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.

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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

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

Data Unicorns? Tech Giants and US Dept of Ed Form Alliance to Leverage Student Data — Without Parent Consent.

Reposted with permission from Missouri Education Watchdog

Leveraging Student Data

Project Unicorn: Billionaire partners promoting data interoperability and online “Personalized Learning”

When the Unicorns “protecting” student data are interoperable with the Unicorns taking it, parents and lawmakers might want to pay attention.

According to Technopedia, in the Information Technology world, “a unicorn is most commonly used to describe a company, for example, a Silicon Valley startup, that started out small but has since increased its market capitalization to, say, $1 billion or more. …For example, the social media giant Facebook, which has a market capitalization of more than $100 billion, is considered as a “super-unicorn among unicorns”.  Interesting coincidence because the name of a MEGA financed K-12 student data alliance is a unicorn.

Meet Project Unicorn.

Project Unicorn’s Mission is to Leverage Student Data and Make Data Interoperable

Project Unicorn

Project Unicorn’s steering committee is a who’s-who of edtech bundlers, billionaires, and student data power-players. They have formed an “uncommon alliance” committed to leveraging student data by making the data interoperable, flowing seamlessly, between all K-12 applications and platforms. While addressing student data security and privacy is a much needed conversation, it would seem that Project Unicorn has the cart before the horse. There is no talk of student data ownership or consent prior to collecting and using student data but rather, per this press release, Project Unicorn will continue to take the data, make data interoperable and talk about it afterwards, “Once interoperability is in place, we can start working with teachers and students to ask questions about the data.”  You can see by tweets below that Project Unicorn initially claimed it wanted to “shift data ownership to the student”; they have since withdrawn that statement.  Several schools and districts have been encouraged to join the Project Unicorn Coalition; we wonder if parents in these schools were given an option or are even aware of what this means. We’re going to talk about a few of the Project Unicorn partners and then circle back to their interoperability goals and how that fits with student data ownership, ethics, and the newly formed and related Truth About Tech and Humanetech.

A few points before we start:

  • When it comes to “free” edtech products, you know if it is free, you are the product; you pay with your data and your privacy. With edtech and 1:1 devices, personalized learning, online assessments online homework, LMS systems, students usually do not have a choice. Students do not have the ability to consent or opt out. Why?
  • Not all philanthropy is charity. As this article points out, for some, philanthropy is an investment, these nonprofits may “look” charitable but they are truly meant to make money and to buy power and influence policy, and sometimes do harm.
  • McKinsey Global estimated that increasing the use of student data in education could unlock between $900 billion and $1.2 trillion in global economic value. 
  • Children are not data points to predict, standardize and analyze. Currently online platforms can collect every key stroke, analyze and predict children’s behaviors. Children are not meant to be experimented on and#KidsAreNotInteroperable.
  • Currently, students’ data can be shared, researched, analyzed, marketed without parental consent. Often, parents cannot refuse the data sharing, cannot see the data points shared and how they are analyzed.
  • Edtech and Silicon Valley companies can gain access to personal student information without parent consent, under the School Official exception in FERPA. The US Department of Education not only promotes edtech companies, it tells tech companies HOW to gain access to student data, and is partnered in this project to make data sharing interoperable.
  • Interoperable data systems will allow even larger, very predictive data profiles of children–everything they do, are. The best way to protect privacy is to not collect data in the first place. Interoperability, with bigger and more detailed, sensitive data sets, sharing and mixing data with third parties is risky for both privacy and security. The US Department of Education has already warned of cyber hackers ransoming sensitive data from schools; who will be responsible and liable for more data breaches?

Back to unicorns.

How is the US Department of Education involved with Project Unicorn? 

The USDoE (your tax dollars) has been a major driving force of funding and support in online education, and data interoperability. Part of the data interoperability requires common data standards. CEDS (Common Education Data Standards) are codes used to tag student data, you can see these over 1,700 different data codes or elements, in the federal student data dictionary.  These common data tags were created with the help of  Bill Gates, funder of the Data Quality Campaign; read about the mission of DQC at the US Department of Education Summit here. Data Quality Campaign also provides policy guidance to legislators and education agencies, such as this 2018 DQC Roadmap promoting Cross-Agency data sharing. With the shift in education focusing more on workforce talent pipelines (see both ESSA and WIOA), the Workforce Data Quality Campaign (Gates, Lumina, Arnold, Joyce Foundation funded) has also influenced the US Department of Labor. The US Department of Labor-Workforce Data Quality Initiative plans to use personal information from each student, starting in pre-school, via the states’ SLDS data system. You can read more about  the SLDS, the roles that the US Department of Education and Bill Gates play in student data collection, the weakening of federal privacy law FERPA  here. In recent years Microsoft’s commitment to data privacy has been called into question, as per this EdWeek article. Even Microsoft itself admits they can take a peek and trend through student data and can put it on the market.

“If students are using certain cloud infrastructures, and it’s held by a third party, it is possible for [the vendors] to trend through the data,” said Allyson Knox, director of education policy and programs for Microsoft. “When [information] is flowing through a data center, it’s possible to take a peek at it and find trends and put it on the market to other businesses who want to advertise to those students.”

Knox said Microsoft has a “remote data center” where student information is housed but that “students’ data belongs to them.” -Microsoft https://www.fedscoop.com/lawmakers-hear-testimony-on-student-data-and-privacy/                     

Does Microsoft still believe that student data belongs to the student?

Gates: In 5 Years

Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a nonprofit whose IRS 990 forms can be seen here and (2016) here and TRUST here; their awarded grants can be seen in this searchable database. Gates spends billions on K-12 and higher ed reform. Gates (and Data Quality Campaign) both support a national student database, and now Gates is shifting his Multi-Billion focus from Common Core to K12 networks and curriculum.

(See With new focus on curriculum, Gates Foundation wades into tricky territory .)

Microsoft is desperately hoping to regain ground in the K-12 classroom 1:1 device market, with management systems, cloud, gamification of education (yes, Microsoft owns Minecraft and is promoting Minecraft in classrooms), K-12 LinkedIn Data Badges (yes, Microsoft owns LinkedIn-and yes there are LinkedIn K-12 badge pilots in AZ and CO), introducing chatbots and Artificial Intelligence into education and several online tools like Microsoft OneNote, favorably reviewed here by their unicorn partner Digital Promise. Microsoft is also part of the US Department of Education’s push for online curriculum, via Open Ed Resources OERs. Microsoft will be handling and indexing the content for the Federal Learning Registry. (You can read more about how the Federal Department of Defense and Department of Education are involved in OERs here.)

According to this December 2017 New York Times piece, Microsoft is fiercely trying to regain ground in the K-12 classroom market.

