Digital Nudging: Data, Devices & Social Control

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Digital exhaust, virtual selves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunstein Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the interactive version.

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

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

-Alison McDowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billionaire Bill Gates funds the media.

This is no surprise to me.

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

Yep.

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

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

Notice some of the names:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just don’t write about that.

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

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

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

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

[ … ]

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

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

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A Gates-funded Common Core Debate (?)

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

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

The debate is entitled, Embrace the Common Core

No slant there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gentle New Orleans Charter Reporting, NPR-style

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

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

RSD is a failure.

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

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

Why had the promised renovations not happened?

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

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

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

Could have.

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

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

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

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

After all, it’s “just business.”

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

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

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

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

Success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Cosmetic) change is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

I know I do.

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

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

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

Uhm, I’m thinking, not.

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

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Dugger - Robin Hood

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

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

Who is Robert Dugger?

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

Tudor Investment Corporation and the Robin Hood Foundation

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

Paul Tudor Jones and Bill Gates Gala

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

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

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

Sara Watson and the Pew Charitable Trusts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely not.

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

-Alison McDowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools as Sacrifice Zones & The Gates Foundation’s Avoidance of the Toughest Question

Kinder egg ban-not assault weapons

Here’s my toughest question for Bill and Malinda Gates:

What are you doing to end school shootings in the United States?

What is your plan – given your immense power and influence –  to create safe, humane learning environments for America’s students.

Schools which don’t require invasive surveillance technology, or divestment in school buildings through online learning or other outsourcing schemes AND avoids the militarization of campus.

Schools which value each individual student for who they are and respects their personal, cultural, and intellectual boundaries.

For the last couple of years I’ve had a very small part-time job in a public school. Every morning before I leave for work my youngest says, “Don’t die today” and I respond, “I won’t.”

This is a ritual rooted in hopelessness and desperation. Both of us are painfully aware of the frightening reality that public schools are often sites of mass murder.

Ours is a comforting lie that makes us feel like we have some power over a situation which is completely out of control. Magical thinking is the last refuge for the abandoned.

We’ve also had plenty of practice preparing for the unspeakable: Lockdown drills and learning how to shelter in place. During these drills, there’s more than enough time to wonder: What if this was real. What would I do?

Practicing lockdowns are what fire drills used to be just a generation ago – with one subtle difference – it casts shootings in schools as a natural event, similar to earthquakes – which we also can’t control – but can prepare for.

The Toughest Question of All

One day before the student massacre in Florida, The Gates Foundation pushed out its Annual Letter which this year is titled “The 10 Toughest Questions We Get”.

Still reeling from yet another school shooting, I scrolled through the “toughest” questions. Guess what?  None of the “toughest” questions were about how to stop school shootings. How could this be? Especially for an organization that claims education to be one of its prime focuses.

Here’s my toughest question for Bill and Malinda Gates:

What are you doing to end school shootings in the United States?

What is your plan – given your immense power and influence –  to create safe, humane learning environments for America’s students.

Schools which don’t require invasive surveillance technology, or divestment in school buildings through online learning or other outsourcing schemes AND avoids the militarization of campus.

Schools which value each individual student for who they are and respects their personal, cultural, and intellectual boundaries.

Money is Power

Allowing the rich to void paying government taxes, while still controlling their wealth through foundations, has deeply undermined our democracy.

The idea of the government being accountable to the people through elections has been thoroughly discredited by the loophole foundations has created for the rich.

Foundations have the power to build their own advocacy organizations, think tanks, and leadership training programs. Now, with an LLC designation, foundations can have all of this unseemly activity shielded from the embarrassing public scrutiny of records requests.

Once the right politicians are in place, the wishes of a foundation can be planned and executed at “cabinet level” meetings between designated representatives of the foundation, elected officials, and heads of NGOs and other community partners.

Legislation, created as directed by these cabinet meetings, is usually rushed through the halls of government at state capitals or Washington D.C. – without testimony from the public, because ordinary citizens aren’t in the know.

We now have a government run by and for the benefit of the wealthy.

One Small Problem

So when Bill and Melinda Gates inevitably trot out the pat answer that stopping school shootings isn’t really their foundation’s thing, I have these words of warning:

In the abstract, people may have bought into The Gates Foundation marketing campaign that cheerfully reduces every aspect of life to a measurable economic unit.

Abstract units which can be enhanced though the interjection of science, big data, and the benevolent guidance of Bill and Melinda’s entrepreneurial wisdom combined with the magic of the free market.

But when it comes to willful silence over the mass murder of children in schools – you’ve lost us – and with it, any credible claim to a higher purpose.

Do the right thing. We’ll be watching.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

Dear Congress, you are being duped. HR4174-S2046 is a Privacy Fail. Here’s why. ( And please no more suspended rules and voice votes on these bills. )

Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

not_for_sale

I will say it again… When it comes to their own children, parents have little to no say in education matters. Parents are not invited to fancy conferences, we often aren’t even allowed to attend them. Parents don’t have a travel budget, a lobby budget, or a paid assistant to help write rebuttals and policy briefs. Nope, we are moms and dads and grandparents doing the best we can to protect our children. And that is why I am responding to the federal government’s response to my blogpost opposing their bill(s) HR4174 and S2046, Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017.

Dear  Congress,

The GOP Majority Staff of the Congressional House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote and distributed a response to my November 12  blogpost  that opposed HR4174.  This response, which folks can see here begins with,

The Eagle Forum and other groups representing interests such as home schooling have raised concerns about H.R. 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017The concerns relate to how the bill would affect the privacy of citizens (especially school-aged children) whose data  is being stored by the federal government. Those concerns arise from a misunderstanding of what the bill does to the personal data that the government already has.”

Let me clear something up.  I am not a member of Eagle Forum nor am I a member of a home school group, not that I have anything against them; I just don’t want them to be responsible for what I say.  Missouri Education Watchdog lets me write on their blog but my views are my own. I am a mom. My special interests are my children. I write as a parent, because like many parent advocates, blogging is the only (small) way to be heard.

And No.

My concern DOES NOT “arise from a misunderstanding of what the bill does to the personal data that the government already has.”  You have it sort of right;  let me restate it:

MY CONCERN IS THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS CITIZENS’ AND ESPECIALLY SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN’S PERSONAL DATA, WITHOUT PERMISSION…AND IS EXPANDING ACCESS, ANALYSIS OF THIS DATA, AGAIN WITHOUT PERMISSION.

