Robert Shepherd, a frequent commenter on the blog, is an experienced veteran in the world of education publishing, having developed curriculum, textbooks, and assessments.
The New York legislature just voted to dump inBloom. But Diane Ravitch’s first post about that subjected noted, wisely, that inBloom was dead “for Now.”
Don’t think for a moment that Big Data has been beaten. I am going to explain why. I hope that you will take the time and effort to follow what I am going to say below. It’s a little complicated, but it’s a great story. It’s a birth narrative–the astonishing but, I think, undeniably true story of the birth of the Common Core.
The emergence of the Internet presented a challenge to the business model of the big educational publishers. It presented the very real possibility that they might go the way of the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. Why? I can point you, right now, to about 80 complete, high-quality, FREE open-source textbooks on the Net–ones written by various professors–textbooks on geology, law, astronomy, physics, grammar, biology, every conceivable topic in mathematics.
Pixels are cheap. The emergence of the possibility of publishing via the Internet, combined with the wiring of all public schools for broadband access, removed an important barrier to entry to the educational publishing business–paper, printing, and binding costs. In the Internet Age, small publishers with alternative texts could easily flourish. Some of those–academic self publishers interested not in making money but in spreading knowledge of their subjects–would even do that work for free. Many have, already. There are a dozen great free intro statistics texts with support materials on the web today.
Think of what Wikipedia did to the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s what open-source textbooks were poised to do to the K-12 educational materials monopolists. The process had already begun in college textbook publishing. The big publishers were starting to loose sales to free, open-source competitors. The number of open-source alternatives would grow exponentially, and the phenomenon would spread down through the grade levels. Soon. . . .
How were the purveyors of textbooks going to compete with FREE?
What’s a monopolist to do in such a situation?
Answer: Create a computer-adaptive ed tech revolution. The monopolists figured out that they could create computer-adaptive software keyed to student responses IN DATABASES that they, AND THEY ALONE, could get access to. No open-source providers admitted.
Added benefit: By switching to computerized delivery of their materials, the educational publishing monopolists would dramatically reduce their costs and increase their profits, for the biggest items on the textbook P&L, after the profits, are costs related to the physical nature of their products–costs for paper, printing, binding, sampling, warehousing, and shipping.
By engineering the computer-adaptive ed tech revolution and having that ed tech keyed to responses in proprietary databases that only they had access to, the ed book publishers could kill open source in its cradle and keep themselves from going the way of Smith Corona and whoever it was that manufactured telephone booths.
Doing that would prevent the REAL DISRUPTIVE REVOLUTION in education that the educational publishers saw looming–the disruption of THEIR BUSINESS MODEL posed by OPEN-SOURCE TEXTBOOKS.
A little history:
Just before its business entirely tanked because of computers, typewriter manufacturer Smith Corona put up a website, the Home page of which read, “And on the 8th day God created Smith Corona.” 2007 was the 50th anniversary of the Standard and Poors Index. On the day the S&P turned 50, 70 percent of the companies that were originally on the Index no longer existed. They had been killed by disruptions that they didn’t see coming.
The educational materials monopolists were smarter. They saw coming at them the disruption of their business model that open-source textbooks would bring about. And so they cooked up computer-adaptive ed tech keyed to standards, with responses in proprietary databases that they would control, to prevent that. The adaptive ed tech/big data/big database transition would maintain and even strengthen their monopoly position.
But to make that computer-adaptive ed tech revolution happen and so prevent open-source textbooks from killing their business model, the publishers would first need ONE SET OF NATIONAL STANDARDS. That’s why they paid to have the Common [sic] Core [sic] created. That one set of national standards would provide the tags for their computer-adaptive software. That set of standards would be the list of skills that the software would keep track of in the databases that open-source providers could not get access to. Only they would have access to the BIG DATA.
As I have been explaining for a long, long time now, here and elsewhere, the Common Core was the first step in A BUSINESS PLAN.
Bill Gates described that business plan DECADES ago. He’s an extraordinarily bright man. Visionary.
So, that’s the story, in a nutshell. And it’s not an education story. It’s a business story.
And a WHOLE LOTTA EDUCRATS haven’t figured that out and have been totally PLAYED. They are dutifully working for PARCC or SBAC and dutifully attending conferences on implementing the “new, higher standards” and are basically unaware that they have been USED to implement a business plan. They don’t understand that the national standards were simply a necessary part of that plan.
And here’s the kicker: The folks behind this plan also see it is a way to reduce, dramatically, the cost of U.S. education. How? Well, the biggest cost, by far, in education is teachers’ salaries and benefits. But, imagine 300 students in a room, all using software, with a single “teacher” walking around to make sure that the tablets are working and to assist when necessary. Good-enough training for the children of the proles. Fewer teacher salaries. More money for data systems and software.
Think of the money to be saved.
And the money to be made.
The wrinkle in the publishers’ plan, of course, is that people don’t like the idea of a single, Orwellian national database. From the point of view of the monopolists, that’s a BIG problem. The database is, after all, the part of the plan that keeps the real disruption, open-source textbooks, from happening–the disruption that would end the traditional textbook business as surely as MP3 downloads ended the music CD business and video killed the radio star.
So, with the national database dead, for now, the deformers have to go to plan B.
What will they do? Here’s something that’s VERY likely: They will sell database systems state by state, to state education departments, or district by district. Those database systems will simply be each state’s or district’s system (who could object to that?), and only approved vendors (guess who?) will flow through each. Which vendors? Well, the ones with the lobbying bucks and with the money to navigate whatever arcane procedures are created by the states and districts implementing them, with the monopolists’ help, of course. So, the new systems will work basically as the old textbook adoption system did, as an educational materials monopoly protection plan.
All this is part of a business plan put in place to prevent the open-source textbook revolution from destroying the business model of the educational materials monopolists.
In business, such thinking as I have outlined, above, is called Strategic Planning.
So, to recap: to hold onto their monopolies in the age of the Internet, the publishers would use the Big Data ed tech model, which would shut out competitors, and for that, they would need a single set of national standards. The plan that Gates had long had for ed tech proved to be just the ticket. Gates’s plan, and the need to disrupt the open-source disruption before it happened, proved to be a perfect confluence of interest–a confluence that would become a great river of green.
The educational publishing monopolists would not only survive but thrive. There would be billions to be made in the switch from textbooks to Big Data and computer-adaptive ed tech. Billions and billions and billions.
And that’s why you have the Common [sic] Core [sic].