Friday, May 30, 2014

NYC Parents: the Tripod survey is being given in 134 schools and you have the right to opt out

UPDATE:  A list of  the 133 NYC schools in which the Tripod survey is being given this spring is here.  One school apparently dropped out.  The UFT and the DOE are still in negotiations about whether this $5M survey will be used next year, or another one will be chosen to replace it.  In the meantime, check to see if your school is on the list, and if so, make sure you as a parent has been notified by your principal and received an opt out form.

Watch out parents!  Whether you know it or not, the DOE is giving a controversial survey to NYC students in 134 schools called the Tripod Survey.  DOE officials say they are allowing parents to opt out of having their children take the survey, but they won't disclose to us in which schools they are being given. Some background:

Last year when the UFT and the DOE could not come to an agreement about their teacher evaluation system, Commissioner King stepped in and mandated that the Tripod Survey would have to be  part of the evaluation system.  The Tripod is a student survey that the Gates Foundation used in its Measures of Effective Teacher studies.  With the apparent consent of the DOE, King determined that the survey would be given to students in grades 3-12, and the responses would count for 5 percent of a teacher's rating.

The survey was devised by Ron Ferguson of Harvard and is now owned by Cambridge Education LLC, a for-profit firm that the DOE has also used in the past for quality reviews.   Over the summer, the DOE agreed to pay a whopping $5.9 million to use this survey for one year, slightly negotiated down to $5.5 million when the Panel for Educational Policy approved it in September.  (At the same time, the PEP also approved a contract with Danielson Associates for half a million dollars, also for the teacher evaluation system, with their consultants being paid $4600 per day.  Too bad that we couldn't get John King to cover the cost of both contracts.)

Apparently because of UFT resistance, King said the survey would only be piloted for the first year, and then given to all students the second year.  After this announcement was made, Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post: "There are several questionable elements to the new teacher evaluation system just imposed on New York City schools by state education Commissioner John King, but the one that jumps out for sheer nitwittedness is this: Students starting in third grade will now have a say in the official assessment of their teachers."

In February, I volunteered to serve on a committee formed by the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council to work with DOE officials on how this survey would be administered. We had our first meeting March 20.  During the meeting, DOE officials from their Research division promised that no personal student information would be provided via the survey,  and that in fact, no personally identifiable information would be included anywhere on the survey sheet or the envelope containing each survey, provided to the company for its calculations.

I asked if parents would be allowed to see the survey in advance, and opt their kids out.  The DOE officials were reluctant to agree to this until I pointed out that according to Joel Reidenberg, privacy expert at Fordham, the federal law called the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) requires this. We also pressed them to make the survey available to parents online, but they subsequently decided to make it only available at the school site, so a parent has to actually go to the school to check the survey in advance.  Finally, when they said that the survey would be voluntary on the part of schools as well,  we urged them to allow the School Leadership Team to make the decision as to whether to administer it.

On March 31, we met again with DOE officials as well as Ron Ferguson and the team from Cambridge Education LLC.  They took us through a power point and explained that the survey questions are built around the "7 C's": Care, Control, Clarify, Challenge, Captivate, Confer, and Consolidate.  They explained that the survey was originally designed for teacher feedback and NOT teacher evaluation, and that a different version is used in grades 3-5 and in grades 6-12.  

Many of the questions relate to a student's emotional state,  like "Being in the class makes me angry" or "I get nervous in this class"  or "My behavior is a problem for the teacher in this class"  or "I feel out of place in this class, like I don't really fit in."  Other questions relate to classroom control and how able students are to have their questions answered; these seem to me as though the responses would likely be affected by conditions outside a teacher's control, such as class size.  Ferguson admitted that class size was somewhat correlated with the responses that students provide.

The survey also includes a Part II, with questions relating to the student's economic and family background, including what ethnic group they belong to,  how many adults they live with at home, whether they own a computer, and how many books are in their bedroom.

