Archive | September, 2017

Selling Education Technology Via the Federal Education Technology Plan

28 Sep

In January the Office of Education Technology, a unit of the U.S. Department of Education, released its 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update (NETP). The update is not a reasoned meditation on the use of education technology informed by our nations vast academic research infrastructure. It is a polemic hyping the use of technology in America’s classrooms. Director Joseph South, Office of Educational Technology US Department of Education, concludes his introductory remarks:

“…, it is now more apparent than ever that the courageous efforts of educators to embrace the role of thoughtful, reflective innovators who work collaboratively with each other and alongside their students to explore new learning models, new digital learning environments, and new approaches to working, learning, and sharing is essential if we want technology to be an effective tool to transform learning.” (page 2)

The question is, do we want digital learning environments? Are they conducive to creative and healthy development? Are there dangers involved with this approach? Are we moving along a technologically driven path without the requisite caution? The NEPT is not troubled by such doubts.

I do not oppose the use of technology in America’s classrooms. I taught high school math and physics and at one time I worked in Silicon Valley as a researcher in the magnetic recording industry. However, the best use of technology in school settings is developed by education professionals and not by technology product developers. The educators goal is better pedagogy. The developers goal is a new widget (often with a short life span) that wins in the market place.

Audrey Watters has been writing about technology in education for most of the 21st century. Audrey’s latest book is The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology published in 2016. He made these remarks to a class at MIT on September 7th.

“I don’t believe we live in a world in which technology is changing faster than it’s ever changed before. I don’t believe we live in a world where people adopt new technologies more rapidly than they’ve done so in the past. (That is argument for another talk, for another time.) But I do believe we live in an age where technology companies are some of the most powerful corporations in the world, where they are a major influence – and not necessarily in a positive way – on democracy and democratic institutions. (School is one of those institutions. Ideally.) These companies, along with the PR that supports them, sell us products for the future and just as importantly weave stories about the future.”

I quote Watters here because his statement about the major influence of technology companies is completely borne out by a cursory read of the NETP 2017. It is not just in the US where the outsized influence of these giant technology companies is being felt. In August, the Open Review of Education Research Journal published a paper from New Zealand by Noeline Wright and Michael Peters. In Response to a 2007 document from the New Zealand Ministry of Education they wrote:

“This document advocates e-pedagogy, social learning and student-centred approaches. The lure of what digital technologies can offer in properly constructed learning contexts masks some of the ways in which it can be interpreted to fit a neo-liberal, privatised, deprofessionalised education agenda. This is an agenda using big data to create mastery learning feedback loops for learners. It is cheaper, more efficient and involves fewer teachers. However, a key issue with this kind of thrust is that the capabilities needed for successful citizenship and employment centre on creativity, adaptability, critical thinking and nuanced understandings of complex ideas. Mastery learning, instead, is often focused on providing behaviourist instant feedback, rewarding content knowledge rather than an ability to argue, critique, create and repurpose. This is because content ‘facts’ can be quantified and machine assessed.”

A Look at The NETP for 2017

Selling SEL and Technology

This graphic from page 11 is followed with, “A key part of non-cognitive development is fostering a growth mindset about learning. Growth mindset is the understanding that abilities can be developed through effort and practice and leads to increased motivation and achievement.” (proof?)

The next sentence informs readers, “The U.S. Department of Education has funded several growth mindset–related projects, including a grant to develop and evaluate SchoolKit, a suite of resources developed to teach growth mindset quickly and efficiently in schools.”

Once a student demonstrates they can pass the government sanctioned attitude test, they can get a micro-credential. Today, in China, one can earn citizenship merit badges. Behavior badging in China is explained in this video about gamifying good citizenship. Behavior modification is now a part of micro-credentialing promoted by the NETP.

The NETP is organized into five topics; Learning, Teaching, Leadership, Assessment and Infrastructure. By the time the reader gets to Assessment and Infrastructure some of the material gets redundant. Each topic is addressed with a set of assertions supported almost exclusively by antidotal evidence. After assertions are made, a report on how some school or district has successfully implemented the technology. Page one of the plan informs readers:

“This document contains examples and resource materials that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of any material is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.”

This disclaimer is completely disingenuous. This is exactly what the document does; it promotes these materials. On page after page the services and products endorsed invariably have large endowments from the technology industry. For example, a page 11 statement,

“For the development of digital citizenship, educators can turn to resources such as Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship curriculum or the student technology standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).”

