Gatekeepers: Philadelphia Education Fund Adopts New Paid Access Policy

Farah Jimenez is a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and current director of the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF), a nonprofit that hosts monthly conversations on topics related to public education in Philadelphia. These days, if you want to attend one of their Education First Compact meetings, you’re going to have to jump through a lot of hoops. That wasn’t previously the case. Advance registration for meetings is now required, a policy put in place after Ms. Jimenez was hired in April 2016. When registering via the website, attendees are strongly encouraged to financially support the organization as either a series subscriber or by purchasing individual tickets. Corporate and foundation subscribers pay $750, while individuals pay $100; though there is the option to donate more.

PEF Subscriber

Until this month you could secure immediate admission to meetings via online registration without paying anything, as long as free tickets were available. However, a recent policy change states anyone who is not a paid subscriber is now automatically put on a waitlist. This policy will allow PEF to screen out people they deem undesirable, without requiring them to rescind tickets that have already been granted. PEF has done this to me twice, and not just to me, but to at least two other activists. There is a clear sense that Compact meetings are not meant to be truly “public” meetings, even though PEF’s mission revolves around public education. At the beginning of the December Compact meeting Jimenez stated that what was said in the room stays in the room; that nothing be shared via social media. I understood that to mean these are essentially closed-door discussions. So, moving forward if a person wants to have access to these discussions they have to 1) be willing to pay or 2) not voice any questions or opinions that might upset the people deciding if they get into the next meeting. That is a huge problem.

PEF Ticket Policy

This is my cancelled ticket for the November meeting. I did not cancel it, the Philadelphia Education Fund did.

PEF Ticket 5 Cancellation

I would like to share two videos I created using Facebook live that convey my experience at the December Compact meeting held at the United Way building. I had registered for the event and had a printed ticket. I was initially granted access but was then was asked to leave by a staff member who would not give her name. I was unable to embed the videos, so you’ll have to click the links to watch them from Facebook. But this image gives you a sense of the encounter.



The first clip includes conversations with Mr. Otis Hackney, the invited speaker who was there on behalf of the Mayor’s Office of Education. The second clip includes conversations with Ms. Jimenez in which I attempt to get an answer about why my previous tickets had been cancelled. It concludes with Ms. Jimenez and Mr. Hackney having a private conversation about the situation at the end of the hallway. Ultimately, I was allowed to stay, but it was highly contentious, and my questions about why my tickets had been cancelled were never answered. I suspect PEF’s new RSVP policy is a workaround to avoid having to address complaints about their actions.

Paid supporters of the Education First Compact Series are guaranteed a seat at the reserved table in meetings where initiatives, with reform undertones like universal enrollment, are discussed among a group of like-minded peers. Ironically, the topic of the meeting they attempted to eject me from was about the district’s return to local control. Looking around the room that day I got the sense many supporters are “Big C” community partners, the type that worry me when people start talking about community schools, more here. Chronic, inequitable funding for public education has created gaps that have morphed into opportunities for nonprofits to expand their programs. These gaps also create openings for foundation and corporate interests to influence school policy and facilitate outsourcing of core programs once housed within schools while still appearing somewhat benevolent.

Sometimes PEF’s Compact meetings are held at tony venues like the Union League. This exclusive club with a dress code and a history of racial, religious and gender discrimination might seem an unlikely meeting location for a back-to-school kickoff event in a district where many student families live in deep poverty. Yet the September 2017 Education First Compact meeting was held there as PEF welcomed think tank member and author David Osborne along with Superintendent William Hite. Osborne, despite having no background in education, was on tour promoting his new book “Reinventing America’s Schools” along with expansion of “high-quality” charters. For those tempted to jump to the conclusion that this was a conservative guy pitching privatization, it turns out Mr. Osborne is a member of the so-called “Progressive” Policy Institute and is solidly in the neoliberal “Third Way” Democratic camp. Turning schools into data-driven profit centers is definitely a bi-partisan enterprise.

I’ll share two pieces of advice with any of you who might be inclined to want to attend an ed reform meeting at the Union League. 1) You should not wear jeans. 2) You should not arrive early to write “Philanthrocapitalism can take a hike (heart) Philly” in chalk on the sidewalk outside the venue. For details on the impromptu sit-in precipitated by Union League staffers grabbing me in the lobby that morning click here. Of course solutions that truly serve the most vulnerable children in our district will not be developed at a reserved table in the Master’s House, so I cannot in good faith actually recommend anyone invest time attending these meetings.


