Omidyar, The Intercept & Impact Investing

I wouldn’t expect an expose on ed-tech to come out of The Intercept any time soon, despite the solid work they have done on Google and their deep knowledge of online surveillance and ties between Silicon Valley and government officials. Read on to find out why.

I’m always looking for opportunities to raise awareness around ed-tech and digital curriculum. So when the Free Library of Philadelphia announced an author event with The Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill interviewing Edward Snowden via remote link, I bought a ticket right away. If there were an audience who would be concerned about cloud-based education, digital curriculum and surveillance, this would be it. See Tim Scott’s piece for detailed background on ed-tech and surveillance. So I made up a flyer, printed a hundred copies and arrived early to hand them out to attendees on the way into the event. Other than the board chair, who expressed concern about my presence, everyone was quite receptive.

Flyer

Free Library

For context I need to share that the Ford Foundation’s 2014 study “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem” lauded Philadelphia’s Free Library, the venue for the talk, as a model community-based youth learning space (p 20). They were one of twelve library systems that received support from the MacArthur Foundation to create innovative learning labs. I wonder about this, since we are a City of LRNG. They did a pilot with badges in 2014. It quietly faded away, though I fear it may resurface once the ecosystem infrastructure (Education Savings Accounts and Blockchain payment/credentialing systems) is further developed. Glancing at those seated in the president’s circle reserved seating area, I couldn’t help but wonder who among them might have a hand in setting up learning ecosystems here? The Free Library has said not a peep about the systematic decimation of our school libraries over the years, by the way. If you’re interested, you can listen to the podcast of the September 11 interview here.

On a related note, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been inserting itself into Philadelphia School District policy for quite a few years. Their donations of computers to select schools gives them access through grants to push for adoption of reform-minded initiatives like school report cards and universal enrollment systems. It wasn’t until a few years later while watching Oliver Stone’s Snowden, that I made a connection. In one scene Snowden was asked to prove his legitimacy and did so by throwing numerous credentials onto the hotel mattress. One of them was his Dell identification. As I wrote about here, Snowden obtained many National Security Agency documents while working as a Dell contractor. At the time I was fighting Dell’s influence in Philadelphia, I thought it was simply about selling more computers. Until that moment, I had not realized that Dell’s business extended far beyond the sale of laptops. In fact, the NSA is one of Dell’s most important clients. Maybe it was less about computers than it was about access to all the data generated by data-driven education systems. Watch this short video about Dell’s push for online “personalized” learning pathways. Knowing their ties to the NSA, you may see it as somewhat less than benign despite the peppy soundtrack.

It was a sold out crowd that night and a good interview. There were a few quotes from Snowden that stood out to me. “We need to speak not because it’s safe, but because it’s right.” Also, “Look at the world around you. You are not powerless. If all of us do what we can, it will be enough. We have to start somewhere.” Sitting in the auditorium I couldn’t help but think of the passage in Glenn Greenwald’s Nowhere to Hide where he is trying to convince Snowden that it would be better not to go public as a source. But Snowden said that he always intended to take responsibility, because he didn’t want blame to fall on any of his colleagues. He said that the only regret he would have is that if once he wrecked his life, people knew the truth about the data collection and surveillance and they just shrugged it off and went on as if nothing had happened. That stuck with me and has motivated me to keep pursuing the truth behind the imposition of data-driven education and examining its implications for freedom of thought and civil society. Honestly, there are days when I don’t know how much progress I’m making. But I continue to try. I choose not to just shrug it off and move on as if nothing happened, because if I did, it would diminish the sacrifice Snowden made for us to know the truth.

As I was leaving, I glanced at the book signing line. It wasn’t long. The book table included Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Of course Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater, is the brother of US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Blackwater. jpeg

I made a quick calculation and decided to pick up some not-so-light reading and see if perhaps I could put a bug in Scahill’s ear about looking into digital education and surveillance concerns. I made my pitch, and it seemed to resonate. After offering to tweet him a link to my blog, he said he’d rather give me his email and told me to get in touch. He expressed that as a parent of a young child he had concerns about what he was seeing with online education. He suggested reaching out to a colleague of his working in that area and gave me her twitter handle. It didn’t seem like he was humoring me, but rather that HE wanted to continue the conversation. Feeling pretty good about the evening I tucked the book in my bike basket and peddled home. As soon as I got there I sent this follow-up email.

