"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Look Who Else Is Concerned About Data Collection and Privacy

We have been warning parents about the potential for their child's personal data to be widely shared across government agencies and with private interests who claim some link to education. Now teachers are beginning to realize that they will be part of the data collection process and their entire teaching careers will be tracked, assessed, and possibly publicized.

Anthony Cody at EducationWeek Teacher posted a great piece a couple months ago summing up the concerns with the longitudinal data systems.
What will it mean for every one of the nation's 50 million students to have a unique ID number, and be included in a national database that tracks every test they ever take? And teachers will get ID numbers as well, so the database can track the test performance of our students over our entire careers...

The core of the technocrats' push to reshape education is the all-powerful DATA that they believe ought to be driving all of our decisions...
The Gates Foundation has been funding an organization called the Data Quality Campaign, which operates to pressure states to develop "longitudinal data systems" to track student and teacher test performance in fine detail over time. In much the same way the NCTQ is in the process of rating schools of education across the country, and the Media Bullpen is acting as self-appointed "umpires" to "hold the media accountable," the DQC has developed a system to give "grades" to states for their educational data systems. To get their seal of approval, state data systems must have the following ten features:
  1. A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases across years.
  2. Information about each student's demographics and participation in programs like Free and Reduced lunch.
  3. The ability to match individual students' test records from year to year to measure academic growth.
  4. Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested
  5. Statewide Teacher Identifier with a Teacher-Student Match. This enables the use of VAM systems, and also the comparison of teachers from different teacher preparation programs.
  6. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned.
  7. Student-level college readiness test scores
  8. Student-level graduation and dropout data
  9. The ability to match student records between the P-12 and higher education systems
  10. A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity and reliability
As usual, Arne Duncan's Department of Education is in lockstep with these ideas. They have made the expansion of data systems a central feature of Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers. States are being asked to develop systems very much along the lines laid out by the Data Quality Council, and the DQC's recent summit in Washington featured Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee - that expert on quality data -- as speakers..
It seems as if we will then have, in effect, a nationwide data system with detailed information about every single person enrolled in a public school. (emphasis added)
If the data collected were only used in accordance with its true value, we might not have such a reason for concern. But as we are seeing with the VAM fiasco in New York, where dedicated teachers are being pilloried in the press because of a flawed system.
Mr. Cody correctly points out in his piece that once the collection system itself is put in place, even its designers lose control of the data within. And with DoEd's new broad distribution powers there can be no serious guarantee of the data's protection.

Rupert Murdoch's Wireless Generation received $7.65 million in seed money from The Gates Foundation to support the creation of a special LLC, which will then funnel $44 million to Wireless Generation to create a national student and teacher database.  Why invest so heavily in a system that currently has no access to district data? Because all the requirements of RTTT will force districts into providing this data. Once Wireless Generation has it, they can "crunch" it and sell it back to districts which is a nice revenue stream. Once the national standards and uniform assessments have been forced into every district, it will make manipulation, oops sorry, analysis of this data much much easier.

Cody writes,
This is the trouble with technology. You can create tools, but often the tools themselves wind up only leading you towards solutions that they can provide. If our data consists of test scores, we seek ways to boost them, even if they only represent a fraction of what truly matters.
It would be one thing if this data was the magical tool its adherents claim. They suggest that low performing districts do best when they "become obsessive over using data to drive instruction." But we have collectively obsessed over data for more than a decade now, thanks to NCLB, and we have very little progress to show for it. 
The national obsession with data seems more like a business development model than a bonafide tactic to improve education. Teachers have been evaluating student progress for more than a century.  The good ones, who have the time because they aren't busy collecting the next sector of data, can work with students who seem not to be getting it. Teaching requires time and care. You have to have the time to teach what you want to pass on the students and you have to care about each of them learning and developing. A business is only concerned with efficiency, data and profit. Why are we trying to apply one model to the other field?

To read more on data collection go to:

The National Education Data Model website, which reveals the incredibly detailed data that the technocrats would like to assemble.

The Department of Education rules designed to protect student privacy. It's good because rules are never broken.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Let The Lawsuits Begin

As we predicted on August 6th, the "Right To Pray" Amendment that was passed on August 7th has opened the door the lawsuits.  The first has been filed by the ACLU, but rest assured there will be more.

The full amendment was about more than just one's right to pray at public events. It also made it a right for children to refuse to do school work based on religious beliefs.This makes Missouri's schools a lightning rod for the church-state debate and a veritable treasure trove for lawyers looking to work for whatever side of the debate is willing to pay them.

