Tag Archives: pedagogy

TNTP Making Big Bucks from the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement

13 Jan

When TNTP comes to town, public school is targeted for education disruption. Clayton Christiansen probably thinks that is a good thing, but rational people who never went to Harvard correctly recognize that children need stability. TNTP tills the soil of privatization by undermining teacher professionalism and preaching a gospel of test-centric pedagogy.

Originally called The New Teachers Project, but like American Telephone and Telegraph becoming AT&T, they fancy TNTP.

In 2001 the TNTP web page described their founding:

“The New Teacher Project was formed in 1997 as a spin-off of Teach For America, …. Teach For America (TFA) has successfully recruited thousands of individuals into teaching in urban and rural areas, …. Wendy Kopp, the Founder and President of Teach For America, recognized the need for school districts to be able to replicate these effective recruiting and training practices. In this way, school districts could fill their classrooms with high quality teachers and begin to reduce teacher turnover. She established The New Teacher Project to address these very needs and promptly recruited Michelle Rhee to head up the new company.” (emphasis added)

In order to believe this, one must believe that a five-week course in the summer trumps a year at a college of education with at least a semester of supervised student teaching. It is also unlikely that significant numbers of these five-week wunderkinds will do much to reduce teacher turnover.

It is curious that TNTP reports their founding in 1997 but their tax returns show the year of formation to be 1995. Whatever the case, TNTP has struck gold.

The Money is Flowing

The big education philanthropies like the work TNTP is doing and are lavishing them with cash.

TNTP Money Graphic

Cash Flow Compiled from Tax Forms and Foundation Reports – by T. Ultican

In 2013 Mercedes Schneider reported on government grants to TNTP:

“Some TNTP initiatives also benefit from the support of federal grant programs and/or private funding. In 2010, TNTP was one of 49 organizations and institutions nationwide to win a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.”

Schneider also wrote about the TNTP 2015 leadership shakeup in a post she called, “New TNTP President Among the First to Have Her NYC School’s Charter Revoked.” She shared:

“The TNTP bio blurb on Belcher includes a quick mention of her as founder of a New York City charter school: ‘Karolyn Belcher was one of TNTP’s first employees after its founding in 1997. After leaving for several years to found the John A. Reisenbach Charter School, one of the first three charter schools in New York State, she returned to TNTP in 2007.’

“What Belcher’s TNTP bio blurb does not mention is that Reisenbach, which operated only three years, from 09.2000 to 06/2004, has its charter revoked for its low test scores, teacher turnover, and financial issues.”

However, in a country dominated by big money education philanthropy, failure is not a big deal. In fact, by 2016, Belcher and several fellow early TFA cohort members were making big money at TNTP claiming to be education experts. Eleven of them were “earning” more than $200,000 yearly.

TNTP Top 15 Salaries edited

Snip Page 30 of TNTP Latest Form 990 filed in 2016

I suspect that most billionaires financing the DPE movement are true believers in their privatization and market theory of education reform. It is likely that they only talk with one another and have their damaging ideology ever further reinforced.

For the carpetbaggers from TFA, it looks like an old story. Reality is hard to recognize when your personal income is at stake; especially when that income is so grand.

Propagating the Billionaire Sponsored Education Ideology

Lubienski and Lubienski published “Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” in 2014. David Berliner a much published and widely respected scholar from Arizona State University, wrote of their paper:

“The Public School Advantage is a complete and thorough analysis of America’s many different kinds of schools—secular, charter, and public—and should end the arguments about which kind is better. Chris and Sarah Lubienski provide both the data and the clear explanations needed to understand the many false claims made about the superiority of schools that are not public. The result is a ringing endorsement of public school achievement.”

An excerpt from the Lubienski’s book was published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in an anthology called “Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms.” Writing about researchers supporting market based reform and privatization they observe, “These … groups … having quite often declined or failed to pass their pro-market research findings through established, peer-reviewed academic journals, instead create alternative venues publishing and promoting their work – a strategy not unlike what is employed by corporate-funded deniers of climate change.” They also note that many authoritative claims about education are often little more the press releases with no evidence.

TNTP produced quasi-academic research papers like those described by Lubienski and Lubienski. A 2012 example is called “The Irreplaceables.” The paper defines the “irreplaceables” as the “top 20% of teachers in studied districts, as gauged by district data.” The gauge used is value added measures (VAM).

VAM has been widely discredited. By 2014, even the American Statistical Association weighed in with a paper concluding,

“The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling.”

 “The Irreplaceables” was not peer reviewed, but Bruce D. Baker a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers wrote a review for the NEPC. Professor Baker asked, “Among those 2005-06 Irreplaceables, how do they reshuffle between 2006-07 & 2007-08? His answer is in the graphic below.

Baker Graph

Professor Bruce Baker’s Graph

Professor Baker amusingly explains,

“Hmm… now they’re moving all over the place. A small cluster do appear to stay in the upper right. But, we are dealing with a dramatically diminishing pool of the persistently awesome here.  And I’m not even pointing out the number of cases in the data set that are simply disappearing from year to year. Another post – another day.

“From 2005-2010: Of the thousands of teachers for whom ratings exist for each year, there are 14 in math and 5 in ELA that stay in the top 20% for each year! Sure hope they don’t leave!”

