Catholic CC – Who Owns Your Child’s Catholic Education?

IMG Property of PAWhose Students Are They Anyway?

Apparently, many of our Catholic schools are using textbooks already aligned to Common Core, but at the time I began writing this the curriculum had not been fully developed as to what standards are being kept (the alleged wheat) and which ones are being left behind (the chaff). (As Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg explains, with CC there is no baby to spare when throwing out the bathwater.) Even if the curriculum is not changed, it is the methods and educational approach used in the textbooks that are the problem. Pearson and Achieve have manipulated the companies into adopting a nonsensical and progressive approach to presenting material.  Therefore, it is important to remember that it is  possible for students to be exposed to materials that are aligned to CC but are not necessarily appropriate for, or even required by, the Diocese. In some schools, these textbooks are purchased by the state as part of Pennsylvania’s Act 195/90 whereby the state purchases textbooks and instructional materials of non-religious items.

According to the PDE website:

Private and Nonpublic Schools (Kindergarten through Grade 12) which are licensed or registered with the Department of Education, excluding nursery schools, can participate in the Acts 195/90/35 Programs, which provides for the loan of textbooks, instructional materials and equipment to Pennsylvania students enrolled in private/nonpublic schools. In order to participate, each school must submit to the Department of Education an enrollment report indicating the number of students enrolled in the school as of October 1st of each year. Based upon the number of students, a per diem is calculated per eligible student which totals to an allotment for each participating school for the following school year. “

These state-supplied and owned texts are marked “Property of the Commonwealth of PA” inside the front cover. They might as well stamp this on our children’s foreheads at this point. Parents must sign a form requesting that the “loan” of materials be made on behalf of the student. I have never had to sign one of these forms, so perhaps my school purchased its own texts. However, the books the school is using are aligned to the Common Core, not PA’s own, special, customized, one and only Core Standards, but the Common Core.

Furthermore, via Act 89:

Auxiliary services includes guidance, counseling and testing services, psychological services, services for exceptional children, remedial services, speech and hearing services, services for the improvement of the educationally disadvantaged (such as, but not limited to, teaching English as a second language), and other secular, neutral, nonideological services of a supplementary and remedial nature.

These state-funded services are provided directly by the local intermediate unit to students enrolled in a nonprofit private school within the intermediate unit.

Now, there are many “public” school services from which private schools benefit as a result of laws such as this, including transportation. But no matter where we send our children to school, we all pay taxes that support and pay for government run schools. Our taxpayer dollars paid for the textbooks. Our taxpayer dollars pay the salaries of these state and quasi-state employees who provide ancillary services to the students. Our taxpayer dollars pay for the cafeteria workers who prepare lunch to public school students, while we provide for our own children’s lunches. Our tax burden is not less because we don’t send our children to public schools.

Devil is in the Details …

We are told by our Diocese that the adaptation of Common Core into our Catholic schools will not affect the Catholic identity. However, if we are using state-purchased textbooks or textbooks aligned to the Common Core how can the Diocese possibly protect our children from controversial, and in some cases unacceptable, material that may be covered or suggested as references for further research in these textbooks. Especially in the age of technology, where students are being given iPads.

Some of these text book refer students to online resources and “encyclopedias” that cover a wide range of “current events” that parents might find objectionable. But since the textbook publisher refers students to this information, parents may mistakenly believe it is safe viewing and is approved by the Catholic school.

For example, Prentice Hall, which is owned by Pearson, is a major textbook publisher. In its history books, it refers students to an online encyclopedia called “InfoPlease.” Besides promoting propaganda for the radical environmentalist agenda and a providing one-sided perspective on global warming/climate change, a few clicks will bring students to a section called “U.S. – Gender Issues.” Here are some of the topic your little one can peruse:

IMG PH Info Please

Sigh.

I don’t know if the Harrisburg Diocese is using any of these textbooks in these grades, or if its computer system has set up filters and blocks to keep students from accessing this information from their iPads or other computers. I am just posting this as an example of the precarious nature of adopting/adapting standards and textbooks written from a secular, modernist worldview. Square peg. Round hole.


Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. -Romans 12:2


 

Some Questions …

So, as always, we are left with more questions.

  1. Why must we use textbooks designed for public education in our Catholic schools? I understand the cost issue, as well as “fairness” issues with regards to the taxpayer dollars that already pays for these materials.  Wouldn’t we, as parents, be willing to pay a little extra to give our children authentically Catholic textbooks and worksheets?  There is even a Catholic Schools Textbook Project underway that presents History from a Christian worldview, and not from the modernist, humanist viewpoint offered by Big Publishing designed for “secular, neutral, nonideological” public education.
  2. Why put our students and parents in the situation of having to set up blocks and filters to control student access to external websites that are recommended in their textbooks? If students are refered to sites such as “InfoPlease,” will parents be properly notified so that they can monitor their child’s access to it at home?
  3. Why are some of our teachers using worksheets from sites such as “abcteach.com“adorned with non-descript, uninspiring characters and “poems”? Catholic homeschoolers use worksheets, available at little or no cost, inspired by sacred scripture and adorned with beautiful religious imagery. As an example, see my St. Patrick’s Day post.
  4. Why do our early elementary students needs these expensive textbooks and workbooks anyway? All they really need is good classical literature, a Catholic hymnal, poetry, pencils, crayons, lined paper, and some other tools and materials to learn the fundamentals of reading, writing, arithmetic, and the arts.
  5. Why are students who require special guidance and counseling services relegated to “secular, neutral, nonideological services” when Catholic schools are blessed with priests, deacons, and in some cases religious sisters to guide these children?  And if there are psychological issues of a more serious nature, why aren’t we using a Diocesan employee or at least a Catholic resource who CAN address the child from a pastoral and scriptural perspective?
  6. Are these state-funded guidance counseling services being implemented in conjunction with the new ” social emotional learning” standards (see how Title I funds are being considered to promote this nightmare)?  Anita Hoge has extensively researched how, under the guise of education reform, Common Core, by whatever name it is called, is a mechanism for introducing the evaluation of attitudes, values, and dispositions of our little ones and how various sources of funding have become a cash cow for schools while government increases its control. PA has apparently been a pilot state for the development, evaluation, and collection of data of these standards.  In her article ‘The Medicalization of Schools‘ she details how the ESEA re-authorization bill is being used to push an agenda:
    Public, Private and religious schools will be required to make available equitable, identical services and interventions through CHOICE called “specialized instructional support services” and “direct student services” when Title I children are given CHOICE funds to go to the school of their choice. This will control what is taught in private and religious schools.”  Again, I am not sure to what extent the social-emotional learning standards have crept into the Diocese standards, but it reveals this mindset of those involved in the education reform movement.
  7. What are the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs being promoted in these CC-aligned assessments and do they align with Catholic teachings?  How will our schools handle it if they don’t?