The very liberal Think Progress reported,
Critics have warned the amendment will indeed open the door to taxpayer-funded lawsuits. “This is going to be a nightmare for school districts, which will end up getting sued by individuals on both sides of church-state debate,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
In the end we have given over control of our schools to someone else, this time the court. And we will pay heavily for it as our districts face complaint after complaint, suit after suit, because it is no longer a taxpayer choice or the will of the district, it is a constitutional right.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why You Should Read The FERPA Form This Year

Many parents are busy filling out dozens of school forms right now.  Mixed in that paperwork is the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) form that indicates your approval for the school to share your child's data. In years past most people paid little attention to this form as it seemed to apply mostly to sharing transcripts with colleges, military recruiters and school ring companies. They were most critical to families with messy domestic situations, people in witness protection or extreme privacy fanatics.

But given the regulatory changes that were approved recently by the DoEd, more parents should be paying closer attention to what they put in those forms. The new FERPA rules to allow all data collected by the school to be shared with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Corrections, private researchers and other vendors approved by DoEd. They received no legislative approval for this change.

Here are links to just some of the letters that were sent by organizations (incuding EPIC) that expressed concerns over the change to FERPA.

1) American Assoc. of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
3) Electronic Privacy Information Center
4) National School Boards Association
5) American Council on Education
6) National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

You may want to consider sending in a replacement Opt Out form like this one instead which states specifically what information they may share, rather than a blanket approval for information which you may not even be aware they are collecting.

To learn more about what is happening with your child's private data, go to Sheila Kaplan's site Education New York and Information Policy Watch. Also check out Diane Ravitch's blog Who Cares About Privacy Rights.  Be sure to read the comments on her page as they are made by the people who have been following this issue most closely and really know their stuff.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

School Reformers "Won't Back Down"

"Waiting For Superman", the union-bashing pubic school busting movie funded by Bill Gates, the progressive-leaning Participant Media and Walden Media, which is funded by billionaire, Philip Anschutz, failed in its attempt to pave the way for charter schools across the nation. On August 14th Walden Media will try again with their latest movie, "Won't Back Down," loosely based on real events.

The movie showcases Maggie Gyllenhaal as a working-class single mother outraged by conditions at her daughter’s Pittsburgh elementary school. Oscar nominee Viola Davis plays the educator willing to risk the backlash of the system in order to improve the education of the students. Holly Hunter is cast as the villainous teachers’ union rep who tries to thwart the efforts of Davis and Gyllenhaal under the guise of protecting the union.

The reformers are getting smarter.  They have enlisted the help of Hollywood and the music business to promote the movie and its policy of parent triggers and charter schools. On August 14th Ken Ehrlich Productions, Anschutz Film Group/Walden Media, and AEG will present TEACHERS ROCK live in Los Angeles which will feature appearances from stars like:

Dave Grohl – Foo Fighters
Adam Levine – Maroon 5 singer
Jack Black
Meryl Streep
Viola Davis
Morgan Freeman
Josh Groban
Josh Hutcherson
Miranda Cosgrove
Pauley Perrette
Roshon Fegan 
Dierks Bentle - Fun
LL Cool J
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Carrie Underwood
Garth Brooks

Parent Trigger Laws, currently in 4 states (not Missouri, yet), were first dreamed up by Democratic activist and former Clinton White House staffer Ben Austin. Such laws would theoretically allow dissatisfied parents to demand changes at their kids' schools — including a total takeover by a charter business— if a majority sign on. That is how they should work theoretically, but in California, who has had them on the books the longest (2010), the changes triggered by parents have never actually happened.  The Compton school district fought back against a parent trigger and took the case to court.  The trigger pulled in Adelanto, northeast of Los Angeles, also went to San Bernardino Superior Court where the judge recently sided with parents in  who want to take over an elementary school and convert it into a charter. The district’s school board was reported to be considering an appeal.

Trigger laws offer low-income parents the opportunity to send their child to any school, effectively desegregating the system. One parent from the San Fransisco Bay Area interviewed by USA today characterized what the parent trigger laws do in the real world, "It really is generally about just changing the population of the school so that it's no longer overwhelmed by such a huge number of high-need kids."

A bid to introduce a parent trigger in Florida failed last March after the Florida PTA, League of Women Voters and other groups opposed it. Caroline Grannan, a San Francisco public school parent and a founding member of Parents Across America, a union-backed group, said parent trigger laws are a "destructive idea" that amounts to little more than a misguided populist bid to privatize public education. "It's an illusion that sounds good on paper, even if it was created in sincerity, which I don't believe it was," Grannan said.  [USAToday]
Maybe we need say no more about the film than the fact that Michelle Rhee is praising it.  The film attempts a more nuanced look at the debate about parent triggers and privatization than Superman did. In real life, there are no totally good guys or totally bad guys. In real life the teachers are not part of any of the parent trigger legislation either, but they are in the film and the viewer gets to watch them wrestle with the often conflicting role of the union and the need for change.

CBS will rebroadcast the Teachers Rock event on August 17th which means it will get a very wide audience.  The charity event will benefit three organizations:

DonorsChoose.org which connects donors with schools to donate supplies. This is your teacher's giving tree on a national scale.

