February 28, 2014

Formal Public Hearing on Common Core to be Held in CT

HARTFORD – House Republicans today forced Democrats to stage a formal public hearing on the controversial Common Core curriculum and public school teacher evaluation process by petitioning out legislation that the majority party refused to raise in the Education Committee.

Republicans resorted to the seldom used petitioning process by their caucus that allows for legislation to be raised. Republicans gathered the required 51 signatures from their caucus under House Rule 11 that triggered the two bills to be raised with the public hearing to follow.

“It is critical that educators, parents, taxpayers and students be heard on these issues within the legislative process, and that can take place only if we have a formal public hearing,’’ House Republican Leader Larry Cafero said. “To date, the Democrats on the Education Committee have refused to raise any bills or allow for a traditional public hearing where all parties can be heard.’’

One Republican bill codifies the proposals brought forth by the committee created to establish teacher evaluation standards known as the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council.

The second bill, authored by state Rep. Marilyn Giuliano of Old Saybrook, would freeze the implementation of the Common Core curriculum until all stakeholders have time to examine its potential effects and consider possible changes.

“We have heard from hundreds, if not thousands, of educators and parents from outside the General Assembly who never had the opportunity to weight in before the new curriculum was created and put into motion. We need to have that debate and allow for all interested parties to have their say,’’ Cafero said.

The Democratic leadership only agreed to have a hearing where the speakers would be selected ahead of time and the discussion controlled by time constraints. Cafero said, “That forum does not allow for a robust debate.’’

February 27, 2014

The Myth Behind Public School Failure

This isn't Connecticut specific, but it's important enough for people to know about. It's from YES! which allows articles to be re-printed in their entirety. You can read the essay here, or directly on their website.

The Myth Behind Public School Failure

In the rush to privatize the country’s schools, corporations and politicians have decimated school budgets, replaced teaching with standardized testing, and placed the blame on teachers and students.


Until about 1980, America’s public schoolteachers were iconic everyday heroes painted with a kind of Norman Rockwell patina—generally respected because they helped most kids learn to read, write and successfully join society. Such teachers made possible at least the idea of a vibrant democracy.

Since then, what a turnaround: We’re now told, relentlessly, that bad-apple schoolteachers have wrecked K-12 education; that their unions keep legions of incompetent educators in classrooms; that part of the solution is more private charter schools; and that teachers as well as entire schools lack accountability, which can best be remedied by more and more standardized “bubble” tests.

What led to such an ignoble fall for teachers and schools? Did public education really become so irreversibly terrible in three decades? Is there so little that’s redeemable in today’s schoolhouses?

The beginning of “reform”
To truly understand how we came to believe our educational system is broken, we need a history lesson. Rewind to 1980—when Milton Friedman, the high priest of laissez-faire economics, partnered with PBS to produce a ten-part television series called Free to Choose. He devoted one episode to the idea of school vouchers, a plan to allow families what amounted to publicly funded scholarships so their children could leave the public schools and attend private ones.

You could make a strong argument that the current campaign against public schools started with that single TV episode. To make the case for vouchers, free-market conservatives, corporate strategists, and opportunistic politicians looked for any way to build a myth that public schools were failing, that teachers (and of course their unions) were at fault, and that the cure was vouchers and privatization.

Jonathan Kozol, the author and tireless advocate for public schools, called vouchers the “single worst, most dangerous idea to have entered education discourse in my adult life.”

Armed with Friedman’s ideas, President Reagan began calling for vouchers. In 1983, his National Commission on Excellence in Education issued “A Nation At Risk,” a report that declared, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

It also said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

For a document that’s had such lasting impact, “A Nation At Risk” is remarkably free of facts and solid data. Not so the Sandia Report, a little-known follow-up study commissioned by Admiral James Watkins, Reagan’s secretary of energy; it discovered that the falling test scores which caused such an uproar were really a matter of an expansion in the number of students taking the tests. In truth, standardized-test scores were going up for every economic and ethnic segment of students—it’s just that, as more and more students began taking these tests over the 20-year period of the study, this more representative sample of America’s youth better reflected the true national average. It wasn’t a teacher problem. It was a statistical misread.

The government never officially released the Sandia Report. It languished in peer-review purgatory until the Journal of Educational Research published it in 1993. Despite its hyperbole (or perhaps because of it), “A Nation At Risk” became a timely cudgel for the larger privatization movement. With Reagan and Friedman, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist, preaching that salvation would come once most government services were turned over to private entrepreneurs, the privatizers began proselytizing to get government out of everything from the post office to the public schools.

Corporations recognized privatization as a euphemism for profits. “Our schools are failing” became the slogan for those who wanted public-treasury vouchers to move money into private schools. These cries continue today.

The era of accountability
In 2001, less than a year into the presidency of George W. Bush, the federal government enacted sweeping legislation called “No Child Left Behind.” Supporters described it as a new era of accountability—based on standardized testing. The act tied federal funding for public schools to student scores on standardized tests. It also guaranteed millions in profits to corporations such as Pearson PLC, the curriculum and testing juggernaut, which made more than $1 billion in 2012 selling textbooks and bubble tests.

In 2008, the economy collapsed. State budgets were eviscerated. Schools were desperate for funding. In 2009, President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, created a program they called “Race to the Top.”

It didn’t replace No Child Left Behind; it did step in with grants to individual states for their public schools. Obama and Duncan put desperate states in competition with each other. Who got the money was determined by several factors, including which states did the best job of improving the performance of failing schools—which, in practice, frequently means replacing public schools with for-profit charter schools—and by a measure of school success based on students’ standardized-test scores that allegedly measured “progress.”

Since 2001 and No Child Left Behind, the focus of education policy makers and corporate-funded reformers has been to insist on more testing—more ways to quantify and measure the kind of education our children are getting, as well as more ways to purportedly quantify and measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

For a dozen or so years, this “accountability movement” was pretty much the only game in town. It used questionable, even draconian, interpretations of standardized-test results to brand schools as failures, close them, and replace them with for-profit charter schools.

