, see TFA’s  Early Childhood Initiative.

Teach for America, Inc. is now staffing pre-school programs in San Francisco and the State of Oklahoma, two jurisdictions that the draft Ordinance, Version #4 regarding Universal pre-K, refers to.

They have all seen the gravy train coming down the tracks with Universal pre-K and they want a piece of the action.

It’s all about the “Data”

On page 17:

Kindergarten Transitions

The City will work with the Washington State Department of Early Learning and Seattle Public Schools and execute written agreements to:

Align practices, responsibilities, and timelines and to address data sharing, academic expectations, curriculum alignment, and professional development.

I have included a few articles within this post about student privacy, or the lack thereof, but it has now gone farther than we ever thought would happen in our state.

The OSPI has agreed to share teacher and student information with the Seattle Times.  See State Data Deal with Media Should Alarm You.

There is a push to create and share private student information and use it to track each child from pre-kindergarten through high school and beyond.

A related thread that continues to weave its way through all of this is a program called Jump Start.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation report titled A preK-3rd Coalition, referring to the school districts of Seattle, Edmonds and Everett,  and under the heading:

An Early Opportunity to Work Together: WaKIDS

  •  Use Jump Start to collect student data.
  • Establish a fall PreK-K Early Learning event on assessment to connect with PreK partners and share assessment information.
  • Pilot the use of electronic tablets for data collection.

Jump Start also comes up in the BERK report as a tool for parents to use under the heading of Recommendations:

 Ensure that preschool providers are aware of the Jump Start program and help connect families.

acelero

Jump Start was created by Aaron Lieberman who also founded Acelero, a for-profit company that is taking over Head Start programs and is staffed with none other than Teach for America, Inc. recruits. See A for-profit approach to Head Start.

Another line in the BERK report states under the heading:

Phase-in Plan to transition Head Start, ECEAP and Step Ahead

The City should work closely with Head Start providers to develop a phased-in plan to transition these providers into PFA providers.

What does this mean for the future of Head Start in Seattle? The BERK report also recommends including the Head Start funding into the working budget for Preschool for All.

The intent to provide pre-school for all is admirable and I hope that we can acheive this for children in Seattle but there are pitfalls to avoid.

Per the most recent proposed Ordinance that I have, there is to be an Oversight Committee. If either of these Initiatives passes, make sure that you as a teacher, parent or well informed citizen are represented on this committee either in person or by way of someone who you trust can represent the best interests of our children.

Dora Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle pushes back on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing

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The Battle for Seattle continues.

Please submit this resolution, modified for your district, for adoption at the March 9th Democratic district caucuses, specifically the legislative district chair. The deadline for submissions is this Wednesday. The more districts that pass a resolution against Common Core Standards, the more likely it will pass at the county and, ultimately, the state levels.

RESOLUTION CONCERNING

RACE TO THE TOP AND COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS EDUCATION “REFORMS”

WHEREAS the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of academic standards, promoted and supported by two private membership organizations, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), who receive millions of dollars from private third parties, philanthropies, and corporate interests to advocate for and develop the CCSS without a grant of authority from any state; and

WHEREAS the CCSS were developed by a committee of 24 individuals, almost all of whom were associated with educational corporations, with no decision-making authority granted to practicing K-12 teachers, through a process not subject to public scrutiny or Freedom of Information Act laws, and were adopted by the Legislature without sufficient opportunity for public review or comment; and

WHEREAS funding the implementation of the CCSS, its associated reforms, and the assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is a substantial financial burden on local school districts, the state, and taxpayers in a time when Washington is already insufficiently fulfilling its paramount duty to fully fund K-12 education; and

WHEREAS the CCSS have never been piloted, tested, or proven in any arena to increase student learning or prepare students for college or career, and the funds allocated for their implementation and associated reforms and assessments are made unavailable for purposes that have been proven effective, such as reducing class sizes and hiring teachers, providing special education services, diversifying course offerings, etc; and

WHEREAS research has proven that high-stakes, standardized tests of any kind limit the curriculum to tested subjects and have caused changes to pedagogy in ways that are detrimental to student learning, and there is no evidence that SBAC developed assessments for the teaching and learning of the CCSS will depart from this historical norm, and

WHEREAS research has continually raised serious and substantive questions about the accuracy and statistical reliability of using high-stakes, standardized tests to measure learning and evaluate teaching, and there is no evidence that the SBAC developed assessments for the teaching and learning of the CCSS are any more accurate and statistically reliable for evaluating teaching and learning; and