Scahill Email 1

And then as so many of us do (yes, I do recognize the irony), I posted a somewhat-pleased-with-myself update to a closed group in which I am a participant. That is when the bubble popped. Someone mentioned Omidyar, Pierre Omidyar founder of Ebay and the Omidyar Network. Didn’t The Intercept receive funding from them? Right. I do seem to remember coming across that at some point. But I’ll admit I hadn’t really done my homework before the event, thinking it was primarily about Snowden. I hadn’t sleuthed The Intercept in any real way. If I had, I would come across this well-documented piece on Omidyar from Audrey Watters of Hackeducation, which discusses ties to The Intercept. It would have ruined my prospects for the evening certainly, but made me better informed going in. Turns out The Intercept not only receives funding from Omidyar, but Omidyar actually bankrolls the entire operation. We are not talking about a grant here or there. No, Omidyar’s money created and essentially runs The Intercept.

So why is that a problem? Well, it is becoming increasingly clear that instruction in public schools is being pushed onto digital platforms via hybrid-blended learning, “personalized” digital curriculum and gamified assessments of social-emotional traits and mindsets. This is creating conditions that will ease evaluation of impact investments by venture capital, transforming an essentially human activity into a set of dynamic metrics that can be gathered via devices and monitored using real-time data dashboards.

As public funding for public education (and other human services) continues to be withheld, conditions favorable to the adoption of “innovative” public-private partnerships are created. These corporatized “solutions,” grounded in impact investing principles of “doing well by doing good” (aka profiting off poverty), advance “exciting new finance structures” like Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds. For the full run down see Tim Scott’s detailed analysis Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity.  Elected officials are now in the process of putting their stamp of approval on data-driven “evidence-based policymaking.” These policies are being advanced with bipartisan support. Evidently they anticipate there is plenty of money to be made off the datafication our lives and the public services we access in the process of living them. Enough for Democrats AND Republicans. That is the reality of impact investing, and Omidyar is in the middle of all of it.

The Rockefeller Foundation has led the global roll out of social impact investing since 2007 when they brought together diverse financial interests in Bellagio to discuss a new model of investment that would leverage not only endowments of philanthropies, but also the hard-won and dearly paid for retirement accounts and insurance premiums of everyday people, in their quest to profit off poverty.

GIIN 2

They launched the Global Impact Investment Network in 2009. In subsequent years GIIN established ways to evaluate success to suit the needs of the global finance sector. As you can see in the text accompanying the graphic below, Omidyar is identified along with the Gates Foundation as a major supporter of Rockefeller’s efforts. Teachers should note another key player in this impact investing agenda is TIAA. Yes, your pension fund, which was actually launched by Andrew “now let’s get rid of this factory model of education” Carnegie, is underwriting impact investments that could include ed-tech initiatives that promote AI “intelligent” tutoring systems over human educators. In the long run it is not at all clear how sustainable that can be since chat bots do not pay into pension funds.

TIAA Cref Rockefeller GIIN

This is the source link for the two graphics above.

So Omidyar is a key player in the global impact investment realm. They work with everyone from USAID to the Vatican. They have their hands not only in education and emerging technology, but also digital identity and digital finance for the global unbanked (cue Blockchain). They see their “deep roots in Silicon Valley” as putting them in a prime position to “accelerate social change.” They have deep investments in organizations promoting the scaling of social impact bonds including: Social Finance UK, Social Finance US, and Bridges Ventures, creators of the first wholesale fund to invest in social impact bonds. Not surprisingly they are also a financial supporter of the Global Impact Investment Network.

The education projects they fund include the predatory for-profit education provider Bridge International Academies; the new, Silicon-Valley-backed micro-school concept Alt School; tech promotional outlets like EdSurge; and so-called open education resource (OER) providers like Khan Academy and LearnZillion. In support of this online, OER, playlist approach to education, they have also provided enormous grants to Common Sense Media. My sense is it is their role to cultivate a sense of trust and acceptance of a new digitally-oriented educational system.

Just as with the Ravitch/MacArthur Foundation discussion last week, this Omidyar situation points to the fact that education activists need to begin looking beyond Gates, Walton and Broad to ferret out and expose this next wave of digital privatizers who are quietly wreaking havoc on human-based systems of education with as yet little to no scrutiny. Even I, a person who swims in this information, missed it at first. I was too busy looking for allies in this fight and didn’t dig deeply enough. I kick myself for sending Scahill that email in the first place. Of course as a parent and a skilled journalist, I’m sure he probably would love dig into a story like this. But the technocrats are a savvy bunch, and they have money to burn. They require unquestioning public acceptance of digital platforms to advance their plans to mine global profit from our data. They need to cultivate our dependence on the systems of technology being woven into our lives day in and day out.

