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Saturday, November 30, 2013

The argument against the Common Core

Not my views, but a more reasonable critique then those from the fringe.



Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors

A recent book described the "Reign of Errors" we have lived through in the name of education reform. I am afraid that the Common Core continues many of these errors, and makes some new ones as well.
The Business Roundtable announced last month that its #1 priority is the full adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is likewise making a full-court press to advance the Common Core. Major corporations have taken out full-page ads to insist that the Common Core must be adopted. Many leading figures in the Republican party, like Jeb Bush, have led the charge for Common Core, as have entrepreneurs like Joel Klein. And the project has become a centerpiece for President Obama's Department of Education.
Yet in New York, the first large state to implement the tests associated with the new standards, students, parents and principals are expressing grave concerns about the realities of the Common Core. Common Core proponents like Arne Duncan have been quick to ridicule critics as misinformed ideologues or delusional paranoiacs. Defenders of the Common Core like Duncan and Commissioner John King in New York insist that only members of the Tea Party oppose the Common Core. In spite of this, the opposition is growing, and as more states begin to follow New York's lead, resistance is sure to grow.
With this essay, I want to draw together the central concerns I have about the project. I am not reflexively against any and all standards. Appropriate standards, tied to subject matter, allow flexibility to educators. Teachers ought to be able to tailor their instruction the needs of their students. Loose standards allow educators to work together, to share strategies and curriculum, and to build common assessments for authentic learning. Such standards are necessary and valuable; they set goals and aspirations and create a common framework so that students do not encounter the same materials in different grades. They are not punitive, nor are they tethered to expectations that yield failure for anyone unable to meet them.
The Common Core website has a section devoted to debunking "myths" about the Common Core - but many of these supposed myths are quite true. I invite anyone to provide factual evidence that disproves any of the information that follows. (And for the sake of transparency, I ask anyone who disputes this evidence to disclose any payments they or their organization has received for promoting or implementing the Common Core.)
Here are ten major errors being made by the Common Core project, and why I believe it will do more harm than good.
Error #1: The process by which the Common Core standards were developed and adopted was undemocratic.
At the state level in the past, the process to develop standards has been a public one, led by committees of educators and content experts, who shared their drafts, invited reviews by teachers, and encouraged teachers to try out the new standards with real children in real classrooms, considered the feedback, made alterations where necessary, and held public hearings before final adoption.
The Common Core had a very different origin. When I first learned of the process to write new national standards underway in 2009, it was a challenge to figure out who was doing the writing. I eventually learned that a "confidential" process was under way, involving 27 people on two Work Groups, including a significant number from the testing industry. Here are the affiliations of those 27: ACT (6), the College Board (6), Achieve Inc. (8), Student Achievement Partners (2), America's Choice (2). Only three participants were outside of these five organizations. ONLY ONE classroom teacher WAS involved - on the committee to review the math standards.
This committee was expanded the next year, and additional educators were added to the process. But the process to write the standards remained secret, with few opportunities for input from parents, students and educators. No experts in language acquisition or special education were involved, and no effort was made to see how the standards worked in practice, or whether they were realistic and attainable.
David Coleman is credited publicly as being the "architect" of the process. He, presumably, had a large role in writing the English Language Arts standards; Jason Zimba of Bennington College was the lead author for the math standards. Interestingly, David Coleman and Jason Zimba were also members of Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst original board of directors.
The organizations leading the creation of the Common Core invited public comments on them. We were told that 10,000 comments were submitted, but they were never made public. The summary of public feedback quotes only 24 of the responses, so we are left only with the Common Core sponsors' interpretation of the rest.
The process for adopting the Common Core was remarkably speedy and expedient. Once the standards were finalized and copyrighted, all that was required for states to adopt them were two signatures: the governor and the state superintendent of education. Two individuals made this decision in state after state, largely without public hearings or input. Robert Scott, former state Commissioner of Education in Texas, said that he was asked to approve the standards before there was even a final draft.
The Common Core process could not have been directly paid for by the federal Department of Education, which is prevented by law from enacting or promoting national standards. So Bill Gates footed the bill. The Gates Foundation has, so far, paid $191 million to develop and promote the Common Core. Of that sum, $33 million was earmarked for the development of the Common Core. The remaining $158 million was spent on myriad organizations to buy their active support for the standards - with $19 million awarded just in the past month. Many of the voices in the public arena, including teacher unions, the national PTA, journalistic operations like John Merrow's Learning Matters, and the National Catholic Educational Association, have received grants for such work.
Although specifically prohibited from interfering in the curriculum or instruction in the nation's classrooms, the federal Department of Education has used threats and bribes to coerce states to adopt Common Core. Indeed, the active role of the U.S. Department of Education in supporting, advocating for, and defending the Common Core may be illegal, as may the Department's award of $350 million to develop tests for the Common Core. The Department might reasonably argue that it was appropriate to encourage the development of "better" tests, but in this case the tests were specifically intended to support only one set of standards: the Common Core.
Public Law 103-33, General Education Provisions Act, sec 432, reads as follows:
No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, [or] administration...of any educational institution...or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials...
In spite of this prohibition, Race to the Top gave major points to states that adopted "college and career ready standards" such as Common Core.
Here is what the Memorandum of Understanding that state officers were asked to sign said about federal support:
...the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards.
When the Department of Education announced Race to the Top there was a complex application process with a short timeline. The Gates Foundation created a process where their staff would assist states in applying for RttT grants. In order to receive this help, state leaders had to fill out a qualifying questionnaire. The first question on the qualifying criteria questionnaire is, "Has your state signed the MOA regarding the Common Core Standards currently being developed by NGA/CCSSO? [Answer must be "yes"]"
Thus, the Gates Foundation worked within the Race to the Top process to apply additional pressure on states to sign on to the Common Core.
