"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sleight of hand, Slate?

by Wrench in the Gears
May 27, 2017

 Over the past few days, my social media feed has been buzzing about Slate’s “The Big Shortcut.” The eight-part series, developed in coordination with Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s The Teacher Project, explores “the exponential rise in online learning for high school students who have failed traditional classes.” Many of us have been working hard to sound the alarm about online education undermining teaching as an inherently human, relationship-driven endeavor and to draw attention to negative impacts of digital curriculum on student health and emotional well being. So to have our concerns seemingly validated by not just one article but by EIGHT was initially refreshing; that is until I read the whole series. Once I finished the last article, I was left scratching my head.

Why would Slate and The Teacher Project expend significant resources to discuss one VERY narrow aspect of online education, namely credit recovery? Certainly it’s an egregious practice, but given the rise of personalized “blended/hybrid” online learning that is overtaking regular classrooms, why choose to expend ALL their energy exhausting that topic while remaining silent on so many others? There are millions of students today enrolled in regular bricks and mortar neighborhood schools who are taking one or more online classes as a regular part of their curriculum. In fact, some states actually require students to take an online course in order to graduate. These are not credit-recovery courses. Austerity budgeting, teacher shortages and ever-more rigorous graduation requirements are increasingly pressuring districts to delegate core instruction to the cyber-sphere. Everyone is expected to do more with less—less money, less time, fewer human bodies; and with this disaster by design, digital curriculum becomes a convenient, but ultimately dangerous, remedy. Readers should take note that in this 8-part series, discussion of non-credit recovery cyber instruction, blended-hybrid-personalized learning and flipped classrooms is conspicuously absent.

As Slate focuses our attention on credit-recovery, you might ask what are they trying to distract us from or prepare us for? Well, you should first know that the magazine started out as a Microsoft-sponsored venture in 1996. The original staff operated out of the company’s Redmond, WA campus. It was sold to the Washington Post Corporation in 2004. Also, Columbia University, home of The Teacher Project, has a rather checkered past with respect to predatory home-correspondence/distance education detailed in David Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills (see page 34). Following the money is my preferred strategy and in this case did not disappoint.

Who funds The Teacher Project?

Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The New Gold Rush by TFA in Camden

Most critics of Teach of America focus on the criminally-miseducative practice of using white inexperienced Ivy League missionaries, most of whom remain blind to their own racism, to impose a form of corporate counter-insurgency in the poorest urban areas of America, where children need the most professional and experienced teachers.  

The paternalist mission in these communities is to enforce "broken windows" schooling, which uses psychological manipulations to achieve a kind of brutal corporate culture based on TFA's troops patrolling classrooms during their two year commitments to continuously intervene and assess, assess and intervene. 

Most people don't focus on what happens to TFA corp members after their enlistments are up.  Many of these converts of their own propaganda return to grad school or to careers, with the self-satisfaction that comes to those who believe in the indispensability of their own corrective powers to fix the poor through repeated injections of corporate positive psychology. 

Other TFA veterans, however, move on to fulfill the other big piece of the TFA mission: educational misleadership.  

Camden, NJ represents a case study waiting to be studied, and it could lay bare TFA's lucrative, inhumane, and self-serving business model, now masquerading as education.  

A former TFA Corp member is now superintendent in Camden, and others from the paternal cult of TFA are descending on Camden like a horde of locusts
After another year of facilitating massive layoffs and closing more public schools, our state-appointed superintendent of the Camden City School District is sustaining his efforts to destroy public education in Camden. A former Teach for America staffer with roughly only 18 months’ teaching experience and former Goldman Sachs analyst, Paymon Rouhanifard was dispatched to Camden as a superintendent though lacking the requisite education, practical experience and certification qualifying him for the position. Yet, here in Camden, Rouhanifard has presided over this school system with absolute authority for four years. Though the Municipal Redevelopment Act of 2002 mandated the return of local control of Camden’s school board in 2014, the district, under the direction of Rouhanifard, employed the services of powerful attorney William Tambussi to continue to deny residents of their right to vote for their school board members.

Why does that matter? Many consequential decisions impacting this school district have been made by one man who lacks even the qualifications to be a teacher, yet is paid north of $200,000 per year to fill the most vital position in any school district! Important and far-reaching personnel decisions have been made solely by Rouhanifard that, ordinarily, come under board scrutiny and require board approval. Under Rouhanifard’s administration, there has been an explosion in the hiring of former Teach for America and The New Teacher Project corps members to managerial and executive-level positions with six-figure salaries; questionable hiring of assistant and deputy superintendents with suspect backgrounds; and the hiring of politically connected yet less-than-deserving millennials (a relative of Gov. Chris Christie, relatives and in-laws of television executives, an in-law to a former Democratic presidential candidate) with exorbitant salaries most district employees (with more experience in education, connection to the community and credentials) will never earn.

