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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Proposed Borrower Defense Rule Shortchanges Defrauded Students, Ends Accountability for For-Profit Colleges

For Immediate Release
July 25, 2018 
Proposed Borrower Defense Rule Shortchanges Defrauded Students, Ends Accountability for For-Profit Colleges
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Department of Education released a draft proposal to overhaul the Obama Administration’s Borrower Defense to Repaymentrule. The revision would alter how students secure loan forgiveness when institutions fail to deliver promised requisite skills and knowledge. Under the new proposal, student borrowers would qualify for corrective action only when they could document institutional misrepresentations related to the program of study. Further, borrowers would be required to prove that institutional misrepresentations were made with knowledge, intent or a reckless disregard for the truth. The draft also further insulates bad institutional actors from accountability—making it harder for defrauded students to gain relief and taxpayers to recoup the losses caused by the abusive behavior. 
If finalized, the rule will take effect July 2019. 
In response, Ashley Harrington, a Policy Counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending Counsel released the following statement: 
“This proposed draft reads more like a roadmap for institutions seeking to abuse students and avoid accountability and transparency rather than a plan to protect students and taxpayers. It ignores the pleas of more than 100,000 students, consumers, and taxpayers, as well as 31 state attorneys general who directly urged Secretary DeVos to stop shielding institutions and private companies.
“Under this rule, the Department goes further than any proposal discussed at negotiated rulemaking, proposing that relief be limited to borrowers in default in addition to very limited access to relief. A better solution to this growing financial burden would be preventing as many defaults as possible and holding institutions to a higher standard. Millions of consumers and billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. Early and effective intervention would spare borrowers the multiple ramifications of loan default, particularly to their credit scores and resulting higher costs for future credit.
“The previous Borrower Defense rule was created to protect students and taxpayers from deceptive practices like that of ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges that abruptly closed their doors after widespread abuses put them on the brink of bankruptcy and jeopardized the futures of thousands of students. This proposal shortchanges borrowers and will only inflate the growing $1.5 billion student loan debt crisis.”
For additional information or to schedule a media interview, contact Charlene Crowell: charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Friday, July 20, 2018

“Social capital” scrip? Fin-tech experiments with new forms of precarious “employment.”

from Wrench in the Gears
July 20, 2018

I write this piece as a follow up to my post on self sovereign identity on Blockchain, the distributed ledger system designed to capture flows of data, and information about our lives. Supporters of Blockchain tout its ability to secure “transactions” into permanent, immutable records of activities, earnings, payments, and debt. As we shift to a cashless society dominated by dynamic online payment systems, I see new forms of draconian labor compensation practices starting to emerge.
To set the stage for my examination of Union Capital Boston, I want to give you a bit of personal background. I work at a botanic garden surrounded by a mostly post-industrial landscape. It’s on the way to the airport, a stone’s throw from trash transfer plants. Residents live with terrible air quality due to the refineries across the river. For a number of years we were hopeful they’d be shut down, but then fracking revitalized the petroleum industry and they’re still going strong.
When I started my job fifteen years ago, an adjacent parking lot held hundreds of school buses. Most students in Philadelphia don’t take yellow buses to school, but the company must have serviced the field trip market and perhaps charter schools and private schools. About seven years ago, as standardized testing ramped up and education funding decreased, the era of field trips drew to a close. The bus company closed up shop, and within a year or so that lot was taken over by a scrap metal company.
Today sidewalks outside the scrap yard are littered with wrecked cars. There’s a constant flow of people in pick up trucks, with shopping carts, and grocery dollies carrying in old appliances, rebar and junk to make ends meet. We are on a trajectory of intentional scarcity and economic instability that has been picking up speed as technology and financialization take hold of our lives. It’s brutal. The image of a frail elderly gentleman attempting to navigate a top-heavy shopping cart across the treacherous trolley tracks remains indelibly printed on my mind and my heart.
Jobs with pensions, with regular hours, with benefits, with stability have been slipping away for decades. First there was temp work and consulting, later gigs and now micro-work. Some try to cobble together part time jobs, but barbarous algorithms, striving for leaner deployment of human labor, make it nearly impossible to piece together a workable schedule. Meanwhile, tech has stepped up to design platforms that meet industry’s need for “just in time” labor.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Blockchain, Self-Sovereign Identity, and Selling Off Humanity

from Wrench in the Gears
July 15, 2018

It’s time activists began to develop a working knowledge of Blockchain and self-sovereign digital identity, because these are the mechanisms that will drive the transition to IoT monitoring for the purposes of Pay for Success deal evaluation. I created a slide share about Blockchain as part of a “Smart Cities” post I wrote last year, which can be accessed here if it helps to have visuals.

