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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Beware of Tech Titans Bearing Gifts

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) gift likely means huge changes for schools across the country. We’ve known for a long time that Chicago school experimentation is usually the country’s pilot project. And the CZI isn’t just putting money into personalized learning in Chicago. It’s tied to all-tech Summit Charter Schools (unfairly called public schools) and the College Board. They are also working in Massachusetts.

Chicago is getting $14 million through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) that will be used for personalized learning, placing children online for their schooling. They are advertising their gift as “Supporting Chicago’s Teachers in Personalized Learning.”

The Chan-Zuckerberg website motto is “We believe in a future for everyone.” Here’s my question. Do they believe in a future for professional teachers?

Is the CZI goal to replace teachers? Ask them that question! Get them to tell us yes, or no. It’s a great question to start off Teacher Appreciation Week!

Many teachers will jump on the tech bandwagon. Technology is a useful tool. No one can deny that. But there’s no research to indicate that total tech without teachers will succeed in getting children ready for their college and career futures.

The CZI money in Chicago will also go to LEAP Inovations—a nonprofit that pushes tech with “Appy Hours” (tech instruction at the local bars?).

One of the CZI administrators is James H. Shelton. He used to work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and also had the powerful position of Assistant Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Education, under President Obama. Shelton oversaw the Office of Innovation and Improvement where he managed competitive programs involving teacher/leader quality, Promise Neighborhoods, school choice, and, of course, technology.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may appear to support teachers and public schools, but their past actions show otherwise. They have supported charter schools and groups like Stand for Children, Teach for America, and many other anti-public school, anti-teacher nonprofits. Their Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) was an insult to teachers everywhere. In Memphis, where Gates had a prominent presence, teachers wore ear buds with coaches (called experts) in the back of the room directing them how to teach!

The CZI gift likely means huge changes for schools across the country. We’ve known for a long time that Chicago school experimentation is usually the country’s pilot project. And the CZI isn’t just putting money into personalized learning in Chicago. It’s tied to all-tech Summit Charter Schools (unfairly called public schools) and the College Board. They are also working in Massachusetts.

And LEAP calls for more tech company involvement.

Want exposure to Chicago schools, educator feedback, and valuable implementation and outcome data? Pilot your product with the LEAP Pilot Network!

Think of schools and tech companies looking like NASCAR drivers competing for children’s data to increase business.

LEAP presents a report called “Finding What Works: Results from the LEAP Pilot Network 2014-2015.”

It begins:

LEAP Innovations was founded on the premise that our outdated, one-size-fits-all education system isn’t working. Instead, LEAP is driving toward a new paradigm, one that harnesses innovation—new teaching and learning approaches, along with technologies—to create a system that is tailored around each individual learner.

Isn’t it funny (not really), how those of us who disliked high-stakes testing for so many years, used to use the “one-size-fits-all” argument? Corporations were the ones that pushed that testing, now they are using that line to sell personalized learning.

It’s also funny (not really) how teachers have begged for years to have reasonably sized classrooms so they could individualize learning. It always fell on deaf ears. 

The report goes on with the usual complaints about students not graduating and not doing well on tests, and how wonderful it is that edtech is growing. The citations in the report are from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce, and an article from The Atlantic.

On the Leap website they also say:

LEAP first reviewed applications internally, selecting for companies that clearly personalized the learning experience for students in literacy, as well as demonstrated a record of prior success. An external curation panel of learning scientists, educators, and other subject-matter experts was then assembled to further evaluate the applicants and decide which would be made available to schools for selection. Their criteria included the potential for student impact; company strength and stability; alignment to learning science and Common Core standards; augmentation of teacher capacity; and functionality around student feedback and motivation.

I’d love to hear from teachers, principals or any friends from Chicago involved with this panel.

There’s also talk of merging social emotional learning with tech. SEL is becoming known for its assessments that call for personal student behavioral data that makes parents nervous.

So, when schools aren’t funded and rich people with big ideas, no matter how they will impact children, come into the school district with a lot of money, public schools lose a lot of their public feedback.

For those who still don’t believe there’s a movement underfoot to replace teachers with tech, and collect even more data concerning student progress that will benefit corporations, watch the CZI in Chicago. Time always tells. It might be too late, but sooner or later we’ll learn the truth.

-Nancy Bailey

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

Reposted with permission from Missouri Education Watchdog

Leveraging Student Data

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

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

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

Meet Project Unicorn.

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

Project Unicorn

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

A few points before we start:

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

Back to unicorns.

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

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

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

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

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

Gates: In 5 Years

Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

It is a matter of some urgency for Microsoft. 

