Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Commissioner King sued in state court for ignoring public participation requirements in C4E law

As we have made clear in our presentations to Community Education Councils  and other parent and community groups, the State Education Department and the NYC Department of Education are equally guilty in ignoring the Contracts for Excellence (C4E) law passed in 2007, which requires public participation and accountability in the development of the city's C4E and class size reduction plans. 

In recent years, DOE has presented their C4E "plan" at CEC meetings held in the fall and the winter, long after these funds have been already been allocated and spent; and the city has refused to hold borough hearings for many years, as is explicitly required in the law.   The result has been dismal -- instead of reducing class size, as the law demands, class sizes have increased for the last five years and are now the largest in 14 years in the early grades.
As far as we know, the city's class size reduction/ C4E plan from LAST year (2011-2012) hasn't yet been approved by the state, nearly two years after the money has been spent.  In the law, not only was there supposed to be a robust feedback process from parents and community members before the city's plan was submitted and approved by the state, but then an audit was supposed to be done to see if the city actually spent the money according to its approved plan.   It is  impossible to audit the city's use of the C4E funds -- which amount to more than $500 million per year -- if the money is spent  long before the plan is approved.
The folks at the Education Law Center have now filed a lawsuit in state court, on behalf of parents Lisa Shaw, Karen Sprowal, Shino Tanikawa, and Isaac Carmignani, against Commissioner King, pointing out how his overdue scheduling and lax oversight  itself constitutes a violation of the C4E law, and asking that borough hearings be held in NYC in May and June, and the city's plan for these funds -- more than $500 million per year -- be submitted and approved before the fall, when these funds are spent. Below is the ELC press release, the lawsuit is posted here
New York City public school parents have turned the spotlight on State Education Commissioner John B. King and the New York State Education Department, charging that the state, like the city, has violated the Contract for Excellence (C4E) law.
On May 10, a second lawsuit was filed regarding implementation of the C4E law, this time against Commissioner King and the State Education Department.
In March, parents charged New York City Chancellor of Education Dennis M. Walcott and the NYC Department of Education (DOE) with ignoring the law, which mandates public involvement in development of the C4E spending plan for each school year. The parents in both lawsuits are represented by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), a project of Education Law Center.
"For several years now, the accountability provisions inherent in the state's Contract for Excellence law have been ignored by both the State and City Education Departments," said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. "The state has failed to require that the city hold borough hearings about the spending of C4E funds."
"It is no wonder, then, that no one really knows what the city has done with more than $500 million in annual C4E funds, and that class sizes have ballooned, despite the C4E mandate that they be reduced," Haimson added.
In fact, over the past two years, the DOE has failed to hold any borough-wide hearings on New York City's C4E plan, said Wendy Lecker, CFE Senior Attorney. The recently filed petition charges that New York State's Education Commissioner abets the DOE's bad behavior.
Despite the legal mandate, Commissioner King has consistently permitted districts to delay public hearings until after the school year has already begun, preventing the public from providing timely input on the spending plans and undermining the goal of the law.
"Having meaningful input into how the C4E dollars are spent is one of the most empowering and important things that we can do as parents and advocates for the children of New York City," said Isaac Carmignani, co-president of the Community Education Council for District 30 and a parent petitioner in this case. "It is imperative that our children get what they are owed. Coming from the sixth most overcrowded city community school district out of 33, this has special meaning for me. I look forward to being able to provide meaningful input at timely hearings in the future."
Education Law Center Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

Updated with video: mayoral debate with Weiner making his first appearance

The Weiner scrum (Credit:  @NYDNLemire)
Updated: now with video, excerpts of highlights below.

Despite the Anthony Weiner press hysteria, (it was his first appearance at a mayoral debate; Michael Powell of NYTimes tweeted "Cluster idiocy of press on full display at Weiner a thon educational debate") yesterday’s education forum hosted by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools was very interesting.   

Zakiyah Ansari did a great job moderating, and there were very good questions asked by parents and students.  Chris Quinn didn’t attend, though Zakiyah said the date of the debate had been changed twice to accommodate Quinn’s schedule.

