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As readers of this blog know, Leonie Haimson is an intrepid activist. Apparently, she neither slumbers nor sleeps (if there is in fact a difference between slumbering and sleeping) when the rights of parents or children are abused.
In this multi-part series, Leonie tells the story of her quest to gain access to New York State Education Department emails and the various entities involved in the authorization of inBloom. That initiative involved public officials, the Gates Foundation, and many others. Its goal was to release personally identifiable information about students without their parent’s consent. The data would be stored in a “cloud” created by Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation (run by Joel Klein), with no guarantees that the data could not be hacked.

 

In the first entry, Leonie tells how she and allies filed Freedom of Information Law requests (FOIL), in an effort to obtain the emails among the parties that collaborated to bring inBloom to New York. The requests were delayed again and again. One man stood in the way: State Commissioner of Education John King, now the Acting Secretary of Education. On the day after King’s resignation, a large batch of the FOILed emails were released.

 

In the second entry, Leonie reviews the emails from 2011, when inBloom was in the formative stage.

 

She begins:

 

When my FOIL was finally responded to I received hundreds and hundreds of pages with printed out emails to and from NYSED and the Gates Foundation mostly; offering all-expense trips for various meetings about teacher evaluation, data collection, and other issues, as well as a pile of contracts and agreements. It took weeks just to sort them and start to look through them. Sadly there were no emails from Merryl Tisch’s account, as I had asked for; and no emails from most of the state officials whose communications we had FOILed. But we did find out some juicy details….

 

Her third entry reviews the highlights of 2012. You might think you were in an episode of Downton Abbey, as you observe the rich and powerful planning how to gather and use the data of New York’s children, without their parents’ permission.

 

She writes:

 

NYSED’s emails to the Gates Foundation about inBloom and Wireless Generation from 2012 are below; highlights include a dinner party at Merryl Tisch’s home, to which Commissioner King invites an array of corporate reform leaders — to the dismay of Joe Scantlebury of the Gates Foundation. Also amusing is their account when I crashed a Gates-sponsored ” SLC Learning Camp” designed to lure software developers into designing products to take advantage of the wealth of personal student data to be gathered and shared by inBloom.

 

Her fourth entry details the controversy roiling inBloom and its final death throes.

 

She introduces this last entry:

 

This post, the final one with excerpts from the emails I FOILed from NYSED, documents the rise and fall of inBloom; through their communications to officials at the Gates Foundation and assorted consultants and allied organizations. inBloom was formally launched as a separate corporation in Feb. 2013 and died in April 2014, after little more than one year of existence. These fourteen months were marked by myriad public relations and political disasters, as the Gates Foundation’s plans for data collection and disclosure experienced national exposure for the first time and fierce parent opposition in the eight inBloom states and districts outside NY.

 

Once parents in the rest of the country learned through blogs and news articles of the Foundation’s plans to upload onto a data cloud and facilitate the sharing of their children’s most sensitive personal information with for-profit vendors, their protests grew ever more intense, and inBloom’s proponents were powerless to convince them that the benefits outweighed the risks. Though the Gates Foundation had hired a phalanx of communications and PR advisers, they were never able to come up with a convincing rationale for inBloom’s existence, or one that would justify this “data store”, as they called it, that cost them more than $100 million dollars to create.

 

The Foundation started the 2013 with a plan to promote inBloom through the media and at the large SXSWedu conference, and to expand the number of inBloom “partners” beyond the original nine states and districts that they said were already committed; instead they watched as every one of these nine states and districts withdrew or claimed they had never planned to share data with inBloom in the first place.

 

The ending is not surprising: The project failed, but everyone involved got promoted.

Leonie Haimson, parent activist who fights for smaller class size and student privacy, has strong reservations about Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s decision to devote a considerable share of their vast fortune to “personalized learning.” She wonders whether he is making a mistake that has even larger consequences than the $100 million he squandered in Newark, led along by Mayor (now Senator) Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie.

 

Haimson points out that some leading corporations in the technology industry have been data mining students and invading their privacy. That’s bad enough. But a recent OECD study concluded that the students who use computers the most in the classroom have the lowest scores, even when demography is taken into account. Zuckerberg has already funded a chain of for-profit private schools that rely heavily on computer instruction. But the history of such schools is unimpressive.

 

This is not a research-based approach to improving education, she writes. Some studies show that computer-based instruction actually widens achievement gaps.

 

The truth is there are NO good studies that show that online or blended instruction helps kids learn, and the whole notion of “personalized” learning is a misnomer, as what it usually signifies is depersonalized machine-based learning. All software can do is ask a series of multiple choice questions and then wait for the right or the wrong answer. It cannot read an essay or give feedback on how to improve an argument, or help extricate a child from a knotty math problem. It cannot encourage students to confront all the various angles in a controversy, as happens through debate and discussion with teachers and classmates. In fact, learning through computers reduces contextualization and conceptualization to stale pre-determined ideas, the opposite of the creative and critical thinking that we are supposed to be aiming for in the 21st century.

 

One thing is sure: Zuckerberg’s initiative will be good for the industry. Not so clear that it will be good for students.

 

 

 

 

 

Leonie Haimson is a fearless advocate for students, parents, and public schools. She runs a small but mighty organization called Class Size Matters (I am one of its six board members), she led the fight for student privacy that killed inBloom (the Gates’ data mining agency), and she is a board member of the Network for Public Education. None of these are paid positions. Passion beats profits.

 

In this post on the New York City parent blog, she takes a close look at a new report that lauds the Bloomberg policy of closing public schools as a “reform” strategy. The report was prepared by the Research Alliance at New York University, which was launched with the full cooperation of the by the New York City Department of Education during the Bloomberg years (Joel Klein was a member of its board when it started).

 

Haimson takes strong exception to the report’s central finding–that closing schools is good for students–and she cites a study conducted by the New School for Social Research that reached a different conclusion. (All links are in the post.)

 

Furthermore, she follows the money–who paid for the study: Gates and Ford, then Carnegie. Gates, of course, put many millions into the small schools strategy, and Carnegie employs the leader of the small schools strategy.

 

Haimson writes:

 

“The Research Alliance was founded with $3 million in Gates Foundation funds and is maintained with Carnegie Corporation funding, which help pay for this report. These two foundations promoted and helped subsidize the closing of large schools and their replacement with small schools; although the Gates Foundation has now renounced the efficacy of this policy. Michele Cahill, for many years the Vice President of the Carnegie Corporation, led this effort when she worked at DOE.

 

“The Research Alliance has also been staffed with an abundance of former DOE employees from the Bloomberg era. In the acknowledgements, the author of this new study, Jim Kemple, effusively thanks one such individual, Saskia Levy Thompson:

 

[He wrote:] ‘The author is especially grateful for the innumerable discussions with Saskia Levy Thompson about the broader context of high school reform in New York City over the past decade. Saskia’s extraordinary insights were drawn from her more than 15 years of work with the City’s schools as a practitioner at the Urban Assembly, a Research Fellow at MDRC, a Deputy Chancellor at the Department of Education and Deputy Director for the Research Alliance.’

 

Levy Thompson was Executive Director of the Urban Assembly, which supplied many of the small schools that replaced the large schools, leading to better outcomes according to this report — though one of these schools, the Urban Assembly for Civic Engagement, is now on the Renewal list.

 

After she left Urban Assembly, Levy Thompson joined MDRC as a “Research Fellow,” despite the fact that her LinkedIn profile indicates no relevant academic background or research skills. At MRDC, she “helped lead a study on the effectiveness of NYC’s small high schools,” confirming the efficacy of some of the very schools that she helped start. Here is the first of the controversial MRDC studies she co-authored in 2010, funded by the Gates Foundation, that unsurprisingly found improved outcomes at the small schools. Here is my critique of the follow-up MRDC report.

