Tag Archives: Bill Gates

Personalized and Blended Learning are Money Grabs

5 Oct

Big tech and their friends at big banking have turned to public education budgets for a new profit center. In the latest version of the federal education law, compliant legislators provided for both industries. They gave bankers social impact bonds and incentivized education technology. There are solid reasons to think both decisions harm most Americans while lining the pockets of corporate elites. I discuss some of the technology portion here.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a reauthorization and amendment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Big money for technology is specified in Title’s I and IV of ESSA. This federal law specifies large grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” It also legally defines “blended learning.”

‘‘(1) BLENDED LEARNING.—The term ‘blended learning’ means a formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches—(A) that include an element of online or digital learning, combined with supervised learning time, and student- led learning, in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience; and (B) in which students are provided some control over time, path, or pace.” (From official pdf of the law page 1969)

The term personalized learning is somewhat nebulous so I will define it. “Personalized Learning” is a euphemistic term that indicates lessons delivered on a digital device. These lessons are often organized with a playlist and come with a claim of using artificial intelligence to tailor the lessons to the recipient. The scheme is related to competency base education (CBE) and normally includes conferring micro-credentials or badges for competencies completed.

Title-I of ESSA authorizes the following spending schedule:

‘‘(1) $15,012,317,605 for fiscal year 2017;

‘‘(2) $15,457,459,042 for fiscal year 2018;

‘‘(3) $15,897,371,442 for fiscal year 2019; and

‘‘(4) $16,182,344,591 for fiscal year 2020.” (pdf page 1815)

A large percentage of this spending is earmarked for digital education; however, it is difficult to tell what the exact percentage is. However, it is clear that Title-I authorizes spending tens of billions of tax payer dollars on education technology.

Title-IV also authorizes spending on technology and this spending is 100% for technology. Title-IV states:

“There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this subpart $1,650,000,000 for fiscal year 2017 and $1,600,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2020.” (pdf page 1982)

Title-IV also specifies what uses can be made of the funds:

‘‘(1) providing educators, school leaders, and administrators with the professional learning tools, devices, content, and resources to—(A) personalize learning to improve student academic achievement; (B) discover, adapt, and share relevant high-quality educational resources; (C) use technology effectively in the classroom, including by administering computer-based assessments and blended learning strategies; and (D) implement and support school- and district-wide approaches for using technology to inform instruction, support teacher collaboration, and personalize learning;

“(2) building technological capacity and infrastructure, which may include—(A) procuring content and ensuring content quality; and (B) purchasing devices, equipment, and software applications in order to address readiness shortfalls;

‘‘(3) developing or using effective or innovative strategies for the delivery of specialized or rigorous academic courses and curricula through the use of technology, including digital learning technologies and assistive technology …” (pdf page 1981)

Old Rock School

Reputable Education Research Does Not Support this Spending

The Canadian Publication, “The Walrus” distributed a piece called “The Failure of the iPad Classroom.” In the article, author, David Sax, shared some insights from Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University. Cuban, lives and works in Silicon Valley. Like myself, he began as a hopeful evangelist for education technology, but slowly turned into one of education technologies most prominent skeptics. Sax wrote:

“Cuban cites three reasons that policymakers typically use to justify the purchase of new technology for schools. First, the technology will improve student achievement and marks. Second, the technology will change traditional teaching to nontraditional teaching. Third, the technology will better prepare students for the modern workplace. At best, Cuban says, there is contradictory evidence for the third reason, little for the second, and none for the first.”

Mr. Sax made many cogent statements about education technology in “The Failure of the iPad Classroom.” This statement is a good example:

“Dollars spent on digital education technology are dollars that cannot be spent on teachers, building maintenance, or textbooks. It is money that has been pulled from programs in art, sports, music, and drama. Even though the research shows one of the greatest factors in reading improvements in students is the presence of school libraries, the number of libraries across school boards in the United States has declined dramatically. The logic behind this is often that libraries are pointless in the age of Google and eBooks, and that money would be better spent buying tablets or drones.”

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” and that: “In the end, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

John Vallance, a Cambridge scholar and headmaster of Australia’s top K-through-12 school, Sydney Grammer, has said: “I think when people come to write the history of this period in education…this investment in classroom technology is going to be seen as a huge fraud.”

There has also been surprising research coming out of Canada: Students don’t prefer e-learning over traditional education. In a 2011 study, researchers found that students preferred “ordinary, real-life lessons” to using technology.

