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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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  • 12/12/17--00:00: Support Hack Education
  • I’m halfway through my annual series on the year’s “Top Ed-Tech Trends” – all the stories that we’ve been told about education technology and the future of education in 2017. Perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the word count. I know I am.

    This means it’s also time to post my annual reminder that the work I do on Hack Education is supported almost entirely through readers’ donations.

    Full disclosure: I also subsidize this site through speaking gigs, and for the 2017–18 academic year, I am a Spencer Education Journalism Fellow at the Columbia School of Journalism. Someone recently called that a “cushy” gig, which is sort of weird. I work non-stop. Seriously. Seven days a week. You can look at my GitHub commits: I have not skipped a day of work in over a year. The hustle doesn’t stop because I have a fellowship. It can’t.

    I love what I do, but it’s not easy work. It’s certainly not “cushy.”

    There are a couple of ways you can support my writing: You can make a donation via PayPal or become a monthly subscriber. I also have a Patreon account (although Patreon seems to be in the process of screwing us all over so maybe hold off on using that site. Hooray! Freelancer economy!) You can buy my books. You can invite me to speak at your event or at your school– although I’m not accepting any speaking engagements until the Fall 2018.

    I have Hack Education stickers that I can send you as a gesture of “thanks,” whether you contribute financially or not. (There will be a new pigeon sticker and logo coming in the new year, so maybe hold off on that request too.)

    But I don’t want to be in the sticker business. I want to write education technology criticism. Your support helps me continue to do that.

    Thank you.

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  • 12/12/17--23:30: Education's Online Futures
  • This is part six of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories

    Some of the most oft-told tales in education in recent years have the following plot: the students all move from “brick-and-mortar”to “online.” It’s an inevitable move, or so the story goes.

    Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, for example, predicted in their 2008 book Disrupting Class that by 2019 half of all high school classes would be taught via the Internet. There was allthatinkspilled circa 2010 that Khan Academy and “flipped learning” were going to “change the rules of education,” replacing in-class instruction with online videos watched as homework. And then there were MOOCs, of course, and all those predictions and all those promises about the end of college as we know it: “MOOCs make education borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind” and similar fables.

    It’s not simply that the predictions were wrong. (Although no, to be clear, we are not on track for half of high school classes to be online or for higher education to be replaced by Udacity, and no, MOOCs have not transformed higher ed into some magical meritocracy.)

    Rather, it’s that the steady drumbeat of stories about the inevitability of online education has shaped the cultural imaginary. It has shaped the political imaginary. It has shaped the administrative imaginary – and that in turn has shaped how schools have built capacity (or much more likely outsourced capacity) and defined capacity altogether – notably in response to what’s been consistently framed as the challenge of access and the necessity of choice.

    Online education, we’re still told, will be education’s disruptor. Online education, we’re also still told, will be its savior. And parents and students – this is certainly Betsy DeVos’s message– want the “choice” that online education offers.

    Vive la MOOC Révolution

    In October of this year, Clarissa Shen, Udacity’s Chief Operating Officer, called MOOCs “a failed product.” Five years after “the year of the MOOC,” the acronym does not appear on the website of any of those high profile online course providers.

    No doubt, Udacity, Coursera, and edX have been moving away from “free” and “open” online education for a while now, charging fees for courses and certificates and acting much more like online program management companies – third party vendors for Internet-based courses and degree programs. For its part, Udacity has fully rebranded itself as a high-tech job training company, a topic I’ll cover in more detail in a forthcoming article in this series.

    Whether or not the product has failed or enrollments have fallen or the promises were always mostly bullshit, to this day, the big MOOC companies and their famous founders remain in the headlines: “Andrew Ng Spreads the Gospel of AI With a New Online School,” Wired reported. “Andrew Ng Wants a New ‘New Deal’ to Combat Job Automation,” said MIT Technology Review. “Sebastian Thrun Defends Flying Cars to Me,” where “me” in that headline is Wired’s Steven Levy. “The man building flying cars for Larry Page wants to reinvent the way you prepare dinner,” said Business Insider “Let’s talk about Sebastian Thrun’s puppy,” said Techcrunch.

    There were some notable updates in the MOOC world this year, I suppose, in addition to Thrun bringing his puppy, strapped to his chest, on stage at one of Techcrunch’s events: Coursera laid off about 13% of its staff, Recode reported in October, that despite raising $64 million at a $800 million valuation in June. Coursera also brought on a new CEO: Jeff Maggioncalda, whose previous job was in the financial planning industry. Tom Willerer, Coursera’s chief product officer, left the company to become a venture capitalist. And Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng left Baidu, where he’d been since leaving the MOOC startup in 2014. Udacity’s CMO Shernaz Daver left that company. In April, a new startup, Voyage, was spun out of Udacity’s autonomous driving efforts. Adam Medros became edX’s president and COO. All three – Udacity, Coursera, and edX – rolled out new certificate programs. The British MOOC company FutureLearn entered the US market. (Just throwing that sentence in there for all the British readers who hit CTRL+F to see if I mentioned FutureLearn at all.) Udacity shut down, a freelancing platform for its nanodegree alumni. And edX shut down the original MITx 6.002x platform.

    Arguably the ongoing attention given to these MOOC makers and MOOC providers outweighs the importance of these particular product and company updates. (That’s not to say that online education isn’t important – more and more students are taking courses online.) But ed-tech punditry – and tech punditry more broadly – helped create the MOOC monster, and it simply won’t let the story go. (I mean, here I am again talking about MOOCs in my year-end review for, like, the fifth year in a row.) There were stillso manyarticles and op-edswritten about MOOCs this year – lots of “where are they now” pieces and various calls to revive, rethink, and “put the ‘M’ back in MOOCs.” In one of the manyarticles it published on MOOCs this year, Edsurge asked the peak-Edsurge question: “What if MOOCs Revolutionize Education After All?”

    What if indeed.

    What might be the elements of the MOOC revolution? That Edsurge article suggests that MOOCs have forced schools to rethink the lecture, focusing on short bursts of content delivery and “active learning” instead. MOOCs have forced faculty to compete with one another, with other institutions, with third party providers, the article argues. They’ve introduced the logic of markets to institutions that resist change: “moving a university is a little bit like moving a cemetery. You can’t expect any help from the inhabitants.”

    Or so the story goes.

    One survey conducted this year (by Learning House) did give a boost to the argument online education is becoming more competitive. Students want to be able to enroll quickly, it found; they want access to financial aid and other services immediately; they want to know if their credits will transfer; they want to be able to access course and school information via their mobile phone. Some of this, I’ll note, is very much the type of assistance that has made for-profit higher ed so successful in enrolling students.

    The survey also claimed that students prefer short classes (eight weeks or less), and they spend far less time studying and working on assignments than they should be – at least according to Department of Education requirements for credit-bearing coursework.

    Of course, online education (and distance education and correspondence courses and all the historical variations) has always been challenged for its quality and questioned regarding its prestige. That is to say, a Udacity executive remarking that MOOCs are a “failed product” should not be viewed some as shockingly radical commentary. Indeed, investors and entrepreneurs are constantly jostling to position their product as the superior alternative. Some of the superior alternatives they’ve proposed in the last few years: bootcamps, and now mentorships and apprenticeships. More on these totally-not-failed products in an upcoming article in this series.

    One other company that rode the wave of the MOOC revolution back in 2012 was MasterClass which offers online classes “from the best,” as its PR puts it. “The best” include a cooking class from Wolfgang Puck, a class on investigative journalism from Bob Woodward, a tennis class from Serena Williams, a filmmaking class from Martin Scorsese, and an acting class from Kevin Spacey. Wait, nevermind. The company removed the Kevin Spacey content. MasterClass raised $35 million in venture capital in March. (It’s raised $56.4 million total.) It’s not a scam, The Verge insisted when it wrote about the startup in May. The LA Times was less a little less awestruck in its coverage: “I think it’s valuable in the way that watching ‘Actors on Actors’ or Charlie Rose is,” one acting coach told the newspaper. “You’re expanding your mind, but I wouldn’t consider that taking an acting class.”

    So, what does count as a real class – acting class or otherwise? How has online video changed our expectations of that? And as Edsurge wondered this fall, “How Much Hollywood Glitz Should Colleges Use in Their Online Courses?”

    Online Education and Teaching Labor

    What counts as a real class? Have all the philosophical debates about that you want, but there are rules and regulations, particularly when there’s federal financial aid involved.

    Western Governors University, an online university that’s been at the center of efforts to reform “what counts” when it comes to the credit hour, ran into trouble this year when an audit by the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found that its competency-based, online education program did not have sufficient interaction between faculty and students. The OIG’s recommendation: that the institution repay the federal government some $700 million in student aid. Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill called the audit “a travesty,” later arguing that the audit, whether the Department of Education accepts the findings or not, will likely impact “fragile movement of competency-based education” – a movement is deeply intertwined with calls for “personalized learning” and the adoption of new technologies for adaptive instruction and assessment.

    This is the part where someone always cites Arthur C. Clarke about any teacher who can be replaced with a computer should be. It’s also the part where I note that he wrote that in 1980 and computer-assisted instruction is still crap. So perhaps when we talk about replacing teachers with computers it’s not so much that the computers are amazing. It’s that those telling these stories sorta despise teaching labor.

    “Why Haven’t MOOCs Eliminated Any Professors?” Inside Higher Ed contributor Joshua Kim asked this year, which I don’t think he made with Clarke’s pronouncement in mind but a question that surely assumes MOOCs haven’t. Indeed, it is impossible to separate institutions’ embrace of MOOCs and online education more broadly with the labor conditions at universities – with the growing reliance on adjuncts, for example, for instruction and on outsourcing for technical support. A study released in 2015 found that colleges were increasingly turning to adjuncts to teach online classes, and those hiring patterns – that is, the hiring of part-time, contingent instructors rather than tenure-track professors – have likely continued in recent years as higher education has expanded its online offerings.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled BYU-Idaho this year, touting what a bargain the tuition was for its online PathwayConnect program: about $8,100 for the 120 credits necessary for a bachelor’s degree, which is about half the price of tuition for classes on campus at BYU-Idaho. The article noted that one way the school kept the price tag so low was, no surprise, its reliance on adjuncts. (Underscoring how precarious this labor is, an adjunct at the school lost her teaching contract one week after the Chronicle story was published, after she defended LGBTQ rights in a post on Facebook.)

    The Chronicle described another way in which BYU-Idaho saves money on staffing: it uses volunteer labor for tutoring and advising in its online program. Coursera, even with the $210 million in venture capital it’s raised, also uses free, volunteer labor for some of its tasks. It has some 2500 “beta testers,” Edsurge reported in February. (Arguably students are “beta testers” too, working for free to improve these platforms.)

    One study published this year confirmed what many professors will tell you: that teaching online is more time-consuming than teaching in a traditional, face-to-face setting. The survey, conducted by the National Tertiary Education Union and the University of Tasmania, found that all the tasks associated with online instruction took longer: from preparing a lecture to updating course materials. No doubt, the introduction of all sorts of digital technologies – email, the learning management system, and so on – has changed the expectations of how (and when) faculty work, whether they’re teaching online or not.

    “Faculty,” as this year’s ECAR study put it, “have a love-hate relationship with online teaching and learning. They don’t want to do it but think they would be better instructors if they did. Most faculty agree that online learning makes higher education available to more students, but few agree that online learning helps students learn more effectively.”

    Just as we’ve seen in recent years, there was some faculty pushback to online education in 2017 at various institutions, notably at George Washington University, which was sued last year by a handful graduates who claimed that their online education was inferior to what was offered on campus. The university’s Faculty Senate, which had created a task force to investigate the quality of its degree programs, found there were in some cases vast differences between those that were offered and online and those that were offered on campus and that oversight of online education at the university was inconsistent – “There’s no organized approach to the online education experience, not in all schools,” the chair of the task force Professor Kurt Darr told the student newspaper.

    To attain an “organized approach,” schools often turn to online program managers, which The Century Foundation described in a damning report this year as “a traditional outsourcing model with a dangerous twist.”

    The involvement of OPMs in the establishment and growth of online educational opportunities at public institutions exposes consumers to the financial interests of decision-makers, interests that would not exist if exclusively public or nonprofit institutions were involved in providing these distance learning programs. Driven by the desire and need to make money for investors or owners, those to whom executives are held accountable, these companies may prioritize profit over the interests of online students, to whom they owe no loyalty, financial or otherwise.

    I explored what can happen to student data under these circumstances in the previous article in this series; I will turn to what can happen to faculty data and academic freedom in the next one.

    But when we’re thinking about the stories told about “the future of education” and how often those stories insist that that future is online, it’s worth exploring too, as the Century Foundation report suggests, what it means to be “public” with such significant involvement of private, for-profit companies in these educational endeavors.

    Online Education and the Stories We Are Told about “Choice”

    “What it means to be public” is a conversation – a controversy is perhaps a more accurate word – that’s been unfolding in K–12 education for decades now, particularly with the expansion of charter schools, which claim to be public schools but are run by private entities (both for-profit and not-for-profit companies).

    Just a fraction of those students who enroll in charter schools attend virtual charters, taking all their classes online. Some 200,000 students attend online charter schools, according to a 2016 report by Education Week, out of the 3 million or so total who are enrolled in charters and the 50 million or so who are enrolled in K–12 public schools. Yet “the sector has an outsized influence,” the head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers told Education Week.

    Arguably, it has even more now that Betsy DeVos is Secretary of Education.

    One of DeVos’s key agenda items involves vouchers, a system that enables parents to use taxpayer money – the dollars that would typically be allocated to their child’s public school – to pay the tuition at any school, including private and parochial schools. Although there have been some state and local experiments with vouchers, their adoption is not widespread, and federal approval of vouchers would be a radical expansion of “school choice,” if for no other reason than because, as opponents argue, they erode the separation of Church and State. (There are also concerns about the curriculum at many of these religious schools – “Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach Whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies,” The Huffington Post recently charged, noting that these schools not only teach creationism, but also Scientology and a fair amount of white supremacy.)

    The research about vouchers also suggests that many of the programs – whether subsidizing L. Ron Hubbard reading materials or not – fail to benefit students academically. That was the finding, at least, of a study of the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in April – students who used vouchers scored lower on math tests. A study released in June on Indiana’s voucher program found “modest annual achievement losses” in math, particularly in the first two years after leaving public school – although students were able to catch back up to their public school peers after four years. A study released in June on Louisiana’s voucher program had similar findings.

    In addition to questions about academic achievement, there are other concerns about how vouchers might exacerbate educational inequality: “Indiana’s School Choice Program Often Underserves Special Needs Students,” NPR reported in May. In another story from Indiana’s voucher program this summer, Chalkbeat found that“$16 million went to schools with anti-LGBT policies.” Vouchers in Vermont were used disproportionately by more affluent families, ProPublica found, not to help low-income families escape under-resourced schools. In an NYT op-ed in March, Kevin Carey contended that Arizona’s voucher program raised all sorts of ethical questions about profiteering and public money, noting that Steve Yarbrough is both the head of the State Senate and the CEO of one of the state’s largest voucher granting groups. There were concerns – and certainly these echo those we have long heard about charter schools too – that voucher programs drain money away from public schools.

    While much of the attention on voucher programs have been on their potential to fund religious schools – no surprise in light of DeVos’s own Christian fundamentalism – there are also concerns that the Trump administration’s push for more “school choice” could also be a boon for virtual charter schools. Again, the research has consistently shown that students at these online schools underperform their peers at traditional, offline ones. A 2015 study from Stanford’s CREDO famously found that the performance was so poor that it was “literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.”

    Nevertheless, virtual charter schools have continued to expand even in the face of state opposition, challenges, and fines. The California Virtual Academies was forced to refund some $2 million to the state’s Department of Education for improperly used funds this year, for example. The Post and Courier reported on South Carolina’s charter schools this summer, noting that their graduation rate is half of that at traditional schools – just 42%. An investigation by Chalkbeat into virtual charters in Indiana found that the Indiana Virtual School had hired only one teacher for every 222 students. The Ohio Department of Education sought some $80 million in repayment for tuition dollars it gave to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow after an audit showed that the virtual charter school had overstated its enrollment. ECOT refuses to pay. Meanwhile, the state has cleared the company to become a dropout recovery school.

    That last example underscores how talk of “school choice” – whether used to justify vouchers or cyber charters in K–12 or online degree programs in higher ed – often masks other educational inequalities.

    We should ask “who does online education work for,” for example, and what kind of “choice” does it really represent? That is, does a college student need to take a class online because the classes on campus overlap with her work schedule? Is a school unable to offer calculus and so an online class become an enrichment opportunity for advanced students? Or is an online class used for “credit recovery,” so a struggling student who has failed classes can quickly make up credits in order to graduate? (“The New Diploma Mills,” as the investigative reporters at The Teacher Project called them.) When and why is the “choice” an online program – when and why is capacity not developed locally? (There is perhaps no better example of this than the push this year to offer preschool online in rural partsof Utah. Or the offer for tens of thousands of displaced students in Puerto Rico to attend Florida Virtual School.) What sorts of choices do students with disabilities have, particularly if online educational content continues to fail to be ADA compliant? And how do all of these questions dovetail with what we know from educational research about which students excel and which students struggle online?

    In his ongoing coverage of education policy, Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum asked this summer, “Do vouchers actually expand school choice?” “Not necessarily,” he answered. It depends on how the programs are designed. It also depends on where they’re designed. In many parts of the US, there aren’t private or parochial schools for parents choose from – online is the “choice.”

    So vouchers will likely be a boon for the operators of cyber charter schools. As I noted in an earlier article in this series, K12 Inc’s stock rallied after DeVos was confirmed Secretary of Education. One of her associates, Kevin Chavous, co-founder along with DeVos of the “school choice” group American Federation for Children, joined the board of the virtual charter school chain this year. K12 Inc has been an active member of the conservative political “bill mill” ALEC for some time now, crafting legislation that would, among other things, facilitate the expansion of virtual charters.

    Vouchers will also exacerbate segregation, a practice which as MacArthur “Genius” winner and education journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones reminds us is maintained through “choice” – “through a series of individual choices.” And “a series of individual choices” is foundational for many of the stories we’re told about the future of online education – so yes, discrimination and segregation are very much bound up in that future too.

    Of course, you can always put a positive spin on any of this: “The Flip Side of Abysmal MOOC Completion Rates? Discovering the Most Tenacious Learners,” as Edsurge pronounced this year. Why address structural inequality when you can laud that gritty autodidact.

    Online Education and “Access”

    There might be a couple of snags with all these predictions about the future of online education, particularly if you still believe the story that online education is some sort of democratic force. That’s because online education requires Internet access, and under the Trump administration, the government seems thoroughly committed to slowing speeds, eliminating privacy protections, and scrapping subsidies that have helped low-income families and schools afford high-speed broadband:

    From February: “FCC Revokes Decision Allowing Companies to Provide Low-Income Families With Subsidized Broadband.” Also from February: “Under New Leadership, FCC Quashes Report on E-rate Program’s Success.” From April: “Trump signs repeal of U.S. broadband privacy rules.” From August: “Republicans try to take cheap phones and broadband away from poor people.” From October: “FCC Delays, Denials Foil Rural Schools’ Broadband Plans.” From November: “FCC begins scaling back internet subsidies for low-income homes.”

    Digital redlining continues in urban areas. Rural areas continue to be underserved. We have, as education futurist Bryan Alexander calls it, “a Balkanized Internet,” and the contours of these divides absolutely shapes who has access and what they have access to. And so if, as some insist, the future of education is online, that leaves a sizable portion of the population at the mercy of Internet service providers to dictate what that means – the price, the speed, the privacy protections (or lack thereof).

    While The Hechinger Report touted early in the year that “most students go to a school that meets federal standards for internet speed,” that might be changing too. The FCC is poised this week to vote to scrap “net neutrality” regulations – “a victory for telecoms” that will allow these companies to charge more money for certain kinds of Internet traffic (particularly the video traffic that online education has come to expect). To be fair, it is mostly speculation, at this stage, how the revocation of net neutrality will affect schools or ed-tech products and services. Perhaps it will all depend on who’s taken money from telecoms and ISPs. Perhaps, net neutrality or not, it will all depend on who is aligned with the key players in the platform economy.

    I am guessing that some folks will still be well-positioned to regale us with stories about the future of education online, whether there is “net neutrality” or not. Indeed, as Ajit Pai, the head of the FCC insists, “markets will work it all out.” That is how “choice” supposedly works, after all.

    Financial data on the major corporations and investors involved in this and all the trends I cover in this series can be found on

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  • 12/15/17--02:00: Hack Education Weekly News
  • (National) Education Politics

    RIP Net Neutrality. Thoughts on how this might effect education from Inside Higher Ed, from NPR, from Internet2 (via Bryan Alexander), from The Washington Post, and from Edsurge.

    Not Net Neutrality, but another potential FCC move – ending the E-Rate program. Via Pacific Standard: “Why Is the FCC Considering Cutting Broadband Access for Students?”

    The latest on the GOP tax bill, from The Washington Post: “Proposed tax for graduate students killed, student loan interest deduction saved in congressional bill.” More on the bill via Inside Higher Ed. Thoughts on how this will affect higher ed from Moody’s. A NYT op-ed from Nora Gordon looks at how the bill will harm poor schools.

    Mother Jones on the PROSPER Act: “Republicans Are Trying to Roll Back Rules That Stopped For-Profit Colleges From Exploiting Students.”

    “A new analysis from the Center for American Progress found more than two dozen minority-serving institutions would fail a graduation rate requirement for funding in the proposed House update to the Higher Education Act,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via Education Week: “President Donald Trump has tapped Frank Brogan, who served as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s lieutenant governor, as assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, the top post at the Education Department overseeing K–12 policy.”

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Job Cuts at Education Department Worry Civil-Rights Advocates.”

    Politico details where the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation made its donations.

    Via NPR: “France Moves To Ban Students From Using Cellphones In Schools.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “An agreement reached in the first phase of Brexit negotiations would allow European citizens living in the United Kingdom as of the date it withdraws from the E.U. to retain their residency rights even if they leave the U.K. for up to five years. It would also allow the U.K. to continue to participate in E.U. science and student exchange programs through the end of the current budget cycle in 2020.”

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via the Tampa Bay Times: “Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups.” But sure, sure, lefty college students are the real threat to free speech.

    Via Fortune: “Apple to Bring Coding Education to Chicago Public Schools.”

    Elsewhere in CPS: “Ronald Marmer resigned as the top attorney for the Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday, a week after an internal report cited him for an ethics violation in an investigation that cost CPS CEO Forrest Claypool his job,” The Chicago Sun Times reports. More on Claypool’s resignation from WaPo’s Valerie Strauss.

    Via Techcrunch: “New York City moves to establish algorithm-monitoring task force.”

    Immigration and Education

    “Congress must act on the ‘dreamers’” Tim Cook and Charles Koch write in a joint op-ed in The Washington Post. Yes, you read that byline correctly.

    Education in the Courts

    “Four Democratic attorneys general filed separate lawsuits Thursday seeking to compel Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to grant debt relief to students defrauded by for-profit colleges,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via The Washington Post: “Betsy DeVos hit with two lawsuits in one day over backlog of student debt relief claims.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Stanton Glantz, a professor at the medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and a tobacco researcher, has been accused of sexual harassment in a new lawsuit filed with the San Francisco Superior Court.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “In Reversal, College Adviser Who Was Grabbed by Far-Right Speaker Is Criminally Charged.” This stems from a protest at the University of Connecticut.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A federal jury on Monday rejected a lawsuit by a prominent conspiracy theorist who claimed Florida Atlantic University fired him for his views, and in doing so violated his First Amendment rights.”

    The Business of Student Loans

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Department of Education this week released new federal loan data showing that 4.6 million student loan borrowers were in default as of Sept. 30, an increase from the 2.2 million who were in default four years earlier. Roughly 298,000 borrowers entered into default during the quarter that ended in September, the department said, with 274,000 defaulting for the first time.”

    With Brown University joining the list, Money notes that“All These Colleges Have Now Gone ‘Loan-Free’ to Help Keep Students Out of Debt.”

    Via The Economic Times: “Startups in student-lending sector see dropouts, but some score too.” I’ll be adding student loan company Quiklo to the ed-tech dead pool.

    More legal wrangling on loans in the “courts” section above. More funding and acquisitions of bootcamps in the venture capital section below.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    The McNally Smith College of Music, a for-profit music college, will close its doors.

    Via The Times Higher Education: “For-profit claims ‘learning gain’ victory over universities.” That’s “elite” education startup The Minerva Project, which has discovered if you are very exclusive with who you admit to your program, you can boast that your students perform very well on standardized tests. It’s an amazing amazing breakthrough.

    Kaplan Inc has agreed to acquire the College for Financial Planning from Apollo Education Group. (Looks like Kaplan Inc isn’t getting out of for-profit higher ed altogether, even with the sale of Kaplan University to Purdue.)

    More on for-profits in the “politics” section at the top.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    “How SCAD sells a dream,” via The Atlantic Journal Constitution. SCAD is the Savannah College of Art and Design, and wow. This story.

    Via The Huffington Post: “Inside The Voucher Schools That Teach L. Ron Hubbard, But Say They’re Not Scientologist.”

    Via CJR: “‘This is unprecedented’: Public colleges limiting journalist access.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “‘A Complete Culture of Sexualization’: 1,600 Stories of Harassment in Higher Ed.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Central Washington U. Places Professor – and State Lawmaker – on Leave Amid Allegations.” That’s Matt Manweller, and the allegations involve sexual harassment of students.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “How Sexual-Harassment Charges at U. of Rochester Spiraled Out of Control.”

    “What Happened to These 15 Accused Harassers?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Via Pacific Standard: “The Thomas Fire Is Worsening the Housing Crisis for Vulnerable Students.”

    The University of Wisconsin at Madison plans to close 22 libraries and create six “hubs” in their stead, says The Wisconsin State Journal.

    Via The Hechinger Report: “The community college ‘segregation machine’.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Hiram College, hoping to stay financially and academically competitive, launches overhaul and floats idea – on hold for now – of ending some tenure protections.”

    Via ABC News: “‘Exponential’ increase in school shooting drills since Sandy Hook.”

    Via The Washington Post: “Virginia student says he was thrown out of class for not saying the pledge.”

    This WSJ commentary is bonkers. “Lorde of the Flies: Why College Students Reject Reason.” Apparently it’s all Audre Lorde’s fault, because of course it is.

    After School Special” – photos from Andre Wagner and text by Rembert Browne.

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via Campus Technology: “Digital credentials company Credly is adopting the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL), a common markup language designed to improve discoverability of certifications, badges and other verified achievements. CTDL is a project of Credential Engine, a nonprofit focused on improving transparency in the credentialing marketplace.” (Is this different from the Mozilla stuff?)

    WonkHE on “accelerated degrees.”


    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “ACT and College Board to Offer Free Test-Score Reports for Needy Students.”

    Russia beat the US on an international reading test.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    Via ESPN: “How a midlevel school became The University of Adidas at Louisville.”

    From the HR Department

    Pearson has addedSnap chairman Michael Lynton to its board of directors.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Private Colleges Had 58 Millionaire Presidents in 2015.”

    The Business of Job Training

    Via NPR: “In Effort To Court Drivers, Lyft Offering Education Discounts.” It’s a partnership with Guild Education. More via Techcrunch.

    MOOCs are out. Bootcamps are in. Or something.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Is Alison The Answer To The World’s Education Needs?asks Forbes.

    Did U.S. Performance on PISA Decline Because of Common Core?asks Diane Ravitch.

    Would You Ask Alexa for Parenting Tips for Your Toddlers?asks Edsurge.

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    “How a Dorm Room Minecraft Scam Brought Down the Internet” via Wired.

    Via Buzzfeed: “YouTubers Made Hundreds Of Thousands Off Of Bizarre And Disturbing Child Content.”

    Guessing someone’s on the hunt for venture capital as there were stories in a couple of publications this week about former MIT dean Christine Ortiz’s new startup: Station1. It’s a new kind of university or something.

    “​Chromageddon Comedown: Educators Are Wary,” says Edsurge, “After Thousands of Google Devices Fail.” Yay. Chromebooks.

