The Stories Reformers Tell

When I was in college, I heard a riveting story.

Actually, you probably heard it too.

It went like this:  American public schools are failing. Teachers have abysmally low expectations of their students.  They are getting paid to spend their time in rubber rooms! This is the civil rights issue of our time.

I was indignant. And I needed a job.

And so, like so many college students of my generation, I went straight from college into a classroom in the Bronx as a New York City Teaching Fellow.

At first, I was elated.  I had always wanted to teach elementary school, but it wasn’t really what you did if you went to a fancy and expensive college like I did.  But now I had a way.

I was, of course, rudely awakened.  You probably know this story too: young new teacher discovers she is utterly unprepared to manage a group of unruly students. She cries a lot.

I had taken a position teaching children with the “emotional disturbance” label in New York City’s district for students with severe special needs, and could do little more than hang on by my fingernails for the first year.  They fought, they swore, and they saw me for what I was: a white girl from Maine who had no clue what she was doing. My experienced colleagues – the ones who were supposed be lazy and incompetent – offered to help, but I was a terrible listener.  I was too busy searching for the story I had been told and trying the play the role I had been assigned – even though nothing fit.

By the end of my third year, I had grown humbler, but was no less gullible. This time, I fell for the second part of the story above – the part that tells how charter schools are the answer to all these failing public schools.  You know, the Waiting for Superman story.

And so I left my position for one at a relatively new charter school in Brooklyn that modeled itself after the KIPP and Success Academy “No Excuses” regime.

You can read the details here, but the short version is that I was horrified.  We snapped at the kids like dogs and obsessed over standardized test scores like they were cancer diagnoses.  My previous school had been challenging, but it was full of warmth.  There was no warmth at this school.  No kindness.  Panic filled our classrooms and hearts.

I have been fooled twice. Shame on me. But it won’t happen again. I hear, now, the stories reformers tell for what they are.  Disrespect, hubris, empty jargon. PR.

And, of course, the stories are ever changing.

The latest tale is that teachers have been teaching too much. Forget all that lazy and incompetent stuff we’ve been talking about, we are told. The real problem is that we are self-centered.  We love to hear ourselves talk, and we only teach what we’re interested in.

Step aside side, ladies (because yes, teachers are mostly women) – and take your desks with you!

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Stop filling those kids’ heads with facts. (What facts? For years, you’ve only tested our students on isolated math and reading skills!)

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The era of digital learning has arrived, and we’ve got the 21st Century products that will turn out that 21st Century human capital we need. Teachers, welcome to your new role as a “node” in this “personalized” system. Students are now “at the center.”

The center of what? It’s unclear, until you see a diagram like the one below.

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Take a moment to watch the video below from the Nellie Mae Foundation. What story do you hear?  Whose story is it?

Is Co-Opted Opt Out Lurking in Your State?

Lisa Nielsen, author of the blog “The Innovative Educator,” hopes that technology will mean the end of teaching as we know it.

“Why deny that the traditional role of the teacher is needed less and less? Technology can do much of what teachers do and better….That teachers have intimate relationships with their students and learning is customized is a fantasy.”

Nielsen has been featured on the blog of Tom Vander Ark, the digital learning guru who has been pushing online learning for nearly two decades and was instrumental in the development of the Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, now a key feature of ALEC’s state report cards.

“The explosion of information and interactivity should have been an educational game-changer….but the game has been very slow to change,” Nielsen laments, just as Vander Ark did in this article.

Nielsen, now Director of Digital Engagement at the New York City Department of Education, also showcases Vander Ark’s work on her blog and often highlights information from iNACOL – the group that openly admits it is offering a Trojan horse.

Like Vander Ark and his Corporate Opt Out allies, Nielsen seems to believe that in order to reform education into the highly profitable  digital, “personalized” system, we must do away with the big end of the year test.

Several years ago, Nielsen set up Opt-Out Facebook groups in all fifty states, and now serves as an admin in many of these groups.

On Nielsen’s main Opt Out page, she informs parents that they can “join others interested in opting out in your state in two ways: 1) Type in the search: Opt out of State Standardized Tests — Your State i.e. Opt Out of State Standardized Tests – Ohio 2) Go to the page url: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OptOutYourState i.e. https://www.facebook.com/groups/OptOutOhio.”

“As more and more parents get on board and take back control of what is best for their children, new possibilities will arise,” she writes.

There are, of course, many other ways to find others interested in opting out, and Nielsen’s understanding of Opt Out is fundamentally at odds with the message most parents, teachers, and students are trying to send by boycotting the state tests. Fed up with the corporate profiteering of our public schools and the insidious role of testing in this takeover, many embrace opting out as a way to protest the invasion.

Nielsen, on the other hand – like many others – is helping to orchestrate further corporate invasion on the backs of a true grassroots movement.

