24 Graduation Credits, OSPI Superintendent Chris Reykdal, and the Push for Competency-Based Learning

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After an exhausting presidential election, those in power expect us to checkout and stop paying attention.

Here’s a few good reason to stay vigilant.

In Washington State, the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction was very close. Chris Reykdal ended up winning with a little less than 28,000 votes.

Why is this important?  

First, winning with 1% of the vote isn’t a mandate.

Second, there’s some evidence to suggest Reykdal may be interested in promoting or even strengthening competency-based learning in Washington State.

What’s competency-based learning?

Competency-based learning is a form of instruction where the curriculum is delivered by computer, rather than by a human teacher.

There’s different models for this type of instruction, depending on the amount of time students spend using a device to access their class work.

Blended learning mixes face-to-face instruction with student, self-paced learning on a computer or other electronic device.

Virtual schools deliver instruction exclusively online.

The Value of Competency-Based Learning Hasn’t Been Proven.

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.

Jim Horn at Schools Matter found these 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.

https://www.ihs.ac.at/fileadmin/public/soziologie/rs111.pdf

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.

http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/personalized-instruction

24-Credit Graduation Requirement: A Backdoor for Online Learning?

Chris Reykdal is very proud of Washington State’s 24-Credit Graduation Requirement.

As a legislator who voted for our state’s robust home-grown teacher-principal evaluation system and one of the authors of our state’s new rigorous 24-credit graduation framework, I am disappointed in the federal government’s decision to repeal our waiver.

Here’s my biggest concern: Achieve is also excited about the possibilities created by Washington’s 24 credit requirement.

Who’s Achieve?

Achieve is most famous for it’s work helping the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers create the common core standards. Achieve also acted as the project manager during the development of the PARCC Assessment. Fair warning, Achieve also oversaw the writing of the Next Generation of Science Standards.

Achieve is funded by Corporate America and chaired by Mark B. Grier, who also happens to be Vice Chairman of Prudential Financial, Inc.

Both Microsoft and Boeing are corporate funders of Achieve. If you live in Washington State, please note both companies have put tremendous effort into avoiding their fair share of state taxes. Taxes, which fund our public schools.

Since its formation, one of Achieve’s main purposes is to give corporations a direct route to state officials. This allows a push for business friendly education policies without the prying eyes of the public or local school boards.

It’s also important to remember that the common core standards were basically the specs for the education software that is now being rolled out with the competency-based education model.

Profit or Public Good?

Remember the part in the NEPC Virtual Schools Report about the expansion of virtual and blended schools being driven by profit seeking edutech companies rather than student need or the public good?

In a 2014 Report [ achievecbptheimperativeforstateleadership ], Achieve outlined how state leaders could leverage college and career readiness to shift away from traditional schools to competency-based learning.

In some states, leaders and educators have determined that to realize the promise of high expectations for all students that reflect a clear learning progression toward and beyond college and career readiness, students will need access to a far more personalized approach to learning. The traditional time-based system, they have concluded, has not served all students well – even when policy and practice were centered on a floor of minimal proficiency. The system holds little hope for helping all students reach, and have the opportunity to exceed, the level of preparation needed for college and career readiness. In these states, there is an increasing urgency to move away from the traditional system that has produced such inequitable results and toward a competency-based system in which students and their mastery of knowledge and skills – not time and the calendar – form the center.

One of the strategies suggested by Achieve to advance competency-based learning was the use of competency based credit accumulation or advancement.

For CBP to advance, states may need to do more than just allow districts and schools to use competency-based approaches for graduation and credit accumulation/advancement. Many states have learned that simply offering flexibility does not necessarily catalyze action and that they need to take actions that range from encouraging or supporting districts to strongly incentivizing use. States may need to take action to define competency-based graduation requirements or competency-based methods of awarding course credit – and to do so with an eye toward ensuring that determinations that students have completed required standards or otherwise reached competency reflect rigor and comparability across districts. States also can take more intermediate steps through policy or practice.

In March of 2016 [ 04cbl-1 ], The Washington State Board of Education met to discuss competency based learning. The key policy considerations were:

  • How could competency-based learning fit into a career and college-ready framework?
  • Are there gaps in state policy that need to be addressed to best support rigorous and aligned competency-based crediting?
  • What guidance would be useful for districts to implement competency-based crediting?

Guess who attended the meeting?

Alissa Peltzman, Vice President for State Policy and Implementation Support for Achieve.

Even more interesting, the guidelines [exhibitf_competency-basedcreditinghandbook ] created for districts to implement competency-based learning includes information pulled directly from Achieve’s white paper:  Advancing Competency-Based Pathways To College and Career Readiness Series. The Imperative of State Leadership.

It’s worth reading the whole document. Of particular interest is Table 1, which explains how credit can be earned in Washington State.  Here’s some highlights:

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Remember how Randy Dorn used ALE’s to skirt the Supreme Court’s ruling against charter schools? They’re mentioned too.

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Where Does Reykdal Stand on Competency-Based Learning?

Here’s Reykdal’s response to a question about edutech from a state superintendent questionnaire on  Seattle Schools Community Forum:

How does “EduTech” – the increasing use of technology and learning-based instruction – fit into your view about the future of education?

As a former classroom teacher and an almost fourteen year executive in the community and technical college system, I’ve watched edutech evolve. Like so many industry-driven things it was not good as a stand-alone approach in the early years of online learning, competency-based assessments, and open-course materials. While still problematic in places and with some tools, we have learned that blended instruction is the strongest model – teacher led instruction infused with technology. To do this well at scale, it requires professional development. Our educators are growing their skills in the use of edutech but it requires constant investment in their knowledge, skills, and abilities. What we must never do is replace high touch with high tech, especially when the issue for many students is not academic struggle but rather social-emotional needs. There is no software for love, caring, and diagnosing emotional distress. Technology is a supplement to instruction; it should never be used as a parallel system of instruction. When we believe we can ignore income inequality, generational poverty, and racial inequities in our schools with canned software and dynamic standardized tests we are in trouble.

To sum up: Chris Reykdal appears to be OK with blended or competency-based learning which he defines as “teacher led instruction infused with technology” as long as it’s not used to create a “parallel system of instruction” -even though and here’s the kicker – his push for 24 credits, set the stage for the State Board of Education to go ahead and create that edutech reliant parallel system of instruction.

Here’s my concerns about competency-based learning. 

First, even though the value of competency-based learning is unproven, the cost in dollars for school districts to implement this experiment is far from neutral.

Second, if this technology is unproven, at best we are experimenting on children – at worst we are robbing a generation of kids a quality education.

Third, the architects of ed-reform see competency-based instruction as a way to finally be rid of those pesky teachers.

The edutech “thought leaders” want a classroom of peers taught by a human teacher to be a premium service for the rich. Our children will get ed-tech and even more data collection.

So much for public education as a social good or incubator for democracy.

Conclusion

So where does Chris Reykdal stand on competency-based education?

It’s anyone’s guess.

I would like to point out that WEA-PAC contributed $85,000 to the Forward With Education PAC which produced and ran TV ads in support of Reykdal’s campaign.

Many dues paying, rank and file teachers may not be pleased to learn their union helped elect a candidate who would, at best, like to see even more ed-tech in their classrooms and, at the very worst, may be opening the door for the demise of their profession.

-Carolyn Leith

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The Shock Doctrine, McCleary, De-linking Graduation from State Mandated Tests, and State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s Education Vision

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If you don’t have to see or live with the consequences of your decisions, it becomes very easy to do bad things.

In Olympia, this is especially true as the lure of money, power, and personal political ambition continually cloud the judgement of the peoples’ representatives.

Add to this dysfunctional system an insulating layer of well funded non-profits, think tanks and NGOs; all vying to create our state’s education policies and claiming to know what’s best for our students.

These groups woo hand-picked politicians and hight level bureaucrats to become their “thought leaders”.

Perks include personal invitations to corporate underwritten conferences and retreats — with the built-in opportunity to meet all the right sort of people.

