Do You Believe a Universal Basic Income will Save Society? Think again.

Elysium
Elysium – “Would You Like To Talk To A Human?”

I can’t help but get a bad feeling whenever a universal basic income is pitched as the next big thing that will fix poverty. Having paid attention to ed-reform, I’ve heard all of this before. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind going to do that? Or Obama’s poverty fighting, opportunity creating tool The Every Student Succeeds Act? We’ve been fed a string of promises from philanthro-capitalists that have failed to deliever. Why would a universal basic income be any different?

With the news that Stockton, California is piloting a universal basic income (UBI) program, I want to take this opportunity to raise an uncomfortable question: Are the philanthro-capitalists using the idea of a universal basic income as a way to save society or themselves?

I can’t help but get a bad feeling whenever a universal basic income is pitched as the next big thing that will fix poverty. Having paid attention to ed-reform, I’ve heard all of this before. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind going to do that? Or Obama’s poverty fighting, opportunity creating tool The Every Student Succeeds Act?

We’ve been fed a string of promises from philanthro-capitalists that have failed to deliever. Why would a universal basic income be any different?

About that Stockton universal basic income pilot, from CNN via MSN news:

The concept of Universal Basic Income has gained traction and support from some Silicon Valley leaders, including Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg. It is seen as a way to possibly reduce poverty and safeguard against the job disruption that comes from automation.

“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said at a Harvard commencement address in May 2017.

The Stockton project has its roots in Silicon Valley, too. Its financial backers include Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes’ organization, the Economic Security Project — a fund to support research and cultural engagement around Universal Basic Income. It contributed $1 million to the Stockton initiative.

Oh, and don’t think for a moment this “free” money doesn’t come with a cost.

The project, expected to launch in 2019, hopes to use data to address the policy questions about UBI. For example, does a guarantee of a basic income affect school attendance and health, or cause people to quit their jobs or start new businesses?

The project is also interested at looking at how the funds impact female empowerment and if it can help pull people out of poverty.

The hidden cost to a universal basic income system will be personal surveillance and data harvesting combined with “nudges” from the state to help citizens make the “right” choices.

If you still don’t get the hint and continue to miss your behavior targets, these nudges will be combined with disciplinary actions.

What exactly is a nudge? I’ll let Wrench in the Gears explain:

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

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

Here’s some examples of how nudges could be incorporated into a universal basic income program:

  • –Miss your target monthly steps or blood glucose numbers? Expect a penalty to be deducted from your universal basic income account.
  • –Didn’t buy enough fruits and vegetables to be considered “healthy”?  Penalty.
  • –Your kid has an unacceptable number of tardies or unexcused absences from school. Penalty.

God forbid you get flagged for purchasing what is considered an “unhealthy” amount of booze or spend too much time on Weedmaps or Leafly.

In a solutionist world, getting flagged could land you on an anti-social watchlist. Being flagged as an anti-social actor in the program would carry a significant penalty. If the algorithms administering your account determine you have become a serious threat, expect an unannounced human intervention.

This clip from the movie Elysium illustrates the serious nature of a human interaction with an agent of the surveillance state.

With nudges and total surveillance, a universal basic income has all the makings of a dystopia. Not exactly a world I want my kids to inherit. How about you?

But what if it’s much worst?

Remember after 9/11 when President George W. Bush urged everyone to go shopping? I’m starting to feel like the universal basic income plan is the billionaire prepper equivalent.

What if the super-rich designed a system where the 99% keep the economy running with a universal basic income, while the 1% get to retreat to the safety of their high tech bunkers –away from the destruction they helped unleash on society and the environment.

Besides social control, what if the point of a universal basic income is to keep some sort of currency circulating so the bitcoins, dollars, or hoarded cans of tomato soup – whatever currency the 1% are counting on to keep them secure and comfortable – is still being traded by the masses and by doing so retaining its value.

From Survival of the Richest:

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.

I encourage you to read all of Survival of the Riches. Afterward, I challenge you to answer this simple question: Do you still believe the predatory philanthro-capitalists have your best interests at heart?

I don’t.

-Carolyn Leith

Advertisements

2011 Video: Personalized Learning’s Plan to Replace Teachers? “It means a different staffing model which costs less and works better”

Reposted with permission from  Missouri Education Watchdog.