There are several sample versions of the Tripod survey online, though the DOE told us that they were using a new version, so the ones assigned to NYC schools will not match up exactly. First, see Appendix A of this Advocates for Children report, with sample Tripod survey questions for the Elementary (grades 3-5) and Secondary students (Grades 6-12.)  See also this version for Secondary students that was on the Rochester Teachers website, though DOE says they will not be using part III,  which includes some very personal questions.

We were led to believe that there would be another meeting of the CPAC committee before the survey was given, but repeated emails got no response, until a parent sent a message that she had heard the survey administration had already begun in her district.  Then the DOE admitted that they had already begun giving the survey on May 3 and this would run through June 26. In the 134 schools in which it is being piloted, according to the DOE, "school leaders and UFT Chapter leaders agreed to participate and were encouraged to collaborate with their School Leadership Teams on their administration plan."

Anyway, be sure to ask if your school is participating in this survey, remember that as a parent, you have the right to see it in advance, and can opt your child out if you prefer.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

20 million student records put at risk by ConnectEDU's bankruptcy -- & what lessons if any have tech enthusiasts learned from the inBloom debacle?

CORRECTION:  I have just been informed that Mitchell did not sit on ConnectEDU's board, but a company called ConnectED.

ConnectEDU was one of the three data dashboard companies chosen by the NY State Education Department to receive a statewide set of personal student data through the inBloom data cloud, as part of their "EngageNY Portal."  Now ConnectEDU has announced it has gone bankrupt, despite receiving a $500,000 grant from the Gates Foundation less than a year ago.  Until recently, Ted Mitchell sat on its Board of Directors.  Mitchell is the former head of the New School Ventures Fund, and was just confirmed Under Secretary to Arne Duncan at the US Department of Education

The assets of ConnectEDU, including 20 million personal student records, are being bought by a venture capital company called North Atlantic Capital.  Now the FTC is stepping in, to try to block the handing over of all these personal records.  According to Education Week:

The potential sale of 20 million student records by ConnectEDU, an ed-tech company that filed for bankruptcy in April, has prompted the Federal Trade Commission to step in to protect the student data, the agency announced Friday.

ConnectEDU, a 12-year-old Boston-based company, provides interactive tools to help K-12 and post-secondary learners make academic and career decisions. In its privacy policy, ConnectEDU promised that—prior to any sale of the company—registered users would be notified and have the ability to delete their personally identifiable data.

Now, the FTC said that promise appears to be compromised by the potential sale of the company's assets, including the student data, to North Atlantic Capital, a Portland, Me.-based venture capital fund. As a result, the commission—by a vote of 5-0—authorized its consumer protection bureau to write a letter to the bankruptcy court that will rule on the asset sale.

The letter indicates that the terms of the sale of the company and its subsidiary Academic Management Systems Inc. in bankruptcy do not provide consumers the notice and choice set forth in the privacy policy and could potentially run afoul of both the FTC Act and the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Thankfully, New York State passed a law against the state providing personal student data to inBloom for the purpose of populating data dashboards as part of the state budget on March 31, and inBloom went out of business in April.  If not, ConnectEdu was in line to receive the personal data of the entire state’s public school student population – and this was originally due to occur last fall. This latest development shows how utterly reckless the state’s plans were.   As the FTC letter states,

Information about teens is particularly sensitive and may warrant even greater privacy protections than those accorded to adults. These users, as well as their parents, would likely be concerned if their information transferred without restriction to a purchaser for unknown uses.

More on this issue from THE Journal:

The company claims information about 20 million registered learners, 5,000 educational institutions and 130,000 employers across 40 countries. As the FTC letter explains, students have provided the company with information about name, date of birth, address, email address, phone number, grade level, and details about their "academic and personal interests, honors and awards and work experience." ConnectEDU has also collected personal information in the form of student records made available in its contracts with high schools and community colleges.

