Eureka Math. . . (I can think of another expletive to describe it.)

Eureka Math. . . (I can think of another expletive to describe it.)

This is an update to a story I’ve been meaning to get back to for a while on Louisiana’s textbook selection and adoption process. According to my sources Louisiana required most vendors to pay 500 dollars per book to evaluate each grade level of each subject. I have no details of where those dollars went. I was told this was the first year the department ever charged to review books. I was also told the only two first tier (best according to LDOE) vendors that were selected (Eureka for Math and Core Knowledge for ELA) did not have to pay this fee, but I have not been able to confirm this. I received some information from sources that were able to acquire the lists of all external reviewers of textbooks. I have been able to contact some of these folks to confirm this, and have confirmed their participation through some of their own online postings. I will not be turning over all of the research files as yet, but I will be publishing the names of the Math reviewers. There were only 7 reviewers for the Math curriculum selected for the entire state (15 reviewers were used for the ELA evaluation.) I have tried interviewing and questioning these folks either on or off the record, but none have agreed to comment on the selection process – even after replying to me initially. I would like to know how they were compensated, whether their instructions involved assessing the quality of the materials (which is particularly lacking with the first tier Eureka materials) among other things.

Louisiana Textbook Reviewers by Review Area

Review Area Fname Lname
Math K-5 Brittany Bush (K-5)
Math K-5 Katie Dunn (K-5)
Math K-5 Laci Maniscalco (K-5)
Math K-5 Kristina Morris (K-5)
Math 6-8, 9-12 Aquanetta Archangel
Math 6-8, 9-12 Tamara Whittington
Math 6-8, 9-12 Jessica Hunter

 

My earlier story can be found here: https://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/louisianas-texbook-selection-shenanigans/

It appears John White, Superintendent of Education, has links to the only two tier one options selected, including one which is run by his former employers, Joel Klein, now the head of Amplify – a Rupert Murdoch (NewsCorp) subsidiary and sole provider of Core Knowledge published products. If this situation sounds familiar, you aren’t wrong. Jindal’s former head of the Department of Health and Hospitals, Bruce Greenstein, was just indicted on numerous counts of perjury related to tampering with the theoretically unbiased selection process or a 200+ million dollar Medicaid contract with Bruce Greenstein’s former employer, CNSI. I wonder if there is not some unsavory influences at work here as well. I really find it hard to believe Eureka is far and away the best Math product on the market and I’ve had firsthand experience with them and a tier 2 product that while not awesome, is much better than Eureka in my opinion (and my daughter throws fewer tantrums with this new one so I think she’s having an easier time of it too.)

I was provided this preliminary research by my source although you can find much more in LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, school websites, Stand For Children materials, LDOE’s website (lauding the choices with quotes without mentioning they were part of the selection committee), Facebook, etc.

  General Information
bbush@ebrshools.org 225-343-9364 5th grade teacher Capitol Elem http://edenpark.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/facultystaff/brittanybush
  charter school teacher New Beginnings Charter New Orleans https://www.linkedin.com/pub/katie-dunn/24/1a8/31b
lacimaniscalco@yahoo.com Broadmoor Elem 3rd gr Received $$ stipend and from publisher “LearnZillion” Curr: http://learnzillion.com/dreamteam went to SF, CA http://gettingsmart.com/2012/03/learnzillion-one-of-the-scrappy-startups-making-dc-a-hotspot/
https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristina-morris/4b/965/3b0 been teaching for 2 years and 3 months
Naturallynette11@gmail.com “GOOGLE” Nette Archangel I.A. Lewis School in Ruston LA, graduate of LA Tech teaching maybe 5 years http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfDPHSzh1y4
tamara.whittington@tangischools.org Hammond Jr HS Magnet
no info Sterlington HS, Ouchita Schools
James Ward Elem in Jennings LA

 

I think my inquiries were pretty non-threatening although I am a stranger. . .

I was given a list of all the folks who reviewed the various textbooks last year and assigned them to various “tiers”.  Only 1 math option and one ELA option made it into tier one.  I am trying to learn more about the process, instructions you were given, and how it came to be that in your case only one math provider, Eureka, made it into Tier one.  We can converse on or off the record.  I have sent or am sending e-mails to all math reviewers.

