Watch Live: Montclair BOE Meeting

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19 COMMENTS

  1. In general, this meeting was a welcome respite from the usual crowd shouting about education in Montclair is being destroyed because we want everyone taking math 8 to be given the chance for equal preparation for math 9.

    I found the topic of “Google for Education” interesting, both in the excellent/detailed presentation by Barry Haines and Brian Fleischer, and in the questions asked afterward. However, I must be missing something fundamental in the risk analysis expressed by some of the participants including one BOE member.

    A number of people mentioned that Google should be seen with some skepticism in this regard. Despite the various public and contractual claims for privacy protection, we should be wary. This certainly makes sense.

    However, students are already using email and other Internet tools. They’re doing so largely with commercial/consumer accounts, some of which are Google’s but others of which are Yahoo, Hotmail, Facebook, and whatever else is out there. Whatever limited data mining Google might try with the contractually protected education accounts, what’s occurring with those unprotected accounts currently in use is going to be far worse.

    So, while I agree that we should seek to maximize protection of the Google education accounts, I don’t see how the current situation isn’t necessarily worse that what we’d get by using them.

    What am I missing?

    …Andrew

  2. What I think you’re missing is that, even though we are being continually mined, there are areas in which we can resist. There are choices we can make in our personal lives, such as using the search engines that do not monitor our information. And, even though the majority of kids are indeed being milked like cows, we don’t have to choose to use products that continue to milk them in school.

  3. This isn’t something that should be taken lightly, Andrew: Google has done data mining of students using their GAFE software:

    https://safegov.org/2014/1/31/google-admits-data-mining-student-emails-in-its-free-education-apps

    https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/13/26google.h33.html

    Also of concern: MacCormack has refused to explain how she’ll safeguard our childrens’ confidential/personal online information and PARCC testing data. This is troubling because she’s been associated with data breaches both here in Montclair and in her work at the NJDOE, and she’s boldly stated that she “doesn’t intend to be the Fort Knox” for data security during her term as our schools superintendent.

    NJDOE data breach – https://patch.com/new-jersey/montclair/superintendent-maccormack-had-a-problem-with-a-data-breach-in-her-previous-job

    Montclair assessment breach, which was the result of MacCormack not authorizing proper protections for a district server – https://www.nj.com/education/2014/01/montclair_official_computers_not_hacked_but_leaked_tests_were_not_secured.html

    Fort Knox reference – https://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2013/10/montclair_tests_made_public_investigation.html

    (Apologies for reposting this here; it’s more relevant to the the above discussion than the string about the lights at Woodman Field.)

  4. “And, even though the majority of kids are indeed being milked like cows, we don’t have to choose to use products that continue to milk them in school.”

    The current situation is that kids are using these consumer/commercial accounts. They can choose not to, but they can also opt out of what the district is offering. So there is a new offering that is an improvement over what currently exists and that does not eliminate the option of using nothing.

    It still seems a net positive.

    …Andrew

  5. Yes, of course Andrew, it’s a huge net positive. And what makes it even more of a net positive is the fact that our kids’ data is being protected by MacCormack, who’s proven that she’s so capable in that area.

    BTW, we haven’t seen you posting on Baristanet for quite awhile. Have you been busy posting elsewhere, like on a certain WordPress site in town?

  6. I don’t share your point of view Andrew. I understand my kids may be giving up some level of personal information online already, but I’m still deeply concerned that Google wants to read the contents of my child’s communications to build a personal profile of my child, for the express purpose of selling it on the open market.

    “Those plaintiffs in the California lawsuit allege that Google treats Google Apps for Education email users virtually the same as it treats consumer Gmail users. That means not only mining students’ email messages for key words and other information, but also using resulting data—including newly created derivative information, or “metadata”—for “secret user profiling” that could serve as the basis for such activities as delivering targeted ads in Google products other than Apps for Education, such as Google Search, Google+, and YouTube.”

    This means that communications that were made on this system between teachers, parents and students, which could potentially include information about educational records, disciplinary actions, a child’s special needs or disability status, or even mental health profile, are now owned by Google.

    And they claim it’s okay, because they already do it to everybody else…

    “…Kyle C. Wong, a lawyer representing Google, also argued in a formal declaration submitted to the court…that the company’s data-mining practices are widely known, and that the plaintiffs’ complaints that the scanning and processing of their emails was done secretly are thus invalid. Mr. Wong cited extensive media coverage about Google’s data mining of Gmail consumer users’ messages, as well as the disclosures made by numerous universities to their students about how Google Apps for Education functions.”

