Who Said It?

Several weeks ago, I wrote about FrameWorks Institute’s role in developing marketing techniques to sell the idea of next-gen ed reform to the public. With funding from the Nellie Mae Foundation, FrameWorks recently produced a  Core Story toolkit – replete with message cards, talking points, sample editorials and twitter messages – to help reformers get the public on board with their plans.

FrameWorks advises clients to “invoke the value of progress” when discussing the need to move to digital learning, for example,”because it pedestals all the good aspects of technology and backgrounds all the bad, it helps inoculate against ‘back to basics’ thinking about learning and skills.”

Read anything in support of next-gen ed reform, and you’re sure to encounter the argument that our schooling system is outdated and obsolete, and that the move to a digital, 21st Century model is long overdue.

Lately, another message suddenly seems to be on everyone’s lips: the need to update our accountability system to make use of assessment “dashboards.”

The metaphor, favored by proponents of competency-based and personalized learning, has become so ubiquitous that I wondered: could it also be a FrameWorks-ism?

Turns out it is.

Here is the “message card”  FrameWorks has developed to help reformers with their talking points when discussing next-gen accountability:




To demonstrate just how loyal assessment reformers are to FrameWorks’ techniques, let’s play a game.  Can you guess who said the following quotes?   Scroll down after each quote for the answer.

“There are software programs that will track attempts and achievements in learning competencies and display them on a dashboard for students and teachers. These programs provide students with instant feedback and allow them to know where they stand and what they need to progress.”









Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Learn Capital, in “The Role of Performance Monitoring in Competency-Based Education”



“The standardized tests my kids take are one gauge on the dashboard, but parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator.”








Arne Duncan in “Getting Assessment Right to Support Students, Educators and Families” 


“It’s something like driving a car. Safe drivers use the windshield, rear and side view mirrors, occasionally checking the speedometer and other gauges on the dashboard. The best educators know it’s absolutely essential to use the ‘windshield,’ that is, look at the work students do in class every day.”








Lisa Guisbond, Assessment Reform Analyst at FairTest, in testimony before Rhode Island House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare

“We don’t want less information. We want better information…We want a dashboard of good information… We said on this dashboard, you have to have multiple indicators of success.”










Lily Eskelen Garcia, President of National Education Association (NEA), in “Don’t Wait for an Act of Congress: Union Chief on Politics and Testing”


“The move toward a world of fewer, better, smarter assessments that provide more actionable data more quickly to teachers and parents is important. We would say that an assessment should be only one measure of progress. It should be part of a richer dashboard, a more holistic view.”








John Fallon, CEO of Pearson, in “Pearson CEO Fallon Talks Common Core, Rise of ‘Open Resources”

“New systems of school accountability should likewise offer a dashboard of information and use multiple measures appropriately to achieve key purposes.”








Linda Darling-Hammond, President of Learning Policy Institute and Professor at Stanford University, in “Creating Systems of Assessments for Deeper Learning”


Bonus points to anyone who finds more.


Colorado: ALEC Stealth Bill Claims “Massive” and “Far-Reaching” Changes to Public Education

Today, just three days after it failed to earn a majority of votes from Colorado’s appropriations committee yet still moved to the Senate for a final vote, Colorado’s state legislature passed a bill that will require the creation of a “statewide online and blended learning program.”

The bill, hot off the press from the corporate bill mill known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, will help fast-track the implementation of digital and online learning throughout the state of Colorado.

“The scope of the coming change in the delivery of public education services is massive and more far-reaching than the available constructs of online or blended learning,” the bill states. “The scope of the change is such that every public school in the state must evolve into a digital learning environment.”

If this doesn’t scare you, it should.

First, if an ALEC bill claiming upfront that a massive and far-reaching change in the delivery of public education is on the way – and that public schools must (must?!) evolve to suit their needs – doesn’t make you shudder, I don’t know what will.

Beyond that, there is no evidence that digital, online or blended learning have a positive impact on K-12 learning.

