Archives for category: Technology, Computers

Nancy Bailey watched advance promotional material for PBS’s “School of the Future,” and she is fearful that it will be a sales pitch for digital learning.

She writes:

“On Wednesday, Sept. 14, 9 pm ET, PBS and NOVA will air a two hour special called “School of the Future.” The advertisement tells us much. They are warning that the future for children demands that students need better preparation to succeed due to globalization. What they probably won’t tell us is that this future will likely continue to be manipulated by corporations.


“This abstract, strange future they speak about (possibly puzzling to the smartest among us), will be about technology, of course.

“Their message appears to be that we better address technology that can be used with students, even to study their brains to see if they can learn faster and better. The goal is to close the achievement gap.

“The ad has that hint of emergency for which school reformers are known.

“Sal Kahn of Kahn Academy fame will be on the program. I don’t mind Kahn’s online instruction, but it is naïve to believe that such a program will replace public schools and real teachers.

“And that’s what today’s technology is about. Don’t be deceived by the few teachers that might be shown on this program.

“In some parts of the country they are sitting children online in teacherless preschools.

“They are replacing elementary, middle, and high school classes led by teachers with all online instruction, even though research shows that more computer time doesn’t work out as well as less screen time.

“Many school districts have wasted an exorbitant amount of money on iPads that have not proven to be worth what administrators thought when they purchased them. In some places they sit unused in the closet.

“Technology isn’t bad. It can benefit teachers, students and parents. But it should not be made to appear like it will miraculously improve the way students learn used alone.

“Many parents understand this. The reasonable use of technology is what Parents Across America recently advocated for in a position paper. They recognize the overarching push many corporations are doing to destroy public schooling by creating all online schooling.

“The last chapter in my book Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Save Public Education is about the technology threat. I believe, like many, that the ultimate goal of the school reformers involves closing public schools in favor of all online–at home or in substandard charter schools set up like warehouses.

“Technology might help the homebound student or the student in rural areas, but this is an alternative. It can also provide review for students who need it, or advanced information for students who want it, but it is not as good as brick-and-mortar schooling.

“It is also troubling to hear repeated claims that computers will individualize schooling which we will hear about in this program. They might give students lessons at their level of understanding, but truly personalized learning involves real teachers and students with which to connect. The human element is critical.”

Get ready for the Brave New World of education, the one without teachers. Think of the cost savings!


This just in from the parent advocacy group, Parents Across America:

Contact: Laura Bowman, PAA-Roanoke Valley: 540-819-6385
Julie Woestehoff, PAA interim executive director: 773-715-3989

Our Children @ Risk

Parents raise alarm about EdTech’s harmful effects on children’s
academic, intellectual, emotional, physical and social development

Echoing the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report, Parents Across America (PAA)
today declares, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose
on America the takeover of public education by digital technology that
threatens our children’s health and well-being, captures their private
data, and undermines the best elements of their education, we might
well view it as an act of war.”

PAA has spent extensive time looking into recent writing and research
that raise red flags about the impact of the EdTech explosion on our
children. This high-pressure movement has brought a mishmash of digital
devices and online and other pre-packaged programs into our schools,
where they are promoted as “personalized,” “competency-based,”
“student-centered,” or “self-directed” learning, terms which we refer
to together as EdTech.

Today, PAA released a position paper and a series of reports, including
a 35-page background paper, detailing some of the many threats to
children’s health and well-being, parental control, family privacy, and
the quality of teaching and learning by this latest effort of corporate
reformers to profit from our children’s education and undermine
democratic public schooling.

PAA’s executive director, Julie Woestehoff, explains, “What we have
found out about the EdTech push alarms us, and should alarm any parent.
First of all, there is actually very little research addressing the
many news ways that EdTech is being used in our schools — our children
are truly being used as guinea pigs. What we do know about children and
screen time is based in part on new studies and in part on previous
research into children’s use of television, video games and computers,
which can help us anticipate some of EdTech’s health effects. And
EdTech’s teaching and learning track record is not positive. Yet
corporate reformers and the new federal education law, the Every Child
Succeeds Act, or ESSA, are investing heavily in EdTech and increasingly
pressuring its widespread use.”

Leader of PAA’s chapter in Roanoke, VA, Laura Bowman, says, “We are
speaking out for balanced, healthy classrooms for our children. We
strongly oppose the push to increase student screen time, replace
teachers with packaged lessons delivered by digital devices, and
continuously test students, data-mining the results. We are very
concerned that the massive and growing use of EdTech is displacing
valuable elements of schooling without providing clear benefits, and
threatening our children’s right to a healthy and educationally-
appropriate school environment.”

