A Close Reading of Moneyball for Government & Why You Should Be Worried

Moneyball for Government

But the idea of using “data” to ration resources struck a cord with both Democrats and Republicans. Politicians couldn’t resist the opportunity to use a real David vs. Goliath baseball story to sell the American public on lowering their expectations of what government could deliver. And it sounds scientific too!

Much has been made of the Oakland A’s 2002 season, where the out-resourced baseball franchise fielded a scrappy team which temporarily silenced its critics with a then record breaking 20 game winning streak.

General Manager Billy Beane is credited with this baseball miracle. How? By breaking with tradition and putting together his team using the power of “data” to acquire undervalued players –an approach which became know as moneyball.

Did the moneyball innovation take the A’s all the way to the World Series? Nope. The winning streak did enabled the A’s to clinch their division title and land a spot in the playoffs, where they were defeated in the first round by the Minnesota Twins.

But the idea of using “data” to ration resources struck a cord with both Democrats and Republicans. Politicians couldn’t resist the opportunity to use a real David vs. Goliath baseball story to sell the American public on lowering their expectations of what government could deliver. And it sounds scientific too!

It’s a compelling story, especially in the hands of a writer like Michael Lewis, who coined the term and penned the 2003 bestselling book of that name. At its heart, Moneyball is about crunching numbers and relying on hard evidence-not emotion or tradition-to drive decisions about how to allocate scarce resources. It’s also about determining what data matter and what don’t (in the case of baseball, concluding that on-base percentage matters a lot more than total home runs). When it comes down to it, it’s a way to get more with less.

Which raises important questions: Can data, evidence, and evaluations similarly revolutionize America’s government? Can we provide better services to millions more Americans while actually saving billions of dollars? Can we make this country a better place for children and families by investing in what works, by testing it and retesting it, and by holding ourselves to a higher standard? In short, can government play Moneyball?     Moneyball for Government, pages 3-4

In my opinion, using moneyball to allocate government resources is very similar to managing a fantasy sports team. It’s an imaginary world divorced from the complex, precarious reality most Americans live in. It’s a perfect playground for the managerial elites to work their devious magic, without dirtying their hands with actual face-to-face interactions with the downtrodden citizens they profess to care so much about.

Here’s a critical detail to remember: Professional sports has always been a cut-throat business. Players are treated as things to be inspected, judged, cut, or traded — all based on their numbers. This isn’t an arena where fairness –not to mention social justice — is valued. Just take a look at what happened to Michael Bennett after he decided to take a knee during the national anthem.

I read Moneyball for Government, so you don’t have to. Here’s my list of reasons why allowing politicians to run our government like a fantasy sports team is a very bad idea.

Moneyball is about rationing resources and not providing services to everyone who needs them.

The goal of moneyball is to create a compelling narrative that justifies and even celebrates austerity. Moneyball’s fundamental assumption is discretionary spending must continue to be cut and streamlined in the name of “funding what works”. This trick immediately removes from debate any discussion about cuts to non-discretionary spending –like the 50% of the federal budget that goes to defense.

The authors admit that denying services to everyone who needs them is unfortunate, but there’s always a silver lining: rationing services is a cheap way to create a randomized trial!

Resources are limited, though, and we can’t afford to give the most promising interventions to everyone who wants them. This is unfortunate, but it regularly creates a perfect research opportunity. If there are five hundred slots available in a new program, then instead of enrolling the first five hundred eligible people to sign up, we can let a thousand eligible people sign up, and hold a lottery to determine who among them participates. Just like that, we’ve created a randomized trial….         Moneyball for Government, page 18

Moneyball is about funding low-cost interventions with high rates of returns.

Ever wonder why reducing class size isn’t an intervention embraced by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates — even though there’s solid research supporting it?

Simple, lowering class size is expensive and takes a lot of real teachers to make it happen. This isn’t the moneyball way, which is low cost interventions with a high rate of return.

This also explains why Moneyball for Government celebrates the work of organizations like KIPP, City Year – Americorps, and TFA. Organizations that provide low-cost teachers and no-cost volunteers, and by doing so, offer interventions which don’t cut into the bottomline.

Moneyball is pseudo-scientific and far from the rigorous kind of research it claims to create.

Low cost interventions require low cost measurements of success. Remember how rationing access to services provided an opportunity to create a lottery –sorry– a randomized trial? Well, there’s plenty of pseudo-scientific short cuts used to cook up moneyball’s version of “rigorous evidence”.

Another frequently noted problem for the most rigorous kinds of research is cost….     Moneyball for Government, page 19

 

Still, the truth is that randomized trials aren’t always feasible….                                         Moneyball for Government, page 19

 

There are some great recent examples of research that have used low-cost methods to study low-cost interventions that have turned out to make a real difference in people’s lives….                                                                                                                        Moneyball for Government, page 20

Strong scientific research requires well designed studies which attempt to reduce all possible causes to the one variable being studied. How studies are conducted are just as important as the numbers plugged into them. That’s why studies are published so other scientists –who have no vested interest in the outcome– can critique the study’s design and publicly discuss how unintended bias could have been introduced into the results.

None of this happens with moneyball, if you can attach a number to something, it automatically becomes valid.

Moneyball creates a surveillance state and privacy nightmare. Citizens shouldn’t be experimented on by their government, without their knowledge or consent.

Again, for moneyball’s low cost interventions to be financially profitable, these programs require low-cost research, which would ideally run on no-cost data.  Preferably, this data would be collected and shared by federal, state, and local governments.

Have you noticed a lot of talk about interoperability and student data? Ever wonder what it’s all about? Here’s the definition of interoperability: The ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.

Here’s Recommendation 6 on how to get the bipartisan moneyball agenda rolling: Build cosscutting data systems that also protect privacy. (page 126) More detail can be found under Pillar 1: Relentlessly use data and evaluation to learn from experience. (page 116)

What does it all mean? I’ll let the authors explain:

Without a way of identifying what works and what doesn’t, progress in social policy is impossible. Until recently, the most sophisticated evaluations required a lot of time and money. Sometimes that’s still true, but not always. With modern data systems, we can do quick, sophisticated tests of different program designs. Think about a store chain testing different product placements in different stores –or a social-services agency testing different intake routines in different offices. To figure out cheaply what works, we can often use data that governments already collect. Think about a new textbook, rather than setting up a whole new approach to collecting data, we can just assign the book to half the classes (selected at random) in a district and compare the scores of kids who used the new text with the scores of those who didn’t, on tests the kids already take. And once we learn the best interventions, we can subject them to financial analysis to compare benefits and costs -and thus give policy makers an important tool to help make tough choices about different ways to spend limited resources.  Moneyball for Government, pages 116-117

Does this sound like the way to go about designing a rigorous scientific study? Hardly.

Did you get a hint of any concern about the protection of privacy? Absolutely not.

To me, this approach is more like the Silicon Valley startup mentality of code and release. A very profitable approach which usually runs on free data and lets the end users discover any flaws or bugs in the program – and suffer all of the consequences. Of course, the business may or may-not choose to clean up any of these bugs in a future release, if they feel spending time on the fix won’t negatively impact the bottomline.

It’s also important to point out that conducting a scientific experiment using a computer model to decide who does or who doesn’t get access to resources –without the subject’s knowledge or consent — is unethical.

