The latest cash grab : Teacher/charter school villages

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TFA recognizes the value of the Centers concept and has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Seawall Development Company to replicate the Centers for Educational Excellence model across the country. Philadelphia, along with Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, is a TFA-identified growth area, and TFA has committed to being the lead commercial tenant in these developments, with their corps members making up the majority of residential tenants.

TFA: The New Gentrifiers

As I noted in a previous article titled The Battle in Seattle Against Yet Another Charter School Invasion, a developer plans to build a project that includes retail, low income housing and at one time, a charter school, the Green Dot charter school chain, in Southeast Seattle.

Based on further research, I found this is not an anomaly but a national trend.

Bankers, developers and real estate brokers are working together with Teach for America (TFA) and charter school enterprises to offer low income housing mainly for Teach for America recruits and other teachers who do not have adequate pay for clean and safe housing along with free space for charter schools through city and state support. These are our tax dollars paying for highly lucrative business ventures where all the profit goes back to the bankers, developers and brokers.

These people are not developing these projects out of the goodness of their hearts, they are doing it for, of course, the money.

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So how does this work?

Basically, developers will get money from the city or state to provide low income housing in blighted areas or low-income communities. A charter school is brought in to sweeten the pot along with teachers who will begin the process of gentrification.

In a few years, the local community becomes popular for basically the creative class or white middle and upper classes and before you know it, you have a Soho, a Mission district in San Francisco, a Northeast Portland.

Property values begin to rise and an investment made with public money goes into the pockets of the bankers, developers and brokers.

For Teach for America, Inc. it’s a perk. They can retain recruits at very low pay because they now have “affordable housing” for the working poor and charter schools can come in with little to no cash required because of city and/or state subsidies.

Sweet deal for the 1%, not so good for the rest of us.

When the value of the property around the school begins to skyrocket, those who were to benefit from the developments will not be able to afford to live anywhere near the original charter school/low income housing sites.

And, if a charter school goes belly up, as a large percentage of them do, less money has been lost and the space is move-in ready for the next charter school venture.

According to an article titled Why Are Community Development Lenders Financing Charter Schools?  published in ShelterForce:

Some CDLF [Community Development Lenders] practitioners also believe that charter schools are conducive to urban revitalization because they provide middle-class families with “safe” educational alternatives that encourage them to move to and stay in urban areas, helping to break up the concentrated poverty found in many of those areas. Research documents that charter schools are used by higher-income, primarily white urban residents who do not want to send their children to local public schools serving large numbers of low-income, black and brown students.

Other studies provide evidence that charter schools are used by more affluent whites in non-urban communities as well, as a means of facilitating segregation. More generally, numerous studies have found that charter schools lead to increases in segregation in education by race, ethnicity, and income, across metropolitan areas

  1. It’s Where the Money Is

CDLFs are mission-driven organizations, but they also respond to the market. There are substantial and growing public and private incentives for investing in charter schools. Those incentives are particularly attractive given the limited availability of other forms of subsidy.

One of the most effective forms of subsidy to encourage CDLFs to support charter school expansion is the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDOE) Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities (CECSF) program. The USDOE awarded $280.9 million in CECSF grants between 2002 and 2015 “to public and nonprofit entities to develop innovative credit enhancement models that assist charter schools in leveraging capital from the private sector.” CDLFs received at least 75 percent of these CECSF grant dollars

Indeed, the program has been very successful in leveraging private capital with federal funding sources. LISC calculated that, through 2012, approximately $250 million in CECSF dollars leveraged an additional $3.2 billion in charter school facility financing, with private investors attracted by the lower risk and greater financial profitability.

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Before heading to other cities where this is happening, I thought it would be worth noting that the Homesight low-income housing development in Southeast Seattle that was to house Green Dot charter school and populated by Teach for America recruits has one financial backer of note, Bill Gates. Bill Gates is a proponent of school privatization. The Gates Foundation provided Homesight with $100,000 to support the Regional Equity Network to advance a community-led agenda in the Puget Sound region”* and $16 million to Green Dot “to support the expansion of Green Dot Public Schools into the state of Washington”. Also of note, two of Washington Teach for America’s “Supporters” are Goldman Sachs (who finances several of these charter school/low income developments around the country) and Avenue Properties.

So, let’s see what’s been happening elsewhere.

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One of the first examples of these business ventures was one Cory Booker pushed back in 2012. Cory Booker is no friend of public education because of his ties to the donor class so this comes as no surprise to those who have been following him.

As the then Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker stated at the groundbreaking of the Teachers Village per NBC New York:

“This is how we reinvent and rebuild a great American city,” Mayor Cory Booker declared when ground was broken for Teachers Village, a downtown development of eight buildings planned to have 200 apartments for teachers, three charter schools, a day care center and stores. It’s being designed by architect Richard Meier, a Newark native best known for designing the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The $150 million price is being covered by a combination of private and public funds.

In the next paragraph, the reporter writes:

The hope is that schools will be better with teachers who live in the community, and that it will create a middle-class enclave in a city where nearly one-third of families with children live in poverty. Middle-class residents can bring neighborhoods stability, attract more businesses and ultimately improve tax revenue.

Per New Jersey Business:

The project was awarded nearly $40 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority and allocated $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion. Other public financing came from the city of Newark, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, according to an EDA memo. Private financing came from Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial Corp., TD Bank and New Jersey Community Capital, Beit said. In the early months of the recession, Beit said, Berggruen’s unwavering commitment to the project — Berggruen said he considers his investment “long-term” — brought everyone else together.

Teachers Village now has three charter schools.

All of this out of public coffers at an estimated $200 million.

Originally, leaders of the teachers’ unions were all for Teachers Village until they came to realize the concept was not for public school teachers but for Teach for America recruits. (It’s hard to imagine these folks were that naïve.)

According to Ed Week in an article titled Projects Couple Affordable Teacher Housing With New School Construction:

Newark Teachers Union President John M. Abeigon says the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, initially backed the project because it thought it would benefit more traditional public school teachers. At the start, he says, the developers had emphasized its planned support for such educators.

But Abeigon contends that the project then became aligned with what he calls the “corporate charter school movement.” For evidence, he cites the complex’s three charter schools and the fact that most of the apartments are rented to charter teachers and staff.

Abeigon’s concerns are echoed by Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT.

“This was supposed to be a way to recruit and support and retain Newark public school teachers,” she said. “That was the basis on which then-president of the Newark Teachers Union Joe Del Grosso [now deceased] and the AFT said this makes sense, because we really do believe in the idea of teachers living in the communities in which they teach. But Teachers Village came to be about charter teachers alone and that was dead wrong.”

Abeigon also argues that the complex’s close ties to charter schools belie the developers’ professed commitment to the long-term health of the community—a sentiment shared by other critics of the project.

“It’s a known fact that traditional public school teachers, who I refer to as career educators, stay longer than charter school teachers, so their commitment and investment in the community is that much greater,” he said. “Those living in Teachers Village are going to be turnaround tenants. They’ll do their two-year stints with [Teach For America] or a charter school, beef up their résumés, and then go get a job elsewhere. They aren’t going to really be invested in Newark.”

And in New York, another housing development. Per Affordable Housing Finance:

A new vibrant, mixed-use development that is providing much-needed affordable housing, a charter school for underserved students, and nonprofit office space has been built on an underutilized area of a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) site in East Harlem.

Jonathan Rose Cos., Harlem RBI, and Civic Builders partnered to create the East Harlem Center for Living & Learning on the site of George Washington Houses. The development includes the 89-unit Yomo Toro Apartments; the DREAM Charter School…

The total development cost for the project was approximately $84 million, including $30 million for the Yomo Toro Apartments. The affordable housing portion was financed through low-income housing tax credit equity provided by Enterprise Community Investment and sourced by JPMorgan Capital Corp., first and second mortgages from the New York City Housing Development Corp. (HDC), a loan from New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Reso A funding from City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

In San Diego, there was a push to revise code requirements that would allow a charter school to be a part of a low-income housing development.

The community had issues with the school bringing with it additional unwanted traffic to the neighborhood causing the variance for the charter school to be tabled.

The difference between what happened in San Diego and what occurred in Seattle is that the variance request was reviewed by way public meetings in San Diego, not behind closed doors as was done in Seattle.

Thanks to the efforts of former School Board Director Sue Peters, the school board and the public were alerted to the second attempt by Green Dot charter school to receive special treatment by the City of Seattle in terms of receiving a code variance.

RBHGroup-logoThe RBH Group, who were the developers for the Newark project and whose CEO Ron Beit sits on the board of Teach for America, Inc. in New Jersey, then went to Hartford, Connecticut.

According to a report published by Goldman Sachs:

RBH Group, the developer of Newark’s Teachers Village, announced the completion of financing and the start of construction on Hartford’s Teachers Corner, a mixed-use apartment complex in downtown Hartford aimed specifically at teachers

RBH Group’s founder and president Ron Beit said, “Teachers Corner represents a public and private partnership committed to urban reinvestment, building affordable and workforce housing and contributing to revitalizing the center of the city.

Following the Teachers Village project in Newark, NJ, the RBH Group, through its joint venture with the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, partnered with Prudential Social Investment Group, the City of Hartford and State of Connecticut to build the $20M project

Funders include City of Hartford, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, State Department of Housing, Capital Region Development Authority CRDA, State Department of Economic and Community Development, Prudential Social Investment Group and Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.

In Baltimore, per Urban Land magazine:

The $21 million renovation of a long-vacant, century-old former tin box manufacturing plant in Baltimore’s Charles Village neighborhood was completed in summer 2009 by Seawall, founded by father and son Donald [Previously on the Teach for America, Baltimore Advisory Board] and Thibault Manekin. The project includes 40 apartments—ten reserved as affordable—and 35,000 square feet (3,250 sq m) of commercial space.

All the apartments are rented to school teachers at substantial discounts to market rental rates, and all office space—with the exception of Seawall’s headquarters—is leased to education-related organizations, including Teach for America.

Over 70 percent of the residents are members of Teach for America who work in Baltimore’s public school system, Morville notes. Several others are participating in the Baltimore system’s City Teacher Residency program, and some teach in parochial schools…

The financing mechanism that really made the project pencil out was the pairing of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) with federal and state historic tax credits, Morville says. The project is located in a census tract defined as “highly distressed” under the NMTC program.

And in San Jose:

Developer proposes project with charter school, affordable housing for San Jose ‘urban village’.

With affordable housing and a [Aspire] charter school, the mixed-use project would be a first for San Jose and transform a currently vacant industrial property in the Alum Rock area.

As with charter schools and the Common Core Standards, venture capitalists are cashing in on public school funding making school districts even more strapped for cash while desperately trying to keep schools together, employ certified teachers and adequately staff their schools.

Make no mistake about it, these “teacher villages” are not about the children or the communities they live in. This is yet another big grab for cash by financial enterprises.

Dora Taylor

*Post Script:

It’s a devious web that Bill Gates and others weave particularly in the Seattle area where many of us caught on several years ago to the efforts by a few to privatize public schools in the US.

For that reason, it’s important to explain some connections.

Homesight and Regional Equity Network (REN):

Tony To, the Executive Director of Homesight is a co-chair for REN. Thus, the grant from Gates describes two receiving parties, Homesight and REN.

 

Recommended articles:

SIX REASONS WHY WE DON’T WANT GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS IN SEATTLE

This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America: An internal memo reveals how TFA’s obsessive PR game covers up its lack of results in order to justify greater expansion.

Why Are Community Development Lenders Financing Charter Schools?

Public Schools to Community Development (A highly recommended deep dive into what the thinking is on the part of the moneyed community.)


Critics rip plans for $22M charter school at Cayce Homes

Who Will Live In Newark’s Teachers Village? TFAers

TFA: The New Gentrifiers

Policy Link: A recent find that shows who is connected to what organizations in Washington State

Projects Couple Affordable Teacher Housing With New School Construction

WHEDco Bard Academy Charter School to share space in Bronx with affordable housing and music center in 2013  

It’s an East Harlem DREAM come true: a new charter school beneath affordable housing 

EMAILS REVEAL THE “GATES MACHINE” IN ACTION AFTER THE WASHINGTON STATE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

BILL GATES IN WASHINGTON STATE: MAYORAL CONTROL AND CHARTER SCHOOLS

WHAT BILL GATES HAS SPENT SO FAR IN OUR STATE TO SUPPORT CHARTER SCHOOLS

Washington State: Charter School Backers Want to Oust Judge Who Authored Anti-Charter Decision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A note about changes on the blog

To our readers:

You might have noticed that this site has been quiet for a while.

Carolyn, my co-editor and good friend, discovered she had a medical condition that needed to be treated immediately. Carolyn is recovering but is on continued medical care and will not be able to write her wonderful articles and keep everyone updated on issues affecting students and teachers in Seattle and beyond.

She wants to extend a huge thank-you to those in our community who have supported her through the last few months. Your food donations, cards, balloons, chocolates, visits, texts, emails and well wishes have gone a long way in helping her stay upbeat and positive.

The site will remain relatively quiet for now. I will continue to post on issues as they are brought to my attention but not as I used to do.

If you have an article or opinion related to education you would like to submit for publication, please let me know. All articles will be considered except for those that have anything to do with commercial enterprises promoting a product, an online service or a charter school.

I can be reached at dora.taylor@icloud.com.

Dora

League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County Urges “No” Vote on Proposition 1

LWV King County

From the League of Women Voters of King County October Newsletter

The Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County unanimously voted to oppose Seattle Proposition 1, the Families, Education and Preschool Promise (FEPP) Levy. In addition to urging the city to convene a coalition to address concerns about the proposed levy before taking further action.

Although the Board’s decision to oppose Proposition 1 was unanimous, it was not made lightly. Children from low-income families deserve high-quality preschools. High school graduates deserve to attend college, even when they cannot afford it. But the levy’s vague language and regressive nature make it an inappropriate vehicle for funding these priorities.

Chief among the League’s concerns is the confusing language in the proposition on how levy funds will be spent. Specifically, the measure providers that:

Proceeds may only be leveraged to support Seattle School District and Seattle Colleges, programs or functions with the existence of a current, effective Partnership Agreement (emphasis added). (Prop. 1, Sec. 10)

This clause creates the possibility that levy funds will flow to charter schools, a possibility that city officials have yet to deny. The League has consistently opposed public funding of charter schools because they lack transparency and public accountability. They can also exacerbate segregation and educational disparities.

Moreover, the League has opposed the use of levies as long-term funding sources, particularly in areas where funding responsibility lies with the state. “Taxpayers cannot continue to bear the burden of filling the funding gaps in our communities, the importance of these services notwithstanding,” said LWVS-KC President Stephanie Cirkovich. “Homeowners can expect their taxes to increase by an average of $112 annually under this levy, and they deserve to know how those funds will be spent.”

The League also opposes the Levy because it prioritizes special programming over basic education. Officials concede that it would reduce funding for K-12 over the expiring levy, straining Seattle Public Schools during a period of economic hardship. The timing of the FEPP Levy vote puts public schools in further jeopardy. In February, SPS will be asking voters to renew its operations and capital levies through its sole funding source— property taxes. If voters approve the FEPP Levy in November, they may reject additional taxes desperately needed by SPS. The city has a duty to ensure that K-12 is fully funded before expanding services under the levy.

Earlier this year, the city modified Proposition 1 in response to public outcry when an earlier version cut key services. The city owes voters the same transparency now and should invite further public input on the content, scope, and implementation of this measure. Unless the city commits to resolving the concerns of the League expressed her, voters should reject Proposition 1.


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LETTER: Why I’m opposed to the next Families and Education Levy

By Melissa Westbrook of the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog

Mon, 09/17/2018

I’m Melissa Westbrook; I’m the writer/moderator of the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog, the most widely-read public education blog in the state.  I’ve been a public education advocate for more than 20 years.

I’m writing to you today to let you know that I oppose the City of Seattle’s renewal of the Families and Education levy, slated for the November 2018 ballot. 

I came to this decision with sadness because I have voted for and publicly supported this levy since its inception.  But this current levy is a fairly radical change from previous ones – not to mention it is not just a renewal but a larger cost renewal to voters.

I would be happy to talk to you about this issue as you start your coverage of the November elections.

Basically, my issues with the levy are these:

– The Mayor and City Council have chosen to roll the City’s Pre-K levy into the F&E levy.  The majority of the levy, about 52%, will go to the expansion of Pre-K. 

I don’t argue that pre-k isn’t a good thing.  But Seattle’s Pre-K program is costly and now it’s a larger portion of the levy than K-12 which has traditionally been where the bulk of the levy dollars have gone.

– The City has been unclear about whether they will continue to support in-school Family Support Workers as part of the K-12 portion of the F&E levy.  As someone who volunteers in a Title One school, I can tell you first-hand how greatly needed in-school Family Support workers are for low-income or immigrant families who need that support.

– With the larger property tax enacted by the Legislature to fulfill the McCleary decision, I question a dollar increase AND an expansion of the F&E levy to both pre-K and community college.  And, Seattle Schools has its own two levy renewals in Feb. 2019 and I believe that with those four large property taxes, there might be voter fatigue. 

It would be sad if the F&E levy lost but it would be catastrophic if the district were to lose one or both of their levies.

– There is no language in the new F&E levy that says that the K-12 dollars can only go to Seattle Public Schools.  Meaning, any charter school in Seattle could access those dollars. 

I had a lawyer check that language and there is nothing there in the levy language that protects the K-12 dollars for Seattle Public Schools.

The city of Seattle itself voted – in a firm majority – against charter schools.  I don’t think that has changed much and I think voters need to know this is what will happen.

Given that earlier this year, Green Dot Charter Schools was able to get an illegal zoning departure for one of their new schools, I suspect there are those on the City Council who may support charter schools.  (That zoning departure was quite deliberate and done outside of city code and I think there was help/support from a couple of CMs.)

I’m glad to discuss these issues with you and your media outlet.

Sincerely,

Melissa Westbrook

And from the Seattle Times:

Here’s what you need to know about the city’s largest-ever education levy, and whether the expiring tax has made a difference in schools, before you send in your ballot.

By Neal Morton, Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle voters will soon decide whether doubling the city government’s investment in public education is worth a property-tax hike. 

The city’s existing levies to pay for certain K-12 programs and a subsidized preschool pilot both expire at the end of this year. And after campaigning on a promise to make community college free for high-school graduates, Mayor Jenny Durkan has pitched the city’s largest-ever education levy to combine the K-12 and preschool programs with her proposed scholarships. On your ballot, this initiative will be called Seattle Proposition No. 1.

Here’s what you need to know before you make this Election Day decision. If there are any more questions you want answered, ask us at edlab@seattletimes.com.

How much would it cost? What tax hike can homeowners expect?

If approved, the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy would raise about $619.6 million over seven years and expire after 2025.

If approved, the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy would raise about $619.6 million over seven years and expire after 2025.

The ballot language states that the city’s property-tax rate would be limited to 36.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a home with the median value of $665,000 would pay $242 next year to support the levy. The average yearly tax bill over the seven-year life of the new levy would be $248, up from $136 this year.

Disabled veterans and low-income Seattleites could qualify for exemptions under state law.

What’s different this time?

The city’s education levy has funded K-12 programs, family support workers in schools and school-based health clinics. The new proposal for the first time would include the city’s preschool program, which subsidizes tuition on a sliding scale, and college scholarships.

The new levy also would provide $4.2 million to address the rising number of homeless students in Seattle.

What programs would go away if it fails?

A spokesperson for the city’s education department, the Department of Education and Early Learning, would not specify. But in an email, the spokesperson said the city would be ready to present “contingency plans.”

“If the levy does not pass, our programs such as the … (preschool program) would be at severe risk of losing funding,” the email said.

What do levy supporters point to as past successes of these programs?

Overall, it’s a mixed bag. We’ll know more Monday, when the education department releases a third-year evaluation of the city’s preschool pilot.

As for the Families and Education Levy, the department said it’s helped reduce the opportunity gaps at four high schools on measures like attendance and core-course performance. The department’s most recent annual report, however, for the 2016-17 school year, shows those high schools met just 2 of 8 targets for underserved students passing their core courses with C’s or better.

The department also cited an analysis of the same groups of middle-school students over time. “Students were three times more likely to attain math proficiency by the end of the (8th grade) if they attended” a levy-funded middle school. But the department’s annual report shows fewer than half of those schools — 7 of 16 — met their academic targets in math. Only 4 in 7 met their targets in reading.

Who supports — and opposes — this tax hike?

Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed the levy and the City Council voted unanimously to send it to the ballot, with minor alterations. The politicians say it would help close the opportunity gap between kids from more- and less-privileged backgrounds.

The city’s largest business and labor groups, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, have endorsed the measure, as have five Democratic Party legislative-district organizations with territory in Seattle.

Top contributors to the political campaign supporting the levy include Amazon, Mariners board member Chris Larson, hotel owner Howard S. Wright and the Service Employees International Union.

No one has registered a political campaign opposing the levy.

But the League of Women Voters has come out against the measure. And Melissa Westbrook, a local education activist and blogger, has argued against it

Does this have anything to do with charter schools in Seattle?

As of last week, it’s unclear.

The city spokesman on Wednesday said its attorney’s office still hasn’t answered two lingering questions about whether charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, could benefit from the levy: Can graduates from those schools also access the college scholarship program, and can charter schools compete with the traditional Seattle school district for K-12 grants from the levy?

The Washington State Charter Schools Association, however, hasn’t ruled out that its members in Seattle will seek the levy money.

Stay tuned for more coverage.

Who would oversee how the city spends the levy revenues?

Ultimate authority would rest with the mayor and City Council. But a standing oversight committee would include the mayor, a council member, the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, a director on the Seattle School Board, the chancellor of Seattle Colleges and a dozen appointed members.

The oversight committee would review a report of the levy’s impacts each school year and recommend changes.

How does this proposal fit in with all the other tax hikes in Seattle?

In 2018, the statewide property-tax rate rose to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for a new K-12 budget. Lawmakers earlier this year agreed to offer homeowners some relief, and approved a one-year cut to the statewide rate by 30 cents in 2019.

The new state budget also capped the local property taxes that individual school districts can collect to pay for so-called enrichment activities, such as extracurricular programs or smaller class sizes.

The Seattle school district currently taps its separate local levy to hire more school nurses and provide special services for students with disabilities.

In February, the district will ask voters to renew that levy but plans to propose a higher tax rate than the state’s cap allows, just in case lawmakers offer some flexibility.

Also in February, the district may ask voters to approve more than $1 billion in its capital levy for new school construction and renovations. Voters last approved that levy, with a price tag of nearly $700 million, in 2013.

How does the fate of this levy affect the finances of Seattle Public Schools, if at all?

The Seattle School Board’s budget for the 2017-18 school year topped $850 million, so the $20 million that Seattle Public Schools received from the city this year made up a little more than 2 percent.

The district’s own operations levy, which voters consider every three years, typically represents about 15-20 percent of the overall budget. That reality has left district officials worried about voters’ willingness to support yet another tax for education on the ballot next year — after they’ve already voted on the city’s education levy.

“The (city’s) levy is important to us and our families,” said JoLynn Berge, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance. But, “we can’t make it without the maintenance and operations levy.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Dahlia Bazzaz and Daniel Beekman contributed to this report.

*This post was submitted by Dora Taylor

Saying No To Naviance: Active Non-Cooperation Is The Best Form of Resistance

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

free library

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

John Trudell espoused a policy of non-cooperation. To his way of thinking, when confronted by oppression, it is our responsibility look for ways to gum up the system. This week my wrench-throwing target was Naviance, a subsidiary of Hobsons, a company that promotes itself as a college and career readiness solution.

The Philadelphia School District entered into a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Naviance in 2015. The William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia School Partnership, both proponents of school privatization, pitched in with $750,000 to cover half the cost. An article from Inside Philanthropy stated the software is “essentially, a high school guidance counselor in a website form.”

It is a program that seeks to replace human interaction with digital ones, which is bad enough, but the company also builds its bottom line collecting data mined from students’ tender, just-forming identities starting as early as middle school. The software deploys intrusive surveys and “strengths assessments” to develop robust profiles used to track kids into career pathways.

I would have fared poorly in such a system. I was a humanities-loving art history student, who took up a graduate degree in historic preservation with a focus on cultural landscapes. Over time, and with the guidance of friends who helped me open my eyes and look hard at the world, I developed an analysis that led me to become a radical researcher intent on exposing purveyors of predatory digital disruption.

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

But now, as a senior, she had to figure out how to get transcripts to apply to college. In a growing number of school districts Naviance holds families hostage. If they refuse to set up an account and complete all the surveys their children cannot graduate, request letters of recommendation, or have transcripts sent. Naviance, a private company whose profits are manufactured from the student data they collect, is becoming a gatekeeper to college admission. Plus, our district paid them $750,000 (plus the $750,000) for the privilege! Below is a comment on a recent blog post to that effect.

After several email exchanges with school district officials and a productive meeting with our daughter’s lovely human (not web-form) guidance counselor, we came up with a plan to do the application process sans-Naviance. We’d do it the old-fashioned way with embossed seals, paper copies, signatures across envelopes and snail-mail postage. Sure, she’ll have to pull her submissions together a bit sooner to give us a buffer in case something gets lost along the way, but in exchange we’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing her “strengths” remain beyond the reach of Hobson’s predictive analytics.

Below are two emails I sent to the Chief Information Officer of our district with Superintendent Hite copied, as well as the Head of Student Support Services. It explains our thinking and affirms the stance we took was not just for ourselves, but to keep the door open for others who desire to pursue the same course.

If you can opt out of Naviance at Masterman, you should be able to opt out of Naviance anywhere in the School District of Philadelphia and be supported in your decision to do so. Support your school’s guidance counselor. Opt out and demand funds used to pay these data-mining companies instead be used to reduce counselors’ caseloads and free them up to spend more quality time with their students.

Our concerns about Naviance:

Email dated September 20, 2018

Dear XXXX,

I think you were looped in later, so I wanted to make it clear to all involved that our desire to opt out of the Naviance platform is grounded in concern over:

1) use of student data to create profit streams for private companies

2) use of data to generate profiles of students that may in fact cause them harm, especially given its use of surveys and strengths assessments

3) outsourcing student services to private companies when public funds would be better spent expanding access to HUMAN counselors in our schools

4) Naviance, a private company, becoming a de facto gatekeeper for access to post-secondary opportunities

See the excerpt from a market report for Hobson from 2013.

“Hobson is also developing a third business line – data and analytics – which focuses on this data, much of it proprietary, that flows through its solutions at both K-12 and HE (higher education). The recent acquisition of National Transcript Center (NTC) from Pearson enables Hobson to capture data along the student lifecycle by facilitating e-transcript exchanges…The company’s acquisition of Beat the GMAT in October 2012, together with its College Confidential business, also supports Hobson’s strategy in creating communities with strong underlying data, which has a value to HE institutions and CAN BE MONETIZED.”

Most people don’t take the time to dig into the corporate underpinnings of the online platforms their children are supposed to use, but in this case it does merit serious consideration. Naviance is owned by Hobson, a division of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. Lord Rothermere, former owner of the Daily Mail, consistently gave positive press to Hitler throughout the 1930s link.

Hobson is also based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is quite interesting in that that is also the corporate headquarters of Knowledgeworks, one of the primary advocates for a shift to a learning ecosystem model. This model seeks to replace schools with drop-in centers, badged credentials, and a combination of digital and out of school time learning opportunities. I have seen the data fields for Naviance, and it appears this platform is aligned to such a model. As a person who values the importance of neighborhood schools as physical places, this worries me greatly.

Among the primary responsibilities of public school districts is the management of student records and support of students in accessing those records. I feel strongly this is a responsibility that should not be delegated to a for-profit, third party company that has a stated interest in expanding their market share through data-mining children. While some families may find this “service” a convenience, we do not.

Our daughter has two institutions to which she intends to apply early action. Those deadlines are the first of November. She is in the process of finalizing her materials now, but we need to know how we can transmit official copies of her transcript and her letters of recommendation to the institutions to which she is applying outside of Naviance. We need to have this information by the end of September.

I very much appreciate the School District leadership’s assistance in helping us with this matter.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Post-Meeting Follow Up Email

September 20, 2018

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to share an update. XXX and I had a very productive meeting with XXX this morning. There is indeed an embossing stamp of approval for printed transcripts and provisions to obtain paper copies of letters of recommendation in sealed envelopes. I very much appreciate the school’s flexibility in accommodating our desire to pursue the college application process outside this platform, and we have a plan over the next month to pull everything together for her early action forms.

That said I want to re-emphasize that the School District of Philadelphia would do well to revisit its contractual agreements with Naviance, given the fact that their business model is fueled by student data. The amount of data being poured into this company, including sensitive behavioral data, is extremely troubling given its historic origins. It is imperative that adults do all they can to protect the children in their care from being harmed or used as a profit center. Many families do not have access to the background information I do and may not be aware that they have the option to apply to colleges outside of this third-party platform. I hope the district would extend the same level of support to other families that choose to opt out of Naviance.

As a parent and taxpayer I would prefer to see public funds used to reduce caseloads for school counselors so they have more time to spend with students. XXX has been great to work with over the years.

Once again XXX, thanks for your time today and your knowledgeable input.  We look forward to coordinating with you as we plan XXX’s next steps.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Soft Corruption

Reposted with permission from Anarchoeducator.

broke monopoly guy

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corrupt.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the balance of power in our schools. Administrators feel no compulsion to respond to the actual needs of individual teachers in their classrooms. It starts with the principal whose main function is to coordinate the implementation of a predetermined policy which they have come to believe they have the liberty of implementing in their own way, giving them the false hope that their actions are their own and that the results will be due largely to their interpretation of policy. How naïve of them.

Of course principals are merely the first layer in the hierarchy that comes into contact with actual classroom teachers. There are many layers up to the Superintendent and many side spurs as well. But one thing is clear. The hierarchy is self-sustaining and not really dependent on the schools it is meant to manage. Each layer of the hierarchy protects the next layer up from the layer just beneath, so that classroom teachers never see the principal’s boss, the executive director. But all of the administrators see each other, even the principals, because they are all in a club with its own social conventions that are quite different from the social conventions in the schools. Yes, there is a class difference. This is where the corruption begins to be evident.

Just to be clear, the schools are only one hierarchical system within a network of hierarchical systems that relate to each other hierarchically. Superintendents live on the border of the next hierarchy up, government and the political system. Above that, of course, are the banks, big business and the military industrial complex.

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corruption. “Corruption” conjures images of brown paper bags stuffed with cash. But the corruption I see has to do with the culture within the central administration offices. The people who place the orders with ed companies like Pearson are solicited by sales people who pump up their buyers’ self esteem. It is not that difficult to stroke the ego of someone with an important job, an advanced degree and a budget. They earned their place after all and have the credentials. They deserve the free lunch that comes with the territory, since they are so important and meritorious. The problem is they tend to listen to the sales people and the expert colleagues in their offices more than the stakeholders they are supposed to be responsible to. They have a self sustaining culture of “we know better”.

The actions they take, buying worthless text books or expensive solutions to non existent problems, are taken to reinforce their positions. That is what they are paid to do, (along with protecting the next, even more comfortable layer up). Their actions can be seen as job protection. It is self serving . That is corrupt. They actively justify racist policies because the comfort to which they have become accustomed is an easier choice to make than the choice to fight for what their teachers and student families want. Standardized testing has been locked into the system by legal contract. What a waste.

Ultimately, it is the profit motive that messes everything up, not just for the schools but for our society as a whole. Competition inevitably leads to cheating. When competition is monetized it goes into a completely different dimension and that dimension is corrupt. Once the idea “What’s in it for me?” has taken over, displacing it with the more humanistic notion of “How does it affect the next person?” becomes next to impossible. But that is where we are with our school system and its soft corruption. And one last thing; when an administrator claims the tough decision has to be made and it is “for the kids”, there is more than just a bit of insincerity in it.

-Anarchoeducator

No Thank You to Naviance

Reposted with permission from Feral Families.

feral families

The district has designed a scope and sequence of how to use Naviance with a focus on 11th and 12th grade but actual implementation will be left school to school. Once parents have forfeited their chance to opt out there will not be any other chances to give consent for certain portions. They told me it is an all in system with individual schools being left to make decisions about how they will accommodate students who opt out….

Through my daughter’s eighth grade year, I started to familiarize myself with how high school is organized nowadays in SPS. It’s been a long time since my Ingraham days of “tennis shoe registration” where we ran station to station with little index cards and golf pencils signing up for our courses manually. So with a few weeks until school let out when I received this email from Seattle Public Schools, my interest was peaked,

Dear families,

We are pleased to announce the district’s college and career planning tool, Naviance, will be available in the 2018-19 school year to support your student’s personalized journey through high school. This is a web-based, mobile-friendly tool that you and your student can use to explore interests and options, consider post-high school plans, and ensures all students can have access to post-high school planning supports.

The Naviance college and career planning tool will allow students to:

• Research careers and colleges: Learn about career fields linked to personal interests, compare data from college admissions offices, take personalized surveys to understand strengths and goals.

• Get involved in the planning process:Build a resume, manage timelines and deadlines for making decisions about colleges and careers; organize and track documents related to the college application process, such as requesting and submitting letters of recommendation and transcripts.

• High School and Beyond Plan: Schools will be using Naviance to deliver high school and beyond plan lessons in grades 8-12.  The high school and beyond plan is a graduation requirement, which helps students and counselors make sure graduation requirements are met and are aligned to identified goals.

• Scholarship search: Students can search a database of scholarships based on their interest and goals, and organize materials for scholarship applications in one place.

Student Data and Opt-out Information

The district thoroughly vetted Naviance’s policies and practices with respect to preserving data security and student privacy. Families can choose to opt their students out of using this tool.

For students to utilize the college application support tools in Naviance, some student demographic and academic records need to be shared.  This may include gender, ethnicity, and transcripts. Students will also have the opportunity to add information about themselves when developing their high school and beyond plan and using other college and career exploratory resources within the Naviance tool.

We will be importing student information beginning on July 1 so counselors can use their training days during the summer to prepare for supporting your student in the fall. The window to opt out will be June 4-22, and will open again at the start of school.

Read more about Naviance’s commitment to data security and student privacy and opt out instructions

Each of our students is on a unique educational journey. We are committed to ensuring every one of them receives the support needed to prepare them for college, career and life. High school and beyond planning is one way we are supporting this commitment.

Thank you,

The College and Career Readiness Team

Seattle Public Schools

To which I responded,

Dear Superintendent and Directors,

I received a letter about Naviance informing me that I could opt out but not how to opt out. I found the information on the district website and it says I have to change the preferences on my Source account but I do not participate in the Source. I consulted our upcoming high school principal and guidance counselor and neither of them know how to opt out without a Source account. I also tried replying to the College & Career team but the email was sent with “no reply” options or contact info.

Please advise. The opt out window ends on 6/22.

Thank you,

Shawna Murphy

I was surprised by a quick reply from the College & Career Readiness team offering to teach me how to set up a Source account. I said no thank you and let them know that for a variety of choice and access issues they need to offer families another way to opt out. Their department sent me a computerized form a day or two later which I remember finding funny because if you don’t have computer access to use The Source, how would you fill out a computer form? By this time I had talked to several friends who wanted to opt their children out of Naviance too, but the form stopped working. I contacted the College & Career Readiness team again and it turned out THEY HAD MADE THE FORM ONLY FOR MY USE! Now I do appreciate that I am a privileged outlier but I reminded them they need a simple way for ALL families to opt out; not just the well known agitators. They thanked me for the feedback and said that they would work on that for the next opt out window of 9/5-9/19. They asked me to check back at the beginning of the school year.

On the first day of my daughter’s high school experience I emailed the SPS Director of College & Career Readiness, Caleb Perkins to loop back about what kind of outreach they were doing for families about Naviance and how one might elect to have their child opt out of this new system. Many parents of middle school and high school students I had spoken with were wary of this new system over data sharing, privacy and tracking concerns. Mr. Perkins responded to my email requesting a phone meeting we scheduled one for the following day.

I knew what questions I wanted to ask and they mostly centered on how parents will learn about this system so they can make an informed choice whether they would like to participate. My friend and educational blogger, Carolyn Leith is much more knowledgeable about some of intricate details of the system and she sent me a list of questions to use for my meeting, they are as follows,

1. How is Naviance going to be used? What classes will be using the software and what surveys will students be expected to participate in. Will the district inform parents of what surveys their students will be expected to complete.

2. Some surveys used by Naviance were intended to be filled out by students under the supervision of a parent. Will parents have access to student accounts?

3. How will students who opt out of Naviance be accommodated? How will this work if Naviance is part of a planned curriculum? For families who object to their student’s participation with Naviance, will a counselor be made available to help students navigate the last two years of high school.

4. How will opting out be handled with courses such as career essentials?

5. Does answering/ using different surveys change the data sharing agreement signed between the district and Naviance? What data is being shared (or made available for access via API’s ) and with whom?

6. What platforms ( such as Google Suite, Clever ) have access to Naviance? Does Naviance also have access to the data collected in Google Suite, Clever, and other platforms?

7. Is Naviance interoperable with other platforms and software used by Seattle Public Schools? Will parents be informed of what data is being shared and with what programs?

8. Is Seattle Public Schools willing to put in writing that it holds student personality tests and other sensitive data collected by Naviance and does not share it and will be liable for any breaches or misuse?

9. Is Seattle Public Schools willing to make transparent what algorithms and weighted factors are used to put students on specific career tracts? Is Naviance willing to share this information?

