Friday, March 18, 2016

High Infidelity

Over at EdSurge, Jeff Kiderman, co-founder of 2 Sigma Education, wants to unspool some ad copy lay down some truth about fidelity. In "The Elusive F Word in Personalized Learning," Kiderman wants to speak about "fidelity" as the secret ingredient in a great personalized learning system.

Kiderman notes that most schools providing personalized instruction will say that the shape of their personalization "depends." Which leads Kiderman to wonder, depends on what?

“Well,” they begin, “our teachers are talented professionals and we empower them to make their own decisions. We give them support and tools and perform observations several times a year. But ultimately we give them the flexibility they need to be successful and different teachers do things differently."

Oh, that damn flexibility. No, Kiderman wants to see more fidelity and faithfulness.

In the context of personalized learning, “fidelity” refers to the faithfulness of individual teachers and classes to the school's driving instructional philosophy and approach. Do teachers actually stick to the school’s chosen personalized learning plan? Do they use the software and review/utilize data as often as they should? Do they take advantage of the power of the model, tools, and data to differentiate instruction on a daily basis?

It occurs to me that Kiderman has confused "fidelity" with "compliance." Vendors like 2 Sigma Education are providing an excellent program in a box, with nifty materials and handy protocols. Teachers who insist on acting as if they are trained professionals who know something about education and their students just mess everything up. Follow the instructions, dammit. We laid out a perfect program-- now do as you're told, like a good little content provider.

Kiderman offers more evidence of the problem by way of conversations he has had with content providers and sales reps, and they say that shockingly few of the teachers follow the program that these good hearted vendors have provided. It is almost, one might conclude, as if teachers think they work for someone other than the content providers.

Kiderman says this "problem" is "swept under the rug." I disagree. In many schools with which I am familiar, teachers are pretty open-- as soon as the company sales rep/trainer (you know-- the fresh-faced one that taught for one year and bailed because teaching is hard but sales repping pays well) has left the room, the teachers roll their eyes at the bad advice and silly instructions provided by the rep and get to talking abot which parts of the program are actually useful, and which will need to be jettisoned.

Now you probably think that Kiderman sounds like the same sort of corporate systems and standardization guy who would compare teaching to working in a McDonalds. Nope. He's the kind of corporate tool who would compare teaching to working in a Starbucks.

If you want to experience the power of fidelity, fly halfway around the world to a country you’ve never visited and purchase a latte at Starbucks. 

I find his support for this viewpoint striking. He does not say that Starbucks or Amazon Prime or a Westin hotel are better because they are internationally standardized, but because the experience of having that service experience untouched by any specifics of locality. "there’s a certain sense of reliability and comfort that comes with being able to expect and trust that your needs will be met predictably and successfully no matter where you happen to be."

Reliable, comfortable, predictable-- yes, those are the qualities we strive for in education. A product that has a bland sameness no matter who the customer or the provider are.

I'm pretty sure that anybody who thinks Starbucks and my classroom are comparable enterprises has nothing useful to say about education. This is not fidelity. It is standardization, cold and stripped of any human qualities and filled with complete disregard for the people it purports to serve-- the students. That would be different from the people it actually serves-- the corporations that find one-size-fits-all maximizes ROI and allows scaling up operations for greater profit and less fuss. 

There's a comment section, so you can go share your thoughts. Kiderman tells us to stay tuned for Part II, in which he will explain how beautiful standardized compliance can be inflicted on the education system. Don't know if I'll make it back for that.


  1. Ah, Starbucks, that wonderful coffee joint where the baristas (will we become teacheristas under the new regime? I dunno, as a male I better be a teacheracho) misspell customers' names on their cup. Too bad these idiots have never stepped into a classroom. Try that with children and see how far you get. However, he has selected his model well. Because we need corporate vendors to supply us with a $5 cup of coffee because we don't know how to use a Mr. Coffee and a can of Maxwell House or Folgers to do the same. And damn, if teachers were allowed to make the coffee, they might adjust the recipe to match the tastes of the students.

