They’ve got trouble, up there in North Dakota.

He breezes into a Northern Plains town channeling Harold Hill, the slick huckster from the 1962 musical The Music Man. They’ve got trouble up there in North Dakota; but the trouble is with so-called“ factory” model education, not pool tables. The solution to this “terrible trouble” is of course laptops and tablets, not trombones. That’s no surprise, given that Governor Doug Burgum made his fortune selling Great Plains Software for a billion dollars to Microsoft, joined the company as a senior VP, and later served on the boards of numerous other software, predictive analytics, and cloud-based computing enterprises. Interactive map here.

Doug Burgum

The Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education

A self-styled outsider candidate, Burgum won the governorship in 2016, with financial backing from Bill Gates, his largest campaign contributor. Between the primary and general elections Gates pitched in at least $100,000, with several other Microsoft executives contributing smaller amounts. It seems that while looking for an “outsider,” the voters of North Dakota may have actually thrown in their lot with the Silicon Valley technocracy. In Burgum’s “future ready” North Dakota, “personalized” learning will prepare the state’s children to out-Finland even Finland! At least if you buy the pitch venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith’s made at the Governor’s Summit on Innovative Learning held at Legacy High School in Bismarck last June. Details about this year’s summit, scheduled for June 7, 2018 here.

After my previous post on Dintermith, a resident of North Dakota reached out to me with concerns. Like the musical’s Marian the librarian, she smelled a rat. Having attended the day-long event, she had serious reservations about some of the ideas put forward by Dintersmith and his sidekicks, which included Ken Kay, tech sector lobbyist and founder of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21); Susie Wise of Stanford University’s School ReTool program; and Marcus Lingenfelter of the Exxon-bankrolled National Math and Science Initiative. See this interactive map of their associations here.

Innovative Education Summit ND 2017

Dintersmith the Promoter

Dintersmith rode into North Dakota via an August 2015 TEDx talk promoting his film Most Likely to Succeed. Greg Tehven, founder of the Fargo-based tech incubator Emerging Prairie who has ties to social impact investing and Teach for America in Minneapolis, extended the invitation. Dintersmith’s film premiered just in time to set up the next wave of ed-reform aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The documentary was based on a book by the same name that he co-authored with former Gates Foundation senior advisor and Harvard University education professor Tony Wagner.

The film is a soft sell for the type of “individualized,” “whole child” instruction the tech sector eagerly anticipates digitizing and monetizing using 1:1 screen-based devices, biometric monitoring, and augmented and virtual reality platforms. The academic and social emotional data grab will ultimately feed ed-tech social impact investment markets. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet notes, data is the new oil. Folks in North Dakota know the value of oil, as well as the devastation that results from its extraction. Hooking the state’s students up to screens and other monitoring systems to extract their data (oil) while selling community members and elected officials on “innovation” is recipe for profit for tech and disaster for children.

Student Data Extraction

Take some time to review this unsettling foresight document from Knowledgeworks, one of the North Dakota Department of Instruction’s innovative education partners. It offers a view into a world of augmented and virtual reality and wearables. I’ve often wondered what project-based learning via badges will look like in remote, rural areas. Under the LRNG program Collective Shift / MacArthur are pitching “the city as your classroom.” But how would that work in a place like Orrin, ND where the population is under fifty people? This whitepaper anticipates it will happen via augmented virtual reality simulations and games once rural communities upgrade to edge computing. Given the numerous references to careers in the state’s drone and energy industries I’ve come across in the course of my research, it seems learning ecosystem proponents may view North Dakota, with a tech-minded governor and willing populace, as a great test-bed for gamified work-based online education training systems.

Mentor Connect

Mastery-Based Learning Eliminates Grades

The forty-five second clip below is rather jaw-dropping. In it Dr. Cory Steiner of the Northern Cass School District outlines planned implementation of Mass Customized Learning (competency-based education), an experiment he says made him feel unwell. He describes it as “seed project” that will evaluate students solely on mastery of competencies and eliminate age-based grade groups altogether. Say goodbye to first grade, second grade, third grade; from now on education will be check the online box and move along as you build your “lifelong learner” data profile.

Dr. Steiner was the program manager of the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Database system from 2012 to 2014 when he joined Northern Cass, a “Future Ready” district. Later in the panel (timestamp 38:30) he states that he wants juniors and seniors to be done with all of their core coursework and spend their last two years of high school pursuing electives and work-based placements. It is unclear how this strategy will mesh with Marcus Lingenfelter’s position that the state will be advancing high-level STEM education, unless you believe students will be getting comprehensive instruction in courses like physics or calculus during their internships.

Work-Based Learning?

Steiner says that during their senior year, he doesn’t want to see students in school; that they should be figuring out at least what they don’t want to do. How has it come to this? Is it austerity that is pushing us to rush children into occupations when they are just 16 years old? For jobs that likely won’t exist a decade from now? Is any thought being given to the child labor implications? What if they don’t want to work for Exxon or drone manufacturers or Battelle? What if they want to have a senior prom and participate in clubs and sports and social gatherings like their parents did?

Certainly CTE training has a place, but let us support students in finding affordable training in those fields AFTER they have full access K-12 to a publicly-funded education with a well-rounded curriculum. It should not be the expectation that public education will deliver our children as a just-in-time workforce to corporations that generate profits for their shareholders by adopting gig-economy hiring practices. The image below is from the recent 9th annual ASU+GSV (Arizona State University / Global Silicon Valley) Summit in San Diego. Dintersmith was there this week making the rounds pitching his new book “What School Could Be.”

Gig Economy ASUGSV

 

Dintersmith ASUGSV 1

What about the teachers?

And where are the teachers in all of this you might ask? Are they resisting being supplanted by devices? Why no, no they aren’t. Remember, the leaders of both national teachers unions have signed on to Education Reimagined. Instead, classroom teachers are kept distracted, attending Gates-funded EdCamp “un-conferences” where they talk about flexible seating and apps. Meanwhile, Tom Vander Ark and the staff of iNACOL / Competencyworks plot CBE’s nationwide expansion, see map here. You might think North Dakota United would be sounding the alarm, but that couldn’t be further from the case. They’ve actually partnered with Ted Dintersmith to produce a podcast documenting all aspects of the “personalized” learning takeover of North Dakota. The name of the podcast is, I kid you not, The Cutting Ed. Click here to check out the twenty-two episodes they’ve produced since last November. Dintersmith has also created a statewide playlist of resources to go along with School ReTool’s program of educational hacks. It’s called North Dakota Innovation Playlists, a modular program teachers can use to hack themselves right out of a career.

