Saying No To Naviance: Active Non-Cooperation Is The Best Form of Resistance

John Trudell espoused a policy of non-cooperation. To his way of thinking, when confronted by oppression, it is our responsibility look for ways to gum up the system. This week my wrench-throwing target was Naviance, a subsidiary of Hobsons, a company that promotes itself as a college and career readiness solution.

The Philadelphia School District entered into a five-year, $1.5 million contract with Naviance in 2015. The William Penn Foundation and the Philadelphia School Partnership, both proponents of school privatization, pitched in with $750,000 to cover half the cost. An article from Inside Philanthropy stated the software is “essentially, a high school guidance counselor in a website form.”

It is a program that seeks to replace human interaction with digital ones, which is bad enough, but the company also builds its bottom line collecting data mined from students’ tender, just-forming identities starting as early as middle school. The software deploys intrusive surveys and “strengths assessments” to develop robust profiles used to track kids into career pathways.

Naviance Strengths

I would have fared poorly in such a system. I was a humanities-loving art history student, who took up a graduate degree in historic preservation with a focus on cultural landscapes. Over time, and with the guidance of friends who helped me open my eyes and look hard at the world, I developed an analysis that led me to become a radical researcher intent on exposing purveyors of predatory digital disruption.

Of course the point of Naviance is to preemptively erase people like me. It won’t do for scrappy, critically thinking, non-cooperators to remain on the board when gameplay begins. The “college and career readiness” enforcers expect everyone to passively accept their assigned slot; to be grateful to even have a slot; so grateful they won’t risk imagining another future or challenging the status quo to create an alternate reality. Which is exactly why our family refused to allow our high-school daughter to create a Naviance account two years ago. Parents in other states are doing the same.

But now, as a senior, she had to figure out how to get transcripts to apply to college. In a growing number of school districts Naviance holds families hostage. If they refuse to set up an account and complete all the surveys their children cannot graduate, request letters of recommendation, or have transcripts sent. Naviance, a private company whose profits are manufactured from the student data they collect, is becoming a gatekeeper to college admission. Plus, our district paid them $750,000 (plus the $750,000) for the privilege! Below is a comment on a recent blog post to that effect.

Naviance Threat

After several email exchanges with school district officials and a productive meeting with our daughter’s lovely human (not web-form) guidance counselor, we came up with a plan to do the application process sans-Naviance. We’d do it the old-fashioned way with embossed seals, paper copies, signatures across envelopes and snail-mail postage. Sure, she’ll have to pull her submissions together a bit sooner to give us a buffer in case something gets lost along the way, but in exchange we’ll enjoy the peace of mind knowing her “strengths” remain beyond the reach of Hobson’s predictive analytics.

Below are two emails I sent to the Chief Information Officer of our district with Superintendent Hite copied, as well as the Head of Student Support Services. It explains our thinking and affirms the stance we took was not just for ourselves, but to keep the door open for others who desire to pursue the same course.

If you can opt out of Naviance at Masterman, you should be able to opt out of Naviance anywhere in the School District of Philadelphia and be supported in your decision to do so. Support your school’s guidance counselor. Opt out and demand funds used to pay these data-mining companies instead be used to reduce counselors’ caseloads and free them up to spend more quality time with their students.

Naviance William Penn Foundation

Our Concerns About Naviance

Email dated September 20, 2018

Dear XXXX,

I think you were looped in later, so I wanted to make it clear to all involved that our desire to opt out of the Naviance platform is grounded in concern over:

1) use of student data to create profit streams for private companies

2) use of data to generate profiles of students that may in fact cause them harm, especially given its use of surveys and strengths assessments

3) outsourcing student services to private companies when public funds would be better spent expanding access to HUMAN counselors in our schools

4) Naviance, a private company, becoming a de facto gatekeeper for access to post-secondary opportunities

See the excerpt from a market report for Hobson from 2013.

“Hobson is also developing a third business line – data and analytics – which focuses on this data, much of it proprietary, that flows through its solutions at both K-12 and HE (higher education). The recent acquisition of National Transcript Center (NTC) from Pearson enables Hobson to capture data along the student lifecycle by facilitating e-transcript exchanges…The company’s acquisition of Beat the GMAT in October 2012, together with its College Confidential business, also supports Hobson’s strategy in creating communities with strong underlying data, which has a value to HE institutions and CAN BE MONETIZED.”

Most people don’t take the time to dig into the corporate underpinnings of the online platforms their children are supposed to use, but in this case it does merit serious consideration. Naviance is owned by Hobson, a division of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. Lord Rothermere, former owner of the Daily Mail, consistently gave positive press to Hitler throughout the 1930s link.

Hobson is also based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is quite interesting in that that is also the corporate headquarters of Knowledgeworks, one of the primary advocates for a shift to a learning ecosystem model. This model seeks to replace schools with drop-in centers, badged credentials, and a combination of digital and out of school time learning opportunities. I have seen the data fields for Naviance, and it appears this platform is aligned to such a model. As a person who values the importance of neighborhood schools as physical places, this worries me greatly.

Among the primary responsibilities of public school districts is the management of student records and support of students in accessing those records. I feel strongly this is a responsibility that should not be delegated to a for-profit, third party company that has a stated interest in expanding their market share through data-mining children. While some families may find this “service” a convenience, we do not.

Our daughter has two institutions to which she intends to apply early action. Those deadlines are the first of November. She is in the process of finalizing her materials now, but we need to know how we can transmit official copies of her transcript and her letters of recommendation to the institutions to which she is applying outside of Naviance. We need to have this information by the end of September.

I very much appreciate the School District leadership’s assistance in helping us with this matter.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Post-Meeting Follow Up Email

September 20, 2018

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to share an update. XXX and I had a very productive meeting with XXX this morning. There is indeed an embossing stamp of approval for printed transcripts and provisions to obtain paper copies of letters of recommendation in sealed envelopes. I very much appreciate the school’s flexibility in accommodating our desire to pursue the college application process outside this platform, and we have a plan over the next month to pull everything together for her early action forms.

