Friday, June 28, 2013

CNN story on inBloom and important update: NYS districts must choose dashboards populated with inBloom data by fall

UPDATE: the CNN segment about inBloom has been moved to 6:45 PM tonight, Saturday instead.

A CNN story about inBloom Inc. was posted this morning and will be aired at 3 PM tomorrow, Saturday June 29.  I have also posted it below; please check it out.  It contains an interview with Karen Sprowal, NYC parent activist, a short excerpt from our Brooklyn town hall meeting, and comments from the CEO of inBloom Inc., Iwan Streichenberger.    

This morning, the article accompanying the CNN video had a major error.  It quoted Streichenberger as saying that “the school districts themselves are the only ones with access to the data -- schools are forbidden from sharing the information, and third parties can't tap in.”

Actually, the whole point of inBloom Inc. is to gather as much personal student data as possible and share it with 3rd party vendors without parental consent – to help them develop and market their products.  But this error, as well as similar ones in the media, reveal how purposely obscure and confusing inBloom, the NY State Education Department and the DOE have been about their intent.  I was recently was forwarded an email from a Newsday editor, saying that she could not confirm that this data would be shared with any vendors, and that she believed that this was only a “rumor”.
After we contacted her, the CNN producer corrected the error and now the article says that “School districts control the data, though they may share that information with third-parties if they choose. (See correction below).”
Still, the CNN piece doesn’t discuss the inherent insecurity of storing this massive amount of highly sensitive data on a cloud, and doesn’t mention that the whole purpose of inBloom is to commercialize the data, so it can be shared it with as many vendors as possible.  It doesn't cite inBloom's statement that it "cannot guarantee the security of the information stored...or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted."  It also ends with an interview with Karen Sprowal, edited in such a way to appear that she would be okay with inBloom if only they had involved parents more in the discussion.
Actually, Karen responded that she was willing to consider that online learning tools could be helpful in some instances, but that the district and state must involve parents in the process. She, like most parents, remains strongly opposed to inBloom and to sharing any personally identifiable student data without parental consent.  Anyway, take a look at the CNN video and the article and leave comments on the site, where there is already a lively debate on these issues.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Three companies, (DataCation from ConnectEDU, myTrack from eScholar, and Schoolnet from Pearson) have signed contracts with NY State to create data dashboards that will receive personalized student data straight from inBloom cloud.  The state is requiring that any district that received funding through “Race to the Top” must sign up with one of these companies in the fall.  They are also encouraging all districts and charter schools in the state to sign up with one of these companies, as well as contract with additional for-profit vendors that will offer “interoperable” software programs and receive data from inBloom.
Even the privacy of students in non-RTTT districts is at risk, since the state has indicated that they are uploading personally identifiable data for every public school and charter school student onto the inBloom cloud – whether their district intends to contract with any vendors or not. In fact, the entire NYS student data system is now apparently in the hands of inBloom Inc., now outsourced and privatized, with a governing board made up almost entirely of the Gates Foundation and its grantees, giving them incalculable power but no responsibility in case of breaches
In this NYSED memo, dated yesterday, a schedule of meetings in August around the state about these data dashboards for school officials is included; I suggest that parents and others concerned about privacy find out where these meetings are being held from their school boards or superintendent, ask lots of questions and express their concerns – since the state has refused to meet with parents or listen to them up to this point. 
More articles about inBloom have appeared in the last few days.  One is about two New York bills that were approved by the Assembly to protect student privacy, but failed to pass the Senate in the last weeks of the Legislature. Also see this article about a bill introduced in Massachusetts to restrict the sharing of this highly sensitive information. 
Please send a message to your Senator and school board, expressing your concern with their lack of action, and asking what they will do to protect your child's privacy from being violated or abused.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

UPDATE: No performance evaluations for any Chancellor or top administrator at Tweed since Bloomberg took office

Correction!  Lisa Fleisher FOILed for the DOE performance evaluations BEFORE I did.  Apologies to her.  I had wrongly assumed otherwise.
UPDATE: Lisa Fleisher of the Wall Street Journal FOILed for the job evaluations of the top leadership at Tweed shortly after I did – but smartly, she asked for all the evaluations back to 2001, when Bloomberg took office. 

