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The History of the Future of Education Technology
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    A year ago, the richest man in the world asked Twitter for suggestions on how he should most efficiently and charitably spend his wealth. And today, Jeff Bezos unveiled a few details about his plans – other than funding space travel, that is. His new philanthropic effort, The Day 1 Fund, will finance two initiatives: the Families Fund will work with existing organizations to address homelessness and hunger; and the Academies fund “will launch an operate a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities.”

    “We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,” Bezos wrote in a note posted to Twitter. “Most important among these will be genuine intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.”

    The child will be the customer.

    Bezos then went on to cite a phrase that is so often misquoted and misattributed in those shiny, happy motivational PowerPoint slides – you know the ones – that people like to post to social media: “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” W. B. Yeats never said this, for the record, but words get so easily twisted, history so easily co-opted.

    The assurance that “the child will be the customer” underscores the belief – shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a “marketplace of ideas.” (There is no community, no public responsibility, no larger civic impulse for early childhood education here. It’s all about private schools offering private, individual benefits.)

    This idea that “the child will be the customer” is, of course, also a nod to “personalized learning” as well, as is the invocation of a “Montessori-inspired” model. As the customer, the child will be tracked and analyzed, her preferences noted so as to make better recommendations to up-sell her on the most suitable products. And if nothing else, Montessori education in the United States is full of product recommendations.

    There’s another piece to all this, not mentioned in Bezos’s note about building a chain of preschools that “use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon”: Amazon’s own labor practices. The online retail giant is a notoriously terrible place to work – the pay, particularly in the warehouses, is so low that many employees receive government assistance. The working conditions are dangerous and dehumanizing. “Amazon has patented a system that would put workers in a cage, on top of a robot,” read the headline in last week’s Seattle Times. And it’s not so great for the white collar workers either. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk,” one employee in books marketing told The New York Times back in 2015.

    The majority of the early childhood educators in the US are already very poorly paid; many preschools have incredibly high turnover rates. As research has demonstrated that preschool has a lasting positive effect on children’s educational attainment, there have been efforts to “raise the standards,” demanding for example that preschools be staffed by more qualified teachers. But that demand for more training and certification hasn’t brought with it better pay or benefits. The median pay for preschool teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is less than $30,000 a year. Even those with Bachelor’s degrees earn only about $14.70 an hour, about half of the average wages for all those with the same level of education.

    This is a field in which a third of employees already qualify for government assistance. And now Jeff Bezos, a man whose own workers also rely on these same low-income programs, wants to step in – not as a taxpayer, oh no, but as a philanthropist. Honestly, he could have a more positive impact here by just giving those workers a raise. (Or, you know, by paying taxes.)

    Bezos is not alone in eyeing the early education “market,” which has received quite a bit of attention from ed-tech investors in recent years. So far this year, three companies have raised venture capital to help people run preschools and childcare facilities in their homes: Wonderschool, WeeCare, and Procare Software. Last year, VCs poured millions into similar sorts of companies, including Tinkergarten, Sawyer, and Kinedu. Investors in these startups include some of the “big money” names in Silicon Valley: Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Andreessen Horowitz, among others. (One of these companies, WeeCare, says it’s also planning to train and license childcare providers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the micro-certificate, online education, nanodegree folks also jump on this bandwagon. “Uber for Education” or something.)

    Ostensibly, there’s no shortage of potential “customers” for these private preschool software startups – the demand for childcare is high, and many families live in what the Center for American Progress has called“child care deserts,” that is places where there are no options for affordable, high-quality early childhood education.

    But are private preschool chains really the path we want to pursue, particularly if we believe that access to excellent early childhood education is so incredibly crucial? Can the gig economy and the algorithm ever provide high quality preschool? For all the flaws in the public school system, it’s important to remember: there is no accountability in billionaires’ educational philanthropy.

    And, as W. B. Yeats famously never said, charity is no substitute for justice.

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  • 09/14/18--12:30: 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. In the meantime, it also depresses the hell out of me.

    (National) Education Politics

    “Can Federal ‘School Safety’ Funds Be Used for Surveillance Tech?” asks Edsurge, narrowly avoiding having this story in the Betteridge’s Law of Headlines section by adding this sentence after its question: “Congress Is Looking Into It.”

