Monday, May 30, 2016


My last post was an alert to parents about the ways the “educational” uses of technology are gathering data on our kids, not (as claimed) to advise their teachers on better ways to teach them, but to make it easier to market to kids – not just to sell to them, but to shape their ideas about what they want .   “Learning to be Watched,” the new study out of the National Education Policy Center at Boulder, documented in all too chilling detail the way “education” softwares (including those required for daily assignments as well as for testing) collect very personal data on children – on minors – to build a “data” base of their social contacts for the benefit of corporations who can profit from having your child’s profile in its hands.

The authors of “Learning to be Watched” do not write in generalities: they name specific companies (Google and Nike, for example) and provide real examples of the ways schools – often knowingly – are complicit in this capture of children’s personal information. They also show how difficult it is to protect children’s privacy when privacy laws – even those protecting children – come up against the corporate claims that their information is “proprietary –  that is, a product they own, an essential part of their business plan, thus not open to outsiders.

Corporations – from testing companies to third-party marketers to unknown (and perhaps international) vendors – can scoop up personal information on young children and teenagers to use for their own profit.    And parents have few ways to find out what these strangers know about their children and how the data collected from year to year will be used to manipulate their children lives.

So are the testing companies advocates willing to have their “data” open to outsiders?  It would seem the answer is a clear and resounding NO!

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia (

We’re learning that questioning the tests can put the questioner in jeopardy.  Anyone – including teachers – who wants more public scrutiny of the mandated standardized tests that so dominate our schools these days, may be “surveilled.”  A teacher or blogger who raises questions about the tests is in danger of being threatened by – yes, the testing companies that have no problem gathering and selling data on young children but do not want anyone to know what they are doing.  

Yes, this sounds far-fetched.  But thanks to Diane Ravitch’s blog, more of us are learning how this works.  Ravitch’s blog has become a kind of town square for sharing information about our children and their schools.   

Several of her recent posts show how diligently teachers are raising serious concerns about these mandated tests – from the claimed levels of difficulty, to the accuracy of content, to the many problems in giving and scoring the tests.  All instructionally important for the children and the ways these tests are used to govern their education.  

But apparently off-limits as “proprietary information” that can put the questioners in danger of reprisal.  Absurd? Yes.  Dangerous? Yes?

But so threatening to the testing companies that teachers and bloggers doing their professional duty to look out for the children are themselves being threatened with legal action.

Here are just some of Diane Ravitch’s recent blog posts that shed light on this growing threat, in the teachers’ own words.  When you read these, and follow the links back to the original writers’ blogs, you may wonder as I do, How are teachers’ and bloggers’ being surveilled? Who is monitoring their writing and capturing their words to use against them?  Who controls the metrics and “analytics” of teacher correspondence? And who said they could? Who gave them the power to traffic cop communications among educators who are looking out for the children? Is this something else our tax dollars are paying for?

One teacher's questions
Who owns the [test] copyright? 
The testing company's complaints
Who's censoring correspondence critical of testing?
How can Twitter disappear a controversial message?

I invite you to read these for yourself, think about your own kids, and add to the conversation with your Comments.

Monday, May 23, 2016

“Learning to be Watched”:  What You Wish You Didn’t Need to Know about Who’s Tracking Your Kids

Do you let strangers into your home to go through your kids’ closets or toy boxes?  If someone just happens to come to the door and wants to ask your child nosy questions, do you welcome her in?  What about that person lurking on the edge of the playground—aren’t you supposed to call security?

If you’re a careful parent, you find these questions absurd: of course you protect your child from strangers.  Or do you/?

A powerful new study shows in vivid detail the many ways our children are being watched and profiled, not by a stranger we could identify in a line-up, but by the very tech companies our schools have contracted with to provide the software that is becoming the course content, the assignments, and the assessments in too many of our classrooms.    

This study gives chilling details of the way individual students just doing their homework online, shifting across different social media, are being tracked and exploited for commercial purposes.  It also brings to light the complex surveillance and marketing networks behind what appear to be respectable "educational" vendors.

The paper is full of detail and smart in an analysis that follows the money.  Every parent should read it and forward it to their child's principal, school board member and state legislator.  Parents concerned about their children's privacy as well as who is making decisions that allow strangers to prey on our kids so blatantly yet so covertly should start a conversation about who's tracking their kids.

Here's an excerpt from the press release:

"In the National Education Policy Center’s 18th Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism Trends, Learning to be Watched: Surveillance Culture at School, Faith Boninger and Alex Molnar describe how schools facilitate the work of digital marketers. Google, for example, subscribes over 30 million students and educators to its Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and tracks students when they shift to Google applications not explicitly part of the GAFE suite (e.g., YouTube). Facebook tracks whenever its users browse to any page housing a “like” button, and uses that tracking information in its ad targeting systems."

Find Learning to be Watched: Surveillance Culture at School, by Faith Boninger and Alex Molnar, on the web at:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Tyranny of Testing:  Parents Break the Chains

FairTest just updated their stats on the Opt Out movement for 2015-2016.  FairTest is a great resource for what's happening nationally, meanwhile Community Voices in Public Education (CVPE) is tracking choices parents make here in Houston, where this whole thing began.

