Monday, April 28, 2014

Resolution opposed to the provisions in the NYS budget giving preferences to charter schools for free public space

This resolution has been approved by  Community Education Councils in District 1 in Manhattan, District 20 in Brooklyn and District 30 in Queens.  Please let us know if your CEC has approved it as well by emailing us at 

Resolution Opposing Provisions in the NY State Budget for 2014-2015 Requiring the Department of Education Provide Space at Public Expense of Charter Schools

WHEREAS Charter Schools in New York City frequently displace public school students from existing school facilities and create overcrowded conditions; and

WHEREAS Charter Schools in New York City have been shown by the City’s Independent Budget Office to receive more public funding per pupil than public schools; and

WHEREAS Charter Schools in New York City have spent over  5 million dollars in fees to public relations and advertising firms in their campaign to demand public space; and

WHEREAS Charter Schools in New York City receive backing from wealthy investors who benefit from federal tax credits valued at millions of dollars under the Federal New Markets program; and

WHEREAS Charter Schools have resources and the means to find their own facilities outside of the Department of Education’s building inventory;

WHEREAS the New York State Budget for 2014-2015 requires that New York City’s Department of Education provide space at no cost to Charter Schools, thereby severely curtailing local control of city schools and placing public school students at a distinct and unfair disadvantage; and

THEREFORE, be it resolved that Community Education Council 1 is opposed to these provisions;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that Community Education Council 1 hereby calls upon the Senate  to introduce new legislation rescinding the provisions requiring the Department of Education to provide free space to Charter Schools, thereby restoring local control of city schools ; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Community Education Council 1 hereby calls upon Governor Cuomo to allow the Mayor to oversee the usage of NYC public school space in accordance with the State Education Law of mayoral control.

Unanimously approved on April 23, 2014

Sign our petition to Commissioner King and the Board of Regents on the need to protect student privacy!

UPDATE:  Parent leaders from throughout the state sent Commissioner King and the Board of Regents a letter April 29, 2014 with the same message;  the letter is posted here

Though NY State was finally forced to sever its contract with inBloom, and inBloom has announced it is closing its doors, there are still many threats to student privacy that the new state law did not address, as well as the huge number of vendors eager to get their hands on our children's  personal data.  The new law requires that the Commissioner appoint a privacy officer who will write a parent bill of rights.  We must ensure that this privacy officer creates a bill of rights that respects parents and provides them with the ability to protect their children's privacy and safety. Please read the petition to Commissioner King and the Regents posted below and sign it here.


To Commissioner King and the Board of Regents:

For more than two years, since the state entered into a data-sharing agreement with inBloom, you have refused to notify the public, hold hearings, or even answer parents’ questions about your plans to disclose the personal information of their children to this corporation.  Your lack of respect for student privacy and parental concerns was also made clear by the fact New York was the last state among nine to sever its relationship to inBloom and the ONLY one in which a law had to be passed to do this.

Now that inBloom is closing its doors and the new state law contains a range of new privacy protections, including a privacy officer who will develop a parent bill of rights, we urge you to demonstrate a new transparency and accountability by taking the following steps:

1-    Minimize the state’s collection and sharing of personal student data and maximize the opportunities for parental notification and consent;

2-    Appoint an independent privacy advocate as your privacy officer, rather than someone from  inside the NYS Education Department or from the corporate world;

3-    Hold public hearings and elicit comments and suggestions from parents and other stakeholders as to the parent bill of rights and the regulations that will enact the new law, while also encouraging the public to submit their comments online and posting them;

4-    Appoint an advisory board of parents, advocates, educators, administrators and privacy experts to guide your work going forward and to provide independent oversight for the state’s P20 “cradle to the grave” student tracking system, that is designed to collect and link personal data on children from many state agencies;

5-  Immediately post any and all contracts in which the State is providing personal student data  to vendors and other third parties– including your agreement with the PARCC consortium that is developing the new tests that will replace the state exams.

