When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

I am writing this feeling somewhat like a David facing off against a Goliath. It certainly won’t make me popular. There are many of us who keep weighing the evidence. Is Diane Ravitch incredibly wiley or incredibly obtuse? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

It IS clear that there are parts of her narrative that don’t add up. My first sense that something wasn’t right came last February. Then in August, concerns I expressed in comments about the Clinton family’s involvement in the development of digital learning and Joe Ravitch’s venture capital company, Raine Group, were suppressed. You can read about it here and here. The Raine Group information, with its ties to Ari Emmanuel and Parchment, has gotten increasingly interesting as I’ve seen the convergence of education, virtual reality, entertainment, online credentialing and blockchain. Now my comments on her posts are always moderated. Some make it out. Some don’t. These from this afternoon haven’t as of posting time. I didn’t think they would.


I know I risk becoming a target for saying what comes next. Nevertheless, it needs to be said so here goes. In the spirit of my inspiration David F. Noble I will just leap out there and do it (thanks Kay).

Just over a year ago Ravitch plugged Salesforce on her blog. No real news warranted her enthusiastic announcement “Big News Discovery of One Funder That Supports Public Schools,” yet there it was. It didn’t take much digging to discover Salesforce many not actually be a knight in shining armor. Sure, Teach for America is one of their clients. More troubling to those who understand the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda, however, is their involvement with Big Picture Learning, a member of the Education Reimagined initiative supported by both the NEA and AFT. Salesforce developed an app for Big Picture Learning called ImBlaze. Its purpose was to help students locate work-based learning placements, a key feature of the school’s competency-based learning model. It also had the capacity to track and log competencies acquired through those placements, both academic and social-emotional. Read more about Big Picture and recent developments in Philadelphia here.

So today I had a flashback when a friend forwarded me Ravitch’s testimonial on the wonders of the MacArthur Foundation “This is What Philanthropy Looks Like.”


My head spun. It was like Salesforce all over again. Evidently Ravitch had served as a judge helping to narrow down the many submissions for the huge cash prize to four finalists for MacArthur’s $100 million and Change initiative. The contest first popped up on my radar last summer when I attended a keynote lecture by Angela Duckworth on “Being and Learning in a Digital Age” held at the University of Pennsylvania where Duckworth runs her Characterlab and promotes “grit.” Her submission, “Making Behavior Stick,” which I found terrifying in its use of technology to compel us to make “good” decisions, involved partnerships with both the Philadelphia and New York City Public Schools. The proposal did not make it to the final round but her 90-second video is definitely worth watching if you want to grasp where we are headed in terms of behavioral economics, technology, profiling and the art of the “nudge.” All of course are being embedded into the hybrid-blended learning programs that are actively colonizing our schools.

In her post, Ravitch lauds the MacArthur Foundation’s approach to philanthropy as far superior to that of foundations like Gates, Broad and Walton. This is fascinating to those of us following the transition to Ed Reform 2.0, namely a digital education model with some badges and skills-aligned learning projects that have been outsourced to community partners thrown in.  We know that MacArthur IS, in fact, one of the major forces driving that shift together with allies at the MIT Media Lab and American Youth Policy Forum.

For the past month I’ve been working on an online tool kit to educate the public and share resistance efforts to the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda. It’s under development and not quite ready for prime time. One of the categories I plan to develop is a list of players, and MacArthur tops the list, well maybe after Nellie Mae and Carnegie. There is a great deal to say about MacArthur, and it will take time to pull all the strings together. Consider the following a teaser for what is to come.

The MacArthur Foundation is NOT on the side of neighborhood schools. In fact they are a force working actively to dismantle public schools and digitize the educational experience so that it can be mined for profit by the ed-tech and global finance sectors. Read the items below. Check out the links. Ask yourself WHY is Diane Ravitch promoting this foundation?

