What The Hell Is This Appo? Data Freaks Much?

A parent of an Appo student sent me this.  This is the parental consent form for free and reduced lunch.  It’s like the ESEA Flexibility Waivers… “I’ll give you this, but in return I need this and this and this and this…”  Parents, watch what you are signing and do research on how much personal data you are allowing to go out about your child.  Because even if you trust the district, they are putting that information on grant applications, which go out to other agencies.  At that point, the federal law that is meant to “protect” student data, allows that information to go out to other education “research” companies.  Nothing in this world is free.

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The Creepy Personalized Learning Virtual Reality “Genie” In Reasoning Mind Math: Who Is Behind The Avatar?

 When a “personalized” MATH program admittedly creates a virtual reality “Genie” to become a child’s best friend… what happens when email secrets start to go out, along with confessions about themselves and their home life?  Many parents in America are very concerned.  Who is behind the Genie? Who gets the information?  When they found out that BILL GATESRUSSIA, and the US DOE are promoting and/or paying for this….  let’s just say they became more concerned.  Please read and share this so more parents can become aware of this child predator in the making!  As for the Genie… Well, how would you feel if your child was emailing grown men, disguised as a friendly Genie?  In another country?

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Reasoning Mind Math reasoningmind.org

The non-profit Reasoning Mind offers “personalized” on-line math curriculum and a computer-based “Genie” who is virtually a child’s best friend, and knows personal things about them, even confessions.  As first noted in this RM document posted by a blogger known as Educray, Reasoning Mind math curriculum  places a large emphasis on teaching Soviet-style morals, collectivism, and the importance of labor (Tudge, 1991).  Reasoning Mind has given some parents reason to worry.   So, let’s take a look at Reasoning Mind and see what could possibly cause concern.

“The Genie”, according to this Reasoning Mind report:

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that students are quite “attached” to Genie, who regularly receives (and answers) email on topics beyond the scope of the learning software, including jokes, requests for friendship, and  confessions about students’ home life.”

“Every day, Reasoning Mind elementary students send hundreds of messages to the Genie, a “friend and mentor” who guides students through their studies. Here’s our favorite student message from this week. And yes, the Genie does respond!”

 

 

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Since Reasoning Mind offers “personalized” curriculum that knows and also remembers the student, a child can log into RM from home or school. And since it’s adaptive and personalized, RM and Genie will keep track of the child, will remember their profile. If RM and Genie can track a child into consecutive grades,  like an old friend,  Genie will be able to pick up the profile where the child left off last year.  While proponents would say keeping track of learners’ profiles is beneficial, this massive accumulation of student information also begs the question of data privacy, risk, and security.

With all that PERSONAL communication being directly and indirectly (ie: analyzing emotions) shared with RM’s Genie, we wondered what their data sharing agreements and Privacy Policy  look like. If a parent were curious what data was collected and shared on their child, this is what they would find if they went to Reasoning Mind’s website.  There is nothing posted about how RM uses and analyzes and shares the noncognitive and personal information that children are providing to RM and to Genie while logged onto their curriculum.  There is no mention of how RM complies with COPPA law.

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Given the many Supporters  and In-Kind Contributors of Reasoning Mind, spanning the globe, parents wonder if organizations like Salesforce, Microsoft, Russian Petroleum, Google, Swagger Films, etc. are allowed access to their child’s profile or personal information.  We know that data is money.

Money and Moscow Connections:

Non-profits must make public their tax returns (form 990).  Here are 990 returns available for Reasoning Mind. Looking at the 2014 return tells us a lot; for starters, Reasoning Mind is connected.

Connected to each other:  Page 32…   FORM 990, PART VI, SECTION A, THE PRESIDENT AND CEO IS MARRIED TO ONE OF THE SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT’S AND THEIR SON IS (LINE2) ALSO A SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT

Connected to Russia:
Pages 7 and 8 of their 2014 form 990 tax return.  Note the Russia Connections:
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Page 22 of RM’s 2014 return shows Moscow did the computer Programming and Testing of end product (remember that GEF MAP I posted a few months ago).
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Reasoning Mind is Connected to Bill Gates, with this $300k grant for a math pilot  as seen in Gates Foundation 2011 990 form (hint: take a look for other interesting awardees)

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Reasoning Mind is AGAIN connected to Bill Gates with this $700+ grant awarded in 2011  for alternative human capital models and Common Core aligned math pilot targeting minority children.
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Reasoning Mind is featured in this 2013 US Department of Education publication that focuses on “New technologies using educational data mining and “affective computing”:
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“There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success… —it is the responsibility of the educational community to design learning environments that promote these factors so that students are prepared to meet 21st-century challenges.
Several private foundations have recently initiated programs to push the frontiers of theory, measurement, and practice around these and related factors, particularly for at-risk and vulnerable students. In national policy, there is increasing attention on 21st-century competencies (which encompass a range of noncognitive factors, including grit), and persistence is now part of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics….
Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance mentions Reasoning Mind as an example of  a system that customizes to a student’s cognitive profile and emotional state (e.g., frustration or boredom) using inputs from physiological indicators and facial expressions” and  they also mention experimenting with “animated, affective [digital] agents perceived as caring can increase the likelihood that students will persist through frustrating portions of instruction”.
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Reasoning Mind is connected to Rice University, an advisor to Reasoning Minds, Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian is also the Director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Additionally, Dr. Neal Lane, Professor Emeritus, Rice University; Former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Former Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; Former Director of the National Science Foundation–sits on the board of RM.
Reasoning Mind is connected to Columbia University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute who did a study on the “affect and behavior among students at three schools using Reasoning Mind, a game-based software system”.   This study was  paid for by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.   The researchers reporthigh student engagement with this learning system“.  The researchers attribute student engagement to the game-based nature and also because children were embracing the genie as a friend and confidant:
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that students are quite attached to Genie, who regularly receives (and answers) email on topics beyond the scope of the learning software, including jokes, requests for friendship, and confessions about students’ home life.  On the basis of these reports, it seems that the effect of Genie deserves more careful consideration, as the success of her design may contribute significantly to the high levels of engagement observed.  Finally, we should consider the many game-like elements in its design, including a point system that rewards students for speed drills and puzzles. Once sufficient points have been accumulated, students may furnish their own virtual space within RM City or buy virtual books. Particularly at a young age, this kind of autonomy is likely very appealing.”
Some have questioned whether RM’s Genie is gaining children’s trust and using a reward system to train children to  respond in much the same way that  the Russian researcher, Pavlov,  conditioned his dogs.  Speaking of experiments and research…

Is it any wonder that students areengaged in this video-gaming atmosphere?  They are engaged because many like Dr. Kardaras, author of Glow Kids,  know: online games are addictive.

