Friday, September 30, 2016

Please join us at our Parent Action Conference on Nov. 5!

We are holding our second annual Parent Action Conference, co-sponsored by NYC KidsPAC and the Community Education Council in District 2.  

Where: Spruce St. School, 12 Spruce St., downtown Manhattan (near City Hall and a huge number of subway lines.  Map here.)

When: Saturday, November 5, from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM.  

A link to the flyer to post in your schools is here; please reserve your tickets at Eventbrite now.   

Topics covered will include:  

--Standards and testing; good, bad or neutral? Where are we now and where are we going?

--Reforming Mayoral control; Sharing power with parents and educators

--Fighting for more funding, school space and smaller classes

--Empowering parents: How to become an advocate

--Resisting privatization: Put the Public back in Public Education and protecting student privacy

--Advocating for Your Child with Special Needs 


And more…Free lunch provided!


Most parents who attended last year's conference in Brooklyn said it was a great success; please come if you can!  More info, including speakers and panelists, will be updated here soon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

NY Post sues NYC Department of Education for its abuse of the FOIL process

NYC parents and advocates have been continually frustrated with the delay and lack of response of DOE to Freedom of Information Law requests.  Sometimes I have waited up to two years, to then receive the DOE response that they don't have the document that I requested.

I have almost never received a fulfillment to my request within a reasonable time period -- a few months or less.  Instead, each time I receive the same form letter which says that because of "the due to the volume and complexity of requests we receive and process, and to determine whether any records or portions thereof will be subject to redactions permitted under Public Officers Law §87(2), additional time is required to respond substantively to your request. Accordingly, a response is currently anticipated" in about twenty days.  Then twenty days later I get the same letter again.

A typical instance occurred when I FOILed for the study that DOE had widely proclaimed attested to the accuracy of their teacher evaluation system, based on the value-added test scores of their students, the so-called "teacher data reports."

On December 3, 2008, DOE released a document justifying their this teacher evaluation system, entitled: “Teacher Data Initiative: Support for Schools; Frequently Asked Questions".  Among the claims made was the following: "A panel of technical experts has approved the DOE’s value-added methodology. The DOE’s model has met recognized standards for demonstrating validity and reliability.”

On Feb. 23, 2009, I FOILed for the names of members of this panel and any written materials they had produced.

On May 24, 2010, more than fifteen months later, I finally received a response. When I read the letter, the panel of experts said the opposite of what the DOE had claimed -- that these measurements could not be relied upon to fully evaluate the quality of ANY teacher.  Instead they specifically refused to endorse "any particular use \[of the method\] for accountability, promotion or tenure" purposes.  And:

"Test scores capture only one dimension of teacher effectiveness, and . . . are not intended as a summary measure of teacher performance....If high stakes are attached, there will be potential to game these measures by teaching to the test, selecting students, altering difficult-to-audit student characteristics, or outright cheating...." 
Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez also exposed the hypocrisy of the DOE here; while pointing out how the system utilized inaccurate student and test scores data in many instances, making it an even less reliable gauge for assessing teacher performance. 

In contrast, when reporters FOILed the actual evaluations of 12,000 real-life teachers based upon this unreliable methodology (apparently after being encouraged to do so by DOE), Chancellor Klein was eager to provide the data immediately.  Their release was only temporarily delayed by a lawsuit from the UFT.

When Bill de Blasio ran for office, he promised if elected Mayor he would increase the transparency at the DOE.  Not only did he check off the box on the NYC KidsPAC survey that asked whether he would "Respond to FOILs in a timely and complete fashion" but then added:

I have a record of transparency and will ensure that under my administration, the DOE will be in full compliance with FOIL. As Public Advocate, I monitored and reported on the city’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). I also created a “Transparency Report Card” helps the public track which agencies have complied with their FOIL obligations—and which have not.

Unfortunately, the first thing that happened after he took office was that I was excluded from the customary OMB budget briefings, with the excuse that advocates were no longer allowed in these meetings.