My children are also in public elementary schools and our LEA chose Eureka after going with a related version, EngageNY last year.  I see some assignments that are interesting, but many that seem overly cumbersome, and with very poor quality in the instructions and examples departments.  I was wondering how closely you and your teammates reviewed these materials, whether you were able to take into account quality and accuracy or materials, whether you really felt these were a solid choice, the best choice, or the best of available bad choices perhaps?  Parents send me examples of their assignments and i see various ones posted different places.

Some teachers firmly embrace Common Core and some have significant problems with it.  From reviewing the profiles of the reviewers i feel pretty sure everyone really embraces Common Core that was on the selection team so i am seeking some perspective and insight from that side of the debate.  Sometimes when we like something, especially more than the alternative, we tend to overlook the flaws or measure them against our past experiences and options.  I was wondering if you think that might have occurred, perhaps in retrospect?  Any insight you can provide will be appreciated.

Thanks,
Jason

Perhaps coworkers can get more out of these folks?

I’m not really interested in calling their motivations into question, but I just want some answers to my questions. However, I do wonder if this set of teachers has all the necessary qualifications to evaluate materials for the entire state. I think it is important for school districts to understand who exactly made these evaluative decisions when factoring how they will invest their limited resources. I know firsthand that EngageNY was terrible, and first tier Eureka (as defined by these reviewers) is just EngageNY that costs money fraught with many of the same issues. Thankfully EBR ditched EngageNY/Eureka this year (they tried it out last year and found it very lacking) and went with a tier 2 product this year which while still perplexing and strangely worded at times, is much less error prone and confusing (or just plain wrong) than EngageNY/Eureka. Many parents are discovering this the hard way. I think the department and these evaluators should answer whether they felt comfortable evaluating this curriculum for the entire state. Several teachers only had a few years of teaching experience under their belts, yet they were responsible for evaluating 6 or more grade levels of content.

What are your thoughts on the math materials/curriculum your school district has adopted? It seems St Tammany and Calcasieu parents are pretty dissatisfied with Eureka based on the school board meetings I’ve seen reviewed in the news (and from parents on Facebook) . . .

Did the state really identify the best curriculum available by selecting Eureka, or do you think they really dropped the ball here?

Is this the test-tube creation of John White?

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What the recent US Chamber of Commerce Report on Education Shows: We Need New Education Leaders and School Choice is Clearly Not the Answer.

Enclosed is my letter/response to an editorial that appeared September 22, in AmericanPress.com, under the title WE MUST DEMAMD MORE FROM EDUCATION.

 

Once again Reformers have touted a new report that they think endorses their actions, while it actually does the opposite.  In the recent editorial “WE MUST DEMAMD MORE FROM EDUCATION” that appeared in the September 22 issue of American Press the editorial staff bemoaned a “grade” by the US Chamber of Commerce that shows Louisiana flunking 5 categories related to performance and “Scoring” a D+ in the category “truth in advertising.”  (In truth, I think that score should be an F as well.)  Once again we came in 49th of 50 states (praise be to Mississippi), and the only A we received was in the category of parental options, or school choice.  This report covers the last 7 years (since about 2007) and shows that we have failed as a state to improve the lot of education over Bobby Jindal’s entire tenure as Louisiana Governor.  Moreover it shows that our last two education Reform poster boy superintendents of Education, Paul Pastorek and John White, have done more harm than good for the children of our state. . .and wasted piles of taxpayer money doing it. 

 
 

Both White (and Pastorek before him) have firmly embraced every unproven education Reform tactic in the book, including linking teachers to test scores, workforce development curricula to exclusion of all else, data driven polices focused on narrow metrics, theoretically higher Common Core standards, Recovery School Districts, closing “failing” schools, chartering schools to every vendor that asks, embracing school vouchers, and creating Nationally recognized Accountability Systems (that change every year and are chocked full of “bonus points”) to name a few.  Sadly, under their tenure we have almost an entire generation of failure in our public schools. 

 
 

The lone A in the report, in school choice, is ironically the most glaring failure.  School Choice has never been proven or found to improve student outcomes, but it does cost a lot of money. If school choice had any impact whatsoever, wouldn’t you think student performance would have improved, not declined?  Choice is however responsible for the increased costs and lower return on our education dollars that the Chamber report highlights. 

 
 

Contrary to what the author of the previous editorial stated, it is exactly the right time to point fingers. 

