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OUSD, the Digital Divide and Edtech – Be careful what you wish for

24 Jul

By  Steven Miller, July 22, 2021 (Guest Post by former Oakland Educator)

In 2018, Thomas Ultican wrote about the dangers of Edtech:

“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 fourth 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.”

Edtech is now far more predominant everywhere today, after 2 COVID school years, which has resulted in the massive imposition of distance-learning.

Back in 2018, Education Week Research Center reported that a strong majority of the country’s principals  – 85% of those interviewed –  felt that too much screen time was not good for students – 77% felt students worked alone too often and 67% felt the tech industry had too much influence over public education.  And now Edtech is being established as the savior of our children.

That was then; this is now.

We all know, teachers, students, parents, communities – all the primary stake-holders – we all know that the new school year presents us with some of the greatest challenges we have ever faced in public education. Re-opening is a crisis and an emergency. So what is Edtech bringing to OUSD? Is it helping?

The education reporter for The Oaklandside, Ashley McBride, wrote on July 20, 2021:

“More than a year ago, the city of Oakland together with Oakland Unified School District and a group of nonprofit partners launched the Oakland Undivided campaign with an ambitious goal: to close the digital divide by raising enough money to purchase laptops and internet hotspots for every student in Oakland who needed them during the pandemic. At the time, public school students were required to learn from home virtually, but roughly 25,000 of them in Oakland lacked a computer, reliable internet, or both….”

“Today, as students prepare to head back to their classrooms full-time in the fall, nearly 97% of students in Oakland Unified School District have a computer and working internet at home, including 98% of students who are low-income, according to district data.”

Sounds like a good thing, a really good thing. The problem with Edtech, however, is not the digital technology. Technology is a tool that can be used well or turned against us. Technology can actually be employed to make schools better, not cheaper. The issue is how it is configured. As always, we must follow the money trail to really discover who benefits.

While OUSD is currently planning on fully re-opening, distance learning is an option. It will certainly be more pervasive in the classroom. Edtech makes its money off harvesting student data. Who will own the data this coming year, 2021-22?  Who can use the data? Do students or their parents control their own data?

The School Board must play a leading role in guaranteeing public policy here.

Chrome books store every single key stroke (and possibly every eye movement) on the cloud, which they own. Google Chromebooks also have a pre-installed program called “Gaggle”, which, we are told, scans student homework to look for depression, suicide ideation and likely various threats to shoot up the school. Google Classroom material is configured to surveille the students. Data and ever more data is the mother’s milk of Edtech. 

One problem is the people who control the data harvested from Edtech algorithms have increasing influence in creating the curriculum. This new private power in public schools is routinely used to undercut the role of experienced teachers and call the shots.

Whether corporations or big-shot administrators, the people who control this power love to spout about “healing the digital divide”. This is the corporate happy-speak that the OUSD school board, as well as their “private partners” and NGOs, traditionally have used to dress up policies that are demonstrated to work against student learning. But “healing the digital divide” with chrome books turns our children’s information into fodder for corporate profits.

Another favorite is “personalized learning”, supposedly something that Edtech will make available to every student and bring public education into the 21st Century. This myth is based on the same type of algorithms that Netflix and Amazon use to “personalize” their services to your interests. The biggest backers of personalized learning are Bill Gates, Google and the Chan- Zuckerberg Initiative.  As noted by blogger Peter Greene:

“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.

“We’re being sold (and in many cases are arguing against) an AI that spits out just the digitized worksheet that Student 12-5452 needs to continue studies, but that’s not where we’re headed. Look, for instance, at the new, improved PSAT
that returns both a score and some recommendations. ‘Looks like you need to log in to Khan Academy’s lesson series for calculus.’ Or ‘You would really benefit from the AP Calculus course– talk to your guidance counselor today.”’

On March 21, 2021, OUSD signed an agreement to replace diagnostic testing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium with the notorious I-Ready. One of the funders of i-Ready is the Kenneth Rainnin Foundation, which also funds local Oakland privatizers like GO Public Schools, the Oakland Public Education Fund, the New Schools Venture Fund, Aspire charter schools, Educate 78 Oakland Public Schools, the East Bay Community Foundation, and Education for Change.

I-Ready is based in the techniques of behavioral modification that was fundamental to the highly discredited system of Competency Based Education that holds that children should learn alone and in isolation, taking constant tests to prove their “mastery”.

This reactionary and unproductive philosophy is also disguised as “performance-based education”, “standards-based education”, “outcome-based education”, and “programmed instruction” among others. I-Ready is Competency Based Education on a screen.