ConnectEDU's privacy policy  promises to obtain consent from its customers before it makes "personally identifiable data" available to third parties  The FTC is urging the company to notify users, so they can ask to have their data deleted before it is sold.

Yet the lessons of inBloom and the overriding need to protect student privacy have still not been properly absorbed by tech enthusiasts in the private and public sectors.  Stacey Childress, who managed the inBloom project for the Gates Foundation and spent $100 million on it, is now stepping in to replace Ted Mitchell as the CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund. 

“Stacey brings to NewSchools a deep understanding of education entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Dave Goldberg, NewSchools board member and CEO of SurveyMonkey.  “But it is Stacey’s track record as a bold investor in people and ideas .. that has us most excited about NewSchools’ next chapter.”

I guess a "bold investor" is one way to describe how Childress threw away $100 million on inBloom, not to mention $500,000 on ConnectEdu just a few months before it went bankrupt. 

Steven Hodas is another guy who has apparently learned little from the inBloom debacle.  Hodas is head of the NYC Department of Education’s Innovation Zone and comes from the world of private industry, as Ed Week describes him,  most recently as an entrepreneur and an adviser to startups.” 

He apparently sees his role, like the NSVF and the Gates Foundation, to 
facilitate the access of data-mining vendors into our public schools:

 “Now, he's bringing his entrepreneurial spirit and energy "inside" the nation's largest school system as the executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, a district initiative to discover and expand educational technologies with high potential for transforming classrooms toward more personalized, student-centered models… By initiating an open call to developers to bring their ideas to schools, New York City has been able to identify technology solutions that would not have been discovered through a traditional request-for-proposal process…”

Check out the photo and caption from the April 2014 Innovation Zone newsletter to the right.  

Then watch what Hodas said at an NYU panel on the "Social and Ethical Dimensions of Big Data" about inBloom below, in which he propounds the myths of tremendous educator support and the benefits that the company could have provided if only inBloom had learned the basic principles of marketing through a "weekend seminar on user-friendly design." 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Diane Ravitch's speech in absentia at the May 17 Take Back our Schools Rally

Diane wearing her BAT tee-shirt in rehab
There was a great rally at City Hall Park on May 17, organized by SOS Our Schools, with numerous wonderful speakers from the Tri-state area.  But the biggest thrill for me was getting to read Diane Ravitch's speech, who could not attend because she is in rehab after knee surgery.  Here is her speech.  Thank you Diane, our Superwoman, our inspiration, and our patron saint, for allowing me to speak your words.

Thank you, Leonie, for agreeing to deliver this message on my behalf.
There is only one thing that could keep me from being with you today, and that one thing is surgery. And that one thing happened. I had major knee replacement on May 9, and I am rehab right now. Actually, I am not so far away---maybe a mile away—so if you make enough noise, I will hear you.

Try it: if you hate tests that make children cry, shout out loud, shout NO MORE!
If you think that children spend too many hours getting tested, shout NO MORE!
If you think that children should not be forced to spend taking six hours to take tests in reading and math, shout NO MORE!

If you think that teachers should write their own tests, instead of Pearson getting $32 million to write lousy tests, shout NO MORE!
If you hate the idea that the city has to pay rent for schools run by billionaires, shout NO MORE!
If you think that charters should pay their own rent, shout NO MORE!
If you think that co-locations are a terrible idea, shout NO MORE!
Me trying to do justice to Diane's words
If you hate the idea that teachers are judged by the test scores of their students, shout NO MORE!
If you think that Pearson and Google and other corporations should stop data mining our children and invading their privacy, shout NO MORE!
If you think that your child is a child, not a data point, shout NO MORE!
If you care more about your child’s health and happiness than their test scores, shout NO MORE!
Thank you, I heard you, I was listening and I heard you.

We know what the billionaires, the hedge fund managers, Bill Gates,  DFER and Governor Cuomo want for our children. They want them in boot camps where they are tested nonstop. They want our teachers harassed until they quit and are replaced by TFA. They want us to give up on public education and allow them to monetize our schools and our children.
Do you want this to happen? NO MORE! NO MORE!

