Archives for category: Technology

John Merrow learned about the latest trending idea in teacher training. Give a teacher a script, put a “bug” in his or her ear, and let the teacher follow instructions.

This is what he calls “insect-based” teacher training.

He decided to visit some schools to find out how it was working.

Part 1 begins like this:

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. “The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

I stopped reading right there, but you don’t need to!

Then he posted Part 2, where he continued his investigation. 

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

To get the inside scoop on “insect-based teacher training,” this is a must-read.

In case you wondered, the first time I ever heard of the bug-in-your-ear approach to teaching, it was in the description of the methodology of Bridge International Academies, the private sector effort to take over schooling in certain African nations. The BIA approach was to give each teacher an iPad (or similar device) with a curriculum written by TFA teachers located in Boston. Then each teacher got a bug-in-the-ear to make sure that they were delivering the curriculum precisely as directed by the device. BIA charges a fee and was engaged in trying to turn a profit by enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the world’s poorest countries. Its investors included Bill Gates, Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, and the World Bank. The problem with its approach was that it had the effect of discouraging the government from taking responsibility for building a universal, free public education system. Furthermore, if students couldn’t pay the fees, they were kicked out. BIA says it gets higher scores, which is not surprising since it accepts students only if they can pay. Strange that BIA’s methods crossed the ocean back to where it was started.

Let me confess that I have a mad crush on Audrey Watters although I have never met her. I love her fearlessness, her keen intelligence, and her unapologetic humanity.

I wrote a few days ago that her recent post on the 100 Biggest Worst Ed-Tech Debacles was the best post I had read in the last decade.

She got a lot of feedback to that zinger of a post, and some readers asked her if she could name the 100 best things that happened in Ed-tech.

She answers that question boldly in this post.

I paraphrase: Ed-Tech has enough marketing, branding, shills, and paid mouthpieces. Hers is not one of them.

Audrey Watters may be our  most articulate critic of tech obsession. I enjoy her regular posts, and her ability to connect birds with events. Open this link to see what I mean. 

She begins every post with a bird and finds a way to connect it to what she is thinking about.

In this post, she begins with:

This week’s Columbidae is the Gallicolumba luzonica — the Luzon Bleeding Heart Dove. The bird, which is endemic to the island of Luzon in the Philippines, is listed as “near threatened” due to habitat loss.

This bird has something to do with the term “bleeding heart liberal.”

She briefly critiques one of the latest proclamations about technology, then links to a piece about the dangers of Ring in the home, which can be hacked. The link refers to a story that circulated widely on CNN and in other major media about a man hacking into a little girl’s bedroom where her parents had installed a Ring for her protection. Scary stuff.

I just opened my email and discovered this brilliant post by Audrey Watters, whose critical voice on EdTech is indispensable.

Watters lists the 100 biggest EdTech debacles of the past decade, and seeing them all in one place is astonishing.

What strikes me is the combination of unadulterated arrogance (i.e., chutzpah), coupled with repeated failures.

What is also impressive are the number of entries that were hailed by the media or by assorted journalists, then slipped quietly down the drain, without impairing the reputation of the huckster who took the money and ran.

Again and again, we encounter EdTech start-ups and innovations that are greeted with wild acclaim and hype, but whose collapse is ignored as the parade moves on to the next overpromised miracle technology.

Whatever happened to the promise that half of all courses in school would be taught online by this year (false) or that most colleges and universities would die because of the rise of the MOOC (false)? Why do virtual charter schools make money even though they have horrible outcomes for students (lies, lies, lies)?

This post is stuffed with flash-in-the-pan technological disruptions that planned to “revolutionize” education, from K-12 through higher education but then tanked.

Please read it. Share it with your friends and colleagues.

Lessons: Learn humility. Believe in the power of human beings, not machines designed to replace them. Don’t let them sell you stuff designed to control the brains, emotions, and social development of students. Be wary. Be skeptical. Protect your privacy and the privacy of children.

Protect your intellectual freedom.

Read Audrey Watters.

 

 

 

 

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post interviewed Bill Gates in 2014 and told the full story of the origin of the Common Core “State” Standards.

