Heckman and Pritzker Pitch Apps as Poverty “Solutions” Yielding a 13% Return on Investment

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Do You See A Child or Human Capital?

If you have time to watch the entire hour, I encourage you to listen as these two men discuss their plans to create tools that will measure non-cognitive skills in service of outcomes-based contracts and a futures market in infant and toddler data. They are creating the next “big short” right before our eyes, and this time it’s not homes hanging in the balance, it’s our children. As if IQ scores weren’t awful enough, now they are developing an IQ equivalent for Big 5 character traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They want to define and rate our kids according to their “soft skills.”

This is the fourth in a series providing context for the Global Business Summit on Early Childhood that ReadyNation will be hosting in New York City November 1-2, 2018. The featured image is from an article pitching Waterford Upstart online preschool, piloted in Utah, a state experimenting with funding early childhood education using social impact bonds. The caption on the photo states that this four year old doesn’t have running water in her home, but she does have access to literacy education on a chromebook.

The focus of this post is Dr. James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago since the early 1970s. Much of his research focuses on investments in early childhood as it pertains to labor markets. In 2000, Dr. Heckman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for contributions to the field of micro-econometrics. James Heckman; Arthur Rolnick, former senior researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve; and Robert Dugger, venture capitalist and ReadyNation advisor, have worked together for decades. Below is a relationship map for Heckman. See the interactive version here.

HeckmanDugger, and Stephen Durlauf, another professor of economics at the University of Chicago, lead the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group (HCEO). Launched in 2010, the initiative is run by the Center for the Economics of Human Capital Development and supported financially by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a think tank established by George Soros in the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008. Yes, Soros is funding human capital research conducted by a professor working out of the Becker (Milton) Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago. In the short video below, Heckman describes how HCEO fosters interdisciplinary research between 400+ academics who research poverty and then use that research to influence public policy.

HCEO’s six focus areas are closely linked to the social impact investment sector: childhood interventions, family inequality, health inequality, identity and personality, inequality measurement and policy, and markets.

With financial support from JB Pritzker via the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, Heckman’s academic work has been organized into an online tool kit to promote early childhood education as an investment opportunity, one they claim could yield a 13% annual rate of return once health outcomes are taken into account.

Suzanne Muchin’s branding firm Mind + Matter Studio developed The Heckman Equation website. Muchin served for four years as Vice President of programs for Teach for America and serves on the board of 1871, a tech accelerator based in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart launched by Pritzker in 2012.

Pritzker is a tech-oriented venture capitalist and politician. His sister Penny served on the Chicago Board of Education and later as Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration. In 2014, the Pritzker Foundation joined with the Gates, Irving Harris, and Kaiser Family Foundations and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund to create the First Five Years Fund to expand universal pre-k access. Pritzker has participated, as a funder, in two pilot early childhood social impact bond programs in the United States; one in Salt Lake City and the other in Chicago. If you are not up to speed on the history of and dangers posed by SIBs and pay for success programs, spend some time looking over the resources here.

In the trailer for a new documentary on social impact bonds, The Invisible Heart, Pritzker states:

“We are in the nascent stages of a social impact bond boom. Could be as big as the New York Stock Exchange…I’ve heard (people say), why are we letting investors make money off of our children. Well, that’s silly.” JB Pritzker

Pritzker is the Democratic candidate in Illinois governor’s race. He has also thrown money to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s campaign “Choose Children,” that is pushing to elect a governor of California who will be a “champion of young children.” Of course the subtext here is that Silicon Valley hopes to install a governor who will scale pay for success early childhood education programs, programs that will tap the state’s millions of vulnerable children as profit centers.

Heckman and Pritzker have been laying the groundwork for the early childhood impact investing market for years. The remainder of this post is comprised of clips and transcripts I pulled from a presentation the two men gave in San Diego in 2016. The passages that follow make it clear the formerly worthy idea of “whole child” education has been completely hijacked by global finance. It also explains why in some districts in Maine half the report card rubrics revolve around evaluations of “habits of mind.”

If you have time to watch the entire hour, I encourage you to listen as these two men discuss their plans to create tools that will measure non-cognitive skills in service of outcomes-based contracts and a futures market in infant and toddler data. They are creating the next “big short” right before our eyes, and this time it’s not homes hanging in the balance, it’s our children. As if IQ scores weren’t awful enough, now they are developing an IQ equivalent for Big 5 character traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They want to define and rate our kids according to their “soft skills.”

Below are presentation highlights in case you don’t have time to listen to the clips:

  • Poverty it’s not just about money, it’s about “parenting, encouragement and skills.”
  • Investing in young children yields higher results relative to workforce and life outcomes than do investments in older children and teens.
  • The highest returns will be on interventions directed at ages 0 to 3.
  • Children have achievement gaps documented as early as age 3.
  • IQ doesn’t increase much after a child reaches the age of 10, but interventions can continue to shape a child’s “character skills” to improve workforce outcomes.
  • It’s not just about being smart; it’s about being motivated.
  • Heckman identifies non-cognitive skills as a “target of opportunity” for investors.
  • But first they need to develop an inventory of social emotional skills to assess, track, and measure non-cognitive traits. (For the purposes of predicting outcomes for impact investment evaluation).
  • Having the OECD (promoter of PISA) on board is a good sign.
  • By “improving outcomes” through interventions, they claim poor children will require fewer public expenditures in the future. Social impact bonds will then capture those anticipated savings as profit to be handed over to privateinvestors.
  • Factoring in health outcomes, the return on these investments could be as high as 13% per year, which is HUGE.
  • Pritzker plans to identify cheap, scalable interventions-like parenting apps. (Because all impoverished families really need is an app to tell them what they should be doing to parent their children.)
  • There has been push-back from both ends of the political spectrum against using Pay for Success to Fund early childhood interventions, but they were able to convince communities by using compelling financial structures and promising “results.”
  • In closing, Heckman says you have to get parents on board or the whole thing is going to fail.

Do you hear that parents?!

Their talk was sponsored by Education Synergy Alliance, whose director Laura Kohn came from Seattle where she worked as a state-level advocate for the Gates Foundation, and San Diego Grantmakers, a collaborative that has been promoting use of Pay for Success in program delivery. Connie Matsui, social entrepreneur and former chair of the San Diego Foundation, brought Heckman and Prizker to San Diego in 2016.

This two-minute clip is from JB Pritzker’s introduction. Watch it here.

(Pritzker) “Really, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here. I had the opportunity to be here earlier today, and so did Jim, to speak to the larger community foundations where they are doing amazing work and where so many communities from around the country that have large endowments and lots of donor advised funds are beginning to look at early childhood development as an important arena for them. I’m, of course, particularly grateful to be asked to join Professor Heckman and to share thoughts today on a subject that I care deeply about, and that I believe is maybe the most important issue facing us in the country today, early childhood development.

So in truth, I’m a businessman (fortune valued at $3.4 billion), and I’m not a Nobel prize winner. No one will ever claim I will win anything like that. I’m lucky to share a stage occasionally with Professor Heckman. So I’ll speak from my heart about what I care about deeply and from the position that I come from. I’m here to solicit you for your business. I want to make a pitch to you today. It’s a subject that I care about, that’s about making investments. And so if you’re ready for my pitch…if you invest with me, and you invest with Professor Heckman we can not only unlock human potential, but we can also get you at HUGE return on your investment. So, do you want to hear the rest of my pitch?”

The middle section of the presentation, between timestamp 23:30 and timestamp 35:00, features Dr. Heckman presenting his theories about the importance of character education in public schools; that non-cognitive (social emotional) skills are more important to workforce outcomes than cognitive (academic) performance. He goes on to discuss the importance of interventions linked to non-cognitive skills training to health outcomes. Heckman proposes that certain interventions will yield an impressive rate of return of up to 13% once health outcomes are considered. Watch a seven-minute excerpt here.

(Heckman) “Poverty, as we understand it now is not just money. Poverty, of course the way we measure it IS money, but actually it’s more than that. We’ve come to understand that it’s not JUST money. And that is what the great experiment was launched by Johnson. We’ve also come to understand it has to do with parenting, encouragement and basically this set of skills. And I think what we have now is a much more comprehensive notion.

So basically we think the early lives play a very important role for promoting social mobility, for promoting equality. And then miracle of miracles and we started following these people using the same kind of experiments that were started, but then stopped in the wake of the war on poverty, and head start. What we found was, yes, actually IQ did fade out after about age 10, just like Jenson said, just like everybody said.

And guess what? When we follow these people to age 40 and 50, these people have very high social and economic returns, and it came exactly through this mechanism of character skills and engagement. And surprise of surprise, even though these kids didn’t have any higher IQ, it also turned out they actually did have higher test scores. Why? Because these achievement test scores involve more than just being smart, it’s being motivated

We think about the skills problem, and JB referred to this skills problem, it’s an enormous problem. So we looked for examples at this measure, the civil international adult literacy survey that’s taken every few years. It’s basically America, the United States, when stacked up against all of the OECD countries is the worst in terms of percentages of people who are at the lowest rung of literacy and numeracy. We mentioned another dimension of this is the fact that among children, among males 16 to 26 eligible for military service, only about 25% are actually qualified. They’re mostly disqualified, a lot of it has to do with cognitive deficits and so forth. Now these are preventable, because we know from these interventions that we can do something about it.

We have the skills problem. But how do you promote skills? That leads to another issue if you…look at test score gaps, which is what sees a lot of attention between the haves and the have-nots; if you look at age 18 you see a tremendous gap between those kids who have parents who are college-educated and those whose parents are high school drop outs, mothers probably, ok. So if you look at the graph you’ll also see that that gap is there before they enter school, and it’s actually there at age three, which is the earliest age we can reliably measure these things.

So now wait a minute, you can say oh we’re talking about genetics, that’s a perfect eugenic argument, right? These people are born dumb to dumb parents and their dumb parents didn’t get education, so therefore this is just the manifestation of what Charles Murray was talking about. The answer is no, because what we’ve done is we’ve actually randomly assigned these children, put them in different environments, enriched their local environment, their parenting environment, the school environments. And we then track them against students who didn’t receive such supplementation early in life, and we find they’re much better performing. But we need a much richer inventory of how we decide what’s better and a deeper understanding of what the skills are that make them successful in life.

So, I think a good measure of how much the world has changed in terms of thinking about skills is a new report issued by the OECD. The OECD was the group that promotes the PISA exam, so every few years you know Shanghai is very proud and has some of the highest PISA scores in the world. And you go into China and you go into Hong Kong and they are lower and very envious. But the OECD now is getting the point. It only got it recently, but it’s now starting to say we need to inventory exactly these character skills, because they’ve been shown to be predictive, they’re also highly malleable, and they’re actually highly valuable even to somewhat later ages.

