Tag Archives: Mark Zuckerberg

Selling Edtech when Disguised as Philanthropy

27 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/27/2020

“Personalized learning” is being driven by foundations derived from companies that stand to profit by its implementation. Last year, George Mason’s Priscilla Regan and the University of Ottawa’s Valerie Steeves wrote the peer reviewed paper Education, privacy, and big data algorithms: Taking the persons out of personalized learning in which they state, “Other than the Carnegie Corporation, the private foundations who have been most supportive of personalized learning are those supported by the technology companies, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Google Foundation.”

In the case of the Carnegie Corporation, the authors note that the philanthropy has been supporting education causes since its founding in 1911. Recently, Carnegie has given monetary support to “personalized learning” but “typically in partnership with one of the tech foundations.”

Based on a listing of the fifteen largest education spending philanthropies in the first decade of the millennium,  the paper’s authors selected the technology linked Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the largest donor); Michael and Susan Dell (fourth largest donor); and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (#8 in 2010) for analysis. They added two newer giving organizations, the Google Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, to complete their list of five tech associated education grant making companies to analyze.

In their review of scholarly papers and the popular press, they identified five types of activities supported by tech foundations with their K-12 spending:

“The first activity … involves grants to public schools for adoption of edtech applications, including personalized learning initiatives, or to educational initiatives to organizations working in public schools (such as Teach for America) or to organizations providing alternatives to public schools (such as charter schools).

“The second entails grants or some form of funding support for edtech companies.”

“The third area of activity is tech foundation support for coverage of edtech, especially coverage in publications directed to education professionals.”

“A fourth area of activity is tech foundation funding for research into studies evaluating the results of edtech applications, including personalized learning.”

“The fifth area of activity is tech foundation funding for advocacy groups who work in K-12 education.”

Three important observations from Regan and Steeves paper:

“We argue that, although there has been no formal recognition, personalized learning as conceptualized by foundations marks a significant shift away from traditional notions of the role of education in a liberal democracy and raises serious privacy issues that must be addressed.”

“It presents yet another example of the transformation of the traditional role of public education as educating citizens to one of educating future workers and consumers, a contrast of liberal democracy with neoliberal democracy.”

“The edtech sector has been focused on the notion [of personalized learning] …. While companies have generated hundreds of products and a smattering of new school models are showing promise, there is little large-scale evidence that the approach can improve teaching and learning or narrow gaps in academic achievement.”

After investigating education journalism, the authors chose to focus on Education Week as representative. The 1981 non-profit bills itself as “American education’s newspaper of record.” It has a print circulation of 50,000 and an online subscribership of 750,000 made up predominately of educators. Education Week has gotten an infusion of grant money from philanthropic foundations including $10 million from the Gates Foundation since 2005.

The authors concluded, “It accordingly is a site where various actors involved in personalized learning, including, teachers, school administrators, developers, policy-makers and foundations, share their views.” They also note that Education Week intersects with all five of the activity types supported by the tech foundations. For the study, they reviewed articles from the five year period 2013 to 2017.

What is being Sold?

“Personalized learning”, “blended learning” and standardized testing are three of the bigger items being promoted. Huge lobbying by big tech has turned the United States Education Department (USED) into a de facto tech sales firm. Statements like this abound on the USED web site,

“Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.”  

This grotesque distortion of reality is little more than propaganda backing technology based bad pedagogy. Tech provided schemes like “personalized learning” are founded on the behaviorist based mastery education theory. Besides promoting tech industry products, USED champions age inappropriate learning and publishes unfounded blather about better student outcomes.

The 1970’s “mastery learning” was so detested that it was renamed “outcome based education” in the 1990s and now is called “competency based education” (CBE). The name changes are due to the five-decade long record of failure. CBE is simply putting “mastery leaning” on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. In the 1970s teachers began calling it “seats and sheets.”

“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 based on mastery learning theory.

“Credit recovery” is the fraud that has engendered soaring graduation rates. It is another way of implementing “personalize learning.” Students are completing semester long classes and receiving full credit for them in as little as one day. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Today, fueled by this technology based scam, graduation rates are approaching 90%.

The current version of the national education law, The Every Student Succeeds Act, defines “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.”

This means that a student gets lessons delivered to their digital device from a provider like the Khan Academy. Later the student’s teacher takes on the roll of tutor and helps them with their assignments during class. It is another way to de-professionalize teaching and sell technology.

There are many dark sides to education technology including personal privacy being sundered.

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 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 current group of teenagers she labels 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.”