It turns out both the primary sponsor and co-sponsor of SB2186, North Dakota’s Innovative Education Bill, were teachers. Poolman is a high school English teacher in Bismarck and Oban was a middle school teacher.  The bill passed the Senate with only one nay vote on March 21, 2017. It passed the House with 75 yeas and 17 nays on March 28, 2017. Burgum signed it into law on April 4, 2017. The bill had overwhelming support from all the major education policy groups in the state, including North Dakota United. Interactive version of the map below here.

ND SB2186

It seems most people involved with this bill believed it would return local control of education policy decisions in the state. Clearly, they were either unaware or in denial about the fact that the bill was inspired by the ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Commission, “Innovation Schools and School Districts” model legislation that was created in 2012, the same year social impact bonds first appeared in the United States and the year Kirsten Baesler became state superintendent.

Knowledgeworks played a pivotal role in crafting the legislation and promoting CBE.  Knowledgworks is the primary promoter of the decentralized learning ecosystem model. It was originally funded by Gates as part of his small schools initiative, but later became an engine for policy reform in Ohio and was tasked with implementing Common Core State Standards there.

Gates Grant to Knowledgeworks Common Core in Ohio

They have also spun off a social-impact program for “cradle to career” wrap around services known as Strive Together. All told, the organization has received over $24 million from Gates since 2001. Their specialty is producing terrifying white papers. I tweeted a number of these to supporters of SB2186 but never received a response: Glimpses of the Future of EducationExploring the Future Education Workforce; Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem; and the Future of Learning in the Pittsburgh Region (plus their new AR/VR Wearables paper). In this report Baesler is quoted as saying “Knowledgeworks staff provided the support, experience and essentially the framework for North Dakota’s innovation bill.

The Marzano work group Baesler describes here around timestamp 2:30 was part of the process as well. Virgil Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer of Knowledgeworks, came to the organization from Maine’s RSU2 district, one of the early pilot programs for CBE. RSU2’s “Standards-Based, Learner Centered Frameworks,” part of the Mass Customized Learning program, was brought to that district by Bea McGarvey, a Maine resident and employee of Marzano Associates. MCL is being implemented in Northern Cass schools. Things were falling apart with MCL in Maine as early as 2013, but money has continued to pour into the program from the Nellie Mae Foundation and other supporters of the Great Schools Partnership. They have managed to hang on, but opposition has become more vocal in recent months as compliance with new Proficiency Based diploma requirements looms on the horizon.

The Truth About Local Control

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler states the Every Student Succeeds Act returned education decisions to local control in many of her speeches and also here. But did it? Who exactly is calling the shots with respect to North Dakota education policy? If you take a look at the innovative education partners, only North Dakota Council on the Arts and North Dakota United are based in the state. Interactive map here.

ND Innovative Education Partners

Knowledgeworks is clearly a Gates-funded vehicle with ties to national education reform interests. I don’t see how you can see the amount of grant funding coming in and think it is any way a grassroots organization or that they would place the interests of North Dakota’s children above that of their many powerful funders. Interactive map here.

Knowledgeworks Staff

Interactive grants map here.

Grants to Knowledgework 2003-17

Another key player in this transformation is School ReTool, a program out of Stanford University, whose business school is a force behind scaling social impact investing. Stanford’s education school, through SCALE ,is also working to develop digital means by which to upload project based learning evidence into cloud-based systems. Far from a local program, School ReTool is rolling out its “hacks” in districts from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh to Dallas to Oakland. They were part of the Obama White House’s massive plan to redesign high school per this 2016 update.

This personalized learning program is nothing unique to North Dakota. It was not brought to North Dakota because the people wanted it. It was brought to you as part of a national campaign masterminded by ed-tech and impact investment interests. Partners in School ReTool can be seen here.

School ReTool

Get in touch with the parents in Maine!

Burgum, Dintersmith, Baesler, and the rest are really hoping everyone just takes the laptops; turns libraries into maker spaces; acquiesces to mindset and skills-based instruction aligned to gig-economy jobs (fracking, drones, and the military); and accepts ubiquitous AI instruction. Don’t stop to consider how exactly deeper-learning and intense STEM instruction will result from dumbed-down online playlist instruction and work-based learning placements. Don’t look under the hood; don’t pine for old-fashioned age-based grades, report cards, diplomas, and neighborhood schools. Embrace the shiny. Just accept the learning ecosystem model and all the data-mining and labor market predictive analytics that goes along with it. Don’t ask questions; don’t slow down the transformation of education into a privatized marketplace; and by all means don’t tell Hawaii, because they’re the next up on his anytime, anywhere education tour.

But you don’t have to do that. Connect with the parents and teachers in Maine. They are actively rebelling against the competency / proficiency / mastery based education policies being shoved down their throats by the Nellie Mae Foundation, Great Schools Partnership and Knowledgeworks: here, here, and here. They have suffered for years without fully understanding what was happening. Emily Talmage has done a great service with her blog, Save Maine Schools, putting together detailed research and laying everything out. North Dakota, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, unite and resist. Your schools should belong to your communities. They need not become gig-economy data-factories if you take a stand, but do it now.

PS: If you know any of the people assigned to Burgum’s Innovative Education Task Force, consider sending this on to them with my Dintersmith post, so they know what they’ve been signed up for. The task force map is here and a really big map of the whole system is here. If you’ve stayed with me this long, thank you!

ND Innovative Education Task Force

ND REALLY BIG MAP

Losing Our Humanity: A Toolkit To Talk About The Tech Takeover Of Our Schools

On Saturday, April 7, 2018 I had the good fortune to spend a day with education activists from across Massachusetts and beyond at the Boston Area Educators Social Justice Conference at Fenway High School in Jamaica Plain. My colleague, Worcester-based educator, Brian Leonard submitted a proposal for us to present on ed-tech that morning:

Losing the Human Connection: tech-takeovers in classrooms and schools
What is the role of technology in the classroom? How does technology affect child development and social relationships? Do children have a right to relationships with humans in education? Who profits from the commercialization of education and how can we defend our public schools from being consumed by commercialized tech-products that computerize education? How can we extend human and social relationships in the existential struggle against computer companies and machines? These are some of the questions we would like to explore with students and educators.

We wanted to model a meeting people could adapt for use in their own communities. We wanted it to be participatory and not require in-depth knowledge of Ed Reform 2.0 to pull off. The agenda we came up with features a welcome, read aloud, video clip discussion, group activity, and exploration of possible next steps. We hope people will use the tools provided to create spaces to engage in critical thinking about technology in the classroom and begin to counter the dominant narrative that disruptive “innovations” like “personalized learning” are beneficial to public education. If you have your own meeting, please get in touch and let me know how it goes!

