Beware of Tech Titans Bearing Gifts

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And LEAP calls for more tech company involvement.

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

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

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

It begins:

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

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

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

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

On the Leap website they also say:

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

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

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

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

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

-Nancy Bailey

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 “Summit teachers do not see themselves as disseminators of knowledge”: Summit charter enterprise disappoints and a lawsuit ensues

 

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The difference between parents’ expectations when enrolling their students into a Summit charter school and the reality of the educational experience, or lack thereof, is enormous.

This has been experienced by parents and teachers around the country and will be felt here as well with Summit opening a school in Southeast Seattle.

What parents aren’t aware of is that you don’t need a teaching credential or have experience teaching to be hired by Summit Sierra charter school as an Indeed ad posted by Summit describes. In the ad they also state, “Summit teachers do not see themselves as disseminators of knowledge”.

What exactly do these self-described “facilitators” do? The facilitators answer student’s questions as the students use software programs on various subjects during their three to four 1½ hour sessions each day on computers.

The promise is far different from the reality as reflected in this Facebook post by a parent in Boone County, Kentucky:

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In an article published in the Kentucky Tribune titled Some parents don’t like the new ‘Summit Personalized Learning Platform,’ want to opt out:

…more than 30 parents showed up to a usually empty Site Based Decision Making (SBDM) meeting at Camp Ernst Middle School (CEMS) to express their concerns on Thursday, October 13. This was an impressive turn out given that the meeting was held at 3:30 p.m., a time when many parents are still at work.

The parents said they didn’t know how their children were chosen for this experimental teaching tool. They were told they couldn’t opt out. One parent said she asked Principal Stephanie Hagerty to remove her child from the program, but was told no. Hagerty allegedly told the parent, if she didn’t like it she could send her child to another school. More than one parent attending the meeting said they want back their parental choice, that changing schools or homeschooling isn’t an option.

Some parents, present at the meeting, said they had tried to reach Principal Hagerty, but she didn’t return their phone calls. They claimed that when they showed up in the office she refused to see them.

Some parents started wanting to opt-out when they saw a controversial section on Islam that was only visible using their child’s log-in information. They say, they couldn’t see what their child was learning from the parent portal. The syllabus provided to parents didn’t match what was being taught to their children.

Many parents indicated concern over the amount of screen time contradicting the recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics. They recommend no more than two hours of screen time and said the following, “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.

Others said their children were finishing too quickly stating some children had completed the curriculum in eight weeks. Some parents said their children were just skipping to the assessments without reading the material. They only had to get eight out of the ten multiple choice questions correct to pass.

Data collection intrusive?

According to Superintendent Poe, the assessments, as well as KPREP, MAPS, and STAR assessments on each student, will be shared with Summit Learning and SCALE in order to evaluate the programs impact. The written agreement with Summit Public Schools Personalized Learning Services indicates sharing with other third party providers including Facebook and Google. The agreement gives Summit Learning permission to collect data from any devices used to access the program, which means parents accessing the program from home or work devices may be susceptible to data collection too. Some parents are upset with their students’ data, and potential their own data, being shared outside of the district.

Despite being asked not to talk about the program, some teachers have described it as a “disaster” saying that it is impossible to have so many students at various stages of progress. Teachers are required to provide 10 minutes of mentoring each week per student. However, many teachers have been unable to meet this goal. Some students are going several weeks before teachers are able to talk with them about their progress. One report indicated that during a summer training some teachers walked out in frustration.

The curriculum was designed by Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE). The curriculum is aligned to the California standards, not Kentucky. Kentucky hasn’t adopted new social studies standards. Yet parents were told by Principal Brewer at Conner Middle School that the curriculum was being implemented to comply with Common Core Standards. If that is the case, then they don’t comply with the standards currently in place in Kentucky. Some have argued the California standards are below what Kentucky has required in the past. Parents are upset by the choice of a curriculum that lowers standards for struggling schools.

An attorney from the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), Carly Gammill, who is representing some of the parents, says the curriculum is unconstitutional, because it crosses the line between information and indoctrination. She has given the district until Tuesday, October 18 to remedy the curriculum and their social media policy.

For more on what’s happening in Kentucky, see What the NEA probably wouldn’t want you to know about “personalized” learning in Boone County, KY.

For more on Summit charter schools, see:

The inherent racism of Summit “public” (charter) school

A checklist for parents considering Summit Sierra charter school in Seattle

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

ZUCKERBERG AND THE PARENT PUSHBACK VS SUMMIT SCHOOLS; INBLOOM REPRISED?