Furthermore, we have sacred scripture to guide these little ones in the development of virtues and values that are intrinsically part of Catholic education.  I am sure the answer is money, money, money. But what will the ultimate cost be for this unholy alliance to the future of our Catholic schools?

St. Thomas Aquinas. Pray for us.IMG St Thomas Aquinas

Blessed Mother of Divine Grace, Pray for us.IMG Blessed Mother in prayer

Catholic Ed – Kindergarten Questionairre Raises Questions

I received these pages of a Student Entry Health Survey from a mother who is preparing to send her children to Kindergarten at a Catholic school here in PA. This paperwork came from the school district via the Catholic school registration packet. Public school resources, such as district’s school nurse , are made available Catholic schools as part of PA law. They are authorized to come in and do various screenings, such as hearing, vision, and BMI.

Has anyone else had to provide such intrusive and invasive information for Kindergarten registration? Is this standard operating procedure? I found the level of questioning in this survey to be shocking. All my school required, and I was not exactly thrilled about it, was a medical form signed by the MD and answers some very basic and general questions. Nothing like this.

I wrote about the Race to the Top (RTTT) Early Learning Challenge that former Governor Tom Corbett plagued us with and the requirements for a Kindergarten Education Inventory as well as the data collection that would be emanating from these surveys/assessments on our little ones. It’s all part of the womb to tomb data system designed to feed the insatiable appetite of these data mongers and corporate/government elitists who see our children as units of human capital to be analyzed and sorted.  Guess they will be able to predict the future success and “college and career readiness” of children who still wet the bed upon entering Kindergarten or a five year old who has had troubled past when it comes to being selfish in sharing or stubbornness. Or maybe they’re just seeking to qualify for more taxpayer funded programs.

Please note that the questions are not just about physical health, but also social emotional behaviors, attitudes, and dispositions. (See Sections E & F where the parent is asked to circle things that “worry” them about their child or describe how the child gets along with his/her siblings.) But of course, anyone who talks about this is now considered a “conspiracy” fear monger, even among those who are supposedly united in the fight against “the machine.”

Is all of this information truly necessary to properly educate a child in Kindergarten? Barring any problems of serious nature, which would be either self-evident or brought up by the parent, do teachers really have trouble ascertaining the personal qualities, including strengths and weaknesses, of a child after the first few weeks of school? Do the schools really need any more information than an answer to a simple question, such as: “Does your child have any kind of medical condition the prevents or negatively affects his or her ability to participate fully in school activities?” If the answer is no, move along, nothing more to see here. Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t get it.

And what circumstances would be deemed “in the best interest of my child’s health and education” that would prompt the School Health Staff to share this information with other professionals or with other institutions?

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Class Dojo? I. Don’t. Think. So!

IMG Class Dojo Logo

Beware! Class Dojo Monsters Invading a Classroom Near You

So, one day last year, my Kindergartener bounced off the bus and made a fleeting comment about going on the computer to “change her monster.” We quickly went on to talk about other things and I kinda forgot about it, until the following day, when I received this email from her teacher:


 Hello parents!

I am so excited to tell you about something new we are starting in Kindergarten! We needed something to motivate us a little bit with our behaviors in the classroom and I just discovered http://www.classdojo.com ! With Class Dojo, each student’s behaviors will be tracked on our classroom smartboard, as well as through the Class Dojo app on an iPad. We have several target positive and negative behaviors; when students display these behaviors they have the opportunity to either earn or lose points throughout the day. At the end of each day, I can look at the students’ reports to see what we need to work on. You also have the ability to log on to view your child’s behaviors. Your child brought home a Class Dojo account code for his or her account. You can use this code to get online and view your child’s day.

Our target behaviors currently look like this:

Positive behaviors, students will earn points:
Being Kind
Following Directions
Helping Others
On-Task: includes paying attention, staying focused
Participating
Teamwork
Working Hard

Negative behaviors, students will lose points:
“bullying” – this we are using to include unkind words and actions, such as not keeping hands to self, name-calling, etc.
Calling out and causing disruptions
Disrespect – this includes being disrespectful to teachers, the classroom, materials, etc.
Off-Task – includes not listening, not following directions, not paying attention in class


I am hoping that this will be a positive experience for all of us and help us to reach all of our goals for the remainder of the year. I ask you to please be patient with me as we get this new program started. The students seem very excited about their “monsters” and about earning points which makes me very excited as well! Today we kept all of the points positive to get acquainted with the system and help the students feel motivated.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this new system. We are very excited and I hope it continues to motivate us to make great choices.


IMG Class Dojo 2I also received a paper which provided a Student Access Code and a Parent Access Code that looked like this:

This is an example of the form that came home from school.
This is an example of the form that came home from school.

Student Access Code? For a five year old? And why were children told about this “web based” classroom behavior management application before parents were notified? The form does not request my consent, it merely affirms that I  signed up to receive these “behavior reports.” If I had created an account, which I did not, I would have most likely been asked to agree to the terms of use and privacy policy as posted on the website. Quite frankly, did I really want or need, barring any major issues, this much information about my child’s school day?

 I. Don’t. Think. So.

It took me only a few minutes of searching the world wide web to discover a never ending parade of testimonials lauding the virtues of this “free” classroom application. And the more I saw, the more disturbed I was and the more absurd this Class Dojo world seemed. It was like being in a never ending episode of Yo Gabba Gabba!

IMG Class Djo yo-gabba-gabba-characters-mainImage

Here is a horrendous little video I found of school children singing a mind-numbing anthem to Class Dojo with their beautiful faces covered by Class Dojo monster avatars.

“It makes us feel like kings and queens.”

“We get our own secret code.”

What, in the wide, wide world of sports, is going on here?

Having these children create avatars depicting themselves as one ‘one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eaters’ just seemed bizarre, and very inappropriate, to me. But then again, I’m just a 40-something curmudgeon who thinks classroom behavior management involves paddles, rulers, and dunce caps (just kidding) and who also loathes the overuse of technology in the classroom just as much as I loathed it when teachers used the overhead projector instead of writing on the chalkboard. I loved the chalkboard.