It’s also alarming that the adherents of moneyball want the government to collect, store, and share vast amounts of digital information on its citizens. In short, create the infrastructure for a surveillance state. The Stasi Records Agency was able to wreck many lives with much less.

Moneyball is ripe for abuse and fraud.

Because the numbers used to justify interventions aren’t produced by actual controlled scientific studies, where this data come from creates a hidden opportunity for fraud and abuse.

For instance, numbers can be cherry-picked, others ignored. Unethical service providers could reverse engineer studies to create numbers that justify their intervention –and secure a contract for the services they provide.

Even the authors are worried:

One possible way to prevent the misuse of Moneyball -either through the politicalization of evidence or the use of less-than-rigorous studies as a justification for cuts in services -is to identify an impartial referee to evaluate studies and data that come through the door, wheter that be a nonpartisan office like CBO or a newly created one. Moneyball for Government, page 56

Forgive my cynicism, but I can think of one recent example where an “impartial referee” set up to prevent fraud in a world of data and financial speculation failed spectacularly, ruining the lives of millions of Americans.

Do you remember when all the credit rating agencies gave AAA ratings to a certain complex financial instrument which turned out to be junk? Do you also remember how this triggered the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the recession that followed?

I do.

When it comes to money, greed will find a way to bend, and other times break, the rules. It’s the one thing you can count on.

Now What?

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that moneyball isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but here’s a few education specific reasons to oppose the moneyball narrative:

If you want well resourced schools for every child, you can’t support moneyball.

If you want to end standardized testing, you can’t support moneyball.

If you want human teachers for kids instead of devices, you can’t support moneyball.

If you object to kids being used as guinea pigs for education reform, you certainly can’t support moneyball.

In the end, moneyball is just more too-good-to-be-true snake oil packaged in a shiny new Pay for Success bottle.

Don’t fall for it.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gambling With Our Futures: Big Data, Global Finance and Digital Life

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

broken on purpose

Through predatory public-private partnerships, global financiers are in the process of digitizing not only our education system, but many other aspects of public service delivery. This 10-minute video provides an overview of “Pay For Success” and social impact bonds, detailing how their operations hinge on intrusive and oppressive collection of data from our classrooms, homes, jails, and clinics.

By defining “success” in narrow terms suited to outcomes-based contracting, powerful investors will control how public services are delivered. Securitization of debt associated with program operations will turn our lives, including those of our children, into fodder for financial speculation. YouTube originally categorized this video as a comedy; perhaps based on the whimsical nature of the collages. After watching it, however, I’m confident you’ll see it’s truly a horror show. A slide share version of the video can be viewed here and a PDF of the script is available here.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to all who offered support and input on the creation of this piece, especially Dr. Tim Scott whose groundbreaking research is foundational to understanding this topic (read more here, here, here) and Mary Porter for her valuable editorial insights. The artwork was prepared with scissors and construction paper at my kitchen table with the goal of making this critical information accessible to a wider audience. My hope is that it will pique your interest and spur you to explore the linked resources that follow.

-Alison McDowell

Additional Resources

Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity, Tim Scott, Truthout, Link

Social Impact Bonds: The Titans of Finance as the Altruistic Merchants of Schools and the Common Good, Tim Scott, Dissident Voice, Link

Education Technology, Surveillance and America’s Authoritarian Democracy, Tim Scott, Dissident Voice, Link

Race, Finance and the Afterlife of Slavery, A talk given at the Whitney Museum of America Art by Dr. Justin Leroy, Link and his paper Bonded LifDownload

Global Finance Needs Our Schools to Fail, Wrench in the Gears, Link

What You Should Know About “Pay For Success” As Testing Season Approaches, Wrench in the Gears, Link

Smart Cities and Social Impact Bonds: Public Education’s Hostile Takeover Part II, Wrench in the Gears, Link

Who are the Players in Pay for Success / Social Impact Bonds?, Wrenches of Resistance, Link

Is Wall Street About to Take Over Public Education Once and For All?, Emily Talmage, Save Maine Schools, Link

The Real Reason Your Child Is Being Psychologically Profiled At School, Emily Talmage, Save Maine Schools, Link

Wall Street Zombies, Coming Soon to a Pre-K Near You, Emily Talmage, Save Maine Schools, Link

Social Impact Bonds, A Primer, Deb Mayer, Parents Across America, Link

Pay for Success-Also Known as Social Impact Bonds, Senator Orrin Hatch and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Carolyn Leith, Seattle Education, Link

Pay for Success and the McCleary Crisis: Did the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Help Position Social Impact Bonds As A Last Resort Funding Option For Our Public Schools?, Carolyn Leith, Seattle Education, Link

The Proposed NSA-Like National Database for Student Data: Moneyball for Kids, Cheri Kiesecker, Missouri Education Watchdog, Link

Congress Suspending Rules to Rush Through Bill For National Citizen Data System: HR 4174, Cheri Kiesecker, Missouri Education Watchdog, Link

Scoop.it! page of articles on Pay for Success Programs and Social Impact Bonds, curated by Roxana Marachi, EduResearcher, Link

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

Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

not_for_sale

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

Dear  Congress,

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

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

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

And No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows are sections on:

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

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

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

Gates data infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History and mission of CEP Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Feb 24, 2017 CEP meeting:

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

IRS and student data.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Status of HR4174

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

Myth or Fact?  You decide.

myth or fact

The rebuttal

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

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

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

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

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

  • § 3520A. Chief Data Officer Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • HR4174 PART D—ACCESS TO DATA FOR EVIDENCE

    § 3581. Presumption of accessibility for statistical agencies and units

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

  • § 312. Agency evidence-building plan

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

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

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

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

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

Agencies involved in the HR4174 Federal evidence-building activities.

HR4174 “SUBCHAPTER II—FEDERAL EVIDENCE-BUILDING ACTIVITIES

§ 311. Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “(A) the business data to be shared;

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

FACT: Data is linked between agencies.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 3582. Expanding secure access to CIPSEA data assets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Cheri Kiesecker

Congress Suspending the Rules to Rush through Bill for National Citizen Data System: HR4174.

Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

No on National Data Base

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have companion FEPA bills (HR4174 and S2046: Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act) that will create a national student data warehouse. Parents will not be able to opt their child out of this national database that will expand access to researchers, private companies, nonprofits and government agencies.

CALL YOUR HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES MONDAY, see directory here.

Congress is rushing through bill HR4174 THIS WEEK.  Yes, there are lots of bills in play but #THIS is the one to watch.

The US House is scheduled to vote this week on a bill to make a massive federal data system -merging information from all federal agencies, all citizens- much like China.  See here and here.  This bill is the result of the CEP commission which would include data on school children, creating a “pinterest of student data” and an NSA-like national database of student information.  We  wrote about the  CEP commission, with posted transcripts and video here.  Tell Congress NO on this bill to create a national data system.