Coming at a time when state education budgets were under great pressure, these inducements were significant in overcoming any hesitations on the part of most governors. The pressure continues, as NCLB waivers depend on the adoption of "college and career ready standards," which are most readily provided by the Common Core.
It is also worth noting that alongside the adoption of Common Core standards, both Race to the Top and NCLB waivers being issued by the Department of Education require states to include test scores in the evaluations of teachers and principals. This is a package deal.
Error #2: The Common Core Standards violate what we know about how children develop and grow.
One of the problems with the blinkered development process described above is that no experts on early childhood were included in the drafting or internal review of the Common Core.
In response to the Common Core, more than 500 experts signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative. This statement now seems prophetic in light of what is happening in classrooms. The key concerns they raised were:
1. Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math.
2. They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing
3. Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning.
4. There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success.
Many states are now developing standards and tests for children in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, to "prepare" them for the Common Core. Early childhood education experts agree that this is developmentally inappropriate. Young children do not need to be subjected to standardized tests. Just recently, the parents of a k-2 school refused to allow their children to be tested. They were right to do so.
Error #3: The Common Core is inspired by a vision market-driven innovation enabled by standardization of curriculum, tests, and ultimately, our children themselves.
There are two goals here that are intertwined. The first is to create a system where learning outcomes are measurable, and students and their teachers can be efficiently compared and ranked on a statewide and national basis. The second is to use standardization to create a national market for curriculum and tests. The two go together, because the collection of data allows the market to function by providing measurable outcomes. Bill Gates has not spoken too much recently about the Common Core, but in 2009, he was very clear about the project's goals.
He said,
...identifying common standards is just the starting point. We'll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards. Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests - "Next Generation assessments," aligned to the Common Core. When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well. And it will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn, and every teacher get better.
This sentiment was shared by the Department of Education, as was made clear when Arne Duncan's Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, wrote this in 2011:
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.
In the market-driven system enabled by the Common Core, the "best products" will be those which yield the highest test scores. As Gates said: "The standards will tell the teachers what their students are supposed to learn, and the data will tell them whether they're learning it."
Thus, the overriding goal of the Common Core and the associated tests seems to be to create a national marketplace for products. As an educator, I find this objectionable. The central idea is that innovation and creative change in education will only come from entrepreneurs selling technologically based "learning systems." In my 24 years in high poverty schools in Oakland, the most inspiring and effective innovations were generated by teachers collaborating with one another, motivated not by the desire to get wealthy, but by their dedication to their students.
Error #4: The Common Core creates a rigid set of performance expectations for every grade level, and results in tightly controlled instructional timelines and curriculum.
At the heart of the Common Core is standardization. Every student, without exception, is expected to reach the same benchmarks at every grade level. Early childhood educators know better than this. Children develop at different rates, and we do far more harm than good when we begin labeling them "behind" at an early age.
The Common Core also emphasizes measurement of every aspect of learning, leading to absurdities such as the ranking of the "complexity" of novels according to an arcane index called the Lexile score. This number is derived from an algorithm that looks at sentence length and vocabulary. Publishers submit works of literature to be scored, and we discover that Mr. Popper's Penguins is more "rigorous" than Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Cue the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to moan that teachers are not assigning books of sufficient difficulty, as the Common Core mandates.
This sort of ranking ignores the real complexities within literature, and is emblematic of the reductionist thinking at work when everything must be turned into a number. To be fair, the Common Core English Language Arts standards suggest that qualitative indicators of complexity be used along with quantitative ones. However in these systems, the quantitative measures often seem to trump the qualitative.
Carol Burris recently shared a first grade Pearson math test that is aligned to the Common Core standards for that grade level.
Would (or should) a 6 year old understand the question, "Which is a related subtraction sentence?" My nephew's wife, who teaches Calculus, was stumped by that one.
Keep in mind that many New York State first graders are still 5 years old at the beginning of October, when this test was given.
You can review the first grade module for yourself, and imagine any five or six year olds you might know grappling with this.
The most alarming thing is the explanation Burris offers for how these standards were defined:
If you read Commissioner John King's Powerpoint slide 18, which can be found here, you see that the Common Core standards were "backmapped" from a description of 12th grade college-ready skills. There is no evidence that early childhood experts were consulted to ensure that the standards were appropriate for young learners. Every parent knows that their kids do not develop according to a "back map"--young children develop through a complex interaction of biology and experience that is unique to the child and which cannot be rushed.
Error #5: The Common Core was designed to be implemented through an expanding regime of high stakes tests, which will consume an unhealthy amount of time and money.
It is theoretically possible to separate the Common Core standards from an intensified testing regime, and leaders in California are attempting to do just that. However, as Bill Gates' remarks in 2009 indicate, the project was conceived as a vehicle to expand and rationalize tests on a national basis. The expansion is in the form of ever-more frequent benchmark and "formative" tests, as well as exams in previously untested subjects.
Most estimates of cost focus only on the tests themselves. The Smarter Balanced Common Core tests require the use of relatively new computers. Existing computers are often inadequate and cannot handle the "computer adaptive tests," or the new Common Core aligned curriculum packages. This was one of the reasons given to justify the expenditure of $1 billion of construction bonds on iPads and associated Pearson Common Core aligned curriculum software in Los Angeles. The Pioneer Institute pegs the cost of full implementation of the Common Core at $16 billion nationally - but if others follow the Los Angeles model those costs could go much higher.
The cost in terms of instructional time is even greater, so long as tests remain central to our accountability systems. Common Core comes with a greatly expanded set of tests. In New York City, a typical fifth grade student this year will spend 500 minutes (ten fifty-minute class periods) taking baseline and benchmark tests, plus another 540 minutes on the Common Core tests in the spring. Students at many schools will have to spend an additional 200 minutes on NYC Performance Assessments, being used to evaluate their teachers. Students who are English learners take a four-part ESL test on top of all of the above.