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Online Curriculum– or Spying on Children?

This 1984 quote by Dustin Heuston (Geuston), Utah’s World Institute for Computer-Assisted Teaching, seems  remarkably fitting if not foreboding:
We’ve been absolutely staggered by realizing that the computer has the capability to act as if it were 10 of the top psychologists working with one student… you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. Won’t it be wonderful when the child in the smallest county in the most distant area or in the most confused urban setting can have the equivalent of the finest school in the world on that terminal and no one can get between that child and that curriculum?”-Dustin H. Heuston, “Discussion–Developing the Potential of an Amazing Tool,” Schooling and Technology, Vol.3, Planning for the Future: A Collaborative Model, published by Southeastern Regional Council for Educational Improvement, P.O. Box 12746, 200 Park, Suite 111, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709/ Grant from National Institute of Education, p. 8.
Even more fascinating and startling is this 2010 research on monitoring engagement [curriculum-usage compliance and Academic learning time (ALT)] of preschoolers while interacting with online curriculum, done by Edward B Heuston of Brigham Young UniversityHis conclusion:
“The ability to remotely and accurately quantify interaction with a computer-based curriculum and assessment in the home defines a new vista in ALT research.”
Should parents and teachers (and friends) and human social interactions be replaced by online “affective” avatar agents, who profile childhood secrets, moods, emotions, failures, and flaws? Will artificial, virtual “friends” like Genie become the Oracle that children consult, confide in? … and take direction from?
Perhaps, parents are wise to question who the Great Oz is behind the curtain.  The entity (or persons), receiving and profiling the hearts and minds of their connected children, both at home and in classrooms.  What has to happen before parents realize the danger they are allowing to come into their child’s life?  Every time you sign a consent form, are you getting this kind of information?  I highly doubt it.  And are parents bothering to educate themselves on privacy policies and how data is disseminated?  I doubt it.  The wolf isn’t at the door.  It is in your home…

School-Based Health Centers Proposal May Collide With Parental Authority… This Is A Game Changer In Schools!

I’ve heard constant echoes of one thing over the past year: we need more supports in our schools for our high-needs students.  But what happens when that call is heard but we may get far more than we ever bargained for?  What if the services provided become very invasive in scope?

The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) put out a request for proposal (RFP) for all nineteen school districts in Delaware and the thirty-two high schools within them.  The goal of the vendor contracts would be to increase the role of wellness centers in schools.  The funding was already put in place in the FY2017 budget.  A few high schools wouldn’t begin these kind of contracts until FY2018 because they didn’t already have existing wellness centers in the schools.

I have grave concerns with how much DHSS wants to happen in our high schools.  I understand why the bid for this is coming out of DHSS, but this is an education matter.  I fully understand that some students may not have access to medical treatment so I am not explicitly against these types of centers in high-needs schools.  But the amount of private student data involved is astounding.  Under HIPAA, that is merely a consent for information to go out from a health provider to another entity.  Parents need to understand exactly what they are signing consent for.  Where this gets confusing is the differentiation between HIPAA and FERPA.  FERPA only applies to educational records.  The data from these health centers in our high schools would not fall under FERPA.  Or at least they shouldn’t.

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There are several terms in the above picture that worry me.  “Prevention-oriented multidisciplinary health care”… I’m all for prevention, but prevention against what?  Where is the line drawn?  What if one of these multidisciplinary measures goes against a student’s religion?  What if the student is not aware of that but a parent becomes upset when they find out?  “Integration with primary care”… what does that even mean?  Integration would mean a data system cross-referencing the health information between a primary physician and the school-based health provider.  Does that information flow both ways?  Serious data privacy concerns here folks!

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“The delivery of medical and mental health services”… If a student needs immediate treatment, is a school even equipped to act as a triage type unit?  Is that the eventual goal here?  In terms of mental health services, I have long thought it was a good idea for school districts to have psychiatrists or neurologists on hand for IEP meetings.  All too often, psychologists are used to determine “behavior” issues but a psychiatrist or neurologist would be able to give more explanation of what is going on neurologically when a student manifests disabilities.  A psychologist can’t prescribe medicine and as a result, they may not have up to date knowledge of what different medicines do and how they metabolize with the human body.

Students come into our schools with trauma.  Of that, no one seems to be in disagreement.  If families aren’t able to provide students with safe and supportive environments at home, then the school setting would be ideal for students to get the help they need to deal with those issues.  But my concern is this becoming available for ALL students eventually.  All too often parents are denied health information about their child on certain things when it comes to the existing wellness centers.  With this program increasing in scope like this, I can picture that becoming a much bigger issue.

In private practices, these types of services are not cheap.  But that is where the best in their fields tend to go.  With this plan, how many would leave existing private practices to come work in schools?  Not too many I am afraid.  As a result, we would most likely get younger, fresh out of college mental health providers without the experience.  They would get paid less and as a result an inequity would develop between students who come from stable and wealthier home environments and those who come from low-income or poverty families.  Those who come from the stable homes would most likely continue to go to private practices.