    Via The New York Times: “Education Dept. Reopens Rutgers Case Charging Discrimination Against Jewish Students.”

    An op-ed in The Hechinger Report: “Betsy DeVos’ slippery slope of religion, ethnicity and race.”

    An op-ed in Edsurge: “With the Fox in the Henhouse, Betsy DeVos’s Ed Department Is Hurting Low-Income College Students.”

    Via Education Week: “DeVos’ Trip to South America Focuses on Workforce Prep.”

    There’s more about Betsy DeVos and her policies in the courts section and in the financial aid section below.

    A public service announcement from the FBI: “Education Technologies: Data Collection and Unsecured Systems Could Pose Risks to Students.” More on this from Education Week’s Ben Herold.

    Via The Verge: “Juul has 60 days to prove it can keep its e-cigs away from kids, FDA warns.”

    Via The New York Times: “Australian Politicians Threaten Schoolgirl Over National Anthem Protest.” She’s 9. They’re assholes.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    There’s more about the teachers’ strike in Tacoma, Washington in the “labor and management” section below.

    Via Chalkbeat: “New York bans the use of federal, state money to buy guns for schools.”

    Via Education Week: “ECOT Looms Over Ohio Gubernatorial Candidates’ Education Plans.” ECOT is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school.

    The New York Times Magazine has a long and thoughtful piece by Sara Mosle on school reforms in the Atlanta Public Schools.

    Education in the Courts

    Via Politico: “Judge rules DeVos delay of Obama-era student loan rulesunlawful’.”

    Via NEA Today: “NEA, CTA Sue DeVos Over Rollback of Protections for Online Students.”

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “ITT Bankruptcy Trustee Sues Lenders, Department of Education.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “An Oregon grand jury has declined to indict two police officers at Portland State University who shot and killed a man this summer.”

    Immigration and Education

    This is evil. Via The New York Times: “Detention of Migrant Children Has Skyrocketed to Highest Levels Ever.”

    Via ProPublica: “Here’s What Happened to the 99 Immigrant Children Separated From Their Parents and Sent to Chicago.”

    Via The Washington Post: “Trump slams Jealous’s plan for free community college for ‘dreamers’.” That’s Maryland candidate for governor Ben Jealous.

    “Free College”

    “Don’t Dismiss the Value of Free-College Programs. They Do Help Low-Income Studentsby Sara Goldrick-Rab and Michelle Miller-Adams.

    “America Wakes Up From Its Dream of Free Collegeby The Atlantic’s Adam Harris.

    The Business and Politics of Financial Aid

    Via The AP: “The Trump administration is granting only partial loan forgiveness to the vast majority of students approved for help because of fraud by for-profit colleges, according to preliminary Education Department data obtained by The Associated Press.”

    There’s more about the Trump Administration’s attempts to delay implementing regulations regarding loan forgiveness up in the “courts” section above.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    Via Inside Higher Ed: the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges“places each college of the for-profit Center for Excellence in Higher Education on probation, finding misrepresentations to students and – at one campus – discriminatory attitudes toward students.”

    There’s more for-profit higher ed news in the courts section above.

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

    Via Class Central: “Monetizing A MOOC Platform.”

    Also via Class Central: “First Look at edX’s Paywall Experiments.”

    Via Campus Technology: “Coursera’s CEO on the Evolving Meaning of ‘MOOC’.”

    There’s more ECOT news – there’s always more ECOT news – in the “state and local politics” section above. There’s also more legal news regarding online education in the “courts” section above.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    It has now been at least five years since Clayton Christensen started predicting that half of colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. He’s still at it. Via CNBC: “Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.” “No, Half of All Colleges Will Not Go Bankrupt,” Derek Newton responds in Forbes.

    Via The Atlantic: “The Moral Catastrophe at Michigan State.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “Women Say A School For Troubled Teens Punished Girls For Being Gay.” That is the River View Christian Academy.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “University of Arizona psychologist is under scrutiny for taking money from an organization founded to support research in eugenics.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Another controversial policy proposal in Wisconsin would eliminate all programs with fewer than five majors annually, on average, if ‘remediation’ didn’t work. Faculty leaders see attempt to turn system into a ‘widget factory.’”