WHEREAS Race to the Top (RTTT), CCSS “reforms”, and the SBAC developed assessments include and facilitate the collection of confidential personal and non-educational student, family, and teacher data, and the SBAC Cooperative Agreement allows for access to that data by the federal government and third party organizations without parent, student, or teacher notification or prior written consent;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the King County Democratic Party recognizes RTTT and CCSS “reforms” as a coordinated effort to centralize control of public education under the influence of private interests; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we oppose high-stakes testing and any attempt to tie teacher evaluations to the SBAC developed assessments or other state test, further raising the stakes of high stakes testing and distorting the teaching profession; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the Legislature to reconsider its adoption of the CCSS and direct the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to withdraw Washington state from the SBAC, allowing local control of education to return to Washington state and Washington districts.

Adopted                                              by                                                                                     

Submitted by:

Breann Treffry, Washington State Against Common Core

Wayne Au, PhD, Associate Professor: Education Program at UW Bothell

Dora Taylor, President: Parents Across America

Post Script:

We encourage people in Seattle and beyond to print this resolution and take it with you to school events, PTA meetings, your community and civic meetings and your district’s legislative town hall for discussion and action.

We can do this.

For additional information on the Common Core Standards with a focus on Washington State as well as opting out of the MAP test and state test, see:

Stop Common Core in Washington State

Truth in American Education

Common Core Standards

A recommended article is The Trouble with the Common Core.

Post Script 2:

March 10, 2014

The resolution passed in the 36th District which is where I reside. Now it’s on to the County and State meetings to vote on the resolution being a part of the Democratic Party platform.

Dora Taylor

Legislative Alert: HB 2133 Student Privacy Bill: Contact the House Education Committee now

privacy3

Update: January 22, 2013

House Bill 2133 for Student Privacy has been pulled from Executive Session for revisions and will be rescheduled for a committee vote next week.

Stay tuned.

What is the issue with student privacy?

There are a few:

It used to be that students’ grades, disciplinary records, teachers comments and test scores on standardized tests were kept in files that could only be accessed by personnel in the school or the district. Not so anymore.

The requirements now, thanks to Race to the Top, are that school districts are to hand over more student information than most parents would feel comfortable doing… if they knew what was being collected.

For as little as $1M, our district will be required to turn over a vast amount of information. This will cost the district far more than any amount of money that is rewarded. See The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates and your student’s privacy for the details.

Here are a few items that are being demanded (remarks in italics are mine):

Children ready to succeed in school by kindergarten (will this require pre-K testing?)

Students triggering Early Warning Indicator 1 and 2*

* Early warning indicators are for 6th and 9th grade students. EW1: Six or more absences and one or more course failure(s). EW2: One or more suspension(s) or expulsion(s)

Students who graduate high school on time

Students at community and technical colleges enrolling in pre-college coursework

Students who enroll in postsecondary education by age 24 (this will require tracking students beyond high school graduation)

Students who earn a post-secondary credential by age 24 (ditto)

Children born weighing less than 5.5 pounds

Families reading to their children daily

Children meeting age-level expectations at the end of preschool (Pre-school testing?)

English language learning students making progress in learning English

Students absent 20 or more days per year

Students who make a non-promotional school change

Students motivated and engaged to succeed in school (How is this measured?)

Students attending schools with low state achievement index ratings

Females age 15-17 giving birth

8th graders reporting select risk factors on the Healthy Youth Survey

Students exhibiting 21st century skills (?)

High school graduates completing a formal career and technical education program (This also requires tracking students beyond high school)

Graduating College Bound students who have completed the FAFSA

Students who directly enroll in postsecondary education

Students who did not complete high school on time who achieve a postsecondary credential

Students employed within 1 and 5 years of completing or leaving postsecondary education, including wage (Again, a requirement to track students past high school graduation.)

There is additional information that is required. To see the details, go to CCER, the Road Map Project and the loss of student privacy.

Is this more than you want others to know about your child?

Is it OK with you that any third-party who has an interest, commercial or otherwise, will be able to access this information including the Seattle Times?

Do you think this requirement for data could ultimately expand into additional areas of a students’ life?

House Bill 2133, Maintaining privacy of student educational records, has been revised since the public hearing last Wednesday.

