This arrived in my email box today. The author, who owns a literacy company, asked to remain anonymous. He is describing an entrepreneurs’ conclave at Arizona State University, cosponsored by GSV Capital, whose leader, Michael Moe, has been bullish about the education sector as a profit opportunity for many years.

 

My correspondent writes:

 

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

 
I’m a longtime fan of your work and your blog (which I have recommended to many colleagues and in my company’s blog).
My name is ……

 

I’m writing to you today to tell you about a conference I just returned from called the ASU GSV Summit. It should really be called the Taxpayer Funded Education Business Con-ference (with an emphasis on “con”), because it was filled with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists claiming to want to do “social capitalism” but who actually were participating in an event filled with corporate dominated “school reform” propaganda that placed its focus on charters, accountability (ie testing), and corporate solutions such as Teach For America. While a great deal of lip service was paid to the great work of teachers (including an appearance by the hip-hop star, Common, along with his mother, a Chicago school board member), far more attention was given to pro-corporate propaganda. For instance, one of the hosts, GSV’s Michael Moe (http://investors.gsvcap.com/management.cfm) gave a lengthy keynote in which he compared education reformers to former Notre Dame coach, Lou Holtz and then extolled the virtues of companies such as Dreambox Learning, an online math program, that owes its existence to the fact that its owners also own a chain of charter schools that purchase its software. Not coincidentally, Dreambox won their ROE (Return on Education) award for the 3rd year in a row.

 

I think Dreambox is well worth a look because it exemplifies the kind of corporate reform darling that has success based completely on smoke and mirrors. If you read this report: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.epi.org/files/2014/school-privatization-milwaukee.pdf, it outlines Dreambox’s relationship with the Rocketship Charter Schools. It also details how: “When the U.S. Department of Education reviewed DreamBox in December 2013, researchers found 11 studies claiming to assess the program’s impact, but immediately rejected 10 of them as statistically meaningless. While the 11th study used sound methods and reported “significant gains in overall mathematics scores,” DOE staff found that the authors—whose work was commissioned by Rocketship—had arbitrarily excluded students they deemed “outliers.” When DOE staff reran the study with all students included, they concluded that DreamBox has “no discernible effects on mathematics achievement for elementary school students.” Following publication of the DOE’s report, the Rocketship-commissioned authors produced additional data that convinced federal researchers to upgrade their assessment of DreamBox’s impacts to “potentially positive effects” based on “small evidence.” (You can see the DOE report here: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/intervention_reports/wwc_dreambox_121013.pdf.)
I can’t keep track of how many awards Dreambox has won – all based completely on fraudulent studies and fraudulent marketing claims (e.g., “analyzes over 48,000 data points per student, per hour” – how on earth could any elementary school math program have over 48,000 data points in one hour? They used to say that they had “millions” of data points, so I guess 48,000 is their way of being conservative).

 

Another particularly odious presentation was made by billionaire Vinod Khosla who regaled the audience with his fact-free, research-ridiculing view that “We spend too much on education – if we cut education funding in half we would get a better result.” He also told us how “tenure” is a dated concept, and he lamented how teachers using Teacher Created Materials charge around $5 for their lesson plans, because “they should be free” and produced “from passion and not a desire for profit.” This from a man worth $1.7 billion! Apparently, the only people who should make a decent living in the education field are VCs like himself and the tech companies he chooses to fund.

 

I could go on, but you get the point. I’ve been to many, many education conferences that promote entrepreneurialism and technology solutions (SIIA, ISTE, NSBA, FETC, etc.). This one was the most overtly pro-corporate I have ever seen.