Monday, January 31, 2022

Education activists around the country explain what their districts have done during Covid pandemic

On the latest Talk out of School podcast, after some local education news,  I spoke to three education activists: Damaris Allen, Hillsborough County parent and President of the Florida Collaboration Project; Glenn Sacks, a LA teacher and chapter leader, and Cassie Creswell, Chicago parent and Exec. Director of Illinois Families for Public Schools , about what their schools have been doing during the Covid pandemic to keep students safe and healthy, and what sort of education is being provided to make up for the disruptions in their schooling.  You can check out previous podcast episodes here.


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

State budget testimony on class size and the broken Contracts for Excellence program

Today the state budget hearings are being held for education.  Below are the testimonies submitted by Class Size Matters and the Education Law Center, mostly focused on class size.

Clearly the Contracts for Excellence process is broken, with non-compliance by DOE and lax enforcement by the State Education Department.  This probably needs a legislative fix as I say -- so that the C4E law is updated and strengthened with actual class size caps to be achieved over five years, and with enhanced accountability and enforcement.   I also provide the data showing that the decline in class size this year is purely due to enrollment decline, not any actual effort by DOE.  In fact, there are fewer classes at all grade levels than there were in 2019 -- despite the even greater need for smaller classes for the sake of health and safety as well as more learning support. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Serious student privacy risks from Naviance and Skedula/Pupil Path: data systems that hold a wealth of personal student information

Two events recently occurred that reveal the serious risk to student privacy in NYC and elsewhere.  

The first is a series of mind-boggling articles in The Markup here and here, that reveal how Naviance, a program used in thousands of schools throughout the country, including many NYC schools, uses personal data to send students targeted ads paid for by their customers, including some colleges who choose to recruit students according to their race. Some of this personal data gathered through school information systems and student surveys is also used to create risk-assessment algorithms that claim to predict chances of students’  success.

Naviance is owned by PowerSchool, which states that "Naviance is the leading college, career, and life readiness (CCLR) platform, equipping over 10 million students in 40% of U.S. high schools with the skills they need to reach their future goals."  In turn, a hedge fund called Vista Equity Partners has acquired controlling ownership in PowerSchool,

website run by Naviance explains that their customers can use their data to “find students who fit specific demographic variables (race, ethnicity, geography, class year, attendance at an under-represented school) and present messages about your institution to students who possess those characteristics.”

Many schools assign students to take Naviance surveys, starting in as early as the third grade, that collect data and use proprietary, black-box algorithms to steer students towards specific courses and careers. The huge amount of personal student data collected directly from schools and students include the following:

" ...citizenship status, religious affiliation, school disciplinary records, medical diagnoses, what speed they read and type at, the full text of answers they give on tests, the pictures they draw for assignments, whether they live in a two-parent household, whether they’ve used drugs, been the victim of a crime, or expressed interest in LGBTQ+ groups, among hundreds of other data points." 

Several of these data points  should legally trigger the federal law Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment,  which requires that parents must be given notice in advance of surveys that ask questions about sensitive issues like religion or self-incriminating information,  be allowed to view these surveys, and either consent or opt out, depending on whether they are mandatory or not. And yet when parents have asked their districts to see Naviance surveys, and/or request a copy of the data that the company holds for their children, they are denied this right, and told that the questions are secret, based on intellectual property.

NY State has a rather strict student privacy law, Education Law 2-d, that prohibits school vendors from selling student data or using it for commercial purposes, and also requires  that their contracts with districts must specify this in an Supplementary Appendix called a "Parent Bill of Rights" posted on the district website.