 

“In 2010, Levy Thompson left MRDC to head the DOE Portfolio Planning office, tasked with creating more small schools and finding space for them within existing buildings, which required that the large schools contract or better yet, close.

 

“And where is she now? Starting Oct. 5, Saskia Levy Thompson now runs the Carnegie Corporation’s Program for “New Designs for Schools and Systems,” under LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, another former DOE Deputy Chancellor from the Bloomberg era Here is the press release from Carnegie’s President, Vartan Gregorian:

 

“‘We are delighted that Saskia, who has played an important role in reforming America’s largest school system, is now joining the outstanding leader of Carnegie Corporation’s Education Program, LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, in overseeing our many investments in U.S. urban education.'”

 

Concludes Haimson:

 

“How cozy! In this way, a revolving door ensures that the very same DOE officials who helped close these schools continue to control the narrative, enabling them to fund — and even staff — the organizations that produce the reports that retroactively justify and help them perpetuate their policies.”

 

 

Leonie Haimson is chief executive of Class Size Matters and Privacy Matters. She is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for reducing class sizes, especially for the neediest children.

In this article, she reviews the recent scandal in New York City about “credit recovery,” a quick and easy way to hand out high school diplomas. It is “graduate rate inflation,” a practice launched under Mayor Bloomberg but sustained by the de Blasio administration.

The de Blasio administration is trying to help struggling schools instead of closing them, as the Bloomberg administration did. Here are Haimson’s proposals:

According to the Independent Budget Office, all the Renewal schools have much larger numbers of English language learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and students in temporary housing, as well as more black and Hispanic students than the system as a whole.

What the students in these schools desperately need is intensive tutoring and small classes to make significant improvements, not a new cadre of inexperienced teachers or administrators breathing down their necks. And yet more than 60 percent of the Renewal schools still have many classes with 30 students or more, according to DOE data.

When Rudy Crew was chancellor, he drew the lowest-performing schools in the city into a new program called the Chancellor’s District, and capped class size in all of their classes at no more than twenty students. This worked effectively to raise achievement. Yet not a single elementary or K–8 school on the Renewal list had capped class sizes at 20 students in grades K-3 last year, as most experts would recommend. These were also the goals that the state demanded the DOE achieve citywide in its class size reduction plan in these grades, as part of the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 2007.

Only eight middle or 6-12 schools out of 43 Renewal schools last year had capped class sizes at 23 students in grades 6-8, and only one renewal high school out of 31 had capped class sizes at 25 – the goals for those grades in the city’s original class size reduction plan. More than half of the high schools had at least some classes with 35 to 44 students – which mean they violated union contract levels.

The real scandal is that hundreds of thousands of New York City high school students, including those at schools that have allegedly engaged in credit manipulation, like Richmond Hill, Flushing, and Automotive, continue to struggle in large classes of 34 or more.

Rudy Crew had a vision of what high-poverty students need to succeed; but right now, there is no comparable vision on the part of this administration. If we are talking about accountability for schools and teachers, we must also address the accountability of those in charge of running our schools, and here the mayor and the chancellor have unaccountably failed.

Leonie Haimson, writing on the NYC Parents Blog, wonders whether the New York state tests contain questions as embarrassing as the infamous “Pineapple and the Hare” story, which caused a great national controversy in 2012. Haimson broke the story, and it was covered by almost every national media outlet.

Stay tuned. When Pearson asks a third-grade question about a reading passage that even the author can’t answer, there is a problem. Ya think?

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters, writes here about the Every Child Achieves Act and the distortions that are filling her email box these days. Haimson is also a member of the board of the Network for Public Education and a fearless supporter of public education.

She writes:

Over the last few days, I have been flooded with blog posts, Facebook comments, memes and tweets, claiming that the bi-partisan bill to be debated this week in the Senate, called ECAA, or Every Child Achieves Act, must be opposed, because it “locks in” Common Core and many of the worst, test-based accountability policies of Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education.

