Thursday, October 18, 2018

New Educator Toolkit to Protect Data Privacy

For immediate release: October 18, 2018
Contact:  Contact: Marla Kilfoyle;; 516-987-4405
Rachael   Rachael Stickland;;  303-204-1272

New Educator Toolkit to protect data privacy

Guide designed to prevent breaches or abuse of personal information

Today, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and The Badass Teachers Association released an Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy:  A Practical Guide for Protecting Personal Data.  The Toolkit is a comprehensive guide to help educators deal with the complex world of data privacy and the widespread proliferation of education technology.  It is designed to support their efforts to become responsible digital citizens by providing strategies and best practices to minimize the disclosure of personal data and protect the privacy of their students as well as their own.  

Through an online survey and focus groups, the authors discovered that most teachers feel they are forced to implement ed tech products which gather and use data in ways they do not understand.  Sixty eight percent of respondents said they didn’t know if the products they used sold student data or used it for marketing purposes, and sixty nine percent said that they felt that their training in data privacy had been insufficient.

Teachers are also being asked to share more and more of their own data in ways that violate their privacy.  The recent strike in West Virginia was in part sparked by a demand from the state that they wear devices to collect data on their movements and physical activities.  In user-friendly terms, the Toolkit explains what federal laws protect student data, what common classroom practices to avoid, and how to advocate for stronger privacy policies at the school and district level.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement in support of the toolkit: “As states continue to disinvest in public education, large technology companies have turned their sights on school districts as a lucrative business opportunity. Too often, school districts purchase and implement these aggressively marketed digital programs and resources without having the privacy safeguards and quality-assurance mechanisms in place to protect students and their teachers.

“When used appropriately, technology can be a powerful classroom tool to enhance the learning of students and support the work of educators. But unregulated, technology should never supplant the work that educators do, particularly when exposure to hackers, fraud and infiltration can provide a real security threat. This toolkit helps ensure that digital and new media tools don’t infringe on the safety of our schools.”

Leonie Haimson, the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy explained, “Privacy is a precious if vanishing resource with expanding data collection and use of ed tech tools in the classroom. In a recent public service announcement, the FBI warned that cyber criminals have been hacking into school databases, threatening students with violence and the release of their personal information.  It is critically important that educators learn how to safeguard their students’ sensitive information from breach and misuse, yet up to now, most teachers have felt unprepared to do so.”

“We surveyed and interviewed 365 educators from across the country to find that teachers care deeply about their privacy and want to learn more about protecting their own sensitive information as well as that of their students,” remarked Rachael Stickland, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. She concluded, “Our hope is that this toolkit gives teachers easy access to the resources they need every day to make the best possible decisions to keep personal data at school safe.”

Marla Kilfoyle, former executive director of The Badass Teachers Association explained, “As an educator who has been the victim of an ed tech product that has threatened my privacy, the work that has been done on this toolkit is important to safeguard data for everyone using these  products. It has been an honor to work on this toolkit for over a year. I have been an educator for 30 years and this toolkit has taught me so much about my own personal data, how to protect the data of my students, and how to advocate for data privacy in my district.”

President of the National Education Association Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, The Educators Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy” will be a helpful document to educators across the nation as they navigate the complexities of protecting privacy data today. NEA applauds the BATs for their leadership in raising the issue of privacy and creating this resource. This guide can serve as an important tool when used in conjunction with the expertise of local Uniserve [union advocacy staff]  or legal counsel when seeking specific guidance relative to an educator’s unique worksite and legislative geography. Today, we need all the good information we can get!”

Melissa Tomlinson, assistant executive director of The Badass Teachers Association stated, “Working on The Educators Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy has been an eye-opening experience for me. Armed with this information, I have changed practices within my own classroom around how I use technology in ways to make sure all of my students’ information remains safe.”

As the FBI pointed out, “widespread collection of sensitive information by education technology vendors, such as web browsing history, biometric data and students’ geolocation, could present unique exploitation opportunities for criminals.”  It is our hope that teachers, administrators, and union leaders will share this Toolkit, and use it in trainings so that educators better understand how to ensure their students’ privacy and their own.

The Toolkit was made possible by grants from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, the American Federation of Teachers, and the NEA Foundation.

