Jeff Bezos’s “Montessori, Inc.” Sets Up the Ed-Tech Takeover of Pre-K

This week Jeff Bezos of Amazon announced plans to direct $2 billion, in part, to the creation of a “Day 1 Academies Fund,” which would underwrite the costs of full-scholarship “tier one” Montessori model preschools in low-income communities. Within moments of hearing the announcement I began poking around to see where the connections were. What immediately came up was that Jeff’s mother Jackie, who helps manage the Bezos Family Foundation, presented on the topic of preschool human capital investing with James Heckman at the Aspen Institute Festival in June 2017. The title of their talk was “The ROI (Return on Investment) That Matters.”

I spent much of this past summer researching the construction of a speculative social impact investment market dealing in pre-school children’s human capital data (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Major players including University of Chicago economist James Heckman; hedge fund manager Robert Dugger; former Minneapolis Federal Reserve economist Arthur Rolnick; billionaire politician JB Pritzker; and Utah tech entrepreneur Jim Sorenson carried out this work quietly, diligently, steadily over the past decade.

The machine they’ve built is vast with tentacles reaching into influential foundations, institutions of higher education, venture capital firms, global banks, bipartisan political circles, and NGOs. It’s the puppet master behind all the Smart Start, Early Literacy, Grow Up Great, Grade Level Reading campaigns you see posted on buses and billboards in your town.

They use cute baby pictures in the advertising, but we need to recognize these efforts for what they truly are. This is about power, using digital technologies and predictive analytics, to mine rising global poverty rates for profit. Ever more vicious forms of innovative finance, like Social Impact Bonds and now impact securities, seek to transform human life into fictitious capital the elite can manipulate to enrich themselves. In this end game of late-stage capitalism, the data of vulnerable children will be collected and used as a source of profit extraction. Make no mistake. The Amazon “academies” will be data centers first and foremost.

The Bezos announcement indicates that perhaps this infrastructure is ready for prime time. Heckman and Pritzker have been doing road shows to sell it for years. I’m sure they’re anxious to see how the motor runs.

Heckman Bezos

People are increasingly concerned about the degree to which power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the tech sector, Amazon in particular. They hear the stories about the terrible working conditions, the surveillance of labor via wearable technologies, that workers can’t afford shelter. The solution offered is a roving RV work model. While some have embraced Alexa as a virtual assistant, many others see it for the intrusive data-gathering device that it is. Now Amazon and its dynamic pricing model is moving into bricks and mortar retail through the purchase of Whole Foods. There is a growing sense we are being watched; that our value is data tied to where we go and what we buy; that our options for meaningful work are shrinking; and Bezos sees us as pawns to be managed for his benefit. Plus, those AWS (Amazon Web Server) data lakes!

My hope is people will realize this announcement isn’t just about Bezos or Amazon. It’s a sign the impact-investing, early childhood education machine is getting ready to roll. It is a mammoth, mammoth machine. Many will be scooped up in its net. Bezos is a great one to put out front. Many are already angry with him, so they throw up tweets expressing their dismay but they don’t look deeper. Some get that there is an aspect of data profiling, that it might also involve ed-tech promotion, but they are NOT talking about speculative global finance. Impact investing is not on anyone’s radar, but it should be. If you haven’t seen my videos on Social Impact Bonds or Blockchain Identity, check out the links here and here.

I’ve read widely and gotten pretty good at registering the signals of where things are headed. No one has shown me the plans for these Academies, but I can start to guess what they might look like. Join me for a tour of a fictional pre-school I’ll call “Montessori, Inc.” In the scenario that follows I lay out elements of a preschool model designed to serve the social impact investment market that Heckman and his partners have built. It includes links to examples already in operation in the real world. Will Bezos’s Academies follow such a model? Only time will tell.

Surveillance play tables are real. This is the world we live in now.

 Hatch Education

Join us on the tour:

“A Company” is the venture partner backing “Montessori, Inc.”

“Montessori, Inc.’s” centers are found in the nation’s poorest communities, often in past-their-prime strip shopping centers near the highway. Picture the pop-up charter schools all over Florida. Link

“A Company” cultivates women of color to become franchise operators of “Montessori, Inc.” and touts its status as a MBE, WBE enterprise. Link and Link

Once on board, franchise managers are expected to toe “Montessori, Inc.’s” line (which is actually “A Company’s” line) and follow all company procedures, especially regarding expansive data collection and family compliance policies.

The teaching staff is low income. Most juggle several gigs to get by.

They are expected to keep up with the latest micro-credentials and take online training classes they can’t afford to stay eligible to teach. Link

Fees are automatically docked from their meager salary. Link

Each staff member’s engagement with online coursework is tracked biometrically, the data uploaded to their employee profile. Link

“Montessori, Inc.” maintains extended hours of operation, but algorithms set irregular shifts ensuring most workers don’t get enough hours to access benefits. Link

While a “Montessori, Inc.” preschool education is offered free of charge, not everyone who is eligible will be able to enroll. “A Company” outsources their review process to “Progress Pathways” to make sure each family is a “good fit” for the program. Link

Preschool operations are funded using innovative finance mechanisms structured around outcomes-based contracts. For schools to meet their agreed-upon “success” target, franchise operators must carefully curate whom they admit into the program. Because “Montessori, Inc.” is not a public preschool, they can do that. Link

