Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chief Information Officers (CIO's) Role in Public Schools

According to the article "Protecting student data in the age of marketing and advertising," District Administration 2014,  school districts need well-informed CIO's in order to protect students. See:

The writer notes:
  1. "District CIO's need to have a complete understanding of a district's legal obligations to protect student data as more information is stored with online, third-party providers and parents' privacy concerns reach new heights..." (How well-informed is your district's CIO? Are Boards and superintendents ensuring the CIO's have this "complete understanding" alluded to by technology experts? Is this topic being discussed publicly by Boards of Education?)
  2. "CIO's and technology staff need to understand what questions to ask vendors before storing information in the cloud." (What are these questions? Do your school district officials and tech staff know them? The answers to the questions are as important as the questions themselves. Can the public find these questions and answers on school district websites?)

Listen to Tom Burns on the Common Core State Standards

Tom Burns, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES superintendent, recently visited the studio at WCKN to discuss the Common Core State Standards as part of North Country Matters.  The Common Core has become controversial and Mr. Burns explains why he supports these more rigorous standards and explains the misconceptions surrounding them.

Take a listen as Donna Seymour (AAUW/LWV) and Ann Carvill (Education Blogger) discuss the CCSS with Supt. Burns.


Thanks to Donna Seymour, Prof. Dan Dullea, and the Clarkson University students at WCKN for making this available to the public. Additional thanks to Mr. Burns for his participation.

Autism Center at PCS: Some Facts

Potsdam Central officials have decided to convert the former daycare building (now owned by the district) into a BOCES autism center. After twenty years of daycare use, the building needs to be renovated and converted into a space suitable for such a center.

While this renovations project was going to be voted upon this month, State Education officials have temporarily pulled the plug. Their concern centers around having such students placed in a campus building that is separate from the K-8 building and the high school building - in other words, seemingly isolated from other students. The BOCES and PCS superintendents are appealing the decision and, obviously, are looking for SED approval.

In the meantime, it is worth noting some facts about the proposed renovations project:

  • Renovations Cost:    $350,000
  • Interest Cost:             $118,000
  • Total Cost:                 $468,465
  • State Aid:                   $397,850 
  • Local Share:              $ 70,615
  • Rent/year                  $ 68,000/year  (which increases 3%/year)
  • Rent over 10 years     $700,000 (estimated)
  • Cost of Custodian       $300,000 (est. over 10 years)
  • Bonding Period:         15 years 
  • Proposed Occupancy Date: Sept. 2014
Since the bonding period would be for 15 years and the lease period would be for 10 years, consider the following:
  1. Since school districts, by law, can engage in 10-year leases - as a maximum term, less, of course, is permissible - (a second 10-year lease can be agreed to when the first ends). PCS BOE member Rachel Wallace asked what could occur if BOCES decided not to sign for a second 10-year lease. She was told that there would be very little owed by that time so it would not be a financial problem for the district. 
  2. Since the lease permits BOCES to end the lease with 120 days notice, another question would be, what is the financial risk to the PCSD if BOCES decided, for some reason, to opt out after a year? Two years? 120 days?
  3. $350K is a small amount of money in an approximate $28M PCS budget. Why bond it over 15 years instead of over the proposed 10-years of the lease?
  4. If BOCES opted out, for some reason, would NYS still give the same state aid ratio on a building that is not occupied or is not used for classroom purposes? 

The Feds Weigh in on Student Privacy

An attorney for the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) recently summarized the new federal guidelines about student privacy.

The following are just some recommendations to school districts from  the federal government as reported by NYSSBA:
  • "Consider the appropriateness of parental consent even when FERPA does not require such consent." (It is refreshing to read about the importance of keeping parents in the loop especially given the extent to which their rights and role have been ignored.)
  • "Be as transparent as possible with parents and students about how the district collects, shares, protects, and uses student data, as well as the type of information collected when students use online educational services..." (How transparent is your school district? Can you go to the district's website and easily access information about student privacy laws like FERPA and COPPA? About contracts district officials have signed that involve the sharing, storage, deletion of private student information? About the scope of student privacy training required of district employees? About pending NYS legislation pertinent to student privacy issues?) 
  • "Adopt  and enforce policies for evaluating and approving online educational services..." [Emphasis added] (Are your school board members adopting and enforcing such policies?)
Like never before in history, technology now enables the collection and sharing of enormous amounts of private student information. Who can be counted on to be most committed to protecting students' privacy interests? Parents - whose Achilles' heel is that they have limitations in their ability to organize. 

