Personalized Learning Poised to Take Center Stage

As new state education plans are unveiled, the ed-tech sector is positioning itself to take full advantage of the ESSA’s ample provisions for innovation / entrepreneurial experimentation on public school children. Language in Title lV-21st Century Schools Part F, Subpart 1 of the Every Student Succeeds Act allocates $200 million+ annually in fiscal years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students.” Any state educational agency, local educational agency, consortium of such agencies, or the Bureau of Indian Education may partner with a non-profit organization, business, educational service agency or institution of higher education to develop these “innovative” products.

The New Schools Venture Fund Summit 2017, an invitation-only event, expects over 1,000 entrepreneurs, funders, policy makers, educators, and community leaders to converge on the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, CA next week to “reimagine education.” Technology features prominently with sessions on rigor in personalized learning, tech in special education, tech as an equity issue, and developing a robust R&D program to “drive the kinds of technological breakthroughs we need in education.” Platinum level event sponsors include the Gates and Walton Family Foundations, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative-all forces behind the Ed Reform 2.0 digital curriculum agenda. According to EdWeek, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative recently teamed up with Chiefs for Change (CFC) to establish a “Transforming Schools and Systems Workgroup.”

Platinum sponsors

Their partnership will promote adoption of “Personalized Learning” at state and local levels, building on efforts underway in states like Rhode Island where Chan Zuckerberg funds are being used to pilotLighthouse Schools” that have adopted online learning platforms developed by the Facebook-affiliated Summit Learning. Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Public Schools, is slated to speak at the New Schools Venture Fund conference referenced above.

With backing from Zuckerberg, the company’s “free” Summit Basecamp has expanded its reach from ten bricks and mortar charter schools to over one hundred public schools nationally. The Gates Foundation helped underwrite this expansion via two grants totaling nearly $3.5 million and funded a white paper documenting the program prepared by FSG, a social impact consulting firm. Facebook provided technical support to develop Summit Learning’s “Personalized Learning Platform” that embraces Ed Reform 2.0 principles of competency based education and playlist modules. A New York Times article from August 2016 contrasts Zuckerberg’s current approach to education reform with earlier top-down efforts in Newark, noting this time around he plans to employ “a ground-up effort to create a national demand for student-driven learning in schools.” The Chan Zuckerberg/CFC collaboration appears to be part of that plan.

Established as a program of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education in 2010, Chiefs for Change spun off in 2015, expanding its mission to include city school districts as well as state departments of education as targets for their bi-partisan ed-reform strategies. Though the group at one point had dwindled to four members, it’s growing again and currently numbers twenty-six, seventeen of whom joined in 2016. The four newest members are: William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools; Kunjan Narechania, Superintendent of the Recovery School District Louisiana; Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent of the Camden City School District; and Candice MacQueen, Commissioner of Education for Tennessee. As of now, seven state departments of education are represented in addition to eighteen school districts. You can find information on members of CFC here.

Chiefs Map

In 2015 CFC received $500,000 in support from the Walton Family Foundation and $250,000 from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation that manages Mark Zuckerberg’s donor-advised fund. Board members listed on the organization’s 2015 990 tax filing included: Hanna Skandera, New Mexico Secretary of Education and CCSSO board member; Mark Murphy, former Secretary of Education for Delaware and now CEO of Griptape and member of America Achieves; Deborah Gist, former Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education in Rhode Island and now Superintendent of the Tulsa School District; and John White, State Superintendent of Louisiana. Michael Magee, founder of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and Walton Family Foundation “Educator to Watch,” is both CEO and a board member.

Over the past year CFC has produced numerous policy papers detailing how to dovetail ESSA implementation with choice initiatives and school redesign efforts. While charters remain a key element in the privatization picture, increasingly reformers are pursuing “Third-Way,” cyber colonization tactics (like Summit Basecamp) that are imposed on neighborhood schools via turnaround protocols. In the coming year we are likely to see how the tech industry’s push for innovation, flexibility, growth, and multiple measures in assessment will play out in classrooms. My guess is Silicon Valley’s online-embedded assessment / data-dashboard / competency-based framework is not what alternative assessment advocates had in mind when fighting punitive end of year testing. Adopting growth measures means non-stop data collection yielding “efficacy” metrics that will likely set the stage for public-private partnerships and impact-investing down the road.

Summit PLP

So where will Chan Zuckerberg / CFC be focusing their efforts? As I discussed in a previous post, reformers in Rhode Island seem intent on making theirs the first “personalized learning state.” Officially there are no CFC members from Rhode Island, but the organization’s CEO, Mike Magee, co-founder of Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, and COO, Julia Rafal-Baer, are both based out of Providence according to their LinkedIn profiles. This article from Wired notes that ten percent of Summit Basecamp’s schools are in Rhode Island, right behind the much larger states of California, Texas, and Illinois.

Another candidate may be neighboring Massachusetts. Given its proximity to Rhode Island there would certainly be synergy in developing the two states in tandem. Massachusetts has recently set up a Personalized Learning Network via the Center for Collaborative Education; Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (performance-based assessments are part of the Summit Basecamp program); and Massachusetts Personalized Learning Ed-Tech Consortium (MAPLE). Given that organizational capacity, the presence of ed-tech incubator LearnLaunch (that recently set up a satellite in RI), a growing ed-tech workforce of 6,000+, and keen interest from Boston-Based impact investors like New Profit, the Commonwealth seems a logical place to center a personalized-learning campaign of the type Chan Zuckerberg and Chiefs for Change are contemplating.

Springfield Innovation

Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts, may have tipped his hand in a March 7, 2017 op-ed in the Washington Post “Radical Change for Struggling Schools? It’s reliably doable.” The piece was co-written with John White, Superintendent of Education for Louisiana. Both are members of Chiefs for Change. The piece calls for radical interventions in schools that put in place new leaders, autonomy, flexibility, and the involvement of third party non-profit entities. This rhetoric is consistent with legislation now under consideration that would establish “innovation partnership zones.” The Massachusetts Teachers Association provides background on these bills here. They have issued a statement of opposition to the bills here.

