Please Put a Stop to New NYSED Student Data Project, Write a Letter Today!

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January 8, 2015

Dear Friend,

Welcome back! I hope you had a good holiday break. This morning, we learned that the Board of Regents recently approved a grant from the Gates Foundation for the Regents Research Fund, “to support NYS to launch, execute and utilize implementation data collection at the state level.”

Along with NYSAPE and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, we sent a letter today to the Board of Regents, Commissioner Elia and State legislative leaders, to object to this project until there is more transparency as to which personally identifiable student and teacher data will be collected, with whom the data will be shared, how the data will be stored, and what their ultimate disposition will be, as well as why aggregate anonymous student data is not sufficient for the purposes of this study. I hope you will send your own letter to them by clicking here.

Our concerns about this issue are intensified by the following egregious failures on the part of the NYS Education Department:

  • More than a year and half following the legal deadline, there is still no Chief Privacy Officer with expertise in privacy law, as the NY student privacy law passed on March 31, 2014 requires. The temporary CPO, Ms. Tina Sciochetti, has no background in privacy, and refuses to meet with parents or improve the current faulty Parent Bill of Rights that was supposed to be strengthened through parent input with a legal deadline of July 29, 2014. She has also failed to respond to parent requests for their children’s data in a timely manner, as required by FERPA.
  • With the help of a large federal grant, NYSED was supposed to have created a data “Stakeholder Advisory Council” by 2010 to oversee the collection of student data. Yet when asked, NYSED officials have refused to divulge the members of this Council, and instead have demanded that a Freedom of Information Law request be filed.
  • NYSED officials have also decided that the personal student data collected by the state should be placed into the State Archives, eight years after a student’s graduation from high school, with no date certain when it will be destroyed. Neither NYSED nor the State Archives will answer questions about what restrictions will be placed on access to this data, or if the data will ever be deleted.
  • This morning, the Washington Post revealed yet another research projectinvolving the collection of a large amount of highly sensitive personal student data by the federal government, including student IEP and free lunch status, race/ethnicity and discipline records. Given the fact that the US Department of Education has been repeatedly cited for lax data security practices, it is important to ascertain whether NYSED’s new Gates-funded data project is related in any way to this larger federal study, and if so, whether this will put the personal data of the state’s students and teachers at even more risk of being breached or abused.
  • We also have grave concerns about the continued existence of the Regents Research Fund, in which salaries of Regents Fellows are paid by private donors and especially the Gates Foundation. Too often, the Regents fellows represent the private goals and interests of the Gates Foundation, and not the citizens of New York.

We strongly believe that until a permanent Chief Privacy Officer is appointed, with expertise in the area of student privacy, and a strengthened Parent Bill of Rights developed with full parent input as the law requires, as well as a data Stakeholder Advisory Council with representatives from parent groups and privacy experts, this new data project should not go forward. There also must be rigorous restrictions for access to the personal student data in the State Longitudinal database and assurances that this data will never be placed into the State Archives. Until these events occur, there should be an indefinite hold on this project and any other plans to expand student data collection.

The previous Commissioner John King faced intense opposition from parents, school board members, superintendents, teachers and elected officials over his plan to share personal student data with the Gates-funded corporation called inBloom Inc. We were forced to wait a year and half after FOILing the state’s communications to the Gates Foundation, which were only supplied the day after King announced his resignation as Commissioner. Over the holidays, I wrote up the story of this FOIL, and what his emails and those of other state officials revealed about their appalling plan. See Part I that links to the rest of the saga on my blog.

Because of NYSED’s stubborn refusal to change course, the Legislature was forced to pass a new law in 2014 to block the state’s participation in the inBloom project. The controversy over inBloom and student privacy was one of the issues that contributed to the public’s loss of trust in Commissioner King’s leadership, as well as his eventual resignation. It would be unfortunate if controversy in regards to this new data collection plan were to cause the public to resume that battle over student privacy again.

Please send your letter to Commissioner Elia and the NY Board of Regents, and your state legislator by clicking here.

Thanks so much,


Leonie Haimson

Executive Director

Class Size Matters


124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

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Detroit Teachers Plan “Sick Out” to Protest Abominable Conditions

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According to The Guardian, Detroit teachers plan a sick-out onMonday.


