Archives for category: Technology

Let’s just say it upfront. If you wanted to know more about “The State of Education,” and how to “rebuild a more equitable system,” the last person you would ask is a billionaire. Right? Specifically Bill Gates, who has spent billions over the past 20 years promoting high-stakes testing, charter schools, merit pay, value-added measurement of teachers, the Common Core, test-based accountability, and every failed reform I can think of. The media think he is the world’s leading expert on everything, but we know from experience with his crackpot theories and ideas that none of them has made education better, and all of them have demoralized teachers and harmed students and public schools. What hubris to have foisted one failed idea after another and then to convene a summit on how to fix the mess you made, probably by doing the same failed things you already sponsored.

So how can we build a “more equitable system”? Well, one way would be to have higher taxes for people in Bill Gates’ economic bracket. He lives in a state with no income tax. That’s not fair. He should pay his fair share–to his local community, to the state, and to the federal government. So should every other billionaire. I don’t mean to pick on Bill Gates–well, actually I do–since he is the only billionaire who thinks he knows how to redesign education without either knowledge or experience. And he is only the third richest person in the world right now (sorry, Bill). But if he and Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk paid more taxes, they wouldn’t be poor. They wouldn’t even be middle-class.

So here are some ideas for the conferees:

  1. Pay your taxes
  2. Demand an increase on taxes for people in your income bracket so that wealth is more equitably distributed
  3. Insist that class sizes be reduced, especially in schools that educate the neediest children
  4. Leave education to the educators.

Here is your invitation. Please, God, don’t tell me they want everyone to go virtual all the time.

 
A reminder: Our live virtual event, The State of Education: Rebuilding a More Equitable System, is this Wednesday, March 3 at 1:00 p.m. E.T. / 11:00 a.m. P.T.

While the pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities, it’s also presented a unique opportunity to dramatically overhaul the education system.

We’re excited to share with you our full program agenda for this week’s virtual event, filled with voices who will outline the innovative solutions that should be implemented to create an equitable learning environment for all students. Visit our website to learn more and register today to reserve your spot.
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Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, is a dogged researcher who uncovers the mysteries of privatization and the education industry. In this post, he responds to a parent who asked him about an organization that was providing free airfare for her school district’s leaders. He was on the case.

He begins:

A North Carolina resident asked “what do you know about the Urban Collaborative?” She was concerned about a company providing free airfare to school leaders in her child’s district; airfare to meetings in far-off cities. She wondered, “What is their motive? Is it more about money and power than special education?”

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative was founded by Dr. David Riley, Educational Co-Chair of the Summer Institute on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Riley was the Executive Director of the Collaborative until he succumbed to cancerMay 2, 2016. The Collaborative is a national network of education administrators responsible for youth with disabilities in urban school districts. It is a national version of the Massachusetts Urban Project, a state-wide network that Dr. Riley founded in 1979. In 1994, The Education Development Center (EDC) expanded the Urban Collaborative into a national organization.

Ultican then goes on to describe the history of the organizations and their collaborations with a foray into changes in the physics curriculum.

EDC once had noble ambitions and accomplishments:

In the early years, the EDC was an organization making liberal ideology a reality. They developed a science curriculum specifically for the realities of Africa. They led a consortium of U.S. universities in founding the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. The EDC produced educational TV shows noteworthy for their African American and Latino casts. They engaged in educating village health workers in Mali.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, EDC seems to have become distracted by power and money while it dove into education technology.

And then, oh my, money and power begin to change things.

He concludes:

The relationships that Urban Collaborative fosters and the curricular development activities at EDC may have value. But sadly, these organizations have been corrupted by billionaire dollars and the lust for national prominence. They have lost their focus on improving public education and have become power players in the world of corporate education reform.

Thirty-one years ago, I was invited by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to join him at the U.S. Department of Education as Assistant Secretary of Education in Charge of Research and Improvement. Before he invited me, he learned a lot about my work and my views. It was a big jump for me because I had never planned to work in government and was surprised to be invited. After I was confirmed by the Senate, I selected the person I wanted as my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. It was Francie Alexander, who had been Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Assessment in the State of California. I had gotten to know her when I worked on the California history-social science framework in the late 1980s.

