Thursday, March 28, 2013

Update: Our privacy bill with more sponsors & inBloom videos

Our student privacy bill, A06059, now has 35 sponsors in the NYS Assembly, including the original sponsor, AM O'Donnell, and a companion bill, S04284, in the State Senate. Check the links to see if your legislators have signed on, and if not, please call your Assemblymember and your State Senator today.    

Two more recent media clips: 

 Who is Stockpiling and Sharing Private Information About New York Students   (Village Voice) in which the NY State Education spokesperson claims that parents “give up” the right to decide if they want highly confidential  information about their child shared with corporations and for-profit vendors when they register him or her in a public school. 
Privacy, big data and education: more about the inBloom databases (Hechinger) in which InBloom Inc. attempts to disclaim all responsibility, and argues no one should blame them if parents aren’t notified or asked for consent before they share their child’s private information with vendors, as they’re just following orders. (For some of the highly sensitive data elements that inBloom is offering cash rewards to for-profit companies to develop their products around, see our blog here.)
For inBloom's vision of the future, see the spooky video below, in which kids silently sit in huge classes, get their instruction through tablets while teachers check their disciplinary 
ratings on dashboards. Then they go home and do homework through their TVs. See also the promo below that, with school officials including Ken Wagner of the NY State Education Dept., singing the praises of inBloom inc., saying its all about "letting kids know you care about them."

InBloom vision video from Intentional Futures on Vimeo.

Defining the need

The pushback begins: my response to inBloom's attorney

The pushback and spin begins.  See the WaPost oped today, On the question of student privacy by Steve Winnick, the attorney for InBloom, the Gates-funded corporation that is collecting, storing and sharing the confidential student data from nine states,  including NY, MA, LA, CO, IL, NC, GA, DE, and KY.  More states may get added on over time as Gates offers states & districts cash to participate.  (See our fact sheet here.)

In all, Winnick's oped is a highly unconvincing rebuttal to an earlier WaPost article by Valerie Strauss, about the way the Obama administration is being sued for having gutted student privacy protections under FERPA, to encourage highly risky data-sharing projects like inBloom.  Winnick that does not deny that inBloom will disclose sensitive and personally identifiable student information  to for-profit vendors without parental consent.  Indeed, this is what inBloom is designed to achieve.
Though Winnick goes into great length about whether this plan violates the pre- 2008 or pre- 2011 revisions of FERPA, this is immaterial to most parents; it clearly violates all sense of decency and ethical boundaries to provide such confidential and personally identifiable data, including student names, addresses, photographs, emails, phone numbers, along with their grades, test scores,  special education and economic status, and detailed health and disciplinary records, all  provided to companies without notifying their parents or asking for their consent. 
If this plan is truly to "give parents more options to be involved in their children’s education" as the attorney writes, they should at least be told what is happening and be allowed to opt out. 
Moreover, Winnick’s assurances that inBloom "is committed to protecting the privacy and security of student records" contradicts the statement on its privacy policy that "inBloom, Inc cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”   Who will take responsibility if and when this occurs?
In the comment section, there are other equally unconvincing comments from inBloom board members Margaret Spellings (former Ed Secretary under George W. Bush) and Michael Horn of Gates-funded Innosight, who praises inBloom’s great push efforts at “unleashing data.”  Innosight describes itself as “a non-profit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to solve problems in the social sector.”  
Truly disruptive indeed.  This risky venture has the potential to disrupt millions of children’s lives.

For a look at just some of the personally identifiable student and teacher data from nine states that InBloom intends to store on a vulnerable data cloud and make available to vendors without parental consent, see our NYC parent blog here. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

inBloom's student and teacher data screenshots

Updated:  here is the list of all the student and teacher data elements being captured by inBloom; here is an excerpted list, with some of the most sensitive information.

