Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Update on Summit Learning Platform, including my visit to a Summit charter school

Cross-posted from the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy website.

There have been new developments since I wrote about my privacy concerns with the Summit online platform in September for the Washington Post Answer Sheet. I followed that up with a longer piece on the website of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, with criticisms and observations of parents at schools using the platform, saying that their children have become frustrated, bored, and disengaged as a result of spending hours each day in front of computers, receiving very little feedback from their teachers.

Summit charter schools and their online platform, now used in over 300 schools across the country, both public and charter, have received millions of dollars from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; Zuckerberg has pledged to support the continued expansion of the online platform through his LLC, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.

Shortly after my Washington Post piece appeared, I was contacted by Diane Tavenner, the CEO of Summit charter schools, who asked if we could meet when she was visiting NYC. I agreed. We had lunch on Sept. 15, and I handed her a list of questions, mostly about Summit’s privacy policy, most of which my associate, Rachael Stickland, had already sent to Summit staff that she had met at SXSW Edu the previous March, and to which she’d never received a response.

Diane was perfectly pleasant, and emphasized her commitment to students and the value of the program, but offered few substantive answers to any of the questions I asked her at lunch. When I asked her why Summit and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative felt the need to collect so much personal student data without parental consent, and why they couldn’t just offer the platform to schools if it was so helpful, she replied, “What do you think we’re doing with the data?” I responded, “you tell me.”

When I asked her why Summit believed they could claim the work of public school teachers uploaded into the platform without compensation, she said that there were no schools where teachers hadn’t voluntarily agreed to use the system, and Summit’s right to their work was understood by them as the cost of participating in the system.

I asked her why in one place in the Summit privacy policy, they promise not to sell student data, but in another part of the document, they claim the right to transfer the data in an “asset sale.” She said she would ask her people. Since our meeting, I haven’t heard anything more from her on any of these issues.

During the lunch, I mentioned that I was going to be in Oakland the weekend of Oct. 14- 15 for the Network for Public Education conference, and that I would be interested in visiting some schools after that are using the Summit platform. I said I was especially eager to visit public schools, since I’d heard from many public school parents in five states who told me their children had negative experiences with the program. These parents were upset that Summit had withdrawn the right of parents to consent to the system shortly after CZI took over, and they were concerned about how their children’s personal data was being shared with Summit and then redisclosed with unspecified other third “partners” for unclear purposes.

Diane later emailed me and said that I could visit Summit Prep charter school on Oct. 16, in Redwood City, their flagship school. An Uber would come and pick me up at my Oakland hotel, she said, and the drive would take about an hour each way.

I pointed out to her that according to the list on the Summit website, there were several public and charter schools in Oakland near the hotel where I was staying that had adopted the platform, as well as several Summit charter schools just ten minutes away. Why couldn’t I visit any of these schools instead?

She responded that the principal of one of the Summit charters near Oakland was on maternity leave, and she didn’t want to put any more pressure on the school. At the other two nearby Summit charters, she explained, the students would be on “expedition” that afternoon, visiting their out-of-school “partners”. She didn’t explain why we couldn’t visit any of the other public and charter schools using Summit platform in Oakland itself.

Having no other choice, I accepted her invitation to visit the school in Redwood City, suspecting that this school was probably offered because it exemplified the best model of how the platform was operating. On Oct. 16 I was met by an Uber driver at my hotel, and we traveled south to Summit Prep, through the haze that was issuing from the fires then burning miles north in Sonoma and Napa.

At Summit Prep, I was met by two school leaders, and we talked in an empty office for about a half hour, where they explained to me about the platform and how it was designed. Then we briefly toured two classrooms. In the first classroom, there were about thirty students engaged in “Personalized Learning Time”, gazing at computer screens and working on their individual “playlists.” These playlists include content in different “focus areas” delivered via various mediums, including online texts and videos. When students have learned these materials, they’re supposed to take multiple choice online tests to show they’ve “mastered” the area. In addition, in each of their courses, there are projects they are supposed to complete.

This is how it is described on the Summit website: During PLT, students grab their laptop and log into the Summit Learning Platform where they can view their goals, their projects, and their classes. During PLT, students work through their playlists at their own pace, and take assessments for each focus area when they feel they’re ready.

All the students were silently and solemnly staring at computer screens. When I walked around and looked more closely, some were apparently researching projects in evolution, others were looking at a math problems, and still others were looking at Facebook pages or other websites which they hurriedly switched off when I passed by. There was one science teacher towards the back of the room, talking to two students, but otherwise there was no student or teacher interaction in evidence.

While the projects have a specific deadline, as I had heard earlier from the school leaders, their “content” assignments, including passing online tests, do not. I asked why this was the case, since it might be difficult for students to research their projects adequately without first learning the content or the underlying “facts” in any focus area or subject. The school leaders explained they wanted students to set their own pace in absorbing content, but the projects had deadlines as students were supposed to collaborate with one another on this work.

I visited another classroom where 12th graders were engaged in peer-reviewing essays they had written at the beginning of the class, grading them according to the Summit’s complex rubric of cognitive skills. When I asked why the essays were written on paper rather than on computers, the school leaders told me that this was because they were practicing for the California state exam in which students are asked to write essays on paper.

