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- 10/30/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
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- 11/23/15--10:35: _Coding Bootcamps an...
- 11/27/15--10:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/01/15--02:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/02/15--10:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/04/15--10:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/05/15--10:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/07/15--10:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/09/15--10:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/11/15--10:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/12/15--10:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 12/13/15--10:35: _Support Hack Education
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- 12/18/15--10:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/19/15--10:35: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 10/30/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 11/06/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 11/09/15--10:35: My Latest Book: The Revenge of the Monsters of Education Technology
- 11/13/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 11/20/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 11/23/15--10:35: Coding Bootcamps and the New For-Profit Higher Ed
- 11/27/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 12/01/15--02:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
- Ed-Tech Politics
- Online Learning
- Mobile Learning
- Social Learning / Social Networks
- Investment in Education Technology
- The iPad
- Social Media – Adoption and Crackdown
- Data (Which Still Means Mostly “Standardized Testing”)
- The Digital Library
- Khan Academy
- STEM Education’s Sputnik Moment
- The Higher Education Bubble
- The Business of Ed-Tech
- The Business of Ed-Tech
- The Maker Movement
- Learning to Code
- The Flipped Classroom
- The Battle to Open Textbooks
- Education Data and Learning Analytics
- The Platforming of Education
- Automation and Artificial Intelligence
- The Politics of Ed-Tech
- “Zombie Ideas”
- The Politics of Education/Technology
- MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs
- Coding and “Making”
- Data vs Privacy
- The Battle for “Open”
- What Counts “For Credit”
- The Business of Ed-Tech
- The Business of Ed-Tech
- School and “Skills”
- MOOCS, Outsourcing, and Online Education
- Competencies and Certificates
- The Common Core State Standards
- Data and Privacy
- The Indie Web
- Social Justice
- 12/02/15--10:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: The Politics of Education Technology
- According to OpenSecrets.org, the top five “Schools/Education” lobbyists were the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Apollo Education Group, the University of Washington, Warburg Pincus, and University of California.
- According to OpenSecrets.org, Google spent almost five times on lobbying than the top education lobbyist.
- FratPAC, a lobbying arm for fraternities, has raised some $2.1 million for Congressional candidates who would press for legislation to make it harder for universities to investigate rapes on campus.
- Via Politico in April: “Loan servicer Navient spent $1 million lobbying Congress in the first three months of 2015, new records show, more than the company has spent in any quarter thus far but a little less than Sallie Mae spent in the first quarter of last year. Sallie Mae has wound down its lobbying operation, spending only $60,000 in the first quarter. Other big spenders among education groups in the first quarter of 2015: The Association of American Medical Colleges ($1 million); the National Education Association ($605,000); Apollo Education Group ($350,000); American Federation of Teachers ($332,527) and California State University ($270,000).”
- “Education Groups Were The Biggest-Spending Lobbyists In New York Last Year,” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reported in April. The pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. spent $9.6 million on lobbying in 2014, outspending the next four highest groups on the list combined.
- According to The Washington Post, “analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies – Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill – collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.”
- Everybody in education pays the Pearson tax.
- Nearly 90% of school districts expected their 2014–2015 technology budgets in hardware, software, teacher training, and technical support to stay the same or increase.
- 77% of school districts meet the FCC’s minimum Internet access goal of 100 kilobits per second per student).
- Federal revenues for public elementary and secondary education dropped by 21.5% in fiscal year 2012.
- Per pupil spending dropped by 2.8%, as “schools across the country spent an average of $10,667 per student.”
- Obama’s 2015 budget included $200 million to revive the Enhancing Education Through Technology program as a competitive grant initiative.
- Obama’s 2015 budget included $29.7 billion for Pell Grants.
- Obama’s 2015 budget revealed a $21.8 billion shortage in the federal student loan program.
- “Congratulations, Class of 2015. You’re the Most Indebted Ever (For Now).”
- One in five school-age children lived in poverty in 2013, up from about one in seven in 2000.
- The high school graduation rate in the US hit 81%, a historic high.
- 92% of teens go online daily.
- Over $4 billion in venture capital has been invested in ed-tech companies this year.
- 12/04/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 12/05/15--10:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: Standardized Testing
- 12/07/15--10:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: 'The Employability Narrative'
- 12/09/15--10:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: Credits and Credentialing
- 12/11/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 12/13/15--10:35: Support Hack Education
- 12/14/15--10:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: Beyond the MOOC
- HotChalk ($230,000,000)
- TutorGroup ($200,000,000)
- Lynda.com ($186,000,000)
- Hujiang.com ($157,000,000)
- Udacity ($105,000,000)
- 17zuoye ($100,000,000)
- Udemy ($65,000,000)
- Yuantiku ($60,000,000)
- NetDragon Education ($52,500,000)
- Genshuixue ($50,000,000)
- Varsity Tutors ($50,000,000)
- Coursera ($49,500,000)
- The arts-oriented MOOC platform Kadenze launched an LMS called Kannu.
- "Open edX, the open source platform from edX, is now available for free* from the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Marketplace (*AWS usage fees apply).
- The publisher Springer said it would offer some MOOC students discounts on some textbooks.
- Chinese MOOC students no longer need to use a credit card to pay for their Coursera certificates since the company partnered with the Chinese online payment platform Alipay.
- You can watch Coursera videos on the new Apple TV.
- You can watch MOOC lectures on Jet Blue and on Virgin Airlines. (The Onion had the best “take” on this news.)
- edX made it possible for instructors on its platform to add Creative Commons licenses to their courses. Because “open.”
- Coursera launched “on demand” courses, that is MOOCs with flexible start dates and deadlines.
- And look at that. “Certain courses” on Coursera will no longer be free.
- University of Phoenix
- Liberty University
- Ashford University
- American Public University
- Grand Canyon University
- Walden University
- DeVry University
- Western Governors University
- Everest College
- 12/16/15--10:35: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015: The Compulsion for Data
- 12/18/15--10:35: Hack Education Weekly News
“Obama Wants Students To Stop Taking Unnecessary Tests.” Here’s the official “Testing Action Plan,” that includes some details on how tests will be limited to just 2% of classroom time. (Is that actually less than what tests take now?) Via Vox: “Obama’s flip-flop on standardized tests, explained.” Via the International Business Times: “How Obama’s Push For Fewer Assessments Could Affect Education Companies.” And one, lonely crocodile tear falls down my cheek.
Via Al Jazeera: “Koch brothers pour millions into education to promote libertarian ideals.”
California has become the first state to ban schools from using “Redskins” as a team name or mascot.
Elsewhere on the campaign trail: Jeb Bush, who has a degree in Latin American studies, mocked those who major in the liberal areas, particular psychology.
Via Vox: “Sanders and Clinton want the federal government to fund public college. Colleges aren’t so sure.” Some clarification: by “colleges,” the story actually means “10 university presidents, eight from large public universities.” For what it’s worth, these aren’t the institutions that educate most Americans. That would be community colleges. Let’s ask them instead of relying on the prestige market to protect its prestige.
Senator Marco Rubio (who like most Republicans is running for President) has reintroduced the “Investing in Student Success Act,” which would allow students to fund their college education through private loans to be repaid through income sharing agreements.
The US Department of Education has proposed “a new regulation that would require any new intellectual property developed with grant funds from the department to be openly licensed,” says Education Week.
The Department of Education also finalized its new rules surrounding campus debit cards.
NY “Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch won’t seek another term,” says the Times Union.
Education in the Courts
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A federal judge has ruled that the defunct Corinthian Colleges is liable for roughly $530 million in damages to former students, concluding a lawsuit brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a year ago. According to the judge’s order, Corinthian deceived students by misrepresenting their career prospects, among other things.” More on the story from Inside Higher Ed.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a lawsuit against Global Financial Support, which runs the Student Financial Resource Center and College Financial Advisory, accusing it of predatory behavior.
It was NAEP week, sorta like Shark Week but for scary test score results. Doom! Panic! Handwringing)! Speculation! (And a reasonable response from USC’s Morgan Polikoff.)
“These are the states that really have the best schools in the US,” Vox suggests– that is if you look at test scores and adjust for student demographics.
“Students Take Too Many Redundant Tests, Study Finds.” (See the Education Politics section above for the Obama Administration’s announcement about “too many tests.”)
Via The New York Times: “Superintendents in Florida Say Tests Failed State’s Schools, Not Vice Versa.”
Echoing what’s happening with scores from the ACTs, “Some SAT Score Reports Are Delayed,” says Inside Higher Ed.
Via EdSource: “The California Department of Education is recommending that the state dock the Educational Testing Service, the company administering the state’s standardized testing program, $3.1 million for delivering the scores and reports on the new Smarter Balanced tests late.”
Via The Atlantic: “How the Common Core Is Transforming the SAT.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The College of Idaho and Salem State University are both dropping requirements that all applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The average instructor of a massive open online course is most likely to be a white man in his 50s with two decades of experience in academe but none in online education, according to a study by researchers at Indiana University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” LOL. So disruptive.
“Can data help save MOOCs?” asks The Stanford Daily.
Now that the MOOCs and their certificates are no longer free: “Coursera’s Financial Aid: What it is and who is benefiting,” via the Coursera blog.
NPR profiles the University of the People: “The Online College That’s Helping Undocumented Students.”
Inside Higher Ed reports that Kadenze, an online platform that offers “creative arts” classes, will offer for-credit courses. Its partners include California Institute of the Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Meanwhile on Campus
Using her cellphone, a student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina videotaped a school resource officer violently throwing a fellow student, a young black woman to the ground, purportedly because she refused to comply quickly enough to her teacher’s demand she put her phone away. Both students were arrested. The video – horrific – went viral. Ben Fields, the sheriffy’s deputy, was subsequently fired. More, via The Atlantic, on “Race and Discipline in South Carolina Schools.”
SNHU and the Flat Iron School, a coding bootcamp, have partnered, one of the first partnerships as part of the Department of Education’s new plan to allow bootcamps’ students to receive federal financial aid.
Investigations into the charter school chain Success Academy and its discipline policies continue, this week with a story in The New York Times: “At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’.”
“Black Colleges Might Be Struggling, but Their Alums Are Thriving,” according to The Atlantic. (Not “thriving” economically, one should note. This is based on a subjective rating of one’s well-being.)
Albany State University, a HBCU, plans to “deactivate” 15 of its programs, says Inside Higher Ed.
The Harvard Law Library is digitizing some 40 million pages of its collection, with the intention of making “a complete, searchable database of American case law that will be offered free on the Internet, allowing instant retrieval of vital records that usually must be paid for.”
“Can a Professor Be Forced to Assign a $180 Textbook?” More on the controversy in the math department at Cal State Fullerton in The LA Times.
“The American Museum of Natural History now offers a master of arts in teaching and a Ph.D. in comparative biology,” according to The New York Times, in an article in the Art & Design section titled “Museums, Always Educational, Now Confer Degrees.”
Via The New York Times: “Cardiff University Rejects Bid to Bar Germaine Greer.”
The University of California system has extended its open access policy to all scholarly articles written by university employees.
Pretty jealous of the 20,000 New York high school students who, thanks to funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, will get free tickets to see Hamilton.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Southern Mississippi has become the second university in the state, following the University of Mississippi, to stop flying the state flag.”
“Stratford University, a for-profit institution based in Virginia, this week announced that it has become a public benefit corporation,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Via Wired: “The Tech Elite’s Quest to Reinvent School in Its Own Image.” That is, by building private schools. The story’s about Khan Academy’s new private school, which is sorta like Dewey meets YouTube meets the Panopticon.
Unlike AltSchool, Khan Academy, or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s new private school, Oracle says it will build a high school next to its Silicon Valley headquarters. This one, however, will be a public school and thankfully will not be called Larry Ellison High.
4 people were killed and 47 injured when a drunk driver plowed into a spectators watching the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade.
Via the AP: “Two male students in [Fredricksburg] Virginia have been arrested and accused of plotting an attack at their high school, law enforcement officials said Saturday.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Via SB Nation: “The State v. Robertson: How Four Football Players Beat the Rap and Changed Free Speech in Oregon”
Andre McGee, an assistant basketball coach at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, has resigned from his position following the ongoing scandal at the University of Louisville (where McGee was a graduate assistant) involving supplying nude dancers for potential basketball team recruits.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last week released new guidelines for how coaches, counselors and faculty members should and should not communicate about the academic work of athletes.” This follows a huge cheating scandal where the university helped thousands of students take “paper classes,” often to aid them in easily maintaining athletic eligibility.
From the HR Department
The Gates Foundation’s Vicky Phillips is leaving the organization, Edsurge reports.
Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education, is now the president of the University of North Carolina system. Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Questions Linger Over How UNC Chose Spellings.” And via Inside Higher Ed: “John Fennebresque, whose tenure as chairman of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors was marked by unhappiness over his brusque and secretive style and capped by the controversial selection of Margaret Spellings as the system’s president, resigned Monday.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
SXSW cancelled two panels this week for its big “Interactive” event. One panel dealt with design decisions to address harassment in gaming. (Another was ostensibly going to address “ethics in games journalism,” which is a dog-whistle for harassing women in gaming.) Caroline Sinders writing for Slate: “I Was on One of Those Canceled SXSW Panels. Here is what went down.” Facing several news organizations threatening to back out of the event, SXSW has now agreed to run a day-long event addressing online harassment... that includes the *cough* "ethics in journalism" panel. Boy, I'd sure love to see educators boycott SXSWedu... but who the hell am I kidding.
Via The Guardian: “Artist Ai Weiwei banned from using Lego to build Australian artwork.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Alphabet’s Google to Fold Chrome Operating System Into Android.” Enjoy those Chromebooks while they last/work/automatically-update/aren’t full of malware, schools!
Venture capitalists continue to demonstrate that they have no understanding of how school works. Take Mark Cuban, for example. He’s cited in Education Week promoting Snapchat and other “disappearing message apps,” (particularly one in his investment portfolio, CyberDust). “Hopefully, more school officials will use Cyber Dust,” Cuban said. “It will allow them to have private conversations where they can be honest and productive rather than writing every message … to protect themselves.” Uhhhhhhh.
#ProQuestGate: ProQuest announced this week that it had cancelled the subscription to the Early English Books Online database for Renaissance Society of America members. It later reversed its decision, but damn, scholars forget this moment at their peril.
Via Edsurge: “How Teachers Can Run Classrooms Like ”Lean Startups’." Because teaching and learning is just like a high growth, high risk tech company building mobile apps.
Elsewhere in ed-tech-as-ideology (also from Edsurge): “Do Wealthy Communities Breed the Best Education Innovations?”
“Artificially intelligent software is replacing the textbook – and reshaping American education,” Slate contends.
This is the sort of partnership that always prompts me to say: we do a lousy job interrogating TOS and privacy policies in ed-tech. Via Campus Technology: “Civitas Learning Taps into Echo360 Student Data.” “‘Combining historic and student profile data with real-time classroom activity, gives institutions more actionable insights to help each individual student on their path to success,’ said Fred Singer, CEO of Echo360, in a prepared statement.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Tutoring startup MyTutorWeb has raised $1.25 million in seed funding.
Cengage Learning has acquired e-portfolio company Pathbrite.
“Macmillan will be combining its two divisions -- Higher Education and New Ventures -- into a single unit starting January 1, 2016,” says Edsurge.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, with help from Edsurge, has created a list of “The 10 Ed-Tech Companies That Are Raising the Most Money.” I don’t understand why 2U is on it, however, since the company IPOd (and another entry, Instructure, has just filed for IPO). Missing from the list: Social Finance, a private loan provider, which has raised $1.3 billion.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
From the ACLU of Massachusetts, a report on student data and privacy in K–12.
Via Pacific Standard: “When Students Become Patients, Privacy Suffers.” Related to privacy and health records: “‘I Don’t Blame the University for a Rape. I Blame Them for How They Responded to It.’”
What will happen to ed-tech in Europe now that the EU has ruled that “Safe Harbour” protections for data are insufficient? According to the BBC, there have already been talk of schools pulling out of Dropbox.
Data and “Research”
The latest from Pew Research: “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.” (Notable: a sizable decline in e-reader ownership.)
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Students who took out student loans and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2014 had an average debt load of $28,950, up 2 percent from the year before and 56 percent more than their peers from 10 years earlier, the Institute for College Access and Success says in a report released today.”
According to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “70 to 80 percent of college students are active in the U.S. labor market.”
Via Education Week: “USDA Sees 20 Percent Increase in Schools Offering Free Meals to All Students.”
“Coding bootcamp grads boost their salaries by 40% on average,” the Quartz headline reads. But that boost is quite different based on demographics.
From the MAA National Study of College Calculus: “The picture that emerges of the young people who enroll in Calculus 1 in U.S. colleges and universities is of students who are, for the most part, privileged, talented, and very confident. One of the clearest conclusions to come out of our study was how effective this course is in destroying that confidence.”
Election news round-up: Politico’s coverage. Via The Atlantic: “What School Proposals Failed on the Ballot?” Via Education Week: “Three conservative school board members elected on promises to reform teacher pay and boost charter schools in suburban Denver were overwhelmingly recalled in a high-priced election that highlighted the continuing importance of teachers’ unions in education politics.”
Via Politico: “Education Department officials say a series of actions it is announcing today centering on transparency will force accreditors to focus more on student outcomes and hold failing colleges accountable, with Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying the steps will help make a ‘substantial difference’ in how accreditors work.”
On the heels of giving the state of Ohio some $32+ million in grants to expand its charter school system, the Department of Education is now putting some restrictions on that money, sending a letter“to state officials in which it said it did not realize the extent of concerns regarding Ohio's charter schools.”
Via The New York Times: “Federal education authorities, staking out their firmest position yet on an increasingly contentious issue, found Monday that an Illinois school district violated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a transgender student who identifies as a girl and participates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room without restrictions.”
Via Buzzfeed: “Xerox Under Federal Investigation Over Student Loan Business.”
Also via Buzzfeed: “California’s Attorney General Is Investigating The Online Charter School Industry.”
“A Turkish religious movement has secretly funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008, apparently repeatedly violating House rules and possibly federal law, a USA TODAY investigation has found.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “In the final months of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, one of her advisors drafted ideas for how she could create a public policy school, newly released emails show.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“Cheating in Online Classes Is Now Big Business,” The Atlantic reports.
Meanwhile on Campus
Via NPR: “The Changing Role Of Police In American Classrooms.”
Remember when folks were thinking Eva Moskovitz was going to run for NYC mayor? Yeah… “High-Profile New York Charter School Kept List of Kids It Wanted to Force Into Quitting.” “Success Academy Founder Calls ‘Got to Go’ List an Anomaly.” “What the Success Academy fight over kicking out students says about the charter movement.” A FERPA complaint has been filed by a parent, accusing Eva Moskowitz of violating student privacy.
“The for-profit Westwood College has agreed to forgive the student-loan debt of graduates of its criminal-justice program, amounting to roughly $15 million,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The for-profit Dade Medical College has closed its doors. Meanwhile, the owner of the college “hired a private investigator to follow a Miami Herald reporter who has written critical articles about the sector, according to court documents given to the South Florida newspaper.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Many Colleges Now See Centers for Teaching With Technology as Part of ‘Innovation Infrastructure’.”
Via NPR: “As New Tools Bust Down Barriers For The Blind, Schools Struggle To Keep Up.”
“LAUSD plans to expand computer science to every grade by 2020.” iPads will be super useful for that, LOL.
The latest in Bryan Alexander’s coverage of schools scrapping departments and firing faculty: “Queen sacrifice at Wartburg College.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “4 Stabbed at U California Merced; Suspect Killed.”
Two high school students in Connecticut were arrested after dressing up as the Columbine killers for Halloween and threatening to hurt other students.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Miles College. North Carolina A&T State University. North Carolina Central University. Tennessee State University. Texas Southern University. Winston-Salem State University. All are historically black colleges or universities, and shootings have occurred on or near all of the campuses in the last month.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Adidas says it will “lead a nationwide voluntary initiative for high schools who want to change mascot names and identities. adidas will offer its design resources to any high school in America that wants to change their logo or mascot from potentially harmful Native American imagery or symbolism. Additionally, the company will provide financial assistance to schools who want to change their identity to ensure the transition is not cost prohibitive”
From the HR Department
Following the recent hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC system president, “The UNC Board of Governors approved pay raises for some chancellors on Friday but did not disclose the new salaries – calling into question the legality of a closed session vote.”
Yale will spend $50 million to increase the diversity of its faculty.
“CUNY Faculty Members Arrested After Staging Protest.” (That is, demanding a salary increase.)
Upgrades and Downgrades
Via Fortune: “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Has A Few Ideas About Improving Education.” Because of course she does.
“The six editors and 31 editorial board members of Lingua, a top linguistics journal, have all resigned to protest Elsevier pricing. They plan a new open-access journal,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Google says that Chrome OS is not going away, contrary to reports last week that it plans to merge it into Android.
Via The Atlantic: “Sesame Street’s New Brand of Autism Education.”
“Instructure Dodges a Data Bullet,” says Phil Hill. That is, Canvas Data is out of beta and will offer free daily data logs to clients, not just monthly logs as initially planned.
Via USA Today: “As oil market sags, Norway drills new ground with education tech.”
Funding and Acquisitions
The publisher Bertelsmann has invested $230 million in HotChalk, which is described as a “solution provider for higher ed,” whatever the hell that means.
Via China Money Network: “Shanghai-based online education platform Hujiang.com has completed RMB1 billion (US$157 million) series D round of financing from China Minsheng Investment Corp. Ltd., Wanxin Media, and other investors.The company is in the process of corporate structure reorganization, and is planning an initial public offering inside China, according to announcements made at a press conference reported by Chinese media.”
“TAL Education Group, a K12 after-school tutoring services provider in China, has invested $30 million in Phoenix E-Learning, which operates zxxk.com, an online educational platform serving the Chinese public school system,” says Edsurge.
Cielo24 has raised $5.1 million from ff Venture Capital, North Base Media, Pereg Ventures, Indicator Ventures, Wavemaker Partners, and Educated Ventures. The startup which “wants to make videos more skimmable and accessible with searchable subtitles” has raised $8.5 million total.
SchoolGuru has raised $3 million in funding from unnamed investors.
Financial education app Apptuto has raised $500,000 from “Michael Staton, a partner at Learn Capital, and executives from Google, HSBC, Macquarie Bank, and Delta Partners Group,” says Edsurge.
PowerSchool has acquired InfoSnap, “a developer of online tools that help parents streamline registrations for a range of school services including student enrollment, meals and sports.”
“The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has sold Double Line Partners, an Austin, TX-based company, to Cross Street LLC, a local private equity firm,” says Edsurge. Double Line Partners were the developers of the “Ed Fi” data standards funded by the foundation. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Having filed for an IPO, we can now pour through Instructure’s financials. (Or rather, we can read what Carl Straumsheim when he did so.)
Data, Privacy, and Algorithms
Data and “Research”
Via The Atlantic: data on “The Ever-Growing Ed-Tech Market.”
Via Vox: “A study suggests it’s easy to catch students cheating. So why don’t colleges try?” Uh…
“IDEA Public Schools reports success amid questions around data reporting,” says Education Dive.
The College Board has released reports on tuition prices and trends in student financial aid.
Via The New York Times: “The Digital Disparities Facing Lower-Income Teenagers.”
Also via the NYT: “A small survey of parents in Philadelphia found that three-quarters of their children had been given tablets, smartphones or iPods of their own by age 4 and had used the devices without supervision.”
Via ProPublica: “How We Analyzed College Accreditation Data.”
Via Education Week: “Search for Quick, Rigorous Ed-Tech Evaluations Underway.”
The Revenge of the Monsters of Education Technology is the sequel, if you will, to last year’s similarly titled book. And like The Monsters of Education Technology, this one is a collection of all the keynotes and talks I delivered in 2015 – eleven altogether, plus one essay I wrote specifically for this book.
E-book versions are available for purchase via the usual online retailers: Amazon and Smashwords (for now. Wider distribution coming soon). Even better: you can buy from me directlyvia Gumroad. You can purchase a MOBI, ePUB, or PDF version for $4.99.
Coming soon: a print version as well as audiobooks for both Monsters publications. (When the latter is available, I will make “bundles” for sale so you can buy the e- and audiobooks together.)
As always, thanks for supporting my work.
“In Swan Song, Arne Duncan Extols School Progress Under His Tenure,” says The New York Times. Part of that song: the Department of Education boasted what Race to the Top has done for schools in a new 76-page report. Via Education Week: “What the Ed. Dept.’s New Race to the Top Report Reveals, and What It Avoids.”
On the heels of the Department of Education’s announcement that it’s going to experiment with letting students get financial aid for taking courses at MOOCs and bootcamps (here’s a “primer” on the policy by Edsurge), consulting firm Entangled Solutions says that it’s going to apply to become a “quality-assurance entity.” Inside Higher Ed has the details, but misses this key one: Entangled Solutions is run by Paul Freedman, whose company Altius Education had its “experiment” at Bridge College at Tiffin University shut down by an accreditor over concerns about outsourcing and quality control. God, this bootcamp thing is going to be a fucking disaster. Well done, Department of Ed. Well done.
Meanwhile, “The Department of Education Demands Greater Accountability From College Accreditors.” /headdesk
Hillary Clinton said something critical about charter schools while on the campaign trail, and considering the blowback, it’s a nice reminder of why most of the Democrats just keep their mouths shut on education policy.
Of course, the Republican candidates might do well to keep their mouths shut too. This gem from Ben Carson: “We know that the very best education is homeschool. The next is private school. The next is charter schools. And the last is public schools.” Homeschooled neurosurgeons FTW.
Via the LA School Report: “A year later, secrecy surrounds FBI probe of LAUSD's iPad program.”
“Newark was V1 of our education work,’’ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Bloomberg. ”And so now we’re onto V2." Move fast and break things…
Education in the Courts
The University of Illinois has paid $875,000 to settle Steven Salaita’s lawsuit, resulting from the school’s decision to fire Salaita based on comments he made on Twitter about Palestine.
“The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at the University of Virginia filed a $25 million lawsuit Monday against Rolling Stone magazine, which published an article in 2014 that alleged a freshman was gang raped at the house during a party,” The Washington Post reports.
Via Motherboard: “Court Docs Show a University Helped FBI Bust Silk Road 2, Child Porn Suspects.” That university: Carnegie Mellon. To help the FBI, researchers there attacked the Tor network, a system that helps anonymize Internet traffic. How did CMU IRB approve this, eh?
Via The New York Times: “A former Wesleyan University student pleaded guilty on Thursday to a federal drug dealing charge, admitting that he had distributed a party drug that left nearly a dozen students hospitalized, two in critical condition, after they overdosed on the drug last winter.”
Via Education Week: “PARCC Restructures, Allows States to Customize Test.” (States can now buy parts of the PARCC system and choose different vendors.)
Also via Education Week: “Paperless Testing: Most Grade 3–8 Students To Be Assessed Online in 2016.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Udacity has raised $105 million. It’s now valued at $1 billion, which means the tech sector congratulates it as a “unicorn.” Investing in this round: Bertelsmann, Baillie Gifford, Emerson Collective, Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, and Drive Capital. The startup has raised $160 million total. More via Inside Higher Ed.
When Fortune writes “Why Ed Tech Is Currently ‘The Wild Wild West’” the answer it offers is not “because it’s dominated by imperialism and white male supremacy.” Why, it's almost like these people don't read my work at all. Anyway, I guess there was a Fortune-run panel at a Fortune-run conference where Daphne Koller weighed in on MOOCs, and other panelists made predictions about the coming demise of universities.
“Better Residential Learning Is The True Innovation of MOOCs,” IHE blogger Joshua Kim contends.
“Both Sides Of The Education Debate Are United In Scorn For Online Charter Schools,” says Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy (although I’m never sure what “both sides” really means as I find myself at odds with “both.”)
Also by Molly Hensley-Clancy: “Black Colleges Are Going Online, Following Their Students And The Money.”
It’s a pretty familiar promise in for-profit education: “Bloc’s Guarantee: Get a Job as a Programmer or Your Money Back.” (Bloc charges $24,000 for a 48-week online “coding bootcamp.”)
“The Starbucks Corporation this week announced that it will offer a tuition-free education to a spouse or child of its employees who are veterans or active-duty members of the U.S. military,” Inside Higher Ed reports. (That is, tuition-free education at ASU Online as part of Starbucks’ existing deal with the school.)
Meanwhile on Campus
From Mizzou: “What’s Happening at the University of Missouri?” The football team protests and threatens a boycott, and, shocker, the school starts to listen. Via Vox: “How football and a hunger strike forced the University of Missouri president to resign.” Via NPR: “Demonstrators Clash With Journalists At The University Of Missouri.” More via Vox: Student protestors at the University of Missouri want a "no media safe space". (Bravo, journalists who tried to make this story about you and not about Black students. Bravo.) The university president resigns. From The Nation’s Dave Zirin: “3 Lessons from the University of Missouri President Tom Wolfe’s Resignation.” The chancellor of the Columbia campus R. Bowen Luftin resigned. The University of Missouri has selected Michael Middleton as its interim president. Two suspects who made threats to Black students via Yik Yak were apprehended. Via the St. Louis Post Dispatch: "Northwest Missouri State freshman posted social media threat to shoot black people, police say."Via Inside Higher Ed: "Missouri Police Apprehend Suspect in Yik Yak Threats."Via The LA Times: "Man arrested in University of Missouri threats had ‘deep interest’ in Oregon mass shooting."Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: "U. of Missouri Professor Offers to Resign After Declining to Cancel Class." (Resignation not accepted.) Via Boing Boing: "Mizzou student files complaint against teacher who asked for ‘muscle’ to block reporters."Via The New York Times: "University of Missouri Professor Who Confronted Photographer Quits Journalism Post."The NYT on the campus climate. "A Real Missouri ‘Concerned Student 1950’ Speaks, at Age 89" is an actual NYT headline. ("Real"?!)
From Yale: “Large Rally at Yale Follows Week of Racial Tensions” via Inside Higher Ed. “22 thoughts on the protests at Yale” by Dara Lind. “Yale’s big fight over sensitivity and free speech, explained,” Vox explains.
Elsewhere: a hunger strike at Claremont McKenna College. And then, “Dean at Claremont McKenna College Resigns Amid Protests.”
And The New York Times is on it: “Racial Discrimination Protests Ignite at Colleges Across the U.S.” Conor Friedersdorf wrote a couple of things in The Atlantic, but ugh. Do not link.
“The chancellor of the Georgia higher education system announced Friday afternoon that he plans to seek the merger of Albany State University, a historically black institution, with Darton State College, whose enrollment is about half white,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
“Kids In Texas Are More Likely To Get Tasered At School Than In Jail,” The Huffington Post reports.
Via ProPublica: “How 5 Florida Schools Ended Integration and Became Among Worst in State.”
“David Geffen, the entertainment industry executive, is giving $100 million to the University of California at Los Angeles for the institution to create a school for grades 6–12,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Go, School Sports Team!
The latest by Taylor Branch on the NCAA: “Toward Basic Rights for College Athletes.”
Via The News & Observer: “UNC dismisses two more employees in academic-athletic scandal.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Illinois Fires Athletic Director After Full Report of Former Coach’s Misconduct.”
From the HR Department
Via WaPo: “Donald E. Graham, the longtime Washington publisher who engineered the sale of The Washington Post and formed a holding company to run a diverse collection of businesses, is stepping down as chief executive.” (That includes the for-profit Kaplan.)
“Blackboard lays off more employees,” The Washington Business Journal reports.
“Portland Community College fires teacher for quiz on shootings, pimps, prostitutes,” The Oregonian reports.
“Reprimand Upheld for Professor Who Wouldn't Assign $180 Text,” says Inside Higher Ed.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Lots of Yik Yak in the news this week, a startup that has raised over $73 million in venture capital, particularly if it handed over user data following threats made on the platform. Via Vox’s Libby Nelson: “Colleges’ Yik Yak problem, explained.” Way to support a horrific environment, investors.
Elsewhere in tech investing: “Nearly every week, all around the world, wealthy people, self-made business owners and senior executives in a range of industries gather at private clubs, cultural centers or five-star hotels for free, invitation-only angel investing ‘boot camps’ intended to help them size up fledgling business ideas and the people behind them. The events are organized by Angel Labs, a global angel investor academy based in San Francisco whose mission is to widen the influence of angel investing, a field in which the relatively affluent put money into start-ups, usually in the tech industry.” More via The New York Times.
“How to Get Your Name into the Minds and Hearts of Teachers,” writes EdCamp director Hadley Ferguson in Edsurge, in an article I guess is directed at ed-tech companies. The answer: product placement and sponsorships to EdCamps. Because grassroots, baby.
“Math tutoring service in the form of a phone sex hotline.” Stay classy, ed-tech.
“Schools Can’t Stop Kids From Sexting. More Technology Can,” Jonathan Zimmerman argues in a NYT op-ed. Moar technology!
Google says its “Expeditions Pioneer Program” is coming to 15 new cities.
Ed-tech is not all awful. See, for example, Jim Groom on “Reclaiming Community at BYU with Known.” Or Clint Lalonde on “An open edtech playground infrastructure (or the magic of Grant Potter).” But let’s be honest. Most of ed-tech is pretty damn awful.
Funding and Acquisitions and Quarterly Reports
In addition to Udacity’s $100+ million funding round…
The tutoring company Varsity Tutors has raised $50 million from Technology Crossover Ventures, Adam Levine, and Stuart Udell. The startup has raised $57 million total.
“The Silicon School Fund debuted a $40 million fund to be invested in 40 new schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, benefiting 20,000 students, over the next five years,” Edsurge reports.
Macat has raised $30 million from unnamed sources. The company offers “a library of commissioned multimedia analyses of seminal texts in the humanities and social sciences that aim to improve the user’s critical thinking,” says Edsurge.
Hullabalu has raised $2.5 million in seed funding from Technicolor Ventures, Vayner RSE, SparkLabs Global, Rothenberg Ventures, 645 Ventures, Great Oaks VC, SV Angel, Scout Ventures, Liberty City, Nasir Jones, Carmelo Anthony, and Joanne Wilson. I mean if Carmelo Anthony is in on it, you know this “interactive story platform” has got to be… bwa ha ha, sorry Knicks fans. Anyway, Hullabalu has raised $6.45 million total.
Shirsa Labs has raised $250,000 in angel funding from ah! Ventures for its “50 week virtual after school program.”
Edsurge says that Touchpress is seeking a buyer for its educational iPad apps.