Another poor paper by TNTP was called the “Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.” This paper made a significant contribution to the attack on teachers. The authors define the “Widget Effect:”

“The Widget Effect describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. This decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts.”

It was a follow-on report from the earlier “Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts.” That report had generated a wide spate of teacher bashing in California as the following headlines and comments demonstrate.

September 29, 2006

Los Angeles Times

Escape Hatch for Incompetent Teachers Closed

“The New York nonprofit group New Teacher Project found in a November 2005 study of five districts including San Diego Unified that administrators had little discretion in filling roughly 40% of their vacancies because of union rules. Researchers also found that poorly performing teachers were transferring from school to school.”

September 10, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle

California Schools May Get Break from Bad Teachers

‘”There are a lot of states watching what’s happening in California, and I think it’ll have significant ramifications nationwide,’ said Michelle Rhee, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit group that worked on the Scott bill.”

September 1, 2006

San Jose Mercury News

State Needs ‘Lemon’ Law For

“Scott’s bill could slow down the “dance of the lemons” — the annual migration of a minority of veteran teachers who either were burned out or who didn’t get along. They agreed to take voluntary transfers and gravitated to low-performing schools, where principals were desperate and parents less vigilant.”

The “Widget Effect,” faulted the fact that less than 1% of veteran teachers in America were evaluated as ineffective. The report called for multiple teacher evaluation inputs including the use of VAM. Arne Duncan, the new US Secretary of Education made the VAM component a requirement for winning Race to the Top school grants.

In 2017, two researchers looked into the effect of widely implementing the “Widget Effect” policy recommendations. In Revisiting the Widget Effect – by Matthew A. Kraft, Brown University and Allison F. Gilmour, Vanderbilt University, they state:

“In 2009, The New Teacher Project (TNTP)’s The Widget Effect documented the failure to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. We revisit these findings by compiling teacher performance ratings across 24 states that adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. In the vast majority of these states, the percentage of teachers rated Unsatisfactory remains less than 1%. However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below Proficient and 6% to 62% rated above Proficient.”

Nothing changed with unsatisfactory ratings, but TNTP had clearly shown to be a major player in the world of education policy. They seemed to have gained greater influence on teacher evaluations than UCLA, University of Texas and Columbia University’s Teachers College combined.

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a former middle- and high-school mathematics teacher who received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Arizona State University in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis on Research Methods. She commented in a blog for NEPC about the “Widget Effect” driven policies in New Mexico. Writing:

“While Kraft and Gilmour assert that ‘systems that place greater weight on normative measures such as value-added scores rather than…[just]…observations have fewer teachers rated proficient’ …, I highly doubt this purely reflects New Mexico’s “commitment to putting students first.”

New Mexico Bell Curve Evaluation

Professor Amrein-Beardsley’s Graphic

“I also highly doubt that, as per New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education, this was ‘not … designed with quote unquote end results in mind.’ That is, ‘the New Mexico Public Education Department did not set out to place any specific number or percentage of teachers into a given category.’ If true, it’s pretty miraculous how this simply worked out as illustrated… This is also at issue in the lawsuit in which I am involved in New Mexico, in which the American Federation of Teachers won an injunction in 2015 that still stands today ….”

During my fifteen years as a classroom teacher, I observed that the students do a pretty good job of getting rid of poor teachers. Teaching is a demanding job and the ability to deal with students is not a gift that everyone has. Fifty percent of teachers quit the profession within the first five years and that significantly reduces the number teachers who should not be there. Good administrators get rid of the rest before they achieve full contractual rights. It makes perfect sense to me that less than 1% of teachers are evaluated as unsatisfactory.

Besides Pseudo-Academic Studies TNTP Undermines Teacher Professionalism

By 2001, TNTP was humming along. On its web site the advertising stated:

“We leverage the highly successful strategies of Teach For America to recruit, select and develop new teachers for difficult-to-staff school districts.”

“We create and run high-quality alternate routes to attract and prepare exceptionally talented people from non-traditional backgrounds to teach, particularly for high need areas and hard-to-staff schools.”

“We set up and run pre-service training institutes for high-achieving individuals without prior education backgrounds.”

The theory seems to be that anyone who went to college or worked in certain fields can teach. All that is required is a little summer training and “high-achieving individuals” will be good to go.

The new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, seemed to embrace this ideology when he visited Columbia University Teachers College in 2009. He said,

“More than half of tomorrow’s teachers will be trained at colleges of education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that schools and departments of education produce about 220,000 certified teachers a year. Now I am all in favor of expanding high-quality alternative certificate routes, like High Tech High, the New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and teacher residency programs. But these promising alternative programs produce fewer than 10,000 teachers per year.” (emphasis added)


Instead of relying on our amazing stable of genuine scholars doing the hard work of researching, studying, practicing and writing, we are being bamboozled into adopting the theories of neophytes that would never bite the hand of their paymasters. If TNTP has a contract with a school district, it is certain that district is a target for privatization.

TNTP is important for the DPE movement. It produces papers that undermine teacher professionalism and it works to circumvent proven teacher training led by universities. It also works to gain control of pedagogy in a way that narrows curriculum. Why? It is all about cutting costs and business transactions. It does not improve the quality of education in America; it harms it.

Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB

19 Oct

What if the education reform ideology is wrong? What if the ideology of reform was based on an incorrect understanding of developmentally appropriate pedagogy? In a 2006 hearing before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Assistant Secretary of Education, Henry Johnson testified, “We believe that the Advanced Placement program offers a proven, scalable approach to raising expectations and increasing rigor in America’s high schools, particularly those with high concentrations of low-income students that typically do not offer such curricula.” What if that belief is ill-founded?

I taught AP physics and what a treat that was for me. I always had the highest performing students in the high school. This year both the salutatorian and the valedictorian were in my class. It was way more interesting than teaching a concepts oriented class in physics designed for the general student. Of course, I enjoyed teaching AP Physics to the school’s elite students, however, I perceived a dark side. The more I pondered it, the more I concluded that the AP and IB programs were developmentally inappropriate.

Physics Lab 2

Mar Vista High School – Picture by Thomas Ultican

IB stands for international baccalaureate. People who worked in embassies or other out of country assignments put their children in international schools. When they move from one country to the next, the school curriculum tended to be significantly different. IB developed to standardize curriculum from one country to the next. The IB program is unnecessary in America. Local communities who pay for schools deserve input into the curriculum and locally developed curriculum vetted by education leaders at local universities is more meaningful to the community.

AP stands for advance placement. It is a product of College Board, the testing giant that produces the SAT tests. College Board is organized as a “non-profit” but it has hundreds of employees making six and seven figure incomes. AP is being heavily promoted by technology companies, politicians and other corporations. There is a push to make AP the leader in curricular development and teacher training. AP employs the teach to the test strategy of pedagogy.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is now putting pressure towards the expansion of AP courses in high schools across the nation. A teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District wrote me this week saying teachers are under heavy pressure to participate in NMSI/AP sponsored training and AP class promotion.

Both AP and IB, allow students to earn college credits that are accepted by most universities. But is it developmentally appropriate? Are we harming students?

“Sicker Not Smarter”

Paraphrasing an observation about American public education students between world war II and the publishing of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983:

“They were not serious about learning. They went to dances, participated in sports and performed in plays. They hung out with friends and listened to rock music. They seldom studied and were consistently average performers when compared with foreign students. They graduated from high school and three months latter a miracle occurred; they became the top college students in the world.”

Throughout the history of American education there has been a constant healthy debate about pedagogy. It would be difficult to find any professional educator that does not believe education in public schools can be improved. However, education reform that is not developmentally appropriate is many times worse than the derided status quo.

The 1983 polemic “A Nation at Risk” marks a transition from education guided by professional educators to education guided by powerful business leaders, politicians and famous scientists. Convinced that education in America was failing, their solution was education standards, testing and competition. The famous education writer from Harvard University, Alfie Kohn characterized modern education reform in his 2001 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.’” (page 16)

Two years ago, Vicki Abeles published her book Beyond Measure, Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She opened chapter 1, “Sicker, Not Smarter” by quoting Stuart Slavin, a Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician. He shared,

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. … It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

Abeles quoted Donna Jackson Nakazawa, “There’s a perception that constant high demands will make kids stronger says Nakazawa, ‘“but biologically that is not the case; it’s actually breaking down the brain rather than creating resilience.”’ (page 31) Abeles continued:

“We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 36)

Writing for the New York Times Magazine this month Benoit Denizet-Lewis addressed the deteriorating mental health manifesting among America’s teens. She reported,

“… Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. ‘These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,’ she says, but there’s ‘contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.’

“For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ Luthar says. ‘There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”’

AP Like Common Core is not Age Appropriate

 I taught my first AP physics class in 2004, my first year at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. All my AP students were taking multiple AP classes and four of them were taking five. I was shocked! They were high school kids not college kids but were allowed – no encouraged – to take a heavier academic load than most college students take.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post creates an annual ranking of America’s high schools. He explained the ranking criteria with this year’s rankings:

“America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranks schools through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.”

Today, we actually have AP classes for ninth graders and non-profit organizations pressuring public and charter schools to accelerate moving college education into high school. Like the inappropriate efforts to make kindergarten the new first grade, and move advanced mathematics into 7th grade, college classes in high school are not developmentally appropriate.

History Teaches that Breaking the AP Hold in America Will Not be Easy

 By the 1980’s, an education philosophy popular among the titans of industry started dominating. This ideology posits that standards, high expectation, increased rigor and accountability are the keys to improving k-12 education. In 1994, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner wrote in his book Reinventing Education:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Gerstner started and led a non-profit called Achieve Inc. Achieve wrote and holds the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have wide financial and political support; however, they are so poorly written, that California re-wrote their version of the NGSS.

In 2010, Bill Gates, who also became an advocate of standards and testing, instigated the writing of the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-one people working in secret wrote the standards. Nineteen of the twenty-one writers came from the testing industry including fifteen from College Board and ACT.

I am not saying there is an evil conspiracy here. I believe that people like Peter O’Donnell the wealthy businessman and political activist from Dallas, Texas, who poured personal wealth into promoting AP are totally sincere in their desire to improve the plight of education in America. I have the same view of Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner. The problem is they have great financial and political power, unfortunately, they do not know what they don’t know about human development and good pedagogy.

Today, colleges throughout the nation are giving college credit to incoming students for successfully completing AP courses. In addition, they are giving extra weight towards admissions to applicants with multiple AP courses on their transcripts. This system is well established and ubiquitous. Chinese history teaches how difficult it is to mitigate this kind of culture.