DPH is the Division of Public Health.  They would provide partial funding for this project.  But what happens when the project becomes mainstream?  All too often, our school districts become the financial bearer of state mandated programs.  Yes, the funding exists now, but what happens when it isn’t available?  Do they cut these programs out of schools entirely or do local school districts bear the financial burden for paying for these programs?

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My first question: what is the School-Community Health of Michigan entity that appears to house school-based health information?  How secure is this data?  If one of the vendors chooses to implement the two years to develop their plan for data reporting, how safe is that data in the meantime?  Should all student risk assessments be standardized?  I would think students with disabilities, those coming from broken homes, or those dealing with poverty would tend to fall lower on a standardized scale as opposed to their peers.

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I don’t mind a culture of health.  Lord knows we can be healthier in this country.  But when I see “How youth and parents would be involved in the “planning, operation, and promotion of the SBHC,” that seems like a lot of emphasis put on parents.  If these services are for high-needs students whose parents aren’t big on family engagement, this would result in parents of regular students doing the pushing for these programs.  Will they want to do that if it isn’t for their own child?  “Potential partners and key stakeholders”… as defined by who?  And as we all know, data flows to “partners” quite a bit with education records.  Would parents be given consent forms to send their child’s medical data to entities who really don’t need that information at all?  It mentions HIPAA here, but this is a very slippery slope.  I need a lot more information here.  What is a “diversified funding base”?  Since, invariably, all of this would be paid for by the taxpayers of Delaware, will they really want to pay for other students health services?  We already do, to some extent, but this would increase those costs.

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I’m sorry, but did that really say “if the SBHC intends to be a Title X/family planning provider”?  For those who may not be familiar with Title X, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes this program on their website:

Family planning centers offer a broad range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods and related counseling; as well as breast and cervical cancer screening; pregnancy testing and counseling; screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs); HIV testing; and other patient education and referrals.

I hate to even bring this up, but if this could in any way lead to abortions being provided in schools that would cause a nuclear war between parents and schools.  No matter what your views on abortion might be, I would tend to think the school would be the last place anything like that should happen.  For that matter, the various “screenings” allowed under Title X could lead to serious contention as well.  For the “5 performance measures for the basis of evaluation”, based on federal guidance I imagine, does that mean every single school-based health center would be required to perform these five measures?  Chlamydia testing can be done by urine samples for both males and females, but sometimes they are performed for females as vaginal swabs.  I would hope that isn’t the method being proposed in this contract.  With all seriousness, I do know chlamydia is a very serious sexually transmitted disease and among the most common.  I don’t know if school-based health centers currently screen or test for chlamydia.  If anyone has information on this, please let me know.  I reached out to a few people who were shocked this would be included in this.

Once again, my biggest concerns with all this surround student data.  This goes way beyond my concerns with existing student data.  Parents should seek answers for this.  I know I will be!  Please read the entire RFP, seen below.  I need to know your thoughts on this.  This is very big and I don’t feel Delaware citizens are even aware of this going on without our knowledge.  The transparency on something of this scope has obviously not been present.  Please share this with everyone you know in Delaware.  Get feedback from your friends or those in the medial profession.  Is this too much?  I have seen a lot of “futurist” lingo talking about how our schools will become “community schools” in the truest sense of the word based on things like this coming to fruition.  Does the term “the whole child” include aspects that will eventually take authority away from parents when it comes to their children’s health?  How much will parents be able to opt out of these programs?

Exceptional Delaware Endorses Scott Gesty For Congress

There comes a time when you have to decide, and for Delaware’s Representative in Congress, there is only one choice: Scott Gesty!

I’ve gone back and forth on this one for weeks now.  But the only candidate I can endorse for Congress is Scott Gesty.  Scott is a Libertarian.  But don’t let the party fool you.  To me, the political party is just a cover for any candidate.  It’s who they are and what they believe that truly matters.  Folks will say I’m a one-issue voter.  To some extent, that is true.  But my answer to that is if you can’t get education right for kids, how can you really get the rest right?  I could list the reasons why I’m not endorsing the other candidates, but I’ve covered those reasons to one extent or another in various posts.  But this is what I like about Scott Gesty.

He is against the corporate education reform movement in not only Delaware, but America as well.  He does not support high-stakes standardized tests and Common Core.  He supports a parent’s right to opt their child out of those tests and he was not happy Governor Markell “thumbed his nose at parents”.  He said these words succinctly and clearly at the education debate in Wilmington a couple of weeks ago.  Gesty thinks the federal Department of Education needs to disappear and education decisions are best left at the local level.  He doesn’t like the fact that districts and states have to “jump through hoops” to get grant money.

In the economy, he is deeply troubled that we are trillions of dollars in debt as a nation.  He does not see free tuition as truly free, and he knows this would only put us in debt more as a country if we pursued this.  He sees education as a money-making enterprise and doesn’t see this as a good thing.  He understands that when companies start jumping into education, the prices go up but the quality goes down.

On the one issue brought up in the forum that I did not agree with Gesty on was the topic of giving teachers training with guns to protect a school until law enforcement arrives in the event of a crisis.  But that wasn’t a deal-breaker for me.  Even if Gesty supports this, there is no way it would happen.  But I agree with him on all his other education stances.  He believes in our local teachers to make the best decisions for Delaware kids.  He has seen how federal intervention at alarming levels in the past decade has taken away the ability for teachers to do what they are supposed to do: teach.

A growing concern with a number of parents in Delaware revolve around issues with student data privacy.  I believe Gesty would be the best representative in Washington D.C. to tackle this issue on behalf of Delaware.  And with what is coming down the pike, we will definitely need a voice of reason not beholden to special interests.

He recognizes the role charter schools play with discrimination in our state and feels that is a federal topic he could address in Congress.  But with other matters with charters, those should be dealt with at the state and local level.

