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Organized to Disrupt

10 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/10/2020

The New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) is the Swiss army knife of public school privatization. It promotes education technology development, bankrolls charter school creation, develops charter management organizations and sponsors school leadership training groups. Since its founding in 1998, a small group of people with extraordinary wealth have been munificent in their support. NSVF is a significant asset in the billionaire funded drive to end democratically run public schools and replace them with privatized corporate structures.

1990’s Silicon Valley was a Happening Place

Mark Andreessen had just co-written the world’s first web-browser, Mosaic, before he came to town from the University of Illinois to co-found Netscape. John Doerr left Intel in 1980 to join the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins where his reputation for picking winners became legendary. His wins include Amazon, AOL, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Google, Netscape and Twitter. Internet search engines were in their infancy when in 1999 Doerr convinced his partners to put $12.5 million into Google. Five years later that investment turned into billions.

Like elsewhere in America, every little strip mall in San Jose, California had a Blockbuster video rental store. In 1997, Reed Hastings and Netflix co-founder Mark Reynolds came up with a disruptive idea that put Blockbuster out of business. For a monthly fee, they offered DVD’s by mail with no late charges. Blockbuster did not adapt fast enough and went bankrupt.

In the Valley, everyone was aware that their business could be just one new technology innovation away from being the next Blockbuster.

“DoWopDon” Shalvey was the superintendent of schools in San Carlos, California a bedroom community about a third of the way up the peninsula between San Jose and San Francisco. When California passed its 1992 charter school legislation, Shalvey’s application for a charter turned into California’s first charter school. It officially opened in August 1994.

Apparently, Don Shalvey was an amateur DJ and very into music. His twitter handle is @dooWopDon.

Shalvey joined with Reed Hastings in writing a statewide initiative for the 1998 ballot that lifted the cap on charter schools and eased restrictions on starting one. At that time, Hastings was made president of Technology Network, a bipartisan lobbying group formed by Silicon Valley CEOs. With their support, the initiative quickly amassed more than a million signatures. Opposition from the teachers union ended as they were also fighting against other education proposals coming from Governor Pete Wilson’s office.

A deal was struck making the initiative unnecessary. Legislative leaders passed a bill containing the initiative’s key ingredients and union leader withheld their objections. The new bill green-lighted an unlimited number of charter schools and just as importantly the bill authorized a single board to oversee multiple charter schools. It was the birth of charter management organizations and a massive acceleration in new charter school development.

When Pete Wilson signed the new bill into law in May 1998, Shalvey and Hastings had $403,000 left in their initiative campaign fund. They decided to shift the money into a non-profit and founded what became the Aspire charter school network.

Meanwhile on the other side of the continent, Ann Smith graduated with a degree in political science and psychology from Columbia University in 1989 and started working for Wendy Kopp and the Teach For America (TFA) founding team. In 1993, she moved to the Silicon Valley area and co-founded the Bay Area Youth Consortium – AmeriCorps. In 1996, she left AmeriCorps to pursue a Masters in Business Administration at Stanford University.

Smith was co-chair of the Stanford business school’s entrepreneur club and she wanted to get Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as a speaker for the club. She asked her friend John Doerr to help and he agreed on one condition. In an education session at Al Gore’s house, the name NewSchools had been created. Doerr wanted her to come up with a use for the name.

Bezos spoke at the club and Smith worked on her assignment. She wrote a two page paper outlining the NewSchools Venture Fund. She had been inspired by what Don Shalvey and Reed Hastings had accomplished and thought to herself, “Why couldn’t entrepreneurial philanthropists come together to create networks of entrepreneurial education organizations?” Smith labeled the paper “Creating CMOs — scaling up with quality — with the help of venture-capital-style philanthropic investing.”

The history at the NSVF web-site says,

“NewSchools Venture Fund was created in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers.” (Byers is a colleague of Doerr’s from Kleiner Perkins)

“We were among the first and largest investors in public charter schools and the first to identify and support multisite charter management organizations, which launch and operate integrated networks of public charter schools.”

“NewSchools’ work to support digital learning tools began at our inception in 1998.”

Philanthropy Magazine notes that Reed Hastings helped, “to launch the NewSchools Venture Fund.”

Big Money and Political Connections

LittleSis NSVF Map

LittleSis Map of NSVF Massive Funding By Billionaires

While there is little doubt the Bill Gates and The Walton Family Foundation are the largest individual donors to NSVF, the $226,881,394 in grants documented in the map above are only a fraction of the total billionaire largess. Besides receiving help from Reed Hastings, over the last 20-years, billionaires John Doerr, Laurene Jobs Powell and John Sackler have served on the board, but there is no information about any of their monetary contributions.

Kim Smith was the founding CEO of NSVF. The second CEO was Ted Mitchell the former President of Occidental College and a founding board member of NSVF. Mitchell replaced Kim Smith as CEO in September 2005 and held the position until 2014. From 2008-2010, he was simultaneously President of the California State Board of Education.

Mitchell has also served on the boards of New Leaders, Khan Academy, California Education Partners, Teach Channel, ConnectED, Hameetman Foundation, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Silicon Schools, Children Now, Bellwether Partners, Pivot Learning Partners, EnCorps Teacher Training Program, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Green DOT Public Schools.

On May 8, 2014 EdSource reported, “Former State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell was confirmed Thursday as under secretary of education, the third-highest ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education.”

NSVF’s 2010 990-tax form had a note that claimed, “To date, the Organization has successfully received support from … the U.S. Department of Education.” From 2003-2007, NSVF reported $5,997,900 in grants from governmental sources. In 2008, the line requiring listing governmental grants separately disappeared from the 990-tax form. There is no longer an easily accessible method for gaining that information.

Contribution Graph

Enormous Grant Amounts Reported by NSVF and Selected Billionaires

In the graph above the billionaire giving in green is for yearly totals from the tax reports by the billionaires in the LittleSis Map above. The 2016 spike occurred because some unknown entity contributed $68,000,000 to NSVF through the donor directed foundation Silicon Valley Community Fund.

In 2016, Reed Hastings created a $100,000,000 fund within the Silicon Valley Community Fund. At the same time, Laurene Jobs Powell was serving on the board of NSVF when her XQ Institute was granted $24,750,000 in 2015 and $57,402,973 in 2016. Either one of them could have made the large contribution or maybe it was someone else.

Every year NSVF 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.” These “Summits” are a must attend for the disrupter community and they drive contributions.

To replace Mitchell as CEO when he left for the Department of Education in 2014, NSVF brought in Stacey Childress from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Childress earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2000. Afterwards, she spent a year co-founding an enterprise software sales company and then returned to Harvard where she was a Senior Lecturer and Executive Director. In 2010, Childress became Deputy Director of the Gates Foundation. She has been CEO of NSVF since arriving in 2014.

Both Mitchell and Childress have received NSVF salaries in excess of $500,000. The 2018 NSVF tax-form explanation of their compensation method reads,

“The organization obtained compensation studies from several independent sources to compile information used as a metric for salary increases … A subcommittee of the Board of Directors (BOD) conducts the review of the CEO and develops a recommendation for the full BOD.”

This is similar to the method that has ballooned executive pay in corporate America while line worker wages have stagnated. It is a method that justifies those at the top getting an ever greater share.

Investing in Privatization and Education Technology

NSVF claims they have invested in 117 Ed Tech companies, 187 charter schools and 55 diverse leaders programs.

Among their Ed Tech investments are Class Dojo, EdSurge, LearnZillion, Phet Interactive Simulations and Education Elements. When NSVF makes a major investment in an Ed Tech startup, they require a position on the companies governing board.

One of NSVF’s founding board members, Dave Whorton, is also the founder of Tugboat Ventures. When NSVF invested in Education Elements so did Tugboat Ventures. Dave Whorton was made a member of Education Elements Board of Directors where he efficiently keeps an eye on funds from both Tugboat and NSVF.

When first founded, NSVF invested heavily in Aspire Public Schools because of their plan to create a charter management organization. In 2001, they granted $1,095,000 of their total of $2,468,000 in giving to Aspire.

As their wealth grew the grants to charter schools became very similar to the grants their funders were making. They have funded DC Prep, Phalen Leadership Academy, Rocketship Education, Success Charter Network, Yu Ming Charter School and almost 200 more.

The Yu Ming Charter is essentially a private Mandarin immersion school that has just submitted a material revision to their expansion plan that was rejected in December. It has been alleged the Yu Ming does not want new students above the kindergarten level. A parent comment on the Berkeley Parent Network says, “The teachers seem reluctant to admit kids who aren’t quite up to par in Mandarin as it can be really overwhelming for students to be new and they don’t want to see them struggle and be under water from the get-go.” To which Oakland Educator Jane Nylund responded,

“Real, authentic public education is hard; we deal with struggling students every day as expected, standard educational practice. We don’t find a way to reject them because they are ‘struggling’. This honest assessment by an involved parent is just more evidence of a ‘public school’ in name only, and not in practice.”

NSVF’s diverse-leaders investing is aimed at replacing quality teacher education at universities with for profit organizations that have very limited expertise. It is also aimed at selling the privatization agenda. NSVF invested in Branch Alliance for Education Diversity, edfuel, MindWorks Collaborative, National Charter Collaborative, School Board Partners, TNTP and fifty more organizations.

School Board Partners came out of Education Cities when The City Fund was established. They appear to want influence over school board members by offering training; a function every state already provides. They are a part of selling the privatization agenda.

TNTP was rolled out of TFA by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they are unqualified.

Final Comments

Kim Smith staid on the board at NSVF and in 2011 co-founded Bellwether Education Partners. The next year she founded the Pahara Institute where she is the CEO. Her 2016 pay reported on tax forms signed by her was $419,576. (Update: Smith recently stepped down as the Pahara CEO.)

DoWopDon (Don Shalvey) is now Deputy Director of the College Ready Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

NSVF along with scores of billionaire funded Foundations has been spending staggeringly large amounts of money to privatize public education and monetize it. This spending has been going on for decades now. So, why are about 90% of America’s students still attending public schools? The answer is simple.