    Storify is shutting down.

    Via Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill: “Cengage Unlimited– Marketing ploy or significant change in strategy?”

    Inside Higher Ed on Knewton’s “pivot.”

    Bryan Alexander, who like me relies in part on support through Patreon, writes about the changes at the site: “Patreon reverses itself; what next?”

    From the press release: “Macmillan Learning Offers Educators Support for Open Education Resources via the Intellus Platform.” Because “open.”

    “Refactoring media literacy for the networked age” – Mike Caulfield makes a prediction for journalism in the new year.

    Prison tech is not ed-tech except when it is. So it’s something to watch. Via The Guardian: “The end of American prison visits: jails end face-to-face contact – and families suffer.”

    Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF

    Robots will replace teachers by 2027,” Futurism predicts.

    When the Robots Come for Our Jobs, They’ll Spare the Teachers,” Edsurge tries to reassure its readers.

    “3 Necessary Skills for Educators in the Era of A.I.according to Getting Smart. The skill of using a number in your headline to attract “clicks” did not make the list, surprisingly.

    Via Education Week: “Preventing an Artificial-Intelligence Fueled Dystopia, One Student at a Time.”

    “How an Artificially Intelligent Virtual Assistant Helps Students Navigate the Road to College” by Lindsay Page and Hunter Gehlbach.

    Robots are coming for your children.

    “Why these friendly robots can’t be good friends to our kids,” Sherry Turkle argues.

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Ed Reform

    Via International Business Times: “Charles Koch Gave $50 Million To Higher Ed In 2016. What Did He Buy?”

    “More personal means more equitable and just,” according to Jim Shelton, the head of CZI’s education efforts. It’s not dogma, he says. It’s science. Riiiight.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Ed-Tech

    GEMS Education, a private school chain, has secured a $1.25 billion loan from Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, HSBC Bank Middle East, Noor Bank, MashreqBank, and Emirates NBD Capital.

    The coding bootcamp chain Digital House has raised $20 million from Omidyar Network, Kaszek Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, Marcos Galperin, The Rise Fund, and Martin Migoya.

    Flintobox has raised $7 million in a Series A round from Lightbox. The company, which sells subscriptions to boxes full of kids’ activitites, has raised $7.33 million total.

    Summer camp provider Gakko has raised $6.5 million from Masada Kobayashi and other investors. It’s raised $7.5 million total.

    Illuminate Education has acquired visualization tool eduCLIMBER.

    Scientific Learning Corp has acquiredBrainMaps.

    The coding bootcamp Thinkful has acquired the Viking Code School.

    There’s also a for-profit acquisition in the for-profit section above.

    Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security

    For your “Netflix for education files”:

    What Would You Pay to Keep Your Digital Footprint 100% Private?asks Harvard Business Review– an indication, no doubt, about how all this data collection is simply going to expand inequalities. How much can you afford?

    Big data could solve the college-dropout problem,” says The Washington Post. No. No it couldn’t.

    The way in which schools describe their security efforts– cameras and the like – is pretty awful.

    Via Mail & Guardian: “Big Brother set to watch each pupil.”

    “Don’t Give Kids Holiday Gifts That Can Spy on Them,” says an NYT op-ed by Ashley Boyd.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    “New public opinion data suggest that despite significant concerns about prices, most Americans (and many Republicans) believe a postsecondary education is essential,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Higher Ed Inflation Hits Highest Level Since 2008.”

    America’s teachers don’t move out of state much. That could be bad for students,” writes Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum.

    “Looking for SEL programs? New RAND report has answers,” says Education Dive. The report: “Social and Emotional Learning Interventions Under the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “40 Most Popular Ed-Tech Tools in K–12 Identified in New Analysis.”

    Via Futurism: “Global E-Waste Increased by Eight Percent since 2014.”

    Via The 74: “Middle Schoolers Without Broadband Access Feel Set Up for Failure, New Survey Finds.” The survey comes from the Verizon Foundation, so that’s just rich.

    Recent Genius grant recipient Nikole Hannah-Jones and The Atlantic’’s Jeffrey Goldberg talk about segregation, schooling, and the hypocrisy of “progressive” white people.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    This is part seven of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories

    It was one of the most frequently repeated stories of the year – a story that has, if we’re being honest, been repeated for decades now: college students, particularly left-leaning college students, are intolerant. The rise of “identity politics” on the left has created a moral panic of sorts on college campuses, or so we’re told, in which intellectually and politically conformist“social justice warriors” shout and stomp about and refuse to engage with ideas that might upset them, refuse to engage with “reason.” Political correctness and postmodernism have become twin threats – a “left-wing authoritarianism” – poised to dismantle the great tradition of liberalism once exemplified by the liberal arts college.

    As such, universities helped create Trumpism. I mean, it’s on the cover of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It must be true.

    If it sounds like a caricature… well, it is. If nothing else, pundits and politicians seem to forget that the majority of college students do not attend private institutions like Columbia or Middlebury or even elite publics like Berkeley or Madison. 40% of those in higher education attend community colleges. Two out of every three community college students experiences food insecurity; about half of community college students are housing insecure. About a quarter of all college students in the US are 25 or older. About the same percentage are single parents. 40% of undergraduate students work 30 hours a week or more. Almost three-quarters graduate with student loan debt– debt that they may well carry into retirement. The idea that college students are sheltered and pampered isn’t just wrong; it’s insulting.

    But that’s the story that’s gets told. Again and again and again.

    There was, no doubt, plenty of shouting and protesting on college campuses this year, as in the past. Protests at Evergreen College in Washington, for example. Protests at Reed College in Oregon. Protests at the University of Oregon. Protests when anti-feminist author Christina Hoff Sommers spoke at Williams College. Protests when Betsy DeVos spoke at Bethune-Cookman and when she spoke at Harvard. Protests when “pharma-bro” Martin Shkreli spoke at Harvard. Protests when Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement address at Notre Dame. Protests when social pseudoscientist Charles Murray spoke at Middlebury College.

    There were others certainly, but it was the Murray incident at Middlebury in March that seemed to set the tone for the year. (In hindsight, that should be totally unsurprising.)

    Murray had been invited to campus by a conservative student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank where Murray is a fellow. Middlebury’s political science department agreed to co-sponsor the event – a decision for which its chair later apologized. The day before the scheduled lecture, hundreds of alumni and students condemned the visit, calling it“a decision that directly endangers members of the community and stains Middlebury’s reputation by jeopardizing the institution’s claims to intellectual rigor and compassionate inclusivity.” At the event itself, some students turned their backs to Murray, and some chanted loud enough to drown out his speech. After about 20 minutes, school administrators announced that the talk would be moved to an undisclosed location where a discussion between Murray and a faculty member, Allison Stanger, would be live-streamed. According to reports, as Murray and Professor Stanger exited the building, they were surrounded by protestors, some of whom allegedly attacked the pair and the car they were attempting to leave in.

    The story was in The New York Times the next day: “Protesters Disrupt Speech by ‘Bell Curve’ Author at Vermont College.” The Wall Street Journal, where Murray has been a frequent contributor, weighed in with an op-ed condemning Middlebury students the day after: “A mob tries to silence Charles Murray and sends a prof to the ER.” Murray penned a piece for the AEI website: “Reflections on the revolution in Middlebury.”

    “Mob.” “Revolution.” Attempts to “silence.”

    Over sixty students were disciplined by Middlebury, with penalties “ranging from probation to official college discipline, which places a permanent record in the student’s file.” It’s not clear, however, that those involved in the physical confrontation of Murray were actually Middlebury students.

    But the plot and the characters for the story were set: college students are not willing to listen to opposing voices or differing opinions. College students do not support free speech. (In this story, I’ll note, students’ speech rights as protestors don’t seem to count.)

    White Nationalism on Campus

    Charles Murray is, of course, most famous for his book The Bell Curve which argues that the IQs of African-Americans are lower than those of white Americans and that this, specifically, is a genetic and therefore inheritable difference. These are hardly unassailable or even scholarly claims – Murray’s work has been challenged by other researchers for decades, and Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, perhaps most famously, dismantles Murray’s arguments for eugenics and biological determinism.

    Whatever “the science” says or doesn’t say, it is an incredible stretch to suggest that students at Middlebury – or anywhere really – need to be exposed to arguments about the superiority of white people. Again, who do we assume “college students” are?

    It’s probably one of the major weaknesses of almost all the punditry you’ll find about campus “intolerance”: the handwringing about “free speech” tends to overlook the very real prejudices – in speech and in action – that students experience, on and off campus. And in 2017, under President Trump, things have (arguably) taken a turn for the worse. Taken a turn for the worse, to be clear, at institutions that already have a long history of structural biases built in to them – many institutions literally built by slaves. There are Confederate monuments on campuses. Schools named after Confederate leaders. Confederate flags displayed in classrooms. Nooses left in public places. Anti-Semitic fliers on campus. Bomb threats. Schools defaced with Swastikas. White supremacists recruiting on campus. Violent, racially motivated assaults. Racist roommates. Racist professors. Racist teachers. Racist principals. Racist school board members. Racist textbooks. Racist assignments. Murders of college students at the hands of white supremacists. White supremacists, carrying torches, marching around the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia.

    It’s impossible to watch that video and argue that the greatest threat to “free speech” today involves political correctness on campus. Or so you’d think. It’s impossible to look at the statistics about hate crimes and bias incidents across K–12 and higher education in 2017 and argue that students aren’t simply getting enough exposure to ideas like Charles Murray’s. Or so you’d think.

    Universities have been lambasted for curbing free speech, all while hosting a number of high profile members of white nationalist and alt-right movements on campus. Richard Spencer, Ann Coulter,Milo Yiannopooulos, perhaps most notably. The latter has toured the US, trolling colleges and daring them to cancel his appearances. (Doing so fits quite neatly with the narrative that colleges are opposed to the free expression of ideas.) And some school have canceled, citing threats of violence and the high cost of security. UC Berkeley, The New York Times reported, spent $1.5 million between February and September to provide security for conservative speakers invited to campus.

    The security is necessary. A white nationalist allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters the day after the Unite the Right rally at UVA, killing a young woman. A member of the IWW was shot by a supporter of Milo Yiannopoulos at a protest outside his speech at the University of Washington. Three supporters of Richard Spencer shot at protesters outside his speech at the University of Florida.

    But the story persists: college students are the real threat.

    Legislative Threats to Free Speech

    In response to campus protests – or so we’re told – state legislatures around the country have proposed (and in some cases passed) bills that purport to protect free speech on campus while cracking down on students’ abilities to protest: a proposed bill in California, for example, that would prevent speakers from being disinvited and would remove existing free-speech codes on campus. A bill in Colorado, signed into law, that would ban “free speech zones” on campuses in the state. A proposed bill in Florida that would ban any student or faculty member from disrupting a campus event. A proposed bill in Illinois that would require public universities to suspend or expel students who infringe on the “expressive rights” of others. A proposed bill in Louisiana that would require freshman orientation to focus on free speech issues. As with the Illinois bill, Louisiana students who violate free speech policies twice would be expelled or suspended. A bill in North Carolina that would bar conduct that “substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution” or “substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others.” A bill in Oregon that would require students be expelled if convicted of rioting. A bill in Texas that would bar free speech zones on campuses. A bill signed into law in Utah that defined free speech policies for campuses, adding that those who violate these can face legal action. A bill signed into law in Virginia that says “No public institution of higher education shall abridge the constitutional freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty, and other employees and invited guests to speak on campus.” A proposed bill in Wisconsin that would require freshman orientation to address free speech issues, would prohibit students from interfering with the free speech rights of others, and would require institutions remain “neutral” on political issues.

    That last element of the Wisconsin legislation underscores how these bills aren’t so so much about protecting speech but about curbing speech and curbing academic freedom. (This all happened alongside proposals in several states this year seeking to end faculty tenure– in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.) Lawmakers in Tennessee sought to create an office to monitor“intellectual diversity” at the universities in the state. A bill in Iowa proposed requiring “partisan balance” in any hiring on the state’s campuses – a department would be prevented from hiring if that person’s political party affiliation shifted the “balance” of the department as a whole. A bill in Arizona proposed banning any classes or activities that addressed social justice or racial equality. The governor of Florida signed a bill that would allow any resident to challenge a school textbook or other classroom material.

    For its part, the Justice Department indicated that it would investigate what it deemed to be free speech violations on campuses – at Pierce College, for example, and at Georgia Gwinnett College. “Freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a crowd at the Georgetown University Law Center in September. “The American university was once the center of academic freedom – a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas. But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.” Sessions compared student protestors to the KKK – both wear masks, he ever so astutely observed. Sessions also expressed support for President Trump’s condemnation of NFL players who “took a knee” during the National Anthem. “The president has free speech rights too,” Sessions explained. All this, let’s not forget from a Justice Department that prosecuted a woman for giggling during the Attorney General’s confirmation hearing.

    It’s almost as though some people do not understand the US Constitution at all…

    Dark Money on Campus

    There’s a reason why so many state politicians were prepared with legislation to tackle the campus free speech issue this year. They were drawing on a proposal crafted by the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based libertarian think tank. The Institute released the text of its proposed legislation on January 30 (over a month before the Charles Murray incident at Middlebury College and just a day before violence at UC Berkeley prompted the school to cancel a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos). The institute’s language served as the basis for the bills in almost all the states where free speech measures were proposed this year.

    The Goldwater Institute has ties to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a well-known right wing “bill mill” that writes conservative legislation at the state and local level. (For its part, ALEC’s legislative advocacy focuses on three “free speech” areas: campus speech, the privacy of donors to campaigns and 501(c)(3)s, and commercial speech.) The Goldwater Institute is also backed by the Koch Brothers, the libertarian mega-donors who were one of the key figures in Jane Meyer’s 2016 book Dark Money.

    The campus free speech controversy is all about dark money. And so too, quite likely, is the future of academic freedom.

    While inviting controversial speakers to speak at colleges was often positioned as satiating a demand by campus conservatives for more intellectual diversity, all this was much less a grassroots campaign among local college students than it was the work of a handful of well-funded, national groups backed by the Koch Brothers and other right-wing billionaires – billionaires who seek to further a certain narrative about higher education and shape the discourse and the scholarship that occurs at universities.

    The New York Times profiled one of these, the Young America’s Foundation, in May. The group has sponsored and organized campus talks by Richard Spencer, Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro and others:

    The speeches are a part of the group’s mission of grooming future conservative leaders – Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller, a White House adviser, are among its alumni – and its long list of donors has included the television game show host Pat Sajak, the novelist Tom Clancy, the billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch, and the Amway billionaires Richard and Helen Devos, who gave $10 million to endow the Reagan Ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., which the foundation runs as a preserve. (Their daughter-in-law, Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, is not a donor, the group says.)

    Over the past two years, armed with a $16 million infusion from the estate of an orthodontist in California, Robert Ruhe, the organization has doubled its programming, including campus speeches. In 2016 that meant 111 speakers on 77 campuses. On the group’s website, it boasted of “dispatching” 31 speakers to colleges last month alone.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled Turning Point USA in May, a conservative student group that created a “Professors Watch List” to identify and monitor faculty members who it believes have a “radical agenda.” The group, which is also active in supporting conservative candidates for student government, is funded by the Ed Uihlein Foundation, the family foundation of Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, the family foundation of healthcare products company CEO Vince Foglia, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ foundation, and the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, among others. (Gee, that last name seems familiar.)

    In March, MuckRock broke the story that Milo Yiannopoulos’s college speaking tour was being bankrolled by Robert Mercer, the secretive hedge fund billionaire behind Trump’s run for President. Mercer backs a network of conservative enterprises – enterprises at the heart of right-wing mis- and disinformation campaigns. Buzzfeed reported this fall, for example, that Mercer funded Project Veritas, the discredited activist media organization run by James O’Keefe. Mercer is also an investor in Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that worked for the Trump campaign, as well as an investor in Breitbart News, the right-wing news site that once employed Yiannopoulos and that was run by Steve Bannon before he became Trump’s campaign manager.

    Mercer announced this fall that he was retiring and selling his stake in Breitbart– selling it to his daughters, that is. In that announcement, he expressed regret for funding Yiannopoulos’s work: “In my opinion, actions of and statements by Mr. Yiannopoulos have caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate.” The statement of contrition came on the heels of a lengthy investigation by Buzzfeed into Breitbart’s ties to white supremacists – including an article that showed Yiannopoulos singing “America the Beautiful” as a crowd full of white men, including Richard Spencer, raised their arms in Nazi salutes.

    Some people are just sorry they got caught.

    Dark Money and Academic Freedom

    This summer, John Villasenor, a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, received funding from the Koch Foundation to survey students about their thoughts on free speech. Among his findings: 20% of undergraduates believe in using violence to silence someone who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.” There was no peer review of the study; he simply posted it to his website. And yet somehow – somehow! – almost every media organization picked up the story. It made for great headlines, after all. It fit the narrative about illiberal college students perfectly. But the science – the sampling, the polling – was “junk.”

    Good science doesn’t matter to the Koch’s. They’re interested in specific outcomes, specific ideas, specific stories. They’ve been the major backers of climate science denial campaigns, backing one non-peer-reviewed study, for instance, that claimed polar bears are not endangered by climate change. Many of these disinformation campaigns have been orchestrated through the Koch’s financial support of right-wing think tanks, but they have also used their sizable donations to influence what happens at universities.

    As Meyer chronicles in Dark Money, the Koch Brothers have sought to establish a beachhead in higher education to expand their libertarian, “free market” ideas. According to IB Times, Charles Koch gave $50 million to higher education institutions in 2016 to fund projects like the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina and the John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at the University of Kentucky, as well as several different institutes at George Mason University. Quite often, the money that the Koch Brothers donate to schools comes with explicit ideological strings attached: giving the billionaires oversight over who is hired, for example, over what gets taught, over what gets researched and what the outcomes of that research will be.

    (The Koch Brothers are just one example of how industry tries to shape the curriculum, particularly when it comes to climate science, environmental science more broadly, and computer science. More on the latter in an upcoming article in this series. But if I were to recommend one area to pay attention to in the coming months and years – me, ed-tech’s Cassandra – it is “the curriculum.” It is, after all, what the Gates Foundation says it plans to focus its future funding efforts on. It’s what education reformers and education technology investors alike have expressed interest in lately. Prepare yourself for morecanonwars.” Prepare yourself for the billionaires behind the alt-right and the billionaires in Silicon Valley – Randians alike– to try very hard to shape what that curriculum consists of.)

    What happened to Jane Meyer when she wrote about the Koch Brothers in Dark Moneyis quite instructive here, particularly if we scrutinize how and when “free speech” gets invoked and the tactics that are used to make sure some speech will not be uttered. The Kochs hired investigators to probe Mayer’s background and her friends’ backgrounds. They contacted her employer, The New Yorker, and claimed that much of her writing was plagiarized. They attempted to organize a smear campaign to delegitimize her and her work. It’s akin to Peter Thiel’s tactics when Gawker wrote something about him that he did not like: sue the organization into oblivion, destroy journalism.

    First Amendment and “free speech” be damned.

    Social Media and Weaponized Data

    Indeed, there should be a giant asterisk next to the “free speech” that many politicians and pundits have fretted about this year. They’ve expressed little to no concern, for example, over Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, who after calling President Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac” has been forced to cancel her public talks because of death threats. Little concern over threats made to Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams over statements he made on social media about Republican Congressperson Steven Scalise. Little concern when a school canceled a speaking engagement by activist Bree Newsome, the woman who pulled the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina state house in 2015. Little concern when Essex County College in New Jersey fired adjunct faculty member Lisa Durden after she appeared on FOX to defend a Black Lives Matter event that was open to Blacks only. Little concern when Drexel University placed political science professor George Ciccariello-Maher on leave after statements he made on social media about race. Little concern when the National Parks Service yanked funding for UC Berkeley professor’s documentary on the Black Panther Party. Little concern when Harvard rescinded a fellowship offer to Chelsea Manning or grad school admission to Michelle Jones. Little concern when the the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors voted to bar litigation by the UNC Chapel Hill School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights.

    Some of the loudest advocates of “free speech” seem less interested in defending principles than in defending prejudice. And unfortunately, many colleges seem unwilling or unable to defend the speech of faculty – particularly of faculty of color.

    As sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom has pointed out, many colleges are utterly unprepared for the onslaught that occurs when “culture wars go digital” and when a faculty member’s remarks – on- or offline – go viral. The conservative and alt-right media – the Breitbarts and the Campus Reforms– know this. They’re better at this – at manufacturing a PR crisis for schools. They have formed, as The Chronicle of Higher Education describes it, “an assembly line of outrage that collects professors’ Facebook posts, opinion essays, and classroom comments and amplifies them until they have become national news.”

    Facilitated by education technologies and technology platforms, education’s online futures – a topic I explored in the previous article in this series– will likely be increasingly intertwined with this assembly line as student speech/data and teacher speech/scholarship/data alike are now so easily trackable, sharable, exploitable. Education technology is also utterly unprepared.

    No-Platforming in a Platform Economy

    I haven’t made the connection to education technology explicit in this article, but I hope – particularly with what I’ve said about “fake news,” “the innovation gospel,” the Trump administration and its connections to white nationalism, the billionaire Betsy DeVos’ holy war on education, the platform economy, the privatization of education, surveillance technologies on campus, algorithmic discrimination, and the weaponization of education data– that one might see how the future of scholarship and academic freedom might be at risk, how a push for more and more education technology exposes “what we know” and “what we say” (in the classroom and beyond) to the politics of industry, the politics of billionaires, and a certain libertarian ideology that talks a lot about “openness” and “meritocracy” but in practice privileges extraction and exclusion.

    Silicon Valley famously loves “free speech,” of course, although 2017 has been something of a reckoning for the high tech industry as to what in fact that love might mean, who it might actually protect. Twitter and Facebook are clearly vehicles for the alt-right and vectors for the spread – manually and algorithmically– of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech. Hate is networked; hate is emboldened; hate is entrenched online.

    In May, ProPublica profiled the content delivery network Cloudflare and the protection it offers the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer: “How One Major Internet Company Helps Serve Up Hate on the Web.” Cloudflare has long been criticized for providing services for The Daily Stormer, but its CEO Matthew Prince has insisted that “a website is speech. It is not a bomb.”

    The white supremacist Unite the Right rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer and the murder of Heather Heyer were a wake-up call, of sorts, for many tech companies that had, up until then, shared Prince’s sentiment – it’s just speech– and had accepted white supremacist and white nationalist clientele. On the Monday following the weekend rally, GoDaddy booted The Daily Stormer from its hosting service. When the site tried to move to Google, Google refused, shutting down The Daily Stormer YouTube channel in the process. Email service Sendgrid and the productivity suite Zoho announced they were terminating their services to the site. Reddit announced it would ban some subreddits associated with the extreme right. Facebook banned eight alt-right groups and removed the Unite the Right’s event page. Spotify removed a bunch of white supremacist artists from its platform. The messaging service Twilio announced that it would add “an explicit prohibition of hate speech” to its Acceptable Use Policy. Apple and PayPal stopped accepting payments on some websites that were selling neo-Nazi apparel. And on the Wednesday of that week, Cloudflare finally pulled the plug on The Daily Stormer, terminating its account.

    Prince, Cloudflare’s CEO, sent an email to employees, stating,

    Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision. It was different than what I’d talked talked with our senior team about yesterday. I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. I called our legal team and told them what we were going to do. I called our Trust & Safety team and had them stop the service. It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company.

    Having made that decision we now need to talk about why it is so dangerous. I’ll be posting something on our blog later today. Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.

    Perhaps no one should, but they do. And these companies have the power to decide “who’s allowed on the Internet” not just by banning sites like The Daily Stormer but by not banning them as well. Because then it’s Jewish people, people of color, white women, queer folks, trans folks, immigrants, and others who struggle to exist online. The alt-right and white supremacists are doing their damnedest to make sure many of us are not welcome online.

    That’s what many of these campus “free speech” stunts are too: making sure these people are not welcome in academia either.

    UC Berkeley comparative literature professor Judith Butler recently gave a talk at a forum sponsored by the university’s faculty senate on the limits of free expression. I apologize for quoting at length:

    The “Principles of Community” adopted by the University of California at Berkeley include, as you know, a commitment to “sustaining a safe, caring and human environment,” an affirmation of the link between diversity and excellence, and the dignity of all individuals. So what happens when by honoring freedom of expression we permit an attack on the dignity of some individuals and groups on campus? It would seem that if we place the First Amendment above all other constitutional mandates, then it is merely considered unfortunate that the dignity of those individuals was attacked, and it is accepted to be the price we must pay for free speech. And if forms of harassment occur that would be disciplined were they to happen in the classroom or between any two members of the UC Berkeley community, and they are not disciplined or proscribed because, as public speech, they are protected by the First Amendment, how then are we to understand the difference between the norms that govern members of the community and those that are binding on individuals invited to speak to that community? We move from one framework of legality to another, and the effect on the mind is shocking and disconcerting. And it is not just that local norms and rules clash with constitutional ones, since equal treatment is a constitutional protection as well. The “clash” between these two principles can only take place if we consider harassment and incitement to be protected speech, which, I believe, they should not be. But much depends on the terms we bring to bear on identifying expressive activity and its limits.

    If the commitment to free speech provisions under the First Amendment takes precedence over Title IX, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Berkeley Principles of Community, then I suppose we are being asked to understand that we will, in the name of freedom of speech, willingly allow our environment to be suffused with hatred, threats, and violence, that we will see the values we teach and to which we adhere destroyed by our commitment to free speech or, rather, to a very specific – possibly overbroad – interpretation of what constitutes expressive activity protected by that constitutional principle. Of course, if we admit that free speech is one founding principle, and that there are other founding principles as well, or those that have become historically clear to us as slavery was abolished and discrimination outlawed, we are then obligated to engage in the practice of judgment that allows us to sort these conflicting and imperative demands.

    Indeed, in a world of changing technology where incitement and harassment take on new forms, we are faced with hard cases, real dilemmas, the need for concrete interpretation of cases and outcomes, and informed judgments. If we are free speech absolutists, then free speech not only takes precedence over every other constitutional principle, and some argue that every other constitutional principle will be regarded as structurally dependent on the First Amendment. That is one view – a kind of domino theory – but surely not the only one. If free speech is not the only constitutional right we are obligated to defend, then we are surely in another sort of quandary, figuring out how best to defend rights that sometimes do clash with one another, and where the clash takes new forms in different moments of history when new expressive technologies force us to reconsider the meaning of expressive freedom. If free speech does take precedence over every other constitutional principle and every other community principle, then perhaps we should no longer claim to be weighing or balancing competing principles or values. We should perhaps frankly admit that we have agreed in advance to have our community sundered, racial and sexual minorities demeaned, the dignity of trans people denied, that we are, in effect, willing to be wrecked by this principle of free speech, considered more important than any other value. If so, we should be honest about the bargain we have made: we are willing to be broken by that principle, and that, yes, our commitments to dignity, equality, and non-violence will be, for better or worse, secondary. Is that how we want it to be? Is that how we must be?

    Proponents of education technology would also do well to be much more honest about this bargain. It simply isn’t the case that the “new expressive technologies” of the classroom make education “more equitable, more just.” Without a better ethical framework for ed-tech, it will continue to further the agenda of its wealthy donors and investors. That is, after all, who seems to be winning all these “free speech” fights.

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    This is part eight of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories

    In previous years, I’ve looked at how education technology is intertwined with narratives about “skills,” “competencies,” and “credentialing.” I’ve looked at how for-profit colleges, MOOCs, and learn-to-code companies have tapped into these narratives in order to justify their products and services. These have all been separate articles in each series. But this year, I’m reorganizing my analysis of these “trends,” partly because I think they can all be subsumed under the larger theme of “the new economy.” (And partly because I really cannot or should not write more than ten of these things every year – and this year I think I’m somehow poised to write eleven, goddammit.)

    What are the dominant stories we’re being told about the economy – about our role, now and in the future, as workers? What are the dominant stories we’re being told about the role of education in preparing workers for this future economy?

    The importance of thinking about education through the lens of “the new economy” was best demonstrated this year by Tressie McMillan Cottom in her book on for-profit education, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy. Don’t get distracted by just by the “for-profit colleges” part of that title, I’d caution. “Lower ed” is far more pervasive.

