Don’t Give Us A Complex: Resisting the CBE Takeover of Strawberry Mansion High School

SRC Testimony in Support of Strawberry Mansion High School

As a resident of Philadelphia and a parent of a public school student, I believe it is vitally important that we stand with the residents of Strawberry Mansion and support their efforts to save their neighborhood comprehensive high school. Their demands are 1) no complex 2) give the school an incoming freshman class and 3) restore the resources and programs that have been taken from Strawberry Mansion. Numerous community members came out to last Thursday’s SRC meeting to oppose this plan. Read coverage from the Public School Notebook here or watch filmed testimony here. Below is a three-minute video of my testimony from the April meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. You can read it here.

Unlocking Value at Public Expense

The School District of Philadelphia is attempting to “phase-out” Strawberry Mansion’s comprehensive high school in order to replace it with a “complex.” I suspect the intent is to use the facility as an incubator for competency-based education ventures designed to feed workforce development Pay for Success investment opportunities. Likely candidates include Big Picture, Youth Build, Outward Bound and spin-offs from the district’s CBE “innovation school” models. Competency-Based Education (also known at Proficiency or Mastery-Based education) is being actively fought in many communities in Maine, an early adopter state. As the deadline to implement proficiency-based diplomas there nears, many are speaking out about the tremendous problems with this so-called “innovative” educational model.

The same day as the SRC meeting, I attended the second annual “Break/Throughs: New Ideas for Policy” Conference co-hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s FELS Policy Research Initiative and the College of Arts and Sciences. The focus of the conference was how FELS could “unlock value” from partnerships with local government. One of the panels featured Clare Robertson-Kraft, founder and director of ImpactED. She stated that in June they would be presenting findings from a major research initiative funded by Pew Charitable Trust and Barra Foundation on the district’s innovation schools.


Robertson-Kraft said the event would draw a national audience, but when asked during Q&A if members of the public would be able to attend she deferred, saying that perhaps they could let some of the people attending the workshop know about it. While these “innovation” schools may technically be considered public schools, they are really test-beds for Ed Reform 2.0. Reformers don’t want the public in on this conversation until their “privatized-light” model is firmly established. I sense this June presentation will set the stage for an innovation love fest intended to kick-off a new round of school redesign that involves “public-private” innovation models taking over vulnerable schools like Strawberry Mansion, schools that have been starved of students and deprived of resources.

Workshop School Funders

The diagram above (click here for interactive version) shows some of the grants flowing into the Workshop School, a model being considered for the Strawberry Mansion “complex.” It also shows the funders of the Next Generation Learning Challenges Initiative, the source of the award that allowed the pilot two-year “Sustainability Workshop” to scale into a full four-year high school program. These small schools require significant private investment to operate, which makes them hard to keep going over the long term and likely to reflect the interests of their funders, many of whom push hybrid-blended learning. Digitally-platformed instruction is what the investors must have in place to scale automated evaluation of pay for success contracts down the line.

Priming the Pump for Impact Investing

During Q&A for another Break/Through panel, a member of the audience noted that four blocks away, at the Cira Center, a major social impact investment conference was taking place. “Total Impact,” co-sponsored by ImpactPHL and The Good Capital Project, an initiative of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP), featured national figures like Jim Sorenson. Local presenters included Jay Coen Gilbert, KIPP board member and founder of BLab; Sherryl Kuhlman of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative; and John Moore of Investor’s Circle and ImpactPHL. Impact investors are definitely on the move, positioning themselves to take advantage of provisions in the federal budget that earmarked $100 million to seed the pay for success market.

Susquehanna Foundation Profile 2013-2015

The above profile of the Susquehanna Foundation’s growth in assets shows how social impact capital is positioning itself since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Susquehanna Foundation is one of the funders of the Workshop School. This foundation is a vehicle for Jeffrey Yass’s firm Susquehanna International Group, a venture capital firm grounded in game theory. Jeffrey and Janine Yass are major funders of the Philadelphia School Partnership. Janine also served on the board of the Center for Education Reform, a catalyst for Ed Reform 1.0 and Ed Reform 2.0 initiatives.  Given the $130 million jump in endowment assets that happened between 2015 and 2016, I’m betting that Workshop School and other “innovative” education models will be well positioned to receive additional capital if they can demonstrate sufficient “impact” and generate solid rates of return. The pressure of market forces is why the district is making its moves on Strawberry Mansion now. They need space into which these investment programs can expand.

Merchant banking interests are also ramping up to take advantage of opportunities embedded in the Every Student Succeeds Act. One of these is Ridge-Lane, Limited Partners, described on their website as an “advisory and merchant bank at the apex of public and private sectors.” The Ridge of Ridge-Lane is former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. He has assembled dozens of advisors to assist with his P3 (Public-Private-Partnership) plans to extract as much value as possible from the public sector. One of his team members is none other than Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite. Education is one of Ridge-Lane’s four focus areas, so it is not surprising that they have lined up a stable of privatization-minded, tech-friendly consultants like John Deasy, Jack Markell, and Michael Crow.

