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Friday, August 26, 2016

NYSAPE and Class Size Matters to NYSED re their accountability plan for schools: slow down! & consider our Opportunity to Learn Index

Here's a letter we just sent today to Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents about the state's proposed Accountability plan for schools, required under ESSA. 

We urge them to slow down the process to allow for more public input and also to consider including an Opportunity to Learn index in their proposed plan.

August 26, 2016

MaryEllen Elia, Commissioner of Education
NYS Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Commissioner Elia,

New York State Allies for Public Education is a coalition of more than fifty parent and educator organizations from throughout the state.  Class Size Matters is a parent advocacy group focused on reducing class size, increasing parental engagement and strengthening student privacy.  We are submitting these recommendations as part of the public comment process for the state’s accountability system that NYSED is required by Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to submit to the U.S. Department of Education.  Rather than fill out your survey with extremely constrained choices, we thought it preferable that we explain in more detail how we believe that the process of drafting the state’s plan should improve, and what we hope you will consider including in the accountability plan itself.

First of all, we strongly urge you to slow down the drafting of the state’s plan.  Most parents and teachers are not paying attention over the summer, and in order to fully engage their input, hearings and a more inclusive public comment process should occur over the fall and winter months before the State begins to draft its accountability plan.  The deadline for this Accountability proposal is not due until July 2017, therefore it would be best to take advantage of these months to hear from parents, educators and other stakeholder groups before drafting your proposal.  In addition, the final regulations are not expected to be issued by the US Department of Education until sometime in late October.  It is unwise to try to draft even your initial proposal until all concerned have had a chance to read and analyze these regulations.

Second, we believe that the state’s apparent intention to draft a system based on a particular notion of “effective schools” is excessively vague and would be impossible to objectively assess.  Factors such as “visionary instructional leaders”, “cultural responsiveness” and “engaging curricula” are all important, no doubt; but are very difficult to measure.  We are also apprehensive that other factors, including “curricula…tied to appropriate formative and summative assessments, which are aligned to State learning standards” may lead to even more testing, detracting from the learning environment.

Instead, we suggest you consider adopting a system based on “Opportunity to Learn” index, with evidence-based factors that have been tied to better learning conditions, are discrete and measurable, including but not limited to class size, suspension rates, teacher experience levels and attrition.  Many of these factors are already reported to NYSED for the purpose of completing the state report cards.  We attached a list that we believe should be included in such an index, and that parents in our networks consider essential to providing their children with a quality education.

It appears from the survey that NYSED may be contemplating adopting some sort of “Opportunity to Learn” index when they intervene in struggling schools, but it seems preferable instead to encourage schools to provide their students with the conditions for success before they slip into the struggling status.   What gets measured and reported in the state’s accountability should be those factors that help our children learn and thrive in the years to come.

Sincerely yours,

Lisa Rudley, Executive Director – New York Allies for Public Education

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director - Class Size Matters

Cc: Board of Regents

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chief Privacy Officer Finally Appointed; Parents and Advocates Await Next Steps to Protect Student Data

See the Politico article this morning about NYSED's appointment (finally) of a CPO -- more than two years past the legal deadline and our press release below. UPDATE: See also articles in Schoolbook, Chalkbeat and Staten Island Advance.

For immediate release

August 24, 2016

For more information: Leonie Haimson,, 917-435-9329

Chief Privacy Officer Finally Appointed; Parents and Advocates Await Next Steps to Protect Student Data 

The long overdue appointment announced today by the NY State Education Department of a Chief Privacy Officer, Temitope Akinyemi, is an important step forward to begin to enforce the New York student privacy law that was originally passed on March 31, 2014 as part of the state budget, along with the banning of the plan to share personal student data with inBloom Inc. 

Parents are relieved that more than two years following the July 29, 2014 deadline set by this law, the NY State Education Department has finally appointed a permanent Chief Privacy Officer.  Yet by that date, the CPO was also supposed to have developed an expanded Parent Bill of Privacy Rights, with the input of parents and other stakeholders.  Instead, NYSED hurriedly posted a Bill of Rights two years ago that is incomplete as to existing federal and state privacy laws – as pointed out by a letter to then-Commissioner John King in August 2014.

Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of the national organization, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy: “Now that the CPO is appointed, Ms. Akinyemi should immediately begin to reach out to parents through public hearings to improve and expand upon the Parent Bill of Rights, to gain their input so that their children’s privacy and safety can be secured. Parents have already waited too long for this to occur.”

Parents and advocates also urge Ms. Akinyemi to appoint a Data Stakeholder Advisory Panel to oversee the state’s collection and disclosure of personal student data.  According to a federal grant provided to NYSED in 2009, this Panel was supposed to “provide active and ongoing review by local constituents,” but still does not yet exist – seven years later.

Added Ms. Haimson, “Only with robust citizen oversight can we be assured that children’s personal information will be safeguarded with appropriate restrictions and protections. We recently learned that the NYSED has decided to reverse their earlier decision to put the personal data of all public school students in the State Archives, potentially forever; but this decision should never have been made in the first place.  It reflects a deficient understanding of federal law and insufficient concern with the right to privacy that all children should enjoy.”

Allison White, parent and co-founder, Port Washington Advocates for Public Education, said: “I hope the CPO will put parental concerns about student privacy and security ahead of all else. It's time the profits of tech companies and the greed of those seeking to privatize public education took a back seat to the concerns of parents seeking to protect children.”  Ms. White’s request for her child’s data last year was improperly denied initially with a demand for payment by Tina Sciocchetti, the state’s previous temporary CPO.

“There needs to be stronger oversight and enforcement of the law,” said Fatima Geidi, NYC parent, whose child’s disciplinary file was illegally posted online by Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of his former charter school, in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). “We need someone at the state level who is looking out for the interests of New York families, rather than ignoring our concerns.” 
"The appointment of a Chief Privacy Officer may bring some sense of student data protection, but until parents have the right to consent or opt out of the use of their child's individual personal data beyond the school level, data will continue to be at risk," said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and founding member of NY State Allies for Public Education.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

School Contracts for Approval in August 24th, 2016

August contracts are posted here.   Lots of big $ maintenance and supply contracts along with some small but important City Council initiatives.  Leave comments below or send us a note with questions or concerns.

Schools Contracts for Approval in July 2016

I'm posting this after the fact but here is the link to July procurement contracts.  

The DOE has switched to a new format that allows for searching the contract information.  Thanks to Manhattan PEP representative Laura Zigmond for pressing DOE for this improvement in transparency.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On Wednesday, will CAP convince on testing? Will the scandal-plagued Computer company CCS rehabilitate its image? Doubtful at best

Correction: this post originally said the event was happening Tuesday; it's actually Wednesday.

City and State just announced their annual Education Forum, to take place on Wednesday, August 17.  It has the usual cast of corporate types and establishment figures, but still there are some surprises.

The panel on "Standards and Testing: What works, What Doesn’t' doesn't include any representatives from anti-Common Core and opt-out groups.  The historic success of their grassroots movement caused the Governor and other NY officials to switch positions on high-stakes testing,  and led to 250,000 students opting out of the the state exams this year.

Instead, along with Betty Rosa, the Chancellor of the Regents, and Commissioner Elia, the panel features representatives of Gates-funded groups that are relentless promoters of the Common Core and high-stakes testing that parents have already rejected in huge numbers: the Urban League and the Center for American Progress.  (The National Urban League has received $1.3 million dollars from Gates since 2015; the New York Urban League nearly $500,000 since 2014.  The Center for American Progress  has received $4.5 million  in Gates funds for its K12 advocacy since 2010.)

The discussion is supposed to center on CAP's "Testing Bill of Rights" which was released with much fanfare last March, but has since sunk like a stone.  Not surprisingly, it does not include the right to opt out of excessive, unreliable or flawed tests.

CAP along with City and State had planned a press conference in NYC on March 24, right before the testing season, but the event was mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. It was supposed to be co-hosted by another bunch of NY Gates-funded groups including Educators 4 Excellence ($4M) and High Achievement NY (which doesn't disclose the source of its funding, but has admitted the bulk of it comes from Gates.).

Instead, a press call was hurriedly scheduled with Governor Markell of Delaware and the President of the National PTA -- another Gates-funded organization, "to focus on the right of teachers, parents, and students to high-quality tests that accurately assess student learning and help teachers understand how to improve instruction" -- none of which is true of NY exams, of course, or likely any of the other Common Core tests around the country.