Funny thing, i-Ready regularly identifies Black, Indigenous, and students of color as failing. If the goal is to prove that Oakland children are “failing”, then i-Ready is the tool to use. But maybe it is not best to welcome students back and then give them standardized tests to measure how far behind they have fallen.

 Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote:

“The dystopian imagery of a ‘lost generation’ of Black youth is redolent of earlier moral panics: the discoveries of ‘crack babies’ in the nineteen-eighties and ‘super predators’ in the nineties were also rooted in anecdote-driven, pseudo-scientific evidence. Today’s evidence for the spiral of Black children is the tactically vague measurement of ‘learning loss.’ But no one needs to invent a new metric to discover that, during the worst crisis in modern American history, students might be falling behind.”

Ashley McBride describes another facet of Edtech coming to Oakland:

“The Oakland Reach, a parent advocacy group involved with the Oakland Undivided campaign, has been working with Sydewayz Cafe, an information technology business in Oakland, to provide tech support for the organization’s virtual family hub during the pandemic. In the fall, The Oakland Reach plans to launch a fellowship to give students and their families more intensive training in technology and digital platforms, said executive director Lakisha Young. They’ve also been helping families get a federal discount on broadband service.”

Here we have another private power with powerful influence in OUSD. Oakland Reach and the OUSD, in partnership, received a $900,000 grant from the notorious privatizers, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and The New Teacher Project, which supposedly trains teachers, but which pushes privatization. These organizations are part of a complex of billionaire-financed privatization networks like Teach For America, too many to name.

CRPE advocates that school boards should look at schools like a stock portfolio, get rid of the poor performers and invest in the successful stocks. When New Orleans privatized every single school as charters, CRPE came up with “the Blueprint Process”. OUSD used the Blueprint Process to justify closing 23 schools in 2018.

The OUSD School Board, in its grace and wisdom, still intends to close schools as the 2021-2022 school year begins. How many? The Board will announce its plan for school closures on August 16, one week after school begins. “Nothing says ‘Welcome back to school for a restorative restart’ than to tell schools filled with Black and brown students that we’re going to close your school or change your school because you’re not doing well,” said parent Kim Davis during a public comment portion of the meeting.

CRPE has developed a national network called “Education Cities” with the purpose of disrupting public schools. This corporate mob operates in 32 different cities across the country including Oakland, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

From Atlanta to Cincinnati to Oakland, a loosely connected network of nonprofit groups is working to reshape the way their school districts function. Their national scope has gone mostly unexamined, even as their influence is arguably far more likely to affect schools in the average American city than a Betsy DeVos-inspired voucher program.

CRPE also advocates to abolish the political control of public schools by elected school boards. They would be replaced by “Community Education Councils (CECs)”, which would exert “light local governance”. In addition, CRPE advocates for vouchers, what they call “backpack funding”:

A local CEC would have three essential functions: (1) assembling and disbursing funds for each student’s personal education fund; (2) monitoring the quality, innovativeness, and responsiveness to economic change of the learning options available to students; and (3) protecting students by ensuring valid information for choices among diverse learning experiences, monitoring equity of student placements, and identifying fraudulent or ineffective schools or learning providers.

Their essay on funding also discusses students’ personalized education funds, including so-called “back pack funding” that follows students through different learning experiences, and how they can be assembled and managed. The remainder of this essay focuses on the promotive and protective functions of light local governance.

The complex of “OUSD partners” that have banded together to enforce a corporate dictatorship for privatized and semi-privatized education is out in the open. It runs the gamut from chrome books to Oakland Reach to Oakland Undivided to the Center for Reinventing Public Education to the Gates Foundation to Michael Bloomberg, who has bought and paid for several school board members, and beyond.

Certainly, better and more equitable education technology is essential and a public priority. But the way this will be implemented threatens children in Oakland and across the country.

Key question that unravel the whole mess are:

“What are these corporate education reformers going to do with all the data your child will produce next year? Who owns it?”

Every click, every search, the amount of time a child spends on a project or on multiplication, whatever, becomes the property of the corporations that own the apps and the algorithms. They can store it, sell it, search it and configure it with AI, and even… create a profile of your kid that the corporation owns. In May, Dr Velislava Hillman a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics shared,

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

Hobson serves roughly 12 million students globally across 2000 institutions of post-secondary  education and some 8500 schools and school districts in 100 different countries. It focuses on student “life-cycle management.”