I started the conversation casually, moved on to the questions, without recording their answers and then moved into a friendly discussion of the larger issues at stake. Mr. Perkins has committed to sending me written answers to these questions, but since the opt out window only runs until 9/19, I decided to write a blog post about our conversation now while it’s still fresh. Incidentally the College & Career Readiness team has set up five regional Naviance Information Sessions but to date they have been poorly publicized and offered only from 5:30-6:30, which is a tricky for many families.

A few things I learned at the beginning of my meeting on speaker phone with Caleb Perkins and Krista Rillo were that SPS paid a little over $600,000 total to Hobson for the use of Naviance for three years. The district paid for Naviance using a voter approved technology levy. The district believes their legal team has thoroughly vetted the contract and has stiff penalties in place for any future theoretical data breach.

The district has designed a scope and sequence of how to use Naviance with a focus on 11th and 12th grade but actual implementation will be left school to school. Once parents have forfeited their chance to opt out there will not be any other chances to give consent for certain portions. They told me it is an all in system with individual schools being left to make decisions about how they will accommodate students who opt out. In addition to The Source, families can also opt out by informing their school office. I gave strong feedback that these were not enough options. Not all families feel comfortable working with their school office and not all school office staff are going to welcome opt outs. I gave the example of how differently SBAC opt outs are handled school to school. At my daughters’ school, it was seen as no big deal with as many as 10% of our students opting out of standardized testing. But other schools are much more hostile to test refusers. At nearby Denny Middle School there was a school carnival that only students who had taken the SBAC could attend and other friends around the district reported having principals want to schedule parent conferences in response to their opt out emails. These parents were then strongly encouraged to have their students take the SBAC. I suggested publicizing a phone number that parents could call directly to opt out of Naviance.

Both Caleb and Krista talked about aspects of Naviance they are excited about. Students can apply directly to colleges, send transcripts and apply for scholarships. Mr. Perkins is especially excited about a set of videos featuring underrepresented groups in non traditional careers. I asked if parents would have access to this information. The answer was a little shocking. They said they were not building in parent access this year and that parents would potentially have “read only” account access next year. They also said that based on what types of searches and inquiries the student was making, they would receive more info in those areas. So if your student was surveyed to show interest in engineering, they would start receiving notices about STEM opportunities in the area. For me, this is a red flag for tracking, and between that, lack of parent access and the idea that my child may be sending my financial information to multiple parties through this system, I am alarmed.

The conversation then took a turn into the big picture and that’s when I really began to question what Seattle Public Schools has gotten themselves into trying to fulfill the legislature’s high school and beyond requirements. Mr. Perkins told me that there had been discussion by the School Board Directors, with some directors in opposition, to naming this new project “Seattle Ready” after the idea that in order to live in Seattle now one will need to have a high paying job. They argued that this idea is “economy driven” and I argued that the opposite is actually true. Not only is child care highly sought after in Seattle, as working class person, a child care provider making about $20, I took strong offense to this notion that students might be dissuaded from pursuing a meaningful career like mine, that gives me so much joy, and supports so many people, because it does not pay “Seattle Ready” wages. I pointed out to them that they were actually doing a disservice to their own workforce by promoting these classist and elitist ideas and I suggested they look to the example of our First Student bus drivers. A “Seattle Ready” system is never going to suggest that a student might enjoy a career as a bus driver and yet what vacancies have not been able to be filled this year and last? School bus drivers. The school bus driver shortage is wreaking havoc on our Seattle working families who’s school buses are frequently late and sometimes don’t show up at all.

Another example I gave, is the district’s own IA’s who often do not earn enough to afford housing in Seattle and have long commutes into the city. These are the same people that the district relies on to care for our most vulnerable students, a position I hold in high esteem and yet the district would deem this career not “Seattle Ready” viable.

I would rather that my student were taught the value of a day’s work and learn about social justice and organizing for better pay for all workers than be taught that some jobs are better than others. I don’t buy it. And what about my friends who ARE artists and musicians and writers but that is not the job they do for money. This early emphasis on what job we have and how it defines us is misguided at best and troubling for me as a parent of kids who dance to their own drum. My youngest has always said she will be an animal communicator and a fortune teller when she grows up and my oldest would like to write for sitcoms but is interested in retail while she starts working on her scripts. It seems highly unlikely these tracks are available in Naviance or any “economy driven” system but I want my children to be who they are, loving, kind and interesting people, who also will some day have jobs, and maybe many many different kinds of jobs; this is why I have chosen to opt out of Naviance.

-Shawna Murphy

Black Boxes, Student Data & Playing Moneyball for Education

black-Box_2

We’re rapidly entering a world of evidence-based decision making in public education. These decisions will be powered by vast amounts of data run through proprietary black boxes that parents will have no way of understanding. The approach is called Moneyball and the goal is to justify ration resources to students –while investors make a tidy profit.

One of the most difficult challenges I’ve had as a parent is convincing other parents that the endless collection of our kids’ data isn’t benign and technology isn’t inherently benevolent.

Big Data, Like Big Brother, Isn’t Your Friend

As adults, we’ve chosen to ignore this cold hard fact: that by using electronic devices, we are allowing ourselves to become a product. Von Shoshana Zuboff calls this evolution in big data mediated economics surveillance capitalism:

It’s now clear that this shift in the use of behavioral data was an historic turning point. Behavioral data that were once discarded or ignored were rediscovered as what I call behavioral surplus. Google’s dramatic success in “matching” ads to pages revealed the transformational value of this behavioral surplus as a means of generating revenue and ultimately turning investment into capital. Behavioral surplus was the game-changing zero-cost asset that could be diverted from service improvement toward a genuine market exchange. Key to this formula, however, is the fact that this new market exchange was not an exchange with users but rather with other companies who understood how to make money from bets on users’ future behavior. In this new context, users were no longer an end-in-themselves.  Instead they became a means to profits in  a new kind of marketplace in which users are neither buyers nor sellers nor products.  Users are the source of free raw material that feeds a new kind of manufacturing process.

As adults we’re vaguely aware that certain choices we make will impact our credit report. The inputs seem arbitrary and frankly ridiculous. Unless, there’s a problem, THEN, the unfairness of the system quickly comes into focus.

How your credit report is determined is an example of a black box. Inputs go in, something happens inside the box, and then your credit report comes out. What happens inside the box? Who knows? It’s a proprietary predictive model.

What sorts of random digital bits could impacts your credit report? Things like what operating system you use, if you do your browsing using a desktop or cellphone, even what you decided to use as your email address.

This excerpt is from New Study Shows You Can Predict Credit Rating from Your Online Tech Fingerprint.

A Community of Resistance: Building Sanctuary Part 6

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

A Community of Resistance: Part 6

They were the original off-liners, people who never had to unplug, because they’d been written out of Solutionist society from the outset. They gathered together among the gravestones under the shelter of venerable trees to build their own community. With no stake in the old system, the cemetery contingent became the core of resistance in the borough.

When I started writing this story, a few people suggested I include some hope in it; good organizing comes when you have anger, hope, and a plan. I’ll admit that hope is hard for me. I tend towards the dire, the energetically dark even. I know too much. My preference, of course, is that you all read this, and we begin to organize and resist to avoid full lock down. But if that doesn’t happen, what then?

Can a just society be rebuilt in the ruins of a Smart City or not? The next two installments are informed by my experience attending the Saturday Free School here in Philadelphia. I try to evoke elements of the black radical tradition and marronage, though perhaps not as successfully as I would have liked. Once I wrap this series, if there are others who would like to write an alternate ending, I would certainly be open to posting it. My goal with this project is to create a base of knowledge off of which others might riff, in new stories, graphic novels, plays, or visual art. The themes here need to be explored in other media, and I see this as a jumping off point. If this interests you drop me a line in the comments. To start this story from the beginning click here for Building Sanctuary Part One: Plugging In.

Part Two: A World Without (Much) Work

Part Three: Smart and Surveilled

Part Four: Data Mining Life on the Ledger

Part Five: Automated Education

It had been a challenging spring for Cam and Li’s family. Uncontrolled fires burned through California, disrupting both the tech and entertainment industries. Virtual Reality and gaming companies were recycling old content rather than offering new gigs, so the family’s income suffered. What made it worse was that Talia had entered into an income-sharing agreement to pay for VR classes, and their devices constantly buzzed with aggressive complaints from her investor.

Cam has been logging extra hours of SkywardSkills when she normally would be reading. The college prep partner she goes to once a week is running a competition, and the student who logs the most time gets a substantial payment to their Citi Badge account. Cam has put a lot of pressure on herself to stay ahead of the other students, but everybody is desperate for Gold Coin, and as the deadline approaches it is harder and harder to keep up. She’s lost a lot of sleep the past couple of weeks and it is getting harder and harder to focus.

Li responds to the stress by shutting down. She refuses to log on to her education modules, and it is getting harder and harder to drag her out of the house, even to go to her maker space placement. Her relationship with her AI learning assistant is on the rocks. She’s been entering false information into the social emotional surveys as a way of rebelling against the system, without realizing the long-term implications her actions will have.

Academic participation by minors is a key indicator that affects the family’s citizen score. If Li’s activity levels dip any further it will likely trigger a home visit, something Talia wants to avoid at all costs. Cam harbors suspicions that Li might be cutting herself. Even though temperatures are rising, Li hadn’t pulled out any t-shirts, preferring long sleeves even when it gets into the 80s. She doesn’t want to alarm her mom, but clearly Li needs professional help. All the local clinic can offer is an evidence-based chat-bot therapy program. That won’t be enough.

Cam is vaguely aware that her mom has been meeting with grandpa Rex online and has an uneasy feeling about it. Talia calls a family meeting to discuss a possible solution. Rex had been living alone in the family home after Talia’s mom died of medical complications after the lockdown. He’d been able to hold onto his property through the Bitcoin crash, but now seemed like a sensible time to let it go.

He’ll move in with them into the apartment in Queens. It will be tight to have all four of them there, but the proceeds from the house will surely be enough to pay for real therapy for Li; therapy with a real person, off the books, with no data collection. They expect it will be expensive, but worth it. Through word of mouth they find Mak, a counselor who still offers a face-to-face treatment.

Mak is an outsider who keeps his personal life under wraps. He sees clients in an office located in a former library in Queens. He serves mostly off-liners, doesn’t take Gold Coin, and prefers payment in bartered goods or services, especially books. Public libraries had been shut down years before the Solutionists finally seized power. As people were drawn inexorably into the digital life, fewer and fewer read actual books.

Some libraries were turned into maker spaces or even micro-schools, but the Richmond Hill branch, an antiquated building dating back to the Carnegie era, was deemed too small to be useable. The city simply closed it up, locked the door and walked away. Even though the building has much more space than he needs for his practice, Mak acquired it with the intention of supporting broader organizing, political education, and resistance efforts. He eliminated all sensors and removed RFID tags from the remaining books. He doesn’t take clients with chips, and no devices are allowed in the building. Anyone with an IoT tattoo must remain outside.

The building sits on a small triangle of land along a commercial corridor situated a half-mile from Forest Park between the Maple Grove and Cypress Hills Cemeteries. There are five rooms, in addition to Mak’s office in the basement. One is a reading room, another a spare parts and bicycle repair space, a third holds clothing and domestic items (non-IoT) for sharing, while the fourth is set up as a communal food prep area. The fifth, locked, is used for resistance strategy meetings.

An expansive arbor shades the south side of the building and provides a space where visitors who have IoT tattoos are still able to gather and join in discussions. As long as the weather cooperates, weekly political education sessions take place there in the shade of the grape, melon, and squash vines. The sound of jazz and blues emanating from the hedge is a sure sign people are sitting out. Music sets the mood and masks conversations from noise sniffers. Sometimes there is live music, but often it’s vinyl recordings. They never use digital, because authorities are keen to identify those accessing revolutionary music through streaming services.

Even though Mak owns the building, the community directs how it is used and gives the space its vitality. Most people come from the cemetery encampments at Maple Hill and Cypress Grove, settlements created shortly after the work camps closed. Targeted by the authorities, people of color, immigrants, the homeless, and veterans comprised the first wave of forced labor. Disenfranchised, lacking papers, or with mental health diagnosis, they found it impossible to acquire Citi Badges.

They were the original off-liners, people who never had to unplug, because they’d been written out of Solutionist society from the outset. They gathered together among the gravestones under the shelter of venerable trees to build their own community. With no stake in the old system, the cemetery contingent became the core of resistance in the borough.

They are a creative bunch, devising ingenious guerrilla tactics that target the Solutionists’ surveillance and police systems. The expertise of veterans has proven invaluable, as they have direct knowledge of the technologies’ military applications. A number of edge-computing technicians, software engineers, and roboticists have found their way to the encampments. Most went underground in the months prior to the lockdown, knowing that refusing to comply with authoritarian demands would lead to their execution.

These experts, in collaboration with encampment residents, continue to refine low-tech ways to decommission IoT monitoring systems, robot patrol charging stations, and the solar Bitcoin dust miners that keep the ledger running. Nan is one of the Maple Hill Cemetery elders. She retired from a career in telecommunications, and saw the Internet evolve from broadband to 5G and edge computing. People look to her for her technical insight, foresight, and people skills. Nan has been a guiding force in efforts to destabilize Solutionist control of their sector. The resistance has been able to secure a corridor of relatively free movement between the encampments and Forest Park and hopes to expand its reach into Flushing Meadows once they train more teams.

The resistance cautiously embraced Mak when he arrived two years ago; access to power, water, and secure storage was a compelling reason to partner. The cemetery contingent shares provisions they scavenge and help keep the space secure, while Mak provides a satellite base of operations where members of various encampments can come together and strategize. Behind the locked door in the basement, the inner core of the resistance has been working on a lab to investigate more technologically advanced techniques to undermine the Solutionists’ systems.

That first year they bestowed the name “Wheel House” on the library, understanding that a wheel steering a course forward was a powerful image, even if the final destination remained unknown. Bringing people together to imagine a world in opposition to the terror of the Solutionist regime keeps hope alive. It is a space where each person, like the spokes on a ship’s wheel, is essential, and by coming together around a central hub they will move in a new direction. In a surveilled, digitized world, the Wheel House offers a safe place where people can strengthen the relationships needed to build a different future.

Mak comes from a moneyed family, a sanctuary family, which is how he was able to acquire the Wheel House, and why he is so concerned about technology; he knows its power. He grew up on Gonave, an island off the coast of Haiti. Before he was born, Gonave was sold to an investment consortium that expelled the local population and remade it as a sanctuary zone. He grew up surrounded by self-absorbed people whose lives revolve around what they own. Most made their fortunes in defense contracting, software development and social impact investing, as militarism and rising global poverty created unlimited financial opportunities.

Mak never fit in there. As a child, he spent most of his time reading and hanging out at the helipad chatting up pilots about the larger world. Rather than material wealth, Mak is interested in books, ideas, and the natural world. He has a rebellious streak. His late father named him after Francois Mackandal, the eighteenth-century revolutionary who believed in freedom for all people and used his knowledge of native plants and medicine to wage guerrilla warfare against Haitian slave owners. Mackandal’s weapon of choice was poison, because the slaves had no guns. He understood that you use the knowledge at your disposal to disrupt oppressive systems.

As a teen, Mak became increasingly disaffected with island life. His mother, an executive with a global VR outfit, eventually packed him off to New York for a community service placement, feeling certain the harsh environment there would be such a shock that Mak would run back home, chastened. This didn’t happen. Instead, Mak trained in social work and made a life for himself in a world unlike anything he had ever known.

Sanctuary kids are raised with very little technology. Being raised on an island community, the small population means everyone knows everyone else’s business. You can find space to be alone, but you really have to go looking for it. When Mak first arrived in the states, the level of social isolation he felt in the midst of so many people was hard to process. Everyone was absorbed in a world of their own, mediated through devices. He’d never seen anything like it.

Mak joined a large health system once he completed his training. It was run by Alphadata and specialized in urban populations with “complex” mental health needs. He left that position after less than a year. It hadn’t taken long to realize that the protocols that had been developed were intended to force people to conform to and manage themselves within the Solutionists’ oppressive systems rather than lead them to healing.

There was tremendous pressure on counselors to expand caseloads to the point that they were primarily data managers and had very little time with patients. Treatments like Virtual Reality, prescription video games, and text supports had taken priority over face-to-face treatment. This approach generated the data demanded by the municipal contracts, but did little for his clients, many of whom were veterans of the drone wars before operations shifted to AI and facial recognition.

After leaving Alphadata, Mak spent several more years in self-directed training, finding through informal networks elders who knew the work before it became data-driven and had experience with alternative, non-digital therapies. He returned to Queens and slowly began to build a network of contacts. He gets no algorithmic referrals, has no online reviews, no online reputation presence at all. In fact, you can only find him by word of mouth, and since few people actually speak to one another anymore, those who end up on the doorstep of the Wheel House are generally of a like mind.

Mak’s treatment goals are to connect his clients with their humanity and empower them to find personal agency in a world where Solutionist systems undermine both. A key part of this approach is connecting his clients to community. In this sector of Queens, a community has grown up in the encampments, at the farm, and at the Wheel House. They are a community of the unplugged. Through their connection to Mak, Li, Talia, Cam, and Grandpa Rex have been brought into the fold.

Continue to the final segment: Choices

Supplemental Links

Income Sharing Agreement: Link and Link

Chat / Text Therapy: Link and Link

Social Impact Bonds and Behavioral Health Home Visits: Link

Gonave Island, Haiti: Link

Francois Makandal and Haitian Revolution: Link

Closing Libraries: Link and Link

RFID and Internet of Things: Link

Micro Schools: Link

Marronage: Link

Citiblock Health Care: Link

AI Drone Warfare: Link and Link

Drone Swarms: Link

Robotic Security: Link

Saturday Free School: Link

League of Revolutionary Black Workers: Link

-Alison McDowell

 

What’s Stored in your School Google Drive Account? You Might be Surprised.

Reposted with permission from Missouri Education Watchdog.

Don't Be Evil

If you or your child have a Google account through school, you are going to want to read this.

WATCH THIS FOX 5 NEWS CLIP from Springfield, MO. They show one teacher log into her school issued Google Drive account where her personal information, including 139 passwords and audio of voice to text messages and Siri searches were stored, allegedly unencrypted.

While many have questioned Google’s invasion of the classroom and how Google Apps for Education, (now called G-Suite), collects and uses student or teacher information, few have really gotten much in the way of answers. What is reportedly happening with Springfield Missouri Public School’s use of Google Drive offers a rare glimpse into Google’s potential to collect data. School-issued student Google accounts connect to Google Drive which can allow for the ability to Auto-Sync devices to Auto-Save passwords, browsing history and other digital data points from numerous devices used by a single user. For students in SPS this could include digital data from non-school related accounts.  This July 17, 2018 Fox 5 KRBK  news story explains how one family discovered this practice and reported it to the school district.

“The Elys claim that the SPS Google Drive, given to all SPS employees and students, automatically begins to store information from any device the drive is accessed on. This includes browser history, but also personal information such as files and passwords. They add that even if you log out of the drive, it stays running and recording in the background.

After bringing their concerns forward this past May, they say that despite the evidence presented, no serious action has been taken on behalf of the district.

“They have a lot of evidence and have had it since December, and we have not heard one word from any of them, said Dianne Ely.

With more searching, the Elys have now found even more sensitive information that’s been stored to their daughter’s Google Drive, including 139 passwords to both her and her husband’s different accounts and also voice recordings of both her and her children.

“My voice to text was being stored as well as any search my kids did, and I could say ‘sure my daughter was searching on Google,’ but my phone uses Safari. When I used my texting app on my iPhone, it recorded my voice, as well as typing out the words and saving it on my Google Drive,” said Brette Hay, the Ely’s daughter and a teacher at Pershing Middle School.

The Elys hope with this new evidence, not only will parents, employees and students take action to check what private information of their own could be stored on the drive, but that the school district will also take the appropriate steps to make their Google Drive safe.” [Emphasis added]

Parents want to know: Why is Auto-Syncing of devices and Auto-Saving of passwords allowed on any school-issued Google account?

Google changed its Google Drive syncing in September 2017. This new policy raises several questions:

  • How does this Google change affect privacy and security and access to school-issued Google Drive accounts? Does it allow cross device tracking?
  • Are students, parents, school employees, (who are often required to use the school-issued Google Drive), informed that their devices could be automatically synced, and remain synced even when the log out? Are  users informed of what information, including personal passwords, could be stored on their school-issued Google Drive?
  • Since district administrators can set permissions, do districts have the ability to disable the Google Auto-Sync and Auto-Save function?

Each state has consumer protection laws and state privacy laws that may prohibit the collection or reporting of individual’s biometric information such as facial or voice recognition. There are also several federal privacy laws, highlighted below, that apply specifically to student information.

PPRA  The law requires that schools obtain written consent from parents before minor students are required to participate in any U.S. Department of Education funded survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning the eight protected areas.

FERPA    34 CFR § 99.3 defines an education record as “The term education record means those records that are: (1) Directly related to a student; and (2) Maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution.  Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.” However, FERPA allows schools to disclose covered information in education records, without consent, in certain situations.

The auto-syncing capability of Google Drive raises additional concerns for schools using this technology:

  • If personal devices are synced and passwords stored, and if a student’s personally identifiable (PII) is collected, does the district’s or Google’s access to student Google Accounts meet the requirements of federal and state laws? Should the district be required to obtain informed written parental consent prior to this PII data being aggregated on the Google Drive?
  • Has covered information stored on the Google Drive ever been accessed by anyone other than the student, parent, or school official?
  • Is posting a student’s ID on each school device, and generating a uniform password for all students, in compliance with best practices and FERPA? (See Dr. Ely’s May testimony for an example of this practice.)
  • If parents feel their student’s personally identifiable information has been disclosed improperly, they can file a FERPA complaint.

COPPA  “The primary goal of COPPA is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. The Rule was designed to protect children under age 13 while accounting for the dynamic nature of the Internet. The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services (including mobile apps) directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, and operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13. The Rule also applies to websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information directly from users of another website or online service directed to children.”

  • If personal information of children under the age of 13, such as their browsing history or location was collected when they were online (including when they accessed non-educational websites outside of school, while not actively logged into their synced Google Drive) and if the information from this synced device was stored on the school-issued Google Drive, along with saved passwords, who has access to this information? Is informed parental consent required?
  • Can this personal information in the Google Drive ever be accessed by anyone other than the student and their parent?

HIPAA  “The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop regulations protecting the privacy and security of certain health information. To fulfill this requirement, HHS published what are commonly known as the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule.”

While information contained in a student’s education record is generally not covered by HIPAA, it is generally covered by FERPA.  This leads to a larger set of questions when Auto-syncing devices and storing  information in a school-issued Google Drive:

  • Is a student’s personal information stored in a school-issued Google Drive considered part of a student’s education record? What if the personal information was obtained outside of school, without the student’s or parent’s knowledge?
  • Does HIPAA apply if information stored on a school-issued Google Drive, is personal information about someone other than a student?
    • Is access to your family’s health record part of a student’s educational record, both FERPA and HIPAA compliant if you did not knowingly supply the information to the school?
    • Is audio of a parent discussing personal medical information considered part of a student’s education record?
    • If a relative or friend is a medical professional and you used his/her computer to log into your Google Drive, and now the device is synced, are the auto-saved passwords and medical information on this personal computer part of the student’s education record?
  • In general, is Google Drive HIPAA compliant? If passwords are exposed, does the district and Google follow the necessary steps to ensure Google HIPAA compliance?

Best Practices

In the Fox 5 news story, the School District claims that they followed best practices and there is no breach within the SPS system.  In response to these allegations, SPS stated:

“We believe that our data systems remain safe and secure. In reviewing the concerns brought forward, no data breach has been identified within the SPS system, nor are we aware of any personal information on our servers beyond the appropriate staff and student information provided to the district. We want to assure our community that SPS will always support any investigation into allegations, such as these, in order to address concerns. SPS is committed to doing all that is necessary to keep our staff and students safe and secure. This is true for both facility and cyber security. We work with third-party vendors to regularly monitor and evaluate our procedures and information systems. We implement ongoing updates to our best practices and information systems to maintain and strengthen, wherever appropriate. Our IT Department continues to review best practices in the industry, refining and enhancing district procedures on a regular basis, while also strictly adhering to the manufacturer’s terms of use for any software or other product. We know that ongoing training is essential to protecting the security of each individual and the district-at-large. Over the past three years, we have focused on new training for both staff and students regarding how to be responsible digital citizens. Because this is a personnel matter, we are limited in the details that we can provide, but we remain vigilant in our work to protect the safety and security of our systems, in the best interest of all SPS constituents. At this time, our internal and independent assessments do not indicate that there is a reason for the community to be concerned.”

Screenshot of teacher checking passwords saved on the SPS Google Drive account. The teacher has shown that if you click on the eye icon of any of these accounts, the passwords are exposed. (We redacted the email addresses and the Amazon account that shows the password has been deactivated.)

We wonder about the reported non-school related information and non-school related passwords to accounts (including accounts with personal banking information, medical accounts) that are allegedly stored unencrypted on school-issued Google Drive accounts?  Would this situation comply with Missouri’s new law, HB1606,  on student cybersecurity and breach reporting?

Regardless of the school district’s claim that there is no reason for concern, many people are concerned and are questioning the ethical and legal implications. Many are wondering if Google Drive Auto-Syncing and Auto-Saving is happening in other school districts across the nation. We have posted videos and links to public testimony presented at Springfield Public School Board meetings with detailed explanations from people who have experienced this first hand and have reported it both to the school district and have filed a police report. We have also posted instructions at the bottom of this blog for you to check what is in your (or your child’s) school-issued Google Drive account.

 

Public testimony of the July board meeting begins at the 4 minute mark.

 

Public testimony of the May board meeting begins at the 18 minute mark.

 

What do you think?  

If personal, non-education related information is being stored in school-issued Google Drives, would that data collection cross the line? After reading this blog and reviewing the testimony etc, let us know what you think and let us know what you find in your school Google Drive. 

(You can post a comment on this blog but please do not share your passwords or personal log-in information that would leave you open to hacking; just tell us the types of information you found in your Google Drive.)

We wonder why any school district would want the liability and security risk associated with storing personal information and allegedly unencrypted passwords to personal accounts. With cyber hacks targeting schools at an alarming rate, think of the security issues and potential for harm.

Ask your school district how their Google Drive is set up and look at the information stored in your school-issued Google Drive.

Here’s how to see what is in your school-issued Google Drive, according to May 2018 testimony provided by Dr. Ely. (It may look slightly different depending on the device you are using. )

Steps for checking your/your child’s/your grandchild’s SPS Google Drive Account

Sign- in and security (passwords and devices)

  1. Log into your account.
  2. Once into the Google Drive click on the top left the 3 lines, which pops open your Google drive account info. Look all the way at the bottom and click on the round picture of the round circle with your initial in it.
  3. Click on my account
  4. Click Sign-in & security
  5. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the sign in and security page to where it says saved passwords. This is where you can see all of the passwords stored to the SPS Google Drive Account. For the passwords, it might look like an eye but you just need to click on it to reveal the password.
  6. From the sign in and security screen you can also see what devices have been used to log into your sps Google account and allow you to see what devices have been synced with your account.
  7. You may need to click on “Mange My Activities” to see stored voice to text speech, location tracking, YouTube and search history.

 

References and related links:

May 15, 2018 Springfield Public Schools Board Meeting. Public comment starts at about 18 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIbjpjsKAc8

May 15, 2018 Written testimony from Dr. Norman Ely https://drive.google.com/open?id=1HKBAAvyZ39pSxASq2p6OCM-EoL9BbU2L

July 17, 2018 Springfield Public Schools Board Meeting. Public comment starts at about 4 minutes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDREN3CCO3E 

July 17, 2018 Written testimony from parent and teacher Brette Hay https://drive.google.com/open?id=1PdFLlqaR-gvUB32nFsz-_ILoEt3fkpPA

July 17, 2018 Written testimony from Dr. Norman Elyhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/14Ikjd8TkQhhnGnwh7RdLdGGlo6VnFzKQ2GdXEjImPjs/edit?usp=sharing

July 17, 2018 Written testimony from Brooke Hendersonhttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1zvqD2p54Co1zStAkj7AoH1RDxx8Ys3LdwXtDSEkHHDQ/edit?usp=sharing

FOX 5 KRBK Family claims SPS Google Drive is storing personal information http://www.fox5krbk.com/story/38669634/family-claims-sps-google-drive-is-storing-personal-information#.W09T9C4KOr0.facebook

KOLR10 Parents of SPS Employee say Their Family was Hacked  https://www.ozarksfirst.com/news/parents-of-sps-employee-say-their-family-was-hacked/1181643101

Computer hacking, massive data breach revealed to Springfield Board, Attorney General reportedly investigating https://rturner229.blogspot.com/2018/05/computer-hacking-massive-data-breach.html

Springfield Public Schools 2017-18 School Handbook  https://isharesps.org/websitedoc/CommunityRelations/Student%20Handbooks/2017-2018%20handbook%20final%20complete.pdf

Springfield Public Schools 2018-19 School Handbook https://www.sps.org/Page/2623

How Google Took Over the Classroom https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/technology/google-education-chromebooks-schools.html

EFF: Google’s Student Tracking Isn’t Limited to Chrome Sync
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/12/googles-student-tracking-isnt-limited-chrome-sync

State Attorneys General are next headache for Google 2017 https://www.wired.com/story/state-attorneys-general-are-googles-next-headache/

37 Attorneys General settle against Google for Consumer tracking violations 2013 https://www.privacyandsecuritymatters.com/2013/11/google-pays-big-to-state-attorney-generals-for-improper-consumer-tracking/

YouTube is Improperly Collecting Children’s Data, Consumer Groups Say  https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/business/media/youtube-kids-ftc-complaint.html?smid=tw-share

Transparency and the Marketplace for Student Data
https://www.fordham.edu/info/23830/research/10517/transparency_and_the_marketplace_for_student_data/1

U.S. Education Dept. responds to TheDarkOverlord attacks with new cyber advisoryhttps://www.databreaches.net/u-s-education-dept-responds-to-thedarkoverlord-attacks-with-new-cyber-advisory/

Missouri Consumer Protection Law https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/identity-theft-data-security/identity-theft

New Student Data Breach Reporting Requirements in Missouri  https://k12cybersecure.com/blog/new-student-data-breach-reporting-requirements-in-missouri/

Missouri Student Privacy Bill  HB14-1490 as found on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Data System Management website.   https://dese.mo.gov/data-system-management/data-access-sharing-and-privacy

HB-1490:

(4) Develop a detailed data security plan that includes:

(a) Guidelines for authorizing access to the student data system and to individual student data including guidelines for authentication of authorized access;

(b) Privacy compliance standards;

(c) Privacy and security audits;

(d) Breach planning, notification and procedures;

(e) Data retention and disposition policies; and

(f) Data security policies including electronic, physical, and administrative safeguards, such as data encryption and training of employees;

 3. The department of elementary and secondary education shall not collect nor shall school districts report the following individual student data:

(1) Juvenile court delinquency records;

(2) Criminal records;

(3) Student biometric information;

(4) Student political affiliation; or

(5) Student religion.

4. Any rule or portion of a rule, as that term is defined in section 536.010, that is created under the authority delegated in this section shall become effective only if it complies with and is subject to all of the provisions of chapter 536 and, if applicable, section 536.028. This section and chapter 536 are nonseverable and if any of the powers vested with the general assembly pursuant to chapter 536 to review, to delay the effective date, or to disapprove and annul a rule are subsequently held unconstitutional, then the grant of rulemaking authority and any rule proposed or adopted after the effective date of this section shall be invalid and void.

5. Each violation of any provision of any rule promulgated pursuant to this section by an organization or entity other than a state agency, a school board, or an institution shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to one thousand dollars. A second violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to five thousand dollars. Any subsequent violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to ten thousand dollars. Each violation involving a different individual education record or a different individual student shall be considered a separate violation for purposes of civil penalties…

 

Missouri Student Privacy Bill  HB14-1490 as found on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Data System Management website.   https://dese.mo.gov/data-system-management/data-access-sharing-and-privacy

HB-1490:

…The department of elementary and secondary education shall develop criteria for the approval of research and data requests from state and local agencies, researchers working on behalf of the department, and the public
(3) Shall not, unless otherwise provided by law and authorized by policies adopted pursuant to this section, transfer personally identifiable student data;

(4) Develop a detailed data security plan that includes:

(a) Guidelines for authorizing access to the student data system and to individual student data including guidelines for authentication of authorized access;

(b) Privacy compliance standards;

(c) Privacy and security audits;

(d) Breach planning, notification and procedures;

(e) Data retention and disposition policies; and

(f) Data security policies including electronic, physical, and administrative safeguards, such as data encryption and training of employees;

 3. The department of elementary and secondary education shall not collect nor shall school districts report the following individual student data:

(1) Juvenile court delinquency records;

(2) Criminal records;

(3) Student biometric information;

(4) Student political affiliation; or

(5) Student religion.

4. Any rule or portion of a rule, as that term is defined in section 536.010, that is created under the authority delegated in this section shall become effective only if it complies with and is subject to all of the provisions of chapter 536 and, if applicable, section 536.028. This section and chapter 536 are nonseverable and if any of the powers vested with the general assembly pursuant to chapter 536 to review, to delay the effective date, or to disapprove and annul a rule are subsequently held unconstitutional, then the grant of rulemaking authority and any rule proposed or adopted after the effective date of this section shall be invalid and void.

5. Each violation of any provision of any rule promulgated pursuant to this section by an organization or entity other than a state agency, a school board, or an institution shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to one thousand dollars. A second violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to five thousand dollars. Any subsequent violation by the same organization or entity involving the education records and privacy of the same student shall be punishable by a civil penalty of up to ten thousand dollars. Each violation involving a different individual education record or a different individual student shall be considered a separate violation for purposes of civil penalties…

 

-Cheri Kiesecker

Seattle’s Naviance Opt-Out Go Round

merry go round

Unfortunately, what looked to be a simple step to empower parents, when implemented, morphed into a bureaucratic and technical barrier.

Much to the credit of Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors, an opt-out provision was included in the contract signed with Hobson to bring Naviance, a career and college online planning tool, into the district.

Unfortunately, what looked to be a simple step to empower parents, when implemented, morphed into a bureaucratic and technical barrier.

How?

First, parents were required to have an account with The Source, an online dashboard which gives parents access to their student’s grades and assignments.

Yes, I know the district wants every parent to have an account with The Source.

I also know the district has been ratcheting up the pressure to get holdouts to comply with the district’s vision.

But is using opt out as leverage to get parents to comply with the district’s wishes the message our board and superintendent want to send to parents?

The Second Barrier: No Option to Opt Out

If you happened to have a Source account, the second barrier you would encounter while trying to opt out of Naviance would be the option to opt out didn’t exist.

Really.

According to the district, the option to opt out of Naviance would be available under the “preferences” section of The Source — except it wasn’t.

After I spent two days trying to opt out via The Source and then writing a letter to the school board sharing my experience, this mysterious “technical glitch” was finally solved.

Hmm.

If you have to write the school board to exercise a basic parental right something is very wrong.

Why am I writing about this now?

The second window for parents to opt their students out from Naviance is September 4-12, 2018. This option is available for students in grades 8-12.

This time I expect no mysterious technical errors. Seriously, I find it baffling that in one of the tech hubs of the United States, no one thought to test to see if the opt-out option was functional before going live for the first opt-out window.

More Helpful Hints for Administrators Who Want to Do the Right Thing.

If the district is serious about empowering parents I would also expect other, less tech specific and rigid routes for parents to exercise their rights.

In a community centered district, the option to meet with a counselor instead of leaving this work up to a software program would also be a option.

Why would a parent want to opt their kids out? Please read Naviance Not so Transparent & Cooking Up Data Starting in Kindergarten?  and then make up your own mind.

Was the Bungled Naviance Opt-Out a Nudge?

My summer reading list included two books: Inside the Nudge Unit by David Halpern and Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism by Cass Sunstein.

Both books describe how behavioral economics was incorporated into policy making decisions in the U.K. under the Blair and Brown Administrations and in the United States during the Obama Administration.

Nudges are used by choice architects to encourage people to make some choices while avoiding others. For instance, choosing healthy food, getting your steps in, or insulating your attic.

One of the key elements of the nudge is making the preferred behavior easy. According to Inside the Nudge Unit (page 65), Richard Thaler, Chicago Economist, Nobel Prize Winner, and Choice Architect is credited as saying, “If you want to encourage something, make it easy.”

Choice architects use the concept of easy by eliminating friction or hassle in choosing the preferred behavior. This can be done by setting the default to the preferred choice (opt-in instead of opting-out) and elimination unnecessary steps.

Was opting out of Naviance easy?

No.

Could it have been?

Absolutely.

In my opinion, the requirement for a Source account, then finding an obscure choice box – buried at the bottom of the page – when it was available at all – sure felt like a nudge.

Here Comes the Hard Sell

Another disturbing development is once parents started expressing interest in opting out, the district suddenly decided to have community meetings during the second opt out window to help parents make an “informed choice” about opting out of Naviance.

Here’s my question: Why weren’t these meeting held for parents BEFORE the district purchased Naviance?

In a district that has trouble covering the basics and even paying its teachers and support staff enough to live in the city they work in, why would the district be so gosh darn over enthusiastic about investing $600,000 in something parents may not even want?

It makes me wonder.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should be Asking

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

monitors

I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night.

As we enter this new era of blended/hybrid classrooms, the clamor of ed-tech entrepreneurs pitching their digital curricula is getting to be truly overwhelming for parents. Rather than critiquing individual programs, I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night. I’d love to know what the response is.