100_dollar_bill_green

…in short, it’s not Blended Learning in my definition if you’re not changing your staffing model and that’s where this gets tough because you’re talking about differentiated staffing.

That means different levels, and distributed teachingThat means some teachers teaching remotely. So if you’re going to staff your school in a different way, that means a different staffing model that costs less and works better.” 

The last few years have seen an astronomical increase in screen time and “blended learning” being required in schools, starting even in preschool and kindergarten.  Many schools require students to pay a fee for a personal Chromebook or similar device (also called a 1:1 program) and students can often take this computer home, which brings with it a new level of privacy,  tracking and security concerns. Many programs are adaptive, with hidden algorithms collecting every key click, and monitoring how a child learns, behaves. This is “personalized learning” and it has many parentseducation advocates and teachers concerned. Even RAND researchers see little evidence to support online personalized learning,  “The evidence base is very weak at this point,” said John F. Pane, a senior scientist and the group’s distinguished chair in education innovation.

Will Digital Personalized Learning Replace Teachers?

Perhaps you have seen headlines like My Teacher is an Algorithm: Silicon Valley Billionaires Want to Replace Teachers with Technology, or How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom, or Technology in the classroom: Robots could replace teachers in 10 years.  People like this teacher have been warning of The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher, saying that teachers will become a guide on the side, replaced by personalized algorithms and computer screens. Yet those pushing tech into schools have responded by saying concerns are unfounded, and personalized computer programs were never meant to replace teachers. Case in point, see this 2017 ultimatum from the Clayton Christensen Institute, arguing that “it’s time for a narrative that teachers will be replaced by artificial intelligence to end“.

Apparently, these folks have not seen the recording of Tom Vander Ark’s 2011 presentation to a room full of education leaders. To see Vander Ark’s “Designing Digital Districts” video (his is the third video on the page) click here. Power point here.

In this 2011 ERDI video, Vander Ark essentially says personalized digital learning is more productive and cheaper than teachers and urges leaders to ‘make the shift’.

The video was mentioned in this recent Baltimore news story which caught my eye because of a 2011 Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI) video with presenter Tom Vander Ark. Vander Ark, a fan of personalized learning, has also expressed interested in unbundling billions in the education market.  (Side note: If you aren’t familiar with ERDI and investigations associated with the awarding of lucrative edtech contracts and 1:1 devices, paid edtech consulting fees and paid travel to exclusive conferences, I suggest you read this and start asking who in your district is affiliated with ERDI.)  I have posted an excerpt of the article below but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. From The Baltimore Post,  Technology as Teacher: Consulting Firm with Ties to Baltimore County Had Big Plans:

“If there ever were any doubt about the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI) and its promotion of educational technology to school systems, a July 2011 ERDI Innovation Conference makes it abundantly clear.

One conference presenter in particular had a very specific message at the Atlanta event for education leaders and their school systems: that computer-centered learning for kindergarten through 12th grade was coming, and those in the audience would be making the changes – very soon.

“I want to give you a quick and conceptual look at why I think the pivot to ‘personalized digital learning’ is a really big deal, like one of the three or four of the most important things happening in the world,” said Tom Vander Ark, an author, speaker and investor in more than 70 technology companies.  “Secondly, I’m going to talk about how that’s going to happen in most of your schools,” he said.

“[Vander Ark] told the education leaders that they should “be launching in September (2011), a Blended 6-10 math program” and “have a team of teachers work with two to three to 400 students” virtually and online.

“You ought to be piloting special services online. Speech therapies have had big developments in the last year and can deliver better and cheaper and faster speech therapy online,” he said.

Vander Ark, who mentioned the cost savings of using technology in place of teachers several times during his presentation, also said he started the first kindergarten to 12th grade online school in the country, but that “this stuff has not made enough of a difference as it should.”

Nonetheless, the Ed-Tech mogul told the audience of education leaders that the reason the 2011 push was different was because, in addition to providing students with a computer-based environment in order to “improve learning,” changing staffing was also now seen as imperative.

