Welcome to Your Permanent Record

I realize my Blockchain video presents an abundance of information that may be difficult to absorb all at once. For that reason, I’ve pulled together images from the video and accompanying text into a slideshare that people can review at their own pace.

Access the slideshare here.

Access a PDF of the script here.

I hope the scenario below provides a compelling enough reason why regular folks need to get up to speed on Blockchain, decentralized (digital) identity, tokenized behavior, and smart contracts. You can be sure the Davos crowd is well aware, and we really do have to start catching up if we want to save humanity.

Picture this:

A possible future, perhaps fifteen years from now.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway.

Wages and conditions for jobs involving physical labor and direct service are forced below subsistence levels.

Austerity continues.

Debt is omnipresent.

“Smart” devices, facial recognition software, and drone surveillance ensure the public and private spheres are constantly monitored.

People’s lives have become ever more precarious.

The working class has few resources left and cannot serve as a market for goods and services.

There is limited currency in circulation.

Instead, alternative exchanges of value are logged in Blockchain ledgers.

People are increasingly managed as commodities to keep capital circulating.

Economic activity, such as it is, revolves around data.

That data is stored on Blockchain, your permanent record.

Data are used to prove compliance and demonstrate the successful “impact” of poverty management systems.

Public services, like education and healthcare, have been outsourced to private entities funded by speculative investors.

Predictive analytics dominate the lives of all but the most powerful.

Big Brother lives in the cloud.

Each person carries a minder, a smartphone or a chip inserted in the hand.

Finance and technology interests anticipate managing humanity as an extractive industry. 

It is a future that hinges on bringing self-sovereign identity and Blockchain to scale.

So, will it scale?

Will people recognize the peril?

And will they refuse to cooperate?

For more information:

Smart Cities: Link

Internet of Things: Link

Blockchain: Link

Smart Contracts: Link

Self Sovereign Identity: Link

Alternative Currencies: Link

Behavioral Economics / Nudge: Link

Watch the video again:


Looking For A Plan B

I should have anticipated the response to my Blockchain video would be muted. Digital wallets for e-vouchers and lifelong learning badges probably seem like a distant threat to most people. And yet as we begin a new school year I can’t help but reflect on the fact that more than a handful of people I know have felt sufficiently harmed by current public education policies to put their children into private schools, leave town, or in some cases move to a whole other state only to find the situation there just as bad or worse than it was back where they started.

Many students are spending their first weeks of school being issued devices, having logins set up, creating accounts for various “personalized learning” programs, and taking surveys to identify their workforce pathway options. Meanwhile, parents lie awake in the middle of the night nervously calculating the ages of their children against how fast they anticipate badging and apprenticeship programs will come online. We’ve hit a moment of fight or flight. The stress is palpable. It’s nothing a mindfulness session can ease away. The dread is growing.

So which is it? Fight or flight? Though I am fortunate in that my child graduates next spring, I keep wracking my brain for a “Plan B.” For years I have fought to save authentic, human-based learning in neighborhood schools; first on the standardized testing front and lately on the tech front. But the odds feel so very long and progress slow and people are in deep, deep denial about the scope of the problem. In those moments I think perhaps flight is warranted. If the adults in schools don’t want saving, perhaps it is best to walk away and find people who want to build something else.

Nationally, there are groups calling for the wholesale withdrawal of children from public education systems that have been commandeered by ed-tech interests with the apparent blessing of both major political parties. Pennsylvania has many, many families that enroll in cyber-school. This of course is not an answer to the ed-tech conundrum, because while conducted “at home,” it is a corporate franchise charter school education carried out on a surveillance device. In Philadelphia, there are also sizeable home school and un-schooling communities. This model is more traditional in approach, often drawing on local cultural offerings to supplement a home-based curriculum. It’s labor intensive and not something many families have the time or income to sustain over the long haul.

As Education Savings Account programs gain momentum, I feel I must point out that flight is not going to be a workable option either, even if a family goes the traditional home school route. You see ESAs are early stage e-wallets. Social impact investment markets will demand education impact data in exchange for “equitable” funding. No question. The reformers see the e-wallet concept as an elegant solution, well suited to the needs of investors. Digital money can be programmed by the authorities and spread around “out of school” and online education providers using Blockchain micro-payments. Student data, lots of it, will in turn flow in. There will be synergy between digital payments and digital data. The child is transformed into a vehicle through which the capital of the neoliberal financialized education system can flow.

