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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gates Moves to Take Over Teacher Education, Part 2

Part 1 was posted in December 2015, just days after the U of Michigan announced a $7 million grant from the Gates Foundation to support a project called TeachingWorks.  The immodest goal (has Gates ever been modest?) was/is to remake teacher education in a corporate high tech image, one that can be turned into deep and fast-running revenue streams by the increasingly rapacious Silicon Valley data miners and dystopian isolationists who view democratic community as a threat to unbridled corporate greed.

There are a couple of major updates to the story.  First, Deborah Ball has resigned as Dean of Education at UMichigan to work full-time on the TeachingWorks project.  Did the University sense of conflict of interest in having a dean for a great public university working for an outfit that, if successful, will overthrow its own program's legitimacy? 

For whatever reason, Dr. Ball seems excited at the prospect of devoting all her energies to two immediate priorities: 1) serving as director of TeachingWorks, thus providing a patina of respectability to a bad sci-fi conception of teacher education and, 2) serving as President of the American Education Research Association (AERA), where Gates, once again, has used some more millions of dollars to blast a hole straight to the top an organization that once represented legitimacy in educational research. 

The second big development in the teacher ed story is the arrival of avatar-based teacher training, which will require prospective teachers, at least in part, to earn their credentials by successfully conducting teaching lessons with student avatars.  This brave new stupidity is being sold by the technotwits as the equivalent of flight simulation for pilot training or simulated surgery for medical training, even though the complexity of variables for landing a 747 or for inserting a heart stint pales in comparison to the infinite complexity of a third grade classroom, or any classroom for that matter. 

No worry.  U of Michigan has hooked up with ETS to develop a brave new teaching credential that has everything under control.  It's called NOTE (National Observational Teaching Exam):
NOTE works like this: a teacher candidate (student teacher) "teaches" a sample lesson for 6-7 minutes using a "virtual class" populated by 5-6 "avatar students," and receives feedback from an artificial intelligence program. The NOTE system is a combination of video production and "advanced technology" developed by the US Military, according to Mark Atkinson, the CEO of the tech firm Mursion, Inc., which is responsible for the creation of the avatars and virtual reality environment used in NOTE.
ETS describes NOTE as a program that promises to "measure a teaching candidate’s readiness to teach in ways that are representative of real-life teaching experiences." The operative word here is "representative," as the teacher candidates are not assessed by observing their work in an actual classroom, with real live children...

"Because a teacher's interaction with students is an integral part of certain high-leverage teaching practices, ETS and TeachingWorks are designing and prototyping virtual classrooms with interactive avatar students. In partnership with Mursion™, which provides a mixed-reality teaching environment with simulated students, the avatars are produced by trained, calibrated human "interactors" using standardized protocols. The use of virtual classrooms not only supports greater standardization of instructional contexts and settings for candidates, but also eliminates disruption to classroom activities, curriculum and student learning that occurs in schools."
The added bonus for the tech industry and the corporate welfare ed reformers, of course, is that this new teacher training tool anticipates the arrival of "personalized learning," which, in good Orwellian fashion, represents the ultimate in de-personalization and alienation in learning, as students are focused on individual screens at least half the school day.

Once personalized learning is operational, students from Boise to Baton Rouge to Bangor may be able to choose an avatar and log in to a session being taught by a teacher trained at the Ann Arbor teaching factory or one of its satellite centers--a teacher who has learned the value of standardization during earlier training.  Think drone pilots.


  1. Anonymous3:09 PM

    If you had ever used the avatar based system you would know that it provides an amazing opportunity to give teacher candidates feedback and practice in a way never possible before. It doesn't replace student teaching with real kids-- it adds an element that was missing, and sorely needed!

    Why is it that everything new always has to be suspicious and diabolical? Maybe that's what wrong with teacher education??? Too afraid to try new approaches? (BTW, I am a teacher educator myself and I love the system.)

  2. Suspicious, no. Diabolical, yes. What you are missing, I think, is the potential to turn teaching into web-based remote activity, without the need for expensive buildings or expensive teachers, for that matter. With $700 billion dollars in education spending each year at stake, and with a technocratic elite hellbent to deepen revenue streams and sociopolitical influence, crush unions, and keep taxes low, I suggest you get your head out of the sand.

    I have no doubt that is easier and cheaper for teacher educators like yourself to provide feedback on cartoon classroom situations without having to go into the schools or get their expertise brought into question by the messiness of children, but clinical supervision is best done with real people in authentic settings.

    By the way, what is the "element that is missing?" If you reply, use your real name to get it posted. Thanks.

  3. Anonymous11:51 AM

    The next step is to eliminate real children and to work only with simulations in order to completely standardize the educational process. I am a teacher. By the way, what the hell is a teacher educator? In my humble old-fashioned opinion, the most important educational goals are to encourage independent thinking and creativity. Those qualities, however, will not be valued in the era of fascist dictatorship we are entering.

    Abigail Shure

  4. In what alternate universe can spending 6-7 minutes teaching a fake lesson to imaginary students produce a better teacher than spending time in an actual classroom teaching a real lesson to live students? How can an algorithm provide better feedback than an experienced teacher? I know the program is designed to "teach" classroom management skills, but as I said, real teachers guiding student teachers in an authentic environment that provides all of the complexity of the teaching environment, and feedback that involves two way communication is far superior to this asinine [and yes, diabolical] attempt to generate profits for a company.

  5. For me, the most diabolical aspect of this scheme is its intended use as a high stakes student teacher evaluation system, a la edTPA. Indeed, that's likely why Dean Ball has resigned her post to focus on TeachingWorks--to get ready for "scale up" as ETS prepares to weaponize her Frankenstein monster nationwide.

  6. "The NOTE system is a combination of video production and 'advanced technology' developed by the US Military, according to Mark Atkinson, the CEO of the tech firm Mursion, Inc., which is responsible for the creation of the avatars and virtual reality environment used in NOTE."

    Let us note that the military's purpose is to control and /or kill. Last I checked, our public education system had a different objective.

    Christine Langhoff