Archive for November, 2015



21st Century Education glossary: “While the term is widely used in education, it is not always defined consistently, which can lead to confusion and divergent interpretations. In addition, a number of related terms—including applied skills, cross-curricular skills, cross-disciplinary skills, interdisciplinary skills,transferable skills, transversal skills, noncognitive skills, and soft skills, among others.”

21st Century classrooms are digitized. Instruction and assessment are delivered by electronic platforms. Students will spend an increasing amount of hours working at computers and less time with peers and teachers in non computer based settings. The goals for learning are developed and delivered by private companies at the behest of global corporations looking to hone children to meet their own market driven needs. 21st Century learning morphs “competency-based education” into modular learning which will be delivered via privately managed online education companies who “reward” children with “badges”.


  1. Increased risks of obesity with increased seat time.
  2. Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  3. Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”

4. Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.

5. Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.

According to New York Times report: “Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.”

6. Data privacy = online platforms delivered to third party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed. See Knewton “data palooza” video for a frightening scenario.

7. Increases ADHD-like symptoms. New York Times reports: “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.”

8. Creates an adrenaline-driven mentality to learning (like an addiction).  Psychology Today reporter states, “As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties..”

Comment from an NPR post “A lot of school systems are rushing to put iPads into the hands of students individually, and I don’t think they’ve thought about the [social] cost,” she explains. “This study should be, and we want it to be, a wake-up call to schools. They have to make sure their students are getting enough face-to-face social interaction. That might mean reducing screen time.”



Read what others have to say about digitized learning and competency-based education here:

Comments from Sheila Ressenger on Competency Based Education-

“My take is that the PR for so-called proficiency based, personalized learning is riddled with code words that translate into outsourcing education to ed-tech vendors and “community partners,” marginalizing classroom teachers, holding students accountable to pre-determined, inappropriate standards (Common Core or Core-like), not allowing them to progress until they have achieved “mastery” of these inappropriate standards, feeding them game-like academic programs that foster zombie cognitive processing rather than real learning, and using extrinsic motivation like rewards and badges, all the while scooping up reams of sensitive data that will go who knows where and be used for who knows what.”

Posted comment by Ronee Groff on  Global Nightmare

In 1991 Douglas D. Noble published The Regime of Technology in Education where we were then and where we were going and he was screaming off the pages.

“Above all, high-tech corporate interest in education reform expects a school system that will utilize sophisticated performance measures and standards to sort students and to provide a reliable supply of such adaptable, flexible, loyal, mindful, expendable, “trainable” workers for the 21st Century. This, at bottom, underlies the corporate drive to retool human capital. :We in the personal computer industry,” notes Apple CEO John Sculley, also Chair of the National Center on Education and the Economy “are really in the behavior-changing industry. We have the challenge to create the tools that fundamentally are going to change the way people learn, the way they think, the way they communicate, the way they work!” such is the scope the hubris of the regime of technology in education, a legacy of military fantasy conjoined with the unbridled self-interest of corporate power.”

Add to the statement by Sir Michael Barber of Pearson that ‘-everything can be measured and therefore controlled.’ You have the makings of a coalition of power mongering, creed obsessed, and the ‘others’ who would come to survive and grow the octopus of what will be a one world initiative beyond the yearning for freedom and creative uniqueness inherent in each of us. We are racing to space for the few and leaving behind the great majority.

Personal commentary from Alison McDowell

“CBE has ties to higher ed and Community Colleges. Lumina and Nellie Mae who are funding lots of these initiatives are linked with student loans and finance. My sense is they are creating some mass market mid-range technical/industry-linked new higher ed model that relies largely on online learning and competencies. It would maybe bridge that gap between an associates degree and a 4-year liberal arts degree.  As those 4 year degrees become out of reach of most Americans, and the feds underwrite their workforce development plans for “free” community college, these new CBE folks will swoop in to “train” these associates for their jobs. And if you think about it, 20 years ago when companies invested in human resources, they would have done that training of new staff on the job. You hire someone who knows how to think and train them because you want them to stay for the long term.  The new model is to require up front certifications to even apply for jobs (because they are being screened by algorithms), so the people have to pay and finance some type of education to even have a shot at getting the “digital badge” they need in their online portfolio to get through the screeners. That means people are going to have to take on more debt, but the badges-based CBE model isn’t really education that is open and transferable, it is industry specific. It puts all the power in the hands of industry.”



Lying and twisting facts seems to be s staple among corporate reformers. The problem is that too few  of us can see it when it’s happening. Maryland citizens must become savvy to when they are being “marketed to” under the guise of “expertise”, and when our children are being sold up the river for corporate profit. Take this event for example.