The House Oversight Committee **already passed** this bill on a *voice vote* and HR4174 is going to be voted under *Suspended Rules* this week.
Let Reps Trey Gowdy (bill co-sponsor), Jim Jordan, Jody Hice, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, William Hurd, Ron DeSantis, and members of the House Oversight Comm. know that you don’t want this bill, don’t like that they passed it on voice vote. Tell them to vote NO when HR4174 is in the House.  (scheduled this week) and request that a ROLL CALL VOTE be held on House Floor.   We want to know who votes for this bill.

https://oversight.house.gov/subcommittee/full-committee/

suspend rules

HR4174 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA) would create a national data system; it has BI-PARTISAN support but it changes and repeals existing law.

HR4174 repeals E-Govt act of 2002  44 USC 3501,  which contains the Computer Security Act of 1987.  Then amends Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002– whose purpose was to limit federals agencies that collect data for statistical purposes from using the data for any other purpose.

This massive federal overhaul certainly sounds like the massive Department of Talent that the Lumina Foundation has been proposing.

Let Paul Ryan (House Speaker and bill sponsor) know that this bill HR4174 SHOULD NOT BE RUSHED THROUGH, WITH RULES SUSPENDED. *We oppose this very controversial bill, want it re-calendared, with rules and roll call vote.* We oppose a national database, especially for studentsThis national data system threatens individuals’ privacy

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have companion FEPA bills (HR4174 and S2046: Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act) that will create a national student data warehouse. Parents will not be able to opt their child out of this national database that will expand access to researchers, private companies, nonprofits and government agencies.

  • Tell Speaker Ryan and Senator Murray and members of Congress NO National Student Database. NO to HR4174 and S2046: Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.  Parents should have consent before their child’s personal information is shared. This open access to information should exclude personal student information. 202-225-3031 @SpeakerRyan ; (202) 224-2621  @PattyMurray

Instead, Congress should restore FERPA to its pre-2011 status and restore parental consent before sharing students’ personal data. Researchers would still have open access to aggregate data; if they need personal information, they would have to get parent consent and approval. Ask your legislator: Whose data is it-the student’s, the corporations’, or the government’s? Data should belong to the student who generated it.

Parents should have consent before data is shared. School databases are already being hacked by cyber terrorists.  The safest way to protect data is to not collect it in the first place. Imagine the cost and security risks of a national database.

Tell Congress NO on HR4174, the bill to create a national data system; tell Congress no more data.

-Cheri Kiesecker

Bill Gates’ Data Quality Campaign is Coming for Your Child’s Privacy – Again.

Original Title: Big Money Coming for Your Child’s Privacy – Again. Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

data oil

In my fourth grade classroom, when there is something very important that I want all of my students hear and to understand the first time (a task that is more difficult than you can imagine), I tell my kids to “wake their brains up.”

And then I do this (sort of) to demonstrate:

tenor.gif

Today, I am asking parents to do the same.

And this is because your child’s privacy is under attack, and you, moms and dads, are literally the only thing standing in the way of the complete and utter hijacking of all personal information related to your loved ones.

Before you glaze over, realize that the implications of this data-grab may be greater than you think.

This week, a group of corporate-funded researchers joined Bill Gates’s “Data Quality Campaign” to lobby legislators to weaken the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) yet again.

In an era when entire school districts are being shut down due to data breaches and ransom notes from anonymous hackers, profiteers are seeking to put your child’s personal information into the hands of still more people.

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.30.41 PM

But here’s the thing: it’s not only creepy anonymous hackers that we need to protect ourselves from.

Data was recently called the “new oil” by the CEO of Mastercard, but few people seem to understand how – beyond vague notions of algorithms and advertising revenue – they intend to turn our personal information into a multi-trillion dollar market.

The intent is to put social services – schools, public health, prisons, foster care, you name it – into the hands of private investors via “social capital markets.”

Using social impact bonds, pay-for-success contracts, and other so-called “innovative” financial tools, investors – in collaboration with a wide network of corporate-sponsored “nonprofits” – intend to hand out loans for public services in exchange for repayment (with interest) when we meet theirpredetermined outcomes.

It’s the technocratic nightmare behind ever-increasing calls for “evidence-based” (read: data-based) policy:

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.33.05 PM

that leads not only to endless demands for data-collection, but to service-shortcuts like ipads in place of teachers and for-profit foster care programs that claim excellent “outcomes” while children are dying in their care.

(Please read here for more.)

And so when they – the data-miners themselves – suggest that perhaps we put our children’s data into something more “secure” like blockchain, realize that they are simply trying to secure the very data they themselves need to build their fortunes.

Unfortunately, this means that demands for greater “privacy” protections are not going to be enough.

What we need to do is stop the oil rigs from being built on our children’s backs in the first place.

data oil

 

#TOTALREFUSAL2017   #DATAREFUSAL2017

Save Maine Schools

One Parent’s Experience with Basecamp, Summit’s Personalized Learning Platform

Original Title: Tech for Good and Not-So-Good. Reposted with permission from Real Chicago Mama.

computers2

Recently, I was asked about my experience as a parent with Summit PLP . This post is an attempt to capture the extent that I engaged my children’s school administrators about the program over the year that we were all part of the same public school community.

My family is no longer part of that school community. Whether it was my opposition to edtech or my fervent belief in the democratic process as a way to bring issues to light that precipitated the break, I cannot say. Was it my activism that drew the line that could not be smudged away? Are the administrators who implemented this grant-fueled, short-sighted, and privacy-robbing program equally to blame in breaking school-home trust?

At this point, it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is my story, and how it might help you. These are the steps I took to examine–and ask others to examine–the Summit PLP program as it was implemented in my children’s school during the 2016-2017 academic year. (Fair warning: this post is extra long.)

I first heard of the program in early September when one of my children came home concerned about the change in grading policy. I asked questions over email, mostly regarding privacy, but some about how the program was meant to work:

Who is the end user in the privacy policy for Basecamp? Is it CPS? [School Name]? You? My student? In response, I received a canned answer:

The privacy policy provides transparency into what Summit does to help keep student information secure throughout their personalized learning experience. While the student is the primary user of the PLP, teachers, parents, and administrators also use the PLP, so all of these groups would count as the ‘user’ in the privacy policy. There are also some privacy FAQs on the Summit PLP website that you might find helpful.

And: Will you please send me a copy of Summit’s Privacy Policy, as referenced in the consent form, as well as an explanation of what this means: “as otherwise authorized by the school” within the consent form? Additionally, I’d like to see a copy of any written contract between [School Name] or CPS and Summit Basecamp that details the conditions under which both parties will use, disclose, protect, or secure student data that you are collecting.

Then I asked the same questions in person: Who else will have access to the system? Does the system use 3rd-party apps? The AP responded that they don’t use 3rd-party apps. They use Clever. Which is a 3rd-party app.

At a separate parent-teacher program roll-out meeting with a different set of parents, a parent asked about logging-in; the teacher didn’t mention privacy in her reply. Another parent asked when the program will be implemented; the teacher mentioned the consent form, but again didn’t mention the privacy policy referenced in the consent form. The teacher encouraged parents to get on the PLP every day – still no privacy. Another parent asked about the “no going back” aspect of this, whether the implementation of Summit PLP this year, in this way is funded/fueled by a grant; the AP explained the relationships between all the players, whose names are all used interchangeably — parents need a diagram just to follow it all. The AP told parents that the systems-based grading that is a required part of Summit PLP is actually coming from the Illinois State Board of Education. Another parent asked about consent and where the project is within the process. A parent asked about opting out, but teacher was flummoxed about how the opt-out process works. A parent asked about how the school will evaluate the success of the program.