When we look at the ISTE web-site, we learn that Dallas Dance the former Baltimore superintendent of schools who is under criminal investigation is on the board of directors. At the site you can read all about the benefits of being a corporate member of ISTE. We also discover that:

“Year around sponsor Microsoft Corporation is Supporting bold education reform, Microsoft’s mission is simple: support bold education reform to help prepare students for today’s highly competitive workforce, and support our U.S. educators with software and programs that fuel powerful learning and digital-age skills.”

In addition, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also kicked in $1.4 million to ISTE.

Common Sense says it’s “the nation’s leading independent non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology.” It also claims that 40% of its support comes from private foundations. In January the Gate’s foundation gave them another quarter of a million dollars. They have many working relationships with tech companies and an interesting board of directors including; Manny Maceda, Partner, Bain & Company; Gene T. Sykes Managing Director, Goldman, Sachs & Co.; and Bill McGlashan, Managing Partner, TPG Growth.

It is possible to make a count of all of the similar kinds of examples to these in the NETP but it takes a while. In another claim, the NETP states, “Technology access when equitable can help close the digital divide and make transformative learning opportunities available to all learners.” (Page 17) The example given is from San Francisco:

“BGC [Black Girls Code], founded in 2001 by Kimberly Bryant, an electrical engineer, aims to “increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color to become innovators in STEM subjects, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology.”

How can I find fault here? To start with STEM is and always was a fraud. As for BGC, there is a reason that Verizon, Adobe, Salesforce, AT&T, Google, Oracle and others are giving BGC money. The New York Times reports that coding is being pushed into schools by the Titans of tech. There is an obvious down side to this corporate agenda; What if in a decade coding is no longer a skill in demand? Education priorities should not be driven by self-interested amateurs.

One of the more disturbing ideas promoted by NEPT appears on page 39. The example comes from a school district in Wisconsin that used the Digital Promise educator micro-credentialing framework as a guide, teachers in the district took a technology proficiency self-assessment, which they used as a baseline for their personal professional growth. The teachers then worked by themselves and in collaborative teams to develop specific professional learning goals aligned to district strategic goals, which they submitted to district leadership for approval.

The NETP explains,

“Once these goals are approved, the teachers establish measurable benchmarks against which they can assess their progress. Both the goals and benchmarks are mapped to specific competencies, which, in turn, are tied to micro-credentials that can be earned once teachers have demonstrated mastery. Demonstrations of mastery include specific samples of their work, personal reflections, classroom artifacts, and student work and reflections, which are submitted via Google Forms to a committee of 7 to 10 teachers who review them and award micro-credentials.” (emphasis added)

Digital Promise is a technology industry Pied Piper and their supporters are the most famous in the pantheon of technology industry “philanthropy”. The list includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Chan and Zuckerberg, Bill and Flora Hewlett; Michael and Susan Dell, Laurene Jobs and on and on.

The proceeding three examples were selected somewhat randomly. They are not necessarily the most disturbing or most egregious examples of the technology industry driving education policy through the National Education Technology Plan. There are at least twenty more cases that are equally as eye popping or more so. These are just three examples that demonstrate the unhealthy influence the technology industry has over education policy.

Conclusion

The ubiquitous power of the technology industry both in terms of money and political influence makes the gilded age look like a paragon of democratic action. They are selling bad products that are harming America’s world envied public education system. Our students have never scored particularly well on standardized tests when compared to the rest of the world, but they have outscored everyone by a wide margin when it came to creative thinking, developing new industries and advancing civilization.

These giant greed infested technology companies with their neo-liberal and libertarian ideologies have tremendous wealth which gives them great political power. However, as Diane Ravich has said, “they are few, we are many.” The people still control. We need to keep doing what educators do. We need to educate America about this ongoing dangerous attack on our schools and our democracy. We need to keep exposing these profiteers lusting after tax dollars that are supposed to go to educate America’s children.

Two but Not Two Frauds: STEM and Education Technology

19 Sep

Last year, IBIS Capital produced a report for EdTechXGlobal stating, “Education technology is becoming a global phenomenon, … the market is projected to grow at 17.0% per annum, to $252bn by 2020.” Governments in Europe and Asia have joined the US in promoting what Dr. Nicholas Kardaras called a “$60 billion hoax.” He was referring specifically to the one to one initiatives.