Ridge Lane Education

Ridge-Lane is targeting four areas for investment: information technology, sustainability, education, and real estate. In his closing remarks for the April SRC meeting, Superintendent Hite noted that Strawberry Mansion has been selected to become one of three energy pilot schools. The program involves making repairs to buildings that would result in improved energy efficiency. An article in the Public School Notebook stated the program would connect students in Career and Technical Education to the building trades, though it was unclear from the article if the intention was to actually employ student labor as part of the program.

Now imagine how a “Future Ready” Strawberry Mansion “complex” might fit into this business model as a Pay for Success venture. All that would need to be done is to set up some coding gyms or cyber-security training for the IT part. The energy pilot and training in trades would address sustainability and education/workforce development, and the real estate angle would come in as they gentrify the East Park area, further marginalizing black residents in this historically-black community.

I think we can safely assume this whole transformation will come with the blessing of the city’s elite. During the FELS Break/Through discussions John Kromer, housing policy analyst, saw the gentrification of the area surrounding Temple University as a positive (no mention of displacement), while Dirk Krueger, Interim Chair of Economics, spoke at length about the close relationship the university’s economics department and graduate students maintain with the research wing of the Federal Reserve. Remember, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve sponsored the Pay for Success “Capital for Communities” event with former Mayor Nutter in 2015.

Selling Innovation

During a recent community meeting at Strawberry Mansion High School, participants debriefed about a tour of the Workshop School that the district had set up to sell them on the idea. But they weren’t sold on it; they want to keep their comprehensive high school status.

The Workshop School started in 2011 when several teachers removed an award-winning Hybrid X automotive program from West Philadelphia High School. That program was then used as a centerpiece for The Sustainability Workshop, a two year program funded as part of a US Department of Energy grant linked to redevelopment of the Navy Yard. In the years following, the school has been sustained via substantial infusions from charter and privatization allied organizations including: the Philadelphia School Partnership, William Penn Foundation, and Lenfest Foundation.

The pilot program was brought to scale in 2013 when Simon Hauger and Matthew Riggins, co-founders, received a large award from the Next Generation Learning Challenges Initiative. Look back to the map and you’ll see all the expected ed-tech interests flowing into that program. Considerable grant funding for the school is run through a non-profit called Project Based Learning, Inc. A review of the 990 tax forms for the organization (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) raised some questions for me. Below is a table of select financial measures from when the nonprofit was founded through 2016, the latest 990 filing available through the Foundations Directory Online.

Project Based Learning Inc. 990 2010-2016

My questions are as follows:

  1. How much money can a “public school” accept from private sources before it is no longer a fully-public school? Note the annual budget in 2014.
  2. Why is the board list missing or incomplete (see below)? The 990s indicate that most years there are nine voting members governing the organization, but only six names were ever provided. In recent years Mr. Riggin is the only one listed.Workshop School Board List
  3. If a school operates as a public-private partnership, how are management decisions made and carried out? What is the role of the non-profit board? What is the role of school district staff and community members?
  4. The 990 forms indicate that in 2015 and 2016, eight people were paid by Project Based Learning, Inc. Are these people also employed by the School District? Are they private contractors? Are they working with students? Are there liability issues surrounding that?
  5. Why were the books of the nonprofit kept at the home of the school’s principal up until 2015?
  6. Is this nonprofit set up specifically to serve the Workshop School? There is nothing to indicate that. Instead, it seems like it could become a consultancy for any type of project-based learning initiative or related professional development program independent of a particular school.

Project Based Learning Summary 990

The School District is putting the hard sell on Strawberry Mansion to accept some form of project-based learning model and the “complex” format. It could be an expansion of the Workshop School or some other program or an assortment of small programs. But they don’t want that. They don’t. And even if they did there are serious questions we should be asking about expanding models of education that rely on private investment, particularly as we enter a moment when pressure will be building to adopt Pay for Success financing.

How we pay for our schools affects how education is delivered. Outcomes-based finance will drive adoption of more and more educational technology. This will generate data and isolate students, particularly the students who most need human contact. Please email or tweet Superintendent Hite and tell him “No Complex” on behalf of Strawberry Mansion ( or @SDPHite). We want humane schools. We want publicly-funded schools. We want schools that encourage discussion, engagement, and thoughtful questioning rather than human capital compliance. Thanks in advance!

Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students?

This is a companion to a previous post I wrote about the implementation of the KiTE STEM challenge, a Google-sponsored digital learning contest being run in partnership with the Kirkland, WA park system this spring. Read part one here.

On April 12 Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Starbucks coffee shop at 18th and Spruce Streets while waiting for a friend with whom they had a scheduled meeting. A bystander recorded the encounter, as the men had done nothing wrong and questioned the police as to why the arrests were made. Their experience has been widely discussed in national news. Today being a black or brown person in the public sphere is to be suspect and put at risk of arrest, deportation or even death.

I raise this within the context of appified learning ecosystems, because Philadelphia is a City of LRNG. Collective Shift has been promoting a system of “personalized” learning called Digital On Ramps where Philadelphia’s students, many of whom are students of color, would be sent out to navigate the city and earn skills-based badges.

