Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Global Agenda for Monetizing Education

In today's USNews, education historian and activist Diane Ravitch talks about the worldwide movement to buy and sell education, to privatize it, to attack "the very concept of public education."

You don't have to look hard to find some of the folks who are heavily invested in driving what some call the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Take for instance this white paper presented to the World Economic Forum-- "Unleashing Greatness: Nine Plays To Spark Innovation in Education"  (and briefly covered in Ravitch's blog)

The paper is almost as interesting or who's behind it as for what's in it-- but I'm going to look at what's in it first. Then we'll take a look at the GERMy minds that created this monstrosity.

The Nine Big Plays

It makes sense that the Global Agenda for Monetizing Education (GAME) would talk about the kind of "plays" needed to win. These guys narrowed the list down to nine.

The nine big plays come courtesy of Michael Barber, the chief of Pearson, and Joel Klein, previously the reformster-in-chief of education in New York City and, well, he's logged many fine achievements, such as awarding a multi-million dollar contract to News Corp for a big edu-data-crunching program called ARIS just before he left New York schools to go work for News Corp, shortly before NYC schools scrapped ARIS because it was junk. Klein also ran Amplify, Rupert Murdoch's big shot at making some big edu-bucks. Amplify lost about half a billion-with-a-B dollars before Murdoch just sold it off. Now on this paper, Klein lists his employment as Chief Policy and Strategy Officer, Oscar Insurance.

You will not find two more ardent supporters of privatization, not just of education itself, but of education as a tool for getting Big Data's hands on All the Data about All the Humans. So what are their nine great "plays"?

1. Provide a compelling vision for the future. 

A compelling vision can align internal and external stakeholders around the need for change.

External stakeholders? I am stumped about what an external stakeholder in education would be, unless it's an investor from outside the community. The vision should also get everyone on board with what changes "should come," which is a trademark Barberism-- we know what your community needs, so just let us do it to you, because we are lifting up the white man's burden.

Each play has some illustrative case studies, and this point includes New Orleans, so I guess the point is that you need to have a compelling vision, whether you can actually deliver it or not.

2. Set ambitious goals that force innovation.

I'm inclined to paraphrase that as "set a goal so big that the locals will have to hire outside people to accomplish it." But also, set small specific goals and "demonstrate to educators and administrators how they can contribute to the goals." In other words, let the locals know what they can do to help out the people who have now taken over control and ownership of the local school system. In other words, let them know what their place is in the new order of things (spoiler alert: it is down in the cheap seats with the rest of the hired help).

The exemplar here is Chile, a Milton Friedman paradise where teachers are chattel and market-driven schools have solidly cemented social and economic divisions between classes.

3. Create choice and competition.

Choice and competition can create pressure for schools to perform better.

Can they? Because there's no evidence anywhere that they do, and even this write-up cautions that there are some possible pitfalls. Vouchers and choice work great for privatizers looking to make a buck in the education biz. However, choice works poorly for teachers, schools, communities, students, parents, taxpayers, and anyone else who isn't already rich.

Case studies here include New York City and the completely unfounded claim that NYC charters-- well, actually what it says is that students "served by charter schools outperform their peers" which is true in the sense that NYC charters prefer and select to serve the higher performing students. But that proves nothing about choice or competition. The other case study is, I kid you not, a Pearson investment fund that has done pretty well with choice markets. So, yes, my point-- choice is great if you're trying to make money.

4. Pick many winners.

The advice here is again aimed at investors-- when choice opens up, invest in many players so that you're sure to get a good return.

Of course, picking winners also means picking losers. The report cites Race to the Top as a good example, and it makes me realize that RTTT did break with NCLB in one important way-- while NCLB insisted that all students and schools become winners (through force of will or coercion or magic beans), RTTT set out to very deliberately label a bunch of students, teachers, schools, districts and states as losers. So, yay.

5. Benchmark and track progress.

The school leader (because our model here is schools run by visionary powerful CEOs) needs to have all that data so he can keep everyone on track. This data will also be useful for the civilians, and it should include comparable data that we can weigh against other schools, states, nations, and planets. One size fits all education is super because it's the easiest kind to create spreadsheets for.

6. Evaluate and share the performance of new innovations.

Except when we're competing as a way of improving? This is always the part I find mysterious about these free market fans-- the competition game is great unless I am winning, in which case people should compete for my favor, but I should not have to compete with anyone else. Bring me your great programs as tribute, and I will reward you by giving those techniques to the people you must compete against. Is there any corporate or political structure anywhere in all of human history that actually works that way?