    Among McMillan Cottom’s many contributions to education scholarship, she complicates the stereotype that those who attend for-profit colleges – and those are disproportionately low-income women and women of color – are somehow “dupes.” Rather, McMillan Cottom argues these students are making rational decisions in a world of growing economic precarity and shrinking social programs. In the hopes of not being (further) left behind in the labor market, these students are compelled to engage in this risky credentialism. “The new economy” insists we hustle. And that’s the future – that hustle – for more and more students and more and more workers.

    Watch Tressie McMillan Cottom on The Daily Show. Listen to her on NPR’s Fresh Air. Read The New York Times review of her book. Don’t mess with her on Twitter.

    I’ve already made references to for-profit higher education in the second and third articles in this year-end series – on the “innovation gospel” and on the business of student loans. I’ve also written a separate article listing some of the various events that happened in the for-profit college industry this year – closures, lawsuits, sales, and the like. I want to focus here, in this article, on the hustle, on the stories we were told this year about “the new economy,” and I want to explore how “risky credentialism” affects students and workers broadly – “lower ed,” as McMillan Cottom has dubbed it.

    You’ll notice, however, that this article is not titled “Education Technology and the New Economy.” That’s because the stories told this year to keep us hustling and to keep up imagining a certain kind of future are almost all about robots.

    Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again we were told “robots are coming for your jobs.” And so, we must “automation-proofschools in response. We must encourage people to pursue “robot resistant” majors in college. We must prepare preschoolers for an automated future. Something about education needing to be reshaped in order to combat “jobsolescence” – I kid you not, someone said that.

    The threat of robots might come less from their purported “artificial intelligence” – although there was a steady drumbeat of stories this year touting their magnificentmentalcapabilities– than from the story that posits human intelligence is faltering. Humans can no longer keep up; they are no longer desirable or capable employees (if indeed they ever were). Robots are much more ideal as workers, because of course they cannot unionize. They don’t ask for health insurance benefits or sick leave or 401K contributions. Employers, so we’re told, are simply unable to find workers with the right skills. Humans have fallen behind.

    “The Skills Gap”

    Despite the overwhelming evidence that there is no “skills gap,”– particularly a “high tech skills gap” – it’s a convenient and popular story told by employers, entrepreneurs, investors, pundits, and politicians alike – particularly those who’d like to blame schools for failing to teach students the right “skills.”

    “The right skills,” of course, are the skills that employers expect potential employees to possess, largely eschewing training themselves and instead offloading the risk and responsibility of training onto individuals. Demanding that schools teach “the right skills” is also one of many examples of an ongoing “innovation” fixation, of how industry is pressing the education system to bend to its needs.

    Arguably, there is no better example of this than the ongoing push that “everyone should learn to code,” led at the K–12 level by the industry-backed advocacy organization As The New York Times’ Natasha Singer described the work of the non-profit in June: has emerged as a new prototype for Silicon Valley education reform: a social-media-savvy entity that pushes for education policy changes, develops curriculums, offers online coding lessons and trains teachers – touching nearly every facet of the education supply chain. is backed by a long list of technology companies – from AT&T to Amazon to Facebook to Google to Verizon. (I’ll look in more detail at how robots are coming for your children in the next article in this series.)

    And well beyond the industry’s backing of, venture capital has continued to flow into “learn-to-code” businesses in 2017, alongside a number of corporate grants (and corporate PR efforts that have sought to encourage the adoption of coding curriculum. (For a complete look at who funded learn-to-code companies this year, visit

    Bootcamp or Bust

    Coding bootcamps also continued to be popular among tech investors. In previous years, these were also popular acquisition targets, but 2017 saw several of these high-profile acquisitions falter under new corporate leadership.

    Their stumbles certainly weren’t from a lack of positive PR from trade publications, which repeatedly touted the benefits of these short-term technical programs: “Learn to code, get a job – and get paid well,” as Edsurge put it. “A guaranteed jobor your money back!” “No teachers!” “Sweet digs!”

    In July, two of the most well-known (and some believed, well-established) coding bootcamps announced they’d be closing their doors: Dev Bootcamp and Iron Yard. Both had been acquired by for-profit college companies, a convenient target – no surprise – for entrepreneurial blame at the bootcamps’ failures: Dev Bootcamp was bought in 2014 by Kaplan Inc and Iron Yard was acquired in 2015 by the Apollo Education Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix.

    In some ways, the explanation for the closure was quite simple: there are now far more coding bootcamps – almost 100 across the US and Canada– than there are prospective students. But there have been some indications too that many employers find bootcamp graduates to be unprepared for technical work. Or rather (and this is really key) employers don’t interpret the bootcamp certificate as a good “signal” – and that is the “lower ed” gamble all along. (On average, a bootcamp runs about $11,000 for a 12-week course.) As Tressie McMillan Cottom puts it, “Boot camps are a tax paid by suitably credentialed workers who do not have enough capital (economic, social, or cultural) to enter a high status field of work in which some job is undergoing an actual or projected short-term demand bubble.”

    In October, the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a $375,000 settlement with the coding bootcamp Flatiron School “for operating without a license and making bogus claims about the success of its graduates.” One week later, Flatiron School was acquired by WeWork, a company that runs co-working spaces, meet-ups, and now a private K–12 school to teach entrepreneurship– “the new economy” indeed.

    The charges of providing misleading information about graduates echo those commonly made against other for-profit colleges – charges that prompted bootcamps (or more accurately a loan provider for bootcamps) this year to start reporting job placement statistics, and charges that, in previous years, had led to the Obama administration’s creation of the “gainful employment rules.” Those rules, aimed at career-colleges and career-oriented programs, had been challenged by for-profits in the courts for years; and in January, the Department of Education finally released the names of some 800 programs which failed to meet the accountability standards – that is, they’d failed “by having graduates with annual loan payments that exceeded 12 percent of their total earnings or 30 percent of their discretionary income.” But as many feared, the Trump administration announced in March that it would delay implementing the rules or imposing any sanctions against the programs that were in violation. In June Secretary DeVos said she would pause the “burdensome” rules until they could be “re-negotiated.”

    As The New York Times put it in February, “For-Profit Schools, an Obama Target, See New Day Under Trump.” Clearly there’s very little oversight or accountability for these programs at the federal level. And even though a couple of coding bootcamps have stumbled this year, it’s not clear that the hype or the funding will dry up. There are other markets to pursue, after all – markets in Mexico, Gaza, Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria, for example. The prison market.

    “The new economy.”

    The New Vocationalism

    Stanford University professor Larry Cuban published a three article series this year on “Coding as the New Vocationalism” – parts 1, 2, and 3– which provides important historical context to the latest Silicon Valley push for computer science education. (Disclosure: there’s a photo of my brother and me using Logo in part 2.) Career and technical education is hardly new – this year marks the centennial of the Smith Hughes Act, which first promoted and funded vocational education in agriculture, trades, industry, and homemaking. Although lauded by many industry groups today – often framed as a lamentation over the loss of the shop class as public schools have reduced their vocational offerings – the history of vocational education is fraught with racism, sexism, classism, and xenophobia, where “certain students” were tracked into vocational training and “certain students” were given more academic opportunities. “Tracking” – an educational practice that re-inscribed social inequalities.

    But renewed vocational training (or career and technical education or CTE) has found support not just from Silicon Valley technology companies but from the Trump administration. Trump has earmarked more money for apprenticeships, for example. (He even praised Germany– Germany! – for its apprenticeship model.) Others in the administration and in the Republican party have echoed his call for more career-oriented education and less focus on college attainment. “We need to stop forcing kids into believing a traditional four-year degree is the only pathway to success,” Secretary of Education DeVos recently asserted.

    All this makes for (yet more) business opportunities.

    The Business of Credentialing

    In the last few years, as part of this series, I’ve chronicled Silicon Valley’s push for new credential and certificate products – “Competencies and Certificates” in 2014; “Credits and Credentialing” in 2015; “Credentialing” in 2016. These products – badges, microcredentials, micromasters, nanodegrees, and the like – have been packaged alongside (and by) MOOCs, coding bootcamps, and other popular ed-tech trends. Funny, for all the talk of “unbundling education” among investors and education reformers, they’re more than happy to sell you new bundles of products and services they support.

    It’s been an effort to create a new credentialing ecosystem of sorts, one that includes but extends beyond traditional higher ed (for-profit and not-for-profit). But it’s still one that, to borrow from Tressie McMillan Cottom yet again, constitutes “lower ed.” As she argues in her book, “new institutions and new credentials are by definition lacking in prestige, the kind of prestige that lower-status workers and students need for their credential to combat discrimination in the labor market.”

    Nevertheless, the promise of many of these certification programs – from for-profit colleges to coding bootcamps to MOOCs – is that they are viable alternatives to “the traditional four year degree.” “You Can Get a Good Job Without a Bachelor’s Degree,” an op-ed in Bloomberg recently asserted. “More Americans just need the right training.” Implied even in this headline: a high school diploma is no longer sufficient. Indeed, the job prospects for those with just a high school diploma but no additional schooling are pretty dismal, even for positions that once did not demand any sort of post-secondary education.

    Silicon Valley entrepreneurs still like to trot out the argument that “Your College Degree is Worthless,” but that’s bullshit – and peak hypocrisy as many of these men (they’re always men. weird that, eh?) already have college degrees. So when you hear marketing claims like “MissionU Says It Can Replace Traditional College With a One-Year Program,” ask about the type of person that can eschew traditional credentialing and rely on simply networking with famous employers and entrepreneurs or “independent study” in order to “make it.”

    More likely in “the new economy,” a college degree is not enough, and thus we see the scramble for workers to attain even more credentialing in order to remain economically competitive – that’s that “tax paid by suitably credentialed workers who do not have enough capital (economic, social, or cultural) to enter a high status field of work” as McMillan Cottom has described it.

    Some of what we saw this year was an attempt to rebrand occupational licensing with the terminology used by Silicon Valley – “microcredentialing.” Microcredentials for teachers. Microcredentials for police. Neither of these two efforts occur in a vacuum, of course, as pressures for “alternative certification” have long been wrapped up in reform efforts that reshape who has control, institutional or otherwise, in determining who has the right qualifications and right “skills” for a particular (public) profession. Credentialing still functions as a type of gatekeeping, even if you add the “micro” prefix to make it look smaller and less gate-like.

    If degrees don’t matter – I mean, they do, but let’s do some Silicon Valley-style pretending here – then how can you tell if someone has the right qualifications and the right “skills”? There are, no surprise, a number of startups that purport to help you with that. (For a fee.) But the language of “skills versus credits” is also one found in other education reform efforts, notably those associated with “competency-based education,” “mastery-based learning,” and the like. (I touched on this topic briefly in a previous article on online education.)

    Earlier this year, a consortium of elite private high schools formed the Mastery Transcript Consortium in order to replace the traditional transcript with a document that “would not include courses or grades, but levels of proficiency in various areas.” The effort, which the organization said it hoped would “transform college admissions,” is meant to help shift the way in which students are evaluated but also, according to the organization, the way in which they are taught. But with participation from The Dalton School, Phillips Exeter Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, Catlin Gable School, and the like, one has to wonder how we can expect the most prestigious private schools in the US to lead a charge that would reform schools (and college admissions) to be more equitable. What sort of credentialism best serves the students at the country’s most elite schools, and will that ever serve the majority of public school students?

    In a prestige-based system, let’s be honest, students from these schools are admitted into colleges and universities based not merely on “skills” or “grades” but on the signals of affluence and attainment that the K–12 school they attended symbolizes. There’s a certain level of trust and expectation that’s automatically granted to them. (That’s what the networks of power and wealth – and whiteness – get you.)

    It’s crucial to look at all the stories we’re told about credentialing side-by-side: you need a degree; you don’t need a degree; we need to change how grading works to be more equitable; and, of course, one of the most popular tales, we need to change how the process works because students and employees cannot be trusted.

    That’s the argument, at least, for a move to put transcripts and degrees on the blockchain. Students cheat. Job applicants lie. “In the Era of Microcredentials,” says Edsurge, “Institutions Look to Blockchain to Verify Learning.” Now the blockchain does not actually verify learning. It just presumably means that the information about what they’ve done is stored in a record that hasn’t been altered. If you believe the blockchain evangelists, this “crypto accreditation” will mean no fake PhDs. (Looking at you, Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Trump.) No taking a four-week course and passing it off as an Ivy League degree. (Looking at you, Joseph Otting, Trump’s nominee for the US Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.) No telling people that your on-the-job training at Sizzler is a business degree. (Well, it was BS, Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren.) Even in the face of these notable Republicans’ distortions this year, one should probably ask how necessary it is to throw the computational (and electrical) power of the blockchain at this “problem” – particularly with the blockchain’s history of fraud and fascism.

    Malta thinks it’s necessary, I guess. It became the first country to explore issuing educational certificates via the blockchain. MIT will issue digital diplomas on the blockchain. Sony’s in the business. And Northeastern has teamed up with IBM to put digital badges on the blockchain.

    In other badging news, Salesforce received a patent for badges. Pearson filed a patent for badges. Folks still insist that badges are “gaining traction.” Of course, we’d expect as much in a world of economic precarity where workers need to be able to display as much flair on their employee uniforms as possible.

    The Business of Hiring

    It was notable that when the venture capital firm GSV issued its latest report on investment opportunities in education this spring, that it discussed both “learning” and “talent” technology. If you can’t find success in training workers, try to find success in being the arbiter of who gets hired, I guess.

    This is hardly a new market for investors, but it’s a reliable one – as the GSV report says, “We believe we are now in a new wave of creation and consolidation in enterprise/professional learning and talent sector.” More details about venture capitalists’ activity in this sector this year in the supplement to this article here: “Who’s Investing in Job Recruitment and Job Placement Startups (in 2017?” A sample of headlines from trade publications underscores the kinds of features that might make these companies appealing to investors: “Headstart wants to better analyze candidates to fit them with the best jobs”; “Swedish Startup Hopes to Replace Resumes With ‘Gamified’ Job Matching System”; “​The Cost of Cutting in Line: Students Can Now Buy Their Way to a Job Interview.” As venture capitalist Tom Vander Ark wrote in Education Week in July, “Chalk up the sector disruption to better software-as-a-service platforms, cheaper cloud-computing services and the rise of artificial intelligence across all HR functions.” Vander Ark interviewed GSV’s Michael Moe in September where they contended, among other things, that artificial intelligence in hiring would eliminate bias– claim that surely flies in the face of all the evidence that algorithms can be incredibly racist, replicating the prejudices of their designers and the inequalities of existing systems.

    (A story from August: “New app scans your face and tells companies whether you’re worth hiring.” The company in question is HireVue. Its customers include plenty of universities and school districts – BYU and Atlanta Public Schools, for example.)

    Robots might not take your job. But they might decide whether or not you get hired in the first place. “Robots” – not bosses. It’s never the bosses’ fault, is it.

    Training Ed-Tech

    I looked at “the year in MOOCs” briefly in a previous article in this series, where I noted that they have largely pivoted away from “free and open online education” to job training. It’s been a common move in the past for education startup to move away from selling to schools and toward selling to companies. Corporate learning – that’s where people hope the money is. (You can look to, which was acquired by LinkedIn in 2015 for $1.5 billion, as the kind of “exit” that many ed-tech entrepreneurs hope to have.)

    As such, education technology products that were, according to some of the storytelling, poised to “revolutionize schools” are instead marshaled for job training. And there’s no better example of that this year than virtual reality (although it’s still largely a gimmick even there): KFC, UPS, and Walmart all boasted that they were training new employees with VR. (And the tech press dutifully repeated the marketing.) There’s still hope in some quarters for school-based applications, I suppose. Student teachers are getting trained with VR, Education Week reported this fall.

    But today’s education technology landscape feels a little different than previous manifestations in which struggling startups could readily turn towards what they were told would be a more reliable revenue stream: corporate learning. (Although to be clear, yes, they still do that. Yes, they’re still encouraged to do so.)

    In part that’s because “the new economy” has shifted the burden of job training. It doesn’t necessarily fall to the employer now. I’m not even sure it falls to the school. It falls to the employee and the prospective employee. A future of “lifelong learning” isn’t one where we get to pursue fanciful curiosities and intellectual interests – me, I would like to learn about pigeon first aid. It’s about a labor market that requires us all to be constantly picking up new skills on our own dime and our own time so we’re (hopefully) employable. As social services dwindle, we will need retraining our entire lifetimes because we will be working until we die.

    We’re also seeing schools be pressured to become the sites of corporate learning themselves, training students in the specific skills that specific industries (local industries, often) want. “Save Your College (and America’s Workforce) Through Corporate Training,” as investors Frank Britt and Ryan Craig wrote in Edsurge.

    As such, perhaps the next ed-tech “platform” to watch – or to listen for the stories about, at least – will be Salesforce, which as MIT Technology Review excitedly wrote this year, is “Making Job-Training Software People Actually Want to Use.” (Ha. Ha. Ha.) Inside Higher Ed noted in passing in October that “Salesforce, the world’s largest customer relationship management platform, has announced a new classroom-ready training scheme called Trailhead for Students.” Also in passing, this sentence in a Brookings Institution report from November: “It is probably fair to say that the social good of having every high school student in America learn Salesforce might outstrip other trendier agendas in tech.”

    “Everyone should learn Salesforce.” It’s got a charming ring to it…

    Robots Are Coming For Your Children

    Why we need to start teaching tech in Kindergarten” – Ivanka Trump, Special Assistant to the President

    There’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses” – Rebekah Neumann, co-founder, WeWork

    More on teaching robots and training children in the next article in this series…

    Financial data on the major corporations and investors involved in this and all the trends I cover in this series can be found on Even at 5000 words an article, there are stories I left out. You can read more at

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  • 12/18/17--13:10: 'The Ed-Tech Mafia'
  • I cannot believe that in the midst of everything I’m trying to accomplish right now I agreed to give a talk. But I did. And so tonight I spoke with the educators at NYCIST. They were very kind and put up with a very half-assed talk. Here’s the transcript:

    I apologize in advance for what I feel is a total lack of preparation today. Typically, when I give a talk, I write out my speech in advance. A half an hour talk is about a 3000 word essay; an hour, about 5500 words – depending on how slowly I speak, how much I ad lib, if the slides all work, if there are no technical problems, and such.

    I tend to write out my talks because I want to make sure I am telling a compelling story – that I have all the words in order, that I have all the details right, that there’s an arc, if you will, to the narrative. (I also write out my talk because I’m a writer, professionally, not a speaker. I’m good at writing – or I like to think. Speaking off the cuff, less so. And I like to have a record – a written record – so that other people can see what I said… or read.)

    I know it’s trend to criticize keynotes and lectures and claim that they’re terrible ways to learn. People like to cite research that claims the human attention span is only 8 to 10 minutes. It’s cool to sneer at someone who stands in front of a room and explains things. Now, there isn’t a ton of evidence that that is actually true – that we can only pay attention for about the length of a YouTube video. But it’s a convenient figure for the tech industry to invoke, don’t you think. It’s a great story, particularly if you want to wield that factoid along with a product pitch for more “active learning” – like clicking on things.

    We’re told an awful lot of stories about what “good teaching” looks like and what “bad teaching” looks like and how technology will purportedly enhance the former and replace the latter. Same goes for “good learning” and “bad learning,” somehow. Me, I am really much less interested in evaluating the various claims regarding “evidence-based teaching” – like, is the research any good, what does “the science” really tell us – than I am listening for these stories, looking at who’s telling them, looking at how they’re wielded politically, looking at how they’re backed financially, and asking why is this the story. Why, for example, would Microsoft famously put out a study in 2015 saying that humans’ attention spans are shorter than goldfish’s? (And why on earth would we believe that?!)

    Now, I am not sure I really have “a talk” to give you today. Not sure I can pull together 3000 or so words of prepared remarks. And that’s mostly because, if you’re familiar with my work at all, you know that I’m in the middle of a project I undertake each December where I chronicle “the top ed-tech trends” of the past twelve months. It’s not really a look at “trends,” per se. And this year I’m trying to move away from that language. I’m not interested in identifying “trends” because I am not interested in pushing schools to buy certain products. My job isn’t in marketing. I don’t do “market research.” Rather, I want to look at the stories that are being told about education and technology. What are the stories that have been repeated again and again over the course of the year? What are the stories and why are they being told?

    I have published 8 of these end-of-year articles. They’re about 6000 words apiece. I have two more still to write, including one that I’ve scheduled to post to my site on Wednesday that I’ve only written about 1500 words of. So I was feeling a bit stingy about the words I typed in preparation for this afternoon. I’m feeling sorta out of words and thoughts.

    That’s a long-winded apology, in advance, that I don’t really have something splendid to read for you today.

    What I want to do instead is to show you a photo. Talk about the photo. Talk a bit about the project – a separate project, one that I’m also still in the middle of – that I am currently working on as part of my Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship at Columbia this year. And then I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about the current state of ed-tech – products or propaganda.

    This is the “PayPal Mafia.” The photo was taken as part of a 2007 profile in Fortune magazine. The phrase “PayPal Mafia” is used to describe the group of PayPal founders and employees who’ve gone on to become some of the most powerful players in Silicon Valley, forming additional technology companies and investment firms and becoming millionaires (and in a couple of cases, billionaires) in the process. Some of these men – and do note, they are all men – have become household names. Most of their products certainly have.

    Back row from the left: Jawed Karim, the co-founder of YouTube; Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp; Andrew McCormack, co-founder of the venture capital firm Valar Ventures; Premal Shah, President of Kiva, the microfinancing company. Second row from the left: Luke Nosek, managing partner at the venture capital firm The Founders Fund; Kenny Howery, managing partner at the venture capital firm The Founders Fund; David Sacks, the CEO of Geni and Room 9 Entertainment; Peter Thiel, the CEO of the venture capital firm Clarium Capital and Founders Fund, the co-founder of Palantir Technologies, and the co-founder of Valar Ventures; Keith Rabois, the VP of business development at Slide (at the time of this photo), an executive at LinkedIn, an executive at Square, a venture capitalist at Khosla Ventures, and an original Youtube Investor; Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin and a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners; Max Levchin, the CEO of Slide at the time of this photo and now the CEO of the loan company Affirm; Roelof Botha, a partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital; and Russel Simmons, the CTO and co-founder of Yelp.

    Not pictured: Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube. Steve Chen, another co-founder of YouTube. Dave McClure, the founder of the venture capital firm 500 Startups. And of course, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX.

    The PayPal Mafia has been credited by technology journalist Sarah Lacey and others with helping to build and fund the wave of consumer-focused Internet startups that emerged in the mid 2000s following the dot-com bubble burst. (PayPal itself was acquired by eBay in 2002. One might also include Pierre Omidyar in the PayPal Mafia, I suppose. Omidyar was the founder of eBay.)

    According to Silicon Valley mythology at least, the Mafia have been successful because of the skills and confidence and camaraderie developed at PayPal. As the article in Fortune described them: “highly intelligent workaholics who were good at math. No frat boys, MBAs, or, God forbid, jocks.” The shared corporate culture at PayPal was coupled with a shared ideology among many Mafia members about the role of finance, technology, and private and public institutions – including most famously in the case of libertarian Peter Thiel, the role of governments and schools.

    What interests me – and this is the focus of my Spencer Fellowship: Is there an equivalent to the PayPal Mafia in education technology? That is, is there a company or organization that has launched the careers of lots of education entrepreneurs and investors, that has become a powerful political, financial, and social network for education technology people and products? A company that really drives the ideology that underpins how we talk about the future of school and tech. Kaplan? The Princeton Review? The Gates Foundation? Pearson?

    Of course, it’s important too for us to recognize how much influence the technology sector – I use “Silicon Valley” as a shorthand for that – has over education. Over the products that get built. Over the companies that get funded. Over the policies that get developed, and the laws that get passed. Over the ideas that get talked about. Over our imagination. The “PayPal Mafia” alone is a pretty good example of this.

    Peter Thiel – where to start. He was Facebook’s first big investor. He’s probably tech’s most famous libertarian, and he believes that monopolies, not competition, are the natural and desirable order of things. He’s questioned the value of the 19th Amendment. Thiel bankrolled the lawsuit that put the publication Gawker out of business. He’s been a vocal Trump supporter – speaking at the Republican National Convention last summer. And he has plenty to say – and plenty of money to spend – on his beliefs about education. He wrote, along with fellow PayPal Mafia member David Sacks, a book called The Diversity Myth that criticizes “political correctness” on college campuses like Stanford and that claimed, among other things, that date rape is actually “seductions that are later regretted.” Thiel has entertained the idea there may be a biological connection between race and IQ. He was one of the first and one of the loudest to push the narrative that there’s a “college bubble” – that higher education is no longer worth it. He famously funded the Thiel Fellowship, giving a handful of young people under the age of 20 $100,000 to drop out of college. He’s also an investor in the private school AltSchool, the education data company Clever, the adaptive textbook company Knewton, the coding bootcamp Thinkful, the student loan company SoFi, and many others.

    Max Levchin’s company Affirm is also in the student loan business.

    Reid Hoffman was one of the first investors in Edmodo. He’s an investor in the learn-to-code company Treehouse and an investor in Knewton.

    Dave McClure’s venture capital firm 500 Startups has been one of the most prolific investors in education technology companies in recent years. McClure is also just one of the investors who has stepped down from his position in 2017 due to allegations of sexual harassment.

    Pierre Omidyar now runs the Omidyar Network. Its education investments include AltSchool, the African coding bootcamp Andela, the African private school chain Bridge International Academies, a startup that describes itself as an alternative to college called MissionU, and the publication Edsurge.

    Elon Musk has founded a private school called Ad Astra for his own children and some of the children of SpaceX employees. There is almost nothing known publicly about this school. No website. No phone number. There are rumors that kids have to take an IQ test to get in. (I wonder if Musk has talked to his old PayPal pal Peter Thiel about IQ.)

    Musk is fascinating and horrifying to me. He doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to business success, and yet he always seems to fail upward and his promises are always taken seriously. He repeatedly makes these claims about what his companies will do – he promised 20,000 Tesla 3s would ship by the end of this year. So far, his factories have produced just 260. He’s predicted SpaceX will have humans on Mars in seven years time. He says he’s going to build an underground tunnel that will get you from New York to DC in 29 minutes.

    At first glance, it might not seem like Musk’s projects are all that relevant to education investing or education narratives. But what Musk says and what Musk does is still worth our paying attention to, I’d argue, because of how his work (and storytelling) in transportation and space exploration subverts or shifts our expectations for public investment and public responsibility. Stories about and stories by Elon Musk are very much stories about the future of public space, public science, public knowledge, and as such, public education.

    Where do these stories about the future come from? Like, how do we know about “what’s happening” and “what’s trending” in education? Who are the people who are telling us what the future of education or technology or education technology is supposed to like? Who tells these stories? Who benefits from these stories? Who funds these stories? Why do we find these stories compelling?

    The goal of my Spencer research – broadly speaking – is to identify and trace how certain stories get popularized, how they become embedded in education technology products, policies, and practices.

    One example of this is the push for “everyone to learn to code.” Where did this story come from? Who tells it? Why do we believe it?

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, the occupations that will add the most new jobs in the next decade are personal care aides (754,000 new jobs), food service workers (580,000 new jobs), registered nurses (437,000 new jobs), home health aides (426,000 new jobs), software developers (253,000 new jobs), and janitors and cleaners (233,000). The fastest growing occupations are solar photovoltaic installers (growing by 105%), wind turbine service technicians (growing by 96%), home health aides (growing by 47%), personal care aides (growing by 37%), and physicians assistants (growing by 37%). But just one of those occupations seems to dominate the storyline of how schools should prepare students for the “jobs of the future.” And it sure isn’t “everyone should learn nursing.”

    Another storyline I am paying attention to – we should all pay attention too – involves “personalization,” a concept shared by tech and ed-tech alike. Your Facebook news feed is “personalized”; the list of movies Netflix recommends to you is “personalized”; suggestions for other products you might purchase on Amazon are “personalized.” And so too are the recommendation engines that ed-tech companies like Knewton or AltSchool say will help students navigate curriculum more efficiently. They even use same terminology, drawn from other digital content providers – “playlists.” Facebook’s CEO believes in personalized learning. Netflix’s CEO believes in personalized learning. What’s going on with that story?