Access the toolkit                                     
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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Effect Of Adoption On The Child's Education

Effects Of Adoption On The Child's Education
Adopting a child often has a significant influence on their lifelong cognitive development and educational competencies. With access to greater economic resources, higher-achieving schools and support from a nurturing family who believes in the power of education, adopted children generally thrive academically. These opportunities for intellectual growth enable children to catch up to their peers in math, reading and life skills even when school performance is initially delayed. Consider these three educational benefits that fall into place when you welcome a child into your family:

Deeper Parental Involvement Strengthens Development

A child’s age at adoption plays a critical role in their educational journey. Earlier placement promotes stronger language progression, particularly if they are an only child. This success is often attributed to adoptive parents being more actively involved in their child’s early cognitive development. In many affluent homes, daily reading is considered an important bonding activity while healthy socialization skills are built through volunteering and participating in extracurricular activities.

Once formal schooling begins, adoptive parents typically immerse themselves in classroom activities, helping with nightly homework assignments and volunteering for school programs. In comparison studies, adopted children reach similar academic achievements as their peers and have indistinguishable IQ scores as their non-related siblings.

Benefitting from Special Education Interventions

Since adoption does not appear to impede success in the classroom, it is unclear why special education programs receive twice as many referral requests from adopted children. It is possible that a parental disability is passed down genetically while early abuse, lack of proper prenatal care and interruptions in attachment can slow learning growth.

However, these disproportionate numbers may result from environmental factors rather than the excessive presence of disabilities. Children who are adopted at an older age might simply need remedial classes to catch up with their peers due to missing too much school. Many students also encounter more rigorous academic expectations from their new families as well as higher school standards. Additionally, adopted children of all ages may expend more mental energy dealing with feelings of grief about their birth families. They can feel left out of family history assignments or be teased by classmates, which often affects self-confidence and engagement. These circumstances make it more difficult to stay on task and lead adults to question whether a learning disability exists.

Overall, adoptive parents are generally more aware of and willing to accept help from social support services. They also tend to be more observant of their children’s academic performance and do not assign the usual stigmas to intervention programs. As a result, they often feel empowered to become educational advocates for their children, who then go on to achieve more successes in the classroom.

College Bound

More than half of 4,600 adopted teens reported that they like school, which is comparable to the responses of nonadopted teens. Additionally, three-quarters plan to attend college, so they are motivated to do their best in school. In contrast, only 10 percent of foster care youth are college bound, which means that adoption is a significant motivator in having higher educational aspirations. This influence extends beyond the adoptee, encouraging birth mothers to complete their schooling at a higher rate than young single mothers.

Teenagers who are adopted from foster care receive financial assistance to achieve their dreams of attending college. They are eligible for special FAFSA waivers and ETV vouchers, which can cover up to $5,000 per year in tuition costs. A handful of states and private scholarship programs also financially support adoptees who want to further their career training at technical colleges, community colleges or four-year universities.

Anti-Teacher Argument I Am Most Tired Of: “You Knew What You Were Getting Into” by Penelope Millar

I think the anti-teacher argument I’m most tired of is “you knew what you were getting into”.
Yes. Yes I did.
It wasn’t this.
18 years ago when I was a high school senior deciding what to do with my life, I chose to go to college planning to become a high school teacher. At that time, the news said that near 1/4 of teachers would be retiring in the next five years, so a job shouldn’t be hard to find. Teachers were paid a decent if not amazing salary with guaranteed yearly step increases. They had a good pension plan and health insurance coverage with low premiums and copays. Standardized testing was just a minor aspect of schools. (NCLB was passed the year I graduated high school.)
Today, I teach in an environment unimaginable before NCLB, in which standardized testing and meaningless data rules all. It’s not just the state test, gotta take the county benchmark tests to see if they’re prepared for the state test. (None of these tests are reliable & valid measures of learning.) I teach in a world in which the push is to raise “on time graduation rates” without any in depth consideration of whether those kids really should be graduating. I teach in a world where somehow it’s ok to plop a kid in front of a computer to “make up” the entire first semester of a course in two weeks- even as the students themselves admit that they don’t learn anything from those courses.
Meanwhile, those “guaranteed step increases” haven’t existed since 2008 and every single “raise/COLA” I’ve had since then has been entirely eaten by health insurance costs. That includes the one I got for finishing my masters degree, which I’m still paying off since they axed the tuition reimbursement I was promised after the first semester. As for the pension, well, I’m really lucky there since I got hired early enough to be on the “good plan”- if the state government doesn’t raid the pension fund like a lot of other states have been doing.
This isn’t even getting into the effect of cell phones or the rise of helicopter parenting. And yes, I know that people in plenty of other industries are dealing with the same bs. They shouldn’t have to either.
So basically, don’t tell me I knew what I was getting into because this profession was VERY different when I made that choice in 2000. There’s some reasons enrollments in teacher prep programs are down these days. I honestly don’t think I would encourage anyone graduating high school today to get into this profession, especially not considering what college tuition costs.

