Archive for November, 2013

Money Walks, Doesn’t Talk

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

How did it happen? Election week in Colorado, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation lost two big Colorado bets totaling $101 million.

First, their $1 million contribution to the pro-Amendment 66 campaign misfired when Coloradans voted 2-1 against raising their taxes to implement a new school finance act.

Then the Gates Foundation’s $100 million investment in inBloom, the data storage platform built by Rupert Murdoch’s company, took a twelfth round knock out punch in Jefferson County School District two days after the election.

Jeffco schools, a pilot district for inBloom, ended its partnership because the school board turned over in the November 5 election.  Then Dr. Cindy Stevenson, Jeffco superintendent and supporter of inBloom, also resigned effective June 30.

The Colorado inBloom fight began publicly in March when Rachael Stickland, a Jeffco parent from the south area, addressed the school board about her concerns over personal student privacy and data security.

Her contention was that the Family Education Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) had been gutted by the US Department of Education.  In her opinion parents were concerned that the district would sell their children’s data to the 3rd party education content providers allowed under new FERPA rules to receive personal student records without parental approval.

Further, based on the inBloom pilot, Jeffco’s personal student records would be sent to the Amazon “cloud” where inBloom stores and manages data coming in from all over the country.  Stickland and other IT experts argued that any Gates project was a big target for hackers and so carried a high degree of security risk.

In addition, the district would not disclose what personal student data would be sent to inBloom.  Parents worried about medical and behavior information.

Even with a district “innovation tour” to describe the benefits of inBloom; board study sessions; and board business meetings on the subject, lines were drawn between district staff and parents.  The district asserted that the benefits of reducing teacher data entry time, streamlining the district’s multitude of applications containing student records, and providing education content to individualize student learning was worth the risks of breached privacy or security.

Parents resisted, and the debate became deeper: issues over student assessment and testing, teacher accountability, BIG DATA, inBloom finances, Foundations’ influence on education policy, a prospective data monopoly, and the purposes of collecting, aggregating, sharing, and mining personal student data by unsupervised third parties.

On election day, the parents won.  The change-over in the school district’s board was a vehement message from Jeffco voters that they didn’t want inBloom storing Jeffco kids’ data.

So now the district will build its own data integration dashboard to help teachers reduce data entry and improve their information analysis. inBloom is done in Jeffco. On Wednesday, November 13, the Colorado Department of Education and the State Board of Education also pulled the plug on the inBloom project.

It is unclear to what degree the Gates Foundation will continue its funding of education projects in Colorado.  But what is clear is that some parents yanked education policy back into the hands of local school boards and the state board.  And as everyone in Colorado discovered on election day, November 5, 2013, money doesn’t always do the talk.  Sometimes money has to take a walk.






The Testing Industry and Who Believes In It

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Do you believe in the companies that develop tests for schools and increase their capital on the backs of grade 3-12 students who take the test? Who are supported by the companies that provide on-line services and others who gather data from the tests to decide which teacher is doing well and which teacher isn’t? Is that a good use of state and federal money? And basing teacher salary on the performance of that year’s students? As scary as the witch and sorcerer myths about Hallowe’en!

This blog has written about on-line assessment and the technology preparation needed in schools for success. You can see examples of reading/language arts questions and math questions being prepared by going to PARCC or Smarter Balanced. As has been said, the anxiety is over on-line access, especially in the rural parts of the country.

The Common Core State Standards will provide the background for teaching subjects at each grade level in 45 states in America. The controversy about “this state teaches that and that other state never begins the subject until two years later” will resolve itself. For examples, go to If you’re in education, sounds good, doesn’t it?

Student proficiency will be the same all over America because all students take the same exam, but two other all-important issues exist for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced collaborations.

First, what kind of testing will be used? Are we going to continue with the once-a-year summative exam, i.e., finding one score for everything the student has learned over the term. Then stick the student with that number until the following year. Or is the plan going to use formative exams which are taken 3-4 times a year, analyzed, and classroom teaching and tutoring adjusted. Pick one or the other system. Do not, however, give both kinds of exams which take days of time and frustration for the school, the parents, and the children.

Second, what is going to be done with all those assessments? Business leaders and pundits have myriad solutions, most of which downgrade public schools and praise vouchers, charter schools, private and parochial schools. Politicians can’t even come up with legislation due 5 years ago to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called “No Child Left Behind.” Some states and school districts have already used assessments to establish accountability for teachers as if that is going to make students succeed.

The companies that develop tests aren’t going to fix anything else. That leaves the universities and colleges who train teachers. What can education professors do? Should teacher’s colleges be more selective? Set a high bar because teaching is a serious profession. Should study be more rigorous? In California it’s almost de rigueur to have a Master’s Degree. How about sustained experience in the classroom? Look at the video on PBS “What Makes a Good Teacher” for one opinion. Perhaps a study for new teachers about education controversies so they learn to stand up for themselves? Ask for better pay and sufficient school budgets. And insist on being part of the team that makes decisions about testing.