The featured image for this post is from the article discussing Kirkland’s Kite STEM challenge. It shows hands holding a phone with a multiple choice question on the screen. They are young, black hands. Presumably this child is in a park using the app. In seeing those hands, I remember twelve-year old Tamir Rice, murdered by police at a Cleveland playground in 2014. We would like to think of parks as “safe” places to learn, but there are no guarantees for black children.

Tamir Rice Gazebo

Free-range device mediated education may seem like a great idea for privileged teens who can sit on the “weed-wall” in Rittenhouse Square and face no consequences. But what does that look like for young black men? Will they be afforded the same treatment? What will their “Hackable High School” look like? Will they have the right to pursue online instruction on a laptop undisturbed in local coffee shop?

I see Collective Shift’s image of “appified” education (above) and can’t help but think of Stephon Clark, murdered in his grandmother’s backyard by police as he held his phone. Will black and brown children be targeted pursuing informal learning on phones? Will they fear being shot as they collect competencies for their digital learning lockers?

I also think about the data being collected by the apps that enable anywhere learning: location data, emotion sensing data, and data about social interactions, all of it aggregated and used to develop predictive profiles. Are we bumping up against the moment when Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report is realized? When pre-crime interventions begin? Which brings to mind a panel discussion “Defining Public Safety: Visions for the Future of Policing” I attended last October during the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference.

During the Q&A at the end, former CIO of the City Charles Brennan, noted that the future of policing would be facial recognition cameras, predictive analytics software, and drone surveillance. Watch this clip from a 2014 lecture at MIT featuring whistleblower William Binney that describes facial recognition software developed by the military in Afghanistan as it was being deployed by local police in Springfield, MA.

Predictive Policing

How will it feel to “learn” exclusively in such an environment, an environment of ubiquitous surveillance and policing? And how will race play into assigned pathways for work-based learning? I have concerns about the quality of the experiences provided, as well the possibility of child labor issues. We know tremendous racial bias exists in US work places. What protections will be put in place to ensure black and brown children are not victimized? Who will be able to access which parts of the ecosystem? Will “Wharton-affiliated” ecosystem opportunities be restricted to students that meet specific criteria, while students of color get pushed into tracks for grounds maintenance, home healthcare, and basic coding?

US society suffers from a pervasive sickness that stems from our national origins in the theft of indigenous land and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Here in the city of “brotherly love,” myths portraying what we wish we were (independent, fair, just) are carefully tended. Yet, the brutality of our history (our present) cannot be denied. It emerges with regularity, at times on camera, in branded corporate settings like Starbucks, upending the lives of innocent people like Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson.

Our country’s education system was never meant to empower black and brown people. The current system is deeply flawed. Yet before advancing device-mediated, anywhere learning as a progressive “solution,” we must consider the implications that adopting a decentralized learning ecosystem model could have for children of color. Will they be forced to go out and navigate, on their own, a world of whiteness, fraught with danger in order to receive a public education? What will it mean to have their every move monitored via ICT technologies? Will earning educational badges vary depending on “where” they learn, as was the case with the Kirkland Park System program?

I have many reservations about “future ready” education, but the Starbucks incident makes clear the issue of race is paramount. This issue is not in any of the papers put out by Knowledgeworks. It is not addressed by MacArthur or Collective Shift. For all the black and brown people who have died or been subjected to physical or emotional violence for simply existing in spaces where white people felt they were a threat, we must talk about this.

“Anytime, anywhere” education could mean death or arrest or deportation for young black and brown people seeking to “learn” in spaces white society is loathe to share. A learning ecosystem governed by whiteness, particularly whiteness enshrined in technocratic digital platforms ruled by powerful white men = continued erasure.

Before hackable education models start to supplant bricks and mortar schools, there must be public conversations that critically examine what such a model would mean for black people, for brown people, and for undocumented immigrants. Their voices and opinions must be prioritized. The Kirkland KiTE STEM Challenge goes online this week. Will we start talking about this before it is too late? Lives hang in the balance.

Stephon Clark 2

Tracking Students: Google Rolls Out “Anytime, Anywhere” Learning in Kirkland, WA Parks This Spring

Fast forward fifteen years. Imagine that the vision advanced by Knowledgeworks, the futurists at the American Alliance of Museums, the MIT Media Lab, Institute for the Future, and ed-tech impact investors has been realized. Neighborhood schools no longer exist. Buildings in gentrifying communities have been transformed into investment condominiums with yoga studios and roof-top bars. Those in marginal neighborhoods exist as bare-bones virtual reality warehouses where the poor are managed for their data. If you want the narrative version, you can read it here.

A handful of designated structures have been retained as education drop-in centers, places where “lifelong learners” consult with mentors about their (bleak) prospects for acquiring “just-in-time” workforce skills. The global economy has gone digital. Everyone has a Blockchain identity and biometrically enabled payment account. Both are linked to a person’s permanent online record of academic and social-emotional competencies, the public services they’ve obtained, and determinations regarding the “impact” those services have had on their human capital. The social impact investors watch the data dashboards and take their profits.

Redefining Teacher Education
Source: Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners, 2009

“Future Ready” education has been gamified, decontextualized, and dehumanized. “Learning” repackaged into a product that can be dispensed, consumed, tracked, and evaluated via corporate apps. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) devices have largely supplanted human teachers, who had neither the capacity nor the inclination to gather learner data in the quantities demanded by Pay for Success contracts.