Vander Ark told the audience of education leaders that the reduction in teachers would “improve productivity.” “It means a different staffing model which costs less and works better,” he said. “It means a tough set of conversations…” -Baltimore Post  [Emphasis added] http://thebaltimorepost.com/technology-teacher-consulting-firm-ties-baltimore-county-big-plans

Vander Ark’s presentation goes on to define the difference between edtech and Blended Learning. Watch at about 9 minute mark:

“Blended Learning is different. It is an intentional shift in the learning environment, to an online environment for at least a portion of the day to improve student learning.

So there’s an intentional shift in the modality of learning to boost student learning. And secondly, that shift is made to increase school productivity, staffing and facilities productivity. That means more learning and less money.

…in short, it’s not Blended Learning in my definition if you’re not changing your staffing model and that’s where this gets tough because you’re talking about differentiated staffing.

That means different levels, and distributed teachingThat means some teachers teaching remotely. So if you’re going to staff your school in a different way, that means a different staffing model that costs less and works better.” He also goes on to discuss working with policy makers and unbundling education.  Listen here.  Watch here.

67 minute mark:

“In closing comments, it’s time to plan the shift. You’ll be moving to an online assessment environment… it’s a great timeline to use as a lever to make this shift. Part of that 3 yr plan out to include provisions for “bring your own technology” to help create high access environments, part of that shift ought to include a set of blended pilots, Blended upper division STEM, Blended Math 610, Blended special services… Pick a great partner, FL Virtual, APEX, NC Virtual, Connections Academy,  K12.  … Make your state a partner, work with your county and Superintendents. You’re not in this alone.” -Tom Vander Ark, 2011 ERDI Forum

This Vander Ark video (along with videos of other presenters) is posted by Discovery Education and will likely disappear. WATCH the entire video; it is informative. Vander Ark talks about Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Now, Data Quality Campaign, Virtual Schools, Common Core necessitating online assessments and how that can be leveraged to advance blended online learning in the classroom. He talks about education disrupter Clayton ChristensenInnosight and his book,  The Rise of Blended Learning.

Where is the independent evidence to support digital “personalized learning”?

As this recent Chalkbeat article suggests, there doesn’t seem to be real evidence.  From Chalkbeat’s Why ‘personalized learning’ advocates like Mark Zuckerberg keep citing a 1984 study — and why it might not say much about schools today:

“The results of a 1984 study have become a popular talking point among those promoting the “personalized learning” approach advanced by Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy. The results from the 1984 study underlying it have essentially never been seen in modern research on public schools. Still, the results have become a popular talking point among those promoting the “personalized learning” approach that Zuckerberg’s philanthropy is advancing. One video created by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative features an illustration of a 50 on a graph zooming upward to hit 98. The New Schools Venture Fund, another influential education group that backs personalized learning, cites the same work by Benjamin Bloom. But a close look at the study raises questions about its relevance to modern education debates and the ability of new buzzed-about programs to achieve remotely similar results.” -Chalkbeat [Emphasis added]

What now?

We know screens are addictive. We know that Wi-Fi connected devices emit cancer causing radiation and the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children should avoid exposure to wireless devices.  READ THAT.

(Note, the AAP doesn’t say wireless devices cause cancer only at home, or only when not using devices for educational activities. We’re pretty sure the radiation effects are the same regardless of the content. However, there is likely more radiation in a classroom with children surrounded by 1:1 wireless devices.) We also know that screens are linked to depression, obesity, suicide, ADHD, sleep disturbance, retinal damage.  We know that data collected by hidden “personalized learning” algorithms can be used to predict and profile a child and those algorithms can be wrong.  We also know that student data is a trillion dollar market.

Why did policy makersschool board membersteachers unions, jump on the artificial personalized learning bandwagon to sell out teachers and students? Did they buy into the Vander Ark gotta make the shift sales pitch without evidence to support personalized learning’s effectiveness or researching its health risks? Are these same policy makers and Silicon Valley folks going to repackage and rebrand personalized learning, give us a new name for the online learning system that collects and remembers and analyzes every click? Will they repackage personalized learning as something “new” like  competency based (blockchain) education and tell it is somehow different and better and safer?

