I realize this is a very long post and not all that readable. I will try and break it down further in the near future, but for now consider it a work in progress; a way for me to gather a lot of divergent ideas, spheres of influence, and money trails in one place. The graphic above is my attempt to trace what is happening with Out of School Time learning where I live; how it relates to impact investing; how they are building the data infrastructure around it; and how that data will advance social impact investing in Philadelphia, a city of deep poverty. I am including selections from the map in this piece, but the interactive version can be accessed here.
On Wednesday March 14, members of the Philly OST (Out of School Time) Coalition presented a report prepared by Howard Tucker, President of Vision4EDU, on listening sessions conducted with community providers of Out of School Time youth services in our city. The event was held in the offices of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on South Broad Street and was hosted by Salvatore Sandone, CEO of Zhang Sah Martial Arts, and Vince Litrenta, Founder of Sunrise at Philadelphia. The two men identified themselves as co-chairs of the initiative. Mr. Tucker’s firm conducted these listening sessions at branches of the Free Library system located in each City Council District between January 16 and February 13, 2018. The Philadelphia Foundation’s Fund for Children provided funding for the effort, as did the Public Health Management Corporation.
The Philly OST effort is aligned with the operations of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Human Services, and the School District of Philadelphia. It is meant to be coordinated with ongoing work being done in the city around Pre-K, Community Schools, Read By Fourth and ReBuild.
Beyond providing an overview of the listening sessions, the event organizers also discussed this work as providing a template for a “muscular” statewide advocacy effort to support expanded Out of School Time initiatives. The creation of this report, along with implementation of the PhillyBoost data system, was a major milestone they hoped would bring more people into the fold. There were references to the accomplishments that Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) had made in early childhood education, and the plan was to do something similar for Out of School Time learning statewide.
The presenters anticipated that in the near future there would be eight or nine OST hubs across the state. The umbrella organization for OST is the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network (PASYDN), established in 2004. PASYDN has a bi-cameral, bipartisan caucus that was set up in 2016 to support its work. Among its members are Senator Ryan Aument, a major supporter of cyber education and hybrid learning, and Senator Anthony Williams, a vocal advocate for charter schools and vouchers in Philadelphia. The network is housed within the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU).
In 2013, CSIU helped the Pennsylvania Department of education prepare “Awarding Credit to Support Student Learning,” a report that provided a framework for implementing credit-flexibility and competency-based learning in the Commonwealth. With such policies in place, a significant amount of student instruction for credit could take place outside the walls of neighborhood schools. Out of School Time program providers, as well as online learning companies, will be well positioned to benefit from such a policy change. The National Governor’s Association, supporter of Common Core State Standards and a major player in Ed Reform 2.0, funded the study. These policies have not yet been put into place, but a Carnegie Foundation scan of credit-flexibility policies nationwide noted that in 2014 Pennsylvania wanted to “move away from the term credit to make room for non-traditional learning experiences (e.g. online and out of school time).”
I expect pressure for these flexibility measures will ramp up if elected officials manage to pass enabling legislation for Education Savings Accounts. While many education activists have framed ESAs as vouchers, they are actually considerably more dangerous. Instead of a single lump sum tuition payment, ESAs would allow payments to be made to multiple providers. This type of system aligns with the “credit-flex” model, one in which cyber-education providers and Out of School Time programs could offer a range of standards-aligned instructional opportunities. When Betsy DeVos spoke about funding students, not schools or districts in her recent interview for 60 Minutes, THAT is what she had in mind.
Rather than having families sign up with a single provider, they would have the capability to assemble a menu of experiences for their children. When you hear venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith, who made his fortune in tech, selling his new book “What Schools Could Be” and pitching project based learning as the antidote to toxic high-stakes testing culture, people need to recognize that the projects he’s talking about will ultimately be removed from schools. The interests he represents foresee a future of learning ecosystems where competency-aligned projects are run through maker spaces, libraries, apprenticeship programs, etc. Out of School Time providers are the leading edge in building these learning ecosystems. Knowledgeworks issued a new report on the future of wearables and augmented and virtual reality in education, taking things a step beyond what most people today can even imagine. In this brave new world, even the maker spaces may be virtualized.