So even when we think we can’t boost IQ, that might be very difficult because the rank is stable and your ranking in the IQ distribution is pretty well established as JB was saying around 8, 9, 10 or somewhere in that zone. It is still true that these character skills are more manipulable (malleable?). In the sense they are actually our target of opportunity. So a much deeper understanding, and I think when we go in and look at what the economic and social benefits are of these interventions, we have a deeper and more comprehensive evaluation system looking at both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

But to come to the economic return; we can see substantial benefits. So we have actually computed the rate of return, the kind of rate of return that venture capitalists worry about, and should properly worry about, and that many of you probably worry about. What we found was the rate of return on something like the Perry Preschool Program was somewhere between seven and ten percent per annum, per annum, which is extremely high. If you look at the US stock market average investment in equity between 45 and 2008, that’s above that. Great, ok so you’re actually finding it’s a very, very good investment. These are targeted towards kids who are disadvantaged; it’s providing family supplementation. We can talk about the details of those programs. Then, more recently, we did some studies and this blew people out; it blew me out. We also followed another group of children who are actually followed now in the wake of the Perry study, but in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina. We followed these children up to age 35, and we not only gave them the standard measures of unemployment, crime, participation in the larger society, but we also looked at health.

We asked how did they look in terms of health? What we found was that those children, now actually adults, have much lower risk factors for all the adult onset diseases: lower propensity for diabetes, lower cardiovascular conditions. And what we see is that there is not only a benefit that comes, but health. How can that be? It’s because of that same notion of regulation behavior, following numeracy, getting engaged in the larger society. We find less smoking, less drinking, less engagement in unhealthy lifestyles in the wake of having these higher levels of cognitive and non-cognitive skills. So, you know, we’re in the process of learning. But the fact of the matter is we’re getting a very high rate of return for that intervention. Preliminary evidence is suggesting somewhere between 11 and 13 percent IF we include the enhanced health benefits.”

This section is from the question and answer period and closing to the presentation. Timestamp 48:50, watch it here.

(Pritzker) “That expense that you talked about; gee, that’s a very expensive intervention? That’s taken into account in these returns, okay. So it’s not like, I mean, the expense gets you that return. So it doesn’t matter that your investment was a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars or five thousand dollars. The return is what you get on those dollars invested.

(Heckman) But in addition to the direct expense you’re also going to get the welfare cost of raising taxes, so that’s also factored in here, so the sum of ten percent or the return is after accounting for actually the direct cost of hiring the teachers and the cost of collecting taxes to finance those. So that’s why I think it’s a fairly compelling study…if you look at the evidence I’m happy to send you the papers we’ve written, and we’re writing more. But you are finding very strong precision about these estimates.

(Pritzker) And we’re not advocating for very, very expensive interventions specifically. There are lots of scalable, much less expensive interventions. In fact, that’s what I spend my time looking for and helping to evaluate the scalability of, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to get the federal, state, and local governments to adopt them. Right? They’ve got to feel less expensive, but the reality is the more expensive actually works, too…

(Heckman) It’s an area of evolution. We really want to find out what’s best practice and what’s cheaper, right?

(Pritzker) The returns on preschool are much lower than on 0 to 3. So the interventions on 0 to 3 that we know work are home visitation, just as an example. Home visitation works.

Now there’s an expensive version of home visitation, and there’s a less expensive version of home visitation. And there’s been lots of study on these home visitation programs, but the critical component of it is reaching the parent. The parent is the first and best teacher for a child and if you can reach a parent, almost every parent, almost, wants to be a good parent. So we know what works and we know what are some scalable versions. Some of them, by the way, are texting programs. So almost every poor parent in America has a smart phone, and there are programs just for reminding parents what things work, and they want to know and they want to do these things and they’ll find time to do them.

But back to getting communities to buy in, it is very hard, and we got involved, I’ll talk about social impact bonds. But basically bringing preschool to Utah, a state where the political environment for preschool is hard; we did it with a finance plan that made sense for Utah, for Salt Lake. It got community engagement in it and support for it, because, frankly because we showed them what the results would look like.

So we started with that. There was resistance on both ends for preschool for example and any kind of early childhood education. On one end of the political spectrum the resistance is, you’re interfering with the parent-child relationship; you’re somehow interceding, the government is being paternalistic and getting engaged in something that should be a private matter. That’s one side of the political spectrum. On the other side of the political spectrum are the views that well with a social impact bond is why are private investors getting involved in something government should do? The government should get all the returns on this, the taxpayers should get all the returns-I happen to agree with that, that the government should put forward. But how many people think, how many people have a surplus in their local, state or federal government right now? None.”

Previous posts about the ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood:

Pre-K Profit: ReadyNation Hosts Global Business Leaders in New York City This November: Link

Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild and ReadyNation: Link

Galton and Global Education Futures Forum: Scientific Racism Looking Backwards and Forwards: Link

-Alison McDowell

Advertisements

Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students?

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

KITE STEM.jpg

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

This is a companion to a previous post I wrote about the implementation of the KiTE STEM challenge, a Google-sponsored digital learning contest being run in partnership with the Kirkland, WA park system this spring. Read part one here.

On April 12 Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop at 18th and Spruce Streets while waiting for a friend with whom they had a scheduled meeting. A bystander recorded the encounter, as the men had done nothing wrong and questioned the police as to why the arrests were made. Their experience has been widely discussed in national news. Today being a black or brown person in the public sphere is to be suspect and put at risk of arrest, deportation or even death.

I raise this within the context of appified learning ecosystems, because Philadelphia is a City of LRNG. Collective Shift has been promoting a system of “personalized” learning called Digital On Ramps where Philadelphia’s students, many of whom are students of color, would be sent out to navigate the city and earn skills-based badges.

The featured image for this post is from the article discussing Kirkland’s Kite STEM challenge. It shows hands holding a phone with a multiple choice question on the screen. They are young, black hands. Presumably this child is in a park using the app. In seeing those hands, I remember twelve-year old Tamir Rice, murdered by police at a Cleveland playground in 2014. We would like to think of parks as “safe” places to learn, but there are no guarantees for black children.

KITE part 2

ree-range device mediated education may seem like a great idea for privileged teens who can sit on the “weed-wall” in Rittenhouse Square and face no consequences. But what does that look like for young black men? Will they be afforded the same treatment? What will their “Hackable High School” look like? Will they have the right to pursue online instruction on a laptop undisturbed in local coffee shop?

Collective Shift

I see Collective Shift’s image of “appified” education (above) and can’t help but think of Stephon Clark, murdered in his grandmother’s backyard by police as he held his phone. Will black and brown children be targeted pursuing informal learning on phones? Will they fear being shot as they collect competencies for their digital learning lockers?

I also think about the data being collected by the apps that enable anywhere learning: location data, emotion sensing data, and data about social interactions, all of it aggregated and used to develop predictive profiles. Are we bumping up against the moment when Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is realized? When pre-crime interventions begin? Which brings to mind a panel discussion “Defining Public Safety: Visions for the Future of Policing” I attended last October during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference.

During the Q&A at the end, former CIO of the City Charles Brennan, noted that the future of policing would be facial recognition cameras, predictive analytics software, and drone surveillance. Watch this clip from a 2014 lecture at MIT featuring whistleblower William Binney that describes facial recognition software developed by the military in Afghanistan as it was being deployed by local police in Springfield, MA.

Future of Policing

How will it feel to “learn” exclusively in such an environment, an environment of ubiquitous surveillance and policing? And how will race play into assigned pathways for work-based learning? I have concerns about the quality of the experiences provided, as well the possibility of child labor issues. We know tremendous racial bias exists in US work places. What protections will be put in place to ensure black and brown children are not victimized? Who will be able to access which parts of the ecosystem? Will “Wharton-affiliated” ecosystem opportunities be restricted to students that meet specific criteria, while students of color get pushed into tracks for grounds maintenance, home healthcare, and basic coding?

US society suffers from a pervasive sickness that stems from our national origins in the theft of indigenous land and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Here in the city of “brotherly love,” myths portraying what we wish we were (independent, fair, just) are carefully tended. Yet, the brutality of our history (our present) cannot be denied. It emerges with regularity, at times on camera, in branded corporate settings like Starbucks, upending the lives of innocent people like Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson.

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

I have many reservations about “future ready” education, but the Starbucks incident makes clear the issue of race is paramount. This issue is not in any of the papers put out by Knowledgeworks. It is not addressed by MacArthur or Collective Shift. For all the black and brown people who have died or been subjected to physical or emotional violence for simply existing in spaces where white people felt they were a threat, we must talk about this.

“Anytime, anywhere” education could mean death or arrest or deportation for young black and brown people seeking to “learn” in spaces white society is loathe to share. A learning ecosystem governed by whiteness, particularly whiteness enshrined in technocratic digital platforms ruled by powerful white men = continued erasure.

Before hackable education models start to supplant bricks and mortar schools, there must be public conversations that critically examine what such a model would mean for black people, for brown people, and for undocumented immigrants. Their voices and opinions must be prioritized. The Kirkland KiTE STEM Challenge goes online this week. Will we start talking about this before it is too late? Lives hang in the balance.

BLM

-Alison McDowell

Beware of Tech Titans Bearing Gifts

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

7186553884_f37daef7ec_z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And LEAP calls for more tech company involvement.

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

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

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

It begins:

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

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

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

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

On the Leap website they also say:

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

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

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

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

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

-Nancy Bailey

Learning from Past Mistakes: Seattle Public School’s Greatest Superintendent Misses, Part 1: Joseph Olchefske

Editor’s note: As Seattle Public Schools starts to narrow the field of potential superintendents it’s important to learn from past mistakes. Example one: Joseph Olchefske. -Carolyn Leith

giphy

From 

THE BALLAD OF JOSEPH OLCHEFSKE: MIDDLE COLLEGE, ED-REFORM MARKET FAILURE, AND THE MARCH OF ONLINE LEARNING

What do you think should happen in this scenario?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 14, 2003: Olchefske resigns.

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

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

Middle College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed-Reform Market Failure

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

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

What do all of these companies have in common?

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

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

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

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

-Carolyn Leith

Biocapitalism, Corporate Colonialism & Education Policy

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

Clearcutting_in_Southern_Finland

To learn more about how biocapitalism controls bodies and minds of children via public education policy read Clayton Pierce –Education in the Age of Biocapitalism: Optimizing educational life for a flat world. Pierce explores how generations of “extractive schooling” (of which standardized testing has been a part since the birth of the Eugenics movement in the early 1900’s) and how this has begun to transform itself through “technologies of control” of which the increasing push toward computer learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as the mode of education delivery for all children. He concludes, “education life is ever more becoming the target of an expanding range of sophisticated technologies of control (p. 142) … calling for greater and greater degrees of regulation and discipline over the body of the students” (p. 143). This makes me wonder even more about Class Dojo and other uses of privately owned technologies to monitor the student body and mind. And the purpose of them becomes yet more evident.

In the last few years a lot of debate has been had over promise and perils of ESSA. Many education advocates argued we must embrace ESSA because it promised to reduce federal choke hold of high stakes standardized testing that was wielded starting with NCLB and ramped up further under Race to the Top. The promise of EESA seemed too good to be true. Why would the same people who devoted decades to dismantling public schools, creating avenues for defacto segregation, and privatizing a public system suddenly want to turn around and “do the right thing?” ESSA authors (Lamar Alexander) claimed that testing would take a “back seat” And it has. The argument in support of ESSA was “to restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.”