Finally, in early 2012, then-Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott kindled a revolt of sorts, saying publicly that high-stakes exams are a “perversion.” His sentiments quickly spread to Texas school boards, whose resolution stating that tests were “strangling education” gained support from more than 875 school districts representing more than 4.4 million Texas public-school students. Similar, if smaller, resistance to testing percolated in other communities nationally.

Then, in January 2013, teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School announced they would refuse to give their students the Measures of Academic Progress Test—the MAP test. Despite threats of retaliation by their district, they held steadfast. By May, the district caved, telling its high schools the test was no longer mandatory.

Garfield’s boycott triggered a nationwide backlash to the “reform” that began with Friedman and the privatizers in 1980. At last, Americans from coast to coast have begun redefining the problem for what it really is: not an education crisis but a manufactured catastrophe, a facet of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”

Look closely—you’ll recognize the formula: Underfund schools. Overcrowd classrooms. Mandate standardized tests sold by private-sector firms that “prove” these schools are failures. Blame teachers and their unions for awful test scores. In the bargain, weaken those unions, the largest labor organizations remaining in the United States. Push nonunion, profit-oriented charter schools as a solution.

If a Hurricane Katrina or a Great Recession comes along, all the better. Opportunities for plunder increase as schools go deeper into crisis, whether genuine or ginned up.

The reason for privatization
Chris Hedges, the former New York Times correspondent, appeared on Democracy Now! in 2012 and told host Amy Goodman the federal government spends some $600 billion a year on education—“and the corporations want it. That’s what’s happening.

And that comes through charter schools. It comes through standardized testing. And it comes through breaking teachers’ unions and essentially hiring temp workers, people who have very little skills.”

If you doubt Hedges, at least trust Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and capitalist extraordinaire whose Amplify corporation already is growing at a 20 percent rate, thanks to its education contracts. “When it comes to K through 12 education,” Murdoch said in a November 2010 press release, “we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Corporate-speak for, “Privatize the public schools. Now, please.”

In a land where the free market has near-religious status, that’s been the answer for a long time. And it’s always been the wrong answer. The problem with education is not bad teachers making little Johnny into a dolt. It’s about Johnny making big corporations a bundle—at the expense of the well-educated citizenry essential to democracy.

And, of course, it’s about the people and ideas now reclaiming and rejuvenating our public schools and how we all can join the uprising against the faux reformers.

Dean Paton wrote this article for Education Uprising, the Spring 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Dean is executive editor of YES!

February 26, 2014

The Privacy Issue

A very short comment regarding kids' privacy in Connecticut, made during the Stop Common Core in CT forum held this past Saturday, that is simply mind boggling:

By the way, you can address your own questions, comments or concerns to Abe Krisst, Connecticut's Technology Readiness Coordinator, at 860-713-6894 or via e-mail to abe.krisst@ct.gov

February 25, 2014

Common Core Deserves a Public Hearing

A press release is showing up on many State Republican's websites and blogs. Here is the statement taken from the party's home page.

February 21st, 2014

Many of you have expressed concern over the implementation of Common Core, particularly as it relates to teacher evaluations.

On Monday, Feb. 10, the education committee raised 23 bills for public hearings and potential action by the legislature. Not one of these bills addressed the issue of Common Core or teaching evaluations.

This is exactly how we have ended up in the predicament that we are in right now. Common Core was adopted outside of the legislative process, which meant that too many voices were left out of the debate.

Therefore, I urge you all to contact the Co-chairs of the Education committee and request a public hearing on Common Core. I do not believe that an issue as complex as Common Core should be adopted without input from those who it will affect most: teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

You can contact Co-Chair Senator Andrea Stillman by calling her office at 1-800-842-1420, or emailing her by clicking here.

You can contact Co-Chair State Representative Andrew Fleischmann by calling his office at 1-860-240-0429 or emailing him at Andrew.Fleischmann@cga.ct.gov.

Please pass this along to as many teachers, administrators, and parents as you can.

February 24, 2014

It's a very simple thing to stop Common Core...
looking at it legally

Attorney Deborah Stevenson is at the forefront of educational law in Connecticut and is well known by the state's Education Committee. She spoke at the Stop Common Core in CT forum this past Saturday and in a succinct two minutes explained exactly what "Local Control" means and how it is unconstitutional for the state to tell Local School Districts what to teach.

So the real solution to all of this mess described in 14 seconds:

February 22, 2014

The Weekly Quote

“The achievement gap needs to be narrowed.
I’m afraid, as things stand right now, that the achievement gap is going to be expanded by Common Core.

Mark Waxenberg
~ CEA Executive Director

February 21, 2014

Who is CEA and Why Should You Care?

The Connecticut Education Association is a teacher's union representing 43,000 teachers in Connecticut. I first learned about them when a Google Alert brought me to this page where it says:
The State Department of Education is reporting “greater numbers of parents desiring to remove their child(ren) from participation in the statewide testing program.” In response, the department’s Academic Office has issued these suggested protocols and sample letter for districts’ use as part of its December Newsletter.
Beneath this someone had asked "Are you making this public so the word can get out to parents? Is this a proactive warning?"

Certainly I was happy to have this information. It was the first place I had seen it, and I downloaded the documents to be sure I had them if needed. And they actually helped me put an end to the ongoing conversation I was having with my own district about the subject. So I couldn't help wondering if CEA was, in fact, "making this public so the word can get out to parents" since it immediately flooded social media outlets. Importantly, it directly provided parents concrete evidence, straight from the mouth of the CT Department of Education, that we can in fact, opt-out of the tests.

My next contact with CEA was an invite to the Parent Teacher Community Forum that they co-hosted. At that Forum many teachers expressed concern with the testing and the way teachers will be evaluated.

Recently I saw a commercial on TV for CEA:

"For students and families growing more engaged." Yes, we're waking up.

And they must have thought their first Community Forum met the goals they set for it, because they are hosting another one.