Monday, May 22, 2017

SpeEdChange: Angela Duckworth's Eugenics - the University of Pe...

This piece was published by Ira David Socol in 2014, and it only has become truer since.  

SpeEdChange: Angela Duckworth's Eugenics - the University of Pe...: "The direct result of this inquiry is to make manifest the great and measurable differences between the mental and bodily faculties of...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Moby-Dick for Babies: Marvel or Monster

 NOTE: This first appeared in the Charlotte News, May 17, 2017
Susan Ohanian

A display at my village library invites parents and others who care about young children’s literacy development to take a look at the new assault on childhood—baby versions of the classics.
Cozy Classics, publishers of the baby board-book Moby Dick, claim the book “captures the essence of a literary masterpiece” and is the “perfect vehicle for early learning.” In just 12 words! A Wall Street Journal reviewer insists that this publisher has “done a service to literate families everywhere.” The infant can also settle in for War and Peace, also in just 12 words: soldier-friends-run-dance-goodbye-hug-horse-boom!-hurt-sleep-snow-love. And then move on to Emma, Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, Great Expectations and so on and so on.

BabyLit® offers Anna Karenina as a fashion primer: gown, earring, hairpins and so on. Or Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit® Counting Primer: 1 balcony through 10 kisses. No deaths. With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Camping Primer, parents can offer infants such words as “raft,” “river” and “fishing line.”

KinderGuides is another firm set on helping parents move on from Baby Einstein into great literature. The headline of a front page article in the Business Section of The New York Times offered this summary: “Forget ‘Pat the Bunny,’ My child is reading Hemingway.” Well, not quite. KinderGuides reduces the narrative of The Old Man and the Sea, a tale specifically mentioned when Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize, to explanation points and editorial intrusions:
Hemingway: “The old man was gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”

KinderGuides: “The other fishermen make fun of Santiago, saying he’s forgotten how to catch fish. Hey, that’s not nice!”

Blake Edwards knew he had to make dramatic changes to Holly Golightly’s lifestyle if he wanted to get a movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s past the industry’s production code. As he explained to The New York Times, “We don’t say exactly what Holly’s morals are. In a sense, she can be considered an escort service for men.”

KinderGuides doesn’t try to explain to six-year-olds why Holly is paid $100 to pass on messages to the mob; instead the kinder-book devotes two pages of illustrations to Holly and the narrator wearing “funny Halloween masks around town.” Capote devotes one paragraph in an 85-page story to this event, telling the reader that Holly stole the masks at Woolworth’s.
KinderGuides omits the one detail in the novel that would amaze today’s youth with their 24/7 phones at the hip: Holly and the narrator go to a bar six, seven times a day—to make telephone calls because “during the war a private telephone was hard to come by.” Here’s a glimpse of why Capote wrote the tale and what KinderGuides does with it.

Capote: “Tiffany’s, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men, in their nice suits and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.”
KinderGuides: “Tiffany’s is a very fancy jewelry store.”

Visit the library to see what happens to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Misspelling Morocco is the least of KinderGuides’ problems, but rest assured, they do eliminate sex, booze and drugs. Lots of exclamation points are used to indicate excitement, and when exclamation points seem insufficient, some words are magnified in size.

And to convince parents they are doing something to boost baby’s future SAT scores and ensure entrance into the Ivy League, there are quiz questions in all the books: What can you buy at Tiffany’s?

The back of every KinderGuides book proclaims. “Give your child a head start! KinderGuides aims to educate our youth on the stories and characters that have shaped our culture. Because classics are ageless. And so are their readers.”

With baby board books of classic literature selling like hotcakes, an Australian physicist is trying to tap into parent aspirations with the Baby University series: Quantum Physics for Babies (It’s never too early to become a quantum physicist!), General Relativity for Babies (accessible introduction to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity), Rocket Science for Babies (Baby will learn the principles of lift and thrust, the forces responsible for flight). And more. Ugly little books with this pronouncement on every back cover: “Simple explanations of complex ideas FOR YOUR FUTURE GENIUS!”

Research shows the positive effects of reading to babies. But classics are not “ageless.” They are written for adults. Babies need to hear words sing; they need to see books that interest them. This means Moo, Baa, LA LA LA! and Dig Dig Digging, not Quantum Entanglement for Babies.
Visit the children’s section of our fine local library, where you will find beautiful, fun, informative books for young children, books with words that sing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Silicon Valley Assault on Children's Learning

For almost 200 years, snake oil salesmen have hawked their wares to schoolmen and to educators, hoping to cash in on the public dollars that taxpayers have intended to help educate the young.

