December 23, 2013

Why I blog. And don't.

I homeschooled my kids for many years before my older son decided he wanted to try public high school and a year later my younger son's learning challenges became too daunting for us to work through at home. And it was with a very heavy heart that I saw them get absorbed into the mainstream mind-controlled culture that school is.

I still remain a staunch anti-school mom, so it has been hard for me to justify fighting against Common Core, since in my heart I truly believe that even the previous means of educating our children was not in their best interests. And in my arguing against CC some may take it as acceptance of public education as it has been till now.

Not the case.

My concerns about schooling are wonderfully described by John Taylor Gatto in his last book, Weapons of Mass Instruction wherein he writes:
Think of school as a conditioning laboratory, drilling naturally unique, one-of-a-kind individuals to respond as a mass, to accept continual ennui, envy and limited competence as only natural parts of the human condition. The official economy we have constructed demands constantly renewed supplies of leveled, spiritless, passive, anxious friendless, family-less people who can be scrapped and replaced endlessly, and who will perform at maximum efficiency until their own time comes to be crap; people who think the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or round hamburgers versus square ones, are subjects worthy of argument.

I truly feel that school is not the best place for our kids and that it is filled with problems. Some of the issues surrounding the Common Core exacerbate the problems though, to the point that it's worth spending my time to keep abreast of them, and occasionally posting here to help educate others.

Admittedly there are days when I think that since I am opposed to the idea of mass schooling in general that I should just resign myself to the reality of what it is and accept that if we use it we need to work within the confines of it. And so I ignore my Google Updates, the Facebook groups and the tweets and blogs, and don't post here for a while. But then something makes it through and wakes me up to the overt problems that CC is causing and I start reading and posting again.

I hate that both of my kids love school and would have a fit if I pulled them out to homeschool again, and that they ended up entering school at a time when all these "reforms" are happening and their privacy is being irretrievably eroded. But I remain a firm believer in unschooling, and that means putting my children firmly in charge of their own educations. So here I am, taking it day by day.

December 21, 2013

The Weekly Quote

It would be great if our education stuff worked,
but that we won’t know for probably a decade.

~ Bill Gates
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

December 19, 2013

Connecticut's educational standards

Back in November an opinion piece appeared asking "Is college-and-career-ready" an adequate standard, as measured by Connecticut's constitution?" The piece makes a good argument for NO. However the part of the article that interested me most is how Connecticut's standards have historically been developed...
From their inception, the drafting and adoption of Connecticut academic standards was an inclusive, public process. The State Department of Education invited teachers from across the state to collectively draft standards in their areas of expertise. SDE would then solicit public comment from all sectors, including parents, teachers, school administrators, superintendents and school boards. There could be as many as 50 iterations, and the process could take as long as three years.

Since this process was directed by a state agency, it was subject to open meeting and Freedom of Information laws. The product was an educational framework that was created by Connecticut educators with input from everyone connected to our public schools.

The Common Core State Standards, by contrast, were developed behind closed doors by two private, non-governmental organizations: the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. There was no public comment. The organizations even refused to release the drafters' names until there was public outcry. The entire development process remains shrouded in secrecy. NGA and CCSSO are not subject to any sunshine laws that governmental bodies must obey.

When the standards finally reached Connecticut in 2010, they were presented as a fait accompli to state officials, who were given two months to adopt them -- under threat of being disqualified from federal Race to the Top money if they failed to do so. Rather than question the inadequacy of these standards as measured against Connecticut's constitutional requirements, the State Board of Education, here in "the Constitution State," acquiesced to federal pressure and adopted these substandard standards...

The Common Core State Standards were developed in a rushed and undemocratic process, far from Connecticut's students, parents, educators, and officials.

December 17, 2013

You are invited to a Connecticut
Parent Teacher Community Forum
on the Common Core Standards

The Teacher's Union in Connecticut is sponsoring a Parent Teacher Community Forum on Common Core entitled: Common Core Standards: Look Closer. Understand More.

Saturday, January 25th, 2014
8:30am - 2:00pm
Continental breakfast and lunch provided.

Cromwell High School
34 Evergreen Rd.
Cromwell, CT

Keynote Speaker: Sandra Alberti, Student Achievement Partners (founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards).

The stated intention of the forum is to:
  • Provide a common understanding about Common Core Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments.
  • Demonstrate Smarter Balanced Assessments and allow opportunities for hands-on practice tests.
  • Encourage career and college readiness for students, as well as the importance of citizenship.
  • Allow all stakeholders to engage in meaningful discussions about Connecticut’s implementation of Common Core Standards/Smarter Balanced Assessments.

The recommended attendees are:
  • Parents
  • Community Members/Organizations
  • Policy Makers – State, Local, and Agencies
  • Educators – Teachers, Support Professionals and Administrators
  • School Board Members
  • Students – Middle School and High School levels
  • Union Leaders and Union Staff

Register for this event on the CEA website or by calling the AFT CT (American Federation of Teachers Connecticut) Office at 860-257-9782.

Sponsored by:
  • American Federation of Teachers Connecticut
  • Connecticut Association of Boards of Education
  • Connecticut Education Association
  • Connecticut Federation of School Administrators
  • Connecticut National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • Connecticut Parent Teacher Student Association
  • Connecticut State Department of Education/School-Family-Community Partnerships Department
  • Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission
  • Urban League of Greater Hartford

December 16, 2013

Homework in Kindergarten

There is a Facebook group called Inappropriate Common Core Lessons that I belong to. Mostly people post things that they have moral or ethical problems with, and there is an occasional example of how the math has changed; nothing I've ever felt was significant enough to repost here. Came across this though. This is homework someone said her kindergartener came home with:

People in the group are debating whether it's appropriate for a kindergartener, whether kids that young are up do doing this kind of work. They are talking about fine motor skills and parental involvement.

The reason I posted this here though, and the problem I have with this and want to raise is, Why are kindergarteners getting worksheets for homework?

December 14, 2013

The Weekly Quote

There is a tendency nowadays to hark back with nostalgia to the mythical good old days, usually imagined as about forty or fifty years ago... Thus, those who now sharply criticize the public schools speak fondly of an era when most schools were racially segregated; when public schools were not required to accept children with physical, mental, and emotional handicaps; when there were relatively few students who did not speak or read English; and when few graduated from high school and went to college... Indifferent to history, today's corporate reformers insist that the public schools are in unprecedented crisis.

~ Diane Ravitch
Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement, and the Danger to America's Public Schools

December 13, 2013

PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment)

The PISA scores for 2012 were recently released, and the social networking sites and blogs are abuzz with the results, so I'm giving them a mention here. I hate to do so, since I hate that standardized tests were used to formulate this data, but since the data does exist, and others are using it, it makes sense to point out how well Connecticut continues to do. You can get more info about PISA and what it all means here.

"What Is PISA?
"The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that allows countries to compare outcomes of learning as students near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA core assessments measure the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy every 3 years.