Summit (Sierra) charter school: The skinny on the Gates-backed school set for Seattle, Brad Bernatek (remember him?) and a host of others

Dora Taylor

 

 

 

Basecamp, Summit’s Personalized Learning Platform, Can Be Stopped

 

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Parents are tired of ed- tech entrepreneurs who think they can use our public schools as product development laboratories, our kids as guinea pigs, and our teachers as market research assistants.

Thankfully, concerned parents are rising up and rejecting personalized learning platforms like Summit’s Basecamp. Let’s hope more do the same.

Despite overwhelming odds, parents in two separate school districts have racket up victories in the battle to beat back the adoption of Basecamp, Summit’s personalized learning platform.

In Cheshire, Connecticut parents gathered 460 signatures urging the district to suspend the use of the online learning program. Parental pressure coupled with concern from two board members was enough to bring about a change of heart by the District’s Superintendent, Jeff Solan.

The school district is suspending its use of a controversial online education program, Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan announced Monday.

Solan announced his decision on the Summit Learning Program in an email sent to parents Monday afternoon. The suspension of the program, which is being used by students in fifth, sixth and seventh grades, will occur Friday, Solan said in the email to parents.

On December 18th, the Indiana School Board, after much parental pressure, voted to curtail the adoption of Basecamp in their district.

The Indiana school board on Monday ordered a rollback of the Summit Learning mass customized learning program at the urging of district parents and in part at the recommendation of District Superintendent Dale Kirsch.

The sixth-grade faculty in January will scale back the online-based teaching tool from four core subjects to just two for the balance of the school year.

And following a wave of criticism from parents of sixth-graders — the students who are piloting the program in Indiana Area School District this year — the administration will offer Summit only as an option for the 2018-19 school year.

Parents are tired of ed- tech entrepreneurs who think they can use our public schools as product development laboratories, our kids as guinea pigs, and our teachers as market research assistants.

Thankfully, concerned parents are rising up and rejecting personalized learning platforms like Summit’s Basecamp. Let’s hope more do the same.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

One Parent’s Experience with Basecamp, Summit’s Personalized Learning Platform

Original Title: Tech for Good and Not-So-Good. Reposted with permission from Real Chicago Mama.

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Recently, I was asked about my experience as a parent with Summit PLP . This post is an attempt to capture the extent that I engaged my children’s school administrators about the program over the year that we were all part of the same public school community.

My family is no longer part of that school community. Whether it was my opposition to edtech or my fervent belief in the democratic process as a way to bring issues to light that precipitated the break, I cannot say. Was it my activism that drew the line that could not be smudged away? Are the administrators who implemented this grant-fueled, short-sighted, and privacy-robbing program equally to blame in breaking school-home trust?

At this point, it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is my story, and how it might help you. These are the steps I took to examine–and ask others to examine–the Summit PLP program as it was implemented in my children’s school during the 2016-2017 academic year. (Fair warning: this post is extra long.)

I first heard of the program in early September when one of my children came home concerned about the change in grading policy. I asked questions over email, mostly regarding privacy, but some about how the program was meant to work:

Who is the end user in the privacy policy for Basecamp? Is it CPS? [School Name]? You? My student? In response, I received a canned answer:

The privacy policy provides transparency into what Summit does to help keep student information secure throughout their personalized learning experience. While the student is the primary user of the PLP, teachers, parents, and administrators also use the PLP, so all of these groups would count as the ‘user’ in the privacy policy. There are also some privacy FAQs on the Summit PLP website that you might find helpful.

And: Will you please send me a copy of Summit’s Privacy Policy, as referenced in the consent form, as well as an explanation of what this means: “as otherwise authorized by the school” within the consent form? Additionally, I’d like to see a copy of any written contract between [School Name] or CPS and Summit Basecamp that details the conditions under which both parties will use, disclose, protect, or secure student data that you are collecting.

Then I asked the same questions in person: Who else will have access to the system? Does the system use 3rd-party apps? The AP responded that they don’t use 3rd-party apps. They use Clever. Which is a 3rd-party app.

At a separate parent-teacher program roll-out meeting with a different set of parents, a parent asked about logging-in; the teacher didn’t mention privacy in her reply. Another parent asked when the program will be implemented; the teacher mentioned the consent form, but again didn’t mention the privacy policy referenced in the consent form. The teacher encouraged parents to get on the PLP every day – still no privacy. Another parent asked about the “no going back” aspect of this, whether the implementation of Summit PLP this year, in this way is funded/fueled by a grant; the AP explained the relationships between all the players, whose names are all used interchangeably — parents need a diagram just to follow it all. The AP told parents that the systems-based grading that is a required part of Summit PLP is actually coming from the Illinois State Board of Education. Another parent asked about consent and where the project is within the process. A parent asked about opting out, but teacher was flummoxed about how the opt-out process works. A parent asked about how the school will evaluate the success of the program.

