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CHUFSD On Opting Out Of Race To The Top

January 12, 2014

Citing major concerns regarding the program’s handling of student data and overall lack of accountability and diligence in protecting students’ rights to privacy, the Croton-Harmon Board of Education has withdrawn the district’s participation in the federal government’s Race to the Top grant-in-aid initiative.

Race to the Top was launched by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 to encourage schools to be creative and innovative through competition. States are awarded money based on total points, which are determined by compliance with Common Core standards, data sharing, and the Annual Professional Performance Review of teachers and administrators, among other requirements. Nearly 700 school districts in New York State can compete for approximately $800 million in federal grants under the measure.

The Croton-Harmon Board has been discussing the matter at length since last winter, when parental concerns became prominent over the use of a student data portal that would make a broad scope of student and family information available to third-party vendors.

Information beyond test scores and school and teacher performance ¬– including behavior incidents and family information ¬– would be attainable through this national cloud database created by the not-for-profit organization inBloom, which is in contract with the New York State Education Department to manage student data stored for Race to the Top. Many of the concerns stem specifically from inBloom’s practice of making compiled personal student information available to private companies who conduct education-related business. As a result of opting out of Race to the Top, the Croton-Harmon School District     made it clear that they are not in agreement with how the SED plans on using and sharing the data. The District is now discussing how it plans on withholding student information that is not used for the school report card or APPR. The District wants to prevent its use for student profiling and product development by for-profit companies.

Croton-Harmon Board of Education trustee Karen Zevin, who also serves as treasurer of the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, recently provided testimony before the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Education in which she pointed out the many concerns shared by parents in Croton-Harmon and communities throughout New York State.

“We do not want the data being used to result in misleading individual student profiles. We do not want our students to be used to develop products. We do not want to find out that a third-grader’s identity was stolen when that student becomes a young adult,” said Ms. Zevin, a professional market researcher and data analyst who criticized the pitfalls in the program’s storage and usage of data, as well as problems with the integrity in collection and how data costs are being shifted to local districts. “The state must fully consider the wide-sweeping consequences of identity theft, which not only include stealing someone’s money or assets, but also a person’s good name and reputation.” The Croton-Harmon School District alone incurs approximately $200,000 in annual expenses after factoring in grade 3-8 assessments and data collection, reporting and costs associated with standardized student accountability measures.

Storage, security, reliability, validity, use of student data for profit, and the cost to districts are all key points Ms. Zevin emphasized to the State Assembly, points that encompass the Croton-Harmon Board of Education’s reasoning.

“Privacy, security and prevention of commercial use of personal student information and information about their families is at the heart of the matter here,” said Croton-Harmon Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edward R. Fuhrman. “Parents already receive student test scores and can review ratings for their school, as well teacher evaluation information from the Annual Professional Performance Review. You cannot put a price on the protection of our children, and that’s primarily why our Board acted on this. There are too many unanswered questions about how the data will be used.”

The Croton-Harmon Board’s action follows a resolution it approved last spring calling on the state’s governor, commissioner of education, legislature and Board of Regents to re-examine public school accountability systems. Within the resolution, the Croton-Harmon Board calls for a a system based on multiple forms of assessment that more accurately reflects critical thinking and deeper knowledge of subject matter being taught in schools.

Hundreds of districts throughout the country, including many in Westchester County, have adopted similar resolutions, and many other school districts in New York State have elected to opt out of Race to the Top for the reasons expressed by the Croton-Harmon Board.

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