Given this brief personal history, I am puzzled that the Biden administration is staffing up the key jobs in the U.S. Department of Education before any of the top officials (Secretary of Education, Deputy Secretary of Education, Undersecretary of Education) have been confirmed. The next layer of officials–the Assistant Secretaries–have not even been named.

Yet the administration continues to roll out lists of people who will be deputies to Assistant Secretaries who are as yet unknown; “chief of staff” to an official who has not been confirmed; “confidential assistant” to a high official. Most of these appointments have one of two things in common: 1) they worked on the Biden-Harris campaign; or 2) they worked in the Obama administration.

It is likely, highly likely, that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona and his Deputy Secretary-designate Cindy Marten have never met or even heard of any of these people who will be their closest associates. They will not pick their team; when they take office, their team will be in place, chosen by someone else. Who? Arne Duncan? John King?

The important job of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs in the Office of the Secretary went to Scott Sargrad, who was until recently vice-president for K-12 education at the Center for American Progress. CAP, as is well known, is pro-testing and pro-charter schools.

Will the Biden administration revive Race to the Top but call it something else?

Asking for a few million friends.

During the pandemic, most schools turned to remote learning as a matter of necessity. Some in the education biz think that the pandemic has created a new market for their products. Actually, most parents and students are eager for real schools with real teachers to open again. Contrary to popular myth, teachers too want schools to reopen, as soon as they are safe for staff and students.

Historian Victoria E.M. Cain of Northeastern University has written an engaging account of the hype associated with new technology in the classroom. It is a tool, it should be used appropriately, but it is not a replacement for teachers.

She writes:

The lessons for today’s enthusiasts are clear. It is wise to be humble about the possibilities of classroom technology. No one would deny that technology can provide invaluable tools to improve learning. (What teacher today would not want to have classroom access to the internet?) Too often, though, instead of being seen as a tool to help schools, new technology has been embraced as a silver-bullet solution to daunting educational crises. In desperate times, desperate leaders have clutched at overblown promises, investing in unproven ideas without demanding reasonable evidence of efficacy. 

In the current pandemic, it might be tempting for education leaders to hope that if only we can find the right balance of learning management systems, home Wi-Fi access, and teacher training, we can continue to provide the same education we always have, virus or no virus. But it is not that easy, and it never has been.  

If we have learned anything from the past two centuries, it is this: New technologies provide assistance, not solutions. Whether it was Lancasterian school buildings in the 19th century, television in the 20th, or Zoom classrooms today, new technology will not solve our problems on its own. In the past, overhasty investment has wasted millions of dollars. Perhaps more pernicious, it has given well-meaning reformers false confidence that they have taken care of the issue. It is far better to take an approach that might not be popular or simple, one that acknowledges the scope of the crisis and the variety of solutions we will need to address it. We need to avoid the temptation to grasp too quickly at a single technological response. 

Wise counsel. Hope and hoax are both four-letter words that start with the same two letters. Hype is also a four-letter word.

The National Education Policy Center frequently engages researchers to review studies, reports, and evaluations. NEPC recently released a review of a RAND study that looks at online learning and whether it deserves federal funding. The title of the RAND report is “Remote Learning is Here to Stay,” but the body of the report does not support that conclusion, according to reviewer David R. Garcia of Arizona State University.

Garcia summarizes his review:

The RAND Corporation recently released a report based on a national survey of school district superintendents and charter management organization (CMO) directors (or their designees) about their experiences navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey asks non-biased questions about how school districts and charter schools have responded to the pandemic and about their greatest educational needs. But some issues arise with the report’s reporting of results and with one of its two recommendations. The report is curiously titled, Remote Learning is Here to Stay, but that headline is surprisingly unsupported by the sur- vey responses. In fact, the respondents expressed much higher concerns about three other areas: (1) “addressing students’ Socio-Emotional Learning and mental health needs” (the area with the greatest need for additional resources), (2) “addressing disparities in student opportunities to learn that result from differences in supplemental supports provided by families” (the most anticipated challenge), and (3) inadequate funding (the top staffing chal- lenge). Relative to these concerns, remote learning is a minor consideration. The report’s first recommendation does follow from the respondents’ need for more funding to address inequities and socio-emotional learning. But the other recommendation, for more funding to support remote learning, does not appear to align with needs expressed by district lead- ers. Finally, the report combines two different types of local education agencies (school dis- tricts and CMOs). Thus, while the report suggests that its most important finding is that “about two in ten districts have already adopted, plan to adopt, or are considering adopting virtual schools as part of their district portfolio after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it is unclear how much of this result is driven by CMOs rather than school districts. For these reasons, readers are encouraged to go beyond the title and read deeper to get a complete picture of the challenges, needs, and future of education from district leaders’ perspectives.

