Student Privacy? WHAT PRIVACY?

I'm warning you, this will be a LONG post, but EVERY PARENT should go through it with a fine tooth comb.

First, I want you to see this VERY SHORT video of Louisiana parent, Brooke Falgout, describing objectionable content in her parish school.

Brooke has apparently received some fallout from this video - parents intimating that what she's describing isn't true because they've never seen anything like this, or their children (who live in the same Parish) haven't told them anything like this, for example.  Fine, everyone is entitled to their thoughts on the topic, but I want to ask a few questions:

  • How much do you know as a parent/guardian about what actually happens in the classroom?
  • Have your kids ever neglected to disclose information to you because a) they were uncomfortable telling you or b) (this is my favorite) they didn't think it was a big deal?  I have.
  • Do you feel yourself educated enough as a parent to know exactly what you're looking at if you were to see something like Brooke is describing staring you in the face?  Translation; do you know what words like "Cyberbullying" really mean in school terms?
  • Do you feel yourself educated enough about the change in FERPA laws that allow data to be collected from all across the web - so long as it can be considered a function of 'learning' - that you know exactly where your child's data is going the minute they log on to any computer in the school?
As a researcher, the minute Brooke began to speak, I got her on camera for one reason - I've seen exactly what she talked about first hand and through my associations with other parents - worse, if you want to know the truth.  Also, as a researcher, after getting Brooke on video, I went out to the websites Brooke reported, poked around and found just what she talked about - and more.

In order to understand what I will say next, you must - sadly - suspend the notion that schools have the best interest of your child at heart.  I know that statement is harsh, but, again - sadly - it is reality today - not out of any desire to harm children - but more as a result of several ongoing conditions:
  • MANY state and federal mandates put teachers and schools in the unenviable position of intermediary.  Many times teachers/administrators are forced to use computer programs or data collection materials in order to get continued funding, or avoid censure of some kind.  Many times neither the teachers nor administrators know exactly what the program does or where the input data goes after it's entered.  Data collection for the Safe and Healthy Schools Program - and 16 other data collection programs - are mandated by the federal government.
  • MANY administrators have developed the idea that buying new and 'better' programs - ironically marketed to them by companies who have developed the programs utilizing student data collection - help run their schools more efficiently while simultaneously creating excitement among parents for the supposed result of the program - school safety for example (do you have to get in your school via a fingerprint/badge?)
  • MANY teachers today are entering the classroom having been indoctrinated in the notion that 'data drives learning' (a pile of drivel immediately disproven by the knowledge that America put men on the moon with rudimentary computers programmed by men just decades out of the one room schoolhouse) and therefore have no compunction about sitting a kid down at a computer for hours in a day in the name of 'learning'.  These teachers may know the amount of data being collected on that student - or know exactly what's in a video - but believe this data will help her better teach that student, and/or the child needs instruction in cyberbullying or alcoholism or fill-in-the-blank, because he/she's sure the child is not going to get that super important instruction at home.
Brooke reported the names of three websites used by her daughters' school:
1.  Gaggle
Brook alleges her daughter had to take a survey that covered:
1.  Cyberbullying
2.  Pornography
3.  Personal questions her family life including details such as whether or not they were given snacks after school
CYBERBULLYING:  Here is a screenshot I took from the EverFi website at the URL http://www.everfi.com/ignition

You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it, but please notice that third down it says "Cyberbullying".  Under "Rich Assessment Data" it says, "Data on student knowledge gain and BEHAVIOR (emphasis mine) change can be shared with key stakeholders.  Ignition helps K-12 districts meet the FCC requirements to educate about Internet safety in order to comply with federal e-Rate..." then it stops.  Consequently, I went out the internet to look this up (good thing my computer doesn't have all these exciting internet filters!).

