Tuesday, February 7, 2017

So it happened; DeVos was confirmed. What next?

So it happened as predicted; Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote for Betsy Devos this afternoon. 
Though disappointing it was in its way historic: the only time in US history that a Cabinet secretary needed the vote of the Vice President to be approved.

The last few weeks have been historic in another way:  Never have parents, teachers and concerned citizens been so outraged and activated over an education official or issue.  Never have so many called, rallied, protested, faxed and written letters to their Senators, in an "avalanche" that nearly flattened Capitol Hill, overwhelming and shocking Senators of both parties.

In CSPAN's 24 hour, all night coverage of the debate over DeVos nomination, the Democrats read aloud numerous letters from their constituents, eloquent passionate and smart, begging them to reject DeVos as the most unqualified candidate ever to be named as Education Secretary, whose qualifications were based primarily upon her family's wealth.  In every past administration  no matter how conservative, she would have been named Ambassador to Luxembourg or something similar.

Even after the vote there were protests.  NYC high school students walked out of their schools en masse, in a stirring show of resistance.

So call your Senators and thank them if they voted "No"; if they voted otherwise, let them know what you think.  NPE has a list of all the Senators, their votes, and phone numbers.

We need to sustain the activism and involvement we exercised in this battle and keep speaking out loudly and firmly to let education policymakers at the federal, state and local levels know that we will not stand idly by while our public schools are defunded, dismantled and privatized.

One issue little noticed by the media:  it was widely recognized how avid Betsy DeVos has been to allow for-profit charters and vouchers to draw funds from the public schools.  What was little noticed is her devotion to online learning and questionable ed tech solutions. These will just as surely divert resources from the proven strategies that provide students with the support  and human feedback they need.   It was reported  that the one financial company she refused to divest from is Neurocore that runs "brain performance centers” via biofeedback to treat autism and attention deficit disorder with no evidence of efficacy.

In 2015, while speaking at SXSW Edu, that annual Kumbaya gathering of the technology tribe, DeVos sounded exactly like Bill Gates:
It’s a battle of Industrial Age versus the Digital Age. It’s the Model T versus the Tesla. It’s old factory model versus the new Internet model. It’s the Luddites versus the future. We must open up the education industry — and let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t an industry — we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.
This is how families without means will get access to a world-class education. This is how a student who’s not learning in their current model can find an individualized learning environment that will meet their needs.
We are the beneficiaries of start-ups, ventures, and innovation in every other area of life, but we don’t have that in education because it’s a closed system, a closed industry, a closed market. It’s a monopoly, a dead end. And the best and brightest innovators and risk-takers steer way clear of it. As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia or Uber. We won’t see any real innovation that benefits more than a handful of students."
Surely, we will need all your activism in the battles to come - whether it be against the expansion of charters, the use of tuition tax credits or vouchers, or wasteful ed tech scams -- all of which would divert precious resources from our public schools. Now that we've woken up our elected officials to the fact that parents and teachers and citizens fiercely love their public schools, and will do nearly anything to preserve, protect and support them, we must continue to speak out. As Patty Murray tweeted this afternoon, 
"To the parents, teachers,  and students who made their voices heard: We hear you and the fight isn't over.

Why parents and privacy experts are NOT reassured by the Chancellor's letter on undocumented students

Last week, Chancellor Farina sent a letter home to parents, saying they should not worry that their children are at risk of having their immigration status disclosed to government officials looking to deport them.  The letter said this:

DOE staff will not grant unlimited access to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Like all other law enforcement agencies, ICE is not permitted access to schools without proper legal authority. If ICE officers go to a school for immigration enforcement purposes, they will be referred to the principal who will take appropriate action.  

So it seems the DOE is leaving it up to the principal to “take appropriate action” but does not explain what that might be.  Unsurprisingly, the letter did little to assuage many people’s fears – including experts on the subject.   Why?   

Contrast the Chancellor’s ambiguous statement with the position the Los Angeles school board took recently on the same subject:  In February, the L.A. Unified board directed district officials not to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement onto its campuses without a review by the superintendent.”  

The LAUSD board also proclaimed that the they would “continue to protect the data and identities of any student, family member, or school employee who may be adversely affected by any future policies or executive action results in the collection of any personally identifiable information.”  

