Sunday, August 23, 2020

More Pandemic Privatization

"This New Nonprofit Is Training Better Online Teachers This Fall" gushes the EdSurge article that is barely disguised PR for yet another reformy initiative.

This summer a group of education leaders, many from the world of charter schools and education reform, sought to change that by launching the nonprofit National Summer School Initiative, or NSSI for short. Its solution was both a crash course in effective online teaching—and figuring out what good online teaching looked like—and a summer enrichment program for students across the country.

"Many" from charter/reform world is not really correct-- "entirely" would be more accurate. Crash course is right--the training "institute" lasted a whole week. And the company, which has already rebranded itself as Cadence Learning, is selling one more screen-delivered education program. This rebranding is a bit of an unforced rookie error, as Cadence Education is already a company in the early childhood ed biz, and the Cadence Learning Company is a Canadian pharmaceuticals firm. Boys and girls, first rule of 21st century business--before you choose a name, google it.

Poster boy for endlessly failing upwards
You can get a good sense of where this business is coming from just by looking at the priors of the folks running it. The spokesguy that EdSurge talked to was Chris Cerf, a lawyer who became part of the Joel Klein edu-team in NYC, then became Chris Christie's education chief for New Jersey. He left that job to work with Klein at the fiasco that was Amplify (it was totally going to change the face of education). Oh, and Edison Schools, too. After that, he became Cami Anderson's replacement as head of Newark schools. Now he's part of the leadership team at Cadence.

Also on the team are Kevin Anderle, from Achievement First and Teach for America; Savita Bharadwa, former chief of staff at Newark schools, as well as a consultant. Her degrees in electrical engineering, but she got a fake degree from the Broad Academy. so there's that. Then there's Rochelle Dalton, senior fellow at Bellwether, also formerly KIPP Foundation, and Teach for America. Aquan Grant, PrepNet--but she has a real education degree and spent two whole years in the classroom before her career as a charter school principal. Monnikue Marie McCall founded a business solutions service. Doug McCurry is co-CEO of Achievement First. Katie Rouse is from Bellwether, and has a fake degree from Broad. Ian Rowe is CEO of Public Prep, and previously at the Gates Foundation and before that, MTV. Betsey Schmidt, Mesh Ed Collective CEO, after doing R&D for Whittle Schools and Studios, and a stint at Ascend Learning. Saya Taniguchi is an "independent education consultant" who started out in TFA. Mary K. Wells, Bellwether, formerly Bain. Steven Wilson, CRPE, Ascend Learning, special assistant under Mass Gov William Weld. Lakisha Young, cofounder of Oakland REACH, a parent advocacy group.

There are also an "award-winning" team of mentor teachers. There are 21 of them. 7 are "enrichment" teachers. Of the remaining 17, at least 8 are TFA products; the rest are charter school teachers.

So, in this big ole company, this company that is designed all around the idea of helping deliver classroom teaching, there is nobody in sight with any meaningful experience in classroom teaching (or, for that matter, distance learning--unless you want to count Cerf's time wit the disastrous failure of Amplify, and why would you).

The model is simple enough. The "mentor" teacher starts the virtual class, along with a couple of "showcase" students, and then kicks it over to the "partner" teacher. Let me point out that odds are good that the "mentor" teacher will actually have far less teaching experience than the "partner" teacher. Cadence also offers lesson plans and a daily schedule, just in case your student needs to spend (checks chart) almost six hours in front of a screen.

Right now the program is free to smaller schools, fueled with big time grants. Cerf says the point here is to put a focus on quality cyber-schooling, but it's not clear what this slick well-funded band of edu-amateurs has to bring to the table. But it is one more handy way to A) get public schools to hand over the driver's seat to a private company and B) prop up charter schools that are struggling. It's one more variation on the Rocketship/Summit model, wit the twist of a live synchronous body involved in sort of teaching the class, kind of.

These are difficult times, and the last thing schools need is more amateur hour shenanigans from people who come from the world of "if it's really important, you should be able to make a buck at it." If you see your district considering these guys, speak up loudly.

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