Future Agendas?

Three years ago, In the Public Interest – a nonprofit whose stated goal is to “ensure that government contracts and agreements and related public policies increase transparency [and] accountability” – obtained thousands of emails sent between Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and a variety of current and former state education commissioners (or the “Chiefs,” as they call themselves).

You can – and should – search these emails here for insight into the way next-gen ed-reformers  strategize.

Shortly after these emails were released, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post wrote an article about these emails here, as did Colin Woodard, an award-winning journalist here in Maine.

In his special report, Woodard exposed the collaboration of former education commissioner, Stephen Bowen (now Strategic Initiative Director of the Council for Chief State Schools Officers) with the FEE and members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to expand and deregulate digital education here in Maine.

In previous posts, I’ve written about one product of these exchanges – an executive order given by Governor LePage on the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital learning – and the role these elements play in the radical transformation of Maine’s schools into grade-less, “proficiency-based” systems designed to unleash a digital learning boom in our state.

Using crafty language, questionable lobbying practices, and plenty of out-of-state money by way of the Gates Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Element 4, “Advancement,” is now mandated here in Maine in the form of a proficiency-based diploma requirement.

Needless to say, Woodard’s expose ruffled a few feathers, including those of next-gen ed-reform mastermind, Tom Vander Ark.

Vander Ark, who is a partner at Learn Capital – a venture capital firm with a giant portfolio of online and digital learning companies and sits on the board of countless organizations related to next-gen ed reform – accused Woodard of being on a “digital witch hunt” and referred to his article in the Press Herald as a “crazy attack.”

In an article  that appeared in the Huffington Post, Vander Ark wrote: “Investigative journalism is important to our democracy but this was an example of something different and dangerous—a slanted political and personal agenda.”

Did I mention that Vander Ark is also on the advisory board of a multi-national group of elites called “Global Education Futures,” which puts out documents like this, called “Future Agendas for Global Education”?

Did I mention that Vander Ark also appears in these emails in a discussion of the new “assessment ecosystem” he envisions for our future?

“New tests will hinder rather than help competency-based models…In short, I don’t want one big cheap end of year test used for more than it should be…I don’t want it to lock in the teacher-centric age cohort model for another decade. I don’t want simple assessments, I want complex performance based assessments. I want a system that will incorporate all the performance feedback that students will be receiving a few years from now.”

 Mr. Vander Ark, by “performance feedback that students will be receiving a few years from now,” do you mean the “continuous assessment in gaming-like dynamics that will “transform education into a personal quest to boost a character’ that is discussed in this document  put out by Global Education Futures?

Do you mean the “competence profiles that would record current state and development of individual’s knowledge & skills across different domains of professional & social life, and would accompany individuals throughout their life”?

Do you mean the “assessment of learning progress through the use of objective physiological parameters, using real time biometry and neurointerfaces”?

Because, truly, all of this sounds quite a bit more different and dangerous than anything I read in Woodard’s piece.

And as for personal and political agendas…. surely you’ll admit that you’ve got some pretty lofty ones of your own?


Our Children: Investment Assets?

This April, as my fourth grade students sat down to take the failed Smarter Balanced Assessment, Tom Vander Ark, former Executive Director of Education for the Gates Foundation and current CEO of Getting Smart, was busy giving a presentation in Silicon Valley titled: New Education: How to Unbundle the Potential of a Multi-Billion Dollar Market.

Last week, I wrote about Vander Ark’s efforts to usher us away from a single, “end-of-year” test in favor of a new era of all-encompassing, competency-based assessment systems. It turns out that Vander Ark is also a member of an organization called Global Education Futures – a group of wealthy elites from around the world who, in addition to giving presentations to one another about ways to make money off of our schools, quite literally get together to map out the future for our children.

They also produce 1984-like documents such as this, called “Future Agendas for Global Education,” which make big claims like this one:

The coming decades will see an era of the most radical changes in education since the appearance of national education systems. And the source of these changes will not be in the educational system itself, but rather it will be driven primarily by industries: digital technologies, healthcare, and finance.

while referring to our children as “investment assets” and “human resources” that should be “easily manageable.”

Here is a glimpse of what they envision for our future:

  • Learning through automated solutions

  • Continuous assessment in gaming-like dynamics that will “transform education into a ‘personal quest to boost a character’ in which “the ‘quest for achievement or trophy’ logic will be embedded into augmented reality systems that would award (with gaming bonuses, tokens, badges etc.) real-life professional conduct, healthy lifestyle, citizenship skills.”