But the biggest issue I have with all government is the two-party system.  Obviously, running as a 3rd party candidate, Gesty does as well.  But he sees how much damage this has done to our country.  How the system has brainwashed the masses into thinking you can only vote for one or the other.  It is manipulation at the highest levels, and I don’t trust the vested interests of many in both parties.  I do support some, but the majority appear to have their face in the public but their hands are always in their wallet.  I believe it is very dangerous for any American to swear absolute fealty to any one party.  I support issues, not the party.

As Gesty says on his campaign website:

In a decade or even less, the United States could suffer a very serious financial crisis. What happens when people’s individual incomes lose the ability to purchase basic goods and services? What happens when the government can no longer print money with any value and the people refuse to accept more tax increases? History suggests that not only does the government move in and take over large segments of the economy, but also that the Republic as we know it becomes a hollow shell. Real examples of this process abound, from the ancient Roman Republic to Weimar Germany.

If we intend to avoid that calamity, we need real change now. We cannot keep re-electing the career politicians who promise us that we can have lower taxes, more spending, and larger wars without consequence. We have to put American citizens into office who will tackle these problems if we want our children to avoid growing up in a Republic lost to the will of special interests and an ever expanding government.

Please vote Scott Gesty for Congress on November 8th!  We need to get out of the status quo that is destroying our state.  When I heard all the candidates at that forum, Gesty was the only one who talked at levels that didn’t sound like his answers were rehearsed.  He spoke from the heart.  I’m not saying the other candidates didn’t, but there was never any doubt in my mind about any of the answers Gesty gave.  I couldn’t say the same for the other candidates.  Even if I disagree with him on that one issue, it was how he truly felt.  We need more honesty like that in government.  I know Delaware is a very blue state, but I believe that has been to our detriment in many areas.   If we truly want any chance of getting out of the corruption and fraud our country is buried in, we have to start thinking outside of the box.

Many folks may be surprised at my choice, but I encourage all of you to find out why I made my choice and look into Scott.

What’s So Bad About Educational Technology? Beware The Poverty Pimps!

Ed Tech.  It is everywhere.  Like the Vikings of yesteryear, it is invading every classroom in America.  It is pillaging the public education village.  For the Vikings, this was their way.  It was all they knew.  But for the Poverty Pimps, the companies who profit from students with the justification of fixing education for poor kids, it is disturbing on many levels.  If this technology is used in moderation and for the sole benefit of increasing the ability for students to learn, that would be one thing.  But companies are making billions of dollars off of our kids.  Even worse, the privacy of our children’s information is suspect at best.  One mom from Pennsylvania, Alison McDowell, has looked into all of this and she has found out a lot about what is going on with this aspect of the Ed Tech Boom.

A Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Evaluating Digital Learning Programs

With the school year beginning, questions about digital learning programs and computerized behavior management programs have started to pop up in my feed. Is X program ok? How about Y? Concerned parents are scanning privacy policies and trying to figure it all out. What does this mean for MY child?

As someone who took a symbolic stand and opted her child out of Google Apps for Education last year (and she didn’t seem to come out any the worse for wear for it BTW), I’d like to share my current thinking on this topic. I am not a Luddite, but I am concerned that rather than being taught to use and control technology, many children (especially children in turn-around or transformation schools) are increasingly being put into the position of being used BY technology to further the interests of for-profit cyber instruction and workforce development. I’m sharing my thoughts in the hope of opening up a discussion and to see where other folks are in this brave new world.

For me the bottom line is this: Does the technology under consideration empower students to be the creators of the content? Is the power with THEM?

If the answer is “yes,” then it shouldn’t depend on tracking personalized data to function properly. Sure kids should be able to work on a project, save it, and go back to it, but online monitors shouldn’t be tracking all their data. Students own the work they do. It is their intellectual property. It should remain accessible and editable by them for the purposes of what the child and the teacher are doing in the CLASSROOM-that’s it. Storing student learning with PII (personally identifiable information) in the cloud for some unspecified future purpose concerns me.

Fortunately for our family, the above scenario is the norm at my daughter’s school. Mostly they use GAFE for open-ended word processing and there is a geometry program that allows students to render shapes. But THEY are doing the creating. The work is being done in THEIR brains. They are not consuming pre-determined content and having their micro-data tracked and aggregated.

If the sole purpose of the technology under consideration is to distribute content from an online learning management system based on prior data that a program has gleaned from a student interacting with the program, that is NOT an empowering educational experience.

Others may feel differently, but right now that is my framework for looking at this issue. That, and the fact that technology should not supplant funds for human teachers and there should be age-appropriate screen time limits during the school day.

What we need is more educational sovereignty and less educational surveillance.

In Delaware, personalized learning is pushed heavily by the Rodel Foundation with support from the Delaware business community.  Rodel, a non-profit company, has been pimping personalized learning and competency-based education for years.  I have extreme issues with the CEO of a non-profit being the highest paid education person in the state, with a reported earning of $343,000 as of 2014.  That is a lot more money than the highest paid state employee in education, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick, who earned $217,000 as of last year.  Every state has similar “foundations” doing the same thing.

Delaware teachers are at a crossroads.  Do they embrace this technology knowing it could eventually lead to the end of their career as they know it, or do they resist it and fade into obscurity as districts and charter schools feel they aren’t supporting education?  The problem is the power  structure.  The teachers who are embracing this technology are regarded as education heroes in the press.  They are considered the “trailblazers” who will lead our children to “college and career readiness”.  They get the rewards and the accolades while teachers in high-poverty schools, who work just as hard without proper funding and resources in bloated classrooms, get labeled and shamed over the state assessment scores.

For parents, their rights to protect their child’s personal information have slowly been dismantled through federal regulations involving FERPA.  Outside contractors with state and local education agencies have certain allowances which allow them to see personal information.  The laws surrounding this are very vague and unclear.  On the surface, they look great.  But the loopholes embedded in these laws are the true tale.  For parents, opt out is no longer about the state assessment.  It is also about education technology.  But how does a parent opt their child out of entire curriculums that use computers and hand-held devices?  It’s not like schools can say “that’s fine, we will give your child a textbook.”

