Opt Out: “The Data We’re Receiving Would Look Like Swiss Cheese”, The Easter Egg At A Congressional Hearing On Student Privacy

On Tuesday, the Education and Workforce Committee held a Congressional hearing called “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students”.  With one parent advocate, one data guy from the Georgia Department of Education, and two corporate schills (yes, there were two, more on that one later).  The hearing was stacked with U.S. Representatives who are, shall we say, sympathetic to the data-testing regime.  We all know the type!

If you looked at the witness list for who was giving testimony at this hearing on the EdWorkforce website, you can see who they were:

WitnessList

So who are these people?  Rachael Strickland is the co-founder and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.  Neil Campbell is the Policy Director for Next Generation Reforms at the Foundation for Excellence in Education (Jeb Bush’s company).  Jane Hannaway is with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.  Robert Swiggum is the Deputy Superintendent for the Georgia Department of Education.  But one of these four has another job, which the Education and Workforce Committee did not include on their website.  During the hearing, this person’s other job wasn’t even discussed at all.  But it is a whopper.  So which one was it?

The day before the hearing, I received an email from the EdWorkforce Committee notifying me of the hearing.  They had the exact same witnesses in the email, but one of them has a different job:

EdWorkforceCommitteeEmail

Take a good look at Dr. Jane Hannaway… Institute Fellow, American Institutes for Research.  Also known as AIR, this is the company that was instrumental in creating the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  They are my state’s vendor for Smarter Balanced.  They are all over the place.  Now why would the United States Education and Workforce Committee not mention that glaring fact at all?  Why would they not include it on their website and have the witness, sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, not mention this at all?  In fact non-Government employees are required to fill out a “Truth In Testimony” form prior to any Congressional hearing.  Ms. Strickland and Mr. Campbell both listed their affiliated sources, but Ms. Hannaway didn’t list any organizations.  Even though she wrote about her affiliation with AIR in her testimony, it wasn’t spoken out loud.

There are some key points I want to highlight from Hannaway’s testimony, with my thoughts in red:

Almost every state has developed an individual student level longitudinal administrative data system. These data systems have substantive and technical research advantages, as well as efficiency virtues.

Substantive, technical, and efficiency virtues: Can we say cha-ching?  Show me the money?

Because the data are existing working files – created, maintained and used by the state for administrative purposes – they are readily available for approved research purposes.

I have no doubt the states are making these “readily available”.  And I’m sure they pay a pretty penny to make it so!

Having data already in hand means the turnaround time for getting feedback on the results of new policies is short, allowing informed decision making about whether to discontinue, modify or continue particular policies and practices. Indeed, some decisions of interest can be made almost in real time.

Decision making, policies, practices: This lady is combing through your child’s data.  She doesn’t at a government agency, but I’m sure she does work for government agencies.  How are these corporations setting policy?  Very frightening…

The files include data on all students and all teachers in the state over a number of years. So data on students of interest for a particular intervention or for a particular study, say 8th graders, or high performing students, or disadvantaged students can be easily selected.

“A particular intervention”… sounds like something every parent should worry about.  Note the word “all”: all teachers, all students.  They have it set up so they can “shop” through the data for any possible category they want.  I didn’t underline this for emphasis.  It was underlined in her testimony.

Indeed, because teachers can be linked in the data to their students and students’ test scores, teachers can also be compared in terms of their performance. Indeed, some of the most important finding from studies using longitudinal data have focused on teacher effectiveness.

Because that data has given us so many unreasonable conclusions, I find that data inconclusive.  And yet, here is Hannaway continuing to use the biggest fallacy of our time…

For example, regression discontinuity designs can assess the effect of, say, receiving an award on subsequent behavior by comparing results for students just above and below the performance award threshold.

In other words, they set the “performance award threshold”, aka, the high-stakes standardized test scores, based on a point where there would always be some above or below the threshold.  We will NEVER have maximum proficiency.

The advantages in terms of policy insights of individual education data are also substantially expanded when linked to later individual measures in areas beyond education, such as labor market (employment and earnings), justice and health outcomes.

Basically, she is saying we are going to use this data to track and catalog every individual student and determine your outcome for you based on high-stakes standardized testing data.

