Misery Money


I remember the day A.J. first drew a portrait of me.

We were supposed to be doing math, but that year, we almost never did what we were supposed to be doing.

It was my first year teaching, and I had no idea what I was doing.

Somehow (for reasons I am only just now beginning to understand) the City of New York deemed it reasonable to put a twenty-two year-old with no background in education at the helm of a special education class for children who were, according to their IEP’s, “severely emotionally disturbed.”

For the first few months, I spent most of my time watching in disbelief as the kids threw punches at one another, screamed curse words at me, and even, once or twice, held scissors to my neck for a few terrifying minutes.

A.J., ordinarily distracted (watchful, really) by every movement in the classroom, was meticulous as he drew his picture of me.

He drew my ponytail, the polka-dotted blouse I had on that day, my flats.  He even made a smile and rosy cheeks, which delighted me.

But then, inexplicably, a flare of anger flashed across his eyes.

Beside the portrait, he drew a car.

Then, he flipped his pencil around and vigorously began to erase the image he’d made of me, so hard that the paper tore.

Turning his paper ninety degrees, he then drew me a second time – just as meticulously – but this time lying flat beside the car.

Finally, he took a red crayon and scribbled imaginary blood across the picture.

When he was done, he ripped the entire piece of paper into a hundred pieces and, without saying a word, threw them in the trash.

I watched the whole thing without saying a word either – dumbfounded and horrified.

I spent the next three years in the same classroom, looping with the kids from third all the way to fifth grade.

And things did get better over time.

A.J and the others slowly decided to trust me, and then eventually even to like me.

I have a whole folder full of pictures that A.J. drew for me over those three years, and most of them aren’t bloody.  In some, we are even hugging.

But, even with all the time we spent together, I think I only barely glimpsed just how far and deep and wide the pain of some children can be.

 

Nationwide, there is a movement afoot to focus on the “social and emotional” needs of students, and teachers – many like me, who know the hurt and brokenness of so many children – are falling for it left and right.

But it makes me feel sick to my stomach, in part because it is filled with insanely terrible ideas.

For example, there is a push to give kids digital, game-based avatars that they can use (for a fee) to “practice” social skills.

I’m serious.

There really are people out there – powerful, absurdly wealthy people – who think that the best way to help hurting kids like A.J. is to isolate them on a computer, ask them to choose “thought options” from a drop-down menu, and then to collect data on their “growth.”

Ultimately, the goal is to monetize the “evidence” they’ve gathered.

If you think I’ve lost my mind, or if none of this makes sense to you, I implore you to watch this short video from a fellow blogger:

The packaging is glamorous, and they know all the right words to pull on your heart strings.

But the product is the same as it so often is: a gimmick designed to exploit our most vulnerable populations.

A.J., and millions of kids like him, don’t need digital avatars. They don’t need drop-down thought-menus to choose from while they are plugged in, alone, to an electronic device.  And they don’t need data-wells built on their backs that are designed to make the rich even richer.

What they need are grown-ups – like us – to demand that the exploitation stops.

 

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We Need to Talk About Our Philanthropy Problem.

This week, the announcement of a massive collaborative between the world’s largest foundations and their philanthropic underlings underscored a disturbing and growing trend among America’s billionaire elite: the use of unprecedented levels of wealth to remake social policy.

If you’re one of those kindhearted Americans who still believes that the nation’s richest families are simply giving away their wealth to little people like us because they care, allow me to do this:

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Private foundations have long been used as tax-havens for the elite, but “philanthropy” has lately been retooled to serve a new function: the seeding of a new “social capital” market that has the potential to reap these self-proclaimed lovers-of-humanity billions of dollars in profit.

This new market, still in the works but advancing at lightning speed, relies on the complete undoing of the public sphere.

That whole Bill-Gates-Common-Core thing? Sure, he wanted everyone to have to buy his Microsoft products… but not as much as he wanted to build a data-tagging system that he and his cronies could use to “measure” and then profit off the “impact” of their investments. 

Data is king in the new social capital markets, which is why it’s no coincidence that Congress is currently ramming through several bills expanding the role of the Feds to collect and aggregate data on pretty much everything, starting from when you’re a neonate.

And maybe even more creepily, when it comes to “evidence-based policy”, it turns out that “evidence” doesn’t actually mean science or truth or even what’s remotely good for us.

Evidence means data, which can be p-hack’ed (massaged, if you will) anyway investors like.

And so we have folks like Tripp Jones of Massachusetts calling for an expansion of “evidence-based policy” while children die at alarming rates in his former for-profit foster care program; folks like Bill Gates relentlessly terrorizing the public school system in pursuit of an investment-friendly sector; and the folks who managed to balloon the national student debt to astronomical levels advancing new credentialing systems and grading systems…

…all under the guise of philanthropy.

