Archives for category: Technology

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.

While McKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, is handing out billions to worthy organizations, Jeff Bezos is not so generous, especially to the Amazon workers who made his fortune.

At last look on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Bezos was the richest person in the world, with $189 billion, which is growing rapidly as more consumers rely on Amazon for purchases during the pandemic.

While Bezos has promised nearly billions to combat climate change, Amazon workers continue to complain of low wages and long working hours in a tedious job.

Chuck Collins, director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, told The New York Times that Scott is “disrupting” the norms of billionaire philanthropy.

“You think of all these tech fortunes, they’re the great disrupters, but she’s disrupting the norms around billionaire philanthropy by moving quickly, not creating a private foundation for her great-grandchildren to give the money away,” Collins said...

Bezos saw his net worth grow by nearly 60 percent over the course of 2020, or by about $58 billion. Bloomberg estimates Bezos’ current net worth at $183 billion [it is now $189 billion and growing]. Over the year, the nation’s four richest individuals—Bezos, Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbergand Tesla CEO Elon Musk—saw their combined fortunes grow by nearly $230 billion.

During the same period, Feeding America believes some 50 million Americans—up from about 35 million in 2019—will have experienced food insecurity this year. That number includes some 17 million children. Unemployment has jumped dramatically during the pandemic, as lockdown measures have forced thousands of businesses to close, and millions of Americans are estimated to be on the verge of eviction...

During the pandemic, Amazon workers became vital to providing Americans with necessities, and their working conditions and compensation drew national attention. While Bezos, their boss, grew wealthier and wealthier, they continued to work long hours for low wages in what many described as risky job conditions. Attempts to strike and organize were met with strong pushback and, in some cases, retribution from Amazon’s management.

In March, as the pandemic began to surge and some Amazon workers in New York attempted to organize in protest of their working conditions, the company decided to fire assistant manager Chris Smalls. The organizer learned that he’d been fired as he and dozens of other Amazon employees protested their company’s response to COVID-19. The Amazon workers were demanding what many saw as basic needs—personal protective gear and hazard pay—as they carried out their essential work.

Although Amazon briefly gave temporary wage increases and double overtime pay during the early months of the pandemic, those measures ended in June. The company has also invested heavily in personal protective equipment for workers and other measures in an effort to protect them. In November, Amazon gave front-line workers a one-time $300 holiday bonus, and in June they received $500. Regardless of these measures, employees have continued to express frustration.

In February, Bezos did announce that he would give $10 billion to fight climate change. This money will be transferred through an Earth Fund vehicle he set up. Thus far, that fund has announced doling out $791 million to 16 organizations including the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Amazon source pointed to an April donation of $100 million from Bezos to Feeding America. Bezos additionally pledged to contribute up to $25 million to All in WA—a coalition of Washington state philanthropic, business and community leaders—back in May. The billionaire also pledged over $1 million to more than 40 homeless organizations this year.

But many believe there is a need for a systematic change at Amazon and in how billionaires like Bezos are allowed to accumulate wealth.

“Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic,” Robert Reich, who was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, wrote in a Sunday column for The Guardian.

“So you’d think he’d be able to afford safer workplaces. Yet as of October, more than 20,000 U.S.-based Amazon employees had been infected by the coronavirus,” Reich wrote.

Washington State, where Amazon and the Gates Foundation (and family) are located, has no corporate or personal income taxes. Is that coincidental?

Thomas Ultican has written a series of posts about attacks on public schools and their federal, state, and local funding streams. During this awful pandemic, most parents, teachers, and students have recognized that depersonalized remote learning is no substitute for real teachers. Nonetheless, the edtech industry continues to promote its products, which in most cases are intended to substitute for live teachers.

Especially concerning to Ultican is that the edtech industry has gained a strong foothold within the inner circle of the Biden campaign. A committee appointed by the campaign to advise the incoming administration was packed with edtech privateers and profiteers. The last thing that educators, parents and students want or need right now is a re-emphasis on digital learning.

