Tag Archives: New York

CIVICS LESSON #5: SOME IMPORTANT NOTES ON VOTING

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is the fifth of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series.

In the US, we have a constitutional republic in which government consists of elected public officials who do not control us, but who represent us in a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Representatives to Congress are elected every two years, Senators every six years, and Presidents every four years. The cycle of local elections for mayors and of state elections for Governor vary by state and municipality.

The electoral system is called representative democracy, because citizens vote into office officials who are sworn by oath to represent them. We elect our Congressional representatives in organized voting districts within states, our governors by State and the President by what is called the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was put in place to guarantee that votes in sparser populations, such as rural areas and in less populous states, are treated with equal weight to those in larger populated areas, such as cities and more heavily populated states. Without the Electoral College, heavily populated states, such as California, New York and Ohio would always determine who becomes President and votes from smaller states, such as Alabama, Rhode Island and the Dakotas, would have little power.

The Electoral College system has been criticized, usually by the larger states, who argue that their heavier votes are being neutralized in favor of much lighter votes from less populous states, but the Founders, in their wisdom, questioned the fairness of states with large urban centers deciding the ultimate fate of representation of these smaller areas. Until a fairer, more practical system is instituted, it is probably a fair assumption that the Electoral College will remain an operating feature of Presidential elections for the foreseeable future.

State legislatures may “redistrict” areas within a state in order to give sparser populated areas the equal voting power of larger urban areas. This redistricting can and often is used to change the party representation so that members of the party in office in that state will get more votes than the opposing party. This is known as gerrymandering, one definition of which is “To manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.” While this practice is not illegal, it is only marginally ethical at best and is often frowned upon because it allows those in power to manipulate votes to keep that power, even when people want them out of power.

Democratic voting is a process and not a governing principle, because the US is a constitutional republic and not a pure democracy. In John Adams’s eternally true words, the US has “a government of laws and not of men.” We do not elect representatives to make decisions independent of our wishes, but on their sworn oath to preserve and protect the rights of each and every individual citizen against encroachment by government. Many politicians lust after power. We must be on guard against them.

It is a battle to keep voting fair. If not properly monitored, voting can be falsified by what is called “voter fraud,” although voters usually have nothing to do with it. Voter fraud can take various forms. Agents of a particular candidate may inflate the vote in favor of that candidate by putting fake votes to the ballot box, or “stuffing” it. Votes for an opposing candidate may be destroyed or hidden so that they are not counted. Voting machines may be rigged so that the vote count is falsified. A particularly creative kind of voter fraud is to register dead people onto voter rolls and actually vote in their places. All these are illegal punishable as crimes.

But there are also ways for the vote to be skewed legally, if unethically, for example by a candidate telling malicious lies about his opponent either in print or on television. This is called “smearing” and is unethical, even if it is marginally legal. Or, a candidate can lie about his or her position on issues or on his past performance. Overcoming these requires careful scrutiny by voters.

The important thing for citizens to remember is that casting a vote for a candidate who can be trusted is the strongest protection against bad government. But voters must beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, in the form of candidates who promise to protect and preserve our freedom and individual rights, while actually working to undermine them. To be on guard against this eventuality it is necessary to be skeptical of any and all politicians who make promises other than to protect and preserve the principles outlined in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When someone promises to fundamentally change America, that person must not be trusted, because no change that takes away the fundamental freedom and rights granted to Americans by those founding documents can be a good change.

That being said, it is also easy to preach that voters are free because they have the vote. In order to exercise their vote to their benefit, citizens must be given candidates who truly represent the model set out by our founding fathers; people who are honest, trustworthy and patriotic. Any candidate who is not worthy should be rejected out of hand.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

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Filed under Civics Lessons, Guest Post

The Sharing of Student Data Creates Concern in NYC

by Gretchen Logue of Missouri Education Watchdog

From nbcnewyork.com and Parents Blast New State Database of Private Student Info:

Parents and privacy experts are blasting a new national database that compiles personal student information for educational companies that contract with public schools.

New York State officials, working with the city, have already uploaded students’ names, addresses, test scores, learning disabilities, attendance and disciplinary records into the inBloom database, according to the Daily News.

Read more here and watch the news video.

What is inBloom?  From the Daily News:

InBloom, a 3-month-old database, is funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. built the infrastructure for the new electronic portal.