Recently, education historian Diane Ravitch called for congressional investigation of Bill Gates and his out-sized and undemocratic role in the takeover of public education.

But I think we need to take this one giant step further.

Gates is one giant, gnarly tree in an dark, overgrown forest of private “givers” who are dead-set on remaking our nation into something reminiscent of a feudalistic society.

I say it’s time to investigate the whole rotten system that’s allowing this to happen.

Seriously, folks.  This just can’t be okay.

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A Plea to Future Teachers

Every now and then, a high school or college student will ask for advice about entering the teaching profession.

I typically give the standard two-cents:

Stay away from Teach for America.  Find a grade level you love.  Be prepared for the first year or two to grind you down to the bone, but stick with it.

Recently, however, there’s something else I’ve realized I should add:

Study economics, finance, and marketing.

These subjects may not interest you now, but these are the forces that will dictate so much of what you are expected to do in your classroom.

No one ever gave me this advice, and I so wish they had.

For a long time, I thought that the endless, ever-changing demands placed on teachers came from education experts. I believed, truly, that the teachers that came before me were mostly backwards dinosaurs using antiquated, oppressive teaching techniques; that public schools had become rotten, outdated places in need of dedicated young people like me to shake things up; and that standards and testing and technology and data were about nothing more lifting kids up and out of poverty and into the limitless possibility of a college-educated future.

It has taken one long punch-in-the-gut, slap-in-the-face dose of reality to discover just how duped I was, and hours upon hours of research to learn what’s actually driving the changes happening to public education.

There is a terrible disconnect right now between those in the classroom – those who have committed their time, energy and livelihoods to the well-being of young people – with the powerful financial and technological forces that are rapidly reshaping our schools.

Now – maybe more than ever?- we desperately need more bright minds who are able to bridge the divide between these two worlds –  thinkers and fighters who, in the game of tug-of-war between power and money on the one hand and innocent little lives on the other, will stand on the side of children.

So, while you study Piaget and Vgotsky and all the rest, please – learn more than I ever did about how money and markets and power work.

Find out who’s really in charge, and then, rather than join them (even though the money will be much, much better) help us fight them.

We need you.

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Big Money Coming for Your Child’s Privacy – Again.

In my fourth grade classroom, when there is something very important that I want all of my students hear and to understand the first time (a task that is more difficult than you can imagine), I tell my kids to “wake their brains up.”

And then I do this (sort of) to demonstrate:

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Today, I am asking parents to do the same.

And this is because your child’s privacy is under attack, and you, moms and dads, are literally the only thing standing in the way of the complete and utter hijacking of all personal information related to your loved ones.

Before you glaze over, realize that the implications of this data-grab may be greater than you think.

This week, a group of corporate-funded researchers joined Bill Gates’s “Data Quality Campaign” to lobby legislators to weaken the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) yet again.

In an era when entire school districts are being shut down due to data breaches and ransom notes from anonymous hackers, profiteers are seeking to put your child’s personal information into the hands of still more people.

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But here’s the thing: it’s not only creepy anonymous hackers that we need to protect ourselves from.

Data was recently called the “new oil” by the CEO of Mastercard, but few people seem to understand how – beyond vague notions of algorithms and advertising revenue – they intend to turn our personal information into a multi-trillion dollar market.

The intent is to put social services – schools, public health, prisons, foster care, you name it – into the hands of private investors via “social capital markets.”

Using social impact bonds, pay-for-success contracts, and other so-called “innovative” financial tools, investors – in collaboration with a wide network of corporate-sponsored “nonprofits” – intend to hand out loans for public services in exchange for repayment (with interest) when we meet their predetermined outcomes.

It’s the technocratic nightmare behind ever-increasing calls for “evidence-based” (read: data-based) policy:

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that leads not only to endless demands for data-collection, but to service-shortcuts like ipads in place of teachers and for-profit foster care programs that claim excellent “outcomes” while children are dying in their care.

(Please read here for more.)

And so when they – the data-miners themselves – suggest that perhaps we put our children’s data into something more “secure” like blockchain, realize that they are simply trying to secure the very data they themselves need to build their fortunes.

Unfortunately, this means that demands for greater “privacy” protections are not going to be enough.

What we need to do is stop the oil rigs from being built on our children’s backs in the first place.

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#TOTALREFUSAL2017 #DATAREFUSAL2017

 

Death, Corruption and Cover-Up in For-Profit Foster Care, and Why Education Activists MUST Confront Them

By EMILY TALMAGE and MARY PORTER


The following is an expanded and revised version to the original post , which can found here. 

BuzzFeed News has reported the results of a Congressional Investigation, which was prompted by their own report of corruption and coverup in the deaths of foster children.