Beware those who would take you from the frying pan to the fire.

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Gates: Funding Reform for Longer Than You Think

In “How Bill Gates Funded the Swift Common Core Revolution,” journalist Lyndsey Layton tells the story of how David Coleman, CEO of College Board, and Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Council for Chief State School Officers, approached Bill Gates with a “new approach to transform every school in America.”

The “new approach,” of course, was the Common Core State Standards.

“The duo needed money,” writes Layton,“[and] a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.”

According to the article, Gates deliberated for weeks before at last coming back with his answer: he was in.

What followed was the swift Gates takeover of our public schools.

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If only it were so simple!

The truth is that Gates has been funding a much broader effort to fundamentally remake our public education system for far longer than Layton’s article suggests.

In order to make sense of the Gates Foundation’s long-time financial involvement in education reform, the first thing you need to understand is what the end game really is: a hyper-efficient, digitally-based, workforce-aligned system driven by the needs and desires of multi-national corporations.

You also need to come to grips with an almost unbearable truth: the test-and-punish regime we’ve experienced under No Child Left Behind has merely been a step along the way toward this fundamental restructuring of our education system.

Finally, you need to understand that Gates is just one of many players in what amounts to a giant educational-industrial complex that has been built over many decades. Getting to the heart of who is at the center of this effort is like peeling back the layers of a never-ending onion. A vast network of foundations, think-tanks, and governmental groups make up a web of almost incomprehensible scale. Gates is but one node in the network – albeit a very powerful one – that arose in the late nineties due to the intersection of the restructuring agenda and its reliance on technology and algorithmic learning.

From its very inception, the Gates Foundation has been funding efforts to remake our schools.  In 1999, Gates awarded money to a tiny district in Chugach, Alaska to experiment with a competency-based, workforce-aligned approach to education. In 2000, Gates awarded 6.3 million dollars to a Texas organization “to provide superintendents and principals from public and private schools access to quality leadership development focused on technology integration and whole systems change.” In 2002, the Gates Foundation awarded ten million dollars to fund an experimental program called “Promising Futures” that now serves as the prototype for our state-wide shift to proficiency-based education – despite the fact that no data has ever been offered to show the benefits of the program.

Now, pay close attention to the dialogue happening in both Maine and Texas.

In Texas, Superintendent Mary Ann Whiteker is claiming that she has “given up on the testing and accountability game.” Look carefully at the document that she claims fueled her “conversion,” however, and you will see the true agenda buried within:

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In Maine, Senator Angus King and former Commissioner Duke Albanese recently had a conversation over the radio in which they lamented problems associated with the era of No Child Left Behind, and then gushed about the promise of “proficiency-based learning.”

“Keep up the good work, buddy,” King told Albanese, who now sits on the board of the Gates-funded Great Schools Partnership that is now attempting to remake our schools, and once wrote a gushing letter of praise to former Gates executive, Tom Vander Ark.

Play close attention, too, to the role that the little district out in Alaska is now playing in these conversations. Chugach, Alaska is now being held up as model for reform on Dr. Marzano’s Reinventing Schools website.

Across the country, the story we are being told is the same: after years of A test-and-punish accountability system, it is time to move to the new era of “competency-based,” personalized, workforce-aligned education that they have been planning for so long.

“We believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences,” explains this document from the Gates foundation.

No, there is no research to show that this is best for your kids, and no – it has not worked well anywhere that it has been tried.

But it’s happening anyway.

If all of this sounds crazy to you, rest assured that you are not alone. It’s hard to wrap your mind around. But as soon as you do, please spread the word.

We have been duped too many times, and enough is enough. It’s time we get our schools back.

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Who is Killing the Teaching Profession?

At a conference held in 2009 called “Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners,” Tom Carroll told his audience: “The industrial era career pipeline is collapsing at both ends. We’re losing accomplished teachers and bright young beginning teachers.”

Carroll, who serves as president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and founded the U.S. Department of Education’s “Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology” program, has spent a lot of time thinking about how to manage America’s teachers.

“We’ve had a lot of talk lately about managing the human capital more effectively,” he explained at the conference. “How to manage them. We need to move to a very different workforce model.”

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According to Carroll, teachers have not been leaving the profession in droves because of decades of public degradation, low pay, and unrealistic, endlessly shifting bureaucratic mandates.  They have been leaving because teaching just isn’t hip enough.

“What we’ve asked our teachers to do – do the same job for 20 or 30 years – those days in the larger workforce are over. We will not be able to compete with that workforce if we continue to offer bright young college graduates what we’ve been offering people for so long in education,” he said.

In Carroll’s world, schools are collections of “learning spaces” and “learning places” that connect in “learning organizations.” In this system, the teaching profession must become a “hub” or a “node.”