What’s the catch?

Once they’re back in Olympia, these members of the political class must be willing to prioritize the political agendas of these non-profits, think tanks, and NGOs, while throwing their constituents under the bus.

The Unravelling.

The comforting facade of democracy in Olympia is already slipping as the clock winds down on the McCleary crisis AND YET the legislature continues to stubbornly refuse to do their Constitutionally mandated job to amply fund public education.

Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, explains how neoliberalism has made an art of using a political crisis to push through destructive policies while the general population is either too distracted or exhausted to cope with or push back against the political wrecking ball.

It appears Chris Reykdal, our newly elected State Superintendent, just can’t resist co-opting the McCleary crisis to push his own agenda outlined in his Education Vision.

Delinking High School Graduation from State Mandated Tests.

The first battle in Reykdal’s shock doctrine like maneuver came in the clash over delinking high school graduation from mandated state tests.

On the campaign trail, Reykdal claimed to be against using end of course exams or EOC’s to determine graduation.

Next came the Reykdal lecture about compromise and the promise of removing these tests sometime in the future.

Then came the push in the press for Reykdal’s Education Vision, which shifts all EOC’s down to 10th grade in order to make way for personalized career pathways and his mandatory high school and beyond learning plans.

During last year’s battle over EOC’s and mandatory high school and beyond plans, one of the suggested compromises was the state removing the current biology EOC as a graduation requirement.

Of course, this wasn’t much of a compromise, since the biology EOC was slatted to be replaced by another test  – which would be tied to the next generation science standards.

This shows just how sneaky all of the political maneuvering in Olympia has become.

The Betrayal

Then Senators Rolfes and Rivers – as requested by the Superintendent of Instruction, Chris Reykdal -dropped Senate Bill 5951, which requires EOCs for graduation and mandates high school and beyond learning plans for every student.

That’s when parents and teachers knew the fix was in.

Hey, at least the Business Roundtable is happy.

This skirmish illustrates one of the big problems with our current political system: Reykdal and his co-conspirators in the legislature don’t have to be personally involved in the soul crushing denial of diplomas to the seniors who get nailed by a high stakes standardized test.

How about this: if these politicians truly believe denying kids diplomas is the right thing to do, they should have to walk their talk.

Instead of creating mandates in Olympia which will be carried out by others, these politicians should have to personally meet with these kids, look them in the eye, and deliver the bad news.

Reykdal’s Education Vision

It should come as no surprise that Reykdal’s Education Vision has ed-reform written all over it. Complete with the co-opted double speak used to push personalized learning.

Remember, the McCleary decision is about the state’s neglect of its Constitutionally mandated job to amply fund basic education. It has NOTHING to do with making a comprehensive redesign to K-12 education, and yet, that’s exactly what Reykdal is proposing.

Here’s some of the troubling parts:

High School and Beyond Learning Plans for Every Student

The transition from middle school to high school is a substantial risk for students. The research shows that if a student fails even one core course (math, science, or English) in the 9th grade, they are less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. Washington state will become a leader in adopting a robust universal High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) for 8 th graders on their way to high school. The middle school provides the plan to the student’s high school, which details the student’s strengths, areas of growth, initial career interests, and a road map of the courses required to graduate from high school successfully. The HSBP tool will be digital and accessible to parents, guardians, counselors, and students. It will also provide the framework for early warning messaging to parents via contemporary digital media tools. Authentic parent engagement needs to meet the needs of the 21st century.

 

Forcing kids to choose a career in 8th grade is bad enough. Using 10th grade exams plus student career interest to build a graduation pathway is ludicrous.

Will Bill Gate’s alma mater, Lakeside, be implementing high school and beyond plans for every student and ditching their well rounded liberal arts curriculum in favor of graduation pathways?

I don’t think so.

I also can’t let pass the idea that authentic parent engagement is somehow equivalent to using digital messaging tools.

21st Century Tools to Engage Parents and Guardians

Parent or guardian involvement is a foundational piece to a child’s success in school. Many Washington school districts are already using software systems specifically designed for parent or guardian access. On these tools, a parent or guardian can view their child’s grades, class schedule, attendance, missing assignments, and more. Some tools also have a built-in translator for our families whose primary language is not English. As it stands now, parents and guardians must register themselves to these tools, because they are not automatically registered with their student’s enrollment. They also must register for alerts to tell them if their child was absent, if they have a late assignment, or others. To foster more open communication between schools and families and to reduce student absenteeism, parents and guardians should be automatically registered within these software systems for automatic notifications of their child’s progress in school. This will require a substantial redesign and scalability of these tools so they are powered effectively on mobile devices and in more platforms.

We should be using 21st century tools to better connect students, parents and guardians, and schools to ensure students are attending class and are on track to meeting their individual plan.

Sorry, this is student surveillance being sold as parental engagement. Automatic registration of parents for various software systems run by the state also reeks of big brother.

$14.7 million to overhaul K-12 accounting and data systems

And, of course, OSPI is going to need a whole bunch of money to build a new data system.

Provide $14.7 million to overhaul K-12 accounting and data systems to ensure compliance with new basic education funding frameworks and local levy restrictions, state and federal accountability standards, and the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards. Funds will also be used for continued sharing of educational resources across districts, increased protection of OSPI’s student and educator data, and additional performance monitoring to better manage grant funding.

Conclusion

Sorry for all of the bad news.

We may not be able to stop all of the dirty dealings happening around McCleary, but we should vow never to forget them either.

-Carolyn Leith

Update:

On a positive note, you can support Sen Chase’s bill to fully fund education. Visit this link to learn more.

Personalized Learning Pathways & the Gig Economy

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Individual learning pathways,

21st century skills,

Embracing the whole child;

These empowering phrases are being used to sell the public on a technology-centric, radical redesign of public education. Why? So our students will be able to keep pace in the highly competitive global economy.

David Coleman, father of the common core standards, let slip a rare insight into the real role individual students are to play in the new personalized education landscape of college and career readiness. Coleman’s statement was in response to the common core writing standards’ emphasis of analysis over opinion writing.

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a s— about what you feel or what you think,” he said. “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”

Forgive me, but workers bowing their heads and biting their tongues before the boss, who doesn’t give a shit about what they think or feel, sounds more like a 18th century skill to me – going back to the industrial revolution and persisting today in almost every workplace in the United States.

Personalized Pathways: Empowering or a Re-Branded Subjugation?

Katherine Prince of KnowledgeWorks, had this to say about the radical personalization of education:

Not only will schools take many forms but teachers will be those in the classroom and beyond. Prince calls these “learning agents” and they include developers and technology experts who will help create technologies that can measure learning and help teachers know when students understand what is being taught and when more instruction is needed. A blend of online learning and classroom instruction could be part of the redesign as it now being put in place in a growing number of universities.

Students also need to be prepared for the reality that full-time employment will continue to decline and workers will increasingly be hired for short-term jobs. Students need to be prepared for “mosaic careers,” Prince says.

The key skills they will need for future employment will be the ability to embrace change, appreciation of experimentation, problem solving and the ability to quickly analyze information. Young people must be trained to expect continuous learning and manage disruptions.

Wait, what?

Students need to be prepared for short-term jobs and not expect full-time employment. How empowering is that?  Sounds like the goal of this radical re-imagining of education is to produce workers willing to eek out a precarious existence in the gig economy.

The Global Education Futures: Agenda GEF.Agenda_eng ( pages 12 ) gets even more to the point: education has to be re-structured to support a jobless economy and provide an avenue to ease social tension caused by this mass financial hardship.

The transformation of economy structure inevitably changes the structure of employment. In coming years, automation of manual and intellectual routine labor will lead to substantial job reduction — which may increase social tension unless displaced workers can acquire new skills and enter job markets in new sectors. Education may serve as a social buffer that helps this shift — and educational institutions should proactively prepare for the coming transformation.

If workers are the losers, there must be someone benefiting from the new economy. Again from the GEF Report ( page 25).

