California’s Charter School Led CBE Invasion

29 Jun

This January (2016), Fortune Magazine announced that Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, has launched a new $100-million-dollar fund to support education initiatives and other groups. The notice goes on to state:

“Hastings is the fund’s sole trustee while Neerav Kingsland, the former CEO of charter school supporter New Schools for New Orleans, is serving as CEO. The fund’s website explains its philanthropic mission: “Currently, too many children do not have access to amazing schools. Our aim is to partner with communities to significantly increase the number of students who have access to rich and holistic educational experiences.”

The “rich and holistic educational experience” is to be delivered by charter schools employing competency based education (CBE).

Competency Based Education

The United States Department of Education promotes and describes CBE:

 “Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

 Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and earn badges for demonstrating competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning opportunities” is a euphemism for a computer based course delivered in isolation.

It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another inert digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers, adults who they can trust. Students need to; measure, calculate, weight, work in small groups, discuss ideas, write, and get professional feedback. Students need structure, stability and direction. None of this is provided online.

Technology in education is more of an expensive mirage than a useful tool and competency based education (CBE) is fool’s gold.

In 2003, I took the state of California’s 52-hour life insurance course. That meant 52 hours of seat time with an insurance industry veteran who made the subject come alive. Today that insurance course is online with an online exam. No real industry context is imparted and cheating on the exam is rampant.

This is the kind of education Hastings and his ilk are vigorously promoting. CBE means lower quality education delivered at great profit to corporate providers and testing companies.

CBE learning is embraced by President Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Education Secretary John King, The Walton family, the new federal education law, Pearson Corporation and many business executives. Few experienced education professionals not profiting from one of these entities support it.

Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all of the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

Big Money Being Poured into CBE

 In 2004, the Don and Doris Fisher Foundation along with the Schools Future Research Foundation each provided $100,000 to start the Charter Schools Growth Fund in Broomfield, Colorado. The Fisher Foundation is based on profits from GAP Inc. and the School Future Research Foundation was a Walton Family Foundation supported fund that seems to have disappeared. The original elected board of directors for the Charter School Growth Fund was comprised of John Walton, Don Fisher, and John Lock.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund, Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. By then the fund was so large and he could do it. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

A recent National Public Radio report on the Rocketship schools reported:

 “Rocketship students often use adaptive math software from a company called Dreambox Learning. The company was struggling when Reed Hastings, the Netflix founder turned education philanthropist and investor, observed it in action at a Rocketship school several years ago. His investment allowed Dreambox to become one of the leading providers of math software in North America, currently used by about 2 million students.”

 Kevin Hall left his $465,000 a year position at the Charter School Growth Fund to join Hastings on the board of Dreambox Inc. This company is now positioned to be the dominant supplier of software products into the CBE market. Pearson corporation has positioning itself to be the company that tests students and issues completion badges. If the big standardized test goes away, Pearson will do just fine supporting CBE.

In March, Emily Talmadge wrote a very interesting piece about CBE from a more national prospective. She reported:

“Since at least 2009, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has poured millions of dollars into the latest ed reform craze that has made headlines recently due to investments of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix.  When stripped of the misleading rhetoric that often surrounds it, “personalized learning” is the digital, data-driven system of schooling designed to trigger giant corporate profits along with tightly controlled, work-forced aligned learning outcomes.”

The foundations working to privatize public schools are almost all organized under IRS tax code 501(c)(3), which means they cannot engage in direct or even indirect support of political candidates and they must file an IRS form 990 every year. These forms detail who they gave money to and how much they pay top fund administrators. For following these and other rules, they become a tax free entity. The latest complete set of form 990’s is from tax year 2014 which details spending in 2013. The chart below is based on an analysis of selected 2014 form 990’s

Fund Totals

Fund Spending on Organizations Implementing CBE

 The 2013 spending of the following list of seven funds was analyzed: California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation (Broad), New Schools Venture Fund, Charter School Growth Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates), The Silicon Valley Fund, The Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Other than the data for the Gates fund, the information all comes from 2014 form 990’s. The Gates data came from his foundation web site.

The spending on these five schools was extraordinary in that the amounts given are far greater than the amounts these organizations typically give to other charter schools. Most grants to charter schools from these funds are significantly less than $50,000 unless it is for startup purposes. So what made these five schools worthy of $33,000,000 in 2013? They are all testing CBE principles on their students.

A look at some of the key board members of these funds reveals a small community of wealthy true believers.

 KIPP Foundation: Doris Fisher, John Fisher, Reed Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner

Silicon Valley Fund: John Fisher, Ted Mitchell

New Schools Venture Fund: Lauren Powell Jobs, Ted Mitchell

Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation: Eli Broad, Gregory Mcginity

Charter School Growth Fund: Kevin Hall, John Fisher, Carrie Walton Penner

California Charter Schools Assoc.: Reed Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner, Gregory Mcginity

 The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a little different than the other six organizations. It is not significantly about privatizing schools. There are many large community funds in California like this one and they support things ranging from community art to homeless shelters. However, funds like the San Diego Foundation and the Los Angeles Community Foundation have huge assets and they support charter schools at a much higher rate than they support public schools. A little light shined on these community foundations might make it less likely that they continue spending patterns that many of their board members probably do not understand.

All of this spending to undermine the present public education system is predicated on an article of faith held by wealthy (amateur education policy experts) reformers – “public schools are failing.”

In a June Atlantic Magazine article, Jack Schneider put it this way:

 “Thus, despite the fact that there is often little evidence in support of utopian schemes like “personalized online learning,” which would use software to create a custom curriculum for each student, or “value-added measures” of teachers, which would determine educator effectiveness by running student test scores through an algorithm, many people are willing to suspend disbelief. Why? Because they have been convinced that the alternative—a status quo in precipitous decline—is worse. But what if the schools aren’t in a downward spiral? What if, instead, things are slowly but steadily improving? In that light, disruption—a buzzword if ever there was one—doesn’t sound like such a great idea.”

 The evidence says America’s public schools are indeed continuously improving. But, misguided “do-gooders” are threatening to destroy the system and charter schools are the vehicle implementing their schemes. It is time for an OPT OUT of charter schools movement and a halt to CBE.

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One Response to “California’s Charter School Led CBE Invasion”

  1. howardat58 June 29, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

    I have checked out the “Personalised Learning” from a number of applications of Dreambox and they are awful.

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