    “Many College Courses Are Either Overloaded or Underfilled,” writes Jeffrey Young in Edsurge. “That May Be Hurting Retention.”

    Via The Atlantic: “Teens Are Protesting In-Class Presentations.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “‘Kicked out’: Newark charter school purges students in possible violation of state rules.” The school in question: Marion P. Thomas Charter School.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Nebraska Wondered Whether Conservative Students Were Being Silenced. Here’s What It Found Out.”

    Via The Hechinger Report: “A new challenge for colleges: opioid-addicted students.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Purdue pilot program restricts access to sites such as Netflix and Hulu in specific lecture halls.”

    To everyone in the path of Hurricane Florence – teachers and students and staff and families alike: you’re in my thoughts. Stay safe.

    Yes, Guns Are Ed-Tech (and It’s So F*cked Up that I Had to Make This a Category)

    This, via, is quite terrifying: “Blanks to be fired during school’s active shooter drill.”

    Via The Washington Post: “A sleeping student wouldn’t wake up in class. So an officer pulled out her Taser.”

    There’s more gun-related news in the “state and local politics” and “courts” sections above.

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    There’s more accreditation news in the “for-profit higher ed” section above.


    “What If a DNA Test Could Show How to Teach a Student With Dyslexia?” asks Education Week.

    “What Personality Tests Really Deliver” by Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “ACT Announces Retest Over Glitches.”

    Labor and Management

    Teachers are on the cover of Time Magazine, this time making a very different case than that infamous cover of Michelle Rhee holding a broom. The featured article: “13 Stories of Life on a Teacher’s Salary.”

    Via The New York Times Magazine: “The Second Shift: What Teachers Are Doing to Pay Their Bills.”

    Teachers in Tacoma, Washington have been on strike this week, but The Seattle Times reports that “Tacoma teachers reach deal with district; schools could open Monday.”

    Via The News Tribune: “Attention Tacoma Public Schools: When teacher Anne Hawkins quits, you’re doing something wrong.”

    Former Department of Education official Yuanxia Ding has joined the student loan provider Skills Fund as its “chief impact officer.”

    Contests and Awards

    Via the BBC: “Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been awarded a Breakthrough Prize for the discovery of radio pulsars.” Her male collaborators won the Nobel back in 1974 for her work.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Would the Education Dept.’s New Title IX Rules Really Save Colleges Money?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

    Via The Atlantic: “What Kids’ Backpacks Say About Them.” Perhaps their parents have money (or not)?

    Via Education Week: “Instagram and Teens: What Do You Need to Know?” Well, you probably need to know more than what Facebook / Instagram has revealed in its new parents’ guide.

    Techcrunch with the press releases and product announcements: Via Techcrunch: “YouTube Kids adds a whitelisting parental control feature, plus a new experience for tweens.” Via Techcrunch: “Kano’s latest computer kit for kids doubles down on touch.” Via Techcrunch: “LittleBits intros three kits to explore music, space and more.” Via Techcrunch: “Sphero launches Bolt, as education moves front and center.”

    Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein continues to write about the OPM market: “Extension Engine and OPM Market Transparency.”

    And from Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill: “Blackboard Learn Ultra in 2018: Is it ready and does it matter?” (Also from Hill: “Timeline of e-Literate Coverage of Blackboard Learn Ultra.”)

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    Probably my favorite “robots are the future of education” story in a good, long while. Via Buzzfeed: “Students Are Using Bots To Crash Games Of Kahoot At School.”

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    Jeff Bezos posted a note on Twitter, outlining his plans to launch a $2 billion fund to build a chain of preschools and to support organizations that work with homeless families. Everyone, it seemed, had a story: The New York Times, Techcrunch, Chalkbeat, The Verge, Ed Week’s Market Brief, Edsurge, etc etc etc. Historian Diane Ravitch says we should “wait and see how the Bezos philanthropy plays out,” but I think we know enough from the history of Amazon’s labor practices and the history of tech billionaires’ education philanthropy to weigh in. So I took a brief break from book research to rage-type my thoughts.

