Archives for category: Technology, Computers

The Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards unanimously passed a resolution calling for a suspension of high-stakes testing.

“The Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards is comprised of 11 of Florida’s coastal school districts — Collier, Lee, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Monroe, Charlotte, Sarasota, Pinellas, Indian River and St. Lucie. Together, the districts represent more than 42 percent of the state’s public school students, 55 percent of the state’s property tax base and 51 percent of Florida’s legislative members, according to the School District of Palm Beach County website.”

Will the Florida legislature listen to parents, educators, and elected school boards, or will they continue to pile on more tests and unfunded mandates? All of the state’s districts are required–under present law–to create hundreds of new tests for every student in every subject in every grade, for before and after, to evaluate students, teachers, principals, and schools and to award merit pay to some and fire others. No money comes with the mandate.

It is payday for the testing and tech industries but mayday for education in Florida.

American Institutes for Research released a study of how iPads were used in a subset of schools that adopted them. This is the first phase of Superintendent John Deasy’s $1.3 billion plan to give an iPad or similar device to every student and staff member in the district.

Things are not going well so far. AIR found a need for more technical support.

“School staffers working on the project that sent iPads to 30,490 students and 1,360 teachers at 47 campuses last year “needed to spend their time on technical troubleshooting rather than supporting technology integration into instruction in the first year of implementation,” according to a summary of the report.

“In May, AIR visited 15 schools, observing that iPads were being used in less than half of classrooms it viewed, although the devices were present in 79 percent of those rooms.

“Three of the schools, two unidentified high schools and one elementary school, weren’t using the iPads. The report notes that several schools had put the devices away in late spring 2014 “for different reasons.”

And more problems:

“A July report by LAUSD’s inspector general found 31 percent of 9,910 iPads sampled were missing, because LAUSD “was unable to provide the current location and number of iPads distributed to each school after numerous requests were made over a five-month period.”

“The missing iPads were valued at $1.6 million, according to the inspector general’s report.

“Additionally, last month Superintendent John Deasy ordered a contract to buy iPads and digital curriculum be re-bid amid concerns over favoritism.

“Emails between district administrators and Pearson representatives — an Apple subcontractor that was picked to create curriculum for LAUSD’s iPads — indicate Pearson pitches were later made part of the district’s bidding criteria, a practice that can eliminate competitors.

“Earlier this year, the school board voted to drop its iPad-only plan and spend up to $40 million to pilot six different types of laptops and tablets at 27 schools.”

In an effort to take the heat off his own troubles, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy has hired a lawyer and now seeks access to any of his bosses’ emails that show relationships with tech companies.

Deasy had to cancel a contract with Apple and Pearson when two-year-old emails showed that he had been in discussion with them about the plan. Deasy claimed it was about a pilot. Nonetheless, he suspended the contract that our eventually amount to more than $1 billion.

Ellen Lubic, director of Joining Forces for Education and a professor of public policy in Los Angeles, here describes the numerous failings of Superintendent John Deasy and calls for an independent audit and grand jury investigation. The article has gone viral, receiving nearly 700,000 hits since it was published by CityWatch.

She writes:

“Finally the lack of transparency of the mismanaged leadership of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy is seeing the light of day. The excellent investigative journalism by the LA Times education reporter, Howard Blume, and KPCC’s detailed and informed reporter, Annie Gilbertson, has opened up the stench of the secret deals and waste of taxpayer funds that Deasy manipulated throughout his tenure, and is now exposed for all to see.

“Many in the public were shocked that his contract was renewed last October after the $1 Billion iPad scandal was published not only in LA, but all over the US. And now we have the proof of the secret deals he cut with Apple and Pearson.

“We see as evidence the actual emails and signed contracts that he put taxpayers on the hook for in so many ways, from using 30 year payback with interest of the Construction Bond money he negotiated to pay for this fiasco, to claiming it was a civil rights issue for inner city students to have these top of the line but soon to be obsolete devices, when actually it was a Broad Academy-taught business model for huge “free market” profits.

“Deasy has been a disaster at LAUSD from the beginning when Eli Broad and Tony Villaraigosa imposed his hiring without further search by the Board of Education. This power play led to ongoing conniving and mendacity that is now beginning to open up for public inspection.”

