'you must protect it'

Data privacy bill clears Senate committee – with tweaks

Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jeffco Public Schools work on their assigned iPads during a class project. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

A bill designed to strengthen the privacy and security of student educational data continued down its apparently smooth path to passage Wednesday, winning unanimous Senate Education Committee approval.

The measure previously was approved 11-0 by the House Education Committee and passed the full House 65-0.

House Bill 16-1423 includes a detailed definition of personally identifiable information that must be protected, restrictions on software companies and other vendors, and additional transparency and disclosure requirements for the state Department of Education and school districts. The bill also sets controls over classroom apps and software used by individual teachers, a currently unregulated area.

“If you collect it you must protect it,” said sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.

Hill said that he didn’t want a bill imposing “a heavy hand” on educational technology and that he believes it strikes the right balance.

The definition of protected personal information has an important twist: it also requires protection of seemingly unidentifiable information that, when cross-referenced with other, outside databases, could identify a student.

Districts and the state collect a long list of data on students, including personal information, test scores, special education information, disciplinary records and more.

Despite the 9-0 committee vote, members sounded cautionary notes.

“I’m not sure this isn’t obsolete before we pass it,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

Said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton: “In my opinion this is a very, very small start.”

Hill and the House sponsors have acknowledged that technological complexity and rapid change likely mean future legislatures will need to refine the law.

Industry lobbyists and representatives aren’t comfortable with the bill’s definition of personally identifiable information and provisions for contract revocation if a company violates the law.

An amendment proposed by Hill and adopted by the committee would create some due process for companies accused of breaching student privacy. The original bill called for termination of contracts. The amendment specifies that the Department of Education and local school boards must first allow a vendor to explain data misuse or breach and hold a public hearing before deciding whether to terminate a contract.

Industry representatives acknowledge the bill is likely to become law and say they don’t plan a last-minute fight. School districts, traditionally hypersensitive to state mandates imposed without funding, haven’t objected to the bill, either.

Other key elements of HB 16-1423:

  • Bans on selling personal student information and advertising targeted to individual students.
  • Contractor responsibility for subcontractors’ actions.
  • Adoption of privacy policies by school boards.
  • Posting of information about contracts on district websites. The bill was amended to require the state and districts to post the contract texts online.
  • Districts also must post and explain the type of personally identifiable information collected.
  • Specific requirements for data security and for removal after contracts end. An amendment added Monday says such data can’t be retrievable.
  • Guaranteed parent access to information about the data collected on their children and the right to have it corrected.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.