Saturday, November 16, 2019

Betsy DeVos Accuses FBI Of Ignorance, Blames Public Education (And More)

Never let it be said that Betsy DeVos won't go out of her way to blame US public education for all the ills of the country, real or imagined. In retrospect, it seems like an oversight that she hadn't had a "Kids These Days" moment, but now that omission has been corrected. The young FBI agents are ignorant, and public education is to blame. That's been the headline from this speech, but there's so much more to see.

DeVos was accepting another award, this time from the Independent Women's Forum, an organization founded to provide an alternative to feminism. They actually grew out of the collection of women who formed the "Women for Judge Thomas" committee, a group that got together to defend nominee Clarence Thomas from that scurrilous hussy, Anita Hill. They've been active in opposing various forms of feminism, though they do seem to support the Violence Against Women Act. One of the banners on their website announces that "recognizing progressive privilege is the first step to ending it."

Last week, at their annual awards gala, they handed out three awards. Larry Kudlow was a conservative tv talker picked by Trump to head the National Economic Council. Dana Milbank said Kudlow "may have been more wrong about the economy than anyone alive," but the IWF dubbed him a "Gentleman of Distinction." Kristy Swanson, who was in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, got a Resilience Award.

And Betsy DeVos was given the Women of Valor Award.

So, of course, she spoke.

She opened by referencing one of the founders of the IWF, Barbara Olson, a conservative tv talker who on September 11 was in the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. She was able to talk to her husband before impact, asking "What can I do?" It's a legitimately gut-wrenching story.

"So," said DeVos, "I accept this award on behalf of all women of action."

And here DeVos lays out her general operating philosophy:

We do what matters. We do what's right. And if someone puts something in our way, we find a way around it... or we just plough right through it.

And she illustrates a story with the tale of a mother of a child with Down syndrome who searched for options until she finally helped establish the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, which is a Ohio school voucher porogram, so "helped establish" is more like "served as a sympathetic spokesperson for."

But DeVos (or her speechwriting intern) knows this audience. "Nothing can stop a mom on a mission," she says, and after reflecting how "as a mom of four and a grandmother of eight" she knows this stuff, she observes that all moms want what's best for their children. "There really is no greater jobn, no greater vocation, no greater calling than to be a parent." This is IWF orthodoxy. Is there some dissonance here? Like, if the "something in our way" is the husband to whom you're supposed to submit, so you still plough right through? Is it okay to skip a few momming duties if you are busy running political operations in your state capital or jetting off to DC to take a high government position? Is it okay to skim over the parts of the Bible where Paul says, "Sit down and shut up, woman. Who let you get the crazy idea you could tell a man what to do?" (I'm paraphrasing.) To be clear-- I don't have a problem with any of these things. I'm just always curious about why women on the religious right don't, either.

But I digress. DeVos is now going to pivot to her favorite points. The state thinks it knows best! The schoolhouse will replace the home! Government "is generally not the solution to any problem. It's generally the problem. Government has never made anything better or cheaper, more effective or more efficient."

Oh, honey. "Never" is a big word, but I'm going to resist the urge to dig out items like building roads and ending slavery and instead focus in another direction. Because DeVos is sort of correct; there is little that government can do better than you-- if you are a mega-rich white person with plenty of political clout and a well-maintained mega-rich white person bubble. Food and transportation and education and even maintaining enough social order so that the peasants don't come burn down your house-- you can provide all of that better than the government can, particularly if you are only going to worry about providing it for yourself. If you think that government is the Little People's way of forcing their Betters to get them things they don't deserve and asking you to help pay, well, then, yes, you are going to sincerely view government as The Problem.

And DeVos sees government as most especially The Problem in education.

So, we are working to dismantle the government social engineering in education.

Her first specific example is Title IX, which has long been a bugaboo of IWF. Well, sort of the example. Because somehow she gets from Title IX to the campus issues related to handling sexual assaults in house, which can include hushing them up. But she doesn't like the process that some campuses use. Also, she finally gets around to what she really doesn't like-- too many things are being called harassment. Also, punishing speech protected by the First Amendment. Okay, at this point, I'm really not sure what the heck her point is. Is she trying to argue that grabbing a woman's butt or repeatedly propositioning her is protected speech? She complains about the University of Michigan's "Bias Response Team," which no longer exists, but the school still employs 76 diversity-related administrators who cost the taxpayers and students more than $10 million!