Then DOE closed School Leadership Team meetings to the public, violating the law and reversing the policy that it had previously if inconsistently maintained. (We are still waiting for the Appellate Court to rule on DOE's appeal of the April 2015 Supreme Court decision that closing these meetings is illegal.)

The DOE's responses to my FOILs have also been as slow as during the Bloomberg years -- even as to presumably uncontroversial issues like the approved plans of the PROSE schools, which the DOE has touted as innovative and progressive.  One of my DOE FOILs has been delayed for six months, and five of them for nearly six months, without any apparent progress.

So I was encouraged to hear that in August,  the NY Post had filed suit against the DOE for the months of delay in responding to their FOILs -- sometimes up to two years.  Here is the NY Post Article 78 petition , which makes fascinating reading; here is the memo of law.   An excerpt from the petition:

WHEREFORE, Petitioners respectfully request that this Court grant judgment:

(1) Declaring that Chancellor’s Regulation Chancellors Regulation D-110(VIII)(A) is unlawful and/or is inconsistent with N.Y. Pub. Officers Law § 84 et seq. and is, accordingly, invalid;

(2) Declaring that the DOE’s practice of sending repeated Form Delay Letters is inherently unreasonable and that determinations in its administrative appeal decisions that it may continue to deny access to public records because it has reissued serial unilateral extensions violates its obligations under FOIL, N.Y. Pub.Officers Law § 84 et seq.;

(3) Granting Petitioners’ Article 78 Petition, finding that DOE has constructively denied Petitioners’ requests, that Petitioners have exhausted their administrative remedies, and directing DOE to produce all disclosable records responsive to Petitioners’ outstanding requests within twenty (20) days of the Court’s order;

(4) Awarding Petitioners their costs and attorneys’ fees pursuant to Public Officers Law § 89(4)(c); and

(5) Awarding Petitioners such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.

Included in the petition is a relevant advisory opinion from Kristin O'Neill of the NY Committee for Open Government, an division of the NY Department of State:

....[T]he Post has now waited between five and nineteen months and received between three and fourteen Form Delay Letters for each of the nine pending requests. As you are aware, FOIL provides direction concerning the time and manner in which agencies must respond to requests.

Specifically, §89(3)(a) of FOIL states in part that:

"... it has long been advised that when an agency is unable to deny or provide access to records within five business days, it must provide an acknowledgement within that time indicating an approximate date, not to exceed twenty additional business days, on which it will grant access in whole or in part. If it is determined, either within five business days of the receipt of the request, or at or near the expiration of twenty business days of its acknowledgement, that it is unable to respond within twenty additional business days, it must indicate a "date certain" that includes both the date and the reasons for requiring additional time. Although we recognize that there are occasions when an agency will require an extension of time beyond that which it initially predicted, there is no provision in the statute for an extension beyond the date certain or repeated extensions. The date certain must be reasonable based on attendant facts and circumstances.

....A requester who is neither granted nor denied access to records with in the time limits set forth above or in the acknowledgment letter or any extension letter(s) may consider the request constructively denied and may appeal such denial in accordance with the procedures set forth below." (emphasis mine) As stated earlier, there is no provision in the statute for repeated extensions. ... As such, the agency is not permitted to establish the right to repeated extensions via regulation, where such right does not exist in statute or in the Committee's own regulations.

Also included in the lawsuit are the original reporters' FOIL requests and the repeated boilerplate non-responses from DOE. One of their requests which has not been fulfilled for over a year was for the substantiated cases of test or grade tampering as determined by the OSI -- the DOE's internal Office of Special Investigations.  There is no excuse for covering up any proven instances of cheating in our schools.

I don't agree with all the reporting in the NY Post.  Some of it is overly sensational; and the editors are obviously out to make de Blasio look bad.  Yet several of the Post reporters over the years, including Yoav Gonen and Sue Edelman, have uncovered serious corruption and mismanagement at the DOE, whether under Klein, Walcott or now, Chancellor Farina.  And NYC residents and taxpayers deserve a DOE that will be responsive, transparent and provide the public with its right to know.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Back to school tip: Take control of how your school shares your child’s “directory information”

This is reblogged from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy website.  Feel free to share with other parents!  You can subscribe to our PCSP mailing list here.