    Knewton founder Jose Ferreira formerly worked at Kaplan. AltSchool founder Max Ventilla was a Google exec. Peter Thiel is an investor in both of these companies. Is there an “ed-tech mafia”? And what do they want? What do they believe?

    “Follow the money” is, perhaps, cliché. But as billions of dollars of venture capital flow into ed-tech every year, it’s essential nonetheless. Yet it’s complicated by the paucity of independent reporting on education technology – that is, from sites not partially or wholly funded by tech investors or tech philanthropists.

    The education technology company Edsurge, for example, positions itself as a news organization while also promoting conferences and services selling ed-tech services to schools. It has raised almost $6 million in venture capital and at least as much in grant money – $5.22 million from the Gates Foundation alone. Edsurge’s investors include the very same investors in many of the products it covers. Edsurge’s investors are people who are very committed – politically, financially – to telling certain kinds of stories about the future. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – the venture philanthropy firm founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – has funded Edsurge to write about “personalized learning,” for example.

    My concerns, I suppose, are similar to my concerns about Elon Musk – we are talking about billionaires who have influence in reshaping public space and public infrastructure in ways that are profoundly anti-democratic. If nothing else, there’s not really research that supports their beliefs or their technologies. Can Musk get to Mars? Lots of scientists are pretty skeptical of his plan. Can the Zuckerberg-funded Summit Public Schools learning management system scale and provide a Facebook-like vision of “personalized learning” and content delivery to every school in the country? Is that the future we want?

    One of Edsurge’s other investors, the Emerson Collective – the venture philanthropy firm founded by Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow) – is interested in stories about “rethinking school.” She paid for a glitzy television show on all four big networks to push that message: schools haven’t changed in hundreds of years. “Rethink school.” That’s what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she’s interested in too.

    Now, you can either imagine one of those scenes from a film where I’m connecting ed-tech brands to photos of venture capitalists with yarn. Who went to MIT. Who worked at Google. Or you can picture what statistics folks call “social network analysis” where I give you a nice visualization that will help us see these relationships – see them so we can talk about them. Because there are relationships and networks, “ed-tech mafia” or not.

    There are really powerful forces – powerful stories and powerful storytellers – at play here. I would say that for far too long now, many people who work in education technology have seen themselves as underdogs in some sort of digital versus analog battle for the future of education. But that’s not really an accurate way to describe the setting for this particular story any longer, indeed if it ever was.

    (This is the part where I gave up typing… So I’ll just add here, in lieu of a “happy ending” that I am really interested in helping educators understand the powerful networks that operate in education and education technology. Because we must think more critically about the vision and the model and the story of the future that we’re being sold.)

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    This is part nine of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories

    We Need to Rethink How We Educate Kids to Tackle the Jobs of the Future.” It’s a core refrain in “the innovation gospel,” one of those arguments that certain pundits and politicians really lean into. You hear it all the time, accompanied by a standard set of justifications about the pressing need to reform education: something about the "factory model of education; something about radical shifts in the job market in recent decades; something about technology changing faster than it’s ever changed before. And almost inevitably at some point, this statistic will get invoked: 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet.

    All of these claims play pretty fast and loose with the facts – with the history of education, with the history of technology, and with the history of work. All of them. But the point of these sorts of stories is never historical accuracy (although certainly citing a number – “65%” – gives them all the air of science and truth).

    “65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet.” It’s a prediction – and a statistic – than Benjamin Doxtdator brilliantly dissects in an article he published this year called “A Field Guide to ‘Jobs that Don’t Exist Yet’.” And while on one hand, I’d like to see everyone stop citing that made-up figure, on the other, it’s always useful to be able identify who the bullshit artists are.

    What makes this narrative about the future resonate, I think, is that it taps into the fears many feel about the future, about their children’s future. This isn’t simply a matter of “robots are coming for your jobs.” They’re coming for your kids’ jobs.

    The future for younger generations does seem particularly grim: “millennials” carry more student loan debt than their parents; they’re less likely to own a home; their employment rates have been slower to recover after the recession; they earn less money. Oh, and then there’s global climate change.

    This narrative – robots are coming for your jobs (and your kids’ jobs) – involves tasking schools with retooling so they can better train students for “the jobs of the future,” although to a certain extent, workforce preparation has always been what (part of) the education system has been expected to do. A sense of urgency about financial precarity – now and in the future – might raise the stakes these days. Really, it’s no surprise that fears about an unsettled, uncertain economy are used to shift and control education’s mission, and it’s no surprise that parents go along with that.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupations that will add the most new jobs in the next decade are personal care aides (754,000 new jobs), food service workers (579,900 new jobs), registered nurses (437,000 new jobs), home health aides (425,600 new jobs), software developers (253,400 new jobs), and janitors and cleaners (233,000). The fastest growing occupations are solar photovoltaic installers (growing by 105%), wind turbine service technicians (growing by 96%), home health aides (growing by 47%), personal care aides (growing by 37%), and physicians assistants (growing by 37%). But just one of these occupations seems to dominate the storyline of how schools should prepare students for the “jobs of the future.” And it sure isn’t “everyone should learn nursing.”

    Everyone Should Learn to Code

    As I noted in the previous article in this series, the technology industry has continued this year to advocate for changes to both policy and curriculum to expand computer science education.

    In an attempt to counter the industry’s ongoing problems with diversity, many of the organizations pushing for more CS education – the College Board and, most notably – have touted the progress that has been made in getting more kids of color and more girls to participate in coding classes (and in the case of the College Board, more paying for AP assessments, including a second CS-related exam, first administered this year). “Is the College Board’s Newest AP Computer Science Course Closing the Gap?” Edsurge asked in February. Well, probably not as long as the culture of Silicon Valley remains profoundly racist and sexist. And it’s a nice thought too that an AP exam would be a lever for equality, I guess.

    The tech industry made a number of high profiledonations and pledges this year, coinciding with the Trump administration’s announcement this fall that it would earmark $200 million in grants for computer science and STEM education. (Arguably this focus on CS was the one education policy pursued by Obama that Trump did not try to loudly reverse.) The administration’s announcement did not make it clear where that $200 million would come from (it had, after all, submitted a budget that would slash the Department of Education’s funding by $9.2 billion) – but that didn’t stop some industry folks from crooning about what they saw as a windfall. The next day after the administration’s announcement, several tech giants– Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, and other – said they would help fund the White House’s commitment to CS, to the tune of $300 million more. Again, this all made for a flurry of headlines, even though there were few specifics about where that money would go or how schools or students would benefit– “Scant Details, Fuzzy Math,” as EdTech Strategies’ Doug Levin put it.

    Computer science education need not be about job training and need not be in the service of industry. But with the millions of dollars being funneled by industry into this effort, that is very much the shape that this all is taking.

    Saturday’s Child

    One of the notable elements this year of both the “everyone should learn to code” narrative and the “we need to be training students for the jobs of the future” story was how young this is all supposed to start. “How to Prepare Preschoolers for an Automated Economy” read a New York Times headline in July. “A Toy for Toddlers Doubles as Code Bootcamp,” said another NYT piece, this one profiling a $225 programmable wooden block toy. “PBS Show Will Teach Preschoolers How To Think Like Computers,” Edsurge declared this summer. And then there was the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who penned an op-ed in The New York Post in October explaining “Why we need to start teaching tech in Kindergarten.”

    No time for play, kids. Get to work.

    In November, Bloomberg reported that WeWork, a co-working space startup that acquired both the coding bootcamp Flatiron School and the meet-up company MeetUp this year, planned to open a private K–12 school in one of its facilities. The school would be focused on “conscious entrepreneurship.” “Children are ready to start creating their life’s work when they’re 5,” WeWork co-founder Rebekah Neumann told Fast Company. “In my book,” she told Bloomberg, “there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses.”

    There are plenty of reasons, to be quite frank. There are legal issues regarding children’s intellectual property, and there are issues surrounding child labor laws. But good grief, there are moral and ethical and pedagogical reasons too. Is their “life’s work” what we want five year olds to be thinking about? Are monetization strategies what we want elementary school students to be concerned with? (And, of course, let’s consider which students would be weighing monetization at the private WeWork school, and which students in the US are worried about their next meal.)

    What should we do with kids over the summer months, Senator Ben Sasse asked in an op-ed in The New York Times in July? Again: put ’em to work.

    “The logic of human capital is now the basis for the American education system, which means it’s the code that governs the day-to-day lives of America’s children,” Malcolm Harris argues in his 2017 book Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials. Childhood, education – it’s all become “work,” Harris contends. Learning how to “work.” Learning as“work.” Work as learning. It’s part of what he describes as the “pedagogical mask” that obscures the labor children do in school.

    Kids These Days opens with an analysis of one of my very favorite books on education technology, Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. Published in 1958, the title character in the children’s story has built a homemade labor-saving device that allows him to handwrite two copies of he and his best friend’s math homework at once. “If only we could save even more time,” Danny says to his pal. “You’d think six hours of school would be enough for them, without making us take school home. If only I could build some kind of robot to do all our homework for us….” Danny’s mother, as it turns out, is a housekeeper for Professor Bullfinch, who happens to have a computer in a laboratory in his house. (A “miniac” – a miniature version of Harvard’s Mark I.) The resourceful young Danny programs it to do his homework for him – leaving him more time for playing baseball and for exploring his own curiosities. “Inquiry-based learning,” I think we’d call it. But a classmate snitches, and rather than admit to his teacher than he’s cheating, Danny tries to make the case – the very logical and accurate case – he’s simply using a new technology to work more efficiently, to be more productive like any good scientist would do. Rather than reward his ingenuity, his teacher gives him more homework.

    “Between 1981 and 1997,” Harris writes, “elementary schoolers between the ages of six and eight recorded a whopping 146 percent gain in time spent studying, and another 32 percent between 1997 and 2003…. Kids age nine to twelve, like Danny, have sustained near 30 percent growth in homework, while their class time has increased by 14 percent.”

    Harris argues that, despite all the stories told about lazy millennials – that op-ed from Senator Sasse, for example – today’s youth are already working incredibly hard. And that’s because, like Danny Dunn, new technologies are being used to ramp up the pace and the expectations of their productivity – the amount of school work and home work they are supposed to do.

    Helicopter Robots

    In Kids These Days, Harris argues that modern parenting has become all about risk management and even risk elimination parents try to ensure the best possible future for their children. The obsession with hand sanitizer. The elimination of wooden playgrounds. We all know the story.

    “Helicopter parenting” – or at least parental anxiety – might not be a new phenomenon, but it is now increasingly able to enlist new technologies to monitor children’s activities. A story this summer in The New York Magazine is, no doubt, an extreme example of this: “Armed with Nest Cams and 24/7 surveillance, one company promises to fix even the most dysfunctional child – for a price.” But many, many technology products boast features that allow parents to check up on what their kids are doing– what they’re reading, what they’re watching, what they’re clicking on, what they’re saying, who they’re talking to, how many steps they’re taking, where they’re at at any given money, and so on. It’s all under the auspices, of course, of keeping kids safe.

    This all dovetails quite neatly, as I noted in the article on education data, with the ways in which schools too are quite willing to surveil students. The New York Times family section cautioned in August about “The Downside of Checking Kids’ Grades Constantly.” But the expectation of many ed-tech products (and increasingly school policy) is that parents will do just this – participate in the constant monitoring of student data.

    When schools and parents surveil children, they aren’t the only ones collecting the data – companies are (obviously) as well. And as I noted in that article I wrote on data, this isn’t simply about a loss of privacy – although yes, there’s sure a lot of that (and there were a handful of FTC settlements and lawsuits this year regarding the unauthorized collection of data by products and apps aimed at kids). It’s also about the vulnerability of data to various cyberthreats.

    One of the major targets for cyberthreats – that is, a growing source of data vulnerability – is “the Internet of Things” or IOT. IOT now includes all sorts of everyday objects that, for some reason, folks think is a good idea to add Internet connectivity to. In February, Motherboard reported that“Internet of Things Teddy Bear Leaked 2 Million Parent and Kids Message Recordings.” Also in February, Germany warned parents that Cayla, a talking doll, could easily be hacked and criminals could use the toy “to steal personal data by recording private conversations over an insecure Bluetooth connection.” In July, the FBI issued a warning about the security of Internet-connected toys: “toys with microphones could record and collect conversations within earshot of the device. Information such as the child’s name, school, likes and dislikes, and activities may be disclosed through normal conversation with the toy or in the surrounding environment.” In November, Germany banned smartwatches for kids due to concerns about surveillance and safety, and the same month, a UK consumer rights group called for the banning of Internet-connected toys, citing the privacy and security risks.

    I guess we’ll see how many parents ignore this advice and buy their kids holiday gifts that spy on them. For her part, the head of Mattel believes that “Internet-connected toys are the future.”

    Robots Raising Children

    In January of this year, at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Mattel (or rather, its subsidiary Nabi) unveiled Aristotle, a “smart baby monitor” – what it claimed was the world’s first. Companies always hope they’ll be able to make headlines at CES, and Aristotle received a fair amount of attention this year. There were stories in the usual tech publications – Engadget, PC World, CNET – as well as in the mainstream and tabloid press – USA Today, ABC News, Fox News, The Daily Mail. Bloomberg heralded the device as “Baby’s First Virtual Assistant.” And here’s how Fast Company described the voice-activated speaker/monitor, which is set to launch some time next month (the release day keeps getting postponed):

    Aristotle is built to live in a child’s room – and answer a child’s questions. In this most intimate of spaces, Aristotle is designed to be far more specific than the generic voice assistants of today: a nanny, friend, and tutor, equally able to soothe a newborn and aid a tween with foreign-language homework. It’s an AI to help raise your child.

    I gave a talk this summer at NMC on the Aristotle and the history of baby monitors – “‘The Brave Little Surveillance Bear’ and Other Stories We Tell About Robots Raising Children” – and I won’t rehash the arguments here. (It’s one of my favorite talks I gave in 2017, I will say, so you should read it.)

    I was skeptical at the time about Mattel’s ability to pull off the promises it made about the functionality of the virtual assistant – it had already canceled the Amazon Alexa integration heralded at CES. Hell, I was skeptical it would ever be released. And indeed, Mattel announced in October that it was canceling its plans to bring the device to market. Mattel didn’t cite privacy concerns or the petition drive organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood when it did so. It simply said “leadership changes” at the company prompted the decision. The New York Times reported that “Sven Gerjets, the company’s new chief technology officer, ‘conducted an extensive review of the Aristotle product and decided that it did not fully align with Mattel’s new technology strategy.’”

    But where Mattel stumbled, Amazon seems to be thriving, convincingmillions of people to buy an Alexa and place the company’s Internet-connected “voice assistant” in their homes. The security and privacy flaws are still there, no doubt, as these devices “listen” to all conversations, gathering data so as to build a consumer profile on a household.

    As I argued in my article on “education platforms,” keep an eye on Amazon and how it tries to promote Alexa as a teaching and learning machine. Because Amazon’s power in the platform economy deeply implicates education in the practices of surveillance and in a pervasive culture of commercialism. It deeply implicates the home – family life, childhood – in the same.

    Some parents have expressed concern about the relationships – and yes, that’s the word that people use – that children are developing with devices like Alexa. “What will it do to kids to have digital butlers they can boss around?” the MIT Technology Review asked. “Alexa, Are You Safe For My Kids,” asked NPR. “Should Children Form Emotional Bonds With Robots?” asked The Atlantic. What happens, The Washington Post wondered, “When your kid tries to say ‘Alexa’ before ‘Mama’.”

    MIT professor Sherry Turkle recently argued that robots shouldn’t be given or promoted to children as “friends.” They offer “the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” she says, “the illusion of connection without the reciprocity of a mutual relationship. And interacting with these empathy machines may get in the way of children’s ability to develop a capacity for empathy themselves.” Of course, since so many folks in ed-tech like to lambast everything Turkle has written lately, her arguments will probably be used to justify more robots, not fewer. And certainly Amazon (and the Bezos Foundation) are ready with all sorts of (corporate-sponsored) research about “connected families” to convince parents that these devices are really quite wonderful for childrearing.

    As Stirling University’s Ben Williamson put it,

    it’s clear that parenting and child-rearing has now become the focus for ambitious technical imaginings and visions. Supported by the massive technical might of Microsoft and Amazon, companies like Mattel want to extend from supplying Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels tracks to become interactive participants in semi-automated luxury family life. To do this, they’ll need data about families and about children. The surveillance and datafication of the family has begun.

    We should ask, of course, whose family life will be one of semi-automated luxury and whose will be one of surveillance and control. (And we should ask too what the hell is going on with the algorithms that are raising children – like the ones feeding kids content on YouTube.)

    Robot Teachers

    Which families will have a “robot butler” or “robot nanny”? Which students will have a “robot teacher”? The questions surrounding equity and algorithms should be paramount. But too often, there’s simply an assumption that more technology means “progress.” (And “technological progress” is so readily confused with “politically progressive.”) “‘Eton for all’,” NewStatesman wrote about robot teachers in October for example, suggesting that they would mean “everyone gets an elite education.”

    Spoiler alert: they wouldn’t.

    Robot teachers. I’m not sure there was any ed-tech fantasy repeated more often this year than this one: AI will be the “next big thing” in the classroom. “Amazon’s Alexa: Your Next Teacher.” Robots will revolutionize how people teach and learn. Machine learning will revolutionize how people teach. Artificial intelligence will transform how people learn. AI will choose better lessons. AI will improve graduation rates. AI will improve guidance counseling. Robots will improve “student engagement.”Robots will keep students “on task.”AI will replace testing. AI will facilitate testing. AI will be the key to “personalized learning.”AI will teach students how to be better writers. Robots will then grade those papers. AI will transform universities. AI will “optimize” K–12 education. And then, there were all sorts of claims and predictions about the future of educational chatbots – chatbots as teaching assistants, chatbots for sex and drug education.

    Again and again, as I noted in the previous article in this series, we were warned repeatedly this year that “robots are coming for our jobs.” We’re supposed to believe from the repetition of all these robot tales, that AI has made – is making – incredible breakthroughs. Sure, some say education will be particularly challenging to automate. But there’s clearly a strong political desire in certain circles to do just that.

    Robots will replace teachers by 2027.” “Machines will replace teachers in ten years.” “Within ten years, human teachers will be phased out, replaced by machines” – these are all the prediction of one guy, Sir Anthony Seldon, vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham. But boy, was this prediction repeated over and over in the media this year.

    Talk of robots is always talk about labor. And you can sense the disdain for teachers as labor in some of the arguments for teaching machines this year. “Let Robots Teach American Schoolkids,” George Mason’s Tyler Cowen wrote in July. “Imagine how great universities could be without all those human teachers,” Quartz wrote in September. Imagine.

    (Perhaps it’s worth noting here another story from the year: many teachers cannot afford to live in the school districts where they teach. Teachers cannot afford to live in parts of Colorado, for example. Teachers certainly cannot afford to live in the Bay Area. Good ol’ Mark Zuckerberg. His Chan Zuckerberg Initiative contributed $5 million to a fund run by the startup called Landed that helps teachers make down payments on homes. That $5 million will help about 50 teachers in the Bay Area, Edsurge estimates. Why address structural inequality when you can sell a couple of folks on a loan service.)

    As I have written about quite frequently, there is a long history to the push for teaching machines– it’s been the project of education technology since at least the 1920s. There has been renewed storytelling in the last year or so about “intelligent tutoring systems,” a phrase first coined in the early 1980s (and one that’s been updated with new, more Facebook-era friendly language“ personalized learning”). Praise for “intelligent tutoring systems” is often accompanied by invocation of the work – also from the 1980s – of Benjamin Bloom and his research on the effectiveness of tutoring itself. Can computers replicate that two standard deviation bump that Bloom found human tutors provided? And does it even matter if they can or can’t – as Politico put it in an article on tutoring low-income children in Chicago, “learning from a computer is going to be far cheaper than hiring a human being.”

    Who gets the robot tutor and who gets the human one? Who gets a tutor at all? Investors seem to believe that there are lots of parents who are willing to pay. Tutoring businesses were, by far, the most well funded type of education company this year. Many of these companies come with their own set of labor issues– they’re part of the growing “gig economy” that positions teaching and tutoring as part-time, freelance work rather than as a profession.

    Arguably, tutoring exacerbates educational inequalities, as it shifts the burden of enrichment activities onto individual families rather than onto a public institution like school. But it’s a price many parents are willing to pay so that their children can get ahead or stay ahead. Perhaps it’s not so much that “robots are coming for the children.” It’s that global inequality already has.

    Financial data on the major corporations and investors involved in this and all the trends I cover in this series can be found on Even at 5000+ words an article, there are stories I have left out. You can read more at

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  • 12/22/17--01:30: Hack Education Weekly News
  • (National) Education Politics

    The GOP passed their tax plan. Various education-related updates – via The New York Times: “How the Republican Tax Plan Uses School Savings to Hurt States.” Via Education Week: “Final Tax Bill Keeps Teacher Deduction at $250, Cuts State and Local Deductions.” Via Inside Higher Ed: “Final GOP Deal Would Tax Large Endowments.” Via Buzzfeed: “A Small College That Mostly Accepts Poor Students Is A Last-Minute Loser In The New Tax Plan.” (That’s Berea College. More on the Kentucky college in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

    US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a commencement speech in at the University of Baltimore this week. Via The Atlantic: “The Significance of Betsy DeVos’s Speech in Baltimore.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “Four takeaways from Betsy DeVos’s summit on innovation in K–12 education.”

    Via The Washington Post: “Education Department proposes delaying Obama-era rule on racial disparities in special education.”

    More news on student loans in the student loan section below.

    Via Edsurge: “What’s In? What’s Out? And What’s Likely? Decoding Higher Ed Act Reauthorization.”

    More thoughts on the revocation of “Net Neutrality” regulations – from “Dean Dad” Matt Reed: “Net Neutrality and Online Teaching.” Via Edsurge: “From Neutrality to Inequality: Why the FCC Is Dismantling Equal Access and What It Could Mean for Education.” “Net Neutrality Was Never Enough,” says Ian Bogost in The Atlantic.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    New York Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will step down from her position in the new year. More on the news in the HR section below.

    Two school districts in two states are scaling back their use of the Facebook-built Summit Public Schools’ learning management system. Via Edsurge: “Connecticut School District Suspends Use of Summit Learning Platform.” Via The Indiana Gazette: “Directors vote to scale back Summit Learning program.” That’s the Indiana Area School District in Pennsylvania.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have extended the state’s tuition-free scholarships to for-profit institutions.”

    Via Education Week: “A Cheating Scandal Rocked Atlanta’s Schools. Ten Years Later, Efforts to Help Affected Students Fall Short.”

    São Paulo has approved a bill that would allow companies to manufacture school uniforms and sell branding and sponsorship opportunities on the clothing.

    Via Motherboard: “New York City Passes Bill to Study Biases in Algorithms Used by the City.” The city uses algorithms, for example, to place students in public schools.

    Via Wired: “Koch Brothers Are Cities’ New Obstacle to Building Broadband.”

    From Chalkbeat’s Indiana newsroom: “Parents and educators worry about how new graduation rules will affect students with disabilities.”

    Education in the Courts

    Via NPR: “Grand Jury Report On Penn State Hazing Finds ‘Indignities And Depravities’.”

    The Business (and Politics) of Student Loans

    Betsy DeVos Is Slashing Student Loan Relief For Defrauded Students,” writes Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy. “A new Education Department policy will dramatically limit the amount of student loan relief some students get after being misled by their schools.” More via Inside Higher Ed.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    NPR reviews the year in for-profit education.

    Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)

    A call to rebrand MOOCs, from Edsurge.

    Via Education Week: “Cyber Charters’ Struggles: An Update Showing New Troubles in 8 States.”

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The New Yorker: “A Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses Faces Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity.” Why, it’s almost as if “free speech” is a smokescreen used by Turning Point USA.

    Via The Atlantic: “The Changing Landscape of Student Protest in Higher Education.”

    “The Education of Lyle Clinton May” – Inside Higher Ed on prison education.

    Via Edsurge: “The Possibilities for Tech (and Screentime) in the Preschool Classroom.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Sweet Briar College is eliminating more than 10 percent of its faculty, including tenured faculty positions, as it puts in place a new core curriculum and restructures academic programs.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via Edsurge: “​Blockchain, Bitcoin and the Tokenization of Learning.”

    Testing and Measuring

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Association of American Colleges and Universities on Wednesday announced the creation of the VALUE Institute, which will help colleges ‘leverage learning outcomes evidence to improve student success and ensure quality and equity in student learning.’”

    From the HR Department

    New York Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will step down from her position in the new year. [Here is the letter](chools Chancellor Carmen Fariña) she wrote to the department, announcing her retirement.

    From the New York Times: “Eric Schmidt to Step Down as Alphabet’s Executive Chairman.”

    William H. McRaven is stepping down as chancellor of the University of Texas System.

    ProPublica with more news about Facebook and discrimination: “Dozens of Companies Are Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads.” But yes, please do go on about how personalization will make education “more just.”

    The Business of Job Training

    Via Wired: “Impatient With Colleges, Employers Design Their Own Courses.”

    Contests and Awards

    From the MacArthur Foundation press release: “Sesame Workshop& International Rescue Committee Awarded $100 Million for Early Childhood Education of Syrian Refugees.”

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Can sadness be good for reading?asks The Hechinger Report.

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    The New Media Consortium announced in an email to its members that it would be immediately shutting down. Bryan Alexander, who has worked for and worked closely with the organization, has the most thoughtful coverage. More via Edsurge. (I have been busy with my year-in-review, but I will be updating my Horizon Report“data liberation” project with as much data as I can scrape from the NMC website before it all goes away.)

    Via Techcrunch: “Parenting Hero helps parents figure out how to talk to their kids.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “Facebook Allowed Sellers To Target Teens With Ads For Penis Keychains.” “Personalized learning,” I believe Zuck calls this.

    It’s time, apparently, to move beyond “design thinking.”Systems thinking,” I guess, is the new entrepreneurial “mindset.” Or something.

    Via Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein: “Pearson Open Sources Equella – Properly.”

    Also via Michael Feldstein: “Cengage Unlimited Draws the Battle Lines in the Curricular Materials War.”

    The New York Times promotes what it thinks are “The Best Toys That Teach Kids How to Code.”

    Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF

    A collection of stories from Education Week: “Artificial Intelligence, Schooling, & Tomorrow’s Jobs.”

    Via NPR: “Hi, Robot: Adults, Children And The Uncanny Valley.”

    “A robot called Bina48 has successfully taken a course in the philosophy of love at Notre Dame de Namur University, in California,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    In the UK, “Artificial intelligence school inspections face resistance,” says the BBC. (It’s good to note when people describe things as “algorithmic decision making” and when they blame robots.)

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Ed Reform

    Mark Zuckerberg describes the “Lessons in Philanthropy in 2017.” Lots to say about “personalized learning,” but amazingly little reflection on if any of that vision actually works.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Ed-Tech

    Springboard has raised $9.5 million in Series A funding from Costanoa Ventures, Learn Capital, Jyoti Bansal, Blue Fog Capital,, and Moneta Ventures. The company, formerly known as SlideRule, has raised $11.2 million total. The company helps “learners upskill,” says Edsurge, which did not disclose it shares investors with the company.

    Career and college counseling startup Connecpath has raised $150,000 in seed funding from undisclosed investors.

    iContracts has acquired the EasyCampus LMS from Educadium.

    Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A Brief History of Students Secretly Recording Their Professors.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Student blasts Georgia Tech for monitoring his social media accounts, including details about his travel plans and activist work on campus.” More via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Here are Edsurge’s calculations for the year of venture capital (in the US): “Fewer Deals, More Money: U.S. Edtech Funding Rebounds With $1.2 Billion in 2017.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Top Education Foundations Supporting K–12 Schools Score Record Funding, Report Says.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “College enrollments in the U.S. decline for a sixth straight year – although at a slower rate – while the bachelor’s degree got more popular.”