For a while the Snowden revelations disrupted that trust, that comfort. The truth about the surveillance, predictive analytics and the breadth of those under scrutiny was frightening. And that fear made all of GIIN’s plans for an impact investment program built on data and digital platforms vulnerable. So of course an offer of financial support was made; one that I’m sure allowed a fair bit of leeway in terms of investigating some things, but perhaps not others. The Intercept does fine work in many areas, but don’t expect them to take on ed-tech or impact investing. I simply don’t think that is going to happen. Which is why everyday people, people who aren’t on anybody’s payroll need to continue to do this research and get the word out. Neither the mainstream media nor the alternative media are in a position to tell the whole truth. I will close with two follow up emails I sent. I never heard back from Mr. Scahill. I emailed him most recently five days ago to let him know I would be writing about Omidyar and to see if he had any thoughts as a parent or investigative journalist; still nothing. I’ll post an update here if he gets back to me.

Scahill Email 2

Scahill Email 4

Grow the resistance. Share your story!

I am in the process of creating an online toolkit for parents, teachers, and community members fighting the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda of digital curriculum, learning ecosystems and outsourced/badged education. My intent is to: organize the research I have been doing and make it more accessible; link to related work being done by others; provide informational materials (handouts/slide shares) that people can use in their communities; and feature personal stories of digital takeovers and acts of resistance. I have the general framework up now and will gradually fill out the content. It’s called WrenchesOfResistance.

We know that implementation of digital curriculum has been ramping up since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Parents are often not aware of how much time their children are spending on technology daily, what programs are being used, or how this shift is impacting the culture of the classroom.

I see the online form linked here and embedded below as serving three purposes:

  1. If you have a story to tell right now, this is a space to share it! I want to use excerpts from some of the narrative submissions on the testimonials page of the toolkit. They would be anonymous, but include city and state so we can see the wide distribution of these programs. If you choose to submit a form, please do not include anything you prefer not be made public.
  2. If you need help thinking through the new place of technology in the classroom, these questions can be used to spark conversations: parent to parent, parent to teacher, or teacher to teacher.
  3. If you are motivated, print out the questions, arrange a time to talk to your child’s teacher, gather as many responses as you can, and then share your findings with us using the online form so we can start to get a picture of what this looks like nationwide. Teachers, you are welcome to use the form and share this information with us directly. None of the responses are required, so feel free to answer as many or as few as you like.

Parents, teachers, and even students are welcome to make a submission.

For those who are not teaching in or who do not have children enrolled in a fully-implemented, “personalized,” 1:1 device, “Future-Ready” district, it can be hard to visualize the harm being done. I have created this online form to gather information and stories. I hope some of you will be willing to share your experiences with digital curriculum and its impact on our humanity. Thanks in advance!

Change starts with individual acts of moral courage.

It seems impossible until the day it becomes inevitable.

Change starts with individual acts of moral courage.

I posted the above comment on my Facebook page as an accompaniment to this article discussing growth of the protest movement within the NFL that manifested itself this past Sunday. On that day numerous players and owners allied themselves with a small but tenacious group of protestors who had joined Colin Kaepernick in the year since he first sat then took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. His intention: to draw attention to police brutality and oppression of people of color. You can read the transcript of Kaepernick’s comments and rationale here. Recognizing that our mythic “America” is built on genocide and the enslavement of people of color for profit is foundational to being able to move forward towards achieving any semblance of a just society. The fact that white supremacist violence erupted in Charlottesville not quite a year after Kaepernick’s initial protest makes it clear many are not yet ready to take that bitter pill and reconcile our brutal past with our present reality.

Kaepernick stood alone for a long time. There were consequences for him, emotionally and financially. He came to understand systems of oppression, and while he could have used his privilege to stake a place where those systems would be less likely to impact him, he instead chose to put himself in the center of the storm. In this individual gesture he became the pebble with the power to unleash the avalanche.

The status quo resists change mightily. There is too much power and profit riding on the continuous, uninterrupted operation of oppressive systems. Those of us watching recent developments in artificial intelligence, smart city surveillance, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, and impact investing realize the capacity to inflict harm on black and brown communities is about to rise exponentially. Outliers who question become targets of criticism, their message intentionally obscured by character attacks, criticism of the appropriateness of the method protest and other technicalities. Let us talk about anything other than the issues being raised, because recognizing and organizing around those issues could compel change, perhaps revolutionary change. Change is a threat.

