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

corporate capitolism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dintersmith NEA friend of Education

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

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

How does that challenge the current power structure?

It doesn’t.

-Carolyn Leith

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Stealing Vocational Dreams: Pushing Career Education Too Soon

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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To some extent it is necessary to forecast the kinds of jobs that will be available to students when they graduate. Businesses have every right to express their needs.

But steering children into those jobs, especially at an early age, is more about business than about children.

If you have a middle school student, chances are the school they’re attending is already discussing career options. While there’s always been a place at this age for discussing a child’s hopes and dreams for the future, the push to make career-ready children is creating a lot of anxiety among parents.

Much of this involves placing students online and gathering personal information through surveys used to align student interests to future jobs.

How must children feel when they are coerced into determining what they want to do with their lives when they are only in eighth grade, or when their reading difficulties already prevent them from moving into a career path they find interesting?

This is tracking at an early age.

One study found that middle school students (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) spent an average of one year studying the introduction into career-technical education (CTE). How time consuming.

Having taught the same 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in a resource class, and also high school students, I know that academic and social differences between the same sixth and eighth grader can be profound!

High school students change too. By a student’s junior and senior year, students are somewhat more settled on a college and career direction. This seems like a good time to discuss careers and interests.

Most children, aside from a few prodigies, dream about and change their minds about a career. And some students don’t proclaim a college major until they are well into their college career!

So why is there such a push to stamp a career on a student before they’re ready?

Policymakers and school reformers claim they’re worried about the future economy, and schools must prepare students for future jobs. This hyperbole has been running rampant in the school reform arena for years.

Much of this hyper-focus on college and career readiness was ushered in with the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments.

There’s no shortage of career online testing companies that will gather personal information about children. Naviance is an example of a software provider to middle and high school which collects personal data about students, including student values. This data collection is especially worrisome.

Along with assessment, nonprofit programs have popped up to match middle school students to businesses.

While discussing middle school students and career education, Education Week showcased a program called Spark. The chief executive officer, Jason A. Cascarino, stated, Nobody knows what to do with these kids. Developmentally, it’s a challenging age. Middle school was also described in another Education Week report as The Forgotten Middle. The Bermuda Triangle. The Black Box. The Educational Weak Link.

These perceptions of middle school are not entirely true. Middle school is a challenging age, but well-prepared teachers who study preadolescent development and work with students, have succeeded at identifying student interests.

If preteens become bored and disengaged, it’s because school reform measures have destroyed the ability of educators to provide a good foundation in coursework with access to a whole curriculum. Teachers may lack resources and good preparation.

There’s possibly been too much focus on career planning and testing.

Exposure to language arts, math, social studies, science, music, and art still make the most sense for all students at this age. Middle school students also require plenty of socialization opportunities through engaging extracurricular activities.

Any kind of apprenticeship opportunities might be best offered in the summer. Students at this age like to discuss and explore careers. But businesses should back off.

To some extent it is necessary to forecast the kinds of jobs that will be available to students when they graduate. Businesses have every right to express their needs.

But steering children into those jobs, especially at an early age, is more about business than about children.

Elementary schools even obsess about career preparation. Children in kindergarten are assessed to determine a career route!

All of this is foreboding. It shouldn’t be permitted, certainly not at such a young age when students are constantly changing and reinventing themselves.

The seriousness of a career choice cannot be underestimated. But forcing this commitment onto middle school students goes way beyond what is ethically appropriate.

-Nancy Bailey

References

Caralee J. Adams. “Career Prep Moves Into Middle Schools.” Education Week. July 15, 2015.

Caralee Adams. “Focus on Middle Grades Seen as Pivotal to High School and College Readiness. ” Education Week. December 5, 2014.

Kids, Welcome to the Machine: Suzi LeVine & Career Connected Learning

Dollarocracy

Editor’s Note: On May 8, 2018, Washington State’s Governor, Jay Inslee, appointed Suzi LeVine as the next commissioner of  the state’s Employment Security Department.

Suzi LeVine is a brand evangelical for career connected learning which is all about catering to the needs of business, by creating “an employer driven system of education and training.” This is bad news for kids and schools.  -Carolyn Leith

BIG MONEY, CAREER CONNECTED LEARNING & PLAYING PARTISAN POLITICS IN WASHINGTON STATE.

…And so, what can companies do together to create an environment where you can train and grow your talent pool instead of stealing talent from each other? Why not grow the pie instead of eating each other’s pieces of pie?”

In a simpler time, big time money bundlers in Presidential elections were satisfied with a plum ambassadorship.

Not anymore.

Meet Suzi LeVine, former Swiss Ambassador, local money bundler for the Democratic party, ex-Microsoft executive, and current thought leader and brand evangelical for career connected learning.

Ms. LeVine raised $500,000 for President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. In total, LeVine raised 1.3 million in support of Obama’s Presidential ambitions.

Suzi LeVine, Brand Evangelical for Career Connected Learning

In GeekWire, LeVine explains how her corporate background in tech helped her grasp the value of Switzerland’s apprenticeship program – an education system which helps companies train and grow their own human capital. LeVine sees this as a big plus because it keeps companies from competing – or poaching – each other’s talent.

“The work that I did at Microsoft around education and seeing education models around the globe gave me an appreciation for project-based learning and 21st-century skills,” LeVine said. “And seeing how in Switzerland apprenticeship is embraced, and 2/3 of young people go to apprenticeship and not high school, is amazing. But I can appreciate it in a way because of my tech background. What I can also appreciate is that these individuals have a path, not an end. They can go from their apprenticeship to university and beyond if they choose.”

