Sunday, September 14, 2014

Commissioner King and NYSED have failed to implement the new state law on student privacy

See below letter NYSAPE and Class Size Matters wrote to Commissioner King and the Regents about King's failure to implement the new privacy law, passed at the end of March as part of the budget.  

Not only has he missed the deadline for appointing a permanent Chief Privacy Officer, qualified for the job, but also for adopting a Parents bill of Rights, created through public input from parents among other stakeholders.  Instead the "interim" Parents Bill of Rights posted on the NYSED website mistates existing law by omitting key provisions in state and federal law, and provides an email address for parents complaining of breaches that goes unanswered.

Since we wrote this letter we have found additional federal privacy provisions  that are missing from the NYSED Parents Bill of Rights, including the right of parents whose children are using online programs at school to find out what personal student data is being collected, have that data deleted, and opt out of the online program if they so choose.  See this recent FTC guidance on COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Emailed Aug. 25, 2014, sent via snail mail September 12, 2014 

Dear Commissioner King and members of the New York State Board of Regents:

On behalf of New York State Allies for Public Education. a coalition of more than fifty parent and advocacy groups, and Class Size Matters, a parent advocacy group located in NYC, we write to you to state our concerns about the New York State Education Department’s failure to comply with key provisions of the 2014 state law regarding student data privacy and protection.

As you are aware, the budget bill that passed this spring contained many important provisions relating to student data privacy and security, including a halt to the State’s plan to share highly sensitive personally identifiable student data with inBloom, Inc.[i]  In addition, the new law required Commissioner King to appoint a Chief Privacy Officer (CPO).  According to this new law, it is the CPO who is charged with creating a Parents’ Bill of Rights for student data privacy and protection, as well as other important responsibilities.  

On April 29, 2014, a group of parent leaders and advocacy groups, including New York State Allies for Public Education, sent a letter to Commissioner King and the Board of Regents.[ii]  Among other things, this letter urged Commissioner King to appoint a well-qualified CPO, from outside the Department, well-versed in the issue of data privacy and security.  In addition, the letter urged that the CPO hold hearings throughout the State to hear stakeholder views on what the Parents’ Bill of Rights should include. 

Under the terms of the new law, the CPO appointed by NYSED must be qualified, through experience and/or training, in state and federal education privacy laws and regulations, civil liberties, information technology, and information security.  The law further requires that the CPO is to solicit feedback from parents and other stakeholder groups before putting forward a proposed Parents’ Bill of Rights.  That proposed Bill of Rights was then to be open for public comment before being adopted in its final form – all of this to occur no later than July 29, 2014.  In addition, the law requires every district to post the final Parents' Bill of Rights on its website, and to include it with every contract into which it enters with a third party vendor that receives student data.  That July deadline, however, has now long passed.

Shortly after posting an incomplete and deficient Parents’ Bill of Rights (as discussed below) on July 30, 2014, Commissioner King appointed Tina Sciocchetti, Esq., a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, to serve as interim Chief Privacy Officer.[iii]  Ms. Sciocchetti was already employed by NYSED as Director of Test Security and Educator Integrity, and there is nothing in her career or background to suggest that she meets the CPO qualifications and criteria specified in the law.  Moreover, given that Ms. Sciocchetti was appointed interim CPO after the current Parents’ Bill of Rights was posted, and the document reflects no input from parents and/or other stakeholders whatsoever, its legal validity is questionable.

As mentioned above, we are very concerned that the Parents’ Bill of Rights, as currently drafted and posted for school districts to use, is incomplete and has several serious mistakes in it.[iv]  For example, it fails to state that NYSED is under a legal obligation, both pursuant to 34 C.F.R. § 99.10(b) of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and pursuant to section 95 of the New York Personal Privacy Protection Law (PPPL), to afford parents the right to review all personally identifiable data that the State holds for their children, and to afford them the opportunity to correct such data, if necessary.

Moreover, the new law delineates specific minimum security protocols that must be followed by any third party contractor that receives student, teacher, or principal data from an educational agency.  The law specifically states that third party contractors must use “encryption technology to protect data while in motion or in its custody from unauthorized disclosure using a technology or methodology specified by the Secretary of the United States Department of Health And Human Services in guidance issued under Section 13402(H)(2) of Public Law 111-5, and that such protocols (as well as a host of additional information) must be incorporated into the Parents’ Bill of Rights.  

Instead, the current Parents’ Bill of Rights provides the far less rigorous requirement that third party contractors must merely “use encryption technology to protect data while in motion or in its custody from unauthorized disclosure.”  Finally, the Bill of Rights states that parent complaints about possible breaches should be sent to, yet emails to this address go unanswered.

