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.


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).


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:


Looking For A Plan B

I should have anticipated the response to my Blockchain video would be muted. Digital wallets for e-vouchers and lifelong learning badges probably seem like a distant threat to most people. And yet as we begin a new school year I can’t help but reflect on the fact that more than a handful of people I know have felt sufficiently harmed by current public education policies to put their children into private schools, leave town, or in some cases move to a whole other state only to find the situation there just as bad or worse than it was back where they started.

Many students are spending their first weeks of school being issued devices, having logins set up, creating accounts for various “personalized learning” programs, and taking surveys to identify their workforce pathway options. Meanwhile, parents lie awake in the middle of the night nervously calculating the ages of their children against how fast they anticipate badging and apprenticeship programs will come online. We’ve hit a moment of fight or flight. The stress is palpable. It’s nothing a mindfulness session can ease away. The dread is growing.

So which is it? Fight or flight? Though I am fortunate in that my child graduates next spring, I keep wracking my brain for a “Plan B.” For years I have fought to save authentic, human-based learning in neighborhood schools; first on the standardized testing front and lately on the tech front. But the odds feel so very long and progress slow and people are in deep, deep denial about the scope of the problem. In those moments I think perhaps flight is warranted. If the adults in schools don’t want saving, perhaps it is best to walk away and find people who want to build something else.

Nationally, there are groups calling for the wholesale withdrawal of children from public education systems that have been commandeered by ed-tech interests with the apparent blessing of both major political parties. Pennsylvania has many, many families that enroll in cyber-school. This of course is not an answer to the ed-tech conundrum, because while conducted “at home,” it is a corporate franchise charter school education carried out on a surveillance device. In Philadelphia, there are also sizeable home school and un-schooling communities. This model is more traditional in approach, often drawing on local cultural offerings to supplement a home-based curriculum. It’s labor intensive and not something many families have the time or income to sustain over the long haul.

As Education Savings Account programs gain momentum, I feel I must point out that flight is not going to be a workable option either, even if a family goes the traditional home school route. You see ESAs are early stage e-wallets. Social impact investment markets will demand education impact data in exchange for “equitable” funding. No question. The reformers see the e-wallet concept as an elegant solution, well suited to the needs of investors. Digital money can be programmed by the authorities and spread around “out of school” and online education providers using Blockchain micro-payments. Student data, lots of it, will in turn flow in. There will be synergy between digital payments and digital data. The child is transformed into a vehicle through which the capital of the neoliberal financialized education system can flow.

So, if you are a parent who decides to go the low-tech, traditional home school route, what happens when all the civic and cultural spaces in your community sign on to the learning ecosystem program and start taking ESAs? Well, at that point they’ll be pulled into the system of payment / data exchange. The programs on offer will have to be redesigned for check-the-box impact demonstration. They will likely move towards more tech-integration. They’ll need it to capture the quantity of data required by the social impact dashboard systems.

The e-wallet transformation, once fully implemented, will hijack recreation centers, art spaces, theater groups, science meet-ups, sports leagues, outdoor programs, even public libraries, turning them into badge-issuing nodes of the learning ecosystem. They will be expected to monitor the behavior and emotional regulation of students and report back. At that point there will be no place to flee, unless we organize parallel community spaces that refuse all public funds and the strings of data harvest that will come along with them.

So I sit here on a rainy Friday night seeing storm clouds on the horizon, wanting to fight but not sure who is fighting with me. I’m still looking for a viable Plan B. Got any ideas?



Could Weighted Education Funding Campaigns Be Advancing An ALEC-Backed Agenda?

Campaigns have been launched across the nation to document and address chronic deficits in state-level education funding. Undoubtedly, the intentional underfunding of our public schools is a serious concern. One such campaign was recently announced in my home state, PA Schools Work. According to their website, the coalition, which includes a number of union and child and education advocacy groups, builds upon previous work done around Pennsylvania’s 2016 Campaign for Fair Education Funding.

What immediately jumped out at me when I received the August 8 email inviting me to join was the use the word “Work” in the campaign name. What I’ve come to realize is that the ed-reform landscape can often be deciphered if you understand the language they’re using. Once you unravel that code, you can figure out where things are headed.

PA Schools Work

There is tremendous pressure now to align curriculum to the needs of industry, and the research I have been conducting around outcomes-based contracting indicates that “Work” often equates to data-driven metrics tied to outsourced public services. See Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “What Works Cities” for example. In education this is increasingly manifested in the adoption of ed-tech “solutions.” So, for me at least, “Work” in this context becomes an extremely loaded term. As a parent, I can think of many other words I’d prefer to see used to describe an optimally funded K12 education. Pennsylvania schools could just as easily empower, nurture, sustain, excite, imagine, or create. Work? There’s plenty of time in post-secondary education, once children are old enough to make informed decisions about their futures, before that word needs to take center stage.

It’s also important to note that since last fall Pennsylvania has been battling legislation aimed at creating Education Savings Accounts. Senate Bill 2, not yet passed, would establish a program run through Pennsylvania’s Department of the Treasury that would award quarterly payments to families of children enrolled in (or in the catchment of if a kindergarten student or first grader) schools documented as “low-achieving.” Schools that score in the bottom 15% on annual achievement tests fall into this category.