An analysis of the data in CheckbookNYC shows that DOE has spent more than $1.6 million on Naviance since Jan. 2020. And yet there is no information posted for the company on the relevant DOE webpage, in violation of the state law and the regulations.  Ed law 2-d also requires that parents have the right to see any and all the personal data that any school vendor holds for their children. If you are a parent whose child's school uses Naviance, please email us at  

The other concerning event is the Skedula and Pupil Path outage that lasted for more for than a week --  student information systems in which teachers record grades, assignments, and observations of their students, as well as contact info for families.  Many teachers have spoken out on twitter how this outage has prevented their ability to communicate with families, especially critical given the sky-high current absentee rates, and also made it impossible to calculate their grades at the end of the semester. 

This Skedula outage has been reported by numerous news outlets including the Daily News, Chalkbeat and the NY Times.   The Daily News article features comments by data security expert, Doug Levin, who is quoted as saying,

“Based on my experience tracking K12 cyber incidents since 2016, it seems a reasonable assumption that a security-related disruption of this length could be ransomware,” said Doug Levin, the national director of K12 Security Information Exchange, a group that tracks cyberattacks targeting schools and education platforms.

Indeed, the outage  has all the hallmarks of a DDOS, or Distributed Denial of Service attack, that often includes ransomware, in which hackers penetrate and freeze a data system and ask for money in exchange for a promise not to expose the personal data or unfreeze the system.

As I am quoted in the NY Post , if the data that is held in Skedula/Pupil Path is breached, that “would be terrible.  Teachers often use the system to record very sensitive information about a student’s emotional state or behavior, and to recommend counseling or other intervention services."

Skedula was originally invented by NYC teachers, who started a company called Datacation that was later sold to IO Education, which in turn was bought by Illuminate Education.  According to the NY Post, the company has received more than $16 million from DOE in the last three years for the use of these programs.  Abram Jiminez, who was hired by ex-Chancellor Carranza to lead a school improvement office, had previously worked at Illuminate and held stock in the company.  He was later forced to quit after the conflict-of-interest was exposed,  as well as other past scandals emerged.

Today, a Skedula status page says some applications are working and many are not.

Whether any data was breached is not reported.

The supplementary privacy  information for Illuminate's contract is posted on the DOE's website here.  It says the following:

All PISI [personal identifiable student information] is hosted primarily with Amazon Web Services, and there are select products hosted with Google Cloud Platform, which are being migrated to AWS. AWS hosts the data in the United States. Either provider’s SOC2 [Service Organization Control 2] report is available upon request or can be accessed by contacting AWS or GCP directly.

Yesterday, the NY Times reporter tweeted that she had gotten the following message from the company:

 Does that mean that the previous environment in which its data was being stored was not secure?

All this points out how the growing use of third party programs and apps in classrooms pose serious risks to student privacy. All districts including NYC must redouble their efforts to minimize the use of these apps, and if they must be utilized, to ensure they provide rigorous data security and privacy measures, and comply with federal and state laws. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

A short history of Seth Andrews after he pleads guilty to embezzlement in federal court

Bank surveillance photo of Seth Andrew from DOJ indictment

Seth Andrew, founder of Democracy Prep charters and former Advisor to Arne Duncan and the White House on the use of education technology has pleaded guilty to stealing more
more than $200K from the charter network he founded, in order to receive lower interest rate on a mortgage for an apartment he had purchased in NYC.  

Seth started Democracy Prep in 2005 when he was only 28 years old.  The charter school's curriculum was portrayed as focused on instilling "civic values", and the network was encouraged to expand rapidly by then-Chancellor Joel Klein, who gave his charters space in NYC public schools.  I met Seth a few years later, when he reached out to me and gave me a tour of one of his co-located charter schools in Harlem.  

I found him an intriguing character, obsessively throwing a rubber ball against the wall while we walked through the halls of the school, and never taking off his baseball hat though the network had a rigid dress code for students, who were forbidden to wear hats, wear the wrong color socks or the wrong kind of belt.  When we were touring the school, he stopped one student in the hall and berated her for having her Uggs showing. I wondered how long he would last at his own charter school before being suspended or pushed out.  I later learned that his baseball hat was something of a calling card for Seth, and it is even mentioned in the indictment document.