We respectfully request that NYSED correct these errors and omissions immediately, direct school districts and educational agencies to post the full provisions of law on their websites, and that NYSED and all educational agencies fully comply with the minimum security protocol requirements.   A recent audit from the NY State Comptroller found that employees in six districts had inappropriate access to sensitive student data.[v]  A report from the Attorney General’s office pointed out that reported data breaches in New York have more than tripled between 2006 and 2013, with an astounding 22 million personal records exposed.  A large number of breaches were reported by education institutions.[vi]  We can no longer risk this fate for our vulnerable children.   

We further urge Commissioner King to act with speed to appoint a well-qualified CPO who meets the criteria set forth in the legislation.   As clearly required by law, once a qualified individual is appointed, he or she must then solicit the input of parents and other stakeholders to help develop “additional elements of the parents bill of rights” before it is released for public comment and put into final form.  In addition, the CPO, along with Commissioner King, is required to promulgate regulations that establish standards to govern educational agencies’ data security and privacy policies, and to develop one or more model policies for them to use.  

We request that the CPO, once appointed, hold hearings throughout the State for the purpose of gaining input from parents, district officials, educators, and other stakeholders vis-à-vis the Parents’ Bill of Rights.  After this occurs, the proposed Bill of Rights should be drafted and made publicly available during a 45-day period of public comment, pursuant to proper notice, during which time interested parties would be allowed to submit comments online, to be posted by NYSED and answered by the CPO.

No doubt school districts, in preparation for the 2014-15 school year, have already engaged third-party contractors who will receive – or who have already received -- a wealth of personally identifiable student data.  Nevertheless, New York State continues to lack sufficient student data privacy and security protections for its millions of public school students, and has failed to provide timely proper and sufficient guidance to school districts that endeavor to do so.  This must change. 

Finally, we urge you to ensure that the State Longitudinal Student Database is developed with the utmost attention to student data privacy and security, and that an advisory body of stakeholders be appointed to oversee it. 

We thank you in advance for your attention to these matters and look forward to your response.

Very truly yours, 
Deborah Abramson Brooks,  Lisa Rudley, Anna Shah, & Allison White on behalf of New York State Allies for Public Education and Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

[i] The student privacy components of the legislation are at, beginning in Part AA, Subpart K Section 1, and thereafter throughout Subpart L. 

[ii] The letter is posted at

iii Gary Stern, “New York posts 'bill of rights' to protect student data,” Westchester County Jou­­­­­rnal News, July 30, 2014.
iv NYSED’s Parents’ Bill of Rights is posted at
v Office of the New York State Comptroller, “Access Controls over Student Information Systems,” August, 2014.

vi Office of the New York State Attorney General, “Information Exposed: Historical Examination of Data Breaches in New York State,” July 14, 2014.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Egregious distortions in NYT article on Success Charters, say parents, teachers & journalist

This Sunday’s NY Times featured an outrageously one-sided article on Success charters.  It is not the first.  One remembers the Steve Brill article from 2010 on Harlem Success Academy which was so similar in tone that I had to keep checking to see that this was not the exact same piece.

The Brill article was replete with many factual errors – claiming that the high-performing students at Success charters were exactly like those as the public schools with which it shared space, even though that was a clear falsehood that any reporter or editor could have checked if they had bothered to look at the data.  This time, the reporter Daniel Bergner admitted that the type of students enrolled may be different, writing in an offhand manner:

On the topic of scores, the U.F.T. and Ravitch insist that Moskowitz’s numbers don’t hold up under scrutiny. Success Academy (like all charters), they say, possesses a demographic advantage over regular public schools, by serving somewhat fewer students with special needs, by teaching fewer students from the city’s most severely dysfunctional families and by using suspensions to push out underperforming students (an accusation that Success Academy vehemently denies). …. But even taking these differences into account probably doesn’t come close to explaining away Success Academy’s results.

Though he mentions that critics cite demographic differences, he doesn’t bother to report the data himself and discounts their impact.  He completely brushes off the higher suspension rates, by saying that Success denies it, but these are well-documented and a Legal Aid attorney argues their practice is illegal. Even the SUNY charter institute, a creature of  the charter lobby, has criticized Success Academy suspensions in documents available online – none of which the reporter mentions, because it is only “critics” who claim their reality.