IMG_0854

Tech Takeover Meeting Toolkit

Supplies

  • Community space for two-hours
  • Chairs and tables for 15-30 people, room to move around
  • Wall space for 12 sheets of poster paper (or table space)
  • Tablet paper (large post-it pads are great) and markers
  • If you don’t have room for tablet sheets, you can adapt and use 8.5×11 sheets. Have people each fill out this sheet, and cut it into six parts and group by topic heading.
  • Copies of “The Fun They Had,” informational packet and one-page definition list.
  • Overhead projection system for slide share (Google slides link or PDF). If you don’t have projection, print out this sheet (cut in half) for the introduction and skip the video portion of the program, or read my testimony for Philadelphia City Council, here.
  • Sign-in sheet to gather contact information


Slideshare intro

Agenda

  • Welcome: introductions, initial slides, read aloud and discussion (25 minutes)
  • Video clips: choose 2-3 to set the stage (15 minutes)
  • Information gathering: 15 minutes for individuals to record thoughts on sheets, 15 minutes for small group discussion of results, and 15 minutes to report out takeaways to the larger group (45 minutes)
  • Next steps: full group discussion (25 minutes)
  • Close: whip, one final word per person (10 minutes)

Results of Our Discussion April 7, 2018

Response to PhotoScreens Faces

  • Dehumanizing
  • Anonymous
  • Impersonal
  • Loss of Identity
  • Disconnected
  • Cyber-Kids
  • Digitizing Childhood
  • Depersonalized
  • Distracted
  • Unsettling
  • Isolated
  • Over-Quantified
  • Loss of Identity
  • Too Much Technology
  • Hiding behind an identity
  • Denying individuality in an age of “personalization”
  • You can’t see their faces!
  • This is the reality I have been watching slowly invade my classroom for 15 years.

Responses to the Prompt Sheets

IMG_0916

De-professionalization

  • Gig economy – implications for labor
  • Teaching via machines vs humans
  • Teachers/educators become “attendants”
  • Breakdown of social contract, creating permanent underclass
  • Bandaid solutions to the systemic education issues-ie support for ELL students
  • Teachers as supervisors of a factory system
  • Role of teacher?
  • Loss of autonomy?
  • Loss of voice, writing and power
  • Teaching to the test
  • Teachers find it appealing because it’s “easy” while working conditions have gotten worse

Workforce Pathways

  • Tracking from in-utero to grave
  • Social reproduction model of education
  • Depersonalization, breakdown of personal choice disguised/packaged as “personalization”
  • Naviance-surveys and profiles
  • Employment based on quantified categories/ “mastery”
  • Robotization-capital reproduction
  • Controlled / restricted
  • “Coding” as job prep
  • Who will continue to get the most lucrative jobs?
  • Coding=new sweat shop work
  • Capitalism
  • Serving the gig economy
  • Future job opportunity – do we even know what the future jobs are?
  • The current economy doesn’t work for many. Where are these pathways going?

Writing Prompts

Loss

  • Humanity
  • Contact / social skills
  • Psychosocial harm
  • Connection with a trusting adult
  • Joy of learning in community
  • Problem solving
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Real communication
  • Identity
  • Individualized feedback
  • Of collaborative learning processes
  • Jobs
  • Community

Screen Time

  • 24/7 control
  • Lots-Even more!
  • Wifi exposure
  • Unsupervised / confused
  • Losing sleep
  • Anxiety, depression, isolation (ad busters)
  • Kids don’t do required activities, forced to sit until they comply.
  • Addiction, isolation
  • Mental anguish

Surveillance

  • An observed population is a disciplined and controlled population.
  • Normalization of a lack of privacy
  • More prisons
  • Privacy no longer exists
  • Big Brother
  • School as iteration of prison
  • Control
  • Schools can see activity on devices ALL THE TIME
  • Called kids to police interviews
  • Tracking – in utero to grave
  • Internet of Things
  • Counterinsurgency

IMG_E0856

Profiling

  • Analytics
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy of who receives what instruction and what roles they are expected to fill
  • Systems that “learn” children via unique log ins are problem
  • Past performance should shape future learning opportunities
  • Making teaching “easy” teachers embrace these tools are overwhelmed by diminishing working conditions
  • Data breaches and biased algorithms
  • Compartmentalization
  • Tracking
  • Police control across the globe
  • Used to triage children as human capital.
  • Who is deemed “worthy” of investment of resources?

Discipline

  • Academic and emotional conformity
  • Obsession, Anxiety
  • Follow orders, non-feeling
  • Surveillance and tracking
  • Robotic
  • Lack of self-discipline
  • Quantifying SEL is a problem
  • Pressure
  • Military-industrial complex
  • State-finance nexus
  • Special education I-pad as reinforcer
  • Data informs school to prison pipeline
  • Limits open-ended thinking
  • Personalized learning pushes kids to consume rather than create

Power

  • Controlled by elite
  • No nuanced sensitivity
  • Profit
  • Privatization of education resources
  • Education is a business!
  • Control (should be balanced, but instead concentrated in a few hands)
  • Collective power and unionism is the best source of power to resist
  • Employ collective action
  • *Special emphasis on the people of color, low-income students, and immigrant populations who could be hit the hardest!
  • Financialization
  • Capitalist
  • Classrooms as data factories
  • Parents should have a right to refuse ed-tech for their children

Student Learning Conditions

  • Non-collaborative
  • Impersonal
  • Isolation
  • Boooring
  • Less social interaction
  • Controlled
  • Sterile
  • “Just ask Google.”
  • Don’t work hard anymore.
  • Obsession with levels/goals/points, reading levels for example
  • No teacher feedback
  • How can they ask questions?

Data

  • Currency
  • A 4-letter word
  • Can be abused.
  • Children aren’t numbers.
  • Always being collected
  • Tracked
  • Overwhelming amount of it
  • Data-driven instruction and intervention for struggling students
  • Lacks qualitative context (heart)
  • When data dehumanizes ê
  • Where is the “why?”
  • Data can be helpful, but when is there too much data?
  • How to protect it?
  • Can children give consent?
  • Data, the new oil–fracking children

Control

  • Complete control by ed-tech companies
  • Austerity
  • Control isolates people and limits relationships, organizing potential
  • Austerity
  • Hidden motive
  • Google (and Facebook) gives us a nice “box” to live in, but it’s THEIR box.
  • Creates the illusion of total control
  • WHO is in control: government, corporations, and/or military?
  • The political is eliminated-no space for contestation.
  • Leads to conformity/compliance
  • Creates an illusion of freedom
  • Are human’s masters of the machine…or are machines mastering humans?
  • Colonization
  • Fragmented groups don’t have agency.