    Alibaba’s Jack Ma, China’s Richest Man, to Retire From Company He Co-Founded,” The New York Times reports. And what is he going to do? Education philanthropy of fucking course.

    Via The Guardian: “Billionaires v teachers: the Koch brothers’ plan to starve public education.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Interview with Priscilla Chan: Her super-donor origin story.”

    Ben Williamson summarizes some of the recent news (certainly not all of it “philanthropical”) about tech billionaires’ education initiatives: “The tech elite is making a power-grab for public education.”

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    Perlego has raised $4.8 million from Alex Chesterman, ADV, Simon Franks, and Peter Hinssen. The textbook company has raised $6 million total.

    Carnegie Learning has acquiredMondo Publishing.

    WeWork has acquired the office management startup Teem. OK, this isn’t necessarily ed-tech related, but as WeWork is attempting to be in the education business (with its acquisition of the Flatiron School, for example) perhaps we will see if and how the real-estate-company-disguised-as-a-co-working-space pivots to software sales.

    Edsurge’s Tony Wan on“When Education CEOs and Bigwig Financiers Go ‘Back to School’” – that is, on the BMO Capital conference in NYC.

    Also by Wan: “Companies Are Bought, Not Sold: M&A Advice From 3 Edtech CEOs Who Survived the Process.”

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    This story by Doug Levin is really important as it challenges some of the popular narratives about “student hacking.”

    Via The New York Times: “How Game Apps That Captivate Kids Have Been Collecting Their Data.”

    Via Education Week: “Data-Privacy Questions From Parents That Schools Should Be Ready to Answer.”

    Via Edsurge: “The Unintentional Ways Schools Might Be Violating FERPA, and How They Can Stay Vigilant.”

    Also via Edsurge: “Tear Down That Wall? Why Data Walls May Cause More Harm Than Good.”

    There’s more surveillance news in the federal education section up top.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health defended its study on Hurricane Maria-related mortality rates in Puerto Rico on Thursday after President Trump falsely said on Twitter that an estimated death toll of around 3,000 was manufactured by Democrats who wanted to make him look bad.”

    Via The New York Times: “Asbestos in a Crayon, Benzene in a Marker: A School Supply Study’s Toxic Results.”

    Via Edsurge: “Polls Reveal What Teachers and Parents Want From School Data.” The polls in question: from the Data Quality Campaign.

    Edsurge on a new report from Common Sense Media: “Teens Know Social Media Is Manipulative. But They Just Can’t Get Enough.” More on the report via Education Week.

    Inside Higher Ed on a new Woodrow Wilson Center report on China’s influence in US higher ed.

    Teaching Tolerance has released its latest report on “Hate at School.”

    “Number of International Private Schools Surges Again, Up 6 Percent Over Last Year,” says EdWeek’s Market Brief, citing a report from ISC Research.

    Via The Chronicle of Education: “How a Famous Academic Job-Market Study Got It All Wrong – and Why It Still Matters.”

    Why aren’t kids being taught to read?asks Emily Hanford in APM Reports.

    Sound the education prediction klaxon. Someone get Clayton Christensen on the phone. STAT. “College students predicted to fall by more than 15% after the year 2025,” says The Hechinger Report.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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  • 09/21/18--13:20: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this feeds my rage… oh and the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    Betsy DeVos Wants To Make It Easier For Religious Schools To Avoid Title IX,” says Buzzfeed.

    Via The Verge: “CDC confirms that teens are vaping weed.” (Vaping is ed-tech IMO because Juul offers “mindset” curriculum.)

    According to the EPA, one third of US schools are estimated to contain asbestos.

    “Federal Education Spending Bill Would Boost Funding for Title IV, Career-Tech,” says EdWeek’s Market Brief.

    “Ten years after the financial meltdown: what did it mean for education and the future?” asks Bryan Alexander.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via The Dallas Morning News: “Texas board votes to eliminate Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller from history curriculum.”

    Via the Phoenix New Times: “Meet the Creationist Helping to Change Arizona School Standards on Evolution.”