Buddah coinI also found the use of these “avatars” unsettling. I discovered that the origin of the word “avatar” is rooted in the Hindu religion and represents the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form. Did I mention this is a Catholic school?  Of course, I realize the little ones, and the teacher, have no idea that their avatar represents anything more than a cute fuzzy monster, but philosophically and as a matter of principle, this has no place in parochial education. But, then again, last year my daughter came home with a Buddah coin she pulled out of a “treasure box” one of the teachers had in her classroom, so I guess this is just par for the course. Yes, a Buddah coin.

Please understand that I do not believe the teacher who implemented this had put any more thought into it than that it seemed like a cute way to motivate the little “monsters” to behave better in class.  But I have to wonder who approved the use of something like this in a Catholic school.  And I certainly don’t believe there is anything sinister in the intentions of those who created this application to help distressed teachers manage the unmanageable behaviors of our petulant little ones. But as always, the devil is in the details and we must always look ahead to the unintended consequences.

Privacy Please …

As we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so I had to wonder about offering this application “free” to classroom teachers. Just like many of the free apps we download onto our phones, the “terms and conditions may apply” requirement is often a catch all phrase that permits information about us to be shared with whomever these app folks choose to share it. And I have learned enough to know that in the age of Big Education, Big Data, and Common Core capturing data on our little ones, including psychometric data, is a desirable commodity. I wondered where this data would be stored and who would ultimately have access to it.

The “Terms of Use” and “Privacy” information on the Class Dojo website were typical of most web based applications, which was even more concerning since this involved privacy of children, not adults. I addressed these concerns in my letter to the school, which can be found at the end of this post.

As I was penning this post, a friend sent me this email she received from Class Dojo, Incorporated. It seems Class Dojo has recently undergone a beauty makeover of their totally awesome privacy and use policies.

Hey there! Hope you’re well! We love that you’re part of the ClassDojo community. Keeping you and the rest of that community safe means everything to us. So, we’ve updated our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to better protect you, making them some of the friendliest and safest policies in education. We know you’re busy, so here’s what you need to know:
    • The updates include lots of good things like not allowing advertising on ClassDojo, and committing to never selling or renting your or your child’s information to anyone for any reason. You can read about all the changes in our blog post at http://blog.classdojo.com. This will be effective from April 21st, 2015.
    • We’ve also made a beautiful new Privacy Center to give you a simple overview of how ClassDojo protects your family’s privacy and security! You can find some helpful resources about privacy there for you and your child’s school. Check it out at http://www.classdojo.com/privacycenter.

We hope this helps! Thank you for using ClassDojo to communicate with your child’s teachers this year :)Cheers,

So, I guess they were getting the message from schools concerned about privacy issues. Even though they are doing “good things” like not selling or renting (?) student data, can they give it away for free? Or can they allow “researchers” to access their system? Could schools eventually integrate these behavior reports into the state longitudinal data systems? But, then again, their Privacy Center is so beautiful now, so I guess it really just doesn’t matter.

Class Dojo in action

I found many “you tube” videos posted online depicting the fabulous results teachers were getting with Class Dojo. One video showed a teacher who had implemented Class Dojo sauntering around a classroom of high school students with his iPhone in hand,  tapping away at the screen giving students points for staying “on task” or doing the assignment correctly. The inspiring “Dojo doink” sound was enough to break the class’ concentration on their work to see who was the lucky recipient of the “doink” on the big screen. Whatever happened to a nice, but gentle, dare I suggest, pat on the back and or simply telling the student “Hey, good job?”

Do we really need less, not more, human interaction?

Do we really need more folks obsessively focused on their phones and tablets, especially in the classroom? Do teachers really need daily score cards on each child to know who’s naughty or nice or to track behavior trends?

IMG Class Dojo Smartboard 3And then there is this enormous “smartboard” (an overhead projector on steroids) that, in our case, gets wheeled in and out of the room. The one our school has takes up almost the whole front of the classroom and displays the colorful array of monsters representing each student.

 

 

Where is the dignity of the individual child respected here?

IMG Class Dojo Smartboard2IMG Class Dojo Smartboard 4

Besides serious philosophical and religious objections to Class Dojo, I envisioned how distracting this could be in a room full of Kindergarteners, who would spend their day looking up at the board to see whose monster was the funniest and who changed their avatar the night before. Not to mention the daily obsession my daughter would have over logging in to “her” account to re-create her “monster.”

Here is a 8-minute tutorial presented by a super cool “20-something” explaining the pure awesome-ness of this program. Maybe I’m just being stuck up and/or stuck in the 1800’s, but it comes across as unprofessional and juvenile.

But wait, there’s more … Spawn of Class Dojo

And just recently another parent informed me that the spawn of Class Dojo is being implemented in her son’s Catholic school. It is called ClassCraft and it takes Class Dojo to a whole new level.

IMG ClassCraft

“Real” risks and rewards? In a video game?

“Gamifying” the classroom “experience?”

“Meaningful collaboration” and making success “interdependent?”

IMG ClassCraft Mage
Image from http://www.classcraft.com

I find it all incredibly creepy and new-agey. Again, I am sure whoever developed this application had the intention of “making learning fun.” But life is not a video game. But who knows, maybe it will be once this generation comes through the system. I fear we are creating a world of narcissists who are accustomed to instant gratification and who believe they really are the “healers, mages, or warriors” represented by their “avatars” in video game world, before they have even accomplished anything real and meaningful in their lives.

Besides, what is ClassCraft doing in Catholic schools???? We have real warriors in our Saints, like Saint Joan of Arc! We have a real wonderful counselor “healer” in Jesus Christ! We don’t need mages/wizards wielding magic spells. We have the Almighty One wielding his powerful Word!

IMG Armor_of_God_II

Here’s the promotional video for ClassCraft:

And what is the worldview of the application’s creator, Shawn Young? I found this from an article on venturebeat.com: [emphasis mine]

“Going after that group mentality is key for Young, though, and he doesn’t think the education system values it enough. “Our whole system of [pupil] rewards is based on individual assessments,” he says, “and that’s not useful for them. What’s useful for them is seeing the value of your team succeeding as opposed to yourself, working together to make your collective level go up.

Young points out that when somebody dies in Classcraft their whole team gets punished by losing hit points. “The game is very finely balanced — risk versus reward,” he says. “There’s a collective risk of somebody dying, but at the same time there are all these incentives to collaborate. That really transforms the classroom.””