Through the selling of textbooks, reading machines, TVs, test scoring equipment, audiovisual aids, and computer technologies, corporate America has been responsible for the creation of a massive and expanding educational dustbin, now chocked with lucrative "educational solutions" that, at some point, successfully located educational problems that fitted the need of their solutions.

Only in recent years, however, have education industry merchants expanded their marketing efforts to sell educationally-unrelated goods directly to children in school.  Wall Street's favorite bow-tied super-boy, Chris Whittle, broke ground in the early 1990s, when he brought TV news to the classroom with Channel 1, along with TV ads for Skittles, Snickers, etc.

Whittle even proposed the marketing of textbooks with these same ads and others that appeal to children.  Thinks of it: Turn to page 67, just under the Coca-Cola ad, and read along with me . . .

Now a generation later and with computer technology/cell phones accepted as essential elements of  life on Earth, the high priests of Silicon Valley have come up with a new story board for the future of corporate intrusion into schools and the exploitation of the most vulnerable humans--our children.

Google, Apple, and billionaires like Reed Hastings, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates have a multi-pronged strategy at work to capitalize on today's children and tomorrow's adults by turning learning environments into marketing research hothouses and massive data collection opportunities, which can be used now and later to laser target products and services to individuals who do not even know yet that they want them.

The new personalized learning empire that tech oligarchs are pushing represents a criminally-cynical abuse of corporate power directed at children to channel, contour, and shape the preferences, values, and neurological wiring of present and future consumers of information, goods, and services.  If allowed to flourish, the new "learning systems" will deliver the kinds of social control and efficiency that have been dreamed of for generations, along with unimaginable profits for the high priests of Silicon Valley.

This story in the Times should be shared widely by teachers, teacher educators, school board members, policymakers, and parents everywhere.  Here is a clip:
. . . . Unlike Apple or Microsoft, which make money primarily by selling devices or software services, Google derives most of its revenue from online advertising — much of it targeted through sophisticated use of people’s data. Questions about how Google might use data gleaned from students’ online activities have dogged the company for years. 
“Unless we know what is collected, why it is collected, how it is used and a review of it is possible, we can never understand with certainty how this information could be used to help or hurt a kid,” said Bill Fitzgerald of Common Sense Media, a children’s advocacy group, who vets the security and privacy of classroom apps. 
Google declined to provide a breakdown of the exact details the company collects from student use of its services. Bram Bout, director of Google’s education unit, pointed to a Google privacy notice listing the categories of information that the company’s education services collect, like location data and “details of how a user used our service.” . . . .

Monday, May 15, 2017

Brent Staples Leads NY Times Editorial Thought Disorders

In a New York Times editorial entitled "Confronting Segregation in New York Schools," education non-expert Brent Staples begins well enough by talking about efforts to desegregate NYC's segregated schools.  Such an editorial is among other recent ones at the Times that attempt to distinguish the Editorial Board's corporate education plan from the same one embraced by the Trump Administration. 

Near the end of the editorial, however, Staples cannot help but to veer back to the same old rutted road that he has traveled so many times before. 

It is not enough for those fighting segregation to implement a number of strategies to increase diversity in the schools.  This is especially true when such efforts threaten to upend the Times-approved plans to turn the profession of teaching over to the corporate psychology paternalists who would replace educators with neurological re-programmers who have been indoctrinated in the Seligman/Duckworth/KIPP methods of cultural sterilization and behavioral neutering.

. . . critics argue that Mr. de Blasio should take a more urgent approach to remaking schools that continue to fail low-income black and Latino students. That means strengthening the teacher corps where possible and replacing it where necessary.
The most glaring need for replacement is at the New York Times Editorial Board, but replacing an education ignoramus with someone knowledgeable would put in jeopardy the support at the Times for failed Wall Street education policies that have succeeded only in creating whole new industries that prey on the poor, berate their character and cultures, and accelerate the resegregation of American schools.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Personalized Learning Poised to Take Center Stage

from Wrench in the Gears
May 14, 2017

As new state education plans are unveiled, the ed-tech sector is positioning itself to take full advantage of the ESSA’s ample provisions for innovation / entrepreneurial experimentation on public school children. Language in Title lV-21st Century Schools Part F, Subpart 1 of the Every Student Succeeds Act allocates $200 million+ annually in fiscal years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated innovations to improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students.” Any state educational agency, local educational agency, consortium of such agencies, or the Bureau of Indian Education may partner with a non-profit organization, business, educational service agency or institution of higher education to develop these “innovative” products.

The New Schools Venture Fund Summit 2017, an invitation-only event, expects over 1,000 entrepreneurs, funders, policy makers, educators, and community leaders to converge on the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, CA next week to “reimagine education.” Technology features prominently with sessions on rigor in personalized learning, tech in special education, tech as an equity issue, and developing a robust R&D program to “drive the kinds of technological breakthroughs we need in education.” Platinum level event sponsors include the Gates and Walton Family Foundations, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative-all forces behind the Ed Reform 2.0 digital curriculum agenda. According to EdWeek, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative recently teamed up with Chiefs for Change (CFC) to establish a “Transforming Schools and Systems Workgroup.”

