Saturday, November 30, 2013

A very twittery Thanksgiving, thanks to StudentFirst NY -- and some not-so thankful respondents

Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst
StudentsFirst was founded and is led by former DC chancellor Michelle Rhee and funded primarily by hedge fund operators, the Walton Foundation and Wall St. financiers.  She claims two million members, hyperbolic assertions that are oft repeated by credulous reporters, despite the fact that many of these "followers" landed on her mailing list by mistake, after signing one of  the organization's deceptive petitions promoted by for-profit sites like 

The New York chapter of the organization, StudentsFirst NY, run by Jenny Sedlis, formerly of Success Charter chain, makes similarly  inflated claims of 150,000 members. Exaggerated assertions seem endemic to the organization. In recent testimony, SF organizer Tenicka Boyd  maintained the organization has "talked to over 300,000 New Yorkers" to gauge their support for the corporate reform agenda of Common Core and more high-stakes testing.

Jenny Sedlis of StudentsFirst NY

Despite any evidence of real grassroots support, these organizations do have a substantial budget and paid staff here in New York and across the nation, making it somewhat surprising that when they send out a message, the response is so overwhelmingly negative.

On Thanksgiving, this phenomenon was put in high relief by a series of StudentsFirstNY tweets, extolling the glories of the corporate agenda of the Common Core, teacher evaluation through test scores, and parent "choice" (meaning charters, not the ability to opt out of flawed standards, tests or data sharing with corporations like inBloom Inc.).  All these tweets were met by unmitigated scorn.  Here is a sample, along with some typical responses:

Etc. -- with a barrage of even more scathing responses.  Despite the overwhelmingly contemptuous reaction, whoever was tweeting for @StudentsFirstNY kept going (or perhaps had put her twitter account on a timer.)
The first to reply was NYC Council member Mark Weprin from Queens (and a leading candidate for Speaker):

Still, the StudentsFirst tweeter kept going, seemingly indifferent to the increasingly scornful reaction she was provoking:

The StudentFirst twitter account continued to spew out talking points ad nauseum:

StudentsFirstNY went on to praise the persistence of Commissioner King in forging ahead with this agenda, despite overwhelming opposition:


I switched over to the twitter account of the parent organization, @StudentsFirst, to check if it was issuing similar messages.  Thankfully, the account sent out only one tweet on Thanksgiving, which  provoked an appropriate response:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chicago parents give thanks as their schools pull out of inBloom Inc., but NY Commissioner KIng remains fully committed; why?

Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch
As reported in today’s Sun-Times, Chicago is dropping inBloom like a hot potato.  This $100 million project, created by the Gates and Carnegie Foundations, continues to lose adherents.  Already, seven other states originally listed as inBloom “partners” have dropped out or put their data-sharing plans on hold.  (See the timeline and list in my testimony here.)  Up to yesterday, Illinois and New York were the only two states still committed to sharing data with inBloom Inc. 

Some back story: Last Thursday night, November 21, I was an invited to speak at a forum on student privacy in Chicago, hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union and several activist parent groups, including More than a Score and PURE; see the video of my presentation here.  Unknown to me at the time, the Illinois state official who is heading the inBloom project, a man named Brandon Williams, was in the audience. 

Earlier that day, I had been part of a parent and teacher group which had briefed the editors of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times about inBloom.  At these meetings, both sets of editors appeared seriously concerned about the vast privacy and security implications of the project.  Yet only one article had appeared in the Chicago press about this issue at that point, also in the Sun Times, two days before.
At the forum on Thursday night, Brandon Williams privately told the representative from the CTU that the issue was getting too “hot” and that Illinois Education Commissioner Chris Koch had decided to keep the state’s student data system, called ISLE, completely separate from inBloom, which before they had intended to be conjoined.  Now, district participation would be completely voluntary – even for the 35 school districts that had received Race to the Top funds out of  866 districts in the state.  These districts would NOT have to return their RTTT funds even if they decided not to participate in inBloom, because their data could be uploaded only into ISLE, the internal state data system.
This decision led Chicago officials to immediately drop out inBloom, the first of the 35 Illinois districts to publicly disengage.  Moreover, the Illinois State Education Dept. already had said that even if a district wanted to upload data to inBloom, no student health or disciplinary data could be shared, because this would be too sensitive – only purely “academic” data.
Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch
Contrast these developments to what is happening here, where the NY Education Commissioner John King remains wholly committed to this project, despite scathing criticism from state legislators, superintendents, principals, school boards and parents.  The latest Superintendent to speak out against inBloom, John Bierwirth of the Herricks school district, has said that all Nassau County superintendents were “on the same page” opposing this project, and that “I don’t think there’s a person in Nassau County who thinks InBloom is a good idea."  He added that "the state education department hasn’t provided a good answer" when asked what the real purpose of this project is, and that “the commissioner is digging a hole deeper day after day.”
Indeed, at forums in all parts of the state, King is regularly assailed for his determination to provide children’s most private data to inBloom Inc. against the will of their parents.  This personal student data will be stored on a vulnerable cloud, to be provided with for-profit vendors, including those producing the data dashboards.  Last night, at a forum with more than 700 angry parents, teachers and students at Eastport-South Manor High School on Long Island, King was angrily confronted again and again on this issue. One parent said about his data-sharing plans, "I can't sleep at night thinking about this; Dr. King, how can you?" When he tried to repeat the stale inBloom talking points, he was interrupted by parents yelling from the audience. 