So, if you are a parent who decides to go the low-tech, traditional home school route, what happens when all the civic and cultural spaces in your community sign on to the learning ecosystem program and start taking ESAs? Well, at that point they’ll be pulled into the system of payment / data exchange. The programs on offer will have to be redesigned for check-the-box impact demonstration. They will likely move towards more tech-integration. They’ll need it to capture the quantity of data required by the social impact dashboard systems.

The e-wallet transformation, once fully implemented, will hijack recreation centers, art spaces, theater groups, science meet-ups, sports leagues, outdoor programs, even public libraries, turning them into badge-issuing nodes of the learning ecosystem. They will be expected to monitor the behavior and emotional regulation of students and report back. At that point there will be no place to flee, unless we organize parallel community spaces that refuse all public funds and the strings of data harvest that will come along with them.

So I sit here on a rainy Friday night seeing storm clouds on the horizon, wanting to fight but not sure who is fighting with me. I’m still looking for a viable Plan B. Got any ideas?



Could Weighted Education Funding Campaigns Be Advancing An ALEC-Backed Agenda?

Campaigns have been launched across the nation to document and address chronic deficits in state-level education funding. Undoubtedly, the intentional underfunding of our public schools is a serious concern. One such campaign was recently announced in my home state, PA Schools Work. According to their website, the coalition, which includes a number of union and child and education advocacy groups, builds upon previous work done around Pennsylvania’s 2016 Campaign for Fair Education Funding.

What immediately jumped out at me when I received the August 8 email inviting me to join was the use the word “Work” in the campaign name. What I’ve come to realize is that the ed-reform landscape can often be deciphered if you understand the language they’re using. Once you unravel that code, you can figure out where things are headed.

PA Schools Work

There is tremendous pressure now to align curriculum to the needs of industry, and the research I have been conducting around outcomes-based contracting indicates that “Work” often equates to data-driven metrics tied to outsourced public services. See Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “What Works Cities” for example. In education this is increasingly manifested in the adoption of ed-tech “solutions.” So, for me at least, “Work” in this context becomes an extremely loaded term. As a parent, I can think of many other words I’d prefer to see used to describe an optimally funded K12 education. Pennsylvania schools could just as easily empower, nurture, sustain, excite, imagine, or create. Work? There’s plenty of time in post-secondary education, once children are old enough to make informed decisions about their futures, before that word needs to take center stage.

It’s also important to note that since last fall Pennsylvania has been battling legislation aimed at creating Education Savings Accounts. Senate Bill 2, not yet passed, would establish a program run through Pennsylvania’s Department of the Treasury that would award quarterly payments to families of children enrolled in (or in the catchment of if a kindergarten student or first grader) schools documented as “low-achieving.” Schools that score in the bottom 15% on annual achievement tests fall into this category.

If passed, families that chose to participate in the program could use state funds to purchase “qualified” educational services like private school tuition, tutoring or “teaching services,” curriculum, books, uniforms, testing fees, and a big loophole “other valid educational expenses approved by the department (of the Treasury).” This would be in lieu of enrolling their child in a local public school or participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (voucher lite) program. Thus far the legislation has not progressed, but continued vigilance is required.

When I received the email about the campaign, I inquired if organized opposition to ESAs and voucher programs would be part of the PA Schools Work action plan. I was told that it would not and that the focus was exclusively on securing funding. Given the direction things are headed, I find this to be of grave concern.

Many statewide campaign programs are pushing “student-centered” funding, which hews closely to the concept of “weighted-funding,” which Pennsylvania adopted in 2016. The latter is a program whereby students that meet certain criteria receive additional education funding. This makes sense. Students who live in poverty, for whom English is not their first language, or who have special learning needs will require additional resources if the goal is an equitable funding stream that allows each child to reach their full potential. I support that premise wholeheartedly.

But here is an interesting wrinkle. ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a pro-corporate bill mill, ALSO supports “student-centered” and “weighted” education funding. In fact, they developed model legislation for it way back in 2010: The Student-Centered Funding Act. Jeb Bush’s reform entity Excelined funded by Gates, Walton and Bloomberg (all impact investing backers) put out a policy brief in June 2017 on Student Centered funding, too.

