Wednesday, March 16, 2016

After the Teachers Are Gone

Does it seem some days as if ed reform is intent on ending teaching as a profession? Well, some reformy folks are not only considering that possibility-- they are positively counting on it and planning for it.

Meet Knowledgeworks. I wrote about them a while back, and it wasn't pretty.

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 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).

KnowledgeWorks is networked with 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") and StriveTogether ("Every child. Cradle to career." is either their slogan, or maybe just a threat).

If KnowledgeWork's singular talent is reading the prevailing winds of ed reform (and grabbing their share of the Gates money that fills the sails of the ship of reformsterism), then we can assume that competency based education is on its way, because KnowledgeWorks is all in on this Next Big Thing: their "vision" these days is "Every student experiences meaningful personalized learning that enables him or her to thrive in college, career, and civic life."

In fact, their vision is even greater than that, because it involves the end of teaching as a profession, replaced by an "expanding learning ecosystem." They have a whole "report" about this Brave New World (or, as I suppose we must put it these days, BraveNewWorld), and I have read through it so you don't have to.

"Exploring the Future Education Workforce" is all about envisioning about what education will ook like after the teachers are gone. In fact, it focuses on seven new "roles" in the "learning ecosystem." So brush off your resume and get ready for the WorldofTomorrow!

The Preliminary Visionary Filled-with-hot-airy Windup 

Every reformy group has its own special style, and KnowledgeWorks' style is all about high-calibre blather. Here's how they elaborate on the notion that the learning ecosystem is expanding.

It is rapidly becoming more diverse and more personalized as accelerated technological change, increasingly sophisticated data systems, and changing social expectations make it possible for learners and their families to renegotiate their relationships with traditional; education institutions, and, in some cases, to end them entirely. As part of this expansion, new forms of "school" are proliferating in both place-based and virtual settings, and the boundaries between formal and informal learning are melding. Competency based education is spreading. Learning playlists that curate learning resources are gaining sway as a means of organizing and giving students some degree of choice over their learning journey.   

It's an awesome word salad, tossing together unsubstantiated assertions (what changing social expectations, exactly) and meaning-deficient phraseology (how does one meld boundaries, exactly). But later we arrive at something more like a point:

Education stakeholders cannot cultivate vibrant learning ecosystems that work well for all learners without thinking anew, not just about ther structures and cultures, but also about people working in them.

In other words, we have seen the future of education, and it doesn't have teachers in it. Well, maybe not. The authors acknowledge that some things could screw with their vision. There are other possible futures, but they all suck (there's a whole other paper about this, but we'll not go there today).

So let's look at what the BraveNewWorld of education offers for employment opportunities.

1) Learning Pathway Designer

Works with students, parents and learning journey mentors to set learning goals, track students' progress and pacing, and model potential sequence of activities that support learning experiences aligned with competencies.

So, curriculum writer, if you want to imagine a curriculum written like a Choose Your Own Adventure. But "curator of learning journeys" sounds sooooo much cooler than "curriculum director."

2) Competency Tracker

Tags and maps community-based learning opportunities by the competencies they address...

It's been two years since I made the argument that the Common Core aren't really standards, but are actually data tags for all tests, quizzes, worksheets, etc etc etc. Now we're creating a job for somebody who just sits around and tags every single thing that might come in contact with the student so that every step of the "learning journey" can be tagged and bagged and monitored and recorded. King of like Big Brother's Little Brother.

3) Pop-Up Reality Producer

This champion of whiz-bangery is supposed to work with everyone under the sun to produce "pervasive learning extravaganzas that engage learners in flow states and help them develop relevant skills, academic competencies, and knowhow."

I'm not going to lie-- my new professional goal is to provide a pervasive learning extravaganzas every day. When students ask, "What are we doing today?" I am so answering, "Why, a pervasive learning extravaganza, of course." I will use it on every lesson plan. And my planned outcome will be to measure my learners' flow states, probably with a new flowstateomometer, which I will create by my use of knowhow.

4) Social Innovation Portfolio Director

When I dig past the excessive language extravaganza, this appears to be a person who hooks students up with community organizations that will use students as free labor with the excuse that it's a learning experience for those students. This is driven by the "use of collective impact metrics" and should "support students in become transformative agents in their own communities," which I guess means that KnowledgeWorks would consider the Boston student protests an awesome learning extravaganza.

5) Learning Naturalist

Designs and deploys assessment protocols that capture evidence of learning in students’ diverse learning environments and contexts.

