Tag Archives: Ed-Tech

Jeb Bush’s A+ Education Reform is a Reform Disaster

15 May

By T. Ultican 5/15/2019

During the 1998 gubernatorial campaign Jeb Bush proposed his A+ Education Reform. This March, Sue M. Legg, Ph.D. produced a paper that studies the results twenty years later. Professor Legg observed,

“It is critically important to recognize whose interests are being served in this school reform process. School reform had little to do with student achievement and everything to do with money and politics.”

The plan had four main components; (1) demanding curriculum standards, (2) annual testing for grades 3 – 10, (3) assigning A – F grades to schools based on testing results and (4) school choice. It was a plan for improving education without increasing spending. Or was it primarily a plan for defeating Democrats, promoting religion and making profits?

Speaking at the 2012 Republican National Convention Jeb Bush made clear his antipathy toward public schools, teachers and their unions. He said,

“There are many people who say they support strong schools but draw the line at school choice.

“Sorry, kid. Giving you equal opportunity would be too risky. And it will upset powerful political forces that we need to win elections.

“I have a simple message for these masters of delay and deferral: Choose. You can either help the politically powerful unions. Or you can help the kids.”

“We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity. ….

“Tell that to a parent stuck in a school where there is no leadership. Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.”

When the A+ Program was adopted in 1999, Florida had consistently scored among the bottom third of US states on standardized testing. The following two data sets indicate no improvement and Florida now scoring in the bottom fourth.

NAEP Rankings

Florida’s Relative Ranking among US States on NAEP Math and Reading Testing

SAT ACT Comparison

ACT and SAT State Rankings and Score Averages

Florida adopted a mandatory third grade retention policy as part of the reform agenda. In 2002-3, fourteen percent of all third graders were retained, nearly twenty-eight thousand children. Since Florida was the first state to have mandatory third grade retention, it is logical that its average scores in a national fourth grade assessment the following year would improve its national ranking. This was a very controversial policy with supporters claiming a huge success while detractors claimed the testing improvement were the result of other changes to reading instruction in Florida. In 2014, the Helios Foundation commissioned a study of the Florida results and concluded,

“While Florida’s third grade reading policy enjoys less definitive evidence of success than its most vocal proponents claim, it has improved retained students’ performance in math and reading up to seventh grade and decreased their likelihood of future retention. It remains unknown what (retention or remediation or the two together) drove the impacts in Florida.

In 1998, while Jeb Bush was running to be the next Governor of the state, there was a constitutional amendment on the ballot calling for all students to have equal access to a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools”. It passed with strong support. Professor Legg stated, “The intent was clear: no public money to private schools.” There has been a constant tension played out in Florida courts between Bush’s school choice ideology and this constitutional amendment. In January, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 against the 2009 law suit challenging Florida’s tax credit voucher program based on the 1998 constitutional amendment.

Last year, 21 percent of Florida’s students were enrolled in private and charter schools. The Florida tax credit scholarships (FTCS) went to 1,700 private schools and were awarded to over 100,000 students. Most of those students are in religious schools. Splitting public funding between three systems – public, charter and private – has insured mediocrity in all three systems.

Privatization Politics and Profiteering

Too understand Florida’s education reform, it is important to realize that its father, Jeb Bush, is the most doctrinal conservative in the Bush family. He fought for six years to keep feeding tubes inserted into Terri Schiavo, a woman in a persistently vegetative state. Jeb was the Governor who signed the nation’s first “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law. During his first unsuccessful run for governor in 1994, Bush ‘“declared himself a ‘head-banging conservative’; vowed to ‘club this government into submission’; and warned that ‘we are transforming our society to a collectivist policy.”

After his 1994 loss, Bush joined the Heritage Foundation board. In a New Yorker article, Alec MacGillis wrote, “Bush found a compatible source for ideas on education when he joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers.” The elements of what became his A+ Plan for education reform came from the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank founded in 1973. Heritage distinguished itself from another successful conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, with its advocacy of Christian conservatism.