Bergner only quotes two critics: UFT head Michael Mulgrew (who he depicts as self-interested) and Diane Ravitch, though he left out most of what she said.   At the Huffington Post, Diane Ravitch points out that she told him the following – all left out of his article:

The only Success Academy school that has fully grown to grades 3-8 tested 116 3rd graders but only 32 8th graders. Three other Success Academy schools have grown to 6th grade. One tested 121 3rd graders but only 55 6th graders, another 106 3rd graders but only 68 6th graders, and the last 83 3rd graders but only 54 6th graders. Why the shrinking student body? When students left the school, they were not replaced by other incoming students. When the eighth grade students who scored well on the state test took the admissions test for the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, not one of them passed the test.

I also told Bergner that Success Academy charters have among the highest rates of teacher turnover every year, which would not happen if teachers enjoyed the work. Helen Zelon wrote in "City Limits": "In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed." I also told Bergner about a website called Glass Door, where many former teachers at SA charters expressed their candid views about an "oppressive" work climate at the school. As more of these negative reviews were posted, a new crop of favorable reviews were added, echoing the chain's happy talk but not shedding light on why teachers don't last long there. … He did not think it mattered that none of her successful eighth grade students was able to pass the test for the specialized high schools, and he didn’t mention it in the article. Nor was he interested in teacher turnover or anything else that might reflect negatively on SA charters.

Not only did the reporter ignore all this negative evidence, he even misquoted her, which Diane had to correct when the editor called her to check:

"For example, he quoted me defending “large government-run institutions,” when what I said was “public schools.” He was using SA’s framing of my views.”

This phraseology “large government run institutions” is a dead giveaway of the reporter’s strong biases: it not just the charter lobby’s framing, it comes right of conservative talking points.  Public schools are described this way by Rick Santorum and the like, rhetoric designed to convince people to oppose them.

Other signs of the purposeful distortions and omissions in this article are when Bergner claims that de Blasio inexplicably opposed the expansion of Harlem Success 1 at PS 149.

Actually, the explanation de Blasio provided was clear – that the charter’s expansion would necessitate the displacement of 20 percent of the severely disabled students at the Mickey Mantle school in the same building.  Clearly Bergner knew this as he interviewed Mindy Rosier and other teachers at this school; as Rosier explains in a comment to the article:

“I did not bash Moskowitz, but what I did tell him as a teacher in a co-located school with her, all the things that has happened in the last 8 years. I told him story after story. All verifiable but unfortunately hidden from the general public. He made points about deBlasio denying her space though he did not truthfully tell you all why. Moskowitz wanted to expand in a building with no free space. Her expansion would have kicked out a special needs school. Over 100 special needs students from the Harlem community and surrounding areas. deBlasio was trying to save that school and he said several times that he did NOT want those students displaced. …Those $6 million ads were basically supporting a special needs school to be kicked out of its own space for her expansion. “

Nor did Bergner quote a single public school parent.  He repeats the canard that Moskowitz always proclaims, repeated without evidence by Steve Brill and other propagandists, that the opposition to Success expansion was driven entirely by the UFT – here’s his quote:

… almost always the proposed arrival of a Success Academy has met with hostility: union members bused in by the U.F.T. to pack community meetings, people heckling and spitting at Moskowitz….

I have attended many public hearings but I have never seen anyone spit at Moskowitz; in fact she rarely shows up for them.  And there is no need for the UFT to provide busing to “pack community meetings.” Anyone who talked to any public school parents or attended any co-location hearings or read the extensive public comments online at the DOE website would know that nothing provokes more fury among parents than the prospect of co-located schools, exiling their children from their classrooms, their art rooms, their science labs and gyms.  Not to mention huge anger from former Success parents, whose children have been pushed out of her schools.

From Noah Gotbaum, parent leader in District 3 where many of Moskowitz’ charters are located:

“Bergner also had information from current and former Success parents about the winnowing and forcing out of low performing students.  Also of Moskowitz's "banning" of parents and suspension of students who in any way question the administration and a general disaffection by current parents.  He just chose not to use it.

A few weeks ago I spoke with him and suggested people for him to speak with including public school parent leaders - who have led the charge against the Success colocations. He told me that he needed to finish the piece and already had had "long interviews with 50 supporters and critics".   Seeing this piece it's now worth asking who are those critics (besides Diane and Mulgrew) and why didn't he include their voices or any of the info they provided?

The Times should be skewered for this.  But they won't be.”

Nor did the reporter bother to investigate how overcrowded our schools already are.  Instead he writes:

“The public schools — with the United Federation of Teachers spurring the fight — have protested that sharing space causes overcrowding, though in theory charters have moved in only where enough rooms were available.”