Ultican is especially concerned about a corporation called digiLEARN, launched by former North Carolina Governor Bev Purdue, which was funded by…who else?…the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

To do the heavy lifting at digiLEARN, Purdue brought in her advisor on e-learning and innovation, Myra Best. Prior to joining the Governor’s office, Best served as Director of the Business Education Technology Alliance (BETA) which established North Carolina’s first statewide Virtual Public School. BETA was a committee of 27 business, political and education leaders established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2002. The chair of the committee was Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue...

digiLEARN lined up heavy hitters in the edtech industry:

In 1997, the vice chair, Jim Geringer, was one of the governors who established the non-profit Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. It was an early adopter of cyber education and competency based education. In a lengthy interview for the Wyoming State archives, Geringer spoke glowingly about the school and its methods.

The membership of the first digiLEARN board of governors made it clear that it was politically connected and aligned with the goals of the edtech industry. In addition to Geringer and Perdue former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise became a founding director on the board.

In 2010, Jeb Bush and Bob Wise launched the Digital Learning Council which promoted cyber schooling and “personalized learning.” In 2015, North Carolina State University honored Wise at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation’s Friday Medal presentation. The institute notes, “The Friday Medal is awarded annually in honor of William C. Friday to recognize significant, distinguished and enduring contributions to education and beyond through advocating innovation, advancing education and imparting inspiration.”

Besides the three ex-governors, two North Carolina State Representatives – Craig Horn and Joe Tolson – were on the original board. Also on the board was one of edtech industries most widely published advocates, Tom Vander Ark…

Billionaires like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Laurene Jobs Powell have spent lavishly to create an education publishing group to get out their message of school choice and edtech. Both Perdue and Vander Ark are regular contributors to The 74 Million and Perdue is featured at The Education Post. One of her early posts for Education Post was “A Nation At Risk 2.0.” In it Perdue echoed the calamity rhetoric of 1983’s “A Nation At Risk” declaring, “Right now, alarm bells should be clanging all over America louder than they were for President Reagan and business leaders more than 30 years ago.” She was decrying the slow implementation of edtech in schools...

Prompted by an article I had written about North Carolina being ravaged with edtech spending, a profoundly shaken person contacted me to share their experience on Biden’s Education Policy Commission. As the new administration prepares to take charge, many groups are meeting to develop an agenda to move America forward.  

In the Education Policy Commission, there was a tech sub-committee chaired by Bev Perdue. Reportedly the sub-committee had a large North Carolina contingent including Myra Best. There were twenty members on the committee and at least seventeen of them were edtech supporters. Many members were people with backgrounds like former Amazon web-services director.

The committees attitude toward student privacy was unacceptable especially their positions on sharing data. My source described the sub-committee as the proverbial “foxes in the hen house.”

Edtech can be a wonderful thing for students and educators, but if the point is to make large profits off data and replace teachers with digital screens, edtech becomes a great evil. Unfortunately, Bev Perdue and digiLEARN are promoting the evil brand of edtech. Let’s hope the incoming administration can successfully filter out this tainted input.

Given what America’s parents, teachers, and students have learned about edtech during the pandemic, the Biden team should be wary about taking the advice of its leading lobbyists.

Tom Ultican discovered a fascinating study of tech philanthropists and their self-serving gifts. Gates, Zuckerberg, and other tech giants are “giving” in a way that supports their self-interest.

The study that Ultican reviews is “Education, Privacy, and Big Data Algorithms: Taking the Persons Out of Personalized Learning,” by Priscilla M. Regan and Valerie Steeves.

They argue:

“We argue that, although there has been no formal recognition, personalized learning as conceptualized by foundations marks a significant shift away from traditional notions of the role of education in a liberal democracy and raises serious privacy issues that must be addressed.”

“It presents yet another example of the transformation of the traditional role of public education as educating citizens to one of educating future workers and consumers, a contrast of liberal democracy with neoliberal democracy.”

“The edtech sector has been focused on the notion [of personalized learning] …. While companies have generated hundreds of products and a smattering of new school models are showing promise, there is little large-scale evidence that the approach can improve teaching and learning or narrow gaps in academic achievement.”

The authors also review Education Week as a model of education journalism that is underwritten by edtech foundations and helps to market their wares. Reporting by Benjamin Herold on Ed tech, however, is exceptionally critical.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has become “a de facto Ed tech sales firm.”

I have been saying for a long time that “personalized learning” is actually depersonalized learning because it attempts to replace human teachers with computer instruction. Education requires human interaction, not a connection between a human and a machine.

