Edtech is Business First – Part 1

17 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/17/2021

Not all edtech is negative but it is important to remember that private companies are in it for the money. Giant corporations and private equity firms require return on investment. Improving education comes in second to making profits and everyone in the business knows that the real edtech gold comes from data mining.

Dr Velislava Hillman is a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). In a post on the LSE blog she writes,

“It is hard, perhaps impossible, to go to school and not be registered by a digital technology. Cameras wire the premises; homework is completed using one business’s software application (eg Microsoft Word) that may be embedded onto another business’s platform (shared via Google); emails, bathroom trips, assessments, parental backgrounds  – all feed into digital systems that are owned, managed, used and repurposed by hundreds of thousands of invisible business hands.”

“Edtech companies thrive on digital data.”

In her post, Dr Hillman pointed to an edtech company that is very active in the UK:

Naviance, owned by Hobson, is a multi-layered data-collecting platform, which until February 2021 formed part of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. The platform has access to a wide range of personal and sensitive information of students. It ‘tracks students as they move through elementary school, college and beyond”’.

The pro-edtech Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI) listed Hobson as a 2017 partner. This February the Daily Mail sold Hobson’s higher-ed focused Starfish business to the American company EAB for $90 million. They completed the divestiture of Hobson by selling the Naviance and Intersect businesses to U.S.-based PowerSchool for $320 million.

In the early 00s, my school district bought a student information system from Chancery Software Ltd. Unfortunately, the system was not ready for high school. Creating the master schedule was a nightmare. It took several years to get the system functioning well and then giant Pearson Corporation purchased Chancery and renamed it PowerSchool. That was 2006. In 2015, Pearson sold PowerSchool to Vista Equity Partners, a private equity group, in an all-cash deal worth $350 million.

Since then Vista has been adding more companies to PowerSchool. In 2018, Vista merged PowerSchool and PeopleAdmin with the investment buyout firm Onyx Corp. Bloomberg reports that this February PowerSchool filed “confidentially for a U.S. initial public offering that could value the education software provider at more than $6 billion.”

Lisa Cline’s and Andy Liddell’s article at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood states,

“Every time your child opens their Chromebook or takes out their iPad to do schoolwork, their digital footsteps are shared with the universe. Every click, search and browse becomes property of an app maker who can store it, sell it, and use it to create a profile of your kid.”

The 50-years old Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA law makes this illegal but there is no enforcement. When FERPA was written, the school records contained names, addresses, grades and a few comments all written on paper and stored in onsite filing cabinets. With scant federal oversight, the concept of student data has grown to a running log of a child’s every click over the course of their childhood, packaged into a profile and slapped with a price tag. Now when parents inquire about what information is being stored on their child “The schools point at the vendors” and “vendors point at the schools.” Parents get nothing!

Personalized Bad Education

Tom Vander Ark shamelessly hawks personalized education products and writes glowing articles about schools that put children in front of screens.  In July 2020, Vander Ark, who was the first Gates Foundation’s director of education initiatives, wrote in Forbes about Juan Cabrera and the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD). The article states, ‘“Mr. Cabrera’s focus on ethics and character was a driver for most of our success; it made us rethink the why and how of our work in the best interest of students and community’ said  Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations.”

In November 2020, the EPISD board unanimously voted to accept Juan Cabrera’s resignation. The resignation seems to have been prompted by irregularities with the districts technology contracting. When a new audit arrived in May, Arrieta-Candelaria was put on paid leave. Channel 9 El Paso reported, “An El Paso Independent School District audit found former Superintendent Juan Cabrera initiated contracts with two vendors for academic services that gave ‘an appearance of a conflict of interest due to social/professional relationships.”’

The audit says, “The former Superintendent directed Academics staff to acquire contracted services from Renaissance Learning (Renaissance), Engage Learning (E2L), and Con Mi Madre, which totaled approximately $2.32 million.” In the next section it notes, “Funds were not budgeted to cover the contracted services from E2L in the amount of approximately $1.08 million.”

This scandal is just starting to play out, however a look at the businesses involved is interesting. Renaissance Learning is funded by CapitalIG which belongs to Alphabet (formerly Google). They sell testing and personalized learning apps for math and English. Engage2Learn (E2L) is owned by Leeds Equity Partners, a New York Investment firm, which was an early identifier of the business growth prospects in the education market. E2L offers virtual coaching and personalized learning services. Con Me Madre is a local non-profit that seems not to be an edtech profit scheming organization.

One of the edtech businesses key to the data collection business is “personalized learning.” It is isolated learning at a digital device and children hate it but it creates lots of data.

Demise of Unbiased Education Research at Johns Hopkins

9 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/9/2021

The 2015 hiring of David Steiner to lead the new Johns Hopkins’s Education Policy Institute marked a transition from scholarship to neoliberal indoctrination. Donor directed funds that hide their sources and well-known advocates of testing and “school choice” have sent boatloads of money to the new institution. Steiner and his patron, Merryl Tisch, were famous in New York for being virulently pro-standardized testing and enemies of the teaching profession.

On April 1, 1996, New York Republican Governor George Pataki appointed Merryl Tisch to the State Board of Regents. On April 1, 2009 she was elected Chancellor by her colleagues. Tisch’s biography at the University at Albany states that since joining the Board she “has been a leading advocate for expanded alternate certification policies.” The rabbi’s daughter who married into one of America’s wealthiest families soon found a like minded pro-testing neoliberal to champion. The Regents selected Hunter College Dean, David Steiner, to be the new state Commissioner of Education.