Feeding America a domestic hunger relief charity which distributes over 3 billion pounds of food each year to its network of food banks.

Teach For America which is in both a lot of the failing school districts trying to turn them around and in the charter schools.

Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog of the Teachers Rock event which is being promoted as a way to honor teachers and the work they do in our public schools. "Strange way to 'honor' teachers–by firing them and giving the school to a non-union private entity to manage, which may hire only young teachers willing to work a 50-60 hour week at low wages. More 'honors' like this and there won’t be a teaching profession in America, just teaching temps."

A protest to this movement is being started asking people to wear Red for Public Education on August 14th and promote the reasons why you oppose parent trigger legislation in the social and mass media.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

And More On Bullying

The Department of Education, at its annual anti-bullying summit, unveiled an ad campaign, co-sponsored by the Ad Council and the Free to Be Foundation, advising kids to speak up if they see bullying at school. To stay silent is to be complicit in the bullying.

Actually, the ads don't say that last part, but since this is an annual summit it can be assumed that it will continue to be held for many years. And since it is organized by the DoEd, who looks for continual improvement, or value added, it is not a leap to think that in a few years that's how they will interpret a child's failure to get involved in a bullying situation. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did say, “We are all responsible for our children’s safety, and no one can afford to be a bystander.”

Rather than deal with conjecture, however, lets take a look at the people involved in this summit. It included lawmakers, educators and government officials. Government officials included and Secretary Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Their goal is to develop a national strategy that "ensures a safe and healthy learning environment for students."

Sebelius told the summit, “Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s a systematic situation that threatens the health and well-being of our young people. It’s destructive to our communities and devastating to our future.”

Ok, raise your hands if you were never subject or witness to bullying as a child. I don't see many hands there. The fact is, bullying has been a part of growing up since man decided to live in groups. It is found in every single culture on the planet though it is almost never seen as desirable behavior.

Apparently Ms. Sebelius has not done much reading on the adolescent brain. If she had, she would know that not only is adolescence a time of increased hormonal activity which can affect decision making and impact impulsive behavior, but it is also a time when society begins to demand more from children.  They are given doses of freedom and responsibility that can be very unnerving if the child hasn't matured enough to handle either of those things. The natural immature instinct to cover for that fear is to try to make someone else appear weaker or further behind in development. Bullying is fear masked as a power struggle. It can be done so easily because the immature brain actually cares more about what others think than the adult brain does.  Bullying tactics just work better on the young brain.

A Temple University study  used functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on teenagers and adults to determine "if there are differences in brain activity when adolescents are alone versus with their friends." The findings suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward, helping to explain why young people are more likely to misbehave and take risks when their friends are watching. It also explains why children are likely to bully kids if they know others are watching. There is the perceived reward of elevated status.

Having children intervene or speak up about a bullying incident would only work if a significant majority of kids present did so. But you have to factor in the social fear that is endemic to young children which will keep them from being one of the first ones to speak up.  That is a very high hurdle to overcome.  It would be great if they would unite against the bullies, but I'm not holding my breath.

But if bullying is so prevalent and has been around so long, why the intense focus on it now? DoED says they feel the need to act because of a recent string of high profile suicides by students who were later revealed to have been bullied.  Potential 24 hour connectivity through technology has also increased opportunities for bullying. They are also highly concerned about bullying directed against students perceived to be gay or lesbian.

By this reasoning, bullying because of red hair or thick corrective lenses is not as bad as bullying because of sexual orientation. Come on people, either bullying is inherently wrong or it isn't.

Given the long history of bullying, the question they should be asking isn't, "How do we get kids to stop bullying" but rather, "Why do some children see suicide as the only way out of bullying?" What has broken down in society or the school system that makes children feel powerless?

The Washington Post covered this summit. Nowhere in the article is the idea of the victims standing up to the bullies themselves mentioned.  Could this be one of the reasons children feel powerless? Children are still told to bring in an adult to solve the problem. Those adults are bound by school policy which is sometimes woefully misguided, punishing the victim as well as the bully.  Could this be a reason children see suicide as the only way out? The list of things that are offensive is growing daily and is not posted on the school walls. Does this lack of clear, non-moving boundaries make children feel unstable enough to consider suicide?  To get the right answer, you must ask the right question.

A note about one of the co-sponsors of this ad campaign. The Free to Be Foundation has been around since 1973 which develops and markets education material that challenge stereotypes. The group includes high profile entertainers like Marlo Thomas, Alan Alda and Mel Brooks. Their foundation
seeks to ensure children’s wholeness as human beings: their right to nuturing (sic) care from women and men; their right to schools, homes and a society that are free from descrimination (sic) based on sex, race, culture, class or any condition of birth; their right to nonsexist, multiracial education; and their right to grow up in a positive, diverse, supportive setting that encourages independence.
This bit of pablum could receive its own post.  It is generously sprinkled with nice words (even if they are misspelled) that entertainers like to get behind.