"Reporting PISA 2012 Results
"This report presents performance on PISA 2012 in mathematics, science, and reading literacy from a U.S. perspective. Results are presented for the 65 education systems, including the United States, that participated in PISA 2012 and for the three U.S. states—Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts—that participated as separate education systems. These three states opted to have separate samples of public-school schools and students included in PISA in order to obtain state-level results."

You can see from the lower right of the chart that Connecticut scored 514. And that puts us in 18th place out of the 65 systems that were tested. And if we take into account that there were ties, we are in the top quarter. Of the world.

So clearly what we are doing is working. We just need to get it to work for everyone in the state, since the problem we have in Connecticut is not an achievement gap, but a resource gap.

My 13yo recently came home from 7th grade to exclaim that his school recently got a "huge pile of money" and so everyone is getting his own Chromebook. Personally, I think that "huge pile of money" would have been better spent on a few more teachers in a hard pressed area like Bridgeport. THAT is how we fix our problem in Connecticut, not futzing around with our Curriculum.

December 11, 2013

Connecticut State Department of Education 2012 Survey of Connecticut Superindentents

Here is a link to a report with the results of a 2012 survey taken of Connecticut Superintendents. You can find answers, given in percentages, to questions such as:
  • What is the student enrollment in your district?
  • What is the percentage of Black/African-American students in your district?
  • What is the percentage of Hispanic / Latino students in your district?
  • What is your anticipated per pupil expenditure level this year?
  • Is SDE [State Department of Education] helping to close the achievement gap in your district?

Some of my favorite answers are:

26. SDE [State Department of Education] issues regulations:
     a. too much – (66.9%)
     b. as much as necessary – (33.1%)
     c. infrequently – (0.0%)

37. CAPSS recently released a report with recommendations to transform Connecticut’s
education system. Select the top three recommendations you think are most important:
  1. Start with Early Childhood: Make quality early childhood experiences
    available to all three- and four-year-olds in order to get all children ready to
    learn as they enter kindergarten. (65.9%)
  2. Retool Assessments and Accountability: De-emphasize standardized tests
    and create new methods of assessments to give students choices for how and
    when they demonstrate their knowledge and skills. (44.7%)
  3. Raising the Bar: Establish globally competitive, internationally benchmarked
    standards in language arts (reading, writing, speaking and listening), science,
    social studies, world languages and the arts. (42.3%)
49. SDE has a record of helping districts turn around schools.
     a. yes – (2.5%)
     b. somewhat – (51.7%)
     c. no – (45.8%)

December 9, 2013

From Connecticut's 8th District

Senator Kevin Witkos represents the 8th District towns of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. And on November 26th, 2013, he shared his thoughts about the Common Core. He starts by explaining what the Common Core State Standards are, and finishes with his opinion about it...
The intention of the CCSS is positive – the goal is to make students more prepared for higher education and careers on a global level. However, I do have concerns about the control of education and associated costs.

These standards were created by a national group and do not directly take into consideration what we have found to work here in Connecticut. While teachers have some flexibility in how they teach, they are still being asked to teach differently than they ever have before. This change could limit their teaching style and force educators to pull lessons that do not match the standards exactly. The CCSS have also never been piloted or tested, so there is no way to know for sure if they are age-appropriate or effective.

Schools could also be pushed beyond their budgets to comply with the standards. Our schools need to invest in new professional development and training for teachers, new textbooks and materials, and new classroom technology to meet the demands of the CCSS. By next year, every school district in Connecticut will also replace the Connecticut Mastery and Connecticut Academic Performance tests with a computerized test based on the CCSS. More computers will be needed in each school so that students can take the new test, which means significant spending.

Over the next few school years, we should all watch our children’s academic performance closely. New lessons, new goalsand new strategies could impact each student very differently. Shared education standards are not a bad thing, but the effects of a brand new approach are not known yet. One thing is for sure, our classrooms are changing, and I hope it is for the better.

December 8, 2013

A Newspaper Editorial

Very happy to see this editorial in my town's newspaper this week. It means that word is getting out!

December 7, 2013

The Weekly Quote

The old labels don't mean anything.
Republican doesn't mean anything.
Democrat doesn't mean anything.
It's the huge money and everybody else.

~ Alton Davis
former Michigan Supreme Court justice

December 3, 2013

A Teenager's Viewpoint

This has made its way around the blogosphere quite a bit now, but in line with trying to keep this blog a clearinghouse of sorts, I'm posting it here as well. The young man is well spoken and "shows how his freedom to choose his path in life is eroded by Common Core". The 30 minutes or so is worth it.

November 30, 2013

The Weekly Quote

How do you think millions of Americans learned to be literate on desktop computers, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of the information society?
Not at school that's for sure.

~ John Taylor Gatto
Weapons of Mass Instruction

November 26, 2013

The PRIVACY issue

I recently opted-out of some testing for my 7th grader. I sent a letter to all of his teachers, his principal, his guidance counselor, and the Curriculum Coordinator of the BOE who I have had previous contact with. She was the only one to respond. And as I was starting to type out my own response to her, I thought it might be a good idea to share my response to educate all my readers about this topic. So here it is:

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my email; no one else did.

I'd like to take a some time to address your comments from this email and last where you state that "I also need to remind you that all of our assessment results data, teacher tests included, are stored on our servers" and "neither districts, teachers, schools, nor the state department of education is allowed to share any student or parent addresses or contact information."

First the issue of information being stored on Cheshire's servers.

As you are likely aware, Connecticut has a P-20 Council that was empowered by Governor Malloy in 2012  and one of their three goals is "Improving data systems to better track student progress.".

If you go to the P-20 Council APPROACH page and click on Memorandum of Agreement - CT Board of Education (pdf) it will bring you to a document that includes this information:
DAS-BEST [State Department of Administrative Services' Bureau of Enterprise Systems Technology] shall serve as the custodian of data from the education records that will be processed by software residing on its servers and will have responsibilities as set forth herein for the installation of the application, hardware, establishing network linkages, and connecting data sources...
So Connecticut already has a state server to collect data from the districts. And according to the Data Collection Update issued by the CT Commisioner of Education it is just a matter of time before data is uploaded to the state automatically:
An additional initiative for streamlining collections and reducing administrative burden is the automation of the upload process for state mandated data collections. We will continue to develop the aforementioned SIF [School Interoperability Framework] to replace the manual data upload and validation processes performed currently by LEA data administrators. SIF was piloted successfully by six districts and used by 15 districts for the January PSIS Collection. A SIF rollout is planned for all districts over the next few years.

The actual Connecticut laws that dictate that school districts need to share data with the state regardless of where it is stored, are:
Sec. 10-10a.
     (b) The Department of Education shall develop and implement a state-wide public school information system. The system shall be designed for the purpose of establishing a standardized electronic data collection and reporting protocol that will facilitate compliance with... federal reporting requirements…
     (c) On or before July 1, 2013, the department shall expand the state-wide public school information system as follows:
            (1) (A) In addition to performance on state-wide mastery examinations pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, data relating to students shall include, but not be limited to, (i) the primary language spoken at the home of a student, (ii) student transcripts, (iii) student attendance and student mobility…
            (2) Collect data relating to student enrollment in and graduation from institutions of higher education for any student who had been assigned a unique student identifier pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, provided such data is available.
     (f) All school districts shall participate in the system, and report all necessary information required by this section, provided the department provides for technical assistance and training of school staff in the use of the system.
Of particular concern is the caveat in section (c)(1)(A) where it explains that the data they collect is not limited to, thereby keeping us in the dark as to what can actually be collected.

