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Monday, June 11, 2012

Education Venture Capitalists Want Government Money but not Government Mandates....

...however, if you dance with the Devil, you pay the Devil his due.

Venture capitalists are in the business of making money and one area to funnel capital is into charter schools.  Charter start ups are partially funded by federal government money (aka known as taxpayer funding) so there is no true entrepreneurial risk.  They primarily operate as traditional public schools because of the Race to the Top mandates, so true innovation in education content can't occur.  However, teacher unions will be reduced and (according to them and school choice proponents) public education will be saved.

Apparently the venture capitalists aren't liking the Race to the Top "competition" open to individual school districts because of the additional mandates set by Arne Duncan.  They are fighting for that power to create "innovation" as opposed to the mandates from the DOEd. From Education News:

When U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opened the Race to the Top competition to individual school districts two weeks ago, he said he wanted to spur innovation “at the classroom level and the all-important relationship among teachers and students.” Now, a coalition of 16 education startups and policy organizations, herded by the nonprofit NewSchools Venture Fund, are saying the competition gets innovation wrong. They’re planning to send Duncan a letter Friday.

“We … enthusiastically offer our support for the latest Race to the Top-District Competition that prioritizes personalized learning,” the letter begins. “We worry that the competition as currently conceived may not maximize return on our $400 million federal investment.”
...but what's ironic is the expansion of their ventures into education wouldn't be possible without the Race to the Top mandates.  Now that they have entered into the education realm (with taxpayer funding), they now want to dictate how schools and teachers teach and are assessed.

The coalition wants to modify the Race to the Top competition by creating a “toolbox” that would allow schools to try out various technological tools, provided by educational developers, to reach student performance goals. The toolbox would be made available on an open data platform to schools and teachers.

 After the project period ended, the developers of the most effective tools would receive more money.

The coalition suggests this round could lead to more useful classroom improvements if it gave extra points to districts that partner with teacher training programs and that work with nonprofit organizations “to implement and scale personalized learning solutions.”

“This is big investment in a very nascent field,” said Benjamin Riley, the group’s policy director, referring to Race to the Top’s funding. “There’s an awful lot being asked from school districts. We want to give every opportunity for partnership.”
They also want to change the application process. According to the letter, the process requires applicants to set forth personalized learning plans, which can be stifling and run “the risk of creating another layer of bureaucracy.” Riley said the current process encourages the designing of personalized learning “from the top down” as opposed to “the way we innovate in Silicon Valley.”

Venture capitalists believe true innovation begins at the bottom level and works its way up.  That is in opposition to the RTTT model and mandates.  

NewSchools Venture Fund, a San Francisco-based group co-founded by venture capitalist John Doerr — and later supported by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings — describes itself as a “nonprofit venture philanthropy firm.” It helps investors find worthy educational entrepreneurs to support, such as charter schools like KIPP. In more recent years, the group has funded technology-based products, such as Khan Academy and ClassDojo, two software applications that help teachers manage classrooms. The organization invested $7.1 million in the spring of 2012 and $2.47 million the previous winter.

The group has close ties to the Education Department: In 2009, Duncan scooped up NewSchools Venture Fund’s chief operating officer, Joanne Weiss, to become a senior adviser for Race to the Top. She’s now his chief of staff.

Venture capitalists like John Doerr (St. Louis born) want to use the mandates to be able to use taxpayer money to start and maintain their ventures but now want the government to back off so they can run like a private school...of course, using the same taxpayer money for the "educational tools provided by educational developers".  They want to be able to use your money to pay for their educational tools they believe would work for students (and channel that money to their educational choice of companies) without governmental dictates on how this should happen.   They want to dictate to Arne Duncan what tools and assessments to use.

They want to operate like a private school with taxpayer money and drive assessment data.  They want their tools (paid for by taxpayer money) to be provided to public schools to assess teachers and student achievement.  They want to control public education, even in the schools they don't manage.   Remember the quote from John Riley (above): “There’s an awful lot being asked from school districts. We want to give every opportunity for partnership.”  Do you think that "opportunity" will be free to public school districts?

Do these venture capitalists understand as many taxpayers do, that Race to the Top is actually a race to the bottom and doomed to fail?  Of course they do.   These venture capitalists are concerned about not "maximizing the return on our $400 million federal investment".  They want to be able to make the money in the venture.  They can't make the amount of private money they want to when the decisions on what tools are used are controlled by the government.

The investors are worried about their return.  Where is the concern about the taxpayer investment into a failed policy? Where is the concern of the politicians that the private individuals and groups making money from the charters (while using our money to do so) are driving what is expected in public education?  Maybe there is no concern from them because privatization of public education is seen as the panacea to educational failure.

These Silicon Vally "entrepreneurs" want it all.  Do you think they'll get a waiver to implement their plans and programs from Duncan?  A word of caution to the Silicon crowd: the waivers are usually worse than the original mandates.  These entrepreneurs are in the governmental bureaucracy dance, whether they like it or not.  Governmental mandates and innovation don't mix well. 

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