That said I want to re-emphasize that the School District of Philadelphia would do well to revisit its contractual agreements with Naviance, given the fact that their business model is fueled by student data. The amount of data being poured into this company, including sensitive behavioral data, is extremely troubling given its historic origins. It is imperative that adults do all they can to protect the children in their care from being harmed or used as a profit center. Many families do not have access to the background information I do and may not be aware that they have the option to apply to colleges outside of this third-party platform. I hope the district would extend the same level of support to other families that choose to opt out of Naviance.

As a parent and taxpayer I would prefer to see public funds used to reduce caseloads for school counselors so they have more time to spend with students. XXX has been great to work with over the years.

Once again XXX, thanks for your time today and your knowledgeable input.  We look forward to coordinating with you as we plan XXX’s next steps.

Sincerely,

Alison McDowell

Examples Of Naviance Gatekeeping

Required to receive cap and gown. Link to source below, here.

Senior Survey Naviance 1

Required to apply for honors / AP courses. Link to source below, here.Naviance AP

Required senior exit survey. Link to source below, here.

Senior Exit Naviance

And here.

Naviance Senior Survey 2

And here, etc.naviance final transcript.jpg

Sir Ronald Cohen Discusses the Holy Grail of Impact Investing at the Vatican and Harvard

As the documentary, The Invisible Heart, begins its Canadian tour, I felt it an appropriate time to revisit a couple of talks given by Sir Ronald Cohen. Cohen, an important figure in UK venture capital, put together the first social impact bond deal. I’d like to thank BubbleBlower / @DoubleDutch31 in the Netherlands for the link to the Vatican talk, which I had not seen before. While I profess to being a digital skeptic, it is nice having allies afar who are generous sharing leads.

I woke up early, and since I couldn’t get back to sleep, I decided to start transcribing text from two of these presentations. Slowing down and listening closely helped me process the content. What follows includes: an overview, key dates highlighting US legislative developments since 2014, excerpts from Cohen’s talks and links to videos of the presentations made at Harvard and the Vatican.

After the Bezos preschool announcement, too many people simply wrote it off as a “stupid” idea. What I want to convey is that what is happening cannot be characterized as “stupid” if you recognize that the ruthless individuals pursuing these programs are solely about profit, not providing humane services. These impact investors are in the final stages of building a vast infrastructure they hope will sustain a massive expansion of bio-capitalism. While understanding this is no cakewalk, it’s really important we try. Hang in there.

Overview

Over the past decade, global finance has built an impact investment “safe haven” within our hollowed-out public sphere. There they plan to stash private assets in advance of market collapse. The drumbeat of “what works,” outcomes-based contracting policies is ramping up as foundations, pension funds, and corporations are promised baseline 6-10% annual rates of return on a variety of social impact interventions. Pitchmen like billionaire, JB Pritzker, and economist, Jim Heckman, have been lining up the money, while well-connected firms like Ridge Lane, LP are waiting in the wings to package the deals. Because the returns on outcomes-based contracts are uncorrelated to the stock market, Sir Ronald Cohen once confided to Vatican representatives, he considers them the “holy grail.”

Of course consistent returns presume continuous global poverty, since managing the data of dispossessed people through impact dashboards is central to their profit-taking enterprise. Once clients are “fixed” according to the metrics, another batch of broken individuals must flow into the pool to keep the scheme going. There is no incentive to address structural oppression. In fact, to do so would kill the chicken that lays this proverbial, yet rotten, “golden egg.”

Supportive housing, incarceration, addiction treatment, foster care, early literacy, preschool, ed-tech, and workforce training services will be carefully choreographed, rendering a stream of human capital that can be cheaply “serviced” using “evidence-based,” surveillance “solutions.” Predictive analytics will manage the supply side of the machine’s Orwellian sourcing system.

In this new world of imposed “digital labor,” the poor will be harnessed to devices. The digital divide, once bridged, will be transformed effortlessly into digital shackles. And if the metrics aren’t up to snuff? Or the “raw material” refuses its prescribed fate? If the devices remain off, the data uncollected? If “success” cannot be “proven?” Well, insurance policies will have been taken out, just in case (see QBE’s recent activities and George Overholser’s pitch for Social Impact Guarantees).

Before this machine can really get going, though, impact investors must finalize redesign of the development aid, philanthropy, and non-profit sectors. This new version will accommodate massive flows of capital and Blockchain “web of trust” systems. Hewlett Packard has been working behind the scenes on this for some time now (click the link and from the initiatives link on the left side choose “effective philanthropy”), and Palantir, a deal evaluator, has gotten into the game with their “Philanthropy Engineering” initiative.

Palantir

In this scenario, “mom-and-pop” non-profits won’t suit their needs. Fin-tech will demand they be integrated into the global system. Large, national entities will become umbrella organizations charged with managing investment flows and providing “impact” data infrastructure and analysis. The little guys will close or become subsidiaries of the umbrella groups. Picture what has been happening to community hospitals, but expand that to include every public service organization and supporting advocacy groups. They also need a bit more time to groom/coerce service providers to get them in the proper mindset to carry out this plan.

Money will come from a variety sources, incentivized through generous tax breaks and legislated provisions that even allow pensions to be hijacked, feeding a system that will actually fuel the automation of the very jobs held by those paying into them. During the Q&A for his presentation at the Vatican in 2014 audience members asked Cohen if countries beyond the UK were considering similar incentives. He responded:

“We are finding across the world that there are GROUPS OF PEOPLE LIKE US IN INFLUENTIAL POSITIONS in their communities who are saying to their governments, “YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. The cohesion of our society is going to be threatened in a major way. This is a way for you to set new benchmarks on how to achieve the best, somebody had it up earlier, cost per successful intervention, if you want it in technical terms.”

Each G8 (now G7 with exclusion of Russia) country has a national advisory board of 20-30 well-connected individuals positioned to lobby for this transformation. At the time of Cohen’s talks, Matt Bannick, managing partner and board member for the Omidyar Network was the chair of the US Task Force. Omidyar Network is a backer of a new “Pay for Success” finance tool call an “impact security.” Some hope these innovative “securities” will be more easily scalable than cumbersome social impact bonds. The goal of this product is “Survival of the Fittest: Apply free-market principles to drive unprecedented efficiency in the multi-billion dollar non profit industry.” The idea is to link impacts to returns and create a product open to Program and Mission Related Investments that is standardized to increase transaction speed and transferability.

