Request For Information is looking for "all promising ideas for how to use existing and new knowledge and tools to achieve dramatic results against the challenges we describe." The list of challenges sadly does not include "the repeated failure of rich amateurs to impose their unproven ideas on the US public school system." Instead, the RIF looks at three particular areas. Let's look.
The problem? College and career success (because we're still flogging that expired equine) are "highly dependent" on "effective" writing skills, which include "evaluation of arguments and evidence, critical and creative thinking about solutions and sources, identifying support for a key idea or process, plus clear and evocative argument making."
Gates-Zuck are going to ignore all of those qualities by basing their argument on NAEP writing test results to argue a lack of proficiency. Mind you, I agree that we have a writing proficiency problem, however, I blame it mostly on the test-driven school movement of the past 18 years. That doesn't make their list of obstacles, which includes a lack of time for sufficient practice and feedback because teachers are overloaded, and while computer scoring of essays "holds promise" (it doesn't), it can't help yet (and it never will). They also blame a lack of "high-quality writing assignments," whatever that is supposed to mean.
Here are the areas they believe "require more exploration"
Evidence-based solutions for writing instruction, including mastery of the "spectrum of skills encompassing narrative, descriptive, expository and/or persuasive writing models," a "spectrum" that I'll argue endlessly is not an actual thing, but is a fake construct created as a crutch for folks who don't know how to teach or assess writing.
New proficiency metrics. Can we have "consistent measures of student progress and proficiency"? I'm saying "probably not." "Can we use technology to support new, valid, efficient, and reliable writing performance measures that are helpful for writing coaching?" No, we can't.
Educator tools and support. Gates-Zuck correctly notes that "effective" writing instruction requires time and resources, so the hope here is, I don't know-- the invention of a time machine? Hiring administrative assistants for all teachers? Of course not-- they want to create "tools" aka more technology trying to accomplish what it's not very good at accomplishing.
Peer-to-peer collaboration and feedback. I'm a little st8umped here, because this is both old hat and widely done. My best guess is the real question is "can we develop some software to get involved in this process."
Non-academic correlates. Gates-Zuck wants to attach the whole range of soft-skill SEL to writing instruction. "Can we develop evidence-based interventions" that help everything across the board "while protecting student privacy." Can we create some software that will teach students to be more human?
And the whole business should include continuous improvement. Always looking for ways to get better. Kind of like every decent teacher on the planet. I swear-- so much of this rich amateur hour baloney could be helped by having these guys shadow an actual teacher all day every day for a full year. At the very least, it would save these endless versions of "I imagine we could move things more easily if we used round discs attached to an axel. I call it... The Wheeble!"
But after listing all the fine print, we cut to the chase:
The goal is not to replace the classroom teacher, but rather to provide teachers with new integrated tools (including those involving peers working collaboratively) and supports (including well-designed professional development) to improve their ability to assess student performance and provide rapid and targeted feedback and remediation.
In other words, we're looking to build some software to teach writing (and How To Be Human).
More test results stand in for evidence that math understanding and mindsets are in trouble right here in River City. There's a lot of math-related jargon here, but if we skip down a couple of pages, we get to the heart of the matter. First on the list of areas requiring exploration:
Tools and resources that support teachers to personalize the learning experience for all type of student learning needs:
Once again, this personalized [sic] learning platform should also incorporate cognitive and affective state, continuous improvement, and be not boring. The list also calls for "informing, not automating," which is basically a call for a bigger, better data dashboard. Possible products of this research could be intelligent tutoring systems, technology-enhanced content, and artificial intelligence.
Yes, Gates-Zuck are ready to go all-in on personalized [sic] learning.
Which brings us to the third area:
Are you creeped out yet? Well, here's the first paragraph of this section:
Student success in academics and in future careers is associated with their ability to wrestle with multiple ideas at once, think flexibly, and regulate their actions and thoughts. These skills describe the basic executive functions (EFs) of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Strong childhood EFs predict higher socio-economic status, better physical health, and fewer drug-related problems and criminal convictions in adulthood.
EFs have been shown to be measurable, malleable, and robustly associated with success across the lifespan.
Gates-Zuck are going to fix all the poor and deprived students of the country by putting them in front of some executive function software, so that we can get their cognitive skills and self-control to work the way the authors of the software think they should. They are going to track EF abilities, and they are going to mold them to what they "should" be. And these will involve "technology-enhanced programs in and outside of school."
The program will also measure EF qualities of the educator and environment, and take a look at the early "precursors" of these skills as well as looking at "neural underpinnings."
This is all extraordinarily creepy as all get-out. And the longer you look at it, the creepier it gets-- follow the links if you dare.
Reasons To Maybe Not Be Completely Creeped Out
This is personalized [sic] learning at its worst-- a kind of Big Brother on Steroids attempt to take over the minds, hearts, and lives of children for God-knows-what nefarious schemes. Only two things make me feel just the slightest bit better about this.
First of all, I'm not sure that Gates-Zuck are evil mad scientist types, cackling wickedly in their darkened laboratory. I'm more inclined to see them as feckless-but-rich-and-powerful computer nerds, who still believe that education is just an engineering problem that can be solved by properly designed sufficiently powered software. They're technocrats who think a bigger, better machine is the best way to fix human beings.
Second of all-- well, wait a minute. The two guys who have bombarded education with enough money to make a small island and who do not have a single clear-cut success to point to-- these guys think they've got it figured out this time? They have never yet figured out how to better educate the full range of ordinary students (nor ever figured out what "better educate" means) now think they can unlock the formula for better educating students with larger challenges?
This is like going to a circus and the announcer hollers that Evel Von Wheeble is going to jump his motorcycle over fifty buses, and you get very excited until you read the program and see that Von Wheeble previously attempted to jump over ten, twenty and twenty-five buses-- and he failed every time.
I suppose that we can also take some comfort in knowing that at this point, Gates-Zuck is just trying to round up people who think they can help them get over just one bus, and maybe everyone will just say, "I don't care how much money you have, this is patently ridicu--" No, who am I kidding. People will line up around the block to work on this. When you have Gates-Zuck type of money, nobody ever tells you to take a hike because you've failed too many times.
On top of that, while the edu-amateurs have no real successes to point at, they have done prodigious damage in their attempts. Gates became convinced that national standards would be awesome, and now we're all stuck with the shambling ghost of Common Core and the tests welded to it. Instead of jumping over the buses, they may well just drive a tank through all fifty of them, leaving twisted burned rubble in their wake.
Never mind. I don't feel any better about this. Gates and Zuckerberg continue to learn nothing about education, but it's the rest of us who keep having to pay their tuition.