It’s worth checking out the Philadelphia Education Fund Board here. Many represent the interests of the finance sector. Wells Fargo, Citi, Bank of America, Vanguard, and Morgan Stanley are all in the mix. It’s a perfect set up for social impact investing, which meshes nicely with growing local interest around developing Philadelphia as a social impact economy, see link and link. There is a lot of profit to be made from poverty. I fully expect a “Pay for Success” initiative or social impact bond focused on early literacy to show up on Philadelphia’s doorstep in the not-too-distant future. Other board members have ties to Big Pharma, regional higher education, law firms and companies in the technology (IoT sensors for Smart Cities!) and business development sectors. There are a couple (Drexel and the Free Library) that have ties to the MacArthur/Collective Shift badging/learning ecosystem initiatives. One board member is married to the head of the Mayor’s Office of Education. Philadelphia is such a small town. It’s important to note there are NO positions representing teachers, parents or students on PEF’s board. PEF’s mission is to support Philadelphia schools. So tell me how exactly do they determine what supports schools need if key stakeholders are not in the boardroom and they can’t even get into the Compact meetings?

The impending dissolution of the School Reform Commission has left many hopeful there will be more transparency around education decisions in our city. But moving forward under mayoral control, I wonder what role PEF will play? The head of the Mayor’s Office of Education and Ms. Jimenez did appear to have a close working relationship. What standing will non-profits, foundations, and business interests have to influence education policies that directly affect our children? Whose voices will be heard? Which people will be excluded? If you are willing to speak truth to power, will you be removed even if you are a parent with a child in the district? My encounters with PEF have not been positive, and I am not hopeful. I will be sharing this post with Mayor Jim Kenney and plan to ask him to reevaluate the City’s relationship to PEF as well as to any other group that purports to represent the interests of Philadelphia’s students while excluding actual stakeholders. We can do better. Philadelphia’s children deserve a humane education, one that values small class sizes, a rich curriculum, libraries in-school supports, safe and healthy buildings, clean water and extracurricular activities provided by school staff. We don’t want a system that looks at our children as human capital to be “fixed” and “molded” to suit some targeted workforce development slot. We refuse educational policies that serve the interests of those seeking to profit off of the misery of childhood poverty. Keep social impact investing out of education. We’re on to your game.

Money for what Mr. Kuhn? A Big Data, Future Ready Superintendent Promotes Funding Equity for NPE

This week the Network for Public Education launched another video in their series on the privatization of public education. The video featured John Kuhn, superintendent of the Mineral Wells Independent School District in Mineral Wells, Texas. Kuhn, an admittedly charismatic speaker, discussed the important issue of funding inequities and how lack of funding hurts students in low-income school districts. I was curious where Mr. Kuhn’s school district was located, because I have been following the work of a number of intrepid parent activists in Texas who have been busy exposing the next wave of privatization in the state including: education savings accounts, social impact bonds for mathematics instruction, and districts of innovation.

When I pulled up the Mineral Wells ISD website, I was surprised to see a link for “Future Ready” in the “Learn More About Us” footer of each page. I had shared my concerns regarding the “Future Ready” pledge last October. You can read about them here. If you want the short version, the program is affiliated with the reform outfit The Alliance for Excellent Education and funded by the Gates Foundation, Google, Apple, Pearson, Summit Learning and the Carnegie Corporation, among others. Those who sign the pledge commit to “implementing meaningful changes toward a digital learning transition.” The “About the Effort” page of the Future Ready website makes it clear pledge signers support the idea that “personalized” learning is about adoption of digital technologies: “We believe every student deserves a rigorous, personalized learning environment filled with caring adults and student agency. District leaders must recognize the potential of digital tools and align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning.”

The Future Ready link on the Mineral Wells ISD website takes you to a page promoting many elements of the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda: flipped classrooms, hybrid-distance learning, and gamification. The first thing that struck me was a description of how the district is using Google hangouts for so-called “peer” learning experiences. I found the associated image really upsetting. The district was promoting a pre-school age child being plugged into a headset and tablet doing a read aloud with a fifth grade student. Where are the children’s teachers? Where are the actual books? What data is being captured from this online interaction and for what purpose? There is absolutely no pedagogical reason this “Future Ready” approach should be imposed on young children. It is not developmentally appropriate, it erodes teacher autonomy in the classroom, and it is dehumanizing.