NPX Impact Security

The tool was developed by NPX, a bay-area finance consultancy founded by Wharton alumna Lindsay Beck and buildOn executive Catarina Schwab. The two were listed among Goldman Sachs’s 100 Entrepreneurs of 2017. A pilot project, the Last Mile, is underway in San Quentin with Omidyar financing. The people who are incarcerated have been forced into today’s sweatshop labor, computer coding. Omidyar’s $900,000 investor payout comes when the “success” goal of 18,000 hours worked is reached. And this newest version of the predatory profit machine is precisely why the United States has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. I suspect if we ever decide to seriously scale back prisons, the state will end up sending people home with a chip in their hand and an enforced labor contract.

Whether they be millenials at Powder Mountain resort in Utah, aspirational non-profit directors and policy wonks at the Dirksen Senate Building, or caviar-pizza-eating billionaires in the Hamptons, it is clear all those in impact investing’s inner circles are anxious for the game to get underway.

Legislative Developments Since 2014

July 2014: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed with embedded “Pay for Success” provisions.

September 2015: The IRS issues guidance stating there will be no penalties to foundations that use funds from their endowment (MRIs) for impact investing projects, even if those investments don’t yield the highest rate of return.

October 2015: ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act) Guidance offered allowing pension funds to factor social impact metrics into determining investment choices.

December 2015: Every Student Succeeds Act passed with embedded “Pay for Success” provisions.

March 2016: Bipartisan Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making established.

September 2017: Final Report of the Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making issued.

February 2018: Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act passed in Federal Budget providing $100 million seed funding for “Pay for Success” projects. My write-up here.

February 2018: Investing in Opportunities Act passes in Federal Budget carving out 25% of low-income census tracks nationally for federal tax incentives for real estate and business development in those areas. Funds can be used for charter schools and for-profit training programs. I suspect they will also be used for pre-school franchises and will probably overlap with SIPPRA projects.

Transcripts

“The Future of Impact Investing Keynote Address with Sir Ronald Cohen”

Harvard Business School

November 3, 2014

Cohen: The welfare states were throwing their hands up and saying, “We can’t cope. We can’t cope with social issues. We don’t have the resources. We may not even be the best people to cope with them.” And as I analyzed how our system works, I realized that the only part of the system that was there to help those who were left behind was the philanthropic sector; used to be called the “third sector.” I hated that name and we banished it so you’ll hear about the “social sector” not the “third sector.” How can anyone be proud to be third, right? Especially in a room with people like you.

And the social sector had one characteristic, and now I give you the advantage of hindsight of fourteen years of working on this, had the characteristic, the common characteristic everywhere in the world of having no money and no scale. So, if you look at how many businesses in the United States over the past thirty years made it through $50 million of sales, the answer is 50,000. How many non-profits made it through $50 million of revenues? Anybody know? 144

Now why was that? I asked myself? I didn’t know that figure then, but I could certainly see that there was no scale and no money anywhere. Any why was that? The answer was very simple, philanthropy. Wealthy philanthropists had given money to these organizations and said to them we’ll give you money for a year or two and then after that, as a sanity check, please go raise money from somebody else and don’t spend any money on your overheads.

And that was the way that philanthropy had operated. And now with the benefit of hindsight, we realized that it was the case that nobody was measuring anything. You couldn’t tell who was doing a good job at delivering a social return, and so I’d asked myself in 2000, and today I can give the answer to it. How can we give social entrepreneurs, those who don’t just want to make money, but want to devote their lives to helping others? How do we give them the same means to achieve their objectives as we do business entrepreneurs?

And fast forwarding, in 2010 Social Finance, which has started in the basement of my office in the UK had gone from one to eighteen people, and the young people of social finance came to see me one day, and they said “Look, we think we may have an answer to how we tackle some social issues.” I said, “What’s that?” “We met a chap in Birmingham, who told us to look at recidivism, prisoner re-offending, you probably know that across the world, two-thirds of young prisoners go back to jail within eighteen months, and we think we can link an improvement in that rate of reoffending, a reduction, to a financial return. What do you think of that?” For me it was a light bulb moment like the General Daurio comment.

For me, it was the key to the capital markets.

When you begin to MEASURE social return or social improvement, and you connect it to a FINANCIAL RETURN, you can allocate capital to those who can deliver the highest social return. And those who have the ability to scale up can raise the capital they need in the same way as a business entrepreneur can.

“Future Potential”

Sir Ronald Cohen, Chair of the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce

June 16-17, 2014

Investing for the Poor: How Impact Investing Can Serve the Common Good in the Light of Evangii Gaudium

Rome Italy

Hosted by Catholic Relief Services, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business

Timestamp 20:15

Cohen: Well, if you look at it from an investor’s point of view, this could really be the Holy Grail. Why? Because, there is no correlation between the results that you get from a recidivism bond, or from a literacy bond, and the stock market.

If the stock market goes up or down, that’s not going to affect the ability of leaders such as those in this room, and those they support, to improve literacy levels. For those who come from the investment world, if we can deliver 7-10% uncorrelated returns within the absolute return part of a portfolio through social impact bonds and development impact bonds, what percent of portfolios of the $200 trillion across the world should be in there? Well, the answer is several percent.

How much should be in impact venture capital, which measures social outcomes such as the organizations we’ve just heard?

How much should be in impact private equity? When in Australia they’ve bought an $800 million sales business, which was dealing with preschool care, and turned it into a not-for-profit and repaid the debt that they used to fund it three years earlier.

How much could be in impact real estate? Taking and rehabilitating and refurbishing buildings in poor areas?

The answer is, a colossal amount.

So, where should the church play a role in all of this? Now many of you don’t know me. I’m not an expert on the church, right? But many of you don’t know I spent the first eleven years of my life in Egypt and my schooling was of the schools of St. John the Baptist. So, I was educated in Catholic schools. And an excellent education it turned out to be when I arrived in the UK, I must say.

