How Much Are Your Volunteer Hours Worth? Social Capital Scrip & the Financial-Tech Experiments with New Forms of Precarious Employment

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears. Original Title: “Social capital” scrip? Fin-tech experiments with new forms of precarious “employment

scrap yard

If you consider most activities are awarded 200 points, the per-hour rate of compensation is at most $2 (presuming the volunteer activity is only an hour) for the $25 gift card. The system is constructed so that the number of points needed to obtain a larger gift card is much, much higher. To receive a $200 gift card, a person must volunteer 750 hours, which equates to a payment of twenty-six CENTS per hour.

I write this piece as a follow up to my post on self sovereign identity on Blockchain, the distributed ledger system designed to capture flows of data, and information about our lives. Supporters of Blockchain tout its ability to secure “transactions” into permanent, immutable records of activities, earnings, payments, and debt. As we shift to a cashless society dominated by dynamic online payment systems, I see new forms of draconian labor compensation practices starting to emerge.

To set the stage for my examination of Union Capital Boston, I want to give you a bit of personal background. I work at a botanic garden surrounded by a mostly post-industrial landscape. It’s on the way to the airport, a stone’s throw from trash transfer plants. Residents live with terrible air quality due to the refineries across the river. For a number of years we were hopeful they’d be shut down, but then fracking revitalized the petroleum industry and they’re still going strong.

When I started my job fifteen years ago, an adjacent parking lot held hundreds of school buses. Most students in Philadelphia don’t take yellow buses to school, but the company must have serviced the field trip market and perhaps charter schools and private schools. About seven years ago, as standardized testing ramped up and education funding decreased, the era of field trips drew to a close. The bus company closed up shop, and within a year or so that lot was taken over by a scrap metal company.

Today sidewalks outside the scrap yard are littered with wrecked cars. There’s a constant flow of people in pick up trucks, with shopping carts, and grocery dollies carrying in old appliances, rebar and junk to make ends meet. We are on a trajectory of intentional scarcity and economic instability that has been picking up speed as technology and financialization take hold of our lives. It’s brutal. The image of a frail elderly gentleman attempting to navigate a top-heavy shopping cart across the treacherous trolley tracks remains indelibly printed on my mind and my heart.

Jobs with pensions, with regular hours, with benefits, with stability have been slipping away for decades. First there was temp work and consulting, later gigs and now micro-work. Some try to cobble together part time jobs, but barbarous algorithms, striving for leaner deployment of human labor, make it nearly impossible to piece together a workable schedule. Meanwhile, tech has stepped up to design platforms that meet industry’s need for “just in time” labor.

mTurk matches developers and businesses with “human intelligence” at a “lower cost than was previously possible.” Discrete tasks like identifying objects in photos or transcribing audio recordings are a poor substitute for a regular job. Now we have Uber, Insta-cart shoppers, Task Rabbits who vie to assemble Ikea bookshelves at the lowest possible wage. While this work may be less dangerous than scrap collection or being driven to exhaustion or death in an Amazon warehouse, it is still not a viable option for anyone who desires a stable life and to raise a family. The Fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t even in full swing, but we’re pushing kids into “career connected” pathways even though we have no earthly idea what the future of “labor” will be other than that all signs indicate it won’t be good for most people.

Now I’d like to introduce you to Union Capital Boston, a new economic model that, were it ever to become widely adopted, would grossly undermine authentic, citizen-driven, grassroots community engagement. The non-profit organization based in Roxbury, MA was founded in 2014 by siblings Eric and Anna Leslie. The premise is that what the poor REALLY need is a system of rewards points that allow them to acquire small cash gift cards in exchange for volunteering in their communities. They also promote helping participants build resumes of volunteerism and activism, well-suited to being badged on Blockchain.

 

The Leslie’s system isn’t on Blockhain, but it does have ties to the impact investment community, is located in greater Boston where all of this is being incubated, is promoting interventions tied to established behavioral economic “nudging” strategies, and seems to be an experiment in activity tracking and alternate payment systems using  “virtual bank accounts.” In a sense, it is creating digital scrip where “good citizenship” is structured and rewarded by corporate-driven philanthropic interests and their complicit non-profit partners, all imposed upon the poor under the guise of benevolence. Membership fees that participating non-profit groups pay to become members of the program underwrite the cash payouts.