These agreements should delineate exactly which data elements are being disclosed to third parties, what restrictions have been placed on their use,  whether the third parties are barred from redisclosing the data without parental consent, what security and encryption protections are being used, and when the data will be destroyed.

If you take the steps outlined above,  it will help demonstrate a new acknowledgement on your part that parents have a legitimate interest in the privacy and security of their children, which must be respected rather than ignored.

Sincerely yours,
Sign here

Thursday, April 24, 2014

2014 Annual "Skinny" Awards Dinner! Please buy your ticket today!

On Monday, June 9 we will be holding our annual “Skinny” award dinner, to honor three extraordinary individuals who have given us the real “skinny” about our public schools. 

Liz Phillips, Principal of PS 321
Our honorees this year are Liz Phillips, principal of PS 321 in Brooklyn, Carol Burris, principal of South Side HS on Long Island, and Patrick Sullivan, former Manhattan representative to the Panel for Education Policy.  

Liz and Carol are leaders in one of the most exciting developments of this or any year  --principals who are speaking out against the high-stakes and low quality of the NY State exams.  
Carol Burris, principal of South Side HS

Patrick stood up for NYC parents and consistently challenged the DOE to justify their damaging policies during the Bloomberg years.  

Patrick Sullivan, NYC public school parent
and former Manhattan representative on the PEP
Diane Ravitch will be there to help give out the awards; always an inspiration to all of us in the “resistance,”  fighting to protect and strengthen public education and against the forces of corporate reform.

Please buy your tickets now, to reserve your seat for a terrific  four course dinner at Bocca Di Bacco at 191 7th Ave (at 21st St).

If you cannot attend, please donate to our organization if you would like our work on student privacy, parent rights, and class size to continue, or simply to honor these three heroes who have courageously spoken out,  when others would have remained quiet.

Our annual dinner is always one of the most enjoyable evenings of the year, and one that you will not want to miss. And this year,  with the demise of inBloom, we have something special to celebrate.  -- thanks. Leonie Haimson, Executive Director

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who are they kidding? The excuses of NY State Education Department and Pearson for the prominent trademarks in the ELA exam fall flat

American Girl Doll desk

American Girl Doll made by Mattel

Deborah Poppe, of West Hempstead, Long Island, said her eighth-grade son was similarly puzzled by a question, which drew complaints for a second straight year, about a busboy who failed to clean some spilled root beer — Mug Root Beer, to be exact, a registered trademark of PepsiCo.
'"Why are they trying to sell me something during the test?'" she quoted her son as saying. "He's bright enough to realize that it was almost like a commercial."

* * *

"There are no product placement deals between us, Pearson or anyone else," said Tom Dunn, an Education Department spokesman. "No deals. No money. We use authentic texts. If the author chose to use a brand name in the original, we don't edit."

Pearson spokeswoman Stacy Skelly said neither the company nor the education department received any compensation for the mentions. And if any brand comes up in a passage, she said, "the trademark symbol is included in order to follow rights and permission laws and procedures." -- Karen Matthews, AP
The AP wire's story about the brand names of products appearing in this year's New York state 2014 ELA exams has been reprinted in hundreds of news outlets around the country and overseas. As a publishing professional, I have my own take on it.

This is the second year in a row of complaints about not just brand names appearing, but their appearance with (R) and (TM), the symbols for registered and unregistered trademarks. According to teachers, the following products had trademarks after their names, and also listed below the reading passages:

Life Savers, iPods, Nike, Mug root beer, Barbie, Singer sewing machines, IBM, and FIFA, trademark of the International Soccer Federation. Mug Root beer, IBM, and FIFA and trademark symbols were included in last year’s ELA tests as well.

The statements from NYSED and Pearson are misleading. Passages published in a magazine, newspaper, or book would never have (R) or (TM) symbols after a brand name. There is no legal reason for those symbols to appear in print. This is stated in the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, both industry bibles.  Dunn claims "We don't edit." This is not true. 

