May 22, 2013 – Today, Council Member Gale A. Brewer will introduce a Resolution at the New York City Council Stated Meeting calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass legislation to protect student data privacy, by prohibiting the release of personal student information without consent.
The Resolution, co-sponsored by Council Members Jackson and Lander, is in support of A6059 (O’Donnell) / S4282 (Grisanti), State legislation which arose out of news that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has partnered with inBloom Inc., a technology company that aggregates student data in order to provide educational tools and content for parents, teachers, and students. There have been serious privacy concerns raised about this plan, as this data may be sold to third parties for commercial purposes, and may even contain sensitive personal information. The legislation would prohibit the release of personally identifiable information without parental consent, or the consent of a student who is 18 or older, unless certain exceptions apply.
According to Council Member Brewer, “While inBloom and the NYSED may have the best intentions in pursuing innovative ways to help our children learn, we cannot and should not give students’ personal information to commercial entities without parental consent. I have been a long-time advocate for technological innovation, including in the educational field. However, innovation and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Parents have a right to choose whether their children’s information is sold to a third party, and the NYSED needs to present a clear plan for how that data will be protected before this plan moves forward.”
"Parents are rightly horrified to hear that DOE plans to release private, identifiable student information to a private corporation. Even if the goal is to improve their educational products, this information, including student names, addresses, disciplinary records, and IEPs, is not DOE's to give without parental consent. Council Member Gale Brewer's Resolution will put the City Council on the record against this plan." – said Council Member Brad Lander.
"Parents entrust the Department of Education with very detailed, personal student information. Students' personal data shouldn't be shared with companies, especially if these corporations are going to use this data to develop curriculum materials that will be marketed right back to them. What's even more disturbing is the fact that this sharing of information is done without the express consent of parents and guardians or a disclosure. This is an outrageous violation of basic rights! Our students are not involuntary and unpaid focus group members to help corporations with product development." said Council Member Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee. “As parents expect the DOE to protect their children’s schools with school safety officers, parents have every right to expect that their children’s confidential information will be guarded with the same vigilance and not be shared to others."
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters said: “I want to thank the co-sponsors of this Resolution, Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson and Brad Lander, for stepping up and supporting our children’s right to privacy. The plan of the state and the city to put the most confidential student information on a data cloud managed by inBloom Inc., with an operating system devised by Murdoch’s Wireless Generation, and shared with for-profit vendors without parental consent has outraged voters not only in NYC but throughout the state. This outrage has led to the introduction of a bill, A.6059 /S.4284, with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature. The fact that data clouds are notoriously vulnerable has been recognized by inBloom itself, when it stated it would not be responsible if the data leaked out in storage or transmission. Four out of the nine states originally planning to share student data have now pulled out of inBloom. New York State and NYC, on the other hand, are still willing to risk our children’s safety and future life prospects, knowing full well how this highly sensitive data, including special education and disciplinary records, may be exploited, breached, and abused. I urge the Speaker to allow this Resolution to come to a vote as soon as possible.”
This year the New York State Pearson exams also featured crass, commercial product placements as well as reading passages lifted off of Pearson textbooks that had been purchased and assigned elsewhere in the state but not NYC. According to Kathleen Porter Magee of the conservative Fordham Institute, Pearson is abusing its monopoly power in way that "threatens the validity of the English Language Arts (ELA) scores for thousands of New York students and raises serious questions about the overlap between Pearson's curriculum and assessment divisions."
Below is an exchange between Cynthia Wachtell, a NYC parent, who sent a letter to the Board of Regents, suggesting that the portions of the exams that drew reading passages from Pearson texts be invalidated. The State Education official who responded, Steven Katz, claims that this borrowing was coincidental, and only happened because "authentic, meaningful texts" were used, as though there aren't any "meaningful" pieces of literature that are not contained in Pearson textbooks. As Cynthia replies, there is a "vast body of fictional and non-fictional works from which the test passages could be selected." Katz' claim, that this unfair practice resulted from the "authentic" nature of the texts, echoes the excuse made by Pearson earlier in the year, when questions were raised about the inclusion of brand name products and logos in the ELA exams. Their PR department then wrote, in the company's defense that "...several assessment programs use only authentic passages and the inclusion of brand names is inevitable." The arguments of both the SED and Pearson seems markedly unconvincing, and yes, inauthentic to me.
Even more Pearson errors are described by Alan Singer at Huffington Post, along with the response of the head PR honcho at Pearson, Susan Aspey, former press secretary at the US Department of Education,which according to Singer, "epitomizes the disturbing relationship between private companies that are selling products and government agencies."
Indeed, the fact that the excuses offered by New York State Ed officials for Pearson incompetence and/or venality are indistinguishable from those made by Pearson PR flacks reveals how both are inextricably linked in an overarching testing-educational complex, like the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about decades before. Their email exchange follows: _______
Dear Board of Regents Members,
I have two sons in public school in Manhattan, grades 6 and 8. Recently, they both took the ELA exams for their respective grades. Subsequently, I discovered that both of their tests seem to have included passages that students in other school districts, which had purchased Pearson prep materials, had already seen. The following are from online sources:
This is an appalling error, and it will be a huge ethical lapse, if it is not promptly addressed. Of course, it is hard to assess the extent of this problem precisely because Pearson refuses to make the tests public. What is obvious, though, is that Pearson has failed again.