Detroit public schools are in horrible shape. When the state took over, the district had a surplus but now it has a huge deficit.


“Detroit’s public schools have been a problem for Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, a Republican who ushered the city into the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. Most observers agree the success of Detroit is contingent upon whether its schools can be fixed.


“Snyder has made a $715m proposal to overhaul the failing district in 2016. It has so far received little support in the Michigan legislature.


“Asked about the spate of sickouts, David Murray, a spokesman for Snyder, said: “Detroit children need to be in school. In addition to their education, it’s where many children get their best meals and better access to the social services they need. There are certainly problems that [need] to be addressed, quickly.”


“Snyder’s plan would eliminate debt in the district that is equal to $1,100 per child, Murray said. That was “money that could be better spent in the classroom, lowering class sizes, raising pay and improving benefits”.


“Tom Pedroni, an associate professor at Wayne State University, said the governor’s plan was commendable for “taking seriously the notion that Detroit public schools needs debt relief”.


“We know that with the current debt figures if the issue is not addressed soon, Detroit public schools students will be losing [nearly half of the state’s per-pupil funding total],” Pedroni said, adding: “It’s unconscionable that students lose that to debt service.”


“The problem with Snyder’s plan, Pedroni said, was that it relied on governing the school district with a board of appointees, not elected members. Since 2009, under a state-appointed emergency manager, the elected board has been effectively neutered.


“There’s currently a lot of debate over whether those appointees for the new Detroit school board [in Snyder’s proposal] would be mayoral appointees or gubernatorial appointees,” Pedroni said.


“But to me, really all of those are inexcusable because what I think we see happening in the district in Detroit is really an indictment of the sort of heavy-handed power from the executive branch without any checks or balances.”


“Pedroni said this was similar to what has taken place in the nearby city of Flint. There, a state-appointed emergency manager has been alleged to have decided to use a local river as the city’s main water source. The move has been linked to an increased level of lead in household water supply.


“When in 1999 the state first stepped in and overhauled the governance of Detroit schools, the district’s budget carried a $93m-surplus. According to an analysis by the Citizens Research Council, a Michigan-based policy research group, in the most recent fiscal year the district reported a budget deficit of nearly $216m.


“An estimated 41 cents out of every state dollar appropriated for students is spent on debt service, according to the council’s report.


“Despite being under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009, Detroit public schools, the state’s largest district, is failing academically and financially,” the report said.

“Despite a depleted school enrollment, class sizes have increased and teachers have repeatedly taken pay cuts. Only one-third of high school students are proficient in reading, according to Snyder’s office.


“Teachers say students are being judged unfairly. In an open letter to the Detroit public schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who blasted teachers for the sickout protests last week, fourth-grade teacher Pam Namyslowski said pupils had been “set up to fail in every way”.


“We ARE [the students’] voice,” Namyslowski wrote. “We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles.


“In the winter, we often work in freezing rooms with our coats on with them. In the summertime, we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset.”


“Successes in the classroom typically go unnoticed, Namyslowski continued, as “most cannot be measured or displayed on a data wall”.

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North Carolina: The Height of Chutzpah, as Charter Leader Knocks Use of Scholars’ Study

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The leader of the North Carolina Charter Association, one Lee Teague, referred to the report on charters by the state’s Department of Public Instruction as “garbage,” because it cited the study of three nationally renowned Duke University scholars. The Lt. Governor Dan Forest is trying to withhold the report because it is too “negative.” He was hoping for something positive. The report found that charters are more segregated than public schools and less diverse.


For those who might be unfamiliar with the term “chutzpah,” it is a Yiddish word that means arrogance, or a combination of arrogance and ignorance.


P.S.: By using the term “scholars,” I am not referring to students in charter schools. I am referring to academicians who have a Ph.D. in their field of study.

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Parents to New York Education Leaders: No Snooping on Our Children’s Private Data

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Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and Lisa Rudley of the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) wrote to New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the Board of Regents to protest the latest Gates grant for collection and implementation of student data. They are concerned that the purpose of the grant is to re-start efforts to exploit personally identifiable student data, one of Gates’ passions. In addition, the grant went to a privately funded group (funded largely by Gates) called the Regents Research Fund, which operates as a “shadow government,” with neither transparency nor accountability.