It's also interesting to note that CEA has been vocally against Malloy's Education Reform all along, specifically as it relates to teacher evaluations:

Finally, in a Statement from CEA on New Flexibility Options in Teacher Evaluation, President Sheila Cohen writes "While this is a significant improvement for Connecticut students in public schools, it is only a first step in modifying existing guidelines and removing obstacles that hinder a student-focused system of public education."

Yeah, CEA is a union. And some people have problems with unions. And yeah, CEA is obviously doing some fluffing of its own feathers, especially with a commercial, in order to bolster their image and hold their influence this election year. But you know what? Albeit subtly, they are reaching out a hand to parents, even if just to ask us to join them in their fight against evaluations. But given their influence, and thus far parallel ideas regarding testing, I'll take it.

February 20, 2014

The Words of CT State Representative John Frey

February 19th:

State Rep. John Frey (R-111 Ridgefield) along with his colleagues in the House Republican Caucus have called for delaying the implementation of Common Core and teacher evaluations until after the public can fully vet the sweeping changes to the state’s education system with a public hearing.

The announcement by Rep. Frey and the House Republicans comes on the heels of the governor’s proposing a delay in linking educator performance ratings and student test scores and creating a working group within the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council to possibly make changes in the implementation in the Common Core State Standards.

“Unfortunately, the governor’s proposal does nothing to give the public or their representatives in the legislature full disclosure or input on these educational standards for our children,” said Rep. Frey. “Instead the task of evaluating the implementation of Common Core is given to an outside advisory board behind closed doors, and the public and lawmakers are left out of the process again.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Frey has met with teachers, parents and school administrators in an attempt to understand and identify their concerns and to ensure the education of Ridgefield students will not suffer but to continue to excel.

“Ridgefield has some of the highest performing schools in the state, with some of the best teachers in the profession who have already proven their ability to produce stellar outcomes,” he said. “I have heard from countless teachers and administrators in both Ridgefield and across the state who say the burden being placed on them to comply with the new performance evaluations and Common Core Standards has taken much of the joy out of their jobs — at no benefit to the students who this overhaul is supposedly all about. We need to take a time-out on Common Core so that we may give the major stakeholders in this reform the input and accountability they deserve.”

Teachers around the state are also concerned they are going to be evaluated based on scores from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a test that has not been fully evaluated or vetted with Connecticut students before its implementation this fall.

“Many teachers have complained to me that all of these new administrative tasks that are coming with the education reform packages have taken a great deal of joy out of their jobs, without benefiting the students in any noticeable way,” Mr. Frey said.

The group of Republican lawmakers has called on the Education Committee to host a hearing and that all stakeholders — the State Board of Education, educators, parents, and others — should be invited and asked for input.

The Words of CT State Representative Larry Cafero

HARTFORD – House Republican Leader Larry Cafero today called upon Democrats to stage a full public hearing in the Education Committee on the controversial Common Core curriculum and teacher evaluation standards that have caused upheaval in state public schools.

Cafero, writing to the Democratic Chairs of the panel, said a full inquiry into the federally driven program must take place to allow educators, parents and anyone who wants to weigh in, vent their opinions and offer suggestions.

“We have heard from thousands of educators and parents outside the legislature on these matters. As lawmakers and their elected officials, we owe the public the chance to address these issues in a formal setting within the General Assembly,’’ Cafero said.

Cafero questioned why, after lawmakers have been deluged from the public, not a single bill regarding Common Core or teacher evaluations was raised by the Education Committee. He criticized the plan to hold an “informal hearing’’ where only invited speakers will be allowed to speak.

House Democratic Chairman Andrew Fleischmann today affirmed no bills will be raised.

“This is exactly why teachers, administrators, parents and their children find themselves in the situation they are in now: Common Core was adopted outside of the legislative process which meant that too many voices were left out of the debate,’’ Cafero wrote. Not holding a full public hearing, he added, would, “continue to leave people out of the conversation and continue to do damage to our entire education community.’’

The Republican bill proposal would codify important changes adopted by the Performance Evaluation and Assessment Committee.

February 19, 2014

US Senator Lindsey Graham Denounces Common Core

On February 5th US Senator Lindsey Graham issued the following press release:

Senators Introduce Resolution Denouncing Obama Administration's Coercion of States with Common Core
"The Obama Administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core," said Graham.

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) will introduce a resolution strongly denouncing the Obama Administration's coercion of states into adopting Common Core State Standards by conferring preferences in federal grants and flexibility waivers.

The resolution is co-sponsored by Senators Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming).

"The Obama Administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core," said Graham. "Blanket education standards should not be a prerequisite for federal funding. In order to have a competitive application for some federal grants and flexibility waivers, states have to adopt Common Core. This is simply not the way the Obama Administration should be handling education policy. Our resolution affirms that education belongs in the hands of our parents, local officials and states."

"It is crucial that the money being spent on education in Oklahoma be controlled by Oklahomans who are familiar with the needs of our schools and students," said Inhofe. "This is why I am proud to join Senator Graham in introducing a resolution that enforces vital education practices of leaving the decisions of children's educational needs to the state and the parents.

"Educational decisions are best made by parents and teachers - not bureaucrats in Washington," said Scott. "While Common Core started out as a state-led initiative, the federal government unfortunately decided to use carrots and sticks to coerce states into adopting national standards and assessments. That is simply the wrong choice for our kids."

"Common Core is another example of Washington trying to control all aspects of Americans' lives, including the education of our children," said Cruz. "We should not allow the federal government to dictate what our children learn; rather, parents, through their teachers, local schools and state systems, should be able to direct the education of their children."

"Common Core has become polluted with Federal guidelines and mandates that interfere with the ability of parents, teachers and principals to deliver the education our children deserve," said Lee. "Rather than increasing coercion, we should be demanding that further interference by the U.S. Department of Education with respect to state decisions on academic content standards be eliminated."