As the eight grade teacher further writes, "[I]t was a huge advantage to students fortunate enough to use a Pearson text and not that of a rival publisher." Clearly, all questions based upon these passages must now be disqualified.
Sincerely, Cynthia Wachtell
From: Steven Katz [SKATZ@MAIL.NYSED.GOV]
Sent: Monday, May 20, 2013 1:59 PM
To: Cynthia Wachtell
Cc: NYSED EMSCURRIC; NYSED REGENTSOFFICE
Subject: Re: Fwd: Other Kids Saw the ELA Passages in Advance
Dear Ms. Wachtell:
Thank you for sharing with the New York State Education Department and its Board of Regents your concern that some students taking the Grades 3-8 English Language Arts Tests may have previously read passages in widely used textbooks.
These Common Core English language arts tests use authentic texts for the reading passages. The move to using authentic texts allows for the inclusion of works of literature that are worthy of reading outside of an assessment context. By definition, authentic texts have been published elsewhere. It is not surprising that a passage on the assessments may have appeared in a textbook or an anthology, or may have been encountered by students when reading books, magazines, or newspapers. It is possible it may happen again as we go forward with the use of authentic texts in state assessments.
Using authentic, meaningful texts means that some students have read texts included on the 2013 Common Core English Language Arts Tests prior to test administration. For the very reasons that texts were selected for use on the assessment, it is possible that teachers have selected the same texts for use in their classrooms. In addition, well-read students may have read the books that passages were drawn from for their personal reading. Be assured, however, that students who may have previously read either the source a passage was drawn from or a textbook or anthology it was included in have not had access to the test questions associated with the passage.
Once again, thank you for your comments on the 2013 English Language Arts Tests.
Steven E. Katz
Director of State Assessment
____ Dear Mr. Katz,
I appreciate your thoughtful response to my message. However, I must disagree with the conclusions that you draw.
The students who read the Pearson passages in advance of the test did so in a test prep situation in the months, weeks, and even days leading up to the ELA test. They discussed the passages in class. They answered questions about the passages, even if they were not the same questions that appeared on the actual test. If they did not understand the passages or words in them, they had the advantage of their teachers and classmates' input. This is quite different from the experience of a student casually reading a passage, in the course of independent reading, at what might be many months, or even years, remove from the ELA test.
Moreover, the likelihood of a student randomly encountering in advance a passage that appears on a test is quite slim. There is a vast body of fictional and non-fictional works from which the test passages could be selected. However, the fact that a 6th or 8th grade student who used the Pearson test prep materials definitely encountered a test passage in advance of the Pearson created test is a certainty.
For the integrity of the testing process -- especially now that there are such "high stakes" depending upon it -- I remain convinced that these two passages need to be disqualified. Moreover, I believe that Pearson's repeated errors warrant a cancelation of the company's contract.
An excellent news story by WIVB TV news in Western New York State that captures the parent outrage at the NY State Education Department concerning the increase in testing and student data sharing, leading to a growing opt out movement.
I strongly recommend you watch the whole thing; the section on the state's plan to share confidential student data with inBloom Inc. and private vendors is at about 6 minutes in; this part is transcribed under the screen. For the entire transcript, you can go to the WBEZ website here.
Parents also fear their children's private information is no longer private.
New York is one of five states providing personal information about its students to an electronic database - including names; addresses; race; ethnicity; disabilities; parent contact information; dates of absences, out-of-school suspensions, grades; and State standardized test scores.
The database was built by a company owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, with money from the Gates Foundation. It's run by a new non-profit, inBloom Inc., and third parties can access all the information it contains.
According to a report by The Washington Post , the U.S. Department of Education is being sued for promoting regulations that allow databases like inBloom's.
State Ed. and inBloom claim this database "mak[es] it easier [for teachers] to find learning materials that match each student's" needs.
However, state lawmakers are so concerned, there are bills in the Assembly and Senate that would make it illegal to release personal information about students to third parties, unless parents give consent.
"The fact that we have to have a law that says you can't release personal information about children is shocking, not that it's the other way around," [parent Shirley] Verrico says.
There is bad news from Amplify, the NewsCorp subsidiary owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Joel Klein. NPR ran a good story about the company earlier in the year. It appears that Klein is running the business into the ground, just as he did our schools when he was Chancellor at the Department of Education.
Joel Klein, Amplify CEO
According to one press account, Amplify lost $80 million this year alone, despite the substantial funding (at least $44 million) it received from the Gates Foundation to build the data mining operation called inBloom Inc. Actually, according to a presentation Joel Klein gave in December about NewsCorp's bid to capture a larger share of what he described as the $673 billion US education market, through online learning, Amplify's tablets and the new Common Core standards, Klein predicted a loss of $180 million in FY 2013, which he called "disciplined investment."
