"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The President Wants to Bring Government and Technology Together to Reform Education

President Obama, in a speech in Boston, called for the development of a new federal agency to research education technology. Sure, his original outlay for funding is meager, only $90 million dollars (is he already deciding what to do with the money that may be taken away from NPR?), but then again most government behemoths start small. Named the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Education (ARPA-ED) - this agency sounds just like and is modeled after DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the military program – launched in response to Sputnik – that developed many important technologies. Its purpose would be to “aggressively pursue technological breakthroughs that will transform educational technology and empower teaching and learning the way that DARPA did and how that supported the development of the Internet, GPS and robotics." (Education Secretary Arne Duncan.) Mr. Duncan went on to reiterate what the government really thinks of education when he noted in the same conference call with reporters on Monday quoted above that typically, only about 0.2 percent of K-12 funding goes to research and development (R&D) – far less than in virtually any other industry. When you start viewing education as an industry, then our children become resources, or to use the Department of Ed’s favor phrase, human capital, and the final product is a machine that serves the needs of the US economy.

As some have pointed out, pushing for a new government agency in a time of financial deficits and runaway spending seems crazy. Joshua Shields, a spokesman for Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said the Education Department already has enough resources to launch such a program without asking for more money. People should therefore ponder heavily why the President would push for this now.

President Obama stated, “We’ll need a national education policy that tries to figure out how do we replicate success stories like TechBoston all across the country.” TechBoston is a “model of private-public partnerships, working closely with a local teacher residency program and numerous business partners, including Microsoft, Google, Cisco, and IBM. Created through a collaboration between the Boston Public Schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Boston Foundation, this ‘pilot school’ enjoys much more flexibility than most public schools, including the ability to have a longer school day and year. Pilot schools are part of a Boston program that allows certain schools freedoms similar to charter schools, though still run by the district and staffed with union employees. “

James Shelton III, the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement has been working on this program for over two years. Mr. Shelton's background is quite impressive with a B.S. from Morehouse and an MBA from Stanford. He has worked for the private equity organization Knowledge Universe, buying and selling education companies. Most recently he was a program director at the Gates Foundation (that name seems to pop up frequently in this story.) He strongly believes that if obstacles such as funding, bureaucracy, and political opposition were removed, he and his fellow technology gurus could solve all of America's problems.

The problem with President Obama’s recommendation is its underlying assumption, that government can do what private markets can’t. There are already numerous private firms who are actively pursuing a role in education, from SMART Boards, to education videos like those produced by BitTorrent, Inc. which cover high school and college level curriculum across science, math, history, finance and test prep. Technology is actively being used and marketed to schools. What is missing is someone to be the referee and pick the winners. Until now there has been no pathway for education technology companies to obtain government cooperation in creating or carving out market share for themselves. With the implementation of ARPA-ED, that pathway is laid. Government will direct both these companies and the public, the same way they did with the elimination of incandescent light bulbs, not by naming specific companies or technologies, but by writing the regulations and curriculum that lead only to the hand selected finalists. And once the government starts deciding who the winners and losers are, watch for newly developing private markets to dry up leaving the government to dictate terms to its chosen few.

1 comment:

  1. Bingo, Anngie. You are "connecting the dots" the politicians don't like you to connect, on the left and the right.

    This isn't free market capitalism when the players are pre-selected. And all these techy toys are necessary in the common core standards.

    Private companies are making huge amounts of money off the backs of taxpayers and children. This isn't about education reform in the least. This is about money. And just think, if the states hadn't rolled over and adopted the common core standards, this could have been avoided.

    Why aren't state legislators in ALL the states pushing back on this?


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