Even with substantial flexibility built into the ESSA, reformers are still pushing deregulation and waivers to speed ed-tech implementation. Innovation zones carve out spaces to pilot and develop proof points to advance the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda. In March 2016 iNACOL (International K12 Association for Online Learning) created an issue brief “Innovation Zones: Creating Policy Flexibility for Personalized Learning.” The brief offers sample language from Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi and New York that allow for implementation of competency-based education models. In the past year Districts of Innovation have also appeared in Texas, and model legislation for innovative districts is now available through ALEC. Note their emphasis on adopting plans that “try new ways of delivering instruction and/or allocating resources.”

ALEC Innovation Zone

Which brings me to the new Massachusetts state education plan. In preparing to write this piece, I spent some time with it and pulled a few excerpts to share below. Read between the lines and see if you draw the same conclusion I do.

Page 11: Massachusetts will continue our commitment to transforming the lowest performing schools and districts through a strategy that includes state/local partnerships, empowering school and district innovation focused on student success, and aggressive intervention authority.

Page 12: The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education employs five overarching strategies to advance the goal of success after high school for all students:

  • Strengthen standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments
  • Promote educator development
  • Support social-emotional learning, health, and safety
  • Turn around the lowest performing districts and schools
  • Use technology and data to support student learning

Page 18: Supporting high-quality professional development for educators to personalize learning and improve academic achievement through technology. Through a public-private partnership, we will catalyze personalized learning in the Commonwealth to better prepare students for their future. Among other activities, the partnership will help schools pilot projects that allow students to progress through the curriculum based on demonstrated competency on the expectations set forth in the curriculum frameworks.

Page 22: In an era of increasing demands for public services as the state’s population ages, the education sector will be competing with other public services for financial resources. Districts must continue to find ways to get more out of the people, time, and fiscal resources they already have to help improve outcomes for students, including by reducing inequities in the allocation of resources to different types of students. To this end, the state has created a new Office of Resource Allocation Strategy and Planning to develop new tools and supports for districts to rethink how they use their resources.

Consider the ALEC innovation legislation as it applies to the following scenario. The commonwealth attempts to establish a position that additional resources for public education funding are not possible and should not be expected. However recognizing the importance of every child having a “quality” education they will employ data and technology via “personalized learning” and competency-based education to attempt to achieve that goal cheaply and efficiently. Schools will be scrutinized regarding their use of the limited resources provided to them. Those that do not meet required outcomes or use their resources “wisely” can expect aggressive intervention, likely involving some sort of outside partnership arrangement. Autonomy and flexibility will be offered under the guise of helpfulness, but in reality it will be used to remove existing contractual protections from teachers and recuse the Commonwealth from its responsibility to fully and adequately fund public education. Does that sound about right?

Massachusetts  teachers will be gathering with educators from across the nation a few months from now as Boston hosts the 2017 NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly in late June and early July. It is imperative that rank and file educators raise concerns and begin to organize NOW around the threats ed-tech and personalized learning pose to their profession. In Arizona, pretty much any “warm body” is allowed to teach due to the state’s dire teacher shortage. A few years from now, who knows, they may not even require human teachers, or at least face-to-face teachers as cyber instruction becomes the norm. Don’t let that happen. Children are counting on adults to pay attention and act on their behalf.

Reasoning Mind

Out of School Time Learning, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time

Digital education, pitched to parents as innovative, future-ready, and personalized, reduces student access to human teachers and builds robust data profiles that can be used for workforce tracking, behavioral compliance, and fiscal oversight. While adaptive online learning is a key element of the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda, it is not the only concern. Another issue that merits close attention is the push to expand “out-of-school time” (OST) learning programs.

Increasingly states are passing credit flexibility legislation where students have the option to earn school credit for activities that take place outside school buildings and without the direct involvement of a certified teacher; though teachers are often pressed to manage the associated paperwork with no additional resources. These are known as ELOs, extended, expanded, or enhanced learning opportunities. States with credit flexibility may also allow online classes to be considered for ELO credit. Even when not offered for credit, out of school time partners have stepped in to provide programs that have been intentionally and systematically stripped from the curriculum through the imposition of punitive austerity and accountability measures. Increasingly, student access to art, music, drama, creative writing, and enrichment activities, particularly in low-income and turnaround schools, is contingent on tapping into programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs).

I’ve written previously about ELOs but wanted to raise the issue again after obtaining correspondence via an open records request to the Pennsylvania Department of Education regarding input provided on the development of the state’s new education plan as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act. One letter stood out from the rest. You can read it HERE.

Mila Yochum, Director of APOST, or Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time, sent it to Ted Dallas, Secretary of Health and Human Services on September 28, 2016, and it was apparently then forwarded to the Department of Education. APOST is a program of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and a member of the Remake Learning Initiative, which, based upon the work Knowledgeworks has done in the greater Pittsburgh region, appears to be a fairly well-developed trial run for the learning ecosystem model.

The first paragraph of the letter asserts that APOST is “uniquely well-positioned to support state and local implementation efforts, particularly with regard to expanded learning and partnerships with community-based and intermediary organizations under the new law.” It is notable that the text of the letter never specifically references “Pennsylvania” but only “the state” or even “the states,” which leads me to suspect this was a template letter provided to numerous OST organizations by a national group. The fact that the letter was sent to the wrong department (Health and Human Services rather than Education) also raises a red flag. I would be very interested to hear from others who have submitted open records requests on ESSA input if you have a similar letter in your file.