PAA is not against the appropriate use of technology in schools. Just
as the group opposes standardized test misuse and not the tests
themselves, they challenge technology use that reduces schooling to a
data-mining computer game, and not technology itself. We know that our
children need to master technology, and we acknowledge that parents
must work harder to monitor their children’s use of technology at home.
But we also strongly feel that schools, school districts and states
must become far more cautious, diligent, transparent and accountable
about their technology decisions.

PAA believes that, in the face of strong pressure from the parental
opt-out movement, and criticism that the misuse and overuse of
standardized tests harms children and their education, corporate
reformers and “Big Testing” have changed their tactics.

These education profiteers are promoting even more lucrative testing
and teaching strategies, mostly tied to the Common Core State Standards
and the PARCC or SBAC national tests.

These products help Big Testing continue to control the curriculum and
access vast amounts of student data. Meanwhile, students are spending
increasing hours glued to computer screens and other digital devices
which leaves less time for interacting with other children, adults or
their own imaginations, and exposes them to new dangers.

We have prepared a set of informational materials for parents covering
PAA’s specific concerns about EdTech’s:

-harmful effects on children’s mental and emotional development,

-negative impact on student intellectual and academic growth,

-damaging physical effects,

-depersonalization and other ways of undermining the educational

-questionable value and effectiveness,

-continuous testing of students, often without obtaining consent from
or even informing students or parents,

-threats to student data privacy, and

-hugely lucrative benefits for private companies.

Parents must be alerted to these potential risks, and be prepared to
challenge and, if necessary, opt out of school-based technology that
may be harmful to our children.

Based on these and other concerns, we call on legislators and education
policy makers to consider our list of recommendations found at http://p

Please see our documentation paper ( and
reports ( more detailed informat
ion, references and background.

Checker Finn wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan (as did Marc Tucker and I, in large part to counter what Checker wrote).

Many readers wondered why anyone would write an open letter to the founder of Facebook and advise him what to do about reforming American education.

Nancy Bailey puts those concerns, that skepticism, and that sense of outrage into a post directed to Checker Finn.

Finn just wrote a letter to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg for all of us to see, like we are the bystanders in their goofball, grand design of schools. Schools will no longer be public–other than they will still receive our tax dollars.

It is hard not to be struck by the arrogance of it all.

If one understands what a democracy is, and how it relates to public schools, they will be puzzled as to why Finn isn’t writing a letter to the American people–you know–the ones who are supposed to be the real owners of their schools.

But instead, he writes to Chan and Zuckerberg. He wants them to think about school reform. He sees them as the owners of America’s schools. They, like Gates and the other wealthy oligarchs, assume they know best how children learn because they made a lot of money and got rich.

She is especially repulsed by his reference to “personalized learning,” which is now a euphemism for sitting in front of a computer and letting the computer teach you. Some call it CBE, competency-based education, since the computer uses algorithms to judge your readiness for the next question or activity. The idea that computers might teach children with special needs is particularly troubling.

But real education is an exchange between people, not a machine and a person.

I have known Checker Finn for many years, almost forty. Our friendship was impaired when I left the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and publicly rejected school choice and high-stakes testing. I have always had a fondness for Checker and his family. But Checker went to Exeter, and his wonderful children also went to elite private schools. I don’t begrudge them that, but I think Checker really is out of touch with public education and with the work of teachers in public schools. I am not making excuses for him, just explaining why I think he really doesn’t understand the disastrous consequences of the ideas he has promoted and believes in–for other people’s children.

Kevin Ohlandt blogs at Exceptional Delaware.

He left the following comment in response to Peter Greene’s post about “Lab Rats for America.”

“But where oh where would all of this become incorporated? Look no further than the home of 85% of U.S. companies… the First State… Delaware. On May 2nd, Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced his state would begin to look at changes in state regulations and state code to allow for Blockchain start-ups to come to Delaware.

“As well, we have a coding school in Delaware which was founded by Ben DuPont, of the legendary DuPont family of Delaware. The same family that actually created many of the “brown schools” in our state in the early 20th Century. Also a big supporter of charter schools.

“This is what is has all been leading up to. And opt out? They love it. As long as they resist it just enough to issues threats and build the base for more parents opting out. Not wholesale, but steady increases. That way they can “realize the error of their ways” and lead us to a digital personalized learning competency-based education paradise where the state assessment is no longer given once a year, but throughout – in the form of end of unit online assessments. At the end of the year, the total scores will be calculated and serve as the official state assessments.