We need to hold tech companies and educrats accountable. Parents need to be given the choice of textbook and face to face human teacher, rather than screen learning. Sensitive data (biometric, medical and mental health, behavioral evaluations) should never be collected or leave the school without parent consent. In recent days, former Silicon Valley folks have acknowledged problems with the tech industry: Why I Left Silicon Valley, EdTech, and “Personalized” Learning  and Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built (Humane Tech).

Let’s hope these ex-Silicon Valley folks and policy makers will truly help us protect children. Let’s hope they will give parents a voice.

What do you think?

A few interesting links.

ERDI  July 2011 Vision, Design, Implementation, and Results

“View the archive of a group of the nation’s preeminent school district and education technology leaders discuss best practices during a unique forum – Technology in Our Schools.  ERDI Innovation 2011 was an unparalleled opportunity to hear from outstanding educators and committed corporate partners as they discover creative ways to addresses unmet needs in schools.” See the videos posted here.

Global Silicon Valley, circa 2012, American Revolution 2.0 How Education Innovation is Going to Revitalize America 

“Anytime, anywhere learning” is a reality, and mass distribution is just an App Store away. It also helps that the iPad has had faster adoption in the education market than any  technology in history. Other tablets including Microsoft’s Surface are on the way, allowing invisible and ubiquitous computing.”  Additionally, the power of “app stores” will be an important and overarching force for the foreseeable future. With the tracks of IT laid over the past several decades, companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, the primary providers of app stores, give content providers the ability to reach tens of million of people swiftly without needing to create a traditional distribution network. The implications are enormous as new education content – etextbooks, games, activities,videos – can be instantly sent to a large user base and updates can be pushed frictionlessly”…   “Every click is captured”  …”Individualized learning that becomes more personalized with every click. Adaptive technology, like we’ve seen from consumer leaders such as Amazon, Pandora and Netflix, will become transformative in the education industry. Integrating data will allow teachers, parents and students to have a proactive learning experience—diagnosing, prescribing and dynamically reassessing based on the individual student. Ultimately, we believe courses will be disaggregated from the institution and be selected a la carte for a personalized education program.“

2015 Global Silicon Valley Vision 2020
McKinsey Global predicts education data will unlock $1.2 trillion

Data Quality Campaign, funded by Bill Gates, launched to improve the quality, accessibility and use of data in education was launched today at the Council of Chief State School Officers and US Department of Education’s Data Summit.

Bill and Melinda Gates Postsecondary Success Advocacy Priorities 2016: Table on page 7 that shows centralized interoperable national student data system.

World Bank: From Compliance to Learning

UN SDG 4 Data Digest, Strengthening National Data to Monitor Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4 – Education Data) http://sdg.iisd.org/news/un-agencies-partners-call-for-open-interoperable-data/  page 26: Producing education data at the national level; page 52: Data quality analysis of household surveys; page 54: The Data Alignment process will enable education systems to examine and report on the current level of alignment of national assessment programmes with the UIS Reporting Scales (see Box 9) and will be implemented in six steps (UIS and ACER, forthcoming).  See their web page with infographics, short video and executive summary. Go to the source of SDG 4 data, with a set of data tables, country profiles and related resources.

Future Agendas for Global Education 2035 pdf and enlargeable year-by-year Global Ed Futures MAP

The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEL): 2016 commission formed to create and standardize scores for student emotions and tie to ESSA. Will issue recommendations and report 2018.

STUDY: Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time Screen use in teens may account for depression and increased suicide rates.  Abstract:  “In two nationally representative surveys of U.S. adolescents in grades 8 through 12 (N = 506,820) and national statistics on suicide deaths for those ages 13 to 18, adolescents’ depressive symptoms, suicide ­related outcomes, and suicide rates increased between 2010 and 2015, especially among females. Adolescents who spent more time on new media (including social media and electronic devices such as smartphones) were more likely to report mental health issues, and adolescents who spent more time on nonscreen activities (in ­person social interaction, sports/exercise, homework, print media, and attending religious services) were less likely. Since 2010, iGen adolescents have spent more time on new media screen activities and less time on nonscreen activities, which may account for the increases in depression and suicide. In contrast, cyclical economic factors such as unemployment and the Dow Jones Index were not linked to depressive symptoms or suicide rates when matched by year.”

Cellphones and wireless devices emit cancer causing radiation and the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that children should avoid exposure to wireless devices.