As the world slowly begins to embrace Blockchain technology, modeled after Bitcoin, serious questions are being asked about how this could transform the education landscape.  And what it means for our children.  Make no mistake, the initiatives and “ideas” are already in play and have been for years.  Blockchain is the end of the agendas.  It is the Rubicon of the plans that began in the early 1990s.  While these “futurists” didn’t foresee the exact mechanism of what is now Blockchain, they knew education would become a master and apprentice society, with earn to learn programs replacing the traditional classroom.  Common Core and the high-stakes testing were a means to this end.  We are hearing more and more talk about career pathways and early education.  The role of corporations in these areas is too large to ignore.  We are knee-deep in Education Incorporated, but we are about to be swallowed whole.

Last March, I created a Parent Bill of Rights for Education.  It began as a response to the Center for American Progress’ Testing Bill of Rights.  I found their platform to be insulting to the students, parents, and teachers of America.  Since then, things have changed.  I landed in Facebook jail when I posted this to the same groups I show my articles to.  With no explanation whatsoever from Facebook.  The idea took on a life of its own.  But I need your help.  Please look at it.  Come up with ideas on how to improve it.  Let’s make this a real thing and present it to Congress next year.  We must be able to exert parental control over what is best for our children before that control is stripped from us forever.  To this end, I have created a Parent Bill of Rights for Public Education group.  It will be a private group.  It will be by invitation only, which some may see as hypocritical on my end given my  rants about transparency.  But we don’t want the corporations getting their hooks into this.  This will be created by parents, for their children.  Not for profit or power and gain.  This is for our kids.  Because we love them better than any company ever will.

 

The High-Stakes Testing Scam Revealed At Last

What if I told you the high-stakes testing American children have been going through is a complete and utter scam? Many would say they already knew that, but would they be able to tell you how they knew this? Probably not. At least not at the levels our state Department of Educations developed with the many testing companies such as American Institutes for Research, Pearson, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

The Delaware Department of Education put out a Request for Proposal for our new Social Studies State Assessment. The actual RFP is a treasure trove of testing information. For starters, the Delaware Department of Education is flat-out lying in their RFP. Last year, the Delaware DOE put out their “Delaware School Success Framework”. This is essentially Delaware’s report card for schools. Included in this horrible accountability testing machine are participation rate penalties for schools that go under 95% participation rate on the state assessments. The Delaware DOE and State Board of Education tried passing an updated version of Delaware’s regulation regarding school accountability, but many parents and education organizations balked and successfully blocked the State Board of Education from passing it. As a result, even though the Delaware State Board of Education eventually passed the Delaware School Success Framework, there is no regulatory power behind it. But that didn’t stop the Delaware DOE from making it look like it is perfectly legal in their RFP for the new Social Studies state assessment.

One of the first things the DOE calls for from a potential vendor for this test is understanding of and the ability to put the Rasch Scoring Methodology into the test. What is this Rasch the Delaware DOE has? It is an all-consuming itch to trip up kids and schools and parents. This is part of the underbelly of state testing that no one talks about. The website appropriately titled Rasch-Analysis.com explains the Rasch Scoring Methodology as this:

What is a Rasch Analysis? The Rasch model, where the total score summarizes completely a person’s standing on a variable, arises from a more fundamental requirement: that the comparison of two people is independent of which items may be used within the set of items assessing the same variable. Thus the Rasch model is taken as a criterion for the structure of the responses, rather than a mere statistical description of the responses. For example, the comparison of the performance of two students’ work marked by different graders should be independent of the graders.

In this case it is considered that the researcher is deliberately developing items that are valid for the purpose and that meet the Rasch requirements of invariance of comparisons.

Analyzing data according to the Rasch model, that is, conducting a Rasch analysis, gives a range of details for checking whether or not adding the scores is justified in the data. This is called the test of fit between the data and the model. If the invariance of responses across different groups of people does not hold, then taking the total score to characterize a person is not justified. Of course, data never fit the model perfectly, and it is important to consider the fit of data to the model with respect to the uses to be made of the total scores. If the data do fit the model adequately for the purpose, then the Rasch analysis also linearises the total score, which is bounded by 0 and the maximum score on the items, into measurements. The linearised value is the location of the person on the unidimensional continuum – the value is called a parameter in the model and there can be only one number in a unidimensional framework. This parameter can then be used in analysis of variance and regression more readily than the raw total score which has floor and ceiling effects.

Many assessments in these disciplines involve a well defined group of people responding to a set of items for assessment. Generally, the responses to the items are scored 0, 1 (for two ordered categories); or 0, 1, 2 (for three ordered categories); or 0, 1,2, 3 (for four ordered categories) and so on, to indicate increasing levels of a response on some variable such as health status or academic achievement. These responses are then added across items to give each person a total score. This total score summarise the responses to all the items, and a person with a higher total score than another one is deemed to show more of the variable assessed. Summing the scores of the items to give a single score for a person implies that the items are intended to measure a single variable, often referred to as a unidimensional variable.

The Rasch model is the only item response theory (IRT) model in which the total score across items characterizes a person totally. It is also the simplest of such models having the minimum of parameters for the person (just one), and just one parameter corresponding to each category of an item. This item parameter is generically referred to as a threshold. There is just one in the case of a dichotomous item, two in the case of three ordered categories, and so on.