Via Politico: “SEC filings due for the third quarter of 2015 show that many for-profit college operators are again seeing lower revenue and fewer students than at this time last year, as regulations, lawsuits and closures continue to plague the industry. ITT Educational Services, which filed its third quarter results on Friday, reported a 16 percent revenue decrease and similar drop in enrollment for the three months ended Sept. 30, compared to the same period in 2014. DeVry disclosed a total revenue decrease of 4.5 percent, or about $441 million, for the same period . Strayer’s revenues fell 2 percent to about $99 million. And as we reported last month, Apollo made about $600 million in the quarter ending Aug. 31, compared to $696 million in the fourth quarter 2014. But Capella reported a third-quarter revenue of nearly $104 million, up from about $103 million in the same three months last year. And its enrollment increased over 4 percent.” But I'm sure bootcamps are gonna be terrific.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
“At least 100 students at a high school in Cañon City traded naked pictures of themselves, the authorities said Friday, part of a large sexting ring.” More via The New York Times.
Via The Intercept: “Not So Securus: Massive Hack of 70 Million Prisoner Phone Calls Indicates Violations of Attorney-Client Privilege.”
Data and “Research”
Via The Washington Post: “Education researchers caution against using students’ test scores to evaluate teachers.” That is AERA vs VAM, for those who prefer news items reduced to acronyms.
Via Pacific Standard: “Unconscious Teacher Bias Harms Black College Students.”
I forget: is rule-breaking for innovators good or bad? Anyhoo, Michael Horn, formerly of the Clayton Christensen Institute, writes in Edsurge about “How Amplify Broke All the Rules for Innovators.”
Of those elites at the World Innovation Summit of Education in Doha, Qatar, a survey“found just 39% of global education leaders believe their institutions adequately address the skills gap, and in the U.S., where more educators think so, few employers agree.”
A survey by CompTIA found that “96 percent of people between the ages of 13 and 24 either like or love technology, only 19 percent of those 18 to 24 and 13 percent of those 13 to 17 said they were interested in IT careers.”
Research from the RAND Corporation and the Gates Foundation says there’s been “continuing progress” on personalized learning.
“The National Science Foundation (NSF) will give North Carolina State University a nearly $800,000 grant to study how digital learning programs can best benefit students,” says Campus Technology.
The costs of textbook – data, blogged. “Bad Data Can Lead To Bad Policy: College students don't spend $1,200+ on textbooks,” says Phil Hill. “Asking What Students Spend on Textbooks Is the Wrong Question” Mike Caulfield responds. “Asking What Students Spend On Textbooks Is Very Important, But Insufficient” Phil Hill agrees. David Wiley weighs in with “The Practical Cost of Textbooks.” Phil Hillthen offers “Data To Back Up Concerns Of Textbook Expenditures By First-Generation Students.”
Via The New York Times: “Breakthrough Prize Looks to Stars to Shine on Science.” Or there’s this headline from Entrepreneur magazine: “ Why Mark Zuckerberg Just Gave This High School Student $400,000.”
The latest from the Pew Research Center: “Google Play Store Apps Permissions.”
Via Singularity University’s Singularity Hub: “Online Education in 2025: Here’s What to Expect.”
From Renaissance Learning, maker of Accelerated Reader, the latest “What Kids Are Reading” report.
“The Benefits of the Ukulele on Kids’ Attitudes.” (But the research involves Canadian children, so please let’s not extrapolate to the US. Please.)
No Child Left Behind just might be left behind. Via The New York Times: “Negotiators Come to Agreement on Revising No Child Left Behind Law.” Via Education Week: “House, Senate ESEA Compromise Sails Through Conference Committee.”
The Department of Education announced the results of an investigation that founds even more students were ripped off by Corinthian College than initially thought. The DoE’s announcement. More via NPR and Inside Higher Ed.
Via The New York Times: “The Department of Education announced Tuesday that it would expand its program to forgive federal student loan debt to thousands more students who attended programs of Corinthian Colleges, once one of the nation’s largest for-profit education companies.”
“Texas rejects letting academics vet public school textbooks,” the AP reports.
“Can California AG’s new bureau clean up for-profit virtual schools?” asks Education Dive. “A K12 Inc subpoena revealed in an SEC filing reveals wider investigation of virtual charters.”
“The Competency-Based Education Experiment Expanded to Include More Flexibility for Colleges and Students,” says the US Department of Education. That flexibility allows for “subscription delivery models.” Question: if you cancel the subscription, do you get to keep your competencies?
From the presidential campaign trail: “Clinton says ‘no evidence’ that teachers can be judged by student test scores.”
Education in the Courts
Via The New York Times: “The nation’s second-largest for-profit college operator, Education Management Corporation, is expected to agree to pay nearly $90 million to settle a case accusing it of compensating employees based on how many students they enrolled, encouraging hyperaggressive boiler room tactics to increase revenue.” But as Goldie Blumenstyk observes, “Little for Students in ‘Historic’ Settlement of Education Management Case.” However, it will forgive about 80,000 students’ loans.
Via The News Tribune: “The Washington State Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will not reconsider its September decision declaring the state’s voter-approved law establishing charter schools was unconstitutional. The high court had been asked to reconsider its decision by several parties, including the state charter school association, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a bipartisan group of 10 legislators and four former state attorneys general.”
Via The San Jose Mercury News: “A 17-year-old Lincoln High School student has been criminally cited after he hosted an Instagram account that featured nude photos of underage girls, authorities say, including some from Lincoln.”
The Pacific Standard reviews the new GED: “Making the Case for a Good-Enough Diploma. Common Core and big business have combined to make the lot of the upwardly mobile high school dropout even more dire.” (“Could Your Pass the New GED Test?”)
Massachusetts will develop its own Common Core assessments, dropping its plans to use PARCC’s.
Education Week asks, “How Is the Big Year for Common-Core Tests Shaking Out?”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Udacity and Google announced a co-developed nanodegree in “senior Web development.”
“edX and Microsoft Collaborate to Help K–12 School Leaders Improve Education,” says edX.
“Has edX become a platform for a Chinese propaganda course?” Inside Higher Ed asks.
From IHE blogger Joshua Kim: “5 Ways That Campus MOOC Initiatives Impact Local Residential Learning.”
The arts-oriented MOOC platform Kadenze has launched an LMS called Kannu. Sigh.
Meanwhile on Campus
Via Corey Robin: “Black Alumni at Yale Weigh In With Major List of Demands.” “Responding to student demonstrations and demands related to the racial climate at Yale University, its president, Peter Salovey, introduced a host of initiatives and promises in a letter to alumni on Tuesday,” The New York Times reports. (The letter.)
“Journalists Closed out of Smith College ‘Sit-In,’ Should We Be Troubled?” asks Angus Johnston.
Amherst faculty unanimously agreed to get rid of the school’s unofficial mascot Lord Jeff – “tarnished by his dealings with Native Americans more than 200 years ago” – in a non-binding vote.
The Seattle school board has okay’d a proposal for high schools to start at 8:45am, giving students some additional minutes of sleep each day (ideally at least).
“It Won’t Be Long Now Until Every School Has Internet Access,” Wired trumpets. According to EducationSuperHighway, the schools which meet the FCC’s minimum requirements for Internet speed has jumped from 30% to 77% since 2013. (Mark Zuckerberg also announced this week he’s giving EducationSuperHighway $20 million. While headlinesread that the money will help schools get faster Internet, it will actually go towards more staff and consultants for EducationSuperHighway.) Education Week has a good series of stories on how schools are charged outrageous fees for lousy Internet service.
Washington College will remain closed until after Thanksgiving weekend as police have been unable to locate a student who brandished a gun on campus.
“Westwood College, a for-profit chain with 14 campus locations, last week announced on its website that it has stopped enrolling new students,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Via NPR: “U.S. Colleges See A Big Bump In International Students.”
“The University of Montana on Tuesday announced plans to cut 201 full-time positions – 52 of them faculty slots – to deal with enrollment declines,” says Inside Higher Ed.
“The Silicon Valley Suicides” by Hanna Rosin.
From the California Community College Board of Governors: a call to establish a new model to accredit the systems’ 113 colleges. “The board approved a resolution citing the need to raise the professionalism of accreditation in California, stating that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has lost credibility with its peers and no longer meets the current and anticipated needs of California community colleges.”
“A College Watchdog Finally Barked, So The Colleges Got A New Dog,” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy writes.
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel has announced his resignation so he can focus on his fight with cancer.
From the HR Department
“Teachers at California’s largest online charter school unionize,” The Santa Barbara Sun reports. (That is, the California Virtual Academies.)
Via The Chicago Sun-Times: “Chicago taxpayers paid almost $900,000 for three and a half years’ work by disgraced former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. And though she’s a felon since pleading guilty in a contract rigging scheme at CPS, she still stands to cost taxpayers in districts that employed her more than $140,000 in annual public pensions.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
“Months after being acquired by Follett, campus store operator Neebo is still sending students to collection agencies over textbooks the students say they have already returned,” IHE’s Carl Straumsheim reports.
Meanwhile… “Northern Virginia Community College’s Extended Learning Institute (ELI) and open courseware provider Lumen Learning announced a collaboration to publish 24 online college courses for two complete degree programs. All courses were developed for zero student cost using open educational resources (OER) (i.e., no textbooks, just public access Internet).”
“The War on Campus Sexual Assault Goes Digital,” says NYT’s Natasha Singer in a profile of an online service called Callisto that lets students anonymously record details of sexual assaults and then decide on whether or not to later report them.
Via The Washington Post: “FBI Online Game Combating Youth Extremism Draws Ire of Muslim Groups.”
The word of the year is an emoji, FFS.
Investments and IPOs
Match Group raised $400 million in its IPO. Match Group, a unit of billionaire Barry Diller’s IAC owns Match.com, OK Cupid, Tinder… and Tutor.com and the Princeton Review.
Via Vox: “David Geffen’s $100 million gift to UCLA is philanthropy at its absolute worst.”
Earnest has raised $275 million in funding from New York Life Investment Management and Battery Ventures. The company has raised $299.1 million total. This makes Earnest the ed-tech company that has raised the second most amount of funding this year. The most: SoFi, which has raised $1.2 billion in 2015. Both of these companies offer private student loans, which is truly a fascinating indication of how venture capitalists predict the push for MOOCs and coding bootcamps and other post-secondary education/tech opportunities will be funded – on the backs of students carrying loan debt. Disruptive!
TutorGroup has raised “about” $200 million in funding from GIC, the Russia-China Investment Fund, Goldman Sachs, and Silverlink Capital LP. It’s a unicorn now, Edsurge notes, with a valuation of over $1 billion. The company, which offers online tutoring, has raised $315 million.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will invest some $34 million in cooperative initiatives designed to improve teacher-preparation programs’ overall effectiveness,” Education Week reports.
PresenceLearning has raised $25 million from Catalyst Investors, Birchmere Ventures, Blue Heron Capital, Catamount Ventures, and New Markets Venture Partners. The company which offers online speech and occupational therapy, has raised $33 million total.
VersaMe has raised $2.5 million from Learn Capital and Stanford-StartX for its wearable device (price-tag: $149) that you pin to your toddler to count how many words they hear. Certainly in the running for worst ed-tech idea of 2015.
BridgeU has raised $2.5 million from Octopus Investments, Fresco Capital, and Seedcamp. The company, which boasts that it has built “the first truly adaptive university preparation & application platform for students,” has raised $2.9 million total.
“Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) and Aavishkaar have announced a $2.3 million Series A round of investments in Karadi Path, which makes immersive English language curriculum and multimedia materials,” Edsurge reports.
WriteLab, “a browser-based tool that provides feedback on writing,” has raised $2 million in seed funding from Reach Capital, Kapor Capital, and Learn Capital.
Job placement company iStar has raised $1.51 million from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.
Authess has raised $675,000 from “US investors and Manipal Global Education,” says BetaBoston. “The company makes mobile and online assessment systems that better reflect a person’s abilities, instead of his or her ability to memorize information for a multiple-choice test, according to its website.”
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via Politico: “The Education Department is doing a poor job on everything from responding to cyber attacks to updating its software and hardware, but it’s especially bad at monitoring its computer networks for threats, according to an annual inspector general audit.”
“California school bus service eyes biometric technology for pupils,” says CS Monitor. “A transportation service that serves four districts in California is testing iris scanners to ensure students aren’t accidentally left on a bus, but the trial raises privacy concerns for some experts.”
Data and “Research”
A report from Australia’s National Assessment Programme says that tablets are “eroding” children’s digital skills.
According to data from the US Department of Education’s Quarterly Student Aid Report, “Two-Thirds of Freshmen FAFSA Applicants List Only One College on Their Applications.”
“There’s No Substitute for In-Person Lectures,” says Pacific Standard. “A study released last week finds that students who watched a videotaped lecture recalled less of the material, and felt less engaged in the subject, than they did after sitting through a similar live lesson.”
A report from Common Sense Media (via Education Week): “Media Usage Highest Among Poor, Minority Youth.”
According to a study by Digital Promise (also via Education Week): “Little Consistency in How Districts Judge Ed-Tech Through Pilot Tests.”
A survey from Gallup and Google on computer science. Among the findings: “Observations from students and parents suggest that TV and film media portrayals, as well as personal perceptions among students, parents and educators, often reflect stereotypes about people who engage in computer science; this has the potential to limit participation among certain student groups.”
According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “Fewer students are earning a college credential within six years of first enrolling in college” – down 2.1% from the previous year’s cohort.
US student loan debt has officially surpassed $1.2 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Again, congrats venture capitalists for getting in on this important education trend.
After decades of explosive growth, the future of for-profit higher education might not be so bright. Or, depending on where you look, it just might be…
In recent years, there have been a number of investigations – in the media, by the government– into the for-profit college sector and questions about these schools’ ability to effectively and affordably educate their students. Sure, advertising for for-profits is still plastered all over the Web, the airwaves, and public transportation, but as a result of journalistic and legal pressures, the lure of these schools may well be a lot less powerful. If nothing else, enrollment and profits at many for-profit institutions are down.
Despite the massive amounts of money spent by the industry to prop it up – not just on ads but on lobbying and legal efforts, the Obama Administration has made cracking down on for-profits a centerpiece of its higher education policy efforts, accusing these schools of luring students with misleading and overblown promises, often leaving them with low-status degrees sneered at by employers and with loans students can’t afford to pay back.
But the Obama Administration has also just launched an initiative that will make federal financial aid available to newcomers in the for-profit education sector: ed-tech experiments like “coding bootcamps” and MOOCs. Why are these particular for-profit experiments deemed acceptable? What do they do differently from the much-maligned for-profit universities?
School as “Skills Training”
In many ways, coding bootcamps do share the justification for their existence with for-profit universities. That is, they were founded in order to help to meet the (purported) demands of the job market: training people with certain technical skills, particularly those skills that meet the short-term needs of employers. Whether they meet students’ long-term goals remains to be seen.
I write “purported” here even though it’s quite common to hear claims that the economy is facing a “STEM crisis” – that too few people have studied science, technology, engineering, or math and employers cannot find enough skilled workers to fill jobs in those fields. But claims about a shortage of technical workers are debatable, and lots of data would indicate otherwise: wages in STEM fields have remained flat, for example, and many who graduate with STEM degrees cannot find work in their field. In other words, the crisis may be “a myth.”
But it’s a powerful myth, and one that isn’t terribly new, dating back at least to the launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and subsequent hand-wringing over the Soviets’ technological capabilities and technical education as compared to the US system.
There are actually a number of narratives – some of them competing narratives – at play here in the recent push for coding bootcamps, MOOCs, and other ed-tech initiatives: that everyone should go to college; that college is too expensive – “a bubble” in the Silicon Valley lexicon; that alternate forms of credentialing will be developed (by the technology sector, naturally); that the tech sector is itself a meritocracy, and college degrees do not really matter; that earning a degree in the humanities will leave you unemployed and burdened by student loan debt; that everyone should learn to code. Much like that supposed STEM crisis and skill shortage, these narratives might be powerful, but they too are hardly provable.
Nor is the promotion of a more business-focused education that new either.
Career Colleges: A History
Foster’s Commercial School of Boston, founded in 1832 by Benjamin Franklin Foster, is often recognized as the first school established in the United States for the specific purpose of teaching “commerce.” Many other commercial schools opened on its heels, most located in the Atlantic region in major trading centers like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Charleston. As the country expanded westward, so did these schools. Bryant & Stratton College was founded in Cleveland in 1854, for example, and it established a chain of schools, promising to open a branch in every American city with a population of more than 10,000. By 1864, it had opened more than 50, and the chain is still in operation today with 18 campuses in New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The curriculum of these commercial colleges was largely based around the demands of local employers alongside an economy that was changing due to the Industrial Revolution. Schools offered courses in bookkeeping, accounting, penmanship, surveying, and stenography. This was in marketed contrast to those universities built on a European model, which tended to teach topics like theology, philosophy, and classical language and literature. If these universities were “elitist,” the commercial colleges were “popular” – there were over 70,000 students enrolled in them in 1897, compared to just 5800 in colleges and universities – something that highlights what’s a familiar refrain still today: that traditional higher ed institutions do not meet everyone’s needs.
The existence of the commercial colleges became intertwined in many success stories of the nineteenth century: Andrew Carnegie attended night school in Pittsburgh to learn bookkeeping, and John D. Rockefeller studied banking and accounting at Folsom’s Commercial College in Cleveland. The type of education offered at these schools was promoted as a path to become a “self-made man.”
That’s the story that still gets told: these sorts of classes open up opportunities for anyone to gain the skills (and perhaps the certification) that will enable upward mobility.
It’s a story echoed in the ones told about (and by) John Sperling as well. Born into a working class family, Sperling worked as a merchant marine, then attended community college during the day and worked as a gas station attendant at night. He later transferred to Reed College, went on to UC Berkeley, and completed his doctorate at Cambridge University. But Sperling felt as though these prestigious colleges catered to privileged students; he wanted a better way for working adults to be able to complete their degrees. In 1976, he founded the University of Phoenix, one of the largest for-profit colleges in the US which at its peak in 2010 enrolled almost 600,000 students.
Other well-known names in the business of for-profit higher education: Walden University (founded in 1970), Capella University (founded in 1993), Laureate Education (founded in 1999), Devry University (founded in 1931), Education Management Corporation (founded in 1962), Strayer University (founded in 1892), Kaplan University (founded in 1937 as The American Institute of Commerce), and Corinthian Colleges (founded in 1995 and defunct in 2015).
It’s important to recognize the connection of these for-profit universities to older career colleges, and it would be a mistake to see these organizations as distinct from the more recent development of MOOCs and coding bootcamps. Kaplan, for example, acquired the code school Dev Bootcamp in 2014. Laureate Education is an investor in the MOOC provider Coursera. The Apollo Education Group, the University of Phoenix’s parent company, is an investor in the coding bootcamp The Iron Yard.
Much like the worries about today’s for-profit universities, even the earliest commercial colleges were frequently accused of being “purely business speculations” – “diploma mills” – mishandled by administrators who put the bottom line over the needs of students. There were concerns about the quality of instruction and about the value of the education students were receiving.
That’s part of the apprehension about for-profit universities’ (almost most) recent manifestations too: that these schools are charging a lot of money for a certification that, at the end of the day, means little. But at least the nineteenth century commercial colleges were affordable, UC Berkley history professor Caitlin Rosenthal argues in a 2012 op-ed in Bloomberg,
The most common form of tuition at these early schools was the “life scholarship.” Students paid a lump sum in exchange for unlimited instruction at any of the college's branches – $40 for men and $30 for women in 1864. This was a considerable fee, but much less than tuition at most universities. And it was within reach of most workers – common laborers earned about $1 per day and clerks' wages averaged $50 per month.
Many of these “life scholarships” promised that students who enrolled would land a job – and if they didn’t, they could always continue their studies. That’s quite different than the tuition at today’s colleges – for-profit or not-for-profit – which comes with no such guarantee.
Interestingly, several coding bootcamps do make this promise. A 48-week online program at Bloc will run you $24,000, for example. But if you don’t find a job that pays $60,000 after four months, your tuition will be refunded, the startup has pledged.
According to a recent survey of coding bootcamp alumni, 66% of graduates do say they’ve found employment (63% of them full-time) in a job that requires the skills they learned in the program. 89% of respondents say they found a job within 120 days of completing the bootcamp. Yet 21% say they’re unemployed – a number that seems quite high, particularly in light of that supposed shortage of programming talent.
For-Profit Higher Ed: Who’s Being Served?
The gulf between for-profit higher ed’s promise of improved job prospects and the realities of graduates’ employment, along with the price tag on its tuition rates, is one of the reasons that the Obama Administration has advocated for “gainful employment” rules. These would measure and monitor the debt-to-earnings ratio of graduates from career colleges and in turn penalize those schools whose graduates had annual loan payments more than 8% of their wages or 20% of their discretionary earnings. (The gainful employment rules only apply to those schools that are eligible for Title IV federal financial aid.)
The data is still murky about how much debt attendees at coding bootcamps accrue and how “worth it” these programs really might be. According to the aforementioned survey, the average tuition at these programs is $11,852. This figure might be a bit deceiving as the price tag and the length of bootcamps vary greatly. Moreover, many programs, such as App Academy, offer their program for free (well, plus a $5000 deposit) but then require that graduates repay up to 20% of their first year’s salary back to the school. So while the tuition might appear to be low in some cases, the indebtedness might actually be quite high.
According to Course Report’s survey, 49% of graduates say that they paid tuition out of their own pockets, 21% say they received help from family, and just 1.7% say that their employer paid (or helped with) the tuition bill. Almost 25% took out a loan.
That percentage – those going into debt for a coding bootcamp program – has increased quite dramatically over the last few years. (Less than 4% of graduates in the 2013 survey said that they had taken out a loan). In part, that’s due to the rapid expansion of the private loan industry geared towards serving this particular student population. (Incidentally, the two ed-tech companies which have raised the most money in 2015 are both loan providers: SoFi and Earnest. The former has raised $1.2 billion in venture capital this year; the latter $245 million.)
The Obama Administration’s newly proposed “EQUIP” experiment will open up federal financial aid to some coding bootcamps and other ed-tech providers (like MOOC platforms), but it’s important to underscore some of the key differences here between federal loans and private-sector loans: federal student loans don’t have to be repaid until you graduate or leave school; federal student loans offer forbearance and deferment if you’re struggling to make payments; federal student loans have a fixed interest rate, often lower than private loans; federal student loans can be forgiven if you work in public service; federal student loans (with the exception of PLUS loans) do not require a credit check. The latter in particular might help to explain the demographics of those who are currently attending coding bootcamps: if they’re having to pay out-of-pocket or take loans, students are much less likely to be low-income. Indeed, according to Course Report’s survey, the cost of the bootcamps and whether or not they offered a scholarship was one of the least important factors when students chose a program.
Here’s a look at some coding bootcamp graduates’ demographic data (as self-reported):
|Yes, born in the US||78.2%|
|High school dropout||0.2%|
|High school graduate||2.6%|
(According to several surveys of MOOC enrollees, these students also tend to be overwhelmingly male from more affluent neighborhoods, and MOOC students also tend to already possess Bachelor’s degrees. The median age of MITx registrants is 27.)
It’s worth considering how the demographics of students in MOOCs and coding bootcamps may (or may not) be similar to those enrolled at other for-profit post-secondary institutions, particularly since all of these programs tend to invoke the rhetoric about “democratizing education” and “expanding access.” Access for whom?
Some two million students were enrolled in for-profit colleges in 2010, up from 400,000 a decade earlier. These students are disproportionately older, African American, and female when compared to the entire higher ed student population. While one in 20 of all students are enrolled in a for-profit college, 1 in 10 African American students, 1 in 14 Latino students, and 1 in 14 first-generation college students are enrolled at a for-profit. Students at for-profits are more likely to be single parents. They’re less likely to enter with a high school diploma. Dependent students in for-profits have about half as much family income as students in not-for-profit schools. (This demographic data is drawn from the NCES and from Harvard University researchers David Deming, Claudia Goldin, and Lawrence Katz in their 2013 study on for-profit colleges.)
Deming, Goldin, and Katz argue that
The snippets of available evidence suggest that the economic returns to students who attend for-profit colleges are lower than those for public and nonprofit colleges. Moreover, default rates on student loans for proprietary schools far exceed those of other higher-education institutions.
According to one 2010 report, just 22% of first- and full-time students pursuing Bachelor’s degrees at for-profit colleges in 2008 graduated, compared to 55% and 65% of students at public and private non-profit universities respectively. Of the more than 5000 career programs that the Department of Education tracks, 72% of those offered by for-profit institutions produce graduates who earn less than high school dropouts.
As Tressie McMillan Cottom notes in her forthcoming book Lower Ed, there are important discrepancies within for-profit higher education when it comes to which programs get marketed to which students:
These two schools – the Beauty College and the Technical College – can be said to represent the poles of the for-profit college’s Wall Street Era. The Wall Street Era begins in the mid 1990s and (with some debate) continues presently. This period is defined as one where the investment classes not only recognized the huge economic potential of on-demand market-based degrees but when millions of people suddenly needed more on-demand education to stay afloat in the labor market. The pull between good jobs in IT and business and bad jobs in the service sector is the world of life and work by the 2000s. When and how deeply you felt pulled by these magnetic energies depends greatly on things beyond your control: who you are, what you are, what you inherited, what you know, who you know and where you were on the social ladder of opportunity when the poles started pulling apart. The poles of the for-profit college sector reflect that greater push and pull. Short-term certificates with clearly articulated job paths, like nine-month cosmetology degrees at the Beauty College, tend to enroll browner, poorer students. At the other end, Masters degrees in technology like the 24-month programs at the Technical College enroll more men, a greater share of which are white, less poor, have more college and more immediate earning power.
For their part, today’s MOOCs and coding bootcamps also boast that their students will find great success on the job market. Coursera, for example, recently surveyed its students who’d completed one of its online courses and 72% who responded said they had experienced “career benefits.” But without the mandated reporting that comes with federal financial aid, a lot of what we know about their student population and student outcomes remains pretty speculative.
What kind of students benefit from coding bootcamps and MOOC programs, the new for-profit education? We don’t really know… although based on the history of higher education and employment, we can guess.
EQUIP and the New For-Profit Higher Ed
On October 14, the Obama Administration announced a new initiative, the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program, which will provide a pathway for unaccredited education programs like coding bootcamps and MOOCs to become eligible for federal financial aid. According to the Department of Education, EQUIP is meant to open up “new models of education and training” to low income students. In a press release, it argues that “Some of these new models may provide more flexible and more affordable credentials and educational options than those offered by traditional higher institutions, and are showing promise in preparing students with the training and education needed for better, in-demand jobs.”
The EQUIP initiative will partner accredited institutions with third-party providers, loosening the “50% rule” that prohibits accredited schools from outsourcing more than 50% of an accredited program. Since bootcamps and MOOC providers “are not within the purview of traditional accrediting agencies,” the Department of Education says, “we have no generally accepted means of gauging their quality.” So those organizations that apply for the experiment will have to provide an outside “quality assurance entity,” which will help assess “student outcomes” like learning and employment.
By making financial aid available for bootcamps and MOOCs, one does have to wonder if the Obama Administration is not simply opening the doors for more of precisely the sort of practices that the for-profit education industry has long been accused of: expanding rapidly, lowering the quality of instruction, focusing on marketing to certain populations (such as veterans), and profiting off of taxpayer dollars.
Who benefits from the availability of aid? And who benefits from its absence? (“Who” here refers to students and to schools.)
Shawna Scott argues in “The Code School-Industrial Complex” that without oversight, coding bootcamps re-inscribe the dominant beliefs and practices of the tech industry. Despite all the talk of “democratization,” this is a new form of gatekeeping.
Before students are even accepted, school admission officers often select for easily marketable students, which often translates to students with the most privileged characteristics. Whether through intentionally targeting those traits because it’s easier to ensure graduates will be hired, or because of unconscious bias, is difficult to discern. Because schools’ graduation and employment rates are their main marketing tool, they have a financial stake in only admitting students who are at low risk of long-term unemployment. In addition, many schools take cues from their professional developer founders and run admissions like they hire for their startups. Students may be subjected to long and intensive questionnaires, phone or in-person interviews, or be required to submit a ‘creative’ application, such as a video. These requirements are often onerous for anyone working at a paid job or as a caretaker for others. Rarely do schools proactively provide information on alternative application processes for people of disparate ability. The stereotypical programmer is once again the assumed default.
And so, despite the recent moves to sanction certain ed-tech experiments, some in the tech sector have been quite vocal in their opposition to more regulations governing coding schools. It’s not just EQUIP either; there was much outcry last year after several states, including California, “cracked down” on bootcamps. Many others have framed the entire accreditation system as a “cabal” that stifles innovation. “Innovation” in this case implies alternate certificate programs – not simply Associate’s or Bachelor’s degrees – in timely, technical topics demanded by local/industry employers.
The Forgotten Tech Ed: Community Colleges
Of course, there is an institution that’s long offered alternate certificate programs in timely, technical topics demanded by local/industry employers, and that’s the community college system.
Vox’s Libby Nelson observed that “The NYT wrote more about Harvard last year than all community colleges combined,” and certainly the conversations in the media (and elsewhere) often ignore that community colleges exist at all, even though these schools educate almost half of all undergraduates in the US.
Like much of public higher education, community colleges have seen their funding shrink in recent decades and have been tasked to do more with less. For community colleges, it’s a lot more with a lot less. Open enrollment, for example, means that these schools educate students who require more remediation. Yet despite many community colleges students being “high need,” community colleges spend far less per pupil than do four-year institutions. Deep budget cuts have also meant that even with their open enrollment policies, community colleges are having to restrict admissions. In 2012, some 470,000 students in California were on waiting lists, unable to get into the courses they need.
This is what we know from history: as the funding for public higher ed decreased– for two- and four-year schools alike, for-profit higher ed expanded, promising precisely what today’s MOOCs and coding bootcamps now insist they’re the first and the only schools to do: to offer innovative programs, training students in the kinds of skills that will lead to good jobs. History tells us otherwise...
It’s Black Friday. Maybe I’ll go out and buy the domain “hasESEAbeenrenewedyet.com,” although it appears as though the bill will be passed next month. Of course, we’ve thought that all year long. Via Education Week: “#StopESEA? Conservative Blogger Who May Have Helped Derail ESEA Has New Qualms.” Also via Education Week: “A New ESEA: A Cheat Sheet on What the Deal Means for Teachers.”
Via Politico, a look at the worst school system in the US, those on Native American reservations: “How Washington created some of the worst schools in America.”
An “update on British Columbia’s open textbook project” by Tony Bates.
According to the BBC, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne plans to overhaul school funding in England “to remove big regional differences in levels of per pupil funding.”
Melinda Anderson looks at “The Other Student Activists” in The Atlantic. (That is, high school students.)
Education in the Courts
Via Education Week: “Ahmed Mohamed, the Irving teenager who made national news after he was suspended for bringing a clock to school, is seeking $15 million in damages from the city of Irving and the Irving school district.”
Via Bloomberg: “Testing companies failing to disclose to students’ that their personally identifiable information was sold at a profit to educational organizations doesn’t provide injury sufficient for Article III standing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed Nov. 18. In yet another blow to putative class actions alleging privacy violations, Judge Michael S. Kanne agreed with the trial court that the plaintiffs didn’t establish how ACT Inc. and The College Board ‘deprived them of the economic value’ of their PII.”
Alejandro Amor, the owner of the for-profit college FastTrain, has been convicted of 12 counts of theft of government money and one count of conspiracy.
“The Northwest Evaluation Association has been chosen to develop and implement one of the tests overseen by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in a move that will broaden the U.S. testing organization’s international reach,” Education Week reports.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The College Board has notified some students who took the SAT outside the United States this month that their scores are being delayed due to an investigation into a possible security breach.”
Via The Oregonian: “Oregon teachers despise the Smarter Balanced tests, survey says.”
Mark Guzdial writes “A Call to Action for Higher Education to make AP CS Principles Work.”
Via Edsurge: “BenchPrep Partners with Hobsons to Universalize Test Prep.” Woohoo! Universal test prep!
Credentials and Credits
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Southern New Hampshire U’s College for America releases a promising early snapshot of the general-education learning and skills of students who are enrolled in a new form of competency-based education.”
“3 reasons open source needs Open Badges” by Doug Belshaw.
ACE’s Deborah Seymour on the Alternative Credit Project Ecosystem.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via Edsurge: “EdX Stays Committed to Universities, Offering Credits for MOOCs.”
An interview in Inside Higher Ed with Robert Rhoads, the author of MOOCs, High Technology and Higher Learning.
“Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought MOOC & open course transparency” by George Veletsianos.
“No Rich Child Left Behind, and Enriching the Rich: Why MOOCs are not improving education” by Mark Guzdial.
Meanwhile on Campus
CNN aired the documentary The Hunting Ground last weekend, despite legal threats from former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who is accused in the film of a violent sexual assault. (More on FSU below.) Via NPR: “CNN’s ‘The Hunting Ground’ Scrutinized For Portrayal Of Campus Sexual Assault.” Via Science of Us: “The Hunting Ground Uses a Striking Statistic About Campus Rape That’s Almost Certainly False.”
From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: “Custom-Redacted School Texts Make a Worrying Trend”:
In the past few months we’ve noticed an uptick in a different kind of censorship from what we usually see. Namely, a few schools across the country have assigned their students to read texts that were first edited by hand: words blacked out with marker and modified from what the author wrote.
Unlike the more familiar cases involving challenges, review committees, and school board meetings that happen in public for all to see, these instances of unauthorized editing are more insidious. On the surface, it appears that the students are reading complex, potentially controversial texts; in reality, though, the texts have been pre-sanitized so as to avoid even the possibility of a public challenge. Not only does this practice rob the students of a well-rounded education, but it also violates both the First Amendment and U.S. copyright laws designed to protect authors’ creations from tampering.
Western Washington University cancelled classes this week following threats via Yik Yak. Via the AP: “The student body president of Western Washington University said Wednesday she has received death threats involving her race and no longer feels safe on the Bellingham campus.”
Via Vox: “Why college protestors are telling the media to stay away.”
Via the Ottowa Sun: “Student leaders have pulled the mat out from 60 University of Ottawa students, ending a free on-campus yoga class over fears the teachings could be seen as a form of ‘cultural appropriation.’” (“Do you know the weird political history behind yoga?” asks Boing Boing.)
Via The Columbus Dispatch: “The state has ordered the entire administrative and teaching staff at a Columbus middle school to undergo training in identifying warning signs for behavioral disabilities among students after they suspended an unruly sixth-grader for 70 days last school year.”
The BBC looks at “merger madness” – that is, the consolidation of European universities.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “American Indian College, which describes itself as the nation’s only private college for Native American students, will teach out its 91 students and close its doors after having its accreditation withdrawn by the Higher Learning Commission, the Phoenix institution’s president said Monday.”
Via The Atlantic: “A For-Profit College Initiative That Just Might Work” – a partnership between Strayer University and Fiat-Chrysler car dealerships.
Go, School Sports Team!