Going after group mentality? Individual assessments are not useful for them?

Believe me, I understand all about teamwork and collaboration. I attended many in-services given by professional consultants who earned big bucks teaching us that there was no “I” in T-E-A-M player and that the word TEAM was an acronym for Together Everyone Achieves More. There are certainly times when this is true and working together and collaboration are valuable experiences, but there are other times when going along with the group can put one in great peril – in more ways than one.

In the “real world” we don’t always have “everything is awesome when you are part of a team” collaboration. Besides, do we want children to seek acceptance or to seek truth? Consensus/groupthink does not necessarily lead us to the truth or the “right” answer, instead it can lead us to deem something true simply because people generally agree upon it.

Furthermore, we don’t always receive immediate rewards or accolades when we do what’s right and good. Sometimes we don’t get any external rewards at all. Good deeds are still good deeds even if no one is around to praise you for them.

In ClassCraft world, what motivates the students? External rewards from video game and phony interactions between avatars? Doing good “for goodness sake?”


…your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:5


From the Catechism:

1889 “Without the help of grace, men would not know how “to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse.” This is the path of charity, that is, of the love of God and of neighbor. Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.””

 Less Dojo, more Dogma

Do either of these new-age applications incorporate authentic Catholic teaching or reference sacred scripture as it relates to how we, as Christians, view and interact with the world?


“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2


Do things like this lead children closer to Christ and His teachings on what we, and God, expect from these little ones?  I realize they get this spiritual nourishment in other aspects of their school day, but I firmly believe, first and foremost, all aspects of their education, including behavior management, should be centered in Christ.

Where is the truth, beauty or goodness in these intrusions into our classrooms? It all seems superficial and inauthentic, at a time when we desperately need authenticity. From the old Sesame Street days, let’s play, “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong …”IMG Blessed Mother in prayer

Jesus ChildrenIMG Class Dojo 2

Do we fully know the consequences, intended or unintended, of “gamifying” the classroom “experience?” Besides, do students really need more time in front of computers and video games? Do they really need more stimulation and entertainment? Instead of seeking more ways to appease this “gaming” and social media mentality, why wouldn’t we offer them real opportunities to engage each other as their true selves, as children of God, and not disguised as some meaningless “avatar?”

Does the evidence show that these types of reward systems really work in the long term to instill into the hearts of little ones the values that lead to good behavior and the development of good character?

Do we really need more opportunities to potentially expose personal information and leave children and their parents vulnerable online to data mongers and other third parties, including these so-called “researchers,” not to mention hackers, who have an insatiable appetite for information on the behaviors and attitudes of our children? Will Catholic schools use applications like this to “Monitor the Mission,” as was presented by Center for Catholic School Effectiveness (Boyle) in 2011?

This all comes at us at such a fast pace it is hard to keep up. It’s like the whack a mole game, just when you get a whack at one of them, another one pops up. And those of us who question any of this are treated like neanderthals who miss the good old days when students tapped out their assignments using a rock and chisel.

So, what happened to Class Dojo in my daughter’s school?

I sent a rather long-winded response to the teacher in which I expressed my concerns, among other things, about student privacy, citing the “Term of Use” and “Privacy” agreements of this application, the fact that my consent was not obtained before my daughter’s account was set up, requesting to know if and how the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) may apply, and objecting to the use of term “bullying” in the manner she described.  Class Dojo was subsequently eliminated. I also expressed concern over the fact that this system fails to instill or incorporate scriptural and pastoral teachings to guide these little ones to understand the teachings of Jesus Christ and how we are called to know and love God and to love one another.

I shared the following quote from Pope Benedict XVI in an address to Catholic educators in 2008:

First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.”


Here’s my loooooooong letter to the teacher:

Class Dojo Letter 2014

Corbett’s Common Core Conundrum

After being told to “move along, there’s nothing to see here” by the PA Department of Education (PDE), many representatives in our state legislature, and the “business community” heralding the Common Core and negating concerns regarding the “common” data collection system that has been created in tandem with these “common” standards, Governor Corbett now decides to toss the anti-Common Core crowd a bone. We’ve had over two years of discussions, hearings, meetings, and resolutions about Common Core. Where were Governor Corbett’s strong words of concern and opposition before now? The silence from his office regarding Common Core has been deafening.

Pardon my confusion, but I thought PA had already wiped its hands clean of the Common Core and created its own very rigorous, very “college and career ready,” and very “21st Century” PA standards that were definitely NOT Common Core, even though we were originally told Common Core was the greatest thing to come along in education since the mimeograph machine. All these lofty, loosely defined terms about “rigor” and “21st century economic skills” are tossed around as if those of us in the cheap seats understand education ‘reformer’ doublespeak and use of semantic deception to garner support for ideas that if explained truthfully most people would outright reject.

The Corbett administration’s “No Child Left Behind” (ESEA) Waiver request stated that:

 “Pennsylvania educators from across the state convened in 2012 to meld the PA Academic Standards with CCSS standards. … Overall, the PA Common Core Standards reflect a rigorous set of standards that embraces the CCSS Anchor Standards in English Language Arts as well as the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice…”)

Sadly, I fear we’re stuck on “repeat play” with the same old Common Core song – the Name Game — and dance — the Hustle. For the most part, these supposedly unique PA Academic Core Standards were merely an exercise in the use of synonyms and superfluous words and phrases, as well as some clever re-ordering, that do not in any meaningful way alter the original Common Core. So, if I seem cautiously optimistic, if not downright skeptical, about yet another round of the Common Core kerfuffle, I apologize, but it’s been quite a journey on a road paved with duplicitous intentions.

Why would PA need to “meld” and “embrace” something we supposedly moved away from? Why must our standards be anchored to Common Core at all? Furthermore, if the Corbett administration is concerned about a “top down takeover of the education system” then why did it apply for and receive $51 million from the federal department of education for PA’s early learning education program?

It is through this federal grant aid system that the federal government bypasses our state legislature and Constitutional rule of law and pushes policies and programs like CCSS and the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) into our state. Granted, Congress appropriates the money that funds these federal bureaucracies, but beyond that it exercises little, if any, control over how these funds are used. These grants went not only to the PDE, but also to the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS) and the Department of Labor and Industry. And, as we can see, once implemented, these programs and policies are difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate, no matter who gets elected to office.

Common Core is a lesson in the importance of Constitutionally limited government, the rule of law, and states’ rights via the Tenth Amendment as well as the principle of subsidiarity, which focuses on protecting the proper and natural functions of local communities from oppressive control and manipulation by more comprehensive power. It directs the functions of government to the most local level possible.