What will happen to Oakland students then when they graduate? Can they retrieve their “profile” from the corporations? What if a student has asthma, causing her to miss school at a rate 7.8% more than her cohort, perhaps taken as “race”, “class,” or measured against the easily developed “Obstruction Index”, which reports on non-cooperation as a behavior trait? 

Perhaps OUSD School Board members will tell us soon whether or not our children’s data will be exploited by corporations. That definitely is the national and international trend. Perhaps School Board members can explain how OUSD intends to protect the information of children – their legacy as living beings – and guarantee their rights to control their digital profile.

We can only hope… or maybe we should force the issue?

Edtech is Business First – Part 2

24 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/24/2021

The pandemic brought a bonanza for online content providers and classroom organizing software. Programs like Google Classroom and Class Dojo which previously seemed superfluous performed a needed service during the crisis. Unfortunately, some of the edtech companies whose businesses spiked were taking advantage of the situation to sell profitable but harmful products based on bad education theory.

Content Providers

Neeru Kosala Presenting for her Non-Profit (Photo Credit CK-12)

Neeru Khosla is the founder and CEO of CK-12, a nonprofit that she started in 2007 to deliver free digital books, particularly on math and science topics. She has the same qualification to reform education as many of our lead education “disrupters”; she’s a billionaire. Her company claims to be providing high-quality, free resources and by free they also mean no pro-accounts or data collection.

Khosla is a mother who trained as a molecular biologist and later earned a masters from the Stanford Graduate School of Education but does not seem to have any classroom experience. Her husband, Vinod Khosla, is a venture capitalist whose massive wealth appears tied to early investments in Google (now Alphabet).

To finance CK-12, the couple uses two private philanthropies, Amar Foundation and CK-12 Foundation. For the past several tax cycles Amar Foundation (EIN 94-3055731) has liquidated about $9 million in Alphabet stock and forwarded the cash to CK-12 Foundation (EIN 20-8007128) which uses it to pay salaries and finance digital content development.

When the pandemic started this barely noticed service saw their registrations expand by 460 percent. Unfortunately, yet another billionaire amateur educator has gotten a larger megaphone to push the “personalized learning” agenda.

The Khan Academy is another content provider that saw their traffic soar in 2020. Originally, the academy generated an image of this selfless Silicon Valley guy, Sal Khan, making math education videos and distributing them for free. In 2007, he formed his non-profit but it was not until 2010 that Bill Gates (EIN 56-2618866) and other billionaires began sending him money.

It turns out that Sal Khan is not so selfless. His non-profit is making him wealthy. Khan Academy tax records (EIN 26-1544963) reveal that between 2010 and 2019 his salary totaled $6,009,694 and since 2015 his yearly salary has been more than $800,000. Between 2012-2017, the Gate Foundation gifted the Khan Academy $12,951,598 and the Overdeck Foundation (EIN 26-4377643) has kicked in $2,154,300.

In 2019, Khan Academy took in $92,559,725 of which only $27,629,684 was from contributions. The Academy has turned into a big-revenue generating non-profit.

In October 2020, Khan Academy announced a new joint effort with NWEA called Khan Academy Districts. There sales pitch says “Khan Academy has partnered with NWEA, creators of MAP® Growth™, to empower teachers to differentiate their instruction based on assessment results and meet the needs of all students.”

NWEA is the company that generated a lot of buzz with their covid-learning loss “research.” NWEA sells standardized math and English testing. They take in noisy data (All standardized testing data is noisy and fraught with error) 3-times a school year, do some fancy arithmetic and report out student growth determinations.

Last year, App Annie reported, “April 8, 2020 The top 3 Education apps in the US by downloads during the week of Mar 22 were Google Classroom, Remind: Safe Classroom Communication and ClassDojo, which saw 580%, 290% and 565% growth, respectively, versus the weekly average in Jan 2020.” This is the ongoing pandemic phenomena that prompted CNBC’s April 23, 2021 article Ed tech’ is booming: Wall Street analysts reveal how to trade the $5 trillion education market.”

Selling Education Snake Oil

The 2016 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 named ESSA, specified big money for edtech in Title’s I and IV including grants promoting “personalized learning” (ESSA Page 1969). About the only workable training method using a computer is competency based education (CBE). It is a method of drilling small chunks of knowledge and then assessing the learning.

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 with a sixty-year history of not living up to its protagonist’s claims.

Not only is “personalized learning” bad pedagogy it is also unhealthy. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote in “Time” magazine about health risks associated with student screen time. He noted that “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.” 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.