The state spent $50 million in federal grants to partner with inBloom and finalized its agreement in October to share data with the fledgling company.

The new service will not cost the city any money at first, though inBloom officials said they will probably start to charge fees in 2015.

Names, attendance records, disciplinary histories, addresses, test scores and more are delivered to the state. The state contracts with inBloom, a database that warehouses that information. InBloom then contracts with private companies selling educational products and services that can access the information.

Wouldn’t “contracting with private companies selling educational products and services” that access students’ personal information be considered selling student information without parental permission or knowledge?  Why is this being funded partially by federal grants so that the state can partner with inBloom and share student information with the company?

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Filed under Data Mining/Tracking, Data Systems

Database in #CommonCore Explained. Segregation Revisited?

by Gretchen Logue of Missouri Education Watchdog

We shared Mark Garrison’s written testimony yesterday supporting MO SB 210 and HB 616 which calls for the halting of Common Core implementation.

Garrison writes in An Irrational $170 Million Database We Most Certainly Don’t Need about the data to be gathered on students via databases and Common Core standards:

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While some folks have been warning the public about this for over a year, a recent Reuters article has renewed popular outrage over a privately controlled centralized database that will house an unprecedented amount of individual level data without the consent or even the knowledge of parents, and apparently, state or federal legislatures. My comments are throughout, as I can’t resist. The article reads, in part:

An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as startups eagerly show off their latest wares. But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school. In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school — even homework completion.

Brushing off real concerns about this development, readers are reassured with this declaration: “Federal law allows [schools] to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.”
Further on readers are informed:

Federal officials say the database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any “school official” who has a “legitimate educational interest,” according to the Department of Education. The department defines “school official” to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.

This raises a host of questions, ones that I’ll deal with in a future post. But, for now, let’s follow the “logic” outlined in the rest of the article and what it reveals about the “Career and College Ready” agenda that is driving this initiative.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software. CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products — educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

Maybe I’m confused, but I thought teachers created lesson plans and principals created reports? This discourse suggests the intensification of the de-skilling and de-professionalization of educators that began decades ago with scripted protocols, etc. Once in place, any Teach for America like temp worker can print up the computer-generated lesson plan, which will certainly include some “educational games”. Results of those “games” will automatically populate the report that the virtual principal will produce for the virtual school board.

Next we are told:

The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp [known for violating privacy rights and spying], built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

What isn’t shared in the article is the role this database will play in implementing the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), which would not exist in its present form without the Gates Foundation. The inBloom website discussion board clearly indicates that this database is designed around the CCSS. The CCSSI assessment apparatuses are likely to directly tie into this database if and once they become fully functional. And, given that the plan is to have student essays graded by computer, there are likely to be “digital” assessments of student writing from the dispositional point of view. Might an angry or merely “different” essay by a student trigger a “no education list” (a la the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center’s no fly lists) and be used by corporate charters in screening applicants, inventing a vast and detailed hierarchy of “human capital”?

The article continues:

States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states — Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts — have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide.

So, individual data collected by public authorities that are responsible to protect the privacy claims of these individuals is turned over to a private company, and then the public authority has to pay the private company for access to that data? Now that’s “critical thinking”! And while “inBloom pledges to guard the data tightly, its own privacy policy states that it ‘cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.’ ” Seems like a double standard when you think about how “reformers” would scream if a public school stated that it could not protect student privacy.

The article does report that parents from

New York and Louisiana have written state officials in protest. So have the Massachusetts chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and Parent-Teacher Association. If student records leak, are hacked or abused, “What are the remedies for parents?” asked Norman Siegel, a civil liberties attorney in New York who has been working with the protestors. “It’s very troubling.”

I encourage parents to send a letter, similar to this.

What follows is the main justification for the initiative, and it is worth parsing out in detail.

“We look at personalized learning as the next big leap forward in education,” said Brandon Williams, a director at the Illinois State Board of Education.

First, I believe “personalized learning” is the new language for what used to be called tracking based on “ability”, social class, or other forms of social differentiation (“race,” ELLs, etc.). But it gets better:

Does Johnny have trouble converting decimals to fractions? The database will have recorded that — and may have recorded as well that he finds textbooks boring, adores animation and plays baseball after school. Personalized learning software can use that data to serve up a tailor-made math lesson, perhaps an animated game that uses baseball statistics to teach decimals.