In their groundbreaking  2015 report,  reporters Aram Roston and Jeremy Singer-Vine investigated widespread cases of physical and sexual abuse –  including multiple deaths of healthy children – which took place in foster homes that were part of a 36-state for-profit foster care organization known as the Mentor Network.
The report featured former Mentor caseworkers who accused the company of failing children because of its focus on extracting a profit from them – by cutting corners on expensive services, for example, or forcing social workers to carry extremely high caseloads.

“I went there because I care about services for kids,” said one caseworker. “I eventually became a machine that cared about profits. I didn’t care about kids.”

A BUSINESS PLAN FROM HELL

The Senate investigation didn’t pursue the Mentor Network’s business associations, outside of interviewing current officers.

Our own investigation found that a key architect of the profit-mining expansion has since moved on from Mentor to develop the model in several powerful organizations, adapting it to everything from juvenile recidivism to public education.

Tripp Jones has now opened his own shadowy company (called 21c) that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially.

He reveals in his bio that he served as a leading member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years:

“He and his colleagues worked with their private equity sponsors to successfully complete 45 acquisitions in order to scale and diversify MENTOR’s services from $250 million in revenue operating in 13 states to $1.1 billion in revenue in 38 states with 25,000 employees. While at MENTOR, Tripp Jones focused largely on building the systems to enable the company to manage explosive growth, extensive service-line expansion, complex integration of operations.”

From there, Jones went on to serve as co-managing director at a company called New Profit, where he helped build a “social finance advisory firm” called Third Sector Capital Partners.
Jones and other perpetrators of this giant for-profit foster care firm are sheltered by powerful corporate cartels, which are making new demands for public-private profit opportunities. Jones sits on the boards of MassINC., New Profit, Time and LearningThird Sector Capital Partners, MA Juvenile Justice PFS Initiative, and the Building on What Works Coalition.

And this is where education activists need to pay attention.

Edweek reports that the Gates Foundation and the Zuckerberg-Chan initiative have jointly funded a $12 million initiative to support new ways of tailoring classroom instruction to individual students.

The recipient of their grant is none other than New Profit.

New Profit and Third Sector Capital, both major proponents of the controversial and highly unethical “Pay for Success” model of public financing, are now closely linked with powerful education organizations and lobbyists:

 

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In 2014, New Profit – along with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – sponsored a series of meetings with a group called Convergence, in which major education policy-players – including the presidents of both major teacher’s unions – developed what they dubbed a “Transformational Vision of Education” – a “vision” that is little more than a call to transform public education to a data-mining industry that will allow for-profit companies, much like Mentor, to profit off the backs of children.

The Intercept published its own report of the Congressional hearings, which fails to link the actual congressional report, or the new Buzzfeed coverage.  Damage-control may be a more accurate term than report, in fact, because it also fails to even mention the resulting legislation, ‘‘Child Welfare Over-sight and Accountability Act of 2017.’’

In an particularly Orwellian twist, the Intercept article recommends a bill put forward last year which would put federal family assistance programs and foster assistance together into one program, stipulating that only prevention services classified as “promising,” “supported,” or “well-supported,” based on an evidence structure developed by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse, would be eligible for reimbursement.

That same California Evidence-Based Clearing House has given its endorsement to the Mentor Network’s own proprietary “evidence-based Family Centered Treatment® program.”

FCT© can target children and families in community settings (like “Community Schools”) for its therapeutic intervention, and then designate its own for-profit foster home network as a successful planned placement from their therapy. 

With that system, Mentor was able to claim 89% success in meeting “permanency goals” during the whole horror show described in the Congressional report.

The Mentor Network operates under a corporate name of Civitas Solutions. 

Intercept reported that Civitas’ publicly traded stock dropped suddenly when the Congressional Report was released, then rebounded in a couple of days as it became clear there would be no coverage or follow-up.
Media outlets like the Intercept (but not BuzzFeed)  limit their coverage to this one firm, rather than demanding an investigation of the public-private structures and their architects (like  FCT© and Tripp Jones ) that allow organizations like Mentor to profit off the backs of our most vulnerable populations.
Sadly, this should surprise no one.

The Intercept receives most of its funding from the Omidyar Network, which is deeply linked to the development of the very same pay-for-success schemes that Tripp Jones is building.   Omidyar invested one million dollars in New Profit back in 2000 – and has remained linked to them through many channels.

These groups are now busy turning our public education system into one that can be profit-mined as thoroughly as the foster care system.

And so it is up to us, parents and other engaged citizens, to spread the word about what is happening to children, and to make it stop.

 

86 Deaths in Public-Private Foster Care – and Why Education Activists Should Be Paying Attention

Two years ago, BuzzFeed broke a disturbing story that gained little public attention at the time.

According to a 2015 report, widespread cases of physical and sexual abuse –  including multiple deaths of healthy children – took place in homes that were part of the for-profit foster care organization known as the Mentor Network.