The crux of the matter is this federal grant aid system, in addition to the collusion of crony capitalists and big government, that ignores the authority of our elected representation and creates a massive bureaucratic administrative state. It is a system that more resembles Fascism than a Constitutional Republic. In order for this “top down takeover” to end, we must stop making deals that further erode our ability to function as a sovereign state and violate the principle of subsidiarity, especially when it comes to education. We can’t have it both ways. We end up groveling for our own taxpayer dollars back from the federal government, and yet only receive cents on the dollar in return. Furthermore, we are abdicating the authority and responsibility of our locally elected school boards to a federal leviathan with an insatiable appetite for centralized power.

The Student Aligned Systems portal (SAS), which includes a “Voluntary Model Curriculum” with lesson plans that align perfectly to the “Core” and to the Keystone Exams, runs contradictory to the claim that the PDE does not meddle into curriculum at the local district level. In fact, this “voluntary” curriculum, available on the SAS portal, was a big selling point for the federal government panel that evaluated PA’s grant application in which representatives from the PDE made it clear that “when we have made mandatory things available, pretty much everybody is using them.”

Act 82 of 2012 put a temporary moratorium on “certain Data Collection Systems and Data Sets” for both the early childhood learning database (called PELICAN) and the PIMS, which manages the “womb to workforce” data system. PA received $24+ million in grant money from the federal government specifically for the creation of this SLDS a/k/a “womb to workforce” data system. Act 82 includes a long list of exceptions to this moratorium including the catch-all phrase: “any data pursuant to other Federal requirements to meet eligibility requirements for Federal Funds” and it lists all the federal laws that apply.

I realize that any mention of data collection and privacy concerns brings on snickers and mockery of the “tin foil hat” brigade, but do any of us really know what data is/was the state required to collect and share to meet eligibility for federal funds? How can the state possibly guarantee privacy of our children’s data, especially when this data is stored in the “cloud” environment – such as with the MMS Student Information System. And even if the Corbett Administration put the brakes on Common Core and “common” data collection, can another administration come along and reinstate it? Would all this work now being done now to eradicate Common Core and fortify data privacy be wiped away in one election and a changing of the guard in our state bureaucracies?

If Governor Corbett has indeed has seen the light, I thank him and welcome his voice in the fight against Common Core, and all it entails. I sincerely hope this bone we’re being tossed has real substance, instead of just being more of the same hollow rhetoric. And I hope Governor Corbett will begin to realize that our rights as citizens of a sovereign state are not up for sale to the highest bidder, nor is the privacy and safety of our children in state-controlled schools. And although this may seem like an election “Hail Mary” pass for Corbett, given the alternatives, I am hoping for a completion.

PA’s Early Learning Challenge

The Corbett administration applied for and was awarded $51 million of federal taxpayer dollars via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge in FY 2013. So, we, the taxpayers, send our hard earned money to the federal government, then our states grovel for some of it back via this federal grant-aid boondoggle and as long as we do what the feds want us to do, we might get the money. Or, we might not get the money, but we still end up doing what the feds want us to do anyway, as was the case with the first two rounds on Race to the Top.

The Early Learning grant was a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education. In its application, PA submitted early learning standards, which can be found in the Appendix documents.

These early learning standards cover the years that include Pre-K (which apparently begins at “birth”) through 1st Grade and include lessons under categories such as “Environment and Ecology, ” “Markets and the Functions of Government,” “Economic Systems,” and “Scarcity and Choice.” These economic lessons seem to be designed to teach our little ones about “fair share” and redistributing classroom resources to be sure everyone gets the same amount. It also starts them early on the “humans are bad and are destroying the earth and all its creatures” mantra embedded throughout much of the “Environment and Ecology” learning standards.

For example, the Pre-Kindergarten Standard 6.1 – Economic Systems, states:

“The learner will: … Attempt to distribute items equally among a group such as snack, materials or toys.”

And in the supportive practices column for this lesson:

“The adult will:
– Ask open-ended questions about unfair distribution such as one child has more or less.
– Assist with equal distribution.”

In the Kindergarten learning standards, this is concept further reinforced, where the

The learner will: … correct the problem if one child has more or less than another.”

And, under supportive practices,

The adult will: … Discuss why everyone should have a fair share.”

This goes well beyond encouraging children to share/take turns or promoting altruism. There is a world of difference between “sharing” and “fair share.” One is done voluntarily as an act of charity the other is done by forced redistribution. And, good luck “correcting the problem” when it involves taking snacks or toys away from toddlers. Mine! Mine! Mine! Teachable moments become tantrum time.  It reminds me of my experience with a local mom’s club during an Easter egg hunt. My daughter was older than the other children and they went around and collected the eggs and the leader announces that after all the eggs are collected, the kids would empty their baskets and then the eggs would be divided up equally among the children. The little ones were happy with whatever was in their basket, but my daughter was old enough to realize that she was getting ripped off.  Now, I had told her at the beginning that because she was older, she needed to be aware of letting the little ones find eggs too, instead of just grabbing them all up. We didn’t make a stink, but it definitely sent a message.  I’m sure the mommy leader was just trying to be nice, but, if anything had to be done at all, the better thing to do would be to encourage the children to voluntarily give an egg to someone who had not found any, making it an act of the will, and not a lesson in collectivism.

For 1st Grade, the preface to the Social Studies early learning standards states that children will:

further expand their understanding of their role in the community, larger democratic society and as a global citizen.

This is not education; this is indoctrination. These children are too young to understand facts versus opinion, economic theory,  or to question their parents when they are taught about such things in a classroom environment that may contradict or conflict with the values they are taught at home. Much of it is developmentally inappropriate. They have taken the elementary school standards and worked backwards to create these standards for early childhood learning. It defies logic or common sense.

Also, thanks to the ‘Early Learning Challenge’ grant, we now have a  Kindergarten Education Inventory (KEI) managed through the Office of Childhood Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), that assesses not only academic readiness, but things such as: “Emotional Regulation,” “Self Awareness,” “Conflict Resolution,” “Behavior Regulation,” “Collaborative Communication,” “Curiosity and Initiative,” and “Engagement, Attention and Persistence.” These are five and six year olds. I don’t know many who engage in “collaborative communication” or have developed “conflict resolution” skills.  This is all part of a national trend for “social emotional learning.”