 
 

Fingers should be pointed at John White, current State Superintendent of Education for failing out children and wasting our money with his now proven to be overly-expensive and failed policies.  Fingers should also be pointed at our BESE board and in particular the President of the Board, Chas Roemer, and his sister Caroline Shirley Roemer (Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Charter Schools) which falsely advertises all charter schools as superior to all public schools. A big finger should be pointed squarely at Bobby Jindal (you choose which one) for putting these snake oil salesmen in positions of power over our children (and a lion share of our state budget) and failing to hold them accountable for their abject and irrefutable failure.

 
 

Education reformers never hesitated to point their fingers at “bad teachers”, “failed schools”, or curriculum they didn’t believe was “rigorous” enough.  It is time to hold them accountable just as they sought to hold everyone accountable but themselves.  We have identified the disease, we won’t cure the state of education in our State by standing back and allowing school choice and fraudulent education “reforms” continue to grow and fester to the point where public education becomes incurable.

 
 

Jason France

2015 Candidate for BESE, district 6

WBOK appearance today from 10:30 to 11 on LDOE standardized score manipulation

I will be on WBOK in New Orleans today at 10:30 to 11am Central Time talking about test score manipulation by LDOE as discussed in my blog entry “Standardized Lying”
https://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/standardized-lying/

Dr Raynard Sanders contacted me on Friday to book me for a brief discussion on The New Orleans Imperative.  My post was based on research and data requests provided by Herb Basset and Michael Deshotels at http://www.louisianaeducator.com

You can listen online or over your radio if you are in the New Orleans area.

See you then.

This is just a test of the emergency blogcasting system

I am experimenting with a new application for producing blog posts from my smartphone that integrates with WordPress.  I find I have little time these days to sit behind a computer screen at home and pound out some posts and I have thoughts throughout the day I would like to share on various issues.  I now have 30 minutes I  have to wait in a doctors office after receiving allergy shots so it seemed like I should start using that time more productively than playing scramble or candy crush. 

image

Here is an example of some of our latest Math Homework for my second grader from Houghton Mifflin.   As you can see (assuming the image imports correctly) the wording and font choice for the last problem is atrocious.  1s, ls and Is all look the same and this problem makes no sense as written.  I had to rewrite the problem based on reviewing the rest of the worksheet to see what they were angling for. Here is what I came up with.

image

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p style=”text-align:left;”>Unfortunately my daughter still didn’t understand the purpose of the assignment…and wrote a correct answer (14 tens does equal 14 tens) …that I imagine is not the answer the writers were looking for.

Eureka, EngageNY, and HM are not the only problems here; curriculum-wise. Clearly simply choosing another provider won’t fix all the problems. I have minor to major issues with almost any math homework assignment I pick up. Granted, some could be fixed with better proofreading. But some of this content appears tragically flawed in that even the answers they are looking for are overly contrived,  unhelpful seeming, or confusing to children (and sometimes parents).

I have been mulling some ideas or how we can rebuild our own standards and curriculum.  I hear some other folks are working on some substitute ideas as well.  I am eager to start rolling back the most destructive educatuon reforms and failed Coommon Core experiments once I get elected to BESE. In the meantime hang in there and continue bringing this fight to your local school boards, parents groups and media. We are making headway and the CC, at least the math side, is on the defensive. 

I was honored this past weekend (and I accidentally lied)

I was honored this past weekend (and I accidentally lied)

When I wrote my earlier post about simply attending the Rising Tide new media conference in New Orleans this past weekend I was really just planning to check it out and meet up with some folks. When I wrote that post I was not intending on speaking, just mingling . . . and then I was notified I would be receiving a reward, the Ashley (Morris) Award – a blogger of the year for the New Orleans area.

Ashely Morris is best known for this FYYFF post after Katrina that crassly but directly gave voice to the anger and spirt of many displaced New Orleanians in the wake of the storm, the bungled response, the finger pointing and is the (un)official motto of the Rising Tide Conference. (It’s a great example of what blogs and bloggers can do that traditional media outlets often shy away from doing by trying to appear balanced and impartial.)

Incidentally I was one of only two non-New Orleans based bloggers to ever receive it. (The other one was Lamar White from CenLamar, another excellent choice.)

 

As you can see. . . I had just the right tie for this esteemed event at Xavier University.

Get a close look. This is a one of a kind award created by an New Orleans folk artist and Rising Tide organizer named Lance Vargas that specializes in wood sculptures and designs, not some tired plastic plaque or trophy from a generic Awards Depot R Us joint.