An amazing paper from New Zealand, “Sell, sell, sell or learn, learn, learn? The EdTech market in New Zealand’s education system – privatisation by stealth?” exposes the promoters of EdTech there as being even more bullish on EdTech. “The New Zealand business organisation (they spell funny) EDTechNZ, indicates on its website that educational technology is the fastest growing sector of a global smart education market worth US$100 billion, forecast to grow to US$394 by 2019.”

These initiatives are fraud based agendas because they focus on advancing an industry but are sold as improving schools. Unfortunately, good education is not the driver; money is. Speaking this month to a class at MIT, Audrey Watters shared insights into the phenomena,

“But I do believe we live in an age where technology companies are some of the most powerful corporations in the world, where they are a major influence – and not necessarily in a positive way – on democracy and democratic institutions. (School is one of those institutions. Ideally.) These companies, along with the PR that supports them, sell us products for the future and just as importantly weave stories about the future.”

As Trevor Noah explains in this short video this influence is not called bribery.

STEM Fraud

I was the head “tribologist” (study of things that rub together) at Sunward Technologies in San Diego, when in 1995 it was purchased by Read Rite Corporation of Milpitas (Silicon Valley). Three years earlier, every interview for graduating engineers at San Diego State University was cancelled because of the downturn in demand. In 1993, our personnel department screened more than 100 resumes before I was asked to interview five candidates for a job opening in my lab. The final decision was difficult because all five were well-qualified.

When I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1996 there did not seem to be any difficulty hiring engineers, but corporations were cannibalizing each other. As soon as a company made a technical advancement, their engineers were being pursued by competitors. This looked to be a significant motivator for hi-tech corporations lobbying for H-1B visas. H-1B visas tied the worker to the company that sponsored the visa.

In January of this year Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to reform the H-1B visa abuses. Her press release said,

“My legislation refocuses the H-1B program to its original intent – to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the U.S. workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers who help create jobs here in America, not replace them,” said Lofgren. “It offers a market-based solution that gives priority to those companies willing to pay the most. This ensures American employers have access to the talent they need, while removing incentives for companies to undercut American wages and outsource jobs.”

To me this is the same malarkey she was spreading in 1996 when I arrived in the bay area. In 1998 the Tech Law Journal Congressional Scorecard rated Lofgren, a Democrat from Silicon Valley, in the top ten for supporting the high-tech industry. The Law Journal explained its ranking metric,

“All 100 Senators and all 435 Representatives were rated on a 0 to 100 scale on the basis of their support for high tech.  The scorecard utilized five objective criteria (roll call votes on, and sponsorship of, bills pertaining to encryption, Internet tax moratorium, securities litigation reform, H1B visas, as well as membership in the Internet Caucus.” [emphasis added]

Before the H-1B visa program, when a technology change eliminated a function, the engineers and technicians effected would be transferred to other departments. After H-1B, they were laid off and hiring firms would find ways to claim that only an H-1B applicant could fill the jobs in those other departments. The corporations gained indentured servant like control and wages stagnated.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at UCSD where I first heard about the need for schools to help train more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) professionals. Like most people, I drank the Kool-aide. But, we were all victims of a misinformation campaign being waged by leaders in high-tech. As Jay Schalin observed,

“The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

By 2004, a Rand Corporation study was already questioning these claims.

“Concerns about the size and adequacy of the U.S. scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics workforce have grown amid fears of a dwindling labor pool and concern that this may erode U.S. leadership in science and technology and could complicate mobilization of appropriate manpower for homeland security. In the past, such fears have failed to materialize, and surpluses have been more common than shortages.”

In a 2014 Atlantic Magazine article, Michael S. Teitelbaum reported,

“No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

The trumpeting of a “STEM shortage crisis in America” is and always was a hoax. This same con is deforming public education. The new Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards were motivated respectively by Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Louis Gerstner (IBM). As a result they devalue humanities and glorify science and engineering based on this same fraudulent STEM claim. There must be a thousand charter schools that advertise themselves as STEM academies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here in California this same lie is being used to promote yet another attack on local control of public schools. In July, Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando) announced new legislation that would create a State authorized STEM school for 800 students. It would be privately managed and sited in Los Angeles county.