There is, however, plenty of evidence that digital, online, and blended learning will bolster coporate bottom lines and move public education toward the fully privatized system long sought after by education reformers.

Perhaps even more mind-boggling is that the bill ends with Colorado’s controversial “safety clause,” which states: “The general assembly hereby finds…this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety.”


The clause, tagged onto most Colorado bills to prevent citizens from submitting referendum petitions, not only ignores health risks associated with excessive digital and online learning, but also denies safety risks surrounding data security and privacy.

In December, I speculated that with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we would find ourselves playing an on-going game of whack-a-mole with predatory corporate education bills like this one.  In this case, however, Coloradans aren’t even getting a chance to play.

Maybe an alien takeover would be a better analogy.



San Diego: If it sounds too good to be true…

On Wednesday, San Diego Unified School District announced that it was “slashing standardized testing to focus on student well-being and achievement.”

Prominent education activist and blogger Diane Ravitch shared the news on her website, and word quickly traveled around the web. Education activists and opt-out advocates around the country celebrated with likes and shares and smiling emoticons.

Unfortunately, as is becoming all too common in the battle to save our schools, the celebration was premature.

First – San Diego Unified isn’t actually doing away with “high-stakes” standardized testing. According to its website, San Diego Unified will continue to administer the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Any tests that that the district plans to do away with are those selected and administered by San Diego Unified for its own purposes.

The deception of San Diego’s story, however, goes much deeper.

A closer look at San Diego Unified’s agenda reveals that instead of shedding corporate-driven, top-down reforms as Ravitch claims, the district is instead embracing the highly profitable yet woefully under-researched 21st century version of ed reform that is rapidly sweeping the nation.

According to the district’s “i21Now Status Update” from December 2014, the district has made a fervent commitment to restructuring San Diego Unified into a “competency-based,” “personalized” learning ecosystem with one-to-one digital technology for all.

Those paying attention know that competency-based, “personalized learning,” is code for the digital (and/or outsourced) learning favored by tech companies and philanthrocapitalists like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. It should be no surprise, then, that the highly polished “i21” document is adorned with professional photographs of children glued to digital devices.

The document also reveals what San Diego Unified has in mind when it says it will rely on “real-time reporting” rather than standardized testing to measure student progress. According to the i21 document, one of the district’s goals is to “incorporate reputable online resources and real-time data to differentiate instruction.”

Digital vendors are, of course, ready and waiting to offer districts this “real-time” data. Recently, the Center for Digital Education hosted a market briefing in San Diego. The event (sponsored by McGraw Hill, Samsung, and Sprint) brought vendors and district representatives together for a “special briefing on their technology plans, priorities and focus for the coming years.” Robert Grano represented San Diego Unified at the briefing.

San Diego’s embrace of next-gen ed reform, however, doesn’t stop there.

In 2013, San Diego Unified partnered with “StriveTogether,” a subsidiary of the Gates-funded KnowledgeWorks Foundation. In communities across the country, StriveTogether – with support from corporate giants like MetLife, the Ford Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and Target – is attempting to build “cradle to career” networks of data-driven public-private partnerships using controversial (some would argue unethical) methods.

In Salt Lake City, for example, StriveTogether and United Way put out promotional videos encouraging families to waive their FERPA rights to make it easier for organizations across the city – including public schools, religious organizations, mental health groups and the Chamber of Commerce – to share personal information about children.

StriveTogether also favors the use of Social Impact Bonds, which allow investors to lend money for social programs with repayment contingent upon highly questionable and easily manipulated monetized outcomes. In Salt Lake City, for example, a Social Impact Bond initiative led by StriveTogether resulted in a drastic and highly controversial reduction in the number of kindergarten children receiving special education services. Like all corporate ed reform ideas, it’s not difficult to see how these “cradle to career” experiments will benefit investors at the expense of local community members.

Unfortunately, the headlines that circulated last week were yet another example of the deception that is being played on education activists across the country, who – understandably – are eager to hear a bit of good news amidst the on-going attacks on public education. If we are to have any hope of staying a step ahead of the reformers, however, we would do well to remember the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.