Big Picture Learning Off Limits

The introduction to this piece including a discussion of ImBlaze can be found here.

Big Picture Learning students spend two days a week outside of school pursuing their “passions.” Although I’ve heard off the record that not all student end up with placements and instead languish in front of computer screens killing time. I imagine budget-conscious reformers must be salivating at the prospect of scaling a “school” model where you could outsource 40% of a student’s instruction to community partners. Imagine the cost savings! You don’t have to feed students on those days. You could reduce teaching staff. You could cram more students into the building staggering the classes. Put aside those pesky child labor considerations for a few moments and contemplate the possibilities. It’s would also be a way to begin to normalize the learning ecosystem “anytime, anywhere” model learning by app and competency-based badges. You might think there would be more to the process than getting the kids a log in for what is essentially a Yelp for education; a counselor perhaps? Of course the real imperative behind this digital solution is about data collection. In Future Ready schools students are defined by their data. As the article states “Data Tells the Story for Big Picture Learning.”

In December 2016, the School District of Philadelphia signed onto a $23 million contract with Big Picture schools. The organization, based out of Rhode Island (on track to become the first “personalized” learning state) presently operates in 24 states. The size of the Philadelphia contract indicates a major expansion of Big Picture is on the horizon here. The organization is going to occupy Vaux, which was shuttered during a wave of devastating closures that took place in 2013.

The community of Sharswood in which it is located is being “redeveloped” in using incredibly heavy-handed, predatory, 1960s urban renewal tactics. The ribbon cutting for the new Vaux Big Picture School took place today. The community members and education activists who tried to attend and voice their concerns were kept behind barriers far from the ceremony. Apparently no one was allowed within a two-block radius of the school without “necessary credentials.” Protesters included representatives from the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, ADAPT and the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Barbara McDowell Dowdall, a retired English teacher and former yearbook advisor who had worked at Vaux from 1974 to 1981 brought a yearbook along and shared fond memories of the school, reflecting on how much has been taken from the community in the intervening years. The event was monitored by a number of squad cars, bike patrol police and members of the civil affairs unit.

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