Pearson did in fact edit the original material; they put those symbols IN. And why NOT edit? Even though the original works might use brand names, Pearson could have edited them out in order not to distract the children.

Skelly's statement is just as disingenuous. There would be no reason or "procedure" to "include" the symbol. As a copy editor, in my twenty-year career I have never had to obtain permission to use a brand name on behalf of an author. And, an author would not stipulate that reprinting his or her work would require adding the (R) or (TM) symbols for included brand names. What permissions laws and procedures is she speaking of? Did no one else at Pearson correct her? New York is a media capital, many of whose professionals are public school parents. Who do NYSED and Pearson think they're kidding? 

The eighth grader is absolutely correct: the (R) and (TM) symbols appear only when the brand is selling its own item--such as Mattel's American Girl and Barbie dolls on its web site. Adding them to previously published work reflects inexperienced, shoddy work on the part of Pearson and NYSED. 

Oh, and speaking of Mattel: their American Girl doll sets include miniature Pearson Math textbooks. AND, how very convenient that Barbie (TM) appears on the Pearson-produced 2014 ELA!

So did our children think they had to write out "Barbie (TM)" in full in their answers in order to be correct? Did kids as young as third grade have to wrestle with this as well as deal with numbered paragraphs that they had to refer back to? And field test questions, which have helped to make the ELA almost twice as long as the SATs?

What other problems did New York state kids have to put up with so that Pearson can build up a bank of usable test questions to sell to other states? I urge fellow parents to demand that NYSED release the test questions. And this fall, make an appointment to see your child's essay responses. The secrecy of the New York state tests is unconscionable. And the math portion for grades 3-8 is next week, April 30-May 2.
American Girl backpack with yet another Pearson textbook

American Girl Doll's Pearson textbook
-- Edith Baltazar is a New York City public school parent and freelance copy editor for major book publishers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Statement on inBloom's overdue demise

UPDATE: news clips of inBloom's closing was covered in WSJEducation Week , Newsday, Washington Post AnswerSheet, NYTimes blog, Schoolbook/WNYC, Times Union, and Chalkbeat.

Today's announcement that inBloom is closing its doors will hopefully make government officials, corporations and foundations more aware that parental concerns cannot be ignored, and that they must stop foisting their “solutions” on our schools and classrooms with no attention given to the legitimate concerns of parents and their right to protect their children from harm.

Yet the statement issued by inBloom’s CEO reeks of arrogance and condescension, and makes it clear that those in charge still have not learned any lessons from this debacle.  The fervent opposition to inBloom among parents throughout the country did not result from “misunderstandings”  but inBloom‘s utter inability to provide a convincing rationale that would supercede the huge risks to student security and privacy involved.

Contrary to the claims of Iwan Streichenberger and others,  InBloom was  not designed to protect student privacy but the opposite: to facilitate the sharing of children’s personal and very sensitive information with data-mining vendors,  with no attention paid to the need for parental notification or consent, and this is something that parents will not stand for.  In New York, the last state to pull out of inBloom and the only one in which legislation was needed to do so, parents were joined by superintendents and teachers in pointing out that the risks to children’s privacy and safety far outweighed any educational benefits.

At the same time, we realize that the fight for student privacy is just beginning. There are more and more data-mining vendors who, with the help of government officials, foundations, and think-tanks, are eager to make money off of student information in the name of “big data” and “personalized” learning, and in the process see parents, if they recognize our existence at all, as ignorant obstacles to their Orwellian plans.  This is despite the fact that the educational value of putting kids on computers and subjecting them to canned software programs is not supported by evidence, and is yet another way in which children’s education is being mechanized, depersonalized, and outsourced to corporate hands. 