Via Deadspin: “Former FSU Official: Football Players Receive Special Treatment As Dozens Accused Of Sexual Assault Or Domestic Violence.” Via The New York Times: “F.S.U. Reported Few Rape Cases to the U.S.”
From the HR Department
Jamienne Studley, the “number 2” higher ed official in the US Department of Education, will leave her post at the end of the month.
“Just How Few Professors of Color Are at America’s Top Colleges? Check Out These Charts,” Mother Jones asks you to click.
Contests and Competitions
Upgrades and Downgrades
The world’s largest OER collection has been released by the Smithsonian.
Via Reuters: “ Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs, is the lead investor who funded the buyout of News Corp’s money losing digital education business Amplify earlier this year.” Other investments by Powell Jobs: AltSchool, Udacity, and Nearpod. The amount invested in Amplify was not disclosed.
Study tool startup Quizlet has raised $12 million– its first founding round after being bootstrapped for a long, long time – from Union Square Ventures, Costanoa Venture Capital, Owl Ventures, Altos Ventures, Geoff Ralston, Tim Brady, and Greg Brockman. Here’s founder and CTO Andrew Sutherland on why the company opted to raise VC and “what’s next.”
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
From Pearson VUE: “We recently were made aware that an unauthorized third party placed malware on Pearson VUE’s Credential Manager (PCM) system, which is a platform that supports adult professional certification and licenses. The unauthorized party improperly accessed certain information related to a limited set of Pearson VUE’s PCM system users. As of now, we do not believe that U.S. Social Security numbers or full payment card information were compromised as a result of this issue.”
Data and “Research”
From the OECD: “Education at a Glance 2015.” (Write-ups on the news include Inside Higher Ed’s take and this from Education Week: “International Survey Finds U.S. Lagging in Early-Childhood Education.”)
A peak at the upcoming Horizon Report for higher education from Bryan Alexander. (Hopefully not on the horizon: “Tech Tats, A New Biowearable Technology In the Form of Temporary Circuit Board Tattoos.”)
“Google donated $760K to a university that wrote pro-Google policy papers.” The “research” in question was done by George Mason.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Study finds notable drop in proportion of recent high school graduates from bottom 20 percent of family incomes who are enrolling in college.” Via Bryan Alexander: “Fewer and richer high school grads heading to college: ACE analysis.” Via Mic: “One of the Biggest Problems on College Campuses Is One We Never Talk About.” (That is, classism.)
According to a study by the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center, “in a recent 10-year period while there has been an increase in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the physical sciences and engineering, the share of such degrees awarded to black students has fallen, as other groups are seeing larger increases.”
Via The Atlantic: “The Missing Black Students at Elite American Universities.”
“Children are becoming more trusting of what they see online, but sometimes lack the understanding to decide whether it is true or impartial,” according to a study by Ofcom, which uses the phrase “digital natives” in its headline. Ugh. Don’t do that. Here’s a better headline, from Motherboard: “Only 31% of Preteens Can Distinguish Paid Ads from Real Search Results.”
Via Phil Hill: “New Visual From LISTedTECH Shows LMS Market By New Implementations.”
Via Susan Dynarski in the NYT: “Urban Charter Schools Often Succeed. Suburban Ones Often Don’t.”
It’s time once again for my annual review of the year in ed-tech. This is the sixth year I’ve done so.
It’s a fairly massive undertaking – Gates-Foundation-free research, a rarity in ed-tech – which means I have to start thinking about this project long before the end-of-the-year. That always makes me nervous that I’ll leave something out – that something “big” will happen in December that’ll change everything. Or at least, something that’ll change the focus of my analysis.
I’m not sure why I worry. As education technology entrepreneurs and investors and politicians like to remind us, education has not changed in hundreds of years, right?. Or at least, it never ever changed until education technology entrepreneurs and investors came along to “disrupt” things. LOL. #thanksSiliconValley.
But looking back on the last five years of my “Top Ed-Tech Trends,” it does seem as though very little has changed. (Indeed, this series is beginning to feel like the Horizon Report, except instead of predicting what’s “on the horizon,” I’m always observing “the history of the future” of education by looking at the recent past.
Many of the things I have written about previously – and will write about again this year – remain the same. If nothing else, ed-tech remains incredibly political, and venture capitalists continue to pour money into the sector, hoping it will become incredibly profitable as well.
Ed-Tech’s Zombie Ideas
2015 was another great year for “zombie ideas” in ed-tech. “Zombie ideas,” as economist Paul Krugman has described them, are those “policy ideas that keep being killed by evidence, but nonetheless shamble relentlessly forward, essentially because they suit a political agenda."
Zombie ideas are sort of like SkyMall, which declared bankruptcy in January admitting that people don’t browse its catalog of crap any longer thanks to in-flight Wi-Fi. But then Skymall didn’t actually die, as it found new owners who promised to bring the magazine back to life and to airplane seat pockets. And remember, as VCU’s Jon Becker wrote way back in 2010, ed-tech has a lot in common with SkyMall.
Some of the “zombies ideas” in ed-tech include the notions that technology facilitates cheating or that technology is a distraction and therefore should be banned in the classroom. (It is worth noting that the New York City public schools did lift their longstanding ban on cellphones this year. But it was hardly a fatal blow to that particular zombie idea.) Headlines appeared regularly throughout the year, stirring up panic about schools’ and students’ technology usage. From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Facebook Addiction and GPA” From Salon: “Wi-Fi exposure may be worse for kids than we thought.” And some of the fears of ed-tech were warranted, as we witnessed data breaches, sexting rings, threats of violence (and real violence), and so on.
One of ed-tech’s most powerful zombies, the learning management system, not only refused to die this year, but one of its makers, Instructure, had its initial public offering.(The latest on INST on the NYSE.) In related zombie news, Reuters reported in July that the most infamous LMS provider, Blackboard, was up for sale (again). But it doesn’t appear that there’ve been any buyers as of yet. The company continues to lay off employees, but alas it’s probably not a fatal blow for that particular monster.
Also among the undead in 2015: virtual reality, which has seen renewed interest by the tech press, which continues to be pretty damn uncritical when it comes to reviewing new products or assessing the industry’s predictions. Google tried to convince everyone that its Cardboard viewer is VR and that the videos students can watch on the devices are akin to field trips. TIME insisted “Virtual Reality Is About to Change the World,” but then it put this photo on the cover of the magazine, surely setting VR back quite a bit.
According to Second Life founder Philip Rosedale who’s still involved in various VR projects, “kids will one day go to school through a VR headset.” One day, man. One day. Meanwhile, Fusion’s Patrick Hogan took a tour of the abandoned college campuses of Second Life.
In September, the OECD has released a report on computers and education, which found that – no big surprise – ed-tech isn’t really all that transformational, despite all the investor, media, and entrepreneurial frenzy.
The report provides a first-of-its-kind internationally comparative analysis of the digital skills that students have acquired, and of the learning environments designed to develop these skills. This analysis shows that the reality in our schools lags considerably behind the promise of technology. In 2012, 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries reported that they have a computer at home, but only 72% reported that they use a desktop, laptop or tablet computer at school, and in some countries fewer than one in students reported doing so. And even where computers are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed at best. Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.
The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. And perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services. Last but not least, most parents and teachers will not be surprised by the findings that students who spend more than six hours on line per weekday outside of school are particularly at risk of reporting that they feel lonely at school, and that they arrived late for school or skipped days of school in the two weeks prior to the PISA test.
One interpretation of all this is that building deep, conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions, and technology sometimes distracts from this valuable human engagement. Another interpretation is that we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching. If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them to become smarter. If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.
But let’s be honest. There is a dearth of “great technology.” Most ed-tech is crap.
And echoing the final post in last year’s review of ed-tech trends – #fail– 2015 has seen its share of ed-tech failures. There’s still no clear conclusion to last year’s massive LAUSD iPad fiasco, and while Pearson did agree to pay the district a $6.4 million settlement for the botched software implementation, we have heard no word on the FBI’s investigation or the SEC’s probe into the $1 billion deal.
Apple wasn’t the only company that struggled with its hardware in schools this year. In April, Bloomberg wrote that “News Corp.s $1 Billion Plan to Overhaul Education Is Riddled With Failures.” (My favorite quote from the story comes from a seventh grader describing the Amplify tablets: “I think they’re evil.”) The company lost several key executives and laid off staff before finally being sold off by News Corp (to the old management team, including Joel Klein).
I’ll detail more of these and other failures in subsequent articles in this series – particularly in “The Business of Ed-Tech,” which surely needs to be tempered from all the glee about this year’s record-setting investments. Because, yes, it’s worth noting (again and again and again) that “The Business of Ed-Tech” still includes all sorts of ridiculous marketing claims, made most notably this year by the likes of Knewton and Desire2Learn (but god, so many others as well).
Those Who Ignore Ed-Tech History…
In the coming weeks, I’ll publish ten articles in this series. Stay tuned for some of the most exhaustive analysis (of US ed-tech) you’ll find anywhere. (And hey, feel free to make a donation to this site to support my work.)
I write these posts because it’s important to me that we look more closely at the history of education, technology, and education technology. The news cycle tends to push things out of our minds so quickly. By December, we’ve forgotten what happened in March, let alone what happened a year, five years, ten years, fifty years ago. There were two very significant anniversaries this year – the 25th anniversary of the first one-to-one laptop program (at the Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne, Australia) and the 15th anniversary of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which made Maine the first state in the US to provide laptops to all middle-schoolers. I don’t think any major ed-tech publication (um, except this one) noted the date.
Instead, there’s been the continuous clarion call for more data collection, more automation, more social and bio-engineering, more scientific management, and of course more disruptive innovation in education. These are the narratives loudly, frantically trying to shape the future.
And this is why history matters – the long history and the short history of ed-tech that this blog tries to cover. We can’t accept an invented history– the invocation over and over, for example, of a “factory model of education.” Those of us who work in education and technology would do well to consider origins and trajectories and to think more carefully and critically about the past – that includes the recent past, the upgrades, downgrades, failures, wins, and trends of 2015.
This is the first article in my series The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
One of the challenges of identifying the “Top Ed-Tech Trends” is that most of these developments are deeply interconnected. It’s hard to separate “The Politics of Education Technology” from “The Business of Education Technology.” It’s hard to separate the push for more standardized testing and more computers for students to use for standardized testing from either of these. It’s hard to separate concerns about testing from concerns about data and privacy. And so on.
It’s hard too, despite the title of this article, to solely talk about the politics of education technology. How does one distinguish such a thing from the politics of education or the politics of technology? To ignore these – something that happens too often – is to pretend that ed-tech is politics-free, that it is value-neutral.
Context matters. Unfortunately, when one narrows the focus to ed-tech alone, context is lost. (Moreover, things often get reduced to just “the business of ed-tech.”)
There were plenty of important news items this year that cannot be directly tied to “the politics of education technology” but that nonetheless help provide context for everything that’s occurred in schools, including some of the other trends I’ll look at in this series (data, privacy, social justice, testing, and so on): school shootings; the militarization of school police; poverty and homelessness; re-segregation; student protests; banned books; the school-to-prison pipeline; measles outbreaks and inanity about vaccinations; sexual assault on college campuses; undocumented immigrants’ access to education; trans* students’ rights; fossil fuel divestment; the revocation of Bill Cosby’s honorary degrees; the high price (monetarily and physically) of school sports; and so on.
As that list underscores, this review of the “Top Trends in Ed-Tech” tends to be very US-centric. I apologize. Too often, the rest of the world’s education systems are ignored by American writers like myself… unless there’s news about Finland. “Always cover Finland” – that’s written in the very first paragraph of the education journalist official manual, you know. And while updates from Europe and Canada do seem to make it into US education publications from time-to-time, it’s much rarer to see news from the global South. (Two exceptions that prove the rule: an attack on Garissa University in Kenya this spring that left 147 dead and the #feesmustfall protests in South Africa this fall.)
But in a nod to global coverage, I’ll note that David Cameron and the Conservatives won re-election in the UK this year. Cameron now wants every school in England and Wales to become an academy (that is, a school independent of local control). Admittedly, I’m really only including this in my “politics of ed-tech” post so I can type the words “pig fucker.” You’re welcome.
For their part, Canadians ousted the Conservatives and Stephen Harper in their federal election this year, delivering a “stunning victory” to the Liberal Party and its leader (and former teacher) Justin Trudeau. The educational and scientific communities of Canada breathed a huge sigh of relief at the outcome, even though the election was one of the longest and most expensive in modern Canadian history– bless your hearts, my dear northern neighbors.
Meanwhile, in the States, we will still have to suffer through almost another full year of presidential campaigning.
But hey, education is a “hot topic,” so let’s run through what (some of) the candidates have had to say:
Jeb Bush: Bush was expected to run on his education record from his time as Florida’s governor, but that’s proven to be challenging for him. Insert joke about Florida here, I guess. He’s pro-Common Core (one of the few Republican candidates who’s taking this position). Part of Bush’s problem is that he hasn’t been able to distance himself from his brother. Bush, who has a degree in Latin American studies, has been one of the candidates who’s repeatedly mocked college students who major in the liberal arts.
Ben Carson: Unlike other Republican candidates who’ve indicated they want to eliminate the Department of Education, Carson has said he would use it “to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.” A neuroscientist, Carson says the best kind of education is homeschooling, which is exactly how I want my neuroscientists to be trained.
Chris Christie:He was for the Common Core before he was against it. He has consistently, however, remained a jerk.
Hillary Clinton: Clinton has deep ties to the for-profit college chain Laureate Education – or her husband does. She was also paid nearly a quarter million dollars for a speaking gig by Jeb Bush’s education company, Academic Partnerships. I think she’s trying – maybe – to brush up on her liberal cred (thanks to her opponent in the primaries, Bernie Sanders); and she’s been endorsed by both major teachers’ unions, the American Federation of Teachers and by the National Education Association. Clinton has criticized Sanders’ free college plan. Hers, she’s boasted, would make low-income students work for aid – echoes of the punitive “welfare reform” of her husband.
Ted Cruz: The Texas Senator announced his presidential candidacy at (Jerry Falwell-founded) Liberty University. Speaking of “liberty,” students were mandated to attend. Here’s what they said on Yik Yak. Yik Yak is going to make lots of appearances in this years series. Ugh. Cruz is also anti-Common Core.
Carly Fiorina: Fiorina is running on the track record of her time as CEO of HP, which seems like a really, really, really bad idea. She has a degree in medieval history, which she says prepares her to fight ISIS. Sorta like Obama being a constitutional law professor helped him fight the NSA, I bet.
Mike Huckabee: Also anti-Common Core. Yawn.
Larry Lessig: He’s dropped out of the race now too, but the Harvard law professor and founder of Creative Commons was running on a platform of reforming campaign finance.
Martin O’Malley: When announcing his plan for debt-free college, the former governor of Maryland / former mayor of Baltimore said that he and his wife had taken out nine loans, totaling almost $340,000 to pay for their daughters’ tuition. Dude. Learn 2 FAFSA better.
Rand Paul: The Kentucky Senator wants to close the Department of Education. “Here’s how that would work.”
Marco Rubio: Rubio has been a supporter of the now-defunct for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges. Rubio has been wooing the tech industry too. Like Rand Paul, Rubio thinks we should shut down the Department of Education. He’s anti-Common Core and a huge thorn in fellow Floridian Jeb Bush’s side.
Bernie Sanders: The Vermont Senator has proposed“the federal government … give $18 billion a year in dollar-for-dollar matching grants to states, which he says would allow them to slash public college tuition by 55 percent. He said this would apply to students at all public universities and colleges.” (More on others’ plans for “free college” below.) “Bernie Sanders’s plan to have Wall Street pay for your college tuition, explained.”
Rick Scott: LOL. Who?
Donald Trump: The clown candidate has “criticized the federal government for earning a profit on the federal student loan program.” (Remember that one time Trump ran a for-profit “university” that got fined by New York state because it wasn’t accredited and was making false claims? Good times. Good times.)
Yes, I’ve left some candidates off this list. Good grief. Let 2016 be over already.
The End of the Arne Era
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even wrapped up the Obama Presidency yet, and I’ve written more than 1200 words on a bunch of people who will not be the next President of the United States.
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncanannounced) in October that he’d be stepping down from the position at the end of the year. Duncan is one of the few Cabinet members that’s stayed for (almost but not quite) the duration of Obama’s presidency. (His replacement: John King, the former commissioner of education for New York.)
Education history Sherman Dorn and doctoral student Amanda Potterton examined the Secretary’s legacy. And Education Week looked specifically at his ed-tech legacy. “In Swan Song, Arne Duncan Extols School Progress Under His Tenure,” was how The New York Times framed it, as Duncan boasted about, among other achievements, what the Race to the Top initiative and its $4.3 billion in competitive grant funds have done for schools. “We haven’t gotten everything right,” Duncan admitted, “and we’ve seen unintended consequences that have posed challenges for educators and students.” No details from the Secretary on what those consequences might have been. But swan songs are often light on details.
Education Policies (and Policy Proposals)
Free (Community) College: In January, President Obama proposed making 2 years of community college free for some students. He didn’t offer a lot of details on how the plan would be funded (the federal government would pick up three-fourths of the cost; states the rest). Students would need to maintain a 2.5 GPA in order to remain eligible.
As the cost of tuition and student loan debt have continued to increase, this idea of free or debt-free college has, no surprise, remained a popular theme this year (not just on the campaign trail among Democratic candidates, but from Democratic Senators, particularly Elizabeth Warren and from many in higher ed as well.)
Oregon followed Tennessee to become the second state to offer free community college. Richmond Community College in North Carolina will also offer free tuition to high school students in the area: “The program, dubbed RichmondCC Guarantee, promises two free years of college for students of public, private and home schools who have at least a 3.0 grade-point average and two college courses under their belts.”
Elsewhere in Financial Aid: Promising to focus on college access and affordability, as part of his State of the Union address, the President proposed scrapping the “529” college savings accounts, something used by just 3% of families. But bowing to Republican pressures, he backed away from the plan.
The Perkins Loan Program lapsed this year, although higher education groups continue to pressure Congress to revive the program. Senator Lamar Alexander was one of those pushing for the program’s elimination, arguing that the financial aid system needs to be simplified.
And hey, the Department of Education did try to simplify FAFSA, axing the PIN number for FAFSA applications. So that’s something. I guess. It also announced that it’s making a change to the financial aid applications, starting in the fall of next year: applicants will be asked to provide the prior prior year’s tax information, rather than the prior year’s.
The Department of Education also expanded Pell Grant eligibility – to high school students in certain dual enrollment programs and to (some) prisoners, “the first adult inmates to be eligible for the grants since Congress barred prisoners from receiving them more than 20 years ago.”
And in an experiment I will examine in much more detail in an upcoming article in this series, the Department of Education said it will grant financial aid eligibility to partnerships between accredited colleges and unaccredited “alternative” education providers like MOOCs and coding bootcamps. I bet the ed-tech industry is pretty stoked to have former venture capitalist Ted Mitchell there in DC as the Undersecretary of Education, eh.
Ed-Tech Boosterism: It isn’t only MOOCs and coding bootcamps that benefit from the current administration’s commitment to expanding education technology. Timed with the annual ed-tech investor conference, the ASU-GSV Summit, the Department of Education released an ed-tech developers guide. (The alternate preface penned by MIT TILT’s Justin Reich is, for what it’s worth, much, much better than the department’s.)
In April, “Linking reading to technology, the White House marshaled major book publishers to provide more than $250 million in free e-books to low-income students and is seeking commitments from local governments and schools across the country to ensure that every student has a library card.” (Jessamyn West asked, “Aren’t libraries already doing that?”) The initiative is part of Obama’s ConnectED program, in which ed-tech companies push their products into schools. In June, the White House boasted about the initiative, saying it’s “on track to achieve its goal of connecting students to tools they need for 21st century learning.” It’s 2015 and we’re “on track” to move towards “21st century learning.” Strong work, team.
OER:The Department of Education supports open educational resources. Big if true.
Rating System Scorecard:Last year, the Obama Administration said it planned to create a college rating system – “transparency, accountability, and equity” blah blah blah – in order to identify and rate colleges’ “institutional performance.” In March, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “Education Dept. Considers Creating Not 1 but 2 College-Ratings Systems,” one to lure prospective students and one to punish schools. Or something like that. Having set aside some $4 million to build the system, the administration later scrapped its original plan, releasing a “scorecard” instead.
Responses: The news, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vox. And the analysis: Via Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “17% Of Community Colleges Are Not Included In College Scorecard” and “College Scorecard Problem Gets Worse: One in three associate’s degree institutions are not included.” “What Actual High Schoolers Think of the New College Scorecard.” Actual high schoolers! The head of the University of Phoenix was unhappy with what the scorecard says about his school. Shocking. The best advice, no surprise, came from UW education professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: “College Scorecard: For Analysis Not Action.”
Privacy Legislation: Again, this is a topic I’ll cover in more detail in a subsequent post – data, privacy, security, bullshit claims about learning analytics and so on. But I’ll note here, for the record, the legislative record on privacy in 2015. Student privacy was something Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address. And there were numerous attempts to tackle the issue in Congress too. But of course Congress can’t get anything done.
In April, a “discussion draft” of a revision to FERPA was released to the US House of Representatives’ education committee. US Representatives Jared Polis and Luke Messer introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015, which “would prohibit operators of websites, apps and other online services for kindergartners through 12th graders from knowingly selling students’ personal information to third parties; from using or disclosing students’ personal information to tailor advertising to them; and from creating personal profiles of students unless it is for a school-related purpose.” The ed-tech industry was “wary,” Education Week reported.
Then in May, Senators Edward Markey and Orrin Hatch reintroduced their update to FERPA, the “Protecting Student Privacy Act.” And David Vitter introduced his “Student Privacy Protection Act.” Vitter’s bill, according to Education Week, “would expand the types of student information covered under FERPA, require educational institutions to obtain prior consent from parents before sharing that information with third parties, outlaw a host of data-sharing practices that have become commonplace over the past decade, and require educational agencies and private actors who violate FERPA to pay cash penalties to individual families.”
And in July, “(Yet Another) Federal Student-Data-Privacy Bill Introduced”: “The SAFE KIDS Act would prohibit ed-tech companies and operators from selling student data, using that information to target advertising to students, or disclosing such information to unapproved third parties.”
And at the end of the day? Nothing passed at the federal level (although states have had more luck passing privacy legislation).
Testing: And again, I’ll write a whole big, detailed round-up on the state of testing and ed-tech in 2015, but let me include a few words here, with even more words below on the possible renewal of NCLB.
In October, Obama came right out and said he wants students to “stop taking unnecessary tests.” Of course, we need to ask what constitutes an “unnecessary test.” Here’s the official “Testing Action Plan,” that includes some details on how tests will be limited to just 2% of classroom time. (Is that actually less than what tests take now? We should probably ask that too…) Vox offered an “explainer”: “Obama’s flip-flop on standardized tests, explained.” And the International Business Times wrung its hands: “How Obama’s Push For Fewer Assessments Could Affect Education Companies.” tl;dr: they’ll be fine.
Net Neutrality: Elsewhere in executive branch ed-tech-related updates: in February, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled new rules that would preserve net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service, governed by Title II. Broadband providers promised to sue.
Net neutrality purports to keep the Internet “free and open,” but it’s still pretty “slow and closed” at most schools. “It Won’t Be Long Now Until Every School Has Internet Access,” Wired recently trumpeted. Of course, it doesn’t help that telecoms continue to overcharge schools for lousy Internet service, as ProPublicaand others have reported. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is on the case; so I’m sure it’ll all be fixed, just like he’s “fixing” – cough – the Internet in the developing world.
The FCC also sought comments this year on a proposal to allow the Lifeline program to subsidize broadband, much as it has long subsidized phone service, to low income households. And from July, ConnectHome: a new Obama Administration initiative to expand access to broadband to low-income families in order to address the “homework gap.”
Consumer Finance Protection: During one of the Republican presidential candidate debates that aired on the Fox Business Network this fall, a Soviet-themed ad ran opposing the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The ad was paid for by the student loan sector. The CFPB is a new agency created by the Obama Administration, so no surprise it’s the target of Republican ire. The agency is charged with protecting consumers in the financial sector, a mandate that includes enforcement of rules surrounding student loans – hence the ire of the student loan sharks. Again, I’ll look more closely at the for-profit education industry in a subsequent post, but I’ll note here that the CFPB has been quite active this year, demanding search engines crack down on student loan scams, for example, investigating and fining loan providers like Discover and Navient for illegal, deceptive, and “stressful” practices.
Charters: I’ll look at charter schools in more detail in my upcoming post on “The Business of Ed-Tech,” as ed-tech and charters share many (tech) investors. And perhaps I’ll talk about charters too in my post on for-profit higher ed, expanding that one to cover K–12 as well. We’ll see. The month is young. So I’ll just make a quick note here about one of the most significant developments this year: the decision in September by the Washington State Supreme Court to declare charters unconstitutional. After rejecting charter schools in the states in three previous referendums, Washington voters had approved a charter school law in 2012 (thanks in part to the financial support for the proposal from the Gates and Bezos families).
The Court’s decision involved whether or not charters count as private or public entities. It’s not a new debate, and clearly it remains an unsettled one.
No Child Left Behind: Not Left Behind Quite Yet…
I should have purchased the website “HasESEABeenRenewed.com” because almost every week this year – hell, for a decade now – there’s been some promise of maybe possibly revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Of course, its most recent version is best known as No Child Left Behind, a George W. Bush-era piece of legislation that mandated (among other things) more regularly scheduled standardized testing and the threat of punishment for schools that failed to make “adequate yearly progress” towards “proficiency.”
“No Child Left Behind May End, But The Industry It Spawned Is Here To Stay,” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy wrote in January. (That is, the testing/ed-tech industry.) And that really set the tone for the rest of the year. February updates. March updates. April updates. July updates. November updates.
I’m going to hit “publish” on this post before the House of Representatives votes this afternoon on the revision, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Education Week has a look at its provisions. Among them: states will still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school but they will have greater flexibility on setting accountability goals and punishments.) Here’s the copy of the latest bill, if you’d like to read those 1000+ pages instead of the 1000+ in my “Top Ed-Tech Trends” series.
A Few More Education/Technology Numbers for Context
Education Technology and Education Reform
Late last year, the Chicago Tribune broke the story that “Companies that Chicago Board of Education member Deborah Quazzo has an interest in have seen the business they get from the city’s schools system triple since Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to the board.” The controversy spilled over into the new year, and in February, Quazzo sent an angry, all caps, mass email to her industry supporters saying “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” No more hard questions from the public or the Fifth Estate! Quazzo later stepped down from her role on the board.
Elsewhere in Chicago Public Schools shadiness: Barbara Byrd-Bennett resigned as the head of Chicago Public Schools “amid a federal investigation into a $20.5 million no-bid contract.” She later pled guilty for “her role in a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks.” She will serve 7.5 years in jail. As The Chicago Sun-Times noted, “Chicago taxpayers paid almost $900,000 for three and a half years’ work by disgraced former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. And though she’s a felon since pleading guilty in a contract rigging scheme at CPS, she still stands to cost taxpayers in districts that employed her more than $140,000 in annual public pensions.”
Other ed-reform/ed-tech policy folks in the news this year: Richard Culatta, the head of the Office of Education Technology, is stepping down from his position at the Department of Education at the end of the year. Condoleeza Rice took over as the head of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellent in Education. Scott Benson, who oversaw grants to blended and charter schools as a program officer at the Gates Foundation, became a managing partner at NewSchools Venture Fund. Gates Foundation program manager Emily Dalton-Smith joined Facebook in March as product manager for its K–12 education team, working with Summit Public Schools on its ed-tech software system. (More on that partnership in “The Business of Ed-Tech.” Or maybe in the article I’ll write on data and privacy.) Jim Shelton, former deputy secretary of education and former Gates Foundation program manager and former NewSchools Venture Fund partner, joined 2U as “Chief Impact Officer.” Success Academy's Eva Moskowitz is not running for NYC mayor. And daaaamn, things aren’t looking so good for Michelle Rhee’s political future, are they.
Meanwhile, in the world of “philanthropy”-as-politics: the Gates Foundation looked back on how it’s spent some $3 billion on education and how it plans to use the Gates’ riches to shape the future of education. The Koch Brothers remained busy promoting their libertarian ideals on college campuses. Thanks to an investigation by The LA Times, we know the Broad Foundation has a plan to convert half of LAUSD schools to charters. And now Mark Zuckerberg’s doing the family
foundationLLC thing too (Newark turned out so well, right?), announcing he will donate 99% of his Facebook shares to “charity,” with a focus on, among other things, ed-tech efforts.
The Politics of Labor and Teaching Machines
I always frown at those who repeat Arthur C. Clarke’s contention that if a teacher can be replaced by a machine, she or he should be. I mean, it’s pretty clear to me that there are many forces at play – some of the most dystopian politics of education technology– that want precisely that. I spoke about teaching machines and educational labor in August at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Wisconsin university system had a particularly rough year, thanks to the efforts of no-longer-presidential-candidate-but-still-governor Scott Walker, who announced in January a $300 million budget cut to the state’s higher education system, couching it in terms of “independence.” He said his plan would make universities “do things that they have not traditionally done” – including requiring professors teach more classes per semester, all without tenure. Walker also proposed scrapping the “Wisconsin Idea,” changing the mission of the illustrious state system from the “search for truth” to focus on meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”
I’ll examine labor issues and tenure issues and academic freedom issues (all related) in more detail in upcoming posts – you know, those ridiculous claims about “mind-reading robo tutors in the sky” and such. But let’s just note here in this article because it bears repeating: that as long as teachers have demands, as long as teachers strike, there will be those who push to replace them. And these days, the arguments – particularly those from the tech sector – are for machines taking the place of workers.
-Isms and the Ed-Tech Industry
Sexism:“Edtech Women Defy Tech Industry’s Sexist Trends,” Edsurge’s managing editor Tony Wan argued in April. The “proof”: less than a third of those who registered for the chintzy ASU-GSV corporate education investment event offered information about their startup’s demographics, but of those who did, 29% said they have a woman founder or woman on the exec team. (I’m curious what percentage had a male founder or man on the exec team. I’m guessing 100%.) A pretty low standard for “defying sexism.” But there you go.
Other stats and reports related to gender and ed-tech aren’t as sunny as Edsurge’s assertions, strangely enough: According to a study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, “men are much more likely than women to reject findings of sexism in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and even to make sexist comments in response to such research.” The OECD’s report on gender equality and education finds that the “among high-performing students, girls do worse than boys in mathematics; in no country do they outperform boys at this level. In general girls have less confidence than boys in their ability to solve mathematics or science problems.” Piazza also found a “STEM confidence gap.” UCLA professor Linda Sax authored a paper on changes to interest in computer science and the gender gap in that field. Google also published research on gender and the CS pipeline.
Oh, and COSN published a report on the gender gap in K–12 ed-tech leadership. Among the findings: “Only a handful of K–12 chief technology officials earn more than $160,000 per year. All are men. Women comprise 65 percent of those who reported making under $70,000 per year.” Sexism defied, right?!
And 88% of ed-tech leaders are white.
Racism: And perhaps that statistic explains some of the ed-tech products and promotions this year.
Take Interactive timeline tool Hstry, for example, which thought it was a good idea to re-enact the murder of Emmett Till on Twitter. Needless to say, folks onTwitter did not agree. The company said it was sorry.
Or take “Slave Tetris.” I’m not kidding. Slave Tetris.
Or read Rafranz Davis who wrote – “shocked” – about Mission US: Flight to Freedom, a slavery simulation promoted in Common Sense Media’s Black History month email. In an op-ed in Edsurge, the producer of the slavery simulation said “we regret to hear that some people have found the game to be problematic, we stand by it.” Sorry, not sorry.
The conservative publication Education Next celebrated (yep, celebrated) the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report, which helped pathologize Black women as “welfare queens” and Black men as “deadbeat dads.” Michael Petrelli gleefully trolled Twitter with the cover of its latest magazine. Later he said he was sorry for sending the tweets. (No apology for the cover itself.)
From The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”
From Techcrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler: “East Of Palo Alto’s Eden: Race And The Formation Of Silicon Valley.”
Ableism: In May, the US Department of Justice joined a lawsuit by a student at Miami University in Ohio, charging the university of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by adopting education technologies that are inaccessible. The software listed in the suit included the university’s websites, YouTube, Vimeo, TurnItIn, Google Docs, and more.
In August, the New York Public Schools said it would delay a deal it had struck with Amazon – the company was poised to manage a book marketplace for students – following letters from the National Federation of the Blind has concerns about accessibility, noting that the platform would exclude the visually impaired.
In September, Seattle announced it would take steps to make the ed-tech used in its schools accessible to blind students, faculty, and parents, settling a lawsuit against the district brought by Noel Nightingale and her co-plaintiff, the National Federation of the Blind. A statement from the NFB:
This landmark agreement with the Seattle Public Schools should serve as a model for the nation and should put school districts on notice that we can no longer wait to have equal education for blind students and to have access to information, use of school services, and full participation in school activities by blind faculty, personnel, and parents.
Activism: I plan to devote an entire article in this series to activism, social justice, and ed-tech. Coming soon…
Solutionism and the Ed-Tech Industry
Ed-tech likes to present itself as “the fix” to a broken system. For example: “Kids Are Using Minecraft To Design A More Sustainable World,” says Fast Company. (“Letting Kids Play Minecraft Is Probably Better Than Telling Them They Have No Future,” the Awl responded.)
Ed-tech likes to present itself as ideology-free, even though it’s steeped in such.
From Paul Prinsloo’s reflection on the ICDE conference, which I was fortunate enough to keynote this fall:
Education, as I understand it, is about creating spaces for learners to learn to read the world, to recognise the meta-narratives as well as the epistemological and ontological alliances, as well as develop the capabilities and agencies to disrupt these meta-narratives and create new localised narratives in service of hope, equality and justice. Various keynotes and panelists raised the issue that we seriously and urgently needed to rethink our understandings of “open”, “access”, “knowledge production” (see the thought-provoking keynote by Laura Czerniewicz) and “hope.”
Rethinking the relationship between access, justice and equality (as Tressie McMillan Cottom suggested) means resisting the neoliberal discourses celebrating the collapse of public education in order to invite venture capital in to “save” and “fix” education – ala “the shock doctrine” and “disaster capitalism” exposed by Naomi Klein. We were reminded by Audrey Watters that Africa should not and cannot afford to accept the Silicon Valley narrative that technology is all we need. Designing hope is, however, much more than resistance, but reclaiming (as suggested by Stella Porto) the potential of education as liberation through pedagogies of hope.
In June, Pope Francis issued his second encyclical, Laudato Si'. The subtitle: On Care for Our Common Home. Laudato Si’ is not simply a theological document; it is a work of social criticism – a critique of capitalism, consumerism, and technology and a warning about environmental destruction and climate change.