In 2008, Steiner created Teacher U at Hunter College. It was a new teacher preparation program requested by the charter industry and coincided with Tisch’s thinking.  Steiner and Tisch believed that there was an unhealthy university based monopoly controlling teacher education. As Commissioner, he moved to weaken that “monopoly” in 2010 by grantinga provisional charter to authorize clinically-rich teacher programs to address shortages …”

The following year Steiner authorized and the state board approved non-institutions of higher education to grant master’s degrees in education accredited by New York State. Almost immediately, Teacher U became Relay Graduate School of Education and received accreditation from the state of New York. Steiner is also a founding board member of Relay and is still on its board of directors.

The other great policy agreement between Tisch and Steiner was on standards and test based accountability for teachers and schools. Tisch who has a doctorate in Education from Teachers College was honored by the school in 2013. That prompted education scholar Diane Ravitch to write that they were honoring the doyenne of high-stakes testing.” In an interview with Frederick Hess, Steiner pointed with pride to three policies he drove as Commissioner of Education; “commitment to standards-based curriculum”, “commitment to improved testing” and worked to “rethink and redesign teacher and principal certification.”

Steiner completed his resume for supporting the neoliberal agenda by waiving the superintendent of schools job requirements in order for Cathie Black, head of the Hearst magazine chain, to take over New York City public schools. Despite not having the required teaching experience and professional degrees in administration, Steiner agreed that her “success” in business made her in the words of Mayor Bloomberg a “superstar manager.” She lasted on the job less than 100-days.

The Johns Hopkins Partnerships are Startling

The Education Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins proudly lists sixty-seven partners on their about page. The eleven shown above are representative of the array of public school disrupters and edtech profiteers with whom they partner.

Becoming an advocate for deep pocketed libertarians and neoliberals has led to a gusher of dollars. Between 2018 and 2020 the Overdeck Family Foundation states it has granted John Hopkins $840,000.

John and Laura Overdeck are relatively new to being education “disrupters” but they have caught on fast. John is a former hedge fund guy and vice president at Amazon. Laura has an MBA from Wharton, is a trustee of Princeton and is on the advisory boards of the Khan Academy, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and Stevens Institute of Technology. Their 2019 foundation tax form 990PF shows $627 million in assets.

Jeffery Epstein’s friend Bill Gates has been sending a steady stream of dollars. Although his giving is no longer transparent, his foundation tax forms show that between 2016 and 2018 he sent $2,194,000.

In 2006, two bay area foundations merged to form the multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley Community Foundation. It is a donor directed fund which allows wealthy individuals to secretly gift large sums of money without disclosure. From 2015-2018 they sent $27,381,018.

The Return on Investment

Basing themselves almost exclusively on testing data, a group of Democratic politicians including Governor Gina Raimondo decided to take over and reform Providence, Rhode Island’s “failing” public schools. The school districts demographics in 2019 was 65% Latinx, 16% Black, 9% White, 5% Asian, 4% Multi-racial and 1% Native American. In addition, 31% of students were multilingual learners, 16% received special education services and 55% came from homes where English is not the primary language. An unbiased study would have quickly found that the schools were not failing. Rather, the poor testing results were reflective of deep poverty, language learners and a large special education population.

“The situation was extreme,” says Ashley Berner, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. “I had never met so many dispirited students and teachers.” The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to take over the schools.

Last year, The Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins wrote a joint paper with Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. It called for more testing. They claimed,

“As leaders prepare their school communities for the challenge of re-starting face-to-face as well as hybrid models, a coherent pathway for learning recovery and acceleration needs to include greater reliance on high-quality materials and instruction, and completing the circle with curriculum-based assessments.”

“We recommend formative and summative assessments tied to specific curricula that can be implemented under various circumstances.”

Sadly, education scholarship at Johns Hopkins has been abandoned for much more than just “30 pieces of silver.”

Stinking Thinking Monetizes Dyslexia!

2 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/2/2021

This January, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino introduced SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It is similar to a spate of bills across the US requiring a privatized approach to intervening with reading difficulties. Unfortunately, contrary to their claims, these initiatives are not based on well founded research. The perpetrators base themselves on the widely disparaged “science of reading” and are part of a well financed effort taking advantage of emotionally compromised parents and students.

The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” 

When SB237 was introduced, Decoding Dyslexia CA, EdVoice and the Oakland NAACP were listed as co-sponsors. Decoding Dyslexia is one of the two international organizations promoting this type of legislation. EdVoice is a publishing organization with strong ties to the movement to privatize public education. Its 2003 founding board included Reed Hastings, Laurene Powell Jobs, Eli Broad and Don Fisher. Kareem Weaver is a leader of the Oakland NAACP literacy campaign and was a witness for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case to end teacher employment rights.

“Structured literacy” is a 2016 term pitched by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Fundamentally it is a method based on the work of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton in the 1930s. Rhode Island’s Department of Education describes it as an “explicit, systematic, diagnostic, cumulative instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, syllable types, morphology, semantics, and syntax.” In other words, employ phonics and word decoding to remedy reading issues. IDA claims, “Popular reading approaches (eg., Guided Reading and Balanced literacy) are not effective for students with dyslexia because these approaches do not focus on decoding skills struggling readers need to succeed.”

Legislation not Supported by Research

IDA is an international organizations pushing for specific dyslexia legislation. Their remedies include utilizing private companies to solve student reading problems that public school will not or cannot. They also provide their own dyslexia teaching specialty certification. The obvious implication is that University based teachers’ education programs are incapable of addressing dyslexia.