Thus testing under the Common Core in New York will consume at least two weeks worth of instructional time out of the school year. And time not spent taking tests will be dominated by preparing for tests, since everyone's evaluation is based on them.
Error #6: Proficiency rates on the new Common Core tests have been dramatically lower -- by design.
Given that we have attached all sorts of consequences to these tests, this could have disastrous consequences for students and teachers. Only 31% of students who took Common Core aligned tests in New York last spring were rated proficient. On the English Language Arts test, about 16% of African American students were proficient, 5% of students with disabilities, and 3% of English Learners. Last week, the state of North Carolina announced a similar drop in proficiency rates. Thus we have a system that, in the name of "rigor," will deepen the achievement gaps, and condemn more students and schools as failures.
Because of the "rigor," many students -- as many as 30% -- will not get a high school diploma. What will our society do with the large numbers of students who were unable to meet the Common Core Standards? Will we have a generation of hoboes and unemployables? Many of these young people might find trades and jobs that suit them, but they may never be interviewed due to their lack of a diploma. This repeats and expands on the error made with high school exit exams, which have been found to significantly increase levels of incarceration among the students who do not pass them -- while offering no real educational benefits.
It should be noted that the number of students (or schools) that we label as failures is not some scientifically determined quantity. The number is a result of where the all-important "cut score" is placed. If you want more to pass, you can lower that cut score, as was done in Florida in 2012. The process to determine cut scores in New York was likewise highly political, and officials knew before the tests were even given the outcome they wanted.
Error #7: Common Core relies on a narrow conception of the purpose of K12 education as "career and college readiness."
When one reads the official rationales for the Common Core there is little question about the utilitarian philosophy at work. Our children must be prepared to "compete in the global economy." This runs against the grain of the historic purpose of public education, which was to prepare citizens for our democracy, with the knowledge and skills to live fruitful lives and improve our society.
A group of 130 Catholic scholars recently sent a letter expressing their opposition to the Common Core. They wrote,
The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of "informational texts." This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not disguise their intention to transform "literacy" into a "critical" skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.
Error #8: The Common Core is associated with an attempt to collect more student and teacher data than ever before.
Parents are rightfully alarmed about the massive collection of their children's private data, made possible by the US department of education's decision in 2011 to loosen the regulations of FERPA , so that student data could be collected by third parties without parental consent.
There are legitimate privacy concerns, for both students and teachers, as data, once collected, can be used for all sorts of purposes. The vision that every student's performance could be tracked from preschool through their working lives may be appealing to a technocrat like Bill Gates, but it is a bit frightening to many parents.
This is one aspect of the project that is already in big trouble. The Gates Foundation invested about $100 million to create inBloom, a nonprofit organization that would build a system to store the massive amount of student data their reform project requires. However, as parent concerns over privacy have grown, seven of the nine states that had signed up to use the system have withdrawn. Only Illinois and New York remain involved, and in New York this week a lawsuit was filed to block the project.
Error #9: The Common Core is not based on any external evidence, has no research to support it, has never been tested, and worst of all, has no mechanism for correction.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by state leaders to opt in to the Common Core allows the states to change a scant 15% of the standards they use. There is no process available to revise the standards. They must be adopted as written. As William Mathis (2012) points out,
"As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself."
Error #10: The biggest problem of American education and American society is the growing number of children living in poverty. As was recently documented by the Southern Education Fund (and reported in the Washington Post) across the American South and West, a majority of our children are now living in poverty.
The Common Core does nothing to address this problem. In fact, it is diverting scarce resources and time into more tests, more technology for the purpose of testing, and into ever more test preparation.
In conclusion: Common standards, if crafted in a democratic process and carefully reviewed by teachers and tested in real classrooms, might well be a good idea. But the Common Core does not meet any of those conditions.
The Common Core has been presented as a paradigmatic shift beyond the test-and-punish policies of NCLB. However, we are seeing the mechanisms for testing, ranking, rewarding and punishing simply refined, and made even more consequential for students, teachers and schools. If we use the critical thinking the Common Core claims to promote, we see this is old wine in a new bottle, and it turned to vinegar long ago.
For all these reasons, I believe any implementation of the Common Core should be halted. The very corporations that are outsourcing good jobs are promoting the Common Core, which deflects attention from their failure to the nation's economy and their failure as good citizens. I do not believe the standards themselves are significantly better than those of most states, and thus they do not offer any real advantages. The process by which they were adopted was undemocratic, and lacking in meaningful input from expert educators. The early results we see from states that are on the leading edge provide evidence of significant damage this project is causing to students already. No Child Left Behind has failed, and we need a genuine shift in our educational paradigm, not the fake-out provided by Common Core.
The frustration evident in recent public hearings in New York is a powerful indicator of a process gone badly awry. The public was not consulted in any meaningful way on decisions to fundamentally alter the substance of teaching and learning in the vast majority of schools in our nation. This process and the content of these standards are deeply flawed, and the means by which student performance is measured continues to damage children.
This did not happen by accident. Powerful people have decided that because they have the money and influence to make things happen, they can do so. But in a democracy, the people ought to have the last word. Decisions such as this ought not be made at secret gatherings of billionaires and their employees. The education of the next generations of Americans is something we all have a stake in.
And so, fellow citizens: Speak Up, Opt Out, Teach On!
What do you think? Is it time to end the reign of Common Core errors?
Update: I have posted two responses from educators who believe there are positive aspects to the Common Core, and we should avoid throwing them out entirely, and my response, explaining how I think defeating the Common Core could open the door to a better process.
Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Post-secondary 6 Year Completion Rates