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

Digital Promise

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

The Personalized Learning algorithm driven model does not work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then you make each kid use the learning object.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Getting Smart, Tom Vander Ark

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

Dell Foundation.

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

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

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

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

The Future of Privacy Forum

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

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

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

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

Nothing in this section

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

Common Sense Media

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

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

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

Common Sense Tweet

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

Common Sense YouTube

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

At 49 minute mark,  Dr. James remarks:

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

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

Project Unicorn is Promoting Interoperability. What is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project Unicorn Tweet 3

Project Unicorn Tweet 4

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

Logue

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

Tweet 5

tweet 6

tweet 7

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

Project Unicon interoperability

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

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

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

Humane tech

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

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

GDPR.

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

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

IMS Global

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

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

IMS Global Learning Consortium

-Cheri Kiesecker

86 Deaths in Public-Private Foster Care – and Why Education Activists Should Be Paying Attention

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

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Editor’s Note:  The Washington State Department of Early Learning and Thrive Washington are busy working together to use Pay for Success (PFS) as a funding method for statewide home visits. Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc is part of this project. To learn more read this document:  Overview-FINAL-10.5.15.

Buzzfeed’s report was thorough enough to prompt a Senate investigation.

But a key power-player, who has since left Mentor to form organizations influencing everything from juvenile recidivism to public education, has thus far been left off the hook.

Tripp Jones, now Principal at a company called 21c that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially, served as member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years.

Two years ago, BuzzFeed broke a disturbing story that gained little public attention at the time.

According to a 2015 report, widespread cases of physical and sexual abuse –  including multiple deaths of healthy children – took place in homes that were part of the for-profit foster care organization known as the Mentor Network.

The report featured former Mentor caseworkers who accused the company of failing children because of its focus on extracting a profit from them – by cutting corners on expensive services, for example, or forcing social workers to carry extremely high caseloads.

“I went there because I care about services for kids,” said one caseworker. “I eventually became a machine that cared about profits. I didn’t care about kids.”

Buzzfeed’s report was thorough enough to prompt a Senate investigation.

But a key power-player, who has since left Mentor to form organizations influencing everything from juvenile recidivism to public education, has thus far been left off the hook.

Tripp Jones, now Principal at a company called 21c that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially, served as member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years.

According to his company bio, Jones played a pivotal role in “building the systems” that enabled the company to grow from $250 million in revenue to $1.1 billion.

Then, Jones went on to serve as co-managing director at a company called New Profit, where he helped build a “social finance advisory firm” called Third Sector Capital Partners.

Jones and other perpetrators of this giant for-profit foster care firm are sheltered by powerful corporate cartels, making new demands for public-private profit opportunities. Jones sits on the boards of MassINC., New Profit, Time and Learning, Third Sector Capital Partners, MA Juvenile Justice PFS Initiative, and the Building on What Works Coalition.

And this is where education activists need to pay attention.

New Profit and Third Sector Capital, both major proponents of the controversial and highly unethical “Pay for Success” model of public financing, are now closely linked with powerful education organizations and lobbyists.

In 2014, New Profit – along with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – sponsored a series of meetings with a group called Convergence, in which major education policy-players – including the presidents of both major teacher’s unions – developed what they dubbed a “Transformational Vision of Education” – a “vision” that is little more than a call to transform public education to a data-mining industry that will allow for-profit companies, much like Mentor, to profit off the backs of children.

Thus far, the coverage of the Senate’s investigation of Mentor has been watered-down at best.

Damage-control may be more accurate.

The Senate report and its recommendations call for further data-mining, which will inevitably serve to bolster these partnerships and the profits they generate.

Rather than demanding an investigation of the public-private structures and their architects (like Jones) that allow organizations like Mentor to profit off the backs of our most vulnerable populations, media outlets like the Intercept limit their coverage to this one firm.

Sadly, this should surprise no one.

The Intercept receives most of its funding from the Omidyar Network, which is deeply linked to the development of the very same pay-for-success schemes that Tripp Jones is building.

In fact, Omidyar even gave a million dollars to Jones’s New Profit – the group that is now busy turning our public education system into one that can be profit-mined as thoroughly as the foster care system.

And so it is up to us, parents and other concerned citizens, to spread the word about what is happening to children, and – hopefully – to make it stop.

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

 

Parents Rebel Against Summit/Facebook/Chan-Zuckerberg Online Learning Platform

Reprinted with permission from Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

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Anyone that has not dealt with this program first hand as a teacher, parent, student or observer really needs to make an unannounced visit to one of their schools.  Words do no justice to explain the disgust one feels when they realize that the kids being exposed to this will be the ones that ultimately pay the price. “

Last October, the Washington Post published an article on its front page about the “personalized” online learning platform that Summit charter schools and Facebook developed in collaboration.  This platform, called Summit Basecamp, is a learning management system complete with a curriculum, including projects, online resources and tests.