    Via Edsurge: “Golden State GDPR: What the Edtech Industry Should Know About CA’s New Privacy Rules.”

    “A government watchdog group called Florida’s growing system of privately-run public charter schools wasteful and said it sometimes gives rise to self-dealing and profiteering,” says The Florida Times-Union.

    Via Chalkbeat: “Brooklyn middle schools eliminate ‘screening’ as New York City expands integration efforts.”

    Immigration and Education

    Via Chalkbeat: “How Chicago schools’ fingerprinting requirements are scaring away undocumented parents.”

    “The Disappeared” – ProPublica’s Hannah Dreier onMS–13.

    There’s some DACA-related news in the financial aid section below.

    Education in the Courts

    Via The Washington Post: “Political nonprofits must now name many of their donors under federal court ruling after Supreme Court declines to intervene.”

    Via Techdirt: “Ninth Circuit Says No, You Fucking May Not Arrest A Bunch Of Middle School Students To ‘Prove A Point’.”

    Via The Atlantic: “Brett Kavanaugh, Mark Judge, and the Romanticizing of Teenage Indiscretion.”

    Via The Guardian: “‘No accident’ Brett Kavanaugh’s female law clerks ‘looked like models’, Yale professor told students.”

    Puerto Rico Senator Abel Nazario-Quiñones (who among his roles in the Senate is the Chairman of the Commission on Education and University Reform of the Senate) “ was arrested and charged in a 39-count indictment alleging the making or use of false documents and wire fraud,” according to the Department of Justice press release.

    “Free College”

    Via NPR: “Rice University Says Middle-Class And Low-Income Students Won’t Have To Pay Tuition.”

    The Business of Financial Aid

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Education Department received about 28,000 applications for Public Service Loan Forgiveness as of June 30 of this year but so far has approved just under 300 applications for loan discharge, according to new federal data released Wednesday.”

    There’s more data on student loans down in the research section below. There’s also an article on financial aid and cybersecurity in the data and surveillance section below.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Colorado Mountain College today announced the creation of an income-share agreement fund aimed at undocumented students and others who are not eligible to receive federal financial aid, including Dreamers, or students who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” As I predicted, ISAs are going to be targeted towards the most vulnerable. No wonder venture capitalists love the idea.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    There’s more data about student loan forgiveness for those defrauded by for-profits in the financial aid section above.

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

    Via Class Central: “MOOCs May Still Be Reshaping Higher Education, Just Not In the Way That Was Initially Predicted.”

    From the press release: “Colorado State University-Global Campus Partners with to Offer Adults Tuition-Free Courses Towards Their Degree.”

    “Big Online Courses Have a Problem. Here’s How We Tried to Fix It” by Dan Meyer.

    Wait, [Sebastian Thrun has another new startup](The creator of Google’s self-driving car project is now working to automate boring office functions)? Focus! You’ll never dismantle higher education if you don’t focus!

    There’s more MOOC news in the contests and competition section below.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The Intercept: “Koch-Funded Think Tank Linked to George Mason University Is Now Pretending It’s Not Part of George Mason University.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Are Colleges Failing ‘Haidt’s Choice’? Betsy DeVos Says Yes. Jonathan Haidt Isn’t So Sure.” Related: John Warner has penned a great review of Haidt’s new book.

    Harvard has apparently raised $9.62 billion over five years. Harvard should take that money and pay for a chunk of everyone not at Harvard to go to school for free.

    Via Edsurge: “One HBCU Hopes Its ‘$10,000 Degree Pathway’ Will Win Over Students Considering For-Profit Alternatives.” The HBCU in question: Fayetteville State University.

    Via The Post and Courier: “Charleston Mandarin language charter school faces closure 1 month after opening.”

    Via The New York Times: “Rethinking What Gifted Education Means, and Whom It Should Serve.”

    Via The Atlantic: “Why Schools Are Banning Yoga.”

    Also via The Atlantic: “The Curse of America’s Illogical School-Day Schedule.”

    Yes, Guns Are Ed-Tech (and It’s So F*cked Up that I Had to Make This a Category)

    Via Medium: “How Active Shooter Drills Became a Big (and Possibly Traumatizing) Business.”