In case the Washington Post is behind a paywall, the full text of the Layton article is here.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other friends of the CCSS insisted that the standards were developed by governors, state superintendents, education experts, and teachers. No, they were developed by David Coleman, formerly of McKinsey, now CEO of the College Board, and a committee whose members included no working teachers but a full complement of testing experts from ACT and SAT. Google David Coleman and “architect” and you will see that he is widely credited with shepherding the CCSS to completion.

It would not have happened without the enthusiastic support and funding of Bill Gates.

Layton writes:

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.

The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

“Can you do this?” Wilhoit recalled being asked. “Is there any proof that states are serious about this, because they haven’t been in the past?”

Wilhoit responded that he and Coleman could make no guarantees but that “we were going to give it the best shot we could.”

After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.

What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.

The result was astounding: Within just two years of the 2008 Seattle meeting, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Even Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance in the nation, replaced its excellent standards with CCSS and won a federal grant for doing so.

Some states adopted Common Core before it was publicly released. The state chief in Texas, Robert Scott, refused to adopt the CCSS sight unseen, but he was a rarity.

Without Gates’ money, there would be no Common Core.

Opposition came from Tea Party groups, then from independent teacher groups like the BadAss Teachers Association.

The promise of the Common Core was that it would lift student test scores across the board and at the same time, would close achievement gaps.

The Common Core was rolled out in 2010 and adopted widely in 2011 and 2012.

Districts and states spent billions of dollars on new textbooks, new tests, new software and hardware, new professional development, all aligned to the CCSS.

This was money that the districts and states did not spend to reduce class sizes or to raise teachers’ salaries.

Test scores on NAEP and on international tests have been stagnant since the rollout of the Common Core.

Teacher morale down. New entries into teaching down. Test scores flat. Achievement gaps larger.

Edu-entrepreneurs enriched. Testing industry happy. Tech industry satisfied.

Disruption achieved.

If you want to read more about the origins of the Common Core, read Mercedes Schneider’s Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? and Nicholas Tampio’s https://www.amazon.com/Common-Core-Nicholas-Tampio-ebook/dp/B079S2627M/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=nicholas+campion+common+core&qid=1575909356&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr0Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Our Democracy.

Bottom line: What the Gates’ billions spent on Common Core proved was that the basic problem in American education is not the lack of common standards and common tests, but the growing numbers of children who live in poverty,  who come to school (or miss school) ill-nourished and lacking regular medical care and a decent standard of living.

He spent more than $4 billion on failed experiments in education over the past 20 years. Wouldn’t it be great if he invested in children, families, and communities and improved their standard of living?

 

 

 

Every blogger who has written about MSNBC’s Public Education Forum expressed gratitude that a big cable network paid attention to our most important democratic institution.

Nancy Bailey is angry about the issues that were ignored, the ones that threaten the future of students, teachers, and public education.

She is also streamed that the program was not on live TV. Public education not important enough for live TV? 50 million children are in public schools. They have parents. Quite an audience to overlook.

Good work, Nancy!

She writes (in part, read it all):

Candidates talked about making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to help schools, but no one mentioned Bill Gates, the Waltons, Eli Broad, Mark Zuckerberg or any of the corporate reformers who are taking control of public schools.

They didn’t mention Common Core or the failure of the initiatives funded by the Gates Foundation and taxpayers. Nor did they speak about portfolio schools, the latest corporate endeavor to push choice and charters.

No one mentioned using Social Impact Bonds or Pay for Success to profit off of public schools. See: “Wall Street’s new way of making money from public education — and why it’s a problem” by Valerie Strauss.

CEO Tom Steyer mentioned corporate influence towards the end, but it was brief, and no moderator attempted to explore what he said.

Ed-Tech

No one mentioned what might be the biggest threat to public education, the replacement of teachers and brick-and-mortar schools with technology.

Disruption was initially described by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn in their book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. This is seen as the revolution by those in business and the tech industry and is being played out in online charter schools like Summit and Rocketship. Summit also has an online virtual school.