Currently, Summit claims that the program has been adopted in about 130 schools across the country, both public and charter schools.  About 38 percent of schools using the platform are middle schools, 24 percent high schools, 13 percent elementary schools, and the rest are K–12 or K–8 schools. Summit also recently was awarded a $10 million grant from the Emerson Collective, run by Laurine Powell Jobs, to “reinvent” the high school by starting a new school in Oakland that will run an expanded version of its online learning platform.

In March, it was announced that the operation and further development of the Summit online platform would be transferred from Facebook to the Chan/Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the for-profit LLC owned by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, with billions of dollars at its disposal. At about the same time, Summit decided it would no longer ask for parent consent before collecting and re-disclosing their children’s personal data.

The Washington Post article last year reported primarily on parent concerns with their children’s lack of data privacy at these schools, as the Summit parental consent formPrivacy Policy and Terms of Service were astonishingly open-ended – essentially providing Summit with the ability to share student data with nearly anyone they choose.

Over the course of the 2016-2017 school year, parents throughout the country rebelled against the platform, both because of its lack of privacy but also because they experienced its negative impact on their children’s learning and attitudes to school. In addition, Summit and the schools using the platform are no longer asking for parental consent, probably because so many parents refused or resisted signing the consent forms.

After the Washington Post article appeared, I expanded on the privacy concerns cited in that piece, and pointed out additional issues in my blog.   I included a list of questions parents should ask Summit to clarify their data-sharing plans.  Parents who sent them to Summit informed me that Summit failed to answer these questions.  (I later expanded on these questions, and Rachael Stickland, the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, submitted them to Summit representatives after personally meeting them at SXSW EDU conference in March.  She also received no response.)

Meanwhile, the list of Summit schools, both public and charter, that had allegedly adopted the platform last year was taken down from the Summit website sometime between February 15 and February 18, according to the Wayback Machine  – making it even more difficult to ascertain which schools and students are were actually using it.

On March 3, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on the experience of parents in Boone County, Kentucky whose schools had adopted the platform– many of whom did not want to consent to their children’s data being shared with so little specificity and so few restrictions:

At the beginning of the school year, parents had to sign a permission slip allowing Summit to access their child’s profile information. Summit uses the info to “conduct surveys and studies, develop new  features, products and services and otherwise as requested,” the form states.  The agreement also allows Summit to disclose information to third-party service providers and partners “as directed” by schools.  That, perhaps, is the biggest source of contention surrounding Summit. … “It’s optional. Nobody has to do Summit, [Deputy Superintendent Karen] Cheser said… Summit spokeswoman declined to speak on the record with The Enquirer.”

Yet within weeks of the publication of this article, at about the same time that the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative took over, someone involved in the Summit initiative decided that parents would no longer be granted the right of consent – either for their children to be subjected to the Summit instructional program or for their data to be shared according to Summit’s open-ended policies.  In fact, Summit claimed the right to access, data-mine and redisclose their children’s data in the same way as before – yet now, without asking if parents agreed to these terms.

They explained their decision this way – in a post now only accessible through the Wayback Machine:

Do parents need to provide consent for their children to use the Summit Learning Platform?

You used to require parental consent, why has your approach changed?

We heard directly from our partner schools and districts that they have established processes for making instructional decisions—such as adopting a textbook series or curriculum—to meet the needs of their students.  The Summit Learning Platform is a teaching and learning tool that includes a comprehensive 6th-12th grade curricula in English, math, science, Spanish, and social studies—as well as all the tools and learning resources students and teachers need for the school year. We want to respect each school’s process. Therefore each school’s leadership and teaching team will determine whether to use Summit Learning on behalf of their community.

In other words, the crucial decision of whether students would be subjected to this experimental platform and how widely their personal data would be shared would no longer be made by their parents, but by Summit and their schools.

On August 1, Summit updated their Privacy Policy and Terms of Service,  although confusingly the original versions remain online as well (here and here).  The new Privacy Policy contains a long list of personal student data that they will collect and share with unspecified “Service Providers and Partners” who must comply with the terms of the Privacy Policy.  The data can be used for used for various purposes, including to “operate, develop, analyze, evaluate, and improve the educational tools, features, products, and services”.