Given this blog’s focus on CBE, I found it notable that APOST specifically references their interest in developing “innovative assessments” under the new ESSA provisions, see a screen shot of the top of page three of the letter below:

APOST Out of School Time Leaning

Why would “community partners and intermediary organizations” take such a strong interest in developing innovative assessments that involve “mastery” and can take place “regardless of the time or setting?” Maybe because they are looking to outsource many core elements of public education to OST settings? You have to wonder if “the state” took this “expert partner” up on their kind offer of assistance, and if so, what “innovative approaches” they developed? Tot date, the Pennsylvania has still not released a draft plan for public review.

In recent years, CBOs have aligned their offerings to Common Core State Standards, and moves are being made to remove barriers to data sharing between schools and OST providers. We are headed towards a scenario where students could spend their in-school hours toiling on devices that generate data on core academic competencies and are then shipped out to community partners for hands-on, project-based learning where their social emotional competencies can be evaluated and measured against industry standards. This educational paradigm is designed not to develop the intellect and imagination of children, but rather to monitor the “efficacy” of educational investments dictated by the global economy.

The United Way is incubating OST networks across the nation; they have been involved in “Pay for Success” deals associated with early childhood education; and they sponsor numerous workforce development initiatives. Transitioning to a 21st century educational system reliant on privately-financed community partnerships and tied to workforce outcomes would certainly be one way to create a vast new market for Social Impact Bonds. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania seems to know which way the wind is blowing and has already set up a pipeline to train a the next wave of impact investment managers as can be seen from these course offerings and the numerous conferences they’ve hosted since the fall of 2015.

Fortunately for all those up and coming managers there appears to be no shortage of foundations interested in jumping into the education sector. Grantmakers for Education is a network of hundreds of education philanthropies based in Portland, OR. Cristina Huezo, board chair, is the Program and Policy Officer of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Other board members include Gregg Behr of the Grable Foundation that has funded Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning ecosystem test bed, Nicholas Donohue of iNACOL and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation that funds CBE implementation in New England, and Sanjiv Rao of the Ford Foundation, funder of the American Alliance of Museums report described below. Their report “The Funders Guide to Quality in Out of School Time” asserts the need for expanded OST options as well as new metrics to monitor program “quality.” Impact investing is ALWAYS about the metrics.

Elizabeth Merritt, Futurist for the American Alliance of Museum, wrote the opening essay for in a 2014 Ford Foundation-funded whitepaper entitled “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem.” The quotes below are from “Setting the Stage: Forecasting a New Era of Education.”

“We see signs that the U.S. is nearing the end of an era in formal learning characterized by teachers, physical classrooms, age-cohorts and a core curriculum—what some people call the era of industrial-age learning. The signals presaging this transformation include the rapid increase in nontraditional forms of primary education such as homeschooling; near record dissatisfaction with the existing K–12 education system; funding crises for schools at the state and local levels; growing gender imbalance in higher education; and proliferation of digital content and digital delivery platforms designed to transform the nature of classroom learning.” p. 10

And on the next page:

“The End of the Neighborhood School: communities have long been fiercely protective of the schools in their own back yards, valuing the way these schools keep their children close to home, in their own neighborhood, with the support of their peers. Now the economic crisis and state and local funding crunches are driving a wave of school closures and consolidations in New York City, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Washington and elsewhere in the nation. This may increase the willingness of parents, already unhappy with school performance or school options, to opt out of the public school system and into independent charter schools, private schools, homeschooling or unschooling.”

and on page 13:

“In 2012 the National Governors Association released a report documenting that 36 states have disconnected “seat time” (time spent in the classroom) from the awarding of educational credit. States are waiving seat time many different ways (by basing credits on mastery of material, allowing for individual seat-time waivers, basing credit on performance-based assessments, etc.) and for individuals with many different needs (students who have fallen behind, students who excel, students who don’t do well in traditional academic environments, etc.). As states formally validate learning that takes place outside the classroom, this paves the way to educational networks that encompass a range of place-based experiences (including museums), as well as online resources.”

This was written three years ago, and now the future is here as evidenced by the Grand Rapids Public Museum School that recently received a $10 million grant from Laurene Powell Jobs’ XQ: The Super School Project. Remember, learning doesn’t just happen in schools!

In July of 2011, Michael Robbins, Senior Advisor for Non-Profit Partnerships at the US Department of Education, convened a working group of national and community-based nonprofits, philanthropists, business interests, parent organizations, schools and school districts. The chief Education Evangelist for Google was there, as was a representative of iNACOL (International Association of K12 Online Learning). The YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, The After School Corporation and 4-H were in the room, as was the “entrepreneur in residence” for City Light Capital. Foundations included the MacArthur Foundation, an advocate for digital media learning, and Motorola Mobility, focused on innovative technology. Click HERE for the complete list of attendees. It should come as no surprise that most of the discussion at this meeting involved how best to utilize CBOs in scaling ed-tech blended learning opportunities and opening up avenues for education entrepreneurship.

Notes from this working group session used to be available on the US Department of Education website, but were later pulled. You can see a copy of the document obtained via the Wayback Machine HERE. I’ve excerpted quotes from the eight pages of notes generated that day to give you a sense of the proceedings:

“CBOs can also serve as “routers” on the network of learning, helping to coordinate a student’s learning experience across multiple nodes such as libraries, museums, online communities, schools, and student homes.”

“Alignment across nodes. Blended learning systems can help align education efforts across schools, CBOs, homes, and other diverse settings. This alignment can facilitate community-wide networks of learning where students move seamlessly from one node to the next, making anytime/anywhere learning a reality. It can provide a common framework for conversations between students, teachers, youth development staff, and parents about a student’s goals and progress. These systems 
can also embed parental consents required to share school records and education data between schools and community partners.”

“The workforce of informal educators is 1 million strong, with CBO staff disproportionately young adults who are unafraid of technology. We need to translate ed tech to these potential partners and include them in professional development.”