The “disrupter” products are bad and Americans are not buying what their selling.

Rick Smith Interview with Thomas Ultican

20 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/20/2020

Rick Smith is a radio talk show host from Pennsylvania. He moderates the Rick Smith Show. On Wednesday (3/18/2020) Rick had me on his two hour show for a 15 minute segment. The central point of our discussion revolved around cyber education which students throughout America are being forced into because of the current pandemic.

 

 

The Vicious Attack on Sweetwater Union High School District

14 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/14/2020

Chula Vista, California

Superintendent Karen Janney and the school board at Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) have a target on their backs. In September 2018, new Chief Financial Officer, Jenny Salkeld, announced there was a $20 million dollar hole in the submitted 2018-2019 school year budget. Salkeld had discovered a long smoldering budget irregularity. Janney immediately reported the budget issue to the County Office of Education and informed the bargaining units with whom she was negotiating about the new uncertainties. Since then, journalists looking for readers and politicians looking for opportunities have robustly slimed the district and its leaders.

A Quadruple Whammy

Besides the mystery of going from a reported $17 million positive budget to an actual $10 million deficit, Janney and the board of trustees had to deal with the states increased pension payment requirements, a hike in special education costs and shrinking enrollment.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the state required school districts to pay 8% of teachers’ salaries to the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS). In the just submitted Second Interim budget report, Salkeld revealed that the rate is now 17.1% and will increase to 18.4% in the 2020-2021 school year. In other words, the retirement costs have more than doubled.

This school year, spending on special education has zoomed to $62.5 million and is projected to reach almost $70 million in two years.

In addition, SUHSD is experiencing shrinking enrollment. Between 2014 and today the average daily attendance in the district has dropped from 38,302 to 36,023. That accounts for another $20 million in lost revenue. The drop is almost entirely fueled by the expanding charter school sector. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15% of 7th grade through 12th grade students in the Sweetwater service area were in charter schools; a total of 6,281 students. (Number of students derived by cross referencing county charter school data with state attendance records.)

With all of the turmoil, the fact that SUHSD has 13 high schools and 11 middle schools in excellent facilities with professional leadership and highly skilled educators is often overlooked. According to the state, 23% of the district’s students are English language learners and 60% are socioeconomically disadvantaged. What might surprise outsiders is that the professional educators in Sweetwater love their jobs, their students and their schools. They take great pride in the quality of education being provided and are not disturbed in the least by the learning challenges associated with these kinds of student demographics.

However the current situation has presented an opportunity for demagoguery. Chula Vista Elementary has for several years gotten around the law limiting them to grades K-6 by starting dependent charter schools. They now have five dependent charter schools educating 2,108 students who would otherwise be in SUHSD schools. A recent article in the San Diego Union reports “Chula Vista district leaders say they want to give parents more options for middle school as soon as this July.” They want to steal more students.

Sweetwater 2018 Budgets Compared

Comparing the June 2018 Budget with the Revised October 2018 Budget

Is it Time to Replace Karen Janney?

In April of 2014, four of the five Sweetwater board members (Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, Pearl Quinones and Arlie Ricasa) plus Superintendent Jesus Gandara pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned. This is when the current SUHSD board of Trustees was originally elected. On June 8, 2015 the board selected Karen Janney to be the new permanent Superintendent of the district.

Janney was born and raised in the district. She began teaching in SUHSD in 1978 and soon became an administrator. When Jesus Gandara was appointed Superintendent in 2006, Janney was serving as Assistant Superintendent of schools. By 2009, she had completed her doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration at San Diego State University (SDSU) and had been forced out of the SUHSD by Superintendent Gandara.

Janney had many friends in the district who were excited by her selection as the new superintendent. I was working at Mar Vista High School at the time and vividly recall how two staff members that were taking her education leadership course at SDSU were absolutely thrilled. I was OK with her selection but had some unfounded reservations that I kept to myself.

I soon became troubled by three different Janney agendas. I was bothered when she found funding to buy tee-shirts for all staff. The shirts had “Sweetwater Union High School District Putting Students First” emblazoned across the front. Though not mandated, there was pressure applied to wear these corporate styled promotional tee-shirts on certain days. It reminded me of the corporate approach to leadership employed by large charter school chains.

IMG_20200312_125802

Corporate Type of Promotion Foisted on SUHSD Teachers

A second and more troubling policy change came a few months into her tenure. Janney announced that Sweetwater was joining the Core Districts. Originally conceived as an organization for leaders in urban school districts to share strategies, CORE gained notoriety when its eight districts led by John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified made a legally questionable side deal with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They agreed to evaluate teachers using testing data for a chance at Race to the Top grants. Today, CORE is offering to conduct school evaluations for California districts using the residual-gain growth model as an alternative to the California Department of Education evaluation method.

Worse – in 2017, Janney scrapped the district’s expensive I-pad program and replaced it with another Ed Tech industry scheme for putting students at glowing screens. She purchased laptop computers for all students and staff. She had succumbed to the allure of education technology and its associated bad pedagogy. Janney also signed the Future Ready pledge making SUHSD a target for education technology salesmen.

Since the budget crisis began, it has become apparent that Janney is incapable of creating a good working relationship with the County Office of Education (COE). It may not be all her fault. She has been careful to legally comply with the COE but has not developed any visible cooperative relationships.

Superintendents are in charge. School boards only approve or disapprove of the agenda set before them by the Superintendent. From the beginning of her administration, board members, union leaders and community members recommended that she replace the financial department’s leadership. Janney refused and turned away calls in 2015 for a forensic audit of the district’s finances. She was not willing to accept the almost $2 million dollar price tag. These two decisions are central to the financial situation the district is in today. Many people were predicting financial issues would eventually be revealed.

When the crisis first manifested in September 2018, trustees and others encouraged Janney to utilize existing expertise within the district to run a messaging campaign making sure the district’s side of the story was being told. Janney chose instead to leave existing communications director, Manny Rubio, as the sole district spokesperson. During the first two months, there was no public response to the crisis by SUHSD. Rubio was content to wait and react to media questioning.

As the hidden $20 million dollar problem and growing structural issues created an urgent need for budget cuts, Janney made another critical error. Under her leadership the district’s central office staff has doubled. This is where cuts should be expected but Janney has rejected most cuts to her staff. To successfully solve the crisis she needs the cooperation of the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA – the teacher union), however, cutting teachers before district staff is undermining collaboration.

Union Chart of Sweetwater Staffing

An SEA Flyer for the March 10 School Board Meeting

FCMAT is a QUANGO and that’s Not Good

The Financial Crisis Management Assist Team (FCMAT) was summoned to Sweetwater to look at the budget. After a three day deep dive into SUHSD finances, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine delivered a report and some damning words. He said that 302 entries that made the district finances look better were not well documented. He concluded, “That my friends and colleagues, is a cover-up.” He also suggested the district was in danger of a state takeover.

FCMAT was created and signed into law in 1991 by Governor Pete Wilson. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools office was selected as the administrative and fiscal agent for FCMAT.  It is a QUANGO which Roland Watson describes as “a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organization.” It is a neo-liberal construct common in the UK. Those of short duration are sometime called task forces; they are set up to look at an issue, report their recommendations and then disband. The purpose of FCMAT was to provide districts experiencing budget issues with professional leadership. However, they have developed a reputation for being more about helping political allies than struggling school districts.

It is eerie how closely the issue in SUHSD echoes the 2003 events in Oakland, California. In 2000, the School Board appointed Dennis Chaconas Superintendent over the objection of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who had pushed a city hall official for the superintendent’s post. In 2003, Education Next Reported, “New software, installed so that the school district could better understand its finances, had uncovered a $40 million deficit from the previous year.”

Chaconas wanted a waiver from the state to allow use of existing construction funds to temporarily pay off the deficit. Instead State Schools’ Superintendent Jack O’Connell and influential Democratic politicians like State Senator Don Perata and Mayor Jerry Brown were instrumental in putting together a deal requiring the district to accept a $100 million loan, even though it was only $37 million in debt. Through apparent complicity with FCMAT, a state takeover of the district came about which gave Broad trained administrator Randolph Ward complete control.

The problem with a QUANGO is they carry out the political agenda of whoever is in power. An article in the Black Agenda Report stated,

“FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law.” (Tom Henry was FCMAT CEO)

FCMAT is still draining money from Oakland. Former Oakland School District Public Information Officer, Ken Epstein writes,

“State appropriation for FCMAT in 2018-19 was about $6.3 million, plus the fees school districts are required to pay for the “aid” provided by FCMAT staff. This past school year, the district paid FCMAT and the county $1.4 million to oversee OUSD.”

“… The district loan payments are $6 million a year until 2026. The $100 million loan was spent unilaterally by the state Receiver Ward with no input from the community.”

In December 2018, FCMAT CEO Michael Fine accused SUHSD of the felonious offense of covering up bad financial information with no evidence. At the same time his team moved in to perform a forensic audit of Sweetwater’s finances. To this date no evidence of criminal malfeasance has been presented and no forensic audit has been conferred.

That has not stopped Will Huntsberry and the Voice of San Diego from running banner headlines like “State Investigators Say There’s Evidence of a Financial ‘Cover-Up’ in Sweetwater” and linking to these allegations repeatedly throughout the last year.

Another Huntsberry headline claims, “Docs, Interviews Show Sweetwater Officials Ignored Budget Warnings.” This article which Huntsberry repeatedly linked in latter reports says one unnamed employee went to Director of Finance Doug Martens and CFO Karen Michel to raise concerns. Huntsberry says both of them told the employee not to worry about it. Martens and Michel resigned from Sweetwater after the June 2018 budget was submitted. If there were legal or ethical problems with financial reports, they are the main suspects. Technically, the report is not false but it is purposefully misleading and sensationalized.

A Final Observation

I lived through the three superintendents’ tenures of Brand twice and Gandara once. They were perverse and unethical. At the same time, many Trustees serving on the board appeared to represent the construction industry more than parents, students or taxpayers. The present board and superintendent might not be perfect, but I do not believe they are corrupt. That is important.