Despite my cynicism about the tech billionaires and their relentless pushing of Ed tech, I don’t think they are motivated by greed. When you are already a billionaire, what difference does more money make? I believe they promote Ed tech because that’s all they know. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Actually, I don’t think the tech billionaires have given much thought to their concept of education. They display little or no interest in literature, the arts, or any of the humanities. This reflects their limits and their ignorance. The fact that they have so much money and power threatens the very heart and soul of education. Education is not, should not be merely trading or transactions. It is and should be a way of life. Try explaining that to Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or any of the other tech titans—or state legislators or members of Congress.


Thomas Ultican took a close look at spending on education technology in North Carolina and was shocked by what he learned.

He begins:

A North Carolina cabal of school superintendents, politicians, consultants and technology companies has gone wild over the past seven years. In Chapel Hill, Education Elements obtained an illegitimate $767,000 contract. Chapel Hill-Carborro City Hills Schools (CHCCS) Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Jennifer Bennett, supposedly ignored school board policy and agreed to the contract in secret. It seems that when the state and local schools are spending on education technology, policies and law are being ignored.

After the Education Elements negotiations, Bennett sent a message to their Managing Partner, Jason Bedford, saying, “Need to get you guys to modify the [contract] if you can since if we include the whole potential payment value, then we have to take this to the Board since over our $90K threshold ….” This seems very damning, however, local citizens think they are being gas lighted. In the comments section on the school boards web site, several parents expressed the same opinion as parent Jeff Safir who wrote,

“I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Bennett acted alone and was the only person aware of the money being spent on the Education Elements engagement and I don’t understand why she is able to serve out the rest of her contract in an alternate capacity when the position is at-will ….”

Education Elements was created with funding from NewSchools Venture fund and a four other venture capital groups that invest in education startups. As noted in a previous article, “There are few districts in America that do not have a deeper bench when it comes to education theory, practical application and leadership talent than Education Elements.”  In agreement with this point, parent Kavita Rajagopal wrote,

“There is zero information as to exactly what our taxpayer dollars even bought from EdElements. I have spoken to numerous (double digits) teachers and not a single one found the training to be novel or particularly eye opening. Why are there no teachers at the table?”

Particularly galling to CHCCS parents is the fact that 20 of 40 teaching assistants working in special education were let go at the same time this contract was consummated. Parent Payal Perera wrote, “I was appalled to learn that the EC support staff funding was cut, while $750K was available for these other things!”…

It is not just North Carolina school districts ignoring past practices, policies and laws concerning education technology spending. In 2018, Mark Johnson, the Republican Superintendent of Schools, led a group of three local politicians and two superintendents of schools on an all expense paid junket to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Seven months later, Johnson announced a $6.6 million I-pad contract to supply the devices to North Carolina public school students in kindergarten through third grade. It was a no-bid contract that bypassed the state Department of Information Technology.

Johnson has great connections but he is not qualified to lead schools. In 2016, 33-years-old Mark Johnson became North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He garnered 50.6% of the vote besting his opponents 49.4% tally.

The young lawyer vacated his position as corporate counsel at Inmar, an international technology company, where he had worked for three years to take the Superintendent’s position. His only training and experience in education was a two year temp teacher stint with Teach For America (TFA).

Although he clearly lacked the qualifications of Professor June Atkinson, the incumbent, several billionaires including Arthur Rock, Michael Bloomberg, Jonathan Sackler and Steuart Walton contributed heavily to his campaign.

In 2016, Johnson also received support from the Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) PAC. It supports TFA alumni running for office. The Silicon Valley billionaire, Arthur Rock, is a board member of LEE along with Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma. 

There’s more, much more, and it’s all unsavory.

Mitchell Robinson, a professor at Michigan State University, has advice for state Democratic parties about their message to voters. He suggests what they need to do to attract new voters and turn red legislatures blue. Two big ideas: expand internet access and promote public education, K-16.

He begins:

1. Better, more affordable access to broadband internet service

In a digital age, access to fast, secure internet service is not only a basic human need–akin to utilities like electricity, water, and gas/oil–but it’s a requirement for candidates building a digital campaign infrastructure. Not being able to reliably connect to persons in remote areas of your state, or to those who live in urban areas plagued by internet deserts, severely hampers the ability to convey a candidate’s or party’s message, policy beliefs, or positions on issues. It also leaves persons without reliable internet access to the mercies of our information sources like Fox News or the Detroit News–meaning that they are less informed than someone with no media access at all.