1. Does the program require aggregating PII (personally identifiable information) from students to function properly? And even if it doesn’t REQUIRE it, does the program collect PII?

2. Does the program supplement face-to-face human instruction, or function as a substitute for it? How many minutes per day of face-to-face human instruction is being sacrificed or substituted? Will it lead to increased class sizes?

3. Does the program encourage active student-to-student engagement and face-to-face discussion? How does it accomplish this? Or does it create an environment where kids are often working in isolation with their devices? How much of the time are students working alone with their devices?

4. What are the associated costs with respect to your district’s budget (not just the program fees, but the devices required to operate it) and how will participation in the program affect other areas of the student experience? For example given the austerity budgets many districts are experiencing, implementing a 1:1 device program to support digital curriculum could impact a school’s ability to offer art instruction, employ a school librarian, or provide a full range of extracurricular activities.

5. How much screen time is involved, per day? per week? Consider the health impacts of machine-mediated teaching, especially on elementary school-age children.

6. Does the program offer “training” or “education?” There is a difference.

7. Will participating in the program expand student awareness of the larger world and allow them to engage with it on their own terms, or is it a way to channel students into a particular workforce sector?

8. Does the program monitor, tutor, or assess behavior and social-emotional aspects of learning?

9. Assuming the program is used during the school day, what is this program replacing? What aspect(s) of instruction formerly offered will be eliminated if this program is implemented?

10. How does adopting a blended/hybrid learning program, which has been developed by outside interests, impact local control and autonomy within your school and district?

What percentage of instructional time being turned over to outsourced online education results in your neighborhood school no longer fully being YOUR school? 10 percent? 25 percent? 40 percent?

Many ed-tech proponents like Reed Hastings are looking to remove local control of schools due to their “inefficiency.” Would adopting this program in your school further that agenda?

-Alison McDowell

What School Safety Reports Ignore: Reducing Class Size

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

gettyimages-918330158_custom-3f37851970bc440f28c09daf8102d8a39e3d0dfd-s900-c85

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

Over the summer we have seen a glut of school safety reports. Local, state, and federal agencies have written possible solutions they think will thwart future school violence. Some suggestions might be well-advised, but others have created concerns about questionable student surveillance. It’s difficult to believe any solutions will be successful if no one addresses class size.

In the July report from Homeland Security, “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence,” they report:

When establishing threat assessment capabilities within K-12 schools, keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker.

There have been male and female attackers, high-achieving students with good grades as well as poor performers. These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular (p.1).

Most teachers understand that middle and high school students experience hormonal changes and rapid physical growth. It’s sometimes difficult to separate mental health difficulties from general teenage angst, moodiness, impulsivity, or a variety of other developmental factors.

The omission in the report is lowering class size. Teachers who teach the same students, get to know their students. But this is difficult to do when teachers have over thirty students breezing in and out of their classrooms daily. In total, that’s 150 students!

The plan includes forming a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, establishing central reporting mechanisms, identifying behaviors of concern, defining the threshold for law enforcement intervention, identifying risk management strategies, promoting safe school climates, and providing training to stakeholders. It can also help schools mitigate threats from a variety of individuals, including students, employees, or parents.

The report’s Table of Contents emphasizes attention to a variety of issues concerning students in school including:

  • Motives
  • Communications
  • Inappropriate interests
  • Weapons access
  • Stressors
  • Emotional and developmental issues
  • Desperation or despair
  • Violence as an option
  • Concerned others
  • Capacity to carry out an attack
  • Planning Consistency
  • Protective factors

They mention school climate but refer to a 2014, U.S. Department of Education Report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (p. 26).

Smaller class sizes are still not addressed. Teachers are better able to identify unusual student behavior if they know their students. When classes are smaller school feels more like home.

In the movie The Edge of Seventeen, a troubled student confides in her history teacher when life’s problems seem overwhelming. Students need to know that adults and other students in their lives care. But it’s unrealistic to assume this can happen with unmanageable class sizes. Teachers need time to connect with students. Students need smaller class sizes to connect with each other.

School reformers fight against lowering class size. They demand proof that it raises test scores. But lowering class size involves other benefits that are far more important.

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

While reducing class size may seem expensive and unattainable, giving students some smaller classes should be a reachable goal. School and school district officials should work towards that end.

-Nancy Bailey

Stop Corporate Surveillance In Schools: A Movement Supporting People-Powered Classrooms (Webinars 9/11& 12/28 )

data-mining

Exciting news and updates!

Classrooms, Not Computers has found a new title for its campaign:

Stop Corporate Surveillance in Schools: A Movement Supporting People-Powered Classrooms Without Corporate Data Mined Students. 

Our mission is the same—to build a community-based movement to dismantle the corporate-driven policies and practices in schools that lead to violations of student privacy, surveillance of children and teachers, and corporate profiteering (we call this Education Reform 2.0).

You can check out the first call here:

https://m.mixcloud.com/Popular_Resistance/classrooms-not-computers-national-call-with-alison-mcdowell-and-morna-mcdermott/

We will be holding our second webinar on Sept 11 from 8:00-9:00pm EST.

This webinar will cover these three points:
1) Provide a brief overview of what Education Reform 2.0 is
2) How the SCSS campaign is working to eliminate corporate surveillance
3) How teachers, students, parents and members of communities can coordinate locally to be part of the campaign effort.

Our two-part strategy is to inform and then to develop sustainable, empowering actions centered on local community agency and control.

Who we are:
Morna McDermott is the SCSS campaign coordinator
Peggy Robertson is the SCSS information and communications coordinator
Michael Ippolito is the technical organizer and outreach
Alison McDowell is the lead researcher
Popular Resistance is the “parent” platform

Call times in Pacific and Eastern Time:

  • Tuesday, Sep 11, 2018 5pm PT / 8pm ET (1 hours 30 minutes)

  • Friday, Dec 28, 2018 5pm PT / 8pm ET (1 hours 30 minutes)

To register click here.

How Much Are Your Volunteer Hours Worth? Social Capital Scrip & the Financial-Tech Experiments with New Forms of Precarious Employment

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears. Original Title: “Social capital” scrip? Fin-tech experiments with new forms of precarious “employment

scrap yard

If you consider most activities are awarded 200 points, the per-hour rate of compensation is at most $2 (presuming the volunteer activity is only an hour) for the $25 gift card. The system is constructed so that the number of points needed to obtain a larger gift card is much, much higher. To receive a $200 gift card, a person must volunteer 750 hours, which equates to a payment of twenty-six CENTS per hour.

I write this piece as a follow up to my post on self sovereign identity on Blockchain, the distributed ledger system designed to capture flows of data, and information about our lives. Supporters of Blockchain tout its ability to secure “transactions” into permanent, immutable records of activities, earnings, payments, and debt. As we shift to a cashless society dominated by dynamic online payment systems, I see new forms of draconian labor compensation practices starting to emerge.

To set the stage for my examination of Union Capital Boston, I want to give you a bit of personal background. I work at a botanic garden surrounded by a mostly post-industrial landscape. It’s on the way to the airport, a stone’s throw from trash transfer plants. Residents live with terrible air quality due to the refineries across the river. For a number of years we were hopeful they’d be shut down, but then fracking revitalized the petroleum industry and they’re still going strong.

When I started my job fifteen years ago, an adjacent parking lot held hundreds of school buses. Most students in Philadelphia don’t take yellow buses to school, but the company must have serviced the field trip market and perhaps charter schools and private schools. About seven years ago, as standardized testing ramped up and education funding decreased, the era of field trips drew to a close. The bus company closed up shop, and within a year or so that lot was taken over by a scrap metal company.

Today sidewalks outside the scrap yard are littered with wrecked cars. There’s a constant flow of people in pick up trucks, with shopping carts, and grocery dollies carrying in old appliances, rebar and junk to make ends meet. We are on a trajectory of intentional scarcity and economic instability that has been picking up speed as technology and financialization take hold of our lives. It’s brutal. The image of a frail elderly gentleman attempting to navigate a top-heavy shopping cart across the treacherous trolley tracks remains indelibly printed on my mind and my heart.

Jobs with pensions, with regular hours, with benefits, with stability have been slipping away for decades. First there was temp work and consulting, later gigs and now micro-work. Some try to cobble together part time jobs, but barbarous algorithms, striving for leaner deployment of human labor, make it nearly impossible to piece together a workable schedule. Meanwhile, tech has stepped up to design platforms that meet industry’s need for “just in time” labor.

mTurk matches developers and businesses with “human intelligence” at a “lower cost than was previously possible.” Discrete tasks like identifying objects in photos or transcribing audio recordings are a poor substitute for a regular job. Now we have Uber, Insta-cart shoppers, Task Rabbits who vie to assemble Ikea bookshelves at the lowest possible wage. While this work may be less dangerous than scrap collection or being driven to exhaustion or death in an Amazon warehouse, it is still not a viable option for anyone who desires a stable life and to raise a family. The Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t even in full swing, but we’re pushing kids into “career connected” pathways even though we have no earthly idea what the future of “labor” will be other than that all signs indicate it won’t be good for most people.

Now I’d like to introduce you to Union Capital Boston, a new economic model that, were it ever to become widely adopted, would grossly undermine authentic, citizen-driven, grassroots community engagement. The non-profit organization based in Roxbury, MA was founded in 2014 by siblings Eric and Anna Leslie. The premise is that what the poor REALLY need is a system of rewards points that allow them to acquire small cash gift cards in exchange for volunteering in their communities. They also promote helping participants build resumes of volunteerism and activism, well-suited to being badged on Blockchain.

 

The Leslie’s system isn’t on Blockhain, but it does have ties to the impact investment community, is located in greater Boston where all of this is being incubated, is promoting interventions tied to established behavioral economic “nudging” strategies, and seems to be an experiment in activity tracking and alternate payment systems using  “virtual bank accounts.” In a sense, it is creating digital scrip where “good citizenship” is structured and rewarded by corporate-driven philanthropic interests and their complicit non-profit partners, all imposed upon the poor under the guise of benevolence. Membership fees that participating non-profit groups pay to become members of the program underwrite the cash payouts.

Prior to obtaining his Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Eric worked for nine years in education, first as a Teach for America Fellow and later as a teacher and school leader at KIPP charter schools in Philadelphia (note Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B-Lab, the entity that establishes social impact metrics, serves on the KIPP Philadelphia board). Anna has a Masters in Public Health, worked as an outreach coordinator for Americorps (an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service along with the Pay for Success Social Innovation Fund), did a short stint at KIPP and then went on do to research at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In 2015, the Knight Foundation granted Union Capital Boston $35,000 to “prototype a program and tools to reward citizens for getting civically involved, as part of an effort to accelerate and learn from early-stage media and information projects.” They received another $7,500 from the Boston Foundation. In 2016 they were granted $60,000 by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc. (Rockefeller, the force behind the Global Impact Investment Network).

The Knight Foundation is doing a lot of “civic” work in Philadelphia. I didn’t end up incorporating this plot line into my “Building Sanctuary” story, but in the back of my mind I had entertained the idea that all of these philanthropically-directed civic projects could be a means to identify possible change agents in advance and neutralize them. Maybe that’s too dark. I don’t know, but Knight is also funding Internet of Things grants for “smart” cities…

What Eric and Anna developed was an app and a system for earning “points” that could be exchanged monthly for cash gift cards in denominations from $25 to $200. Only certain activities earn points. They’ve had to scale back on compensation, so options that used to be rewarded are now just “celebrated.” See the image of the UCB Selfie guidelines below:

If you consider most activities are awarded 200 points, the per-hour rate of compensation is at most $2 (presuming the volunteer activity is only an hour) for the $25 gift card. The system is constructed so that the number of points needed to obtain a larger gift card is much, much higher. To receive a $200 gift card, a person must volunteer 750 hours, which equates to a payment of twenty-six CENTS per hour.

All of this activity, including geolocation data about the “volunteer,” is logged via the UCB app where it is aggregated in dashboards so communities can compete with one another for “civic engagement.” I’m sure all of this data will be associated with Rates of Return on Pay for Success contracting tied to education, healthcare, housing and financial inclusion. It is important to note that one of the activities rewarded is voter registration and participating in political activities.

Note their funders below:

I want to share an excerpt taken from Union Capital Boston’s Facebook page in March. It has since been removed. It describes the plight of a single mother who works full time in the Boston area, but cannot make ends meet due to the high cost of living and her low wages. How they proposes to solve her problem? With an app of course! With the help of UCB, this mother will spend whatever open hours she has outside of her work and family time “volunteering” to earn rewards so that she can buy a transit pass to get to work. Rather than addressing income inequality, which would be the radical solution, impact investors like the Leslies propose surveillance apps that proffer “assistance” with many, many strings attached. It is a solution that completely undermines the true spirit of community support and mutual aid. This “solution” is one structured around the financial motivations of impact-oriented non-profits and their investors.

Do I think Union Capital Boston is a program that is going to take off soon? No, I actually don’t. They have about a thousand members now. What I think is that this program is an incubator for bigger projects down the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if the policy folks at Harvard and the digital economy folks at MIT are getting regular updates from Eric and Anna. The end game with digital identity and payment systems is a bit farther out on the horizon. But global financial tech needs these test cases, and they need to start normalizing new and ever more abusive alternate labor payment systems. They need to lay the groundwork for the successor to “micro-work.” It appears some are betting on “social capital scrip” being the next big thing, maybe with a side of Sesame Credit factored into dynamic pricing just to keep things interesting.

Excerpt pulled from the UCB Facebook Page March 2018:

“In every low-income community there are vast amounts of human and social capital, and wonderful organizations trying to utilize those resources to make improvements. These resources and organizations are often disorganized, disconnected, and inefficient. Union Capital Boston (UCB) aims to connect people with these resources in low-income communities and provide rewards in order to overcome the poverty trap.

“I’m stuck!” laments Nadia, who lives in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury with her three children. Although she works full time, Nadia’s $28,000 annual salary is barely more than half of the median family income in Boston ($52,000), and more importantly, insufficient to meet the city’s high cost of living. Like many in her community, she does not want to depend on government assistance but has to use SNAP benefits and Section 8 housing to make ends meet.

By joining UCB, Nadia will earn points-tracked by swiping a QR code on her smartphone or keychain-for doing things that benefit both her her family and her community. For example, Nadia picks up her children from school on a Friday and earns 100 UCB points by volunteer at their afterschool program. On the way home, Nadia shops at the local grocery store and received 50 UCB points for her purchase. On Saturday, Nadia takes her children to the neighborhood playground and joins in a clean up earning another 100 UCB points. Nadia now has earned 250 points in her UCB Virtual Bank account. She logs into the UCB Virtual Store and uses her points to purchase a monthly MBTA pass that she needs to commute to work-all from giving back and being loyal to her community.

UCB plans to partner with schools, businesses, and civic groups that will benefit from increased participation and business. Ultimately, these institutions will pay fees to UCB in exchange for increased patronage from and improved outcomes for UCB members. UCB will use capital garnered from these fees to purchase and distribute rewards, including public transportation passes, health care coverage, home loan assistance, and college tuition payments.

The concept of customer rewards is not new, but the goal of organizing loyalty in a low-income community is a new endeavor that we believe will yield important benefits based on recent academic studies. According to research by Canada’s Knowledge Development Centre, key motivations for low-income volunteers like Nadia include desire for personal and professional development, and contribution to one’s community. Furthermore, Mark Rosenbaum in the Journal of Services Marketing (Vol. 19, Iss: 4, 2005) demonstrates that participation greatly increased when customer loyalty programs were communally-based, rather than just financially motivated, because individuals highly valued connecting with their community. Robert Putnam’s research demonstrates that this community loyalty improves social capital, which is a key component for breaking out of poverty. The benefit of a low-income community rewards program is therefore two-fold: create opportunities for individuals and families, while simultaneously improve the surrounding community.”

Below is a screen shot of their May 2018 community participation dashboard. The behavioral economists sure do love their leader boards. So much better to have people pitted against against one in competition than organizing together, eh?

-Alison McDowell

Manufacturing Consent: How to Engineer an Education Activist

Statue of Liberty in Disgust

If social media platforms can predict your behavior, advocacy groups can buy access to it. They also have the power to manipulate your actions – and good intentions –  to serve their own agenda.

Customer tracking, discriminatory pricing (think airlines), and behavioral design are mature disciplines in retail marketing and the gambling industry.

Social media pulls all of these practices together by collecting users’ personal information, repackaging this data to appeal to marketers, and then selling access to the highest bidder.

It’s a complete loop of commercialized personalization.

In order to keep the cycle going: Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms use likes, retweets, and comments to keep their users engaged and eager to volunteer even more information. These hooks are similar to the tricks used to keep gamblers at the slots and in their seats.

Alison McDowel had this to say about adaptive learning systems:

My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

What’s really different about the commercial personalization we experience on social media and the adaptive learning systems many fear are coming to public education under the guise of personalized learning?

Surveillance Capitalism and the Dawn of Nudge Activism

A popular dismissal of the encroaching surveillance state is ‘who cares if the government, commercial interests, or any other third party, has access to my personal information. I have nothing to hide.’

It’s a comforting argument, but misses the point. It’s not the data that’s the problem, but what can be done with it.

One piece of data could be harmless, but if it’s pooled with a millions of other bits and run through an algorithm, suddenly this information has the power to predicted your behavior.

If corporations can predict what you’re going to do next, they can also put a price on it, trade it, and build a whole market around it.

Von Shoshana Zuboff calls this evolution in big data mediated economics surveillance capitalism:

It’s now clear that this shift in the use of behavioral data was an historic turning point. Behavioral data that were once discarded or ignored were rediscovered as what I call behavioral surplus. Google’s dramatic success in “matching” ads to pages revealed the transformational value of this behavioral surplus as a means of generating revenue and ultimately turning investment into capital. Behavioral surplus was the game-changing zero-cost asset that could be diverted from service improvement toward a genuine market exchange. Key to this formula, however, is the fact that this new market exchange was not an exchange with users but rather with other companies who understood how to make money from bets on users’ future behavior. In this new context, users were no longer an end-in-themselves.  Instead they became a means to profits in  a new kind of marketplace in which users are neither buyers nor sellers nor products.  Users are the source of free raw material that feeds a new kind of manufacturing process.

Government is equally excited to get in on the predictive capabilities of behavioral surplus. Pay for Success – also known as social impact bonds – is all about creating new opportunities for Wall Street to bet on future behaviors as they pertain to education, policing, incarceration, and healthcare.

Engineering an Education Activist

If social media platforms can predict your behavior, advocacy groups can buy access to it. They also have the power to manipulate your actions – and good intentions –  to serve their own agenda.

Advocacy in this context loses its traditional meaning. Instead, it becomes a data driven exercise aimed at targeting individuals sympathetic to an organization’s issue and then encouraging these targets to repeat the campaign’s message over and over again throughout their social network(s).

Independent thought is discouraged. What’s important is your willingness to repeat the designated message.

In 2014, The Excellent Schools Now coalition, funded by Stand for Children and the League of Education Voters, launched a media advocacy campaign to convince the public to support a college and career ready diploma for Washington State.  (Excellent Schools Now – Final Report)

Who Would Make a Good Education Activist?

Feedback from social media provided the Excellent Schools Now coalition with in depth knowledge of who would be the best individuals to target as education advocates.

Desirable over-arching characteristics were: engagement in traditionally lefty-leaning issues, strong personal identification with the Democratic Party, and actively engaged with the issues they care about.

At a more granular level these individuals cared about civil liberties, transportation, gender and racial equality, alternative energy, gun control and consistently vote for Democrats.

 

Top Issues

 

Political Affiliation

 

Engagement Activities

Where’s the Nudge?

All of these individuals were over indexed in actively working on issues they care about – sharing their thoughts publicly, online, and in political articles.

The nudge would come from making the Excellent Schools Now message so attractive to potential targets that they would be unable to resist sharing it. This could be done by emphasizing the message’s connection to an admired member of the Democratic Party who also happens to shares the target’s individual sense of justice or equality.

 How to Shut Down Activism if it Gets Out of Hand

What happens when activists start thinking for themselves and no longer need an advocacy group to lead the way?

Don’t worry, the public relations firm West Third Group clearly lays out the time tested plan used to keep activists in their place and repeating the right messages.

Four types of activists — radicals, opportunists, idealists and realists — define most us-vs.-them public battles. Whether the issue is political, cultural or personal, dealing with movements antagonistic to your efforts involves dividing the different types, using different tactics for each group.

  • Isolate the radicals.
  • Get the opportunists on the payroll if needed, or ignore them.
  • Cultivate/educate the idealists and convert them to realists.
  • Co-opt the realists into agreeing to industry.

 

Repeating Messages on Social Media, Is That All There Is?

Jodi Dean has an interesting take on communicative capitalism.

In the United States today, however, they don’t, or, less bluntly put, there is a significant disconnect between politics circulating as content and official politics.  Today, the circulation of content in the dense, intensive networks of global communications relieves top-level actors (corporate, institutional, and governmental) from the obligation to respond. Rather than responding to messages sent by activists and critics, they counter with their own contributions to the circulating flow of communications, hoping that sufficient volume (whether in terms of number of contributions or the spectacular nature of a contribution) will give their contributions dominance or stickiness.  Instead of engaged debates, instead of contestations employing common terms, points of reference, or demarcated frontiers, we confront a multiplication of resistances and assertions so extensive that it hinders the formation of strong counter-hegemonies. The proliferation, distribution, acceleration, and intensification of communicative access and opportunity, far from enhancing democratic governance or resistance, results in precisely the opposite, the post-political formation of communicative capitalism.

Maybe technology isn’t designed to save us.

While we’re burning up our time tweeting, liking, and commenting, the hard work of organizing in the real world is left for another day.

Maybe that’s whole point.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

-Carolyn Leith

 

Blockchain, Self-Sovereign Identity, and Selling Off Humanity

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

facial recognition
refugee iris scans

Digital currency payments validated with biometric information like iris scans have been prototyped using refugee populations over the past few years (see the featured image). While the technology that undergirds it is complex, programmers are developing accessible interfaces that make using digital currency as easy as opening an app and verifying a transaction, financial or otherwise, with a thumbprint or facial-recognition scan.

It’s time activists began to develop a working knowledge of Blockchain and self-sovereign digital identity, because these are the mechanisms that will drive the transition to IoT monitoring for the purposes of Pay for Success deal evaluation. I created a slide share about Blockchain as part of a “Smart Cities” post I wrote last year, which can be accessed here if it helps to have visuals.

 

Blockchain Slideshare

 

The technology became public in 2008 when Santoshi Nakamoto published the whitepaper “Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System.” No one knows who Nakamoto actually is. Over the past decade Bitcoin digital currency has generated significant buzz, yet many believe Blockchain will be even more transformative, as big as or bigger than the rise of the Internet.

MIT is heavily involved in Blockchain research and development through its Digital Currency Initiative, housed within the MIT Media Lab. The program is led by Neha Nerula, formerly of Google who holds a PhD from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Nerula served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Blockchain from 2016-2017. Its faculty advisor, Simon Johnson, co-founded the Sloan School’s Global Entrepreneurship Lab and worked as chief economist for the International Monetary fund.

In an April 2018 article, “In Blockchain We Trust,” Michael Casey, global economics professor, goes into detail regarding the use of Blockchain to create “value” in virtual worlds by securing ownership of digital assets. As we kill off the planet and begin spending more and more time in online environments, there’s cold comfort knowing the forces of global monopoly capital are rapidly colonizing digital worlds, too.

Blockchain is the structure that underpins crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, but it’s much more than that. In its simplest terms, it’s a ledger that keeps track of transactions, all kinds of transactions that may or may not have a financial component. Unlike a dusty accounting ledger or its modern equivalent, something like Quick Books, data stored on Blockchain is distributed. This means multiple exact copies of the same encrypted data live on peer-to-peer networked computers, which supposedly makes it more secure. If one node goes down the information is not lost. It is portrayed as the ultimate “permanent record.”

Data stored on Blockchain is “verified” by computers that use a consensus process, competing to solve cryptographic puzzles in exchange for Bitcoin payments. This cryptographic authentication injects “trust” into transactions, enabling security without the need of a third party to ensure everyone is on the up and up. Once data is locked into Blockchain, promoters of the technology say it is immutable, unchangeable. Although, as with everything coded, there are still vulnerabilities and hacks as discussed in this MIT Technology Review article “How secure is blockchain really?”

It may be some indication of the level of actual “trust” developers have in blockchain that the Chamber of Digital Commerce and Coin Center created the Blockchain Alliance in the fall of 2015 to “pro-actively engage” with regulatory and law enforcement agencies. In the United States, government partners include: DEA, DHS, DOJ, FBI, US Marshal Service, US Secret Service, ICE/HSI, CBP, IRS-Criminal Investigation, FDA, US Postal Inspection, Commidity and Futures Trading Commission, SEC, FTC, FDIC, as well Attorney General’s Offices in California, Texas, New York, and Ulster County. Seems they have some rather powerful partners.

 

 

 

Some Blockchains are public, others are private. Data stored on private chains can be made accessible using a combination of matched public and private “keys.” A public key is used to verify and encrypt data. It is public and can be known by anyone. A private key decrypts data that has been encrypted with its paired public key. These keys consist of extremely long sets of characters, which can be shortened to a public key fingerprint or associated with biometric information via a biocryptic process.

Digital currency payments validated with biometric information like iris scans have been prototyped using refugee populations over the past few years (see the featured image). While the technology that undergirds it is complex, programmers are developing accessible interfaces that make using digital currency as easy as opening an app and verifying a transaction, financial or otherwise, with a thumbprint or facial-recognition scan.

Beyond their capacity to hold tokenized digital currencies, e-wallets are being used to hold all sorts of other information. They are touted as an effective means to manage the continuous flows of activity, money, and data that surround us. In the fall of 2016, the state of Illinois; home to many Pay for Success players including: James Heckman, JB Pritzker, Rahm Emmanuel, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (trading financial and commodity derivatives), charged a Blockchain Taskforce with examining ways to use the technology to promote economic development in the state and “improve record keeping.” Their final report, issued in January, is available here. Below is a map of the players involved. Click here for the interactive version.

Included in the report is an info-graphic I have shared repeatedly. It depicts public welfare food benefits being put on Blockchain with “healthy” eating nudges built into the mechanics. Memorize this. Internalize it. This how they will deploy computer code to control the growing masses of the poor. See Carolyn Leith’s great post “Do you believe Universal Basic Income will save society? Think again.” Putting “friction” in the system is not limited to SNAP benefits. Similarly coded nudges could just as easily be inserted into “choice” options around education savings accounts, healthcare access, and housing vouchers. How about Sesame Credit? It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine citizen scoring being embedded into these systems as well.

In the fall of 2017, Illinois announced a partnership with Evernym, a Utah-based company that develops digital identity solutions. They plan to put birth certificates on Blockchain. Increasing attention is being paid to the field of self-sovereign identity. The premise, if you go along with it, is that you no longer need a centralized authority to recognize your identity. A person can simply build up a digital identity through recorded transactions stored on Blockchain. Un-housed people in major cities are being scooped up as test subjects.

Austin has undertaken such a program with financial support from Bloomberg “What Works Cities” Philanthropies. This population is also one that requires significant support, making them prime candidates for Pay for Success interventions. Of course the impact of the interventions must be able to be tracked and measured, because this is an investment market after all. Self-sovereign identity makes to possible to aggregate all of that data, streamlining deal assessment. Fummi is one app in development to support such programs.

Many “smart” cities are establishing municipal ID programs, touted as a “solution” for people unable to obtain state-issued identification. It sounds good, but I can’t help but wonder if the plan is to convert these programs to self-sovereign identity apps on Blockchain in the not too distant future. Oakland’s program links to a debit card, so there is precedent for tying these IDs into digital payment systems.

Last fall the city of Philadelphia issued a Request for Proposals for the development of a municipal ID program, though it appears to have since been cancelled. The RFP expressed a desire to incorporate tracking other public services, including library access and health records, onto the card. They also wanted to build in the ability to share data with private and non-profit partner organizations via magnetized strips. See screenshot below or read the full RFP here.

This link from the Worldwide Web Consortium discusses use of DIDs or Decentralized Identifiers as key element of this new form of identity management. Of course there are downsides to efficient identity systems. During a panel at the Advanced Digital Identity Summit last fall around  timestamp 26:00, Bitcoin entrepreneur Andreas Atonopolous, cautioned the audience that digital identity systems could pose risks, especially for populations living under authoritarian regimes where governments may use digital methods to control how people interact with society.

Antonopolous described conversations he’d had in places like Argentina where people expressed serious reservations about these systems, because their government had a history of throwing dissidents out of aircraft. If private keys are tied to biometric markers, it should be expected that people will at some point be compelled by authorities to open access to their data-using force to attain a face or fingerprint scan against someone’s will. Or even if brute force were not used, to withhold access to needed services, until the person has no other choice but to submit.

Other pilot programs underway in Illinois include land titling in Cook County, academic credentialing at the University of Illinois, logging green energy task credits, and state licensing for healthcare providers. That last one is interesting; a toe in the water, perhaps, to begin shifting Medicaid onto Blockchain?

The day after I wrote “Minding our Health: Digital Nudge Part Two,” I discovered a 2016 whitepaper by Institute for the Future (creator of “Learning is Earning” and edu-blocks) “A Blockchain Profile for Medicaid Applicants and Recipients.” The paper pitches the idea of creating Blockchain smart contracts to devise “smart” health profiles that would allow AI-mediated sale of healthcare insurance and IoT monitoring of prescriptions and patient compliance. Pretty overwhelming if you consider that IFTF also imagines a future where AI assistants are going to help people navigate their lifelong-learning/human capital management plans.

I have a nagging fear we’re looking at a future where Universal Basic Income stipends proffer subsistence, just enough to keep the masses alive and compel them to sell their data for the most modest luxuries, maybe a chocolate bar. Platforms are being developed right now that encourage the widespread sale of personal data for the purposes of AI development. Access to data is granted using pseudonymous protocols that permit it to be queried without the initiator of the query knowing the actual identity of the person whose data is involved. Proponents of big-data government really want us to believe it’s ok to allow our personal data to be poured into massive data lakes as long as it remains anonymized. Check out Ocean ProtocolEnigma, and datum. I’d love to hear what you think.

Personally, I think they’re aiming to use our digital exhaust to build HAL.

 

-Alison McDowell

Minding Our Health: The Nudge, Part Two

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Center for Health Incentives

The topic of the hearing was reducing healthcare expenditures on chronic illness, which they claimed would amount of hundreds of billions of dollars in “savings.” Given the amount of money on the table, it seems clear this sector is ripe for outsourced, outcomes-based contracts that will deploy emerging technologies like health care wearables. Six measures of good health were identified during testimony: blood pressure, cholesterol level, body mass index, blood sugar, smoking status and either the ability to meet the physical requirements of your job (or on this one the Cleveland Clinic person said unmanaged stress.)

This piece expands upon my prior post about digital nudging and behavioral economics. Disruption in the healthcare industry mirrors the ed-tech takeover that is well underway in public education. If you explore the webpage for Catalyst, the innovation PR outlet for the New England Journal of Medicine (remember, social impact policy makers and many investors are based in Boston), you’ll notice the language being used to direct health care providers towards big-data, tech-centered solutions is eerily similar to the language being used on educators and school administrators.

The FCC’s “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan” of 2010 outlined seven “national purposes” for broadband expansion. Healthcare and education were the first two topics covered in that report. Both chapters focus on “unlocking the value of data.” Who will the big winners be as we further digitize our lives? My assessment is the telecommunications industry and national security/police state will come out on top. Locally, Comcast and Verizon are key players with interests in both sectors.

Education and healthcare fall under the purview of Lamar Alexander’s Senate HELP (health, education, labor and pensions) Committee, so the similarities in tactics shouldn’t come as a surprise. In researching the $100 million federal Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA) launch I attended in Washington, DC last month, I noticed one of the Republican Senators who presented, Todd Young of Indiana, had attended the Booth School of Business MBA program at the University of Chicago. Recent Nobel Prize winner in behavioral economics Richard Thaler teaches there, and I was curious to see if Thaler’s thinking had influenced Young. Interactive version of Young’s map here.

I located C-SPAN coverage of a Senate hearing on healthy lifestyle choices, which Young participated in on October 19, 2017 (transcript follows). Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray, who inserted Pay for Success provisions into ESSA, chaired that hearing. Behavioral economics was discussed extensively. Young’s remarks start at timestamp 34:00.

https://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?435978-1/senate-panel-explores-healthy-lifestyle-choices

The topic of the hearing was reducing healthcare expenditures on chronic illness, which they claimed would amount of hundreds of billions of dollars in “savings.” Given the amount of money on the table, it seems clear this sector is ripe for outsourced, outcomes-based contracts that will deploy emerging technologies like health care wearables. Six measures of good health were identified during testimony: blood pressure, cholesterol level, body mass index, blood sugar, smoking status and either the ability to meet the physical requirements of your job (or on this one the Cleveland Clinic person said unmanaged stress.)

The claim was that if an insured person met four of the six measures, saw a doctor regularly, and had their vaccinations up to date they would avoid chronic illness 80% of the time. Of course the conversation was entirely structured around individual “choice” rather than economic and racial systems that make it difficult for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

This neoliberal approach presumes people have free time for regular exercise, not considering they may be cobbling together several gigs to make ends meet. It presumes the availability of healthy food choices, when many black and brown communities are food deserts with limited access to fresh produce. It presumes the stress in people’s lives can be managed through medicalized interventions and does not address root causes of stress in communities steeped in trauma. It presumes ready access to a primary care physician in one’s community.

It is a gross simplification to push responsibility for chronic health conditions solely onto the individual, giving a free pass to social systems designed to harm large subsets of our communities. By adopting a data-driven approach to health outcomes, as would seem to be the case with the above six measures (check a box health), the federal government and health care systems appear to be setting health care consumers up to become vehicles for data generation in ways that are very much like what is happening to public education students forced to access instruction via digital devices. Imagine standards-based grading, but with health measures.

The people who provided testimony at the October 19 hearing included Steve Byrd, former CEO of Safeway, now at Byrd Health; Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic; David Asch Director of the Wharton School’s Center for Health Care Innovation; and Jennifer Mathis of the Baselon Center for Mental Health Law and representing the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. Mathis was the only one who testified strongly on behalf of the rights of the insured to withhold personal information and was very concerned about the discriminatory nature of incentivized medical insurance programs, particular with regards to people with disabilities.

In his testimony, David Asch, director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation based in the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, described effective designs for health incentive programs, noting that concerns about losing money were more effective from the insurer’s point of view that interest in receiving financial rewards. For that reason Asch said taking away money from someone should be considered before offering a reward. Asch also noted that effective programs included emotional engagement, frequent rewards (tweaked to people’s psychological foibles to they didn’t have to be too large), contests and social norming, including the use of public leader boards.

The date of the hearing is interesting, because right around the same time, public employees (including the teachers) of West Virginia were facing dramatic changes to their insurance plans. These changes included compulsory participation in Go365 an app-based health incentive program that imposed completion of intrusive surveys, wearing a fit bit (if you didn’t there was a $25 fee imposed each month), and meeting a certain step count per day. I include a transcription of testimony from one of these teachers, Brandon Wolford, given at this spring’s Labor Notes conference at the end of this post.

The incorporation of mHealth (mobile health) technologies is a key element of the healthcare disruption process. Increasingly, wearable technologies will transmit real-time data, surveilling the bodies of the insured. mHealth solutions are being built into healthcare protocols, so private investors will be able to track which treatments offer “high-value care.” The use of wearables and health apps also permits corporate health systems to insert digital “nudges” derived from calculated behavioral economic design, into the care provided, and monitor which patients comply, and which do not.

At the moment, the tech industry is working intently to integrate Blockchain technology and Internet of Things sensors like fit bits and health apps on smartphones. Many anticipate Blockchain will become a tool for securing IoT transmissions, enabling the creation of comprehensive and supposedly immutable health data logs, which could be key to mHealth expansion. Last summer the Medical Society of Delaware, a state that touts itself as a Blockchain innovator, announced a partnership with Symbiont, to develop healthcare records on Blockchain. Symbiont’s website claims it is the “market-leading smart contracts platform for institutional applications of Blockchain technology.” The company’s initial seed round of funding took place in 2014 with a second round raising an additional $15 million in May 2017 according to their Crunchbase profile.

The July/August 2018 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine for the University of Pennsylvania, features Blockchain as its cover story, “Blockchain Fever.” The extensive article outlines use cases being considered for Blockchain deployment, including plans by a recent Wharton graduate to develop an application that would certify interactions between healthcare agencies and Medicare/Medicaid recipients for reimbursement. The University of Pennsylvania Health System is deep into innovative technologies. David Asch, director of Penn’s Center for Health Innovation, testified at the October 2017 hearing. The Penn Medicine integrated health system was created in 2001 by former UPenn president Judith Rodin in collaboration with Comcast Executive David Cohen. Rodin went on to head the Rockefeller Foundation, and in the years that followed the foundation spearheaded the creation of the Global Impact Investment Network. GIIN fostered growth of the social impact investing sector, at the same time healthcare began to transition away from a pay-for-service reimbursement towards a value-based model predicated on outcomes met.

Below is a relationship map showing the University of Pennsylvania’s involvement in “innovative” healthcare delivery, which I believe stems from Rodin and Cohen’s connections to Comcast. It is important to note that the Center for Health Innovations claims to have the first “nudge unit” embedded within a health system. Asch is an employee of Wharton, and Wharton is leading initiatives in people analytics, behavior change via tech, and Blockchain technologies. Interactive version of the map here.