Let’s talk about what we want for our children and our grandchildren.
We want them to have the same things that Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg and the hedge fund managers want for their children.
We want small classes.
We want experienced and respected teachers.
We want medical services available for all children whenever they need it.
We want libraries with librarians.
We want counselors and social workers and psychologists.
We want classes in the arts. We want a school band with instruments and beautiful uniforms. We want a chorus with a musical director. We want teachers of music and art and video production and graphics.
We want our kids to have foreign languages and history and civics and the sciences.
We want well-equipped laboratories with the latest technology.
We want physical education for our kids, not once or twice a week but every day.

We want our kids to grow up healthy and happy.
We want an end to homelessness and hunger.
We want an end to poverty.
We want a fair tax code that reduces the shameful inequality that now blights our nation.
We want to be #1 in the world in child health and well-being, not #1 among the advanced nations of the world in child poverty.
We want to be a nation where no child grows up without a home, without a safe neighborhood, and without economic security.

We want schools where children are loved, regardless of who they are or what their condition.
We want schools where every child has the chance to develop their talents and hopes and dreams without being labeled by a test score.
We want to enrich our children, not the test-makers.
We want teachers who are well-prepared and who choose teaching as their career, not a resume builder.
We want the American Dream to come true for every child.
We want good schools for all children.

We will not rest, we will not tarry, we will not be satisfied, until we stop the corporate attack on our public schools. We will not let hedge fund managers turn our public schools into their profit centers. We will not forgive Governor Cuomo for handing out special privileges to the charter school billionaires who fund his campaign.
We will not rest until we provide equality of educational opportunity for all our children.

Is this what you want? Shout YES!
Shout it loud one more time and I will hear you: YES.
Thank you for helping me recover.
Thank you for fighting not just for your child, but for all our children.
Parents and educators together. We are many. We will not be defeated. We will prevail.
Thank you and God bless you all.

Protest Cuomo's Failed Education Agenda at the Democratic Convention this Thursday!

There will be a protest this Thursday, May 22nd, beginning at 10:00 a.m., outside the Huntington Hilton in Melville, Long Island, where Cuomo is going to be nominated. President Obama is expected to make an appearance as well. The Huntington Hilton is located at: 598 NY Rte 110 (Broad Hollow Rd.), Melville, NY 11747.

There will be buses leaving from NYC and the Lower Hudson in the morning. The AQE's Long Island Organizer will be helping to shuttle people back and forth from where the buses will be parked. So, for those who want to meet up in Melville, AQE will have a shuttle that will be running from the Park and Ride at approx 335 N. Service Road at Exit 49 of the LIE. The park and ride is between Pinelawn Rd. and Rte 110 (Broad Hollow Rd.) on the N. Service Road.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Cuomo has abandoned our public schools by:

-Slashing school budgets, causing class sizes to increase, and refusing to comply with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling, which starves our highest needs students of adequate funding and resources;
- Forcing a tax cap, which requires a supermajority of voters to raise funds for education; while bribing them with tax refunds if they refuse to raise spending;
- Driving more resources and special privileges to charter schools, run by private corporate boards full of his wealthy hedge fund contributors, including forcing NYC to give them free space despite huge school overcrowding;  
 -Increasing testing and teaching to the test through pushing through a flawed teacher evaluation system.

For more information or to reserve a seat on the bus, click  here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our letter to the Chancellor about class size, and what she said in response last night

Update: Please sign our petition, urging the Mayor and the Chancellor to follow through on their promises to voters, and reduce class size now!

Last night, at the District 2 Town Hall meeting with Chancellor Farina, I read aloud excerpts from a letter co-signed by 15 Community Education and Citywide Council presidents, including several members of the DOE's Blue Book and Space sharing Committees, urging her to adopt and implement a class size reduction plan that included smaller classes in all grades, as the Contracts for Excellence law requires.