Kuhn 3

Kuhn signed the pledge while working at his former district Perrin Whitt in Jack County, Texas. Gail Haterius, who preceded Kuhn at Mineral Wells, signed the pledge on behalf of her district at the time. Kuhn, upon taking over Mineral Wells, maintained the district’s “Future Ready” status. If you’re wondering where NPE stands on the “Future Ready” pledge, Diane Ravitch’s blog lauded it in a post from February of 2015 featuring Thomas Ralston, a superintendent from my home state of Pennsylvania. Ralston was at the launch of the initiative in Washington with Arne Duncan. At the time “Future Ready” was being pitched as an antidote to high stakes testing, though we later figured out the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda was designed for technology-based all-the-time testing, including data collection on workforce-aligned soft skills. If you read the comments on Ravitch’s post, it is clear parents and teachers know something is not quite right and push back against the program’s technology focus. It turns out Ralston is part of the “Remake Learning” initiative in the greater Pittsburgh region, a program that aims to implement badge-based learning ecosystems as part of the MacArthur Foundation/ Collective Shift funded Cities of LRNG program. This foresight document “The Future of Learning in the Pittsburgh Region” from Knowledgeworks is a real eye opener, I assure you.

Future Read Kuhn

Many have said Mr. Kuhn is a wonderful person. I am certainly willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is why I tweeted him a few questions about this Google hangout peer learning program and what his funding priorities would be as an avowed “Future Ready” school superintendent. I was also curious about an infographic promoting “grit.”  I am still waiting to hear back, because neither he, nor NPE, nor Diane Ravitch have acknowledged or replied to my tweets as of the time of this post. See: link, link, link, and link. If you would like to hear their responses, consider helping me out by retweeting. If I get an answer, I will be happy to post them here.

John Kuhn

Kuhn says he wants equal opportunities for poor children. Ok, so if he were to switch places with the superintendent of the poor district described in the video, and the funding inequities were addressed, how exactly would he spend that money? All children deserve cruelty-free education. Having more money doesn’t guarantee the education being purchased is humane, especially if it is spent on devices that are designed to employ learning management systems, gamification, and big data to profile students based on their academic performance and behavioral compliance. See Kuhn’s opening remarks in this piece written for other school superintendents.

So, with whom do you stand Mr. Kuhn?

Carnegie or children?

Gates or teachers?

Pearson or Parents?

Future Ready Funders

As a Future Ready signatory would you spend increased funding on literacy coaches, librarians, real books, foreign language teachers, and reduced class sizes for poor children? Or, with the Alliance for Excellent Education and their cloud-based partners looking over your shoulder, would you instead spend it on intelligent tutoring systems like Dreambox, Duolingo, online classes, and grit training? The NPE video tells part of your story. It’s the story people want to hear. But buried underneath is a murkier truth; one you share with fellow superintendents as you pitch “ethical” Big Data solutions for childhood poverty. In various articles Kuhn’s language aligns very closely with that of social impact investing-stay tuned, my instincts are pretty good.

I encourage education activists to please pay attention to what is NOT being said as much as what IS being said. That is an important skill. Sins of omission are sometimes hard to spot. Knowing the onslaught of online learning that Texas teachers are facing at this very moment, it is telling that Mr. Kuhn does not speak to that threat nor does NPE surface it. My concern about TASA and online learning in Texas goes back almost two years, details here. As many unthinkingly consume superficial content that tugs at the emotions but doesn’t promote organized resistance, urgent new threats are taking over classrooms one chromebook, one tablet, one headset at a time. This is not the time to sit disconnected, absently clicking “like.” We must build communities of resistance and begin to take direct action. I will close with a comment I shared on my personal Facebook page about this situation. It’s time to do the work folks. It’s well past time.

“Future Ready schools are the next privatization threat. I’m sure it is very hard for people who have embraced Mr. Kuhn and his message to accept that they have been manipulated. For people who really need a ray of light, having a shadow cast upon it seems unfair and a huge blow to teachers who have lost so much. I get it. But his adoption of this corporate agenda that will further data-driven profiling of children, particularly the most vulnerable among us, means he cannot be the role model we need. We need to acknowledge that and move forward. I am offering no apology nor looking for others to apologize for actions taken or not taken. There is work to be done. It’s time to organize and do the work. We know what has to be done, and that is unplugging kids, protecting them from predatory community partnerships looking to profit from their data and “fixing” them via evidence-based programs, and standing up for humanity. For goodness sake, isn’t it about time?”