Despite this growing fury, the Commissioner continues to insist that even without the support of school boards, even if districts decide to return their RTTT funds as more than thirty have now done, even without the consent of parents, he will share an entire statewide data set with inBloom, including their student disciplinary and health data, and more specifically their suspension records, disabilities and 504 diagnoses.
At the same time, King and other NYSED officials are encouraging districts to share even more confidential  data with inBloom Inc., and to sign up for additional “personalized learning tools” produced by for-profit vendors, who will data-mine and use this information to help them produce products to be sold back to schools and districts.  Even as every other of the nine original inBloom states has apparently pulled away from the project, New York stands alone.  Why the difference?
We can only speculate. Earlier this week, in a front page story in the Albany Times Union, James Odato reported how the Regents fellows, the key officials who are “helping drive reforms” and implementing King’s agenda, are being paid for with $19 million “from some of the nation's wealthiest philanthropists,” including the Gates and Carnegie Foundations, the two backers of inBloom Inc.  Odato described how the Fellows inhabit a separate silo at State Ed: “The three-year-old operation, which now comprises 27 full-time staffers and a half-time intern, is unique in public education systems nationwide… the arrangement is stirring concern in some quarters that deep-pocketed pedagogues are forcing their reform philosophies on an unwitting populace, and making an end run around government officers.”  According to Odato, because they are privately funded, the Regents Fellows are not bound by ethics rules or the Public Officer's Law that govern the behavior of other government officials.
We also know through a FOIL submitted by activists in Louisiana that that Amrit Singh, the Regents Fellow in charge of inBloom in New York, was actively recruiting John White, the Louisiana State Superintendent, into the project last year, and helped persuade him to provide a statewide set of student data to inBloom Inc.  A few months after the Louisiana student data as uploaded, White ordered the data be deleted from the inBloom cloud, after protests by parents and school board members. 
We also know that the Gates Foundation gave at least $15 million to the NY State Education Department between 2007 and 2012, for this and other programs, including the Common Core. See our spreadsheet here.  In the Washington Post, principal Carol Burris pointed out how Gates Foundation has provided financial support to Common Core Inc., which produced the highly flawed math modules that NYSED purchased for $14 million, drawing on earlier research by Jessica Bakeman of Capitol NY. 
Last week, an article in the Catholic Education Daily reported that the Gates Foundation has donated more than $10.5 million to private companies like Common Core Inc., to help them develop Common Core aligned curricula.  Mercedes Schneider has explored how Gates has spent at least $150 million to develop these products and convince states to adopt the Common Core.  
We also know that last year, the NYC Department of Education received $1.8 million from the Gates Foundation through its private fundraising arm called the Fund for Public Schools, for the “integration of Common Core implementation strategies with new forms of teacher professional development to align with emerging functionalities and capacity of Shared Learning Infrastructure [SLI is another name for inBloom’s data system].  Thus, Gates has more than a quarter of a billion dollars invested in the Common Core and inBloom alone.
At this point, we don’t know what other financial incentives the Gates Foundation may have provided to NYSED officials since 2012 or now may be dangling in front of them, as they watch one state after another disengage from their data-mining project. All we know is now, New York is the last state standing that appears willing to sacrifice the privacy of its public schoolchildren at the altar of the Gates Foundation and inBloom Inc. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Video of Chicago forum on inBloom and data privacy

Last week I had a terrific two days in Chicago, helping parents and advocates inform the media and the general public about Illinois' irisky involvement in inBloom Inc.  Along with activist parents groups PURE and More than a  Score, and the Chicago teachers union, we briefed the editorial boards of the Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune about the need to protect student privacy and to defend against the mass disclosure of personal data that this project represents. I had meetings with the CTU staff, who are pushing the envelope on this and many other  issues, and on Friday, I testified before the Illinois State Board of Education. 
Sadly, the ISBE members said they had no idea what inBloom was -- and appeared completely unaware of  the huge  financial risks of data breaches, or that Illinois and NY remain the only two states in this highly controversial project, now that seven other states have dropped out. On Thursday night,  I spoke at a parent forum about inBloom, sponsored by More than a Score; a well-edited video of my presentation is posted here and below.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"inBloom Score" for Rating Student Discipline for Colleges Proposed by NY School Boards Association

UPDATE:  Since this was written, the NYS School Boards Association has put out a statement that David Little's account of the hypothetical use by colleges of an "inBloom score" was meant as a "cautionary tale." A transcript of his full testimony is here, if you'd like to see it for yourself. 