If you are looking for some great and unique ideas for some early Christmas shopping Lance’s work can be found here: http://leveeland.com and his blog can be found here: http://thechicory.com/blog/

I love my award. . . my favorite part is the fist – of course, and it will fit in great with most of my other artwork, antiques, old-school wood paneling and décor. My award is signed so I think that makes it art too. J

Other previous Ashley winners were noticeably jealous and even asked (only half-jokingly) if I would consider swapping with them. Sorry Lamar, you’ll just have to try and win another one.

I did get to meet some great folks at this conference. I discussed a number of issues pertaining to education in Lafayette and New Orleans charters and I hope to stay in touch with those folks that reached out to me. If you want to see the various tweets that transpired during the Rising Tide Conference number 9, please refer to #RT9.

The education speaker at the Conference was Dr. Andre Perry. He has some interesting perspectives and some quotable nuggets on education issues that I and others chose to tweet during his speech. One of the interesting points he made was that the thousands of displaced teachers in New Orleans were as much victims of the tragic and corrupt school system as the students and that they lost their jobs as a result of apathy towards their plight as anything else. These teachers were often anchors and pillars of their communities, communities that these children of New Orleans live in, By eliminating so many breadwinners, teachers and role models from poorer communities of color the plight of many of these children was worsened. The younger, more affluent, whiter teachers did not live in the communities with these children. Dr. Perry made a statement I agree with that flies in the face of common Reformer messaging. He stated that communities and societies transform schools, schools do not transform societies. The Reformer belief is that if you simply “educate” kids (as measured by improving a standardized math or English score) you will raise up the entire society. I think that’s an interesting idea, but is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what education “is” and how kids are most successfully educated and positioned for success.

Education Reformers love to claim they are “data driven” and conscious. The problem Is they often oversimplify data and draw conclusions that are not supported by evidence but by wishes and their philosophies about how they think the world should word, not how it actually does. In Reformer World, everything is black and white and reducible. For instance: The US has the highest poverty rate of almost every industrialized nation. Educated people tend to make more money statistically. The more education (up to master’s degrees – PhDs are more dependent upon subject studied) the more money people generally make. Poor people tend to have less education. If we “educate” all poor people they will make more money and all of society’s ills will be cured.

The Poverty and Education Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

For starters, Reformers have made a classic logic flaw – assuming that correlation equals causation. Just because you have identified a correlation, does not mean you can use that single piece of “data” to impact an outcome. For example, most people would agree that birds that fly have feathers. There is a strong correlation between flying things and feathers. That does not mean you can add more feathers to ostriches and make them fly. That does not mean all flying things (like bats and airplanes) must have feathers to fly. No matter how many feathers you add to a whale, I can guarantee you will never make a whale fly simply by improving its feather to fat ratio.

Sorry, Willy

Education Does Not Equal a Math or ELA Score on a Standardized Test

Reformers have made the mistake of defining education as a test score. This was done to make analysis and benchmarking easier. True “Education” is hard to quantify but test scores are quantified by their very nature. Tests scores are great for producing reports, but not necessarily the best way of determining how well prepared a student is for life.

Reformers Have Arbitrarily Decided That the Lives of Children and Teachers Are Not Intertwined Because It’s Just More Cost Effective That Way

Because paying teachers living wages costs money, Reformers have decided for fiscal reasons that the fates of teachers are not intertwined with children outside of school. Because it would be impractical to pay teachers professional wages consummate to their education when compared to other professions, Reformers have tried to find alternative ways to squeeze blood from teacher turnips. To trim costs while trying to improve outcomes Reformers co-opted temporary teaching programs like TFA, that was initially formed to provide access to highly accomplished and motivated young adults to communities of color and poverty. These teachers were supposed to fill needs that were not being met, not create needs where there were none. However the idea here is to provide a constant influx of new “talent” that could be driven to exhaustion and driven off before having to pay salaries that would factor in years of experience.

Reformers Misunderstand Why Some Children From Poor Backgrounds Do Better Than Their Peers

Reformers assume some children “succeed”, while others in their demographic “fail” because of a teacher at school. They have failed to consider that teachers are paid so poorly, that if they are the sole bread winner in their family, their family might meet the “definition” of poverty. Taking teachers out of the local communities can have a devastating effect on those same communities. They claim these are “adult issues” but adult issues are always going to be their children’s issues. All children that do better than their peers are not the children of teachers, but they almost certainly have environmental factors that are not captured in a data system. (Note: This is not a recommendation to try and determine every factor by meticulously and invasively cataloguing every facet of family’s lives.)