The personal student data they say they will collect and can share with their partners is expansive, and includes, among other things;

  • Contact information such as full name and email address, username and password;
  • Course information including student work in applicable media (e.g., video, audio, text and images) and course progress;
  • Test scores, grades and standardized test results;
  • Narratives written by students, including their goals and learning plans, their communication with teachers and other students;
  • Teacher curricula and notes and feedback to or about students;
  • Student record information such as attendance, suspension, and expulsions;
  • Student demographic data; presumably including race, ethnicity, and economic status;
  • Outcome information such as grade level promotion and graduation, college admission test scores, college acceptance and attendance, and employment.

While the Privacy Policy promises that Summit “does not, and will not, sell student data,” they also claim the right to provide the data to other companies or organizations through an “asset sale,”  which appears to contradict this statement as well as the Student Privacy pledge that bars the selling of student data.  On Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg himself made a point of emphasizing that Summit had signed this pledge: “Summit subscribes to the White House-endorsed Student Privacy Pledge, so everyone working on this has strict privacy controls to protect student data in accordance with the Pledge.”

Yet neither Facebook nor CZI has signed the Student Privacy Pledge.

The fact that Summit claims the right to transfer student data in an “asset sale” also appears to violate SOPIPA, the California student privacy law that bans selling student data even more emphatically – though 36 California public and charter schools were using the Summit platform this past school year, the most of any state.

In its Terms of Service, Summit demands that schools and teachers are prohibited from changing any of the materials or curricula in the platform without prior permission, and that if they suggest improvements through feedback, Summit will claim “an  irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide license to use, modify, prepare derivative works from, publish, distribute and sublicense the Feedback without any compensation.”

To make things worse, anyone using the platform gives up the right to sue in court, but must instead resolve disputes through confidential binding arbitration by an arbitrator located in San Mateo — home of Silicon Valley, Facebook and CZI. The Terms of Service also bars individuals or schools from entering into class action lawsuits or complaints. (Last month, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau prohibited banks and financial service companies from denying consumers the right to file class action lawsuits.)

Finally, Summit also claims the right that it can change the Terms of Service at any time without prior notification, simply by posting the changes online, to be effective ten days after posting.

The head of Summit Charter Schools, Diane Taverner, is also the President of the California Charter School Association, posing a risk that student and parent data could be sold for political ends, and that the work of public school teachers could be used in her charter schools without recompense.

Growing parent and student resistance to Summit platform in Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois

To some extent, Summit’s announcement that they would no longer ask for parent consent makes sense. Throughout the fall, winter and spring, parents with children at schools using the Summit platform reached out to me personally and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy for help and advice.

One grievance early on was that contrary to the Summit’s public posture, their schools told them that if they did not grant their permission to have their children’s data shared in this way, they would not receive any other form of instruction. By the end of the school year, because of their children’s disastrous experience with the Summit platform, some desperate parents in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Virginia decided to either move out of their school district, homeschool their children or apply for a transfer.

One Virginia parent confided that she felt pressured to consent to the Summit Schools privacy policy because her son’s sixth grade teachers told him he’d fall behind if he didn’t return the document signed. She has friends who decided to homeschool their children as a result; and she is now requesting an out of-zone transfer.

She explained to me why she is pulling her son out of the school: “There are numerous issues I have with this pilot program. My son complained of headaches and other aches and pains all year… He was on the computer a lot, every day! He managed to get Honor Roll but hated the program.

“In my opinion, this program doesn’t truly get the children prepared for college as they claim because they are allowed to retake assessments over and over again until they have mastered the material. I do not remember any of my college professors allowing me to retake exams. I feel that it this practice inflates grades and unfairly suggests that this program is ‘working’. Some of the content that I was able to view wasn’t age appropriate for a 6th grader. For example, for American history they assigned a Dora the Explorer rap video about the 13 colonies that was of poor quality and had numerous grammatical errors in the text shown.”

She also had problems with the “parent dashboard” that Summit claims provides parents with full access to the curriculum – but that she could only see while her son was logged in and engaged in doing his homework: “I expressed numerous times that the dashboard was useless! I was unable to view a majority of the material my son was learning, whether it be a worksheet or video. …. Lastly, one of my greatest concerns is the fact that all the privacy policies are very vague and I have NO idea EXACTLY what data is being collected and how it is being used. The school does not know either. Very disheartening. “

Stacie Storms, a parent who lives in Boone County Kentucky, told me that when she withheld her consent, the response from her child’s school was that she would have to pull him out of the school. She chose to homeschool her child, though she has gone to her elected local and state representatives to protest.

Many Boone County parents were concerned how the privacy agreement puts at risk not only their children’s privacy, but their own, as recounted in the Northern Kentucky Tribune:

The agreement gives Summit Learning permission to collect data from any devices used to access the program, which means parents accessing the program from home or work devices may be susceptible to data collection too. Some parents are upset with their students’ data, and potential their own data, being shared outside of the district.