Many students across the country get school vouchers to be used for substandard online instruction like K12 and Connections Academy.Preschoolers are subjected to unproven Waterford UPSTART.

The candidates might want to review Tultican’s “Ed Tech About Profits NOT Education.”

Wrench in the Gears is another blog good at describing the threat of technology.

Teach for America

Teach for America corps members with little training have taken over classrooms, and they run state departments of education!

Do Democratic candidates have Teach for America corps members as consultants on their campaigns? It’s troubling if they do. They should not be wooing teachers with professional degrees and experience while relying on TFA behind the scenes.

Other insidious reform groups are also about replacing education professionals. Relay Graduate School, The New Teacher Project, New Leaders are a few.

This needs to be addressed, sooner, not later.

Betsy DeVos et al.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy hearing Democratic candidates say they’re going to boot Education Secretary Betsy DeVos out.

But President Obama had individuals from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other corporate reform groups, working in the U.S. Department of Education. Arne Duncan was no friend to teachers or public schools.

So, while applause against DeVos are justifiable, now’s the time to address the role Democrats have played (and continue to play) in corporate school reform.

The fact is, many groups and individuals are working to end public education, who wear Democratic name tags. It’s imperative that Democratic candidates address this.

 

Summit Public Schools, a Bay Area chain of charter schools that receives tens of millions of dollars from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation, found a way to skirt the intention of California’s recently passed charter transparency bill, SB 126. They held a board meeting 12/12/19 and only allowed six members of the public in the boardroom. Summit’s CEO said it was because allowing more of the public to join in person would “create an inappropriate working environment.” The rest of the 40 or so students, parents, and teachers who drove 30 miles to attend the meeting were shuttled into in a nearby Summit charter school to watch over video.
One provision of SB 126 requires charter management organizations with multiple campuses to establish two-way video-conferencing from each campus for their board meetings — with the intent of making these board meetings accessible — so that families, students, and teachers don’t have to travel hundreds of miles if they are not able to attend in person. It appears that Summit is using this provision to decrease transparency and democracy by preventing members of the public from being able to attend charter board meetings in person.
This was an important meeting because, last month, out of nowhere, Summit announced it was closing one of its schools, Summit Rainier, at the end of the school year, with seemingly little plan for what would happen to Rainier students. Summit educators, who recently unionized, have demanded to bargain for weeks about the impacts of this closure on Summit students, families, and teachers.
Students from Summit Rainier wanted to attend the meeting but were told to watch it in an adjoining room by video.
Student journalists wrote this article about being excluded from what should have been an open public meeting of the Summit board.
They got a lesson about what democracy is not.

Numerous community members prepared to attend today’s Summit Public Schools board meeting to discuss the closure of Summit Rainier but faced a surprise. Upon entering Home Office, where the board was meeting, they found out they had limited access to speaking to the board in-person. 

CEO Diane Tavenner informed the crowd a total of six people could enter the board meeting and the rest would have to watch from an overflow room at Summit Prep, a school building adjacent to the SPS Home Office. 

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares his thoughts about what matters most. What matters most for the future is not test scores, yet we have spent an entire generation–now almost two generations of young people who have passed through our schools since 2000–focusing only on test scores. Will we pay a price? Will they?

 

As I left the computer to walk the dog, a thought provoking title jumped off the screen, “2019 NAEP Results Show There’s Something Wrong Going On.” Our neighborhood is gentrifying too much, but the park still offers a wonderful place for cross-generational, cross-cultural conversations about what is going right and wrong. Only our spoiled dogs complain when daily discussions last a long time when recounting the latest Trump assaults on our constitutional democracy.

In contrast to corporate school reformers, who claimed that schools could be the answer to inequities, when a dog walker shared a link about another path to progress, we knew there is no single, silver bullet. We loved the New York Times’ “Dogs Will Fix Our Broken Democracy,” but we knew that the doggies, on their own, can’t teach us “to step outside of our narrowest selves.”

https://www.the74million.org/article/petrilli-2019-naep-results-show-theres-something-wrong-going-on-3-theories-about-what-might-be-happening-in-our-schools-and-beyond/
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/opinion/dogs-democracy.html

The NAEP title also provoked contemplation on the school reform blinders which blocked out conversations about issues outside the school building. For two decades, as test-driven, competition-driven reform treated schools as a sped-up Model T assembly line, school segregation was increased and the curriculum was narrowed. The Billionaires Boys Club undermined instruction about issues outside of the classroom, such as deindustrialization, globalization, the increase of economic inequality, mass migration, climate change, and the decline in a sense of community.

