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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Omidyar, The Intercept & Impact Investing

from Wrench in the Gears
September 29, 2017

I wouldn’t expect an expose on ed-tech to come out of The Intercept any time soon, despite the solid work they have done on Google and their deep knowledge of online surveillance and ties between Silicon Valley and government officials. Read on to find out why.

I’m always looking for opportunities to raise awareness around ed-tech and digital curriculum. So when the Free Library of Philadelphia announced an author event with The Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill interviewing Edward Snowden via remote link, I bought a ticket right away. If there were an audience who would be concerned about cloud-based education, digital curriculum and surveillance, this would be it. See Tim Scott’s piece for detailed background on ed-tech and surveillance. So I made up a flyer, printed a hundred copies and arrived early to hand them out to attendees on the way into the event. Other than the board chair, who expressed concern about my presence, everyone was quite receptive.

 I wouldn’t expect an expose on ed-tech to come out of The Intercept any time soon, despite the solid work they have done on Google and their deep knowledge of online surveillance and ties between Silicon Valley and government officials. Read on to find out why.

I’m always looking for opportunities to raise awareness around ed-tech and digital curriculum. So when the Free Library of Philadelphia announced an author event with The Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill interviewing Edward Snowden via remote link, I bought a ticket right away. If there were an audience who would be concerned about cloud-based education, digital curriculum and surveillance, this would be it. See Tim Scott’s piece for detailed background on ed-tech and surveillance. So I made up a flyer, printed a hundred copies and arrived early to hand them out to attendees on the way into the event. Other than the board chair, who expressed concern about my presence, everyone was quite receptive.

On a related note, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation has been inserting itself into Philadelphia School District policy for quite a few years. Their donations of computers to select schools gives them access through grants to push for adoption of reform-minded initiatives like school report cards and universal enrollment systems. It wasn’t until a few years later while watching Oliver Stone’s Snowden, that I made a connection. In one scene Snowden was asked to prove his legitimacy and did so by throwing numerous credentials onto the hotel mattress. One of them was his Dell identification. As I wrote about here, Snowden obtained many National Security Agency documents while working as a Dell contractor. At the time I was fighting Dell’s influence in Philadelphia, I thought it was simply about selling more computers. Until that moment, I had not realized that Dell’s business extended far beyond the sale of laptops. In fact, the NSA is one of Dell’s most important clients. Maybe it was less about computers than it was about access to all the data generated by data-driven education systems. Watch this short video about Dell’s push for online “personalized” learning pathways. Knowing their ties to the NSA, you may see it as somewhat less than benign despite the peppy soundtrack.


Click here to read the entire post.

Criminal defendant Ref Rodriguez, an introduction

Corporate charter school mogul Refugio “Ref” Rodriguez has been in the news lately. First, for his being elected President of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education. Second, he is facing criminal charges of three felony counts, including conspiracy and perjury, and 25 misdemeanor counts of assumed name contribution.

Who is this rising star of the California Charter Schools Association? How did he end up on LAUSD’s board despite having never attended, nor worked at a public school? Why are these charges no surprise to Los Angeles public education activists? All of the questions and more answered in a talk by Robert D. Skeels at 2:30 PM during Defend Public Education NOW’s Opposing Charter Schools Conference. This talk, and topic, is one of many at the event.

Conference: Opposing Charter Schools
Saturday, September 30, 2017 from 11 AM — 4 PM
Southern California Library
6120 S Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90044

Robert D. Skeels is a Juris Doctor candidate specializing in education policy and the law. His work appears in a range of publications including Jacobin, Truthout, and CounterPunch. He is one of the contributors for schoolsmatter.info

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Change starts with individual acts of moral courage.

from Wrench in the Gears
September 26, 2017

It seems impossible until the day it becomes inevitable.

Change starts with individual acts of moral courage.

I posted the above comment on my Facebook page as an accompaniment to this article discussing growth of the protest movement within the NFL that manifested itself this past Sunday. On that day numerous players and owners allied themselves with a small but tenacious group of protestors who had joined Colin Kaepernick in the year since he first sat then took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. His intention: to draw attention to police brutality and oppression of people of color. You can read the transcript of Kaepernick’s comments and rationale here. Recognizing that our mythic “America” is built on genocide and the enslavement of people of color for profit is foundational to being able to move forward towards achieving any semblance of a just society. The fact that white supremacist violence erupted in Charlottesville not quite a year after Kaepernick’s initial protest makes it clear many are not yet ready to take that bitter pill and reconcile our brutal past with our present reality.

Kaepernick stood alone for a long time. There were consequences for him, emotionally and financially. He came to understand systems of oppression, and while he could have used his privilege to stake a place where those systems would be less likely to impact him, he instead chose to put himself in the center of the storm. In this individual gesture he became the pebble with the power to unleash the avalanche.