"Decisions about what content students should be taught have enormous consequences for children and so should be made as close as possible to the affected parents and students," said Grassley. "Federal interference in this area disrupts the direct line of accountability between parents and those making decisions about their children's education. It also takes away needed flexibility from state education leaders to make changes as they learn more about what works and what does not."

"This Administration favors a national school board approach to education and likes to ignore individual states' decisions," said Enzi. "It uses ‘free' money as the carrot to dangle in front of the states. In effect it is trying to force states into accepting a one-size-fits-all approach. This coercion with Common Core is another example of the federal government trampling on states' rights and is the wrong approach to fixing our education system in this country."

The major provisions of the resolution affirm:

  • Education belongs in the hands of parents, local education officials, and states.
  • The federal government should not coerce states into adopting common education standards.
  • No future application process for any federal grant funds or waivers should award additional points, or provide any preference, for the adoption of Common Core.



  • Strongly denounces President Obama's coercion of states into adopting Common Core by conferring preferences in federal grants and flexibility waivers.
  • Strongly supports the restoration and protection of state authority and flexibility in establishing and defining challenging student academic standards and assessments.


  • Education belongs in the hands of parents, local education officials, and states.
  • The federal government should not coerce states into adopting common education standards.
  • No application process for any federal grant funds or waivers should award additional points, or provide any preference, for the adoption of Common Core.
  • The link between adoption of common education standards and federal funds will result in increased federal control over education.
  • The resolution does not retract any federal funds or waivers already issued to states.
  • The resolution does not evaluate the content of the Common Core standards already developed and adopted by states.

February 18, 2014

The Words of CT State Representative David Arconti Jr.

The Democrats are finally waking up:

Rep. David Arconti Jr. posted this on the NewsTimes:

A few weeks ago I attended the Fairfield County Regional Connecticut Education Association meeting in Trumbull. I want to thank the 50 teachers from Danbury who attended and shared their experiences with me. It was a great event and I must say I learned a great deal from them and left inspired.

Our own Danbury High School mathematics teacher, Steve Golden, who was my sophomore geometry instructor, stood up on his chair and gave a very impassioned speech to the 400-plus attendees in the grand ballroom. I could not have been more proud to be representing Danbury.

I was very happy when I learned the governor and our legislative leaders asked the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council to give school districts the flexibility to delay the new teacher evaluation system.

That is a great first step, but more work needs to be done. It is crucial we focus our energy and efforts on professional support for our teachers.

We do not want to confine our teachers with the new parameters of the evaluation system by forcing them to "teach to the test." If we do that, we are undermining our public education system, which is a cornerstone of our democracy.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to get together with a number of teachers throughout the city to listen to their concerns regarding Common Core and the new evaluation system because I was not in the legislature during the passage of the Education Reform bill.

I am generally not a supporter of a one-size-fits-all approach to education -- the last thing we want to do as policy makers is rob teachers of the flexibility and creativity to educate and properly prepare our students for adult life.

When it comes to standardized tests, there is nothing I learned from taking them that I can apply to my professional or personal life. On the contrary, the best lessons I learned came from teachers such as Rich Holmes, Jose Vas and Andee Nunn, among many others, who had the flexibility to educate us, utilizing their experiences the best way they saw fit.

I believe that investing in education will be a major contributor to helping our students across the state get on the right path to a successful professional future.

Our teachers need our support to make sure they not only have the resources, but the discretion to teach children according to their individual learning styles.

We face tough challenges ahead as we continue our focus on improving our economy and helping our struggling families. I am pleased to see education is on top of the priority list and I look forward to my work in the legislature to find a practical balance where both our students and teachers can work toward a brighter and a more promising tomorrow.

February 17, 2014

More Questions About Google Data Mining

Because I had recently posted about my concerns with Google Chromebooks, when Jonathan Pelto over at Wait What? posted something called "Are Governor Malloy’s new Google Chromebooks data mining our kids?" several people pointed me to it.

Seems that a lawsuit has been filed against Google for their privacy practices.

Pretty much any average Joe who uses Gmail knows that his email is being scanned so that Google can more accurately target ads. And that's their defense in the lawsuit that alleges that they are not properly informing people of the fact that they are doing it; everyone already knows.

But my concern is not with how Google is scanning my email. My concern is about my kids using Google products for school. Here in Cheshire we use Google Apps extensively. After I finally went out and bought Microsoft Office, my kids don't need it; Google Apps does it all, online; documents, slide presentations, spreadsheets. And when they are done with those projects they simply submit them online for their teachers to retrieve.

So it was with interest that I followed through Pelto's links and found that in searching through documentation submitted to the court by Google, an organization called Safegov.org reports:

Google Apps for Education... has a more ambivalent policy regarding advertising. While Google pledges not to serve ads to students without schools’ permission, its Google Apps suite, which is a repurposed version of Google’s Gmail and other consumer services, was designed from the ground up to include ad-serving as well as highly sophisticated user profiling and data mining capabilities. Google explicitly offers schools the option of enabling ad serving to student users of Google Apps for Education.

While we take Google’s word that it does not serve ads to its student users unless it has permission from schools, an important question that until now has gone unanswered is whether the targeting algorithms that power Gmail are still running in Google Apps for Education even when ad serving is turned off.

SafeGov has been searching for further evidence that would help to resolve one way or the other the question of Google’s data mining practices in Apps for Education.

Google’s own lawyers... confirm in a sworn public court declaration that even when ad serving is turned off in Google Apps for Education, the contents of users’ emails are still being scanned by Google in order to target ads at those same users when they use the web outside of Google Apps (for example, when watching a YouTube video, conducting a Google search, or viewing a web page that contains a Google+ or DoubleClick cookie).

The issue at stake in the case is whether Google has properly informed its users and obtained their consent for data mining and ad serving in Gmail and, by extension, in Google Apps for Education... Regarding Google Apps for Education... the lawyers state that schools which contract with Google to provide Google Apps “have a contractual obligation to obtain their students’ and end users’ consent to Google’s automated scanning”.