Austerity and technological advances gradually transitioned hybrid, “personalized” learning outside of classrooms and schools entirely. “Freed” of seat time requirements, teachers, grades, report cards, and diplomas, students pursue, in isolation, pathways to “career readiness.” What the concept of “career” means in a time of automated labor, precarious employment, and AI human resource management is open to debate.

See original here. Surveillance, profiling and policing will be central to the ecosystem model.

A friend shared an article with me this week that reveals early phase trials of digitally mediated learning ecosystems are here. I plan to do another post that goes into detail about the Internet of Things, iBeacons, online learning lockers, Education Savings Accounts, badges, and informal learning settings. For now, it’s enough to know that the Cities of LRNG model the MacArthur Foundation is advancing via their spin off “Collective Shift” involves students using the “city as their classroom.”

Devices monitor an individual’s movements via apps, and accomplishments are logged as students undertake “any time, anywhere” learning. Sometimes it happens in the real world. Other times it happens in virtual or augmented reality. Either way, Tin Can API is watching, logging data fed to IMS Global. Watch this video by Rustici Software LLC, developers of Tin Can API, it’s under two minutes and worth every second. Pay attention to all the layers of data being collected in this simple interface.

Tin Can API

In the case of Kirkland, WA, a Seattle suburb, education rewards are being offered to students who choose to participate in an informal STEM learning program in local parks between April 23 and May 13, 2018. A student downloads the app, and questions are delivered to them based on their age. This activity is targeted at children as young as kindergarten. Students can earn “entries,” chances to win personal prizes (museum admissions, IMAX tickets, and Google swag) as well as up to $34,500 in cash for Lake Washington District school PTSA organizations.

Attempting a question, even if incorrect, will win a student one entry, while a question correctly answered in a Kirkland park awards 15 entries. In order to qualify for bonus entries, a student must allow the app access to their real time location, which verifies by GPS if they answered the question while they were within the park system. I find it troubling that awards vary by the student’s location when answering. I can imagine, in some dystopian future, technologies like this being deployed to digitally redline education. It’s a chilling prospect, but not unthinkable.

The app also encourages students to allow the app to track “Motion and Fitness Activity.” Purportedly this is about “increasing battery efficiency;” however, knowing the prevalence of fitness tracking apps and how they are being incorporated into policies around health care (see Go360, the West Virginia teachers strike, and research being done at the Cornell-Tech Small Data Lab) I find this also very concerning. The amount of data being collected on students who download the app, if they follow the recommended settings, is significant.

According to the FAQ, Google is the financial sponsor of this challenge. Partners include the Kirkland Parks Foundation, the Lake District Schools Foundation, the City of Kirkland, the Pacific Science Center, Eastside Audubon, (an online STEM network and talent scouting enterprise), and KiwiCo (age-based STEAM kit subscriptions). If you are a school administrator you can email them for a free action plan with tips to encourage students to upload the app, so their education can be monitored as part of Google’s pilot learning ecosystem experiment.

If you’re going to spend time in your local park, do you want your child glued to a device? Should they be looking at flora and fauna, or screens? Students, parents, teachers, and administrators need to start critically assessing the surveillance and data-gathering aspects of initiatives like the KiTE STEM challenge. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) says, data is the new oil. With each multiple choice answer (and the location and activity data associated with it) children are being mined for value. I’m not comfortable with that.

I wrote a companion to this post, Navigating Whiteness: Could “Anywhere, Anytime” Learning Endanger Black and Brown Students? I live in Philadelphia, and the arrests of two black men at a local Starbucks has me thinking a lot about how black and brown students could be placed at risk by the learning ecosystem model. Continue reading here.



They’ve got trouble, up there in North Dakota.

He breezes into a Northern Plains town channeling Harold Hill, the slick huckster from the 1962 musical The Music Man. They’ve got trouble up there in North Dakota; but the trouble is with so-called“ factory” model education, not pool tables. The solution to this “terrible trouble” is of course laptops and tablets, not trombones. That’s no surprise, given that Governor Doug Burgum made his fortune selling Great Plains Software for a billion dollars to Microsoft, joined the company as a senior VP, and later served on the boards of numerous other software, predictive analytics, and cloud-based computing enterprises. Interactive map here.

Doug Burgum

The Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education

A self-styled outsider candidate, Burgum won the governorship in 2016, with financial backing from Bill Gates, his largest campaign contributor. Between the primary and general elections Gates pitched in at least $100,000, with several other Microsoft executives contributing smaller amounts. It seems that while looking for an “outsider,” the voters of North Dakota may have actually thrown in their lot with the Silicon Valley technocracy. In Burgum’s “future ready” North Dakota, “personalized” learning will prepare the state’s children to out-Finland even Finland! At least if you buy the pitch venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith’s made at the Governor’s Summit on Innovative Learning held at Legacy High School in Bismarck last June. Details about this year’s summit, scheduled for June 7, 2018 here.