Additionally, the law that protects privacy for Connecticut citizens:
Sec. 42-471. Safeguarding of personal information.
does not pertain to the Connecticut State Department of Education and the personal information they collect, since it states that
(f) The provisions of this section shall not apply to any agency or political subdivision of the state.

So back to the P-20 Council. On page five of the Connecticut P-20 Council 2009 briefing entitled Commission for the Advancement of 21st Century Skills and Careers they explain about "Building Data Systems":
Nationally, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) supports state efforts to use high-quality education data to improve student achievement. DQC tracks states’ progress in achieving 10 essential elements needed to build an effective longitudinal data system.
Those 10 essential elements can be found on page 20 of Data Quality Campaign's just-released report entitled Data For Action 2013. Page 21 shows where Connecticut currently is in working toward that goal. And the cause for concern is that Connecticut has not accomplished certain important elements, specifically element #5, which in part requires that the state is transparent about who is authorized to access specific data and for what purposes, and element #10, which in part requires that the state education agency makes data privacy and security policies public. 

So to summarize:
  • despite the fact that all of Cheshire's data "are stored on our servers", by state law much of the information on those servers is already provided to the state, and at some point "over the next few years" the state will have direct access to it via its SIF (School Interoperability Framework)
  • The state law does not limit what data can be collected about our students
  • The state law does not legally bind the CSDE to protect that data 
  • The state has not made clear who is authorized to see that data
  • The state has not made its data privacy and security policies public

Now on to your statement that "neither districts, teachers, schools, nor the state department of education is allowed to share any student or parent addresses or contact information."

The relevant FERPA statutes state:
Subpart A—General
    §99.3 What definitions apply to these regulations?
         Personally Identifiable Information. The term includes, but is not limited to—
              (a) The student's name;
              (b) The name of the student's parent or other family members;
              (c) The address of the student or student's family;
              (d) A personal identifier, such as the student's social security number, student number, or biometric record;
              (e) Other indirect identifiers, such as the student's date of birth, place of birth, and mother's maiden name...

Subpart D—May an Educational Agency or Institution Disclose Personally Identifiable Information From Education Records?

§99.31 Under what conditions is prior consent not required to disclose information?
     (a) An educational agency or institution may disclose personally identifiable information from an education record of a student without the consent required by §99.30 if the disclosure meets one or more of the following conditions:
          (6)(i) The disclosure is to organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions to:
            (A) Develop, validate, or administer predictive tests;
            (B) Administer student aid programs; or
            (C) Improve instruction.
It doesn't take a lawyer to explain that this means that personally identifiable information can be shared with for-profit corporations, including curriculum companies, testing companies, and even Google, since they "improve instruction" with the Google Docs that we use extensively here in Cheshire.

The law further states that:
§99.31(a)(6)(ii) Nothing in the Act or this part prevents a State or local educational authority or agency headed by an official listed in paragraph (a)(3) of this section from entering into agreements with organizations conducting studies under paragraph (a)(6)(i) of this section and redisclosing personally identifiable information from education records on behalf of educational agencies and institutions that disclosed the information to the State or local educational authority or agency headed by an official listed in paragraph (a)(3) of this section in accordance with the requirements of §99.33(b).
Which means that once the LEA (Local Education Agency) shares the information with the state, the state can then go ahead and share it with someone else on behalf of the LEA no matter what the LEA thinks about that.

Are there "protections" for what those parties are allowed to do with that information? Of course. But compliance with these laws rely on self-regulation, and once the information is shared, it can't be retrieved:
Subpart E—What Are the Enforcement Procedures?
§99.67 How does the Secretary enforce decisions?
     (e) If the Office finds that a third party, outside the educational agency or institution, improperly rediscloses personally identifiable information from education records in violation of §99.33 or fails to provide the notification required under §99.33(b)(2), then the educational agency or institution from which the personally identifiable information originated may not allow the third party found to be responsible for the violation access to personally identifiable information from education records for at least five years.

So let's once again summarize:
  • According to federal law, the state can redisclose information that Cheshire shares with it, without Cheshire's permission.
  • According to federal law, the state can share personally identifiable information with for-profit corporations. Then if the private corporations share it with anyone else, and they get caught, the state can't give them access to more personally identifiable information for five years. This doesn't take back the information though, or protect my kids from whoever those for-profit corporations shared it with; the information is irretrievably out there.
  • The state does not provide further protections for my children in its own statutes since:
  • The state law does not limit what data can be collected about our students
  • The state law does not legally bind the CSDE to protect that data  
  • The state has not made clear who is authorized to see that data
  • The state has not made its data privacy and security policies public
So unfortunately, your assurance that "neither districts, teachers, schools, nor the state department of education is allowed to share any student or parent addresses or contact information," is, if my understanding of all this is correct, mistaken. As long as you are doing so with someone claiming to "improve instruction" you can all share that information with whoever you want; this includes Triumph, OLSAT, Naviance, Powerschool, and Inform.

Andrew Abate, Cheshire's Technology Coordinator, lists on his LinkedIn account that he "Keep[s] abreast of educational reform with respect to technology, pedagogy, and policy", so you may want to verify with him all of the information that I've presented to you here.

And if you find that he quantitatively refutes any of this information, I would appreciate your letting me know, since I would be thrilled to be corrected on any of this.

November 25, 2013

New York City parents sue to protect their kids' privacy

A dozen New York City parents filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the state from uploading student records to the inBloom database... a nonprofit funded by the Gates Foundation... The suit was filed against the state Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John King, who have faced tremendous criticism in recent months over their database plans, student testing tied to the Common Core learning standards, and other state initiatives.

...the lawsuit is based upon a claim that the disclosure of any child’s identifiable data without parental consent, as the Education Department plans to do, violates the state Personal Privacy Protection Law. The law, passed in 1984, spells out the conditions under which under what conditions state agencies can collect personal information about citizens. It disallows state agencies from sharing identifiable information without consent.
 Read more here.

November 24, 2013

The Statewide Meeting on Common Core in Connecticut

Yesterday I attended this meeting, which was held in Wallingford and hosted by the Stop Common Core in CT Facebook page. There were 26 people present.

The meeting started with a welcome by the owner of that page. There was a sign-in sheet, and folders handed out with CC information contained within (see links below). Time was spent reviewing the contents. An Agenda was included, however the meeting came to order 15 minutes after the Agenda indicated it would.