Google... acknowledges that its standard consumer privacy policy is an integral part of its standard Google Apps for Education contract. It is still possible that, in contrast to the situation described in the Google court filing quoted above, some educational institutions have managed to strike individual agreements with Google that do indeed “supersede” the standard privacy policy. If they exist, however, Google has curiously not chosen to make any such agreements public.

In sum, then, we have learned from Google’s own statements that:
  1. Ad serving remains a standard option in Google Apps for Education,
  2. Even when ads are turned off (as they currently are by default) Google still data mines student emails for ad targeting purposes, and
  3. Google’s consumer privacy policy is incorporated in standard Google Apps for Education contracts.
Safegov.org also says that:

Although it does not yet offer to share the resulting ad revenues with schools that choose the ad-serving option, it has clearly left the door open to such revenue sharing in the future. Indeed, it is hard to see why Google would explicitly write the ad-serving option into its standard contract with schools if it did not hope one day to make ads for students a default and perhaps even mandatory feature of Apps for Education.

Interestingly, only colleges are mentioned in Google's filing. So what's the deal with K-12?

After signing out of my Gmail account I signed into my 7th grader's school account. And was reminded that Google now connects all the users on my computer. Even though I sign out, I'm still there:

You can see my son's account that he is now signed into on the top, but it still has me showing up underneath him. It's a multi-step process to remove users from the computer, that I can't get my kids to actually do, so we have four or five accounts all being connected by Google at any given time. I can only imagine what they are doing with all that information.

Anyway I was interested in the part that says "This account is managed by cheshire.k12.ct.us" since I'm now wondering if Cheshire is one of those "educational institutions [that] have managed to strike individual agreements with Google that do indeed “supersede” the standard privacy policy." So I clicked on the part underneath that that says "Learn more". And all I learned is that the school has access to my kids' stuff. Duh.

Then I clicked on the "Privacy" link and was brought to the same privacy page that I get to when I'm signed in with my personal account. On it, it says:

We do not share personal information with companies, organizations and individuals outside of Google unless one of the following circumstances applies:
  • With domain administrators
If your Google Account is managed for you by a domain administrator (for example, for Google Apps users) then your domain administrator and resellers who provide user support to your organization will have access to your Google Account information (including your email and other data). Your domain administrator may be able to:
  • view statistics regarding your account, like statistics regarding applications you install.
  • change your account password.
  • suspend or terminate your account access.
  • access or retain information stored as part of your account.
  • receive your account information in order to satisfy applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.
  • restrict your ability to delete or edit information or privacy settings.
Please refer to your domain administrator’s privacy policy for more information.

No privacy policy specific to Google Apps listed anywhere in the school literature or on its website.

So then I clicked on "Account" and found that my kid has two additional email addresses:

"No, I have no idea what those are," he tells me. Interesting.

The good news is that the school blocks the kids from using Gmail; they have access only to the Apps. And thus far, Google is only scanning email to target advertising. But why should we believe them now?

February 15, 2014

The Weekly Quote

Our schools have been quietly taken over. We are no longer teaching the skills and concepts that our kids need for the complex, unpredictable 21st century; we are increasingly teaching the skills that billionaires want their workforces to have in order to boost their profits.

~ Kris L. Nielsen
Children of the Core

February 14, 2014

Ask Arne:
The Role of Private Funds and Interests in Education

So Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education has stuck his foot in his mouth many times along the way. Looks like he's making an effort toward damage control mixed with a healthy dose of propaganda, with a video entitled "Ask Arne: The Role of Private Funds and Interests in Education".

The part I found most interesting is from minute 1:40 to 3:55:

There's concern around private corporations and philanthropists that are involved in public education and some skepticism as well about who's providing the funding. So what is the role of private dollars in public education?

I think it's important because sadly education in under invested in in the vast majority of places around the country, there's always tremendous unmet need. Whether it's more time for teachers, whether it's more money for professional development, whether it's money for after school programs for kids, summer school programs, whatever it might be, having philanthropy, foundations, having businesses step in and help there, um, I think that's a good thing.

And you gotta be smart, you gotta have good partnerships, so what I don't want is schools to become islands isolated from the rest of the community, that doesn't make sense. But when it's all hands on deck, when everyone's working together, where schools are becoming community centers, that's a really important thing, and it's very very helpful.

So just couple examples, places like the GE Foundation, have provided a lot of time and energy and resources to help in terms of teachers' professional development, math and literacy training.

Places like the Ford Foundation, have helped to sponsor our Labor Management Conference every single year, allowing hundreds of school districts, uh, labor leaders, school board members, and management to come and work together on tough issues.

[Obvious editing cut occurred here in the video.]

Places like the Joyce Foundation helped in terms of teacher evaluation, also did fantastic work trying to reduce gun violence, which is a huge issue that plagues Chicago and other places around the country.

IBM has sponsored a fantastic school in New York that the president and I visited: P-Tech, where young people can now not just graduate with a high school diploma, but graduate with an associate degree; two years of your college is paid for.

These are actually very productive and positive partnerships. Again, all of this should be determined at the local level, not by us. And it should be done in a thoughtful strategic way. But with so much unmet need for students, for teachers, for schools, to shut the door, let's say, to all of these people who are bad somehow, or have an agenda of hurting kids or hurting teachers, um, that simply hasn't been my experience.

February 13, 2014

US Senator Markey
Cares About The Privacy Issue

On January 14, 2014, US Senator Edward J. Markey issued a press release:

As data analytics companies increasingly play a role in the education area, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today announced plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to ensure that safeguards are in place for students data shared with third parties. Recent changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) have allowed for the increased sharing and use of student data in the private sector. The student data shared with private companies may vary from information such as grades, test scores, and attendance records, to other data such as disabilities, family relationships, and disciplinary data. In October, Senator Markey wrote a letter to the Department of Education (DOE) requesting more information on the privacy rights of parents and children when sensitive student information is shared with third parties. [The DOE finally responded in January, and you can read that here.]