Two years in a row, representatives from the Chinese ministry of education came to observe classes at Mar Vista High School. They even contracted with one of our math teachers, Mark James, to go to China and teach a model class. In China, there is general agreement that their high-pressure test centric education needs reforming. It is harming the youth.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is a chapter titled “The Witch That Cannot Be Killed.” In it he wrote:

‘“Thus, more than a decade’s history of prohibition orders from educational departments has been a history of ineffective orders,’ notes a report in China Weekly after reviewing numerous attempts to curtail the power of testing in Chinese Education. How is it possible that in such a tightly controlled, authoritarian society, the omnipotent government has been unable to kill the witch of testing?” (page 151)

Professor Zhao’s answer to his own question is a warning for us. If we ever recognize the wrong educational path we have taken, changing course will be difficult. Zhao explained:

“In the effort to lessen academic burden and reduce testing, Chinese parents, students, teachers, and schools are all playing the prisoner’s dilemma game. Knowing or assuming that others will continue to do more homework, seek private tutoring, and prepare for tests, very few parents, children, and schools would choose to voluntarily reduce the work load for fear of losing the game. Most schools, knowing that others will continue to use exams to select better students and gain an advantage, will choose to continue to use exams to admit students because the school’s reputation is on the line and will be judged by how well its students score in the future. Essentially the dilemma dictates that everyone must continue to behave in the same way. No one can afford to cut back first, for fear that the others won’t follow suit. Consequently, although new policies might bring a better education for all, no player in the education game is willing to take the risky first step.” (page 155/6)

There are many factors that would improve education and they are well know; smaller class sizes, integrated schools, well maintained modern facilities and teachers certificated in the subjects they teach are four such positive reforms. Surprisingly, increasing rigor and driving expectations down to younger students are counter-productive.

Kindergarteners should receive lessons such as don’t eat the clay and it’s not nice to pull hair. Academics are developmentally inappropriate and likely unhealthy for them. Teaching Newton’s laws of motion and principles of algebra in fourth grade will surely cause more harm than good. The nine-year-old brain is not ready for symbolic reasoning. And, teenagers are dealing with natural biological stress; they need a safe low stress environment for healthy development. Rigor and high stakes testing is the wrong recipe.

It is time to rethink AP and roll it back.

NMSI Pushes Bad Education Policies Based on Junk Science

12 Oct

Last Week, I got this message from a colleague in the Sweetwater Union High School District: “you doing ok, brother Ultican? I have a question for you.  In your tireless research and writing on education schemes and scams, what have you learned about NMSI?  They’re in our district now and I’ve got a bad feeling about the direction it’s taking.” In the words of Dr. Johnny Fever, “Sometimes paranoia is just good thinking.”

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was founded by a group of Dallas area lawyers and businessmen. Tom Luce is identified as the founder and Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and present US Secretary of State, provided the financing.

An ExxonMobil web-page announces:

“ExxonMobil became a founding sponsor of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) in 2007 with a $125 million commitment to the non-profit organization, which provides scalable and rigorous program solutions that empower school communities to prepare all students to succeed in college and the workforce.”

Some Background on the Founder

NMSI founder Tom Luce’s bio at the George W. Bush Presidential Center states:

Tom Luce

From the George W. Bush Presidential Center

“Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer, was a founding partner of Hughes & Luce, LLP, a prominent Texas law firm. … He served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development during the George W. Bush administration ….”

“From 2007 to 2011, he was founding CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. Additionally, Tom served on Dell, Inc.’s Board of Directors from 1991 until 2012. … He presently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the National Math and Science Initiative.”

Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot.

A former Texas Lieutenant Governor, Bill Hobby, wrote in 2010 about that 1984 education reform law:

 “Remarkably, most of the reforms initiated in House Bill 72 persist to this day. The teacher test was never repeated, but the statewide student tests are a hallmark of Texas education. They also served as the model for President George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ federal legislation.”

Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For Ross Perot, the founder of Electronic Data Systems the problems in education looked like data problems. He and his Chief of Staff, Tom Luce, decided standardized testing and data analysis were the prescription for failing public schools. Unfortunately, standardized testing is totally useless for analyzing learning and public schools were not actually failing.

Tom Luce was also directly involved in implementing NCLB (a spectacular education reform failure) while serving at the US Department of Education.

A Fraudulent Paper from the National Academies Motivated the Formation of NMSI

RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” was published by the National Academies in 2005. The title of this paper echoes Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm which chronicled the lead up to World War II. The name like its predecessor “A Nation at Risk” indicates that the United States is in imminent danger of losing its superior economic and scientific lead in the world and education is the fundamental problem. Like “A Nation at Risk,” “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” is also a polemic that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The late Gerald W. Bracey from Stanford University illuminated several false claims that were foundational to the papers arguments. He recited the Academies declaration, “’Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China, … In India the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.’”

Bracey continued,

“Naturally, given this lofty pedigree, the statistics then materialized in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and on many Web sites. While Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman did not use these specific numbers in his 2005 bestseller, “The World Is Flat,” he did write that Asian universities currently produce eight times as many bachelor’s degrees in engineering as U.S. universities do.”

Bracey discussed the growing doubt about these numbers and cited credible peer reviewed research:

“After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, ‘Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate,’ they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.”

This is an example of the kind of subterfuge that is being used to promote the unsupportable claim that education in America is not producing enough science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers.