There was a special event hosted on the campus of Towson University the evening of Nov 17th entitled: Signature Forum: Supporting Baltimore’s students from Pre-K through College

Only a year ago Towson held a similar event link which also featured Jason Botel. It also featured Wes Moore. However, this blog focuses specifically on Jason Botel and the issue of charter school policies in Maryland. Botel is a former longtime Baltimore-KIPP Executive Director, Executive Director of Maryland CAN, and school choice expert Read more about him here.

I attended the event with the goal of challenging Botel’s pro-charter message with a basic question:

How do you respond to the enormous body of research which documents how charter schools have 1) been fraught with financial and ethical fraud, 2) the egregious attrition rates cited at charter schools, including KIPP chains around the country, 3) the role charters play in increasing segregation (cited by the Civil Rights Project), and 4) the closure of successful public schools to make way for new charters?

I did not get a chance to ask my question. But for those who did not attend it here’s a recap of what you missed.

The event was sponsored by the “Innovation in Teacher and Leader Preparation Initiative” which receives its support from the St. John Foundation, UTeach, M and T Bank as well as notable individuals Vince Talbert, William Hackermann, and Peter Angelou.

Botel started by speaking on the concerns he had over the “lack of cultural competency” demonstrated by teachers in Baltimore City Schools. I am sure his stint in Teach for America qualifies him as an expert on this subject.

He emphasized the “problems with traditional public schools,” highlighting  the history of the “suppression of African Americans” via public schools, and the lack of “personalization” in schooling. He added we “have a different economy” and a “lack of access to opportunities for children in Baltimore.” He suggested that we need a “customized education” which “breaks the link between poverty and success rates.” He surmised that this is a “structural problem.”

So let’s decode his message:

Poverty doesn’t matter. A customized education means one which can be delivered via online corporate-run education systems. Rather than attending classes with actual human teachers, children living in poverty can be given online “competency based” education delivered by a “personalized” computer program which spits out a certificate or a badge upon completion. Yes. This shall certainly rectify generations of structural inequality and institutional racism.

Botel referenced the low test results for the PARCC tests in Maryland. He stated that while cities like Dallas and Chicago which have poverty rates that exceed those in Baltimore, their PARCC scores were higher in those places because… (wait for it) “they have more charter schools.” I’d like to see the research that provides proof of direct correlations between PARCC scores in those cities and the number of charter schools. I think the communities of Chicago would beg to differ. Yes, I am sure Botel was banking on those low PARCC scores to justify a major increase in charter schools for MD communities. Slam. Dunk.

Botel then twisted the data from a notable CREDO study. He conceded that the CREDO study evidenced that charter schools “don’t do any better”—hit the pause button

Mr. Botel… the actual wording of THAT CREDO report (2009) says that 37% of charter UNDER-PERFORM their public school counter-parts. Botel then switches, without noting he is referring to a DIFFERENT study (published in 2015), defending a finding in that study that says that, “urban charters are by- in- large successful.” Note this second CREDO study had a curious cast of “interests” which may have influenced their findings.

Botel then explained that we need a “fundamental change in central office,” suggesting that charter schools should have their OWN “charter boards for over-site and accountability.” Yes, nothing guarantees real “accountability” like having the same self-serving enterprises watch over their own accountability system. That should rectify the ever-growing number of charter school scandals and questionable practices.

Botel then reviewed the recent law suit being filed against Baltimore City schools over issues of the school funding formula. He contends that city charters want evidence that the monies they are receiving complies with the funding formula. I wanted to ask Mr. Botel if that funding formula takes into account the over 8 million dollars KIPP Baltimore claimed in assets in its tax return for 2013.  Yes, they must be cash starved, poor babies. He asked the audience, “Will this cause some charter schools to fail because funding is not sufficient?”

Gosh. I don’t know.

Does Mr. Botel care to acknowledge that we have starved public schools, especially in urban communities of color, into failure for decades? So, according to him, public schools fail because of a monopoly system, lack of innovation, and unionized teachers. But if charters fail it will be because THEY don’t get sufficient funding? Serious hypocrisy at play.

Botel warned that because of the lack of funding, many “high performing” charters might have to close! Yikes. I am wringing my hands in despair! Mr. Botel, how many high performing PUBLIC schools have been closed in order to make way for privately managed charter schools? What about schools like Langston Hughes? Was closing that school the “choice” of THAT neighborhood?