Apparently, in 2000, the FCC implemented the Children's Internet Protection Act.  Schools and libraries who want to receive e-Rate grants (a fund created by Al Gore's cell phone tax to help schools/libraries get funds to install internet or to increase broadband width - handily available for schools needing to update to take the new and exciting Common Core tests) must provide filters to protect students from materials on computers that are (a) obscene; (b) child pornography; or (c) harmful to minors.  The federal government upped the ante, however, with the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act Amendment, that directs schools to provide certification of programming that will monitor student online behavior and
"provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response"
before the school/library can receive e-Rate funds.  You can find more information on these Acts here.

So?  What's the problem here?  I don't want my kid able to look at porn on the computer at school.  I don't want my kid to be cyberbullied.  Here are just some of the problems associated with these 'Acts":
  1. What is "appropriate" online behavior?  There is no definition.  It's arbitrary.  So, if your kid isn't liked at school, how easily do you think THIS could get he/she in trouble, ESPECIALLY since schools must monitor student internet use and RESPOND (discipline) to these incidents.
  2. If kids don't know what 'porn' is, the federal government makes sure the school will have to tell kids what pornography is so they know not to get on to pornographic sites.
  3. Read these Acts - they are FULL of loopholes that keep the laws from being followed by the schools and libraries anyway, yet internet software developers like EverFi are going to create the need for the software ("Look, you have to have this program if you want your government money") and sell it while unsuspecting administrators (or those with an agenda) will buy them to use on your kids.
  4. Do you think teachers go through all this stuff and know the ins and outs?  I'd be mad if they did because they should be teaching my kid actual subjects and not made up subjects to mire his mind in garbage.  How much time is this stuff stealing from actual classroom learning?  
  5. There is another federal program called Safe & Drug Free Schools that collects a great deal of data on students in public schools regarding disciplines, behaviors, etc.  These kinds of programs are perfect for populating that database.  Once your child is 'identified' as a cyberbully, they will carry that on their permanent record.
Just so you know I don't have an over-active imagination, I captured the following screenshots from the EverFi website as well.  If you go to their main page, click on the 'solutions' tab at the top of the page and then click on 'health and wellness' you'll find programs for alcohol prevention and sexual assault prevention.  I clicked on sexual assault prevention  and then 'learn more'.  This is what I found.

This program, called Haven, is supposed to be for college students, yet it's on the same website as the Ignition program for middle school kids.  If you choose to teach your children that homosexuality is not a 'healthy relationship' I guess you're in trouble.  Oh, and by the way, students are taught to intervene (tattle on) in any 'unhealthy' discussion relating to 'healthy relationships'.  What is a "healthy relationship"?  On what grounds do students 'get to' intervene?

Here's a screen capture from Gaggle at https://www.gaggle.net/advantages/real-student-safety/ 

Yes, please tell me what is the HUMAN MONITORING SERVICE!?  It sounds despotic to me.  Then again, the FCC mandates it.  Wait, doesn't it make you uncomfortable, that phrase - Human Monitoring Service?  It does me.  What happens when you take your car in for a check-up?  Invariably, the technician finds something wrong.  It's the way the world works, if you're looking for something 'wrong', you'll find it every time.  Yes, it seems like a great thing that your child is being monitored, but it's not by you.  Do you trust everyone around your child when you're out of the picture?  I don't.  Surveillance such as this on children seems as rife to me with possibilities for finding 'behavioral' and 'discipline' problems as it does protection and if it doesn't to you, history proves your instincts wrong.  This kind of power is only as good as the entity that holds it - ever.

Another very concerning thing about Gaggle, is that it is Microsoft integrated.  Microsoft is responsible for the creation of something called SIF - Schools Interoperative Framework.  SIF is the road upon which all data travels to and from state and federal education offices.  If computers are the buildings, SIF is the road that connects them.  Data companies like EdFi who create 'dashboards' in order to pull in lots and lots of disparate data and conglomerate them in one place, use SIF to send out integrated student files anywhere - across any platform.  Here's a comment by a Colorado administrator, 
"Now, all of our data is in a map, schema, and organization that cross over our entire system for easy integration - today and in the future."  
As I mentioned before, any data that comes into these programs can be easily collected and shared across any platform and/or program - legally.