PA worked with the CASEL organization and in 2013 adopted a set of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards .  CASEL published a report titled “Aligning Preschool through High School Social and Emotional Learning Standards: A Critical and Doable Next Step” published in November 2013, which states:

“Our call for the alignment of SEL standards is in harmony with the growing attention to SEL by state and federal policymakers (e.g. NASBE, 2013) and a rising trend toward more global preschool through early elementary integration and alignment. For example, in 2012 the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors’ Association joined together to host a forum titled Aligning and Implementing Birth‐3rd Grade Learning Standards: A Strong Foundation for College and Career‐Training Readiness.”

These are the same groups involved in the development of Common Core State Standards.

According to the CASEL report:

“The Pennsylvania Standards for Student Interpersonal Skills (SIS) are organized around four grade bands (Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, grades 1-5, 6-8, and 9-12). As with the Illinois standards, Pennsylvania also based its standards on the CASEL framework. The SIS address three sets of skills intended to delineate how students should be prepared to “navigate the social world of family, school, college, and career not only in America but in the world of the 21st century and the global marketplace” (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2012; p. 3). “

Am I the only one who finds it absurd that we are now beginning to consider “college and career readiness” at birth?  On whose authority was it decided that my child needs to learn she is a global, and not a uniquely American, citizen and be prepared for the global marketplace, starting in pre-school? Who defines these social emotional standards and how are they assessed? And where is the data from these assessments on our little ones captured and stored?  House Resolution 338 and the revised Chapter 4 regulations only protects “personal family data.”

The RTTT Early Learning Challenge application states:

“OCDEL contracted with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) in July of 2012 to develop a web-based data system that allows for an easy collection of student outcomes. On a secure website, teachers log-in and enter both demographic information for each student in their kindergarten class and a skill level for each of the 34 indicators on the KEI. (p. 238)”

and

“OCDEL started the process of including KEI data into the SLDS in the summer of 2013. (p. 246)


Remember, the SLDS is the State Longitudinal Database System (a/ka/a “womb to workplace.“)

According to the No Child Left Behind Waiver Request submitted by the Corbett Administration:

“OCDEL has been piloting its Kindergarten Entry Inventory for the past two school years and will be piloting an electronic database this year.”

For more information on early learning data collection, see my post on  Big Data & Early Learning.

Common Core – Big Data & the State “Core’ Model

The State Core Model

Another document that exposes Big Data’s push is: “The State Core Model: A common technical reference model for states implementing P20 state longitudinal data systems”

The State Core Model is:

“… a common technical reference model for states implementing state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). It was developed by CCSSO as part of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) adoption work with funding from the Gates Foundation. The Model includes early childhood (EC), elementary and secondary (K12), post-secondary (PS), and workforce (WF) elements, known collectively as “P20,” and establishes comparability between sectors and between states. The State Core Model will do for State Longitudinal Data Systems what the Common Core is doing for Curriculum Frameworks and the two assessment consortia.”

This document discusses the challenge of collecting data in view of the federal education privacy law (FERPA). The FERPA regulation:

“… allows education agencies and institutions to disclose personally identifiable information to other school officials within the education agency or institution whom the education agency or institution has determined to have legitimate education interests in the information. This allows disclosure to individuals within the education agency or institution, such as teachers, who need the information in order to perform their duties for the education agency or institution. The education agency or institution is responsible for determining which individuals have legitimate education interests in personally identifiable student information contained in education records. This exception does not authorize sharing student information with non-education agencies that may have legitimate educational interests.”

So as long as an entity claims to have an educational purpose, the state can decide to allow them access to education data. Then under ‘Disclosure to Its Authorized Representative’ the regulations state:

“The SEA [State Education Agency] may disclose student information without prior consent to an authorized representative of the SEA to perform activities on behalf of the SEA. An “authorized representative” of an SEA must be under the direct control of the SEA as an Employee or a contractor.”

So, can the state just declare an organization as a “contractor” to make then an “authorized representative” to get around the parental requirement? Sounds like that’s how it works.

Collecting data in itself is not necessarily a problem, but who can access it (beyond the classroom teacher and school principal) and the manner in which it’s used is of a great concern, especially when there are so many entities who seem determined to gain access to it.

Next: Data & Technology in the Driver’s Seat

Common Core – Big Data & Privacy

Empty Promises of Privacy Protection

PA House Resolution 338 touted by Seth Grove, et al states:

“The Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education be urged to ensure that Pennsylvania academic standards do not result in intrusion into student and family privacy or in the collection or reporting of additional data to the Federal Government.”

A group called the Data Quality Campaign published a document titled Next Generation State Data System: What is Needed to Support the Next Generation Assessment and Accountability Systems which is found on Achieve, Inc.’s website provides some insight into the Big Data movement. On Page 6 of this document, Student IDs are discussed:

“Most states have implemented a statewide unique student identifier (ID) within the past three years … This student ID allows states to track students as they move across schools and districts within the state and track students as they move from one grade to another. Typically, these IDs are generated by the state and may be shared with the district. Ohio, however, has a state law that says that the SEA cannot maintain students’ identifiable information (i.e., names, dates of birth). The SEA does have access to the student ID, but without other personally identifiable information it is difficult for them to share data with other entities.”

The article goes on to discuss Assessment Data:

“SEA [State Education Agency] systems typically collect data on the statewide assessment system …  As states are building more robust student-level data systems, though, SEA’s are beginning to collect student-level scores, and in some cases even item-level responses, from the testing contractors. States enter into contracts with testing vendors and specify in the contracts what types of reports are to be sent directly to the districts versus to the SEA. …”

In conclusion, the document discusses the “cultural, political, and financial” obstacles to data collection [emphasis mine]:

“…Culturally, educators and administrators need to learn to embrace the use of data, instead of fear it. Politically, policymakers need to make the sharing of student-level data — while protecting student confidentiality — not only acceptable, but mandatory across educational institutions. State laws, such as those in OH, that prevent the SEA from maintaining identifiable student information create a burden to the state, both from a financial and a data perspective. Interpretations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that prevent P-12 and post-secondary systems from sharing student-level data hinder the ability to improve student achievement. … The next generation data system will likely come to fruition when we have both local educators and state policymakers calling for access to more data in easy to use formats on a more frequent basis. The convergence of demands from the ‘bottom up’ and the ‘top down’ will create the perfect storm to create a new breed of data system, but that demand can only be filled if financial commitments are made to ensure that the systems are built and sustained.”

