Sunday, September 23, 2018

Now I Know by LaVasha Murdoch

I just got home. Tonight I learned how seeing police officers get away with killing black and brown people has affected me. I was traveling home after my Council dinner in Omak and just getting to Wenatchee when there were red and blue lights in my rear view mirror.

 My first thought was “Please Jesus, let me make it home to my family.” 

I signaled, pulled over, put my car in park and then put both hands on the wheel. “Please, God. Just let me make it home.” The officer gets to my window and signals for me to roll it down. I do. He tells me his name. I don’t remember it. He asks if I know why he pulled me over. “No, sir. I don’t.” He tells me I have a headlight out. “Oh. Okay.” 

My hands start to shake. He asks me if my name is La Vasha, but he mispronounces it. I correct him and then say “Yes, sir.” He asks for my license. I look at my purse on the passenger seat and see that it’s zipped. I look back at him and tell him that I have it, but it’s in my purse. “I’m going to unzip it, okay?” He says it’s okay. Hands still shaking, I open my purse and am relieved that my wallet is still on top and visible. I pull it out and struggle to release my license from the pocket. I hand it over and he looks at it and asks me where Kittitas is. “Um... it’s ten miles left of Ellensburg.” Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t think to say “East.” 

He asks me for my registration. I point to my glove box. “It’s in there. I’m going to open that, okay?” He says it’s okay. I fumble through the pocket that holds the manual and the registration. I pull out the old one. Nope. Keep looking. I find it and can’t hold it steady, but he manages to take it. 

He asks if I have insurance. “Yes, sir. It’s in here, too.” I look in the pocket. I can’t find it! In my head, my prayer has been cut to “Please, God. Please. Please, God. Please.” He tells me he’s going to go check my information and he’ll be right back. Okay. I keep looking. By the time he comes back, I still haven’t found the current one. The only one I have on me that I have torn my wallet apart for is 8 years old. He looks at me and I tell him I can’t find it. 

He tells me that I look nervous. 

“Yes, sir. I am very nervous.” He asks me why. “Because I’m a black woman on this side of the mountains and you just pulled me over.” His eyes are brown. He says it’s going to be okay. He asks if I’m sure that’s the only reason? He smiles at me. “It’s okay. I just wanted to make sure that you aren’t nervous because you have a trunk full of cocaine or something.” I think he’s trying to make a joke to put me at ease. I don’t laugh, but I say “No, you can check it if you want. I’m a teacher and I’m coming from a meeting in Omak. I’m just going home.” 

He tells me he’s going to let me go with a warning to find my insurance card because that’s a $500 ticket if it’s not with me in the vehicle and since I’m almost home, make sure to get my light fixed. Actually to maybe stop at Fred Meyer and pick one up. I tell him I’m going to have my husband take care of it first thing in the morning. My hands were still shaking when he gave me my stuff back. My stomach was jumpy. He goes back to his car. I put my car in gear, signal and head home. I was still so nervous. I had intended to stop and gas up in Wenatchee. I didn’t. I just kept driving until I got home. I got into my house, saw my husband who has always been my safe space and just started to shake and cry.

In telling my husband this story, I asked him if it were him, would his first thought have been that he wasn’t going to make it home. Would he have thought he was going to die? His answer... no.

This is what privilege looks like and feels like.

That officer was nice to me. He could have given me a ticket for not finding my insurance card. He didn’t. He saw that I was nervous and he could have easily escalated the situation. He didn’t.

But let me say this, I am a law abiding citizen and I was terrified that because I’m black I was going to be killed over a traffic stop. You think I’m overreacting? Philando Castile. Freddy Gray. Samuel DuBose. Natasha McKenna. Countless others. 

Tonight, I just thank God that La Vasha Murdoch didn’t join that list. I really didn’t know how all of this has been playing on my psyche. 

Now I know.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

FBI Warns EdTech Puts Student Safety at Risk by Steven Singer

Pandora’s box may not be a heavy wooden chest.

It might just be a laptop or an iPad.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) issued a warning late last week about the proliferation of educational technologies (EdTech) in schools and the dangers they pose to student safety and privacy.

The devices and applications singled out by US domestic intelligence services all involve software that asks for and saves student input.

This includes classroom management tools like Class Dojo and eBackpack as well as student testing and remediation applications like Classroom Diagnostic Tools and StudyIsland.

The alert cautions schools and parents that the widespread collection of student data involved in these applications could cause safety concerns if the information is compromised or exploited.

