Sunday, June 30, 2013

Student Privacy: Parents Need to Pay Attention (2)

Consider how you would feel if your child's health records, kept by his/her school, were made public. What if the child was grappling with depression, attention deficit disorder, or an expensive to treat disease like rheumatoid arthritis? Is it possible that future employers could use this information against your child, once s/he grows up, in making hiring decisions?

What if you child's school disciplinary record was made public? What if part of the disciplinary record was going to be expunged at age 18 but now will live on forever in cyberspace? What if youthful lapses in judgment thus plagued people for their entire lives?

What if you knew that a high-level official in NYS stated that there is "rampant ignorance" in school districts across the state regarding FERPA? If you are not familiar with this federal law, it is the law that protects student confidential information from being released by school districts without specific permission of the parents. (At age 18, students can give the permission themselves.)  According to the NYS Committee on Open Government, FERPA is...

"federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA"; 20 U.S.C. §1232g)... applies to all educational agencies or institutions that participate in grant programs administered by the United States Department of Education. As such, FERPA includes within its scope virtually all public educational institutions and many private educational institutions. The focal point of the Act is the protection of privacy of students. It provides, in general, that any "education record," a term that is broadly defined, that is personally identifiable to a particular student or students is confidential, unless the parents of students under the age of eighteen waive their right to confidentiality, or unless a student eighteen years or over similarly waives his or her right to confidentiality."

Many people in NYS believe the relationship between its public schools and inBloom, Inc. (to store confidential student information - name, address, test scores, grades, detailed disciplinary and health records, race, ethnicity, economic status, and disabilities - in a data cloud) will gut the FERPA law.

Who is already paying attention to privacy matters as they pertain to inBloom, Inc.? The comptroller of NYC wrote to Education Commissioner King and the Board of Regents in May of this year and cited the growing concerns being voiced about student privacy. He wrote: "I am disappointed that the SED has not chosen to adhere to a higher standard of protection for the personally identifiable information of the people it is meant to serve." In the same time period, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million American Federation of Teachers, wrote to founding members of inBloom's board of directors stating that there are "genuine concerns about security, privacy, and sharing and exploitation of data." In addition, changes to FERPA (2008 & 2011) are a concern to the AFT because the changes have weakened FERPA protections.

Who has access to school children's confidential information? Too many people - something that will be explored in future postings about student privacy.

For further information see:

Friday, June 28, 2013

Merge All Athletic Teams Between Canton and Potsdam

Recently, the local newspaper made an excellent point when it was stated that the Potsdam and Canton athletic teams have been long time rivals. This is going to be an issue during talks about consolidating the two districts into one.  Currently, there is one athletic merger between the two districts, the wrestling team.  By all accounts, this merger works well.  Potsdam wrestlers would not have an opportunity to participate in the sport otherwise and have made an excellent contribution to the team.

Perhaps all of the athletic programs should be merged as a trial run for an eventual merger of the two districts.  This type of merger does not require a public referendum.  It would give students, parents and the community an opportunity to get to know each other and learn to work together.    It is guaranteed that all of the issues and concerns of the public will come forward should this suggestion be made on both sides. Administration and the Boards of Education will have an opportunity to explain all of the reasons why the merger makes sense and how it will be in the best interest of the students and the community.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Student Privacy at Risk (1)

     If you haven’t heard of inBloom, Inc. and the student and teacher and parent privacy risks that are being widely discussed across NYS, then it’s time to do some homework. I received a call from an alarmed teacher who asked me what I know about inBloom. As an education blogger, I had written about this issue in an April 30th blog posting.

Risk to Students
     The NYS Commissioner of Education and the Board of Regents have approved the release of personally identifiable student information to inBloom, Inc. to be stored in a data cloud that inBloom is not guaranteeing as secure. NYS is the only Phase I state sharing student data statewide.
What information is inBloom collecting? Student names, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary and health records, race/ethnicity, economic and disability status.