Guess what?  There are none.  She also shows how this is sharp departure from pre-Bloomberg days and the way things are done in other school districts.  Walcott explains the disparity from the strict accountability demanded of teachers:

"They're in front of the classroom and teaching our children, and we need to have a sense of how well they're doing," he said. "With us, we're not teaching children directly, we're setting policy. And I don't think it's hypocritical at all."

That really makes a lot of sense.  

Klein claims that instead of evaluations, he fired any of his aides who weren’t doing the job.  And those were who again?  

This latest revelation is perfect coda to the Bloomberg era, when accountability at the top was promised New Yorkers, but instead we got mismanagement, corrupt and wasteful contracts, privatization, and damaging policies that were abhorrent to parents and educators alike.

Monday, June 24, 2013

There’s no accountability for anyone at the top at DOE; and I can prove it

The testing companies Pearson and McGraw Hill can screw up over and over again – and  continue to get  million dollar contracts.  Principals rarely  get fired, and even those caught cheating are appointed “achievement coaches.”  Yet teachers and children are threatened with punitive sanctions – either with losing their jobs or being held back – if their performance does not improve fast enough.  
Almost two years ago, NYC DOE gave their crude and unreliable evaluations of teachers based on test scores -- called the teacher data reports -- to the press, though they had promised never to release them.  All the daily papers promptly posted them.  Klein claimed he had no choice because they had been FOILed – though it was well known that he had asked reporters to FOIL them.
So in February 2012 – about 16 months ago – after the DOE released the TDR’s, I FOILed for the performance evaluations of the Chancellor and the other top officials in the leadership team at Tweed for 2009, 2010 and 2011.  More on my original FOIL request here.
According to Robert Freeman of the NY State Open Govt. Committee, the performance evaluations of all public employees in NY State are available to the public through FOILs, except for police, correction officers and firefighters.  In June of last year, the Legislature passed a law, restricting the view of a teacher’s evaluation to a parent with a child in the teacher’s class.  Mayor Bloomberg went ballistic, and said he would  have every school call every single parent to tell them they had the right to this information, and would post the ratings on ARIS. 
After waiting for more than a year, the "final" response to my FOIL finally came back from DOE about a week ago: that there are NO written performance evaluations for ANY of the top officials at Tweed  for 2009, 2010 or 2011, including the Chancellor:
“Diligent searches and inquiries for responsive records have been conducted as to any Chancellor (and his/her Chief of Staff) Chief Academic Officer, Senior Deputy Chancellor, Chief Schools Officer, Deputy Chancellor, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and General Counsel for the time period covered y your request.  It is my understanding that no such records were located, because no such records have been created.  Accordingly, there are no records to provide.”
 See the pdf here and the photo above for the complete letter.  DOE prides itself as operating like a business, but there is no corporation or organization that would fail to evaluate the performance of its top executives.
Instead, the educrats at Tweed are more like a petty dictatorship, whose workings are so dysfunctional and mismanagement so extreme that they would have been fired years ago, if there was any accountability at the top.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Crony capitalism and the inequities of NYC charter funding: Julian Robertson and the case of the billionaire scion's preschool

The portion of the NYC budget going into the pockets of charter school operators is growing fast, according to the Independent Budget Office, and will top $1 billion next school year.  See graph below.

(Source: GothamSchools from IBO data)
In addition, there are many hidden funding sources not reflected in this graph, reflecting significant  inequities between the way charters and district public schools are funded in NYC.
First of all, for the two thirds of the charters that are given space and services free in public school buildings - which we believe is illegal -- amount to many millions of dollars in additional subsidies per year, and result in these students receiving more than the average per student funding that districts public schools receive, according to the an analysis from the Independent Budget Office.
Charter school students are also twice as likely to get free busing paid for by the city -- another expense not reflected in the above graph.  Some 20% of charter students ride school buses, compared to just 9% of regular public school kids.
(Source:  Bruce Baker, Rutgers Univ.)
Because charters are not subject to the city's "fair student funding" system, but get an average per pupil funding amount set by the state no matter what the need level of their students, they also receive substantially more than their fair share than public schools.  In contrast, NYC public schools enroll  greater numbers of these at-risk students, and their funding is in part set by the needs level of their students.  (See the graph above, comparing the needs levels of some prominent NYC charter chains to district schools in the same borough, as analyzed by school finance expert,  Bruce Baker of Rutgers University; more on this here.)
In addition, charter start-ups  receive special subsidies  amounting to more than $2 million per year from the city's Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD); and are not being required to adhere to the same costly mandates, such as the new teacher evaluation system imposed by the state.  
Many NYC charters also raise millions of dollars privately from their supporters in the hedge-fund industry, Wall street executives, and other assorted billionaires.  Eva Moskowitz' Success Academy charters recently raised $7 million in one night; despite the fact that her schools had surpluses of over $28 million.  NYC charters also receive myriad other special favors from an administration that is widely recognized as biased towards these privately-managed schools.  
One way that public schools do tend to have an advantage is that they can provide publicly-financed preK,
Spencer Robertson, preK and charter school operator
while charters cannot legally be provided with these funds, according to state law.  Yet even in this case, some charter schools have gotten around this provision in the law.