In the U.S., LeVine believes we are at the beginning of an “apprenticeship renaissance,” where people realize that the path to success has many beginnings  that don’t all start with a college degree.

“I look at the tech industry here. And we are so hungry for software developers and so hungry for IT professionals,” LeVine said. “How many of those people who you know who are software developers today would have loved to have started younger because they knew exactly what they wanted to do, and really they would have preferred to go and start working and earning a paycheck and having this experience? And so, what can companies do together to create an environment where you can train and grow your talent pool instead of stealing talent from each other? Why not grow the pie instead of eating each other’s pieces of pie?”

Since returning to the United States, LeVine has been on a mission to introduce career connected learning in Washington State. Here’s notes from her presentation to the STEM Education Innovation Alliance meeting on March 1, 2017.

Youth Apprenticeships and Career Connected Learning

Learning from the Swiss about Apprenticeship

Suzi LeVine, Former United States Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein

Eric LeVine, CEO, CellarTracker

-Vision for 20 years of 100% lifelong career readiness

-Washington state and Switzerland are similar in size of population, gross domestic product, political structure – with slight differences in hydroelectric power energy mix and key industries

-Unemployment in Switzerland is 3% and is lower for youth, in part due to apprenticeships. Two-thirds of students go into apprenticeship training instead of 10th grade. Companies start apprenticeships with students after the 9th grade, and companies start recruiting while students are in the 7th grade.

  • 3-4 days in job and 1-2 days in academic setting
  • Apprenticeships are 3-4 years
  • Project-based learning with compensation
  • Students work with adults, get a paycheck, develop products and are part of the workforce

-Keys to success for the Swiss:

  • Diversity: Have 250 federally registered apprenticeships, from white to blue collar
  • Permeability: Can do vocational track or more academic – permeability – lots of on- and off-ramps
  • Certification for transferable “currency”
  • Prestige – many CEOs started as an apprentice – not “those kids” but “all kids”

-Business must lead on this – and business benefits greatly from it

  • Collaborate to reach critical mass; contribute majority; participate in associations
  • Receive portion of investment returns; evaluate trainees and gain skilled workers
  • Investing into each apprentice works as all businesses participate

-Currently 5.8 million jobs unfilled in the US

Several Swiss businesses with facilities in US started apprenticeship programs in collaboration with community colleges

Established Swiss-US agreements and partnered with 30 companies that committed to bringing this model to US

-Typically post-high school in partnership with the community and technical colleges

-Some are returnees or re-trainees to update skills

Colorado is first state with Swiss model

  • Started with a boot camp in June, 2015 that inspired a key US business leader.
  • Key business leaders put together a delegation to go to Switzerland in January 2016 (Colorado’s Governor, CEOs, heads of public schools, labor, and philanthropists)
  • Set up nonprofit organization CareerWise Colorado via public/private partnership.
  • LinkedIn Youth Apprenticeship Marketplace – launching a pilot project with 50 companies who will offer over 175 apprenticeships
  • Starts in 11th and 12th grade
  • Goal to grow to 20,000 apprenticeships by 2027 (10% of high school juniors and seniors in Colorado)
  • Gives Colorado a competitive advantage in its workforce development opportunities; China and Brazil looking at model

-How do we mobilize in Washington state?

  • If you suspend reality and apply the Swiss investment and savings metrics to Washington, because an apprentice in Switzerland is 40% cheaper than a high school student and because Swiss companies invest 1% of GDP into apprenticeship, Washington could save an estimated $668 million if two thirds of all high school students participated, with an investment of $4.2 billion (1% of GDP) in apprenticeships by companies in Washington state.

Some benefits:

  • Washingtonians being lifelong career ready
  • Washington state becomes first choice for business investment because of quality and quantity of labor workforce
  • Reduced recruitment costs to businesses because local talent is now homegrown
  • Decline in crime rates as people are skilled and employed

-Questions

*What are fixed costs and long-term return on investment? loyalty – one example 50-80% retention after apprentices leave (civil service requirement); going into system but not necessarily in one place – salary to apprentice; mentorship; training

*Colorado provided $11 M as seed funding (combo – national philanthropies, local philanthropies, State & DOD).

*In North Carolina group established “Apprenticeship 2000” – state just committed to fund community college aspect for registered apprenticeships

*LeVine suggests not about tax credits to companies but about education credits via funding to institutions – US Department of Labor has site with examples

*Regarding adult reengagement – can do apprenticeships through age 48 in Switzerland though emphasis is on youth apprenticeship – relevance in US for older apprentices is greater. Each state has career advising offices.

*Biggest hurdles are credential consistency; prestige; creating full ecosystem for permeability; critical mass; need more than one business to avoid poaching

Kids as Capital and School as a Workforce Development Pipeline

As mentioned in LeVine’s presentation above, the implementation of the Swiss Model is further along in Colorado. In the document Swiss Apprentice Model: An Employer Driven System of Education & Training – a title which is telling enough – one slide gushes about the many ways employers receive a return on their investment.

Colorado ROI on Swiss Model

I hope both of these examples make this point crystal clear: LeVine’s proposed rearrangement of our public education system prioritizes the needs of Corporate America over students.

In fact, students are almost an afterthought, a raw material to be sorted and developed based on how much future value they can create for their employer.

This isn’t about creating jobs and opportunities for kids – that’s the sales pitch.

What career connected learning is really about is catering to the needs of business, by creating “an employer driven system of education and training.”

Remember: “Business must lead on this – and business benefits greatly from it.”

Could this Be an End to the McCleary Debate?