Risk to Teachers
     Teachers should also be concerned. Confidential information about them has also been approved to be shared – like social security numbers, addresses, whether the teacher was fired or excessed and the reasons for such.

Risk to Parents
     Parents who apply for free or reduced lunches for their children are also at risk of having their income information placed in an insecure location.

What inBloom, Inc. Will Do With Private Information
     Why does “inBloom, Inc. want this information? The company has plans to share data, with district consent (not parental consent), with for-profit companies to help them develop and market ‘learning products.’” Of course, inBloom explains that they will save school districts money and help teachers target the learning needs of their students by collecting the copious amount of information that is being collected about students and their teachers. what risk to student, teacher, parental privacy?

The Public's Right to Know 
     School districts have been encouraged to have public forums about this matter in order to “ensure public engagement” and to keep the public well informed – though I haven’t heard of any going on.

What Can the Public Do?
     Teacher, principal, parent, and community groups are all lobbying the State Education Dept., the Board of Regents, the Assembly, and the Senate to address the student privacy issues inherent in this deal with inBloom, Inc.
     The NYS Assembly just passed a student privacy bill (A7872). I called Sen. Flanagan’s office today (631-361-2154) to urge him, as Education Chair, to pass this Student Privacy bill in the Senate. His secretary told me there are currently no sponsors in the Senate. Maybe the public can weigh in and call Senator Skelos (518-455-3171) and Senator Klein (718-822-2049) and Sen. Flanagan. It’s also time to find out what your school district is doing.

     There will be an upcoming series of articles about student privacy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Teacher Prep Programs

A new review of America's teacher preparation programs has been released by the National Council on Teacher Quality - an organization that advocates for reform in "how we recruit, prepare, retain, and compensate teachers."  To see the report go to:

According to a Washington Post article on the NCTQ report, "Education secretaries in 21 states have endorsed the report, but some universities and education experts quickly assailed the review as incomplete and inaccurate."

The Post's article, written by Lyndsey Layton, goes on to note that, "...there is broad agreement among educators and public officials - from US Education Secretary Arne Duncan to governors to unions - that the country is failing to adequately train the 200,000 people who become teachers every year."

The report criticizes schools of education for:
~ Having low admission standards
~ Having little connection between clinical work and academic work
~ Having education faculty members who haven't been in a public school for years

 Many have argued that teacher quality is the most important factor that impacts student learning. Because there is a movement to improve teacher preparation and teacher accountability, some allege that there is a war against teachers. However, the movement ("war") is not against teachers, it is against poor teacher preparation (not the fault of teachers), little to no meaningful mentoring of teachers once they are hired (not the fault of teachers), and lack of action to remove incompetent teachers (the fault of blind union support & weak, uninformed, and/or political administrators/Boards).

 In addition, the tying of teacher evaluation to student performance on state-mandated tests was abruptly thrust upon teachers with insufficient time to prepare. Arne Duncan must agree. He just recently delayed the requirement to tie personnel decisions to teacher evaluations (which are directly tied to student performance on state-mandated tests).

     "In what some see as a tacit recognition of the Obama administration's overreach into nitty-gritty management of America's schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will give states a reprieve from certain aspects of teacher evaluations' consequences and the new wave of testing tied to the Common Core.
      Duncan said Tuesday that he will allow the first two groups of states that received waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act to seek an extra year, until the academic year 2016-2017, before they give their teacher evaluations teeth by applying them to personnel decisions." See: 

Many schools of education are floundering. Some are working on reforming their schools so students are much better prepared for the profession. However, another significant problem is on the shoulders of both schools of education and public schools themselves. Teachers are often given perfunctory "mentoring" that is rarely connected to improving their performance and to supporting their efforts to grapple with the many demands placed on novice teachers. Developing teachers are at great risk of leaving the profession.
"The statistics for teacher turnover among new teachers are startling. Some 20 percent of all new hires leave the classroom within three years. In urban districts, the numbers are worse. Close to 50 percent of newcomers leave the profession during their first five years of teaching."

