Saturday, November 1, 2014

KnowledgeWorks: Your Large, Friendly Sibling

Today we'll be looking at KnowledgeWorks, yet another of the vast web of reformy foundations funded by the Gates et al. Their aspirations are high, as you can spot from the various self-descriptions peppered about their materials.

KnowledgeWorks is a social enterprise focused on ensuring that every student experiences meaningful personalized learning that allows him or her to thrive in college, career and civic life. By offering a portfolio of innovative education approaches and advancing aligned policies, KnowledgeWorks seeks to activate and develop the capacity of communities and educators to build and sustain vibrant learning ecosystems that allow each student to thrive. Our portfolio includes EDWorks and StriveTogether.

These guys do not think small, like TNTP's simple goal of gutting the teaching profession. And you can experience the full not-smallness of their vision in their October 2014 report, "Improving Student Outcomes Through COLLECTIVE IMPACT." My typographic choices are meant to capture the report's cover, which hides the first four words in smaller typeface while the last two come out with gusto and largeness. Let's also note that the report is co-produced by a KnowledgeWorks subsidiary, StriveTogether (motto "Every child. Cradle to career.")

StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, works with communities nationwide to help them create a civic infrastructure that unites stakeholders around shared goals, measures and results in education, supporting the success of every child, cradle to career. Communities implementing the StriveTogether framework have seen dramatic improvements in kindergarten readiness, standardized test results, and college retention.

Well, that doesn't sound creepy at all. Strive is in Dallas, Boston, Seattle and Cincinnati, but we let's not get too sidetracked here. We'll turn to the report in a second, but first-- Where did these guys come from?

Some Brief History

KnowledgeWorks is not new to the game. They were founded in Ohio in 1998, with an initial mission of "increasing access" to educational opportunities mostly for poor students and poor working class adults. In 2004 they got on the Gates Small School gravy train and helped create some of those smaller high schools that were Gates' previous theory about how to fix education. In that initiative, they used another subsidiary, EDWorks, who "optimized the school improvement models behind this success by providing curriculum and instruction, supportive high school culture, aligned assessments and comprehensive student support."

In 2009, they switched nimbly to the new Gates gravy train-- college and career readiness; at that time, they also glommed up Napa Valley company New Tech Networks (at least one source says KnowdgeWorks founder built it), a group specializing in transforming schools through blah blah argle bargle my lord in heaven, but these guys soak all of their materials in some sort of corporate word soup that drowns a lot of sense.

The organization was founded by Chad P. Wick (age 72) who has been a CEO of various commercial banks in and around Cincinnati, served on some insurance company boards, and had his hand in Ohio politics one way or another. He seems well-connected to both important people and money, and that has dovetailed nicely with a philanthropic (in the modern sense) career. Wick also co-founded MAYWIC Select Investments, an investment group that bases a lot of its work on "deep relationships" and includes in its portfolio Abe's Market, goldieblox, and One Hope. Over the past several years, Wick has transitioned out of running KnowledgeWorks and into running ACT (yes, the test people).

So that's your short, simple intro to KnowledgeWorks. I've also read their creepy, creepy report so that you don't have to.

Collective Impact-- What Is That?

[Insert standard introduction about how US education is a terrible mess blah blah test scores argle bargle hodgepodge of standards.] Is it possible that these guys know of a solution to all that educational skyfall?

A promising approach to education reform has emerged in more than 100 communities across the country where partnerships of cross-sector leaders are using evidence based strategies and existing resources to improve outcomes for students. This approach, called collective impact, replaces competing agendas, siloed funding streams, and duplicative programs with a shared vision for education reform. 

I'd better explain before we go any further that I don't think of myself as an ideologue, and I don't automatically experiencing jerking of the knee regarding any political systems. So when I comment that this sounds kind of like a call for central planning of the collective, I'm not so much saying, "You mean that evil Communism that come straight from Satan." I'm more saying, "Oh, that central government planning model that keeps failing in almost every place it's attempted."

Well, these guys would like the "community partners" to come together in "an accountable way" (which always makes me ask-- accountable to whom) to implement these four super-swell ideas:

1) Shared community vision. Specifically, a vision for each child's life from "early learning" through entering the workforce.The sharing part means, among other things, no calling out partners in public. Let's just keep disagreements in house, shall we. Public disagreement is so confusing for the public. We want to keep everyone on exactly the same page.

2) Evidence based decision making. "Integrate professional expertise and data" to decide how the community is going to use its resources to "improve student outcomes." We should share data, a lot, and disagregated, too. Just hoover up that data and hand it to anybody in the community so that everybody, from the boss of the widget factory to the boss of the slumgullion factory can have better tell educators what they need to be fixing.

3) Collaborative action. Cross-section systems for so that " networks of appropriate cross-sector practitioners use data to continually identify, adopt and scale practices that improve student outcomes." Also, little focused action groups can Come Together to Do Stuff.

4) Investment & Sustainability. "Demonstrate broad community ownership for building civic infrastructure through committed resources to sustain the work of the partners and improve student outcomes."  Infrastructure's meaning is unclear, although the report proudly notes that fifty communities have joined the StriveTogether Cradle to Career network. I'm wondering if infrastructure isn't related to data sharing, but it also seems to include some helpful offers from the widget factory to help shape up your math teachers.

So that gobbledygook gives us a somewhat vague and wispy picture of what we're after. It's the kind of language that usually signals one of two possibilities. Either A) they don't know how to speak plain English and don't really know what they want to do or B) they know exactly what they want to do, and they'd rather the rest of us didn't get a plain picture of it.