Chase Carey, NewsCorp President
On a recent earnings call, NewsCorp COO Chase Carey discussed the split that will happen this summer between the profitable parts of the company, like the cable channels and the movie studio, and the weaker divisions that include the publishing and education businesses, like Amplify:
On the earnings call COO Chase Carey went into some detail about the planned separation of the media assets and the publishing and education business…..When pressed on the increased losses at Amplify, News Corp.'s digital education business, Carey pointed to the massive potential in the space. "Education is one of the few businesses that's been left out of the digital revolution," Carey said. "It's ripe for disruption."
I tried a little twitter disruption myself on Friday night. Nick Kristof had just retweeted a grumpy comment Murdoch made about Facebook, comparing its lagging usage to MySpace, which Murdoch had bought for $580 million in 2005, and sold for $35 million in 2011.
I tweeted how much money Amplify was now losing; and to my surprise Murdoch responded:
Just a few weeks ago, I sent to the NYC Ed list a promotional email I had received from Amplify, written by VP Pete Gorman, former Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and now chief salesman for the company. In the email, he offered a sales pitch that was tone death and somewhat horrifying for parents who have tried to lure their children away from screens and video games, and back into real-life interaction with other human beings. Gorman wrote how his teenage daughter said to him, one day while walking to school:
You and Mom always say I have one job: to do well at school. When you go to your job, you don’t power down, so why do I have to?” You could hear crickets at that moment, because I had no good answer for her. Then, as teenagers often do, my daughter took it a step too far. “Hm, I wish I knew someone who could do something about that.” She was right. There was, in fact, a huge disconnect that was going on and, yes, I could and should do something about it. I had always felt strongly that technology, when applied the right way, could only make an effective teacher even more effective.
Talk about disconnect! You can read the rest of his explanation, called "Why I joined Amplify", supposedly prompted by this conversation with his daughter and wanting to help make sure she would never have to power off. He also writes that Joel Klein "was asking the same question at about the same time and decided to leave the New York City Department of Education to help start Amplify."
Pete Gorman, Amplify Vice President
No mention that it wasn't Klein's decision to leave DOE alone, but primarily Bloomberg's. Gorman was in a heap of trouble as well, facing a horde of parents furious about his decision to impose 52 (!!) new state exams. They both left a trail of anger and dissension in their wake, if not exactly run out of town on a rail.
Here is the eloquent letter that a NYC parent wrote in response to Gorman's account of his conversation with his daughter:
Dear Mr. Gorman: As a parent, educator and human, I am horrified by your product, the "charming" back story for it and the underlying premise of the story. You are endorsing the view that everything that doesn't involve a screen is boring. Human interaction, and direct interaction with three dimensional physical objects for science, math, sports etc. is obviously just not stimulating enough for our kids. I "power-down" at work- when I'm teaching and interacting with students and colleagues! We have no evidence that screen based learning is good for kids, but we have plenty of evidence that too much screen-time has negative results on kids' development and harms adults as well. Kids are already in front of screens too much; so we now think it's a good idea to have kids "plugged in" during school too? God help us.
Most of the reports of damage from charter co-locations in NYC relates to how they take valuable space from existing K12 public schools. Here is an account of how the city's determination to allow a charter school to expand within public space will affect MMALC, an important adult learning center in Harlem. Here is an article about this proposal from the Amsterdam News. The following was written by Karen Wald, a teacher at MMALC.
The Mid-Manhattan Adult Learning Center, located at 212 W. 120th Street, has served the Harlem andsurrounding communities for decades, providing opportunities for adults(over 21) who are trying to rebuild their lives, enhance employment, andstrengthen parenting skills.This school building has been a beacon of hopesince the early 1960's.It is one of the only free comprehensive programsin the United States that meets the diverse needs of adult learners.
The tuition free classes offered by MMALC include, but are not limited to: English for Speakers of OtherLanguage, Adult Basic Education and High School Equivalency, Medical Billing(for State and National Certification), Licensed Practical Nurse(State/National Certification), Air Conditioning/Refrigeration Repair(State/National Certification), etc.
This year we had a huge waiting list. Why? Because unlike K-12, adult education is funded by funds from the State not by the DOE. In addition, since NYC has a larger tax base than most other NY State cities, NYC receives considerably less money than upstate cities. The tax base is not based on need or demand. How short-sighted. Just imagine if these students were able to get trained or pass a GED and go on to higher education.
The DOE now plans to give Democracy Prep charter 25 percent of our space so that it can move in its 9th graders in September. Subsequent years will see the invasion of 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. Does this mean the demise of the entire adult ed program at MMALC? Dothe needs of a charter school supersede the needs of an overwhelmingly disadvantaged population seeking means to survive and thrive?There are many charter schools. There is only one MMALC.
The DOE will hold a hearing on this co-location proposal on Monday, May 20, at 5:30 at MMALC. Please come and support your fellow New Yorkers. Another voice, a chorus of voices empowers us all. Hope to see all of you there.