10 Reasons You Should NOT Trust the MacArthur Foundation

  1. It awarded over $500,000 to Frameworks to conduct social science research promoting public acceptance of digital education.
  2. Is a member AND funder of the Global Impact Investing Network. If you don’t understand why that matters STOP and read Tim Scott’s important work on impact investing here and here. Take your time with them. Together they provide a critical foundation for understanding the dynamics at work in the impact investing sector.
  3. Is a major funder of Out of School Time (OST) Learning, which is the icing on the sh*t cake that is “personalized” online learning. MacArthur is hoping a few cool projects in community settings will distract us from the horrors of digital curriculum and predictive educational profiling. See this description of their 2012 paper “Learning at Not School: A Review of Study, Theory, and Advocacy for Education in Non-School Settings.”
  4. It sponsored “Research Network on Connected Learning” that advocated for, among other things, online game-like learning.
  5. And partnered with the Gates Foundation to create Glasslab, a R&D outfit charged with creating online educational games and game-based assessments.
  6. Worked closely with Mozilla to create systems of badges that will allow education to happen outside schools and beyond the reach of credentialed teachers. The badges are set up to be stored in e-portfolios for “lifelong” learning in the neoliberal gig economy.
  7. Jumpstarted the Cities of LRNG, a decentralized-badge based approach to learning, that began in Chicago and is now being piloted in numerous other cities, including Philadelphia.
  8. Funded the for-profit company Edovo (formerly Jail Education Solutions) to run a pilot program of tablet-based online education and behavioral therapy in Philadelphia’s prisons in 2014. The founder of the company did social impact bond research while in law school in Chicago where the MacArthur Foundation is based. It is pitched as an impact investment program.
  9. Collaborated with Google, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (Sesame Workshop) and Common Sense Media in 2010 on a forum to “Explore the Future of Digital Technology in Education.” Reed Hastings and Joel Klein were featured speakers.
  10. Played a key role with Pew Charitable Trusts in promoting evidence-based policy making through the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative. This is laying the foundation for Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds.

Of the four $100 and Change finalists, one is geared toward education and behavioral interventions for Syrian refugee children. It’s called “Sesame Seeds.” There is some bitter irony there. The field of social impact investing has burgeoned over the past decade. In an era of austerity and expansive global crises, public funds have been strategically withheld to create markets for venture capital that claim to be profiting off of “doing good.” Private interests underwrite select “solutions” to problems of the public sphere, problems they themselves have often had a hand in creating and exacerbating. Government officials are drawn in by language like “pay for success” or “evidence-based” programs, convinced that their best option is to defer to the private sector to deliver “results.” The problem is the “results” demanded are determined by metrics that are increasingly extracted through intrusive and dehumanizing digital platforms that deliver the data seamlessly and with fidelity.  I write about it within the context of Smart Cities here. With more detail in these two slide shares: How Austerity Generates Data and Reinventing Education for Impact Investing.

This single-minded focus on “success” metrics and assessing “impact” compromises the services themselves and leads to a heightened level of surveillance of those who must access such programs whether they be at-risk preschoolers, the homeless, the incarcerated, the addicted, the mentally ill, veterans or in this case refugee children. This entire enterprise is seeded by infusions of philanthropic dollars directed through program and mission related investments run by these same corporate raiders. By sitting on their panel and assessing these programs I feel Diane Ravitch is adding legitimacy to the toxic enterprise of impact investing.

There are many references in the language and messaging surrounding this proposal to “evidence,” “impact,” “return on investment,” and what counts as “success.” They talk about muppets being a secret weapon, which is interesting given Sesame Workshop’s partnership with IBM Watson’s Artificial Intelligence program. They talk about providing television programs, online learning materials and computer based support so these children can become productive citizens. In fact, the plan is to use these children as guinea pigs to refine digital learning and social-emotional training products. Thank goodness there is increasing attention being paid to the pernicious influence that technology interests are having over the delivery of educational programs to refugee populations. As Tim Scott details in “Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity:”

“The world economic pyramid and its BoP model is becoming even more relevant as social impact investment markets flourish, because as the Financial Times simply points out, BoP “theory suggests that new business opportunities lie in designing and distributing goods and services for poor communities.” Inherently, the dehumanizing narrative attached to BoP frames the most dispossessed people as being untapped profit generators to be further exploited by the same opulent minority whose wealth and power was built – and depends – on their ongoing subjugation.”

This is not generosity. This is about managing a market for impact investment. These are people are looking for a rate of return based upon the misery of traumatized children. This is not a model of philanthropy to be emulated, but rather an amoral attempt to cloak greed and power in the language of social justice.

Impactful MacArthur

Wiley? Obtuse? Some other explanation? I may never know.

What I am certain of is what David F. Noble knew. Now is time for us to educate ourselves, own the truth and act. We cannot rely on some hero, any hero, to chart our course. We must take that responsibility into our heart and carry forward to the best of our ability. It’s up to each and every one of us to do what we can, in ways big and small. If we do that, I have confidence that in the end it will be enough.