Tech companies are fiercely competing for business in primary and secondary schools in the United States, a technology market expected to reach $21 billion by 2020, according to estimates from Ibis Capital, a technology investment firm, and EdtechXGlobal, a conference company.

It is a matter of some urgency for Microsoft. 

Chromebooks accounted for 58 percent of the 12.6 million mobile devices shipped to primary and secondary schools in the United States last year, compared with less than 1 percent in 2012, according to Futuresource Consulting, a research company. By contrast, Windows laptops and tablets made up 21.6 percent of the mobile-device shipments to schools in the United States last year, down from about 43 percent in 2012. – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/technology/microsoft-google-educational-sales.html [Emphasis added]

Digital Promise

If you aren’t familiar with Digital Promise, it is a non-profit created by the US Department of Education, to PROMOTE edtech in the classroom. Read about Digital Promise and Global Digital Promise here. Digital Promise is demanding data interoperability for school districts. Digital Promise presented their report The Goals and Roles of Federal Funding for EdTech Research at this 2017 symposium  which was funded by tech foundations and corporations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Chan-Zuck, Strada, Pearson, Carnegie… you get the idea.   In their report, Digital Promise acknowledges that the federal government has spent significant money on developing and disseminating technology-based products in the classroom with little to no information on how these products are working.  So, is the answer to rely on tech financed entities and unicorns to review and research the efficacy of future edtech products?  No conflict of interest there. Digital Promise also utilizes the heavily Gates funded and controversial Relay Graduate School, which you can read about here.

The Personalized Learning algorithm driven model does not work.

Digital Promise and others in edtech continue to push for online Personalized Learning despite many warnings from edtech insiders including this from Paul Merich, entitled Why I Left Silicon Valley, EdTech, and “Personalized” Learning. Merich’s concerns with the algorithmic driven Personalized Learning, are summed up with this quote,

“It was isolating with every child working on something different; it was impersonal with kids learning basic math skills from Khan Academy; it was disembodied and disconnected, with a computer constantly being a mediator between my students and me.”

And in this piece by Rick Hess, A Confession and a Question on Personalized Learning, the CEO of Amplify admits Personalized Learning is a failure. We wish every policy wonk and educrat would read this:

…“Until a few years ago, I was a great believer in what might be called the “engineering” model of personalized learning, which is still what most people mean by personalized learning. The model works as follows:

You start with a map of all the things that kids need to learn.

Then you measure the kids so that you can place each kid on the map in just the spot where they know everything behind them, and in front of them is what they should learn next.

Then you assemble a vast library of learning objects and ask an algorithm to sort through it to find the optimal learning object for each kid at that particular moment.

Then you make each kid use the learning object.

Then you measure the kids again. If they have learned what you wanted them to learn, you move them to the next place on the map. If they didn’t learn it, you try something simpler.

If the map, the assessments, and the library were used by millions of kids, then the algorithms would get smarter and smarter, and make better, more personalized choices about which things to put in front of which kids.

I spent a decade believing in this model—the map, the measure, and the library, all powered by big data algorithms.

Here’s the problem: The map doesn’t exist, the measurement is impossible, and we have, collectively, built only 5% of the library.

To be more precise: The map exists for early reading and the quantitative parts of K-8 mathematics, and much promising work on personalized learning has been done in these areas; but the map doesn’t exist for reading comprehension, or writing, or for the more complex areas of mathematical reasoning, or for any area of science or social studies. We aren’t sure whether you should learn about proteins then genes then traits—or traits, then genes, then proteins.

We also don’t have the assessments to place kids with any precision on the map. The existing measures are not high enough resolution to detect the thing that a kid should learn tomorrow. Our current precision would be like Google Maps trying to steer you home tonight using a GPS system that knows only that your location correlates highly with either Maryland or Virginia.

We also don’t have the library of learning objects for the kinds of difficulties that kids often encounter. Most of the available learning objects are in books that only work if you have read the previous page. And they aren’t indexed in ways that algorithms understand.

Finally, as if it were not enough of a problem that this is a system whose parts don’t exist, there’s a more fundamental breakdown: Just because the algorithms want a kid to learn the next thing doesn’t mean that a real kid actually wants to learn that thing.

So we need to move beyond this engineering model…” — Larry Berger, CEO of Amplify, excerpt Rick Hess Straight Up Blog [Emphasis added]

 

And…Digital Promise just published a 2018 report promoting “Personalized Learning”, co-authored by Tom Vander Ark, here.  In this report you can find such gems as this global mantra (including in the US) that learning and teaching knowledge is no longer the main goal of education, it is more important to gather data about how students think and feel.

According to the World Economic Forumthe top five most valued skills for workers in 2020 are: 1) complex problem solving; 2) critical thinking; 3) creativity; 4) people management; and 5) coordinating with others. This is a far cry from simply needing a grasp of reading, writing, and arithmetic to be marketable to employers. While mastery of the three Rs remains critical, it is merely the launching point and no longer the end goal. We need to re-think the education system”  –US Department of Education’s Digital Promise http://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/lps-policies_practices-r3.pdf

Getting Smart, Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is Getting Smart author, creator and is the “director of 4.0 Schools, Charter Board Partners, Digital Learning Institute, eduInnovation, and Imagination Foundation, and advises numerous nonprofits.” Vander Ark was also the former Executive Director of Education for Microsoft.  Vander Ark, in this 2011 video said that Common Core’s mandate of online assessments could be used as a lever to get computers into the classroom, computers for personalized learning to help replace teachers. Tom Vander Ark also said gone are the “days of data poverty” once we use online formative tests rather than end of year high stakes tests. Vander Ark is also featured in this Global Education Futures conference; notice that Vander Ark is speaking on how to Unbundle Billions in Education.

Dell Foundation.

What could Dell computers possibly have to do with tech in schools and student data you ask? For starters, Dell funds some heavy hitters in data analytics, such as McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group. Dell also has a “free” app for high school students called Scholar Snap, which handles students’ personal scholarship data. Interestingly, Scholar Snap is also partnered with the Common App, both of which are third party vendors within Naviance, a K-12 Workforce data platform. (You can read about Naviance and their data mining, including how Common App asks students to waive their FERPA rights by clicking here.) Additionally, Dell (along with Gates) helps fund CoSN, the makers of the (industry self-policing, self-awarding) Trusted Learning Environment Seal for Student Data. CoSN  also promotes data collection and personalized learning.  Their “data driven decision making mission” is to “help schools and districts move beyond data collection to use data to inform instructional practice and personalize learning“. Not surprisingly, CoSN is also co-author of this Horizon Report, touting the virtues of Virtual Reality (VR) and robotics and wearable tech, expected to be adopted in K-12 education within the next 3 to 5 years.