He doesn’t seem too concerned over the equity and justice and suppression of THOSE “black and brown urban children” and how closing THEIR school will destroy THEIR learning opportunities.

The moderator Dr. Nancy Grasmick  asks, “What are the key things we need to change in teacher preparation?” Botel responded we need “greater calibration between what teachers are learning and what kids need.” Mr. Botel, I wonder how you respond to the question, “Who decides exactly what it is that kids need?” Do they need equitable and fully funded public schools in every neighborhood that provides a rich meaningful curriculum, and a society willing to do serious self- reflection to eradicate systemic oppression?

No. According to people like Mr. Botel, they just need charter schools, rigorous standards, and open- badges. The latter will ensure they take their necessary role as the future workers as designed by the corporate moguls shaping current education policies in order to serve their own economic and ideological interests. After years of zero-tolerance obedience “training” at these charter schools these kids will be prepared to take their place in prisons..whoops…um, I meant…industry.

Finally, after one more leading question about whether or not charter schools are feasible beyond the Baltimore City lines, Botel responded that he sees charter school expansion “as an opportunity for students across the state of Maryland.”

You know who else sees charter school expansion as an opportunity? Two of the major sponsors of the evening’s event.

The Edward St. John Foundation and Vince Talbert a PayPal executive. Both of these moguls essentially pay for Dr. Grasmick’s position at Towson University. According to Mercedes Scheinder, “Apparently Grasmick is garnering additional philanthropic reformer money for her Towson revamp:

Edward St. John, a Baltimore developer and philanthropist, and Vince Talbert, a PayPal executive, have agreed to donate money for the overall program. St. John, a friend of Grasmick’s, is giving $300,000. [Emphasis added.]

Curious how the Edward St. John logo was so much more prominent than all the rest across the banner which ran on a large screen in the background during the entire event:

Scheinder adds that, “Vince Talbert, an active angel and promoter of Ed-Tech, reacted to the PG (Prince George’s) Board’s proposal (that the school system owns the work created by its teachers using school system resources) by focusing on the monopolistic nature of the K-12 industry. According to Vince, “this is just another case of the public school system putting up barriers to innovation to protect the status quo.” Vince continues, “public schools are the only industry I know where the supplier is a monopoly and the customer (payer) is a monopoly and they are the same entity.” As Vince rhetorically asks, “how do we expect our schools to improve when there is no mechanism to raise the bar?” As the students who attend and are supposed to benefit from our public school system investment, Vince concludes, “we need to demand that our elected officials break up these monopolies so that market forces will drive improvement.”

What else should we know about Mr. Talbert? He presented at the New Schools Venture Summit in 2011 at The Aspen Institute.

Meanwhile, real estate mogul Edward St. John donates to KIPP Schools, and Teach for America. In 2013, a new K-8th grade Frederick Classical Charter School in Frederick MD signed a lease with St. John Properties. According to Tom Neumark, school President, “It is clear that St. John understands and values the importance of creating this charter school to better serve the needs of the local community.” With the continuing onslaught of charter schools and education reform initiatives being pushed forward, it is likely that St John properties will be signing many more real estate contracts like this one.

The issue of corporate-style colonization of education is not an issue particular to Towson. It’s far more endemic than one institution. Edward St. John also funds a program called The Edward St. John Teaching and Learning Center at the University of Maryland. This new center will “be home to the Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the new Teaching and Learning Transformation Center.

What disturbs me more than reformers like Jason Botel, is that in an audience of maybe 150 people, no one seemed interested in challenging what was being said. Most of them will leave thinking that charters are the savior for MD children. Will Maryland educators and parents sit quietly by, being polite, while reformers like Botel receive a red carpet and a microphone? If we don’t start showing up and making some noise and speaking the truth at events like these, we will have to stop blaming reformers for being the self interested creatures they are, and start blaming ourselves for letting it happen.


If you’ve ever lived with small children then you know this feeling: You have just cleaned the house. All clutter is put way. Table tops and floors have no dirt or food. Clothes are folded. And then, they come home. Next thing you know there’s a trail of chocolate chips on the floor from the refrigerator into the TV room. The cabinets and drawers are vomiting out their contents; pencils, rubber bands, clothing, snacks, scissors. There’s mud and leaves all over the floor…. And you know that within a short period of time you’ll have to pick everything up all over again. Now, I’ve come to terms with this process. It comes with the territory. It’s never ending. At least until they move out.