Researcher Dr. Kentaro Toyama, expecting to find a digital educational cure for the perceived ailments in education, came to understand what he calls technology’s “Law of Amplification”: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.”

The Dark Side of Screen Time

Education psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds, Jane Healy, spent years doing research into computer use in schools and, while she expected to find that computers in the classroom would be beneficial, now feels that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras (Aug 31, 2016) 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.”

Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine about the damage screen time is doing. She shared about the iGen,

“Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

Reasonably Unbiased Research Instigated by an Industry Supporter Not that Good

When the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contracted with the Rand Corporation to make a study of digital learning, the results were not very supportive. The best the lead researcher could say to the Hechinger Report was, “What I hope happens is people see this is a promising approach, but it requires a lot of things to fall into place for it to work right,” Pane said. “People need to have patience; they need to do it a while. Teachers and students need to get used to it.”

In other words, he is saying digital learning is “promising” but not proven. In this country, it seems we have an exaggerated belief in the capabilities of technology to improve anything. I personally had little doubt that education technology would lead to dramatic improvements. It does have positive uses but our refusal to see its limitations is causing damage.

The Rand study collected data on schools that received funding from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC). A note from the report describes NGLC:

“The NGLC initiative is managed by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association dedicated to advancing the use of information technology in higher education, in association with other organizational partners, including the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K–12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. NGLC receives primary funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with additional support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The initiative supports school districts, charter management organizations, and partner organizations that embrace PL as a means to dramatically increase college readiness rates, particularly among low-income students and students of color.”

There were 40 participating schools in the study and the data generated was predominately surveys of students, teachers and administrators. There was a small-scale analysis of standardized testing data based on MAP testing at 32 of the schools. Comparisons were made with a “virtual comparison group.” The study noted several possible biases in the data. The conclusion for one-year achievement comparisons says:

“We estimated positive treatment effects of approximately 0.09 in mathematics and 0.07 in reading, as shown in …. Only the mathematics estimate is statistically significant. These effect sizes translate to gains of about 3 percentile points; specifically, a student who would have performed at the median in the comparison group is estimated to have performed 3 percentile points above the median in an NGLC school in both subjects.” (Rand study page 34)

Let us ignore the fact that standardized testing is useless. Since the advent of No Child Left Behind’s test and punish philosophy of education improvement, every educator knows that teaching to a test will improve test scores. Computer based education is fundamentally a method for drilling for the test. It is surprising that these estimated effect sizes are so small and even insignificant for reading.

The survey data in the Rand study compares the NGLC schools in the study group with a national sample. I was surprised to learn that NGLC students do not feel as safe.

Rand Student Opinion Survey

From page 24 of the Rand Study

Bad Education Philosophy is the Source of “Personalized Learning” Failure

The behaviorist ideology of B.F. Skinner informs “competency based education.” CBE is the computer based approach that replaces the failed 1990’s behaviorist learning method called Outcome Based Education. Outcome Based Education is a renamed attempt to promote the 1970’s “mastery education” theory. Mastery education’s failure was so complete that it had to be renamed. It was quickly derided by educators as “seats and sheets.” These schemes all posit that drilling small skills and mastering them is the best way to teach. It has not worked yet.

Today’s proponents of behaviorist education hope that technology including artificial intelligence backed by micro-credentials and badges will finally make behaviorism a winner. It will not because little humans are not linear learners. Non-alignment with human nature is a fundamental flaw in this approach. In addition, behaviorism is not known as a path to creativity or original thinking. Those paths are created between teachers and students through human contact; paths undermined by “digital education.”

Artificial intelligence is more science fiction than reality. Computer scientist Roger Schank, a pioneering researcher in artificial intelligence notes,

“The AI [artificial intelligence] problem is very very hard. It requires people who work in AI understanding the nature of knowledge; how conversation works; how to have an original thought; how to predict the actions of others; how to understand why people do what they do; and a few thousand things like that. In case no one has noticed, scientists aren’t very good at telling you how all that stuff works in people. And until they can there will be no machines that can do any of it.”

With no unbiased positive proof of concept, hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars which were earmarked for education are being spent on technology. It is likely that much of this spending will cause harm and that schemes like “personalized learning” will not deliver benefit to anyone who is not in a hi-tech industry.

These dollars could have been spent on better facilities, smaller classes, and better teacher education. Instead, the money is wasted on dubious theories propounded by leaders in hi-tech industries.