Nancy Bailey is fearful that the stage is being set for a big-tech takeover when the pandemic is gone. Scores of tech vendors have longed to gain a permanent foothold in the schools, and their day may have come, even though there is nearly universal agreement that remote instruction is a poor substitute for in-person instruction.

Here are the warning signs:

First, there is sure to be a teacher shortage when schools reopen because so many are taking early retirement, due to health concerns.

Second, several districts have recently passed urge bond issues for technology.

Third, due to the pandemic-caused recession, there is unlikely to be sign I can’t improvements in teachers’ salaries or working conditions.

So we face this conundrum: teachers, students, and parents are frustrated and voted with online learning. They yearn to be back in class with face-to-face, human interaction. Yet after the pandemic, we can expect to have more of what we abhor.

The ultimate killer of robograding os Dr. Les Perelman of MIT, who recently retired as a professor teaching writing to students at MIT. Les Perelman and his students cracked the code of robograders and showed how easy it is to fool the computer scoring essays. Use long sentences. Use o score or multisyllabic words. Don’t worry about whether your assertions make sense or are correct. The robograder doesn’t care if you say that World War II started in 1902, because facts don’t matter. Perelman and his students created a device called a Babel Generator, into which you insert any three words and it will spit out a high-scoring incoherent essay.

Peter Greene describes an effort to reclaim the soiled reputation of the robograder. He describes several states where robograders are currently in use.

This is the scariest article of the week or month, not counting the violent rampage of Trump allies on January 6.

Dominik Dresel writes in Edsurge about Jeff Bezos’ entry into the education “market.”

He begins:

Bezos, more than any other tech entrepreneur, is known to play the long game, masterfully. In a now-famous 1997 interview, he candidly explained why Amazon started out by selling books. (Hint: It had nothing to do with Bezos’ love for literature. Books were simply a stepping stone, the “best first thing” to sell.) Less than three decades later, Amazon has become not just the world’s largest online retailer, but also a global leader in areas as diverse as cloud computing, home security and digital content production. And we’ve only seen the beginning—within the next few years, the company is poised to disrupt the healthcare market, become the market leader in online advertising, establish itself as a competitor to USPS, FedX and UPS, and provide global access to broadband internet through a network of satellites orbiting the planet… to name but a few examples.

It would be easy to think that Amazon’s rapid expansion into industry after industry is just the natural, opportunistic path of a cash-flush company seeking to invest in new, lucrative markets. But Jeff Bezos, himself a graduate of a Montessori preschool, doesn’t think in short-term opportunities. His early annual shareholder letters bear titles such as “It‘s All About the Long Term” (1997), “Building for the Long Term” (1999) and “Taking the Long View” (2000), and they are testimony to the fact that every strategic decision he makes is part of a larger, long-term plan.

Becoming a driving force in public education may, at first, seem like a long shot for Amazon. While Google, Microsoft and Apple have been pursuing their ambitions in K-12 and higher education for more than a decade, Amazon has mostly remained at the sidelines.

But foraying into the complex sphere that is public education is a matter of when, not if, for Jeff Bezos. To understand why, it is worthwhile to consider three principles that have guided Amazon’s strategic investment and growth decisions since its founding days.

Read the article to understand Bezos’ three principles and why he might see public schools as ripe for disruption, like the other billionaires before him. As I explained in my recent book Slaying Goliath, the tech billionaires love to disrupt the lives of other people’s children. They have had no success, only failure. But that doesn’t stop them.

A few days ago, I posted Nancy Bailey’s critique of McKinsey & Company’s report claiming that it’s time for schools to get tough on students. As Bailey points out, when I worked in the Department of Education, the White House was crawling with McKinsey consultants, smart young things who knew everything about education but were seldom old enough to have been in the classroom for long.

Our faithful reader and meticulous researcher Laura Chapman (a retired arts educator) responded to Nancy’s post as follows, describing the mastermind of the McKinsey report:

Nancy Bailey probably knows that the author of the McKinsey report, Jimmy Sarakatsannis jumped straight to McKinsey as an expert in everything about K-12 and teacher education from his job as a science teacher for three years at Sousa Middle School, a charter school with “scholars” in DC.