I’m including Laudato Si’ here because it can be situated alongside the work of other theorists who cautioned against technology and power – Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman – and who inform my writing on ed-tech.
Indeed, I think this encyclical provides one of the most powerful recent counters to Silicon Valley solutionism, which still dominates so much of the framing and so much of the politics of education technology.
The House of Representatives voted on the “Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015,” an update to No Child Left Behind. The bill – some 1000+ pages in length – now heads to the Senate. Via Vox: “Congress is getting rid of No Child Left Behind. Here's what will replace it.” Robert Pondiscio writes on “ESEA and the return of a well-rounded curriculum.” Rick Hess “scores” the new law. “Why the ESEA Bill Seeks a Pardon for Heavyweight Black Boxer Jack Johnson,” by Andrew Ujifusa. Blake Montgomery observes that “Revisions to No Child Left Behind Attempt to Define Education Technology.”
“More than two dozen House Democrats on Thursday implored Appropriations Committee leaders to resist lawmakers who would seize on the 2016 spending bill as an opportunity to block the Education Department's gainful employment rule,” Politico reports.
Richard Culatta, the head of the Office of Ed-Tech, is stepping down at the end of the year.
“Education Dept CIO comes under fire from Congress for major security loopholes,” says EdScoop, which notes the department had 91 data breaches this year.
“Education Department has received more than 1,000 filings on racial harassment in higher ed in last seven years. But only a fraction result in any findings,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
From The LA Times’ Howard Blume: “PAC shielded $2.3 million in donations by L.A. charter school backers.”
In Ohio, “Parma City School District bills the state for $46 million for ‘excess’ charter school funding.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it has granted the requests for debt forgiveness made by more than 1,300 federal student loan borrowers who attended Heald College, a subsidiary of the now-defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain.”
Also via Inside Higher Ed: “Three Senate Democrats are criticizing the Obama administration for settling a fraud lawsuit against Education Management Corporation last month without forgiving the loans of students who attended the for-profit college chain or holding the company's executives personally accountable.”
Education in the Courts
“Students’ Protests May Play Role in Supreme Court Case on Race in Admissions,” says The New York Times.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The battle between a national accrediting organization overseeing many for-profit colleges and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is now making its way through federal court. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, known as ACICS, argued in a court filing late Tuesday that it shouldn’t have to turn over records to the CFPB because the agency lacks jurisdiction over college accreditors.”
Via the NSBA: “According to The Tennessean, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) has filed suit against Giles County Schools challenging the prohibition on students wearing pro-LGBT apparel at school.”
Via Education Week: “The state of Maine, which pulled out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium earlier this year, awarded its newest assessment contract to Measured Progress, the state department of education announced Thursday. The $4.14 million contract is for the 2015–16 Maine Educational Assessments in mathematics and ELA/literacy for grades 3–8 and the third-year high school.”
Via NPR: “To Measure What Tests Can’t, Some Schools Turn To Surveys.”
“Responding to budget constraints and priorities for the NAEP program,” the National Assessment Governing Board has decided“to postpone the administration of grade 12 in four subjects and the next long-term trend exams by four years.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Research from Justin Reich and John Hansen in Science: “Democratizing education? Examining access and usage patterns in massive open online courses.” The Pacific Standard covers their research: “The Internet Isn’t Education’s Savior.”
Via the Portland Press Herald: “Maine professor ensures course is taught, even after he dies.”
From The Plains Dealer: “Online schools are losing support, creating divisions in the national charter school movement.”
Meanwhile on Campus
Via the Boston Globe: “Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police sent a notice to students this week asking them to put the brakes on various types of ‘wheeled devices’ when navigating the expansive hallways to get to class, citing a recent surge in such activity.”
Elsewhere at MIT: “The MIT grad students occupying the hallway outside President Reif’s office until MIT divests from fossil fuels have hit the 10000000000-hour mark (base 2 - in base 10, that’s a still-impressive 1024 hours). The sit-in began October 22.”
“Pizza Hut is investing in its future workforce by partnering with a UK university to offer 1,500 apprenticeships.” (The university in question: Manchester Metropolitan University.)
Via Mother Jones: “This Junk-Food-Funded Elementary School Curriculum Is Bonkers.”
“This is not a day care. This is a university!” says the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and The New York Times is on it. Via Vox: “President of a college that won’t hire LGBTQ people: student protesters should ‘grow up’.”
Protests at Princeton continue, and “Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy Gets Complicated.”
“Newark Launching Community Schools with Facebook Money,” the AP reports. That’s another $12.5 million from the Foundation for Newark’s Future. Much more on Facebook money and politics below.
“Can a coding bootcamp replace a four-year degree?” asks Education Dive.
The Atlantic covers the inability of many highly qualified California students to get accepted into California’s universities.
Via NPR: “ExxonMobil, Columbia University Clash Over Student Journalists’ Reports.”
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has spent some $10 million on PR consultants and lawyers in order to deal with its academic and athletic scandals.
Rutgers has fired its athletic director and head football coach.
“There are currently only 75 bowl-eligible teams that can fill the 80 slots needed to complete the lineup for this year’s record-setting number of games, which has exploded in recent years,” Inside Higher Ed reports. Oh noes!
Via ESPN: “Davidson does not make exceptions to its rules for honoring former athletes. Not even for favorite son Stephen Curry. The school retires only the jerseys of players who graduated. And Curry, the most recognized and accomplished player in school history, has not completed his degree requirements after going to the NBA a year early in 2009.”
From the HR Department
“Underemployment rates for college grads have sharply declined since the 2008 recession,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Hypothes.is is partnering with “more than 40 publishers, technology firms and scholarly websites, including Wiley, CrossRef, PLOS, Project Jupyter, HighWire and arXiv” which will incorporate the startup’s annotation tools.
Via Infodocket: “The National Federation of the Blind and Scribd, Inc. have agreed to work together to provide access and make content available in Scribd’s subscription reading service and website accessible to the blind by the end of 2017.”
“Chromebooks Thriving in U.S. K–12, but Is Microsoft Poised for Global Growth?” asks Education Week.
Via Campus Technology: “The MIT Media Lab, Tufts University and PBS Kids have partnered to release a free app based on the ScratchJr coding language and designed to help kids aged five to eight learn coding concepts.”
Michael Feldstein writes that “Moodle Moves Give Hints of What a Post-Fork World Could Look Like.”
Via Edsurge: “A Look Inside Intel Education Accelerator’s First Demo Day.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan wrote a letter to their daughter and posted it on Facebook. In covering the news, the New York Times got the headline totally wrong: “Mark Zuckerberg Vows to Donate 99% of His Facebook Shares for Charity.” The paper later clarified that it’s not a charity but an LLC. Here’s the SEC filing. So many hot takes: “Mark Zuckerberg and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism.” “Mark Zuckerberg Will Donate Massive Fortune to Own Blinkered Worldview.” “A primer for Mark Zuckerberg on personalized learning – by Harvard’s Howard Gardner.” “How Mark Zuckerberg’s Altruism Helps Himself.” “Mark Zuckerberg’s $45 Billion Loophole.” “The Surprising Math In Mark Zuckerberg’s $45 Billion Facebook Donation.” “You’re Not an Asshole, Mark Zuckerberg. You’re Just Wrong..”
CollegeDekho has raised $1 million from Girnar Software.
Tutoring marketplace Studypool has raised $800,000 in funding from unnamed investors.
College Select has raised an undisclosed amount of money from Brown Holdings.
Fastudent has raised an undisclosed amount of money from Ashish Gupta.
Blackboard has acquired predictive analytics company Blue Canary.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via Troy Hunt: “ When children are breached – inside the massive VTech hack.” Via Boing Boing: “Bad toy security led to massive toy maker hack that leaked data for 4.8 million families.” “Vtech toy data-breach gets worse: 6.3 million children implicated,” Cory Doctorow writes in a follow-up. More coverage from The New York Times and ZDNet. “Privacy, Parenting, and the VTech Breach,” by Common Sense Media’s Bill Fitzgerald. “VTech vs EDTech,” by Tony Porterfield
“Google Deceptively Tracks Students’ Internet Browsing, EFF Says in FTC Complaint.” Coverage from Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal, and Techcrunch. Google responds. Google-funded Future of Privacy Forum responds. EFF responds to the responses.
Via Detectify Labs: “Popular Google Chrome extensions are constantly tracking you per default, making it very difficult or impossible for you to opt-out. These extensions will receive your complete browsing history, all your cookies, your secret access-tokens used for authentication (i.e., Facebook Connect) and shared links from sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive. The third-party services in use are hiding their tracking by all means possible, combined with terrible privacy policies hidden inside the Chrome Web Store.”
The Prince George’s County school system posted students’ disciplinary records on a Weebly site, “where anyone could see them.”
Data and “Research”
This report on the future of the LMS market in the US will cost you $2500, so no matter what 2015–2019 holds for learning management systems, the market for spendy research reports remains strong.
From the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities: “Equity Matters: Digital and Online Learning for Students with Disabilities.”
From the GAO: “Federal Funding for and Characteristics of Public Schools with Extended Learning Time.”
According to a survey conducted by the National Coalition Against Censorship, trigger warnings are neither widely used by professors nor widely demanded by students, despite the media writing about trigger warnings again and again and again this year.
“Districts Struggle to Judge Ed-Tech Pilot Projects,” Education Week reports, drawing on a survey by Digital Promise.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Many educators have expressed concern about the findings in a new analysis from the American Council on Education, which note a significant drop since 2008 in the proportion of low-income recent high school graduates who enroll in college. But some analysts are raising questions about the analysis because it is based on data from the Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.”
Via Vox: “Stat check: Is 98% of research in humanities and 75% in social science never cited again?”
Larry Cuban examines biases in the Gates Foundation’s survey of ed-tech “Teachers Know Best.”
This is the second in my series The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
Standardized testing has a long history in the United States. But it’s become closely associated with– inseparable from, dare I say – school reform and accountability measures in recent decades, thanks in no small part to President George W. Bush’s signature piece of education legislation, No Child Left Behind.
As I noted in the previous post in this series, “The Politics of Education Technology,” Congress has made a concerted effort this year to try to update NCLB, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The House of Representatives passed the revision, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, this week, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill next week. Students will still have to take standardized tests every year from third grade thru eighth, but the federal government will no longer use the results for accountability measures – that’ll be up to the states.
Standardized testing has a long history that connects it to education technology too. Both have roots in the early twentieth century alongside educational psychology – multiple choice tests, testing machines, and later, teaching machines. And to this day, standardized testing remains big business for ed-tech, increasingly so as testing moves online).
Recommended reading on the history and (perhaps) the future of testing: Anya Kamenetz’s 2015 book The Test.
The Common Core State Standards
One of the (many) major conflicts in US education policy revolves around the role the federal government can play. “Education is primarily a State and local responsibility in the United States,” the Department of Education says on its website. “It is States and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation.”
And it’s from this division – federal versus state control – that much of the controversy over the Common Core State Standards emerges. Republican presidential candidates, for example, often repeat their contention that the Common Core is “federal overreach.” (Those who don’t blame the feds for the CCSS often blame the Gates Foundation.)
Even though the Common Core State Standards were released 5 years ago (and I’ve included the CCSS as a “Top Ed-Tech Trend” for the lasttwo), there seems to still be a great deal of confusion about what the Common Core State Standards actually are. So bookmark this from Vox: “The Common Core Explained.”
Because no, despite protests in Tennessee this fall, the Common Core does not require teaching Islam. It does not require teaching students how to use condoms. Repeat after me: the Common Core is not a curriculum. The Common Core is not a curriculum. The Common Core is not a curriculum.
Funnily enough, according to Vox (again), “The more people say they know about the Common Core, the less they actually do.” Perhaps that’s because so many people get their information about the Common Core from social media, which continued throughout the year to provide us with viral stories and images about math assignments and the like. “You’re wrong about Common Core math,” James Goodman recently wrote in Salon. “It makes more sense than you think.”
Forty-six states initially adopted the Common Core, but since then several have backed out of the standards themselves or have backed out of one of the two testing consortia, PARCC and SBAC. It’s been hard to keep track of this (much like it’s hard to keep track of which states have received waivers from the Obama Administration for NCLB. Because LOL, “standards.”) But here are some of the updates this year as states have taken legislative and sometimes legal steps to address the Common Core:
In January, Mississippi said it was withdrawing from PARCC. The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill that would “ban use of a Common Core-related test, end high school exit exams in biology and U.S. history and push the state Board of Education to adopt standardized tests published by the ACT organization.”
Also in January, Chicago Public Schools announced it would only give 10% of students the new PARCC exam, going against the state of Illinois’ decree that all students take the test. The Department of Education responded by threatening to withhold some $1.2 billion in funding for Illinois and Chicago.
In February, a legislative committee in Arizona moved forward with an effort to dump the Common Core (and its associated tests) in that state. In March, The New York Times noted that “Arizona Governor Seeks Review of Common Core Education Standards.”
In March, a bill in New Hampshire said it would require students to learn cursive and their multiplication tables – cursive is not part of the Common Core and if kids don’t learn cursive, Western Civilization will fall. Or something.
In June, the Missouri legislature“directed the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to sever ties with the test developer, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which provided 17 other states with exams aligned with the Common Core. The provision is part of an appropriations bill that Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law. It eliminates $4.2 million the education department needed to pay Smarter Balanced for next year’s tests.”
Also in June, Arkansas said it planned to drop the PARCC test and use the ACT instead. (This is a trend, I tell you, a trend. More on it below.) The vote to do so and and to use ACT Aspire tests instead occurred in July.
In October, in one of the few announcements of this sort, the Department of Defense Education Activity, which operates schools for children from military families, said it was joining PARCC.
By the end of the year, even Massachusetts – ah, the state at the pinnacle of standardized testing achievement – said it would develop its own Common Core assessments, dropping its plans to use PARCC’s.
Although the Common Core’s been around a while, 2015 marked the year that states implemented the tests associated with the standards. And results of the tests aside (more on that below), many struggled with that very implementation. That’s not a surprise, as a COSN survey found early in the year, “We’re Not Ready for Online Tests.”
There were worries about how the move to online testing might affect scores. There were worries that there weren’t enough computers for test-taking. There were worries about kids’ abilities to type. There were worries about Internet connectivity, particularly in poor and rural schools. And many of the worries were real. The problems weren’t just with district infrastructure; there were problems with vendors’ websites. There were technical problems in Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, Nevada, North Dakota, Montana, and elsewhere. While some blamed the vendors and some blamed IT (and some just told the press it was a “technical blunder”), several states blamed“hackers)” for their problems – the new “the dog ate my homework” excuse. The Common Core tests in one New Jersey school district were postponed as its entire computer network was held hostage by ransomware in exchange for 500 Bitcoins, approximately $124,000.
“The Agony of Taking a Standardized Test on a Computer” by 11th grader Rebecca Castillo.
Of course, technical issues just add to students’ stress levels: “When Testing Technology Fails, Students Fear They Will Too.” And the technical problems were so bad in some states, that they also prompted concerns about the validity of the scores and about states’ ability to meet the federally mandated levels of test participation (exacerbated too by the “Opt Out” movement. More on that below). Several statesaccused their testing vendors of breach of contract, and several switched vendors (again, more on that below).
And so… the results? Well, we were warned last year that test scores would go down, thanks to the new (and for many states, higher) standards and tougher assessments. And scores did fall in New York, for example (and of course The New York Times was on it) and at California charter schools. The scores nationwide also showed that achievement gaps between white, Black, and Latino students persist.
According to the Associated Press at least, “As Common Core results trickle in, initial goals unfulfilled.” And if nothing else, despite one of the initial promises of the Common Core – that it would end the inconsistency from state-to-state in educational standards – “Test Scores Under Common Core Show That ‘Proficient’ Varies by State.”
Blame whomever you want on the falling scores. (These sorts of things are always used to confirm people’s pre-existing beliefs about education.) Me, I’m blaming Zayn Malik and his announcement in May that he was leaving One Direction– I mean, who does such a devastating thing right in the middle of testing season?!
Even as the CCSS and its tests continue to be tweaked – shorter, fewer, more customizable (LOL, less standardized?), severed from accountability measures, and perhaps even increasingly opted out of – it appears that the education system remains committed to standardized testing).
The Business of Textbooks and Testing
And so testing remains big business, as it, along with the Common Core, has helped drive sales in hardware (calculators!), software, curriculum, and related services. That is, standardized testing drives the current boom in ed-tech.
“How compatible are Common Core and technology?” The Hechinger Report asked in March. Spoiler alert: very compatible.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the standardized testing craze, of course, is education behemoth Pearson. Although the company did become a little less big this year after losing its huge contract with Texas: for the first time in 30 years, the Texas Education Agency awarded its $280 million standardized testing contract to a company other than Pearson. (ETS won the bid to provide the STAAR tests for the next four years. Pearson will still get $60 million to develop a portion of the state’s assessments.)
I’ll have more details about “The Business of Ed-Tech” in an upcoming post, but let’s just go ahead about put this out here: “Everybody hates Pearson.” Fortune wrote that headline in January – one of my favorites of the year. Comedian John Oliver also took on Pearson in his news show Last Week Tonight.
Needless to say, Pearson was not amused.
Elsewhere in testing contracts: Ohio went with AIR as its test vendor. Indiana dumped CTB-McGraw Hill for Pearson. Pearson lost a testing contract in California and whined that it was totally unfair. New York state also dumped Pearson, a $44 million contract. Pearson had to shave $1 million off its contract with the state of Minnesota because of glitches in the online testing system. Nevada announced it would cut ties with Measured Progress, its standardized testing vendor, after it had troubles with online testing this spring, choosing Data Recognition Corporation instead.
McGraw-Hill Education decided to get out of of the testing business (almost) altogether, selling most of it to the aforementioned Data Recognition Corporation. “DRC will acquire ‘key assets’ of McGraw-Hill Education’s CTB assessment business, the organizations said. Those assets include McGraw-Hill’s existing state testing contracts, as well as a lineup of other assessment products, including TerraNova, LAS Links, and the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC, a high school equivalency exam,” Education Week reported.
Ed-tech companies that offer test prep and tutoring continue to receive sizable amounts of investment from venture capitalists (even though Khan Academy has promised to “disrupt” the test prep industry by offering its services for free. More on its partnership with the College Board below.)
How the sausage is made: Pearson explains how tests are created. And The Plain Dealer explains how tests are graded: “ a very focused assembly line operation: Scoring 55 to 80 answers an hour is no problem for most.” Gasp! Graders are not teachers! (“A tradeoff,” perhaps. Or, the alternative: teachers do grade their students’ exams and lo, scores are higher.)
The “Opt Out” Movement
As I noted in my post on “The Politics of Education Technology,” President Obama announced in October that it was time for students to stop taking “unnecessary tests,” proposing that testing will be limited to just 2% of classroom time. Opponents of standardized testing were not assuaged.
But opponents were able to make plenty of news this year as the “opt out” movement spread. Students in Illinois and New Mexico walked out in protest of the new Common Core exams in March, for example. And in April, Education Week reported that nearly 15% of New Jersey eleventh graders had opted out of standardized tests this year. That same month, KING5 news in Seattle reported that 95% of students at the city’s Garfield High School had opted out of the Common Core assessments. In May, the movement had made it into the The New York Times: in New York State, “at least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014.” “Testing Revolt In Washington State Brings Feds Into Uncharted Waters” as more than 42,000 11th graders in the state did not take their mandated standardized tests this year, NPR reported in July.
(What do you do when you “opt out”? For some students, you just “sit and stare.”)
“What galvanized standardized testing's opt-out movement?” While some pointed the finger at teachers’ unions and some blamed parents, the “Opt Out” movement had support from politicians too, often tapping into more general displeasure with the Common Core. In January, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of the PARCC exam. “Opt out” legislation was passed in Oregon and Maine as well.
“The Rebellion against Standardized Tests is Exploding,” The Nation claimed. “Sorry, I’m Not Taking This Test,” said Mother Jones. “Standardized Tests Suck. But the Fix Is More Data, Not Less,” said Wired in typical Wired fashion.
And if the results of the tests are murky so too were the results of many polls this year that tried to ascertain whether or not everyone really hates tests or only some people hate tests (where “some people” is code for middle-class white folks). Drawing on an NBC News State of Parenting Poll (sponsored by Pearson), the Hechinger Report asked “Does the anti-Common Core movement have a race problem?” According to a poll by USC and Los Angeles Times, “Majority of California’s Latino voters highly value school testing.” “Only 23% of Latinos said students were tested too much, compared with 44% of white voters.” “Why big civil rights groups think standardized testing is good for kids,” Vox reported. Also via Vox: “Parents think standardized tests are useless. Teachers agree.” Drawing on the results of a different poll, the NEA argued that “Americans Want Less Standardized Testing and More School Funding.” Making the results fit your politics, as one does…
“The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” – Campbell’s Law
As the pressures from standardized testing increase, it’s hardly a surprise that cheating does as well. Of course, cheating pre-dates ed-tech, but ed-tech continues to get a fair share of the blame for facilitating it. OMG! Yik Yak! Smart watches! Social media! So truly, three cheers for those who still opt for the low-tech cheat: hiring someone to take the test for you or hell, just sharing the ol’ cheat sheet.
But on a serious note: the trial for the educators involved in the Atlanta public school district’s massive cheating scandal wrapped up this year. Former Atlanta public schools superintendent Beverly Hall passed away in March while the trial was still ongoing. In April, eleven Atlanta educators were convicted of racketeering for their role in the cheating scandal. They initially faced twenty years in prison. (Other educators charged with similar crimes elsewhere have been charged with fraud and forgery, and their sentences have been nowhere near as long as those faced in this particular case.) The Atlanta educators were led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, to remain in jail until their sentencing. At that time, two accepted negotiated sentences. Eight were sentenced to prison time, up to seven years. Their terms were later reduced from seven to three years.
This New Yorker article from last year paints the best picture, I think, about the pressures – political, administrative, and so on – in the district. Via The Atlantic: “What Really Happened to Atlanta’s Students When Their Teachers Cheated.”
From July: “The principal of a popular elementary school in Harlem acknowledged that she forged answers on students’ state English exams in April because the students had not finished the tests, according to a memorandum released Monday by the New York City Education Department. On April 17, the same day that someone made a complaint about the cheating, the principal, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, of Teachers College Community School, jumped in front of a subway train. She died on April 25.”
While the federally-mandated standardized tests seems to get the lion’s share of attention and ire, there are lots and lots and lots and lots of other standardized tests out there – many, arguably, are quite redundant. A brief rundown of news from the other big tests this year:
ACT: While the SAT was long the popular college admissions exam, the ACT has become much more widely accepted. (Both the SAT and ACT are being used in some states as replacement for Common Core tests.) ACT expanded its computer-based testing this year, and like many testing vendors, it experienced a number of glitches. ACT also announced in June that it was phasing out Compass, “a popular but controversial college placement test that colleges use to determine whether students need to take remedial courses.”
“ACT scores in 2015 were flat,” Inside Higher Ed noted in August, “with a continuation of recent patterns of significant gaps in the average scores by race and ethnicity.” But ACT’s business continues to grow.
And bless their hearts, ACT made the case for multiple choice tests – they “can and do efficiently assess students’ higher-order thinking skills and reflect their real-world problem solving skills.” Keepin’ the dream alive.
SAT:There’s a new SAT, a Common Core-aligned SAT. Whee. (The head of the College Board, which administers the SAT is David Coleman, often described as the “architect” of the Common Core. So, in my best Church Lady voice, that’s convenient.)
The Bell Curve’s author tried to convince folks that the SAT doesn’t measure affluence. Yeah, right dude. Mmhmmm. Fighting the idea that that is precisely what the SAT has measured, a free SAT test prep website from Khan Academy (built in partnership with the College Board) went live this summer. There have been lots of predictions that this will “disrupt” the test prep industry and “level the playing field.” We shall see, right? Yeah, right…
Related: According to an investigation by ProPublica, “Asians Are Nearly Twice as Likely to Get a Higher Price from Princeton Review” for test prep services.
Meanwhile: “China’s Hot New Luxury Product: the SAT.”
The SAT suffered a number of securitybreaches this year, in one instance with the questions posted online a week in advance of the exam. It also had a printing error on the June 6 test, prompting the College Board to throw out that section and to waive the fee for those who wanted to retake it.
Panic at the disco: “SAT scores at lowest level in 10 years, fueling worries about high schools,” WaPo’s Nick Anderson wrote this fall, trying to fuel the panic, to which Vox’s Libby Nelson calmly responded with “The real reason SAT scores are falling.” “Is the College Board trolling high schools?” historian Sherman Dorn asked. And honestly, maybe this whole standardized testing thing is a giant troll…
Despite all the hullabaloo, more universities across the country have opted to drop their requirements for the SAT (or ACT) for admissions. Among them: VCU, Cornell College, Rivier University, UMass Lowell, George Washington University, The College of Idaho, and Salem State University. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai will, however, be required to take the SAT if she applies to Stanford.
AP: Like the SAT, the AP is one of the College Board’s products.
There’s been a boiling controversy in the last year or so about the contents of the AP US History course (and subsequent test). In February, an Oklahoma legislative committee voted to ban the teaching of AP US History in the state, arguing that the curriculum was un-patriotic. The Jefferson County School Board, where students protested last year after it said it was going to review the AP US History curriculum to make sure it sufficiently promoted patriotism, said in February it that planned no such review. (For what it’s worth, those very board members were ousted in the mid-term elections this fall.) Caving to pressure from conservatives, the College Board said it would revise its AP US History curriculum in order to include more about the founding fathers, less about dead Native Americans, and to make Ronald Reagan and Manifest Destiny sound less horrible. As Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested, after taking the previous new version of the AP, “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to sign up for ISIS.”
I’ll look at the whole “learn-to-code” push in an upcoming post, but I will note here: “Nationally, 37,327 students took the AP CS A exam in 2014,” Mark Guzdial observed. “This was a big increase (26.29%) from the 29,555 students who took it in 2013.” “Barbara Ericson's 2015 AP CS demographics analysis: Still No African-Americans Taking the AP CS Exam in 9 States.” And Code.org teamed up with the College Board: because everyone needs to learn to code and then hand over money to the College Board for an AP test on the subject. Boom.
(Whispers: more students take the physics AP than the CS AP. Way more.) “10 most (and least) popular Advanced Placement (AP) subjects.”
“Is Advanced Placement’s Value in the Class or the Test?” Education Week’s Sarah Sparks looked at one study that suggests it’s the latter. So that’s good news for the MOOC-as-test-prep service launched by Davidson College, I guess.
GED: Like many other standardized tests, the GED has become Common Core-aligned. Like many other standardized tests, the GED is administered by Pearson. The recent changes to the GED continue to not be particularly beneficial for those who need the certification. The number of people getting their GED since recent changes to the test continues to decline. Nine times fewer people in Mississippi, for example, have passed the test.
This fall, The Pacific Standard reviewed the new GED: “Making the Case for a Good-Enough Diploma. Common Core and big business have combined to make the lot of the upwardly mobile high school dropout even more dire.” (“Could Your Pass the New GED Test?”)
Meanwhile, in what might be important trend to watch, more companies might once again decide to help fund their employees’ education: “Walmart, fast-food chains offer employees free GED program.”
NAEP: The “nation’s report card” is always an excuse to panic. Panic! Panic! Panic! Wring your hands! Speculate in order to confirm what you already believe about education and ed-reform! And/or read USC prof Morgan Polikoff for some sanity.
Starting in 2017, students who take the NAEP are supposed to be asked questions about their level of grit and their mindset. But now, “responding to budget constraints and priorities for the NAEP program,” the National Assessment Governing Board has decided“to postpone the administration of grade 12 in four subjects and the next long-term trend exams by four years.” It’s almost as though we don’t need NAEP scores, since we know how everyone will react, no matter the scores.
Exit Exams:In January, Arizona became the first state in the US to enact a law requiring high school students to pass the US citizenship test on civics before graduating. In October, California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that abolished the state’s high school exit exam and in turn awarded diplomas to thousands who’d failed the exam as far back as 2004 but had completed all their high school classes.
Instead of Standardized Tests?
OK, so this testing thing is big business. It’s political intrigue. It’s part of a long history of education research and psychometrics and ed-tech product development.
Or: after we replace teachers with robots, we could just go on and replace students with robots too. After all, this year“an artificial intelligence software program capable of seeing and reading has for the first time answered geometry questions from the SAT at the level of an average 11th grader.” Think of how well we'll do on NAEP and PISA and the like if we just let the robots do the test-taking!
This is the third in my series The Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
Last year, I named one of the “Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014” “School as ‘Skills.’” By that, I wanted to refer to the powerful narrative that the primary purpose of education – at both the K–12 and university levels – is to prepare students for the workforce. This year, I’m looking at the continuation of that trend, borrowing a phrase that George Siemens used in a keynote this summer: “the employability narrative.”
Last year’s article included a number of updates about credentialing, competency-based education, and coding bootcamps – these have become important trends in their own right and warrant more in-depth discussion in separate posts.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
The US unemployment rate fell to 5% in October of this year, the lowest level in seven years. A closer look at those numbers gives you a slightly different picture: the overall unemployment rate for adult men is 4.7% and 4.5% for adult women. The unemployment rate for teens is 15.9%. For whites, it’s 4.4%, but for Blacks it’s 9.2%. For Asians it’s 3.5%, but for Latinos it’s 6.3%. The unemployment rate for those with no high school diploma is 6.8%. The unemployment rate for high school graduates is 4.9%, and the rate for those with a college degree 2.5%. (The latter constitutes “full employment.”)
The US economy added 271,000 jobs in October, “marking the strongest three years of job creation since 2000,” the White House boasted. Jobs were created in the following sectors: professional and business services, health care, retail trade, food services and drinking places, and construction. Employment in mining fell; employment in other industries, including tech, stayed the same.
(For what it’s worth, I’m using October’s figures as that was the latest dataset released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as I worked on this article. The November data has since been made available.)
Just to put things in perspective globally however, "about 39 million people ages 16 to 29 across the globe weren’t employed and weren’t participating in any kind of education or training in 2013. That’s 5 million more than before the economic crisis of 2008, a new OECD report stresses, and 2014 predictions don’t look much better."
I want to start this examination of the “employability narrative” in 2015 with a look at actual employment figures. I want to do so, in part, because of the steady drumbeat of stories that posit that schools are not adequately readying graduates for the job market and that graduates – particularly those who study the liberal arts – are unprepared for work.
Take the report released in January by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, for example, which found a discrepancy between how “career ready” soon-to-be college graduates describe themselves and how “career ready” employers think college graduates actually are. Or take the Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll from April in which just 13% of respondents “strongly agreed” that college graduates were prepared to succeed in the workforce. Or take the poll conducted by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute in June that found that only 49.2% of respondents felt colleges were paying enough attention to job market trends and just 54.8% thought there was enough emphasis in higher ed on job placement for graduates. Or take the Gallup/Purdue survey from September in which only half of college alumni ‘strongly agree’ that their education was worth what they paid for it.
So, the debate about whether or not college is “worth it” raged on in 2015, despite strong results on the job market for college graduates, including recent ones. Well, most graduates. As the Pacific Standard observed in February, “Elite University Degrees Do Not Protect Black People From Racism.”
Often when people refer to “most graduates” who do or do not succeed, it’s a statement not about racism but a judgment about which major the graduates selected. A study published this summer and covered by Inside Higher Ed noted that fears about unemployment and uneasiness with the job market do prompt students to select certain majors that they believe to be more lucrative, even if those majors – pre-law, for example – don’t actually offer strong job prospects and even if their switching majors doesn’t actually result in that big a shift in employment or wages. A survey of students attending the for-profit university Laureate Education also found that they want higher education to focus on “career outcomes.” But none of this should really be that surprising – particularly the findings of the latter survey. “Career outcomes” have long been the focus of for-profit higher education; and students do have to be realistic about how they prepare for a future that feels – is– quite precarious.
How does one defend against that precarity? It’s probably not just a “fix” for or by or through education – well unless you like invoking silver bullets as ed-tech entrepreneurs and politicians sure do. But surely it isn’t up to the institution of (higher) education alone to address employability and economic precarity. (Echoing a remark I made last year, I urge you to read everything Tressie McMillan Cottom writes– there are things, she has argued, that the “education gospel” cannot address.)
Nevertheless, employers have been happy in recent decades to wag their fingers at schools and to offload the responsibility of job training elsewhere, although in all fairness, a few companies did announce programs this year to subsidize their employees’ continuing education, perhaps marking a shift in their commitments: Chipotle, McDonalds, Starbucks, Chrysler, for example. Many schools in turn seem quite content to outsource job placement services too, along with so much of their ed-tech infrastructure, to third-party providers.
According to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in February, the US spends $1.1 trillion on college and workforce training. “However, the rate of increase for spending on formal training has been faster in higher education – an 82 percent increase since 1994 compared to a 26 percent increase by employers.” Those with college degrees receive the most formal training investment from their employers.
In March, President Obama announced a $100 million TechHire initiative that “aims to convince local governments, businesses, and individuals that a four-year degree is no longer the only way to gain valuable tech skills.” But four-year degree or not, post-secondary credentialing of some sort is expected. (Who are we kidding. Employers still specifically demand four-year degrees. I’ll explore this in more detail in the next post in this series.)
The So-Called Skills Gap
The “skills shortage” or “skills gap” is still invoked with great frequency, by politicians and tech entrepreneurs alike. This shortage has fueled a great deal of interest in “jobs training” and “learn-to-code” startups – more on those below – that promise to meet the (purported) demands of the job market. From an article I wrote this fall about coding bootcamps:
I write “purported” here even though it’s quite common to hear claims that the economy is facing a “STEM crisis” – that too few people have studied science, technology, engineering, or math and employers cannot find enough skilled workers to fill jobs in those fields. But claims about a shortage of technical workers are debatable, and lots of data would indicate otherwise: wages in STEM fields have remained flat, for example, and many who graduate with STEM degrees cannot find work in their field. In other words, the crisis may be “a myth.”
But it’s a powerful myth, and one that isn’t terribly new, dating back at least to the launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and subsequent hand-wringing over the Soviets’ technological capabilities and technical education as compared to the US system.
It’s a myth that’s found some play on the presidential campaign trail as well, as several candidates have openly mocked those who major in the liberal arts (even though many of the candidates themselves have degrees in the liberal arts).
(I just want to observe in passing here that it’s probably not liberal arts majors who are the most disillusioned about their professional futures; it’s college athletes.)
At a Republican Party debate this fall, Florida Senator Marco Rubio argued that higher education “is too expensive, too hard to access, and it doesn’t teach 21st-century skills.” Graduates, he contended, end up with massive amounts of student loan debt but cannot find jobs. “I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education,” he also said. ”Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.“ The droves of self-appointed fact- and grammar-checkers on Twitter quickly pointed out that 1) correct usage is ”fewer philosophers“ and that 2) philosophers actually earn more. Politifact also rated Rubio’s claims about welders as ”false."