Parents told the reporter that “their children were just skipping to the assessments without reading the material. They only had to get eight out of the ten multiple choice questions correct to pass.”

Students were provided insufficient time with their teachers, and as one parent wrote me: “The schedule does not allow for a program like this to work with 25+ students… The teachers have admitted that they cannot get to every student, every week with the schedule.

According to the Summit system, each student is supposed to have dedicated one-on one time with a teacher, to ensure they stay on track and are actually learning. Though the program only requires 10 minutes per week with their “mentor”, some students are not even provided with this amount of minimal time.

Parents confessed that their children had become bored, disengaged and falling behind; and many of them no longer wanted to go to school.  Students are also subjected to numerous ads via YouTube and the other websites assigned by the platform, which can be very distracting, especially for children with special needs.

Parent Jennifer R., who asked that her last name and school district be withheld, said: “I think Summit learning is the worst thing that has ever happened to the education system. My child is having a HORRIBLE experience with it and the teachers are like “well, we are kind of stuck on what to do to help him.” Really?! How’s about ditch the stupid tablets and program and go back to what works, books and ACTUALLY handwritten homework.”

Another parent confided: “My objection to this program is lack of teacher instruction, lack of class discussion where students can process as a whole — learning from the questions their peers may have and of course their amount of screen time. I knew the content of the curriculum wouldn’t be perfect, but had no idea how disengaged this program would have my daughter from school…. She has always been an easy kid that enjoys school. This year? Mornings are tough…she doesn’t want to go. It’s booorrriiinnnggg. She needs that teacher engagement to hold her attention. Computer screen doesn’t cut it.”

Another: “To be realistic the curriculum our kids are using on the program right now SUCKS.”

Here are the observations of a student, assigned to the Summit platform, whose comments are posted to the Northern Kentucky Tribune article linked to above:

Honestly I hear tons of kids talking about dropping out, I look around on other students’ computers and a lot of them are falling behind …. it is so stressful once you start to fall behind you dig yourself in a hole and it’s hard to get out of it… It has been really hard for me to stay focused and staring at these computer screens all day really takes a tole [sic] on your eyes. Everyone is on a different pace, classrooms are quiet and not engaged like they used to be. …

I have been complaining about summit since the first week of school yet no one listens to me and my counselor basically tells me that is my fault for failing and I should get used to summit because it will always be there. …. I have stress, anxiety and depression and this year i have had 5 anxiety attacks over summit, i do not want to come to school anymore i hate it and i am failing which has ever happened to me before i have always been a student to get good grades. Lastly teachers are not realizing that most student open up another tab while they’re taking assessments and cheat. I see it being done by a lot of people. If i cheated on my tests then I’d be passing right now. …. I am dropping out next year. I can’t deal with another year of summit.”

Mirna Daniel-Eads, a Boone County parent, took her child out of the school and moved to another district because of the Summit platform.  She explains her family’s decision this way: “Summit is all computer, most days the internet was down so my son was learning nothing. The teachers were not teaching… a complete waste of time.”

Despite the widespread discontent, Boone County administrators applied to the state be named as a “District of Innovation.”  Part of the application involves waiver requests to allow teachers to teach outside of their certification areas – and to “allow teachers’ assistants (para-professionals) the ability to oversee digital curriculum and to allow them levels of instruction and supervision.”  As the district explains, “There are many teacher assistants that are capable of assisting students with virtual and digital content.”

Yet in response to numerous parent complaints, the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) released three reports on August 18, 2017, which found fault with the way in which the Summit platform and curriculum were adopted in Boone County schools.  The reports describe how the district was lured into the program, after principals attended a seminar at the University of Kentucky Next Generation Leadership Academy.  Subsequently, the district sent 82 teachers and administrators to California to be trained at Summit’s expense, and three Boone County middle schools and one alternative school implemented the Summit platform.

Among the many problems outlined by David Wickersham, Director of the Kentucky OEA, included the following:

  • No Boone district or school official attempted to determine if the Summit program was aligned with Kentucky state learning standards before adopting it, and several teachers reported that it was not aligned with the standards in social students, math or science.
  • At least two of the schools implemented the Summit curriculum without the agreement of the School-Based Decision-making Council, made up of parents, teachers and the principal, in violation of Kentucky law 160.345. Nor was the curriculum approved or given a waiver by the State Textbook Commission or the state Digital Learning team.
  • Principals entered into contracts with Summit without the approval of the Boone district superintendent or school board, contrary to Kentucky law.
  • The decision to disclose personal student data to Summit was illegal once parental consent was no longer required, as Summit employees could not be defined as “school officials” under Kentucky law: “It appears that, to satisfy Kentucky law, the release or disclosure of records, reports, or identifiable information on students to Summit requires parental or eligible student consent.”
  • Finally, Summit’s open-ended permission to share data with additional third parties and for unspecified uses appears to conflict with Kentucky law 365.734 , which restricts the use of personal student data by a “cloud computing service provider” such as that employed by the Summit program.