Gambling With Our Futures: Big Data, Global Finance and Digital Life

Through predatory public-private partnerships, global financiers are in the process of digitizing not only our education system, but many other aspects of public service delivery. This 10-minute video provides an overview of “Pay For Success” and social impact bonds, detailing how their operations hinge on intrusive and oppressive collection of data from our classrooms, homes, jails, and clinics.

By defining “success” in narrow terms suited to outcomes-based contracting, powerful investors will control how public services are delivered. Securitization of debt associated with program operations will turn our lives, including those of our children, into fodder for financial speculation. YouTube originally categorized this video as a comedy; perhaps based on the whimsical nature of the collages. After watching it, however, I’m confident you’ll see it’s truly a horror show. A slide share version of the video can be viewed here and a PDF of the script is available here.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to all who offered support and input on the creation of this piece, especially Dr. Tim Scott whose groundbreaking research is foundational to understanding this topic (read more here, here and here) and Mary Porter for her valuable editorial insights. The artwork was prepared with scissors and construction paper at my kitchen table with the goal of making this critical information accessible to a wider audience. My hope is that it will pique your interest and spur you to explore the linked resources that follow.

Additional Resources

Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity, Tim Scott, Truthout, Link

Social Impact Bonds: The Titans of Finance as the Altruistic Merchants of Schools and the Common Good, Tim Scott, Dissident Voice, Link

Education Technology, Surveillance and America’s Authoritarian Democracy, Tim Scott, Dissident Voice, Link

Race, Finance and the Afterlife of Slavery, A talk given at the Whitney Museum of America Art by Dr. Justin Leroy, Link and his paper Bonded Life Download

Global Finance Needs Our Schools to Fail, Wrench in the Gears, Link

What You Should Know About “Pay For Success” As Testing Season Approaches, Wrench in the Gears, Link

Smart Cities and Social Impact Bonds: Public Education’s Hostile Takeover Part II, Wrench in the Gears, Link

Who are the Players in Pay for Success / Social Impact Bonds?, Wrenches of Resistance, Link

Is Wall Street About to Take Over Public Education Once and For All?, Emily Talmage, Save Maine Schools, Link

The Real Reason Your Child Is Being Psychologically Profiled At School, Emily Talmage, Save Maine Schools, Link

Wall Street Zombies, Coming Soon to a Pre-K Near You, Emily Talmage, Save Maine Schools, Link

Social Impact Bonds, A Primer, Deb Mayer, Parents Across America, Link

Pay for Success-Also Known as Social Impact Bonds, Senator Orrin Hatch and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Carolyn Leith, Seattle Education, Link

Pay for Success and the McCleary Crisis: Did the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Help Position Social Impact Bonds As A Last Resort Funding Option For Our Public Schools?, Carolyn Leith, Seattle Education, Link

The Proposed NSA-Like National Database for Student Data: Moneyball for Kids, Cheri Kiesecker, Missouri Education Watchdog, Link

Congress Suspending Rules to Rush Through Bill For National Citizen Data System: HR 4174, Cheri Kiesecker, Missouri Education Watchdog, Link! page of articles on Pay for Success Programs and Social Impact Bonds, curated by Roxana Marachi, EduResearcher, Link

Co-Opted Language: Decoding Ed Reform’s New Sales Pitch

The words used to promote “future ready” public education do not mean to reformers what they mean to you. This post is intended to pull back the curtain and expose the truth behind venture capital’s shiny promises of “personalized” tech-centered, data-driven learning. The list below features vocabulary that should be on everyone’s radar. Short definitions link to more detailed descriptions written from the point of view of the reformers-if they had to tell the truth about their plans to swap neighborhood schools for learning ecosystems. Complete list of long form definitions available here. One-page PDF handout for sharing available here.