MacGillis further shared,

“Bush’s most influential adviser was Patricia Levesque, a former legislative aide to the state House Republican leadership and a graduate of Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist Christian school in South Carolina. (She greeted a new hire in Bush’s administration by asking him if he had “found a church home” yet in Tallahassee.)”

Jim Warford, whom Bush selected to be his K-12 schools chancellor in 2003, said of Bush, “He saw the teachers’ unions as one of the foundations of the Democratic Party, and he saw a great advantage—that anything he could do to undercut the teachers’ union would have a political return.”

It appears that Bush’s school reforms were motivated more by politics and religion than by improving education. However, it is profiteering that has gotten completely out of hand in Florida.

In 1996, Bush founded a charter school with the help of Jonathan Hage. In 2002, the Saint Petersburg Times reported,

“Jonathan Hage, a former Heritage Foundation researcher and political protege of Gov. Jeb Bush, has turned Florida’s charter school program into a growing for-profit business empire. Five years after borrowing $5,000 to start up Charter Schools USA, Hage took in $40-million last year [that’s 2001] — almost all of it from the government.”

In 2012, CSUSA took in $285,000,000. Today on their LinkedIn page they claim,

“Charter Schools USA (CSUSA) is one of the fastest growing education management companies in the U.S. We represent over 70,000+ students and 83 schools in 6 states.”

A League of Women report shared the history of one CSUSA charter school. CSUSA (the CMO) had purchased a former American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT) call center for about $1.2 million. CSUSA flipped the building several times and had the property reappraised. They invested $1.5 million in upgrades. A final appraisal was for $9 million dollars. The charter board signed an escalating lease for over a million dollars per year that in time will surpass the school’s budget. (The County Property Appraiser served a short term on the CSUSA board.)

Bush’s younger brother Neil somehow got out of Colorado after the collapse of his Silverado Savings and Loan cost taxpayers a billion dollars with no legal charges filed against him. Could it be that the President being his father influenced the charging? Neil showed up in Florida in 2002 to sell a new standardized testing preparation program for Florida’s new statewide testing. A progressive weekly report stated, “ Critics say it doesn’t look right for Neil Bush to be marketing his software to Florida schools.”

Professor Legg says that political interests from both sides of the isle see charter schools as a business opportunity. She reports,

“Former Vice President Biden’s brother runs the for-profit Mavericks charters. A Bush family friend launched Imagine schools, Florida’s third largest for-profit charter chain. Several Florida politicians including former Senate President, Joe Negron, and the former Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran launched charter schools.”

“Questions about conflict of interest claims have been made against current and former legislators involved in educational policy e.g. Richard Corcoran, Manny Diaz, Eric Fresen , Byron Donalds, former House Education Chair Michael Bileca, former Senate President Joe Negron, Anitere Flores and others. They all have personal ties to the charter industry and held or hold important education committee positions.”

Several of the politicians named by Legg have formed an alliance to promote the Classical Academy charter schools. Legg described the school and named the players,

“Classical Academies are sponsored by the Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative. This Michigan private college has a long religious, conservative/libertarian tradition. The DeVos immediate family includes several Hillsdale graduates. The Barney (SmithBarney) and Stanton Foundation fund the initiative. According to Salon, the Koch brothers are also contributors.

“Erika Donalds and her husband, Representative Byron Donalds, co-founded one of the Classical Academies in Collier County and were members of its governing board. Donalds formed an alliance with the wife of the 2017 Florida Senate president, Joe Negron, to open Treasure Coast Academy Classical Academy in Martin County. Donalds also filed paperwork for a nonprofit entity called ‘Alpha’. Anne Corcoran, wife of the newly appointed Florida Commissioner of Education, opened a classical academy in Pasco County and assisted with one in Tallahassee. Representative Michael Bileca’s foundation donates to True North Classical Academy in Miami, according to the Miami Herald.”