Apple Investors Warn iPhones and Other Technology May Be Hurting Children

-Cheri Kiesecker

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

22540180_1782059158537442_5952599883310209553_n

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

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

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

You know what I think would be great?

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

What am I talking about? This comes to mind:

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 6.11.02 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is dangerous territory for our democracy and civil society.

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

Two.

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

The Failed State of American Democracy

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

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

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

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

From EdWeek:

In a statement, an initiative spokeswoman expressed similar sentiments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plan

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

Democracy In Crisis

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

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

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

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

Money is power.

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

It’s time to decide.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Gates Dollars two

Truthiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the first bit of truthiness:

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

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

Gates-Summit-FB Basecamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence? Who Needs it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, let’s look at some indirect evidence.

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

How bad was the negative impact?

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

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-7-05-51-pm

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

Here’s a few of the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s two more damning studies.

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

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

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

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

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

The Failed State of American Democracy

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

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

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

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

From EdWeek:

In a statement, an initiative spokeswoman expressed similar sentiments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Carolyn Leith

 

Is the Teaching Profession Being Downsized?

Kick Out Teachers

Original Title: The Strange Future of the Teaching Profession. Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

KnowledgeWorks, which has received upwards of 50 million dollars from the Gates Foundation and successfully lobbied Congress to include “innovative assessment zones” in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, has even prepared a menu of possible roles educators might play in this new system of public education.

In 1991, just after stepping into his new role as secretary of education, Lamar Alexander envisioned a system of public education where school districts would not have an “exclusive monopoly” to operate public schools.   Instead, a public school “could be redefined as a school that receives public funds and is “accountable to public authority,” and “could be operated by public entities such as the Smithsonian Institution, by private nonprofit organizations, or by businesses.”

Twenty-five years later, it appears that Alexander’s dream is closer than ever to becoming reality.

As billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Reed Hastings of Netflix and Bill Gates of Microsoft invest millions of dollars into “personalized learning” experiments, corporate-sponsored bills are rapidly popping up across the country to move states toward competency-based education models that investors hope will allow learning to happen “anytime, anywhere.”

Organizations like the Center for the Future of Museums are now predicting the end of neighborhood schools:

Screen shot 2016-03-06 at 4.06.12 PM

The U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with The After-School Corporation describe a system in which students are “no longer tethered to school buildings or schedules,” but are instead free to tote data backpacks from one locale to the next in pursuit of digital badges.

In Pittsburgh, the Remake Learning Network, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, Common Sense Media, and Digital Promise, is currently trying to turn the city into “a campus for learning.” In Salt Lake City, where StriveTogether, United Way, and Target have teamed up to build “Community Schools,” parents are being encouraged to waive their FERPA rights so that data can be shared across the city’s organizations (including the Chamber of Commerce).

Meanwhile, groups like the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and KnowledgeWorks are deciding how best to manage the teaching workforce in a world in which teaching is no longer an actual profession.

KnowledgeWorks, which has received upwards of 50 million dollars from the Gates Foundation and successfully lobbied Congress to include “innovative assessment zones” in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, has even prepared a menu of possible roles educators might play in this new system of public education.

Here is how KnowledgeWorks explains the impending shift:

Screen shot 2016-03-06 at 3.46.29 PM

And here are some of the job opportunities KnowledgeWorks envisions for us:

Screen shot 2016-03-06 at 3.45.26 PM.png

KnowledgeWorks has even set up a make-believe job platform site called VibrantEd to help us explore some of these future possibilities.

As strange as some of this sounds, it helps explain what Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, meant when he encouraged leaders of schools of education to get “out of the teacher preparation business,” and “into the workforce development business in partnership with school districts.”

Yes, teachers, they really do want to get rid of us.

Save Maine Schools

How exactly did the Department of Defense end up in my child’s classroom?

 

You cannot fully understand what is happening with Future Ready school redesign, 1:1 device programs, embedded assessments, gamification, classroom management apps, and the push for students in neighborhood schools to supplement instruction with online courses until you grasp the role the federal government and the Department of Defense more specifically have played in bringing us to where we are today.

In 1999, just as cloud-based computing was coming onto the scene, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13111 and created the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative or ADL.