  7. I am not versed in GAFE, nor did I see the presentation. Conceptually, I think this is the future…but on a local level, I’m just not sure the MPS is ready to take anything but a limited step. The macro level environment is seriously lagging in legislation and appropriate levels of consumer rights & safeguards. This will change over time. For this reason alone, the MPS should take conservative approach.

    From my experience, I appreciate the potential risks and rewards of moving to such a platform – and what the learning curve will be for all the different types of participants. I hope a trial pilot project(s) approach was recommended to evaluate GAFE – and any alternative approaches. One lesson I learned is not to over commit to the solution you are looking at today…the technology and the environment will change. The lessons learned though a pilot will be of critical value regardless of whatever tools Montclair wants to embrace.

  8. “the MPS should take conservative approach.”

    This certainly makes sense at one level. However, “conservative” means essentially staying with what we have now. As I understand it, though, that’s worse than what is being proposed.

    It’s funny at a personal level. My kids currently have email on servers I control; no commercial/consumer for them. In that sense, they’ve the most to risk in moving to GAFE. For most families, though, the filtering and restrictions and even the enhanced privacy – imperfect as that may be – seem to be improvements.

    I understand the points being made above, but I don’t see that being addressed.

    I do want to add that, at least directly, information such as “educational records, disciplinary actions, a child’s special needs or disability status, or even mental health profile” are not intended to be put on Google. That was a point made in the presentation; this remains on Skyward which is supposedly on an “encrypted and secured server”.

    Still, it is certainly possible that some of that may be discernible if one reads a student’s email.

    Taking that further, though: how many parents have their Skyward accounts sending email to gmail (or similar) email accounts? How many access Skyward accounts via IE or Chrome browsers?

    …Andrew

  9. “I hope a trial pilot project(s) approach was recommended to evaluate GAFE”

    One of the HS science teachers gave a presentation within the presentation at the BOE meeting. She showed examples of her students already using the same tools provided by GAFE, albeit via Google’s more conventional consumer accounts. That would be something like the pilot you’re suggesting, but without the enhanced protections.

    …Andrew

  10. Andrew,
    I’m more in your camp than not. My default position is on the bleeding edge when it comes to technology and efficiency. But, I’m looking at the environment and the total user population when I say conservative.
    The present state is always worse than what is being proposed. My concern is whether the MPS has articulated clearly the problem being addressed or are we looking at a solution and backfilling the problem assessment.

    Process-wise, everyone will have to first learn the apps and how to use them….then the learning from using the apps can begin. To me, it is like adding a new curriculum program. What are the required resources to implement? Support resources? Is every classroom, grade and school going to free-lance or will there be a centrally designed structure?

    One of the best advantages of a pilot approach is the “what works/what doesn’t work” knowledge. A “proof of concept” phase is a good practice and it allows you to validate the original project scope and requirement for full implementation. It also offers the opportunity to “train the trainers” and levetage the pilot users to support new users, on a peer to peer level, as they are added…also reducing training costs.

    So, considering where the MPS was just a year ago, this is a pretty big jump forward. This is what I mean by conservative.

  11. “My concern is whether the MPS has articulated clearly the problem being addressed or are we looking at a solution and backfilling the problem assessment.”

    I think it was pretty clearly expressed in the presentation, where there was an extensive discussion of the protections added by GAFE over conventional consumer/commercial accounts (as well as where we should seek to enhance it further). More, that “presentation within a presentation” by one of the HS science teachers showed the other side: the promise and power of using these new tools.

    That last is important, in my opinion, because to judge from some of the anti-technology speakers we’ve heard at BOE meetings over the past year, I’m sure some will start to attack the very idea of these tools. Whether these people really are as Luddite as they sound, or if this is just another convenient vector by which to attack the schools, almost doesn’t matter at that point. These attacks do succeed in swaying the opinions of people that don’t know better.

    Just as in the example of the third grade parent I cite, misinformed about her child’s use of multiplication, its easy to scare us parents where our children are involved.

    Honestly, though, I’m not sure how successfully one can – in a presentation – demonstrate to someone completely ignorant the power to enhance collaboration that comes from these tools. I am, unfortunately, exactly the wrong type of audience member to make that type of judgement.

    “Process-wise, everyone will have to first learn the apps and how to use them” Again, I’m badly placed to judge. Perhaps that science teacher should return to discuss precisely that: the “ramp up”. That would probably be very informative.

    I can point out, though, that my well-before-high-school children are already using tools such as these with great ease. This isn’t something for which I can take credit, either. I may teach geometry or javascript, but they’re learning Google Docs, Youtube, and a dozen other tools on their own.