    Via The Washington Post: “ ‘You should feel unsettled when viewing these.’ Gun-control statues aim to evoke students’ terror during lockdowns.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Shout out to everyone promoting Ethereum for education and blockchain-based transcripts! Via Buzzfeed: “A Cryptocurrency Pioneer Wrote About Sex With A Preteen Girl On His Blog. He Says It Was Fiction.” See also, via The Hechinger Report: “Blockchain arrives on college campuses.”


    “After the SAT make-up test was given this weekend, reports again circulated on social media that the make-up test included many questions from an SAT widely available in Asia,” says Inside Higher Ed.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    Via WSUA9: “DCPS allows homeless student to play football after ‘residency concerns’.”

    Labor and Management

    Via the Columbia Spectator: “Columbia postdoctoral workers gain employee status, to hold vote to unionize following NLRB ruling.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “Cornell Just Found Brian Wansink Guilty Of Scientific Misconduct And He Has Resigned.”

    The Business of Job Training (and Educational Benefits for Employees)

    Via the MIT Technology Review: “Walmart will use VR headsets to train all its US employees.”

    Via Edsurge: “Google, Expanding on HBCU Pilot, Launches ‘Tech Exchange’ to Boost Diversity in Industry.”

    University of Oregon to Launch Coding Bootcamp,” says the Campus Technology headline. Actually it’s Trilogy Education’s bootcamp, as the UO is outsourcing instruction to this company.

    Contests and Awards

    Via the edX blog: “EdX Wins Yidan Prize in Education Development.”

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Jeff Bezos is spending $2 billion to help the homeless and educate poor kids. Sounds good. Is it?asks The Washington Post.

    Can Pearson Sell Efficacy?asks Michael Feldstein.

    France Bans Smartphones in Schools Through 9th Grade. Will It Help Students?asks The New York Times.

    (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

    Via Futurism: People Are Zapping Their Brains to Boost Creativity. Experts Have Concerns." Phew. Good thing no ed-tech publication has promoted brain zapping!

    Peter Thiel’s argument that Silicon Valley has been ‘brainwashed’ by higher education is tired,” says Techcrunch. No. It’s fucking ludicrous is what it is.

    “A Short History of CRAAPby Mike Caulfield.

    Via Verge: “Why it matters that Bert and Ernie are gay, which they are.” (More Bert and Ernie stories in the research section below.)

    Via Edsurge: “Kahoot Launches First-Ever Premium Version for Schools.”

    Also via Edsurge: “Conrad Wolfram: Let’s Build a New Math Curriculum That Assumes Computers Exist.”

    “Here’s A Font That Lets You Cheat On Your Term Papers,” says Buzzfeed.

    Blackboard is rebrandingMoodlerooms as Blackboard Open LMS. Because “open.”

    Via Edsurge: “What U.S. Companies Should Know About Asia’s Edtech Market.”

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    Via the BBC: “IBM launches tool aimed at detecting AI bias.” LOL.

    The Hechinger Report lists“Ten jobs that are safe from robots.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if your job is detecting AI bias – despite IBM’s new tool – you are also safe.

    Via Forbes: “Building Brains: How Pearson Plans To Automate Education With AI.”

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    Via Chalkbeat: “What’s next for the Laurene Powell Jobs-funded effort to rethink American high schools.” Clearly it involves subsidizing a bunch of education journalism.

    Content on Edsurge, sponsored by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, this week includes this story on LeBron James’ I Promise School ,and this story on the “Genius Hour”, and this story on one-on-one time with students.

    Content on Edsurge, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, this week includes this story on computer science.

    Via the AP: “Bill Gates calls for more global education assessments data.”

    Via The New York Times: “Jeff Bezos Cites a Big Number, but Few Details, in Plan for Low-Income Montessori Preschools.”

    Rachel Cohen says, “Don’t Trust Jeff Bezos’s Preschool Philanthropy Scheme.”

    Via The Seattle Times: “Bezos family gifts $3 million to shape UW’s early education work.”

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    Higher Ground Education has acquiredMontessorium.