More specifically, the LA resolution called for the following protections:
  • Forbids agents from coming on campus without review and not before a decision is made by the superintendent and the LAUSD lawyer’s office.
  • Forbids school staff to ask about a student’s immigration status or that of family members.
  • Provides teachers, administrators and other staff training on how to deal with immigration issues and how to notify families in multiple languages of issues.
  • Asks all schools to treat students equitably, including those receiving free and reduced lunches, transportation and other services.
  • Requires the superintendent to come up with a plan in 90 days to provide assistance, information and safety for students and families “if faced with fear and anxiety related to immigration enforcement efforts.”
Similar resolutions to protect immigrant students have been approved by other school districts, including San Francisco Unified and Montgomery County, Md.

The Chancellor’s letter featured other troubling and ambiguous statements.   She wrote the following: 

As in the past, DOE staff will not ask about or keep a record of the immigration status of a student or family member. If you do share confidential information, including immigration status, about yourself or your family, it will be protected under the City’s confidentiality policy and the Chancellor’s Regulations.

Yet the Chancellor’s regulations are not particularly reassuring as regards student privacy and the DOE has shown little respect for protecting student privacy in the past – as we saw during the inBloom controversy.  The DOE still hasn’t posted the NY Parent Bill of Rights for Data Privacy and Security, as it has been legally obligated to do since 2014 – but instead posts a shorter, amended version with far less information.   The DOE also fails to inform parents that they have the right  to withhold directory information for their children each year,  which is their most basic legal obligation under the federal law known as FERPA.

Moreover, the Chancellor’s regulations contain several instances when personal student information can be provided without parental consent. Here is A-820 of the Chancellors regs:

     In keeping with the individual's right to privacy, no part of a student's education record, however created, may be divulged with personally identifiable information to any person, organization, or agency in any manner unless there is….
     a)       informed written consent by the parent or eligible student;...
     b)      a valid court order or lawfully issued subpoena requesting such information (in such cases, prior to complying with such order or subpoena, the parent or
eligible student shall be notified immediately in writing of the information which has been subpoenaed or which is the subject of the court order)
  c)   a request for disclosure by authorized representatives of the officials or agencies headed by State or local educational authorities, the Secretary of Education of  the United States, the  Attorney General of the United States, or the Comptroller General of the United States and the request is in connection with an audit or evaluation of Federal or State supported education  programs, or for the enforcement of or compliance with Federal legal requirements that relate to those programs. Such information that is collected must be protected in a manner that does not permit personal identification of individuals (unless specifically authorized by Federal law) by anyone except the officials or agencies headed by officials mentioned above and must be destroyed when no longer needed for the purposes listed…

This part of the Chancellor’s letter is not reassuring either: “DOE staff will not release student information unless required to by law."

President Trump recently signed the following Executive Order focused on removing “aliens” and includes stripping privacy rights to anyone who is not a citizen or a lawful permanent resident:

Sec. 2.  Policy.  It is the policy of the executive branch to:
(a)  Ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States, including the INA, against all removable aliens, consistent with Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution and section 3331 of title 5, United States Code;
(b)  Make use of all available systems and resources to ensure the efficient and faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States;
(c)  Ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law; 
(d)  Ensure that aliens ordered removed from the United States are promptly removed…

Sec. 14.  Privacy Act.  Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.
How this relates to federal student privacy rights under FERPA is unclear.  In any case, there are many exceptions in FERPA, including that student privacy can be violated “to comply with a judicial order or lawfully issued subpoena…”  

Moreover, contrary to the assertions in an article in Chalkbeat, which implies  that the DOE collects relevant information only pertaining to “a child’s country of origin and ethnicity” all NY school districts are required to collect more information that could be used as a method to help identify a student’s immigrant status.

According to NYSED's 2016-7 SIRS State Education Manual, districts including NYC are required to collect the following information for each  public school student and send it to the state:
  1. Country of birth
  2. Whether the student is an immigrant; defined as individuals aged 3 through 21; 
            a)  Who were not born in any State; and
b)    have not been attending one or more schools in any one or more States for more than 3 full academic years

         3. Migrant status: -- A student is a migrant child if the student is, or whose parent, guardian, or spouse is, a migratory agricultural worker, including a migratory dairy worker or a migratory fisher, and who, in the preceding 36 months, in order to obtain, or accompany such parent, guardian, or spouse, in order to obtain, temporary or seasonal employment in agricultural or fishing work has moved from one school district to another.
To allay parental concerns, NYC Board of Education, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, should pass a similar resolution as LAUSD – and the Chancellor should send out a stronger message to parents that they will protect the confidentiality of student records from immigration officials, and if necessary go to court to do so, rather than leave it up to principals how they should respond to inquiries or interpret the law.

