Sold to the Highest Bidder: Lack of Protections Put the Privacy of Students and Their Families at Risk

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado issued a very damning report on the commercialization of America’s public schools as digital technology and “personalized learning” continue taking over our schools.  The report, issued today, shows how private companies have invaded the classroom and children’s private information is in jeopardy like never before.  Here in Delaware, we have seen a very large push for this from the Rodel Foundation.  If you haven’t been paying attention, you really need to start now.  And don’t buy their Social-Emotional Learning push either.  Just another way for private companies to profit from student data.  From the press release:

BOULDER, CO (August 15, 2017) – Digital technologies used in schools are increasingly being harnessed to amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives. In addition to the long-standing goal of providing brand exposure, marketing through education technology now routinely engages students in activities that facilitate the collection of valuable personal data and that socialize students to accept relentless monitoring and surveillance as normal, according to a new report released by the National Education Policy Center.

In Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking, the NEPC’s 19th annual report on schoolhouse commercialism trends, University of Colorado Boulder researchers Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Kevin Murray examine how technological advances, the lure of “personalization,” and lax regulation foster the collection of personal data and have overwhelmed efforts to protect children’s privacy. They find that for-profit entities are driving an escalation of reliance on education technology with the goal of transforming public education into an ever-larger profit center—by selling technology hardware, software, and services to schools; by turning student data into a marketable product; and by creating brand-loyal customers.

Boninger points out that “policymaking to protect children’s privacy or to evaluate the quality of the educational technology they use currently ranges from inadequate to nonexistent.”

“Schools and districts are paying huge sums of money to private vendors and creating systems to transfer vast amounts of children’s personal information to education technology companies,” explains Molnar. “Education applications, especially applications that ‘personalize’ student learning, are powered by proprietary algorithms, without anyone monitoring how student data are being collected or used.”

Asleep at the Switch documents the inadequacy of industry self-regulation and argues that to protect children’s privacy and the quality of their education, legislators and policymakers need to craft clear policies backed by strong, enforceable sanctions. Such policies should:

  • Prohibit schools from collecting student personal data unless rigorous, easily understood safeguards for the appropriate use, protection, and final disposition of those data are in place.
  • Hold schools, districts, and companies with access to student data accountable for violations of student privacy.
  • Require algorithms powering education software to be openly available for examination by educators and researchers.
  • Prohibit adoption of educational software applications that rely on algorithms unless a disinterested third party has examined the algorithms for bias and error, and unless research has shown that the algorithms produce intended results.
  • Require independent third-party assessments of the validity and utility of technologies, and the potential threats they pose to students’ well-being, to be conducted and addressed prior to adoption.

Additionally, the report authors encourage parents, teachers, and administrators to publicize the threats that unregulated educational technologies pose to children and the importance of allowing disinterested monitors access to the algorithms powering educational software.

Find Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Kevin Murray, on the web at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2017

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Why Companies Like Achieve Inc Now Want You To Opt Out Of State Assessments

A blog called NYC Public School Parents published the results of a survey about testing and opt out a couple of days ago.  The findings were a bit bizarre in my opinion.  The fact that it came from Achieve Inc. is very troubling.  For the past couple years, maybe longer, parents have been opting their children out of the state assessment.  That’s a good thing.  But the fact that Achieve Inc. would publish findings that show parents are presumably getting sick of testing and more suburban moms know about opt out is a bit of a farce in my opinion.  At this point, Achieve wants you to opt out.  They want you to complain about too much testing.  They want you, the parents of America, to make such a loud noise that the feds and the states will be forced to change testing environments.  Yes, one of the biggest corporate education reform companies in America is finally in agreement with what we’ve been saying all along!  Finally!  But guess what… this was the plan all along.

If you are royally confused, follow me.  Achieve Inc. helped to set up the Common Core, way back when.  There are some who say they took the work of the Common Core steering committees, ditched it, and came up with their own set of standards.  You know how so many people say “Common Core sucks” and “It’s federal intrustion” and all that stuff?  They are right.  I believe it was intentionally designed to be messed up.  And the tests based off it, like the Smarter Balanced Assessment and PARCC?  They were designed to be bad tests.  No one will say this officially.  But they wanted enough parents to opt out to make some noise.  Not a full-blown, everyone opts out noise.  But enough to draw attention to the subject of assessments.  And they responded.  Florida, Delaware, and many other states conducted Assessment Inventories.  In Delaware, ours was initiated by, who else, Achieve Inc.  These inventories served a double purpose.  It kept the subject of “too many assessments” in the minds of those who followed this type of thing.  It also helped to stop some states from moving forward with opt out legislation.  I’ve seen a Delaware Department of Education email stating our Senate Joint Resolution #2 was a solution against opt out.

You’re still confused.  I understand.  It’s hard to explain this in any way that makes sense.  The Common Core-High Stakes Testing era of corporate education reform is coming to an end.  Very soon.  But that was just a phase.  It allowed the states to get all their data systems in place.  It allowed career & technical education initiatives to get their start.  But the biggest thing Common Core and the state assessments did was open the door to something else.  We are now entering the next phase and the groundwork was laid a long time ago.

Welcome to the Competency-Based Education era!  Instead of your child advancing through grade levels, they will now advance once they master the material.  Don’t get me wrong.  The state assessments will still be there.  But parents most likely won’t even know when their child is taking it.  Because it won’t be the same test.  It won’t be students cooped up taking the same test over a period of weeks in the Spring.  It will be all year.  The same tests, that we have loved to hate, they will still be here.  They may tweak them up a bit, but they aren’t going anywhere.  They laid the trap, and we all fell in it.