Back to school season can be a busy or even stressful time for both parents and children. As the days grow shorter, the “to-do” list grows longer. Number one on the list – because of its importance and time sensitivity – should be to opt out your child from directory information sharing at school.

What is directory information? 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, directory information is a limited set of personal “information that is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released” and often includes a student’s name, address, telephone number, email address, photograph, date and place of birth, etc.

It does NOT include even more intimate and sensitive personal information like test scores, grades, disability or disciplinary records that schools can legally share with companies, contractors and other third parties without parental knowledge or consent for operational, evaluation, and research purposes. The federal government has allowed these growing number of exceptions through regulatory amendments over the last decade or more, described in detail here and here.

The federal law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) enables schools or school districts to share directory information with any person or organization outside the school/district without parental consent — but only when the school/district provides public notice to parents first. Notice must include:
  • The types of student information that the school/district has designated as directory information;
  • Details about a parent’s right to refuse to allow the school/district to designate any or all of those types of information as directory information; and
  • The amount of time the parent has to notify the school/district in writing that he or she does not want any or all of this information shared with others outside the school.
FERPA allows schools/districts to adopt their own directory information policies, but if they choose to provide students’ directory information to a limited number of third parties, their public notice to parents must specify the individuals, groups or companies who may receive directory information and/or for what purposes. Unfortunately, this public notice may not always be provided, and when it is, it is often difficult to find because it may be buried in hundreds of pages of information during registration, in a student handbook, a parent newsletter, school announcement, local newspaper, or website.

Most schools/districts give parents only ten to thirty days from the start of the school year to exercise their right with regard to directory information, and most offer parents a limited choice between two options:

1) Allow schools and districts to share students’ directory information with anyone including marketing companies and the media — often referred to as “opting in” to sharing directory information; or
2) Refuse to allow schools and districts from sharing directory information with anyone, including parent organizations for purposes of creating school phone directories, graduation brochures, or companies who publish yearbooks — often referred to “opting out” of sharing directory information.
This type of “all-or-nothing” approach presents a huge challenge for many parents. On the one hand, parents don’t want their children’s private information shared with anyone who requests it. On the other hand, most parents would like their children to be included in school-related publications like yearbooks, directories, brochures, and newsletters.

While FERPA doesn’t require schools to allow parents the option to select which types of directory information can be shared with whom, some privacy-minded school districts in Maryland, Montana, and North Carolina, for example, have abandoned the “all-or-nothing” approach for a “menu selection” which gives parents more control over their student’s directory information.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have prepared a model Directory Information Opt Out form as an editable word doc;  or as a pdf  that parents can fill out and submit to their schools at the start of the school year.  We will be releasing our more comprehensive privacy toolkit t soon, via a grant from the Rose Foundation.  Our opt out form is designed to respect the ability of parents to choose what information they would like shared for what purposes, while also protecting their children’s privacy.

Why should parents opt out?

FERPA became law in 1974 at a time when students’ directory information was used primarily in school-sponsored publications like yearbooks, and to identify student athletes for local newspaper articles. Over the last forty years, individuals, groups and companies have recognized the value of this student information – especially with the creation and growth of the Internet – for commercial and non-educational purposes. Companies who access students’ directory information can sell it to others or use it to market products directly to students, political offices can use it to build their voter tracking systems, thieves can use it to steal identities, and perpetrators can use it to stalk students or commit other crimes.

How can parents opt out?
  1. Ask the school or school district for its “directory information” policy.
  2. If the school/district has a policy, read it carefully to find out which personal details are considered directory information and with whom it can or will be shared.
  3. If the policy forces parents to choose between opting in or opting out of all sharing of directory information, parents should opt out to protect their children’s privacy. However, doing so could mean that their children’s names and pictures will not be listed in the yearbook or other school-related publications.
  4. Share the model Directory Information Opt Out form we have prepared with the school’s principal or other school officials and encourage them to adopt a new policy giving parents more control over their children’s information.
  5. If the school/district does not have a directory information policy, ask if they will be sharing student’s directory information with third parties outside of the school. If the answer is yes, explain that FERPA requires that parents must be given public notice as described above, then complete the model Directory Information Opt Out form and submit it to the school/district. Follow-up in writing to ensure that the request will be honored.
Download the Directory Information Opt Out form here (.docx) or here (.pdf).