One part of the evaluation is the LENA screening. Each child must wear a vest with a recording device for a full day. Data is analyzed to predict if the child is likely to fall into a “word gap,” meaning they are not spoken to enough at home, which could impact their literacy levels. A low LENA score can be a disqualifier. Link

If accepted, parents must then agree to give “A Company” ownership of all the data collected on their child and the family through school-affiliated apps while the child is enrolled in the program. Data collected informs dynamic pricing for goods and services purchased at any of “A Company’s” affiliates. Of course the goal of the company is to help families make “good decisions.” Nudge pricing is part of that strategy. Link

Each student enrolled at “Montessori, Inc.” is assigned a digital identity on Blockchain. All of their data and credit goes into the e-wallet. Link and Link

If a family relocates, they take their child’s accumulated data with them to another center. “A Company” promotes this as a means by which poor children “build social capital” from an early age. Link

Parents are expected to volunteer twice a week, and participation is tracked on an app. Their time, valued at less that $5 per hour, is compensated not in cash but in points redeemable in “A Company” credit. Link

They’re also expected to participate in “Montessori, Inc.’s” “smart family tips” text-messaging platforms. If they don’t document that they completed the required number of suggested educational home-based activities or respond promptly to text messages, their children can be bumped from the program. Link and Link

Upon enrollment, each family is issued a device programmed with behavior-tracking games geared to early literacy development and executive function training. Toddlers need to continue to level up on their custom development trajectory or risk be bumped from the program. Link and Link

Families must keep their child’s device charged and in working condition and send it to school each day. This “Montessori Minder” device is a key element of the self-directed curriculum offered by the school. Each child is given a personalized playlist of activities for the day, which they work through at their own pace. They submit evidence of tasks completed to the online student portfolio platform. Link and Link

Access to each center is authorized through biometric scans at the front door. Link

Attendance is generally used as one of the impact investing metrics, so that is taken on an app to ensure that data is high quality. Link

The “smart” classrooms are minimally furnished. All furniture and physical items come with embedded beacons that track students throughout the day. Link

All the children and staff wear slippers with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors embedded in the soles that track their interactions with one another and with physical objects in the space. Link

The centerpiece of each pre-school is their WePlaySuperSmart table. While toddlers interact collaboratively with screen-based activities on the digital table, a video camera captures their interactions. AI is then use to analyze the video and complete behavioral rubrics in a dashboard outlining where they are within the “Big Five” traits OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism). Link and Link

Other activities during the day measure behavioral elements like grit, resilience and executive function. Some sites are piloting EEG brainwave headbands. Link and Link

With the play tracker app, each child gets a haptic buzz when it’s time to go outdoors and play on the smart equipment. The app tracks their fitness goals against online games tied to literacy progression and non-cognitive skill development. The program investors love that Play Tracker keep every child moving on their development pathway. Link and Link

For schools with limited access to outdoor space “A Company” provides access to indoor augmented reality play systems (that have the added advantage of increased data capture). Link and Link

Parents can monitor classes via remote cameras, and real time data is uploaded to each student’s dashboard throughout the day.

Students are expected to be goal-oriented, motivated, and self-reflective while at school. Student agency is highly valued by “A Company” and the games on “Montessori Minder” are calibrated to push each child towards that goal. Link

By the end of their time at “Montessori, Inc.” each student will have a high-resolution picture in data of where they fit into the human capital pipeline of the gig economy.

“’A Company” is proud to be able to make that happen and ensure no toddler is left behind.

Wildflower IoT Slippers

5 thoughts on “Jeff Bezos’s “Montessori, Inc.” Sets Up the Ed-Tech Takeover of Pre-K”

  1. This is not the educational program Maria Montessori developed! As a trained Montessori directress, I see this as a travesty to use her name with something like this! I am also a licensed, master early childhood teacher with over 20 years experience in an urban public school system and see this as NOT developmentally appropriate for our young children!

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    1. We need every fighter to fight as hard as they can, for all children. This is part of a global machine. The co-optation is well along now. Look up the Wildflower Montessori chain. They are the ones putting IoT sensors in slippers. They aren’t the only ones pushing high-tech into “progressive.” The independent learning model suits their needs perfectly. What I would love to see is organized resistance among authentic Montessori schools against these incursions-calling them out publicly as wrong, taking a stand against surveillance technology use in children in all classrooms Montessori or not. This conference is in six week. It’s coming. They are way out ahead of us. https://wrenchinthegears.com/2018/05/28/pre-k-profit-readynation-hosts-global-business-leaders-in-new-york-city-this-november/

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      1. These schemes will continue because parents refuse to organize and fight back. As long as we continue to feed this beast our children, it will continue to grow. The beast is out of the cage and unless we are willing to work together as communities to create an alternate power this beast will not be stopped. By taking the current course we are giving them the time they need to close the door on any chance to end it. As you know the end game will be to comply to the agenda or you will be shunned from college and employment.

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  2. “Student agency is highly valued by “A Company”. . . ”

    Yes, it’s valued for the profit it can bring. But true “student agency” is being stifled, snuffed out by technological driven monitoring and rewards and punishments programs, written by mindless technocrats who know nothing about the teaching and learning process, other that to see it as a profit stealing venue.

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