I noted that I had seen no classroom or small group discussions. The Summit leaders said that was because none were occurring during my brief visit. It is true that the amount of time I spent in classrooms wasn’t sufficient to make an informed judgment either way, but what I saw did not encourage me.

When we returned to the office, I questioned why delivering content primarily online was an effective method of teaching. Shouldn’t learning happen in a more interactive fashion, with the material presented in person and then discussed, debated, and explored? Why did they have this comparatively flat, one-dimensional attitude towards content? And how could math be taught this way, given that math requires helping students learn how to solve problems in a more interactive fashion?

They told me math is taught differently, and indeed had to be taught through teacher-student interaction, but that this isn’t true of any of the other subjects, whether it be English, social sciences or physical sciences.

Yet teaching content primarily online and separating it from assigned projects seems to me a strange idea, and likely to lead to superficial learning and disengaged students, as many parents tell me their children at Summit schools often feel. Parents have also reported that because the online content and tests have no deadlines, their children often fall far behind, and are forced to catch up at the end of the semester by hurriedly taking multiple choice tests in many focus areas and subjects, rushing through in a panic.

I also mentioned to the Summit school leaders that I had been reading the latest Rand study which analyzed results at a subset of “personalized learning” schools, those called the Next Generation Learning Challenge schools that are funded by the Gates Foundation. I said that I assumed that Summit schools were a part of the study, since they are probably the most renowned of the NGLC schools. The school leader nodded his head in agreement.

I recounted how the RAND study revealed that surveys of students at the NLGC schools were less likely to feel safe, less likely to say there was at least one adult at the school who knew them well, and less likely to feel they were an important part of their school community, compared to similar students at matched schools. These findings are depicted in this chart from the study on p. 24:

I pointed out that while advocates for personalized learning schools like to portray students at these schools as more engaged and more in control of their learning, the RAND survey revealed that these students were significantly more likely to say that that “their classes do not keep their attention, and they get bored” compared to similar students at other schools (30% to 23%). Only 35% of students at the NGLC schools said that “learning is enjoyable” compared to 45% of matched students. (These and additional survey results are from the appendix of the report .)

When I asked the Summit school leader if he thought the students are happy at their schools, he replied, “I think they realize they are engaged in productive struggle.”

The RAND study also found very small and mostly insignificant gains in test scores in the Next Generation Learning schools, which is somewhat surprising, since these schools have received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation and other sources. The lead RAND researcher, John Pane, who has spent several years studying the results at personalized learning schools, in work funded by Gates, was recently quoted in Ed Week as saying "the evidence base [for them] is very weak at this point. "

Since I’ve returned home, I have been contacted by teachers and parents at Summit schools with additional concerns. A teacher in Massachusetts wrote me that he has grave doubts about the platform’s suitability for students at his school, particularly those with disabilities and English Language Learners.

Parents in Cheshire, Connecticut have also contacted me, dissatisfied with the use of the Summit platform at their schools, with their middle school children spending many hours on computers in class, working on assignments of uncertain quality. They sent me a link to a document from their district Superintendent, called Summit Myths /Facts, which includes the following statement:

"The information we share with Summit is limited to student name, course and/or grade and email information for log-on purposes. We share no other personal data. Summit is also privy to student performance on the platform."

Yet the Summit Learning Participation Agreement with Cheshire , which the parents also sent me, reveals that the district has agreed to give Summit access to an huge amount of highly personal information not mentioned above, including but not limited to student names, addresses, grades, test scores, race, disabilities, disciplinary history, personal goals and narratives, their communications with teachers and other students, scores on college admission exams, college attendance and work force records and more:

In the performance of the Agreement, Summit may have access to or receive certain information provided by Partner School that is not generally known to others….and includes, but not is limited to, Student Data (defined below) and other data that identifies a specific User, such as a name, address, student identification number, phone number, email address, gender, date of birth, ethnicity, race, disabilities, school, grade, grades and grade point averages, grade level promotion and matriculation, coursework, test scores, assessment data, highest grade completed, attendance, school discipline history, narratives input by students about their own goals and learning plans, communications with teachers and other students, notes and feedback o or about students, observations from students’ mentor about individual students, college admission test scores, AP and IP test information, college eligibility and acceptance, employment, Partner School financial information, and Partner School business plans.

All this data may be accessed by Summit and potentially shared with other unspecified third parties, without parent consent.

In addition, while the Summit agreement with Cheshire promises “No Marketing and Advertising to Students,” this is immediately followed by the following conditionality: “Summit shall not advertise or market to a student or his/her parents/guardians when the advertising or marketing is based upon any of that student’s Student Data that Summit has acquired through the Platform [emphasis added].” This is not the blanket prohibition of advertising or marketing that the headline would imply.

And while Summit claims the right to access a wide range of sensitive student information, the Cheshire agreement also reveals that the corporation demands extraordinary secrecy when it suits its own interests. For example, the contract bars school officials from communicating any “Summit Confidential Information” to parents or the public at large, which it defines as “all technical and non-technical information concerning or related to Summit’s products, services etc.” The only individuals to whom the school can disclose any information about Summit’s products or services, including presumably their own views concerning the program, are other school employees who “are bound by non-disclosure obligations that are no less restrictive...”