    “Two newly released academic research papers identify negative consequences linked to states’ performance-based funding formulas,” Inside Higher Ed reports. Of course, the Republicans in Congress will probably still push this idea forward even knowing that it doesn’t work and has unforeseen consequences.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education on the latest report from the Babson Survey Research Group on OER adoption: “Use of Free Textbooks Is Rising, but Barriers Remain.” More via Inside Higher Ed.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    This is part ten of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories

    Perhaps it’s no surprise that there was so much talk this year about education, technology, and emotional health. I mean, 2017 really sucked, and we’re all feeling it.

    As support services get axed and the social safety net becomes threadbare, our well-being – our economic and emotional well-being – becomes more and more fragile. People are stressed out, and people are demoralized, and people are depressed. People are struggling, and people are vulnerable, and people are afraid. And “people” here certainly includes students.

    All the talk of the importance of “emotion” in education reflects other trends too. It’s a reaction, I’d say, to the current obsession with artificial intelligence and a response to all the stories we were told this year about robots on the cusp of replacing, out-“thinking,” and out-working us. If indeed robots will excel at those tasks that are logical and analytical, schools must instead develop in students – or so the story goes – more “emotional intelligence,” the more “human” capacity for empathy and care.

    Talk of “emotion” has also been the focus of several education reform narratives for the last few years – calls for students to develop “grit” and “growth mindsets” and the like. (So much easier than addressing structural inequality.)

    There has been plenty of speculation in the past few years that the latest law governing K–12 education in the US, ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law by President Obama in December 2015), will promote programs and assessments thatfocus on “social and emotional learning,” not simply on the traditional indicators of schools’ performance – academics and test scores. Schools should “foster safe, healthy, supportive, and drug-free environments that support student academic achievement,” the law says, which might include “instructional practices for developing relationship-building skills, such as effective communication” or “implementation of school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports.”

    Of course, when all these narratives about “social emotional learning” get picked up by education technologists and education entrepreneurs, they don’t just turn policy mandates or even into TED Talks. They turn into products.

    “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer

    Hacking the Brain

    The current (and long-running, let’s be honest) fascination with AI is deeply intertwined with science and speculation about the functioning of the brain and the possibilities for that organ’s technological improvement. There’s a science fiction bent as well and a certain millennialism, an AI apocalypticism, to much of the invocation of “hacking the brain” – a religious fantasy about the impending merger of “man and machine.”

    While new “neurotechnologies” are primarily being developed to help those with disabilities regain speech, sight, and mobility, there is still plenty of talk about “linking human brains to computers” as consumer-oriented “enhancements” that everyone will want to pursue. A “symbiosis with machines” as Bryan Johnson puts it. He’s put $100 million of his own money into his company Kernel (which I guess means we’re supposed to believe it’s a real, viable thing) with the promise of developing computer chip implants that will bolster human intelligence. Elon Musk – a totally reliable person with his predictions of the future of the business of science – has founded a company called Neuralink that does something similar. It too will link human brains to machines. (There’s a cartoon explainer, which I guess means we’re supposed to believe it’s a real, viable thing). In eight to ten years time, Musk assures us, brain implants will enable telepathy.

    (I’m keeping track of all these predictions. It isn’t simply that folks get it right or get it wrong. It’s that the repetition of these stories, particularly when framed as inevitabilities, shapes our preparations for the future. The repetition shapes our imaginations about the future.)

    “Neuroeducation Will Lead to Big Breakthroughs in Learning,” Singularity Hub proclaimed this fall. Singularity Hub is a publication run by Singularity University, a for-profit (non-accredited) school founded by Ray Kurzweil, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest evangelists for the notion we’ll soon be able to upload human minds into computers. We’re on the cusp of being able to upload skills directly into the brain, wrote this spring. ( is a website run by the New York Chapter Leader of Singularity University.) All these promises, if kept, would indeed make for breakthroughs in teaching and learning. “If kept,” of course, is the operative phrase there.

    If kept. If possible. If ethical or desirable, even.

    There are promises about “brain hacking pills” that will speed up learning. (Well, it turns out, they don’t actually work.) There are promises about “brain zapping” to speed up learning. (What researchers understand about the effectiveness of this procedure is pretty preliminary.) There are promises about “brain training” exercises that will keep the brain “fit” as one ages. (The research is iffyat best.)

    Edsurge wrote about Brainco in October, a company that says its devices can monitor students’ brainwave activity in order to ascertain who’s paying attention in class. A few weeks later, Edsurge wrote about InteraXon, a company that says its devices can monitor students’ brainwave activity “for meditation and discipline.” An ed-tech trend in the making, investors hope.

    But probably the biggest story in “neuroeducation” this year involved Neurocore, a company that monitors brainwaves and then, through “neurofeedback sessions,” trains people to train their brain to activate certain brainwave frequencies. Neurocore didn’t make headlines because it worked – to the contrary. It made headlines because it was under investigation for making misleading claims about its benefits. (It’s promoted in some circles as a “cure” for autism and ADHD.) And it made headlines because one of its financial backers is US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who despite the dearth of data about the effectiveness of Neurocore, invested even more money in the company this year.

    Don’t let the dearth of data fool you though. Many people find all this a compelling story, data or no data – a long-running fantasy about “Matrix-style learning”. And when the story is accompanied with colorful images from fMRIs, it all seems to be incredibly persuasive.

    It’s incredibly dangerous too, as Stirling University’s Ben Williamson cautions, as the kind of control that these devices promise should raise all sorts of questions about students’ civil rights and “cognitive liberties.” Williamson argues,

    Neuroenhancement may not be quite as scientifically and technically feasible yet as its advocates hope, but the fact remains that certain powerful individuals and organizations want it to happen. They have attached their technical aspirations to particular visions of social order and progress that appear to be attainable through the application of neurotechnologies to brain analytics and even neuro-optimization. As STS researchers of neuroscience Simon Williams, Stephen Katz & Paul Martin have argued, the prospects of cognitive enhancement are part of a ‘neurofuture’ in-the-making that needs as much critical scrutiny as the alleged ‘brain facts’ produced by brain scanning technologies.

    Marketing “Mindsets”

    While the brainwave monitoring headsets hyped by some in ed-tech might seem too far-fetched and too futuristic for schools to adopt, they are being positioned as part of another trend that might make them seem far more palatable: “social emotional learning” or SEL.

    SEL has powerful advocates in powerful places: MacArthur Foundation “Genius” and University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth. Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, who was awarded the $4 million Yidan Prize for Education Research this fall. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose vision for the future of education involves “whole child personalized learning” and who says it plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into education initiatives to that end. The World Economic Forum. The OECD.

    Oh, and the President of the United States, I guess. He did declare 15 - 21 October of this year “Character Counts Week.” Something about grit and determination and moral fiber and whatnot.

    For its part, Edsurge pushed hard with its marketing of SEL in 2017: “Want Social-Emotional Learning to Work? The Careful Balance of Tech and Relationships.” “Assessing Social-Emotional Skills Can Be Fuzzy Work; SELweb Offers Concrete Data.” “How Valor Collegiate Academy is Rethinking SEL.” “Can Grit Be Measured? Angela Duckworth Is Working on It.” “How Can Educators Strike a Balance Between Blended and Social-Emotional Learning?” “Panorama Offers New Platform to Help Teachers Track Student’s SEL Growth.” “Panorama’s Student Progress Reports Show More Than Grades (Think Behavior and SEL).” “Social-Emotional Learning Is the Rage in K–12. So Why Not in College?” “ClassDojo and Yale Team Up to Bring Mindfulness to the Masses.” “We Know SEL Skills Are Important, So How the Heck Do We Measure Them?” “​How Game-Based Learning Encourages Growth Mindset” (that’s sponsored content from “Three Ways You Can Harness Personalized Learning to Promote a Growth Mindset” (that’s sponsored content from Edmentum). “What If Students Have More Confidence in Growth Mindsets Than Their Teachers?” “Free Tech Tools Teach Social Emotional Learning in Classrooms” (that’s sponsored content from EverFi). “Panorama Education Raises $16M to Connect Emotional, Academic Wellbeing With Data.” “How to Measure Success Without Academic Achievement.”

    The elements shared across many of these stories: the monitoring and measuring of students. Monitoring and measuring studentsdata, that is, and then managing their emotions, sure, but more likely, their behavior.

    One of the largest single rounds of funding this year was in the behavior management company Hero K12, which raised $150 million in private equity funding in June. (You can read more about who’s funding this and other trends in my year-end series on

    I wrote about this company, along with its better known competitor ClassDojo, in an article in The Baffler. ClassDojo, which is also used by teachers and schools to manage student behavior, boasts that it’s been adopted in 90% of schools– a statistic that cannot be verified since this sort of data is not tracked by anyone other than the company making the claim. With this popularity, ClassDojo has done a great deal to introduce and promote “growth mindsets” and “mindfulness” to educators. (“To the masses” as Edsurge puts it.)

    These apps – Hero K12, ClassDojo and other types of behavior management products – claim that they help develop “correct behavior.” But what exactly does “correct behavior” entail? And what does it mean (for the future of civic participation, if nothing else) if schools entrust this definition to for-profit companies and their version of psychological expertise? As Ben Williamson observes“social-emotional learning is the product of a fast policy network of ‘psy’ entrepreneurs, global policy advice, media advocacy, philanthropy, think tanks, tech R&D and venture capital investment. Together, this loose alliance of actors has produced shared vocabularies, aspirations, and practical techniques of measurement of the ‘behavioural indicators’ of classroom conduct that correlate to psychologically-defined categories of character, mindset, grit, and other personal qualities of social-emotional learning.” These indicators encourage behaviors that are measurable and manageable, Williamson contends, but SEL also encourages characteristics like malleability and compliance – and all that fits nicely with the “skills” that a corporate vision of education would demand from students and future workers.

    Classroom Management and Persuasive Technologies

    In that Baffler article, I make the argument that behavior management apps like ClassDojo’s are the latest manifestation of behaviorism, a psychological theory that has underpinned much of the development of education technology. Behaviorism is, of course, most closely associated with B. F. Skinner, who developed the idea of his “teaching machine” when he visited his daughter’s fourth grade class in 1953. Skinner believed that a machine could provide a superior form of reinforcement to the human teacher, who relied too much on negative reinforcement, punishing students for bad behavior than on positive reinforcement, the kind that better trains the pigeons.

    As Skinner wrote in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, “We need to make vast changes in human behavior…. What we need is a technology of behavior." Teaching machines, he argued, would be one such technology.

    By arranging appropriate ‘contingencies of reinforcement,’ specific forms of behavior can be set up and brought under the control of specific classes of stimuli. The resulting behavior can be maintained in strength for long periods of time. A technology based on this work has already been put to use in neurology, pharmacology, nutrition, psychophysics, psychiatry, and elsewhere.

    The analysis is also relevant to education. A student is ‘taught’ in the sense that he is induced to engage in new forms of behavior and in specific form upon specific occasions. It is not merely a matter of teaching him what to do; we are as much concerned with the probability that appropriate behavior will, indeed, appear at the proper time – an issue which would be classed traditionally under motivation.

    Skinner was unsuccessful in convincing schools in the 1950s and 1960s that they should buy his teaching machines, and some people argue that his work has fallen completely out of favor, only invoked when deriding something as a “Skinner’s Box.” But I think there’s been a resurgence in behaviorism. It’s epicenter isn’t Harvard, where Skinner taught. It’s Stanford. It’s Silicon Valley. And this new behaviorism is fundamental to how many new digital technologies are being built.

    It’s called “behavior design” today (because at Stanford, you put the word “design” in everything to make it sound beautiful not totally rotten). Stanford psychologist B. J. Fogg and his Persuasive Technology Lab teach engineers and entrepreneurs how to build products – some of the most popular apps can trace their origins to the lab – that manipulate and influence users, encouraging certain actions or behaviors and discouraging others and cultivating a kind of “addiction” or conditioned response. “Contingencies of reinforcement,” as Skinner would call them. “Technique,” Jacques Ellul would say. “Nudges,” per behavioral economist Richard Thaler, recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for economics.

    New technologies are purposefully engineered to demand our attention, to “hijack our minds.” They’re designed to elicit certain responses and to shape and alter our behaviors. Ostensibly all these nudges are supposed to make us better people– that’s the shiniest version of the story promoted in books like Nudge and Thinking about Thinking. But much of this is really about getting us to click on ads, to respond to notifications, to open apps, to stay on Web pages, to scroll, to share – actions and “metrics” that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors value.

    There’s a darker side still to this as I argued in the first article in this very, very long series: this kind of behavior management has become embedded in our new information architecture. It’s “fake news,” sure. But it’s also disinformation plus big data plus psychological profiling and behavior modification. The Silicon Valley “nudge” is a corporate nudge. But as these technologies are increasingly part of media, scholarship, and schooling, it’s a civics nudge too.

    Those darling little ClassDojo monsters are a lot less cute when you see them as part of a new regime of educational data science, experimentation, and “psycho-informatics.”

    Personalized Learning and the Nudge

    In May, The Australian obtained a 23-page document from Facebook’s Australian office detailing how the company had offered to advertisers the ability to target some 6.4 million young people (some as young as 14) during moments of emotional vulnerability – when they felt “worthless,” “insecure,” “defeated,” “anxious,” “silly,” “useless,” “stupid,” “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” or “a failure.” Facebook denied the reporting, stating that The Australian article was misleading and insisting that the company “does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state.” Of course, five years ago, the company did conduct a mass experiment on the manipulation of users’ emotions. It published those findings in an academic journal.

    Facebook might not offer tools to identify users’ emotions to others, but it certainly uses them internally. In November, it unveiled a service to detect if users are suicidal. And earlier this year Facebook IQ, the company’s research division, did publish a paper on how marketers could utilize the emotional experiences people will have in VR. (Remember: Facebook owns Oculus Rift.) “All participants wore EEG headsets to analyze their brain signals and measure their level of comfort and engagement.” The company also announced at its annual developer conference this spring that, like Elon Musk, it too is working on a brain-computer interface. Facebook won’t say if it plans to use brain activity for advertising.

    “Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?” Facebook’s Director of Research David Ginsberg pondered in a company blog post last week. And certainly there has been a ton of ink spilled this year on this very question, noting the increased depression and anxiety (particularly among teens) that some researchers are tracing to the Internet in general and to social media specifically. “Increased Hours Online Correlate With Uptick In Teen Depression, Suicidal Thoughts,” Mindshift reported this fall. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” asked Jean M. Twenge in a widely-read article in The Atlantic, also published this fall. Many in education technology like to scoff at these sorts of claims, I realize. They’re prone to side with Facebook’s Ginsberg: “our research and other academic literature suggests that it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your well-being.”

    Facebook is the largest social network in the world. As of June, it boasted some 2 billion active monthly users. The manipulation of users’ social and emotional experiences should not be minimized or dismissed. And for educators, it’s important to recognize that interest in social and emotional experience and behavioral design is not just something that happens on the Facebook platform (or with other consumer-facing technologies).

    Mark Zuckerberg and his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to promote his vision of “personalized learning.” It’s a vision that, as the head of its education work Jim Shelton recently wrote in an article on Medium, “embraces the role of social-emotional and interpersonal skills, mental and physical health, and a child’s confident progress toward a sense of purpose.”

    “More personal means more equitable and just,” Shelton insisted in that Medium essay. And I do not doubt that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook all believe that. They believe that they have our best interests at heart, and they will guide us – algorithmically, of course – to “good” academics and “good” thoughts and “good” feelings and “good” behavior, defining and designing, of course, what “good” looks like.

    Financial data on the major corporations and investors involved in this and all the trends I cover in this series can be found on You can read more at

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  • 12/29/17--00:50: Hack Education Weekly News
  • (National) Education Politics

    “Where is Trump’s Cabinet?” asks Politico. “It’s anybody’s guess.” The story include updates about US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her failure to disclosure her complete schedule.

    “The Library of Congress No Longer Wants All the Tweets,” says The New York Times. Related thoughts from Ed Summers.

    Andrew Rotherham on the new tax code’s provision to allow 529s for private schools: “A Lousy School Choice.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Britain May Fine Universities That Limit Free Speech.”

    Via Wired UK: “UK’s Nudge Unit tests machine learning to rate schools and GPs.” “Nudge Unit.” JFC.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via Education Week: “Two Districts Roll Back Summit Personalized Learning Program.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Cuomo Wants Food Pantries at all New York Public Colleges.”

    Via The Boston Globe: “Boston drops plan to change school hours.”

    Education in the Courts

    I’m not sure the best section for this story as so many “hate crimes” actually never make it to the legal system. But here it is, nonetheless. Via ProPublica: “What We Discovered During a Year of Documenting Hate.”

    Via the AP: “A federal judge has issued a final judgment, blocking an Arizona state law that prompted the dismantling of a Mexican-American history program in Tucson’s largest school district.”

    Via The Washington Post: “Judge lifts restraining order against Project Veritas in case involving teachers union.”

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “A Look at Sexual-Harassment and Assault Settlements in Schools.”

    Via Security Boulevard: “Canada Proposes $17.5M Settlement for Student Loan Privacy Breach.”

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The Atlantic: “The Intrusion of White Families Into Bilingual Schools.”

    Via The Boston Globe: “New college for conservative Christians planned in Boston.”

    Go, School Sports Team!

    Via The Intercept: “The NCAA Makes Billions, College Athletes Get Nothing. LaVar Ball Wants to Shake Up the System.”

    From the HR Department

    George Ciccariello-Maher has left his position at Drexel, citing threats to himself and his family.

    The Business of Job Training

    “Best Online Classes for Job Skills,” according to MIT Technology Review.

    Contests and Awards

    From the press release: “Alexa Skills Challenge Offers $250,000 in Prizes for Best Kid Skills.” “The best kids skills,” I’m just gonna say, should never include surveillance capitalism, folks.

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    “Ten years in, nobody has come up with a use for blockchain,” says Hacker Noon. Except everyone in education who keeps insisting that it’s gonna “tokenize learning” or “revolutionize grades” or something. Or stuff like this, also on Hacker Noon: “Introducing The Crypto University.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “ YouTube Has A Massive Child Exploitation Problem. How Humans Train Its Search AI Is Partly Why.”

    OER, Capability, and Opportunity” by David Wiley.

    Via Edsurge: “OER Had Its Breakthrough in 2017. Next Year, It Will Become an Essential Teaching Tool.” “OER is about to become for course planning what LMS is for grading,” which frankly sounds awful.

    According to The Wall Street Journal, “Textbook Shopping Goes Online, Driving Prices Down.”

    Via Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein: “Cengage Unlimited Textbook Author Update.”

    Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF

    Via Today Online: “Robot tutors set to help students take on China’s daunting Gaokao college entrance exams.”

    Venture Capital and the Business of Ed-Tech

    PeerGrade has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Y Combinator, byFounders, Project A, Nordic Makers Learn Capital and Futuristic.VC. The peer feedback company has raised $1.89 million total.

    Edlio has acquiredScholantis.

    Eurazeo and Primavera Capital have acquiredWorldStrides.

    Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security

    The most Wired headline: “Science Says Fitness Trackers Don’t Work. Wear One Anyway.”

    Via The Hickory Record: “Newton-Conover City School use data walls to close academic gaps.”

    There’s more about legal cases surrounding privacy breaches in the courts section above.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via The Exstreamist: “Kids in ‘Netflix Only’ Homes are Being Saved from 230 Hours of Commercials a Year.” (I’m not so sure about this, but hey. Nice marketing for streaming services published on a site about streaming services.)

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    This is part eleven of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories

    In May, venture capitalist and former securities analyst Mary Meeker released her annual “Internet Trends” report. The report is always a big deal in technology circles – “a tech industry event in its own right,” as Wired’s Steven Levy put it in 2012– and many publications and pundits dutifully cover Meeker’s observations, often adding very little analysis of their own.

    Among the major trends Meeker identified for 2017: mobile advertising, gaming, and healthcare. She also noted the growth of markets in China and in India.

    Another notable area of growth: the size of the report itself, which has expanded from 66 slides in 2011 to 355 this year, with the number of slides almost doubling in the last year alone. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better or smarter (as readers of this series will surely attest), and some observers wondered if the length of Meeker’s report reflected a lack of focus on her part or a lack of innovation on the part of the industry itself. There are, after all, only so many times you can put “mobile” on your list of “what’s on the horizon” before folks begin to suspect your insights might not be that… insightful.

    Much of what Meeker says in this year’s report about education is placed under her category “gaming.” She posits gaming as the new site for “modern learning,” with an emphasis on skills training and data-driven self-improvement.

    I admit, I find this both an odd and a striking observation. Although I’ve written extensively in this series about the ways in which education is being framed in terms of “skills” and “data” and about how “behaviorism” – an older term for “gamification,” I’d wager – is growing more and more influential over how education products and policies are designed, I haven’t seen much indication this year that the future of education (or even the future of ed-tech) is “gaming” per se. (Although no doubt, Microsoft, now the owner of Minecraft, would like us all to repeat that particular storyline.) That this is how a venture capitalist would characterize the future of education is, nonetheless, quite notable.

    And it raises a number of questions, I think: how good is Mary Meeker at actually identifying and analyzing Internet trends? (Hacker News commenters complained that she made no mention in her report of the blockchain or cryptocurrencies or Initial Coin Offerings. But guys, that might mean those aren’t actually “a thing.”) How accurate are her observations? How accurate is her data? (I’d contend that the slide on the rapid acceleration of technology adoption, for starters, is dead wrong.)

    Why do so many people in the industry insist that this is “essential reading”? Why do people love to be told about “trends”?

    Tom Webster, the VP of strategy at the market research firm Edison Research, argued that the report should be viewed as “an extremely effective piece of content marketing,” pointing to the number of slides that cite data about or by a portfolio company of Meeker’s employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Smith Caulfield. “Why are there 72 slides about gaming, from a company invested in EA, Zynga, Mobcrush, and Magic Leap?” he asks. “Why is there a slide about Peloton? Is this really a trend? Would it be valuable to KPCB if it were?”

    (For what it’s worth, Kleiner Perkins made just one major investment in education in 2017, participating in Coursera’s $64 million round this summer. KPCB partner John Doerr also invested in the “college alternative” MissionU.)

    “Think critically about what has, and has not, been covered in this deck,” Webster urges. “Think about how much the report’s heft and quality lowers your defenses. And consider how much of the deck is about Internet Trends, and how much is a statement about KPCB’s portfolio. There is much to learn from the Meeker report. It’s just not what you think.”

    The same could be said about so many of the reports and so much the writing that came out of the ed-tech industry this year. (It holds true for my work too, of course.) Why are certain types of technologies (and certain types of users) featured? Who and what is missing? Who is telling the stories, and who is funding the stories, and how much of ed-tech journalism ends up reflecting their “portfolio,” if you will – the political and financial investments certain people have made in a certain type of future.

    Manufacturing Trends

    There may be no better example of this in 2017 than “personalized learning.” There were hundreds upon hundreds of headlines this year, many touting the promise of new technologies to tailor teaching to each individual learner.

    “Personalized learning” has powerful advocates, least of which US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who talks about it as part of her broader initiative to “rethink school.” DeVos likes to contrast stories about “personalized learning” with a narrative about school not changing in hundreds of years, about school not recognizing individual student’s needs, about schools forcing students to all learn the same material at the same pace. “It’s a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons and denies futures,” she told a crowd at a school in my hometown of Casper, Wyoming this fall. “Personalized learning,” we must imagine if we believe DeVos’s lyricism here, will be shinier.

    I say “must imagine” because there isn’t really much research that supports the claims that “personalized learning” advocates make about it. There was a RAND study, funded by the Gates Foundation and released this summer, that did find modest gains for students in schools (that were funded by the Gates Foundation to utilize “personalized learning”) that tailored instruction to their needs, but the researchers cautioned against reading too much into the results and urged schools not to rush into buying new products or implementing new initiatives. There’s really no agreed-upon definition of “personalized learning” after all, and as such no real way to measure how many or how well schools are actually implementing it. Whatever “it” is.

    So is “personalized learning” really a “trend”?

    The lack of research hasn’t stopped the positive press coverage. Nor has it stopped Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from making “personalized learning” a centerpiece of his venture philanthropy firm’s education work or from vowing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on it. Indeed, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has paid for some of that very press coverage, funding for example “an EdSurge Research series about how personalized learning is implemented in different school communities across the country.”

    How Philanthropy Shapes “Ed-Tech Trends”

    It’s hard to overstate how much influence philanthropic organizations have had on education policy, now and throughout US history. According to David Callahan, editor of the website Inside Philanthropy and author of the 2017 book The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy, philanthropists have more power than ever before, and “that influence is likely to grow far greater in coming decades.”

    While civil society was a junior partner in the twentieth century relative to government and business, this is changing: Philanthropy is becoming a much stronger power center and, in some areas, is set to surpass government in its ability to shape society’s agenda. To put things differently, we face a future in which private donors – who are accountable to no one – may often wield more influence than elected public officials , who (in theory, anyway) are accountable to all of us.

    No longer is this simply a matter of making a donation and getting one’s name on a university building – although there is still plenty of that. Philanthropy today shapes policy. It shapes discourse.

    No contemporary billionaire has shaped the policy and the discourse in education quite like Bill Gates. The amount of money distributed by his philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is simply staggering: some $15 billion across some 3000+ grants since the organization was founded in 1998. The Gates Foundation has backed a variety of education reform initiatives: charter schools, the Common Core State Standards, “small schools,” inBloom, teacher evaluations, and yes, “personalized learning.” He has backed these initiatives financially; and he has backed the publications and conferences that promote these sorts of efforts. The policy and the discourse.

    In October, Gates announced to the attendees at the Council of the Great City Schools that his foundation plans to spend $1.7 billion in the next five years on education initiatives. But, Gates added, “our education efforts are evolving.”

    The foundation will no longer directly invest in new initiatives involving teacher evaluations and ratings, Gates said – something the foundation has spent almost a billion dollars on – but will continue to gather data on the impact of these kinds of reforms. The foundation will focus on “locally-driven solutions” that networks of schools say are working well, using “data-driven continuous learning and evidence-based interventions to improve student achievement.” It will help to develop curricula and professional development aligned to state standards. It will continue to support charter schools, helping them with challenges like developing students’ “social and emotional skills.” And it will fund “innovative” research to “accelerate progress for underserved students.”

    No mention of “personalized learning” in that outline, something that the Gates Foundation first started funding back in 2000 in some of its earliest grants “to support personalized learning environments where all students achieve.” Why, it’s almost as though there is some other tech billionaire who will now pick up the mantle for that cause…

    There are many other billionaires – and not just tech billionaires, of course – who are active in education philanthropy and as such, education policy and education discourse. The Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart fame and fortune), for example, which pledged last year to spend $1 billion in K–12 education in the next five years, much of it going to fund charter schools. The Eli and Edith Broad Foundation, whose founder Eli Broad announced this year he was stepping down from his philanthropy. The Sackler family – dubbed by The New Yorker this year as “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” because of its role in funding the opiate industry – has backed a variety of education philanthropies and invested in a variety of education companies (including AltSchool). The Charles Koch Foundation, which gave some $50 million last year to universities and think tanks to support “free market ideas.” (I talk a bit about the Koch Brothers in part seven of this series that examines “free speech” on campus.) The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, which has given money to charter schools (including Success Academy Charter Schools), media organizations (including The 74), and conservative education organizations (including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education). (Perhaps that name, Betsy DeVos, is familiar. I have mentioned her once or twice in this series.)

    Some of this is what Jane Mayer describes in her 2016 book Dark Money– the powerful and secretive networks of right-wing billionaire activists. Some of this is what was revealed this year in the release of the Paradise Papers– a trove of documents that show how wealthy individuals (and wealthy corporations and wealthy universities) keep their money in shell companies and offshore accounts, so as to avoid taxes. (According to The Givers, the US Treasury has estimated that charitable tax breaks will total some $740 billion over the next decade, although this calculation came prior the recent GOP tax plan that altered how the middle class benefits from these sorts of deductions.)

    To avoid taxes and to avoid scrutiny.

    To its credit, the Gates Foundation does make the list of its grant recipients publicly available on its website. (I spent some time this summer going through that list and compiling all the education-related ones – you can find that work on, including details of the $235-ish million in grant funding that went to education projects this year.)