2. Improve support for public education, including community colleges and state universities

One of the single largest predictors of voting patterns is the level of education among a group of potential voters. In general, the more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to vote, and to vote for Democratic candidates. Areas and states with a lower percentage of college-educated voters tend to vote Republican, and more educated areas tend to vote for Democrats. It just stands to reason that increasing the number of college-educated voters would lead to a more Democratic populace.

At the same time, the concerted attacks on public institutions under Republicans have decimated public schools in both our largest cities and the most sparsely populated regions in the country. Aside from race and ethnicity, the demographics and socio-economic issues in cities and rural areas are surprisingly similar–including the damage that has been done by Republican and neoliberal ed reform policies to students, teachers, and schools in both urban and rural communities.

  • Imagine a Democratic platform that features free community college tuition and affordable access to state colleges and universities, and a return to the kind of financial support from state legislatures that was common as recently as the late 1970s.

Open the link and read his other strong ideas to change the political dynamic.

Laura Chapman read Andy Hargreaves’ provocative article about the educational technology we will need in the future, and she responded with this comment:

Andy Hargreaves says: “We need to create conditions for technologically enhanced learning that are universal, public and free to those who need it.”

Yes. But that is unlikely to happen in the United States, even if available elsewhere. In our market-based economy, the expression “digital learning,” should be understood as the opportunity for tech companies to learn as much as they wish about the users of their devices and software. The best we seem able to do is offer legislation that attempts to limit exploitation of data being gathered by technologies.

For example, The National Biometric Information Privacy Act, proposed by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley, is not likely to pass. The Act would require a business to secure prior written consent from individuals before the business could use any of their immutable characteristics captured by facial recognition or any other biometric systems. See https://www.biometricupdate.com/202008/broad-biometric-protections-in-senate-bill-with-slim-prospects

Also dead in the water is S. 1341 (114th Congress): Student Privacy Protection Act, introduced May 15, 2015, read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. This bill was intended to prohibit the use of federal funds for tech-based data gathering enabled by technology. Here is a small sample of the intended prohibitions:
—No federal funds for analysis of facial expressions, EEG brain wave patterns, skin conductance, galvanic skin response, heart-rate variability, pulse, blood volume, posture, and eye-tracking.
—No measures or data about psychological resources, mindsets, learning strategies, effortful control, attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, intrapersonal and interpersonal resources, or any other type of social, emotional, or psychological parameter.
—A special rule exempts data collection required by the Disabilities Education Act.
But there was more.
—No federal funds can be used for video monitoring of classrooms in the school, for any purpose, including for teacher evaluation, without the approval of the local educational agency after a public hearing and the written consent of the teacher and the parents of all students in the classroom. These restrictions apply to outside parties (e.g., researchers) as well.
—No federal funds for computing devices with remote camera surveillance software without the approval of the local educational agency after a public hearing, and for teachers or students without the written consent of the teacher and the parent of each affected student.
—Section 5 of the bill defines PII, personally identifiable information, and prohibited data-gathering that could reveal, without authorization, the identity of a student (e.g., SSNs, student numbers, biometric records), indirect identifiers (e.g., date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name). As far as I know, that bill is the only legislation that has come close to putting some brakes on rampant data-gathering enabled by ed-tech.

It is easy to suppose that edtech will thrive in the midst of our COVID-19 pandemic. Not so fast warns Mark Schneiderman, the senior director of education policy for the Software & Information Industry Association. He claims the ed tech industry is facing downsizing from the pandemic’s crunch on school budgets. He says “Communication and information sharing platforms like Google, Zoom, and SchoolMessenger are among the big ‘winners’” but thousands of software companies may be in trouble. He offers predictions about the market for edtech and repeats talking points about the importance of edtech on behalf of the profit-seekers whom is represents.

Meanwhile the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign, the major non-profit preoccupied with data-gathering on a large scale claims that data from edtech is necessary for “student success.” It postures about student privacy issues, but this “campaign” is eager to see more data gathering on students and teachers at scale and longitudinally, including results from the Common Core and associated state tests. https://dataqualitycampaign.org/why-education-data/make-data-work-students/

The Data Quality Campaign has just released a new messaging brief with two partners known for promoting the Common Core standards and testing–the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Collaborative for Student Success. The brief tells states how they should measure “student growth” in 2021, given that most states have no 2020 statewide assessment data.”