If a member of the public requests information about the Summit program via a public records or Freedom of Information request, the school “shall notify Summit of such request promptly in writing and cooperate with Summit, at the Partner School’s reasonable request and expense, in any lawful action to contest or limit the scope of such requested disclosure.”

These contractual terms are unacceptable, and violate the obligations of the administrators at these schools to serve the best interests of students and taxpayers, in a transparent and accountable manner, rather than subject themselves to the corporate interests of Summit Charter Schools or Chan-Zuckerberg LLP.

These sorts of non-disclosure provisions have been seen in other contracts of ed tech companies, for example a non-disparagement clause in a New Classrooms contract that apparently prevented California school officials from criticizing the program. The Gates Foundation also tried to insert similar language into their service agreement with the NY State Education Department, which would bar the NY State Commissioner and other education officials from making any public statements about inBloom without prior written consent from the Foundation, even pertaining to information already in the public record. (I only learned about this demand --eventually rejected by NYSED --from FOILED emails I received after inBloom’s collapse. I received the emails more than a year after I had FOILed them, the day after Commissioner John B. King resigned to take a job at the US Department of Education.)

Cheshire Connecticut parents have now posted a petition to their school board, signed by 278 other parents, asking that the Summit pilot be suspended in their children’s schools The comments posted below the petition are especially illuminating about their observations about the negative impact of the program that they’ve witnessed on their children.  Parents in the Fairview Park City School District in Ohio are demanding that the Summit Program be removed and that parents be part of the decision-making process from now on, in a petition signed by over 400 people, with 105 comments.

There is also an organized push-back against Summit in Pennsylvania, at Indiana area middle schools. Parents there have repeatedly urged their school board to stop the the program introduced at the start of the school year. A video of the December 4 school board committee meeting is here, and a reporter's account is below.

Parents packed the board conference room elbow-to-elbow for the [school board] Academic and Extracurricular Committee meeting and committee members heard concerns for almost twice the usual one hour allocated for the panel’s agenda. Summit was all they discussed. Parents have protested at the board and committee meetings since early October…

Parents’ concerns have ranged from the complexity of the online program, increases in the amount of time their children spend looking at computer screens rather than listening to teachers, and their kids’ mastery of the subjects. Lately the board has heard an increasing number of complaints about the quality and appropriateness of the online resources, mainly YouTube videos, that Summit provides for the pupils to study...”

Yet the juggernaut that is Summit will be difficult to stop. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation gave $20 million to Summit in 2016. The Gates Foundation awarded Summit $10 million in June 2017, “to support implementation of the Summit Learning program in targeted geographies.” In September, the day before I met with Diane Tavenner, Summit was one of the ten winners of the XQ Super High School prize, receiving another $10 million from Laurene Powell Jobs’ LLC, the Emerson Collective, to create a new high school in Oakland .

And just a few days before my visit to Summit Prep, Betsy DeVos, the US Secretary of Education, visited a Milpitas public school using the Summit platform , also in the Bay Area. DeVos explained that the Summit platform “came with great recommendations” and that the “personalized learning approach was something we really wanted to get a handle on.” After her visit, DeVos said, ““I got to see creative approaches toward empowering students to take control of their learning.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

NYC Class sizes increase again this year; Parents, advocates and attorneys urge NYSED Commissioner rule on their complaint and make DOE take action now

For immediate release: Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017
Contact: Leonie Haimson, 917-435-9329;

NYC Class sizes increase again this year

Parents, advocates and attorneys urge NYSED Commissioner rule on their complaint and make DOE take action now

Last week, the NYC Department of Education released class size data for the current school year, showing that class sizes have increased by .1 student on average, to 26.4 students per class citywide.

This year’s increase occurred in the face of a formal petition filed with the Commissioner of Education in July by Class Size Matters, the Alliance for Quality Education, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, and nine NYC public school parents, demanding that the state enforce the 2007 Contracts for Excellence (C4E) law, which required NYC to reduce class size in all grades.  The petitioners argued that the State should require DOE to begin an accelerated process towards lowering class size toward the goals in the city’s original C4E plan, approved by the state in the fall of 2007.

Education Law Center (ELC), a non-profit law firm that enforces the rights of public school children, is serving as legal counsel to the petitioners.

The petition requested the Commissioner rule within 90 days of receipt of all legal filings, a deadline that passed Monday without a response.

According to calculations made by Class Size Matters, while average class sizes in grades K-3 decreased slightly this fall to 24 students per class, they are still 15% larger than in 2007.  At this rate it would take more than 15 years to reach the goals of 20 or less students in the city’s original C4E plan.  Average class sizes did not decrease in grades 4-8, and at 26.6 remain far above the C4E goals of 23 students or less for these grades.  In high school, average class sizes also did not budge and remain at 26.5, significantly higher than the C4E goals of 25.

These averages tell only part of the story, however, because of the sharp increase since 2007 in the total number of students in very large classes, revealing widening inequities across the city.  The number of Kindergarten students in classes of 25 or more has nearly doubled since 2007, as have the number of students in 4th-8th grade in classes of 30 or more.

The number of students in grades 1-3rd in classes 30 or more has increased by nearly 3800 percent – from fewer than 1185 students in 2007 to 38, 279 students this fall – despite the fact that keeping class sizes as small as possible in these grades has been shown to be a critical tool in boosting student success. More than 290,000 students — nearly one third of the total- attend classes of 30 or more as of October 31 of this year.