Not all edtech is bad. In fact some is necessary and some greatly enhances learning. In my personal experience, I found Jupiter Grades, the online grade book to be a very valuable tool for communicating with both students and their parents. Student management systems like those provided by Illuminate Education are essential for managing attendance, enrollment and other things schools legally must track.

In the classroom, high speed data acquisition equipment, word processing capabilities and high end calculators are a boon. Textbooks that take advantage of technology to create hints and provide tools for exploration are excellent learning tools.

The difference between technology that enhances pedagogy and bad edtech is the underlying purpose. Technology that is designed to fill a need and enhance learning is normally a good thing. Technology that is designed to improve system efficiency the way robotics has increased production outputs per worker is generally bad for learning.

In the new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire explain,

“Because learning is deeply rooted in relationships, it can’t be farmed out to robots or time-saving devices. Technology, of course, is rapidly moving into classrooms. But just having more Chromebooks or online learning platforms hasn’t allowed for faster or larger batch-processing of students.”

Looking at the Scholarly Analysis

Regan and Steeves wrote,

“With respect to personalized learning, all five of the foundations emphasize that there are differences in the ways student learn and the importance of ‘flexible learning opportunities’ (Hewlett), ‘the right experiences to help students learn’ (Dell), ‘a truly transformative, personalized learning experience’ (CZ), and ‘the right learning materials’ (Google), which leads to the importance of ‘real-time assessments for gauging student learning’ (Gates) and ‘formative data … gathered as learning is happening … in-the-moment use of data in the classroom’ (Dell). None of the five foundations, however provide a definition of what they actually mean by personalized learning instead describing the importance of data and differences.

“Moreover, none of the five foundations offers actual evidence for the effectiveness of the innovations they are advancing although all discuss the importance of evidence.” (Emphasis Added)

 “Perhaps most interesting in our review of foundations’ Web sites was the almost universal absence of any mention of privacy or the implications of collecting all this data on students’ learning and personal characteristics that would be a necessary component to implement personalized learning, as well as an outcome of that implementation. … The absence of this topic from their overviews is startling given the attention companies like Google and Facebook have been forced to pay to both privacy and security.”

When looking at the EdWeek material the authors observed,

“The EdWeek data set … bifurcates into two, mostly separate, discourses. The first replicates the same themes we found in the foundation Web site materials. It consists of 14 articles written by eight authors, including senior EdWeek writers …; all eight authors are explicitly assigned to cover ed-tech from a business perspective …. For simplicity sake, we refer to this as the dominant discourse.”

“The second discourse appears almost exclusively in 14 articles written by Benjamin Herold, a staff writer who came to EdWeek from public radio and who covers ‘ed-tech, newsroom analytics, digital storytelling and Philadelphia’.”

One of the main themes from the dominant discourse is diminishing the roll of teachers.

“From this perspective, teachers are not experts in the education process equipped to make decisions about how and when to use edtech; instead, they must embrace the fact that, because of technology, ‘they don’t need to know it all. They’re not the experts’ …. Expertise resides in the edtech itself.”

The authors note, “And ultimately, when faced with hard numbers that suggest personalized learning is not effective, the dominant discourse falls back on the need to believe in the technology.”

Benjamin Herold’s articles pushed back against the dominant discourse. His basic argument is captured in the following quote attributed to a parent activist,

“As parent Karen Effrem, ‘the president of … an advocacy organization that supports parents’ right to control their children’s education’ says, ‘We’re sacrificing our children’s privacy, and we’re allowing corporations to make potentially life-changing decisions about our kids, all for technology that doesn’t actually help them.’”

Project Propaganda AKA Project Forever Free

28 Mar

By Thomas Ultican 3/28/2020

During final months of 2019, the Education Post was reorganized. In 2014, four billionaires spent $5.5 million to establish a new digital media channel in response to the massive and effective push back against their favored education reforms. Actually, it was more than four billionaires. One of those funders was the Walton Family Foundation made up of multiple billionaires. The channel was called Education Post but its official non-profit name was the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) whose existence seemed to be purposely obscured. Peter Cunningham was listed on tax forms as President of RIEF, but publicly Cunningham was only known as the founding Executive Director of Education Post.

During the first four years of operation, the top contributor to REIF has been Michael Bloomberg. Available tax records show that between 2014 and 2017 he granted it more than $7 million and when added to the sizeable donations by the Waltons, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs Powell, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg the total is almost $20 million. Spending since December 31, 2017 is unknown because there is a lag time of almost two years for non-profit taxes to be filed and made public.