It has taken money to keep these blatant conflicts of interest and the anti-public education leadership in place. In the fall of 2018, Integrity Florida published a report called The Hidden Costs of Charter School Choice. They detail $13,666,531 in political campaign donations from 1998-2016 from the Florida charter school industry. All Children Matter (founded by Betsy DeVos), American Federation for Children, and the Alliance for School Choice raised over $19 million dollars. The Walton family, John Kirtley, Gary Chartrand (member of the Florida State Board of Education), CSUSA and Academica are listed as major donors. This advocacy for a political and religious ideology permeates all aspects of the process of authorizing and expanding charter schools in Florida.

Selling Education Technology and Taxpayer Funded Religious Schools

Bush Levesque

After leaving state government, Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now.

Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise (a Democrat) was selected to lead Digital Learning Now. In a joint article Bush and Wise claimed,

Digital learning can customize and personalize education so all students learn in their own style at their own pace, which maximizes their chances for success in school and beyond. With digital learning, every student—from rural communities to inner cities—can access high quality and rigorous courses in every subject, including foreign languages, math and science.

 Digital learning can also be the catalyst for transformational change in education.

The article, Personalized and Blended Learning are Money Grabs, explains that digital learning is a costly attempt to replace expensive teachers with cheaper and more profitable technology. There are many negatives associated with digital learning and no large scale benefits. Nevertheless in 2011 the state of Florida passed the Digital Learning Now Act. The official description says it “requires full-time & part-time school district virtual instruction program options; provides funding & accountability requirements; requires online learning course for high school graduation ….”

Patricia Levesque is FEE’s CEO leading the charge to privatize public education and direct tax money to religious schools. The Huffington Post described the funders of FEE,

“Bush foundation donors include family philanthropies, such as those established by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Corporate donors include Connections Education, a division of global publishing giant Pearson ; Amplify, the education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp ; and K12, a publicly traded company that runs online schools.”

On line education is valued by the growing Christian home-schooling movement.

FEE launched an advocacy group, Chiefs for Change, to promote many of Bush’s K-12 education policies around the country. Membership in Chiefs now includes 1 in every 5 school superintendents in America. In the Public Interest, a D.C.-based non-profit group has released thousands of e-mails that link Chiefs for Change to corporations and education officials who are attempting to help state legislators write laws that will directly benefit their organizations financially. The Contributor reported,

“The emails are primarily between Chiefs for Change and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which both share a vision of for-profit education fueled by charter schools, online education and standardized testing. The groups share many of the same donors and officials as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is pushing for a similar ‘education’ agenda.” 

Conclusion

Politics, profits and religion are driving the destruction of public education in Florida. The Bush/Heritage A+ education plan has not improved test scores but it has undermined the education of the almost 80 percent of students still in public schools.

To avoid spending more money on public schools, Florida decided that market forces and technology would solve the problems associated with poverty. When voters in Florida voted for class size reduction, Bush responded,

“So please do not confuse Florida’s class-size amendment with reform. Reform is about creating a more efficient, more effective education system that meets the needs of children. The class-size amendment has been a hugely expensive diversion from that goal.”

Betsy DeVos called Florida an example; I agree. Florida has many excellent educators but the political leadership has sent the public education system into a downward spiral. Look at other failed examples like Washington DC, New Orleans, Denver, Detroit, Oakland, etc. All of them embrace the Florida education reform model. Choice is an American right, but taxpayers are not responsible to pay for private choices.

For 200 years, America’s unparalleled public education system has been the foundation for democracy, the center of community life and the fertile soil of creativity. For 200 years, this great good has been under constant attack but it has persevered. The time has come to rally around our national treasure (public education) and turn away the profiteers, religious zealots and political opportunists.

Destroying Public Education in St. Louis

18 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/18/2019

On April 2nd, St. Louis city voters picked Adam Layne and Tracee Miller to serve on their seven-member Public School Board. They appear to be the two least likely candidates out of the seven to protect public schools. With the state ending twelve years of control over the city’s schools on April 16, this election result is not a happy one for public education advocates.

