Search results for: "Leonie"

Leonie Haimson can always be counted on to look beneath the surface of the news. In this post, she describes a forum that will be held tomorrow in New York City, where the Center for American Progress will unveil its latest attempt to persuade New Yorkers that standardized tests and the Common Core are swell. CAP is Gates-funded, of course, and so are most of the other participants in the forum. No opt out representatives were invited to participate. So the forum will not learn why 250,000 children did not take the state tests this past spring. And we learn too that New York City will soon have its very own outpost of Education Trust, the Gates-funded advocacy group for standards and testing. If you open the blog, you will get to see a short pro-Common Core video that was ridiculed by many for its condescension towards parents and quickly withdrawn.

The afternoon session of the day’s event features a discussion of technology, and one of the participants comes from a company that contracts with the Department of Education and has been at the center of various scandals.

Leonie writes:

Emerging Trends in Education: City and State moderates a panel of officials, experts and academics on improving tech access in and out of classrooms, STEM learning in NY schools, and how to make NY more competitive across the globe! The session will connect educators, administrators, and other staff to new ideas, best practices, and each other.

The panel includes Josh Wallack of DOE, CM Danny Dromm, chair of the NYC Council Education Committee, a dean from Berkeley College, and two corporate reps, one of them named Vlada Lotkina, Co-founder and CEO of a company called Class Tag, which has a particularly awful privacy policy. The other member of the panel is Cynthia Getz, descried as the NYC Account Team Senior Manager at Custom Computer Specialists.

Custom Computer Specialists is infamous for having participated in a multi-million dollar kick-back scheme with a DOE consultant named Ross Lanham, who was indicted by Preet Bharara in 2011 and sent to jail in 2012. CCS had not only gotten inflated payments through the scheme, but the President, Greg Galdi (who is still the CEO) had started a Long Island real estate company with Lanham called “G & R Scuttlehole.”

In February 2015, I noted in the PEP contract listing that CCS was due to get a huge $1.1 billion contract from DOE for internet wiring Reporters for the Daily News , NYPost and Chalkbeat wrote about this egregious deal, and overnight the DOE cut back the contract to $635 million, without changing any of the terms, showing how egregiously inflated it was in the first place. The Panel for Education Policy rubber-stamped it anyway. Later, City Hall decided to reject the contract, probably because of all the bad publicity, and it was rebid at a savings of between $125M and $627M – the latter compared to the original contract price of $1.1 billion.

I think the cancellation of the CCS contract actually saved the city up to $727 million, because if the DOE had signed up with CCS, they would have lost any chance to get $100 million in E-rate reimbursement funds from the feds, since the FCC had cut NYC off from all E-rate funds because of the Lanham scandal since 2011.

Subsequently, we discovered that DOE signed a consent decree with the FCC on December 31, 2015 in which the city was ordered to pay $3 million in fines, and relinquish claims to all E-rate funding requests between 2011-2013, which were frozen after the Lanham indictment in June 2011. The DOE also had to withdraw claims to any E-rate funding from 2002-2010. Juan Gonzalez speculated that this meant the potential loss of $123 million, based on a letter sent to the DOE by the Comptroller office in 2014.

Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, is a major figure in New York City education circles.

She wrote this post about the reporting of the state test scores. First, the public learned that the test scores were up. Next, those who bothered to read Commissioner Elia’s statement that accompanied the release learned that this year’s scores were not comparable to previous years’ scores. But then they saw Commissioner Elia and the media celebrating the test score gains that were not comparable to previous years.

What you will learn from her post is that there is almost always a political slant in reporting scores, especially these days, when so many politicians want to claim credit for rising scores. If officials want the scores to look good, they will magnify gains. Or they can change the passing mark to create artificial gains. Or they can convert raw scores to higher scores. When they first get started, they want the scores as low as possible so they can claim gains afterwards.