Prior to obtaining his Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Eric worked for nine years in education, first as a Teach for America Fellow and later as a teacher and school leader at KIPP charter schools in Philadelphia (note Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B-Lab, the entity that establishes social impact metrics, serves on the KIPP Philadelphia board). Anna has a Masters in Public Health, worked as an outreach coordinator for Americorps (an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service along with the Pay for Success Social Innovation Fund), did a short stint at KIPP and then went on do to research at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In 2015, the Knight Foundation granted Union Capital Boston $35,000 to “prototype a program and tools to reward citizens for getting civically involved, as part of an effort to accelerate and learn from early-stage media and information projects.” They received another $7,500 from the Boston Foundation. In 2016 they were granted $60,000 by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc. (Rockefeller, the force behind the Global Impact Investment Network).

The Knight Foundation is doing a lot of “civic” work in Philadelphia. I didn’t end up incorporating this plot line into my “Building Sanctuary” story, but in the back of my mind I had entertained the idea that all of these philanthropically-directed civic projects could be a means to identify possible change agents in advance and neutralize them. Maybe that’s too dark. I don’t know, but Knight is also funding Internet of Things grants for “smart” cities…

What Eric and Anna developed was an app and a system for earning “points” that could be exchanged monthly for cash gift cards in denominations from $25 to $200. Only certain activities earn points. They’ve had to scale back on compensation, so options that used to be rewarded are now just “celebrated.” See the image of the UCB Selfie guidelines below:

If you consider most activities are awarded 200 points, the per-hour rate of compensation is at most $2 (presuming the volunteer activity is only an hour) for the $25 gift card. The system is constructed so that the number of points needed to obtain a larger gift card is much, much higher. To receive a $200 gift card, a person must volunteer 750 hours, which equates to a payment of twenty-six CENTS per hour.

All of this activity, including geolocation data about the “volunteer,” is logged via the UCB app where it is aggregated in dashboards so communities can compete with one another for “civic engagement.” I’m sure all of this data will be associated with Rates of Return on Pay for Success contracting tied to education, healthcare, housing and financial inclusion. It is important to note that one of the activities rewarded is voter registration and participating in political activities.

Note their funders below:

I want to share an excerpt taken from Union Capital Boston’s Facebook page in March. It has since been removed. It describes the plight of a single mother who works full time in the Boston area, but cannot make ends meet due to the high cost of living and her low wages. How they proposes to solve her problem? With an app of course! With the help of UCB, this mother will spend whatever open hours she has outside of her work and family time “volunteering” to earn rewards so that she can buy a transit pass to get to work. Rather than addressing income inequality, which would be the radical solution, impact investors like the Leslies propose surveillance apps that proffer “assistance” with many, many strings attached. It is a solution that completely undermines the true spirit of community support and mutual aid. This “solution” is one structured around the financial motivations of impact-oriented non-profits and their investors.

Do I think Union Capital Boston is a program that is going to take off soon? No, I actually don’t. They have about a thousand members now. What I think is that this program is an incubator for bigger projects down the road. I wouldn’t be surprised if the policy folks at Harvard and the digital economy folks at MIT are getting regular updates from Eric and Anna. The end game with digital identity and payment systems is a bit farther out on the horizon. But global financial tech needs these test cases, and they need to start normalizing new and ever more abusive alternate labor payment systems. They need to lay the groundwork for the successor to “micro-work.” It appears some are betting on “social capital scrip” being the next big thing, maybe with a side of Sesame Credit factored into dynamic pricing just to keep things interesting.

Excerpt pulled from the UCB Facebook Page March 2018:

“In every low-income community there are vast amounts of human and social capital, and wonderful organizations trying to utilize those resources to make improvements. These resources and organizations are often disorganized, disconnected, and inefficient. Union Capital Boston (UCB) aims to connect people with these resources in low-income communities and provide rewards in order to overcome the poverty trap.

“I’m stuck!” laments Nadia, who lives in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury with her three children. Although she works full time, Nadia’s $28,000 annual salary is barely more than half of the median family income in Boston ($52,000), and more importantly, insufficient to meet the city’s high cost of living. Like many in her community, she does not want to depend on government assistance but has to use SNAP benefits and Section 8 housing to make ends meet.

By joining UCB, Nadia will earn points-tracked by swiping a QR code on her smartphone or keychain-for doing things that benefit both her her family and her community. For example, Nadia picks up her children from school on a Friday and earns 100 UCB points by volunteer at their afterschool program. On the way home, Nadia shops at the local grocery store and received 50 UCB points for her purchase. On Saturday, Nadia takes her children to the neighborhood playground and joins in a clean up earning another 100 UCB points. Nadia now has earned 250 points in her UCB Virtual Bank account. She logs into the UCB Virtual Store and uses her points to purchase a monthly MBTA pass that she needs to commute to work-all from giving back and being loyal to her community.