Last year, a new organization called Brightbeam was created. It claims to be an umbrella organization for the Education Post and other sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for RIEF. Two other digital platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free are controlled by Brightbeam and they share some of the same employees. The following LittleSis map shows the new structure of this digital media group dedicated to disrupting public education.

Education Post Reorganized

Billionaire Financed Digital Media Structure Supporting School Privatization

Professor Noliwe Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and was for ten years the associate director of African American studies at Princeton University. In her recent book, Cutting Schools, she coined the term “segrenomics” – the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation. She also pointed out that “between 1970 and 1990, the Black-white gap in educational attainment shrank in racially integrated schools, and yet this strategy is no longer discussed, and there is no ‘vocal pro-integration constituency’ pushing for it.” (The book is reviewed here.)

In the book, Rooks went on to state,

“In 1989, the National Business Roundtable urged its state and local affiliates to work more closely with state governments to radically restructure the nation’s public schools. The National Alliance of Business circulated pamphlets instructing CEOs and business groups on how to shape local school policy toward economic restructuring goals. President Reagan and his education secretary, William Bennett, were in full agreement with such sentiments. In regard to public schools, integration was out, business was in.”

The billionaires who created the digital media structure described by the map above subscribe to the philosophy that business should be leading America’s k-12 education. Their neoliberal ideology posits that democratic control of public schools is a problem and that a privatized system based on market competition is superior. That is what this new expanded digital media network is selling.

Protecting the Billionaires’ Assets

By 2014, the bloom was off the rose for the test to privatize movement. Former advocate of standardized testing based reform, Dian Ravitch, had released her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was a sensation which was reinforced by the work of other academics like David Berliner and Gene Glass who published Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools. Scholars and teachers across America rose up to fight billionaire led education “reform.”

Anthony Cody and Diane Ravitch founded the Network for Public Education (NPE) in 2014 which brought together many pro-public education advocates from across America. Bloggers like Peter Greene and Mercedes Schneider were gaining large followings as were a myriad other teacher bloggers fighting what they viewed as the destruction of their profession and the great American public school system which underpins democratic government. By 2018, Diane Ravitch was proclaiming at the NPE convention, “We are the resistance and we are winning.”

To counter the drubbing the billionaire education disrupters were receiving in cyber space, they created the Education Post. Its results must have been a disappointment. In 2019, they reorganized their effort to purchase influence in the realm of social media.

Peter Cunningham was hired to lead Education Post in 2014. He had been a speech writer and advisor for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. When fellow Chicago politician Barak Obama picked Cunningham’s colleague Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education, Cunningham went along and became the department’s Assistant Secretary of Communications and Outreach. He has a long association with the school choice movement and currently serves on multiple boards associated with the charter industry. His first year’s salary was a little in excess of $200,000.

Cunningham was joined on the first board of RIEF by Emma Bloomberg, Bruce Reed and Kathleen McInerney.  The board appears to be selected as a function giving. That first year, $4,729,146 of the $5,479,146 in grants received by RIEF were from two billionaires, Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. Board member Emma Bloomberg is Michael’s daughter and Kathleen McInerney represents Bloomberg on other boards and works for Bloomberg’s long used accounting firm Geller & Co. Bruce Reed is President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation increased their “gift” to $1,000,000 and a fifth board member was added. Marc Sternberg who leads the foundation’s initiatives to improve K-12 education joined the board. In 2016, Bruce Reed quit the board and was not replaced. In 2017, that board seat was filled by Russlynn Ali, CEO of Laurene Jobs Powell’s XQ Institute. It was the third year Powell had been contributing a million dollars or more.

In 2020, the board has three new faces. The new umbrella organization Brightbeam lists the board of directors. Peter Cunningham and Mark Sternberg are still on the board. Bloomberg, McInery and Ali have been replaced by Arne Duncan, Sydney Chaffee and Lillian Lowery.

The current board is certainly still education disrupter friendly. Mark Sternberg was director of business development at Victory Schools Inc., a private management company for charter schools, in Manhattan in 2001. He had previously earned a B.A. from Princeton in 1995 and was a Teach For America corps member in the South Bronx. He subsequently worked for Bloomberg’s New York City Department of Education where he served as senior advisor to the chancellor and the mayor’s office on education policy and strategy. He is a graduate of the Broad Academy class of 2013-2014.

