too much information

Progress on student data bill stirs concern from school officials

A legislative effort to give parents greater control over how schools share data about their children got renewed energy this week after sitting idle in the Assembly for months.

The progress has alarmed officials at the State Education Department, who assumed a bill to restrict data-sharing was dead. It has also raised concern among education groups whose members would be in charge of administrating the law.

Education Chair Catherine Nolan breathed new life into the issue last week when she nixed an old bill that had languished in the committee since March, despite picking up support from more than 60 lawmakers. She introduced her own, less extreme version, which sailed unanimously through the committee on Wednesday. With less than a week left in the legislative session, the bill’s chances of becoming law this year are slim, but the momentum means that it could be an issue next year.

Both versions aim to empower parents to decide how their child’s data should be shared with third-party vendors working with their school. The original bill would have required parental consent for student data to be shared, while Nolan’s bill would assume that data can be shared unless parents opt out of making their child’s information available to vendors.

The bills respond to growing concerns that a new database being used by the state, called inBloom, won’t adequately protect personally identifiable student information from being made public. The Gates Foundation developed the database to reduce the burden of data management on school districts and states. But districts can also decide to let private companies that it contracts have access to the database to help them develop their own education software, an arrangement that parents in New York and elsewhere have questioned.

“We think [the bill is] a reasonable compromise,” Nolan said. “We want to give parents options, but we also have to give school districts flexibility.”

But state and district education officials said the bill would do the opposite. They said the bill would cripple schools’ ability to function because data collected for many core services are managed by outside vendors.

“Everything from course scheduling to transportation to school lunches to high school transcripts for college applications would be impacted,” said State Education Commissioner John King. “The proposed bill would render virtually impossible — or extraordinarily more expensive — much of the day-to-day data management work of schools.”

Nolan’s bill would require that parents have access to an itemized list of services outsourced to private vendors at their school so they can choose which vendors can access their students’ data.

State officials said vendors could balk at working with districts in the future if they are required to build data management systems that must account for students whose parents have opted them out of certain data points.

Superintendents and the New York State School Boards Association are also opposed to the legislation.

“Districts have been providing data to third-party vendors for years without controversy,” said Bob Lowry, a spokesman for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Lowry said he worried that schools with students who opted out of sharing data for basic services required by law, such as busing and special education, would need to figure out how to deliver those services in-house, which he said could be a steep challenge.

“You might not be able to ensure that they get these special services,” Lowry said.

The city and state teachers unions did not respond to requests for comment.

Nolan said the law would not cause the sort of administrative headaches that critics are predicting. She said parents deserve the right to know about and control what kinds of student data vendors use.

“We really care about student privacy,” Nolan said. “We think an opt-out is a reasonable thing that can be administered by state ed and school superintendents.”

Chances that the bill gets passed into law before the legislative session ends next week are extremely slim, since there no version of the bill in the Senate.

It’s unclear how the bill will proceed in the Assembly, despite its initial support. Speaker Sheldon Silver has previously indicated that he would not support legislative efforts to restrict data collection by third-party vendors.

A spokesman for Silver did not respond to requests for comment.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.