According to Payscale, philosophy majors make an average first-year salary of $42,200. The average mid-career pay for philosophy majors is even better: $85,000 per year.
Additionally, the median pay for philosophy professors is nearly $90,000 per year, according to salary.com. The top 10 percent of philosophy professors make more than $190,000 a year.
Rubio will be hard-pressed to find a welder who makes a comparable salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers is $37,420 – about $18 an hour. The top 10 percent of welders earn $58,590 or more. That's significantly less than the top 10 percent of philosophy professors, who earn $190,000 or more.
Of course, we’d be hard-pressed too to call welding a “21st century skill,” despite Rubio’s stump speech. Humans have been connecting metal with heat for, ya know, millennia. But nobody pays attention to the history of tech when you can slogan-ize the hell out of things.
And nobody pays attention to the history of ed-tech when you can act as though you’re the first person or first organization to support programming education. (Happy 35th anniversary to Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms!)
Everybody Should Learn to Code
Remember the Year of Code? That was Codecademy’s big push back in 2012 (and every year since) that “everyone should learn to code.” Even NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was going to learn to code.
Hey, maybe that’s why he’s not running for President. He’s too busy working on his ruby-on-rails app. Or something.
In January, Kentucky legislators proposed a bill that would allow computer science courses to count as a foreign language credit. (Ugh.) Washington state passed legislation in June strengthening computer science education, thankfully rejecting an earlier attempt to allow CS classes to count as a foreign language credit. In September, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a ten-year deadline for all schools in the city to offer computer science (although CS won’t become a graduation requirement). (Sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci’s response is well worth reading.) LAUSD also said it plans to expand computer science to every grade by 2020– the district’s billion-dollar iPad investment are going to be super useful for that. And here’s an awesome headline by Edsurge from February: “‘For the Preservation of Public Peace,’ Arkansas Students Will Learn to Code.” (That’s how the legislation framed the importance of programming: “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”) In March, the state also passed a law requiring students learn cursive. Regardless, Wired said that Arkansas is “leading the learn to code movement,” because good grief, ed-tech journalism is terrible.
Even worse: before he left office this year, Australia’s education minister Christopher Pyne approved a new curriculum that replaced the teaching of history and geography with the teaching of programming. “The new curriculum echoes successful programs implemented in the United States such as Code.org and ‘Hour of Code’, with the support of Google and Microsoft, including the United Kingdom who introduced coding in primary schools last year,” Business Insider reported, making me question what industry folks think “successful programs” actually look like.
As Georgia Tech professor Mark Guzdial recently noted, “Computing education is being discussed today because of the technology industry. We would not be talking about CS in K–12 without technology industry needs. It’s the NYC tech industry who pushed for the initiative there (see their open letter). It’s the tech industry funding Code.org (see funders here). That’s not necessarily a bad thing to have the tech industry funding the effort to put computer science in schools, but it is a different thing than having a national consensus about changing public school education to include computer science.”
While the legislative and school-based efforts to push the “learn to code” mantra ostensibly open up this skill to everyone, there are still many inequalities when it comes to learning computer science and joining the tech sector (more on that below), something that’s exacerbated, arguably, with the push to make “coding” into a consumer-oriented product. That is, it’s still something affluent parents can more readily offer their kids (even at the preschool level) through expensive hardware, software, toys, and private classes. For example, the learn-to-code startup Tynker announced it would be offering classes at some 600 Sylvan Learning locations.
The push for more computer science education has also become a nice marketing label for the educational toy industry. Disney’s all over it, of course, partnering with Google for a new cartoon series, Miles from Tomorrowland, that aims to inspire kids to code. Disney’s also pushing Star Wars branded learn-to-code stuff too. Disney’s pushing Star Wars branded everything though, let’s be honest.
More “learn to code” startups did release school-focused marketing and products this year: Sphero, MakerBot, LittleBits, and the Micro Bit, for example. But these “learn to code” companies’ business models don’t always make sense for schools or libraries, as librarian David Lee King wrote about this fall as his library struggled with its Treehouse subscription.
Nevertheless, the push for more computer science has been a boon for companies offering this sort of education. A small sample of the “learn to code” and “skills training” startups that have raised venture capital this year: Lynda.com ($186 million). LittleBits ($44.2 million). Thinkful ($4.25 million). CodeHS ($1.75 million). Globaloria ($995,000). Flatiron School ($9 million). Kano ($15 million). Wonder Workshop ($6.9 million). One Month ($1.9 million). Udacity ($105 million). General Assembly ($70 million). Andela ($10 million). Udemy ($65 million). (This doesn’t include the boom in funding for private student loan providers, many of which are targeting students attending coding bootcamps. I’ll write more about that disheartening trend in my upcoming post on for-profit higher ed. And I’ll have a lot more to say about these bootcamps, “the new for-profit higher ed,” in that post too.)
A sample of the “learn to code” and “skills training” startups that were acquired this year: Hack Reactor bought Makersquare. Pluralsight bought Code School. LinkedIn bought Lynda.com. The Apollo Group bought Iron Yard. And in a follow-up from one of last year’s big ed-tech acquisitions, it appears that Microsoft hasn’t fucked up Minecraft. Yet.
What Do We Mean by "Coding"?
What exactly do we mean when we say “everyone should learn to code” or “everyone should make”? (The latter question seems particularly relevant as, according to the latest K–12 Horizon Report, makerspaces (among other things) are “on the horizon.”)
Early in 2015, the Computer Science Teachers Association released the results of its 2014 high school survey. Among the findings, “participants applied the term ‘computer science’ to a vast array of topics and courses, many of which were submitted as ‘other’ courses in response to the topics that were provided in the survey. Participants classified studies in business management, yearbook layout, artificial intelligence, robotics, office applications, and automated design as computer science courses.” It’s not clear how, even with legislative support in some states for computer science counting towards high school graduation, schools will fit it into the curriculum. (And perhaps this explains why the “Hour of Code” is so popular. I mean, it’s just an hour.)
Recommended reading: “Why I Am Not a Maker” by Olin College of Engineering professor Debbie Chachra. Also recommended, this conversation between Garnet Hertz and Alexander Galloway on “Critique and Making”:
…To be a person in the modern world, one should know at least one foreign language and one computer language. So let’s learn how to code, but let’s also read Plato.strong>
Meanwhile, education industry behemoth Pearson is doing the “maker” thing now too – which just might be all you need to know about that particular buzzword and how it’s being wielded and co-opted by education and education technology companies.
Diversity, Employability, and the Meritocracy Lie
The technology industry continues to struggle with diversity, despite claiming that it’s working to hire more people of color and women. If, indeed, education is forced to bend towards the “employability narrative,” the discrimination and bias in the tech sector is going to be even more of a problem, as we’re pushing for a certain sort of skill-set for work in an industry that remains incredibly exclusionary.
Part of the problem is still the pipeline (and making things pink or “girly” isn’t going to fix things, thank you very much, nor is highlighting athletes from the least diverse of the big four professional sports). Female students and students of color remain underrepresented in computer science majors and classes, and many simply don’t see technology as a good career choice for them.
Even as the “learn to code” movement congratulates itself for its expansion and normalization, a report from the Level Playing Institute released this year “found that public schools with a high number of students of color are half as likely to offer computer science classes as schools with a predominately white or Asian student body.” (Level Playing Institute founder Freada Klein and her husband Mitch Kapor announced $40 million in funding for diversity initiatives to “fix the leaky tech pipeline.”)
Edsurge asked in July “Will Teaching New Computer Science Principles Level the Playing Field?” No. It won’t. Not until the culture of the tech industry changes.
A former Google diversity head decided he wanted to build a museum dedicated to women’s history in London’s East End, so he submitted a proposal outlining his goals last October. But after the proposal was approved and construction on the museum began, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe promptly switched tactics, and instead decided to build a museum dedicated to the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper, who exclusively targeted female sex workers. His excuse? Jack the Ripper is less boring than exploring women’s history and accomplishments.
You sorta get the feeling that when people say “everybody should learn to code” in order to close that so-called “skills gap” that there’s an asterisk there: certain restrictions may apply.
Such was the case at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that announced in February that it would “no longer admit Iranian national students to specific programs in the College of Engineering (i.e., Chemical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) and in the College of Natural Sciences (i.e., Physics, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Polymer Science & Engineering).” (It later changed its mind, reversing the new policy.)
Also running afoul of preconceptions about who should code and who should “make,” 9th grader Ahmed Mohamed, who was handcuffed and interrogated by police after he brought a homemade clock to school. (Pro tip: “How to Make Your Own Homemade Clock That Isn't a Bomb.”)
Support for Mohamed was overwhelming. Even the POTUS weighed in. (For what it’s worth, I think it’s important that we call out the injustice of the school-to-prison pipeline as it affects all students, particularly students of color, not just those students who are science whizzes.)
LinkedIn and the Employability Narrative
In April, on the heels of the news that it had acquired Lynda.com for $1.5 billion, MindWires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein wrote that “LinkedIn is the most interesting company in ed tech.”
LinkedIn is the only organization I know of, public or private, that has the data to study long-term career outcomes of education in a broad and meaningful way. Nobody else comes close. Not even the government. Their data set is enormous, fairly comprehensive, and probably reasonably accurate. Which also means that they are increasingly in a position to recommend colleges, majors, and individual courses and competencies. An acquisition like Lynda.com gives them an ability to sell an add-on service – “People who are in your career track advanced faster when they took a course like this one, which is available to you for only X dollars” – but it also feeds their data set. Right now, schools are not reporting individual courses to the company, and it’s really too much to expect individuals to fill out comprehensive lists of courses that they took. The more that LinkedIn can capture that information automatically, the more the company can start searching for evidence that enables them to reliably make more fine-grained recommendations to job seekers (like which skills or competencies they should acquire) as well as to employers (like what kinds of credentials to look for in a job candidate). Will the data actually provide credible evidence to make such recommendations? I don’t know. But if it does, LinkedIn is really the only organization that’s in a position to find that evidence right now. This is the enormous implication of the Lynda.com acquisition that the press has mostly missed, and it’s also one reason of many why Pando Daily’s angle on the acquisition – “Did LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda just kill the ed tech space?” – is a laughable piece of link bait garbage.
LinkedIn may well be at the very center of the “employability narrative” trend, and the acquisition of Lynda.com certainly underscores the importance of “skills training” as ongoing professional development and, as Feldstein notes, as signalling. As such, LinkedIn is helping to push for a changing notion of credentialing as well. (More on that in the next post in this series.)
Oh and some fun trivia for Marco Rubio: LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has a master’s degree in philosophy.
This is the fourth article in my series Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
When I wrote about “Competencies and Certificates” as one of the major ed-tech trends of 2014, I noted that “Neither competency-based education nor alternative certification efforts have reached the frenzied hype of MOOCs. (Not much in education technology has, with the possible exception of Khan Academy.)” And while there was no frenzy, I did think that these could be poised to become such. So to be honest, I thought we’d actually see more happen this year with competencies and credentialing. This still feels to me like a trend that only certain folks are really pushing for. (Then again, you can probably say that about every trend I examine in this series.)
There was, no surprise, plenty of hype as publications continued to trumpet alternative credentials as hastening the end of the college degree. “If B.A.’s Can’t Lead Graduates to Jobs, Can Badges Do the Trick?” The Chronicle of Higher Education asked in March. “Corporations are turning to digital credentials instead of higher ed to train and educate,” Fast Company asserted this summer. Also from this summer, "“How Nanodegrees Are Disrupting Higher Education.” “Can a coding bootcamp replace a four-year degree?” Education Dive asked earlier this month. In an op-ed in Techcrunch, the CEO of skills training company Pluralsight argued that “Edtech’s Next Big Disruption Is The College Degree.”
As I wrote in the previous article in this series, it’s not clear that the college degree is actually in trouble, despite the increasing cost of obtaining one. It’s something that employers continue to value very highly, even for positions that have not traditionally required a Bachelor’s. Indeed, what we might be seeing instead of the end of the college degree is its spread – that is, a “credential creep,” the demand not just for more post-secondary education but for more certification. We can see this happening among the graduates from coding bootcamps and MOOCs, for example, many who are also college graduates; and while we can talk about these two trends in terms of “skills training,” the value of these programs certainly lies in the certification they offer as well.
What’s always striking to me is that alternate forms of credentialing are posited as a new thing, as a brilliant innovation (of course!) devised recently by tech and ed-tech companies. Here’s an excerpt from the aforementioned Fast Company article about Pearson’s badging platform, Acclaim:
Acclaim arrives at a time when traditional academic degrees are falling out of favor, in part due to their staggering cost, and online learning options are on the rise. Back when badges emerged on the scene in 2012, education pundits were optimistic that these new digital credentials could be a “fantastic bargain” by allowing students to bypass the expense of college tuition. “If digital badges infiltrate the credential market, they could shake the economic foundations of a higher-education industry that over the last 30 years has consistently increased prices much higher than inflation and family income, resulting in over $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt,” Kevin Carey wrote in The New York Times. But so far, it’s been private employers, not universities, that have taken the lead.
The article, titled “Say Hello to the University of Microsoft,” notes that Microsoft was one of Pearson’s first clients for its Acclaim program. It does not mention that Microsoft has been offering a certification program since 1992. So remind me again: what’s new here?
Perhaps what’s important is not so much the (supposed) newness of alternative credentialing – I’ve written stories this year on the long history of “learn to draw” correspondence courses and of career colleges, for example – but in the political and economic power behind this latest push. That is, the repetition of narratives about education that run through this and many of the other trends I’m exploring in this year-end series: that education is “broken,” that it’s not sufficiently preparing students for “skilled” work, that private companies will do this better than public education, and so on.
One more excerpt from that Fast Company article:
“We’re going to see private companies creating their own education systems,” CEB executive Jean Martin, a human resources expert, told an audience of education insiders at a recent conference. Human-resources departments are increasingly borrowing from supply chain management practices, she said, as they look to custom-engineer their “suppliers” of people.
The Economist gives this trend a nod as well, so that’s something to look forward to.
The Promise of the Microcredential
As Fast Company observes, some education pundits were optimistic about badges’ potential for “disruption.” Well, mostly the pundits who are always giddy about such a thing. (A correction: Mozilla announced its Open Badges Infrastructure Project in 2011, not 2012 as the article suggests.)
But as 2015 comes to an end, there might not be much to cheer about when it comes to Mozilla’s work on that project. Or at least, that’s the argument Kerri Lemoie made in November: “Mozilla is Doing a Hack Job on Open Badges.” Lemoie observes that the team working on Open Badges has been disbanded, and she argues that the project lacks financial and technical resources, as well as leadership. Doug Belshaw, who left Mozilla earlier this year, responded to Lemoie’s article, contending that despite the “inflated expectations,” the “future remains bright” for Open Badges, in part because of the open source nature of the project.
Pearson’s badging platform is built using Mozilla’s framework, for what it’s worth. But there are actually several competing badging and certification platforms – proprietary platforms. (One of these, Achievery, stopped issuing badges this spring.) I don’t think it’s actually self-evident that open source will triumph here, in part because credentialing remains part of a powerful prestige market.
That prestige might be something working in the favor of some new credentialing programs, particularly within the tech sector. Or least, I think it could work for Udacity, whose founder Sebastian Thrun has the imprimatur of both Stanford and Google (along with some $160 million in venture funding). Udacity launched its “nanodegrees” last year and has continued to expand its offerings via partnerships with Google and other companies. Thrun says that 1000 students have graduated from Udacity and 150 have used the nanodegree to get a new job or move up in their current one.
“We can’t turn you into a Nobel laureate,” Thrun told The New York Times in September. “But what we can do is something like upskilling – you’re a smart person, but the skills you have are inadequate for the current job market, or don’t let you get the job you aspire to have. We can help you get those skills.” It might be “upskilling,” but it’s also “upcredentialing,” as many of these nanodegree holders are also holders of Bachelor’s and beyond.
(Never fear, I plan to write more about what’s become of MOOCs in an upcoming article in this series.)
So this “upcredentialing” begins to get at the heart of some of the problems of badges and nanodegrees and microcredentials and the like. We might pay lip service to the notion that we want a better way “support deeper learning” or to signal specific “skills,” but credentialing – particularly the college degree – is a signal for much more than that. We can see this in the relationship between Stanford grads and the tech industry, for starters, or between Wharton and Wall Street.
So when I hear people say “In a technical role in Silicon Valley, nobody cares about your degree if your GitHub account is solid,” I call bullshit. This attitude tries to obscure the privilege and power in tech culture – “exclusion and exceptionality in the pipeline,” in traditional and yes in alternative education programs, in hiring practices, and in management.
While the ed-tech industry has been touting the promise of microcredentialing and alternate certifications for quite a while now, a drumbeat that’s been echoed in the press, I noticed a significant uptick this year in stories about fake degrees. Priceonomics reported this year that a fake Harvard degree will run you $650 (and you needn’t sit through any MOOCs). In May the New York Times investigated the digital diploma mill Axact, which makes tens of millions of dollars a year selling fake degrees. Federal investigators in the US announced they would crack down on fake schools that are selling documents to foreigners trying to obtain student visas, and the British government also indicated that it planned to investigate websites offering fake degrees.
What “counts” as a “real” credential? Who decides?
At the beginning of the year, the US Department of Education said it would let more schools experiment with competency-based programs.
Wait, what’s “competency-based education,” other than another education reform buzzword? Michael Feldstein wrote a helpful explainer last year if you still need clarification. But in a nutshell, competency-based programs enable students to progress through courses if they can show, via assessment, that they’ve sufficiently grasped a topic. This differs from how progression traditionally happens in schools, whereby students stay in a class for a set length of time – a semester, for example.
In related news, the Carnegie Foundation released a report this year on the Carnegie Unit (that’s what we call the contact time between student and instructor), “A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape.” Among its findings, “our research suggests that the Carnegie Unit is less of an obstacle to change than it might seem.”
Recommended reading: “Asynchronous course hour – systemic impacts of the digital on higher education” by Dave Cormier.
Despite a push from the Department of Education at the beginning of the year for more schools to explore competency-based education, by mid-year, op-eds were being penned like this one from the New America Foundation: “Whatever Happened to the Department’s Competency-Based Education Experiments?” The problem, according to that op-ed’s author Amy Laitinen, “the Department of Education has been dragging its feet,” failing to offer guidelines for the schools interested in experimenting with CBE. “We’re flooring the accelerator and the brake at the same time,” “Dean Dad” Matt Reed observed in response.
In March, Southern New Hampshire University, one of the schools involved in the federal CBE experiment, announced that its president Paul LeBlanc had been hired by the Department of Education for a short-term appointment in order to focus on competency-based education and “developing new accreditation pathways for innovative programs in higher education.” And in September, the department (finally) released a CBE Experiment Reference Guide, announcing a few months later it would expand the very experiment.
While several accrediting agencies did say that they would work on a common framework for assessing and approving competency-based education programs, it appeared by the end of the year that accreditation would be a sticking point in these initiatives moving forward. In October, “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has pumped the brakes on competency-based education, partially due to concerns about the level of interaction between instructors and students in some of those programs,” Inside Higher Ed reported.
With or without the support of the Office of Inspector General, education technology companies, particularly learning management systems, have been working on various products that they can sell to cash in on what they hope will become a big trend. In April, for example, Ellucian, maker of the much reviled Banner system, acquired Helix Education’s competency-based LMS. Phil Hill looked at the deal with pragmatism; Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute was more dogmatic, pronouncing this the “new LMS wars.”
Also poised to benefit from competency-based education are testing companies, as CBE is assessment-heavy. Related: the recent revisions to the GED, one of the earliest examples of competency-based assessment, continue to prove problematic, “failing a large number of people who need a second chance to get ahead.” The number of people who are passing the new GED test, now administered by Pearson, continues to fall. Preliminary standardized test results from SNHU’s competency program, on the other hand, have been called “promising.”
But what “counts” as a “competency”?
Do Employers Care about Competencies and Credentials?
As I suggested in the previous article in this series on “The Employability Narrative,” the purpose of education is increasingly posited as “to prepare students for work.” We can debate whether or not the content and curriculum of traditional education does that, but we should also examine whether or not alternative paths do that as well. And the question here isn’t simply “what do students know” but it’s “what do employers believe job applicants can do.”
According to a report released by the American Enterprise Institute, very, very few employers are even aware of competency-based education programs. (I imagine one could say the same for nanodegrees and other microcredentials. But I’m only guessing.) And even though Education Week suggested this fall that “Competency-Based Education Gets Employers’ Attention,” it’s not really clear that’s the case at all, in part because many employers admit they haven’t really identified specifically what skills or competencies they’re interested in hiring for. It’s so much easier instead just to snarl and make vague assertions that schools aren’t adequately preparing students for the future. It’s so much easier to hire based on the signal of the college degree (and the prestige associated with certain colleges).
To echo what I wrote in “The Employability Narrative,” I do think that LinkedIn might be the lynchpin in any efforts to rethink credentialing. LinkedIn has continued to push for its users to include more formal and informal education information in their profiles. So while it probably cannot bust the prestige market of the college degree, it can offer more data to prospective employees and employers alike. (I say this recognizing that “more data” is often confused with better decision-making.)
The next post in this series will turn in more detail to for-profit higher education, which has had its share of run-ins with accreditors and federal and state agencies this year. No doubt, the interrelationship among the trends in this series – the politics of ed-tech, standardized testing, job skills, credentialing, and for-profit higher ed – is really on display here. These all involve issues of power and policy, of who decides “what counts,” of how we measure what we purport to value in education, and of who profits.
Last year, one of the biggest accreditation stories involved the City College of San Francisco which was threatened with closure. In January, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges voted to grant City College “restoration” status, giving it two more years to address its issues (which involved administrative failings and financial woes). As several other California community colleges faced sanction from the ACCJC – among them, Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Merritt College, and Laney College – a taskforce convened by state’s community college system said that it would look for a new accreditor, releasing a report that “concluded that the structure of accreditation in this region no longer meets the current and anticipated needs of the California Community Colleges. Furthermore, the task force concluded that several past attempts to engage with the ACCJC to make the accreditation process more effective and collegial have yielded very little in the way of progress.” As Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley Clancey pointed out,
The drama playing out in California is an example of the risks of relying on accreditors as the sole gatekeepers of federal funding – and of trusting that they will take action against failing schools. Accreditors are membership organizations made up of the colleges they are tasked with overseeing; this means they are funded with membership fees from the very schools whose credentials they have the power, at least theoretically, to revoke.
For its part, the Department of Education urged accreditors to be more than “watchdogs that don’t bark” and to be more transparent with data about student outcomes (typically code for “graduates’ wages”). But the department noted too that it has very little statutory authority in actually holding accreditors accountable (and let’s be honest, the chance that Congress gives the Department of Education more power are slim-to-none.) One change: accrediting agencies will have to submit “decision letters – which the department will then publish online – when they put institutions on probation.”
Almost in the same breath that it demanded more accountability for accrediting agencies, the Department of Education has also launched an experiment that would loosen financial aid restrictions for unaccredited education providers like MOOCs and coding bootcamps.
I’ll have a lot more to say in the next post in this series about that. But I’ll close with this: one of the applicants to become an “outside quality-assurance entity” as part of that experiment is Paul Freedman and his new company Entangled Solutions. Freedman’s last startup, Altius Education, ran into problems when, in 2013, accreditors shut down the Ivy Bridge College program that it had developed at Tiffin University. This year, Freedman filed a lawsuit against the accreditor that put Altius Education out of business, “alleging that the accreditor illegally ‘strong-armed’ the closure of Ivy Bridge College as part of a ‘witch hunt’ against nontraditional higher education.” Freedman also launched Entangled Ventures this year – described in a profile in the The Chronicle of Higher Education as “part incubator, part investment fund, part consultant, and part reseller of services.”
“It would be better to have more of an open marketplace,” Freedman told Inside Higher Ed about his plans to offer quality assurance for bootcamps. But even in a so-called “open marketplace,” let's be honest, there are powerful forces vying to accept whose credits and whose credentials will “count.”
The Senate approved the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace No Child Left Behind. President Obama signed the bill on Thursday. Via Vox: “How schools will be different without No Child Left Behind.” Via NPR: “How Poor And Disadvantaged Students Will Fare Under The New Education Law.” Computer science is now considered part of a “well-rounded education,” according to the new law. “Will Ed-Tech Companies Prosper From ESEA Reauthorization?” asks Education Week. Spoiler alert: yes.
A bill in Florida would allow students to substitute computer science for the foreign language graduation requirement. (A terrible idea.)
“California politician wants computer science to count as math pre-req.” (Also a terrible idea.)
First Lady Michelle Obama raps that everyone should go to college.
Education in the Courts
Abigail Fisher was back at the US Supreme Court with her challenge to race-based admissions at the University of Texas. Via Vox: “Fisher v. Texas, the Supreme Court's big affirmative action case, explained.” The questions from some of the Justices were simply awful. “Chief Justice Roberts asked why diversity matters in a physics class. Here's an answer,” says Vox’s Libby Nelson. Antonin Scalia said he thought African American students should be kept out of the university and be poised towards a “less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.” He’s wrong on “mismatch.” Scientific American columnist Danielle N. Lee responded to Scalia, drawing on her own experiences in science. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce also weighed in.
“More than 100 students involved in a sexting scandal at a southern Colorado high school will not face criminal charges,” says the Fremont County DA.
Via the LA School Report: “A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction yesterday against Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the latest development in the effort by the LA teachers union, UTLA, to unionize Alliance teachers.”
“A task force Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created is calling for changes in what New York State students learn and how they are assessed,” The New York Times reports.
From FiveThirtyEight: “How Arne Duncan Lost The Common Core And His Legacy.”
American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Association of American Universities have asked the Department of Education for more flexibility when it comes to accreditation.
The Department of Education has recommended that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges which oversees accreditation for California’s community colleges should lose some of its authority. More via Inside Higher Ed.
“Dean Dad” Matt Reed responds to talk on the presidential campaign trail and in think-tank-land about changing accreditation.
“The University of Tennessee at Martin has been placed on probation by its regional accreditor for falling short of standards related to evidence of institutional effectiveness and general education competencies,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Market research firm MarketsandMarkets says that MOOCs will be a $8.5 billion industry by 2020 (up from $1.83 billion today). Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. No.
“Charter Oak State College is the latest institution to grant college credit to learners in select massive open online courses offered by edX,” Inside Higher Ed reports. “In January, learners who take two computer science MOOCs offered by the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology can pay the college $100 a credit hour to receive credit – provided they score an 80 or higher in the course and pay to have their identity verified.”
Meanwhile on Campus
“The president of Liberty University, a leading evangelical Christian college in Virginia, urged students to apply for concealed-weapons permits and said that if more people did so, then ‘we could end those Muslims,’” reports The New York Times.
An op-ed from Sara Goldrick-Rab and Katharine Broton in the NYT: “Hungry, Homeless and in College.”
Some 120 students at Boston College are sick after an norovirus outbreak at a Chipotle near the school.
“Evangel University of Missouri announced plans to fire a group of faculty and staff. It looks like another queen sacrifice,” says Bryan Alexander.
Via The New York Times: “More than two dozen religiously affiliated colleges and universities across the United States have received exemptions from the federal civil rights protections provided under Title IX since 2014, documents show, waivers that activists said allow them to discriminate against students and employees on the basis of categories like sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“Virtual-Reality Lab Explores New Kinds of Immersive Learning.” The lab in question is at University of Maryland College Park, built thanks to money donated by Oculus Rift’s founder.
Via The LA Times more on the LAUSD’s probe that led to the firing of Rafe Esquith: “The Los Angeles Unified School District’s internal investigation into celebrated fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith found that he allegedly fondled children in the 1970s and that in recent years he inappropriately emailed former students describing them as hotties, ‘sexy’ and referring to himself as their personal ATM, according to new documents.” The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews calls this a “witch hunt,” which to me is just a mind-boggling response.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Diversity’s Elusive Number: Campuses Strive to Achieve ‘Critical Mass’.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Via The Guardian: “Concussion expert says children shouldn’t play football until they turn 18.”
“College coaches are pushing the N.C.A.A. to end a largely hidden practice that has become increasingly common: the recruitment of young high school and occasionally even middle school students,” according to The New York Times.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Steve Sarkisian, the former head football coach of the University of Southern California who was fired in October after he appeared to be intoxicated at a game and during team meetings, sued the university Monday, alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of a disability.”
From the HR Department
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Executive Compensation at Private and Public Colleges.” More on presidents’ salaries via The New York Times.
Via Politico: “Brian Jones was sworn in Friday as the 15th president of Strayer University, a for-profit with 78 campuses. Jones spent four years as general counsel of the Education Department during the Bush administration. Movement between the department and the for-profit industry tends to draw ire from sector critics. (One example is Sally Stroup, who left the department’s Office of Postsecondary Education for the for-profit college trade group APSCU.)”
“Erika Christakis, associate master of one of Yale University’s residential colleges, has decided to stop teaching at the university, in part because of the continuing controversy over an email message she sent about Halloween costumes,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
Non-tenured faculty at the University of Chicago have voted to unionize.
Michael Horn, formerly of the Clayton Christensen Institute, will head up a $25 million ed-tech fund, the Robin Hood Education + Technology Fund.
The Wall Street Journal profiles the training and staffing startup Andela. “Is Africa Hiding the Next Mark Zuckerberg? The Future of Tech Talent.”
Via Re/Code: “Economists Suggest Silicon Valley Startups Aren’t Really Creating Many Jobs.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
This week was Computer Science Education Week. I don’t think I saw as much excitement (on Twitter at least) about it or the Hour of Code. But maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the right thing. Perhaps it’s as MIT Media Lab’s Mitch Resnick told NPR: “We’re Making Computer Class Way Too Boring.”
“IBM Ends Its Boneheaded #HackAHairDryer Campaign After Backlash” Wired reports.
“Are Hardware Toys the Future of Kids’ Coding?” asks Edsurge.
According to Futuresource Consulting, Chromebooks made up 51% of devices shipped. It’s not clear to me if this was shipped to the K–12 ed-tech market or to the market as a whole, but hey there’s an infographic.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that his company won’t make “testing machines” like Chromebooks.
The Atlantic examines“Silicon Valley’s College-Consultant Industry.”
From Mike Caulfield: “Introducing Wikity.”
According to Phil Hill, the University of Phoenix is ditching its “homegrown” LMS platform and adopting Blackboard Learn Ultra.
Via Edutechnica: “Year in Review: Top LMS Developments of 2015.”
Funding and Acquisitions
The Noodle Companies, founded by John Katzman (who previously founded The Princeton Review and 2U), has raised $28 million. Education Week looks at its latest product, Noodle Markets, “a one-stop, Amazon-like source for K–12 schools and districts searching for educational tools.”
BrainStorm has raised $6.4 million from Kickstart Seed Fund and Jeremy Andrus.
GoNoodle has raised $5 million from Children's Health, Chrysalis Ventures, and SSM Partners (as well as debt funding from Gefinor Capital and Rand Capital). The company, which makes “brain break” exercise videos and whose questionable privacy practices have been explored by Bill Fitzgerald, has raised $10.9 million total.
Jigsaw Academy has raised $3 million from Manipal Global Education Service. The company offers data science classes.
Edsurge has raised $2.8 million in funding from 1776.vc and the Omidyar Network, as well as a $600,000+ grant from the Gates Foundation to expand its coverage to higher ed ed-tech. Edsurge has raised roughly $5.6 million total.
VLurn has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding so it can built a mobile app.
Open English has acquired Next University. Terms were not disclosed.
Via The Wall Street Journal: “Barnes & Noble Education Profit Falls 9.6%.”
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via Motherboard: “Bugs in ‘Hello Barbie’ Could Have Let Hackers Spy on Children’s Chats.”
Via NPR: “At School And At Home, How Much Does The Internet Know About Kids?”
Via Re/Code: “When Personalized Learning Gets Too Personal: Google Complaint Exposes Student Privacy Concerns.”
Data and “Research”
From the Pew Research Center: “Public Interest in Science and Health Linked to Gender, Age and Personality.”
“A sting operation by the environmental group Greenpeace suggests that some researchers who dispute mainstream scientific conclusions on climate change are willing to conceal the sources of payment for their research, even if the money is purported to come from overseas corporations producing oil, gas and coal,” The New York Times reports. Researchers from Princeton and Penn State took the money.
Whiteboard Advisors asked ed-tech investors about ed-tech investments. 66% said they believe ed-tech companies are overvalued. (Meanwhile, “Investors at Ed-Tech Forum Offer Advice to Companies.”)
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Stability and modest growth. That’s what U.S. colleges and universities can expect over the next year to 18 months, according to a 2016 outlook by credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service.”
“4 in 5 Parents Question Value Proposition of College,” according to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep.
According to a study by the National Education Policy Center, charter schools are a “gravy train.”
This is the fifth article in my series Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
Predictions about “the end of college” are hardly new. For its part, Silicon Valley has been forecasting “disruption” and doom for higher education for a while now. “The higher education bubble,” as Peter Thiel called it back back in 2011, is poised to burst, leaving just a handful of universities (well, and ed-tech startups, of course).
This year, predictions about “the end” weren’t (necessarily) about all of higher education. Maybe, some said, we’ll just see the end of small private colleges or the end of HBCUs. Or maybe we’ll see the end of for-profit universities. “Today, the for-profit-education bubble is deflating,” James Surowiecki argued in The New Yorker in November.
Whether the end is near or not, the for-profit higher education industry did have a pretty rough year, finding itself with both legal and financial troubles. Enrollments were down, revenue was down, and profits were down at many of these companies, and governmental agencies – state and federal – went after them with a vengeance. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the sector is in fact shrinking, with almost 100 fewer for-profit colleges operating in 2014–2015 than in 2012–2013. (For comparison, the number of public universities decreased by eighteen and the number of private nonprofits increased by three in that same time period.)
Despite the problems faced by for-profit universities, I’m skeptical that the industry is really on the verge of collapsing. Instead, I’d contend that it’s mutating into new forms and new markets. I recently wrote an article on “Coding Bootcamps and the New For-Profit Higher Ed,” and you can find a lot of my arguments there about these new alternate education providers as a continuation of older career colleges, antecedents to today’s for-profit higher ed.
The locus has not completely shifted from Wall Street to Silicon Valley – that makes for a nice shorthand, I think, to describe some of the changes – but I do see some of the power shifting. As I have repeated several times throughout this series, we can see evidence of that in the confluence of many important trends in education and ed-tech – “the employability narrative,” alternative credentials, testing and other data-oriented education technologies, online education, and so on.