Thanks to our work and the advocacy of parents and teachers across the city, many parents now know that inBloom, Inc, the Gates-funded organization, is being paid to hold and share student (and teacher) personally-identifiable data with for-profit vendors (read more about inBloom here). However, most people don't know how personal and confidential this data is. 

InBloom, Inc. has a sample "sandbox" segment on their web page meant "for developers" to show them what data will be made available to them to build their software "tools" around.

Under the “medium” data set, we find that student names, addresses, emails, latitude and longitude of their homes and schools, phone numbers, test scores, grades, race, economic status, photos, detailed disciplinary records, special education services and medical conditions are all included.

Check out the screen shots below to see more. 

Name, address, email, student picture, race, economic status, free lunch status, race, language needs and whether the child is in foster care or not.

 Detailed disciplinary record, including whether the incident was reported to the police and whether there was a weapon involved.  This sort of record if leaked out could seriously damage a student's prospects whether or not any arrest or conviction ever occurred. 

Whether the student has a developmental delay, is in athletics, or has a medical condition or not. Even specific enough to ask what the child's learning style is. 

 Also collecting teacher data, including name, address, latitude and longitude of teacher's home.

Community Education District 2's Response to the C4E Plan FY 13

The following letter is from the Community Education Council District 2, regarding the Contracts for Excellence Proposed Plan FY 13

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A St Patrick's Day Salute to Brave Educators Everywhere

In the arts section of today's print edition, the NT Times ran a full copy of the Easter Proclamation, the document announcing the formation of an independent Irish Republic in 1916.  Along with its political importance, the Proclamation is recognized for its literary qualities.  Those qualities are due to its authorship by teacher, school principal and poet Patrick Pearse.   He had founded a school to teach the Irish in their own language. 

Pearse read the Proclamation to a small crowd at the start of a rebellion to establish independence.  He was executed at the conclusion of the failed rebellion by a British firing squad.  The outrage that followed the executions of the leaders of the independence movement led to a war with Britain that eventually produced the Republic of Ireland.

Rereading the short document, I was reminded of the importance of being able to express what's most essential to us, in this case, that all people want to control their own destinies.  And I was reminded of the importance of teachers in empowering us with the skills to express those thoughts.

Today, our political leaders tell us the role of teachers is to improve test scores and do things like help students interpret informational text in our new Common Core Curriculum.  Instead, on this St. Patrick's Day, I'd like to salute a teacher who helped the Irish people realize their destiny and by extension, salute all teachers who do the same with their students every day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Video footage from our press conference on threats to student privacy

Class Size Matters hosted a press conference on the Tweed steps, March 14, 2013 about the state's plan to provide confidential student and teacher data to inBloom Inc., which in turn plans to make the data available to for-profit vendors, without parental notification or consent. Speakers included civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, Councilmembers Daniel Dromm, Letitia James and Stephen Levin, public school parents Karen Sprowal, Lisa Shaw and Tori Frye, and Class Size Matters' Executive Director,  Leonie Haimson.

For more information on the press conference, see our last post, here.

Part 1 Norman Siegel

Norman Siegel at Class Size Matters student privacy press conference from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 2 Councilmember Daniel Dromm

Councilmember Daniel Dromm stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 3 Councilmember Letitia James

Councilmember Letitia James stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 4 Councilmember Stephen Levin

Councilmember Stephen Levin stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 5 Leonie Haimson

Leonie Haimson explains student data elements from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 6 Public school parent Karen Sprowal

Public school parent Karen Sprowal stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 7 Public school parent Lisa Shaw

Public school parent Lisa Shaw stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 8 Public school parent Molly Sackler

Public school parent Molly Sackler stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 9 Public school parent Tori Frye

Public school parent Tori Frye stands up for student privacy from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Part 10 Closing statement from Leonie Haimson

Closing statements from our press conference from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

News of Press conference and Assembly bill to block privacy violations of children

Great news!  Yesterday, Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell introduced a bill that would block the NY State Education Department and DOE from sharing our children's confidential data with the Gates-funded corporation called inBloom Inc., and would block inBloom from disclosing it with for-profit vendors without parental consent.