It’s not your data. Data belongs to the individual. Data is identity and data is currencyCollecting someone’s personal data without consent is theft. (When hackers took Equifax data, that was illegal. When the government takes data… no different.)

If you support parental rights, you should not support HR4174 or its sister bill S2046.  Parents are often left out of the conversation about laws affecting their children.

I will say it again… When it comes to their own children, parents have little to no say in education matters. Parents are not invited to fancy conferences, we often aren’t even allowed to attend them. Parents don’t have a travel budget, a lobby budget, or a paid assistant to help write rebuttals and policy briefs. Nope, we are moms and dads and grandparents doing the best we can to protect our children. And that is why I am responding to the federal government’s response to my blogpost opposing their bill(s) HR4174 and S2046, Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017.

I invite members of Congress and policy makers, rather than refute, or ignore, please have a discussion with those closest to the children: parents.

You impose legislation that directly impacts our children and our families, without our input. We elected you to represent us, “we the people”.    Please hear us, the parents. These are our children, not your human capital, not your data, not your property.

What follows are sections on:

  1. Brief status of student data collection
  2. History and mission of CEP Commission, current linking of IRS data, Census Data, Education data.
  3. China, the US, tech companies and collection, analysis of citizens’ data, dangers of algorithms, metadata profiling.
  4. Status of HR4174, voice votes and suspended rules (why this controversial bill should have had neither)
  5. FACTS. Links to bill text, refuting the House Oversight rebuttal.
  6. Here is a two pager citing only facts, bill text.   http://tinyurl.com/HR4174twopage

The current state of student data collection– You need to know this.

Bill Gates, who has spent billions on reforming education, creating and sharing standardized data, state databases, also wants a national student database, linking k-12 and higher ed data. According to The Gates Foundation 2016 Priorities, this is the national database infrastructure he has in mind. Coincidence?

Gates data infrastructure

State agencies currently maintain personally identifiable data about citizens, including  k-12 school children. My focus is on student data because student data are collected and shared  and analyzed without parent consent. Parents have a right to direct our children’s education and citizens have a right to be secure in their property.  …or do we?  Taking personal information about a child, and sharing it, without the parents’ knowledge or consent is (SHOCKINGLY)  legal, thanks to a 2011 executive rule change that weakened FERPA.

Any Congressperson who would like to spend his or her Thanksgiving dinner explaining to friends and relatives why you think taking personal information about a child and sharing it without parent consent is ethical or principled, please go ahead. Also, let them know that you passed a bill giving more access to this ill-gotten, personal information of students. Be my guest.

As for me, I find HR4174 collection, sharing of a school child’s personal data without parent consent, unconstitutional and unethical and a violation of children’s privacy and parental rights.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also challenged nonconsensual sharing of students’ personal information and the weakening of FERPA. See the EPIC lawsuit against the US Department of Education here.

Very personal information about k-12 students (ie: personal background info on kindergarten-12  registration forms, demographics, race,  health records, disability status, income status, a multitude of invasive surveys, even personality tests, etc.)  is currently collected at all public k-12 schools and can be shared outside of the school, without the parents’ knowledge.  Many have said for years,student data collection is out of control and we are not protecting children:  Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking.

Meta data and mouse-clicks to predict a child, measure their behavior. Amazon and Facebook and Google and Microsoft and many other edtech companies are invading the classroom. Edtech companies like  DreamBox, Khan Academy, and Knewton use adaptive or “personalized” online programs that collect large amounts of data on each child.  Knewton claims 5- 10 million data points per child, per day.  DreamBox claims 50,000 data points per hour on each student. These  “Personalized” software programs embedded in education technology are collecting data about a student, secretly determining which questions students will see, measuring how fast a child reads, what he or she clicks on, how long he or she takes to answer a question. This meta data is sometimes being used to measure a child’s  “social emotional learning” and engagement. One assessment company, NWEA, measuring test item response times, says if a child responds to a test question too quickly, this will give him/her a low engagement score.  NWEA thinks a child’s rapid response means the child is guessing and this disengagement can be applied to other “deep rooted problems” in a student’s life such as,

“a student’s likelihood of disengaging on a test was associated with his or her self-management and self-regulation skills, the ability, for example, to show up for class prepared and on time. “As they disengage from tests and the course material, a whole host of other things come up … attendance, suspensions, course failure … that have been connected to risk of dropping out of school,”

In a digital environment, everything a child does online can be captured, connected and catalogued. The LearnSphere project funded by the National Science Foundation and handled by Carnegie Mellon, explains this project which began in 2014:

“There are several important initiatives designed to address these data access challenges, for individual researchers as well as institutions and states. LearnSphere, a cross-institutional community infrastructure project, aims to develop a large-scale open repository of rich education data by integrating data from its four components.[17] For instance, DataShop stores data from student interactions with online course materials, intelligent tutoring systems, virtual labs, and simulations, and DataStage stores data derived from online courses offered by Stanford UniversityClick-stream data stored in these repositories include thousands and even millions of data points per student, much of which is made publicly available to registered users who meet data privacy assurance criteria. On the other hand, MOOCdb and DiscourseDB, also components of LearnSphere, offer platforms for the extraction and representation of student MOOC data and textual data, respectively, surrounding student online learning interactions that are otherwise difficult to access or are highly fragmented. By integrating data held or processed through these different components, LearnSphere will create a large set of interconnected data that reflects most of a student’s experience in online learning.” http://www.sr.ithaka.org/publications/student-data-in-the-digital-era/

Shouldn’t parents be able to see and consent to this information being collected and analyzed about their children? Will researchers and edtech companies be granted MORE access to the personal student data held by theDataShop, that HR4174 creates? (Yes, according to the bill excerpts below.)

Personal information about a student is already shared to a state longitudinal database, SLDS. See here for what data elements are stored in the state data dictionary. The states share this personal student data (personally identifiable information, pii) with other agencies, corporations, researchers–again without parent notification or consent, and parents cannot opt out. See here for example of state agreements to share student pii with companies, researchers, agencies, etc.

The Department of Defense also has access to student data through the Federal Learning Registry is a joint student data gathering project between the Department of Defense and the Department of Education. The Learning Registry and US Department of Education are also “encouraging districts and states to move away from traditional textbooks” and instead use the Learning Registry’s openly-licensed online materials, (Online Educational Resources, OERs), facilitated by Amazon, Microsoft, Edmodo, ASCD, Creative Commons. Can parents see this data or opt out? Nope.