They focus on every kind of diversity except a diversity of ideas.

Is this starting to sound like one of those white folks complaining that not only does their company have to hire black people, but he can't even call the black people the N word without some kind of big flap happening? Because that's what it's sounding like. But DeVos goes on to complain about the colleges and universities that "have teams of speech bullies with the power to punish perpetrators of hurt feelings." Holy smokes. I mean, even Barack Obama has called out cancel culture, but DeVos is my age, so I know the world she grew up in, and she has to have been exposed to the idea that language has power and that power has been used to the detriment of plenty of folks.

But belt up, because I'm posting an Excessive Irony Alert:

Feelings are important, but learning isn't about feelings. It's about thinking. And it's a willingness to engage with any and all ideas—even ones with which you disagree or ones that aren't your own.

Says the woman who never, ever engages with ideas that she disagrees with. But there's a real reason for that, and it is on my list of Top Ten Reasons That Conservative Religious Folks Can Be Terrible In Government Office:

This Administration won't let students be silenced. We stand with their right to speak and with their right to learn truth.

Truth can be pursued, and it can be known. Students of all ages need the freedom to seek it.

There it is. If you believe that there is One Truth, then your idea of intellectual growth and development is shaped by that. Your ideas of how to govern are seriously shaped by the notion that the people you serve can be divided into two groupos: people who are right, and people who are wrong. At most, you might be generous enough to believe that the second group is "people who are on their way to being right but aren't there yet."

This is the secret of what some people try to call out as hypocrisy. It isn't, because the idea of hypocrisy is that there is one rule to follow and you ought to follow it with everybody, not just some people. But, see-- if you think the world can be divided into those who are right and those who are wrong, you can also believe that there are different rules for dealing with each.

But I digress, again.

DeVos is off next to the lotteries, and how sad it is that some parents enter charter school lotteries and don't win. Because then they get stuck in public schools that don't work.

She pulls out statistics, and apparently she paid attention to responses the last time she used these bogus figures because instead of saying that two out of three students can't read "at grade level," she says here two out of three can't read "like they should." That's both more and less accurate, because it doesn't pretend to mean anything. Who decides what "like they should" (or "as they should," if you prefer correct usage) even means? But then she tosses out "two out of three who do not know--let alone understand--our country's history like [sic] they should,"

55% of high school seniors have "what researchers call" a below basic knowledge of American history. She says they don't know what the Lincoln-Douglas debates were about, nor recognize a photo of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Heck, Betsy-- that's nothing! I know a high-placed government official who can't think of a single time the government accomplished anything well.

And this is where she dropped the headlining Kids These Days. FBI Director Wray supposedly told her that incoming FBI agents "are so young, they don't really know what happened on September 11, 2001." Kids these days!

So many questions. Did Wray blame it on their youth, which would make sense since a 21-year-old would have been two in 2001? But if so, what were schools supposed to do about that? And what does "don't really know what happened" even mean? How people felt and reacted? What the geopolitical causes were? Heck, I can think of highly placed government officials who seem unable to remember which nations were or were not involved in the attacks.

Now it's time to plug her program. It's time to fix America's "antiquated approach to education" with her Education Freedom Scholarship. She bills it here as the "limited government cure for what plagues American education."

It doesn't grow the Federal bureaucracy one tiny bit. It doesn't create a new Federal "Office of School Choice." It doesn't impose any new requirements on states or on families. It doesn't take a single dollar from public school students. It doesn't spend a single dollar of Federal money. And it doesn't entangle schools with Federal strings or stifling red tape.

In fact, it does every one of those things. Someone will have to screen and oversee the various schools and vendors that want to be recipients of these scholarships, as well as screening and overseeing the organizations that turn the contributions into scholarships. It will give families a different set of paperwork hoops to jump through to apply and stay in the program, and it will require states to follow what's happening with the federal-approved dollars. If all of this doesn't require a Federal Office of School Choice, it will require some batch of bureaucrats somewhere to fulfill the same function. All of that equals red tape for schools--and it had better, unless DeVos intends to have the feds stand by as Pure Aryan Academy starts accepting federal scholarship money.