Besides that, a new and extremely important trend in education is the emerging opportunity of direct talent investment (e.g. a recent crowdinvesting platform Upstart allows to invest up to US$ 200,000 into a talented young person who then shares a small share of their income over 5 or 10 years). This model has for a long time been employed in athlete and actor job markets, but it can soon become a mass solution as big data models of competence profiles would allow to estimate the most beneficial educational & career tracks. The beginning of 2020s may see the emergence of first ‘man-llionaires’ — owners of investment portfolios, made solely of talented people investments, that worth more than one billion dollars. Later, the same model of direct talent investment could be applied by pension funds — in fact, it can be described as a modified version of Bismarckian pension system where highly performing youth would work in the interest of retired investors.

The rising demand for personalized education from employers and investors will spur the development of personal education management systems (and respective market infrastructure). In particular, we expect the standardization of descriptors defining the contribution of specific courses and other educational products (e.g. games & simulators) to the competence profile (much like ‘nutritional facts’ on food products packaging). We also expect that within next 2-3 years a fully functional search engine for educational online services will appear, most likely as a search option within major search engines such as Google, Baidu, or Yandex. In addition to that, it is highly probable that specialized educational content aggregators will offer ‘branded’ educational tracks: a path to create a target competence profile, e.g. an average profile of a skilled industry professional or a profile of a ‘hero’ such as an industry leader (e.g. Bill Gates or Jack Welch). These ‘branded’ tracks will gradually develop into 24/7 (artificial intelligence) virtual instructors that could make flexible adjustments to the educational trajectory to adapt it to the current results, objectives, and body-and-mind state of the student.

Lots to discuss here.

First, who benefits from this education re-design? Investors, for one, and the ‘man-llionaires’ who will own portfolios of talented people and get a cut of their holdings’ earnings for the next 5-10 years.

Of course, whoever wins out and becomes the most popular platform delivery system for connecting workers to gigs will profit greatly as well.

And how is a branded learning track possibly personalized?

Selling kids the online Bill Gates “hero” learning pathway, complete with an AI virtual instructor, symbolizes for me all that’s wrong with personalized learning.

Conclusion

Luckily, the dystopian future of personalized learning pathways isn’t set in stone. Even GEF admits it (page 8).

BASIC PRINCIPLES OF MAPPING THE EDUCATION FUTURES:

The future can be created, it depends on our efforts;

There are many possible futures — it is not determined by the past, but depends on current decisions taken by participants and stakeholders;

There are areas in relation to which one can make predictions, but in general, the future is not reliably predictable; we can get ready for the future or prepare the future the way we envision it to be.

As concerned parents, educators, and citizens, we need to reject personalized learning pathways and the rise of the gig economy. There’s many possible futures, time to start creating the one we want to live in.

-Carolyn Leith

Seattle Public Schools IT Head John Krull answers our questions…well, sort of

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John Krull agreed to answer our questions about what is happening in terms of technology and software programs planned for Seattle Public Schools.

As Krull states in his letter of application for the position within Seattle Public Schools, “I implemented a blended and personal learning infrastructure for 87 urban schools improving overall student engagement”.

To put that in plain English, “blended and personalized learning” means that a student works in front of a computer the greater part of the day and the teacher is then able to manage over 40 to 50 students in a classroom, theoretically, which is a way to cut cost.

This is a popular approach for online charter schools like Summit charter school.

Computers or laptops are programmed with packaged lessons that many times have not been vetted by parents or teachers or as in Seattle, by the school board. There is also experimental software using a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program that is integrated into the computers to determine a student’s mindset and attitude.

Then there is the concern of student privacy and the culling of personal information that can be provided to third parties with no protections by FERPA.

We raised a red flag when we discovered that John Krull had been hired by Seattle Public Schools after working in Oakland with their public school system which I wrote about in The Progressive.

The following are the ten questions we submitted to John Krull, Chief Information Officer for Seattle Public Schools, with Krull’s answers after each question.

  1. Why did you decide to move to Seattle after two years in Oakland?

I thoroughly enjoyed my almost four years as Chief Technology Officer in Oakland. While there, I led a team that made numerous advancements in use of technology in students’ education.

Seattle Public Schools presents another exciting opportunity to leverage technology to provide the best educational experience for students in an area I call home. I have spent 20 years in the Seattle area where I attended the University of Washington, taught in Shoreline Schools and worked at Microsoft and I look forward to the next 20 years too.

  1. Are you familiar with the Homeroom software? Apparently, it has been installed in some Seattle schools as a pilot program. If you are familiar with the program, what do you see as its value? Do you know what the cost is to buy, install and implement the program along with technology upgrades to sustain this program if it is used within the entire SPS school system?

Seattle Public Schools is testing Educational Data Solutions’ Homeroom software solution as part of improving our data systems. It is part of the district’s strategy to implement Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to help students according to their individual needs and eliminate opportunity gaps. Both district and school staff will be able to use data collected to enhance and shape supports for their students. Right now we are field testing in 15 schools at a cost of $105,000. Full deployment at all schools will cost approximately $376,750.

  1. Homeroom allows the collection of sensitive behavioral information and there is concern by parents that too much student information is being requested by the software. Do you know who is privy to this information and would it include the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and Seattle’s Department of Early Learning? Do you know if the information will it be tracked as a student continues through high school?

The safety and security of our students is a top priority, including when it comes to collecting personal student data. Currently, discipline data is recorded in PowerSchool and will flow to Homeroom for reporting. This flow, along with training, will improve how data is collected and stored which will allow us to better support the district’s MTSS strategies.  All student information is stored according to retention rules set by the state and will be stored through high school.

  1. What is the Technology Plan for Seattle Public Schools? Will you be writing a new or revised Technology Plan as you did for Oakland Public Schools? 

The Technology Plan for this year and the next 3 years is outlined in the Buildings, Technology and Academics IV (BTA IV) Levy information. You can see the plan under the Technology section of the Seattle Public Schools Levies Information published in Winter 2016 https://bta.seattleschools.org/assets/Uploads/documents/Levies%20Information-Winter%202016%20brochure-Final.pdf .

Implementing our plan is the result of close collaboration with the district’s Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction, Student Services, Strategy & Partnerships, Business & Finance, HR, and Operations Departments to make sure our technology investments are implemented to align to the district’s strategic plan. Here is a link to the district’s strategic plan. https://www.seattleschools.org/district/strategic_plan

  1. Are you familiar with CASEL? If so, what is your role to be with this program?

I am familiar with CASEL. Currently, the district follows a different Social Emotional Learning (SEL) model. While I don’t have an active role in the direction of SEL, I do believe SEL can be applied to the digital world. For example, Responsible Decision Making applies as much to the physical as the online world.

  1. Do you have a plan for notifying parents of the information that is gathered by software distributed to schools within the Seattle school district including Homeroom?

Again, the safety and security of students is a top priority, including all personal data collected by the district. Here is a link to the district’s policy procedure for collection of data as part of Superintendent Procedure 3231SP: (http://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/Procedures/Series%203000/3231SP_sig.pdf).

  1. On the Seattle Public Schools’ website it notes that you wrote a paper titled “How Do You Measure Return on Investment of EDtech” and another paper “Creating a Platform for Staff and Student Growth”. There were no links provided to these papers. Please include a link in your response or a pdf that we can post.

Here is a link to an article written for Edsurge by a colleague who worked on our presentation “How Do You Measure Return on Investment of Edtech”…  https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-08-18-how-can-we-measure-edtech-s-return-on-investment Unfortunately, I don’t have any documents supporting my presentation, “Creating a Platform for Staff and Student Growth”, on the internet. I do detail many other presentations on my website, http://www.johnkrull.org/

  1. What are your views on the use of devices such as laptops by young children, particularly between kindergarten and second grade? In Oakland, Clever badges are used by the youngest students to start up their laptops.

My department and staff is dedicated to supporting the use of all devices used by all students across the district. While the district’s education staff make grade-level device decisions, we are looking at Clever badges as a possibility to make logging into devices easier.