The safest way to protect data, is minimize its collection. HR4174 does not minimize data collection, nor does it decrease disclosures. Schools and student databases across the country are currently being hacked and held for ransom, students threatened by cyber terrorists. With the federal government’s track record of failing FITARA security scores,  and recent data breaches, the thought of the federal government coordinating and maintaining expanded access to state level student data is concerning.

History and mission of CEP Commission

HR4174 is a result of the CEP (Commission for Evidence-based Policy); as stated in the bill and in the CEP final report, its purpose is identifying and reducing or removing barriers to accessing state-level data. The CEP commission held several meetings and three public hearings.  I suggest you review the minutes, video and audio of these meetings and hearings. You can read about the history of the CEP commission, watch the first public hearing, see written testimony submitted here.

The testimony from Oct 21, 2016 CEP hearing panelists is enlightening:

 For example: RK Paleru of Booz Allen Hamilton’s testimony, said that BAH supports, among other things, linking student data from surveys and multiple agencies, public-private partnerships, and data analytics, and “bringing the private sector perspective to the conversation.” He also stated the need for a data clearinghouse to be self-service and like a “Pinterest for data“, or data as paid service, and wanted to promote inter-agency data sharing.

Another Oct 21 CEP hearing panelist, Rachel Zinn, Workforce Data Quality Campaign, WDQC, said because of the current ban on a federal student database, “stakeholders” don’t have access to student information, she goes on to say in order to link and share data, stakeholders often have to use “non-standard processes, often goes through personal relationships or particular capacities within agencies at particular times” .   

Panelists at Feb 9, 2017 CEP hearing (listen to Audio at 57 min to 1hr14min mark):

Panelists discuss making it easier to link personally identifiable information from IRS records and personal information from Census population survey, personal information from education records and SLDS. With the CEP Commission making this personal data more accessible, more available, the researcher feels “like a kid in candy store“.  There are great barriers that prevent researchers from getting this data, currently researchers have to get it by “hook or crook” or  “by leveraging personal relationships”… CEP questions the coercive nature of obtaining this data.  At 1hour 11 minutes, they discuss how currently they can link Census population survey data and personal IRS data, with persistence any academic researcher can access these data, you just have to know the steps to get there and I think that’s the Commission’s charge“…

The Feb 24, 2017 CEP meeting:

Again, panelists discuss how they are already linking personally identifiable state-level education records with IRS records, but cite it is difficult and barriers need to be removed to make it easier to link this pii data between agencies.

IRS and student data.jpg

CHINA and US: Meta data, predictive algorithms, analyzing and generating data, social engineering

Linking all this personal data on citizens reminds me of why I mentioned that China collects and links data about its citizens.  Is there anything in HR4174 that says personal data cannot be used to rank a person, create a reputation score, or profile a person? HR4174 allows meta data analysis, generation of new data that can be  used to predict and profile. Algorithms can be biased and wrong. HOW can you possibly police this? A good start would be Europe’s General Data Protection Rule.

Tech companies in the US are ramping up their use of predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, despite dire warnings of existential risk  . This article on Twitter, Facebook and Google analytics is a warning on why we should be concerned. Do Facebook and Google have control of their algorithms anymore? A sobering assessment and a warning,

““Google, Twitter, and Facebook have all regularly shifted the blame to algorithms when this happens, but the issue is that said companies write the algorithms, making them responsible for what they churn out.”

Algorithms can be gamed, algorithms can be trained on biased information, and algorithms can shield platforms [tech companies] from blame.”

YET, have you ever heard of Yet Analytics? To quote this article,  Yet, HP and the Future of Human Capital Analytics: AI and your reputation score,

“querying of big data comprising information on learning, economic and social factors and outcomes gathered by the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations and elsewhere. The outcome is the ability to predict multi-year return on investment on a great variety of learning, economic and social measures. We knew that variables including adolescent fertility rates, infant mortality rates and the balance of trade goods all had significant relationships with GDP per capita.”

Microsoft of course uses artificial intelligence and analytics with Cortana technology, but also has MALMO built in the MINECRAFT platform, “How can we develop artificial intelligence that learns to make sense of complex environments? That learns from others, including humans, how to interact with the world? Project Malmo sets out to address these core research challenges, addressing them by integrating (deep) reinforcement learning, cognitive science, and many ideas from artificial intelligence.”  Microsoft also has PROJECT BRAINWAVE capturing real time artificial intelligence data.

Facebook and your credit score? Facebook reportedly has a patent for technology that could potentially be used for evaluating your credit risk, which they say could be used to view your social network connections and determine your credit worthiness.

Status of HR4174

HR4174 was introduced on 10/31/2017 and was passed on voice vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform.  Yesterday, the US House of Representatives suspended their rules, something that, according to this document, is only done on non-controversial bills. Judging by the public outcry and the rebuttal response from House Oversight, I would argue this bill is controversial and should not have been voted on suspended rule. With rules suspended and another voice votethe House unanimously passed HR4174 on 11/15/2017. Watch the vote, starting at 4hr 52min mark here.

Myth or Fact?  You decide.

myth or fact

The rebuttal

FACT:  Parents cannot opt students out of this state data collection that is obtained without consent.

HR4174 will increase access to this state-level student data, allowing data to be linked or disclosed with government agencies, researchers, again without consent.

  • If HR4174 does allow parental consent, does allow parents to opt out of student data collection and sharing, please correct me. It would be imperative to specifically state parental consent and opt out rights in the bill, so schools and parents are aware of this provision. There’s still time to add this opt out provision in the Senate.

FACT: HR4174 removes barriers to state-level data access and creates a National Secure Data Service (NSDS) with a Chief Evaluation Officer in each federal department; the NSDS will be coordinated through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Data officers in each agency oversee the dissemination and generation of data between state agencies and private users, contractors, researchers while finding new and innovative ways to use technology to improve data collection and use.

Does that sound like a national  system to manage and disclose data?  …Keep reading.

  • § 3520A. Chief Data Officer Council

“(a) Establishment.—There is established in the Office of Management and Budget a Chief Data Officer Council (in this section referred to as the ‘Council’).