New types of employer-based health insurance systems have started to emerge over the past six months. Based on this New York Times article, it seems employees of Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway will have a front row seat as these technological manipulations unfold. Last fall Sidewalk Labs, the “smart cities” initiative of Alphabet (parent company of Google), announced an expansion into managed healthcare. City Block(read Blockchain) will tackle “urban health” and populations with “complex health needs.”

Reading between the lines, it appears Alphabet aims to use poor black and brown communities that have experienced generations of trauma as profit centers. Structural racism has created a massive build up of negative health outcomes over generations. Now, with innovative financial and technological infrastructures being rapidly put into place, these communities are highly vulnerable. Ever wonder why ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) has scores? I expect those numbers are about to be fed into predictive profiles guiding social investment impact metrics.

How convenient that the “smart city” solutions Sidewalk Labs is likely to promote will come with IoT sensors embedded in public spaces. How convenient that healthcare accelerators are developing emerging technologies to track patient compliance down to IoT enabled pill bottle caps; sensors that allow corporate and government interests to track a person’s actions with precision, while assessing their health metrics in excruciatingly profitable detail. Technology platforms are central to City Block’s healthcare program. Many services will take place online, including behavioral health interventions, with the aim of consolidating as much data as possible to build predictive profiles of individuals and facilitate the evaluation of impact investing deals.

Interesting aside, I have two friends who had emergency room visits at Jefferson Hospital this summer and were “seen” by doctors on a screen with an in-room facilitator wielding a camera for examination purposes. This is in a major East Coast city served by numerous research hospitals. Philadelphia is not Alaska. Where is that data going? Where were those doctors anyway?

As these surveillance technologies move full steam ahead, it would be wise for progressive voices invested in the “healthcare for all” conversation to begin considering strategies to address the serious ethical concerns surrounding wearable technologies, tele-health / tele-therapy, and value-based patient healthcare contracting. If guardrails are not put in place that guarantee humane delivery of care without data profiling, the medical establishment may very well be hijacked by global fin-tech interests.

As someone who values the essence of the platform put forward by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, I worry supporters may not understand that several key elements of her platform have already been identified as growth sectors for Pay for Success. If public education, healthcare, housing and justice reform are channeled by global financial interests into outsourced-based contracts tied to Internet of Things tracking, we will end up in an even worse place than we are now. So, if you care about progressive causes, please, please get up to speed on these technological developments. You can be sure ALEC already has, and remember that Alibaba (Sesame Credit) joined in December. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine patient rating systems regulating healthcare access down the road if we’re not careful.

Senator Todd Young was the first person to respond to witness testimony during the hearing, and his line of questioning revealed he is a strong advocate of Thaler’s “nudge” strategies. The “nudge” is a key feature of “what works” “Moneyball” government that deploys austerity to push outsourcing and data-driven “solutions” that embrace digital platforms that will gather the data required prove “impact” and reap financial returns. See this related post from fellow researcher Carolyn Leith “A Close Reading of Moneyball for Government and Why You Should Be Worried.”

Young asked David Asch of Wharton’s Center for Innovative Health, what employers could learn from behavioral economists? He also posed several specific suggestions that would scale such programs within the federal government namely: embedding units charged with experimenting with behavioral economics into federal government programs; developing a clearinghouse of best practices; and bringing in behavioral scientists into the Congressional Budget Office.

Asch, a doctor employed by the Wharton Business School, runs UPenn’s Center for Health Care Innovation created in 2011 to test and implement “new strategies to reimagine health care delivery for dramatically better VALUE and patient OUTCOMES” (emphasis added). The 28,000-foot facility houses simulation learning labs and an accelerator where research on use of “smart” hospital systems, social media, and emerging technologies in healthcare is conducted. The accelerator aims to rapidly prototype and scale “high impact solutions,” read Pay for Success.

Besides the Acceleration Lab, the Center also contains the Nudge Unit, which according to their website is the world’s first behavioral design team embedded within a health system. The goal of the unit is to “steer medical decision making towards HIGHER VALUE and improved patient outcomes (emphasis added).” Sample healthcare nudges include embedded prompts in digital platforms (for screenings), changing default settings (to generic prescriptions), framing information provided to clinicians (not sure what this means), and framing financial incentives as a loss.

This is longer than intended and hopefully provides some food for thought. This life datifying impact investing machine we are up against isn’t just coming for public education; it’s coming for ALL human service. We need to begin to understand the depth and breadth of this threat. I’m still mulling over a lot of this myself, and my knowledge base in healthcare is much shallower than my expertise in education. I’d love to hear what folks think in the comments or if you know of others writing on blockchain and IoT in medicine with a critical lens send me some links. Below are transcripts from West Virginia teacher Brandon Wolford about Go365 followed by the Senator Young / David Asch hearing exchange.

-Alison McDowell

Go365 Transcript

Brandon Wolford, West Virginia Teacher: When I first began teaching in 2012 the insurance, in my opinion, was excellent, because I had worked for one year in Kentucky and I had known that the premiums were, although they were being paid five to seven thousand more than we were, they still had to pay much more for their insurance. So it balanced out. However, after the first year or two I was there, that was when they started coming after us with the tax on our insurance. First of all the premiums, we started to see slight increases for one, and another was they started to enforce this “Healthy Tomorrows” policy.

So, the next thing you know, we get a paper in the mail that says, you know, you have go to the doctor by such and such a date. It must be reported. Your blood glucose levels must be at a certain amount. Your waist size must be a certain amount, and if it is not, if you don’t meet all of these stipulations then you get a $500 penalty on your out-of-pocket deductible. So, luckily for me, I eat everything I want, but I was healthy. My wife on the other hand, who eats much better than I do, salads at every meal, has high cholesterol, so she gets that $500 slapped on her just like that.

Okay so, that was how they started out. In the mean time, we have been filling these out for a year or two, and they keep saying you know you have to go back each year and be checked. And then comes the event that awoke the sleeping giants. The PEIA Board, which is the Public Employee Insurance Agency that represents the state of West Virginia, they, um it’s just a board of four to five individuals that are appointed by the governor, they are not elected. They have no one they answer to; they just come up with these things on their own.

So they come to us and they say we’re raising your premiums. This was somewhere between November and December of last year. We’re raising your premiums. You’re going to need to be enrolled in a program called Go365, which means that you have to wear a fit bit, as well record all of your steps. You have to check in with them, and it included private questions like how much sexual activity do you perform, and is it vigorous? All of these things that they wanted us to report on our personal lives, and that was all included. In addition to that we had to report all of those things, and if we refused to wear that fit bit and record all of our steps, or if we didn’t make our steps, we were going to be charged an additional $25 per month.

So, when everyone sees this along with the increased premiums, then they’ve also introduced a couple more bills to go along with that, because the PEIA Board, they have the final say. Whatever they do, it’s not voted upon by the legislature. It’s basically just law, once they decide it. But in the meantime our legislature was presenting these bills. We were currently on a plan of sixty, uh excuse me, eighty/twenty we were paying out of pocket. Well, they had proposed a bill that would double that and make us pay sixty/forty.

So, they presented that along with charter school bills and a couple of other things that were just direct attacks on us. We had been going by a process of seniority for several years; and they also introduced a bill to eliminate seniority to where it was up to the superintendent whether or not you got to stay in your position. It was up to the principal and regardless if you were there thirty years or you were there for your first or your second year…they were trying to tell us you know, it’s just up to your principal to decide. The superintendent decides. They don’t want you to go, you’ve been there for thirty years and you have a masters degree plus forty-five hours, you’re gone. It’s up to them. Your seniority no longer matters. So those things combined with the insurance is actually what got things going in our state.

Excerpted Testimony Healthy Lifestyle Choices, Senate HELP Committee 10/19/17

Lamar Alexander: We’ll now have a round of five-minute questions. We’ll start with Senator Young.

Senator Todd Young: Thank you Chairman. I’m very excited about this hearing, because I know a number of our witnesses have discussed in their testimonies behavioral economics and behavioral decision-making. I think it’s really important that we as policy makers incorporate how people really behave. Not according to an economist per se, or according to other policy experts, but based on observed behaviors. Often times we behave in ways that we don’t intend to. It leads us to results that we don’t want to end up in.

So, Mr. Asch, I’ll start with you, with your expertise in this area. You’ve indicated behavioral economics is being used to help doctors and patients make better decisions and you see opportunities for employers to help Americans change their behaviors in ways they want from tobacco mitigation to losing weight to managing blood pressure and you indicate those changes are much less likely to come from typical premium-based financial incentives and much more likely to come from approaches that reflect the underlying psychology of how people make decisions, encouraged by frequent rewards, emotional engagement, contests, and social acceptance and so forth. And you said in your verbal testimony you haven’t seen much of this new knowledge applied effectively by employers, but there’s no reason why it cannot be. So, my question for you sir is what might employers learn from behavioral economists. Just in summary fashion.

David Asch, Wharton Center for Health Care Innovation: Sure. Thank you senator. I think I’ll start by saying there is a misunderstanding often about behavioral economics and health. Many people believe that if you use financial incentives to change behavior you’re engaged in behavioral economics, and I would say no, that’s just economics. It becomes behavioral economic when you use an understanding of our little psychological foibles and pitfalls to sort of supercharge the incentives and make them more potent so that you don’t have to use incentives that are so large.

So I think that there are a variety of approaches that come from behavioral economics that can be applied in employment setting and elsewhere. I mentioned one, which is capitalizing on the notion that losses looms larger than gains, might be a new way to structure financial incentives in the employment setting in ways that might make it more potent and more palatable and easier for all employees to participate in programs to advance their health. The delivery of incentives more frequently for example. Or using contests or using certain kinds of social norming where it’s acceptable to show people on leader boards in contests and get people engaged in fun for their health. All of these are possibilities.

Senator Todd Young: Thank you very much. You really need to study these different phenomena individually. I think to have a sense of the growing body of work that is behavioral economics. Right, so we need the increased awareness, and I guess the education of many employers about some of these tics we have. That seems to be part of the answer. In fact, Richard Thaler who just won the Nobel Prize for his ground-breaking work in this area indicated that we as policy makers ought to have on a regular basis not just lawyers and economists at the tables where we’re drafting legislation, but ought to have a behavioral scientist as well.

And the UK, they have the Behavioral Insights Team. The United States, our previous administration, had a similar sort of team that did a number of experiments to figure out how policies would actually impact an individual’s health and wellness and a number of other things. Some of the ideas that I think we might incorporate into the government context, and tell me if any of these sort pop for you; if you think they make sense?

We need to continue to have a unit or units embedded within government that do a lot of these experiments. We need to have a clearinghouse of best practices that other employers included might draw on. This doesn’t have to be governmental, but it could certainly be. We on Capitol Hill might actually consider aside from having a Congressional budget office than an official budget office, we might have an entity or at least some presence within the CBO or individuals that understand how people would actually respond to given proposals. Do any or all of those make sense to you?

David Asch: Thank you for your remarks. Yes, I think they all make sense. And one of the lessons that I guess I have repeatedly learned is that seeming subtle differences in design can make a huge difference in how effective a program can be and how it is perceived and that will ultimately care about the impact of these programs. So, I am very much in favor in the use of these programs, but in addition, greater study of these programs, because I think we need an investment in the science that will help all of us in delivering these activities, not just in healthcare, but in other parts of society.

Senator Young: That makes sense. I am out of time. Thank you.

 

Why Turning Our Schools into a Workforce Development Pipeline is Bad for Democracy

corporate capitolism

Being a worker means taking orders, citizenship means being an independent thinker. The two aren’t compatible. One demands obedience, the other autonomy.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth we must face as a society: the workplace isn’t a democracy. Never has been, never will be.

The workplace has always been run as a dictatorship. The boss decides what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Obedience is the most valued skill an employee can have.

If we allow our public schools to be turned into a workforce development pipeline, we’re also giving permission to corporate America to further erode what’s left of our democracy.

Being a worker means taking orders, citizenship means being an independent thinker. The two aren’t compatible. One demands obedience, the other autonomy.

The workplace is about selfishness. How to rise above your co-workers in status and income. For business, this translates into putting profit before employees.

Democracy is about prioritizing the greater good ahead of self-interest. It requires a citizenry who have the ability and personal courage to ferret out lies, distortions, half-truths and a state willing to protect these individuals against retaliation and violence.

One of the biggest cons perpetuated on labor was the idea that management and workers were on the same team. They aren’t.

Wonder why union leadership continues to sellout their rank and file comrades? Corporate unionism: where union leadership prioritizes their comfortable relationship with management over the needs of membership. No messy or uncomfortable conflict required.

Dintersmith NEA friend of Education

Corporate government is the same thing. It assumes the goals of business are the same as citizens, but clearly they aren’t. Citizens want a healthy environment, corporations want deregulation. Citizens want their kids to have a great education, corporations are looking for a new market with guaranteed profits. See a pattern?

Oh, and one state mandated course on civics isn’t going to reverse the damage caused by corporate governance. In a political system dominated by two corporate parties, teaching kids to vote has a zero chance of changing the system. If anything, it teaches kids that politics is a semi-passive activity that you only think about during an election cycle.

How does that challenge the current power structure?

It doesn’t.

-Carolyn Leith

Do You Believe a Universal Basic Income will Save Society? Think again.

Elysium
Elysium – “Would You Like To Talk To A Human?”

I can’t help but get a bad feeling whenever a universal basic income is pitched as the next big thing that will fix poverty. Having paid attention to ed-reform, I’ve heard all of this before. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind going to do that? Or Obama’s poverty fighting, opportunity creating tool The Every Student Succeeds Act? We’ve been fed a string of promises from philanthro-capitalists that have failed to deliever. Why would a universal basic income be any different?

With the news that Stockton, California is piloting a universal basic income (UBI) program, I want to take this opportunity to raise an uncomfortable question: Are the philanthro-capitalists using the idea of a universal basic income as a way to save society or themselves?

I can’t help but get a bad feeling whenever a universal basic income is pitched as the next big thing that will fix poverty. Having paid attention to ed-reform, I’ve heard all of this before. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind going to do that? Or Obama’s poverty fighting, opportunity creating tool The Every Student Succeeds Act?

We’ve been fed a string of promises from philanthro-capitalists that have failed to deliever. Why would a universal basic income be any different?

About that Stockton universal basic income pilot, from CNN via MSN news:

The concept of Universal Basic Income has gained traction and support from some Silicon Valley leaders, including Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg. It is seen as a way to possibly reduce poverty and safeguard against the job disruption that comes from automation.

“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said at a Harvard commencement address in May 2017.

The Stockton project has its roots in Silicon Valley, too. Its financial backers include Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes’ organization, the Economic Security Project — a fund to support research and cultural engagement around Universal Basic Income. It contributed $1 million to the Stockton initiative.

Oh, and don’t think for a moment this “free” money doesn’t come with a cost.

The project, expected to launch in 2019, hopes to use data to address the policy questions about UBI. For example, does a guarantee of a basic income affect school attendance and health, or cause people to quit their jobs or start new businesses?

The project is also interested at looking at how the funds impact female empowerment and if it can help pull people out of poverty.

The hidden cost to a universal basic income system will be personal surveillance and data harvesting combined with “nudges” from the state to help citizens make the “right” choices.

If you still don’t get the hint and continue to miss your behavior targets, these nudges will be combined with disciplinary actions.

What exactly is a nudge? I’ll let Wrench in the Gears explain:

Behavioral economics is the study of how psychological, cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural factors influence the economic choices a person makes. It challenges the idea of homo economicus, that people maintain stable preferences and consistently make self-interested choices in relation to market forces. The field was popularized in the United States by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kaheneman. University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler built upon this work. Thaler won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his research last year.

Thaler worked closely with Cass Sunstein, who headed Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, they co-wrote Nudge, a book espousing “libertarian paternalism.” People make “choices,” but systems can be designed and implemented to encourage a preferred “choice,” generally one that prioritizes long-term cost-savings. “Choice architects” create these systems and weave them into public policy. Through strategic application of “nudges,” citizens,  otherwise “irrational actors” in the market, can be guided to conform to economists’ expectations. Through nudges, human behaviors are redirected to fit mathematical equations and forecasts. David Johnson’s 2016 New Republic article Twilight of the Nudges, provides useful background on this technique and the ethical implications of applying nudges to public policy.

Here’s some examples of how nudges could be incorporated into a universal basic income program:

  • –Miss your target monthly steps or blood glucose numbers? Expect a penalty to be deducted from your universal basic income account.
  • –Didn’t buy enough fruits and vegetables to be considered “healthy”?  Penalty.
  • –Your kid has an unacceptable number of tardies or unexcused absences from school. Penalty.

God forbid you get flagged for purchasing what is considered an “unhealthy” amount of booze or spend too much time on Weedmaps or Leafly.

In a solutionist world, getting flagged could land you on an anti-social watchlist. Being flagged as an anti-social actor in the program would carry a significant penalty. If the algorithms administering your account determine you have become a serious threat, expect an unannounced human intervention.

This clip from the movie Elysium illustrates the serious nature of a human interaction with an agent of the surveillance state.

With nudges and total surveillance, a universal basic income has all the makings of a dystopia. Not exactly a world I want my kids to inherit. How about you?

But what if it’s much worst?

Remember after 9/11 when President George W. Bush urged everyone to go shopping? I’m starting to feel like the universal basic income plan is the billionaire prepper equivalent.

What if the super-rich designed a system where the 99% keep the economy running with a universal basic income, while the 1% get to retreat to the safety of their high tech bunkers –away from the destruction they helped unleash on society and the environment.

Besides social control, what if the point of a universal basic income is to keep some sort of currency circulating so the bitcoins, dollars, or hoarded cans of tomato soup – whatever currency the 1% are counting on to keep them secure and comfortable – is still being traded by the masses and by doing so retaining its value.

From Survival of the Richest:

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.

I encourage you to read all of Survival of the Riches. Afterward, I challenge you to answer this simple question: Do you still believe the predatory philanthro-capitalists have your best interests at heart?

I don’t.

-Carolyn Leith

Digital Nudging: Data, Devices & Social Control

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Digital exhaust, virtual selves

…“Choice architects” create these systems and weave them into public policy. Through strategic application of “nudges,” citizens,  otherwise “irrational actors” in the market, can be guided to conform to economists’ expectations. Through nudges, human behaviors are redirected to fit mathematical equations and forecasts….

The way we live our lives generates enormous amounts of data. Keystrokes; online payments; photos with embedded meta-data; cell tower pings; fit bits; education management apps; search histories; avatars; social media posts all contribute to a cloud of digital exhaust that threatens to engulf us. Our world is being increasingly data-fied as smart phones mediate our daily activities, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors become integrated into our homes and public spaces.

In the coming decade we’re going to have to navigate environments defined by ubiquitous computing and surveillance. Virtual and real worlds will meld in unsettling ways. The threat of state repression will intensify, especially for black and brown people, immigrants, refugees, the poor, and dissidents. As the former CIO of the City of Philadelphia Charles Brennan noted at the end of an October 22, 2017 meeting, the future of policing will encompass predictive analytics, facial recognition software, and drone surveillance.

With UPenn’s GRASP lab currently managing a $27 million contract with the US Army Research Lab to develop distributed intelligence, autonomous weapons, it’s not too soon to be thinking about what comes next. To get a feel for where we could be headed, the write up, “Singapore, City of Sensors” describes what it’s like to live in a “smart nation”  where EA3 devices track “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything, All The Time.”

Bits and bytes of data build up like passes from a 3-D printer; and as the data is aggregated, our digital doppelgangers emerge. Of course they’re merely shadows of our true, authentic selves. They magnify certain aspects of our personalities while suppressing others. The data of our online counterparts can be incorrect or incomplete, yet even with all those flaws our online profiles and reputations have begun to profoundly influence our offline lives.

As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says: data is the new oil, so valuable nation states will fight over it. From Cambridge Analytica to Cornell-Technion’s Small Data Lab to Wharton’s Behavior Change for Good program, social scientists are teaming up with venture capital, government agencies, and NGOs to devise new and intrusive ways to monitor people and extract profit from the management of our data-filled lives.

The relationship map below (click here for the interactive version) features individuals and organizations associated with the Small Data Lab, a program of Cornell-Technion based on Roosevelt Island in New York City. This research and development program is backed by influential impact investors and technology companies, including Google. If you know your way around social impact bonds, you’ll see quite a few familiar names: Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Atlantic Philanthropies. The aim is to come up with sophisticated ways to analyze digital exhaust and devise technological “solutions” that pressure individuals to conform to neoliberal economic conditions. The technological underpinnings of these app-ified “solutions” enable the capture of “impact metrics” that will fuel the growing social investment sector.

Cornell-Technion also aims to grow the STEM/cyber-security human capital pipeline, having recently accepted at $50 million gift from Tata Consulting, one of India’s most highly-capitalized IT companies, to build an innovation center on their campus. The program plans to do outreach into New York City schools to promote skill development in AI and human-computer interaction.

PTB Ventures, Project Trillion Billion, is one example of a company positioning itself for this new market. A financial backer of Learning Machine, spun out of the MIT Media Lab and specializing in Blockchain education credentials, PTB has also invested in Callsign (digital identity authentication), Element (biometrics), and DISC Holdings (digital payments and credit on blockchain). Their website states the company anticipates a future where trillions of devices will be connected to billions of humans and create trillions of dollars in economic value. These investors hope to use connected devices and sensors to mine the lives of the global poor and dispossessed for the economic benefit of the social impact and fin-tech sectors.

Proposals for online platforms are beginning to emerge that aim to combine decentralized identifiers (DIDs used to create self-sovereign digital identities), e-government transactions, and online payment systems (including public welfare benefits) with “digital nudges” grounded in behavioral economics. See the screenshot taken from the Illinois Blockchain Task Force’s January 2018 report. It shows a desire to digitally incentivize healthy eating purchases for people receiving SNAP benefits.

Behavioral economics is the study of how psychological, cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural factors influence the economic choices a person makes. It challenges the idea of homo economicus, that people maintain stable preferences and consistently make self-interested choices in relation to market forces. The field was popularized in the United States by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kaheneman. University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler built upon this work. Thaler won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his research last year.

Thaler worked closely with Cass Sunstein, who headed Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, they co-wrote Nudge, a book espousing “libertarian paternalism.” People make “choices,” but systems can be designed and implemented to encourage a preferred “choice,” generally one that prioritizes long-term cost-savings. “Choice architects” create these systems and weave them into public policy. Through strategic application of “nudges,” citizens,  otherwise “irrational actors” in the market, can be guided to conform to economists’ expectations. Through nudges, human behaviors are redirected to fit mathematical equations and forecasts. David Johnson’s 2016 New Republic article Twilight of the Nudges, provides useful background on this technique and the ethical implications of applying nudges to public policy.

Sunstein Obama

The first “nudge unit” was established in the United Kingdom in 2010 as the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT). It operated as a cabinet office for several years before reinventing itself as a global consultancy in 2014. BIT is now owned in equal parts by staff, the UK government and NESTA, a social policy innovation / impact investing foundation funded with proceeds from the UK lottery system. Thaler is on their Academic Advisory Team. From 2015 to 2018 BIT had a $42 million contract with Bloomberg Philanthropies to support development of their “What Works Cities” initiative in the United States. Results for America, the organization that co-hosted the $100 Million “Pay for Success” celebration in Washington, DC last month, currently manages the What Works Cities program on behalf of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Ideas42 has also been very active at the intersection of social science, behavioral economics and impact investing strategies. It was founded in 2008 as a program of Harvard University with support from scholars and experts at MIT, Princeton, the International Finance Commission (IFC), and the Brookings Institution. Focus areas include education, healthcare and financial inclusion. Numerous mega-philanthropies that are actively implementing the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda have partnered with the organization: Gates, MacArthur, Arnold, Lumina, HP, and Dell. Other partners are involved in deployment of global aid: USAID, the World Bank, the International Rescue Committee (see my previous post re BIT and IRC involvement with Syrian refugee children), and the UN Environment Programme. There are representatives of global finance including Citi Foundation and American Express; insurance companies, MetLife and the Association of British Insurers; and impact investors focused health and wellness, the Robert Woods Johnson and Kellogg Foundations.

Over one hundred experts are allied with this program, including Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman of the University of Pennsylvania. They created the ninety-second video “Making Behavior Change Stick” as part of their application to the MacArthur Foundation’s $100 Million and Change challenge. While the proposal was not a finalist, Duckworth and Milkman’s research continues to move forward with private support, housed within the Wharton Business School. Their first $1 million came from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (founded with Facebook stock), that interestingly enough is also currently working with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office (Larry Krasner) on criminal justice “reform.” More opportunities for our technological overlords to encourage “good” decision making while completely disregarding “broken on purpose” social programs, I suppose.

Take note of the partners identified in Duckworth and Milkman’s MacArthur proposal:

Duckworth and Milkman’s premise is that technology can be used to encourage people to make “good choices,” which the begs the question, “Good for whom?” I suspect what will make a certain choice “good” is the likelihood it will enrich social impact investors while furthering the austerity that drives reduction in public services, increases outsourcing, and fosters the creation of public-private partnerships. The desires of those needing to access services will not be factored into the computer code that sets up friction points and establishes preferred outcomes. Citizens are simply inert, raw material to be molded, for profit, by inhumane digital systems. In the nudge model, economic systems that create mass poverty are not addressed. Instead, the impetus is placed upon the individual to better navigate existing systems steeped in structural racism.

As you may remember from my previous post, Duckworth has been working closely with human capital and labor economist James (7-13% ROI on Early Childhood Education Investments) Heckman. She is one of five leaders of the “Identity and Personality” division of his Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group, based out of the University of Chicago and funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET). In May 2017, Duckworth brought an interdisciplinary group of experts in behavior change to the University of Pennsylvania for two-day conference sponsored by the Center for Economics of Human Development. Fourteen presentations, including  a “Fireside Chat With Daniel Kahneman” were recorded and are viewable here.

The prior year, Philadelphia became the first city in the US with its own municipal level “nudge unit.” Though Duckworth does not appear to be directly involved, Evan Nesterak, a researcher in Duckworth’s Characterlab, co-founded The Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative (PBSI) with Swarthmore Professor Syon Bhanot. Bhanot is involved with theSwarthmore Professor Syon Bhanot, as well. According to a 2018 report on PBSI published by Results for America, the initiative’s other academic partners include: the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Temple, St. Joseph’s, Yale, Columbia and Princeton. The report, viewable here, was funded by the John and Laura Arnold Foundation. John Arnold, a hedge-fund billionaire who made his fortune at Enron, has since moved on to education reform, gutting public pensions, and promoting pay for success “evidence-based” finance.

“Innovative” programs are being incubated within the planning and policy departments of many US cities now via fellowships and loaner “experts” who plan to advance an “evidence-based,” “big-data,” “platform-government” agenda. Anjali Chainani, Mayor Kenney’s Policy Director and Manager of the city’s GovLab, has gone through the Results for America Local Government Fellow program.  The Philadelphia Behavioral Science Initiative is an outgrowth of the City Accelerator and GovLabPHL, which she manages. While the initial program areas are strategically uncontroversial (it would be difficult to speak against seniors taking advantage of discounted water bills or public bike sharing), it seems likely an “evidence-based” campaign of nudges, once normalized, will be extended into more lucrative and ethically-dubious areas like policing, health care delivery, family services, and behavioral health.

Below is an extensive relationship map that shows interconnections between data-driven public policy / privatization programs originating out of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the global financial interests represented by the members of Citi Group’s “Living Cities” program, and how those interface with government operations in the city of Philadelphia. Many of these programs were put into place by our former mayor, Michael Nutter, who went on to become a senior fellow for Bloomberg’s “What Works Cities” program. His wife Lisa is now a principal with Sidecar Social Finance, an impact investing firm.

Click here for the interactive version.

Feeding this machine is our gradual yet irresistible slide into a financial world of digital economic transactions. My next post will focus on that. Please take some time to explore the maps above. They are complex but convey a great deal about the forces at work. Sometimes a nudge is actually a shove. I think our city is being positioned for some serious shoving.

The footage above is from the violent July 5, 2018 police intervention against peaceful OccupyICEPHL protestors at 8th and Cherry Streets outside Philadelphia’s ICE detention center.

-Alison McDowell

A Close Reading of Moneyball for Government & Why You Should Be Worried

Moneyball for Government

But the idea of using “data” to ration resources struck a cord with both Democrats and Republicans. Politicians couldn’t resist the opportunity to use a real David vs. Goliath baseball story to sell the American public on lowering their expectations of what government could deliver. And it sounds scientific too!

Much has been made of the Oakland A’s 2002 season, where the out-resourced baseball franchise fielded a scrappy team which temporarily silenced its critics with a then record breaking 20 game winning streak.

General Manager Billy Beane is credited with this baseball miracle. How? By breaking with tradition and putting together his team using the power of “data” to acquire undervalued players –an approach which became know as moneyball.

Did the moneyball innovation take the A’s all the way to the World Series? Nope. The winning streak did enabled the A’s to clinch their division title and land a spot in the playoffs, where they were defeated in the first round by the Minnesota Twins.

But the idea of using “data” to ration resources struck a cord with both Democrats and Republicans. Politicians couldn’t resist the opportunity to use a real David vs. Goliath baseball story to sell the American public on lowering their expectations of what government could deliver. And it sounds scientific too!

It’s a compelling story, especially in the hands of a writer like Michael Lewis, who coined the term and penned the 2003 bestselling book of that name. At its heart, Moneyball is about crunching numbers and relying on hard evidence-not emotion or tradition-to drive decisions about how to allocate scarce resources. It’s also about determining what data matter and what don’t (in the case of baseball, concluding that on-base percentage matters a lot more than total home runs). When it comes down to it, it’s a way to get more with less.

Which raises important questions: Can data, evidence, and evaluations similarly revolutionize America’s government? Can we provide better services to millions more Americans while actually saving billions of dollars? Can we make this country a better place for children and families by investing in what works, by testing it and retesting it, and by holding ourselves to a higher standard? In short, can government play Moneyball?     Moneyball for Government, pages 3-4

In my opinion, using moneyball to allocate government resources is very similar to managing a fantasy sports team. It’s an imaginary world divorced from the complex, precarious reality most Americans live in. It’s a perfect playground for the managerial elites to work their devious magic, without dirtying their hands with actual face-to-face interactions with the downtrodden citizens they profess to care so much about.

Here’s a critical detail to remember: Professional sports has always been a cut-throat business. Players are treated as things to be inspected, judged, cut, or traded — all based on their numbers. This isn’t an arena where fairness –not to mention social justice — is valued. Just take a look at what happened to Michael Bennett after he decided to take a knee during the national anthem.

I read Moneyball for Government, so you don’t have to. Here’s my list of reasons why allowing politicians to run our government like a fantasy sports team is a very bad idea.

Moneyball is about rationing resources and not providing services to everyone who needs them.

The goal of moneyball is to create a compelling narrative that justifies and even celebrates austerity. Moneyball’s fundamental assumption is discretionary spending must continue to be cut and streamlined in the name of “funding what works”. This trick immediately removes from debate any discussion about cuts to non-discretionary spending –like the 50% of the federal budget that goes to defense.

The authors admit that denying services to everyone who needs them is unfortunate, but there’s always a silver lining: rationing services is a cheap way to create a randomized trial!

Resources are limited, though, and we can’t afford to give the most promising interventions to everyone who wants them. This is unfortunate, but it regularly creates a perfect research opportunity. If there are five hundred slots available in a new program, then instead of enrolling the first five hundred eligible people to sign up, we can let a thousand eligible people sign up, and hold a lottery to determine who among them participates. Just like that, we’ve created a randomized trial….         Moneyball for Government, page 18

Moneyball is about funding low-cost interventions with high rates of returns.

Ever wonder why reducing class size isn’t an intervention embraced by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates — even though there’s solid research supporting it?

Simple, lowering class size is expensive and takes a lot of real teachers to make it happen. This isn’t the moneyball way, which is low cost interventions with a high rate of return.

This also explains why Moneyball for Government celebrates the work of organizations like KIPP, City Year – Americorps, and TFA. Organizations that provide low-cost teachers and no-cost volunteers, and by doing so, offer interventions which don’t cut into the bottomline.

Moneyball is pseudo-scientific and far from the rigorous kind of research it claims to create.

Low cost interventions require low cost measurements of success. Remember how rationing access to services provided an opportunity to create a lottery –sorry– a randomized trial? Well, there’s plenty of pseudo-scientific short cuts used to cook up moneyball’s version of “rigorous evidence”.

Another frequently noted problem for the most rigorous kinds of research is cost….     Moneyball for Government, page 19

 

Still, the truth is that randomized trials aren’t always feasible….                                         Moneyball for Government, page 19

 

There are some great recent examples of research that have used low-cost methods to study low-cost interventions that have turned out to make a real difference in people’s lives….                                                                                                                        Moneyball for Government, page 20

Strong scientific research requires well designed studies which attempt to reduce all possible causes to the one variable being studied. How studies are conducted are just as important as the numbers plugged into them. That’s why studies are published so other scientists –who have no vested interest in the outcome– can critique the study’s design and publicly discuss how unintended bias could have been introduced into the results.

None of this happens with moneyball, if you can attach a number to something, it automatically becomes valid.

Moneyball creates a surveillance state and privacy nightmare. Citizens shouldn’t be experimented on by their government, without their knowledge or consent.

Again, for moneyball’s low cost interventions to be financially profitable, these programs require low-cost research, which would ideally run on no-cost data.  Preferably, this data would be collected and shared by federal, state, and local governments.

Have you noticed a lot of talk about interoperability and student data? Ever wonder what it’s all about? Here’s the definition of interoperability: The ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.

Here’s Recommendation 6 on how to get the bipartisan moneyball agenda rolling: Build cosscutting data systems that also protect privacy. (page 126) More detail can be found under Pillar 1: Relentlessly use data and evaluation to learn from experience. (page 116)

What does it all mean? I’ll let the authors explain:

Without a way of identifying what works and what doesn’t, progress in social policy is impossible. Until recently, the most sophisticated evaluations required a lot of time and money. Sometimes that’s still true, but not always. With modern data systems, we can do quick, sophisticated tests of different program designs. Think about a store chain testing different product placements in different stores –or a social-services agency testing different intake routines in different offices. To figure out cheaply what works, we can often use data that governments already collect. Think about a new textbook, rather than setting up a whole new approach to collecting data, we can just assign the book to half the classes (selected at random) in a district and compare the scores of kids who used the new text with the scores of those who didn’t, on tests the kids already take. And once we learn the best interventions, we can subject them to financial analysis to compare benefits and costs -and thus give policy makers an important tool to help make tough choices about different ways to spend limited resources.  Moneyball for Government, pages 116-117

Does this sound like the way to go about designing a rigorous scientific study? Hardly.

Did you get a hint of any concern about the protection of privacy? Absolutely not.

To me, this approach is more like the Silicon Valley startup mentality of code and release. A very profitable approach which usually runs on free data and lets the end users discover any flaws or bugs in the program – and suffer all of the consequences. Of course, the business may or may-not choose to clean up any of these bugs in a future release, if they feel spending time on the fix won’t negatively impact the bottomline.

It’s also important to point out that conducting a scientific experiment using a computer model to decide who does or who doesn’t get access to resources –without the subject’s knowledge or consent — is unethical.

It’s also alarming that the adherents of moneyball want the government to collect, store, and share vast amounts of digital information on its citizens. In short, create the infrastructure for a surveillance state. The Stasi Records Agency was able to wreck many lives with much less.

Moneyball is ripe for abuse and fraud.

Because the numbers used to justify interventions aren’t produced by actual controlled scientific studies, where this data come from creates a hidden opportunity for fraud and abuse.

For instance, numbers can be cherry-picked, others ignored. Unethical service providers could reverse engineer studies to create numbers that justify their intervention –and secure a contract for the services they provide.

Even the authors are worried:

One possible way to prevent the misuse of Moneyball -either through the politicalization of evidence or the use of less-than-rigorous studies as a justification for cuts in services -is to identify an impartial referee to evaluate studies and data that come through the door, wheter that be a nonpartisan office like CBO or a newly created one. Moneyball for Government, page 56

Forgive my cynicism, but I can think of one recent example where an “impartial referee” set up to prevent fraud in a world of data and financial speculation failed spectacularly, ruining the lives of millions of Americans.

Do you remember when all the credit rating agencies gave AAA ratings to a certain complex financial instrument which turned out to be junk? Do you also remember how this triggered the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the recession that followed?

I do.

When it comes to money, greed will find a way to bend, and other times break, the rules. It’s the one thing you can count on.

Now What?

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that moneyball isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but here’s a few education specific reasons to oppose the moneyball narrative:

If you want well resourced schools for every child, you can’t support moneyball.

If you want to end standardized testing, you can’t support moneyball.

If you want human teachers for kids instead of devices, you can’t support moneyball.

If you object to kids being used as guinea pigs for education reform, you certainly can’t support moneyball.

In the end, moneyball is just more too-good-to-be-true snake oil packaged in a shiny new Pay for Success bottle.

Don’t fall for it.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you sometimes wonder why the Seattle Times does so many puff pieces on Bill Gates and his failed education initiatives?

It’s become clear to folks outside the circle of educators and public education advocates that all of Bill Gates ideas on how other children should be educated have failed and for many reasons.

Bill Gates is not an educator, never taught one day in his life in a public school, never took classes in education or child development but because he has money, he thinks he  has the answers to all that ails society. His children have never attended a public school and Bill Gates himself was enrolled in expensive private schools through high school. And as most know, he dropped out of college.

But he has money and therefore influence. Unfortunately his experiments on our children, including merit pay, teachers, schools and principals judged on student test scores and charter schools, have been failures and have only ruined the opportunities of many students to a better education. The time Bill Gates was spending on his visions cost precious time and public money with students not able to go back and receive the education they should have experienced. 

