Monday, November 12, 2018

Brooklyn students fight against the Summit online platform and the Zuckerberg-Gates corporate machine

Students protesting at Secondary School of Journalism    credit: Edin Mejia
Update: this David vs. Goliath story with national implications was reported also on Fast Company , Business Insider; and NY Magazine.

Last week, on November 5, about 100 students at the Secondary School of Journalism in Brooklyn walked out of their schools to protest the Summit online program.  This digital instruction program, funded by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Bill Gates, forces students to spend hours staring at computers, left at sea with little human interaction or help from their teachers, all in the name of "personalized learning." 

As one of the students, Mitchel Storman, said to Sue Edelman who reported on the protest in the NY Post, "I have seen lots of students playing games instead of working....Students can easily cheat on quizzes since they can just copy and paste the question into Google.”

Z. Bonsu, Kelly Hernandez & Akila Robinson credit: Helayne Seidman
Senior Akila Robinson said she couldn’t even log onto Summit for nearly two months, while other classmates can’t or won’t use it. “The whole day, all we do is sit there.”  A teacher said, “It’s a lot of reading on the computer, and that’s not good for the eyes. Kids complain. Some kids refuse to do it.”

Since Norm Scott wrote about the walkout on his blog, and Sue Edelman's reporting in the NY Post, the story has been picked up elsewhere including Fast Company and Business Insider.  The online program, which originated in the Summit chain of charter schools in California, and was further developed and expanded with millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, Facebook and nowthe Chan Zuckerberg LLC, has now invaded up to 300 or so public schools, and is collecting a huge amount of personal data from thousands of students without their knowledge or consent or that of their parents.

I have been writing and questioning Summit for the past two years, and last year, met with Diane Tavenner, asked her all sorts of questions she never responded to, and toured her flagship charter school in Redwood City.  My description of this visit is here.

Since then, parents in 15 states have reached out to me in huge distress about the negative impact of this program on their children. Many report that their children, who had previously done well in school,  now say that they aren't learning, that they feel constantly stressed, are beginning to hate school and want to drop out. Some parents have told me that they are now homeschooling their kids or have decided to sell their homes and move out of the district.

The student newspaper at SSJ
In response to the student protest last week in Brooklyn, the DOE now says they will eliminate the program for 11th and 12th graders - but not yet for 9th and 10th graders like Mitchel Storman. The NY Post article also revealed that the Bronx Writing Academy, which used Summit last year, has already dropped it.

Yet two other NYC schools are still implementing Summit, including M.S. 88 Peter Rouget in Park Slope and the Academy for College Preparation and Career Exploration in Flatbush; with the latter school just adopting it this year.  One wonders whether DOE  officials are performing any oversight or evaluation of Summit before allowing more and more NYC schools to subject kids to this harmful program, and to examine whether it actually complies with the NY student privacy law.

Recently Diane Tavenner revealed that next year, the online program would spin off to a  separate nonprofit corporation,  run by a board led by Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg's wife and the CZI Chief Financial Officer.  She also said the new corporation "doesn’t plan to expand the program, but rather, the new nonprofit will focus on meeting current demand."  Yet a few days ago on Twitter , I saw that Summit is still entreating schools to apply .

Below is a fact sheet I have shared with parents and students at the Secondary School of Journalism, and those at Summit schools nationwide, along with some suggestions of questions they can ask their schools and districts about the instructional program, its data collection and privacy protections (or lack thereof).  Summit itself on its website states that parents and students have the right to demand the deletion of their personal data, and opt out of further collection of directory information, which includes their names, email addresses, and ID numbers, etc. and I suggest they do so immediately.  More on this below.  The fact sheet is also available as a pdf you can download here.