The impetus and money for writing “RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” came from the United States Senate:

“Senator Alexander indicated that the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, had been given the authority by the full committee’s chair, Senator Pete Domenici, to hold a series of hearings to identify specific steps that the federal government should take to ensure the preeminence of America’s science and technology enterprise. Senator Alexander asked the National Academies to provide assistance in this effort by selecting a committee of experts from the scientific and technical community to assess the current situation and, where appropriate, make recommendations.”

By 2006 that series of hearings seemingly led to President Bush proposing legislation to solve the “crisis” in STEM education. Senate Bill 2198, “Protecting America’s Competitive Edge” came before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on March 6, 2006. Although, the PACE bill never became law, the record of this senate hearing chaired by Lamar Alexander is instructive. It is also where the birth of NMSI came to light.

Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation, (one of the academies) said during his testimony:

“As you are well aware, the National Science Foundation has been selected to play a major role in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. One of the cornerstones of our involvement is preparing the Nation’s scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics workforce for the 21st century while improving the quality of math and science education in America’s schools.”

“When three quarters of American colleges find it necessary to offer courses in remedial mathematics and 22 percent of entering freshman take these courses, it is clear that our high schools are not doing the job they should be doing.”

Here a spokesman for the National Academies is revealing that they have a big government contract to fix education. They are not likely to say, “public schools don’t need fixing” and the comment about remedial courses for freshman is meritless. There has always been a substantial number of students needing remedial courses – see the 1892 committee of 10 report.

James B. Hunt, the former Governor of North Carolina testified,

“A recent report on 30 countries and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that of those 30 countries–you have probably heard these figures–the United States is 15th in reading, 18th in science, 24th in math. Of the G-8 countries, the eight countries, we are 7th in 10th grade mathematics.

“Now, those are the facts, folks.”

Governor, that was lame. Researchers around the world have been questioning the methodology employed by PISA and especially the value of their international rankings. For a good discussion of the useless nature of PISA comparisons see Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? starting on page 167. Or take a peek at Noel Wilson’s paper Education Standards and the Problem of Error for a discussion of the absolute folly of standardized testing.

James B. Hunt Jr. also testified. He said, “It is a well-documented fact that the single most important element in a student’s academic success is that student’s teacher.”

That is just ignorance. Parents and their economic conditions are far more important.

Senator Edward Kennedy remarked,

“By 2009, 6 million jobs will go unfilled because our youth will not be qualified to hold them. To keep America competitive, we need more students with degrees in math, science, and critical-need foreign languages.”

That is at a minimum uninformed. Kennedy repeats the lack of STEM educated graduates misinformation. He is selling the big lie.

Lamar Alexander announced one of the day’s star witnesses,

“Peter O’Donnell is here, who is a member of the National Academy’s Committee that produced ‘The Gathering Storm,’ and his work in Dallas is one reason for the inclusion in ‘The Gathering Storm’ report of the advanced placement recommendations.”

Peter O’Donnell is a wealthy businessman from Dallas, Texas and a huge contributor to the University of Texas at Austin. He is described by the American Statesman:

“O’Donnell is something of a godfather in the state Republican Party, having chaired it for several years in the 1960s. He was a top adviser to Bill Clements during his successful 1978 campaign to become the state’s first GOP governor in more than 100 years, and he has contributed to many Republican candidates in Texas and across the nation.

Like most modern edu-philanthropists, he has no education experience or training. He testified about his foundation’s Advanced Placement Initiative which became NMSI:

“The Advanced Placement Incentive Program succeeds because of three fundamental concepts: the high standards of Advanced Placement, which is built on a strong curriculum, rigorous national exams, and measurable results; emphasis on excellent teacher training; and financial incentives for teachers and students. Incentives are key to the success of our program. They provide extra pay for extra work and are paid by private donors.”

He went on to describe the principles which were adopted by NMSI:

“These recommendations will provide public schools in the U.S. with outstanding math and science teachers on a scale equal to the size of the problem. The recommendations are based on six concepts:

  1. High standards;
  2. Measurable results;
  3. Integrated curriculum for math and science for grades 6-12;
  4. Quality teacher training that is based on content;
  5. Incentives to teachers and students based on academic results;
  6. Implementation vehicle in each State to manage the programs to ensure quality control and accountability.

There is general agreement that these six concepts will strengthen education, especially in math and science.”

In other words, NMSI calls for teacher merit pay, a hundred-year-old idea with a hundred years of failure to back it up. It employs top down control by using College Board to design curriculum and train educators. It calls for bribing students to study hard which most education theorists would agree is a way to undermine a student’s need to know and harms self-motivation.

NMSI has been moving into San Diego for a while. It is not just in the Sweetwater School District, in 2015 Serra High School of the San Diego Unified School District held an NMSI AP Incentive Awards Night. The announcement says, “Over $32,000 will be given out to 178 current students and graduates. Three students will be given $500 checks!”

Wealthy Texas conservatives say we should turn away from education professionals at Stanford or those at the California State University and the University of California systems. We should embrace the teach to the test education philosophy of College Board and bribe students to get them engaged. We should do this even though there is no independent evidence supporting NMSI’s claims of success.