While one expects criticism from those holding opposing views, people contemplating direct action outside acceptable norms of group-sanctioned protest must realize that criticism and obfuscation may also come from those technically allied with your cause. There are those who will propose a more “moderate” approach. Such tactics have the appearance of resistance, but are not intended to actually tip the apple cart. There is no meaningful change without risk. Actions taken within the comfort of groupthink may make one feel popular and accepted but are unlikely to push the envelope in any significant way.

American brutality comes in many forms: sometimes physical, sometimes financial, sometimes spiritual. Sometimes it looks like this.

First Graders

This is the next wave of oppression, and it is rolling into classrooms across our nation and across the globe. Once again, communities of color will be targeted for tech-based interventions under the guise of bridging the “digital divide.” Though over time no one will be safe from the onslaught of financialization. As Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Reed Hasting, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates make their next moves I pose this question:

Will you be a Kaepernick?

Kaepernick

Or will you hang back, waiting for some higher authority to sanction your protest?

Five things one person can do today to begin disrupting the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda:

Identify and occupy contested spaces.

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Give public testimony. Film and share it.

Speak truth to power. Even if it gets you banned.

Scott Ravitch

Research, write, and share the information you find like this great blog from Baltimore County parents.

BCPS

Educate those around you and start to build a movement and plan larger actions. You too can take a bucket of sidewalk chalk and go out into the world. You might be surprised at the conversations you generate.

We don’t all have Kaepernick’s status, but we can all do something right where we are. Over time, individual actions can coalesce into broader movements of like-minded people. Don’t wait for established groups to catch up. You can affect change, even when acting alone. We each have that within us. There was some lively discussion generated on my Facebook post. I will close with a comment I left on that thread.

“I know I will not change your position, nor you mine. Nevertheless people who put themselves out there to spark important conversations and disrupt the status quo are people we should cherish in our society.”

To take on the monster that is Ed Reform 2.0, we ALL need to be channeling our inner Kaepernick. Taking the first step is hard. Holding the course when many turn against you is hard. But I believe in my heart that if we each take action and hold to our principles with steadfastness, our Sunday September 24 will come. We must overcome fear and take those first steps to fight this new game before the venture capitalists seize our children’s futures. What is holding you back? Think about it, then go forth and disrupt.

Big Picture Learning Off Limits

The introduction to this piece including a discussion of ImBlaze can be found here.

Big Picture Learning students spend two days a week outside of school pursuing their “passions.” Although I’ve heard off the record that not all student end up with placements and instead languish in front of computer screens killing time. I imagine budget-conscious reformers must be salivating at the prospect of scaling a “school” model where you could outsource 40% of a student’s instruction to community partners. Imagine the cost savings! You don’t have to feed students on those days. You could reduce teaching staff. You could cram more students into the building staggering the classes. Put aside those pesky child labor considerations for a few moments and contemplate the possibilities. It’s would also be a way to begin to normalize the learning ecosystem “anytime, anywhere” model learning by app and competency-based badges. You might think there would be more to the process than getting the kids a log in for what is essentially a Yelp for education; a counselor perhaps? Of course the real imperative behind this digital solution is about data collection. In Future Ready schools students are defined by their data. As the article states “Data Tells the Story for Big Picture Learning.”

In December 2016, the School District of Philadelphia signed onto a $23 million contract with Big Picture schools. The organization, based out of Rhode Island (on track to become the first “personalized” learning state) presently operates in 24 states. The size of the Philadelphia contract indicates a major expansion of Big Picture is on the horizon here. The organization is going to occupy Vaux, which was shuttered during a wave of devastating closures that took place in 2013.

The community of Sharswood in which it is located is being “redeveloped” in using incredibly heavy-handed, predatory, 1960s urban renewal tactics. The ribbon cutting for the new Vaux Big Picture School took place today. The community members and education activists who tried to attend and voice their concerns were kept behind barriers far from the ceremony. Apparently no one was allowed within a two-block radius of the school without “necessary credentials.” Protesters included representatives from the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, ADAPT and the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Barbara McDowell Dowdall, a retired English teacher and former yearbook advisor who had worked at Vaux from 1974 to 1981 brought a yearbook along and shared fond memories of the school, reflecting on how much has been taken from the community in the intervening years. The event was monitored by a number of squad cars, bike patrol police and members of the civil affairs unit.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