Selling Education Technology Via the Federal Education Technology Plan

28 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look at The NETP for 2017

Selling SEL and Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NETP explains,

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Two but Not Two Frauds: STEM and Education Technology

19 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

STEM Fraud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, Education Technology is Greed Driven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Diego Union Editor Continues Spurious Attack on Teachers and Public Education

30 Aug

The editorial says in the Trump era Democrats see themselves as protecting the disadvantaged but that is not true when it comes to schools. The editor claims, “When it comes to public education, however, there’s fresh evidence that state Democratic leaders are the ones siding with the powerful forces over the disadvantaged.”

Those powerful forces – in an era when billionaires like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Eli Broad flex their financial muscle to privatize schools –  are teachers and their unions. The evidence presented is bogus and the conclusions reached are based on willful ignorance.

The Issue – California’s ESSA Evaluation Plan

The new Federal Education Law dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an abomination. Diane Ravitch (education historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander) described (August 30th) a speech given by Professor Nicolas Tampio at Fordham University. She noted:

“‘ESSA requires states to remain within the standards, testing, and accountability paradigm . . . if they want Title I funds.’ That means that if a state wants to follow a more original model of educating, such as the John Dewey model, they forfeit federal funding. ‘“John Dewey said standardized tests can only be useful to help us figure out how to help a particular child, but they shouldn’t be used to rank children, because children have all sorts of special gifts, talents, and interests.’”

However, ESSA is the federal education law. It is touted as allowing states more flexibility in how to assess schools but requires each state to deliver a plan to the US Department of Education by this September. Testing and standards are still mandated. EdWeek detailed some of the federal requirements for school assessments:

“Specifically, the new law requires states to use at least one ‘indicator of school quality or student success’ that ‘allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance’ and ‘is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide,’ alongside academic data in their accountability systems. Schools must also be able to disaggregate data related to that indicator to show how it affects students in different subpopulations: those from all racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, children from low-income families, and English-language learners.”

It is California’s plan for meeting this requirement that is being bashed and particularly the California School Dashboard. The dashboard creates reports on demand built from mandated data reporting. It uses six state-indicators [(1) High School Graduation Rate; (2) Academic Performance; (3) Suspension Rate; (4) English Learner Progress; (5) Preparation for College/Career; (6) Chronic Absenteeism] and four local-indicators [(1) Basic Conditions (Teacher qualifications, Safe and clean buildings, Textbooks for all students); (2) Implementation of Academic Standards; (3) School Climate Surveys; (4) Parent Involvement and Engagement] to create reports.

The dashboard is easy to use and the information is easy to understand. I used the dashboard to access a report on San Diego Unified School district for spring 2017.

SDUSD Dashboard March 2017

It seems like the SD Union editor would like to return to the destructive ‘test and punish’ No Child Left Behind methods of assessing schools. That law was based on the false premise that standardized testing provides reliable information about quality of both schools and educators. It doesn’t.

In fact, many excellent institutions were destroyed by this misguided education policy. The one reliable inference that can be made from standardized testing is relative family wealth from one school to the next. That explains why no schools were closed in wealthy communities and many schools were closed in poor communities. Unfortunately, that is the benighted policy the editor of the San Diego Union is advocating.

In 1998 a scholar in New Zealand, Noel Wilson, wrote a thesis called Education Standards and the Problem of Error. The paper has never been refuted but it has been ignored. Basically, Wilson tells us that standards and standardized testing are so fraught with error that they are only useful as a mechanism of control. He ended his paper saying,

“We live in a world of complexity and uncertainty, a fuzzy multi-dimensional world of immense variety and diverse interpretations. What is challenged in this work is the myth that this complexity can be reduced to simple linear dimension by some sort of examination, as a preliminary to comparing with some standard of adequacy somewhere defined.”

The “Fresh Evidence”

We are told that there is “fresh evidence” supporting the claim that the ESSA plan developed by the Democrat led State Department of Education harms the disadvantaged. The editor presented this evidence:

“Thursday, Bellwether Education Partners — a national nonprofit think tank — released its evaluation of California’s proposal. While praising the plan’s vision of a first-rate education of all, the analysis is sharply critical of the plan’s most crucial components. The biggest complaints:

“The plan wouldn’t even manage to ‘capture individual students’ improvement over time.’”

This “fresh evidence” is provided by Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit consulting group from Boston Massachusetts. It’s Co-founder Andrew J. Rotherham, worked in the Clinton administration and has enthusiastically associated himself with efforts to privatize public education since. A profile in the Progressive gives details:

“He serves on advisory boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Education Pioneers, The Broad Foundation, and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. (CALDER). Rotherham is on the board of directors for the Indianapolis Mind Trust, is Vice Chair of the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia, and serves on the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. [He is a] Board member for Democrats for Education Reform.”