Most inexplicably, schools ignored the moral dilemmas prompted by the digital revolution and we mostly failed to help our kids face its challenges, ranging from the gig economy to social media.

During the entire 21st century, both sides of the school wars have fought off their opponents with their metaphorical right hands, barely able to use our left hands for tackling the problems of poverty and segregation. Sure, the privatizers started this unnecessary battle, but why can’t they accept a truce? Why can’t we focus on the big picture issues that could explain the NAEP decline?

Shouldn’t we also wrestle with the biggest tragedies that are going on, threatening our democracy and our planet, and that contribute to NAEP scores declines?

Imagine my initial rejoicing when I returned from the dog walk to the NAEP story. The author of this appropriately-titled essay focused on what was going on outside the classroom, (as well as the minds of reformers, I would add.) He hypothesized that the Great Recession hurt student performance in two ways, “first, via its devastating impact on fragile families and their young children; and second, through its negative impact on school spending, as many state coffers ran dry.”

The author also noted that “the roaring ’90s led to a huge decrease in ‘supplemental’ child poverty rate … And that could explain much of the NAEP gains we saw in the 2000s, gains that were most dramatic for low-performing children and kids of color.” He then followed the cohorts of students who endured the years from 2009 to 2012 when the unemployment rate was 8 percent. He noted the correlation between the rise and fall of 4th grade scores and the stagnation and decline of 8th grade scores for low-income kids to the unemployment rate and education spending cuts. More affluent students, who didn’t have to face those challenges, continued to show steady gains.

A similar pattern was described in terms of screen time, and the anxiety and isolation it can cause. He notes, “Children from lower-income families spend an average of three and a half hours each day on screen media, … That amount is 40 percent longer than middle-income children (two hours and 25 minutes) and almost double the screen time spent by affluent children (one hour and 50 minutes).” As “screen time for low-income kids has absolutely skyrocketed in recent years,” their reading scores declined.

So, it seems logical that we should help teach children to use, but not be used by the cell phones. Given the massive and rapid economic transformations, that are unnerving adults, we should be preparing children not for worksheets and drill and kill, but for a healthy, productive, meaningful life in the 21st century. Contrary to corporate school reformers’ theory, which fought the legacies of segregation with segregation by choice, and the stress of poverty with the stress of high stakes testing, the logical conclusion would be that poor children need holistic and culturally relevant instruction.

But then the author, called for a “recalibration” including “much more demanding academic standards that were aligned to readiness for college and career.” He would do this by …?

For some reason that I still can’t understand, this author – who often acknowledges the failures of school reform – dug in his heals and called for a return to “the form of the Common Core; much higher-quality and more rigorous assessments, in the form of Smarter Balanced and PARCC and their successors.”

Readers, you probably guessed that the author who twisted himself into a pretzel when so contradicting  himself, was the Fordham Institutes’ Mike Petrilli. And he then called for “tougher tests and accountability systems.”

In other words, corporate reformers like Petrilli do provide at least one valuable feature. They are a great case study in how to present “alt facts.” Fordham et. al start with something we can agree on, something unifying, for instance like our shared,  heart-warming desire to cuddle a kitty. But they always end on a note of survival of the fittest, demanding the defeat of the educational institution that kitty-hating educators defend. Their spin could be featured in a great lesson of how political propaganda is spread on the web!

Seriously, “2019 NAEP Results Show There’s Something Wrong Going On” illustrates the huge opportunity costs of having to fight off reformers when we should have been concentrating on the existential dangers that that our youth face. And a New York Times Magazine special edition that was published the same week offers a horrifying glance at the battle we should have been engaging in.