I am writing this feeling somewhat like a David facing off against a Goliath. It certainly won’t make me popular. There are many of us who keep weighing the evidence. Is Diane Ravitch incredibly wiley or incredibly obtuse? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

It IS clear that there are parts of her narrative that don’t add up. My first sense that something wasn’t right came last February. Then in August, concerns I expressed in comments about the Clinton family’s involvement in the development of digital learning and Joe Ravitch’s venture capital company, Raine Group, were suppressed. You can read about it here and here. The Raine Group information, with its ties to Ari Emmanuel and Parchment, has gotten increasingly interesting as I’ve seen the convergence of education, virtual reality, entertainment, online credentialing and blockchain. Now my comments on her posts are always moderated. Some make it out. Some don’t. These from this afternoon haven’t as of posting time. I didn’t think they would.

IMG_9504

I know I risk becoming a target for saying what comes next. Nevertheless, it needs to be said so here goes. In the spirit of my inspiration David F. Noble I will just leap out there and do it (thanks Kay).

Just over a year ago Ravitch plugged Salesforce on her blog. No real news warranted her enthusiastic announcement “Big News Discovery of One Funder That Supports Public Schools,” yet there it was. It didn’t take much digging to discover Salesforce many not actually be a knight in shining armor. Sure, Teach for America is one of their clients. More troubling to those who understand the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda, however, is their involvement with Big Picture Learning, a member of the Education Reimagined initiative supported by both the NEA and AFT. Salesforce developed an app for Big Picture Learning called ImBlaze. Its purpose was to help students locate work-based learning placements, a key feature of the school’s competency-based learning model. It also had the capacity to track and log competencies acquired through those placements, both academic and social-emotional. Read more about Big Picture and recent developments in Philadelphia here.

So today I had a flashback when a friend forwarded me Ravitch’s testimonial on the wonders of the MacArthur Foundation “This is What Philanthropy Looks Like.”

Untitled

My head spun. It was like Salesforce all over again. Evidently Ravitch had served as a judge helping to narrow down the many submissions for the huge cash prize to four finalists for MacArthur’s $100 million and Change initiative. The contest first popped up on my radar last summer when I attended a keynote lecture by Angela Duckworth on “Being and Learning in a Digital Age” held at the University of Pennsylvania where Duckworth runs her Characterlab and promotes “grit.” Her submission, “Making Behavior Stick,” which I found terrifying in its use of technology to compel us to make “good” decisions, involved partnerships with both the Philadelphia and New York City Public Schools. The proposal did not make it to the final round but her 90-second video is definitely worth watching if you want to grasp where we are headed in terms of behavioral economics, technology, profiling and the art of the “nudge.” All of course are being embedded into the hybrid-blended learning programs that are actively colonizing our schools.

In her post, Ravitch lauds the MacArthur Foundation’s approach to philanthropy as far superior to that of foundations like Gates, Broad and Walton. This is fascinating to those of us following the transition to Ed Reform 2.0, namely a digital education model with some badges and skills-aligned learning projects that have been outsourced to community partners thrown in.  We know that MacArthur IS, in fact, one of the major forces driving that shift together with allies at the MIT Media Lab and American Youth Policy Forum.

For the past month I’ve been working on an online tool kit to educate the public and share resistance efforts to the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda. It’s under development and not quite ready for prime time. One of the categories I plan to develop is a list of players, and MacArthur tops the list, well maybe after Nellie Mae and Carnegie. There is a great deal to say about MacArthur, and it will take time to pull all the strings together. Consider the following a teaser for what is to come.

The MacArthur Foundation is NOT on the side of neighborhood schools. In fact they are a force working actively to dismantle public schools and digitize the educational experience so that it can be mined for profit by the ed-tech and global finance sectors. Read the items below. Check out the links. Ask yourself WHY is Diane Ravitch promoting this foundation?