Across the nation, public school families have been acutely concerned with the unprecedented and potentially illegal creation of a massive, cloud-based database of sensitive student data.  These concerns have met with derision from a range of corporate reform-minded policy makers and pundits.  But testimony offered to the New York State Assembly last week proves there are people who clearly intend to expand the use of student data well beyond what public school families could ever contemplate.

David Little, Director of Government Relations for the New York State School Boards Association proposed an "inBloom score" to provide colleges with a efficiently summarized student discipline rating:
The final thing that I would envision is how this would be used in the future.  If I were post-secondary education institution, one of the most efficient ways of evaluating a student in addition to grades and SAT scores would be if I had  a numeric score based on their entire history of discipline and individual grades and individual scores over the years, and I could numerically  assess that, and say they got this on the ACT, this is their grade point average and this is their inBloom score.   That would be tremendously efficient for these people.  So I think as we go forward, I think it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that we take the time and energy to make sure that we are not only doing the right thing but we are also doing it right.
source: (, at roughly 4:10 mark)

Rather than think up new ways to efficiently exploit sensitive student data, the NY State School Boards Association ought to be concerned about the risks of inBloom to the state's school systems.  The state's contract with inBloom is so extraordinarily one sided that it presents a serious risk to the very members the Association is supposed to represent: inBloom has contractually deflected all but a token about of liability back to the districts supplying data, the inBloom entity itself has no material financial assets to backstop its work in the event its defective software results in a data breach, there are no required protocols to respond to data breaches and no obligation on behalf of inBloom to notify or compensate the victims of a data breach.

The fact that the School Board Association would call for further exploitation of student data is simply another example of the recklessness of the inBloom project and irresponsibility of those pressing it against the interests of public school families.

Kathleen Cashin’s record as an educator, administrator and on the Board of Regents

This is the second in a series we are doing, examining the record of individuals whose names have been mentioned as potential Chancellors.  Our first column summarized the record of Andres Alonso.  The following was compiled by Peter Dalmasy, Class Size Matters researcher. Full disclosure: Regent Cashin, along with Regent Rosa, received a “Skinny” award from Class Size Matters in 2012.

Kathleen Cashin has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education from Brentwood College, a Master of Science Degree in Education from Brooklyn College and a Doctorate from Fordham University.  She taught at Holy Innocents School and P.S. 299 in Bushwick during the 1970s. Beginning in 1982, she served as principal at P.S. 193 in Midwood for sixteen years.

She then served as Superintendent of District 23 in Brooklyn.  About her record there, she recently said that “We were successful in Brownsville because it was the parents, the teachers and the principals who were all pushing the same agenda…If we taught a writing program in the schools, the parents were taught it at a retreat.”

She was appointed Regional Superintendent of the now-defunct Region 5 from 2003 until 2007, encompassing Districts 19 and 23 in Brooklyn and District 27 in Queens. In 2003, 33.2 percent of the students in Region 5 in grades 3-8 could read on grade level and 34.6 percent were proficient in math. Three years later, 50.6 percent read on grade level and 56.9 percent were proficient in math. No other region that had been below 40 percent crossed the halfway mark in either subject, according to the New York Times.  Cashin explained, “We had extensive student writing everywhere...We had children reading books over and above what was required.” 

In 2006, the New York Times noted that Dr. Cashin preferred principals who came up through the system over graduates of the chancellor’s Leadership Academy, which focused on recruiting candidates from other professions.  It also reported that Dr. Cashin made the union a partner, using the UFT to help train teachers instead of using outside vendors.

Cashin left her position as Region 5 Superintendent in 2007, when regional superintendents were eliminated, and became CEO of the Knowledge Network Learning Support Organization. She stayed in that capacity until February 2010, when she became Clinical Professor of Education at Fordham.  She explained that she resigned as network leader because she could only offer advice but no direction. She said, “[We] did the best we could with the hand we were dealt [but] couldn’t effectuate the change that needed to be done.”