How is this even possible?  Through modern technology.  Through personalized learning.  Don’t be fooled by the term personalized learning.  There are actually two kinds.  The concept has been around for decades.  More one-on-one instruction from teachers, personalized on that student’s strengths and weaknesses.  A very humanistic approach which I don’t have an issue with.  But what the corporate education pirates want is the same thing, but take out the teacher.  Substitute it with technology.  With computers, and the internet, and cloud-based systems, and blended learning.  The teachers will still be there, but they won’t be the in front of the classroom teachers anymore.  They will facilitate, and guide the students through what the computer is teaching them.  Some states may push back a bit on this, and compromise with a blended learning system, which is a mix of both.  But make no mistake, the eventual destination is the demise of teacher unions and public education as we know it.

So if public education is gone, will we all have to pay for private school?  We kind of already are.  They are called charter schools.  The first one opened up in the early 1990s.  It has been a slow invasion ever since.  Even though charters represent less than a quarter of the schools in America, they have gained such a foothold in America that their supporters have overshadowed those who oppose them.  Charter schools, no matter what anyone tells you, are not public schools.  They don’t operate the same, and they aren’t held accountable in the same ways.  In charter heavy states, the laws have been written so they get a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that.  They are corporations.  With bylaws and boards that aren’t elected by the people, but among themselves.  Many of them are non-profit organizations, while some of the chains are very much for profit.  But they are not held to the same standards as regular schools.  Those that are horrible wind up shutting down.  These usually surround incapable buffoons who decide to steal from the kitty and get rich quick.  These idiots usually get caught, at one point or another.  They are non-union, and teachers don’t have the same protections as public school teachers.  But we pay for charter schools.

When you pay a local school district with your school taxes, they have to send part of those funds to the charter schools.  Any student from that district who attends a charter school?  You are paying for them to go there.  It comes out of a district’s local funds.  You send that proportion of the students costs to the charter.  There are different buckets of money where your school taxes go.  Some go towards buildings and repairs.  But a lot of them go to the actual student’s share of the pie.  And if they go to a charter, those funds follow them.  As a result, some school districts are left with much less funds over they years.  And since some charters like to pick and choose who they get, even though getting them to admit it is a lesson in futility, they take the better kids from the school districts.  Leaving the school districts with the harder to reach kids.  The ones who the charters don’t want.  If you think lotteries are really random, think again.  Some have very carefully worded interviews, some do kindergarten screenings, and some even have actual pre-acceptance tests.  They don’t want regular school districts anymore, and they are openly at war with public education.  They like to throw out that their enemies are the oppressors and they are the victims.  I hear this rhetoric a lot.  But it’s the whole chicken and the egg scenario.  But in this case, one did come first and the other has been like locusts swarming on public education as we know it.  They have the backing of billionaires.  Those billionaires set up the funds for them, through shell companies all over the country.  Even the feds are in on it.  So what does any of that have to do with testing?

The way things are now, the full-scale privatization of American schools can’t possibly move forward with the blessing of the teacher unions.  But they can infiltrate those unions, and slowly but surely get them to move over to their side of thinking.  We see it all the time.  The National Education Association just finished up their annual representative assembly down in D.C.  One of the biggest topics was charter schools.  Hillary Clinton gave a speech to the NEA members and when she mentioned charters, she got booed.  But behind the scenes, there were several new business items different members of the NEA introduced.  Controversial business items.  Ones that called out the leadership for cavorting with the enemy.  Ones that called for less testing and less labeling and punishing.  The ones leadership wanted, they passed.  The ones they didn’t were either defeated or bundled up and sent to a committee.  Where they will most likely never be heard from again.  Not in their current form at least.  Far too many in the teacher unions are well aware they are under attack but their defensive posture is “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”  That Kumbaya seat at the table is a red herring.  It will be a feast.  A feast of crows and vultures picking at the bones of public education.

Every time the unions give in, every time they give up just that one little piece of what used to be theirs, they are dying a slow death.  They incorporate the education reformers ideas and then you start hearing talk about “the whole child” and “community centers”.  And how there is too much testing, and we need to support that idea.  As our school districts try to become community centers, they won’t realize it is a losing proposition.  It is an unsustainable effort, unless they get help.  That help will come from outside organizations.  Like the United Way, and foundations, and those who are dedicated to helping the plight of low-income and minority children.  The civil rights organizations will say Yes, Yes, Yes!  Money will flow all over the place.  The districts will think they have it made.  Add more pre-school!  Bring them in as early as possible.  We have grant money flowing.  We won’t have to pay for it.  Who cares about the charters, we have tons of money.  Until they don’t.  And that’s when they pull the plug.  Who is this “they” I speak of?  All those outside companies, the states, the feds and their grant money.  It will run out.  The districts won’t even see the man behind the curtain until it is too late.

Districts who promised parents they would take care of their children will all of a sudden, in a blink of an eye, go bankrupt.  The states will take them over.  They already did it in some cities with testing and accountability schemes crafted by random luck or things like Race To The Top.  Those schools became, you guessed it, charter schools.  But this will be much more epic in scope.  It will be called the end of public education.  Schools that over-borrowed to become what the education reformers wanted them to be, all under the guise of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  So what happens to the teachers?  The ones that are still in the profession by that point?  The ones who haven’t jumped ship because of the stringent regulations and accountability schemes?  And the evaluations based on the high-stakes tests that companies like Achieve Inc. now want parents to opt out of?  By this time, the personalized digital learning empire will be in full swing.  The state assessment will be broken up into chunks at the end of each learning chapter.  For students taking the online Social Studies class, for example, they will take the state assessment portion of the Civil War chapter one week, and a month later they will get the one on The Reconstruction.  Or maybe two months later depending on how not proficient some of those students are.  How quickly they can grasp the concepts.  By this time, most of those who fought the reformers will either give in and settle into their facilitator role or will have left the profession.