PORNOGRAPHY:  This is another screenshot from Gaggle I took at this URL  https://www.gaggle.net/advantages/real-student-safety/.  Please notice the built-in 'Anti Pornography Scanner' which scans everything your student could do on a computer...

It takes no real imagination to believe that because the program contains an anti-pornography scanner there would be a survey somewhere to capture whether or not students have had access to, or seen, porn.  Many of these programs can't be seen from the website.  Students must sign on to their accounts at school and that sign on brings with it entirely new access screens.  How will you know what your child is seeing under his sign on?

Blackboard has a unique program.  I took a screenshot of this as well.

See it, text it, document it...no one else sees anything to be concerned about there?  Oh, I know, I heard the same thing with the Patriot Act.  "I don't do anything wrong, so I don't have anything to be worried about."  WRONG.  Personal privacy is just that - PERSONAL.  Collection of this kind of information is not simply an invasion of your child's privacy, it's a direct attack on a student's First Amendment rights because anyone can consider anything 'hate speech'.  Your child may mean nothing by something they have said, but because someone else took offense, your child is now labeled a bully.  

I noticed a website in the lower left hand side of the page to the right of the orange bar - Make Beats, Not Beatdowns.  This website provides ways you can stop bullying while also outlining statistics - especially those regarding gay and lesbian bullying.  As a Christian, I can imagine one of my children going to school and, if asked, saying he/she believes homosexuality a sin.  Voila!  Expressing his/her religious views at school now makes them a bully and subject to clandestine texts to administrators who will then dole out sanctions deemed appropriate for such behavior.

Tiptxt also allows you to report "suspicious" behavior and "mental health" issues.  Please tell me what these are - they certainly aren't outlined on the website. That's the other problem with this stuff - it's completely nebulous and up to the person in charge to decipher and/or define.  School is now a place where your student's behavior must be absolutely consistent with the next student in order to prevent an incident report from creating a digital footprint they will never get rid of.  Erasing digital records is a tremendous feat not easily accomplished.

SCHOOL SURVEYS:  I linked to this article earlier, but I'm going to do so again.  Back in 2012 we published a short paper called, "Secretive and Unwarranted Psychological Testing of Children Does Occur With 21st Century Skills Programming".  I urge you to read it when you have a chance, but this is one kind of survey given to middle school students in conjunction with a federal grant program called the "21st Century Skills".  It is an open-ended survey that allows children to fill-in-the-blank with their thoughts and feelings which are then turned over to psychologists for review.

The most likely culprit for the survey Brooke describes in her video is the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey (YRBS), given to public school students by the CDC in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12th grades.  The Survey contains questions related to

Here are the problems with these kinds of surveys:
  • Parents MUST be notified that minor children will be exposed to this survey as part of the PPRA - Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment.  If you are not notified, you have legal recourse.
  • This information is simply no one's business but the parent.
  • Who's to say teenagers don't get more ideas from this kind of detailed survey than they had before they took the survey - education on sensitive issues should be done AT HOME BY A PARENT, not at school by relative strangers.
  • Brooke points out in her video that 'they' (the school) is trying to separate children from their parents.  The questions asked on these surveys are probing to say the least.  Many would be considered embarrassing by many students.  Once the child is exposed to this information it can become hard for them to tell their parents about it.  This creates a division between parent and child which is real and unconscionable.
  • The data for the YRBS is provided to the CDC which provides it to numerous other agencies such as the National Center for Education Statistics, and who knows whether individual students can be tracked through this survey.
I think I've proved Brooke's video statements true on all counts.  I hope, in the process, I've awakened any parents who are reading this to the eminent privacy dangers your child is exposed to in public schools.