Note the example of the PAVE charter school, run by Spencer Robertson, the son of billionaire Julian Robertson, a close associate of Mayor Bloomberg's.
In order to evade this prohibition, Robertson the son set up a dummy corporation for a pre-school for PAVE called the "Henry Cooper Westendarp" school, named after PAVE's  director of  finance. This pre-school  is being funded through a separate contract with the DOE to the tune of nearly half a million dollars, and it will help ensure a steady stream of students for Spencer's charter school. 
Julian Robertson, billionaire and non-city taxpayer
Along with Chancellor Walcott, Spencer is also on the board of the NYC Charter Center, which is headed by Phoebe Boyer, who runs both of Julian's foundations, the Tiger and Robertson Foundations, which help finance the Charter Center and other pet projects of the Mayor.  
Yet Julian, whose net worth is  $2.8 billion according to Forbes, refuses to pay city taxes, and has his secretary calculate exactly how many days he must travel out of the city and schedules him accordingly, to avoid doing so. 
See below commentary by parent Jim Devor, outgoing president of Community Education Council in District 15 on the need for an investigation into how the city is providing funds to pay for PAVE's preschool. 


1)  As is widely known, there is a desperate need for pre-K space THROUGHOUT  District 15 (especially in Sunset Park and the South Slope/Greenwood Heights) EXCEPT for Red Hook.  In fact, according to the "Blue Book", local Red Hook elementary schools are "underutilized" with at least 750 "unused" and available seats.

2)  To increase pre-K capacity, the DoE funds a number of full and part time Universal Pre-K ("UPK") programs (usually - but not always - operated by community based organizations) throughout the City (including D15).

3)  The ONLY full time D15 UPK funded by the DoE (as approved by the Panel for Educational Policy this Spring) is "pre-PAVE" which will receive slightly less than a half million dollars for 54 four year olds in full time pre-K.  Coincidentally, I'm sure, this is the highest per pupil allocation of any such UPK in the entire City as approved by the PEP.

4)  Notwithstanding the DoE claims that PAVE and pre-PAVE are separate entities, pre-PAVE is going to be run by Cooper Westendarp - PAVE's Chief Financial Officer (who earns over 90K per year in that capacity).

5)  Furthermore, the PAVE  Charter School has sought (and apparently received) approval to conduct its Kindergarten lottery seventeen months in advance. 

6)  As per Sonia Park, the Director of the DoE's Charter School Accountability & Support Division, those lucky winners will be "invited" (but not "required") to attend pre-PAVE this Fall.  Thus, at the very least, those lottery winners will have priority over all other applicants to pre-PAVE.  And if all lottery winners accept the "invitation", no other children will have access to that pre-K program. 

7)  In any event, according to the PAVE website, ALL pre-PAVE graduates will automatically be granted admission to PAVE.  Nevertheless, at the PEP, the Chancellor incredibly denied that applying to PAVE was a pre-condition for acceptance to pre-PAVE.

8)  The bottom line is that by creating a pre-K along with a seventeen month "advance" lottery, PAVE has effectively established a Charter School that starts in Pre-K.  That is a direct violation of the Charter School Act which prohibits pre-K grades in Charter Schools.

9)  Before the PAVE pre-K proposal was even calendared for approval by the Panel for Educational Panel, the DoE
Executive Director of the Office of Early Childhood Education, Sophia Pappas, directly intervened on behalf of "PAVE pre-K" with NYC Housing Authority to personally lobby it to locate the proposed program on NYCHA property needed by Red Hood Senior Citizens. 