The day before the press call, CAP also released  a very unfunny video on Unfunny or Die, satirizing clueless parents who throw away all their daughter's books and put tinfoil on her head -- supposedly to protect her against the Common Core.   This condescending video was widely criticized from the right and the left, and justly sank like a stone as well. As Peter Greene put it, "anyone who is familiar with Common Core or the criticism of it knows that CAP isn't just taking shots at a straw man, but a picture of a straw man pinned to the straw lapel of a straw suit being worn by a straw man."

in an interview in the the Washington Post, Melinda Gates  said they will continue to "stay the course" but acknowledged the fight to save the Common Core and high- stakes testing will now devolve to the states.  She said their Foundation will have to focus more on "community buy-in".  Apparently not satisfied with the lack of success of all the other organizations the Foundation funds in NY,  last week yet another pro-Common Core organization was launched with Gates money: a NY chapter of the DC-centered Education Trust (EdTrust has received over $2.8 million from Gates in 2016 alone).

One has to wonder how much CAP (or really Gates) paid for their prominent position in this forum, to try to re-introduce their lemon of a "Testing Bill of Rights." So here is clueless CAP's try number three, an attempt to spread their pro-testing message in the opt-out capital of the nation.  And you know what?  Gates is wasting their money on this one as well.  It ain't gonna work.

But the real surprise of the forum is the next session.  This is how it's billed; exclamation points and all: 

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.

Yet that turned out to be a huge underestimate.  I subsequently found this chart online, showing what the DOE claimed in E-rate funds between 2011 and 2015 

As one can see, the DOE had actually requested more than $1.3 BILLION in E-rate funds between 2011-2015, than they had to renounce, as well an unknown amount before that.

In addition to the $3 million fine, the FCC consent decree also required the DOE take the following measures:

  • Appoint an E-rate Compliance Officer, an Independent Compliance Officer and an Independent Compliance Monitor.
  • Inform the FCC prior to appointment of each of these officers, with the FCC an opportunity to object to the appointment.
  • File regular compliance and progress reports (some as often as monthly) throughout the term of the Compliance Plan.
  • Establish an E-rate Compliance Plan and Training Program (including provisions requiring the DOE Chancellor to receive training).
  • Retain all E-rate related documents for ten years (twice the otherwise applicable record retention requirement).  

Deloitte was subsequently hired as an Independent Compliance Officer at $260,000 per year for two years, renewable for two more. Guidepost Solutions was hired as the Independent Compliance Monitor at $675,000 per year for two years, with 2 one-year options to renew.
So the total cost of the Lanham scandal has turned out to be nearly $5 million, including the $3 million fine and the hiring of independent monitors, with another  $1.3 billion more in lost potential reimbursement.

In addition, the E-rate consent decree included this provision:

  • Certification by NYC DOE that no person or entity with any affiliation with Lanham is currently serving, or will serve, as E-rate Program Personnel and by NYC DOE’s vendors, consultants, contractors and service providers that no employee or contractor has any affiliation with Lanham.
For purposes of Subparagraph 3(c), an “affiliation” means a situation "in which a person, organization, or other entity is associated with Lanham or Lanham Enterprises as an employee, employer, subordinate, subsidiary, consultant, contractor, subcontractor, member, agent, supplier, or partner, or in any comparable capacity, or has been so associated at any time since five years prior to the Effective Date, except that no E-rate Program Personnel has an affiliation with Lanham or Lanham Enterprises merely as a result of Lanham’s prior status as a consultant to NYC DOE."
Whether that includes CCS is unclear.  Recently, the NY Post reported that DOE still has numerous contracts with CCS, despite an earlier warning from the Special Investigator:

“It is . . . recommended that the DOE refrain from contracting or subcontracting with Ross Lanham and any company associated with him,” the Special Commissioner of Investigation said in a 2011 report.

Despite the red flags, city records show that the DOE registered nine fresh contracts with CCS worth roughly $21.5 million over the last several years — though a major, $637 million deal was voided in 2015 when watchdogs cried foul.
We found through Checkbook NYC  that as of May 18, 2016, CCS had six active contracts with the DOE and the School Construction Authority, with the DOE/SCA already paying them more than $8 million during this year alone.   Will CCS be asked any questions about their history of corruption?  Will they manage to rehabilitate their image? One should be as skeptical about this as that CAP will convince parents that the state tests are worth taking.