In addition, the NY State Education Department should explain why it needs to collect so much sensitive student data in the first place.  In return for an $8 million federal grant to develop its student longitudinal data system (LDS), the Department promised to establish a Stakeholder Advisory board by 2009 that would provide oversight and input as to the collection, storage and use of this information: 

Yet to this day, there are no such boards -- either statewide or regionally and neither students nor their parents have any input into how their extremely sensitive data is collected, stored or protected from breach or abuse.

NYSED just hired a Chief Privacy Officer this fall two years past the legal deadline, and remain years behind in updating and expanding the Parent Bill of Rights.  The NYSED student privacy website recently posted is incomplete in many ways, as we have pointed out to state officials.   They should immediately fulfill their promise to create a Stakeholder Advisory board to include parents and privacy advocates, who would deal with situations like the immigration issue; to  figure out whether all the personal student data they collect is truly necessary, and if so, how it can be best protected from disclosures that would hurt students.

There is also now a big push by several organizations, including Education Trust, Data Quality Campaign and other Gates-funded DC groups, as reflected by their testimony to the Commission on Evidence-based Policy, to overturn the law in Congress that prohibits the federal government from creating a comprehensive database of personal student information.   The move to develop just such a database that would allow the federal government to track all public school students from preK through college and beyond is one of the top priorities of the Gates Foundation this year.  More on this here.    

Our deep concerns about the huge risk to privacy such a database would pose were only reinforced when it was recently revealed that the Home Office in Great Britain has made repeated attempts to access information in their national student database for the purpose of immigration control, including students' country of birth,  despite repeated government promises that this data would only be used only for research purposes.  One can only imagine how the Trump administration might use such information.  The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, the national organization we formed after inBloom’s collapse, is leading the fight against overturning this ban.  Join us here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Make your calls now - to the Senators who haven't announced their vote! then watch these segments from SNL and Maddow!

The final vote in the Senate on Betsy DeVos in now scheduled for Tuesday.   

According to informed sources, the best chances we have now against her appointment as Education Secretary lie with Sens. Thad Cochran (MS) and John Barrasso (WY) who haven't yet announced their positions.   Remember we need only one more vote against her to defeat her nomination.

If you live in either of these states, please call these offices today today or early Monday.  If you know someone who does, please share this information with them:

Cochran: 202.224.5054 or 601.965.4459 or 662-236-1018 or 228-867-9710  

Barrasso: 307.261.6413 or 307-261-6413 or 307.772.2451 or 307.856.6642

That these two men have not yet announced their vote appears to be confirmed by this helpful list,  posted two days ago that includes all the Senators and cites their positions on DeVos, along with links to their contact information.  

There are other GOP Senators that according to this list hadn't announced their position on DeVos by Friday, including those from Idaho, Indiana, South Dakota and Utah.  Check to see what your Senator has said or not said about DeVos here:


After you've checked the list, and called your Senators, watch this hilarious sketch on last night's Saturday Night Live, featuring Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer and Kate McKinnon as Betsy DeVos.   

You can also check out Friday's Rachel Maddow show on the unprecedented grassroots opposition to the DeVos nomination throughout the nation.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Our best hope to defeat Betsy Devos! The final one: Please share with residents of Nebraska

An exhausting day - starting with highs when Senators Murkowski and Collins said they would vote against DeVos.  We only needed one GOP Senator to join them to defeat her nomination.  Sadly, Senators Toomey said he would support DeVos and so did Senator Heller of Nevada during the course of the late afternoon.  Senator Moran of Kansas also said yes even later.  Flake tweeted his support at the end of the day too.  Only one possibility remains as of 6:20 PM of another GOP possible No vote:  Senator Fischer of Nebraska.  The final Senate floor vote is expected Monday.

But keep those calls coming  parents/teachers in KS, and NE; we've also just added Flake of AZ  as possibly persuadable.

Today  Senators Murkowski and Collins announced they will vote NO on Betsy DeVos. 

We ONLY need one more GOP senator to beat her.  Our best chances are below; please share with friends and allies who live in PA, NV, NE or KS.  These are Senators from rural states who voted against an earlier voucher bill according to EdWeek, or who insiders say may be persuadable

Capitol switchboard is here: (202) 224-3121. 

If you can’t get through in DC call their district offices; https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/ .

If you can’t get through to district offices, send a free email to fax – remember to include your address.  https://faxzero.com/

But do NOT call or fax unless you live in one of these states as you may be preventing someone who does live in the state from getting through!  Thanks Leonie