Monday, April 3, 2017

Charterizing from Within

The next big threat to public education, the next big arm of the corporate privatizing octopus, is Competency-Based Education, formerly known as Outcome Based Education, sometimes known as Proficiency Based Learning, and often dressed up in a nice suit as Personalized Learning.

Probably not going to end well
It takes a whole subdivision of the public school advocacy movement to keep track of the slow, steady creep of CBE into public education. I frequently turn to Wrench in the Gears and Emily Talmage's Save Maine Schools as well as Hack Education to stay up on these issues (there are more-- go look around), but it is a recent Wrench in the Gears piece that sparked my attention. In a recent piece, the blog addresses the forces that are lined up against Rhode Island, and as usual, there are a great many connections to follow to find all the players. It's a worthwhile piece, but in it, I found a phrase that really hit--

Now they anticipate “reforming” districts internally through online “personalized learning” programs. For more information see my prior post on blended learning, and how it’s being used to charterize public schools from within.

I've had some trouble getting folks to see any threat from CBE. After all, as with Common Core, it seems as if there are aspects to like (also, as with Common Core, some objectors are... um... extremely passionate and agitated to the point of being a little off-putting for civilians). CBE provides an alternative approach to assessment that could conceivably do away with PARCC-type testing. The personalization seems like it could be a really good thing for students.

But wrench is right-- it's charterization from within.

The modern charter strategy has been pretty straightforward. Target a public school (you can use Big Standardized Test scores to target it, or you can chronically underfund it so it's an obvious collapsing mess). Build a new charter school across the street. Take the students and the money that you want. Ka-ching.

But what if there were another way? What if you didn't have to get your hands on a building, or set up a whole new administrative structure? What if you could just take over a public school a piece at a time.

So this year you buy the CBE/Personalized service to provide remediation to your low-score students. Then you shift more students into that "class"? Then you hand over an entire department to the service, and so on, until a huge portion of your curriculum is purchased and delivered via internet-based software, beamed straight into your school. Meanwhile, the school could also outsource janitorial services, alternative education, the cafeteria, transportation, and maybe even the actual staffing. You'll still have some teachers, but their main job will be Management By Screen-- checking student progress charts on the monitor and intervening if anything seems off. By the time you get here, most of your school "managing" is being done by the companies you've hired, not your front office. Ka-ching.

Instead of building a complete new charter school, you simply take a public school and slowly swap out all the parts. At what point does it become a charter school and not a public one? The vendors don't care-- you can call it a blue cheese school if you want, as long as a ton of that sweet, sweet public tax money is headed for private corporate coffers.

CBE is a great way for folks to get into the charter school business without having to bother with so much of the actual business of running a school. They can just slip into an already-running school from the inside, replacing the heart of the school with their own proprietary software. Perhaps there will be sufficient pushback along the way as parents hear the disgruntled student tales of spending much of the day at a screen, rarely being taught by a live human. Or perhaps the public won't figure out what's happening until it's too late to put everything back that has been lost. I do have my doubts about whether or not CBE will ever really fly.

But in the meantime, this is a useful way to understand what's so bad about CBE and how to recognize that it's happening. It's the wolf devouring the sheep from the inside, until there's nothing left but a well-fed wolf in what remains of the sheep's clothing.


  1. As a Rhode Islander who lives around the corner from Highlander, I'd say the competency-based/blended-learning/yadda-yadda is a short con rather than a long con.

    For us, Achievement First (plus a bunch of relatively benign local charters) is an existential threat not only to the Providence school district, but the city itself. We've got a long term structural deficit running into the hundreds of millions a decade out, or so they tell us, AND we just locked in a $20-$30 million annual budget hit to expand AF.

    Charters... well the upper third of the charter distribution looks good. In comparison, this new online learning push seems to vaporize on contact with students. Highlander's scores have gone down since they became the standard bearer for this stuff. Other high profile pilots have quietly failed -- and I'm not talking no change, I'm talking about scores going DOWN. It isn't going to work at all. This is a garden-variety educational short con.

    The only thing that does worry me a little bit is the possibility that at some point in the next ten years our schools are going to be in such disrepair that the line becomes "Well, it will cost $10 billion to fix our schools now, that it is impossible, so now we have no option but to 'innovate' and close the schools and let the kids learn online."

  2. People do not yet understand the role that global finance will play in transforming public education from a human enterprise to a digital one. It's not about creating a system that "works" for children or teachers or society as a whole. It is about creating a financial market, a market that is different from the charter school market. In my gut, I believe that this new market is going to revolve around social impact investing-pay for success and social impact bonds. Public schools will be starved of public money, broken to pieces, and then rebuilt through public-private partnership investments where the payback is determined by growth as evidence by data and metrics. To get to that point you have to make education all about the data. Data that will later be evaluated by 3rd party SIB evaluators doing the bidding of Goldman Sachs and Pritzker. It's not about humans, its about finance. I wish more people could look ten years down the road to see that. All of this started with New Profit and is looping back to John Arnold and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Sure they are taking their cut from the first round of ed reform via charters and the development of ed-tech software, but the big payoff is coming later. And it's all wrapped up in evidence-based policy. I write about it here:

    Tim Scott has a much more extensive write up here:

    We have to step back and grasp this or we are not going to be able to organize to stop it in time, if that is even possible at this point.

    I have mapped New Profit here:
    They brought SIBs from the UK to the US.

    You have a bigger audience that I do. I hope you will look into this and try to expose this part of the puzzle. It will be fundamental to everything going forward.

  3. The concept of "Personalized (On-line) Learning" was developed and is being marketed by the clueless. Code writers in cubicles that never faced a classroom filled with 25+ mostly struggling learners. The notion that their programming skills can over-ride the issues that distract them from learning with living teachers is ludicrous. The self-discipline required to stay focused and remain persistent is the problem to begin with. Learning is a natural process that must be multi-sensory - including emotions. Interacting with a screen will never cut it for the vast majority of young people - and in all its past and current iterations, CBE is already a proven failure.

  4. There will be a Hearing in the RI Senate Education Committee for Senate bill S0103 tomorrow (April 5) at the Rise of the Senate (around 5 pm)in room 313. Here is the bill: "The council on elementary and secondary education shall adopt a competency-based/proficiency-based learning policy and a model district policy designed to increase programmatic opportunities for students to earn credits through demonstrations of competency." As Alison Hawver McDowell has so thoroughly described, RI is a hotbed for blended/personalized/competency-based learning. Enshrining it in the Strategic Plan for Public Education 2015-2020 wasn't enough--they're trying to enshrine it in state law as well. Hopefully this bill will die on the vine.

  5. I think you are dead on target here BUT what is the end result of improving education for our children??? Will this scheme make it better or worse? In my research I find it is no longer about education but collecting data so in the future by 2nd grade (even Arne Duncan said it) they will tell the parents what career path their child is assigned, train them for that job and ONLY what they need for that job. This is what they mean by life long learning. If by some chance by the time that 2nd grader is ready for work there are no jobs in her field of training they will train that child again. If the job requires algebra they will get algebra. If not they will never know the skill building concepts of algebra. We are implementing Communist school to work job training for the planned economy. BUT only if we allow it to happen. It time for parents to stand up and fight back because neither President Trump, Betsy DeVos or anyone is government is going to fix this. It is up to us. So is this a good thing? Absolutely not. Time to STARVE THE BEAST.

  6. The UK??? Sir Michael Barber of Pearson perhaps had his hand in this. I can almost assure you he did. It is called Deliverology.