UCB plans to partner with schools, businesses, and civic groups that will benefit from increased participation and business. Ultimately, these institutions will pay fees to UCB in exchange for increased patronage from and improved outcomes for UCB members. UCB will use capital garnered from these fees to purchase and distribute rewards, including public transportation passes, health care coverage, home loan assistance, and college tuition payments.

The concept of customer rewards is not new, but the goal of organizing loyalty in a low-income community is a new endeavor that we believe will yield important benefits based on recent academic studies. According to research by Canada’s Knowledge Development Centre, key motivations for low-income volunteers like Nadia include desire for personal and professional development, and contribution to one’s community. Furthermore, Mark Rosenbaum in the Journal of Services Marketing (Vol. 19, Iss: 4, 2005) demonstrates that participation greatly increased when customer loyalty programs were communally-based, rather than just financially motivated, because individuals highly valued connecting with their community. Robert Putnam’s research demonstrates that this community loyalty improves social capital, which is a key component for breaking out of poverty. The benefit of a low-income community rewards program is therefore two-fold: create opportunities for individuals and families, while simultaneously improve the surrounding community.”

Below is a screen shot of their May 2018 community participation dashboard. The behavioral economists sure do love their leader boards. So much better to have people pitted against against one in competition than organizing together, eh?

-Alison McDowell

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Badges Find Their Way to San Jose, Philadelphia (and the Point Defiance Zoo)

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

LRNG playlist

 

In this brave, new world education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new “personalized pathway/badging” approach to education.

San Jose LRNG Badges

Yesterday I watched a May 7, 2018 meeting held by the City Council of San Jose on education and digital literacy efforts related to the LRNG program, an initiative of the McCarthur Foundation-funded Collective Shift. Philadelphia is also a City of LRNG. Below is a five-minute clip in which they describe their digital badging program roll out.

Collecting an online portfolio of work-aligned skills is key to the planned transition to an apprenticeship “lifelong learning” model where children are viewed as human capital to be fed into an uncertain gig economy. Seattle Education’s recent post “Welcome to the machine” describes what is happening as Washington state follows the lead of Colorado and Arizona in pushing “career-connected” education.

Philadelphia’s LRNG program is called Digital On Ramps and is linked to WorkReady, the city’s youth summer jobs program. For the past several years children as young as fourteen have been encouraged to create online accounts and document their work experience using third party platforms. Opportunities to win gift cards and iPad minis have been used as incentives to complete the online activities. Within the past year the LRNG program has grown to include numerous badges related to creating and expanding online LinkedIn profiles. Microsoft bought Linked in for $26 billion in 2016. See screen shots below.

LRNG Contest

LRNG Contest 2

Below are excerpts from two previous posts I wrote about badges and Digital On Ramps. Activity is ramping up around online playlist education and the collection of competencies/badges using digital devices. We need to be paying attention. The first is from “Trade you a backpack of badges for a caring teacher and a well-resourced school” posted October 2016.

“This is not limited to K12 or even P20, the powers that be envision this process of meeting standards and collecting badges to be something we will have to do our ENTIRE LIVES. If you haven’t yet seen the “Learning is Earning” video-stop now and watch it, because it makes this very clear. Badges are representations of standards that have been met, competencies that have been proven. Collections of badges could determine our future career opportunities. The beauty of badges from a reformer’s perspective is that they are linked to pre-determined standards and can be earned “anywhere.” You can earn them from an online program, from a community partner, even on the job. As long as you can demonstrate you have mastery of a standard, you can claim the badge and move on to the next bit of micro-educational content needed to move you along your personalized pathway to the workforce.

In this brave, new world education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new “personalized pathway/badging” approach to education.

The reformers needed to get data-driven, standards-based education firmly in place before spotlighting their K12 badge campaign. Low-key preparations have been in the works for some time. In 2011, Mozilla announced its intention to create an Open Badges standard that could be used to verify, issue, and display badges earned via online instructional sites. The MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) supported this effort. In 2013 a citywide badging pilot known as “The Summer of Learning” was launched in Chicago. 2013 was also the year that the Clinton Global Initiative joined the badge bandwagon. They have since agreed to incorporate badges into their operations and work to bring them to scale globally as part of the Reconnect Learning collaborative.