Now this has a lot of lingo I didn’t quite get.  But the important part about understanding the Rasch Methodology of Scoring is that ALL items must be the same.  This is NOT what is going on currently.  With Smarter Balanced, PARCC and other state assessments, the testing companies have developed what is called a Partial Matrix of Items.  What this means is that a portion of the state assessment is the same for everyone.  But the remaining portion comes from a bucket of different test items submitted for these tests.  In partial matrix testing theory, the similar content shared by all could be anywhere from 20-30% of the items on the test.  The rest varies based on what is in the bucket.  What this means is this shocking find: students aren’t taking the exact same state assessment.  For Smarter Balanced test-takers, the tests aren’t the same.  The same for PARCC as well.

The truly frightening part about this is the probabilities with Partial Matrix.  If a student is a high achiever, the probability they will get a correct answer is above a probability of .5 on each item’s scale.  If they aren’t a high achiever and struggle, the probability drops below .5 on the scale.  So these tests are designed so roughly half get it right and half get them wrong.  But if kids aren’t taking the same exact test, where all the items after the “common” items change, that throws the whole model into whack.  The testing companies know this.  Our state DOEs know this.  The US DOE knows this.  Chances are many corporate education reform companies, politicians, and even some school Superintendents know this.  Any testing coordinator in a school district or charter school should know this.

This is also why opt out throws the whole scheme into disarray.  If too many “smart kids” opt out, it will change that whole .5 probability.  If too many struggling kids opt out, the test scores will be very high.  The testing companies love this model because it furthers the whole standardized testing environment which gives them lots of money.  With this model, schools fail and schools succeed.  It really is based on the socio-economic demographics of any given school.  This explains why the 95% participation rate is the desired outcome.  With a school of 1000 kids, 950 kids taking the test isn’t going to skew the results too much.  But once you get below that level, that .5 probability begins to shift in either direction.  None of these testing advocates care if the kids are proficient or not.  They already know, for the most part, exactly how it is going to turn out.  That’s when the real work and potential manipulation can occur.

In Delaware, students don’t take the Smarter Balanced Assessment at the same time.  There is a three month testing window.  Some schools begin in the first week of March whereas others may not start until May.  How do we know, with 100% certainty, companies like our testing vendor, American Institutes for Research aren’t looking at that data constantly?  How do we know they aren’t able to ascertain which questions have a higher or lower probability of being answered correctly once students start taking the test?  How do we know the testing gurus at our state DOEs aren’t in constant contact with the testing companies and are able to determine ahead of time which testing items in the “non-common” partial matrix to send to different schools, or even certain grades?

For example, say a state really wants to have a particular school show phenomenal “growth” in proficiency scores from one year to the next.  This could be a charter school.  While the overall proficiency rate isn’t phenomenal, the growth could be.  As a result, more students could be wowed by this school and might be more apt to send their children there.  It could flip around another way.  Say a state DOE really is  just sick of a particular district and wants more charters in that area.  The best way to make more charters is to show more failing traditional schools.  Even some charters could be expendable.  Another one might want to expand their enrollment and has more influence and pull than other ones.  With current accountability regulations (and more to come under ESSA), this allows states to continue labeling and shaming certain schools.  The reality is these assessments can be molded into any shape a state might want if they are able to interact with the testing vendor and determine which items go to which school.  This is a worst-case scenario for an already bad test to begin with.

While state DOEs brag about the computer-adaptability of these tests and how it will “work with the student”, this is the most egregious part of the whole modern-day standardized testing scheme.  By having this “adaptability”, it disguises the true intent: different items on the tests for different students.  Even if students talk about particular items on the test, the adaptability prevents them from having the same items on the test.  It is an ingenious scheme.

For teachers, some could be guided towards certain directions by the state DOEs for where to go with curriculum.  Others could be guided in the wrong direction which will ultimately change the results of these assessments.  It is the grandest illusion of them all.  The state DOEs will say “we have advisory committees.  Teachers pick the items for the test.”  I’m sure they do.  And I’m also sure there are plants on those committees.  Ones that wind up working with certain state foundations, state DOEs, or other corporate education reform companies.  It sounds so shady, doesn’t it?  How much of a soul has to be sold to make more money or climb up the corporate education ladder?

While all of this may have your head reeling, try this on for size: what happens when competency-based education becomes the next “thing”?  When digital personalized learning becomes the norm and all these state assessments become broken down into mini-standardized tests?  Instead of those 7-10 days when students are hogging up all the bandwidth in the school and teachers most likely lose a lot of hair, the tests will be shorter.  They will become end of unit assessments.  Teachers won’t even need to worry about administering their own end of unit assessment because Smarter Balanced and PARCC already did all the work!  How convenient.  Not only did our states reduce testing time, but also teacher’s time and effort.  A true cause for celebration.  And parents won’t even be able to opt their kids out of these tests because most of them most likely won’t even know their kid is testing and their classroom grades will be based off their digital personalized learning work and their competency-based education high-stakes mini-test.  We know Delaware is leaning towards this testing model because Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky mentioned this during our last Assessment Inventory Committee meeting back in May.

Meanwhile, back at the state DOE, they are getting all this data.  They are getting it from their vendors like American Institutes for Research, or Questar, or Pearson.  Other companies want to see it so they can work on a report about how to fix our schools.  Our state DOEs actually pay them to do these reports.  Through contracts and extensions of contracts.  Yes, only the student identifier code goes out.  These testing companies really don’t care about who the student is, just what they can extrapolate from the data.  But then that information comes back to the state.  The state knows who that student identifier belongs to.  For example, Student ID # belongs to John Johns at Delaware Elementary School.  Based on the information from all that data, they can easily paint a picture of that student.  Based on the scores, how long it took them to take the test, how they answered responsive questions… all of this allows them to track.  So much so they can determine, based on other algorithms and matrices, exactly what career path John Johns is heading towards.  Perhaps we should guide him towards that culinary program.  Or maybe Bio-technology pathways.  Or maybe poor John Johns won’t ever advance past a welder position.  FERPA guidelines allow state DOEs to actually do this.

