Education

Briefly Stated: June 8, 2022

June 07, 2022 8 min read
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Race Is Strong Gauge of Which Schools Will Be Shut Down

If a school enrolls many students of color, it’s a bigger target for closure than schools with predominately white populations. So finds a new report—not the first—that shows race to be a weighty predictor of permanent shutdowns.

And that’s especially the case among charter and private schools, says the report issued last month by the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice.

The study looks at rates among public, private, and charter schools from 2014 to 2018, determining the different factors that predict closures and restructuring.

Although academic achievement and enrollment rates are often the most consistent predictors of school closures, the report found that a school’s percentage of students of color is a significant predictor as well.

Prior research also indicates that schools with higher percentages of students of color, especially Black students, are more likely to close than schools with less-diverse student bodies. Students whose schools close are often shuffled around and struggle to find consistency in their education.

The trend may be a reflection of bias among school board and charter authorizers or a sign that communities of color don’t have a voice in closure decisions, said Douglas Harris, the center’s national director and one of the authors of the report.

“It leads you to be concerned that those decisions are being made, not based on academic performance, not based on the financial aspects of the decision, but based on the voice or power those groups have or often lack in the decisionmaking process,” he said.

Gaps in test scores and other academic measures between students of color and their white classmates may be another reason why racial demographics are a predictor of school closures, Harris said. The report found that schools across all sectors are less likely to close if they increase enrollment, post high scores or rankings, or improve students’ academic growth.

It’s difficult to determine whether the schools with more students of color close because of achievement gaps or simply because of demographics, Harris said.

Harris hopes the report encourages school board members and charter authorizers to think more deeply about school closures and consider other options.

New York City Bans Use of Popular Online Grade Book Following Exposure of Students’ Personal Information

The products of a California-based education vendor are now verboten in the nation’s largest school system.

New York City’s school district is barring its public schools from continuing to contract with Illuminate Education, the company that sells a widely used online grade book, after the program suffered a major data breach that exposed the personal data of more than 800,000 students.

District officials had already raised red flags about cybersecurity protocols at Illuminate, which is behind the popular Skedula and PupilPath platforms, following the investigation of a security breach in January, but they hadn’t previously barred the product.

In an email to principals recently, Dan Weisberg, the first deputy chancellor, said, “Based on reviews of matters related to Illuminate’s security posture and response to the incident, ... we are directing all schools to cease using any Illuminate products and services after June 30, 2022.”

Skedula and PupilPath are used in hundreds of city schools to track grades and attendance and communicate with parents. The platforms abruptly shut down in January, prompting concerns of a hack. But it wasn’t until March that education officials revealed the massive scale of the breach, which affected personal information of roughly 820,000 current and former students and may be the single largest student-data breach in U.S. history.

District officials also raised concerns in March about Illuminate’s cybersecurity protocols, accusing the company of falsely claiming that all its student data was encrypted when in fact some of it was left unencrypted. The company did not respond to that allegation at the time and did not return a request for comment about the product ban.

The embargo means hundreds of city schools that have relied on the platform for core daily functions will have to find an alternative by next school year.

The district recently announced plans to roll out its own in-house grading and attendance platform, which Weisberg said will be able to accommodate all schools forced to drop Illuminate products.

The agency, he said, is also working on a list of other approved third-party vendors.

Online Learning Platforms Found to Have Tracked and Sold Student Data to Big-Tech Companies

COVID-19 struck. Schools shut down. Remote learning took over. All that happened in the proverbial blink of an eye. What also happened, as schools are just now learning, is these online platforms kept tabs on students.

The very same platforms used to support teaching during nearly two years of at-home learning tracked students without their knowledge and shared that data with big-tech companies like Facebook and Google. Those data, in turn, could monetize the information by selling ads to companies that targeted the children, says a new report by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

In the Miami-Dade County, Fla., district, for example, nearly all the online education platforms used during remote learning did so, according to the report. Researchers analyzed 164 educational apps and websites used in 49 countries, providing the most up-to-date understanding of how these technologies affected students while they learned from home.