Keynote speaker, Tom McMorran, 2012 Connecticut High School Principal of the year, was scheduled to speak, according to the Agenda, for 45 minutes on "Major Problems With the Common Core". He spoke for 90 minutes, beginning with a summary of the five main arguments that are offered up on the Common Core:
  1. We are falling behind
  2. Other countries are outscoring us on international exams
  3. Only Common Core State Standards can save us
  4. With a mobile society state-level education is hard on transient kids
  5. We know what kids will need to know and be able to do in the future
and refuted some of those facts with brief facts of his own:
  • If Connecticut were a country it would have scored 13th in the world in testing
  • Only 80k of the 50 million United States students cross state borders per year [that's 0.16 percent]
  • 40 years ago when Mr. Morran was in school they could not have possibly educated him to be prepared for the internet and tech industries, because no one could see that far ahead. So how can we now say that we know what kids will need to know for the future?
Mr. Morran spent quite a bit of time talking about the reality of international testing, including how the US compares to other countries. Then he spoke to the fact that the real problem in the United States, and notably in Connecticut, is racial disparity, saying "It's not an achievement gap, it's a resource gap".

I have to admit that my mind started wandering during the presentation since this was all material that I am familiar with. I did at one point ask if the slides would be available online somewhere (so I wouldn't have to take as many notes) and Mr. Morran replied that he would make the source material available to the meeting hosts to share. After his talk one attendee asked if he could make his presentation available on youtube since she thought it was awesome and needed to be shared, but that is not likely to happen.

For those who are interested in learning about the realities of the international testing and how the US compares with the rest of the world you can see a great video about it here. It covers much of the information Mr. Morran did, in a succinct 22-minutes.

The 15 minute break that was supposed to have happened at 2:00 actually happened at 2:45 and lasted 30 minutes. There was a lovely spread of crudites and cheeses, and plenty of bottled water.

The next speaker came before us an hour after he had been scheduled to. Mr. William Malchisky is a Management Consultant who spoke about "Brainstorming and Problem Solving". Anticipating that there would not be time for the break-out workshop sessions after he spoke, he decided to focus on one of the workshop topics that had been scheduled: Opting out of state testing.

Mr. Malchinsky brainstormed with the attendees and recorded the information on a blackboard (click image to enlarge.)

The upper left quadrant was all of our Strengths, the bottom left represented our Weaknesses, the upper right was Opportunities, and the lower right represented Threats. After we brainstormed ideas without censure we went back and deleted redundancies and items that were not set in reality.

Interestingly, if you look on that lower right quadrant, you will find that Islam is listed as a threat to preventing us from Opting Out of testing here in Connecticut. I was surprised when it was mentioned during the brainstorming part of the presentation, and downright flabbergasted at the response when I suggested it be removed during the censuring later on. A very verbal and vehement third of the attendees insisted that it remain. Mr. Malchinsky suggested that since it was a point of divisiveness that could derail us from our path, that it be removed, but that loud third of the participants would not have it.

Mr. Malchinsky ended his presentation by stating that we would have to finish up the next time we met. His presentation ended 15 minutes after the time the entire meeting was to have ended.

The items on the Agenda that did not get done were the 30-minute break-out workshops, which were entitled Curriculum Critique, PR/Communications, and Datamining, and a 30-minute time period for Q&As and Plans For Next Meeting.

When the meeting broke up I approached the woman who listed Islam as a threat, and asked her if she could please provide me with some resources to look up. She told me to google "Common Core & Islam". I asked her if she knew the names of any individuals who are in Hartford that are a threat to our ability to opt out of testing, and she said that she did not, but that ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, is very active in pressing for the Common Core. And was I aware of how much Islam is infiltrating our curriculum?

So after our conversation I left understanding that Islam is not a threat to our ability to opt out of testing, but (supposedly) to opt out of Common Core, and that they are taking over our curriculum. Which is not what the presentation was about.

So all-in-all, for me personally, this four hours was not well spent. I learned nothing new but was reminded that too many people are not willing to put their prejudices and politics aside in order to work well with others for a common cause. And unfortunately this could mean that we are still far away from creating a cohesive force to get this thing dismantled in Connecticut.

Although it is my understanding that the meeting held by State Representative Gail Lavielle on Thursday was well attended.

Handouts included:

November 23, 2013

The Weekly Quote

If your teachers need a test to tell them how their kids are doing, then you hired the wrong teachers.

~ Dick Allington
Professor of Education, University of Tennessee

November 21, 2013

If not inBloom, then who?

Every state that accepted money for Race to the Top agreed to set up Longitudinal Data Systems to collect all the information the federal government now wants on our kids. But the only company that anyone is talking about that's doing it is inBloom, and other than a connection to BloomBoard which is apparently (at least in my district of Cheshire) only being used to track teachers, there has been no mention of data collection in Connecticut. It "has to" be done though, so who is doing it?

Well, with enough poking around I found it:
The State Department of Education (SDE), The Board of Regents for Higher Education (BOR) and the Department of Labor (DOL) are actively collaborating to implement the P20 WIN System. A cross-agency data governance structure has been formed, data sharing agreements have been approved and the technical infrastructure is being developed. The system is designed with the flexibility to expand to include connections to early childhood data, independent colleges and the University of Connecticut...
P20 WIN represents a groundbreaking approach to data sharing in Connecticut. Never before has Connecticut had a mechanism or a process for repeatedly linking unit record data longitudinally between multiple agencies...

Initially, P20 WIN will support limited sharing between the participating agencies as the system is tested during a pilot data exchange. After the pilot is complete and major functional issues addressed, there will be opportunity to plan for system expansion and enhancements.

So who is actually running the thing? The P-20 Council:
The P-20 Council supports collaboration among four sectors - early childhood, K-12, higher education and workforce training...

And who is the P-20 Council, and how was it formed?
Connecticut’s P-20 Council, originally created in 2009 by then-Governor M. Jodi Rell... is a team of stakeholders comprised of representatives in four sectors – early childhood education; elementary and secondary schools; higher education; and the workforce and business community.

The P-20 Council, as it stands today, was "re-established and reorganized" by Governor Dannel Malloy by Executive Order.

I was curious as to whether the Gates Foundation had any connection to our data collection, since they seem to be the ones that are heavily pushing it via grants to fund it all over the place, maybe because computers are needed to do all this testing, and Gates owns about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion [Microsoft] company.

So I googled "P20 WIN Gates Foundation" and came up with a guy in Connecticut named David L. Levinson, "who has been president of Norwalk Community College... since August 2004", and interestingly was "one of fifteen community colleges nationwide to receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a developmental education project." Still, the reason for that funding was a lofty one. However, a relationship was forged when "in April, [2010] NCC President David L. Levinson, Ph.D. met with Melinda Gates at a private meeting for community college presidents at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention in Seattle." I can't help but wonder what was discussed at that meeting since coincidentally Mr. Levinson is now one of the members of the Connecticut P-20 Council. 

I'm sure the connections go further than what I've gathered here, but I'm not going to spend more time on it right now. Sometimes my job here is not to answer the questions, but simply to raise them.

November 20, 2013

Public Meeting with Connecticut State Representative Gail Lavielle

Connecticut State Representative Gail Lavielle is inviting education professionals and members of the public to attend and speak at a public meeting designed to help identify state mandates that may be detrimental to teaching and learning in Connecticut’s public schools. The meeting will be held on Thursday, November 21, at 7:00 pm, at Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, in Westport.

More information, including where to submit written comments if you can't attend the meeting, can be found here.