  1. You state on the Seattle Public Schools website that you have a vision and commitment for an “equitable, supportable, standardized and secure environment to improve teaching and learning.” What are your definitions of “standardized” and “secure”?

As the largest school district in the Pacific Northwest, we serve more than 53,000 students. This includes providing district technology staff “standard” equipment like computers, projectors, and document cameras to name a few, so they, in turn, can provide students with the best educational experience. The Seattle school district is dedicated to eliminating opportunity gaps for all students and supporting their individual needs. That includes supporting students through access to technology. “Secure” means we use applications and systems that comply with all FERPA and district rules, policies, and procedures to make sure we protect and maintain privacy. The safety and security of our students is a top priority.

  1. You tweeted about IMS Global in January of this year. What is your relationship with IMS Global?

I serve on an advisory panel for IMS Global that is working to develop standards to have education applications work together.

*****************

There you have it. Our questions and concerns were not truly addressed but maybe Krull is thinking more about the technology itself and not what role technology should have in the classroom. That’s a discussion parents and educators should be having now, before IT departments are allowed to pursue their vision.

Recommended articles:

Someone is driving the curriculum in Seattle Public Schools and it’s not educators, parents or the school board

EFF Survey Reveals Gaps in Protecting the Privacy of K-12 Students Using School-Issued Devices and Cloud Apps

McD Happy Meal online schools for all in Seattle with SPS IT Officer John Krull

Washington State’s Digital Promise School Districts: Creating new markets for personalized learning snake oil

Tech Tip o’ the Day for Seattle Public Schools: How to get kids and teachers in front of computers all day

Oops! Study Shows Computer Use in School Doesn’t Help Test Scores

 

 

Serious student privacy concerns with new Summit/Facebook platform

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Summit charter schools  opened a location in Seattle last year. The school calls what they do “blended” or “personalized” learning which means placing a student in front of a computer during most, if not all, of their learning time.

As of now, Summit has opted in Washington State to offer its services to homeschool students rather than be under the charter school umbrella. Charter schools have been legally challenged once again and a lawsuit is pending review by the court.

Summit charter schools has developed a platform with Facebook. The program is titled Summit Basecamp. Leonie Haimson and other parents have formed the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and recently published an article on the issue of student privacy and the use of this platform.

From the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy:

Serious privacy concerns with new Summit/Facebook platform, used in 100 schools across the nation

Our concerns about the open-ended data sharing of the  washington-post-front-page-10-12-16 Summit/Facebook software platform was featured on the front page of today’s Washington Post. This software is in 100 schools nationwide, about two thirds of them public schools. The list is here. Two of the schools are in NYC: the Bronx Writing Academy in District 9; and J.H.S. 088 Peter Rouget in District 15 in Brooklyn.

Summit is sharing the student personal data with Facebook, Google, Clever and whomever else they please – through an open-ended consent form that they have demanded parents sign.  A copy of the consent form is here.

I have never seen such a wholesale demand from any company for personal student data, and can imagine many ways it could be abused.  Among other things, Summit/Facebook claims they will have the right to use the personal data “to improve their products and services,” to “conduct surveys, studies” and “perform any other activities requested by the school. ”

Here is an excerpt:

Summit may collect information that you provide or your child provides directly to Summit, such as contact information, coursework, testing, and grades. Summit also may collect information automatically from browsers, computers, and devices (such as information from cookies and browser and device identifiers in order to remember your preferences)….. Summit may use your child’s information to conduct surveys and studies; develop new features, products, and services; and otherwise as requested by your school or consistent with your consent. … Summit also may disclose information to third-party service providers and partners as directed or authorized by the school. For example, Summit uses Clever, Facebook, and Google to help develop and improve the personalized learning plan software or to provide related educational services on Summit’s behalf.

big-eye-data.jpgThey claim they won’t use the child’s personal data for targeted ads (as would be banned anyway in the CA law called SOPIPA) but this is among the only restriction. They say they can sell the data “in connection with a corporate transaction, such as the sale of our Services, a merger, consolidation, asset sale.” The one-sided Terms of Service is here; the Privacy Policy is here.

The Summit platform has never been independently vetted for security protections – or shown to yield any educational benefits, and I believe is a very radical way to outsource instruction and student data to private companies.

Other reasons that teachers as well as parents should be concerned:

The Terms of Service claims the right to use the intellectual property of teachers in these schools, intellectual-property-brain.jpgincluding course assignments, etc. and even student work without any recompense: “You Grant Us a non–‐exclusive, perpetual, transferable, sub–‐licensable, royalty–‐free, worldwide License to use content that you post on or in connection with the Services in any manner, media, form, and modes of uses, now known or later developed.”

–Though I’m not an attorney, the Terms of Service seems to explicitly and repeatedly waive any liability  that Summit or FB or any of its partners may have for protecting the data against breaches, complying with state or federal law,  or abiding by their own Terms of Service;

— As the Washington Post article points out, the TOS would force any school or party to the agreement (including teachers) to give up their right to sue in court if they believe their rights or the law has been violated, and limits the dispute to binding arbitration in San Mateo CA – in the midst of Silicon Valley, where Facebook and Google presumably call the shots.  This is the same sort of abuse of consumer rights that that banks and credit card companies have included in their TOS and that the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now trying to ban.

–The CEO of Summit charters, Diane Tavenner, is also the head of the board of the California Charter School Association, which has aggressively tried to get pro-privatization allies elected to California school boards and state office, and has lobbied against any real regulations or oversight to curb charter school abuses in that state.

– –  Summit says they won’t sign individual contracts with school districts or schools, for the    following ostensible reasons, and suggests a legal loophole for states and districts that require such contracts:

Summit Public Schools is unable to sign contracts, MOUs, or other legal documents from other districts, CMOs, or individual schools. Straying from our Summit Partnership contracts would add immeasurable risk to our organization as we are unable to acquire third party validation on different contracts in the way that we did for our own participation agreement. It would not be legally sound for us to enter into two legal contracts with two sets of potentially conflicting commitments for one program.

Some districts that have policies where all third party vendors need to sign one designated contract were able to bypass that requirement given the status of Summit Public Schools as an educational organization rather than a vendor and the nature of the partnership as a free exchange of ideas and services rather than a paid service relationship.

And then they add – presumably to assuage the fears of parents or school administrators:

In order to ensure that our legal agreement meets the high quality demanded by school organizations across the U.S., Summit Public Schools has gone the extra mile to work with one of the best legal teams in the country to draft this agreement. We worked with Jules Polonetsky – CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices – and his team to review our privacy policies and provide his 3rd party stamp of approval. Straying from the language in our participation agreement would add risk as we are unable to also acquire third party validation on different contracts.

What they don’t reveal is that the Future of Privacy Forum is largely funded by the technology industry and the Gates Foundation, and Polonetsky was a big supporter of inBloom.  (Nevertheless, the sample contract they apparently offered to Kentucky schools did not include the binding arbitration clause, though it limits Summit’s liability to $10,000.)

For these and other reasons, I think parents and students should be VERY concerned.  

In my view and that of many other parents, the explosion of ed tech and the outsourcing of student personal data to private corporations without restriction, like this current Summit/Facebook venture, is as risky for students and teachers as the privatization of public education through charter school expansion.  In this case, the risk is multiplied, since the data is going straight into the hands of a powerful charter school CEO – closely linked to Gates, Zuckerberg and Laurene Powell Jobs, among the three wealthiest plutocrats on the planet.

Gates has praised Summit to the skies, has given the chain $11 million, and has made special efforts to get it ensconced in his state of Washington; Zuckerberg is obviously closely entrenched in this initiative, and Laurene Powell Jobs has just granted the chain $10 million to launch a new charter school in Oakland.