Democracy Prep  is a "no excuses" charter chain, known for its strict disciplinary practices and high attrition rates.  I questioned him about their demerit system which called for keeping students after school for small lapses of behavior, to sit in a room silently, without being able to read or do homework. We discussed Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, and when I asked him if she didn't give a bad reputation to the charter school movement, he said he thought she was useful because she kept negative attention off other NYC charters like his.

In 2012, the network received $9.1 million from the US Department of Education to expand to states outside New York, and then another $12.7 million in 2016, aided by recommendations from former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein, former DOE "Chief Equity Officer" and scandal-plagued Harvard professor Roland Fryer, and former Louisiana State Superintendent John White.

In 2013,  Andrew was appointed senior advisor to Arne Duncan and  superintendent-in-residence at the U.S. Department of Education; you can see the cast of characters who congratulated him on Twitter. He later served under Obama at the White House Office of Educational Technology, while continuing to be on the payroll of Democracy Prep, according to this CNBC article

In 2016, he helped start a charter school in DC, the Washington Leadership Academy. based on virtual reality.  The school won the $10 million XQ prize from Laurene Powell Jobs'  Emerson Collective.  He explained the benefits of having an imaginary science lab to a reporter:

“During that time, no child will be burned, no child will have a chemical spill, and it will cost the school a fraction of what building a lab would require.” said Andrew.

After leaving the Department of Education, he served as Global Director of Policy & Partnerships at Bridge International Academies from 2017 to 2018, which runs for-profit schools in India and Africa, and which I have critiqued on this blog here and here

Andrew left BIA to run an organization called Democracy Builders, and in 2020, he announced that they would buy the campus of the now-defunct Marlboro College in Vermont to start a hybrid college program for low-income students, dependent on federal funding. 

But later that year, in April 2020, he was arrested and charged with wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.  Through complex maneuvers taking place over several months between March and November 2019, as described in the Justice Dept. indictment, he had transferred over $218,000 from three Democracy Prep's escrow accounts that they are required to retain, and deposited these funds into his own accounts.  His goal was to qualify for a lower mortgage rate for a Manhattan apartment on Central Park West that he and his wife had purchased in August 2019 for $2.37 million.

According to Chalkbeat, the embezzlement was first noted by the SUNY Charter Institute, in a renewal report dated February 2020 for two Democracy Prep schools.  As  the report states:  

The 2018-19 audited financial statements ... continued to identify concerns regarding the internal control structure of the merged education corporation and network. ...Recently, a network contractor discovered a theft of approximately $142,000 in two of the education corporations dissolution reserve fund bank accounts during the 2018-19 fiscal year. The auditor deemed these amounts to be uncollectible and wrote them off in the financial statements....

The most recent audit report for June 30, 2019 reported material weaknesses in record keeping of general ledger accounts and transactions, lack of reconciliations, and overall lack of timely analysis of the financial records and accurate reporting. This, in turn, put the board in a position of not having accurate and up to date information for fiscal decision making. In addition, a cash theft from inactive bank accounts went undetected for months during 2018-19.

Nevertheless, SUNY recommended the renewal of these two charter schools.

Andrew's indictment was first announced April 27, 2021.  After pleading guilty last week, his defense attorneys have now released a  statement that for over two decades, Andrew "has worked tirelessly to expand educational, democratic, and technological opportunity to disenfranchised communities around the world."  His sentencing is scheduled for April 14.  Though the maximum charge is 20 years in prison, the prosecutors and his defense lawyers agreed in a written plea deal that a sentence of 21 to 27 months would be appropriate.

After his departure from Democracy Prep, its expansion has not gone easily. In 2018, its DC charter school in  DC announced it would close , for poor performance as well as "suspension and expulsion rates...drastically higher than citywide averages." Other members of the chain have also experienced serious financial and management problems, as reported here.