  • Homeschool (without using a K-12 - or other - online program which are public in nature and therefore responsible for the same types of data collection and policies), or privately educate your children if possible.  Removing customers from the system is the only way to change the system.
  • Accept the evidence and realize your child's privacy is in jeopardy in public schools and work to change that.
  • Realize YOU THE PARENT have ALL the control.  If you don't want your child taking these surveys, inform the school - IN WRITING - you want your child opted out of the activities you desire and tell your child not to participate if the situation arises.
  • When you find misuses of your child's privacy, inform your school board in writing and then show up at the meeting to address the board with your grievances (FYI: you should attend your child's school board meeting every month anyway as one of your parental duties).  Also inform your state representative and senator because they can help with legislation to help stop data collection.
  • Do not sign a computer release for your child to use the internet at school unless you know EXACTLY what programs will be used and what data will be collected during their 'on' hours.
  • Enforce your parental right to direct the education of your child/children.  No matter what school officials say, they cannot induce a child to do something that is against the wishes of the parent (for the most part - your child cannot be truant for example).  Parental rights are universal and not granted by governments.  Know your rights and be prepared to stand for the privacy of your student when necessary.
Jenni White - 7/30/14


The Oklahoma Standards Writing Process Must Not Be Tabled Again

Yet another state school board meeting has passed and yet again the process for creating the state's new education standards has been tabled.

Honestly, I do not know what to think.  Yes, I can call up a number of contacts and get what could be considered a "run down" of the behind-the-scenes drama (if you will) - and I have - yet none of the background noise matters.  Oklahoma is still left wanting for the start of a meaningful process.

HB3399 tells us the standards re-write process began the day the Governor signed the bill.  The Governor signed the bill the first week of June.  The State Department of Education has produced a standards re-write mechanism and the state is becoming aware of this process as I write.

Let's re-cap the events since the passage of the bill:
  • NASBE (National Association of State Boards of Education) writes Governor Fallin a letter urging her not to sign HB3399 because it will take away power from the State Board of Education
  • PTA, COSSA, OSSBA, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce (who now no longer have 'education' mentioned on their website in favor of WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT - lovely) and other take out two full page ads in the Daily Oklahoman and Tulsa World urging Governor Fallin not to sign the bill (ostensibly for various reasons)
  • Governor Fallin signs HB3399
  • Four state school board members, parents and teachers (including the OEA teacher of the year) sign on to a lawsuit to be heard in the Oklahoma Supreme Court alleging NASBE's argument
  • The same day the lawsuit is heard, it is struck down in a 8-1 ruling
  • June State Board meeting - adoption of PASS and standards re-write tabled
  • July State Board meeting - PASS adopted, standards re-write tabled
Reminds me a bit of Sir Walter Scott from Marmion - "Oh, what a tangled web we weave..."

I'm not of the mind to rush into a process to create new Oklahoma educational standards, frankly.  I think the faster we go, the less thoughtful the process.  However, we can't continue to table the process indefinitely. Yes, I realize we will have a new superintendent come November, but he or she will not be installed until January.  Yes, I realize the process could be started and diverted into a new process with the incoming super, however, how long do you stall before you simply run out of time to do what HB3399 tasked in the first place - the creation of new EXCELLENT Oklahoma standards within two years' time?

To be frank, I'm not a fan of the proposed standards writing process.  I think when you get too many cooks in the kitchen your dish more than likely comes out unidentifiable and inedible.  I realize that - unlike the adoption of the Common Core - everyone wants this process to be unimpeachably transparent, but I don't think it takes over 500 people to make that happen.

I have had the pleasure of coming to know Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the premier knower of all things English in the United States - widely credited with having written the best set of educational standards in the country.  What if the Governor showed up to the party and suggested that Oklahoma bring in Stotsky and listen to her describe how she created standards of educational excellence?  What if the Governor suggested we move forward, while discussing different, possibly less cumbersome, methods of creating a standards writing/review plan?

Neither the Governor nor the Board want to be accused of stalling, or rushing, because neither situation will engender positive public sentiment, further frustrating the process.  Because of the leadership vacuum created by the loss of our current superintendent in the primary, strong leadership MUST emerge in order to keep this process moving until January 2015.  It seems perfectly reasonable then, to have the leader of our state chime in and publicly nudge the process forward.  With the people of Oklahoma waiting with bated breath for Common Core to rear its ugly head as it has in Indiana - and with the process already having been stymied three separate times since the passage of HB3399 - gubernatorial suggestion may not only decrease the unease of Oklahomans but increase her sagging poll numbers as well.  No matter what, and like it or not, the law stipulates we move forward, and that we must do in some sort of productive way beginning with the August 28th State Board meeting.  Yes, let's take our time and do this right, but let's at least move forward in a productive way, now.