It’s just such technologies that have proliferated at a breakneck pace in districts throughout the country while legislation, cybersecurity and even awareness of the danger has lagged behind.

The Bureau is concerned about EdTech services because many are “adaptive, personalized learning experiences” or “administrative platforms for tracking academics, disciplinary issues, student information systems, and classroom management programs.”

The Bureau clarified that use of EdTech applications was not, in itself, the problem. They are a tool, and like any tool, they can be used for good or ill.

Advocates say when used correctly, these systems offer the potential for student collaboration, and for teachers to collect and compare information about students to help design better lessons. On the other hand, critics warn that the problems with most EdTech is essential to the way it operates and that it is designed more for the purposes of student data mining and profitization by corporations than withacademic success for children in mind.

In either case, the dangers posed by such devices are indisputable.

Analysts listed several types of student particulars being stockpiled:

  • “personally identifiable information (PII);

  • biometric data;

  • academic progress;

  • behavioral, disciplinary, and medical information;

  • Web browsing history;

  • students’ geolocation;

  • IP addresses used by students; and

  • classroom activities.”

This is highly sensitive information that could be extremely harmful to students if it fell into the wrong hands.

Pedophiles could use this data to find and abduct children. Criminals could use it to blackmail them. It could even be sold to unscrupulous corporations or exploited by other children to bully and harass classmates.

These concerns are not merely academic. Data breaches have already occurred.

According to the FBI:

“…in late 2017, cyber actors exploited school information technology (IT) systems by hacking into multiple school district servers across the United States. They accessed student contact information, education plans, homework assignments, medical records, and counselor reports, and then used that information to contact, extort, and threaten students with physical violence and release of their personal information. The actors sent text messages to parents and local law enforcement, publicized students’ private information, posted student PII on social media, and stated how the release of such information could help child predators identify new targets.”

Though the Bureau did not mention them by name, it cited two specific cybersecurity failures in 2017 at two large EdTech companies where millions of student’s private information became publicly available.

The FBI seems to be referring to Edmodo and Schoolzilla. Hackers stole 77 million user accounts from Edmodo last year and sold that data to a “dark web” marketplace. Likewise, Schoolzilla stored student information on a publicly accessible server, according to a security researcher, thereby exposing the private information of approximately 1.3 million children.

It was these data breaches that prompted the Department of Education to issue a Cyber Advisory alert in October of 2017 warning that cyber criminals were targeting schools that had inadequate data security. Criminals were trying to gain access to this sensitive material about students to “shame, bully, and threaten children.”

In February, another cybercrime was reported by the Internal Revenue Service. The agency released an “urgent alert” about scammers targeting school districts with W-2 phishing schemes.

Of particular concern to the FBI are school devices connected directly to the Internet. They offer hackers an immediate link to private student information. This is true even if a school device is in the student’s home.

Tablets, laptops or monitoring devices such as cameras or microphones could be exploitable by tech savvy criminals – especially since many EdTech programs allow remote-access capabilities without the user even being aware of what is happening.

The FBI listed several recommendations for parents and families:

  • “Research existing student and child privacy protections of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and state laws as they apply to EdTech services.
  • Discuss with their local districts about what and how EdTech technologies and programs are used in their schools.

  • Conduct research on parent coalition and information-sharing organizations which are available online for those looking for support and additional resources.

  • Research school-related cyber breaches which can further inform families of student data vulnerabilities.

  • Consider credit or identity theft monitoring to check for any fraudulent use of their children’s identity.

  • Conduct regular Internet searches of children’s information to help identify the exposure and spread of their information on the Internet.”

The warning concluded by asking those who have information about cybercrimes or who have been victimized by data breaches to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at

For some, the FBI’s warning highlights the need for greater education funding for cybersecurity.

“While other industries are investing in greater IT security to protect against cyber threats, many schools are facing budget constraints that result in declining resources for IT security programs,” staff members from the Future of Privacy Forum wrote on their blog. “Schools across the country lack funding to provide and maintain adequate security,” they wrote.

Others see the problem as one of antiquated legislation not keeping up with changing technologies.

The FBI memo highlights a need for Congress to update federal student privacy laws, said Rachael Stickland, co-founder and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

At present, these issues are covered haphazardly from state to state, a situation Strickland finds intolerably inadequate.

The main federal law safeguarding student data privacy, The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, should be updated, she said. It must address exactly which ways districts should be allowed to share data with EdTech companies.