Bellwether is a typical “non-profit” in the school reform business. Their 2015 form 990 tax filing shows that in 2014 the 10 listed Bellwether principals took in more than $2,000,000 in salaries. None of them made less than $150,000. Since their founding in 2012 they have received more than $1,000,000 per year from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a total of $7,400,000. The tax form also showed that in 2014 they took in almost $11,000,000 of which half came from foundation grants and half came from different government agencies for services rendered.

On the Bellwether web-page is a listing of the entities with whom they claim to work. The list below is showing a few of the hundreds of groups cited:

Achieve.org, ACT, Inc, The American Center for School Choice, American Enterprise Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, Chiefs for Change, The College Board, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Education Reform Now, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Harmony Public Schools [aka Gülen schools], J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, K12 Inc., KIPP Foundation, The Mind Trust, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Teach for America,  Thomas B. Fordham Institute, The Walton Family Foundation, WestEd, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

This is basically a who’s who list of advocates for the privatization of public schools and the selling of computer delivered education, euphemistically called “personalized education.”

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sits on the board of the California Charter Schools Association. He also founded Rocketship schools, which are charter schools that put their students in cubicles learning from computers. A few years ago, he purchased a small software company in Bremerton, Washington called DreamBox Learning and is well on his way to making DreamBox the top provider of software for computer based learning. One of the six board of director members for Bellwether is Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President, and CEO of DreamBox Learning.

The editor did not get his “fresh evidence” from the graduate school of education at San Diego State University or the University of California San Diego. Nor was the evidence obtained from education researchers at UCLA, Berkeley or Stanford. It came from a “think tank” that is often referred to as a propaganda arm for “corporate education reform.” That’s weak!

Teachers and Unions; Perennial Targets of Abuse

The editorial says, “the State Board of Education has come up with an anti-accountability – accountability plan.”

The editor then emulated Chicken Little:

“This is scandalous. It is the latest confirmation that the interests of the powerful California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — which oppose meaningful attempts to evaluate the performance of teachers, schools and districts — are paramount in Sacramento.”

This is a lie!

Teachers’ unions and their members are resources for getting school improvement right. No group cares more about good education than California’s teachers. Sure, they oppose bad education policy, but they do not oppose accountability as do the editor’s friends in the charter school industry.

The California plan is required because of federal law. It is not a good approach to assessing schools. Taxpayers are already supporting a superior approach provided by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States. They send in teams of trained educators to spend a week or more observing and evaluating. Their final report is both an evaluation and a set of recommendations that must be addressed before a subsequent review.

Teachers have been through WASC reviews and know what authentic school evaluation looks like. Teachers also know how much damage the “test and punish” philosophy of school reform has caused.

This is Ignorance

The editorial alleges,

“The state board’s junk standards feel like the culmination of a plan that began in 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform — even as schools in Massachusetts continue to lead the nation thanks to such reform and schools in Florida make dramatic improvements with this approach. In 2013, the state moved to scrap its STAR school accountability testing program, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Obama administration. In 2016, Brown vetoed a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to make it easy to determine school progress.”

Yes, Governor Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform. When vetoing a bill that reduced testing data percentages for school evaluation, he said, “It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can’t be placed in a data stream. Lost in the bill’s turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is fundamentally different from quantity.”

It is true that Massachusetts went to a standards based education model and testing regime in 1993. It also doubled its spending on education between 1993 and 2001. Their average test scores are excellent, however, they also are third in the nation for largest achievement gaps.

The 2012 Florida data cited above as evidence of dramatic improvement is probably the last positive evidence from Florida. Today, Florida is an abject example of how bad test based education and privatization policies can be. The National Education Association reported about the spring 2017 testing fiasco in Florida:

“The already diminished reputation of high-stakes testing took another hit this week with the startling news out of Florida that only 27 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s comprehensive assessment test (FCAT) for writing. That’s a drop from 81 percent the previous year. The scores for eight and tenth graders yielded similarly abysmal results.”

It is true that the CTA opposed Shirley Webber’s education bill that Brown vetoed. A CTA web-site report says, “CTA urged lawmakers to defeat Assembly Member Weber’s AB 2548 because it would impose new accountability restrictions on local schools before the State Board of Education and local districts have had a chance to implement fully the accountability provisions of the new Local Control Funding Formula.” CTA was not promoting anti-accountability. It was promoting workable accountability.