I envision within the next five to seven years we will likely see a new educational model emerge that combines cyber instruction with a mix of “hands-on” “project-based” or “work-based” learning opportunities tied to workforce skill development. Ohio is already heading down this path with their hackable high school program. Funds siphoned into privatized education providers will decimate what remains of our struggling public schools, leading to more closures and possibly the dismantling of entire systems in under-funded districts like Philadelphia.
The teaching profession will be Uberized as outlined Knowledgeworks’ report “Exploring the Future Education Workforce: New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystem.” Rather than teachers who have salaried jobs with benefits, most educational services will instead be rendered by “data stewards,” “micro-credential analysts,” and “pop-up reality producers” who must cobble together a living from an ad-hoc network of precarious employment opportunities. What is terribly sad is that during the Philly OST meeting, there was much talk of Out of School Time staff wanting to be treated as professionals and creating infrastructure to support that.
I think most have no idea once they are done with teachers IN schools, reformers will be coming for OUT of School Time educators next. The data-driven accountability machine will consume everything in its path to achieve demonstrated impact for pay for success investors at the lowest cost possible. Lean production will alway be the priority. The strategic plan for Philly OST identifies a need to expand civic engagement around early literacy support. If you read between the lines it is clear that civic engagement means leveraging the use of volunteer labor to teach children to read, not the hiring of certified, trained literacy instructors. In fact, they are even setting impact metrics around civic engagement, which will make hitting those targets part of the overall impact investment framework.
I anticipate Education Savings Account funds will be placed in online student accounts where allotments can debited down over the course of a school year. The state of Arizona already has ESA debit cards. It is likely that performance measures will be built into the services delivered, and certainly there will be intensive data-collection on student performance for “accountability” purposes. I also foresee weighted funding could make our most vulnerable families susceptible to educational fraud, since accounts serving the poor, English Language learners and students with special needs will have the largest allocations. Weighted funding is now being promoted by the Thomas Fordham Institute, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and iNACOL (International Association for K12 Online Learning.) All of them say that it is a crucial component in furthering educational choice.
Attendees at the Philly OST meeting were encouraged to attend a lobbying day in Harrisburg on May 2nd. Sal said that Philadelphia really needed to step up, because Pittsburgh was way ahead in terms of the robustness of their advocacy program. Remake Learning, an initiative supported by Knowledgeworks in Southwestern PA where the network is led by APOST, Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time. Last May I wrote about the lobbying the organization had been doing to pitch the services of OST providers in developing mastery-based “innovative” assessments allowed for under provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Philadelphia’s Out of School Time Coalition officially launched last February, when a plan for expanding after school opportunities was presented at the Franklin Institute by Mayor Kenney, City Managing Director Michael DeBerardinis, DHS Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa, and Superintendent Hite. During the previous five years, significant work had been done surveying after school opportunities and building a system-wide data architecture called PhillyBoost. The Philly OST website notes the importance of data to program delivery: “Reliable data is a central piece of afterschool systems building as it allows for collecting, analyzing and applying data to accomplish its goals.” Of course, such data analysis is also a lynchpin for social impact investing. The Wallace Foundation funded that work.
Philadelphia was one of nine cities chosen by the Wallace Foundation to participate in their “Next Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative.” The initiative, which ran from 2013 to 2017, was carried out in partnership with the National League of Cities. Other participants included Louisville, Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Nashville, and St. Paul. Beyond expanding youth participation in afterschool activities, creating a data-driven focus to program delivery was clearly a priority. An interim report prepared by Chapin Hall, University of Chicago “Connecting the Dots: Data Use in Afterschool Programs,” noted the shift towards a “culture of data use” and growing interest in developing systems that could capture social emotional indicators as well as academic measures (see page viii). It is important to note that many of the funders of the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network have also been putting considerable resources into organizations that promote digital learning and tracking of social emotional data (see the PSAYDN map above). The software selected for Philly Boost was created by Social Solutions, a company that specifically promoted its capacity to facilitate Pay for Success implementation. A screen shot of some of the data collected in its Efforts to Outcomes software platform can been seen in the screenshot below.