The Magazine’s “The Internet Didn’t Turn Out the Way We Hoped” is so direct in its warning that its cover features the meanest-looking, ugliest kitty they could photograph. Kevin Roose’s “A Cleaner Internet” is illustrated with a cat embodying the beauty we hoped for, along with three stained kittens. He cites Marc Andreesen who said, “in the future there will be two types of people: ‘people who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.’”

Below are just a few of the special issue’s examples of today’s and tomorrow’s virtual realities that we haven’t educated our kids about. Jamie Lauren Keiles describes the “cursed dynamics on online fandom,” and explains, “Today’s fandom is more like a stateless nation, formed around a shared viewing heritage, but perpetuated through the imaginations and interrelations of those who enjoy and defend it” (It sounds to me that “fandom” also describes corporate reform.)

Yiren Lieu describes the “much more powerful apps” that are “flowering in China,” and concludes, “Whatever it is that takes place when Chinese –style super-app-dom meets the American teenager, it sounds like the future of the internet.”

The article that made me feel sickest was Elizabeth Weil’s “All My Selves Are My Favorite.” It begins with 15-year-old’s “Ninth Grade Makeup Transformation” YouTube video. She used “dozens” of brushes and powders, “bouncing between one shell of identity and the next.” And, “45 minutes later, tender, glittering and shellacked with cosmetics, she was ready for school.”

The teen’s commentary was full of expressions like, “I need to not be annoying, and I’m not doing a good job of that.  … I also look ugly, and I’m really depressed!”

Fortunately, at the end, she at least listened to, even if she didn’t hear, a 23-year old’s wisdom, “I’m like, Oh, this is what happens when someone is raised on the internet.”

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/14/magazine/internet-future-dream.html

Yes, behind the NAEP decline, there is “something wrong.” As John Merrow recently noted, “we have managed to teach our children how NOT to think, and today not even 14% of American 15-year-olds are able to distinguish facts and opinion.”

So, it’s a terrible shame that we educators have been distracted from one of our biggest tasks – helping kids learn how to control their own destinies. A generation of students has attended schools where they have been treated as test scores. Worse, venture philanthropists’ market-driven reforms are just one part of venture capitalists who see humans –  inside and outside of schools –  as data points.

https://themerrowreport.com/2019/12/05/the-national-assessment-of-educational-paralysis-naep/

 

Thomas Ultican wrote a post about the billionaire-driven world of educational technology, which has nothing to do with education or learning, but everything to do with scoring profits.

The edtech industry is driven by greed.

He begins:

Anthony Kim founded Education Elements in 2010. He sold Provost Systems – which built virtual schools – to Edison Schools in 2008 and was ready for a new project. His new company sells personalized learning systems and consulting services to several school districts. Education Elements is one of more than a hundred ed tech companies being supported by venture capital organizations hoping for one big score. It is representative of the education technology startup business.

With education businesses there is opportunity for magnificent profits because of the large scale of education spending. The United States alone spends $650 billion dollar a year on public education. If businesses can convince people that learning at a digital screen is equivalent to or even better than a teacher led classroom, education technology would become America’s next great profit center minting many new billionaires. This allure of lavish profits is driving education technology.

The Venture Capital Firms

Crunchbase, which analyzes venture capital and startups, lists five venture capital companies investing in Education Elements.

Harmony is the only one of the five venture funds that does not focus specifically on education technology. They simply say, “Over the past 20 years, we have invested over $750 million in 80 companies.” They list their current investments which includes Education Elements.

NewSchools Venture Fund is the most strident in its commitment to disrupting public education. NewSchools is a non-profit that claims they are a “venture philanthropy working to reimagine public education investing in education entrepreneurs.” Their venture portfolio contains more than 150 companies.

Every year NewSchools hosts a “Summit” in Oakland, California which they state brings together more than 1,200 educators, entrepreneurs, community leaders, funders, and policy makers to share ideas on how to “reimagine learning.” The “Platinum” sponsors for the 2020 gathering are the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and The Walton Family Foundation who are also well-known leaders in the movement to monetize and privatize public education.