1:1 Devices: A program where each child has their own data-gathering device for “anywhere learning.” More

Anytime, Anywhere Learning: A push to disconnect education from “constraints” of buildings and teachers. More

Assessment Reform / Computer Adaptive Testing: Punitive end of year tests exchanged for perpetual monitoring of online learning. More

Brain Breaks: Mental safety valve for students and teachers. More

College and Career Readiness: K12 public education as redefined by post-graduation outcomes. More

Community School: Business opportunities for non-profit providers created through intentional austerity. More

Data Dashboards: Tools to reduce learning to specific, measurable outcomes. More

Deeper Learning: Education reimagined as a big, unstructured DIY project. More

Digital Badges: Tokens of achievement rewarding skill acquisition or compliance. More

ELOs-Extended/Expanded Learning Opportunities: Outsourced learning opportunities for credit. More

E-Portfolio: Cloud-based skill storage that replaces report cards and diplomas. More

Evidence-Based: Parameters private interests use to set educational “success” criteria. More

Gamified: Use of entertainment platforms to make student data capture more palatable. More

Growth: Repeated data collection over time that can be used to evaluate returns on impact investments. More

Grit/Growth Mindset/Resilience: Self-discipline promoted as a tool to deal with dysfunctional social systems. More

Hybrid/Blended: Means to promote online learning while reducing face-to-face instruction. More

Innovation / Empowerment Zones: Designation that strips districts of contractual protections while promising autonomy. More

Innovative: Unproven “solutions” that disrupt school environments. More

Lifelong Learning: Uncertain employment outlook that demands constant re-skilling and up-skilling. More

Multiple Measures: Expansion of accountability categories for students, teachers and schools under ESSA. More

Pathways: Means to direct students into targeted workforce sectors based on their aggregated data. More

Pay for Success: Service delivery redesigned to capture proof of success for impact investments. More

Performance Assessments: Promise of authentic projects replaced by canned, standards-aligned rubrics. More

“Personalized” Learning: Digital profiling whereby algorithms control student access to educational content. More

Regionalization / Consolidation: Defunding and dwindling enrollment lead to diminished local control. More

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs): Finance scheme that uses public services to generate venture capital profit. More

Competency/Mastery/Proficiency-Based Education: Education reinvented as a perpetual skills checklist. More

Student-Centered/Agency: Self-serve education model where teachers play a marginal role. More

Whole Child / Social Emotional Learning: Non-cognitive traits are added to student academic profiles. More

Omidyar, The Intercept & Impact Investing

I wouldn’t expect an expose on ed-tech to come out of The Intercept any time soon, despite the solid work they have done on Google and their deep knowledge of online surveillance and ties between Silicon Valley and government officials. Read on to find out why.

I’m always looking for opportunities to raise awareness around ed-tech and digital curriculum. So when the Free Library of Philadelphia announced an author event with The Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill interviewing Edward Snowden via remote link, I bought a ticket right away. If there were an audience who would be concerned about cloud-based education, digital curriculum and surveillance, this would be it. See Tim Scott’s piece for detailed background on ed-tech and surveillance. So I made up a flyer, printed a hundred copies and arrived early to hand them out to attendees on the way into the event. Other than the board chair, who expressed concern about my presence, everyone was quite receptive.


Free Library

For context I need to share that the Ford Foundation’s 2014 study “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem” lauded Philadelphia’s Free Library, the venue for the talk, as a model community-based youth learning space (p 20). They were one of twelve library systems that received support from the MacArthur Foundation to create innovative learning labs. I wonder about this, since we are a City of LRNG. They did a pilot with badges in 2014. It quietly faded away, though I fear it may resurface once the ecosystem infrastructure (Education Savings Accounts and Blockchain payment/credentialing systems) is further developed. Glancing at those seated in the president’s circle reserved seating area, I couldn’t help but wonder who among them might have a hand in setting up learning ecosystems here? The Free Library has said not a peep about the systematic decimation of our school libraries over the years, by the way. If you’re interested, you can listen to the podcast of the September 11 interview here.

On a related note, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been inserting itself into Philadelphia School District policy for quite a few years. Their donations of computers to select schools gives them access through grants to push for adoption of reform-minded initiatives like school report cards and universal enrollment systems. It wasn’t until a few years later while watching Oliver Stone’s Snowden, that I made a connection. In one scene Snowden was asked to prove his legitimacy and did so by throwing numerous credentials onto the hotel mattress. One of them was his Dell identification. As I wrote about here, Snowden obtained many National Security Agency documents while working as a Dell contractor. At the time I was fighting Dell’s influence in Philadelphia, I thought it was simply about selling more computers. Until that moment, I had not realized that Dell’s business extended far beyond the sale of laptops. In fact, the NSA is one of Dell’s most important clients. Maybe it was less about computers than it was about access to all the data generated by data-driven education systems. Watch this short video about Dell’s push for online “personalized” learning pathways. Knowing their ties to the NSA, you may see it as somewhat less than benign despite the peppy soundtrack.