At this point in time, billionaires throughout America are openly hostile toward public education including US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Many politicians who take money from them would be happy to facilitate the state taking over our school districts. It is in the best interest of the entire Sweetwater family to close ranks and solve this crisis before outside forces take advantage.

 

 

Amplifying Profits Selling Harmful Pedagogy

19 Feb

By Thomas Ultican 2/19/2020

Amplify education Inc. has a two decade history of trying to profit by selling education technology. The bottom line is even if their pedagogy was good – which it is not – it would be unhealthy for children. The big dream of replacing teachers with digital screens and making gobs of money has a fatal flaw. The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time. Amplify’s lessons are dangerously unhealthy and deliver low quality teaching.

A History of Profiteers and Disrupters

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. Including performance incentives, Larry Berger pocketed $40 million and agreed to stay on as head of curriculum.

Amplify Political Celeberties

Amplify a Commercial Venture Profiteering off Public Education

The mogul, Rupert Murdoch, proposed buying a million I-Pads for delivering classroom instruction. However, the Apple operating system did not allow the flexibility needed to load the Wireless Generation software. Amplify chose a device manufactured by the Taiwanese company Asus. The android operating system met their needs and the tablets were well regarded in the market place but they were not designed to withstand the demands of school use. One other issue was that Wireless Generation had never developed curriculum but Murdoch wanted to beat Pearson and Houghton Mifflin to the digital education market place.

In July 2012, Amplify publicized its development partnership with AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility declared, “Together, we plan to bring to market a 4G mobile tablet-based experience that we believe will significantly enhance teaching and learning for grades K-12.”

The following March, Amplify announced its new tablet for teachers and students. CEO Joel Klein stated,

“We want to transform the way teachers teach and students learn. Technology has revolutionized the world, but not the classroom. Our hope is that this tablet will help change that.”

That same March of 2013, Amplify also won a $12.5 million dollar contract with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop a digital library of formative assessments. It was the second contract awarded to Amplify by Smarter Balanced. The first one came in 2012 calling for Amplify to partner with ETS developing software to analyze results from common core assessments. Both were part of the $175 million dollar grant by the US Department of Education to the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

The corporate plan was rolling along nicely and then the wheels came off. In Guilford County, North Carolina the school district won a Race to the Top grant of $30 million dollars which it used to experiment with digital learning. The district’s plan called for nearly 17,000 students in 20 middle schools to receive Amplify tablets over the next three years. When a charger for one of the tablets overheated, the plan was halted. Only two months into the experiment, not only had a charger malfunctioned but another 175 chargers had various issues and 1500 screens had broken.

The following year Amplify tried to reestablish itself as a leading player in the digital learning markets. CEO Joel Klein called the new offerings a potential “game-changer” and “unlike anything anyone has ever seen in public education.” The company claimed the Guilford County problems had been fixed.

By August of 2015, News Corporation announced it was exiting the education business. The corporation took a $371 million dollar right 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.

A New Billionaire Savior Appears

It was soon learned that the real buyer of Amplify was Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple. She purchased Amplify through her non-profit the Emerson Collective.

Ed Surge reported, “Emerson Collective has also invested in a slew of edtech startups including AltSchool, FreshGrade, Nearpod and, most recently Udacity’s $105 million round. She is also on the board of NewSchools Venture Fund (an investor in EdSurge.)” In the same month that she bought Amplify, Powell Jobs launched XQ: The Super School Project, a $50 million challenge inviting teams to submit plans to re-invent high schools.

Laurene Powell Jobs has no respect for public school educators and the schools they work in. When Wiki Leaks leaked the Clinton campaign’s emails, Powell Jobs’ recommendations to Hillary Clinton were revealed. She offered four uninformed policy positions in a conversation with Ann O’Leary:

  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; …”

When “we know how to do it” does not include significant input from practicing professional educators, the reasoning is obviously erroneous.

Charter schools have been R&D for fraud, embezzlement and abuse but certainly not for delivering positive innovations. Her slap at teachers unions and work place protections for teachers is consistent with other billionaires and with creating professional educator shortages.

While I was working in public schools, I found the teachers to be every bit as intellectually competent as any of the engineers I met while working in Silicon Valley. Suggesting that Teach For America teachers are even remotely competent to lead a classroom shows gross ignorance of education reality. They are uneducated and untrained.

Technology has a place in education. It is essential for schools to have modern functional lab equipment. Students need access to good word processing programs and video recording equipment to engage in creative endeavors. Some lessons can be supplemented by technology but screens will never replace a live professional educator.

Real education requires life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, writes in his book Soka Education,

“Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.”

Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost learning at a screen is spiritless, amoral and dead.

There has been a refocus on “personalized learning” since the Powell Jobs acquired Amplify. (How can isolation at a screen be called “personalized learning?”) In a puff piece about Amplify, Ainslee Harris claims,

“Amplify booked $59 million in revenue in 2016, its first year of independence, and $74 million in 2017. This year, it’s on track to book $125 million, making it one of the few education startups to break the $100 million mark.”

The Powell Jobs team has taken control of the Amplify board. Russlyn Ali (Managing Director of Education at the Emerson Collective), Brad Powell (Managing Partner of Emerson Collective) and former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have joined Larry Berger on the board. People like Stacy Childress (CEO of New Schools Venture Fund), Linda Roberts (Office of Education Technology, US Department of Education) and James B. Hunt Jr. (Former Governor of North Carolina) have departed.

Bad Pedagogy and Unhealthy Practices

The vast majority of America’s school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.” The OECD runs the international testing known as PISA. They came to their conclusion by analyzing the results from the more than 70 countries whose data they monitor.

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.”

A recent post by Nancy Bailey addressed problems with Amplify’s Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program for teaching reading. Teacher evaluation committees from Rochester, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma condemned the program. Some of the comments:

“It builds on content so kids in primary grades learn about ancient civilizations, and it shows some vertical articulation, but it doesn’t have good scope and sequence when learning skills. It’s not developmentally appropriate to introduce a skill or curriculum or new learning concept and then not refer to it again for a very long time.”

One teacher said that her principal was “very disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of neat stuff in the hall, but CKLA doesn’t allow for much creative-type work. I didn’t want to hang worksheets in the hall.”

“I wouldn’t want my children taught this way. I don’t know the rationale behind adopting it. The curriculum doesn’t light up the eyes of kids. It removes the autonomy from the teacher. I guess if people have come through an alternate route and don’t have a teaching degree, you can teach it without much experience.”

The math and science programs are just as regressive. In Seattle, an anonymous donor paid $100,000 to have Amplify Science piloted in 20 middle schools. An NPR report noted,

“Former school board member Peters said it’s difficult to compare results the first year of a new test: Pass rates dropped across the board in 2018 when it was introduced. But her analysis shows pass rates dropped the most at the Seattle schools using Amplify Science — despite the curriculum’s promise to help students meet the new standards.”

‘“The students that fared the worst were low-income students using Amplify Science,’ Peters wrote in an email to the board.”

Because of political pressure to implement computer learning, Seattle’s school board ignored the pleas of teachers and parents and bought the Amplify Science program. Its biggest selling point was that it is aligned with the Next Generation Science standards which are also an abomination.

Conclusion

The reason schools are buying these terrible education technology frauds is that professional educators are no longer making curricular decisions. All large modern businesses including schools require a significant digital infrastructure. This means that there must be an information technology group headed by an expert. That expert who loves technology and has no pedagogical expertise becomes the leading voice concerning the purchase of digital equipment. That explains in part why school districts in financial difficulty are still purchasing pricey education technology software and hardware. Board members believe they have no choice and that they are implementing professional advice.

Amplify Education, Inc. is another modern snake oil salesman. The only reason they did not disappear in 2003 is that the federal government and investors like Rupert Murdoch have poured billions of dollars into this company. It is past time for the fraudulent STEM ideology, education testing scam and the sale of low quality education technology products to be stopped. Taxpayers are being fleeced, schools are being bankrupted and children are being harmed.

Twitter: @tultican

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

i-Ready Sells 50-Years-Old Education Failure

23 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/23/2019

i-Ready sells digital math and English lessons to school districts. It provides diagnostic testing which recommends interventions for struggling students that it then provides. i-Ready’s pedagogy embraces competency based education (CBE) a theory promoted by the US Department of Education and blended learning theory also financially supported by the federal government. CBE is the latest name for an education theory that failed in both the 1970’s and 1990’s. Blended learning theory is an experiment with almost no research supporting it but lots of research pointing to its health risks. Students dislike i-Ready.

June 2018, I wrote “i-Ready Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching.” It received decent traffic for the first four days, but strangely the traffic never slowed. This year, it is my most accessed article averaging over 700 hits per month.

Curriculum Associates and Bad Education Philosophy

The Massachusetts based company Curriculum Associates (CA) distributes i-Ready and its related testing services. When founded in 1969, it was providing worksheets in support of Mastery Learning curriculum which is similar to today’s CBE. They are the same failed theories delivered by different mediums. CBE and Mastery Learning theory also go by many other names including outcome based education; performance based education; standards based education; high performance learning; transformational education and break-the-mold schools, among others.

Benjamin Bloom and his collaborators developed what almost all teachers in America know as “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” The taxonomy was originally conceived as a method for identifying the learning objectives that test questions addressed. At the time, Bloom was the Director of the Board of Examinations of the University of Chicago and he enlisted measurement experts from across the country to aid in his question classification project. Their final product was published in 1956 under the title, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl).

David R. Krathwohl, Professor of Education Emeritus at Syracuse University, explained that Bloom saw the Taxonomy as more than a measurement tool. He says Bloom believed it could serve as a:

  • “common language about learning goals to facilitate communication across persons, subject matter, and grade levels;
  • “basis for determining for a particular course or curriculum the specific meaning of broad educational goals, such as those found in the currently prevalent national, state, and local standards;
  • “means for determining the congruence of educational objectives, activities, and assessments in unit, course, or curriculum;” (Emphasis added.)