But if we step back, remain tentative and allow others to steer, we may very well NOT end up where we need to go. So read fewer blogs, connect with more people. Be the change we need.

David Noble Rhodes

25 thoughts on “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

    • ciedie aech says:

      Perhaps a little like so many first-world citizens worrying about our nation’s endless push for war and the growing imprisonment of our nation’s citizens even as our own retirement funds and pensions are (unknowingly) invested in the weapons manufacture and prison/detention center game.

  1. brackenkaren says:

    I could respond in more detail but then my response would probably be longer than your article. Bottom line, I knew Diane Ravitch was not all she was cracking herself up to be and just taking advantage of an opportunity to awaken a dying career years ago and I too was attacked when expressing my opinion about her. Like they always say “follow the money.” I had the good fortune of several mentors that have been in the education activist, whistle blower arena for many decades that told me early on about Diane Ravitch. The fact that DR is best friends with Linda Darling-Hammond was also a clue. The fact that she sat on the Gordon Commission, another clue. I tried to ring the warning bell but just like everything we face in this battle people had to come to the realization about DR on their own terms. When ESSA was passed she did a multi-part series on the bill with none other than her old boss Senator Lamar Alexander. Now if that isn’t bringing in the fox to watch over the hen house I don’t know what is. It served to open the eyes of many about Diane Ravitch. Sadly, not enough people saw the truth but I guess a few is better than none. My theory in the beginning about DR was: why would I follow someone like Diane Ravitch that pushed the very thing we are fighting when there are so many that have been on the right side of this issue for decades. My choice was to follow those that I knew had been loyal to the cause from day one and had no professional, financial or personal reason for doing what they do except to save our children from a future of “life long learning (training) for a lifetime of labor.” Alison, as long as you speak truth keep speaking. Do not worry what others may think or say. The truth will one day prevail. We all have a higher power to answer to even if that higher power is our own heart and conscience.

    • Ruth Rodriguez says:

      I think of the saying, “there are beasts who eat their own”, and am sadden do these character assasination, and that we continue to do the work of the privatizers, better than they can. They have tried in so many ways to stop Diane, but this post does a better job, perhaps you should demand to be compensated. I wish that when we have serious concerns about anyone, that we have the courage to confront the person, before we go posting. Gates and the rest of the profiteers have spent a lot of money trying to silence many of us who are attempting to fight this war, and our in-fighting serves to help them more than they could.
      When we, administrators of UOO, ssuggested the idea to speak to our civil rights groups, our White allies chose to distanced themselves, called us sell outs, and declared the Opt-Out movement dead. As Black and Latino educators, who have seen our communities suffering more than any other groups, we had hopes that our White allies, would respect our decision to reach out to the Civil Rights groups, we were abandoned. There was never any effort to reach out to the three of us women of color, to hear our side. School Matters chose to launch a move of character assassination against the three of us. Not one of those who attacked us ever thought of giving us the respect to a call, or a direct contact to get the real story. So, when I read this about Diane, I wonder, was there ever any attempt to speak to her, hear from her?

      • wrenchinthegears says:

        Ruth, you do realize that Diane has largely blocked me from posting on her page? No? Well perhaps it would have been nice had you asked me about that before leveling your own accusations. How would you propose I reach out to her exactly? I’m interested in your take. And do you think Diane reaches out to every person she criticizes in her blog in advance? To make sure it is ok with them first?

        In your comments you bring up Gates. But is it SO much more than that. Did you even read the substance of my post? Certainly Gates is a central figure, but what I am trying to do is expose the other players who are causing even more damage. That includes foundations like MacArthur. That is why what Diane Ravitch has done is so dangerous, and why I felt the need to stay up late into the night last night writing it up. I don’t do this for my health.

        I find it interesting that your comments seem to focus on UOO, which was not part of this discussion at all. You say nothing of your thoughts about the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda and MacArthur’s role in it or how they are running a competition where the finalists include a coalition set up to prey on refugee children. I would love to hear your thoughts on that too, since most people coming here to criticize seem to be electing not to engage in substantive debate but rather insert off-topic stories of past indignations in which I had no part or a offer generalized critique of my method of exposing this truth.

        Since you have not said anything about being opposed to the MacArthur Foundation and their 100 and Change program, should I take that to mean you stand with Diane in your assertion that they are a pinnacle of philanthropic generosity?