This brings to mind Altschool, where teachers constantly make videos of the moments they catch students displaying understanding and competence. Of course, it also brings to mind Steve Irwin, tracking the elusive teen-age ELA student in the wilds of their natural habitat. Although this is driven by "expansion in data capture methods" as well as "increasing neuropsychological understanding of memory, attention, focus, and other aspects of cognition," perhaps we are not so much tracking wild students as we are trying to capture wild data.

6) Micro-Credential Analyst

Provides trusted, research-based evaluations and audits of micro-credential options and digital portfolio platforms in order to provide learners and institutions with comparative quality assurance metrics

An almost palatable start before it veers off into collecting this data not to be certain that students are learning and competent, but in order to do stack ranking and QA oversight. This also brings us back to the idea that not only are we getting rid of teachers, but we're getting rid of schools, with each micro-credential coming from a different learning extravaganza provider. Your education will come from potentialy hundreds of vendors, creating a need for someone who has to "determine whether credential issuers have complied with assessment protocols and whether those protocols are sufficient to reflect and determine mastery." So, some sort of third party overseer of all the various programs and providers. That shouldn't be a bureaucratic nightmare at all!

7) Data Steward

Acts as a third-party information trustee to ensure responsible and ethical use of personal data and to maintain broader education data system integrity and effective application through purposeful analytics.

 Well, if you think the rest of these were a heaping pile of bovine byproduct, then you'll love this one. Data brokers stewards aren't just supposed to oversee the use of the vast data mine created by the rest of this approach, but are supposed to "grow the value of learner's personal data" by looking at the larger connections and helping to manage the ecosystem to the benefit of the community and the learners (I don't know if you've noticed, but there are no students in this BraveNewWorld). The stewards will manage data warehouses and sharing systems "as a sustainable public asset."

Yes, we will collect and endless pile of data about your child, and then we will manage and share it for the good of the community, and to better serve your child, presumably by helping her find her rightful place in the community.

Honest to goodness, this is some of the creepiest crap I've come across, and if you page back through this blog, you'll see I've encountered a lot. The fact that this intrusive Big Brotherliness is dressed up in such florid and flopping language just makes it creepier, like a serial killer dressed as a clown.

Good News & Bad News

So the report will wrap up by considering the "promises and pitfalls" of BraveNewWorld.

Saving the Poor Teachers

The "diversification" of roles will help "alleviate the burden of supporting many of the core functions of learning from today's often overloaded teachers and administrators." Yes, poor teachers. It's just all too hard for them, so lets send them home and replace with them with a bunch of lower-skill corporate functionaries in jobs that will be easier to fill because the training requirements will be less like a trained professional and more like a trained fry cook.

Personalized Learning

Oh, the personalization. The ecosystem will be rife with it, from "transmedia learning assets" on the "learning journeys." Each learner will be served by a bevy of these para-professionals, and the learning will be oh so personalized, as the ecosystem works on their social, emotional and cognitive capacities. We're just going to build a whole person.

Foster Ecosystem Interconnection

Here's where they say something that is flat out dumb. By breaking the job of teaching down into many different jobs and multiplying the number of people working in the ecosystem, we will improve ecosystem communication. No. No, you won't. Adding more people with more functions in more places in the chain of the learning journey will not improve communication. It will certainly increase dramatically the NEED for communication, but systems people often fall into the mistaken belief that because a system demands something, the system will get it.

Extending Partnership and Authority

I really can't overstate just how much gilded word salad fills this report. For instance, these new roles will demonstrate the ways in which "new data streams and sensemaking tools promise to augment human contributions to teaching and learning." I have a sensemaking tool I'd like to use on the authors right now. There's a lot more florid textographical legerdemain in this bullet point, but as I read it, the point appears to be that this ecosystem will help wrest control of the education system away from professional educators and let other organizations get their hands on that sweet sweet cash the pervasive learning extravaganzas.

Ensuring Rigor and Quality

Hard to be certain, but I think this actually means "redefining quality to suit our corporate needs." Also, with the education providing business spread out over so many providers, so0mebody had better keep an eye on quality assurance. That is true. See above point about how just because a system really needs something, that doesn't mean the system will get it.

Reimagining Educator Preparation and Career Pathways

Yeah, that's a bit of an understatement. The "broadening of authority and blurring of boundaries" will mean that anybody will be an "educator" or at least an individual "contributing to learning." New training will be needed and old training will be scrapped. Oh, and then there's this:

Lastly, an expansion of educator roles will call into question current employment structures and labor relations. Some educators may focus on emerging uncertainty about job security as new kinds of career pathways are forged and tenure and retirement systems adapt. 