“CBOs offer fertile ground for developing badges and electronic portfolios, adapting and broadening assessments.”

“Free online educational activities are powerful tools for both families and CBOs; new PowerMyLearning learning platform funded by Gates can enable easy use.”

“There is significant concern that there is limited capacity for schools to absorb the technology. CBOs may provide an opportunity to augment that capacity to sustain promising technologies.”

“Edtech ventures are working on a variety of different focus areas, but one of particular interest is technologies that allow schools to become “team players” and incorporate the efforts of CBOs.”

“There are barriers we need to address around blending organizations with different staffing and pay structures, regulatory requirements, who pays who, who controls facilities, etc.”

“Community engagement. Blended learning can be a cornerstone for high-quality education partnerships between communities, families, and schools. It could increase engagement of CBOs in education at an unprecedented scale, leveraging after-school networks, national nonprofit organizations, and national and community service organizations. Blended learning, especially if it is linked to proficiency-based credit achievement in non-school settings, has the potential to unleash a new wave of educational entrepreneurship.”

And so the truth is revealed. Shifting educational opportunities from neighborhood schools to non-school settings is actually about unleashing “a new wave of educational entrepreneurship.” While maker-spaces and community-based programs can be incredibly appealing, we should be wary. We must have a commitment to fully fund a rich curriculum and extracurricular activities using PUBLIC funds within our public schools. Non-profits, by their very nature, are beholden to the monied interests of foundations and investors that do not answer to the public. Even though OST programs being peddled by community partners may seem like a breath of fresh air, know those groups will be no more able to escape the grip of algorithmic education than our schools are. The notes from the working group above make that very clear. Today’s world runs on data, and the venture capitalists won’t hesitate to chase it out the school door and into the museum. Resist the ecosystem model; it won’t be good for children or society.

 

 

 

Hoping to escape Competency-Based Education? Looks like Wyoming is your only option.

Last week Susan Patrick of iNACOL (International Association of K12 Online Learning) and Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks presented “An Overview of K12 Competency-Based Education for Education Leaders and Teachers.” The webinar and slides can be accessed here. Compare the slides below and consider the gravity of our situation.

The first shows the reach of Competency-Based Education policies today. Only Wyoming remains untouched.

iNACOL CBE Map 2017

The second shows the reach of those policies in 2012.

iNACOL CBE Map 2012

Over the past five years digital learning interests have advanced steadily, infiltrating districts and classrooms under the guise of “personalized,” “student-centered” and “blended/hybrid” learning models. The transition to “playlist” online education where teachers are relegated to being “guides on the side” will be gathering steam as state education plans aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act and its innovative assessment provisions roll out in the coming months.

The Carnegie Corporation has signed on as a sponsor of iNACOL’s 2017 National Summit on Competency Based Education to the tune of $50,000. A list of 2016 sponsors can be found here.

Last September the Gates Foundation awarded iNACOL a grant “to develop an evidence-based report that identifies how personalized learning is emerging in the United States, what the drivers for moving to personalized learning are, and identification of patterns of why and how personalized learning is taking hold.”

In 2014 the Nellie Mae Education Foundation awarded a grant to “support iNACOL in the development of an integrated learning system that provides a platform for a school’s learning environment by enabling the management, delivery and tracking of student-centered learning and includes robust reporting and analytics capabilities.”

This week the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Digital Promise are bringing hundreds of researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to Washington, DC to collaborate on EdTech Efficacy Research. Click here for bios of working group members who will be finessing data analytics that will set the stage for widespread adoption of impact investing in public education.

With the Ed Reform 2.0 transition well underway, it is imperative that education activists familiarize themselves iNACOL’s operations. The organization’s 2014 tax filing states their mission is to “Ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality blended and online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success.” Susan Patrick, President and CEO, left her position as Director of the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology in 2005 to launch iNACOL. While at the US DOE, she was the primary architect of the 2004 National Educational Technology Plan. Her LinkedIn profile notes she earned degrees in English and Communications and was employed as a legislative liaison and administrator of educational technology programs, but never taught or worked in a K-12 school setting.

iNACOL maintains close ties with the Florida Virtual School, an incubator for K12 digital learning, and receives funding from many education reform interests. A PDF of grants found received by iNACOL from various sources can be reviewed here.

Click HERE to see $4,391,050 in Gates Foundation grants to iNACOL since 2010.

Click HERE to see $2,050,000 in Carnegie Corporation grants to iNACOL since 2010.

Click HERE to see $1,483,000 in Nellie Mae Education Foundation grants to iNACOL since 2010.

2010 was the year Gates launched Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) to provide capital for ed-tech development. The program’s goal was to create competency-aligned, modular content with embedded assessments that would move education beyond “seat time.” The foundation has plowed over $55 million into technologies they hope will allow students to learn “any time, any place,” free of the encumberances of school buildings and teachers (a 2001 report by the National Association of State Boards of Education indicates just how long this plan has been in the works). Other NGLC funders include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. iNACOL is a partner in NGLC along with the Chief Council of State School Officers. See the full partner list here. Proposals funded under NGLC to date include 58 secondary schools, 29 blended learning/learning analytics products, and 19 additional technology products tied to Common Core State Standards.

iNACOL receives additional support from membership dues that start at $60 annually for educators and $500 for institutional members: school districts, state departments, education agencies, universities and colleges. According to their website, iNACOL has over 200 institutional members spread across 43 states. There are 75 Associate members in 18 states that identify as nonprofits, think tanks, and research organizations. Check this link and this link to see what members are active in your state. Blackboard, Pearson, and Connections Academy each pay iNACOL $25,000 per year for platinum level corporate memberships.

iNACOL’s board includes members representing organizations that advocate for learning ecosystems (Knowledgeworks), blended online learning (Jaquelin Hume Foundation), competency-based education (Nellie Mae Education Foundation), school redesign (Donnell-Kay Foundation and Lindsay Unified School District), cyber schooling (Connections Academy, Florida Virtual School, and Arizona State University), and online learning management systems (Dreambox).