Bravo to the courageous students at SSJ, who have taken the lead to fight for their own education, vs Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the other ed tech oligarchs, who are attempting to control their classrooms and their personal data.  As the recent NY Times series pointed out, Silicon Valley corporate leaders and engineers want one kind of education, largely screen-free, for their own kids, while imposing an experimental form of mechanized education on everyone else.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

News update on elections, federal investigation into DOE’s violation of student privacy and proposed capital plan – and how you can help!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Exciting election results & former NYC parent leader Khem Irby elected to Guilford school board!

Last night’s elections were fascinating. The NY State Senate is clearly in Democratic control for the   first time in years – the Dems only needed to flip one seat and they flipped eight.This will likely have a substantial impact on education funding and charter school policies in the state.
Khem in her NYC days

Lots of progressive new Governors won across the country who strongly support public education, and of course the House returned to Democratic control, aided by three House seats that flipped in NYS: Brindisi, Delgado and Max Rose here in NYC.
In nearby Newark, the voters approved a return to an elected school board vs. mayoral control, with the support of the Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka who said , “I do not want that power,” he said. “I want the people to have that power.” Too bad our Mayor isn’t that evolved.
And in news that is special to many of us here in NYC, Khem Irby, former parent leader in D 13, won her school board election in Guilford County- the third largest school district in North Carolina:
Current school board members held their seats in most of the Guilford County Board of Education races based on complete but unofficial returns.  The one exception is the 6th District, where Democratic challenger Khem Irby won in a tight race over incumbent Wes Cashwell, according to complete but unofficial results.
Chicago will also likely return to an elected school board after more than twenty years of mayoral control, as approved last session by both houses of  the IL Legislature and their newly elected Governor supports it.
Yay democracy in action.  And congrats to Khem!!!!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Will the Mayor and Chancellor halt the practice of allowing charter schools to access student personal information to market their schools, now that the feds and the state have launched investigations of how this violates student privacy?

If you’d like to add your voice, please urge the Mayor and the Chancellor to stop allowing charters to market their schools by giving them access to personal student information by clicking here.

 Yesterday, Sue Edelman of the NY Post reported that the DOE is under investigation by both the US Department of Education and the NY State Education Department for violating student privacy law by making student information, including their names and addresses, available to charter schools for recruiting purposes.  The letter in which Dale King, Director of the Family Privacy Compliance Office of the US Department of Education, announced the investigation into this DOE practice is posted below.

This investigation follows from Johanna Garcia's FERPA complaint filed a year ago, which pointed
Johanna Garcia
out that the DOE allows charters access to student personal information to send families promotional materials via  the DOE mailing house, Vanguard Direct, without providing parents with the right to opt out, which would be required under the directory information exception to FERPA.

Instead, DOE wrongly claims the right to share this information with charter schools under the "school official" exception, which is reserved for vendors that are performing services on behalf of the district and need the information to carry out their contracted duties. Yet charter schools are not carrying out services for DOE.   In addition, the use of data for marketing purposes is specifically barred by the NY State student privacy law §2-d: "Personally identifiable information maintained by educational agencies, including data provided to third-party contractors and their assignees, shall not be sold or used for marketing purposes."

Here is the NY Post summary of the DOE claim, and our responses:

In response to Garcia’s complaint, the New York state and US education departments said they are probing whether the marketing deal violates FERPA — a federal law which requires schools to get parent permission before releasing student information, except in limited cases.

The DOE claims an exemption lets it give student information to outside entities to perform functions that its own employees would otherwise do. State law “permits outreach to make families aware of their educational options, including both district and charter schools,” Cohen said. 

But Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said the reasoning makes no sense: “School districts lose funding and space when students enroll in charters. Why would the DOE use its own employees for that purpose?”

Garcia agreed. “Vanguard makes money. Charter schools make money. All on the backs of regular public-school students.”

The DOE long-standing policy of making student information available to charter schools started under charter-friendly Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, in response to a plea from Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz that she needed to "mail 10-12 times to elementary and preK families so she could grow the "market share, " according to emails she sent to Klein and acquired through FOIL by reporter Juan Gonzalez in 2010. Five days after she sent her initial request,  Michael Duffy, then-head of the NYC DOE charter office, wrote back he was trying to "overcome the obstacles" of privacy laws and would do his best to make the mailing addresses of public school families available for this purpose.