The wearable format enables the convenient integration of tools into users’ everyday lives, allowing seamless tracking of personal data such as sleep, movement, location, and social media interactions. Head-mounted wearable displays such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard facilitate immersive virtual reality experiences. Well-positioned to advance the quantified self movement, today’s wearables not only track where people go, what they do, and how much time they spend doing it, but now what their aspirations are and when those can be accomplished.”  –CoSN Horizon Report 2018

Side note: It’s not just students who will be required to track and share their biometric and personal data. As this New York Times piece reports, teachers in West Virginia were required to submit their personal information to a health tracking app or risk a $500 penalty.

They implemented Go365, which is an app that I’m supposed to download on my phone, to track my steps, to earn points through this app. If I don’t earn enough points, and if I choose not to use the app, then I’m penalized $500 at the end of the year. People felt that was very invasive, to have to download that app and to be forced into turning over sensitive information.

The Future of Privacy Forum

The Future of Privacy Forum, is a Project Unicorn partner and DC think tank funded by many tech foundations and corporations including but not limited to: Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, Samsung, Sidewalk Labs (Google’s Alphabet, Smart Cities), Walt Disney, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation. Hobsons (Naviance), Intel, Palintir, Pearson, Netflix, Mozilla name only a few of their big name supporters. Their K12  arm focuses on balancing student data privacy while supporting innovation and technology in the classroom.

New technologies are allowing information to flow within schools and beyond, enabling new learning environments and providing new tools to improve the way teachers teach and the way students learn. Data-driven innovations are bringing advances in teaching and learning but are accompanied by concerns about how education data, particularly student-generated data, are being collected and used.

The Future of Privacy Forum believes that there are critical improvements to learning that are enabled by data and technology, and that the use of data and technology is not antithetical to protecting student privacy. In order to facilitate this balance, FPF equips and connects advocates, industry, policymakers, and practitioners with substantive practices, policies, and other solutions to address education privacy challenges.

While it is fantastic to have such a well-funded group concerned about student privacy, we wish they would go further. The Future of Privacy Forum  doesn’t advocate for student and parent consent before taking or using student data, nor do they say students should own their own data. We wish they advocated for the right of parents to be ensured paper pencil / book / human face to face teacher alternatives to online curriculum.  We also wish that Future of Privacy Forum would better highlight that predictive algorithms are not regulated or transparent; meta data and personalized, adaptive learning are exempted from state privacy laws, often with this or very similar language:

Nothing in this section

And though the Future of Privacy Forum does promote technology in the classroom, screen addiction is a concern for parents. (Although tech addiction has seen increased media coverage as of late, it’s not new; see this 2015  New York Times article on the toll that screen addiction has on children. However, surprisingly, some would still argue that tech is not addictive. ) When promoting technology in the classroom, the Future of Privacy Forum could do a better job addressing the many well-documented health risks of screen use including behavioral changes, link to teen depression and suicide, sleep disturbance, damage to retinas and vision loss, and better highlight guidance from the American Academy of Pediatricians, warning that wireless devices and cell phones can cause cancer.

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is a nonprofit who is supported by several foundations, including but not limited to: The Bezos (Amazon) Family Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett FoundationCarnegie Corporation of NY,  Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation,Overdeck Family Foundation, R.K. Mellon Foundation Symantec ,The Anschutz Foundation,  Annie E. Casey Foundation.  Another of their investors states that, “Common Sense Media provides unbiased and trustworthy information about media and entertainment that helps parents and children make informed choices about the content they consume.”

Can Project Unicorn or any of its Partners truly claim to be unbiased, since they are funded by the data driven tech industry? Since they are in a position to inform and advise on education policy, this is an important question.

Common Sense Media, even after hosting an event about tech addiction, see Truth About Tech below, is still advocating that only certain screen time exposure is addictive or concerning. Common Sense says when it comes to screen time, “there really is no magic number that’s “just right.”   Parents would argue that while content is certainly important, addiction, retinal damage, cancer risk, permissionless data collection, online safety risks apply to both educational and non-educational screen time, and affect children regardless of digital content.

Common Sense Tweet

To their credit, Common Sense Kids Action recently hosted a full day conference (video) on “Truth About Tech– How tech has our kids hooked.” It is great to get this conversation into the spotlight , you can see the agenda here, but there was no mention of giving students and parents ownership and control of how student data is collected, analyzed and shared. With online personalized learning and 1:1 devices being pushed at students as early as kindergarten and preschool, and no laws regulating meta data, data analytics, hidden algorithms, limiting screen time in schools and consent for data collection should have been discussed. Instead, Common Sense along with Project Unicorn is focused on data interoperability to keep the K-12 data flowing and will continue to ask parents to better control children’s screen time use at home.

Common Sense YouTube

The last segment of Common Sense’s Truth About Tech event, entitled “Solutions for Families, Schools, and Democracy” was moderated by Rebecca Randall, Vice President of Education Programs, Common Sense with guest speakers and Common Sense partners Dr. Carrie James, research associate, Project Zero, Harvard School of Education,, and Randima Fernando, Center for Humane Technology. This entire piece is worth your time, Mr. Fernando had some excellent points on gaming and technology.  However, we are going to focus on Dr. James’ comments since, as Ms. Randall mentions, it is on Dr. James’ work regarding digital ethics that Common Sense bases their K-12 digital literacy and citizenship curriculum.  Common Sense Media is about to begin working again with Dr. James and Harvard’s Project Zero to develop updated K-12 digital guidance.

At 49 minute mark,  Dr. James remarks:

“In answering a question around parents as role models, responded that, “We have a growing pile of evidence to suggest that parents are not doing a great job in this regard in recent research that we’re doing with Common Sense we’ve reached out to schools and teachers across the country and in a couple of countries around the world and asked you know what are some of the most memorable digital challenges your schools have faced and a surprising number of them have to do with parents.”

With screens being so addictive, we agree that many parents and most of society undoubtedly could be better screen time role models, we disagree with Common Sense’s continued emphasis only on non-educational screen use. We hope that Common Sense, their partners at Harvard Project Zero who will be working on new digital literacy citizenship curriculum, will consider age appropriate screen use, health and safety guidelines, parental consent and data ownership for children using devices and screens for educational purposes, including online homework. Parents send their children to school expecting them to be safe. Many parents do not want their children required to use screens and technology for regular coursework and when learning core subjects.  Many parents are uncomfortable with online personalized learning and would prefer face to face human teachers and text books as an option. The cost of attending public schools should not be mandatory screen exposure and loss of privacy. We hope that Common Sense will address these concerns in their work.