The editorial ends with, “So please come to the rescue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Stick up for school accountability by standing up to a state which rejects it. Stick up for needy kids. Stick up for, yes, social justice.”

That is sick. Betsy DeVos is completely unqualified for her position although extremely wealthy. She is anything but a social justice advocate. Is she really a champion to the San Diego Union? Sadly, it seems the answer is yes.

Credit Recovery Farce Generates Spectacular Graduation Rates

8 Jun

A miracle has occurred. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Astoundingly, even with increased graduation requirements rates have shot up.

Many school districts in California now require all students to meet course requirements for entering the University of California system to graduate from high School. That is a dramatic increase in academic rigor. Yet, in 2016, over 83% of California’s freshman cohort graduated on time. In 2012, 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. These record setting numbers are the result of knuckleheaded political policy, cheating and credit recovery.

What is Credit Recovery and Where did it Come from?

In the 1990’s politicians like Bill Clinton and Jeb Bush were pushing for standards in education and accountability measures. Jeb Bush’s infamous school grading system called for 25% of a high school’s grade to be based on graduation rates. Bill Clinton wrote in 1998,

“We have worked to raise academic standards, promote accountability, and provide greater competition and choice within the public schools, including support for a dramatic increase in charter schools.”

“We know that all students can learn to high standards, and that every school can succeed if it has clear instructional goals and high expectations for all of its students; ….”

Donald T. Campbell’s 1976 paper presented a theory about social change that is now widely revered as Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Exactly as the Social Scientist, Campbell, postulated, this national push to increase the standards of school rigor and to use social indicators (graduation rates and high stakes testing) to evaluate schools has introduced distortion and corruption.

How were school leaders going to protect their institutions and their own jobs from the ravages of horribly shortsighted and uninformed education policy? The solution was obvious; teach to the test and find a way to raise graduation rates.

To the rescue, came both the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with many other lesser contributors. They perceived it was time for advancing the privatization of public education and accelerating the adoption of technology in education. Credit recovery was a perfect vehicle.

A mouthpiece for these foundations, the Education Commission of the States, explains:

“Credit recovery is an alternative to course repetition for students who have previously failed a course needed for high school graduation. Programs may be offered via computer software, online instruction (including through a state’s virtual high school or a local virtual school) or teacher-guided instruction (small group or one-on-one), and are typically targeted at the standards in which students were deficient, rather than all standards in the original course.

“Programs should be self-paced and competency-based ….”

Another organization significantly financed by Walton and Gates iNACOL (International Association for k-12 Online Learning) promotes a virulent form of computer based education known as CBE. I discussed CBE in a previous post: “CBE is basically outcome based education moved to digital space. Outcome based education was the new 1990’s name given to a previously failed strategy known as mastery education (AKA ‘seats and sheets’).” The fundamental theory of CBE is that education can be reduced to discrete pieces of knowledge. It’s bad theory.

iNACOL also weighed in on credit recovery:

“Our country has been trying to address the graduation crisis in many ways.”

“Today, one of the root issues is the older students who are missing a significant number of credits do not have the time to sit in class again, thus competency-based programs are a better option.”

Echoing the unsubstantiated “Nation at Risk” iNACOL does not see foolish policy or growing poverty leading to stagnate or falling graduation rates. It sees a CRISIS!

With credit recovery students are able to gain graduation credits in as short a time as a day. According to several teacher friends who have taught teacher led credit recovery, there is no real instruction, just filling in packets (“seats and sheets”). I have heard many students say, “I don’t care if I fail, I’ll do credit recovery.” Why not? It’s easier.

How Fraudulent is Online Credit Recovery?

At the high school where I taught this year, I overheard a pair of administrators speaking in hushed tones about the fraud going on in the learning center. In our district, there are twelve learning centers which are technically separate schools. They provide online credit recovery for students who have not earned enough credits. The discussion was about seeing students using smartphones to answer the test questions provided by Apex Learning. The fact that this behavior was being tolerated was what galled them.

As is made clear in a recent series of eight article about credit recovery published by Slate Magazine, cheating on credit recovery is not unique at all.

Zoë Kirsch wrote in her Slate article, The New Diploma Mills:

“Almost 90 percent of school districts use some form of credit recovery, according to a 2011 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (the center doesn’t distinguish between online and other forms). And data cited by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade group, shows that at least 75 percent of districts use some form of online learning. So, we can say this about online credit recovery: It’s pretty big.”