I mentioned how at a District 15 town hall meeting on May 6, she had responded to the concerns of a parent by saying that a class size of 30 in her child’s third grade was “not outrageous.”  In the letter, we summarize the court decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that class sizes in NYC were too large to provide kids with their constitutional right to a sound basic education, remind her about the mayor's promise to reduce class size during his campaign, and the fact that smaller classes is the number one priority of parents.  We also mentioned in passing her participation on one of the CFE expert panels,  whose consensus view urged class sizes of 14-17 students in elementary schools.

The video of her statement at the Brooklyn town hall is below; below that is the video of my reading of the letter and her response, summarized here:

Chancellor Fariña: “I wish it were possible.  Also keeping with the fact that we have UPK in our schools makes it difficult to keep two promises simultaneously.  But you never ever heard me say that those class sizes I would go for; I have a particular feeling there’s such a thing as too small a class size. I feel sometimes class sizes creates cliques, other kinds of non-social relationships .  I dare you to find a place where I said 14-16.  [the letter said 14-17 as the consensus view; for more on this below.] 

“Certainly PreK is 18; early childhood I would say 22-25 is much more reasonable because otherwise we would have to build buildings on top of buildings .  Not to say we shouldn’t have reduced class size.  I also think right now one of my concerns is that middle school is a little too high in some places.  So do I want reduced class size, yes. But there is a limit beyond which I think too small actually hurts kids as much as too big.”

The New York Adequacy Study, Exhibit 2-10 on p. 33 of this report includes the specific class sizes recommended by the Professional Judgement Panels, that were costed out and became the basis for the CFE funding requests.  The chart shows that 14 students per class were recommended for high poverty elementary schools, and 16.8 students per class for low poverty elementary schools.  For middle schools, the recommended class size was 22.6  students, and high schools at 18.4 to 29.1, depending on the poverty level of the school.

The fact that Carmen Fariña served on one of the Professional Judgment Panels is on p.49 and p. 52 of Volume II of the report.The task of these panels was to “design an instructional program that will provide all students in the school a full opportunity to meet the Regents Learning Standards, and to attain a Regents’ diploma.”  Of course, the recommended class sizes cited above were the consensus view of these panels, as we wrote in our letter, not what she may have personally supported.

In any case, in the letter, we urged her to follow up with the mayor’s campaign promise (which he made in response to a NYC Kids PAC survey) to comply with the city’s original C4E plan to lower class sizes to an average of no more than 20 students per class in grades K-3, 23  in 4-8 grade, and 25 in high school. 

Bill de Blasio also promised at a candidate forum on June 14 to reduce class size, and if necessary to raise revenue to do so.  A copy of his signed promise is here.   At the same time, he made it clear he was going to provide expanded preK, and never mentioned that this would conflict with his promises on class size.

As to the Chancellor’s claim that cliques are more pervasive in smaller classes, I had never heard that statement before. Most research seems to indicate that there are better social relationships and less stereotyping in a small class.  Today, I found this study by social psychologist Maureen Hallinan, summarized in the book, The Development of Children's Friendshipsconcluding that the larger the class size, the size and number of cliques modestly increases.  

In any case, the wide ranging benefits of reducing class size are well-known– including its significant impact on narrowing the achievement gap, which the Chancellor went on to say was one of her primary goals.  (The full video of last night’s Town hall is here.) 

Of course, most elite private schools cap class sizes at about 15-18 kids per class, and the Icahn charter chain caps class sizes at 18 per class in grades K-8. If you are a CEC member and would like to sign onto this letter, please let me know by emailing ; you can also email her directly at
We will also have an online petition that anyone can sign soon. According to the state’s schedule, districts are supposed to be consulting with parents and other stakeholders about their proposed C4E plan now, before posting it on June 13.  -- thanks, Leonie