Opt Out 2.0: Adding Tech Concerns to the Conversation

Earlier today I posted the following comment on Diane Ravitch’s March 12 post “Send a Message to Betsy DeVos: Opt Out of Federally Mandated Testing.”

I second Former Teacher’s comments regarding the damage interim assessments are doing to the educational process. Opt Out can no longer simply be focused on end of year testing. It MUST expand to address student data-mining that takes place throughout the school year via interim assessments as well as use of adaptive learning management systems that “learn” our children. These programs disempower both students AND teachers, putting the educational process in the hands of AI algorithms.

Resist data collection at all levels, including (especially) surveys and games that gather non-academic, social-emotional competencies. End of year opt out is a valuable access point for parents, but it is up to teachers and long-term activists to begin to expand the conversation. The time to do this is now! The Learning Accelerator and Education elements just released an updated communications plan with step-by-step instructions on how to sell “personalized” (digital) learning to community members.

We must not waste this opportunity to begin introducing the dangers of blended learning into the opt out conversation.

I shared it a few places online and received feedback that it is becoming increasingly difficult to opt out of the many online curriculum and 1:1 programs being imposed. My response was that while it may not be realistic to opt out without leaving public education entirely (which is not something I advocate), we must resist. We need to begin to have conversations about the role of technology in our schools, and we need to do it sooner rather than later. Each person who shares this concern should be actively seeking out opportunities to spark conversations about technology, educational surveillance, and what it means to prioritize devices and data over human interaction. To that end, I am heading out in a few hours to share the testimony below with the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. We don’t have an elected school board, being under state control, so I don’t anticipate they are likely to change course based on this testimony. But the meetings are streamed, and I hope to reach parents and teachers in the audience. If I can turn on a few lightbulbs, it will have been worth a walk in the cold to get there and a few hours of my evening. I hope you will consider adding your voice where you live.

The image below is from the table of contents for the US Army Research Lab’s 2014 report “Design Recommendations for Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Volume 2.” MATHia, developed by Carnegie Learning, is featured in Chapter 6. Carnegie Learning is the topic of my SRC testimony, which follows:

Intelligent Tutoring

Philadelphia School Reform Commission: March 16, 2017

I’m here today as a parent to speak against SRC Resolution B-6 that would increase the contract with Carnegie Learning by $3 million and extend it through June 2018.

Carnegie Learning develops and sells adaptive software that employs artificial intelligence and cognitive science to “teach” children math. Algorithms in products like Cognitive Tutor and MATHia “learn” our children through intrusive data mining. Carnegie Learning also sells professional development and analytics services that reinforce use of data-driven products. I strongly oppose the SRC’s decision to purchase services from a company that maintains a vested financial interest in “personalized” e-learning solutions that marginalize human teachers and limit student access to face-to-face instruction.

Carnegie Learning developed their products with financial support from the US Department of Defense. In 2013, Carnegie Learning was awarded $1.4 million by the Advanced Distributed Learning initiative (a DoD program) to develop “hyper-personalized intelligent tutors.” Their “MATHia” program was profiled in Chapter 6 of the US Army Research Lab’s 2014 publication “Design Recommendations for Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Volume 2.” The MATHia chapter focused on “personalized” content. Other chapters reveal a troubling trend in e-learning, namely software developers’ desire and capacity to monitor and manipulate the emotions and behavior of program users: “Addressing Behavioral Disengagement with Online Learning,” “Strategies and Tactics to Manage Learner Affect, Engagement, and Grit,” and “Adaptive Interventions to Address Students’ Negative Emotions During Learning Activities.”

Philadelphia’s children must not be plugged into algorithmic educational surveillance systems. They are not meant to be cogs in a data-generating machine. They should not be subject to software systems that have been designed to manipulate them. We must respect the basic right of all humans to learn, in person, in relationship to one another with a human teacher being central to that process. Students deserve an education where they are free to think and explore independently, without fear of being profiled and commodified by the data they generate.

As a parent, it is my duty to speak out against the transition to blended learning that is taking place. In a recent report “Making Blended Work,” Cheryl Logan, Philadelphia’s Chief Academic Support Officer, was among the contributors listed. This industry-funded publication was produced to hasten adoption of online learning by promoting so-called “best practices.” Featured was Cabarrus County School District’s decision to double the number of students taught by the “best” teachers, reducing face-to-face instruction by half. What are students doing when they aren’t with a teacher? Why yes, they’re online.

Last year the School District of Philadelphia “saved” nearly $65 million by failing to adequately staff and provide substitute services to our schools. Our teachers are nearing 1,300 days without a contract. At the same time, blended learning grants were awarded, dropping thousands of chrome books into our schools. If we don’t fight back now, austerity will push us into a world where automated teaching becomes the norm rather than the exception. In 1951, Isaac Asimov wrote a short story titled “The Fun They Had” where there were no real books or schools, and teachers were machines. No surprise; the result was very unhappy children. There’s still time to change course. Invest in people, not devices. And save the $3 million you’d planned to spend on Carnegie Learning’s contract extension. I trust our teachers can find ways to spend those funds that would be far more beneficial to our children.

7 thoughts on “Opt Out 2.0: Adding Tech Concerns to the Conversation

  1. tultican says:

    Do you have any easily accesible information about tomorrow.org?
    It seems people in my school district’s technology planning group are buying into their “research” hook line and sinker.

  2. wrenchinthegears says:

    Well, Dreambox is Reed Hastings. HP is a major CBE/ed-tech backer. Microsoft and Smart Tech are on the list and they just funded the “Make Blended Work” report noted above: http://www.centerdigitaled.com/paper/Making-Blended-Work-48327.html

    Not sure if you saw my “Pay for Success” post, but Wells Fargo and Bank of America are in the mix…

    Have you ever used LittleSis.org? It’s useful for mapping relationships. This might be a worthwhile target.

  3. Sheila Resseger says:

    Thank you once again, Alison, for your excellent and thorough research, and your insights and passionate defense of our nation’s children and authentic public schooling. The insert of chapter titles from the US Army Research Lab’s 2014 publication is chilling. This information needs to get out to the general public. People must care and must speak up en masse.

    • ciedie aech says:

      Yes, thank you Alison. Your understanding that “…austerity will push us into a world where automated teaching becomes the norm rather than the exception…” brings a chill to my soul. Where are we headed with Trump/Ryan than to government only by the big lie of austerity: government where in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” only the rich will find protections/services.

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