I Will Let the Curmudgucator Conclude my Article

Three years ago, Peter Greene wrote about NMSI:

“While there may be similar-ish programs in districts across the country, the big dog in the AP bribery biz is the National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI is an organization that was launched “to address one of this nation’s greatest economic and intellectual threats – the declining number of students who are prepared to take rigorous college courses in math and science and are equipped for careers in those fields.” You may recognize that as a classic reformster talking point– low test scores are a threat to our national security– and in fact, the big launching funders of NMSI include Exxon, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, and the Gates Foundation. Partners also include the US Department of Education and the College Board, because why not fund an advocacy group that is telling everyone that your product is really important. This isn’t philanthropy– it’s marketing.”

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.


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.


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.

One to One Initiative Threatens Public Education

27 Mar

One to one classroom agendas have a dark side that includes the destruction of public schools as we know them; where teachers and students interact. It’s a dystopian ideology that posits students earning education badges while working in isolation at a digital screen.

This month, the entire staff at my high school received an email from a colleague who recently volunteered to be on our district’s technology committee. The message said in Part:

“In doing research for next year’s Technology Plan I came across some interesting data collected by the Speak Up 2015 Research Project.

“Although this particular data is from 2015 it still makes a lot of great points! Click on the links below, I promise it is a quick read.  Enjoy!”

The email message included three links to infographics provided by tomorrow.org.

What do Parents Really Think about Digital Learning

Looking Inside Today’s Digital Classroom

10 Things Everyone Should Know About K12 Students’ Digital Learning

These infographics claim that to be the result of authentic unfiltered data from respectively; 38,613 K-12 parents nationwide, 38,157 K-12 educators nationwide and 505,676 K-12 students, parents and educators nationwide. Ever since my Viet Nam war experience, I have been less trusting. I seek verification for all claims. I want to know the research methodology and who is paying.

Project tomorrow’s research is based on volunteers who engage with their web site answering survey questions. The web site is mostly an advertisement for implementing digital learning and a guide for how to lobby local schools to implement it. It has an agenda and a profound bias.

There are more than 90 corporations and non-profits listed as supporters of tomorrow.org, which is the cyber-space marketing location for this group. There are many such groups like this which are lavishly financed by corporations to promote competency based education CBE. Another one is Future Ready. In addition to the eighteen largest contributors pictured below, both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are contributors to tomorrow.org.

Corporations Sponsoring Project Tommorrow

This time, the Sweetwater Union High School District’s technology committee is being influenced by the corporate sponsors of tomorrow.org. Last time the district technology plan was updated, in 2014, the technology committee was influenced by Project Red. Project Red is supported by many of the same corporations as Project Tomorrow and Future Ready. All three organizations promote one-to-one education at a computer screen. I agree with a fellow teacher who said, “The last thing 21st century students need is to be put in front of another screen.”

Last year when writing about this same issue, I wrote:

“When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education (USED) became 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.”

Competency Based Education (CBE) Updates a Failed Strategy from the 1990’s

Obama’s Education Department was an unabashed supporter of CBE and the new federal education law ESSA provides money to encourage CBE. On the Department of Education web-site, it defines CBE:

“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.”

“By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students.”

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”). Outcome based education failed miserably around the world. The big advantage for CBE is that giant profits are possible for corporate providers, especially technology companies.

I never expected to quote Phyllis Schlafly but she wrote a prescient report in 1993, “What’s Wrong With Outcome-Based Education?” She said:

“Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian author and former political prisoner in Soviet Gulags, said in a speech in the mid-1970s:

‘Coexistence on this tightly knit earth should be viewed as an existence not only without wars . . . but also without [government] telling us how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know.’

“Unfortunately, that’s what Outcome-Based Education is — a process for government telling our children how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know. What the children say, think and know must conform to the liberal Politically Correct ideology, attitudes and behaviour. What they do not know will be everything else. And because they won’t know the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, they won’t be able to find out. OBE is converting the three R’s to the three D’s: Deliberately Dumbed Down.”

Maybe you dismiss Phyllis Schlafly as a paranoid right wing cook, but this video about how the Chinese are gamifying good citizenship should give you the creeps.

Emily Talmage teaches public school in Maine, where CBE is being piloted. She describes what she’s learned:

‘“By collecting skill-based badges, the record of achievement begun in secondary school becomes the foundation upon which workers build their capabilities and tell their stories to employers,’ explains the infamous testing-behemoth, Pearson Education.

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and ‘innovative’ assessment systems.” [Note: Reed Hastings of Netflix is also owner of Dreambox Learning, Founder of Rocketship charter schools and a board member of California Charter Schools Association.]

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

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

There is presently a Tennessee court case asking the provocative question, “does a student have a right to a teacher or is a computer enough?”

What is the Proper Place for Digital Education?

The one-to-one initiative being marketed as personalized learning makes little sense. Having tax payers provide a tablet or laptop computer to every student is crazy. It is obviously not personalized learning any more than correspondence school was personalized learning in the middle 20th century. Some student with unique situations may succeed with cheap on-line learning but as a strategy for most students, there is no reason to think it will work.

Our spending for public education needs to be submitted to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. As much fun as it may be to give every child a digital learning device, the quality of learning would likely be more improved if the school district used that money to reduce class sizes by one or two students. The one to one digital initiative is an unproven theory for improved education but class size reduction is a proven theory.

However, having sufficient computer resources available for students to use makes sense. It might be a good idea to make classes like keyboarding (typing) available and highly encouraged. My students are amazed when they see me typing without looking at the keyboard. That is a skill that has served me well and I think our students should have that opportunity.