The Seattle Times recently published another puff piece on Bill Gates and I decided it was time to remind folks that Bill Gates pays a lot of money to the Seattle Times for their cloying admiration.

To follow is a post I published in 2015 by Mercedes Schneider titled:

BILL GATES FUNDS THE MEDIA, INCLUDING THE SEATTLE TIMES’ EDUCATION LAB, THEN SECRETLY MEETS WITH THEM

Gates meme

Billionaire Bill Gates funds the media then secretly meets with them to do what?

Billionaire Bill Gates funds the media.

This is no surprise to me.

What did surprise me is the discovery that he meets with the media he funds (and others) regularly behind closed doors.

Yep.

gates ed

Gates Briefs a Media He Pays For (And Then Some)

In February 2013, journalist Tom Paulson wrote a piece on Gates’ private meetings with the media he funds. Paulson was not invited.

Notice some of the names:

I (Paulson) wasn’t actually allowed behind the scenes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent meeting in Seattle entitled “Strategic Media Partnerships.”

The Gates Foundation funds a lot of media – more than $25 million in media grants for 2012 (but still less than 1% of the budget).  

I’m media but I wasn’t invited. I asked if I could come and report on it, but was told the meeting was off the record. Those attending included representatives from the New York Times, NPR, the Guardian, NBC, Seattle Times and a number of other news organizations, non-profit groups and foundations. Not all were grant recipients, or partners. Some just came to consult. [Emphasis added this paragraph.]

In August 2014, I wrote about the Gates-funded, Seattle Times blog, Education Lab.

Education Lab is trying to offer predominately light, benign stories arguably designed to divert public attention from the increasingly-evident documentation regarding the failure of education privatization.

In Seattle, Gates is paying for the reporting of “positive outcomes.”

What happens if the “outcomes” are not so “positive”?

Just don’t write about that.

And it is easy enough if the funded organization’s politics agree with those of Gates.

(The Gates grants website is clear that Gates actively seeks to pay those organizations that will agree with his agenda.)

In the comments section of my Gates-funded, Seattle Ed Lab post, University of Washington professor Wayne Au challenges one of the Gates-funded Ed Lab reporters on the “Gates agreement reporting” point. Here is an excerpt from Au’s comment:

What is striking to me is the thin political range of the Ed Lab. I see mainly “safe” stories about mainstream stuff almost no one would would question….

[ … ]

In many ways you are in a similar position to the other Gates funded organizations locally – like the League of Education Voters. They tell me all the time, “Gates funds us but they don’t tell us what to do.” And my response to them is always, “Gates doesn’t have to tell you what to do because your politics and agenda align with Gates. That’s WHY they fund you. If you changed your agenda, you’d lose your Gates money…” Gates doesn’t have to pull the strings. They just need to provide resources to the right policy actors. [Emphasis added.]

Au’s entire exchange with the Ed Lab reporter is worth a read.

Gates

A Gates-funded Common Core Debate (?)

Gates funds media willing to promote his agenda. Sometimes those reporting have no issues because they agree with Gates. In other cases, it seems that there might be some willful shaping of a story in order to slant the outcome towards “Gates favor-ability.”

Consider the September 9, 2014, Intelligence Squared debate on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The debate is entitled, Embrace the Common Core

No slant there.

If one scrolls to the bottom of the debate announcement page, one sees that Gates-funded NPR is a sponsor.

And as journalist Tom Paulson notes in his piece on Gates’ conferencing with the media, Bill is pushing for more “success stories”:

Well, as a journalist who covers global health and poverty and is expected to double-check and unpack the often carefully packaged messages put out by the Gates Foundation, I can tell you that quite a few people [attending the Gates media conference] – again, mostly ‘off the record’ – do kick. They’re not opposed to the overall goal, but many are concerned about the immense influence the philanthropy already has over the aid narrative.

One of the Gates Foundation’s working assumptions is that the aid narrative is a bummer, mostly bad news, and what we need is more ‘success stories.’ [Emphasis added.]

It is important to note that the “success stories” Gates wants are those in line with his agenda. When it comes to education, Gates loves CCSS, grading teachers using standardized test scores, instituting teacher pay-for-performance increasing class sizes, and an extending the school day.

gates-02

Remember: True “Success” Is Gates-endorsed “Success”

Concerning evidence that contradicts the Gates agenda, Gates is willing to undercut a “success story.” Consider his February 2011 diminishing explanation in the Washington Post of the “success” of rising state test scores in light of flat NAEP scores:

Many education leaders would say that Gates’s criticism is unfounded. While NAEP scores are flat, scores on many state tests have risen over the past decade, to great fanfare. Test scores in both Maryland and Virginia have risen substantially in that span.

Gates contends that those gains are probably largely a result of new-test phenomenon: Test scores almost always rise under a new test, as students and teachers familiarize themselves with the test and the material it measures.

“Whenever you have a new test, people learn what’s in that test over the first three or four years,” he said. “The fact that doesn’t show up on NAEP at all is a bit damning.” [Emphasis added.]

Gates is quick to dismiss the rising state scores without also acknowledging the connection between flat NAEP scores and a sputtering, test-driven reform agenda. In other words, Bill did not say what was being “damned” was Bush’s test-driven, punitive, still-floundering No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Indeed, in 2013, with an additional two years of privatizing reform under America’s belt, NAEP scores remained flat.

This is certainly not test-worshiping reform “success,” but don’t blame the corporate reform idol of the high-stakes test as the supposed end-all success marker.

Gates instead turns to “smaller classes” as the culprit:

Gates contends that the K-12 education industry has been steered for five decades by a misguided belief that the way to higher performance is smaller classes. Many states pursued class-size reduction initiatives in the 1990s. California, an example I covered as a reporter, reduced average class size from 30 to 20 in kindergarten through grade 3 in the mid-1990s, at a cost of over $1.5 billion a year.

And since test scores have not risen, it must be that smaller classes should yield to more *cost effective* larger classes, right?

And be sure to prod teachers on with merit pay. Gates just knows this will work:

Over the years, though, the research community has more or less confirmed that class-size reduction doesn’t yield significant performance gains. The most expensive education reform is among the least effective.

Gates proposes ending class-size reduction experiments, lifting caps on class size and offering good teachers financial incentives to teach more students.

“If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it’s the effective teachers you’re retaining,” he said, “by any measure, you’re raising the quality of education as you do that.”  [Emphasis added.]

This is the same Gates who admitted in a September 2013 Harvard University interview that he wouldn’t know for “probably a decade” if his “education stuff” works.

Add to the above tidbit of uncertainty the established reality that Gates himself did not attend a test-driven-reform school with large class sizes, and neither do his children. And I’m sure he would consider himself as a “success.”

But that does not help the situation of “success shaping” of test-driven educational reform for the masses, does it?

No, no. Gates education reform  “success” includes the next great idea in test-driven reform, CCSS.

gates-03

Back to That Gates-funded, NPR-sponsored, CC Debate…

Gates-funded NPR is sponsoring the September 2014 “debate” event, Embracing the Common Core.

It should come as no surprise that for all practical purposes, the “debate” leans in favor of CCSS via the inclusion of Gates-funded American Enterprise Institute (AEI) “scholar” Rick Hess, who is to argue “against” CCSS.

The best Hess has shown so far in “opposing” CCSS is a lukewarm dissatisfactionwith it. He has, however, published a pro-CCSS book in November 2013 in which he examines how to “seamlessly integrate” CCSS “into accountability systems.”

Moreover, likely during the time that he was either writing or had already finished his pro-CCSS book, in February 2013, Hess interviewed CCSS “architect” Jason Zimba.

Here is how Hess chooses to present Zimba and CCSS.  I consider Hess’ writing style as “loud plaid suit with pants too short.” Perhaps readers will understand why after experiencing the following:

You didn’t think the ferment around Common Core could keep building? Hah! Prepare for several more years of increasing wackiness. In the middle of it all is Jason Zimba, founding principal of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) and the man who is leading SAP after David Coleman went off to head up the College Board. SAP is a major player in Common Core implementation, especially with the aid of $18 million in support from the GE Foundation. Zimba was the lead writer on the Common Core mathematics standards. He earned his doctorate in mathematical physics from Berkeley, co-founded the Grow Network with Coleman, and previously taught physics and math at Bennington College. He’s a private dude who lives up in New England and has not been part of the Beltway policy conversation. I’d never met Zimba, until we had the chance to sit down last week.

Now, I think readers know that I’m of two minds when it comes to the Common Core. On the one hand, it does have the potential to bring coherence to the education space, shed light on who’s doing what, raise the bar for instructional materials and teacher prep, and so forth. On the other, there are about 5,000 ways the whole thing could go south or turn into a stifling bureaucratic monstrosity-and one rarely goes wrong when betting against our ability to do massive, complex edu-reforms well. Given all this, like many of you, I’m carefully watching how all this is playing out. [Emphasis added.]

Well. Safe to note that Hess is not a “dude” with serious reservations about CCSS. He’s just “watching”– and publishing a book in favor.

As far as the Gates-backed NPR-sponsored CCSS “debate” goes, right out of the starting gate, the established anti-CCSS stance belongs to only one of the four “debaters”– New York principal Carol Burris.

Gates must be pleased. After all, he really, really wants CCSS.

I must add that I continue to enjoy the irony of the Embrace the Common Core public opinion poll, which has remained steady at 11 percent in favor of “embracing” and 89 percent opposed out of over 42,600 responses.

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Gentle New Orleans Charter Reporting, NPR-style

I have my own story of Gates-funded NPR and “success shaping,” this time in regard to charter school “success” in New Orleans.

The now-100-percent-charter, New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) is no success. I have written extensively on the RSD fraud– on its under-regulation, its inflated school scores that don’t even raise its schools above the criteria for “failing school” according to the *also failing* Louisiana voucher program, of its shaped graduation rates and its cumbersome OneApp process. RSD is nine years old and hasn’t a single “A” school by the state’s own slippery grading criteria.

RSD is a failure.

So. In August 2014, I received an email from Claudio Sanchez of NPR. He was to be in New Orleans doing a piece on the RSD charters, and he wanted to meet to interview me. My first thought was of Gates’ funding of NPR, but I did call Sanchez, who sounded like he was familiar with my writings on the RSD illusion of charter “success.” We spoke on the phone for at least 20 minutes, during which time I summarized research on what amounts to an RSD-charter-success farce.

Sanchez and I were to meet on a Thursday, but his flight was delayed, so we rescheduled for a Friday, which he also canceled, he said, in favor of attending a union meeting at a bastion of charter mismanagement and failure, McDonough High School, a Steve Barr, Future Is Now charter failure that was supposed to have $35 million in renovations that never happened. Instead, charter manager Steve Barr pulled out two years later. Barr, who has zero attachment to the community where the school is located, said that the closure was a “facilities” decision.”

Why had the promised renovations not happened?

No explanation. Only excuses. However, if it is any consolation, in 2012, kids did get some new iPads.

And Oprah did try to sensationalize the depravity of McDonough on her short-lived series, Blackboard Wars.

Indeed, there is a story to McDonough, and Gates-funded NPR reporter Sanchez could have captured it.

Could have.

The school was closed in June 2014. All staff lost their jobs. Parents (among others) want the school to be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), which is willing to take the school back but– as seems to be true with any reversing of pro-privatizing reform– just “isn’t that easy.”

The short of it is, Sanchez knew about the issues surrounding McDonough High School because he attended a meeting there. And he had deliberately contacted me regarding supposed charter “success.”

Anyone who bothers to investigate New Orleans’ charters in the manner that a reporter should investigate surely would uncover numerous questionable leads.

What Sanchez published has all of the investigative depth of a salad plate. Major issues– like “not doing a great job on special ed”– brushed over. No depth. Statements such as, “There’s still substantial numbers of schools that struggle in New Orleans,” made without thorough examination. And no hint of the likes of McDonough High School and the problem of so-called school “management” that is completely disconnected from the community and can therefore easily dismiss an entire school as little more than a “supply and demand” issue.

After all, it’s “just business.”

However, I write not from the funding-approved perspective of what constitutes a “successful” report.

From such a sell-out perspective, surely the most important piece to Sanchez’s RSD-gone-fully-charter reporting is his benign ending:

SANCHEZ: It’s 8:20, and teachers scurry to their classrooms well aware that the entire country is watching. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

A shallow, soft landing to a story that had to potential of appearing too… real.

Success.

Education historian Diane Ravitch offers the following observation on Sanchez’s reporting:

Here is the trick by which radio and TV shows give the illusion of balance: first, they give the narrative, then they invite two or three people to make a critical comment. What they are selling is the narrative. The critics are easily brushed aside. At times like this, I remember that NPR gets funding from both Gates and the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which is devoted to privatizing public schools. [Emphasis added.]

Sanchez’s narrative: “I’ll raise questions, but I will not go deep. The farthest I will go is to note that America is watching. That’s it.”

Sanchez did note that his “story” is part of a “year-long series.”

If his opener is any indication, forget diving into any deep end. No floaties are even necessary for small children. Just a safe splash in a *benign* journalistic puddle.

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Education Post: Funding-fortified for “Successful” Narrative Shaping

As I read Ravitch’s note on NPR’s funding, I remember the newly-created Education Post, which may or may not be Gates funded but which is Walton funded– and which also is attempting to “reshape the education conversation” into that which evidences public-awareness-anesthetizing, privatizing-reform  “success.”

Those with the obviously-declared education privatization agenda have appointed themselves the “keepers of the education conversation.” They will publicize what they decide “works.” After all, they are above actually doing the educating, and since those of us doing the educating are “too busy,” we need for them to cement the narrative that what they pay for (test-driven reform, charters, vouchers) is what “works.” AsWashington Post’s Lyndsey Layton reports:

Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, said the idea for Education Post originated with his organization but that other philanthropic groups had recognized the need years ago. …

One of the goals of Education Post is to publicize what works in public education, Reed said.

“Administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this,” he said. “This is an effort to help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside.”

Education Post also will have a “rapid response” capacity to “knock down false narratives” and will focus on “hot spots” around the country where conflicts with national implications are playing out, [former Arne Duncan communications shaper] Cunningham said. [Emphasis added.]

Information control, my friends. And, of course, the controlled narrative will feed the idea of corporate reform “success”:

While there are myriad nonprofit organizations devoted to K-12 education,none are focused solely on communication, said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“There hasn’t really been an organization dedicated to sharing the successes of education reform around the country,” Wolfson said. “You have local success, but it isn’t amplified elsewhere. And there is a lot of success. There is also an awful lot of misperception around what ed reform is, and there hasn’t been an organization . . . focused on correcting those misimpressions.” [Emphasis added.]

I’m sorry, but the “misimpression” of corporate reform as being punitive and destructive to the community-based school and the career teacher and friendly to a grossly-under-regulated privatization is beyond “impression”; it is a reality fostered not only by years of a failed NCLB but one that continues to be fostered by NCLB waiver-yanking US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

How funny that those keen on promoting the traditional public education “failure” narrative now want to shape it into a “success” designed to conceal their own failure.

Corporate reformers have begun seeking PR advice– which does include ditching the language of failure that is the foundation of the entire test-driven-reform empire.

(Cosmetic) change is hard.

Indeed, if there really were “a lot of success” surrounding privatizing reform, there would be no need for a $12 million-dollar, glorified blog to try to sell it.

I mean, who starts a blog and gets immediate coverage in the Washington Post??

Now, from that Washington Post coverage, here is some more comedy:

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — a one-time organizer for the teachers union who as mayor embraced charter schools, parent-trigger laws and other policies at odds with the unions — is leading the [Education Post] advisory board. [Emphasis added.]

Isn’t that great? Don’t you just trust the “success” narrative that this group will promote?

I know I do.

I’m *just too busy* in my classroom to exercise any critical thinking about Gates, Walton, Broad, Bloomberg, CCSS, charters, vouchers NAEP scores, merit pay, USDOE, NCLB, waiver-yanking, class size, and so many other edu-trashing issues.

Surely I should just hand it all over to those *much better funded* than I am and let them do my thinking for me.

You Can Lead a Schneider to a *Successful* Puddle…

Uhm, I’m thinking, not.

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Is Robert Dugger setting up Robin Hood to steal from the poor?

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Dugger - Robin Hood

Patty Murray, a democratic senator from Washington state, crossed the aisle to collaborate closely with Lamar Alexander on the Every Student Succeeds Act, which included Pay for Success provisions. She also teamed up with Paul Ryan to push bi-partisan legislation, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking act, that would greatly expand access to program data, including student-level data on the nation’s children.

More on the people behind ReadyNation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood, November 1-2, 2018 New York City

Who is Robert Dugger?

Robert Dugger is the co-founder of ReadyNation and serves on the board of the Council for a Strong America. He began his career as an economist with the Board of Governor’s that oversees the Federal Reserve System, later serving as a senior advisor on banking and financial policy in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. From 1988 until 1992 Dugger worked as policy director for the American Bankers Association where he was involved with the development of the Resolution Trust Corporation in the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis. He went on to become managing director of Paul Tudor Jones’s hedge fund, Tudor Investment Corporation, a position he held from 1992 until 2009. Dugger now runs Hanover Provident Capital in Alexandria, VA, while also serving on the boards of the Virginia Early Childhood Education Foundation and as the Chair of ReadyNation.

Tudor Investment Corporation and the Robin Hood Foundation

It is important to note Dugger’s ties to Paul Tudor Jones II, his employer for fifteen years. Jones created The Robin Hood Foundation in 1998. A 2007 feature in New York Magazine, “The Emperors of Benevolence: A Dossier on the Board of Directors of the Robin Hood Foundation where everybody either knows a rock star or is rich enough to buy one,” described the “anti-poverty” foundation as “one of the most influential philanthropic organizations of all time.” Robin Hood, associated with initiatives like the Harlem children’s zone, has only grown more influential.

Paul Tudor Jones and Bill Gates Gala

During the organization’s annual gala earlier this month, over $15 million was raised in minutes as Jones, according to Bloomberg’s coverage of the event, enjoyed fennel-braised beef with Bill Gates.

New York’s first social impact bond drew a $300,000 investment from the foundation. Clearly Robin Hood could have access to almost limitless capital if Pay for Success opportunities around Pre-K open up in New York. The New York State Early Childhood Advisory Council prepared a 2012 report, “Using Pay for Success Strategies to Increase School Readiness.” The clock is ticking…

The Robin Hood Foundation has developed a sophisticated system of metrics to track the programs they fund, which means they have considerable infrastructure in place to take advantage of social impact investment opportunities. They have an exhaustive list of very specific equations aligned to education, work readiness, and health outcomes. You can review the equations here and/or watch the video summary. Thanks to blog commenter Laura Chapman for that lead.

Sara Watson and the Pew Charitable Trusts

Dugger and Heckman both served on the advisory board of The Pew Center on the States’ initiative Partnership for America’s Economic Success that launched in 2006. Dr. Sara Watson ran the program in her capacity as senior program officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts. She has conducted extensive research in the pre-k investment space, including a 2014 analysis of Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts in partnership with ReadyNation and America’s Edge Pennsylvania. Below is a relationship map showing the connections between Dugger/ReadyNation and Watson/Pew. Click here for the interactive version.

During her tenure at Pew, Watson regularly joined Dugger to develop reports and speak at conferences promoting the economic impact of early childhood investments. Among these were presentations in 2007 in Washington, DC supported by PNC Financial Services; in 2008 to the Milken (Michael Milken, indicted junk bond trader and founder of K12, Inc.) Institute; the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, DC in 2013; and a Pay for Success conference sponsored by the Pritzkers in San Diego in 2015.

Pew Charitable Trusts joined the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation in 2011 to spearhead a “results-first” initiative. It’s useful to know that Pritzker is also based in Chicago, and 2011 was the year BEFORE the first social impact bond came to the US. The goal of their initiative was to pressure states into adopting “evidence-based” approaches to funding social programs. States that participated agreed to a year-long analysis using return on investment as a key determiner as to whether a program would be included in the budget.

In 2016 “Results-First” joined the Urban Institute, The Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute in the Evidence-Based Policy Making Collaborative funded by the pension-busting, pay-for-success promoting John and Laura Arnold Foundation. Pew and MacArthur based their cost-benefit approach on work done by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, created by the Washington State Legislature in 1983. Sara Watson worked in Washington state in the mid-1990s as an analyst for the Family Policy Council.

Patty Murray, a democratic senator from Washington state, crossed the aisle to collaborate closely with Lamar Alexander on the Every Student Succeeds Act, which included Pay for Success provisions. She also teamed up with Paul Ryan to push bi-partisan legislation, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking act, that would greatly expand access to program data, including student-level data on the nation’s children.

Sara Watson served as Executive Vice President of America’s Promise in 2012, the year it released a study promoting the use of Pay for Success Finance for workforce development programs. Page six of the document notes that in addition to relieving pressure on state and federal budgets, early childhood social impact bonds will be able to be bought and sold by investors, traded worldwide and aggregated into asset-backed securities.

In 2014 Watson joined ReadyNation as their global program director. ReadyNation International is doing work in Romania, Uganda, and Australia. Members of their taskforce promote the investment potential of early childhood interventions to bodies including the United Nations and the World Bank. In 2016 they held an invitation-only event with representatives from Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Romania, and the United Kingdom in Marbach Germany. The gathering promoted “business activism” in the early childhood space and featured speakers from the World Bank, KPMG, and Bain & Co. Are these the people we want making decisions about our children’s care? People who see toddlers as human capital? Their education as an investment opportunity?

Absolutely not.

As I noted in my previous post, Pay-for-Success promoters are the sort who would elect NOT to feed hungry children unless they can make a return on their investment. Dugger/ReadyNation, Jones/Robin Hood, and Watson/Pew are not organizing business leaders to SOLVE global poverty. Rather, they are organizing business people to maximize the profit that can be extracted by strategically managing poverty and the securitized debt associated with public program service delivery. Their plan is to enrich the funders and non-profits that are willing to play the data-dashboard game, at the expense of humanity.

-Alison McDowell

Previous posts about the ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood:

Pre-K Profit: ReadyNation Hosts Global Business Leaders in New York City This November: Link

Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild and ReadyNation: Link

Galton and Global Education Futures Forum: Scientific Racism Looking Backwards and Forwards: Link

Heckman and Pritzker Pitch Apps as Poverty “Solutions” Yielding A 13% Rate of Return: Link

The Chicago School of Economics and George Soros: New Theories for An Impoverished World: Link

What you can do to assist families at our southern border

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First they came for the immigrants…

Originally posted in The Cut.

What You Can Do Right Now to Help Immigrant Families Separated at the Border

Under the Trump administration’s extreme “zero tolerance” immigration policy, immigrant families are being separated at the border. The policy, which was officially announced on May 7, has led to more than 2,000 immigrant children being ripped from their parents while attempting to cross into the U.S. The stories are horrifying: federal agents allegedly taking away a mother’s baby as she was breastfeeding, asylum seekers listening to their children scream from another room, and a man killing himself after being separatedfrom his wife and child.

“The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child,” said a spokesperson for the U.N. human-rights office.

To find out how the general public can fight this horrific policy, the Cut reached out to various organizations that advocate for immigrants’ rights. Below, here’s what you can do to help.

Volunteer at organizations

Many organizations in border states are actively looking for volunteers who are willing to complete tasks like organizing legal intake and interviewing families, especially if those volunteers are Spanish-speaking and have legal experience. The Texas Civil Rights Project, for example, is seeking “volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistant experience.”

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If you can’t volunteer, donate

For those who don’t live in southern states or meet the qualifications for volunteering, a simple way to help is by donating to organizations. In addition to the Texas Civil Rights Project (donate here), there’s the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrants; the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rightswhich advocates for many of the separated and unaccompanied children; Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, which provides legal representation to low-income immigrants and families seeking reunification; and the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, which organizes to oppose migrant detention and border militarization. You can also make a single donation at ActBlue, which will give money to eight organizations that are working to protect migrant children separated from their families at the border. And, as always, you can donate to the ACLU.

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Attend a protest

On June 30, cities across the country will host protests against the family-separation policy. A number of organizations including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the ACLU, the Women’s March, and MoveOn, among others — have organized the event. The main demonstration is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Here’s how to join.

“We are ready to have a mass mobilization,” tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who announced the protest on All In with Chris Hayes. “This has to be taken right to the White House and to Donald Trump’s doorstep.”

Ongoing demonstrations are also being organised by local grassroots organizations. One group that has coordinated protests all over the U.S. is Families Belong Together.

To see if there’s a march near you, click here.

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Japanese Internment Camp in California

Contact your elected representatives

Manoj Govindaiah, the director of Family Detention Services at RAICES, stressed the importance of contacting your local politicians to voice your disapproval.

“The general public needs to make their elected representatives know that they will not tolerate this treatment for anyone, let alone victims of persecution,” he told the Cut. “We recommend that the general public contact their elected officials and express their outrage against these policies.” He also suggests that people arrange and organize meetings with their elected officials when they’re in their home states during congressional recesses “to speak in person about how these policies have affected themselves and their families.”

You can find out who represents you here; if you need a suggestion for what to say, the ACLU has a script.

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Remember Auschwitz?

-Dora Taylor

From Math to Marksmanship: Military Ties to Gamified Assessments

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

HCeconomics

There is a difference between education and training. There is a difference between knowing just enough to carry out orders without questioning the chain of command and knowing enough to participate in civic life as a critical thinker. If educational-technology is an extension of military training/human engineering, which it is, we should give careful consideration as to what our society needs at this time, and if we should be allowing the military-industrial complex to data-mine and track our children’s innermost thoughts.

This past February, economist James Heckman convened a working group of social scientists to discuss new types of assessments that are being designed to capture data about children’s social-emotional traits and predict future behaviors. The researchers spent two days in an oak-paneled room at the University of Chicago where they collaborated on the new assessments and measurements. Impact investors, like Heckman’s patron JB Pritzker, need the metrics these tests will deliver to fuel their predatory, speculative pay for success schemes. Videos of the recorded presentations can be viewed here.

I will be excerpting segments of these talks on my blog, since I know most of you won’t have the time to sit through hours of viewing. This first segment highlights the intersection of educational technology and military training. For more information read one of my early pieces “How exactly did the Department of Defense end up in my child’s classroom?”

It is important to note that ReadyNation, sponsor of the Global Business Summit on Early Childhood, is a program of the Council for A Strong America. ReadyNation is their workforce development program. Another of the group’s five program areas is “Mission Readiness.” The website states this initiative is run by seven hundred “Retired admirals and generals strengthening national security by ensuring kids stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble.”

There is a difference between education and training. There is a difference between knowing just enough to carry out orders without questioning the chain of command and knowing enough to participate in civic life as a critical thinker. If educational-technology is an extension of military training/human engineering, which it is, we should give careful consideration as to what our society needs at this time, and if we should be allowing the military-industrial complex to data-mine and track our children’s innermost thoughts.

Watch the clip here. Full talk here.

Timestamp 6 minutes 40 seconds

Jeremy Roberts (PBS Kids): I’ll hand it over to Greg. I wanted to give you a chance to talk about UCLA CRESST.

Gregory Chung (UCLA, CRESST) So, just quickly, you know what we bring to the project is expertise in the use of technology for measurement purposes. Whether it’s simulation or games. How do we turn that information about what we think is going on in their heads to their interaction with the game? So going through that whole analysis process from construct definition to behavior formation. And then just a general, we do research in a military context and in an education context, training, pre-k to adults. I joke that my motto is from math to marksmanship. (audience laughter)

Unidentified Audience Member: Can you say what the relationship is between the military and education?

Chung: Ah, it’s like…it is like… at a certain level they’re the same. Military training is about effectiveness. You train just enough to get someone to do some job. But integrated technology, adaptive systems give feedback. So all the instructional issues that you commonly apply to education, you apply to the military. But also you go from the military, who kind of created the whole instructional design system, back to education. And it’s really interesting when we have an intersection in say marksmanship, how do we measure skills (pantomimes shooting a rifle) with sensors, but then we bring in the educational assessment framework, like what’s going on in here (points to his head/brain), how that transfers to wobble and shake (points to torso).

Roberts: If the armed forces were to find out that say the students were not scoring sufficiently on the ASVAB to make them confident that they’d be able to operate the next generation of tank, for example, the army might be really interested in early childhood education.

Chung: (chuckling in audience) So, really they’re the same.

Heckman: It has, right? Already. And quite a few aren’t able to pass the ASVAB.

-Alison McDowell

Test Scores and Child Hunger: The Cold Calculus of Pay for Success Predators

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Food for Children

Through outsourcing and the imposition of hard metrics, “what works” lobbyists intend to push the poor, and those teetering on the brink of poverty, into an abyss of impact-driven digital slavery. They’ll pull the non-profits in, along with their clients, since “what works” government hinges on their complicity. Moving forward, non-profits will increasingly run outsourced programs and will be required to deliver the data demanded by outcomes-based contracts. Services will be reengineered to fit the constraints of data dashboards-human life reduced to numbers to meet the demands of global capital.

When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist. Dom Helder Camara, Brazilian Catholic archbishop and important figure in liberation theology (1909-1999)

Wrench in the Gears is primarily a blog about education, and the dehumanizing influence technology wields over classroom instruction. In doing this work, I’ve come to understand that, at its root, the shift to digital “education” is about aggregating vast datasets on children than can be mined for profit in the impact-investing sector. This tactic is not limited to education. In fact, it threatens to engulf ALL public services.

Through outsourcing and the imposition of hard metrics, “what works” lobbyists intend to push the poor, and those teetering on the brink of poverty, into an abyss of impact-driven digital slavery. They’ll pull the non-profits in, along with their clients, since “what works” government hinges on their complicity. Moving forward, non-profits will increasingly run outsourced programs and will be required to deliver the data demanded by outcomes-based contracts. Services will be reengineered to fit the constraints of data dashboards-human life reduced to numbers to meet the demands of global capital.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, signed into law this February, created a new $100 million Pay for Success Fund at the US Department of the Treasury. Merchant banking firms like Ridge-Lane have marshaled teams of advisors to get in on the action. Financiers and tech billionaires are grooming candidates across the country, hoping their chosen ones will usher in a wave of Pay for Success initiatives that will rival the stock market.

At its core, the new theory of “economic thinking” promoted by INET is riddled with rot. While George Soros, James Heckman, and Robert Dugger attempt to cast social impact investment programs as socially conscious and “progressive,” the public deserves to know the truth. That truth is that these predators will NOT feed hungry children UNLESS they can profit from it.

Feeding people through mutual aid has always been a radical act. The Black Panther Party knew it, which is why those in power considered their free breakfast program so dangerous. In January a dozen activists associated with Break the Ban were issued criminal citations for feeding the homeless in a public park in El Cajon, CA. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, mutual aid became the backbone of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Food is central to the human experience. Food insecurity drives poverty.

After reading the exchange below it appears impact investors have not YET found a way to track cost-offsets for feeding people, but they are trying. It is likely the tool they need will come in the form of digital identity systems linked to public assistance benefits. The Illinois Blockchain Taskforce is already envisioning ways they can use blockchain technology to track and manage a person’s food choices. See the screenshot below taken from the Illinois Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Taskforce Final Report to the General Assembly, January 31, 2018

The built-in incentive to make a “healthy choice” is part of a larger shift that will combine digital identity and payment systems with choice architecture to control the behaviors of all who utilize public benefits. We definitely need a Plan B lined up before THAT program comes online.

Below is an exchange shared during the Q&A portion of a Federal Reserve-sponsored panel presented in January at an impact investor gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. Janis Dubno moderated the panel. She works with the Sorenson Center, served as a Pay for Success Fellow at the US Department of Education in the lead up to the passage of ESSA and designed the Salt Lake City pre-k social impact bond. Click here for interactive map.

Participants discussed Pay for Success initiatives involving justice-involved youth. The conversation between Gina Cornia of Utahans Against Hunger and the promoters of social impact investing lays bare the truth of “innovative” finance. Far from being a silver-bullet for poverty, Pay for Success doubles down on inhumane, neoliberal practices that flow from a culture of white supremacy.

The upshot is if they can’t figure out a way to predict and track a future cost savings, they won’t pursue it. What is so very sad is that instead of confronting the panel about the inhumanity built into this “innovative” finance system, Cornia attempts to figure out a way her non-profit can work WITHIN the oppressive structure…perhaps as a strategy rather than a stand-alone outcomes-based contract? It sickened me to listen to adults saying they may be able to fund a child’s breakfast if they can link the food to a rise in third grade test scores. This is an abomination that cannot be tolerated. The machine we are confronting is not just eviscerating education; it’s so much bigger than that. The stakes are so high. Now is the time to create a Plan B. Who is doing that work in YOUR community and how can you support them?

Watch the video clip here.

(Gina Cornia, Utahans Against Hunger) Hi, my name is Gina Cornia. I work for a policy advocacy agency, Utahans against hunger. And in my experience just in talking about a lot of these issues, nutrition is frequently just not even mentioned. We talk about housing. We talk about healthcare. We talk about a lot of things like that, but food insecurity and hunger is not, I mean hardly ever, mentioned. So to what extent are your projects looking at food insecurity both on the family, on the family level, and on the kids who are going into juvenile justice? Thank you.

(Caroline Ross, Sorenson Impact) Sure, I’ll go ahead and speak to that. I think it’s such an important issue, and in a couple of our projects we’re looking at actually integrating food security components. For instance in our homelessness projects integrating a piece where at least there’s food, sort of as a consideration, or provided as part of the program. As far as outcomes-based payments, we haven’t really thought to that level. Again, I’m curious if folks, anybody else on the panel has thoughts?

(Ian Galloway, San Francisco Federal Reserve) I’m so glad you asked that question, because it’s such a great example of what I kind of consider to be these sorts of nested outcomes. And there’s a lot, always you know, a lot of these determinants of success, and some of those more narrow determinants are difficult to fund with a performance-based contract or an outcomes-based funding stream. There are a lot of reasons for that; part of it has to do with the fact that it’s difficult to find savings in the system.

I know I just went on a diatribe about how we shouldn’t use that as a basis for establishing value, but the truth is a lot of people do. And you know improving nutrition; it’s hard to follow the money if you can’t follow the money to an agency that saves when you increase nutrition, then it’s difficult to re-route that money to pay for projects that address the underlying needs. So that’s one of the big reasons that we don’t do this. The larger challenge is that it’s one of many component pieces to a larger anti-poverty strategy that tends to not get included as much as I think we all wish it were.

I say that coming from, I believe and I don’t think I’m making this up-I think Oregon is the most food insecure state in the country-which is kind of nutty, because it’s an agricultural state and if it’s no longer number one it’s certainly up there. So it’s an issue that is very personal to me, working in the state of Oregon. But I have not seen any examples of using a Pay for Success contract to address food insecurity and nutrition, yet.

(Gina Cornia) I don’t, I guess I’m not suggesting it as a Pay for Success project, but using access to nutrition to improve your outcomes in Pay for Success.

(Ian Galloway) So just, yeah, I think you’re spot on. I think that this is one of the beauties of paying for outcomes instead of programs. If your outcome that you’re being paid for, for example just to sort of set up the straw man, is improving third-grade reading scores. Well if kids are not adequately, you know, being fed at home, and their nutrition is poor…good luck, right? So that is a really important building block to academic success, but what we need to do is recognize that the outcome that we want is an education outcome, but the intervention is a food intervention. And that’s one of the things that Pay for Success and Outcomes-based funding hopefully makes a little bit easier, but we haven’t seen it yet.

(Gina Cornia) But I would encourage you that that should be the first conversation you’re having as you look at Pay for Success projects, especially in education. Are kids getting adequate nutrition? Do they get breakfast in the classroom? Are their families eligible for SNAP? Because, you know hungry kids can’t learn, and if that’s not the first thing you’re talking about then I don’t think the programs will be successful.

-Alison McDowell

School Transformation Double Talk Threatens Students and Teachers

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

college ready

Empowered is a popular word. But in North Dakota they are handing schools over to Knowledgeworks, a foundation that will convert schools to technology.  The only way teachers will be empowered is if they sign on to Knowledgeworks!

It’s easy to be confused by what is said about schools today. We are told one thing, when quite the opposite is taking place.

We are told that with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), education will involve local decision making. Simultaneously, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation is giving $44 million to affect state school decisions.

A citizen may have suggestions for their local school board, but who’s going to listen when that school district is taking money and doing what the Gates Foundation wants them to do?

Another example is North Dakota. Superintendent Kirsten Baesler did a podcast six months ago discussing “innovation” and “customization” of learning. She was trying to get teachers and citizens to support ND 2186, a bill that passed there to transform schools to technology.

The discussion involves double talk. These same buzz words and claims can be found in school districts across the country.

Claim: Teachers will be “empowered.”

The Reality:

Empowered is a popular word. But in North Dakota they are handing schools over to Knowledgeworks, a foundation that will convert schools to technology.

The only way teachers will be empowered is if they sign on to Knowledgeworks!

Claim: We are moving away from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The Reality:

NCLB was all about destroying public schools with strict accountability.

Total technology without teachers is the NCLB frosting on the cake!

Claim: Teacher creativity is important.

Reality:

The State of North Dakota has partnered with Ted Dintersmith, who wrote a book about what schools should be like. But he is not an educator.

Ted’s professional experience includes two decades in venture capital, including being ranked by Business 2.0 as the top-performing U.S. venture capitalist for 1995-1999. He served on the Board of the National Venture Capital Association, chairing its Public Policy Committee. From 1981 to 1987, he ran a business at Analog Devices that helped enable the digital revolution.

