United Way to Parents: Give Us Your Gold

If you haven’t heard yet, data is the new gold, and next-gen ed reformers can’t wait to get their hands on as much of it as they can.

Digital and online learning providers want this gold to “personalize” their computerized instruction; Wall Street wants it to prove that their social impact bonds are “working;” testing companies want it because people are paying them big money for it; and corporations want it so they can track and influence what kinds of products the public schools churn out for them.

Unfortunately for the miners, there are a few pesky barriers preventing them from having full access to your children’s personal information, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which prevents third parties from accessing student information without written consent from parents.

To get around this law, United Way of Salt Lake City, which has recently partnered with an organization called “StriveTogether” – a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks Foundation that has received millions from the Gates Foundation – is now encouraging parents to sign a form waiving their FERPA rights.

They’ve even put together a video to convince parents just how important it is that they give up their children’s personal information to just about any organization in the city that wants it – including the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce (see Prosperity 2020 below):

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Watch the video that is being shown to parents in Salt Lake, and brace yourself for something similar that is no doubt coming to a community near you very soon:



And don’t let them make out like bandits!


What Really Happened in Alaska?

If you didn’t know better, you might think that whatever happened in the Chugach School District in Alaska over a decade ago was a full-blown, ed-reform miracle.

“This district literally leaves no child behind,” gushes Edutopia in this article, which describes the big jump in test scores its students made after switching to a competency-based system of education.

As tends to be the case with legends of ed reform, however, it doesn’t take a whole lot of digging for the whole thing to unravel.

First you find out that the only thing this district has in common with most American school districts is that it happens to be located on Planet Earth.

In Chugach, 214 students live in tiny villages spread out among 22,000 square miles. Students must be flown by private aircraft to reach school sites, and a majority of students are actually home-schooled.

Then you keep digging, and it all starts to get weird.

Like really weird.

You find out, for example, that the entire district was literally used as a lab for a group of students working toward their doctorates at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who served in administrative roles within the district while studying the implementation of a “quality schools model” based on principles of the business-oriented Malcolm Baldrige Award.

Then you find the application Chugach submitted for this award, and you discover that the Gates Foundation and Apple were helping to finance the whole thing.

And so you begin to wonder if maybe there was a broader agenda playing out in this rural Alaskan community.

You also find out that Tom Vander Ark – who visited Chugach in 1999 as executive director of education for the Gates Foundation before acquiring a massive venture capital portfolio of digital and online learning companies – was so pleased with what he saw in Chugach that he awarded few million dollars to get the whole thing to “scale up.”

Then you keep reading the application that the Chugach administrators submitted for the Malcolm Baldrige Award , and you stumble across strange comments like this:

 The leadership team sets value for all stakeholders by requiring their input and constant evaluation of the organization.For example, community members helped to create standards. “We want our kids to enjoy what they are learning while hey are learning, and to have a good humor in life,” said a Tatitlek Elder attending OTE meetings. These words are clearly reflected in CSD standards P/S Level 2.5 Demonstrates responsible use of humor.

…and you wonder how much input the Alaskan natives actually had in this whole endeavor.

After a little more digging, you also discover a document from an unrelated researcher who has written about a district that matches the description of Chugach but uses the pseudonym “Tikishla” to protect identities, and you learn that the superintendent of this district made a variety of  disturbingly grandiose claims that sound as though they come straight from this creepy document.

Here’s one:

You have to create the future. It takes a very rare individual to be able to have a vision to create that future, how to make it a better system. And for whatever reason, those people have not been in a leadership role. So they are looking at what we’ve done and analyzing it.

Apparently, this superintendent also believed it was his role to articulate his vision to stakeholders and enlist them as a “team of evangelists that go out and sell the dream for you.’’

Even more disturbingly, you discover that these “evangelists” described above were later invited to your home state of Maine to present at the annual superintendent’s conference, just before setting up shop as the newly formed “Reinventing Schools Coalition” (with big financial help from the Gates and Nellie Mae Foundations) to begin reworking schools in your own back yard.

Including the one where you were planning to send your own son.

And so you begin to get the sense that Chugach and the native Alaskans it is home to were actually being very deliberately used in a giant experiment that would one day serve as a prototype for the drive toward competency-based education that is now sweeping our nation.

It also makes you wonder when you read documents like this from a group called “Partnership for Change” based in Vermont – which claims that their reforms are homegrown when they are actually financed by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation  – whether or not the same type of thing that happened in Chugach is now happening beneath our noses here in New England.

Then you find out that a consultant group called Bellwether Education, which works with Gates and Nellie Mae, actually advocates setting up these types of non-profit groups to trick the public into believing that their reform ideas are coming from the community, and you decide that yes – this is most likely what is happening.

Then it dawns on you:

Our schools are being colonized.


