What could the role of the church be? Well, I benefitted from a conversation over lunch with one of you who said, you know what in a way it’s an evolution in the concept of Caritas. In my own words, it’s shifting charity from a focus on the act of giving to focus on achieving social outcomes.

Timestamp 25:48

Audience Member: I was very interested in hearing about the tax incentives. Can you say a little bit more, because I think I heard an, ooh?

Cohen: Yes, so the British government accepted the argument that the incentives, which exist for investment in small businesses and medium-sized businesses, should be extended to not-for-profit organizations. So, when you invest in a social impact bond issue or when you provide a loan with no collateral to a not-for-profit, or if you put in something that looks like equity for a not-for-profit, so a high-risk security, you can set off thirty percent of the investment against tax. And if you lose your investment, you can set off the loss against capital gains or income tax, which effectively means that you’re taking a risk on half of your money. Which is pretty well the same as a philanthropic donation.

Audience Member: Have you found other nations willing to consider that policy?

Cohen: We are finding, I should explain, I’ll answer your question and explain why instead. We are finding across the world that there are groups of people like us in influential positions in their communities who are saying to their governments, “YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. The cohesion of our society is going to be threatened in a major way. This is a way for you to set new benchmarks on how to achieve the best, somebody had it up earlier, cost per successful intervention if you want it in technical terms.

So, I think different countries will interpret it in different ways. But I hope that we will see certainly the countries that have been involved in the G8 effort, which don’t include Russia unfortunately. I hope we will see those countries certainly move in that direction, because in the United States there already all sorts of incentives through the New Markets Tax Credits and CRA legislation, and so on and so on. But I would hope that we see tax advantaged flows of capital increase significantly.

Audience Member: Is there a variant of the social impact bond, which works in markets where the government does not spend the money already?

Cohen: Yes, so there are two different answers to your question. In the case of Africa, there are many outcomes funders coming forward in the forms of the official aid arms of the different governments. So, DFID, which is the UK’s international development arm, said it is prepared to be an outcomes funder, as well as an investor in social development bonds. Often people try to give the local government a stake in success so they require the governments, the local governments to pay a small amount. And in some cases we are seeing corporates, big corporations, interested in acting as outcomes funders on social issues that concern their business. But there’s a second category of issue where the market can pay back the investor, if you like. Development impact bonds become a cheap form of equity to implement a model to sell product at low prices, and in that case the market is the outcomes funder.

Audience Member: Have you made that sort of, the opportunity of, pension deficits that exist, if by having the pensions indexed to the impact bonds, so as to not only earn more consistent returns, but also to reduce the load on the sponsor (?) government to meet that pension obligation?

Cohen: Well we would love you to develop the idea. (laughter in audience)

What I think is happening, truthfully what is happening across the world, is that people are innovating all the time, and pension fund money possesses a particular challenge. Because in the case of a foundation, which is in existence to achieve a social purpose, you can see the trustees accepting a lower return on their endowment; hopefully, one day a lower return in return for a high social return.

But with a pension fund, the fiduciary responsibility suggests that people will want a minimum rate of return. So, there is an attempt in the United States, and Matt Bannick, who will be speaking tomorrow, leads the national advisory board in the United States of the Task Force. There’s a national advisory board of twenty to thirty people in every country. And one of the recommendations, which I hope he’ll talk about tomorrow, is to change the ERISA legislation, which regulates the obligations of pension fund trustees.

What we’ve seen in the UK is that the group of pension funds from local authorities who are the main providers of social services, social services are generally provided at the local level so it’s the states and federal systems, local authorities in the case of unitary governments like in the UK. They got together than they put 250 million pounds into a pool, and they said as long as we can achieve a social return on top of a six percent financial return, we think it’s worth doing. And I think people will be surprised by the rates of return that can be achieved.

 

 

 

 

The FBI’s Educational Technology PSA Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

On September 13, 2018, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation released a public service announcement outlining risks associated with the collection of sensitive student data through educational technologies. Many applaud the FBI’s actions. I do not. I believe it to be yet another calculated move in a long range campaign to misdirect the public and goad us into accepting the inevitability of cloud-based computing as the primary method of delivering educational content in our nation’s public schools.

It is a diffuse campaign carried out across many platforms by a range of interest groups, each gently but insistently nudging us towards a box canyon where the fin-tech elite anticipate we’ll eventually give in and accept the constraints of algorithmic data-driven learning. There will be, of course, a tacit, mutual agreement that data will be “secured” (though I suspect that won’t preclude it from being searchable with a FISA court order).

This “security” will exact a terribly high price. Submitting to the bullying behavior of Silicon Valley will erode children’s rights to humane, face-to-face instruction and siphon critical funds away from offline-activities like art, recess, music, libraries, and sports. The precious, small pots of education funding we have left will be directed into vast, impenetrable sinkholes of cyber-security.

The FBI’s alert discusses examples of data stored online, the ways data breaches and hacking have harmed students, and recommendations to parents about what they should be doing. One suggestion was to purchase identity theft monitoring services for children. How did this become the new normal?

While the FBI wants to foster the appearance they’re concerned about student wellbeing, the Bureau is not about to go out on a limb and state the obvious. The most effective way to protect children’s personal data is to not collect it or store it in the cloud in the first place. Rather than signing up for a Life Lock subscription, families would be better served by demanding schools stop using digital devices as a primary mode of education delivery.

The third sentence of the FBI’s PSA offers a not-so-subtle pitch touting the benefits of online education: “EdTech can provide services for adaptive, personalized learning experiences, and unique opportunities for student collaboration.” What is the business of the FBI? Surveillance. Do we think the Bureau would be inclined to recommend dialing back one of the most expansive flows of information ever? No. Consider the data lakes of personally identifiable information pouring out of our nation’s schools. The FBI doesn’t want to turn off that tap. They want us to ask them to protect us, to make the collection “safe” and “secure” from child predators and the Dark Web. It is an approach that will conveniently permit a steady stream of information to be channeled into Bluffdale’s server farms waiting out there in the Utah foothills. It’s a facility that has the capacity to hold a century’s worth of digital data on every citizen.