Project Unicorn is Promoting Interoperability. What is it?

An April 2017 Clayton Christensen Institute blog posted on the Project Unicorn news website explains the path of data interoperability as this,

“The first path toward interoperability evolves when industry leaders meet to agree on standards for new technologies. With standards, software providers electively conform to a set of rules for cataloging and sharing data. The problem with this approach in the current education landscape is that software vendors don’t have incentives to conform to standards. Their goal is to optimize the content and usability of their own software and serve as a one-stop shop for student data, not to constrain their software architecture so that their data is more useful to third parties.

Until schools and teachers prioritize interoperability over other features in their software purchasing decisions, standards will continue to fall by the wayside with technology developers. Efforts led by the Ed-Fi Alliance, the Access for Learning Community, and the federal government’s Common Education Data Standards program, all aim to promote common sets of data standards. In parallel with their (sic) these efforts, promising initiatives like the Project Unicorn pledge encourage school systems to increase demand for interoperability.”  [Emphasis added] https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blog/making-student-data-usable-innovation-theory-tells-us-interoperability/

A one-stop shop for student data, flowing seamlessly for third parties: Interoperability. 

How will  Project Unicorn help give students ownership of their data? Will students have consent and control over their data? We asked. 

Interestingly, up until a few days ago, Project Unicorn’s twitter profile stated that their focus is “shifting the ownership of data to schools and students.” See this screenshot from February 18, 2018 and a twitter conversation below.

Project Unicorn Tweet 2Project Unicorn replied the following day but they did not immediately answer my question about student data consent and ownership. Instead, they listed a few of their partners: Data Quality Campaign, Future of Privacy, Common Sense Media, National PTA. Again, I asked them about their statement about shifting ownership of data to the student.

Project Unicorn Tweet 3

Project Unicorn Tweet 4

Gretchen Logue also replied to Project Unicorn and their partners, asking if students can NOT have their data shared. Two days later, she still had not received a reply.

Logue

I directly asked Project Unicorn’s partner, Digital Promise to help answer whether students can consent to data collection. (Remember, DP is the edtech /personalized learning promoting non-profit created by the US Department of Ed.)  Digital Promise never responded to this parent’s questions. Maybe they just need a little more time or maybe parents aren’t important enough to bother with?

Tweet 5

tweet 6

tweet 7

Project Unicorn replied: they changed their twitter profile to better reflect the scope of their projectThey no longer claim to shift data ownership to students. They are promoting data interoperability. To be clear: they are NOT giving students ownership of their data. See their new twitter profile in this February 23, 2018 screen shot below.

Project Unicon interoperability

Why do edtech companies and our government have such a problem giving students consent and true ownership of their data? Data is money. Data is identity.  Student data is NOT theirs to take. 

Without the student, the data does not exist. If a student writes an essay for a class assignment, that written work belongs to the student. If a student draws a picture in art class, that artwork is theirs. Parents (and the Fourth Amendment) would argue that personal information about a student, created by a student, should belong to the student.

#TruthinTech: Unicorns are taking student data and sharing it without consent. What say you @HumaneTech?

Humane tech

Tech is hacking kids brains, but it is also stealing their data, students’ every keystroke can be collected and analyzed and student education records can be shared.  (FERPA is a 40 year old law that doesn’t cover data or meta data, or algorithms and was substantially weakened  in 2011 to allow personally identifiable information to be shared outside of the school with nonprofits, researchers, anyone approved as a school official or  educational purpose–without parent consent or knowledge). HumaneTech folks, are you good with this predictive profiling, leveraging and capitalizing of children who are held hostage in this mandatory surveilled school system? Schools are the new smart cities –except children are a captive audience and they are being exploited. They have no choice.

Why not do real, independent research, set guidelines and protect kids from screens in schools? Why not give parents and students a choice of tech vs paper, allow the option of learning knowledge vs in-school personality surveys and emotional assessments and biometric health trackers? Why not be transparent about algorithms and analytics and get consent BEFORE collecting and using student or teacher data?

GDPR.

Europe requires consent before collecting and sharing personal data, including automated decision making. GDPR gives Europeans (including students) more control on how their data is handled, including breach notification and penalty, data redaction, and consent. Why would American students be any less deserving than students in Europe? GDPR will have global implications.  Modernizing FERPA and COPPA to align with GDPR would be both practical and ethical. Why isn’t Project Unicorn also advocating for the GDPR standard of basic human privacy and data identity rights for American citizens and children? 

A final question note. Project Unicorn is not an elected, governing body, are they directing US education policy? Decisions should be made democratically, by those closest to the children, instead of by a few billionaires. What gives philonthro-funders the right to leverage children’s data and encourage schools with their procurement $trategies? The Edtech Billionaires directing education-experimenting on children have created (and are profiting from) this data driven problem: teachers are so busy collecting endless data points they don’t have the time or the freedom to teach. Now the regretful tech industry, wants to swoop in and make the data collection process easier, free up teachers (or replace them?), with a Single-Sign-On Standardized data collection tool. Children are not a product to be leveraged.  Please stop using schools and children as a permissionless innovation data supply.

IMS Global

And why oh why, Project Unicorn, are you working with IMS Global?  Uncommon Alliance indeed.

“…interoperability specification for educational click stream analytics created by the education community for the education community. Major educational suppliers are using Caliper to collect millions of events every week and the data is helping to shape teaching and learning on multiple levels. Several leading institutions are also working on putting Caliper in place. Now is a great time for both institutions and suppliers to begin putting learning analytics in place using Caliper.”

IMS Global Learning Consortium

-Cheri Kiesecker

An Interview with Alison McDowell: KEXP’s Mind Over Matters Community Forum

headphones

On August 5th Alison McDowell was a guest on KEXP’s news program Mind Over Matters. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the link below ( be patient – it takes a little bit of time for the file to load). A transcript of the interview follows.

Alison McDowell Interview

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.

Mind Over Matters – KEXP

Community Forum

Interview with Alison McDowell

Mike McCormick:  It’s time once again for Community Forum, and we’re very lucky to have with us live in the studios this morning, Alison McDowell. Alison McDowell is a parent and researcher, into the dangers of corporate education reform. She was presenter this last March this year here in Seattle. The talk entitled Future Ready schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. Alison, thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Oh, I’m very glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Mike:  So, tell us, how did you get interested and involved with the issue of corporate education reform?