The Seven Board Candidates

  1. Adam Layne is a former Teach for America (TFA) corps member assigned to a St. Louis charter school and is currently a board member of the Kairos Academy charter school.
  2. Tracee Miller was a TFA corps member and is currently running a math tutoring program in St. Louis for the Gates Foundation supported Khan Academy.
  3. Louis Cross boasts a long career with St. Louis Public Schools. He served as principal and interim superintendent of the now defunct Ethel Hedgemen charter school.
  4. Bill Haas served on the school board from 1997 to 2005, and again from 2010 to 2018. He was one of two board members that stood in opposition to contracting with Alvarez and Marsal to run St. Louis schools in 2003.
  5. David Merideth served on a special committee in 2017 that studied the school board’s role in future governance of the district when state control is relinquished.
  6. Barbara Anderson is a graduate of St. Louis Public Schools who taught on the elementary, middle and university levels throughout her career.
  7. Dan McCready is from Cincinnati, where he taught third and fifth grade math at a Cincinnati public school. He currently works at KIPP Victory Academy, a St. Louis charter school.

Dark Money Sways Election Results

Layne and Miller

Adam Layne and Tracee Miller

New board member Adam Layne appears to be a talented and idealistic young man. In 2011, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from George Washington University. Unfortunately, that youthful idealism was corrupted when he was enticed into the segrenomics business by TFA. [Professor Noliwe Rooks defines segrenomics as profiting off segregated poor communities by selling them education services.]

Layne’s report to the Missouri Ethics Commission (ID: A190713) shows him receiving only $155 in campaign contributions.  The first time I searched the Ethics Commission, I got a clue as to how with such meager experience and direct campaign support; Layne won a seat on the board. There was some sort of data base error and instead of displaying Adam Layne in the name field it put Public School Allies. The error will not repeat but the downloaded excel file displays it.

Public School Allies

An Error Showing Public School Allies in the Name Field Instead of Adam Layne

Chalkbeat reported that St. Louis is one of seven US cities The City Fund has targeted for implementation of the portfolio district governance model; which assures the privatization of schools. Public School Allies is a political action committee created by The City Fund staff. It supplies campaign financing under IRS Code 501 C4 rules making it a dark money fund.

City Fund lists The Opportunity Trust as their partner in St. Louis. Opportunity is a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

Marie Ceselski of the St. Louis 7th Ward reported,

“Last week, St. Louis City-based Civil PAC sent out a targeted, glossy, multi-color mailing supporting Adam Layne. …

“At the time of the mailing, Civil PAC had $37.21 in its bank account per MEC records. On Wednesday, March 24th, Civil PAC reported to MEC that it had received a $20,000 donation on March 19th. The donation was from Public School Allies ….”

The other new board member Tracee Miller also appears to be dedicated and idealistic. However, like her fellow new board member, she too had her youthful idealism corrupted by TFA. Through TFA she was introduced to a group of “education reform” companies profiting off segregated poor communities.

Miller’s present employer the Khan Academy’s main purpose is promoting kids learning at computers – euphemistically known as “personalized learning.” She also lists Blueprint Education as a current employer. Blueprint is another TFA related business working in the segrenomics sector. Miller shares her responsibilities for Blueprint in Massachusetts,

“Supervise elementary math intervention program; hire, train, observe, coach, and evaluate high-quality full-time math intervention specialists; write lesson plans and provide instructional support for elementary teachers in math; serve as a liaison between school teams and Blueprint Fellows/Blueprint Program; track student data and use data to drive instruction via lesson planning and coaching; maintain a positive and professional atmosphere with clear and high expectations.”

At Dever Elementary school in Boston, the Blueprint experience was such a disaster that 45 of the original 47 teachers quit. Jennifer Berkshire of the Have You Heard blog started getting messages from upset teachers that did not know where else to turn. They told her, “We’ve lost faith because there’s absolutely no accountability here.” and “Blueprint has no idea how to run a school, and it’s maddening that there isn’t more oversight from the state.