What kind of non-thinking human being creates such narrative? Even the most unmotivated mediocre teacher can determine if a student has trouble converting decimals to fractions! And wouldn’t the database be more useful if it could identify those students who actually found textbooks exciting? And, seriously, might teachers, unencumbered by the demands of “accountability” that increasingly block them from establishing meaningful relationships with their students, know which student likes baseball?

No teacher, school administrator or parent needs this database; it is a solution to a non-existent problem. It’s a complete hoax. It is also frightening that someone thought the above narrative was a useful public justification and that it could stand in a news item. How far gone are we that the absurdity is not evident? “Personalized learning” = remove the teacher -> collect “data” -> replace real teaching with “virtual games” -> so as “to get to know the student.”[1]

But wait, there’s more!

Johnny’s teacher can watch his development on a “dashboard” that uses bright graphics to map each of her students’ progress on dozens, even hundreds, of discrete skills.

Forgive me, but I prefer to watch the development of young people in person. “Bright graphics” — sounds like Disney, not education. “Discrete skills” — nothing says “product specification” better than “discrete skills.”

“You can start to see what’s effective for each particular student,” said Adria Moersen, a high school teacher in Colorado who has tested some of the new products.[2]

If you need a glowing, colorful dashboard of “discrete skills” to “see” your “students develop” and discern what is “effective” there’s definitely a problem. Or, maybe that’s the vision? Let’s continue:

The sector is undeniably hot; technology startups aimed at K-12 schools attracted more than $425 million in venture capital last year, according to the NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit that focuses on the sector. The investment company GSV Advisors tracked 84 deals in the sector last year, up from 15 in 2007.

NewSchools is a big supporter of charters and other privatization schemes.

In addition to its $100 million investment in the database, the Gates Foundation has pledged $70 million in grants to schools and companies to develop personalized learning tools.

Again, I offer my suggestion that “personalized” is the new language of tracking. Data will be the new marker used to segregate.

Also of note is that the official estimates of the Gates Foundation contribution to the Common Core Standards is $100 million; but if we include all those grants that are part of the Core agenda, the number becomes much, much bigger; the above $170 million constituting a start. Based on data I have collected from their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website, I estimate the total expenditure to be about $1.5 billion between 2009 and 2012. The next bit is revealing as well.

Schools tend to store different bits of student information in different databases, often with different operating systems. That makes it clunky to integrate new learning apps into classrooms. […] The new database aims to wipe away those obstacles by integrating all student information — including data that may previously have been stored in paper files or teacher gradebooks — in a single, flexible platform. […] Education technology companies can use the same platform to design their software, so their programs will hook into a rich trove of student data if a district or state authorizes access.

This reminds me of the justification for the security state built post 9/11. We would all be safe if we could just break down those barriers between databases (e.g., eliminating boundaries between local, state and federal police agencies) and remove the blocks to spying!

At the Rocketship chain of charter schools, for instance, administrators must manually update at least five databases to keep their education software running smoothly when a child transfers from one teacher to another, said Charlie Bufalino, a Rocketship executive. The extra steps add expense, which limits how many apps a school can buy. And because the data is so fragmented, the private companies don’t always get a robust picture of each student’s academic performance, much less their personal characteristics.

First point: you most likely don’t need the software; the money could be better spent. Second point: who cares if the “private companies don’t get a robust picture”? Why are we all of a sudden so concerned about private companies having a “robust picture” of our children?

Yes, it even gets better.

Larry Berger, an executive at Amplify Education, says the data could be mined to develop “early warning systems.” Perhaps it will turn out, for instance, that most high school dropouts began to struggle with math at age 8. If so, all future 8-year-olds fitting that pattern could be identified and given extra help.

Forgetting for a moment that Larry’s statement erases more than 40 years of research on the predictors of “dropping out” (linked mostly to poverty, racism and lack of funding), my question is this: will the “early warning system” be color coded, like the now infamous “terror alerts?” Is “fitting the pattern” the new language for profiling? Sounds like the noble language of helping to prevent “drop outs” might hide something a little less palatable; maybe inBloom will partner with state governments to alert them of students not “ready” to vote?

Companies with access to the database will also be able to identify struggling teachers and pinpoint which concepts their students are failing to master. One startup that could benefit: BloomBoard, which sells schools professional development plans customized to each teacher.