After my previous post on Dintermith, a resident of North Dakota reached out to me with concerns. Like the musical’s Marian the librarian, she smelled a rat. Having attended the day-long event, she had serious reservations about some of the ideas put forward by Dintersmith and his sidekicks, which included Ken Kay, tech sector lobbyist and founder of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21); Susie Wise of Stanford University’s School ReTool program; and Marcus Lingenfelter of the Exxon-bankrolled National Math and Science Initiative. See this interactive map of their associations here.

Innovative Education Summit ND 2017

Dintersmith the Promoter

Dintersmith rode into North Dakota via an August 2015 TEDx talk promoting his film Most Likely to Succeed. Greg Tehven, founder of the Fargo-based tech incubator Emerging Prairie who has ties to social impact investing and Teach for America in Minneapolis, extended the invitation. Dintersmith’s film premiered just in time to set up the next wave of ed-reform aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The documentary was based on a book by the same name that he co-authored with former Gates Foundation senior advisor and Harvard University education professor Tony Wagner.

The film is a soft sell for the type of “individualized,” “whole child” instruction the tech sector eagerly anticipates digitizing and monetizing using 1:1 screen-based devices, biometric monitoring, and augmented and virtual reality platforms. The academic and social emotional data grab will ultimately feed ed-tech social impact investment markets. As Eric Schmidt of Alphabet notes, data is the new oil. Folks in North Dakota know the value of oil, as well as the devastation that results from its extraction. Hooking the state’s students up to screens and other monitoring systems to extract their data (oil) while selling community members and elected officials on “innovation” is recipe for profit for tech and disaster for children.

Student Data Extraction

Take some time to review this unsettling foresight document from Knowledgeworks, one of the North Dakota Department of Instruction’s innovative education partners. It offers a view into a world of augmented and virtual reality and wearables. I’ve often wondered what project-based learning via badges will look like in remote, rural areas. Under the LRNG program Collective Shift / MacArthur are pitching “the city as your classroom.” But how would that work in a place like Orrin, ND where the population is under fifty people? This whitepaper anticipates it will happen via augmented virtual reality simulations and games once rural communities upgrade to edge computing. Given the numerous references to careers in the state’s drone and energy industries I’ve come across in the course of my research, it seems learning ecosystem proponents may view North Dakota, with a tech-minded governor and willing populace, as a great test-bed for gamified work-based online education training systems.

Mentor Connect

Mastery-Based Learning Eliminates Grades

The forty-five second clip below is rather jaw-dropping. In it Dr. Cory Steiner of the Northern Cass School District outlines planned implementation of Mass Customized Learning (competency-based education), an experiment he says made him feel unwell. He describes it as “seed project” that will evaluate students solely on mastery of competencies and eliminate age-based grade groups altogether. Say goodbye to first grade, second grade, third grade; from now on education will be check the online box and move along as you build your “lifelong learner” data profile.

Dr. Steiner was the program manager of the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Database system from 2012 to 2014 when he joined Northern Cass, a “Future Ready” district. Later in the panel (timestamp 38:30) he states that he wants juniors and seniors to be done with all of their core coursework and spend their last two years of high school pursuing electives and work-based placements. It is unclear how this strategy will mesh with Marcus Lingenfelter’s position that the state will be advancing high-level STEM education, unless you believe students will be getting comprehensive instruction in courses like physics or calculus during their internships.

Work-Based Learning?

Steiner says that during their senior year, he doesn’t want to see students in school; that they should be figuring out at least what they don’t want to do. How has it come to this? Is it austerity that is pushing us to rush children into occupations when they are just 16 years old? For jobs that likely won’t exist a decade from now? Is any thought being given to the child labor implications? What if they don’t want to work for Exxon or drone manufacturers or Battelle? What if they want to have a senior prom and participate in clubs and sports and social gatherings like their parents did?

Certainly CTE training has a place, but let us support students in finding affordable training in those fields AFTER they have full access K-12 to a publicly-funded education with a well-rounded curriculum. It should not be the expectation that public education will deliver our children as a just-in-time workforce to corporations that generate profits for their shareholders by adopting gig-economy hiring practices. The image below is from the recent 9th annual ASU+GSV (Arizona State University / Global Silicon Valley) Summit in San Diego. Dintersmith was there this week making the rounds pitching his new book “What School Could Be.”

Gig Economy ASUGSV


Dintersmith ASUGSV 1

What about the teachers?

And where are the teachers in all of this you might ask? Are they resisting being supplanted by devices? Why no, no they aren’t. Remember, the leaders of both national teachers unions have signed on to Education Reimagined. Instead, classroom teachers are kept distracted, attending Gates-funded EdCamp “un-conferences” where they talk about flexible seating and apps. Meanwhile, Tom Vander Ark and the staff of iNACOL / Competencyworks plot CBE’s nationwide expansion, see map here. You might think North Dakota United would be sounding the alarm, but that couldn’t be further from the case. They’ve actually partnered with Ted Dintersmith to produce a podcast documenting all aspects of the “personalized” learning takeover of North Dakota. The name of the podcast is, I kid you not, The Cutting Ed. Click here to check out the twenty-two episodes they’ve produced since last November. Dintersmith has also created a statewide playlist of resources to go along with School ReTool’s program of educational hacks. It’s called North Dakota Innovation Playlists, a modular program teachers can use to hack themselves right out of a career.

It turns out both the primary sponsor and co-sponsor of SB2186, North Dakota’s Innovative Education Bill, were teachers. Poolman is a high school English teacher in Bismarck and Oban was a middle school teacher.  The bill passed the Senate with only one nay vote on March 21, 2017. It passed the House with 75 yeas and 17 nays on March 28, 2017. Burgum signed it into law on April 4, 2017. The bill had overwhelming support from all the major education policy groups in the state, including North Dakota United. Interactive version of the map below here.

ND SB2186

It seems most people involved with this bill believed it would return local control of education policy decisions in the state. Clearly, they were either unaware or in denial about the fact that the bill was inspired by the ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Commission, “Innovation Schools and School Districts” model legislation that was created in 2012, the same year social impact bonds first appeared in the United States and the year Kirsten Baesler became state superintendent.

Knowledgeworks played a pivotal role in crafting the legislation and promoting CBE.  Knowledgworks is the primary promoter of the decentralized learning ecosystem model. It was originally funded by Gates as part of his small schools initiative, but later became an engine for policy reform in Ohio and was tasked with implementing Common Core State Standards there.

Gates Grant to Knowledgeworks Common Core in Ohio

They have also spun off a social-impact program for “cradle to career” wrap around services known as Strive Together. All told, the organization has received over $24 million from Gates since 2001. Their specialty is producing terrifying white papers. I tweeted a number of these to supporters of SB2186 but never received a response: Glimpses of the Future of EducationExploring the Future Education Workforce; Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem; and the Future of Learning in the Pittsburgh Region (plus their new AR/VR Wearables paper). In this report Baesler is quoted as saying “Knowledgeworks staff provided the support, experience and essentially the framework for North Dakota’s innovation bill.

The Marzano work group Baesler describes here around timestamp 2:30 was part of the process as well. Virgil Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer of Knowledgeworks, came to the organization from Maine’s RSU2 district, one of the early pilot programs for CBE. RSU2’s “Standards-Based, Learner Centered Frameworks,” part of the Mass Customized Learning program, was brought to that district by Bea McGarvey, a Maine resident and employee of Marzano Associates. MCL is being implemented in Northern Cass schools. Things were falling apart with MCL in Maine as early as 2013, but money has continued to pour into the program from the Nellie Mae Foundation and other supporters of the Great Schools Partnership. They have managed to hang on, but opposition has become more vocal in recent months as compliance with new Proficiency Based diploma requirements looms on the horizon.

The Truth About Local Control

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler states the Every Student Succeeds Act returned education decisions to local control in many of her speeches and also here. But did it? Who exactly is calling the shots with respect to North Dakota education policy? If you take a look at the innovative education partners, only North Dakota Council on the Arts and North Dakota United are based in the state. Interactive map here.

ND Innovative Education Partners

Knowledgeworks is clearly a Gates-funded vehicle with ties to national education reform interests. I don’t see how you can see the amount of grant funding coming in and think it is any way a grassroots organization or that they would place the interests of North Dakota’s children above that of their many powerful funders. Interactive map here.

Knowledgeworks Staff

Interactive grants map here.

Grants to Knowledgework 2003-17

Another key player in this transformation is School ReTool, a program out of Stanford University, whose business school is a force behind scaling social impact investing. Stanford’s education school, through SCALE ,is also working to develop digital means by which to upload project based learning evidence into cloud-based systems. Far from a local program, School ReTool is rolling out its “hacks” in districts from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh to Dallas to Oakland. They were part of the Obama White House’s massive plan to redesign high school per this 2016 update.

This personalized learning program is nothing unique to North Dakota. It was not brought to North Dakota because the people wanted it. It was brought to you as part of a national campaign masterminded by ed-tech and impact investment interests. Partners in School ReTool can be seen here.

School ReTool

Get in touch with the parents in Maine!

Burgum, Dintersmith, Baesler, and the rest are really hoping everyone just takes the laptops; turns libraries into maker spaces; acquiesces to mindset and skills-based instruction aligned to gig-economy jobs (fracking, drones, and the military); and accepts ubiquitous AI instruction. Don’t stop to consider how exactly deeper-learning and intense STEM instruction will result from dumbed-down online playlist instruction and work-based learning placements. Don’t look under the hood; don’t pine for old-fashioned age-based grades, report cards, diplomas, and neighborhood schools. Embrace the shiny. Just accept the learning ecosystem model and all the data-mining and labor market predictive analytics that goes along with it. Don’t ask questions; don’t slow down the transformation of education into a privatized marketplace; and by all means don’t tell Hawaii, because they’re the next up on his anytime, anywhere education tour.

But you don’t have to do that. Connect with the parents and teachers in Maine. They are actively rebelling against the competency / proficiency / mastery based education policies being shoved down their throats by the Nellie Mae Foundation, Great Schools Partnership and Knowledgeworks: here, here, and here. They have suffered for years without fully understanding what was happening. Emily Talmage has done a great service with her blog, Save Maine Schools, putting together detailed research and laying everything out. North Dakota, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, unite and resist. Your schools should belong to your communities. They need not become gig-economy data-factories if you take a stand, but do it now.