Weiner stood out from the crowd not just because of the paparazzi scrum and excessive media attention; he was the only candidate to come through the audience and shake hands.  He was the only candidate to stand while answering questions, the only one to say no when asked if he would stop having safety agents under control of police rather than principals, and the only one against requiring arts in every school.  

Weiner was quite resistant to altering his stance on increasing the number of suspensions for unruly students, justifying that by saying we have the largest classes in 20 years (actually 14) which leads to more disruptions.  (Why not reduce class size instead?)

Credit: Daily News

There were several questions about Eva Moskowitz, director of Success Academy charter chain, as well as the hot-button issue of charter co-locations.  When asked if Eva gets unfair treatment by DOE, all said yes;  Weiner commented, ”I have no bloody idea…Uh, sure. … It seems to be the answer of the day.”

Liu and de Blasio were for giving Community Education Councils approval over co-locations; Weiner said more “community input” was needed in co-location decisions.  In underutilized schools, he suggested, why not put gifted program instead, or give the school a gym or science lab?   Thompson again called for a co-location “moratorium” (but for how long?)

They all cited the fact that either they had attended NYC public schools (Albanese, Liu, Thompson, Weiner), or their moms had been public school teachers (Thompson, Weiner), or they themselves had been teachers (Albanese), or their kids currently attended public schools.(Liu, de Blasio.)  They all were against the current over-emphasis on high stakes testing.  They all would fight for CFE funds from state.  They all were against closing schools rather than helping them improve.

While De Blasio and Liu said they would raise taxes on the wealthy to fund schools, Thompson was grilled on his pledge against raising taxes.  He responded he would cut contracts, consultants and wasted funds for networks “first.”  As someone who agrees there is tremendous waste in education spending, I don’t see that this would suffice, given the fact that school budgets have been cut to the bone and that teachers are looking for retroactive raises.

De Blasio said "Nothing will help our schools more than reducing class sizes," which begs the question of why he focuses instead on expanding preK and afterschool. 

Some new issues were brought up, not mentioned in previous debates: John Liu said he would bring back more bilingual programs, especially for older students who were new immigrants. Albanese said principals should be rated partly on how well they engage parents.   

When asked about improving special education, Liu said 25% of kids do not get their mandated services, and there should be a “balance” between inclusion and separate programs for special needs kids.  De Blasio said parents of students with disabilities get “treated like dirt.”  I didn’t hear a real solution, though, to the problems of special education from any of them. 

They all came out against the state and city plan to sharing personal student data with inBloom Inc. and for-profit vendors.  Afterwards, I asked Thompson if he would ask Merryl Tisch, his campaign chair and Regents head to pull out of inBloom, as she could stop it in a second.  He said he would. 

Here are some news links: NY Times, Daily News, WSJ, NY PostHuffington Post, NY Mag, City and State. GothamSchools has the audio; I’ll post the video as soon as it’s available.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Complaint filed with Office of Civil Rights claims Bloomberg administration widens gap and violates rights of minority students in HS admissions process

Wendy Lecker of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity/Education Law Center has an excellent piece in Schoolbook, about the complaint just filed with the  U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf a group of NYC parents and advocacy groups.  The complaint shows that:

 "the D.O.E.’s high school admissions policy consigns African-American and Latino students overwhelmingly to schools with the highest concentration of high-needs students, which significantly diminishes their chances for obtaining a high school diploma. Moreover, the city has known about this inequity for years and has done nothing to address it."

We already knew about the confidential 2008 Parthenon report which I gave to GothamSchools in 2011, showing that the percentage of overage entering ninth graders was highly predictive of whether a high school would struggle or not.  As this report plaintively asked,

"Should we consider constraints on the [high school] admissions process that take into consideration the predicted graduation rate of the school? (e.g. “don’t allow any school to have a predicted rate less than 45%”)"

What I hadn't know was that there was an earlier Parthenon report in 2006 with similar findings.  And yet to this day, through its admission policies, the DOE consigns some high schools to failure by assigning to them an high concentration of at-risk, mostly minority students, many of them over-age and with special needs.