More on the NSA Data Center here.

Bluffdale

Many in the education activist community felt validated by the fact that the FBI officially recognized the severity of this threat. But pause for a moment and look at what just happened. The education reform community keeps winning because they are strategic and disciplined and get out and frame the discussion to their advantage.

What the widespread sharing and support of the FBI’s PSA did, in my opinion, was further entrench the perceived inevitability of data-driven online education, even if it is horrible for children, for teachers, and for the future of our economic system. It also painted the FBI as the good guy, while glossing over the Bureau’s abhorrent history of infiltrating, threatening and even murdering political dissidents. We must view this “alert” within the context of state surveillance, Cointelpro, threats to Dr. King, and the murder of Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. It is a pattern of behavior not limited to some distant past, but one that continues in the present as demonstrated by the set up of activists like Red Fawn Fallis, a water protector at Standing Rock. The FBI wants to keep this educational data “safe” for themselves. They are looking out for their own interests, not those of our children.

Lest we forget, the first well-known incident of online spying through school-issued devices was carried out, in fact, by the Lower Merion School District in 2010. You can read the Robbins vs. Lower Merion court case in its entirety here. Students in this affluent Pennsylvania community were spied on in their homes through the webcams of the laptops given to them as part of an early one-to-one device program. While the FBI was among the parties that investigated the district’s reprehensible behavior, they eventually closed the case finding no criminal wrongdoing. The families filed a federal class action lawsuit and were awarded $610,000 in compensatory damages. One of the defendants, former Lower Merion Superintendent Chris McGinley, now serves on the School Board for the City of Philadelphia. How does one reconcile this history with last week’s “alert?” It would make a good high school civics essay, don’t you think?

For all intents and purposes, online learning is monitored learning. There will be grave consequences if we acquiesce and accept that all the content our children encounter in school, and their reactions to it, will be captured and analyzed, fodder for big data and machine learning. Even if it is secured on Blockchain or some other system, we don’t want children’s knowledge, behaviors, and biometrics used to fuel social impact investment markets. This predatory machine is even more sinister than the Dark Web. It seeks to profile, gamble, and profit from predictive analytics that devalue humanity itself. To shadowy financiers, children are merely the sum of their aggregated data, inputs in a ruthless a human capital equation.

Of course if masses of parents decided to defiantly unplug their children from the educational data pipeline; it would certainly put a crimp in any Orwellian plans that might be out on the horizon. The FBI’s reformist alerts, therefore, aim to subdue thoughts of outright rebellion against this system and keep us busy asking for refinements that won’t actually stop the operation of the machine. We’ve known cloud-based, “personalized” learning is a hollow substitute for authentic learning for quite a few years. We didn’t need the FBI to tell us we should be concerned.

The Bureau is not here to save our children. We have to do that ourselves.

For more on Bluffdale and surveillance watch this 12-minute interview with former cryptographer and whistleblower Bill Binney. It was done by documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras in 2012, the year before Edward Snowden revealed documents to her regarding extensive domestic spying programs being carried out by the NSA.

Robbins vs Lower Merion - 1

Robbins VS Lower Merion -2

 

 

Jeff Bezos’s “Montessori, Inc.” Sets Up the Ed-Tech Takeover of Pre-K

This week Jeff Bezos of Amazon announced plans to direct $2 billion, in part, to the creation of a “Day 1 Academies Fund,” which would underwrite the costs of full-scholarship “tier one” Montessori model preschools in low-income communities. Within moments of hearing the announcement I began poking around to see where the connections were. What immediately came up was that Jeff’s mother Jackie, who helps manage the Bezos Family Foundation, presented on the topic of preschool human capital investing with James Heckman at the Aspen Institute Festival in June 2017. The title of their talk was “The ROI (Return on Investment) That Matters.”

I spent much of this past summer researching the construction of a speculative social impact investment market dealing in pre-school children’s human capital data (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Major players including University of Chicago economist James Heckman; hedge fund manager Robert Dugger; former Minneapolis Federal Reserve economist Arthur Rolnick; billionaire politician JB Pritzker; and Utah tech entrepreneur Jim Sorenson carried out this work quietly, diligently, steadily over the past decade.

The machine they’ve built is vast with tentacles reaching into influential foundations, institutions of higher education, venture capital firms, global banks, bipartisan political circles, and NGOs. It’s the puppet master behind all the Smart Start, Early Literacy, Grow Up Great, Grade Level Reading campaigns you see posted on buses and billboards in your town.

They use cute baby pictures in the advertising, but we need to recognize these efforts for what they truly are. This is about power, using digital technologies and predictive analytics, to mine rising global poverty rates for profit. Ever more vicious forms of innovative finance, like Social Impact Bonds and now impact securities, seek to transform human life into fictitious capital the elite can manipulate to enrich themselves. In this end game of late-stage capitalism, the data of vulnerable children will be collected and used as a source of profit extraction. Make no mistake. The Amazon “academies” will be data centers first and foremost.

The Bezos announcement indicates that perhaps this infrastructure is ready for prime time. Heckman and Pritzker have been doing road shows to sell it for years. I’m sure they’re anxious to see how the motor runs.

Heckman Bezos

People are increasingly concerned about the degree to which power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the tech sector, Amazon in particular. They hear the stories about the terrible working conditions, the surveillance of labor via wearable technologies, that workers can’t afford shelter. The solution offered is a roving RV work model. While some have embraced Alexa as a virtual assistant, many others see it for the intrusive data-gathering device that it is. Now Amazon and its dynamic pricing model is moving into bricks and mortar retail through the purchase of Whole Foods. There is a growing sense we are being watched; that our value is data tied to where we go and what we buy; that our options for meaningful work are shrinking; and Bezos sees us as pawns to be managed for his benefit. Plus, those AWS (Amazon Web Server) data lakes!