A month later, I was again asking the same questions over email because administrators wouldn’t (or, I suspect, couldn’t) answer them: Does Summit consider this parent Consent Form to mean that parents are waiving the privacy rights of their children under all three federal student privacy laws, including FERPA, COPPA and PPRA? 

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

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

Does Summit claim unlimited rights to share or utilize my child’s homework and intellectual property without notice or compensation that they are claiming with teacher work in the Terms of Service (TOS)? What is the comprehensive list of personal data Summit is collecting and potentially sharing from my child? Does it also include my child’s homework, grades, test scores, economic status, disability, English proficiency status and/or race? The PP states a parent can “review, correct or have deleted certain personal information.” Which kind of personal information can I delete, how will I be able to do that and will that stop my child from using the platform? The PP says that “Participating schools and individual teachers own, and are responsible for, student data provided through the Summit Personalized Learning Platform.” Why don’t students own their own data?

Can Summit specifically itemize the companies/organizations that they will share my child’s data with, aside from those mentioned in the TOS? Are each of these third parties barred from making further re-disclosures of my child’s data? Are each of these third parties, and any other organizations or companies or individuals they re-disclose to, legally required to abide by the same restrictions as listed under Summit’s TOS and PP, including being prevented from using targeted or non-targeted advertising, and/or selling of data, and using the same security protections? Summit says that it does not market to students; are all Summit’s partners and/or those they disclose the information to barred from doing so as well?

The TOS mentions survey data. Will parents have the right to see these surveys before they are given and opt out of them, or does signing this consent form basically mean a parent is giving up all their rights under the PPRA?

What does this mean in the Summit Privacy Policy: Summit will use my child’s personal data to develop new educational “products.” 

What does this mean in the Summit PP: Summit will share the data with anyone “otherwise directed or authorized by the school.” Does my signing a consent form mean that the school can authorize to share this information with *anyone* else, without specifying the sort of third party, for what reason, or without limitation, without informing me or asking for my further consent? What is “the school” in this case – CPS, [School Name], or Summit Learning?

And:  How much content will be taught by self-paced lessons? What happens if I don’t consent to the TOS? Will alternate methods of teaching be available to my student?

At a school board meeting, I reiterated the last set of questions. The answer was: Yes, but your child won’t have access to all the great stuff on the platform!

I didn’t sign the consent form. Of the 56 kids in one grade, 54 of their parents signed the form. When I talked to other parents, they said: “This thing is just too big to fight.” Others told me I was a fool for not recognizing this amazing innovation as such.

As the semester wore on, it became increasingly clear that the school had made no contingency plans to teach students whose parents did not consent. After all, there were only two of us. In November, a student (not mine) surveyed his classmates to determine whether they liked Summit PLP, and took the results to the administration.

Who ignored them.

By December, other parents openly expressed concerns about the platform on social media, and in conversation.

In January, a classroom newsletter to parents began with the following text, highlighted in a yellow box:

Did you know…
When you child’s teacher:
● has a reading, writing or math conference,
● uses information collected via surveys related to learning
preferences and styles,
● provides a choice board,
● allows students time to design inquiry projects,
● helps students choose their own research topics,
● empowers groups to select a novel for book club,
● designs questions in their plans around student needs and
goals or tailors discussions around student background
knowledge,
they are personalizing student learning?
Personalization has been happening at [School Name] since the school was created. It is part of what makes learning here different and successful. Ask us, we would love to discuss it!

I took the teacher up on it, and responded with the following questions:  In 2008-2014, there was a lot of talk about differentiating instruction and creating individual experiences within the class for students; how are these different or the same as personalized learning? Is there a reason [School Name] is changing the way we describe these activities? I am confused by the way these terms are being used because personalization and differentiation have different etymologies and are not synonyms, because learning and teaching have different etymologies and are not synonyms. 

The teacher invited me in for a casual conversation about personalized learning. I asked: I am still having a hard time understanding how personalized learning represents something akin to one-on-one tutoring. And, more importantly, how personalized learning is “research-based”?  When we met, the teacher told me that she was happy to talk to me about it, but also that everything she told me was had to stay in the room. I continue to honor that request. (No one else was in the room where it happened.)