I sent the following list of questions to Summit at info@summitbasecamp.org nine days ago, but have received no response.  Others — especially parents at these schools and/or privacy advocates — might like to send their own questions or resend mine as well.  And if you are a parent or a teacher at one of these schools, please contact me ASAP at leonie@classsizematters.org  Thanks! Leonie

Questions for Summit:

1. What is Summit’s definition of “reasonable and comprehensive data protection and security protocols to protect student data”?  What does that specifically include in terms of encryption, independent audits, security training, etc?  And where is that in writing?

2. If my child’s data does breach, what rights would I have as a parent to secure damages?

3. Does Summit claim unlimited rights to share or utilize my child’s homework and intellectual property without notice or compensation that they are claiming with teacher work in the TOS?

4. Can Summit specifically itemize the companies/organizations that they will share my child’s data with, aside from those mentioned below?

5. Are each of these third parties barred from making further redisclosures of my child’s data?

6. Are each of these third parties, and any other organizations or companies or individuals they redisclose to, legally required to abide by the same restrictions as listed under your TOS and PP, including being prevented from using targeted or non-targeted advertising, and/or selling of data, and using the same security protections?

7. Does Summit promise to inform parents over the course of the year all the additional third parties the company plans to disclose my child’s data to?

8. What is the comprehensive list of personal data Summit is collecting and potentially sharing from my child?  You mention a limited list below, but does it also include my child’s homework, grades, test scores, economic status, disability, English proficiency status and/or race as well?

9. The TOS mentions survey data.  Is there any personal data from my child that Summit promises NOT to collect via a survey or otherwise?  Will parents have the right to see these surveys before they are given and opt out of them, or does signing this consent form basically mean a parent is giving up all their rights under the PPRA?

10. Why can’t Summit simply give the software platform to schools to use if it is beneficial, along with links to instructional materials, rather than demand as “payment” in the form of all the student information as well?

11. Do you promise not to use the information gained to market products directly to students and/or their parents, and are all your partners and/or those they disclose the information to barred from doing so as well?

12. The PP says you will use my child’s personal data to develop new educational “products” – what does that mean?  Why can’t you use de-identified data for this purpose

13. It also says you will use this data to “communicate with students, parents, and other users.”  What does that mean? What kind of communications will you engage in with my child or with me

14. The PP states a parent can “review, correct or have deleted certain personal information”.  Which kind of personal information can I delete, how will I be able to do that and will that stop my child from using the platform?

15. The PP also says you will share the data with anyone “otherwise directed or authorized by the school.”  What does that mean? Does my signing a consent form mean that the school can authorize to share this information with ANYONE else, without specifying the sort of third party, for what reason, or without limitation, without informing me or asking for my further consent?

16. It says it will send notice of proposed changes to the PP ahead of time to the participating schools; why not parents if you have their contact info?  Shouldn’t they hear this directly from you and immediately if you are considering changes?

17. Does Summit consider this parent consent form to mean that parents are waiving the privacy rights of their children under all three federal student privacy laws, including FERPA, COPPA and PPRA?

18. The PP says that “FERPA permits schools to share students’ information in certain circumstances, including where the school has gotten a parent’s’ consent or where the organization receiving the student data operates as a “school official.” Summit Public Schools operates as a “school official” consistent with the Department of Education’s guidance under FERPA.”  If this is true, why does Summit need to ask for parental consent?  What additional rights does my consent afford Summit that you would not have without consent in terms of the collection, use and disclosure of a student’s personal information

19. Summit says that “Participating schools and individual teachers own, and are responsible for, student data provided through the Summit Personalized Learning Platform.” Why don’t students own their own data?

20. This raises another related question: the Summit Privacy Policy and Terms of Service grants schools and teachers some rights (however limited.) What rights do parents and students have under these conditions?

21. The TOS says that if schools believe Summit has violated its promises or complied with the law, instead of suing they must submit to binding arbitration in San Mateo CA and are barred from filing class action complaints.  This type of provision has been heavily criticized when banks and credit card companies have included in their consumer agreements, and the Consumer Financial Protection Board is considering restricting their use. Why is this clause any more acceptable in your TOS?

22. What legal recourse do schools, teachers or parents have if Summit violates the law or its TOS, for example if Summit decides to sell or give away or carelessly store the data given that the TOS  says “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, NEGLIGENCE, WILL SUMMIT, ITS AFFILIATES, OR ANY PARTY INVOLVED IN CREATING, PRODUCING, OR DELIVERING THE SERVICES BE LIABLE FOR DAMAGES OR LOSSES” in any case?

23. In yet another clause of the TOS, Summit requires schools to “agree to indemnify, hold harmless, and defend Summit, and its affiliates, licensors, and service providers, and each of their respective officers, directors, contractors, agents…etc.et. against any and all demands, claims, liabilities, judgements, fines, interest, penalties… etc. including attorneys’ fees etc.” Why the need for so many layers of self-protection and disclaimers of liability?

24. What rights does a parent have in general if Summit violates the TOS or the PP?  Are they bound to the binding arbitration clause in the TOS that the school must agree to?

25. In another FAQ here, Summit says that it will not sign contracts or written agreements with individual school districts, and if the state requires this under law, districts or schools should try to “bypass that requirement” by claiming that a) Summit is not subject to the law because it is not a “vendor” but an “educational organization” and b) that they should not have to sign a contract because of the “nature of the partnership as a free exchange of ideas and services rather than a paid service relationship.”  But if you are gaining potential economic and programmatic benefits from your access to student data, including using it to build new and better “products” as the TOS states, why isn’t this a commercial relationship bound by state law?  And if this relationship is truly a “partnership” with a free exchange of ideas, why is the TOS so one-sided and seems to protect Summit from any possible liability, and not the school?

Automated Education + Chasing Skills + Debt = Social Control

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

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I posted the scenario below in November of 2015 as a Facebook note. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across a number of items having to do with skills, automation, and human capital management, so I thought I would pull it back out to share. Below are a couple of articles that caught my eye:

New Tools Needed to Track Technology’s Impact on Jobs, Panel Says by Steve Lohr of the New York Times

The EIDCC, The Experience Graph, and the Future of Human Capital Analytics by Shelly Blake-Plock of Yet Analytics

The Omidyar Network and the (Neoliberal) Future of Education by Audrey Watters

I’m a parent activist, not an educator or economist. But after reading and listening to a wide range of sources, I came up with the construct below. In the 18 months since I wrote it, many indicators seem to confirm this is where we are headed. I’d be interested in hearing your feedback and welcome comments explaining how this is all wrong.

Originally posted to Facebook November 2015:

Emily Talmage
noticed a connection between ed reformers, those funding CBE, and student loan financing. I was thinking about it today, and I think I see how it will play out. Follow the money. Who stands to gain?

1. Move to the idea of online credentialing. Call it standards-based skills mastery, etc. Get everyone on board with CBE.

2. Break down old-fashioned notion of “seat time.” Everything is “student-centered” and “self-paced.” You don’t need true distinctions between high school and community college and four-year college and professional certifications. It’s all just one process of gathering up the “bits” of education required.

3. Collecting badges is seamless, and you just transition without any real breaks. If they can get rid of physical school buildings and campuses and move learning into online virtual worlds, that will be a natural progression.

4. Accept that a four-year liberal arts education will be beyond the financial reach of most people. Provide some public funding for community college.

5. Take over the boards of the community colleges to ensure they only offer coursework that is pre-professional and serves industry’s short term needs.

6. Have the government underwrite or subsidize Associates degrees to boost college completion for more students. At the end of the process, however, students will need more training.

7. Online, for-profit companies will offer students the chance to obtain credentials at a price considerably lower than tuition for a liberal arts college, but most will still need to take out loans.

8. Accept the fact that companies will no longer pay to train you for their jobs. They don’t want thinkers with raw potential. They want a set of credentials to do the job they have right now.

9. Algorithms sift through online applications demanding the exact credentials listed for each job. This is being done now, but imagine the increased efficiency when each skill is given a unique number, like a healthcare code. A person who doesn’t have the entire complement of codes up front will be out of the running.

10. When industry outsources your job or makes it obsolete, they lay you off and put up another online ad for a job with different competencies/skills.