This is completely untrue.  In fact, nearly half of the recent co-locations pushed through by Bloomberg, including Harlem Success academy co-location, would have put the school building above 100% capacity, according to the DOE formula – a formula, by the way, that most experts believe understates the actual level of overcrowding in our schools.

Below are comments from Gretchen Mergenthaler, a public school parent in Washington Heights:

“I am tired of the focus in the media on Eva and deBlasio and I am tired of Eva's expensive advertising campaign.

In my district, District 6, the CEC (parents elected by parents) passed a resolution saying that District 6 did not want more charters but wanted more support for our existing schools so they could expand, provide more enrichment, smaller class size and better teacher support. But Eva got what she wanted: a free building in our district. Our kids are in trailers while Eva gets a new building.

The CEC was not consulted about the imposition of an SA in our district (no big surprise). The community was not consulted!! SA paid people to hand out applications to make it appear as if there were demand.

I have not met one CEC president who has said that they want more charters. I was told by a CEC president that at the citywide CEC presidents meetings with Chancellor Fariña, no one has ever asked for more charters. NO ONE.

The NYT should be covering the real story.”

The following is from Gail Robinson, an experienced editor formerly at Gotham Gazette, now a freelance reporter for InsideSchools and City Limits:

"This article would have been less flawed/irritating if it did not claim to be a discussion of the battle over NYC schools. What it really is a puffy profile of Eva.
But it's disconcerting that the reporter (if one can call him that) did not attempt to verify anything independently. Figures on attrition of staff and students are a few clicks away on the NYS education department site, as are statistics on number of English language earners and students with special needs in any school.

The author did not seem to have visited many/any co-located schools or bothered to investigate the specific reasons Carmen Farina originally rejected the three proposed co-locations last school year. He also did not say that some other charter operators co-locate in a more cooperative spirit and that relations between co-located schools can be harmonious if the adults try to make it that way.
Finally the writer did not look at how much money Success Academy has. The recruiting efforts and many of the special features (technology, a special room for blocks at the Williamsburg school, a trip to Albany for all students, etc.) are beyond the budgets of many public schools, which do not get the kind of donations Success does. Parent, naturally, are delighted by those frills -- and few care where the money comes from as long as their child benefits. That's understandable. But that fact cannot be ignored in any kind of policy discussion. If regular district schools had the resources some charters do, what could those schools do?

There are lots of bad writers and reporters out there but I wonder what is going on at the NYT when it seems to require less of its writers than I do of my high school journalism students.”

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Welcome back, parents (and teachers), and please let us know what your child's class sizes are this year

Dear parents:

Welcome back to another school year; I hope you all had a great summer.  There is one big and potentially great addition to our schools this fall – expanded preK.  Unfortunately we expect the damaging trend in K-12 to likely continue:  larger classes, and even more school overcrowding.

Last week, the results of the DOE school surveys were released, and for the 8th year in a row, smaller classes were the top priority of NYC public school parents.  Yet class sizes have risen for 8 years, and many principals and teachers have told us they were hit with unexpected budget cuts over the summer, forcing them to let go of teachers and increase class size yet again.

We are still looking into why these budget cuts occurred - but meanwhile, we have posted a 5 min. survey for parents and educators to take here.   All responses will remain anonymous unless you indicate otherwise; please parents, also forward this survey to your child’s teachers and principal. If you don’t know your children’s class sizes, please count the roster, or if they’re older, ask them to count heads themselves, and/or ask their teachers.  Most teachers will be happy to let you know.

About a week ago,  parents at PS 85 in Queens emailed the Chancellor and complained that the DOE was forcing their 2nd grade class sizes to increase to 35-36 students per class.  They copied me and I posted the letter from the PTA co-chair on our blog.  The next day the Chancellor announced she had reversed the decision, and was authorizing the hiring of another teacher to reduce class sizes to 24.

Note:  You can achieve improvements if you can organize other parents in your school and especially if you have your principal on your side. If you too are experiencing such an egregious situation, with outrageous class size increases, especially if they clearly violate the union contract, let me know asap at  Here are the UFT class size limits.

Sadly, the union class size limits are far too large and have not been lowered in forty years, despite the wealth of research evidence since about the critical importance of small classes.  And we really need a citywide school improvement plan; NYC children will never receive their right to a quality education solely on the efforts of parents at individual schools.

Nevertheless, here is a Parent Toolkit we have put together that you can use to organize other parents on the issue of class size, or any other issue you think important.  It has some basic strategies you can use to push for positive change in your schools, and some parents have told me they found it very helpful.