Lubic cites a number of actions by Deasy that should be reviewed by credible investigators, beginning with the $1 billion iPad plan that went bad when reporters learned of Deasy’s contacts with Apple and Pearson before the bidding process. She adds:

“Deasy’s first big decision to rush all Mira Monte teachers into “teacher jail” so as to punish them for guilt by association with the one teacher who was an abuser, caused many fine teachers to lose their good reputations while they and the young students they served were permanently traumatized.

“We the taxpayers are paying ongoing for the many lawsuits that were initiated due to this LAUSD mismanagement. The plethora of hidden lawsuits filed by parents, wounded teachers, and so many others, will strain the over burdened taxpayers of LA County for years to come, due to Deasy’s lack of judgment and leadership ability…..

“Thereafter, a continuing series of terrible management by Deasy is clear to one and all, from embedding charter schools to comply with his mentor Eli Broad and the Wall Street privatizers of public education, to firing teachers for no apparent reason and/or sending them to teacher jail as he did with the award winning and widely respected and beloved choir director at Crenshaw HS, his testifying for the Vergara plaintiffs against his own teachers so he could “fire teachers rapidly,” to making Jaime Aquino take the fall for the iPads fiasco, and now Deasy is still spinning it that it was exclusively all Aquino’s fault when Deasy actually hired Aquino only weeks after becoming Superintendent and knowing Jaime has just worked for Pearson.”

Lubic concludes:

“Now, with all this evidence that shows his poor leadership skills and mendacious approach in covering up his faults with spin doctoring, we still ask why he has not been fired? We should all be calling for an external independent audit of these possibly fraudulent, but definitely mismanaged, spending of our public funds to the detriment of our public schools and the students and parents. And we should further all be demanding a Grand Jury investigation of this putrid affair.

“The LAUSD Board of Education is Deasy’s boss, and We the People are their boss, so please make your voices loud and clear to them, and to the media, and to each other, that those complicit in this mess that is LAUSD must all be investigated right now with both an external independent audit and a Grand Jury investigation.”

Thanks to Leonie Haimson for this item.

By and large, foundations do not make grants to for-profit enterprises. If you are seeking funds to start a for-profit business, please consult the resources below for more information. You might also consult the business section of your local public library, or economic development agencies in your city, county, or state.

Social enterprises

If your for-profit business has a strong social mission, it might be considered a social enterprise. Social enterprise, also known as social entrepreneurship, broadly encompasses ventures of nonprofits, civic-minded individuals, and for-profit businesses that can yield both financial and social returns.

A small but growing number of foundations may provide program-related investments (PRIs) to social enterprises as well as nonprofits. PRIs are low-interest loans that a foundation can give to organizations or projects that match the funder’s giving interests.

Liquid Interactive

Date: May 2014

Purpose: to fund development of a web-based tool to help improve students’ writing skills
Amount: $200,000
Term: 12
Topic: College-Ready
Program: United States
Grantee Location: Brisbane
Grantee Website:

Liquid Interactive creates engagement between businesses and customers using digital technologies. Combining strategy, creative and technology, we connect brands and products with audiences in a multiplatform communications environment to deliver business outcomes.

Marketing and education go hand in hand at Liquid Interactive and this unique value proposition assists us in developing strategies and solutions for behavioural change, consumer engagement, product education and information retention and recall.


Writelike is a platform designed to teach users how to write more effectively—in any style, for any purpose. It is based on a large library of text snippets taken from all manner of sources—novels, children’s stories, newspapers, magazines, instruction manuals. Learners are presented with snippets and asked to rewrite them in different styles, and in so doing they learn differences of form and craft.

Writelike is one of Liquid Interactive’s internal, experimental projects that we are hoping to develop in the near future into something usable in Australian schools.

LightSIDE Labs LLC

Date: March 2014
Purpose: to develop a system that automatically assesses and gives feedback on student writing, and supports the revision process for students
Amount: $200,000
Term: 13
Topic: College-Ready
Program: United States
Grantee Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Grantee Website:

Automated Support for Student Writing
Educational technology is failing to provide tools for writing in the classroom in a way that benefits actual teachers. The current practices of automated essay scoring are focused heavily on summative, standardized testing. When they do give formative feedback, it emphasizes mechanics and grammar over content and literary awareness of elements like genre, audience awareness, and argumentation. That’s not enough – especially with the upcoming shift to Common Core and the increased workload it represents. LightSide is developing tools that really work in schools, based on conversations with teachers and direct classroom experience. Our mission is to improve writing skills. We’re doing that with our flagship writing platform, the Revision Assistant, and with our automated scoring product, LightBox, which provides truly customizable and open access to the education industry.