One of the greatest responsibilities facing our country is to provide the next generation with a good education. It is time for entrenched parties to stop digging in and to start acting on an exciting idea...making public education in the US a model for other countries. Let's focus on what students need -not on what self-interested adults want.

For further information see:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Education: What Leads to Success?

How to Succeed - Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is a compelling book by Paul Tough. Its central thesis is that character is critical to success and that character can be taught. 

Among the ideas included in Tough's book:
  • Psychological traits, like persisting at boring and unrewarding tasks, delaying gratification, and following through on plans, are more critical to success in school and in life than cognitive (intellectual) skills.
  • While many believe a high school degree certifies intellectual attainment, a high school degree may be a much more significant certification of one's ability to think ahead, persist in unrewarding/unchallenging tasks, and adapt to one's environment.
  • Traits that are likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement are:
  1. grit        See -
  2. self-control
  3. zest
  4. social intelligence
  5. gratitude
  6. optimism
  7. curiosity
    The author writes about Dominic Randolph - headmaster of Riverdale Country School (a highly-competitive and prestigious private school in the Bronx). Randolph is very skeptical about the current focus on high-stakes testing.
    "He did away with AP classes soon after he arrived at Riverdale; he encourages his teachers to limit the homework they assign; and he says that the standardized tests that Riverdale and other private schools require for admission to kindergarten and middle school are 'a patently unfair system because they evaluate students almost entirely by IQ. This push on tests is missing out on some serious parts of what it means to be a successful human.'" 
    Randolph believes the most critical missing piece is character. Interestingly, in 2010, the National Center for Education Research studied seven popular character education programs. "It found no significant impact at all from the programs - not on student behavior, not on academic achievement, not on school culture." One might conclude that while character traits can be taught and do lead to success, many schools may be missing the boat on just how to teach these traits.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Responsibility: Keep Public Well Informed

On Tuesday night at a regular meeting of the Potsdam Board of Education, the Canton Board of Education joined them to hear a presentation about merging the Potsdam and Canton school districts.  According to the Powerpoint presentation, the two year timeline for this process began that night.  Over the summer, the two BOE's may move ahead with plans for a feasibility study, publish a request for proposals and apply to the Department of State for funding.  This will all take place during a time of year when the communities are not thinking about the public schools and many are away for part or all of the summer.  Yet a point made more than once on the presentation slides was that the public must be kept well informed about the process!

In my opinion, moving ahead during the summer is putting the cart before the horse.  Have there been any open meetings, forums or hearings by either Board of Education to ask the public whether there is any chance that either community would support this merger?  There will be upfront costs for both districts.  Before any money is spent, it is wise to discover if there is support to pursue the study or further discussions.  As I may have mentioned recently, there are similarities between the districts, but there are also many differences which may prove to be insurmountable. 

To view the Powerpoint presentation, go to: Joint Board Presentation on Consolidation

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Canton-Potsdam Merger?

I read recently that the Boards of Education from Canton and Potsdam will be meeting soon to initiate discussion about merging the school districts.  Some may think that this is a logical move.  The school districts have a very similar population, in terms of numbers and make-up of the communities.  One of the main obstacles will be that they don't have a similar tax rate, a key piece of the puzzle relative to a merger referendum.  In addition, has no one been paying attention to the controversy surrounding the sharing of Presidents between SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam?   The communities of both institutions have been more than vocal about wanting to maintain the identity of both campuses.  How will they react when the identity of their public school is threatened?

I happen to believe that, if the financial situation of school districts remains the same, school mergers will have to be made.  The same will be true of municipal village and town consolidations.   Of course, I don't believe that it will happen voluntarily.  And, I think that it makes more sense to look at the map of the county and create fewer districts based upon redrawing of the school district boundaries.  Most of our school districts are very large geographically and combining any two or three will exceed the limits of transportation plans.

Let's hope the the Canton and Potsdam Boards of Education don't waste too much time on these discussions.  They are needed to pay attention to what is happening in their own districts. Taking control of staff pension and insurance benefits and student academic needs requires their undivided attention!