The amount of dark money that went into supporting Miller through independent expenditures is unclear, however, it is known that a dark money fund created by the newly established Joseph Wingate Folk Society put $143,000 dollars into the political action committee Voters Organized Through Education StL (aka Vote-StL PAC). Complaints have been filed with Missouri’s Attorney General over the way this secretive new fund operates. Besides this fund and Public School Allies there were other dark money funds operating around this election.

Miller received a modest direct contribution total of $8330 (ID: A190747). A $1,000 contribution from Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is particularly note worthy. LEE was established in 2007 to elect TFA corps members into education leadership positions. Miller sent a $1000 back to LEE to purchase their campaign consulting services. Leadership for Educational Equity’s three member board is comprised of Emma Bloomberg (former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter), Michael Park (a Partner in McKinsey & Company’s New York office) and Arthur Rock (Silicon Valley billionaire who contributes heavily to promote charter schools and TFA).

TFA is an industry leader in the business of segrenomics. It has been remarkably successful everywhere except in the classroom. These temporary teachers with virtually no training nor experience are not ready to run a class. Letting TFA corps members teach is akin to letting a college graduate with five-week training fly commercial airliners or perform medical diagnosis. They have no business being granted a teaching license and students in their classrooms are being cheated. It is money from Billionaires that is making the TFA outrage possible.

St. Louis Elites Have Led a Century of Public Education Malfeasance

In 1904, St. Louis held an exposition on the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. At the time, the city was wealthy and boasted an amazing public education system. Particularly noteworthy were the schools designed and built by architect William Ittner. In an in-depth piece, Journalist Jeff Bryant observed, “More than a century ago, St. Louis embarked on a revolution in education that made the city’s schools the jewel of the Midwest and a model for urban school districts around the nation.

Unfortunately, segregation dominates the St. Louis story. Bryant cites the work of Richard Rothstein a Senior Fellow, emeritus, the Haas Institute at the University of California (Berkeley). “In an interview with a St. Louis reporter, Rothstein points to integrated neighborhoods in the city, such as Desoto-Carr, that were transformed into single race communities through federal housing programs.” This doomed many of the city’s schools to poor academic performance and anemic financial support plus the city itself stopped growing. The latest census shows that St. Louis has not grown in population since that 1904 exposition.

The schools in St. Louis receive 9% less revenue than the state of Missouri on average and next door in Ferguson they receive 13% less revenue. Rutgers University’s school finance wizard, Bruce Baker, put St. Louis schools into his “most screwed” category. The Normandy school system in Ferguson is where Michael Brown graduated just two months before being shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed. In her book Cutting School, Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks commented,

Racial and economic segregation, racially specific forms of educational instruction and testing, subpar facilities, undertrained teachers, and white parents determined to keep Blacks out of their more stable and functional school systems were all as much a part of Michael Brown’s life as they were for the students involved in the cases that formed the plaintiff group in Brown v. Board.”

In 2001, four of the seven seats on the school board were up for election. Mayor Francis Slay a Democrat did not want to run the schools directly but he put together a slate of candidates to dominate board. He made sure they could significantly outspend their opponents. A 2003 report in the River Front Times states,

Slay loaned $50,000 from his campaign fund to support the slate. Major area corporations kicked in with Anheuser-Busch, Ameren and Emerson Electric each giving $20,000. Energizer Eveready Battery Company gave $15,000. The coalition raised more than $235,000.

This led to a sixteen year crisis in St. Louis schools. The first action by Slay’s team was to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants. St. Louis paid A&M $4.8 million to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. The River Front Times reported the team’s goal was to “make the district more efficient, save money and hopefully redirect those savings to boost academic performance somewhere down the road.

A&M selected Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti to be superintendent of schools. His official title was changed to “Chief Restructuring Officer.” The clothing store leader had never worked in a school before.

Roberti commuted from his home in Connecticut using a $110,000 travel expense perk. His education advisor was former New York Superintendent, Rudy Crew, who was living on the West Coast and would not move to or spend much time in St. Louis.