The "not spending federal money" is a cheap dodge. It's not federal money, technically, because the feds never touch it. But if Education Freedom Bux are capped at $5 billion, that means it will leave a $5 billion hole in federal revenue, which means either something gets cut or more revenue is raised somewhere.

So absolutely everything she has said to sell Ed Freedom Bux is wrong, if not simply a lie.

Nor is it efficient or effective. As a commenter pointed out on line, you probably don't solve your historical illiteracy problem by funding schools that teach that humans and dinosaurs lived together shortly after the earth was created 5,000 years ago. Nor will it free up money that DeVos imagines is now soaked up by some "bureaucratic sponge" that stands between students and their education. If anything, an increase in the number of education providers means an increase in the number of administrators, and when administrators are trying to turn a profit for their edu-business (because it is education flavored businesses that DeVos imagines proliferating), they are about the spongiest thing out there.

But hey-- Jeanne Allen at least should be happy:

I like to picture kids with backpacks representing funding for their education following them wherever they go to learn.

That reminds me-- if you have a chance to see Backpacks Full of Cash, do so.

Education—how and where students learn—should be determined by students and their families. Because it's about them. It's about developing their abilities and pursuing their aspirations. It's about their futures, and it's ultimately about ours. 

Nope. Students and parents are absolutely stakeholders in education, but so are all the other citizens of this country-- and not "ultimately." DeVos is consistent-- education, like other government-provided amenities-- should be the individual's problem to solve. This is faux freedom-- the freedom to worry about your own education, your own health care, your own wages and working conditions, your freedom to manage your life without any help from anyone. Why does DeVos want your education to be "efficient"? Because then it can cost her less, because ideally she'd like to pay $0.00 to educate your children.

She wraps up with some blessings from God, and we're done. I've skipped a few points along the way, but you get the idea. Hard to believe this is the person responsible for overseeing US education.

Friday, November 15, 2019

OH: Outlawing Facts

The Ohio House of Representatives is ready to help students take a bold step forward into the post-fact world. Wednesday they passed (and when I say "they," I mean the solid vote-as-a-bloc GOP) HB 164.

It's called the "Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019" and it sets out to accomplish a few things:

It removes the limits on exercising expression of student religious beliefs. The old, struck-out language  said the board of education could limit said expression to lunch period or other noninstructional time. That's the piddly stuff.

Under the new language, "religious expression" (the stuff no longer limited to non-instructional time) includes prayer, gatherings (clubs, prayer groups, etc), distribution of written materials, and, well, anything religious, actually, including wearing religious gear or "expression of a religious viewpoint" (as long as it's not obscene or indecent or vulgar). Cue the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster and the local Satanic Temple; if a student offers a prayer to Satan in the middle of English class and some Christians in the class find that indecent and vulgar, can it be suppressed? Congratulations to the first batch of lawyers and judges that are going to have to sort this out. Double congratulations to whatever government body ends up being responsible for determining which religions are state-certified to be protected under this law.

Students hall have access to school facilities before, during and after school that school hours to the same extent that secular activities may do so. Place your bets now on how many schools will simply ban all before and after school activities in order to sidestep this.

And here's the one that's been drawing headlines (because it is the most spectacularly boneheaded part of this exercise). Let me quote the meat. No school officials shall 

prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student's work.

The bill's sponsor, Timothy Ginter, insists that the bill does not say what it says.

“Under House Bill 164, a Christian or Jewish student would not be able to say my religious texts teach me that the world is 6,000 years old, so I don't have to answer this question. They're still going to be tested in the class and they cannot ignore the class material,” said Ginter.

Ginter has held a variety of jobs, including machinist and marketing guy for an IT company, but for thirty-nine years, he's been an ordained minister.

There are two problems with his insistence that the bill doesn't mean what it says. First, courts often interpret laws based on what they say and not what some legislator claims they meant to say. Second, if Ginter's reading of his own bill is correct, the bill is simply unnecessary.