And so many supporters of democratic public education “bought in” to the hype. Exactly what ARE states deciding to do instead? Those are the details we need to examine, and it’s vital (if we are really to reclaim public spaces and democracy) that we understand that there is a global paradigmatic shift occurring beyond the scope of what we already think we know or can anticipate. We must broaden our understanding of the end-game.

In unwritten or loosely defined ways, ESSA also ushers in a host of opportunities for corporations and private entities to avail themselves of every child’s most private funds of data. See Emily Talmage. The data surveillance tactics have found their ways into what otherwise might have been meaningful community and classroom practices.

Companies and government agencies still have access to students test scores (via online daily competency based education data), despite claims of reducing end-of-year testing. ESSA may in fact be reducing the role that HST testing does play in education policy and practice. But don’t be fooled. It is not because those of us in the opt out movement “won” the battle. The powers-that-be manufactured that move as a distraction. The formulators of ESSA have created the illusion that these new policies will be what we want. The opposite is true. The new avenues of data collection formulated for ESSA, in addition to academic (test) data,  include social emotional data, measuring such things a “grit and tenacity.”  They evaluate “mindfulness.” Some might be asking the question “why?”—what is to be gained from this data collection? The answer is: A great deal if you are keeping up with the research. You know this answer– at least in part.

In part, it is because in the traditional neoliberal framework, any data means money. For example, “Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020.”

Data also means knowing how to anticipate outcomes through predicative analytics, how to sort and track students as future consumers, workers, or prisoners (using 3rd grade data to build prisons goes back decades). But wait….there’s more. We need to understand what this “more” is, and why HST (as insidious as it is/was) PALES in comparison to the new data collection mechanisms and forms of data being mined, and the ways in which this data will significantly erode global democracy and human rights. This is because “a mechanism that is at the heart of biocapitalism in its ever-expanding attempts to commodify all aspects of life.” (Haraway).

The capitalist/consumer paradigm is shifting beneath our feet. With the growing capacities of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the push for Big Data (McKinsey),  we have seen in the last few decades the development of education policies mirroring something more (i.e. Common Core becomes CBE which becomes online learning which means more and more uses for AI and tracking student behavior because now the computers must monitor the children once the teachers are all gone)…. See a summary here. The growing technological advances are slowly forming a new relationship between human and capital. It’s called biocapitalism. And the education policies underway, invited in through the gates of ESSA and other tactics such as social impact bonds, are the way forward for biocapitalism to successfully engender us unto it. Those “innovative assessments” being developed for ESSA are a vehicle by which corporations can build a new biocapital world for all of us. In a biocapital reality, data becomes surveillance becomes total control.

Biocapitalism transforms the interdependent systems of capital and labor (as external phenomena) into a capitalist system that utilizes more abstract form of labor that are internal and intangible. The relationship between man and machine is far more enmeshed in a biocapital relationship.

One website describes it as follows:

“(T)he concept of biocapitalism refers to the production of wealth by means of knowledge and human experience, through the use of those activities, both intellectual and corporeal, that are implicit in existence itself. We might add that every process of production reflects not only material realities, but also social contexts. Thus, relations of production not only characterize different modes of production, but also societal forms. Gradually, the process of production turns into a process of production and reproduction of itself, which is the fundamental activity of a living organism. Although this basic idea is shared by all social forms of life, it becomes absolutely central in biocapitalism.”

As this article Harpers from 1997 clearly describes, “Scratch the surface of information and biotech revolutions ….and what one discovers underneath is a ‘control revolution’….a massive transfer of power from beauracries to individuals and corporations. In an unregulated control revolution free markets and consumer choice become even more dominant forces and in virtually every arena social regulation gives way to economic incentive. …even such social intangibles as privacy become commodified.”

To learn more about how biocapitalism controls bodies and minds of children via public education policy read Clayton Pierce –Education in the Age of Biocapitalism: Optimizing educational life for a flat world. Pierce explores how generations of “extractive schooling” (of which standardized testing has been a part since the birth of the Eugenics movement in the early 1900’s) and how this has begun to transform itself through “technologies of control” of which the increasing push toward computer learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence as the mode of education delivery for all children. He concludes, “education life is ever more becoming the target of an expanding range of sophisticated technologies of control (p. 142) … calling for greater and greater degrees of regulation and discipline over the body of the students” (p. 143). This makes me wonder even more about Class Dojo and other uses of privately owned technologies to monitor the student body and mind. And the purpose of them becomes yet more evident.

So as we continue to fight yesterday’s battle, i.e for a reduction in standardized testing and believe that that’s a “win” while also ignoring the profound destruction these other education policies (see McDowell) being quietly floated under our noses are having, the effort to control the next generation (our children) will be complete. We cannot become distracted by a bait-and -switch set of tactics.  Look for the forest, not the trees. We have to see the picture for these corporate reformers is much bigger than most parents and teachers and citizens can even imagine. It explains why global billionaires and tech giants like Bill Gates and Google have such a vested interest in “disrupting” education and taking education over with “21st century technology.” Biocapitalism relies on “the use of the relational, emotional and cognitive faculties of human beings.” LINK. In a biocapitalist framework of which 21st century education is a necessary part, “what is exchanged in the labour market is no longer abstract labour (measurable in homogeneous working time), but rather subjectivity itself, in its experiential, relational, creative dimensions. To sum up, what is exchanged is the ‘potentiality’ of the subject. Whereas in the Fordist model it was easy to calculate the value of labour according to the average output and professional skills based on workers’ education and experience, in bio-capitalism the value of labour loses almost any concrete definitional criterion.” LINK

The goal is not merely to sell us all iPads or market education materials and services. The scope is greater than that, and personal data (to be gathered via educational systems sold out to private interests) will use our children’s data not simply to sort and track them by test scores, not simply to close schools in black and brown neighborhoods to profit Wall Street charter schools)….sure all of that is true….but that’s not the end game. We cannot continue to fight yesterday’s demons and expect to reclaim the rights to our schools, our children’s futures, or our democracy. First, we have to see and understand the nature of biocapitalism as an all encompassing and global phenomena and the clear pathways between the new ESSA assessments and education delivery systems and the mechanisms of control being constructed.  We have to construct systemic avenues of wholesale resistance instead piece meal compromises. We cannot afford distractions or avoidance.

The devil is in the details.

The devil is in the data.

-Morna McDermott

Social Emotional Data. The new Cash Cow in the Corporate Assessment Industry

Reposted with permission from Peg with Pen.

hi-tech-computers

Big picture – this is about compliance. This is about colonization. Compliance is necessary in order to profit and control a population so that the outcomes fit the needs and demands of the market and the elite. Children living in poverty must learn to regulate their emotions as the corporations see fit and they must comply with the system, even when they are hungry and tired.

Recently I was asked to allow my son to participate in a survey at school. The “opt in” survey form specifically stated, “the questions on the survey relate to peer relationships, how safe students feel at school, and the quality of student-teacher relationships.” It went on to say that the questions might make my son feel uncomfortable and that this was all voluntary, with the ultimate goal being to “inform a more effective bullying prevention program and help improve the safety, social and emotional skills, and well-being for all students.”

There it was. Social Emotional. The new cash cow in corporate assessment building. ESSA created an additional data point which schools must use to report their progress. Each year schools must report back on school quality in some shape or form; in other words, how is the school climate? Is there bullying? Is it safe? How well are students or teachers engaged and are they feeling confident, successful? More or less, it’s about feelings. How we feel and interact as humans, is complex and incredibly difficult to confine to a data point.  Confining learning to a data point is not new. They’ve managed to confine academic learning to data points by defining finite standards which must be measured in small bites in order to create the ability to control teaching and learning (therefore humans) and profit off of public schools.  Corporate assessments are not about helping children, they are simply about making money – assessing social emotional learning is the new cash cow.

True assessments, created by teachers, are messy and include teacher commentary, student commentary, pieces of student work, teacher observation and more – true assessment occurs by teachers who know their students and develop solid student/teacher relationships with them.  It’s impossible to plug all of that into finite data points because humans are not robots.  We feel. We read each other’s body language, we make choices and decisions every day that are influenced by our background, our surroundings, our mood, our daily interactions with others, our health, and more. To think that we can now accurately assess student feelings and catalog these feelings into social and emotional competencies, well, it’s just ridiculous and unnecessary. But that’s what they are doing because there is huge profit to be gathered and ultimately all of this data can be funneled to create more effective artificial intelligence, therefore our children can further learn via online learning versus humans – less need for teachers and less need for teachers with actual teaching degrees.

Social emotional data will confine children to specific finite social emotional competencies that will define who they are, what they are capable of, and what intervention is needed to make them act and behave as demanded by the requirements of the corporate online assessments.

Recently a contest was held to review social emotional learning assessments. I watched the webinar to view the results of the contest, and in a nut shell, well, the results were just plain stupid.  I’ll try to recap quickly for you as I would hate for you to have to sit through the webinar as it’s absolutely mind numbing boring.

The webinar reviewed the assessments of the winners. The first presenter (from NWEA) had assessed students who rapidly guessed during test taking and the presenter decided that if they did indeed rush through the test, there was a high likelihood that this child could not self manage and was not engaged.  He showed data demonstrating that this most definitely could lead to suspensions and dropping out of school. Therefore, it’s important to intervene with these rapid guessers and modify their behavior so that they no longer rush through some mind numbing corporate online test. Emily Talmage has blogged about this happening in her classroom during testing – you must read it to see how absolutely ridiculous and wrong this SEL assessment is.

But according to NWEA, rapid guessing = low engagement and lack of self management.

Goodness, these wild unmanageable children!! Umm…how about, these kids think the test is STUPID? How about maybe they are tired or hungry or worried that they may have to sleep in the car again tonight and therefore they simply don’t give a rat’s ass about this stupid pathetic excuse for an assessment? Seriously I could go on for pages and pages about all the reasons the children flew through the test. Hey, maybe their parents told them it’s bullshit and said just fill in the bubbles and get out of the online program and go read a book and use your time wisely. Truly the number of reasons for rapid guessing are infinite. Maybe these kids are revolutionaries in the making – better squelch that quick, huh?

It was very surreal watching this webinar and listening to adults talk about this like it was deep stuff. Seriously, these people have PhDs and this was absolute idiocy.

On to the next assessment……this one really did me in. This assessment was about becoming a social detective and being able to really understand how someone else feels. In other words, walk in their shoes. This assessment, courtesy of Panorama, had children watch interviews of people and then determine what the person was like – how does that person feel? Who are they? Are they shy?  And so on. If you didn’t perceive the person as the author of the test determined you should, you lacked the ability to read people more or less. And therefore…..you were given strategies on how to improve your ability to really understand people.

Okay. Again, stupid. Why? Because number one, students can actually interact with real people in real life and get real feedback from one another and/or parents, teachers, and other adults involved in their lives. Two, maybe the student thinks this assignment is stupid and the actors in the interviews seem fake? Maybe the student would rather go outside and kick a ball around with his or her friends? Why waste time meeting people on a computer that you don’t care about and DON’T KNOW??? Seriously I could care less about these people they interviewed. I don’t know them. They aren’t real to me.  So, does this mean at parent/teacher conference a parent might be told that the child lacks the ability to really perceive others due to this assessment when in reality the child has great friendships and gets along well with everyone? Sheesh.