The other critical detail of the Swiss Apprentice Model is the emphasis on the savings created when 2/3 of students choose an apprenticeship program over high school.

In LeVine’s talk she estimates a savings of $668 million if companies in Washington pitched in an initial investment of $4.2 billion.

…Washington could save an estimated $668 million if two thirds of all high school students participated, with an investment of $4.2 billion (1% of GDP) in apprenticeships by companies in Washington state.

Where are these savings coming from?

I’m guessing money will be freed-up by closing and/or consolidating public high schools – but I don’t know for sure.

Here’s my thinking: If 2/3 of eligible students aren’t attending traditional high schools, it will be very difficult to justify keeping them open.

Remember: LeVine’s plan only has kids spending 1-2 days a week in an academic setting – which doesn’t necessarily mean at school – it could be defined as visiting an off-site drop-in center run by a community partner or having kids log-in to software from home.

LeVine also loves the idea of project based-learning. So, maybe public high schools will be replaced with charter schools like the one operated by Big Picture Learning in partnership with the Highline School District.

In any of these scenarios, after kids, teachers will be the biggest losers.

I’m anticipating – once the downsizing begins – teachers: whose salaries are one of the bigger costs of running a school – will be laid off, replaced with non-certificated staff such as AmeriCorps or TFA, whose job will be to monitor kids’ progress on educational software.

If my hunch is correct, this would be two huge wins for the Legislature.

First, they don’t have to find any new revenue to finish the job on McCleary. Plus, laying off teachers can’t help but hurt the teacher’s union.

Win. Win.

Is Anyone Protecting the Interest of Students?

Given the major disruption career connected learning would bring to our public education system, who is looking out for the kids?

Initially, I had hoped one state agency – the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction – would stand up for students’ right to a high school education steeped in the liberal arts.

You know, the type of education the kids of rich people get – what Bill Gates and his kids experienced while going to Lakeside or what Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children were exposed to at the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Schools where kids are taught to be leaders, not treated as cogs to be retrofitted to suite the corporate machine.

Unfortunately, my hope was quickly disproven.

In fact, Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, was at the same STEM Education Innovation Alliance meeting as LeVine and had this to say about career connected learning:

What are incentives for districts and how do we reward besides on-time graduation – do we have the courage to reward for technical pathways?  The framework needs to land on a policy platform that will work

I take this to mean that Reykdal is already working on how to sell career connected pathways to school districts.

So much for looking out for students.

-Carolyn Leith

Debunking Job Training as the “Solution” to the Supposed Skills Gap: Three Things You Need to Know

job training office_3

Anyone who’s worked in the “real world” knows and has internalized the fact that the boss doesn’t value you for your skill set, but rather for your willingness to take and follow orders  — with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

As the Business Roundtable continues its successful campaign to convert public schools into a pipeline designed to create a compliant workforce, its critical to look back and trace the history of the ideas being promoted by business as solutions to society’s economic problems.

Job training is THE business preferred answer to unemployment and poverty. Best of all, it’s an idea even progressives can embrace.

It may come as a surprise, but the champion of the job training solution was President Reagan, who held up the want ads from the newspaper and famously declared there were plenty of well paying jobs. The problem, as framed by Reagan, was there just weren’t enough qualified individuals to fill these positions.

What on the surface appeared to be a political stunt masked a shrewd and radical re-definition of the government’s role in employment policy. In short, the government would no longer be the employer of last resort, reversing FDR’s and the New Deal Democrats approach to unemployment.

This had grave implications for America’s workers. First, by eliminating the federal government from competing with and driving up wages in the private sector. Second, by shifting the political responsibility for unemployment and poverty from the job market to the the workers themselves.

Here’s the first take away lesson on job training:

  • Job Training shifts responsibility for poverty from the job market to the individual failing of workers. The argument changes from “there aren’t enough living wages jobs” to “there’s plenty of jobs but workers are too lazy, stupid, or unskilled to qualify.”

What’s the most in demand skill employers just can’t seem to find?

The answer depends on when you asked the question. In the 1980’s it was computer skills, in the 90’s the ability to work in teams, and in the early 2000’s being a creative knowledge worker. Of course, today its all about STEM.

Through all of the years of hype over the next big thing, one in demand skill remained consistent: obedience.

Of course, we already knew that.

Anyone who’s worked in the “real world” knows and has internalized the fact that the boss doesn’t value you for your skill set, but rather for your willingness to take and follow orders  — with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

The second take away lesson on job training:

  • The most in demand skill for employers is obedience, which gets the 21st Century makeover of “conscientiousness”, “dependability”, and “motivation”. This makes sense because maximum profit is exacted when workers not only obediently do the work, but do the task exactly in the way the employer demands

So, what is a proven way to increase wages and benefits for workers, especially for women and people of color?

Union membership.

Don’t believe me? Look it up. It’s called the union premium. This is also the reason why business funded think tanks have spent so much time trying to discredit unions.

Why are unions considered so dangerous by business?

Because they’re a political solution to an economic problem. If people understand they can organize and fight for better wages, jobs, and working conditions, business doesn’t get to dictate the terms of the debate and is no longer allowed to become the self-appointed expert on all things related to employment.

What’s the third take away lesson?

When it comes to wages and benefits, union membership beats job training by a mile.