Critics have already stated that the bill says what it says. The ACLU's chief Ohio lobbyist told “Under HB 164, the answer is ‘no,’ as this legislation clearly states the instructor 'shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”

Students brought in to testify about the need mentioned things like not being included in the school yearbook. As a former yearbook adviser, I'll answer that one-- yearbooks generally stick to activities actually sponsored by the school (I'm betting the yearbook also did not include the 4-H clubs that students belong to). The rights of religious freedom are well-protected; these days, it seems legislators are far more concerned about protecting religious privilege.

This reduces local control, extends the reach of religions into school, and would absolutely end up with a court case abut whether or not Chris can be given a lower score for refusing to answer questions about evolution. Worse, a whole lot of school administrators would greet the adoption of this law by scouring their curriculum to look for everything that could possibly end up in court and figure out ways to avoid it. Mark my words-- some principal or superintendent is going to respond by saying, "Let's just not teach evolution at all, just to stay safe." Congratulations to the science-loving family that drags him into court anyway for cutting out critical units.

The many possible consequences of this bill are a kaleidoscope of awful. It's not just the refusal to do science homework. If the student comes from a religion that believes women should be subservient, can he refuse to have a female teacher, or exercise his religion by ignoring, talking over, and generally harassing female classmates. Is a literature student allowed to go far outside the text to read it through their own lens and then demand an A?

But mostly, how do we run a school in which the religious answer on homework or a test is "correct," even when it isn't? Who keeps the running list of which religious beliefs are to be considered correct, or will students just be free to make them up as they go, like God-sponsored Calvinball. And who will be able to provide oversight for the believers who follow anything not-Christian? If I take my oral exam in tongues, will that do? And the rest of the bill is no small thing, either. Exactly how far can my exercise of my religion go during instructional time? Silent prayers? Loud prayers? Bursting into song? Berating my gay classmates?

This is a dumb law. Declaring the religion must supercede facts is dumb, bad news for both religion and facts. This is a dumb law. It's the kind of law folks pass when they've spent too much time thinking about how to score points back home with the Jesusians and too little time thinking about how the law will actually play out. Here's hoping the Ohio senate smashes it flat.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

NAEP Board Gets DeVosian Additions

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos just announced six new appointees (and one returnee) to the National Assessment Governing Board. These are the folks that oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress aka NAEP aka the nation's report card aka that big standardized test that everyone tries to use to prove a point every year.

So who did we get?

Returnee Alberto Carvalho, plus Frank Edelblut, Eric Hanushek, Reginald McGregor, Martin West, Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, and Carey Wright.

It's the reformster-heavy kind of group you would expect from DeVos. If the Curmudgucation Institute had a graphics department, they would totally be working on some sort of Snow White and the  Seven Dwarfs art.

Hanushek is an economist specializing in linking children's earnings to teacher effectiveness (I mean, what else could it be, right?) and who just recently mused that teacher pay should be linked to measures of teacher effectiveness, even though we don't have any.

Whitehurst is, for me, a mixed bag. A Brookings guy (boo) who once did a pretty good job of trying to get DeVos to say non-dumb things about choice (yay), but whose name is also on a "report" that argues we should test more (boo) and that when it comes to teacher evaluation, administrator observations should be more like VAM (booooo).

West is a professor at Harvard's uber-reformy GSE and editor-in-chief of Education Next, the Harvard GSE publication that carries work from the Fordham-AEI-Bellwether axis of reformsterdom. He's a Massachusetts state ed board member, too.

Wright is the chief state school officer for Mississippi, a state that is pretty awful when it comes to education, but they got their NAEP scores to go up, so she's an expert now. She's a Broadie, too.

McGregor is a "business representative" whose day job is the manager of engineering employee development and STEM outreach in the Research & Technology Strategy Group at Rolls-Royce Corporation in Indianapolis and he serves on a school board.

Edelblut is the real clunker here. Businessman, venture capitalist, and one-term state representative, then he ran for governor, lost in the primary and threw his weght behind Chris Sununu, who rewarded him with the education commissioner job. Edelblut has no actual education background; he didn't even serve on an education committee during his single term, and his kids are homeschooled. As commissioner, he has backed all manner of choice and vouchers and has happily signed up for as many DeVosian Freedom Bucks as he can get.

Oh, and Carvalho is the superintendent in Miami-Dade. You know DeVos isn't going to let a Florida guy go.

