Wednesday, January 16, 2019

FL: The Unsurprising Teacher "Shortage"

The Florida Department of Education has released a report on teacher shortages in the state, for the 2019-2019 school year, and the news is not great.

The news is not just that there's a shortage (that's old news), but that Florida deals with the shortages by filling classrooms with teachers uncertified for the subject. The news is also in where the shortages are being felt.

It's not unusual to see shortages in the special education area, and science also turns up on the list of shortages. But Florida's shortage areas include English, math, and reading, in addition to some science areas.

It is a puzzler, but let's drill down on some of the data, because the report has some really nice charts.

The report measures shortages with three different data points, then maths them together for an overall ranking, but the three categories are interesting. First, we consider the percentage of courses taught by people not appropriately certified. In that category, English ranks at the top, followed by reading, followed by Exceptional Student Education (that's pretty much every kind of special ed). ESOL (ESL) comes  in fourth, followed by general science and then math. The English is surprising-- since when have English and Reading been hard spots to fill.

If we look at projected openings (as reported by districts) a different pattern emerges. The top category for expected vacancies is elementary education. Elementary education comes in dead last for classes being taught by an uncertified teacher, which suggests that Florida schools have an easy time finding elementary teachers and a hard time holding onto them. ESE is second, Pre-K is third, and then it's English, math and reading. ESE is not unusual, but Pre-K? It's almost as if there's a state policy that makes Pre-K employment too shaky and unpleasant to consider.

The third category ranks subject areas by the percentage of college teacher program photo-teachers who complete their programs. Our problem areas at least look a little better here.

The report looks at how many people hold certificates in various subject areas, with 96,000 Floridians (about 22% of the total credentials) holding elementary ed certificates. Math (18K) and English (20K)  are not widely-held certificates. And general science accounts for just over 6,000 certificates.

These charts show off some fun data. The next one breaks down the number of classes taught by sub sect. So, there are 35,181 English classes taught in the state, and 4,498 of them are taught by someone who is not certified. Perhaps the most alarming stat on this chart is that out of 64,812 ESE classes, 5,277 are taught by someone without proper certification. That's huge number of students with special needs not getting proper educational care.

Let's look at new(ish) completes-- the number of new teachers rolling out of the teacher pipeline. Well, rolled out, because the most current data is rom 2015-2016. There are some big zeros here, like drama and computer science and tech education and school social worker. Math, only 165 new teachers, which was still way better than the sciences. English, 207. Reading, 214. The grand total was 4,372, which seems like slim pickings for the entire state of Florida and barely enough to match the number of teachers that were needed last fall).

Finally, a chart breaking things down by F and D schools, as well as urban vs. rural. D and F schools have about 11% of their courses taught by people without appropriate certificates. Urban schools run around 8% and-- surprise-- rural schools are in the best shape, with only 5.4% of their courses taught by those not certified (that's still 1,650 courses, so not nothing).

The report strictly reports the data and does not attempt to explain it. Lots of folks have taken a shot at explaining the source of Florida's teacher woes, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist. Some shortages are national (public education will always be the low bidder for folks who can science), but Florida has taken extraordinary and steady efforts to chew up public education and spit out the pieces.  While there are some terrible states for education policy in the US, Florida's political leaders have made a good case for Florida being the worst. Teachers are devalued and disrespected. public schools are steadily and systematically stripped of resources and support. And the bureaucracy has built a giant wall of stupid between teachers and the goal of educating students. Florida is also fully committed to the Cult of Testing, and I have to wonder if it's not entirely coincidental that the two highly tested subjects-- math and English/reading-- are then areas of shortage.

One worries that a whole portion of Floridian leadership looks at this report and says, "Good!" Everything that makes the public schools look worse simply makes the shabby, fraudulent and inadequate charter industry of Florida just look better by comparison. For some of Florida's leaders, it's not bad public policy-- it's just good marketing.

But there it is in the annual report. The shortage is real. How will Florida respond? Well, they could come up with recruitment ideas. Or they could make it easier to become a "teacher" by "alternative" certification means. Or they could sit on their hands a do nothing. Or they could actually listen to the Free Market's wisdom, which says that if you want people to make your job, you have to make it more attractive with better pay and work conditions. I'm sure that the Governor DeSantis's new education team, loaded with privatization fans, will do the wise thing.

In the meantime, let's hope that other states are paying attention. Because Florida doesn't really have a teacher shortage. What they have is a slow-motion teacher walkout, with teachers waling out because they just can't take it any more. Only unlike the kinds of walkout we've seen in Los Angeles or Oklahoma, this one won't end any time soon, and the teachers who walked out will never be back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Jeanne Allen on LAUSD: Fire Them All

The Center for Education Reform is a charter advocacy group whose most visible feature is Jeanne Allen, CEO and sometimes President of a board that includes pioneering privatize Chris Whittle. Allen loves charters and hates teachers unions. As you might guess, she has some thoughts about the LA teacher strike. After I wrote about the strike at, the Pinkston Group, a PR fit, shared some her thoughts with me. Let me just quote them in their entirety:

In a post-Janus world, teacher unions cannot exist and continue to gain members unless they demonstrate and prove their value. This strike, like others we're seeing around the country, is a desperate attempt by the union to maintain relevance in a day and age where they can
no longer require teachers to join.

California needs to break the district up into 100 different pieces, have much smaller units, and allow for the freedom, flexibility, access and innovation that’s happening in charters. If it weren’t for charter schools, education in L.A. would be at the level of Mississippi. The UTLA sees charters
as such a threat to the status quo that it is willing want to hurt students kids even more to score a victory against charters.

My advice to the district: Hold strong. Replace them all. If they want a dramatic impact on education, fire the union and begin to repair the schools, just like Reagan fired the air traffic controllers.

Allen's dream of a perfect union meeting
So that's what a leading charter advocate thinks about the strike. It's a union trick to hold onto power. Los Angeles would have terrible schools if not for the awesome charters. Teachers just want to hurt students so they can keep raking in the big bucks. There are, of course, no slices of evidence in the real world to back up any of this. Nor will turning LAUSD into hundreds of tiny districts serve anyone except the children of the wealthy.

But Allen's big solution is super dopey-- fire them all. The Reagan nod is not completely out of left field; Allen's website notes proudly that she was "the youngest political appointee to serve at the pleasure of the president, Ronald Reagan, at the US Department of Education." But of the many anti-reality arguments I have seen from Allen, this is one drops the jaw the furthest. Replace over 25,000 teachers? In a state with a persistent teacher shortage? In the 2016-2017 year, there were under 24,000 students enrolled in teaching preparation programs in the state.

Talk about hurting kids just to score a victory-- Allen's nuclear option would trash everything just to teach those damned teachers a lesson.