The report featured former Mentor caseworkers who accused the company of failing children because of its focus on extracting a profit from them – by cutting corners on expensive services, for example, or forcing social workers to carry extremely high caseloads.

“I went there because I care about services for kids,” said one caseworker. “I eventually became a machine that cared about profits. I didn’t care about kids.”

Buzzfeed’s report was thorough enough to prompt a Senate investigation.

But a key power-player, who has since left Mentor to form organizations influencing everything from juvenile recidivism to public education, has thus far been left off the hook.

Tripp Jones, now Principal at a company called 21c that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially, served as member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years.

According to his company bio, Jones played a pivotal role in “building the systems” that enabled the company to grow from $250 million in revenue to $1.1 billion.

Then, Jones went on to serve as co-managing director at a company called New Profit, where he helped build a “social finance advisory firm” called Third Sector Capital Partners.

Jones and other perpetrators of this giant for-profit foster care firm are sheltered by powerful corporate cartels, making new demands for public-private profit opportunities. Jones sits on the boards of MassINC., New Profit, Time and Learning, Third Sector Capital Partners, MA Juvenile Justice PFS Initiative, and the Building on What Works Coalition.

And this is where education activists need to pay attention.

New Profit and Third Sector Capital, both major proponents of the controversial and highly unethical “Pay for Success” model of public financing, are now closely linked with powerful education organizations and lobbyists.

In 2014, New Profit – along with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – sponsored a series of meetings with a group called Convergence, in which major education policy-players – including the presidents of both major teacher’s unions – developed what they dubbed a “Transformational Vision of Education” – a “vision” that is little more than a call to transform public education to a data-mining industry that will allow for-profit companies, much like Mentor, to profit off the backs of children.

Thus far, the coverage of the Senate’s investigation of Mentor has been watered-down at best.

Damage-control may be more accurate.

The Senate report and its recommendations call for further data-mining, which will inevitably serve to bolster these partnerships and the profits they generate.

Rather than demanding an investigation of the public-private structures and their architects (like Jones) that allow organizations like Mentor to profit off the backs of our most vulnerable populations, media outlets like the Intercept limit their coverage to this one firm.

Sadly, this should surprise no one.

The Intercept receives most of its funding from the Omidyar Network, which is deeply linked to the development of the very same pay-for-success schemes that Tripp Jones is building.

In fact, Omidyar even gave a million dollars to Jones’s New Profit – the group that is now busy turning our public education system into one that can be profit-mined as thoroughly as the foster care system.

And so it is up to us, parents and other concerned citizens, to spread the word about what is happening to children, and – hopefully – to make it stop.

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(This is Alexandria Hill, who was killed in a Mentor foster home in 2013.)

Ivanka Trump Becomes Latest Billionaire to Push “Computer Science for All” Hoax

On Wednesday, an op-ed written by Ivanka Trump appeared in the New York Post.

Joining a long list of public school-meddling billionaires who have no education qualifications nor children in public school of their own, Ivanka claimed the nation’s children as the subject of her White House pet project by calling for expansion of computer science and coding in America’s public schools.

The call is built on a long-propagated but thoroughly debunked myth that our nation suffers from a dearth of workers with STEM qualifications.

In fact, the claim that we need to get kids coding by kindergarten is little more than convenient cover to get more kids hooked up to digital devices in their classrooms and sending data to the cloud.

“Coding is at intersection of tech ed and edtech,” explains Hadi Partovi in an interview with digital learning guru, Tom Vander Ark. “People get online Computer Science. It may be an easier sell to blended Computer Science than blended math.”

And that, of course, is exactly what Wall Street investors and Silicon Valley tech titans are trying to do: sell us on the idea that we need to spend more time learning online.  (The term “blended” refers to learning that takes at least partially online.)

No surprise, then, that Ivanka mentions joining Partovi and Microsoft President Brad Smith in Virginia for – in Partovi’s own words – the Hour of Code “marketing gimmick” with the students of Middleburg Community Charter School.

In an email to the Clinton campaign (because yes, this is a thoroughly bipartisan ruse) Partovi urged staffers to think beyond the marketing stunt and make “Computer Science” a key piece of their platform.

“Any time Hillary says “STEM”, if she instead, said “Computer science” she’d have more voters understand and support her.  For winning an election, STEM is not what voters react to,” Partovi advised.

Hillary lost, of course, but Partovi lost no time buddying up with Ivanka Trump to push his agenda.

Partovi, a long-time liberal, wrote: “I knew many would ask me: “How can you support something the Trump administration is doing?”

“[We] may be divided by our politics, but we’re united by our love for money,” he said.

Did I say “money?”  Okay, he actually said our love for “children.”

But we all know what he really meant.

 

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