Opposition to Common Core Crops Up in Rhode Island

682px-Rhode_Island_state_flagThe Providence Journal reported after Christmas about a new group of parents in Rhode Island who are organizing to oppose the Common Core State Standards in their state.  Barrington School Committee member and math teacher, Scott Fuller, created the website for Stop Common Core Rhode Island with a petition that can be signed by Rhode Island residents who are concerned about the Common Core.

Fuller, who is also a math teacher in Cumberland, voiced several concerns about the new standards, which face a surging national backlash in states from Michigan to Florida.

“I’m upset that there was no local input from teachers, parents and school committees,” he said Thursday. “I see it from the teacher’s perspective and from that of the School Committee. It’s too much, too fast. I don’t think this is the way democracy works.”

(The Barrington School Committee has not taken a formal vote on this issue.)

Fuller outlined several additional criticisms. Echoing national critics, Fuller said the standards were never field-tested and yet school districts are being pushed to revise their curricula to conform to them.

Fuller said no one has calculated the cost of implementing the new standards and the test that will replace the state’s existing assessment, the New England Common Assessment Program or NECAP, which is now tied to high school graduation….

… Finally, Fuller said that the new tests were not benchmarked against international standards.

“The Common Core initiative is highly organized at the national level,” the Stop the Common Core Web site states, “and deploys well-funded, coordinated and sophisticated advocacy, grass-roots and public relations campaign tactics to drum up support for the program, raising serious concerns about transparency and legitimacy.”

While some members of the petition drive want Rhode Island to abandon the Common Core, Fuller said he would like a thoughtful pause to allow local educators and parents the opportunity to evaluate the standards and the test.

You can read the rest of the article here and see the petition here.

FERPA is Worthless at Protecting Student Data

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Louisiana education politics blogger Crazy Crawfish has a great article on FERPA entitled “FERPA Does Not Protect Student Privacy and Never Did.”  He explains how the law is outdated and how it has been gutted through U.S. Department of Education rule changes.

Money quote:

This means US ED has no authority over vendors or use or misuse data, that it must first try and convince abusers to stop abusing and disclosing the data they have received, and that their only recourse is to forbid school districts from providing data to them directly for 5 years or more. However if they obtain the data from another source, say another vendor, agencies can bypass even this very minor censure. Additionally, since DOE has no enforcement mechanism provided by FERPA, agencies can ignore this decision with impunity. This is why inBloom is not going out of business with no one officially committing to provide data to them. They intend to get this data secretly other ways and through other avenues. FERPA does allow schools, school districts and states to state their own civil penalties in their contracts, but most, if not all, fail to do so. What this means is any vendor for any data system in any school district that has access to data can currently use that data however they want if their only restriction written into their contract is that they will comply with FERPA. FERPA does not restrict or target vendors, only schools and school districts. State agencies are also largely excluded from many of the provisions of FERPA although references to them have been sprinkled in throughout the years. Most of the sanctions and wording it directed at local school districts, not state agencies who subsequently acquire the data.

Additionally, parents do not have the right to sue or take actions against vendors, state agencies, local school districts, or individuals who use, misuse or abuse their children’s data, or their own data under FERPA. All enforcement actions are handled through FPCO (the Family Policy Compliance Office), if they so choose. Parents may make a formal complaint, but those complaints can be ignored and parents have no further recourse.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

Photo credit: Die4Kids via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

NY Assembly Democrats Call for DOE to Suspend Plan for Student Data Sharing

Last week New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the New York Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan released a letter to New York State Education Commissioner John King that expresses concerns about the department’s plan to share student data with an outside vendor.  The letter was also signed by 50 Assembly Democrats and it requests that the State Education Department withhold sharing data with inBloom, the vendor that the New York Department of Education selected to collect information from children in New York.

“It is our job to protect New York’s children. In this case, that means protecting their personally identifiable information from falling into the wrong hands,” said Silver. “Until we are confident that this information can remain protected, the plan to share student data with InBloom must be put on hold.”

“After receiving moving and credible testimony at a recent hearing, the Assembly Majority has serious concerns about the potential flaws of the SED’s plan to share student data and their ability to protect student privacy. We feel compelled to question this plan and we strongly believe that student information should not be shared with InBloom at this time,” said Nolan.

You can read the letter below:

 

This letter comes after public hearing held in November on this issue.  as well as two important pieces of legislation passed by the Assembly earlier this year, A.7872-A  and A.6059-A to address ongoing concerns related to the distribution of personally identifiable student information.