They seem tremendously enamored with the idea of Rights. I'm not sure if they understand rights must be protected or that the denial of rights can be punished.

They would like to make it a right to receive care from men and women. So when the daycare only has women employed, can we file a discrimination case for denying my child the right to a male provider?  Can I refuse to let my child be in the classroom if there is only a male teacher? If I am unfortunate enough to be born into a wealthy family who is able to provide generously for me, will you punish those who call me spoiled rich kid, or who demand that I pay more than everyone else, when the circumstance of my birth is nothing I could help?  Can they even explain what a nonsexist multiracial education is?  You have a right to grow up in a positive, diverse, supportive setting???

As Inigo Montoya would say, "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

The ads will start in October.

Monday, August 6, 2012

MO Constitution Amendment 2 - Read The Whole Thing

Tomorrow, August 7th, you will be asked to vote on Amendment 2 to the Missouri Constitution. Most people recognize the amendment from the very limited language that will actually appear on the ballot.

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure:
  • That the right of Missouri citizens to express their religious beliefs shall not be infringed;
  • That school children have the right to pray and acknowledge God voluntarily in their schools; and
  • That all public schools shall display the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
It is estimated this proposal will result in little or no costs or savings for state and local governmental entities.

But let's not considering something as important as changes to our state constitution by reading the cliff notes only.  Everyone should read the full joint resolution here. Then, perform the same deep analysis that your high school English teacher would ask of you and think about not only the intent of the author but also the real life consequences.

Since I provided the link, I will not reprint the entire resolution here, but I will point out the specifics of the section addressing Missouri public schools. It reads,
19  that students may express their beliefs about religion in
20 written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of
21 their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic
22 assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs; that the
23 state shall ensure public school students their right to free exercise of religious expression
24 without interference, as long as such prayer or other expression is private and voluntary,
25 whether individually or corporately, and in a manner that is not disruptive and as long as
26 such prayers or expressions abide within the same parameters placed upon any other free
27 speech under similar circumstances; and, to emphasize the right to free exercise of religious
28 expression, that all free public schools receiving state appropriations shall display, in a
29 conspicuous and legible manner, the text of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the
30 United States;
I have news for you. You already have these rights.  The Missouri constitution already states.,
Section 8. That no law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech, no matter by what means communicated: that every person shall be free to say, write or publish, or otherwise communicate whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuses of that liberty; and that in all suits and prosecutions for libel or slander the truth thereof may be given in evidence; and in suits and prosecutions for libel the jury, under the direction of the court, shall determine the law and the facts.
Note that it doesn't say you may say or write anything without concern for consequences. You shall be responsible for all abuses of that liberty. You may also experience backlash. Forgive me for stooping to cliche, but when it is true I can't help but note, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

As a parent, which is more important; that your child respectfully declines to read an objectionable book in school in order to write a report on it, and instead offers to read a different one and writes a good persuasive essay or; that your child reads the assigned book, fakes his way through the essay and gets a good grade? Will all teachers happily agree to this?  No. Some are just too lazy to work with something outside their comfort zone. Some are hopelessly biased. But which approach will make you prouder of your child, and which approach will make your child a stronger person?

In schools that we have written about, where students were forbidden by faculty from reading their bible at lunch, or threatened with penalties for not participating in school productions touting the benefits of alternative lifestyles, parents have a choice to make. They can sit back quietly fuming and wait for a legislator to make it all go away, or they can organize other parents from the school to confront the administration and get them to change.

No one said raising a child would be easy. We are forced into an education system we may not like or agree with. That system will use the divide an conquer method to make us go away if we try to object.  But until the general public begins to stand up for their beliefs instead of relegating these decisions to the government and the courts, we will not see our local schools reflecting our values. The reason they often have ridiculous politically correct policies is because some parents have become the squeaky wheel and the schools just want the squeak to stop. What the liberals have going for them is a tenacity that is often lacking in conservatives.

If you think your school has quirky policies now, wait until you see the gems they come up with to try to comply with this amendment. And once this is law, wait for some enterprising family or group (think ACLU) to try to take advantage and file suit against your district.  If you thought schools were short on cash now, imagine how it will be when they have to defend themselves from civil rights suits that result from this amendment.

Be strong parents. Find like minded citizens. Band together and demand change. Think how much better your school will be when you do and the lazy or hopelessly biased teachers are let go because too many of you said you would not allow your child to be in her classroom. Think how much happier your administration will be when they know they can rely on your numbers to back them up against the squeakers. Don't vote for something just because the cliff notes "sound good."

Read more at Culture Vigilante and LakeNews On-Line
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