A month later, I was again asking the same questions over email because administrators wouldn’t (or, I suspect, couldn’t) answer them: Does Summit consider this parent Consent Form to mean that parents are waiving the privacy rights of their children under all three federal student privacy laws, including FERPA, COPPA and PPRA? 

The Privacy Policy says “FERPA permits schools to share students’ information in certain circumstances, including where the school has gotten a parent’s’ consent or where the organization receiving the student data operates as a “school official.” Summit Public Schools operates as a “school official” consistent with the Department of Education’s guidance under FERPA.” If this is true, why does Summit need parental consent? What additional rights does my consent afford Summit that Summit would not have without consent in terms of the collection, use and disclosure of a student’s personal information?

What is Summit’s definition of “reasonable and comprehensive data protection and security protocols to protect student data”? What does that specifically include in terms of encryption, independent audits, security training, etc? Is this in writing anywhere? 

Does Summit claim unlimited rights to share or utilize my child’s homework and intellectual property without notice or compensation that they are claiming with teacher work in the Terms of Service (TOS)? What is the comprehensive list of personal data Summit is collecting and potentially sharing from my child? Does it also include my child’s homework, grades, test scores, economic status, disability, English proficiency status and/or race? The PP states a parent can “review, correct or have deleted certain personal information.” Which kind of personal information can I delete, how will I be able to do that and will that stop my child from using the platform? The PP says that “Participating schools and individual teachers own, and are responsible for, student data provided through the Summit Personalized Learning Platform.” Why don’t students own their own data?

Can Summit specifically itemize the companies/organizations that they will share my child’s data with, aside from those mentioned in the TOS? Are each of these third parties barred from making further re-disclosures of my child’s data? Are each of these third parties, and any other organizations or companies or individuals they re-disclose to, legally required to abide by the same restrictions as listed under Summit’s TOS and PP, including being prevented from using targeted or non-targeted advertising, and/or selling of data, and using the same security protections? Summit says that it does not market to students; are all Summit’s partners and/or those they disclose the information to barred from doing so as well?

The TOS mentions survey data. Will parents have the right to see these surveys before they are given and opt out of them, or does signing this consent form basically mean a parent is giving up all their rights under the PPRA?

What does this mean in the Summit Privacy Policy: Summit will use my child’s personal data to develop new educational “products.” 

What does this mean in the Summit PP: Summit will share the data with anyone “otherwise directed or authorized by the school.” Does my signing a consent form mean that the school can authorize to share this information with *anyone* else, without specifying the sort of third party, for what reason, or without limitation, without informing me or asking for my further consent? What is “the school” in this case – CPS, [School Name], or Summit Learning?

And:  How much content will be taught by self-paced lessons? What happens if I don’t consent to the TOS? Will alternate methods of teaching be available to my student?

At a school board meeting, I reiterated the last set of questions. The answer was: Yes, but your child won’t have access to all the great stuff on the platform!

I didn’t sign the consent form. Of the 56 kids in one grade, 54 of their parents signed the form. When I talked to other parents, they said: “This thing is just too big to fight.” Others told me I was a fool for not recognizing this amazing innovation as such.

As the semester wore on, it became increasingly clear that the school had made no contingency plans to teach students whose parents did not consent. After all, there were only two of us. In November, a student (not mine) surveyed his classmates to determine whether they liked Summit PLP, and took the results to the administration.

Who ignored them.

By December, other parents openly expressed concerns about the platform on social media, and in conversation.

In January, a classroom newsletter to parents began with the following text, highlighted in a yellow box:

Did you know…
When you child’s teacher:
● has a reading, writing or math conference,
● uses information collected via surveys related to learning
preferences and styles,
● provides a choice board,
● allows students time to design inquiry projects,
● helps students choose their own research topics,
● empowers groups to select a novel for book club,
● designs questions in their plans around student needs and
goals or tailors discussions around student background
knowledge,
they are personalizing student learning?
Personalization has been happening at [School Name] since the school was created. It is part of what makes learning here different and successful. Ask us, we would love to discuss it!

I took the teacher up on it, and responded with the following questions:  In 2008-2014, there was a lot of talk about differentiating instruction and creating individual experiences within the class for students; how are these different or the same as personalized learning? Is there a reason [School Name] is changing the way we describe these activities? I am confused by the way these terms are being used because personalization and differentiation have different etymologies and are not synonyms, because learning and teaching have different etymologies and are not synonyms. 

The teacher invited me in for a casual conversation about personalized learning. I asked: I am still having a hard time understanding how personalized learning represents something akin to one-on-one tutoring. And, more importantly, how personalized learning is “research-based”?  When we met, the teacher told me that she was happy to talk to me about it, but also that everything she told me was had to stay in the room. I continue to honor that request. (No one else was in the room where it happened.)

In early February, a group of almost 90 parents signed a petition urging the school to reconsider use of the Summit PLP. Chief among parental concerns:

  • Summit Basecamp PLP requires too much parent involvement.
  • It is developmentally inappropriate and in some cases, harmful, for students to spend so much of their learning day using technology.
  • For many students, the one-on-one mentoring sessions that are supposed to take place once/week for 10 minutes with an adult “mentor” are less frequent and for a shorter duration than advised. Students have less contact with their teachers and more contact with their Chromebooks.
  • Instructional material found on Summit PLP is often confusing and of poor quality. Students must find their own “resources” from within the platform to understand basic concepts, answers to their own questions, and self-teach themselves the material. This is further complicated by the lack of textbooks or alternate, non-computer-based resources.
  • Summit PLP erroneously assumes that students in 6th and 7th grades have developed the academic skills to be independent learners.
  • Despite the “one stop view” promised, parents must sign into at least three different platforms in order to review their child’s progress and grades.
  • Increased class sizes and lack of teacher attention compound the negative effects of near-constant use of Chromebooks in the classroom.

The group presented the petition, accompanying signatures, and a list of the questions below to the local school board in mid-February. It was a public school, the local school board is an elected body of school stakeholders, and these discussions should be happening in public.

  1. What does the school’s data say about the PLP, and how does that compare to previous methods of instruction or content delivery?
  2. Is the PLP attracting people to the school or driving them away, and by what measurement?
  3. Why did we suddenly replace our previous methods of instruction with Summit?
  4. Why did the school roll out the PLP to one grade / one subject and then remove it without explanation or comment?
  5. Will Summit PLP provide any publicly available evaluation data? If so, when? Who has access to this data and how secure is it?  Are third parties allowed access?  What information security procedures does Summit have in place?
  6. How can we evaluate the veracity and transparency of Summit’s analysis and evaluation methods?
  7. Will Summit’s data be useful to our teachers or parents?  How much did Summit consult with classroom teachers and experts in developing their metrics?  Will the breakdowns and statistics provide items useful to an educator?  Does the school have staff members that can accurately evaluate this data?
  8. Summit’s claims of being innovative are self-purported at this point. There is no data available for the public to evaluate.  Will we trust their data and analyses completely since it comes from within their echo chamber?
  9. Will the school explain curricula and instruction delivery changes before the open enrollment or transfer deadline?