Here are the observations of Chicago public school parents whose children were assigned the Summit platform last year:

It feels like badly designed computer programs are now teaching my children.” (6th/8th grade parent.)

We are not having a good experience either, my kid hates it. Seriously considering a move.” (7th grade)

“[My kid] broke down last night in a very sad way. I’ve never seen him like I did. He finally said he was very stressed because of PLP [Summit’s Personalized Learning Platform].” (6th grade)

Kids are playing games and listening to music instead of interacting … during small group discussion time. … looking at screens instead of making eye contact – you know, one of the critical elements to learning. Teacher pulls only 5-7 students for individual one-on-one mentoring during ELA block – most of which takes place with both teacher and kid looking at Chromebook screen.”

Probably the biggest issue I have with implementation is that there isn’t enough $$. Our school got a grant for $280K, a condition of which is that we use this program. [The grant was provided by the Gates Foundation through an organization called LEAP Innovations.]  As of January, we still didn’t have the money, yet they pulled at least two teachers out the classroom to become instructional coaches. Class sizes went up, quality of instruction went down, and my older kid is drowning. My 6th grader has NO choice, and she has moved from a kid who liked learning new things to a kid who views school as a 7-hour daily chore. “

An Ohio student wrote: “I don’t like basecamp.  I want to be taught by a teacher like I used to be.  Staring at the computer all day gives me a headache and then I lose interest in doing my work.  I don’t like having to watch videos and take notes all day.  …. I like a teacher to teach me.  I am a hands-on learner and I don’t feel like I learned anything with Basecamp.”

Laura Gladish, a parent in Ohio, told her son’s story:

My son was in 6th grade at Mayer Middle School for the 2016-2017 school year.  He came out of 5th grade an honor student, also receiving the Presidential Award. He loved school and always did very well until 6th grade.  In the beginning of the year he came home and said that I needed to sign this paper so that he could do his schoolwork. … I called the school and was told that if I didn’t he wouldn’t be able to stay in school since this was the new program that the district was using.  I was shocked that I was being told this from a public school.  So I reluctantly signed the form.

Within weeks my son started coming home from school upset and didn’t want to go to school.  He said that he didn’t like being taught by a computer and sitting in front of a computer watching videos and taking notes all day. He was basically in charge of his own education at the age of 12.  

I called the counselor and was assured that the kids were being taught by the teachers; they were only reinforcing what the teacher already taught in class and taking tests on the computer.  My son kept telling me that wasn’t true; they sat in front of the computer all day and if they didn’t finish they were expected to go home and work on the computer longer …

So I called for a meeting with all of his teachers.  They told me that the kids needed to learn how to manage their time and stay on task. They were expected to watch a video and take detailed notes.  Then they ask the teacher to check their notes and if the teacher felt they were ready they would open the test for them, only on Fridays, and they could use their notes to take the test.  I said to them, then what exactly are they actually learning if they are taking tests with notes?  How to take notes?  I was told no they are learning from repetition.  If they fail the test they can re-watch the video and take more notes and retake the test.  They can keep doing this until they pass.  But by doing this they also fall behind because you can’t move on until you pass the test.

By October my son was falling behind and hated school.  I was so frustrated I called the superintendent for a meeting…  I asked him that if there are kids who are not doing well with platform learning, and since this was a public school, there should be a choice to use basecamp or not.  And there should be regular classes available to my son.  I was told there was no option, this is it.  He also told me that they chose the Summit learning platform because no one can fail and this program will raise the district test scores.

So I called the state board of education to ask my question.  If my son attends a public school how come I can’t opt him out of a program he wasn’t doing well with.  I was told that there is nothing I can do and that the districts can teach however they want and the State only steps in when the state test scores fall below average. 

After Christmas break I had had enough and I pulled my son out and he’s enrolled in an online school.   He had more one-on-one teacher time with the online school then he did at Mayer Middle School.  He ended the year with all A’s and one B.  I want to see Summit basecamp out of all public schools.