“What we’re talking about here is not just preparing a better teacher,” said Carroll. “We’re talking about schools of education getting out of the preparation business, actually, and into the workforce development business in partnership with school districts.”

Carroll, of course, wasn’t just offering a pie-in-the-sky vision to a few folks crazy enough to listen.

Instead, Carroll was speaking to high-ranking representatives from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the Council for Chief State School Officer (CCSSO), the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

And it appears that many listened.

In a paper submitted at the conference, Carroll suggested that “one way to develop a 21st century education workforce is to create a new generation of Web-based teaching residences.”

Six years later, NYU Steinhardt has unveiled exactly this sort of program.

At the National Education Week conference, NYU announced its Embedded Master of Arts in Teaching program that will allow student to “earn a graduate degree by combining 100 percent online coursework with immersive on-site experiences in high-needs urban schools.”

The program likens itself to a doctor residency program, but is, in fact, more akin to a stripped-down version of Teach for America preparation.

Using start-up ed-tech companies like HotChalk and Torsh, candidates will work in high poverty school districts while uploading videos of themselves teaching. Peers and instructors will then evaluate and coach from afar using the videos and student data.

NYU hopes that this new program will serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

“We invite you to join us in leading this transition,” Diana Turk, director of teacher education at NYU, told members of the Education Week conference. “Within ten years, the vast majority of new teachers will start their careers in high quality, full time residency programs.”

Does that mean we have ten years left to save our profession?

 

 

 

 

 

 

iNACOL’s Trojan Horse

Meet Susan Patrick.

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Ms. Patrick is CEO of iNACOL – a powerful reform group that receives most of its funding from the Gates Foundation, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation.  Ms. Patrick, who was never a teacher and has no education background, previously served as director of the Office of Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Yesterday morning, I watched a video posted on Facebook from iNACOL’s website, in which Ms. Patrick said something startlingly frank:

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When I went to take a second look that evening, the video had been taken down.  Fortunately, a tech-savvy and prescient friend had captured the video before it was removed.

After admitting that they are serving up a giant Trojan horse, Ms. Patrick reveals the organization’s true intention:

“Competency-based models are key to the redesign and transformation of education,” she says.

And then she doubles herself.

 

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Competency-based education is the hyper-efficient, uber-profitable fantasy model of education favored by corporate leaders who are convinced that our schools exist to serve their bottom line.

Here is how iNACOL helps.

Under the guise of bringing alternate, online learning “pathways” to students, iNACOL leaders meet with politicians and corporate leaders to come up with policies that they embed in documents like the Elementary and Secondary Reauthorization Act.

 

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Here is what Susan Patrick thinks is a great policy idea:

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And here is what Governor Wise’s “Digital Learning Now!” Council thinks:

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After they develop their policy blueprints, they pass their ideas on to the corporate bill mill known as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC then works with member politicians in your state to submit benign-sounding, cryptically worded bills based on the agenda above.  Here’s a graphic showing how it works:

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Finally, your state legislature votes on these policies, which sound like they are simply meant to give kids access to multiple learning “pathways”, but are, in fact, designed to completely restructure our educational system to favor the wealthy few.

Soon, teachers find themselves sitting through professional development sessions that make no sense and are run by organizations funded by the very groups that set the whole thing in motion.  Districts find themselves spending huge portions of their budget on experimental technology plans  and consulting groups.  Class sizes grow, buildings crumble, children are experimented upon, and teachers flee the profession.

Meanwhile, the corporate world profits.

Can you believe how easy it is?

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Mad Scientists Take on Education

Each year, computer scientists from around the world take part in the International Conference on Machine Learning.

Sponsored by groups like Facebook, Microsoft, the National Science Foundation, and Alibaba (the organization responsible for China’s controversial “Sesame Credit” program), ICML showcases the latest research on artificial intelligence and its uses in fields like education.

“Education remains an outdated process that requires extensive human effort from course instructors and students,” the hosts of last summer’s “Machine Learning for Education” workshop wrote in a call for paper submissions.

In a series of sessions with titles like “Grand challenges in Educational Data Mining,” “Machine Learning for Spaced Repetition and Variable Rewards,” and “Deep Knowledge Tracing,” scientists and mathematicians presented their latest algorithms to get computers to learn from people and people to learn from computers.

BF Skinner, original developer of the teaching machine, would no doubt be highly impressed.

Parents, on the other hand, should be on high alert.

Here’s why.

First, efforts to get your child to spend more time learning from computer algorithms are well underway.  Districts like Baltimore County have embarked on multi-million dollar initiatives to bring “digital learning” to every student; the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has big incentives to put more technology in front of students; and policies that fundamentally alter the way we structure schooling to favor of digital and online options are spreading like wildfire.

