Who Is In Charge

Privacy concerns, federal involvement dominate data security discussion

Local control and privacy concerns came head to head during the State Board of Education’s discussion of student data collection and security Thursday.

Board members praised the Colorado Department of Education (CDE)’s data policies but also raised concerns over the level of oversight at the district-level.

“I’m confident about the state level,” said board president Paul Lundeen. But district breaches, he said, were worrying.

But officials said their ability to change district practice was limited by district autonomy.

“Despite what some people think, we’re still a very local control state,” said Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond. He raised the possibility of legislation that would mandate districts to abide by stricter data use and public reporting policies, like one recently adopted in Oklahoma.

That idea received a warm reception from other boardmembers.

“My sense is there’s so much slippage we would benefit from a law like Oklahoma,” said member Debora Scheffel.

Scheffel also sparked a more tense debate over data reporting to the federal government.

Scheffel said she had heard from parents concerned that a 2008 loosening of federal reporting restrictions and the coming PARCC tests would open the door for more access of student level data by the federal government.

“CDE provides no student-level data to the federal government,” asserted Dan Domagala, the department’s chief information officer.

When Scheffel pressed, member Elaine Gantz Berman jumped in.

“You are speaking like you know the facts,” Berman said. “We need the facts.”

But Scheffel continued to press department officials, raising concerns about the safety of data used to do internal analyses, which are often conducted by third part vendors.

“[Vendors] don’t have the right to use data for other purposes” once they have completed their research, clarified Kady Lanoha, who is a senior policy associate for CDE.

Besides, added officials, that data does not have student names attached.

“No one’s going to show up at your door looking for Suzy,” said member Angelika Schroeder, who expressed irritation at privacy concerns related to PARCC.

But student names and parental control over student data remained a concern for Scheffels.

“If a parent wanted to know what was stored in a database, how they go about that?” she asked. “If they wanted to expunge [the record], how would they go about that?”

Officials said much of that was in the hands of districts, as the state did not log parental data and would be unable to make the connection between parent and student.

But Domagala suggested they could clarify the process for parents, adding it to their district guidelines web page and to their parent resources page.

Lundeen also urged state officials to think “down the road and around the corner” about privacy issues. He and other board members raised concerns about teachers’ use of apps and personal devices to support instruction and assess students.

He said the problem would come from “entrepreneurial educators,” who he praised.

“When people are trying to do the right thing, how do we protect them?” said Lundeen.

Lundeen urged department officials to provide clearer guidance to districts and teachers.

“Downloading apps for the benefit of your students may have benefits,” he said. But the guidelines should “at least make them stop and think.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”