Alison: Well, I’m a I’m a parent. I have a daughter who is sixteen in the public schools of Philadelphia. And we’re sort of a crucible for many different aspects of education reform. We’ve had multiple superintendents from the Broad Academy. We’ve been defunded. Our schools have been, numerous of our schools have been closed, teachers laid off and about three years ago I became involved in the Opt Out movement for high stakes testing. Because at that point I felt that if we were able to withhold the data from that system we would try to be able to slow things down. Because they were using that testing data to close our schools. So I worked on that for a number of years until I saw that the landscape was starting to change. And a lot of it was leading up to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. That that passage. And it seemed at that time that our school district, which is challenging in many respects, was all of a sudden actually interested in Opt Out, and making that, sharing information and materials… Pennsylvania has a legal Opt Out right on religious grounds…and making materials available in various languages. And something just didn’t compute in my head. I’m like, well, even if, if we’re entitled, the fact that they were interested in engaging with us on that, made me sort of question why that was. And then so post ESSA, it became clear that the shift that was going to be taking place was away from a high stakes end of year test and more towards embedded formative assessments. So in our district we’ve seen an influx, even though there isn’t funding for many other things, lots of technology coming in, lots of Chromebooks. Every, all of the students have Google accounts. Google runs our school district. Even though they say philsd.org, their Google accounts, and each student, their email address is actually their student id number. So to access a Chromebook as soon as you login, you know all of that information is tied back into their id number. So the technology was coming in. Many schools were doing multiple benchmark assessments. So there was less and less time for actual meaningful instruction throughout the school year and there were more and more tests taking place, many computerized. So, at that point, we were looking into like, what did this mean, what is the role of technology and the interim testing, in this movement And so, I had come across my…I have a blog. It’s called Wrench in the Gears. It’s a wordpress blog. So you, I have a lot of information there, and it’s all very well documented and linked. My colleague Emily Talmage, who’s a teacher in Maine, who has seen this first-hand. She has a blog: Save Maine Schools. And so I had found her blog and at one point she said, you know…you know, only click on this link, you know, if you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole. And at that point it was, it was a website called Global Education Futures Forum, and they have this agenda for education up to 2035. And it is their projection. And it’s a global…global membership led by Pavel Luksha, who’s connected with the Skolkovo Institute, in Russia. But the local person here, actually he’s very local, is Tom Vander Ark, is one of the US representatives. And so he was former Gates Foundation. And has his own consulting firm now. And it’s based out of Seattle. And, but anyway, so they have sort of what they call a foresight document, a sort of projecting based on trends and patterns, where they see things going for education, like over the next 20 years. And so really, they have a very sophisticated map. And all you have to do is sort of look at their map. And then match it up to current events. And you can see, like, where they’re pretty much on target where things are headed. And there, they have some really interesting infographics and, one of them, it’s a very decentralized system. So education is just like the individual at the center. So everything you’re hearing, personalized learning, and and individual education plans, like it’s one big person and you’re the center of your own universe. And sort of around you, there aren’t teachers or schools. It’s it’s many sort of digital interfaces, and devices, and data-gathering platforms. And this idea that education is a life-long process. Which I think all of us generally agree with, but the idea that you’re sort of chasing skills in this new global economy, and like constantly remaking yourself. Or like the gig economy and what that means. And managing your online reputation. Not just your skillsets. But your mindset. And your social outlook. And your behaviors. And the role of gamification. So there are many many elements to this, that if you look into it, I think raise a lot of questions. And increasingly, really over the past five years there’s been a lot of discussion about remaking education. Re-imagining education. You know, education for the 21st century. Future Ready Schools. And I think for the most part, parents and community members have been left out of this conversation, of what really does Future Ready Schools mean? And the folks who are running the conversation, are running the agenda, are largely coming from a tech background. And this is something that’s built up since the mid-nineties, when the Advanced Distributed Learning Program was set up within the Defense Department, and the Department of Education.  To have like you know, Tech Learning for all Americans. Which, you know, again  I think we all need to be tech knowledgable, I, the question is, how is the tech used and how in control of of your education are you, and your educational data. So anyway, a lot of this is being driven by interests of digitizing education. And really, through austerity mechanisms, pulling out more human interaction, out of the equation. So we’re, we’re seeing things that a number of years ago, Detroit, had a kindergarten, where they would have a hundred kindergarteners, with like one teacher and a couple of aides, and a lot of technology. So there’re lots of questions increasingly about the use of technology especially in early grades, and I know in, in Washington State there’ve been a big push for tablets down to the kindergarten level. Our children are being part of this sort of larger experiment that has health considerations that have not been closely examined. In terms of eyestrain, audio components, even hygiene with earphones. The wifi aspects. And then also the data collection. So, there’s this grand experiment going on for Future Ready Schools, and parents and community members aren’t really aware of the fact that it is an unproven experiment, and what the implications are long-term.

Mike: And it’s being driven heavily by corporations that are producing these platforms, this software, the electronics, kind of behind the scenes, because no one knows this is going on except a select group of administrators and teachers?

Alison: Yeah, well so they have, there are a number of like pilot districts. So the idea is sort of, you get a beachhead, and then you, you roll it out. You convince, I mean they have very sophisticated marketing manuals. Like Education Elements, they say, this is how you do it. You know first you, you have a social media campaign, you get the young teachers who are really into tech and you train them up in the way that you wanna do things, and then they mentor all the veteran teachers and you get the principal on board and then you have the parent meetings and it’s…again…with…if you understood it as, like selling a corporate product as opposed to public education, it might not be so disturbing. Like for me, I find having this sort of corporate approach to marketing, a new approach to public education. That’s, that’s what, what I find disturbing. I’ve called this Education 2.0, because I think we’re, we’re about to see a shift from the earlier version of privatization, which was the high stakes, end of year high stakes testing, vouchers, charter schools. Those things will all still continue, but they’ve, they were never the end game.  So they have been used as a way to de-stabilize the, the landscape of neighborhood schools. And in many cases they’ve been used to, you know, acquire real estate, further sort of gentrification, insider contracts, like there are many aspects that allow that to become a profit center. But there’s going to be a point of diminishing return. Where sort of like all the easy pickings have been taken. And if you’re pursuing sort of a tailoristic model , like the ultimate efficiency, lean production, Cyber-Education is the end game. So creating a system of education that really has very little in human resources.  There’s lots of folks within Pearson and IBM and Microsoft who are looking at AI, like everyone will have your own artificial intelligent, like learning sherpa for your life. You know, and this isn’t just K12, this is forever.  You know, someone on your shoulder telling you what you should be doing next. But removing the humans out of the equation and putting more technology in place. So I think that’s what this shift to Education 2.0 is going to be about, is largely cyber but I think most parents at this point are not comfortable with that model. They wouldn’t say, you know, and I will admit, like there, there’s a small group of kids who are highly motivated for whom a cyber, exclusively cyber model may work. I mean a lot of the research shows that for most kids the outcomes are not great. So what they will be selling is project based learning. And that’s what you’ll hear a lot about, coming up, like in the next couple of years. But those projects won’t necessarily be linked to schools. So you’ll hear more and more about, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any pace learning. So they’re looking to de- disconnect education from physical school buildings, and actual teachers in classrooms, to sort of what’s called a learning eco-system model. So something that’s more free-flowing, you’re just out in the world collecting skills. And that’s what was so interesting about, like the Common Core State Standards set-up. And I know a lot of states have sort of rolled back or renamed them. But the idea of having education tied to very specific standards, was a way of atomizing education and making it available for digitization. So if, if education is a human process of growth and development, that’s very murky to try to put in a metric, right? You need bits and bytes. And so if you create an education that’s strictly around standards and like sub standards and little sets, you can just aggregate those, and collect them or not collect them, and run that as data in a digital platform. So that push toward standards, yes it allowed for school report cards and value added modeling and things that hurt schools and teachers, but it also normalized the idea that education was less a human process and more people collecting things. Like collecting skills and standards, which is what you need for like a competency based education approach.