The third assessment dealt with puzzles. Let me tell you a bit about my experience with puzzles. Every Christmas I buy a puzzle and as soon as I get it out to start the puzzle the family all gives one another a “look” and then suddenly, they vanish. Poof. Gone. I like puzzles. They hate them. When I first started doing puzzles they would all pretend to like them because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. As the years wore on and every year they watched me excitedly purchase a new puzzle they finally had to come clean and confess that they do NOT LIKE PUZZLES. Yup, catalog all those social emotional competencies that went into those family interactions.

So…if my boys were asked to do this assessment which asks if you would like a more challenging puzzle they’d both say umm…no thank you. And at parent/teacher conference I would be told that they were not “challenge-seeking.” Hilarious.

Okay, I’ll stop there, but you get the picture at this point I’m sure. If you want to feel the gut wrenching pain that accompanies watching (catalog that emotion competency) the webinar here it is.

The hard part about this particular blog is that I have so much more to say, as this is one small piece of a very big and very scary picture of where we are headed, but I truly need to stop before I lose my audience. I’ll write more on this again I promise. Also check out www.emilytalmage.com , www.wrenchinthegears.com , and www.educationalchemy.com .

Bottom line, the gathering of social emotional data, is a new frontier in corporate assessment creation. ESSA created major funds for this to occur – ESSA being the federal bill that the unions supported – yup THAT ESSA.  ESSA = fast track to privatize. Thank you AFT and NEA  – oh, and the unions are also happily unionizing those charter teachers who will be absolutely stellar in monitoring all this online learning and assessment needed to gather SEL data, but that’s another blog for another day.

Regarding $$$ for SEL,  I found a quick summary of the SEL funding via ESSA. I can’t speak to how this actually rolled out, but the total sum appears to be around 21 billion in 2016. Correct me if I’m wrong, see here.

Quoting this NPR article: But, at the root of it all, is the fact that “emotion data” is not the same thing as the real, vivid, present, enacted emotional experiences we have being human. Our emotions are not our faces or our voices. They aren’t data. They can’t be pulled out like a thread, one by one, from the fabric of our being.

Big picture – this is about compliance. This is about colonization. Compliance is necessary in order to profit and control a population so that the outcomes fit the needs and demands of the market and the elite. Children living in poverty must learn to regulate their emotions as the corporations see fit and they must comply with the system, even when they are hungry and tired.

How about taking that SEL funding and feeding, housing and providing health care for these children and their families? Oh wait, this isn’t about the children. It’s about profit.

So, back to my original story about the survey my son’s school wanted him to take…..I, of course, refused it. I researched the behavior curriculum they are using at my son’s school. The name of the program is Second Step and as of August of 2017 they have joined forces with Panorama (the same Panorama I discussed above in the SEL contest) to create a technological platform to gather social emotional data. Big surprise. And even more fascinating, Panorama came out with a rigid list of social emotional competencies in 2015, the same year ESSA rolled out. Again, there are no coincidences here.

So, as a parent, I sat down with Luke and discussed all of this and he is aware that he is not to participate in any surveys or online learning that is related to Second Step. And of course, I informed the school of all of this before the school year even started.

So, that’s a small window into the brave new world we have entered. Back to my chickens who make me happy.  How does one catalog chicken happiness?

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 10.07.24 AM

Fyi…I rejoined Twitter. My love/hate relationship with social media is never ending. I didn’t de-activate, I literally deleted it so I lost all my followers. If you are interested in keeping up with me once again follow me @Pegwithpen

-Peggy

The US Department of Education’s Digital Promise to Advance the Ed-Tech Field, CBE, and Online Learning

Reposted with permission from Missouri Education Watchdog.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-3-20-48-pm

In 2011 the US Department of Education (USDoE)  launched the nonprofit Digital Promise,  and Digital Promise helped create The League of Innovative Schools. (Click to see map of Innovative Schools in your area).  Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools are involved with Relay Graduate School, Bloomboard, the use of standardized student hand gestures, realtime data from student white boards, data badges (micro-credentials) and Competencies. Click to see details.  According to former US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s speech, the nonprofit marriage of Federal Government and Edtech, Digital Promise was created ” to advance the education technology field”.

Duncan: Digital Promise

However, launching  Digital Promise in the U.S. was not enough.  The nonprofit GLOBAL Digital Promise was  launched in 2013.  Global DP’s work “supports learner agency” and US DP and Global DP  have “a formal agreement and informal relationships between the two organizations [to] enable deep and fluid collaboration.”  One has to wonder, what kind of  information and resources are shared in this formal and informal relationship?

Digital Promise Global

Digital Promise’s roots go deeper than its launch in 2011. Digital Promise was previously authorized in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, and Arne Duncan reminded us of that at the 2011 DP launch when he said,

Duncan: Digital Promise Higher Education

The US Department of Education has been ACTIVELY engaged in promoting businesses, corporations, and edtech in public education.

In 2012 the USDOE joined with the FCC in creating “DIGITAL TEXTBOOK PLAYBOOK,” A ROADMAP FOR EDUCATORS TO ACCELERATE THE TRANSITION TO DIGITAL TEXTBOOKS

Digital Text Books

The US Department of Education later followed up on its promise to advance the edtech field and accelerate the transition from textbook to online education with their Open Education Resources, #GoOpen initiative in 2015.  Once again the USDoE joined forces with others: Department of Defense (Federal Learning Registry) , Microsoft, Amazon, Edmodo,  and a host of others to deliver this “free” online curriculum.  You can see from the USDoE Press Release that it appears that Microsoft will be handling the interchange of data sharing.

The seemingly urgent push to transform education into a global workforce talent pipeline, creating k-12 badge pathways, allow workforce to “utilize student data and develop curriculum to meet market demand”,  measure 21st century (non-cognitive) soft skills and competencies,  creation of workforce data badges /credentials and Competency Based Education (CBE) seems to be coming from the many sectors mentioned in Digital Promise.

This excerpt from a 2015 NGA  letter to all states explains the workforce-education competency based transformation and also mentions the NH Innovative testing model as an example of future CBE assessments:

“Communicating the Change (page 14) policy change to a CBE system is unlikely to occur unless a governor who supports a move toward CBE can communicate the need for change, the potential value of CBE, and strategies to overcome the associated challenges. The basic message a governor can communicate is that a CBE system is responsive to the learning needs of individual students. CBE would benefit students and families, teachers, communities, and businesses. Well prepared individuals have a greater potential to be productive members of society who better use taxpayer money by staying in the education system only for as long as necessary to meet their professional goals. Despite the appeal of CBE and its potential benefits, the structure does not fit within society’s current entrenched vision of education and existing policies.

State policymakers and the public at large habitually picture desks, a blackboard, and students facing a teacher at the front of the classroom when thinking of a typical K-12 educational environment. Higher education produces a similarly traditional vision of 18-year-olds in ivy-covered buildings. These systems do not work for enough of today’s students. CBE is one way to respond to the evolution in the demands of current students and offers a new way to overcome existing shortcomings. Governors are well positioned to lead and encourage a discussion on the potential value of a move toward CBE.”

“K-12 Policy Environment  – If governors want to discuss the benefits of CBE for K-12 students, they should emphasize the ability to provide more personalized instruction so that far more students can meet more rigorous and relevant standards, regardless of background, ability, or stage of development. CBE is designed to meet students where they are and get them the help they need when they need it so that they can master the defined standards of learning. In a CBE system, the support and incentives are in place to increase the likelihood that students have mastered content and are ready for the next step. Maine produced several communication resources to educate the public about its progress toward a CBE system. The Maine Department of Education home page prominently features the state’s plan, Education Evolving, for putting students first and a separate Web site devoted to CBE in the state.  In addition to providing easy-to-navigate resources, the state created several informational videos that explain what CBE is and how it is benefiting Maine’s students. Governors in other states can use similar resources and work with their departments of education to develop plans and tools to publicize the benefits of CBE to students, families, educators, and state and local policymakers.”

Governors who seek to move their states toward a CBE system should consider several policy changes to overcome the barriers embedded in the current system. In a CBE program, the role of the educator and how he or she delivers the content can look different from current practice. Educators must be able to guide learning in a variety of ways, not simply supply content. Changing the role of the teacher has significant implications for teacher-preparation programs, certification, professional development, labor contracts, and evaluation. Computer-based learning is likely to be even more important in a CBE system than in the current time-based system. In addition, robust assessment is a key element of CBE, designed to facilitate more flexible and better testing of students’ learning. Assessment is frequently tied to accountability in K-12; therefore, policymakers might have to reconsider what they want their accountability systems to measure.

Finally, policymakers who want to implement CBE will need to figure out how to fund the transition to such a system and create the right incentives
for educators and administrators. If policymakers want to pay for student learning instead of seat time, they will have to fundamentally change the way they budget and allocate dollars to school districts and higher education institutions.”

“ To deliver high-quality instruction in a CBE model, educators require access to assessments that measure learning progress along the way so that they can modify their teaching based on each student’s progress toward mastering the desired content and skills. To draw on the power of those assessments in a CBE system, assessments should be offered on a flexible timeline instead of during one window at the end of the semester or school year. No state has yet figured out how to make the switch to such a model at the K-12 level, but New Hampshire is working toward that goal.
read more here.

And if that weren’t enough, there is also a WORKFORCE Data Quality Campaign, whose focus is using K-16 student data to fuel workforce needs. As you can see, they were “giddy” when “The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor released joint guidance to help states match data for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) reporting. (For more on School Workforce and data badges see here, here, here, and here.)

SLDS federal funding

DATA and DOLLARS

Click this Workforce Data Quality Campaign’s site to see their analysis of the White House’s proposed 2017 budget as it relates to DATA.  The 2017 Federal budget more than doubles monies for SLDS and creates all kinds of new, vague data gathering projects.Aligning student data bases and workforce pathways is also in line with the US Department of Labor-Workforce Data Quality Initiative which plans to use personal information from each student, starting in pre-school, using the states’ SLDS data system.

Workforce Data Quality

KnoweldgeWorks,  iNACOL,  Edutopia are just a few of the edtech organizations who have managed to influence policy and declare the need for online Competency Based Education, “personalized learning”, online “blended learning”, and measuring children’s social emotional soft-skills (SEL).

Keeping track of all the reforms and special interest groups is a difficult task. Luckily, there are a few maps for you to follow.  We suggest you look at the Global Education Futures map or do a quick search in the GEF Executive Summary.  Additionally, Silicon Valley has created a History of the Future playbook, listing the hurdles of incorporating edtech into education, they list the problem and what they did or plan to do, to “fix” it.

The push to advance online education does not take into regard the warnings and mounting evidence of health effects, inappropriate use of screen time, concerns over data privacy and profiling children, and the repeat studies that say online education does not enhance student learning and blended learning fares even worse.