Finally, below is a letter I received last June from Colleen Faile, a parent in Fairview Park City, Ohio, reprinted in full, with her permission:

My school district (Fairview Park High and Lewis Mayer Middle) DOES NOT listen, care, acknowledge complaints or even consider parent input. If they do not need parental consent it will most likely make their lives easier having to deal less with us the parents.  

The district has lied from the initial presentation of Summit….one week prior to the start of school and has continued to lie, manipulate, cover up and blatantly ignore any parent with concerns. 

They have embarrassed my daughter for stating truthful facts and attempting to find a resolution for the lack of care or attention they provide her as an A student. She completed half of the year’s assessments for world history last Thursday. 8 assessments in 1 day! One day to complete a semester of work! Her mentor met with her one time ALL YEAR! School ends June 8th! Every week she sends he weekly update…We have experimented since December and each week she has no goals and nothing to work on. Nobody cares, nobody reads it, nobody holds her accountable. 

I am in the process of collecting signatures to take to the board demanding Summit be removed instead of expanded.  They made a deal with Apple to change from Chromebooks to MacBook Airs in 6-12….a three-year $1.5 million dollar contract. Yet we have math classes at 30+ kids and one teacher using the PLP all working at their own pace…and the teacher is able to help everyone?! Sitting in on these classes makes me sick; who can learn…especially math in this environment?

Summit will be in 6-8 grades and 9 and 10th next year. They also wanted to expand to 5th grade next year… the teachers won that battle…but we all know it is temporary. Our teachers cannot speak up or the district will bully them. 

This program is a disaster in so many ways. Our children are NOT RECEIVING AN EDUCATION! …

Anyone that has not dealt with this program first hand as a teacher, parent, student or observer really needs to make an unannounced visit to one of their schools.  Words do no justice to explain the disgust one feels when they realize that the kids being exposed to this will be the ones that ultimately pay the price. “

Meanwhile, an even more intense PR campaign has begun by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative to expand the use of the Summit program.

In a Facebook post on March 13, 2017, Jim Shelton signaled that CZI would continue to push for even more schools and, especially, individual teachers to adopt the platform: “Over the course of this year, we’ll begin work on a free online tool called the Summit LearningPlatform, which empowers teachers to customize instruction to meet their students’ individual needs and interests….We could not be more excited by the platform’s potential.”

In a TED talk the following month, Shelton claimed that when students are logged into the platform, “their level of engagement and motivation goes up…The fact that the first word that comes to mind when students think of high school is ‘boring’ is our fault, not theirs.”

 And in an article in the fall issue of Education Next, Joanne Jacobs further promoted the use of the Summit platform, in glowing terms.

Parents, beware of Summit Learning Platform.  Fight back as if your child’s privacy and education depend on it; because they do.  You can also reach out to the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy at info@studentprivacymatters.org with your questions and concerns.

Did you know Facebook and Summit Charter Schools Have Teamed Up to Deliver Personalized Learning?

Facebook Napalm Girl

It was a lucky shot, some say of Nick Ut’s famous Vietnam War photo The Terror of War, or Napalm Girl, as it is more commonly known. Less lucky, of course, was the little girl in the photo, Kim Phuc. She was running down the street, naked, after a napalm attack on her village. Her skin was melting off in strips. Her home was burning in the background. It was June 8, 1972. Ut was 21 years old. “When I pressed the button, I knew,” Ut says. “This picture will stop the war.” It has been 42 years since then. But that moment still consumes him.

In 1972, three years after the Tet Offensive, the Vietnam War had put President Nixon in a very tough spot during an election year.

For the first half of 1972, President Nixon made public overtures towards a formal peace agreement with North Vietnam.

After winning his re-election bid and the peace negotiations unravelling, President Nixon decided to change tactics.

During a meting with Henry Kissinger and Presidential military aide General Alexander Haig, the decision was made to bring in B-52 Bombers to escalate and up the intensity of the bombing campaign in North Vietnam.

As Alexander Haig put it, the goal of the bombing campaign was to “strike hard…and keep on striking until the enemy’s will was broken.”

Napalm Girl

On June 8, 1972, Associated Press photographer, Nick Ut, took a picture of a 9 year old girl running down the road after her village had been bombed with napalm. Her clothes had disintegrated, her skin scorched by the 2,200 degree burn of napalm.

Ut took the little girl to the hospital and demanded she be treated, despite being told by doctors that she had no chance.

Miraculously, Kim Phuc survived.

Many believe Ut’s photograph of Phuc helped end the Vietnam War.