Chances are, if your child is not yet plugged in for a good part of the school day, he or she will be soon.

Second, algorithms are not neutral.  Audrey Watters, author of the blog Hack Education, has written a great piece about the ways algorithms reflect the values and interests of their engineers.

This means that while computer scientists develop ways to sustain our attention on certain tasks using “gamification” and rewards, parents need to be asking what our children are being held captive by, and why. Are we comfortable having our children learn from teachers hidden behind mathematical formulas?

Third, Big Data is the fuel on which educational algorithms run, which means that your child’s data is being collected, shared, and sold. Every time your child logs onto a digital learning program, that program gathers countless data points about his or her activity onscreen.

Finally, the impact of digital and online learning on children’s academic growth, emotional well-being and physical health is severely under-researched.  Scientists are now raising concerns about the impact of excessive wi-fi radiation on children’s brain development.  Others are concerned about the impact of long-term screen exposure on vision.

Meanwhile, studies examining the impact of digital and online learning on students’ emotional health are non-existent. What is lost when children spend more time with a machine than they do with a living, breathing, caring adult?

Even studies relying on higher standardized test scores fail to make the case for increased computer use.

And yet not one of these concerns is mentioned in the latest National Educational Technology Plan.

Yesterday, I watched the CEO of a company called “1871,” give the keynote address at Pearson’s Online Learning Conference.  In his speech, the executive gushed about the innovation of companies like Uber and Airbnb – companies that are breaking the mold and “aren’t asking for permission” to do so.  The message, of course, was that this is the approach ed-tech entrepreneurs should also take.

In their quest to “innovate,” however, ed-tech and machine learning enthusiasts seem to have forgotten that experimenting on children without asking for permission to do so is unethical.

If you’re worried, speak up. It’s time to hold the mad scientists accountable.

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Baltimore County Public Schools Used in 270 Million Dollar Tech Experiment

As teachers in Detroit ask why their district spent 6 million dollars on a consulting contract when classrooms are overflowing and schools are in disrepair, citizens in Baltimore County are raising similar concerns over a 270 million technology initiative called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT).

The program, which aims to bring 1:1 digital learning to all students in the district, was initiated under Superintendent S. Dallas Dance.

Dance, who was recruited to Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) in 2012, has come under scrutiny before. Last spring, an administrative training company called SUPES Academy made headlines when it came to light that ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had awarded a 20 million dollar no-bid contract to the program where she once worked.

Dance, it turns out, did something similar. Just after awarding SUPES an 875 thousand dollar contract, he took a job with the company as a consultant. Byrd-Bennett – to whom Dance gave high praise in this article – has now stepped down from her role as CEO as SUPES and CPS undergo federal investigation. Dance has since given up the consulting job, and the BCPS contract with SUPES was left to expire.

Meanwhile, as the corporate-driven personalized, digital learning craze sweeps the country, Dance has jumped in headfirst and is bringing his district along with him.

As a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Association for K-12 Online Learning, Dance called himself a “pioneer.”

He also said that teachers were “talking too much,” and that students should be assessed at any time.

“In order to personalize learning for young people, we should be able to assess students at any moment to figure out what level they’re on, what standards they’ve mastered, so they can move along the continuum,” he said.

Dance’s STAT program has established 17 “lighthouse” schools that will “lead the way” for STAT. According to the district’s website, “The Lighthouse Schools will be the first in the system to receive individual digital learning devices for students; implement one-to-one personalized and blended learning; and create an innovative, comprehensive digital learning culture.”

But as Dance calls for all students to have “access to an effective digital learning environment,” teachers and parents in Baltimore are beginning to question the wisdom of this commitment.

“This is taking place in a school district that is in desperate need of improvements to infrastructure, transportation, class size reduction, and social programs, issues that have been financially pushed to the side in favor of STAT,” a teacher wrote.

“Personalized learning is being presented to constituents as the solution to close the equity gap in education,” said the Baltimore teacher, “[but] no input has been garnered from parents, and the expectation is that teachers will fully embrace the program without question.”

Others are asking why documents such as the Maryland Educational Technology Plan promote computer use at but fail to mention any health risks to students, particularly those related to vision.

“The way children use screens makes them particularly vulnerable to complication,” Cindy Eckard wrote in an editorial. “They stare at them for long periods without taking significant breaks; computer work stations often don’t fit them well; and they don’t complain about blurry vision because they don’t realize it’s a problem that will just get worse.”

This Thursday, members of Dance’s administration will represent BCPS at Pearson’s Online Learning Conference.  It’s unlikely that they will address any of these concerns, but I’ll be there with a virtual ticket to find out.

In the meantime: Baltimore parents, if you haven’t been paying close attention to what is happening in your school district, now is the time to start.

 

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