This post is a bloggers conversation with Baltimore Sun Op Ed authors Boyd and Weber (who serve as guest bloggers here, their words in italics, mine in bold)
Boyd and Weber: In a recent Op-Ed in the Baltimore Sun, “An inextricable bond between education, business,” January 15, 2016, Dr. Nancy Grasmick concludes that “[o]ur goal should be for the education community to work hand-in-hand with businesses to deliver “personalized” learning opportunities.”
Cynthia Boyd and Leslie Weber wrote a letter to the editor in response where they expressed “dismay [that] the relationship between business and the public schools is lauded without a single mention of the policies and ethics that must underlie such “conversations” and “bonds.”
They write “Education technology is big business; with the ed-tech market totaling more than $8 billion in 2012-2013 and investors flocking to the K-12 market, according to a recent article in the Atlantic.”
Bloggers note: One can see the trajectory of the education technology industry beginning several decades ago with the origins of the common core (noted in a paper by UNESCO, 1984) which foretold of a long-range plan in which a common set of standards and outcomes-driven policies could become the means for outsourcing our public schools to the privately owned, profit-driven technology industry. For the full history of the partnerships between global entrepreneurialship, technology and Common Core standards read here.
The foremost supporters and funders in the mid 1990’s of then emergent Common Core were the technology companies (think IBM, then run by Lou Gertsner, who later would become the co-founder of Achieve, the same non-profit that helped create Common Core). For example (the full history is far too long to record in one blog):
The Business Roundtable (a member of ALEC) notes: “Recommendation: Create national standards for portable, ‘stackable’ credentials for certificates, apprenticeships and pathways for earning credit at two- and four-year programs.”
According to a promotional flyer created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:
“Education leaders have long talked about setting rigorous standards and allowing students more or less time as needed to demonstrate mastery of subjects and skills. This has been more a promise than a reality, but we believe it’s possible with the convergence of the Common Core State Standards, the work on new standards-based assessments, the development of new data systems, and the rapid growth of technology-enabled learning experiences.”
But let’s get back to the main story here … which is about Baltimore County.
From the Letter to the Editor by Boyd and Weber: “Ms. Grasmick argues that the use of ‘computers, the Internet and social media’ should be at the forefront of education. Technology as a learning tool certainly has its place, but the positive and negative consequences of ‘using a wide array of technology to deliver academic content’ have yet to be thoroughly researched, both in terms of educational and even health outcomes. The costs of such programs should also be considered. For example, Baltimore County Public Schools is spending over $270 million on tablet-style computers and personalized learning, and the district is planning to spend $40 million on classroom projectors. The opportunity costs (a concept any supporter of business should understand) here are considerable; imagine what such money could buy in terms of smaller class sizes and safer school buildings.”
Bloggers note: It’s important to examine motive, or conflict of interests, possibly at play here as well. Dr. Grasmick’s position at TU is funded by private philanthropists, as Mercedes Scheinder reports, notably: “Edward St. John, a Baltimore developer and philanthropist, and Vince Talbert, a PayPal executive” who “have agreed to donate money for the overall program. St. John, a friend of Grasmick’s, is giving $300,000. [Emphasis added.]. 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 … Talbert concludes, ‘we need to demand that our elected officials break up these monopolies so that market forces will drive improvement.’ [Emphasis added.]”
I also noted in a Nov 2015 blog that the “Innovation in Teacher and Leader Preparation Initiative” at Towson University receives support from the St. John Foundation, and Vince Talbert. In that November post I also asked:
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. ”
Is Dr. Grasmick’s paid-for position (and subsequently her Baltimore Sun article) an opportunity for free market privatizers (interested in profiting from education reform) to capitalize on creating a spokesperson whose university position would create the illusion of legitimacy for their agenda?
Back to the Letter to the Editor.
Boyd and Weber: “Within the Baltimore County Public Schools system, the STAT (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) initiative is now pressing ahead with a 1-to-1 computer environment in elementary classrooms, with a focus on online educational programs and ‘personalized learning’ to achieve the goals of which Ms. Grasmick writes. School administrators, whose official role is to educate 110,000 children, have been participating in speaking engagements, technology tradeshows, and even advisory committees that connect them closely with the very same companies contracting with their schools. They have received awards from technology organizations backed by those same technology companies. The annual BCPS State of the Schools program is also sponsored by companies with a financial interest in selling to the system; this includes the supplier of computers for the 1-to-1 program. Are we ‘hand-in-hand with business to deliver ‘personalized’ learning opportunities’ or have we already crossed directly into conflict of interest?’”
Bloggers note: Personalized learning is code for computer-based instruction. With the recent push toward Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) running roughshod over meaningful instruction and exhausting teachers with a technocratic tsunami, the gateway has been opened for instruction to be delivered more easily by computers. SLO’s are the gateway to competency based education which was always designed with the purpose of creating online learning environments (replacing classrooms and teachers). In the words of Vander Ark (proponent of online education outsourcing and former Gates Foundation executive) “Competency-based education has been part of Achieve’s strategic plan for a few years…states and national organizations that have made this topic a priority: Nellie Mae Education Foundation, iNACOL, Digital Learning Now, CCSSO and NGA.
The Letter to the Editor authors note the ethical conundrum here:
Boyd and Weber: “Ethical boundaries are necessary in leadership, in both education and business, to maintain both objectivity and clarity of purpose. Breaking down such essential barriers by blurring the lines between the needs of the market and the purpose of education will shortchange our children.”
Bloggers note: In other words, like in the film The Big Short, the private philanthropic industries, with policy-makers in their back pockets, are committing education fraud. Right under our noses our schools are being slowly dismantled, our teachers and genuine instruction replaced with “screen time” and meaningful assessments replaced with “competency tests” and “badges” (all of which profit the corporations who sold them to us). The marketers of the new “21st century” and “personalized learning” rely on spokespeople to perform in their advertisements, published in newspapers, which pass as policy.
In the film The Big Short the narrator tells the audience that the financial crisis happened while “none of us were paying attention” (except for the few outliers who no one believed). The same could be said for the authors of this Op Ed (Boyd and Weber) and few others of us around the nation who see the great swindle underway. Theirs is a wake-up call for BCPS parents and teachers. Will we learn from our past mistakes? Can we wake up and pay more attention this time? Or will public schools be sold out?
Here are some links worth reviewing relevant to the Letter to the Editor.
Scroll to the bottom for a list of some of the funders of the survey this year.
Dr. Cynthia Boyd is a parent of multiple children in Baltimore County Public Schools, and a physician.
Leslie Weber was a parent of children in Baltimore County Public Schools for 16 years, is a resident of Baltimore County, and is a longtime education advocate.