As a consequence to inBloom’s overreach, parents throughout the country have also become painfully aware of the way in which the federal government has actively encouraged data-sharing and data-mining of personal student information by eviscerating FERPA.  We will continue to work with parents and advocates to see that the federal government returns to its original role as protecting  student privacy, and recognizing the parental right to notification and consent,  rather than furthering the ability of for-profit vendors and other third parties to commercialize this data without regard to its potential harm.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pictures and words from our amazing rally yesterday; protesting Gov. Cuomo's forced charter takeover of our public schools

Yesterday, we held a terrific rally with hundreds of parents and kids, filling the steps of the NY Public Library, outraged at the onerous provisions in the state budget bill that would force the city to give every new and expanding charters preference for public school space going forward or cover the cost for them to obtain private space.  The rally was the result of an unprecedented outreach and organizing effort by Community Education Council leaders, elected by public school parents citywide,  to inform them of what had happened, and allow them to express their justified outrage at the forced privatization of our public schools. For more on the rally see our press release on Diane Ravitch's blog here.

This is the most egregious charter preference law in the nation, and the most acute violation of local control.  As Sen. Liz Krueger pointed out at the rally, the privatizers avidly supported mayoral control when that mayor was Michael Bloomberg, eager to give away our schools to charter operators.

But when New Yorkers overwhelmingly elected  a mayor who said he would charge charters rent and hold a moratorium on co-locations, the powers that be persuaded the Governor and the leaders of the Legislature to perform a bloodless coup, to essentially eliminate mayoral control and force the city to pay for unlimited charter expansion at the cost of our public school students, creating even more division, overcrowding, deprivation and larger class sizes. 

Here are some snapshots from the afternoon -- which sadly few media outlets chose to cover:

Yes!  All Kids do Matter.  And the Governor should stop playing favorites and do his duty by providing an equal education for all children.

Gloria Corsino, President of the Citywide District 75 Council, with a sign pointing out how the Governor and (some of ) our Senators sold us out.

Some of the elected leaders who came to support our rally and oppose the hostile takeover of our schools included State Senators Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger, and City Council Education Chair Danny Dromm.
The crowd continued to gather, and despite the anger, it was a festive occasion with green balloons and an opportunity to have our voices heard for a change. 

Brad Hoylman, one of only three Senators to vote against the budget bill, saying, "Did any ask the parents if they wanted their kids evicted out of classrooms and art rooms to make way for charters?"  The answer was a resounding NO!
Councilmember Danny Dromm, chair of the Education Committee and a former teacher for 22 years, called the new charter provisions "education apartheid."

The civil rights leader Hazel Dukes, President  of the NAACP New York State Conference, told how she will continue to fight for the rights of all children for a quality education, and pointed out that 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, special needs kids are getting their services in closets due to charter encroachment.

Hundreds of us march to the Governor's office on 3rd Avenue, while chanting, led by drummers.

We collect (fake) money to give to the Governor, as this is what appears to be motivating his preferential treatment of charter operators and their hedge fund backers, who have contributed nearly $1 million to his re-election campaign.

Children and their parents cross the street to meet with the Governor's representative, to give her a postcard addressed to Cuomo, signed by kids and parents, urging him not to sell-off our schools, with (fake) money taped to it.

The children hold up the post card to the Governor, with a stamp portraying Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly.  (Thanks Shino Tanikawa for her artwork!)  They  hold more signs, saying "Don't Squish us in, Public Schools Necesitamos Espacio!"

The Governor's deputy press secretary carries the post card back into their offices. 

Meanwhile, Brooklyn parents, facing a Success co-location that the community uniformly opposes, get into a heated argument with a Success employee, there to videotape the proceedings for Eva Moskowitz.

Our protest ends with a speech by Senator Bill Perkins, one of the other three Senators to vote against the budget bill, along with Sen. Velmanette Montgomery.   He compares the proliferation of charter schools to the growth of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises selling unhealthy food; and adds that charter operators are like "wolves in sheep clothing."