By law, the state is required to have a Chief Privacy Officer, but no qualified person has been appointed. The acting CPO has no background in the field and has resisted complying with parent requests for information about their own children.


The quest for student data is endless:


Our concerns about expanded student data collection are also exacerbated by the fact that we have been unable to get any information about why NYSED officials decided that the personal student data collected by the state should be eventually placed into the State Archives, eight years after a student’s graduation from high school, with no date certain when it will be destroyed. We have asked what restrictions will be placed on access to that data, when if ever the data will be deleted, and have requested a copy of the memo in which state officials apparently determined that these records have “long-term historical value and should be transferred to the State Archives.”vi Neither NYSED nor the State Archives will answer our questions or provide us a copy of this memo, and instead demanded that we FOIL for it.


They point out that the same issue raised parent ire against former Commissioner John King (now the Acting Secretary of Education):


The previous Commissioner faced intense opposition from parents, school board members, district superintendents, teachers and elected officials over his plan to share personal student data with the Gates-funded data store called inBloom Inc. Because of strong public opposition and NYSED’s refusal to change course, the Legislature was forced to pass a new law to block the participation of the state in the inBloom project. The controversy over inBloom was one of the major issues that contributed to the public’s loss of trust in Commissioner King’s leadership, as well as his eventual resignation. We do not want to have to engage in such an intense battle over student privacy once again in relation to this new data collection plan.


Parents should send their own letters to the State Commissioner, the Board of Regents, and legislators. Now is the time to protect your child’s privacy rights!

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Here is the Report On N.C. Charters That State Leaders Don’t Want You to Read

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This report on charter schools in North Carolina was written in 2015 by three members of the Duke faculty. It was cited in a summary written for the Legislature by the Department of Public Instruction. The DPI summary is being withheld by the Lt. Governor Dan Forest because it is too “negative.”


The original report on charters was written by Professors Helen Ladd, Charles Clotfelter and John Holbein of Duke University. It will be published in the Journal of Education Policy and Finance.


What it shows, among other things, is that charter schools are less diverse than public schools as a sector and are more segregated than public schools. Charter schools are facilitating the resegregation of the schools in North Carolina.



You can download the report here.


Sorry, Governor McCrory and Lt. Governor Forest: You may bully the DPI, but you can’t suppress the work of distinguished academics. They don’t work for you. They have tenure.

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Indiana: State Senate Wants to Pay Some Teachers More by Taking Money from Other Teachers

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In the current climate of union-busting in Indiana, State Senator Pete Miller has proposed a plan to pay teachers more if they have needed skills (like STEM backgrounds), without increasing the funding available. That means that any increased pay will be taken away from other teachers. This is a way to break the unions and to create divisiveness in the schools, in place of collaboration.


The reformers never give up on their plans to turn schools into businesses and children into products, with test scores as the “profit.”


If you live in Indiana, get active to stop this bad idea. The link shows you how to take action.

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Here is a Shocker: The CTU Supports Groups That Support Public Education

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The Chicago Sun-Times published an article with astonishing news. The Chicago Teachers Union gives money to groups that support public education, including the Network for Public Education.


NPE has used the contribution from CTU to give scholarships to parents, students, and educators to attend our annual national conferences, as well as to fund the development of a state-by-state report card that will be released on February 10, evaluating the states by their support for their public schools.


I pointed out to the reporter that CTU’s support for allies of public education must be seen in the context of billionaires who allot hundreds of millions of dollars every single year to privatize public education. It is not a fair fight, to be sure.


I wish the teachers’ unions and other civic-minded groups had many millions more to invest in pushing back against privatization, union busting, and high-stakes testing and fighting for early childhood education, equitable funding, smaller classes, and well-prepared teachers.

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Richard Kahlenberg: Defunding Public Unions Hurts Our Democracy

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This week, the Supreme Court will hear a case called Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association. The plaintiffs represent teachers who not want to pay union dues. They say that the requirement to pay dues violates their free speech rights. Friedrichs is backed by political, financial, and ideological groups who hope to cripple the last bastion of organized labor. If the plaintiffs win, labor’s resources and political clout will be severely reduced. This case will be a milestone in the survival or destruction of public sector unions.