IDA defines dyslexia,

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

This definition is not supported by the community of education scholars. In fact, there is general agreement that there is no satisfactory definition for dyslexia nor is there a known way to screen for it.

A critical analysis of dyslexia legislation by a team of researcher from Ball State University and the University of Texas noted,

“After a multitude of studies across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges. Many researchers and educators argue the construct is too vague and contradictory to be useful for educators.”

They continue, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.”

A paper by Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon from The University at Albany asserts,

“The bottom line is that there are many definitions of, and theories about, dyslexia and simply no agreed-upon definition that allows schools, clinicians, researchers, or anyone else, to decide who is dyslexic in any valid or reliable way.

“From an instructional standpoint, there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of the normal distribution of word reading ability in the early elementary grades.”

Not only are there a plethora of scholarly studies that make the same points about the definition for dyslexia, there also are an equal number of research papers that thoroughly discredit the idea that “structured literacy” is a proven success.

In 2017 Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut published “Converting to Privatization: A Discourse Analysis of Dyslexia Policy Narratives.” Her paper analyses how the agenda for privatizing dyslexia intervention is sold to legislators and school boards. She also shares results of studies on the “structured literacy” approach. Gabriel cites the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse reading research stating “structured literacy” is not supported by evidence.

Money is Driving this New Education Privatization Effort

Senate bill 237 was just moved out of committee to the Assembly. In the 2020 general election, an analysis of major donor California state spending revealed over $14 million dollars spent by a neoliberal cabal of billionaires and the political action committees they fund. Of that spending $1.5 million went to California state legislators. The table above shows the money that went to legislative members who are either on the Assembly and Senate education committees or are listed as co-sponsors for the dyslexia legislation.

Handing off teacher certifications to private organizations and using private companies to screen students is a huge mistake. Legislators should resist the temptation to micromanage public education. The best approach is to trust education professionals and university based scholars more than private actors with an agenda.

The Boston Consulting Group makes the fantastic assertion that, “Investing in early  screening  and  teacher  training  would  provide  an astonishing 800% to 2000% return.” A policy brief from the Institute of Child Success indicates that special education pay for success has great return on investment potential.

Clearly the sharks are circling. Parents, legislators and schools need to be on high alert. Well funded organizations want our public school resources. For them, dyslexia is just another potential profit center.

i-Ready, Johns Hopkins and Oakland Public Schools

26 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/26/2021

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) signed an agreement on March 10 to substitute i-Ready diagnostic testing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The no cost agreement calls for the data to be given to Johns Hopkins University for comparative analysis with SBAC. Oakland teachers administering the program claim that the project is being financed by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation.

An Oakland fourth grade math teacher who administered the test stated that the it appeared to be designed to insure that students missed at least 50% of the problems. She observed,

“1) Multi-step unit conversions in the context of a word problem”

“2) Definitions/examples of independent and dependent variables”

“3) Simplification of algebraic equations with two variables”

These skills all appear to be well beyond what should be expected of 9- and 10-years-old students.

i-Ready is a product of Curriculum Associates (CA) out of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners took the reins in 2008 and immediately converted it to an ed-tech company.

That was the same year that former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and in close cooperation with the American Legislative Exchange Council and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. (FEE has been renamed ExcelinEd)

 i-Ready is a technology-based diagnostic testing program that also provides screen based instructional programs for math and reading.

Evidently many junior-high students who use i-Ready in the classroom are making internet searches for information about it. Possibly that explains why my i-Ready article written three years ago is still getting traffic. This May, it has received more than 1600 clicks. The latest two comments out of hundreds to the article are typical:

“i agree iready has caused a ton of stress for me as a 7th grade student.”

“I-ready needs to Die!”

Sales spiels normally tout the research evidence supporting i-Ready. However, there is no independent peer reviewed research backing CA’s claims. A 2019 study from WestEd is typical. The study was paid for by two billionaire non-profits reputed to favor privatizing and monetizing public education – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. In paragraph one the study says,

“Our quantitative analysis showed that students, regardless of their math proficiency, who spent a minimum of 45 minutes a week or more on the i-Ready lessons had a significant improvement in their scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Math Summative Assessment (SBAC) over students who did not.”

However, the next paragraph admits,

“During the observations, it was noted that the product was challenging for less proficient students to use, which was later confirmed by our quantitative analysis — many students who used i-Ready consistently enough to see its benefits were already meeting or exceeding standards in mathematics on the SBAC.”

This shows that better students willing to put in the time got better scores than weaker students who did not. Not too surprising; that would have been the case without i-Ready.

The Evaluator Appears Biased

Chiefs for Change and Johns Hopkins Wrote Joint 2020 Paper – The Return

The Institute for Education policy at Johns Hopkins joined Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change in calling for more testing. Their claim,

“As leaders prepare their school communities for the challenge of re-starting face-to-face as well as hybrid models, a coherent pathway for learning recovery and acceleration needs to include greater reliance on high-quality materials and instruction, and completing the circle with curriculum-based assessments.”

“We recommend formative and summative assessments tied to specific curricula that can be implemented under various circumstances.”

Johns Hopkins was also integral to the attack on the public schools in Providence, Rhode Island. In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). They did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and based on the report  Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover Providence Public Schools on July  19.