Teacher Autonomy – An Often Ignored Victim of High Stakes Testing by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

When I think of the modern day public school teacher, I think of Gulliver’s Travels.

Not because I’ve ever taught the Jonathan Swift classic to my students, but because of its most indelible image.

If that is not the picture of a public school teacher, I don’t know what is!

We are constantly restrained – even hogtied – from doing what we know is right.

And the people putting us in bondage – test obsessed lawmakers, number crunching administrators and small-minded government flunkies.

You see, teachers are in the classroom with students day in, day out. We are in the best position to make informed decisions about student learning. The more autonomy you give us, the better we’ll be able to help our students succeed.

But in an age of high stakes testing, Common Core and school privatization run amuck, teacher autonomy has been trampled into the dirt.

Instead, we have a militia of armchair policy hacks who know nothing about pedagogy, psychology or education but who want to tell us how to do our jobs.

It’s almost like we’ve forgotten that educator self-determination ever was a value people thought worth preserving in the first place.

Whereas in generations past it was considered anywhere from merely advisable to absolutely essential that instructors could make up their own minds about how best to practice their craft, today we’d rather they just follow the script written by our allegedly more competent corporate masters.

The way I see it, the reason for this is fivefold:

  1. Testing

    School used to be about curriculum and pedagogy. It was focused on student learning – not how we assess that learning. Now that standardized tests have been mandated in all 50 states as a means of judging whether our schools are doing a good job (and assorted punishments and rewards put in place), it’s changed the entire academic landscape. In short, when you make school all about standardized tests, you force educators to teach with that as their main concern.
  2. Common Core

    Deciding what students should learn used to be the job of educators, students and the community. Teachers used their extensive training and experience, students appeal to their own curiosity, and the community tailored its expectations based on its needs. However, we’ve given up on our own judgment and delegated the job to publishing companies, technology firms and corporations. We’ve let them decide what students should learn based on which pre-packed products they can most profitably sell us. The problem is when you force all academic programs to follow canned academic standards written by functionaries, not educators, you put teachers in a straight jacket constraining them from meeting their students’ individual needs.

3. Grade Promotion Formulas
It used to be that teachers decided which students passed or failed their classes. And when it came to which academic course students took next, educators at least had a voice in the process. However, we’ve standardized grade promotion and/or graduation policies around high stakes test scores and limited or excluded classroom grades. When you’re forced to rely on a formula which cannot take into account the infinite variables present while excluding the judgment of experienced experts in the classroom, you are essentially forbidding educators from one of the most vital parts of the academic process – having a say in what their own courses mean in the scheme of students educational journeys.

4. Scripted Curriculum

Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this whole process has been the attempted erasure of the teacher – as a thinking human being – from the classroom, itself. Instead of letting us be people who observe and adapt to the realities in front of us, many of us have been forced to read from a script. It should go without saying that when you constrain educators to abide by scripted curriculum – what we used to call “teacher proof curriculum” – or pacing guides, you remove their ability to be teachers, at all.

5. Value Added Evaluations

We used to trust local principals and administrators to decide which of their employees where doing a good job. Now even that decision has been taken away and replaced by junk science formulas that claim to evaluate a teacher’s entire impact on a student’s life with no regard to validity, fairness or efficiency. However, local principals and administrators are there in the school building every day. They know what’s happening, what challenges staff face and even the personalities, skills and deficiencies of the students, themselves. As such, they are in a better position to evaluate teachers’ performance than these blanket policies applied to all teachers in a district or state – things like valued-added measures or other faith based formulas used to estimate or quantify an educator’s positive or negative impact.