In early February, a group of almost 90 parents signed a petition urging the school to reconsider use of the Summit PLP. Chief among parental concerns:

  • Summit Basecamp PLP requires too much parent involvement.
  • It is developmentally inappropriate and in some cases, harmful, for students to spend so much of their learning day using technology.
  • For many students, the one-on-one mentoring sessions that are supposed to take place once/week for 10 minutes with an adult “mentor” are less frequent and for a shorter duration than advised. Students have less contact with their teachers and more contact with their Chromebooks.
  • Instructional material found on Summit PLP is often confusing and of poor quality. Students must find their own “resources” from within the platform to understand basic concepts, answers to their own questions, and self-teach themselves the material. This is further complicated by the lack of textbooks or alternate, non-computer-based resources.
  • Summit PLP erroneously assumes that students in 6th and 7th grades have developed the academic skills to be independent learners.
  • Despite the “one stop view” promised, parents must sign into at least three different platforms in order to review their child’s progress and grades.
  • Increased class sizes and lack of teacher attention compound the negative effects of near-constant use of Chromebooks in the classroom.

The group presented the petition, accompanying signatures, and a list of the questions below to the local school board in mid-February. It was a public school, the local school board is an elected body of school stakeholders, and these discussions should be happening in public.

  1. What does the school’s data say about the PLP, and how does that compare to previous methods of instruction or content delivery?
  2. Is the PLP attracting people to the school or driving them away, and by what measurement?
  3. Why did we suddenly replace our previous methods of instruction with Summit?
  4. Why did the school roll out the PLP to one grade / one subject and then remove it without explanation or comment?
  5. Will Summit PLP provide any publicly available evaluation data? If so, when? Who has access to this data and how secure is it?  Are third parties allowed access?  What information security procedures does Summit have in place?
  6. How can we evaluate the veracity and transparency of Summit’s analysis and evaluation methods?
  7. Will Summit’s data be useful to our teachers or parents?  How much did Summit consult with classroom teachers and experts in developing their metrics?  Will the breakdowns and statistics provide items useful to an educator?  Does the school have staff members that can accurately evaluate this data?
  8. Summit’s claims of being innovative are self-purported at this point. There is no data available for the public to evaluate.  Will we trust their data and analyses completely since it comes from within their echo chamber?
  9. Will the school explain curricula and instruction delivery changes before the open enrollment or transfer deadline?

Teachers’ response to the petition was to testify as to the benefits of the program. The school’s response was to have more private conversations about the Summit PLP with signers, and to respond more broadly with the following emails:

Many parents and teachers expressed a desire to have more conversations and training around personalized learning and Basecamp.

and

I want to thank each and every person who has reached out to me over the past few weeks to share your questions and feedback related to our work with Personalized  Learning! It has been wonderful to hear your ideas and answer your questions. I have truly enjoyed each and every conversation that I’ve had. This is what makes us a community! Some of you have received [an] email regarding additional events related to PLP, but I would like to share it here for those of you who haven’t seen it. I encourage anyone who is interested to please respond to this [survey] so that we can plan the types of training and discussion events that YOU would like to see. We want to work together to make each and every student and parent comfortable with this learning platform.

Eventually, in March, the administration addressed some of the group’s questions:

The school would not say whether it would discontinue use of the Summit Basecamp PLP for the 2016-2017 school year or into the future.

Using Summit Basecamp PLP not as instructional delivery, but instead as an organizational tool to keep students on track. Not relying on Summit’s traditional metrics, but is using the school’s regular testing and evaluation measures (such as NWEA) to evaluate student progress, as has been done in the past.

Using the experiences and reactions of the teachers and the students in the classroom to evaluate Summit PLP’s effectiveness. Administration did not share precisely what measurements the school is using to make this evaluation beyond this feedback.

Consensus among teachers is that the Summit Basecamp PLP is effective at keeping students on-track, better than the school’s previous methods. As evidence of this organizational support: more current 6th grade students have made the principal’s honor roll this year. They did not offer data on how many of these students made honor roll in 5th grade, or how many students who are currently in 7th grade made honor roll when they were in 6th grade.

In terms of information security, the school shares the following personally identifiable information (PII) about students with Summit: first name, last name, Google Apps for Education email address, student ID number, and grade level. This PII represents the minimum amount of data that Summit requires schools to share in order for students to use Summit PLP. Summit PLP uses a third-party application named Clever to share encrypted information between the school and Summit PLP.