Curriculum Associates (CA) distributes i-Ready and its related testing services. The company which was founded in 1969 to provide worksheets for Mastery Learning curriculum is selling CBE based digital curriculum today. Children isolated at digital screens running their algorithms is called “personalized learning.” Student comments on the article “iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching make it clear how much they despise this product.

Amplify is another company selling “personalized learning.” After Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein failed miserably to profit in the edtech arena when Murdoch purchased Generation Wireless and rebranded it Amplify, they took a $371 million write off and exited the business. The billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs’s “Emerson Collective” assumed control of Amplify.

A third company selling CBE based lessons delivered to a screen is Education Elements. They are the classic technology startup company being financed by five venture capital funds including New Schools Venture Fund.

Technology holds great promise for enhancing education, but when profit motives trump ethics it is like feeding poison to America’s children.

Edtech is Business First – Part 1

17 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/17/2021

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

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

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

“Edtech companies thrive on digital data.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personalized Bad Education

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Tech Spending Rampaging through North Carolina Public Schools

27 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/27/2020

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “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.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”

Mary Ann Wolf is President of the CHCCS school board. She is also a long time proponent of education technology. In a 2010 paper she wrote,

“Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies. Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology. Personalized learning is enabled by smart e-learning systems, which help dynamically track and manage the learning needs of all students, and provide a platform to access myriad engaging learning content, resources and learning opportunities needed to meet each students needs everywhere at anytime, but which are not all available within the four walls of the traditional classroom.”

Wolf is Director of the Digital Learning Programs at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University and is a member of the Digital Promise Micro-credential Advisory Board. She also presents at Future Ready symposiums.

In other words, Board President Mary Ann Wolf isn’t just a fan of putting kids at digital screens. She is a well paid leader in the movement.  The headline on the Friday Institute’s homepage proclaims, “Coaching digital learning institute.”

At the Friday Institute, Wolf had a colleague named Lauren Acree who in 2019 took a position as Design Principle at Education Elements. Parents in CHCCS are suspicious about why Wolf never revealed her connection to Education Elements when the scandal erupted.

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

Superintendents Organized to Sell Education Technology

In 2015, the Raleigh law firm Everett Gaskins Hancock LLP established The Innovation Project (TIP) with ten superintendents from North Carolina’s public school districts. The more than 100-years-old firm has deep ties to the business and political communities in North Carolina’s capital. For example, their self published history notes,

“Ed Gaskins was a member of EGH’s other predecessor firm, Sanford & Cannon. Sanford & Cannon was formed in 1965 by Terry Sanford (1917-1998), former Governor of North Carolina, and Hugh Cannon (1931-2006), one of Governor Sanford’s senior advisors who served as counsel to the governor.”

Why did law firm Partner Gerry Hancock initiate TIP as a service of the Raleigh law firm in their offices at the historic Briggs Hardware Store? Whatever the real motive was, by 2017, TIP had 26 superintendents of public education signed up and were ready to move onto the campus at North Carolina State University as a non-profit.

The Innovation Project’s Strange Road to Non-Profit Status

The odd TIP path to non-profit status began in 2013 two years before it was founded. Joe Ableidinger received EIN 46-3120883 for the non-profit World Class Schools. He was attempting to start two charter schools using computer based instruction. In July 2013, World Class Schools received a $100,000 grant from the Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenges fund. An intiative financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The charter schools never opened and the non-profit changed its name to The Innovation Project in 2017.

TIP’s 2017 form 990 covering 7/1/2017 to 9/30/2018 is filed under the World Class Schools EIN 46-3120883 but with the new name. It lists two salaried employees Ann McColl and Joe Ableidinger.

In 2015, TIP received a startup grant of $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and soon after other foundations like the Belk Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation gave support. However a significant portion of their funding comes from membership dues. In a letter accompanying TIP’s invoices for the 2017-2018 school year, they announced cutting the dues from $36,000 to $30,000 per year.

TIP’s initiatives include establishing a virtual academy; creating their own version of turnaround schools called restart schools; establishing innovative classroom programs; addressing North Carolina’s teacher shortage and serving home-school families.

Unfortunately, this entire agenda with the exception of teacher shortages is being addressed by promoting education technology. For the teacher shortages, they have partnered with TNTP. In North Carolina, TIP could have partnered with the existing exemplary education professionals at University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University or Duke University to create alternate paths to teacher credentialing and professional development. Instead they chose to contract with the TFA created TNTP that is an unqualified light weight in education circles.

TIP also sites Mary Ann Wolf’s Friday Institute as a partner. (Update: On June 15 Wolf left the Friday Institute to become President of the Public Schools Forum also at North Carolina State University.)