In the article linked above, Richard Kahlenberg argues that diminishing the power of public sector unions diminishes our democracy. In our society, money buys political influence and voice. If labor’s voice is stilled, only the rich will have political power. There will be no organized countervailing voice to prevent them from controlling everything.


Friedrichs is a teacher who objects to paying dues to the CTA. However, she is not required to pay for political activities, because of an earlier Supreme Court decision called Abood.


The current legal framework in which courts weigh cases such as Friedrichs is narrowly constrained, balancing the free speech rights of dissenting union members against the state’s interests in promoting stable labor relations with its public employees.
In the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a sensible compromise that properly balanced these two sets of interests by splitting union dues into two categories: those that support political speech, and those that support bread–and-butter collective bargaining. Because the First Amendment’s free speech clause provides a right to not be compelled by the state to subsidize speech with which one disagrees, dissenting public employees cannot be required by the state to join a union, or to subsidize the union’s political and lobbying efforts to promote certain positions of public concern….


According to the counsel for Friedrichs, annual dues to the CTA amount to approximately $1,000 per teacher, of which nonmembers receive a refund of roughly $350 to $400 for expenses unrelated to collective bargaining. In other words, Friedrichs is happy to accept increases in wages and benefits the union negotiates hard to win, but does not want to pay the $600 to $650 per year that other members contribute in order to make those wage gains possible. Will she give back her raises, forgo health care benefits, give up the right to pursue grievances, and agree to teach larger classes that the union negotiated? The amicus brief of the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors put it well: there is no “constitutional right to a free ride.”


Kahlenberg notes:


All unions—including, and perhaps especially, public sector unions—also contribute to one of the most important foundational interests of the state: democracy. And they do this in many different ways. Unions are critical civic organizations that serve as a check on government power. They are important players in promoting a strong middle class, upon which democracy depends. They serve as schools of democracy for workers. And teacher unions, in particular, help ensure that our educational system is sufficiently funded to teach children to become thoughtful and enlightened citizens in our self-governing democracy….


Strong unions helped build the middle class in America after the Great Depression, and continue to have a positive effect on ameliorating extreme inequalities of wealth. By bargaining for fair wages and benefits, unions in the public and private sector help foster broadly shared prosperity. Research finds, for example, that unions compress wage differences between management and labor. According to one study, “controlling for variation in human resource practices, unionized establishments have an average of 23.2 percentage point lower management-to-worker pay ratio relative to non-union workplaces.”


Kahlenberg documents that the decline in union membership parallels the decline in the middle class.  Extremes of wealth and poverty are not good for democracy.


This is an excellent overview of the potential damage that this Supreme Court decision might do to unions and to democracy. It occurs to me as I read it that the contentious battle over school choice, funded amply by billionaires, is intended to divert attention from crucial economic issues. Billionaires would have us believe that they are advancing the economic opportunities for black and Hispanic children even as they use their political clout to destroy the jobs and economic security of their families, as well as the economic prospects for the “scholars” in their charter schools.



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Parent Seeks Others to Join Class Action Suit

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Hello, I just wanted to share this and see what type of response I can get. I am involved in an on going complaint I filed against BASIS ed. with the Office of Civil Rights for openly stating to myself as well as numerous other educators at their July 2014 teacher training that they DO NOT and WILL NOT modify their curriculum for students with disabilities. Since the OCR accepted and took on my complaint, BASIS has come to a settlement agreement (please be sure to understand that they are not admitting to fault or guilt) with the OCR and have been placed on a series of OCR monitored trainings and changes to their core policies in regard to the no modification policy they trained me on including section 504 and how it relates to special education. My OCR attorney has asked if I would like to start a class action law suit against BASIS, however their needs to be 100 or more families with students that have been discriminated against by BASIS either while enrolled or during the process of enrollment (e.g. being told they will not modify their curriculum for a student).

Please email me if you are interested. I will be keeping a running total of interested parties and sending out periodic emails to keep everyone posted as to how many people actually are interested. I will send out an email about every 3-4 weeks. Also, forward my email to anyone that could have possibly had this happen to their child or children. Please lets take a stand against an institution that openly trained employees to refuse modifications to students with disabilities.  


Deborah Graham

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