It was a lucky shot, some say of Nick Ut’s famous Vietnam War photo The Terror of War, or Napalm Girl, as it is more commonly known. Less lucky, of course, was the little girl in the photo, Kim Phuc. She was running down the street, naked, after a napalm attack on her village. Her skin was melting off in strips. Her home was burning in the background. It was June 8, 1972. Ut was 21 years old. “When I pressed the button, I knew,” Ut says. “This picture will stop the war.” It has been 42 years since then. But that moment still consumes him.

Nick Ut’s photograph won the Pulitzer Prize. Kim Phuc and Ut forged a friendship that’s lasted for 45 years.

Facebook’s Censorship of Napalm Girl

In 2016, Norwegian author and journalist Tom Egeland posted on Facebook eight photos, one being Napalm Girl, as examples of how photography can change the world.

Facebook deleted Napalm Girl citing nudity concerns.

The Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen contacted Kim Phuc for a comment on the censorship of the iconic photo. This is what she had to say:

“Kim is saddened by those who would focus on the nudity in the historic picture rather than the powerful message it conveys,” Anne Bayin, a spokesperson for the Kim Phuc Foundation, told the newspaper in a statement.

“She fully supports the documentary image taken by Nick Ut as a moment of truth that captures the horror of war and its effects on innocent victims,” she added.

When Tom Egeland posted a link to the Dagsavisen article, Facebook deleted it and suspended Egleland for 24 hours.

The controversy quickly spun out of control. How absurd was Facebook’s commitment to censorship and being the final arbitrator of what their users can see?

The Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, posted Naplam Girl to her account. Facebook deleted it. Solberg promptly encouraged her cabinet members to post the photo on their Facebook feeds. Half of them did.

In the end, Facebook finally backed down – not because they saw the error in their authoritarian censorship.

No way.

Rather, Facebook finally woke up from it’s my-way-or-the-highway brinkmanship to find itself engulfed in a firestorm of controversy which had reached such a fenzy the company faced a mini-insurrection of users and lots of bad press.

By Friday the internet saw a mini-insurrection, with defiant Facebook users sharing the photo in a protest against apparent ham-fisted censorship. Some 180,000 people used Facebook to view the Guardian’s account of the row – illustrated, paradoxically, with the same uncensored photo. Another 4,000 shared it on Facebook.

Facebook and Summit Charter Schools Team Up to Deliver Personalized Learning

Given Facebook’s perchance for censorship coupled with the company’s ability to control the content users see with proprietary algorithms, I’m shocked any parent would allow or want their kids to be taught online by a black-box, digital curriculum developed by Facebook.

But it’s happening, with the help of gushing, non-critical reporting like this piece from the New York Times:

But the Summit-Facebook system, called the “Summit Personalized Learning Platform,” is different.

The software gives students a full view of their academic responsibilities for the year in each class and breaks them down into customizable lesson modules they can tackle at their own pace. A student working on a science assignment, for example, may choose to create a project using video, text or audio files. Students may also work asynchronously, tackling different sections of the year’s work at the same time.

The system inverts the traditional teacher-led classroom hierarchy, requiring schools to provide intensive one-on-one mentoring and coaching to help each student adapt.

And this:

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, were the catalysts for the partnership. It is the couple’s most public education effort since 2010 when they provided $100 million to help overhaul public schools in Newark, a top-down effort that ran into a local opposition.

The Facebook-Summit partnership, by contrast, is more of a ground-up effort to create a national demand for student-driven learning in schools. Facebook announced its support for the system last September; the company declined to comment on how much it is spending on it. Early this month, Summit and Facebook opened the platform up to individual teachers who have not participated in Summit’s extensive on-site training program.

Summit is doing it’s part by offering a teacher residency program which focuses on training a new type of teacher: one who’s content to be the-guide-on-the-side while the Basecamp software does most of the actual teaching.

A network of charter schools in Northern California this month will launch the nation’s first teacher residency program focused on personalized learning.

Twenty-four teachers-in-training will be part of Summit Public Schools’ first Summit Learning Residency Program, which will train teachers to lead students in a personalized learning classroom setting, a hallmark of the Summit model.

And to cement their knowledge of the budding concept that tailors education to the individual, the residents themselves will also learn their coursework and receive their teaching credential through personalized learning.

Teachers if you don’t think the teaching profession is being downsized, this is your wake-up call.

The Inherit Racism of Summit Charter Schools

A few years back, this blog called out Summit’s racist practices. Summit’s recent team-up with Facebook doesn’t help to change our impression.

Censoring Napalm Girl is a deal breaker.

Racism is alway part of the mix and an unspoken justification for the United State’s expansion of empire – from Manifest Destiny to Vietnam. Times may change, but this old habit refuses to die.

Napalm Girl is part of our country’s unflattering past and if censored or left unacknowledged will continue to be repeated.

-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.