The Definition of Poverty Is Crude and Not Longitudinal, While Education Is Lifelong

The definition of poverty is crude. Most people don’t realize it is simply whether a family qualifies for food stamps or makes less than a few times the poverty level for their family size. Many of these families may have educated parents, books in the home, grandparents that are better off, safer home environments, or parents that stay at home voluntarily, or parents with less reportable ( or reported because they earn tips or provide other private services) income. Additionally poverty is defined by a single event (which can be triggered by a temporary income situation) while education takes place over a lifetime.

I could go on for quite a while but I would probably have to write a book or two to even scratch the surface of the absurdity of the Education Reform movement’s logic fallacies. Instead I will leave you with some choice passages from my acceptance speech. I broke it up by noting including the steps from a Wiki-How on how to give an acceptance speech in case you are wondering about the “Steps.”

 

 

Step three

Share your thoughts about being awarded

When I first started my Crazy Crawfish Blog I had this somewhat warped idea about being a liberal version and answer to Rush Limbaugh – in my head. When I typed it was more like. . . . “Bwlaaa! Bad guys suck!”

That turned out to be as horrible an idea as it sounds. What I realized is, we, the world, have more than enough news-utainers, creating unnecessary divisiveness for the sakes of their own egos and wallets, and not nearly enough people willing or able to tell it like it is.

I thought I wanted to be a “crazy” crazy crawfish, and I thought doing that would help get me noticed.

Of course we live in a State where the frontrunner in our next Governor’s race is perhaps known best for his firms stands on Family Values, and his secret love for adult diapers and prostitutes, and then, there’s Edwards.. . . I vastly underestimated my state and the competition!

So rather than spending all my time trying to out-crazy crazy I’ve tried to make my name ironic.

I am not without opinions though. I want to cover real news in real depth and provide real guidance on issues I’m familiar with. I feel my work is representative of the work Rising Tide seeks to promote and endorse. I like to think of myself as both trusted news source and activist.

We blog. We thrive. We exist, because the world needs us to exist. The world needs leaders like all of you to speak out for what it right and to highlight what is wrong.

Step four

Say something Inspirational

Unlike all of you, I started off phenomenally popular. . .

or so I thought.

I had dozens of commenters off right off the bat telling me how great I was.

They would leave comments like:

“You posts are so the very good. Learned much, have I. Using the SEO make good posts more even the better. Look forward to reading the future. Keeps up good works! I come back much time.”

Eventually I realized this was what spam for blogs looks like, and that I didn’t have a lot of followers that were a cross between on a Chinese man (portrayed on Bonanza) and Yoda.

Of course, not before I tried to have meaningful conversations with these folks. I think I finally caught on when I when my cursor hovered over their names and some very unYodalike pictures popped up.

Of course I deleted the comments at that point, but then as I looked at my now mostly comment-free blog reality slipped in. I realized most of the comments on my blog were from me talking to spammers trying to trick people into clicking on adult websites. I was kinda bummed. Fortunately it was around that time that Mark, Oyster, one of the founders of Rising Tide, dropped in for a visit.

I’d been blogging for months and only had about 9 followers, and I was wondering if it was worth pursuing any longer. Mark encouraged me and posted an article about one of my stories on the Lens. I checked out the Lens quite thoroughly to see if it was legit, but I didn’t find any naked pictures so I figured I had hit the jackpot! Someone in the media (other than the guy with the picture of a cat wearing oversized sunglasses as an avatar) had noticed me!

To me, that was my first big award and perhaps one of the primary reasons I kept at it and am here today. I learned from that experience to nurture newcomers and have encouraged other folks to write blogs and provided feedback. It is just as important to our community, if not moreso, to recognize and acknowledge newbies as it is the more established folks.

(FYI, I still consider myself a newcomer, and I’m just trying play it cool, but this award really rocks!)

Steps 5 – 8

There are too many great bloggers and activists in this room that are at least as deserving, if not moreso, than me.

Collectively we create a space for each other where all of us can thrive and do our small part to make the world a more informed, navigable and understandable place.

My readers are as much to blame and credit for my success as anyone.