Kirch’s article also reports that in Nashville, graduation rates increased from 70 percent in 2007 to 81.6 percent in 2015 following the introduction of online credit recovery. Even more stunning, in Los Angeles the graduation rate grew from 54 percent to 75 percent in a single year when credit recovery was introduced in 2015.

A supervisor of credit recovery at East Gadsden High in Florida was informed that some students there were paying one another to do online coursework. When she reported it to the district, an administrator there told her to “leave it alone.” “There’s some things you can’t fix.”

The article “Fast. Isolating. Superficial.” by Stephen Smiley shares,

“She [Elizabeth Bieze, the guidance counselor who oversees the virtual lab at Sullivan High School Chicago] adds that it’s not atypical for students to recover credits for yearlong classes in under a week. ‘They do really well in the pretest, they get to skip a bunch of stuff, and they just take the final exam,’ she says. ‘It has helped our graduation rate immensely.’”

Stephen also found this:

“‘Anyone wanna do a math credit recovery for me I’ll pay you,’ read one tweet posted by a student in Erie, Pennsylvania, in August. ‘If anyone wants to go online and do my chemistry credit recovery I’d be more than happy to give you my username and password,’ wrote another student in Arkansas. Naturally, online learning companies like Edgenuity and Apex insist that most don’t actually follow through and that the chatter is mostly empty boasting.

“That may be so, but I didn’t have too much trouble finding students online who insisted they had cheated without being caught. One of them, Joseph, who is a 17-year-old senior at a Long Island high school in New York, said his online English class was uninspiring, so he paid a buddy $200 to complete it.”

Stephen also wrote a second article for Slate, “I Am an Online Credit Recovery Dropout.” In it he describes a personal experience of taking a few online courses. Stephen concluded,

“But I also came to appreciate what many students had told me about virtual learning: Compared with regular school, there’s less interaction with teachers, fewer opportunities for creative expression, and little chance to bounce around ideas with classmates. While online learning clearly has some strengths (programs can be tailored to individual needs, for instance), it’s hard to get away from an overarching conclusion: The experience as a whole can be pretty boring and lonely.”

Why is Credit Recovery Flourishing?

Francesca Berardi wrote “Take These Students, Please” about online credit recovery in Chicago. Surprising to me, it turns out that former basketball star Magic Johnson is a significant participant in the industry. Francesca notes,

“During Emanuel’s administration, Magic Johnson has become a major player in Chicago’s education world: Bridgescape operates five programs across the city, serving more than 850 students, and as the Chicago Tribune reported, in March 2015 another of Johnson’s companies, SodexoMAGIC, received an $80 million contract to take over janitorial services for several Chicago Public School buildings. Following the contract, Johnson donated $250,000 to Emanuel’s campaign for re-election.

“Not surprisingly, last September, Emanuel announced that in just five years the high school graduation rate had jumped from roughly 50 percent to 73.5 percent.”

‘’’The district is giving high school diplomas for programs that are nowhere near comparable to regular high schools,’ said Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association and a fierce critic of Emanuel’s administration.”

Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley teamed up to write “Why Bad Online Courses Are Still Taught in Schools.” The article opens with this story from Florida:

“Last year, the Florida Department of Education rejected the company Online Education Ventures, which failed to provide descriptions of its virtual courses in science, social studies, and English (it provided descriptions of the math courses, but they didn’t meet state standards). A year earlier, the state disqualified Mosaica Online because the company didn’t show it could provide timely information about its courses. And it said no to Odysseyware, since it failed to outline student anti-discrimination policies or show how its products could meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“But here’s the rub: Those companies are still allowed to sell their products to schools in Florida. Public school districts can still use public money to educate students with discredited products like Online Education Ventures.’”

“The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has made expanding online learning—unfettered and in all of its forms—one of its priorities. … ALEC has quietly but effectively helped mostly Republican lawmakers pass the kinds of laws the online learning companies want—laws that, for instance, require all graduating high school students to complete at least one virtual class.”

According to Zoe and Stephen, no states are doing a good job of regulating online learning and credit recovery. “As it happens, one of the most rigorous judges of online credit recovery classes is the NCAA. The NCAA’s standard is higher than what any state government requires for its students.”

Some Conclusions and Recommendations

Credit recovery has introduced a corruption into public education.

Online learning is only better than no other alternative. It is lifeless and dull. Some people claim there are ways to make it better, but I seriously doubt that it will ever match a classroom with a teacher to stimulate supervised dialog as a learning vehicle.

The push for credit recovery is a blatant scheme to impose privatized online learning.