Other partners in the “Reconnect Learning” badging program include: The Afterschool AllianceBadge AllianceBlackboardDigital PromiseEdXETSHive Learning NetworksPearsonProfessional Examination Service and Council for Aid to Education, and Workforce.IO.

The Chicago Summer of Learning program expanded nationally and has since evolved into LRNG Cities, a program of the MacArthur Foundation. According to their website: “LRNG Cities combine in-school, out-of-school, employer-based and online learning experiences into a seamless network that is open and inviting to all youth. LRNG Cities connect youth to learning opportunities in schools, museums, libraries, and businesses, as well as online.”

In some ways such a system may sound wonderful and exciting. But I think we need to ask ourselves if we shift K12 funding (public, philanthropic, or social impact investing) outside school buildings, and if we allow digital badges to replace age-based grade cohorts, report cards, and diplomas, what are we giving up? Is this shiny, new promise worth the trade off? Many schools are shadows of their former selves. They are on life support. It is very likely that expanding the role of community partners and cyber education platforms via badging will put the final nail in the coffin of neighborhood schools.” Read full post here.

The second is from “Will “Smart” Cities lead to surveilled education and social control?” posted July 2017.

“Philadelphia has been on the Smart Cities’ bandwagon since 2011 when it teamed up with IBM to develop Digital On Ramps, a supposedly “ground breaking” human capital management program. As part of this initiative Philadelphia Academies, led at the time by Lisa Nutter (wife of Democrats for Education Reform former mayor Michael Nutter), developed a system of badges for youth that promoted workforce-aligned “anywhere, any time learning.” You can view a 2012 HASTAC conference presentation on the program starting at timestamp 50:00 of this video.  Lisa Nutter now works as an advisor to Sidecar Social Finance, an impact investment firm, and Michael Nutter is, among other things, a senior fellow with Bloomberg’s What Works Cities. This relationship map shows some of the interests surrounding the Digital On Ramps program. Use this link for an interactive version.

Digital On Ramps has since combined with Collective Shift’s initiative City of LRNG operating with support from the MacArthur Foundation. Besides Philadelphia, ten other Cities of LRNG are spread across the country: Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, Washington, DC and Springfield, OH.

The premise is the “city is your classroom” where students “learn” through playlists of curated activities that are monitored via phone-based apps. Many of these cities are also “smart” cities. The Philadelphia program is presently housed at Drexel University, an institution that is involved in education technology research and development, that is a partner in Philadelphia’s Promise Zone initiative (education is a major component), and whose president John Fry served a term on the board of the Philadelphia School Partnership, the city’s ed-reform engine. Drexel’s graduate school of education is currently the lead on an unrelated NSF-funded STEM educational app and badging program being piloted with Philadelphia teachers in the Mantua neighborhood within the Promise Zone. It is touted as “an immersive, mentor-guided biodiversity field experience and career awareness program.”

In April 2017, Drexel’s School of Education hosted a lecture by DePaul University’s Dr. Nichole Pinkard entitled “Educational Technologies in a Time of Change in Urban Communities,” in which the MacArthur-funded 2013 Chicago Summer of Learning pilot was discussed. In this clip from the Q&A that followed the lecture, an audience member raised concerns about credit-bearing out-of-school time learning in the ecosystem model.

The 2011 IBM summary report for Digital On Ramps noted that among the four top priority recommendations was the creation of a “federated” view of the citizen in the cloud.” Of course, 2011 predates developments like Sesame Credit, but looking at it now I can’t help but conjure up an image of the “federated citizen in the cloud” as portrayed in Black Mirror’s dystopian Nosedive episode.

Digital On-Ramps appears to be a prototype for a career pathway, decentralized learning ecosystem model for public education. As the task-rabbit, gig economy becomes more entrenched with freelancers competing for the chance to provide precarious work at the lowest rate (see this short clip from Institute for the Future’s video about Education and Blockchain), what will it mean to reduce education to a series of ephemeral micro-credentials? And what dangers are there in adding behavioral competencies from predictive HR gaming platforms like Knack into the mix? Tech and human capital management interests are counting on the fact that people are intrigued by new apps. We’re predisposed to seek out pleasurable entertainment. Gamification is both appealing and distracting, consequently few people contemplate the downside right away, if ever.” Read full post here.