In the late 1960’s Bloom outlined “Learning for Mastery” which was based on both the Taxonomy and the theoretical work of John B. Carroll. Carroll had proposed that if each student was allowed the time needed to learn a subject to some criterion level, then she could attain that level. In other words, almost all students could master academic subjects.

In the 1970’s “Learning for Mastery” became “Mastery Learning” and was evolving. However, critics were questioning its methods and outcomes. Many teachers started referring to it as “seats and sheets.

In 1976, James H. Block and Robert B. Burns, two education professors from the University of California Santa Barbra, published a lengthy defense of Mastery Learning. In their defense, they described the related Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) as an individually based, student-paced approach to mastery instruction wherein students typically learn independently of their classmates. They state:

“The theoretical basis for this strategy lay in B. F. Skinner’s pioneering work in operant conditioning and the application of that work in the programmed instruction movement of the 1960s. Some of the basic features of this movement have been summarized by Hartley (1974, p. 279).

  1. “The learner should be given some clear idea of where he is going, i.e., the terminal behavior.
  2. “The instruction leading to this behavior must be sequenced into small steps.
  3. “The learner should work on each step alone and at his own pace.
  4. “At each step, the learner should be encouraged to actively respond.
  5. “The learner should receive immediate knowledge of results concerning the correctness or appropriateness of these responses.” (Emphasis added.)

Mastery Learning outcomes were not encouraging. A 1982 paper in Learning by George N. Schmidt said, A city-wide elementary school reading program that emphasizes mastery learning … is blamed for the declining reading test scores of high school students there.”

When Chicago finally abandoned Mastery Learning, teacher Kenneth S. Goodman wrote in an Education Week article, “Perhaps what, more than any other factor, brought down the program was that it was imposed on teachers: …” (Emphasis added.)

As Mastery Learning was careening toward the dustbin of failed education ideas, Bill Spady, self-proclaimed father of Outcome-Based Education (OBE), was organizing a group of Mastery Learning advocates to join him in promoting OBE. Spady explained,

In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there—Jim Block, John Champlin—had a strong background in mastery learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name “mastery learning” in the network’s new name because the word “mastery” had already been destroyed through poor implementation.

Peter Greene the author of the blog “Curmudgucation” and Senior Contributor for education at Forbes discussed the demise of OBE in a 2015 Post. He noted, “This was the dawn of TSWBAT (the student will be able to…) which meant that every single objective had to be paired with some observable student behavior.” It is likely that almost all teachers in America have been plagued at one time or another by administrators insisting that a TSWBAT statement be posted for each day’s lesson.

The Clinton administration embraced OBE and its development of education curricular standards. However, the standards associated with OBE were peppered with politically charged non-cognitive objectives like:

“All students understand and appreciate their worth as unique and capable individuals, and exhibit self-esteem.

“All students apply the fundamentals of consumer behavior to managing available resources to provide for personal and family needs.

“All students make environmentally sound decisions in their personal and civic lives.”

OBE was extremely unpopular with practicing educators. However, what really killed it was the reaction from the political right. As Greene noted, “Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, Pat Robertson and most especially Phyllis Schafly were sure that OBE was here to socially engineer your child into some bleeding heart gay-loving liberal twinkie.” Another OBE vulnerability was absolutely no evidence or research indicated it actually worked.

Competency Based Education (CBE) and i-Ready

CBE is OBE on a screen. The objectives have been simplified into discrete sets of small competencies that can be assessed by digital algorithm. These objectives which align with common core state standards are derived from the ideas developed through Mastery Learning and OBE.

In 2008, i-Ready’s CEO, Rob Waldron, took the reins at Curriculum Associates (CA) and steered it into the digital education business. CA became an education technology company.

The timing was good. Jeb Bush soon established a well funded campaign to promoted digital learning (students at screens). Donald Cohen, chairperson of the nonprofit, In the Public Interest release a trove of emails that brought to light the forces financing Bush’s education technology initiative. Cohen said the emails “conclusively reveal that FEE [Foundation for Excellence in Education] staff acted to promote their corporate funders’ priorities, and demonstrate the dangerous role that corporate money plays in shaping our education policy.

Lee Fan reporting for the Nation magazine said these funders included the American Legislative Exchange Council (Koch Industries), K12 Inc., Pearson, Apex Learning (launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft, McGraw-Hill Education, Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael and Susan Dell among others. With this kind of financial and political support, the fact that educating students by putting them at screens was an untested theory was not a hindrance.

Competency Based Education has not performed as theorized. This month, an article in Ed Week shared,

“The evidence base is very weak at this point,” said Pane, who led a Gates-funded study of about 40 personalized-learning schools, finding modest gains and big implementation challenges.”

“Critics such as independent researcher Audrey Watters warn that personalized learning is a pretext for ‘massive data collection’ and surveillance of students.”

Ed Week CBE Graphic

Results of Education Weeks School Principals Technology Survey

Parents, Teachers and Students Dislike i-Ready

This Urban dictionary says, “Iready is commonly used as a form of child torture in the US education system.

This definition aptly expresses the sentiments of many respondents to i-Ready blogs:

  1. Teacher: “I got no information on iReady about my students that I didn’t already know.”
  2. Parent: “I’ve only heard teachers say that iready gave them the same information they already have about students. IOW, it has no value.”
  3. Student: “I hate I-ready, when I do it I get the same lessons every time.”
  4. Student: “i hate doing iready”
  5. Teacher: “Most kids view computer programs as games. So it changes the mind set of many students from what am I learning to how can I beat this game.”
  6. Parent: “It is abusive to a student’s rights!”
  7. Teacher: “My eighth graders deliberately answer the diagnostic test questions incorrectly because they’ve discovered this results in easier (faster) lessons.”
  8. Parent: “My son hates it.”
  9. Student: “i am a kid in 4th grade who is supposed to be doing iready not writing this but i cant and wont because it is too stupid boring and downright horrible!”
  10. Student: “yeah I am not supposed to save this but what are we kids getting out of I ready I know nothing but a f’d up way to learn nothing but sh!t”
  11. Student: “i agree it sucks”
  12. Parent: “I wonder what you’d see for responses if you asked kids if they liked school in general? Using student quotes about a program is a poor metric when most young students would rather be doing something else on a computer (like Fortnite). Wrong metric.”
  13. Student 1 Response: “well here’s a kids response school sucks but i would rather jump off a cliff than do another iready lesson!”
  14. Student 2 Response: “That isn’t true for all students like me I’m an A student but I hate iready (even though I play games a lot)”
  15. Student: “I am a gifted student in an I-ready school who hates I-ready so much that I created a rebel alliance against it.”

A Florida parent named Deb Herbage wrote a scathing account about i-Ready i-Ready?…………More Like i-SCAM and Other Deceptions.In it she excoriates Jeb Bush saying,

“We have i-Ready, IRLA, Canvas, Nearpod, ReadyGen, MobyMax and a host of other ‘experimental’ programs and software that have been deceptively deployed in our schools that our kids are actively testing and helped ‘validate’ and refine. … With all these partnerships and alliances – it can become difficult to track these companies but they all seem to point in the same direction – Jeb Bush, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Common Core, education reform, the US DOE, the NGA, the CCSSO and the state of Florida.”

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind is an elementary math teaching specialist and the author of Math Exchanges: Guiding Young Mathematicians in Small-Group Meetings. She recently published to her blog, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Wedekind observed, “iReady, and assessments of this nature, overwhelming identify poor students and students of color as most in need of intervention.”

Conclusions

Programmed instruction, Mastery Learning, Outcome Based Education and Competency Based Education all were imposed on teachers and mostly imposed by non-educators. Instead of learning from practicing educators, theorists turned to behaviorist philosophy to create their ideologies. In the 21st century, education technology has also been imposed on educators, but not by misguided reformers. It is being sold by some of the largest corporations in the world who are looking for profits. Not all education technology is bad but lifeless lessons delivered on screens are harming both student health and their intellectual growth.

Twitter: @tultican

School Choice is a Bamboozle a Hornswoggle a Flimflam

3 Aug

Two central ideologies behind school-choice are markets always make superior decisions and the cost of having local control of schools is poor outcomes. Both ideas are demonstrably untrue, but big money and power politics keep them alive.

In 2017, a national survey showed a dramatic drop in support for charter schools. A related Chalkbeat article said,

The survey, conducted by the school choice-friendly journal Education Next, found that slightly more Americans support charter schools, 39 percent, than oppose them, at 36 percent. But that marks a drop from 51 percent support just last year — one of the biggest changes in public opinion seen in the long-running survey, according to Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marty West.

An internet search of “charter school growth slowing” brings up articles from around the country concerning the charter slow down. Education Week noted, “Last year, more charter schools closed than opened in the Bay Area for the first time since California passed its charter law in 1992. (California was the second state to allow charters to open.)”

To address this choice crisis, two Billionaires are starting a new national organization. A July 31, 2018 Chalkbeat article by Matt Barnum explains,

“The City Fund, as the group is being called, will push cities to expand charter schools and district schools with charter-like autonomy. It represents a big increase in visibility and influence for advocates of the “portfolio model” of running schools, a strategy that’s been adopted by cities like New Orleans, Denver, and Indianapolis.

“The group was announced Tuesday morning on the blog of Neerav Kingsland, who leads education giving at The Laura and John Arnold Foundation. According to a separate presentation created by the group and viewed by Chalkbeat, the Arnold Foundation and the Hastings Fund have already given the group over $200 million.”

Reed Hastings (Netflix Founder and CEO) is a charter school advocate who served on the board of the California Charter School Association; was the primary advocate of California’s charter school co-location law; and was also a key supporter for lifting charter school limits in California. He is a primary investor in DreamBox Learning, a company creating software to teach kids at computers. He famously stated that elected school boards need to be done away with.