November 19, 2013

Connecticut Informational Meeting on Common Core

The administrators of the Facebook Page Stop Common Core in Connecticut are organizing a state-wide meeting featuring speakers, workshops, and action plans.

On Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
from 1 to 4pm
at the Wallingford Parks and Rec Building: 6 Fairfield Blvd, Wallingford.

November 18, 2013

Education thinkers from across the political spectrum are taking on — and apart — the Core.

Just about anyone who opposes the Common Core national curriculum standards... is either a kook or a self-interested schemer. That, at least, is the impression an impartial observer would get from listening to many Core supporters. But the reality is quite the opposite...
The Common Core is opposed by scholars at several leading think tanks on both the right and left-hand side of the political landscape, including the Heritage Foundation, The Hoover Institution, the Brookings Institution and my own Cato Institute. My research has shown that there is essentially no meaningful evidence that national standards lead to superior educational outcomes.
 Read the rest of this piece here.

November 16, 2013

The Weekly Quote

The groups and individuals that constitute today's reform movement have appropriated the word 'reform' because it has such positive connotations in American political discourse, and American history. But the roots of this so-called reform movement may be traced to a radical ideology with a fundamental dis-trust of public education and hostility to the public sector in general.

The 'reform' movement is really a 'corporate reform' movement, funded to a large degree by major foundations, Wall Street hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and the U.S. Department of Education.

~ Diane Ravitch
Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement, and the Danger to America's Public Schools

November 15, 2013

What is a Lexile Score and why does it matter?

Here is a concise, one minute video explaining what Lexile Scores are, created by Horry County Schools in South Carolina...

In the company's own words:
The Lexile Framework measures reading ability and text complexity on the same developmental scale. Unlike other measurement systems, the Lexile Framework determines reading ability based on actual assessments, rather than generalized age or grade levels. Today, nearly half of the U.S. state education agencies have linked their statewide assessments to the Lexile scale.

With the release of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010, there has been a renewed interest in the importance of text complexity. In fact, the staircase of text complexity leading to college and career readiness is denominated in Lexile bands:
Having reader ability and text complexity on the same scale can inform classroom practice for more efficient learning and allow teachers the opportunity to more effectively scaffold instruction leading to the rigorous college and career levels.

The connection and importance of text complexity for college and career readiness was documented in a January 2012 report issued by the Institute of Education Sciences. This report indicates that Lexile measures are the most easily accessible and inexpensive indicators used to track student growth toward college and career readiness.

The company that created Lexile Scores, MetaMetrics®, has been around "for more than twenty years" so this is not new stuff; the books you may buy from your kids' Scholastic flyers have had books with scores on them for quite a while. However, with the adoption of Common Core, Lexile Scores are being increasingly used to keep kids reading on the proper level, and as you can see from the chart above (and this PDF from the CC website), they've actually been incorporated right into the Common Core. So people are taking a closer look.

On the surface, grading books for difficulty sounds like a really great idea. I myself have used the scales when looking for books for my 7th grader, on or slightly above the level of books his teacher had him reading. But an article showed up in one of the Facebook CC groups I belong to, entitled "Federal Bureaucrats Declare 'Hunger Games' More Complex Than 'The Grapes of Wrath' The Common Core's absurd new reading guidelines". Honestly, I didn't even read it, because I always try to look through every book my 7th grader reads to make sure they are all appropriate for him. So Lexile Scores didn't mean much to me. Until yesterday, when he was on the website Newsela at home, and I started asking him about it.

My first concern when my 7th grader told me that he uses a website to grade his reading was privacy, which for me personally, is the absolute greatest problem to come with this new school reform. So I got on the site and found that his privacy is not compromised (though I would have preferred he use a fake name for the site) and all they have is his name. And of course, all of his "articles" and scoring on them. But boy, was I was surprised to find this:

Check out that blue chart thing on the right. It enables my son to lower the Lexile Score of the article if it's too hard.

Here's a photo of the article with a Lexile Score of 750:
And here is the same article with a Lexile Score of 1000:

I have to be honest, I still couldn't see this as a bad thing; clearly the scoring was well thought out and made perfect sense. However, since Lexile Scores are now obviously becoming more of a part of my kids' everyday lives, it behooved me to go back and read that article I passed over.

And I have to say I was seriously surprised that the very first paragraph reads:
Here’s a pop quiz: according to the measurements used in the new Common Core Standards, which of these books would be complex enough for a ninth grader?

a. Huckleberry Finn
b. To Kill a Mockingbird
c. Jane Eyre
d. Sports Illustrated for Kids' Awesome Athletes!

The only correct answer is “d,” since all the others have a “Lexile” score so low that they are deemed most appropriate for fourth, fifth, or sixth graders.

Yikes! Perhaps the grading on these things is not as well though out as I assumed! Other interesting observations:
When Huckleberry Finn isn’t complex enough for our high-school students, I can’t help wondering if we need to change the way we conceptualize literary complexity... Slaughterhouse Five... with a score of only 870... is only a fourth-grade read. By these standards Mr. Popper’s Penguins (weighing in at a respectable 910) is deemed more complex.

MetaMetrix, makers of Lexile, has responded to these complaints with a six minute YouTube video:

Lexile measures do NOT indicate anything about quality... A high Lexile measure does NOT mean that it's well written. In fact it may be poorly argued, or convoluted.

And in this video, MetaMatrix tells us:
When we talk about text complexity what we mean is the words that are being used, and sentence length.

This blog post by Mike Mullin, author of Ashfall, which was named one of the top 5 YA [Young Adults] novels of 2011 by WNPR, does an excellent job of stating the big problem with all of this:
Good writing is simple. The best writers never use two words where one will do, and they choose their words with precision. But the Lexile system rewards complexity and obscurity by assigning higher Lexile scores for works with longer sentences and longer words.

Mr. Mullin uses the following example to illustrate:
Here's the first sentence of a book that sixth-grader would have been allowed to read, a book with a Lexile of 1650:
“On the theory that our genuine impulses may be connected with our childish experiences, that one's bent may be tracked back to that "No-Man's Land" where character is formless but nevertheless settling into definite lines of future development, I begin this record with some impressions of my childhood.”
Forty-eight words that can be replaced by three with no loss of meaning: 'My childhood was.' This is a truly awful opening, whatever your opinion of the overall work.

Here's a novel millions of sixth-graders have enjoyed. A novel with a Lexile of only 820. A novel this woman's [sixth grade] daughter would not be allowed to read:

“They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash.”
It's clear and concise. It introduces the main character and opens irresistible story questions in the reader's mind. If it were rewritten as one sentence, it would lose the flavor of gossip that makes it intriguing--and have a much higher Lexile score.

Perhaps we need to go back to letting our children's family and friends and teachers and librarians recommend good books, instead of letting a computer do it by measuring the number of words in a sentence, and counting the number of "big" words throughout a book.

November 10, 2013

Teachers believe impact of Common Core is positive?