“(b) Purpose and functions.—The Council shall—

“(1) establish Governmentwide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination, and generation of data;

“(2) promote and encourage data sharing agreements between agencies;

“(3) identify ways in which agencies can improve upon the production of evidence for use in policymaking;

“(4) consult with the public and engage with private users of Government data and other stakeholders on how to improve access to data assets of the Federal Government; and

“(5) identify and evaluate new technology solutions for improving the collection and use of data.

FACT: HR4174 requires each agency (see list of 17 different agencies, A-Q below, who will maintain and disclose data) and will make any data asset maintained by the agency available to any statistical agency. The head of each agency shall …make a list of data the agency intends to collect, use, or acquire. This data may be in an identifiable form and may include operating and financial data and information about businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and government entities. 

  • HR4174 PART D—ACCESS TO DATA FOR EVIDENCE

    § 3581. Presumption of accessibility for statistical agencies and units

    “(a) Accessibility of data assets.—The head of an agency shall, to the extent practicable, make any data asset maintained by the agency available, upon request, to any statistical agency or unit for purposes of developing evidence.

  • § 312. Agency evidence-building plan

    “(a) Requirement.—Not later than the first Monday in February of each year, the head of each agency shall submit to the Director and Congress a systematic plan for identifying and addressing policy questions relevant to the programs, policies, and regulations of the agency. Such plan shall be made available on the public website of the agency and shall cover at least a 4-year period beginning with the first fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the plan is submitted and published and contain the following:

    “(1) A list of policy-relevant questions for which the agency intends to develop evidence to support policymaking.

    “(2) A list of data the agency intends to collect, use, or acquire to facilitate the use of evidence in policymaking.

    “(3) A list of methods and analytical approaches that may be used to develop evidence to support policymaking.

    “(4) A list of any challenges to developing evidence to support policymaking, including any statutory or other restrictions to accessing relevant data.

Agencies involved in the HR4174 Federal evidence-building activities.

HR4174 “SUBCHAPTER II—FEDERAL EVIDENCE-BUILDING ACTIVITIES

§ 311. Definitions

“(1) AGENCY.—The term ‘agency’ means an agency referred to under section 901(b) of title 31.

901(b) of title 31 :
(b)
(1) The agencies referred to in subsection (a)(1) are the following:
(A) The Department of Agriculture.
(B) The Department of Commerce.
(C) The Department of Defense.
(D) The Department of Education.
(E) The Department of Energy.
(F) The Department of Health and Human Services.
(G) The Department of Homeland Security.
(H) The Department of Housing and Urban Development.
(I) The Department of the Interior.
(J) The Department of Justice.
(K) The Department of Labor.
(L) The Department of State.
(M) The Department of Transportation.
(N) The Department of the Treasury.
(O) The Department of Veterans Affairs.
(P) The Environmental Protection Agency.
(Q) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/31/901

FACT: Data is shared between designated statistical agencies and can be personally identifiable data. Agencies and the Director can promulgate their own rules about data disclosure and sharing. The overseers of disseminating and generating can make their own rules.

  • “(c) Sharing of business data among Designated Statistical Agencies.—

    “(1) IN GENERAL.—A Designated Statistical Agency may provide business data in an identifiable form to another Designated Statistical Agency under the terms of a written agreement among the agencies sharing the business data that specifies—

    “(A) the business data to be shared;

    “(B) the statistical purposes for which the business data are to be used;

    “(C) the officers, employees, and agents authorized to examine the business data to be shared; and

    “(D) appropriate security procedures to safeguard the confidentiality of the business data.

 

  • “(e) Designated Statistical Agency defined.—In this section, the term ‘Designated Statistical Agency’ means each of the following:

    (1) The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.

    (2) The Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce.

    (3) The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor.”.

  • “(3) BUSINESS DATA.—The term ‘business data’ means operating and financial data and information about businesses, tax-exempt organizations, and government entities.  [Note: Schools are tax-exempt and government entities.]

 

  • “§ 3562. Coordination and oversight of policies“(a) In general.—The Director shall coordinate and oversee the confidentiality and disclosure policies established by this subchapter. The Director may promulgate rules or provide other guidance to ensure consistent interpretation of this subchapter by the affected agencies. The Director shall develop a process by which the Director designates agencies or organizational units as statistical agencies and units. The Director shall promulgate guidance to implement such process, which shall include specific criteria for such designation and methods by which the Director will ensure transparency in the process.
  • “(b) Agency rules.—Subject to subsection
  • (c), agencies may promulgate rules to implement this subchapter. Rules governing disclosures of information that are authorized by this subchapter shall be promulgated by the agency that originally collected the information.

FACT: Data is linked between agencies.

  • § 316. Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building  During the first year of the Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee shall—

    “(B) evaluate and provide recommendations to the Director on the establishment of a shared service to facilitate data sharing, enable data linkage, and develop privacy enhancing techniques,

FACT: Data may be shared with private organizations, researchers, consultants, contractors, employees of contractors, government entities, individuals who agree in writing to comply with provisions.

  • “(e) Designation of agents.—A statistical agency or unit may designate agents, by contract or by entering into a special agreement containing the provisions required under section 3561(2) for treatment as an agent under that section, who may perform exclusively statistical activities, subject to the limitations and penalties described in this subchapter.

 

  • “(2) AGENT.—The term ‘agent’ means an individual

    “(A)(i) who is an employee of a private organization or a researcher affiliated with an institution of higher learning (including a person granted special sworn status by the Bureau of the Census under section 23(c) of title 13), and with whom a contract or other agreement is executed, on a temporary basis, by an executive agency to perform exclusively statistical activities under the control and supervision of an officer or employee of that agency;

    “(ii) who is working under the authority of a government entity with which a contract or other agreement is executed by an executive agency to perform exclusively statistical activities under the control of an officer or employee of that agency;

    “(iii) who is a self-employed researcher, a consultant, a contractor, or an employee of a contractor, and with whom a contract or other agreement is executed by an executive agency to perform a statistical activity under the control of an officer or employee of that agency; or

    “(iv) who is a contractor or an employee of a contractor, and who is engaged by the agency to design or maintain the systems for handling or storage of data received under this subchapter; and

    “(B) who agrees in writing to comply with all provisions of law that affect information acquired by that agency.