We are like Santa and the Easter Bunny. . . because the mainstream media probably sees us as Pagans, but also because we only have power as long as people continue to trust us, believe in us and welcome us into their homes.

Thank you for letting me into your Conference, your homes, and for honoring me with this award.

Punk Rock Education Style

I really like this uplifting post about the current trajectory of the anti-deform movement and agree with the sentiment and assessment (and not just because of the shoutout to me.) 🙂

Dad Gone Wild

th35Y27XTCIn 1977 I fell in love with Punk Rock. In 1977 that wasn’t an easy thing to do. There was no internet. There was no Spotify. Punk Rock wasn’t covered by any major magazines. So to fall in love you had to somehow tap into this magical network of fellow fans and work to become knowledgeable. I remember meeting a guy in a record store in New Hope. “I noticed you’re looking at the Clash, ever listen to Stiff Little Fingers?” Then depending on their response the conversation would escalate and quite possibly you would get some leads on some new bands that could feed the developing love affair. Only problem was you could go months with out meeting a like minded denizen and you had to find other ways to feed the fire. It made us quite creative.

We were like spies in Cold War Russia, holding on to…

View original post 1,033 more words

The recent visual and virtual reminder of the need for strong student privacy laws

The recent visual and virtual reminder of the need for strong student privacy laws

I think the internet just exploded. At least, that’s what I’m thinking based on the number of articles I’ve seen come out in the last few days on the latest hacking scandal involving the Apple iCloud storage system involving “private” stolen celebrity photos of their, uhm, privates. You would think the world was coming to an end, that Russia really had started World War III, that North Korea finally nuked the South (or themselves accidentally). These are not the most important hacking stories or concerns by far, certainly not compared to the massive security breaches of Target, Neiman Marcus, Amazon’s cloud service (that now defunct inBloom was planning to use to store all student data), defense contractors, and various banking institutions around the world at the hands of Russian mobsters, Iranian Hacktivists or Chinese “State sponsored” hacking consortiums. Researchers had even discovered as far back as 2011 that it was possible to use Google Search to hack (or access without authority) various clouds throughout the world, so the term “Cloud security” has really always been more of an oxymoronic concept, not a legitimate claim anyone with any IT background should really make – except in assisting the marketing department with lawyerly vetted, non-binding, sales literature.

To me it looks like the media and the public are much less concerned about coverage of those stories than the lack of “coverage” of various celebrities.

For those of you unsure what a “cloud” is let me define it in what may be an overly simplistic way but which will help you understand why cloud computing is both powerful and dangerous. Most of you know what a hard drive is. Most of you know what a local network is. Some of you may know what a “shared” network drive is. A cloud service is simply a shared network drive that everyone in the world has access to from anywhere all the time. Additionally the “clouds” we are talking about from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, store redundant copies of data throughout the world, on actual physical servers throughout the world and often in foreign countries because it’s cost effective to do so. Imagine taking the hard-drive from your computer or memory form your cell phone and making 100 copies of it and shipping it to 100 different countries. You can access your data with your password. So can anyone else who intercepts your password or guesses it, or hacks directly into one of the various servers throughout the world hosting your data or intercepts it enroute (from your phone or computer) like the NSA does by tapping directly into the physical backbone of the internet. Any of those hundreds of thousands of employees might have access to your data too. There are thousands of Edward Snowdens out there, but not all of them are using their access to tell us how vulnerable we really are.

The backbone of the internet is made up of hundreds of underwater fiber-optic cables that stretch for thousands of miles across the ocean. The cables shoot information around the networked world at super-high speeds, up to 19 terabits per second—nearly the speed of light. In fact, light is exactly what’s being transmitted. Fiber-optic cables work by converting electrical signals into waves of light, and then back again at the other end.

It’s pretty nuts when you stop to think about it. The 21st century global economy is being built on strands of glass the size of a garden hose, resting on the ocean floor. And we’ve known for years these cables can be hacked or vulnerable to breaks—if, say, a ship drops anchor in the wrong place, or a natural disaster ruptures the cable.

Via Submarine Cable Map

Google and Yahoo have massive data centers around the globe that are connected via these fiber-optic cables—many of which the companies either own or privately lease to assure (or so they thought) a secure route for their internet traffic. Now it seems the NSA is taking advantage of the inherent weakness in the web’s infrastructure

In 2010 Google e-mail servers were actually hacked by Chinese hackers, but you can be sure it’s happened long before then, and almost assuredly even now transpiring undetected.