A link to this article was posted on Facebook a few days ago:

"Teachers believe impact of Common Core will be ‘positive,’ poll says"

Though there’s still some work left on implementation, the vast majority of teachers believe new Common Core State Standards will have a positive impact on education, according to the results of a poll released by Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
And I left a comment after the article that reads:

Statements like "the vast majority of teachers" in the article, and "Seventy-four percent (74%) of all teachers in Common Core states" on page 9 of the report, are completely misleading.

According to the census bureau, in 2011-2012 "3 million [teachers] taught at the elementary and middle school level". And if we subtract the roughly 500,000 teachers in states that have rejected CC, that means that the 20,000 teachers they surveyed represent less than one percent of the teachers that are using the standards.

And only a little more than "half of teachers (57%) in Common Core states say that the Common Core State Standards will be positive overall for most students."

So 11,399 teachers, out of the roughly 2.5 million who are using the Common Core Standards think they will be positive overall for most students.

So what.

Go the the article and leave your own comment.

November 9, 2013

The Weekly Quote

A number of states include content in their standards that are outside the scope of, or more rigorous than, the ADP benchmarks [Common Core Standards]. For example, a number of states include in their mathematics standards rigorous content that is particularly important for students interested in pursuing further education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) fields.

~ Achieve
Out of Many, One: Toward Rigorous Common Core Standards From the Ground Up

November 8, 2013

The Corporate Interests

This is a flow chart to show all the connections of companies who have vested interests in Common Core:

And this is a video to explain it all.

It's all so convoluted, but easier to follow along with the video if you print out the chart first and have it on-hand while you watch. Click on the chart to make it bigger before you print it.

You can also find a transcript of the video here.

It's dense material, but well worth getting through. The connections are mind boggling.

November 7, 2013

A math teacher's view on Common Core

Common Core underprepares students for STEM careers. That's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Careers in STEM depend on students taking Calculus as seniors and as many people have noted if you work the courses backward that would require 8th graders to take Algebra I.

As it stands right now from what I've observed as a mathematics educator looking at the standards online, the standards in math in elementary school do not adequately prepare our students for taking Algebra I as 8th graders. There's a lot of content that's missing, there's a lot of things that are out of order, and it... puts these students at a disadvantage right from the start.

November 6, 2013

You can opt-out of the testing for your kids

Parents at Castle Bridge delighted at the realization that they could yank their kids from tests. Don Lash, parent of a Castle Bridge first-grader, said “just being aware there was an alternative” was a revelation.
It was so obvious to me that I assumed all parents would know it. But after reading this article, I am understanding that many parents don't realize they can refuse to have their children take the tests that the schools are pushing on our kids.

I repeat: you can refuse to let your kids take the tests. Here's a bunch of information you might want to know about how, and down on the bottom of the article is information about federal law and opting out. It has not been updated to say "Race to the Top" and still says "No Child Left Behind", but the laws are the same.

Opting out of the testing is such a simple way to not only protect your children's privacy, but to get involved in stopping the madness:
[In New York] by October 28, families of 93 of the 97 students subject to the tests had opted out.
In January, high school teacher and activist Jesse Hagopian helped lead the dramatic test boycott at Seattle’s Garfield High School. Teachers refused to administer, and students refused to take the state test, which organizers argued wasn’t aligned to curriculum and provided statistically unreliable results. After a months-long standoff with the district which saw teachers threatened with suspension, the district relented and allowed the high school to forgo the test.
Another article, this one in the New Haven Register says:
Multiple Supreme Court cases and the 14th Amendment give parents the “fundamental right” to direct the course of their children’s education, said Ceresta Smith, also a United Opt Out administrator. The key in most cases is the ability to prove your child’s proficiency in an area through an alternative assessment, such as a portfolio of their work.
“I think what they have to keep in mind more than anything else is testing is supposed to document proficiency. ... If your child is able to demonstrate proficiency, there’s nothing written in stone,” she said.
In April, nearly 8,000 New York state parents opted their children out of Common Core-aligned exams...
“From my point of view, Connecticut is just jumping into the water, but has the potential to blow the whole thing out of the water,” Turner said of the opt-out effort in Connecticut. “The heat will be turned up as soon as districts start indicating if students are only doing CMTs and CAPT, or, like New York did, field the new SBAC assessments, as well.”
The tests have yet to show an increase in graduation rate, a reduction in the so-called school-to-prison pipeline or a decrease in poverty, McDermott said. Instead, she said, people are seeing “public schools close, a huge rise in children’s stress level. They’re getting sick, nauseous."
This is such a simple way for us, as parents, to make a statement to our schools about our feelings regarding theses tests.

My children will not be taking them. Will yours?

November 5, 2013

Track the states withdrawing from Common Core

Track the development of legislation in various states that are seeking withdrawal from the Common Core. You can also find a short synopsis and a timeline of recent actions for each bill on this page.

November 1, 2013

But the Common Core Standards were validated by a committee!

A 25-member Validation Committee (VC) composed of leading figures in the education standards community... TheVC’s charge was to:
  • Review the process used to develop the Common Core State Standards and provide input and feedback on that process; and
  • Validate the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the Common Core State Standards.
As a free-standing committee—independent of standard-setting responsibility—theVC’s role was to observe and validate the process of identifying Common Core State Standards and assess the evidentiary base for the standards.

Here is the official report on the validation process, as well as the names and brief bios of the members of the committee.

Sandra Stotsky was one of the people on that committee. However, she is not one of the people who approved them. Here Part 1 and 2 of a great talk Sandra Stotsky gave about the writing and validation of the standards. I excerpted an important segment below them, but please watch them yourself; they are not that long and they are a great piece of first-hand education you can provide for yourself. There is nothing quite like hearing it from someone who was actually there.

I was on Common Core's Validation Committee. This was a committee that was set up in 2009, there were 25-29 of us, and as it's name suggests, we were to validate the standards. Which meant we were to make sure they were internationally benchmarked, research based, rigorous, and so on.

The committee, unfortunately, never was able to do anything with its charge, and I can't tell you what the committee actually did because we all had to sign confidentiality statements on our first meeting, promising never to tell anybody about what this committee did.

I can tell you what I wrote and what I did, but I can't tell you about what this committee did. It was clear to me at at the very end when we were given a certification form with several criteria, that we were expected to be "rubber stamps".

...Milgram the Mathemetician, and me, the only recognized national expert on English Language Arts standards, we were two of the five people who did not sign off on the standards.

But, the claim can be made that the majority of the members of this committee signed off on the standards, even if they couldn't understand the math. It didn't matter; they signed off.

So who were the people writing these standards?... The two lead writers, and their names are well known, David Coleman is now president of The College Board, and Susan Pimentel, were the two lead writers. Neither of them had experienced teaching English in college or at the K12 level, neither of them had ever published any serious work on K12, and neither had a reputation for scholarship or research; they were virtually unknown to the entire field. But somehow they had been chose to transform ELA [English Language Arts] in the U.S.

Milgram was the only Mathematician, there were many other people who had doctorates in mathematics education, or appointments in an education school, but none of them ever taught math courses. Very few people seem to understand the difference between people who teach math at the college level, and people who teach other people how to teach math. Huge difference.

