"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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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paper and Ink, Brick and Mortar - Make way for digital delivery

Last week CEOs from technology companies and text book publishers met with senior officials from the DOEd and FCC to talk about the digital revolution in education.  Also present at the table was the LEAD (Leading Education by Advancing Digital) commission, whose goal is to harness technology as a catalyst to education reform.  The four members of LEAD are:
  • Columbia University President Lee Bollinger- A liberal bastion in higher education
  • Co-Founder of TPG Capital James Coulter- Private equity funds management company because, as Tim McGraw head of McGraw-Hill Financial stated recently, "The growth outlook is really quite healthy for the education business and we expect that to continue." 
  • Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings-  Her consulting company leverages the many public private partnerships she has forged along with the insider experience of the many former capitol hill experts she employs to drive public policy nationwide. Seeing as how, as Secretary of Ed under George Bush, she was a leading proponent of No Child Left Behind, we must question whether her ability to affect national policy is really all that desirable.
  • Common Sense Media Founder and CEO Jim Steyer- perhaps a reasonable member, but he may have drunk the kool aid too."The great news is that technology provides us with an opportunity to leapfrog decades of simply maintaining the status quo and to truly revolutionize education in this country quickly, which is exactly what’s needed to remain economically competitive in today’s global economy."
Key quotes from this meeting:

Duncan said "We need your expertise, your leadership, to figure out how every single child has access to content 24/7. I see amazing pockets, islands of success, but it's on the margins. The question is, can we get to scale as a country?" IMPLEMENTATION ON A MASSIVE SCALE THROUGH GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION

James Coulter, "Our goal with this commission is to help policy makers to more swiftly and effectively integrate digital learning into our national curriculum.”  SPEED WITHOUT CONSIDERATION

FCC Chairman Genachowski said, "I’m confident the LEAD Commission’s blueprint will chart a course to ensure that education technology will help prepare students to compete in the 21st century global economy.” GLOBAL FOCUS, SCHOOL TO WORK PROGRAMMING

One of the digital companies represented at the meeting was McGraw-Hill who plans to push for learning programs related to vocational training online and is working on making more learning material and textbooks available across various digital platforms. The company is looking to strike joint ventures with companies to impart skills learning in India and skills training in China. Having perfected such programs in these massive markets, it will be very easy to bring such digital training to America.  And with government's focus on providing 21st century global workers, and businesses like Margaret Spelling's working to push such policies nationally, McGraw-Hill will have a ready made entree to the American market.

That's what all of this is about.  The government helping private business create new markets by making their products mandatory.

LEAD's goal is to produce a blueprint by the end of the year, based on input from teachers, parents, local government and school officials, students, and ed-tech industry leaders, which will include:

  • a fact base of current efforts, trends, cost implications, and other obstacles regarding technology adoption in schools; Note they are not evaluating its effectiveness or desirability
  • an examination of how tech-driven transformation in other sectors could be carried over to education;  Education is not a business model and applications in other sectors do not necessarily translate to correct application to education.
  • the types of policies and funding vehicles that may be needed to ensure that school systems can successfully incorporate technology. It is unclear who is funding the LEAD report or what deals have already been struck to ensure compliance with the policy and funding recommendations developed in the report.
If these people have their way, what will the future classroom look like? It may be much smaller as many students may choose to stay home and work on-line on their own. It will be staffed by less experienced teachers because the software will adapt and challenge each individual student in a way that a teacher never could. The interim, and most immediate step, will be what techsperts are calling "blended learning" where children spend part of their classroom time on computers doing endless worksheets.

From Schools Matter blog
Now Vander Ark is leveraging his connections from 7 years as check delivery boy for the Gates Foundation to shape the education agenda in ways that will pay a handsome return on Bill and Melinda's beneficence over the years.  It's called blended learning, and it represents a poisonous mixture of bad pedagogy and big business; it is gaining footholds in the poorest schools (or in KIPP schools that pretend to be poor) where resistance is the weakest and resources are in shortest supply.  And yes, it does involve computers and computer software and computerized assessments, with the added value of cutting the teaching staff by as much as half while potentially doubling class size.  More tech aides and fewer teachers.

The way it works is to have children taught in shifts, and while one shift has the attention of a flesh and blood teacher, the other shift of children is de-minded by an endless stream of digital worksheets handed out by an indefatigable bank of endlessly-cheerful computers.  In the example of the KIPP kindergarten (a scary prospect, indeed), children are plugged in for half their time in school.  Note, too, that the KIPP "school leader" claims a lack of funds as his rationale, even though KIPP, Inc. has a stash of corporate cash in the hundreds of millions an unlimited stream just for the asking.  The fact is that these most vulnerable children are guinea pigs in an unproven experiment intended to benefit corporate bottom lines, not children.  Note, too, that these children are particularly sensitive to the learned helplessness treatments that are applied during Kipp-notizing summer sessions to maintain total compliance, with or without supervision.
 Like so many things coming out of Washington these days, this seems to be rushing something through that sounds good, but has great potential for unintended consequences.  It attempts to push a business sector that should be able to market itself quite effectively without DC mandates. It shows the trap laid by establishing power bases (like DOEd) in Washington. They cannot resist the temptation to use their power and "make a difference."

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