Saying No To Naviance: Active Non-Cooperation Is The Best Form of Resistance

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

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Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

John Trudell espoused a policy of non-cooperation. To his way of thinking, when confronted by oppression, it is our responsibility look for ways to gum up the system. This week my wrench-throwing target was Naviance, a subsidiary of Hobsons, a company that promotes itself as a college and career readiness solution.

The Philadelphia School District entered into a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Naviance in 2015. The William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia School Partnership, both proponents of school privatization, pitched in with $750,000 to cover half the cost. An article from Inside Philanthropy stated the software is “essentially, a high school guidance counselor in a website form.”

It is a program that seeks to replace human interaction with digital ones, which is bad enough, but the company also builds its bottom line collecting data mined from students’ tender, just-forming identities starting as early as middle school. The software deploys intrusive surveys and “strengths assessments” to develop robust profiles used to track kids into career pathways.

I would have fared poorly in such a system. I was a humanities-loving art history student, who took up a graduate degree in historic preservation with a focus on cultural landscapes. Over time, and with the guidance of friends who helped me open my eyes and look hard at the world, I developed an analysis that led me to become a radical researcher intent on exposing purveyors of predatory digital disruption.

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

But now, as a senior, she had to figure out how to get transcripts to apply to college. In a growing number of school districts Naviance holds families hostage. If they refuse to set up an account and complete all the surveys their children cannot graduate, request letters of recommendation, or have transcripts sent. Naviance, a private company whose profits are manufactured from the student data they collect, is becoming a gatekeeper to college admission. Plus, our district paid them $750,000 (plus the $750,000) for the privilege! Below is a comment on a recent blog post to that effect.

After several email exchanges with school district officials and a productive meeting with our daughter’s lovely human (not web-form) guidance counselor, we came up with a plan to do the application process sans-Naviance. We’d do it the old-fashioned way with embossed seals, paper copies, signatures across envelopes and snail-mail postage. Sure, she’ll have to pull her submissions together a bit sooner to give us a buffer in case something gets lost along the way, but in exchange we’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing her “strengths” remain beyond the reach of Hobson’s predictive analytics.

Below are two emails I sent to the Chief Information Officer of our district with Superintendent Hite copied, as well as the Head of Student Support Services. It explains our thinking and affirms the stance we took was not just for ourselves, but to keep the door open for others who desire to pursue the same course.

If you can opt out of Naviance at Masterman, you should be able to opt out of Naviance anywhere in the School District of Philadelphia and be supported in your decision to do so. Support your school’s guidance counselor. Opt out and demand funds used to pay these data-mining companies instead be used to reduce counselors’ caseloads and free them up to spend more quality time with their students.

Our concerns about Naviance:

Email dated September 20, 2018

Dear XXXX,

I think you were looped in later, so I wanted to make it clear to all involved that our desire to opt out of the Naviance platform is grounded in concern over:

1) use of student data to create profit streams for private companies

2) use of data to generate profiles of students that may in fact cause them harm, especially given its use of surveys and strengths assessments

3) outsourcing student services to private companies when public funds would be better spent expanding access to HUMAN counselors in our schools

4) Naviance, a private company, becoming a de facto gatekeeper for access to post-secondary opportunities

See the excerpt from a market report for Hobson from 2013.

“Hobson is also developing a third business line – data and analytics – which focuses on this data, much of it proprietary, that flows through its solutions at both K-12 and HE (higher education). The recent acquisition of National Transcript Center (NTC) from Pearson enables Hobson to capture data along the student lifecycle by facilitating e-transcript exchanges…The company’s acquisition of Beat the GMAT in October 2012, together with its College Confidential business, also supports Hobson’s strategy in creating communities with strong underlying data, which has a value to HE institutions and CAN BE MONETIZED.”

Most people don’t take the time to dig into the corporate underpinnings of the online platforms their children are supposed to use, but in this case it does merit serious consideration. Naviance is owned by Hobson, a division of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. Lord Rothermere, former owner of the Daily Mail, consistently gave positive press to Hitler throughout the 1930s link.

Hobson is also based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is quite interesting in that that is also the corporate headquarters of Knowledgeworks, one of the primary advocates for a shift to a learning ecosystem model. This model seeks to replace schools with drop-in centers, badged credentials, and a combination of digital and out of school time learning opportunities. I have seen the data fields for Naviance, and it appears this platform is aligned to such a model. As a person who values the importance of neighborhood schools as physical places, this worries me greatly.

Among the primary responsibilities of public school districts is the management of student records and support of students in accessing those records. I feel strongly this is a responsibility that should not be delegated to a for-profit, third party company that has a stated interest in expanding their market share through data-mining children. While some families may find this “service” a convenience, we do not.

Our daughter has two institutions to which she intends to apply early action. Those deadlines are the first of November. She is in the process of finalizing her materials now, but we need to know how we can transmit official copies of her transcript and her letters of recommendation to the institutions to which she is applying outside of Naviance. We need to have this information by the end of September.

I very much appreciate the School District leadership’s assistance in helping us with this matter.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Post-Meeting Follow Up Email

September 20, 2018

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to share an update. XXX and I had a very productive meeting with XXX this morning. There is indeed an embossing stamp of approval for printed transcripts and provisions to obtain paper copies of letters of recommendation in sealed envelopes. I very much appreciate the school’s flexibility in accommodating our desire to pursue the college application process outside this platform, and we have a plan over the next month to pull everything together for her early action forms.

That said I want to re-emphasize that the School District of Philadelphia would do well to revisit its contractual agreements with Naviance, given the fact that their business model is fueled by student data. The amount of data being poured into this company, including sensitive behavioral data, is extremely troubling given its historic origins. It is imperative that adults do all they can to protect the children in their care from being harmed or used as a profit center. Many families do not have access to the background information I do and may not be aware that they have the option to apply to colleges outside of this third-party platform. I hope the district would extend the same level of support to other families that choose to opt out of Naviance.

As a parent and taxpayer I would prefer to see public funds used to reduce caseloads for school counselors so they have more time to spend with students. XXX has been great to work with over the years.

Once again XXX, thanks for your time today and your knowledgeable input.  We look forward to coordinating with you as we plan XXX’s next steps.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

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

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Do You See A Child or Human Capital?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you hear that parents?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Alison McDowell

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.