But it doesn’t take a sophisticated organization or mastermind to hack into your account and ruin your life as this journalist found out and documented. A kid basically acting alone or a freak living in their mother’s basement, like the latest Celebrity iCloud hacker probably is, can do a lot more by themselves than most people realize.

So you might be asking yourselves, what is the solution here? It sounds hopeless. Hackers are even making clones of silly games that might be attractive to children to download video and image content from phones. How can we keep sensitive information from hackers so determined to violate laws, privacy and just plain decency? I’ve heard of a number of different proposals including multi-tier authentication and physical keys or biometric authentication and/or only storing data in encrypted formats.

There are problems with these methods:

  • These methods are often costly; and some exceedingly so
  • They are cumbersome (negating much of the convenience of conducting business electronically)
  • Most of the public doesn’t understand the risks well enough to protect themselves (especially in such an swiftly evolving environment)
  • Without regulations to mandate universal adoption of strong security measures many businesses report they won’t undertake these measures on their own dime while their competitors lure customers away with cheaper prices and more convenience
  • These measures are not foolproof; and hackers constantly evolve their tactics and techniques to match countermeasures
  • Encryption is not permanent. Technology processing speed has been increasing exponentially. Recognizing this, the NSA is simply storing encrypted data in massive warehouses for a few years while they wait for or build processors powerful enough to decrypt data using brute force processing methods.

So to answer my own question about how to protect your information in a foolproof way . . . the answer is you can’t. If you store data, pictures, anywhere it can be acquired. In fact, when you make a “record” you should plan for the eventuality that it will be seen by someone and exploited. The more places your information is stored, the more likely it will be exposed to hacking by someone, somewhere. The more attractive your target (because of their celebrity status or financial exploitability potential) the more at risk your data and information is. We must assume what we create on our private phones and networks will be seen by someone else (so keep that in mind the next time you take some pictures thinking they are just for yourself or your spouse.)

This is why Louisiana’s recently signed and strongest is the nation student privacy bill (HB1076 by Representative Schroder) that passed in the 2014 legislative session is so important. This bill prevents the State of Louisiana from collecting Social Security Numbers in most cases and requires that the state introduce a student identifier system not tied into SSNs in any way. (it appears parents must sign a form allowing the state to collect SSN’s and other necessary data for the Student Transcript System which is used to award TOPS scholarships and determine financial aid and admissions determinations for students attending institutions in-state. Parents will need to remain vigilant to ensure this data is not merged with the rest of the student data and provided to other databases like the one created for the Workforce Commission or other third party vendors that might follow undetected in inBloom’s footsteps.)

The state is also reportedly purging their existing data bases of legacy SSN’s. The bill also includes civil and criminal penalties for negligent or intentional mishandling of student data. This law became very important recently when the public learned that the State’s Superintendent of Education, John White, shared SSNs and other personal data with third party vendor inBloom (because of yours truly) with no guarantees of privacy, no guarantees of security, no legal liability for intentional or unintentional disclosures. The now defunct inBloom project, which was built with 100+ million in seed money from Bill Gates, even planned to store hundreds to thousands of points of very private, very sensitive data, pictures, medical records, discipline records, psychological profiles of all children (in their ideal scenario) on a cloud computing platform hosted by Amazon. Amazon’s own subsidiary, Living Social, was hacked on Amazon’s very own cloud resulting in the theft of over 50 million users’ information while this proposal was being floated.

Computers and the internet is not going anywhere, and we should not fear it to the point of not using it. However it appears very clear to me that laws, regulators and legislators are not keeping up with the changes as fast as they need to be. We can make ourselves safer by educating our leaders to make more responsible choices on our behalf and by taking some common sense steps ourselves to protect ourselves and our families. Louisiana parents took a very important step this summer by engaging our legislature. Regrettably most legislatures across the country failed their citizens on the student privacy issue, succumbing to lobbyists and pressure from Google, Apple and Microsoft. Louisiana was the first state to boot inBloom due to privacy concerns. We were also the first state, to my knowledge, to pass some very meaningful privacy legislation to address many of the weaknesses introduced by Arne Duncan to FERPA. For a state so often labeled and maligned (often rightly so) as backward and trailing in public health issues, education policy, infrastructure and economics it’s nice to see us acting as the leaders and trailblazers we know we are, and know we should be.