John Arnold made his fortune at Enron and a hedge fund. He retired at 38-years-old. His private non-profit, the Laura and John Arnold foundation supports privatizing schools and ending democratic local control. He gives lavishly to charter schools (example: Gifted the Charter Growth Fund – $13 million).

The portfolio model of school reform calls for viewing schools like assets in a stock portfolio. Based primarily on the results of standardized testing the bottom scoring 5% of schools should be closed and replaced with new charter or innovation schools (charter like district schools). A serious flaw in this plan is the problem of error causes standardized testing to be useless for evaluating schools or teachers. Testing is a terrible ruler.

Former Assistant US Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, reacted to Arnold and Hasting promoting portfolio districts noting,

“Bonafide Reformer Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas has written several posts arguing that the portfolio model is a failure and that it is no different from a school district (although it is privately controlled). Read here. and here. The latter post is advice written to the Arnold Foundation about why it should not invest in the portfolio model. Sad. They didn’t listen.”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). They are district schools which present an operation plan for improving test outcomes and then receive autonomy to carry out the plan. Whether innovation or charter, local control of schools by democratic means is ended.

Disruption is not a good feature in education. The portfolio theory violates the need for stability. Brooke Havlik writing for Nova Education’s “Science and Learning” published “Psychologists Find School Stability a Factor in Achievement Gap.” Brooke stated, “Two new studies published this month suggest that changing schools may have a negative impact on cognitive development and student performance, especially for students experiencing chronic, high-levels of poverty.” (emphasis added)

In cities like Denver and Indianapolis, the portfolio model almost exclusively effects schools in poor and minority communities. In other words, the students most negatively impacted by this theory have their schools closed and the community loses its democratic rights.

A New Paper from In The Public Interest (ITPI) Documents the Flimflam  

This spring, ITPI published “Fraud and Waste in California’s Charter Schools.” The report documents $149,000,000 fraudulently purloined by factions of the California charter-school industry. The total of stealing stated is a summation of cases cited in media reports. The actual amount stolen is much larger.

The ITPI report also reveals how fortunes are created by gaining control of publicly financed assets. The report discloses,

“While charter schools constructed with general obligation bonds cannot be sold or used for anything other than the authorized school, schools constructed with tax-exempt conduit bonds become the private property of the charter operator. Even if the charter is revoked, neither the state nor a local school district can take control of this property. Additionally, schools constructed with private funding subsidized by New Market Tax Credits or acquired with private funds but whose mortgage payments are reimbursed through the Charter Facilities Grant Program (known as “SB740”) are typically owned without restriction.”

The American Federation of Teacher (AFT) released a new white paper, “Report on the Aftermath of the Great Depression: A Decade of Neglect.” It shares,

“Moody’s Investors Service, the bond rating agency, found that not only do charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already are under economic and demographic stress, but that charter schools tend to “pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs.” As a result, charter schools also can add to school district credit risks, increasing the cost of borrowing. A growing body of research documents this impact.”

  • “Los Angeles: Each student leaving for a charter cost the district $3,900 in lost services.
  • “Philadelphia: Two different studies in Philadelphia found the cost of lost services to be between $4,828 and $6,898 per pupil leaving.
  • “North Carolina: A student leaving an urban North Carolina school district costs between $500 and $700 in lost services. The effect is smaller in non-urban districts.”

A Case Study in Destroy Public Education (DPE) (Part 1)

R.B. Buzz Woolley is a wealth philanthropist and venture capitalist from La Jolla, California. A San Diego Reader report from 2011 said of him,

“On the political front, meanwhile, Woolley personally donated $6500 to the California Charter Schools PAC in March and $25,000 to the Alliance of California Charter Schools Independent Expenditure Committee in June. In May, he also kicked in $10,000 for Californians Against Special Interests, a primarily GOP group mounting an initiative for a so-called paycheck-protection measure banning direct deductions of labor union dues.”

Buzz and The Mushroom House

In 2015 Woolley Purchased the Mushroom House for $5 Million

In 2005, Buzz Woolley and longtime columnist Neil Morgan founded Voice of San Diego. It was the first digital nonprofit news organization to serve a local community in the country. Besides his interest in using new technologies for media, Woolley also is enthusiastic about education technology in the classroom. In 2013 Woolley’s Girard Foundation sent over $500,000 to companies developing software for “personalized” education and competency-based education.

In 2004, Buzz Wooley was the President of the then new Charter School Growth Fund. That year, Don Fisher (Gap Inc.) and Wooley each contributed $100,000 to the fund. They were the only contributors. John Walton (Walmart) and Greg Penner (Walmart) joined the board. The next year, Buzz Wooley resigned as President.

Charter Fund Officers 2005

Image is from the Charter School Growth Fund 2005 Tax Form

The other important figure in the Thrive Public Schools case study is Nicole Assisi. Nicole attended Coronado High School and UCLA where she earned a multisubject teaching credential. Her first teaching job was leading English classes at San Diego’s Mira Mesa High School – 2002-2003 school year.

In 2003, she moved on to High Tech High where she was a teacher and project-based learning trainer until 2005 or 2006. Her linked in profile says she worked at High Tech until 2006 but it also says that in 2005 she went to Los Angeles to be an Assistant Principal at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. In 2008, she moved on to be Principle on special assignment at De Vinci Schools (Formerly Wiseburn 21st Century Charter). She left De Vinci schools and returned to San Diego in 2013.

Nicole_CMO

Nicole Assisi from the Thrive Public Schools Web-Site

Along the way, Nicole earned a master’s degree in English and Communication/Media Studies from University of San Diego – 2004 and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Southern California – 2010.

A Case Study in Destroy Public Education (DPE) (Part 2)

The 34-years-old Nicole was provided with $8,960 from the Charter School Growth Fund and $100,000 from the Gates supported Educause to come to San Diego and start a charter school.

In the fall of 2013 she submitted a charter proposal to San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and then withdrew it. Soon after, she did the same thing at the Grossmont School District. Finally, in November, she resubmitted her completed proposal to San Diego Unified.

SDUSD’s charter review committee recommended her proposed Thrive Public Schools be authorized to start September 1, 2015 instead of 2014. They felt she needed more time to get a school organized and populated. In a surprise move the SDUSD Board voted 3-2 to reject the petition.

The next day Buzz Woolley’s Voice of San Diego ran an opinion piece by Nicole. She called herself “a sacrificial lamb” and said the Board “made a mockery of the entire charter-approval process, which I worked diligently to navigate.” She also wrote, “Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week.”

The county also turned down the charter with a 3-2 vote. The county review committee had recommended against approving the charter.

Nicole really had no worries because the pro-school-privatizing State Board of Education (SBE) would come to her rescue. Though the law encourages the SBE to respect the decisions of counties and districts, it seldom does. In the spring, SBE voted 9-0 to authorize Thrive Public Schools.

The money started flowing Nicole’s direction. The known list of 2014 donations:  Woolley’s Girard Foundation $108,000, Gate’s Educause $254,500, Charter School Growth Fund $175,000 and the Broad Foundation $150,000 for a total of $688,000. The next year, Broad gave another $50,000 and the New Schools Venture Fund sent $100,000. There is another $144,000 promised from Educause.

Nicole has opened two more schools and a fourth set to open in September. Choice promoting publication, The 74, describes a co-located Thrive elementary school,

“The Juanita Hills campus is co-located with Carver Elementary, a pre-K-5 school that enrolls much higher proportions of disadvantaged students and English learners than Thrive. The two facilities share the same lot, but a long blue line has been painted down the center to separate them. A Thrive parent complained that though Carver had its own library on-site, Thrive kids couldn’t use it.”

Tom Vander Ark is a well-known promoter of education technology and public-school privatization. He described the Thrive education program,

“Curriculum such as Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop and CGI Math provide collaborative opportunities for small groups to work directly with the teacher, while other students work on Chromebooks or iPads.

“The middle school team uses Google Classroom to make and manage assignments. Math software includes ST Math and Zearn.

Kids at computers running software programs is lifeless, boring and de-personalized. It is bad education.

Thrive has actively developed the support of many neo-liberal and conservative politicians. Among their listed supporters are: State Senator Ben Hueso (D); Dede Alpert (D), Former Assembly Woman and State Senator; Kerry Flanagan, Chief of Staff, California Charter Schools Association; Tom Torlakson (D), Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California; Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Charter Schools Association; Mark Wyland (R), State Senator. These people are enemies of public education supporting the same benighted policies as Betsy DeVos.

The three existing Thrive schools opened in the administrative area of SDUSD known as the Crawford Cluster. Like most cities, it is in San Diego’s poor and minority communities where the privatization efforts are focused. One of the reasons SDUSD’s Board rejected the Thrive petition was to protect the existing schools. There were already four charter schools within the cluster boundaries.

Crawford Cluster Map

Crawford Cluster Map from SDUSD

In 2017, Thrive announced its big advance which stands to make founder and CEO Assisi a wealthy woman. The report in the San Diego Union says,

“The 35,000-square-foot facility will be the fourth San Diego campus for Thrive Schools and will open in about 12 months at the former site of Bayside Community Center at 6882 Linda Vista Road.”

“The project’s cost became more affordable for Thrive through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which gives tax credits to for-profit businesses that are helping revitalize low-income communities.”

“Civic San Diego was eligible for the program and was allowed to sell the tax credits to whoever was making the investment. In this case, the credits were sold to the bank lending money to Thrive to buy the site.”

Although paid for with tax money, the deed will belong to Thrive Public Schools and CEO Nicole Assisi.

Some Ending Observations

Thrive Public Schools is a net negative for San Diego. SDUSD is far more professional, stable and capable. Thrive undermines SDUSD budgets and divides people like the students at Carver Elementary. The charter school experiment has failed. It was a bad idea and needs to end.

Put these schools under the supervision of elected school boards and quit stealing tax payer money. School choice truly is a Bamboozle; a Hornswoggle.

 

iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching

27 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/27/2018

iReady is an economically successful software product used in public schools, by homeschoolers and in private schools. It utilizes the blended learning practices endorsed by the recently updated federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). iReady employs competency-based education (CBE) theory which is also advocated by ESSA. The outcome is iReady drains money from classrooms, applies federally supported failed learning theories and undermines good teaching. Children hate it.