Where’s the teacher creativity in this?

Dintersmith uses the same line as Betsy DeVos and other corporate school reformers. In a Forbes interview he says, Schools still use a 125-year-old model, put in place to train people for industrial jobs, which lives with us to this day. 

He has also worked with Tony Wagner who once worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Claim: Customized learning is innovation.

Reality:

Customized learning is also called personalized, competency-based, proficiency-based, digital, and online learning. It means children will rely on screens for instruction and nonstop testing. Much data will be collected about them.

Teachers will become secondary to the computer as facilitators, or they could be out of a job.

Brick-and-mortar schools are also jeopardized. Students might learn at home or in libraries, museums, or charter schools.

Claim: Teachers will get authority because they are trusted.

Reality:

If this is true, why has North Dakota partnered with Dintersmith, and turned schools over to Knowledgeworks? Are teachers being used to spread the customized learning message? Will their jobs be intact in a few years?

Claim: Loosening regulations and laws will help students.

Reality:

This is dangerous. We hear it echoed by Betsy DeVos. Think about laws that protect students.

For example, if it weren’t for IDEA,  schools would not have to work with students with disabilities.

Other federal laws include Section 504, FERPA, and Protection of Pupil Rights.

North Dakota State laws can be found here. 

ND 2186 permits these changes, found on the Knowledgeworks website.

  • Awarding credit for learning that takes place outside normal school hours
  • Awarding credit for learning that takes place away from school premises
  • Allowing flexibility regarding instructional hours, school days, and school years
  • Allowing any other appropriate flexibility necessary to implement the pilot program effectively

How will we know what students learn? You can see here how brick-and-mortar schools could be on their way out.

Claim: We are doing what’s right for children.

Reality: There is no proof that this is true. An OECD study in 2015 found that students did better with less technology!

______________________________

This is just some of the double talk out there. Check out my list of state superintendents and compare what they say with other state leaders.

Tune in to the language. It isn’t always what it seems.

Note. Knowledgeworks will be working with North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina (and Indiana?). Will they be coming to your state?

All of the changes in North Dakota were across party lines.

______________________________

Here is a well-researched and more detailed explanation of North Dakota’s situation. “They’ve Got Trouble, up there in North Dakota.” Wrench in the Gears.  

-Nancy Bailey

Heckman and Pritzker Pitch Apps as Poverty “Solutions” Yielding a 13% Return on Investment

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Do You See A Child or Human Capital?

If you have time to watch the entire hour, I encourage you to listen as these two men discuss their plans to create tools that will measure non-cognitive skills in service of outcomes-based contracts and a futures market in infant and toddler data. They are creating the next “big short” right before our eyes, and this time it’s not homes hanging in the balance, it’s our children. As if IQ scores weren’t awful enough, now they are developing an IQ equivalent for Big 5 character traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They want to define and rate our kids according to their “soft skills.”

This is the fourth in a series providing context for the Global Business Summit on Early Childhood that ReadyNation will be hosting in New York City November 1-2, 2018. The featured image is from an article pitching Waterford Upstart online preschool, piloted in Utah, a state experimenting with funding early childhood education using social impact bonds. The caption on the photo states that this four year old doesn’t have running water in her home, but she does have access to literacy education on a chromebook.

The focus of this post is Dr. James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago since the early 1970s. Much of his research focuses on investments in early childhood as it pertains to labor markets. In 2000, Dr. Heckman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for contributions to the field of micro-econometrics. James Heckman; Arthur Rolnick, former senior researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve; and Robert Dugger, venture capitalist and ReadyNation advisor, have worked together for decades. Below is a relationship map for Heckman. See the interactive version here.

HeckmanDugger, and Stephen Durlauf, another professor of economics at the University of Chicago, lead the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group (HCEO). Launched in 2010, the initiative is run by the Center for the Economics of Human Capital Development and supported financially by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a think tank established by George Soros in the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008. Yes, Soros is funding human capital research conducted by a professor working out of the Becker (Milton) Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago. In the short video below, Heckman describes how HCEO fosters interdisciplinary research between 400+ academics who research poverty and then use that research to influence public policy.

HCEO’s six focus areas are closely linked to the social impact investment sector: childhood interventions, family inequality, health inequality, identity and personality, inequality measurement and policy, and markets.

With financial support from JB Pritzker via the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, Heckman’s academic work has been organized into an online tool kit to promote early childhood education as an investment opportunity, one they claim could yield a 13% annual rate of return once health outcomes are taken into account.

Suzanne Muchin’s branding firm Mind + Matter Studio developed The Heckman Equation website. Muchin served for four years as Vice President of programs for Teach for America and serves on the board of 1871, a tech accelerator based in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart launched by Pritzker in 2012.

Pritzker is a tech-oriented venture capitalist and politician. His sister Penny served on the Chicago Board of Education and later as Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration. In 2014, the Pritzker Foundation joined with the Gates, Irving Harris, and Kaiser Family Foundations and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund to create the First Five Years Fund to expand universal pre-k access. Pritzker has participated, as a funder, in two pilot early childhood social impact bond programs in the United States; one in Salt Lake City and the other in Chicago. If you are not up to speed on the history of and dangers posed by SIBs and pay for success programs, spend some time looking over the resources here.

In the trailer for a new documentary on social impact bonds, The Invisible Heart, Pritzker states:

“We are in the nascent stages of a social impact bond boom. Could be as big as the New York Stock Exchange…I’ve heard (people say), why are we letting investors make money off of our children. Well, that’s silly.” JB Pritzker

Pritzker is the Democratic candidate in Illinois governor’s race. He has also thrown money to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s campaign “Choose Children,” that is pushing to elect a governor of California who will be a “champion of young children.” Of course the subtext here is that Silicon Valley hopes to install a governor who will scale pay for success early childhood education programs, programs that will tap the state’s millions of vulnerable children as profit centers.

Heckman and Pritzker have been laying the groundwork for the early childhood impact investing market for years. The remainder of this post is comprised of clips and transcripts I pulled from a presentation the two men gave in San Diego in 2016. The passages that follow make it clear the formerly worthy idea of “whole child” education has been completely hijacked by global finance. It also explains why in some districts in Maine half the report card rubrics revolve around evaluations of “habits of mind.”

If you have time to watch the entire hour, I encourage you to listen as these two men discuss their plans to create tools that will measure non-cognitive skills in service of outcomes-based contracts and a futures market in infant and toddler data. They are creating the next “big short” right before our eyes, and this time it’s not homes hanging in the balance, it’s our children. As if IQ scores weren’t awful enough, now they are developing an IQ equivalent for Big 5 character traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They want to define and rate our kids according to their “soft skills.”

Below are presentation highlights in case you don’t have time to listen to the clips:

  • Poverty it’s not just about money, it’s about “parenting, encouragement and skills.”
  • Investing in young children yields higher results relative to workforce and life outcomes than do investments in older children and teens.
  • The highest returns will be on interventions directed at ages 0 to 3.
  • Children have achievement gaps documented as early as age 3.
  • IQ doesn’t increase much after a child reaches the age of 10, but interventions can continue to shape a child’s “character skills” to improve workforce outcomes.
  • It’s not just about being smart; it’s about being motivated.
  • Heckman identifies non-cognitive skills as a “target of opportunity” for investors.
  • But first they need to develop an inventory of social emotional skills to assess, track, and measure non-cognitive traits. (For the purposes of predicting outcomes for impact investment evaluation).
  • Having the OECD (promoter of PISA) on board is a good sign.
  • By “improving outcomes” through interventions, they claim poor children will require fewer public expenditures in the future. Social impact bonds will then capture those anticipated savings as profit to be handed over to privateinvestors.
  • Factoring in health outcomes, the return on these investments could be as high as 13% per year, which is HUGE.
  • Pritzker plans to identify cheap, scalable interventions-like parenting apps. (Because all impoverished families really need is an app to tell them what they should be doing to parent their children.)
  • There has been push-back from both ends of the political spectrum against using Pay for Success to Fund early childhood interventions, but they were able to convince communities by using compelling financial structures and promising “results.”
  • In closing, Heckman says you have to get parents on board or the whole thing is going to fail.

Do you hear that parents?!

Their talk was sponsored by Education Synergy Alliance, whose director Laura Kohn came from Seattle where she worked as a state-level advocate for the Gates Foundation, and San Diego Grantmakers, a collaborative that has been promoting use of Pay for Success in program delivery. Connie Matsui, social entrepreneur and former chair of the San Diego Foundation, brought Heckman and Prizker to San Diego in 2016.

This two-minute clip is from JB Pritzker’s introduction. Watch it here.

(Pritzker) “Really, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here. I had the opportunity to be here earlier today, and so did Jim, to speak to the larger community foundations where they are doing amazing work and where so many communities from around the country that have large endowments and lots of donor advised funds are beginning to look at early childhood development as an important arena for them. I’m, of course, particularly grateful to be asked to join Professor Heckman and to share thoughts today on a subject that I care deeply about, and that I believe is maybe the most important issue facing us in the country today, early childhood development.

So in truth, I’m a businessman (fortune valued at $3.4 billion), and I’m not a Nobel prize winner. No one will ever claim I will win anything like that. I’m lucky to share a stage occasionally with Professor Heckman. So I’ll speak from my heart about what I care about deeply and from the position that I come from. I’m here to solicit you for your business. I want to make a pitch to you today. It’s a subject that I care about, that’s about making investments. And so if you’re ready for my pitch…if you invest with me, and you invest with Professor Heckman we can not only unlock human potential, but we can also get you at HUGE return on your investment. So, do you want to hear the rest of my pitch?”

The middle section of the presentation, between timestamp 23:30 and timestamp 35:00, features Dr. Heckman presenting his theories about the importance of character education in public schools; that non-cognitive (social emotional) skills are more important to workforce outcomes than cognitive (academic) performance. He goes on to discuss the importance of interventions linked to non-cognitive skills training to health outcomes. Heckman proposes that certain interventions will yield an impressive rate of return of up to 13% once health outcomes are considered. Watch a seven-minute excerpt here.

(Heckman) “Poverty, as we understand it now is not just money. Poverty, of course the way we measure it IS money, but actually it’s more than that. We’ve come to understand that it’s not JUST money. And that is what the great experiment was launched by Johnson. We’ve also come to understand it has to do with parenting, encouragement and basically this set of skills. And I think what we have now is a much more comprehensive notion.

So basically we think the early lives play a very important role for promoting social mobility, for promoting equality. And then miracle of miracles and we started following these people using the same kind of experiments that were started, but then stopped in the wake of the war on poverty, and head start. What we found was, yes, actually IQ did fade out after about age 10, just like Jenson said, just like everybody said.

And guess what? When we follow these people to age 40 and 50, these people have very high social and economic returns, and it came exactly through this mechanism of character skills and engagement. And surprise of surprise, even though these kids didn’t have any higher IQ, it also turned out they actually did have higher test scores. Why? Because these achievement test scores involve more than just being smart, it’s being motivated

We think about the skills problem, and JB referred to this skills problem, it’s an enormous problem. So we looked for examples at this measure, the civil international adult literacy survey that’s taken every few years. It’s basically America, the United States, when stacked up against all of the OECD countries is the worst in terms of percentages of people who are at the lowest rung of literacy and numeracy. We mentioned another dimension of this is the fact that among children, among males 16 to 26 eligible for military service, only about 25% are actually qualified. They’re mostly disqualified, a lot of it has to do with cognitive deficits and so forth. Now these are preventable, because we know from these interventions that we can do something about it.

We have the skills problem. But how do you promote skills? That leads to another issue if you…look at test score gaps, which is what sees a lot of attention between the haves and the have-nots; if you look at age 18 you see a tremendous gap between those kids who have parents who are college-educated and those whose parents are high school drop outs, mothers probably, ok. So if you look at the graph you’ll also see that that gap is there before they enter school, and it’s actually there at age three, which is the earliest age we can reliably measure these things.

So now wait a minute, you can say oh we’re talking about genetics, that’s a perfect eugenic argument, right? These people are born dumb to dumb parents and their dumb parents didn’t get education, so therefore this is just the manifestation of what Charles Murray was talking about. The answer is no, because what we’ve done is we’ve actually randomly assigned these children, put them in different environments, enriched their local environment, their parenting environment, the school environments. And we then track them against students who didn’t receive such supplementation early in life, and we find they’re much better performing. But we need a much richer inventory of how we decide what’s better and a deeper understanding of what the skills are that make them successful in life.

So, I think a good measure of how much the world has changed in terms of thinking about skills is a new report issued by the OECD. The OECD was the group that promotes the PISA exam, so every few years you know Shanghai is very proud and has some of the highest PISA scores in the world. And you go into China and you go into Hong Kong and they are lower and very envious. But the OECD now is getting the point. It only got it recently, but it’s now starting to say we need to inventory exactly these character skills, because they’ve been shown to be predictive, they’re also highly malleable, and they’re actually highly valuable even to somewhat later ages.

So even when we think we can’t boost IQ, that might be very difficult because the rank is stable and your ranking in the IQ distribution is pretty well established as JB was saying around 8, 9, 10 or somewhere in that zone. It is still true that these character skills are more manipulable (malleable?). In the sense they are actually our target of opportunity. So a much deeper understanding, and I think when we go in and look at what the economic and social benefits are of these interventions, we have a deeper and more comprehensive evaluation system looking at both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

But to come to the economic return; we can see substantial benefits. So we have actually computed the rate of return, the kind of rate of return that venture capitalists worry about, and should properly worry about, and that many of you probably worry about. What we found was the rate of return on something like the Perry Preschool Program was somewhere between seven and ten percent per annum, per annum, which is extremely high. If you look at the US stock market average investment in equity between 45 and 2008, that’s above that. Great, ok so you’re actually finding it’s a very, very good investment. These are targeted towards kids who are disadvantaged; it’s providing family supplementation. We can talk about the details of those programs. Then, more recently, we did some studies and this blew people out; it blew me out. We also followed another group of children who are actually followed now in the wake of the Perry study, but in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina. We followed these children up to age 35, and we not only gave them the standard measures of unemployment, crime, participation in the larger society, but we also looked at health.

We asked how did they look in terms of health? What we found was that those children, now actually adults, have much lower risk factors for all the adult onset diseases: lower propensity for diabetes, lower cardiovascular conditions. And what we see is that there is not only a benefit that comes, but health. How can that be? It’s because of that same notion of regulation behavior, following numeracy, getting engaged in the larger society. We find less smoking, less drinking, less engagement in unhealthy lifestyles in the wake of having these higher levels of cognitive and non-cognitive skills. So, you know, we’re in the process of learning. But the fact of the matter is we’re getting a very high rate of return for that intervention. Preliminary evidence is suggesting somewhere between 11 and 13 percent IF we include the enhanced health benefits.”

This section is from the question and answer period and closing to the presentation. Timestamp 48:50, watch it here.

(Pritzker) “That expense that you talked about; gee, that’s a very expensive intervention? That’s taken into account in these returns, okay. So it’s not like, I mean, the expense gets you that return. So it doesn’t matter that your investment was a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars or five thousand dollars. The return is what you get on those dollars invested.

(Heckman) But in addition to the direct expense you’re also going to get the welfare cost of raising taxes, so that’s also factored in here, so the sum of ten percent or the return is after accounting for actually the direct cost of hiring the teachers and the cost of collecting taxes to finance those. So that’s why I think it’s a fairly compelling study…if you look at the evidence I’m happy to send you the papers we’ve written, and we’re writing more. But you are finding very strong precision about these estimates.

(Pritzker) And we’re not advocating for very, very expensive interventions specifically. There are lots of scalable, much less expensive interventions. In fact, that’s what I spend my time looking for and helping to evaluate the scalability of, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to get the federal, state, and local governments to adopt them. Right? They’ve got to feel less expensive, but the reality is the more expensive actually works, too…

(Heckman) It’s an area of evolution. We really want to find out what’s best practice and what’s cheaper, right?

(Pritzker) The returns on preschool are much lower than on 0 to 3. So the interventions on 0 to 3 that we know work are home visitation, just as an example. Home visitation works.

Now there’s an expensive version of home visitation, and there’s a less expensive version of home visitation. And there’s been lots of study on these home visitation programs, but the critical component of it is reaching the parent. The parent is the first and best teacher for a child and if you can reach a parent, almost every parent, almost, wants to be a good parent. So we know what works and we know what are some scalable versions. Some of them, by the way, are texting programs. So almost every poor parent in America has a smart phone, and there are programs just for reminding parents what things work, and they want to know and they want to do these things and they’ll find time to do them.

But back to getting communities to buy in, it is very hard, and we got involved, I’ll talk about social impact bonds. But basically bringing preschool to Utah, a state where the political environment for preschool is hard; we did it with a finance plan that made sense for Utah, for Salt Lake. It got community engagement in it and support for it, because, frankly because we showed them what the results would look like.

So we started with that. There was resistance on both ends for preschool for example and any kind of early childhood education. On one end of the political spectrum the resistance is, you’re interfering with the parent-child relationship; you’re somehow interceding, the government is being paternalistic and getting engaged in something that should be a private matter. That’s one side of the political spectrum. On the other side of the political spectrum are the views that well with a social impact bond is why are private investors getting involved in something government should do? The government should get all the returns on this, the taxpayers should get all the returns-I happen to agree with that, that the government should put forward. But how many people think, how many people have a surplus in their local, state or federal government right now? None.”

Previous posts about the ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood:

Pre-K Profit: ReadyNation Hosts Global Business Leaders in New York City This November: Link

Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild and ReadyNation: Link

Galton and Global Education Futures Forum: Scientific Racism Looking Backwards and Forwards: Link

-Alison McDowell

Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and ReadyNation

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Pre-K Teachers Heart Tech

The push for early childhood education access is NOT being driven by a desire to meet the basic human needs of children. Rather financial interests that view children as cogs in a national workforce development program are pushing it; and they see preschoolers as lumps of human capital to be plugged into economic forecasts. This is all happening at a time when human services are being privatized in the name of scalable, outcomes-driven social entrepreneurship. The trailer for a new documentary, The Invisible Heart, on social impact bonds indicates how much capital is flowing into this new market.

This post provides additional background on the ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood Education that will take place at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York City November 1-2, 2018. No U.S. educators or policy advocates may attend unless they come with at least four pre-approved business sponsors. Review the draft agenda here.

This is the second in a series. Read part one here.

Where did ReadyNation come from?

The idea emerged from a conversation three men had on a conference call during the summer of 2003:

  • Arthur Rolnick, senior researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve
  • Robert Dugger, financial policy analyst and venture capitalist
  • James Heckman, University of Chicago economics professor

Its first incarnation, the “Investing in Kids Working Group,” focused on researching returns on early childhood investments, developing finance mechanisms, and crafting policy recommendations. Over the past fifteen years Dugger, in consultation with Heckman and Rolnick and with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, gradually built a structure to undergird a global investment market fueled by debt associated with provision of early childhood education services.

The push for early childhood education access is NOT being driven by a desire to meet the basic human needs of children. Rather financial interests that view children as cogs in a national workforce development program are pushing it; and they see preschoolers as lumps of human capital to be plugged into economic forecasts. This is all happening at a time when human services are being privatized in the name of scalable, outcomes-driven social entrepreneurship. The trailer for a new documentary, The Invisible Heart, on social impact bonds indicates how much capital is flowing into this new market.

Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and Pay for Performance

Much of my research has focused on the Boston area (global finance), the Bay Area (tech), Chicago (blockchain), and New York (urban policy). So I was surprised to find what may be a key piece of this puzzle actually comes out of Minneapolis Minnesota. Though perhaps the fact that Minnesota is home to the nation’s first charter school, City Academy that opened in St. Paul in 1992, indicates local conditions favor neoliberal reforms.

Arthur (Art) Rolnick spent his 40-year career as a senior economic researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. During that time he also served as an associate professor in the economics department of the University of Minnesota and was co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The Collaborative houses the Chicago Longitudinal Study whose researchers are tracking the short and long term effects of early intervention on 1,000 students who attended Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers in 1984-85.

The Chicago Child-Parent Centers were service providers for one of the nation’s first two early childhood social impact bonds, begun in December 2014. The Chicago SIB included payout metrics tied to third grade literacy scores. Thus far the program has issued maximum payments to investors including Pritzker, Goldman-Sachs and Northern Trust. According to this report from the Institute for Child Success, it is possible that over the seventeen-year time horizon for the SIB, $34 million could be paid out on the initial $16.9 investment.

Click here for the interactive version of this map.

Rolnick connected with Steven Rothschild, a former vice president at General Mills who left the corporate sector and launched Twin Cities RISE!, an “innovative anti-poverty” program that provided workforce training for low income adults, in the mid 1990s. Rothschild arranged with the state of Minnesota to provide services via an outcomes-based contracting arrangement where the organization was only paid when the “economic value” they provided to the state by increasing taxes (paid by those placed in jobs) and decreasing state expenditures (reduced costs for social services or incarceration) met approved targets.

Arthur Rolnick and Gary Stern of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve worked with Rothschild and Twin Cities Rise! to develop the economic analysis in support of the outcomes-based contracting initiative. Rolnick’s work with Rothschild eventually led him to examine the economic implications of early childhood interventions using data from the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study. In 2003, the year Rolnick had that auspicious phone call with Robert Dugger and James Heckman, he and and Rob Grunewald, regional economic analyst, put out the following report for the Minneapolis Federal Reserve: Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return.

In a 2006 profile of Rolnick, Minnesota journalist and blogger Kevin Featherly notes that report catalyzed $1 million in seed money for the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, a project of the Minnesota Business for Early Learning. It also put Rolnick and Grunewald on the lecture circuit for the next several years where they touted early childhood education as a prudent economic investment. Weatherly likened Rolnick’s schedule after the release of the report to that of a presidential candidate, sharing the stage with Jeb Bush at the National Governor’s Convention, the head of the Gates Foundation at the National Council of State Legislatures, and presenting to a global audience at the World Bank.

Rothschild who served on the boards of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and Minneapolis Foundation, went on to found the consulting firm Invest in Outcomes and write the Non Non-Profit, a book that exhorted non-profits to focus on the Return on Investment (ROI) and measurable economic outcomes of the services they provide. These ideas eventually led the Minnesota legislature to adopt the “Pay for Performance Act” in 2011 that appropriated $10 million for a pilot program to develop Human Capital Performance Bonds or HuCaps.

Rothschild provides a detailed explanation of how HuCaps function in a 2013 article for the San Francisco Federal Reserve’s publication Community Development Investment Review. HuCaps differ from social impact bonds in that they are true bonds and tap into the state bond markets; which, in theory, could give them access to significantly more capital-trillions of dollars rather than millions. In this podcast with the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Rothschild describes the model developed by Twin Cities RISE! as the basis for much of the social impact investing activities that have emerged over the past decade.

Source for this slide.

As structured in the Minnesota legislation, the service provider is the one that takes the risk rather than the investor. If the provider is not able to meet the target metrics they are the ones who will not be paid. As a consequence, HuCaps have not yet taken off; see Propel Nonprofit’s analysis here.

Source for this slide.

Nevertheless, there are those who have not given up on the Human Capital Performance Bond approach. Arnold Packer, former director of the education reform and workforce development SCANS 2000 Center based out of Johns Hopkins University, wrote about HuCaps for the Brookings Institution in 2015 (the co-chair of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making is Bruce Haskins also of Brookings). He noted that Milton Friedman was among the first to float the idea of leveraging private investment in human capital development. Take a minute to watch this one-minute video, from Institute for the Future, that portrays a college student contemplating entering into an income-sharing arrangement in exchange for tuition.

The idea that states could issue bonds for human capital in the same way they do for infrastructure like bridges, and that future savings will be created as people attain higher paying jobs due to their improved human capital, is central to the HuCap premise. In order to justify future cost savings, those receiving services must be tracked, so their “outcomes” can be measured over time. According to Arnold:

“This reform requires a shift in thinking on all sides, investors in human resources (early childhood education falls into this category) will have to consider statistically estimated benefits in terms of future cost savings and revenue as equivalent to projected revenue from a toll road. Government agencies will have to coordinate in order to structure attractive Human Resource bonds, since different agencies at different levels of government, benefit from the savings resulting from earlier investments.” Source

This model of finance, if ever widely adopted, would demand all recipients of public services (including education) be part of the government’s statistical estimate. Because many early-intervention services are directed at families, a person’s predictive profile would likely start to be amassed prenatally; babies assigned a Decentralized Identifier (DID), before they are even born. Estimates would be made about the likelihood a person would need to access services in the future, what those services would be, and what they would cost. Assessments would be made about the anticipated tax revenue a person would in turn generate over their lifetime. All of this data would need to be calculated in order to determine the impact metrics for the investors and structure “attractive human resource bonds.”

Before the rise of cloud-based computing, such a level of tracking would have been impossible. Having access to data to make those predictions would have been difficult to obtain. But that is rapidly changing in this world of Big Data, digital identity and “moneyball for kids.” The bi-partisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making concluded public hearings in February 2017, and the vast majority of those providing testimony favored creating enormous pools of data to inform public policy decisions.

Evidence Based Policy Making

Read the report.

Responsibilities of the Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making:

Things seem to be on hold for the moment with Human Capital Performance Bonds, but I feel strongly they may be simply waiting in the wings until Blockchain sovereign identity is normalized. An Illinois state Blockchain task force (note Pritzker, backer of early childhood SIBs is running a well-funded campaign for governor of Illinois now) has developed preliminary recommendations linking public service benefits to citizens using Blockchain technology. They even envision building in behavioral incentives tied to the provision of services through digital economic platforms. See the diagram below for an illustration of how they might incentivize food purchases.

Read the report.

Of course the implications of this type of manipulation for people who live in food deserts with limited access to fresh produce remains unaddressed. And it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how other choices might be economically incentivized: which online course to take (the evidence-based one); which training program (the evidence-based one); which therapy provider (the evidence-based one); which medical treatment (the evidence-based one). But by whose measure? Who sets the metrics? Who profits when “evidence-based” standards are imposed?

How will independently-owned, neighborhood-based child care centers fare in this new landscape? If they are shuttered, what will the economic impacts be for communities, especially in economically distressed neighborhoods where such businesses are important sources of employment? Will small-scale providers be willing to collect the “human capital” data required to take advantage of pay for success investments? If they are willing, would they even have the money to purchase the technology (smart tables, anyone?) required to gather their “impact” evidence?

Rob Grunewald, Rolnick’s collaborater on the Federal Reserve Early Childhood paper, is on the ReadyNation Summit planning committee. Rolnick is part of a workshop, “Scalable Success Stories in Early Childhood Programs,” at 11:45 on Friday, November 2nd.

The “pay for performance” finance mechanism dreamed up by Rothschild and Rolnick in the 1990s is particularly well-suited to this age of Internet of Things data collection, surveillance, predictive analytics, financialization, and economic precocity. This is why we should all be very concerned about ReadyNation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood; especially because it so clearly discourages early childhood educators and policy advocates from attending.

Next up, Dr. James Heckman and the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

-Alison McDowell

 

How Big Data Becomes Psy Ops and Tilts the World Towards its Own Aims: Next Stop, Public Education

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

640px-LudovicoMalcolmMcDowellAClockworkOrangetrailer
Ludovico technique apparatus – A Clockwork Orange

While “grit” has been exposed for the racist narrative it is, it’s also a direct by-product of the same OCEANS framework used to control, predict and manipulate voters. If this data can sway major national elections and change the global trajectory of history, imagine what such data, gathered on children, day after day, year after year, could yield for corporations and government interests.

The psy ops tactics used to get Donald Trump elected to the U.S. Presidency (still having gag reflex) are the same ones being used in public schools, using children as their “data” source. Given the power they had on influencing the electorate, imagine what they could do with 12 years of public school data collected on your child.

What data? And how was it used?

A psychologist named Michael Kosinski (see full report) from Cambridge developed a method to analyze Facebook members, using the cute little personality quizzes or games. What started as a fun experiment resulted with the largest data set combining psychometric scores with Facebook profiles ever to be collected. Dr. Kosinski is a leading expert in psychometrics, a data-driven sub-branch of psychology. His work is grounded on the Five Factors of Personality Theory which include something called OCEAN: openness, conscientiousnessextraversionagreeableness, and neuroticism.

So many people volunteered their personal information to play these games and take these quizzes that before long Kosinski had volumes of data from which he could now predict all sorts of things about the attitudes and behaviors of these individuals. He applied the Five Factors (Big Five Theory) model (well-known in psychometric circles) and developed a system by which he could predict very personal and detailed behaviors of individuals on a level deeper than had been accessed by prior models or systems.

Enter Cambridge Analytica (CA), a company connected to a British firm called SCL Group, which provides governments, political groups and companies around the world with services ranging from military disinformation campaigns to social media branding and voter targeting. CA indirectly acquired Kosinksi’s model and method for his MyPersonality database without his consent.

Then, CA was hired by the Trump team to provide “dark advertising” that would sway undecided people toward a Trump vote. CA was able to access this data to search for specific profiles: “all anxious fathers, all angry introverts, for example—or maybe even all undecided Democrats.” See motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brexit-trump

Steve Bannon sits on the board for Cambridge Analytica.

“We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win,” Alexander James Ashburner Nix was quoted as saying. According to Motherboard, “His company wasn’t just integral to Trump’s online campaign, but to the UK’s Brexit campaign as well.” In Nix’s own words, it worked like this: “At Cambridge,” he said, “we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.”

The report continues, “according to Nix, the success of Cambridge Analytica’s marketing is based on a combination of three elements: behavioral science using the OCEAN Model, Big Data analysis, and ad targeting. Ad targeting is personalized advertising, aligned as accurately as possible to the personality of an individual consumer.” Then these same consumers receive “dark posts”-or, advertisements specifically devised for them, and that cannot be viewed by anyone else other than that person.

Where did the Big Five Theory come from?

Dr. Raymond Cattell is regaled in Western culture for his so called notable contributions to the field of intelligence assessment (IQ and personality work). Despite his direct and profound relationship to the eugenics movement and his recognition by the Nazi Party for the birth of The Beyondists, his work is benignly promoted in scholarly circles. But the fact that he is professionally legitimized does not make him any less the racist he was. And his contributions toward racist practices live on. He has two notable theories of personality development and measurement entitled The Big Five Theory and the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF).

The way that OCEANS Five Factors personality data from our students can be used:

The recent trend toward a “grit narrative,” hailed by Angela Duckworth and others, has been gobbled up by school districts around the country. The OCEANS model is used widely by schools and other institutions internationally.

“The grit measure has been compared to the Big Five  personality model, which are a group of broad personality dimensions consisting of openness to experience (aka openness), conscientiousnessextraversionagreeableness, and neuroticism.”

(citation: Cattell, R. B.; Marshall, MB; Georgiades, S (1957). “Personality and motivation: Structure and measurement”. Journal of Personality Disorders19 (1): 53–67. doi:10.1521/pedi.19.1.53.62180PMID 15899720. )

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students. Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.”

Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness 

While “grit” has been exposed for the racist narrative it is, it’s also a direct by-product of the same OCEANS framework used to control, predict and manipulate voters. If this data can sway major national elections and change the global trajectory of history, imagine what such data, gathered on children, day after day, year after year, could yield for corporations and government interests.

Watch the video from Jesse Schell, gaming CEO, to see exactly where this can go. As Schell says “your shopping data is a goldmine” and it’s only a matter of time before gaming companies and gaming behavior interface with our daily consumer and behavioral choices. You can get points for simply brushing your teeth long enough when product brands partner with gaming systems.”

We now have, thanks to perpetual assessments of children’s knowledge affective “grit” or personality, “the concept of the ‘preemptive personality,” the endlessly profiled and guided subject who is shunted into recalculated futures in a system that could be characterized as digital predestination.”

The role of education technology (aka “personalized learning”):

According to a report entitled Networks of Control: “Jennifer Whitson (2013) argues that today’s technology-based practices of gamification are ‘rooted in surveillance’ because they provide ‘real-time feedback about users’ actions by amassing large quantities of data’. According to her, gamification is ‘reliant on quantification’, on ‘monitoring users’ everyday lives to measure and quantify their activities’. Gamification practices based on data collection and quantification are ‘leveraging surveillance to evoke behavior change’ … While self-quantification promises to “make daily practices more fulfilling and fun” by adopting ‘incentivization and pleasure rather than risk and fear to shape desired behaviours’, it also became ‘a new driving logic in the technological expansion and public acceptance of surveillance’.

(See Wrenching The Gears for more readings on this issue)

Pre-K Profit: ReadyNation Hosts Global Business Leaders in New York City this November

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Data Driven PreK

The rise of pay for success, social impact bonds, development impact bonds, and outcomes-based contracting will usher in privatization of vast new areas of public services, including education and training at all levels from infants through human resource management (lifelong learning, reskilling). This is not merely a phenomenon of the United States; this summit is intended for a global audience, a neocolonial project driven by late-stage capitalism.

Business executives, government officials, and representatives of non-profits and NGOs from across the globe will gather in New York City this fall to discuss the business of early childhood. These are not people looking to open childcare franchises. No, that is not their “business.” The intent is more sinister, transforming our youngest learners into points of profit extraction under the guise of social justice and equity. Through technology and forms of “innovative finance” they aim to catalyze a speculative market in toddler data, using the lives of young, vulnerable learners as vehicles to move vast sums of social impact venture capital.

ReadyNation, a program of the Council for a Strong America, is hosting the summit, set to take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on November 1-2, 2018. Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan coalition of leaders from the law enforcement, military, business, religion, and athletics spheres, has placed influencers guiding early childhood education policy in every state. Their intent is to promote public-private partnerships that will generate investment returns for global finance while shaping children into a compliant citizenry conditioned to accept economic precariousness and digital surveillance while doing the bidding of the power elite.

The rise of pay for success, social impact bonds, development impact bonds, and outcomes-based contracting will usher in privatization of vast new areas of public services, including education and training at all levels from infants through human resource management (lifelong learning, reskilling). This is not merely a phenomenon of the United States; this summit is intended for a global audience, a neocolonial project driven by late-stage capitalism.

Remember the 2007 housing market crash? The fraud Goldman Sachs perpetrated, misleading investors to purchase financial instruments tied to sub-prime mortgage bonds? The $16.65 billion penalty Bank of America had to pay, the largest settlement between the government and a private corporation? Seeing financiers from both companies on stage at a 2014 ReadyNation event promoting early childhood social impact finance should give us pause. Watch the hour-long talk here. The excerpt below is taken from a two-minute clip where the moderator, Ian Galloway, introduces a panel on potential financing structures. Watch that here.

“Christina Shapiro is a vice president at Goldman Sachs. You know, I’ve heard a lot that if you’ve seen one social impact bond, other people may have heard it, too. If you’ve seen one social impact bond, you’ve seen one social impact bond, right? That is true with one exception, and that is that just about every social impact bond out there has Goldman Sach’s fingerprints all over it. They are by far the leaders in the space. They are creating this marketplace out of thin air, and I commend Christina and her colleagues for their hard work on that front.”

Ian Galloway, Senior Research Associate, San Francisco Federal Reserve

To dig the hole deeper, the Council for a Strong America has accepted over $10 million from the Gates Foundation since 2006, including a $4.2 million grant in October 2015 to “engage stakeholders around the Common Core and high quality preschool.” Last summer in the run up to the fall 2018 elections, Gates granted the organization $300,000 to “educate potential future governors about the importance of college and career readiness in their state.”

Gates Grants to Council for a Strong America

ReadyNation’s speakers range from the World Bank, UNICEF, Omidyar Network, and the Girl Scouts to KPMG, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Learn Capital, and Sorenson Media (founded by Jim Sorenson, Utah tech entrepreneur and impact investor). A previous summit launched early-childhood campaigns in Romania, Australia, and Uganda in 2015. ReadyNation Romania and The Front Project (formerly ReadyNation Australia) will be participating.

What do summit attendees get for their $200 registration fee? ReadyNation touts the event as “the only training ground in the world for business people from outside the children’s sector to become unexpected and uniquely influential advocates for public and private investments in early childhood…Summit attendees from the U.S. must be business people or public officials; those from outside the U.S. can come from other sectors.” Children’s advocates and policy experts in early childhood education are specifically excluded from the conference unless they attend with at least four business people. In order to attend, one must to submit an online request.

Why is ReadyNation so emphatic about excluding early childhood educators and policy advocates? Find out in Part 2: Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rollick, Steven Rothschild and ReadyNation.

-Alison McDowell

Tracking Students: Google Rolls Out “Anytime, Anywhere” Learning in Kirkland, WA Parks This Spring

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

KITE

If you’re going to spend time in your local park, do you want your child glued to a device? Should they be looking at flora and fauna, or screens? Students, parents, teachers, and administrators need to start critically assessing the surveillance and data-gathering aspects of initiatives like the KiTE STEM challenge. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says, data is the new oil. With each multiple choice answer (and the location and activity data associated with it) children are being mined for value. I’m not comfortable with that.

Fast forward fifteen years. Imagine that the vision advanced by Knowledgeworks, the futurists at the American Alliance of Museums, the MIT Media Lab, Institute for the Future, and ed-tech impact investors has been realized. Neighborhood schools no longer exist. Buildings in gentrifying communities have been transformed into investment condominiums with yoga studios and roof-top bars. Those in marginal neighborhoods exist as bare-bones virtual reality warehouses where the poor are managed for their data. If you want the narrative version, you can read it here.

A handful of designated structures have been retained as education drop-in centers, places where “lifelong learners” consult with mentors about their (bleak) prospects for acquiring “just-in-time” workforce skills. The global economy has gone digital. Everyone has a Blockchain identity and biometrically enabled payment account. Both are linked to a person’s permanent online record of academic and social-emotional competencies, the public services they’ve obtained, and determinations regarding the “impact” those services have had on their human capital. The social impact investors watch the data dashboards and take their profits.