Even cyber-course work could be valuable, if it is not mainly about maximizing profits. In his book, Teaching Minds, the cognitive scientist and pioneer in online learning, Roger Schank, makes the point that good online education costs as much as good classroom education. Class size still matters and the learning project designs must be well thought-out and relative to the particular class of students. However, today’s K-12 cyber-schools are really cyber-frauds.

The bottom line with technology spending and use in the classroom is that very aggressive well financed corporate sales teams see schools as a huge market. In addition, federal dollars are getting earmarked by corporate friendly politicians for technology spending. Therefore, it is prudent to look at how valuable this technology really is and not be swayed by the hype.

It is unlikely that good use of technology in education is going to come from the Bill Gates funded Kahn Academy or Tom Vander Ark. It is much more likely that most of the excellent thinking on use of technology in education will come from America’s classroom teachers. Let’s not be bamboozled or intimidated. It is classroom teachers that know what is valuable for learning.

The Education Method and Organization

24 Feb

It was wonderful that day I met Larry Lawrence at a Chicago Hotel frequented by Al Capone (The Drake Hotel). We were in Chicago for the National Public Education conference. I soon discovered two things: Larry only lives thirty miles up the beach from me in San Diego, County and he knows a lot about education. Larry participated in some of the key developments in the history of education methodology. Saturday, we met for lunch and I am still over-stimulated.

This is the third time we have met at the Ki Restaurant in Cardiff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All three times, Larry has come prepared with notes including an informal agenda. This time, I was pleased that he wanted to begin by talking about a proposed fundamental reorganization of school which decentralizes power and democratizes operations. I had made such a proposal in my latest article which Larry had read. This fit well with his thinking that was influenced among other things by his time at UCLA’s lab school working with John Goodlad and Madelyn Hunter.

The Math Wars

Dr. Lawrence’s professional experience began with “new math.” 1956 was Larry’s third year at Occidental. He had finished the advance Calculus course and decided to register for a class called “Modern Algebra.” After his first day in class, he started studying the class materials and came across a concept he had never seen before, “one to one correspondence”. That concept is now considered an essential understanding for preschool aged children but in 1956 he searched fruitlessly throughout his dorm for anyone who knew what it meant.

Larry spoke about the experience,

“This illustrates the absolute mechanical nature of my math education to that point. This is something I have carried with me throughout my teaching career. How even the concepts that we might consider simple, may have no meaning for our students when they have no context for understanding.”

In 1958, Larry moved on to Teacher College, Columbia University to study math education under the tutelage of Professor Howard Fehr. An obituary in the New York Times said of Professor Fehr:

“Dr. Howard F. Fehr, professor emeritus of mathematics education at Columbia University Teachers College and a founder of new math in the 1960’s, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

“Dr. Fehr, who retired from teaching in 1967 but continued in educational work, was a prolific author and an internationally known educator whose textbooks were used around the world. As the principal author in 1961 of a 246-page report titled ‘New Thinking in School Mathematics,’ Dr. Fehr helped introduce into American classrooms a concept of study and teaching that departed radically from traditional methods.”

Larry recalls Dr. Fehr’s class, “His ‘basic’ course laid out the fundamentals of the ‘new math’ – number systems, characteristics of a field, relations, functions, etc.”

After Teachers College (1959), Larry returned to his old high school, Morningside High in Inglewood, where he created one of the first high school calculus courses in California. In the summers of 1962 and 63, he attended a six weeks training course at the University of Illinois which was a program on how to use the math materials developed by Max Beberman and Herbert Vaugh.

Ralph A. Raimi states that “Max Beberman is generally regarded as the father of the New Math, his teaching and his curriculum project having achieved nationwide fame long before the 1957 Sputnik raised mathematics education to the level of a national priority.” Raimi also reports, “His thesis director at Columbia was Howard Fehr, famous then and later as an authority on the teaching of school mathematics, and a man who directed the PhD theses of many future professors of mathematics education.”

One of the problems for “new math” was it was often rushed into schools before materials were properly vetted or teachers were properly trained. The Stanford Mathematical Study Group (SMSG) under the direction of Edward G. Begle started producing curricular materials in 1958. Unfortunately this SMSG material became derided as “some math some garbage.”

“New math” also gets conflated with the progressive pedagogy. According to E. D. Hirsch, William Heard Kilpatrick was “the most influential introducer of progressive ideas into American schools of education.” (The Schools We Need: Why We Don’t Have Them, Double Day, 1996)

David R. Klein wrote A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century for Math Cognition. In it he wrote of Kilpatrick’s contribution to the math wars,

“Reflecting mainstream views of progressive education, Kilpatrick rejected the notion that the study of mathematics contributed to mental discipline. His view was that subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value, or if students independently wanted to learn those subjects. This point of view toward education comported well with the pedagogical methods endorsed by progressive education. Limiting education primarily to utilitarian skills sharply limited academic content, and this helped to justify the slow pace of student centered, discovery learning; the centerpiece of progressivism. Kilpatrick proposed that the study of algebra and geometry in high school be discontinued ‘except as an intellectual luxury.’”

Klein added,

“Meanwhile in 1920, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was founded, largely at the instigation of the MAA [Math Association of America]. The first NCTM president, C. M. Austin, made it clear that the organization would “keep the values and interests of mathematics before the educational world” and he urged that ‘curriculum studies and reforms and adjustments come from the teachers of mathematics rather than from the educational reformers.’”