Relationships

  • Divide/rule
  • Superficial
  • Happen in personal spaces. Tech can keep populations isolated, separate, and preserving the class system.
  • Fragmented relationships
  • Social anxiety
  • Self-defeating
  • Eroded by competition
  • No social skills practice / public speaking / group communications
  • Loss of student-teacher relationship
  • In isolation we are controlled by Big Brother.
  • Loss of agency
  • Students as freelancers
  • Challenges with phone use in schools
  • How does monitoring impact online relationships?
  • How do platforms track social interactions?
  • What happens with children become attached to AI or chat bot avatars?

IMG_E0859

Resistance

  • Raise issues of technology use to school boards / elected officials
  • Use issues of big data to unite different groups: labor, immigrants, farmers, poor, teachers, parents
  • Involve doctors re: wifi risks
  • Requires education to build resistance-educate one another
  • Union participation
  • Parent groups at each school
  • Less online organizing, more face-to-face communication
  • Demos in each town
  • Opt out / disrupt the data

Opportunities / Allies

  • Facebook / Cambridge Analytica raising awareness of data collection / breaches
  • Some communities are ditching technocratic programs (Cheshire, CT dumped Summit Basecamp)
  • Use creativity to revolt
  • Tap into groups that organized around Ed Reform 1.0, raise awareness of new threat
  • Peer-reviewed research
  • Little-Sis crowd-sourced relationship mapping / follow the money
  • Follow up on MTA resolutions against MAPLE / LearnLaunch
  • Union
  • Students / parents / teachers / communities / honest politicians (ha!)

Possible Next Steps

  • Local action committees
  • Coopt “ed-tech pledges” and enact our own
  • Signatories agree to take steps to implement an education campaign
  • Local action committees that can work regionally, too
  • Education campaign to inform the public
  • Reframe “digital divide” narrative / contextualize ed-tech as a tool of privatization
  • Survey the community / research how this is manifesting in schools
  • Gather personal stories / create exhibits in writing, video, online / share
  • Build grassroots resistance / look for opportunities to creatively disrupt
  • Push-back on workforce pathway mandates
  • Map the power – use Little Sis to follow money, grants, influence locally and nationally
  • Create tool kits of resources that make it easy for people to have these conversations

 

 

Ted Dintersmith is not here to save neighborhood schools!

No, Ted Dintersmith is not coming to save our schools, because to him they’re obsolete. Last week Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post pitched Ted Dintersmith’s new book “What School Could Be,” and many ed-activists ate it up. I thought by now a “philanthropic” white male technocrat investor with absolutely no teaching experience coming on the scene to tell us how to fix our broken-on-purpose schools would be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Dintersmith might say what we want to hear. His pitch might validate our concerns about punitive high-stakes standardized testing and the psychological damage caused by developmentally inappropriate education standards. He may criticize AP classes and the College Board; but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Consider his quote from a recent EdSurge article “the focus should really be on funding schools that produce future entrepreneurial adults, instead of entrepreneurial adults today funding obsolete schools.”

Dintersmith’s is the face of Ed Reform 2.0. The new paradigm for education he envisions replacing our “obsolete” schools with is one where:

Competency or mastery-based education is the norm.

Skills are uploaded to online portfolios via apps.

Mindsets and habits of work are tracked.

Children teach one another.

Students are expected to be “in charge” of their learning.

Teachers become “mentors;” or are even replaced by volunteers.

Out of school internships are prioritized.

Instruction may be outsourced to community or work-based organizations.

Students are expected to have a passion and a pathway to the workforce.

With such a model, bricks and mortar schools and certified teachers could wither away and eventually disappear.

I had exchanges this week where I was told that everything in the Strauss piece sounded so good. It couldn’t be argued with, even though the person delivering the message hailed from one of the largest early-stage tech venture capital firms in the world. We should simply accept what he said at face value and be grateful that someone was saying it. I expect many teachers reading the article wanted to believe they would be the ones leading the project-based learning Dintersmith pitched; that one day they would be given back their autonomy and allowed to manage their classrooms again. If they had paused to consider the how the venture capital crowd is reimaging education, surely they would have seen realized those were unrealistic expectations. The Dintersmith version of “personalized” learning is about disempowering teachers. Those projects will happen “Out of School Time” and be run by cyber-education companies or gig-economy precarious labor in the learning ecosystems envisioned by Knowledgeworks.

Dintersmith knows good storytelling has the power to sway people’s opinions. He founded and funded the Catalyst Initiative with Sundance to match “forward-thinking financiers” with social justice film projects. He has the money to buy the best messaging. His first outing was “Most Likely To Succeed” a documentary screened nationally with the goal of initiating discussions about disruptive education. Many many ed-activists took the bait and screened the film not understanding it was a Trojan horse for Ed Reform 2.0. The blogger Edu-Shyster interviewed him at the time, and Diane Ravitch shared Berkshire’s post noting, “This is good news! A venture capitalist has seen the light.” At least one thoughtful commenter, Dienne, saw through the sham.

Dienne on Dintersmith

It is interesting that in her piece Strauss attempted to set up Dintersmith as a foil to Gates, a kind of “good philanthropist” “bad philanthropist” dynamic. In fact, they are both on the same team. Case in point: High Tech High, which was a focal point of Dintersmith’s film, is a charter school based in San Diego that was provided seed money in 2000 by the Gates Foundation to the tune of $9.3 million.

High Tech High Foundation Gates

A recent feature in the Chronicle of Higher Education ran the headline “A Venture Capitalist Uses Philanthropy to Reimagine Education,” while a Forbes article from last November proclaimed “How A Former VC Wants to Disrupt American Education.” Are you seeing the red flags now? Dintersmith made his fortune at Charles River Ventures, where he is listed as partner emeritus. The company invests in technology startups. A few are education-related, like Udacity, but more involve AI, robotics, cloud-based computing, biotech, and automation. You can review the company’s extensive holdings in Crunchbase. CSV’s Boston office is located at One Broadway in Cambridge, a stone’s throw from MIT’s Sloan School of Management where Jean Hammond, founder of the Learn Launch ed-tech accelerator, sits on the board. They also have offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto.

Charles River Ventures

Dintersmith

Dintersmith likes to portray himself as just an average person who happens have the wherewithal to take two years off to tour, meeting with billionaires, politicians, teachers and students to reimagine public education. Though retired, he is cultivated as a thought leader in tech and innovation. The year he launched his film, Dintersmith met with Gates and Global Education Futures Forum affiliate Tom Vander Ark in Seattle to discuss impact investments in education.

The 2015 gathering, hosted by Vulcan Inc. included representatives from Digital Promise, the Clayton Christensen Institute, and Dreambox. Vulcan Inc. is the “engine behind Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen’s network of organizations and initiatives.” Mr. Allen has his hands in many enterprises. In addition to being an incubator for innovative technologies, the firm manages extensive real estate holdings, ownership of the Seattle Seahawks, and the Allen Brain Science Institute. A number of guests at the Vander Ark/Vulcan meet-up created videos to promote impact investing in education. This is Dintersmith’s clip.