10 Reasons You Should NOT Trust the MacArthur Foundation

  1. It awarded over $500,000 to Frameworks to conduct social science research promoting public acceptance of digital education.
  2. Is a member AND funder of the Global Impact Investing Network. If you don’t understand why that matters STOP and read Tim Scott’s important work on impact investing here and here. Take your time with them. Together they provide a critical foundation for understanding the dynamics at work in the impact investing sector.
  3. Is a major funder of Out of School Time (OST) Learning, which is the icing on the sh*t cake that is “personalized” online learning. MacArthur is hoping a few cool projects in community settings will distract us from the horrors of digital curriculum and predictive educational profiling. See this description of their 2012 paper “Learning at Not School: A Review of Study, Theory, and Advocacy for Education in Non-School Settings.”
  4. It sponsored “Research Network on Connected Learning” that advocated for, among other things, online game-like learning.
  5. And partnered with the Gates Foundation to create Glasslab, a R&D outfit charged with creating online educational games and game-based assessments.
  6. Worked closely with Mozilla to create systems of badges that will allow education to happen outside schools and beyond the reach of credentialed teachers. The badges are set up to be stored in e-portfolios for “lifelong” learning in the neoliberal gig economy.
  7. Jumpstarted the Cities of LRNG, a decentralized-badge based approach to learning, that began in Chicago and is now being piloted in numerous other cities, including Philadelphia.
  8. Funded the for-profit company Edovo (formerly Jail Education Solutions) to run a pilot program of tablet-based online education and behavioral therapy in Philadelphia’s prisons in 2014. The founder of the company did social impact bond research while in law school in Chicago where the MacArthur Foundation is based. It is pitched as an impact investment program.
  9. Collaborated with Google, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (Sesame Workshop) and Common Sense Media in 2010 on a forum to “Explore the Future of Digital Technology in Education.” Reed Hastings and Joel Klein were featured speakers.
  10. Played a key role with Pew Charitable Trusts in promoting evidence-based policy making through the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. This is laying the foundation for Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds.

Of the four $100 and Change finalists, one is geared toward education and behavioral interventions for Syrian refugee children. It’s called “Sesame Seeds.” There is some bitter irony there. The field of social impact investing has burgeoned over the past decade. In an era of austerity and expansive global crises, public funds have been strategically withheld to create markets for venture capital that claim to be profiting off of “doing good.” Private interests underwrite select “solutions” to problems of the public sphere, problems they themselves have often had a hand in creating and exacerbating. Government officials are drawn in by language like “pay for success” or “evidence-based” programs, convinced that their best option is to defer to the private sector to deliver “results.” The problem is the “results” demanded are determined by metrics that are increasingly extracted through intrusive and dehumanizing digital platforms that deliver the data seamlessly and with fidelity.  I write about it within the context of Smart Cities here. With more detail in these two slide shares: How Austerity Generates Data and Reinventing Education for Impact Investing.

This single-minded focus on “success” metrics and assessing “impact” compromises the services themselves and leads to a heightened level of surveillance of those who must access such programs whether they be at-risk preschoolers, the homeless, the incarcerated, the addicted, the mentally ill, veterans or in this case refugee children. This entire enterprise is seeded by infusions of philanthropic dollars directed through program and mission related investments run by these same corporate raiders. By sitting on their panel and assessing these programs I feel Diane Ravitch is adding legitimacy to the toxic enterprise of impact investing.

There are many references in the language and messaging surrounding this proposal to “evidence,” “impact,” “return on investment,” and what counts as “success.” They talk about muppets being a secret weapon, which is interesting given Sesame Workshop’s partnership with IBM Watson’s Artificial Intelligence program. They talk about providing television programs, online learning materials and computer based support so these children can become productive citizens. In fact, the plan is to use these children as guinea pigs to refine digital learning and social-emotional training products. Thank goodness there is increasing attention being paid to the pernicious influence that technology interests are having over the delivery of educational programs to refugee populations. As Tim Scott details in “Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity:”

“The world economic pyramid and its BoP model is becoming even more relevant as social impact investment markets flourish, because as the Financial Times simply points out, BoP “theory suggests that new business opportunities lie in designing and distributing goods and services for poor communities.” Inherently, the dehumanizing narrative attached to BoP frames the most dispossessed people as being untapped profit generators to be further exploited by the same opulent minority whose wealth and power was built – and depends – on their ongoing subjugation.”

This is not generosity. This is about managing a market for impact investment. These are people are looking for a rate of return based upon the misery of traumatized children. This is not a model of philanthropy to be emulated, but rather an amoral attempt to cloak greed and power in the language of social justice.

Impactful MacArthur

Wiley? Obtuse? Some other explanation? I may never know.

What I am certain of is what David F. Noble knew. Now is time for us to educate ourselves, own the truth and act. We cannot rely on some hero, any hero, to chart our course. We must take that responsibility into our heart and carry forward to the best of our ability. It’s up to each and every one of us to do what we can, in ways big and small. If we do that, I have confidence that in the end it will be enough.

But if we step back, remain tentative and allow others to steer, we may very well NOT end up where we need to go. So read fewer blogs, connect with more people. Be the change we need.

