Thursday, October 31, 2013

BOCES Wins Million Dollar Grant

This region's BOCES (St. Lawrence-Lewis) was the lead agent in winning a $1.47 million "Strengthening Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Grant." According to Stephen Todd, Assistant Superintendent at BOCES, "We were the only recipients in the state north of the NYS Thruway, and only three recipients in the state received higher awards."

The grant monies will be divided among 14 of the 18 school districts in St. Lawrence County. (Four districts were ineligible.)

What will the grant be used for? Mr. Todd explained that it will be used to help implement the Regents Reform Agenda - which refers to:
  1. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
  2.  Data Driven Instruction
  3. Teacher/Principal Evaluation
The Assistant Superintendent noted, "We will use the money to build a cohort of over 100 teacher and principal leaders who will serve as coaches and mentors for their peers throughout the region."

Mr. Todd specifically acknowledged the efforts of Jennifer French (Senior Supervisor for School Improvement at BOCES). "She wrote the grant single-handedly and will be the leader of our implementation team."

Given the significant reductions in NYS funding to schools in recent years, it is great to hear of some money heading to the North Country.

Monday, October 28, 2013

NY Principals Write Open Letter to Parents about Testing

The controversy surrounding what many see as too much required NYS testing of students in grades 3-8 continues to swirl. Accusations that the only real beneficiary is the corporate testing industry resonate with many. A group called NY Principals just released the following letter to parents to explain the principals' perspective on student testing.

Among the assertions:
  1. Too much testing
  2. Tests are too long
  3. Poor questions
  4. Tests putting financial strain on schools
  5. The achievement gap is widening
It is worth taking a look at the full letter to read, in more detail, the concerns being voiced.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Superintendent Alarmed About Student Privacy...BOE votes to opt out of RTTT

 The following is part of a memorandum sent by a superintendent of schools  to employees in his school district. In it he expresses his concerns about student privacy risks in light of the massive collection of confidential student data by NYS. He writes...

"I am very proud to report that...our Board of Education took a stand against sharing student data with third party vendors.  The Board unanimously approved a resolution to withdraw our district from the Race to the Top and thereby enabled us to opt of selecting a required data dashboard that would house student data. (emphasis added)

 The result of this resolution is that the district forfeits the final $2500 of RTTT* money that we use to support our APPR work, but more importantly it sends a clear message to the State Education Department that our student data must be protected locally. (emphasis added) Unfortunately, this action does not release us from any of the other state mandates.

Yesterday over 60 Superintendents and school administrators met with SED RTTT representatives.  For over two hours, the SED group was questioned about RTTT and student data collection.  Clearly they heard that, in this region of the state, we are not happy and want a delay of implementation and review of all state mandates.  The press has been contacted and there should be an article coming out shortly with more details."                                                                

The "region of the state" mentioned above is Westchester County. What is being done in other regions of NYS? For instance, in the North Country...
  • Are superintendents publicly voicing concerns about risks to student privacy brought about by the extraordinary amount of student data being shared with third party vendors? 
  • Are Boards of Education discussing this issue publicly at Board meetings and informing the public of risks to student privacy? 
  • Do Board of Education believe student data should be protected locally?
  • Are Boards of Education and superintendents lobbying the Commissioner and the Board of Regents to do something about this important issue?
The Commissioner of Education is going to school districts in other parts of the state to discuss this and other compelling matters. Maybe he should be invited to visit at least one North Country public school so teachers and the public can share their concerns.

*Note: Race to the Top (RTTT) refers to the $700 million in federal competitive grants that were offered to states. Among other things, APPR (teacher and principal evaluation) had to be implemented and student academic growth, as shown on mandated tests, had to be a significant part of employment decisions. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Leaving Student Privacy at the Schoolhouse Doors?

School districts are sharing significant amounts of student data with the education technology industry all as part of the mandated testing of students by NYS. Are parents' rights to approve the sharing of information about their children being circumvented by schools?

Senator Markey (D-Mass), a students' privacy advocate, sent a letter to Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan and wrote, "Such loss of parental control over their child's educational records and performance information could have longstanding consequences for the future prospects of students."

When I spoke to Robert Freeman, Director of the NYS Committee on Open Government, he mentioned that the FERPA (student privacy) laws had been weakened in recent years.  Sen. Markey refers to this weakening of FERPA in the questions to Sec. Duncan. He writes, "In 2008 and 2011, the Department issued new regulations with respect to FERPA that addressed how schools can outsource core functions such as scheduling or data management and how third parties may access confidential information about students. These changes also permit other government agencies that are not under the direct control of the state educational authorities, such as state health departments, to access student information." 

~ Are there strict federal guidelines and standards to protect students' privacy? I doubt it.
~ Have parents' rights been trod upon? Certainly.
~ Have the possible consequences of sharing so much confidential student information with private corporations involved in an estimated $8 billion industry been fully considered? Not likely.