In fact, as an IBO report showed, as high schools start to decline, the DOE overcrowds the school with even more high-needs students, accelerating the decline, until the school is deemed a failure and is phased out.  When that happens, the support for the students is withdrawn, dropout and discharge rates spike, and the at-risk students who would have attended the school are diverted to other schools nearby, causing them to struggle.  As Wendy writes:

Although the Bloomberg administration prides itself on the use of data in its efforts to reduce New York City’s achievement gap, the complaint reveals that for at least seven years the D.O.E. has ignored its own data demonstrating that its policies have contributed to widening that gap.

Here is a copy of the complaint, where she asks that the DOE be required to implement a "controlled choice" admissions process to ensure no high school receives a disproportionate number of at-risk students. Hopefully the next mayor and chancellor will be more attentive to the issues of equity than the Bloomberg administration has been.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Comptroller John Liu's letter to the Commissioner and Regents about inBloom

On May 21st, Comptroller John Liu sent a letter to Commissioner John King and the NY Board of Regents urging King to halt NYSED's plan to share personally-identifiable student data with inBloom, Inc.

Liu's letter comes just weeks after 4 of the 9 states participating in inBloom are planning to pull out of the project due to privacy concerns. See the letter below, along with the Daily News article to the right.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Council Members Brewer, Jackson & Lander introduce resolution to protect student privacy

Council Members Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson and Brad Lander introduced a resolution in NYC Council today, calling on the NY State Legislature to pass and Governor Cuomo to sign a law protecting student privacy, requiring parental consent before personally identifiable data can be shared with private vendors and inBloom Inc.

The resolution is here, the press release below.

City Hall
NEW YORK, NY 10007
TEL:  212-788-6975
FAX:  212-513-7717

Council Member Brewer, Colleagues 

Introduce Resolution to Protect Student 

Data Privacy

Legislation Opposes State Plan to Sell Personal Student Information without Parental Consent
Contact:  Will Colegrove
Office: (212) 788-6975
Cell: (347) 461-4329
May 22, 2013 – Today, Council Member Gale A. Brewer will introduce a Resolution at the New York City Council Stated Meeting calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass legislation to protect student data privacy, by prohibiting the release of personal student information without consent.

The Resolution, co-sponsored by Council Members Jackson and Lander, is in support of A6059 (O’Donnell) / S4282 (Grisanti), State legislation which arose out of news that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has partnered with inBloom Inc., a technology company that aggregates student data in order to provide educational tools and content for parents, teachers, and students. There have been serious privacy concerns raised about this plan, as this data may be sold to third parties for commercial purposes, and may even contain sensitive personal information. The legislation would prohibit the release of personally identifiable information without parental consent, or the consent of a student who is 18 or older, unless certain exceptions apply.

According to Council Member Brewer, “While inBloom and the NYSED may have the best intentions in pursuing innovative ways to help our children learn, we cannot and should not give students’ personal information to commercial entities without parental consent. I have been a long-time advocate for technological innovation, including in the educational field. However, innovation and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Parents have a right to choose whether their children’s information is sold to a third party, and the NYSED needs to present a clear plan for how that data will be protected before this plan moves forward.”

"Parents are rightly horrified to hear that DOE plans to release private, identifiable student information to a private corporation. Even if the goal is to improve their educational products, this information, including student names, addresses, disciplinary records, and IEPs, is not DOE's to give without parental consent. Council Member Gale Brewer's Resolution will put the City Council on the record against this plan." – said Council Member Brad Lander.

"Parents entrust the Department of Education with very detailed, personal student information. Students' personal data shouldn't be shared with companies, especially if these corporations are going to use this data to develop curriculum materials that will be marketed right back to them. What's even more disturbing is the fact that this sharing of information is done without the express consent of parents and guardians or a disclosure. This is an outrageous violation of basic rights! Our students are not involuntary and unpaid focus group members to help corporations with product development." said Council Member Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee. “As parents expect the DOE to protect their children’s schools with school safety officers, parents have every right to expect that their children’s confidential information will be guarded with the same vigilance and not be shared to others."

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters said: “I want to thank the co-sponsors of this Resolution, Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson and Brad Lander, for stepping up and supporting our children’s right to privacy. The plan of the state and the city to put the most confidential student information on a data cloud managed by inBloom Inc., with an operating system devised by Murdoch’s Wireless Generation, and shared with for-profit vendors without parental consent has outraged voters not only in NYC but throughout the state. This outrage has led to the introduction of a bill, A.6059 /S.4284, with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature. The fact that data clouds are notoriously vulnerable has been recognized by inBloom itself, when it stated it would not be responsible if the data leaked out in storage or transmission. 