11. People throughout their life (lifelong learning) will chase the newest set of in-demand credentials. Rather than paying for a four-year college, plus some higher degree, they’ll get a baseline pre-professional education and try to accumulate competencies/credentials that will allow them to keep up with a job market shaped by AI automation.

12. A liberal arts education is less and less valued unless you have a job at the highest levels of a company. Those jobs will go to the graduates of elite universities who secure positions through their networks. Children of the elite will not have to run the gauntlet of algorithms.

13. Companies will no longer do on the job training in a real sense. You will need to be serviced by these online education providers for training and professional development.

14. There will be a big new market for student loan financing that will be repeated throughout your life. That’s where Lumina and Nellie Mae come in.

15. Redefining education as a largely online process will benefit technology companies as well as Internet providers (but not human teachers or those whose job it is to support school operations and facilities). Plus, data!

16. There will be zero quality control. People pay education providers up front to try and get the credential for mastery, but if they don’t ever attain mastery, they don’t get their money back. The debt, however, stays with them.

I believe that is why interests associated with student loan finance are working so hard to transform K12 education into digital data farms that can be mined for profit and used for social control.

 -Alison McDowell

Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association video: What corporations have in store for public schools

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The third episode of PJSTA Live, in affiliation with Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, deals with what corporate reformers see as the future of public education.

The two guests in this episode are Alison McDowell and Jia Lee.  Alison McDowell is a parent and a public education activist who blogs at Wrench in the Gears.  Jia Lee is a member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators and organizes teachers in the fight against public school privatization.

Alison’s PowerPoint can be found here.

A corresponding article written by Alison, “Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should Be Asking”, is here.

Submitted by Dora Taylor

 

 

The Ballad of Joseph Olchefske: Middle College, Ed-Reform Market Failure, and the March of Online Learning

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What do you think should happen in this scenario?

The superintendent of the largest school district in the state, through mismanagement and carelessness, runs up a crippling 35 million dollar deficit?

If you believe in the efficiency of the market, the answer should be easy.

The superintendent would be immediately fired. Since his actions lost the school district money or in business terms – became extremely unprofitable,  he would never again have a job related to education.

Meet Joseph Olchefske, an expert in finance, and a rising star in Seattle Public Schools in the late ’90s. After the untimely death of his mentor, John Stanford, Olchefske officially became Superintendent of SPS in February of 1999.

Within four years of his tenure, the district would be facing a 35 million dollar deficit and Olchefske would be on the receiving end of two separate votes of no confidence.

Here’s a timeline from the Post-Intelligence which documents the unravelling.

Timeline

Sept. 14, 1995: Seattle Schools Superintendent John Stanford appoints Olchefske to be chief financial officer for district. He had been a public-finance manager for brokerage firm Piper Jaffray in Seattle since 1986.

Nov. 28, 1998: Stanford dies of acute myelogenous leukemia.

Feb. 09, 1999: Olchefske, who had been interim superintendent after Stanford’s death, is named permanent superintendent.

Aug. 16, 2002: Olchefske’s chief financial officer, Geri Lim, resigns in exchange for $51,000, a letter of reference and $1,000 for job-hunting costs.

Oct. 4, 2002: Olchefske announces that accounting glitches and computer problems led to a $35 million budget shortfall.

Oct. 28, 2002: Principals Association of Seattle Schools votes against holding a no-confidence vote.

Nov. 1, 2002: Seattle School Board votes in support of Olchefske.

Nov. 05, 2002: Seattle Education Association, the teachers union, publicly calls for Olchefske to resign.

March 28, 2003: Principals Association executive board votes no confidence in Olchefske.

April 4, 2003: Teachers union votes no confidence in Olchefske. “I’m committed to being superintendent,” he responds.

April 14, 2003: Olchefske resigns.

You would think a 35 million dollar financial meltdown would be a big red flag on someone’s resume. Not so for Olchefske. He immediately landed a job with the American Institute for Research, also know as AIR.

AIR’s founder got his start pioneering psychological testing to screen for prospective combat pilots during World War II. Afterwards, AIR expanded into the area of education and workforce readiness.  As you can imagine, AIR is all in when it comes to the recently updated ESSA and the associated competency-based and social emotional learning.

Middle College

How did Olchefske make the leap from a widely disliked superintendent to Managing Director at the American Institute for Research?

I’m guessing one of his pet projects in Seattle had a lot to do with it.

In January of 2001, Seattle Public Schools partnered with the Simon Youth Foundation to launch The Northgate Mall Education Resource Center, also know as the Mall Academy. This school was added to the Middle College concept within Seattle Public Schools (SPS).

High school students enrolled in the Education Resource Center would attend classes at the mall focusing on skills training such as applied health occupations and vocationally certified school-to-work programs. Students could even work at the mall for credit.

The idea of a vocational school at the mall was so innovative, in fact, the John Hopkins School of Education has an article about it on its website. Oh, did I mention Olchefske is an Adjunct Professor at John Hopkins?

Most of all, the Education Resource Center will serve as a catalyst for partnerships between educators and employers and will benefit the mall, its stores, and the students it serves. Junior Achievement of Seattle and Community in Schools are just two of the additional partners who have already committed to provide services and resources to support the students. Young people will receive instruction and on-the-job training for careers in retailing, and there will be management track employment opportunities at the mall for graduates of the retail-training program.

“This is a tremendous program, not only for our students, but for the City of Seattle,” said schools Superintendent Joseph Olchefske. “It represents the kind of innovative, out-of-the-box thinking that is so essential if we are to deliver on the dream of academic achievement for every student in every school.”

It’s worth noting the history surrounding Middle College. When first conceived, the Middle College concept was based on reaching high-risk kids through an association of a small school with a strong social justice focus. Adding a solely jobs training, commercially orientated school to the mix was bound to create friction – and it did.

In May of 2015, Superintended Nyland abruptly announced the closure of Middle College at High Point. This was one of the schools under the Middle College umbrella with a social justice core curriculum designed to connect with at-risk kids. There was a huge pubic uproar over the closure.

As the controversy grew, the ed-reform supporting The 74 published a “hero in education” puff piece in December praising the work of Middle College High School at Northgate, Simon Youth Foundation, and its work with at-risk youth.

Today, Middle College at Northgate has a blended instructional model meaning much of the class time is spent on a computer.

Middle College High School @ Northgate is a distinctive educational environment that offers direct and digital academic instruction. It is a student-centered, alternative option that encourages the development of community, personal responsibility, and active learning in the core disciplines of math, science, social studies, and language arts. It is a place to prepare for higher education or career readiness in a small, compassionate academic setting.

Ed-Reform Market Failure

After AIR, Olchefske has continued on his gold-plated career trajectory.

He’s worked for: Educate Online, Mosaica Education, Inc.Calvert EducationEducation Industry Association (EIA)Flex Academies, and Springboard Education in America, LLC.

What do all of these companies have in common?

The privatization of public education and the push to move school online, outside of school buildings, and toward the “anytime, anywhere, learning model”. Viewed through that lens, The Northgate Mall Education Resource Center was ahead of its time.

Way back in 2003, former SPS school board member Don Nielson seemed more worried about Olchefske than the district’s financial trouble.

Don Nielsen, a former school board member and a supporter of the superintendent, was disappointed to learn of Olchefske’s resignation. “I think it’s not in the best interests of the district, but it probably is in the best interests of Joseph and (wife) Judy and their family,” he said. “Anybody that has a complaint with the district is now focusing on him. He didn’t see that going away anytime soon, if at all. As long as he’s a lightning rod, it’s going to be tough for him to lead.”

Nielsen shouldn’t have worried. It seems Olchefske is doing just fine. With the passage of the dumpster fire that is the updated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I would expect him to do even better in the future.

-Carolyn Leith

The Ugly Facts About Ed-Reform, Partisan Bickering and the Resistance

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I find it disturbing how quickly basic facts are flushed down the memory hole.