Disclaimer: This commentary does not constitute legal advice. Consult a private lawyer or call your local ACLU should you have specific questions.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The lawsuit just filed on behalf of the receivership schools

Wendy Lecker, one of the attorneys from the Education Law Center who sued the State Division of the Budget and the State Education Education last week for denying funds to struggling schools on behalf of parents, wrote this summary of the case below.  Three of the schools are in NYC as explained below.  More on how these schools intended to use these funds are here.  Here is the verified petition.

Attorney Wendy Lecker
On September 2, parents from Albany, Yonkers and New York City filed a lawsuit against the state seeking the release of receivership grant money that the Division of Budget is withholding from their children’s schools, as well as six other schools across the state.  

In 2015, New York State passed Education law 211-f, known as the Receivership Law, which directed the Commissioner of Education to designate New York public schools as “persistently failing” based on test scores and other outcome data. Appropriations legislation also passed in 2015 directed that these “persistently failing” schools were eligible to receive $75 million in funding for two-year grants.

The appropriations law mandated that the State Education Department (“SED”) develop an expenditure plan for these “transformation grants,”  that the Division of Budget (“DOB”) approve that expenditure plan, and that DOB then release the grant money pursuant to that spending plan.  

SED developed the plan in October 2015, and it was approved by DOB on October 15, 2015. The plan specifically provided for two-year grants for twenty schools, including the schools at issue in this lawsuit: Roosevelt High School, in Yonkers, William S. Hackett Middle School, in Albany, and JHS 80 The Mosholu Parkway Middle School in the Bronx. The plan also set forth the amount each school would receive over the two years.  All twenty schools applied for and received the two-year grants set forth in the spending plan. Nothing in either the spending plan nor in the applications indicated that these schools would forfeit the second year of their grants should their performance improve.

The three schools used these grants to provide mental health services and other social supports to students, extra academic support and enrichment, and professional development- all designed to improve student learning conditions and performance.

In February 2016, Commissioner Elia determined, based on student outcome data, that nine of the twenty schools were no longer considered “persistently failing.”  SED declared in February 2016 that the nine schools removed from the “persistently failing” list  “will continue to be eligible to receive funding in 2016-17 from a state grant to support and strengthen their school improvement efforts.”

However, Governor Cuomo directed the Division of Budget to withhold the second year of grant funding from these nine schools, in direct violation of the law and the statutorily-mandated spending plan approved by the DOB.

In addition to Roosevelt, Hackett and JHS 80, the six other schools affected by the DOB’s decision to withhold the grant funding are: Grant Middle School in Syracuse; three schools in Buffalo including the Elementary School of Technology, Burgard Vocational High School, and South Park High School; and Automotive High School and PS 328 Phyllis Wheatley School in Brooklyn.

Parents are outraged that Governor Cuomo is punishing these schools for improving by taking away the very resources that will help them continue to improve. 

SED continues to maintain that the transformational grant funding should be released. SED spokesperson Emily DeSantis, was quoted in the New York Times as declaring: “It makes no sense to take away funding from schools that have just started to show progress and that need all the support and resources we can give them.”

The parties are due in State Supreme Court in Albany on September 23, at 9 a.m.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

NYC Kids PAC endorses Gustavo Rivera, Robert Jackson, Debbie Medina and Robert Carroll for the State Legislature in Tuesday’s Primaries

NYC Kids PAC, composed of parent leaders and public school advocates from throughout the city, endorsed four outstanding candidates running for the NY State Legislature in the Democratic primaries to be held next Tuesday, September 13.  Based on their exceptional records and their responses to our candidate survey (, the Kids PAC board urged voters who care about education to cast their ballots for incumbent Gustavo Rivera in the Bronx,  Robert Jackson in Manhattan, and Debbie Medina in Brooklyn, all running for the NY State Senate. Finally, they also endorsed Robert Carroll from Brooklyn, running to replace retiring Jim Brennan in the State Assembly.