    Even if there is some education required – and I suspect so – then is that a Bad Thing? Knowing how to use the tools of this era is certainly something that falls into “college and career ready” to quote from CC, or “how to be a good and informed citizen” to take from my own opinion regarding a key purpose of education. When I was in elementary school, I was taught tools such as the Dewey Decimal System, how to drive a microfiche reader, use of a card catalog, etc. I see it as a natural evolution from what I learned to learning to use what the kids are using today.

    “considering where the MPS was just a year ago, this is a pretty big jump forward”

    I’m not sure how true it is. Certainly, we’re seeing far more official recognition of technology in the classroom than before. But that science teacher was describing work done last year. As my kids have yet to reach the high school, I’m not in a position to say. However, it certainly appears to me that more teachers and students were doing more with technology that our previous set of administrators had realized (or perhaps acknowledged).

    It may simply be that what’s occurring now is a wider availability of these tools, making them more available to students – unlike my own kids, for example – that don’t live in homes where computers and other devices are what pass for home decoration. If that’s true, then we’re also speaking here of a matter of fairness and equality of opportunity for all our students.

    …Andrew

  12. Anecdotal.

    Just because GAFE is free, doesn’t change the fact that it is commercial. Actually, the free part should be downplayed in determining the benefits. Remember when using debit card transactions were free? Now, the hottest free thing for consumers is a year of credit monitoring when the accounts get hacked.

    We don’t need Google or Yahoo to set up a private email system & domain. Of course, we could use their help with our firewall settings. I can’t wait to see an English teacher send out 3 emails and get 90 emails from his/her students in return.

    It’s academic at this point. Can’t implement until Fall 2015 at the earliest.

  13. “Just because GAFE is free, doesn’t change the fact that it is commercial. ”

    I’m sorry that I’ve been unclear; that’s not the point I’m trying to make with that term. I’m using the same descriptor that was used in the presentation. The point is, I believe, that those “commercial/consumer” accounts were subject to data mining that both law and contract prevented with GAFE – “educational” – accounts. Of course, neither legal nor contractual protections are as strong as we’d like, but they are greater than the zero provided for those other accounts.

    “We don’t need Google or Yahoo to set up a private email system & domain.”

    Oh, you really don’t want to get me started in this particular direction. Let’s just leave it at: we’d need a significant change and increase in our staff to support this. As it is, support for parents in their use of Skyward is problematic. At least one Principal has already rejected the idea of help sessions during Back to School Night. More, I was a volunteer “webmaster” for one of the PTAs when the district and town merged email systems. Because a fair amount of our email traffic was directed at district staff, I learned very quickly just how badly mail services were provided back then by the same person that the town later considered an expert when dealing with system issues.

    “Of course, we could use their help with our firewall settings.”

    I assume that this is something of a joke, but the statement has an important truth in it. Google can afford to spend far more on security than can the district. It has a much wider footprint for honeypots, a larger pool of email users from whom to learn of spam, and many more people with the full-time job of securing servers. They amortize that cost over far more devices and users.

    People ignorant of these issues like to blame one or another administrator for technological mistakes made by staff members. What’s missing is those same people standing up – especially at budget time – calling for more spending on technology staff.

    The GOP members of the House did the same thing, complaining about embassy security shortly after denying the administration funds to be spent on embassy security.

    “I can’t wait to see an English teacher send out 3 emails and get 90 emails from his/her students in return.”

    If I’m understanding your point, this is part of the benefit of the tools in question. Again referring to that “presentation within a presentation”, the teacher didn’t “send out email”. She marked up individual assignments, online and directly. In a sense, this is what she’d have done anyway. What was missing was (1) the need to hand something in and (2) the need to return something. More, the digital implementation meant that she could have each individual assignment be progress on a single work of scholarship.

    The result is that the teacher spends less time on “overhead” and more on her students. If there was any email notification sent, the system did that on its own.

    “It’s academic at this point. Can’t implement until Fall 2015 at the earliest.”

    I don’t believe so. Mt. Hebron and Glenfield students, I know, have been given forms to complete and return to request these accounts (with an opt-out option, of course, that could be as easy as not returning the form).

    …Andrew

  14. I misunderstood. I tried to watch the meeting video, but the production values for the venue are difficult for me.

    If the MPS are proceeding, thenI guess I was at least right about this being academic. I was just wrong about the reason.

    I do appreciate the irony of the changing server hosting situation within just one year. MPS goes from a happy, shared service arrangement to an ugly divorce (going to proprietary servers) and now, getting right back out there, going to cloud computing. Not saying I would have done it differently, but to my point – how things change change pretty fast.

    Anyway, it was my mistake not to do my due diligence and first look at the recent MPS Strategic Technology Plan. I tried to find on the MPS site, but could not. Would you steer me in the right direction?