April 2012: LightSide’s automated essay scoring engine was proven reliable in a study commisioned by Smarter Balanced and PARCC in a bake-off competition hosted on Read more about the competition.

Automated scoring of student essays is fast, accurate, and affordable. That was the conclusion drawn from two prize competitions sponsored by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. ASAP began in February of 2012 with a demonstration of capabilities of the eight largest testing vendors. The “bake off” was hosted on the Kaggle platform and, as Mark Shermis and Ben Hamner reported, demonstrated that current scoring engines could match expert graders across eight sets of essays. A case study, “Automated Student Assessment Prize Phase One and Phase Two: A Case Study to Promote Focused Innovation in Student Writing Assessment,” was published in January.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the ASAP competitions was the stunning performance of LightSide, an open scoring engine developed at Carnegie Mellon University. Grad student Elijah Mayfield and the open source code held their own against testing companies and data scientists from around the world.

In the brave new world of Common Core, all tests will be delivered online and graded by computers. This is supposed to be faster and cheaper than paying teachers or even low-skill hourly workers or read student essays.

But counting on machines to grade student work is a truly bad idea. We know that computers can’t recognize wit, humor, or irony. We know that many potentially great writers with unconventional writing styles would be declared failures (EE Cummings immediately to mind).

But it is worse than that. Computers can’t tell the difference between reasonable prose and bloated nonsense. Les Perelman, former director of undergraduate writing at MIT, created a machine, withe help of a team of students, called BABEL.

He was interviewed by Steve Kolowich of The Chronicle of Higher Education, who wrote:

“Les Perelman, a former director of undergraduate writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sits in his wife’s office and reads aloud from his latest essay.

“Privateness has not been and undoubtedly never will be lauded, precarious, and decent,” he reads. “Humankind will always subjugate privateness.”

Not exactly E.B. White. Then again, Mr. Perelman wrote the essay in less than one second, using the Basic Automatic B.S. Essay Language Generator, or Babel, a new piece of weaponry in his continuing war on automated essay-grading software.

“The Babel generator, which Mr. Perelman built with a team of students from MIT and Harvard University, can generate essays from scratch using as many as three keywords.

“For this essay, Mr. Perelman has entered only one keyword: “privacy.” With the click of a button, the program produced a string of bloated sentences that, though grammatically correct and structurally sound, have no coherent meaning. Not to humans, anyway. But Mr. Perelman is not trying to impress humans. He is trying to fool machines.

“Software vs. Software

“Critics of automated essay scoring are a small but lively band, and Mr. Perelman is perhaps the most theatrical. He has claimed to be able to guess, from across a room, the scores awarded to SAT essays, judging solely on the basis of length. (It’s a skill he happily demonstrated to a New York Times reporter in 2005.) In presentations, he likes to show how the Gettysburg Address would have scored poorly on the SAT writing test. (That test is graded by human readers, but Mr. Perelman says the rubric is so rigid, and time so short, that they may as well be robots.)

“In 2012 he published an essay that employed an obscenity (used as a technical term) 46 times, including in the title.

“Mr. Perelman’s fundamental problem with essay-grading automatons, he explains, is that they “are not measuring any of the real constructs that have to do with writing.” They cannot read meaning, and they cannot check facts. More to the point, they cannot tell gibberish from lucid writing.”

The rest of the article reviews projects in which professors claim to have perfected machines that are as reliable at judging student essays as human graders.

I’m with Perelman. If I write something, I have a reader or an audience in mind. I am writing for you, not for a machine. I want you to understand what I am thinking. The best writing, I believe, is created by people writing to and for other people, not by writers aiming to meet the technical specifications to satisfy a computer program.

Annie Gilbertson of public radio KPCC in Los Angeles has another scoop. Officials who were on the committee to choose the winning bid for LAUSD’s huge technology purchase received free iPads and the cost of their trip to a meeting at a resort was underwritten by the Pearson Foundation.

She writes:

“Los Angeles Unified officials who evaluated bids for its massive technology project received iPads from Pearson, met with a Pearson software executive and attended a weekend sales pitch for that software — all ahead of the public bid process, documents show.