Kenneth Rainin Foundation Lost Their White Hats

The foundation being cited as funding the i-Ready and Johns Hopkins study has assets of more than $600 million. Founder Kenneth Rainin was an entrepreneur from Toledo, Ohio who became wealthy manufacturing and selling laboratory pipettes. When he died in 2007, the foundation became the beneficiary of the majority of his estate.

The Rainan Foundation has spent significant sums on advancing its “Seeds of Learning” reading program and the corporate control of public education. As the LittleSis map depicted above shows, the foundation sends large grants both directly and indirectly to billionaire funded “school choice” promoting organizations.

The “Seeds of Learning” program is supposed to improve reading education results through its preschool efforts. The lead story on the foundation’s web page is “Research Show Seeds of Learning Produces Quick Gains.” The research is not peer reviewed or independent. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation has spent more than $3 million for a Chicago company to produce the results. Report briefs are made available but not the study itself.

The dark side of the study is that they are testing 4- and 5-year olds in alliteration, letter naming, letter sounds, rhyming and vocabulary. That is child abuse. This appears to be an amateur created program that ignores the much greater need for babies to engage in self-directed play in safe and stimulative environments. “Seeds of Learning”  is likely more personality damaging than it is helpful for reading.

Amateurs need to stop using their financial power to control education policy.

A Scholarly Masterpiece: William Frantz Public School

19 May

By Thomas Ultican 4/18/2021

My wonderful friend from New Orleans, Mercedes Schneider, said of this meticulously researched book, “Intense, captivating, and horrible in its reality, William Frantz Public School is a story overdue for the telling – a must read for those seeking to understand New Orleans’ history and the lingering impact of White racial superiority upon the Black community and city infrastructure.” I concur. It is a captivating read.

At its 1938 founding, speakers proclaimed the new William Frantz Public School (WFPS) a “protection for democracy” and a “fortification against encroachment of those terrible ‘isms.’” (WFPS page 3)

However, racism did not just encroach; it dominated. WFPS was built to be a White students only school. Sitting on the border between the all white Florida neighborhood and the all Black Desire neighborhood, WFPS only served the White families. Worse still; the authors report,

“The Orleans Parish School Board built no schools between 1941 and 1951. As a result, existing neighborhood schools throughout the city faced overcrowding. The problem was particularly acute in Desire. Due to the severe overcrowding, many Black children attended school for only a fraction of the time as their White peers living in the Florida neighborhood.” (WFPS 9)

With the Brown versus the Board of education decision in 1954, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation as a school enrollment policy unconstitutional. Louisiana segregationists quickly coalesced to become leaders of their state’s “massive resistance” movement to oppose integration.

In 1955, a wealthy lawyer named Leander Perez and a state senator named William Rainich established the White Citizens’ Council in Louisiana. By that fall, the white supremacist organization had chapters in half of the state’s parishes and a statewide membership of 100,000. The New Orleans chapter would eventually grow to over 50,000 members. (WFPS 21)

As the White Citizens’ Council started calling for the public schools to be closed rather than integrated, a group named Save Our Schools (SOS) formed to oppose closing schools. The book notes, “Although ardent in their work, many perceived SOS as elite and ‘liberals allied with the Urban League, the Council of Jewish Women, [and] the league of Women Voters.’” (WFPS 24) Many SOS members sent their own children to all white public schools and though disagreeing about the Brown decision, they all agreed it was settled law.

The authors document political strong-arming, horrific acts of cruelty and the hysterical fear with which white racists fought to stop school integration. Their greatest horror was realized when one 6-years-old girl named Ruby Bridges was escorted into WFPS on November 14, 1960.  

The Times-Picayune ran an editorial with the headline “Dreadful Day Comes at Last” and the White Citizens’ Council started pressuring White parents to pull their children out of WFPS. Protestors surrounded the school, chanted racist slogans and intimidated anyone approaching the school. (WFPS 35)

In an attempt to keep some of the White children in WFPS, President Mary Sand and others from SOS organized car pools to deliver students to the front of the school so they would not be forced to go through the heckling crowd. “Like the families of the students they transported to WFPS, SOS drivers received crude and threatening telephone calls, up to 200 per day, from people who told the women they would ‘cut your cunt out and stuff it down your throat.’” (WFPS 59-60)

As a result of the intimidation tactics, New Orleans was able to defy court orders and schools remained virtually segregated. The following year:

“Black citizens started an unofficial boycott of White-owned department stores and threatened to cancel the Zulu parade, a traditional and popular Black parade, during the upcoming Mardi Bras. Rumors circulated that the entire Mardi Gras celebration would be canceled … By mid-December, city business leaders along with the Times-Picayune finally called for the end of the protests, intimidation, and vandalism.” (WFPS 69)

As the decade of the 90s opened the neighborhood around WFPS was in trouble. “Prostitutes worked the streets outside some schools, and an early 1990s poll of Black students from the Desire projects located near WFPS found 40% of Black students had seen a dead body and 72% had seen weapons being used.” (WFPS 121)

Seventy-five thousand Black children and 19,000 White children constituted Orleans Parish school district in the early 1990s with extreme poverty gripping the Black community. (WFPS 117)

By 1993, there were no White students attending WFPS. (WFPS 111)

In 1997, the state established its test based accountability scheme. (WFPS 128)

In 1998, WFPS was judged academically unacceptable. (WFPS 132)

In 2005, WFPS was put on the National Register of Historic Places. (WFPS 155)

In 2013, like the rest of the post Katrina schools in New Orleans, WFPS became a charter school. (WFPS 258)

Three white women who are not from New Orleans – Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White, and Martha Graham Viator – say they considered not writing this book because of that. It is our great good fortune that they did. Their scholarly and extremely readable effort shines some much needed light on the horrible racism and mistreatment the Black citizens of New Orleans.