Well that’s good news. Private companies that are charging the public for access to the data provided to them by the public will assist in further attacking teachers as the source of the problem while social inequality reaches new heights! Hopefully BloomBoard will lobby for more computers — I just hope some of the leaking roofs won’t short out the circuits. I also hope their statisticians can develop models that can compensate for students not giving a damn as they sit, alienated, in their PARCC testing cages.

The new database “is a godsend for us,” said Jason Lange, the chief executive of BloomBoard. “It allows us to collect more data faster, quicker and cheaper.”

But I thought it was “all about the kids”?

In the end, this is an untenable plan, doomed to failure, with more harm along the way. It should be opposed.

  1. Even the introductory video on the inBloom website presents a vision of the teacher/student interaction as completely mediated by their database which is to form the basis of and completely structure the student/teacher relationship. In the video, both students and teachers are presented as passive, with very limited voice, only acting through the devices devised by the database developers.
  2. The formulation “each particular” set me off, so I went searching on the Internet for Adria, and I came up with what appears to be someone who loves signing up to all the social media, but never really uses any of it (is she real?). No posts from her twitter account. No info on Linkedin, but a member. “Summitt Post” indicates “high school teacher” in Colorado. On “Clas talk”, nothing. Uses “pinterest” — what I saw was vapid. Appears on “rate my teacher” with 3 stars out of 5, from six respondents (“fun” was used frequently by those posting). (Obviously the sites that did not identify her profession and location could be for someone else.) From what I could find, she does not come across as an authority on the subject of using large databases to enhance education. She has been a teacher for a short time, and in general strikes me as an odd choice for an interview by an international news agency.

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Filed under Data Mining/Tracking, Data Systems, National Standards (Common Core)

Common Core is Not Just About Standards, it’s also about Data Mining.

by Gretchen Logue of Missouri Education Watchdog.

We’ve written through the years about Common Core and have been concerned about the data mining allowed to occur now that states use common assessments.  The data mining is not just centered on educational information.  This educational reform also requires personal information on students and their families.  This is to create a managed workforce based on student data gathered from educational facilities and with the expansion of FERPA allowing information to flow freely, this information will be supplied to research firms, contractors and other interested parties.

Seattle Education reports on a grant received by school districts to gather this data:

One of the deals that we made with the devil when it comes to accepting Race to the Top dollars is the relinquishing of our children’s information.

Gates and others have begun to collect information about our children from New York to LA and it is about to happen in Seattle thanks to the efforts of the Road Map project, et al, falling all over themselves to receive a pittance of educational funding, $40 M to be split between 7 districts in our state. That’s $5.7M if it were to be divided equally.

To put that into perspective, West Seattle High School’s budget for this year is a little over $6M and that does not include building upkeep or other building costs including utilities.

The money will not go into established programs or to help with our budget crunch which happens to be a $32 M shortfall in Seattle, but is to go to “assessing” students starting in pre-school. Assessments basically mean testing on a long-term basis. This is not sustainable but oh well, there is some pie in the sky reasoning about receiving yet another largesse from Bill Gates, and maybe someday we would be able to continue to pay for everything that we have promised to deliver forever.

Per a previous post, A Race to the Top Winner. Really?, the following is the information that people want culled from our students’ “data”.

