security questions

State releases agreement for data system that raised concerns

The ink was barely dry on New York’s agreement with an organization that is building an interstate student data project when parents and advocates raised concerns about it this weekend.

The parents and advocates held a press conference Sunday about a letter that they sent Friday to the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. The letter asked the officials to halt New York’s participation in the Shared Learning Collaborative until the state assures them that student information will be secure.

But the state only finalized its agreement with the SLC, a nonprofit group that aims to help state avoid building duplicative data systems, on Thursday, according to a signed agreement that state officials provided to reporters this weekend. The officials said the terms of the agreement should quell privacy concerns about the system, which each state will use and augment independently.

Some of the parents’ and advocates’ allegations — they suggest in their letter that the state might be preparing to sell student data to for-profit companies — are simply incorrect, according to Ken Wagner, a State Education Department associate commissioner. But he said today that other concerns raised in the letter reflected important questions about privacy and security that the department had previously not answered publicly.

“They were right to raise those issues, but we believe those issues have been addressed in our agreement,” Wagner said.

Norm Siegel, the lawyer representing the parents and advocates, was not available to review the agreement immediately upon its release late Sunday. But Leonie Haimson, a longtime parent activist who spearheaded the complaint, said she was not reassured that student data would be insulated from being used by for-profit companies.

“Nothing in this agreement that would give anyone confidence or lessen anyone’s concern about the potential risk involved,” Haimson said.

New York became one of the first five members of the SLC when it launched last year with funding from the Gates Foundation and other education philanthropies. The organization was created at a time when many states were beginning to create systems to manage student data in new ways, at great expense to their taxpayers. The philanthropies’ goal was to introduce an economy of scale by building a shared platform that each state could use independently.

“Right now these data are being collected; right now these data are being used by teachers, parents and students; and right now they are being provided to private contractors to help them meet those needs. none of that changes,” state officials said today at a briefing for reporters about changes to the state’s testing system. “The change here is that we’re trying to invest in this platform so that we can provide an easier way for districts to spend the money that they are already spending to get a better value.”

State officials today likened the arrangement to that of an iPhone: Multiple users have the same basic operating system, but they can populate the system with their own data — student test scores — and also enhance it with their own apps. Data will never be shared across users, the officials said, but an enhancement that one state develops could become available in the “SLC Data Store.”

Both a non-binding memorandum of understanding signed in April and the more contractual service agreement say repeatedly that the state’s use of the SLC is contingent on complying with privacy rules set in FERPA, the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. In December, when state education officials briefed Tisch and the Board of Regents on the project, they wrote, “The protection of student privacy is and will remain the priority throughout the development and implementation of the SLC.”

But Haimson said she remained concerned about the participation of for-profit vendors, including Wireless Generation, the education technology company that is leading the SLC’s data system construction. Even if the state does not intend to sell student data, she said, the data will be “in the hands of a private corporation — and the rules are not clear.”

Wireless Generation lost a state contract to create a student data system in 2011 because in part because of revelations about illegal wiretapping conducted by some publications owned by its parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. In August, the state again awarded Wireless Generation a portion of a data contract but said that its portion of the portfolio would focus on delivering curriculum materials to teachers and would not bring the firm anywhere near student data.

Currently, state officials are just beginning to test the SLC in an “alpha” form that is not available to teachers and principals, Wagner said. The system is supposed to go online for their use in a year, he said.

New York’s service agreement with the Shared Learning Collaborative, finalized last week, is below.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”