The status quo resists change mightily. There is too much power and profit riding on the continuous, uninterrupted operation of oppressive systems. Those of us watching recent developments in artificial intelligence, smart city surveillance, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, and impact investing realize the capacity to inflict harm on black and brown communities is about to rise exponentially. Outliers who question become targets of criticism, their message intentionally obscured by character attacks, criticism of the appropriateness of the method protest and other technicalities. Let us talk about anything other than the issues being raised, because recognizing and organizing around those issues could compel change, perhaps revolutionary change. Change is a threat.

While one expects criticism from those holding opposing views, people contemplating direct action outside acceptable norms of group-sanctioned protest must realize that criticism and obfuscation may also come from those technically allied with your cause. There are those who will propose a more “moderate” approach. Such tactics have the appearance of resistance, but are not intended to actually tip the apple cart. There is no meaningful change without risk. Actions taken within the comfort of groupthink may make one feel popular and accepted but are unlikely to push the envelope in any significant way.

American brutality comes in many forms: sometimes physical, sometimes financial, sometimes spiritual. Sometimes it looks like this.

This is the next wave of oppression, and it is rolling into classrooms across our nation and across the globe. Once again, communities of color will be targeted for tech-based interventions under the guise of bridging the “digital divide.” Though over time no one will be safe from the onslaught of financialization. As Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Reed Hasting, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates make their next moves I pose this question:
Will you be a Kaepernick?

Or will you hang back, waiting for some higher authority to sanction your protest?

Five things one person can do today to begin disrupting the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Another Critical Scholar Banned by Diane

It's not often that the unofficial matriarch of anti-ed reform gets called out for her support of the corporate education forces that she would, otherwise, have us believe that she opposes.  When it does happen, however, as it did a couple days ago when Emily Talmage questioned Diane's recent gush about the virtues of the MacArthur Foundation, Ravitch's reaction is entirely predictable: she accuses those with the temerity to question her professional judgment or her policy positions as "lashing out" with personal attacks against her.    

It is Diane's ruthless cultivation of sympathy among her followers, then, that takes the focus off the questions raised about her positions and puts it on the motives of the person who raises the questions.  In doing so, Ravitch transforms the skeptical questioner into a mendacious meanie, whose criticism, then, can be dismissed outright.  

Ravitch, then, effectively uses the personal attack strategy that she attributes to others in order to neutralize any criticism of her own positions, which are predictably aligned with DNC neoliberals and increasingly out of touch with reality. 

You should go to the Talmage page first and read the post that has Diane's Basecamp followers waving their limp swords at the imaginary attacker.  And then read Ravitch's response.  I think you will see what I mean.

You might want to read the comments as well at the Ravitch blog.  Among them, this comment below: 
As I see it, the state-finance nexus (banks/financial markets/corporations; state, federal and municipal governments; NGOs; philanthrocapitalists; DNC/RNC; white supremacy, colonialism, militarized austerity, etc.) that’s driving Ed Reform 2.0 is maintained by duplicitous mission statements, promotions, pronouncements, marketing agendas and ideological/cultural narratives. This profiteering web of deceit also relies on dedicated pundits like Ravitch, who earnestly, implicitly and duplicitously promote and normalize this agenda, while presenting themselves as benevolent agents of the common good.
That comment, in turn, raised Dr. Ravitch's hackles even further.  So much, in fact, that she has censored all further comment from a UMass PhD (my bolds): 
One of the rules of the blog is that I don’t post comments that insult me. The blog is my living room, and I expect people to act civilly, even though we debate, disagree, and hash out our differences. It is a lively room, and I try to keep the conversation civil, which is not always easy. 
I am making an exception in this case because it is useful for other readers to hear your voice and understand that those of us who fight privatization, high-stakes testing, standardization, and the replacement of teachers by algorithms are not united. If you think I am your enemy, you have a very strange understanding of what I have written in books, articles, and daily blogs for the past several years. 
Since you have identified me as an enemy of the cause I fight for every day, I will ask you not to return here again.
This, again, is pure Ravitch: Use the cover of civility to ruthlessly remove any opposition.

If you have had your comments censored by the Ravitch crew at her blog for being uncomfortably honest, send us your offending comments, and we will post them here for public scrutiny.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Big Picture Learning Off Limits

September 20, 2017

The introduction to this piece including a discussion of ImBlaze can be found here.