It’s no wonder then that teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

You can’t freeze someone’s salary, stifle their rights to fair treatment while choking back their autonomy and still expect them to show up to work everyday eager and willing to do the job.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a representative sample of more than 37,000 American public school elementary and secondary teachers showing widespread dissatisfaction with the job in general and a lack of autonomy in particular.
In fact, they cited this lack of self-determination as a leading contributor to the nationwide teacher shortage. Having control over how you do your job is essential to being fully satisfied with your work.

If you’re just following orders, your accomplishments aren’t really yours. It’s the difference between composing a melody and simply recreating the sounds of an amateur musician with perfect fidelity.
Today’s teachers rarely get to pick the textbooks they use, which content or skills to focus on, which techniques will be most effective in their classrooms, how to discipline students, how much homework to give – and they have next to zero say about how they will be evaluated.
And to make matters worse, sometimes it isn’t that educators are forbidden from exercising autonomy, but that they are given such a huge laundry list of things they’re responsible for that they don’t have the time to actually be creative or original. Once teachers meet the demands of all the things they have to cram into a single day, there is little room for reflection, revision or renewal.
School policy is created at several removes from the classroom. We rarely even ask workaday teachers for input less than allowing them to participate in the decision making process.
We imagine that policy is above their pay grade. They are menial labor. It’s up to us, important people, to make the big decisions – even though most of us have little to no knowledge of how to teach!
Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg says that this is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing if we really cared about improving both the teaching profession and the quality of education we provide students.
In the United States, autonomy usually stops at the district or administrative level and results in decision-making that ignores the voices of educators and the community, he says.
“School autonomy has often led to lessening teacher professionalism and autonomy for the benefit of greater profits for those who manage or own private schools, charter schools or other independent schools. This is perhaps the most powerful lesson the US can learn from better-performing education systems: teachers need greater collective professional autonomy and more support to work with one another. In other words, more freedom from bureaucracy, but less from one another.”
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to increased autonomy is political.
In some states, local teachers unions negotiate annual contracts with their districts. However, most states have statewide teacher contracts that are negotiated only by state teachers unions.
These contracts can directly affect exactly how much independence teachers can exercise in the classroom since they can determine things like the specific number of hours that teachers can work each week or limit the roles that teachers can play in a school or district.
There are even some tantalizing schools that are entirely led and managed by teachers. The school does not have formal administrators – teachers assume administrative roles, usually on a revolving basis. But such experiments are rare.
In most places, teacher autonomy is like the last dinosaur.
It represents a bygone age when we envisioned education completely differently.
But if things remain as they are, the dinosaur will go extinct.
Autonomy is a hint at what we COULD be and what we COULD provide students…

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Monday, October 8, 2018

The First Columbus Day I Remember by Dr. Michael Flanagan

The first Columbus Day I remember I was in kindergarten, and we were going to have that Monday off. The teacher was explaining to the class who Columbus was, and that he “discovered America”. At five-years-old you don’t question. You are told something by the teacher, and it is so. It did not matter that it was a bit confusing that he could have “discovered” a place where people were already living, but that is neither here nor there.

What was clear was that we had the day off! Columbus was somebody to be celebrated because of it. There was even going to be a parade! As kids, that’s all we needed to know, Columbus discovered America, there is a parade, and a day off from school. Next we moved on to circle time, then snack time, nap time, etc.

As the years went by and subsequent Columbus Days occurred, we were taught about the Nina! The Pinta! And the Santa Maria! And that in addition to discovering America, Columbus also discovered the Indians! Right there on the beach. There were even pictures in the textbooks to prove it! Then moving on from that important bit of history we next learned about adding and subtracting, until the bell rang and we went to recess.

Eventually we learned the stories about how tough the voyage was, and how he was determined to sail west, even though his sailors were scared they would fall off the earth or meet their deaths by being eaten by sea monsters. It seemed that Columbus was the only person who knew the earth was round (which is impressive, if not historically accurate). Things were getting so bad that the crew was getting ready to mutiny, until a bird flew by, and land was finally found!