This brief is an effort to keep statewide testing (and the Common Core) alive through messaging and marketing. The brief cites and exaggerates the importance of three “push surveys” designed to asset that teachers and parents really want so-called “growth scores.” A growth scores is a euphemism for year-to-year gains in test scores. This brief also cites and promotes SAS, the marketers of discredited value-added calculations known as EVASS (Education Value-Added Assessment System). In other words, the drumbeat for terrible policies goes on and from unelected policy shapers who use their non-profit status for lobbying.
https://dataqualitycampaign.org/news/states-can-and-should-measure-student-growth-in-2021/

It is no surprise that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the three organizations claiming credit for this brief. The Gates Foundation has sent the Data Quality Campaign $25.3 million in 15 grants and The Alliance for Excellent Education $27 million in 15 grants. The Collaborative for Student Success is described as “a multi-donor fund” investing in “messaging efforts that build support for high standards, high-quality aligned assessments, and systems of accountability that promote success for all students.” The Collaborative is funded by ExxonMobil and five major foundations, among them the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as detailed by Mercedes Schneider here. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/gates-is-at-it-again-the-common-core-centered-collaborative-for-student-success/

This is to say that market forces are not just operating in public education but that the wealth of nonprofits is well-organized to push ed-tech.

We are not now, or in the foreseeable future likely to see anything close to “conditions for technologically enhanced learning that are universal, public and free to those who need it.”

Our national and state policies are designed to subsidize profit-seeking from education.

Victoria Theisen Homer writes in Salon about the ways that remote learning distorts and devalues human relationships.

She writes:

Think of your favorite teacher. Whenever I ask people to do this, they usually tell me about a teacher who saw them: the one who took them aside and encouraged them to pursue art or computer science, who helped counsel them through a personal issue, who attended their Quinceañera — who, ultimately, just cared. By connecting with us in meaningful ways, these teachers not only earned a permanent place in our memories, they also engaged, challenged, and inspired us. Today, our nation’s 56.6 million elementary and secondary students could all use teachers like this, to help shepherd them through the pandemic and into a better future. But even in the best of times, school structures are more conducive to punitive discipline than meaningful teacher-student relationships, especially in our least-resourced schools. Today, with the challenges of virtual learning and the urgent messaging around “COVID slide” – the learning loss students may have suffered while they were out of school – relationships in schools are under further threat, just when students need them most.

Across the U.S., the pandemic has put a strain on families and children, many of whom continue to suffer from food insecurity, job loss, or the death of loved ones to COVID-19. So as kids begin school this year, they require connection, understanding, and nurturance from their teachers. While positive relationships with significant adult figures like teachers help children cope with trauma, such relationships also facilitate better learning. When students have meaningful relationships with their teachers, they are more likely to engage in class, more likely to feel like they can complete their school work, more likely to grow and achieve academically and personally. This is because learning is profoundly social.

But the pandemic has turned everything upside down.

Homer has prepared teachers. She studied some that entered affluent progressive schools where encouragement was the norm, and another group that taught in “no excuses” public school where conformity and obedience were customary.

The pandemic has extended “no-excuses” discipline into many schools that rely on remote learning.

She writes:

Schools across the country that primarily serve students of color and those from low-income backgrounds often adopt an approach to learning that centers on standardized test scores and control. For example, the other teacher education program in my study was situated in a “no excuses” charter school, the most prominent type of urban charter school (think KIPP or Success Academy), which aim to efficiently improve the academic achievement of children of color from low income backgrounds by eliminating anything they feel might distract students from learning (e.g. colorful socks, poor posture, indirect eye contact, talking in hallways).

At schools like this, educators maintain that there is no valid excuse for children’s failure to learn or behave. The teacher education program grounded in this context approached relationships like a formula: applying a series of discrete moves to accumulate “professional relationship capital” with students to increase their behavioral compliance and academic achievement. The director explained, “I think the foundation of the relationship is that my job is to try to generate maximum effort in thinking from you. That’s my job. It’s not to be your friend.”