Redefining Teacher Education
Source: Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners, 2009

“Future Ready” education has been gamified, decontextualized, and dehumanized. “Learning” repackaged into a product that can be dispensed, consumed, tracked, and evaluated via corporate apps. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) devices have largely supplanted human teachers, who had neither the capacity nor the inclination to gather learner data in the quantities demanded by Pay for Success contracts.

Austerity and technological advances gradually transitioned hybrid, “personalized” learning outside of classrooms and schools entirely. “Freed” of seat time requirements, teachers, grades, report cards, and diplomas, students pursue, in isolation, pathways to “career readiness.” What the concept of “career” means in a time of automated labor, precarious employment, and AI human resource management is open to debate.

A friend shared an article with me this week that reveals early phase trials of digitally mediated learning ecosystems are here. I plan to do another post that goes into detail about the Internet of Things, iBeacons, online learning lockers, Education Savings Accounts, badges, and informal learning settings. For now, it’s enough to know that the Cities of LRNG model the MacArthur Foundation is advancing via their spin off “Collective Shift” involves students using the “city as their classroom.”

Devices monitor an individual’s movements via apps, and accomplishments are logged as students undertake “any time, anywhere” learning. Sometimes it happens in the real world. Other times it happens in virtual or augmented reality. Either way, Tin Can API is watching, logging data fed to IMS Global. Watch this video by Rustici Software LLC, developers of Tin Can API, it’s under two minutes and worth every second. Pay attention to all the layers of data being collected in this simple interface.

In the case of Kirkland, WA, a Seattle suburb, education rewards are being offered to students who choose to participate in an informal STEM learning program in local parks between April 23 and May 13, 2018. A student downloads the app, and questions are delivered to them based on their age. This activity is targeted at children as young as kindergarten. Students can earn “entries,” chances to win personal prizes (museum admissions, IMAX tickets, and Google swag) as well as up to $34,500 in cash for Lake Washington District school PTSA organizations.

Attempting a question, even if incorrect, will win a student one entry, while a question correctly answered in a Kirkland park awards 15 entries. In order to qualify for bonus entries, a student must allow the app access to their real time location, which verifies by GPS if they answered the question while they were within the park system. I find it troubling that awards vary by the student’s location when answering. I can imagine, in some dystopian future, technologies like this being deployed to digitally redline education. It’s a chilling prospect, but not unthinkable.

The app also encourages students to allow the app to track “Motion and Fitness Activity.” Purportedly this is about “increasing battery efficiency;” however, knowing the prevalence of fitness tracking apps and how they are being incorporated into policies around health care (see Go360, the West Virginia teachers strike, and research being done at the Cornell-Tech Small Data Lab) I find this also very concerning. The amount of data being collected on students who download the app, if they follow the recommended settings, is significant.

According to the FAQ, Google is the financial sponsor of this challenge. Partners include the Kirkland Parks Foundation, the Lake District Schools Foundation, the City of Kirkland, the Pacific Science Center, Eastside Audubon, Brilliant.org (an online STEM network and talent scouting enterprise), and KiwiCo (age-based STEAM kit subscriptions). If you are a school administrator you can email them for a free action plan with tips to encourage students to upload the app, so their education can be monitored as part of Google’s pilot learning ecosystem experiment.

If you’re going to spend time in your local park, do you want your child glued to a device? Should they be looking at flora and fauna, or screens? Students, parents, teachers, and administrators need to start critically assessing the surveillance and data-gathering aspects of initiatives like the KiTE STEM challenge. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says, data is the new oil. With each multiple choice answer (and the location and activity data associated with it) children are being mined for value. I’m not comfortable with that.

I wrote a companion to this post, Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students? I live in Philadelphia, and the arrests of two black men at a local Starbucks has me thinking a lot about how black and brown students could be placed at risk by the learning ecosystem model. Continue reading here.

-Alison McDowell

Badges Find Their Way to San Jose, Philadelphia (and the Point Defiance Zoo)

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

LRNG playlist

 

In this brave, new world education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new “personalized pathway/badging” approach to education.

San Jose LRNG Badges

Yesterday I watched a May 7, 2018 meeting held by the City Council of San Jose on education and digital literacy efforts related to the LRNG program, an initiative of the McCarthur Foundation-funded Collective Shift. Philadelphia is also a City of LRNG. Below is a five-minute clip in which they describe their digital badging program roll out.

Collecting an online portfolio of work-aligned skills is key to the planned transition to an apprenticeship “lifelong learning” model where children are viewed as human capital to be fed into an uncertain gig economy. Seattle Education’s recent post “Welcome to the machine” describes what is happening as Washington state follows the lead of Colorado and Arizona in pushing “career-connected” education.

Philadelphia’s LRNG program is called Digital On Ramps and is linked to WorkReady, the city’s youth summer jobs program. For the past several years children as young as fourteen have been encouraged to create online accounts and document their work experience using third party platforms. Opportunities to win gift cards and iPad minis have been used as incentives to complete the online activities. Within the past year the LRNG program has grown to include numerous badges related to creating and expanding online LinkedIn profiles. Microsoft bought Linked in for $26 billion in 2016. See screen shots below.

LRNG Contest

LRNG Contest 2

Below are excerpts from two previous posts I wrote about badges and Digital On Ramps. Activity is ramping up around online playlist education and the collection of competencies/badges using digital devices. We need to be paying attention. The first is from “Trade you a backpack of badges for a caring teacher and a well-resourced school” posted October 2016.

“This is not limited to K12 or even P20, the powers that be envision this process of meeting standards and collecting badges to be something we will have to do our ENTIRE LIVES. If you haven’t yet seen the “Learning is Earning” video-stop now and watch it, because it makes this very clear. Badges are representations of standards that have been met, competencies that have been proven. Collections of badges could determine our future career opportunities. The beauty of badges from a reformer’s perspective is that they are linked to pre-determined standards and can be earned “anywhere.” You can earn them from an online program, from a community partner, even on the job. As long as you can demonstrate you have mastery of a standard, you can claim the badge and move on to the next bit of micro-educational content needed to move you along your personalized pathway to the workforce.

In this brave, new world education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new “personalized pathway/badging” approach to education.

The reformers needed to get data-driven, standards-based education firmly in place before spotlighting their K12 badge campaign. Low-key preparations have been in the works for some time. In 2011, Mozilla announced its intention to create an Open Badges standard that could be used to verify, issue, and display badges earned via online instructional sites. The MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) supported this effort. In 2013 a citywide badging pilot known as “The Summer of Learning” was launched in Chicago. 2013 was also the year that the Clinton Global Initiative joined the badge bandwagon. They have since agreed to incorporate badges into their operations and work to bring them to scale globally as part of the Reconnect Learning collaborative.

Other partners in the “Reconnect Learning” badging program include: The Afterschool AllianceBadge AllianceBlackboardDigital PromiseEdXETSHive Learning NetworksPearsonProfessional Examination Service and Council for Aid to Education, and Workforce.IO.

The Chicago Summer of Learning program expanded nationally and has since evolved into LRNG Cities, a program of the MacArthur Foundation. According to their website: “LRNG Cities combine in-school, out-of-school, employer-based and online learning experiences into a seamless network that is open and inviting to all youth. LRNG Cities connect youth to learning opportunities in schools, museums, libraries, and businesses, as well as online.”

In some ways such a system may sound wonderful and exciting. But I think we need to ask ourselves if we shift K12 funding (public, philanthropic, or social impact investing) outside school buildings, and if we allow digital badges to replace age-based grade cohorts, report cards, and diplomas, what are we giving up? Is this shiny, new promise worth the trade off? Many schools are shadows of their former selves. They are on life support. It is very likely that expanding the role of community partners and cyber education platforms via badging will put the final nail in the coffin of neighborhood schools.” Read full post here.

The second is from “Will “Smart” Cities lead to surveilled education and social control?” posted July 2017.

“Philadelphia has been on the Smart Cities’ bandwagon since 2011 when it teamed up with IBM to develop Digital On Ramps, a supposedly “ground breaking” human capital management program. As part of this initiative Philadelphia Academies, led at the time by Lisa Nutter (wife of Democrats for Education Reform former mayor Michael Nutter), developed a system of badges for youth that promoted workforce-aligned “anywhere, any time learning.” You can view a 2012 HASTAC conference presentation on the program starting at timestamp 50:00 of this video.  Lisa Nutter now works as an advisor to Sidecar Social Finance, an impact investment firm, and Michael Nutter is, among other things, a senior fellow with Bloomberg’s What Works Cities. This relationship map shows some of the interests surrounding the Digital On Ramps program. Use this link for an interactive version.

Digital On Ramps has since combined with Collective Shift’s initiative City of LRNG operating with support from the MacArthur Foundation. Besides Philadelphia, ten other Cities of LRNG are spread across the country: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, Washington, DC and Springfield, OH.

The premise is the “city is your classroom” where students “learn” through playlists of curated activities that are monitored via phone-based apps. Many of these cities are also “smart” cities. The Philadelphia program is presently housed at Drexel University, an institution that is involved in education technology research and development, that is a partner in Philadelphia’s Promise Zone initiative (education is a major component), and whose president John Fry served a term on the board of the Philadelphia School Partnership, the city’s ed-reform engine. Drexel’s graduate school of education is currently the lead on an unrelated NSF-funded STEM educational app and badging program being piloted with Philadelphia teachers in the Mantua neighborhood within the Promise Zone. It is touted as “an immersive, mentor-guided biodiversity field experience and career awareness program.”

In April 2017, Drexel’s School of Education hosted a lecture by DePaul University’s Dr. Nichole Pinkard entitled “Educational Technologies in a Time of Change in Urban Communities,” in which the MacArthur-funded 2013 Chicago Summer of Learning pilot was discussed. In this clip from the Q&A that followed the lecture, an audience member raised concerns about credit-bearing out-of-school time learning in the ecosystem model.

The 2011 IBM summary report for Digital On Ramps noted that among the four top priority recommendations was the creation of a “federated” view of the citizen in the cloud.” Of course, 2011 predates developments like Sesame Credit, but looking at it now I can’t help but conjure up an image of the “federated citizen in the cloud” as portrayed in Black Mirror’s dystopian Nosedive episode.

Digital On-Ramps appears to be a prototype for a career pathway, decentralized learning ecosystem model for public education. As the task-rabbit, gig economy becomes more entrenched with freelancers competing for the chance to provide precarious work at the lowest rate (see this short clip from Institute for the Future’s video about Education and Blockchain), what will it mean to reduce education to a series of ephemeral micro-credentials? And what dangers are there in adding behavioral competencies from predictive HR gaming platforms like Knack into the mix? Tech and human capital management interests are counting on the fact that people are intrigued by new apps. We’re predisposed to seek out pleasurable entertainment. Gamification is both appealing and distracting, consequently few people contemplate the downside right away, if ever.” Read full post here.

-Alison McDowell

Editor’s Note: The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is a community partner with LRNG and offers badges. To learn more click here. -Carolyn Leith

A New Campaign! Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

data-mining

We want to end the invasive corporate control of students, schools, and communities being pushed in the name of technology. We want to create actions to eliminate the mining, tracking, and surveillance of student data by government and corporate entities.

Technology is replacing teachers. Classrooms and students are becoming pipelines of data collection for the profit of private corporate interests. As we saw with the news about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, we know that “he who owns the data rules the world”. Through powerful lobbying tech companies are transforming education. Technology that gathers information from students are replacing person-to-person interaction with teachers and ending hands on learning. The personal data students are forced (unknowingly) to provide these companies, is a gold mine of private information about our children.

We want to end the invasive corporate control of students, schools, and communities being pushed in the name of technology. We want to create actions to eliminate the mining, tracking, and surveillance of student data by government and corporate entities.

The outcomes of this campaign (one personal, one more social/public) are 1. Protect our individual children/students from corporate surveillance, and 2. Dismantle corporate-led education policies that place public education into the hands of private corporate interests intended toward greater social surveillance and control.

There are two problems we address. First, is to identify and share what the problem is (it’s complicated). Two, the problem is too big (technology is everywhere! How can we fight this?)

The problem is larger than the focus of this campaign alone (read more at datadisruptors.com).

Join us at Classrooms, Not Computers.

-Morna McDermott

What Will Facebook Terragraph, 5G, and Being a “Smart City” Mean for San José Residents?

Reposted with permission from EduResearcher.

smart city san jose

A quote from the Smart City Team presentation in April on the Facebook Terragraph (millimeter wave technology) rollout reveals that “deploying at scale in a city has never been done before.”  This alone should lead us to ask critical questions about the process and outcomes. To what extent have residents been informed about known risks and hazards of new technologies that they will apparently be subject to, and what kinds of concerns about safetysecurity, and privacy (or lack thereof) are being contemplated by city leaders as they make final decisions to either fully deploy or hold off on the Smart City experiments? Are cities with tech partnerships exempt from needing to uphold basic standards of protection of human participants in experimental research?

Silicon Valley’s philosophy to “move fast and break things” may not be readily apparent upon landing on the Smart Cities Vision page for San José, but a closer look at key proposals reveals it’s likely in the mix. While difficult to know how day-to-day life will change as a result of living in a “smart city,” the issues described below are certainly worth learning more about. What should residents expect as tangible benefits? What will be the costs? What blind spots may exist among well-intentioned leaders making decisions, and will there be unintended (or consciously dismissed) harms resulting from these initiatives?

precise definition of a “Smart City” remains elusive, yet what does appear at the root, is that 5G will be involved. A recent Bloomberg update documents tensions between big business and government in the rollout of 5G, with a focus on San Jose’s role in initially participating with, and then protesting, the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee of the FCC. It appears despite the recent resistance, that industry dominance is not solely an issue within the FCC, but also influential in shaping local policies for 5G deployment.

…”For San Jose, the march toward 5G continues without the FCC. On Monday, the city struck an agreement with AT&T to install about 200 small-cell devices for 5G on light poles in exchange for $5 million in lease revenue over 15 years. Perhaps the worst part of the whole process, said San Jose Mayor Liccardo, is that most Americans aren’t paying attention: “When you’re talking about complex issues of technology and regulation, it’s often lost on the public just how badly they’re being screwed.”

According to a February 2018 report by Grand View Research, the global smart cities market is anticipated to reach approximately 2.6 trillion dollars by 2025. A summary of the report indicates key industry participants to include tech giants such as Accenture, Cisco Systems, Siemens, IBM, General Electric, and Microsoft.  What appears missing in the summary, however, is the specific situation for San José, where apparently Facebook will also be a main driver and beneficiary of the Smart Cities plan.

A quote from the Smart City Team presentation in April on the Facebook Terragraph (millimeter wave technology) rollout reveals that “deploying at scale in a city has never been done before.”  This alone should lead us to ask critical questions about the process and outcomes. To what extent have residents been informed about known risks and hazards of new technologies that they will apparently be subject to, and what kinds of concerns about safetysecurity, and privacy (or lack thereof) are being contemplated by city leaders as they make final decisions to either fully deploy or hold off on the Smart City experiments? Are cities with tech partnerships exempt from needing to uphold basic standards of protection of human participants in experimental research?

See the following overview of the Facebook Terragraph here: “Introducing Facebook’s new terrestrial connectivity systems — Terragraph and Project ARIES” and a video introduction linked to the image above. To read more about Facebook’s partnership with San José, see documents from the April 5th Smart Cities Meeting).

Below is a list of concerns related to the Smart Cities and 5G rollouts. Specific questions are provided at the end of this post. 

A. Public Health Impacts:
1. Scientists and Doctors Demand Moratorium on 5G (original)
(Örebro, Sweden) Sept. 13, 2017 
“Over 180 scientists and doctors from 35 countries sent a declaration to officials of the European Commission today demanding a moratorium on the increase of cell antennas for planned 5G expansion. Concerns over health effects from higher radiation exposure include potential neurological impacts, infertility, and cancer.  Dr. Joel Moskowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley, recently announced an additional statement from the International Society of Doctors for the Environment and its member organizations in 27 countries adding to the call for a halt to the rollout of 5G.  In the United States, the ISDE member organization is Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). There are now over 200 signatories to the original appeal. See the main website here.

2. 5G Wireless Technology: Millimeter Wave Health Effects

3. To learn more about concerns related to 5G and “Internet of Things” technologies, listen to the audio of the following Commonwealth Club discussion held on February 5th, 2018 in San Francisco, CA: ReInventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks and read the report here published by the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy.

4. 5G Wireless Telecommunications Expansion: Public Health and Environmental Implications (in press), Environmental Research. Abridged version available via Bulletin of the Santa Clara County Medical Association, re-shared with permission from author: A 5G Wireless Future: Will It Contribute to a Smart Nation or Contribute To An Unhealthy One?

5. 5G: Great Risk for EU, U.S. and International Health: Compelling Evidence for Eight Distinct Types of Harm Caused by Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Exposures and the Mechanism that Causes Them


B. Big Data Security Issues:

The following screenshot is from the proposed Data Architecture Report with examples of the key platforms being proposed to house data (City of San Jose Open Data Community Architecture Report – 2/2018, p.5)

Below are examples of major security/data breaches from several of the proposed platforms:

C. Privacy Risks:

Smart Cities Come With Inherent Privacy Risks, ACLU Says
Making Smart Decisions About Smart Cities (ACLU of Northern California)
“Smart Cities”, Surveillance, and New Streetlights in San Jose (Feb. 2017, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Privacy International Reports (with key word search for “Smart Cities”)
Selected Posts/Reports:

The following slide was provided by the Smart Cities Team during the presentation on Privacy at the Smart Cities Committee meeting on April 5th, 2018.

Posted on the slide:
“Many questions remain for us to consider…
* Who owns the data?
* What is our retention policy?
* Where is it housed?
* Who are we sharing the data with?
* Should we have a data monetization strategy?
* How are we managing Big Data?
* Chief Privacy Officer?”

It should be acknowledged that the Smart Cities team has been responsive to offer meeting with community members who have raised concerns. Representatives from the ACLU and NAACP have been invited for individual conversations after making comments at recent public meetings and the City’s Deputy City Manager, Kip Harkness has written a blogpost on pending projects with key questions at the end related to the need for public involvement.

In the spirit of community engagement, please find the following questions for city leaders and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. (Responses will be posted as soon as they are made available).

1. Does the city have evidence to document the safety of experimental technologies being deployed in light of the biological risks/hazard warnings raised by over 200 scientists who have recommended a halt to the deployment of 5G/millimeter wave technologies? (See hereherehereherehere and Section A above for more).

2. Have alternative solutions to high-speed connectivity been explored (outside of the FB Terragraph/5G/IoT rollouts)? Listen to the audio of the following event from the Commonwealth Club outlining science and policy gaps in addressing these issues: ReInventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks and read the full report here.

3. Will residents be allowed an opportunity to “opt out” of having internet devices being connected to the Terragraph by the City or Smart City Technology partners? Or will everyone within city limits be subject to their information being swept up into the data-gathering structures?

4. How will the City of San José justify using platforms for Smart City data architecture that are a) explicitly connected to Amazon commerce sites and b) that have been repeatedly vulnerable to massive data breaches? (see Section B above)

5. What assurances will be provided to ensure data extracted from the Smart Cities program and/or devices connected to the Internet of Things/5G networks will not be used in ways that would harm vulnerable communities? (Click image below for concerns. See also Data Justice Lab and the Data Harms Record).

6. Eubanks’ recently published book,“Automating Inequality: How High Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish The Poor” documents ways that structural discrimination is being exacerbated by the introduction of new technologies and related policies shaped by algorithmic error and bias. What processes will the Smart Cities team enact to ensure algorithmic transparency for the public to know how data will being used in analyses or decision-making?  Will the City of San José agree to abide by the following Principles for Algorithmic Transparency and Accountabilitypublished by the Association for Computing Machinery U.S. Public Policy Council?

7. Why is the City of San José partnering with Facebook to deploy untested Terragraph 5G millimeter wavelength technology “at scale throughout the city” given its clear record of betrayal of public trust with privacy violations that allowed data from 87 million users’ profiles to be abused and misused?  

8. During the FB Terragraph presentation at the April 5th meeting, the Facebook representative indicated that specific data would not be extracted, rather that amounts of data sent/received would be monitored via the Terragraph. What evidence can be provided to verify such claims aside from the verbal promises? Have data contracts for the Terragraph project been analyzed and vetted by non-industry-funded privacy/security experts?

9. Will the contracts for the Facebook Terragraph partnership and AT&T 5G small cell rollouts with the City of San José include liability disclaimers similar to these earlier ones from telecom companies? If so, would the City of San José then be held liable in case of harm inflicted on residents as a result of the technologies being deployed (and would the city be able to afford such liability at a large scale)?  Note that similar issues were raised when SB649 was considered at the State level and was eventually vetoed by Governor Brown.

10. With the exception of four city employees working on the Smart Cities project and the Mayor, San José’s Smart Cities Advisory Board consists entirely of individuals from the tech industry without any representation from community based organizations, academics, scientists, public health professionals, independent privacy/security experts, or civil/human rights organizations. How will city leaders be more intentional about structurally integrating community into the process of decision-making related to the Smart Cities Initiatives? 

Smart Cities Advisory Board
Vice President, AERIS
Director and Head of IoT Investment Fund, Cisco Investments
Chief Technology Officer for Smart Cities, Dell EMC
Vice President and General Manager, IoT, Intel
Senior Vice President, ORBCOMM, Inc
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, RevTwo
Former Chief Technology Officer, PayPal
Vice President, CityNOW, Panasonic

For readers interested in more information about Facebook’s reach, see the following maps and analyses by the Share Lab: Research and Data Investigation Lab.

Screenshot of image above is from the following article via the BBC.
For main Share Lab site, see https://labs.rs/en/.

_____________________________________________
May 26th Update: Since the original publication of this post, concerns have also been raised about the use of facial recognition technologies throughout the Smart Cities projects (at the May 3rd Smart Cities meeting where Box software’s facial recognition was proposed in a pilot demonstration and more recently from ACLU documents that link the use of Amazon’s Reckognition software with Smart City plans in Orlando, Florida). The video below was originally posted to the ACLU YouTube channel with the title Amazon Sells Facial Recognition Tech To Police. More detailed information with concerns about facial recognition technologies can be found here and here.  is currently unclear whether or not the City of San José is using (or plans to use) the Amazon Rekognition facial recognition technology throughout the city. The video below from the ACLU does indicate that the City of Orlando is a “Smart City” that is already using the Rekognition technology.

…”It also already has surveillance cameras all over the city on everything from light posts to police officers. Activating a citywide facial recognition system, could be as easy as flipping a switch. Body cams were designed to keep police officers accountable to the public, but facial recognition turns these devices into surveillance machines. This could mean round-the-clock surveillance whenever cops are present. Imagine what that would mean for minority communities that are already over-policed.”…

The following is a quote from a letter dated May 25th, 2018 from US Congressmen Ellison and Cleaver to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos:

“According to a page on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) website, Rekognition is a “deep learning-based image recognition service which allows you to search, verify, and organize millions of images.” The same web page describes Rekognition as a tool for performing “real time face searches against collections with tens of millions of faces.” Amazon’s website lists the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Orlando Police Department as Rekognition customers. A series of studies have shown that face recognition technology is consistently less accurate in identifying the faces of African Americans and women as compared to Caucasians and men. The disproportionally high arrest rates for members of the black community make the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement problematic, because it could serve to reinforce this trend.”… 

The letter continues with a series of questions requested to be answered by Bezos prior to June 20th, 2018. To learn more about Amazon’s Facial “Rekognition” program, click either of the images below:
Privacy statement. Clicking the above images will serve content from youtube.com

For additional reading, see: 
Dr. Beatrice Golomb, Professor of Medicine, UCSD, Letter to Oppose 5G (SB649)
5G Wireless Telecommunications and Expansion: Public Health and Environmental Implications
Why We Should Oppose 5G on Health Grounds // Ronald M. Powell, Ph.D.
Smart Cities, Social Impact Bonds, and the Takeover of Public Education 
The 5G Appeal: Scientists and Doctors Call For a Moratorium On The Roll-Out of 5G
Smart or Stupid? Will the Future of Our Cities Be Easier to Hack? // The Guardian
Philadelphia’s $4,000 Trash Cans A Messy Waste
The Disinformation Campaign and Massive Radiation Increase Behind the 5G Rollout // The Nation [Investigative Report]
Why Smart Cities Need an Urgent Reality Check // The Guardian
The Color of Surveillance in San Diego // San Diego ACLU 
Amazon Pushes Facial Recognition to Police. Critics See Surveillance Risk // New York Times
Together We Can Put A Stop to High-Tech Racial Profiling // ACLU
Amazon Confirms That Echo Device Secretly Shared Users’ Private Audio
Amazon Needs To Come Clean About Racial Bias In Its Algorithms
Emails Show How Amazon Is Selling Facial Recognition System to Law Enforcement. Broad coalition demands that Amazon stop selling dragnet surveillance tool to the government, citing privacy and racial justice concerns

The next San José Smart City meetings will be held from 1:30-4:30pm in the City Hall Chambers on June 7th, 2018.

-Roxana Marachi, Ph.D

Editor’s Note: Seattle is part of the White House Smart City Initiative. It may not follow the exact blueprint of what’s happening in San Jose, but I think it’s important to start thinking about and asking questions concerning data collection, ownership and monetization at the city level. Personal privacy is a big concern as well. If every public action can be monitored and recorded it’s not hard to see smart cities quickly evolving into surveillance cites.

-Carolyn Leith

Are You Sure It Won’t Happen Here?

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

ItCantHappenHere

… if you share this report with most people, they will reply, “Well, that’s China. This is a democracy. It will never happen here.”

What if it already is? What if I were to hide all the identifying information from any of the reports posted below, would you really be able to tell which one was talking about China and which one was talking about public education in America?

Image result for detecting emotional changes in chinese workers with data

(China is monitoring the brain activity of employees in its state-run firms. The technology works by placing wireless sensors in workers’ hats that when combined with AI can spot workplace anxiety or depression. Pictured is a version installed in the cap visors of train drivers Pic courtesy. )

While many would agree this report from China is disturbing …( One snippet from the longer articles states: “Workers outfitted in uniforms staff lines producing sophisticated equipment for telecommunication and other industrial sectors. But there’s one big difference – the workers wear caps to monitor their brainwaves, data that management then uses to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows, according to the company. The company said it could increase the overall efficiency of the workers by manipulating the frequency and length of break times to reduce mental stress.”)  …

… if you share this report with most people, they will reply, “Well, that’s China. This is a democracy. It will never happen here.”

What if it already is? What if I were to hide all the identifying information from any of the reports posted below, would you really be able to tell which one was talking about China and which one was talking about public education in America?

At some juncture we have to accept things are really happening and not as we wish them to be. The primary source reports (two examples shared below) from organizations and institutions right here in the good ol’ USA speak for themselves. Then compare this with the report from China.

  1. From the Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance: Critical factors for Success report published by the U.S. Office of Educational Technology in 2013 (the link to the website is no longer available. Fortunately I saved it on my hard drive. You can read the report here.) The report says, “Examples of affective computing methods are growing. Mcquiggan, Lee, and Lester (2007) have used data mining techniques as well as physiological response data from a biofeedback apparatus that measures blood volume, pulse, and galvanic skin response to examine student frustration in an online learning environment, Crystal Island. Woolf, Burleson, Arroyo, Dragon, Cooper and Picard (2009) have been detecting affective indicators within an online tutoring system Wayang Outpost using four sensor systems, as illustrated in Exhibit 11. Sensors provide constant, parallel streams of data and are used with data mining techniques and self-report measures to examine frustration, motivation/flow, confidence, boredom, and fatigue. The MIT Media Lab Mood Meter (Hernandez, Hoque, & Picard, n.d.) is a device that can be used to detect emotion (smiles) among groups. The Mood Meter includes a camera and a laptop. The camera captures facial expressions, and software on the laptop extracts geometric properties on faces (like distance between corner lips and eyes) to provide a smile intensity score. While this type of tool may not be necessary in a small class of students, it could be useful for examining emotional responses in informal learning environments for large groups, like museums. The field of neuroscience also offers methods for insight into some of the psychological resources associated with grit, especially effortful control. Using neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI, it is possible to examine which parts of the brain are active during times of anxiety or stress and the effects of some interventions. For example, Slagter, Davidson, and Lutz (2011) have investigated the effects of systematic mental training and meditation to enhance cognitive control and maintain optimal levels of arousal. Motivation was found to be associated with greater activation in multiple brain regions. Moreover, studies have reported functional and structural changes in the brain and improved performance of long-term practitioners of mindfulness and concentration meditation techniques that enhance attentional focus. These initial findings are promising evidence of the cognitive plasticity and malleability of brain functioning for processes related to grit. While it is impractical to use fMRI in the classroom (i.e., it is a prohibitively expensive, room-sized machine), Ed Dieterle and Ash Vasudeva of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation point out that researchers such as Jon Gabrieli and Richard Davidson are beginning to use multiple methods to explore how specific brain activity is correlated with other cognitive and affective indicators that are practical to measure in school settings.”

Exhibit 11.  Four parallel streams of affective sensors used while a student is engaged in Wayang Outpost, an online tutoring system

OETpic.jpg

2. New education devices from Brain Co. seen advertised here in a scary video.  According to a PR report on Brain Co, “Focus 1 is a wearable headband that detects and quantifies students’ attention levels in the classroom. It works in conjunction with Focus EDU, the world’s first classroom portal for teachers to assess the effectiveness of their teaching methods in real time and make adjustments accordingly.”

brainco

(image link)

But wait! There’s more. According to one report, “Increasing engagement in class isn’t the only way BrainCo plans to sell its product. According to Newlon, the startup hopes to secure approval from the US Food & Drug Administration to use the headset for ADHD therapy.”

Yes … it CAN happen here. While China has ordered 20,000 devices already, Brain Co reps say “Our goal with the first 20,000 devices, each of which will be used by multiple students in schools, is to capture data from 1.2 million people … This will enable us to use artificial intelligence on what will be the world’s largest database to improve our algorithms for things like attention and emotion detection.” While BrainCo has not yet established any policies that guide (or prevent) the company from using data collected from U.S. students, the company intends to “use [headset] data for a number of different things,” according to Newlon.

-Morna McDermott

Editor’s Note: In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published a blistering critique of the commonly held American belief that our particular type of democracy made the United States immune to fascism.

In the book, Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip becomes President by preaching a homespun populism which promises each family $5,000 a year while vowing to strip the power of big business to push the little guy around.  Of course, once in power, Windrip changes course and makes himself de facto dictator and enacts a corporatist regime.

Windrip uses his homegrown vigilante army, the Minute Men, as his personal shock troops. Dissent is shut down using violence, imprisonment in a concentration camp, or a quick trip before a firing squad.

Think of how much easier it would have been for Windrip’s Minute Men to discover dissent when the population is under the constant surveillance of mood meters scanning their faces for signs of divergent thoughts and/or people are forced to wear headbands to measure their level of attention, anxiety, and frustration.

Can’t happen here? Already, people are willingly strapping FitBits to their wrists and happily welcoming Alexa into their homes as another member of the family. The last logical step isn’t that far away.

-Carolyn Leith

They’ve Got Trouble, Up There in North Dakota (Dintersmith Strikes Again)

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

library as makerspace

Dintersmith rode into North Dakota via an August 2015 TEDx talk promoting his film Most Likely to SucceedGreg Tehven, founder of the Fargo-based tech incubator Emerging Prairie who has ties to social impact investing and Teach for America in Minneapolis, extended the invitation. Dintersmith’s film premiered just in time to set up the next wave of ed-reform aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The documentary was based on a book by the same name that he co-authored with former Gates Foundation senior advisor and Harvard University education professor Tony Wagner.

He breezes into a Northern Plains town channeling Harold Hill, the slick huckster from the 1962 musical The Music Man. They’ve got trouble up there in North Dakota; but the trouble is with so-called“ factory” model education, not pool tables. The solution to this “terrible trouble” is of course laptops and tablets, not trombones. That’s no surprise, given that Governor Doug Burgum made his fortune selling Great Plains Software for a billion dollars to Microsoft, joined the company as a senior VP, and later served on the boards of numerous other software, predictive analytics, and cloud-based computing enterprises. Interactive map here.

Doug Burgum

The Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education

self-styled outsider candidate, Burgum won the governorship in 2016, with financial backing from Bill Gates, his largest campaign contributor. Between the primary and general elections Gates pitched in at least $100,000, with several other Microsoft executives contributing smaller amounts. It seems that while looking for an “outsider,” the voters of North Dakota may have actually thrown in their lot with the Silicon Valley technocracy. In Burgum’s “future ready” North Dakota, “personalized” learning will prepare the state’s children to out-Finland even Finland! At least if you buy the pitch venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith’s made at the Governor’s Summit on Innovative Learning held at Legacy High School in Bismarck last June. Details about this year’s summit, scheduled for June 7, 2018 here.

After my previous post on Dintermith, a resident of North Dakota reached out to me with concerns. Like the musical’s Marian the librarian, she smelled a rat. Having attended the day-long event, she had serious reservations about some of the ideas put forward by Dintersmith and his sidekicks, which included Ken Kay, tech sector lobbyist and founder of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21); Susie Wise of Stanford University’s School ReTool program; and Marcus Lingenfelter of the Exxon-bankrolled National Math and Science Initiative. See this interactive map of their associations here.

Innovative Education Summit ND 2017

Dintersmith the Promoter

Dintersmith rode into North Dakota via an August 2015 TEDx talk promoting his film Most Likely to SucceedGreg Tehven, founder of the Fargo-based tech incubator Emerging Prairie who has ties to social impact investing and Teach for America in Minneapolis, extended the invitation. Dintersmith’s film premiered just in time to set up the next wave of ed-reform aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The documentary was based on a book by the same name that he co-authored with former Gates Foundation senior advisor and Harvard University education professor Tony Wagner.

The film is a soft sell for the type of “individualized,” “whole child” instruction the tech sector eagerly anticipates digitizing and monetizing using 1:1 screen-based devices, biometric monitoring, and augmented and virtual reality platforms. The academic and social emotional data grab will ultimately feed ed-tech social impact investment markets. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet notes, data is the new oil. Folks in North Dakota know the value of oil, as well as the devastation that results from its extraction. Hooking the state’s students up to screens and other monitoring systems to extract their data (oil) while selling community members and elected officials on “innovation” is recipe for profit for tech and disaster for children.

Student Data Extraction

Take some time to review this unsettling foresight document from Knowledgeworks, one of the North Dakota Department of Instruction’s innovative education partners. It offers a view into a world of augmented and virtual reality and wearables. I’ve often wondered what project-based learning via badges will look like in remote, rural areas. Under the LRNG program Collective Shift / MacArthur are pitching “the city as your classroom.” But how would that work in a place like Orrin, ND where the population is under fifty people? This whitepaper anticipates it will happen via augmented virtual reality simulations and games once rural communities upgrade to edge computing. Given the numerous references to careers in the state’s drone and energy industries I’ve come across in the course of my research, it seems learning ecosystem proponents may view North Dakota, with a tech-minded governor and willing populace, as a great test-bed for gamified work-based online education training systems.

Mentor Connect

Mastery-Based Learning Eliminates Grades

The forty-five second clip below is rather jaw-dropping. In it Dr. Cory Steiner of the Northern Cass School District outlines planned implementation of Mass Customized Learning (competency-based education), an experiment he says made him feel unwell. He describes it as “seed project” that will evaluate students solely on mastery of competencies and eliminate age-based grade groups altogether. Say goodbye to first grade, second grade, third grade; from now on education will be check the online box and move along as you build your “lifelong learner” data profile.

Dr. Steiner was the program manager of the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Database system from 2012 to 2014 when he joined Northern Cass, a “Future Ready” district. Later in the panel (timestamp 38:30) he states that he wants juniors and seniors to be done with all of their core coursework and spend their last two years of high school pursuing electives and work-based placements. It is unclear how this strategy will mesh with Marcus Lingenfelter’s position that the state will be advancing high-level STEM education, unless you believe students will be getting comprehensive instruction in courses like physics or calculus during their internships.

Work-Based Learning?

Steiner says that during their senior year, he doesn’t want to see students in school; that they should be figuring out at least what they don’t want to do. How has it come to this? Is it austerity that is pushing us to rush children into occupations when they are just 16 years old? For jobs that likely won’t exist a decade from now? Is any thought being given to the child labor implications? What if they don’t want to work for Exxon or drone manufacturers or Battelle? What if they want to have a senior prom and participate in clubs and sports and social gatherings like their parents did?

Certainly CTE training has a place, but let us support students in finding affordable training in those fields AFTER they have full access K-12 to a publicly-funded education with a well-rounded curriculum. It should not be the expectation that public education will deliver our children as a just-in-time workforce to corporations that generate profits for their shareholders by adopting gig-economy hiring practices. The image below is from the recent 9th annual ASU+GSV (Arizona State University / Global Silicon Valley) Summit in San Diego. Dintersmith was there this week making the rounds pitching his new book “What School Could Be.”

more agile workforce

Dintersmith strikes again

What about the teachers?

And where are the teachers in all of this you might ask? Are they resisting being supplanted by devices? Why no, no they aren’t. Remember, the leaders of both national teachers unions have signed on to Education Reimagined. Instead, classroom teachers are kept distracted, attending Gates-funded EdCamp “un-conferences” where they talk about flexible seating and apps. Meanwhile, Tom Vander Ark and the staff of iNACOL / Competencyworks plot CBE’s nationwide expansion, see map here. You might think North Dakota United would be sounding the alarm, but that couldn’t be further from the case. They’ve actually partnered with Ted Dintersmith to produce a podcast documenting all aspects of the “personalized” learning takeover of North Dakota. The name of the podcast is, I kid you not, The Cutting Ed. Click here to check out the twenty-two episodes they’ve produced since last November. Dintersmith has also created a statewide playlist of resources to go along with School ReTool’s program of educational hacks. It’s called North Dakota Innovation Playlists, a modular program teachers can use to hack themselves right out of a career.

It turns out both the primary sponsor and co-sponsor of SB2186, North Dakota’s Innovative Education Bill, were teachers. Poolman is a high school English teacher in Bismarck and Oban was a middle school teacher.  The bill passed the Senate with only one nay vote on March 21, 2017. It passed the House with 75 yeas and 17 nays on March 28, 2017. Burgum signed it into law on April 4, 2017. The bill had overwhelming support from all the major education policy groups in the state, including North Dakota United. Interactive version of the map below here.

ND SB2186

It seems most people involved with this bill believed it would return local control of education policy decisions in the state. Clearly, they were either unaware or in denial about the fact that the bill was inspired by the ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Commission, “Innovation Schools and School Districts” model legislation that was created in 2012, the same year social impact bonds first appeared in the United States and the year Kirsten Baesler became state superintendent.

Knowledgeworks played a pivotal role in crafting the legislation and promoting CBE.  Knowledgworks is the primary promoter of the decentralized learning ecosystem model. It was originally funded by Gates as part of his small schools initiative, but later became an engine for policy reform in Ohio and was tasked with implementing Common Core State Standards there.

Knowledge Works CC

They have also spun off a social-impact program for “cradle to career” wrap around services known as Strive Together. All told, the organization has received over $24 million from Gates since 2001. Their specialty is producing terrifying white papers. I tweeted a number of these to supporters of SB2186 but never received a response: Glimpses of the Future of EducationExploring the Future Education WorkforceRecombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem; and the Future of Learning in the Pittsburgh Region (plus their new AR/VR Wearables paper). In this report Baesler is quoted as saying “Knowledgeworks staff provided the support, experience and essentially the framework for North Dakota’s innovation bill.

The Marzano work group Baesler describes here around timestamp 2:30 was part of the process as well. Virgil Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer of Knowledgeworks, came to the organization from Maine’s RSU2 district, one of the early pilot programs for CBE. RSU2’s “Standards-Based, Learner Centered Frameworks,” part of the Mass Customized Learning program, was brought to that district by Bea McGarvey, a Maine resident and employee of Marzano Associates. MCL is being implemented in Northern Cass schools. Things were falling apart with MCL in Maine as early as 2013, but money has continued to pour into the program from the Nellie Mae Foundation and other supporters of the Great Schools Partnership. They have managed to hang on, but opposition has become more vocal in recent months as compliance with new Proficiency Based diploma requirements looms on the horizon.

The Truth About Local Control

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler states the Every Student Succeeds Act returned education decisions to local control in many of her speeches and also here. But did it? Who exactly is calling the shots with respect to North Dakota education policy? If you take a look at the innovative education partners, only North Dakota Council on the Arts and North Dakota United are based in the state. Interactive map here.

ND Innovative Education Partners

Knowledgeworks is clearly a Gates-funded vehicle with ties to national education reform interests. I don’t see how you can see the amount of grant funding coming in and think it is any way a grassroots organization or that they would place the interests of North Dakota’s children above that of their many powerful funders. Interactive map here.

Knowledgeworks Staff

Grants to Knowledgeworks

Another key player in this transformation is School ReTool, a program out of Stanford University, whose business school is a force behind scaling social impact investing. Stanford’s education school, through SCALE ,is also working to develop digital means by which to upload project based learning evidence into cloud-based systems. Far from a local program, School ReTool is rolling out its “hacks” in districts from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh to Dallas to Oakland. They were part of the Obama White House’s massive plan to redesign high school per this 2016 update.

This personalized learning program is nothing unique to North Dakota. It was not brought to North Dakota because the people wanted it. It was brought to you as part of a national campaign masterminded by ed-tech and impact investment interests. Partners in School ReTool can be seen here.

School ReTool

Get in touch with the parents in Maine!

Burgum, Dintersmith, Baesler, and the rest are really hoping everyone just takes the laptops; turns libraries into maker spaces; acquiesces to mindset and skills-based instruction aligned to gig-economy jobs (fracking, drones, and the military); and accepts ubiquitous AI instruction. Don’t stop to consider how exactly deeper-learning and intense STEM instruction will result from dumbed-down online playlist instruction and work-based learning placements. Don’t look under the hood; don’t pine for old-fashioned age-based grades, report cards, diplomas, and neighborhood schools. Embrace the shiny. Just accept the learning ecosystem model and all the data-mining and labor market predictive analytics that goes along with it. Don’t ask questions; don’t slow down the transformation of education into a privatized marketplace; and by all means don’t tell Hawaii, because they’re the next up on his anytime, anywhere education tour.

But you don’t have to do that. Connect with the parents and teachers in Maine. They are actively rebelling against the competency / proficiency / mastery based education policies being shoved down their throats by the Nellie Mae Foundation, Great Schools Partnership and Knowledgeworks: herehere, and here. They have suffered for years without fully understanding what was happening. Emily Talmage has done a great service with her blog, Save Maine Schools, putting together detailed research and laying everything out. North Dakota, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, unite and resist. Your schools should belong to your communities. They need not become gig-economy data-factories if you take a stand, but do it now.

PS: If you know any of the people assigned to Burgum’s Innovative Education Task Force, consider sending this on to them with my Dintersmith post, so they know what they’ve been signed up for. The task force map is here and a really big map of the whole system is here. If you’ve stayed with me this long, thank you!

ND Innovative Education Task Force

Innovative Education in North Dakota

-Alison McDowell

The Battle in Seattle Against a Charter School Invasion

seattle

Originally published on The Progressive.

Charter schools and other market-based forms of “school choice” have been touted as ways to make education more responsive to “market demands.” But when you look at the latest attempt to force these schools onto the citizens of Washington state, you have to ask, “Just who is demanding these schools?”

Washington State has been pushing back against charter schools for a decade.

Three times, between 1996 and 2004, the state held ballot initiatives allowing charter schools in the state. Three times the voters said “No.”

In 2012, Bill Gates, Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, and other wealthy education “reformers” made a concerted effort on a fourth try to bring charter schools to the state. The public received a barrage of TV ads, forums, and mailers sponsored by organizations such as the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, both of which are financially backedby Bill Gates.

Initiative 1240 passed 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, only squeaking by despite the enormous financial advantage of the “Yes” campaign, which outspent the “No” campaign by a margin of 12 to 1.

Charter schools remain a controversial and unpopular concept in the state of Washington particularly in Seattle where over 60 percent of the voters were against the initiative.

After Initiative 1240 passed, a special commission was established to approve charter schools in the state. It is comprised of politically appointed members with no accountability to the general public with the ability to circumvent oversight by local school boards.

The commission recently approved the Green Dot charter chain, despite its checkered history. Green Dot has been faulted for poor test score results, loss of accreditation, low SAT scores, teachers cheating on student’s tests, poor teacher pay, high teacher turnover, student free speech violations, and misleading parents.

The Green Dot charter chain got its foothold in Seattle by subterfuge.

When community members in Southeast Seattle, a neighborhood of minority cultures and immigrants, found out a Green Dot middle school was part of a development plan there, citizen activists pushed back.

Former Seattle School Board member Sue Peters, who helped block Green Dot from receiving a zoning variance, told me in an interview: “Green Dot is violating the law. They have no legal right to make that request, yet someone in the City worked with Green Dot behind the scenes and granted them one waiver already and want to grant them another . . . So Green Dot is committing violation after violation.”

“Too often [charters] want rules and laws broken or special treatment that public schools are not granted,” she summed up. “And then they have the audacity to claim to make apples to apples comparisons with truly public schools.”

In May, 2017 Green Dot managed to push through a different zoning variance—this one to have “greater than allowed” building height for a high school—and, again, by operating under the radar and with the assistance of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods division of Major Institutions and Schools.

When community advocates called attention to Green Dot requesting a second variance, the Seattle School Board unanimously passed a resolution that charter schools should not be afforded a variance because they are not considered public schools.

On the board of the company Homesight, which is the developer of the site in Southeast Seattle, is an executive from Impact Public Schools, which advocates for charter schools, Natalie Hester, who also serves on the board of the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

There were no representatives from Seattle Public School district on the board of the company.

With the variance for the high school successfully pushed through, but the variance for the middle school stymied by the school board’s resolution, Green Dot has decided to co-locate the high school with the junior high school.

Local citizens protested at the construction site.

And once again, the legality of charter schools is being challenged at the level of the State Supreme Court.

Seattle citizens voted three times against charter schools and there is no indication that opinions have changed. Only a select few backroom operators want the privatization of public schools in Seattle so the battle in Seattle continues.

Dora Taylor

Stealing Vocational Dreams: Pushing Career Education Too Soon

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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To some extent it is necessary to forecast the kinds of jobs that will be available to students when they graduate. Businesses have every right to express their needs.

But steering children into those jobs, especially at an early age, is more about business than about children.

If you have a middle school student, chances are the school they’re attending is already discussing career options. While there’s always been a place at this age for discussing a child’s hopes and dreams for the future, the push to make career-ready children is creating a lot of anxiety among parents.

Much of this involves placing students online and gathering personal information through surveys used to align student interests to future jobs.

How must children feel when they are coerced into determining what they want to do with their lives when they are only in eighth grade, or when their reading difficulties already prevent them from moving into a career path they find interesting?

This is tracking at an early age.

One study found that middle school students (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) spent an average of one year studying the introduction into career-technical education (CTE). How time consuming.

Having taught the same 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in a resource class, and also high school students, I know that academic and social differences between the same sixth and eighth grader can be profound!

High school students change too. By a student’s junior and senior year, students are somewhat more settled on a college and career direction. This seems like a good time to discuss careers and interests.

Most children, aside from a few prodigies, dream about and change their minds about a career. And some students don’t proclaim a college major until they are well into their college career!

So why is there such a push to stamp a career on a student before they’re ready?

Policymakers and school reformers claim they’re worried about the future economy, and schools must prepare students for future jobs. This hyperbole has been running rampant in the school reform arena for years.

Much of this hyper-focus on college and career readiness was ushered in with the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments.

There’s no shortage of career online testing companies that will gather personal information about children. Naviance is an example of a software provider to middle and high school which collects personal data about students, including student values. This data collection is especially worrisome.

Along with assessment, nonprofit programs have popped up to match middle school students to businesses.

While discussing middle school students and career education, Education Week showcased a program called Spark. The chief executive officer, Jason A. Cascarino, stated, Nobody knows what to do with these kids. Developmentally, it’s a challenging age. Middle school was also described in another Education Week report as The Forgotten Middle. The Bermuda Triangle. The Black Box. The Educational Weak Link.

These perceptions of middle school are not entirely true. Middle school is a challenging age, but well-prepared teachers who study preadolescent development and work with students, have succeeded at identifying student interests.

If preteens become bored and disengaged, it’s because school reform measures have destroyed the ability of educators to provide a good foundation in coursework with access to a whole curriculum. Teachers may lack resources and good preparation.

There’s possibly been too much focus on career planning and testing.

Exposure to language arts, math, social studies, science, music, and art still make the most sense for all students at this age. Middle school students also require plenty of socialization opportunities through engaging extracurricular activities.

Any kind of apprenticeship opportunities might be best offered in the summer. Students at this age like to discuss and explore careers. But businesses should back off.

To some extent it is necessary to forecast the kinds of jobs that will be available to students when they graduate. Businesses have every right to express their needs.

But steering children into those jobs, especially at an early age, is more about business than about children.

Elementary schools even obsess about career preparation. Children in kindergarten are assessed to determine a career route!

All of this is foreboding. It shouldn’t be permitted, certainly not at such a young age when students are constantly changing and reinventing themselves.

The seriousness of a career choice cannot be underestimated. But forcing this commitment onto middle school students goes way beyond what is ethically appropriate.

-Nancy Bailey

References

Caralee J. Adams. “Career Prep Moves Into Middle Schools.” Education Week. July 15, 2015.

Caralee Adams. “Focus on Middle Grades Seen as Pivotal to High School and College Readiness. ” Education Week. December 5, 2014.

Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students?

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

KITE STEM.jpg

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

This is a companion to a previous post I wrote about the implementation of the KiTE STEM challenge, a Google-sponsored digital learning contest being run in partnership with the Kirkland, WA park system this spring. Read part one here.

On April 12 Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop at 18th and Spruce Streets while waiting for a friend with whom they had a scheduled meeting. A bystander recorded the encounter, as the men had done nothing wrong and questioned the police as to why the arrests were made. Their experience has been widely discussed in national news. Today being a black or brown person in the public sphere is to be suspect and put at risk of arrest, deportation or even death.

I raise this within the context of appified learning ecosystems, because Philadelphia is a City of LRNG. Collective Shift has been promoting a system of “personalized” learning called Digital On Ramps where Philadelphia’s students, many of whom are students of color, would be sent out to navigate the city and earn skills-based badges.

The featured image for this post is from the article discussing Kirkland’s Kite STEM challenge. It shows hands holding a phone with a multiple choice question on the screen. They are young, black hands. Presumably this child is in a park using the app. In seeing those hands, I remember twelve-year old Tamir Rice, murdered by police at a Cleveland playground in 2014. We would like to think of parks as “safe” places to learn, but there are no guarantees for black children.

KITE part 2

ree-range device mediated education may seem like a great idea for privileged teens who can sit on the “weed-wall” in Rittenhouse Square and face no consequences. But what does that look like for young black men? Will they be afforded the same treatment? What will their “Hackable High School” look like? Will they have the right to pursue online instruction on a laptop undisturbed in local coffee shop?

Collective Shift

I see Collective Shift’s image of “appified” education (above) and can’t help but think of Stephon Clark, murdered in his grandmother’s backyard by police as he held his phone. Will black and brown children be targeted pursuing informal learning on phones? Will they fear being shot as they collect competencies for their digital learning lockers?

I also think about the data being collected by the apps that enable anywhere learning: location data, emotion sensing data, and data about social interactions, all of it aggregated and used to develop predictive profiles. Are we bumping up against the moment when Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is realized? When pre-crime interventions begin? Which brings to mind a panel discussion “Defining Public Safety: Visions for the Future of Policing” I attended last October during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference.

During the Q&A at the end, former CIO of the City Charles Brennan, noted that the future of policing would be facial recognition cameras, predictive analytics software, and drone surveillance. Watch this clip from a 2014 lecture at MIT featuring whistleblower William Binney that describes facial recognition software developed by the military in Afghanistan as it was being deployed by local police in Springfield, MA.

Future of Policing

How will it feel to “learn” exclusively in such an environment, an environment of ubiquitous surveillance and policing? And how will race play into assigned pathways for work-based learning? I have concerns about the quality of the experiences provided, as well the possibility of child labor issues. We know tremendous racial bias exists in US work places. What protections will be put in place to ensure black and brown children are not victimized? Who will be able to access which parts of the ecosystem? Will “Wharton-affiliated” ecosystem opportunities be restricted to students that meet specific criteria, while students of color get pushed into tracks for grounds maintenance, home healthcare, and basic coding?

US society suffers from a pervasive sickness that stems from our national origins in the theft of indigenous land and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Here in the city of “brotherly love,” myths portraying what we wish we were (independent, fair, just) are carefully tended. Yet, the brutality of our history (our present) cannot be denied. It emerges with regularity, at times on camera, in branded corporate settings like Starbucks, upending the lives of innocent people like Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson.

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

I have many reservations about “future ready” education, but the Starbucks incident makes clear the issue of race is paramount. This issue is not in any of the papers put out by Knowledgeworks. It is not addressed by MacArthur or Collective Shift. For all the black and brown people who have died or been subjected to physical or emotional violence for simply existing in spaces where white people felt they were a threat, we must talk about this.

“Anytime, anywhere” education could mean death or arrest or deportation for young black and brown people seeking to “learn” in spaces white society is loathe to share. A learning ecosystem governed by whiteness, particularly whiteness enshrined in technocratic digital platforms ruled by powerful white men = continued erasure.

Before hackable education models start to supplant bricks and mortar schools, there must be public conversations that critically examine what such a model would mean for black people, for brown people, and for undocumented immigrants. Their voices and opinions must be prioritized. The Kirkland KiTE STEM Challenge goes online this week. Will we start talking about this before it is too late? Lives hang in the balance.

BLM

-Alison McDowell

Kids, Welcome to the Machine: Suzi LeVine & Career Connected Learning

Dollarocracy

Editor’s Note: On May 8, 2018, Washington State’s Governor, Jay Inslee, appointed Suzi LeVine as the next commissioner of  the state’s Employment Security Department.

Suzi LeVine is a brand evangelical for career connected learning which is all about catering to the needs of business, by creating “an employer driven system of education and training.” This is bad news for kids and schools.  -Carolyn Leith

BIG MONEY, CAREER CONNECTED LEARNING & PLAYING PARTISAN POLITICS IN WASHINGTON STATE.

…And so, what can companies do together to create an environment where you can train and grow your talent pool instead of stealing talent from each other? Why not grow the pie instead of eating each other’s pieces of pie?”

In a simpler time, big time money bundlers in Presidential elections were satisfied with a plum ambassadorship.

Not anymore.

Meet Suzi LeVine, former Swiss Ambassador, local money bundler for the Democratic party, ex-Microsoft executive, and current thought leader and brand evangelical for career connected learning.

Ms. LeVine raised $500,000 for President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. In total, LeVine raised 1.3 million in support of Obama’s Presidential ambitions.

Suzi LeVine, Brand Evangelical for Career Connected Learning

In GeekWire, LeVine explains how her corporate background in tech helped her grasp the value of Switzerland’s apprenticeship program – an education system which helps companies train and grow their own human capital. LeVine sees this as a big plus because it keeps companies from competing – or poaching – each other’s talent.

“The work that I did at Microsoft around education and seeing education models around the globe gave me an appreciation for project-based learning and 21st-century skills,” LeVine said. “And seeing how in Switzerland apprenticeship is embraced, and 2/3 of young people go to apprenticeship and not high school, is amazing. But I can appreciate it in a way because of my tech background. What I can also appreciate is that these individuals have a path, not an end. They can go from their apprenticeship to university and beyond if they choose.”

In the U.S., LeVine believes we are at the beginning of an “apprenticeship renaissance,” where people realize that the path to success has many beginnings  that don’t all start with a college degree.

“I look at the tech industry here. And we are so hungry for software developers and so hungry for IT professionals,” LeVine said. “How many of those people who you know who are software developers today would have loved to have started younger because they knew exactly what they wanted to do, and really they would have preferred to go and start working and earning a paycheck and having this experience? And so, what can companies do together to create an environment where you can train and grow your talent pool instead of stealing talent from each other? Why not grow the pie instead of eating each other’s pieces of pie?”

Since returning to the United States, LeVine has been on a mission to introduce career connected learning in Washington State. Here’s notes from her presentation to the STEM Education Innovation Alliance meeting on March 1, 2017.

Youth Apprenticeships and Career Connected Learning

Learning from the Swiss about Apprenticeship

Suzi LeVine, Former United States Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein

Eric LeVine, CEO, CellarTracker

-Vision for 20 years of 100% lifelong career readiness

-Washington state and Switzerland are similar in size of population, gross domestic product, political structure – with slight differences in hydroelectric power energy mix and key industries

-Unemployment in Switzerland is 3% and is lower for youth, in part due to apprenticeships. Two-thirds of students go into apprenticeship training instead of 10th grade. Companies start apprenticeships with students after the 9th grade, and companies start recruiting while students are in the 7th grade.

  • 3-4 days in job and 1-2 days in academic setting
  • Apprenticeships are 3-4 years
  • Project-based learning with compensation
  • Students work with adults, get a paycheck, develop products and are part of the workforce

-Keys to success for the Swiss:

  • Diversity: Have 250 federally registered apprenticeships, from white to blue collar
  • Permeability: Can do vocational track or more academic – permeability – lots of on- and off-ramps
  • Certification for transferable “currency”
  • Prestige – many CEOs started as an apprentice – not “those kids” but “all kids”

-Business must lead on this – and business benefits greatly from it

  • Collaborate to reach critical mass; contribute majority; participate in associations
  • Receive portion of investment returns; evaluate trainees and gain skilled workers
  • Investing into each apprentice works as all businesses participate

-Currently 5.8 million jobs unfilled in the US

Several Swiss businesses with facilities in US started apprenticeship programs in collaboration with community colleges

Established Swiss-US agreements and partnered with 30 companies that committed to bringing this model to US

-Typically post-high school in partnership with the community and technical colleges

-Some are returnees or re-trainees to update skills

Colorado is first state with Swiss model

  • Started with a boot camp in June, 2015 that inspired a key US business leader.
  • Key business leaders put together a delegation to go to Switzerland in January 2016 (Colorado’s Governor, CEOs, heads of public schools, labor, and philanthropists)
  • Set up nonprofit organization CareerWise Colorado via public/private partnership.
  • LinkedIn Youth Apprenticeship Marketplace – launching a pilot project with 50 companies who will offer over 175 apprenticeships
  • Starts in 11th and 12th grade
  • Goal to grow to 20,000 apprenticeships by 2027 (10% of high school juniors and seniors in Colorado)
  • Gives Colorado a competitive advantage in its workforce development opportunities; China and Brazil looking at model

-How do we mobilize in Washington state?

  • If you suspend reality and apply the Swiss investment and savings metrics to Washington, because an apprentice in Switzerland is 40% cheaper than a high school student and because Swiss companies invest 1% of GDP into apprenticeship, Washington could save an estimated $668 million if two thirds of all high school students participated, with an investment of $4.2 billion (1% of GDP) in apprenticeships by companies in Washington state.

Some benefits:

  • Washingtonians being lifelong career ready
  • Washington state becomes first choice for business investment because of quality and quantity of labor workforce
  • Reduced recruitment costs to businesses because local talent is now homegrown
  • Decline in crime rates as people are skilled and employed

-Questions

*What are fixed costs and long-term return on investment? loyalty – one example 50-80% retention after apprentices leave (civil service requirement); going into system but not necessarily in one place – salary to apprentice; mentorship; training

*Colorado provided $11 M as seed funding (combo – national philanthropies, local philanthropies, State & DOD).

*In North Carolina group established “Apprenticeship 2000” – state just committed to fund community college aspect for registered apprenticeships

*LeVine suggests not about tax credits to companies but about education credits via funding to institutions – US Department of Labor has site with examples

*Regarding adult reengagement – can do apprenticeships through age 48 in Switzerland though emphasis is on youth apprenticeship – relevance in US for older apprentices is greater. Each state has career advising offices.

*Biggest hurdles are credential consistency; prestige; creating full ecosystem for permeability; critical mass; need more than one business to avoid poaching

Kids as Capital and School as a Workforce Development Pipeline

As mentioned in LeVine’s presentation above, the implementation of the Swiss Model is further along in Colorado. In the document Swiss Apprentice Model: An Employer Driven System of Education & Training – a title which is telling enough – one slide gushes about the many ways employers receive a return on their investment.

Colorado ROI on Swiss Model

I hope both of these examples make this point crystal clear: LeVine’s proposed rearrangement of our public education system prioritizes the needs of Corporate America over students.

In fact, students are almost an afterthought, a raw material to be sorted and developed based on how much future value they can create for their employer.

This isn’t about creating jobs and opportunities for kids – that’s the sales pitch.

What career connected learning is really about is catering to the needs of business, by creating “an employer driven system of education and training.”

Remember: “Business must lead on this – and business benefits greatly from it.”

Could this Be an End to the McCleary Debate?

The other critical detail of the Swiss Apprentice Model is the emphasis on the savings created when 2/3 of students choose an apprenticeship program over high school.

In LeVine’s talk she estimates a savings of $668 million if companies in Washington pitched in an initial investment of $4.2 billion.

…Washington could save an estimated $668 million if two thirds of all high school students participated, with an investment of $4.2 billion (1% of GDP) in apprenticeships by companies in Washington state.

Where are these savings coming from?

I’m guessing money will be freed-up by closing and/or consolidating public high schools – but I don’t know for sure.

Here’s my thinking: If 2/3 of eligible students aren’t attending traditional high schools, it will be very difficult to justify keeping them open.

Remember: LeVine’s plan only has kids spending 1-2 days a week in an academic setting – which doesn’t necessarily mean at school – it could be defined as visiting an off-site drop-in center run by a community partner or having kids log-in to software from home.

LeVine also loves the idea of project based-learning. So, maybe public high schools will be replaced with charter schools like the one operated by Big Picture Learning in partnership with the Highline School District.

In any of these scenarios, after kids, teachers will be the biggest losers.

I’m anticipating – once the downsizing begins – teachers: whose salaries are one of the bigger costs of running a school – will be laid off, replaced with non-certificated staff such as AmeriCorps or TFA, whose job will be to monitor kids’ progress on educational software.

If my hunch is correct, this would be two huge wins for the Legislature.

First, they don’t have to find any new revenue to finish the job on McCleary. Plus, laying off teachers can’t help but hurt the teacher’s union.

Win. Win.

Is Anyone Protecting the Interest of Students?

Given the major disruption career connected learning would bring to our public education system, who is looking out for the kids?

Initially, I had hoped one state agency – the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction – would stand up for students’ right to a high school education steeped in the liberal arts.

You know, the type of education the kids of rich people get – what Bill Gates and his kids experienced while going to Lakeside or what Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children were exposed to at the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Schools where kids are taught to be leaders, not treated as cogs to be retrofitted to suite the corporate machine.

Unfortunately, my hope was quickly disproven.

In fact, Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, was at the same STEM Education Innovation Alliance meeting as LeVine and had this to say about career connected learning:

What are incentives for districts and how do we reward besides on-time graduation – do we have the courage to reward for technical pathways?  The framework needs to land on a policy platform that will work

I take this to mean that Reykdal is already working on how to sell career connected pathways to school districts.

So much for looking out for students.

-Carolyn Leith

Beware of Tech Titans Bearing Gifts

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) gift likely means huge changes for schools across the country. We’ve known for a long time that Chicago school experimentation is usually the country’s pilot project. And the CZI isn’t just putting money into personalized learning in Chicago. It’s tied to all-tech Summit Charter Schools (unfairly called public schools) and the College Board. They are also working in Massachusetts.

Chicago is getting $14 million through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) that will be used for personalized learning, placing children online for their schooling. They are advertising their gift as “Supporting Chicago’s Teachers in Personalized Learning.”

The Chan-Zuckerberg website motto is “We believe in a future for everyone.” Here’s my question. Do they believe in a future for professional teachers?

Is the CZI goal to replace teachers? Ask them that question! Get them to tell us yes, or no. It’s a great question to start off Teacher Appreciation Week!

Many teachers will jump on the tech bandwagon. Technology is a useful tool. No one can deny that. But there’s no research to indicate that total tech without teachers will succeed in getting children ready for their college and career futures.

The CZI money in Chicago will also go to LEAP Inovations—a nonprofit that pushes tech with “Appy Hours” (tech instruction at the local bars?).

One of the CZI administrators is James H. Shelton. He used to work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and also had the powerful position of Assistant Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Education, under President Obama. Shelton oversaw the Office of Innovation and Improvement where he managed competitive programs involving teacher/leader quality, Promise Neighborhoods, school choice, and, of course, technology.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may appear to support teachers and public schools, but their past actions show otherwise. They have supported charter schools and groups like Stand for Children, Teach for America, and many other anti-public school, anti-teacher nonprofits. Their Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) was an insult to teachers everywhere. In Memphis, where Gates had a prominent presence, teachers wore ear buds with coaches (called experts) in the back of the room directing them how to teach!

The CZI gift likely means huge changes for schools across the country. We’ve known for a long time that Chicago school experimentation is usually the country’s pilot project. And the CZI isn’t just putting money into personalized learning in Chicago. It’s tied to all-tech Summit Charter Schools (unfairly called public schools) and the College Board. They are also working in Massachusetts.

And LEAP calls for more tech company involvement.

Want exposure to Chicago schools, educator feedback, and valuable implementation and outcome data? Pilot your product with the LEAP Pilot Network!

Think of schools and tech companies looking like NASCAR drivers competing for children’s data to increase business.

LEAP presents a report called “Finding What Works: Results from the LEAP Pilot Network 2014-2015.”

It begins:

LEAP Innovations was founded on the premise that our outdated, one-size-fits-all education system isn’t working. Instead, LEAP is driving toward a new paradigm, one that harnesses innovation—new teaching and learning approaches, along with technologies—to create a system that is tailored around each individual learner.

Isn’t it funny (not really), how those of us who disliked high-stakes testing for so many years, used to use the “one-size-fits-all” argument? Corporations were the ones that pushed that testing, now they are using that line to sell personalized learning.

It’s also funny (not really) how teachers have begged for years to have reasonably sized classrooms so they could individualize learning. It always fell on deaf ears. 

The report goes on with the usual complaints about students not graduating and not doing well on tests, and how wonderful it is that edtech is growing. The citations in the report are from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce, and an article from The Atlantic.

On the Leap website they also say:

LEAP first reviewed applications internally, selecting for companies that clearly personalized the learning experience for students in literacy, as well as demonstrated a record of prior success. An external curation panel of learning scientists, educators, and other subject-matter experts was then assembled to further evaluate the applicants and decide which would be made available to schools for selection. Their criteria included the potential for student impact; company strength and stability; alignment to learning science and Common Core standards; augmentation of teacher capacity; and functionality around student feedback and motivation.

I’d love to hear from teachers, principals or any friends from Chicago involved with this panel.

There’s also talk of merging social emotional learning with tech. SEL is becoming known for its assessments that call for personal student behavioral data that makes parents nervous.

So, when schools aren’t funded and rich people with big ideas, no matter how they will impact children, come into the school district with a lot of money, public schools lose a lot of their public feedback.

For those who still don’t believe there’s a movement underfoot to replace teachers with tech, and collect even more data concerning student progress that will benefit corporations, watch the CZI in Chicago. Time always tells. It might be too late, but sooner or later we’ll learn the truth.

-Nancy Bailey

Social Impact Investing, Poverty, & Bill Gates’ New Plan

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Controlling the data isn’t about solving poverty, rather it’s all about creating systems to make the problems associated with poverty attractive to investors.

Data is the key — from showing interventions/investments are working to controlling the poor with data informed nudges to their behavior.

Bill Gates has now decided to tackle poverty and once again the discussion around this move has devolved into a debate over intentions rather than outcomes.

Some people think Gates is a well meaning guy who just can’t get it quite right. The harsher critics of his education policies just wish he would learn from his mistakes and move on. Fat chance.

If you look at the outcomes of his education initiatives, they’ve been disastrous. I predict his foray into poverty will be much the same.

Why?

Because Gates isn’t interested in using his foundation’s vast wealthy to directly impact poverty through say, spending money on food security, shelter, or creating living wage jobs — with no strings attached. Oh no, his idea is to manage poverty by controlling the data.

From the Seattle Times:

Desmond-Hellmann said the foundation will focus on areas where its funding can be most effective, like collecting and sharing data on factors that contribute to poverty and upward mobility.

This is a crucial pivot that demands critical examination.

Controlling the data isn’t about solving poverty, rather it’s all about creating systems to make the problems associated with poverty attractive to investors.

Data is the key — from showing interventions/investments are working to controlling the poor with data informed nudges to their behavior.

Whoever controls the data, controls the next wave of surveillance capitalism. Gates just nominated himself to be that person. This is a monopolist rather than a philanthropic move.

All of which goes to show, even poverty can be profitable. All you need is the power and influence to build a system which encourages social impact investing and then position yourself as the one who controls all the data which runs the system.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, proclaimed data to be the new oil. Gates is maneuvering himself to sit on top of the next gusher.

-Carolyn Leith

 

The Movie “Most Likely to Succeed” is a Paid Infomercial for Project Based Learning

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At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

At a school which prides itself on encouraging thoughtful, critical thinkers my high schooler was required to watch “Most Likely Succeed” and told to “get inspired” by one of the vice principals. Parents had no idea this was happening, and were only informed after the fact.

During the mandatory classroom discussion after the movie, my kid was skeptical, pointing out the connection of the movie to the charter chain, Big Picture Learning, and how the movie was essentially propaganda. The teacher facilitating the discussion decided to argue and let the rest of the class know my kid was wrong.

At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

The most enlightening part of the evening was the discussion after the movie. Guess who was on the panel?

  • Jeff Petty, Regional Director of Big Picture Schools
  • Jen Wickens, formerly of Summit, and currently Co-Founder and CEO of IMPACT Public Schools – a charter chain specializing in project based learning trying to make inroads in the region.

Big Picture Learning also operates high schools which specialize in project based learning in Washington State. These schools are located at Highline, Bellevue, Issaquah, Chelan, and Twist. Showing Most Likely to Succeed to high school students in Seattle and telling them to “get inspired” isn’t a neutral act, in my opinion.

Here’s the irony of this whole sad affair: I wasn’t going to write about Most Likely to Succeed – but here we are. For the last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of education activism and where our public schools are headed. I’m not seeing a lot of hope. The looming destruction has made me tired, but mostly sad.

I’m sad my kids go to schools where lawlessness is the district norm, rather than the exception to the rule. Where principals know they can do whatever they want and won’t be held accountable, no matter how questionable the behavior. In my district, principals know any sort of suspect behavior will be excused after the fact by the suits downtown.

I’m sad schools that want to embrace equity and Black Lives Matter don’t see this in direct conflict with using Teach Like A Champion – the handbook for no-excuse charter schools which put kids on the pathway to the school to prison pipeline – as a professional development tool.

I’m sad activist and union leaders value the preservation of institutions over the needs of the people who make up these organizations.

I’m sad that read and re-Tweet activism has pushed out critical thinking and uncomfortable conversations.

I’m sad civic engagement has devolved into marketing strategies, where the rich and powerful use the delphi method to control the conversation and push their already decided upon solution.

I’m sad education activists in my state are letting Democrats off the hook with McCleary and have also given up on the battle over smaller class size.

Mostly, I’m sad that as a society we have lost our moral compass.

We no longer see kids as unique individuals to be nurtured, loved and protected. Instead, we’ve accepted the idea that it’s OK to turn children are commodities. Widgets which can be data mined, profiled, molded and manipulated into profit making vehicles for adults – snake-oil salesmen who we welcome with open arms into what is left of our public schools.

-Carolyn Leith

Correction: I’ve received many emails pointing out Big Picture Learning’s school in Highline isn’t a charter school. Instead, it falls under Washington State’s law regarding innovative schools. This goes for the other schools operated by Big Picture Learning in the state.

ALEC was behind the push for states to adopt innovate schools regulations and provided model legislation for doing so. According to ALEC Exposed:

This “model” legislation creates a new term of art for schools to allow them to change rules and legal obligations, including waiving provisions of collective bargaining agreements: “districts of innovation.” This is, in essence, a way to create charter schools within the public school system and again, like many ALEC corporate proposals, targets changing worker’s rights and the rules for teacher pay, pensions, hours, and other conditions of employment. The bill would give chartering authority for these so-called “innovative schools” to state-level officials, even though the bill purports to respect the tradition of local administration of schools systems. (emphasis mine)

You can read ALEC’s The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act model legislation here.  Click here to look up the waivers granted by the State Board of Education to Big Picture Learning.

To learn more about the venture capitalist behind Most Likely to Succeed, start here: Ted Dintersmith is Not Here to Save Neighborhood Schools!

 

 

 

 

A high school student speaks up about school funding and Washington State’s Paramount Duty

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Although recent Washington state level budget changes have created a plan to fully fund education up to the point of no longer being under court sanctioned fines, the work is still unfinished. Washington can, and must, do better than just basic education. As young people we have so much potential and we need that to be fostered through schools that are able to provide the tools we need. The goal of these images is to provide a set of faces instead of just numbers and words for this issue that is often full of words and numbers.

Washington State education funding has long been stuck on the back burner. Despite the McCleary case, this year will be the first to officially be fully funded up to the definition of basic education. Sadly this definition and funding does not go far enough.

Currently education funding in Washington comes from three separate places: federal money, local levies, and state funding. These sources of funding should in theory be able to fund education not just up to standard but above it. But with the way the system is being used these sources have failed to even fund basic education.

Approximately 59% of Washington education funding comes from the state (Logue). This money is intended to fund “basic education” which is doled out to districts based on the number of teachers, teacher experience level and number of students. Although the definition of what is basic education is somewhat vague there are some things that are outlined specifically, such as: 180 school days, a district average of 1,027 instructional hours, 24 high school credits, Learning Assistance Programs, Transitional Bilingual Instructional Programs, Special Education programs, Highly Capable Programs, and Transportation (Korman). Some of the more vague requirements include: “The Arts”, Science, and Social Studies (Korman). Vague requirements leave the state room to underfund schools without it being clear if or how they are breaking the law.

Covering the difference between a “basic education” and a good education, are levies, also known as “enhancements”. These are things that can make a student’s education fun and engaging, decreasing dropout rates. Some enhancements such as music programs are know to improve reading and math scores. These enhancements because they improve performance and attendance are arguably just as important as the core curriculum. So why are they not included in the definition of basic education?

Up until recently the state of Washington was in violation of its own constitution. The state constitution reads “it is the Paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” (WA.) and I would argue that the current system is nowhere close to “ample”. The state of Washington is 35th in per student funding (Navas). And until recently the state was under