Click here for interactive relationship map of the iNACOL board.

iNACOL board

CompetencyWorks is an online information clearinghouse and public relations vehicle for iNACOL and associated reform interests. A relationship map of their advisory board can be found here.

Competency Works

I stumbled upon iNACOL in 2015 watching recordings from the December 2009 convening “Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners.” Below is the feature image used on the convening’s website:

Redefining Teacher Education

At the event Susan Patrick gave a talk entitled “Trends in Online Learning, Implications for Teacher Education” that has haunted me ever since. You can watch it here and review the associated briefing paper here. For some reason her half-hour presentation is split across four separate segments; you’ll need to click to the next segment at the conclusion of each clip. I encourage you to, at the very least review the third segment at timestamp 1:48. At that point Patrick describes Singapore’s adoption of a national policy of holding an e-learning week once a year where schools are shut down entirely, and all students “learn” from home. Singapore’s program was ostensibly set up as a precautionary measure during the SARS outbreak. However as ed-tech’s influence over public education grows, we should be extremely wary of creating digital infrastructure, whether public or charter, that reproduces in virtual form the functions of bricks and mortar neighborhood schools.

Talk of e-learning days in the United States has begun to surface, mostly within the context of snow days. Last year Park Ridge High School in New Jersey experimented with a work from home day “where in-person classes were replaced with written lessons and real-time video chats delivered online.” E-learning from home during district professional development days have also been piloted in Mountain Brook Schools in Alabama and Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota. The state of Indiana created an E-Learning Flex Pilot Program in 2012 “that supports “school corporations interested in exploring innovative approaches to school schedules by leveraging eLearning options.” Not limited to inclement weather, the pilot encourages “utilizing digital learning that innovatively alters the traditional school day.” Program participation grew from six districts in 2013-14 school year to twenty-eight this school year. The article “Portage schools launch E-Learning Day” identifies the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club as important community partners. In order for a virtual school model to work, there must be a support network in place for young students where adults are employed outside the home during the day. Robert Behning, Chair of Indiana’s House Education Committee attended the 2016 iNACOL symposium. You can listen to his remarks about the event, as well as his enthusiasm for Competency Based Education and assessment reform in Tom Vander Ark’s Getting Smart Podcast between timestamp 8:08 and 12:30. At one point he likens his experience at the conference to being in a candy shop.

The description of Patrick’s 2009 talk reveals the direction Ed Reform 2.0 is pushing the teaching profession. If we don’t push back vigorously and very soon, we will end up with a disempowered, de-professionalized “education” workforce that, due to the contingent nature of employment, will feel compelled to oversee data-mining of students’ academic and non-cognitive skills via online learning management systems, no questions asked.

“The innovation of online learning is creating new delivery models to solve the bigger challenges of K-12 education reform: offering more rigorous courses and internationally-benchmarked curriculum to ensure all students are prepared for college and 21st century careers, providing highly qualified teachers through virtual learning, creating new professional opportunities for teachers with part-time, adjunct and telecommuting jobs, generating new engagement models to expand the use of informal and formal learning time, and enabling new capabilities for student learning through personalized, differentiated and individualized instructional models in data-rich blended and online courses for students.”

Would it shock you to learn the American Federation of Teachers was among the convening organizations for the 2009 “Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners” event? Perhaps. Or perhaps not, for those of you already aware of top union leadership’s decision to partner with ed-reformers in redesigning the US education system through the “Education Reimagined” initiative launched in 2015. If this is this news to you, be sure to read Saving Maine School’s “Anatomy of a Betrayal.”

AFT Redefining

I’ll close with an examination of an interesting $2.5 million Gates Foundation grant made last November to the Lindsay Unified School District in California.

Lindsay Unified

Thomas Rooney, superintendent of the district, serves on iNACOL’s board. The district has been a pioneer in competency-based education and digital learning. In describing the district’s approach to school redesign Rooney states “We didn’t just make a tweak. We dismantled our entire education system.” Pay close attention to the wording below.

Purpose: to design and test a tool for adult learning that clearly defines competencies adults need to master to implement personalized learning, highlights the systematic barriers that stand in the way of adults mastering those competencies.”

A focus of early-stage Ed Reform 2.0 has been training teachers to implement digital “personalized” learning. In fact Getting Smart (Tom Vander Ark) and Vulcan Inc. identified “competency-based teacher prep” as a high-impact, moderate risk option for investors (see below).

Impact Investment Opportunities EdTech

So why does this grant not mention teachers given that the “Topic” was identified as “K-12 Education”? In the world of Ed Reform 2.0 will it be sufficient to merely have an adult, any adult, monitoring children while they are hooked up to their cyber assignments? Well, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is supporting Lindsay Unified’s efforts to create a program where their competency-based education model (you know, the one based on dismantling the existing system) can be prototyped and implemented in other districts and charter management organizations via teams of student and staff change-agents. Based on this press release it appears they are collaborating with Summit Charter Schools. And with Summit’s “free” Basecamp platform gaining ground in states like Massachusetts, it’s time for the resistance to get organized. We can’t all move to Wyoming.

 

 

 

 

 

Fast Food Miseducation

Silicon Valley serves up schools on screens.

Faceless data dashboards echo drive thru menus.

Illusions of choice codified by corporations

after focus groups strategically set the frame.

Designed for profit, efficiency, and control

of imagination, intellect, portion size, and calories.

 

Cheap ingredients and harried workers

draw in students with online games.

Content consumed without thought.

A siren song of greasy fries

sits leaden in the stomach for hours or weeks,

dulling the senses, eroding humanity.