Warning: Gates is Infiltrating Opt Out



Okay.  If this isn’t enough to convince you that Corporate Opt-Out is real and is trying to co-opt the grassroots opt-out movement, I don’t know what will:

This Saturday, Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) will host an “Opt-Out Campaign Launch” with the Center for Collaborative Education – an organization funded by the Gates Foundation, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, IBM, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Yes – you read that right. Gates is helping to sponsor an Opt-Out event.

Several months ago, in a post called “Cashing in on Opt-Out,” I tried to show that the testing and ed-tech industries have long been aware of an impending shift away from the big, end-of-year high stakes test toward systems of embedded, competency-based testing, where grade levels no longer matter.

If you’ve not yet seen it, please read this article by former Gates executive and venture capitalist Tom Vander Ark, called “The End of the Big Test: Moving to Competency-Based Policy,” which spells out this agenda in detail.

Then check out this document and look carefully at the section below, where standardized tests are predicted to be “obsolete” by the year 2017:


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Here’s what it boils down to:

Corporate Reformers – including Gates – don’t want end-of-year grade-level tests any more they we do.   What they want, instead, are “competency-based” assessment “systems” that track everything your child does in the classroom.

Clever little devils that they are, they are now busy trying to co-opt the same movement that is protesting their takeover of our schools by sponsoring their own opt-out events and calling for “assessment reform.”

But let’s be really clear: “assessment reform” is corporate reform.

Sorry Bill, but we see through you.




PS – Keep Opting Out!  …but call out #FAKEOPTOUT when you see it.























Who Needs “Education” Anyway?

I’m telling you – these guys just keep letting the cat out of the bag.

Jamie Merisotis, who makes $619,334 a year as CEO of the Lumina Foundation, recently suggested in this article that we combine the U.S. Department of Education with the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the Department of Labor and the talent recruitment functions of the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security into one, super “Department of Talent.”

“The net result,” Merisotis writes, “would be an agency actually aimed at the true outcome of the policies inherent in the current disconnected mess—talent—rather than an agency that is focused on processes and tools like “education,” “training,” “visas,” and so on.”

And yes – he actually puts “education” in quotes.

According to Merisotis, this new super-department “could develop and implement strategies for high-quality, locally managed workforce development programs…Ideally, there would be a coordinated approach that seamlessly relates K-12 standards to learning outcomes frameworks for education and training beyond high school.”

In other words, it would do what our current Department of Education is busy doing: turning our local public schools into “workforce development programs.”

Sounds an awful lot like Rex Tillerson of Exxon-Mobile and the New York Times Editorial Board, doesn’t it?

Merisotis also recently wrote a fawning article about Arne Duncan, called “Arne Duncan’s Legacy: The Difference That Strong Leadership Can Make.”

In the article, Merisotis praises Duncan for supporting “competency-based programs that measure students’ advancement based on their learning, rather than time spent in a classroom” and “urg[ing] institutions with competency-based programs to follow the steps needed to get access to financial aid.”

Merisotis’s foundation, of course, was born of a carefully orchestrated sale from one student loan behemoth to another, when the former – USA Group – grew nervous that the government would go after its tax-exempt status.

Their true aim – to get more students to take out more loans – stayed firmly intact.

And thus we have yet another reason to run when we hear the words competency-based:

Student loan predators, who are ready to pounce on your state’s digital badging systems.

Run while you can!



What’s with the Foundations?

Last spring, one of our state education officials explained to me in an email that our one-of-a-kind proficiency-based diploma mandate was critical for producing the types of graduates that businesses in Maine are desperate to find.

“My friend at Texas Instruments tells me that he has over 120 openings that they simply cannot fill,” he wrote to me.

This struck me as odd, because when we first moved to Maine, my husband – who has a computer science degree – had a difficult time finding a decent paying job. I had done a bunch of job searching for him, and never once saw that many openings for any company in Maine.

And so I looked it up to confirm. Sure enough, Texas Instruments had only two job openings posted – and one was for an unpaid internship.

“You might want to tell your friend that a good way to fill job openings is to actually advertise them,” I wrote back.

The myth of the useless high school diploma, of course, is the latest story being spun by corporate reformers, as they seek to remake our system into one based on the purported needs of the workforce. Out with grade-level cohorts led by experienced educators, they demand, and in with ill-defined “competencies,” online learning, digital badges, and growth-trajectories with big-red warning systems for students who fall off track.

There are a lot of things that disturb me about all of this, but one of the things that me troubles me the most is how orchestrated it all appears to be.

In response to my snarky reply, our state education official sent me a link to a document from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce called “A Decade Behind: Breaking out of the Low Skill Trap in the Southern Economy.”

(This time I was kind and didn’t write back to inform him that we live in the northeast.)