Yet this is far from the truth. For nearly 13 years, students have suffered under the high-stakes testing regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). NCLB was likely the dumbest law ever passed by Congress, because it required that all public school children in the United States reach “proficiency” by 2014 as measured by test scores, or else their schools would be deemed failing.

The inanity of NCLB was exacerbated by Race to the Top and other policies pursued by Arne Duncan that put testing on steroids. These policies treated our children as data points, reduced our schools to test prep factories, and attempted to convince parents that their education must be handed over to testing companies, charter operators, and ed tech corporations. This disastrous trend resulted in huge parent protests and hundreds of thousands of students opting out of state exams last spring.

The current Senate bill is admittedly far from perfect. It still requires annual standardized tests in grades 3-8, as did NCLB. It would allot far too many federal dollars and too little accountability to charter schools, while encouraging merit pay for teachers – all policies likely to lead to wasted taxpayer funds that would be better spent on programs proven to work, such as class size reduction. It would do nothing to protect student data privacy, while allowing the continued disclosure of sensitive personal information to vendors and other third parties without parental knowledge or consent. Hopefully this critical issue will be addressed separately by Congress, by improving one or more of the many student privacy bills introduced during the past few months.

Yet ECAA still represents a critical step forward, because it places an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in the decision-making of states and districts as to how to judge schools, evaluate teachers or implement standards. In particular, it expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Duncan has done with the Common Core, through his Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.

It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else. The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement – now based simplistically on test scores, no matter what the challenges faced by these schools or the inappropriateness of the measure. Finally, the bill would prevent the feds from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, as Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.

It is true that many states have already drunk the Common Core/testing Koolaid, led by Governors and legislators influenced by the deep pockets of corporate reformers or tempted by RTTT funds. ECAA also still requires annual testing, which the Tester amendment would replace with grade-span testing, as many organizations including FairTest and Network for Public Education have strongly urged. (Full disclosure: I’m on NPE’s board.) The bill has a provision aimed at alleviating over-testing, by requiring that states audit the number of standardized exams and eliminate duplication, though it’s not clear how effective this requirement will be.

But with or without the Tester amendment, ECAA would release the stranglehold that the federal government currently has on our schools, and would allow each of us to work for more sane and positive policies in our respective states and districts. For this reason alone, it deserves the support of every parent and teacher who cares about finally moving towards a more humane, and evidence-based set of practices in our public schools.  

Leonie Haimson is a national treasure. She founded a group called Class Size Matters, which advocates for reduced class size. She is an unpaid worker for kids in Néw York and across the nation. She is also an expert on data-mining and student privacy. Through her research and testimony, she informed parents in seven states about the $100 million committed by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation to create inBloom, a vast data mining plan. Once exposed, arents protested, state after state withdrew and inBloom collapsed.

Here is a public letter from a parent to Leonie Haimson:

The California parent wrote:

Leonie Haimson’s Opt Out Message Rang Out Loud and Clear on the West Coast

—What a small but mighty group can do—

—RestorePVEducation —

We had the privilege of hearing Leonie Haimson speak on April 12th in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Leonie spoke to the privacy issues, data mining and high stakes testing.

Parents heard loud and clear.

Today it was confirmed that 200 students out of a class of 464 Opted Out at Palos Verdes High School’s 11th grade class. Only approximately 40% are taking the SBAC.

Palos Verdes High School has a 98% rate of students going on to college.
We are already ‘College Ready’.

If Smarter Balanced thinks that CA parents have already been dumbed-down, think again.

Parents and community are waking up to the Smarter Balanced profiteering scenario and they don’t like what they are finding out.

Parents here questioned “Where is the Smarter Balanced Privacy Policy?” only to find out from Leonie that there is none. Absolutely no Privacy Policy to be found. How reassuring

Parents are questioning why Smarter Balanced has ‘locked out’ the public, school boards, administrators, parents and community from any information regarding the Smarter Balanced Executive Committee, its’ elections, decisions, agendas, minutes, etc.

There is no way to access the SB website for any of this type of information since September 1, 2014.

Yet Smarter Balanced is dictating policy decisions, lessons and testing to 17 states who have paid them with public funds.

Any decisions made by Smarter Balanced are done in secret, while Smarter Balanced functions on public funds.

Housed along with the CRESST center on the UCLA campus, parents fear, and rightly so, that the Hewlitt Foundation CRESST center is accessing our children’s data.

Why? And who else gets to see and use it?

Third party vendors are having a field day with our CA children’s data. We get the Big Data, Big Money Scheme. We don’t want that here.

While our local Palos Verdes Peninsula School District has been pouring funds to meet the unfunded mandates for technology, parents have stormed the Board room questioning why their children are in huge classes or combo classes.

Teachers have only seen a 2% raise over an 8 year period. There is no money for anything but technology to take the SBAC tests.

When asked parents will tell you that 1 teacher is worth a million computers to their child. We don’t need more tech to teach children–we need more teachers.

By 2012, 77 Palos Verdes teachers had lost their jobs, and have not been replaced.

What has come in instead is more computers and software.

Parents get it and will not stand for it any longer.

Thanks Leonie Haimson for bringing your message to CA. We are starting our chapter of Parents Across America.

Watch out Smarter Balanced–here we come!

Leonie Haimson includes in this post a summary of the latest Quinnipiac poll about public reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education proposals. The long and short of it is that they are so unpopular that they have dragged down his overall rating.

 

28% approve his proposals while 63% reject them.

 

The Quinnipiac poll shows that Cuomo has dropped to his lowest rating ever–50%, and the poll connects his declining popularity to his ferocious attacks on public schools and teachers. He doesn’t seem to understand that most people like both and can’t understand why the Governor wants to destroy them. They have a low opinion of all his plans to “improve” them by raising the stakes on testing. This should be a warning to other politicians who think they can attack public education without arousing public antagonism. Most Americans–say, 90%–went to public school and presumably have good memories of their teachers and schools. Why would the governor or any other politician want to send public money to private and religious schools?

Leonie Haimson is fed up with the line that the mainstream media has taken about education controversies. Reporters usually think that every protest is organized by the unions, defending their self-interest, and they are warring with high-minded reformers. She says this is balderdash! (Sorry, Leonie, my word, not yours.)   If parents hold a protest against high-stakes testing and against test-based teacher evaluations (which causes more time to be devoted to testing), most reporters will say the union made them do it, the union doesn’t want to be held accountable.   Well, guess what? The unions are not leading the Opt Out movement. Many teachers support it, because they know how pointless the new tests are, but the great majority of people leading the movement are parents. They don’t want their children to be pressured by fear of the Big Standardized Test, they don’t want them to be ranked and labeled, they don’t want them to hate school because of the endless test prep.   Leonie was especially irked by a recent story in the New York Times about the two forces trying to win Hillary Clinton’s allegiance: on one hand, the teachers’ unions; on the other, the Wall Street tycoons who might finance her campaign. One has the votes, the other has the money. In the middle of the story, the reporter Maggie Haberman inexplicably refers to the hedge fund managers’ group Democrats for Education Reform as “left of center.” These are the Wall Street billionaires and mere multimillionaires who are pushing the privatization and high-stakes testing agenda; they dearly love charter schools and look on public schools with disdain as places that one must escape from. What you would expect from people who mainly went to Exeter, Deerfield Academy, Groton, and other tony private schools. Left of center? Hardly. Corporate style reformers? Yes.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is a leading advocate for student privacy rights. She explains how Pearson is actually encouraging the growth of the Opt Out movement (unintentionally, of course) by monitoring students’ social media. Even though tweets and Facebook postings are public, it is kind of creepy to know that a big corporation is reading your child’s comments.

Add this to the flap over the silly story of “The Pineapple and the Hare,” known as #pineapplegate, and parents have ample reason to doubt the value of standardized tests to rank and rate their child.

Add to that the ubiquitous data mining that is embedded in the online testing, and parents should truly be alarmed.

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