My hope is people will realize this announcement isn’t just about Bezos or Amazon. It’s a sign the impact-investing, early childhood education machine is getting ready to roll. It is a mammoth, mammoth machine. Many will be scooped up in its net. Bezos is a great one to put out front. Many are already angry with him, so they throw up tweets expressing their dismay but they don’t look deeper. Some get that there is an aspect of data profiling, that it might also involve ed-tech promotion, but they are NOT talking about speculative global finance. Impact investing is not on anyone’s radar, but it should be. If you haven’t seen my videos on Social Impact Bonds or Blockchain Identity, check out the links here and here.

I’ve read widely and gotten pretty good at registering the signals of where things are headed. No one has shown me the plans for these Academies, but I can start to guess what they might look like. Join me for a tour of a fictional pre-school I’ll call “Montessori, Inc.” In the scenario that follows I lay out elements of a preschool model designed to serve the social impact investment market that Heckman and his partners have built. It includes links to examples already in operation in the real world. Will Bezos’s Academies follow such a model? Only time will tell.

Surveillance play tables are real. This is the world we live in now.

 Hatch Education

Join us on the tour:

“A Company” is the venture partner backing “Montessori, Inc.”

“Montessori, Inc.’s” centers are found in the nation’s poorest communities, often in past-their-prime strip shopping centers near the highway. Picture the pop-up charter schools all over Florida. Link

“A Company” cultivates women of color to become franchise operators of “Montessori, Inc.” and touts its status as a MBE, WBE enterprise. Link and Link

Once on board, franchise managers are expected to toe “Montessori, Inc.’s” line (which is actually “A Company’s” line) and follow all company procedures, especially regarding expansive data collection and family compliance policies.

The teaching staff is low income. Most juggle several gigs to get by.

They are expected to keep up with the latest micro-credentials and take online training classes they can’t afford to stay eligible to teach. Link

Fees are automatically docked from their meager salary. Link

Each staff member’s engagement with online coursework is tracked biometrically, the data uploaded to their employee profile. Link

“Montessori, Inc.” maintains extended hours of operation, but algorithms set irregular shifts ensuring most workers don’t get enough hours to access benefits. Link

While a “Montessori, Inc.” preschool education is offered free of charge, not everyone who is eligible will be able to enroll. “A Company” outsources their review process to “Progress Pathways” to make sure each family is a “good fit” for the program. Link

Preschool operations are funded using innovative finance mechanisms structured around outcomes-based contracts. For schools to meet their agreed-upon “success” target, franchise operators must carefully curate whom they admit into the program. Because “Montessori, Inc.” is not a public preschool, they can do that. Link

One part of the evaluation is the LENA screening. Each child must wear a vest with a recording device for a full day. Data is analyzed to predict if the child is likely to fall into a “word gap,” meaning they are not spoken to enough at home, which could impact their literacy levels. A low LENA score can be a disqualifier. Link

If accepted, parents must then agree to give “A Company” ownership of all the data collected on their child and the family through school-affiliated apps while the child is enrolled in the program. Data collected informs dynamic pricing for goods and services purchased at any of “A Company’s” affiliates. Of course the goal of the company is to help families make “good decisions.” Nudge pricing is part of that strategy. Link

Each student enrolled at “Montessori, Inc.” is assigned a digital identity on Blockchain. All of their data and credit goes into the e-wallet. Link and Link

If a family relocates, they take their child’s accumulated data with them to another center. “A Company” promotes this as a means by which poor children “build social capital” from an early age. Link

Parents are expected to volunteer twice a week, and participation is tracked on an app. Their time, valued at less that $5 per hour, is compensated not in cash but in points redeemable in “A Company” credit. Link

They’re also expected to participate in “Montessori, Inc.’s” “smart family tips” text-messaging platforms. If they don’t document that they completed the required number of suggested educational home-based activities or respond promptly to text messages, their children can be bumped from the program. Link and Link

Upon enrollment, each family is issued a device programmed with behavior-tracking games geared to early literacy development and executive function training. Toddlers need to continue to level up on their custom development trajectory or risk be bumped from the program. Link and Link

Families must keep their child’s device charged and in working condition and send it to school each day. This “Montessori Minder” device is a key element of the self-directed curriculum offered by the school. Each child is given a personalized playlist of activities for the day, which they work through at their own pace. They submit evidence of tasks completed to the online student portfolio platform. Link and Link

Access to each center is authorized through biometric scans at the front door. Link

Attendance is generally used as one of the impact investing metrics, so that is taken on an app to ensure that data is high quality. Link

The “smart” classrooms are minimally furnished. All furniture and physical items come with embedded beacons that track students throughout the day. Link

All the children and staff wear slippers with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors embedded in the soles that track their interactions with one another and with physical objects in the space. Link

The centerpiece of each pre-school is their WePlaySuperSmart table. While toddlers interact collaboratively with screen-based activities on the digital table, a video camera captures their interactions. AI is then use to analyze the video and complete behavioral rubrics in a dashboard outlining where they are within the “Big Five” traits OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism). Link and Link

Other activities during the day measure behavioral elements like grit, resilience and executive function. Some sites are piloting EEG brainwave headbands. Link and Link

With the play tracker app, each child gets a haptic buzz when it’s time to go outdoors and play on the smart equipment. The app tracks their fitness goals against online games tied to literacy progression and non-cognitive skill development. The program investors love that Play Tracker keep every child moving on their development pathway. Link and Link

For schools with limited access to outdoor space “A Company” provides access to indoor augmented reality play systems (that have the added advantage of increased data capture). Link and Link

Parents can monitor classes via remote cameras, and real time data is uploaded to each student’s dashboard throughout the day.

Students are expected to be goal-oriented, motivated, and self-reflective while at school. Student agency is highly valued by “A Company” and the games on “Montessori Minder” are calibrated to push each child towards that goal. Link

By the end of their time at “Montessori, Inc.” each student will have a high-resolution picture in data of where they fit into the human capital pipeline of the gig economy.

“’A Company” is proud to be able to make that happen and ensure no toddler is left behind.

Wildflower IoT Slippers

Our Future As Social Machines?