It was a sold out crowd that night and a good interview. There were a few quotes from Snowden that stood out to me. “We need to speak not because it’s safe, but because it’s right.” Also, “Look at the world around you. You are not powerless. If all of us do what we can, it will be enough. We have to start somewhere.” Sitting in the auditorium I couldn’t help but think of the passage in Glenn Greenwald’s Nowhere to Hide where he is trying to convince Snowden that it would be better not to go public as a source. But Snowden said that he always intended to take responsibility, because he didn’t want blame to fall on any of his colleagues. He said that the only regret he would have is that if once he wrecked his life, people knew the truth about the data collection and surveillance and they just shrugged it off and went on as if nothing had happened. That stuck with me and has motivated me to keep pursuing the truth behind the imposition of data-driven education and examining its implications for freedom of thought and civil society. Honestly, there are days when I don’t know how much progress I’m making. But I continue to try. I choose not to just shrug it off and move on as if nothing happened, because if I did, it would diminish the sacrifice Snowden made for us to know the truth.

As I was leaving, I glanced at the book signing line. It wasn’t long. The book table included Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Of course Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater, is the brother of US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Blackwater. jpeg

I made a quick calculation and decided to pick up some not-so-light reading and see if perhaps I could put a bug in Scahill’s ear about looking into digital education and surveillance concerns. I made my pitch, and it seemed to resonate. After offering to tweet him a link to my blog, he said he’d rather give me his email and told me to get in touch. He expressed that as a parent of a young child he had concerns about what he was seeing with online education. He suggested reaching out to a colleague of his working in that area and gave me her twitter handle. It didn’t seem like he was humoring me, but rather that HE wanted to continue the conversation. Feeling pretty good about the evening I tucked the book in my bike basket and peddled home. As soon as I got there I sent this follow-up email.

Scahill Email 1

And then as so many of us do (yes, I do recognize the irony), I posted a somewhat-pleased-with-myself update to a closed group in which I am a participant. That is when the bubble popped. Someone mentioned Omidyar, Pierre Omidyar founder of Ebay and the Omidyar Network. Didn’t The Intercept receive funding from them? Right. I do seem to remember coming across that at some point. But I’ll admit I hadn’t really done my homework before the event, thinking it was primarily about Snowden. I hadn’t sleuthed The Intercept in any real way. If I had, I would come across this well-documented piece on Omidyar from Audrey Watters of Hackeducation, which discusses ties to The Intercept. It would have ruined my prospects for the evening certainly, but made me better informed going in. Turns out The Intercept not only receives funding from Omidyar, but Omidyar actually bankrolls the entire operation. We are not talking about a grant here or there. No, Omidyar’s money created and essentially runs The Intercept.

So why is that a problem? Well, it is becoming increasingly clear that instruction in public schools is being pushed onto digital platforms via hybrid-blended learning, “personalized” digital curriculum and gamified assessments of social-emotional traits and mindsets. This is creating conditions that will ease evaluation of impact investments by venture capital, transforming an essentially human activity into a set of dynamic metrics that can be gathered via devices and monitored using real-time data dashboards.

As public funding for public education (and other human services) continues to be withheld, conditions favorable to the adoption of “innovative” public-private partnerships are created. These corporatized “solutions,” grounded in impact investing principles of “doing well by doing good” (aka profiting off poverty), advance “exciting new finance structures” like Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds. For the full run down see Tim Scott’s detailed analysis Impact Investing and Venture Philanthropy’s Role in Sowing the Seeds of Financial Opportunity.  Elected officials are now in the process of putting their stamp of approval on data-driven “evidence-based policymaking.” These policies are being advanced with bipartisan support. Evidently they anticipate there is plenty of money to be made off the datafication our lives and the public services we access in the process of living them. Enough for Democrats AND Republicans. That is the reality of impact investing, and Omidyar is in the middle of all of it.

The Rockefeller Foundation has led the global roll out of social impact investing since 2007 when they brought together diverse financial interests in Bellagio to discuss a new model of investment that would leverage not only endowments of philanthropies, but also the hard-won and dearly paid for retirement accounts and insurance premiums of everyday people, in their quest to profit off poverty.