“The revelation is important because Superintendent John Deasy has repeatedly said the bid process was not affected by early conversations on the software — which he asserts were limited to a small pilot project.

“According to travel reports received through a public records act request, Susan Tandberg and Gerardo Loera, top administrators in the district’s office of curriculum and instruction, attended a Pearson conference at a Palm Desert resort in July 2012 where all attendees were given iPads loaded with Pearson’s learning software.

“A third office of curriculum and instruction staffer, Carol Askin, also attended the conference and would have received an iPad, records show.”

At the end of the story comes this stunning revelation:

“As for the meetings, Pearson officials on Monday said they agreed with Deasy’s statements to other media that the early communications between the company and L.A. Unified officials related only to planning an eight-classroom pilot program.

“However, emails show L.A. Unified officials discussing training 2,000 teachers on the Pearson software and Pearson offered to hire four, full-time staff members to help train teachers – an extraordinary expense an eight-classroom pilot.”

Howard Blume reports in the LA Times that at least $2 million in computers cannot be accounted for.

“More than $2 million worth of Los Angeles Unified computers, mostly iPads, could not be accounted for during a recent audit by the school system’s inspector general.

“The review also found that the school district lacked an effective tracking system — and that losses could be higher as a result.

“The District did not have a complete, adequate and centralized inventory record of all of its computers,” the report said. “There was an increased potential for fraud, misuse and abuse of District resources.”

“L.A. Unified spent about $67 million from July 2011 through June 2013 to purchase 70,000 computers and mobile devices from Apple and Arey Jones, a vendor.

“The totals in the audit are estimates because, the report said, “we were unable to determine the exact number of computers and mobile devices purchased through the master contracts for the period under review because the information needed was incomplete, inaccurate, or unavailable.”

“The audit found campuses that had a surplus of devices and schools with no effective system to track who had a computer or who was responsible for it.

“In one case, the charter school division said it transferred 30 laptops and three desktops from one closed campus to another school. But the second one said it never received anything.

“And 106 computers from a closed occupational center could not be located, the report said.

“At Dymally Senior High, “current and former administrators refused to take responsibility for missing computer devices,” the report said.

“Eighty-two computers disappeared from a regional district office.

“Where records did exist, they were often incorrect, showing computers assigned to employees who had resigned, retired or transferred, the audit found.

“For the most part, the missing devices covered by the audit did not include iPads that were part of last fall’s rollout of a $1-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator.

“However, 96 devices included in that effort also were lost or stolen, with 36 eventually recovered.”

Annie Gilbertson of public radio station KPCC in Los Angeles somehow managed to get the emails that broke open the Los Angeles iPad fiasco. Once her story broke, Superintendent John Deasy canceled the contract with Apple and Pearson.

Gilbertson reported:

“The emails show the officials detailed aspects of a one-to-one student technology program, down to the specifics of tech support and teacher training. A year later, the requirements for proposals resembled the package Pearson was selling.

“KPCC aired and published stories on those emails Friday. On Monday, Superintendent John Deasy announced he was canceling the contract with Apple and Pearson and issuing a new request for proposals for the one-to-one technology project.

“L.A. Unified’s technology expansion, including upgrading wifi at schools, is poised to be the largest in the country with a price tag of nearly $1.3 billion.”

Now Ken Bramlett, the Inspector General of the schools, has decided to reopen an investigation that had been closed, based on those emails.

Hopefully, any future purchases will not take money from the bond issue that voters approved for school repair and construction. Having a clean, safe, up-to-date, beautiful school to attend should be the civil right of every student in Los Angeles.

Steve Lopez, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, asks all the right questions about John Deasy and the blow-up of his plan to spend $1 billion for iPads loaded with Pearson curriculum.

Can he survive the release of the emails that give the appearance of impropriety?

Can he survive when the new board may have a majority of members not in his corner?

Can he survive in light of the fact that Stuart Magruder, one of the few public critics of Deasy’s decision to use school construction bonds to pay for the iPads, was reinstated to the Bond Oversight Committee?

Can he survive when the LAUSD technology committee criticized the deal with Apple and Pearson before the emails were made public?

How much worse can Deasy’s situation get? Will he tough it out or has he lost the public’s confidence?


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