Monday, February 17, 2014

School Financial Woes: Health Ins. Costs or Health Care Costs

For years teachers (and other school employees) received a benefit: their health insurance was paid by the district taxpayers. At the time this was offered to employees, it seemed to be a good idea. Of course, few seemed to recognize that health insurance costs could skyrocket in the future.

 I was on the Board of Ed. for most of the 1990's as HI costs rose 20% per year. During my second stint on the PCS BOE, HI costs started to bury the district financially. Jobs were being cut because more and more money was needed for health insurance premiums. Management focused on how the district could mitigate this onerous cost by negotiating insurance premium co-pays from employees. This is wrong-minded.

 Having employees pay a percentage of their premiums will not solve the problem of hugely escalating premium costs. Health care costs need to be addressed - not employee co-pays. Board members, administrators, teachers, and CSEA employees should be using their collective influence (NYSSBA, SAANYS, NYSUT, CSEA) to lobby state leaders to do something about runaway health care costs. 

Health insurance is an essential part of the social safety net. A vigorous middle class is vital to the country's future but the middle class is getting poorer and poorer. (Consider the fact that, "The top 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation's wealth. In fact, just 400 Americans own more wealth than 150 million Americans combined."*) High health insurance premiums are symptoms of a problem that needs to be addressed - bloated health care costs.

David Acker, CEO of the Canton-Potsdam Hospital, spoke publicly about this issue last year. He said, "The heart of the problem is the uncontrolled health care spending that is blowing up his (the PCSD superintendent's) budget - whether for current employees or retirees - and the hospital is the face of that problem. And if we stay on that path, where our hospitals go is to get more of the school's money, and we will sink them, which will sink us, which will sink others."

Isn't it time for us all to do something so our modern day Titanic can avoid that iceberg?

* Hartmann, Thom, The Crash of 2016, p. 82.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Schools and Electronic Privacy

Attorney Christopher Librandi recently wrote an editorial entitled, "Electronic Privacy: Do schools have a role to play?"

He notes:

  • Smart phones, tablets, and cloud storage are replacing textbooks and filing cabinets.
  • Most schools use cloud services for record retention and data analysis.
  • The new technology comes with risks to privacy and information security.
  • Only 20% of apps disclose their collection practices to users.
  • "The Center on Law and Information Technology at Fordham found that schools are routinely handing over troves of student information to cloud service providers but that the schools have little knowledge of how that information will be used."
Regarding laws governing privacy of student information, he mentions:
  • COPPA - Children's Online Privacy Protection Act 
  • FERPA - Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
His advice to school leaders:

  • ASSEMBLIES: Conduct assemblies for students, faculty, and parents and discuss privacy challenges with each group. Like geo-location. Geo-location tracking is tied to many apps and people should be aware of the "obvious risks inherent in unknown parties following the movements of students."
  • PRIVACY LAWS: Inform all parties of the laws related to privacy and how to find safe apps.
  • CONTRACTS WITH VENDORS: "As a second crucial step, schools should look closely at their vendor contracts to understand what information they are handing over and how the vendor plans to use the information. Has anyone read the vendor's terms and conditions? Do they say anything about use of student information for marketing purposes?"(According to the writer, contract provisions are very important when dealing with software vendors and cloud service providers.)
  • COMPLIANCE WITH PRIVACY LAWS: Do the contracts comply with FERPA and COPPA and other relevant privacy laws? This is a minimum standard.
  • ADMINISTRATOR AND FACULTY TRAINING: Administrators and faculty should have periodic training to keep current on the issues thus making them "valuable resources to parents and students."
Are your school officials knowledgeable about these issues? Are these topics being discussed at Board of Education meetings? Faculty meetings? Are parents and students being kept informed? 

NYS Court Judgment Hurts Student Privacy and Parental Rights

It was reported yesterday that NYS Supreme Court Justice Thomas Breslin ruled that the State Education Department (SED) can release and transfer private student data to inBloom, Inc. where data will be stored in a cloud database. According to a news article by Jon Campbell, "Judge Breslin's decision should establish once and for all that Commissioner King is properly safeguarding student data..."    

Does anyone believe that the NYS Commissioner of Education is able to "properly safeguard student data"? In 2013, the following were among those breached by hackers:

  • The New York Times
  • Facebook
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • NSA
  • Living Social
  • Washington State Administrative Offices of the Courts
  • Target
Will the inBloom, Inc. database somehow be more secure than that of the entities noted above? 

Last week The Washington Post contained an article about how James Meredith had penned an Education Bill of Rights. One of the rights he included was that students had a right to transparency by their schools. "A school where records of every dollar of taxpayer money spent are available for public inspection; where personally identifiable student information is not shared with outside parties without express parental consent; where parents and teachers are involved in school management and policy; and where core public school functions are not sold off to for-profit operators." 

Wouldn't it be nice to give back to parents their central role in controlling the collection, transfer, and sharing of private information about their children? The bureaucracy has swept away too many parental rights.

To read Judge Breslin's decision, go to:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Education Bill of Rights

What do schools owe students? James Meredith, a civil rights advocate who successfully sured for admission to the all-white U of Mississippi in the 1960's, has crafted an Education Bill of Rights.

According to Meredith (and as reported in the Washington Post) "every American public school child has the right to:"  

1.  Experienced Teachers: A school run and staffed by fully qualified professional educators and teachers; a lead classroom teacher with a minimum of a masters degree in education and three years classroom experience; a school where computer products are never used to replace teachers; and a school the leaders of society would send their own children to.

2.  Equity of Resources: A nation that sends many of its most experienced and effective teachers to help its highest-poverty and highest-needs students; strives to deliver educational equity of resources to all students; and strives to reduce the harm done to children by poverty and segregation.

3.  Involved Parents: A school that strongly encourages and helps parents to: be directly involved in their children’s education; support their children with healthy eating and daily physical activity; disconnect their children from TV and video games and read with them on a daily basis; and a school that regularly invites parents to take part in school activities.

4.  Quality Learning: A nation where educators and officials collaborate to identify the best evidence-based practices; a nation that rigorously tests classroom products and reforms before spending billions of dollars of taxpayer funds on them, including testing them versus smaller class sizes and more experienced teachers; a nation that that does not spend billions of taxpayer dollars on excessive, unreliable and low-quality standardized tests that displace and damage authentic learning; and an education with an absolute minimum of standardized tests and a maximum of high-quality, teacher-designed evaluations of student learning and progress.

5.  Effective Teachers: A school where teachers are evaluated through fair and aggressive professional peer review, not unreliable standardized test data; and a school where under-performing teachers are coached, mentored and supported, and when necessary fired, through a process of professional review and transparent, timely due process.

6.  Personalized Instruction: A school with small class sizes, similar to those enjoyed by the children of political and business leaders, so all students can receive a truly differentiated and personalized instruction, with regular, close feedback from their teachers.

7.  Full Curriculum and Services: A school system that provides universal pre-K; a strong early education based on research fundamentals, correct developmental milestones and educational play; a rich curriculum including the arts, civics, literature, history, science, field trips, and music; fully funded, effective and inclusive special education that strives to intervene early and prevent problems; and if necessary, wraparound social services and a free, healthy breakfast and lunch.

8.  Transparency: A school where records of every dollar of taxpayer money spent are available for public inspection; where personally identifiable student information is not shared with outside parties without express parental consent; where parents and teachers are involved in school management and policy; and where core public school functions are not sold off to for-profit operators.

9.  Respect for Children and Teachers: A nation that respects teachers as well as it respects other elite professions; and considers every child’s physical, mental and emotional health, happiness and well-being as critical factors for school behavior, academic achievement and national progress.

10.  Safety, Freedom and Challenge: A school and a classroom that are safe, comfortable, exciting, happy and well-disciplined; with regular quiet time and play time in the early grades; regular breaks through the school day; daily physical education and recess periods; a healthy, developmentally-appropriate and evidence-based after-school workload; and an atmosphere of low chronic stress and high productive challenge, where children are free to be children as they learn, and children are free to fail in the pursuit of success.

11.  Reform Through Rigor and Accountability: A nation that uses rigor, accountability and transparency when it comes to education reform; where any proposed major education reforms must be tested first, and based on hard evidence, independently verified, before being widely adopted and funded by taxpayers.

12.  A 21st Century Education: A school and a nation where children and teachers are supported, cherished and challenged, and where teachers are left alone to the maximum extent possible by politicians and bureaucrats to do their jobs – - which is to prepare children for life, citizenship, and careers with true 21st century skills: not by drilling them for standardized tests or forcing a culture of stress, overwork and fear upon them, but by helping them fall in love with authentic learning for the rest of their lives, inspiring them with joy, fun, passion, diligence, critical thinking and collaboration, new discoveries and excitement, and having the highest academic expectations of them.


© The Washington Post Company

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Laws Governing Student Privacy

Parents should be aware of some of the major laws governing student privacy. They are:

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) - which governs the disclosure of educational records by school officials. This would apply to cloud sharing.

PPRA (Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment) - which regulates the disclosure of certain types of information about school children (for analysis or evaluation) related to certain characteristics and might apply to various cloud computing activities by school districts. 

COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) - which regulates the online or web-based collection of information from children and may apply to various could services. 

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) - which related to individually identifiable health information.

* Sources: FLASH: "Privacy and Cloud Computing"  and 
                  US Dept. of HHS "Privacy"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Transparency in Public Schools: A Public Policy Problem?

Note: Transparency is how the public holds public entities accountable. By law (the Freedom of Information Law), many documents produced by public entities, like schools, must be provided to the public when requested. Citizens in the US are given the right of oversight of their governmental agencies.

Do public schools have a public policy problem?  Dr. Joel Reidenberg, of Fordham Law School, thinks they do.

When Fordham Law School released its recent report on Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools, problems with transparency in public schools were discovered. According to an article in The New York Times, 54 school districts across the US were asked for public information about how districts were handling the outsourcing of private student information. "...only 20 of 54 districts provided full documentation by the deadline... and "researchers said they encountered 'significant difficulty reaching any district personnel who were familiar with the district's outsourcing practices.'"

If district personnel are not familiar with their own outsourcing practices, how can they effectively protect student privacy in an era when so much private student information is being collected, shared, and stored? Well, the is answer is they can't. This problem exists across the country. NCPR recently aired an OnPoint segment on privacy. Potsdam resident and former Board of Education member Susie Rice called in to discuss the topic. She stated that data is the new currency. Data is valuable and data-mining is rampant. Thus, students must have their interests protected by the concerted efforts of parents, school officials, and lawmakers. 

The NY Times article noted that the South Orangetown Central School District in Blauvelt, NY "is conducting an audit to examine how its contracts cover the sharing and reuse of student data." Parents should ask their Board of Education to have such an audit conducted.

Transparency, by school districts, the State Education Dept., and vendors, about the use, reuse, and sharing of student data is vital if this public policy problem is to be addressed and students are to be protected.  

Student Privacy: Questions for Parents

What student privacy protection questions should parents (and interested community members) be asking of school officials? The Fordham Law Study (on cloud computing in K-12 public schools) and pending legislation in NYS provide a wake up call for parents and prompt the following observations and questions:

Questions for Parents to Pose to School Districts About Student Privacy and Parental Rights

  • Which school official(s) is highly knowledgeable about the contracts entered into by the school district (with third-party vendors) that pertain to the sharing of private student data? Many (possibly most) school officials have no employees who are knowledgeable about the contracts.
  •  Do the contractual provisions protect students and respect parental oversight rights? Two bills introduced in the NYS Assembly last year  (A07872A & A06059A) contain language to the effect that a form should be made available to allow parents (or eligible students 18 yrs. or older) to opt-out of the disclosure of personally identifiable student information and biometric records to a third party [unless such release is permissible under current law without permission]. Among other provisions: 1. student data must be under the direct control of the school district 2. security audits must be conducted annually by third-party vendors and the results must released to boards of education along with remediation plans 3. security breaches must be reported to school districts and the costs associated with security breaches must be paid by the third-party vendor 4. Finally,"The Department and District Boards of Education shall publicly and conspicuously disclose on their website and through annual electronic notification...the existence and character of any personally identifiable information from education records that they, directly or through contracts with outside parties, maintain. 5. Are there explicit prohibitions on the nonacademic use of student data that is being outsourced?
  • Is the school district transparent about student privacy protection and documents related to such? According to the Fordham Study, most school districts are opaque on the topic of student privacy, student data outsourcing, and the provisions of their contracts with outside vendors. 
  • What information has been outsourced on my child and us (the parents)? How do we see this data to verify accuracy and examine the scope of the data collection? Parents, for the most part, are being left out of the data collection and sharing practices of school districts.
  • Does the school district negotiate contract provisions (with third-party vendors) such that parental consent rights and student privacy rights are protected? Most school districts sign boilerplate contracts with vendors instead of negotiating contracts that protect student privacy and parental consent rights. For instance, do the contracts contain provisions....requiring parental consent for the sharing of their child's private data? permit parents to view the information about their child that is in the possession of third-party vendors?  require/permit the auditing of the vendor by the school district to ensure the student data is being used properly and deleted when appropriate? prohibit the re-selling or release of private student data to other vendors? 
  • Is student privacy protection a high priority for school officials? The Fordham Study reveals that private student data is not well-protected by school districts.