I have no idea how much mischief this crew can actually wreak, but it's not a group that I'm excited about having close to any educational policy activity. Add it to your list of reasons for not taking NAEP results so very seriously.

Pearson In Your Pants

Pearson, the edu-product giant that hopes to eat the world, just announced a new product.

It's part of the overall Pearson vision-- and nobody does large-scale vision like Pearson. They see everything happening in a "digital ocean." They have ideas about an "assessment renaissance" so huge that it took me five posts to write about it (here's the shorter version). And just this summer, they announced their intention to go "digital first." That is, not exactly phasing out textbooks entirely, but focusing on the digital; instead of offering digitized versions of print textbooks, they'll now work the other way around. Fun fact: "62% of Pearson revenue now comes from digital or digitally enabled products and services that make lifelong education possible."

It's very much in tune with their website slogan, "Learning Without Limits." That seems like a big reach, but again, Pearson has a big vision. What other textbook publishing company would offer two categories on its K-12 page: Products & Services, and Thought Leadership.
So this week's announcement is in tune with all of that.

Meet Aida Calculus. It's an app you can put on your phone, only that makes it sound too pedestrian, like one more version of Candy Crush. Hey, Pearson! Can we have some overly florid martket-speak here?

Aida is a first in the education industry and an important milestone in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for learning. It's the only education app that uses multiple AI techniques from deep learning and reinforcement learning, customized for the purpose of tutoring students. The use of similar advanced AI algorithms is only seen in major consumer apps. Pearson is the first to apply that level of innovation in the education space.

Pearson CEO John Fallon boasts that "it's the first step we're making in redesigning education for the talent economy." It has thirty (30!!) "explainer videos." The Aida brand (which will be rolling out other edu-apps) takes its name from a combination of AI and Ada Lovelace (a 19th century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron and just a hell of an interesting woman).

It can look at your homework, check your answers, offer tips. It uses AI that is the most AI-y AI that ever AI-ed in a piece of educational software. There's nothing AI-ier.

You can use the app for free for the rest of 2019, and if you want to try it and let me know how swell it is, I'd be glad to hear about it. I am in no position to try out a calculus app (my math education ground to a tortured halt somewhere around late-stage trigonometry).

Like all personalized [sic} learning, Aida offers several other implied promises, like someday you won't need a university or K-12 school-- you can just use your education voucher credits to buy apps for your phone that will automatically store your credentials on the blockchain and we'll never need any kind of formal education ever again. So I'm not going to encourage that by downloading it.

Will Aida actually work. Because ed tech folks have a history of overpromising everything all the time, with predictions and promotions that attempt to portray their product as an inevitable next step in human development. Maybe this time the super-duper AI will really deliver. Or not.

Actually, there's another reason I'm not trying out the app. Phone apps are like all those dumb games on Facebook (only worse) because if you're not careful, you are giving them al sorts of access to all the information about you that is stored on that phone. I'm not prepared to trust the folks who believe that the future belongs to those who have taken control of harvesting from the data ocean
(and who have already been hacked). Phone apps are convenient, a world of useful software right there in your pocket, but I'm not quite ready to let Pearson get into my pants just yet.

FTC Cracks Down On Edu-Influencers

One of the small tricks that education marketers have developed is to enlist teachers as brand ambassadors. Teachers are, after all, the voices most often trusted by other teachers, so it's got to be a real boost if you can get Mrs. Teachwell to tout your product on Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest. And the beauty of it is that Mrs. Teachwell may come cheap-- some free product, box of pens, maybe even some actual money.

It's a fuzzy ethical line; do teachers who accept some sort of marketing deal compromise their professional judgment? On the other hand, if you find an edu-product you really like, isn't the fact that you can get a few goodies for plugging just sort of gravy? People are not exactly lined up to give teachers things. Still, it's a pain to be talking to someone who you think is just offering a professional insight and then it turns out they're a paid-ish endorser.

Now the FTC has decide to add its voice to the conversation. EdWeek talked to FTC attorney Michael Ostheimer to get some clarity on the new rule, and it doesn't seem very hard tp grasp.

The connection between an endorser and a brand—whether it’s swag or a trip or getting paid money—that should be disclosed to the endorser’s audience,” said Ostheimer.