Allen's position is worth noting only because she and the CER are not some fringe element. She gets to sit on reformy panels. CER gets Gates money (and in 2016 the organization took in a whopping $ million in contributions from... somewhere). She gets into the Wall Street Journal. And lest you think she's strictly a GOP phenomenon, Kara Kerwin, who filled the president role while Allen was on hiatus, started out in public policy in the offices of Chuck Schumer and Daniel Moynihan.

Allen and the CER have one virtue-- where other charter advocates may play a game of making nice with teachers and their unions, Allen leaves her mask off most days. If you wonder why teachers and their unions sometimes act vas if charter advocates are out to get them, and you're one of those folks asking "Where does that come from," well, Jeanne "Fire Them All" Allen is Exhibit A.

This is not a one-off. Allen was quick to decide Trump was okee-dokee after all and became a Trump-DeVos cheerleader. Allen has periodically issued announcements of renewed commitment to privatization. Allen put a $100K bounty on John Oliver's head for besmirching the charter brand. Allen whinged when her phrase "backpack full of cash" became a movie title. Allen blamed the GOP 2018 drubbing on a failure to keep a charter hard line.

One can only hope that nobody on the administration side of the LAUSD strike is considering listening to Allen's advice. It would neither solve the strike nor improve general health of the LA school district. It's just a more extreme statement of the very distinct policies that brought them to this strike in the first place; wiping out the school district and the teachers who work in it is not a path that serves the students of Los Angeles.

Monday, January 14, 2019

SAT: New Frontiers In Pointlessness

David Coleman, he who single-handedly built the architecture of Common Core ELA in the image of his own (untrained) biases about how language should be taught, is taking a step back from some of his College Board duties. That news has been accompanied by further evidence that the SAT is increasingly pointless.

Like most of the CC architects, isn't stick around to make sure his baby was properly installed and put to use; instead, he moved to start cashing in, which in his case meant a lucrative gig at the College Board, the folks who bring us the SAT, PSAT and AP courses. He's been serving as both president and CEO of the company, but last week he stepped back from the president spot and the company installed Jeremy Singer in the post.

Singer is a fine fit. He's been the COO at College Board since 2013; before that he was with Kaplan, the test prep people. His career also includes a stint at McGraw-Hill, a school turnaround outfit, and a web-delivered solutions company. This after he started out in the business development biz, highlighted by a stay at McKinsey.

Digital baloney and business growth are his things, so it's not surprising that announcements of his rise focused on the "technological transformation" of the College Board. But some of the comments in this EdSurge article are not very inspirational.

Some probable goals: expanding the "partnership" with Khan Academy, simplifying the college application process, and "easing the financial burden" of applying to colleges. So, I don't know-- lowering their prices?

But then Singer also offers observations like this. Reflecting on his time with Kapplan, the test-prep giant:

His experiences had revealed how inaccessible commercial test prep was for low-income students, and it instilled in him the idea that “great test practice should be available to all students, not only those who could afford it,” he says.

You know what would be really great for students? A test that measures something other than how much test prep you did to take the test. Singer was the one who Khanified the AP tests, and other CB officials think that's swell:

“The Khan Academy partnership really makes it possible for students to access high-quality learning that they didn’t have before,” says Kaine Osburn, chair of the finance committee for the College Board’s board of trustees and superintendent of Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in Illinois. “The test prep market was inequitable, and now it’s equitable.”

Emphasis mine, because weren't students supposed to have access to the high-quality learning of an AP course, generally taught by teachers have been trained to teach AP courses? Are you telling me that students don't need to actually take an AP course-- just watch a bunch of Khan Academy videos? Are you telling me that a video provides more "high quality learning" than a live human teacher? Yes, videos can be useful for certain types of instruction, but if I stood in front of a class, delivered a lesson, and then, when students asked questions, I just delivered the exact same lesson again-- well, nobody would be hailing my high quality instruction.

Another big Singer goal is to "boldly reduce complexity," and he has a point in saying that the College Board has used lots of complicated little ideas that mostly just reduce transparency of the whole business. Singer reduce some of this. The stated goal is to make applying to college less scary and less complicated. Of course, a really good way to do that would be to apply to a college that didn't require SAT scores at all. But the College Board isn't that interested in making college application simpler.

The College Board is a business, not a public service organization, so many of these simplification ideas look suspiciously like market capture ideas. For instance, the College Board has been working with the Coalition for College Application (a collection of 140-ish colleges) to set up a system by which students can submit SAT scores and college applications through a single site. This helps cement what has always been SAT's greatest marketing tool-- the perception that taking the SAT is one of those things you have to do to go to college.

EdSurge noted that ACT has been expanding its reach through acquisitions. It's an interesting question to ask Singer, who arrived at McGraw-Hill because the publisher acquired a company he was running. His reply is that College Board prefers partnerships; he mentions AIR and Pearson, though he might also have mentioned the College Board's success in getting some states to use the SAT as their required Big Standardized Test. He also talks happily about how these days, they are happy to be competing with the Big Boys for tech department talent.

At no point in the article does he talk about working to make the SAT a more accurate and useful measure of student academic ability.

But that's the SAT-- a test that mostly measures student socio-economic background and, of course, how well the student has prepped for the SAT. It is one of the great testing tautologies in the US education scene. Meanwhile, the best measure of college readiness and predictor of college success remains a student's high school GPA.  I don't want to see the 1,700 people at the College Board hungry and out of work, but I still have to wonder why we're still bothering wit the SAT at all.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

ICYMI: Jazz In Church Edition (1/13)

Today was m day to visit my brother's church to play some jazz versions of old hymns. Fun times, but it ace for a full family day. Nevertheless, I have some reading for you from the week. Remember-- if you think it's a good one, share it and amplify the voice.

Charter Lobby Still Spending Money in Connecticut

Wendy Lecker lays out the ways in which the usual charter lobbyists are still plying their trade in Connecticut to garner as much influence as they can.

Challenging the Myths About Teachers

Love Long and Prosper is a new blog to us here at the Curmudgucation Institute, and this is a worthwhile post to serve as an introduction.

100 Arizona Charter Schools In. Danger Of Closing

No, that's not one of my usual typos-- about 100 charter schools in Arizona re in danger of going out of business because they've botched their financial management. Just mazing.

Whatever Happened to the Waiting for Superman Kids

Gary Rubinstein always asks the good questions. Like, whatever happened to the students who were used as the focus of Waiting for Superman, the classic public-school-trashing film.

Fables of School Reform

Audrey Watters is one of the great chroniclers of ed tech. Here is another great look at the long history of reformy baloney.

How To Teach Virtue? Start with a Charter School

Nancy Flanagan has been watching reformster Checker Finn clutch his very expensive pearls for years, and she has a few thoughts about his latest outburst.