The news organization Capital and Main stated, “For a district that is already the largest charter school authorizer in the nation and is still gun-shy after recently fending off a takeover attempt by billionaire school choice philanthropist Eli Broad, any scheme that promises further stratification is an existential threat.”

Diane Ravitch claimed, “LAUSD already has STEM schools, but this is Eli’s STEM school, and he really wants it.” The billionaire real-estate mogul and insurance salesman is widely believed to be the driving force behind this legislation.

The proposal would be an end run around local control. Instead of local school districts supervising the new charter school, the state board of education would be the authorizer and supervisor. It is an extreme idea that perverts further an already perverted state charter school law.

Strangely, that did not stop the two most important newspapers in southern California from supporting it.

The LA Times which gets $800,000 a year from Eli Broad wrote a really strange editorial in which it admitted that the law would be problematic and undermine local governance. But it fell back on a favorite billionaire inspired reform reason for supporting the law, “But right now, the overriding concern should be providing as many great public schools for low-income kids as we can manage.” Those billionaires just love love love poor and minority children.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page gushed over the idea of creating a new privatized school based on the fraudulent STEM premise and thwarting local control. The main beguiling point was delivered in this paragraph;

“So it sounded like a great idea when two San Fernando Valley Democrats — Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and state Sen. Anthony Portantino — introduced a bill to build a pioneering state-run STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) middle and high school in downtown Los Angeles. The idea is even more appealing because it called for educating talented minority students from poor communities without the same opportunities enjoyed by students in wealthier areas. The cherry on top was that deep-pocketed Angelenos with a desire to make the California tech world more diverse are behind this concept — that could be a model elsewhere — and are eager to provide supplemental funding.”

It seems the fourth estate no longer ferrets out fraud and corruption but is instead complicit in these nefarious plots.

Unfortunately, Education Technology is Greed Driven

Hi-Tech and digital initiatives are careening down a dark road. Because of the extreme power of hi-tech corporations like Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and many others, the development of education technology is being driven by their needs and not the needs of students. Students have become their guinea pigs as they release one untested technology after another into America’s classrooms.

Technology has a potential to enhance education but it also has the potential to cause great damage.

A century ago, there were people taking correspondence courses and getting great value from them. Today, the modern equivalent of the correspondence course is the online class.

However, students at screens like correspondence students will never achieve equal benefit to students with a teacher, because the teacher-student relationship is the most important aspect in education.

Teacher-student relationships are different than those with friends, parents or siblings. My personal experience was that I felt a genuine selfless lover for my students and we communicated about many things; often personal but mostly academic. I also felt a need to protect them. In America’s public schools, a student might have that kind of close relationship with more than 40 adults during their 12 years in school. This is where the great spark of creativity and learning leaps from teacher to student.

I have put students at screens in my career, but I never found great benefit in the exercise. On the hand, I have found technologies like graphing utilities to be highly beneficial, but it was the interaction with my students that was of most value for deep learning, enhancing creativity and developing a love for learning. If technologies destroy these relationships then they become a net evil.

I quoted Audrey Watters speaking to an MIT class about hi-tech corporations and the stories they weave. Here is his description of those stories:

“These products and stories are, to borrow a phrase from sociologist Neil Selwyn, ‘ideologically-freighted.’ In particular, Selwyn argues that education technologies (and again, computing technologies more broadly) are entwined with the ideologies of libertarianism, neoliberalism, and new forms of capitalism – all part of what I often refer to as the “Silicon Valley narrative” (although that phrase, geographically, probably lets you folks here at MIT off the hook for your institutional and ideological complicity in all this). Collaboration. Personalization. Problem-solving. STEM. Self-directed learning. The ‘maker movement.’ These are all examples of how ideologies are embedded in ed-tech trends and technologies – in their development and their marketing. And despite all the talk of ‘disruption’, these mightn’t be counter-hegemonic at all, but rather serve the dominant ideology and further one of the 21st century’s dominant industries.”

A faculty colleague of mine said, “the last thing 21st century students need is more screen time.” I believe Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen would enthusiastically agree. She recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine describing the dangers of screen time to the current teen generation she calls the iGen. Based on her research she said,

“Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)”

“The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”

“There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.”

“In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.”

Obviously, many of our institutions have been corrupted by the immense power of concentrated wealth and especially by hi-tech industries. The money being chased is enormous, but there are more of us. If we educate ourselves, our families and our neighbors we can reform these greed driven forces into forces for good, but we need to pay attention.