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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Duncan, Hastings, and Gates: The Digital Promise-Keepers and a DreamBox for Every Urban Kid

In anticipation of the new NCLB initiative rolled out yesterday (my response in the making), Arne Duncan announced recently a new corporate ed reform money maker called "Digital Promise," which promises to fill the pockets of some of Duncan's favorite techie sidekicks who are already lining up at Duncan's "innovation-inspiring" federal ATM machine at the U. S. Department of Ed.  Take Reed Hastings, for instance (please), whose rattle-trap outfit, NetFlix, is beginning to flicker toward extinction just as Hastings moves into the edu-biz in a big way.

As the Godfather of the corporate welfare charter movement in California and initial backer of the corrupt Green Dot, Inc., Hastings, who sits on Microsoft's Board of Directors, became quick friends with Arne Duncan when Duncan became Secretary of ED.  In 2009, Hastings was picked by Duncan to head up turnaround planning for the thousands of urban schools that poverty and NCLB testing have blown up in recent years. Most of the planned replacement schools for the bottom 5% per year (four to five thousand schools nationwide) of low test score schools are planned as corporate welfare charters, and edupreneurs are looking for ways to further cut personnel costs and increase the bottom line beyond the typical charter school cuts to teacher salaries and benefit packages.  Enter the techno-twits with a plan to essentially cut the urban teacher corps in half by hooking children up to "dream machines" for half the school day.

Duncan (Gates and the BRT) are keen to develop digital tutors that use technology that analyze student response patterns in order to customize their "dream box" drill and kill sessions.  They are also interested, as Arne's press release indicates, in getting these systems into classrooms before their effectiveness can ever be ascertained:
Learning faster what's working and what's not. Internet startups do rapid evaluations of their sites, running test after test to continually improve their services. When it comes to education, R&D cycles can take years, producing results that are out of date the minute they're released. Digital Promise will work with researchers and entrepreneurs to develop new approaches for rapidly evaluating new products. 
And who owns that the technology that examines customer, er, student response patterns ?  That's right--Reed Hastings:
* Courses that improve the more students use them. Internet companies like Netflix and Amazon have devoted significant resources to develop tools that analyze consumer data to identify patterns, tailor results to users’ preferences, and provide a more individualized experience. Researchers are exploring whether similar techniques can be applied to education. For example, after developing software to teach fractions, researchers could study the learning patterns of how tens of thousands of students mastered different concepts. This ―virtual learning laboratory could draw on this data when presented with new users—taking what it knows about how students learn to tailor material based on how similar individuals successfully mastered those same concepts. The data collected by such software could also provide powerful new insights for practitioners about ways to guide traditional classroom instruction.
That Reed Hastings doesn't miss a beat, does he!  Proving as much, Hastings has bought up a company that is already in the remediation business:
DreamBox (acquired) — $10 million — Reed Hastings (The Charter School Growth Fund), NeXtAdvisors
With poverty on the rise and segregated corporate charter schools uncapped in the many states, growth potential for leashing poor urban kids to DreamBoxes appears unlimited. 

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