Why then, is every sector promoting edtech, online competency based assessments and workforce data badges? ….Could it be the money?

The MAP Test can now monitor a child’s psyche, or so they think

Original Title: And You Thought Standardized Tests Were Bad. Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

Another Brick in the Wall

NWEA recently received an award from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning for this feature, which not only claims to know who is disengaged based on how quickly they are clicking through the test, but all sorts of other things about the child’s psyche.

Yesterday afternoon, in eighty degree heat, my fourth graders took the first of the six “NWEA MAP” assessments that they will sit for this year.

The MAP test (which stands for “Measure of Academic Progress”) is often considered to be the lesser of evils when it comes to standardized testing: scores show up immediately after a student finishes testing, and it purports to measure “growth” rather than how a child stacks up against grade-level standards.

Results often make zero sense (how does a student who worked their tail off in the classroom all year actually lose learning points, while another miraculously makes three years worth of “growth”?), but because the results have a sort of science-y feel, the test is used to place students in intervention groups, gifted and talented programs, and even to award merit pay bonuses to teachers.

Yesterday, in our steamy-hot classroom, I had to gently prod kids along – reminding them to turn their eyes back to the test when they drifted toward the window or the doorway, to put the rainbow erasers away, to pick their heads up off their desk.

The test, however, wanted me to intervene with one little girl sitting in the front of the room.

There was no question she was reading the passages in front of her, and no question that she was doing her best to do her best.

But, according to the test’s new warning feature, she was “disengaged.”

NWEA recently received an award from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning for this feature, which not only claims to know who is disengaged based on how quickly they are clicking through the test, but all sorts of other things about the child’s psyche.

If a student doesn’t take the test seriously enough, NWEA believes this is a sign that a child is struggling to self-regulate or self-manage in school, and could benefit from behavioral intervention.

Now, this may not seem so bad, until you realize that this “what’s wrong with kids who won’t take our test seriously and what can we do about them?” feature is actually part of a “broader research agenda” spurred by the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, to “measure” social-emotional learning using standardized tests.

Which isn’t actually about helping the kids at all.

Instead, its a data-siphoning strategy designed to fuel not only the multi-billion dollar assessment industry, but the budding “Pay For Success” investment opportunities that Wall Street is hoping will create a cash cow in a few years time.

And if what happened in my class is any sign of what’s to come, we’re in really big trouble.

The girl that the test flagged as “disengaged” actually scored the highest in the class (and she’s probably one of the sweetest, calmest kids I’ve ever worked with) meaning that the click-speed feature didn’t actually have a damn clue about what was going on in my students’ psyches as they took the test.

Just as they do with standardized tests, however, you can bet they’re going to try charging forward with these blunt, inept social-emotional assessments, wreaking whatever havoc they please.

If only they had a warning system letting them know how disengaged we are becoming with these assessments…

Save Maine Schools

The New “Jack”: Trading Justice for Grit

Reposted with permission from Educationalchemy.

Statue of Liberty in Disgust

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Is Restorative Justice being “jacked?”

Restorative Justice (RJ) has a lengthy (centuries-old) global history too lengthy and complex to elucidate here. It  thankfully has become the recent focus of school disciplinary and judicial systems at a time when the school- to- prison pipeline is booming (thanks, private prisons), policy brutality is soaring, there is a rise in hate crimes (thanks, 2016 elections), and the inequitable rates of imprisonment and suspensions between white students and students of color have now continued unabated for decades.

However, despite its powerful and positive effects, and future potential to radically re envision our approach to peace, justice and sustainable communities, I am beginning to witness the emergence of something else calling itself “restorative justice,” but is perhaps offering us something else.

In schools across the United States, RJ being presented as group circle discussions on just about anything (so … nice democratic classroom practice… but not justice focused…) and the language being blended into what is being touted as “justice” frameworks are beginning to smack of something else reformy….GRIT.

Speaking to the GRIT narrative,  Pedro Noguera says “I’m not hearing in the conversation acknowledgments of the effect poverty, income inequality and the opportunity gap has on student achievement …All the grit in the world can’t compensate for the obstacles that face so many students in low income communities.” So, when RJ is synonymous with “grit” what happens to the focus on systemic injustice? It becomes  … something else.

RJ has its (contemporary) roots in 1970’s work in challenging systems of inequality by placing the tools for change and healing in the hands of children and communities themselves, and reducing the school- to- prison pipeline. RJ was (is) a practice intended to, “protect individuals, social stability and the integrity of the group.” (“Utu”Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 17 September 2013).

But more and more, what is being called RJ is in fact a focus on “character building” or “grit”—these terms attend to individual character, not on addressing systematic inequality. They place the narrative back in the neoliberal lap of individualism. While restorative justice is definitely personal (i.e perpetrator and victim), the focus is more on community building/healing than it is on strengthening personality traits. It is a process that commits people to one another in a rebalancing of the power distribution in society and shared behaviors. “Restorative justice views violence, community decline, and fear-based responses as indicators of broken relationships. It offers a different response, namely the use of restorative solutions to repair the harm related to conflict, crime, and victimization.” (Zehr, Howard. Changing Lenses – A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottdale PA: 2005, 268–69).

Now that RJ is the new “in” thing (everyone’s doing it) it has a following, and examples abound everywhere of teachers modeling this practice. Some of these classrooms are focused on “vocabulary” which includes teaching kids to focus on words like: orderliness, perseverance, and rigor. Not sure what any of that has to do with justice. What I am beginning to sense is that RJ is being carefully and quietly hijacked by the GRIT narrative that has recently gained traction as the vehicle for teaching (tracking? training?) social emotional learning. Yet, ironically they are at their core very different things. Grit and Duckworth’s study have been linked to racist practices and research.

Concepts such as “social-emotional or non-cognitive learning, or character education, or habits of success”  are NOT synonymous with restorative justice, much less equality, any more than Gardner’s learning styles are! Neither is “positive behavior support.”

Those are buzz words that have been developed and embraced by the same organizations that have contributed to decades of inequality through failed policies….now climbing aboard the RJ train. See the Face Book site sharing posts from Angela Duckworth and other practices that are justice “light”

While narratives of grit or habits of mind attempts to (re)colonize attitude and behaviors of students of color, RJ “represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups,” whose traditions were “often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.” source

Another article argues, “It is based on the principle that crime affects people, their families and communities (Strang, 2001).” And that RJ has, “an intention to reduce the violence inherent to the State’s apparatus

What reformers are able to do is to distract schools and communities from engaging in the more radical systemic work that RJ was intended to do…and places (again…) our best initiatives, the ones we believe in, into the hands of the reformers and privatizers who are experts at selling us back our ideas as watered down, declawed, defanged versions of their original selves. We’ve taken the equivalent of a revolutionary treatise and reduced it to a Hallmark card.

Notice the deft pivot at where the focus is on: “Making sure that students aren’t punished or jailed for actions stemming directly from their own years as victims of crimes and poor upbringing,” but nothing is said about transforming a violent and oppressive system of racialized policing and punishment. The focus is no longer on transforming the system, it is on children as victims of “poor upbringing” (not sure what that means…) or developing better “character.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that schools must have quality infrastructure in place to support children who are surviving trauma, children with behavioral challenges, and create nurturing non-punitive classroom communities. There is a place for classroom conversations, circles, and support for individual learning.

I just do not wish to confuse that with restorative justice, or to have the latter subsumed by the former, a process by which the system would (yet again) cease to be the focus of our collective attention, and we instead turn attention to children as isolated agents of “good choice” or “character.”

It is also being blended with social expectations that seem to have little to do with violence or justice:

One school site says “We aren’t interested in ‘punishment.’ Rather, we want to inculcate the values of empathy, orderliness, and manners in students – lifelong lessons which they will use in future arenas.” This almost sounds like the “good behavior” narratives promulgated by charter schools aiming to “civilize” urban black youth.

Orderliness and manners? There are even some resources for versions of “restorative” practices that focus on Habits of Mind traits like “persistence,” “striving for accuracy,” and “impulsivity control.”

Compare an original/earlier definition of RJ:

“(I)n these communities relationships and victim-offender interaction were personal, and usually led to strong bonds and sometimes even to reduction in deviant behaviour. Most importantly, deviance was seen as a community problem, and a community failure not simply as a matter for the offender to pay or restore.” source

With this more recent (watered down) version:

“Restorative justice is about understanding the role trauma plays on the brain and developing teaching methods that actually are based on the needs of the students.” Note the word “personalized” here which reminds me of “personalized learning” now code for “students staring at a screen” learning. Both seem to be trending.

The difference may seem slight…but it’s significant. The emphasis on “the brain” here gestures toward developing a role for the use of psychometrics for predictive analytics (can we predict who might become deviant or commit anti social behavior?) rather than systemic restoration or healing.

There are already links between the Five Factors personality test (used in predictive analytics and data miners in psy ops) and the Grit narrative. As I have posted in earlier blogs:

There is a growing emphasis on the “affective” learning of students.  Some examples include: “ETS’ SuccessNavigator assessment and ACT’s Engage College Domains and Scales Overview … the broader domains in these models are tied to those areas of the big five personality theory.” Also see Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

Paul Thomas notes, “grit narratives are also often masks for race and class biases in the same way IQ was embraced throughout much of the twentieth century.”

Bridging grit and personality to restorative justice is merely one more link the in the passage of selling out progressive narratives (justice, peace or restoration for examples) into data profiteering and social corporate engineering. Education reform history is steeped in using such tactics.

See titles like “Justice and personality: Using integrative theories to derive moderators of justice effects” and “The Importance of Perceptions in Restorative Justice Conferences: The Influence of Offender Personality Traits on Procedural Justice and Shaming” to see where RJ language is being blended with new forms of personality testing.

Even Teach for America is on the Restorative Justice ticket.      #Hashtag irony.

Who else might you ask could be leading this hijacking effort? Maybe Chiefs for Change?  who are passing out information using a finely tuned blurring instrument that seamlessly takes you from thinking your focusing on justice, when the shell game in fact is pulling a bait and switch. Note the article entitled: “The connection between grit, resilience, and equity”

What is their agenda? Read on:

“Wilson points out that leading businesses have found ways to diminish hierarchy, to create flatter organizations, and to reinvent work spaces and climates with the needs of real human beings in mind — and have profited as a result. Schools should learn lessons, he says. And they should invest in helping everyone come to a deeper understanding of behaviors that can quickly be classified as insubordination or disrespect, in ways that decrease conflict and punishment.”

With a nudge from researcher and blogger Alison Mcdowell I also did a search on relationships between RJ and social impact bonds. It appears to have been emerging in the U.K.  back in 2015. The article says: “Work with offenders is already delivered on a payment by results basis by the new community rehabilitation companies(CRCs). If an offender who had gone through restorative justice delivered by an independent provider as well as other CRC-funded activities does not go on to commit a further crime, who gets the credit?”

I guess justice is for sale.

-Morna McDermott

 

An Interview with Alison McDowell: KEXP’s Mind Over Matters Community Forum

headphones

On August 5th Alison McDowell was a guest on KEXP’s news program Mind Over Matters. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the link below ( be patient – it takes a little bit of time for the file to load). A transcript of the interview follows.