 

Dare we demand an alternative,

requiring us to be fully present for each other?

Can we still envision alternate futures

where, instead of automation, intention prevails?

Will we place our children at communal tables of possibility,

or allow them to slip into personalized isolation?

Tables

Not my normal format, but as this is the last day of poetry month I thought it appropriate to share. With thanks to a friend who suggested exploring this idea and to my daughter for her editorial input.

 

Automated Education + Chasing Skills + Debt = Social Control

I posted the scenario below in November of 2015 as a Facebook note. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across a number of items having to do with skills, automation, and human capital management, so I thought I would pull it back out to share. Below are a couple of articles that caught my eye:

New Tools Needed to Track Technology’s Impact on Jobs, Panel Says by Steve Lohr of the New York Times

The EIDCC, The Experience Graph, and the Future of Human Capital Analytics by Shelly Blake-Plock of Yet Analytics

The Omidyar Network and the (Neoliberal) Future of Education by Audrey Watters

I’m a parent activist, not an educator or economist. But after reading and listening to a wide range of sources, I came up with the construct below. In the 18 months since I wrote it, many indicators seem to confirm this is where we are headed. I’d be interested in hearing your feedback and welcome comments explaining how this is all wrong.

Yet Analytics
Originally posted to Facebook November 2015:

Emily Talmage
noticed a connection between ed reformers, those funding CBE, and student loan financing. I was thinking about it today, and I think I see how it will play out. Follow the money. Who stands to gain?

1. Move to the idea of online credentialing. Call it standards-based skills mastery, etc. Get everyone on board with CBE.

2. Break down old-fashioned notion of “seat time.” Everything is “student-centered” and “self-paced.” You don’t need true distinctions between high school and community college and four-year college and professional certifications. It’s all just one process of gathering up the “bits” of education required.

3. Collecting badges is seamless, and you just transition without any real breaks. If they can get rid of physical school buildings and campuses and move learning into online virtual worlds, that will be a natural progression.

4. Accept that a four-year liberal arts education will be beyond the financial reach of most people. Provide some public funding for community college.

5. Take over the boards of the community colleges to ensure they only offer coursework that is pre-professional and serves industry’s short term needs.

6. Have the government underwrite or subsidize Associates degrees to boost college completion for more students. At the end of the process, however, students will need more training.

7. Online, for-profit companies will offer students the chance to obtain credentials at a price considerably lower than tuition for a liberal arts college, but most will still need to take out loans.

8. Accept the fact that companies will no longer pay to train you for their jobs. They don’t want thinkers with raw potential. They want a set of credentials to do the job they have right now.

9. Algorithms sift through online applications demanding the exact credentials listed for each job. This is being done now, but imagine the increased efficiency when each skill is given a unique number, like a healthcare code. A person who doesn’t have the entire complement of codes up front will be out of the running.

10. When industry outsources your job or makes it obsolete, they lay you off and put up another online ad for a job with different competencies/skills.

11. People throughout their life (lifelong learning) will chase the newest set of in-demand credentials. Rather than paying for a four-year college, plus some higher degree, they’ll get a baseline pre-professional education and try to accumulate competencies/credentials that will allow them to keep up with a job market shaped by AI automation.

12. A liberal arts education is less and less valued unless you have a job at the highest levels of a company. Those jobs will go to the graduates of elite universities who secure positions through their networks. Children of the elite will not have to run the gauntlet of algorithms.

13. Companies will no longer do on the job training in a real sense. You will need to be serviced by these online education providers for training and professional development.

14. There will be a big new market for student loan financing that will be repeated throughout your life. That’s where Lumina and Nellie Mae come in.

15. Redefining education as a largely online process will benefit technology companies as well as Internet providers (but not human teachers or those whose job it is to support school operations and facilities). Plus, data!

16. There will be zero quality control. People pay education providers up front to try and get the credential for mastery, but if they don’t ever attain mastery, they don’t get their money back. The debt, however, stays with them.

I believe that is why interests associated with student loan finance are working so hard to transform K12 education into digital data farms that can be mined for profit and used for social control.

Global Finance Needs Our Schools to Fail

Yesterday Peter Greene expanded on an idea I’d put forth a few months back that Competency Based Education (and really all digital curriculum) was a way of gradually turning neighborhood public schools into charters from the inside out. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read his piece “Charterizing From Within.” I’m glad this proposition is making it out into the world and finding a wider audience. However there are still many who doubt CBE / Personalized Learning / Blended Learning etc. will ever take hold. This despite the fact that adaptive “personalized” learning systems are popping up all over the country each passing day.

Doubters say virtual schools and e-learning don’t “work.” So there; it won’t happen. But therein lies the problem. Many assume that a system that “works” is one designed to serve the needs of children and society as a whole. The present system, however, is being increasingly twisted to serve the interests of global capital markets. When you look at it through that lens, the “failure” of CBE is actually “success.” Succeeding by creating failure moves the ball forward for those who seek to kill the old system and create a new educational paradigm, one custom-built for profit.  That is why global capital needs our schools to fail. Comprehensive dismantling of public school districts across the nation will throw open the doors to a new age of social impact investing. If you’re not familiar with the the term yet, please set aside time to read “Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity” carefully. Take the time. It’s important.

In the aftermath of the failure that has been intentionally created, venture capitalists will install learning ecosystems in the place of neighborhood schools. These diffuse networks of online and badge-based learning opportunities will be structured for maximum social control, surveillance, and behavior management (the nudge) as well as financialization. Children will no longer be children, but rather commodities to be monitored in real time (Internet of Things), bet upon and securitized.

Below is a comment I left on Peter’s piece. I’ve shared it a few places, and some found it helpful, so I thought I would blog it here today.  I fully anticipate New Profit will be a central character in the drama that is unfolding. Below is a list of grants they’ve received from the Gates Foundation since 2014, $23 million+.