Sarakatsannis has held exactly one job in education and there is every reason to believe that he left Sousa Middle School in 2008, in the midst of a major meltdown at that charter school. A tyrannical principal created chaos there. http://thewashingtonteacher.blogspot.com/2010/07/tyranny-of-dcs-sousa-middle-school.html

ABOUT JIMMY FROM THE REPORT’S WEBSITE: “Jimmy is a partner in McKinsey’s Washington, DC office and a leader in our Education and Private Equity Practices.
Jimmy’s work in education straddles the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and spans every stage from pre-K-12 education to higher education and workforce development. He serves school systems, educational services providers, technology companies, and educational non-profits, as well as private-equity firms and philanthropic foundations that invest in education.

Much of Jimmy’s work focuses on how technology can be used to transform teaching and learning both within and beyond formal education. He also has deep expertise in the improvement of human capital within education systems, investment in education, and the development of successful organizational and business models for companies working across the public and private sectors.
Among his recent client projects, Jimmy has:
• advised an online learning company on developing a strategy to raise its student success rates
• supported professional development for teachers in some 20 US school districts
• helped a major technology company define a strategy to enter education, including product development, team building, and a go-to-market strategy for the new business
• led our support of a new non-profit in K-12 education, helping to design and set up the organization with an independent sales force and operations team
• worked with a national system of technical and vocational colleges to create online and hybrid programs to expand access and provide better educational experiences, reaching more than 50,000 students to date

Before joining McKinsey, Jimmy taught middle school science in the District of Columbia Public Schools. He is the author of a number of papers on educational topics and a regular contributor to our knowledge building in this field.”

That is a perfect example of corporate gibberish too easily sold to school districts.

I looked up Jimmy’s publications in Google Scholar. In those five entries he is never a solo author. All publications are from McKinsey, including COVID-19 and Student Learning in the United States – The hurt could last a lifetime.

Do not believe hype about the wisdom of McKinsey, least of all in education. Arne Duncan was a friend of McKinsey and by 2008 had engaged USDE with an “uplift” education campaign conjured by McKinsey. The project, was called R.E.S.P.E.C.T. an the acronym for “Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.”

The project was nothing more than another scheme to make pay-for-performance the norm, get rid of collective bargaining, set up tiers of qualifications for teachers. Each teaching tier was offered an initial contract. In order to get a continuing contract you had produce more than a year’s worth of gains in test scores year-to-year for multiple years.

There are still records about this scheme. It was reportedly inspired by a 2010 McKinsey report: Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching: An International and Market Research-Based Perspective. That report called for recruiting the “best and brightest talent” into teaching because they could produce the highest test scores and those high tests scores could predict economic outcomes (with Chetty and others treated as experts). I wrote about some of these schemes on Diane’s blog back, in May of 2016. Diane has also devoted some blogs to the McKinsey’s corporate follies.

Trump spent four years cultivating his friendship with Putin. No matter what Vlad did to violate human rights, Trump was silent. Now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledges what reports reported for days: the Russian government hacked into the “secure” networks of every federal agency, where they roamed at will for several months. No word yet from Trump. He has abandoned his day job and spends all his time tweeting about the election and scheming to overturn it. His friend Michael Flynn suggested sending the military into key states and forcing them to hold new elections.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

Russian agents hacked into major U.S. government agencies, and their presence went undetected for months. The extent of the damage to American security is not yet known.

Craig Timberg and Ellen Takashima wrote in the Washington Post:

Federal investigators reported Thursday on evidence of previously unknown tactics for penetrating government computer networks, a development that underscores the disastrous reach of Russia’s recent intrusions and the logistical nightmare facing federal officials trying to purge intruders from key systems.


For days, it has been clear that compromised software patches distributed by a Texas-based company, SolarWinds, were central to Russian efforts to gain access to U.S. government computer systems. But Thursday’s alert from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security said evidence suggested there was other malware used to initiate what the alert described as “a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations.”


While many details remained unclear, the revelation about new modes of attack raises fresh questions about the access that Russian hackers were able to gain in government and corporate systems worldwide.


“This adversary has demonstrated an ability to exploit software supply chains and shown significant knowledge of Windows networks,” the alert said. “It is likely that the adversary has additional initial access vectors and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) that have not yet been discovered.”