Said Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “The failure of the city to lower class size and increases in very large classes across the city has deprived students of an equitable chance to learn.  It is unacceptable that the Mayor and the Chancellor continue to relegate thousands of NYC children to failure, given that lowering class size has been proven to be one of the best ways to narrow the achievement and opportunity gap between racial and economic groups.”

The class size data just released also shows that 73% of the Renewal schools continue to have maximum class sizes of 30 students or higher, with classes as large as 87 students, despite the DOE promises to focus their class size reduction efforts in these struggling schools. Not one Renewal school has capped class sizes at the recommended C4E levels. Given class sizes this large, it is no surprise that this initiative so far has shown disappointing results.

“The class sizes are simply too large and the fact that they keep growing is unacceptable. Overcrowded classrooms are one of the key factors that deprive students of their state constitutional right to a ‘sound basic education’,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education.

Naila Rosario, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said this: “My daughter is in the fifth grade at PS 172 in Brooklyn.  The school is composed of 79% Black and Hispanic children, 31% of them with special needs and 28% English Language learners.  My daughter is in a class of 34; and though her teacher and principal do their best, too many kids lack the attention they need to excel.  These class sizes are deplorable – especially considering NYC is the wealthiest city in the world in the wealthiest country in the world.  Where are our priorities as a city that the Mayor and the Chancellor do nothing to address this problem?”

JoAnn Schneider is another plaintiff, with a son who is in the fifth grade at PS/IS 113 in Queens: “My son has special needs and is in a class of 31, like last year.  He has been in a class of 30 or more since 1st grade.  He continues to struggle because of the large class size, as do other students, and I fear he is being cheated out of his full potential because the school system has deprived him of his best chance to learn. The Commissioner must require the Department of Education to comply with the law, and lower class size now.”

Laura Cavalleri, parent plaintiff from Staten Island said: “My son’s English class at Ralph McKee High school is so crowded there aren’t enough desks and two students have to stand.  Is this any way to run a school system?”

Said Kim Watkins, the President of the Community Education Council in District 3 in Manhattan: “There is a fifth- grade class size of 37 students in PS 208 Alain L. Locke Magnet School in our district.  This class size is far above the C4E goal of 23 students per class and even above the union contractual limit of 32 for this grade.  Yet PS 208 is composed of 92% Black students and Hispanic students, 35% of them with special needs.   Meanwhile, the district tells us that the school budget doesn’t allow for the hiring of another teacher in this grade.  This is simply unacceptable.  The DOE needs to provide the funding to reduce class size in this school and in all NYC public schools if it is going to fulfill its goals of educational equity and excellence.”

Charts showing class size data this fall and trends since 2007 are available here and below:  

More information on the Legal Petition is available here:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

DOE and Success Academy respond to Johanna Garcia's student privacy complaint

Johanna Garcia
Last night, Chalkbeat reported on Johanna Garcia’s complaint to the US Department of Education about DOE’s ongoing violation of student privacy rights by releasing her child’s personal information to charter schools, including Success Academy, for the purpose of sending multiple mailings of marketing and recruiting materials. Johanna's FERPA complaint makes the legal arguments clear.

Though the DOE claims they can disclose this information without parental consent under the “school official” exception to FERPA, because it has an “educational benefit” in their eyes, they fail to explain how charter schools can be defined as school officials.  Federal law and guidance reserves this term for school or district staff, volunteers, or contractors who are under the control of the district and perform an institutional service or function for the district. How charter schools can be seen as under the district's control or to be performing a service for DOE is impossible to maintain.

And while DOE and Success Academy claim they only receive student names and addresses for this purpose, they don't explain how charter schools are apparently able to differentially recruit students according to their academic records, as Johanna reported from her own experience, with charters sending her masses of pamphlets and flyers, urging her to enroll one of her three children, but none sent in the names of her other two children, who have IEPs.

The Chalkbeat article cites similar controversies over the non-consensual release of personal student information to charter schools for recruiting purposes in Chicago, Nashville and Memphis, but omits these facts:

  • In Nashville and Memphis, elected school boards are refusing to provide student information to charters, despite a state law passed this summer which ordered them to do so.  Even after the state launched a lawsuit against them, they are standing fast, and their attorneys argue that the privacy protections and district authority outlined in FERPA supercede the state law. In any case, here in New York, there is no such state law and our state privacy law bars the release of personal student information for commercial purposes.
  • In Chicago, after public school student information was disclosed to Noble charter schools without parent consent, resulting in parents receiving postcards urging them to enroll their children in their schools, this sparked a huge controversy and led to an investigation by the Inspector General.  As a result, the Chicago staffer who released the information to Noble was fired and the the district apologized to parents in mailings paid for by Noble.  And this occurred in a city where the Mayor controls the schools and is openly pro-charter.

Here in NYC,  we also have mayoral control, but with a newly re-elected progressive Mayor, who claims to be focused on improving the opportunities of public school students over the interests of charter operators.  Yet for some reason, DOE officials are intent on continuing this practice voluntarily, even if it violates federal student privacy law. 