If passed, families that chose to participate in the program could use state funds to purchase “qualified” educational services like private school tuition, tutoring or “teaching services,” curriculum, books, uniforms, testing fees, and a big loophole “other valid educational expenses approved by the department (of the Treasury).” This would be in lieu of enrolling their child in a local public school or participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (voucher lite) program. Thus far the legislation has not progressed, but continued vigilance is required.

When I received the email about the campaign, I inquired if organized opposition to ESAs and voucher programs would be part of the PA Schools Work action plan. I was told that it would not and that the focus was exclusively on securing funding. Given the direction things are headed, I find this to be of grave concern.

Many statewide campaign programs are pushing “student-centered” funding, which hews closely to the concept of “weighted-funding,” which Pennsylvania adopted in 2016. The latter is a program whereby students that meet certain criteria receive additional education funding. This makes sense. Students who live in poverty, for whom English is not their first language, or who have special learning needs will require additional resources if the goal is an equitable funding stream that allows each child to reach their full potential. I support that premise wholeheartedly.

But here is an interesting wrinkle. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a pro-corporate bill mill, ALSO supports “student-centered” and “weighted” education funding. In fact, they developed model legislation for it way back in 2010: The Student-Centered Funding Act. Jeb Bush’s reform entity Excelined funded by Gates, Walton and Bloomberg (all impact investing backers) put out a policy brief in June 2017 on Student Centered funding, too.

Additionally, the Nellie Mae Foundation has been issuing grants to New England states to investigate education finance models that would support “student-centered learning,” in other words Ed Reform 2.0. They are using their considerable financial resources to push systems change that will preference competency based education over traditional seat-time models. They aim to normalize “innovative” learning that takes place “anytime, anywhere,” NOT in a school. For this model to work, state funding must follow the student (as with a voucher or ESA) rather than the school or district. The images below are two grants funded by Nellie Mae that indicate their intent to shift existing narratives around public education.

Nellie Mae New Narrative Grant

CT Education Policy Changes

These three images feature grants made to entities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont to explore new models of education finance that would support such a shift.

CT Education Funding

VT Education Funding

MA Budget

At first glance it might seen somewhat contradictory for ALEC, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Nellie Mae and their partners in crime to be promoting student-centered, weighted education funding. But I invite you to take a step back and consider that the future of public education that ALEC members and philanthro-capitalists envision is a free market, “hackable” network where there are no more neighborhood school buildings with age-based grade cohorts and report cards. That “old” system would be supplanted by an open ecosystem of educational “opportunities” offered online and via complicit non-profit partners who will accept digital Education Savings Account payments.

They need to create a system that ultimately funds students NOT school districts or schools in order to operationalize the model. They need for each child to be linked to their own “personalized” pot of money for a Pay for Success, human capital ROI directed model to emerge. An interim step will be to have weighted student funding flow to districts. That will ease the transition and allow people to gradually adjust their mental framework. Meanwhile hybrid learning, badging, out of school time learning and other aspects of Ed Reform 2.0 will move forward, slowly becoming routine and expected.

The screenshots below are footnotes from the ALEC “Student-Centered Funding” model legislation. They clearly show ALEC sees “student-centered funding” as a tool advancing school “choice” where funding “portability” is a key feature.

Student-Centered Funding

Student Centered Funding Portability

Within a decade, students may be issued digital identities tied to e-wallets (perhaps on Blockchain if they are able to bring it to scale) that would hold BOTH virtual education currency AND demonstrated credentials or competencies. In December 2017 the Heritage Foundation issued a report (viewable as a PDF here) that examines the state of fin-tech digital payment systems in education. The screenshot below describes Class Wallet, a programmable digital payment service offered to teachers and students as a means of purchasing a limited number of classroom supplies and as a behavior management reward system. The last line references Class Wallet’s entry into the Education Savings Account arena.

Heritage Fin-Tech Wallet

Through analysis of such e-wallets, returns on human capital investments could be more readily tracked, comparing public and private expenditures to student “results” as identified by industry expectations. Within a social impact investing context, students who demonstrate extra need will also present more room to demonstrate “growth.” The greater the potential of a student to move the numbers on the data dashboards, the more profit impact investors could make. Therefore motivated, high-need students will become attractive portfolio additions IF they have the proper mindset are agreeable to being molded to the vision of “success” industry demands.

I suspect most participants in these statewide funding campaigns are not looking the ten steps ahead required to understand how weighted funding programs will groom vulnerable students to be pawns in a predatory impact investing game. This is unfortunate, because I would really like to fight for fair funding while ALSO putting up guardrails to prevent any victories from inadvertently advancing the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda. I welcome advice from the PA Schools Work folks on how to go about that. Public school advocates and ALEC are not on the same side. We cannot simply ignore the fact that a campaign like PA Schools Work, if the above factors are not taken into account, could ultimately advance a terribly destructive privatization agenda.