Testing Industry Scores Big in California

13 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/13/2021

At 1:45 PM this Wednesday, the California State Board of Education (SBE) adopted a “student growth model” to evaluate student learning. It is a method fans of standardized test based accountability have been trumpeting. The big winner here is the testing giant Education Testing Services (ETS) who created the model to be used.

Board member Sue Burr who was appointed to the board by then Governor Jerry Brown made the motion for using the growth model. She carefully presented her motion directly from the state’s California Department of Education (CDE) staff report which recommended:

“The student growth model methodology, which includes using RG [residual growth] scores and the EBLP [Empirical Best Linear Prediction] hybrid approach to report aggregated student growth, and that the following score reporting be adopted:

“1.        Report the EBLP weighted average for:

“1. Schools

“2. Student groups in a school

“3. The “All” student group in an County or District

“4. Student groups in a district with 500 or fewer students (with test scores)

“2.       At the Local Education Agency level, report the simple average for all race/ethnicity and program participation student groups with more than 500 scores.”

Board member Patricia Ann Rucker seconded the motion. She is a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association.

The measure was adopted by a unanimous 10-0 vote. The only member of the eleven-member board not voting for it was Board President Linda Darling-Hammond who was absent.

Developing an Accountability Model to Satisfy ESSA

In January 2016, the SBE discussed how to bring the state’s accountability vision in line with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) new accountability requirements. SBE received an information memorandum from the CDE stating,

One such indicator would be a student-level growth model. This memorandum provides an overview of student-level growth models that can be used to communicate Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment results.”

In 2017, the state joined with testing vendor ETS to develop a Growth Model. After exploring several different models, the SBE selected the “residual gain” method for further study.

Again the state hired testing vendor ETS to evaluate the residual gain model in 2018. In a report, ETS stated that the model had low “cross-year stability.” In other words the results were not consistent. ETS developed an arithmetic manipulation method to solve the stability problem that they named the “Empirical Best Linear Prediction (EBLP).”

Student Growth Model Requires Opaque Math

The graphic above shows two types of growth models. One is the gain model which simply subtracts the third grade testing data from the fourth grade data to get a gain score. However, it is not really that simple. Mathematical manipulation is required to make the scale from the 3rd grade match the scale in 4th grade. This requires several assumptions that affect the results.

The method California has chosen adds another set of mathematical assumptions to create an expected outcome. That expected outcome is then subtracted from the 4th grade data to get the residual gain score. However since those scores are not stable, the ETS averaging scheme is being applied to make the results appear stable.

ETS is the Goliath of the standardized testing industry. It administers America’s most important standardized tests (including the SAT, PSAT, CLEP, AP, TOEFL, and Praxis exams) and develops many of them. ETS was organized as a non-profit in 1948. Today, their 2018 tax document shows this “non-profit” has revenues in excess of $1.5 billion. It also shows that 17 board members working 2-hours or less per week had an average income of $73,000 and 33 key employees had average incomes of over $533,000 per year with President Walter McDonald taking in $1,350,474.

The ETS “non-profit” is actually diving up a lot of profits.

Standards Based Education and Testing is Harming Kids

In December, Peter Greene put together a compendium of articles he has posted about the stupidity associated with standardized testing in schools. One particularly important article is about Daniel Koretz book the Testing Charade. This recognized testing expert from the Harvard Graduate School of Education gives us one more well-founded dismantling of the myth that standardized testing is anything other than destructive.  

Student testing data does not indicate learning, teacher effectiveness or school quality and it is statistically noisy. A correlation study of how testing data is affected by various factors assigns r-values of between 1 and 0. A value of 1 means 100% correlated and a value of 0 means not correlated at all. When correlation studies are done with standardized testing data there is only one factor that has an r-value greater the 0.3 (weakly correlated) and that is family wealth which has an r-value of 0.9.

So if Burrito Canyon high school has excellent testing data that is always better than the scores at Pawn Valley high school, there is nothing known about the learning and teaching, but you can be confident students at Burrito Canyon have wealthier parents.

These growth models – that are now being used in almost every state in America – take in noisy testing data that has little valuable meaning and applies fancy arithmetic. It is the classic garbage in – garbage out situation.

Not only is standardized testing removing almost $2 billion dollars from America’s classrooms every year, it is doing damage to students. Standards based education is bad education theory because there are no standard children. Testing forces educators to teach to the test and it further narrows curriculum. Gifted education professionals have shown repeatedly that this methodology driven by corporations and billionaires is harmfully misguided.

Authentic Education Reform Based on Diversity Research

7 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/7/2021

“Dedicated with admiration and respect to public school teachers who opt-out of commercial standardized tests.”

These are the words of dedication for Garn Press’s new book in their “Woman Scholars Series,” Diversity Research in Action. In this book, lengthy excerpts from published research by three PhD’s in education Anne Haas Dyson, Denny Taylor and Catherine Compton-Lilly are introduced and woven together by a forth doctorate of education Bobbie Kabuto. It seems like decades since this kind of authentic thinking about how to improve education and equity in our schools has been widely shared.