Teachers’ response to the petition was to testify as to the benefits of the program. The school’s response was to have more private conversations about the Summit PLP with signers, and to respond more broadly with the following emails:

Many parents and teachers expressed a desire to have more conversations and training around personalized learning and Basecamp.

and

I want to thank each and every person who has reached out to me over the past few weeks to share your questions and feedback related to our work with Personalized  Learning! It has been wonderful to hear your ideas and answer your questions. I have truly enjoyed each and every conversation that I’ve had. This is what makes us a community! Some of you have received [an] email regarding additional events related to PLP, but I would like to share it here for those of you who haven’t seen it. I encourage anyone who is interested to please respond to this [survey] so that we can plan the types of training and discussion events that YOU would like to see. We want to work together to make each and every student and parent comfortable with this learning platform.

Eventually, in March, the administration addressed some of the group’s questions:

The school would not say whether it would discontinue use of the Summit Basecamp PLP for the 2016-2017 school year or into the future.

Using Summit Basecamp PLP not as instructional delivery, but instead as an organizational tool to keep students on track. Not relying on Summit’s traditional metrics, but is using the school’s regular testing and evaluation measures (such as NWEA) to evaluate student progress, as has been done in the past.

Using the experiences and reactions of the teachers and the students in the classroom to evaluate Summit PLP’s effectiveness. Administration did not share precisely what measurements the school is using to make this evaluation beyond this feedback.

Consensus among teachers is that the Summit Basecamp PLP is effective at keeping students on-track, better than the school’s previous methods. As evidence of this organizational support: more current 6th grade students have made the principal’s honor roll this year. They did not offer data on how many of these students made honor roll in 5th grade, or how many students who are currently in 7th grade made honor roll when they were in 6th grade.

In terms of information security, the school shares the following personally identifiable information (PII) about students with Summit: first name, last name, Google Apps for Education email address, student ID number, and grade level. This PII represents the minimum amount of data that Summit requires schools to share in order for students to use Summit PLP. Summit PLP uses a third-party application named Clever to share encrypted information between the school and Summit PLP.

The details of the agreement signed by school parents to authorize sharing of their students’ PII with Clever and Summit PLP can be found at zendesk. That Summit’s privacy policy and terms of service covered in the agreement were not shared with parents was discussed.

In May, the school sent out another parent survey on the PLP with this message:

Would love to hear your feedback on your overall experience with the Summit Basecamp Learning Platform, otherwise known as the “PLP“.  Please take the time to thoughtfully answer the questions in this brief survey.
Later that month, the school quietly shared with incoming families that it would again reprise use of Summit PLP for the 2017-2018 academic year. Parents can read about it in via a link from its website.

-Real Chicago Mama

Parents Rebel Against Summit/Facebook/Chan-Zuckerberg Online Learning Platform

Reprinted with permission from Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

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Anyone that has not dealt with this program first hand as a teacher, parent, student or observer really needs to make an unannounced visit to one of their schools.  Words do no justice to explain the disgust one feels when they realize that the kids being exposed to this will be the ones that ultimately pay the price. “

Last October, the Washington Post published an article on its front page about the “personalized” online learning platform that Summit charter schools and Facebook developed in collaboration.  This platform, called Summit Basecamp, is a learning management system complete with a curriculum, including projects, online resources and tests.

Currently, Summit claims that the program has been adopted in about 130 schools across the country, both public and charter schools.  About 38 percent of schools using the platform are middle schools, 24 percent high schools, 13 percent elementary schools, and the rest are K–12 or K–8 schools. Summit also recently was awarded a $10 million grant from the Emerson Collective, run by Laurine Powell Jobs, to “reinvent” the high school by starting a new school in Oakland that will run an expanded version of its online learning platform.

In March, it was announced that the operation and further development of the Summit online platform would be transferred from Facebook to the Chan/Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the for-profit LLC owned by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, with billions of dollars at its disposal. At about the same time, Summit decided it would no longer ask for parent consent before collecting and re-disclosing their children’s personal data.

The Washington Post article last year reported primarily on parent concerns with their children’s lack of data privacy at these schools, as the Summit parental consent formPrivacy Policy and Terms of Service were astonishingly open-ended – essentially providing Summit with the ability to share student data with nearly anyone they choose.

Over the course of the 2016-2017 school year, parents throughout the country rebelled against the platform, both because of its lack of privacy but also because they experienced its negative impact on their children’s learning and attitudes to school. In addition, Summit and the schools using the platform are no longer asking for parental consent, probably because so many parents refused or resisted signing the consent forms.

After the Washington Post article appeared, I expanded on the privacy concerns cited in that piece, and pointed out additional issues in my blog.   I included a list of questions parents should ask Summit to clarify their data-sharing plans.  Parents who sent them to Summit informed me that Summit failed to answer these questions.  (I later expanded on these questions, and Rachael Stickland, the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, submitted them to Summit representatives after personally meeting them at SXSW EDU conference in March.  She also received no response.)

Meanwhile, the list of Summit schools, both public and charter, that had allegedly adopted the platform last year was taken down from the Summit website sometime between February 15 and February 18, according to the Wayback Machine  – making it even more difficult to ascertain which schools and students are were actually using it.

On March 3, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on the experience of parents in Boone County, Kentucky whose schools had adopted the platform– many of whom did not want to consent to their children’s data being shared with so little specificity and so few restrictions:

At the beginning of the school year, parents had to sign a permission slip allowing Summit to access their child’s profile information. Summit uses the info to “conduct surveys and studies, develop new  features, products and services and otherwise as requested,” the form states.  The agreement also allows Summit to disclose information to third-party service providers and partners “as directed” by schools.  That, perhaps, is the biggest source of contention surrounding Summit. … “It’s optional. Nobody has to do Summit, [Deputy Superintendent Karen] Cheser said… Summit spokeswoman declined to speak on the record with The Enquirer.”

Yet within weeks of the publication of this article, at about the same time that the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative took over, someone involved in the Summit initiative decided that parents would no longer be granted the right of consent – either for their children to be subjected to the Summit instructional program or for their data to be shared according to Summit’s open-ended policies.  In fact, Summit claimed the right to access, data-mine and redisclose their children’s data in the same way as before – yet now, without asking if parents agreed to these terms.

They explained their decision this way – in a post now only accessible through the Wayback Machine:

Do parents need to provide consent for their children to use the Summit Learning Platform?

You used to require parental consent, why has your approach changed?

We heard directly from our partner schools and districts that they have established processes for making instructional decisions—such as adopting a textbook series or curriculum—to meet the needs of their students.  The Summit Learning Platform is a teaching and learning tool that includes a comprehensive 6th-12th grade curricula in English, math, science, Spanish, and social studies—as well as all the tools and learning resources students and teachers need for the school year. We want to respect each school’s process. Therefore each school’s leadership and teaching team will determine whether to use Summit Learning on behalf of their community.

In other words, the crucial decision of whether students would be subjected to this experimental platform and how widely their personal data would be shared would no longer be made by their parents, but by Summit and their schools.

On August 1, Summit updated their Privacy Policy and Terms of Service,  although confusingly the original versions remain online as well (here and here).  The new Privacy Policy contains a long list of personal student data that they will collect and share with unspecified “Service Providers and Partners” who must comply with the terms of the Privacy Policy.  The data can be used for used for various purposes, including to “operate, develop, analyze, evaluate, and improve the educational tools, features, products, and services”.