More recently, Democracy Prep has been accused of racist practices by former and current students and staff. Seth Andrew subsequently wrote a somewhat ambivalent apology on Medium in June 2020, that he later deleted but is archived here. 

Is this the end of Seth Andrew on the corporate education stage?  Who knows. He seems to have an infinite capacity to re-invent himself and acquire powerful patrons. I wouldn't put it past him to bounce back after prison to launch some other trendy edu-company or product.

A video of his Ted Talk from 2012 is below.


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Updated guidance from DOE on remote learning

Here is the email sent by DOE to principals by Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg on Wednesday that was rather confusingly reported yesterday by Gothamist, along with the three attached docs below.

1) Memo of agreement between the DOE and UFT, dated Aug. 2021, entitled "Pivot to Remote."

 2) DOE deck, entitled "Emergency Pivot to Remote" updated Jan.12, 2022.

3) DOE memo entitled "Labor Field Guidance - Digital Classroom" updated Jan.12, 2022.

Below that is an excerpt of an email sent to principals by their union, the CSA, plus new Attendance rules, updated by DOE on Jan. 14, 2022.

Any student at home with a positive Covid test "is entitled to asynchronous instruction and access to Office Hours." At the discretion of teachers and their principals, students at home for other reasons may be provided with this instruction and teachers will be paid additionally for it.  Where the funding will come from is as yet unclear -- i.e. whether the DOE will pay for this centrally or that schools will have to cover the cost from their limited budgets..

From: First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg <>
Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2022 8:52 PM
Subject: Updated DOE/UFT Pivot to Remote MOA - Providing Instruction to Students Who Are Absent Due to COVID

I’m writing to provide some clarification around how to address teaching staff who provide asynchronous instruction and office hours to students who are absent due to COVID.  


The definition of a "partial closure" as outlined in the Memorandum of Agreement with UFT (MOA) regarding emergency closures has been updated to reflect new Situation Room procedures for reporting positive COVID-19 cases. Effective immediately, any student that has a positive COVID-19 test (at-home, rapid, PCR test, etc.) is entitled to asynchronous instruction and access to Office Hours as outlined in the Pivot to Remote MOA and as outlined in the updated Field Guidance and Overview of the Agreement.  


Teachers providing asynchronous instruction and office hours to these students are entitled to compensation as per the pivot to remote MOA. A "partial closure" is now defined as when any part of a class is in isolation or is unable to attend in-person instruction due to a positive COVID-19 test as described above.   


Note that the scenarios listed below are not currently considered partial closures and teachers cannot be required to provide asynchronous instruction and Office Hours as set forth in the MOA:   

  • If a student fails the health screen and there is no COVID-19 test  
  • A student is absent for non-COVID reasons   
  • A family is keeping a student home and is requesting all assignments  

For these students, staff are expected to engage in normal past practices with respect to non-COVID student absences. However, if staff are willing and their supervisor approves, staff may provide Office Hours and asynchronous instruction to these students and shall be compensated accordingly.   

Please feel free to reach out to your Senior Field Counsel with any questions.  

Thank you again for your tireless service and leadership.  

Dan Weisberg 
First Deputy Chancellor

Excerpt from email sent to principals from their union, the CSA:

The definition of a "partial closure" as outlined in the Memorandum of Agreement with UFT (MOA) regarding emergency closures has been updated to reflect new Situation Room procedures for reporting positive COVID-19 cases. Effective immediately, any student that has a positive COVID-19 test (at-home, rapid, PCR test, etc.) is entitled to asynchronous instruction and access to Office Hours as outlined in the Pivot to Remote MOA and as outlined in the updated Field Guidance and Overview of the Agreement.

Teachers providing asynchronous instruction and office hours to these students are entitled to compensation as per the pivot to remote MOA. A "partial closure" is now defined as when any part of a class is in isolation or is unable to attend in-person instruction due to a positive COVID-19 test as described above.