    Bertelsmann has acquiredOnCourse Learning.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    This, on the Chinese “social credit” system and the potential for a “digital dictatorship” is pretty chilling.

    Via The Washington Post: “Education Department warns that students on financial aid are being targeted in phishing attacks.”

    Via The New York Times: “New Pressure on Google and YouTube Over Children’s Data.”

    This is bad. Via the Insurance Journal: “John Hancock Will Only Sell Interactive Life Insurance with Fitness Data Tracking.”

    This is also bad. Via The Verge: “Google’s Family Link can now turn off your teen’s phone during dinner.”

    There’s another story on data and privacy up in the state and local politics section above.

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Venture Capital Firm, Standards-Setting Group Forge Partnership Around Interoperability.” That is, New Markets Venture Partners and the IMS Global Learning Consortium.

    Via Moodle News: “Amid Low Adoption, DoD R&D Will Keep xAPI Alive And That’s Good News.”

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via Ars Technica: “Study: people tend to cluster into four distinct personality‘types’.” So says an algorithm so it must be true.

    Via the Shanker Institute blog: “The Teacher Diversity Data Landscape.”

    Via The Hechinger Report: “Black students default on college loans at a higher rate than others, study finds.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The average student loan debt last year for graduates of four-year colleges who took out loans was $28,650, according to the latest version of an annual report from the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).” (About 65% of students graduate with debt.)

    Via Education Week: “‘Homework Gap’ Hits Minority, Impoverished Students Hardest, Survey Finds.”

    Also via Education Week: “Charter School 4th Graders: Less Access to Computers in School, More At Home.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “National poll finds more appreciation of colleges than other surveys have. In some areas, including affirmative action, sexual assault and mental health, the public isn’t impressed. Public institutions earn more confidence than private ones.”

    Are Bert and Ernie Gay? We Checked the Research,” says Pacific Standard.

    From the Harvard press release about the research: “Substantial racial stereotyping toward young children of color found among white adults who work with them.”

    Via The Hechinger Report: “Early evidence of a ‘Trump effect’ on bullying in schools.”

    I’m not sure I understand the point of this study, but apparently students who have a job when they graduate earn more money than students who do not have a job.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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  • 09/28/18--11:00: 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. I bet I missed some stuff this week as I was trying desperately to not pay attention to the dumpster fire of US politics.

    (National) Education Politics

    Poetry. “ Lights go out at Education Department headquarters – and may stay off for some time,” The Washington Post reports.

    There’s more about the Trump Administration’s plans for student loans in the financial aid section below.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via The New Yorker: “Georgia’s Separate and Unequal Special-Education System.”

    There are some updates to the results from states’ testing regimes in the testing section below.

    Immigration and Education

    Via ProPublica: “‘Humanitarian Crisis’ Looms as Arizona Threatens to Revoke Immigrant Children Shelter Licenses.”

    Via Pacific Standard: “The Trump Administration Argues Against Abortion Rights for Minors in Immigrant Detention.”

    Via Politico: “Partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to the displacement of more than 300,000 Hispanic students between 2000 and 2011, with most of those students disappearing from elementary schools.”

    Via The Atlantic: “It’s Getting Harder for International STEM Students to Find Work After Graduation.”

    Education in the Courts

    More testimony regarding Trump’s Supreme Court nominee this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to push ahead with his nomination today, despite the numerous reports now about Brett Kavanaugh’s history of drunkenness and alleged sexual assault. Among those supporting Brett Kavanaugh yesterday: students from Liberty University who’d been bussed in by the schools with an “excused absence from class.” Also Facebook’s DC lobbyist, Joel Kaplan, who was sitting right behind Kavanaugh as he screamed at Senators.

    (There are more stories in the “meanwhile on campus” section below about how all this talk of sexual assault is playing out in schools around the US.)

    The Business (and the Politics) of Financial Aid

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Trump administration’s list of primary finalists to operate an overhauled student loan servicing system excludes Navient, a large and controversial servicer, which instead is participating in the program as a subcontractor in a team.”