The revised bill will require parental or guardian notification and consent for the sharing of student information.

If you are concerned and you live in the state of Washington, then contact the House Committee on Education and let them know as soon as possible. The committee will be meeting this Wednesday, January 22nd, to vote on whether the bill will move forward or not.

Santos, Sharon Tomiko (D) Chair JLOB 321 (360) 786-7944
Stonier, Monica (D) Vice Chair JLOB 309 (360) 786-7994
Dahlquist, Cathy (R) * JLOB 426 (360) 786-7846
Magendanz, Chad (R) ** JLOB 427 (360) 786-7876
Bergquist, Steve (D) JLOB 322 (360) 786-7862
Fey, Jake (D) JLOB 330 (360) 786-7974
Haigh, Kathy (D) JLOB 320 (360) 786-7966
Hargrove, Mark (R) JLOB 409 (360) 786-7918
Hawkins, Brad (R) LEG 122G (360) 786-7832
Hayes, Dave (R) JLOB 467 (360) 786-7914
Hunt, Sam (D) LEG 438B (360) 786-7992
Klippert, Brad (R) JLOB 410 (360) 786-7882
Lytton, Kristine (D) JLOB 310 (360) 786-7800
Muri, Dick (R) JLOB 424 (360) 786-7890
Orwall, Tina (D) JLOB 326 (360) 786-7834
Parker, Kevin (R) JLOB 421 (360) 786-7922
Pollet, Gerry (D) JLOB 317 (360) 786-7886
Seaquist, Larry (D) LEG 132C (360) 786-7802
Warnick, Judy (R) LEG 427 (360) 786-7932

Next we will need to know who is getting what in terms of our student’s data. Too many agreements have been made behind closed doors about student information without our knowledge.

Submitted by Dora Taylor

Post Script:

How Murdoch, Bill Gates and Big Corporations Are Data Mining Our Schools

gates mining

Last week, students across New York finished a set of tests taken over a two week period designed to measure their proficiency at reading and math against new federal college readiness standards known as Common Core. Some parents opted their children out of the exams in protest against what they described as the school system’s over-emphasis on testing and its use of data as the principle indicator of their children’s achievement.

Starting next year, those scores, along with students’ personal information – race, economic background, report cards, discipline records and personal addresses – will be stored in a database designed by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

That’s right, Rupert Murdoch can read your child’s report card anytime he likes and he knows where your kid is sleeping. The database will be managed by inBloom inc, a non-profit outfit that, like Wireless Generation, is under the domain of billionaire Bill Gates – who, together with the Carnegie Corporation and other philanthropic organizations, set up the company via his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

inBloom is receiving $50 million for their services from the New York Education Department through a contract awarded last fall. Data analyzing firms, educational software designers and other third-party venders, both for and not-for-profit, will be granted access to student information.

inBloom is receiving $50 million for their services from the New York Education Department through a contract awarded last fall. Data analyzing firms, educational software designers and other third-party venders, both for and not-for-profit, will be granted access to student information.

New York is not alone in turning to student data tracking system to measure performance. Some 200,000 U.S. teachers use Wireless Generation software as part of a national trend in which education administrators are increasingly turning to data analysis to grasp why America’s pupils are flunking when compared to the rest of the world.

To read more on this, go to the Indypendent.

Testimony regarding Race to the Top funds for Seattle and student privacy

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The following is testimony that I will be giving at the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 regarding the approval of Race to the Top funding that is to be approved by the school board.

Good evening.

As many districts around the country have discovered, Race to the Top money comes with strings attached. Many districts have been loath to meet their part of the bargain after understanding what the price would be. States and districts have pulled out of the race after discovering that their part of the bargain could not be paid for, literally.

I understand the importance of funding education but this easy money has come with a price. For us, the payment for this funding is the loss of privacy for our students.

There are 38 items of information that we are to provide to the US Department of Education about our students. This list can be viewed on the home page of the Seattle Education blog. This information will in turn be uploaded into a data bank such as inBloom, a platform created with $100M of Gates money to store data ultimately on every student in every state. The protections of FERPA have been peeled away through amendments that were made to it in 2008 and 2011 by the Obama administration so that any interested third party can have access to this data.