“Because these are also part of students grades and their ability to move on, the ability to opt out becomes moot. Teachers (or rather, glorified digital moderators), will get immediate feedback. The tests won’t be as long, so parents won’t have to worry.
They are three steps ahead of us, always. While we are lashing out about PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and teacher evaluations, they are laying the groundwork for all of this.

“They can say this is an attempt to erase all inequity, but we know that is a false narrative. This is the corporate takeover of America. This is the end of public education.
But the question we ALL need to ask ourselves… how do we stop it? We are seeing coding classes in 3rd grade in Delaware. Are kids actually laying the groundwork for a lot of this already? You know this is a data-mining paradise for them.

“The Rodel Foundation of Delaware has been pushing this in our state for a long time. Our State Board of Education and Dept. of Education are the most deceptive and fraudulent parts of our state.

“If we want to save public education and, I’m going to say it, the future of the country, we have to act now.”

Former Governor Bob Wise and the Alliance for Excellent Education released a video touting “personalized learning” as the key to academic success. He speaks in the foreground of what he says is the Rio Olympics (actually the footage is from 2012, according to the credits). A short video shows students engaged in “personalized learning,” some of which appears to be centered on a computer.

Let’s say this much for the ad: at least it is not insulting like the one created by Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst in 2012, which showed a flabby American man falling on his face while competing in a women’s event and said he represented American students. It was shown on national television during the Olympics and was highly demeaning to our nation and our students.

Bob Wise partnered with Jeb Bush in creating a document called “Digital Learning Now,” which claimed that learning online was the secret to high achievement for everyone. None of its assertions had any evidence behind them, and the report was financed by the tech industry.

“Personalized learning” is a very problematic concept these days. Most people think it means that the teacher and the student work closely together, and the teacher understands the student’s needs.

But in the education industry, “personalized learning” means computer-based instruction. In theory, the computer knows the student well. The student and the computer interact and collaborate, so they are close friends.

The paid journalistic touting of computer-based learning is intensifying. I can’t keep up with all the articles that promote machine learning and mislabel it “personalized” learning.

There is nothing “personal” about learning from a machine. The machine doesn’t know you. It stores your data, but it has no feelings, no emotions, no empathy. It doesn’t like you. It doesn’t love you, it doesn’t dislike you. It is indifferent. If your mother dies, it won’t feel any sympathy for you. It is a machine. Whatever you call it, please don’t say it is “personalized” to you. It’s not.

Linda McNeill is a well-known scholar of high-stakes testing at Rice University in Houston.

She writes here about the ominous role of testing companies in data mining students as they are studying or taking tests online. They gather confidential data about every child. That data may later be used for commercial purposes.

Even as they regularly invade the privacy of unknowing children, they fiercely resist any attempts to make public their tests, on which the fate of students, educators, and schools hinge.

Any discussion of the test content will lead to claims of copyright infringement and threats of legal action. And as we have seen in recent weeks, the test publishers contact Twitter, Facebook, and other social media and lodge complaints that lead to the deletion of tweets, posts, and comments. The testing companies assert the right to censor other people’s products, while shielding their own from public scrutiny.

McNeill writes:

Corporations – from testing companies to third-party marketers to unknown (and perhaps international) vendors – can scoop up personal information on young children and teenagers to use for their own profit. And parents have few ways to find out what these strangers know about their children and how the data collected from year to year will be used to manipulate their children lives.

So are the testing companies advocates willing to have their “data” open to outsiders? It would seem the answer is a clear and resounding NO!….

We’re learning that questioning the tests can put the questioner in jeopardy. Anyone – including teachers – who wants more public scrutiny of the mandated standardized tests that so dominate our schools these days, may be “surveilled.” A teacher or blogger who raises questions about the tests is in danger of being threatened by – yes, the testing companies that have no problem gathering and selling data on young children but do not want anyone to know what they are doing.

What is sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander. They have a right to collect data about us without our knowledge, but we have no right to know how they are spying on us and data mining our children.

Leonie Haimson, parent activist, worked with a group of other concerned critics to review the explosion of computer-massessment, in particular, the scoring of writing.


“On April 5, 2016, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Parents Across America, Network for Public Education, FairTest and many state and local parent groups sent a letter to the Education Commissioners in the states using the federally funded Common Core tests known as PARCC and SBAC, asking about the scoring of these exams.