  • SEC. 202. OPEN Government Data.(a) Definitions.—
  • Section 3502 of title 44, United States Code, is amended—
  • “(15) the term ‘data’ means recorded information, regardless of form or the media on which the data is recorded;
  • “(16) the term ‘data asset’ means a collection of data elements or data sets that may be grouped together;
  • “(17) the term ‘machine-readable’, when used with respect to data, means data in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention while ensuring no semantic meaning is lost;
  • “(18) the term ‘metadata’ means structural or descriptive information about data such as content, format, source, rights, accuracy, provenance, frequency, periodicity, granularity, publisher or responsible party, contact information, method of collection, and other descriptions;

FACT: You are correct that HR4174 does repeal E–Government Act of 2002 (Public Law 107–34744 U.S.C. 3501 and re-insert it in title 44. However, the CIPSEA penalty of $250,000 fine or 5 years prison is not new; it has been in place since 2002. Student data has been collected and shared without consent since 2012-CIPSEA was not applicable or not enforced. Ironically, HR4174 weakens CIPSEA.

CIPSEA is amended to expand access to data. Additionally, once again, the Director can promulgate regulation on what data to share.

  • 3582. Expanding secure access to CIPSEA data assets

“(a) Statistical agency responsibilities.—To the extent practicable, each statistical agency or unit shall expand access to data assets of such agency or unit acquired or accessed under this subchapter to develop evidence while protecting such assets from inappropriate access and use, in accordance with the regulations promulgated under subsection (b).

“(b) Regulations for accessibility of nonpublic data assets.—The Director shall promulgate regulations, in accordance with applicable law, for statistical agencies and units to carry out the requirement under subsection (a). Such regulations shall include the following:

“(1) Standards for each statistical agency or unit to assess each data asset owned or accessed by the statistical agency or unit for purposes of categorizing the sensitivity level of each such asset and identifying the corresponding level of accessibility to each such asset. Such standards shall include—

“(A) common sensitivity levels and corresponding levels of accessibility that may be assigned to a data asset, including a requisite minimum and maximum number of sensitivity levels for each statistical agency or unit to use;

“(B) criteria for determining the sensitivity level and corresponding level of accessibility of each data asset; and

“(C) criteria for determining whether a less sensitive and more accessible version of a data asset can be produced.

“(2) Standards for each statistical agency or unit to improve access to a data asset pursuant to paragraph (1) or (3) by removing or obscuring information in such a manner that the identity of the data subject is less likely to be reasonably inferred by either direct or indirect means.

“(3) A requirement for each statistical agency or unit to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of any data asset acquired or accessed under this subchapter prior to any public release of such asset, including standards for such comprehensive risk assessment and criteria for making a determination of whether to release the data.

Continually saying that you aren’t collecting new data is meaningless – because the data was illegally obtained in the first place. HR4174 allows personal data to be shared without consent and importantly, allows generated data, meta data analysis of citizens without consent.  Personal data belongs to the individual. Data collection without consent is theft. It’s time the US updated our privacy laws  – not to further weaken them. Instead, it’s time for Congress to be a leader: minimize the data collected, protect privacy and security,  and look to Europe’s General Data Protection Rule, the strictest privacy law in the world.

-Cheri Kiesecker

We Need to Talk About Our Philanthropy Problem

Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

Gates Dollars two

Private foundations have long been used as tax-havens for the elite, but “philanthropy” has lately been retooled to serve a new function: the seeding of a new “social capital” market that has the potential to reap these self-proclaimed lovers-of-humanity billions of dollars in profit.

This week, the announcement of a massive collaborative between the world’s largest foundations and their philanthropic underlings underscored a disturbing and growing trend among America’s billionaire elite: the use of unprecedented levels of wealth to remake social policy.

If you’re one of those kindhearted Americans who still believes that the nation’s richest families are simply giving away their wealth to little people like us because they care, allow me to do this:

92f576eaf0f1a1eb223611e3e32f082f.gif

Private foundations have long been used as tax-havens for the elite, but “philanthropy” has lately been retooled to serve a new function: the seeding of a new “social capital” market that has the potential to reap these self-proclaimed lovers-of-humanity billions of dollars in profit.

This new market, still in the works but advancing at lightning speed, relies on the complete undoing of the public sphere.

That whole Bill-Gates-Common-Core thing? Sure, he wanted everyone to have to buy his Microsoft products… but not as much as he wanted to build a data-tagging system that he and his cronies could use to “measure” and then profit off the “impact” of their investments.

Data is king in the new social capital markets, which is why it’s no coincidence that Congress is currently ramming through several bills expanding the role of the Feds to collect and aggregate data on pretty much everything, starting from when you’re a neonate.

And maybe even more creepily, when it comes to “evidence-based policy”, it turns out that “evidence” doesn’t actually mean science or truth or even what’s remotely good for us.

Evidence means data, which can be p-hack’ed (massaged, if you will) anyway investors like.

And so we have folks like Tripp Jones of Massachusetts calling for an expansion of “evidence-based policy” while children die at alarming rates in his former for-profit foster care program; folks like Bill Gates relentlessly terrorizing the public school system in pursuit of an investment-friendly sector; and the folks who managed to balloon the national student debt to astronomical levels advancing new credentialing systems and grading systems…

…all under the guise of philanthropy.

Recently, education historian Diane Ravitch called for congressional investigation of Bill Gates and his out-sized and undemocratic role in the takeover of public education.

But I think we need to take this one giant step further.

Gates is one giant, gnarly tree in an dark, overgrown forest of private “givers” who are dead-set on remaking our nation into something reminiscent of a feudalistic society.

I say it’s time to investigate the whole rotten system that’s allowing this to happen.

Seriously, folks.  This just can’t be okay.

Save Maine Schools

USDoE’s Digital Promise and Facebook Team Up for Student Data Badges while the Gates Funded Data Quality Campaign is Lobbying Congress to Weaken FERPA, Again.

Original Title: USDoE’s Digital Promise and Facebook team up for student databadges. And Gates funded DQC group is lobbying Congress to weaken FERPA, again. Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

Facebook Getting Smart

Now, onto the mega announcement made today on Tom Vander Arks’  Getting Smart blog, that Digital Promise is working with Facebook to develop student data badges.  We have written about student micro credentials (also called data badges) here and here and NEPC wrote about them here.  As for Digital Promise, we wrote about how Digital Promise is a nonprofit created by the US Department of Ed, they have a global arm and they promote Schools of Innovation, competency based ed, data badges, Relay Grad School to name a few.   So, this new announcement shouldn’t be a surprise; it will no doubt be a wonderful data collection and marketing tool for Facebook and the US Department of Ed, but it is incredibly alarming for students’ privacy and security.