Imagine that.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

Competency Based Education (CBE) and ALEC Preparing Students for the Gig Economy

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

job training office_3

If the history of public schools in America is the history of labor production and preparation (i.e. 19th c factory model schools for a factory society) it holds true that we are now trying to create gig-driven schools to prepare children for the new gig economy. Just as factory model schools prepared children for factory jobs, it’s no coincidence that the CBE framework is a “mini me” of the gig economy itself. And the CBE framework was developed and is funded by the same corporations and organizations like iNACOL and ALEC who are the profiteers of a new gig economy. Just think of how the gig-driven culture reflects the long awaited goals of ALEC model legislation which dismantle collective bargaining, living wages, and other labor rights.

Pearson, of course, was ahead of the pack as usual… developing a school- to -labor pipeline that suites the corporate masters.  As this blog explains, Competency Based Education becomes the framework for “badges” instead of credit hours and prepares students for career and college which is code for the new “gig” economy. According to Pearson: “Alternative learning credentials including college coursework, self-directed learning experiences, career training, and continuing education programs can play a powerful role in defining and articulating solo workers’ capabilities. Already badges that represent these credentials are serving an important purpose in fostering trust between solo workers, employers, and project teams because they convey skill transparency and deliver seamless verification of capabilities.”

I could -at this point -just say ’nuff said.

But I won’t.

CBE 101

First, a brief background: Competency based education (or CBE) has been a rapidly developing alternative to traditional public education. While proponents tout it as “disruptive innovation” critics examine how disruptive translates into “dismantle”, meaning that CBE is a system by which public schools can, and will be, dismantled. This is not ancillary. It was designed to create a new privately-run profiteering model by which education can be delivered to “the masses.” Think: Outsourcing.

CBE delivers curriculum, instruction and assessments through online programming owned by third-party (corporate) organizations that are paid for with your tax dollars. Proponents of CBE use catchy language like “personalized” and “individualized” learning. Translation? Children seated alone interfacing with a computer, which monitors and adjusts the materials according to the inputs keyed in by the child. See Newton’s Datapalooza here.

So gone are the days of “credit hours” earned by spending a certain amount of hours in a classroom. Instead, children move at an individual pace detached from the larger group or collaborative learning experiences which CBE pimps try to warn us are ‘keeping certain kids back” from their “true potential.”

The immediate advantages of control and profits for the neoliberal privatizers is quite evident and well documented. See Talmage for more on CBE history and my own summary here.

Let’s summarize what the outcomes of the CBE paradigm of public schools will be:

  • Disenfranchises teachers who are replaced by computers and third party providers (now LEA’s with access to student private data). This erodes a unionized teacher workforce.
  • Eliminates collaborative interactive learning activities in favor of individualized one-on-one learning with a computer program
  • Course credit will no longer be counted by credit hour but by completion of a series of exercises, tasks or data driven curriculum which provides the student with a “badge of completion” (see Pearson).  The amount of time spent in a classroom experience is no longer a determining factor in evaluating success.

In their own words, The Business Round Table explained how Career and College ready objectives are designed in the likeness of their corporate sponsors. The Common Employability Skills paper states: “Educators and other learning providers will also have an industry-defined road map for what foundational skills to teach, providing individuals the added benefit of being able to evaluate educational programs to ensure they will in fact learn skills that employers value.”

Let me restate that again: “EDUCATORS WILL HAVE AN INDUSTRY-DEFINED ROAD MAP.”

The industry road map today in 2016 leads to a gig economy.

What’s a Gig?

Meet the gig economy. What exactly is a gig economy? It’s what CBE becomes when it’s all grown up and graduated. According to gig economy critic Stephen Hill: The gig economy is “….a weird yet historic mash-up of Silicon Valley technology and Wall Street greed”  which is being thrust  “upon us (as) the latest economic fraud: the so-called ‘sharing economy,’ with companies like Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit allegedly ‘liberating workers’ ’to become ‘independent’ and ‘their own CEOs,’ hiring themselves out for ever-smaller jobs and wages while the companies profit”.

If the history of public schools in America is the history of labor production and preparation (i.e. 19th c factory model schools for a factory society) it holds true that we are now trying to create gig-driven schools to prepare children for the new gig economy. Just as factory model schools prepared children for factory jobs, it’s no coincidence that the CBE framework is a “mini me” of the gig economy itself. And the CBE framework was developed and is funded by the same corporations and organizations like iNACOL and ALEC who are the profiteers of a new gig economy. Just think of how the gig-driven culture reflects the long awaited goals of ALEC model legislation which dismantle collective bargaining, living wages, and other labor rights.

ALEC.png

In 2015 the ALEC Commerce Task Force “Celebrated the ‘Gig’ Economy” at an event in which they held workshops on the “Gig Economy” and “What’s Next for the ‘Sharing Economy’–A Discussion on Principles on Best Practices,” which will likely lay the groundwork for further efforts to undermine worker protections. Naturally, their model bills sponsored by the Education task force members directly intersect with the model bills put forth by the Labor task force as well.

In response to this 2015 event, ALEC bragged in their own website that, “With new policies ranging from reducing the income tax burden, to deregulating the ‘gig economy,’ to pension reform, good news in Arizona is plentiful.”

The National Network of Business and Industry Associations, calls itself “an innovative partnership that joins 25 organizations focused on better connecting learning and work.” Their goal is to develop tools that:

  • articulate the common employability skills required for workers across all career fields;
  • rethink how various professional organizations build credentials to help workers move easily between professions (think: Open Badges); and
  • increase the use of competency-based hiring practices across the entire economy (Pay for Success).

One can begin to see how easily CBE fits in with the BRT goal in their Common Employability Skills document where they write: “This model can take its place as the foundation for all industries to map skill requirements to credentials and to career paths.” They add that educational institutions will be EVALUATED based on their ability “to ensure students will in fact learn skills that employers value.”

So let’s summarize ….