They launched the Global Impact Investment Network in 2009. In subsequent years GIIN established ways to evaluate success to suit the needs of the global finance sector. As you can see in the text accompanying the graphic below, Omidyar is identified along with the Gates Foundation as a major supporter of Rockefeller’s efforts. Teachers should note another key player in this impact investing agenda is TIAA. Yes, your pension fund, which was actually launched by Andrew “now let’s get rid of this factory model of education” Carnegie, is underwriting impact investments that could include ed-tech initiatives that promote AI “intelligent” tutoring systems over human educators. In the long run it is not at all clear how sustainable that can be since chat bots do not pay into pension funds.

TIAA Cref Rockefeller GIIN

This is the source link for the two graphics above.

So Omidyar is a key player in the global impact investment realm. They work with everyone from USAID to the Vatican. They have their hands not only in education and emerging technology, but also digital identity and digital finance for the global unbanked (cue Blockchain). They see their “deep roots in Silicon Valley” as putting them in a prime position to “accelerate social change.” They have deep investments in organizations promoting the scaling of social impact bonds including: Social Finance UK, Social Finance US, and Bridges Ventures, creators of the first wholesale fund to invest in social impact bonds. Not surprisingly they are also a financial supporter of the Global Impact Investment Network.

The education projects they fund include the predatory for-profit education provider Bridge International Academies; the new, Silicon-Valley-backed micro-school concept Alt School; tech promotional outlets like EdSurge; and so-called open education resource (OER) providers like Khan Academy and LearnZillion. In support of this online, OER, playlist approach to education, they have also provided enormous grants to Common Sense Media. My sense is it is their role to cultivate a sense of trust and acceptance of a new digitally-oriented educational system.

Just as with the Ravitch/MacArthur Foundation discussion last week, this Omidyar situation points to the fact that education activists need to begin looking beyond Gates, Walton and Broad to ferret out and expose this next wave of digital privatizers who are quietly wreaking havoc on human-based systems of education with as yet little to no scrutiny. Even I, a person who swims in this information, missed it at first. I was too busy looking for allies in this fight and didn’t dig deeply enough. I kick myself for sending Scahill that email in the first place. Of course as a parent and a skilled journalist, I’m sure he probably would love dig into a story like this. But the technocrats are a savvy bunch, and they have money to burn. They require unquestioning public acceptance of digital platforms to advance their plans to mine global profit from our data. They need to cultivate our dependence on the systems of technology being woven into our lives day in and day out.

For a while the Snowden revelations disrupted that trust, that comfort. The truth about the surveillance, predictive analytics and the breadth of those under scrutiny was frightening. And that fear made all of GIIN’s plans for an impact investment program built on data and digital platforms vulnerable. So of course an offer of financial support was made; one that I’m sure allowed a fair bit of leeway in terms of investigating some things, but perhaps not others. The Intercept does fine work in many areas, but don’t expect them to take on ed-tech or impact investing. I simply don’t think that is going to happen. Which is why everyday people, people who aren’t on anybody’s payroll need to continue to do this research and get the word out. Neither the mainstream media nor the alternative media are in a position to tell the whole truth. I will close with two follow up emails I sent. I never heard back from Mr. Scahill. I emailed him most recently five days ago to let him know I would be writing about Omidyar and to see if he had any thoughts as a parent or investigative journalist; still nothing. I’ll post an update here if he gets back to me.

Scahill Email 2

Scahill Email 4

Grow the resistance. Share your story!

I am in the process of creating an online toolkit for parents, teachers, and community members fighting the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda of digital curriculum, learning ecosystems and outsourced/badged education. My intent is to: organize the research I have been doing and make it more accessible; link to related work being done by others; provide informational materials (handouts/slide shares) that people can use in their communities; and feature personal stories of digital takeovers and acts of resistance. I have the general framework up now and will gradually fill out the content. It’s called WrenchesOfResistance.

We know that implementation of digital curriculum has been ramping up since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Parents are often not aware of how much time their children are spending on technology daily, what programs are being used, or how this shift is impacting the culture of the classroom.

I see the online form linked here and embedded below as serving three purposes:

  1. If you have a story to tell right now, this is a space to share it! I want to use excerpts from some of the narrative submissions on the testimonials page of the toolkit. They would be anonymous, but include city and state so we can see the wide distribution of these programs. If you choose to submit a form, please do not include anything you prefer not be made public.
  2. If you need help thinking through the new place of technology in the classroom, these questions can be used to spark conversations: parent to parent, parent to teacher, or teacher to teacher.
  3. If you are motivated, print out the questions, arrange a time to talk to your child’s teacher, gather as many responses as you can, and then share your findings with us using the online form so we can start to get a picture of what this looks like nationwide. Teachers, you are welcome to use the form and share this information with us directly. None of the responses are required, so feel free to answer as many or as few as you like.