With the testing, don’t be shocked at all if you hear one name coming up a lot.  That would be Questar.  They are NOT their own company.  They are owned by American Institutes for Research (AIR), the un-credited creator of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Yeah, I know, the states made it!  And I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’m willing to sell to you as well.  They have their hooks in quite a few states, the most recent being New York and Tennessee.  The PARCC test got the most bad press and AIR took advantage of that.  So your kid will take the smaller high-stakes test which will also be an end-of-unit test.  Which will also determine students’ class grades.  Will parents be able to opt out of that?  It was one thing when the tests didn’t mean anything.  Now they will mean everything!  But it doesn’t stop there.  Because everything will be online and through cloud services, that means all your kid’s data is being meticulously tracked.  All the way down to how long it takes them to type something.  The “researchers” will use this data to determine what the best career your child will “do best” at when they are older.  Career pathways, beginning at the very youngest of ages.  Probably in pre-school with the latest screams to get more of that going.  It all looks great on paper, and they want you to think it’s great.  It’s how they will own your child.  The future corporate America.  Education won’t be education anymore.  It will be a high-tech recruiting facilitator-led community-centered we own your kid once we get our hooks into them.   And if all of this isn’t enough, they will bet on the results through social impact bonds.  And get paid for their perceived success margins.  Companies.  Your child is a profit center, but your kid won’t see any of the results except the ultimate Big Brother.

Any parent, teacher, or student needs to speak up NOW.

 

Delaware Educational Technology Report Wants Statewide Personalized Learning By 2020

The corporate education reform juggernaut wants personalized learning in every school in America, and Delaware’s latest educational technology report will help to make sure that happens in The First State.  Unless you home school, standardized testing will be impossible to stop in the future.  The plans from this report could also bring data mining into your very own home.

Last year, the Delaware 148th General Assembly created a State Educational Technology Task Force through Senate Concurrent Resolution #22.  The task force released their final report to the General Assembly yesterday.  There are far-reaching and gigantic goals coming out of this report, with huge technological and financial implications for every single student, teacher, school, and citizen in the state.

To be clear from the get-go: I am not against technology in the classroom.  What I am against is technology taking the place of a human teacher.  Technology, in my opinion, should be used as a support for the teacher, and not the other way around.  In today’s society, the majority of us are glued to the internet.  This article would not exist were it not for the internet.  My other chief concern with the digital invasion into every classroom is the data that comes out of it.  I’ve written about this hundreds of times in the past couple years, more so in the past few months.  There is nothing in any law that will prevent aggregate data, formed through algorithms embedded into the various learning modules and standardized tests, from falling into outside companies hands.  In fact, most states seem to want them to have access to this information.  The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) had its guidelines relaxed to such an extent that companies have easy access to student data.  The data is not connected to any personal identifiable information for each student, but it is all sent to these companies with each student identification number assigned to it based on the information they request.

Imagine, if you will, what happens when you go to Amazon.  You’ve been shopping there for years.  Amazon knows what you want to look for.  If you bought the second season of Downton Abbey through their cloud service, bought a paperback of The DaVinci Code a couple months later, and then a Bananarama mp3 a few months later, Amazon will tailor your shopping experience based on everything you have purchased and browsed.  As most of us who have gone through these “suggestive” ideas, there are many times where we don’t want what they are recommending.  But it still shows up.  The same happens with Google.  It remembers what you search for.  How many times have you gone to type something in Google, and they automatically know exactly what you are looking for?  Or Google thinks it knows and goes right to it but it was wrong?  It is all based on algorithms and predictive analysis.

Educational data on your child is crafted the exact same way.  It doesn’t know his name or his social security number, but it knows how old they are, what school they go to, what grade they are in, how long it takes to finish a test, all the behavior issues, any discipline problems, and much, much more.  It is all assigned to that number.  Outside companies get this information for “research” and send it back to the state.  The state is then able to come up with a model for that student based on their own data and what these companies are doing with it.  In time, states will emulate the Amazon and Google predictive analysis methods and will come up with “suggestive” career paths for students (if they aren’t already).  The personalized learning will be tailored towards that career path.  And of course all of this will be based on the Common Core, as students move on based on Competency-Based Education.  They can’t move on until they have gained proficiency in a subject.  Instead of you searching on Google or Amazon, this is the state (already bought by Corporate America) searching on your child and taking those predictive analysis algorithmic conclusions and making decisions on your child.  Whatever happened to the uniqueness and individuality of each child?  There are human factors and emotions that no computer-based model can ever measure.  Corporate Education Inc. wants to take that away from your child.  Permanently.

I also have grave concerns with the goal of every single student in Delaware having a state-owned digital device in home AND school by 2020.  The report shies away from districts and charters having individual contracts with providers of the devices due to cost.  So the technology each student would have would be based on what the state decides to purchase.  We are seeing this already in twenty-four Delaware local education agencies with the Schoology Learning Management System.

