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 – another 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

To learn more about the venture capitalist behind Most Likely to Succeed, start here: Ted Dintersmith is Not Here to Save Neighborhood Schools!

 

 

 

 

12 comments

  1. I have looked at the whole program including the breakouts. I see that Relay has three Deans on their way to having Ph.Ds. What happen to the idea that scholarship was not ever to be a requirement at the Relay Graduate School of Education?

  2. AS usual you are miles ahead of me. Thanks for this…I guess.
    Bravery for the wee ones.
    What’s next? AR-15 training?

  3. AS usual you are miles ahead of me.
    I will look over the program and try to keep my head on straight.
    Bravery for the wee ones.
    Yikes.

  4. If you lump in everyone in education who has taken Gates money or uses data as being as part of the same problem as Doug Lemov, No Excuses charters, general defunding of public education & the public space, yes, then you’re going to get really depressed.

    I live in Providence and teach in a district school, but I have been observing Big Picture locally for a long time. Their model is not for everyone, but it has fundamentally progressive roots. They really do need fairly sophisticated software to implement their internship model well. They certainly did it for years on paper first, but yes, some software helps!

    High Tech High is a good progressive school with yes, more funding than the average public school and a relatively affluent student body. They are not the problem, and for that matter have intentionally not pursued becoming a big expansionist CMO.

    Yes, it would be great if more districts could support organically the kind of progressive reforms that in 2018 come with weird corporate connections and big imposed outside consulting arrangements, but if we throw out both the progressives and the reactionaries, what are we left with? There may be a good answer to that question, but I’d like it to be clearly specified.

    1. Tom, is this you, formerly associated with SchoolTool, open source interoperable student data systems? That might explain your perspective on tech. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.465.5583&rep=rep1&type=pdf

      Oh and competency tracking, too? How interesting: https://opensource.com/education/13/2/schooltool
      “The SchoolTool team pitched in to help with training efforts and IT support. When Arlington’s local funds were occasionally tapped out, SchoolTool’s philanthropic funding allowed us to step in and put out fires or adjust to changing requirements.” Was your funder this Mark Shuttleworth by any chance? http://www.markshuttleworth.com/biography

      Also High Tech High now has an alt cert graduate school. So, I think your assessment of them not being a “big expansionist” CMO is premature. https://hthgse.edu

      1. My perspective on education and technology is informed by my work in education and technology. Working on SchoolTool was a very nice gig, although I didn’t make as much as my wife did teaching social studies in the Providence Public Schools. I’m not working in the ed-tech business anymore because I’m not very pleased with the way things are going in that space — for many of the same reasons you’re concerned.

        But my perspective is that what High Tech High and Big Picture schools have been about from the beginning are very different than what Summit has done or what Relay GSE, etc. have done. If they’re becoming too influenced by this hybrid learning stuff, that’s unfortunate.

        One thing is for sure — competency based education as it is currently implemented is too half-baked to be a long term threat to the structure of American education (such as it is). Waste of time and money, sure.

        On the other hand, being for or against “competency based education” is like being in favor or against a “law based justice system.” In the end you need something like competencies/outcomes/standards, just like you need laws of some kind. What matters is whether you have the right laws or competencies, and the governmental structures to effectively and fairly administer them.

    2. Regarding CBE, a lot of this hinges on scaling blockchain credentialing. CCSS was about transforming “education” into a product that could be transferred to a digital platform for ease of data collection tied to Pay for Success social impact investments. I anticipate we have about another decade before the entire premise of neighborhood bricks and mortar schools disappears (unless we wake a lot of people up). A few links:

      IMS Global Badging: https://www.imsglobal.org
      Learning is Earning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zssd6eBVfwc
      Mastery Transcript Consortium: http://mastery.org
      MIT Blockcerts Malta: https://www.ethnews.com/malta-to-publish-academic-credentials-on-the-blockchain-with-learning-machine-technologies
      Decode: https://decodeproject.eu
      Gambling On Our Futures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVr9NBxJj2A

  5. I have many many of these feelings, after teaching in the Highline Public Schools for 14 years, subbing in Seattle this year and having followed closely the struggles to fully fund McCleary last year. I feel disheartened to say the least. I haven’t seen this film, but I do want to note that the Big Picture schools in Highline are not charter schools. They seem to be the last carryovers from when Highline was doing great things.

    1. No, Big Picture has been around for years. It started in Rhode Island, but has evolved into (or perhaps was always intended to) a tool for next-gen ed reform. This new version of reform revolves around outsourcing high school education to work-based learning “opportunities.” See here for what happened in Philadelphia. the plan is no longer to close publics and hand them over to new charters, but to outsource management of exiting schools via contracts to operators like Big Picture. https://wrenchinthegears.com/2017/09/20/big-picture-learning-off-limits/

  6. 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.

    Are you aware that Relay Graduate School of Education, where the 49 techniques to Teach Like a Champion is not just in text but must be enacted and mastered, will now be offering Angela Duckworth’s Character Education program to train teachers how to teach the skills (yes skills and skill-sets) of “zest, grit, optimism, self-control, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity?”
    What’s missing? By definition, skills are evident in the effective and efficient use of techniques, irrespective of the motive. For example, I can appear to be full of zest—a performing arts skill—without actually feeling that I am full of zest. Zest is also contingent on being and feeling healthy. It is not really a matter of character. Similarly, I can display gratitude as a learned skill with no more than a dutiful smile and routine “Thank you.”
    Notably absent from these this well-known character-education programs (also Carol Dweck’s Brainology), are the attributes of kindness and truth telling. That should be a concern, especially when a bully (no matter the age or position) specializes in hurling insults and lying. I am not optimistic, either, but also cannot remain silent on the sidelines. Please keep on. Your website is really needed. The new status quo cannot stand.
    THE CHARACTER LAB: https://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/news/2017/09/19/angela-duckworth-character-lab-science-center.html?s=print

    1. Laura, see what they have planned for Philadelphia this July. Horrifying-KIPP, Duckworth, and Relay GSE. I believe SEL SIB investment is what this is all about. I am really upset at the inclusion of teaching “bravery” by “Brave Enterprises” consultants. That seems to align with the push of Strong Nation to fund early childhood education so we can be “military ready.” https://events.bizzabo.com/edsummit/home

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