The bill is A6059, please call your Assemblymembers today and ask them to co-sponsor.  Your Assembly member can be found here.
Here is an article in the Daily News about this outrageous plan; here is my accompanying oped. Other relevant newsclips are from Schoolbook/WNYC, CBS News, AP , Politics 365,  and here is the follow up from the Daily News on the O'Donnell bill. National news is here: Reuters, Washington Post, Denver Post Check back for more.

Our press conference on the steps of Tweed this morning was terrific.  Among those who spoke out against this reckless and outrageous plan to commercialize our children's highly sensitive information without parental consent included civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, CMs Steve Levin, Tish James, and Daniel Dromm, and mayoral candidate Tom Allon.

Parents Tory Frye, Karen Sprowal, Molly Sackler, and Lisa Shaw were among the fifty or so parents who attended, and expressed their personal outrage that their children's names, grades, emails, phone numbers, test scores, health, special education and disciplinary records would be so carelessly exposed, without even consulting them about it. We also showed how all this data is being provided to vendors, with no thought of how this is may stigmatize and endanger our children's privacy and their future success. Video soon (thanks to Justin Wedes!)  Our press release, with quotes from many other public officials, is below.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ignoring the Voices of a Community, a Mayor Seeks to Destroy an Iconic Public School

 The following is by Tony Kelso, a parent and a member of Community Education Council in District 6, Upper Manhattan.
                                 So this is the way education works under mayoral control.
            At what was billed as a public hearing to determine the fate of P.S. 132, an elementary school in New York City’s Washington Heights, speaker after speaker rose up and passionately voiced opposition to the Department of Education (DOE)’s plan to force the school to share its building with another school that would be created from scratch and opened in the fall. Not a single teacher, community leader, or parent who took the microphone was in favor of the proposal. But it won’t matter. Indeed, there was nobody even there to listen to and address the crowd’s concerns because the DOE had not bothered to send a representative to stand before the assembly and run the meeting. Instead, seated in the first row of the auditorium with their backs to the audience, two young women—one wearing a shiny silver skirt, as though she would be heading to a dance club after the meeting, the other slumped in the seat beside her, looking as if she would rather be sitting through a two-hour plane delay than endure the agony of paying attention to active citizens defending a cherished school—were the only people the DOE charged with attending the hearing. 
          The club kid, Meera Jain, an Associate Director of Planning for N. Manhattan schools from the DOE’s Division of Portfolio Planning, took notes on her laptop, while her bored-to-death assistant limply timed speakers to ensure they didn’t exceed their allotted two minutes each. The two employees actually never publicly identified themselves as members of the DOE until somebody asked who they were and what they were doing there. Despite the fact that many, if not most of the people gathered could not fluently communicate in English, neither employee was able to speak in nor understand Spanish, except through the assistance of two translators, which occasionally involved bringing the proceedings to a halt while Ms. Jain privately conferred with one of them before typing in English two-minute speeches delivered in Spanish. In the end, the message of the farcical proceedings was clear—come March 20, Mayor Bloomberg’s hand-picked stooges on the Board of Education will apply their rubber stamp by voting to approve the co-location plan as written.
A Pillar of the Community
            Rooted in a neighborhood whose population consists mostly of Dominicans by birth or ancestry, P.S. 132 is better known as Juan Pablo Duarte , appropriately named after the commonly recognized Founding Father of the Dominican Republic. The school, housed in a nearly 110-year-old building, is the oldest one in Northern Manhattan and a second home for many residents, having served the Dominican community for generations. No school in its district has more of what are termed “English Language Learners” (ELLs) than Duarte—over half of the students who first enter the school speak Spanish as their primary language. No doubt, educating such a concentration of ELLs poses a challenge to teachers and administrators alike. Yet through the years Duarte has continuously prepared children for promotion to middle school. Recently the front office secured grants that enabled the school to install two state-of-the-art computer labs. The leadership has also worked to maintain a partnership with Music and the Brain , a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing music instruction and instruments to students—in a public education system that makes it increasingly difficult to keep enrichment programs alive, Duarte boasts not one but two rooms equipped with keyboards which could be lost because of the co-location . Moreover, even as recently as 2010, P.S. 132 earned a “B” on the DOE’s annual “report card.”
Class sizes in K-3 at Duarte
            But in the past few years, the city has starved the school of resources, draining over $1.5 million from its operating budget. Class sizes have soared, with the majority of the classrooms containing over 30 students. Not surprisingly, then, student performance has suffered. Two academic years ago, the DOE dropped Duarte to a “D” on its report card, a mark that was replicated the following year. Regarding two successive years of bad grades as unacceptable (even though the school had missed a “C” the previous year by just .02 points), the DOE was ready to take action.