The state anonymizes the data before researchers receive them. Each student is assigned a state-constructed unique student id (USI) that is used by researchers to link data for each student across years and schools.

So instead of giving a name and social security number, I’ll call this the number of the beast scenario.  For “each student”… has anyone read “Revelations” recently?

Hannaway said, when asked about opt out and what it does to the data: “The data we’re receiving would look like Swiss cheese.”  She couldn’t have said it any better!  If you never had a reason to opt your child out before, know that your child’s “unique” number of the beast, assigned by your state, is given to all education agencies who ask for it from your state.  They base conclusions and policy and decisions, which become laws, based on that crappy test your child takes once a year.  Do your child a favor: make some Swiss cheese for companies like American Institutes for Research.  It is the ONLY way this nonsense will ever stop!  We need MORE Swiss Cheese!

To watch the full video, watch below.  The hearing doesn’t begin until the 6:37 mark.

Campbell looks really nervous at several points during this hearing.  He keeps wringing his hands.  Is that because he is afraid of what will come out or guilt?  Or is he generally a nervous guy?

I love how Swiggum says that states own the data.  Really?  Does the Delaware DOE “own” the data on my child?  His academic performance, social-emotional behavior, all that… they “own” it?  I don’t think so.  If they own it, they should take better care of it!

US Rep. John Kline’s Statement On ESSA Hearings From Today

The Every Student Succeeds Act got it’s own hearing today in Washington D.C.  Congressman and Chairman of the Education & the Workforce Committee John Kline oversaw the hearing.  Acting Secretary John King answered questions about the legislation signed by President Obama in December.  King will also face a US Senate confirmation hearing later this afternoon.  Odds are pretty good the Senate will confirm King as the official US Secretary of Education.  And many of us know why…

Kline Statement: Hearing on “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Upholding the Letter and Intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act”

 
 

Replacing No Child Left Behind was a significant achievement that was desperately needed and long overdue. The law represented the largest expansion of federal control over K-12 schools, and it was based on the flawed premise that Washington knows best what students need in the classroom. The federal government imposed rigid rules and punitive actions on states and schools in areas vital to a child’s education, like which teachers to hire and fire, how to gauge school performance, and how to fix underperforming schools.It didn’t take long before state and local leaders were raising concerns that this top-down approach wouldn’t work. Their concerns were affirmed year after year as we experienced little – if any – improvement in graduation rates, proficiency in reading and math, and the achievement gap separating poor and minority students from their peers. Frustration among parents and teachers went up, while student achievement remained flat. Despite the good intentions behind the law, millions of children were left behind.

To make matters worse, the administration spent years pushing a convoluted waiver scheme, which doubled-down on the false hope that Washington could fix the problems in our schools. States and schools were subjected to even more federal requirements in areas like standards and teacher evaluations. They were forced to choose between onerous requirements prescribed in federal law and onerous requirements prescribed by the secretary of education.

If we learned anything throughout process to replace No Child Left Behind, it’s that the American people are tired of Washington micromanaging their classrooms. They are desperate for a different approach to K-12 education, one that will significantly reduce the federal role and restore state and local control. That is precisely the approach taken by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Under the new law, authority over accountability, teacher quality, and school improvement is restored to state and local leaders. The law also brings new transparency and accountability to the department’s rulemaking process, ends the era of federally-mandated high-stakes testing, repeals dozens of ineffective programs, and sets the department on the path to becoming smaller, not bigger. Furthermore, due to the administration’s actions in recent years and the public outcry that ensued, the Every Student Succeeds Act includes unprecedented restrictions on the authority of the secretary of education, ending the days when one individual imposed his or her own agenda on our classrooms.   

The Wall Street Journal described the new law as the “largest devolution of federal control to the states in a quarter-century.” A letter written by a coalition of organizations representing governors, state lawmakers, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents says, “[The Every Student Succeeds Act] is clear: Education decision-making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions.” They also urge the Department of Education to “honor congressional intent,” which brings us to the heart of today’s hearing.

Despite our success replacing No Child Left Behind, the real work to improve K-12 education is just beginning. The focus now shifts to leaders in state capitals and local communities who will use the tools and authority in the new law to build a better education for their children. And if they are going to succeed, they will need a Department of Education that behaves like a partner – not dictator.