“We asked them the following questions:


“What percentage of the ELA exams in our state are being scored by machines this year, and how many of these exams will then be re-scored by a human being?


“What happens if the machine score varies significantly from the score given by the human being?
“Will parents have the opportunity to learn whether their children’s ELA exam was scored by a human being or a machine?
“Will you provide the “proof of concept” or efficacy studies promised months ago by Pearson in the case of PARCC, and AIR in the case of SBAC, and cited in the contracts as attesting to the validity and reliability of the machine-scoring method being used?
“Will you provide any independent research that provides evidence of the reliability of this method, and preferably studies published in peer-reviewed journals?

“Our concerns had been prompted by seeing the standard contracts that Pearson and AIR had signed with states. The standard PARCC contract indicates that this year, Pearson would score two-thirds of the students’ writing responses by computers, with only 10 percent of these rechecked by a human being. In 2017, the contract said, all of PARCC writing samples were to be scored by machine with only 10 percent rechecked by hand.”


Haimson refers to research that demonstrates that computers can’t recognize meaning or narrative, although they admire sentence complexity and grammar.


This,she writes, means that computers will give high scores to incoherent but windy prose.


“The inability of machine scoring to distinguish between nonsense and coherence may lead to a debasement of instruction, with teachers and test prep companies engaged in training students on how to game the system by writing verbose and pretentious prose that will receive high scores from the machines. In sum, machine scoring will encourage students to become poor writers and communicators.”


Only five state commissioners responded after a month. They learned that the state commissioner of Rhode Island, Ken Wagner, testified that machine scoring was more valid and reliable than trained and expert humans.


Haimson concludes, quoting Pearson’s literature:


“Essentially, the point of this grandiose project imposed upon our nation’s schools is to eliminate the human element in education as much as possible.”


Read this well-documented article. It is up to parents to stop this headlong rush to the dehumanizing of education.


I wish that all those who appreciate the wonders of technology would frankly admit its limitations. I wish they would speak out when hucksters and naifs claim that technology will close the achievement gap between rich and poor or that learning by machine is “personalized learning.” Personalized learning is what happens when humans beings interact, face to face, when a teacher who knows you is engaged in helping you learn. An interaction with a machine is impersonalized learning.


Baltimore County Public Schools system has bought the hoax: under the leadership of its superintendent, Dallas Dance, the school board has agreed to invest at least $270 million so that every student will have his or her own computer. It is a decisive move towards a fully digitized schooling, with everyone wired, including 5-year-olds. Some parents are very unhappy with this decision. They would prefer to see money invested in reducing class sizes, arts programs, and capital improvements. Some worry that the evidence for the benefits of going digital does not exist. Some argue that the program does more for big business than for children. Some think the program should be pilot-tested before it is implemented across the district. Some worry about the potential health effects of a fully digital classroom.


One parent wrote:


The real overall costs of STAT are now projected at $272.1 million for the “BCPS Proposed 6 Year Instructional Digital Conversion Plan.” That’s nearly $70 million higher than previously discussed.


And, breaking news to most: On top of that, $63 million or more would be required every year thereafter — with 92 percent (!) going to the laptop leases alone, according to officials and budget proposal documents released in early January.


Every. Year.


That means in one decade BCPS would spend at least $630 million to lease laptops, which schools would turn over every four years, amid other costs. Ten new state-of-the art schools could be funded at that price, likely with some snazzy new tech options, too. Operating vs. Capital Expenditures aside (day-to-day vs. buildings), money is money.


My own view is that it is far too soon to adopt technology as the primary vehicle for education because there is no evidence that it improves learning or that it reduces achievement gaps or that it is especially beneficial to children from low-income homes. Last fall, the OECD released a study concluding that some technology use in the classroom is good, but too much technology is not. This was the conclusion: Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.


Was the Baltimore County school board aware of that study before it committed $270 million to provide a computer for every student?


We saw the disaster unfold in Los Angeles when former Superintendent John Deasy decided that every student and staff member in the LAUSD should have an iPad; worse, he sold this idea as a matter of “civil rights.” Frankly, it cheapens the meaning of civil rights (the right to vote, the right to be treated the same as others, the right to equality of educational opportunity, the right to serve on a jury, etc.) when “the right to an iPad” is called a “civil right.” It would make more sense to talk about the right to a job with a decent living wage, the right to good housing, the right to medical care, and the right to sound nutrition, than to turn the ownership of an iPad into a “civil right.” As we know, the $1 billion-plus transaction turned into a fiasco when questions were raised about favoritism shown to Apple and Pearson, and the whole deal was canceled.