That the DOE seems intent on continuing this practice though it began under the previous  Mayor is also hard to explain, given how it is aimed at helping the charter schools to expand their “market share” as Eva Moskowitz put it in emails to former Chancellor Joel Klein, which will inevitably lead to further diminishing the funding, space and stability of our public school system.

The release of this information without parental consent also violates specific promises Bill de Blasio made to parents when he first ran for Mayor.  See his responses to the NYC Kids PAC 2013 survey here, as recorded by his campaign manager Emma Wolfe, in the midst of the controversy over inBloom:

If the DOE and the de Blasio administration were wise and respected children's right to privacy, they would immediately cease this practice and apologize to parents, as Chicago officials did.   At the very least, DOE should be obligated to ask parents for their consent before releasing their children's information to  charter schools.  Unfortunately, their response to Johanna's FERPA complaint as reported by Chalkbeat signals otherwise,  that they intend to dig in their heels and continue to violate the law.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

FERPA Complaint to US Dept of Education that DOE violates student privacy by disclosing personal student information to charters without parental consent.

Today's press release is posted here.

See the FERPA complaint below to the US Department of Education, filed on Monday by Johanna Garcia, President of Community Education Council in District 6, challenging the DOE's  right to provide her child's personal information to charter schools without her consent for the purpose of recruiting and marketing their schools. 

In her complaint, Johanna questions whether charter operators are receiving students' test scores, grades, English learner and/or disability status from DOE in addition to their contact information,  based on her personal experience with the selective charter recruitment of her three children. More evidence for this possibility is also implied by an email that I received from the DOE Chief Privacy Officer Joe Baranello, in response to my inquiry about the legal status of these disclosures.

DOE has voluntarily supplied the contact information for students and families without parental consent to Success Academy and other charter schools since at least 2006 and perhaps before, as revealed in emails FOILed by reporter Juan Gonzalez in 2010 and cited below.   

As Eva Moskowitz wrote Klein in December 2007, she needed this information to "mail 10-12 times to elementary and preK families"  so that she could grow her "market share."  Attention has been paid recently to Moskowitz' current goal of expanding to 100 charter schools, and her aggressive expansion plans will be facilitated by SUNY's recent agreement to change their regulations, exempting her from teacher certification rules and allowing her to hire teachers with just a few weeks of training to staff her schools. 

Just as critical to her plans for rapid expansion is her ability to send multiple mailings to families for recruiting purposes. In 2010, it was estimated that Success Academy spent $1.6 million in the 2009-2010 school year alone on recruitment and promotion costs, including mailings and ads, amounting to $1300 for each new enrolled student.  The need to do a massive amount of outreach to fill seats is intensified by the fact that only half of the students who win Success Academy admissions lotteries actually enroll in her schools, according to a new study.

In stark contrast to DOE's voluntary and continuing practice of helping charter schools recruit students by providing them with the personal information of NYC public school students, the Nashville school board has recently refused to provide their students' contact information to charter schools, prompting a lawsuit filed against them by the State Education Commissioner.  The Commissioner cites a Tennessee law passed by the Legislature in August that she claims requires the district to share student contact information with charters.  

In response, Nashville attorneys argue that the release of information to charter operators for the purpose of marketing their schools to families is forbidden by FERPA, as this would be a commercial use of the data.  Last spring, a Nashville charter school agreed to pay parents $2.2 million to settle a class action lawsuit against them for spamming them with text messages urging them to enroll their children in the school.
In Memphis, the district made robocalls to parents, informing them of how to opt out of potential data-sharing with charter schools for the purposes of recruitment, and 7,700 did.  Last week, their school board voted to join Nashville anyway in defiance of the state's demand, and to deny this information to charter schools for the purposes of marketing and recruitment. 

There is no state law in NY that would require NYC DOE to provide this information to charter schools, and Johanna's FERPA complaint argues that both state and federal privacy law bar this practice without parental consent. Yet DOE has continued to violate student privacy to help charter schools cannibalize our public schools by allowing them to absorb an increasing amount of resources, space and students.  Last year, the DOE budget allocated more than $1.8 billion of operating funds on charter schools, not counting lease costs or space taken up by co-located charters in our increasingly overcrowded school buildings.  

Let us know if you would like to file a similar FERPA complaint against the DOE's practice of supplying your child's contact information to charter schools, by emailing us at 

--Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters and co-chair, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy

 November 6, 2017

Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-8520

My name is Johanna Garcia.  I am the mother of two children who currently attend NYC public schools; my third child attended a NYC public school until this year. My daughter is named [removed] and is in the sixth grade at [removed] in Manhattan.

Each year my family receives in the mail a large number of pamphlets and flyers from charter schools, promoting and marketing their schools and urging me to apply for my daughter.  Most of the flyers are from the Success Charter network, and some of them are addressed to me as her parent and some in Alexa's name.  I have received these flyers ever since my daughter was in second grade. 