Trick or treat Two-fer today.

The Data Quality Campaign, funded by Bill Gates is lobbying Congress to further weaken FERPA.  You can and SHOULD read all about that here.  We urge you to call or email your Congressman and Reps Todd Rokita (IN), Paul Mitchell (MI) to tell them NO.  Stop sharing students’ personal data with researchers and marketers, corporations and “nonprofits”  without parental consent. We need to fix FERPA, strengthen student data protection and privacy, not further weaken it.  Please do take the time to read this and send an email.   Thanks.

Now, onto the mega announcement made today on Tom Vander Arks’  Getting Smart blog, that Digital Promise is working with Facebook to develop student data badges.  We have written about student micro credentials (also called data badges) here and here and NEPC wrote about them here.  As for Digital Promise, we wrote about how Digital Promise is a nonprofit created by the US Department of Ed, they have a global arm and they promote Schools of Innovation, competency based ed, data badges, Relay Grad School to name a few.  So, this new announcement shouldn’t be a surprise; it will no doubt be a wonderful data collection and marketing tool for Facebook and the US Department of Ed, but it is incredibly alarming for students’ privacy and security.

We have reposted the getting smart announcement below.

October 30, 2017  By  getting smart staff

Digital skills are skyrocketing in demand, and that is a trend that will only continue to increase in impact. More than 8 in 10 middle-skill jobs (82%) require digital skills, and tech companies everywhere often have trouble finding candidates with the right know-how.

One recently announced effort to address this challenge that has us excited is Digital Promise’s partnership with Facebook, in which the two groups have collaborated to create a set of micro-credentials (a form of digital badges) focused on helping adults in the workforce learn these “middle” skills in the area of digital marketing.

We think that this new set of micro-credentials, the pursuit of which will include successive series of in-person workshops organized and implemented by local partners (Digital Promise will train organizations across the state of Michigan to deliver the workshops to their local communities starting in November), is a great way to address the challenge of reaching those who need this type of adult education the most.

Facebook has pledged to train 3,000 Michiganders in digital skills focused on social media over the next two years through these workshops. In the workshop, students will learn some of the basics of social media marketing, and have the opportunity to earn four micro-credentials that demonstrate the skills they have learned:

  • Social Media Marketing Basics
  • Marketing with Facebook Pages
  • Marketing with Facebook Ads
  • Marketing with Instagram

Over four weeks, students will develop a Facebook page and Instagram account for a local community organization or business of their choice; use that page to create awareness, drive traffic, and/or attract customers; and create advertising campaigns in support of that page. We think this approach is exactly the kind of authentic, real-world PBL that will encourage adults to seek these new skills.

In our recent analysis of adult entrepreneurship education (a big upcoming trend), we found that a lack of respected micro-credentials was one of the biggest missing components of entrepreneurship education. The program being developed by Digital Promise and Facebook appears set to provide a model for those looking to address this challenge. Our team is looking forward from hearing more from Digital Promise when we attend EdSurge Fusion later this week.

For more, see:

-Cheri Kiesecker

Bill Gates’ Data Quality Campaign is Coming for Your Child’s Privacy – Again.

Original Title: Big Money Coming for Your Child’s Privacy – Again. Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

data oil

In my fourth grade classroom, when there is something very important that I want all of my students hear and to understand the first time (a task that is more difficult than you can imagine), I tell my kids to “wake their brains up.”

And then I do this (sort of) to demonstrate:

tenor.gif

Today, I am asking parents to do the same.

And this is because your child’s privacy is under attack, and you, moms and dads, are literally the only thing standing in the way of the complete and utter hijacking of all personal information related to your loved ones.

Before you glaze over, realize that the implications of this data-grab may be greater than you think.

This week, a group of corporate-funded researchers joined Bill Gates’s “Data Quality Campaign” to lobby legislators to weaken the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) yet again.

In an era when entire school districts are being shut down due to data breaches and ransom notes from anonymous hackers, profiteers are seeking to put your child’s personal information into the hands of still more people.

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.30.41 PM

But here’s the thing: it’s not only creepy anonymous hackers that we need to protect ourselves from.

Data was recently called the “new oil” by the CEO of Mastercard, but few people seem to understand how – beyond vague notions of algorithms and advertising revenue – they intend to turn our personal information into a multi-trillion dollar market.

The intent is to put social services – schools, public health, prisons, foster care, you name it – into the hands of private investors via “social capital markets.”

Using social impact bonds, pay-for-success contracts, and other so-called “innovative” financial tools, investors – in collaboration with a wide network of corporate-sponsored “nonprofits” – intend to hand out loans for public services in exchange for repayment (with interest) when we meet theirpredetermined outcomes.

It’s the technocratic nightmare behind ever-increasing calls for “evidence-based” (read: data-based) policy:

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 2.33.05 PM

that leads not only to endless demands for data-collection, but to service-shortcuts like ipads in place of teachers and for-profit foster care programs that claim excellent “outcomes” while children are dying in their care.

(Please read here for more.)

And so when they – the data-miners themselves – suggest that perhaps we put our children’s data into something more “secure” like blockchain, realize that they are simply trying to secure the very data they themselves need to build their fortunes.

Unfortunately, this means that demands for greater “privacy” protections are not going to be enough.

What we need to do is stop the oil rigs from being built on our children’s backs in the first place.

data oil

 

#TOTALREFUSAL2017   #DATAREFUSAL2017

Save Maine Schools

Is Summit Basecamp Bill Gates’ Latest Plan for Public Education?

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So far, The Gates Foundation has given $300 million of support to promote and develop personalized learning – with more likely to come.

Now the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is adding “99 percent of their Facebook shares—worth an estimated $45 billion” to the mix.

This is enough money to overpower and colonize any system, democratic or private.

You know what I think would be great?

If people stopped giving Bill Gates a pass on his march toward total domination of public education.

What am I talking about? This comes to mind:

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 6.11.02 PM

Oh yes, Gates just released his latest vision of remaking education. He admits, without the least bit of irony, that “our education efforts are still evolving”.

Shockingly, as the image above shows, there’s still plenty of Gates’ apologists willing to ignore the evidence and volunteer to put some positive spin on latest plan for public education annihilation.

But think about this: it’s been 17 years since Gates decided his wealth made him an expert in education. Even more telling, this is the 17th year where his efforts have fallen short.

Who gets to fail for 17 years and still manage to set the national agenda?