Four out of the nine states originally planning to share student data have now pulled out of inBloom. New York State and NYC, on the other hand, are still willing to risk our children’s safety and future life prospects, knowing full well how this highly sensitive data, including special education and disciplinary records, may be exploited, breached, and abused. I urge the Speaker to allow this Resolution to come to a vote as soon as possible.”

Evidence of the testing-educational complex, with State officials indistinguishable from Pearson flacks

Just in time for tomorrow's rally tomorrow, protesting the NJ state tax giveaways of $80 million to Pearson, today it was announced that the company agreed to pay $75 million in damages plus costs to settle a lawsuit over price-fixing e-books.   
This comes after multiple Pearson mis-steps and grievous errors, including mistakes in scoring the NYC Gifted and talented tests not once but twice, creating state exams that were too long, too difficult, full of ambiguous questions that made children cry, and last year, the infamous Pineapple readind passage and at least 30 other errors, with  faulty questions and problems with translation and scoring.  

This year the New York State Pearson exams also featured crass, commercial product placements as well as  reading passages lifted off of Pearson textbooks that had been purchased and assigned elsewhere in the state but not NYC.  According to Kathleen Porter Magee of the conservative Fordham Institute, Pearson is abusing its monopoly power in way that "threatens the validity of the English Language Arts (ELA) scores for thousands of New York students and raises serious questions about the overlap between Pearson's curriculum and assessment divisions." 
Below is an exchange between Cynthia Wachtell, a NYC parent, who sent a letter to the Board of Regents, suggesting that the portions of the exams that drew reading passages from Pearson texts be invalidated.  The State Education official who responded, Steven Katz, claims that this borrowing was coincidental, and only happened because "authentic, meaningful texts" were used,  as though there aren't any "meaningful" pieces of literature  that are not contained in Pearson textbooks.  As Cynthia replies, there is a "vast body of fictional and non-fictional works from which the test passages could be selected."
Katz' claim, that this unfair practice resulted from the "authentic" nature of the texts, echoes the excuse made by  Pearson earlier in the year, when questions were raised about the inclusion of brand name products and logos in the ELA exams.  Their PR department then wrote, in the company's defense that  "...several assessment programs use only authentic passages and the inclusion of brand names is inevitable."  The arguments of both the SED and Pearson seems markedly unconvincing, and yes, inauthentic to me. 

Even more Pearson errors are described by Alan Singer at Huffington Post, along with the response of the head PR honcho at Pearson, Susan Aspey, former press secretary at the US Department of Education,which according to Singer, "epitomizes the disturbing relationship between private companies that are selling products and government agencies."  

 Indeed, the fact that the excuses offered by New York State Ed officials for Pearson incompetence and/or venality are indistinguishable from those made by Pearson PR flacks reveals how both are inextricably linked in an overarching testing-educational complex, like the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about decades before.  Their email exchange follows:
Dear Board of Regents Members,

I have two sons in public school in Manhattan, grades 6 and 8.  Recently, they both took the ELA exams for their respective grades.  Subsequently, I discovered that both of their tests seem to have included passages that students in other school districts, which had purchased Pearson prep materials, had already seen.  The following are from online sources:

"I am an 8th grade teacher in Xxxx, NY. On Day 1 of the NYS ELA 8 Exam, I discovered what I believe to be a huge ethical flaw in the State test. The state test included a passage on why leaves change color that is included in the Pearson-generated NYS ELA 8 text. I taught it in my class just last week."

"Pearson advantage? A story is building that the 6th grade exam had a passage that was very similar to a Pearson product’s story in Scott Foresman Reading Street 6.1 (pages 208-224)".

As reported in the New York Post:  Officials at Pearson "said the inclusion of essays from their curriculum material was an 'unintentional' consequence of the state’s emphasis on using nonfiction texts in the exams."

This is an appalling error, and it will be a huge ethical lapse, if it is not promptly addressed.   Of course, it is hard to assess the extent of this problem precisely because Pearson refuses to make the tests public.  What is obvious, though, is that Pearson has failed again.  