In 2011, Cashin was appointed as the Brooklyn member of the Board of Regents.  In an interview when she was appointed, she said she wasn’t overly concerned about the need to weaken tenure or make it easier to fire teachers. She said, “My preference would be support, support, support. I’m not worried about how to get rid of someone — I was always able to do that, tenured or not. My concern was how do you bring your teachers up to a new level.”  She also said that the Bloomberg policy of principal empowerment did not always work to improve schools: “You become empowered when you have teachers and principals working together. Not by your title.”

Cashin added that: “Curriculum is critical, to do in depth, and to do extremely well on what you do. You can’t cover everything. Then you water down your effectiveness.” She said that there was too much test prep:  “I think that the focus is on the preparation for the assessments,” she said, referring to standardized tests. I am concerned about that. Very.”
As a Regent, Cashin has been an outspoken critic of the implementation of Common Core standards, the teaching evaluation system and emphasis on high-stakes testing. She has said, “Accountability is essential, but when it is in the primary position, it causes all sort of unusual and extraneous behavior…” referring to cheating, changing grades, “credit recovery” and teaching to the test.
In May 2011, she was one of only three Regents, along with Betty Rosa and Roger Tilles to vote against the new teacher evaluations system, based 40% on assessments. In November 2011, she and Regent Rosa were the only two members of a subcommittee to vote against relaxing rules to eliminate the roles of designated members on the committee that helps determine special education services.
Cashin also led an ultimately successful effort to keep a highly regarded transfer school, Bushwick Community HS open, and visited the school several time in the winter of 2011-2012, bringing others along including Regents head Tisch, saying: “We must change the metrics to allow these schools to stay open.

In February 2012, she hosted a public hearing to call attention to the DOE’s practice of credit recovery, in which graduation rates were being inflated by allowing high school students to pass their courses even if they didn’t show up for class, by filling out a few worksheets or doing a cursory online program instead.

In April 2012, at a meeting of the Regents, she opposed a proposal to boost to 25% the portion of the teacher evaluation system based on state tests, explaining “Not everyone agrees about value-added. I’m very concerned about any extension of this approach.”
On a panel in October 2012, she spoke about the damage high-stakes testing was doing to the education system:

“We need accountability—it’s essential—but when it’s in the dominant position, it causes people to do anything and everything to reach a quantitative number…What I’m concerned about is that the social, emotional, [and] mental education is going down the drain, because we are desperate for test prep.”

On October 1, 2013,  she co-authored an article in Education Week, called “Remaking Schools as Socioemotional Places” that noted the negative impact on children of the test-based, punitive accountability system, as well as the isolation of online instruction: 

“What do children do in school when they are treated like objects to be shaped, controlled, and rewarded—or punished—for what they said or did, learned, or failed to learn? How can these children grow, be human, be happy, and become good adults? And how can teachers thrive and survive if they, too, are not treated with dignity, and humanity, by their students, colleagues, and administrators?

How can students engage in the learning process if they feel isolated, a condition that affects many students and teachers alike? For teachers are often working in isolation. And students, when they stare at computers all day, are hardly interacting with teachers or peers.

Tragically, many schools are becoming test-preparation factories where the human, interpersonal side of learning gets lost in the urgent routine of identifying test needs, problems, and distractions from achievement, for the sole purpose of improving “test results.” Often, this tendency comes in tandem with computer-based learning rather than the more personal pupil-teacher relationship. …

We believe that cutting costs, constricting classroom life to memorization and test preparation, and replacing human contact with online interaction hurt the growth and learning of the whole child, turning education into a “bucket to be filled” and not “a fire to be kindled,” to paraphrase a famous saying.”

On October 21, 2013, Cashin released a statement to the press, criticizing the   state’s implementation of Common Core standards and suggesting that the Commissioner should better heed the concerns of parents and teachers:

“The teachers have been telling us for years that parts of the Common Core are not developmentally appropriate. We did not listen to them. The Common Core is not a papal encyclical nor is it infallible. The best curriculum and the best standards are always pliable, more like a living document, rather than something that is static and fixed. We need to listen to our teachers and develop a committee of practitioners who can make appropriate changes in these standards.” 

The second issue of grave concern to me is setting the cut scores for the upcoming Regents exams. We do not want to repeat what we did on the 3-8 exams that demoralized our students, teachers and parents by setting the cut scores too high. I suggest we take an average of the last three years of the Regents exams and set the cut score near that average. We have not listened to parents, teachers and our children. We need to start listening to them and acting on their input. Only then will we win them back.”

The next day, at the Regents meeting, she questioned the usefulness of APPR, the new teacher and principal evaluation system:
We put all this time and effort and money to have 92 percent of our teachers [as] 'effective' or 'highly effective,' and almost 87 percent of our principals…What's going through my mind is: If we had put that toward [professional development], if we had put that toward supports, and not the 'gotcha' ... approach, would our children be better off?