Oh, it’s a billionaire who happens to be the wealthiest human on the planet.

I know who doesn’t get a pass on “failure” – students, teachers, and schools which get labeled, shut down or turned around based on test scores.

This is dangerous territory for our democracy and civil society.

And what’s more threatening to public education and democracy than one billionaire who wants to transform education?

Two.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have now joined forces to bring Summit Basecamp, a personalized learning platform, into the mainstream.

The Failed State of American Democracy

Sheldon Wolin wrote in Democracy Incorporated about inverted totalitarianism, the state of affairs where democratic institution are hallowed out and replaced with top down authoritarian systems ruled by money and a powerful elite. The institution remains, in name only, while the shadow parallel system holds the real power.

Wolin explains the process in detail in this article for The Nation:

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media’s reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg’s team up to promote personalized learning is a perfect example of the hallowing out and replacement of the democratic structures tasked with overseeing our public schools.

From EdWeek:

In a statement, an initiative spokeswoman expressed similar sentiments.

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is excited to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support New Profit’s work,” the statement says. “We share an interest in seeing significant improvement in education and are committed to learning from each other.”Since 2009, the Gates Foundation has given more than $300 million to support research and development on personalized learning, including past grants to New Profit totaling about $23 million. (Education Week has received support from the foundation in the past for the newspaper’s coverage of personalized learning.)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, meanwhile, was launched in 2015. Zuckerberg and Chan said then they intended to give 99 percent of their Facebook shares—worth an estimated $45 billion—to a variety of causes, headlined by the development of software “that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus.”

Since the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is an LCC, they don’t have to respond to public records requests or other transparent practices expected of democratic institutions. In fact, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative can operate with zero transparency, thanks to the shielding effect of the LLC designation.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not a traditional nonprofit foundation. Instead, it’s an LLC. That organizational structure allows for direct investment in for-profit companies and political lobbying and donations, as well as philanthropic giving. It also limits the extent to which the group is legally required to publicly report on its activities.

So far, The Gates Foundation has given $300 million of support to promote and develop personalized learning – with more likely to come.

Now the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is adding “99 percent of their Facebook shares—worth an estimated $45 billion” to the mix.

This is enough money to overpower and colonize any system, democratic or private.

Add to that the shielding power of an LLC designation – which will keep the public’s prying eyes far away from the inner working this partnership – and we’re suddenly facing a serious democratic crisis in the fight to save public education.

The Plan

In case you were wondering, one of the focus areas of Gates’ new-new plan is “…the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions . . . and use data to drive continuous improvement” and yes, Summit is called out as an example of success.

Democracy In Crisis

We need to get pass the corporate media framing that Gates is a bumbling do-gooder and call out his actions for what they are: colonization and subversion of one of the corners of our democracy – public education.

His money has taken over public education from the inside out, from funding astroturf groups to infiltrating and corrupting traditional institutions tasked with protecting our public schools.

All of this is happening behind the scenes, without transparency or accountability.

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Remember that one?

Money is power.

How far are we’re willing to let billionaire money go in its march to destroy public education?

It’s time to decide.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debunking the “Truthiness” of Bill Gates’ Glowing Review of Summit’s Personalized Learning Platform

Gates Dollars two

Truthiness

The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.

Origin: Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report,” 2005

In spite of being handicapped by attending two outmoded, “factory style”  public schools, both my kids have managed to learn that if you make a claim in an essay you must back it up with credible evidence.

Somehow, this fundamental concept seems to have escaped Bill Gates. Case in point: Gates glowing review of Summit’s personalized learning platform in his August 22, 2016 Gates Notes post titled: I Love This Cutting Edge School Design.

This is what Bill Gates had to say about the marvels of Facebook’s Basecamp a personalized learning platform used by Summit Sierra Charter School in Seattle:

At its best, personalized learning doesn’t just let students work at their own pace. It puts them in charge of their own academic growth. Summit, the network of charter schools that Summit Sierra belongs to, worked with Facebook to develop software that guides the students’ learning. For example, you might set a goal like “I want to get into the University of Washington.” Working with their teachers, the students develop a personalized learning plan in the software. They can see all the courses they need to meet their goal, how they’re doing in each class, and what it will take to get a given grade. They set weekly objectives and note their progress in the software.

Free Meaning The Gates Foundation Gave One Million To Make it Possible.

Here’s the first bit of truthiness:

A personalized learning plan like the one I saw at Sierra would’ve taken the mystery out of things. After my visit, I emailed Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook to tell him how great it is that their engineers are working on this project. (Summit is making the platform available to other schools for free.)

Actually, The Gates Foundation awarded Summit “Public” Schools over a million dollars so Summit could provide Facebook’s Basecamp to their partner schools for free. It’s interesting that Gates doesn’t mention how his Foundation made it all possible.

Gates-Summit-FB Basecamp

Has Bill Gates Been in a Real Classroom with Actual, Human Teachers?

I’m not sure if the next two paragraphs are an example of truthiness or just how out of touch Bill Gates is with what actually goes on in real classrooms.

Any parent who has had the opportunity to volunteer knows “connecting one-on-one” is what human teachers do day-in and day-out.

I would bet most teachers would argue that making these connections is really what teaching is all about. It’s shocking to me that Bill Gates doesn’t understand this.

Personalized learning represents a big shift for teachers too. As most will tell you, it’s rare to find a school that gives them the opportunity to connect one-on-one with their students. But in personalized learning, that’s not the exception, it’s the rule.

For example, Summit teachers are matched with students whom they will mentor for all four years in school. During my visit, teacher Aubree Gomez showed me how it works. First she took out her laptop, pulled up a list of the 17 students she’s mentoring, and explained how the software showed her what each student was doing, down to the level of which lessons they had looked at and which tests they had taken.

The idea that a professional teacher needs some type of intermediary software to manage a portfolio of students is equally bizarre.

It only makes sense to me if children are viewed as tiny slivers of skill-based competencies to be managed by impersonal algorithms – kids as commodities – rather than valued as the complicated human beings all children are.

Evidence? Who Needs it.

Gates may have displayed borderline truthiness when it comes to teachers and what teaching is all about, but it’s truthiness to the max when it comes to citing evidence that personalized learning is an effective tool for instruction.

First, Gates cites a study from the Rand Corporation as evidence that personalized learning works, but later admits, there really isn’t a lot of solid evidence to prove it.