“What we need is a comprehensive approach at the federal level to address these outdated federal laws,” she said. “We really need these modernized to address not only the cybersecurity threats but also the potential misuse of this data.”

They see the potential dangers being so massive and difficult to guard against that any remedies to fix the problem would be counterproductive.

Instead of spending millions or billions more on cybersecurity measures, we should use any additional funding for more essential budget items like teachers, tutors, nurses and counselors.

The goal is to provide a quality education – not to provide a quality education with increasingly complex technologies. If the former can be done with the latter, that’s fine. But if we have to choose between the two, we should go with proven methods instead of the latest fads.

EdTech corporations are making staggering profits off public schools while almost every other area goes lacking. In the nexus of business and industry, we may be losing sight of what’s best for students.

The question is have we already opened Pandora’s box, and if we haven’t, can we stop ourselves from doing so?

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 theBadass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Report: US Shortchanged Public Schools by Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Over Decades by Steven Singer

Fun Fact: Between 2005 and 2017, the federal government withheld $580 billion it had promised to spend on students from poor families and students with disabilities.

Fun Fact: Over that same period, the personal net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people ballooned by $1.57 trillion.

So, rich people, consider this the bill.

A new report called “Confronting the Education Debt” commissioned by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) details the shortfall in minute detail.

For instance:

  • $347 billion owed to educate low-income students most of whom are children of color.

  • $233 billion owed to provide services for students with disabilities.

And this is just the shortfall of the last dozen years! That’s just money due to children who recently graduated or are currently in the school system!

We’ve been cheating our children out of the money we owe them for more than half a century!

Federal education funding levels were first established in 1965 as part of Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the landmark education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

That law, which has become little more than a boondoggle for the standardized testing and school privatization industries, originally was passed to address inequality in America’s education funding.

Now this report from a coalition of groups including the Education Justice Research and Organizing Center, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Center for Popular Democracy and the Action Center on Race and the Economy points out the multifarious ways we have failed to live up to the standards we set in that original legislation and beyond.

One of the most glaring examples of neglect is Title I funding.

The Johnson administration admitted that schools with a high concentration of students living below the poverty line needed extra support to succeed at the same levels as students from middle class or more affluent backgrounds. So the law promised to provide an additional 40 percent for each poor child above what the state already spent per pupil.

And then it promptly failed to fund it. In 1965 and every year since!

These are not just numbers. With this money, high poverty schools could provide:

  • “health and mental health services for every student, including dental and vision services; and
  • a full-time nurse in every Title I school; and
  • a full-time librarian for every Title I school; and
  • a full-time additional counselor in every Title I school, or
  • a full-time teaching assistant in every Title I classroom.”

A decade later, in 1975, the same thing happened with The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Congress told local districts they’d have to do more to help disabled students succeed academically. However, doing so costs money. Lawmakers admitted that disabled students cost more to educate and that local districts often struggle to find the funding to help them succeed.

Once again, Congress pledged to pay up to 40 percent of that additional cost, with local and state funds covering the remainder.

Once again, Congress failed to fund it.


But it’s not just the federal government that has shirked its duties to school children.

State and local governments also stiffed generations of students out of the resources they deserved – especially if those students have black or brown skin.

Beside the federal government, public schools are funded by their local municipalities and the state. Local governments pay for about 45 percent of school budgets.

However, since most of this allotment is determined by property tax revenues, it ensures the poor get fewer resources than the rich. Kids from rich neighborhoods get lots of resources. Kids from poor areas get the scraps. Inequality is built into the funding formula to ensure that students don’t start out on an even playing field and that economic handicaps are passed on from one generation to the next.

State governments are no better. They provide about 47 percent of school budgets.

As such, they are in the position to right the wrongs of the local community by offsetting the inequality of local governments – but only 11 states do so. Twenty states close their eyes and provide the same funding to each school – rich and poor alike – regardless of need or what each community can afford to provide for its own children. But 17 states are even worse. They actually play Robin Hood in reverse – they funnelmore money to wealthier districts than to poor ones.

As a result, schools nationwide serving mostly students of color and/or poor children spend less on each child than districts serving mostly white and/or affluent children.


And while our federal, state and local governments have failed to meet their responsibilities to students, they have required fewer taxes from business and industry.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was more than 90 percent. Today it is 37 percent.

Congress just passed a series of whooping tax cuts that go into effect in 2019. More than half of the benefit of these cuts will go to the richest five percent of taxpayers. The law is expected to cost the federal treasury as much as $1.5 trillion in lost revenues over the next decade.