Public education in America contends with four dissimilar but not separate attacks. The school choice movement is motivated by people who want government supported religious schools, others who want segregated schools and still others who want to profit from school management and the related real estate deals. The forth big threat is from the technology industry which uses their wealth and lobbying power to not only force their products into the classroom, but to mandate “best practices” for teaching. These four streams of attack are synergistic.

Profiting from Education Law

A group of billionaires with varying motives are using their vast wealth to shape America’s education agenda to their own liking. The last rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 called ESSA was larded up with provisions like the big money for technology which is listed in Title’s I and IV. It also specifies generous grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” (See page 1969 of the official law.) Charter schools, vouchers and social impact bonds are promoted in ESSA. All these initiatives drain money from the classroom and none have been credibly shown to improve education outcomes.

Billionaires Fixing Education

Some of the Unelected and Untrained Billionaires Driving America’s Education Policy

iReady is marketed by Curriculum Associates (CA) of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. In 2008, their octogenarian CEO, Frank Ferguson decided it was time to hang up his spurs. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners was Ferguson’s unlikely choice to take the reins. Unlikely, because he came to CA from the equities industry famous for selling company assets while sticking the debt with the original company. (The results are profits for the equities firm and bankruptcy for the managed company. An obviously criminal enterprise made legal through lobbying.)

Previous to working at Berkshire Partners, Waldron had a history of developing companies that profited off education law. From his biography at LinkedIn:

  • Northwestern: 1983-1987 BA American Studies
  • Harvard Business School: 1990-1992 MBA
  • Kaplan VP: 1992-1996
  • Score! Education Centers CEO: 1996-2001
  • Jumpstart CEO: 2002-2006
  • Berkshire Partners Operating Executive: 2006-2008
  • Curriculum Associates CEO: 2008 – Present

In 1946 at Brookline, NY, Stanley H. Kaplan started a test preparation business for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) takers. By 1984, when he sold the business to the Washington Post, Kaplan had more the 100 SAT prep centers nationwide. When Waldron became Vice President of Kaplan, Stanley H. Kaplan still worked there. This was Waldron’s introduction to the testing industry.

In 1992 Score! tutoring centers started in Palo Alto, California. Four years latter, Kaplan bought Score! and Waldron moved over to become the CEO. Glen Tripp worked at Score!, the company his brother co-founded. He says of its demise:

“Over the next few years, we gained more resources and responsibilities than we ever could have dreamed of. We grew from 14 centers to 130 centers. But we lost our culture along the way. We brought in talent faster than we were able to absorb it. We invested less in our culture-building traditions. Our program got stale, and our performance faltered. Eventually, SCORE! was shut down. We had built something amazing and then watched it crumble.”

Kaplan and Score! profited off a provision in George Bush’s and Edward Kennedy’s 2001 rewrite of the Education Law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The United States Department of Education published this notice:

“This federal law allows parents to choose other public schools or take advantage of free tutoring if their child attends a school that needs improvement. … The law also supports the growth of more independent charter schools, funds some services for children in private schools, and provides certain protections for homeschooling parents.” (emphasis added)

I worked at a school in a poor and minority community and our school was designated as “needs improvement” by the federal government based on standardized testing. The school was forced to offer free tutoring services at places like Score! and write a letter to all parents indicating we were a “failing school.” I do not remember any positive results coming from the tutoring, but my workload increased. I had to provide the tutoring service regular updates about what my classes were doing.

Kaplan and Score! were shuttered in 2009.

Jumpstart was founded in 1994 as a non-profit aimed at providing children in poor often minority communities with pre-kindergarten programs. Waldron left the Washington Post family of companies to become CEO of Jumpstart in 2002. It is from Jumpstart, America got the infamous concept, “kindergarten readiness.” This relatively small “non-profit” still has more than eight people “earning” over $125,000 annually.

Waldron timed his 2008 move to Curriculum Associates (CA) well. Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. That same year, as reported in Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed with Gene Wilhoit, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and David Coleman founder of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) to provide millions of dollars for the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (Schneider 140).

Two years ago (2016), a self-described soccer-mom from Florida, Deb Herbage, wrote a well-documented article about the CA flagship product iReady. She gave it the title “i-Ready?…………More Like i-SCAM and Other Deceptions.” Herbage wrote:

i-Ready Diagnostic exploded onto the scene like … other “competency based education” (CBE) curriculums since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  It is now believed by many that the implementation of the CCSS and the focus on the standardized tests that went along with the CCSS was yet another extremely, well-crafted and timed implementation to distract parents, teachers, students and some school officials while district and state officials put in place the many ed-tech companies, corporations, investors, foundations, and non-profit companies … who all quickly and methodically jumped on the CCSS bandwagon …. While we were distracted with the CCSS and end of year standardized testing – in school districts all across the state of Florida and across the country, i-Ready Diagnostic, owned by Curriculum Associates, implemented and deployed their much touted “progress monitoring” curriculum – i-Ready Diagnostic.”

iReady Utilizes Discredited Education Theory

A report from the University of Utah Reading Clinic describes iReady as “a technology-based diagnostic (i-Ready Diagnostic) and instruction program for reading.” It continues,

“The Diagnostic Assessment is adaptive in that it adjusts the difficulty level of the questions presented depending on student response to previous questions. Upon completion of the assessment, the program links the student to lessons to complete online.” 

“i-Ready is a blended learning program. … with downloadable, teacher-led lessons that correlate with the online lessons.”

iReady mathematics uses the same approach as the reading program. The lessons are CCSS aligned and delivered with competency-based-education (CBE) principles.

The United States Department of Education promotes CBE claiming:

“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.”

CBE is the updated name for outcome-based education which was the 1990’s name for Benjamin Bloom’s mastery learning. Dr. Bill Spady, sociologist and director of the International Center on Outcome-Based Restructuring, defined the connection between OBE and Mastery Learning in an article entitled “On Outcome Based Education: A Conversation with Bill Spady” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 1992-Jan. 1993):

“In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there — Jim Block, John Champlin — had a strong background in Mastery Learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name ‘mastery learning’ in the network’s new name because the word ‘mastery’ had already been destroyed through poor implementation.”

A 2015 Journal article by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway is called “A Brief Critique of Mastery/Competency Learning.” In it they make this important point:

“Our objection to mastery/competency/personalized learning is about how a learner comes to develop that mastery/competency. Reading a website, listening to a podcast that may or may not be complemented with a PowerPoint presentation and viewing a video-recorded lecture are various direct instruction strategies. And, it is well known that children can be drilled, drilled, drilled to successfully pass standardized tests: ‘… [there is] conclusive evidence that an appropriately instituted mastery approach to instruction yields improvement in student achievement…’ But there is no evidence that the type of ‘knowledge’ gained through direct instruction enables students to solve ‘uncharted problems,’ the sorts of problems that arise in living in our globally connected world. Just the opposite. “Knowledge” gained through direct instruction is memorized, so that information remains inert and unconnected to all the other knowledge in a learner’s head. And as Dewey points out, the core of learning is the ‘…intentional noting of connections…”’

The CBE theory of education has a long history of failure dating back to the 1920’s, however, it is one of the few methods available that can be easily delivered economically by digital means.

Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and demonstrate competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning” 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 lifeless digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers.

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 the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

The educator known for his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, a teacher from Virginia, recently published her article, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Teachers like Kassia exist in almost every school and district. It is professional educators like her that children need and not corporate software packages. Wedekind shares,

“When I started working for Fairfax County Public Schools twelve years ago I knew very little about math or how children learn math. But I was lucky to end up in a district that invests in teachers. I had amazing math coaches (who inspired me to become a math coach!) and support from the Title I office, I took courses in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) and Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI), learned how to use the Investigations curriculum well, and wrote a book about nurturing young mathematicians through small group instruction. I say this to point out that tremendous resources were poured into me (and many others!) as a classroom teacher and a coach to help me learn to listen to students and teach and assess responsively.

“The best ‘screener’ is a knowledgeable teacher and our first question of any potential assessment should be, ‘Does it provide a window into student thinking or is student thinking hidden behind scale scores and graphs?”’

Children Hate iReady

Top three iReady definitions from the Urban Dictionary:

  • A stupid online computer program that supposedly brings your grades up but, instead, brings your grades down when you forget to do them. But worst of all, it’s built for common core.
  • A website for students that teachers think will help their grade, but in reality it makes them want to kill themselves.
  • A website that causes suicidal thoughts, depression, ptsd, anxiety, and adhd.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports on 7-year-old Saige Price’s having gone at the New Jersey Board of Education.  Saige is in second grade at Briarwood Elementary School in the Florham Park School District, New Jersey.  Sage’s final comment was,

“When I got a low score [on the iReady] I would have to go back to the computer lab until I got a higher score.  I hated it.  It should be against the law.”

Deb Herbage shared several parent responses in her article:

“My son hates it because if he gets a question wrong, it throws him back a couple of levels ….. it “reads” to the kids, therefore taking away any reading practice they may get ….. and it is a huge data mining program. The license with the county states that although the data belongs to the county, Curriculum Associates have a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free license to use that data!”

“It’s a new program so there is little to no data collected yet on reliability. Our kids are guinea pigs.”

“All I know is that my daughter, in the 4th grade, read on a 4th grade level in 2nd grade never got past the 3rd grade work on IReady.  Everytime she made one mistake it threw her back to kindergarten. All it did was make her hate reading, hate the computer worse than she did and slowly destroyed all of the hard work we’d done building her confidence.”

iReady is Popular in Schools Led by Privatizer Friendly Administrators

On December 14, 2015, the Atlanta school board authorized superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen (who I have chronicled) to execute a $350,000 contract to purchase iReady Diagnostic.

In 2016, a local Baltimore blog tracking the implementation of STAT an ed-tech initiative advanced by the criminally indicted superintendent, Dallas Dance, carried a guest blog called “Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA.” It began,

“Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country.  BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT.”