The U.S. government has not publicly blamed Russia for the hacks [they have now, with Pompeo’s admission Friday night], but U.S. officials speaking privately say that Russian government hackers were behind the operation. Moscow has denied involvement.

 [Lying as usual]

The alert cited a blog post this week from Volexity, a Reston, Va.-based cybersecurity company, about repeated intrusions into an unnamed think tank that, according to the company, took place over several years without being detected. The attackers, who are described using a pseudonym in the Volexity post, gained access to the think tank’s networks using “multiple tools, backdoors, and malware implants” and exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Exchange Control Panel software, which is central to the company’s email services.


In a statement, Microsoft said, “This is an ongoing investigation into an advanced and sophisticated threat actor that has several techniques in their toolkit. We have not identified any Microsoft product or cloud service vulnerabilities in the recent attacks.”


Only the last of three separate intrusions against the think tank, in June and July, involved a corrupted patch from SolarWinds, suggesting an aggressive, persistent hacking team with sophisticated tactics at its disposal.


The Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile, were also breached, officials said Thursday, joining a growing list of agencies reported in recent days to have been hacked by the Russians and that are central to U.S. national security and other core government functions. They include the State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security departments, as well as the National Institutes of Health.


Politico first reported the breaches at the Energy Department and NNSA.




An Energy Department spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, said that at this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks and has not affected the department’s “mission essential national security functions,” including at the NNSA. 
Thousands of private companies worldwide also were potentially affected, many in sensitive industries, after they uploaded software patches that were infused with malware, reportedly by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR.

Purging the intruders and restoring security to affected networks could take months, some experts say, because the hackers moved rapidly from the initial intrusions through the corrupted software patches to collect and deploy authentic system credentials, making discovery and remediation far more difficult. Closing the digital back doors initially created by the Russians will not suffice because they appear to have stolen keys to an unknown number of official doorways into federal and private corporate systems, according to investigators at FireEye, a cybersecurity firm that also was hacked.


On Monday, Microsoft and FireEye diverted the channel the Russians used to send commands to systems that download the corrupted patch, causing the malware to shut down. But that does not help those organizations whose networks the Russians have deeply penetrated.


The intruders into the U.S.-based think tank in each case were searching for email from particular targets, according to Steven Adair, president of Volexity. Only the Exchange vulnerability was Microsoft-related, but through it, the hackers were able to act as system administrators for the think tank’s network.




“If you can exploit it, it’s a pretty direct way into somebody’s infrastructure, with pretty high-level access,” Adair said.


Meanwhile, the SolarWinds issue continues to vex federal officials. The agency that runs the Department of Defense’s sprawling communications network downloaded a poisoned SolarWinds update that potentially exposed the agency’s network to the Russian hackers, according to U.S. officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.


It is unclear whether the hackers used their access to the Defense Information Systems Agency to steal any data from the department’s networks, the officials said. So far, there is no evidence they have, but the investigation is in its early stages, they said.


“We’re just at the front end of figuring out the points of contact and what might have been left behind,” said one U.S. official. “We’re taking it very seriously. We don’t know as much as we’d like to know. We’ll keep going till we do.”


DISA is the department’s information technology nerve center. Besides running its own network, which houses billions of dollars of contracts and computer network designs, it runs the Defense Department’s unclassified intranet, which serves 4 million to 5 million personnel around the globe, including contractors and troops in combat zones.


A defense official acknowledged Thursday that “our software supply chain experienced a cyber attack to their systems…”


Experts were skeptical of the notion that the Russians would gain access to a Defense Department network — especially one as sensitive as DISA — and not exploit it over many months of presumed access.


“DOD is one of the top priority targets for Russian intelligence,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert and executive chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank. “I can’t imagine a situation where, given an opportunity like this, they would not take advantage of it to get inside, roam around and try to steal as much sensitive data as they could related to force structure and readiness, weapons systems, and other issues of strategic concern to them.”


On Monday, the National Security Council convened an emergency meeting of agencies under a 2016 presidential order to address coordination on a “significant cyber event,” according to an official. Key agencies present were the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.


President-elect Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday that he is seeking to learn as much as he can about the breaches. As president, he said, he will work with allies to impose costs on those responsible for such actions. “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation,” he said.