Yes, Betsy Devos is the extreme example of the type of privatizer destroying public education, but the Democrats – with Obama at the helm – opened the door.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at Obama’s Digital Promise Initiative, whose purpose was to break open the education market for companies to sell personalized learning products to school districts. Why employ actual teachers, when computers and software can do the job.

How about the ESSA’s inclusion of “innovative assessments” – which edutech predators like iNACOL can’t wait to leverage into more online learning software and continuous testing in the classroom.

The ESSA also gave the charter lobby everything they wanted, and then some.

How can financially stressed public schools, always under the threat of being labeled “failures” based on test scores, compete with flush and unaccountable charter schools? Answer: They can’t.

I believe facts still matter and will fight alongside anyone who wants to protect our public schools, but I refuse to be a cog in anyone’s machine.

I won’t be participating in the partisan blame game, where public education plays the pawn. I’m over the constant maneuvering to score political points – while our schools burn to the ground, but neither of this country’s two cynical political parties seem to smell the smoke.

I’m also convinced it’s impossible to fight and win using the same structure that makes neoliberalism so destructive.

So don’t ask me to become a faceless member of your public education defending non-profit. Paying dues and then walking away isn’t enough for me now.

I’m also sick of powerful, god-like leaders sitting atop hierarchies which rob members of their voice, conscience, and agency.

How can we claim to care about democracy when we refuse to practice it?

If we are truly fighting against the commodification of public education, why would it be acceptable to treat members of our own groups as objects – either as an unintelligent mass that needs to be lead to the truth by an “enlightened” leadership or – at the most cynical – a captive audience to be manipulated for personal gain and advancement by the vanguard of a revolutionary dictatorship.

How can we claim to care about the unique gifts of every child and at the same time be afraid of our own individuality and power?

Barbara Deming – deep thinker, feminist, and champion of nonviolent social change – had this to say about the power of individuals:

If greater gains have not been won by nonviolent action it is because most of those trying it have, quite as Oglesby charges, expected too much from “the powerful”; and so, I would add, they have stopped short of really exercising their peculiar powers – those powers one discovers when one refuses any longer simply to do another’s will. They have stopped far too short not only of widespread nonviolent disruption but of that form of noncooperation which is assertive, constructive – that confronts those who are “running everything” with independent activity, particularly independent economic activity. There is leverage for change here that has scarcely begun to be applied.

If the solution was easy; we’d already have done it.

These are trying times. What used to work has failed us.

We’re scared. The question is what to do with this fear? I see two choices:

We can allow this fear to push us into a panic-stricken frenzy; forever reacting to the latest crisis, allowing those we oppose to set the agenda.

Fear also has a way of justifying tactics which compromise our integrity and over time robs us of our humanity.

Or

We can pause, go deep, and really consider Barbara Deming’s challenge to come up with a new “form of noncooperation which is assertive, constructive – that confronts those who are ‘running everything’ with independent activity…”

In it for the long haul.

Fighting back against ed-reform is going to take a lifetime. Undoing the damage and creating schools which foster face-t0-face democracy, will take even longer.

This is good news. We have the time to get it right.

Since the United States was built on the double fault line of genocide and racism, this is an opportunity to begin to right those wrongs; build on the lesson that ignoring past oppression guarantees more oppression in the future.

Flattening hierarchy, promoting individual agency, and increasing the public good means no one or any group gets tossed aside in the name of expediency.

There’s time to do our homework, to dig down and learn what has worked in the past and the powerful insights mixing in with the failures.

This is an opening to deeply learn our history. Get to know the labor radicals, socialists, populists, anarchists, and all the other colorful rebels of the past.

It’s also an opportunity to face and understand the ugly facts buried in the past: Manifest Destiny and genocide, lynching, eugenics, and the human/environmental carnage brought about by the industrial revolution and perpetuated by modern capitalism.

The architects of ed-reform have given us one clue to their system’s weakness: They love the idea of highly processed children, who will grow up to be widget-like adults.

Why?

Because beaten-down children, all taught from the same script, have the potential to create the most compliant worker class the world has even seen; afraid of authority, accepting of the master’s world view, and willing settle for anything.

Bootlicking is the career our business pleasing politicians are really getting our children ready for.

If there’s going to be any hope for a sane and equitable future, we desperately need to encourage and develop the independent, divergent thinkers among us. These are the individuals who will be the first to shake things up.

Want to be a rebel? Start buying books and reading. If you want to be a revolutionary, organize a reading group.

Crisis of courage. 

Unfortunately, teaching, as a profession, is on a different timeline.

I believe due to the recent alignment of technology and federal law, the United States is now on an accelerated track to diminish and ultimately eliminate the role of teacher as a professional career.

Instead, the idea of the teacher will be re-purposed. First, as digital facilitators. Later, the human component will be replaced all together with digital mentors and tutors. 

Teachers, at this point, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by standing up and fighting back against the push to destroy our public schools.

The only thing missing is the courage to do so.

Final thoughts.

The small bit of success I’ve experience as an activist has occurred by refusing to play the game and forcing my opponent to engage using my parameters and rules. Other critical elements have been: fearless friends, humor, and the willingness to let others join in and put their own spin on the action.

I believe all of us already have what’s needed to make change possible: a conscience and the ability to act. All we need is the courage to use these gifts.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

Questions We Should Be Asking About “Future Ready” Schools

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How far are we from the day we’ll be forced to rely on online education modules to inspire and excite the minds of young people; where badge collections replace diplomas; and virtual reality games substitute for Friday night dances, track meets, spelling bees, and school plays?

Editor’s note: Original post written for Wrench in the Gears and re-published with permission. Visit Wrench in the Gears for more information on the danger of “learning eco-systems.” -Carolyn Leith 

Questions we should be asking about “Future Ready” schools

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How far are we from the day we’ll be forced to rely on online education modules to inspire and excite the minds of young people; where badge collections replace diplomas; and virtual reality games substitute for Friday night dances, track meets, spelling bees, and school plays? How much time do we have before certified human teachers are replaced by “Task Rabbit” pathway designers and AI personal “tutors?” Before we lose all expectations for privacy surrounding how and when we access our educations? Before the entirety of our educational lives becomes consolidated under a unique ID number and its associated digital shadow?

Online learning is claiming ever-larger blocks of instructional time in bricks and mortar schools. Budgets prioritize technology purchases over investments in human staff and facilities. Increasingly responsibility for assessment is being taken away from teachers and placed under the purview of data dashboards and black boxes that monitor in minute detail our children’s academic and social-emotional “progress” towards standards we had no part in setting.

For all of these reasons, we need to take a critical look at school redesign programs that are showing up in communities across the nation. Our government is rolling these initiatives out right now in coordination with think tanks, philanthropies, and the education technology sector. If thousands of superintendents nationwide are signing on to “Future Ready Schools” it is imperative that as citizens we start considering the far reaching consequences a data-driven, technology-mediated system of public education will have for the health and wellbeing of our children and our democracy.

As we move into the era of the quantified self. I find myself worrying. I worry a lot. I worry that we should be asking questions, a lot of questions, and that our window for questioning is shrinking by the day.

Many who spend their days in our nation’s schools have been put into positions where they are almost compelled to welcome the concept of “school redesign.” They have been living for years in the test-and-punish nightmare that No Child Left Behind created. They’ve been coping with austerity budgets, toxic buildings, staff shortages, lack of respect, frozen wages, and the ongoing challenge of meeting the needs of students living in poverty with far too few resources at their disposal.

Current conditions in many of our nation’s schools are appalling, and that is by design. It is through this dissatisfaction with our current situation that they hope to accomplish a shift away from a “standardized” education based on a single high-stakes test given at the end of the year to a “personalized” digital education that employs ongoing online data collection as children progress through the curriculum year round.

So with that in mind, I invite you to consider the questions below. Hopefully they will give you some ideas you can use to start your own conversations with parents, teachers, and school board members in your own community. In my heart I believe the 21st century schools parents and human teachers desire for their children are very different from the version being pushed, behind closed doors, by the educational technology sector.