It has been the practice of DOE to provide mailing labels to charter schools, and to allow them to target specific students by grade and neighborhood since at least 2007 and perhaps before. For evidence of this fact, see the December 2007 communications between former DOE Chancellor Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools, and Michael Duffy on p. 24-25 of the FOILed document here:

According to the document above, on December 21, 2007, Ms. Moskowitz emailed Chancellor Klein, asking for the ability to access the mailing addresses of students other than merely first graders attending NYC public schools, which was apparently allowed her at that time, and to send out mailings more than once a year: "As I believe you know, I have tried in the past to get the DOE to fully institutionalize one of your significant innovation, namely allowing charter schools to make school choice a reality by using DOE's mailing labels.  Unfortunately to truly market to families, we need to be able to mail 10-12 times to elementary and preK families."

Ms. Moskowitz requested the ability to access the names and mailing addresses of public school students in many different grades, to target them geographically, and to "mail multiple times from Tweed [the DOE headquarters.]"  Limiting her to one mailing per year and to students in only one grade "makes market share significantly more difficult," she wrote.

In response, on December 26, 2007, Michael Duffy, then Executive Director of the DOE Office of Charter Schools, wrote the following:

In recent years, I had assumed that the DOE had determined that the "hurdles" of privacy law could be overcome through the Directory information exception in FERPA, as charter schools would not fit under any of the other FERPA exceptions for nonconsensual disclosure.

Yet never have I received any notice from DOE of my rights under FERPA, including my right to opt out of the disclosure of this Directory information, as the law requires. Nor have I been told which categories are considered Directory information by DOE, as is mandated if a district utilizes this exception for non-consensual disclosure of personal student information according to FERPA.

More recently, however, I was forwarded an email from the NYC Department of Education Chief Privacy Officer, Joseph Baranello, claiming that instead, DOE allows charter schools to receive this information from DOE without parental consent as a result of the "school official" exception under FERPA.  In an email sent on Nov. 3, 2017, to Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Mr. Baranello wrote as follows:

" ...with respect to your inquiry concerning mailings related to charter schools, the DOE discloses mailing addresses of DOE families to its contracted vendor under FERPA’s “school officials” exception. As you know, under this exception FERPA permits the DOE to share personally identifiable information with outside parties performing institutional services or functions for which the DOE would otherwise use its own employees.  In addition, this exception requires that there exist legitimate educational interests in the information. The educational interest in this case is the need to inform families, especially those who are hard to reach, of available enrollment options."

Under FERPA, the "school official" exception is defined as an employee of the educational agency or a contractor or vendor to whom the school has outsourced institutional services or functions that it would otherwise perform for itself.

While the mailing house could be designated as a "school official" and receive student personal information, this would be allowed only for the purpose of sending mailings on behalf of the district.  It would be impermissible under FERPA for a "school official" to perform these services on behalf of another vendor or organization, as is occurring in this case.  Under the same specious argument, DOE could rationalize providing students' personal information via a mailing house to a private school, a tutoring company, or a company that produces educational software or sells textbooks for them to use to send marketing or promotional materials to parents, which DOE might argue could have an "educational interest" for this information.  This would be a clear violation of FERPA's intent.

In no manner could charter schools be defined as “school officials” themselves, and be eligible to receive non-consensual disclosure of personal student information from DOE, because they perform no functions or services for the district.  In fact, quite the opposite, as charter schools divert resources and students from the district.

In addition, according to FERPA, whoever is designated as a "school official" by DOE and thus eligible to receive personal student information without parental consent must be under the "direct control" of the district, meaning that there must be a written contract, service agreement or terms of service that explicitly restricts the use of the information for a specified purpose.  Charter schools are decidedly not under the "direct control" of the district, and there are no such contracts or written agreements between DOE and charter schools restricting the use of this information, as far as we know.

Finally, a district that allows third parties to obtain access to personally identifiable student information under the "school official" exception must include in its annual notification to parents of their FERPA rights its criteria for determining who constitutes a “school official” and what constitutes “legitimate educational interests." 

The annual notification of a parent's rights under FERPA to NYC parents is ostensibly provided in a booklet that was sent to principals at the beginning of the year, called Achieve NYC: A Complete Guide to New York City Public Schools,” though many parents say they never received the booklet nor any notice of it, which in itself represents another violation of FERPA.

This 46-page booklet, found at  says the following on p. 42 about who the district defines "school official" under FERPA, and thus eligible to receive personally identifiable student information without parental consent:

People whom the DOE engages to perform services or functions for which
it would otherwise use its employees. These include (a) contractors, (b)
agents, (c) consultants, (d) employees of other government agencies
providing DOE-related services or functions, (e) parents, students, or
other volunteers assisting another school official in performing his or
her tasks. Such people are required to be under the direct control of
the DOE with respect to the use and maintenance of personally identifiable
information from education records. Direct control is achieved in various
ways, including but not limited to by written agreement.

There is nothing mentioned in the booklet that would specify that charter school operators could be defined as "school official', as they are not DOE contractors, agents, or consultants, nor are they government agencies providing DOE-related services.  Nor is there any mention of DOE's apparent claim that a mailing house designated as a school official could then in turn use that information on behalf of a non-school official, and redisclose it to a charter school for the purpose of sending their recruiting and marketing materials to parents.

What is especially troubling is that according to FERPA, under the "school official" exception, unlike the "Directory information" exception, an education agency is allowed to non-consensually disclose any detail in a student's educational records, including their test scores, grades, or disability status, to a third party presumed to need access to that information.   