Just noting the connection in your profile is not enough. Every time you post about how awesome the Gradeinator 3000 is, you must also post that you are a Gradeinator 3000 Ambassador.  The guidelines indicate that you must reveal any "financial, employment, personal, or family relationship." Financial is of course not limited to being handed cash. Some of the guidelines are sensible (the notification has to be plain and clear and in the same language as the rest of the communication) and some of them will be  challenging. Liking a tweet or post by Gradeinator 3000 counts as an endorsement, so somehow your "like" will have to include your relationship. If you're doing a live stream that involves the Gradeinator 3000, you need to include your relationship frequently, so that your audience can't possibly miss it. (If you just really like the Gradeinator 3000 and you say nice things about for free, then you're off the hook.)

The rules don't seem to include second-hand benefits. In other words, my school district sent me to Seattle for PLC training, which was a definite benefit, but that was m district's money, not the PLC people's. But what about my SMART board training? The district paid for it, but the company certified me as a trainer, and my trainer status let me earn more hours toward my continuing education requirements, which were necessary for me to keep my job. That trainer status could have allowed me to make some extra side bucks as well, but I didn't. So did I get a financial benefit from the SMART board people or not? Ditto for anyone who has a collection of official Microsoft certifications.

The companies are supposed to get their "ambassadors" or "endorsers" or "influencers" or "good buddies" up to speed on all this, but it seems fair to be skeptical about that happening. If you want a quick primer, there's a nifty video that I'll embed. In the meantime, if you are all excited about the swag you're going to score by pushing the Gradeinator 3000, you might want to pause a moment and study up.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

ICYMI: Happy Birthday, Mom Edition (11/10)

Today is my mother's birthday, so there will be cake involved later. She's a pretty swell lady, so it's a day worthy of cake. Also, if you look to the right, you'll see that I've revamped the blog list and added a section of websites of interest that aren't necessarily blogs. So you can poke through that if you like. In the meantime, here's some reading from last week.

What Betsy DeVos Got Wrong About Detroit Schools

From the Detroit Free Press. Spoiler alert: almost everything.

Cassellius Puts Moratorium Onn District's Standardized Tests  

Boston's superintendent has concluded that an endless battery of practice and pre-tests might not be a great idea, so she's pressing pause.

The Failure of Betsy DeVos and 30 Years of Corporate Influence on Public Education

Nancy Bailey offers a brief but worthwhile history lesson about the true origins of public school problems.

The Stories of Segregation  Academies as Told By The White Students Who Attended

A fascinating new project gives us a chance to see an ugly chapter of US education history a bit more clearly.

Are Teachers Allowed To Think for Themselves

Steven Singer wants to know why teachers are highly trained, yet widely ignored.

More Testing Is Not The Answer For NYC Students, But Smaller Classes Could Be

Liat Olenick in the Gotham Gazette offers the cray thought that New York City schools might want to try a solution for which there is actual evidence of effectiveness.

What Is "Quality" Music? Choosing the Best Materials for Our Students

Nancy Flanagan is writing about the recent flap over what to include or throw out in the music ed library, but her thoughts here are useful for literature teachers, too.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Digital Curriculum And Lesson Management Is A Crock

Ed Tech overpromises in so many areas, but one the great lies is that implementing This Year's Great New Program is going to save teachers just oodles of time. It never does. It particularly never does when it comes to the kind of software leviathan's used to manage curriculum and lesson plans. 

The sheer volume of data entry for these programs (enter the curriculum, unit plans, lesson plans, all cross-linked to the state standards) is enough to suck up hours of work on a weekly basis, particularly if your district has saddle you with one of the more user-unfriendly examples of the species.
"Well, yes, at first," is the standard reply. "But once you get everything entered, there's barely any work at all." Which is almost sort of true-ish if you teach mostly the same stuff in the same order on the same days from year to year. Sometimes you get the build-as-you-go argument-- if you enter all your units and all your lessons as you go this year, you'll just sort of build the curriculum organically. 

But it's still not true, because Ed Tech is just like regular old Tech when it comes to its love for the latest fashion. The tech world is not much interested in longevity and staying power: "Let's come up with a device with an effective life of at least a decade and power it with software that we'll never mess with but alway support," is not the rallying cry of any tech company. 