New York school districts receiving Race to the Top funds are expected to participate in the EngageNY Portal, an informational instruction system recently established by the New York Department of Education. The Portal will allow educators, administrators, parents and students to access a variety of additional educational materials, resources and student information. To make this service available, the Department has contracted with InBloom, a third-party vendor which collects and stores student information released by SED and school districts. This includes information such as demographics, parental contacts, out-of-school suspension records, course outcomes and state assessment scores.

This amount of information being held in a centralized location makes it easier to exploit.  Parents were never asked for permission by school districts or the state to share their student’s information with inBloom and inBloom doesn’t guarantee total security of information.  This letter is appreciated, but instead of just calling for a pause in the plan Assembly Democrats (and Republicans – this is a non-partisan issue) should call for a halt.  The legislation passed earlier does attempt to address the situation, but my perspective of A. 7872-A in particular is that it contains too many loop holes and parents should have to opt-in rather than opt-out.

State Data Deal with Media Should Alarm You

Thanks to KUOW’s article, State Deal to Give Media Organizations Student Data Alarms DSCN8580Privacy Experts, the deal the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) made to provide the Seattle Times with individual teacher and student level data has been exposed. This deal has alarmed more than just privacy experts. I predict it will alarm even more as people become aware, especially parents. If you are a student, parent, teacher, taxpayer, voter, or community member you should become alarmed as well.

OSPI will release individual staff and student data to the Seattle Times. The KUOW article says:

The Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, generally prohibits release of confidential student data without parental consent.

That may have been true about FERPA in the past. Without congressional approval or authorization, the U.S. Department of Education made substantial changes to FERPA regulations in 2011. Those regulation changes were made to enable these kinds of data deals without any requirements for parental consent or even notification. Even if this data deal is within the guidelines of the new FERPA regulations, morally and ethically is it a sound deal?

State government has way too much data on students. It has this data without active consent of parents. When was the state going to fully disclose this to parents or ask for their consent? I think it’s clear: Never.

The agreement itself has a clause in it that states:

Data provided by OSPI cannot be linked with other data or data sets as a way to determine the identity of individual students.

Nice clause, like so many other clauses in the agreement. Murder and theft are against the law yet both activities take place. Those illegal actions usually are noticed even if not solved. It is possible with this deal that data may get out of OSPI’s hands and the hands of the Seattle Times, matched to identify individuals and later used for purposes unintended by this nefarious data deal. And it is possible no one would notice or be able to attribute the matched data to OSPI or the Seattle Times.

When I shared KUOW’s article with Education Analyst Richard Innes of the Blue Grass Institute for Policy Solutions this is what he said:

This is a stunning and very disturbing development.

A newspaper can be expected to have, or be able to quickly assemble, a very rich database of information about individuals. If the data released to a newspaper has enough student demographic information in it, the paper could very likely reattach student names and ID’s to the data it gets from schools.

Such a match actually occurred in 1999 in a Lauress Wise report about Kentucky’s huge jump in exclusion of students on the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). While researching the possible impact of that exclusion jump, Wise reattached NAEP data to individual student data from Kentucky’s KIRIS assessments with an 86 percent positive match rate using only seven student data attributes. Just seven. The student identification had been stripped from the NAEP data, but that didn’t stop Wise.

file9791234819983While it sounds nice in this data deal that student identifiers, like names and SSN (why should the schools or states even have student SSNs), will be stripped from the data, it is meaningless except to placate an unknowing public. It is becoming increasingly easier to personally identify individuals through data matching. Richard’s quote gives an example of data matching using seven data points. I have read information indicating that three data points—age, gender, and zip code—has enabled data matchers to personally identify individuals accurately 87% of the time.

The KUOW article quotes Superintendent Banda of the Seattle Public Schools:

“Wow,” said Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda. “I wasn’t aware of [this agreement], and I don’t think any of my staff was aware that this was being considered and approved.”

“This is really disconcerting for us, because we’ve been assuring families that we are really mindful about following [data privacy] rules,” Banda said.

This data deal agreement may actually be following the newly changed FERPA rules. file0001344599812That does not mean those rules or regulations are moral, ethical, or in the best interest of student privacy. Since Superintendent Banda finds this data deal to be disconcerting, he may want to examine and rethink a similar data deal that bears his signature: Amended Agreement Between Seattle Public Schools And The Community Center For Education Results Regarding Data Sharing for Research Studies. Supt. Banda’s predecessor brought the draft of this agreement into play but it does bear his signature.. Some may find it interesting to note that Mary Jean Ryan signed the agreement as the Executive Director of the Community Center for Education Results (CCER). Mary Jean is a former chair of the Washington State School Board of Education.

