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:
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.