Dintersmith Getting Smart 2015

That conference resulted in the 37-page report “25 Impact Opportunities in K12 U.S. Education.” It references Dintersmith’s film and can be read here. I have found no evidence that Charles River Ventures is directly involved in Pay for Success or Social Impact Bonds. They are, however, based in Cambridge, the epicenter of the innovative finance sector, and make investments in the types of technological “solutions” that will enable the data-collection and impact evaluation of outcomes-based contracts.

In November of 2015, Dintersmith was referenced in a White House press release detailing the launch of the Obama administration’s Next Generation High School initiative. The president’s call to action specified a more “personalized,” “real world” approach to learning that, of course, emphasized STEM. Dintersmith, along with Ed Reform 2.0 funders like the Nellie Mae, Grable, and Overdeck Foundations, teamed up with Hewlett Packard to create a MOOC that would promote a “deeper learning” approach to education to a thousand school leaders nationwide. Their “School ReTool” effort is housed within IDEO, a global design and innovation company focused on “social impact.” Among IDEO’s partners are the Gates, Rockefeller and Bezos Family Foundations. Richard Culatta, Director of Educational Technology under Obama, former Chief Innovation Office for the State of Rhode Island and now CEO of the International Society of Technology in Education, is currently a design resident for IDEO.

School Retool

In recent years Mr. Dintersmith has invested some of his fortune in Big Picture Learning, a school model where students pursue work-based placements for much of their school week. The organization based in Rhode Island launched in 1995, and with considerable support from the Gates Foundation expanded to a network of 65 schools operating in the United States, Canada, Belize, the Netherlands, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. Work-based internships are a key element of their program, and Dintersmith put $100,000 towards Big Picture’s capacity to share the ImBlaze internship coordinator and data collection platform app created by Salesforce with other education service providers. The platform tracks academic and social-emotional competencies students demonstrate on the job.ImBlaze Dintersmith

Dintersmith also financially backed the Mastery Transcript Consortium, a collective of private schools and non-profit groups that hopes to replace traditional transcripts based on graded academic content with mastery-based learning standards and micro-credentials. The plan is to leverage the reputation of elite private schools to fundamentally restructure the college admissions process for all high school students.

Dintersmith Big Picture

Members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium’s Advisory Council include:

Andrew Calkins of Next Generation Learning Challenges

Auditi Chakravarty of the College Board

Virgel Hammonds of Knowledgeworks

Emmi Harward of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools

Mark Milliron of Civitas Learning

Kaleb Rashad of High Tech High

Todd Rose of the Mind, Brain and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

David Ruff of the Great Schools Partnership

Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks

Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart

Connie Yowell of Collective Shift (Cities of LRNG, formerly of MacArthur Foundation)

Knowing the background of these individuals it seems clear they are laying the groundwork for a system along the lines of Edublocks described in Institute for the Future’s video “Learning is Earning.” This is a must-watch if you have not yet seen it.

Competency-based education is a means by which reformers and investors intend to move instruction outside schools, away from certified teachers, and into cloud-based platforms and community and work-based learning programs. It’s about making education subservient to the needs of industry. It will erode the centrality of the student-teacher relationship and cement public education as a profit-center for the technology and social impact investors. That is what Mr. Dintersmith is selling. While I appreciate many teachers want to believe the best about people, I need for you all to start to be more skeptical and militant in pushing back against this transformation. He is giving you a sugar-coated poison pill. They know how to play you, and they are doing it. Let’s turn this around, shall we?

 

 

 

 

Too big to map, but I tried.

I realize this is a very long post and not all that readable. I will try and break it down further in the near future, but for now consider it a work in progress; a way for me to gather a lot of divergent ideas, spheres of influence, and money trails in one place. The graphic above is my attempt to trace what is happening with Out of School Time learning where I live; how it relates to impact investing; how they are building the data infrastructure around it; and how that data will advance social impact investing in Philadelphia, a city of deep poverty. I am including selections from the map in this piece, but the interactive version can be accessed here.

On Wednesday March 14, members of the Philly OST (Out of School Time) Coalition presented a report prepared by Howard Tucker, President of Vision4EDU, on listening sessions conducted with community providers of Out of School Time youth services in our city. The event was held in the offices of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on South Broad Street and was hosted by Salvatore Sandone, CEO of Zhang Sah Martial Arts, and Vince Litrenta, Founder of Sunrise at Philadelphia. The two men identified themselves as co-chairs of the initiative. Mr. Tucker’s firm conducted these listening sessions at branches of the Free Library system located in each City Council District between January 16 and February 13, 2018. The Philadelphia Foundation’s Fund for Children provided funding for the effort, as did the Public Health Management Corporation.

PhillyOST Meeting

The Philly OST effort is aligned with the operations of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Human Services, and the School District of Philadelphia. It is meant to be coordinated with ongoing work being done in the city around Pre-K, Community Schools, Read By Fourth and ReBuild.

PhillyOST Agencies

Beyond providing an overview of the listening sessions, the event organizers also discussed this work as providing a template for a “muscular” statewide advocacy effort to support expanded Out of School Time initiatives. The creation of this report, along with implementation of the PhillyBoost data system, was a major milestone they hoped would bring more people into the fold. There were references to the accomplishments that Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) had made in early childhood education, and the plan was to do something similar for Out of School Time learning statewide.

The presenters anticipated that in the near future there would be eight or nine OST hubs across the state. The umbrella organization for OST is the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network (PASYDN), established in 2004. PASYDN has a bi-cameral, bipartisan caucus that was set up in 2016 to support its work. Among its members are Senator Ryan Aument, a major supporter of cyber education and hybrid learning, and Senator Anthony Williams, a vocal advocate for charter schools and vouchers in Philadelphia. The network is housed within the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU).

PSAYDN Screen Shot

PSAYDN Caucus List

 

In 2013, CSIU helped the Pennsylvania Department of education prepare “Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning,” a report that provided a framework for implementing credit-flexibility and competency-based learning in the Commonwealth. With such policies in place, a significant amount of student instruction for credit could take place outside the walls of neighborhood schools. Out of School Time program providers, as well as online learning companies, will be well positioned to benefit from such a policy change. The National Governor’s Association, supporter of Common Core State Standards and a major player in Ed Reform 2.0, funded the study. These policies have not yet been put into place, but a Carnegie Foundation scan of credit-flexibility policies nationwide noted that in 2014 Pennsylvania wanted to “move away from the term credit to make room for non-traditional learning experiences (e.g. online and out of school time).”