Arne Duncan is widely recognized as the Secretary of Education during most of the Obama Presidency. He was and still is a well known advocate of test based accountability for schools and teachers. He supports school choice. He also went to work for Laurene Jobs Powell at the Emerson Collective as Managing Partner in 2016.

Sydney Chaffee was the controversial US Teacher of the Year selection in 2017.  She is a ninth grade humanities teacher at the Dorchester, Ma. Codman Academy Charter School; a TeachPlus Policy Fellow; and an EdX Policy Fellow. The Gates supported Council of Chief State School Officers select the US Teacher of the Year. When the teachers’ union in Massachusetts refused to congratulate her selection, right wing media was incensed. Chaffee has become very popular with education disrupters as a symbol of privatized education quality.

Lillian Lowery is a graduate of the 2004 Broad Academy. On July 1, 2012 she became Maryland Superintendent of Schools. That was the same month that education technology promoter and now convicted criminal, Dallas Dance, was hired as Superintendent of Baltimore’s public schools. Since leaving Maryland, she has served as CEO of the Ed Tech advocacy group Future Ready Ohio and as vice president for PreK-12 Policy, Research, and Practice at Education Trust.

Selling School Privatization

Chris Stewart is the African American CEO leading the umbrella group Brightbeam. The 2014 RIEF tax records show that he was paid $53,723 as “outreach and external affairs director.” In 2015 he established the blog Citizen Education. That same year he was paid $171,643 by RIEF yet claimed on the Citizen Education about page,

No I don’t have funding for this. Yes it costs money to make it happen.”

Stewart’s pay increased to $197,559 in 2016 still as “outreach and external affair director.” In 2017, he was paid $226,417 to be CEO of the “Wayfinder Project.”

Chris also serves as chair of the board at the Students for Education Reform’s Action Network a billionaire financed AstroTurf organization.

On March 25, Chris put his latest public education attack piece on the Project Forever Free blog that he controls. The piece has the farcical title They’re Worried We’ll Realize We Can Teach Our Kids Better at Home splashed across Diane Ravitch’s picture. In this baseless attack article, he shows a tweet by Arthur Camins that is addressed to @DianeRavitch, @teka21bat, @carolburris, @leoniehaimson, @Network4pubEd,  @AnthonyCody, @palan57, @StevenSinger3, @jeffbcdm and the @BadassTeachersA. He then writes, “Friends, is it petty for me to point out that Camins’ Tweet tags a group of nine people who couldn’t be less representative of democratic public education in a pluralistic society?”

It is much worse than petty. It is slanderous and senseless. Two of the addressed entities are organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people. The other seven people are selflessly donating countless hours to protecting students and public education from paid disrupters and data scammers. It is ironic that a man who works for anti-democratic billionaires would make such an outrageous claim, but that is why he is making the big bucks. Stewart is willing to do the bosses bidding.

Brightbeam’s web page lists the following local sites that they are working with to advance the privatization agenda.

  • The Black Wall Street Times Targets the Black community with school choice promotions.
  • Chicago Unheard Appears to be trying to engage Black parents of school age children to promote school choice.
  • CO School Talk – Elevating the education conversation. Colorado site pushing school choice.
  • EdLANTA – Because Georgia’s kids are always on our minds. Aimed at Black parents in Atlanta.
  • Good School Hunting – Because every kid deserves an awesome school. Seems to be a site for Brightbeam employee Erica Sanzi to proselytize for school choice.
  • Great School Voices – The watchdog on quality & equality in education. With an eye on Oakland, California. Site dedicated to selling school choice to the locals.
  • Indy K12 – Education is Power. Just what Indianapolis needs another school choice promoting entity to further destroy that cities already decimated public school system.
  • Kentucky School Talk – Great public schools for every kid in the Bluegrass State. Charter schools are not popular in Kentucky but this group is for choice.
  • New Mexico Education – Your home for all things education in The Land of Enchantment. A pro-charter school and billionaire style reform voice.
  • NJ Left Behind – The real scoop on public schools in the Garden State. Wants more money for New Jersey charter schools.
  • New York School Talk – A real look at our schools in the Big Apple. Another site pushing a variation of the billionaire agenda.
  • Philly’s 7th Ward – Finding solutions for all Philadelphia students. A very pro-charter school site.
  • The Second Line Education Blog A pro-choice blog for New Orleans; supports everything but public schools.
  • Volume & Light – Speaking out for Nashville Schools. It is all in for school choice.

This is clearly a propaganda effort but it is doomed to fail because they are selling a bad product. It is truly sad that these self-centered billionaires are not trying to improve public schools instead of destroying them.