Want to know who always loses in these testing games?  Students with disabilities.  They may receive accommodations but they never get the one accommodation they need the most.  For regular classroom tests, IEP teams frequently agree on a student not taking every single test question.  Maybe 1//2 or 3/4 of the questions.  Standardized tests don’t allow for that.  The answer is always the same: they will get more time.  What they fail to understand is what “more time” means to these students.  It means more time focusing on the same task: Taking a test.  What are their regular peers doing when these kids are getting “more time”?  They are learning.  Receiving instruction.  Getting ahead.  Students with disabilities are, yet again, put in a position where they will become further behind.

We all knew our kids were guinea pigs for these tests.  We just didn’t know how much.  The time to opt out of these tests, no matter what the circumstances might be, is now.  Not later, not tomorrow.  Now.  Today is your opt out day for your child.

Below is the RFP for Delaware’s Social Studies state assessment.  I’ve gone through this and highlighted key wording and troubling aspects which I will write more about tonight or tomorrow.  Don’t be fooled by the DOE’s statements of assurance in this.  I have no doubt their legal team went through it very carefully.  But I’m fairly certain they didn’t expect a citizen to go through it and dissect it like I did…

Student Data Privacy Presentation To Delaware P-20 Council

The Delaware P-20 Council received a presentation on student data privacy at their July 11th meeting.  You may be asking, what in the world is the P-20 Council?  Just another education council that helps to determine education policy and further cloud the issues.

The Delaware P-20 Council was established in 2003 by Governor Ruth Ann Minner’s Executive Order 47 and placed in statute in 2005. The Council is an inclusive organization designed to align Delaware’s education efforts across all grade levels. Its main goal is to establish a logical progression of learning from early childhood to post-secondary education while reducing the need for remediation. With cooperation from state leaders, higher education, school administrators, the business community, and parents, the P-20 Council will be able to open more doors for Delaware’s children and prepare them to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society who will continue to learn throughout their lives.

At this meeting, the council viewed a presentation on Student Data Privacy.  One was from Christian Wright with the Delaware Attorney General’s office and the other was from Amelia Vance with the National Association of State Boards of Education.  There are some very interesting tidbits in Vance’s presentation…

National Association of State Boards of Education Student Data Privacy Presentation

Delaware Student Data Privacy Laws

Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting

Delaware WILL get a “Needs Intervention” label for their Annual IDEA Determination from the Office of Special Educations Programs at the United States Department of Education.  The Delaware DOE knows this, but they aren’t announcing it.  My guess is they are waiting for the “formal” letter to come from the feds before they publicly release this information to the public.  Even though they were told this information at least four weeks ago.  If I were a betting man, we won’t find this out until after June 30th.  I predicted this three weeks ago when I found the letters that went out to the districts and charters.

At the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting on Tuesday night, the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE gave a presentation to the council on the Local Education Authority (LEA) portion of the annual determination.  The presentation was given by Barbara Mazza and Maria Locuniak from the DOE.  In this presentation, there were several absolute lies that are in this article, for which I caught them red-handed.  It is very alarming they would try to dupe a state council devoted to the improvement of outcomes for persons with disabilities. Continue reading

FOIA Bill Meant To Protect Delaware Passes Senate With Crucial Amendment

The Delaware Senate passed a bill dealing with the Freedom of Information Act on Wednesday but placed an amendment on the bill.  The amendment on Senate Bill 258 removes the terms “data dictionaries” and “file layouts”.  By including those terms in the potential law, it would essentially prevent parents from finding out what type of student information is going to outside companies from the Delaware Department of Education.  I wrote about this bill on May 19th in a very long article about student data privacy and technology in our schools.  I emailed the entire Senate at the same time.  As a result of my efforts, an amendment was attached to the bill removing the term “data dictionaries” and “file layouts”.

Sources informed me the state was receiving an abnormal amount of requests about the state IT infrastructure which caused much concern.  While it is not unusual to receive these requests, one source who requested anonymity stated, “It was an excessive amount of requests within a short period of time.  Red flags went up!”

By preventing parents from being able to find out this kind of information regarding student data, the bill could have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  As part of FERPA, parents do have certain rights in asking for information about what records are released about their child.  I am glad the Delaware Senate Executive Committee took this step and listened to my concern.  I’m not sure if others expressed the same concern, but if they did, thank you!  A special thank you to the sponsor of this legislation, State Senator Brian Bushweller, who immediately responded to my thoughts on the matter and took action.

Google describes data dictionaries as the following:

a set of information describing the contents, format, and structure of a database and the relationship between its elements, used to control access to and manipulation of the database.

 

Have You Signed The “Parent Bill of Rights for Education” Change.org Petition Yet? This Is Not The “Testing Bill Of Rights” From Center for American Progress

Two weeks ago, I posted the “Parent Bill of Rights for Education”.  As a result of posting this on Facebook to various education groups that promote opt out, Facebook banned me for two weeks from posting to groups or joining groups.  So I created a petition on Change.org.  Please sign it today if you haven’t already.  When you finish, please share the Change.org link or this one on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, or anywhere else you can think of.  Share it with your family and neighbors.

This was a reaction to the “Testing Bill of Rights” promoted by the Center for American Progress, an education reform company that heavily supports high-stakes testing and Common Core.  They are against opt out and hope to make more money from their education reforms.  Their petition, which they claim has 11,000 signatures in the past two weeks, does nothing to protect a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment.  Their claim that reducing testing, while getting rid of the tests that do matter, is bogus.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at some of their recent tweets:

So what is the “Parents Bill of Rights for Education”?

THE PARENTAL BILL OF RIGHTS FOR OUR CHILDREN IN EARLY EDUCATION, PRE-SCHOOL, ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

CONCERNING HIGH-STAKES STANDARDIZED ASSESSMENTS, OUR RIGHT TO OPT OUT OR REFUSE OUR CHILD OUT OF THOSE ASSESSMENTS, THE COLLECTION OF STUDENT DATA, AND OUR RIGHT TO GATHER

BE IT ENACTED BY THE PARENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Definition of parent: any biological parent, or a parent through legal adoption, or foster parent, or guardian, or court-appointed guardian, for children through the ages of birth to 18 or 21 with guardianship through the end of an IEP, whichever is later.