 Figure 1. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type
(Dual Enrollment Students Excluded)
Figure 1. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type (Dual Enrollment Students Excluded)

Figure 1 shows six-year outcomes, broken out by the type of institution where students started their postsecondary education. Overall, the total completion rate was the highest for students who started at four-year private nonprofit institutions (71.7 percent). Students who started at four-year public and two-year private for-profit institutions showed similar total completion rates (61.9 percent and 62.6 percent, respectively). The total completion rate was the lowest for students who started at two-year public institutions with only 37.4 percent of students obtaining a credential within six years. The same pattern was observed in Signature Report 4, although completion rates were slightly higher for the 2007 cohort for students who started at four-year public, two-year public, and two-year private nonprofit institutions.
Figure 2. Six-Year Outcomes by Enrollment Intensity
(Dual Enrollment Students Excluded)
Figure 2. Six-Year Outcomes  by Enrollment Intensity (Dual Enrollment Students Excluded)
Figure 2 shows six-year student outcomes, including first degree or certificate completion, continuing enrollment during the last year of the study period, and stop-out by enrollment intensity.
Overall, 54.2 percent of the students obtained a credential within six years, with 41.8 percent completing at their starting institution and 12.4 percent at a different institution. These results remained almost unchanged from the first completion study that used the fall 2006 cohort. In the first study, the total completion rate was 54.1 percent, with 42 percent completing at their starting institution and 12.1 percent at a different institution. Completion rates for the three enrollment intensity categories show marked differences.
Exclusively full-time students showed a total completion rate of 76.2 percent, including 10.7 percent who completed at institutions other than their starting institution. 3.5 percent of the exclusively full-time students were still enrolled at the end of the study period, leaving only 20.3 percent of this group no longer enrolled for at least a year before the end of the study period. These results are almost identical to those of the exclusively full-time students in the fall 2006 cohort.
Exclusively part-time students showed a much lower completion rate with only 21.9 percent completing degrees or certificates within six years. As we noted in the previous completion study, six years is not an adequate time frame for capturing completions of students who enroll exclusively part time. The results underscore the need to continue to follow these students over longer periods in order to obtain definitive degree outcomes. This rate is, however, slightly higher (by 1.3 percentage points) than the completion rate of the exclusively part-time students in the fall 2006 cohort.
Mixed enrollment students, a group that comprised more than half of the full cohort, had a total completion rate of 41.4 percent: 26.6 percent completed first at their starting institution and 14.8 percent completed first at a different institution. Another key finding is that the highest proportion of students still enrolled without completing a degree or a certificate by the end of the study period appeared among mixed enrollment students: one-quarter of this group (25.4 percent) were still enrolled at the end of the study period, leaving the percentage of stop-outs at 33.1 percent.
Figure 3. Six-Year Outcomes by Age at First Entry and Enrollment Intensity
(Dual Enrollment Students Excluded)
Figure 3. Six-Year Outcomes by Age at First Entry and Enrollment Intensity  (Dual Enrollment Students Excluded)
Note: Students with date of birth data missing were excluded from the above figure.
Figure 3 shows students’ six-year outcomes based on age at first entry and enrollment intensity. Not surprisingly, completion rates were the highest for exclusively full-time students regardless of age at first entry. Among exclusively full-time traditional-age students, 79.9 percent obtained a degree or certificate within six years, with 67.9 percent completing first at their starting institution and an additional 12 percent completing first at a different institution. Exclusively full-time students in the adult learners group showed lower completion rates both at their starting institution (56.8 percent) and at a different institution (4.2 percent).
It should be noted that this completion study has three age groups: 20 years old and younger, over 20 years old through age 24, and older than age 24 years. This is different from the two age groups shown in the first completion study (age 24 or younger and over age 24).
Nonetheless, a comparison is possible because:
  1. The adult learners group was defined in the same way and
  2. The group over 20 years old through age 24 at first entry (which was part of traditional-age students in the first completion study) was only 6 percent of the cohort.
Therefore, the results for traditional-age students across the two studies are still comparable.
Completion rates for adult learners in the fall 2007 cohort slightly increased across all three enrollment intensity categories, as compared with the rates for adult learners in the fall 2006 cohort. The largest increase was for exclusively part-time students in this group whose completion rate increased from 27.5 percent to 29.2 percent. The completion rates of traditional-age students slightly increased for exclusively full-time and mixed enrollment students, but remained unchanged for exclusively part-time students.