I’ve described countless times the shortfalls of No Child Left Behind. While it may seem unnecessary at a hearing on the future of K-12 education, we need to remember where we have been as we look to where we want to go. Congress did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and we certainly did not want a Department of Education that would continue to substitute its will for the will of Congress and the American people. Quite the opposite, we wanted new policies that would empower parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders. Congress promised to reduce the federal role and restore local control, and we intend to keep our promise.

That’s why we are here today. We want to learn what actions the department intends to take to implement the law and to help ensure the department acts in a manner that strictly adheres to the letter and intent of the law. Dr. King, this committee stands ready to assist you in that effort. The reforms you are now implementing were the result of bipartisan consensus, and we will remain actively engaged as the department moves forward. There is a lot of work to do, especially in every state and school district across the country. The department must get this right so every child can receive the excellent education they deserve. 

This is EXACTLY what Wall Street, hedge fund managers, members of the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and many legislators want.  The devil, of course, is in the details…

You can watch the video of the hearing as well:

 

What Is The ESSA Implementation Network?

ESSAPic

The US House Committee on Education and The Workforce released a statement on the Every Student Succeeds Act implementation today.  It turns out a lot of the groups that were cheering Congress to pass the law now want a seat at the table for the transition.  Nobody really understands the full implications of the law.  It almost seems as if they threw a bunch of ingredients in a pot, stirred it all up, and called it legislation.  Now all those who begged people to support it don’t really know what it all means.  Or they do and they are just making it look like they are responsible stakeholders who will guide the states to full transparency.   You know, the unions, the National PTA, the Governor groups, national state board, school board, superintendent, legislator, and principal associations.  Many of the same organizations who created the mess to begin with!  The ones who made ESSA necessary by collaborating with the education reformers on high-stakes testing and Common Core.  The ones who never fully supported parent opt-out even though one of them has the word “parent” in their title…

And the press release from the Education & Workforce Committee:

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), today held an oversight hearing on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Members learned what state and local leaders expect from the new law and discussed opportunities to ensure control over K-12 education is restored to states and school districts.

“The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act puts states and school districts back in charge of education, and includes more than 50 pages of provisions to keep the Department of Education in check,” Chairman Rokita said. “Moving forward, it’s our collective responsibility to hold the Department of Education accountable for how it implements the law. Congress promised to restore state and local control over K-12 education, and now it’s our job to ensure that promise is kept.”

A key part of that effort is congressional oversight of the Department of Education as it implements the law. Kent Talbert, former general counsel for the department, described the responsibility of the administration in adhering to both the letter of the law and the congressional intent behind it. For example, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government is “prohibited from mandating, directing, or controlling a state, school district, or school’s instructional content, curricula, programs of instruction, or standards or assessments. This prohibition includes any requirement to adopt the Common Core Standards.”

Citing this and other examples, Talbert said the unifying theme of ESSA’s provisions is limiting the federal role in education and returning decision-making authority back to the states and school districts. That’s why, when it comes to implementing the law, Superintendent of Hartselle City Schools in Hartselle, Alabama Vic Wilson, said, “less is more.” Speaking specifically about the role the Department of Education, Wilson added, “[The department] can empower school districts to think outside the box and implement procedures and policies that best meet the needs of schools and students they serve.”

Dr. Wilson continued, “ESSA makes it clear … Congress’ intent is that states should be solely responsible for decisions regarding accountability, standards, teachers, and other factors.” Oklahoma’s State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister agreed, adding her state-level perspective to the discussion. “States like Oklahoma,” said Hofmeister, “will only be able to achieve the full promise of the ESSA if the federal government holds true to the spirit of the law.”

“States are not only ready, but we are willing and able to lead,” Hofmeister continued, urging Congress and the department to “trust us as we work with parents, teachers and key stakeholders to transition to this new law.”

Those sentiments were echoed today by organizations representing parents, teachers, and state and local leaders. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Education John King, the organizations wrote, “We must work together to closely honor congressional intent. ESSA is clear: Education decision making now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions.”

“It is my firm belief,” Chairman Rokita concluded, “that when the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress intended, parents, teachers, and state and local leaders will be empowered to deliver the excellent education every child deserves.”

To learn more about this hearing, visit edworkforce.house.gov.

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