When You Give a Teacher A Gun

Mitchell Robinson takes a look at a piece about arming teachers, and he has a few thoughts.

Public School Students Are Being Erased From TV,  Movies, and Other Media

Steven Singer has noticed something odd happening with school aged characters in pop culture. They've stopped going to public school.

South Carolina Hasn't Enforced Class Size Limits Since 2010. It's Starting To Show.   

South Carolina continues to cut educational corners while hoping that its underpaid teachers can somehow pick up the slack.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Four Reasons Charters Are A Bad Fit For Rural Communities

For just a moment, I'm going to set aside the larger problems of charters and privatization nationally. Charter advocates and education reformers have recently turned their attention to rural communities. Last summer, Mike Petrilli (Fordham Institute) unleashed one of his wide-release op-eds to point out the "problem" of "charter deserts"--those markets where charter schools have made few inroads. Andy Smarick and Mike McShane just released an entire volume of essays about rural education, and at the 74, Arielle Dreher published a thoughtful piece about one of the tensions inherent in rural education--are schools supposed to educate students to revitalize the local community or to escape it?
There are fewer than 800 charter schools in the rural parts of this country, and some advocates of choice are anxious to open up that untapped market. But there are some reasons that charter schools are particularly bad fits for rural areas.

Rural Schools Are Part Of The Heart Of Their Communities

My children went to school in a tiny village where the two central institutions were the elementary school and the volunteer fire department. In rural and small town areas, grown adults still identify themselves by what high school they graduated from. Sporting events, school concerts, art displays--these are attended by all sorts of people who are not actual parents of the participants. Launching a charter school in this setting is about as welcome as having a guy move into the house next door and inviting your children to call him "Dad."

Rural Schools Run On Tight Budgets

One does not remove a few hundred thousand dollars from a rural school budget without really feeling it. Most rural districts are lean operations already, without fifteen jobs like Assistant Vice-Superintendent in charge of Paper that can be easily absorbed. Transportation may be a huge chunk of the budget, and there really isn't any way to tighten that particular belt. The minute a charter starts "redirecting" tax dollars away from a rural district, that district will feel the hurt.

Rural Communities Are Not Always Easily Entered By Outsiders

This is not to suggest that every rural community is straight out of Deliverance. But city folks often drastically underestimate how important it is to know the territory. Every small town can tell a story about some city big shot who rolled into town and thought he was going to institute sweeping changes, only to fall flat on his face.
In part, there is no mystery here. Someone who is a big-time operator in New York City would not imagine that he could just stroll into Chicago without first studying the lay of the land and getting connected to the right people. Why imagine that moving into a small town would be different. If anything, a small town is more difficult, because everybody knows everybody. True story: a sharp operator moved into our area as operator of the hotel in town and planned to make it the arts hub of the area. He planned to kick things off with a big festival featuring choirs from all four area high schools and to do that he called each director and told her that the other three were already on board. Those choir directors were neighbors and sang in the same church choir; his lies didn't help him get launched. Even when they are honest, outside operators have a hard time moving and shaking in rural areas.

Charter operators have a history of bypassing the local community they enter, of doing charters to the locals instead of with them. In cities where the power centers may be located far from the neighborhoods in question, that may be successful. In rural areas, it's less likely to succeed.

Rural Communities Are Limited Markets

Charters are launched with primary attention to business concerns, not educational ones. It is more appealing to launch your charter business in a city with a half a million potential customers than a rural area with five hundred potential customers. Rural areas offer little in the way of the attractive real estate deals that have powered some urban charters. Nor do rural areas have large numbers of wealthy backers willing to help finance a charter operation. If you are hoping, directly or indirectly, to make some money running your charter, there are riper markets to approach than rural ones. Even if you hope to do good, but want to be sure you have a solid financial basis, there are better places to launch than in a rural area.

When Do Rural Charters Make Good Sense

The small community of Tidioute, Pennsylvania, lost its public school due to budget cuts in the larger district of which they were a part. So to keep the heart of their community intact and their children's education local, they re-opened their local school as a charter school, operated and controlled by local folks.

It is the one approach to rural chartering that makes sense--a local school under local control created to meet a local need. That's a good charter.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Why The Reading Wars Will Never End

I made the mistake of tossing a comment into the middle of a twitter thread on Monday. Not a nice quiet subject like vaccinations or abortion or Trump's wall, but reading. As soon as it became apparent that thread would blow up and swallow my feed, I could have asked to be cut loose or just muted the participants, but I was curious. How much longer would this go on? The answer is that after five days, the argument is still flopping around like a beached herring.

The latest explosion in the ageless reading wars was sparked by Emily Hanford, who has been making the rounds with variations on an article asserting that science tells exactly how people learn to read and teachers should be doing more of that.

Will Hanford's piece, or some blistering response to it, finally settle the reading wars once and for all?

Of course not.

Teach phonics. Don't teach phonics. Whole language! Decoding is everything. Knowledge base is everything. On and on and on we go. It will never end.

The reading war will not go on eternally because Some People are obdurate dopes. I mean, Some People are obdurate dopes, but that's not the heart of the problem.

The heart of the problem is that we don't know how to tell what works. And that's because we don't have a method to "scientifically" measure how well someone reads.

Yes, we have tests. But testing and pedagogy of reading are mostly locked in a tautological embrace. I think decoding is The Thing, so I create a test that focuses on decoding, then implement classroom practices to improve decoding skills and voila-- I scientifically prove that my decoding-based pedagogy works. Mostly what we're busy proving is that particular sorts of practices prepare students for particular sorts of tests. Big whoop.

We get stuck because we don't know what Being A Good Reader really means. Chris can read a book about dinosaurs and tell you every important fact, idea, and theme after just one reading, but ten times through a book about sewing and Chris can't tell you the difference between a needle and a bobbin. Pat reads the sewing book and can't pass a test about it, but can operate a sewing machine far better than before reading the book. Sam can read short passages and answer comprehension questions, and so aces tests like the PARCC-- but Sam can't read an entire book and come away with anything except the broadest idea of what it included. Gnip and Gnop (I'm running out of gender neutral names) can both read the same article, but when they're done, Gnip understands exactly in detail what the article says, but doesn't realize it's bunk, while Gnop only about half gets what the author says, but can explain why it's all baloney. Blorgenthal reads car magazines daily, voraciously, with great understanding, but can't get through a single paragraph of their history textbook. I know a woman who keeps devouring books about Jewish theology and building a deeper and deeper understanding, but who could not finish a work of fiction if you paid her. And lots of folks can't make any sense out of poetry (including the vast number of people who misread "The Road Not Taken")

Now go ahead and rank all these people according to how well they read.