The new numbers prove that all across the nation, from small towns to big cities, students and their parents are not just opposing the dominance of standardized testing, but choosing not to participate in this flawed system that is so degrading the quality of their education.  

FairTest, which has always advocated for educationally valid assessments, is doing a great service to help people all across the country build common cause.  These numbers serve to demonstrate that opting out is a growing social movement with increasing support across the country.

Here are the highlights of FairTest's largest state Opt-Out figures:

New York            
New Jersey        
Washington State
Rhode Island       
New Mexico        

Be sure to add your city/state/district to FairTest's count by connecting with the Opt-Out network in your state.

In Houston, the hometown of standardized assessments, Community Voices for Public Education reports Opt Outs from from 45 HISD schools and 22 Houston area school districts.  The diversity of Opt Out families is to be noted:  70% of color, 30% Black, 35% Hispanic, 30% White and 10% biracial.

If you're in Texas, especially in the Houston area, and struggling with this issue FairTest and CVPE can connect you to this larger network of parents taking action to reclaim their children's education and working to change the policies that impact kids.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Tyranny of Testing: Houston Parents Opt Out

Important information for parents thinking of opting their children out of this week's STAAR test: Community Voices for Public Education tells you where your children can be given a wonderful day of real learning on test day. And CVPE connects you to other parents taking a stand against the test!

The standardization of our children's schools started in Houston. These parents think it's time to end it here! 

Photo credit:  CVPE

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Tyranny of Testing:  Houston Parents Resist!

Here in Houston, where we're embarrassed to admit all this high-stakes test-based accountability started (remember when W was governor and Rod Paige was superintendent of schools here?), parents are organizing against high-stakes testing and FOR reclaiming the mission of the public's schools:  to teach all our children well.

Community Voices for Public Education unites parents, teachers and friends of the public's schools to resist the harmful effects of the testing system (not just "the test," but the whole toxic system).  Knowledgeable about teaching and learning, astute about the power politics and big money behind the testing, and tireless in bringing people together from across this huge city, CVPE offers a forum for discussing the personal and the political in testing. 

Parents gather to strategize how to best protect their children while not making their children's good teachers and principals even more vulnerable if high-scoring children are the ones whose tests scores are "absent" from the accountability calculations. They make common cause with teachers in getting smarter about the legislative process.  And they've encouraged the creation of an OPT OUT Academy as a creative and educationally rich alternative to choosing among multiple choice answers for hours and hours on test days.

If you're in Houston, find a way to add your voice, and expertise, to Community Voices for Public Education.  And if you're not in Houston, find a way to organize with the parents and teachers who are kindred spirits where you live -- we have a legislative session coming up in January 2017 and bills are already being written.   And an election between now and then. The pro-testing, anti-public school folks are very organized and already at work looking for ways to cut funding for schools and teachers, shift our tax dollars to the charter chains and use kids' test scores to justify all these bad policies.   Opting Out takes away the data that keeps the "accountability system" going; organizing on behalf of real, equitable educational schools needs everyone who cares about our kids.

CVPE will be hosting another Opt Out Academy May 9-13 and provides an opt-out guide on their website as well.  Check out all their resources for parents and community resisting standardized testing of our children.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Tyranny of Testing:  TEA Says the Tests Don't Matter Anyway!

photo credit:

Well, the Texas Education Agency didn’t exactly say in so many words that the STAAR test doesn’t matter, how else to explain their statement that the 14,220 students whose answers “disappeared” because of computer glitches will not be required to re-take the test.  And Commissioner of Education Michael Morath told the members of the State Board of Education that local districts could “decide” whether the 8,778 special education students and remaining more than 5,000 students tested as English Language learners would need to be re-tested.  He said these students’ tests, which he blamed on the testing company, would not be factored into the school ratings.

Ok, let’s think about this a minute.  The state has claimed that the tests are essential for measuring student learning. If that’s true, does that mean the state thinks these special education and English language-learner students don’t “count,” or that, in fact, their teachers know how and what they are learning from all they have done in class all year.

The state has claimed that the mandated STAAR test is a valid measure of the quality of a teacher’s work and can be used to determine if a school is “failing” and needs to be closed – perhaps to have its children outsourced to a charter chain.  If 14,220 students’ scores don’t matter, if we can assess the value of a school’s academic program, the quality of its teaching, the adequacy of its resources without these scores, then why test all those other millions of kids?

If you read the words of the Commissioner and TEA’s official spokesperson, you’ll note that they seem much more concerned about whether the testing company is “responsible” for these glitches, whether it is fulfilling its contract, than whether the tests serve any educational purpose.   The state of Texas spends hundreds of millions of dollars on these tests—somehow not getting blamed for betting on the  wrong testing company looms larger for our Commissioner than what these tests (even when the answers don’t “disappear” into cyberspace).

The message for parents:  if you choose to opt your children out of the state tests, you will not be alone: The Commissioner has already “opted out” of the claims that the tests matter.    

See my next posts to find out who in Texas is opting out and why (and what their children do on test days), and to see the extraordinary national movement away from expensive, meaningless (and harmful) standardized tests and toward courageous advocacy for real teaching and learning.   Our bureaucrats may not yet understand the exciting possibilities that await our children when the testing dollars get put back into classrooms, but parents are getting and sharing that message and it’s a powerful one.