Mike: So, talk about some of the specific examples…one of the advantages to going into your site is you have links to so many different documents from the very corporations and people that are producing these systems. And one of the examples you’ve talked about in your talk back here in March was something called Tutormate? That was involved, kids getting pulled out of class, to go see, basically AI icons talking to them and they become attached to them…

Alison: Yeah…

Mike: …it’s disturbing.

Alison: Well there were a couple of, there’s a couple of interesting things. I had sort of a slide saying who’s teaching your children? Because increasingly it’s not necessarily their classroom teacher. The chatbot was actually Reasoning Mind, which is a math program. It was developed in Texas. And so it’s been like long-running and gotten a lot of funding, both from public and private sources. About refining sort of a personalized learning towards math. But kids were interacting with these online chat bots and developing connections and relationships to these online presences in their math program. I’m in Pennsylvania. So a lot of, a lot of things are developing in Pittsburgh. They have a whole initiative called Remake Learning in Pittsburgh which I believe is sort of early-stage learning ecosystem model and a lot of that is coming out of Carnegie Mellon because Carnegie Mellon is doing a lot of work on AI and education. And they have something called Alex. So they like the idea of peer-based learning. That sounds attractive like, yeah, kids like to learn from their peers. This, their version of peer-based learning is that you have a giant avatar cartoon peer on a screen and the children interact with this peer on a screen. So that’s something that’s being piloted in southwestern Pennsylvania right now. And then Tutormate is actually a different variation but they were pulling kids out of class, away…these were young children, from their classroom setting to put them in a computer lab to do tutoring with a corporate volunteer via skype, and an online platform. So in this case it actually was a human being, but this was during school hours. This was not a supplement to classroom instruction, this was in lieu of having direct instruction with a certified teacher. They were being put into an online platform with a corporate volunteer and you know, it turns out a number of the sponsors of that program had ties to defense contracting industries. You know, Halliburton, and Booz Allen Hamilton. You know, things that you might wanna question, is that who you want your second grader spending their time chatting with? You know, in lieu of having their second grade teacher teach them reading. So again, there is this shift away from, from teachers. There’s, there’s a model that’s going on right now, within many one-to-one device districts, so districts where every child has their own device. Young kids often have tablets, older kids have Chromebooks, in high-end districts you might have an actual laptop, with some hard-drive on it. The Clayton Christensen Institute, or Innosight Institute, they’ve been pushing blended learning. So blended learning is this new model. Where, there are a number of different ways you can…flipped classrooms, which many people have heard of…but there’s one called a rotational model. So children only have direct access to a teacher a third of the time. Like the class would be split into three groups. And you would be with a teacher for a third of the time, doing peer work a third of the time, and doing online work a third of the time. So again, it’s a way of increasing class size supposedly, like supposedly the quality time you have when you’re with the teacher with the ten kids instead of thirty is supposed to be so great even though maybe you only get fifteen minutes. What’s happening in other districts is they’re saying the time where kids are not with their teachers, and they’re just doing online work, they don’t really need a teacher present, they could just have an aide. So that’s again, in terms of pushing out professional teachers, is that, well if kids are doing online learning, maybe you just need an Americorp volunteer, in the room, to make sure that no one’s  hurting them…each other. You know, and that they’re on, supposedly on task. You know I think that’s a worrisome trend. And even though they’ll sell blended learning as very tech forward and future ready, the kids don’t love spending time on these devices, like hour after hour after hour. And my concern as a parent is…we’re all starting to realize what the implications are for big data. And how we interact with online platforms, either in social media, or other adaptive situations. And how, that these devices are actually gathering data, on ourselves.. .so, they they gather information through keystroke patterns, they all have cameras, they all, you know, the tablets have TouchSense, so theoretically there’s body temperature and pulse sensors. Like there’s many many elements, are they all being used now? No, but there is that capacity for using them to develop that level of engagement. To understand how you’re interacting with these programs. And that’s being developed through, with the Army Research Lab and USC, their Institute for Creative Technologies. And they are developing, a lot of this is being developed in conjunction with the Defense Department, for their interactive intelligent tutoring systems and with the Navy actually, which is relevant to Seattle. A lot of these early prototyped intelligent tutoring systems have been developed specifically with the Navy in mind. Training very specifically on computer programs, and optimizing that. But once they develop the infrastructure, then they’re able to apply that in non-military settings. And so it’s, it’s making its way out. So there’s a lot of data that can be collected and the other, the other push that you’ll start to see is gamification. So games, like gaming in schools. And kids love games, like parents love games. It sounds so fun. But I think what we have to realize is there’s a lot of behavioral data that’s coming out of the gaming too. That we’re not necessarily aware of.  And so this push for gamification, or sometime…like gamified classroom management systems. So Google has something called Classcraft. And all the kids have avatars. And like if they’re behaving in class, they can, you know they earn points, or have points deducted, and you’re on teams, and you can save your team member or not. And with ESSA, having passed, you know, they’ll tell the story that like we care about more than just test scores, we really wanna care about the whole child, we wanna, you know we we care about children as individuals. Really they wanna collect all of this data, not just on your academic skills, but on your behaviors, and your mindset. And are you gritty, and are you a leader, or are you, you know, flexible, are you resilient. And these, these gamified platforms, whether they’re run by the teacher, or gaming that’s done with the students in these simulations, and also AR/VR, augmented reality/virtual reality games that you’re starting to see. There’s just a lot of information going through, and you have to wonder, how is it being used, what are the privacy implications, and also what are the feedback loops being created? In terms of how you interact with a platform. Is it reinforcing aspects of your personality that you may or may not want reinforced. 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.