  15. Andrew, you’re offering your classic Gideon-esque chin scratching, brow furrowing, and throat clearing on this issue. But no matter how you try to make it sunny and suggest that we really have nothing to worry about regarding GAFE and the district’s protection of our kids’ data, here’s the reality:

    Google’s motto of “don’t be evil” was bent and twisted when they got caught using GAFE to mine student data in school districts. And MacCormack has shown that she doesn’t take data protection seriously. She also showed that when she screwed up (as she did by not properly protecting district servers and making her assessments vulnerable to scraping by Gobookee last year), she didn’t own her mistake, and instead allowed Kulwin and the BOE’s attorney Mark Tabakin to launch a witch hunt against her critics with harassing subpoenas. A cover up, perhaps? We may never know.

    Some on this message board have said that MacCormack’s “Fort Knox” comment about data protection meant that she didn’t want to have too many impediments for teachers who wanted to access the tests online, but that was a straw dog, and she knows it. She refuses to admit that her gaffe cost the district a lot of money and caused massive, unnecessary, and irreparable tension in the district. You may be comfortable when she says “I got it, no problem” when it comes to protecting our kids data, but I’m not – and I can’t see how any parent in the district could be.

  16. assessmentgate,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you rise to prominence because you had a gmail account?

  17. “I misunderstood. I tried to watch the meeting video, but the production values for the venue are difficult for me.”

    Yes. It’s still a work in progress, apparently, with two steps forward for one step back. The new venue is better for in-person attendees, for example, and has better sound quality. But the lighting is worse (or so I’m told by the people driving the camera {8^).

    I’d like to say that this is why I still go in person, but I’d probably do that anyway. I like to be able to turn my head. Cameras – at least today – offer a very limited field of view.

    “If the MPS are proceeding, then I guess I was at least right about this being academic. I was just wrong about the reason.”

    Heh. True.

    “MPS goes from a happy, shared service arrangement to an ugly divorce (going to proprietary servers) and now, getting right back out there, going to cloud computing.”

    Not entirely. Skyward and other internal systems are not being “enclouded”. That was made very clear by Brian Fleischer. The cloudy part is in fact replacing nothing that the district is doing now, but is instead replacing the ad hoc use of outside services by teachers and students. That’s why I see this as, even if imperfect, an improvement.

    As for the “divorce”: Have the town and district systems been mutually isolated? I’ve not asked about that in a while, so I’m out of that particular loop. I do know that there was some disagreement with the town manager claiming that the assessment leak had been the result of someone failing to protect a directory while the state (OFAC) investigation found that it “could only be accomplished by individual/s/ possessing a district issued user name and password”.

    If I’m correct in my guess about the person providing this information to the manager, then I’d trust the state investigation more. Still, the uncertainty remains and that’s frustrating. I’m a lot more worried about the privacy implications of our students’ IEPs and such being exposed than their emails and homework assignments.

    That doesn’t even cover what could happen if private information owned by the police were exposed through town technology.

    “Anyway, it was my mistake not to do my due diligence and first look at the recent MPS Strategic Technology Plan. I tried to find on the MPS site, but could not. Would you steer me in the right direction?”

    I cannot find one for 2014; the latest I see is 2013. Needless to say, that is hopelessly out of date as it was authored by Dr. Patterson.

    I did find:

    https://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPageFiles/2402/gafe.pdf

    which might be of separate interest.

    …Andrew

  18. Noted all with thanks and can’t add anything, except a question based on the link (which I skimmed previously).

    If the goals are digital & informational literacy (define within)…and a large number of the target students already know how to use, where to find, etc….then I think someone needs to take a step back & reframe the goals because they don’t align to the discussion.

  19. If you’d like to see a BOE that’s asking the right questions about the upcoming PARCC exams, take a look at this video:

    https://vimeo.com/107802059

    It’s a recent meeting of the board and senior administration of Evanston Township HS District 202 in Evanston, Illinois.

    You’ll never hear this type of discussion or questions about the PARCC from our BOE or MacCormack. That’s because the folks in Evanston aren’t beholden to a secret agenda or outside political forces: they’re trying to make the best decisions for the students in their district.

    This clip is worth the time that it takes to check it out. You’ll experience a critical analysis that doesn’t exist in Montclair, but should. It’s also happening in Madison and Bloomfield, but not in our town.

    It will be fascinating to see what the supporters of our BOE and MacCormack come up with to downplay what the folks in Evanston are saying and asking about PARCC. Will they purport that Deutsch, Larson, Lombard, Kulwin, and MacCormack are smarter, or that they understand the PARCC better, or are more enlightened than the Evanston board and administrators? I wouldn’t put it past them: they’re a desperate bunch.

    Let’s see what they come up with.

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