In the continuation of the email quoted above from the NYC DOE Chief Privacy Officer to Leonie Haimson, Mr. Baranello wrote the following:

"The educational interest in this case is the need to inform families, especially those who are hard to reach, of available enrollment options.  This is also especially important given the Education Law's emphasis on charter schools recruiting and serving students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, to help ensure that charter schools are not selective in whom they provide their applications to." (emphasis added.)

This implies that the DOE may not only be providing the names, grades and addresses of public school students to charter schools, but also identifying which of them may have disabilities, are English Language Learners, or receive free or reduced-price lunch, which would be an even more serious violation of their right to privacy.  

While I have three children who currently attend NYC public schools, I have received mailings from charter schools only in the name of my daughter, who is the only one of my three children whose test scores qualified her to enroll in a citywide gifted program, though she did not enroll in one. I cannot conceive of how the charter school could distinguish between my three children unless they also received information from DOE about their test scores, including that my daughter scored high enough to qualify for a gifted program, or that my other two children have IEPS, which would essentially allow them to recruit students according to their academic ability.

In any case, the ability of charter schools to access the personal information of public school students without parental consent would be illegal and particularly egregious, given the manner in which charter schools are governed by private corporate boards that resist any efforts to make their practices transparent and accountable to the public.

I also believe that the DOE's nonconsensual provision of students' personally identifiable information for the purpose of allowing charter schools to send promotional pamphlets and marketing materials to their families violates NY state privacy law, § 2-d. Unauthorized release of personally identifiable information.  This law, passed by the Legislature in 2014, bars schools and districts from releasing "a student's personally identifiable information ... for any commercial purposes."  Disclosing a student's name, grade and address to charter schools for the purpose of sending promotional literature to their parents and thereby enabling them to expand their "market share" would be a commercial purpose, and thus barred by state law. 

In addition, the DOE booklet posted online and quoted above does not link to the current list of personal student data elements that the district discloses to the state, as required by state law, but a different list of data elements collected in 2014, shortly after the law was passed.

Thus, I am copying this complaint to the Chief Privacy Officer of the NYS Education Department urging her to take action as well.

Please inform the NYC DOE that they are in violation of federal law, since charter schools cannot be defined as "school officials" eligible under FERPA to receive personally identifiable student information without parental consent, either directly from the district or through a third-party mailing house.  The DOE must immediately cease providing personally student information to charter schools for recruiting and marketing purposes, without first receiving their parents' consent. 

DOE must also inform parents of their FERPA rights, and to be informed of the list of personal data elements that the district currently discloses to the state, as required by state law.

The Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education is Carmen Farina; her address is 52 Chamber St., New York, NY 10007

Yours sincerely,

Johanna Garcia
[address, phone, email removed]
I certify that the information I have provided is true to the best of my knowledge and belief.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Renewal schools with largest class sizes are those that are struggling still

About a year and half ago I FOILed  the NYC Department of Education for the funding and policies they ostensibly used to reduce class size in the Renewal schools, as the last two years they have promised the state to focus their class size reduction efforts on these schools as part of their obligations under the Contract for Excellence law.

A few weeks ago, I received no information on any special funding or policies that were used to reduce class size in the Renewal schools, but I did receive a spreadsheet showing the changes in their class size averages from 2014-2016.
This DOE data shows that 38% of Renewal schools did NOT reduce average class size between 2014 and 2016 and 69% continued to have maximum class sizes of 30 or more.
The two Renewal schools with the highest average class sizes last year were Flushing HS at 28.7 and DeWitt Clinton at 27.4, and both also increased class sizes last year.  These are the two Renewal schools that according to the DOE have made the least progress and so they are demanding that all  teachers at these schools  re-apply for their jobs for next year.
Flushing had maximum class sizes in many subjects of over 30 , with many classes that violated the UFT contract of 34, including as high as 43 students per class in Global History. DeWitt Clinton also had many classes over 30 — as high as 39 in math.
Meanwhile several of the schools listed as making great gains in this NYT article, including  PS 15 and PS 328, had quite small class sizes and had also reduced class size over the last two years.  - PS 15 had reduced average class size to 17.3 students per class, and PS 328 to 16.8 students per class.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hudson Yards Success charter parents to Eva Moskowitz: The school "broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks".

Ben Chapman of the Daily News reported yesterday that a group of parents whose children attend a new Hudson Yards middle school in the Success Academy charter network is protesting the rigid and abusive disciplinary methods of the network.  The school opened this year and enrolls about 200 students in grades 5 and 6, to be expanded to 480 students through eighth grade in future years.

The school is sited in a high-rise building on the far West Side of Manhattan.  The space also houses a Success charter elementary school and the Success Academy Education Institute, established to train teachers from throughout the country in the Success techniques.  The two schools in the building are supposed to serve as "lab schools" for the Institute. The commercial space in the mixed use tower was acquired for $68 million by Success in December 2016.  

Harlem Success Middle School students
The full letter from Hudson Yard parents to Eva Moskowitz, the Success CEO, is reprinted below, and describes how the principal and faculty at the school "broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks." Many of the specific practices outlined below have been reported by parents at other Success charter schools.

From: Hudson Yards Parents
Date: Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 8:25 AM
Subject: Concerns regarding Hudson Yards
Dear Eva and SA Board of Trustees,

We are a large group of parents from Hudson Yards Middle School who are outraged by Principal Russell’s policies and treatment of our children.