Despite the fact that it came from as prestigious an institution as Georgetown, the document struck me as a bunch of fluff – full of nebulous statements and odd interpretations of data.

Here’s just one example:

 Today, some 59 percent of all jobs nationally require postsecondary education and training, compared to 54 percent for the South. By 2020, 59 percent of jobs for the South will require postsecondary education and training – the same percentage that the nation as a whole reached in 2010. In other words, the South is 10 years behind in terms of educational attainment.





With my suspicions now thoroughly raised – and having been through this sort of thing just a few weeks prior – I went to check the trusty “awarded grants” sections of the three big foundations that I knew were pushing competency/proficiency-based education: Gates, Nellie Mae, and Lumina.


No dice.

Nellie Mae?



Sure enough…

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better when you learn the facts about the founding of the Lumina Foundation.

According to a document detailing the history of their beginnings, in the late 90’s, private student loan behemoth USA Group began to grow concerned that the government would decide to challenge their tax-exempt status. And so they orchestrated a sale to Sallie Mae, did a little do-si-do of leadership, and voila!

Here is how Norris Darrel, board member of Lumina, describes what happened:

 “The transaction was a magical thing. All of a sudden we snapped our fingers, and we had almost a billion dollars. What do we do with it?”

I wonder if it looked something like this?



Of course, the newly minted foundation knew exactly what to do with it: find ways to get more kids to take out more loans.

And so, among other dubious strategies, the Lumina Foundation has decided to “lead the discussion” on competency-based education, as well fund organizations to help spin the narrative that we have a skills crisis in our country and, consequently, a greater need for students to take out still more loans because – of course – this is all ultimately an education crisis.

(Side note: I have yet to find as detailed a history of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, but the fact that they were also formed of a sale to Sallie Mae and now have the same strategic focus as Lumina for K-12 seems just a little more than coincidental.)

As is the norm when corporate America decides to take over our public schools, the crises they are spinning are, of course, built mostly on well-crafted myths.

According to this analysis, for every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.

(My husband – the computer science major – is a law student now, hoping for better luck in the job market after graduation.)

But why would a Georgetown organization agree to spin this narrative?

Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing As A Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, offers a compelling explanation in this article:

 Grantees feel increasingly burdened by unreasonable expectations and short turnarounds for demonstrating a gift’s impact. The education sector in the United States has gone through upheaval after upheaval as schools and school districts try and meet the mercurial demands of donors who are themselves accountable to no one other than a foundation’s trustees or board of directors.

For all the talk among corporate American and their strategically formed foundations about the need to hold our public schools accountable, it seems to me that it’s time to turn the tables and hold them accountable before they wreak more havoc on our schools than they already have.

Is it time for another Reece Committee?

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I’d say we’re past due for another investigation.

















The New Gold

Only a short time ago, I thought my husband was being paranoid when he asked me if I’d read the security agreement for an app I was about to download.

“Does it tell you how it will use your data?” he asked.

I shrugged and told him to relax. What could they possibly find out about me that would be of concern?

A year or so later, I still have a tendency to give out personal information with far too much haste, but – for the most part, at least – I no longer think my husband is paranoid when it comes to concerns over data collection.

 (You’re welcome, dear.)

The fact is, big data = BIG money  – this article even goes so far as to call it “the new gold”– and where opportunities for profit exist, boundaries will be pushed as far as possible.

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We are in uncharted territory, and – inconvenient though it may be – we need to be on our toes with this, lest we end up traveling down the same road as China.

China, you may or may not have heard, has recently unveiled something it calls “Sesame Credit” – which is, essentially, a giant game where you earn points for doing things (buying the right stuff, having the right friends), and get rewarded for good behavior with hard-to-access travel paperwork and loan approvals.

It may sound bizarre, but look closely and you’ll see that here in the United States, we are creeping toward similar practices.

Did you know, for example, that Facebook recently acquired a patent for a program that would allow lenders to use the credit scores of your friends in determining whether or not to grant you a loan?

“It’s nothing to lose sleep over for people with decent credit history, but it could potentially affect those who are borderline to begin with,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Well gee, that makes me feel better.

Also of concern is the fact the concept being promoted in China is also promoted by Global Education Futures, who suggest in this document:

 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.

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that despite the Orwellian picture of it paints of the future, GEF is actually a remarkably influential group, with connections to UNESCO, the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. More than handful of policies they advocate – including mass “personalized” learning and competency-based assessment – made their way into the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

So, the fact that they not only managed to predict but also appear to advocate the bizarre, dystopian game with which China is now experimenting should give one pause.

Like, serious pause:




All of this, meanwhile, has huge implications for our kids, whose data is being collected in more ways that most of us realize.

Check out the video below that was posted recently on Youtube, which gives a brief but important overview of the ways that big data and education are now intersecting in your child’s classroom:


It’s a brave new world out there.