Recommended reading: The Baffler’s “Cyborg Soothsayers of the High-Tech Hogwash Emporia” on Google-funded, unaccredited Singularity University.
Student Loan Debt
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US student loan debt officially surpassed $1.2 trillion this year. And whether we look at that figure in total or whether we consider the amount owed by each individual, the student loan debt continues to drive many of the conversations about higher education:
Is it worth it?
Certainly the rising cost of college tuition and this growing amount of student loan debt fueled the calls this year for free college. (See the first article in this series for more on “The Politics of Education Technology.”)
But it’s important to drill down and see what that debt looks like and for which students. In September, the Brookings Institution released a report on student loan debt, examining records from 1970 to 2014:
These data show that to the extent there is a crisis, it is concentrated among borrowers from for-profit schools and, to a lesser extent, 2-year institutions. We refer to these borrowers as “non-traditional” because historically there were relatively few for-profit students and because 2-year students rarely borrowed. As a result, these borrowers represented a small share of all federal student loan borrowers and an even smaller share of loan balances. However, during and soon after the recession the number of non-traditional borrowers grew to represent half of all borrowers. With poor labor market outcomes, few family resources, and high debt burdens relative to their earnings, default rates skyrocketed. Of all students who left school and who started to repay federal loans in 2011 and who had fallen into default by 2013, 70 percent were non-traditional borrowers.
The default rate did fall slightly this year – from 13.7% to 11.8%. Colleges whose students have high default rates could face losing financial aid eligibility, but as Inside Higher Ed noted, the Department of Education tweaked how it calculated which colleges should be punished and as a result few were.
This underscores what could be seen as the contradictory approach to for-profit higher education undertaken by the Obama Administration this year. While it has pushed for “gainful employment” rules in order to demand more accountability from for-profit colleges – indeed, it has tried to extend “accountability” throughout all education institutions at all levels – it also launched an experiment this year to allow MOOCs, coding bootcamps, and other alternate, unaccredited providers be eligible for financial aid.
Financial aid for these new for-profit education companies raises all sorts of issues, in no small part because of the role that federal aid played in expanding for-profit higher ed in the first place. (It was this alongside the shrinking state budgets for public education.) The left-learning think tank The Century Foundation released a report this fall cautioning against the expansion of financial aid eligibility and arguing that this would flood the market with “low-quality programs run by charlatans.”
But as I argue in my article on “Coding Bootcamps and the New For-Profit Higher Ed,” without access to financial aid, these new programs will only serve the affluent – or at least those who can afford to pay out-of-pocket and those whose credit scores make them eligible for private student loans. (And that’s something that will help to perpetuate the monoculture of the tech sector.)
According to Course Report’s survey, 49% of [bootcamp] graduates say that they paid tuition out of their own pockets, 21% say they received help from family, and just 1.7% say that their employer paid (or helped with) the tuition bill. Almost 25% took out a loan.
That percentage – those going into debt for a coding bootcamp program – has increased quite dramatically over the last few years. (Less than 4% of graduates in the 2013 survey said that they had taken out a loan). In part, that’s due to the rapid expansion of the private loan industry geared towards serving this particular student population. (Incidentally, the two ed-tech companies which have raised the most money in 2015 are both loan providers: SoFi and Earnest. The former has raised $1.2 billion in venture capital this year; the latter $245 million.)
I’ve written a lot, in that article and elsewhere, about the so-called “skills gap” and the notion that coding bootcamps, learn-to-code MOOCs, and the like will lead to good, high-paying jobs. Perhaps they will; perhaps they won’t. But it’s important to remember that that has always been the promise of for-profit higher education, and the industry’s marketing practices have lured a lot of students into debt.
The movement to forgive student debt, particularly those with debt from for-profit colleges, did not start this year although it had several important victories in 2015.
Rolling Jubilee, one of the organizations leading the charge for loan forgiveness, has its roots in Occupy Wall Street, arguing that there’s a much larger connection between debt between economic injustice. By buying up debts on the secondary market and paying them off with donations, Rolling Jubilee announced last year that it had erased some $3.9 million in private student loan debt.
But tactics started to change this year. Rather than buy back and pay off these loans, some student activists started to refuse to pay altogether. In March, Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and officials from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the Treasury Department met with some of these student “debt strikers,” part of a group called the Corinthian 100. At the time, the government officials did not seem particularly open or responsive to these students’ demands, and the group canceled a later meeting with the Department of Education in May, saying they felt like they were being used as a “publicity stunt.” “They’re using us so they can pretend to care about students,” said the Debt Collective’s Laura Hanna, who helped organize the student protestors.
The Corinthian 100, as the name suggests, are students of the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges, which runs schools like WyoTech, Everest, and Heald. Wait. That sentence should be in the past-tense. Former students of Corinthian Colleges, which ran… The disaster – lawsuits, investigations, bankruptcy, closure – of the now defunct Corinthian Colleges warrants its own section below.
As the year went on, the Department of Education did respond to the requests to forgive these students’ loans. In April, nine states’ attorneys general urged the department to forgive the loans of students who attended Everest. In June, the Department agreed, announcing that students of Corinthian Colleges would apply to have their loans forgiven. “The department estimated that if all 350,000 Corinthian students over the last five years applied for and received the debt relief, that cost alone could be as much as $3.5 billion,” The New York Times reported. By September, it had forgiven the debts of some 3000 borrowers (out of 8000 who’d applied). In December, the Department of Education said it had granted the requests made by more than 1300 students who’d attended Heald College.
Debt forgiveness shouldn’t just be for Corinthian Colleges’ students. That was the argument of three Senate Democrats who criticized the Obama Administration earlier this month “for settling a fraud lawsuit against Education Management Corporation last month without forgiving the loans of students who attended the for-profit college chain or holding the company's executives personally accountable.” In November, the for-profit Westwood College agreed to forgive the student loan debt of graduates of its criminal justice program – about $15 million worth of debt – as part of a settlement reached with the Illinois attorney general. And EDMC agreed to forgive the loans of some 80,000 students as part of a settlement it reached with several states’ attorneys general.
Recommended reading: “These students were ruined by predatory colleges. Now they're getting even.” by Susie Cagle.
As the massive venture capital investments this year in SoFi, Earnest, and other private student loan providers suggests, this problem is not going away, even if the government reins in its own loan offerings. Indeed, people will continue to go into debt for college as long as the job market places such a high value on a diploma. A diploma will lead to a (better) job – although clearly not all diplomas are valued equally. Again, we have to ask: how do we know if the debt or the diploma is worth it?
The Obama Administration released the final version of its “gainful employment” rules late last year. These rules, which only apply to schools that are eligible for Title IV federal financial aid, would measure and monitor the debt-to-earnings ratio of graduates from career colleges and programs and in turn penalize those schools whose graduates had annual loan payments more than 8% of their wages or 20% of their discretionary earnings. Earlier versions were invalidated by a federal court in 2012, and while for-profit education providers did file a motion to block the new rules, a judge dismissed that challenge in May and another in June. Republicans in Congress, however, have added verbiage to a 2016 appropriations bill that would scrap the rules altogether.
The fight over “gainful employment” was just one example of the many, many efforts to crack down on for-profit higher education this year:
In February, graduate students at the for-profit Walden University (owned by Laureate Education) filed a lawsuit that “alleges that the school's rapid growth and focus on profit and marketing have created a dragged-out and misleading dissertation and thesis process, forcing students to spend more money on tuition.”
In April, a court ruled that “Trump University” (not an accredited university) must pay $798,000 in legal fees to a former student for filing an anti-SLAPP suit. “Tarla Makaeff sued Trump University and Donald Trump in 2010, in a proposed class action alleging deceptive business practices. Makaeff claimed she shelled out $60,000 for a real estate program that consisted of seminars that were little better than infomercials. Trump University countersued, accusing Makaeff of defaming it in online postings and elsewhere.”
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs announced in April an investigation of Berkeley College, Mandl School, and New York Career Institute and Technical Career Institutes over their recruiting practices and students’ loan default rates.
A federal appeals court ruled in April that a lawsuit against Western Educational Inc. which runs the for-profit college chain Heritage College could proceed, ordering the company “to defend itself on charges it defrauded the U.S. government by altering grade and attendance records in an effort to receive more federal student aid.”
In May, the Oregon Justice Department ordered for-profit Penn Foster College to pay more than $73,000 in order to refund a student’s tuition and to change its claims that it actually is an accredited school.
In May, the SEC filed a lawsuit against ITT “charging the large for-profit chain and its two top executives with fraud for allegedly concealing massive losses in two student loan programs the company backed.” That same month, the California Department of Veterans Affairs ordered ITT to stop enrolling new or returning students who plan to use GI Bill benefits.
The New York Attorney General announced in June a lawsuit against the College Network. The suit charges that the company duped students in Indiana into “thinking that the College Network had an affiliation with Excelsior College and then selling various services that were in theory designed to help with Excelsior programs. But the services were unrelated to Excelsior, and the College Network’s products did nothing to prepare students for Excelsior exams, the suit says.”
In June, Education Affiliates settled with the Department of Justice over false-claims allegations. “The Maryland-based company agreed to pay $13 million in response to allegations that it received aid payments from unqualified students, some of whom the for-profit admitted by creating false or fraudulent high school diplomas.”
In July, news broke that the University of Phoenix was being investigated by the FTC.“Regulators are looking into allegations of ‘deceptive or unfair’ marketing practices at the school, which is struggling to turn its reputation around.”
Kaplan Career Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute announced in July they’d pay $2.4 million in a settlement with the state of Massachusetts over allegations that the for-profits had inflated job placement numbers.
In August, California’s attorney general said she was investigating the University of Phoenix for deceptive marketing practices aimed at veterans.
In August, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau demanded records from the the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an accreditor that oversees many for-profits. The ACICS is fighting the CFPB in court, arguing that the latter does not have any jurisdiction over accrediting agencies. (It’s not clear if the ACICS is the target of the CFPB’s probe or if this is related to another investigation.)
In October, the Department of Defense said it would bar the University of Phoenix from recruiting on military bases, and troops will no longer be able to use federal money to pay for classes at the school. The FTC also announced in October it was investigating the University of Phoenix.
The Department of Education announced “stricter oversight” of ITT Education Services in October.
Alejandro Amor, the owner of the for-profit college FastTrain, was convicted on twelve counts of theft of government money and one count of conspiracy in November.
In November, Buzzfeed reported that Xerox is under investigation by the CFPB for its student loan business.
The New York Times reported in November that “The nation’s second-largest for-profit college operator, Education Management Corporation, is expected to agree to pay nearly $90 million to settle a case accusing it of compensating employees based on how many students they enrolled, encouraging hyperaggressive boiler room tactics to increase revenue.” But as The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Goldie Blumenstyk observed, “Little for Students in ‘Historic’ Settlement of Education Management Case.”
But coding bootcamps and MOOCs are gonna be a totally different for-profit higher ed, right? Because the incentives are… yeah.
Corinthian Colleges (1995–2015)
The handwriting has been on the wall for some time, but in April, Corinthian Colleges announced that it was shutting its doors, effective immediately. The closure left some 16,000 students at its Everest, Heald, and Wyotech College schools without a school to attend. (The Department of Education posted a list of “viable schools” for these students to transfer to, including many for-profits listed above, under investigation for various violations.)
This particular chain of for-profit colleges had been under fire for a while, accused by the CFPB of predatory lending and fined by the Department of Education for defrauding students, among other things. Last year, the US Department of Education had reached a deal with the chain to close or sell off all of its 107 campuses and online programs. The Canadian government, for its part, had shuttered fourteen Corinthian schools in that country. In February, the Zenith Education Group (a.k.a. student loan debt collector ECMC) said it had finalized its acquisition of 50+ Everest and WyoTech campuses from Corinthian. Corinthian filed for Chapter 11 this spring, and while The New York Times said that its “lean business model” left little for creditors, the company did seek approval for a “fire sale of its remaining assets – including trademarks, furniture, and even old diplomas and typewriters.” The bankruptcy judge did earmark some of those assets – about $4 million– for a special fund for former students that could be used to pay off loans. Another judge ruled that the school was liable for about $530 million in damages to former students because of deceptive marketing and predatory lending.
Perhaps that sounds like it should have wrapped up all the various legal investigations, but nope. Last month, the Department of Education and California’s attorney general said they’d uncovered even more students who were ripped off by Corinthian, which made false claims about its job placement rates.
How does something like this happen?! It’s a special blend of lobbying efforts, dark money, accreditation oversight (or lack thereof), financial aid and financial motivations, deceptive marketing, “the employability narrative,” “credential creep” – you know, the politics of education and yes, ed-tech.
Closures and “Queen Sacrifices”
Corinthian Colleges weren’t the only schools who shut their doors, as financial and legal pressures prompted many to do so:
Globe University and the Minnesota School of Business announced in February they were shutting down programs– “the latest development for the schools, which have been under increasing scrutiny since Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed suit accusing them of using high-pressure sales tactics to mislead students about their job prospects after graduation.” In March, AIB College of Business said it was shutting down and donating its campus to the University of Iowa. In April, DeVry University said it planned to close some of its campuses and “rebrand.” That same month the online for-profit Jones International University announced its closure. In May, Career Education Corporation and EDMC Corp announced they would close schools – the former, closing all its “career colleges” and the latter closing a quarter of its Art Institute campuses. In July, Mount St. Clare College announced it would close its doors in 2016. Bridgepoint Education bought the college in order to secure accreditation for its for-profit Ashford University, and apparently it has now served its purpose. In October, Dade Medical College closed. In November, Westwood College, a for-profit chain with 14 campus locations, said it had stopped enrolling new students.
It wasn’t just for-profit universities that closed either, as a number of small religious and liberal arts colleges also shut their doors, including Clearwater Christian College, Marian Court College, George Wythe University, and American Indian College.
“Closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years, and mergers will double,” Inside Higher Ed reported in September. “Those are the predictions of a Moody’s Investor Service report released Friday that highlights a persistent inability among small colleges to increase revenue, which could lead as many as 15 institutions a year to shut their doors for good by 2017.”
From The Washington Post: “How to spot a college about to go out of business.”
Education analyst Bryan Alexander continued this year to cover what he’s called the “queen sacrifice” – that is, moves made by university administrators to ax degree programs and lay off faculty. Again, this isn’t something that solely affected the for-profit sector; indeed, it’s just as much a reflection of what happens at publics as their funding shrinks. But while some of this is related to budgetary issues, the types of programs that are cut echoes what I’ve written previously about “the employability narrative” – that is, it’s the liberal arts and social sciences on the line most often, while technical, business, and engineering classes – the kinds that for-profits have long specialized in – remain.
A couple of other notable closure/non-closure, money/no money news items: Briar College announced in March it would close at the end of the school year; its students and alumni fought back; and the school announced this summer that it would remain open (for the time being, at least). And after its board of trustees voted last year to charge tuition for the first time in the school’s history, prompting a huge uproar from students, faculty, and alumni (and after an attorney general investigation), it appears as though Cooper Union might have found a way to remain tuition-free after all. (These examples both underscore the importance of having students and alumni who will protest and fight for your school; do for-profits cultivate that same loyalty?)
The Business of For-Profit Education
Despite the decrease in enrollments and revenue and an increase in layoffs at some for-profit colleges, there was plenty of business activity this year, including an IPO filing for the largest company in the business, Laureate Education. Or rather, it said it planned to IPO again, as it was a publicly traded company until 2007 when it was sold to a private equity firm.
In preparing for its IPO, the company announced that Bill Clinton would be stepping down as “honorary chancellor.” Or maybe that should read “in preparing for the presidential campaign…” Bill Clinton earned some $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014 for the job. According to emails released by the State Department as part of the “email scandal,” Hillary Clinton had also pushed for Laureate to have a seat at a higher ed policy dinner hosted by the department during her first year as Secretary of State. It’s worth noting perhaps: the State Department partnered with Coursera to promote MOOCs globally. Laureate is an investor in Coursera.
But this section is about “the business of for-profit higher ed,” not the politics. (Ha.)
Some other business transactions in the for-profit higher ed sector: Education Corporation of America bought thirty-eight Kaplan campuses. Apollo Education Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, acquired the coding bootcamp Iron Yard. Like I said, for-profit higher ed isn’t collapsing; it’s just shuffling over to where it thinks the money will be.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note here the business transactions in the for-profit K–12 sector. After all, the $100,000,000 invested in AltSchool, a private school startup founded by former Google exec Max Ventilla, was one of the largest VC funding rounds this year. Using the “chain” model of charters and for-profit colleges, AltSchool says it plans to expand out of Silicon Valley to newcities in different parts of the US.
The media covered AltSchool glowingly, sounding the “factory model of education” klaxon and repeating some fairly common marketing about “reimagining school.” I’ll have a lot more to say about AltSchool’s particular brand of “personalization” in an upcoming post – Mike Caulfield has described it as “Dewey plus surveillance.” But it’s worth noting that Ventilla was far from the only wealthy tech executive who decided to forego public education and launch a private (for-profit) school. Elon Musk, Sal Khan, and Mark Zuckerberg were among the others in the news for doing so this year – as Wired) put it, “The Tech Elite’s Quest to Reinvent School in Its Own Image.”
Other industries try to do the same, no doubt. This fall, The New York Times wrote about “High School Football Inc,” a look at private, for-profit schools that focus on sports.
When Laureate announced its IPO, it indicated its plans to become a public benefit corporation, a specific type of company that has the goal of “public benefit” in addition to maximizing profits. Stratford University also said it would become a public benefit corporation. A related trend among for-profit higher education companies this year: changing their tax status to not-for-profit. Herzing University and Community Care College were among those who made the switch this year. Responses from the media: “Some Owners of Private Colleges Turn a Tidy Profit by Going Nonprofit,” The New York Times reported. And in The Washington Post, “The rise of the covert for-profit college.”
Mapping (and Legitimizing) the For-Profit Education Sector
The tax status of education providers is just one example of where the clear line between for-profit and not-for-profit might be blurring. A similar issue also shows up at the K–12 level in the US with debates about whether or not charter schools are public or private. (This was certainly the question at stake when the Washington State Supreme Court declared charters unconstitutional this fall.) The explosion of ed-tech in recent decades and the propensity for schools to outsource various tech services to for-profit companies – course design, course “delivery,” learning management systems, assessment, and so on – muddies definitions here too.
I feel like accusations of “privateers” and privatization get bandied about in education debates rather carelessly. Then again, Illinois state senator Bill Brady did propose privatizing the state’s higher education system this year. And he wasn’t alone in suggesting that this might be the best path forward for the education system.
“The New American University,” at least as envisioned by ASU President Michael Crow, relies not simply on a model of reduced public funding but on technology, adjunct labor, skunkworks, “managerial autocracy,” and corporate partnerships. (“Terrifying.”) Elsewhere in terrifying visions of the future: from The Chronicle of Higher Education, An Online Kingdom Come: How Liberty U. became an unexpected model for the future of higher education– that’s Liberty University, founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
In other partnerships of the word: The Chronicle of Higher Education suggested that all this “disruption” was drawing universities and media companies together: “The University of Southern California is joining forces with Wired; Northeastern University with Esquire; the Financial Times with a group of business schools; and the University of Oklahoma with the History Channel.” Fortune teamed up with Cornell University for an online business certificate. Strayer University partnered with The Daily Mail for an “elaborate year-long branded content deal.” Strayer also partnered with Fiat-Chrysler car dealerships, whose employees will have their tuition covered.
But the most notable ed-tech partnerships – or rather the ones to keep an eye on in the future – began to blossom this year between coding bootcamps and universities. (I think this is slightly different than the partnerships between MOOC providers and universities, in part because of the focus on computer programming training from bootcamps as opposed to the more traditional university curriculum offered by, say, Coursera’s MOOCs.) These new partnerships are partly a result of the Obama Administration’s EQUIP experiment to extend financial aid eligibility to these alternate providers. That is, these providers have to have an accredited partner (that is, a college or university), but that partner in turn will be able to get around the rules that currently limit the amount of instruction that can be outsourced to a third-party provider. (Again, I’ll examine MOOCs, the other alternate provider okayed by the Department of Education’s EQUIP initiative, in the next post in this series.)
As I noted above, the University of Phoenix acquired the coding bootcamp Iron Yard. Last year, Kaplan acquired Dev Bootcamp. This year, the University of New Haven partnered with the coding bootcamp Galvanize in order to launch a master’s degree program in data science. SNHU partnered with the coding bootcamp Flat Iron School. Lynn University partnered with General Assembly to offer a 15 credit “study abroad” program facilitated by the coding school.
Meanwhile, the credit rating agency Moody’s said this fall that bootcamps would be a “credit positive” for institutions.
But it isn’t simply a nod from Moody’s that sanctions (or condemns) various education institutions, public or private or otherwise. How, in particular, are for-profit schools legitimized?– such an important question not just considering the fraudulent behavior we’ve seen from the sector but considering the contention that their credentials and the credentials from other for-profit upstarts will “count.”
Does legitimization come from the federal government, from the availability of financial aid, from the regulatory or accrediting agencies? Does legitimization come from marketing, from the drumbeat of advertising that insists these schools will cater to you? Does it come from having Wall Street or Silicon Valley behind you? Does it come from investors or from the media? Does it come from offering online classes or from using "the latest technologies"? Does legitimization involve a brand – the prestige of a school, the prestige of a partner corporation? Does legitimization come from having a sports team? I mean, the University of Phoenix doesn’t field a football team. But it does have its name on a football stadium, the site of the 2015 Super Bowl. Go team.
And whose credentials from for-profits, whether career colleges or coding bootcamps, are seen as "legitimate"? Which students benefit, and which students get exploited – past, present, and future.
I’m halfway through my year-end review of (what I think are) the important trends in education technology in 2015.
The word count for the series so far hovers around 34,000, and I have a lot more to say. (I'm sorry. You're welcome.)
This project is a substantial undertaking, but I think it’s worthwhile compiling an overview and analysis of “what happened,” particularly as the education technology industry and the ed-tech press seem prone to forget the past so quickly.
I learn an incredible amount in the process of writing this series, and I see things that I might not otherwise. I hope that, in turn, the series offers the same to my readers.
I purposefully keep Hack Education advertising-free. Unlike many other technology blogs, Hack Education isn’t owned by a major technology or media or for-profit education company. I don’t take sponsorship dollars to promote certain posts or products. I have not taken investment money from the same venture capitalists who fund education/technology companies. I think venture philanthropy in education is one of the most dangerous threats to democracy, and so there’ll be no Gates Foundation or Zuckerberg-Chan grants for me.
I am one of the very few independent voices in ed-tech media.
To those who have supported my work – whether financially or intellectually – I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate you. But thank you, thank you, thank you. I really could not do this without you.
This is the sixth article in my series Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
From The Wall Street Journal in June, “Daphne Koller on the Future of Online Education”:
“If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, ‘Oh, I know exactly where I am,’” says Daphne Koller, co-founder of the online-education company Coursera.
Of course, if you put a reader of The Wall Street Journal to sleep 3 years ago, during “The Year of the MOOC,” and woke him up and showed him an article quoting Daphne Koller today, he’ll say, “Oh, I know exactly where I am.”…
Is the MOOC Hype Fading?
There were plenty of headlines this year that declared that all the hullaballoo about MOOCs, massive open online courses, was dissipating. And ah, the irony: after spending the last few years incessantly covering the supposed promise of MOOCs, the education press found itself incessantly covering “the MOOC revolution that wasn’t” as well. (Disclosure: okay, that last link was written by me.) “The Hype is Dead, but MOOCs Are Marching On,” according to Coursera investor the University of Pennsylvania.
And MOOCs – and online education in general – marched on indeed, still with plenty of marketing spin (although often phrased, in the headline at least, in the form of a question). “Can an Online Teaching Tool Solve One of Higher Education's Biggest Headaches?” asked Slate. “Can Online Education Help Refugees Earn Degrees?” asked The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Can online classrooms help the developing world catch up?” asked The Verge guest-editor Bill Gates. “Can MOOCs Better Help Women in Developing Countries?” asked Edsurge.
All in all, there was still plenty of hype in 2015 about MOOCs and other online education initiatives, often involving (no surprise) the same elite universities the media’s been focused on all along. Take this story from Fortune, for example: “Harvard Business School really has created the classroom of the future.” “Truth be told, an HBX Live session is more a show than a class.” The future of education indeed.
Wait, What’s a “MOOC”?
The definition of “MOOC” has always been contentious, as some have tried to distinguish it from a broader notion of “online education” and some have tried to retain MOOC’s connectivist origins, namely by separating free and open courses from the more commonly closed and VC-funded ones.
It’s no surprise that the attention that MOOCs have received prompts many folks to continue to invoke the acronym, even when the course in question is neither massive nor open nor even online. The University of Michigan, for example, launched a “residential MOOC” this year – with enrollment available only to UM students (just 800 of them), with face-to-face classes with course content conceived like “a TV show, every week a new episode.”
The variation in MOOCs doesn’t just come from adding version numbers to the end. Oh no. The University of Nottingham, for example, trademarked“NOOC” (short for “Nottingham Open Online Course”) this year. The trademark sought to cover usage of “NOOC” on beer mats, gift wrap, pencil sharpeners, CD-ROMs, and much, much more. And copy-and-pasted from the press release to this article without comment: “The world’s first GROOC – a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for groups – co-created by internationally renowned management expert Henry Mintzberg will be launched by McGill University and edX.”
The Business of MOOCs and Online Education
One way to judge whether or not the hype of MOOCs truly faded in 2015 might be to look at headlines in the media. One way might be to look at press releases and “market research,” such as the fabulous contentions that MOOCs will earn $1.5 billion in revenue this year and that MOOCs will be a $8.5 billion industry by 2020.
And one way to judge MOOC hype is to examine how much attention their providers are still getting from financiers. (No doubt, there’s a connection between PR and VC, as I surmised earlier this year when a series of positive stories in the media about Udacity prompted me to speculate that the company was out fundraising. Sure enough, it was.)
I’ll cover “the business of ed-tech” in the last article in this series, but let me note here: of the top twenty largest rounds of funding in 2015 (at the time that I’m writing this article at least), only seven were not online education companies (or training or tutoring or test-prep companies – the distinctions do get murky)… and one of those seven, General Assembly, does offer some online classes.
The biggest investments of 2015 in online education startups:
(Many of the companies on that list are Chinese; I’ll have more to say about the Chinese ed-tech boom in “The Business of Ed-Tech” article in this series. But it’s worth pointing out here that Coursera in particular has made concerted efforts to expand its presence in China this year, launching a Chinese language specialization among other things.)
On the list above are the three startups probably most closely associated with the MOOC craze – Udacity, Coursera, and Udemy. These three have now raised $160 million, $146.1 million, and $113 million respectively. With this year’s investment, Udacity also became a “unicorn,” that is, a startup with a valuation of at least $1 billion.
It wasn’t all sunny in “the business of MOOC”-land, however. Amplify, which had a pretty disastrous year all around, sold off its computer science AP MOOC to unnamed investors for an undisclosed amount of money.
I’ll have more to say throughout this article on university partnerships with various online education providers, but FutureLearn, UK’s MOOC platform, also received a funding injection this year: £13 million from the Open University. David Kernohan does an excellent job analyzing“FutureLearn finance,” which do need to be considered alongside some of the financial struggles that the OU itself faced this year.
For those institutions looking how to make money from online courses, Edsurge published some innovative advice, suggesting that schools charge for them.
A Few Partnerships and Special Deals
In the early days of the MOOC hype, my year-in-reviewpostschronicled all the various universities which were clamoring to be seen as partners with edX and Coursera. There was still a bit of that this year: Coursera’s new partnerships, for example, included Tomsk State University, National Research Nuclear University, Novosibirsk State University, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Yonsei University, Institut Mines-Telecom, and The University of Cape Town. FutureLearn’s new partners included Complutense University, Durham University, University of Manchester, Keio University, and the University of New South Wales. Purdue joined edX. Despite being a founding member and investor in Coursera, the University of Pennsylvania also joined edX. The University of Michigan, also a founding member of Coursera, joined edX as well. (Inside Higher Ed offered an explanation as to why colleges are “double-dipping” with MOOC providers. tl;dr: universities are covering their bases with their MOOC investments.)
If we look beyond the best-known MOOC platforms, we can see a number of other partnerships struck between universities and education companies – “outsourcing” might be the better word:
Yale announced this year it was “partnering” with 2U to offer a blended Master’s Degree for physician’s assistants. (The deal ran into some accreditation issues that were eventually sorted out, pleasing 2U’s investors greatly.)
edX said it was collaborating with Qualcomm to further develop “edX’s MOOC mobile capabilities and enhance its open source platform to benefit connected learners around the world.”
Alibaba and Peking University announced they were launching a MOOC platform.
Starbucks said it would expand its partnership with ASU Online. (That is, Starbucks employees can now apply for tuition reimbursements for all four years of a degree at the school.) (More about ASU Online below.)
The University of Oklahoma partnered with the History Channel, much to the chagrin of historians at the school, because if there’s one thing you won’t find much of on the History Channel, it’s history.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this fall that “HBCUs Aren’t Sold on Course Partnerships With U. of Phoenix.”
And of course, where there’s a booming business in ed-tech, there’s Pearson. FutureLearn announced it had signed a deal with Pearson to have the education giant handle administration of its MOOC tests. The University of Exeter became the first UK university to partner with Pearson to offer online classes. But things don’t always work out so well – for online education initiatives or for Pearson: The University of Florida cancelled its massive contract with Pearson that would have had the the company brings the school’s degree programs online.
(I suppose I should include an update here on Unizin, the university consortium that launched last year, promising to “enhance colleges’ control of online courses.” It’s been slow to do anything, and I’m still not clear that there’s a “there” there. Not that that stops ed-tech hype, of course.)
Online Education Product Upgrades
Here are a few of the exciting MOOC product updates from 2015:
Legal Troubles and other Downgrades
I realize that in the face of such impressive advances in online education, it’s hard to fathom any fumbles. And yet…
In February, the National Association of the Deaf sued Harvard and MIT, the founders of edX, under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The complaint contended that the universities violated that act by failing to (among other things) close caption MOOCs.
In April, edX settled with the Justice Department over charges that its materials were not accessible to the disabled. “According to the terms of the agreement, edX will make its website and learning-management system fully accessible to the disabled within 18 months; ensure that the system used to create online courses is also accessible within 18 months; and create two new positions to oversee accessibility, among other things. As part of the agreement, edX denied it was not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
I wrote quite a bit in the previous article in this series about legal and legislative actions taken against for-profit higher education companies. At the K–12 level, the target of similar efforts is often K12, Inc, known for its abysmal academic outcomes. In June, “A group of 16 California teachers filed formal letters of complaint against online charter schools operated by K12 Inc., alleging violations including misuse of public funds and breaches of student privacy rights,” Bloomberg Business reported. In November, Buzzfeed reported that California’s Attorney General was investigating K12.
Despite these investigations, a headline from Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy on K12 Inc – perhaps on much of for-profit online education – rings true: “How Controversial Online Charter Schools Push Aside Their Opponents.” It helps to have powerful political allies, I suppose. Related: “Coursera, K12 Make Bold Moves to Drive Learning,” according to the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn.
Contents May Include…
As I’ve argued in a previous article in this series, there is a concerted effort to reframe education as “workforce training” with an emphasis on “high tech skills.” MOOCs with founders in artificial intelligence labs at Stanford and MIT have done well to tap into that very narrative.
But online education isn’t only about “learning to code,” even if “learning to code” seems to draw the lion’s share of attention. Other topics from online courses that made the news in 2015: “philanthropy” (MOOCs to teach people how to donate their money); art; humanities; the Iowa Presidential Caucuses; superheroes“ (and hey, I finished this MOOC!); the TV show The Strain; US History; contemporary American poetry; education reform; the Kennedy family (and this particular MOOC was noteworthy as the first to be nominated for an Emmy Award. The future of ed-tech remains TV); bias in the tech workplace (an online course offered by Facebook, which continues to do quite poorly when it comes to diversity in the workplace, but why would that stop it from teaching a class, amirite); medical education (shudder); and Mao Zedong (”propaganda“ according to The New York Times and Inside Higher Ed. Or perhaps ”transparency and openness," according to George Veletsianos).
And here’s another business opportunity for ed-tech providers: the Corrective Education Company offers online courses for those busted for shoplifting. In Slate’s words,
Imagine you’re browsing at Bloomingdale’s when a security guard taps you on the shoulder and accuses you of shoplifting. He takes you to a private room, sits you down, and runs your name through a database to see if you have any outstanding warrants. Then he tells you that you have two options. The first involves him calling the police, who might arrest you and take you to jail. The second allows you to walk out of the store immediately, no questions asked – right after you sign an admission of guilt and agree to pay $320 to take an online course designed to make you never want to steal again.
Who’s Enrolling? (And Who’s Completing?)
The media’s fascination with the “massiveness” of MOOCs continued throughout 2015, as various schools and providers boasted that they’d set records for the “biggest ever.” The BBC reported that FutureLearn had some 370,000 students enrolled in a British Council course preparing for an English language test. And Edsurge reported in September that “Udacity, Coursera and edX Now Claim Over 24 Million Students.” Yes, people still sign up for MOOCs, and The Chronicle of Higher Education was on it.
Meanwhile, Politico reported this fall that “Virtual schools are booming. Who’s paying attention?” It’s a good question, because as much attention as MOOCs have received in recent years from the media, the rest of online education, particularly at the K–12 level, has not (necessarily) seen as much scrutiny. Or maybe people have forgotten all the times that it has.
Researchers, on the other hand, have long analyzed education technology – what works and for whom. I’ll explore the research on MOOCs and online education in more detail below, as scholars explored why students and what kinds of students enroll, for example.
This spring, a survey by the Instructional Technology Council found an increase in online enrollments at two-year colleges. But there were some high profile initiatives – ASU Online’s partnership with Starbucks and the University of Florida Online, for example – that failed to meet their enrollment goals.
(Elsewhere in Florida: the University of Central Florida boasted “mega-classes” this year, “enrolling in one case nearly four times as many students as their assigned classrooms can seat and students sprawled in the aisles.” But you can watch the videos streaming online so that’s fun for those who’ve actually paid to attend a residential school.)
There were some hints early this year based on previous years’ IPEDS data that this idea that online education programs would continue to expand might be flawed. (Perhaps the MOOC hype clouded folks’ judgment and expectations?) From Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “No Discernible Growth in US Higher Ed Online Learning.”
You could be forgiven for assuming that the continued growth of online education within US higher ed was a foregone conclusion. We all know it’s happening; the questions is how to adapt to the new world.
But what if the assumption is wrong? Based on the official Department of Education / NCES new IPEDS data for Fall 2013 term, for the first time there has been no discernible growth in postsecondary students taking at least one online course in the US.