Whereas parents have been given the responsibility to raise a child and to help guide them to adulthood, as their primary caregiver, and

Whereas parents, through United States Supreme Court decisions and other laws, have the right to decide what is best for our children in education matters until they come to a legal age when they are able to make those decisions on their own, and

Whereas, we believe public education should be reserved for the public at large and not the corporations, be they profit or non-profit, and that decisions based on education are best made at the local level, and

Whereas, we believe any assessments given to our children should provide immediate feedback for the student, teacher, school, and parent as defined for the sole purpose of giving reasonable and interpretive analysis of academic progress for our child’s allotted grade.

Whereas, as the caretakers of our children, we demand that decisions regarding data and the collection of data are parental decisions and that we furthermore have the absolute, unconditional right and ability to consent or not consent to any sharing of said data

(1) As parents, we have the fundamental, moral, and constitutional right to make decisions on behalf of our children in regards to their education.

(a) This includes the type of school we decide they go to, whether it be in a traditional school district, public charter school, vocational school, private school, home school, or home school co-op.

(b) This includes our ability to refuse or opt our children out of standardized assessments despite accountability measures placed upon a school.

(1) Once we have submitted our letter indicating our choice to refuse or opt out our child, we shall receive no verbal or written words meant to threaten, bully, or intimidate, in an effort, whether intentional or coincidental, to coerce us into changing our minds.

(2) We expect our children to receive instruction while their peers take the state assessment that is of equal or greater value to the type of instruction they would receive prior to or after the administration of the state assessment.

(3) If our child is forced to take a test after we have already given our consent to refuse or opt out, we reserve the right to call the local police and press charges against the local education administration.

(4) If we witness parents who are bullied or intimidated, we will advocate on their behalf with their consent, if they feel they are unable to do so.

(2) We reserve the right, as dictated by United States of America Federal Law, Title 34, Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Part 99.32 (b), to request all personal identifiable information sent as data or official records to all parties indicated in the entirety of Title 34, Subtitle A, and to receive the entire list of all those who have disseminated, received, or researched said data, and to receive such record keeping as required by federal law, within the 30 day timeframe.

(a) Parents also reserve the right to have any aggregated data on our child, which could conceivably set up a pattern of identification based on our unique and individual child’s health records, social-emotional behavior, discipline, socio-economic, or any such identifiable trait or history of said traits, be banned from any education research organization, personalized learning computer system, or blending learning computer systems, standardized assessment(s), or any other form of educational environment practice or computer-based digital learning environment, whether it is through algorithms already built into a system or any other form of data collection that does not include the legal definition of personal identifiable information, at our request.

(1) This would also include any State Longitudinal Data System, or any Federal system, up to and including the Federal Learning Registry, a joint system shared by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Defense.

(2) Parents have the right to reject any “competency-based education” decisions for our children that we feel are not based on reasonable, valued, well-researched, or statistically-normed guidelines or analysis.

(3) Parents may freely reject any form of data collection, data-mining, or data sharing that would lead to our child having a pre-determined pathway to a career based on any such data unless we give consent for said behavior, before the actual data collection, data-mining, or data sharing by any education agency or institution, and as such, we reject and forbid any trajectory-based decisions for our child unless we have given complicit consent.

(3) For any education decisions regarding our children that we, as parents, feel is not safe, or is inadequate, or is unhealthy for our children, we hereby reserve the right to be able to give public comment to any governing body, without incident or refusal, based on compliance with existing, applicable, and reasonable rules of public meeting conduct, based on our First Amendment Rights.

(4) As parents, we reserve the right to gather, discuss, and give advice to other parents or concerned citizens, in any public meeting or gathering place or social gathering place, whether it is physical or on the internet, without censorship, removal, or banishment, based on existing, applicable, and reasonable rules of conduct set forth by the host of the public meeting place or social gathering place.

(5) Parents have the right to lobby elected officials or local school board officials or state board of education officials, regarding pending, suggested, or passed legislation or regulation, that parents deem harmful to their child or children in general, without cause or incident, based on existing, applicable, and reasonable law.

(a) We expect our elected officials, based on their availability, to make every concerted effort to personally respond to our request(s) and to not send a generic form letter, but rather to constructively engage with parents to the same effort they would with any official registered lobbyist who is paid to do so.

(6) As parents, we reject the ability of corporations to “invest” or “hedge” in education with financial predictors of success, including social impact bonds, or any other type of investments where financial institutions or corporations would gain financial benefit or loss based on student outcomes, as we believe a child’s education should be based on the unique and individual talents and abilities of each child, not as a collective group or whole.

(7) As parents, we believe our child’s teacher(s) are the front line for their education, and therefore, have the most immediate ability and responsibility to guide our children towards academic success, and therefore, should have the most say in their instruction.

(a) Therefore, we believe no state assessment can give a clear picture of a teacher’s ability to instruct a student or group thereof, and therefore, we reject any evaluation methods for teachers based on high-stakes standardized testing.

(b) Therefore, we believe a teacher’s best efforts should remain at the local level, in the classroom, and not to conform to a state assessment or to guide instruction towards proficiency on a state assessment, but rather on the material and instruction present before the students based on the material and instruction they have learned before.

(8) We reject any basis of accountability or framework system meant to falsely label or demean any teacher, administrator, school staff, or school, based on students outcomes as it pertains to state or national standardized assessments.

(9) As parents, we are the primary stakeholders for our child’s education, and therefore demand representation on any group, committee, task force, commission, or any such gathering of stakeholders to determine educational decisions for children, be it at a local, state, or national level.

(a) We demand equal or greater representation on any such group as that allotted to outside corporations.