The report found that many or most of the online platforms:

  • “Monitored children, secretly and without the consent of their parents,” collecting data about them, their families, and what they did in the classroom.
  • Installed tracking technologies that, over time, followed children’s activities outside classrooms.
  • Allowed advertising technology companies to access children’s data, which, over time, could be sold to later “target them with personalized context that follow them across the internet [that] distorted children’s online experiences, but also threatened to influence their opinion and beliefs.”
  • Hid how outside companies would use the collected information.
  • Failed to “offer data protections specific to children.”

Of the apps that were analyzed, the report found that nearly 90 percent were designed to collect and send students’ information to outside companies, such as Facebook and Google. In total, students’ information was sent to nearly 200 advertising technology companies.

“Put another way, children are surveilled in their virtual classrooms and followed long after they leave, outside of school hours and across the internet,” wrote lead researcher Hye Jung Han.

Video, State Pressure Force District to Repair School

The power of videotape—along with the backing of the state’s schools chief—can go a long way. Just ask the students at a Georgia high school, who were instrumental in getting their school board to do an about-face.

Druid Hills High School will now get a $50 million overhaul after the DeKalb County school board approved the renovation, despite voting against it three previous times.

“I am proud to say today that we’re in unison, that we want what’s good for this district,” said board chair Vickie Turner. “It feels quite refreshing that we’ve made this progress.”

The dispute over Druid Hills climaxed after students made a video about poor conditions, including raw sewage, crumbling restrooms, and signs warning of possible electrical shock around utilities in one room. Still, the board rejected plans to overhaul the high school, instead voting to make minor repairs at all district schools.

Students from at least two other DeKalb high schools have since posted similar videos. The dispute dredged up racial and class tensions that often divide the 93,000-student district between a wealthier white minority in its northern end and a poorer Black majority in the southern end.

State schools Superintendent Richard Woods intervened in the dispute by saying the state would refuse to approve the district’s facility plans until it addressed issues at Druid Hills. Such a refusal would have blocked the district from obtaining state facilities money.

On top of that, the state appointed a special adviser to oversee the system’s building upgrades and maintenance.

In the meantime, board members fired Cheryl Watson-Harris as superintendent.

Work slated to begin in September will include roofing, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning. The district will use local sales-tax collections to pay for the renovation.

Flash Card Brouhaha Leads to Pre-K Teacher Departure

Check off another couple boxes when it comes to the culture wars.

A North Carolina preschool teacher resigns after a parent complains about flash cards in the classroom. And police show up on campus to ensure children’s safety.

The controversy apparently ignited when North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore issued a press release saying Rep. Erin Paré had been contacted by a constituent about flash cards being used to teach colors. Both Republicans focused on one card, saying it showed a pregnant man. It shows a drawing of a pregnant person with short hair.

Paré contacted the principal, who had the cards removed. The district said the principal did not know the cards were being used and called them an “inappropriate instructional resource” in preschool.

The incident at Ballentine Elementary School in Wake County blew up on social media, with conservatives condemning the teacher, the school, and the district.

Meanwhile, some parents praised the unnamed teacher. “She is an amazing teacher who has worked tirelessly in an unpredictable school year to provide a safe, loving, and inclusive classroom for our children to grow,” Jackie Milazzo said last week.

Milazzo, a parent, accused Republican lawmakers of misstating how the flash cards were used. She said they weren’t used for any direct instruction. Instead, she said they were displayed on a wall in the art center.

“They wanted to get people riled up at the expense of the safety of our children,” Milazzo said. “My special-needs child is being used as a prop, and I hope that anyone reading about this remembers this come November when it comes time to vote that this is not supporting our children, not supporting our teachers, not supporting our schools.”

“It’s catering to the loudest hate-filled voices in the community that don’t represent the Ballentine community.”

Police officers were on campus at the request of the district’s security department. A spokeswoman said no specific threats had been made, but some parents were concerned about their children’s safety following the response to the flash cards.

The Associated Press, Wire Service; Libby Stanford, Reporter; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 08, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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