This spring I visited Boston for an education conference, and while there I spent an afternoon exploring MIT and Harvard with a friend. I wanted to see with my own eyes the spaces where these destructive policies of social impact investing (Harvard) and digital economics and Human-Computer Interaction (MIT) are being incubated. In many respects it truly embodied the banality of evil. One of my strongest memories was standing in front of the digital program board in the lobby of the MIT media lab (featured image).

As we scrolled through the list of initiatives, the weight of it hit me. Those technologists fully intend for our lives to meld with devices, and they are mining our data to shape future relationships with robots and virtual agents. They are also designing crypto economic and surveillance systems to constrain our lives in countless ways while the wonks at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government devise the policies needed to affect this transformation.

Their aim? To eventually turn us into social machines; literally, machines that can be monitored, nudged, and adjusted to conform to the expectations of the market or be discarded if we refuse. They want our relationships to be mediated through technology so they can maintain power over the masses at this increasingly unstable time. To be an offline human connecting with other offline humans risks toppling plans they’ve so carefully laid. To disconnect is a radical act.

Global finance is in the process of setting up social impact initiatives linked to “evidence-based” SEL interventions. It will require monitoring children receiving services indefinitely as financiers wager on who will become addicted, incarcerated, or the victim of a crime. It is a sinister business model that has no place in our schools. They need devices to capture the data; non-cognitive data; data that paints a picture of who you are now and who you are likely to become. It’s all about predictive analytics and the odds.

ESSA shifted the narrative to include “multiple measures” and “innovative assessments.” Now they have carte blanche to track everything related to school climate AND behaviors. SEL program consultancies and deal evaluators are bursting with excitement. Resources will pour into metrics to structure the financial deals, but probably not into actually fixing the problems that caused trauma in the first place.

So, when they pitch you on more recess and play, ask them if there is a catch. Ask if there are rubrics or devices or data capture? Chances are there will be, if not yet, soon.

Below are ten images I hope will shock people into action. When you hear social-emotional learning (SEL) and whole child education, peek behind the curtain, and this is what you will find.

1. Surveillance Play Tables

Hatch Education’s WePlaySmart surveillance pre-school play tables capture real time audio and video on the social interactions of children “playing” screen-based games. The recording device is located in the hole in the table top behind the girl on the left. Background here.

2. Digital Brain Engineering

The National Science Foundation awarded a three year grant to Melina Uncapher at the University of California San Francisco’s Neuroscape lab to map and tweak the executive function of 1,000 early elementary school students in Santa Clara County, CA using custom-designed video games.  Neuroscape has spun-out a for-profit company, Akili, that develops digital medical treatments and recently completed clinical trials on the world’s first prescription pediatric video game treatment for ADHD. Background here.UCSF Video Games

3. Mapping Social Relations Via Sensors In Student Slippers

The Boston-based private Wildflower Montessori School franchise values social relations so much they insist on mapping them in real time using Internet of Things sensors placed in each child’s slipper, on the teacher, and around the classroom. One of the parents works at the MIT Media Lab, Social Computing unit.

Wildflower IoT Slippers

4. Virtual Reality Empathy Training

Project Empathy deploys virtual reality systems to promote “empathy” but also captures information, such as eye-tracking data, on users to ascertain engagement. It is being framed as a social impact investment vehicle where the metrics involved are the extent to which the experience changes people’s attitudes and behaviors.

VR Empathy Machine

5. Gamified Reward and Tracking Systems Linked to Digital Currency

With Red Critter teachers assign digital awards to students demonstrating desired behaviors.  Teachers can zing points to students wearing wrist bands or they issue rewards by voice command using Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual classroom assistant.Red Critter Band

6. HERO: Integrated School Climate System

Now we know why ESSA expanded school evaluation to include “other measures.” It was to expand the market for campus-wide software systems that aggregate student behaviors like tardiness. The company states that its child-as-barcode platform integrates well with SEL programs like: PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports), RTI (Response to Intervention), and MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports).

HERO App

7. Soft Skills Competency Transcripts

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is a group of mostly elite private schools that are developing an alternative transcript rooted in competency based education. In this model, “soft skills” are as important as academic knowledge areas. The consortium’s advisory board includes many leaders in Ed Reform 2.0 and has been funded through a large grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, which has ties to IBM. In the sample transcript below all of the featured credits pertain to Joseph Smith’s habits of mind.

Mastery Transcript

8. Recess Assessment Rubrics

The business model of Playworks, a recess management non-profit whose largest funder is the Bechtel Foundation (a major defense contractor), is that play shouldn’t be left in the hands of amateurs like children. As schools have been stripped of support staff, many have a hard time finding adults to oversee recess. This paved the way for Playworks to insert itself into 7,000 schools nationwide. They’ve now developed a “Great Recess Framework” to measure and assess “safe and healthy play.” Should children have access to safe spaces for free play? Definitely. Do we need a national organization partnered with data harvesters like Salesforce to make that happen? No, we don’t.

Assessing Recess Brookings

9. Brain Monitoring Wearable

Brainco, spun out of Harvard’s Innovation lab in 2015, developed a wearable headband to track student engagement via brain wave monitoring. FocusOne gathers data on individual students to encourage self-reflection. It also aggregates class-level data for teachers to assess the effectiveness of instruction and identify who is and is not participating in small group discussions or projects. Data collected via the devices is compiled in a massive brainwave database Brainco uses to refine their algorithms.

10. Daniel Tiger Knows If Your Toddler Shares

The PBS Kids app has been downloaded over 45 million times. They are a leading content provider to children ages 2 to 8 years old. They have been awarded hundreds of millions of dollars by the US Department of Education to develop behavior tracking games in coordination with evaluators like UCLA CRESST, which also does defense contracting. In the Daniel Tiger game a child hosts a tea party with avatar “friends.” Game play is monitored, and if Daniel does not socialize appropriately, say distribute the cookies equally, he is corrected. All of the child’s interactions are monitored for evaluation. Parents are encouraged to download an app that lets them see the dashboard of this activity. Background here.

Tea Party PBS Kids.jpg

Mindful Compliance or Non-Cooperation?