Leonie provides the historical context that was absent from reporting on this year’s scores. We have seen this play before. We saw the scores go up and up and up from 2002-2009. Then an independent team of researchers studied the tests and the state acknowledged score inflation. And the scores came crashing down. But not until after Mayor Bloomberg was safely re-elected to a third term, based in large part on the historic improvement in test scores (that disappeared in 2010).

It is time to admit that the scores are malleable. What do they represent? One thing for sure is that the kids with the advantages are always at the top, and the kids without the advantages are always at the bottom. No matter how often we test, no matter what the test, the results are unchanged year after year.

Maybe it is time to step back from the incessant testing and to focus instead on interventions that might change the life chances for children and the educational outcomes as well.

Leonie Haimsom, founder of Class Size Matters and board member of the Network for Public Education and New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), warns that the test scores released by New York are not to be trusted. She argues that “we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation- including cut score manipulation.”

She offers evidence for her assertions.

State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia released the scores and advised readers not to compare the Scores of 2016 to earlier years, then immediately made the very comparisons she cautioned against. Chancellor Farina celebrated the astonishing growth in the city’s ELA scores.

But Haimson takes a close look and concludes that state officials are manipulating the data. She reminds readers that state scores went up at a dizzying pace from 2002-2009, leading Mayor Bloomberg to boast about a New York City “miracle.” But in 2010, after an independent investigation, the state admitted that the tests had become easier, the passing mark had been lowered, and the dramatic gains had been a hoax. Once the scores were corrected, the gains of the Bloomberg-Klein era disappeared.

Something similar is happening now, write Haimson.

“There are four ways to artificially boost results on exams:

1. Make the tests shorter

2. Allow more time to take them

3. Make the questions easier

4. Change the cut scores and/or translation from raw scores to performance levels.

“It appears that the state made at least three out of the four changes listed above. We won’t know if the questions were harder or easier until the state releases the P-values and provides other technical details.”

These are serious charges. It is now the responsibility of Comissioner Elia, the Board of Regents, and the State Education Department to demonstrate the validity and integrity of the tests.

Leonie Haimson, parent activist, worked with a group of other concerned critics to review the explosion of computer-massessment, in particular, the scoring of writing.


“On April 5, 2016, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Network for Public Education, FairTest and many state and local parent groups sent a letter to the Education Commissioners in the states using the federally funded Common Core tests known as PARCC and SBAC, asking about the scoring of these exams.


“We asked them the following questions:


“What percentage of the ELA exams in our state are being scored by machines this year, and how many of these exams will then be re-scored by a human being?


“What happens if the machine score varies significantly from the score given by the human being?
“Will parents have the opportunity to learn whether their children’s ELA exam was scored by a human being or a machine?
“Will you provide the “proof of concept” or efficacy studies promised months ago by Pearson in the case of PARCC, and AIR in the case of SBAC, and cited in the contracts as attesting to the validity and reliability of the machine-scoring method being used?
“Will you provide any independent research that provides evidence of the reliability of this method, and preferably studies published in peer-reviewed journals?

“Our concerns had been prompted by seeing the standard contracts that Pearson and AIR had signed with states. The standard PARCC contract indicates that this year, Pearson would score two-thirds of the students’ writing responses by computers, with only 10 percent of these rechecked by a human being. In 2017, the contract said, all of PARCC writing samples were to be scored by machine with only 10 percent rechecked by hand.”


Haimson refers to research that demonstrates that computers can’t recognize meaning or narrative, although they admire sentence complexity and grammar.


This,she writes, means that computers will give high scores to incoherent but windy prose.


“The inability of machine scoring to distinguish between nonsense and coherence may lead to a debasement of instruction, with teachers and test prep companies engaged in training students on how to game the system by writing verbose and pretentious prose that will receive high scores from the machines. In sum, machine scoring will encourage students to become poor writers and communicators.”


Only five state commissioners responded after a month. They learned that the state commissioner of Rhode Island, Ken Wagner, testified that machine scoring was more valid and reliable than trained and expert humans.