PA Credit Flex Carnegie

I expect pressure for these flexibility measures will ramp up if elected officials manage to pass enabling legislation for Education Savings Accounts. While many education activists have framed ESAs as vouchers, they are actually considerably more dangerous. Instead of a single lump sum tuition payment, ESAs would allow payments to be made to multiple providers. This type of system aligns with the “credit-flex” model, one in which cyber-education providers and Out of School Time programs could offer a range of standards-aligned instructional opportunities. When Betsy DeVos spoke about funding students, not schools or districts in her recent interview for 60 Minutes, THAT is what she had in mind.

Rather than having families sign up with a single provider, they would have the capability to assemble a menu of experiences for their children. When you hear venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith, who made his fortune in tech, selling his new book “What Schools Could Be” and pitching project based learning as the antidote to toxic high-stakes testing culture, people need to recognize that the projects he’s talking about will ultimately be removed from schools. The interests he represents foresee a future of learning ecosystems where competency-aligned projects are run through maker spaces, libraries, apprenticeship programs, etc. Out of School Time providers are the leading edge in building these learning ecosystems. Knowledgeworks issued a new report on the future of wearables and augmented and virtual reality in education, taking things a step beyond what most people today can even imagine. In this brave new world, even the maker spaces may be virtualized.

Mentor Connect

I envision within the next five to seven years we will likely see a new educational model emerge that combines cyber instruction with a mix of “hands-on” “project-based” or “work-based” learning opportunities tied to workforce skill development. Ohio is already heading down this path with their hackable high school program. Funds siphoned into privatized education providers will decimate what remains of our struggling public schools, leading to more closures and possibly the dismantling of entire systems in under-funded districts like Philadelphia.

The teaching profession will be Uberized as outlined Knowledgeworks’ report “Exploring the Future Education Workforce: New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystem.” Rather than teachers who have salaried jobs with benefits, most educational services will instead be rendered by “data stewards,” “micro-credential analysts,” and “pop-up reality producers” who must cobble together a living from an ad-hoc network of precarious employment opportunities. What is terribly sad is that during the Philly OST meeting, there was much talk of Out of School Time staff wanting to be treated as professionals and creating infrastructure to support that.

Knowledgeworks Future Workforce

I think most have no idea once they are done with teachers IN schools, reformers will be coming for OUT of School Time educators next. The data-driven accountability machine will consume everything in its path to achieve demonstrated impact for pay for success investors at the lowest cost possible. Lean production will alway be the priority. The strategic plan for Philly OST identifies a need to expand civic engagement around early literacy support. If you read between the lines it is clear that civic engagement means leveraging the use of volunteer labor to teach children to read, not the hiring of certified, trained literacy instructors. In fact, they are even setting impact metrics around civic engagement, which will make hitting those targets part of the overall impact investment framework.

Citizen Engagement Philly OST

I anticipate Education Savings Account funds will be placed in online student accounts where allotments can debited down over the course of a school year. The state of Arizona already has ESA debit cards. It is likely that performance measures will be built into the services delivered, and certainly there will be intensive data-collection on student performance for “accountability” purposes. I also foresee weighted funding could make our most vulnerable families susceptible to educational fraud, since accounts serving the poor, English Language learners and students with special needs will have the largest allocations. Weighted funding is now being promoted by the Thomas Fordham Institute, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and iNACOL (International Association for K12 Online Learning.) All of them say that it is a crucial component in furthering educational choice.

Attendees at the Philly OST meeting were encouraged to attend a lobbying day in Harrisburg on May 2nd. Sal said that Philadelphia really needed to step up, because Pittsburgh was way ahead in terms of the robustness of their advocacy program. Remake Learning, an initiative supported by Knowledgeworks in Southwestern PA where the network is led by APOST, Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time. Last May I wrote about the lobbying the organization had been doing to pitch the services of OST providers in developing mastery-based “innovative” assessments allowed for under provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Philadelphia’s Out of School Time Coalition officially launched last February, when a plan for expanding after school opportunities was presented at the Franklin Institute by Mayor Kenney, City Managing Director Michael DeBerardinis, DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa, and Superintendent Hite. During the previous five years, significant work had been done surveying after school opportunities and building a system-wide data architecture called PhillyBoost. The Philly OST website notes the importance of data to program delivery: “Reliable data is a central piece of afterschool systems building as it allows for collecting, analyzing and applying data to accomplish its goals.” Of course, such data analysis is also a lynchpin for social impact investing. The Wallace Foundation funded that work.

Philadelphia was one of nine cities chosen by the Wallace Foundation to participate in their “Next Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative.” The initiative, which ran from 2013 to 2017, was carried out in partnership with the National League of Cities. Other participants included Louisville, Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Nashville, and St. Paul. Beyond expanding youth participation in afterschool activities, creating a data-driven focus to program delivery was clearly a priority. An interim report prepared by Chapin Hall, University of Chicago “Connecting the Dots: Data Use in Afterschool Programs,” noted the shift towards a “culture of data use” and growing interest in developing systems that could capture social emotional indicators as well as academic measures (see page viii). It is important to note that many of the funders of the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network have also been putting considerable resources into organizations that promote digital learning and tracking of social emotional data (see the PSAYDN map above). The software selected for Philly Boost was created by Social Solutions, a company that specifically promoted its capacity to facilitate Pay for Success implementation. A screen shot of some of the data collected in its Efforts to Outcomes software platform can been seen in the screenshot below.

PhillyBoost ETO

In October 2010, the Wallace Foundation put out a knowledge brief calling for a new “systems-approach” to delivering out of school time programs for city kids, emphasizing the importance of data in making a case for program investments. The foundation noted their specific interest areas included: creating coordinated citywide systems of OST delivery; encouraging collection of data and adoption of ongoing assessment policies; re-imagining and expanding learning time; and using technology as a teaching tool.

The technology piece is consistent with discussions that took place among representatives of the US Department of Education, foundations, tech interests and venture capital that took place the following year in August 2011. A report (which has since been pulled from the US DOE website) entitled “Blended Learning Partnerships for Community-Based Organizations” describes a meeting of the minds in which OST providers were encouraged to get off the sidelines and jump into the “nascent blended learning revolution.” The working group included Google’s senior education evangelist, numerous executives from The Afterschool Corporation, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (read about their predatory foray into AI literacy apps here), Afterschool Alliance, City Year, Motorola, TVTextbook, iNACOL (International Association for K12 Online Learning), City Capital, and Tom Vander Ark of Global Education Futures, Getting Smart and Learn Capital. The full list can see seen below.