Classrooms have always been sites of struggle. We find ourselves in the midst of a battle pitting human agency and relationships against technologized surveillance and predictive profiling. Can schools evolve into places of community where new ways of being in the world, ways that begin to address past harms against oppressed people and the earth, can be imagined and tested? Or will educational spaces become even more authoritarian? With each passing day we see students distanced from one another as algorithms, artificial intelligence, and online games mold their minds in “personalized learning” bubbles.

The lean-production, dystopian economy the Davos crowd envisions will offer few stable living-wage jobs. Their model will force most people to adopt a practice of unrelenting “lifelong learning,” continual reinvention that might allow them to piece together a patchwork of precarious, soulless jobs. It is a process that will demand the acquisition of just-in-time skills, but perhaps more importantly it will demand the proper mindset. In this future, the most desirable trait for hires won’t be the level of knowledge they possess. Far more attractive will be their demonstrated ability to adapt to and thrive on instability. That is where grit, self-regulation, resilience, and executive function come in. That is why these words are becoming so prominent in professional development, new “evidence-based” curricula, and educational literature. We are being groomed.

There will be limited opportunities for creative thinking in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Knowledge will be controlled among the general populace. In fact knowing enough to question or disrupt the status quo will likely land a job candidate in the algorithmic rubbish bin. The current system works fine for the elite. They won’t onboard anyone who might organize with others to actually fix the system and make it more humane. For those at the top, the best employee is an independent operator who thrives in dystopia and shames others into doing the same by example.

Neoliberal interests have secured esteemed social scientists and branding consultants to sell the unsuspecting public on their poisonous program of human capital engineering. It is being packaged as “whole child education” and “social emotional learning (SEL).” Legions of parents and teachers are embracing top-down programs of mindfulness training, structured recess, and gamified behavior management systems. Shell-shocked from years of test and punish, their defenses are understandably weakened. When they hear “play” and “soft skills,” most just sigh and cross their fingers hoping the worst of it is over. The privatizers know exactly how to push people’s buttons.

Efficient markets require a robust pipeline of interchangeable, cheaply paid employees who will labor with minimal complaint under intolerable conditions. Everything today is about return on investment. The logic of the market dictates it’s never too early to triage who is worth an investment of public resources and who is not. Schools have always been sorting mechanisms, but with digital surveillance education, the sorting systems are becoming ever more vicious.

Lest we be lulled into a trance by the zen masters of corporate mindfulness, we must recognize that the push to monitor, track, and cultivate an appropriate learner mindset, is not emerging from an authentic grassroots concern for the well being of children. It is an intentional campaign launched by philanthro-capitalists to expand the metrics of student measurement into the non-cognitive sphere.

These metrics will be used to profile children and double the size of educational impact investment markets. Why limit yourself to gambling on children’s academic proficiencies when you can do the same thing on their behavioral proficiencies, too? Believe me, the folks in this game are not ones to leave money on the table.

Who are you?

What kind of person do we predict you will become based on your data profile?

How do you score in the Big Five traits? OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism

Will you obey?

Will you work hard?

Are you a team player?

Are you a leader?

Are you a follower?

Are you broken beyond what we’re willing to invest to repair you?

THAT is what social-emotional learning is really about. They will put resources into creating the metrics, the rubrics, and the monitoring systems to ensure fidelity. It is the metrics that drive the social impact investment markets. It’s about moving data on dashboards, not caring for children.

So, before you do another thing in the classroom with respect to student behavior or social emotional learning, take a look around and recognize we ARE living the Hunger Games. Stop and think about where the intervention you are using came from. Whose interests does it advance? What data are YOU collecting on the children in your care? Where is it stored? Do you know what behavioral information the devices in your classroom may be capturing on your children? Do you know how that is being used? Do you know who is funding the new SEL curriculum in your school? Do you know who is funding that “nice” non-profit that wants to manage your recess program? Could it be a defense contractor (Playworks / Bechtel)?

Are you teaching children to be good players in the Hunger Games or are you teaching them what they need to know to upend the game? And if you are doing the latter, keep it offline. Don’t give the elite any power over the children who depend on you. Adopt a policy of non-cooperation. Find your way to resist the corporate SEL agenda and do it.

Much respect to John Trudell.

Welcome to Your Permanent Record

I realize my Blockchain video presents an abundance of information that may be difficult to absorb all at once. For that reason, I’ve pulled together images from the video and accompanying text into a slideshare that people can review at their own pace.

Access the slideshare here.

Access a PDF of the script here.

I hope the scenario below provides a compelling enough reason why regular folks need to get up to speed on Blockchain, decentralized (digital) identity, tokenized behavior, and smart contracts. You can be sure the Davos crowd is well aware, and we really do have to start catching up if we want to save humanity.

Picture this:

A possible future, perhaps fifteen years from now.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway.

Wages and conditions for jobs involving physical labor and direct service are forced below subsistence levels.

Austerity continues.

Debt is omnipresent.

“Smart” devices, facial recognition software, and drone surveillance ensure the public and private spheres are constantly monitored.

People’s lives have become ever more precarious.

The working class has few resources left and cannot serve as a market for goods and services.

There is limited currency in circulation.

Instead, alternative exchanges of value are logged in Blockchain ledgers.

People are increasingly managed as commodities to keep capital circulating.

Economic activity, such as it is, revolves around data.

That data is stored on Blockchain, your permanent record.

Data are used to prove compliance and demonstrate the successful “impact” of poverty management systems.

Public services, like education and healthcare, have been outsourced to private entities funded by speculative investors.

Predictive analytics dominate the lives of all but the most powerful.

Big Brother lives in the cloud.

Each person carries a minder, a smartphone or a chip inserted in the hand.

Finance and technology interests anticipate managing humanity as an extractive industry. 

It is a future that hinges on bringing self-sovereign identity and Blockchain to scale.

So, will it scale?

Will people recognize the peril?

And will they refuse to cooperate?

For more information:

Smart Cities: Link

Internet of Things: Link

Blockchain: Link

Smart Contracts: Link

Self Sovereign Identity: Link

Alternative Currencies: Link

Behavioral Economics / Nudge: Link

Watch the video again: