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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 Education; Exploring 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.
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.
Interactive grants map here.
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.
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!