 The technology became public in 2008 when Santoshi Nakamoto published the whitepaper “Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System.” No one knows who Nakamoto actually is. Over the past decade Bitcoin digital currency has generated significant buzz, yet many believe Blockchain will be even more transformative, as big as or bigger than the rise of the Internet.
MIT is heavily involved in Blockchain research and development through its Digital Currency Initiative, housed within the MIT Media Lab. The program is led by Neha Nerula, formerly of Google who holds a PhD from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Nerula served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Blockchain from 2016-2017. Its faculty advisor, Simon Johnson, co-founded the Sloan School’s Global Entrepreneurship Lab and worked as chief economist for the International Monetary fund.
In an April 2018 article, “In Blockchain We Trust,” Michael Casey, global economics professor, goes into detail regarding the use of Blockchain to create “value” in virtual worlds by securing ownership of digital assets. As we kill off the planet and begin spending more and more time in online environments, there’s cold comfort knowing the forces of global monopoly capital are rapidly colonizing digital worlds, too.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Trump as "Triple T"

Treacherous Traitor Trump
by Jim Horn

Long before Donald Trump publicly aspired to be President of the United States, back in the day when he was just another sketchy real estate mogul from Queens selling apartments at Trump Tower to Russian gangsters and the moneyed American nouveau-gauche, he had, even then, a fascination with professional wrestling.  Trump Casino and Resorts in Atlantic City hosted WrestleMania IV and V in the late 1980s, and since thenTrump has maintained a fascination with Vince McMahon’s multi-billion dollar reality-sport-theatrical soap opera business known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Fast forward to WrestleMania XXIII in 2007, and Trump is no long just a spectator-sponsor but, rather, a body-slamming investor/participant in the Battle of the Billionaires, which pitted Trump against McMahon.  McMahon’s proxy wrestler in that contest lost the match, which was followed by, McMahon, himself, being thrown to the floor by Trump and forced to suffer the indignity of having his head shaved in the ring by the victorious future President.

Trump owes a lot to professional wrestling.  WWE’s CEO, McMahon, in fact, was the originator of the “You’re fired” line that later became Trump-the-reality TV star’s stolen trademark slogan.  

But Trump took from the WWE much more than a slogan.  From his time before the arena wrestling throngs, he learned what it took to excite and incite a crowd.  By the time Trump decided to run for President, he had learned what it took to fill an arena, to hold an audience, and to develop a following around a larger-than-life caricature. 

Trump identified, too, a natural connection between the fan base of the WWE and the poor and oppressed Tea Party loyalists, who found release for their pent-up aggression in the savage rhetoric of Koch-funded politicians and in the savage physical exploits of steroid-pumped violence demos in the WWE ring. 

The Tea Party base in 2013 was essentially the same base that had made McMahon a billionaire by filling the same arenas that Trump would come to fill on the campaign trail. The scripting techniques by Washington conservative elites to create a political fan base among poor people, with whom they had nothing in common, drew from the same psychological manipulation strategies that professional wrestling had already perfected over the last hundred years.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump loyally followed the story line of his corporate scriptwriters while learning to improvise his daily moves and becoming adept at re-arranging the script to manipulate the emotional tone and cathartic possibilities of the audience.  Foils were given wrestler-sounding nicknames like Crooked Hillary Clinton and Low Energy Jeb Bush or Crazy Bernie Sanders.  Consider, for instance, The Bionic Redneck “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, or the Mouth of the South Jimmy Hart.  Trump’s foils were caricatured, berated, and turned into characters that even the oppressed could oppress.  It was the perfect political stage for a narcissistic bully with an unquenchable thirst for adoration, even if that adoration was the theatrical product of an audience swept up into the farcical production that replaced the reality outside the arena.

The dramatized violence, blatant racism, and hate-mongering of a Trump rally would be less of a problem if the American Presidency were a fictional creation produced for the benefit of venting and even purging, perhaps, the negative emotions of an arena audience come to be entertained.  Trump, however, has become in the White House his stage persona that sought and received the adulation of a theatre audience.

The audience, in turn, loyally remains in character, too, and their daily grievances are given steady Twitter injections of targeted hatefulness by the “Domineering Donald” they came to adore during his arena performances.  Instead of reality TV, Trump has invented a form of reality-reality, and unfortunately, all signs indicate that the Trump audience, too, has lapsed found a cozy seat for Trump’s own permanent show of reality-reality, in which Trump channels a permanent state of vengeful arousal among his fans, which he uses to serve his own unquenchable thirst for the power and prestige that can never legitimately be his.

That this mutually exploitative spell has spilled over into public life can be seen every day, as the dimensions Trump’s reality-reality expand its hateful and poisonous bravura throughout the commons.  Whether it’s the marching by Neo-Nazis in college towns or the beating of elderly citizens with foreign-sounding names or the hyper-vigilant racism of white women calling the cops on children for selling lemonade or candy, or the daily abuse by Trumpian police goons, the signs are clear that the theatricized violence of the Trump rally has spread across the Republic.

