Education Hackers: They’re Heeere


Here’s the basic rule of practice for reformers. When the truth is no longer is their favor, they resort to silencing and fear tactics to win their battle. After all, if you knew the truth, you might do something about it. Case in point: sometime over the weekend of March 29th-31st, during our Denver event, our United Opt Out website was hacked in such a wholesale fashion that every part of the website database was trashed,. Given that I need my nine year old to help me with my iPhone 6 you can imagine how much I understand about the world of hacking, but our tech savvy friends working on the problem have concluded that given the size and scope of the hacking job that “it is purely malicious…” The hacker crippled every single SQL table and left them unrepairable. The site is frozen more or less and inaccessible to administrate.

In spite of the headache this gives to us as the site administrators it does not deter us from our goals to take education back from the grips of federal and corporate interests, and to build a democratically-led effort for public education founded on human and civil rights for all children. When we started as a group three years ago, we had a simple goal in mind: Help parents opt their children out of high stakes standardized testing. As the political and educational landscapes became more rabid with harmful policies, bullying practices, and oppressive billionaire interests calling the shots, our movement has grown. We defined ourselves simply as “six pissed off radical educators with fifty dollars between us.” What we lacked in financial sponsorship, or political savvy, we made up for in knowledge and a passion for meaningful and sustainable education for all children. We still have little more than fifty dollars between us, but we are wiser and more pissed off than ever. Whomever hacked into our site is a fool if they think this little stunt deters us in any way. We eat adversity for lunch. (…we have no money or time for real food anyway). In fact, all headaches aside we find it par for the course. After all, we are fighting against education hackers every day.

This type of tacit seems only fitting for any person, organization or corporation involved with predatory-style education “reform”  given that their entire approach to privatizing public education (which appears to be the end goal looking at the way the puzzle pieces fit together) is to HACK THEIR WAY into public education. Hacking into someone’s database, computer or website is done invisibly. And with self-serving ill intent. The goal is not to be known, but to achieve certain ends which include gathering private information and/or dismantling the distribution of information from that source. Predatory reformers seem to be pulling from this playbook. Like a hacker, they snuck their way into public schools seemingly innocuous or completely unseen. Their strategies are intimdation, deception, and silencing dissent.

Take for example model legislation crafted by ALEC last fall called the Student Achievement Backpack Act, and Course Choice Act which discreetly and somewhere in the fine print inserts the language that:

No later than {insert date}, an authorized LEA user shall be able to access student data  in a Student Achievement Backpack, which shall include the data listed in Section 7 (A) (1) through (4) and the following data, or request the data be transferred from one LEA to another:  (1) section attendance; (2) the name of a student’s teacher for classes or courses the student takes;  (3) teacher qualifications for a student’s teacher, including years of experience, degree, license, and endorsement; (4) results of formative, interim, and summative computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code};  (5) detailed data demonstrating a student’s mastery of core standards and objectives as measured by computer adaptive assessments administered pursuant to {insert  applicable state code}; (6) a student’s writing sample written for an online writing assessment administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (7) student growth scores for {insert state} performance assessment; (8) a school’s grade assigned pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; (9) results of benchmark assessments of reading administered pursuant to {insert applicable state code}; and  (10) a student’s reading level at the end of grade 3.

The new authorized LEA’s include third party private companies who will be contracted to provide education delivery systems in public school classrooms in lieu of face to face learning with an actual teacher. Like the real hacking job to our website, the knowledge created and emanating from real places or moments of learning will be frozen or locked out.

The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider. This Act creates an authorization process for providers and identifies provider and course eligibility criteria

Let’s not forget how corporate interests and hedge fund companies have worm-holed their way in via new testing mandates, as well as the profit driven motives of organizations using Common Core as their point of entry. They are non profts sprung up to “help” schools manage new Common Core materials and processes. Sometimes their entry seems benign, like the new person you add to a member list, or the small mindless click to download something onto your computer-it seemed like such a nice download, or person…and they’ve been “pre- approved” by what we once thought of as trusted and credible sources like so-called research or education-based entities. For example, The Wall Street Journal “reported” a story about edu-tech companies involvement in school-based data collection, but it wasn’t as much “reporting” as it was free advertising for New Classrooms Innovation Partners trying to assuage the fears of communities that their involvement in data collection was “safe”—like a “trusted” link on your computer. The report FAILS to mention that this company is funded by a host of ALEC-affiliated corporations with links to the creation of new testing mandates and Common Core, including Gates, Bezos, Carnegie, New Schools Venture, and Broad Foundation. They sneak in the front end and profit out the back end. Take a moment and read the bios of their board of directors while you’re at it.

Even the title of the WSJ article: “Big Data Enters the Classroom,” has hacker written all over it in my opinion. The report states, “The amount of data collected is expected to swell as more schools use apps and tablets that can collect information down to individual keystrokes, or even how long a student holds a mouse pointer above a certain answer.

One reason that education hackers are as successful as they have been thus far (beside the billions of dollars being pushed via Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Walton and others) is because the average teacher or parent doesn’t even know they’re there.  In the endless hours of Common Core training, how many teachers are made aware of the corporate interests that created Common Core, or the lobbying efforts of Pearson for new testing legislation?

At how many back-to-school nights are parents informed of who really wrote the new Common Core standards, or how much of their children’s private data will actually be collected and stored by companies such as inBloom? And if those parents and teachers knew they were there, they’d promptly want them out. Except that once they’ve gotten in it’s hard to track them and remove them. They’ve all snuck in like hackers, and once inside the metaphorical walls of public schools and every classroom in America, they will have behind the scenes control to redirect the system as they see fit.   And the average teacher, parent, student and community member will cease to have any control.

They are in fact a virus.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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