Note that the scenarios listed below are not currently considered partial closures and teachers cannot be required to provide asynchronous instruction and Office Hours as set forth in the MOA:

- If a student fails the health screen and there is no COVID-19 test
- A student is absent for non-COVID reasons
- A family is keeping a student home and is requesting all assignments

For these students, staff are expected to engage in normal past practices with respect to non-COVID student absences. However, if staff are willing and their supervisor approves, staff may provide Office Hours and asynchronous instruction to these students and shall be compensated accordingly.


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Time sensitive! Check out letter to DOE & SED on NYC's Contract for Excellence "plan" and send your own comments by Jan. 17!

Check out the letter below from the Education Law Center, Alliance for Quality Education and Class Size Matters on the inadequate DOE proposed Contract for Excellence plan for the current school year, which is not aligned with the law, as well as the faulty schedule of hearings and public comment which take place long after the funding has already been spent.  

Please send your own letter to DOE and the State officials in charge of approving or rejecting the plan no later than Jan. 17, by clicking here. 

If you prefer to send in your own comments separately, the DOE C4E proposed “plan” is posted here, and the address to send comments to is


January 13, 2022

To the NYC Department of Education and NY State Education Department officials in charge of NYC’s proposed Contracts for Excellence plan for the 2021-2022 school year:

We have great concerns about DOE’s failure to allocate a single penny out of its targeted funds towards class size reduction in their proposed plan, even though in 2003, the State’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case said that class sizes in NYC schools were a systemic problem that robbed NYC students of their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.  Class size reduction is one of only a handful of reforms proven to provide real equity by narrowing the achievement/opportunity gap between racial and economic groups.  Smaller classes have been shown to result in higher test scores, better grades, more engaged students, and fewer disciplinary referrals – especially for those students who need help the most.  And yet class sizes in the NYC public schools have increased since the Court of Appeals issued this decision.

We also question why the DOE claims that they received no more C4E funds this year, given that NYC schools are receiving  $530 million in additional state foundation aid during SY 2021-22, increasing to $1.3 billion annually over next three years, to fulfill the goals of the CFE lawsuit. 

We oppose the fact that DOE has informed principals that if they choose to use these funds in the category of class size reduction, they can be used to maintain current class sizes or limit class size increases.  Maintaining and/or minimizing increases in class size would not provide any progress towards the smaller classes that NYC students need and deserve, according to the state’s highest court. 

Another persistent problem with the DOE’s plan is their insistence that they can use these funds to supplant or fill in holes created by the city’s own tax levy cuts, as stated in their proposed plan and their budget allocation memo, even though supplanting is specifically prohibited in the C4E law.  Again, it would make no sense to allow state funds to be used where the city itself has made budget cuts, which would also mean no progress or improvement in terms of providing equitable learning conditions for NYC students.  If the State is allowing the city to use these funds to supplant its own support for staffing or for other critical programs, the State should specify the language in the C4E law or the regulations which would allow this.

Finally, the timing of public hearings and comments occurs too late in the year to make any difference, and the state’s approval process of the proposed plan is meaningless since these funds have long been spent. The DOE must be required to hold hearings and schedule the public comment period in the spring, with the submission of the plan by July 1, to ensure that there is meaningful public input into the spending of these funds, and that the plan complies with the language and the intent of the C4E law. 

As it stands, year after year, the DOE has ignored the input of parents and teachers on this issue.  Every year that the DOE’s surveys have been administered, smaller classes have been the top priority of K12 parents when asked what changes they would like to see in their children’s schools. According to a UFT teacher survey, 99% NYC teachers responded that class size reduction would be an effective reform to improve NYC schools, far outstripping any other proposal.  And yet DOE refuses to follow through on a critical reform that we know for sure would lead to improved student outcomes, especially for children of color, English Language Learners, students with disabilities and those from low-income families.


Yours sincerely, 


Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney, Education Law Center

Marina Marcou-O'Malley, Policy Director, Alliance for Quality Education