I find both data deal agreements to be disconcerting.

Fans of fabulously generous reform education funders will be happy to know this Seattle Times project and the CCER are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

I find it interesting, if not deceiving, that parents are not informed about what happens with the data they provide the school. They are not told that, in essence, the state treats the data as its own property. Parents Need to Know About Student Data Privacy is one article that only scratches the surface in letting parents know about the information they provide to the schools.

file291303336275The data deal OSPI has made with the Seattle Times raises a lot of questions. The good citizens of Washington State may not ask any of those questions if they think the state acts in the best interest of the students and people of the state. The questions those good citizens may not ask may run along the lines of: Who authorized OSPI to gather and store student data to begin with? Who authorized OSPI to make such a data deal? Was it the legislature? Is it in the state constitution? Did parents authorize the sharing of their child’s data? At what point did parents authorize this—when they enrolled their child in school? Were parents informed beforehand that their child’s data may be shared with private for profit or non-profit organizations? Were parents asked for their consent? Who will benefit most from this? (yes, I know they say the data will help inform and improve instruction—this sounds nice yet I have not seen any evidence to back this up) If the current Superintendent of Public Instruction decides to run for a third term do you think this deal will have any influence on whether the Seattle Times supports, promotes, or endorses his campaign? That support, promotion, or endorsement could make a difference in the outcome of an election but I seriously doubt that was a discussion that took place in the brokering of this data deal. Would such a discussion even need to take place?

Are these kind of data deals only taking place in Washington State? If you live in another state you may want to see if your local school district or state department of education has made similar data deal agreements.

The legislative bill announced in A Bill to Look at Privacy Rights of Washington Students, if passed will be a much needed start in addressing and protecting the privacy rights of students.

A related article, Study Finds Large Gaps in Student Data Privacy Protection By Districts Using Cloud Services, will be of interest to those concerned about privacy issues related to student data.

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This article is also posted on the Stop Common Core in Washington State website.

Student Privacy Rights Bill Filed in Washington State

washington-state-flagStop Common Core in Washington reported that there has been a bill pre-filed in Washington State that addresses student privacy rights – HB 2783 by State Representative Elizabeth Scott (R-Monroe).  The bill is not up on the Washington Legislature website, but you can read it and download it here.  It’s a first step toward protecting student privacy in the Evergreen State.  Below are the highlights of the bill provided by Stop Common Core in Washington:

  • Requires the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee to:
    • Conduct a detailed analysis of documents and agreements by the OSPI, OFM, and school districts related to collection, sharing, storage, security, dissemination, and access to personally identifiable student data or student-level data to determine the extent and circumstances that the agreements require or permit dissemination of personally-identifiable student data or student-level data from Washington students without written consent of students/parents.
  • Analyze 2011 amendments to regulations implementing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to determine the extent they permit sharing of personally-identifiable student data or student-level data under the documents analyzed.
  • Specifies that the analysis include but not be limited to certain documents, agreements, and applications such as the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the federal Race to the Top grants; the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC); the Student Longitudinal Data System; the ESEA waiver;and others.
  • Requires JLARC to submit its analysis to the legislative Education Committees by September 1, 2014 to allow an opportunity for the Legislature to review the results and, if necessary, direct the withdrawal of Washington from any multi-state assessment consortium that disseminates personally-identifiable student data without written consent.
  • Requires that, if Washington remains a member of the SBAC after 2015 or becomes a member of any other multi-state assessment consortium after the bill takes effect, JLARC must annually review documents and agreements related to personally identifiable student data or student-level data to determine any changes to the above findings, and if so, must immediately forward the new findings to the Education Committees.

If you live in Washington State please contact your legislators and ask them to support this bill.

Study Finds Large Gaps in Student Data Privacy Protection By Districts Using Cloud Services

6c1c3110-a28a-410d-8eed-4d74047e4cb4A big tip of the hat goes to Anne Gassel of Missouri Education Watchdog for finding this and sending the info below to our band of happy #stopcommoncore warriors.  Fordham Law School released a report last week that shows there are large gaps in student data privacy protection by school districts that use cloud services.

Here are the key findings:

  • 95% of districts rely on cloud services for a diverse range of functions including data mining related to student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, data hosting, as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation planning.
  • Cloud services are poorly understood, non-transparent, and weakly governed: only 25% of districts inform parents of their use of cloud services, 20% of districts fail to have policies governing the use of online services, and a sizeable plurality of districts have rampant gaps in their contract documentation, including missing privacy policies.
  • Districts frequently surrender control of student information when using cloud services: fewer than 25% of the agreements specify the purpose for disclosures of student information, fewer than 7% of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to change the terms without notice. FERPA, however, generally requires districts to have direct control of student information when disclosed to third-party service providers.
  • An overwhelming majority of cloud service contracts do not address parental notice, consent, or access to student information. Some services even require parents to activate accounts and, in the process, consent to privacy policies that may contradict those in the district’s agreement with the vendor. FERPA, PPRA and COPPA, however, contain requirements related to parental notice, consent, and access to student information.
  • School district cloud service agreements generally do not provide for data security and even allow vendors to retain student information in perpetuity with alarming frequency. Yet, basic norms of information privacy require data security.

This essentially points out a potential fatal flaw with the use of any kind of online assessment, and why any state legislation regarding student data privacy must clearly address this.

You can read the report below:

Governors and State Education Leaders Did Not Write the Common Core

I had to shake my head reading an article in The Washington Post.  It highlights Randi Weingarten’s schizophrenic approach to the Common Core State Standards – on one hand she says the implementation of the Common Core is more disastrous than Obamacare’s implementation, but she wants Governors to stand by it.

It’s amazing what a little Gates money will do.  But I digress.  What I really wanted to highlight is one paragraph that makes me want to jump out of my skin.

Written by a group of governors and state education officials, with endorsements from the federal government and funding from the Gates Foundation, the Common Core standards are designed to prepare students for an eventual career or college.

No the standards were essentially written by five people who did not even have classroom teaching experience and all but two I believe lacked experience writing standards.  In David Coleman’s own words they were a “collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards.”

Governors did not write these.  I would suspect most if not all Governors have not even read them.  State educational officials did not write these.  They may have even some impact far down the line, but it’s doubtful that their feedback did anything.

So can reporters stop saying this?  It’s a complete lie.

End rant.

Six States Receive Race to the Trough Early Learning Challenge Money

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The Associated Press reports that six states: Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont have won a combined $280 million in government grants in order to improve birth-to-five early learning programs.  These states must show “a willingness to carry out comprehensive improvements to programs focused on children from birth to age 5.”

Later today we’ll learn what each state promised to do in return for their slice of the federal grant.  Thirteen states were awarded this grant last year.

Two thoughts: 1. Making kindergarten more “rigorous” (stressful) due to the Common Core State Standards will be used as a push for eventually making pre-school compulsory.  I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the road we’re headed down.  2.  It makes no sense for Governors, like Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, to distance themselves from the Common Core if they’re just going to getting into bed with the Feds for more money.

Governors that crow about a Federal encroachment into education should no longer apply for grants such as these that have strings attached.

NY Teacher: We Are Losing That Love of Learning

Chris Philp, a science teacher at Kings Park High School in Kings Park, NY spoke at his district’s school board meeting thanking them for their resolution indicating that the Common Core State Standards need change.

From Kings Park Patch:

“Its a long time coming and I think it’s important that the district stands strong on some things that are troublesome and all the reforms that are being pushed through, some being shoved down our throats,” Philp said.

Philp offered board members feedback on the state’s Common Core changes to the seventh and eighth-grade science curriculum, given he previously taught for 8 1/2 years at William T. Rogers Middle School.

Students are frequently spending up to 80-minute periods working straight from workbooks, according to Philp, many of the state’s Common Core modules have errors, ranging from a character chart based on a book not read by students to illegibly printed articles leaving teachers and librarians to hunt down the intended source material.

“A workbook is by definition test prep,” he said. “It’s a lot of test prep, that is concerning.”

He suggested the Board of Education could have more strongly worded their resolution to better reflect some of the concerns expressed by community members in recent months.

In the classroom, Philp said he’s faced questions from students asking if they will have the opportunity to perform hands-on science experiments, indicating the heavy emphasis the new Common Core placed on reading and writing may be limiting the teacher’s ability to engage with students.

“I’m afraid we are losing that love of learning and that’s more important than an individual content,” Philp said.

Read the rest.