Hill also examined the IPEDS data to identify the schools with the largest online enrollments:
For-profits dominate Hill’s list, although these institutions – most of them at least – also experienced significant declines in distance education enrollment.
Despite the enrollment figures – up or down, concerns remain about completion rates in online courses, particularly in MOOCs. A recent story in The Wall Street Journala> about Udacity's partnership with Georgia Tech for an online master's degree in computer science notes that just twenty of the 380 students who initially enrolled in the program have graduated.
This year, there were several efforts to spur students’ to finish their MOOCs through extrinsic motivation (and some argue that making students pay for classes will be sufficient to keep them on task): $1000 in Amazon Web Services, for example, for completing edX's Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 courses or a piece of comic art signed by Stan Lee for completing edX’s Superheroes class. (I confess: this was on my mind when I stuck with what I thought was a pretty unsatisfactory MOOC.)
It’s not that shocking (but it’s pretty gross) since “grit” has become such a popular buzzword in education reform that students who fail to finish MOOCs were accused by some of having “limited self control.”
Credits and Financial Aid
I’ve already looked in some detail in this year-end series on “credits and credentialing.” Whether offered by accredited or unaccredited providers, whether Bachelor’s degrees or “nanodegrees,” we always come back around to debates about whether or not completing these online courses “count.” Do they have “integrity,” as Hillary Clinton asked on the campaign trail? Will schools accept them? Will employers?
Certainly ed-tech startups and the tech press want us to believe that, yes, employers will. As The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in February, “Meet the New, Self-Appointed MOOC Accreditors: Google and Instagram.”
MOOC and other online providers did boast partnerships made in order to boost graduates’ employment chances – not just with Google and Instagram, but with Snapdeal and Shazam. (Yes, these partnerships mostly involve the tech sector.) Coursera wrote on its own blog that “Top Companies Work with University Partners to Help Create Capstone Projects with Real World Applications,” and no doubt this re-inscribes what I’ve called “the employability narrative” where the curriculum of higher education is shaped by employers’ demands. This close connection with corporate partners will, according to Inside Higher Ed at least, also underwrite Coursera’s newly found business model.
Further aiding Coursera’s outlook for revenue: charging for courses and certificates. Coursera says that it has its own financial aid fund that students can apply for in order to pay for their certificates, and of course, the Department of Education announced an experiment this year that would make MOOCs and other “alternate ed-tech providers” eligible for federal financial aid.
Financial aid is one important consideration for students; whether or not these online classes actually count for credit and towards graduation is another. According to Edsurge, unlike Udacity and Coursera’s corporate partnerships, edX has opted to “double down on creating higher quality, personalized and virtually proctored learning experiences that can be offered for credit to learners on a path towards a degree.”
In January, Steven Klinsky, founder of the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, donated $1 million to edX with the hopes of making the freshmen year of college - or at least some edX classes - free.
In April, Arizona State University announced that it had partnered with edX to offer a freshmen year of college via MOOCs. Dubbed “the Global Freshmen Academy,” students will pay $200 per credit hour (so $600 for a three-credit course), plus a $45 identity verification fee per class. “The catch,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported: there’s no financial aid. Another “catch”: that’s more expensive than community college. Another “catch”: apparently ASU hadn’t run this plan by its accreditor when it made the announcement. Inside Higher Ed made a public records request for the edX-Arizona State University contract because you always need to read the Terms of Service, man.
The news prompted “Dean Dad” Matt Reed to ask “what problem are ASU and edX solving?” Also from Reed, some “further thoughts” and some dismay about how transfer credits will be accepted (that is, when accompanied by a fee).
In September, the Texas State University System announced a “Freshman Year for Free” program in which “students can earn a full year of credit through massive open online courses offered by edX and coordinated by a new nonprofit called the Modern States Education Alliance. The only costs to students would be either Advanced Placement or College Level Examination Program tests, which would be passed after completing various MOOCs. Appropriate scores would be required on the tests to receive credit from Texas State campuses.”
Elsewhere in MOOCs (and online courses) for credit: California Institute of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Charter Oak State College. For its part, Western Governors University said it had begun referring “underprepared” students to StraighterLine, an unaccredited online education provider.
Some faculty have expressed concerns about the implications of the MOOC hype, particularly when it comes to their job security. (Faculty aren’t alone in their complaints, particularly as sites turn to the free labor of “crowdsourcing” in lieu of paying people for their work.) Comments like this don’t help, from an interview in the Financial Times this summer: “Mr Thrun knows what he doesn’t want for his company; professors in tenure, which he claims limits the ability to react to market demands.” Thrun referred to Udacity again and again in the media as “Uber for education),” an analogy with all sorts of negative implications: privacy issues, a reluctance if not refusal to accommodate people with disabilities, and a dismantling of legal and labor protections.
There were some efforts to protect faculty and to reward rather than scare them into (or away from) teaching online. In March, The Daily Illini reported that the University of Illinois Senate Executive Committee had passed a resolution that professors should be paid for developing and teaching MOOCs. In April, Academic Partnerships said it would share tuition revenue with faculty at its partner institutions.
But there were still plenty of signs that neither universities nor third-party education providers have quite worked out all the details of the labor and IP issues surrounding MOOCs and online courses. SZ International wrote about how Paul-Oliver Dehaye was stripped of control of his Coursera class. Inside Higher Ed followed up on the sexual harassment charges against MIT physics professor Walter Lewin, which reportedly started “day one” of his edX course. It also looked at what will happen to Lewin’s “legacy” after MIT deleted all of its lecture videos from Lewin’s courses. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about Jen Ebbeler’s story about the development of the UT Austin class “Introduction to Ancient Rome”: “When Your Online Course Is Put Up for Adoption.” The Portland Press Herald recently explored what happens to an online course when the professor dies. And Udemy, which has boasted that its top instructors make millions of dollars selling courses on its “MOOC” platform, found itself the subject of several angry blog posts when instructors on other online education platforms complained that their courses were being pirated there. “Of course people are ripping off online courses,” Vice’s Sarah Jeong wrote in response (to which I mutter something about the lack of Creative Commons licensing in MOOCs and some providers’ penchant for “openwashing.”)
Remember back in 2013 when Slate imagined that celebrities would teach MOOCs? This year it was a Campus Technology article: “When Actors Replace Instructors as On-Camera Talent.” And speaking of celebrities, from The New York Times: “How to Take a Class From Serena Williams and Usher.” These headline-grabbing stories aside, “The average instructor of a massive open online course is most likely to be a white man in his 50s with two decades of experience in academe but none in online education, according to a study by researchers at Indiana University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
Continuing a trend from 2014, there was a substantial amount of research published this year about MOOCs and about online education more broadly. Of course, when I write my weekly round-up of education news, I always put quotation marks around the word “research” to underscore the differences between peer-reviewed academic research, market research, and so on. Too often, the media parrots press releases without really interrogating methodology or results.
Here’s a sampling of some of the “research” that gleaned headlines this year (which, as you can see, is often quite contradictory):
“What public media reveals about MOOCs: A systematic analysis of news reports” in the British Journal of Educational Technology.
Research on online education – “Preparing for the Digital University” – was published by George Siemens, Dragan Gašević, and Shane Dawson. Stephen Downes responded in the OLDaily. George Siemens responded on Twitter. Downes then responded in a blog post. Siemens then responded to the responses in a blog post. Then George Veletsianos weighed in. And Downes had somemore to say as did Siemens.
NPR reported that “A Wellesley College and University of Maryland study finds Sesame Street has a big impact on how well kids do in school. Children who watch the show are less likely to fall behind in later grades.” Edsurge, along with many publications, went with a MOOC-related headline: “The Original MOOC: Can Sesame Street Replace Preschool?.” Of course, Sesame Street is pretty much the opposite of the VC-funded MOOCs, in part because it was designed by education researchers, not software engineers. By me: “No, Sesame Street Is Not the First MOOC.”
MIT and Harvard released what they called “one of the largest investigations of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to date,” analysis of 68 MOOCs and 1.7 million students in courses that the two schools offered between July 2012 and September 2014. (Here are Justin Reich’s thoughts on the research.)
Research from Justin Reich and John Hansen on socioeconomic status and MOOC enrollees found, among other things, that “Overall, HarvardX registrants tend to reside in more affluent neighborhoods.” This research was recently published in Science.
MIT and Harvard published research on how people cheat in MOOCs. (That is, they create multiple accounts. Inconceivable, I know.)
According to a study by CREDO, cyber charter schools have an “overwhelmingly negative impact.”
There’s little evidence that online credit recovery programs are effect, according to the Shanker Institute.
Students in MOOCs self-report MOOCs work. 87% said they felt MOOCs benefited their career. (Just 33% said there were tangible career benefits.) 88% said there were educational benefits. (Just 18% said there were tangible educational benefits.) The study, based on a survey of Coursera students, is framed by Coursera thusly: “Coursera Study Shows Positive Career and Educational Outcomes for Learners.” (But as the survey only had a 6% response rate, I'm not sure you can claim anything at all based on it.)
MOOC review site Class Central published a report on how much studying students in free online classes do. (Spoiler alert: less than students in traditional college courses do.)
MOOC review site Coursetalk published a report on “What Reviews Divulge About Online Education.” The reviews, it says, are overwhelming positive.
From a paper titled “Changing Distributions: How Online College Classes Alter Student and Professor Performance”: “Using an instrumental variables approach and data from DeVry University, this study finds that, on average, online course-taking reduces student learning by one-third to one-quarter of a standard deviation compared to conventional in-person classes. Taking a course online also reduces student learning in future courses and persistence in college.”
According to a study by the American Economic Association, “increases in online class size have no impact on student grades, student persistence in the course or the likelihood of students enrolling in future courses.”
“There’s No Substitute for In-Person Lectures,” Pacific Standard reported, summarizing a paper that found “that students who watched a videotaped lecture recalled less of the material, and felt less engaged in the subject, than they did after sitting through a similar live lesson.”
There’s “no significance difference” between the learning outcomes in face-to-face and hybrid courses, according to research by Ithaka S+R.
The Gates Foundation hired SRI Education to evaluate the ed-tech investments that it has made. Among the findings: "Online courses in which students’ dominant role was solving problems or answering questions had more positive effects than those where most of the students’ time was spent reading text or listening to lecture videos."
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon said they’d discovered that “In Online Courses, Students Learn More by Doing Than by Watching.”
(This is also known as Reich’s Law: students who do stuff tend to do more stuff and tend to do stuff better.)
So, What Have MOOCs Changed?
So here are the promises I think most commonly invoked as part of the great MOOC hype: that MOOCs will democratize education, that MOOCs will be free, that MOOCs will decrease the cost of college, that MOOCs will improve universities’ brand (and enrollment). Three years after “the Year of the MOOC,” these all seem like unfulfilled promises.
So after all the hype and all the hoopla and all the headlines and all the investment and all the students and all the research, we find ourselves still asking “have MOOCs helped or hurt?”
“Cut Through the Hype, and MOOCs Still Have Had a Lasting Impact,” The Chronicle of Higher Education insists.
Part of that impact, some argue, involves investment in teaching improvements – both online and off. And so while some might not see MOOCs themselves as good investments, no doubt they have prompted schools to rethink what their online presence will look like. (For better and for worse.)
The Open University’s Martin Weller has already predicted that 2016 will be “the year of MOOC hard questions” as universities really scrutinize whether or not these investments in online education have paid off (and paid off in the ways that the MOOCs’ biggest corporate providers/cheerleaders have promised they would). We shall see.
And if not, then “when the MOOC is Over,” turn out the lights…
This is the seventh article in my series Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
Competing Narratives Surrounding Education Data
“Data” – its collection, analysis, monetization, and usage – might just be one of the most controversial elements of education technology. I say this despite the assuredness from many in industry and government who continued throughout 2015 to make wild promises about what “data” can do: that the analysis of education data will unlock the “black box” of the human mind and as such make learning more efficient; that the analysis of education data will enable better, more informed decision-making.
There has been a growing backlash in recent years against a perceived obsession with data, “seen as a proxy for an obsessive focus on tracking standardized test scores,” The New York Times wrote this spring. “But some school districts, taking a cue from the business world, are fully embracing metrics, recording and analyzing every scrap of information related to school operations. Their goal is to help improve everything from school bus routes and classroom cleanliness to reading comprehension and knowledge of algebraic equations.”
“Anything that can be counted or measured will be,” the newspaper observed.
Measuring and counting anything and everything – this underscores the concerns that many have about education data: that its collection is overzealous and as such a privacy violation; that its storage is a security risk; that its analysis is furthering a culture of algorithmic control and surveillance.
After the disastrous end of inBloom in 2014, a data infrastructure initiative funded by the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation, it did appear as though parents and others who were demanding better privacy protections for education data had the upper hand – at least in the court of public opinion. Schools and ed-tech companies found themselves on the defensive about what potentially sensitive student information they were collecting and sharing and why.
So this year, the industry made a concerted effort to push back on the PR front and reframe the issue: “Standardized Tests Suck. But the Fix Is More Data, Not Less,” Wired wrote in March. “Why Opting Out of Student Data Collection Isn’t the Solution,” the Future of Privacy Forum’s Jules Polonetsky and Brenda Leong wrote in March. “Are We Overregulating Student Data Privacy?” Edsurge asked in June. “Privacy Push Must Not Prevent Personalized Learning,” the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn wrote in July.
As I will explore in more detail below, probably the main way in which the “data” issue gets reframed by the ed-tech industry is to describe it as a cornerstone of “personalization.”
But “data” remains too a cornerstone of education “accountability” (as I’ve noted in my articles on “the politics of education technology” and “standardized testing.”) And when the Gates Foundation announced its new higher ed agenda in March, it included the creation of “a national data infrastructure that enables consistent collection and reporting of key performance metrics for all students in all institutions that are essential for promoting the change needed to reform the higher education system to produce more career-relevant credential.” InBloom isn’t dead at all, it appears.
Also echoing inBloom, this news from July: “LearnSphere, a new $5 million federally-funded project at Carnegie Mellon University, aims to become ‘the biggest open repository of education data’ in the world, according to the project leader, Ken Koedinger.” Koedinger is the co-founder of Carnegie Learning, a “cognitive tutor” company – that’s 80s-speak for “personalization.” And that’s why I write again and again about “zombie ideas” in ed-tech.
LearnSphere said it would store “No student names, no addresses, no zip codes, no social security numbers… No race, family income or special education designations. ‘The student identifier column, even if yours is already anonymized, we re-anonymize it automatically,’ [Koedinger] added.”
The promise to “de-anonymize” and “de-identify” was one way in which the industry responded to concerns about privacy and security this year – that is, it didn’t agree to collect less data, but said it would work to obscure its owners’ identity. According to a report released by the industry-funded Future of Privacy Forum, “Integrated with other robust privacy and security protections, appropriate de-identification – choosing the best de-identification technique based on a given data disclosure purpose and risk level – provides a pathway for protecting student privacy without compromising data’s value.”
But completely de-anonymized data is not really a “thing.” According to research on credit card transactions published early this year by MIT’s Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, “knowing just four random pieces of information was enough to reidentify 90 percent of the shoppers as unique individuals and to uncover their records.” In the midst of privacy and security concerns, this means too that there’s an important trade-off here, particularly for education researchers: “higher standards for de-identification can lead to lower-value de-identified data.”
There are trade-offs that run throughout the various approaches to education data: more or less privacy, more or less security, more or less transparency, more or less surveillance, more or less agency, and so on.
"Big data sets do not, by virtue of their size, inherently possess answers to interesting questions." - Education researcher Justin Reich on "Rebooting MOOC Research."
Personalization (Whatever That Means)
But it’s not really clear to me that more or less “data” really equals more or less “personalization” – although that’s certainly how the ed-tech industry likes to frame it. Why, if you listen to the way “personalization” gets pitched, it’s almost as if schools had no way of knowing how well students understood a concept or how often they were coming to class or which school lunch kids preferred – and no way to respond to these “personal preferences” – before “learning analytics” and “dashboards” made this possible.
It’s probably worth starting by asking what exactly do we mean by “personalization”? The technology sector likes to invoke “personalization” too, of course – it’s your friends’ status updates as Facebook’s algorithm deems best to display them; it’s the list of movies available in its current catalog that Netflix recommends you watch next. There are other industries that have long boasted “personalization”: the anagrammed towel set, your name on a tourist trap tchotchke (as long as your name is one of the most popular names, of course. It’s pretty rare to find “Audrey” on that crap). But just like that sort of “personalization,” you’re still stuck with industry-standards when it comes to towel dimension. You’re still stuck with the choices of color they make available. Contrary to the Burger King slogan, personalization doesn’t mean you can have it your way. (Oh okay, for an ed-tech-specific definition, see: The Glossary of Education Reform.)
Often when invoked by those in ed-tech, “personalization” is presented as a counter to (the strawman argument) “the factory model of education,” and the notion that, without ed-tech’s interventions and data collection and analysis, classrooms operate on a “one size fits all” model. “Personalization” is often used to explain what various teaching machines offer – both the earliest versions of the 20th century and the more recent VC-funded “adaptive” textbooks and tests: the ability for students to move through a lesson or curriculum at their own pace.
Royal Roads University professor George Veletsianos recently described personalized learning as “the locus of ed-tech debates,” which seems quite right to me. “Personalized learning” – whatever that means – raises all sorts of questions about all those trade-offs I mentioned above: about privacy and security and agency and transparency and surveillance and agency and ethics. And I’d have chosen “personalization” as one of this year’s “Top Ed-Tech Trends” if I didn’t think it was more fitting to head the list of “Best Ed-Tech Buzz and Bullshittery.”
In August, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison say they are getting closer to designing a system to deliver the ideal lesson plan for each student, through a process they call ‘machine teaching.’” Inside Higher Ed covered the research a month later: “Imagine if schoolteachers and college professors were immediately able to identify how each of their students learns, what learning style works best for each child and what new topics he or she is struggling with.” Just imagine.
Now imagine if the media approached the claims of ed-tech “personalization” with more scrutiny and skepticism and ceased writing headlines like “This Robot Tutor Will Make Personalizing Education Easy.”
What does research – and there is decades of it – tell us about the effectiveness of computer-assisted instruction, “cognitive tutors,” and the like? (Spoiler alert: it’s actually a mixed bag.)
But you wouldn’t know it from the marketing hype: “Artificially intelligent software is replacing the textbook – and reshaping American education,” Slate argued this fall. “Think of it as a friendly robot-tutor in the sky,” Jose Ferreira, Knewton founder and CEO, said in a press release this summer. “Knewton plucks the perfect bits of content for you from the cloud and assembles them according to the ideal learning strategy for you, as determined by the combined data-power of millions of other students.” “We think of it like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile,” Ferreira told NPR. Knewton is a “magic pill,” he told Wired.
Dear tech press and politicians and gullible people everywhere: there is no magic pill.
In response to the hype around Knewton (which Edsurge reported was raising a $47 million round of funding this year) Mindwire Consulting’s Michael Feldstein was quoted by NPR as saying that Ferreira is “selling snake oil.” He elaborated on his blog:
No responsible educator or parent should adopt a product – even if it is free – from a company whose CEO describes it as a “robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind” and give you content “proven most effective for people like you every single time.” I’m sorry, but this sort of quasi-mystical garbage debases the very notion of education and harms Knewton’s brand in the process.
If you want to sell me a product that helps students to learn, then don’t insult my intelligence. Explain what the damned thing does in clear, concrete, and straightforward language, with real-world examples when possible. I may not be a data scientist, but I’m not an idiot either.
I can’t remember the last time I read one of D2L’s announcements without rolling my eyes. I used to have respect for the company, but now I have to make a conscious effort not to dismiss any of their pronouncements out-of-hand. Not because I think it’s impossible that they might be doing good work, but because they force me to dive into a mountain of horseshit in the hopes of finding a nugget of gold at the bottom. Every. Single. Time.
So here we have two of the most highly funded education technology startups – Knewton which has raised in $147.25 million in venture capital and D2L which has raised $165 million– making questionable (at best) claims about what their products can do with the data they collect in order to “personalize” education. But as long as the technology sector builds on those claims and journalists continue to promote the spin and investors continue to fund it…
In May, AltSchool, a “microschool” founded by former Google exec Max Ventilla, announced $100 million in venture capital from a group of investors that Edsurge described as “Silicon Valley’s blue bloods”: Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Silicon Valley Community Foundation (that’s a fund that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan advise), Emerson Collective (that’s the fund run by Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs), First Round Capital, Learn Capital, John Doerr, Harrison Metal, Jonathan Sackler, Omidyar Network, and Adrian Aoun.
While in previous years, it was Khan Academy or MOOCs that found itself the darling of a credulous education/technology press, AltSchool was clearly the beloved in 2015 as publication after publication pennedveritable love letters to the private school startup. I’ll have more to say about AltSchool below when I look more closely at how startups like this and those who promote their particular version of “personalization” are fostering a culture of surveillance.
AltSchool was hardly the only big name boasting that the future of school would draw on tech-heavy “personalization.” In September, Facebook formerly unveiled the work it has undertaken with the Summit Public Schools charter chain. It’s called a Personal Learning Platform – linguistically, at least, quite different from a “learning management system,” I suppose. According to Edsurge, “The tool started as a string of Google docs and spreadsheets, but Summit needed help to refine it into a full-scale platform for the seven schools in its network. First it hired a full-time engineer. But to open the tool up for the entire world to use, Summit needed more help. So it called up Facebook.”
Related: in December, Zuckerberg and Chan announced they would donate 99% of their Facebook shares to a new LLC that would invest in, among other things, “personalization” in education – that is, having already invested in the Summit Public Schools system and in AltSchool. I think we can see where this is headed… (If you don’t, know that I’ll cover this more in the final article in this series, “The Business of Ed-Tech.”)
“Personalized education does not mean kids just doing what they want. In fact, quite the opposite.” – AltSchool founder Max Ventilla
(Personalization versus) Privacy
In previous years, when I’ve covered the topic of “data,” I’ve usually written too about how the demands for more data quickly run afoul of students’ and teachers’ privacy. (To recap: “Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014: Data and Privacy.” “Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: Data vs. Privacy.” “Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012: Education Data and Learning Analytics.” "Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2011: Data (Which Still Means Mostly Standardized Testing.)
There was quite a bit of coverage of the privacy implications of ed-tech this year – a shout-out to The New York Times’ Natasha Singer who wrote a number of articles on the topic and to Stephanie Simons, who left Politico this year after being one of the best education reporters on this beat. A sampling of their work: “Cyber snoops track students’ activity.” “Tools for Tailored Learning May Expose Students’ Personal Details.” “Privacy Pitfalls as Education Apps Spread Haphazardly.” “When a Company Is Put Up for Sale, in Many Cases, Your Personal Data Is, Too.” “Parents Challenge President to Dig Deeper on Ed Tech.”
Via Kickboard’s Jennifer Medbery, a good guide on what startups should consider as they think through their privacy policies and security practices. For its part, the US Department of Education also released model Terms of Service guidance “aimed at helping schools and districts protect student privacy while using online educational services and applications.” It’s unfortunate that the department’s “best practice” guidelines suggest that TOS should say schools – not students – own the data, including all IP.
Also unfortunate: as privacy becomes increasingly important for schools and for parents, it then gets used as a marketing claim, as companies promised “kid friendly” products with “private sharing” features and the like.
Once again, Google found itself repeatedly in hot water over its products, its usage of user data, and privacy this year: Consumer groups filed a complaint in April with the FTC over the YouTube Kids app, “claiming it misleads parents and violates rules on ‘unfair and deceptive marketing’ for kids.” In November, the YouTube Kids app faced more complaints, this time over junk food ads. In June, Privacy Online News reported that “Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on.” In November, Detectify Labs reported that “Popular Google Chrome extensions are constantly tracking you per default, making it very difficult or impossible for you to opt-out. These extensions will receive your complete browsing history, all your cookies, your secret access-tokens used for authentication (i.e., Facebook Connect) and shared links from sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive. The third-party services in use are hiding their tracking by all means possible, combined with terrible privacy policies hidden inside the Chrome Web Store.”
But hey, schools keep on adopting Google Apps for Education, and Google Chromebooks “now make up half of classroom devices sold.”
In December, the EFF filed an FTC complaint against Google, charging that the company “deceptively tracks students’ Internet browsing.” Google disputed the complaint, insisting that it complies with both the law and the Student Privacy Pledge (to which the EFF responded in turn.)
That Student Privacy Pledge was announced late last year, an initiative put forward by the industry groups the Software and Information Industry Association and the Future of Privacy Forum. (Google is a funder of the Future of Privacy Forum, and the latter stepped up to defend Google against the EFF’s complaint.) Among other things, signers of the pledge pinky-wore they would not sell student information and would only use data for “authorized education purposes,” whatever the hell that means. (For what it’s worth, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in November that test takers were not harmed when testing companies sold their personally identifiable information.)
Google was not one of the original signers of the Student Privacy Pledge, but it did add its name in January. There’ve been a lot of questions about whether or not the pledge – with Google’s signature affixed or any of the others – is actually meaningful at all. (Let’s ask the Court of Appeals!)
And that’s a problem, more broadly, not just for privacy pledges but for privacy laws. These are often woefully out-of-date, lagging behind the data-related implications of new technologies, and simply do not protect students.
One of the worst violations of student privacy this year probably isn’t related to education technology, but I’ll note it here nonetheless because it does underscore how very little FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, actually covers. From Katie Rose Guest Pyral’s story in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Raped on Campus? Don’t Trust Your College to Do the Right Thing”:
In January, a rape survivor sued the University of Oregon for mishandling her sexual-assault case. Through the campus judicial process, the university found the three male students responsible for gang-raping her (not the technical term). They were kicked off the varsity basketball team and eventually out of school. But there is a lot more to the story, including the ways that the university delayed the investigation of the students long enough so that they could finish up their basketball season.
The story is long, and it might destroy your faith in humanity, even if the university did drop its counterclaim against the survivor last week. In that counterclaim, Oregon had accused her of “creating a very real risk that survivors will wrongly be discouraged from reporting sexual assaults.”
But I want to focus on only one sliver of this case - one ugly, frightening sliver. I guess we can thank the university's administration for shining some daylight on the legal quirk that I'm about to talk about, because otherwise it might have stayed hidden.
The Oregon administration accessed the rape survivor's therapy records from its counseling center and handed them over to its general counsel's office to help them defend against her lawsuit. They were using her own post-rape therapy records against her.
It was a senior staff therapist in the counseling unit who blew the whistle on the administration's actions. In her public letter, she sounds horrified that the work she thought was protected by medical privilege could be violated in such a fashion.
The university claimed that FERPA gave them a right to access the victim’s mental health records. And while the Department of Education said it might issue new guidance on FERPA after Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Suzanne Bonamici inquired how the hell this was legal, we saw little change when it came to updating the federal student privacy law, on this or on other matters.
As I chronicled in my post “The Politics of Education Technology,” it’s not that there weren’t legislative proposals. Therewereplenty. Despite being (or, because it was) a proposal in President Obama’s State of the Union address, at the federal level at least –states have had more luck – privacy bills in Congress went nowhere.
The European Court of Justice, on the other hand, did push the envelope on some of these legal questions about privacy. It declared in October that EU-US “safe harbor” rules regulating firms’ retention of Europeans’ data in the US were invalid – a ruling that could have implications for US ed-tech companies operating in Europe.
But in the US at least, we end 2015 with that 1974 privacy law still in place. Oh sure, college students did briefly find a way to use it to their benefit, forcing schools to hand over their admissions files and letters of recommendation – something that in turn prompted “elite colleges” to destroy admissions records. So I’m not sure how we can declare that any sort of victory in privacy or intelligent data usage.
A few notable reports from 2015 on data and privacy: from Education Week: “A Special Report on Student-Data Privacy.” From the National Education Policy Center, a report called “On the Block: Student Data and Privacy in the Digital Age.” From the ACLU of Massachusetts, a report on student data and privacy in K–12.
One question I want us to always keep in mind when we talk about education technology and privacy was asked in May by danah boyd: Which Students Get to Have Privacy?
Wait, I have another question too (this one a headline from The Guardian in April): “Is the online surveillance of black teenagers the new stop-and-frisk?” I’m going to cover social media monitoring, free speech, and social justice in the next article in this series. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that privacy and surveillance are equity issues.
According to a Campus Technology story in June, “More than one third of all malware events in 2014 happened within the education sector.” And Education Week reported this spring that “Data breaches are costing companies in education up to $300 per compromised record, making it the second most impacted sector – behind only healthcare – for businesses with lost or stolen records globally.” Nonetheless, there was little indication in 2015 that the sector was going to pull its act together, and every indication that its obsession with collecting more and more data would make it even more of a target.
It’s an old video now – old in ed-tech startup years, that is. But I like to refer to the comments made by Knewton’s CEO at the Department of Education’s Datapalooza event back in 2012. The video is on YouTube (and was posted to the Department’s website too):
We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything. Because we have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has. We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.
And okay, as I’ve already written above (and elsewhere), I think these claims are dubious at best. But they – quite inadvertently, no doubt – underscore one of the major issues that education technology companies and schools and hell, the Department of Education itself is still struggling with: the security of all this education data that’s being amassed.
This year as years past, there were a number of data breaches at schools: at Cal State (80,000 students affected); in British Columbia (as many as 34 million students affected); at Central New Mexico Community College (3000 students affected); and ULCA Health (as many as 4.5 million people affected). The University of Connecticut reported a “criminal cyberintrusion” of its engineering college, blaming Chinese hackers. Penn State also said“hackers from China” had infiltrated its computer systems in an attack that had lasted more than two years. Rutgers also said it was under repeated “cyberattacks.” The University of Virginia’s IT system was hit with a “cyberattack.” In March, the University of Chicago admitted it had suffered a breach that affected students and employees and included their Social Security numbers. Minnesota’s Metropolitan State University admitted to a data breach, also involving personnel records and Social Security numbers. Harvard admitted in July that it had suffered a breach, impacting eight colleges and administrations.
And the Department of Education itself, with all its purported guidance for ed-tech companies about Terms of Services and the like – continued to have its own issues with security. It had 91 data breaches in 2015. 91! An employee of the department was also found to have committed identity theft by using information gleaned from students’ loan applications. Awesome leadership.
Some of these security breaches did involve “cyberintrusions,” to be sure, and while blaming “Chinese hackers” seemed to be a ready excuse, many schools’ security problems occurred simply because of human error, were traced to “internal” causes, and/or were done by students themselves. The latter typically involved changing grades and attendance records. Many of these students were charged with felonies for “hacking,” even if they’d only done as much as “shoulder-surfed” their teachers’ passwords in order to gain access to their school’s computer systems. With far too much frequency this year, schools were forced to admit that they’d accidentally released confidential records, posted them online, and such.
Elsewhere in security breaches and potential security breaches thanks to tech companies (and not schools): a massive breach from the toy-maker VTech (one in which some 4.8 million families and some 6.8 million children could be affected). Pearson VUE experienced a data breach. There were potential flaws with Lenovo devices, with Microsoft’s Windows 10, with Mattel’s Hello Barbie toy, and with Android tablets for kids. Cheat-on-your-spouse site Ashley Madison suffered a data breach, and oh my, there were lots of school-issued email addresses among those leaked. Damn, even Taylor Swift’s website served as an example of poor privacy practices for children."
Oh look: more solid reporting from The New York Times’ Natasha Singer: “Uncovering Security Flaws in Digital Education Products for Schoolchildren.”
Data and Transparency
What data should education technology companies and schools collect? What education-related data should the government (federal, state, and local) collect? How long should this data be stored? What policies and practices should be put in place to ensure the privacy and security of this information? What policies and practices should be put in place to ensure transparency? That is, what data do we want released? What should we know – about schools, about teachers, about students, individually and in aggregate? Whose data is forced to be “transparent”? Teachers? Students? Institutions? Ed-tech companies?
There are things we do want to know about students and about schools. There are things we have the right to know. The rate of campus sexual assaults, the rate of campus suicides,graduation rates, suspension and expulsion rates for Black students, for example.
How can we “check the work” that’s performed by algorithms in education? By and large, these are proprietary and hidden from view.
Algorithmic Decision-Making and the Future of Education
This fall, I gave a keynote at NWeLearn on “The Algorithmic Future of Education.” In part, it was a look at the history of “robot tutors” and the claims made about the effectiveness of computer-based instruction. As the title suggests, it was also a look forward at how three trends – automation, algorithms, and austerity – might shape the future of education and ed-tech. Swarthmore’s Timothy Burke also identified “algorithmic culture” as something that drives ed-tech visions like AltSchool’s.
Algorithms drive many “adaptive learning” products which make promises, as I’ve described above, that they’re delivering the “perfect bits of content” for each student. In addition to adaptive testing and adaptive textbooks, algorithms are part of other analytics tools that purport to offer better decision-making for students, teachers, and administrators alike.
Civitas Learning, which raised $60 million in venture capital this year, “builds tools that analyze different buckets of data collected at colleges and universities to help administrators, faculty and students make better-informed decisions to boost course completion and, by extension, on-time graduation rates.” It’s not the only player in the market. The Washington Post wrote in June about Virginia Commonwealth University which hired the consulting firm EAB to use predictive analytics to identify which students were most likely to drop out of school. Increasingly, this is the sort of thing that learning management system providers sell, using the data collected there to analyze attendance and grades and to send students or staff members “early warnings.”
In May Inside Higher Ed covered a new app built by Dartmouth College researchers that they said “can predict with great precision the grade point averages of students. The app tracks student behaviors associated with higher or lower GPAs. Students need to report their activities, as the app infers what they are doing and can tell when students are studying, partying or sleeping, among other activities.” Gee, no privacy issues there at all.
From an interview between Evan Selinger and Jeffrey Alan Johnson in The Christian Science Monitor published under the headline “With big data invading campus, universities risk unfairly profiling their students”:
Selinger: Is this [profiling] transparent to students? Do they actually know what information the professor sees?
Johnson: No, not unless the professor tells them. I don’t think students are being told about Stoplight at all. I don’t think students are being told about many of the systems in place. To my knowledge, they aren’t told about the basis of the advising system that Austin Peay put in place where they’re recommending courses to students based, in part, on their likelihood of success. They’re as unaware of these things as the general public is about how Facebook determines what users should see.
Related: “How Facebook’s Algorithm Suppresses Content Diversity (Modestly) and How the Newsfeed Rules Your Clicks” by Zeynep Tufekci. “How Companies Turn Your Facebook Activity Into a Credit Score” by Astra Taylor and Jathan Sadowski. “Credit Scores, Life Chances, and Algorithms” by Tressie McMillan Cottom.
So when the New York City schools says that it’s going to adopt the “data tactics used by NYPD to weed out crime” – part of its “broken windows” policing policy – in order to “fix schools,” we should be concerned. Who gets profiled? Which students are seen at risk? Which students are deemed a risk? How are students’ choices circumscribed? How are existing educational inequalities encoded into ed-tech’s algorithms?