Students' privacy should not be sacrificed at the schoolhouse doors.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Student Privacy Concerns- inBloom revisited

The NY Times article, "Deciding Who Sees Students' Data" (Oct. 5, 2013) draws attention, once again, to the many concerns surrounding student privacy in NYS.

Some facts about inBloom, Inc.:
  • inBloom, Inc. is a data repository for the copious amounts of student information (data) that are being collected by schools. (Schools often have many information systems "for things like contact information, grades and disciplinary data, test scores and curriculum planning...")
  • inBloom, Inc. basically promises to store the information in a cloud, encrypted, so that the data can be stored in one place, analyzed more easily, and made more accessible to state education departments and school districts.
  • inBloom will not only store data, "it promised to help personalize learning - by funneling student data to software dashboards where teachers could track individual students...and customize lessons in real time."  
Is student privacy being protected?
  • "We are officially the worst state in the country when it comes to student privacy," said the executive director of Class Size Matters.
  • FERPA, the federal law that protects student privacy, "updated it rules to permit schools to share student data, without notifying parents, with companies to which they have outsourced core functions like scheduling or data management." Once again, parents' rights are trod upon. It used to be illegal for schools to share children's educational records without parental permission.
  • A lawyer has stated, "...there are too few safeguards for the amount of data collected and transmitted from schools to private companies."
  • Due to privacy concerns 6 out of the 9 states that signed up for inBloom this year backed out. NYS is still in.
  • "New York State has already uploaded data on 90 percent of the 2.7 million public school and charter students...into inBloom."
Education Money...Where is it going?
  • Concerns have been voiced that much-needed education dollars are going to private, for-profit corporations as a result of extraordinary amounts of data gathering.(According to The NY Times, "Education technology software for prekindergarten to 12th grade is an $8 billion market...")
  • Among inBloom's goals is to "streamline access to students' data to bolster the market for educational products."
Worst case scenario?
  • There are fears "about the potential for mass-scale surveillance of students." 
  • Are schools uploading disciplinary data on students?
  • inBloom does not guarantee the privacy of the information collected. How could they? Governments, themselves, have a hard time keeping up with hackers.
Do you know what information your school district is sending to inBloom, Inc.? Is anyone sure that all this data collection will improve education for children? Concerned parents should be paying attention. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Grading: How We Got it Wrong

The October 2013 "Education Update" (v.55, #10) from ASCD arrived yesterday and I was pleased to see the cover story which is entitled, How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About It.

Among the ideas presented in the article:

~  Grades: Should they reflect effort or achievement?  A common mistake in grading is that teachers tend to reward working instead of learning. "Do the pile of homework and you'll get the grade. Don't do the work - and even if you demonstrate mastery of the skill or content - you won't get the grade." Compliance is a quality often rewarded over achievement/mastery.

~  Grades as a means to punish: Grades should give students, their teachers, and their families information about where to make adjustments to achieve the educational goals in each subject area. But, instead of using grading as a "formative process that can be educative" it is too often viewed in a fixed event. "This fixed outlook invites punitive measures that distort an accurate picture of what students know and are able to do."

~  Comments from experts:
  • Penalties for late work, zeros, and points off for appearance can trade measures of learning for measures of compliance.
  • Possibly worse is the message sent by grading homework. There are all sorts of professions where you have opportunities to receive feedback without being penalized. When we grade homework we're rewarding students who learn the first time. 
  • We grade kids while they're learning and that penalizes kids for taking risks. It's demotivating and institutionalizes failure.

~   Grading: A Broken System? According to the article, "Grading can be so entrenched in the status quo that teachers...are often surprised to realize the ways they've perpetuated a broken system."

~   Why Standards-Based Grading is Preferable: Standards-based grading (SBG) provides clear learning targets, eliminates punitive grading practices, and results in better assessments (tests).

~   What Grades Mean: "When grades reflect everything - participation, homework, attendance, extra credit, neatness - they mean nothing."

~  Old-Fashioned Grading: "Traditionally, all homework, quizzes, and tests were graded and entered in a grade book. However, homework and quizzes should be treated as practice - not points toward a summative score."

~ Most Homework Assignments are Practice: "Homework carries no weight except in its worth for practicing for the assessment."

~ Decrease in Cheating: "Schools that give feedback for homework instead of points see a decrease in cheating because there is no point to it- it's not going to help you pass the test."

~  Re-testing: There are many student-centered reasons to permit re-testing.

~ Grading and Social Justice: "We can do an awful lot to alleviate the effects of poverty by what we do with grades. It's time to consider to what extent our grading rules and assessment practices work to alleviate stressors and support students, rather than measuring, measuring, measuring."