7. Combine greater accountability and autonomy.

Another piece of thick-sliced baloney. We are great at giving charters autonomy, but we have been very insistent that they not be accountable to anyone. Their finances are to be kept secret, their education programs proprietary secrets, and their leadership should never actually have to answer directly to taxpayer and voters.

No, accountability here means that the service provider should be accountable to the corporate bosses who sweep up the proceeds from the business. Accountable to parents and students and taxpayers? That's crazy talk. They are going to cite a study by the Boston Foundation, a group set up expressly to help pry schools away from elected school boards so that visionary CEOs can have the freedom to do what they will and never have to answer to any of the little people.

8. Invest and empower agents of change.

Get your people in positions where they can make sure that the rules and the enforcement of the rules go your way. Spend whatever it takes to do that.

9. Reward successes (and productive failures).

The unstated but very important rest of this sentence is "and nobody else. And make sure that you are the one who defines success." Again, there's no proof that merit pay works, but it works great for the people who are doing the paying, because it's cheap. So let's keep doing it.

So who are these guys?

Barber and Klein would be enough of a team all by themselves. But they're not on their own here.

The parent group is the World Economic Forum, often referred to by its annual meeting location at Davos, Switzerland. The organization was found in 1971 and launched by inviting almost 450 corporate heads to come together and figure out how they would manage the world.

To better manage the world, the WEF has what it calls Global Agenda Councils.

The Global Agenda Councils are a network of invitation-only groups that study the most pressing issues facing the world. Each council is made up of 15-20 experts, who come together to provide interdisciplinary thinking, stimulate dialogue, shape agendas and drive initiatives. Council Members meet annually at the Summit on the Global Agenda, the world’s largest brainstorming event, which is hosted in partnership with the government of the United Arab Emirates.

So who are the invitation-only experts of the Global Agenda Council on Education? Well Barber is the chair, and Klein the vice-chair.

Omar K. Alghanim, Chief Executive Officer, Alghanim Industries A multi-billion dollar international conglomerate based in Kuwait, with their fingers in literally hundreds of pies from Delco to Avis.
Claudia Costin, Senior Director, Global Education, The World Bank
Jamil F. Dandany, Director, Education and Academic Programmes, Saudi Aramco A Saudi oil company, "where energy is opportunity."
Jose Ferreira, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Knewton Inc. The arm of Pearson devoted to big time data mining.
Jiang Guohua, Associate Dean, Peking University Graduate School
Shiv V. Khemka, Vice-Chairman, SUN Group Investment and private equity management group, specializing in emerging markets like India and Russia
Brij Kothari, Director, PlanetRead
Paul Kruchoski, Policy Adviser, US Department of State Yes, the US has a rep on this council, but not from Education-- from State
Rolf Landua, Head, Education Group, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)
Mona Mourshed, Director, McKinsey & Company Consulting and investment experts, with a long history of pushing for privatization
Anne McElvoy Editor, Public Policy and Education, The Economist
John P. Puckett, Senior Partner and Managing Director, The Boston Consulting Group Like McKinsey, experts in explaining how to dismantle public education for fun and profit
Shiza Shahid, Co-Founder and Global Ambassador, Malala Fund
Andreas Schleicher, Head, Indicators and Analysis Division, OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
Gracia S. Ugut, Executive Director, Lippo Education Initiatives, Lippo Education Initiatives One of Indonesia's biggest conglomerates. Fun story. The founder-CEO James Riedy was for a time barred from traveling to the US because of illegal contributions to Bill Clinton's campaign.
Dino Varkey, Group Executive Director and Board Member, GEMS Education Worldwide private school chain based in Dubai.
Rebecca Winthrop, Senior Fellow and Director, The Brookings Institution

Well, that just looks like a swell bunch of folks to unilaterally determine what education should look like on a global scale. What a fine, respectable group of wolves to oversee the proper management of sheep.

WEF is a systems bunch of folks, who look to make systems that work for them:

The global, regional and industry challenges facing the world are the result of many “systems”  .... To enable our constituents to make sustained positive change, we work with them to understand and influence the entirety of the system that affects the challenges and opportunities they are trying to 

Yikes. When the world's governments and systems just don't work the way you want them to, there's really nothing else to do but override them with your own corporate super-government. The education GAME is just one small event in the Oligarchy Olympics. 

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