    1. In Seattle we call it Charbucks--they burn their beans

  2. There is still the pervasive belief that learning is "the filling of a vessel", isn't there? That we can just program the computer the "right" way and get a favorable result? Never-you-mind thinking, problem solving, experimenting, creating or any other such nonsense! Just teach the damn material and all will work out, no? Kids really are just pieces of machinery to guys like this, aren't they? Just blank slates upon which to be written in order to fulfill a needed purpose, to be used up, strip-mined then discarded for the next zombie-in-waiting. I don't need to meet Jeff Kiderman to know that he is a scumbag because his approach to "education" is a disgrace.

  3. Sounds like a pile of canned crap dressed up in silicon. Fidelity schmidelity, a bunch of 20 somethings with no teaching experience has no chance producing educational material that is engaging, interesting, developmentally appropriate, and meaningful. It's hard enough for a veteran teacher to find that sweet spot with any individual activity. So these edufakers have no chance.

  4. On LinkedIn, Mr. Kiderman's skills are listed as marketing, analytics, and hedge funds.

  5. Dear Mr Greene: My fidelity warning follows. It includes my first clue that Pearson would participate in the fundamentals of my evaluations.

    My principal did not write this email, though she signed it as if she did. I guarantee she has never used the term "internalize."


    ...Last Thursday while visiting classrooms with the Pearson team we saw many students talking with peers, using technology, and reading and writing complex texts about complex topics.

    Since we know you have our students' development and success foremost in mind, we think it is important to note that we also observed some students engaging in tasks below grade level expectations.

    The admin. team is working hard to be up to speed with Pearson and the support they are providing, so we are learners, too. It is understandable that some pre-Common Core expectations still filter into your instruction. That said, we know that the Pearson System of Courses ("Pearson") was developed from the ground up by some of the writers of the CCSS, to explicitly target the CCSS; as such it is comprised of grade level appropriate learning tasks, sequenced to ensure our students read, write, and speak daily about complex texts. This is the level of rigor we need our students to achieve.

    In order to involve our students in CCSS-aligned learning that prepares them for college and careers, we request that you rely on Pearson instead of developing tasks/activities outside the app, which may not target CCSS. Let's use Pearson to discover how to engage our students in this more rigorous learning and work with one another to make that learning even more meaningful for our kids (and us!). This year is an important step in learning the curriculum guides that are embedded in Pearson, so with that said, you will need to spend this year diving into the curriculum and getting to know the standards targeted. The only way you can do that is if you use it to organize and guide your lessons.

    To that end, please continue to use the Lesson Planning protocol (attached), which has been the focus of recent teacher meetings. Please note how the protocol includes a step for scaffolding, inviting teacher creativity and providing time to think through how to meet the needs of our individual students.
    Several of your peers have had lessons that apply this protocol modeled by J*** and S***, and we encourage you to talk with them about that process.

    So, to summarize, unless you teach AP courses, you will use the Pearson System of Courses to organize and plan your lessons with fidelity for the rest of the year in order to understand and internalize the curriculum maps and the standards embedded within the lesson. From this point forward, you will be expected to use Pearson and use it sequentially.

    Thank you again for the invaluable role you play in our school and for demonstrating for students that we too are learners."

  6. So, the role of teachers is as delivery vehicles of the wonderful "Pearson System of Courses". This way of teaching is sure to raise enrollments in college education departments. Who doesn't want to completely controlled while teaching?

  7. " soon as the company sales rep/trainer (you know-- the fresh-faced one that taught for one year and bailed because teaching is hard but sales repping pays well) has left the room, the teachers roll their eyes at the bad advice and silly instructions provided by the rep and get to talking about which parts of the program are actually useful, and which will need to be jettisoned." It is amazing how many times over the last 10 years I have been forced to set through a vendor presentation only to experience this scenario. Nice observation.