This Signature Completions Extra demonstrates that the overall completions rate for the entering 2007 cohort remained unchanged from the rates for the 2006 cohort, released in the first report in 2012. Nonetheless, there were small improvements for students who started at specific institution types, notably four-year publics and two-year publics.
The upcoming second Signature Completions Report will present many additional new findings and enable comparisons with the previous cohort. It will also inform public policymakers and the general public about six-year outcomes for the expanded cohort that includes dual enrollment students. The second completion study will also contain completion and persistence rates broken down by subgroups that were not present in the first study, including by gender and other combinations of gender, age, and enrollment intensity.


National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
  • Doug Shapiro
  • Afet Dundar
©2013 National Student Clearinghouse. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

NY Parents Sue State to Halt Children’s Data Giveaway

Epoch Times


NEW YORK—Twelve New York City parents are suing the state’s education authorities to stop them from sending students’ personal data to private contractors.
Starting this winter, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) wants to transfer all 3 million student records to a database run by inBloom, a nonprofit set up this year by a $100 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation.
“We’re saying it’s illegal,” said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit that helped the parents connect with lawyers.
The lawsuit against Commissioner John King, NYSED, and the Board of Regents was filed by Pitta & Giblin LLP company on behalf of the parents.
The lawsuit states that the Personal Privacy Protection Law forbids a government agency from sharing personal data without consent, unless a law requires it otherwise. The plaintiffs argue that the state didn’t prove that moving the data to inBloom is necessary.
The Education Department did not ask parents for consent and does not allow them to opt out of the program.
“I pray that the court heeds our concerns,” said Karen Sprowal, one of the petitioners and a mother of a fifth-grader, according to a Nov. 13 press release by Class Size Matters.
Sprowal’s son has a disability and she fears losing control over who can see the details about his condition.
“Up to now, his confidential records have been protected by his principal, the school’s nurse, and psychologist, but now the state intends to provide this highly private information to vendors,” Sprowal said.
InBloom does not own the data and does not offer any application to access the data. The Education Department is contracting other parties to provide such applications. Those contractors would have access to the data as well, but can use it only for “specific contracted educational purposes,” according to NYSED.
So far, the contractors include Public Consulting Group, ConnectEDU, eScholar, and NCS Pearson/Schoolnet.
NYSED defends inBloom saying it will save money, as all data will be in one place and program developers wouldn’t need to dig it from various local systems. The department also noted that the software is free so far, because money from the Race to the Top federal grant will pay for it until the end of 2014. Starting in 2015, the system will cost from $3 to $8 per student.
Some data already has been sent to inBloom, including parent contact information, according to the New York City Department of Education (DOE) website. Identifiable student information has not been transferred, according to Adam Gaber, an inBloom spokesman.
InBloom uses the Amazon Cloud service for data storage. The lawsuit also contends that companies like Google, Adobe, and Amazon suffered cloud data breaches in recent years, even though they had “stringent security policies in place.”
And so Karen Sprowal remains worried for her son: “Any information that is let loose on the Internet can never be retrieved, and any breach or misuse of this data could harm his prospects for life.”
No judge has been assigned to the case until the oral argument set for Dec. 6.
Both the NYSED and inBloom stated they can’t comment on pending litigation.