Educators will have "more options" about how they negotiate job security and how they are "renumerated," as long as they understand that none of those options will include either job security or particularly good wages. Unions will have the "opportunity" to provide new leadership for these new jobs. Ha.

Annd we're out of patience

There are a few final points, but I already feel like I need a pervasive showering extravaganza.

This is a fairly awesome display of the use of language to obscure rather than to clarify. These guys are good. Appreciate, for instance, the use of "ecosystem" when we are really talking about a new system. But people don't like the word "system," which sounds cold and mechanistic and belittling to human beings. On the other hand, everything sounds better with "eco-" in front, and an ecosystem sounds all natural and pretty. System evokes machines and robots. Ecosystem evokes bunnies and butterflies.

There's a frequent use of adjectival extravaganzas, with the piled-up modifiers obscuring rather than clarifying the terms to which they're attached.

So what's the actual plan?

Basically, to chop education up into a million little bits, sell of the rights to each one, hoovering up tax dollars with one hand and a mountain of data with the other.

What's most strikingly ironic about this is that this system requires a huge host of various edu-drones, and to actually provide the level of service would be-- well, we're talking about a personal learning journey concierge who would help hook your child up with dozens of certified-by-somebody micro-credential providers while someone else collected and massaged all your child's data while other people managed connections to the community and your pop-up reality producer monitored and created all the learning modules trotted out just for your child. Go back to the Altschool example-- it is expensive as hell. Only the wealthy and privileged could afford to really do this, and this kind of systematic data-gobblng big-brothering education-in-a-hundred-cans system is the last thing that the wealthy and privileged would send their children to. But with the kind of financing that it would take to install this system in a poor, urban district we could build and staff the Taj Mahal of traditional schools.

Roughly five minutes after a district decided to go this route, the trimming to meet the budget would begin, and we would end up with a "personalized" system with very little or no personalization, but a whole lot of data grabbing and a whole lot of profiteering from companies selling the bits and pieces.

This report is beautiful junk, the unreal, manufactured picture of a product that will never exist, photoshopped and spun so that its inherently ugly parts are not immediately visible. It is the some reformsters favorite wet dream-- a happy future with no unions, no teachers, no schools, no barriers to entrepreneurs who want to make a buck selling edu-crap and who don't have to waste a cent on high-priced well-trained professionals. It is literally education without the teachers, the students, the school buildings, and the education. If this is the future, our whole culture is in huge trouble.


  1. On Friday, I just finished parent/teacher conferences where 30 out of 33 students had their parent(s) show up with a lot of questions about their child's education... (the other 3 are coming tomorrow and Friday). Some of these conferences diverge into micro detail about meeting that child's needs both educationally, and in terms of that child's socio-emotional conditions in the home/community. There were/are almost as many different situations that require different approaches that I am required to employ (i.e. teacher as psychologist / social worker) to meet those needs of my students.

    There's no way in Hell that "Hal the 2001-Space-Odyssey Computer" can replace a human being in addressing all of the above. Parents will go ballistic if Chad P. Wick & Co. try and shove this sh#& down those parents' and students' throats --- via bribed politicians, or mayoral control or a bought-and-paid-for school board.

    Witness what happened in Boston last week. Nobody --- not parents, not students --- will stand for this.

    That's why articles like this help get the word out about these money-motivated charlatans and corporate reform predators.

    The litmus test: are the kids of the 1% going to be subjected to this Brave New World? No, they'll have the exact opposite. Didn't Steve Jobs send his own children to a school that eschews any use of computers?

    Always point out this hypocrisy.

  2. Sound like they're heading toward the education version of Woody Allen's "orgasmatron".

  3. Personally, I am incredibly disappointed that we do not yet have flying cars.

    Either we will find that we will need people to teach our children in the future or we will find that we don't need them. It turns out that we can largely do without switchboard operators for land lines but I still need to renew my drivers license by showing up in person at the ever so efficient department of motor vehicles office.

    The future brings what it brings. Arguing about it now is pointless.

  4. "Yes, poor teachers. It's just all too hard for them, so lets send them home and replace with them with a bunch of lower-skill corporate functionaries in jobs that will be easier to fill because the training requirements will be less like a trained professional and more like a trained fry cook." -- this is good. I've been saying for years the teachers and physical schools will disappear. There will be no public education. All I can say is I'm glad I was born no later (1952). I have one son (34). We are 100% sure I will not be having any grandchildren. It's a kind of blessing.

  5. Oh, my. I am now eager to engage in a pervasive learning extravaganza with flow states and knowhow. I'm pretty sure that's another phrase for "video game."

  6. The language here could easily be mistaken for parody, like Jonathon Swift decided to take on education reform. Scary.