  2. mooregrits says:

    Alison, great job in exposing a well known poser in the War vs the Core!
    I, too have used my blog to share the research concerning DR’s ties to the CCSS Machine.

    From what I have found, CTE (Career Tech Ed) has been a place she supports while everyone is looking the other way. You know, Alison, CTE is an ‘arm’ of the CCSS Machine where CBE is doled out in spades. It’s where every school choice and every age student are aligned to the workforce agenda side of education.

    2014, former US Sec of Labor (Perez) and Ravitch joined in the CTE Summit to promote this part of the CCSS Machine activity.

    Let’s face it, VP Pence is the current Congressional ‘champ’ for CTE. While folks are screaming they hate CCSS, they line up for CTE. With the big names hawking it, and who have hawked it, we can see how deception has been used.

    Alison, you are far from alone in not trusting the fluff out there. Thank you for giving us even more evidence to this poser in education.

    *This is not being released from moderation, please correct. Thank you.

  3. leonie haimson (@leoniehaimson) says:

    Alison: I checked Diane’s blog post on MacArthur at https://dianeravitch.net/2016/09/13/big-news-discovery-one-1-funder-that-supports-public-schools/#comments

    My comments critiquing MacArthur Foundation that I wrote yesterday after I read her blog and many others are published — including ones making similar points to the issues you cite:

    September 19, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    I’m not sure they are as altruistic as we want to think?
    It’s my understanding that the group “Sesame Seeds” is one of four finalists chosen by the MacArthur Foundation – a foundation deeply involved in digital badging, social impact bonds, and CBE/personalized learning – for a 100 million dollar grant. Sesame’s idea is to team up with the UK’s nudge unit” (behavior modification unit) to deliver digital content to help Syrian refugee children “learn” the social-emotional skills they will need to cope with being refugees…

    September 19, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    MacArthur is also involved in impact investing (including SIBs), digital badging, and CBE, and they also just picked four finalist for a 100 million dollar grant –
    Sesame seeds was one of the finalists.

    I think your overall critique of Diane is seriously off-base. I disagree w/ her about MacArthur Foundation, as I do with some of the other points she makes; which is probably inescapable given the fact that she blogs about 10 times a day.

    But she is right more than most anyone I know and is as fervent opponent to data-mining privacy-violating ed tech as you or I. Indeed, her advocacy and support was critical in our defeat of inBloom and she continues to draw attention to issues of student privacy and how personalized learning is really depersonalized learning.

    The reason she earlier plugged Salesforce is also clear — the company’s head promotes and supports public schools rather than charters, unlike most corporate hi-tech CEOs.


    In this blog post you attempt to link her in a far-fetched conspiratorial manner, as you have before, to various investments made by her son’s VC company. Your insistence in making enemies via these unsupported claims will weaken not only your credibility, but may weaken the cause that we all believe in.

    • wrenchinthegears says:

      I would be interested to hear Diane’s position on MacArthur’s activities as they apply to education and impact investments. It may very well be that she was not aware of the full scope of their activities while participating as a judge in their competition. Willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on that. But as with other concerns I have raised, once you know, you know. I tweeted this post to her this morning. So, now she knows. Given this information, does she still support MacArthur and lift them up as a shining example of philanthropy? I think a lot of people would be interested in finding out.

    • Mary Porter says:

      Leonie, it isn’t a “conspiracy” if its completely public, but everybody is just afraid to oppose it because they are afraid she will withdraw her favor from them.

      Instead of reprimanding Alison for challenging her, why don’t you speak up yourself if you disagree with her?

  4. Mary Porter says:

    My comment on Diane’s blog.

    Mary Porter
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    September 20, 2017 at 11:25 am
    MacArthur Foundation is another false-philanthropy tool. The new philanthropy model is that big finance will cut in and profit-mine services that are meant to promote the public good, through a data-driven mechanism called “Social Impact Investing”. It makes private profit the explicit driver of public investment.

    Vendor-investors buy control of projects in schools, prison rehabilitation, disaster relief, community health initiatives, or any “service” funded by public money. They run it as they see fit, and collect whatever digital evidence they see fit, as part of the cost of doing business. If their own data demonstrates “success” for their service, they are repaid with a profit premium.

    Thus, profit is mined by outside investors, in areas of desperate need and urgency, from the limited public resources and foreign exchange available. Africa becomes a profit mine for the data and financial industries, without its consent. How is that not colonialism?