PS: If you know any of the people assigned to Burgum’s Innovative Education Task Force, consider sending this on to them with my Dintersmith post, so they know what they’ve been signed up for. The task force map is here and a really big map of the whole system is here. If you’ve stayed with me this long, thank you!

ND Innovative Education Task Force


Losing Our Humanity: A Toolkit To Talk About The Tech Takeover Of Our Schools

On Saturday, April 7, 2018 I had the good fortune to spend a day with education activists from across Massachusetts and beyond at the Boston Area Educators Social Justice Conference at Fenway High School in Jamaica Plain. My colleague, Worcester-based educator, Brian Leonard submitted a proposal for us to present on ed-tech that morning:

Losing the Human Connection: tech-takeovers in classrooms and schools
What is the role of technology in the classroom? How does technology affect child development and social relationships? Do children have a right to relationships with humans in education? Who profits from the commercialization of education and how can we defend our public schools from being consumed by commercialized tech-products that computerize education? How can we extend human and social relationships in the existential struggle against computer companies and machines? These are some of the questions we would like to explore with students and educators.

We wanted to model a meeting people could adapt for use in their own communities. We wanted it to be participatory and not require in-depth knowledge of Ed Reform 2.0 to pull off. The agenda we came up with features a welcome, read aloud, video clip discussion, group activity, and exploration of possible next steps. We hope people will use the tools provided to create spaces to engage in critical thinking about technology in the classroom and begin to counter the dominant narrative that disruptive “innovations” like “personalized learning” are beneficial to public education. If you have your own meeting, please get in touch and let me know how it goes!


Tech Takeover Meeting Toolkit


  • Community space for two-hours
  • Chairs and tables for 15-30 people, room to move around
  • Wall space for 12 sheets of poster paper (or table space)
  • Tablet paper (large post-it pads are great) and markers
  • If you don’t have room for tablet sheets, you can adapt and use 8.5×11 sheets. Have people each fill out this sheet, and cut it into six parts and group by topic heading.
  • Copies of “The Fun They Had,” informational packet and one-page definition list.
  • Overhead projection system for slide share (Google slides link or PDF). If you don’t have projection, print out this sheet (cut in half) for the introduction and skip the video portion of the program, or read my testimony for Philadelphia City Council, here.
  • Sign-in sheet to gather contact information

Slideshare intro


  • Welcome: introductions, initial slides, read aloud and discussion (25 minutes)
  • Video clips: choose 2-3 to set the stage (15 minutes)
  • Information gathering: 15 minutes for individuals to record thoughts on sheets, 15 minutes for small group discussion of results, and 15 minutes to report out takeaways to the larger group (45 minutes)
  • Next steps: full group discussion (25 minutes)
  • Close: whip, one final word per person (10 minutes)

Results of Our Discussion April 7, 2018

Response to PhotoScreens Faces

  • Dehumanizing
  • Anonymous
  • Impersonal
  • Loss of Identity
  • Disconnected
  • Cyber-Kids
  • Digitizing Childhood
  • Depersonalized
  • Distracted
  • Unsettling
  • Isolated
  • Over-Quantified
  • Loss of Identity
  • Too Much Technology
  • Hiding behind an identity
  • Denying individuality in an age of “personalization”
  • You can’t see their faces!
  • This is the reality I have been watching slowly invade my classroom for 15 years.

Responses to the Prompt Sheets



  • Gig economy – implications for labor
  • Teaching via machines vs humans
  • Teachers/educators become “attendants”
  • Breakdown of social contract, creating permanent underclass
  • Bandaid solutions to the systemic education issues-ie support for ELL students
  • Teachers as supervisors of a factory system
  • Role of teacher?
  • Loss of autonomy?
  • Loss of voice, writing and power
  • Teaching to the test
  • Teachers find it appealing because it’s “easy” while working conditions have gotten worse

Workforce Pathways

  • Tracking from in-utero to grave
  • Social reproduction model of education
  • Depersonalization, breakdown of personal choice disguised/packaged as “personalization”
  • Naviance-surveys and profiles
  • Employment based on quantified categories/ “mastery”
  • Robotization-capital reproduction
  • Controlled / restricted
  • “Coding” as job prep
  • Who will continue to get the most lucrative jobs?
  • Coding=new sweat shop work
  • Capitalism
  • Serving the gig economy
  • Future job opportunity – do we even know what the future jobs are?
  • The current economy doesn’t work for many. Where are these pathways going?

Writing Prompts


  • Humanity
  • Contact / social skills
  • Psychosocial harm
  • Connection with a trusting adult
  • Joy of learning in community
  • Problem solving
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Real communication
  • Identity
  • Individualized feedback
  • Of collaborative learning processes
  • Jobs
  • Community

Screen Time

  • 24/7 control
  • Lots-Even more!
  • Wifi exposure
  • Unsupervised / confused
  • Losing sleep
  • Anxiety, depression, isolation (ad busters)
  • Kids don’t do required activities, forced to sit until they comply.
  • Addiction, isolation
  • Mental anguish


  • An observed population is a disciplined and controlled population.
  • Normalization of a lack of privacy
  • More prisons
  • Privacy no longer exists
  • Big Brother
  • School as iteration of prison
  • Control
  • Schools can see activity on devices ALL THE TIME
  • Called kids to police interviews
  • Tracking – in utero to grave
  • Internet of Things
  • Counterinsurgency



  • Analytics
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy of who receives what instruction and what roles they are expected to fill
  • Systems that “learn” children via unique log ins are problem
  • Past performance should shape future learning opportunities
  • Making teaching “easy” teachers embrace these tools are overwhelmed by diminishing working conditions
  • Data breaches and biased algorithms
  • Compartmentalization
  • Tracking
  • Police control across the globe
  • Used to triage children as human capital.
  • Who is deemed “worthy” of investment of resources?


  • Academic and emotional conformity
  • Obsession, Anxiety
  • Follow orders, non-feeling
  • Surveillance and tracking
  • Robotic
  • Lack of self-discipline
  • Quantifying SEL is a problem
  • Pressure
  • Military-industrial complex
  • State-finance nexus
  • Special education I-pad as reinforcer
  • Data informs school to prison pipeline
  • Limits open-ended thinking
  • Personalized learning pushes kids to consume rather than create


  • Controlled by elite
  • No nuanced sensitivity
  • Profit
  • Privatization of education resources
  • Education is a business!
  • Control (should be balanced, but instead concentrated in a few hands)
  • Collective power and unionism is the best source of power to resist
  • Employ collective action
  • *Special emphasis on the people of color, low-income students, and immigrant populations who could be hit the hardest!
  • Financialization
  • Capitalist
  • Classrooms as data factories
  • Parents should have a right to refuse ed-tech for their children

Student Learning Conditions

  • Non-collaborative
  • Impersonal
  • Isolation
  • Boooring
  • Less social interaction
  • Controlled
  • Sterile
  • “Just ask Google.”
  • Don’t work hard anymore.
  • Obsession with levels/goals/points, reading levels for example
  • No teacher feedback
  • How can they ask questions?


  • Currency
  • A 4-letter word
  • Can be abused.
  • Children aren’t numbers.
  • Always being collected
  • Tracked
  • Overwhelming amount of it
  • Data-driven instruction and intervention for struggling students
  • Lacks qualitative context (heart)
  • When data dehumanizes ê
  • Where is the “why?”
  • Data can be helpful, but when is there too much data?
  • How to protect it?
  • Can children give consent?
  • Data, the new oil–fracking children


  • Complete control by ed-tech companies
  • Austerity
  • Control isolates people and limits relationships, organizing potential
  • Austerity
  • Hidden motive
  • Google (and Facebook) gives us a nice “box” to live in, but it’s THEIR box.
  • Creates the illusion of total control
  • WHO is in control: government, corporations, and/or military?
  • The political is eliminated-no space for contestation.
  • Leads to conformity/compliance
  • Creates an illusion of freedom
  • Are human’s masters of the machine…or are machines mastering humans?
  • Colonization
  • Fragmented groups don’t have agency.


  • Divide/rule
  • Superficial
  • Happen in personal spaces. Tech can keep populations isolated, separate, and preserving the class system.
  • Fragmented relationships
  • Social anxiety
  • Self-defeating
  • Eroded by competition
  • No social skills practice / public speaking / group communications
  • Loss of student-teacher relationship
  • In isolation we are controlled by Big Brother.
  • Loss of agency
  • Students as freelancers
  • Challenges with phone use in schools
  • How does monitoring impact online relationships?
  • How do platforms track social interactions?
  • What happens with children become attached to AI or chat bot avatars?



  • Raise issues of technology use to school boards / elected officials
  • Use issues of big data to unite different groups: labor, immigrants, farmers, poor, teachers, parents
  • Involve doctors re: wifi risks
  • Requires education to build resistance-educate one another
  • Union participation
  • Parent groups at each school
  • Less online organizing, more face-to-face communication
  • Demos in each town
  • Opt out / disrupt the data

Opportunities / Allies

  • Facebook / Cambridge Analytica raising awareness of data collection / breaches
  • Some communities are ditching technocratic programs (Cheshire, CT dumped Summit Basecamp)
  • Use creativity to revolt
  • Tap into groups that organized around Ed Reform 1.0, raise awareness of new threat
  • Peer-reviewed research
  • Little-Sis crowd-sourced relationship mapping / follow the money
  • Follow up on MTA resolutions against MAPLE / LearnLaunch
  • Union
  • Students / parents / teachers / communities / honest politicians (ha!)

Possible Next Steps

  • Local action committees
  • Coopt “ed-tech pledges” and enact our own
  • Signatories agree to take steps to implement an education campaign
  • Local action committees that can work regionally, too
  • Education campaign to inform the public
  • Reframe “digital divide” narrative / contextualize ed-tech as a tool of privatization
  • Survey the community / research how this is manifesting in schools
  • Gather personal stories / create exhibits in writing, video, online / share
  • Build grassroots resistance / look for opportunities to creatively disrupt
  • Push-back on workforce pathway mandates
  • Map the power – use Little Sis to follow money, grants, influence locally and nationally
  • Create tool kits of resources that make it easy for people to have these conversations