Haimson concludes, quoting Pearson’s literature:


“Essentially, the point of this grandiose project imposed upon our nation’s schools is to eliminate the human element in education as much as possible.”


Read this well-documented article. It is up to parents to stop this headlong rush to the dehumanizing of education.


Leonie Haimson is the watchdog of New York City public education. She is the founder of Class Size Matters (I am a member of her six-person board), which operates on a shoestring. She is unpaid, yet she is tireless in her determination to police the awarding of contracts, as well as the administration’s attention to class size. She also is deeply involved in protecting student privacy. She and Rachel Strickland in Colorado brought down Bill Gates’ effort to data-mine American students, a project called inBloom, to which he contributed $100 million. In the face of parent criticism, inBloom folded.


Leonie reads every contract that the New York City Department approves. She did the same during the Bloomberg years, when she was also the mayor’s most persistent critic.


Here is her scathing report on the failure of the administration to perform due diligence before it awards contracts, in this case, for special education services, for Amazon, and for new technology. Once again, as under Bloomberg, the city’s Panel on Educational Policy (actually know in the law as the New York City Board of Education) mutely acquiesces and approves whatever the administration asks for, without debate or discussion.


This is a good reason to oppose mayoral control, state control, and any other undermining of democracy.

Opponents of corporate reform has high hopes when Bill de Blasio was elected, but their hopes are rapidly dimming. The de Blasio administration tried to slow down (not stop) the growth of Success Academy, and ran into a billionaire buzz saw. The hedge funders spent millions on a scurrilous TV campaign, falsely claiming that de Blasio administration was snuffing out the dreams of poor children of color (who had not yet been selected to enroll in the charters that might not open). The reality was that Eva Moskowitz’s chain was pushing a program for children with profound disabilities out of their dedicated space to make way for a new charter. Andrew Cuomo received big donations from the charter industry, and Eva won everything she wanted in the legislature, including free rent and the right to expand as much as she wanted. Since then, de Blasio has capitulated abjectly to the charter crowd.


Here is Leonie Haimson’s report on the latest meeting of the city’s board of education, now called the Panel on Education Policy, which is controlled by the Mayor.


Please be sure to watch the video at the end, made by the students of Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts. The students are protesting the co-location of a charter in their school. The charter will take away the third floor of their building, which is their performance rooms.

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters is a watchdog who scrutinizes every contract that is about to be adopted by the New York City Department of Education. Last year, she stopped a contract from being approved for nearly $700 million, because the vendors had previously cheated the city. This is one she couldn’t stop.

Leonie writes:


Huge Amazon contract as well as others going to sleazy special ed vendors won unanimous approval last night without a single comment or question from PEP members; wow do I miss Patrick Sullivan on the PEP!

Though the article says it may save the DOE money, there is no mention of the huge outlay moving to digital content will require for the purchase of tablets, laptops and e-readers, with all the risk that involves.

Nor was there any discussion last night or in the article of the risk to student privacy or the substantial research showing kids comprehend and retain less when reading from screens than physical books.

The contract will also steer kids and families from buying their own books for independent reading books through Amazon, as each student will have an individual Amazon account set up, which will likely expand Amazon’s dominance of the marketplace even more, a dominance that the company has used ruthlessly in the face of protests from authors and publishing houses.

Just one among many of the breathtaking moments from last night’s PEP.


Amazon Wins $30 Million Contract to Sell E-Books to New York City Schools

Panel at nation’s largest district votes in favor of three-year agreement




Greg Bensinger Inc. won a deal worth about $30 million to provide e-books to New York City, the nation’s largest school district.

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy voted Wednesday in favor of the three-year contract for the Department of Education, which will take effect in the coming school year. They will have the option to extend it for an additional two years, which would be worth an estimated additional $34.5 million.
With the vote, Amazon won the right to sell digital textbooks and other content, though not hardware like Kindles, to New York schools through an internal marketplace site. The school district has about 1.1 million pupils in more than 1,800 schools.
An Amazon spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York education department expects to buy about $4.3 million of content from Amazon in the first year of the contract, $8.6 million in the second year and $17.2 million in the third, which the Seattle retailer earning a commission of between 10% and 15%.