New Schools Venture Fund Donors

Twelve Organizations Contributing $5 Million Plus to NewSchools Venture Fund

Eleven of the twelve organizations listed above are known for promoting market based education reform. The twelfth, Anonymous, most likely has the same ideology.

Rethink Education is the third venture fund. It claims to focus on “Crucial Life Skills, Personalized Learning, Vocational Preparation, Curation of Workforce Learning Resources, College Dropout Prevention.” Jenny Abramson is the founder and Managing Partner of Rethink. She is a former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and a board member of the Washington DC charter school, DC Prep.

Imagine K12 is the forth fund investing in Education Elements. It was founded in 2011 as a startup accelerator for education technology companies. In 2016 Imagine merged with Y Combinator. The joint companies have invested in over 100 education technology focused companies.

Tugboat Ventures is the fifth fund invested in Education Elements which is one of its 35 listed properties.

The thread that ties together these ventures is the pursuit of profits. That is a mighty thread indeed.

He lists the members of the Board of Directors, all from the financial world.

No actual teachers in sight.

He adds:

Due to lobbying by billionaires like Bill Gates and Reed Hastings, the latest update to the national education law turned the US Department of Education (USED) into an education technology sales hub. Critically for companies like Education Elements, the federal technology pitch includes Competency Based Education (CBE). In order to have an inexpensive cyber based education system, there must be small skills that can be drilled and then tested. The USED says,

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

Unfortunately CBE is just an update of previous failed teaching strategies. In the 1970’s it was called Mastery Learning and in the 1990’s it was called Outcome Based Education. CBE is simply putting Mastery Leaning on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. It is still bad pedagogy. Computer based credit recovery is the fraud engendering the recent soaring graduation rates.

What is called “education reform” is a giant scam. It is not about “education” and it is not about “reform.” It is about money.

 

In case you didn’t know, a murmuration is the sound of lots of birds flapping their little wings.

Mercedes Schneider defines it here:

The name, “murmuration,” refers to “hundreds, sometimes thousands, of starlings fly in swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky.”

Why does it matter?

Because Emma Bloomberg, daughter of multibillionaire Michael Bloomberg, has created a new “ed reform” organization that uses that term as its name.

Schneider has scoured the websites and also the tax forms of this new group.

What they do is not obvious, but they do have millions of dollars, probably from Pappa Bloomberg.

They apparently spend it on data technology, technology integration, and, of course, it is all about the children.

As Schneider writes:

Our focus is on driving change and accelerating progress toward a future where every child in America has the opportunity to benefit from a high-quality public education.

And how do the unnamed, Murmuration change-drivers propose to drive said change?

We provide sophisticated data and analytics, proprietary technology, strategic guidance, and programmatic support to help our partners build political power and marshal support so necessary changes are made to improve our public schools.

Our precise, predictive intelligence and easy-to-use tools are used by practitioners and funders, on their own and working together, to make informed decisions about who they need to reach, what they need to say, and how to achieve and sustain impact.

Of course, in typical ed-reform fashion, its *for the kids*:

We envision a public school system that ensures every child across our nation – regardless of race, income, background, or the zip code where they live – receives an education that prepares them to lead productive, fulfilling, and happy lives.

We believe public servants must recognize that providing a great education to every child is necessary to our prosperity, and be willing to invest in real, systemic and sustainable change which may come at a political cost.

We want our political systems to function and benefit from a rich discussion of the important role of public schools.  We want everyone who is impacted by public education to participate (or be represented) in the discussion and decision-making process.  And, we want the voices of those most reliant on our public education system to be heard.

What all this adds up to is hard to say, other than providing another honey tree for practitioners of disruption to shake.

I am trying to imagine how “those most reliant on our public education system to be heard” when the loudest voices are those with the most money.

Billionaires usually don’t send their own children to public schools and do not have a habit of listening to those who do, but they have plenty of dough to spread around to those who agree with their agenda to privatize the schools, monetize the data, and make technology our master.

The one thing that is clear from Schneider’s post is that Murmuration has plenty of money to spend. What it intends to to is not yet clear. Maybe they plan to visit public schools and listen to parents. Ya’ think?