As with writing, we can mostly identify those who are on the mountaintop and those who are in the pits below, but on the mountain side, it all gets kind of fuzzy.

In writing, at least, we talk about purpose and audience. Doesn't purpose make a difference in reading? Does it make a difference if the purpose is artificial, like, say, reading in order to take a test or to satisfy a teacher? (And no, Common Core's artificial division of fiction and information doesn't really address these questions.)

We know a bunch of different problems that struggling readers can have, and we know solutions to some of those problems (though many wash up on the shores of The Student Has To Care Enough To Want To Do The Hard Thing). We know that past a certain point, readers get better by doing more reading.

And every actual classroom teacher knows that some combination of a wide variety of tools is necessary-- and different-- for every student. There is, in fact, science to (sort of) back them up. So the war can be over, right? Everyone can go home? If only.

The most important lesson of the reading wars is that when any one side wins, students lose. In schools where all decoding was dropped and students were left to touch and feel their way through texts, the students suffered. And we are, hopefully, just emerging from as period when the mechanic were ascendant, with their insistence that reading was comprised of free-floating "skills" that could be developed and applied completely separate from context and content knowledge. That has been bad for everyone.

People know what the answer is. A full tool kit, applied thoughtfully by a professional. When one side is winning, many kits are missing some of the tools. But to have the argument that the house must be built with only a hammer or only with nails is just foolish.

So why will the argument not die?

Well, partly because Some People are obdurate dopes. But also because we will always have a chorus of people saying, "Can that kid read? How well? Prove it." Reading, as much as anything in education, demands that we measure what cannot be measured. So we create ways to measure a text's "reading level," and it's mostly bunk. We crank out reading tests, and some are diagnostically useful, but as a means of precisely quantifying how well a student read-- bunk. Reading assessment brings us up against the biggest challenge in education-- how to make visible a process that goes on entirely inside the student's head. And every attempt to measure the process/skill/knowledge requires test manufacturers to simplify it, to take something with twelve dimensions and squeeze it down to two.

Every attempt to measure means a truncated understanding of what's going on, which in turn leads to a distortion of the relationships between the many tools, which in turn leads to the false sense that one tool is The Only True Tool. And the war breaks out anew.

The attempt to make the invisible visible accurately really requires a whole toolbox full of artificial activities to try to tease out what's going on in there, and those tools will always be imperfect. That's fine. I am not arguing that we just give up on the whole business and go home. Nor do I know how to design a test that would really absolutely measure reading or literacy in a way that would let us slap a nice clear number on it. I am imploring teachers, reading experts, policy wonks, reformsters, bureaucrats and politicians to remember the nature of how we generate the "data" and to stop mistaking it for a Great Objective Truth handed down from God. Stop imagining that any single test tells you how well a student or many students read. Let the reading wars rage on, but most of all, never let there be a winner.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

GA: Cyber Schools Failing Here, Too

In what could be news only to someone who has not been paying any attention to cyberschooling in the US, a report from Georgia's Department of Audits and Accounts found that the state's cyber schools "underperformed."

Mind you, I'll argue that the state's College and Career Ready Performance Index is a lousy way to measure the performance of schools. But those are the rules that reformsters want to play by, so that's the yardstick we're stuck with. And by that yardstick, Georgia's virtual schools are failing.\

This is not a shock. The CREDO study in 2015 found that cyber charters have an "overwhelming negative impact," with student falling a full year behind their regular classroom peers. This matches the anecdotal information one can capture from classroom teachers to whom many cyber-students return. The cyber situation has been so bad that the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools issued a report calling for cybers to shape the hell up. In Pennsylvania, a magical cyber school playground, not a single one of the states cyber charters has ever scored a "passing" grade on the state's evaluation. And Indiana is just now coming to grips with a cyber charter sector that is both failing and corrupt.

So Georgia is just one more guest at the failing cyber charter party.

While the audit's findings are bad, they aren't exactly news. In July of 2016, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a piece looking at the Georgia Cyber Academy, a huge cyber with over 14,000 students:

Georgia Cyber Academy students log onto online classes from home, where they talk to and message with teachers and classmates and do assignments in a way that will “individualize their education, maximizing their ability to succeed,” according to an advertisement. But results show that most of them lag state performance on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates.

Ah, that individualized, personalized education. GCA started out catering to homeschooling parents in 2007 before becoming the state's largest school. The story notes that while some students succeed at the online academy ("You have to be the kind of student that enjoys having more responsibility. You have to be good at managing your time," says one student.) The graduation rate was 66%, and the turnover rate was huge-- one quarter of the student body "leaves" each year. Class sizes are large. Attendance is a problem.

And this is one I hadn't heard before, but it makes sense-- students can be disruptive in cyber school, "doodling on a PowerPoint slide projected to the whole class instead of demonstrating how to solve the math problem on it." However one cyber teacher notes that a disruptive student can be muted, which is... good?

Georgia Connections Academy also promises individualized education at a tuition-free online school, but the audit found it lacking as well. Online reviews of GCA are, for the most part, pretty brutal.

Cyber charters tend to lean on certain excuses. Their students are more mobile. Their students are already behind. Their students are disproportionately problem children. These may be valid depictions of their student body, but if so-- well, that's the gig then, and if they want to be in the business, their "individualized" programs should be able to work with those students.

I've always said that there are students for whom cyber charters are a good solution, particularly students with some particular special needs. But for the broader student population, cyber charters are an experiment that has run too long. There's no longer any mystery about cybers-- they do a lousy job of educating students. It's long past time to pull the plug on this failed chapter of "innovation."

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Bill Gates Is Still Pushing Common Core


You've undoubtedly heard the news over the past couple of days-- the Gates Foundation is going to throw $10 million at teachers to help promote "high-quality" curriculum.

There are several problems with this, and none of them are new.

First, despite the headlines, this money is not actually being thrown directly at teachers.

“We want to identify the content-specific professional development services, products, and models that are working really well for young people, and also study the attributes of those solutions that make them effective so we can share that learning with the field,” said Bob Hughes, the foundation’s director of K-12 education.

This guy, again, still. 
In other words, they are going to throw money at outfits that do professional development so that those PD providers can train teachers better. This is yet another variation of "It's the implementation" that translates roughly as "My grand idea would have worked if teachers understood better how to properly perform my great stuff."

This golden oldie never dies-- just this week I was embroiled in a Twitter thread in which someone explained that a particular practice would work if teachers just understood it properly. Back in 2016, the Gates Foundation was trying to explain what they had learned about their large-scale failures in education, but the only lesson they have ever come up with is "We've learned that the unreasoning resistance, educational ignorance, and poor training of education professionals makes it hard for our brilliant ideas to shine properly."

This, apparently, is more of that.