Questions we should be asking about school redesign and “Future Ready Schools:”

Technology-mediated education is considered to be a disruptive force. Many “innovative” 21st century education approaches seek to undermine traditional concepts like “seat time,” the Carnegie Unit, age-based grade levels, the centrality of teachers in classrooms, report cards, diplomas and to extend credit-based learning beyond the school building itself. Before moving forward with these ideas, shouldn’t there be a wider public discussion about which aspects of traditional schooling we want to retain moving forward? Disruption for the sake of creating new markets for businesses is an insufficient reason to dismantle neighborhood schools.

Why should we allow our children to be human subjects in this grand data science experiment? This is particularly troublesome given the fact that ethics codes for data scientists are not nearly as well developed as codes of conduct for bio-medical research.

What are the implications of expanded 1:1 device use and screen time on children’s health and emotional states?

How does the use of embedded “stealth” assessments contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society in the United States?

What overlap exists between data analysis used to monitor national security interests and data analysis used to assess educational content and activities in our nation’s schools? How does the Office of Educational Technology interface with the Department of Defense and how comfortable are the American people with those relationships? See xAPI or Tin Can or Douglas Noble’s 1991 extensively-researched book “Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, and Public Education” for additional background information.

As nano-technology advances make wearable devices more commonplace, shouldn’t parents have the right to refuse the collection of live data streams on behalf of their children? What types of monitoring (bio-metric and otherwise) have been enabled through the expanded presence of devices in our schools? Cameras, microphones, touch screens, and fit bits for example?

While personalized learning platforms tout their “individualization,” to what extent do these programs recognize our children’s humanity? As systems thinking becomes embedded within public education policy, are our children being valued as unique human beings possessed of free will, or merely as data points to be controlled and managed?

Feedback loops influence human behavior. In what ways could large-scale implementation of adaptive education programs and online educational gaming platforms contribute to the collective brainwashing of our children?

Personalized education means that algorithms decide what educational content your child CAN see, and what content they won’t see. Is it the duty of education to expose children to a wide range of content that will broaden their view of the world? Or is it the role of an adaptive learning program to feed the child information for which they have already expressed a preference? Consider the implications of a “Facebook” model of education.

How much data is too much? Data is never neutral. Who is collecting the data and to what end? Data is always a reflection of the ideology in which it is collected. Why should we trust data more than the professional expertise of human teachers?

We caution children about their online presence, but through the imposition of digital curriculum we are forcing them to create virtual educational identities at very young ages. Should that worry us? What are the implications of our children having digital surrogates/avatars that are linked to comprehensive data sets of academic and social-emotional information? Do we really understand the risks?

Who owns the intellectual property that students create on school-managed cloud-based servers? Do they have the right to extract their work at will?

What roles do teacher education programs and certification policies play in furthering a technology-mediated approach to public education?

Will students enrolled in private schools have their data collected at the same level as public school students? Is privacy something that will become ultimately be available only to the rich and elite? Will we allow that to happen?

Should it be the basic human right of all children to have access, if they choose, to a public education model in which humans teach one another in (non-digital) community in an actual school building?

-Wrench in the Gears

Oops! Study Shows Computer Use in School Doesn’t Help Test Scores

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In the next Families and Education Levy for Seattle, hundreds of millions of dollars are being earmarked for tech upgrades and computers. Needless to say, this is mostly in anticipation of computer testing but it also sets the stage for the use of computers to teach lessons, replacing teachers with the “blended learning” approach that has become the rage with charter schools and anyone else who stands to make a buck replacing certified teachers with computer programs.

Once again, buyer beware.

By the Hechinger Report and published by the US News and World Report:

Study: Computer Use in School Doesn’t Help Test Scores

In top-performing nations, teachers — not students — use technology.

For those of us who worry that Google might be making us stupid, and that, perhaps, technology and education don’t mix well, here’s a new study to confirm that anxiety.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development looked at computer use among 15-year-olds across 31 nations and regions, and found that students who used computers more at school had both lower reading and lower math scores, as measured by PISA or Program for International Student Assessment. The study, published Sept. 15, 2015, was actually conducted back in 2012, when the average student across the world, for example, was using the Internet once a week, doing software drills once a month, and emailing once a month. But the highest-performing students were using computers in the classroom less than that.

“Those that use the Internet every day do the worst,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, and author of “Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection,” the OECD’s first report to look at the digital skills of students around the world. The study controlled for income and race; between two similar students, the one who used computers more, generally scored worse. *

Home computer use, by contrast, wasn’t as harmful to academic achievement. Many students in many high performing nations reported spending between one to two hours a day on a computer outside of school. Across the 31 nations and regions, the average 15-year-old spent more than two hours a day on the computer. (Compare your country here.)

Back in the classroom, however, school systems with more computers tended to be improving less, the study found. Those with fewer computers were seeing larger educational gains, as measured by PISA test score changes between 2009 and 2012.

“That’s pretty sobering for us,” said Schleicher in a press briefing. “We all hope that integrating more and more technology is going to help us enhance learning environments, make learning more interactive, introduce more experiential learning, and give students access to more advanced knowledge. But it doesn’t seem to be working like this.”

Schleicher openly worried that if students end up “cutting and pasting information from Google” into worksheets with “prefabricated” questions, “then they’re not going to learn a lot.”

“There are countless examples of where the appropriate use of technology has had and is having a positive impact on achievement,” said Bruce Friend, the chief operating officer of iNACOL, a U.S.-based advocacy group for increasing the use of technology in education. “We shouldn’t use this report to think that technology doesn’t have a place.”

Friend urges schools in the U.S. and elsewhere to train teachers more in how to use technology, especially in how to analyze real-time performance data from students so that instruction can be modified and tailored to each student.

“Lots of technological investments are not translating into immediate achievement increases. If raising student achievement was as easy as giving every student a device, we would have this solved. It’s not easy,” Friend added.

In a press briefing on the report, Schleicher noted that many of the top 10 scoring countries and regions on the PISA test, such as Singapore and Shanghai, China, are cautious about giving computers to students during the school day. But they have sharply increased computer use among teachers.

Teachers in Shanghai, Schleicher explained, are expected to upload lesson plans to a database and they are partly evaluated by how much they contribute. In other Asian countries, it is common for teachers to collaborate electronically in writing lessons. And technology is used for video observations of classrooms and feedback. “Maybe that’s something we can learn from,” said Schleicher.

In addition to comparing computer use at schools with academic achievement, the report also released results from a 2012 computerized PISA test that assessed digital skills. U.S. students, it turns out, are much better at “digital reading” than they are at traditional print reading. The U.S. ranked among the group of top performing nations in this category. In math, the U.S. was near the worldwide average on the digital test, whereas it usually ranks below average on the print test.

The digital reading test assesses slightly different skills than the print test. For example, students are presented with a simulated website and asked to answer questions from it. Astonishingly, U.S. students are rather good at remaining on task, clicking strategically and getting back on track after an errant click. By contrast, students in many other nations were more prone to click around aimlessly.

Interestingly, there wasn’t a positive correlation between computer usage at school and performance on the digital tests. Some of the highest scoring nations on the digital tests don’t use computers very much at school.

In the end, 15-year-old students need good comprehension and analysis skills to do well in either the print or the digital worlds. This study leaves me thinking that technology holds a lot of promise, but that it’s hard to implement properly. Yes, maybe there are superstar teachers in Silicon Valley who never get rattled by computer viruses, inspire their students with thrilling lab simulations and connect their classroom with Nobel Prize-winning researchers. But is it realistic to expect the majority of teachers to do that? Is the typical teacher’s attempt to use technology in the classroom so riddled with problems that it’s taking away valuable instructional time that could otherwise be spent teaching how to write a well-structured essay?

Perhaps, it’s best to invest the computer money, into hiring, paying and training good teachers.

* In reading, students who used the computer a little bit did score better than those who never used a computer. But then as computer use increased beyond that little bit, reading performance declined. In math, the highest performing students didn’t use computers at all.