If your school system is using iReady, someone in leadership is drinking the Kool-Aid or is corrupt. These programs are an absolute waste of education dollars and they harm students.

California State Board of Education is a Corporate Reform Tool

1 Dec

For three decades, California’s State Board of Education (SBE) has embraced a neoliberal agenda. It has promoted school privatization; embraced standards based education; and advocated for the STEM fraud.

The eleven current members of the SBE were all appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.

State school Board

Photos Gathered from the SBE Web Page

The board is representative of most of California with members from the central coast, the inland empire, the San Joaquin valley, the bay area, LA county, Orange county and San Diego county.

SBE is organized like K-12 boards throughout the state including a high school student member who is appointed by the Governor. The big difference is the members are appointed not elected.

The student member is appointed for a one-year term and the ten voting board members are appointed to a four-year term. On the surface, this board looks like a highly qualified group of professional educators with stellar credentials.

Neoliberalism Guides

Jenifer Berkshire published an article titled “How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party.” In this brilliant piece, Berkshire clearly elucidates the term neoliberal. She writes:

“By the early 1980s, there was already a word for turning public institutions upside down: neoliberalism. Before it degenerated into a flabby insult, neoliberal referred to a self-identified brand of Democrat, ready to break with the tired dogmas of the past. ‘The solutions of the thirties will not solve the problems of the eighties,’ wrote Randall Rothenberg in his breathless 1984 paean to this new breed, whom he called simply ‘The Neoliberals.’ His list of luminaries included the likes of Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Gary Hart and Al Gore (for the record, Gore eschewed the neoliberal label in favor of something he liked to call ‘neopopulism’). In Rothenberg’s telling, the ascendancy of the neoliberals represented an economic repositioning of the Democratic Party that had begun during the economic crises of the 1970s. The era of big, affirmative government demanding action—desegregate those schools, clean up those polluted rivers, enforce those civil rights and labor laws—was over. It was time for fresh neo-ideas.” (emphasis added)

Board President Michael Kirst’s CV resume references his Ph.D. awarded at Harvard University in 1964 for Political Economy and Government. Soon after Harvard he joined the Johnson administration working as a budget analyst in the Office of Education. He became a Whitehouse Fellow and then director of the Bureau of Elementary and Secondary Education. When Richard Nixon was elected President, Kirst became a senate staffer for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty.

In 1969, Kirst left Washington for Stanford University. Governor Jerry Brown appointed Kirst to the SBE in 1975. Brown would subsequently appoint Kirst to a four-year term three more times.

The 1970’s revealed Kirst to be a highly educated and experienced liberal; working to advance the Democratic party and education.

When Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor ended, Kirst returned to Stanford.

Kirst rejoined Brown, who became the new Mayor of Oakland in 1999. Kirst was a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Education. In Oakland, this once champion of public education and labor rights helped Brown make Oakland’s schools the most privatized in California.

Around the same time, Kirst became a board member of EdVoice. When EdVoice sued the Los Angeles Unified School District for not using standardized testing results to evaluate teachers, education historian, Diane Ravitch explained who EdVoice is:

“EdVoice was founded in 2001 by Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix, Microsoft board member, Green Dot founding funder) and John Doerr (venture capitalist, investment banker), along with and former CA state Assembly members Ted Lempert and Steve Poizner. Eli Broad and Don Fisher (deceased CEO of The Gap and major KIPP supporter) once served on EdVoice’s board.”

“Back in 1998, Hastings also co-founded Californians for Public School Excellence with Don Shalvey. This is the organization that pushed for the Charter Schools Act of 1998, the law that lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.”

EdVoice gives unstinting media support to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and standardized testing.

SBE is Responsible for Academic Standards

The SBE adopted standards developed through the aegis of Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft and Louis Gerstner, former CEO of both IBM and RJR Nabisco. This is “corporate education reform.” It is reform led by amateurs instead of education professionals.

California is one of the few states that has continued with the common cores state standards (CCSS) which were written in secret by mostly testing corporation employees.

Media from the right, left and center are routinely running headlines calling Bill Gates’ CCSS a disaster: Stick A Fork In Common Core—It’s Done – The Federalist; Analysis: Top 5 Reasons Common Core Has Been a Disaster – The Christian Post; Another Common Core disaster: Corporate-education reformer John King is exactly the wrong man to be secretary of education – Salon; PARCC Gets Parked: What Testing Companies Don’t Want Parents to Know – Huffington Post.

While most states have abandoned the CCSS, SBE is enforcing them.

Louis Gerstner’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are even worse. He personally oversaw the NGSS development. They are so bad that even SBE recognized something had to be done, so they had the standards rewritten into a more usable form. However, they are still a science education plague.

The newest board member, Trish Boyd Williams, exemplifies the nexus between corporate education reform and the SBE. She served for 19-years as the Executive Director of Edsource which describes itself,

“Since its founding in 1977, EdSource has broadened its focus to include a broad range of education reforms, including early education and preschools, charter schools, school accountability, STEM education, teacher evaluation and obstacles students face in the math pipeline from pre-kindergarten to college. In 2012, it launched its journalism and communications arms, EdSource Today, which now comprises the largest education reporting staff of any newsroom in the state.”

The secret of Edsource’s success is keeping happy its big pocketed contributors including The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; The California Endowment; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; The Stuart Foundation and several more.

Of course, this required a careful editorial policy. For example, the stated purpose of 2016’s $1.3 million dollar contribution to Edsource from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation listed this purpose: “to deepen knowledge and awareness of state and federal reforms, including the Common Core standards and the Every Student Succeeds Act, through regular reporting on successful strategies as well as challenges that need to be overcome.”

It is not likely that Edsource will have a bad thing to say about CCSS.

Williams also served from 1993 to 2011 as the design architect, first author, and project lead with a team that included faculty from Stanford and researchers from the American Institutes for Research and WestEd doing large-scale survey studies, including the “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades” study released in February 2010.

Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades says on the author’s page, “EdSource thanks Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, for his generous support of this study.”

The central question asked was, “Why do some middle grades schools clearly outperform others on standards-based tests even though they serve a similar student population?”

The first problem with this study is that standardized testing has no ability to identify good pedagogy or learning. It has been a corporate reform delusion since “Nation at Risk” was published that standardized testing could accurately assess schools and teachers. It’s a scheme that began failing in China 1,500 years ago.

Of course, the answer discovered was that fidelity to the standards was the key. In other words, this paper found that higher test scores are possible. Teachers and schools just need to teach to the test.

Standards based education is bad education. It is founded on a delusion.

SBE Responsible for Charter Schools

Here we have the fox guarding the hen house. The SBE responsibility:

“All-charter district petitions are submitted directly to the SBE and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, who have joint approval authority. In addition, the SBE has the authority to approve statewide benefit charter schools that operate at multiple locations throughout the state. As a charter authorizer, the SBE has monitoring and accountability responsibilities for the schools and all-charter districts it approves. The SBE also considers appeals of decisions made by local educational agencies to revoke a charter school’s operating petition.”

Districts and counties have turned down charter schools for various reasons only to have the SBE routinely authorize them. Some board members are charter school enthusiasts.

Board member Ting Lan Sun is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Sacramento-based Natomas Charter School.

Ting was Vice President of Leadership and Quality for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) from 2003-2006 where she developed and implemented the Association’s quality assurance strategy and initiatives. The CCSA tax form 990 from 2010 shows Ting receiving $158,000 in compensation.

Board member Bruce Holaday served in multiple positions at the Culver Academies from 1976 to 2004. He was formerly the Director of Newpoint Tampa High School from 2009 to 2010 (a charter school that went out of business in 2013) and Director of the Oakland Military Institute from 2004 to 2009. Mr. Holaday never attended a public school nor worked in one.

Oakland Military Institute is where he met then Mayor Brown. The OMI web-site relates its history:

“OMI was founded in 2001 after a hard-fought two-year campaign led by then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Governor Gray Davis helped secure the charter after local school boards rejected it. It was the first charter ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.”

Cyber charters managed by K-12 Inc. and mall schools are ubiquitous in California and have a history of terrible outcomes. This November, the NPE released a major report on charter schools in which the history of malfeasance and bad public policy are documented. NPE Executive director, Carol Burris, spent a year researching and writing the report. She apprises,

“A bill that would have banned for-profit charters in California was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015. An additional bill, which would have prevented financially troubled districts from authorizing charters in other districts, was vetoed by Governor Brown in 2016. The president of the California State Board of Education, Michael Kirst, worked as a K12 consultant, prior to his appointment by Governor Brown.”

Is anyone on California’s State Board of Education trying to protect the 90% of students in public schools, or is it a neoliberal free for all decimating a legacy?

SBE Responsible for Curriculum

In the 1990’s, a great hue and cry arose from the titans of Silicon Valley claiming, “The US has a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math professionals (STEM).” They called for the H1B visa program to be greatly expanded.

These fraudulent STEM claims were trumpeted so widely they became common knowledge.

By 2004, The Rand Corporation and others were publishing studies poking holes in the claims but few heard. Rand observed:

“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.”

Professionals should be aware that STEM claims are not based on evidence. Perhaps at SBE they are and have other agendas.

Board President Kirst became a board member of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation in 2008. The foundation’s spending is almost exclusively for STEM education. The charity navigator website details that spending:

The Elevate Program                           $1,219,440   31.8% (math education program)

49ers STEM Leadership Institute       $850,500    22.2%

STEM Initiative                                      $739,574    19.3%

Board member Williams says she “has focused her service on the SBE priorities of charter school policy and appeals, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and Computer Science.” (Computer science is a subset of STEM fraud.)

Board member Ortiz-Licon says she is focusing on, among other things, college and career-readiness and STEM initiatives.

The result is that school curriculums have been deformed based by a lie. There is even a push to make computer science a requirement for high school graduation.

Next year, California selects a new governor. Democrats, please avoid neoliberals like Villaraigosa.