New Profit Gates Foundation

“People do not yet understand the role that global finance will play in transforming public education from a human enterprise to a digital one. It’s not about creating a system that “works” for children or teachers or society as a whole. It is about creating a financial market, a market that is different from the charter school market. In my gut, I believe that this new market is going to revolve around social impact investing-pay for success and social impact bonds.

Public schools will be starved of public money, broken to pieces, and then rebuilt through public-private partnership investments where the payback is determined by growth as evidenced by data and metrics. To get to that point you have to make education all about the data. Data that will later be evaluated by 3rd party SIB evaluators doing the bidding of Goldman Sachs and Pritzker. It’s not about humans, it’s about finance.

I wish more people could look ten years down the road to see that. All of this started with New Profit and is looping back to John Arnold and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Sure, they’re taking their cut from the first round of ed reform via charters and the development of ed-tech software, but the big payoff is coming later; and it’s all wrapped up in evidence-based policy. I write about Pay for Success and its relationship to testing here. You can access an interactive map of New Profit here. New Profit brought SIBs over from the UK to the US.

Tim Scott has a much more expansive write up here: “Social Impact Bonds: The Titans of Finance As the Altruistic Merchants of Schooling and the Common Good.”

We have to step back and grasp this or we are not going to be able to organize to stop it in time, if that is even possible at this point.”

Understanding why global finance needs our schools to fail is key. Please read up and educate yourself and others.

Dear Rhode Island: That April Fools Day Blended Learning Conference is no joke!

 

Competency-based education’s march through New England continues. In the fall it was Massachusetts with its fanfare around MAPLE (Massachusetts Personalized Learning Ed-Tech Consortium), and now on April Fools Day the joke appears to be on Rhode Island. This weekend hundreds of educators gathered in Providence for the sixth annual “Blended and Personalized Learning Conference” hosted by the Highlander Institute, the Christensen Institute, and the Learning Accelerator. Event sponsors included the Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Nellie Mae Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Overdeck Family Foundation.

The intent of this post is to describe the players and follow the money behind the shift to digital education in Rhode Island. If you’re new to the blog and not yet familiar with concerns about this shift please refer to this recent talk (it’s an hour, but I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback) or posts on learning ecosystems and “Future Ready” schools. Short on time? My 4-minute overview of the end game cuts to the chase.

The Highlander Institute based in Providence, RI began in 1990 as Children of Promise to serve students with diagnosed learning differences. In 2005 a partnership was established with the Highlander Charter School, and in recent years the organization has been become an incubator and cheerleader for ed-tech and blended learning in the state. A query of Gates Foundation grants shows that the Institute has received nearly $2.5 million in support of these efforts since 2015, including a recent grant of $1.7 million. EdTechRI, run by the Institute, is part of a national network of test beds funded by Gates that pairs ed-tech entrepreneurs with teachers and classrooms. Their FUSE RI program has trained 59 teacher fellows since 2014. These educators and administrators are coached in blended learning “best practices” (data, data, data) and sent out to assess readiness and implement these blended learning programs in LEAs throughout the state, 29 and counting. FUSE fellows have access to “flex funds” to supplement their learning and subsidize program development.

Woonsocket provides a useful case study in how Highlander’s programs influence school districts, guiding them to adopt policies friendly to ed-tech implementation. In 2014 Heather Neil, an elementary technology integration specialist, participated in the first FUSE RI fellows cohort. As part of the program she designed district-wide professional development for teachers, implemented district PLC around blended learning and supported the superintendent in becoming “more tech savvy.” Her profile page notes she “is an active member of EdUnderground, a PLC of education technology pioneers and early adopters from across Rhode Island.” Following her participation, the district entered into a two-year partnership with Highlander, piloting blended learning in select classrooms throughout the district and had one 8th-grade cohort using Summit Basecamp, a program developed by Summit Charter Schools. The Institute then recognized the Woonsocket Education Department with their 2016 FUSE RI Blended Learning District Leadership Award. By the way there is a regional Summit Learning Convening in Warwick, RI on April 24-25.

It will be interesting to see if Woonsocket applies for a RI Lighthouse School challenge grant. The Office of Innovation is administering grants designed to push mastery-based (aka competency or proficiency-based) education. It’s modeled after Dallas Dance’s Lighthouse School program in Baltimore County. Also known as STAT, the 1:1 device initiative is a darling of the digital learning community, but has come under fire by school board members and parents for the incredible expense and poor quality of education delivered. Regular financial support has flowed to the Highlander Institute from the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation since 2015. Don’t know who they are? Read about them here. A few small grants underwrote conferences like the one that happened in Providence over the weekend. There was a $280,000 one supporting the FUSE RI program, and a few in the $100,000 range for multi-stakeholder outreach efforts in support of personalized learning. However in December of 2016 a much larger, $1.2 million dollar grant was made to “leverage diverse stakeholders to create aspirational student-centered learning designs that have the potential to truly impact both marginalized, underserved students and the state education “system” as a whole.” I hope folks in Rhode Island are paying attention; that’s a lot of money.

Highlander Institute
Click here for an interactive relationship map.

The other two event sponsors are from out of state. The Learning Accelerator from Menlo Park, CA got its start in 2012 with $750,000, also from Gates. According to the description provided on their 990 tax filing from 2012, its purpose is to remove structural impediments to the widespread implementation of blended learning by funding scalable solutions, providing professional development for teachers, consulting with districts on technology purchasing and finance, and securing broadband capacity where needed. The Learning Accelerator serves as a pass through, handing out smaller grants to organizations that support its mission via research and product development as well as to charter management organizations and alternative teacher training programs that have been set up to carry out this data-driven dashboard form of “education.”