School officials who are willing to sacrifice or risk student privacy in exchange for the purported benefits of sharing vast troves of private student information have their priorities misplaced. Where do your school officials stand on the matter?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Victory for Student Privacy

Governor Cuomo appointed a panel to advise him about what should be done regarding the Common Core (CCSS) implementation - which most agree has been a disaster. The summarized the recommendations.

"Among the panel's recommendations are halting New York's relationship with inBloom, a data storage nonprofit that has drawn the ire of parents distrustful that the data collected on their children's lives and academic performance will be protected."

The other recommendations:
  1. Protect Students from Inappropriate High-Stakes Testing
  2. Provide Better Support from Parents and Teachers
  3. Improve Public Trust in Common Core Implementation
  4. Protect Student Privacy
It's nice to see there may be hope for a victory for student privacy, for protecting students against too much testing, and for giving a central role to parents who, to this point, have been ignored. However, there will be no victory until the recommendation are acted upon.

To read more specifics about the recommendations, go to:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are NYS's 3-8 Tests Valid?

It's been widely reported that the College Board decided to revamp the SATs and is partnering with Khan Academy wherein Khan Academy will provide free online test-prep tutorials.

What is really interesting, though, is that the validity of the SAT is really being called into question. Does this test really serve as an effective predictor of likely success in college? Many believe the SAT does not.. The essay part of the test is of particular interest. Apparently, the students who wrote the most, received higher scores. Quantity over quality. Some students decided to make up facts, book titles, quotations, characters, etc. The essays were not fact-checked. So much for test validity.

In addition, I am sure that those with neater handwriting received better scores and since females often have neater handwriting, I believe females - as a group - probably received higher grades than males on the essay section of the test. Whether this likely bias in favor of one gender was examined by the College Board, I do not know. However, what the proposed  SAT changes prompts us to question is the validity of the SAT and of tests in general.

NYSED has mandated math and English (ELA) tests for for students in grades 3-8. Students are sitting for three 2-hour sessions one week and the same the following week. As a former English & reading teacher who worked with students in grades 3-12, I am astonished that anyone believes six hours of testing in ELA is needed to ascertain skill levels. Many have complained about the quality of these tests. What is unacceptable is that students, and their teachers and parents, are not permitted to prepare for upcoming tests by examining tests given in the past. NYSED permits high schoolers to review past Regents Examinations but the same benefit is not being given to elementary and middle school students. Why?

These 3-8 tests are being used to determine student learning levels and teacher competence. If The College Board (makers of the SAT's), after all these years, are publicly discussing the inadequacies in (and thus validity of) the SATs, maybe it's time for parents and school leaders to demand that the validity and age-appropriateness of the 3-8 tests be examined asap. Let's not wait for Pearson, like The College Board, to tell us - years after the fact - that its tests (and the grading of them) are flawed and  need to be changed and improved. And, maybe it's also time for parents to be able to opt-out altogether.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Privacy & Data Mining Show on North Country Matters

Privacy and data mining are the topics discussed on the most recent segment of North Country Matters. Moderated by Donna Seymour (AAUW and LWV) the guests were Clarkson University professor Dan Dullea and CU senior Hannah Marchitell. While Dan discussed privacy in a broad sense, Hannah focused on the college student, young adult perspective. Both shared facts and insights. To see the show just click on:

The talented students in Prof. Dullea's communications class at Clarkson's WCKN studio recorded the episode.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What's up with the Common Core?

If you're interested in finding out the latest news about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Tom Burns, BOCES superintendent, will be interviewed on Friday, March 7th on this very topic.

Much has transpired lately with the Governor, the Commissioner, the legislature,  the Regents, parents, and teachers all weighing in on the topic. It can be hard to keep up-to-date on the latest news so be sure to check out Mr. Burns' interview - which will be available on You Tube shortly after taping.

The interview is made available by North Country Matters - a local video public affairs magazine produced at WCKN under the leadership of Dan Dullea and Donna Seymour.