Trump, himself, emboldened by his ranks who celebrate his cruelty and craziness, raises the ante by moving further and further from factual reality and deeper and deeper into Trump’s reality-reality.  The Washington Post notes that at Trump’s last rally in Montana 76 percent of Trump utterances were false, misleading, or lacking evidence.

Today, Donald Trump is the only President of the United States to be a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. And each political rally that Trump holds in an arena is a reminder of why.   Every Trump rally is a replayed celebration of a political WrestleMania, whose main event was decided in 2016 when the evil Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama had both of their heads shaved.  Each rally, then, becomes a tag team of Trump and the Audience facing up against the projected reemergence of those foes, allies of those foes, or any ideas they supported.  Trump basks in the warmth of political fandom on steroids, and he repays that allegiance each time with a mash-up of the same great moves that brought him and his base to the championship. 

Trump’s stage performance is the political equivalent to professional arena wrestling.  Writing about his own performance art of wrestling, professional wrestler and reporter, KrackerJak, describes arena wrestling as part complex choreography and part improvisation, with wrestlers “feeding off each other and  the crowd to create a unique work of art.”

Now if you find this wrestling analogy to Trump’s arena politics worrisome, then read how KrackerJak sums up his analysis:

As a wrestler, I'm able unleash elements of myself that would have me arrested should I cut loose in a similar way on public transport.

For the audience, wrestling plays out all manner of cathartic fantasies that would see you sitting in a cell next to me were you to indulge them.

This is where the analogy breaks down, for while professional wrestling fans may be purged during the staged events by hissing, booing, and throwing popcorn at their enemies, Trump fans are not assuaged by just screaming “Build the Wall” or “Fake News” or “Lock Her Up.” They are compelled by the poisonous talents of their hero to take their violence into the streets, shopping malls, job sites, and even churches, where catharsis is rendered through innumerable examples of mistreatment, mayhem, and violence.

Now as the Mueller investigation closes in and Trump’s enemies become the lawful institutions that have thus far assured the survival of a constitutional republic, the next aggressive moves by Trump and his fans will require a determined and ongoing political deftness with unyielding courage to avoid the chaos upon which Trump’s survival depends.

Right before our eyes, “Domineering Donald” has morphed into “Triple T” (Treacherous Traitor Trump).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Minding Our Health: The Nudge, Part Two

from Wrench in the Gears
July 13, 2018

This piece expands upon my prior post about digital nudging and behavioral economics. Disruption in the healthcare industry mirrors the ed-tech takeover that is well underway in public education. If you explore the webpage for Catalyst, the innovation PR outlet for the New England Journal of Medicine (remember, social impact policy makers and many investors are based in Boston), you’ll notice the language being used to direct health care providers towards big-data, tech-centered solutions is eerily similar to the language being used on educators and school administrators.
The FCC’s “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan” of 2010 outlined seven “national purposes” for broadband expansion. Healthcare and education were the first two topics covered in that report. Both chapters focus on “unlocking the value of data.” Who will the big winners be as we further digitize our lives? My assessment is the telecommunications industry and national security/police state will come out on top. Locally, Comcast and Verizon are key players with interests in both sectors.
Education and healthcare fall under the purview of Lamar Alexander’s Senate HELP (health, education, labor and pensions) Committee, so the similarities in tactics shouldn’t come as a surprise. In researching the $100 million federal Social Impact Partnerships Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA) launch I attended in Washington, DC last month, I noticed one of the Republican Senators who presented, Todd Young of Indiana, had attended the Booth School of Business MBA program at the University of Chicago. Recent Nobel Prize winner in behavioral economics Richard Thaler teaches there, and I was curious to see if Thaler’s thinking had influenced Young. Interactive version of Young’s map here.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

NEA Approves Spending a Whopping $1,250 to Establish Labor Action Fund

In what can only described as a whimpering response to the hammering that public service unions just received from the Supreme Court, NEA delegates passed a resolution that allows the collection of $3 dollars from each member in a voluntary donation fund for future job actions by state affiliates.  The resolution
. . . directs the NEA to establish a voluntary membership donation of at least $3. The donation would establish a fund to support strikes or other statewide labor actions, such as a short-term work stoppage. This new business item, which will cost $1,250 to implement, asks for state and local affiliates to collect the donations and then transmit the funds to the NEA for disbursement when there is labor unrest. 
In 2016, NEA had $300,000,000 in the bank, and it collects over $400,000,000 each year in member dues.  