Blended Learning Working Group Participants

Of course implementation of technological education platforms in Out of School Time settings reinforces the culture of data the Wallace Foundation seeks. It also provides a framework for Pay for Success financing of public programs. The Managing Director’s Office of the City of Philadelphia released its “OST Strategic Plan for 2018-2026” in November of 2016. Page seven of that document states the desire to increase private funding for OST programs and identified the Fund for the School District and the Philanthropy Network as potential partners. The Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia is a membership organization of over 140 institutions and corporations that together make over $500 million in philanthropic contributions in the greater Philadelphia area annually. This is their board:

Philanthropy Network Board

They helped plan “Capital for Communities,” an event sponsored by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve in November 2015. The event had then Mayor Michael Nutter and representatives of Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Living Cities, the Federal Reserve, and the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation come together to discuss innovative finance models, including Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds.

Capital for Communities

On May 8, 2015 Maari Porter, Executive Director of the Philanthropy Network, wrote to Traci Anderson in the Governor’s Budget Office to discuss how they might work together to advance Pay for Success finance in the state.

Philanthropy Network Pay for Success

 

Materials provided to meeting attendees include a page acknowledging nineteen organizations that were engaged in the process. Among these were:

AfterSchool Alliance: A national advocacy network for afterschool programs supported by foundations pursuing Pay for Success investment strategies. Their board is composed of high-level public policy figures, media and technology executives, and social impact investing leaders. One board member, Barry Ford, is COO of Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan group that promotes early childhood investment to achieve military readiness.

Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce: Promoter of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (backdoor vouchers) and supporter of education as a workforce development pipeline. Recently held a closed-door meeting at Girard College exploring the role of business in educational in our city that excluded parents, teachers, and students.

PhillyBoost: A database and performance management software system for Out of School Time Activities in Philadelphia underwritten by a multi-year grant from the Wallace Foundation. The grant was issued in 2012, the same year that the first social impact bond was created in the US. Social Solutions, selected as the software provider, pitches the their Efforts to Outcomes system as being able to “maximize impact and attractiveness as potential investment opportunities” and be “specifically customizable for pay-for-success programs.”

The Free Library of Philadelphia: Recipient of a 2011 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to implement youth digital media Learning Labs and pilot skills-based badging programs.

The Salvation Army Great Philadelphia: Nationally, the organization has partnered with Comcast to promote Internet Essentials, a program to provide Internet services to low-income people for a reduced fee. Closing the digital divide for poor children is a touted benefit of the program.

It seems clear that Pennsylvania and Philadelphia are moving steadily towards a Pay for Success model of education finance. When I asked about it at the Philly OST meeting, Mr. Tucker seemed to blanch and after recovering from the shock of someone raising this issue said somewhat hesitantly, “Not yet.” The laudable goal of literacy is being used to advance a program of informal, out of school time learning and digital instruction that will deliver impact metrics at the expense of authentic education that is developmentally appropriate and acknowledges the humanity and agency of students and teachers. In putting together this enormous map, I am trying to resolve a situation I feel is akin to the blind men and the elephant. Many people involved in this machine see one small part of it. The part they see, might in fact look like it is a good thing. It is only once you step back and grasp the enormity of it that you can properly assess the situation.

I would love feedback on what I have presented thus far. Are you seeing this in your community? How do we tell this story in a way that make it comprehensible? If nothing else, I hope this post will be a useful point of reference for further investigation.

 

 

Additional Video Testimony from the March 12, 2018 Hearing on Early Childhood Education-Philadelphia City Council

In addition to the testimony I gave at today’s hearing, several other activists attended and shared their thoughts on humane education. Please hear what they had to say.

Lisa Haver, retired educator, reading testimony written by retired educator Karel Kilimnik, who was unable to attend.

Tomika Anglin, parent and community member

Catherine Blunt, retired principal and educator

Alison McDowell, public school parent

Humane Education Versus Educational Technology and Pay for Success: My Testimony to Philadelphia City Council

Today I offered public testimony at a special hearing discussing early literacy education and standards held by the Education Committee of Philadelphia City Council. Below is a recording of my testimony, followed by the written text I submitted for the record. In my introductory remarks I mention Econsult Solutions, a firm that has two affiliates who made it from the pool of hundreds of candidates to be considered for appointment to the new school board. Suzanne Biemuller, Senior Advisor, and Lee Huang, Senior Vice President,  were designated finalists, their names among the twenty-seven put forward for consideration by Mayor Kenney. I wrote about the firm’s ties to Pay for Success and Ready Nation here.

“In 1976 my third-grade class constructed a geodesic dome reading nook under the guidance of our teacher Mrs. Nevius. Inside, with books and carpet squares and flashlights, a bunch of eight year olds found magic. Wilder Elementary had a librarian who could place the perfect book in the hands of each and every child. We anxiously waited for Mrs. Nevius to take out her bookmark to read the next chapter of The Cay or Island of the Blue Dolphins aloud to us. Those were formative experiences for me. I am now the parent of a Philadelphia student and have witnessed a relentless campaign to steal this magic from our schools. Today, I welcome the opportunity to consider what humane education looks like and how we can support it.

  • reduce class sizes
  • hire certified reading specialists
  • make sure every school has a library with a certified librarian
  • shower children with books that are culturally relevant
  • build a teaching force that reflects our student body
  • choose teacher-led professional development over disruptive consultants
  • give children time to think, to discuss, to reflect, to challenge and to question

Many students, including pre-k and kindergarteners, are instead being logged into software programs designed to harvest personal data. Rather than age-appropriate, play-based learning, they are being put in front of screens. Increased screen time leads to social isolation and creates angry, depressed children. Instead of developing healthy relationships through quality time with teachers and peers, they are having their education shaped by algorithms and computer code.

They may not have libraries, but they do have unique IDs that track their every move online. Children have no idea their data is fed into predictive analytics systems; that their unpaid digital labor creates value for ed-tech investors. There is no guarantee their data will be protected from hacks or leaks. No one can be sure it won’t be used to profile them in ways that limit their future opportunities rather than open doors.

The most powerful companies in the world are cloud-based computing companies that have an interest in pushing education online. Venture capital and philanthropies are helping to facilitate this transformation through social impact investments. In the name of “evidence-based” policy, there is a now a bipartisan push to embrace “innovative” finance schemes that use private money to fund social programs, including pre-k and early literacy.

The “Pay for Success” model requires a lot of data to prove that programs “work.” Not coincidentally, this is what education software systems promise to deliver. Remember the housing market crash of 2008 when bundled mortgages were turned into vehicles for financial speculation? There are powerful global interests who want to do it again using the debt associated with pre-k and literacy program investments. The next “Big Short” could very well be our nation’s education system, gambling not on homes but on children’s lives. Philadelphia’s youth must learn to be independent, creative, courageous thinkers. No software system is going to teach them that. When allocating resources for education, invest in people first. That’s where the magic is. Approach big data with caution. It can be weaponized against children and the common good.”

