Tag Archives: Personalized Education

Personalized and Blended Learning are Money Grabs

5 Oct

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

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

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

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

Title-I of ESSA authorizes the following spending schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Rock School

Reputable Education Research Does Not Support this Spending

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

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

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

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

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes” and that: “In the end, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

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

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

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

The Dark Side of Screen Time

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

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras (Aug 31, 2016) wrote “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax” for Time magazine. When discussing health risks associated with student screen time, he stated, “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

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

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

Reasonably Unbiased Research Instigated by an Industry Supporter Not that Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rand Student Opinion Survey

From page 24 of the Rand Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Diego Schools Awash in Technology Malpractice

5 Nov

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.