    But others in education philanthropy, particularly venture philanthropy, are far less transparent. The Emerson Collective, the investment firm run by Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, is notoriously opaque about its investments. Edsurge, for example, received funding from the company this year, but there was no public announcement to that end.

    The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, for its part, has opted for a different organizational structure – an LLC – enabling it to avoid the kinds of disclosure that the IRS requires of foundations like the Gates’. As Jesse Eisinger wrote in a scathing article in The New York Times when Mark Zuckerberg announced the initiative back in 2015,

    An L.L.C. can invest in for-profit companies (perhaps these will be characterized as societally responsible companies, but lots of companies claim the mantle of societal responsibility). An L.L.C. can make political donations. It can lobby for changes in the law. He remains completely free to do as he wishes with his money. That’s what America is all about. But as a society, we don’t generally call these types of activities “charity.”

    Despite the promises that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has made about investing hundreds of millions of dollars in personalized learning and other education projects, we don’t know how much has been invested or how much has been granted or where all that money has gone.

    We did learn a little this year about what happened to that famous $100 million donation Zuckerberg made to Newark’s public schools– thanks to research underwritten by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: “by 2016, Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011. But the results are not uniformly positive. It finds no impact in math. And in both subjects, the reforms seem to have come with a cost: student achievement declined substantially in the first three years of the changes,” Chalkbeat reported this fall.

    And we learned a little too about other CZI efforts based on the odd press release and media coverage: money to the College Board; money to Chiefs for Change; investments in Brightwheel, Sawyer, Andela, and Panorama Education. CZI hired Bror Saxberg, whose previous work was with the for-profit online charter school K12 Inc and the for-profit college Kaplan, as its learning scientist. It hired David Plouffe, Obama’s ex-campaign manager who had most recently worked at Uber. It hired former PayPal exec Peggy Abkemeier Alford as its CFO. It hired Joel Benenson, former Obama and Clinton political strategist. (Don’t worry. Mark Zuckerberg is totally not running for President.)

    If the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a new model for ed-tech philanthropy, then it’s important to recognize how its lack of transparency reflects a growing influence of “dark money” in education and education technology. The policy and the discourse.

    Venture Capital in 2017

    You can find more data about “the business of ed-tech” – from 2017 and from previous years – on Here are some of the numbers from this one:

    • Amount of venture capital invested in 2017: $3.48 billion
    • Number of investments: 198
    • Average investment size: $19 million / Median investment size: $5 million
    • Number of acquisitions: 86
    • Number of mergers: 4
    • Number of IPOs: 4
    • Number added to the “ed-tech dead pool”: 4

    The amount of investment is up from last year by over $1 billion. But it’s down from the record-setting year in 2015 – down by about $1 billion. The number of deals this year is also down from the two previous years, as is the number of acquisitions. That is, there were more large investments in fewer companies, but also fewer companies buying the little ones in turn.

    The companies that have raised the most money in 2017 (not including the venture capital firms that have raised new funds):

    • SoFi (private student loans) –- $500 million
    • VIPKID (tutoring) – $200 million
    • EverFi (“critical skills” training) –- $190 million
    • Zuoyebang (tutoring) – $150 million
    • Hero K12 (behavior management) –- $150 million
    • Yuanfandao (tutoring) –- $120 million
    • Grammarly (grammar and spelling assistance in exchange for your personal data) –- $110 million
    • (tutoring) -– $100 million
    • Liulishuo (language learning) – $100 million
    • Gaosi Education (tutoring) – $83.5 million
    • BYJU’s (test prep) – $70 million
    • Coursera (online education) –- $64 million
    • Absorb (learning management system) – $59 million
    • Changingedu (tutoring) – $55 million
    • Yixue Education (online education) – $41 million
    • Wonder Workshop (robotics) – $41 million
    • AltSchool (private school; learning management system) – $40 million
    • Prodigy Finance (student loans) – $40 million

    These are (as far as I can tell) currently the most well-funded startups in education:

    • SoFi (student loans) – $2.156 billion
    • VIPKID (tutoring) – $325 million
    • EverFi (“critical skills” training) – $251 million
    • BYJUs (test prep) – $244 million
    • Coursera (online education) – $210.1 million
    • Yuanfandao (tutoring) –- $210 million
    • Zuoyebang (tutoring) – $210 million
    • Pluralsight (skills training) – $192.5 million
    • Age of Learning (educational apps) – $181.5 million
    • Udemy (skills training) – $173 million
    • AltSchool (private school; learning management system) – $172.9 million
    • Kaltura (video) – $166.1 million
    • D2L (learning management system) – $165 million
    • Udacity (skills training) – $160 million
    • Knewton (mind-reading robo tutor in the sky) – $157.25 million

    The most active venture capitalist firms this year:

    • University Ventures (with investments in Smart Sparrow, AdmitHub, CollegeVine, Examity, Motimatic, OOHLALA, Paragon One, PeopleGrove, Packback, EquitySim, Evertrue, Vemo Education, MissionU, and Galvanize. I would argue that University Ventures is not only the most active investor but also the one most actively shaping discourse, with regular op-eds by partner Ryan Craig in Techcrunch and in Edsurge)
    • Reach Capital (with investments in Abl, AdmitHub, BookNook, Epic, Holberton School, Mrs. Wordsmith, Mystery Science, Nearpod, PeopleGrove, Lightneer, Tinkergarten, Piper, BetterLesson, and OOHLALA)
    • Rethink Education (with investments in Abl, Clark, Knowledge to Practice, Trilogy Education, Vidcode, Voxy, MissionU, Upswing, and Lessonly)
    • GSV (with investments in CreativeLive, MasterClass, PeopleGrove,, Voxy, Lightneer, Nearpod, Coursera, and Motimatic from GSV Acceleration, GSV Asset Management, and GSV Capital)
    • Owl Ventures (with investments in Abl, Lingo Live,, Tinkergarten, Piper, BetterLesson, Panorama Education, and Noodle Partners)
    • Learn Capital (with investments in Coursera, Mystery Science, Outschool, Paragon One, MissionU, Springboard, and Peergrade)

    Manufacturing Markets

    Among the most popular areas of investment for venture capitalists:

    • Tutoring, with ~ $667.42 million in funding
    • Student loans, with ~ $583.8 million in funding (Financial aid management companies raised another $37.5 million this year)
    • Online education, with ~ $358.85 million in funding
    • Venture capital firms, with ~ $306.5 million in funding
    • Language learning, with ~ $185.6 million in funding
    • Behavior management, with ~ $150 million in funding
    • Grammar and spelling assistance, with ~ $110 million in funding
    • Coding bootcamps, with ~ $107.6 million in funding (Other learn-to-code companies raised about $22.89 million this year)
    • Robotics, with ~ $99 million in funding
    • Test prep, with ~ $80 million in funding
    • Learning management systems, with ~ $65 million in funding

    It’s worth considering, I think, whether or not the level of investment matches the hype: do the areas above coincide with the stories that we were most often told this year about what, supposedly, are “ed-tech trends.” Gaming – what Mary Meeker, if you’ll recall, positions as the future of learning – doesn’t make the list here, for example. Nor does “social emotional learning,” virtual reality, predictive analytics, wearables, or the other things likely to end up on various publications’ lists of trends. Are tutoring and test prep – pax Benjamin Bloom – actually what we can expect with investors’ and philanthropists’ push for “personalized learning”?

    Looking at investment dollars doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, of what might be “trending” – of what’s popular, of what’s profitable, of (god knows) what’s pedagogically useful or ethically desirable.

    One could look at other financial indicators, I suppose, to get a sense of the health and viability of certain trends (or at least, of certain businesses). Companies that were acquired in 2017, for example. The number of acquisitions was down from previous years, as some of the companies who, in previous years, gobbled up a lot of small startups, seem to be struggling financially. (Pearson, for one.) Or one could gauge “ed-tech trends” based on the companies that went out of business. This year, Yik Yak shut down, despite having raised some $73 million in venture funding. Two high-profile coding bootcamps, The Iron Yard and Dev Bootcamp, closed their doors. Or one could look at ed-tech companies that laid off staff: the coding bootcamp Galvanize, the analytics company Civitas Learning, the learning management system Schoology, MOOC provider Coursera, the education giant Pearson, for example. One could look at companies that made major shuffles in the executive boardrooms: a new CEO at Coursera, the departure of Coursera’s chief product officer, a new CEO at Knewton, the departure of Altschool’s COO, for instance.

    Of course, it might not be possible (or wise) to glean “trends” from business patterns, despite the popularity of all those Mary Meeker slides. But it’s probably one way to surmise what investors are betting “the future of education” to look like. If that’s the case, that future might look like China, with over a quarter of venture capital in ed-tech this year going to Chinese companies – almost entirely to tutoring and test prep. Six out of the top ten largest rounds of funding went to Chinese companies. Three out of four of the education IPOs this year were Chinese companies. Three out of the best funded education startups are Chinese companies. There was lots of talk this year about Chinese’s growing influence and innovation in tech, so to borrow from a Fortune headline, will China emerge as an education technology superpower to rival the US? How will the growing demand for education in China shape the future of education technologically and the future of education globally?

    (Yes, this series is focused primarily on the stories we were told about education and education technology in the US. For a quick overview of some of the other stories from other countries, you can read more on the blog.)

    For the past few years, I’ve noted that many in education technology have pointed to the procurement process as “the problem” – that that’s really what’s to blame when ed-tech (and the business of ed-tech) is terrible. Their “solution”: something I dubbed “procurement-as-a-service” – that is, a service offered to schools to help them make better and easier purchasing decisions. “Consulting” is probably the better word for it, in hindsight.

    There were a string of events at the beginning of 2017 that made me think that this was going to become “a thing”:

    • Edsurge announced in January that it would concentrate on its “Concierge” service, acting as a liaison between schools and industry and aiding the former in deciding which of the latter’s products to buy. “We’re taking a big step and committing ourselves to one goal,” Edsurge wrote. “Helping schools figure out what technologies can best help all of their students grow into people who can smartly navigate our complex, networked world.”
    • Noodle Companies announced in January it had raised $5 million in venture capital. The company, founded by Princeton Review and 2U founder (and Edsurge investor) John Katzman, runs Noodle Markets, which helps schools with procurement.
    • In February, Education Week reported that districts and schools will be able to make purchases online via Amazon through the US Communities cooperative.
    • Education Week also reported in February that the State Educational Technology Directors Association had released a new website that offered guidelines on purchasing digital materials.
    • In February, The Hechinger Report profiled LEAP Innovations, a Chicago-based non-profit, alongside the LearnLaunch startup accelerator program: “How some schools decide what education technology to buy.”
    • In February, Education Dive profiled the Technology for Education Consortium, an organization whose members share data about what they’ve paid for ed-tech products, and its partnership with LearnPlatform. In April, Education Week’s Market Brief reported on a study by the consortium claiming school districts could save billions if they shared with one another the details about what they were paying for hardware and software.

    But then in May, Edsurge suddenly pivoted again, announcing “the next stage” for its Concierge service: “Starting on June 1, EdSurge Concierge will no longer offer free, phone-based diagnostics to school and district administrators, nor will we make direct connections between administrators and company representatives.” Instead, it said it would offer some diagnostic tools online.

    Around the same time, The New York Times began publishing Natasha Singer’s year-long investigative series into how education technology is being sold to classrooms, chronicling the ways in which Silicon Valley is changing what hardware, software, and curricula schools purchase. “Some tech moguls are taking a hands-on role in nearly every step of the education supply chain,” Singer wrote, “by financing campaigns to alter policy, building learning apps to advance their aims and subsidizing teacher training.” Edsurge, I’d suggest, may be a key piece of that supply chain, funded by the very same investors who’ve backed the products it covers and “trends” it promotes.

    Singer’s series examined how tech companies are wooing school “gatekeepers” and decision-makers – how the Baltimore County Public Schools in particular made some of its tech procurement decisions, noting a tangle of relationships among education foundations, ed-tech advocacy groups, technology companies, and public officials (including the district’s superintendent Dallas Dance, who resigned suddenly in April and is now under investigation, in part for his connections to SUPES Academy, according to The Baltimore Sun, a company run by the former head of Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who pleaded guilty in April to a bribery and kickback scheme).

    Perhaps the most controversial (in some circles, at least) story in Singer’s series was her look at “brand ambassadors,” those educators who provide free marketing for ed-tech companies – receiving new products for use in their classroom (for free and as such outside the typical procurement process), promoting these products to other educators, and providing the companies with feedback. The story profiles two teachers – Nicholas Provenzano from Gross Pointe South High School in Michigan and Kayla Delzer from Mapleton Elementary School in North Dakota – who have leveraged their social media followings to become high profile “influencers” in education technology, shaping what other teachers learn about “ed-tech trends.”

    Here’s part of what I wrote in response to that article:

    “I am in this profession for kids,” these celebrity educators insist, not for money or fame. But altruism is not the same as justice.

    “My kids have access to awesome things that, as a district, we could never afford,” teacher Nick Provenzano tells The NYT in justifying his relationship with a 3D printer company. The article takes that assertion at face value; many readers probably did too. Again, we all know that school budgets are tight. But “tight” is relative; budgets are relative. And Provenzano’s school is quite affluent. Just 7% of the students at his school qualify for the free and reduced lunch program – the state-wide average in Michigan is 38%, and 74% of students in the neighboring Detroit Public Schools qualify. Provenzano worries his English lit students won’t have a 3D printer; teachers (and parents) just 8 miles away in Detroit still have to worry about the lead in the city’s drinking water.

    Inequality is rampant throughout public education in the United States (and yes, throughout the United States itself), and inequality affects not just how much money is allocated per student – funding is typically tied to property taxes – or how much teachers and families can afford and expect to spend in order to supplement that. These inequalities affect what sorts of education technology appears in the classroom and how these products are used. Some students get 3D printers; some students get digital drill-and-kill. Some students get colorful beanbags to sit in; some students have to walk through metal detectors.

    Educational inequalities are historical and they are structural and they are dependent on class and race and geography. 86% of the students at Provenzano’s school are white; 80% of those at Kayla Delzer’s, the other teacher in The NYT story, are white (which is, in fairness, a reflection of the overwhelmingly whiteness of North Dakota). This stands in stark contrast to the percentage of students enrolled in public schools across the entire US who are white: less than 50%. The student-teacher ratio at Delzer’s schools is 8 to 1; it’s significantly higher – no surprise – in those classrooms in Detroit, which makes it difficult to imagine how a teacher there could adopt the “flexible seating” options that Delzer promotes with her social media profile.

    The New York Times series raises a lot of questions about the ethics of ed-tech procurement – about “influence” and decision-making and one of today’s most powerful industries. But it raises questions too about the business of “ed-tech trends” and the power of ed-tech storytelling. We’d do well to consider how our imaginations about the future of education and education technology are shaped by the narratives we see promoted by education investors and education philanthropists and education trade shows and education companies and by the educators that regularly speak for them. What ends up on schools’ and students’ shopping lists because of these stories? What legislation ends up on politicians’ desks?

    Imagine that, instead of fawning over future-oriented “trends” or the future promise of products – be they virtual reality or “personalized learning” or “flexible seating” or what have you, that education technology actually centered itself on ethical practices – on an ethics of care. And imagine if education’s investors, philanthropists, and practitioners alike committed to addressing, say, economic inequality and racial segregation instead of simply committing to buying more tech.

    It’d be a whole different story…

    Financial data on the major corporations and investors involved in this and all the trends I cover in this series can be found on You can read more at

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    I wouldn’t say these are all the stories about education technology we were told this year. But these are the ones I decided to analyze:

    In addition to these eleven (damn) articles, I wrote a bunch of supplemental pieces, mostly trying to fill in some of the gaps in the storytelling:

    I also wrote about the investors and corporations funding each of these powerful storylines (or at least, funding the new ed-tech companies associated with them):

    This was the eighth time undertaking this year-end project, and it was, by far, the most difficult one yet. In part, 2017 was just a very bad year. A bad year for the politics of education. A bad year for the politics of technology. A busy year, full of bad education technology. There were many ed-tech storylines to follow, almost all of them dystopian. In part too, this project is just a lot of work, as there’s a ton of writing and as (I hope) there’s some big thinking as well.

    This undertaking would not be possible without the scholarship of many other writers and thinkers. (So credit where credit is due.) And it certainly would not be possible without the financial and moral support of readers. Thank you everyone who read and shared my work this year.

    Except for the haters. Don’t @ me.

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  • 01/01/18--09:10: New Year's Updates
  • I’ve made some changes to this site, most obviously updating the header image. That’s thanks to Bryan Mathers, of course, who continues to capture what I am thinking so perfectly in his drawings. (Why a pigeon?)

    Those who look closely will also note that I have also changed how the work here is licensed. No longer is there a Creative Commons license on Hack Education material or on my personal blog. This really doesn’t change much, I promise. It does not change what you can read on my sites. Hack Education will remain free, without advertising or analytics or paywalls of any sort. Mostly it means you have to ask my permission before republishing my work. If you do wish to reprint or reuse my writing, please contact me directly.

    Like all decisions I make about my websites, I am quite certain that this will enrage a handful of people who feel as though it is my duty to make myself “open” and “accessible” on their terms, but not on mine. Instead of making demands and making presumptions about a writer (any writer, but particularly this woman), ask permission.

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  • 01/05/18--02:45: Hack Education Weekly News
  • (National) Education Politics

    You know it’s amazing news when The Guardian publishes it one minute after midnight in the new year: “Toby Young to help lead government’s new universities regulator.” Happy New Year, England! And congrats on being first off the blocks to fuck up education in 2018! “Who’s Toby Young?” Americans wonder. Well… Ask any of your British education colleagues. They’ll tell ya.

    Via Buzzfeed: “A New Betsy DeVos Proposal Would Make It Much Tougher For Students To Get Loan Forgiveness.”

    Via The Washington Post: “Elizabeth Warren wants the Education Dept.’s use of earnings data investigated.”

    More on how the GOP tax plan will effect universities (particularly those with large endowments) in Inside Higher Ed.

    Via Edsurge: “After Net Neutrality, Experts Expect Changes to FCC’s E-Rate.”

    Former English minister of education David Laws onLiberia’s big school experiment.”

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via The Baltimore Sun: “Baltimore teachers call on city to close all schools amid heating issues.” More via NPR.

    Via The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Two-plus hours on a school bus: How a Chester charter taps Philly kids to grow.”

    Via “Kansas GOP making moves to prepare for April vote on K–12 constitutional amendment” – this would rewrite "the state’s obligation to educate public school children."

    Via The New York Times: “Met Changes 50-Year Admissions Policy: Non-New Yorkers Must Pay.”

    Via The New York Times: “City of the Future? Humans, Not Technology, Are the Challenge in Toronto.”

    Immigration and Education

    Via The New York Times: “As Flow of Foreign Students Wanes, U.S. Universities Feel the Sting.”

    Via ProPublica: “Trump Justice Department Pushes for Citizenship Question on Census, Alarming Experts.”

    Education in the Courts

    Via Complex: “Federal Court Says High School Football Player Can’t Be Forced to Stand for National Anthem.”

    Via Education Week: “Ohio Supreme Court to Hear Online Charter School Funding Dispute.”

    Via The New York Times: “School Soccer Coach in California Charged With Trafficking Teenage Girls.”

    The Business of Financial Aid

    The Washington Post looks at income sharing agreements.

    There’s more about the politics of the business of student loans in the federal education above. And the business of student loans is off to a strong start in 2018 with fundraising news in the venture capital section below.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    For-profit colleges bought and sold in the “business of education” section below. And more too on accreditation for for-profits in the accreditation section below.

    Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)

    Amazon Web Services (AWS) has joinededX.

    There’s data about distance education enrollments in the US in the research section below.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The Atlantic: “The Future of Trumpism Is on Campus.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Career Education Colleges and Universities, a trade group for the for-profit college sector, this week called on the U.S. Congress to give colleges that are accredited by an agency the Obama administration terminated more time to find a new accreditor.”


    “Is the Smarter Balanced National Test Broken?” asks Education Dive, which I suppose is a question that should put this story into the Betteridge’s Law of Headlines section.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Feds Set Stage for ESSA‘Innovative’ Testing Pilots. But States, Vendors May Move Slowly.”

    Go, School Sports Team!

    Via NPR: “Training For The Olympics Is Hard Enough. Try Doing That While Earning A Degree.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Arizona has fired its head football coach, Rich Rodriguez, following allegations by his former administrative assistant that Rodriguez sexually harassed her.”

    There’s sports-related news in the courts section above.

    Memos from HR

    Via The Guardian: “Google faces new discrimination charge: paying female teachers less than men.”

    More hiring and firing news in the sports section above.

    Contests and Awards

    From Chalkbeat: “Why we decided to launch the Great American Teach-Off, and how it will work.”

    “I Have Big Reservations About Chalkbeat’s Teaching Competition,” says Dan Meyer.

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    Via The New York Times: “How Climate Change Deniers Rise to the Top in Google Searches.”

    Via Vanity Fair: “‘Oh My God, This Is So F—ed Up’: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side.” Good thing no one in Silicon Valley is trying to shape the future of education, otherwise this story would be even more horrific.

    Yes, this is ed-tech. Weapons training and metal detectors are ed-tech. School furnaces are also ed-tech. Perhaps if we paid attention to more than just the venture-backed gadgetry and philanthropy-backed stories about “innovation,” we could work towards schools that were actually safer and more just.

    The Atlantic on Logan Paul: “The Social-Media Star and the Suicide.”

    Via The Guardian: “Neurotechnology, Elon Musk and the goal of human enhancement.”

    Via Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein: “Good Enough vs. Better Enough: The Macmillan Example.”

    Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF

    From the Amazon PR department: “University of Oklahoma Expands Student Engagement with Alexa Skills.”

    Venture Capital and the Business of Ed-Tech

    The private school provider Taaleem has raised $14 million from Amanat Holdings.

    Frank has raised $10 million from Reach Capital,Aleph, and Apollo Global Management. “A TurboTax for student loan applications” according to Techcrunch, the company has raised $15.5 million total.

    The private equity firm KKR has sold its stake in Weld North Education to another private equity firm, Silver Lake. Edsurge reports that Weld North Education will still be run by former Kaplan exec Jonathan Grayer.

    The for-profit chain of colleges Education Corporation of America has acquired the for-profit chain of colleges Vatterott Educational Centers.

    Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Via Ars Technica: “‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’: Every modern processor has unfixable security flaws.”

    AngelSense GPS Tracker is the only monitoring solution designed by autism parents for autism parents.

    Via Buzzfeed: “India’s National ID Database With Private Information Of Nearly 1.2 Billion People Was Reportedly Breached.”

    Via The Times Leader: “Sutton Elementary School will be implementing a pilot program next school year that will digitally scan student fingerprints in an effort to make food lines more efficient.” The school is in Owensboro, Kentucky. Good thing is if this system gets breached, the school will just issue kids new fingerprints.

    Via Edsurge: “Measuring Learning Will Be Key to Improving It in 2018.” Featuring this gem: “The most obvious sign that measuring learning is not a priority in higher-ed is that administrators and educators throw away so much data about it.”

    Via The 74: “How One Program Is Closing the College Persistence Gap for Needy Students With Financial Aid, Social Supports, and a Powerful Data Tracker.”

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via NPR: “Many Large Public Universities Don’t Collect Data On Suicides, Report Finds.”

    Via Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill: “Fall 2016 IPEDS First Look: Continued growth in distance education in US.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “New Data on Enrollments, Employees, Libraries.”

    From Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum: “What we’ve learned: 5 lessons from education research to take into 2018.”

    Via The Hechinger Report: “Rival studies shed light on the merits of a Montessori education.”

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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  • 01/12/18--05:45: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this feeds the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    I’ll lead off this week’s roundup of education news with this from England, from The Guardian: “Toby Young resigns from the Office for Students after backlash.” More from The Guardian. And more Toby Young (and eugenics) news in the “meanwhile on campus” section below.

    Still more education news from the UK: “Sam Gyimah replaces Jo Johnson as universities minister,” The Times Higher Education reports. “Damian Hinds is new education secretary, replacing Justine Greening,” says the BBC.

    Of course, the US can’t let the UK lead for too long when it comes to terrible people and terrible ideas in education. So here’s an early contender for “Worst Education ‘Take’ of 2018’” by Gary Wolfram in Education Week: “Make Public Education a Market Economy – Not a Socialist One.”

    Speaking of market economies, more financial aid news in the financial aid section below.

    Congratulations, STEM folks and learn-to-code evangelists, for being featured in President Trump’s list of his 2017 accomplishments. You must be so proud.

    Via The New York Times: “Texas Illegally Excluded Thousands From Special Education, Federal Officials Say.” The Department of Education’s press release has more. Kudos to the Houston Chronicle for the original reporting on this in 2016.

    Via Education Week: “Trump Signs Orders on Rural Broadband Access.”

    It’s pretty terrible to report on how a “President Oprah” would shape education policy and not talk about how she has actively promoted pseudoscience. But maybe a lot of education policy is based on pseudoscience, so that’s why we can just let that slide… Via Chalkbeat: “President Winfrey? Here’s what we know about Oprah’s education outlook.”

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Vox on segregation in US public schools: “We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does.”

    Via NPR: “Outcry After Louisiana Teacher Arrested During School Board Meeting.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “In New Budget Proposal, California Higher Ed Gets Modest Funding and a Big Online College.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Despite enthusiasm for four-year degrees offered by California community colleges, a state report calls for more time before expanding the programs.”

    More on California community colleges in the online education section below.

    Lots of very excited and uncritical reporting on the new charter school on Oracle’s campus.

    Via Chalkbeat: “Charter and online schools report the largest increase in students in Colorado.”

    Via The LA Times: “LAUSD chief Michelle King won’t return from medical leave for cancer, plans to retire.”

    Immigration and Education

    Via The LA Times: “Federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocks Trump’s decision to end DACA program.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Berkeley Breaks Silence on Arrest of Undocumented Student.”

    Education in the Courts (and in the AGs’ Offices)

    Via The Verge: “James Damore sues Google for allegedly discriminating against conservative white men.” 69% of Google’s employees are men. 56% are white. Clearly it’s tough there for white guys.

    Via The New York Times: “Former Financial Aid Chief at Columbia Is Accused of Taking Kickbacks.”

    “A Wisconsin school district has settled a discrimination lawsuit filed by a transgender high school student for $800,000,” the AP reports. The student “alleged staff at Tremper High School monitored his use of the bathroom and made him wear a special bracelet to single him out from other students.” “Special bracelets” are, of course, ed-tech.

    Via The Washington Post: “Richard Spencer supporter sues university, calling security fee for campus speech unconstitutional.” The school in question: University of Cincinnati.

    Via The New York Times: “Big Tech to Join Legal Fight Against Net Neutrality Repeal.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into whether the ethics code of the National Association for College Admission Counseling violates federal antitrust law.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A Pennsylvania judge has banned fraternity Pi Delta Psi from the state for a decade, a punishment for a hazing death in 2013, and an unprecedented step likely to rock the national Greek system.”

    More legal wrangling in the immigration section above.

    The Business of Financial Aid

    Via The Washington Post: “Education Dept. awards debt collection contract to company with ties to DeVos.” That would be Windham Professionals and Performant Financial Corp, which DeVos has invested in (but divested since her nomination as Secretary of Education).

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Department of Education officials said Monday that they do not have any estimates of how many borrowers would clear new, tougher standards proposed for claims of loan relief when a student is defrauded or misled by their college. The department’s proposed language would require a student borrower to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that their college intended to deceive them or had a reckless disregard for the truth in making claims about job-placement rates, credit transferability and other outcomes.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “Here’s How A Student Loan Debt Relief Company Preyed On Its Customers.” The company: the Student Loan Assistance Center.

    “The looming student loan default crisis is worse than we thought,” says Brookings.

    “Where student loan debt is a real problem,” according to Jeff Selingo.

    More financial aid news in the “courts” section above.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    “It’s not every day that a university fires nearly all of its faculty. But that’s what happened last week at the American University of Malta, a start-up institution operated by a Jordanian construction and tourism company without a track record in higher education,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Grand Canyon U. Will Again Try to Become a Nonprofit.” More via Inside Higher Ed.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “VA Backs Off Threat to Cut GI Bill Funding for Ashford University.”