Roberti closed more than 20 schools and “balanced” the school budgets by borrowing $49 million dollars from an existing desegregation program. The money had to be repaid. By the time it was recognized that the system’s $73 million dollar deficit had ballooned to $87.7 million, Roberti and A&M were long gone. The were consulting in the Detroit School System for the soon to be failed emergency manager Robert Bobb. In 2007, the state of Missouri took over St. Louis Public Schools citing its financial issues.

Democrat Slay responded by becoming a “cheerleader for charter schools” hoping that would turn the tide of people moving out of St. Louis. Slay’s effort to privatize public schools drew support from 110 miles away in Osage County where the billionaires Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield had made their new home. They also have a modest little 8300 square foot home in St. Louis but are registered to vote in Osage.

Libertarian Gospel Propagated in Missouri

Rex and Jeanne Sinqufield

Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield

Rex Sinquefield grew up in a St. Louis Catholic orphanage. Unlike other extremely wealthy libertarians such as David and Charles Koch or the entire Walton family, Rex did not inherit his wealth. Three years after graduating from high school, he left a Catholic seminary to pursue a more secular path. He eventually earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. At the school, he met and married his wife and business partner Jeanne Cairns. Jeanne also earned an MBA, plus she was awarded a PhD in demography.

In 1977, Rex co-Authored Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation: The Past and the Future with Roger Ibbotson. The book is still considered a standard reference for those who seek valuable information on capital market returns. Ibbotson gained his PhD in finance from the University of Chicago.

In 1981, David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago and Sinquefield formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. His wife Jeanne supervised the DFA Trading Department and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2005. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

The Sinquefield’s lived in Santa Monica, California – which he called “Soviet Monica” – while running DFA. In 2005, Rex and Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years.

The Center for Media and Democracy produced “A Reporter’s Guide to Rex Sinquefield and the Show-me Institute.” They demonstrated his attitude about public education by quoting Rex:

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Rex Sinquefield’s primary policy interests are education, income tax reform and local control. He funds efforts for school vouchers, the elimination of teacher tenure and income tax reform. Ballotpedia stated, “Through the financial support of political committees and organizations, including Let Voters Decide, Teach Great and the Safer Missouri Citizen’s Coalition, Sinquefield has donated millions of dollars to support his policy priorities on the Missouri ballot.

Sinquefield Ballot Measures

Ballotpedia.org Image

Sinquefield wants Missouri to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes altogether, partially replacing the lost revenue with a broader sales tax that would be capped at 7 percent. He believes Sam Brownback was on the right path in Kansas and wants Missouri to follow.

Sinquefield is currently trying to privatize the St. Louis’s Lambert Airport as a way of eliminating the 1% earnings tax in the city. Rex started learning his anti-tax beliefs at his mother’s knee. When he was seven years old, she had to give him and his brother up to an orphanage after his father’s death. Alan Greenblatt reported,

In strained circumstances, his mother resented having to pay the 1 percent tax imposed on earnings of people who work or live in St. Louis. ‘I can’t afford this damned tax,’ he recalls her saying.

Two Observations

The great concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few individuals is destroying democracy. Rex’s anti-tax, anti-union and free market ideology might be a winning philosophy, but his ability to spend so liberally to sell his ideas makes anyone else’s opinion mute. Billionaires are warping the democratic process and driving us toward oligarchy. We need a significant wealth tax to end this kind of financial tyranny.

Privatizing public education is another attack on the foundations of democracy. Charter schools, vouchers and education technology are not solutions to poverty and under resourced schools. Today, there are some good things happening in Saint Louis Public Schools. Protect it from billionaires and their TFA staffed armies of “deformers.”

Hi-Tech Profit Motive and Power Trumps Good Pedagogy

9 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MVH Staff Oct 2016

Some Ed-tech Sales Targets

Personalized Learning and Summit Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experimenting on Other People’s Children

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

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

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

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

On Novermber 1st, Bloomberg reported:

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

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

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

No Independent Rigorous Research Supports Recent Technology Spending by Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carter et al also share the from the literature:

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

Conclusion

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