Archive for May, 2013

Permanent Record Redux

May 31, 2013 Comments off

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the new reality: after years of mythologizing, the advent of the permanent record is upon us. This past week I read two items that reinforced this notion: Anthony Cody’s May 21 blog post in the Education Week and the powerpoint from I referenced in a post earlier this week. Both of them reference the change in FERPA regulations that make it possible for education institutions to sell information that was previously confidential to for-profit data warehouses like InBloom, who are free to use the data for commercial purposes. Oh… and InBloom spdcifically indicates that they “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”  If a teacher whose evaluation documents are stored in an InBloom warehouse gets indigestion, think how the parent of a student whose special needs status, free and reduced lunch qualifications, and disciplinary records are stored in this potentially leaky “cloud” warehouse. And these deals provide lots of fodder for conspiracy theorists given that InBloom funded by the Gates Foundation, uses an operating system run by former NYC superintendent Joel Klein and owned by Rupert Murdoch— a trifecta!

In dealing with student discipline we were always able to assure parents that their child’s 14 year old antics wouldn’t haunt them in the future if their behavior improved… nor would their grades in middle school be readily available… but now, all bets are off in that regard. Worse, as Anthony Cody points out, teachers’ permanent records may be undercut when Value Added Scoring is introduced. Given the convoluted methodology in use in many states, this could effectively blackball a teacher whose Value Added performance grades were based on students he or she never taught.

What was done by changes in FERPA regulations in 2011 could be undone… but the more data that gets pushed to the cloud, the more difficult it will be to pull it back… and the more the misdeeds of teenagers will haunt them into adulthood.



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Fighting for Democracy

May 31, 2013 Comments off

This morning after watching a Real News segment I accessed through Common Dreams, reading Diane Ravitch’s blog post about InBloom’s eagerness to sell previously protected personal information to “vendors”, and a City Paper article on the continuing dysfunction of Philadelphia schools, it became clear to me that there is one root cause to all of the disparate problems I have been blogging about: the loss of democracy in the governance of public schools… especially urban schools.

Locally elected school boards would never support the wholesale  privatization of public education. Local elected school boards have a sense of what their community wants from its schools. They know whether a school deemed to be “failing” based on standardized tests has taken the steps needed to improve and they know the unique challenges each school faces in meeting the needs of its students. When state legislatures and city councils passed laws that ceded the oversight of public education to mayors, democratic governance of schools disappeared and the door was opened for privatization. When state legislatures began enacting laws crafted by pro-business lobbies like ALEC, grassroots democracy took a back seat to “efficiency” and “cost-effectiveness”, and the door to privatization on a state level was opened.

At this juncture, most school boards and most parents are only experiencing the indirect effects of the privatization movement (e.g. the adoption of the Common Core assessments), and seemingly accepting the sweeping pro-ALEC legislation being adopted in many states. Most school boards and most parents think that this whole school closure thing is an urban problem that has no relationship to their local schools… but it is evident that legislators seeking to tame “runaway spending” in public education will be more than happy to change the democratic governance of “failing” schools in exchange for the lower operating costs promised by privatizers. And here’s the real bottom line: CEOs in schools operated by for-profit businesses don’t answer to the voters: they answer to shareholders. And shareholders only care about one thing: maximizing profit at all costs. 

This isn’t a fight about education issues like the common core, standardized testing, teacher rights, student privacy, or funding equity. Those are sideshows designed to distract us from the core issue: the fight over who will control the schools. Will it be voters or shareholders?

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The Sequester’s Trickle Down Cuts

May 30, 2013 Comments off

Anyone who follows the dysfunction in DC could see this one coming: the Special Ed (IDEA) funding from Washington is expected to drop by $2,000,000,000 or 20% in the coming year! How come it isn’t a smaller cut? How will that play out at the local level? First, the money flows through the States who may use some of those funds to offset local costs for residential placements and/or to pay for staff who provide technical support to districts and/or to enforce the provisions of the law. Since those costs cannot be cut because the functions are essential, districts will likely absorb all of the cuts. But wait! Special education services are mandated by law and cannot be cut… which means when special education funds are reduced they must be replaced by local funds… and that, in turn, means staff reductions… and that means the loss of programs, higher class sizes, or fewer non-mandated support services for students.

I know that there is a school of thought that closing the deficit is important to sustain the economy in the long run… but a stronger counter argument is that cutting education, while saving money and closing the deficit in the short run, will put our country further and further behind in the long run. Here’s hoping that the sequester ends before lay-offs begin.