Alison McDowell Interview

My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

Mind Over Matters – KEXP

Community Forum

Interview with Alison McDowell

Mike McCormick:  It’s time once again for Community Forum, and we’re very lucky to have with us live in the studios this morning, Alison McDowell. Alison McDowell is a parent and researcher, into the dangers of corporate education reform. She was presenter this last March this year here in Seattle. The talk entitled Future Ready schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. Alison, thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Oh, I’m very glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Mike:  So, tell us, how did you get interested and involved with the issue of corporate education reform?

Alison: Well, I’m a I’m a parent. I have a daughter who is sixteen in the public schools of Philadelphia. And we’re sort of a crucible for many different aspects of education reform. We’ve had multiple superintendents from the Broad Academy. We’ve been defunded. Our schools have been, numerous of our schools have been closed, teachers laid off and about three years ago I became involved in the Opt Out movement for high stakes testing. Because at that point I felt that if we were able to withhold the data from that system we would try to be able to slow things down. Because they were using that testing data to close our schools. So I worked on that for a number of years until I saw that the landscape was starting to change. And a lot of it was leading up to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. That that passage. And it seemed at that time that our school district, which is challenging in many respects, was all of a sudden actually interested in Opt Out, and making that, sharing information and materials… Pennsylvania has a legal Opt Out right on religious grounds…and making materials available in various languages. And something just didn’t compute in my head. I’m like, well, even if, if we’re entitled, the fact that they were interested in engaging with us on that, made me sort of question why that was. And then so post ESSA, it became clear that the shift that was going to be taking place was away from a high stakes end of year test and more towards embedded formative assessments. So in our district we’ve seen an influx, even though there isn’t funding for many other things, lots of technology coming in, lots of Chromebooks. Every, all of the students have Google accounts. Google runs our school district. Even though they say philsd.org, their Google accounts, and each student, their email address is actually their student id number. So to access a Chromebook as soon as you login, you know all of that information is tied back into their id number. So the technology was coming in. Many schools were doing multiple benchmark assessments. So there was less and less time for actual meaningful instruction throughout the school year and there were more and more tests taking place, many computerized. So, at that point, we were looking into like, what did this mean, what is the role of technology and the interim testing, in this movement And so, I had come across my…I have a blog. It’s called Wrench in the Gears. It’s a wordpress blog. So you, I have a lot of information there, and it’s all very well documented and linked. My colleague Emily Talmage, who’s a teacher in Maine, who has seen this first-hand. She has a blog: Save Maine Schools. And so I had found her blog and at one point she said, you know…you know, only click on this link, you know, if you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole. And at that point it was, it was a website called Global Education Futures Forum, and they have this agenda for education up to 2035. And it is their projection. And it’s a global…global membership led by Pavel Luksha, who’s connected with the Skolkovo Institute, in Russia. But the local person here, actually he’s very local, is Tom Vander Ark, is one of the US representatives. And so he was former Gates Foundation. And has his own consulting firm now. And it’s based out of Seattle. And, but anyway, so they have sort of what they call a foresight document, a sort of projecting based on trends and patterns, where they see things going for education, like over the next 20 years. And so really, they have a very sophisticated map. And all you have to do is sort of look at their map. And then match it up to current events. And you can see, like, where they’re pretty much on target where things are headed. And there, they have some really interesting infographics and, one of them, it’s a very decentralized system. So education is just like the individual at the center. So everything you’re hearing, personalized learning, and and individual education plans, like it’s one big person and you’re the center of your own universe. And sort of around you, there aren’t teachers or schools. It’s it’s many sort of digital interfaces, and devices, and data-gathering platforms. And this idea that education is a life-long process. Which I think all of us generally agree with, but the idea that you’re sort of chasing skills in this new global economy, and like constantly remaking yourself. Or like the gig economy and what that means. And managing your online reputation. Not just your skillsets. But your mindset. And your social outlook. And your behaviors. And the role of gamification. So there are many many elements to this, that if you look into it, I think raise a lot of questions. And increasingly, really over the past five years there’s been a lot of discussion about remaking education. Re-imagining education. You know, education for the 21st century. Future Ready Schools. And I think for the most part, parents and community members have been left out of this conversation, of what really does Future Ready Schools mean? And the folks who are running the conversation, are running the agenda, are largely coming from a tech background. And this is something that’s built up since the mid-nineties, when the Advanced Distributed Learning Program was set up within the Defense Department, and the Department of Education.  To have like you know, Tech Learning for all Americans. Which, you know, again  I think we all need to be tech knowledgable, I, the question is, how is the tech used and how in control of of your education are you, and your educational data. So anyway, a lot of this is being driven by interests of digitizing education. And really, through austerity mechanisms, pulling out more human interaction, out of the equation. So we’re, we’re seeing things that a number of years ago, Detroit, had a kindergarten, where they would have a hundred kindergarteners, with like one teacher and a couple of aides, and a lot of technology. So there’re lots of questions increasingly about the use of technology especially in early grades, and I know in, in Washington State there’ve been a big push for tablets down to the kindergarten level. Our children are being part of this sort of larger experiment that has health considerations that have not been closely examined. In terms of eyestrain, audio components, even hygiene with earphones. The wifi aspects. And then also the data collection. So, there’s this grand experiment going on for Future Ready Schools, and parents and community members aren’t really aware of the fact that it is an unproven experiment, and what the implications are long-term.

Mike: And it’s being driven heavily by corporations that are producing these platforms, this software, the electronics, kind of behind the scenes, because no one knows this is going on except a select group of administrators and teachers?

Alison: Yeah, well so they have, there are a number of like pilot districts. So the idea is sort of, you get a beachhead, and then you, you roll it out. You convince, I mean they have very sophisticated marketing manuals. Like Education Elements, they say, this is how you do it. You know first you, you have a social media campaign, you get the young teachers who are really into tech and you train them up in the way that you wanna do things, and then they mentor all the veteran teachers and you get the principal on board and then you have the parent meetings and it’s…again…with…if you understood it as, like selling a corporate product as opposed to public education, it might not be so disturbing. Like for me, I find having this sort of corporate approach to marketing, a new approach to public education. That’s, that’s what, what I find disturbing. I’ve called this Education 2.0, because I think we’re, we’re about to see a shift from the earlier version of privatization, which was the high stakes, end of year high stakes testing, vouchers, charter schools. Those things will all still continue, but they’ve, they were never the end game.  So they have been used as a way to de-stabilize the, the landscape of neighborhood schools. And in many cases they’ve been used to, you know, acquire real estate, further sort of gentrification, insider contracts, like there are many aspects that allow that to become a profit center. But there’s going to be a point of diminishing return. Where sort of like all the easy pickings have been taken. And if you’re pursuing sort of a tailoristic model , like the ultimate efficiency, lean production, Cyber-Education is the end game. So creating a system of education that really has very little in human resources.  There’s lots of folks within Pearson and IBM and Microsoft who are looking at AI, like everyone will have your own artificial intelligent, like learning sherpa for your life. You know, and this isn’t just K12, this is forever.  You know, someone on your shoulder telling you what you should be doing next. But removing the humans out of the equation and putting more technology in place. So I think that’s what this shift to Education 2.0 is going to be about, is largely cyber but I think most parents at this point are not comfortable with that model. They wouldn’t say, you know, and I will admit, like there, there’s a small group of kids who are highly motivated for whom a cyber, exclusively cyber model may work. I mean a lot of the research shows that for most kids the outcomes are not great. So what they will be selling is project based learning. And that’s what you’ll hear a lot about, coming up, like in the next couple of years. But those projects won’t necessarily be linked to schools. So you’ll hear more and more about, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any pace learning. So they’re looking to de- disconnect education from physical school buildings, and actual teachers in classrooms, to sort of what’s called a learning eco-system model. So something that’s more free-flowing, you’re just out in the world collecting skills. And that’s what was so interesting about, like the Common Core State Standards set-up. And I know a lot of states have sort of rolled back or renamed them. But the idea of having education tied to very specific standards, was a way of atomizing education and making it available for digitization. So if, if education is a human process of growth and development, that’s very murky to try to put in a metric, right? You need bits and bytes. And so if you create an education that’s strictly around standards and like sub standards and little sets, you can just aggregate those, and collect them or not collect them, and run that as data in a digital platform. So that push toward standards, yes it allowed for school report cards and value added modeling and things that hurt schools and teachers, but it also normalized the idea that education was less a human process and more people collecting things. Like collecting skills and standards, which is what you need for like a competency based education approach.

Mike: So, talk about some of the specific examples…one of the advantages to going into your site is you have links to so many different documents from the very corporations and people that are producing these systems. And one of the examples you’ve talked about in your talk back here in March was something called Tutormate? That was involved, kids getting pulled out of class, to go see, basically AI icons talking to them and they become attached to them…

Alison: Yeah…

Mike: …it’s disturbing.