Until this corruption has been eradicated, diplomas that are awarded based on credit recovery should have a reduced status to legitimately earned high school diplomas. That will at least reduce the incentive to “get it in credit recovery.”

Of all the increased academic requirements, the requirement for advanced mathematics to graduate from high schools is the most counterproductive. Most college graduates will never have a reason to make a binomial expansion or mathematically describe a conic section. Roll back these stupid requirements. Every student is not going to Berkeley.

Notes:

The five Slate Magazine articles I cited above are more on point for my article but these three articles cited below are also valuable reads.

Bottom of the Class By Francesca Berardi and Zoë Kirsch highlights some of the worst online companies.

Online Education Doesn’t Have to Be Isolating By Sarah Carr discusses some ways online learning can be done well.

Just Take It Again By Stephen Smiley describes how some of the online design makes it easy but not authentic.

I Am Done – I Hope Public Education is Not

24 May

June 2nd will be my last day as a classroom teacher. For the past 15 years, I have been teaching mathematics and physics. It has been exhilarating, it has been heart breaking. It reminds me of the way Charles Dicken’s opened A Tale of Two Cities,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, ….”

During my tenure in education, costly efforts were made to improve schools. However, the welfare of country and children were too often ignored in pursuit of new markets. Vast fortunes were spent by philanthropists mostly on foolish and destructive agendas which often appeared self-serving.

In 2010, Rupert Murdock stated, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone ….” From one point of view, our commitment to children is laudable, but this huge amount of money has engendered darkness. Integrity and community too often succumbed to greed. Corporate and political leaders regularly bowed to dark human tendencies.

Difficult Time for a New Teacher

In 1998, Prince rereleased “Party like its 1999.” In 1999, I didn’t feel it. I was driving around Silicon Valley ready to move on. The party seemed over. Hearing co-workers drone on about stock options or being regaled by stories of new startups creating instant millionaires got stale. I enjoyed my work but hated the traffic. It was time to go home to San Diego and become a teacher.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at the University of California San Diego. At the same time, Ted Kennedy was teaming up with George W. Bush to federalize public education with the “No Child Left Behind” rewrite of the education law. When, I earned a master’s degree in education, NCLB was the law of the land.

The new federal law mandated standards based multiple choice exams. These exams were completely useless for measuring school or teacher quality or for guiding instruction. The only outcome from these tests with statistical significance is that they accurately identified the economic health of the school’s community.

Standards based testing has been both cynically and foolishly used to claim that public schools are failing thus opening the door to a national tragedy. The world’s greatest public education system and our bulwark for democracy is being privatized. Wonderful and venerable institutions in tough neighborhoods like Crenshaw High are being destroyed. The generational legacy that spawned the likes of Ice-T, Darryl Strawberry and Marques Johnson has been stolen from its community.

My second year of teaching was one of my favorite years. I was given a one year temporary contract to teach at Mar Vista Middle School. I really enjoyed the kids (me and middle schoolers think alike), but it was my interactions with the staff that always engenders fond joyful memories. I was incredulous a few years later, when the middle school was reconstituted because of failing test scores. At the time I wrote about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.”

It seems there was an effort to charterize Mar Vista Middle School, however, the community quickly rejected that. The school was reconstituted by firing half of the staff and reopened as Mar Vista Academy. The only result of the reconstitution was disruption in the lives of teachers, parents and students. The school still serves the same neighborhood. At the high school where I now work, we have seen no substantive change in the readiness of students coming from this feeder school.

I Was Victimized by the First Honored DFER

In the master’s program, we did some student teaching during the first year and then in the second year we were given paid intern positions to teach three classes a day. When that school year ended most of my classmates were offered a position. I wasn’t. It could be that I was not a very good teacher or it might have been that I was 52 years-old and schools wanted younger new teachers.

I finally got a position at Bell Junior High School teaching four sections of physics and one section of honors physics to 9th graders. Each class had 36 students. My classes scored amazingly well on the district end of course exams. They scored especially well at the end of semester 2. San Diego Unified School District has more than 130,000 students. My honors physics class at Bell was the second highest scoring honors class in the district and my 4 regular classes were the top scoring out of the 13 sections of physics at Bell.

Bell junior high school consisted of mostly minority students including many language learners and free lunch recipients. Several or my students were afraid to walk home after school. The neighborhood was that tough. It was at Bell that I started to realize that the experienced teachers were amazing and not the worthless slugs that I had heard so much about.