Many of us still remember the story in the New York Times in 2011 about the Waldorf School in Silicon Valley that has no computers; its students include the children of high-tech executives who believe their children will have plenty of time for technology in the future. Instead of working online, they are learning through physical activity, creative play, hands-on projects, and reading. While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.


The Baltimore County school board not only approved STAT but renewed Superintendent Dance’s contract, which will run until 2020. When he was first hired as superintendent in 2012 (at the age of 30), he needed a waiver, because he had only two years of teaching experience and state law requires three years of teaching experience for superintendents. He also ran into trouble when he became involved with SUPES Academy, the same company that had hired disgraced Chicago CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. A local reporter wrote: Dance was heavily criticized — and admonished by the school board — for accepting a position in the company in August 2013 without informing the board. The board had approved a three-year $875,000 contract with SUPES to train personnel in December 2012. Dance ended up resigning the SUPES position in 2013.


Maine blogger Emily Talmage recently criticized Superintendent Dance. She wrote:


Meanwhile, as the corporate-driven personalized, digital learning craze sweeps the country, Dance has jumped in headfirst and is bringing his district along with him.


As a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Association for K-12 Online Learning, Dance called himself a “pioneer.”


He also said that teachers were “talking too much,” and that students should be assessed at any time.


“In order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum,” he said….



“This is taking place in a school district that is in desperate need of improvements to infrastructure, transportation, class size reduction, and social programs, issues that have been financially pushed to the side in favor of STAT,” a teacher wrote.


“Personalized learning is being presented to constituents as the solution to close the equity gap in education,” said the Baltimore teacher, “[but] no input has been garnered from parents, and the expectation is that teachers will fully embrace the program without question.”


It would be nice if a school board asked for evidence of effectiveness before blowing away nearly $300 million on the fad of the moment. Technology will change rapidly, and BCPS will be left with obsolete machines unless they make an annual commitment to buy or lease new equipment. This is money that will not be spent on teachers, programs, and maintenance of buildings.



Reader Eric Brandon posted a comment about the Zuckerbergs’ funding of online education. As I have noted in many posts recently, the U.S. Department of Education and many vendors are promoting online education, online testing, and other ways to increase technology in the classroom. He writes that reading on paper is better than reading online. This has been my own personal experience. I have long been an avid consumer of NAEP reports, for example. I used to study each page with care. Now that the NAEP reports are available only online, not on paper, I find it difficult to find information unless I know exactly what to ask for. I have also had trouble reading on e-machines. I sometimes flip 40-50 pages by mistake and have trouble returning to the page I wanted. But more important, there is something about the online experience of print that is not as satisfying as reading on paper. Maybe ten or twenty years from now, no one will read anything on paper and comments like mine will be lost and forgotten.


Brandon writes:


There is….strong evidence that reading on paper is better for students (and their eyes) than reading on screens. I find that I get a bit lost when reading a book on an e-reader when compared to a paper book. I can’t remember what I read and where to find it as well.


And a very exclusive Silicon Valley school does not allow computers in the classroom.


Machine learning and robot teachers for the masses; paper books and human teachers for the wealthy.

This is a very strange post. I have written it four times, and each time the text has disappeared. Hmmm.

Washington, D.C., is getting its first Rocketship charter school. The building is under construction, and parents who plan to send their child have been invited to interview prospective teachers.

Rocketship started in San, Jose, California, where it was a sensation for a while. The business model is that kids spend a lot of time in front of computers, monitored by inexperienced teachers, mostly TFA. No art, no music. John Merrow did a segment about it on PBS, wondering if this was the Henry Ford factory-style school of the future. The scores of the Rocketship charters were high, which brought them much acclaim. But then the scores faded, and community opposition impeded the chain’s expansion.

Here is a recent analysis from the Hechinger Report:

But now Rocketship plans to open eight charters in DC. Very likely they are benefiting from the strong interest of the Walton Family Foundation in turning DC into another New Orleans: No public schools, private management, many TFA, no unions.

It is hard to believe that the Waltons actually believe that this model will have a dramatic effect on the children of DC. At present, DC has the largest achievement gaps of any urban district tested by NAEP.

The news here is not about parent involvement. The real news is that Kaya Henderson and the mayor of DC, who controls the schools, apparently have given up on public education and are prepared to privatize the public schools.