In a gig economy, gone is the routine 9-5 work hours by which traditional salaries are determined. Instead gig jobs are paid by the completion of tasks regardless of the hours.

In a freelance world, where jobs are merely a series of gigs strung together, the new ESSA “pay for success”  framework fits right in.

Pay for Success is a gig framework for education.

So when jobs are free lanced there is little opportunity for a unionized workforce and there are no benefits (thanks ALEC). There is no collective work space or shared workforce experience. Most work can be done independently, online, and from home. After 12 years of schooling under this framework the future workers of America will be primed to fall right into their pre-ordained place in the gig economy, where they will now feel right at home.

Just as “manufacturing companies and Silicon Valley have begun increasingly to rely on private contractors to hire temps and freelancers” (Hill, 2016)  so have public schools, with the advent of the new ESSA bill, increasingly use private contractors to provide public education (temps being TFA and freelancers represented by Pearson, K12 Inc and the like).

Gig proponents might call it “independent” labor which “frees” workers from the messy attachment to brick and mortar workplaces and money tied to work hours. It’s the mirror image of CBE proponents advocating for students to be “freed” of credit hours tied to hours spent in brick and mortar classrooms.

The gig advocates mantra of “We don’t have to hold on to the model of the 40-hour workweek for a corporate employer” eerily reflects the CBE reform mantra of “students should not have to hold on to credit hours for a traditional model of education.”

Just as CBE has become the bastion of cost-effectiveness in education for profits to CBE delivery systems in a world of austerity (neoliberal capitalism on steroids), so the gig economy streamlines the costs to corporations- who can now eliminate messy expenses like your 401k, health insurance, unemployment insurance.

This project-to-project freelance society (as opposed to long term consistent employment within one organization) will not trouble a student who has freelanced their way through school, from Open badge to Open badge, with no sense of collaborative or collective sensibilities in their learning experiences, or familiarity with relationships between time and place representative of stability or community. In this freelance society and freelance education system, people cobble together a string of independent “gigs” in which they work independently at their own pace. Gig workers are never really “on the clock” because they are never “really off the clock” either–just as CBE students are never focused on time in learning, but are focused on pushing through each module of the CBE framework in order to accumulate “credits” as quickly as possible.

Another way of conceiving of Pay for Success is the “Learning is Earning” framework, which outlines how CBE and the gig economy work together.

According to Pearson:

“A decade from now, when solo workers comprise the majority of the American workforce, I think it will be common for all of us to point to digital credentials and badges as a better way to talk about our own expertise and the know-how of others. Trusted digital credentials will strengthen the new economy by removing some of the high-frequency friction and inefficiencies of project work. Digital, verifiable credentials owned by each worker will ease employer uncertainty while forming project teams. And at the same time, badges will help each of us to identify relevant new work projects and navigate toward just-in-time (aka “gig”) learning opportunities.

Also read about LinkedIn, CBE and gig economics here.

Gig employers and CBE policy makers tout this  as “freedom”—freedom from stability and security, for sure.

Nunberg, in his NPR commentary suggests, “If “gig” suggests the independence you get when you’re not tied down to a steady lifetime job, then just think of the freedom we’ll all enjoy when the traditional job is consigned to the scrap heap of history, and the economy is just gigs all the way down.”  I fear that public education, no longer tied down to time or place, like stable jobs, will too be consigned to the scrap heap of history.

Ted Dintersmith is not here to save neighborhood schools!

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Dintersmith your schools are obsolete

Dintersmith knows good storytelling has the power to sway people’s opinions and has the money to buy the best messaging. His first outing was “Most Likely To Succeed” a documentary screened nationally with the goal of initiating discussions about disruptive education.

No, Ted Dintersmith is not coming to save our schools, because to him they’re obsolete. Last week Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post pitched Ted Dintersmith’s new book “What School Could Be,” and many ed-activists ate it up. I thought by now a “philanthropic” white male technocrat investor with absolutely no teaching experience coming on the scene to tell us how to fix our broken-on-purpose schools would be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Dintersmith might say what we want to hear. His pitch might validate our concerns about punitive high-stakes standardized testing and the psychological damage caused by developmentally inappropriate education standards. He may criticize AP classes and the College Board; but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Consider his quote from a recent EdSurge article “the focus should really be on funding schools that produce future entrepreneurial adults, instead of entrepreneurial adults today funding obsolete schools.”

Dintersmith’s is the face of Ed Reform 2.0. The new paradigm for education he envisions replacing our “obsolete” schools with is one where:

Competency or mastery-based education is the norm.

Skills are uploaded to online portfolios via apps.

Mindsets and habits of work are tracked.

Children teach one another.

Students are expected to be “in charge” of their learning.

Teachers become “mentors;” or are even replaced by volunteers.

Out of school internships are prioritized.

Instruction may be outsourced to community or work-based organizations.

Students are expected to have a passion and a pathway to the workforce.

With such a model, bricks and mortar schools and certified teachers could wither away and eventually disappear.

I had exchanges this week where I was told that everything in the Strauss piece sounded so good. It couldn’t be argued with, even though the person delivering the message hailed from one of the largest early-stage tech venture capital firms in the world. We should simply accept what he said at face value and be grateful that someone was saying it. I expect many teachers reading the article wanted to believe they would be the ones leading the project-based learning Dintersmith pitched; that one day they would be given back their autonomy and allowed to manage their classrooms again. If they had paused to consider how the venture capital crowd is reimaging education, surely they would have soon realized those were unrealistic expectations. The Dintersmith version of “personalized” learning is about disempowering teachers. Those projects will happen “Out of School Time” and be run by cyber-education companies or gig-economy precarious labor in the learning ecosystems envisioned by Knowledgeworks.

