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October 14, 2014 8 min read
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| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Ed-Tech Providers’ Privacy Pledge Draws Praise and Criticism

A pledge on K-12 student privacy released last week and signed by prominent ed-tech providers has prompted immediate statements of concern from some advocacy groups about whether self-regulation will do the job of protecting student data.

The voluntary Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy, co-authored by the Software and Information Industry Association and the Future of Privacy Forum, was signed initially by 13 companies and one nonprofit. It includes six “do’s” and six “don’ts” of handling student data. The signers—including Amplify, DreamBox Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Microsoft—agree to abide by its provisions.

Among the key elements of the pledge are promises to: not sell student information; not target ads based on a student’s Web-browsing behavior; use data for authorized education purposes only; enforce limits on data retention; and support parent access to, and correction of errors in, the information.

The National School Boards Association and the National PTA endorsed the pledge. Not so Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, who said, “We need legally enforceable provisions.”

Khaliah Barnes, the administrative law counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the director of the center’s student privacy project, said the pledge’s framework “has some strengths,” such as the pledge not to sell student information. But she questioned how students would be allowed to access and correct data.

–Michele Molnar

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Georgia High School Teachers Dislike Integrated Math

Nearly 85 percent of Georgia teachers participating in a recent survey said they would rather use the traditional algebra-geometry-Algebra 2 pathway for high school math than the integrated model the state now requires.

The Common Core State Standards for math suggest high schools choose between two approaches: traditional and integrated classes. The integrated pathway organizes the standards differently, putting a bit of algebra, geometry, and statistics in each course.

Georgia began using an integrated pathway in 2008, before it implemented the common standards, a move that prompted debate.

Several officials from the Georgia education department said that when the state adopted the common standards, it kept the integrated approach but, paradoxically, made courses less integrated than before.

Education officials also say there’s a good chance the mandate that courses be integrated will change.

–Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Unions, Teachers, and Opting Out: A Complex Calculus

Colorado teacher Peggy Robertson recently announced that she plans to refuse to administer her state’s standardized assessment and called on the teachers’ unions to publicly support teachers who take such action.

In The Washington Post‘s Answer Sheet column, Valerie Strauss decided to get the two national teachers’ unions’ take.

Alice O’Brien, the head of the National Education Association’s general counsel’s office: “NEA supports parents who chose to exercise their legal right to opt their children out of standardized tests. When educators determine that a standardized test serves no legitimate educational purpose, and stand in solidarity with their local and state association to call for an end to the administration of that test in their schools, NEA will support those educators.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten: “We supported teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle when they refused to give redundant tests. We supported early-childhood teachers in New York when they shined the light on how abusive it is to give bubble tests to 5-year-olds. On the testing madness that’s sapping the joy from our classrooms, teachers are the canaries in the coal mines, and we support their advocacy. Ultimately, though, it’s up to parents to make the decision whether to opt out.”

Those statements dodge some potential employment-law implications. Neither union says anything about the fact that administering the exams is part of the job requirements.

Some tests are required under the No Child Left Behind Act. States must administer it to tap Title I funds for disadvantaged students.

An interesting debate is taking place on Twitter: When a teacher refuses to give a test, what are the legal ramifications? Is there an ethical argument to be made on the teacher’s behalf? Would that sway a hearing officer in a due process case, if a teacher were charged with insubordination?

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Charters & Choice

D.C. Vouchers Used at Lower Rate by Neediest Students, Report Says

A number of school vouchers go unused from the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarships Program, with the most-disadvantaged students using the program at lower rates than others, according to a report from the Institute of Education Sciences.

The program, which has been the source of several federal funding fights, awards vouchers to low-income students living in the nation’s capital to use toward tuition at private schools, including parochial schools. The voucher program is the only one in the country created and funded by Congress.

The IES report, out this month, looked at the most recent two years of available data since the program was expanded in 2011 to, among other things, boost the scholarship amount. The report examined students who were offered school vouchers but turned them down, and it found that older students and those from more disadvantaged schools and families were less likely to use the program than other eligible students. Among its findings:

• Sixty-five percent of students who were eligible and attended a school identified as “in need of improvement” took advantage of the program, compared with 73 percent of eligible students not attending a school in need of improvement.

• Fifty-one percent of high school students who were awarded scholarships used them the following year, compared with 78 percent of elementary school students and 69 percent of middle school students.

• Sixty-nine percent of students whose parents were unemployed or not working full time and were awarded a scholarship used their voucher, compared with 79 percent of those from families with one working parent. Of eligible students whose parents were unmarried, 70 percent entered the program compared to 79 percent of students with married parents.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship has been the subject of multiple federal fiscal battles pitting Republicans against the Obama administration, which has tried for years to sunset the program.

–Arianna Prothero

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Administration Updates Congress on States’ Progress Under NCLB

More than 40 states have waivers from many mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. Department of Education is off the hook when it comes to reporting on states’ progress toward meeting the goals of the law to Congress. The administration recently released an NCLB law snapshot of sorts, looking at where states were during the 2011-12 school year.

That academic year is particularly key because it is the last before many states began implementing waivers—the Obama administration first offered states waivers at the beginning of 2011.

Even before the waivers kicked in, fewer eligible students were taking advantage of the opportunity to transfer from a school that doesn’t make adequate yearly progress, the yardstick at the heart of the law, to one that does. Just over 1 percent of eligible students took advantage of this option in the 2011-12 school year, compared to just over 2 percent in 2010-11, according to the report, published on the Education Department’s website this month.

Free tutoring also became less popular during that time frame. Nearly 11 percent of students nationally opted for those services in 2011-12, compared with 13.6 percent in 2010-11.

States are all over the map on whether students are meeting proficiency targets. For instance, when it comes to 4th grade math, the percentage of students meeting state benchmarks ranged from 38 percent (for the Bureau of Indian Education) to 90 percent (for Maryland).

Across the nation, nearly 96 percent of classes were taught by highly qualified teachers in 2011-12.

The report also found that there’s still a gap, however, between high- and low-poverty schools when it comes to highly qualified teachers. Highly qualified teachers lead about 94 percent of classes in high-poverty secondary schools, compared to nearly 97 percent of low-poverty secondary schools.

All this matters, because while waivers may disappear at the end of the Obama administration, the NCLB Act is the law of the land, whether it’s aggressively enforced or not, until Congress comes up with some kind of a reauthorization.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

Wyoming A.G. Declares Parents Can’t Opt Children Out of Testing

An opinion issued by the Wyoming attorney general’s office bars parents from requesting that their children skip state tests.

The ruling, which was issued Aug. 27 but only recently made news in that state, says that because the State Board of Education requires all school districts to assess students, “districts may not allow students or their parents to opt them out of the assessments provided by law.” However, the ruling by Attorney General Peter K. Michael does not identify penalties for students who opt out of state tests.

Richard Crandall, the former director of the state’s Department of Education, had asked the attorney general to offer a legal opinion about parents’ rights to opt out of state testing in April. He wrote that Wyoming, much like other states across the nation, had “anecdotally” experienced an increase in the number of students opting out of state and local assessments.

–Karla Scoon Reid

A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs

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