  5. Mary Porter says:

    Another comment on Diane’s blog:
    Mary Porter
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    September 20, 2017 at 11:51 am
    MacArthur is no longer a “non-profit” in form. New laws in the eighties allowed them to count for-profit investments as charity, to build their own funding stream and that of their beneficiaries. Monstrosities ensued.

    “With a $500 million allocation of its assets, MacArthur makes impact investments to advance established and emerging program goals. Totaling $500 million since 1986, these loans, bonds, stock, equity, deposits, and guarantees directly meet the capital needs of special-purpose funds, for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations tackling environmental and social challenges around the world.”


  6. tultican says:

    I really don’t like this post. Diane has posted some thing I did not like such as her support for ESSA, but her courageous battle for public education still has my support. However, because I agree with much of what you say even though I think it is over the top, I continue to support your efforts whenever I can. But, if I have to write off you or Diane it would be you. Diane is by for the most effective voice in America fighting the privatization of public schools and the invasion of expensive, untested and often harmful technology. I will continue to support you if I can, but I find this post reprehensible.

    • wrenchinthegears says:

      I think I made it clear that I was sharing this information not in any attempt to increase my number of readers or win friends, but rather to share important information. If Diane is so effective at fighting privatization can you explain her position on MacArthur? No, it is not fair of me to ask you to speculate. So I will instead ask, what is YOUR position on the facts presented? Knowing what you know about what is happening in your community, are you comfortable with their work in Cities of LRNG? Would you feel comfortable asking Ravitch to clarify her position with this information in mind? Your decision to toss around terms like “reprehensible” seems like a way to dodge the real challenge of grappling with this information and what the implications are for Ravitch’s advocacy in the post-ESSA era.

      • tultican says:

        That information might be real but you twisting its meaning. Diane does have more faith in some groups than I do, but she is certainly not the conniving crook you imply by twisting your “evidence” of her wickedness to fit your own misapprehension. I think attacking Diane Ravitch’s character is reprehensible. You remind me of the members in the freedom caucus who tear apart other conservative politicians because they are not pure enough. Attacking Diane Ravitch means you are attacking the defense of pubic education. The 74 and Education Next have plenty of money to do that. They do not need your help attacking Diane.

        • wrenchinthegears says:

          There is a difference between attacking and questioning. You didn’t actually answer my question about MacArthur though. You don’t have any opinion on the matter? Or are you focusing all your energies against me? I hope Diane will recant her support of MacArthur. I guess we shall see. Silence can say a lot, too.

    • Mary Porter says:

      It’s fine to support Diane Ravitch, but how could that require you to turn your back on your own understanding?

      Thomas, I’ve been following Diane Ravitch since before she supposedly turned away from her earlier infatuation with accountability. I tried to talk her over (I’m chemtchr). She took leadership of our opposition because the big media would publish her, and nobody else, on the NY Times editorial page. You can find her eventual wise pronouncements in my comments on her blog, dating back to 2007.

      UNDER her, and we are very much UNDER, our situation has gone from bad to worse. It is possible she and Deborah Meier are making the same mistake all over again, that they made when they were originally selected as Gates posters for his Small Schools takeover? Are their heads so easily turned by authoritarian power and influence that they hover under its wings?

  7. LunaMomofpublicsschoolstudents says:

    I stopped reading her a few years ago with her unabashed biased support of Randi. It was a big sign for me that she was picking and choosing and she really does not deserve this revered status.

  8. Sheila Resseger says:

    From absorbing the events of the world–natural disasters, the Trump administration, the possibility of nuclear annihilation, and catastrophic climate change–I am emotionally shattered. From absorbing the bitterness and negativity in many of these comments, I am feeling further cognitively and emotionally battered. Our situation is so fraught with distress. I agree that it is imperative to understand the breadth and depth of the forces arrayed against humanity, and I greatly appreciate Alison’s perspicacity, persistence, and courage in informing us of the totality of this threat. I’d just like to make a comment about the Sesame Seeds project. Watching the video, seeing those beautiful children interacting with the lovable Sesame Street muppets, was heartwarming. Realizing that the project will co-opt the Sesame Street characters for a caricature of social-emotional learning that will exploit the traumas these children are experiencing and only benefit the global corporations whose limited understanding of true human relationships is funneled into digital bells and whistles for return on investment, is chilling and intolerable. Will we allow multi-national corporations to define “success” for the most vulnerable, or will we insist on human solutions at a human scale that does not involve profit or aggrandizement in any form?

Comments are closed.