To Fire or Not To Fire, That Is The Question...

Following the filing of the lawsuit against HB3399, a number of questions could be raised about the fact that four individuals responsible for overseeing public education in Oklahoma were plaintiffs; Leo Baxter, Amy Anne Ford, William F. Shdeed and Daniel Keating.

As I've reported numerous times, the law regarding Oklahoma school board appointees has changed. During the first year of Dr.Barresi's term, our school board was changed from a board appointed by the governor on a rolling six year term to members appointed by the current sitting governor to serve at her/his "pleasure" (Senate Bill 435, 2011).  It seems odd then, that four board members would choose to go against the will of the governor (certainly displeasing one would think) following her signing of the repeal of Common Core in Oklahoma and file a lawsuit that asked the court to throw out, not just the part regarding legislative oversight of the standards to which they objected, but the ENTIRE bill.  Would this not be grounds for their removal? Why has this topic not been broached?

The state Board of Education is comprised of seven members.  According to Open Records law in Oklahoma, members of a body such as the state School Board may not meet together as a majority of the board without posting the meeting and taking minutes.  It is unclear how the lawsuit may have been discussed among the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but if at any time these four board members 'met' on a conference call or physically together in order to discuss the suit, Open Records laws were broken.  If I'm asking this question - did they meet - does this not constitute a level of impropriety?  What about trust?  How do the people of Oklahoma trust this Board to do the state's business when it appears as though they could have broken laws which provide transparency to citizens?

After the Board meeting in June, behavioral impropriety should also be at issue in my mind.  The first hand reports I received of the unprofessional manner in which the school board members on the lawsuit behaved, creates further issues of trust in my mind.  I know we don't live in the 50's and we're not all wearing white gloves and hats to meetings anymore, but truly, a state School Board meeting should be held with an amount of decorum to allow the public trust.  The loud, dismissive manner with which some acted, does not make me feel good about holding them up as representatives for myself or Oklahoma.

According to HB3399, the entire education standards re-write is overseen by a Steering Committee which consists of at least two board members:

There are only two Board members who did not sign on to the lawsuit - Cathryn Franks and Bill Price.  Mrs. Franks is new and none of us have had the chance to make her acquaintance, but Bill Price is well known within the Republican Party as a sincere supporter of Common Core.

How can we have any confidence that those of us that spoke out against the Common Core will be considered for Committee membership?  How can we believe any of the four Board Members listed as Plaintiffs on the lawsuit will be fair in overseeing the standards re-write process? 

I think these concerns are valid and should be addressed by our Governor at her earliest convenience.  If indeed, as the law says, these individuals serve at her pleasure, why are they still serving?  I must say, if these Board members served at my pleasure, they would be serving no more.


Is Common Core Really Over In Oklahoma?

Some time ago I created the meme above based on the notion we've been fed by the Chambers of Commerce that Common Core is necessary in order to train kids for jobs.  Since the standards were forced onto the national scene through Obama's Race to the Top application, the rallying cry has been that business in America is suffering because we are not properly educating our children to be workers.  We must have an educated workforce in order to stimulate our economy.

Once Common Core was repealed in Oklahoma, and the process created by which new standards will be established, Oklahoma is now officially free of Common Core.  Or are we?

The short answer is NO.  Common Core is the name for a set of educational standards predicated on the notion that children must be "College and Career Ready".  Sadly, this prevailing thought has been steeped through nearly every pore of the business machine through both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Governor's Association.  The standards may now be in Davy Jone's locker, but the idea behind them is not.