And if you're developing standards it's the people who understand the structure of mathematics that you want to tell you what the content of a trigonometry course, or a pre-calculus course can be. And interestingly enough, we have no standards for pre-calculus in the common core's math standards, and we have only a few trig standards, which is one of the big issues Professor Milgrem keeps raising...

October 31, 2013

Is it "Imperative" for Connecticut to accept this "Massive Government Overreach"?

Jeb Bush, brother of George W, and former governor of Florida, did an interview with This Week on Sunday, 10.20.2013. I've seen his name pop up a few times in relation to Common Core, and I'm definitely going to be looking into why he is so dedicated to getting his brother's "reforms", through his No Child Left Behind legacy, pushed further along. However, right now I will be speaking to some of the actual content of his interview, rather than dealing with why he even had one about it at all.

I have to admit that this interview is a fantastic piece of marketing: 
But we could just, you know, comfortably go in decline. If we accept that notion that only 1/3 of our kids are college or career ready. Even though we spend more per student than any country in the world, by the way.
The man is definitely confident in his ability to manipulate us with his passive aggressiveness. Truly, it's brilliant.
There's a big fear...about this massive government overreach. I totally appreciate that. But that's not what this is. This is a national imperative. It's not a federal government program.
If "imperative" was expressed as a noun it means: 4. a command.
Collins English Word Dictionary: 5. an order or command  
If "imperative" was expressed as an adjective, it means: 1. absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable
Collins English Word Dictionary:
2. peremptory or authoritative: an imperative tone of voice
So while it may not be a "government program", it is, through funds that some states received through Race To The Top, government mandated, and as Jeb said, "imperative." That is definitely feeling like "massive government overreach" to me. And I am not a Tea Party member. 

We have to continue to ask ourselves, and our representatives, "Why are we allowing this in Connecticut when we haven't even received any Race To The Top funds? Common Core is not "imperative" in Connecticut.

During the course of his interview, Jeb Bush also said:
...if you measure it by outcomes... 25% of kids pass all of the four segments of the ACT test which means that they're college or career ready, or college ready.
Well here is the raw data on Connecticut's ACT scores for 2012. And here is the version they made easier to read with nice charts and such. And here is one of those charts that is not only nice, but quite telling:

Evidently, here in Connecticut our kids that took this test did better than the national average. In English we did 19% better, in Algebra we did 22% better, in Social Studies we did 19% better and it Biology we did 17% better. And even though one would expect the amount of kids who met all four of ACTs benchmarks to be much lower, since some kids might be good at English and not as good in science, we still managed to do 18% better than the national average.

Granted, this does mean that 14% of the Connecticut kids who took this test are not ready for a college English class, 32% are not ready for college Algebra, 29% are not ready for college Social Studies, and 62% are not ready for college Science. But let's take a look at some more of the report:

Hmm. Seems that most of the kids in Connecticut who are not doing well are African American, Hispanic, and in some cases, American Indian. And as it says first thing in the foreward of the report OPPORTUNITY IN CONNECTICUT: The Impact of Race, Poverty and Education on Family Economic Success, written by the Connecticut Association for Human Services:
"...Governor Malloy and lawmakers are... vowing to significantly reform Connecticut’s public schools amidst calls for accountability to students and closing the achievement gap. We applaud these goals, but we also point out that underlying inequalities related to race and poverty that impact opportunity in Connecticut must be addressed. Without attending to the disparities that exist in our highly favored state, school reform will not reach its mark, and inequality will persist for many children based on the color of their skin or where they live."
So I think it's pretty safe to assume that our overall education here in CT is not the problem; the problem seems to be more of a social and economic one.

Interestingly, despite the disparity in our low income areas to our high income areas, Connecticut was still tied for first place in most kids prepared for college English. We were tied for second place in most kids prepared for college Math. And we were tied for second place in most kids prepared for college Science.

We have to continue to ask ourselves, and our representatives, "Why are we allowing this in Connecticut when we haven't even received any Race To The Top funds? Common Core is not "imperative" in Connecticut. The system we were already using was one of the very best in the country. Why change it? Instead of fixing something that's not broken, why not concentrate our energy on helping the kids in our state who were not served by it? Why not concentrate on helping the kids who need it, and let the excellent-enough alone?

October 30, 2013

Educating other parents about Common Core

There is a lot of talk about Common Core on Facebook. I'm a member of five different Groups that discuss it, and I "like" one Page on the topic. I prefer the Groups to the Page, since on the Page only the admin's stuff ends up on my timeline; Pages are basically soap boxes since few people actually go to the Page to see what others have posted there. The groups though, that's where the real conversation happens.

Well today I actually went to the Page that I "like" to see what others besides the admin had posted, and found lots of questions that were never answered. The admin doesn't follow the questions, or ignores them, and since few others actually go to the page, lots of people's questions go unanswered. One of my own did a while back.

In reading through the questions I found some that are asked over and over. And over. One question today was "Can someone explain to me what common core will change?". And this question actually had a reply. But it really annoyed me that it read "Simple. Students will know less, require remedial education in order to get into college, and spend years in therapy overcoming the anger and frustration caused by a system designed to make them fail."

What the heck kind of answer is that? Someone is reaching out to the knowledgeable for education and this is what they get in response? Ugh! How on earth are we ever going to consolidate ourselves into an effective movement when we don't even show each other simple courtesy? 

And this is exactly why I started this blog. To slice through all the rhetoric and sarcasm and rudeness and plain old idiocy. I want to create a place to gather the real information without all the drama; a place where people can read through the consolidated information to educate themselves.

Over the next few days I'm going to start collecting all the basic questions that keep getting asked and try to make my own FAQ. Please let me know if there's something specific you think belongs on it.

October 29, 2013

Cheshire Board of Education Candidate Forum 2013

I went to the BOE candidate forum last night. Boy was I disappointed. The forum was supposed to have gone from 7pm till 9pm. They asked questions of the candidates from 7pm till 7:50pm. They didn't even ask all questions of all candidates. Five of the seven questions were answered by only two candidates each. What a joke.

The Cheshire Townwide PTA runs the forum. They collect questions from people and combine the questions on topics. Two of the questions I submitted were:
1. Given the fact that Connecticut has not received any Race to the Top funds from the federal government that would make implementing the Common Core standards a requirement, and the more important fact that Connecticut is a “local control” state for the school boards, meaning that each town can take or leave curriculum that the state suggests, how do you feel about Cheshire going forward with implementing the Common Core Standards?

2. In implementing Common Core, Cheshire has agreed to the increased need for testing that comes along with it, and since these tests are now nationalized, the curriculum must be aligned to it. And, in agreeing to use Common Core, states may not eliminate even one, but can only add up to 15% supplemental material. How do you feel about this potential loss of town control over our curriculum? 
The only question actually asked about Common Core was watered down to:
How do you see the Common Core curriculum supporting the new demands of the technological world our children will inhabit?

Why had it not occurred to me before that the Townwide PTA that was running this thing was likely aligned with the National PTA on its position (pdf) about Common Core? A quick chat with the Townwide PTA President confirmed it for me after the meeting. So the Cheshire Townwide PTA couldn't keep their own politics out of what was supposed to be an open forum.