Their partnership will promote adoption of “Personalized Learning” at state and local levels, building on efforts underway in states like Rhode Island where Chan Zuckerberg funds are being used to pilotLighthouse Schools” that have adopted online learning platforms developed by the Facebook-affiliated Summit Learning. Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Public Schools, is slated to speak at the New Schools Venture Fund conference referenced above.

With backing from Zuckerberg, the company’s “free” Summit Basecamp has expanded its reach from ten bricks and mortar charter schools to over one hundred public schools nationally. The Gates Foundation helped underwrite this expansion via two grants totaling nearly $3.5 million and funded a white paper documenting the program prepared by FSG, a social impact consulting firm. Facebook provided technical support to develop Summit Learning’s “Personalized Learning Platform” that embraces Ed Reform 2.0 principles of competency based education and playlist modules. A New York Times article from August 2016 contrasts Zuckerberg’s current approach to education reform with earlier top-down efforts in Newark, noting this time around he plans to employ “a ground-up effort to create a national demand for student-driven learning in schools.” The Chan Zuckerberg/CFC collaboration appears to be part of that plan.

Established as a program of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education in 2010, Chiefs for Change spun off in 2015, expanding its mission to include city school districts as well as state departments of education as targets for their bi-partisan ed-reform strategies. Though the group at one point had dwindled to four members, it’s growing again and currently numbers twenty-six, seventeen of whom joined in 2016. The four newest members are: William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools; Kunjan Narechania, Superintendent of the Recovery School District Louisiana; Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent of the Camden City School District; and Candice MacQueen, Commissioner of Education for Tennessee. As of now, seven state departments of education are represented in addition to eighteen school districts. You can find information on members of CFC here.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Privatizer Nick Melvoin wants Betsy DeVos style policies for Los Angeles

"Melvoin’s people are not ordinary constituents passing daily through LAUSD’s school house doors. These are an extremely rarefied set of LA’s ruling class, the managers and not the workers of this great city." — Sara Roos

Nick Melvoin is a right-of-center, neoliberal privatizer who is close to David F. Welch and many other anti-public-education billionaires. The list of contributors for his Los Angeles Unified School (LAUSD) Board run contains some of the most virulent reactionaries bent on destroying the public commmons, and making education an easy source of revenue for the various industries they profit from.

David F. Welch is the right-wing, extremist millionaire that started the vile Nonprofit Industrial Complex (#NPIC) "Students Matter" which initiated/funded the Vergara v. California and other anti-public-education lawsuits.

Fortunately, the California Court of Appeals didn't agree with the arch-reactionary trial judge in Vergara, overturned his wrongheaded holdings, and vacated his judgement: Another defeat in court for right-wing privatizer David F. Welch.

Former Teach for America, Melvoin has worked with other organizations like Teach Plus, and testified for Welch in the Vergara action. Testified, in bad faith, against the very public schools that he worked for. Laura Moser writes in Slate:

"Nick Melvoin taught at one of those high-poverty schools in Watts, Los Angeles—until he was laid off, two years in a row, a victim of LIFO. Melvoin, who is now a teacher organizer with Teach Plus and a recently declared candidate for the L.A. Unified school board, testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in Vergara and thinks that overturning the statutes contested in Vergara “would be a game changer. It’s necessary but not sufficient,” he said."

One has to ask if Melvoin was really put out by layoffs, why didn't he go to work at one of the charter corporations he is so concerned about increasing market share for? Instead of questioning a system that doesn't provide enough resources to keep public school teachers employed — hence last in, first out policies, Melvoin disingenuously held himself out as the "poster child" for a policy that he, and other Betsy DeVos acolytes, falsely frame as an issue of teacher longevity versus quality.

Melvoin's almost irrational hatred of public schools is best summed up by his desire to entirely supplant them with privately managed institutions, including charter schools. When news broke of decades of scandal by Celerity Charter Corporation and their corrupt founder, Vielka McFarlane, Melvoin wrote an Op-Ed providing political cover. McFarlane is best known for the incident where she and her administrators claimed Emmett Till deserved to die, in defense of her firing teachers over a social justice lesson plan. McFarlane's reputation for dishonesty and greed even earned her the ire of former LAUSD Superindendent Johh Deasy, an individual generally not known for taking issue with wealthy charter school executives. That Melvoin positioned himself as McFarlane's champion says much.

Melvoin would bring the entire Betsy DeVos agenda to Los Angeles. His penchant for segregation, privatization, and subsidizing the greed of the charter school industry is peerless.