So what they seem to be saying is, in order to the get the data they need, it must be personally identifiable and they find it quite annoying that state’s like Ohio have created such a burden by not allowing this to happen. And I don’t think anyone “fears” the use of data, but the misuse and abuse that happens when private records are “accidentally” exposed or hacked.  Although this document is not specifically applicable to PA, as I’ve said before, it shows the mindset and the intentions of the folks behind Big Data. They are just biding their time until the right folks get into office to lift the restrictions on getting them the data they want and they are constantly pushing the ball down the court. This is why our elections matter.

The National School Board Association’s website published information on how the federal education privacy law intersects and in many cases overrides the health care information privacy law:

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) have issued a joint guidance on the application of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to student health records… …the new guidance notes that the HIPAA Privacy Rule generally does not apply to elementary or secondary schools …

If your child has a medical or psychological condition and the child’s medical records becomes part of the education record it sounds like federal education privacy rules trumps healthcare privacy rules. And remember, this was done under the radar through regulatory changes, not a Congressional vote.

As we have all seen more and more in recent years, promises of anonymity and privacy with these “secure” ID’s are empty and meaningless when it’s your data that has been unwittingly exposed.  As Paul Ohm published in 2009 ‘Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization at the University of Colorado School of Law, we know security breaches occur on a regular basis, therefore, there is no way to guarantee the privacy of our children’s information, especially on-line or in these “clouds.” Anyone who has ever had his credit card information or identity stolen knows that “encryption” can be unencrypted and unlinked data can be linked.  As parents, we were never even given a privacy agreement to review and sign with respect to this data system.

Besides the obvious fraud and identity theft (especially if Social Security Numbers are used) this can lead to if data is not secured properly, what impact might this have on our children once a historical database by name is compiled on them beginning in infancy? And what of trying to correct misinformation that might be recorded on our child? Remember, this is massive bureaucratic administrative state that does not readily or easily respond to those it serves.

Next: Big Data & the State “Core” Model

Common Core – Data & Technology in the Driver’s Seat?

Using Data to Drive Education

In a document titled “The State Core Model: A common technical reference model for states implementing P20 state longitudinal data systems” the author discusses the vision of individualized education models where children navigate their own path, while they are monitored via a sort of GPS navigation system:

“Like a car navigation system, the learning management systems of the future will know the current location of each learner and be able to plot multiple, individualized paths to the Common Core and other academic goals. Students will be able to select preferences of modality of instruction, language, and time. And, like a car navigation system, even if they decide to take a detour, the system will always know where they are, where they want to go, and multiple paths to get there.”

And who decides what the destination is? Will I even know where my child is headed? And what if I don’t agree with the destination to which my child is being guided? Unlike textbooks, computer programs and content can be edited on the fly, so even if you reviewed it one day, the next it could change.

And what is the “State Core Model?”

“The State Core Model is a common technical reference model for states implementing state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). It was developed by CCSSO as part of the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) adoption work with funding from the Gates Foundation.”

Ah, yes, the beloved benefactor of all things education these days .. The Gates Foundation. And the CCSSO … hmm, what other “Common” project was that organization involved in? Oh yes, something called Common Core State Standards. But move along, nothing to see here. Nope, Common Core has NOTHING to do with data collection. Even though, the State Core “addresses student-teacher link, common assessment data model, and comes pre-loaded with Common Core learning standards.”  Remember the money for these database systems emanated from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to the PA Information Management Systems (PIMS), as well as the Department of Labor & Industry, not to the PA Department of Education as part of Race to the Top.

This “State Core” document reflects the mindset of the people behind movements like Common Core and data-driven education. And there is a big push to go all-digital in the classroom (see Pearson).  Teachers become mere facilitators and students tap away on their taxpayer funded iPads. (Anyone who has ever seen the condition of “new” textbooks at the end of first year of year of use, can only imagine what these iPads will look like.)

In the name of “cost effectiveness” and streamlining, and individualized learning, we can gradually increase the role of computers and decrease that of teachers. Human beings are just so darn expensive. And computers don’t have opinions nor do they talk back. The truth is artificial intelligence can never replace human intelligence and discernment, imperfect as it we may be. But not to worry, fellow clueless parent, our beloved State as created a system, beginning in early childhood (which apparently begins in “the womb”) to “Guide Parents Smoothly” into the 21st Century of learning and parenting. Quite frankly, I think I liked what came out of the 18th-19th century better.

Sadly, as I’ve said, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole where nothing is as they seems. Learning now means training to attain skills and shaping behavior, not attaining knowledge in the traditional sense. Individualized means the “system” will decide the path for your child and “lead” him or her in the “right” direction to their assigned track in life.

Teaching means facilitating a classroom of students who stare at computer screens awaiting their next destination on the Common Core superhighway.

Social-emotional learning (for which PA now has standards) really means behavior modification strategies to mold, shape, and alter values, attitudes and beliefs, but whose values, attitudes and beliefs? And what if they conflict or contradict those instilled by the parents?  And if you have social emotional learning standards, you can guarantee there will be a tool to “assess” them. And where does this data captured from our children’s social-emotional learning assessments go?

In the name of diversity and tolerance, our children are being lead to think the same way and to have the same worldview, under the guise that doing so will make everyone get along, which completely ignores human nature.

Our children are being led to believe they are  “global citizens” who just happen to live in America, without any understanding of why the history and tradition of America makes them any different from children born elsewhere.  Our education system is being directed by policies and goals developed by the United Nations, which is the origin of  this 21st Century Learning and globalization efforts.

And if you do not share the worldview and values being promoted and promulgated, then it’s “too bad, so sad” for you.  The progressive education reform brigade tolerates everyone except those who disagree with them.

Technology has its place, but when over-used or misused it becomes cumbersome and ineffective and creates more problems than it solve. It can never replace the human interaction of teacher and student. Sadly, it seems like teaching is slowly becoming a lost art. And schools are becoming a tool for social engineering rather than properly educating based on truth and facts, not opinions and consensus.

Next: On Whose Authority?

Common Core – Big Data

Origins of federal data collection

The push from the federal government for access to your child’s private information all started long before the stimulus and Common Core,  but it is all connected in the same tangled web.