Big Picture Learning students spend two days a week outside of school pursuing their “passions.” Although I’ve heard off the record that not all student end up with placements and instead languish in front of computer screens killing time. I imagine budget-conscious reformers must be salivating at the prospect of scaling a “school” model where you could outsource 40% of a student’s instruction to community partners. Imagine the cost savings! You don’t have to feed students on those days. You could reduce teaching staff. You could cram more students into the building staggering the classes. Put aside those pesky child labor considerations for a few moments and contemplate the possibilities. It’s would also be a way to begin to normalize the learning ecosystem “anytime, anywhere” model learning by app and competency-based badges. You might think there would be more to the process than getting the kids a log in for what is essentially a Yelp for education; a counselor perhaps? Of course the real imperative behind this digital solution is about data collection. In Future Ready schools students are defined by their data. As the article states “Data Tells the Story for Big Picture Learning.”
In December 2016, the School District of Philadelphia signed onto a $23 million contract with Big Picture schools. The organization, based out of Rhode Island (on track to become the first “personalized” learning state) presently operates in 24 states. The size of the Philadelphia contract indicates a major expansion of Big Picture is on the horizon here. The organization is going to occupy Vaux, which was shuttered during a wave of devastating closures that took place in 2013.
The community of Sharswood in which it is located is being “redeveloped” in using incredibly heavy-handed, predatory, 1960s urban renewal tactics. The ribbon cutting for the new Vaux Big Picture School took place today. The community members and education activists who tried to attend and voice their concerns were kept behind barriers far from the ceremony. Apparently no one was allowed within a two-block radius of the school without “necessary credentials.” Protesters included representatives from the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, ADAPT and the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. Barbara McDowell Dowdall, a retired English teacher and former yearbook advisor who had worked at Vaux from 1974 to 1981 brought a yearbook along and shared fond memories of the school, reflecting on how much has been taken from the community in the intervening years. The event was monitored by a number of squad cars, bike patrol police and members of the civil affairs unit.

Also see:
Vaux Big Picture High School officially celebrates its opening | Philadelphia Public School Notebook
September 19, 2017
Read the comments.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson helps open a North Philly high school
Philadelphia Inquirer - September 19, 2017

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time

Alison McDowell with Diane Ravitch at the Free Library of Philadelphia in 2013.

from Wrench in the Gears
August 20, 2017

I am writing this feeling somewhat like a David facing off against a Goliath. It certainly won’t make me popular. There are many of us who keep weighing the evidence. Is Diane Ravitch incredibly wiley or incredibly obtuse? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

It IS clear that there are parts of her narrative that don’t add up. My first sense that something wasn’t right came last February. Then in August, concerns I expressed in comments about the Clinton family’s involvement in the development of digital learning and Joe Ravitch’s venture capital company, Raine Group, were suppressed. You can read about it here and here. The Raine Group information, with its ties to Ari Emmanuel and Parchment, has gotten increasingly interesting as I’ve seen the convergence of education, virtual reality, entertainment, online credentialing and blockchain. Now my comments on her posts are always moderated. Some make it out. Some don’t. These from this afternoon haven’t as of posting time. I didn’t think they would.
I know I risk becoming a target for saying what comes next. Nevertheless, it needs to be said so here goes. In the spirit of my inspiration David F. Noble I will just leap out there and do it (thanks Kay).
So today I had a flashback when a friend forwarded me Ravitch’s testimonial on the wonders of the MacArthur Foundation “This is What Philanthropy Looks Like.”
Click here to read the entire post.  

Also see: Calling Foul: Ravitch is Wrong About MacArthur
Save Maine Schools - September 20, 2017 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Warrant Issued for Abusive Charter Principal

For each of these felonious criminal abusers apprehended, how many thousands go unpunished?  By the way, the Walton Family Foundation is a partner in this abusive enterprise.

A Baton Rouge charter school principal is wanted by police after he was accused of locking a 5-year-old student in a closet as a form of punishment, according to police.

Shafeeq Syid Shamsid-Deen, the principal and founder of Laurel Oaks Charter School, at 440 N. Foster Drive, is wanted on counts of cruelty to a juvenile — a felony — and false imprisonment, according to an arrest warrant issued Monday by Baton Rouge police.

According to the warrant, a teacher heard a child screaming and crying inside the school Aug. 22. After two other teachers joined in the search, the 5-year-old girl was found inside a closet in the cafeteria. The closet was locked from the outside, the warrant says.

The student told authorities that Shamsid-Deen, 31, put her in the closet when she was “bad,” according to the warrant. No one was around the closet when the teacher found the child locked inside it, the warrant says.

When one of the teachers emailed Shamsid-Deen with objections about the punishment, he responded that the school “will work to make sure we have a proper time-out area for scholars to reset in the cafeteria,” the warrant says.