Section 5 of that order set up “The Advisory Committee on Expanding Training Opportunities” to advise the president on what should be done to make technology-based education a reality for the ENTIRE country. The intent was not only to prioritize technology for “lifelong learning,” but also shift the focus to developing human capital and in doing so bind education to the needs of industry and the economy.

Representatives of Cisco Systems and Jobs for the Future co-chaired the committee. Others around the table included the e-learning industry, student loan financiers, educational testing companies, human resource managers, labor market analysts, universities, community colleges, chambers of commerce, city government, and a futurist. George Bush incorporated Clinton’s work into Executive Order 13218, the 21st Century Work Force Initiative, the following year giving the effort a bipartisan stamp of approval. The Obama administration continued this push for online learning in the National Broadband Plan, which contained an entire chapter on digital education, as well as through a variety of 21st century school redesign efforts like ConnectEd, Future Ready Schools, and Digital Promise.

ADL began as an electronic classroom for the National Guard and later expanded to serve the entire Defense Department. In 1998 the government decided to use it for ALL federal employee training. And by leveraging its influence over federal contracting the government successfully pushed for standards that enabled wide adoption of cloud-based instructional technology.

As the Department of Defense worked on e learning for the military in the mid 1990s, the Department of Education put together the nation’s first educational technology plan, which was completed in 1996. A tremendous infusion of federal funds was released into schools to support technology purchases and expand Internet access. The FCC’s E-Rate program was established that year.

At the same time IMS Global began to advance implementation of e-learning systems. This non-profit began as a higher education trade group and now has over 150 contributing members, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Pearson, and hundreds upon hundreds of affiliated companies and institutions that use its open source specifications. The Gates Foundation is a platinum level sponsor of four major IMS Global initiatives.

Over twenty years IMS Global members shared research and resources, and built up an industry now valued at $255 billion annually. So if you still wonder why they won’t give education back to human teachers, you simply need to take a close look at the many politically connected interests that are counting on digital education becoming the new paradigm.

IMS Global and ADL teamed up to establish common standards for meta data and content packaging of so-called learning objects. In the world of 21st century education reformers anticipate school will become largely about children interacting with these online learning objects-a playlist education if you will where based on your past performance algorithms will serve up what they think you need to know next. For folks like Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg, such an education where students consume pre-determined content seems the ultimate in efficiency. Gamified experiences and online simulations being developed through ADL and DARPA in partnership with many universities and non-profits, will also provides a structure for to capture students’ soft skills and shape their behavior.

The first product ADL and IMS Global came up with was called SCORMor Shared Content Object Reference Model. SCORM provided pathways for the bits and pieces of e-learning content to get to a particular learning management system, like Dreambox, accessed by a particular student. It tracked elements like course completion, pages viewed, and test scores.

By 2008, there was a desire to track a student’s interaction with devices OUTSIDE of fixed learning management systems. New devices and games often did not work within the SCORM framework. Ed-tech proponents wanted students to be able to interact with online content in new ways, so they could record interactions taking place on mobile platforms, directly through browser searches, or via Internet of Things sensors.

ADL commissioned a new specification that could track activity streams as students interacted with online media. The result was xAPI or Tin Can API, which debuted in 2011. Now all sorts of data can be monitored, tracked, and put into data lockers or learning record stores. LRS’s can store information about what videos you watched, what online quizzes you took and the results, what websites you visited, what books you purchased, what games you played, what articles you read or annotated. It can also capture data gathered via sensors, RFID chips, and biometric monitors. LRSs collect data about all sorts of so-called “informal” learning experiences. The MacArthur Foundation has been funding considerable research in digital media learning (or DML) in informal settings for youth.

With the development of xAPI, the Ed Reform 2.0 vision of “anytime, any place” learning, learning where human teachers and school buildings are no longer required, could proceed more quickly. IMS Global is now supporting Mozilla’s open badge initiative. xAPI meta data could eventually be combined with badge programs and Blockchain/Bitcoin technology to create e-portfolios (online credential systems). And if automatic credential verification and micro-payment systems come to fruition, a virtual wallet voucher system could devastate already precarious public education funding.