But, now imagine having this feeling as an educator as it pertains to education policies.  It appears apparent to anyone who has worked in education for more than a few years that what we have before us is a never-ending avalanche of policies. Further, dedicated and committed teachers try their best to follow instructions.  They try to follow the latest round of “to-do” lists hurled upon them from above by “experts” and policy makers.

But there’s a catch.

We are naïve in believing that there will ever be an end to the policy demands, or that, once we finally get a grasp on the latest “thing” and have command of it, that we can get ever get “caught up.”  It’s an illusion (a deliberate one at that) that this next “thing”, whatever it is, will be the solution to our education woes. We are being sold an endless slew of promises– that all we need to do is “clean house” and the problems will be solved. But we must do our part…right?

However, the house of education, beset by a neoliberal agenda is designed to perpetually re-create new messes for us to “clean up.” What does this mean? “(A)t the heart of neoliberal ideology is the appreciation of the role of market in defining and ensuring (supposed) ‘human well-being’, where the state is more of a facilitator providing institutional supports in the form of ‘strong private property right, free markets, and free trade’ (Harvey, 2005, p. 2).

It’s a foolish notion to believe that if we “just do everything we are told” (compliance) then we will somehow come out the other end, having achieved anything. Before we are half way through (assuming we still have classrooms to go to after reformers are done with us), the next round of “fixes” in the name of “innovation” or “accountability” will be upon us. So we must stop believing that anything can be truly achieved by compliance.

The neoliberal narrative of “accountability” is about LABOR AND POWER. Even if there were 100% compliance across the board, the manufacturers of education policies would have to find flaws in whatever it is we accomplish in order to keep the machine running. So long as we are too busy being compliant in the name of “accountability” –meeting the needs of neoliberal profiteers, and not ours nor our children’s-we remain unable to direct our energies or attention toward the real problem and real solutions.

Think about it. Ever since 1983, when A Nation at Risk informed the United States that our education system was failing, and as such was a “threat to national security,” we have been in a race (to the top) to “fix” our educational “crisis.” How is it possible that after 30 years of hard core initiatives, billions of dollars, and immeasurable hours of labor and sweat, we are still no closer to solving the problems of this education “crisis” than we were 30 years ago? There are a few answers to this question. The first involves the notion of “crisis” to begin with. A neoliberal agenda necessitates a “manufactured crisis” (Berliner and Biddle, 1996) in order to accomplish its goals: profits and privatization.  The problem and the “solutions” to these problems are crafted by elite politicians and corporate moguls.  If the problems in education were solved, what would there be left to gain for them? Without a problem, there’s no solution to market and sell. If we solved the real crisis, we would dissolve the existing inequities upon which they depend. There will always be more messes to clean up. We are promised, “This new policy (or test, or curriculum, or innovation) is the solution to all our woes.” And it never is. It’s designed to be that way.

Peter Taubman describes it this way:  “It’s a remarkable sleight of hand. The best way we educators can address serious social, political, and economic problems is to comply with regulatory agencies and their mandated audit practices, subject ourselves to constant surveillance, render ourselves and our situations as quantifiable data, and surrender to normalizing discourses that drain (there’s that vampire metaphor again) our subjectivities.” (The Tie That Binds: Learning and Teaching in the New Educational Order, Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 4 (2), 150-160)

Secondly, we might consider that the crisis, as defined by a neoliberal agenda, is not the real problem at all– and so the solutions it forces (sells or markets) on unsuspecting public cannot ever remediate the true problems which lie outside the framework of their narrative. In other words, the crisis is not in failing teachers but with issues of poverty, or systemic injustices. The solutions are not better or innovative curriculum and assessments, nor with catchy slogans like competency-based education and Universal Design for Learning. This is a classic bait and switch.  Notice who writes and promotes the framing of the “crisis” narrative—it’s always think tanks and non-profits funded by global billionaire corporations. Those who craft the “frame,” craft the “blame”—and blame always lies with those with the least power. We have never really been able to “fix” what’s wrong in education because we are fixing the wrong things and the wrong people.  A real transformation would require that the ELITE change. It would require a dramatic re-arranging of our existing racist, classist, and sexist system from which they benefit.