The US Department of Education letter from Dale King that is posted below is dated Sept. 25, 2018 and demands a response from DOE within four weeks.  This deadline was October 25 – nearly two weeks ago, yet according to sources, the DOE has not yet responded. Dale King's questions include clarifying how DOE informs parents of their rights under FERPA, and to "provide this Office with information on the relationship between the District and the charter schools to which the District discloses information, particularly Success Academy."
Below the US DOE letter is another letter sent by Council Members, Danny Dromm, Mark Treyger, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin on August 8, 2018, urging Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza to halt this practice and pointing out how it not only appears to violate student privacy but also the administration's stated priority of supporting public schools rather than encouraging charter schools to expand and drain more funds from the system:

Next fiscal year, the charter sector in New York City is projected to cost the DOE $2.1 billion in annual operating funds and is taking up more space every year in our overcrowded school buildings. It is time to put our public-school students first and focus on improving their education and protecting their privacy.
Only after Sue Edelman began asking DOE about whether they had responded to this letter did the DOE respond to these elected members of the City Council, more than two months later.

On October 12,   Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark sent a letter to CM Dromm, in which she repeated the dubious claim that since the state law requires charter schools to enroll high-needs students, including students with disabilities and/or English Language Learners, this somehow exempts DOE from the countervailing restrictions of state and federal privacy law. Though the state charter school law does require charter schools to make efforts to recruit high needs students, this does not mean that DOE is authorized to help them do so by violating student privacy.  
Moreover, as Johanna has pointed out, despite multiple mailings, her family has never received a letter from Success Academy in Spanish, even though there are large numbers of Latino families in District 6 where she lives.  And as mentioned in her complaint, the only one of her children to receive Success marketing materials is the one child without an IEP.

A recent Bronx Ink article reports that only ten percent of NYC charter schools enroll  as many English Language Learners as the school districts in which they're situated, including few if any Success Academy charter schools.  The article focuses specifically on Success Bronx I in District 7, where the number of ELLs has fallen in half -- from 8% to 4% -- since being reauthorized by SUNY two years ago.  This percent is tiny compared to the overall numbers of ELLs in District 7 public schools, in which ELLs vary between 16% and 22% depending on the grade level.  So despite millions spent on marketing and mailings, the DOE claim that making personal student information available to Success and other charter schools somehow helps them enroll their fair share of high-needs students doesn't hold water.  

At a Harlem Town Hall meeting last week with Chancellor Carranza, District 5 Community Education Council members and PTA leaders vehemently objected to the supersaturation of charter schools in their community, that drains their public schools of students and funds.  In response,  Carranza insisted that their public schools needed to engage in improved marketing, and that parents should consider "what is the need that charter schools are answering."  (See the video from News 11 here.)

Yet few if any public schools have the resources to put into advertising and recruitment as Success Academy, which spent about  $1,300 for every newly enrolled student in 2011 on marketing.  More recently, Moskowitz had created what is described as a "full service, brand strategy, marketing, and creative division within Success Academy” called the "The Success Academy Creative Agency" according to the LinkedIn profile of its Managing Director, Meredith Levin.  In the previous version of her profile accessed last month, Levin described leading a  "group of over 30 creative directors, designers, copywriters, strategists, e-learning architects & project managers to develop, execute and optimize campaigns to recruit 1,000+ teachers, enroll families, donors, influencers, and cultivate community engagement."

What public school has the resources to compete with that?  And why should the DOE be helping Success Academy, which has repeatedly been sued for violating student civil rights and last year kicked out one quarter of their special needs students in self-contained classes, expand their "market share," especially when it involves violating the privacy rights of public school families?

Let's hope that the Chancellor and the Mayor reconsider this practice and reverse course before the charter schools send out marketing materials to DOE families this fall, via their access to personal student information provided by DOE.