Mike: In some of the documentation you present, they have systems that wanna pay attention to whether a person that is working with the program is getting bored, or falling asleep, or whatever, so they were like watching like you know, the eye, literally to see if it’s like where it’s wandering off to…you said they potentially could be checking your, your temperature, your heart rate…

Alison: I mean, you know, are they doing it right now? I don’t know that they, but the capacity is there. And…

Mike: And all that data is being saved somewhere. And shared. In some capacity. We don’t know.

Alison: W…and I think it’s very unclear. And I think they’re, they’re many parents who are very concerned about privacy and working that angle of controlling what data goes in…I mean I think all of us are aware that once something is up in the cloud, even if there are promises made about privacy and protections, that nothing is really safe up there. In terms of from hacking, or even just legal. Like FERPA is very, the education records, sort of, privacy has a lot of loopholes. You know anyone who, many of these organizations, companies are third parties are designated agents of school districts. So they have access to this information. And I will also mention Naviance, because the other shift that we’re seeing happening is the shift towards creating an education system that is geared towards workforce development. That, that, that children at younger and younger ages should, should be identifying their passions, and finding their personal pathways to the workforce and the economy. And so Naviance is one of a number of companies that does strengths assessments and surveys. And many states you can’t get your diploma unless your child does a complete battery of assessments, personality assessment through Naviance, which is this third-party program. Also linking towards like their future college plans, and other things linked in, and very detailed information about people’s family situations. So again, the, the amount of data that’s being collected on many many different levels to supposedly like guide students moving forward into the economy, I think it merits a larger conversation. And I’m not saying that everyone needs to agree with my position, but I think that the, the agenda that’s being moved forward is being done in a way that for the most part, parents and community members, there’s not been a consensus reached, with us. That this is okay. That this new version of school is, is what we desire.

Mike: And being a parent in the Philadelphia School District, when these new systems are, have been implemented, you know, and the potential use of all, gathering of all your child’s data, I mean, have you been consulted on that prior? Did, every time they bring in a new system did they let you know, oh, we have another piece of software here that potentially could be, you know, data-mining your kid, are you okay with that?

Alison: So I think on the, on the plus side, because we have been so severely defunded, we haven’t seen quite as much of an influx of tech yet. Although I, I anticipate it’s coming. We’ve just had a big roll-out of Minecraft I think in schools. That’s their new thing that they’re, they’re all…there are a number of schools, like within turnaround sort of, that, that are being piloted for these one-to-one devices. I will say that there was an opt-out form for Google Apps for Education. Which is, and I so I opted, I opted my child out of Google Apps for Education. I may have been the only parent in the Philadelphia School District who did that, and it, it makes it complicated because again, there, it’s convenient, you know, it’s a nice, you know, way for teachers not to have to carry around lots of papers, and they have kids put it all on their Google drive. But I, I think we’re all starting to be a little wary about the amount of information and power that Google has, you know, in the world and what the implications are for that. So I think if, if people have concerns around some of these privacy aspects, you know, that’s, that’s a potential starting, starting place, is to opt out of Google Apps for Education, and see where that goes. Or even have targeted like device and data strikes, during the school year. So we don’t get a notice every time there’s a new program. I guess long story short.

Mike: Just a few minutes left. And again, some of the companies, in addition to Defense Department having early hooks into education reform, and online learning, some of the companies involved, and heavily investing in this, as an example, like Halliburton and Booz Allen, which to me, let’s say Booz Allen which is also heavily tied into doing, they have access to data bases that the NSA does and, Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen.

Alison: I would say like right now, like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, is huge and they’re pushing Summit Basecamp. I know we just have a few min…minutes in closing so I also wanna mention, in addition to tech, we also have global finance interests involved, because in ESSA there are provisions for Pay for Success. Which is where they’re looking to use private venture capital to affect educational outcomes. Either right now it’s in universal pre-k, also early literacy. So we need to be aware of the role that Pay for Success is going to play in this, and that’s essentially like “moneyball” for government. Where they’re looking to save money. I mean there’s a conference that they, they’ve put this together. Evidence based policy. That’s what they call it. That’s sort of the code word. Is that if you can come up with a computerized program that will give you specific success metrics, venture capital can make money on that. So a lot of global finance interests, and impact investing interests are looking, I believe at education as a market, a futures market in student education data. So I have more information on that on my blog. But social impact bonds and Pay for Success are a critical piece to understanding why education is being digitized. Also Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, IBM, the tech interests, Summit Basecamp, AltSchool, Micro Schools are another big component of this. These value-model private schools, if vouchers go through, that, we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of that. The tech is also focusing on Montessori school models, and, and very high-end. So you have Rocketship Academy, which are sort of stripped down versions for low-income districts and, but they’re also marketing tech to affluent families and aspirational families as being sort of future-ready. So it’s really a, there’s many different branded versions of education technology.

Mike: So long story short, you have a kid in, going through school, or, you know, anyone you care about then, this would be something to look into.

Alison: Yes. Understand how much time they’re spending on devices. Advocate that school budgets prioritize human teachers, and reasonable class sizes, and not data-mining, not adaptive management systems. And and have this conversation in your community. Is education about creating opportunities for students to learn and grow together as a community, or is it these isolating personalized pathways, where people are competing against one another. And and I think that’s a larger conversation we all need to have in our school districts.

Mike: Alright. We’re speaking with Alison McDowell. She is a parent and researcher in the Philadelphia school system. Produced a series,  Future Ready Schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. And again, your website is…

Alison: Wrenchinthegears.com

Mike: Wrenchinthegears.com. And with that we’re unfortunately out of time. I want to thank you for coming and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Thank you.

From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

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If we hope to preserve neighborhood schools for future generations we must recognize how reformers are reframing the idea of public education in dangerous new ways. A coordinated campaign of ALEC legislation, philanthropic investments, and slick re-branding is underway with the ultimate goal of replacing school buildings and certified, human teachers with decentralized, unregulated learning eco-systems and non-credentialed mentors and/or AI “tutors.”

It is a challenging concept to grasp. Therefore, I have decided to work on a series of posts. Taken together, I hope they will provide a base of information that people can share with others. This initial post will provide a framework for understanding the concept of a learning eco-system. Subsequent ones will cover: school redesign, digital badging, credit-bearing ELOs, Social Impact Bond financing, and changes to teacher training/hiring.

What is a learning eco-system?