For teachers, they will be subject to countless hours of professional learning development geared towards the technology and how to implement the technology towards instruction.  In time, they will be required to show “confidence” in this ability.  Teaching will shift away from teacher to student  interaction to a technology-student-moderator environment.

The report also touches on what is known as the K-12 Open Educational Resources Collaborative.  This group is comprised of eleven states, including Delaware and the following: California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.  But they aren’t the only members.  There are companies and “associations” that signed on as well: the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve Inc., The Learning Accelerator, Lumen Learning (most likely an offshoot of The Lumina Foundation.  Their CEO was a speaker at Delaware’s Pathways To Prosperity conference in February), Creative Commons, State Education Technology Directors Association, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, State Instructional Materials Reviews Association, Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics, and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.  And just to put the frosting on this corporate education reform entity, guess what they support? A member of their advisory team named Joe Wolf, who is also the Chair of The Learning Accelerator, is into “Social Action Bonds”.  But who are we kidding?  You can call them whatever you want, they are all Social Impact Bonds.  Every day there is some new education company coming out of the woodwork that I never knew existed before!

What concerns me about Delaware’s Educational Technology report is the questions that were not asked.  If the goal is to have every single student’s home wi-fi compatible, who pays for the actual internet service provider (i.e. Comcast or Verizon)?  How would it connect to the education personalized management systems?  If the home becomes a new “learning environment”, would anything on the internet in each person’s home then become “data” available for “education agencies” to request from the state (fully allowable under FERPA)?  Since most homes tend to get bundle packages, including cable and phone, does that mean that data could now be fodder for the state?  Imagine every single phone call you make on your landline or every television show you watch being a part of data collection.  By not answering these types of questions, or even asking them, it is very bold of this task force to suggest these kinds of recommendations.  There is a Student Data Privacy Task Force now in session (they meet again on Monday, April 4th from 3:00 to 4:30 pm on the 7th level of the Carvel State Office Building at 820 N. French St. in Wilmington and it is open to the public).  But this task force was created from Senate Bill 79 in Delaware which had so much lobbying from Microsoft and Google that the original intent of the legislation was shredded due to their interference and still allows this open flow of student data at an aggregate level (based on each student’s identification number).

This potential future is happening right before our very eyes.  There is so much more to this, and a few of us in the education blogging landscape suspect a future where the majority of the population become little drones and worker bees as a result of all of this.  We will exist only to serve the hive, aka, the corporate government.  Your job will be created for you based on your digital education.  Meanwhile, those in power will control it all.

It is time for a revolution.

16 To Watch In 2016: Bob Andrzejewski

As the acting Superintendent of the Christina School District, Bob Andrzejewski will certainly have his hands full in 2016.  He was voted in by the Christina School District Board of Education back in September with a 4-3 vote, and he has been working hard for the district!  As a new face for the district, Bob A (as he is known in many circles) has been trying to get Christina to the top of their game!  With the pending and potential move of all Christina’s Wilmington schools to the Red Clay Consolidated School District, as well as a potential referendum next year, Bob A will have his hands full!

I have heard mixed things about Bob A since he came aboard the Christina train.  But one thing he does have is fans!  This one appeared in The News Journal as a letter to the editor on September 11th of this year:

Andrzejewski good choice for Christina

Kudos to the Christina School Board for selecting “Dr. A” to lead the district while Dr. Freeman Williams is on leave. Bob Andrzejewski has been around the block a time or two, but has not lost his passion for education or for seeking the best for educators and students. He is a strong leader and his past successes working with parents, elected officials, business leaders and the Delaware State Education Association will serve the Christina District well. He also knows the “Delaware Way” of working together to make good things happen for students.

Michael Walls

Former Superintendent

Christina School District

Newark

That was super nice of Michael Walls to write that about Bob A!  It really helps to have your peers recognize you like that.  Bob is actually hard at work getting the Christina School District to join the BRINC Consortium.  This blended learning-personalized learning group of Delaware school districts already has Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech, Red Clay, Appoquinimink, and Caesar Rodney.  I imagine Bob A has no other ulterior motives for joining this initiative!

michaelwalls

Wait one darn minute!  How did that picture get in here.  This is about Bob A, not Mike Walls!  He already had his moment in here.  He isn’t affiliated with Christina anymore.  He is working for some company called Modern Teacher now.   You can look on their website, just click on the lower left-hand corner!  Wait, is that…the same as the above picture?  Bob A wants the Christina School District to sign a $49,000 contract with a company that has the former Christina Superintendent working for them?  How did that happen?  It could be a coincidence, right?  It’s not like Walls endorsed the Christina board’s decision to hire him, so there is no conflict of interest there!  Oh wait…he did…  But let’s be real here.  It’s not like Andrzejewski has any ties with personalized learning, right?  Right?  Oh no.  Say it ain’t so…

 

InnovativeEducationalAssociates

What in the world is Innovative Educational Associates?  Any relation to Robert Andrzejewski?  And where did that picture come from?  Oh yeah, here.  But there surely must be many Andrzejewskis in Delaware, right?  Okay, I’ll check the Delaware Chamber of Commerce.  Maybe they have something.  Okay, but all they have is an address for this Innovative Educational Associates.  It’s probably some office complex or something.  I’ll check block shopper! They always know this stuff! Uh-oh spaghetti-o’s, not only does it list the same address but it shows the owners of the property to be Robert and Kathleen Andrzejewski!  But maybe it’s a quirk and Bob A has nothing to do with the company… Wrong again!!!!  I was really hoping I was wrong about this…

So not only does Bob A want Christina to enter into a contract with this Modern Teacher that deals with blended learning that a former superintendent of Christina now works for, but his own company also deals with blended learning, the same as the BRINC Consortium that also is big on blended learning.  I’m blended out Bob A!  Yeah, I’ll definitely be watching out for Bob A in 2016!