Take Governor Fallin's recent Oklahoma Now column, "Education Beyond High School is the “New Minimum” for Success in Today’s Economy”.  Here, she makes the case that the state should drive education in order to secure a better future for individuals when she says,

Solving this problem, however, (of “preparing our citizens to succeed in a more competitive economy”) requires state-level action. It requires a commitment to reform. Above all, it demands recognition that the status quo is no longer adequately serving Oklahoma students in today’s competitive, global job market.

It seems apparent from our Governor’s perspective that the state determines the best course for Oklahoma’s students.

In fact, she closes by saying,

My job as governor is to push forward, to demand more, and to work with teachers, parents, and administrators to ensure our students graduate high school ready to continue their education and become college and career ready. Nothing is more important to the individual prosperity of our students or the continued prosperity of our state.  

I very much disagree with her assessment of her job.  Her job is NOT to demand, it’s a parent’s job to demand.  It’s not her job to ‘ensure’ Oklahoma’s students do anything – it’s the parent’s job to direct the education of their children.  In fact, if you've been a parent, you know you can’t ENSURE anything about your children’s future – all you can do is the best you can do and pray.

Recently, I was in Enid speaking with the Sons and Daughters of Liberty – one of my favorite groups in the state.  A man attended the meeting and began to ask very pointed questions about the course of education in Oklahoma.  Sadly, he quite apparently believed it the state’s job to provide accountability for education.  In his opinion, unless we test public education students rigorously, Oklahoma will continue to suffer poor educational outcomes.

I think the only way to describe the disjointedness of this thought process is to share a comment I made to our Facebook page the other day on just this subject.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Those of us that pay taxes to support public schools are being manipulated by a growing chambercrat/statist cadre who care nothing for students excepting their ability to become employable and drive the economic engine that keeps them at the top of the food chain. If we’re not wise, we’ll soon be asked to genuflect and kiss their rings. I’m not talking entitlement – no 99%’er philosophy here – I’m talking about individual liberty and the fact that the more government grows and the more fingers it has in our lives, the less liberty we have as individuals . School reform should be local, individual and parent-driven – not predicated on automaton-generating sameness tidied up with a red bow to sucker parents into believing their children should be educated by the state solely to get a job when they graduate. True education elevates the individual and provides the foundation for a free society. Today’s education ‘reform’ is the exact opposite.

So what is my definition of education?  This is the definition I provided on my application to serve on one of Oklahoma’s new standards writingcommittees when asked to define College-, Career- and Citizen-Readiness.

Students ready to tackle the challenges of the world are the product of a well-rounded education in a school that provides an environment in which every child is responsible for his or her actions. Students should study a variety of broad, rich subjects such as world history, music, art and classic literature to expand their minds and ignite the desire for learning; however learning isn’t predicated simply upon coursework.

The creation of productive, capable individuals ready to enter the world in whatever capacity they desire requires a mixture of education and expectation. Schools must impart knowledge to students, but also the mechanics of personal responsibility.

Students not taught to take responsibility for their learning, perceive education as a job – a rote mechanical effort done becomes someone else wants it done. When students are allowed to move forward in their education without meeting the requirements of courses as prescribed by the teacher and administration, the student learns that knowledge isn’t important – that ‘school’ is a game to manipulate to their own end.

When students are allowed to behave against expectations without prescription and delivery of a reasonable, identifiable punishment for those behaviors, students are provided no framework for authority. Without a framework for authority, there is no trust. Without trust, students are unable to see the value of education in their lives and learning cannot occur.

Oklahoma can create the best set of standards in the world, but until it is understood that education is a mixture of education and expectation – and follow through on that understanding – Oklahoma will continue to see poor educational outcomes. 

Here’s how the NGA defines College and Career readiness:

A college- and career-ready student is an individual that is ready to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing, academic college courses and in workforce training programs.  College refers to two- and four-year postsecondary schools.  Workforce training programs pertain to careers that offer competitive, livable salaries above the poverty line; offer opportunities for career advancement; and are in a growing or sustainable industry.
*National Governors Association, “Common Core State Standards Initiative: Standards Setting Criteria” (Washington, D.C.: 2009).

With which definition do you most agree?