But this report is directed at the feds and their role in all of this, so let's just see what that federal role is supposed to be.

Align Federal Grant Stuff with Local Efforts

This appears to mean that the feds should organize all their granty stuff and award money amounts based on how well the local folks are accomplishing the goals that KnowledgeWorks thinks they should be accomplishing. Do you suppose that list of localities would look a lot like the list of KnowledgeWorks clients?

But, seriously, there's too many funding streams and different applications to fill out with too many different measures of what success for that particular grant would look like. Could we just whittle that down to one grant stream with one application and just one way of measuring success.

Also, they'd like to see "shared accountability incentivized" at the local level, so that everyone will stick around past the paperwork part of the grant. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that kind of local accountability would mean that somebody local would basically have to be in charge of all the local stakeholders. I wonder who would be available to be the local accountability oversight management guys.

Bang for the Buck

The foundation has some ideas about how to organize the management of these improvements, and how to cross-reference that with the four Important Things listed above, and even some ideas of the dollar amounts that should be attached. See, if we can just get everybody to approach it this One Correct Way (that we are experts in because we made it up, so, you know, if anyone needs a consult...) everything will just be awesome and you will get banged for your buck.

The Definition of Success

Well, you didn't think they were going to stop at telling the feds how every school system should be organized, measured and funded according to the One Correct Way, did you? KnowdgeWorks will now go on to tell the feds what they should consider the definition of success for schools. They list six measures:

Kindergarten readiness
Early grade reading
Middle grade math
High school graduation
Postsecondary enrollment
Postsecondary employment

You may have heard that kindergarten is the door to all future success and happiness. It's true! If you're in Cincinnati, you know that these guys helped develop a Pre-K readiness test that can predict whether the child will be able to read in Third Grade. The whole community is now working on test prepping four year olds helping children meet that benchmark before entering kindergarten.

Reading in third grade is a big deal. They hear some states are holding students back who don't pass that reading test. Just sayin', that's all. For middle grade math, they've got even less. "Middle grade math has become an important milestone..." And those are the three points at which success is clearly measured by a student's ability to pass a standardized test. Because, data.

High school graduation leads to more money! Did you know that? Did you also know that 84% of all reformsters are unable to distinguish between correlation and causation? Also, lots of poor students don't go on to college, the next important corner in the pipeline. And graduating from college is good, we hear, though nobody really knows how to measure how successfully that's happening.

The report even offers a handy "dashboard" for entering all the data for handy display and sharing by policy makers. Because the best management is done by people sitting in offices looking at screens.

On the Horizon: Thought Police

I once read Moby Dick. It wasn't fun. I've read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, too. This report is providing a similar experience, but dammit, I'm sticking through to the end. I pledge allegiance to the flag. Ha! Just seeing if you're still there, reader. God bless you, there's even creepier stuff to come.

Anyway. While KnowledgeWorks knows that academic indicators are important, they also know that people watching the cradle to career pipeline would really like a peek at "social and emotional indicators." Good news!! The Strive wing is totally working on ways to measure those competencies, and they've identified the areas that require further research.

These include the creation of measurement tools that assess more than one competency, a clearer understanding of how the various competencies affect each other, and greater clarity and consistency on names, definitions and categorization of competencies. There is also a strong interest and desire in connecting these outcomes to workforce needs, particularly in high-demand careers.

Yes, there's a strong interest in being able to check those childhood test results so that future employers can get their workers to order straight out of the collective creche. After all, what is the point of having a tightly organized educational pipeline if employers can't use it to mold and select the most desirable qualities. I'm sorry-- did you think that education had some purpose other than to provide employers with workers? Silly you.

White Whale, My Ass

Sorry, but that's as far as I go. There's a page or two of stuff from Dallas showing how well they've engineered test results for small future drones. There's also a page of endnotes which I haven't bothered with because, as is generally the case with these "reports," the notes are just to other self-created pieces of unsupported non-research advocacy PR.

The Cradle To Career Pipeline idea has been around for a while. I had no idea that there was a group out there working so hard to make it real. It's creepy. It's Big Brothery. It hands over control of education to all sorts of people who don't know what the hell they're talking about. It treats education as nothing more than a vocational training system. It reduces the educational path to a one-size-fits-all measured-by-testing track. It opens that track to being directed by people who may or may not be able to successfully predict what job will be there in four, eight, ten years from now. It makes the lives of students an open book to all sorts of people whose right to violate student privacy isn't even questioned in such a program.

I had an idea that it could be this bad, but I didn't realize the infection was so advanced and in so many cities. To those of you living with this, my condolences.


  1. I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

    American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

    This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


  2. On the plus side, though, the KnowledgeWorks website has provided me with reams of material to use in my next unit on sentence focus. Reading their sentences is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade through the bottom of a Coke bottle - there's this sequence of slow-moving, unrelated, grotesquely inflated nouns that faintly remind you of something but which are too distorted to recognize, all tethered to reality by the frailest of cords, and threatening at any moment to break free and drift away into the ether.
    Which soup of crap, as you rightly say, often serves deceptive ends.

    1. God, Madeline, if I had a comment Hall of Fame, that would go on a giant pedestal.

    2. Thank you! Gosh - a shout-out from my favorite writer in the blogosphere - you've made my day!!

  3. Dear Mr. Greene,

    I've found KnowledgeWorks of value. The organization helps keep the concept of 'teaching knowledge, not strategies' going. This is found in the phrase: "you want better writers, teach science."

    In other words, KnowledgeWorks is trying to steer curriculum to topics that are both academic and interesting, which encourages students to read at higher lexile levels. Works for me.