Besides the loss of privacy, another promise that we have made is to have all students, starting in pre-Kindergarten, be assessed with no end date agreed to. Assessments means testing, possibly as much as three times each year as is done with the MAP test. This information will also be available to any third party with an interest in making a profit by selling everything from software to books and lesson plans to districts and marketed as customized to those students. This information will stay in place for an unlimited amount of time because without the previous FERPA protections, a parent now cannot request that this information be erased out of the data bank.

Assessment testing of this magnitude will cost millions of dollars and before the board approves this proposal, there should be an understanding of how much we will have to pay in terms of assessments and the gathering of information and for how long this is to continue.

Some of the highlights of the 38 “indicators” that are to be provided, besides test scores, is as follows:

% of children born weighing less than 5.5 pounds
% of eligible children enrolled in select formal early learning programs
% of families reading to their children daily
% of children meeting age-level expectations at the end of preschool
% of students absent 20 or more days per year
% of students who make a non-promotional school change
% of students motivated and engaged to succeed in school
% of females age 15-17 giving birth
% of students exhibiting 21st century skills
% of high school graduates completing a formal career and technical education program
% of students employed within 1 and 5 years of completing or leaving postsecondary education, including wage

By the time all of this information is mined and correlated, there will be no money left for the programs that the Road Map Project promised will diminish the self-professed achievement gap.

Please take a look at the promises that we have made to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in terms of the information we are to provide to ensure that we are not burdened with a bill we cannot pay.

Thank you

Post Script:

A must watch by all parents is this video of Parents Across America Co-Founder Leonie Haimson discussing inBloom and data security in Chicago on November 22, 2013, at a forum hosted by Parents United for Responsible Education and More Than A Score:

To follow are links regarding the issue of student privacy and the pushback by parents:

CCER, the Road Map Project and the loss of student privacy

Privacy concerns grow over Gates-funded student database

NYC Parents Raise Questions About InBloom

From Politico:

INBLOOM OFF THE ROSE? — Another state has pulled out of using the Gates Foundation’s $100 million technology service project, inBloom. The withdrawal further shrinks the project after other states pulled out in part because of concern about protecting students’ privacy. Guilford County, N.C. told POLITICO on Wednesday that the state decided to stop using the service, which is designed to hold information about students including names, socioeconomic status, test scores, disabilities, discipline records and more in one place, and ideally, help in customizing students’ education.

Guilford schools’ departure doesn’t put the project in any kind of jeopardy, inBloom said, although Louisiana withdrew in April and other states once affiliated with the project no longer are. That leaves New York, two Illinois districts and one Colorado district as firm participants for now; Massachusetts is on the fence. At first inBloom will be free, but by 2015 states and districts using it will be charged $2 to $5 per student for the service.

InBloom and the need to protect student privacy: Overview for parents, teachers and students

Chicago School System Decides Against Partnership With inBloom

Parents say no to sharing student data

Parent Opposition Slims Student Data Collection

Submitted by Dora Taylor

The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates and your student’s privacy

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The Road Map Project, Race to the Top, Bill Gates, a national data bank, Wireless Gen…and FERPA?

One of the deals that we made with the devil when it came to accepting Race to the Top dollars is the relinquishing of our children’s information.

Gates and others have begun to collect information about our children from New York to LA and it is about to happen in Seattle thanks to the efforts of the Road Map project, school administrators are falling all over themselves to receive a pittance of educational funding, $40 M to be split between 7 districts in our state. That’s $5.7M for each school district, if it were to be divided equally.

To put that into perspective, West Seattle High School’s budget for this year is a little over $6M and that does not include building upkeep or other building costs including utilities.

The money will not go into established programs or to help with our budget crunch which happens to be a $32 M shortfall in Seattle, but is to go to “assessing” students starting in pre-school. Assessments basically mean testing on a long-term basis. This is not sustainable but oh well, there is some pie in the sky reasoning about receiving yet another largesse from Bill Gates, and maybe someday we would be able to continue to pay for everything that we have promised to deliver forever.

One of the items on that checklist of deliverables is data and lots of it. That “data” is information about our students.

Per a previous post, A Race to the Top Winner. Really?, the following is the information that people want culled from our students’ “data”.

Road Map On-Track Indicators

The following is a list of the Road Map Project on-track indicators. These are reported annually against specific targets.