Hi-Tech Profit Motive and Power Trumps Good Pedagogy

9 Nov

“The Silicon Valley assault must be turned away, not because they’re bad people but because they are peddling snake oil,” says veteran education writer, John Merrow. He is referencing education technology sales. In the last 10 years, titans of the tech industry have dominated K-street. Hi-tech is now the big dog spending twice as much as the banking industry on lobbying lawmakers.

They funds think tanks to promote their agendas like coding in every public school in America or one to one initiatives (a digital device for every student) or digital learning. Researchers working in think tanks like the New America Foundation will be disciplined if they upset a corporate leader like Google’s Eric Schmidt; ask Barry Lynn.

Writing for the Guardian, Ben Tarnoff reports, “Tech’s push to teach coding isn’t about kids’ success – it’s about cutting wages.” The premise is that coding is “a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.”

The flaw here is that there is no need for a flood of new programmers. It will only drive down wages, which have already stagnated, and that is the point. A 2013 Economic Policy Institute research paper stated:

“For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.”

“In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations.”

School leaders are the primary targets of the ed-tech sales pitch. They are flown to conferences at pricy resorts where vendors pay thousands of dollars to meet with them. Writing for the New York Times, Singer and Ivory report about Hewlett Packard’s big score in Baltimore via the office of Superintendent Dallas Dance. They observed:

“In some significant ways, the industry’s efforts to push laptops and apps in schools resemble influence techniques pioneered by drug makers. The pharmaceutical industry has long cultivated physicians as experts and financed organizations, like patient advocacy groups, to promote its products.”

MVH Staff Oct 2016

Some Ed-tech Sales Targets

Personalized Learning and Summit Schools

 Diane Tavenner is the Board Chair of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Her bio at CCSA informs us:

“In 2003, Diane founded Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City. Today, Summit Prep is ranked by Newsweek as one of 10 miracle high schools in the nation that is transforming student lives. 100% of Summit’s graduates exceed the entrance requirements for the UC/CSU system and 97% of the graduates have been accepted to at least one four year college.”

Kristina Rizga’s lengthy article in November’s Mother Jones magazine is called “Inside Silicon Valley’s Big-Money Push to Remake American Education – Personalized learning is the latest trend to catch the eye of tech moguls—and Betsy DeVos. But does it work?” Her article, focuses on Tavenner’s schools. With 97% of graduates accepted to a four-year college, Rizga reports a fly in the ointment:

“But even as students thrived and Tavenner began opening more Summit schools around the Bay Area, administrators started learning that high school success wasn’t translating once Summit students headed off to college. In 2011, when Tavenner and her team surveyed students from their first class, the responses depressed them: Only a little more than half were on track to graduate.”

In addition, they learned that more than one-third of their students in colleges required remedial classes which indicated a high risk of not graduating. The reality was that students over at Mountain View High School, where Tavenner once taught, were being better prepared for college. The “miracle” schools were not that miraculous.

Originally, Summit schools focused on personalized learning like that championed by the popular bay area private schools, Montessori and Waldorf. Each student would have a personalized learning plan instead of the typical structure of lectures and textbooks, identical worksheets and being sorted by age. With the depressing 2011 data in mind, Tavenner added a new wrinkle, marring personalized learning with technology. Summit gained enhanced attention from education leaders, policy makers, and enthusiastic tech billionaires.

In 2013 Mark Zuckerberg offered to help. The new core of Summit’s personalized approach is the Summit Learning Platform, designed in partnership with Facebook. The software provides students with a daily overview of their responsibilities and progress, which are marked against their yearly personalized academic goals.

Since 2014, 330 schools in 40 states have signed up to adopt the Summit model. They are betting on an untested hypothesis that tech can save costs, increase engagement and allow teachers more time to provide individualized instruction.

Huge sums of money are flowing into this endeavor. Rizga writes:

“In a recent speech, Zuckerberg said he plans to “upgrade” the majority of about 25,000 public middle and high schools over the next decade. He and Chan have also pledged to donate “hundreds of millions of dollars per year” to bring personalized learning to other schools through the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, …. They aren’t alone: Bill Gates’ foundation has committed $300 million to the movement since 2009, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings has invested at least $11 million into personalized math software.”

Julian Cortella worked at Summit from near its beginning. He left in part due to concerns about the new tech infused Summit. The low-tech Summit campus, where he taught, was outscoring the tech infused ones. Rizga paraphrased him, “A former mechanical engineer who spent significant time working in Silicon Valley startups, Cortella is not against technology in the classrooms. Instead, he says his 13 years of hands-on classroom experience tell him that the tech enthusiasts rely too much on untested assumptions.”

Larry Cuban taught Tavenner at Stanford. She credits Cuban and Linda Darling-Hammond with being particularly inspirational. Rizga shares his observation:

“Cuban told me one of Summit’s key strengths is its skilled, well-trained teachers—teachers get eight weeks of paid time to improve their craft during the school year, in addition to one paid month during the summer—who use technology to achieve specific goals and their professional judgment to make decisions on how and why certain learning will take place.”

Not only are Summit’s achievements over-blown, but it is not a model easily replicated. What public school can offer teachers competitive wages and this much professional development? Public schools don’t get money from Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Silicon Valley Foundation.

Experimenting on Other People’s Children

Many of the education initiatives coming from Silicon Valley are also reckless experiments. A recent experiment was called Altschools. A 2015 news release from Altschools said:

“May 4, 2015 – AltSchool kicks off Teacher Appreciation Week with $100 million in funding to further its vision to reinvent U.S. education from the ground up. Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz led the round with Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s donor-advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Additional investment came from Emerson Collective, First Round Capital, Learn Capital, John Doerr, Harrison Metal, Jonathan Sackler, Omidyar Network and Adrian Aoun.”

“In 2013, founder Max Ventilla and his team … began AltSchool by asking, how would school look if we designed it from scratch today?”

“In 2013, there were 20 students in one school. This year, there will be up to 500 students in eight schools. And soon, AltSchool will start offering its model to schools nationwide, so that each child can access a high-quality education that will help them reach their full potential.”

On Novermber 1st, Bloomberg reported:

“Max Ventilla sold investors on a promise to build modern, technology-infused schools that would revolutionize education. The former Google executive convinced Mark Zuckerberg and prominent venture capitalists to commit $175 million to his startup, AltSchool. The company built at least nine grade schools in California and New York, some equipped with ceiling-mounted video cameras, an abundance of computers, custom apps, robots and 3D printers.

“But five years after opening, the for-profit venture has yet to solve a basic business equation. Despite charging about $30,000 for tuition, AltSchool’s losses are piling up as it spends at a pace of about $40 million per year. The San Francisco company is now scaling back …. In an interview, Ventilla said it’s all part of the plan. The startup is shifting its focus to selling technology to other schools, a business which has struggled to date but that he said has a more promising future.”

So that means, those rich kids in Palo Alto are looking for a new school. They will be fine, but the bad news is now we have another software company peddling their unproven wares. Watch out Reed Hastings, DreamBox has a new competitor!

No Independent Rigorous Research Supports Recent Technology Spending by Schools

An Edweek article  by Benjamin Herold opens with a quote from veteran teacher, Tiffany Dunn of Kentucky. ‘”This whole thing is coming from the tech industry, which doesn’t understand that what kids need is someone to love them and get excited about them,’ Dunn said. ‘I’m not aware of any research that says sticking a child in front of a computer for hours on end does them any good.”’

The massive purchase of technology here in San Diego is not an aberration. Herold reveals, “Schools are buying in: 97 percent of district leaders surveyed by the Education Week Research Center last year indicated that their districts had invested in some form of personalized learning.”

In the article, Herold also reported that Alfie Kohn called personalized learning, “behaviorism on a screen.” Also, Michael Petrilli said it encourages a “reductionist type of education” that “breaks learning into little bits and scraps and bytes of disparate skills, disconnected from an inspiring, coherent whole.”

Herold shared some quotes from ed-tech experts. Audrey Watters has written, “When Facebook promises personalization, it’s really about massive data collection.” And from Stirling University in the United Kingdom, Lecturer Ben Williamson says, “We need to open up a bigger debate about whether we really want Silicon Valley establishing this new model of data-driven schooling. These are people whose vision for reforming public education puts their own industry in charge.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contracted with the Rand Corporation to make a study of digital learning, the results seem legitimate but not that supportive. The best the lead researcher, John Pane, could say to the Hechinger Report was, “What I hope happens is people see this is a promising approach, but it requires a lot of things to fall into place for it to work right.”

Susan Payne Carter, assistant professor of economics at the United States Military Academy, Major Kyle Greenberg, research analyst at the Army’s Human Resources Command and Michael S. Walker, research analyst at the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation within the Office of the Secretary of Defense wrote about a West Point study of laptops in the classroom. The study at West Point results:

“Overall, students in our sample did relatively well on the final exam, but those who were prohibited from using Internet-connected devices during class did best. … Students in classrooms where only tablets were allowed under strict conditions did slightly better, with an average score of 71.4 percent, but they still had lower scores than students in the technology-free group.”

Carter et al also share the from the literature:

“In K–12 schools, where students do not typically take lecture notes, a growing body of research has found no positive impact of expanded computer or Internet access. For example, a 2002 study by Joshua Angrist and Victor Lavy found that installing computers throughout elementary and middle schools in Israel had no effect on student achievement, even though their teachers used more computer-aided instruction. Another study, published in 2006 by Austan Goolsbee and Jonathan Guryan, found that the federal E-Rate program expanded California students’ Internet access by 66 percent over four years but did not have an impact on student achievement (see “World Wide Wonder?” research, Winter 2006). Other studies have found no link between enhanced student outcomes and expanded information-technology spending, universal-laptop programs, and providing students with home computers.”

Conclusion

Large amounts of money are being wasted. Massive spending on ed-tech is not supported by research and in fact may be doing great harm. Will some ed-tech products come to be viewed in the same way people now view the miracle drug thalidomide? The “Digital Promise” is a digital Trojan horse fleecing tax payers and stealing from children.