On a personal note, I began my masters of education program in 2001 and found the kind of pedagogy being advocated by these women very appealing. Unfortunately, that was precisely at the time when Ted Kennedy and George Bush teamed up to smoother it. It was obvious to me that we needed to meet our students at whatever attainment level they had and begin there. Students are not standard so it made no sense to follow some standards arrangement when teaching them.

Most educators found teaching to the standards and administering testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind act – the 2002 rewrite of the US federal education law – heartbreaking. In my remedial high school algebra classes, students were learning but just not fast enough. Instead of being encouraged to continue growing, they were labeled failures.

Building Biographic Literature Profiles

At a time when the president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, and the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, joined with CEO’s like IBM’s Louis Gerstner to call for education standards, Denny Taylor was conducting research which showed how foolhardy they were.

Hundreds of students, dozens of teachers and administrators participated in Taylor’s “Biographic Literacy Profiles Project” from 1989 – 1991. Essentially, she turned kindergarten thru third grade teachers into ethnographers studying their students and how they made sense of literary learning. They collected into portfolios every scrap of paper available that showed how students were using symbols, drawings and invented writing methods to communicate. They added to these portfolios notes describing what the students were doing, what kind of growth they were exhibiting and how they were successful.

Taylor wrote,

“…, while I would rather have the child’s production than some simplistic (asinine is probably a better descriptor) ‘text’ copied from the board, the child’s writing without notes written by the teacher still only provides a part of the ‘picture.’ Portfolios are not enough. To understand how individual children actively engage in the reconstruction of the functions, uses, and forms of written language we need to observe them at work.” (p 117)

Taylor published the findings of the “Biographic Literature Profiles” under the title Teaching Without Testing.” The profiles show how unique each student is and therefore, how useless education standards and testing are.

“They leave teachers and administrators with no alternative but to teach to the test. Children’s lives are altered, drilled, and skilled – the natural rhythm of their learning is changed to a solemn beat.” (p 150)

One of the school principals participating in the project noted,

“Change should be teacher initiated, teacher implemented, and teacher controlled. But teachers don’t have the power.” (p 140)

Over the last thirty years this has persisted. Peter Greene a Forbes commentator and decades-long educator tweeted.

Permeable Curriculum

In introducing this section, Bobbie Kabuto states,

“Curriculum is the heart and soul of educational systems, and it is in jeopardy of a coup d’état by corporate and political forces. It has not always been this way. As a teacher in the mid 1990s, I knew a time when money was invested in the professional development of teachers rather in than in high-stakes testing.”

Here, Professor Anne Hass Dyson takes the reader through negotiating a permeable curriculum and why it is required. Often teacher world and student world require interplay between children’s language and experience and that of the teacher. The distance between the two is exacerbated by diverse sociocultural backgrounds. Teachers and students do feel disconnected. Dyson states,

“On the one hand, we must allow – indeed, support – the embedding of written language in children’s social worlds, so that they find it a useful symbolic tool (a suggestion made by educators as separated in time and space as Ashton-Warner, Freire, and Vygotsky). But, on the other hand, we must also help children expand and negotiate among the sociocultural worlds – the dialogues – in which they participate.” (p 205)

It requires the educator to deeply understand the student’s home culture and what children are currently fascinated by in order to design curriculum that meets their needs.

Habitus and Chronotype

Researcher Catherine Compton-Lilly’s research is focused on habitus and chronotype. Habitus explains the complex interactions between culture, social structures, and individual agency. In other words what are the environmental factors linking to the way a student talks, acts and believes. These are the factors crucial to the development of cultural capital. Chronotype literally means time-space. Compton-Lilly applied the chronotype motifs from literature to motifs in literacy and schooling.

Compton-Lilly observes,

“Significantly, expanded notions of time invite educators and scholars to think about inequity ‘because time is largely taken for granted and therefore invisible, the social relation of time can continue to maintain existing inequalities and create new ones in the globally constituted world.’” (p 311)

She also shared,

“As Sorokin (1943) argued ‘Observation shows that persons equally old according to the physical clock are physiologically at quite different stages of development.” Yet there are areas in educational research that attempt to normalize development, create age- and grade- level expectations, and require students to make adequate yearly progress.”

Top flight education scholars like the authors of Diversity Research in Action are why billionaires are funding non-university based teacher development programs like the academically inferior Teach For America spinoff TNTP and the late Eli Broad’s superintendents’ academy. They know that authentic professional educators oppose their uninformed theories of education and disruption of public schools.

If you are interested in a deeper perspective on teaching and learning, I recommend this book.

Billionaire Sponsored Edtech Sales Pitch

29 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/29/2021

Laurene Powell Jobs and Amplify Education are hosting a Virtual Summit which is what they’re calling this May’s sales event. Jobs is very confident that her billions qualify her to shape education policy. In her drive to privatize public education, she has accumulated and created several pro-edtech and anti-teacher organizations. She also provides leadership and money to other billionaire driven organizations promoting education technology while simultaneously denigrating public schools.

When Laurene’s husband, Steve Jobs, died in 2011 she inherited the rest of the billions the couple had derived from the company Steve founded, Apple Inc. Since then, her fortune has grown to more than $30 billion. Fundamentally, Jobs only qualification for shaping national education policy derives from her marrying the right guy.

In 2016, Powell Jobs’ sent Hillary Clinton four uninformed education policy positions:

  1. “Re-design entire K-12 system – we know how to do it, but it comes down to political will.
  2. “Think about Charters as our R&D … must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable.
  3. “Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline.
  4. “Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teachers and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; …”

Some Laurene Powell Jobs Connections Mapped in LittleSis

The LittleSis map above has a hyperlink to the original in the caption. Shown here is a minimal display of Jobs’ connections within the movement to privatize and monetize public education. However, every line and name is hyperlinked on the original map to a large trove of information in the LittleSis data base.