Alison: Well there were a couple of, there’s a couple of interesting things. I had sort of a slide saying who’s teaching your children? Because increasingly it’s not necessarily their classroom teacher. The chatbot was actually Reasoning Mind, which is a math program. It was developed in Texas. And so it’s been like long-running and gotten a lot of funding, both from public and private sources. About refining sort of a personalized learning towards math. But kids were interacting with these online chat bots and developing connections and relationships to these online presences in their math program. I’m in Pennsylvania. So a lot of, a lot of things are developing in Pittsburgh. They have a whole initiative called Remake Learning in Pittsburgh which I believe is sort of early-stage learning ecosystem model and a lot of that is coming out of Carnegie Mellon because Carnegie Mellon is doing a lot of work on AI and education. And they have something called Alex. So they like the idea of peer-based learning. That sounds attractive like, yeah, kids like to learn from their peers. This, their version of peer-based learning is that you have a giant avatar cartoon peer on a screen and the children interact with this peer on a screen. So that’s something that’s being piloted in southwestern Pennsylvania right now. And then Tutormate is actually a different variation but they were pulling kids out of class, away…these were young children, from their classroom setting to put them in a computer lab to do tutoring with a corporate volunteer via skype, and an online platform. So in this case it actually was a human being, but this was during school hours. This was not a supplement to classroom instruction, this was in lieu of having direct instruction with a certified teacher. They were being put into an online platform with a corporate volunteer and you know, it turns out a number of the sponsors of that program had ties to defense contracting industries. You know, Halliburton, and Booz Allen Hamilton. You know, things that you might wanna question, is that who you want your second grader spending their time chatting with? You know, in lieu of having their second grade teacher teach them reading. So again, there is this shift away from, from teachers. There’s, there’s a model that’s going on right now, within many one-to-one device districts, so districts where every child has their own device. Young kids often have tablets, older kids have Chromebooks, in high-end districts you might have an actual laptop, with some hard-drive on it. The Clayton Christensen Institute, or Innosight Institute, they’ve been pushing blended learning. So blended learning is this new model. Where, there are a number of different ways you can…flipped classrooms, which many people have heard of…but there’s one called a rotational model. So children only have direct access to a teacher a third of the time. Like the class would be split into three groups. And you would be with a teacher for a third of the time, doing peer work a third of the time, and doing online work a third of the time. So again, it’s a way of increasing class size supposedly, like supposedly the quality time you have when you’re with the teacher with the ten kids instead of thirty is supposed to be so great even though maybe you only get fifteen minutes. What’s happening in other districts is they’re saying the time where kids are not with their teachers, and they’re just doing online work, they don’t really need a teacher present, they could just have an aide. So that’s again, in terms of pushing out professional teachers, is that, well if kids are doing online learning, maybe you just need an Americorp volunteer, in the room, to make sure that no one’s  hurting them…each other. You know, and that they’re on, supposedly on task. You know I think that’s a worrisome trend. And even though they’ll sell blended learning as very tech forward and future ready, the kids don’t love spending time on these devices, like hour after hour after hour. And my concern as a parent is…we’re all starting to realize what the implications are for big data. And how we interact with online platforms, either in social media, or other adaptive situations. And how, that these devices are actually gathering data, on ourselves.. .so, they they gather information through keystroke patterns, they all have cameras, they all, you know, the tablets have TouchSense, so theoretically there’s body temperature and pulse sensors. Like there’s many many elements, are they all being used now? No, but there is that capacity for using them to develop that level of engagement. To understand how you’re interacting with these programs. And that’s being developed through, with the Army Research Lab and USC, their Institute for Creative Technologies. And they are developing, a lot of this is being developed in conjunction with the Defense Department, for their interactive intelligent tutoring systems and with the Navy actually, which is relevant to Seattle. A lot of these early prototyped intelligent tutoring systems have been developed specifically with the Navy in mind. Training very specifically on computer programs, and optimizing that. But once they develop the infrastructure, then they’re able to apply that in non-military settings. And so it’s, it’s making its way out. So there’s a lot of data that can be collected and the other, the other push that you’ll start to see is gamification. So games, like gaming in schools. And kids love games, like parents love games. It sounds so fun. But I think what we have to realize is there’s a lot of behavioral data that’s coming out of the gaming too. That we’re not necessarily aware of.  And so this push for gamification, or sometime…like gamified classroom management systems. So Google has something called Classcraft. And all the kids have avatars. And like if they’re behaving in class, they can, you know they earn points, or have points deducted, and you’re on teams, and you can save your team member or not. And with ESSA, having passed, you know, they’ll tell the story that like we care about more than just test scores, we really wanna care about the whole child, we wanna, you know we we care about children as individuals. Really they wanna collect all of this data, not just on your academic skills, but on your behaviors, and your mindset. And are you gritty, and are you a leader, or are you, you know, flexible, are you resilient. And these, these gamified platforms, whether they’re run by the teacher, or gaming that’s done with the students in these simulations, and also AR/VR, augmented reality/virtual reality games that you’re starting to see. There’s just a lot of information going through, and you have to wonder, how is it being used, what are the privacy implications, and also what are the feedback loops being created? In terms of how you interact with a platform. Is it reinforcing aspects of your personality that you may or may not want reinforced. My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

Mike: In some of the documentation you present, they have systems that wanna pay attention to whether a person that is working with the program is getting bored, or falling asleep, or whatever, so they were like watching like you know, the eye, literally to see if it’s like where it’s wandering off to…you said they potentially could be checking your, your temperature, your heart rate…

Alison: I mean, you know, are they doing it right now? I don’t know that they, but the capacity is there. And…

Mike: And all that data is being saved somewhere. And shared. In some capacity. We don’t know.

Alison: W…and I think it’s very unclear. And I think they’re, they’re many parents who are very concerned about privacy and working that angle of controlling what data goes in…I mean I think all of us are aware that once something is up in the cloud, even if there are promises made about privacy and protections, that nothing is really safe up there. In terms of from hacking, or even just legal. Like FERPA is very, the education records, sort of, privacy has a lot of loopholes. You know anyone who, many of these organizations, companies are third parties are designated agents of school districts. So they have access to this information. And I will also mention Naviance, because the other shift that we’re seeing happening is the shift towards creating an education system that is geared towards workforce development. That, that, that children at younger and younger ages should, should be identifying their passions, and finding their personal pathways to the workforce and the economy. And so Naviance is one of a number of companies that does strengths assessments and surveys. And many states you can’t get your diploma unless your child does a complete battery of assessments, personality assessment through Naviance, which is this third-party program. Also linking towards like their future college plans, and other things linked in, and very detailed information about people’s family situations. So again, the, the amount of data that’s being collected on many many different levels to supposedly like guide students moving forward into the economy, I think it merits a larger conversation. And I’m not saying that everyone needs to agree with my position, but I think that the, the agenda that’s being moved forward is being done in a way that for the most part, parents and community members, there’s not been a consensus reached, with us. That this is okay. That this new version of school is, is what we desire.

Mike: And being a parent in the Philadelphia School District, when these new systems are, have been implemented, you know, and the potential use of all, gathering of all your child’s data, I mean, have you been consulted on that prior? Did, every time they bring in a new system did they let you know, oh, we have another piece of software here that potentially could be, you know, data-mining your kid, are you okay with that?

Alison: So I think on the, on the plus side, because we have been so severely defunded, we haven’t seen quite as much of an influx of tech yet. Although I, I anticipate it’s coming. We’ve just had a big roll-out of Minecraft I think in schools. That’s their new thing that they’re, they’re all…there are a number of schools, like within turnaround sort of, that, that are being piloted for these one-to-one devices. I will say that there was an opt-out form for Google Apps for Education. Which is, and I so I opted, I opted my child out of Google Apps for Education. I may have been the only parent in the Philadelphia School District who did that, and it, it makes it complicated because again, there, it’s convenient, you know, it’s a nice, you know, way for teachers not to have to carry around lots of papers, and they have kids put it all on their Google drive. But I, I think we’re all starting to be a little wary about the amount of information and power that Google has, you know, in the world and what the implications are for that. So I think if, if people have concerns around some of these privacy aspects, you know, that’s, that’s a potential starting, starting place, is to opt out of Google Apps for Education, and see where that goes. Or even have targeted like device and data strikes, during the school year. So we don’t get a notice every time there’s a new program. I guess long story short.

Mike: Just a few minutes left. And again, some of the companies, in addition to Defense Department having early hooks into education reform, and online learning, some of the companies involved, and heavily investing in this, as an example, like Halliburton and Booz Allen, which to me, let’s say Booz Allen which is also heavily tied into doing, they have access to data bases that the NSA does and, Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen.

Alison: I would say like right now, like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, is huge and they’re pushing Summit Basecamp. I know we just have a few min…minutes in closing so I also wanna mention, in addition to tech, we also have global finance interests involved, because in ESSA there are provisions for Pay for Success. Which is where they’re looking to use private venture capital to affect educational outcomes. Either right now it’s in universal pre-k, also early literacy. So we need to be aware of the role that Pay for Success is going to play in this, and that’s essentially like “moneyball” for government. Where they’re looking to save money. I mean there’s a conference that they, they’ve put this together. Evidence based policy. That’s what they call it. That’s sort of the code word. Is that if you can come up with a computerized program that will give you specific success metrics, venture capital can make money on that. So a lot of global finance interests, and impact investing interests are looking, I believe at education as a market, a futures market in student education data. So I have more information on that on my blog. But social impact bonds and Pay for Success are a critical piece to understanding why education is being digitized. Also Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, IBM, the tech interests, Summit Basecamp, AltSchool, Micro Schools are another big component of this. These value-model private schools, if vouchers go through, that, we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of that. The tech is also focusing on Montessori school models, and, and very high-end. So you have Rocketship Academy, which are sort of stripped down versions for low-income districts and, but they’re also marketing tech to affluent families and aspirational families as being sort of future-ready. So it’s really a, there’s many different branded versions of education technology.

Mike: So long story short, you have a kid in, going through school, or, you know, anyone you care about then, this would be something to look into.

Alison: Yes. Understand how much time they’re spending on devices. Advocate that school budgets prioritize human teachers, and reasonable class sizes, and not data-mining, not adaptive management systems. And and have this conversation in your community. Is education about creating opportunities for students to learn and grow together as a community, or is it these isolating personalized pathways, where people are competing against one another. And and I think that’s a larger conversation we all need to have in our school districts.

Mike: Alright. We’re speaking with Alison McDowell. She is a parent and researcher in the Philadelphia school system. Produced a series,  Future Ready Schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. And again, your website is…

Alison: Wrenchinthegears.com

Mike: Wrenchinthegears.com. And with that we’re unfortunately out of time. I want to thank you for coming and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Thank you.

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wants Seniors to Have a Plan for the Future in Order to Graduate. Chris Reykdal, Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Just Passed a Similar Requirement for 8th Graders.

follow the money

Thanks to the tireless effort of education activist, the general public is on to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

People know Emanuel is bad news when it comes to public education.

Of course, Mayor Emanuel worked hard to cement his reputation – by closing schools, refusing to fund wrap around services, and praising charter schools.

In a city with nearly 800 homicides and more than 4,000 shootings last year, Emanuel refuses to fund wraparound services for students living with this trauma. His Chicago Housing Authority is hoarding a $379 million surplus while we have more than 18,000 homeless students in the city’s school district, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Special education cuts in the public schools have left our most vulnerable students without the services and resources they so desperately need. Seventy-five percent of public schools in Chicago do not have libraries, according to the Chicago Teachers Union (which I serve as president).

Emanuel led the largest mass public school closing ever in one U.S. city—mostly in African-American and Latino communities—and has been accused of fostering educational “apartheid” by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He also is known for his Rolodex full of prominent businessmen and wealthy entrepreneurs who have funded charter school privatization, which set the stage for the aforementioned closures.

Not surprisingly, the only schools Emanuel celebrates in his opinion piece are charter schools. One of them is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which named one of its campuses Rauner College Prep after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The multimillionaire governor, who supports Trump’s nomination of DeVos as secretary of education, is also on record saying that half of Chicago’s public school teachers are “virtually illiterate” and that half of the city’s principals are “incompetent.”

When Mayor Emanuel announced his new graduation requirements: an acceptance letter to a university or community college, proof of an apprenticeship or internship, acceptable to a trade school, or enlistment in the armed services, even Gas Station TV covered the story.

What’s worst, Mayor Emanuel claims he got his latest punitive idea for public education from – you guessed it – charter schools.

Chicago would be the first city to implement such a requirement, although Emanuel said it’s an idea he borrowed from charter schools.

Good grief.

Chris Reykdal Has His Own Plan to Force Students into a Career Path

What’s interesting is right around the same time – when Chicago Mayor Emmanuel was taking heat for his coercive plan for high school students – State Superintendent Chris Reykdal was pushing a similar plan in the Washington State Legislature.

This isn’t surprising to anyone who bothered to read Superintendent Reykdal’s K-12 Education Vision & McCleary Framework.

High School and Beyond Learning Plans for Every Student

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

First off, two side issues which need addressing:

Reykdal’s push as a legislator for a statewide requirement of 24 credits has made the issue of students not passing one core class and failing to graduate an even higher possibility.