The personal student data they say they will collect and can share with their partners is expansive, and includes, among other things;

  • Contact information such as full name and email address, username and password;
  • Course information including student work in applicable media (e.g., video, audio, text and images) and course progress;
  • Test scores, grades and standardized test results;
  • Narratives written by students, including their goals and learning plans, their communication with teachers and other students;
  • Teacher curricula and notes and feedback to or about students;
  • Student record information such as attendance, suspension, and expulsions;
  • Student demographic data; presumably including race, ethnicity, and economic status;
  • Outcome information such as grade level promotion and graduation, college admission test scores, college acceptance and attendance, and employment.

While the Privacy Policy promises that Summit “does not, and will not, sell student data,” they also claim the right to provide the data to other companies or organizations through an “asset sale,”  which appears to contradict this statement as well as the Student Privacy pledge that bars the selling of student data.  On Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg himself made a point of emphasizing that Summit had signed this pledge: “Summit subscribes to the White House-endorsed Student Privacy Pledge, so everyone working on this has strict privacy controls to protect student data in accordance with the Pledge.”

Yet neither Facebook nor CZI has signed the Student Privacy Pledge.

The fact that Summit claims the right to transfer student data in an “asset sale” also appears to violate SOPIPA, the California student privacy law that bans selling student data even more emphatically – though 36 California public and charter schools were using the Summit platform this past school year, the most of any state.

In its Terms of Service, Summit demands that schools and teachers are prohibited from changing any of the materials or curricula in the platform without prior permission, and that if they suggest improvements through feedback, Summit will claim “an  irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide license to use, modify, prepare derivative works from, publish, distribute and sublicense the Feedback without any compensation.”

To make things worse, anyone using the platform gives up the right to sue in court, but must instead resolve disputes through confidential binding arbitration by an arbitrator located in San Mateo — home of Silicon Valley, Facebook and CZI. The Terms of Service also bars individuals or schools from entering into class action lawsuits or complaints. (Last month, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau prohibited banks and financial service companies from denying consumers the right to file class action lawsuits.)

Finally, Summit also claims the right that it can change the Terms of Service at any time without prior notification, simply by posting the changes online, to be effective ten days after posting.

The head of Summit Charter Schools, Diane Taverner, is also the President of the California Charter School Association, posing a risk that student and parent data could be sold for political ends, and that the work of public school teachers could be used in her charter schools without recompense.

Growing parent and student resistance to Summit platform in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois

To some extent, Summit’s announcement that they would no longer ask for parent consent makes sense. Throughout the fall, winter and spring, parents with children at schools using the Summit platform reached out to me personally and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy for help and advice.

One grievance early on was that contrary to the Summit’s public posture, their schools told them that if they did not grant their permission to have their children’s data shared in this way, they would not receive any other form of instruction. By the end of the school year, because of their children’s disastrous experience with the Summit platform, some desperate parents in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Virginia decided to either move out of their school district, homeschool their children or apply for a transfer.

One Virginia parent confided that she felt pressured to consent to the Summit Schools privacy policy because her son’s sixth grade teachers told him he’d fall behind if he didn’t return the document signed. She has friends who decided to homeschool their children as a result; and she is now requesting an out of-zone transfer.

She explained to me why she is pulling her son out of the school: “There are numerous issues I have with this pilot program. My son complained of headaches and other aches and pains all year… He was on the computer a lot, every day! He managed to get Honor Roll but hated the program.

“In my opinion, this program doesn’t truly get the children prepared for college as they claim because they are allowed to retake assessments over and over again until they have mastered the material. I do not remember any of my college professors allowing me to retake exams. I feel that it this practice inflates grades and unfairly suggests that this program is ‘working’. Some of the content that I was able to view wasn’t age appropriate for a 6th grader. For example, for American history they assigned a Dora the Explorer rap video about the 13 colonies that was of poor quality and had numerous grammatical errors in the text shown.”

She also had problems with the “parent dashboard” that Summit claims provides parents with full access to the curriculum – but that she could only see while her son was logged in and engaged in doing his homework: “I expressed numerous times that the dashboard was useless! I was unable to view a majority of the material my son was learning, whether it be a worksheet or video. …. Lastly, one of my greatest concerns is the fact that all the privacy policies are very vague and I have NO idea EXACTLY what data is being collected and how it is being used. The school does not know either. Very disheartening. “

Stacie Storms, a parent who lives in Boone County Kentucky, told me that when she withheld her consent, the response from her child’s school was that she would have to pull him out of the school. She chose to homeschool her child, though she has gone to her elected local and state representatives to protest.

Many Boone County parents were concerned how the privacy agreement puts at risk not only their children’s privacy, but their own, as recounted in the Northern Kentucky Tribune:

The agreement gives Summit Learning permission to collect data from any devices used to access the program, which means parents accessing the program from home or work devices may be susceptible to data collection too. Some parents are upset with their students’ data, and potential their own data, being shared outside of the district.

Parents told the reporter that “their children were just skipping to the assessments without reading the material. They only had to get eight out of the ten multiple choice questions correct to pass.”

Students were provided insufficient time with their teachers, and as one parent wrote me: “The schedule does not allow for a program like this to work with 25+ students… The teachers have admitted that they cannot get to every student, every week with the schedule.

According to the Summit system, each student is supposed to have dedicated one-on one time with a teacher, to ensure they stay on track and are actually learning. Though the program only requires 10 minutes per week with their “mentor”, some students are not even provided with this amount of minimal time.

Parents confessed that their children had become bored, disengaged and falling behind; and many of them no longer wanted to go to school.  Students are also subjected to numerous ads via YouTube and the other websites assigned by the platform, which can be very distracting, especially for children with special needs.

Parent Jennifer R., who asked that her last name and school district be withheld, said: “I think Summit learning is the worst thing that has ever happened to the education system. My child is having a HORRIBLE experience with it and the teachers are like “well, we are kind of stuck on what to do to help him.” Really?! How’s about ditch the stupid tablets and program and go back to what works, books and ACTUALLY handwritten homework.”

Another parent confided: “My objection to this program is lack of teacher instruction, lack of class discussion where students can process as a whole — learning from the questions their peers may have and of course their amount of screen time. I knew the content of the curriculum wouldn’t be perfect, but had no idea how disengaged this program would have my daughter from school…. She has always been an easy kid that enjoys school. This year? Mornings are tough…she doesn’t want to go. It’s booorrriiinnnggg. She needs that teacher engagement to hold her attention. Computer screen doesn’t cut it.”

Another: “To be realistic the curriculum our kids are using on the program right now SUCKS.”

Here are the observations of a student, assigned to the Summit platform, whose comments are posted to the Northern Kentucky Tribune article linked to above:

Honestly I hear tons of kids talking about dropping out, I look around on other students’ computers and a lot of them are falling behind …. it is so stressful once you start to fall behind you dig yourself in a hole and it’s hard to get out of it… It has been really hard for me to stay focused and staring at these computer screens all day really takes a tole [sic] on your eyes. Everyone is on a different pace, classrooms are quiet and not engaged like they used to be. …

I have been complaining about summit since the first week of school yet no one listens to me and my counselor basically tells me that is my fault for failing and I should get used to summit because it will always be there. …. I have stress, anxiety and depression and this year i have had 5 anxiety attacks over summit, i do not want to come to school anymore i hate it and i am failing which has ever happened to me before i have always been a student to get good grades. Lastly teachers are not realizing that most student open up another tab while they’re taking assessments and cheat. I see it being done by a lot of people. If i cheated on my tests then I’d be passing right now. …. I am dropping out next year. I can’t deal with another year of summit.”