Parents, teachers, and even students are welcome to make a submission.

For those who are not teaching in or who do not have children enrolled in a fully-implemented, “personalized,” 1:1 device, “Future-Ready” district, it can be hard to visualize the harm being done. I have created this online form to gather information and stories. I hope some of you will be willing to share your experiences with digital curriculum and its impact on our humanity. Thanks in advance!

Change starts with individual acts of moral courage.

It seems impossible until the day it becomes inevitable.

Change starts with individual acts of moral courage.

I posted the above comment on my Facebook page as an accompaniment to this article discussing growth of the protest movement within the NFL that manifested itself this past Sunday. On that day numerous players and owners allied themselves with a small but tenacious group of protestors who had joined Colin Kaepernick in the year since he first sat then took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. His intention: to draw attention to police brutality and oppression of people of color. You can read the transcript of Kaepernick’s comments and rationale here. Recognizing that our mythic “America” is built on genocide and the enslavement of people of color for profit is foundational to being able to move forward towards achieving any semblance of a just society. The fact that white supremacist violence erupted in Charlottesville not quite a year after Kaepernick’s initial protest makes it clear many are not yet ready to take that bitter pill and reconcile our brutal past with our present reality.

Kaepernick stood alone for a long time. There were consequences for him, emotionally and financially. He came to understand systems of oppression, and while he could have used his privilege to stake a place where those systems would be less likely to impact him, he instead chose to put himself in the center of the storm. In this individual gesture he became the pebble with the power to unleash the avalanche.

The status quo resists change mightily. There is too much power and profit riding on the continuous, uninterrupted operation of oppressive systems. Those of us watching recent developments in artificial intelligence, smart city surveillance, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, and impact investing realize the capacity to inflict harm on black and brown communities is about to rise exponentially. Outliers who question become targets of criticism, their message intentionally obscured by character attacks, criticism of the appropriateness of the method protest and other technicalities. Let us talk about anything other than the issues being raised, because recognizing and organizing around those issues could compel change, perhaps revolutionary change. Change is a threat.

While one expects criticism from those holding opposing views, people contemplating direct action outside acceptable norms of group-sanctioned protest must realize that criticism and obfuscation may also come from those technically allied with your cause. There are those who will propose a more “moderate” approach. Such tactics have the appearance of resistance, but are not intended to actually tip the apple cart. There is no meaningful change without risk. Actions taken within the comfort of groupthink may make one feel popular and accepted but are unlikely to push the envelope in any significant way.

American brutality comes in many forms: sometimes physical, sometimes financial, sometimes spiritual. Sometimes it looks like this.

First Graders

This is the next wave of oppression, and it is rolling into classrooms across our nation and across the globe. Once again, communities of color will be targeted for tech-based interventions under the guise of bridging the “digital divide.” Though over time no one will be safe from the onslaught of financialization. As Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Reed Hasting, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates make their next moves I pose this question:

Will you be a Kaepernick?


Or will you hang back, waiting for some higher authority to sanction your protest?

Five things one person can do today to begin disrupting the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda:

Identify and occupy contested spaces.


Give public testimony. Film and share it.

Speak truth to power. Even if it gets you banned.

Scott Ravitch

Research, write, and share the information you find like this great blog from Baltimore County parents.


Educate those around you and start to build a movement and plan larger actions. You too can take a bucket of sidewalk chalk and go out into the world. You might be surprised at the conversations you generate.

We don’t all have Kaepernick’s status, but we can all do something right where we are. Over time, individual actions can coalesce into broader movements of like-minded people. Don’t wait for established groups to catch up. You can affect change, even when acting alone. We each have that within us. There was some lively discussion generated on my Facebook post. I will close with a comment I left on that thread.

“I know I will not change your position, nor you mine. Nevertheless people who put themselves out there to spark important conversations and disrupt the status quo are people we should cherish in our society.”

To take on the monster that is Ed Reform 2.0, we ALL need to be channeling our inner Kaepernick. Taking the first step is hard. Holding the course when many turn against you is hard. But I believe in my heart that if we each take action and hold to our principles with steadfastness, our Sunday September 24 will come. We must overcome fear and take those first steps to fight this new game before the venture capitalists seize our children’s futures. What is holding you back? Think about it, then go forth and disrupt.