Dintersmith knows good storytelling has the power to sway people’s opinions. He founded and funded the Catalyst Initiative with Sundance to match “forward-thinking financiers” with social justice film projects. He has the money to buy the best messaging. His first outing was “Most Likely To Succeed” a documentary screened nationally with the goal of initiating discussions about disruptive education. Many many ed-activists took the bait and screened the film not understanding it was a Trojan horse for Ed Reform 2.0. The blogger Edu-Shyster interviewed him at the time, and Diane Ravitch shared Berkshire’s post noting, “This is good news! A venture capitalist has seen the light.” At least one thoughtful commenter, Dienne, saw through the sham.

Dienne - Dintersmith

It is interesting that in her piece Strauss attempted to set up Dintersmith as a foil to Gates, a kind of “good philanthropist” “bad philanthropist” dynamic. In fact, they are both on the same team. Case in point: High Tech High, which was a focal point of Dintersmith’s film, is a charter school based in San Diego that was provided seed money in 2000 by the Gates Foundation to the tune of $9.3 million.

Gates High Tech High

A recent feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education ran the headline “A Venture Capitalist Uses Philanthropy to Reimagine Education,” while a Forbes article from last November proclaimed “How A Former VC Wants to Disrupt American Education.” Are you seeing the red flags now? Dintersmith made his fortune at Charles River Ventures, where he is listed as partner emeritus. The company invests in technology startups. A few are education-related, like Udacity, but more involve AI, robotics, cloud-based computing, biotech, and automation. You can review the company’s extensive holdings in Crunchbase. CSV’s Boston office is located at One Broadway in Cambridge, a stone’s throw from MIT’s Sloan School of Management where Jean Hammond, founder of the Learn Launch ed-tech accelerator, sits on the board. They also have offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

CRV

CRV Other team members

Dintersmith likes to portray himself as just an average person who happens have the wherewithal to take two years off to tour, meeting with billionaires, politicians, teachers and students to reimagine public education. Though retired, he is cultivated as a thought leader in tech and innovation. The year he launched his film, Dintersmith met with Gates and Global Education Futures Forum affiliate Tom Vander Ark in Seattle to discuss impact investments in education.

The 2015 gathering, hosted by Vulcan Inc. included representatives from Digital Promise, the Clayton Christensen Institute, and Dreambox. Vulcan Inc. is the “engine behind Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen’s network of organizations and initiatives.” Mr. Allen has his hands in many enterprises. In addition to being an incubator for innovative technologies, the firm manages extensive real estate holdings, ownership of the Seattle Seahawks, and the Allen Brain Science Institute. A number of guests at the Vander Ark/Vulcan meet-up created videos to promote impact investing in education. This is Dintersmith’s clip.

Dintersmith - Getting Smart

That conference resulted in the 37-page report “25 Impact Opportunities in K12 U.S. Education.” It references Dintersmith’s film and can be read here. I have found no evidence that Charles River Ventures is directly involved in Pay for Success or Social Impact Bonds. They are, however, based in Cambridge, the epicenter of the innovative finance sector, and make investments in the types of technological “solutions” that will enable the data-collection and impact evaluation of outcomes-based contracts.

In November of 2015, Dintersmith was referenced in a White House press release detailing the launch of the Obama administration’s Next Generation High School initiative. The president’s call to action specified a more “personalized,” “real world” approach to learning that, of course, emphasized STEM. Dintersmith, along with Ed Reform 2.0 funders like the Nellie Mae, Grable, and Overdeck Foundations, teamed up with Hewlett Packard to create a MOOC that would promote a “deeper learning” approach to education to a thousand school leaders nationwide. Their “School ReTool” effort is housed within IDEO, a global design and innovation company focused on “social impact.” Among IDEO’s partners are the Gates, Rockefeller and Bezos Family Foundations. Richard Culatta, Director of Educational Technology under Obama, former Chief Innovation Office for the State of Rhode Island and now CEO of the International Society of Technology in Education, is currently a design resident for IDEO.

School ReTool

In recent years Mr. Dintersmith has invested some of his fortune in Big Picture Learning, a school model where students pursue work-based placements for much of their school week. The organization based in Rhode Island launched in 1995, and with considerable support from the Gates Foundation expanded to a network of 65 schools operating in the United States, Canada, Belize, the Netherlands, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. Work-based internships are a key element of their program, and Dintersmith put $100,000 towards Big Picture’s capacity to share the ImBlaze internship coordinator and data collection platform app created by Salesforce with other education service providers. The platform tracks academic and social-emotional competencies students demonstrate on the job.

Salesforce - Dintersmith - Big Picture Learning

Dintersmith also financially backed the Mastery Transcript Consortium, a collective of private schools and non-profit groups that hopes to replace traditional transcripts based on graded academic content with mastery-based learning standards and micro-credentials. The plan is to leverage the reputation of elite private schools to fundamentally restructure the college admissions process for all high school students.

Dintersmith - Big Picture Learning

Members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium’s Advisory Council include:

Andrew Calkins of Next Generation Learning Challenges

Auditi Chakravarty of the College Board

Virgel Hammonds of Knowledgeworks

Emmi Harward of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools

Mark Milliron of Civitas Learning

Kaleb Rashad of High Tech High

Todd Rose of the Mind, Brain and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

David Ruff of the Great Schools Partnership

Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks

Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart

Connie Yowell of Collective Shift (Cities of LRNG, formerly of MacArthur Foundation)

Knowing the background of these individuals it seems clear they are laying the groundwork for a system along the lines of Edublocks described in Institute for the Future’s video “Learning is Earning.” This is a must-watch if you have not yet seen it.