Road Map On-Track Indicators
The following is a list of the Road Map Project on-track indicators. These are reported annually against specific targets.
% of children ready to succeed in school by kindergarten
% of students who are proficient in:
3rd grade reading
4th grade math
5th grade science
6th grade reading
7th grade math
8th grade science
% of students triggering Early Warning Indicator 1*
% of students triggering Early Warning Indicator 2*
% of students who graduate high school on time
% of graduating high school students meeting minimum requirements to apply to a Washington state 4-year college
% of students at community and technical colleges enrolling in pre-college coursework
% of students who enroll in postsecondary education by age 24
% of students continuing past the first year of postsecondary
% students who earn a post-secondary credential by age 24
* Early warning indicators are for 6th and 9th grade students. EW1: Six or more absences and one or more course failure(s). EW2: One or more suspension(s) or expulsion(s)
Other Indicators to be Reported
The following is a list of the Road Map Project contributing indicators. These are reported annually or whenever possible, but do not have specific targets. These contributing indicators combined with the on-track indicators make up the full list of Road map Project indicators.
% of children born weighing less than 5.5 pounds
% of eligible children enrolled in select formal early learning programs
% of licensed childcare centers meeting quality criteria
% of families reading to their children daily
% of children meeting age-level expectations at the end of preschool
% of children enrolled in full-day kindergarten
% of students taking algebra by the 8th grade
% of students passing the exams required for high school graduation
% of English language learning students making progress in learning English
% of students taking one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses
% of students absent 20 or more days per year
% of students who make a non-promotional school change
% of students motivated and engaged to succeed in school
% of students attending schools with low state achievement index ratings
% of females age 15-17 giving birth
% of 8th graders reporting select risk factors on the Healthy Youth Survey
% of students exhibiting 21st century skills
% of students who graduate high school by age 21
% of high school graduates completing a formal career and technical education program
% of eligible students who complete the College Bound application by the end of 8th grade
% of graduating College Bound students who have completed the FAFSA
% of students who directly enroll in postsecondary education
% of students who did not complete high school on time who achieve a postsecondary credential
% of students employed within 1 and 5 years of completing or leaving postsecondary education, including wage

It’s not theory anymore.  It will be coming to your school district in the future.  Your superintendent may declare he/she doesn’t compile this type of data, but you can see this is an important component of common core.  Not only do we need to compare student test scores, we need to compare their birthweight, if their parents read to them, their level of motivation, etc.

Stephanie Simon writing in Reuters K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents has uncovered data mining on children and has documented where it goes:

(Reuters) – An education technology conference this week in Austin, Texas, will clang with bells and whistles as start-ups eagerly show off their latest wares.

But the most influential new product may be the least flashy: a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school.

In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school – even homework completion.

Local education officials retain legal control over their students’ information. But federal law allows them to share files in their portion of the database with private companies selling educational products and services.

 Entrepreneurs can’t wait.

“This is going to be a huge win for us,” said Jeffrey Olen, a product manager at CompassLearning, which sells education software.

CompassLearning will join two dozen technology companies at this week’s SXSWedu conference in demonstrating how they might mine the database to create custom products – educational games for students, lesson plans for teachers, progress reports for principals.

The database is a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided most of the funding, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and school officials from several states. Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, built the infrastructure over the past 18 months. When it was ready, the Gates Foundation turned the database over to a newly created nonprofit, inBloom Inc, which will run it.

States and school districts can choose whether they want to input their student records into the system; the service is free for now, though inBloom officials say they will likely start to charge fees in 2015. So far, seven states – Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Massachusetts – have committed to enter data from select school districts. Louisiana and New York will be entering nearly all student records statewide.

“We look at personalized learning as the next big leap forward in education,” said Brandon Williams, a director at the Illinois State Board of Education.

Read more here.

One should shudder to read the statement from Mr. Williams from the IL State Board of Education.  Remember the Illinois Data Set that has been waiting to be rolled out with data sets pertaining to student blood test results, eye color, voting status?  Here’s the plan to keep students on the right track: a national based GPS system for your student so he/she will never get lost along life’s way.  

Like a car navigation system, the learning management systems of the future will know the current location of each learner and be able to plot multiple, individualized paths to the Common Core and other academic goals. Students will be able to select preferences of modality of instruction, language,and time. And, like a car navigation system, even if they decide to take a detour, the system will always know where they are, where they want to go, and multiple paths to get there. (pg 8 of 126) 
How do you feel about multiple agencies and private organizations tracking your child’s every move and data points? If you believe your child is a piece of inventory and human capital, this a suitable and desirable tracking mechanism.

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Filed under Data Mining/Tracking, Data Systems

NY Teacher William Johnson: Not Happy About Common Core in English Classrooms

This is another great post over at What is Common Core on the English Language Arts Common Core standards.

Why do the folks behind the Common Core think domain-specific vocabulary isn’t important when it comes to English? Again, the language used to describe the new Common Core approach highlights the ways that these standards will change the goal of English study from understanding and mastery of literature and literary writing to “constantly build[ing] students’ ability to access more complex texts across the content areas.” In other words, the goal of English class will become helping students read texts for their other subject areas — the ones that really matter, like math.

…Unfortunately, the folks behind the Common Core have made it abundantly clear that they see little value in having students understand literature.

Read the rest by clicking here.

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