But wait-- there's more. Buried in that loaded term "high-quality" is an old friend. Because "high-quality" means "certified fresh" at

EdReports was launched back in 2014 with funding from the Usual CCSS Suspects. It was launched as a sort of antidote to one of the many problems that emerged with adoption of the Common Core. Because there was no central authority on the Core, and, in fact, the guys who wrote it dispersed quickly to lucrative new gigs, there was nobody in place to stop textbook publishers from moving inventory by ordering a case of "Aligned to Common Core" stickers and slapping them on every dusty text sitting in their warehouses.

So EdReports' job was to check resources and determine whether or not they were actually Core-aligned.

They were tough. In the first year, almost every publisher flunked Common Core math. Now they have worked their way through many other areas-- well, math and ELA-- and you can see the results in handy charts. And prominently featured is whether or not that text is properly aligned. EdReports has dutifully scrubbed its site so that it now talks about "college- and career-ready standards" instead of the dreaded "Common Core," but the mission hasn't changed. EdReports will tell you how well a textbook is aligned to the Common Core Standards.

Which means Gates is still-- STILL-- spending money to get the Core into every classroom.

Mind you, this is chump change compared to the $1.7 billion that Gates is spending in his continued effort to singlehandedly force the redesign of American education. But the Gates Foundation keeps saying things like this:

A standards-aligned, high-quality curriculum is an essential feature of a coherent instructional system that can maximize its potential benefit. We hypothesize that such a system may consist of the following elements, as well as others:

Every adult human who ever set foot in a classroom has some "hypotheses" about what makes a good school. Only one of the richest men in the world has the power to try to force his hypotheses on everybody else. And to just keep trying and trying and trying, with a hammer sculpted out of a stack of money.

This continues to be the most recurring annoyance of much ed reform. Bill Gates has no more expertise regarding public education than my garage mechanic, who's a nice guy who was once in my class. But if my guy wants to put his ideas into action in a school, he has to run for school board and convince the taxpayers that he can be trusted with the job. He'd have to cooperate with other board members, and because he's a good guy without an overinflated ego, he would undoubtedly ask the opinions of professional educators. But because Gates and Broad and Walton et al have a giant pile of money, and no special misgivings about their judgment, they just go ahead and flex their money and start shoving their ideas down the system's throat.

Nor does Gates appear to be a quick study. Google "Bill Gates" and "doubles down" and watch the headlines stack up. And here we go again with more of the same. Next time a professional development session rolls around to help you "strengthen" your curriculum, you may want to ask who's paying the bills.


Idaho Business for Education (IBE) is "a group of nearly 200 business leaders from across the state who are committed to transforming Idaho’s education system."

IBE works with the legislature and key Idaho stakeholders to help set our students up for success in school, work and life, and build the workforce that will lead to a vibrant economy for years to come. Our 2019 initiatives include the School Readiness Act, Career and Technical Education, and more.

They appear to work pretty closely with their elected officials for legislative goals. So, kind of like an Idaho-sized ALEC (although Idaho has had a pretty good relationship with full-sized ALEC). And like ALEC, IBE enjoys special access to legislators. That includes a "legislative academy" that traditionally takes place on the first day of the legislative session. While legislators were waiting to find out what their leadership is lining up for the year, IBE gets to brief them on business's thoughts and priorities.

This year, the bar is set high:

The world’s next industrial revolution presents a “huge opportunity” for Idaho, if the state can modify its school system to match it.

It's those teachers! They're the ones!

I love these unintentional scare quotes. Michael Schmedlen, Hewlett-Packard’s vice president for worldwide education, delivered the message of opportunity, because if we're going to reconfigure the entire education system, maybe we should talk about why.

Following the reform play book, Schmedlen started by telling scary stories.

Nearly two-thirds of today’s students will work in jobs that have not yet been created. Tomorrow’s workers will move much more from job to job. They will work in a competitive, diverse and global workplace. Students will need critical thinking skills, and they will need to learn to collaborate and innovate.

Sigh. It's been over a year since Matt Barnum decisively debunked the whole 65% of tomorrow's jobs haven't been created yet statistic, yet here it is again, still without any foundation.

The rest is interesting from a corporate honcho, because it's so cool and dispassionate and prescriptive ("workers will") while failing to acknowledge, as is usual, why this ugly future is on the way. Imagine if a corporate exec said it this way--

In the future, we will be offer no loyalty or job security to our employees-- we'll just keep giving the job who can do it well enough for the cheapest price, wherever they are in the world this week, and we'll dump those workers next week if we find a cheaper replacement. Workers had better be quick at picking up work requirements, because we don't want to waste time training them, and keeping meat widget costs down is more important to us than hanging on to experienced worker. I read the critical thinking, collaborate, innovate thing off some 21st century skills list thing, but yeah-- you need to be quick on problem solving and getting along because we expect you to cope with all this disruption and instability on your own-- or else we'll replace you with someone can. Meat widget problems are not management problems.

Schmedlen offered other keen insights.

Education should adapt quickly, he said. Schools need to offer highly sought-after skills — which can include traditional disciplines such as math, science and reading. But schools also need to improve their instructional approach and reform assessments.

While communities, states and nations need to change their education systems, Schmedlen cautioned against simply throwing money into technology, without studying the existing education system in detail. “Then you can create a roadmap for reform.”

Schools need to offer highly sought after skills because businesses are too cheap to do training (particularly if they have to do it often). What does the roadmap look like? Who knows.

But Schmedlen's co-presenter, Marcela Escobari, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, is there to add one little hint about what the subject should be:

Escobari couched the challenge in human terms. Too many workers are juggling multiple, part-time jobs to make ends meet — or they are dropping out of the labor market entirely.

“The low-skill jobs are becoming crappier,” said Escobari, to some nervous laughter.

Nervous laughter indeed. Because all the education in the world, even if it's designed by businesses to serve as their vocational training, will not turn crappy jobs into great jobs. IBE members will not be saying, "Well, now that you're so well-trained, we'll pay you better." It's not the K-12 education system's fault that businesses don't want to pay their meat widgets a living wage.