Competency-based education is a means by which reformers and investors intend to move instruction outside schools, away from certified teachers, and into cloud-based platforms and community and work-based learning programs. It’s about making education subservient to the needs of industry. It will erode the centrality of the student-teacher relationship and cement public education as a profit-center for the technology and social impact investors. That is what Mr. Dintersmith is selling. While I appreciate many teachers want to believe the best about people, I need for you all to start to be more skeptical and militant in pushing back against this transformation. He is giving you a sugar-coated poison pill. They know how to play you, and they are doing it. Let’s turn this around, shall we?
-Alison McDowell

Building Sanctuary: A Dystopian Future We Must Fight To Avoid

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Building Sanctuary: Part One

The future is uncertain and unlikely to play out exactly as described. Nevertheless, we must begin to comprehend how technological developments combined with concentrated power and extreme income inequality are leading us to increasingly automated forms of oppression. My hope is that communities will begin to incorporate an understanding of this bigger picture into resistance efforts for public education and beyond. Let us join together, embracing our humanity, to fight the forces that would bring us to “lockdown.” How can we preserve our lives and those of our loved ones outside the data stream? How can we nurture community in a world where alienation is becoming normalized? What do we owe one another? What are we willing to risk? I have divided my story into seven parts. I hope you’ll read along and consider sharing it with others.

The next wave of education reform is one part of a much larger societal shift that hinges on the use of Big Data, predictive analytics, and digital profiling to control populations in a world of growing economic uncertainty and unrest. What follows is a speculative dystopian scenario, a world that could very well emerge from systems being put in place right now. It centers on two sisters, Cam and Li, who live in a near future New York where authorities have come to view human life primarily as a source from which to extract financial profit. Many elements of the story read like science fiction, but they are not. I’ve included links to sources at the end of each post so you can explore this reality for yourself.

The future is uncertain and unlikely to play out exactly as described. Nevertheless, we must begin to comprehend how technological developments combined with concentrated power and extreme income inequality are leading us to increasingly automated forms of oppression. My hope is that communities will begin to incorporate an understanding of this bigger picture into resistance efforts for public education and beyond. Let us join together, embracing our humanity, to fight the forces that would bring us to “lockdown.” How can we preserve our lives and those of our loved ones outside the data stream? How can we nurture community in a world where alienation is becoming normalized? What do we owe one another? What are we willing to risk? I have divided my story into seven parts. I hope you’ll read along and consider sharing it with others.

Building Sanctuary

Part 1: Plugging In

The year is 2040. Cam is thirteen. She should be an eighth grader, but after the government dismantled schools, lifelong online learning replaced classrooms and grades. Now she’s just another free-range kid with a tablet, username and login. She dreams of building an e-portfolio that’s competitive enough to land a job that will keep her out of the state’s virtual reality (VR) warehouses.

In a world increasingly without work, many people opt to go the avatar route. Plug in and you can curate your own online brand; refine the essence of your character into a parallel, gamified version of yourself and craft your own reality. Digital currency buys so much more in the virtual world that people choose to spend most of their waking hours there. It kills their intellect, but at least keeps them from overdosing in parks, libraries and cars, as was the case at the height of the opioid epidemic. Virtual reality is a socially acceptable addiction. Less deadly than heroin, it keeps bodies intact for continued data extraction.

It was ultimately fortuitous that the retail apocalypse shuttered so many shopping centers. Investors seized the opportunity to transform them into networks of virtual reality warehouses with connected dormitories for those who had been evicted or lost homes. Capitalism had made the leap to the digital realm the decade prior. It seemed a logical next step. Some with insider knowledge anticipated the Bitcoin crash and scrambled to invest their phantom wealth in virtual real estate on the Blockchain.

Those in the know who shifted their investments made a handsome profit, but many more who did not change course lost it all. As poverty decimated the middle class, authorities rolled out a basic income program in digital currency called Global Coin. Everyone’s Global Coin account was linked to a unique digital identity through a system known as Citi Badge. The Citi Badge system relies on biometric information to confirm validity of payments and other transactions associated with a particular citizen.

For several decades behaviorists had been using popular world-building games and classroom management apps to condition children to change their purchase behaviors. Rather than actual physical goods, which were becoming harder to procure as the world’s resources were depleted, children were encouraged to embrace digital facsimiles. Who needed a closet full of real clothes when you could acquire a trendy wardrobe for your avatar at a much lower price?

Schools eagerly embraced the concept, encouraging kids who couldn’t yet read to code and program. In the minds of administrators, as long as students had a square on which to plant their avatar, they would have the freedom to choose their own version of the world, which they felt was a kindness. The real one was becoming more toxic by the day. Despite the initial novelty, there was a growing sense of unease and pushback, especially among the youth. They saw platform life for what it was, a hollow shell and a means to disempower their generation. In response they began adopting creative strategies to compromise the system by inputting bad data and refusing to comply.

There are some luxurious VR warehouses outfitted with ergonomic fixtures of the finest materials and lounges where people still have the opportunity to talk face-to-face and re-anchor themselves in reality. Most, however, are just sheds of dinged-up headsets and grimy mats. Once immersed in their virtual worlds, people don’t much notice, but it does take a toll on the body. After months of immersion people begin to lose muscle mass and often develop bedsores and joint pain from lack of movement.