The Educational Technical Assistance Act of 2002, Title II, (yes, that would be George Bush)  created the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The IES distributes federal taxpayer dollars in the form of grants for the creation of State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS, or what I call ‘Birth and Beyond.’)  Even before that, the America Competes Act 2000 mandated 12 elements of data collection that states must implement. These elements are:

  1. An unique identifier for every student that does not permit a student to be individually identified (except as permitted by federal and state law) [Interesting to note that federal privacy law was recently changed to ease up the restrictions];

  2. The school enrollment history, demographic characteristics, and program participation record of every student;

  3. Information on when a student enrolls, transfers, drops out, or graduates from a school;

  4. Students scores on tests required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;

  5. Information on students who are not tested, by grade and subject

  6. Students scores on tests measuring whether they’re ready for college;

  7. A way to identify teachers and to match teachers to their students;

  8. Information from students’ transcripts, specifically courses taken and grades earned;

  9. Data on students’ success in college, including whether they enrolled in remedial courses;

  10. Data on whether K-12 students are prepared to succeed in college;

  11. A system of auditing data for quality, validity, and reliability; and

  12. The ability to share data from preschool through postsecondary education data systems.

The grant money flowing into PA to create this data system came from a variety of sources,  including the federal stimulus, called American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and its subsidiary Race To The Top (RTTT) as well as the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which gave $24+ million directly to PA’s Information Management department (called PIMS) and to the Department of Labor and Industry to expand the State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS).

Each new distribution of grant money was predicated on fulfilling the requirements of the previous grant application. The Data Quality Campaign tracks states’ compliance with the data system requirements.

‘Birth and Beyond’ Data Collection

The PK-20 ‘Birth and Beyond’ data program has been developed to capture and store data on our children. What I have discovered is that the “Core” of “the Common Core” initiative is data and assessments. Assessing not only the students, but the education staff as well.  You can get rid of the “standards,” but what is really at the heart of everything is Big DATA. These so-called “college-and-career-ready” standards and the stimulus and federal grant money are just the mechanism for ushering it all in. There is nothing wrong with using data as information, but these “reforms” puts data in the driver’s seat.

When I researched the grant applications for the ‘Birth and Beyond’ data system, I found they were actually submitted and processed through the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) whose purpose, per the website, is to:

“fulfill a Congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.”

The NCES site also contains a link to something called Common Core of Data … there’s that phrase again.

“The Common Core of Data (CCD) is a program of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics that annually collects fiscal and non-fiscal data about all public schools, public school districts and state education agencies in the United States. The data are supplied by state education agency officials and include information that describes schools and school districts, including name, address, and phone number; descriptive information about students and staff, including demographics; and fiscal data, including revenues and current expenditures.”

Further research found the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) project, which is

“a national collaborative effort to develop voluntary, common data standards for a key set of education data elements to streamline the exchange, comparison, and understanding of data within and across P-20W institutions and sectors.”

Under the website’s Frequently Asked Questions section:

“How is CEDS different from the Common Core State Standards?

“…The Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) is a set of commonly agreed upon names, definitions, option sets, and technical specifications for a given selection of data elements. CEDS focuses on the meaning of data stored in longitudinal data systems, and is being developed by a stakeholder group facilitated by NCES. CEDS will support systemic education reform efforts by making it possible for states to collect the data they need to fully understand their progress on successfully adopting the Common Core State Standards or any other standards.”

In order for data collection and reporting to work across state lines and across entities, they must have the same data sets, labeled the same way. But as we all know, not every person “fits” into one particular data label (also called tags). These “tags” that are used to label each data field must match perfectly in order for the data to be useable. But not everyone fits into a particular “tag.”  I experience this all the time when I’m filling out forms – sometimes my answer just doesn’t match any of the options on the form. So you either end up with a check mark next to the box that says “other” with a free form fill in space that throws a wrench in the works for the data collector, or you must force everyone to choose from a pre-defined consistent set of acceptable responses or else that data is meaningless and useless. We are people, not points of data.  We are not easily categorized and sorted into neat little reports.

Unique Student & Teacher IDs

In the second round of Race to the Top grant applications, PA lauds all it has accomplished by telling the US Dept of Education (and this was in 2009) that  it has “assigned 1.8 million unique student IDs as well as staff IDs.”

The grant applications also state that the database “Must link student data with teachers.” This includes teachers and teacher’s aides. So, if you must link student data with teachers how can they possibly say the unique identifier will not identify individual children and individual teachers?

In the 2009 grant application, there is a section titled ‘Lead Collaborative Effort to Establish National Unique ID for Students’ which states:

“Pennsylvania shares a common approach and software product with 8 other states and the US Department of Education …”

Then, later on in the document, under a section titled ‘Outcomes’ the application states:

“PDE electronic records exchange will increase the efficiency of our PK-20 organization by: … Connect[ing] to National Clearinghouse data.”

A search for National Clearinghouse led me to yet another “non-profit” organization website called “College Ready” which is funded by, guess who, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and says “Together we will ensure all students graduate prepared to succeed in college, careers, and community.”  It touts the National Student Clearinghouse as a method of tracking students long after they graduate high school into their college and career, across state lines.

A September 18, 2008 letter from Gerald Zahorchak, then Secretary of Education, to Honorable Sandi Vito, Acting Secretary Department of Labor and Industry was included in the Race to the Top grant application, in which Secretary Zahorchak identified “two obstacles to implementation of the early childhood through a workforce longitudinal data systems” the first being cost, and the second:

“the fact that the PIMS system does not currently collect Social Security Numbers (SSN) of students while the Wage Record dataset is dependent on individual SSNs.”

He goes on to say there is a “critical need for the PDE (PA Dept of Ed) to collect the last five digits of a student’s SSN to enable this system to merge, and we are working on resolving this.”

Did they do it?

Well, Dave Ream, PA’s Data Quality Manager, responded to the 2013 Data Quality Campaign’s Data for Action survey on behalf of the Office of Governor Tom Corbett  that:

“The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry was awarded a $1 million Workforce Data Quality Initiative grant in June 2012. PA-WDQI’s mission is to link data from the Departments of Public Welfare, Labor and Industry and Education to gauge the outcomes of taxpayer supported programs.”

This survey also mentions that Pennsylvania is part of  the Teacher Student Data Link (TSDL) project:

The Teacher/Student Data Link (TSDL) Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is being conducted by the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT) with guidance and dissemination support from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). This project is a cross-state, collaborative effort focused on developing a best practice framework for a “Teacher of Record” (TOR) definition and business processes for collecting and validating linked teacher and student data.”

Data in itself is not a problem, but who can access it (beyond the classroom teacher and principal) and the manner in which it’s used is of a great concern, especially when there are so many entities who seem determined to gain access to it.

Next: Big Data & Early Learning