These are the three pages I shared with Council members that support my concerns about securitizing debt associated with pre-k and early literacy social impact bonds and Pay for Success contracts. I encourage you to explore the website created for the Ready Nation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood. It’s eye-opening.

Additional testimony from Lisa Haver (for Karel Kilimnik), Tomika Anglin, and Catherine Blunt here.

Kauffman ReadyNation SIB 1

Kauffman ReadyNation SIB 2

Global Business Summit

Will Econsult Solutions be a foot in the door for early childhood “Pay for Success” in Philadelphia?

My friends at the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools have done commendable work researching the slate of candidates initially selected by the nominating panel to be considered for the mayoral-appointed Philadelphia School Board. Reading through their first installment, I noticed that two of the twenty-seven have ties to Econsult Solutions. Suzanne Biemuller is a Senior Policy Advisor and Lee Huang is a Senior Vice President. The name rang a bell, so I decided to do a little more digging.

It is a large economic consulting firm that does business with private and government interests from the Philadelphia region and farther afield. Their extensive client list includes the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as philanthropies like the MacArthur Foundation, known for promoting digital learning, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, known for promoting Pay for Success, and the William Penn Foundation, known for hiring Boston Consulting Group to recommend closure of 23 Philadelphia schools and recent initiatives to promote out-of-school time, informal learning initiatives.

One of Econsult Solution’s four areas of practice is public policy and finance. Philip Peterson, a former actuary who now acts as an expert in the use of Pay for Success finance in early childhood education, became an advisor to the firm last September. Peterson’s LinkedIn profile states that he manages KidSucceed LLC, a firm he founded in July 2016 with addresses in Marlton, NJ and Manchester, VT.

KidSucceed

His company provides services similar to those offered by Econsult Solutions, advising on the use of Pay for Success for homelessness and healthcare in addition to early childhood services. This six-minute video features a Q & A on Pay for Success that Peterson did with the National Conference of State Legislatures in August 2016.

Between 2014 and 2016 Peterson worked as Deputy Director for ReadyNation, an organization that promotes adoption of this “innovative” approach to pubic finance. It embodies Third Way privatization, employing private capital to fund public services while demanding that specific measures of success be met. Demonstrating “success” requires collection of copious data, which is most efficiently gathered by pushing service delivery onto digital platforms. Cue the ed-tech impact investors.

ReadyNation is an organization under the umbrella of Council for a Strong America, a coalition of leaders representing military, law enforcement, religious, business, and athletic national interests. It emerged from work initiated by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Biemuller’s former employer. ReadyNation and the Council for a Strong America promote investment in early childhood for the purposes of ensuring children are workforce and military ready. According to his profile from the Institute for New Economic Thinking website, Robert Dugger is a hedge fund manager who co-founded ReadyNation and seeks to build business coalitions to support “high-return investment spending in children prenatal to age five.” There is a lot of money to be made from children living in poverty if you know how to structure it properly. Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds provide the fiscal policy infrastructure that enables poverty mining.

As Pew wound down their involvement in 2011, ReadyNation went public. That was the year before the concept of social impact bonds was brought over from the UK and piloted at Rikers Island. The following year Dugger, who maintains a close working relationship with University of Chicago human capital researcher Dr. James Heckman, teamed up with the Kauffmann Foundation as the “Kaufmann-ReadyNation Working Group on Early Childhood Finance Innovation” to prepare a progress report entitled “Social Impact “Pay for Success” Finance: A PKSE Bond Example.” Page six of the report boldly states their intention to securitize debt associated with early childhood social impact bonds enabling them to be 1) bought by for-profit and non-profit investors; 2) traded among investors worldwide; and 3) be aggregated into asset-backed securities.

Kauffman ReadyNation SIB 1

Kauffman ReadyNation SIB 2

If you’re not familiar with the dangers of securitized debt, I recommend watching the film The Big Short about the 2008 housing crash. Imagine what they did to mortgages, but next time the vehicle for financial speculation could very well be student education data. I should note that a representative of the Kauffman Foundation was among the Social Innovations conference attendees who participated in a bus tour Comcast brought to Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences in February. You can read more about that excursion here.

Without question, there is serious money on the table. This is not just about early childhood and early literacy being transformed into investment markets for impact investors in the United States. No, this is a global market. On November 1st, hundreds of business people from around the world will gather at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City to plot their strategies to reap profit from children at the 2018 ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood. The agenda includes: brain science and economics; corporate leaders in social innovation; effective business-led advocacy; and taking successful programs to scale. What is especially notable is that while the speaker list includes people representing the World Bank, the Federal Reserve, the Marine Corps, chemical companies, venture capital interests, figure skating, churches and even coin laundry operators, there are no early childhood educators. To attend this conference one must request to be approved, and those who are “children’s advocates” or “policy experts” can only attend “with a pre-approved team of at least four business people.”

Global Business Summit

While attracting investors like Goldman Sachs, the metrics demanded by the Pay for Success model have led many to call into question whether or not this approach is actually good for children. See this article in the New York Times and this one in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. There are many ways to define the metrics and deploy screening tools to game the system, just as with charter schools. Additionally, the focus on measurable outcomes is pushing data-driven service delivery via ed-tech platforms. The growing number of early childhood literacy apps coming to market in recent years is surely related to anticipated expansion of this finance model.

Waterford Upstart online preschool, pioneered in Utah and currently being used with refugee families in Philadelphia, is an example of the type of software literacy program designed to harvest data to prove the “impact” required for investors to obtain their profit. Programs like Upstart are promoted as a cheap way to achieve “literacy;” but at what cost to children? If you are not familiar with Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds and their ties to technology and Big Data, please watch the video in this post and explore some of the supporting materials.

Philadelphia City Council’s Education Committee will hold a public hearing on Monday March 12, 2018 at 1pm in Council Chambers to “discuss how we can better implement educational standards in the early childhood years from Pre-K to 3rd grades to prepare our children for success later in life.” You can read the resolution here.

Is this setting the stage for early childhood and early literacy Pay for Success programs that will usher in expanded technology purchases and data mining? Will Econsult Solutions get a foot in the door with an appointed representative to our new School Board? Will Mr. Peterson perhaps be there on Monday pitching his “innovative” approach to standards-based education funding? Will we be going down the road paved by Salt Lake City and Chicago? Or will Philadelphia strike out in a different direction and instead choose to invest pubic funds to support human relationships that nurture children in ways that cannot be put on a rate card, generate data points, and or enrich Goldman Sachs? Stay tuned.