Mirna Daniel-Eads, a Boone County parent, took her child out of the school and moved to another district because of the Summit platform.  She explains her family’s decision this way: “Summit is all computer, most days the internet was down so my son was learning nothing. The teachers were not teaching… a complete waste of time.”

Despite the widespread discontent, Boone County administrators applied to the state be named as a “District of Innovation.”  Part of the application involves waiver requests to allow teachers to teach outside of their certification areas – and to “allow teachers’ assistants (para-professionals) the ability to oversee digital curriculum and to allow them levels of instruction and supervision.”  As the district explains, “There are many teacher assistants that are capable of assisting students with virtual and digital content.”

Yet in response to numerous parent complaints, the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) released three reports on August 18, 2017, which found fault with the way in which the Summit platform and curriculum were adopted in Boone County schools.  The reports describe how the district was lured into the program, after principals attended a seminar at the University of Kentucky Next Generation Leadership Academy.  Subsequently, the district sent 82 teachers and administrators to California to be trained at Summit’s expense, and three Boone County middle schools and one alternative school implemented the Summit platform.

Among the many problems outlined by David Wickersham, Director of the Kentucky OEA, included the following:

  • No Boone district or school official attempted to determine if the Summit program was aligned with Kentucky state learning standards before adopting it, and several teachers reported that it was not aligned with the standards in social students, math or science.
  • At least two of the schools implemented the Summit curriculum without the agreement of the School-Based Decision-making Council, made up of parents, teachers and the principal, in violation of Kentucky law 160.345. Nor was the curriculum approved or given a waiver by the State Textbook Commission or the state Digital Learning team.
  • Principals entered into contracts with Summit without the approval of the Boone district superintendent or school board, contrary to Kentucky law.
  • The decision to disclose personal student data to Summit was illegal once parental consent was no longer required, as Summit employees could not be defined as “school officials” under Kentucky law: “It appears that, to satisfy Kentucky law, the release or disclosure of records, reports, or identifiable information on students to Summit requires parental or eligible student consent.”
  • Finally, Summit’s open-ended permission to share data with additional third parties and for unspecified uses appears to conflict with Kentucky law 365.734 , which restricts the use of personal student data by a “cloud computing service provider” such as that employed by the Summit program.

Here are the observations of Chicago public school parents whose children were assigned the Summit platform last year:

It feels like badly designed computer programs are now teaching my children.” (6th/8th grade parent.)

We are not having a good experience either, my kid hates it. Seriously considering a move.” (7th grade)

“[My kid] broke down last night in a very sad way. I’ve never seen him like I did. He finally said he was very stressed because of PLP [Summit’s Personalized Learning Platform].” (6th grade)

Kids are playing games and listening to music instead of interacting … during small group discussion time. … looking at screens instead of making eye contact – you know, one of the critical elements to learning. Teacher pulls only 5-7 students for individual one-on-one mentoring during ELA block – most of which takes place with both teacher and kid looking at Chromebook screen.”

Probably the biggest issue I have with implementation is that there isn’t enough $$. Our school got a grant for $280K, a condition of which is that we use this program. [The grant was provided by the Gates Foundation through an organization called LEAP Innovations.]  As of January, we still didn’t have the money, yet they pulled at least two teachers out the classroom to become instructional coaches. Class sizes went up, quality of instruction went down, and my older kid is drowning. My 6th grader has NO choice, and she has moved from a kid who liked learning new things to a kid who views school as a 7-hour daily chore. “

An Ohio student wrote: “I don’t like basecamp.  I want to be taught by a teacher like I used to be.  Staring at the computer all day gives me a headache and then I lose interest in doing my work.  I don’t like having to watch videos and take notes all day.  …. I like a teacher to teach me.  I am a hands-on learner and I don’t feel like I learned anything with Basecamp.”

Laura Gladish, a parent in Ohio, told her son’s story:

My son was in 6th grade at Mayer Middle School for the 2016-2017 school year.  He came out of 5th grade an honor student, also receiving the Presidential Award. He loved school and always did very well until 6th grade.  In the beginning of the year he came home and said that I needed to sign this paper so that he could do his schoolwork. … I called the school and was told that if I didn’t he wouldn’t be able to stay in school since this was the new program that the district was using.  I was shocked that I was being told this from a public school.  So I reluctantly signed the form.

Within weeks my son started coming home from school upset and didn’t want to go to school.  He said that he didn’t like being taught by a computer and sitting in front of a computer watching videos and taking notes all day. He was basically in charge of his own education at the age of 12.  

I called the counselor and was assured that the kids were being taught by the teachers; they were only reinforcing what the teacher already taught in class and taking tests on the computer.  My son kept telling me that wasn’t true; they sat in front of the computer all day and if they didn’t finish they were expected to go home and work on the computer longer …

So I called for a meeting with all of his teachers.  They told me that the kids needed to learn how to manage their time and stay on task. They were expected to watch a video and take detailed notes.  Then they ask the teacher to check their notes and if the teacher felt they were ready they would open the test for them, only on Fridays, and they could use their notes to take the test.  I said to them, then what exactly are they actually learning if they are taking tests with notes?  How to take notes?  I was told no they are learning from repetition.  If they fail the test they can re-watch the video and take more notes and retake the test.  They can keep doing this until they pass.  But by doing this they also fall behind because you can’t move on until you pass the test.

By October my son was falling behind and hated school.  I was so frustrated I called the superintendent for a meeting…  I asked him that if there are kids who are not doing well with platform learning, and since this was a public school, there should be a choice to use basecamp or not.  And there should be regular classes available to my son.  I was told there was no option, this is it.  He also told me that they chose the Summit learning platform because no one can fail and this program will raise the district test scores.

So I called the state board of education to ask my question.  If my son attends a public school how come I can’t opt him out of a program he wasn’t doing well with.  I was told that there is nothing I can do and that the districts can teach however they want and the State only steps in when the state test scores fall below average. 

After Christmas break I had had enough and I pulled my son out and he’s enrolled in an online school.   He had more one-on-one teacher time with the online school then he did at Mayer Middle School.  He ended the year with all A’s and one B.  I want to see Summit basecamp out of all public schools.

Finally, below is a letter I received last June from Colleen Faile, a parent in Fairview Park City, Ohio, reprinted in full, with her permission:

My school district (Fairview Park High and Lewis Mayer Middle) DOES NOT listen, care, acknowledge complaints or even consider parent input. If they do not need parental consent it will most likely make their lives easier having to deal less with us the parents.  

The district has lied from the initial presentation of Summit….one week prior to the start of school and has continued to lie, manipulate, cover up and blatantly ignore any parent with concerns. 