San Diego Schools Awash in Technology Malpractice

5 Nov

By Thomas Ultican 11/6/2016

Every year, school districts in San Diego County are wasting $10’s of millions on technology. This spending binge harms education and is difficult for school boards to oppose. Worst of all children and good pedagogy are being harmed.

ESSA Promotes Technology over Good Pedagogy

When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education (USED) was transformed into the nation’s leading education technology sales force. Secretary of Education John King has effectively become a shill for a group of corporations and their “non-profit” foundations working to sell “blended learning”; “competency based education”; “personalized learning”; “linked learning”; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.

The former governor of West Virginia, Bob Wise, has been leading the Alliance for Excellence in Education since 2005. On their web presence the Alliance lists this group of supporters: Anonymous, AT&T Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, GE Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Kern Family Foundation, National Public Education Support Fund, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, State Farm, Stuart Foundation, and William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. For unknown reasons, the biggest dollars appear to come from anonymous. This foundation is just one example, there are hundreds of non-profits like this supported by many of these same groups. They sound well-intentioned but their main motive is monetizing and controlling education in a way that supports corporate desires.

Bob Wise’s organization sponsors Future Ready which says, “The Alliance for Excellent Education leads Future Ready in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and a vast coalition of both national and regional organizations.” Pictured below are 3 of the 12 rows of sponsors advertised on their web site. It is disturbing that the two major teachers’ unions, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are there along with the national PTA.

future-ready

Future Ready asks every superintendent of schools in the United States to take its pledge in exchange for some sort of support. Here is the opening statement for the Future Ready pledge:

future-ready-pledge

Signing up for this pledge is a bit arduous, however, almost every school superintendent in San Diego County has signed it; including Sweetwater’s Karen Janney and San Diego Unified’s Cindy Marten.

Practically speaking, the pledge means giving every child a device capable of providing both their lessons and their assessments. The Future Ready vision is for lessons delivered by software packages from various vendors including Microsoft, Pearson and Google. Students will then be awarded digital badges recorded in their profile in the cloud. The vision is to eliminate school as we know it (except for high end private schools).

Another of the ubiquitous non-profits working to monetize schools, ACT Foundation, teamed with the Institute for the Future to produce a video called “Learning is Earning”. It imagines a dystopian future for all Americans provided by technology companies.

A recent Texas study found that “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with schoolwork.” And the New York Times reported recently on classroom use of technology in Arizona, where “The digital push aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom.” As the Times reported, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

A blogger who goes by the name Wrenchinthegears has created a series of posts about the digital education being promulgated by Silicon Valley billionaires, politicians and federal bureaucrats: From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade and Questions We Should be asking about “Future Ready” Schools plus Wrenchinthegears has provide an amazing slide show analyzing the threat we face. He/she concludes in Trade You a Backpack of Badges for a Caring Teacher & Well-resourced School:

“In this brave new world, education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new ‘personalized pathway/badging’ approach to education.”

A school teacher in Maine named Emily Talmage was one of the first educators to realize the seriousness of this current attack on public education. While the rest of us were focused on limiting the damage from standardized testing, she saw that the monetizing groups had moved on to “Ed Reform 2.0” and were actually leveraging opposition to testing to advance their agenda. In her most recent post, she writes:

“Lately, the MacArthur Foundation has been everywhere that Ed Reform 2.0 (personalized, competency-based, digital learning) has been – sponsoring conferences at the U.S. Department of Education on the merits of Social Impact Bonds, awarding grants to promote digital learning efforts, and even gaining recognition for their work with Mozilla and HASTAC in advancing the competency-based “digital badging” agenda from the Clinton Global Initiative. (Yeah – the Clinton’s are involved in this too, in a big way.)”

In this same post Ms. Talmage reports on the use of digital education in China:

“Under the auspices of corporate giants Tencent and Alibaba, Chinese citizens will be required by 2020 to earn a character credit score based on their actions on social media. If you post government-approved articles, for example, you’ll earn points that you can then show off to your friends.  [It gets even creepier than that, watch this video she linked into her post.]

“And if you’re now thinking: but that’s China! That could never happen here! Consider the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – now a major investor in personalized learning initiatives across the country – is quite fond of Sesame Credit’s sponsor, Jack Ma of Alibaba.

“According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘Mr. Zuckerberg said he was optimistic about China’s future development because the country focused on science and technology education.’”