Nearly every state levies a much greater share of taxes from low- and middle-income families than from the wealthy.

And that’s before we even start talking about corporations!

While the US federal corporate tax is 35 percent, the effective tax rate that corporations pay after loopholes and deductions is only about 14 percent. This costs the federal government at least $181 billion in annual revenue, based on 2013 estimates by the Government Accountability Office. Local and state corporate tax and abatement programs make it even worse.

This is a choice. We are not requiring the rich to pay their fair share.


Instead of investing in ways to help educate children, one of the only areas we’ve increased funding is incarceration.

The private prison industry is booming, fueled in part by a lack of opportunities in schools.

According to the report:

“In 2017, the National Association of School Resource Officers claimed that school policing was the fastest-growing area of law enforcement. The school safety and security industry was reported to be a $2.7 billion market as of 2015. Most of that $2.7 billion is public money now enriching the private security industry instead of providing real supports to students.”

According to the US Department of Education, 1.6 million students go to a school that employs a law enforcement officer but not a guidance counselor.

That is not an unalterable economic reality. It is a failure of priorities. It is the mark of a society that is not willing to help children but will swoop in to punish them if they get out of line.


Charter schools are legal in 44 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. They have “systematically stripped public school budgets through the creation of parallel structures of privately-operated, publicly-funded schools.”

Cost studies in San Diego, Los Angeles, Nashville, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Durham and other localities have come to the same conclusion: “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.”

Yet Congress continues to appropriate millions of dollars to the Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP), which funds new charter start-ups and expansions. The program has a budget of $500 million this year, alone. It is the largest single backer of charter schools in the nation.

According to the report, “In other words, the U.S. Department of Education is operating a program that directly undermines public schools.”


But the report isn’t just about what’s wrong. It outlines how we can make it right.

1)      “Full funding of Title I and IDEA to target federal support to low-income children and students with disabilities.
2)      The creation of 25,000 Sustainable Community Schools by 2025.
3)      A new focus for the U.S. Department of Education, on ensuring and incentivizing equity in public schools across the country.”

And we can pay for it by:

A. “Make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Rescind the 2017 tax code changes, which overwhelmingly favor the top 1 percent of income earners.
  • Close the federal carried interest loophole, a step that could increase federal revenues by between $1.8 and $2 billion annually or, according to some researchers, by as much as $18 billion annually.
  • If the carried interest loophole is not closed at the federal level, states can impose a surcharge on carried interest income at the state level, raising millions for state budgets.
  • Enact so-called “millionaire’s taxes” that increase the tax rate on a state’s highest earners. New York and California have already passed such law.

B. Require wealthy corporations to pay their fair share.
  • End or reduce corporate tax breaks that cost the federal government at least $181 billion annually.
  • Reduce state and local subsidies to businesses for economic development projects and hold school funding immune from tax abatements.
  • Enforce and strengthen programs like Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to ensure that wealthy institutions pay their fair share towards local budgets.

C. Divest from the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • School safety and security is now a $2.7 billion industry. Much of that money is public money, going to profitable corporations instead of schools.
  • Divest from expensive security systems, metal detectors and legions of school-based police officers and instead invest in counselors, health and mental-health providers and other supports that make schools safer.

D. Place a moratorium on new charter schools and voucher programs.
  • A moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program would free up $500 million annually, which could be used to support the creation of Sustainable Community schools.”

The executive summary concludes with the following statistic.

Even a 10 percent increase in funding for each high poverty student maintained through 12 years of public school can dramatically change the likelihood of academic success. It can boost the chances that students will graduate high school, achieve 10 percent higher earnings as adults and a 6 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty, according to a 2015 report.
“Ten percent is pocket-change for a nation that has orchestrated the rise of an unmatched billionaire class. In the richest nation in the world, it is possibleto fully fund all our public schools, and to provide Black, Brown and low-income children with the educational resources and additional supports and services they need to achieve at the highest levels.”

The facts are in, folks.

We can no longer gripe and complain about a public education system we fail to support without recognizing the cause. We have failed to meet our responsibilities to our children – especially our children of color.

The solution is simple – equity.

We need to demand the rich do the right thing.

We cannot achieve greatness as a nation when wealth and privilege continue to shirk their duties and our lawmakers do little more than enable greed and corruption.

The bill is here.

Time to settle up.

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 theBadass Teachers Association. Check it out!