“Putting students’ sensitive information in private hands raises a number of concerns about the privacy rights of parents and their kids, some who may be as young as five years old,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “The time to act is now, before parents lose control of their children’s personal information. Parents, not private companies, have the right to control personal information about their children. We should help student scholars make the grade, not help companies make a sale. I look forward to working with my colleagues to introduce and pass this important and timely legislation.”

Senator Markey’s legislation will be guided by the following principles:
  • Student data should never be used for commercial purposes – to market products to kids.
  • Parents should have the right to access the personal information about their children, and amend that information if it’s incorrect, that is held by private companies as they would if the data was held by the school itself.  
  • There must be safeguards put in place to safeguard sensitive student data that is transferred to and then held by private companies. 
  • Private companies must delete the information that they no longer need to enhance educational quality for students.   

February 12, 2014

The Mangled FERPA Law

For those of you who may not know, FERPA stands for "Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act". It is a federal law that served to protect our children's privacy and give parents significant control over it, until 2011 when it was changed by the US Department of Education "to allow the release to third parties of student information for non-academic purposes. The rules also broaden the exceptions under which schools can release student records to non-governmental organizations without first obtaining written consent from parents."
I came across a video on YouTube by the US Department of Education, called "Student Privacy 101: FERPA for Parents and Students" telling us how great FERPA is:

"It provides the right for you to access that information, to seek to correct it, and generally to consent to its disclosure." [Emphasis mine.]

"FERPA requires schools and state educational agencies to keep the information that came from...records private, and get...parent's written consent before sharing it with anyone else. There are some exceptions. But the general rule, is...records are confidential." [Again, the emphasis is mine.]

The "general" parts of FERPA are the ones that parents already concretely know, or simply assume. The parts parents need to have pointed out to them are the parameters outside the "general" area. Regarding who states are allowed to share personally identifiable with, the FERPA law specifically says:
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.
This means that as it stands now, 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.

So what's the big deal? The big deal is what Personally Identifiable Information means (again, directly from the federal statute):
    §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...
So yup, for-profit companies can have your kids' social security number if the state decides to share it.

In February 2012 the Electronic Privacy Information Center, heretofore referred to as EPIC, and which is "a public interest research center in Washington, D.C... established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values", filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Education and argued that "the agency exceeded its authority with the changes, and also that the revised regulations are not in accordance with the 1974 privacy law." However, in September 2013 a federal court dismissed the lawsuit holding that neither EPIC nor any of its Board of Director co-plaintiffs "have standing to bring the claims asserted in the complaint." You can read the details of that case here.

And you can read about how Connecticut laws make it even easier for for them to share the information, here.

And finally, come back tomorrow to read about what's currently happening with the privacy issue.

February 11, 2014

The Words of CT State Representative Laura Hoydick

Someone who is part of a Facebook page I follow shared a response they got to a letter they sent to Rep. Laura Hoydick:

Thank you for your email and for educating us last night in ways we can make substantial cognitive changes to the policies that are now in place. I agree with you--this is not just about teacher evaluation but is also about Common Core. I support and will advocate stopping the implementation of the new evaluative process, SBAC and common core right now. Never in all the years that I have been involved in education has such a huge initiative been implemented this quickly without collaboration. Not only does it sicken me but it saddens me that yet again we have such little regard and respect one of the greatest institutions we have in Connecticut. I am sorry for the stress and anxiety for what you have experienced these last 18 months and please know I have great admiration for you and your fellow colleagues. I greatly value the work you do.

Laura Hoydick (the daughter, granddaughter, mother and niece of public school educators)
State Representative
120th Assembly District

February 10, 2014

The Words of CT State Representative Gail Lavielle


January 29, 2014

Adopting the Common Core is a sweeping statewide change that affects all students in the public schools and public school teachers across the board. Any change of this magnitude should be subjected to proper public scrutiny and review by the legislative body that represents these constituents.

I have met with hundreds of teachers across the state, and they have told me the same thing over and over again: the heavy administrative load being imposed upon them by the Common Core implementation is compounding the problems they have with the new evaluation system, and together, these two issues are taking them away from their primary job in the classroom. These teachers are not yet confident that either of these processes is benefiting students.

I am pleased that the Governor wants to slow down the implementation process, but his plan does not go nearly far enough in addressing the concerns of teachers and parents. He is once again giving the job of making decisions about implementing the Common Core Standards to an outside advisory council, excluding the legislature and keeping the public out of the discussion. It’s important for the members of the state’s representative body to be fully informed and equipped to assist their constituents in this important area. Discussions must be held openly and decisions must not continue to be made behind closed doors.

February 8, 2014

The Weekly Quote

“I have told parents don’t look at the standards. They are in eduspeak. Just learn what your child is supposed to get to.”

~ Don Romoser
Connecticut's Statewide PTA President

February 7, 2014

The Words of CT State Representative Melissa Ziobran

Melissa Ziobron posted this on her blog on January 18th:

I have been hearing from parents, teachers, students and even Board of Education members who are concerned about the aspects of Common Core in their schools. Parents have sent me detailed information regarding a variety of issues that they have with the standards that are greatly impacting their children. I have been appreciative of their efforts of keeping me informed. As a mother to a high school student, I am also concerned.

Recently I attended a CEA Regional teachers meeting where I met with teachers from around Middlesex County, including East Hampton and East Haddam. I heard first time teachers tell their story--that they might be giving up on teaching because frankly they are losing the excitement they once had for changing kids lives. Instead it has been replaced with stress over "observation sequences" and they are afraid of taking risks with bringing forward new ideas for fear of not making the grade in their evaluations. Now instead of taking hours to prepare new and exciting material in their classroom they are spending 4-5 hours preparing lessons that encompass 45 minutes of teaching time-- which are dedicated to testing. Teachers with 20 years are telling me they feel trapped, because it is too late for them to change careers. Guidance counselors are spending more time counseling teachers, instead of students. Bloomboard has begun to be the focus of their preparation time, not child centered learning. Music teachers are spending time developing writing goals for their students and less time on music. PE teachers are going to the library once a month with their kids to evaluate their writing skills, which means less time on personal fitness. Administrators are getting crushed over the amount of paperwork needed to evaluate teachers and are spending less time on mentoring them. Teachers are telling me that they want to be evaluated fairly and the librarian is asking "how does my role fit the evaluation model?" The 100 teachers in attendance cried, yelled, begged and demanded to know why. I am fearful of what effect this has had on all the students and parents are sharing that same concern with me.