Arne Duncan to suburban moms

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told an audience of state superintendents this afternoon that the Education Department and other Common Core supporters didn’t fully anticipate the effect the standards would have once implemented.

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”


On November 7, the Jeffco school board in Colorado voted to end its partnership with inBloom, the non-profit overseeing a $100 million student data warehousing initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. This follows a series of contentious debates surrounding its deployment that caught the attention of the New York Times. This leaves the number of inBloom partners to districts in two states: New York (which has already uploaded data on 90% of public and charter school students) and Illinois. An inBloom spokesperson calls this "an unfortunate result of an ideological debate" over student privacy issues (especially because twelve NYC parents just filed a lawsuit against inBloom).

Federal Data and eRate Status

States ramping up student data collection back

By Stephanie Simon | 11/19/13 5:04 AM EST

Parents who pull their children out of standardized tests put the entire educational system at risk, much as parents who decline to vaccinate their children endanger public health, a leading advocate for data-driven education asserted this week.

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, said that when parents refuse to let their kids take state-mandated exams, “it is damaging to that individual child” because the teacher relies on achievement data to customize lesson plans. The collective good also suffers, she said, because when families boycott the tests, student performance data is incomplete — which makes it tough for policymakers to evaluate instructional approaches and pick the most effective one.

“The analogy is tied to the vaccine one: If you choose not to vaccinate your kid, you’re not only … possibly hurting your own kid, but in addition you may be … [putting] at risk the whole system,” she said. “I think there are grave analogies between those two situations.”

Guidera spoke during a press briefing introducing a new analysis of state data policies. The report, made public Tuesday, finds that states are forging ahead with more aggressive data collection and more robust data analysis to shape teaching and learning.

The state focus on data has been driven by a sizable federal investment in systems that can track student progress from preschool through college and into the workforce. In FY 2012 alone, the federal government distributed nearly $100 million in grants to state education agencies to develop longitudinal data systems. Other federal grant programs, collectively worth billions of dollars, also include money for data collection, storage and analysis.

“State leaders increasingly recognize that empowering parents, educators and policymakers with the right data at the right time, in the right format, better ensures our young people graduate from high school prepared,” Guidera said.

But the push to collect ever more data has also sparked a backlash.

Protests from parents fearful for their children’s privacy prompted states including Colorado and Louisiana to drop plans to store student information in the $100 million inBloom database funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Parents are now leading a forceful campaign to get New York to drop out of the inBloom project. More than two dozen school districts across New York state have demanded that their students’ data be omitted from inBloom, but the state has said it will upload it all, despite local objections.

Parents who object to the intense focus on data collection expressed outrage at Guidera’s remarks comparing test boycotts with vaccine refusals.

“On the contrary, parents who opt out are fighting to improve the system,” said Fred Smith, a New York organizer with Change the Stakes, an advocacy group that opposes high-stakes testing. “I can only see such actions as courageous.”

Guidera acknowledged that data collection stirs fear in many parents and said state officials need to work assiduously to “build trust.” A key first step, she said, is to show parents that the data collected on their students can help them — for instance, by identifying strengths and weaknesses so teachers can tailor lesson plans to suit each child’s needs.

“Data systems aren’t just collecting data for data’s sake,” she said. Rather, it’s about turning the data into “actionable information” that can be used to boost school quality, she said.

Among the findings in the report:

— Teachers in 35 states now have access to performance data for their students, often through an online dashboard that monitors each child’s progress.

— Thirty-one states use “early warning” software to identify students at risk of failing or dropping out, in some cases as early as elementary school.

— Fourteen states let parents track their children’s academic progress through online portals.

— Forty-three states link their K-12 to their early childhood data systems.

Guidera singled out Delaware and Arkansas as two states that have done the most to collect and use data effectively. She also highlighted several other states for specific advances.

Kentucky, for instance, gives each high school a “feedback report” that shows how its graduates fare when they get to college. In recent years, a smaller share of college freshmen have required remedial courses, she said — perhaps because the data showed high schools where they needed to improve their instruction.

And Oregon has trained 5,000 teachers to use data to shape their work in the classroom. Schools participating in this program have seen greater academic growth on standardized tests than other schools and have made substantial progress toward closing the achievement gap, Guidera said.