“Every Student Succeeds Act” From Two Similar But Different Perspectives: DSEA & The Badass Teachers Association

As everyone assuredly knows now, the “Every Student Succeeds Act” passed the US House of Representatives today.  I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this 1,036 page bill and what it means for the future of education in America.  To that effect, I have recently seen two different views on the legislation.  One is from the Delaware State Education Association and the other is from the Badass Teachers Association.  While one waters down some of the concerns I have, the other reached some of the same conclusions I have.

From the DSEA:

Goodbye NCLB, Hello Every Student Succeeds Act
The newest proposed version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was released on Monday. NEA and DSEA are reviewing each and every line of the 1,000+ page bill ahead of the House vote that is expected by Wednesday evening. We expect a Senate vote next week.
While we continue to review the bill, and how it affects Delaware and Delaware Educators, see below for the basic top lines of the bill, as provided by Ed Week.

ESSA Top Lines

 

The ESSA is in many ways a U-turn from the current, much-maligned version of the ESEA law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

And from the Badass Teachers Association:

States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and break out the data for whole schools, plus different “subgroups” of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty).
But beyond that, states get wide discretion in setting goals, figuring out just what to hold schools and districts accountable for, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools. And while tests still have to be a part of state accountability systems, states must incorporate other factors that get at students’ opportunity to learn, like school-climate and teacher engagement, or access to and success in advanced coursework.
States and districts will have to use locally-developed, evidence-based interventions, though, in the bottom 5 percent of schools and in schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate. States must also flag for districts schools where subgroup students are chronically struggling.
The federal School Improvement Grant program is gone, but there are resources in the bill states can use for school turnarounds.
And, in a big switch from the NCLB waivers, there would be no role for the feds whatsoever in teacher evaluation.

Another Big Switch From NCLB

 

In a win for civil rights groups, the performance of each subgroup of students would have to be measured separately, meaning states could no longer rely solely on so-called supersubgroups. That’s a statistical technique in the waivers that allowed states to combine different categories of students for accountability purposes.
The bill would combine some 50 programs, some of which haven’t been funded in years, into a big giant block grant.
When it comes to accountability, there are definitely some “guardrails,” as one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would say. (More on just what those are below.) But the U.S. Secretary of Education authority is also very limited, especially when it comes to interfering with state decision making on testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.
It’s still unclear just how the accountability or “guardrails” provisions of the bill vs. limits on secretarial authority dynamic will play out in regulation and implementation. There are definitely provisions in this bill that state and district leaders and civil rights advocates can cite to show that states and schools will have to continue to ensure equity.
But, it could prove tough for the U.S. Department of Education to implement those provisions with a very heavy hand, without at least the threat of lawsuits.
“What can the secretary do and not do? I think that’s where the lawsuits will be,” said Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

Accountability ‘Nitty Gritty’

Plans
: States would still have to submit accountability plans to the Education Department. These new ESSA plans would start in the 2017-18 school year. The names of peer-reviewers would have to be made public. And a state could get a hearing if the department turned down its plan.
Goals:
  • No more expectation that states get all students to proficiency by the 2013-14 school year, as under NCLB Classic. (That ship has sailed, anyway.) And no more menu of goals, largely cooked up by the department, as under the waivers.
  • Instead, states can pick their own goals, both a big long-term goal, and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates.
  • Goals have to set an expectation that all groups that are furthest behind close gaps in achievement and graduation rates.
What kinds of schools will states have to focus on?
  • States have to identify and intervene in the bottom 5 percent of performers, an idea borrowed from waivers. These schools have to be identified at least once every three years. (That’s something many states already do under waivers. And some, like Massachusetts, do it every single year.)
  • States have to identify and intervene in high schools where the graduation rate is 67 percent or less.
  • States, with districts, have to identify schools where subgroup students are struggling.
What do these accountability systems have to consider? The list of “indicators” is a little different for elementary and middle schools vs. high schools.
Systems for Elementary and Middle Schools:
  • States need to incorporate a jumble of at least four indicators into their accountability systems.
  • That includes three academic indicators: proficiency on state tests, English-language proficiency, plus some other academic factor that can be broken out by subgroup. (That could be growth on state tests, so that states would have a mix of both growth and achievement in their systems, as many already do under waivers.)
  • And, in a big new twist, states must add at least one, additional indicator of a very different kind into the mix. Possibilities include: student engagement, educator engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, school climate/safety, or whatever else the state thinks makes sense. Importantly, though, this indicator has to be disaggregated by subgroup. States are already experimenting with these kinds of indicators under the waivers, especially a cadre of districts in California (the CORE districts). Still, this is new territory when it comes to accountability.
  • States also have to somehow figure in participation rates on state tests. (Schools with less than 95 percent participation are supposed to have that included, somehow.) But participation rate is a standalone factor, not a separate indicator on its own. (That’s a clarification from the “framework” or outline of the bill we published earlier. If you’re a super-wonk who cares about this sort of thing, you can read all about how the change developed here.)
Systems for high schools:
  • Basically the same set of indicators, except that graduation rates have to be part of the mix. They take the place of a second academic indicator.
  • So to recap, that means for high schools: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, graduation rates, plus at least one other indicator that focuses a little more on whether students have the opportunity to learn, or are ready for post-secondary work.
  • And also, test participation has to be incorporated in some way. (But it’s a standalone factor, not a separate indicator like test, grad rates, or those non-academic factors).
How much do each of these indicators have to count? That will be largely up to states, but the academic factors (tests, graduation rates, etc.) have to count “much” more as a group than the indicators that get at students’ opportunity to learn and post-secondary readiness. (This is one of just a handful of important clarifications from the framework. If you’re a true-blue wonk, you can read more on how it developed here.)