Affirmative Action Has Served to Assuage the White Liberal Conscience

After decades of affirmative action, Black and Hispanic college applicants remain largely shut out of elite colleges, where grads have the inside track on America's best opportunities.  While showing some limited success for increasing college attendance at lesser institutions, affirmative action has been entirely ineffective in mitigating the effects from the larger problems of segregation, corporate influence, and test-based demonization in K-12 schools:
Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
Until corporate predatory charter schools stop churning out miseducated robots and until our leaders take steps to end segregation and until racist and classist standardized tests are discontinued, black and brown representation in the best universities and colleges will continue to decline.

Income Inequality for African Americans Continues

WaPo has an analysis of the latest Census data on U. S. incomes.  It's not hard to see who has been left behind.  African-Americans are worse off economically than they were at the turn of the century.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Corrupt Charter Astroturf Group Pays Record Fine in MA

Last year white Alice Walton, New York hedge fund whales, and other Wall Street parasites poured $19 million into an effort in Massachusetts to increase the number of charter schools in the state by eliminating the state cap.  With the help of paid actors and parents who don't know or don't care that their children are being brutalized daily in the charter cultural sterilization camps, large rallies were staged on Boston Common to make it appear that black and brown folks were demanding more charter schools.

The voters of MA weren't fooled.  Tired of having their public school funds go to corporate predators posing as educators, the citizens turned back the charter industry effort in the November referendum.

Now it seems the corrupt shenanigans by the charterites have been exposed.  Be sure to follow this link to the list of contributors, which include some of Governor Charlie Baker's top hands:
A wealthy New York organization that poured $15 million into last year’s unsuccessful ballot question to expand charter schools in Massachusetts was hit Monday with the largest fine in state campaign history after officials found the group was illegally hiding the identities of its donors.

Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy, a nonprofit that was the single largest funder behind Question 2 in Massachusetts, was slapped with a $426,466 fine, the largest in the 44-year history of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The group was also forced to reveal its donors — showing it was anonymously receiving major checks from two Baker administration officials and numerous wealthy contributors from the world of high finance in Massachusetts, New York, and other states. . . .

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Librarians!!!!! Published in the Chicago Tribune, Sept 8, 2017

We still need librarians in public schools.
Published in the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 8, 2017

Congratulations to the Tribune for informing the public about the lack of school librarians in Chicago.

Not mentioned in the Sept. 5 article “Most of city's schools now lack librarians,” however, is the research showing that the presence of a credentialed school librarian is a significant predictor of reading achievement.

A recent study done by Scholastic tells us at least part of the reason why: School librarians connect young readers with books that are right for them.

This is crucial. Research also tells us that students who develop a reading habit read better, write better, spell better, have better control of grammar, and have larger vocabularies.  Readers also know more about a wide variety of subjects. It is therefore no surprise that they do better on standardized tests of literacy.

We cheerfully spend billions on unvalidated tests and untested technology, yet we ignore the impressive research  on libraries and librarians, and are unwilling to make the modest investments that will ensure that school libraries are well supplied with books and are staffed with credentialed librarians.

— Stephen Krashen, Los Angeles, professor emeritus, University of Southern California

A scrappy parent takes on the bow tie man.

From Wrench in the Gears
September 9, 2017

Or, how my day would have been very different had I worn khakis.

This is a story about access. Who has it, who doesn’t, and how in order to save public education, people, especially people of privilege, need to take a page from the Ed Reform 2.0 handbook and start actively disrupting. Showing up (and sitting down) can build awareness of critical issues and catalyze the direct action we need to ramp up our defense of neighborhood schools against predatory venture capitalists and the so-called “community partners” who benefit from education austerity budgets. The latter, those non-profits NOT actively speaking out to secure public funds for public schools but rather accepting funds from private interests to fill the myriad gaps created in our schools through intentional defunding, are not acting in good faith and are not allies.

It was a busy morning. Before I hopped on my bike into Center City Philadelphia I double-checked my supplies. I had printed a paper copy of my Eventbrite ticket to “Educate Philly: Rethinking America’s Schools,” a reformy book launch and panel discussion over breakfast with David Osborne of the “radically pragmatic” Progressive Policy Institute. The event page noted “If you believe in the virtues of a public education AND are willing to be challenged – join us for breakfast this Friday, September 8th for a compelling conversation on public education.” If I had only known the level of “challenge” attending this breakfast was going to pose, I would have had my coffee before leaving the house. I had sidewalk chalk and a Ziploc bag with slips of paper of printed with sentiments that expressed my displeasure with the corporate plan to “reinvent” public education for the 21st century by creating impact investment opportunities predicated on the data-mining of students through ubiquitous online “personalized” learning programs.

My ticket, which was torn when Union League staff tried to grab it out of my hands.

Click here to read the rest of the post.