    The interview in Logic deals with more than just for-profit higher ed, but always read Tressie McMillan Cottom on the topic of “lower ed” (and coding schools).

    More on the for-profit formerly known as Kaplan University in the online education section below. More funding for coding schools in the venture capital section below.

    Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)

    From the press release: “Purdue announces name for new public university: Purdue University Global to serve working adults, online.” This new school is a result of Purdue’s acquisition of the for-profit Kaplan University. PUG. Woof.

    California Could Soon Have Its First Fully-Online Community College,” Edsurge says excitedly.

    Speaking of online higher ed in California, Udacity’s blog says thatUdacity and Baidu Announce Groundbreaking Self-Driving Car Partnership at CES.”

    Via the AP: “The sponsor of one of the nation’s largest online charter schools says it’s cutting that tie, which could halt the Ohio e-school’s operations for its roughly 12,000 students within days.” The school: the Electronic Classroom of the Future. The sponsor: the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Public school buildings are falling apart, and students are suffering for itby Rachel Cohen.

    “Under Trump, a Hard Test for Howard Universityby Jelani Cobb.

    “The Fight to Rebuild a Ravaged University” – The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz on the University of Puerto Rico.

    Via the Naples Daily News: “FGCU police presence planned for start of ‘White Racism’ class.” That’s Florida Gulf Coast University.

    “UCL to investigate eugenics conference secretly held on campus,” says The Guardian. That’s University College London, and apparently Toby Young (who just resigned from his appointment as the head of the Office of Students) was a “prominent attendee.”

    “No College Kid Needs a Water Park to Study,” says James Koch in a NYT op-ed, criticizing schools spending money on lavish amenities. I wonder what costs more: water parks or big-time college sports? (See the sports section below for one calculation.)

    The Guardian on the Open University’s vice-chancellor, Peter Horrocks: “A visionary” or “the man who will run it into the ground?” Those are the choices?!

    “Don’t Expect a Wave of Private Nonprofit College Closuressays Seton Hall University professor Robert Kelchen.

    “Has UMUC Turned Enrollment Woes Around?” asks Inside Higher Ed. Edutechnica has more thoughts: “The Real Reason Behind UMUC’s Recent Success.” That’s University of Maryland University College, by the way.

    Via the Dallas Morning News: “Abilene Christian University urges students: Don’t work at Hooters.” No word if students are discouraged from going to Hooters. I guess we’re just policing women’s bodies.

    Via Hacker Noon: “$3.5k to $80k: Pay for Business School with Cryptocurrency Investments.” (Don’t make me start a section for blockchain news, guys.)

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Stackable Credentials May Not Boost Earnings,” says Campus Technology.

    “Why Requiring Daycare Workers to Head Back to School Hurts the Working Class,” The Pacific Standard argues.

    Every once in a while, there’s a headline in the form of a question to which Betteridge’s Law – see below – does not apply. Like this one in Edutopia: “Will Letter Grades Survive?”


    “Can a Test Ever Be Fair?” asks Edsurge. “How Today’s Standardized Tests Get Made.”

    Go, School Sports Team!

    An op-ed in The LA Times by Victoria L. Jackson: “Take it from a former Division I athlete: College sports are like Jim Crow.”

    Via USA Today: “College football coaching moves costing schools at least $110 million.”

    Memos from HR

    Via The LA Times: “Five women accuse actor James Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior.” I’m including this story here because four were his students.

    Via The Root: “Substitute Teacher Fired After Private High School Discovers He Works for Richard Spencer’s White Supremacist Think Tank.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Rochester’s President Resigns as Report Supports Handling of Harassment Case.” More on the University of Rochestervia Inside Higher Ed.

    Subsidized Housing May Help School Districts Retain Teachers,” says NPR. Or. And it’s a strange idea, I know. Bear with me. Or, you could just pay teachers more.

    Via Chalkbeat: “In many large school districts, hundreds of teaching positions were unfilled as school year began.”

    From the press release: “Blackboard Announces Organizational Changes to Better Serve Clients Worldwide.” It’s creating two new divisions: Global Client Operations & Success, and Global Markets. Lee Blakemore will lead the former; Mark Gruzin, the latter. Blackboard’s Chief Financial Officer, Lisa Mayr, is also leaving the company.

    More HR changes in the education politics and in the for-profit higher ed sections above.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Is Your Institution Really Ready for Predictive Analytics?asks Edsurge.

    Is advertorial content really something education technology journalism should foster? asks Audrey.

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    The annual “Consumer Electronics Show” was held in Las Vegas this week. The power went out. Perfect, really.

    The Looming Digital Meltdownby Zeynep Tufekci.

    Via The New York Times: “Apple Investors Warn iPhones and Other Technology May Be Hurting Children.”

    From the Blackboard blog: “Advertising In Schools: This Parent Says It’s Time to Embrace It.” JFC. No.

    According to Edsurge, “Amazon’s Education Hub, Amazon Inspire, Has Quietly Restored ‘Sharing’ Function.”

    Oh look. It’s another great example of why people who call for “Uber for Education” are probably pretty shady.

    Via The New York Times: “Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share.”

    Speaking of algorithms and major technology companies… Via Gizmodo: “Google Censors Gorillas Rather Than Risk Them Being Mislabeled As Black People – But Who Does That Help?”

    “What Can the CEO of a $1.6-Billion Enrollment-Services Giant Tell Us About the Student Life Cycle?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education in a profile of EAB. That student data is big bucks? I dunno…

    Via Techcrunch: “IBM led on patents in 2017, Facebook broke into top 50 for the first time.”

    Textbooks are expensive. News at 11.

    Via Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “Top Hat Marketplace: What is it and should we care?”

    Education Week has a report on the “10 Big Ideas in Education.” Among the “big ideas,” “A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Takes on the Master Schedule” – a profile of Abl Schools’ founder Adam Pisoni, who founded Yammer.

    Inside Philanthropy profiles The Conversation, a new site that encourages academics to write for the public. But it doesn’t pay its writers which sucks.

    Via Techcrunch: “URB-E’s launching a scooter sharing network at college campuses and hotels.”

    Also via Techcrunch: “Facebook brings Messenger Kids to Fire tablets.”

    An op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Why we shouldn’t teach tech in kindergarten.”

    Personalized learning gives students a sense of control over chaotic lives,” says The Hechinger Report, in a very glowing look at the Summit Public Schools’ (Facebook-built) learning management system.

    Subscription boxes for teachers are somehow “personalized learning.”

    So, you take the “deficit model” and you apply it to parents. Or, you take the military model – break someone down so you can rebuild them as you deem fit – and you apply it to parents. Anyway. Edsurge writes about “bootcamps” and educational retraining camps for parents.

    Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

    Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF

    Voyage, a self-driving car company spun out of Udacity, has launched a self-driving taxi service in a private city in Florida. Yes. Private city. In the future there will only be private cities, and Udacity has a shot at being one of them. Or something like that.

    Via The Verge: “Aflac’s toy robot for kids facing cancer is the smartest toy of all.” No camera. No Alexa or Google voice assistant.

    Via Techcrunch: “The Root robot teaches kids to code through Spirograph-style drawings.”

    From the Getting Smart blog, which is really heavily promoting AI in education stuff these days: “Artificial Intelligence: Implications for the Future of Education.”

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Ed Reform

    “Is Personalized Learning the Next Big Thing in K–12 Philanthropy?” asks Inside Philanthropy. No. It’s charter schools. But “personalized learning” sounds nicer than “privatization” and “segregation,” doesn’t it.

    Khan Academy now Accepts Bitcoin Cash Donations,” says bitrazzi. Ah yes, a future of philanthropy where all charitable donations are anonymous and untraceable. What’s not to love.

    “What are the Big Questions for 2018?” asks venture philanthropy firm NewSchools Venture Fund. Among the questions: “An increased focus on social-emotional learning opened an innovation window over the last few years. Has it closed already?” I have a question: WTF is an “innovation window”?

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    The tutoring company Zhangmen has raised $120 million from Genesis Capital and Warburg Pincus.

    DadaABC has raised $100 million in a Series C from Tiger Global Management and TAL Education. The English-language-learning company has raised $608 million total.

    Area9 Lyceum has raised $30 million in funding from the Danish Growth Fund. (Area9, an adaptive learning company, was acquired by McGraw-Hill in 2014, but the press release suggests that Area9 Lyceum is a new company founded by the same people with some of the same IP. IDK.)

    Ellevation has raised $10 million (or so) from Reach Capital, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Omidyar Network, and Emerson Collective. The English-language-learning company has raised $22.25 million total.

    Thinkful has raised $9.6 million from Owl Ventures and Tribeca Venture Partners. The coding school has raised $16 million total.

    Boomwriter Media has raised $4.1 million from Avila Venture Capital, Precorp, and Suinvex. The collaborative writing tool has raised $6.5 million total.

    Student monitoring company eSafe Global has raised $2.6 million from Maven Capital Partners.

    Wonderschool has raised $2.1 million from Omidyar Network, Be Curious Partners, Rethink Education, Edelweiss, and Learn Capital. The company, which helps people start daycare facilities in their homes, has raised $4.1 million total.

    Math game company Sokikom has been acquired by Jumpstart World, a subsidiary of the Chinese conglomerate NetDragon.

    Boomwriter Media has acquiredLookUp.

    Strada Education Network (formerly USA Funds) has acquired the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

    Knowledge First Financial has acquiredHeritage Education Funds.

    Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Via Techcrunch: “After breach exposing millions of parents and kids, toymaker VTech handed a $650K fine by FTC.” Yeah. You read that number right.

    Via Freedom to Tinker: “Website operators are in the dark about privacy violations by third-party scripts.” Many education institutions and companies implicated here.

    Via The Register: “Amazon coughs up record amount of info to subpoena-happy US government.” (See also: “Amazon Is Thriving Thanks to Taxpayer Dollars,” via New Republic.)

    Via the ACLU: “The Privacy Threat From Always-On Microphones Like the Amazon Echo.”

    “What’s Slack Doing With Your Data?” asks Gizmodo. What are schools doing adopting things like Echo and Slack, that’s what I wanna know.

    Oh, there’s a raft of privacy-violating stuff in almost every section in this article, I reckon.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    According to Metaari (formerly known as Ambient Insight), “Global Edtech Investment Surges to a Record $9.5 Billion in 2017.” That’s about $6 billion more than my calculations, but hey. Probably just a rounding error somewhere or something.

    EdWeek’s Market Brief on a report by Allovue: “K–12 District Spending Analysis Raises Red Flag About ESSA School Comparisons.”

    EdWeek’s Market Brief on a report from CoSN: “Snapshot of K–12 Tech Landscape: More Districts Reach 1-to–1, But Equity Gaps Persist.”

    The Pew Research Center is out with a new report on STEM and workplace equity.

    AEI on“The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s Degree: In Search of the Labor Market Payoff.” Shocking, I know, but the return on investment depends on what you get your degree in.

    Via Edsurge (which does not disclose it shares an investor with NoRedInk, the company that this infomercial is based upon): “These Are the 10 Most Common Writing Errors Students Make.” Education Week also publishes this NoRedInk “research”: “What Are the Top Grammar and Writing Errors of 2017?” Perhaps one of the biggest writing errors is not thinking critically about the material you promote and cite. Weird. Wonder why that’s not included here.

    “Here’s How People Say Google Home And Alexa Impact Their Lives,” says Fast Company, rewriting a Google blog post. So really it’s what PR says voice assistants are up to. And with that, we’re off to a good start in 2018 with technology journalism as “fake news”, I see…

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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  • 01/19/18--04:45: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this feeds the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    Compare and contrast the Department of Education’s government shutdown plans– Secretary John King’s versus Secretary Betsy DeVos’s. Among the changes: removing en dashes and replacing them with em dashes and deleting Oxford commas. Monstrous, really.

    Via Chalkbeat: “DeVos criticizes Bush-Obama policies, saying it’s time to overhaul conventional schooling.” Here are the “Prepared Remarks by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to the American Enterprise Institute,” from the Press Office. Here’s Edsurge’s take on the AEI event.

    “The U.S. Department of Education is looking for nonprofit organizations to help support its #GoOpen campaign to nurture state and district take-up of ‘open’ educational resources,” says EdWeek’s Market Brief.

    From the Department of Education Press Office: “Secretary DeVos Announces Approval of 11 ESSA Plans.”

    Via The Huffington Post: “Ministers Turned Down 5 ‘Appointable’ People To Give Toby Young A Job.” I believe this is what one calls “meritocracy,” – is that right, Toby’s dad?

    From Liberia, “Government to crackdown on unlicensed schools,” New Vision reports. This includes Bridge International academies, which the country has said cannot operate in the country.

    Via Politico: “How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms.”

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via the Charleston Gazette-Mail: “Free community college bill would require staying in WV 2 years.” WV is West Virginia, of course.

    Via WLRN: “National Charter School Chain Favored by House Speaker Heads For Miami, Amid Performance Concerns.” The chain: KIPP. The concerns: the only other KIPP school in Florida, in Jacksonville, is one of the lowest performing schools in the state. The House Speaker, Richard Corcoran, wants to run for governor and is a fan of charter chains, apparently.

    Via NPR: “Students Across D.C. Graduated Despite Chronic Absences, An Investigation Finds.”

    From the Governor of Iowa’s press office: “Gov. Reynolds, Lt. Gov. Gregg announce new research on state’s regulatory framework.” I’m including this here because the research comes from the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and I want to keep an eye on how “dark money” includes research and policy.

    Immigration and Education

    Via Chalkbeat: “As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo.”

    There’s DACA-related PR in the venture philanthropy section below.

    Education in the Courts

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “State Attorneys General Sue to Block FCC’s Repeal of Net Neutrality.”

    Via the Hartford Courant: “The state Supreme Court has overturned a Superior Court judge’s controversial ruling that would have upended the state’s educational-funding scheme and mandated a vast overhaul of teacher evaluations, educational standards and special-education services.” That’s the Connecticut state Supreme Court.

    Via The New York Times: “Horror for 13 California Siblings Hidden by Veneer of a Private Home School.” An op-ed in The LA Times: “The Turpin child abuse story fits a widespread and disturbing homeschooling pattern.”

    Via Techcrunch: “The nanny of former Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski has filed an excruciatingly detailed lawsuit.” (Remember, this guy the founder of a church of AI. But I’m including it here because I still hear people talking about “Uber for Education,” goddammit.)

    “Free College”

    There’s some “free college” news in the state education political section above.

    The Business of Financial Aid

    There’s an article in the venture philanthropy section below about how private student loans are being pitched as “impact investing.”

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    Via The New York Times: “Black Colleges Swept Up in For-Profit Crackdown Find Relief From DeVos.”

    Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)

    “Online and the Color Line” – Chris Newfield on students of color and online education in California.

    Indiana Virtual School has the lowest graduation rate of any public school in the state,” says Chalkbeat.

    Doane University has joinededX.

    There’s more MOOC news in the job training section below. And more online education news in the “Betteridge’s Law of Headlines” section and in the research and data section below.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Sara Goldrick-Rab on food insecurity on college campuses: “It’s Hard to Study if You’re Hungry.”

    Edsurge explains“How a Master’s Program From the ’80s Quietly Keeps Up With Coding Bootcamps.” The program, an MA in Interdisciplinary Computer Science, is at Mills College. Apparently it’s “from the 80s” because it was founded in the 1980s. So you could, I suppose write a headline about Harvard teaching computer science that goes “How a College from the 17th Century Quietly Keeps up with Coding Bootcamps.” But that would be silly, wouldn’t it. (Of course, Harvard doesn’t keep quiet about anything, does it.)

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Richard Spencer, the inflammatory white supremacist who has unsettled college campuses with his appearances, will speak at Michigan State University in March.”

    Budgets Suffer After A Drop In International Student Enrollment,” says NPR. College budgets, that is.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “UT Austin says it will not accept funding from a foundation after concerns were raised about its connections to the Chinese Communist Party.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Johns Hopkins Just Got the Largest Donation Ever Given to a Philosophy Department.”

    “How Colleges Foretold the #MeToo Movement,” according to The Atlantic.

    More on University College London and its eugenics conferences via DC’s Improbable Science.

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via the BBC: “‘Staggering’ trade in fake degrees revealed.” “Staggering” equals 3000.


    “PISA for personality testing – the OECD and the psychometric science of social-emotional skillsby Ben Williamson.

    Personality Tests Are Failing American Workers,” says Cathy O’Neil in a Bloomberg op-ed.

    A new project from the Learning Policy Institute and EducationCounsel: “Reimagining College Access: Performance Assessments From K–12 Through Higher Education.”

    More news about a data breach at a testing company in the infosec section below.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    This is digusting on many levels. (And compare all this to what happened at Penn State with the Sandusky abuse case.) Via the Detroit News: “What MSU knew: 14 were warned of Nassar abuse.” Dr. Larry Nassar is the ex-USA Gymnastics team physician who has been accused of sexually assaulting over 140 women. He was a faculty member at Michigan State.

    The Business of Job Training

    Via Techcrunch: “Google and Coursera launch program to train more IT support specialists.”

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Will Online Ever Conquer Higher Ed?asks Edsurge.

    “Relationships Are Central to the Student Experience. Can Colleges Engineer Them?asks The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    Edsurge covers Clever’s new product “Clever Goals,” which takes the data that the company gleans about student usage of technology and sells it back to schools. Very clever indeed.

    “Why big tech thinks voice control will conquer the world” by Navneet Alang.

    “Irish startup SoapBox Labs is building speech recognition tech for kids,” says Techcrunch.

    “Who Is Pulling The Muppet Strings?” asks Alison McDowell.

    Via The Outline: “Pyramid schemes target Snapchat teens.”

    More on teen social media usage, this time from Buzzfeed: “‘Tweetdecking’ Is Taking Over Twitter. Here’s Everything You Need To Know.”

    The Atlantic on what it’s like being a parent of a social media star.

    Google is jeopardizing African-American literature sites,” says The Outline.

    From the press release: “Knewton Launches Alta, Fully Integrated Adaptive Learning Courseware for Higher Education, Putting Achievement in Reach for Everyone.” There is no mention here about mind-reading robo tutors in the sky, but there are some questionable claims about what the software can do.

    Via Techcrunch: “Education quiz app Kahoot says it’s now used by 50% of all US K–12 students, 70M users overall.” The article features this edutainment gem: “According to Kahoot’s CEO Erik Harrell, Disney is working with Kahoot on ways of incorporating some of its iconic brands into its quizzes, as another way of engaging students to use them.”

    Via Techcrunch: “The BecDot is a toy that helps teach vision-impaired kids to read braille.”

    Via KQED’s Mindshift: “Setting School Culture With Social And Emotional Learning Routines.”

    I’m not sure I’d call the launch of a product from a for-profit research management company (Digital Science) “Democratizing Research Funding Data,” but there you go.

    I don’t recall if I talked about Elsevier when I wrote about platforms as part of my 2017 review. That’s certainly it’s aspiration. Anyway, here’s Richard Smith on Elsevier and “A Big Brother future for science publishing.”

    Henry Jenkins interviews Justin Reich on “ed tech and equity.”

    A fascinating photo essay in The New York Times goesInside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories.”

    The Pacific Standard explains“How Educational Podcasts Are Making Us Smarter Citizens,” but I hear people are eating Tide Pods so I’m a little skeptical.

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    No, machines can’t read better than humans,” says The Verge. That’s despite all the headlines you saw this week that claimed that now they can.

    Via Geek Dad: “Little Robot Friends Teach Kids to Code With Empathy.” Empathy?!

    College Rankings Revisited: What Might an Artificial Intelligence Think?” asks Metametrics’ Steve Lattanzio.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A New Home for AI: The Library.” That’s at the University of Rhode Island.

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    From the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “A New Impact Investing Model for Education.” Private loans for students in the Global South to attend private schools. JFC.

    I’m not sure where to put this story, but again, I want to make note of it – this loving profile of Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man. Bezos was in the news with a philanthropic effort this week, I suppose. “After Trump’s ‘Shithole’ Comment, Amazon CEO Donates $33 Million To DACA Students,” Buzzfeed reports. You know what’s better than making a $33 million donation? Paying taxes.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    ParentPowered has raised $2.7 million in seed funding from the Omidyar Network for an “on-demand library of parenting tips.”

    Centre Lane Partners has acquiredInfobase Holdings.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Via The Chicago Tribune: “Google’s art selfies aren’t available in Illinois. Here’s why.” (If you used the app and handed over your biometric data to Google, don’t worry. You can just get a new face.)

    Via the Harvard Business Review: “How Georgia State University Used an Algorithm to Help Students Navigate the Road to College.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “Personal data of 52 New York students is compromised after testing-company breach.” The company: Questar Assessment, Inc.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    It’s not directly education-related but there’s so much talk about predictive analytics in education (see above), I thought I’d include this nonetheless. Via The Atlantic: “A Popular Algorithm Is No Better at Predicting Crimes Than Random People.”

    Predictions from investor Tom Vander Ark: “Not Much New in EdTech in 2017; 3 Things Could Change That in 2018.”

    From Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill: “Fall 2016 Top 20 Largest Online Enrollments In US– With Trends Since 2012.” Also from Hill: “Fall 2016 IPEDS Data: New Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “Less money for schools after the recession meant lower test scores and graduation rates, study finds.”

    According to a new survey from Gallup and Strada Education (the loan guarantor formerly known as USA Funds), “Current College Students Do Not Feel Prepared for the Workforce.”

    A report from RAND: “Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life.”

    From Rick Hess: “The 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.”

    Nation Earns a C on Quality Counts Report Card,” says Education Week.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    The computer scientist Bret Victor gave a keynote back in 2013 that I return to again and again. (See? Keynotes need not be a waste of time and energy!) In “The Future of Programming,” he offers a history of programming – or more accurately, a history of programming developments that were never widely adopted. That is to say, not the future of programming.

    The conceit of Victor’s talk: he delivers it as if it’s 1973, using an overhead projector in lieu of PowerPoint slides, and the future he repeatedly points to is our present-day. With hindsight, we know that the computer languages and frameworks he talks about haven’t been embraced, that this future hasn’t come to pass. But as Victor repeats again and again, it would be such a shame if the inventions he recounts were ignored; it would be a shame if in forty years, we were still coding in procedures in text files in a sequential programming model, for example. “That would suggest we didn’t learn anything from this really fertile period in computer science. So that would kind of be a tragedy. Even more of a tragedy than these ideas not being used would be if these ideas were forgotten.” But the biggest tragedy, says Victor, would be if people forgot that you could have new ideas and different ideas about programming in the first place, if a new generation was never introduced to these old ideas and therefore believed there is only one model of programming, one accepted and acceptable way of thinking about and thinking with computers. That these new generations “grow up with dogma.”

    Victor mentions an incredibly important piece of education technology history in passing in his talk: PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), built on the ILLIAC I at the University of Illinois. PLATO, which operated out of the university’s Computer-based Education Research Laboratory (CERL) from 1960 to 1993, does represent in some ways a path that education technology (and computing technology more broadly) did not take. But if and when when its innovations were adopted (and, yes, many of them were), PLATO remained largely uncredited for its contributions.

    PLATO serves in Victor’s talk as an example, along with Douglas Englebart’s NLS, of the development in the 1960s of interactive, real-time computing. In forty years time, Victor tells his imagined 1970s audience, our user interfaces will never have any delay or lag because of Moore’s Law and because “these guys have proven how important it is to have an immediately responsive UI” – a quip that anyone who’s spent time waiting for operating systems or software programs to respond can understand and chuckle remorsefully about.

    This idea that computers could even attempt to offer immediate feedback – typing a letter on a keyboard and immediately seeing it rendered on a screen – was certainly new in the 1960s, as processing was slow, memory was minute, and data had to move from an input device back to a central computer and then back again to some sort of display. But the “fast round trip” between terminal and mainframe was hardly the only innovation associated with PLATO, as Brian Dear chronicles in his book The Friendly Orange Glow. That very glow was another one – the flat-panel plasma touchscreen invented by the PLATO team in 1967. There were many other advances too: the creation of time-sharing, discussion boards, instant messaging, a learning management system or sorts, and multi-user game-play, to name just a few.

    The subtitle of Dear’s book – “The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture” – speaks directly to his larger project: making sure the pioneering contributions of PLATO are not forgotten.

    If and when PLATO is remembered (in education technology circles at least), it is as an early example of computer-assisted instruction – and often, it’s denigrated as such. Perhaps that should be no surprise – education technology is fiercely dogmatic. And it was already fiercely dogmatic by the 1960s, when PLATO was first under development. The field had, in the decades prior, developed a certain set of precepts and convictions – even if, as Victor contends in his talk at least, computing at the time had (mostly) not.

    Dear begins his book where many histories of education technology do: with the story of how Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner had, in the late 1950s, visited his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, been struck by its in efficiencies, and argued that teaching machines would ameliorate this. The first mechanisms that Skinner built were not computerized; they were boxes with levers and knobs. But they were designed to offer students immediate feedback – positive reinforcement when students gave the correct answer, a key element to Skinner’s behaviorist theories. Skinner largely failed to commercialize his ideas, but his influence on the design of instructional machines was significant nonetheless, as behaviorism had already become a cornerstone of the nascent field of educational psychology and a widely accepted theory as to how people learn.

    At its outset, the Computer-based Education Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois did not hire instructional technologists to develop PLATO. The lab was not governed by educational psychologists – behaviorists or otherwise. The programming language that was developed so that “anyone” could create a lesson module on the system — TUTOR — did not demand an allegiance to any particular learning theory. As one education professor told Brian Dear, CERL did not operate “under any kind of psychological banner. They just didn’t seem to be driven by psychological underpinnings. They were driven by a more pragmatic approach: you work with students, you work with content, you work with the technology, you put it together in a way that feels good and it will work. Whether it’s consistent with somebody’s psychology is a quickly irrelevant question.”

    But it seems more likely, if we examine the history of PLATO (and perhaps even the histories of education technology and of computing technologies), that this is not really an irrelevant question at all – not in the long run at least. Certainly, the open-ended-ness of the PLATO system, as well as the PLATO culture at UI, fostered the myriad of technological innovations that Dear chronicles in The Friendly Orange Glow. But the influence of psychology on the direction of education technology – and to be clear, this was not just behaviorism, of course, but cognitive psychology – has been profound. It shaped the expectations for what instructional technology should do. It shaped the expectations for what PLATO should be. (I’d add too that psychological theories have been quite influential on the direction of computing technology itself, although I think this has been rather unexamined.)

    The Friendly Orange Glow is a history of PLATO – one that has long deserved to be told and that Dear does with meticulous care and detail. (The book was some three decades in the making.) But it’s also a history of why, following Sputnik, the US government came to fund educational computing. Its also – in between the lines, if you will – a history of why the locus of computing and educational computing specifically shifted to places like MIT, Xerox PARC, Stanford. The answer is not “because the technology was better” – not entirely. The answer has to do in part with funding – what changed when these educational computing efforts were no longer backed by federal money and part of Cold War era research but by venture capital. (Spoiler alert: it changes the timeline. It changes the culture. It changes the mission. It changes the technology.) And the answer has everything to do with power and ideology – with dogma.

    Bret Victor credits the message and content of his keynote to computer scientist Alan Kay, who once famously said that “the best way to predict the future is to build it.” (Kay, of course, appears several times in The Friendly Orange Glow because of his own contributions to computing, not to mention the competition between CERL and PARC where Kay worked and their very different visions of the future). But to be perfectly frank, the act of building alone is hardly sufficient. The best way to predict the future may instead be to be among those who mythologize what’s built, who tell certain stories, who craft and uphold the dogma about what is built and how it’s used.

    To a certain extent, the version of “personal computing” espoused by Kay and by PARC has been triumphant. That is, PLATO’s model – networked terminals that tied back to a central machine – was not. Perhaps it’s worth considering how dogmatic computing has become about “personal” and “personalization” – what its implications might be for the shape of programming and for education technology, sure, but also what it means for the kinds of values and communities that are built without any sort of “friendly glow.”