Here's the thing. Where I live, there's a popular welding program offered to our students, and plenty sign up to get that training because they know there are excellent jobs that pay really well available to welders. That's how it works-- you make a job attractive, and people line up to get the training for it. Train a bunch of people and then maybe we'll make the job better is not how it works-- but that is a good argument for shifting all responsibility for economic health from government and business onto education.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

PA: How Charters Damage a Public School System

Erie has come a long way since the days that visitors would travel to the beaches just to be appalled by the dead fish on shore, the days when Western Pennsylvanians called it "The Mistake on the Lake." The waterfront is now pristine and beautiful, the city now boasting great theaters, hotels and recreation. But public education is still struggling.
Just two and a half years ago, the previous superintendent of the district was asking his board to consider closing all of Erie's public high schools and just farming the students out to surrounding districts. The move may have been a play for attention, but it grew out of real problems.
Erie suffers severely from issues felt across Pennsylvania. The state is near the bottom of US states in its support for local districts (generally around 36% of school money comes from the state). That means that local districts must supply the bulk of district finances. The ability of local districts to come up with money varies wildly from place to place, which is why Pennsylvania has had the greatest gap between rich and poor districts in the nation. Governor Tom Wolf entered office announcing his intention to fix that, but so far progress has been minimal. In the meantime, Erie is not exactly a rich district, and it has gotten poorer as charter schools (both brick and cyber) have popped up in the area, moving more and more money away from the public schools.
Charter school advocates have long argued that competition will unlock excellence and general awesomeness. The plight of Erie's public schools gives us a hint about how that actually works.
Last month the Erie Times-News ran a piece by Ed Palatella looking at the possible fate of one Erie charter-- the Erie Rise Leadership Academy Charter School. The K-8 school of over 400 students has ranked consistently low in its test scores (last year found only 6.9% of the students scoring proficient or advanced on Pennsylvania's big standardized test). The Erie School District will hold hearings to decide whether or not to pull the plug; that plug-pulling almost certainly would come with court challenges and appeals, so the district has to weigh many factors.
The current superintendent, Brian Polito, is not hostile to charters, but he can't ignore the threat they pose. Last year Erie lost $23.5 million to charter schools, and in the face of financial and enrollment losses, it has closed or consolidated numerous schools. In Pennsylvania, a regular education student is worth around $10,000 to a district while a special education student is worth $20,000 (gaming that difference in funding by enrolling students with low-cost special needs can help a charter bring in a truckload of revenue).
This is the situation that's supposed to fuel competition. But how do Erie schools compete when they are already academically beating the socks off Erie Rise, even as they struggle to get by with limited funds?
That's the issue Polito is trying to address: reducing charter bleed for the district. Polito started in the job just over a year ago and he's been looking for the answers. The district has surveyed the charter families, and they'll use those responses for a campaign slated to start in 2019 that will include a variety of approaches right down to sending district employees to knock on doors.
The state has given Erie schools an extra $14 million in state funding to help rescue the district, and with that comes Charles Zogby, a state-appointed financial administrator to oversee district finances. Palatella reports Zogby's response to the plan unveiled at the December 1 board meeting:
“You must fight fire with something,” Zogby told the School Board of focusing on charter schools. “It is not as if any of the charters are blowing the doors out compared to any Erie School District School.”
The CEO of Erie Rise says they will run their own counter-program.
And so Erie is poised to see the same kind of competition that has broken out in other cities where charter schools are crowding the public system--a marketing competition. One may argue that having schools market more aggressively will result in schools that are more responsive to the families who are their "customers," and that may be true but there are several points worth remembering.
First, the marketing will be aimed only at the desirable students, and not the ones who are more difficult or expensive to educate. Second, taxpayers without children will find themselves shut out of the conversation about education in their city. Third, marketing costs money--money that could have been spent educating students. And perhaps importantly, just because a school markets itself well, it does not follow that it is a good school.
Lots of terrible products are well marketed, and lots of great products fail in the marketplace. This is Greene's Law: the free market does not foster superior quality; the free market fosters superior marketing.
Erie's public schools have been to the brink of destruction. Next year will be a test of whether or not competition can actually save public education or will simply drive it that much further from its original purpose.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Why You Can't Fire Your Way To Excellence

For some reformsters and accountability hawks, the dream remains the same-- find those Bad Teachers, fire them, and replace them with Awesome Teachers. Crack the accountability whip and fire our way to excellence.

We have discussed some of the obvious flaws with this approach. How do you even define a Bad Teacher, and is it a permanent condition or a day-to-day variable? How do you find your Bad Teachers if you are using a crappy invalid system like test-based VAMification? And where is your magical tree that is so ripe with a limitless supply of Awesome Teachers?

There's another reason that this approach won't work. We can start to see it if we ask the question, "Why is the Bad Teacher bad?" But so far that has led to more criticism of teacher preparation programs.

So let me trot out, again, my favorite W. Edwards Deming observation. It's not a quote exactly, because he made the point several ways without ever reducing it to a handy aphorism. But here's the basic idea:

So you're firing the deadwood in your organization. Was it dead when you hired it? Or did you hire a live tree and then kill it?

Was that teacher bad from Day One? Well, then-- who hired her? Who looked at her credentials and leafed through her records and recommendations and interviewed her face to face and maybe even watched her teach a sample lesson and through all that, never once saw the signs that she was a less-than-stellar prospect? And why is that-- do you not know what question to ask and what qualities to check for, or were you incapable of seeing the red flags that were flapping in your face? Why did you get it wrong?

"None of that," your superintendent says. "She was bright and shiny and full of promise when we hired. We totally got it right."

Then what happened? What systems do you have in place to make sure that shiny new people are polished up to fulfill their promise? What supports do you provide? Did she wither into dead wood because she was not nurtured and cared for, or do you actually have toxic elements loose in your school? And f so, how dd they get there, and how are they allowed to persist?

An administration's number one job is to make sure that the district's teachers are working in the conditions that make it possible for them to do their best work. Every bad teacher represents a failure by a principal and a superintendent. That teacher you want to fire is a sign that either your hiring process or your teacher management process is broken.

So what makes you think you can replace that Bad Teacher with someone better?

All you're doing is throwing the dice and hoping that you get lucky-- that you are lucky enough to select someone who either slips through your flawed hiring process, or who can withstand your bad management. Now the quality of your teaching staff is resting on factors like which teachers are in the lounge during Mrs. McNewby's lunch shift. And if you're one of those districts that assigns a state-required mentor based on how the schedule fits and not on who would actually make a good mentor, then you've missed the entire point of mentoring.

And the odds are not in your favor, because the larger national-level system is so broken and toxic that plenty of good people are simply avoiding. What we keep calling a teacher shortage is a symptom of bad policy, bad systems, bad management on a national and state-wide scale.

Firing your way to excellence isn't a management technique-- it's just giving a big bucket of quarters to someone sitting in a casino in front of a slot machine. Most of all, it's carefully avoiding looking at the true source of your trouble-- a broken system and the people who run it.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

ICYMI: Still Waiting for Winter Edition (1/6)

Still no snow in my neck of the woods, but still plenty of writing about education to be read. Remember, sharing is caring.

Keep That Same Energy 

Jose Luis Vilson has my favorite kick off the new year piece. Check it out.