The math wars were thus engaged in the early twentieth century. By the dawn of the 21st century it appeared that the NCTM ideology had won the battle. Teaching math became based on teaching a set of discrete skills. However, today, much of the Common Core math teaching philosophy appears aligned with the progressive ideas of Dewey and Kilpatrick. Common Core also embraces the principles espoused by the proponents of “new math.” The “new math” was not really aligned with either side in the math wars but was more about teaching a cognitive understanding or foundation for learning mathematics and developing teaching methods.

Concerning the “new math,” Larry notes, “While it was a struggle for most teachers in the early years, the concepts have become part of the math curriculum of today.”

The influences on Professor Lawrence (Goodlad, Hunter, Fehr, Beberman, etc.) were experienced classroom teachers, developers of pedagogy and leaders in university teachers’ education departments. They were all exactly the kind of people that founders of the no-excuses charter school chains like John King, Doug Lemov, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and others disregarded. Instead, they turned to the economist Erik Hanushek for their guidance on good pedagogy.

Organizing Schools

In my article “Education Reform Musing” I proposed a democratized approach to school organization. Instead of a centralizing power in a principle, I advocated elevating the position of department head to lead circular development and establishing committees comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and students to set policies and resolve disputes. Larry was intrigued by this idea and wanted to discuss how it might fit into the structure that John Goodlad had introduced.

In 1959, the year before he became director of the lab school at UCLA, Goodlad wrote The Non-graded Elementary School. Amy Diniz of the University of Toronto comments:

“In the Non Graded Elementary School, Goodlad argued that the rigid graded education system is not designed to accommodate the realities of child development, including children’s abilities to develop skills at different rates to different levels. (Goodlad, 1963) Goodlad suggests that one limiting assumption embedded in the graded school structure is that children’s achievement patterns in different areas of study are going to be the same. However, in reality, most children progress quickly in certain subject areas while struggling in others. As Goodlad’s research demonstrates, it is very common to have a child in grade two have literacy skills of a grade three but math skills of a grade two. With a graded structure that assumes that a child will progress through each area of study at the same pace, a child is given no freedom to develop at the pace that is optimal for his/her needs.

“A second assumption in a graded system is that all students will learn the necessary skills within a year and then be ready to progress to the next predetermined level. In graded systems, students are all placed on an identical learning cycle with no room for diversity of learning patterns. (Kidd, 1973) Goodlad recognizes that under the graded system, the only options teachers have to adjust for students’ different learning capacities and rates are to either promote or hold back a student. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that both early promotion and non-promotion of a student are not strategies conducive for learning and development (Goodlad, 1963).”

I have taught remedial algebra at the high school level and have personally observed students learning math skills and concepts. Unfortunately, they were not learning fast enough to meet the state imposed standards, so, I was forced to give them failing grades. Worse than the graded system is the standardized system. Instead of meeting students where they are, we harm them because the standards do not match their cognitive development. School in America has long been a sorting system that separates the winners from the losers based on a meritocracy with elements of classism and racism coloring the decisions. Even if it were not flawed, the false perception that students achieve the same mental development at the same age convinces many students that they are not as valuable as others.

At lunch Professor Lawrence sketched out a possible alternative. Instead of age 5 kindergarten, age 6 first grade, age 7 second grade and so on, he postulated the possibility of leaning cohorts.

Cohort 1 for ages 5 to 8

Cohort 2 for ages 7 to 10

Cohort 3 for ages 9 to 12

Cohort 4 for ages 11 to 14

Cohort 5 for ages 13 to 16

Cohort 6 for ages 15 to 18

The overlapping age grouping is on purpose to allow teachers flexibility in moving students to new cohorts. The Diniz article describes Goodlad’s vision for this new structure:

“Two elements of Goodlad’s non-graded system include a longitudinal concept of curriculum and planned flexibility in grouping. Firstly, curriculum is centered on continual and sequential learning, with behavior and content running vertically through the curriculum (Goodlad, 1963). Longitudinal learning emphasizes that all skills learned are in fact base components of more complex skills to be learned in the future (Goodlad, 1963). Secondly, grouping is organized around achievement groups, interest groups, work-study groups or a combination of the three with some groupings being heterogeneous in skills (social sciences) and other groups being homogeneous in skill levels (reading).”

Developing a practical method for implementing Goodlab’s ideas was professor Lawrence’s job when in 1966 he joined the UCLA lab school which came under the purview of the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Lawrence says, “My task was to work within my team of teachers to develop a math program that would address the needs of our multiage, team-teaching organization. For the next few years, I explored a wide variety of programs that included SMSG materials and several others that began to be published in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”

John Goodlab was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1960-1983, where he served as director of the Laboratory School and as dean of the Graduate School of Education (ranked first in America the last seven years of his tenure).

It is unfortunate that education reform became the domain of unqualified billionaires with no pedagogical understanding. It is time to take back our public school system. It is time to reengage with professionals. Privatizing public education is related to greed and foolishness. No excuse charters are related to abuse, segregation and arrogance. People who reject professionals for their own uninformed views are a menace to society. Let us build on the work of professionals like John Goodlab, Madilyn Hunter, Howard Fehr, Max Beberman and Larry Lawrence.