The point of the map is that Jobs is the owner of Amplify through her non-profit organization, Emerson Collective.

The Amplify “Virtual Summit”

The May sales event was promoted in the Education Week Advertiser with the title “Reading Reimagined: Uncovering the Science Behind Personalized Learning.” All but one of the presenters at the daylong affair is an Amplify employee. They will emphasize three points:

  1. “The Science of Reading in personalized learning.”
  2. “What to look for in a personalized learning program.”
  3. “How to leverage COVID-19 relief stimulus funding to combat instructional loss.”

Russ Walsh is a professional educator and blogger. Recently (4/26/2021), He began an article about the science of reading with,

“Call me crazy, but when I learned I had cancer a few years ago, I did not immediately consult a journalist. Instead I chose to see an oncologist. When COVID broke out, I threw in my lot with Dr. Fauci and other infectious disease scientists, instead of a former reality TV star who suggested I inject bleach. And so, when I want advice on reading instruction, I avoid the journalists, the parent lobbying groups, the reading program sales reps, and the agenda driven pseudo-education organizations, and I look to the experts.”

The professionals Russ pointed to were Peter Johnston and Deborah Scanlon of the University at Albany who have debunked the Science of Reading (SOR) in a new report. Russ quotes them as stating,

“There is no one right way to teach reading. Student’s difficulties are unique to the individual students. Better to assume that the instruction we are providing is not meeting the student’s needs and adjust accordingly, than to focus on one instructional approach.”

Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University has also been out spoken in his scorn for the science of reading ideology.

In a previous post, I defined the nebulous term personalized learning:

‘“Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is related to competency base education (CBE).”

For five decades, the CBE scheme, operating under several different names, has posited that drilling small skills for mastery is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.”

Wireless Generation to Amplify

Greg Gunn a former associate of the Carlyle Group who had earned a Masters of Electrical Engineering from MIT joined with Larry Berger to found Wireless Generation. Berger was a graduate of Yale University with a BA and had been a White House fellow working on Educational Technology at NASA during the Clinton administration.

In 2010, News Corporation paid $360 million dollars to acquire Wireless Generation and renamed it Amplify Education, Inc.

By August of 2015, after spectacular failures in North Carolina, News Corporation announced it was exiting the education business. The corporation took a $371 million dollar write off to get out of the digital curriculum business. The next month, News Corporation announced it had sold Amplify to members of its staff. In the deal orchestrated by Joel Klein, he would remain as a board member and Larry Berger would assume leadership of the company.

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs. Larry Berger is still leading the company.

Why Tax Billionaires Out of Existence

22 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/22/2021

Twenty years of studying education policy, politics and practices has been awakening. Seeing billionaires inflict their often misguided and unpopular beliefs on our nation’s public schools has made it clear how undemocratic and dangerous extreme wealth is. They have established voucher programs routinely sending taxpayer money to religious schools even though these programs have lost decisively whenever submitted to voters. In her book Slaying Goliath, Diane Ravitch labeled these 0.1% of Americans as disrupters. She asked and answered the question “what do disrupters want?” They want:

  • Inexperienced teachers with little or no training from organizations like Teach For America.
  • To replace teachers with machine teaching (“blended learning” – “personalized learning”).
  • To move fast and break things including school systems, historic schools and communities.
  • To eliminate local democratic control over schools.
  • To eliminate teacher tenure and seniority rights.
  • To eliminate teacher defined benefit pensions.
  • To eliminate teachers unions.
  • To evaluate teachers and schools with standardized test scores.
  • To lower taxes and reduce spending on education.

Controlling the Political Process

In 2018, the Network for Public Education (NPE) produced a masterful report detailing how school board elections are being stolen from local residents. In the introduction to Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools,” the authors state, “This report provides some insight into how the very wealthy insert themselves into local elections through direct contributions, Independent Expenditure Committees and even non-profit organizations.”

The Billionaires Cited in “Hijacked by Billionaires”

In my post-election analysis of three elections, School Board Elections 2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” I show that billionaires Alice Walton of Bentonville, Arkasas, Michael Bloomberg of New York, New York and Stacy Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school board races in Oakland, California and Indianapolis, Indiana.

In that same election, the spending in Los Angeles and for California state offices was enormous. Through a combination of direct contributions and political action committees, seven billionaires put more than $14,000,000 into the 2020 election. The bulk of it went into the Los Angeles school board election with over $1,000,000 going to state assembly and senate races plus more than $1,000,000 went into five county board of education elections.

The Path of Billionaire Spending in California’s 2020 General Election

Similar election spending went on in New Orleans, Camden and many other jurisdictions mainly through Public School Allies the political arm of the City Fund founded by billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings.

In 2014, SFGATE reported, “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who suggests that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education, says they should be replaced by privately held corporations.” Hastings said out loud a belief held among many of his anti-democracy peers.

Creating an Alternate Teacher Training Path

In their effort to privatize public education, billionaires have created alternate paths for teacher credentialing and professional development.

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp is the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her “temp teachers” who have no intention of staying in the classroom. In 2011, the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Many corporate donors also sent TFA $100,000 to $999,000: “Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

These unqualified “temp teachers” have not studied teaching and they have no experience. A new teacher coming through a traditional program has taken many education courses and spent a year working with a master teacher as a supervised student teacher. TFA teachers typically have no education courses in college and get just five-weeks of classroom training in the summer.