“Data,” she said, “can be a transformative tool.”back

Hope, hurdles ahead for E-Rate program back

By Caitlin Emma | 11/18/13 2:38 PM EST

At some schools even today, just the main office or computer lab has an Internet connection.

But reworking a federal Internet subsidy program could change how classrooms look, how teachers teach and how students interact.

“We have to look at this as an opportunity to reimagine and redesign learning,” said Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Education Department.

Supporters of a plan to overhaul the E-Rate program for schools and libraries — which is being fast-tracked by the FCC and promoted by President Barack Obama — want to phase out the days of the clunky computer lab and shift to putting technology directly into students' hands all day long.

The FCC’s proposal to overhaul the E-Rate program calls for almost universal access to high-speed broadband with an emphasis on widespread wireless capability. That proposal aligns closely with the ideas in Obama’s $4 billion to $6 billion ConnectED proposal, which aims to connect 99 percent of students and libraries to high-speed broadband within five years.

“Who’s going to lead the world now in this new era of education? I think we should lead,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said of her urgency to revamp the federal E-Rate program. “I think we can do something really big here.”

But the timeline is ambitious, and the effort faces challenges from some in the telecom industry, which provides money for the program, often through fees charged to consumers. Despite good intentions, the work could get bogged down by the regulatory process. And even after a rewrite, some of the poorest or most-rural schools in the country may still be without premier Internet access. Comments submitted to the FCC in recent weeks about the rewrite hint at the potential hurdles.

Rosenworcel, however, is fiercely determined: “My foot is on the gas,” she said. “We have to move in Internet time, not regulatory time.”

Before the program was created, only about 14 percent of classrooms had some kind of Internet connection. E-Rate, created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, bumped that number up to 97 percent of classrooms over time.

One of the first challenges: deciding how much Internet speed schools really need.

Many groups have embraced the bandwidth numbers endorsed by Rosenworcel, the Obama administration and the State Educational Technology Directors Association. In the short-term, supporters would like to see a minimum threshold of 100 megabits per second per 1,000 students in all schools and 1 gigabit for the same number of students in the long term.

Forty-three percent of school districts said none of their schools meet the short-term threshold, according to a survey conducted by the Consortium for School Networking and Market Data Retrieval.

But schools in rural or low-income communities don’t want to be penalized if they can’t meet bandwidth goals.

“Any attempt to adopt policies that even inadvertently favor less rural, or less impoverished, schools and libraries will have a lasting negative effect on Tribes,” the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Commission said in comments.

How to get to that bandwidth — and how to pay for it — is up for debate. The way it works now, schools and libraries apply for a cut of $2.25 billion in annual discounts for telecommunications services, Internet and internal connections. Many education groups want to at least double that amount.

The money comes from the Universal Service Fund, created to help pay for expanded access to telecommunications services in rural and low-income areas and for schools, libraries and rural health care providers. Some companies collect these funds from customers.

“The size of the program was designed for the dial-up era,” Rosenworcel said. “We need to design for the broadband era.”

To decide how big the program should be, the FCC must look at who pays into the program and how money is spent. If the funding cap is raised and customers continue paying via phone bills, some groups worry about how much more customers will have to pay.

The existing pool of money could go further if discounts were no longer allowed to be used on paging and land-line phones. Groups including the LEAD Commission, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the American Library Association support phasing out spending on these services and paying only for those directly tied to students.

The FCC also must determine how schools and libraries get the bandwidth they need. For most schools, the solution lies in fiber optic cable. Some wonder if the program should prioritize fiber, but it might be difficult to lay miles of cable to a rural school.

The notion of schools and libraries leasing “dark fiber” has generated some of the loudest buzz. Most fiber is “lit” — it’s in use. Dark fiber hasn’t been activated. Typically, providers charge schools based on the amount of bandwidth flowing over the cable. But if schools can lease dark fiber at a flat rate and operate their own networks, they could save money.

That could put them in direct competition with existing Internet service providers.

“Fiber in the ground does not a reliable broadband service make,” AT&T wrote in its public policy blog on Oct. 18. “Asking a school to become a telecom provider makes about as much sense as asking a telecom provider to open an elementary school.”

Cox Communications told the FCC it isn’t against using dark fiber, but schools and libraries should make sure that it’s truly the most cost-effective solution before using it.

Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway, noted that providers make money charging for bandwidth.

“They don’t want the government to provide capital for someone to build a fiber network and then compete with them. I’m sympathetic to that,” Marwell said. “What I’m not sympathetic to is telecom companies charging $5,000 for something that costs them $200.”

Other issues: Should the program finance wireless hotspots outside schools and libraries to help low-income students access the Internet away from school? Can the program be simplified?