-Alison McDowell

Editor’s Note: The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is a community partner with LRNG and offers badges. To learn more click here. -Carolyn Leith

They’ve Got Trouble, Up There in North Dakota (Dintersmith Strikes Again)

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

library as makerspace

Dintersmith rode into North Dakota via an August 2015 TEDx talk promoting his film Most Likely to SucceedGreg Tehven, founder of the Fargo-based tech incubator Emerging Prairie who has ties to social impact investing and Teach for America in Minneapolis, extended the invitation. Dintersmith’s film premiered just in time to set up the next wave of ed-reform aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The documentary was based on a book by the same name that he co-authored with former Gates Foundation senior advisor and Harvard University education professor Tony Wagner.

He breezes into a Northern Plains town channeling Harold Hill, the slick huckster from the 1962 musical The Music Man. They’ve got trouble up there in North Dakota; but the trouble is with so-called“ factory” model education, not pool tables. The solution to this “terrible trouble” is of course laptops and tablets, not trombones. That’s no surprise, given that Governor Doug Burgum made his fortune selling Great Plains Software for a billion dollars to Microsoft, joined the company as a senior VP, and later served on the boards of numerous other software, predictive analytics, and cloud-based computing enterprises. Interactive map here.

Doug Burgum

The Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education

self-styled outsider candidate, Burgum won the governorship in 2016, with financial backing from Bill Gates, his largest campaign contributor. Between the primary and general elections Gates pitched in at least $100,000, with several other Microsoft executives contributing smaller amounts. It seems that while looking for an “outsider,” the voters of North Dakota may have actually thrown in their lot with the Silicon Valley technocracy. In Burgum’s “future ready” North Dakota, “personalized” learning will prepare the state’s children to out-Finland even Finland! At least if you buy the pitch venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith’s made at the Governor’s Summit on Innovative Learning held at Legacy High School in Bismarck last June. Details about this year’s summit, scheduled for June 7, 2018 here.

After my previous post on Dintermith, a resident of North Dakota reached out to me with concerns. Like the musical’s Marian the librarian, she smelled a rat. Having attended the day-long event, she had serious reservations about some of the ideas put forward by Dintersmith and his sidekicks, which included Ken Kay, tech sector lobbyist and founder of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21); Susie Wise of Stanford University’s School ReTool program; and Marcus Lingenfelter of the Exxon-bankrolled National Math and Science Initiative. See this interactive map of their associations here.

Innovative Education Summit ND 2017

Dintersmith the Promoter

Dintersmith rode into North Dakota via an August 2015 TEDx talk promoting his film Most Likely to SucceedGreg Tehven, founder of the Fargo-based tech incubator Emerging Prairie who has ties to social impact investing and Teach for America in Minneapolis, extended the invitation. Dintersmith’s film premiered just in time to set up the next wave of ed-reform aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The documentary was based on a book by the same name that he co-authored with former Gates Foundation senior advisor and Harvard University education professor Tony Wagner.

The film is a soft sell for the type of “individualized,” “whole child” instruction the tech sector eagerly anticipates digitizing and monetizing using 1:1 screen-based devices, biometric monitoring, and augmented and virtual reality platforms. The academic and social emotional data grab will ultimately feed ed-tech social impact investment markets. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet notes, data is the new oil. Folks in North Dakota know the value of oil, as well as the devastation that results from its extraction. Hooking the state’s students up to screens and other monitoring systems to extract their data (oil) while selling community members and elected officials on “innovation” is recipe for profit for tech and disaster for children.

Student Data Extraction

Take some time to review this unsettling foresight document from Knowledgeworks, one of the North Dakota Department of Instruction’s innovative education partners. It offers a view into a world of augmented and virtual reality and wearables. I’ve often wondered what project-based learning via badges will look like in remote, rural areas. Under the LRNG program Collective Shift / MacArthur are pitching “the city as your classroom.” But how would that work in a place like Orrin, ND where the population is under fifty people? This whitepaper anticipates it will happen via augmented virtual reality simulations and games once rural communities upgrade to edge computing. Given the numerous references to careers in the state’s drone and energy industries I’ve come across in the course of my research, it seems learning ecosystem proponents may view North Dakota, with a tech-minded governor and willing populace, as a great test-bed for gamified work-based online education training systems.

Mentor Connect

Mastery-Based Learning Eliminates Grades

The forty-five second clip below is rather jaw-dropping. In it Dr. Cory Steiner of the Northern Cass School District outlines planned implementation of Mass Customized Learning (competency-based education), an experiment he says made him feel unwell. He describes it as “seed project” that will evaluate students solely on mastery of competencies and eliminate age-based grade groups altogether. Say goodbye to first grade, second grade, third grade; from now on education will be check the online box and move along as you build your “lifelong learner” data profile.