The details of the agreement signed by school parents to authorize sharing of their students’ PII with Clever and Summit PLP can be found at zendesk. That Summit’s privacy policy and terms of service covered in the agreement were not shared with parents was discussed.

In May, the school sent out another parent survey on the PLP with this message:

Would love to hear your feedback on your overall experience with the Summit Basecamp Learning Platform, otherwise known as the “PLP“.  Please take the time to thoughtfully answer the questions in this brief survey.
Later that month, the school quietly shared with incoming families that it would again reprise use of Summit PLP for the 2017-2018 academic year. Parents can read about it in via a link from its website.

-Real Chicago Mama

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

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

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

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

You know what I think would be great?

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

What am I talking about? This comes to mind:

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is dangerous territory for our democracy and civil society.

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

Two.

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

The Failed State of American Democracy

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

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

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

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

From EdWeek:

In a statement, an initiative spokeswoman expressed similar sentiments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plan

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

Democracy In Crisis

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

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

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

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

Money is power.

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

It’s time to decide.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Gates Dollars two

Truthiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the first bit of truthiness:

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

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

Gates-Summit-FB Basecamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence? Who Needs it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, let’s look at some indirect evidence.

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

How bad was the negative impact?

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

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

Here’s a few of the highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s two more damning studies.

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

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

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

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

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

The Failed State of American Democracy

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

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

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

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

From EdWeek:

In a statement, an initiative spokeswoman expressed similar sentiments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Carolyn Leith

 

Robots Replacing Teachers? Laugh at Your Own Risk.

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

Robots replacing teachers

Read their own documents, and you’ll see that they are planning to turn live, face-to-face teaching into a “premium service.”

A premium service.  

Meaning that they know face-to-face instruction is a better way to learn, and they have no intention of having their own children learn from machines.

*Disclaimer: the mother in this article requested to keep her identity anonymous for the time being. Additional details are forthcoming.

This fall, parents in a California school district discovered at a sixth grade open house that their child would no longer have a teacher.

Instead, the district had invested in an “exciting new way of learning” – a “personalized learning program” called Summit, designed by Facebook.

After listening to a presentation about the system that parents had received no prior information about (including no information about the programs data-sharing agreement, which gives Summit full authority to sell student information to third parties), they were ushered into a classroom where they told to log onto the software program.

When it became clear that no teacher was to be found, one mom went searching for an explanation.

“I went out into the  hallway and found a really young looking woman. She called herself the classroom facilitator, and told us that ‘teacher’ was just an old term.”

The mom’s jaw hit the floor.

Recently, an article has been circulating the web claiming that “inspirational robots” will begin replacing teachers in the next ten years.

Some have laughed it off, others have called it fear mongering.

One woman went so far as to call it “catastrophizing conspiracy horseshit.”

To these people I say: dismiss this at your own risk.

Those following education policy closely know that the only outrageous part of the headline is the use of the word “inspirational.”

While they may not look like this:

th0KCIT7PO

robots – in the form of data-mining software programs that operate under the Orwellian term “personalized learning” – are already invading our classrooms at lightning speed.

And if you think that what happened in California isn’t about to happen nationwide, check out this document from the high-profile, well-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation, which offers a menu of career opportunities for displaced teachers.

Proponents (who stand to make a boatload off the new system) claim that machine learning is an “inevitable” wave of the future; that it will “free up” teachers to do more “projects” with kids.

But that’s hogwash.

Read their own documents, and you’ll see that they are planning to turn live, face-to-face teaching into a “premium service.”

A premium service.  

Meaning that they know face-to-face instruction is a better way to learn, and they have no intention of having their own children learn from machines.

In that sense, maybe the idea of robots teaching children is “catastrophizing conspiracy horseshit,” if – and only if – you’re among the lucky few.

Save Maine Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook Napalm Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napalm Girl

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

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

Miraculously, Kim Phuc survived.

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

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

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

Facebook’s Censorship of Napalm Girl

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

Facebook deleted Napalm Girl citing nudity concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No way.

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

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

Facebook and Summit Charter Schools Team Up to Deliver Personalized Learning

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inherit Racism of Summit Charter Schools

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

Censoring Napalm Girl is a deal breaker.

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

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

-Carolyn Leith

 

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

headphones

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

Alison McDowell Interview

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

Mind Over Matters – KEXP

Community Forum

Interview with Alison McDowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison: Yeah…

Mike: …it’s disturbing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison: Wrenchinthegears.com

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

Alison: Thank you.