On the TIP resource page, they list three sources under the category of Changes and Innovation.

  1. Center on Reinventing Public Education, Tracking Actions in Districts related to COVID-19
  2. Chiefs for Change,Tracking Innovation
  3. FutureEd, Tracking state legislation in response to COVID-19

Center on Reinventing Public Education is the billionaire financed organization promoting privatizing public education using the portfolio model of management. Chiefs for Change is the Jeb Bush founded organization promoting education technology, vouchers and charter schools. FutureEd sells the idea of putting children at digital screens instead of with actual teachers. This is the TIP agenda.

Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, was one of the superintendents accompanying Mark Johnson on that free trip to Apple Inc. She is also a TIP member.

In the paper Personalizing Learning in a Digital World: Four key priorities for digital and personalized learning,” the Digital Learning Institute thanked “Dr. Lynn Moody, …” for helping make the report possible.  

When Tip member Cathy Moore was deputy superintendent of Wake County Public Schools she was featured in a promotional video on the Education Elements web site. Today she is the superintendent.

Mary Ellis is a TIP member from the Union County Public Schools (UCPS). In 2015, while acting as Superintendent for UCPS, Ellis started a private endeavor called Educatrx Inc. She had three partners, two district technology leaders and Jason Mooneyham from the Chinese computer manufacturing company Lenovo.

In 2016, Ellis had legal corruption charges brought against her for conflicts of interest when her company facilitated a few technology deals including purchasing 10,000 Chromebooks from Lenovo. The district attorney dropped the charges.

Ellis is also a TIP consultant. In the 2017 TIP tax form, she is listed as being paid $121,629 for her services.

TIP creates classes for the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). After reviewing NCVPS, state auditor Beth Wood said, “Be concerned that these online classes may not be preparing your children for the next grade or for college.” In the audit, Wood noted that eight of 12 NCVPS courses audited did not meet required curriculum content standards and there was no assurance that 11 of the 12 NCVPS courses analyzed met adopted standards for rigor. 

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 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.”

Not all education technology is bad, but there are limitations. Students eventually need good graphing calculators, spread sheets, word processing and modern data acquisition capability. However, when the technology is little more than worksheets delivered by a digital device like those from I-ready and Education Elements not only is the screen time required unhealthy, the lessons are hated by students and ineffective.

To conclude this piece, here is a list of the 26 North Carolina school districts and their leaders that sent $30,000 or more to The Innovation Project in 2017.

  1. Alamance-Burlington Schools
    Dr. William “Bruce” Benson, Superintendent
  2. Asheboro City Schools
    Dr. Terry Worrell, Superintendent
  3. Beaufort County Schools
    Paul Higgins, Instructional Technology Director
  4. Cabarrus County Schools
    Dr. Chris Lowder, Superintendent
  5. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
    Dr. Pam Baldwin, Superintendent
  6. Craven County Schools
    Dr. Meghan Doyle, Superintendent
  7. Cumberland County Schools
    Dr. Marvin Connelly, Superintendent
  8. Edgecombe County School
    Dr. Valerie Bridges, Superintendent
  9. Gaston County Schools
    Mr. Jeff Booker, Superintendent
  10. Hoke County Schools
    Dr. Freddie Williamson, Superintendent
  11. Iredell-Statesville Schools
    Dr. Brady Johnson, Superintendent
  12. Johnston County Schools
    Dr. D. Ross Renfrow, Superintendent
  13. Kannapolis City Schools
    Dr. Daron Buckwell, Superintendent
  14. Lenoir County Schools
    Dr. Brent Williams, Superintendent
  15. Lincoln County Schools
    Dr. Lory Morrow, Superintendent
  16. Moore County Schools
    Dr. Robert “Bob” P. Grimesey Jr, Superintendent
  17. Mount Airy City Schools
    Dr. Kim Morrison, Superintendent
  18. Onslow County Schools
    Dr. Rick Stout, Superintendent
  19. Person County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Peterson, Superintendent
  20. Rockingham County Schools
    Dr. Rodney Shotwell, Superintendent
  21. Rowan-Salisbury Schools
    Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent
  22. Vance County Schools
    Dr. Anthony Jackson, Superintendent
  23. Wake County Schools
    Dr. Cathy Moore, Superintendent
  24. Warren County Schools
    Dr. Ray Spain, Superintendent
  25. Wayne County Schools
    Dr. Michael Dunsmore, Superintendent
  26. Wilson County Schools
    Dr. Lane Mills, Superintendent

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