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
- It awarded over $500,000 to Frameworks to conduct social science research promoting public acceptance of digital education.
- 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.
- 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.”
- It sponsored “Research Network on Connected Learning” that advocated for, among other things, online game-like learning.
- And partnered with the Gates Foundation to create Glasslab, a R&D outfit charged with creating online educational games and game-based assessments.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.