I am listening. I am also preparing legislation to affect the implementation of standards in Connecticut. I am not alone, just recently my friend and colleague, who is a current and former ranking member of the Education Committee is leading the way. In fact, Rep. Marilyn Giuliano is hosting a conversation on Common Core which I will be attending with some parents from East Haddam. I will be bringing a similar community conversation to the 34th District in the next month as well. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I will do what I can to support legislation that helps our students and those that we trust to teach them.

I just recently learned the Superintendent of East Hampton schools will be hosting a "Superintendent's Forum on the Common Core & Smarter Balance Assessment" which will be held on January 30th from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the East Hampton Middle School and it is open to the public. I will be attending and I encourage you to be as well.

In East Haddam there has also been vocal issues with the morale at the schools. Last week, I was given a copy of a climate survey, outlining teachers issues there. While some of the information on it may be district specific, it also speaks to the frustration of Common Core statewide. I know one friend who is a teacher outside of East Haddam told me that "this very well could be applied to my district and that of many other communities in Connecticut". I am not a teacher, but I will let you be the judge of that. If you would like a copy see this link.

I have until February 7th to complete my legislation request and in the meantime I will be doing additional research and listening to you. Please contact my office if you have any questions or would like to provide me with additional information.www.repziobron.com

I am listening, but more importantly, I am prepared to do something with your support.

February 6, 2014

State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney Calls for Commissioner Pryor’s Resignation

Hartford, CT – State Senate Minority Leader and gubernatorial hopeful John McKinney, released the following statement today [February 4th] calling on Stefan Pryor to resign as the Commissioner of Education for the State of Connecticut:

Commissioner Pryor’s chief assignment was to implement Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives, including Common Core and teacher evaluations, and he has failed.

By choosing to implement these new programs with limited input from teachers and on an overly ambitious schedule, both the governor and the commissioner have lost the confidence of parents and educators across our state. The roll-out has been met with confusion and frustration by teachers, administrators and parents.

As we take a step back and reassess the implementation of education reform in Connecticut, I feel it is imperative to do so with new leadership.

This time, the department must listen to parents, teachers, administrators and students, and learn from the examples, both good and bad, of state’s that began the implementation of Common Core before us.

There is a national debate on the effectiveness of the new common core curriculum, the smarter balance tests that accompany the new curriculum, and their eventual effect on the evaluation of teachers. No matter where one stands on these issues, it is clear to me that successful education reform needs be accomplished through new leadership that earns the respect of those most affected by such major changes – parents, teachers, and administrators.

February 5, 2014

Connecticut Launches Common Core Website for Educators and Parents

In a press release dated February 4th, the CT State Department of Education announced that they  
launched CTcorestandards.org, a website for Connecticut educators and parents regarding the Common Core State Standards. This online resource is devoted to providing accurate information to foster greater public awareness and concrete supports to aid in the implementation of these new college- and career-ready standards.
This website provides a variety of vetted and useful resources to teachers, administrators, parents, and community members regarding the Common Core. That said, this website is a work in progress and its contents and features will evolve with input from these key stakeholders," said Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor. "It's important that we provide the tools that educators and other stakeholders need in order to help our students reach these college- and career-ready standards. This website is just a part of our effort to support teachers and school leaders as they prepare for the Common Core..."
CTcorestandards.org represents one resource among many offered by the state to assist in the successful implementation of the new college- and career-ready standards. The website contains parent-, student- and community-friendly materials that explain the Common Core State Standards. Materials are translated into multiple languages to ensure that the information is accessible to as many families as possible, and the library of translated materials is expected to grow.

I have only just begun to explore the website, and see what kind of propaganda it is filled with, but already I am struck with this:

mostly because the Standards, at this point, are supposed to be only for ELA (English Language Arts) and Math. So why would they have CC materials available for all this other stuff? When I have more time I'll be looking through it all.

Please leave comments about your thoughts.

The Words of CT State Representative Mitch Bolinsk

Someone who is part of a Facebook page I follow shared a response they got to a letter they sent to Rep. Mitch Bolinsky:

Thank you for writing. Many folks have expressed their concerns about Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment processes. I share your concerns and am working with fellow members of the Education Committee to delay implementation until after a public hearing can be conducted to fully vet the programs, a process that has not taken place. We are also calling for a moratorium on spending to enact Common Core, including the reported $1 million public relations campaign, until after the hearing.

I have been meeting and communicating electronically with teachers, parents and school administrators in an attempt to understand everyone's concerns about the implementation of Common Core and the evaluation system, both largely unknown and untested - even in this, its first year of implementation. We are finding early-on that parents, teachers and administrators are pushing back and expressing serious reservations about the ambiguities of the program. Past experience leads me to believe that, the more onerous we allow the powers-that-be to make the testing, the more teachers will be pressured to teach only to the test, thereby eliminating practical, subject-based learning. Teachers are concerned that creativity will become a thing of the past. I have heard horror stories of students breaking into tears because of the pressure brought on by all the additional testing. There are huge, non-curriculum demands on student and teacher time and, from my perspective, hours spent in activities that detract from learning just do not belong in our schools.

We have a lot of kinks to work out in these programs, making this a very hot topic for this upcoming legislative session.

Please stay tuned and feel free to write again with new concerns or observation.