This blithe dismissal of the future is sometimes stunningly obtuse. Years ago, yearbook publishing companies were pushing digital yearbook supplements, extras that would carry lots of pictures and even videos stored on cool new CD-Roms. I'm sure that some schools went for this shiny deal, and now, over a decade later, those discs are useful as coasters or mini-frisbees, while old fashioned paper yearbooks from a century ago work just fine. 

But curriculum management software is arguably worse.

Consider the example of my old district. Our first attempt at digitizing the English department curriculum came over a decade ago. It involved some very user-unfriendly software in which we invested a mountain of person-hours until the administrator whose pet project it was left the district and the project was mothballed.

Around six or seven years ago, the district did a soft rollout of another package that was a little more sophisticated. Some of us were trained to be the vanguard, and then the rest of the staff was added. This was supposed to follow the cumulative model, with units and lessons building to a curriculum. An administrator decreed that all weekly lesson plans would be submitted on the software; their successor directed us not to worry about it too much. It was glitchy and unfriendly and some folks took the bet that nobody was actually paying attention, and stopped using it (some won the bet, and some lost). 

During one of the very first training sessions, somebody (I might have been the person) asked  just how long the district's commitment to this software would extend past the initial free-to-us grant-fueled period. 

The answer turns out to be, "Till right about now." There is, of course, no compatibility between software platforms, so my former colleagues are now apparently condemned to manually enter everything all over again. 

A fair question-- is all this accumulated and discarded hourage resulting in some beneficial curricular datafication?

Well. During the first round of digitizing, we had to do a lot of formating, phrasing and framing on our own, so I asked (I'm certain I was the asker on this one) what exactly was the purpose of the end product. Who was going to open this up, and once they opened it up, they would be using it to do...... what, exactly? I did not get an answer, though I did get one of those administrative Not A Team Player looks.

With Program #2, it was clear that one of the supposed benefits was a feature that allowed us to drag-and-drop individual state standards to each lesson, unit, etc, thereby allowing administrators to see what "gaps" we had in our standards alignment. This is a benefit if one assumes that A) having all the standards (created by a small group of edu-amateurs with no basis in research or evidence) represented makes curriculum better and B) that screen-weary teachers don't align their units by simply dragging and dropping every standard in sight just to get the job done. 

So, useful for administrators. But for teachers? For teachers, these programs are mostly a solution in search of a problem. Is it easier to write your lesson plan on a computer or a piece of paper? More importantly, is it easier to consult your lesson plan on a screen or on a piece of paper? 

Here's an underdiscussed ed tech issue-- paper makes for a really versatile display medium, while software usually forces you to look at your stuff the way the software manufacturer thinks you should. Lesson plans-- particularly if we're supposed to cross-check them with units and other weeks of instruction and state standards-- are a fairly complicated thing to display, particularly because it involves some information that the teacher may or may not need  at the moment. And then there's the issue of making on-the-spot alterations (e.g. didn't get all the way through exercise 12, so start with that tomorrow). It's entirely possible that there are teachers out there who start every lesson by pulling up the digital version of their lesson plan, but I haven't met them yet (you can speak up in the comments). Meanwhile, plenty of teachers still use paper to plan lessons, transcribe it into the software, and then use the paper to do the work (that, of course, in addition to teachers who don't use traditional lesson plans at all,  but that's another conversation).

There are other benefits to digitized curriculum. The more detailed standardized format makes it easier to, say, tell Mrs. McTeachalot to go pull up Mrs. Teachovik's planning for her Modern Numerology class and take it over.  If we could just get teachers to record their lesson planning in greater detail, we could more easily replace them, and if multiple teachers have the same course, you've got one centralized digitized record of exactly how they should all be teaching it. And if you use software that also allows for entering all the assessments, pretty soon you'll have your whole district recorded and transferable to any warm body. As an administrator, you can check up on what your teachers (say they) are doing. And did I mention you can check to make sure that all the standards are being covered. 

Yeah, you may have noticed that none of these benefits are actually benefits for teachers. I can think of one-- if the district decides to fund extra hours to get the data entry done, teachers have a chance to make some extra money doing work that will be thrown out in a few years. So much better than filling up binders that will gather dust on some shelf somewhere in the district office.