Thursday, March 20, 2014

Update on Student Privacy Legislation

Most of the discussion in the House Education Committee Wednesday centered on Representative Schroeder's HB 946 on student data privacy. The committee heard emotional testimony from parents from all parts of the state who were appalled that State Superintendent John White had agreed to hand over much critical private student data with the ID of such students to private data collectors and to the Louisiana Workforce Commission.  These parents were angry that such private information could have been mishandled by the DOE and that parents were never consulted over the data use.  It was also pointed out that the Federal FERPA regulations have been changed by the OBama administration to allow extensive student data sharing without parent permission.

Things got muddied up when John White warned the committee members that Louisiana may lose significant federal funding if certain data was not collected and provided to federal authorities. Schroeder explained that he had not been shown any federal or state laws that required such data to contain traceable student IDs. Everyone agreed to try to iron out the problems and continue debate on the bill next Wednesday. It does look like the parents made their case quite effectively and that the Education Committee will approve a student privacy bill.

School Takeover Does Not Work!

Patrick Dobbard and John White know very well that school takeover by the state does not work. But it got so obvious to everyone else that they are now returning schools taken over in Pointe Coupee and St Helena back to their local school boards. This development runs completely contrary to the continuing policy of Arne Duncan, Bobby Jindal, and all the privatizers who want to continue school takeovers and closures as a way of letting “entrepreneurs” and con artists make a buck on the backs of our students and teachers. The experiment has failed but it is still profitable for some so the exploitation of children continues.

The takeover history of Coupee Central high school was a study in how not to manage a school as conditions went from bad to worse with only about a third of parents still willing to send their children to the educational hell hole this school has become. Eyewitnesses in recent years visiting Pointe Coupee Central have described classrooms with students running wild, computers and educational equipment vandalized and a general disregard for the purpose of education. Student enrollment has dropped to only 185 students from an enrollment of more than 549 before takeover. Almost none of the graduates of Pointe Coupee Central have even attempted college. Many teachers are demoralized by the frequent changes in administration and lack of support for discipline and order.

Flush with Gates Foundation and junk bond Milkin/Federal grant money, the charter management organization Advance Baton Rouge thought it had a secret formula for school turnaround. An elite group of TFA corps members would infuse the students with their “high expectation” magic and soon all students would be graduating and moving on to Ivy League colleges. Instead the academic environment of the school fell victim to the incompetence of amateur educators and the public was never informed what happened to the millions of grant money.

The same thing happened to the 8 schools taken over in Baton Rouge and the one in St Helena. But the RSD is not returning the schools taken over in Baton Rouge. The local chamber of Commerce is supporting a new Achievement zone to be run by a new group of charter managers with millions of dollars of extra funding from foundations. You see, the big foundations would never put money into traditional schools. Instead the state has also taken over Istrouma High school and ended up closing the school that educated thousands of solid citizens over its long history and will again uproot another group of struggling students.

It turns out that our traditional schools that are run by experienced administrators and dedicated career teachers are the best hope for high poverty at risk student populations. Livonia High School run by the Pointe Coupee parish school board has made good progress.  In addition the most recent analysis by Herb Bassett using official state collected data has demonstrated that low performing sub groups last year actually progressed more when they attended so called “D” schools than when they attended "B" schools. You see most people don't understand that the letter grade rating of a school is much more an indication of the size of the “at risk” population of a school than the quality of instruction provided by the teachers. That is what is so unfair about our current system of school letter grades.

As I have pointed out in this blog before, the really dangerous charters are those I call predatory charters. These are charter schools now being approved by BESE over the objection of our local school boards whose method of operation is to try to attract the highest performing students from a local area. They cull out low performers by requiring parents to agree to do school volunteer work and by enforcing strict discipline codes that allow them to dump low performing students back into the local public school system. Examples are the new charter schools in the Baker and Iberville areas recently approved by BESE without input from local taxpayers. These charter management organizations are allowed to pocket a profit from our tax dollars while providing a cut rate educational program. Such charter groups don't have to worry about being subjected to special audits by our DOE to check to see if they are lying about their dropout rate or their efforts to cull out low performers.  Over time such predatory charters could drain local school systems of critical funding while severely damaging the state teacher retirement system. Such schools often do not participate in the retirement system and shift the unfunded liability to our public schools.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Important Student Data Privacy Bills

Four important bills dealing with student data privacy will be considered by the Louisiana House Education Committee this Wednesday, March 19. If your State Representative is a member of the House Education Committee, you may want to send him/her an email expressing your opinion on student privacy. If you want to check to see who your state Representative is, just click on this link to the legislative web site, type in your address and it will list your State Representative, State Senator, and Congresspersons. You should then simply click on your State Representative's  name to go to his/her web page and get his/her email address. Save it on your email contact list and you will be ready to send him/her emails when there are important education bills to be voted on.

In fact, I am asking you to send your state representative an email this Monday or Tuesday particularly if he/she serves on the House Education CommitteePlease do your part if you care about student data privacy!

This Wednesday, March 19th the House Education Committee will be voting on 4 bills that deal with privacy of student data. They are HB 384HB 555HB 560, and HB 946. You can view each bill by clicking on the bill number.
Many Louisiana parents have made it clear that they are very concerned about the possibility that data pertaining to their child may be shared by our Dept. of Education or others with third parties who may try to profit by selling goods or services or even sell voucher plans to the parents. My readers may remember that John White originally planned to share student data using the InBloom system. He has since recalled the Louisiana data from the system.

Like the parents, I support all of the above bills which would greatly limit what can be done with information collected by the DOE on Louisiana students. I believe that if any recommendations are to be made to parents about the educational needs of their child, it should be done by trusted local teachers or guidance counselors, not self appointed salesmen for big business or rip off voucher programs.

Here is a sample email by teachers or parents:
Dear Representative _________,
I am a teacher (parent) who lives in your district. I am very much in support of any legislation that would protect the privacy of educational information and data collected on our students. Please vote for HB 384, HB 555, HB 560, and HB 946 or any proper consolidation of these bills.
Thank you in advance for your help with this important issue.
Please feel free to put this in your own words since legislators respond better to individual rather than form emails.
At this point we have no reason to believe that there is strong opposition to the above bills but it is very important that we make our wishes know on this important matter.