We still need more data about the strengths and weaknesses of personalized learning, but the results so far are promising. One study found that among 62 schools using personalized learning, students made more progress in two years than their peers at other schools. They started below the national average in reading and math; two years later, they were above it.

To be fair, we don’t know yet how much of this improvement is due to personalized learning, versus other good things these schools are doing. And in any case, personalized learning won’t be a cure-all. It won’t work for all kids at all ages, and it’s just one model among many promising ones. But I’m hopeful that this approach could help many more young people make the most of their talents.

Turns out, Rand isn’t a very credible source when it comes to personalized learning. In fact, The The Institute for the Future (IFTF), which is an outgrowth of The Rand Corporation, is an active promoter of personalized learning, blockchain, and the gig economy. Check out the video.

Gates may have reached peak truthiness with his flippant “to be fair” dismissal of his lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of personalized learning; but here’s something to think about: there’s almost no evidence showing online or the classroom equivalent, competency-based learning, to be effective.

First, let’s look at some indirect evidence.

The Online Charter Study produced by CREDO and The Center for the Reinvention of Public Education found negative academic growth for students enrolled in online charter schools as compared to their peers in traditional public schools.

How bad was the negative impact?

For math, online charter students lost the equivalent of 180 days of learning. Reading faired somewhat better, with a lost equivalent of 72 days.

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The NEPC Virtual Schools Report 2016 has more specific information on the performance of the blended instruction model.

Here’s a few of the highlights:

Traditional schools have the best overall performance. Blended schools the worst.

Multiple or expanded measures of school performance reveal that virtual school outcomes continued to lag significantly behind that of traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Blended schools tended to score even lower on performance measures than virtual schools, although this may be influenced by the fact that blended schools serve substantially more low-income students.

Blended schools’ on time graduation rates were half ( 37.4% ) the national average.

The evidence on graduation rates aligns with findings from school performance measures, contributing to the overall picture of school performance. Only 131 virtual schools and 26 blended schools had data specific to on-time graduation in 2013-14. The on-time graduation rate (or four-year graduation rate) for full-time virtual schools and blended schools was half the national average: 40.6% for virtual schools, 37.4% for blended schools, and 81.0% for the nation as a whole. The graduation rates for virtual schools have worsened by 3 percentage points over the past few years, even as graduation rates in the country have been improving about 1 percentage point each year.

This interesting bit was buried in the study’s conclusion.

The rapid expansion of virtual schools and blended schools is remarkable given the consistently negative findings regarding student and school performance. The advocates of full-time virtual schools and blended schools remain several years ahead of policymakers and researchers, and new opportunities are being defined and developed largely by for-profit entities accountable to stockholders rather than to any public constituency.

Here’s two more damning studies.

Both came to the same conclusion: the tech behind competency-based learning has advanced, but the concept itself has not benefitted from these technical improvements and the educational outcome for students remain unimpressive.

From the study, Competence-Based Education and Educational Effectiveness:  A critical Review of the Research Literature on Outcome-Oriented Policy Making in Education.

The paper assesses the empirical evidence for outcomes of competence-based education which are envisaged by policy-makers, and gives some interpretations of how the topic is handled in the political processes. This is achieved by a review of the research literature as documented in bibliographical databases which cover academic publications and in more practical material. The searches were generic, and included not only specific competence- expressions, but also terms as ‘outcomes’ and ‘learning’. The staggering conclusion of this exercise is that there is hardly any evidence for the effectiveness of competence-based education despite the long period since the 1970s when the approach came up in the US. Whether this is an artefact of the operationalization of the outcomes of competence-based education or not, it seems that there is only very little attention to testing the policy- assumptions that competence-based education is a worthy educational innovation. As this is quite disturbing, it is recommended that more efforts are being made to prove (or falsify) the putative added value of competence-based education initiatives.

From the study, New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning.

The pace of technological advancement, combined with improvements technology has brought to other sectors, is leading policymakers and educators alike to take another look at computers in the classroom, and even at computers instead of classrooms. In particular, advances in computational power, memory storage, and artificial intelligence are breathing new life into the promise that instruction can be tailored to the needs of each individual student, much like a one-on-one tutor. The term most often used by advocates for this approach is “Personalized Instruction.” Despite the advances in both hardware and software, recent studies show little evidence for the effectiveness of this model of integrating technology into the learning process.

The Failed State of American Democracy

Sheldon Wolin wrote in Democracy Incorporated about inverted totalitarianism, the state of affairs where democratic institution are hallowed out and replaced with top down authoritarian systems ruled by money and a powerful elite. The institution remains, in name only, while the shadow parallel system holds the real power.

Wolin explains the process in detail in this article for The Nation:

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media’s reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg’s team up to promote personalized learning is a perfect example of the hallowing out and replacement of the democratic structures tasked with overseeing our public schools.

From EdWeek:

In a statement, an initiative spokeswoman expressed similar sentiments.

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is excited to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support New Profit’s work,” the statement says. “We share an interest in seeing significant improvement in education and are committed to learning from each other.”Since 2009, the Gates Foundation has given more than $300 million to support research and development on personalized learning, including past grants to New Profit totaling about $23 million. (Education Week has received support from the foundation in the past for the newspaper’s coverage of personalized learning.)

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, meanwhile, was launched in 2015. Zuckerberg and Chan said then they intended to give 99 percent of their Facebook shares—worth an estimated $45 billion—to a variety of causes, headlined by the development of software “that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus.”

Since the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is an LCC, they don’t have to respond to public records requests or other transparent practices expected of democratic institutions. In fact, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative can operate with zero transparency, thanks to the shielding effect of the LLC designation.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not a traditional nonprofit foundation. Instead, it’s an LLC. That organizational structure allows for direct investment in for-profit companies and political lobbying and donations, as well as philanthropic giving. It also limits the extent to which the group is legally required to publicly report on its activities.

So far, The Gates Foundation has given $300 million of support to promote and develop personalized learning – with more likely to come.

Now the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is adding “99 percent of their Facebook shares—worth an estimated $45 billion” to the mix.

This is enough money to overpower and colonize any system, democratic or private.

Add to that the shielding power of an LLC designation – which will keep the public’s prying eyes far away from the inner working this partnership – and we’re suddenly facing a serious democratic crisis in the fight to save public education.

No wonder Bill Gates prefers half-truths and lies of omission rather than full disclosure when it comes to Summit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and personalized learning.

-Carolyn Leith

 

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.