How do interventions work?
For the bottom 5 percent of schools and for high schools with really high dropout rates:
  • Districts work with teachers and school staff to come up with an evidence-based plan.
  • States monitor the turnaround effort.
  • If schools continue to founder for years (no more than four) the state is supposed to step in with its own plan. That means a state could take over the school if it wanted, or fire the principal, or turn the school into a charter, just like states do under NCLB waivers now. (But, importantly, unlike under waivers, there aren’t any musts-states get to decide what kind of action to take.)
  • Districts could also allow for public school choice out of seriously low-performing schools, but they have to give priority to the students who need it most.
For schools where subgroups students are struggling:
  • These schools have to come up with an evidence-based plan to help the particular group of students who are falling behind. For example, a school that’s having trouble with students in special education could decide to try out a new curriculum with evidence to back it up and hire a very experienced coach to help train teachers on it.
  • Districts monitor these plans. If the school continues to fall short, the district steps in. The district decides just when that kind of action is necessary, though; there’s no specified timeline in the deal.
  • Importantly, there’s also a provision in the deal calling for a “comprehensive improvement plan.” States and districts have to take more-aggressive action in schools where subgroups are chronically underperforming, despite local interventions. Their performance has to look really bad though, as bad as the performance of students in the bottom 5 percent of schools over time.
What kind of resources are there for these interventions? The School Improvement Grant program, which is funded at around $500 million currently, has been consolidated into the bigger Title I pot, which helps districts educate students in poverty. But states would be able to set aside up to 7 percent of all their Title I funds for school turnarounds, up from 4 percent in current law. (That would give states virtually the same amount of resources for school improvement as they get now, through SIG.) However, the bulk of those dollars would be sent out to districts for “innovation,” which could include turnarounds. It would be up to states whether to send that money out by formula, to everyone, or competitively, as they do now with SIG dollars. (More in this cheat sheet from AASA, the School Administrator’s Association, which has been updated on this issue.) Bottom line: There are resources in the bill for school turnarounds. But some of the money could also be used for other purposes, if that’s what districts and states want.

What about the tests? The testing schedule would be the same as under NCLB. But in a twist, up to seven states could apply to try out local tests, with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education. And importantly, these local tests aren’t supposed to be used forever-the point is for districts to experiment with new forms of assessment (as New Hampshire is doing with performance tasks) that could eventually go statewide and be used by everyone. That way states don’t get stuck with the same old assessment for years on end.

What’s more, the framework allows for the use of local, nationally-recognized tests at the high school level, with state permission. So a district could, in theory, use the SAT or ACT as its high school test, instead of the traditional state exam.
Also, computer adaptive testing would be easier.
What about standards? States must adopt “challenging” academic standards, just like under NCLB Classic. That could be the Common Core State Standards, but it doesn’t have to be. And, as we noted above, the U.S. Secretary of Education is expressly prohibited from forcing or even encouraging states to pick a particular set of standards (including Common Core).
What about that supersubgroup thing mentioned higher up? Supersubgroups are a statistical technique used in the waivers that call for states to combine different groups of students (say, students in special education, English-language learners, and minorities) for accountability purposes. By my reading of the bill, it would seem that’s a no-no. States now have to consider accountability for each subgroup separately. States liked the flexibility of supersubgroups. But former Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and civil rights groups said they masked gaps. The deal appears to eliminate the use of supersubgroups.
How do we transition from NCLB and the waivers to this new system?
  • The bill outlines the transition plan from the Obama administration’s ESEA waivers to this bold new era of accountability. Waivers would appear be null and void on Aug. 1, 2016, but states would still have to continue supporting their lowest-performing schools (aka what the waivers call “priority schools”) and schools with big achievement gaps (aka “focus schools”) until their new ESSA plans kicked in.
  • So it seems that 2016-17 will be the big transition year. It will be partially under the Obama administration, and partially under the new administration.
  • In general, ESSA would apply to any federal grants given out after Oct. 1, 2016, so most grants would still be under the NCLB version of the law for the rest of this school year.

What about the rest of the bill?

English-Language Learners

 

Where does the deal land when it comes to when newly arrived English-language learners must be tested? (Background on this issue here). States would have two choices.
  • Option A: Include English-language learners’ test scores after they have been in the country a year, just like under current law.
  • Option B: During the first year, test scores wouldn’t count towards a school’s rating, but ELLs would need to take both of the assessments, and publicly report the results. (That’s a switch from current law. Right now, they only need to take math in the first year.) In the second year, the state would have to incorporate ELLs’ results for both reading and math, using some measure of growth. And in their third year in the country, the proficiency scores of newly arrived ELLs are treated just like any other students’. (Sound familiar? It’s very similar to the waiver Florida received.)
The compromise would shift accountability for English-language learners from Title III (the English-language acquisition section of the ESEA) to Title I (where everyone else’s accountability is). The idea is to make accountability for those students a priority.