As the eight grade teacher further writes, "[I]t was a huge advantage to students fortunate enough to use a Pearson text and not that of a rival publisher."  Clearly, all questions based upon these passages must now be disqualified.


Cynthia Wachtell

From: Steven Katz [SKATZ@MAIL.NYSED.GOV]
Sent: Monday, May 20, 2013 1:59 PM
To: Cynthia Wachtell
Subject: Re: Fwd: Other Kids Saw the ELA Passages in Advance
Dear Ms. Wachtell:

Thank you for sharing with the New York State Education Department and its Board of Regents your concern that some students taking the Grades 3-8 English Language Arts Tests may have previously read passages in widely used textbooks.

These Common Core English language arts tests use authentic texts for the reading passages. The move to using authentic texts allows for the inclusion of works of literature that are worthy of reading outside of an assessment context. By definition, authentic texts have been published elsewhere. It is not surprising that a passage on the assessments may have appeared in a textbook or an anthology, or may have been encountered by students when reading books, magazines, or newspapers. It is possible it may happen again as we go forward with the use of authentic texts in state assessments.

Using authentic, meaningful texts means that some students have read texts included on the 2013 Common Core English Language Arts Tests prior to test administration.  For the very reasons that texts were selected for use on the assessment, it is possible that teachers have selected the same texts for use in their classrooms. In addition, well-read students may have read the books that passages were drawn from for their personal reading. Be assured, however, that students who may have previously read either the source a passage was drawn from or a textbook or anthology it was included in have not had access to the test questions associated with the passage.

Once again, thank you for your comments on the 2013 English Language Arts Tests.

Steven E. Katz
Director of State Assessment

Dear Mr. Katz,

I appreciate your thoughtful response to my message.  However, I must disagree with the conclusions that you draw.

The students who read the Pearson passages in advance of the test did so in a test prep situation in the months, weeks, and even days leading up to the ELA test.  They discussed the passages in class.  They answered questions about the passages, even if they were not the same questions that appeared on the actual test.  If they did not understand the passages or words in them, they had the advantage of their teachers and classmates' input.  This is quite different from the experience of a student casually reading a passage, in the course of independent reading, at what might be many months, or even years, remove from the ELA test.

Moreover, the likelihood of a student randomly encountering in advance a passage that appears on a test is quite slim.  There is a vast body of fictional and non-fictional works from which the test passages could be selected.  However, the fact that a 6th or 8th grade student who used the Pearson test prep materials definitely encountered a test passage in advance of the Pearson created test is a certainty.

For the integrity of the testing process -- especially now that there are such "high stakes" depending upon it -- I remain convinced that these two passages need to be disqualified.  Moreover, I believe that Pearson's repeated errors warrant a cancelation of the company's contract.  


Cynthia Wachtell

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Parents in Western NYS outraged about testing and confidential data sharing

An excellent news story by WIVB TV news in Western New York State that captures the parent outrage at the NY State Education Department concerning the increase in testing and student data sharing, leading to a growing opt out movement.

I strongly recommend you watch the whole thing; the section on the state's plan to share confidential student data with inBloom Inc. and private vendors is at about 6 minutes in; this part is transcribed under the screen.  For the entire transcript, you can go to the WBEZ website here.

Parents also fear their children's private information is no longer private.

New York is one of five states providing personal information about its students to an electronic database - including names; addresses; race; ethnicity; disabilities; parent contact information; dates of absences, out-of-school suspensions, grades; and State standardized test scores.

The database was built by a company owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, with money from the Gates Foundation. It's run by a new non-profit, inBloom Inc., and third parties can access all the information it contains.

According to a report by The Washington Post , the U.S. Department of Education is being sued for promoting regulations that allow databases like inBloom's.

State Ed. and inBloom claim this database "mak[es] it easier [for teachers] to find learning materials that match each student's" needs.

However, state lawmakers are so concerned, there are bills in the Assembly and Senate that would make it illegal to release personal information about students to third parties, unless parents give consent.

"The fact that we have to have a law that says you can't release personal information about children is shocking, not that it's the other way around," [parent Shirley] Verrico says.