 “Gustavo Rivera has an exceptional record of standing up for our children and resisting the hedge-fund backed charter school onslaught which is diverting hundreds of millions of dollars and taking precious space from our public schools,” said Shino Tanikawa, President of NYC Kids PAC.  “His responses to our survey were also exceptionally thoughtful on school funding, equity, and campaign finance reform. In contrast, his opponent, Fernando Cabrera, failed to respond to our survey and supports tuition tax credits for private schools, which would create huge tax breaks for billionaires and further imperil our already underfunded public schools.”  Senator Rivera represents District 33, which includes parts of Kingsbridge Heights, East Tremont, Crotona Park, Fordham, Belmont, Van Nest, Claremont, High Bridge and Morris Park in the Bronx.

“Robert Jackson is a hero to many parents, not just in his district but throughout the city, for his stellar record on public education,” said Karen Sprowal, one of his constituents and a board member of NYC Kids PAC.  “He led the CFE lawsuit as President of the school board in Washington Heights and Inwood, resulting in the Court of Appeals decision that the state had illegally underfunded NYC public schools.  He went on to chair the City Council Education Committee, and has been fighting with parents every step of the way for our kids to obtain their constitutional right to a sound basic education.  His responses to our survey also showed a profound understanding of problems related to privatization, the Common Core standards, high-stakes testing and school overcrowding.”

“Though his opponent, Marisol Alcantara, had many good responses to our survey, she favors the continued expansion of charter schools, and has been supported by the IDC, the caucus that deprived the Democrats of control of the State Senate by voting with the Republicans.  Meanwhile, Micah Lasher, who is also running for this seat, refused to complete our survey and has a long history of supporting charter school expansion and high stakes testing, first as the chief lobbyist for the NYC Department of Education under Bloomberg and Klein, and then as the founding director of StudentsFirstNY.  StudentsFirstNY is relentlessly pro-charter and pro-corporate reform, though Lasher has scrubbed his affiliation with the organization from his campaign biography and his Linked-In profile.  That’s why we enthusiastically support Robert Jackson as the best candidate by far for anyone who cares about protecting and strengthening our public schools,” added Karen. District 31 includes parts of the Upper West Side, Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights in Manhattan.

 “Debbie Medina has a long history of decades of grassroots community activism for social justice in District 18, which covers parts of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. In recent years, Medina has stood up for neighborhood public schools and joined the community in a fight against Success Academy’s co-location in MS 50. As the responses to our survey make clear, Medina is a strong advocate of public education and supports smaller classes, reducing the role of high stakes testing in public education, and stopping the expansion of charter schools. Medina is also committed to keeping big money out of politics to ensure that our neighborhood public schools are sufficiently and equitably funded. Meanwhile, incumbent Martin Dilan failed to complete our survey and has done little for the schools in the district,” explained Brooke Parker, a Greenpoint resident and Kids PAC board member. 

“Though all three candidates for Jim Brennan’s Assembly seat had good answers to our survey, Robert Carroll’s was the best, scoring 100% on governance, privatization and charters, parent empowerment, testing, standards, resources and more,” said Naila Rosario, a long time parent leader in the district and a Kids PAC board member.  “He also has a progressive record as an activist on Community Board 7 and we’re confident that he will do a great job in the Assembly, advocating for our public schools.” District 44 covers parts of Park Slope, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn.

In addition to endorsing these candidates, NYC Kids PAC members are also volunteering for their campaigns and urge other parents to do the same.  As NYC Kids PAC President Shino Tanikawa pointed out, “State elections are very important.  Many damaging educational policies originate at the state level.  It is critical to have allies in the NY Senate and Assembly who will fight with us to protect NYC children and their public schools.”  

Links to the candidates’ surveys and Kids PAC endorsements are here: