Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Update on Regents exams, state budget, Zoom and student privacy

1.First, some good news to report:The Board of Regents announced yesterday that the Regents exams due to take place this spring are cancelled. Today they put out guidance that any student who would have originally needed to pass a Regents exam to graduate in June can be issued a diploma without taking them. More details in this FAQ. Thanks to those of you who sent one of the 400 plus letters to the Regents and Commissioner about this; a Regents member mentioned receiving your letters at their meeting yesterday.

2.There's also bad news. The state budget passed last week & froze school spending at this year’s level, without raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy; given rising costs and salaries this will be experienced by many districts including NYC as cuts. The Governor was also given the authority to slash education spending further over the course of the year, depending on state revenue– though the Legislature will be able block proposed cuts with a vote within ten days.

If you’d like to see how your legislators voted on the budget, you can check out the Senate here and the Assembly here, where the vote was especially close. More on what this budget means for education compared to the outcomes that many advocates and parents hoped for is outlined in this helpful chart from AQE .

We will all have to work hard to see that the city doesn’t follow the state’s lead by drastically cutting back on its own support for education. School services and especially class sizes have STILL not yet recovered from the economic recession in 2008, more than a decade ago. It would be devastating to NYC kids for class sizes to grow even larger.

3.Late on Friday, the Chancellor announced that schools should stop using the video conferencing tool Zoom as it doesn’t comply with state student privacy law, which was passed in 2014, and it puts children’s safety and their personal data at risk in numerous ways. As this document released by the regional BOCES shows, state administrators are now in the process of negotiating a contract with Zoom that would protect student privacy, as required by the NY state law.

Other districts including Washington DC and Las Vegas have also told teachers not to use Zoom, because of similar concerns, and last July, EPIC filed a 22 page complaint to the FTC about Zoom’s practices, including how the company had "exposed users to the risk of remote surveillance, unwanted video calls, and denial-of-service attack." I understand the frustration of teachers and parents who were getting used to Zoom and wanted to continue using it, but there is no excuse for continuing to violate the law and putting kids’ personal data and safety at risk.

As I said to Education Week , the Chancellor should “negotiate a contract with Zoom that complies with state law and protects student privacy, and train teachers on how to use this app and other apps in a more responsible manner." The state regs require all districts to do such privacy trainings; I have yet to hear from a single NYC teacher who has been provided with any such guidance. There also has needs to be vigorous oversight by both DOE and the state to ensure that Zoom and other companies are abiding by their contracts and the law – such enforcement is too often lacking.

I will be providing more resources about student privacy that often is ignored by districts, especially now in the rush to adopt commercially-designed online programs. I will also be reaching out to see which online programs and apps your children’s schools are using, and what your thoughts are about the risks and rewards involved.

Hope you’re all bearing up and staying safe during these unprecedented times, Leonie

This Wednesday on "Talk out of School" with Mark Cannizzaro

Join us on Wednesday, April 8 from 10-11AM on WBAI 99.5 FM or at WBAI.org for "Talk out of School" where I will talk to Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, about what's happening with remote learning, cancellation of spring break and use of Zoom, DOE refusal to release mortality rate, what should happen with student grades, tenure decisions, and more!

Please also call in with your questions at 212-209-2877.

Listen to previous episodes of "Talk out of School" here, or wherever you get your podcasts!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Jeanette Deutermann on the one word everyone needs to remember right now

The following is from a Facebook post of Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt Out and co-founder of NYSAPE.  It's reprinted here with her permission.

All of our Facebook feeds are filled with posts of parents furious with teachers giving too much work, too little work, teachers furious about kids not logging on, kids sleeping in, and kids not completing the work. I want to implore everyone to keep one word in the front of their brains right now: EMPATHY. We all like to think we have empathy for others, but now is the time to prove it. 
For parents: if you think a teacher is assigning too much work, just realize - some teachers are untenured with chairpeople scrutinizing each and every assignment. Some are getting nasty emails from parents demanding more work. Some just are unaware of how long it is taking students to complete their work. Communicate with them. Most teachers will respond “no problem! Just do what you can!”.
If you think a teacher isn’t assigning enough work, just realize- maybe the teacher is sick themselves. Maybe they are trying to lighten the load for the student. Maybe they have three kids of their own that they are dealing with. Maybe they are dealing with the loss of someone they love. Just today I heard of a teacher who lost both parents to the virus but has continued to work putting out assignments. Assume everyone is doing the best they can. Communicate. 
Teachers: if you think a student is being lazy or not taking responsibility for not completing work, just realize - maybe the student has to help taking care of siblings. Maybe the student is sick themselves. Maybe the student is struggling with mental health issues that are now exacerbated by this issue. Maybe they are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Maybe it’s something as simple as sharing computers and devices with family members. Or maybe it’s more complicated. Are some just refusing to do work? Maybe, but most likely there is something else going on. Students that were in therapy before this started now have to have phone therapy or none at all. For some, being in school WAS their safe space. Kids that were active and on sports now have no access even to most fields to run around or exercise. For many, their home is a stressful environment. That is only going to increase tenfold now. Sleep issues are escalating for both kids and parents, so waking up early isn’t possible, reasonable, or healthy for many. 
My advice to everyone: HAVE EMPATHY. No one truly knows what is happening in each other’s lives. WE’RE ALL DOING THE BEST WE CAN. Stop tearing each other down and lower your expectations. For some their best will be a full day of homeschooling, board games and a home cooked meal. For others it will be surviving the day. Both are normal, both are acceptable. Breathe, take care of each other, and realize that these are the little things. Let’s come out of this proud of how we treated each other. #crisisschooling

Jeanette Deutermann
The Printed Pillow
Author, Opting Out-The Story of the Parents' Grassroots Movement to Achieve Whole-Child Public Schools jeanettedeutermann.com 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Tell the NY State Education Commissioner: cancel the Regents exams now!

Please send a letter to the State Education Commissioner and the Board of Regents, demanding that they cancel the Regents exams immediately. It is simply unfair to require students to pass a series of high-stakes exams to graduate from high school given that their education has been hugely disrupted by the school shutdowns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Most NY state assessments have already been suspended in light of the COVID-19 school shutdowns, and it is clear that schools will continue to be closed for weeks, if not months. These school closures have left many students at a severe disadvantage. You can send them a letter by clicking here.

Why has DOE cancelled all professional development when teachers need it now, more than ever?

The following was written by John Craven, Associate Professor at Fordham University.  I would add that NYC teachers need training in student data privacy as well, more than ever before, which is required by NY State law.  But I haven't heard of any who have gotten it.  Please comment below if you have. -- LH

In the past few days, the NYCDOE Chancellor cancelled all non-essential activities for teachers including professional development for staff (i.e. teachers) provided by vendors to DOE employees.  My position is that the policy is a huge mistake coming at the worst time.

As I write, teachers are struggling with profound questions such as “How do I teach mathematics through ZOOM?”, “How can I make digital materials accessible to all my students including my English Language Learners and students with special needs?”, “How can I integrate seemingly disparate streams of information into a coherent experience for students?” or “What do I do if I don’t have a my document camera or smartboard while teaching from home?”.  Owing to the Chancellor’s new policy, the struggle to answer these and many, many more questions are unnecessarily compounding the tremendous workload confronting teachers today. 

Indeed, teachers today are anxiously seeking the professional development and support systems from service providers such as instructional coaches and many are telling me that they are devastated by the loss of their supports.

I would encourage the Chancellor to reconsider the removal of critical investments for the teachers in New York City Public Schools.  Imagining how the largest school district in the nation can successfully transition from historical methods of teaching over 1.1 million children to entirely remote learning environments in less than two weeks without providing the most basic strategic support systems is inconceivable to me.  Furthermore, I would never characterize the critical relationships between teachers and their instructional coaches and other service providers as “non-essential.”

--John Craven

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My Interview with AFT President Randi Weingarten

This morning on my WBAI radio show, "Talk out of School",  I spoke to Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, about what’s happening to schools, teachers and families during the coronavirus crisis, and Randi’s proposal that students should be engaging in completing a meaningful “capstone” project.

A link to her essay describing her idea in more detail is below. 

We also discussed the threat to schools from looming budget cuts, the risk to student privacy by the rapid adoption of unvetted ed tech programs, the Governor’s elimination of spring break in New York state, and more.  You can download the episode here.

Some of the resources that we mentioned are below.

AFT links:
Randi Weingarten’s essay,  On how teachers and students should cap this unprecedented school year
Share My Lesson with teacher resources.
ColorĂ­n Colorado! A bilingual site for educators and families of English language learners

Privacy links:
The Educator Toolkit for Student and Teacher Privacy – written by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and Badass Teachers Association (with support from the AFT )
The ACLU recommendations on what should be demanded of ed tech companies at this critical time
Advice to parents from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy on maximizing privacy and minimizing screen time
A model privacy-protective Google contract negotiated by  NYS administrators  that other districts could adopt

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A model Google contract that has strong student privacy protections

Slightly modified from Parent Coalition for Student Privacy blog.

We have received many questions from parents and teachers over the last few weeks concerned about the privacy practices and policies of the various ed tech tools and programs being adopted hurriedly by schools and districts in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. One of the most widely used programs, even before many schools were shut down, was Google classroom or G-suite.

We just received a copy of the model G-suite contract that upstate NY administrators negotiated this fall with Google that complies with NY State's student privacy law, Education § 2-d. Because of the relative strength of this law, New York state received a B-, the second highest grade of any state in our state privacy report card, .

Parents in NYC and elsewhere in the state should ask their districts for a copy of their contract with Google Suite to see if it includes the same or similar privacy-protective provisions. If not, ask why, and whether their district can't simply opt into this one.

If your NY district refuses to make available the contract upon request, you should remind them that they are required to post all contracts online that allow for the disclosure of student data, according the regulations promulgated by NY State Education Department in January.

BOCES model contract with Google – G Suite 19-20 

BOCES district Opt-In – Erie1 9.3.19

Monday, March 30, 2020

Special guest on Wednesday's "Talk out of School" - Randi Weingarten of the AFT

Join us on Wednesday from 10-11AM on WBAI 99.5 FM or at WBAI.org for "Talk out of School" when I'll interview Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers,  about what schools should and should not be trying to do during the time of coronavirus, and how to prevent remote instruction from overstretching and over stressing the capabilities of teachers and families.  Also, how the crisis threatens to lead to more education cuts, to further undermine student privacy and more.  

Please also call in with your questions at 212-209-2877.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Please help us stop looming budget cuts to schools!

NY Governor Cuomo has signaled that he is preparing to make huge cuts in the education budget for next year and will be successful unless the State Legislature stands in his way.   The deadline on finalizing the state budget is supposed to happen this Tuesday by midnight.

Please send a message to your state legislators now, NOT to cut vital education funding, as the state can raise revenue in a variety of ways:  by increasing taxes on ultra-wealthy individuals, by taxing the carried interest income of hedge funders the same as regular income, and imposing sales taxes on the purchase of yachts and private planes, without hurting our students and schools.

In most districts, schools haven’t even recovered from the 2008 recession in terms of the loss of services and increases in class size — they can’t afford to lose even more ground.  The evidence does not support the claim that this will cause millionaires and billionaires to move out of state.

 Just click here to send a message; feel free to revise it any way you like by adding your own thoughts.

How Pearson's revision of the EdTPA teacher certification process will create inequities for teachers being trained in districts with poor students by John Elfrank-Dana

Important update!  The NY State Education Dept. just released guidance for educator preparation programs (EPPs) that if their teaching candidates are unable to complete their school clinical experience due to issues related to COVID-19, they can develop and file  plans outlining  alternative models of clinical experiences.

In order for NY teachers to get certification to teach, they have to produce a performance portfolio, called an EdTPA (Education Teacher Performance Assessment) administered by Pearson, an for-profit corporation who his handing the administration of this exam across the country. They charge the student teachers $300 to process their EdTPA.
Since the closure of schools throughout the states, these teacher candidates cannot complete their EdTPA in the normal way, that is via teaching lessons in the classroom, videoing some of the lessons to submit along with extended responses to questions in the assessment. Now, Pearson has said that under these novel circumstances, that student teachers may submit evidence of teaching practice via social media of their schools’ platform that links students at home with their teacher, that show video recordings of teachers engaging students in online live and asynchronous activities from home that address the standards in the EdTPA rubrics. 
This modification by Pearson presupposes these schools and districts, let alone the students, have access to high speed internet with relatively new laptops with web cams and their district a subscription to services like Google Classroom to provide the platform, which many do not. We have heard of the “digital divide”, the fact that many are not able to participate in the social media, Web 2.0, virtual world. That is still with us, as is evidenced by the need of NYC to hand out hundreds of thousands of devices (tablets and laptops) to students who do not have access. Add to that reports from some of my student teachers in NYC and Poughkeepsie that they are told by the mentor teachers in those districts that transitioning to online is not possible. Either the teachers were never trained on how to do online education and/or the districts schools and students lack the means available to do so. 
So, student teachers are short-changed if they teach poorer students, not to mention their students who will miss out on continuing their studies. Some schools resort to sending home packets for students to complete, which are so basic they don’t qualify as educationally engaging enough for EdTPA submission.
What should happen is that student teachers be given temporary certification for 1 year to complete their EdTPA in the fall and spring when they are in their own classes. Perhaps Pearson is concerned about cash flow and are not included in the bailout scheme. But, the current solution will leave many behind who are on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.

John Elfrank-Dana,  Adjunct Lecturer/Field Supervisor
Department of Curriculum & Teaching
Hunter College of the City University of New York

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

You can download our "Talk out of School" podcast on standardized testing now!

Update:  You can now download this show as a podcast here.  It's my first one done through an app communicating remotely from home to the WBAI studio, so I was a bit nervous, but Akil Bello was great!

Please join us tomorrow Wed. March 25 at 10 AM for "Talk out of School" with Akil Bello of FairTest  on WBAI-FM 99.5 when we'll talk about what's happening with standardized testing during the period of schools being shut down and remote learning -- both here in NYC and nationally -- and what should happen with high-stakes testing in general.

And please call in with your questions and concerns!


Monday, March 23, 2020

Some advice and guidance for the week ahead

March 22, 2020

Dear all:
  • A lot of news to catch up on.  Tomorrow starts remote learning for NYC public school students.  If you don’t have an online device, the Chancellor said on Friday that you can pick up written packets of suggested homework at the 400 school sites distributing food.  [UPDATE: apparently these packets are not yet available — as I learned after sending this message.]  If you need a device, you can fill out this form or call 718-935-5100 and then press  #5.  But be aware that for many kids, paper and pencil works better anyway.  Here is also the link for the Regional Enrollment Centers which will be providing child care for health care and transit workers, as well as first responders
  • Here is a Parents Guide on how to set up Google classroom, available in several languages.  The ASD Nest support group at NYU has also provided advice, primarily meant for Autistic spectrum kids in how to establish a calm and focused learning environment, but this could be beneficial for any child. Here is some basic guidance from my Parent Coalition for Student Privacy on how to retain maximum privacy and minimizing screen time while doing so.
  • Encourage your child to read books! If you don’t have enough physical books at home, you can sign up for a library card here and download books for free on an ipad or kindle. Just log into https://nypl.org and log into the catalog. If you don’t have a card, download SimplyE on iTunes or Google Play.
  •  Don’t force yourself or your kids to focus on academics too much.  Check out this great piece in the NYT by an educator; or the wise counsel of Audrey Watters on my Talk out of School podcast, which also featured Jasmine Gripper of AQE on the state education budget and CM Mark Treyger on next steps for NYC schools.  See also this terrific letter from CSA President Mark Cannizzaro to principals.
  •  FYI, the NY State Education  has now wisely cancelled most all state-mandated tests.  Next Wed. at 10 AM on WBAI-FM 99.5 we will interview Akil Bello, testing expert, on what is happening with other exams,  including the SATs and ACTs, and what he thinks should happen in the future with high-stakes tests in general.  We will be letting listeners to call in with their questions and concerns.
  • Finally, I’d love to hear from each of you — parents, students and teachers — about what’s working here in NYC and elsewhere with our new national experiment with online learning, as I described it to LoHud News.  Please let me know by responding to this message or emailing me at info@classsizematters.org .   I’d like to feature some of your experiences as well on my blog;  let me know if I can share them, and if so, if I should remove your name to preserve your anonymity.
Hoping you and your family all stay strong and healthy during these challenging times,  Leonie

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Letter from CSA President Mark Cannizzaro to principals

I thought this letter to NYC principals from Mark Cannizzaro, President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the principal union, was terrific -- with advice that we should all listen to, no matter what our respective roles, whether administrator, teacher or parent.  Feel free to share it widely. -  Leonie

Though I have been actively involved in CSA’s communications over the last two weeks, I wanted to personally share my appreciation for your heroic efforts as well as a few thoughts on what comes next.
Since late last week, the CSA felt that the closing of our schools was a drastic but necessary step to safeguard school communities and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our city. Therefore, while aware that transitioning over 1,700 schools to distance learning in just a few days would be a near impossible task, we strongly advocated that the mayor do so.
Since then, as expected, you have been inundated with information and directives that have been sometimes confusing and conflicting, sometimes unrealistic and have often left you with unanswered questions. Through it all, you have been the calming, positive and steady presence your staff needs. You have instilled confidence and trust in them even when your own confidence was shaken. I recognize it, the chancellor recognizes it, and we both thank you!  
With all the confusion, I would like to offer some clarity. Your primary responsibility over the next several weeks is to do the best you can to provide your students with quality learning opportunities. It is understood that some schools and some individual teachers are much further along than others in their distance learning capabilities. You will not be disciplined if you are unable to accurately or completely fulfill every expectation or strictly adhere to deadlines outlined in the DOE’s “expectations memo.”
You are not expected to offer the same level of supervision as you are able to during the typical school day. You and the assistant principals should be checking in on staff and offering support and ideas for how they can best serve students. You do not, however, need to concern yourself with scrutinizing teacher schedules and other minutiae. Continue to encourage and remain a source of strength for your teachers. Be available for them, model as best you can, and be open to their feedback and concerns. While not under the roof of your building, I know you will find innovative and real ways to keep your community connected for the benefit of your students.
We are in unchartered territory and everyone understands it. The goal is not to recreate a normal school day given that the sudden changes in our lives and routines are anything but normal. The goal must be to provide some semblance of stability and learning for our students while paying careful attention to their social and emotional health. In turn, we must acknowledge the anxiety and fears in the adults around us and provide an outlet for them as well.  
Finally, you must take care of yourself.  When things speed up, you must slow down.  Make sure you do the things that bring you peace of mind and body so that you can be present for those who look to you for guidance.   
Please know that CSA will be by your side throughout this process and that we are diligently working to bring clarity and get your questions answered. Please feel free to reach out to us at any time and, in the meantime, just do the best that you can!    
You and your team have done a great job thus far, and I know you will continue to do so. It is an honor to represent you! Stay safe! ­­­­­­