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  • 01/26/18--05:00: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this feeds the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    The US government shut down. Then it re-opened.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Department of Education Tuesday named Kent Talbert, a former general counsel and acting under secretary during the George W. Bush administration, as senior policy adviser.”

    There’s more information about lawsuits against Betsy DeVos in the courts section below. And there’s more about how the Trump Administration is catering to for-profit higher ed in the for-profit higher ed section below. There’s also some financial aid proposals that sound bloody awful in the financial aid section below.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via Jack Schneider in The Atlantic: “What School-Funding Debates Ignore.”

    Via The Verge: “New York governor signs executive order to keep net neutrality rules after the FCC’s repeal.” Montana also plans to enforce net neutrality.

    Via Chalkbeat: “As low-income families exit Denver, charter network KIPP is looking to follow.” Gentrification is forcing poor people out of the city; segregated school systems follow them to new locations.

    Florida may make it easier to qualify for voucher program,” says the AP.

    Via The Conversation: “What we can learn from closure of charter school that DeVos praised as ‘shining example’.” The school in question: the Excel Academy Public Charter School in DC which was closed for poor performance.

    Immigration and Education

    Via WBUR: “Dismantling DACA Could Also Destroy These Harvard Med Students’ Dreams.”

    Via The Washington Post: “ Trump supports path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million ‘dreamers’ in new White House proposal.”

    Via the AP: “Border Patrol Arrests ASU Instructor who gave food, water to immigrants.”

    Education in the Courts

    Via The New York Times: “Former Baltimore County Schools Leader Charged With Perjury.” That’s Dallas Dance, who was the subject of another story the NYT’s Natasha Singer wrote last year, “How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom.” From this week’s article:

    The prosecutor also said that Mr. Dance concealed about $12,000 in payments he received through his consulting work in 2015, including $4,600 from an organization called the Education Research and Development Institute – ERDI for short – that pays superintendents to attend meetings with educational tech companies.

    Yes, “that pays superintendents to attend meetings with educational tech companies.” Here’s a list of the companies that work with ERDI. Shady.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Blind students this week won a discrimination lawsuit against the legal education company BarBri– one of the country’s largest providers of bar exam preparation courses.”

    Via Reuters: “A Chinese citizen accused of posing as someone else to take a graduate school entrance exam on her behalf pleaded guilty on Tuesday in a criminal case that arose from U.S. prosecutors investigating international students who use imposters to gain admission to American universities.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Department of Justice is backing a suit by conservative students against the the University of California, Berkeley. The suit charges that the university imposes tougher requirements on those seeking to host conservative speakers than it does for those seeking to host other speakers.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Civil Rights Groups Sue DeVos Over Title IX Policies.”

    I’ve put all the stories related to Michigan State, Larry Nassar, and Women’s Gymnastics in the sports section below. There are also stories about settles related to for-profit higher ed in the for-profit higher ed section below.

    “Free College”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The restaurant group that operates the Chili’s and Maggiano’s chains announced an arrangement Monday by which it will, through Pearson Education, offer employees cost-free educational programs from language skills through associate degrees.”

    The Business of Financial Aid

    Via Politico: “ The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to test a new way to disburse federal student loan and Pell grant funds to students. The Education Department, in the coming weeks, plans to solicit offers from companies that would manage a federal prepaid card that allows students to directly access refunds of their student loan or grant money – the money that’s left over after covering tuition and that’s typically used to pay for books, off-campus housing and other living expenses.” All the better to surveil and control you with…

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “DeVos Waters Down Disclosure Requirements of Gainful-Employment Rule.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A group of former ITT Technical Institute students reached an approved settlement Wednesday that would allow them to participate in bankruptcy proceedings with the institution’s parent company.” More via The Washington Post.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The former owner and chief executive officer of Alden’s School of Cosmetology and Alden’s School of Barbering, Alden Hall, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison last week for a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education and steal Pell Grant funds.”

    Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)

    Via Mother Jones: “The GOP’s Biggest Charter School Experiment Just Imploded.” It’s a story on ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the online charter school in Ohio which lost its sponsor and was shut down last week after a long string of scandals and lawsuits.

    Via Class Central: “A Product at Every Price: A Review of MOOC Stats and Trends in 2017.”

    There’s more MOOC news in the certification section below. I’m also putting some MOOC news in the job training section.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The New York Times: “School Shooting in Kentucky Was Nation’s 11th of Year. It Was Jan. 23.” More on the shooting via the AP.

    Via the AAUP: “ A New Reality? The Far Right’s Use of Cyberharassment against Academics.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    I love the use of “quietly” in headlines. Translation: no press release. It doesn’t mean there was any investigative journalism involved. Here’s Edsurge, for example, announcing that “EdX Quietly Developing ‘MicroBachelors’ Program.” MicroBachelors were apparently on one of Anant Agarwal’s slide at a recent conference.

    Also via Edsurge: “In Evolving World of Microcredentials, Students, Colleges and Employers Want Different Things.”

    Udacity opens applications for its Flying Car Nanodegree program,” says Techcrunch. How is a flying car nanodegree different than an aerospace engineering degree? Well, the former only takes six months to complete, for starters.

    There are links to “research” about the accreditation system in the “research” section below.


    Via Chalkbeat: “Why one Harvard professor calls American schools' focus on testing a ‘charade’.” The professor in question: Daniel Koretz, who has a new book out The Testing Charade.

    There are details about a couple of test-related legal cases in the courts section above.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    Via The New York Times: “With Larry Nassar Sentenced, Focus Is on What Michigan State Knew.” After pressure from trustees and others, MSU’s President Lou Anna Simon has resigned (with a remarkably bad statement).

    We Need To Be A Lot Angrier About The Larry Nassar Scandal,” says Jessica Luther.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Southern California has fired associate head basketball coach Tony Bland for his connection to an alleged corruption scandal under investigation by federal officials.”

    VR is the US Olympic ski team’s secret weapon,” says MIT Technology Review. I’m just making note of this so, down the road, we can talk about VR and sports training and how well the US Olympic ski team does or doesn’t perform in Pyeongchang.

    Memos from HR

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “James Comey Continues Second Act as a College Instructor.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Twitter COO Anthony Noto resigns to become SoFi CEO.” SoFi is a student loan company whose former CEO had to resign because of a sexual harassment scandal last year.

    Via Techcrunch: “Sphero lays off dozens as it shifts focus to education.” Sphero has raised some $107 million in venture funding.

    Lots of sports-related firings in the sports section above. And there was a new hire announced at the Department of Education this week – that’s in the national politics section above.

    The Business of Job Training

    WeWork has partnered with 2U. Inside Higher Ed has a story. Edsurge has a story. Keep an eye on WeWork as it attempts to become a platform– one that controls K–12 education, workspaces, freelancing, meetups, and now higher ed degrees.

    Katie Notopoulos paid $54 to take YouTube star Jake Paul’s video series on how to become a YouTube star. And then she wrote about it for Buzzfeed, as one does.

    Want to code?asks MIT Technology Review. “You better start teaching yourself.”

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    “What’s the Next Step for AltSchool?” asks Edsurge. “Paid Partnerships With Public Schools.” More via Education Week.

    The future of education is virtual,” Vivek Wadhwa claims in a Washington Post op-ed. There is so much wrong with this essay I hardly know where to begin. But then again, Wadhwa was a supporter of GamerGate. So it’s not really a shock that his vision of the future is fucking terrible (and dead wrong).

    There’s a lot of VR-related hype in this week’s round-up. What gives?! Like this one: “Future surgeons could be trained by VR doctors,” says MIT Technology Review.

    There were also a number of stories on banning technology this week. One in The Washington Post. One on NPR. “What If Children Should Be Spending More Time With Screens?” asks The Wall Street Journal.

    Via Techcrunch: “Apple partners with Malala Fund to help girls receive quality education.”

    Inside Higher Ed has a quick blurb about Flockademic, a new non-profit publishing platform that aims “to put academics in charge of scholarly publishing.”

    OpenScholar, an open source website-publishing system specifically for higher education, has publicly separated from Harvard University to become a private company,” says Campus Technology.

    Via Campus Technology: “Knewton Releases $44 Adaptive Digital Textbooks.”

    Learning Agency, Not Analyticsby April Hathcock.

    Via Edsurge: “Smithsonian Forms ‘Strategic Alliance’ With Carnegie Learning to Build New STEM Products.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Facebook expands ‘Community Boost’ digital skills training program to Europe.”

    Edsurge on the Google press release: “Google’s Education Suite is Still Free, but New Add-Ons For Administrators Come With a Fee.”

    Edsurge also has an article on Microsoft’s press release: “Microsoft’s Many EDU Updates – and a Window of Opportunity to Win K–12 Market Share.”

    (Press releases were all timed with BETT, the giant education technology tradeshow, held this week in London.)

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    Via Quartz: “One of the world’s biggest firms is spending $450 million to solve a world problem created by robots.” The firm: KPMG. The expenditure: “a 55-acre learning, development, and innovation center in Lake Nona, a master-planned community in Orlando, Florida. It can accommodate 1,000 people at a time and has 800 single-occupancy rooms. It also has a four-star environment which includes multiple dining options, a coffee and wine bar, and a pub-like venue as well as ‘total wellness’ amenities such as a sizable fitness facility and hiking and biking paths.” Some “fix.”

    Ziro’s robotics kit for kids now works with Alexa,” says Techcrunch.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    TeacherGaming has raised $1.6 million from Makers Fund and Founders Factory. The company made MinecraftEDUwhich was acquired by Microsoft.

    The predictive analytics company Degree Analytics has raised $1 million from Rick Dalzell, David Palumbo, and and Larry Benz.

    School management company Rubix108 has raised $1 million from Polaris Fund.

    Curriculum maker Magpie Education has raised $416,000 from the British Robotics Seed Fund.

    Brainly has acquiredBask.

    9 Story Media Group has acquiredOut of the Blue Enterprises.

    Founding Years has acquiredIntellitots.

    It’s not ed-tech related – yet – but Facebook has acquiredbiometric ID verification startup

    This is also tangentially related to ed-tech: Blackboard founder Michael Chasen’s new startup, PrecisionHawk has raised $75 million for drone analytics.

    “Who Bankrupted Toys ‘R’ Us? Blame Private Equity and Millennial Parents,” says The Atlantic.

    Speaking of private equity, here are some rumors via Reuters: “Private equity firm Vista Equity Partners Management LLC is exploring options for two software companies it owns, PowerSchool and PeopleAdmin, that could involve combining them in a deal worth between $2 billion to $3 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.”

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    From the Future of Privacy Forum: “New US Dept of Ed Finding: Schools Cannot Require Parents or Students to Waive Their FERPA Rights Through Ed Tech Company’s Terms of Service.” “FERPA Ruling Provides Privacy Advocates and Educators with Clearer Interpretation of Rights,” says Edsurge.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Why Don’t Professors Make More Money? The Flexibility They Enjoy, a Study Argues.”

    A new report from the American Enterprise Institute: “Saving the Associate of Arts Degree: How an A.A. Degree Can Become a Better Path to Labor Market Success.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Report: Bundled Textbooks a Bad Deal for Students.” Duh.

    Psychology Today looks at perfectionism among today’s college students.

    Via Pacific Standard: “New research suggests we aren’t born bigots. Racial prejudice is something we learn.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Virtual Reality ‘Class Kits’ Expected to Gain Foothold in U.S. Schools.” Here’s the forecast from the market research firm Futuresource: “More than 15 percent of U.S. schools are forecast to have a VR class kit by 2021, and globally more than 70 million K–12 students are expected to have a VR experience in school in that year.” I love it that we’ve lowered expectations now to just “a VR experience.”

    Via The New Childhood: “Millions of ‘Under-Connected’ American Families Experience A Whole Different Internet.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Phone-addicted teens aren’t as happy as those who play sports and hang out IRL, new study suggests.”

    The GAO has released a new report on the the accreditation system.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Outlook for Higher Ed in 2018 Is Bleak, Ratings Agency Says.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “States’ financial support for higher education grew only slightly between the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, with more than a third of states decreasing their funding and another dozen increasing it only slightly, according to an annual survey released today.”

    “Preliminary Data on K–12 LMS Marketfrom Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill.

    “A Root Cause of the Teacher-Diversity Problem,” by The Atlantic’s Melinda D. Anderson.

    Via Education Week: “Experts Agree Social-Emotional Learning Matters, and Are Plotting Roadmap on How to Do It.” LOL. “Experts agree.” Which experts are those? Oh. Ones summoned by the Aspen Institute. I see.


    Via The Atlantic: “NASA’s Lovely Tribute to the Teacher Who Perished on Challenger” – “Two astronauts will carry out the original lessons Christa McAuliffe had planned for her time in orbit in 1986.”

    And I’ll write about her more in my newsletter tomorrow, but Ursula K. Le Guin passed away this week. I’ll note here that she’s the author of one of the great science fiction/fantasy series on education: the Earthsea series.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    When I post an article to Hack Education, it’s (typically) something I’ve thought about and researched and written and re-written. But this site also has a number of subdomains where I am working on other research that isn’t necessarily accompanied by well-wrought prose or analysis.

    I spent part of the day today, for example, updating the Ed-Tech Funding Project, which lives at (Some $336 million was invested in education companies in the month of January and 14 education companies were acquired, in case you were curious.)

    Since 2015, I have been tracking in detail which companies are raising venture capital and from who. While, sure, you can find quarterly and annual reports from a variety of investment analysis firms that will give you the numbers, I wanted the details. I wanted to be able to play with the data, not just copy-and-paste someone else’s line graph tracking year-over-year investment patterns and trust that their definition of "education technology" matched my own.

    The Ed-Tech Funding Project has details about investments, acquisitions, mergers, IPOs, and spinoffs, as well as “the ed-tech startup dead pool.” I also track who’s received Gates Foundation money and who’s funding Edsurge (and paying for content to appear on that site).

    As part of my Spencer Education Fellowship, I am also examining various investment firms – what they invest in as well as who works there – all in at attempt to understand how powerful networks operate in education technology (and education reform) and how the stories we are told about the future of education technology are shaped. If you visit another subdomain –– you can see some of that work-in-progress.

    I update the Ed-Tech Funding Project once-a-month. There’s a blog attached to that project, and if you want to subscribe, there is an RSS feed. The project is hosted on GitHub, so the data is readily available to be downloaded, forked, re-used, scrutinized, etc.

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  • 02/02/18--03:30: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this feeds the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    The State of the Union is a right mess. President Trump gave the annual speech to Congress on Tuesday night. (Thankfully, I had class and didn’t have to listen.) Some of the education-related moments: “Less Community, More Vocational,” as Inside Higher Ed put it. “What Trump Didn’t Say About Education,” according to The Atlantic.

    More on the Department of Education and for-profit higher ed in the for-profit higher ed section below. And more on the Department of Education and its plans for financial aid in “the business of financial aid” section below.

    From the press release: “U.S. Department of Education Launches New English Learner Data Story.” “Data story” is a fancy way of saying “website.”

    There’s news about Department of Education hires in the HR section below.

    Via The New York Times: “Republicans Stuff Education Bill With Conservative Social Agenda.”

    Religious colleges would be able to bar openly same-sex relationships without fear of repercussions.

    Religious student groups could block people who do not share their faith from becoming members.

    Controversial speakers would have more leverage when they want to appear at colleges.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Top Official at Justice Dept. Says More Colleges Should Punish Hecklers.” Because “free speech” matters, right up until someone laughs at a Keebler Elf during his Senate confirmation hearing.

    Trump’s 5G proposal is destructive nonsense,” says The Verge. “Let’s socialize wireless networks in America. Just keep Trump out of it,” says The Outline.

    Via the Broadcast Law Blog: “Time for the FCC to Review Children’s Television Educational Programming Obligations of Broadcasters? Commissioner O’Rielly Thinks So.”

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Newark has control once again of its public school system, which the state took away from the city 22 years ago.

    Via BocaNews: “Parents throughout South Palm Beach County are using iReady on behalf of their children, possibly skewing scores – and usefulness – of the $6-Million diagnostic computer system.” iReady is owned by Curriculum Associates.

    Discovery Creemos Academy– formerly known as the Bradley Academy of Excellence – a charter school in Goodyear, Arizona, has abruptly closed its doors.

    Via Chalkbeat: “Rocketship becomes latest charter network to pull the plug on Tennessee’s Achievement School District.”

    Via NPR: “In D.C., 34 Percent Of Graduates Received A Diploma Against District Policy.”

    Via The Atlantic: “The Libraries Bringing Small-Town News Back to Life.”

    Immigration and Education

    Via NPR: “Nearly 9,000 DACA Teachers Face An Uncertain Future.”

    Education in the Courts

    Via The Phoenix New Times: “The Battle Isn’t Over Between ASU Professor and Cop Who Arrested Her in 2014.”

    “Free College”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “In West Virginia, Free Community College Would Come With a Drug Test.”

    The Business of Financial Aid

    Via Buzzfeed: “Betsy DeVos Wants To Put Your Student Loan Money On A Bank Card.” All the better to surveil you with, my dear.

    Via The Washington Post: “Use of financial aid continues to grow, though fewer students are borrowing for college.”

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    “The U.S. Department of Education on Monday distributed proposals for rewriting the gainful-employment rule, which the Trump administration halted last summer,” Inside Higher Ed reports. “The department’s do-over on the vocational education rule, which applies to for-profit college programs and to nondegree programs at nonprofit colleges, continues with a negotiated rule-making session next week.” The proposal would expand the gainful employment rule to all schools that receive federal aid, but it would remove any penalties for schools that fail to meet acceptable levels.

    An op-ed in The Washington Post: “On ITT and the Education Department, no more excuses.”

    More on bootcamps in the job training section below.

    Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)

    It’s baaaaack: “Return of the MOOC,” The City Journal tells us.

    Via The Jordan Times: “ launches new platform for school learners, teachers.”

    “The problem with online charter schools,” according to Vox.

    There’s some (sorta) MOOC-related news in the venture funding section below.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    The Baffler onTurning Point USA and its harassment campaigns.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Scholars Defend Stanford Professor Receiving Threats.”

    Via The Triton: “White Supremacist UCSD Student Disrupts Lecture.”

    Columbia Plans to Commit Unfair Labor Practice in Hopes of Denying Graduate Student Workers Their Labor Rights,” says Remaking the University. (Disclosure: I currently have a fellowship at the Columbia J School.) More on Columbia University’s dastardly move in Inside Higher Ed. Happy 50th anniversary of 1968, Columbia administrators!

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Hypothetical ‘Shark Tank’ Session Sets Off Real Worries at U. of Baltimore.”

    Via the Lansing State Journal: “Some faculty leaders at Michigan State University are threatening to seek the resignations of the entire MSU Board of Trustees if it follows through with a reported plan to appoint John Engler interim president.”

    Via the AP: “Two students were shot and wounded, one critically, inside a Los Angeles middle school classroom Thursday morning and police arrested a female student believed to be 12 years old, authorities said.”

    MIT students are being scared straight with episodes of ‘Black Mirror’,” says The Outline. Funny that the Media Lab turns to fiction. Student could read about the actual history of MIT, if they want to think about the ethical implications of their work, and its ties to the military industrial complex.

    Via The New York Times: “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness.”

    “‘Happiness 101’ Courses Are a Necessary Stop-Gap for the Campus Mental Health Crisis,” says Slate. Ah yes, this old canard: “positive psychology” in lieu of addressing underlying structural issues.

    Via NPR: “Student Journalists Launch Website After They Say School Censored Their Paper.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “This Student Newspaper Let A Nazi Sympathizer Write For Them.”

    (To be clear, these are two different student newspapers.)

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via The New York Times: “University of Pennsylvania Takes Away Steve Wynn’s Honors. And Bill Cosby’s, Too.”

    Via Bitcoin Magazine: “Pilot Project Verifies Academic Credentials on the Bitcoin Blockchain.” Phew! Good thing Bill Cosby’s degree wasn’t on the blockchain as there’d be no adjusting it, amirite? The pilot, by the way, is at University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technologies.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Higher Learning Commission has placed Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago on probation, citing financial troubles that threaten to undermine its educational programs.”

    Memos from HR

    Stanford researcher Candace Thille is heading to Amazon. The “pioneer in the science of learning,” as Inside Higher Ed puts it, will help the technology company with its internal training program.

    Via Politico: “Families for Excellent Schools CEO fired after investigation into ‘inappropriate behavior’.” That’s Jeremiah Kittredge, who’s run one of the best funded pro-charter advocacy groups in the company.

    New hires at the Department of Education.

    The Business of Job Training

    Inside Higher Ed on“Phase 2 for Boot Camps.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Google expands Howard West to a full-year program to train more black engineers.”

    Contests and Awards

    Well, well, well. I was wondering when #metoo would come to education technology. The Verge reports that “GDC rescinds award for Atari founder after criticisms of sexually inappropriate behavior.” That’s Nolan Bushnell.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Hey Alexa, Can You Help Kids Learn More?asks Michael Horn in Education Next. (The “voice-activated classroom” would discriminate against some people with disabilities and against people who do not speak English, but hey.)

    (Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

    Upgrades and Downgrades is bringing computer education to Alaska Airlines’ in-flight entertainment,” says Techcrunch. Because MOOCs on an airplane proved to be such an effective mode of instruction.

    Via Techcrunch: “Sphero’s CEO discusses the company’s shift from Star Wars to schools.” The company, which has raised some $107.4 million, laid off 45 employees last week. So time for some friendly PR, I guess.

    Via The New York Times: “Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Plead to Facebook.”

    Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill are launching a “matchmaking service” called the Empirical Educator Project. Edsurge has some of the details.

    Via The New York Times: “School Shooting Simulation Trains Teachers for the Worst.”

    Via Campus Technology: “One of the founders and former CEO of online proctoring company ProctorU, Don Kassner, is launching a new venture: MonitorEDU, an online proctoring service powered by technology from ProctorExam. Kassner created Proctor U in 2008 with colleague Jarrod Morgan while serving as president of Andrew Jackson University (now known as New Charter University), and left the company in 2016.” Sounds like there’s some proctoring company drama underlying this story.

    Campus Technology also says that Indiana University is expanding its use of Salesforce. It’s just a rewrite of a press release, sure, but I’m noting it here so as to monitor how Salesforce attempts to “platform” education.

    It’s 2018, and folks are still so desperate to make VR a thing.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Google for Education Launches Beta for ‘Create Your Own’ Virtual Reality Experience.” And by “experience,” they mean “uploading a 360 degree image to Google and adding some explanatory content.”

    How a Montessori classroom of fourth graders is like an International Baccalaureate classroom is a real article– and a good demonstration of how Montessori can be reshaped to fit any agenda. Sponsored by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, of course.

    “Why Students Are Still Spending So Much for College Textbooks,” according to The Atlantic.

    “Reflections on 20 Years of Open Content: Lessons from Open Source” by David Wiley.

    Via Techcrunch: “Pearson is adding LittleBits kits to its STEM curriculum.”

    Edsurge on“An Education ‘Intrapreneur’ on the Difficulties Innovating in a Conservative Industry.” That’s former Pearson exec Larry Singer, who now runs Open Up Resources.

    Please stop making up cute variations of the word “entrepreneur.” Please stop.

    You can learn a lot about how entrepreneurs view education when they’re talking with their investors about the business.

    Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Ugh.

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Americans don’t fear artificial intelligence as much as is commonly believed, a new study by Gallup and Northeastern University has found. Officials at Northeastern say that it shows higher education should be more involved in training people for the artificial intelligence world.” More on the survey from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Elsevier on“The Augmented Researcher: What Does 2018 Hold for AI in Publishing?”

    Edsurge predicts the future of ed-tech. Or at least the year in ed-tech.

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    Via The Washington Post: “Koch network laying groundwork to fundamentally transform America’s education system.”

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    Liveedu.TV has raised $10 million in an initial coin offering. Liveedu.TV is a learn-to-code platform. ICOs are… something else indeed.

    The digital reading platform Ellabook has raised $6.3 million from Qingsong Fund, QF Capital, and Vtron Investment.

    Packback has raised $4.2 million from University Ventures, Mark Cuban, and Hyde Park Angels. The digital textbook provider has raised $8.2 million total.

    Lambda School has raised $4 million from Y Combinator and Tandem Capital. The coding school has raised $4.1 million total and plans to use the money to expand its income-sharing agreement program.

    LearnPlatform, the startup formerly known as Learntrials, has raised $3.2 million from New Markets Venture Partners and Emerson Collective. The company, which helps schools evaluate their ed-tech usage, has raised $4 million total.

    TeacherGaming has raised $1.6 million from Founders Factory and Makers Fund. The company sold MinecraftEDU to Microsoft in 2016.

    Edovo has raised $250,000 from Twilio. The company provides “tablet-based educational content for incarcerated individuals.”

    LivingTree has acquiredEdbacker.

    ASSIST has acquired the online school Advantages School International.

    Asteria Education has acquiredECS Learning Systems.

    Taskstream, Tk20, and LiveText have merged to launch a new company: Watermark.

    The former for-profit higher ed chain Laureate Education– it’s now a “public benefit company” – is selling off a number of its schools, Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Coursera co-founder “Andrew Ng officially launches his $175M AI Fund,” says Techcrunch. It isn’t really a fund per se. But that’s okay. MOOCs weren’t really MOOCs either.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    EdTech Strategies’ Doug Levin has released a new study on the many security and privacy issues with school (and school district and department of education) websites. More coverage in Edsurge and in Boing Boing.

    “It’s Time to Make Student Privacy a Priority,” says the EFF.

    Via Buzzfeed: “Here’s What Happens When Your Mom Or Dad Steals Your Identity.”

    Via The Guardian: “Amazon patents wristband that tracks warehouse workers’ movements.” Worth thinking about, I’d say, in light of the Candace Thille news (see above), as well as the announcement that the technology giant is working with Berkshire Hathaway and Chase to form a new healthcare company.

    Via The Guardian: “Fitness tracking app Strava gives away location of secret US army bases.” The story is not directly education-related, of course, except for all those ridiculous arguments that we need some sort of “FitBit for education.”

    “The Latest Data Privacy Debacleby Zeynep Tufekci

    FERPA, COPPA and the myths we tell each other” by Jim Siegl.

    The GM of a “situational awareness technology company” offers thoughts on “Preventing Problems with Predictive Analyticsin the Getting Smart blog. This article is mostly about fire extinguishers, oddly. Might I suggest, one way you can avoid problems – something not mentioned in the article – is by not using predictive analytics.

    More predictive analytics PR.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    I’ve run the numbers on ed-tech funding for the month of January – details available on

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Roughly three million Americans live more than 25 miles from a broad-access public college and do not have the sort of high-speed internet connection necessary for online college programs, according to a new report from the Urban Institute’s education policy program.”

    From Educause: “Higher Education’s Top 10 Strategic Technologies and Trends for 2018.”

    Alex Usher reviewsGeorge Mason University professor Brian Caplan’s new book The Case Against Education.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “International Grad Students’ Interest in American Higher Ed Marks First Decline in 14 Years.”

    Also via The CHE: “4-Year Colleges That Drew the Highest Percentages of First-Time Students From Out of State, Fall 2016.”

    Via Campus Technology: “Personalized Text Messages Boost STEM Student Persistence in Community College Study.”

    Edsource on an Aspen Institute study: “Student social, emotional and academic development becoming more intertwined in K–12 classrooms.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Nearly three-quarters of ninth graders tracked in a major federal study had received some kind of postsecondary education or training within seven years – and nearly a quarter of them had left their programs without a credential of any sort.”

    The Atlantic’s Melinda D. Anderson on“What Kids Are Really Learning About Slavery.” Historian Angus Johnston posted a series of questions on Twitter about the claims made in the Teaching Tolerance report about what students do and do not know about slavery.

    “‘White Supremacists Are Targeting College Campuses Like Never Before’,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education. More on the report from the Anti-Defamation League in Inside Higher Ed.

    Via Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum: “Did new evaluations and weaker tenure make fewer people want to become teachers? A new study says yes.”

    And Matt Barnum is my journalist hero this week for poking some holes in the claims made in Bloom’s famous “2 Sigma” study– a study that gets trotted out all the time to justify various education technology projects: “Why ‘personalized learning’ advocates like Mark Zuckerberg keep citing a 1984 study – and why it might not say much about schools today.”

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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