10)  While that maneuver was eventually foiled, one has to question why a high-level Educrat would be allowed to misuse her position to advance the pecuniary interests of a private party to the clearly unnecessary detriment of local NYCHA senior citizens. 

11)  Meanwhile, as thousands of children are being deprived access to pre-K throughout the City (30% of all applicants), the ONLY D15 public school with ANY pre-K slots available is PS 676 (Red Neighborhood School) literally located about three blocks away from PAVE. 

12)  This peculiar misallocation of NYC DoE resources can perhaps be explained, at least in part, by the ENORMOUS influence of the Robertson family.  For example, the Chancellor serves on the Board of the NYC Charter Schools Center along with PAVE founder and Director Spencer Robertson. 

13)  In addition, the Chair of said Board is Phoebe Boyer, the "Executive Director of the Tiger Foundation and Interim Executive Director of the Robertson Foundation" - both of which happen to be predominantly funded by Julian Robertson (one of the wealthiest men in the world who, of course, is Spencer's dad).

Have we connected the dots yet?

During the last days of session, the Assembly passes two bills to protect student privacy; Senate and Governor Cuomo fail to act

In the last few days of the legislative session, two bills to protect student privacy were approved by the NY Assembly: A.7872, introduced by Education Chair Cathy Nolan, which would allow parents to opt out of their children’s personal identifiable information from being shared with third parties, and A.6059A, introduced earlier by Assemblymember O'Donnell, that would block re-disclosures (as inBloom plans to do) to third parties without parental consent.  Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on either of these bills, or a similar bill to protect student privacy, introduced by Senator Grisanti, S.4284, that had strong bipartisan support. Despite the fact that nearly 3,000 parents also signed a petition to the Governor, asking him to intercede on their behalf, and  we met with Cuomo's top Education aide, De' Shawn Wright, about this, he did nothing on this issue either.
At this juncture,the NY State Education Department continues to ignore the protests of parents and the concerns elected officials, and is going ahead with a risky and unethical plan to share the most confidential, sensitive information of New York state’s public school students with inBloom Inc., to be uploaded onto  a vulnerable data cloud and provided to for-profit vendors without parental consent.  We will have to continue our struggle to protect student privacy and parental rights.
The press release put out by Speaker Silver about the passage of the Nolan bill follows.    

June 20, 2013

Assembly Passes Bill Giving Parents Control of Student Information 
When Requested by Third Parties
Measure Authorizes Parents to Determine Who Can Access their Children's Pre-K through 12th Grade Personally Identifiable Student Information

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell today announced the passage of legislation that would authorize the parents of students to determine who can have access to certain private information that is used to identify their children. 

“In this day and age of high speed computers, data mining and identity theft, we have to ensure that our son’s or daughter’s student information does not fall into the wrong hands,” said Silver.  “This bill will require that the information kept by schools about students remains private and will be disclosed only with the consent and knowledge of a student’s parents.” 
“The good old days when student information was stored in wooden filing cabinets and primarily shared by mail with college admission offices, scholarship boards and potential employers are long gone,” said Nolan. “This measure addresses the risks of the computerized world with safeguards that will keep the names, social security numbers, fingerprints and other personal information used to identify students confidential, and prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of this highly personal information.” 
“As a member of the house with a long-standing commitment to education and the future of children, I believe we need to enact measures that protect the personally identifiable information of students,” said O’Donnell. “This bill provides a simple solution to a complicated problem that will shield young people from the consequences of an unauthorized disclosure of their student information just as they are beginning the journey of life.” 
According to Silver, Nolan and O’Donnell, the legislation addresses concerns that have emerged following the decision by the State Education Department (SED) to share the personally identifiable information of students in grades K through 12 with commercial vendors who will store the data for use by SED. 
The bill (A.7872, Nolan) would empower the parents of students in pre-K through 12th grade to determine whether third party requests to access their children's student information will be granted. It also provides exceptions that permit access to certain student information in cases that require compliance with the law, a court order, subpoena, state and federal audits or health and safety emergencies. 
In addition, the measure requires SED to develop forms to authorize parents to prohibit the disclosure of their children's personally identifiable student information.