They have embarrassed my daughter for stating truthful facts and attempting to find a resolution for the lack of care or attention they provide her as an A student. She completed half of the year’s assessments for world history last Thursday. 8 assessments in 1 day! One day to complete a semester of work! Her mentor met with her one time ALL YEAR! School ends June 8th! Every week she sends he weekly update…We have experimented since December and each week she has no goals and nothing to work on. Nobody cares, nobody reads it, nobody holds her accountable. 

I am in the process of collecting signatures to take to the board demanding Summit be removed instead of expanded.  They made a deal with Apple to change from Chromebooks to MacBook Airs in 6-12….a three-year $1.5 million dollar contract. Yet we have math classes at 30+ kids and one teacher using the PLP all working at their own pace…and the teacher is able to help everyone?! Sitting in on these classes makes me sick; who can learn…especially math in this environment?

Summit will be in 6-8 grades and 9 and 10th next year. They also wanted to expand to 5th grade next year… the teachers won that battle…but we all know it is temporary. Our teachers cannot speak up or the district will bully them. 

This program is a disaster in so many ways. Our children are NOT RECEIVING AN EDUCATION! …

Anyone that has not dealt with this program first hand as a teacher, parent, student or observer really needs to make an unannounced visit to one of their schools.  Words do no justice to explain the disgust one feels when they realize that the kids being exposed to this will be the ones that ultimately pay the price. “

Meanwhile, an even more intense PR campaign has begun by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative to expand the use of the Summit program.

In a Facebook post on March 13, 2017, Jim Shelton signaled that CZI would continue to push for even more schools and, especially, individual teachers to adopt the platform: “Over the course of this year, we’ll begin work on a free online tool called the Summit LearningPlatform, which empowers teachers to customize instruction to meet their students’ individual needs and interests….We could not be more excited by the platform’s potential.”

In a TED talk the following month, Shelton claimed that when students are logged into the platform, “their level of engagement and motivation goes up…The fact that the first word that comes to mind when students think of high school is ‘boring’ is our fault, not theirs.”

 And in an article in the fall issue of Education Next, Joanne Jacobs further promoted the use of the Summit platform, in glowing terms.

Parents, beware of Summit Learning Platform.  Fight back as if your child’s privacy and education depend on it; because they do.  You can also reach out to the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy at info@studentprivacymatters.org with your questions and concerns.

A Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy

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With software being used in classrooms and installed on laptops provided to students, there is the risk of companies culling personal information of students. The weakened FERPA laws are little to no help in providing student privacy protection so it is up to teachers, administrators and parents to ensure that no personal information gets into the hands of commercial enterprises.

Two organizations, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, have put together a toolkit for parents that is free and available to all.

To follow is a repost of the information originally published at Student Privacy Matters.

 

Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy

We understand that protecting your child’s sensitive data at school can be pretty overwhelming and it’s often difficult to know where to begin.

To get you started on the right track, we’ve created the  Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Child’s Sensitive School Data from Snoops, Hackers and Marketers in collaboration with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. We offer clear guidance on what privacy rights your child has in federal law, what to look for in school vendor’s Privacy Policies, and tips on how to advocate for your school or district to adopt best practices in ensuring your child’s sensitive data isn’t breached or abused.

Learn how to protect your child’s privacy today; download the toolkit HERE.

You can also join our webinar, co-hosted with CCFC and Parents Across America, on Tuesday, May 23rd at 8:00 p.m. Eastern to learn how to use the toolkit. Register here today!

You may also download individual sections of the toolkit below:

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Releases Study on Student Data Privacy… or lack thereof

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Originally posted on the EFF website:

EFF Releases Spying on Students Ed Tech Report

EFF Survey Reveals Gaps in Protecting the Privacy of K-12 Students Using School-Issued Devices and Cloud Apps

“They are collecting and storing data to be used against my child in the future, creating a profile before he can intellectually understand the consequences of his searches and digital behavior.”

This was the response of one parent to an online survey EFF conducted to learn more about the use of mobile devices and cloud services in K-12 classrooms across the country—so called education technology or “ed tech.” Today, EFF released a report entitled “Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy” that summarizes the results of this survey.

While there are educational advantages to incorporating technology into the classroom experience, the survey results reflect an overarching concern that children as young as kindergartners are being conditioned to accept a culture of surveillance. EFF maintains that children should not be taught that using the Internet or technology requires sacrificing personal privacy.

The survey, launched in December 2015, elicited responses from over 1000 students, parents, teachers, librarians, school administrators, system administrators, and community members.

We organized the survey results into eight themes:

  1. Lack of transparency: Schools and districts do not provide adequate notice and disclosures to parents about what technology their children use in the classroom, including devices and online applications that require transferring student information to private companies.
  2. Investigative burden: Parents and even students themselves put in significant effort, sometimes over many months, to get information from both schools/districts and ed tech companies, about technology use in the classroom and its implications for student privacy.
  3. Data collection and use: Parents are concerned about the specific data about their children that ed tech companies collect, and what companies do with that data, particularly for non-educational, commercial purposes and without written notice to and consent from parents.
  4. Lack of standard privacy precautions: Survey participants reported 152 apps, software programs, and digital services being used in classrooms. Only 118 of these have published privacy policies online. And far fewer address important privacy issues such as data retention, encryption, and data de-identification and aggregation.
  5. Barriers to opt-out: Many schools and districts do not provide the ability for parents to opt their children out of using certain technologies. Or if administrators are open to providing an opt-out option, many parents and students have found it difficult to make alternative technologies and teaching methods a reality.
  6. Shortcomings of “Privacy by Policy”: Survey participants expressed doubt that the privacy policies of both schools/districts and ed tech companies actually protect student privacy in practice.
  7. Inadequate technology and privacy training for teachers: Survey participants emphatically reported that teachers, those who interface most directly with ed tech and students, lack adequate training to move from “privacy by policy” to “privacy by practice.”
  8. Digital literacy for students: Survey results revealed that there is a ripe opportunity and need to educate students about how to protect their privacy online, operate safely online, and generally be savvy users of technology, which are skills that they should carry into adulthood.

A goal of the “Spying on Students” survey was to highlight the struggles of average people trying to navigate the student privacy issue. So throughout the discussion of the survey results, we present the case studies of a parent, technology director, system administrator, and school librarian.

In addition to summarizing the survey results, the “Spying on Students” report includes an overview of relevant student privacy laws, including the federal laws FERPA and COPPA, and a sampling of state laws from California, Colorado, and Connecticut.

The report also discusses the inadequacy of the leading ed tech industry self-regulatory effort, the Student Privacy Pledge.

Finally, the report includes privacy recommendations and best practices for school/district administrators, teachers, librarians, system administrators, parents, students, and—of course—ed tech companies.

Today’s report is part of our larger student privacy campaign, which aims to educate students, parents, and school officials about digital privacy—and to encourage ed tech companies to institute better privacy policies and practices that actually protect the privacy of minor students, while enabling them to benefit from technology in the classroom.

With the right awareness and will—particularly from an $8 billion dollar industry—technology can be both educationally beneficial and privacy protective.

Questions We Should Be Asking About “Future Ready” Schools

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

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

Questions we should be asking about “Future Ready” schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Wrench in the Gears

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

From Truth in American Education:

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Washington State GOP Supports Student Privacy, Opposes Common Core

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

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

Student Privacy Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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