Sink in Duarte bathroom
            The school has faced other burdens as well. Despite its historical charm, Duarte’s building is in need of major refurbishment. For years, the school’s principal has pleaded for money to simply upgrade its bathrooms. It’s easy to see why—a trip to the rest rooms reveals rust-stained sinks, stall doors that do not lock, and toilets that are so difficult to flush that many young children simply leave their deposits behind, inadvertently adding to the stench in what can only be described as a demoralizing environment. Yet at a recent capital plan hearing, in a candid moment, the DOE’s representative stated that regardless of how run down the facilities are no improvement would be forthcoming because, after all, “the toilets still work.” It went without saying that nothing would be done to enhance any other part of the building as well, including the cleaning of the ceiling and walls throughout the structure to remove their growing patches of mold, whose particles over 750 four- to eleven-year-old students breathe in five days a week.

Toilet in Duarte bathroom
Imposing its Will on the Community

            From the DOE’s perspective, according to its Environmental Impact Statement,
a co-location would benefit Duarte because it “will help address the school’s performance struggles as it will be able to focus on a smaller student population.” It appears, however, that shoving a new school, to be identified as 06M103, into a dilapidated facility with P.S. 132, is the DOE’s way of offering a concession. Only weeks earlier, the DOE had threatened the school with closure altogether. But after an outcry from the community  , the DOE backed down and removed Duarte from its list of “failing” schools that needed to be tossed into its educational dustbin. Shortly afterward, though, after a behind-closed-door meeting, it issued Plan B. With the co-location, “06M103 will open during the 2013-2014 school year, when it will serve approximately 70-80 students in kindergarten. 06M103 will gradually phase in by adding one grade per year. The school is expected to reach full scale in 2018-2019 and will serve approximately 420-480 students,” after “P.S. 132 has completed its enrollment reduction of over 425 children. In other words, Juan Pablo Duarte is now being offered death drip by drip rather than a sudden demise.
            There is no evidence to suggest that housing another school—especially one with no track record—in Duarte’s facility will boost student performance. 06M103 is expected to nearly duplicate P.S. 132’s programming and accommodate the very same children it siphons off. The model of breaking up a large school into smaller ones has already been attempted in Duarte’s district, resulting in no appreciable increase in standardized test scores for either the host or infiltrating schools. In fact, it is far likelier that co-location will only further tighten the leash around a school already gasping for air. Co-locations generally lead to a loss of space for the original school, which means that not only will classes probably remain overcrowded, but rooms used for enrichment programs, such as art studios and science labs, will also evaporate.
            Duarte’s current scant resources are bound to further diminish. Instead of fostering a harmonious environment, co-locations typically give rise to one school pitted against another one, with parents fighting other parents for adequate space and equipment such as auditorium sound systems and even libraries. Storage rooms become classrooms. Echoing hallways become the sites for speech therapy and tutoring. Ultimately, P.S. 132 might be forced to also bid adieu to its high-end computer labs and keyboards.
            What is truly appalling about the DOE’s rush to destroy public schools in mostly low-income areas is its utter disregard for the educators, parents, and students whose lives will be thrown into turmoil by its mean-spirited bullying. In the case of Juan Pablo Duarte, the plan for either closure or co-location was never discussed with the local Community Education Council, the only elected body—consisting of volunteers with children in neighborhood schools—assigned the responsibility of representing the parents in the school’s district. Nor did the DOE ever consult with the community at large. In a heartless gesture designed to pay lip service to the idea that it has in truth invited response from the public, the department had earlier distributed information about the proposal to the predominantly Spanish-speaking parents of the school. Yet every document was printed only in English.
            Maybe, in the end, the real plan of the Bloomberg administration is not to actually help children learn but to expand the coffers of the high-rollers the mayor associates with. Given the DOE’s co-location proposal, there will inevitably be one more—make that two more—public schools bled of their capacity to nurture and properly educate their students. That’s two more opportunities to send in the corporate managers to “fix” the problem. And another step along the path to school privatization, as Bill Gates and his cohort of investors and hedge fund supervisors eagerly continue to push “reform” in their quest to fully exploit the education “market.” Meanwhile the underserved Dominican-Americans near P.S. 132 will most likely watch their supposed benefactors rub out a name that evokes ethnic pride throughout Washington Heights. Juan Pablo Duarte will be no more.