Dr. Steiner was the program manager of the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Database system from 2012 to 2014 when he joined Northern Cass, a “Future Ready” district. Later in the panel (timestamp 38:30) he states that he wants juniors and seniors to be done with all of their core coursework and spend their last two years of high school pursuing electives and work-based placements. It is unclear how this strategy will mesh with Marcus Lingenfelter’s position that the state will be advancing high-level STEM education, unless you believe students will be getting comprehensive instruction in courses like physics or calculus during their internships.

Work-Based Learning?

Steiner says that during their senior year, he doesn’t want to see students in school; that they should be figuring out at least what they don’t want to do. How has it come to this? Is it austerity that is pushing us to rush children into occupations when they are just 16 years old? For jobs that likely won’t exist a decade from now? Is any thought being given to the child labor implications? What if they don’t want to work for Exxon or drone manufacturers or Battelle? What if they want to have a senior prom and participate in clubs and sports and social gatherings like their parents did?

Certainly CTE training has a place, but let us support students in finding affordable training in those fields AFTER they have full access K-12 to a publicly-funded education with a well-rounded curriculum. It should not be the expectation that public education will deliver our children as a just-in-time workforce to corporations that generate profits for their shareholders by adopting gig-economy hiring practices. The image below is from the recent 9th annual ASU+GSV (Arizona State University / Global Silicon Valley) Summit in San Diego. Dintersmith was there this week making the rounds pitching his new book “What School Could Be.”

more agile workforce

Dintersmith strikes again

What about the teachers?

And where are the teachers in all of this you might ask? Are they resisting being supplanted by devices? Why no, no they aren’t. Remember, the leaders of both national teachers unions have signed on to Education Reimagined. Instead, classroom teachers are kept distracted, attending Gates-funded EdCamp “un-conferences” where they talk about flexible seating and apps. Meanwhile, Tom Vander Ark and the staff of iNACOL / Competencyworks plot CBE’s nationwide expansion, see map here. You might think North Dakota United would be sounding the alarm, but that couldn’t be further from the case. They’ve actually partnered with Ted Dintersmith to produce a podcast documenting all aspects of the “personalized” learning takeover of North Dakota. The name of the podcast is, I kid you not, The Cutting Ed. Click here to check out the twenty-two episodes they’ve produced since last November. Dintersmith has also created a statewide playlist of resources to go along with School ReTool’s program of educational hacks. It’s called North Dakota Innovation Playlists, a modular program teachers can use to hack themselves right out of a career.

It turns out both the primary sponsor and co-sponsor of SB2186, North Dakota’s Innovative Education Bill, were teachers. Poolman is a high school English teacher in Bismarck and Oban was a middle school teacher.  The bill passed the Senate with only one nay vote on March 21, 2017. It passed the House with 75 yeas and 17 nays on March 28, 2017. Burgum signed it into law on April 4, 2017. The bill had overwhelming support from all the major education policy groups in the state, including North Dakota United. Interactive version of the map below here.

ND SB2186

It seems most people involved with this bill believed it would return local control of education policy decisions in the state. Clearly, they were either unaware or in denial about the fact that the bill was inspired by the ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Commission, “Innovation Schools and School Districts” model legislation that was created in 2012, the same year social impact bonds first appeared in the United States and the year Kirsten Baesler became state superintendent.

Knowledgeworks played a pivotal role in crafting the legislation and promoting CBE.  Knowledgworks is the primary promoter of the decentralized learning ecosystem model. It was originally funded by Gates as part of his small schools initiative, but later became an engine for policy reform in Ohio and was tasked with implementing Common Core State Standards there.

Knowledge Works CC

They have also spun off a social-impact program for “cradle to career” wrap around services known as Strive Together. All told, the organization has received over $24 million from Gates since 2001. Their specialty is producing terrifying white papers. I tweeted a number of these to supporters of SB2186 but never received a response: Glimpses of the Future of EducationExploring the Future Education WorkforceRecombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem; and the Future of Learning in the Pittsburgh Region (plus their new AR/VR Wearables paper). In this report Baesler is quoted as saying “Knowledgeworks staff provided the support, experience and essentially the framework for North Dakota’s innovation bill.

