Ed Tech about Profits NOT Education

10 Dec

By Thomas Ultican 12/10/2019

Anthony Kim founded Education Elements in 2010. He sold Provost Systems – which built virtual schools – to Edison Schools in 2008 and was ready for a new project. His new company sells personalized learning systems and consulting services to several school districts. Education Elements is one of more than a hundred ed tech companies being supported by venture capital organizations hoping for one big score. It is representative of the education technology startup business.

With education businesses there is opportunity for magnificent profits because of the large scale of education spending. The United States alone spends $650 billion a year on public education. If businesses can convince people that learning at a digital screen is equivalent to or even better than a teacher led classroom, education technology would become America’s next great profit center minting many new billionaires. This allure of lavish profits is driving education technology.

The Venture Capital Firms

Crunchbase, which analyzes venture capital and startups, lists five venture capital companies investing in Education Elements.

Harmony is the only one of the five venture funds that does not focus specifically on education technology. They simply say, “Over the past 20 years, we have invested over $750 million in 80 companies.” They list their current investments which includes Education Elements.

NewSchools Venture Fund is the most strident in its commitment to disrupting public education. NewSchools is a non-profit that claims they are a “venture philanthropy working to reimagine public education investing in education entrepreneurs.” Their venture portfolio contains more than 150 companies.

Every year NewSchools hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” The “Platinum” sponsors for the 2020 gathering are the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Walton Family Foundation who are also well-known leaders in the movement to monetize and privatize public education.

New Schools Venture Fund Donors

Twelve Organizations Contributing $5 Million Plus to NewSchools Venture Fund

Eleven of the twelve organizations listed above are known for promoting market based education reform. The twelfth, Anonymous, most likely has the same ideology.

Rethink Education is the third venture fund. It claims to focus on Crucial Life Skills, Personalized Learning, Vocational Preparation, Curation of Workforce Learning Resources, College Dropout Prevention.” Jenny Abramson is the founder and Managing Partner of Rethink. She is a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and a board member of the Washington DC charter school, DC Prep.

Imagine K12 is the forth fund investing in Education Elements. It was founded in 2011 as a startup accelerator for education technology companies. In 2016 Imagine merged with Y Combinator. The joint companies have invested in over 100 education technology focused companies.

Tugboat Ventures is the fifth fund invested in Education Elements which is one of its 35 listed properties.

The Board of Directors

Board of Education Elements

The Education Elements’ Board – (from Elements’ Web Page)

Dave Whorton, the founder of Tugboat Ventures, was also a founding board member of the NewSchools Venture Fund serving there from 1998-2015.

Howard Behar was a former president of Starbucks until his retirement in 2003. He served as a Director on Starbucks board 1996-2008. In 2014, Behar became a board member of the Biller Family Foundation. The Biller Foundation from Seattle Washington is notoriously pro-public school privatization. They have partnership relations with Green Dot, Partnership for Los Angeles, Stand for Children and Summit Public Schools.

Green Dot is a large charter school chain originally founded in Los Angeles. Partnership for Los Angeles was established by former Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa when his efforts to take over the school system were thwarted. Stand for Children is a dark money pro-school privatization organization from Portland, Oregon. Summit Public Schools is financially supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It provides computer based learning.

Jack Witlin was a Deloitte Consulting Principal. He retired in 2014 after a 44-years career. Witlin became a director of Education Elements in 2017.

Michael B. Horn serves as the head of strategy and senior partner for the Entangled Group, an education venture studio. He is also the co-founder of and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. He has written extensively about disruption as the savior of public education. He calls for disruptive change driven by technology and school privatization.

In a delightful takedown of disruption theory in the New Yorker, Jill Lepore riddled Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” One of his big examples was Seagate Technology. According to Christensen, Seagate disrupted the computer industry with its 5 ¼ inch floppy disk but was disrupted and doomed to failure when it was late to the market with a 3 ½ inch drive. Lepore noted,

“In 1997, the year Christensen published “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Seagate was the largest company in the disk-drive industry, reporting revenues of nine billion dollars. Last year, Seagate shipped its two-billionth disk drive.”

Most educators and anyone with common sense would tell us that the last thing students in a poverty stricken community need is more disruption.