The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative is a major player in the development of mobile, game-based, and virtual learning environments. They also conduct extensive research and development on online “personal learning assistants” and with the aim of creating digital personal tutors for all of us. Their research is carried out at four Cooperative Laboratories or co-labs, which are located in Madison, WisconsinAlexandria, Virginia; Memphis Tennessee; and Orlando, Florida. Each lab supports partnerships with private sector interests and institutions of higher education.

The Wisconsin co-lab works specifically on academic projects, many involving the Florida Virtual School with whom they have a long-standing relationship. The co-lab’s focus is on competency-based education. They’ve partnered with the Educational Psychology department at the University of Wisconsin Madison to create educational gaming platforms and maintain over 60 other partnerships to research and refine game-based online instruction. Another focus has been on developing MASLO or “Mobile Access to Supplemental Learning Objects,” which is enabled by xAPI technology. The Tennessee co lab has been doing research on an intelligent tutoring system that even recognizes human emotion in the person using a given device and tries to counteract negative emotion.

DARPA-the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also in the business of developing gaming simulations and intelligent tutoring systems. They work closely with the office of the Navy. Their “Engage” program was set up in 2012 and through partnerships with Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, UCLA, and the University of Denver, created numerous games for K12 students based on Alternate Reality Teaching “Our Space” in virtual environments. Instruction in Social Emotional learning was built into the games. Their Full Spectrum Learning project aims to create an online platform that can monitor students and identify their strengths and weaknesses and revise the experience adaptively based on the data generated.

The arrival of ADL, changed public education in a very fundamental way. It is no coincidence that the destructive No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in the year after it was created. Over the next fifteen years, with bipartisan support, education incrementally gave way to training, creativity to compliance, serendipity to standards, and human connection to digital isolation. As the curriculum became narrower and narrower, emphasizing standardized test scores and demonstrations of skill, education became a hollowed out exercise, something could be digitized and outsourced to corporations.

Data-driven, standards-based tactics have been intentionally employed to regiment the very human process of teaching and learning. During ADL’s first decade, the imperative was to get technology and Internet into schools. Once that infrastructure was in place, they could concentrate on restructuring the curriculum making screen-based education central and pushing the teacher into a secondary role on the sidelines.

Common Core State Standards were a big part of that process. The National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created the standards in 2009. Not as many people know about the Common Education Data Standards that were established at the same time. CEDS enabled the collection and sharing of vast amounts of data across sectors from Pre-K through Community College.

The Learning Registry is another important piece of the puzzle. It was created in 2011 as a partnership between the US Department of Education and once again the Department of Defense. It is an open source distribution network of learning resources that holds meta data and para data. It is important to understand that learning objects can be tagged in many ways, including adding tags for a variety of standards. For that reason even if we get rid of Common Core State Standards, it wouldn’t necessarily make a dent in slowing down the rollout of adaptive, digital curriculum.

In addition to meta data, which is data that describes individual education resources, the Learning Registry also collects para datathrough the use of emitters that can be mounted on smart boards in classrooms.

Para data describes how online learning resources are used:

  • Who’s doing the searches?
  • What students are in the room with the person doing the searches?
  • A history of searches conducted
  • What is being viewed, downloaded and shared?
  • What is favorited or embedded?
  • To which standards is the selected content aligned?
  • What tags have been added to content?
  • How is it being incorporated into the curriculum?
  • What grade is it being used in?
  • Where is it being used?
  • What is the audience is for the item?
  • What the instructional setting is.
  • What is the experience level of the class and the teacher?

The devices in our children’s classrooms are largely there because a specific set of government policies have prioritized technology over human educators for the past fifteen years. These devices are watching us as much as we are watching them. And we should be aware that many of the programs in use are direct outgrowths of work done by the Department of Defense in partnership with private sector interests and institutions of higher education. Technology can be used for good, but not if it is given an unconditional pass in our classrooms. Shine a light on educational surveillance. Ask questions. Talk to others and organize!

-Alison McDowell

Save the Date.

Alison McDowell will be speaking in Seattle on March 25th, from 10AM-1PM at the Lake City Branch of the Seattle Public Library (12501 28th Ave. N.E. Seattle, WA 98125 ).

Her talk Personalization or Profiling: Childhood in the Ed-Tech Era Ed Reform 2.0 is free and open to the public.