The Marzano work group Baesler describes here around timestamp 2:30 was part of the process as well. Virgil Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer of Knowledgeworks, came to the organization from Maine’s RSU2 district, one of the early pilot programs for CBE. RSU2’s “Standards-Based, Learner Centered Frameworks,” part of the Mass Customized Learning program, was brought to that district by Bea McGarvey, a Maine resident and employee of Marzano Associates. MCL is being implemented in Northern Cass schools. Things were falling apart with MCL in Maine as early as 2013, but money has continued to pour into the program from the Nellie Mae Foundation and other supporters of the Great Schools Partnership. They have managed to hang on, but opposition has become more vocal in recent months as compliance with new Proficiency Based diploma requirements looms on the horizon.

The Truth About Local Control

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler states the Every Student Succeeds Act returned education decisions to local control in many of her speeches and also here. But did it? Who exactly is calling the shots with respect to North Dakota education policy? If you take a look at the innovative education partners, only North Dakota Council on the Arts and North Dakota United are based in the state. Interactive map here.

ND Innovative Education Partners

Knowledgeworks is clearly a Gates-funded vehicle with ties to national education reform interests. I don’t see how you can see the amount of grant funding coming in and think it is any way a grassroots organization or that they would place the interests of North Dakota’s children above that of their many powerful funders. Interactive map here.

Knowledgeworks Staff

Grants to Knowledgeworks

Another key player in this transformation is School ReTool, a program out of Stanford University, whose business school is a force behind scaling social impact investing. Stanford’s education school, through SCALE ,is also working to develop digital means by which to upload project based learning evidence into cloud-based systems. Far from a local program, School ReTool is rolling out its “hacks” in districts from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh to Dallas to Oakland. They were part of the Obama White House’s massive plan to redesign high school per this 2016 update.

This personalized learning program is nothing unique to North Dakota. It was not brought to North Dakota because the people wanted it. It was brought to you as part of a national campaign masterminded by ed-tech and impact investment interests. Partners in School ReTool can be seen here.

School ReTool

Get in touch with the parents in Maine!

Burgum, Dintersmith, Baesler, and the rest are really hoping everyone just takes the laptops; turns libraries into maker spaces; acquiesces to mindset and skills-based instruction aligned to gig-economy jobs (fracking, drones, and the military); and accepts ubiquitous AI instruction. Don’t stop to consider how exactly deeper-learning and intense STEM instruction will result from dumbed-down online playlist instruction and work-based learning placements. Don’t look under the hood; don’t pine for old-fashioned age-based grades, report cards, diplomas, and neighborhood schools. Embrace the shiny. Just accept the learning ecosystem model and all the data-mining and labor market predictive analytics that goes along with it. Don’t ask questions; don’t slow down the transformation of education into a privatized marketplace; and by all means don’t tell Hawaii, because they’re the next up on his anytime, anywhere education tour.

But you don’t have to do that. Connect with the parents and teachers in Maine. They are actively rebelling against the competency / proficiency / mastery based education policies being shoved down their throats by the Nellie Mae Foundation, Great Schools Partnership and Knowledgeworks: herehere, and here. They have suffered for years without fully understanding what was happening. Emily Talmage has done a great service with her blog, Save Maine Schools, putting together detailed research and laying everything out. North Dakota, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, unite and resist. Your schools should belong to your communities. They need not become gig-economy data-factories if you take a stand, but do it now.

PS: If you know any of the people assigned to Burgum’s Innovative Education Task Force, consider sending this on to them with my Dintersmith post, so they know what they’ve been signed up for. The task force map is here and a really big map of the whole system is here. If you’ve stayed with me this long, thank you!

ND Innovative Education Task Force

Innovative Education in North Dakota

-Alison McDowell

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

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

job training office_3

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

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

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

But I won’t.

CBE 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s a Gig?

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

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

ALEC.png

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s summarize ….

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

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

Pay for Success is a gig framework for education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Pearson:

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

Also read about LinkedIn, CBE and gig economics here.

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

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

Living the Gig Life: Tom Vander Ark’s Plans for My 6th Grader

live the gig life_2

That my kid was a potential stepping stone to the introduction of the entrepreneurial spirt – so valued by those pushing the gig economy – into our public school and also a source of financial gain to boot, was a sobering.

It also raises big questions:

Where are the local protections to keep kids from being exploited?

Who owns their work and other personal data?

With the push for badges, internships, and other in-school workforce training, what happens to the child labor laws that made public education possible for so many kids?

For the first time ever, I got to attend a Network for Public Education Conference and participate on a panel.

During my presentation, one slide caught the attention of a reporter for EdSurge. The panel was called Parent Hopes and the Gig Economy.

Here’s the slide:

Future of Work K-12

This is what the reporter had to say:

In the session, Leith called out influencers such as Tom Vander Ark, a former education director with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and one of the webinar’s presenters, saying he’s “now planning out” what her “sixth grader might be doing in the future for work.”