Again, I followed graduates of this program into their first year of teaching at no excuses middle schools that primarily served students of color. These teachers also began the year by faithfully applying what they had learned about connecting with and disciplining students. They walked around their classrooms with timers in hand, smoothly assigned merits and demerits for behavior, integrated “little nuggets” they had recalled about students into brief interactions with them, and conducted “rebuilding conversations” after removing students from their class for infractions. It was all very efficient and controlled. Students were often silent, and hoped this approach would help them “succeed.” But they did not feel truly seen or understood as human beings by their teachers. One student explained, “I don’t think any of the teachers [know us].” And by the end of the year, one of these teachers admitted, “I think a lot of the kids sort of feel like it’s run like a jail…They’re very smart kids, and they understand that some of our rules are unnecessary, and overly strict, and un-empathetic.” The urgent insistence on academic achievement and behavioral conformity in these schools not only eroded opportunities for nurturing teacher-student relationships, it also conditioned students for subservience. This might be why some research indicates no excuses schools improve student test scores, but not life outcomes.

No excuses schools are not alone in this approach, though, and it now seems to be extending to virtual school. Desperate to counteract COVID-slide, educators are implementing plans to monitor and control student behavior during virtual class, including their attire, location, camera-use, attentiveness, and snacking. This is unfortunate but not surprising, because whenever the focus of schooling turns to quantifiable educational outcomes like standardized test scores or budgetary efficiencies, students are treated like products that must be regulated. Of course, humans are not products, and we all have very good excuses not to be performing as others may want us to right now, but the forces that govern schools don’t seem to get that. Because affluent and white students are more likely to attend schools with the resources to support meaningful relationships and less likely to be penalized for virtual or in-person violations, students of color will bear the brunt of this coming “discipline crisis,” which is really a crisis for relationships. For while relationships connect children to teachers and schools, harsh discipline severs ties.

Efforts to close the academic “gaps” that grew wider during COVID have facilitated the worst kinds of teaching.

One lesson learned since March is that remote learning is a very inferior way to conduct school. Students are bored, and teachers are frustrated. Distance learning may be necessary but it’s a poor substitute for in-person learning.

Gayle Greene writes in The American Prospect about the bonanza struck by EdTech due to the pandemic.

As she shows, EdTech has a shabby history in the classroom but now we are in a period that it’s needed, no matter how shabby it may be. She reviews recent EdTech disasters and notes that none of them have sunk the hope that EdTech is “innovative” and “cutting edge,” rather than a disaster that undercuts the vital human-to-human interaction that makes dc learning come to life.

She writes:

The transition to online teaching made everyone aware of the value of person-to-person communication. The human signals that tell a teacher how a class is reacting—the sighs, groans, snorts, giggles, eye rolls, glances, body language—are stripped away online. The teacher can’t even tell if she’s being heard. Warmth is difficult to express; rapport, trust, bonding almost impossible to build. “Kids can be hard to motivate under the best of circumstances,” says teacher blogger Steven Singer, “but try doing it through a screen.” Students say so, too: “I can’t get myself to care … I just feel really disconnected from everything.”

Ed tech companies lost no time moving in. “When the pandemic hit, right away we got a list of all these technology companies that make education software that were offering free access to their products for the duration of the coronavirus crisis,” said Gordon Lafer, political economist at the University of Oregon and a member of his local school board. “They pitch these offerings as stepping up to help out the country in a moment of crisis. But it’s also like coke dealers handing out free samples.” Marketing has become so aggressive that a school superintendent near Seattle tweeted a heartfelt appeal to vendors: “Please stop. Just stop … my superintendent colleagues and I … need to focus on our communities. Let us do our jobs.” Her plea hit a nerve, prompting a survey by the National Superintendents Roundtable that revealed “a deep vein of irritation and discontent” at the barrage of texts, emails, and phone calls, “a distraction and nuisance” when they’re trying to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Comments on this survey ranged from “negative in the extreme” to “scathing,” and expressed concerns that these products “have not been validated” and that “free” offers conceal contracts for long-term pay.

For the past two decades, ed tech has been pushing into public schools, convincing districts to invest in tablets, software, online programs, assessment tools. Many superintendents have allowed these incursions, directing funding to technology that might have been better spent on human resources, teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians (up to $5.6 billion of school technology purchased sits unused, according to a 2019 analysis in EdWeek Market Brief). Now the pandemic has provided ed tech a “golden opportunity,” a “tailwind” (these are the terms we hear): Michael Moe, head of the venture capitalist group Global Silicon Valley, says: “We see the education industry today as the health care industry of 30 years ago.” Not a happy thought.

Read the whole article. You will be glad you did.