Education Elements’ Leaders

Anthony Kim is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Elements. He started his career in education by helping higher education institutions with technology projects and data. He founded Provost Systems which developed online schools. After selling Provost to Edison Schools in 2008, he spent two years there as Executive Vice President of online education. Kim founded Education Elements in 2010.

Amy Jenkins, the Chief Operating Officer and Managing General Partner, began her education career as a TFA middle school English teacher in Oakland, California. After two years, she left the classroom for the education “reform” industry including a stint with NewSchools Venture Fund. Jenkins earned an AB in political science from Dartmouth and an MBA from Harvard.

Angela Kennedy-Toon is also known as Angela Chubb. She is another Managing Partner at Education Elements. She claims to have started her education career in a classroom 27-years ago and to have founded a charter school in Pennsylvania. Angela lives in Wichita, Kansas and was married to the late John Chubb who along with Terry E. Moe co-wrote Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools. That 1990 publication gave great momentum to school privatization and recommended ending locally elected school boards.

Angela says she follows Checker Finn, Michael Horn, Frederick M. Hess, Wendy Kopp and Jeanne Allen. People who have been observing education politics will recognize this list as all strident supporters of privatizing public education.

Angela’s facebook page has some wonderful pictures with Todd and Sarah Palin. Sadly on my recent trip to Anchorage, I learned that Todd and Sarah are divorcing.

Keara Mascareñaz is also a Managing Partner. After graduation from college she joined TFA and taught in a primary classroom for two years. She then worked for TFA for five years. Keara became a NextGen Fellow at the Pahara Institute in 2016 before joining Education Elements. Reed Hastings and Diane Tavenner are on the Board of Directors at Pahara which is a strong indication of the pro-public education privatization bias of Pahara.

Ray Rozycki is listed as Executive Advisor. He previously worked with CEO Anthony Kim at Provost Systems where he served as Chief Officer of Digital Education and VP of Virtual Education. Ray is involved with designing instructional and assessment platforms and developing formative assessments and eCourses.

Selling Bad Pedagogy and Enfeebled Expertise

Do to lobbying by billionaires like Bill Gates and Reed Hastings, the latest update to the national education law turned the US Department of Education (USED) into an education technology sales hub. Critically for companies like Education Elements, the federal technology pitch includes Competency Based Education (CBE). In order to have an inexpensive cyber based education system, there must be small skills that can be drilled and then tested. The USED says,

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.

Unfortunately CBE is just an update of previous failed teaching strategies. In the 1970’s it was called Mastery Learning and in the 1990’s it was called Outcome Based Education. CBE is simply putting Mastery Leaning on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. It is still bad pedagogy. Computer based credit recovery is the fraud engendering the recent soaring graduation rates.

With no evidence to support their claim, Education Elements posts, “Personalized learning improves student engagement and achievement, develops students to be lifelong learners, and better prepares them for college and careers.” However, a Rand study commissioned by Bill Gates found no evidence for this claim. Also, the vast majority of school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and 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.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

Education Elements also sells its consulting services to school districts. It asserts;

“We help your best people improve in several ways:

  • Develop action steps to prioritize and implement instructional approaches aligned to your district’s strategic plan.
  • Design new processes and methods to increase capabilities of teams.
  • Develop fluency in problem solving through design thinking strategies.
  • Build skills needed to become designers of learning focused on classroom design, content selection, and other key competencies for personalizing learning.”

There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements. If a school district is buying these kinds of services and education technology programs, they are wasting money and harming students.

Twitter: @tultican

3 Responses to “Ed Tech about Profits NOT Education”

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  1. Thomas Ultican: EdTech Is All About Profits, Not Education or Learning | Diane Ravitch's blog - December 12, 2019

    […] Ultican wrote a post about the billionaire-driven world of educational technology, which has nothing to do with education or learning, but everything to do with scoring […]

  2. 7 Concerns About the MSNBC Public Education Forum - December 17, 2019

    […] The candidates might want to review Tultican’s “Ed Tech About Profits NOT Education.” […]

  3. Nancy Bailey: What the Public Education Forum Failed to Discuss | Diane Ravitch's blog - December 17, 2019

    […] The candidates might want to review Tultican’s “Ed Tech About Profits NOT Education.” […]

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