If NEA used a tenth of what it spends to prop up neoliberal politicians who support corporate ed reform, that would be a monumental.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Dweck's Brainology = School Budget Drainology

Largely in response to the demands of paternalist school reformers fixated on training the poor and children of the poor to be immune to their own poverty, non-cognitive behavioral interventions aimed at "character building" have proliferated within the education industry.  "Grit" and "resilience" hucksters like Martin Seligman, David Levin, and Angela Duckworth, along with "growth mindset" marketeers like Carol Dweck, essentially hijacked the term "social-emotional learning" (SEL) as a way to add respectability for what amounts to neurological tampering and behavioral neutering of poor black and brown children.

With bogus promises that "character growth scores" will lead to increased academic test scores, charter chain gangs and unwary public school systems have invested millions of public dollars in unproven classroom practices aimed to neurologically rewire children.

Now researchers at Case Western Reserve cast new new doubts on the claims made by Carol Dweck and her salesmen for Brainology:
Our findings suggest that at least some of the claims about growth mindsets – such as how they supposedly have profound effects on academic achievementbenefit both high- and low-achieving students, or are especially important for students facing situational challenges– are not warranted. In fact, in more than two-thirds of the studies the effects were not statistically significantly different from zero, meaning most of the time, the interventions were ineffective.

Below is an excerpt from Work Hard, Be Hard. . . that provides some context for the current fascination with SEL:

           Growing interest among corporate foundations and their think tanks (Center on Children and Families at Brookings, 2014) for “character” building through social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions suggests the KIPP Model is likely to be repackaged for another generation of No Excuses schools. Once again, psychologists of the developmental variety are coming to dominate this social and emotional learning (SEL) niche (Steinberg, 2014; Farrington et al, 2012), and they are joined by new paternalists who are fixated, as they always have been, on self-regulation and self-control.  
As a solution to their character deficiencies among the disenfranchised, SEL will likely have a dominant role in the next phase of the crusade to fix the poor.  In a recent research review (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014) sponsored by the Gates Foundation, the authors examine studies that support the Duckworth thesis that non-cognitive, or motivational, factors like “academic tenacity” can have more effect than “cognitive factors” on “core academic outcomes such as GPA and test scores” (p. 2):
At its most basic level, academic tenacity is about working hard, and working smart, for a long time. More specifically, academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow students to . . . look beyond short-term concerns to longer-term or higher-order goals, and withstand challenges and setbacks to persevere toward these goals (p. 4).
                   The philanthrocapitalists and their think tank scholars quote liberally from the work of Walter Mischel (1989, 2014), whose experiments with delayed gratification among preschoolers provide the dominant metaphor for another generation of paternalist endeavors.  In Mischel’s experiments, children were offered a single marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows later if they could delay their reward.  The test, which came to be labeled “The Marshmallow Test,” represents the potential to delay gratification in order to gain a larger reward later on. 
                   At many of the KIPP, Aspire, Achievement First, and Yes Prep schools, children wear t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow.” Mischel’s (2014) latest work, The marshmallow test: Mastering self-control acknowledges KIPP’s prominent role and places it within the context of recent research on improving self-control.  David Levin has made Mischel’s book a central component in his Coursera massive open online course (MOOC), Teaching character and creating positive classrooms, which was first offered with co-instructor, Angela Duckworth, in 2014. 
                   Levin and Duckworth are two of the co-founders of Character Lab, which uses Duckworth’s experimental work at the Upper Darby School District near the University of Pennsylvania to fine tune the character performance interventions that Levin initiated at KIPP schools in the early 2000s. Interestingly, much of the research that is used to justify the use of the Seligman-Duckworth resiliency improvement methodology is the same data offered to justify the Seligman deal that cost the U. S. Army $145 million (see Chapter 1) for interventions that brought no benefit to GIs suffering from the stresses of war.  We may wonder how much these alleged remedies for children might cost federal and state education departments, whose bankrolls are much smaller than those at the Pentagon.
            A related character approach that operates under the trade name, Brainology, claims that 1,000 schools are now using its “growth mindset” based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset (2006).   Dweck’s work is included on the suggested reading list used by Levin and Duckworth for their online course mentioned above.  Brainology cites unpublished research that shows teaching the growth mindset “boosts motivation and achievement” and narrows both the gender and racial achievement gaps (Mindset Works, Inc., 2008-2012) A license for 300 students is available for $5,250, or the program may be purchased for $79 per student.  A separate site license for professional development is sold for $1,500.
The Brainology website has links to a handout that summarizes finding for a short list of preliminary studies showing Brainology’s effectiveness in increasing motivation, although none of the findings has appeared in refereed journals.  Even so, the enthusiasm among reformers is strong and growing stronger as the debilitating stresses from poverty rise, and the spread of educational austerity measures calls for the ramping up of strategies that might mollify those affected children whose promised rewards become even less certain.