Luckily though, there was one candidate, Adam Grippo, who was definitely anti-CC in his message. After the meeting I spent a few minutes chatting with him, and he assured me that that is the case. We spoke about the referendum on Cheshire's ballot this year regarding a Technology Reserve Fund. I got the amount wrong when I spoke with him, but Cheshire is voting on whether to approve $651,000 to, among other things, "provide the ability of the... Schools to more efficiently integrate and support new and emerging technologies". We speculated on what that actually meant.

If you live in Cheshire, I hope you will vote for Adam Grippo. And if you live elsewhere in Connecticut, I hope you are going to your own town's Board of Ed forums to find out where the candidates stand on Common Core.

October 28, 2013

My Experience With Protecting My Children's Privacy in Cheshire

A few weeks ago a postcard showed up at our house. It was an advertisement for a private high school and was addressed directly to my 7th grader.­ It raised a red flag since I’ve worked hard to protect my children’s names from advertisers; the only place these advertisers could have gotten his name and address was from our town’s school system, a parks and rec thing he participates in, or the state of Connecticut, which has this information as a result of his taking the CMT last year.

Soon after, I became peripherally aware of Common Core, and when that 7th grader came home after school one day with a couple of his friends, and they were talking about “the triumph math test” they had taken that day, my ears perked up. A few questions later had me realizing that Triumph is the name of the company that my town is using to assess the kids throughout the year as they go along.

So in light of what I had read about the privacy issues surrounding Common Core, I found my way to the login page of Triumph Learning™  and found the link for “privacy”, where it says 
“You can request that your children’s personal information not be used by Triumph Learning or its affiliates and vendors acting on behalf of Triumph Learning, by making a request in writing. Please be aware that if you make such a request, your children can no longer continue to be enrolled in Triumph Online™ or utilize Triumph Online™. Therefore, a request by you for Triumph Learning, its affiliates, and vendors acting on behalf of Triumph Learning to no longer use your children’s personal information will terminate your children’s participation in and their use of Triumph Online.”
Not letting my kids use their online service at all? Sounded great to me; I shot off the email, and had planned to email his teachers and principal the next day. But what happened next was so surprising. Instead of an acknowledgement I got this:
We’ve received your email request to remove your children from the Triumph Online system. I’ve been in contact with the Cheshire Curriculum Office this request and they will be contacting you in the next 48 hours. 
To say that I was not happy that my personal request was forwarded to a third party, even though that third party was the school, would be an understatement.

After several emails back and forth with this woman at Triumph, eventually what happened is that I had a meeting with a Curriculum Coordinator of the Board of Ed in Cheshire. She was open and forthright and respectful.

I left her with the post cards as she said she would try to find out how they could have come to us.

Then we discussed my concerns with Triumph Learning; given the changes to the FERPA law I do not want personal information being entered into a for-profit corporation’s database. Especially since Triumph Learning’s privacy page makes it clear that they reserve the right to share all that personal information with their “affiliates, and vendors”. In the end she assured me that although there are spots where detailed information about each student can be shared, my town does not utilize that, but I was within my rights to request that my sons’ testing be done on paper. I agreed to let it stay with the online testing under her assurances that there was no identifiable information being shared there.

I also mentioned my concerns with the Smarter Balanced Consortium, which is the Common Core testing that will replace CMT and CAPT in Connecticut, rolling out this year. (During the last BOE meeting in my town it was mentioned that “Twenty percent of students in Connecticut will participate, but we don’t know if our students will or not”.) She mentioned that the tests are mandated and therefore required and I can’t opt out. I replied that the town is only required to report on 95% of the kids and my son could be one of the 5% not reported on.

Then she mentioned that my son would have to be pulled out of class for the nine weeks of testing, to which I replied that I have no problem keeping him home, since I had homeschooled him for six years and could certainly find more constructive ways to utilize that time than with testing.

Conversation then moved from trying to convince me that I didn’t have a choice, to addressing my issues with FERPA and data sharing. I had brought along a paper entitled “The Revised FERPA Regulations and Increased Access to Personally Identifiable Information” that had been written by Kent Talbert for the National Association of College And University Attorneys. I did not leave it with her, or read straight from it, but did bring up the points that disturbed me:

The new regulations allow authorities to more easily share and re-disclose data from student education records for purposes of audits, evaluations, and studies. In so doing, the amended rules also reduce certain privacy protections in the name of effective use of data and increased accountability and transparency.

 “Authorized representative” is a new, defined term and represents a departure from the Department’s prior interpretation of FERPA. Under the new definition, an authorized representative is any entity or individual designated by [the government] to conduct… any audit or evaluation, or any compliance or enforcement activity in connection with federal legal requirements that relate to such programs.

Under the revised regulations, the Department could designate a much wider range of individuals or entities to be its authorized representatives. For example, it could designate a trade union to receive personally identifiable information to evaluate the effectiveness of a university in preparing students for the workplace …

“Directory information” is redefined and includes a new limitation placed upon a parent or eligible student’s ability to opt-out of directory information... This new provision thus further limits a parent’s authority under the act “to inform the institution or agency that any or all of the information designated (as directory information) should not be released without the parent’s prior consent.

“Education program” is another new, defined term and encompasses any program that is principally engaged in the provision of education... the potential range of education programs from which data may be shared for purposes of audits, evaluations, or compliance activities is quite broad—ranging from early childhood programs to job training. [This would include Google, for example, since in letting schools use Google Docs (for “free”) Google is now considered an education program”.]

Further, in the preamble, the Department takes the position that “education programs” are broad enough to include not only traditional academic programs, but also cyber-security, substance abuse, and violence prevention programs and the like, when administered by an educational agency or institution.

The amended regulations permit [the government] to make further disclosures of personally identifiable information on behalf of the educational agency... from which it received the information even if the agency... objects. To illustrate, a [school] could disclose personally identifiable information without consent to a state educational agency for purposes of an evaluation of a federal education dropout prevention program. The state educational agency may then re-disclose the personally identifiable information “on behalf of” the [school] to a local educational agency for an unrelated evaluation, even if the [school] objects...

These are the things that I tried to discuss with my BOE rep, but it was too much for her to grasp. Once she understood that the FERPA laws are the basis for my concerns though, she shared that the Cheshire Board of Ed has asked our town lawyer to review the changes to the FERPA law so that our schools can stay compliant with it, and said that she would share a copy of that review with me.

Honestly I’m not convinced that it’s going to tell us much in terms of how kids’ data can be shared beyond the school once the school releases it, but it should explain how much more information can be shared now, and without parental consent. And it will hopefully present a stronger case when I then connect the dots to present to the BOE rep regarding where my child’s information can end up once the school system releases it, and help her understand why my child will not be participating in the Smarter Balanced testing.

The schools need to understand that the law has changed so that more information can be collected on our kids without parental consent, and that once the schools release that information to the state, they completely lose control over who else it can be shared with. And it can be shared with a lot of corporations! (Google, et al.)

Our meeting ended with me agreeing not to opt-out of the Smarter Balanced testing until I see the report from the lawyer.