The Texas Education Agency has made news for abruptly firing their new Special Education Director, Laurie Kash. Kash recently found out she was fired by the TEA only after reading it in the news. The TEA claims that they are firing Kash due to a lawsuit in her previous state of Oregon.  Kash and her attorney say the Oregon allegations were known to TEA well in advance of hiring her.  (Anyone on the TEA hiring committee who had done their due diligence would have surely found this information, no?)   The interesting fact for parents everywhere is that Kash was concerned about the TEA sharing personal information of special needs students with a for-profit company, SPEDx.  (SPEDx founder, Richard Nyankori, is a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network  and also Vice President of product Development at Insight Education Group Inc.)

**Update.  Thanks to parent advocates in Texas, here is a list of schools participating in the analysis and sharing of IEP records with SPEDx, as of 11/28/2017.  https://indd.adobe.com/view/dc856365-6c31-4c3a-8ba5-b31048a689f3

Kash was concerned enough to file a federal complaint about how IEP records were being shared. Then she was fired the next day.

As the  Texas Statesman reports,

“Her firing also comes one day after Kash filed a federal complaint against the Texas Education Agency, claiming the agency wrongly entered into a $4.4 million, no-bid contract with a Georgia company to analyze private records for children with disabilities.

Kash asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the TEA’s contract with SPEDx, a company hired to find trends and patterns in student records. In her complaint, Kash says that she is worried that parents do not realize such information is going to a for-profit company, that TEA should have gotten bids from other companies and that she doesn’t believe SPEDx can do the work with which it is charged.

“In what I’ve seen so far, I am extremely doubtful that this company is capable of providing anything particularly useful, and I worry that the end-result may actually be harmful to special education in Texas,” she wrote.”

http://www.statesman.com/news/texas-fires-special-education-director-citing-civil-suit-oregon/yxec47FQOv70Rqc50vlLRO/

Parents concerned about how student data is shared and profiled, analyzed outside of the school, without consent, certainly echo Ms. Kash’s concerns.  We hope the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General does not sweep this under the rug.  Parents of special needs children will be closely watching.

 

In looking at a few TEA documents, we find additional reason to be concerned.

Did parents consent to sharing their children’s IEP records and STAAR testing data? See how multiple years worth of testing data and IEP records will be shared, as mentioned in this Special Education Data Sharing Request – Eligibility for Reimbursement from the Texas Education Agency.

Phase One:

‘Phase One of this process will take place in the summer of 2017 and involves sharing Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Records from up to 350,000 students in Independent School Districts (ISD) across Texas. Participating districts will be asked to share student IEP records and corresponding STAAR testing data for those students for the previous 3 years.

Does this “reimbursement” statement sound like school districts are being reimbursed for sharing their data?  Is the personal data of special needs students being monetized?

“Districts will receive a data sponsorship reimbursement between $10k-$100k, commensurate with district size, in addition to an individualized district level analytic report.”

https://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Correspondence/TAA_Letters/Special_Education_Data_Sharing_Request_-_Eligibility_for_Reimbursement/

 

Phase Two:

This TEA document entitled IEP Analysis Grant Opportunity, highlights Phase Two of the project.

“A key challenge in analyzing IEP data involves mining the narrative portions of the IEP where the richest data usually exists. New analytical techniques are now available to uncover concrete insights from the narrative portions of IEPs.”

Nothing instills trust like a grant based on mining a child’s disability data, without parent consent, because it’s “where the richest data exists.” We’re wondering if any parent has asked to have their child’s IEP data excluded or removed from this mining and analysis. –Let us know.

 

According to this articleTEA wants to redesign special education, complete with ECS Liaisons (which includes Collaborative partnerships), Observations, Anecdotal data, and Empathy Interviews.  As one parent asked, “What the heck is an Empathy Interview?”   Good question. We would also like to know.  Apparently, Empathy Interviews supply “Qualitative Data”.   How is the qualitative data going to be integrated into the IEP data sharing plan?

Maybe SPEDx can help?

SPEDx is currently hiring “User Experience professionals“, who among other things, will know “how to translate what users say they need into innovative experiences that exceed those needs” and whose responsibilities will include, “Interacting with users and translating those conversations into innovative new processes and digital experiences”.

 

 

Kash’s firing is seen by many as a way to silence a whistle blower.  Apparently, the Texas Education Agency abruptly fired another education official who spoke out, only a few months ago, as reported here Sept 7, 2017, by My San Antonio.

“The Texas Education Agency has removed Amanda Gonzalez from the board of managers it appointed to oversee Edgewood ISD a year ago, notifying her by email Thursday after word of it had already spread before its regular mailed notification could arrive.

“I‘m very surprised,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to provide the community with a desperately needed sense of transparency and accountability. But I strongly feel that TEA did not like the fact that I am vocal and I question things, as a young Latina.”  http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/TEA-removes-one-of-its-own-Edgewood-ISD-managers-12181152.php

 

Parents hope more education whistle blowers step forward, not just in Texas, but everywhere.

Teachers and education officials are the child’s first line of defense when at school; you see and hear things that parents cannot.  Parents are relying on you to protect children. Parents will stand with you.  Schools are government agencies and whistle blowers are protected under the federal Whistle Blower Protection Act.

There is a need for transparency and CONSENT before children’s personal information leaves the school.   We will be waiting to see how the Inspector General handles Kash’s complaint.

Stop stealing data.

Add IEP and disability data to the long list of why parents are concerned about Congress’ move to expand data access.

We are also watching  (this week) to see which members of Congress vote to expand access to data, encourage data sharing and enable data linkage between federal agencies, because as Krebs Security points out, all you need to know is a student name, SSN, and birthdate to open Pandora’s box.

Pay attention to S2046 / HR4174 -VOTE NO- contact info for Senators here.

 

Cheri Kiesecker