% of children ready to succeed in school by kindergarten

% of students who are proficient in:

3rd grade reading

4th grade math

5th grade science

6th grade reading

7th grade math

8th grade science

% of students triggering Early Warning Indicator 1*

% of students triggering Early Warning Indicator 2*

% of students who graduate high school on time

% of graduating high school students meeting minimum requirements to apply to a Washington state 4-year college

% of students at community and technical colleges enrolling in pre-college coursework

% of students who enroll in postsecondary education by age 24

% of students continuing past the first year of postsecondary

% students who earn a post-secondary credential by age 24

* Early warning indicators are for 6th and 9th grade students. EW1: Six or more absences and one or more course failure(s). EW2: One or more suspension(s) or expulsion(s)

Other Indicators to be Reported

The following is a list of the Road Map Project contributing indicators. These are reported annually or whenever possible, but do not have specific targets. These contributing indicators combined with the on-track indicators make up the full list of Road map Project indicators.

% of children born weighing less than 5.5 pounds

% of eligible children enrolled in select formal early learning programs

% of licensed childcare centers meeting quality criteria

% of families reading to their children daily

% of children meeting age-level expectations at the end of preschool

% of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten

% of students taking algebra by the 8th grade

% of students passing the exams required for high school graduation

% of English language learning students making progress in learning English

% of students taking one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses

% of students absent 20 or more days per year

% of students who make a non-promotional school change

% of students motivated and engaged to succeed in school

% of students attending schools with low state achievement index ratings

% of females age 15-17 giving birth

% of 8th graders reporting select risk factors on the Healthy Youth Survey

% of students exhibiting 21st century skills

% of students who graduate high school by age 21

% of high school graduates completing a formal career and technical education program

% of eligible students who complete the College Bound application by the end of 8th grade

% of graduating College Bound students who have completed the FAFSA

% of students who directly enroll in postsecondary education

% of students who did not complete high school on time who achieve a postsecondary credential

% of students employed within 1 and 5 years of completing or leaving postsecondary education, including wage

Quite frankly, by the time all of this information is mined and correlated, there will be no money left for all of the wonderful programs that the Road Map Project professes will diminish the achievement gap forever. But, oh well, we won Race to the Top money! Woo-hoo!

Oh the excitement when Seattle found out we were receiving RTTT funds! Front row center, Dr. Susan Enfield, former Acting Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools (SPS), now Superintendent at Highline School District, right front row, former Superintendent of Renton School District, Dr. Mary. Alice Heuschel, who brought TFA Inc. into the district over parents' objections last year and is now Chief of Staff for Washington Governor, Jay Inslee. Coincidence? 2nd row far right, our present SPS Superintendent, Jose Banda.
Oh the excitement when Seattle found out we were receiving RTTT funds! Front row center, Dr. Susan Enfield, former Acting Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools (SPS), now Superintendent at Highline School District, right front row, former Superintendent of Renton School District, Dr. Mary. Alice Heuschel, who brought TFA Inc. into the district over parents’ objections last year and is now Chief of Staff for Washington Governor, Jay Inslee. Coincidence? 2nd row far right, our present SPS Superintendent, Jose Banda.

Now about FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

This is the pertinent proviso in FERPA per the Department of Education’s website:

      • Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record. However, FERPA allows schools to disclose those records, without consent, to the following parties or under the following conditions (34 CFR § 99.31):
      • School officials with legitimate educational interest;
      • Other schools to which a student is transferring;
      • Specified officials for audit or evaluation purposes;
      • Appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student;
      • Organizations conducting certain studies for or on behalf of the school;
      • Accrediting organizations;
      • To comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena;
      • Appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies; and
      • State and local authorities, within a juvenile justice system, pursuant to specific State law.

Schools may disclose, without consent, “directory” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.

It does not appear that what the state and various districts have signed onto jibes with a student’s right to privacy. And why is that? Read on.

Update: From Diane Ravitch’s post, What You Need to Know About Your Children’s Privacy Rights:

In 2008 and 2011, amendments to FERPA gave third parties, including private companies, increased access to student data. It is significant that in 2008, the amendments to FERPA expanded the definitions of “school officials” who have access to student data to include “contractors, consultants, volunteers, and other parties to whom an educational agency or institution has outsourced institutional services or functions it would otherwise use employees to perform.” This change has the effect of increasing the market for student data.

In Seattle student information was placed in the hands of a marketing company. See: Should the School District Be Allowed to Give Our Kids’ Phone numbers, Addresses and Photos to Every Tom, Dick and Pollster?