  • Competence profiles that would record current state and development of individual’s knowledge & skills across different domains of professional & social life, and would accompany individuals throughout their life.

  • Assessment of learning progress through the use of objective physiological parameters, using real time biometry and neurointerfaces

If only we could dismiss this stuff as fantasy.

Unfortunately, with the support of high-powered politicians and all sorts of well-funded organizations and foundations, Vander Ark’s vision of a competency-based education system that relies on games and digital media to teach, track, and manage our children has made its way into the recent ESEA reauthorization.

Meaning that, unless something changes soon, we are well on our way to the future that these folks have been planning for us.

Is this what “unbundling” billions looks like?


Cashing In on Opt Out?

Despite the fact that Maine dropped out of the Smarter Balanced Consortium this spring, McGraw-Hill Education, maker of the SBAC Assessment, has managed to stay a step ahead of us.

The same corporation that designed a test for fourth graders full of ninth-grade level reading passages and left more than handful of my kids in tears after they spent hours navigating its confusing, glitchy online interface, has sold its “summative assessment” assets to Data Recognition Corporation so that it can focus on the burgeoning “personalized,” “adaptive” learning market that is driving big pieces of the ESEA reauthorization. 

Scott Marion, associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, said in Education Week  that companies are always trying to gauge “where the market goes next,” and that “non-summative work is the next frontier.”

(Funny, that’s what I called it too.)

“Summative,” of course, means the big end-of-year test, which at least a handful of those at the top are encouraging us to move away from… but not for the reasons we would hope.

While most of us who teach and/or have children in public schools view the Opt-Out Movement as a way to protest corporate and profit-driven education reform, others – like Tom Vander Ark – see the movement away from the big-end-of-year test as a way to usher in a new era of all-encompassing, “competency-based” digital-ed reform that has the potential to make companies like McGraw-Hill Education bigger bucks than ever before.

Competency-based systems, which are rapidly and, in many cases, quietly, sweeping our nation by way of legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, essentially take the big test and spread it out over the course of the entire year, while restructuring our schools into grade-less systems where promotion and graduation is based on successful demonstration of certain outcomes.  (Whose outcomes is a question for another day.)

Vander Ark, who previously served as Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and now has a resume that includes, among other powerful positions, serving as treasurer for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), Board Chair of Charter Board Partners, director of Bloomboard, Digital Learning Institute, and Imagination Foundation and advisor to the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and New Classrooms explains the shift toward this “new frontier” like this:

What’s new? There have been six important assessment developments since NCLB was enacted in 2002:

  • Student internet access has improved sufficiently to support an expectation of frequent online learning and assessment.
  • Performance assessment tools make it easier to construct, manage, and assess projects and standards-aligned prompts (see features on LDC CoreTools, and Buck Institute).
  • Embedded assessments are incorporated into many forms of digital content.
  • Formative assessment systems have improved dramatically. Platforms like MasteryConnect, Acuity, Edmodo, OpenEd, and Schoology make it easy to build, administer, and share standards-aligned assessments.
  • Adaptive assessment, such as MAPS from NWEA, is widely used. Adaptive learning, which combines adaptive assessment and targeted tutoring, is gaining widespread use in blended learning models. Providers include DreamBox (K-8 math) i-Ready from Curriculum Associates (k-8 math and reading), ALEKS from McGraw Hill (mostly secondary use).
  • Broader aims of student success, including self management and relational skills, are widely recognized as important and are being incorporated into state and district goals. The hard to measure skills and dispositions require broader feedback systems than traditional standardized testing.

A few months ago, many of us were perplexed when Education Commission of the States, which partners with Pearson (maker of the PARCC) produced this document offering information on Opt-Out. But, given that its funders include Lumina, which has been busy “leading the discussion ” on competency-based education, and the Gates Foundation, which has been instrumental in bringing competency (also known as proficiency) based policies to our states – oh! and also partners with BloomBoard and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (see Vander Arks’s resume above) – does it make anyone else wonder if perhaps at least some of these folks were hoping we’d be up in arms over the new tests?

If the final ESEA reauthorization promotes “innovative” testing systems for competency-based systems, as the Senate version does now, while awarding grants for experiments in digital, adaptive learning, as an amendment in House version currently does, will these guys be laughing all the way to the bank?