Second, authentic parent engagement involves actual humans – like teachers- not a text message similar to the ones I get from the dentist reminding me to schedule my next cleaning.

Must Means Mandatory

Here’s the wording from HB 2224, which passed the House with a vote of  94 yeas and ZERO noes on June 27, 2017.

Requirement for High School and Beyond Plan

And this:

HSBP reassesment in 9th grade

“Must have” means mandatory in my book; if it’s a requirement for 8th grade or 12th grade is, frankly, irrelevant.

Instead of coercion, why isn’t our State Superintendent demanding every school in Washington State have full time counselors, nurses, social workers, and all of the other wrap around services kids need to be successful in school and life.

What’s so important about these plans?

Here’s a not so benevolent possibility to consider, from Wrench in the Gears:

Recent “philanthropic” interest in universal pre-kindergarten, early literacy interventions and post-graduation plans (college, career, military or certifications) does not stem from some benevolent impulse. Rather it is about creating opportunities to embed digital frameworks into our education systems that reduce children’s lives to datasets. Once education is simplified as 1s and 0s, global finance will be well-positioned to speculate (gamble) on the future prospects of any given child, school, or district.

That is what accounts for intrusive preschool assessments like TS Gold and the pressure for middle school students to complete Naviance strengths assessments.  Impact investors need baseline data, growth data and “value added” data to assess ROI (return on investment). There are opportunities for profit all along this human-capital value chain. That is why end-of-year testing had to go in favor of constant, formative assessments. That is why they needed to implement VAM (Value Added Measures) and SLOs (Student Learning Objectives). These speculative markets will demand a constant influx of dynamic data. Where is this student, this class, this district compared with where they were projected to be? We need to know. Our bottom line depends on it.

We must recognize that beneath the propaganda of expanding opportunities for our most vulnerable populations, what is happening with “Future Ready” education is predatory and vile. It demeans education, turning it into a pipeline for human capital management at the very moment more and more experts are conveying grave concerns about the future of work in a world increasingly governed by artificial intelligence and automation.

Hmm.

Washington State’s Backdoor Draft and More

This is where HB 2224 gets downright ugly.

Backdoor draft

Admission to university or community college – check.

Proof of an apprenticeship, internship, or acceptable to a trade school -check.

Enlistment in the armed services -check.

Forcing kids to enlist in the military because they can’t jump through all these state mandated requirements to graduate is coercion.

Remember, these extra requirements are in addition to high school students passing all of their classes and earning 24 credit.

I think it’s also important to point out that most adults reading this post never had to pass a standardized test to graduate or had to cope with the added pressure and stress ed-reform’s embrace of business discipline has added on today’s student academic experience.

In short, I will not accept the rationale that these “outs” to an already brutal system are somehow benevolent.

Don’t try explaining away this type of authoritarian pressure to me as a benign attempt by the state to step in and help kids living in poverty make plans for the future because they don’t get that help from their parents.

This excuse is downright insulting to parents trying to make ends meet in our society of ever widening economic inequity – not to mention our country’s continuing love affair with the lie that skin color is character.

Conclusion

How is Washington State’s plan not similar to Mayor Emmanuel’s plan? And if so, where’s the outrage?

It’s also not hard to see State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s mandatory high school and beyond plans evolving to require even more invasive character and academic assessments in the future – just give the legislature a few more sessions to get the job done.

The legislature already got a good head start when they rewrote the assessment requirements needed to graduate – as requested by Reykdal.

After all, the Washington Legislature doesn’t give a damn about funding our public schools, but they sure do like to pile on the requirements for graduation.

 

Reykdal - Wa Schools Largest Workforce Development

-Carolyn Leith

From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 8.00.37 AM

If we hope to preserve neighborhood schools for future generations we must recognize how reformers are reframing the idea of public education in dangerous new ways. A coordinated campaign of ALEC legislation, philanthropic investments, and slick re-branding is underway with the ultimate goal of replacing school buildings and certified, human teachers with decentralized, unregulated learning eco-systems and non-credentialed mentors and/or AI “tutors.”

It is a challenging concept to grasp. Therefore, I have decided to work on a series of posts. Taken together, I hope they will provide a base of information that people can share with others. This initial post will provide a framework for understanding the concept of a learning eco-system. Subsequent ones will cover: school redesign, digital badging, credit-bearing ELOs, Social Impact Bond financing, and changes to teacher training/hiring.

What is a learning eco-system?

Proponents of a data-driven, technology-mediated approach to public education see 21st-century learning as a “quest” in which participants diligently work to assemble proof that they’ve obtained the assorted skills and bits of knowledge they need to compete for jobs that pay a living wage. Rather than a humanistic approach that values individual creativity and civic discourse, the focus is on gathering data and shaping children to become standardized cogs in service of the global economy. The intent is to maintain the status quo, not to develop thinkers who might tip the apple cart and create a future that better serves the needs of the masses. Screen time trumps face time.

By shifting how we think about education-from a human process that happens within a community of learners to a game in which students demonstrate standards and accumulate badges-reformers aim to move much of the  K12 education process out of physical school buildings where face-to-face interaction is the primary mode of instruction, and into virtual classrooms, game environments, cultural institutions, and work settings. This is how they will attempt to replace neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems.

By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.

As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.  But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.” Katherine Prince, Knowledgeworks

Financialization of the education sector requires separating “education” from school buildings that remain under the control of local school boards and unionized teachers and administrators. Free market principles cannot prevail if educational experiences remain subject to local oversight and trained, veteran teachers continue to be part of the conversation.

Reformers propose to replace our “outdated, factory-model” neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems. There is considerable talk about redesigning education for 21st-century learners. The Ed Reform 2.0 landscape for K12/P20 is built upon the premise that “anytime, any where learning” is the best option to train students to navigate the gig economy. Proponents of learning-ecosystems seek disruption and radical reinvention. They picture a future where big-data and algorithms create efficient pools of human capital for use by global markets. For them grade levels, peer groups, report cards, and diplomas are a thing of the past.

The above quote, by Katherine Price, Director of Strategic Foresight at Knowledgeworks, indicates that even the private sector has qualms about how this transformation may play out. The essay “A Learning Day 2037,” by Elizabeth Merritt of the American Alliance of Museums uses Moya’s story to show what happens when the “vibrant learning grid” doesn’t exactly fulfill its promise, especially for children on the margins of society. It is interesting to note that Knowledgeworks, a long-time partner with the Gates Foundation, is a major player in the push for learning eco-systems. Knowledgeworks is also involved with community schools initiatives through their program StriveTogether that promotes data-driven decision-making for children from “cradle to career.”

Widespread adoption of “personalized” digital education platforms underpins the learning eco-system model, as does reliance on big-data (academic and social-emotional) to guide students on their appropriate workforce “pathway” and reinforce desirable behaviors like “deep learning.” They see children as dynamic sets of skills, competencies and personality traits that can be quantified, sorted, and placed in digital portfolios.

The story of your personal evolution as a thinking, questioning, curious member of society? Not important except to the extent that you can put a badge on it, and they can use it to profile you. Learning in community, learning in relationship to others, also not important. If they can’t match it with a data tag, it does not factor into the equation. Those life-changing memories we hold in our hearts from our time in school are not the kinds of things you can easily upload to a “Learning Record Store.”

So, what types of experiences could a learning eco-system contain? Really, almost anything to which you can assign a standard and slap on a badge. Sample personalized playlists might include:

Watching a video

Listening to a podcast

Completing an audiobook

Playing a online-game

Participating in a virtual reality experience

Going to a museum-even a “virtual museum tour”

Participating in an online community forum

Doing a webx chat with an online “tutor”

Completing a virtual “lab” experiment

Working at your after school job

Participating in a after school club

Going to a rock-climbing gym

Providing “volunteer” tech support to your school district

And you can see how this approach to education expands to encompass workforce development in this eye-opening video from the Institute for the Future “Learning is Earning.” Data and proof of achieving mastery or competencies tied to standards will be tracked and documented through software like xAPI. The items in the above list are not “bad.” It is the idea that they could, in the present climate of austerity education budgets, become substitutes for authentic, in-school learning that concerns me. I’m sure in the hands of a thoughtful educator, many of the ideas noted could be used in moderation to enhance a school-based educational experience.

BUT the learning eco-system model is designed to MARGINALIZE the human teacher. Teachers are meant to be “guides-on-the-side,” staying in the background, checking the playlists, pathways, and portfolios, rather than providing direct instruction to students, building relationships with them, or creating classroom community. Most of these activities do NOT depend on children actually being IN a school building. As 1:1 device initiatives become the norm, students can demonstrate their “mastery” from almost any location that has Wi-Fi. And this is how we end up outsourcing oversight of our children’s education to unknown parties. I fear the day we allow education to become an elaborate game of Pokémon Go, where “anyone can grant an edu-block.”

In the personalized learning environment, children, young children who have very limited experience in the world, are expected to find their own direction, their own passion, which is incredibly troubling. Or worse, they may have their direction chosen FOR them based on analysis of unknown data generated from online stealth assessments or third-party survey tools. It is scary to consider a child may have their future life choices constrained by unknowingly expressing an interest in an academic subject in elementary school. Perhaps the high school junior will be denied access to a graphic design class after having expressed an interest in medicine as a ten year old? If children step off the assigned path, will they be castigated for not being gritty or resilient and then remediated until they comply? The government has set up a maze of developmentally inappropriate standards, and now the “personalized” learning model is forcing teachers to take a spot on the sidelines and watch as things unfold.

Is it not the purpose of K12 education to provide a rich set of experiences and material that children can draw upon to craft, adapt, and refine their identities based on their own ways of being in the world? Aren’t connections to their teachers, classmates, and school staff paramount? We know that economic circumstances will require coming generations to be creative problems solvers, so why put our kids in educational and emotional straightjackets under the guise of giving them “personalized” cyber educations? It is about control, limiting access to information and human contact, and monetizing our children’s data.

It would be very naive to think given the limited public funds being invested in children, we would EVER have the resources required to maintain THREE systems of education: neighborhood schools, virtual schools, AND community-based learning eco-systems. If past experience is any measure, bricks-and-mortar neighborhood schools are going to get the short end of the stick. Which may be why districts seem intent on investing in so much technology as their facilities fall into decrepitude.

In the land of learning eco-systems everyone goes it alone. You might mix with others here and there, peers or mentors or pathway guides, but it is a “personalized” journey. They seem to be tapping into some sort of warped American ideal of individualism. I am special. I have an education “playlist” designed just for me. It is exclusive. It is one of a kind. And the reformers are thinking…Don’t ask questions. We will optimize you based on our exhaustive knowledge of who you are. We know all your 1’ and 0’s. We know more about you than YOU know. We will put you in your place, but we will be very careful in making you believe you had a choice in the matter.

Neighborhood schools are among the last public spaces where open, civic discourse can take place. They are supposed to be safe spaces where children are nurtured. They are spaces where people can come together. It is imperative that we fight for their continued existence. Trading them in for learning eco-systems or community drop-in learning centers would be a very bad idea. Next up-Future Ready Schools.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 8.05.42 AM

-Alison McDowell