According to the talk, that future may be moving towards the gig economy, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as “a single project or task for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.” Leith offered another way of describing it: a “series of little jobs” people in the future will have to work “enough to make ends meet.” Leith also claims the workers themselves don’t handle the money, but rather, a platform like Uber—”the middleman”—does.

That concerns Leith. She and others think the gig economy will work for some people, but not all. For instance, research done in 2016 from data and consulting firm Hearts & Wallets suggested that gig economy workers in their 40s, 50s and early 60s within a certain subgroup had high satisfaction rates working in the gig economy. But critics have argued that the gig economy model doesn’t protect workers from exploitation.

Leith is also worried about the way advocates are advertising the gig economy to young students. She feels there’s a false “positive sell” that uses language such as “you’re gonna choose your gigs, and you’re a creative of the new economy.” A more accurate description, she said, would be to say that the gig economy relies on “low paying jobs” that won’t make it possible to “buy a house.”

I think my comments were interesting because the ed-tech “thought leaders” don’t spend much time with the parents of their designated end users.

Parents who aren’t thrilled their students are beta-testing products for free or their public schools are being transformed into workforce development pipelines.

That someone would dare to criticize Vander Ark was news in itself.

More Ed-Tech Adventures with my 6th Grader

Back in 5th grade, I refused to sign the release for my kid’s work to be uploaded to Seesaw. Seesaw compiles digital portfolios of student work and was started by two former employees of Facebook.

As you can imagine, taking such a hard anti-technology stance in the land of Bill Gates put me on the short list for President of the local Tinfoil Hat Society.

A year later the New York Times broke a story explaining how Seesaw is essentially bribing teachers to do product placement in their classrooms, and even worst, teachers are branding themselves and welcoming this commercialization of their profession.

Ms. Delzer also has a second calling. She is a schoolteacher with her own brand, Top Dog Teaching. Education start-ups like Seesaw give her their premium classroom technology as well as swag like T-shirts or freebies for the teachers who attend her workshops. She agrees to use their products in her classroom and give the companies feedback. And she recommends their wares to thousands of teachers who follow her on social media.

“I will embed it in my brand every day,” Ms. Delzer said of Seesaw. “I get to make it better.”

That my kid was a potential stepping stone to the introduction of the entrepreneurial spirt – so valued by those pushing the gig economy – into our public school and also a potential source of financial gain to boot, was a sobering.

It also raises big questions:

Where are the local protections to keep kids from being exploited?

Who owns their work and other personal data?

With the push for badges, internships, and other in-school workforce training, what happens to the child labor laws that made public education possible for so many kids?

Back to The Future of Work and What it Means for K-12 Schools Webinar

During the webinar, Michael Chui, Partner, McKinsey Global Institute, dropped this truth bomb.

In the future, will there be enough work? Historically, we have had enough work despite technology entering. I think in terms of actual amount of demand for labor, it’ll be there. But I do think there will be potential challenges in transitioning people from what they’re doing now as machines do some of what people do now into the new jobs of the future. Some of those things do have to do with retraining, re-skilling, even as people are in the workforce. And I think there’s a lot of work to be done in doing that successfully of scale. And I think that’s a challenge. And you also made reference to the fact that geographically in the United States, labor is at multi-decades low. Even that rate has declined over time. And if we’re going to have the outcomes, often times new jobs won’t be created in the same places where other jobs, you know, might be declining in employment. We’ll need to solve that challenge, as well, in terms of labor mobility. It’s been one of the things that has been, you know, underpinned, you know, good outcomes in the past in the economy and when we do — and then, one of the other challenges that we do see going forward, there’ll be enough, potentially enough work, we’ll need to transition people. And we also have a question as to whether or not the work will pay. Some of the modeling shows that, in fact, income polarization or inequality, whatever you want to call it. And Tom made reference to this before, a hollowing out of middle-aged jobs potentially could be exacerbated by technology, as well. 

Even enthusiastic supporters of the gig economy are worried about its negative impact on the the amount of jobs, living wages, and employment of individuals in their 40s, 50s, and early 60s.

Here’s the giant red flag, which Chui awkwardly admits: some of the modeling of the gig economy shows more income polarization and increased inequality.

Of course, common sense points to the very same thing, but it’s interesting the “thought leaders” are worried about it too.

This should scare everyone who wants their kids and grandchildren to have the opportunity to live in a fair and stable society.

-Carolyn Leith