Proponents of a data-driven, technology-mediated approach to public education see 21st-century learning as a “quest” in which participants diligently work to assemble proof that they’ve obtained the assorted skills and bits of knowledge they need to compete for jobs that pay a living wage. Rather than a humanistic approach that values individual creativity and civic discourse, the focus is on gathering data and shaping children to become standardized cogs in service of the global economy. The intent is to maintain the status quo, not to develop thinkers who might tip the apple cart and create a future that better serves the needs of the masses. Screen time trumps face time.

By shifting how we think about education-from a human process that happens within a community of learners to a game in which students demonstrate standards and accumulate badges-reformers aim to move much of the  K12 education process out of physical school buildings where face-to-face interaction is the primary mode of instruction, and into virtual classrooms, game environments, cultural institutions, and work settings. This is how they will attempt to replace neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems.

By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.

As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.  But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.” Katherine Prince, Knowledgeworks

Financialization of the education sector requires separating “education” from school buildings that remain under the control of local school boards and unionized teachers and administrators. Free market principles cannot prevail if educational experiences remain subject to local oversight and trained, veteran teachers continue to be part of the conversation.

Reformers propose to replace our “outdated, factory-model” neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems. There is considerable talk about redesigning education for 21st-century learners. The Ed Reform 2.0 landscape for K12/P20 is built upon the premise that “anytime, any where learning” is the best option to train students to navigate the gig economy. Proponents of learning-ecosystems seek disruption and radical reinvention. They picture a future where big-data and algorithms create efficient pools of human capital for use by global markets. For them grade levels, peer groups, report cards, and diplomas are a thing of the past.

The above quote, by Katherine Price, Director of Strategic Foresight at Knowledgeworks, indicates that even the private sector has qualms about how this transformation may play out. The essay “A Learning Day 2037,” by Elizabeth Merritt of the American Alliance of Museums uses Moya’s story to show what happens when the “vibrant learning grid” doesn’t exactly fulfill its promise, especially for children on the margins of society. It is interesting to note that Knowledgeworks, a long-time partner with the Gates Foundation, is a major player in the push for learning eco-systems. Knowledgeworks is also involved with community schools initiatives through their program StriveTogether that promotes data-driven decision-making for children from “cradle to career.”

Widespread adoption of “personalized” digital education platforms underpins the learning eco-system model, as does reliance on big-data (academic and social-emotional) to guide students on their appropriate workforce “pathway” and reinforce desirable behaviors like “deep learning.” They see children as dynamic sets of skills, competencies and personality traits that can be quantified, sorted, and placed in digital portfolios.

The story of your personal evolution as a thinking, questioning, curious member of society? Not important except to the extent that you can put a badge on it, and they can use it to profile you. Learning in community, learning in relationship to others, also not important. If they can’t match it with a data tag, it does not factor into the equation. Those life-changing memories we hold in our hearts from our time in school are not the kinds of things you can easily upload to a “Learning Record Store.”

So, what types of experiences could a learning eco-system contain? Really, almost anything to which you can assign a standard and slap on a badge. Sample personalized playlists might include:

Watching a video

Listening to a podcast

Completing an audiobook

Playing a online-game

Participating in a virtual reality experience

Going to a museum-even a “virtual museum tour”

Participating in an online community forum

Doing a webx chat with an online “tutor”

Completing a virtual “lab” experiment

Working at your after school job

Participating in a after school club

Going to a rock-climbing gym

Providing “volunteer” tech support to your school district

And you can see how this approach to education expands to encompass workforce development in this eye-opening video from the Institute for the Future “Learning is Earning.” Data and proof of achieving mastery or competencies tied to standards will be tracked and documented through software like xAPI. The items in the above list are not “bad.” It is the idea that they could, in the present climate of austerity education budgets, become substitutes for authentic, in-school learning that concerns me. I’m sure in the hands of a thoughtful educator, many of the ideas noted could be used in moderation to enhance a school-based educational experience.

BUT the learning eco-system model is designed to MARGINALIZE the human teacher. Teachers are meant to be “guides-on-the-side,” staying in the background, checking the playlists, pathways, and portfolios, rather than providing direct instruction to students, building relationships with them, or creating classroom community. Most of these activities do NOT depend on children actually being IN a school building. As 1:1 device initiatives become the norm, students can demonstrate their “mastery” from almost any location that has Wi-Fi. And this is how we end up outsourcing oversight of our children’s education to unknown parties. I fear the day we allow education to become an elaborate game of Pokémon Go, where “anyone can grant an edu-block.”

In the personalized learning environment, children, young children who have very limited experience in the world, are expected to find their own direction, their own passion, which is incredibly troubling. Or worse, they may have their direction chosen FOR them based on analysis of unknown data generated from online stealth assessments or third-party survey tools. It is scary to consider a child may have their future life choices constrained by unknowingly expressing an interest in an academic subject in elementary school. Perhaps the high school junior will be denied access to a graphic design class after having expressed an interest in medicine as a ten year old? If children step off the assigned path, will they be castigated for not being gritty or resilient and then remediated until they comply? The government has set up a maze of developmentally inappropriate standards, and now the “personalized” learning model is forcing teachers to take a spot on the sidelines and watch as things unfold.

Is it not the purpose of K12 education to provide a rich set of experiences and material that children can draw upon to craft, adapt, and refine their identities based on their own ways of being in the world? Aren’t connections to their teachers, classmates, and school staff paramount? We know that economic circumstances will require coming generations to be creative problems solvers, so why put our kids in educational and emotional straightjackets under the guise of giving them “personalized” cyber educations? It is about control, limiting access to information and human contact, and monetizing our children’s data.

It would be very naive to think given the limited public funds being invested in children, we would EVER have the resources required to maintain THREE systems of education: neighborhood schools, virtual schools, AND community-based learning eco-systems. If past experience is any measure, bricks-and-mortar neighborhood schools are going to get the short end of the stick. Which may be why districts seem intent on investing in so much technology as their facilities fall into decrepitude.

In the land of learning eco-systems everyone goes it alone. You might mix with others here and there, peers or mentors or pathway guides, but it is a “personalized” journey. They seem to be tapping into some sort of warped American ideal of individualism. I am special. I have an education “playlist” designed just for me. It is exclusive. It is one of a kind. And the reformers are thinking…Don’t ask questions. We will optimize you based on our exhaustive knowledge of who you are. We know all your 1’ and 0’s. We know more about you than YOU know. We will put you in your place, but we will be very careful in making you believe you had a choice in the matter.

Neighborhood schools are among the last public spaces where open, civic discourse can take place. They are supposed to be safe spaces where children are nurtured. They are spaces where people can come together. It is imperative that we fight for their continued existence. Trading them in for learning eco-systems or community drop-in learning centers would be a very bad idea. Next up-Future Ready Schools.

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-Alison McDowell