Eva Moskowitz and family crashing a Success protest last year
Last week we met with Principal Russell to voice our concerns and these are the issues and specific incidents that were discussed:

HYSA faculty broke our children’s spirit and erased their self confidence in less than 3 weeks.
Our children who once loved the SA, who were proud of being a part of a great school, rallied in Albany and other events, now simply no longer want to go to school.

Some of our children are getting physically sick, experiencing meltdowns, vomiting, having nightmares and/or having sleepless nights and are unable to concentrate etc. Some of our children have even requested to be homeschooled although they had been award winners and popular last year.

Intimidation and Detention of the scholars: Since school started most of the scholars were detained at least once for reasons that can hardly justify such an extreme measure. Examples:

•  Not locking their hands
•  Not completing homework that was confusing, in some cases assignments not even given to them in the first place
•  For unintentionally and/or accidentally breaking wind or burping in the classroom
•  On October 2, 2017 approximately 50% of the school was detained
•  Some parents were informed about the detention 1 hour before it took place

Teaching style and methodologies:

•  Inattentive and careless: teachers are not actually teaching, but acting similar to traffic policemen (directing traffic and giving tickets). They consistently give misleading instructions without explanations, references or textbooks; we, the parents are helpless. Some instructions that were recently given were grammatically incorrect and could not even be completed
•  Overwhelmed staff: there are multiple documented examples of teachers who appeared so stressed that parents could not get a coherent answer to simple Yes or No questions
•  Vindictive: scholars were told they “need to stop whining to their parents”.

After spending many hours struggling with the Chromebook, a family sent an email to the teacher and tech leader expressing frustration. The following morning as if in retaliation for complaining, the teacher confiscated the Chromebook and told the scholar "You lost your Chromebook privileges" and now you have to work on paper. Teachers stop at nothing to shame, publicly humiliate and embarrass the scholars

•  Negligent: advisor is not even aware of the services scholars with IEPs are supposed to get, although the IEP was discussed with them.

Above mentioned issues are mostly generic, however 2 personal stories from Thursday, October 5, 2017 night were particularly disturbing:

1. A terminally ill mother was trying her best to acclimate her daughter to the Hudson Yards Middle School community to be her second home. The future may turn out to be just like that. Unfortunately, the scholar’s grandfather passed away shortly after school started and the mother provided the school with her precise travel plans for the funeral. As the scholar’s grandfather was lowered into the ground, the mother received a phone call from her teacher but instead of condolences and support, this teacher demanded speaking about uncompleted homework.

2. A devoted mother expressed her concerns about the school in her email to her advisory group, CCing Principal Russell. Immediately after her email was received, Principal Russell phoned her attempting to scare her from sending such mass emails. The mother refused to be bullied in such manner and ended the call. Principal Russell kept calling her repeatedly. It seems that controlling information was more urgent to him than addressing feedback.


Some parents were able to have what appeared to be a productive conversation with Principal Russell but not much has changed.
Some parents NEVER got a chance to talk to Principal Russell, after repeatedly asking to do so.
Some parents feel intimidated by Principal Russell for speaking up and conferring with other parents.
Teachers at HYMS have not yet  provided families with their classmates parent’s contacts, unlike what other SA schools did at the beginning of the academic year.
Having a playdate or a study group to help scholars to adjust to their new environment could have been very beneficial, however Principal Russell prefered all communications to be undisclosed so we were not privy to any requests and discussions. We as parents want to teach our children to engage in open and productive discussions and not be driven by fear to do so.


Staff demonstrates ZERO awareness and concern for what they are causing families with their disturbing their end of school-day pickup plans.
The staff do not care or understand that: having to leave work unexpectedly can cause somebody to lose their job.
Parents who have children in multiple schools simply cannot pick up one child without creating unsafe and emotionally stressful situations for any of their children.
To have a 10 year old child standing on the street waiting to be picked up, while parents are  fighting traffic is extremely dangerous. The school’s location makes it a perfect spot to abduct a child and disappear into Lincoln tunnel in less than a minute.
There is a homeless shelter located just across a street from the school, housing single men. Individuals who stay in this shelter have to be out by 9am every day and are not allowed back in before 4:30pm; these hours coincide with our children’s school day.

I hope you understand that our only objective here is to create an enjoyable and productive school environment for our children and not war against the SA network. It would be a loss to everyone if somebody were to use this as a factor in not providing SA additional space for its Middle Schools.
I hope you will choose to act quickly and rectify the situation for everyone’s benefit and avoid yet another public scandal as there is evidence for all written above.

We are not signing our names at this point to prevent retaliation; Principal Russell knows only some of us by name and many parents were afraid to be seen at the meeting fearing retaliation.

Our feeling is that Principal Russell’s one year of experience managing Cobble Hill 5th grade (Middle School that since then was discontinued) may not have sufficiently prepared him for jump starting a new Middle School. At this point in time there is so much bad blood between the parents and the principal, a new jump start is a necessity for this school to succeed.

We must have an experienced leader, an educator who can motivate and unify the scholars as opposed to terrifying them and destroying their self confidence.

We want a school for our children where they cannot only thrive but blossom into successful and productive adults.