In October 2010, the Wallace Foundation put out a knowledge brief calling for a new “systems-approach” to delivering out of school time programs for city kids, emphasizing the importance of data in making a case for program investments. The foundation noted their specific interest areas included: creating coordinated citywide systems of OST delivery; encouraging collection of data and adoption of ongoing assessment policies; re-imagining and expanding learning time; and using technology as a teaching tool.
The technology piece is consistent with discussions that took place among representatives of the US Department of Education, foundations, tech interests and venture capital that took place the following year in August 2011. A report (which has since been pulled from the US DOE website) entitled “Blended Learning Partnerships for Community-Based Organizations” describes a meeting of the minds in which OST providers were encouraged to get off the sidelines and jump into the “nascent blended learning revolution.” The working group included Google’s senior education evangelist, numerous executives from The Afterschool Corporation, the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (read about their predatory foray into AI literacy apps here), Afterschool Alliance, City Year, Motorola, TVTextbook, iNACOL (International Association for K12 Online Learning), City Capital, and Tom Vander Ark of Global Education Futures, Getting Smart and Learn Capital. The full list can see seen below.
Of course implementation of technological education platforms in Out of School Time settings reinforces the culture of data the Wallace Foundation seeks. It also provides a framework for Pay for Success financing of public programs. The Managing Director’s Office of the City of Philadelphia released its “OST Strategic Plan for 2018-2026” in November of 2016. Page seven of that document states the desire to increase private funding for OST programs and identified the Fund for the School District and the Philanthropy Network as potential partners. The Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia is a membership organization of over 140 institutions and corporations that together make over $500 million in philanthropic contributions in the greater Philadelphia area annually. This is their board:
They helped plan “Capital for Communities,” an event sponsored by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve in November 2015. The event had then Mayor Michael Nutter and representatives of Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Living Cities, the Federal Reserve, and the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation come together to discuss innovative finance models, including Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds.
On May 8, 2015 Maari Porter, Executive Director of the Philanthropy Network, wrote to Traci Anderson in the Governor’s Budget Office to discuss how they might work together to advance Pay for Success finance in the state.
Materials provided to meeting attendees include a page acknowledging nineteen organizations that were engaged in the process. Among these were:
AfterSchool Alliance: A national advocacy network for afterschool programs supported by foundations pursuing Pay for Success investment strategies. Their board is composed of high-level public policy figures, media and technology executives, and social impact investing leaders. One board member, Barry Ford, is COO of Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan group that promotes early childhood investment to achieve military readiness.
Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce: Promoter of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (backdoor vouchers) and supporter of education as a workforce development pipeline. Recently held a closed-door meeting at Girard College exploring the role of business in educational in our city that excluded parents, teachers, and students.
PhillyBoost: A database and performance management software system for Out of School Time Activities in Philadelphia underwritten by a multi-year grant from the Wallace Foundation. The grant was issued in 2012, the same year that the first social impact bond was created in the US. Social Solutions, selected as the software provider, pitches the their Efforts to Outcomes system as being able to “maximize impact and attractiveness as potential investment opportunities” and be “specifically customizable for pay-for-success programs.”
The Free Library of Philadelphia: Recipient of a 2011 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to implement youth digital media Learning Labs and pilot skills-based badging programs.
The Salvation Army Great Philadelphia: Nationally, the organization has partnered with Comcast to promote Internet Essentials, a program to provide Internet services to low-income people for a reduced fee. Closing the digital divide for poor children is a touted benefit of the program.
It seems clear that Pennsylvania and Philadelphia are moving steadily towards a Pay for Success model of education finance. When I asked about it at the Philly OST meeting, Mr. Tucker seemed to blanch and after recovering from the shock of someone raising this issue said somewhat hesitantly, “Not yet.” The laudable goal of literacy is being used to advance a program of informal, out of school time learning and digital instruction that will deliver impact metrics at the expense of authentic education that is developmentally appropriate and acknowledges the humanity and agency of students and teachers. In putting together this enormous map, I am trying to resolve a situation I feel is akin to the blind men and the elephant. Many people involved in this machine see one small part of it. The part they see, might in fact look like it is a good thing. It is only once you step back and grasp the enormity of it that you can properly assess the situation.
I would love feedback on what I have presented thus far. Are you seeing this in your community? How do we tell this story in a way that make it comprehensible? If nothing else, I hope this post will be a useful point of reference for further investigation.