The deal is a boost to Amazon as it seeks to establish itself as a player in education. Many technology firms have set their sights on the classroom, viewing it as ripe for modernization and an effective way to establish their brands with potentially lifelong buyers at a young age.

For New York, there may be savings in buying more digital books, as well as the prospect of saving storage space for printed texts. The education department said e-books purchased from Amazon through its marketplace site will be readable on a variety of devices include e-readers, tablets, smartphones and laptops.

Amazon has dipped its toes into education before, including buying startup TenMarks Education, which helps teachers create math curricula. And earlier this year, it rolled out a public-relations campaign focused on changing children’s attitudes toward math.

The company has agreements to operate co-branded websites selling textbooks and other merchandise to a handful of colleges including University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Purdue University, where it is installing package pickup centers.
Write to Greg Bensinger at
Leonie Haimson



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Class Size Matters


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In 2012, Leonie Haimson was first to report the ludicrous “Pineapple and the Hare” story that embarrassed Pearson and New York State. She learned about it on her blog, the NYC Parents Blog, where teachers, principals, and students described the problems they encountered.


Once again, Leonie (a member of the board of the Network for Public Education) is first to bring the first-hand reports about the flaws in the ELA exams.



Here are some of them:
“These included overly long, dense and grade-inappropriate reading passages with numerous typos, abstruse vocabulary and confusing questions; many of which teachers themselves said they couldn’t discern the right answers. On the third grade exam, for example, an excerpt from a book called “Eating the plate” was actually fifth grade level and sixth to eighth grade interest level. There were many reading passages with Lexile levels two or three grades above the grades of students being asked to comprehend and respond to these texts.


“In 6th grade there was a poem from the 17th century that the teachers in our building read in COLLEGE. 11th grade level.”


On the eighth grade exam, one reading passage featured obscure words like “crag” and “fastnesses”. As one teacher wrote, “What are fastnesses?…I asked eight of my fellow colleagues to define this word. 1 of 8 knew the answer. Unless you are a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capacity of an average 8th grader? And our ESL students?”


I even asked my husband, a professor in the Geosciences department; he didn’t know what “fastnesses” meant either.



There were several passages that included commercial product placements as in years past, this time featuring the helmet manufacturer Riddell, Skittles candy, Stonyfield yogurt, and Doritos. (Riddell is being sued by a thousand NFL players for deceptive claims that their helmets protected against concussions.)…
Two new problems emerged. One was the omission from many of the test booklets of blank pages that were supposed to be used by students to plan their essays, or the titles of the pages were left out. Instructions to deal with these problems came from the state only after many children were in the midst of writing their essays or after they had completed the exams. In these cases, teachers pointed out, this represented an unfair disadvantage to their students, who were forced to either use the limited space at the front of the booklet to plan their essays or didn’t plan them at all.


But perhaps the most heartbreaking was an unforeseen but brutal consequence of the untimed nature of these exams, the major innovation made by Commissioner Elia that was supposed to reduce the stress levels of kids. Instead, many students labored for many hours, taking three to five hours per day to complete them, and sometimes more.


Here’s one comment from Facebook:


“This afternoon I saw one of my former students still working on her ELA test at 2:45 PM. Her face was pained and she looked exhausted. She had worked on her test until dismissal time for the first two days of testing as well. 18 hours. She’s 9.”


This is a travesty; no child should be subjected to such a punishing regime. It also appears to violate the NY law passed in 2014 that limits state testing time to one percent of total instructional time.



In any case, it appears that the parents who chose to opt their children out of the exams were wise to have done so. All in all, the number of opt outs seem to have held steady from last year’s 240,000, or even perhaps increased, with even higher rates of test refusals in Rockland County, NYC, and Long Island, which surpassed its record rates last year, with more than 97,000 students opting out, or about 50% of eligible kids compared to about 47% last year.

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.






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