Learning Acclerator Blog

Click here for an interactive relationship map.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor known for disruptive innovation, founded the Christensen Institute and its sister organization Innosight, a strategy and consulting firm based in Lexington, MA and run by Michael Horn. The latter also receives Gates funding. The disruptive focus was initially the healthcare and education sectors, but now appears to encompass all social finance opportunities. In an incredibly informative blog post, Gisele Huff, founding board member of Innosight and iNACOL lifetime achievement award winner, shared that she had an epiphany working with Clayton Christensen in 2005 that led her to focus the assets of the Jaquelin Hume foundation to reform education through the use of technology. After initial investments in CMOs like Rocketship Academy and Carpe Diem, she and other reformers ended up making connections in Rhode Island that led them to change their strategy. Now they anticipate “reforming” districts internally through online “personalized learning” programs. For more information see my prior post on blended learning, and how it’s being used to charterize public schools from within.

“In February 2012, Michael Horn and Anthony Kim working with the Rhode Island Department of Education invited a total of 300 district superintendents and teachers to a day-long meeting to introduce them to the concept of blended learning and to the enormous potential of integrating technology into the curriculum to help students learn and teachers teach. This event was pivotal for the Foundation’s strategic plan because it demonstrated that it was possible to partner with traditional public school districts and it led us to make similar seed investments in Washington, D.C. and Oakland, CA.” (excerpted from Huff’s blog post above)

Christensen Institute

Click here for an interactive relationship map.

Big developments have been underway in the Ocean State laying the groundwork for widespread adoption of so-called “personalized learning” practices that are not personal at all, but rather isolating and dehumanizing. See this excellent recent post from Audrey Watters’ Hacked Education. Senate Bill 0103 is queued up for a vote next week and if passed would open the doors to competency/proficiency based education statewide. Ed-tech interests appear intent on making Rhode Island a proof point that that will green light the industry to scale tech-centric, lean, value models of automated education nationally. With friendly ear in the governor’s mansion (First Gentleman, Andy Moffit, is a Teach for America alum, co-founder of McKinsey’s Global Education practice, and Stand for Children board member), and Richard Culatta (former director of the US Department of Education’s Department of Technology under Arne Duncan) heading the state’s Office of Innovation, Rhode Island makes an easy target.

Last September the Rhode Island Office of Innovation and RIDE drafted a whitepaper and publicly launched a statewide personalized learning initiative. They took their show on the road over the next six months, soliciting additional input, and released a final version of the whitepaper this February. The report tries to downplay the role of technology in personalized learning, but two-thirds of the images included feature students with devices, including several of young children with headphones using adaptive learning management systems. In this brave new world of “non-factory” style education, the job of teachers is reduced to selecting educational resources for individual student “playlists” based on the data they generate, largely through devices.

Playlist

Such a playlist is featured in this tweet, shared by a teacher who participated in a tour of local schools on the first day of the blended learning conference.

Playlist Tweet

Education is being reduced to watching videos from the Discovery channel and taking notes. But, hey everyone has their own “personalized” pathway that allows them go as quickly or slowly as they like. Open Education Resources or OER’s are a key element in this personalized playlist approach to education. Arne Duncan launched a national #GoOpen initiative in the fall of 2015, partnering with educational technology companies and non-profits looking to promote the use of online resources and digital devices in our nation’s classrooms. Culatta headed the Educational Technology department at the time. Shortly thereafter he left DC, returned to his home state of Rhode Island, and signed Rhode Island on to the #GoOpen program.

In addition to promoting the statewide personalized learning initiative, Eduvate Rhode Island (a public private partnership) received an “Industry Cluster Grant” from the Commerce Department in 2016 to prepare a study examining potential expansion of the Ed Tech sector. Looking to Massachusetts as a model, they intend to leverage their status as one of Digital Promise’s EdClusters and “the nation’s first personalized learning lab state” to attract and promote educational technology business growth in the state. Page seven of the report outlines the role the Highlander Institute is expected to play: “The Highlander Institute and EduvateRI can provide edtech companies with access to schools and engagement with educators and administrators in a way that few other edtech clusters can boast.” I wonder if anyone has told the teachers?

One of the report’s major recommendations was to create a physical hub, and it appears they may have found a partner in Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI. In early February LearnLaunch, the group running MAPLE (Massachusetts Personalized Learning Ed Tech Consortium) announced the creation of the nation’s first edtech accelerator to be housed on a K12 campus. This co-working space / test bed is set to open in the fall of 2017. The idea is that ed-tech concepts will be developed and tested in cooperation with the students and staff of the private school that serves students in pre-K to 12th grade. It seems the payoff for the children being guinea pigs in this program is that they will receive enrichment activities geared towards “innovation, design thinking, and entrepreneurism.”

In states like Rhode Island, growing educational technology markets is taking precedence over the health and well being of children. The future of teaching as an inherently human and relationship-driven enterprise is at great risk. Corporate and neoliberal philanthropic interests picture schools as data factories and profit centers, showing callous disregard for those held hostage by screens, dashboards, and playlists, however personalized. Things are ramping up in Rhode Island, with reformers looking on eagerly as evidenced by a recent article on the state’s personalized learning initiative put out by Campbell Brown’s media outlet 74Million.

This rollout follows a pattern established first in Alaska, then Maine, and Massachusetts. Find one or two regional non-profits, donate funds, and use them as a front to carry out your grand digital transformation. Sell the public on “innovative” technology, adhere to your communications plan, deflect parent and teacher concerns, secure whatever research is required to support your program, and push bonds and levies so that by the time everyone realizes the whole thing is a sham, it will be very difficult to back out. Now that we know their game plan, we need to start making plans of our own. In Tennessee forward-thinking parents have already filed a lawsuit demanding a student’s right to have a human teacher rather than a computer. Sounds like a great idea! Get creative, organize in your communities, identify your wrenches and start sticking them in those gears. If we don’t act soon they’ll be plugging in our children and profiting from their misery.