Additionally, the Nellie Mae Foundation has been issuing grants to New England states to investigate education finance models that would support “student-centered learning,” in other words Ed Reform 2.0. They are using their considerable financial resources to push systems change that will preference competency based education over traditional seat-time models. They aim to normalize “innovative” learning that takes place “anytime, anywhere,” NOT in a school. For this model to work, state funding must follow the student (as with a voucher or ESA) rather than the school or district. The images below are two grants funded by Nellie Mae that indicate their intent to shift existing narratives around public education.

Nellie Mae New Narrative Grant

CT Education Policy Changes

These three images feature grants made to entities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont to explore new models of education finance that would support such a shift.

CT Education Funding

VT Education Funding

MA Budget

At first glance it might seen somewhat contradictory for ALEC, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Nellie Mae and their partners in crime to be promoting student-centered, weighted education funding. But I invite you to take a step back and consider that the future of public education that ALEC members and philanthro-capitalists envision is a free market, “hackable” network where there are no more neighborhood school buildings with age-based grade cohorts and report cards. That “old” system would be supplanted by an open ecosystem of educational “opportunities” offered online and via complicit non-profit partners who will accept digital Education Savings Account payments.

They need to create a system that ultimately funds students NOT school districts or schools in order to operationalize the model. They need for each child to be linked to their own “personalized” pot of money for a Pay for Success, human capital ROI directed model to emerge. An interim step will be to have weighted student funding flow to districts. That will ease the transition and allow people to gradually adjust their mental framework. Meanwhile hybrid learning, badging, out of school time learning and other aspects of Ed Reform 2.0 will move forward, slowly becoming routine and expected.

The screenshots below are footnotes from the ALEC “Student-Centered Funding” model legislation. They clearly show ALEC sees “student-centered funding” as a tool advancing school “choice” where funding “portability” is a key feature.

Student-Centered Funding

Student Centered Funding Portability

Within a decade, students may be issued digital identities tied to e-wallets (perhaps on Blockchain if they are able to bring it to scale) that would hold BOTH virtual education currency AND demonstrated credentials or competencies. In December 2017 the Heritage Foundation issued a report (viewable as a PDF here) that examines the state of fin-tech digital payment systems in education. The screenshot below describes Class Wallet, a programmable digital payment service offered to teachers and students as a means of purchasing a limited number of classroom supplies and as a behavior management reward system. The last line references Class Wallet’s entry into the Education Savings Account arena.

Heritage Fin-Tech Wallet

Through analysis of such e-wallets, returns on human capital investments could be more readily tracked, comparing public and private expenditures to student “results” as identified by industry expectations. Within a social impact investing context, students who demonstrate extra need will also present more room to demonstrate “growth.” The greater the potential of a student to move the numbers on the data dashboards, the more profit impact investors could make. Therefore motivated, high-need students will become attractive portfolio additions IF they have the proper mindset are agreeable to being molded to the vision of “success” industry demands.

I suspect most participants in these statewide funding campaigns are not looking the ten steps ahead required to understand how weighted funding programs will groom vulnerable students to be pawns in a predatory impact investing game. This is unfortunate, because I would really like to fight for fair funding while ALSO putting up guardrails to prevent any victories from inadvertently advancing the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda. I welcome advice from the PA Schools Work folks on how to go about that. Public school advocates and ALEC are not on the same side. We cannot simply ignore the fact that a campaign like PA Schools Work, if the above factors are not taken into account, could ultimately advance a terribly destructive privatization agenda.


Blockchain: Life on the Ledger

I created this video as a follow up to the one I prepared last year on Social Impact Bonds. It is time to examine the ways in which Blockchain could interface with social impact investing to further concentrate power and wealth and exacerbate long-standing forms of global oppression under the guise of philanthropy. This narrative flips the prevailing sales pitch for Blockchain on its head and offers a strong critique of a technology many consider a powerful disruptive force.

With decentralized identity we are cuing up permanent records for the masses with potentially disastrous consequences. Is it prudent to place our “trust” in a technology of unknown origin? No one knows who or what Santoshi Nakamoto actually is and whose interests this invention advances. Why would we be so naive as to remake the world’s social and economic structures around this code? What would it mean to live life on a ledger? This video provides glimpses into a potential future we should avoid at all costs.