David Noble Rhodes

October 11: College Board Set to Frack Philadelphia’s Students

On September 13, 2017 I attended the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s monthly meeting and testified to the fact that public education has become an extractive industry, one that uses children to generate profits for private interests including global finance. The poem I wrote equated student data-mining with fracking, a toxic industry that has caused great harm to the state of Pennsylvania. Student data, the foundation of impact investing markets, is being aggregated at an astonishing rate as digital devices supplant face-to-face, human instruction in today’s “Future Ready” classrooms.

A bonanza of student data extraction is set to take place October 11 in Philadelphia. It is the date our district has designated students take, en masse, College Board tests.

College Board Email

Their products now include not only the PSAT and the SAT, but also the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10. Many states are considering adopting the SAT as an alternative to high school exit exams, PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and other locally developed end-of-year high-stakes tests. I’m sure this is welcome news for David Coleman, since the College Board’s reputation has taken a beating following numerous crises associated with his realignment of the tests to Common Core State Standards.

Widespread adoption of in-school College Board testing means that the organization benefits not only from a growing pool of registration fees, but also from data elicited from the many students who opt in to the Student Search Service. The College Board can sell that data for up to 43 cents per profile. In a very real sense our children’s identities are being handed over to a private entity for private profit; and it is being done with thoughtless disregard by those who follow district directives without stopping to consider the insidious ways our students are being turned into commodities.

When families sign up to have their child take a College Board test outside of the regular school day, they have some measure of control over the Student Search Service opt in and whether or not they choose to answer or release demographic questions covering topics like religion, family income, citizenship, interests, educational aspirations, and GPA.

This becomes MUCH trickier when exams are given IN SCHOOL without parents playing a role in the registration process. In this scenario, the burden is NOW placed on the STUDENT to make the decision about their level of participation. Most parents are not aware of the various options they have regarding data to be shared, so the student is on his or her own to make a snap judgment if those conversations have not happened IN ADVANCE of the testing day. That simply isn’t right. Additionally, proctors may not always be forthcoming (or may not even know) which aspects of data collection are optional; so many students simply opt in to everything. Parents often have no idea until they start receiving random, unsolicited mailings. For additional information on the College Board, student data, and the Student Selection Process see these informative Washington Post articles from 2016 and 2017.

In 2016 the College Board redesigned its brand and developed a suite of assessments that follow children from middle school through college applications, thus maximizing value and opportunities for data collection. Their pitch is that by taking preparatory College Board tests year after year and availing themselves of “free” “personalized” learning programs offered through Khan Academy, children will be better positioned to win a prestigious National Merit scholarship. The catch? The number of scholarships hasn’t increased. There are just more students trying for the same small number of brass rings. Competition has become even more intense, creating an arms race of online test-prep that in turn fuels MORE data extraction via their partner-in-crime, Khan Academy.

This year in Philadelphia, parents are not required to pay for any of the tests with the exception of juniors signing up for the PSAT who do not have an economic exemption. Given that the SAT remains one of the primary gatekeepers to higher education in this country, I support equal access for all who wish to participate in the process, flawed as it is. Participation should be made available to families regardless of their economic status. That is only fair.

Seniors and the SAT? Yes, if you choose.
Juniors and the PSAT? Yes, if you choose.
10th graders and the PSAT? You can make a case for it.
But 8th and 9th graders…?

I draw the line there. I simply do not buy into the narrative that grooming 13 year olds for National Merit Scholarship competitiveness makes sense. If that is what is required, then the problem is with the testing regime itself. What is THAT data being used for? To benefit Philadelphia’s poor black and brown children? David, “people don’t really give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think,” Coleman? Please, tell me another one.

And who is footing the bill for the 8/9 PSAT? Surely there is not an insubstantial amount of money involved in testing (data-mining) ALL the 13 and 14 year olds in a large urban district. Is it our tax money? In a district like ours, one that has suffered years of austerity and deprivation; how about we put those resources towards enhancing meaningful student learning rather than over-testing and lining the pockets of private interests?

Parents need to be aware that no child HAS to take College Board tests. There are many SAT-optional colleges and universities, and the list continues to grow. It is up to YOU to make a choice as to what is best for YOUR child and YOUR family. We don’t all have to make the same choice, but I think everyone deserves to have the facts they need to make an informed decision. Children are increasingly defined by their data, commodified by it, and that is unconscionable. The market recognizes this data for what it is, a valued commodity. If they can stealthily take it when no one is looking, they will. We must resist this predatory data collection. We must also recognize that the decision about what data, if any, should be shared is a PARENT’s decision. It is NOT choice to be foisted on an unsuspecting child on exam day, which in Philadelphia will be October 11.