TNTP is one of several organizations that only exist because billionaires have financed them. Wendy Kopp founded TNTP (originally called The New Teachers Project) in 1997. She assigned Michelle Rhee, who had completed a two year TFA tour, to lead it. Along with TNTP and TFA there are also the Broad Superintendents Academy and the fake school for professional educators called Relay Graduate School instilling the billionaire inspired privatization mindset.

Selling Technology and School Choice

With their enormous wealth, billionaires have poured more than $200,000,000 into organizations like New School Venture Fund to sell edtech and school choice; also funding think tanks (CREDO and CRPE) to provide a veneer of academic credibility.

To advance these sales they have created their own education media empire with The Education Post and The-74 as their flagships. Bill Gates has spent lavishly on publications like EdWeek turning them from a teacher resource into an edtech promoting outlet.

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” —Plutarch (c. 46–120 ce)

In 2017, Bill Moyers wrote,

“The top 1 percent owns more than 30 percent of America’s wealth. The poorest half owns just 2.5 percent. Wall Street bonuses alone are twice the amount of all the combined earnings of minimum-wage workers in this country. We are grotesquely, bizarrely, grossly unequal — unequal in cash, health care, schooling and access to clean air and water. Unequal in our access to power. And we are becoming more unequal by the year: Since Ronald Reagan became president, the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has doubled.”

As Louis Brandeis famously stated, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

San Francisco “Progressives” Promote Gentrification Undermine Democracy

16 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/16/2021

A new political PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” demands that schools be opened for in person classes immediately. They also make two dubious claims, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco” and “Many large cities successfully use an appointment process to choose a Board of Education.”

San Francisco Democrats Embrace the Open Schools Now Agenda

Neoliberal forces especially from the Republican Party have been campaigning for schools to be opened immediately for more than a year. Republicans see it as a wedge issue that could help them win back suburban women. Carl Hulse’s New York Times article noted that “congressional Republicans have begun to hammer relentlessly on President Biden, Democrats and teachers’ unions to open schools quickly.”

Surprisingly, San Francisco Democrats have joined with the former president’s open-schools-now campaign. Mayor London Breed has even sued the school board trying to force them to reopen schools. Breed explained,

“Families right now aren’t able to plan for their futures. They can’t decide whether to accept a job offer because they don’t know when they’re going to be able to once again have their kids returned to the classroom. This is paralyzing our city and our residents, and I know that this is a drastic step, but I feel we are out of options at this point.”

Seeyew Mo, a computer scientist who uses his skills to develop political campaign tools, is the executive director of the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools. In a recent bid for a seat on San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee, he was endorsed by Nancy Pelosi, London Breed and YIMBY among others. YIMBY is the yes in my Backyard advocates for safe, affordable housing in California often accused of advancing a gentrification agenda.

The Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools’ background article claims that school boards should be appointed not elected citing a 2013 article from the Center for American Progress (CAP) as evidence. The CAP article was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Both entities are infamous for promoting school privatization.

Political Action Committees must file a statement of purpose to legally spend money. When the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public schools filed their form, the treasure named was James Sutton a prominent San Francisco Lawyer and the principle officer named was hedge-fund founder Patrick Wolff. 

Wolff founded Grandmaster Capital with seed funding from his billionaire friend Peter Thiel. According to the hedge fund journal, Wolff and Thiel were initially brought together by a common interest in chess. “Thiel is a serious chess player and Wolff began his career as a full-time, professional chess player, twice becoming US champion, hence the Grandmaster name.” 

In 2018, Wolff wrote commentaries on education for the San Francisco Examiner. In one piece he declared,

“California is failing. San Francisco is failing. The status quo is unacceptable. The fate of our children’s education is literally our future.”

“But in the interest of full disclosure, I will report that I have met several times with Marshall Tuck and he has greatly impressed me with his knowledge, his passion, and his ideas. And Marshall Tuck has the full-throated endorsement of Arne Duncan, who was US Education Secretary under President Obama.”

Gentrification

The Wolff-Thiel connection and Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments has people worried.

Szeto and Meronek referenced Tory Becker the director of the anti- gentrification group LAGAI when writing about Trauss,

“Entrenched online in the libertarian strongholds of Reddit and TechCrunch, and in the real world through real estate- and tech-sponsored nonprofits like SPUR and YIMBY Action, Trauss’s followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it’s only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all. Her vision is Reagonomics ‘dressed up in a progressive sheep’s costume,’ according to Becker.”

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar opposed Trauss’s appointment noting that the appointee must be able to bridge divisions across neighborhoods and ideologies. Mar claimed, “Sonja Trauss has a history of inflaming these divisions, rather than working across them” citing “the declaration that ‘gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price’” and “forcefully shouting down Chinatown community elders.”

Recall the Board

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. They wanted to recall the entire board but the two members elected in November cannot be recalled this year.  Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city last December. They claim the school board was too busy with school name changes instead of getting schools open.

In the original filing, Looijen is listed as treasure and Raj is listed as principal officer. In an amended filing, Looijen is listed as principal officer and the new treasure is James Sutton the same high priced San Francisco attorney as the PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, used. One of Sutton’s junior lawyers, Dale Bellitto, is listed as Assistant Treasure. In 2015, she was a Teaching Fellow at KIPP Infinity charter school in New York City.