 

Students in Special Education


The legislation says essentially, that only 1 percent of students overall can be given alternative tests. (That’s about 10 percent of students in special education.)

Opt-Outs


The bill largely sticks with the Senate language, which would allow states to create their own testing opt-out laws (as Oregon has). But it would maintain the federal requirement for 95 percent participation in tests. However, unlike under the NCLB law, in which schools with lower-than-95 percent participation rates were automatically seen as failures, local districts and states would get to decide what should happen in schools that miss targets. States would have to take low testing participation into consideration in their accountability systems. Just how to do that would be up to them.

 

On Programs


There’s more consolidation of federal education in the compromise than there was in the Senate bill. For a look at how much money each program is slated to receive, check out this great (and updated!) cheat sheet from the Committee for Education Funding.
  • The legislation creates a $1.6 billion block grant that consolidates a bunch of programs, including some involving physical education, Advanced Placement, school counseling, and education technology. (Some of these programs haven’t federal funding in years.)
  • Districts that get more than $30,000 will have to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded, and another 20 percent on at least one activity that helps kids be safe and healthy. And part of the money could be spent on technology. (But no more than 15 percent can go to technology infrastructure.)
  • Some programs would live on as separate line items, including the 21st Century Community schools program, which pays for after-school programs and has a lot support on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
  • Other survivors: Promise Neighborhoods, and a full-service community schools program. And there’s a standalone program for parent engagement. There are also reservations for Arts Education, gifted education, and Ready to Learn television.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. got the early-childhood investment she wanted-the bill enshrines an existing program “Preschool Development Grants” in law, and focuses it on program coordination, quality, and broadening access to early-childhood education. But the program would be housed at the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Education Department as some Democrats had initially hoped. The Education Department would jointly administer the program, however. (The reason: HHS already has some early-education programs, like Head Start. Expanding the Education Department’s portfolio was a big no-no for conservatives.)

That new research and innovation program that some folks were describing as sort of a next-generation “Investing in Innovation” program made it into the bill. (Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Michael Bennett, D-Colo., are big fans, as is the administration.)

 

On School Choice


No Title I portability: That means that federal funds won’t be able to follow the child to the school of their choice.

But the bill does include a pilot project allowing districts to try out a weighted student funding formula, which would also essentially function as a backpack of funds for kids. The program would allow 50 districts to combine state, local, and federal funds into a single pot that could follow a child to the school of their choice. It is said to be a more workable alternative to Title I portability, which looked more dramatic on paper, but which few states would likely have taken advantage of because of its complexity, experts said. Importantly with this pilot, participation would be entirely up to district officials. And the language would give them a chance to better target funds to individual school needs.

 

Teachers


The headline here is that states would no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes, as they did under waivers. And NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” requirement would be officially a thing of the past.
There’s also language allowing for continued spending on the Teacher Incentive Fund-now called the Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program-which provides grants to districts that want to try out performance pay and other teacher-quality improvement measures. And there are resources for helping train teachers on literacy and STEM. Much more from Teacher Beat.

 

Funding and Other Issues


No changes to the Title I funding formula along the lines of what the Senate passed that would steer a greater share of the funds to districts with high concentrations of students in poverty. But there were some changes to the Title II formula (which funds teacher quality) that would be a boon to rural states.

The agreement would keep in place maintenance of effort, a wonky issue we wrote about recently, with some new flexibility added for states. (Quick tutorial: Maintenance of effort basically requires states to keep up their own spending at a particular level in order to tap federal funds.)

There was some chatter that the bill would also incorporate changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. That’s not part of the agreement.

The framework would only “authorize” ESEA for four more years, as opposed to the typical five. That gives lawmakers a chance to revisit the policy under the next president, should they choose to do so. And its overall authorization levels are largely consistent with the most recent budget deal.

And from the Badass Teachers Association:

Here we go…. BATs Respond to Every Student Succeeds Act – please read ENTIRE POST carefully!

Send the BATs Action Network Letter NOW https://actionnetwork.org/…/hear-the-voices-of-the-people-m…

BATs we had a committee of five comb through the over 1000 pages of the ESSA starting on Sunday night. Our committee is exhausted and we want you to know that we read it from the lens of just regular classroom teachers. We also were able to talk and consult with people who were involved in the negotiations of this act as well as former members of the House of Representatives.

The Act came out of conference with a 39-1 vote – we have been told repeatedly that it is a done deal but that does NOT mean we have to roll over and take the act as is. We cannot amend it but we sure can request that some language be removed. We will demand thoughtful debate and for our lawmakers to listen to input from the public. They will not conduct a period of open comment from the public as they had that for a month already before the act hit the Conference Committee. So, make your voice heard through our letter writing campaign here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/hear-the-voices-of-the-people-make-every-student-succeeds-act-about-kids-not-wall-street-and-tech-companies SEND YOUR LETTER NOW!

We know the act will hit the House floor on Thursday and the Senate early next week. Please read the act over as if you have the time.

There is much that is GOOD about the ESSA. It strengthens the education of Native American children. Language in Title VI demands strong cultural components be weaved into their education experience and a need to return teachers of Native heritage back to their communities to teach. It has strong language that will support and assist our homeless children and families. It will require districts to help homeless families find housing and will also require that when homeless children must switch schools they be allowed to enter school immediately. It is an act that also protects our migratory children by demanding they be allowed to enter schools immediately and that pending paperwork cannot hold up their education. The other good thing about the act is that there are few federal mandates. Much in the act will be left up to the states (i.e. teacher evaluations, learning standards, testing). Rest assured the reformers are already mobilizing at the state level to get back what they lost in the ESSA. We must return to our states and understand what we need to work hard for at that level. We must remember that we have upcoming elections in which we need to get our votes in to make the change we want.