It is the iron cage in binary code. Not only is our social life rationalized in ways even Weber could not have imagined but it is also coded into systems in ways difficult to resist, legislate or exert political power.
Recommended: Frank Pasquale’s 2015 book The Black Box Society.
A Culture of Surveillance
It’s disheartening to recognize how profiling, tracking, and surveilling students with new technologies fit quite neatly into longstanding practices of the education system. Disheartening, but true.
Some schools try to prevent cheating “the old fashioned way” – banning watches during exams, for example. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about University of Chicago professor and Freakonomics author Steven Levitt’s idea to prevent cheating by assigning seats algorithmically, profiling students “deemed most suspicious.” The People’s Daily Online wrote about the usage of drones in China’s Luoyang City to monitor the gaokao exam.
Cheating happens in face-to-face classes, duh. But moving education online seems to elicit fears of even more of it. “Cheating in Online Classes Is Now Big Business,” The Atlantic reported in November.
And in turn, preventing cheating becomes big business – and becomes a potential privacy violation and a security risk as well.
“You have to put your face up to it and you put your knuckles up to it,” Ms. Chao said recently, explaining how the program uses webcams to scan students’ features and verify their identities before the test.
Once her exam started, Ms. Chao said, a red warning band appeared on the computer screen indicating that Proctortrack was monitoring her computer and recording video of her. To constantly remind her that she was being watched, the program also showed a live image of her in miniature on her screen.
…Proctortrack uses algorithms to detect unusual student behavior – like talking to someone off-screen – that could constitute cheating. Then it categorizes each student as having high or low “integrity.”
The university actually had no written contract with Verificient Technologies, the maker of Proctortrack until seven months into a supposed one-year agreement. When Rutgers finally did receive the contract, among its provisions were the erasure of all student data 90 days after each exam. Gawker wrote in September “Students Wonder When Creepy-As Hell App That Watches Them During Exams Plans on Deleting Their Data.” And the answer seemed to be: after the media started covering the problem.
Others in the online assessment monitoring business: Software Secure’s RPNow (which edX and ASU said they would use for their newly announced Global Freshman Academy); Proctorio, and ProctorU (one of the signers of the Student Privacy Pledge, LOL).
Another type of technology that schools increasingly turn to, in order to prevent cheating and in order to keep schools “safe,” is social media monitoring. As I noted above, I’m going to cover this in the next articles in this series, particularly as it related to free speech issues. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the dust-up this spring surrounding Pearson’s use of monitoring software during the PARCC exams.
In March, former Newark Star-Ledger reporter Bob Braun posted a photo of an email sent by a school superintendent, revealing that Pearson was actively monitoring students’ social media. Cue: panic and mayhem. (I wrote about this at length here on Hack Education.) In his original story, Braun revealed the full details of this (female) superintendent’s name and contact information (phone number and email address). Later that week, in making very spurious connections between a different NJDOE official, Pearson, and the open source database company MongoDB, Braun “doxxed” that (female) NJDOE official. Ah, the irony of using “doxxing” to defend student privacy.
Or maybe that’s just the culture we have now: one of constant surveillance and sousveillance. Or as Siva Vaihyanathan observed, it’s “The Rise of the Cryptopticon”:
Unlike Bentham’s prisoners, we do not know all the ways in which we are being watched or profiled – we simply know that we are. And we do not regulate our behavior under the gaze of surveillance. Instead, we seem not to care. The workings of the Cryptopticon are cryptic, hidden, scrambled, and mysterious. One can never be sure who is watching whom and for what purpose. Surveillance is so pervasive, and much of it seemingly so benign (“for your safety and security”), that it is almost impossible for the object of surveillance to assess how he or she is manipulated or threatened by powerful institutions gathering and using the record of surveillance. The threat is not that expression and experimentation will be quashed or controlled, as they supposedly would have been under the Panopticon. The threat is that subjects will become so inured to and comfortable with the networked status quo that they will gladly sort themselves into “niches” that will enable more effective profiling and behavioral prediction.
The Cryptopticon, not surprisingly, is intimately linked to Big Data. And the dynamic relationship between two has profound effects on the workings of commerce, the state, and society more generally.
The Crypotopticon has profound effects on the workings of education.
Surveillance technologies are becoming ubiquitous at schools and at home, although frequently marketed as “smart” or “connected” which sounds a lot friendlier than “Crypotopticon,” I reckon: It’s not Google Glass (for now at least), but Google gave Carnegie Mellon $500,000 to install sensors all over the campus – “temperature sensors, cameras, microphones, humidity sensors, vibration sensors, and more in order to provide people with information about the physical world around them. Students could determine whether their professors were in their offices, or see what friends were available for lunch.” A “smart campus.” Edsurge offered “A Peek at a ‘Smart’ Classroom Powered by the Internet of Things” in August, highlighting researchers at the University of Belgrade who “used sensors to measure different aspects of the classroom environment – including temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels – and attempted to link these factors to student focus.”
Districts are adopting body cams for principals and school police officers. The Atlantic reported in July on one district that “spent about $1,100 to purchase 13 cameras at about $85 each. They record with a date and time stamp, can be clipped onto ties or lanyards, and can be turned on and off as needed. For now, they won’t be used to record all interactions with adults.” (That we see a push for body cams on police and body cams on school employees should give us pause about the function of school.)
Video cameras are appearing in more and more classrooms to monitor teachers and students as well. But not just plain ol’ video cameras, oh no: St. Mary’s High School, a Catholic school in St. Louis, said it March it was “upping the game when it comes to school security, becoming one of the first in the nation to install facial recognition cameras.” San Diego Unified School District revealed it was using facial recognition software too. “It’ll Be A Lot Harder To Cut Class With This Classroom Facial-Recognition App” Fast Company wrote in February in a story that raised zero questions about privacy or ethics but noted the app is “unobtrusive.”
In June, Newark Memorial High School in California became the first high school in the US to install “gunshot-sensing technology” which places microphones and sensors in hallways and classrooms. The $15,000 system isn’t designed to record conversations. Mmhmm. Right.
“Meet the Classroom of the Future.” It’s absolutely terrifying.
Or, I think it’s terrifying. Perhaps surveillance has just become normalized.
The Pew Research Center released data from several surveys this year pertaining to data and surveillance. From March: “17% of Americans said they are ‘very concerned’ about government surveillance of Americans’ data and electronic communication; 35% say they are ‘somewhat concerned’; 33% say they are ‘not very concerned’ and 13% say they are ‘not at all’ concerned about the surveillance. …When asked about more specific points of concern over their own communications and online activities, respondents expressed somewhat lower levels of concern about electronic surveillance in various parts of their digital lives.” (emphasis added)
From a survey in May: “93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important.”
Even though Pew found that adults value their own privacy, it’s not clear that they believe those same protections should be extended to their children. An op-ed by one parent put it this way: “When it comes to my teens' online activity, safety trumps privacy every time.” The Wall Street Journal published a first person account of a father who digitally surveilled his daughter at college. Truly more disturbing: “The Technology Transhumanists Want in Their Kids.”
This fall, the Future of Privacy Forum released the results of a survey it conducted with parents. The group said the survey showed that “Parents strongly support schools’ collection and use of information they feel appropriately contributes directly to educational purposes.” But it seems more complicated than that. 87% of parents also said they were concerned about student data security. Just 42% said they were comfortable with ed-tech companies having access to students’ education records. Less than a quarter of parents knew about the laws that protect student privacy and restrict access to student data.
Hey parents. Here’s a good place to start thinking about privacy and security: “Keep Your Kid’s Info Safe: Opt Them Out of School Directory Information Sharing.”
“This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record”
“This will go down on your permanent record.” That’s long been the threat from schools, hasn’t it. And now, thanks to all manner of new technologies, the threat seems compounded. The disciplinary data trail is more robust and perhaps even more persistent. There are more possible infractions, more ways to be caught. “The terror of the personal, digital archive is not that it reveals some awful act from the past, some old self that no longer stands for us,” writes Navneet Alang, “but that it reminds us that who we are is in fact a repetition, a cycle, a circular relation of multiple selves to multiple injuries.” This terror seems particularly inescapable for those growing up online, those incessantly surveilled by the technologies and systems that purport to be guiding them into adulthood. What space will we leave for growth, for vulnerability, for trust?
I don’t think self-knowledge can be reduced to matters of data possession and retention; it can’t be represented as a substance than someone can have more or less of. Self-knowledge is not a matter of having the most thorough archive of your deeds and the intentions behind them. It is not a quality of memories, or an amount of data. It is not a terrain to which you are entitled to own the most detailed map. Self-knowledge is not a matter of reading your own permanent record.
And yet the ed-tech industry – its engineers, its investors, its entrepreneurs, its proponents – wants us to believe that this is the case: that more data will provide efficiency, effectiveness.
There was perhaps no better example of this in 2015 than AltSchool – the investment, the uncritical adulation, the compulsion for data, the philosophy (one that Mike Caulfield has called “Dewey plus surveillance.”) AltSchool highlights how easily we confuse “technological progress” with “progressive education” and up with neither. Its founder, Max Ventilla, does not have an teaching background or a research background, but rather a deep faith in the power of data. An NPR story from May described an AltSchool classroom as “outfitted with fisheye-lens cameras, for a 360-degree view at all times, and a sound recorder. And the company is prototyping wearable devices for students with a radio frequency ID tag that can track their movements. Why all the intensive surveillance? Safety and health are two applications, but right now, Ventilla says, it’s mostly R&D. One day, all these data could be continuously analyzed to improve teaching techniques or assess student mastery.” One day…
Surveillance and speculation – the history of the future of education technology.
I'll close with an excerpt from Pinboard founder Maciej Ceglowski’s keynote “Haunted By Data”:
There’s a little bit of a con going on here. On the data side, they tell you to collect all the data you can, because they have magic algorithms to help you make sense of it.
On the algorithms side, where I live, they tell us not to worry too much about our models, because they have magical data. We can train on it without caring how the process works.
The data collectors put their faith in the algorithms, and the programmers put their faith in the data.
At no point in this process is there any understanding, or wisdom. There's not even domain knowledge. Data science is the universal answer, no matter the question.
More news about the new ESEA keep coming out, now that folks have actually read the bill: “New U.S. education law includes ban on abortion funding by school-based health centers.” There’s the “Pay For Success” initiative, which “allows for private investors to profit from returns on the upfront financing of educational programs, for example, with social impact bonds.”
“The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid is investigating Bridgepoint Education Inc.’s Ashford University over the for-profit college’s marketing practices and other matters,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
The EU is considering“introducing a new law which means that anyone under the age of 16 will have to get permission from their parents before accessing the internet.” Good luck with that.
“Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says anyone found running an illegal backstreet school in England will face fines or a prison sentence,” the BBC reports.
The Perkins Loan program will be revived, thanks to a deal struck this week by lawmakers.
Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin has withdrawn his proposal that would strip the state’s college athletes of their scholarships if they participate in protests.
Education in the Courts
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A federal appeals court – lifting a lower court’s injunction – found that the State Technical College of Missouri may make drug testing mandatory for all students.”
Via The New York Times: “A state judge approved a settlement on Wednesday that ends a bitter legal battle over tuition at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, allowing the college to charge students in the short run while developing a plan for returning to its traditional tuition-free model.”
“The Los Angeles police department is moving toward charging celebrated teacher Rafe Esquith with one count of inappropriate touching of a juvenile, LA School Report has learned.”
The American Physical Society has issued a response following Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts’ comments about diversity in the physics classroom, made during the recent oral arguments in Fisher v Texas.
The World Bank’s Michael Trucano writes about “The introduction of large scale computer adaptive testing in Georgia.”
From the Indy Star: "Scores on thousands of student exams could be incorrect because of a computer malfunction that inadvertently changed grades on Indiana's high-stakes ISTEP test, according to scoring supervisors familiar with the glitch."
“The West Virginia Board of Education voted to replace the state's Common Core-based math and English/language arts standards with revised education requirements, effective next school year,” the Charleston Gazette reports. Students will also take fewer standardized tests in the state.
“Kyoto University to Ban Watches at Entrance Exams,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
Via The Atlantic: “A Shifting Education Model in China: An emphasis on success beyond test results takes cues from the U.S. but is only part of the plan to reshape the country's approach to learning.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
The Wall Street Journal looks at the MOOC partnership among Georgia Tech, AT&T, and Udacity. The online CS MS program has 2700+ students, but only 20 have graduated so far. Students are moving through the program more slowly than anticipated seems to be the main “hiccup,” according to the WSJ. Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill writes that the program is “Missing targets but still worth watching.” Me, I want to see more about the demographics of those in this program – who pursues the online MS versus the on campus version? How do job placement rates compare? Are most of those enrolled AT&T employees?
Via SZ International: “MOOCs And Privacy, German Fears About Online Student Data.”
Coursera has released a list of its “most coveted certificates in 2015.” Number one: digital marketing.
Justin Reich and John Hansen write in Mindshift: “What Achieving Digital Equity Using Online Courses Could Look Like.”
Tony Bates writes about “Innovation in online teaching in a Mexican university.”
Meanwhile on Campus
On Tuesday morning, parents, students, and staff of LAUSD woke up to the message that school had been cancelled. The second largest public school system in the US shut all 900 of its campuses following a threat one of its board members received. The threat was eventually found to not be credible, a conclusion that the NYC schools seemed to reach before they made any drastic decisions to close. Via Time: “This L.A. Teacher Fought the Terror Threat by Assigning a Final Exam.” Here’s a copy of the email received by LAUSD.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Iowa President Apologizes for Suggesting Unprepared Professors Be Shot.”
Via The Huffington Post: “An Epidemic Of Questionable Arrests By School Police.”
Via The New York Times: “A University of North Texas student holding an ax was fatally shot on Sunday by a campus police officer who was responding to a call about a man knocking out car windows, school and local officials said.”
Colorado College has suspended a student for 6 months for derogatory comments he made on Yik Yak.
Charter network Concept Schools, its contractors, and “many of its privately run, taxpayer-financed charter schools across the Midwest” allegedly tried to defraud the federal E-Rate program, the Chicago Sun Times reports.
Via Fast Company: “College Students Are Renting Out Their Dorm Rooms On Airbnb. What Could Go Wrong?”
Howard University might sell off the rights to its public TV spectrum, The New York Times reports. Howard runs WHUT, the only black-owned public station in the country.
Via Vox: “When a school assigned homework on Islam, it drew so many threats the district shut down.” Students were asked to copy the shahada in calligraphy. Parents and the community in Augusta County, Virgina freaked out.
Via The New York Times: “The University of Wisconsin has become the latest university system to officially affirm the right to free speech and academic freedom for all students amid concerns that academia is trying to protect students from being offended by classroom lectures and discussions.”
Via The Atlantic: “Alaska’s Disconnected Schools: On average, K–12 schools have 246 kbps of Internet connectivity – a third of what most people on the mainland U.S. need to stream Netflix.”
Career Education Corporation says it will close all its Le Cordon Bleu schools, citing the new “gainful employment” regulations.
Kaiser Permanente will open a medical school in California.
“The for-profit education company targeting the whole world.” (That’s Laureate Education.)
“The prestigious St. George’s School in Rhode Island has been investigating what it says are "multiple credible reports" of sexual abuse of students in the 1970s and '80s by three former employees, and said in a statement that its investigation was nearing an end,” The New York Times reports.
Via Edsurge: “BYU’s Bold Plan to Give Students Control of Their Data.”
The charter chain Success Academy is shortening its school day.
Washington state’s first charter school will go back to being a private school, following the decision this year by the state’s Supreme Court that charters are unconstitutional.
Students at DuSable High School in Chicago staged a “read-in” to protest the elimination of the librarian position at their school.
Via ProPublica: “Kids Get Hurt at Residential Schools While States Look On.”
Via The Atlantic: “Where Teachers Are Still Allowed to Spank Students.”
From the HR Department
Wheaton College has placed Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor, on administrative leave following comments she made about Christians and Muslims sharing the same god. More via Inside Higher Ed.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Florida Atlantic University announced Wednesday that it is seeking to fire James Tracy, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies. The university’s announcement did not state why it was seeking to dismiss Tracy, who is tenured. But Florida Atlantic has been urged to take action against Tracy – known for denying that many mass shootings are real – by the parents of a boy who was among the victims of the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.”
Education Week asks, “Will ESSA Trigger Significant Layoffs at the Education Department?”
Adjuncts at the LA campus of Emerson College will unionize.
Upgrades and Downgrades
“The beleaguered education giant Pearson faces a crisis in its British universities business after it imposed steep price rises on academic libraries. A string of leading universities have stopped buying the FTSE 100 company’s teaching materials in a row over charges for ebooks, The Daily Telegraph has learned. Some top institutions, including Imperial College London, have gone so far as to seek to purge all Pearson materials from their courses, according to publishing industry sources.”
From Desmos (and Dan Meyer): Marbleslides.
The Atlantic on Academia.edu: “The Convoluted Profits of Academic Publishing.”
Google is launching an ed-tech accelerator program in Brazil.
Techcrunch examines “the consumerization of edtech.”
Via The LA Times: “UC officials announced Tuesday the launch of a $250-million venture fund led by entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé that will invest in innovation from the UC ecosystem.”
Via Buzzfeed: “Investors Rebel Against Controversial Online School Operator K12.”
Via The Washington Post: “Facing new government regulations, Higher One Holdings, one of the country’s largest providers of financial services for college campuses, is selling off its student checking and refund disbursement business to Customers Bancorp.”
Apollo Education has acquired Career Partner GmbH for $105 million.
Chinese online education platform Xioazhan Jiaoyu has raised $84 million from Sequoia Capital, Vision Knight Capital, GGV Capital, Milestone Capital and Shunwei Capital Partners, and Bertelsmann Asia Investment.
Test prep company Raungguru has raised a “seven figure” round of funding from Venturra Capital and East Ventures.
Allovue has raised $5.1 million in funding from Rethink Education. Red House Education, Serious Change II, Kapor Capital, and Baltimore Angels. The startup, which sells accounting software to schools, has raised $6.9 million total.
Test prep company MasteryPrep has raised $3.6 million in (debt and equity) funding from the Catalyst Group, Liquid Ventures, Jennifer and Sean Reilly, Maple Leaf, the Frazer family, and Advantage Capital.
Sliderule has raised $1.7 million in seed funding from Allen Blue (co-founder of LinkedIn), John Katzmann (founder of The Princeton Review and 2U), 500 Startups, Blue Fog Capital, and “several other company founders,” says Edsurge. The company, which offers PD in data science, will change its name to Springboard.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
“Police in England said they arrested a 21-year-old man on Tuesday in connection with last month’s breach of VTech, a Hong Kong electronic toy maker, which exposed personal data for 12 million people, including 6.4 million minors,” The New York Times reports.
Data and “Research”
According to analysis published in Inside Higher Ed, there’s been “a steady rise in the proportion of college graduates paying too high a percentage of their annual income to repay student loan debt.”
Via Pacific Standard: “Mustaches Outnumber Women in Med School Leadership.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The several-year decline in enrollment in American colleges and universities continued and arguably intensified this fall, driven by sharp dips in numbers of students at for-profit colleges, full-time students at community colleges and students aged 24 or more, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse.” Bryan Alexander and “Dean Dad” Matt Reed respond to the news.
2016 predictions: It’ll be the “Year of Agency” according to Education Week blogger Beth Holland.
This is the eighth article in my series Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015
As long as I’ve written these year-in-review stories, starting back in 2010, I’ve noted some of the tensions surrounding social media and schools. On one hand, social media gets touted as facilitating “connected” or “social” learning, “personal learning networks,” and the like. On the other hand, social media is still viewed with suspicion. Sites are blocked on some school networks; some schools ban students and teachers from interacting online; and some schools monitor what students and staff say online. (Some students and staff monitor one another as well, sharing emails, videos, images via social media in turn.)
So like many of the topics I write about in this series, it would be easy to say that not much has changed when it comes to social media and schools. But to do so would ignore one of the most important trends in education: the powerful resurgence of campus activism. This activism is deeply intertwined with social media – in terms of organizing, documenting, and spreading messages – and with concerns about attacks on free speech.
Who’s Using Social Media?
In a report (PDF) that provides an overview of social media usage, published in October, the organization said that “Nearly two-thirds of American adults (65%) use social networking sites, up from 7% when Pew Research Center began systematically tracking social media usage in 2005.” When looking at adults’ usage, there are small differences in the rate at which men and women and at which different racial and ethnic groups use social media: 68% of women, 62% of men, 65% of whites, 65% of Hispanics and 56% of African-Americans use social media today. Those who live in urban areas, with higher education levels, and with higher household income are more likely to use social media. Young adults, between the age of 18 and 29, are the most likely to use social media – 90% of them do.
Facebook is still the most popular social media site, used by 72% of Internet-using adults (that is, about 62% of all American adults). But the growth of Facebook has plateaued. Growing in popularity are messaging apps like Snapchat that delete messages, as well as image-heavy sites like Instagram and Pinterest.
Facebook remains the most popular social media site for teens too, used by 71%. It’s the one they say they visit most frequently as well. As with adults, Snapchat and Instagram are popular among 13 to 17 year olds. According to Pew, boys are more likely than girls to say they visit Facebook regularly; girls are more likely than boys to say they use Instagram. Snapchat is used more often by wealthier teens.
But all in all, Pew found that “92% of teens report going online daily – including 24% who say they go online ‘almost constantly.’” “African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent internet use than white teens. Among African-American teens, 34% report going online ‘almost constantly’ as do 32% of Hispanic teens, while 19% of white teens go online that often.”
Recommended reading: danah boyd with “An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media.”
But even if social media has seen widespread adoption by adults and teens alike, it still faces obstacles to being used at school. eSchool News reported in May about the number of efforts made by districts across the US to restrict the contact that teachers and students have with one another. So the results of a University of Phoenix survey released in September probably shouldn’t be a surprise: just 13% of teachers use social media in the classroom. To be clear, it’s not that they don’t use social media at all – 78% of them said they do for personal use. But the survey found a great deal of reluctance to using it for professional purposes – to communicate with students or with parents, for example. In fact, that reluctance has increased over the past few years, Education Week noted.
Social Media Surveillance
The reluctance for teachers to adopt social media might reflect a belief that seems to persist at school: that students using social media are simply up to no damn good. They use it for cheating. They use it for sexting. They use it for bullying. They’re distracted by it. And on and on.
States and districts have taken differing approaches to students’ social media accounts. In January, The Washington Post examined a new law in Illinois that would require students hand over their social media passwords if their school has reason to believe that their social media accounts have evidence she or he violated a school policy. Even if it’s posted at home, after school hours. In October, Education Week reported that, “Wyoming could become one of the first states to institute broad protections for students unwilling to give school officials access to their social media accounts.”
Many schools have also turned to social media monitoring tools that analyze all public status updates across various platforms. The Orlando Sentinel reported in May that “What Orange County students – and staff – post on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is now being monitored by their school district to ‘ensure safe school operations.’” Ensuring “safe school operations,” of course, gives schools a very broad mandate.
As I noted in the previous article in this series, Pearson’s use of social media monitoring during the Common Core exams – ostensibly to curb cheating – attracted a fair amount of negative publicity. But to be fair to Pearson, this is something that most corporations probably now do – they’re monitoring us to protect their brands.
In the UK, it was less concerns about cheating than “extremism” that was offered as the justification for surveilling students’ online activity. Al Jazeera reported in October that
Schoolchildren in the UK who search for words such as “caliphate” and the names of Muslim political activists on classroom computers risk being flagged as potential supporters of terrorism by monitoring software being marketed to teachers to help them spot students at risk of radicalisation.
The “radicalisation keywords” library has been developed by the software company Impero as an add-on to its existing Education Pro digital classroom management tool to help schools comply with new duties requiring them to monitor children for “extremism”, as part of the government’s Prevent counterterrorism strategy.
To be fair, this surveillance isn’t just a practice undertaken by K–12 schools. Students in college also found themselves in trouble for things they posted online. A student at the University of Tulsa was suspended over offensive Facebook posts (made by his husband), for example. The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed the University of Kansas’s decision to expel a student for tweets he made about his ex-girlfriend.
The Trouble with Yik Yak
Without any doubt the most controversial piece of education technology in 2015 was Yik Yak. (And yes, I know that it’s probably controversial too to label it as “ed-tech.”) Certainly it was the one most frequently written about as everyone from The New York Times to Inside Higher Ed to The Pacific Standard to the Guelph Mercury weighed in on the havoc that Yik Yak has wreaked.
Yik Yak is part of a broader trend in tech, no doubt: the rise of anonymous messaging apps. When I wrote about data and privacy last year, I observed that “In light of all this surveillance at home and at school, it seems quite noteworthy to see the adoption of these apps by students.” This year: same as it ever was, I suppose. Except this year both campus administrators and law enforcement pushed back, demanding in several highly publicized cases that Yik Yak hand overdata about its users. (Spoiler alert: anonymous messaging apps mostly aren’t.)
In conjunction with some of the other events that I’ll explore here, Yik Yak became a major site of conflict and harassment on many campuses. It announced at the beginning of the year that it would improve the process for reporting abusive posts, but that hardly stopped them from being posted in the first place.
Students were suspended at several universities for making “hurtful comments” and for making threats using the tool. Colleges struggled to address Yik Yak; of course, they struggled to address the issues that Yik Yak tended to underscore: rampant racism, homophobia, and misogyny on campus, for example. In October, “72 women’s and civil rights organizations urged the U.S. Education Department to tell colleges that they must monitor anonymous apps like Yik Yak – frequently the source of sexist and racist comments about named or identifiable students – and do something to protect those students who are named. The groups said they view anonymous online abuse as an emerging issue under provisions of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
Via Vox’s Libby Nelson: “Colleges’ Yik Yak problem, explained.”
Yik Yak is not the only app like it on the market or even the most highly funded. It’s raised $73.5 million total. If you’re talking messaging apps more generally, that amount puts it far behind Snapchat, which has raised $1.17 billion. One of these companies’ competitors in the anonymous messaging app market, Secret, did shut down this year, after raising $37 million.
Another app worth noting for its popularity among teens: Jott, which works without a data plan or WiFi connection. The app uses a mesh network instead, making it useful for those teens who don’t have a data plan on their mobile device and allowing them to bypass some of the filters and blocks that school networks have in place.
Social Media Sousveillance
As all the social media monitoring underscores, there’s already plenty of surveillance on school campuses. But the ubiquity of mobile devices has also create opportunities for students surveil back, to record videos of one another, faculty, and staff.
A number of notable cases this year: video of University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a racist chant, prompting the school to sever ties with the organization and expel two of students. Kennesaw State University apologized in June after a student made a video of him attempting to meet with an academic advisor (and being accused of harassment for doing so). In October, a student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina videotaped a school resource officer violently throwing a fellow student, a young Black woman to the ground, purportedly because she refused to comply quickly enough to her teacher’s demand she put her phone away. Both students in that case were arrested. The video – horrific – went viral. Ben Fields, the sheriff’s deputy, was subsequently fired.
Free Speech and Job Security
There was some resolution this year to one of the big cases of free speech and social media from 2014: Steven Salaita’s firing by the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. That was when the university withdrew an offer of employment for the Native American Studies professor following tweets he made about the Israel and Gaza.
“Why I Was Fired” by Steven Salaita.
In January, Salaita filed a lawsuit against the university – its administrators, trustees, and donors. UIUC soughtseveral times to have the lawsuit dismissed. The university was forced to release emails pertaining to Salaita’s employment (and from those we learned that UI chancellor Phyllis Wise had used her personal email account to try to avoid scrutiny as the school made its decision to rescind the job offer. Wise resigned shortly afterward). In November, the university paid $875,000 to settle the case.
Salaita was far from the only tenured professor who lost a job for something she or he posted online. He was far from the only one who found his job threatened this year, despite the supposed strong tradition of “academic freedom” in higher ed.
An incomplete list:
In January, Tim McGettigan, a sociology professor at Colorado State University Pueblo, filed a lawsuit against the school for violating his free speech rights, charging that the university blocked his computer access after he tried to organize protests in response to planned layoffs. Also in January, Marquette University grad student Cheryl Abbate wrote about what she experienced following a blog post by professor John McAdams criticizing how she handled a discussion of gay marriage in one of her classes. Marquette University took to revoke the tenure and fire McAdams. Northwestern University Laura Kipnis was investigated this spring for an essay she published that defended the right of professors to “hook up” with students. (She was cleared of any wrongdoing.) In May, Saida Grundy, an incoming professor at Boston University, found herself in hot water over comments she made on Twitter about white privilege. In July, there were rumors (false) that the University of Memphis had fired Zandria Robinson for comments she’d made on Twitter. Also in July, tweets from University of Wisconsin Madison professor Sara Goldrick-Rab stirred up controversy. The University Committee issued a statement condemning her, but the Faculty Senate said there would be no disciplinary action taken.
(In many cases, the professors who found themselves in trouble for their blog posts and Tweets were targeted by the conservative news site Campus Reform, which The Chronicle of Higher Education dubbed “Higher Education’s Internet Outrage Machine.”)
Goldrick-Rab’s tweets were a commentary on the moves by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to end tenure in the state (in part she urged incoming students to avoid the school); and I think all these concerns about academic freedom and faculty activism and/or misbehavior cannot be separated from the political climate that Walker’s efforts exist in – a belief that professors, like students, cannot be trusted.
Recommended reading: “Everything But The Burden: Publics, Public Scholarship, And Institutions” by Tressie McMillan Cottom.
There was a lot of handwringing this year about threats to free speech, but there wasn’t necessarily a lot of critical reflection about who gets to speak and who gets punished for it. A growing intolerance to free speech – the work those darn “language police” as Jonathan Chait described it in January – has lead to a “great renaissance of public shaming” that is “sweeping our land” thanks to social media. That’s the argument of Jon Ronson’s 2015 So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which tried to push this narrative (one that Jacqui Shine masterfully dismantled in her review of the book).
Power matters. It matters when it comes to faculty speech. It matters when it comes to students'.
It’s been five years now since Malcolm Gladwell published his article in The New Yorker arguing that “the revolution will not be tweeted.” Social media is built on “weak ties,” he argued, and therefore could never become powerful enough to make substantive social change. Others have lambasted and derided “hashtag activism” since then. I’d like to think that #BlackLivesMatter is proving them wrong, particularly with the role that Black students have played in “reinvigorating” campus activism.
From The Atlantic, “Campus Politics: A Cheat Sheet.” As that article highlights, there have been major protests across many, many universities this year (in the US and elsewhere). Harvard. Yale. Princeton. Amherst. Claremont McKenna College. University of Cincinnati. The University of Missouri. Protests have occurred at high schools too: in Baltimore, in Chicago, in Seattle, and elsewhere.
“Student Activism Is Serious Business,” author Roxane Gay wrote this fall. Indeed, the protests have drawn attention to racial inequalities, police violence, punitive educational practices and, according to The New York Times, these might play a role in the Supreme Court decision in the Fisher v Texas case. Certainly the Justices’ comments and questions during oral arguments underscored the biases that run throughout US institutions.
I don’t want to commit the inverse of Gladwell’s error here. That is, I don’t want to suggest that social media is the reason for this renewed activism; that it’s the glue that gives #BlackLivesMatter (or any other political hashtag) its solidarity or a technology that gives it its fuel.
But when I look back over the events that occurred at the University of Missouri in November, for example, it’s pretty striking to see how social media and the tools I’ve written about here – Twitter, cellphone videos, Yik Yak, and the like – have helped to elevate the public’s awareness of the racist climate on campuses and have helped students across campuses to share strategies and support. Social media might not drive activism, but it certainly shapes what and how we know about political events, particularly as the national media dismisses certain stories as merely “local interest.”
(Think: #IStandwithAhmed. Think: #CharlestonSyllabus. Think: #FeesMustFall. Etc.)
Throughout the fall, students at Mizzzou grew more and more frustrated by the administration’s lack of response to several racist incidents: Peyton Head, the president of Missouri Students Association, was called racist slurs when he walked across campus, for example. In October, Concerned Student 1950, a student group named for the year the first Black graduate student who was admitted to the university, staged a protest at the homecoming parade, confronting the car of university president Tim Wolfe. The car bumped into one of the protesters, graduate student Jonathan Butler. At the end of October, a swastika drawn in human feces was discovered at a residence hall. On November 2, Butler began a hunger strike.
On November 7, the Legion of Black Collegians posted a photograph to Twitter of some 30 football players linking arms with Butler. “The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” read the message accompanying the photo. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences.” (The tweet was retweeted 3000 times.) The next day, the school’s football coach Gary Pinkel tweeted a photo of he and his team arm in arm, “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.” (This was retweeted 15,000 times.)
The protests continued, as did threats of violence against student protestors via social media. (Two white students from nearby colleges werearrested for threats they’d posted to Yik Yak.) Fearing for their safety, some students asked to have classes cancelled, and a screenshot of a rather unsympathetic email from a professor who refused to do so went viral, also thanks to Twitter.
As journalists flooded the campus to report on the protests, they came in conflict with some students, who were reluctant to have all of their demonstrations and meetings filmed and who wanted a “no media safe space.” Again, cellphone video went viral, this time showing a professor calling for “muscle” to block reporters from filming.
As it’s wont to do, the media quickly reframed the story to be about itself, to be about free speech – a “diversion,” as Jelani Cobb suggested in The New Yorker – and the spotlight on campus racism threatened to be lost in the narrative that the press and pundits were happily formulating: that there’s a growing illiberalism on campus, that political correctness is running amok.
If not for the revival of campus activism this fall, I think the focus of that narrative would have been on “trigger warnings.” My god, there were so many op-eds written this year about trigger warnings, and I confess I didn’t keep track of them, as most – not all– tended to dismiss students’ experiences and students’ pain. Based on the frequency with which they came up, you’d think they were on the top of almost every syllabus. But according to a survey conducted by the National Coalition Against Censorship, trigger warnings are neither widely used by professors nor widely demanded by students. But again, stories about trigger warnings fit a certain narrative that students are refusing to listen to ideas that they find uncomfortable or that they disagree with. Even President Obama suggested students were “coddled.” No doubt, there were a handful episodes – again, often drawn from a student’s update on social media– that went viral, such as a story from Duke about freshmen's purported refusal to read Alison Bechdel’s memoir Fun Home.
Recommended reading: Aaron Bady’s “Against Student Stories.”
CUNY’s Angus Johnston has recently published an article in Rolling Stone that summarizes the campus activism of 2015 much better than I have here. “There’s No College P.C. Crisis,” he argues. There are nonetheless a number of crises that schools do face: ongoing struggles over free speech, tenure, academic freedom, labor, racism, misogyny, violence, and so on. It seems likely that we’ll see all of this continue to play out – and play out on social media – in the coming year.