 San Diego Schools Buy In

 The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) is a 7th through 12th grade school system serving 40,000 students in south San Diego, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach. SUHSD’s 2014 technology plan says;

“According to Project RED, ‘The daily use of technology in core classes correlates highly to desirable Education Success Measures [and] was one of the top five indicators of better discipline, better attendance, and increased college attendance.’ And yet, many 1:1 schools reported using the technology only weekly or less frequently for many classes. In fact, the researchers concluded that 80 percent of schools under-utilize technologies they have already purchased.”

 The official SUHSD technology plan is highly influenced by the research of Project Red. So, what is Project Red? Is this a well-known education research center led by the most well respected education professionals in America? It is not! It’s a non-profit financed by Intel, HP, Pearson and Smart. In other words, it is a group of ‘vulture philanthropists’ tilling the soil for sales. To paraphrase Peter Greene, it is like Ford’s PR firm reporting that their new Focus is the most advanced car in the world.

SUHSD embraced 1:1 digital learning first by rolling out I-pads for all students beginning with 7th graders in 2012. This year, they have changed course; are retrieving the I-pads and replacing them with Chinese laptops from Lenov running on the Microsoft Windows operating system 10.1. It is widely believed this operating system is harvesting vast amounts of data from users, which means student’s privacy is sundered.

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is a k-12 district serving more the 100,000 students. It too has succumbed to the under researched but very profitable 21st century digital learning agenda. In their July 2014 i21 report, the committee charged with mapping SDUSD’s technology future recommended:

  • “Provide equity of access to all students with individual devices and 24/7 connectivity”
  • “Evaluate a blended model of district-supplied and student-owned devices “
  • “Implement competency-based learning and problem-solving-based assessments, aligned with Common Core standards”

On October, 5 2016, a San Diego Union Tribune article announced that SDUSD has agreed to purchase and distribute to students 16,000 Google Chromebooks. It stated, “Google announced a collaboration with the San Diego Unified School District this week, and sent its ‘chief education evangelist’ to tour campuses and meet with teachers and students to see first-hand how the company’s equipment, apps and search engines are used.”

In January 2016, Senator Al Franken wrote a letter to Google expressing his concerns about student privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported:

“After we filed our complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Google’s unauthorized collection of personal information from school children using Chromebooks and the company’s educational apps, we heard from hundreds of parents around the country concerned about K-12 student privacy. This week, an important voice in Washington joined their growing chorus.

“On Wednesday, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking for information about the privacy practices of Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Several of his questions reflect concern over the issues we raised with the FTC. Sen. Franken is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.”

SUHSD and SDUSD are purchasing more than 30,000 laptops this year, which means they must also have the infrastructure to support these devices. In addition, all of the education applications require the school districts to purchase licenses that must be periodically renewed. That is a lot of money to spend on technology.

Both SUHSD and SDUSD have embraced blended learning. To start the school year, the teaching staff at Sweetwater was solicited to apply for the new blended learning specialist position; now there is a blended learning specialist at every school. Blended learning means children working independently at screens with some teacher instruction. It is the preferred method of the infamous mall charter schools which have been revealed as not just producing substandard education but too often are obvious frauds.

The August 31, 2016 issue of Time Magazine carried an article by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras called “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax.” In this article, he argues that putting children in front of digital devices is bad learning strategy which has known deleterious health effects. The paragraph quoted below outlines some of these health problems and provides a powerful and diverse set of linked references supporting his arguments.

“Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

 What is a Better Alternative for Good Education?

I just finished reading Samuel Abrams book Education and the Commercial Mindset (see review here). In his reporting on the ill-fated Edison Project, Abrams discussed their troubled high end private school in New York City, Avenues. For financial reasons, Avenues had to raise class sizes to an average of 18 students, while their competitors in the high-end education market like Dalton maintained class sizes of 14 to 15 (page 145). The wealthy are not putting their children in front of screens and they do value smaller class sizes.

If we truly want 21st century education in America, there are three simple strategies that have been proven to work. They are the strategies implemented by the unambiguously most successful education system in the Western Hemisphere, the public-school system in Finland.

1) Require a master’s degree, thorough pedagogical training, and licensing before allowing a teacher into a classroom. This requires educators to be paid commensurate with other professionals, however, if we truly want the best, we must pay for the best.

2) Reduce average class sizes to less than 20 students. Bill Gates has said class size is not so important, but he sent his children to a high-end private school with class sizes of less than 20.

3) Make trained experienced educators the leading voices in education policy. Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Louis Gerstner and their ilk are arrogant uninformed amateurs whose vast power due to wealth makes them dangerous.