Excuse Me While I Teach Your Child

A greatest hits fun and games from McSweeney's

Appellate Division Kills Zombie PARCC

A great breakdown of New Jersey's rejection of the little-loved PARCC exam

How To Help Public School Teachers Love Their Profession Again

From The Hill, of all places. You may agree with all, some, or none, but it's a good conversation starter.

The Year in K-12 Education

A Kansas professor takes a look at what happened to education out in the plains.

It's Time We Started Calling School Choice What It Is

And that's privatization.

What If Schools Focused on Improving Relationships Instead of Test Scores.      

The tale of someone who left the work and then came back to a whole different kind of school, and realized what had been wrong all along.

Five Things Lawmakers Can Do for Education in 2019.     

We're talking about North Carolina here, but the items on the list can apply in many states.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Terror, Hubris and AI (or Can Artificial Intelligence Fake Being A Self-important Pompous Tool?)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, if not a hot new product itself, the additive that helps sell a million other products ("New! Improved!! Now with AI!!!"). And the proponents of AI are loaded with big brass cyberballs when it comes to making claims about their product. And all the most terrible and frightening things are happening in China. Come down this terrifying baloney-stuffed rabbit hole with me.

It starts with an absolutely glorious website-- PR Newswire. Newswire is part of Cision, a company that promises to move your pr by connecting using their Influencer Graph built with their Communications Cloud. Super social media PR (pr.cision-- get it?). Anyway, PR Newswire is a website of nothing but press releases, and it's kind of awesome. This news release has been run in many outlets. I'm digressing a bit here, but we need to remember through this whole trip that this is about a company that wants to sell a product.

Tucked in amidst the press releases is some "news provided by Squirrel AI Learning" about the AI Summit held about a month ago in New York, featuring over 350 experts, professors and business executives from the AI field discussing the technology and the commercial applications thereof. Why "squirrel" (there is such a thing as anti-squirrel AI)? Because squirrel is the symbol for "agility, diligence and management." Founded in 2014, Yixue Squirrel AI is headquartered in Shanghai and claims to be "the first K12 EdTech company which specializes in intelligent adaptive education in China" and, just so you know, they're "the market leader." They have opened "over 700 schools and have 3000 teaching staff in more than 100 cities." They have $44 million of investor money, an education lab in New York, and an AI lab in Silicon Valley run jointly with Stanford Research Institute, and they've sponsored some iNACOL stuff as well.

Do some quick math and you'll realize that those figures work out to 4.28 teachers per school. How do they do that? You can guess:

Like the AlphaGo simulated Go master, the AI system simulated human teacher giving the student a personalized learning plan and one-on-one tutoring, with 5 to 10 times higher efficiency than traditional instructions. YiXue Squirrel AI offers the high-quality after-school courses in subjects such as Chinese, Math, English, Physics, and Chemistry. Powered by its proprietary AI-driven adaptive engine and custom-built courseware, YiXue’s “Squirrel AI” platform provides students with a supervised adaptive learning experience that has been proven to improve both student efficacy and engagement across YiXue’s online learning platform and offline learning centers. 

Simulated human teacher? Great.

There's very little about Squirrel on the English-speaking web that the company didn't put there themselves, and little of that dates to before 2018. But what they have to say about themselves is not shy. You can watch founder Derek Haoyang Li deliver his speech at the AI summit in December, in which he says, among other things, that his company's AI tutors outperformed even the best human teachers.

Squirrel's press release conjures up some of the most grandiose language I've seen for pushing new education ideas. You may think the stakes in education AI are just better education for students. Shows what you know:

To some extent, education must keep up with the development of AI technology, so as to ensure the historical status of mankind at the top of civilization.

I've seen education ideas marketed by invoking a nation's need to stay ahead of other nations. This is the first time I'm ever seen someone suggest that our primacy as a species is resting on how quickly we buy their product. Sadly, there is no suggestion about which species might replace mankind at the top of civilization.

Derek Li's keynote address was entitled "How To Give Every Child Adaptive Education." Spoiler Alert: the answer is not "by putting way more than 4.28 human teachers in every school"). After doing a quick "AI so far" bit, we go big once again:

The upcoming AI era, like the industrial revolution, will be one of the epochal events that can change the course of human history.

And then he ticks off the reasons. As is often the case, they say as much about the speaker's understanding (or lack thereof) of education as they say about his ability to oversell AI.

First, AI is "know-it-all." Examples? It can read a lot of books quickly and prepare for a debate on any topic. Which suggests that we're unclear on the difference between reading something and understanding it. But hey-- here's an explanation of education you might not have encountered before. Here's how the "know-it-all factor applies to education:

In terms of education, AI can break down and master all the nanoscale knowledge points, have a good grasp of the countless correlations between knowledge points, and provide "one-on-one tutoring" for thousands of students, which is an almost impossible task for human teachers.

So that's education. A bunch of knowledge points and map that connects them. Basically just building an html encyclopedia. I assume that somewhere in there will be the explanation of the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I mean, I am a big believer in the value of rich content, but that's because you need to know things in order to understand things-- but understanding and applying and using your insight to be more fully yourself, more fully human in the world-- that's the point. Not to just pile up a bunch of nanoscale knowledge points.

But this is one of the huge dangers of tech in education-- redefining education so that it fits what the software can do. Can AI cope with a thoughtful synthesis of understanding and insight expressed through a long, in-depth piece of writing? It cannot-- and so higher level operations simply disappear from the definition of education.

Second, "it can tell big stories from small things." We're talking about amassing huge amounts of detailed data here, like the way that "Netflix can detect the cognition and preference of every viewer from the data of every frame, and then find the logic of making and reshaping a film from the subtle differences."

I don't have enough space to plumb the depths of why this is a bad idea, but let me just note a few things. The way that food engineering has produced unhealthy food that trips our hardwiring. The way that social media have essentially unleashed psy-ops on users to create a virtual dependence. It may be that software can figure out how to push our buttons, but that's simply a process, and a process that has its own natural tendency to NOT play to the angels of our better nature. Squirrel plugs its own ability to figure out which knowledge points students have or have not mastered, but that completely skips the question of the validity of the whole knowledge points model and the huge HUGE question of who is going to decide what the knowledge points are, how important each one is, how it should be sequenced, how its mastery can be measured-- and whether or not all those questions should be answered by tech companies rather than educators.

Third, it has infinite computing power. Yes, I'm sure that's not hyperbolic PR baloney at all. What he seems to mean is that the computer can do many things very swiftly, and definitely faster than humans. It can play chess, and so it can "know the user profile of each student" in detail by carefully labeling each question. This is certainly a clerical job that computers can do quickly, but we need to be more careful in throwing around words-- a piece of software does not "know" a student any more than an old school filing cabinet filled with folders of student work "knows" those students.