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch wrote about Alan Bersin a lawyer with no education experience being tapped to run what was arguably the top performing urban schools system in America. I have written about the Democrats for Education Reform (DEFR) and Bersin. The following citation honoring Bersin is from the DEFR web presence (it has since been removed):

“Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin led the way as one of the nation’s first ‘non-traditional’ big city school leaders, promoting ambitious reform to raise the quality of education and bolster student achievement. …. Bersin was a founding board member of DFER.”

One feature of the “non-traditional” superintendent’s leadership was fear. At Bell, I witnessed three tenured teachers lose their jobs. Yes, a determined administrator can get rid of a tenured teacher. It appears there were targets for the number of teachers to be fired each year. It also seems that a certain percentage of new hires were required to be given unacceptable evaluations. I suspect being a new hire in my 50’s made me a target.

My final evaluation said that I was not able to control my classes and was not moving them towards achieving standards. The not moving them towards achieving standards comment meant that I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher. Ironically, my evaluation the next year by the principal at Mar Vista Middle School referenced classroom management as a particular strength.

Conclusions and Concerns

Standards based education is bad education theory. In the 1960’s Benjamin Bloom proposed mastery education in which instruction would be individualized and students would master certain skills before they moved ahead. By the 1970’s this idea had been married with B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist philosophy and teachers were given lists of discrete items for their students to master. The “reform” became derisively known as “seats and sheets.”

By the 1980’s corporate leaders and many politicians were turning these mastery skills into standards. In the 1990’s the IBM and former RJR Nabisco CEO, Louis Gerstner, made instituting education standards and standards based testing his mission in life. The result of his almost two decade effort are the Next Generation Science Standards and they are awful. I wrote about them here, here and here.

The other corporate leader that loves the concept of education standards is Bill Gates. Without him, there would be no Common Core State Standards. Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner share two traits, neither of them have any real experience or training in education and the education standards they have forced on America are horrible. I wrote about the Common Core standards here and here.

Vouchers have not led to better education outcomes. Allowing the privatization of public schools is foolhardy. Public schools are wonderful crucibles of democracy where parents have input. Vouchers undermine this democratic principle and they can be misused. Vouchers have been employed to force all taxpayers to fund religious schools and to promote segregation.

This March (2017) a Texas Superintendent of Schools, John Kuhn, informed the Association of Texas Professional Educators about vouchers. “Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.”

It is in all of our interest to adequately fund public education. Even if you do not want your children to attend a public school. On the other hand, tax money should not be spent on private or religious schools. If parents want that option, that is their right, but it is not the responsibility of society to fund their decision.

Charter schools are bad policy. There are some absolutely wonderful charters schools but the money they remove from the public system is causing significant damage to the schools that serve the vast majority of students.

If taxpayers want to fund charter schools they need to understand that it will cost more than just funding public schools. It costs more money to run multiple systems. Not providing adequate funding degrades the public system – bigger classes and less offerings. In extreme cases like Detroit, we see a complete collapse of both the public and charter systems.

Albert Shanker thought that charters could be used to unleash the creativity of teachers, but once he saw the early direction of the charter movement, he became a charter opponent. In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (Page 57)

When writing about Schneider’s School Choice I paraphrased her:

“Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.”

Another bad idea is CBE. This big school privatization effort could be called the make Silicon Valley “great again” effort. It is known by various names: one-to-one, personalized education, blended learning, competency based education, etc. Its supporters, like Billionaires Reed Hastings and Bill Gates, are spending huge amounts of money promoting computer delivered education.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund (a Walton family effort), Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

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

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

Reed Hastings is the founder of the Rocketship schools, a board member of the Charter Schools Association of California and the owner of Dreambox Learning. What he is not is a highly trained experienced educator.

An Organization for Economic-Cooperation and Development study concludes, “Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.” The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time.

San Jose State’s education Professor Roxana Marachi provides access to information about the possible health risks involved with screen time and juvenile cell phone use. I recommend her Educational Psychology & Technology page. The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, recently presented information about tech addiction being purposefully designed into digital devices.

Of course there is a place for technology in education, but that place should be driven by professionally experienced educators and not technology companies looking to enhance profitability.

My biggest take-away is that professional educators should be running education. The Regan era idea that business people, lawyers and Nobel Prize winning scientists were more equipped to lead America’s schools than experienced professional educators was a foolish error. Today, we have an amateur politician rich guy trying to run the country. His lack of experience is showing.

In the same way, insurance salesmen (Eli Broad), retailers (Doris Fisher) and technologists (Bill Gates) are harming America’s schools, because they do not know what they are doing. Experience and training matter in all fields of human endeavor and education is no different.