Needless to say, a system can also be hacked into but at this time, there is no need to hack into a system when people within the district will pass off information to anyone considered having an “interest” in a student’s education.

aclu

At least in Massachusetts they are trying to stop the flow of untethered information of our children. Consider the following, a letter from the ACLU to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

February 5, 2013

Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

75 Pleasant Street

Malden, MA 02148

Dear Board Members,

It has come to our attention that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education intends to share confidential student and teacher data with the Gates Foundation, as part of its Shared Learning Collaborative, consisting of personally identifiable information including student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, and most likely, special education needs, economic status, and racial identity as well. 

The Gates Foundation is building a national “data store” of such information, and intends to hand all this information to a new, separate corporation, which in turn plans to make it available to commercial vendors to help them develop and market their “learning products.”[1][1] The operating system of this “data store” is being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, which has been investigated for violating the privacy of individuals both here in the United States and in Great Britain.[2][2]

The Foundation has stated that this new corporation, inBloom, will be financially sustainable and independent of philanthropic support by 2016, meaning that states, districts, and/or vendors will likely have to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the “data store,” which is to be placed on a cloud run by Amazon.com.[3][3] Of particular concern, inBloom has stated that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” to third party vendors.”[4][4]

We have grave concerns about this unprecedented plan to disclose highly sensitive information with private entities, and we urge you to take the following steps to ensure that student privacy rights are fully protected:

1. 1.   Provide and post publicly the contract between the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Gates Foundation concerning this matter;

2.  2.  Hold hearings and explain to the public what specific confidential information will be shared and for what purposes;

3.  3.  Require parental consent before a child’s data is shared with the Gates Foundation or any other private corporation that intends to store it and/or make it available to others, as FERPA requires[5][5];

4. 4.  Promise that this data will never be used for commercial purposes;

5.  5. Ensure maximum protections against data breaches and explain who will be held liable if a child’s personal information leaks out or is used in an unauthorized fashion;

6.  6. Explain what resources are being used to facilitate this project, and what further costs will accrue to state taxpayers for the long-term maintenance of this “data store,” once the new corporation becomes independent of philanthropic support;

7.  7.  Create an advisory group to oversee this project, including public school parents, advocates, independent experts in data security and privacy, and other stakeholder groups.

The Federal Trade Commission has recently strengthened restrictions on the capture and use of a child’s personally identifiable information, in recognition of the huge risks to safety and privacy that occur when commercial entities obtain access to it.[6][6] The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should be leading the effort to protect this data, rather than involved in facilitating its disclosure. The Board should have as its top priority securing the privacy rights of the state’s schoolchildren and their families, rather than serving the interests of private corporations. Until and unless the above steps are taken, we trust that you will not allow any disclosures to occur.

We await your reply,

ACLU of Massachusetts

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

Citizens for Public Schools

But there’s more bad news:

K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents

A guard helps a student cross an intersection in Pelham,
A guard helps a student cross an intersection in Pelham,

By Stephanie Simon

An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares.

But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.

In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.

Local education officials retain legal control over their students’ information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.

Entrepreneurs can’t wait.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states – Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts – have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide.

“We look at personalized learning as the next big leap forward in education,” said Brandon Williams, a director at the Illinois State Board of Education.

IF DATA LEAKS, WHAT REMEDIES?

Federal officials say the database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any “school official” who has a “legitimate educational interest,” according to the Department of Education. The department defines “school official” to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.

The database also gives school administrators full control over student files, so they could choose to share test scores with a vendor but withhold social security numbers or disability records.

That’s hardly reassuring to many parents.

“Once this information gets out there, it’s going to be abused. There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Jason France, a father of two in Louisiana.

While inBloom pledges to guard the data tightly, its own privacy policy states that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”

Parents from New York and Louisiana have written state officials in protest. So have the Massachusetts chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and Parent-Teacher Association. If student records leak, are hacked or abused, “What are the remedies for parents?” asked Norman Siegel, a civil liberties attorney in New York who has been working with the protestors. “It’s very troubling.”

To read this article in full, go to REUTERS.

So you see folks, for a mere pittance of cash that our students will never see, all of their data will be collected and sent off into a great unknown called Wireless Gen, to be used in any fashion deemed acceptable by people who we will never know.

And who do you have to thank for this? I’d start with our school board members and the superintendent. At least they can be held accountable even if Gates can’t.

Dora Taylor

Post Script:

For more information see InBloom and the need to protect student privacy:

Overview for parents, teachers and students.