Fourth, it's self-evolving. "Sunshine gathers, and light flows into my dreams," wrote Microsoft's Xiaoice. He calls that "a line of verse" and then says "although it has been criticized by many experts, it's better than 90% of what humans can do" and then I say, "Holy scheikies! Listen, Mr. Hard Data Guy, let me see your criteria for deciding that a line of poetry is "better" and then the methodology that allowed you to know what 90% of humans are capable of writing?! But this is ed tech at its ballsiest-- experts in the field we're disrupting don't know a damn thing; poetry is just some pretty words strung together and our word-stringing software is the bestest. He's not done bragging:

In the field of education, the evolutionary power of Squirrel AI is also amazing. It has skills that human teachers do not have. It can automatically help students make up their knowledge gaps and stimulate students' creativity and imagination.

Software now knows the secret of creativity and imagination. SMH. "Self-evolving" has been a moving target for programmers, but most often it means that it's just collecting more knowledge points and examples, which means it "learns" what is put into it, which is why facial recognition software works better with white guys and a previous Microsoft AI project called Watson didn't express poetry so much as it kept using the word "bullshit" inappropriately. (Can the word "bullshit" be used appropriately? If you are still reading this article, you don't really have to ask.) All the infinite computing power we've added hasn't changed the oldest rule of computing-- Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Okay, take a deep breath. Here's a picture of cute puppies to help sooth you. Because we aren't done-- Squirrel is now going to tout its breakthroughs in "I+ Education."

So what can they do? Let's introduce the section:

At present, auxiliary AI tools, such as pronunciation assessment and emotion recognition, cannot get involved in children's cognitive learning process. What parents are most concerned about is how a product can help their children to learn. AI+ education will eventually return to teaching and learning. Therefore, AI adaptive education is the best application scenario of AI+ education. Squirrel AI Learning has been in the forefront in this field in China.

Huh. I'm considering for the first time the possibility that this press release was written by an AI.

Oh hell-- Knewton is connected to these guys, via Richard Tong, who used to be the Asia Pacific tech director for Knewton. That's not good. Squirrel has also poached from RealizeIT and ALEKS. So that's who they've enlisted so far (spoiler alert: there's a surprise coming). What have they done?

First, super-nano knowledge point splitting. They broke a junior high subject into 30,000 knowledge points. And I'm thinking first, that's all? And I'm thinking second, so much for my question about whether we'd have tech guys making educational decisions.

Second, learning ability and learning method splitting to come up with "definable, measurable and teachable ability" theory. They've come up with 500, like learning by analogy or inference, which is apparently (honestly, this is hard to read) something Squirrel's AI tries to teach. And this-- "They also pay attention to the cultivation and promotion of students' creative ability." Says the guy who thinks "Sunshine gathers, and light flows into my dreams" is better than what 90% of humans could write. 

Third, well... "they initiated the correlation probability of uncorrelated knowledge points. Squirrel AI builds correlations between knowledge points and uses information theory to test and teach students efficiently." I'm pretty sure he's just making shit up now.

Fourth, they came up with the "concept of map reconstruction based on mistakes." Squirrel AI will personalize learning plans for students "on the basis of finding the real reason for making mistakes," which is a hugely impressive feat of mind reading. I can believe they could handle figuring out which step in a math problem a student flubbed. I'm less confident they could, say, spot the source of flawed reasoning in an analysis of wheel imagery in MacBeth. And I'd be really curious, when it comes to writing or the humanities, how the software distinguished between "mistakes" and the "creative ability" they're careful to cultivate.

Fifth, they initiated a versus model. Somehow, by using Bayes' theorem, they "simulate learning and competition between students and teachers." Only simulate? And Bayes' theorem is about calculating probabilities-- is this supposed to be about beating the odds.

With these technologies, Squirrel AI can accurately locate the knowledge points of each student and continuously push the knowledge points most suitable to their intellectual development and learning ability according to each student's knowledge point mastery in the process of dynamic learning, so as to establish a personalized learning path for each student and enable them to learn the most knowledge points in the shortest time, putting an end to the "cramming model" and "excessive assignments tactic" in traditional education.

Maybe I'm not fully grasping the awesome here, but I'd swear that basically Squirrel has broken down education into a big list of competencies, and the computer keeps track of which ones the student hasn't checked off yet, and gives the student material to help fill in the blanks on the big list. Am I missing something?

Li saved a big announcement for late in the speech-- just in case you doubted Squirrel's clout, they have just hired Tom Mitchell, the dean of Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science, as their Chief AI Officer. So while you're processing the rest of this, you might also want to think about how thoroughly China is grabbing the reins on this emerging tech biz. Mitchell will lead a bunch of teams conducting "basic AI research in the field of intelligent adaptive education, as well as the development and application of related products." Because products.

To sum up its own awesomeness, Squirrel ends with

In addition, Squirrel AI Learning not only has mastered the world's most advanced technology, but also has greatly expanded its online + offline education retail business model nationwide. Online, Squirrel AI Learning gets traffic. Students receive one-on-one tutoring online. Different from other education enterprises, 70% courses of Squirrel AI Learning are taught and lectured by AI teachers. Human teachers are responsible for the remaining 30% of teaching for monitoring and emotional help. Offline, Squirrel AI Learning opens physical learning centers in the form of franchised chain centers, cooperative schools and self-run centers in various places. 

They've mastered the world's most advanced technology. Nothing left to work on their, because it is mastered, baby. And in case you missed this before, let me point it out again-- "70% courses...are taught and lectured by AI teachers." Also, the retail of this business is going great.

Scared yet?

In fact, Squirrel AI Learning's new education retail business model is also a reform of the traditional education model. On the one hand, Squirrel AI Learning not only has changed the traditional model of teaching by teachers, replacing it with teaching by AI, but also has realized intelligent management of students' learning. In the past, every student's data was opaque. Now through the Internet and AI, all students' learning process data and teaching data are collected, to provide better quality services for students. Transparent data management has changed the traditional offline education model.

No schools. No teachers. Just a highly lucrative batch of software and a mountain of Big Data on each child. And they are working on "testing brain wave patterns." Says Derek Li, man-god standing astride the great computerized colossus that can do everything and rule us all, next, "Squirrel AI will become a super AI teaching robot integrating personalized learning, dynamic learning objective management, human-computer dialogue, emotion and brain wave monitoring, to provide every student with high quality education and teaching services."

Let's hope that this misguided dystopic vision is just as bullshitty as it sounds. These are people who think a large hard drive stuffed with data points has been educated and that poetry has nothing to do with human experience and that education should be chopped down to fit the limitations of computers software. And these are people without an ounce of humility, absolutely confident that they are correct to commandeer and re-create an entire sector of human endeavor can make a buck. They have failed to answer two critical questions-- what can they do, really, and should they actually attempt to do it.