Perhaps the best part of the ESSA is that it defangs the USDOE. NY BATs will strongly tell you that we do not want John King in charge of education in this country. Throughout every part of the act you will see the restatement that the USDOE Secretary cannot mandate or control what states do. Common Core is essentially dead! They will try to rebrand it into “state standards” or keep it as the Common Core, but there is no longer a threat of a common standard that all children in the nation must follow. It will be left up to the states to create their own standards (some may keep the CC, some will try to rebrand CC, and some will create their own standards – we must be vigilant in speaking out during this process at the state level). Also, the Booker/Bennett Amendment made it into the final act. This is the work that BATs did with the AFT on teacher workplace conditions. BATs will now influence, and be in, federal education law! The Booker/Bennett Amendment will now require that Title II money be used to study, in general, teacher workplace conditions and how that influences the learning of students. Congrats to our amazing Quality of Workplace Team for their dedication to getting this inserted into federal education law.

The act has some BAD components but nothing came as a surprise. It kept yearly testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. We knew this going into Conference Committee and that the Tester Amendment (which would have introduced grade span testing) did not even make it to discussion. We did not support yearly grade span testing several months ago but instead advocated for random sampling grade span testing. That still holds true! The Conference Committee did not listen to the voice of the public but instead to Civil Rights Groups in the Beltway who advocated for yearly testing and accountability. We are not happy with the 1% cap on alternative assessments for our special education students but we were happy that the act did insert that the IEP team at the local level may decide to pierce the 1% cap in their district, with a valid explanation to be submitted. This in essence will not allow IDEA to be trumped at the local level and if the state does not grant the district a waiver will set them up to be sued by parents for denying a child their rights under IDEA. This will also allow the state to pierce the 1% cap if needed, and if the feds deny the request can set the feds up to be sued for violating IDEA. We were not surprised that the act is “charter friendly” and we will need to remain vigilant at the state level to expose charter fraud, charter abuse, and mismanagement. We knew that if Sen. Alexander was involved that the act would be charter friendly but we also know that many Democrats love their charters! Some new stuff that was inserted in regard to the digital environment and digital learning is concerning. You will see that our letter requests that much of this language be revamped and addresses our concern that we are attempting to make public education into online learning centers. We shared the early results of our technology survey so that lawmakers could see clearly how teachers feel about using technology in their local districts. We should all advocate for Blended Learning which uses a hybrid of technology and student/teacher created learning in the classroom. We made it clear that technology should not outweigh the classroom teacher and that having children sit in front of a computer all day is not public education! We will need to remain very, very vigilant at the state level to make sure the state and local districts are not spending money on technology that cannot be sustained or is inferior. We will need to remain vigilant at the state and local level to make sure that the teaching profession does not become a facilitator of online learning. The good thing is the act DOES NOT MANDATE technology! In fact, there is not much that the feds can mandate in this act! We are concerned with the innovative assessments systems mentioned in the act. We all know what this means and we strongly suggested that language be removed.

->Please call your federal lawmakers and make your voice heard. This act hits the House floor on Thursday and the Senate floor on December 7th. You can use our letter as a guideline if you like. Here are the numbers for federal lawmakers https://www.opencongress.org/people/zipcodelookup

→We must start mobilizing at the state level. We are sure that reformers have a head start on this. They are angry that they lost – evaluating teachers on test scores as a federal mandate, Common Core as a federal mandate, and the digital testing that comes with CC as a federal mandate. They will mobilize at the state level to get all of this back! GET INVOLVED AT THE STATE LEVEL ON THESE ITEMS IN PARTICULAR TODAY!

 →We are all taxpayers and must be vigilant about bankers getting involved in opening and running anything having to do with education. Please be vigilant about charter expansion and fraud. Please be vigilant about what your state and local districts are buying in regard to technology. QUESTION EVERYTHING AT THE STATE LEVEL!

DOE Contract Soliciting Bids To Mix Rodel’s Personalized Learning & Markell’s World Immersion Program

The Delaware Department of Education has a Request For Proposal (RFP) for middle-school students to have “blended” learning in the World Immersion Program.  I called this last October!  Rodel has been pimping the whole personalized learning thing for the past year, and I am sure it will be a highlight of their latest Vision fest in September.  Blended learning and personalized learning are essentially the same thing.  The RFP states they want students in 6th to 8th grade to be able to take their time learning another language.

World Immersion, on the surface, looks great.  But it is having the undesired effect in some schools of causing special needs students and low-performing students to not be able to participate in this program.  It is already making it’s mark in Capital and Caesar Rodney.  Students from one school in a district are moving to other ones because this program is offered at that school.  This is creating a shift to occur, whereby some schools will do well and others won’t.  And the districts are the ones doing this!  Check out the below RFP and please let me know what you think of this latest venture.  I know some teachers who agree with me on a lot who think World Immersion and personalized learning are great things, but I just see it as something that will separate the “strong” from the “weak”.  And don’t forget, this is all Governor Markell’s baby.  What happens to those schools in districts in a few years that have all the most high-needs students while all the “smart” ones are at the high-performing schools learning Chinese or Spanish?  The way Delaware sets up certain schools to fail continues to astonish me!  I’m going to predict this now: either Schoology or 2Revolutions will get this contract!