I have emailed my child’s principal and counselor and explained that she will not be participating in the Student Selection Service. She is a junior this year and has not taken ANY College Board tests up until this time. But this is the world we live in; so she will take it this year. However she will not answer any of the optional demographic questions. I have asked that the testing proctor announce to the class that the Student Selection Service is optional and to announce which of the survey questions are optional as well, because I think you have to read the fine print to know. I think every student in the Philadelphia School district deserves to have the same treatment, not just my child’s class at Masterman.

If you are a Philadelphia parent whose child is in grades 8-12, I ask you to consider contacting your child’s principal as well as Fateama Fulmore, Executive Director Office of High School Supports, at ffulmore@philasd.org and ask the following:

  • Who is covering the associated fees for the tests, the 8/9 PSAT in particular?
  • What is that cost?
  • In what ways, if any, does the Philadelphia School District anticipate using the College Board data?
  • If College Board data is NOT being used, why are the students in grades 8 and 9 being tested at all?
  • Could a student’s scores limit their educational options down the line?
  • Will any students be remediated with Khan Academy lessons based on their scores?
  • State that parents must be notified at least a week prior to October 11 about the optional nature of the Student Selection Service and the optional demographic questions. This will give families the opportunity to discuss the issue and communicate their desires to their students in advance of the test.
  • State that proctors at ALL testing schools are to share this information DURING administration of the test so that students can complete the forms according to their family’s wishes.

Data is a commodity. The College Board knows this. They would probably prefer that you did NOT know this. Let’s work together to ensure that families in Philadelphia and elsewhere make an informed choice about how their student’s information is used. It has value and should not be released without careful consideration.

Education: America’s Next Extractive Industry

The following poem was presented as my 3-minute testimony at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s monthly meeting held September 14, 2017.

Our children, your profit centers.

Their data, digital toil,

your oil.

Not to sell…outright,

 

But to collect and package

for the gamblers of global finance.

Titles and social standing held out.

Such a terrible temptation to frack children for time behind the velvet rope.

 

Impact investors, “social” ones, cloak exploits in justice

starve schools

play a long game

nudge, nudge, nudge us in the direction they want us to go.

 

Towards the “Infinite Campus” and say

The city is your classroom!

Go out and learn anytime, anywhere.

It’s all good, Future-Ready, innovative, personalized!

No need for neighborhood schools.

Expensive

20th century

Human

And humans simply do not deliver data with fidelity.

 

So, tablets for the littles

Chrome books

Smart phones for “lifelong learning”

Algorithms, optimizing us for a dystopian economy.

Know what we do.

Where we go.

How we think.

How we feel.

How we RATE.

 

In a world of divide and conquer.

We are quantified, always.

A digital divide back-filled with surveillance.

“Smart” cities, Internet of Things, machineQ.

 

Community partners are standing by.

Mentors? By Americorps?

Deliver a solid ROI in the value chain

of securitized education data futures markets!

 

Readying kids for workforce pathways.

Laid out in refined rooms of tony clubs

behind velvet ropes.

For other people’s children.

 

Exhausted, many acquiesce to digital “solutions” engineered to harvest

proof of physical presence

knowledge

mindset

compliance

 

Measuring “growth,” proof of success.

Competencies generated and verified.

Payments issued, automated.

Life on the Blockchain ledger. Are we ready?

 

Social impact investing rests on a foundation of data.

Rockefeller, Third Sector, Federal Reserve

Know it’s coming, coming, coming

Though yet unseen, by most.

 

It rides the coat tails of the David Osbornes.

The Commission for Evidence-Based Policy Making

Mission Related Investments, strategically spent

To reinvent all things PUBLIC into private, profit.

 

Nothing personal, just the logic of the market.

State-finance nexus, what global capital demands.

Forests logged, air poisoned, oil pumped.

Digital data extraction IS the next logical frontier.

 

Can you afford to pay it no mind?

Choose your own reality?

Augmented, on-demand, iPhone enabled?

For a price, they DO make virtual an enticing option.

 

But not for me, which is why

I speak my truth, in chalk, on public walks

and wear jeans

to the Master’s House.

 

It kept me out of the room

but amplified my message, over a thousand times

despite the mantra of the bow tie crowd

that it would never be heard.