Daily retinal scans are required for admission to the VR warehouses. Debt non-payment, dissident behavior, mental instability or a host of other qualifiers can shut down your Citi Badge, which permanently cuts you off from the digital economy and all services, including VR and shelter. For those who’ve been off-lined, access to even the grimmest VR warehouse is prohibited.

Those pushed off-line attempt to scavenge a living from the streets, but since much of the population has shifted to digital life in the warehouses, food is increasingly hard to find. Managers of the VR dormitories use tracking sensors to keep close tabs on nutrition shipments, and nothing goes to waste. Early on the Solutionists, the authoritarian technocratic governance council that took over after the lockdown, used robotic patrols to round up off-liners and put them in work camps. With less and less physical work to be done, the authorities were disinclined to continue supplying even basic provisions and shelter and eventually shut down the camps and left the off-liners to fend for themselves.

Drones with facial recognition quickly take care of the ones who pose a true threat, and having starving citizens in public view tends to keep everyone else in line. People prefer to distance themselves from this reality. The uncomfortable presence of the off-liners leads most strivers, those trying to work within the constraints of the system, to stay indoors as much as possible. No one wants to compromise their citizen score by lending aid to those in distress, and avoiding off-liners entirely has become almost impossible.

These days many kids get plugged in early, especially if they are black or brown or poor or an immigrant or have special needs. If the metrics indicate their human capital doesn’t justify continued investment, they’re culled from the education rolls. For every thirty children receiving online pre-k services, odds are only one will complete an educational pathway and attain regular paid employment. Investors aren’t inclined to waste crypto-currency on anyone who’s at risk of not meeting standards. Once a child reaches the age of nine, it’s all about triage. Students whose human capital is deemed insufficient for the actual workforce might be sent to do piece work in the data mines, or if they’re lucky added to the ranks of the data generators in the VR warehouses.

Of course, there are children who never make it that far. Mortality rates for the poor surged after adoption of personalized medicine smart contracts; treatment handed over to algorithms that determined when a patient could see a human doctor, which was rare. Fewer and fewer people wanted to train to become licensed doctors because crushing student loan debt, a daunting workload and bureaucratic micro-management made the profession increasingly undesirable.

Now, people train to manage tele-health chatbots. These chatbots are notorious for misdiagnosis and rigid enforcement of treatment compliance whether or not it’s effective or accepted by the patient. They may thoughtlessly prescribe medications that have become impossible to acquire if a person’s citizen score is too low, which means many of the most vulnerable are labeled “problem patients.” Because pay-for-performance determines how tele-health providers are paid, eventually such patients find it nearly impossible to access even online care. No health system wants to accept patients that will lower their rating.

Fortunately Cam has been blessed with good health, and her student data dashboard indicates she has potential. It updates in real time, drawing information from her online activities and a variety of education-oriented Internet of Things (IoT) sensors embedded in her learning environments. She hasn’t given up hope that she will be able to maintain her striver status, get a job, and keep her family out of the virtual world. She knows it won’t be easy and is steeling herself for the many challenges that living life in the real world will pose.

She was assigned to the healthcare training pathway on her tenth birthday. That was when the ledger ran her academic, social-emotional, and genomic profiles and made the decision. She uploaded a year early, because participating in online pre-kindergarten gave her a head start building the dataset required. Healthcare is one of the three industry sectors assigned to her community. If she can earn enough badges in higher-level science and mathematics she just might be able to jump from the home health aide track to one for personalized medicine analytics. Those are the sought after jobs, some of the few that pay more than the Global Coin stipend.

Cam has always been motivated, so plowing through the soul-crushing online modules has been tolerable, but her younger sibling Li chafes against digital life. Li draws her energy from being with people, but opportunities for real interactions are few and far between. In a world where digital interactions are prized above face-to-face encounters, where control is valued over serendipity Li doesn’t really fit in. She’s the type of kid who has never met a stranger. She engages with everyone, which sometimes causes problems when the family leaves the house.

Li doesn’t really understand the difference between strivers and off-liners. Countless times her mom, Talia, has had to drag her away from street games with offline kids when they were out running errands. Play, in public? Even though one could make a case for it developmentally, this type of unstructured socializing was considered a spectacle, a dangerous one that could attract the attention of authorities. A few moments of parental distraction is all Li needs. The family’s reputation score is marginally above average, but they can’t risk being dragged down by her antics. Now that Cam is older she’s been assigned to be Li’s minder when they go out, which feels unfair. She’d much rather plug into edu-casts and get ahead on her modules than have to try and contain her sister’s exuberant energy.

Continue to Part Two: A World Without (Much) Work Link

Whole series can be accessed here: Link

Supplemental Links

Global Education Futures Forum Agenda: Link

Pain Management / Virtual Reality: Link

Learning Ecosystems: Link

Blockchain and Universal Basic Income: Link

E-Portfolios / Badges: Link

Cities of LRNG / Badges: Link

Online Preschool: Link

Hackable High School: Link

Open Education Resources: Link

Learning Registry (Department of Defense/Department of Education): Link

Career Pathways: Link

Workforce Readiness “Soft Skills” Diploma Seals: Link

Virtual Economies: Link

Behavior Management / Classroom Economy: Link

Virtual Real Estate on Blockchain: Link

Virtual Reality Studios: Link

Precarious Housing in Internet Cafes: Link and Link

Virtual Reality and Neuroscience: Link

Virtual Economies: Link

Fielding Graduate University: Link

Retail Apocalypse: Link

Minecraft Education: Link

RedCritter for Teachers: Link

Human Capital Investments in Education: Link

Third Grade Reading Guarantee: Link

Student Data Dashboards: Link

Scholarchip: Link

-Alison McDowell