That all seemed pretty cut and dried. Plus, a day off and a parade! Columbus discovered America, then came Thanksgiving and those nice Indians who helped the pilgrims and everybody ate together at the feast.  Good times.

That’s pretty much all you need as a kid. Your teachers, and your parents, telling you something. No need for a critical lens, no need for historical context or an examination of the repercussions of any actions. Legend and facts are the same for a child.

Paul Bunyan and Santa Claus seemed legit too.

Fast forward to high school, where we began to learn that Columbus did not actually “discover” America, but was really lost. And that he was motivated not by adventure and bravery, but by the search for spices and wealth. He sailed west trying to find a short cut, to get rich quick. And, that the people who he called Indians, actually lived nowhere near India. Evidently there was no need to learn their true names and cultures at that time. Although it seemed a pretty glaring mistake, we still called them Indians anyway. The guy was lost, greedy, and mistaken about who he “discovered”, but whatever. There is a parade and a day off! Good enough.

As the years went by we learned that the Native peoples of America died out because of diseases like smallpox, measles and typhus, brought over by the Europeans. No judgement there, just accidentally wiped out. By the millions.

That particular history lesson, the one about the genocide of an entire race of people, is usually covered in just one class period. There were some illustrations in the textbooks of dying natives, and talk of their “lacking immunity”. The conclusion seemed to be that it was pretty much their own fault for getting sick. Almost as if it was acceptably inevitable. Basically the story goes: The New World was discovered, then the Natives died of disease, and now we live in America!. Case closed. The bell rings for gym.

Unfortunately, it is not until deep into high school that students might even start to become aware of the racism and genocide that accompanied European imperialism. Perhaps if you were lucky, in order to compensate for our biased textbooks, a socially conscious teacher might have chosen to distribute some supplemental readings about Columbus.

Primary source documents, perhaps excerpts from Columbus’ own journals, in order to generate some frank discussions in class. The torture and depravity. The sexual abuse, slavery and violence perpetrated against women and children. The racism immediately instituted because of him. Discussions that finally allowed students to begin to see for themselves what a monster Columbus truly was.

But, as in most white, patriarchal, Eurocentric history classes, these crimes against humanity are usually quantified by stating “Columbus was a man of his time”. That that is how all people acted back then, so it’s okay. At least we got the United States of America out of it. Where would we be without Columbus? Okay now prep for the SAT’s and get ready for the prom. Pay no attention to the mass murderer behind the curtain.

Tragically, for many products of the American school system, the crimes of Columbus were only begun to be made clear through the remembrances of the victims, and the voices of their descendants.

That knowledge is primarily gained outside of our nation’s classrooms. I remember attending the Columbus Day parade in Manhattan when I was in college. While watching the marching bands and the floats, the real story for me was the people not allowed to march down 5th Avenue, towards Columbus Circle.

It was the protesters coming down the sidewalks, pushing through the crowds, dragging makeshift coffins and carrying signs that read “Columbus was a rapist and murderer”. Posters of the blood and bones of millions.

These are the voices of the Taino people. The voices we do not hear in our classrooms.  

All the while the protesters, many of the very same ethnic blood lines as Columbus’s victims, were derided by the cheering crowds. Never let the truth get in the way of a good parade.

In recent years there has been a push to rename Columbus Day as
Indigenous Peoples Day, to finally recognize the Native Americans slaughtered in the Columbian genocide. But for every one city that has attempted to shine a light on the true history of Columbus, hundreds more remain belligerently in the dark, forcefully rejecting when people try to shine the light of truth.

The fact that I distinctly remember my first school day off because of Columbus Day shows what power teachers, schools and curriculum have over the minds of our children. We need to teach history as it actually happened. Not teach it as legend, or propaganda.

We don’t have to be graphically vivid to our kindergartners, but we should be honest. And we should not encourage the celebration of Columbus Day, simply because we have always done so. We should not allow our children to memorialize it because they get a day off of school.

We must break the cycle. Or else we will continue to raise people ignorant to the truth. Biased textbooks and curriculum have covered for the crimes against humanity for decades. It needs to end.  

This Columbus Day, let’s teach our students to remember the victims, instead of celebrating the person responsible for one of the worst genocides in human history. Change starts in our classrooms. #IndigenousPeoplesDay