Best Regards,

Mitch Bolinsky
Representing Newtown's 106th District
In the Connecticut General Assembly

February 4, 2014

The Words of CT State Representative Penny Bacchiochi

Education is the foundation to the future of our state. If we are implementing standards that so many teachers, administrators, school districts and parents disagree with, then we are doing more harm than help. The state’s Common Core standards need to have public and professional input – something they never saw during the administration’s decision to move forward with it.

 ~ CT State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi

February 3, 2014

Video of the Parent Teacher Community Forum
from January 25th

This is footage from the infomercial presentation that was given on January 25th in CT, and which I wrote about here. I have to admit I did not watch this video all the way through, since I was there, so I don't know what is said in all the interviews they did in the hall after the presentation. The interesting part starts at 4:30 where Sandra Alberti starts taking questions from the audience.

February 2, 2014

The Words Of CT State Senator Toni Boucher, 26th District

State Senator Toni Boucher, who is up for re-election this year, posted this to her website on January 27, 2014:

Many politicians say they want to make a difference, but in my view there are only two places where one can truly make a difference, in the home or in the classroom. When a home fails a child there is only one place left, the classroom. Right now some people feel that the classroom is endangered.

Connecticut has always prided itself on its premier national standing in educational quality and attainment. Apart from having no income tax, education was Connecticut’s best competitive advantage. These advantages are now gone, we have an income tax and we lost a lot of ground on the education front. The last three decades of our state’s efforts to address issues of education equity, changing demographics and shifting academic priorities have resulted in a cascade of mandates.

Today, school districts are expected to hastily implement Common Core national standards and a new teacher evaluation system. No wonder our school districts feel overwhelmed and asking for a year delay in grading of their results.

The Common Core curriculum and the accompanying “Smarter Balance” tests, replacing the CT Mastery Test, are being adopted throughout Connecticut and the nation. What is Common Core, and why are people so concerned about it? The National Governors and State Education Executives Associations hired David Coleman and Jason Zimba to write a set of national unified educational standards and accompanying tests. Funding was provided by the Bill Gates Foundation among others. 

It was argued that the resulting curriculum would be more rigorous, accountable, relevant and comparable. It would utilize computer adaptive testing, bring divergent state learning goals into alignment, reflect skills needed in the marketplace, and generally make students – college and job ready.

Nevertheless, the Common Core program has its critics. Some argue that Common Core mandates a one size fits all curriculum and is not written at a high enough level required for acquisition of 21st century skills. Others argue that the adaptive testing is not adaptive enough.

Like the CMT, it is pegged to grade-level ceilings, and is unable to measure academic growth of high achievers.

The lack of means by which the Common Core program can be revised and modified is considered another serious flaw, especially that the curriculum would be implemented without control group testing. It should also be noted that the curriculum was developed without input by parents, teachers, school boards or any state or national legislative body.

In the face of growing resistance to the insufficiently prepared implementation of the new system, some teachers and politicians from the left and the right have pulled their support of the Common Core. Some of the 45 states that agreed to implement it are now withdrawing, which may defeat the program’s stated goal of creating an alignment between states.

Both sides arguing this issue have undertaken media campaigns costing millions of dollars. Many believe that this money would be better spent on technology, software, social workers and additional reimbursement for special education and transportation. These funds could also help in opening more slots for wait listed preschool and Vo-Tech students.

All the controversy surrounding Common Core threatens to divert attention from what I believe should be the primary focus of education. To reclaim its education advantage, Connecticut’s priority should be to foster literacy at the earliest possible age. If a child cannot read, it is impossible for that child to succeed in school or in life.

Like millions of other immigrants I know this at first hand. I arrived in Naugatuck with my family from a farm in Italy when I was 5, speaking no English. Because of a father who believed that education was everything and thanks to great public school teachers, I was able to succeed and live the American dream. That dream can be quickly extinguished, however, for those who are unable to read.

Keep it simple

We must focus all our resources on teaching students to read, write, do math, and think critically and creatively. We must reclaim Connecticut’s reputation for educational excellence by making teachers and parents partners, not adversaries.

They are on the front lines every day, and know more than anyone what changes need to be made. Many of them believe that implementing a system that is still under construction is like building a ship while sailing it. They recommend pushing the pause button on Common Core. It may benefit us to listen to them.

Please click here to read my recent letter to State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor concerning this very issue.

You can follow Toni Boucher on her website here.

February 1, 2014

Common Core is on the CT Legislative list of "Major Issues" for 2014

Every year legislative leaders ask the Office of Legislative Research (OLR) to identify and provide brief descriptions of important issues that the General Assembly may face in the coming session.

This report represents the professional, nonpartisan views of staff in OLR, the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA), and the Legislative Commissioners’ Office (LCO) regarding possible upcoming legislative issues. It does not represent staff suggestions or recommendations. We identified issues based on interim studies; research requests; non-confidential discussions with legislators, other legislative participants, and executive branch agencies; and our general subject matter knowledge.

OLR compiled this report on the major issues for the 2014 session in consultation with OFA and LCO. OLR analysts wrote the issue descriptions below, except for the Appropriations Committee description, which OFA provided.

Taken from page eight:

Common Core State Standards and Teacher Evaluation

Connecticut is one of 45 states rolling out the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for math and language arts (English). Full implementation of the standards is scheduled in Connecticut for the 2014-15 school year, and the legislature may want to consider bills that address possible issues related to implementation and the accompanying new standardized tests. (A few states, including Massachusetts, are slowing the pace of CCSS testing implementation.) Since the new tests are administered on computers, one issue could be improving the technological capability of school districts to give the new tests.

Connecticut is also in the process of implementing new teacher evaluation systems in every school district. To avoid too many changes taking place simultaneously in the education system, the state may seek a delay in full implementation of the evaluation system until there is more time for teachers and students to adapt to CCSS. Connecticut is currently waiting for federal flexibility approval regarding testing tied to CCSS and the timing of the full implementation of the teacher evaluation.

The General Assembly may need to consider legislation that would help the state gain federal approval.

Read OLR’s report:
2013-R-0344, OLR Backgrounder: Common Core State Standards