Come join us on Thursday AM in front of Tweed; and updates on student privacy

This Thursday, March 14 at 11:15 AM we will be holding a press conference with public school parents concerned about the imminent threat to student privacy from the actions of NYS and NYC DOE. 

When: Thursday March 14 at 11:15 AM
Where: steps of Tweed, 52 Chambers near City Hall.

As reported in Reuters, a company called inBloom Inc. is collecting the most private, sensitive, and personally identifiable student data from New York and other states,  storing it on a vulnerable “data cloud” and making it available to commercial vendors:

 “In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school - even homework completion.

As the article makes clear, this company plans to share this information “with private companies selling educational products and services.  Entrepreneurs can't wait.”   We learned from a press release that one of these for-profit companies that the state has signed up to use this data is called Escholar.

The operating system for inBloom is being built by Wireless, now renamed Amplify, a subsidiary of NewsCorp owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Joel Klein.   I was quoted about Amplify’s new tablet on NPR four days ago.

Thousands of parents have emailed the State Education Department and DOE to protest this arrangement; hundreds have sent opt-out letters without response.  One parent was told by a staffer at SED that they were too busy collecting and transmitting the data to inBloom to respond to parent concerns. My question is this:  if this is really for the benefit of public schoolchildren, why do they refuse to notify their parents or ask for their consent?

Please let us know if you can attend our press conference, or would like to speak at it, by emailing us off list ASAP at

And please forward this message to others who care.
Thanks, Leonie

Monday, March 11, 2013

Glass Size Matters

March 11, 2013 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a plan to deal with those unused supersize drink containers that city eateries can no longer sell because of his ban on oversized drinks. He’s going to turn them into classrooms.

Ever the environmentalist, the Mayor told reporters today that the Sanitation Department will immediately begin collecting the containers and turning them over to the NYC School Construction Authority. The SCA will in turn recycle them into prefabricated classrooms, to replace many of the controversial trailers which are currently used to alleviate student overcrowding.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was enthusiastic about the plan. Standing by the Mayor’s side at City Hall, Mr. Walcott noted the innovative round design of the new classrooms, an artists’ rendition of which seemed, to some observers, ironically reminiscent of a Big Gulp.

“With these new classrooms and their more efficient use of space,” Mr. Walcott said, “we will go a long way towards meeting the Mayor’s goal of doubling class size.

Added the Mayor, “That’s especially true given that with our children drinking less soda, they’ll be less obese and we’ll be able to fit more of them into each classroom.”

It was unclear whether the new facilities’ letter grades will come from the Department of Education or from the Department of Health.