The narrative of “crisis” and “reform” always fixates on their needs—global companies are not getting the workers they want. Students are not coming out with the skills corporations need. In primary sources dating back to the late 1970’s (notably those published by UNESCO) evidence makes it clear that the global corporate and political community have spent 30 or more years focused on the needs of “the global economy” (code for corporate interests), and demanding that reforms tend to their needs. Teachers, students, parents and communities must follow an agenda of compliance and allegiance to the ideological, economic, or social demands of the powerful—never their own. In fact, one white paper in 1995 entitled Education Policy Planning Process: An Applied Framework,   which focused on education reforms in Jordan, Peru, Thailand and Burkina Faso identified “parents, teachers, communities and unions as OBSTACLES” to their desired reforms. If you read these primary documents (which I do), whether crafted by UNESCO, World Bank, McKinsey and Co, American Legislative Exchange Council, or the Business Roundtable, the policies are always constructed by, and in collaboration with, major corporate moguls such as Microsoft (Bill Gates), IBM (Lou Gerstner), Pearson (Sir Michael Barber), the Koch Brothers, and other global private economic interests.

The development of the neoliberal agenda, which frames our shared perceptions of labor and power and our “roles” within the framework, are global and corporate:

Since the early 1980s UNESCO has supported the neoliberal image of culture as a politically neutral resource that can be applied to capitalist development goals. Key UNESCO programs … promote vibrant urban markets for cultural products and workers first and foremost. It was soon after the new postcolonial nations entered the organization and started trying to arrive at enforceable regulations to support their own autochthonous cultural production and definitions of modernization. The developed-world member nations, which benefited from these markets being poorly served by local producers, and from having the power to control how the developing world appeared in the media, began to insist on the expansion of unregulated free markets for culture. …(a) cultural history of neoliberalism should recognize how its free-market rhetoric silenced – and was expressly designed to silence – those who favored regulating cultural markets in order to rectify imbalances and inequities produced by colonialism.

Notice how blame in the “crisis” narrative always points downward, while power and profit always point upward. There’s a labor caste system in this well-oiled machine: There are the elite who create the frame of reality which constructs the problem (it’s always the labor, parents or children at fault). They create layers of middle-management or technocrats (Boards of Ed, superintendents, university deans, etc) whose job it is to ensure that we (the “human capital) are “accountable”. The neoliberal framework convinces these technocrats that their job is very important. The technocrats are deluded into thinking: a) that they really have the power to solve these problems, and b) that it is the worker (teacher, student or parent) that needs to be fixed or somehow changed (fixed, i.e. merit pay will motivate teachers, or, changed, i.e. selling us new online edu-tech solutions, which require we accept changes in educational delivery systems). These technocrats are really under the delusion that they too are powerful and can “move up” just like their elite masters. As the vampire Peina in the film The Addiction tells Kathleen, another (weaker and newer) vampire:

Peina: I’m not like you. You’re nothing. That’s something you ought not to forget. You’re not a person. You’re nothing! … Whatever good is in you, I will use for my own sustenance. And for you?  You’ll feel as though you haven’t eaten in weeks.”

In other words, we will never gain anything for ourselves by being complicit in the existing reform narrative. They will use us, and we will be left feeling hungrier and more drained than ever. The system of neoliberalism is predicated on a narrative of “accountability” which makes those with the least power and resources accountable to the machine. You are expected to get an education despite the crumbling educational infrastructure (no air conditioning or nurses or libraries-only more tests). You are expected to get a job while they outsource those same jobs to other countries (taking advantage of slave labor of other disempowered nations). You are supposed to be a law abiding citizen while they craft zero tolerance laws designed to make sure you wind up in prison. And then, you are expected to be “reformed” and thrust back into society despite legal red tape that makes it nearly impossible for you to get a job, find housing, or achieve any level of stability. Our compliance to the existing system will never produce what it promises (for us). At what point are we ready to accept this and find the courage to reject compliance and embrace our own power? And what will happen if we don’t?

Reclaim the Frame

So why…WHY…do we keep fooling ourselves that being compliant will actually help our children, our communities, or our profession? Testing refusal is not just about refusing what is wrong and harmful. We do not refuse and then sit around “waiting for Godot.”  We refuse so that we can create space and energy to focus on real solutions; solutions which we can never manifest so long as we allow them to send us scrambling about, exhausting ourselves, believing that there will ever be a happy ending to the neoliberal fairy tale. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s a horror show– and we are the fools rushing into the dark woods to see what the noise is.  It’s nearly impossible to create solutions while you are still engaging actively with the problem. How can change be possible while continuing to embrace the obstacles to that change? We have to tell corporate reformers (in all their many guises) to “GO AWAY.” As Casanova says to Kathleen in The Addiction,“Tell me to go away. Say it like you mean it.”  Instead, Kathleen pleads and whimpers. Casanova bites her. And as she walks away, Casanova calls her a “collaborator”- because Kathleen complied rather than fighting back.

Without active REFUSAL we become collaborators of our own demise.