Rosenworcel said she worries that E-Rate and all of its paperwork deters some of the most needy schools from applying — the very students the program targets. She and others want schools to be able to apply for E-Rate money for multiple years, apply totally online and allow bundled applications for groups of schools and districts.

FCC will consider all of this and more before proposing a new E-Rate.

Rosenworcel is E-Rate reform’s biggest champion. Before she became an FCC commissioner, she was senior communications counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee under Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), one of the architects of the program.

Two other Obama appointees are on the FCC, suggesting a plan that reflects the administration’s vision would have the FCC’s support. Chairman Tom Wheeler hasn’t made any specific comments on an overhaul plan, however, and may want the commission to come to a broad consensus before proceeding.

Interest in a revamp doesn’t only lie with Democrats, however. Republican Ajit Pai has called for a “student-centered” E-Rate. He said the program should “divvy up the money on a per-student basis and let the money follow the students when they change schools.” Education groups have challenged the idea, citing ever-changing enrollment numbers, among other reasons.

But the hurdles don’t stop at a vote. Any group can petition for reconsideration should a reform plan pass, and the exchange between the FCC and challengers could end up in court.

“This is a little bit like [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] reauthorization,” said John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now! “Everyone wants it, but the disagreement comes in on the how. The FCC has lots of difficult decisions to make.”back

Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers

by Michael Hansen
Foreword by Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
In the overwhelming majority of American classrooms, pupils are divided roughly equally among teachers of the same grade in the same school. Parceling them out uniformly is viewed as fair to teachers—and doing otherwise might be seen as unfair. Parents might wonder, too. But what if more students were assigned to the most effective teachers, leaving fewer in classrooms presided over by weaker instructors? What would be the impact of such a practice on student achievement?
That’s the intriguing question that Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers tackles. The idea is straightforward: Give the better teachers more kids and weaker teachers fewer—then see what happens. It’s a common-sense option with many supporters (including Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, sundry wonks, most parents, even teachers themselves).
Using data from North Carolina, economist Michael Hansen, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, looks at what right-sizing the classroom can mean for academic achievement. His results, in brief: As the best teachers teach larger classes and the weakest teachers progressively smaller ones, the net result is improved student learning—for all students, not just those who moved.
At the eighth-grade level
  • Assigning up to twelve more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school;
  • Three-quarters of the potential gain (from moving twelve students) can be realized by moving just six;
  • Moving a handful of students to the most effective teachers is comparable to the gains we’d see by removing the lowest 5 percent of teachers.
There are gains at the fifth-grade level, too, though not so large.

What a Weekend!
The Launch of 10 Million Ideas in Action
TEDxBeaconStreet 2013 had an exciting weekend -- the culmination of months of dreaming and planning. But for the bigger effort, Ideas In Action, it was a launch. The extraordinary three days of memories, connections, and ideas are just the raw material for the next year of conversations, innovations, and transformations.
Over 60 speakers, 2,500 attendees, 4 venues, viewing villages, 200 volunteers, 60 Adventure Catalysts (TEDx organizers from around the world), family-friendly TEDxYouth event/activities, 20 event partners, Escape Velocity Party, giving of the Ideas in Action Award to Lara Stein and the TEDx team of TED...all kicked off global impact to be measured by 10 million views.
Globally our Livestream was viewed from over 100 countries:

To inspire you to keep sharing and taking action,  
we have gifts for you!
  • Ideas in Action Adventure Toolkit - A guidebook for the Ideas In Action Adventure movement. 
  • Ideas In Action 3D logo - Send it to Shapeways to print in 3D - perfect for your desk (our Oscar)! Designed by speaker Ben Peters
  • Weekend Highlight Video of pictures from November 15-17 - view it at high definition 1080p. 
  • In the new year continue the Conversation Online. Braintrust member Philipp Schmidt and his MIT Media Lab team will host an online gathering to talk about TEDxBeaconStreet talks. Pick a talk and discuss it with eight other people (and in some cases with the original speaker) in a Google Hangout. 
  • More Fascinating New Talks - We are looking into hosting new talks in February, April, and September, in addition to our big event November 15 & 16, 2014.
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We value our community so much that we want to understand you and your feedback on TEDxBeaconStreet 2013. We would love to know more about what you thought about each of our speakers and presenters as we launch our 10 Million Views Campaign and 100 Adventures. 
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Thanks to You! TEDxBeaconStreet is special because of you. Thank you for bringing your unique perspective, talent, energy and enthusiasm to share with the rest of us. We truly appreciate it and hope you enjoyed the entire event.
Presented by Ideas In Action, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization, TEDxBeaconStreet's mission is to create a platform and community for activating ideas and learning. Just as Beacon Street connects Boston to surrounding communities and mirrors hundreds of Beacon Streets throughout New England, our focus is to bring people of all ages and socioeconomic groups together to hear fascinating speakers, discuss innovative ideas, experience captivating Adventures, and use these experiences to learn, grow, change lives, and create community impact.