    Also via Inside Higher Ed: “The Education Department has not provided enough guidance on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to borrowers or loan servicers, a Government Accountability Office report found.”

    Via NPR: “Data Shows 99% Of Applicants For A Student Loan Forgiveness Program Were Denied.”

    There’s more data on student loans in the research and data section at the bottom.

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

    Gotta keep that MOOC hype alive. “MOOCs Find a New Audience with On-Campus Students,” Edsurge claims.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The Wall Street Journal: “Yale University Under Federal Investigation for Use of Race in Admissions Practices.” More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Via The Atlantic: “Georgetown Prep’s President Defends Its Culture, Without Mentioning Brett Kavanaugh.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Why They Didn’t Report: Trump’s Challenge to Kavanaugh Accuser Provokes Stories of Campus Assault.”

    Via The Atlantic: “What Teens Think of the Kavanaugh Accusations.”

    Via The Washington Post: “Principal placed on leave after being taped mocking student’s sex assault claim.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A Student Leader Resigns at Texas State After Being Accused of Taking Money From Turning Point USA.”

    Via the Charlotte Observer: “A Memphis heiress is waging a million-dollar war on NC fraternity after her son’s death.”

    Via The New York Times: “Harvard Club Considers a Change, and Some Think It’s the ‘Worst Thing Ever’.” Because priorities.

    Yes, Guns Are Ed-Tech (and It’s So F*cked Up that I Had to Make This a Category)

    I realize that this headline should probably go in the Betteridge’s Law section below, but thanks to this shitshow we’re now living in, I’m sure the answer to the question NPR asks here is going to be “yes”: “Can Schools Use Federal Funds To Arm Teachers?


    Via The New York Times: “Why New York Isn’t Celebrating Higher Test Scores.”

    Via The Oregonian: “Oregon schools generate mediocre results, new test scores indicate.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “ACT Moves Into Egypt’s Testing Market, in Sign of Global Demand for College Prep.”

    Via the ACT press release: “ACT to Deliver Assessment for the Moral Education Program to Students in the UAE.”

    There’s more ACT-related news in the venture capital section below.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    I would be remiss if I did not mention the new Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot Gritty. Is this a nod to a well-known professor in the area and her work on grit? I do not know, but the mascot is both horrifying and hilarious.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Athletics staff members at the University of Maryland at College Park did not follow the institution’s procedures and did not diagnose a heatstroke that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old football player in June, according to a new report.”

    Labor and Management

    According to Politico, Jason Botel plans to leave the Department of Education mid-October.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Is Running a Company Like Leading a Classroom?asks Edsurge.

    Can Jeff Bezos Bring a Montessori Education to Underserved Children? Does He Want To?asks Dan Willingham.

    States Are Adopting More Computer Science Policies. Are High Schools Keeping Up?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

    Via The Outline: “The rise and fall of the company behind ’Reader Rabbit’ and all your favorite educational games.” Come for the ed-tech nostalgia; stay for the reminder that people connected to Shark Tank are not so great for education.

    “How Lego Came to Be the World’s Most Famous Brick,” according to Wired.

    “Preparing for the Post-LMS Worldby Jonathan Rees.

    Learning Engineers Inch Toward the Spotlight,” Inside Higher Ed claims.

    Via MIT Technology Review: “Oculus hopes its $399 headset will bring virtual reality to the masses.”

    A data breach at Chegg – more details in the data and surveillance section below.

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    “Culturally Sensitive Robots Are Here to Care for the Elderly,” claims. (Remember: robots for the elderly share a direct connection to MOOCs replacing higher ed.)

    “Learning Designers will have to adapt or die. Here’s 10 ways they need to adapt to AI…,” Donald Clark contends. (Not listed: using a grammar checker to make sure that your subjects and verbs are in agreement.) “AI is coming for your instructional and learning design jobs, apparently,” writes George Veletsianos in response.

    Via Techcrunch: “Facebook sends Sphero robots so classrooms can apply coding education.” And I guess there’s a new “learn to code” initiative from Facebook, too, called CodeFWD.

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    Via Edsurge: “Nonprofit Arm of Salesforce Donates $15.5 Million to San Francisco and Oakland Schools.”

    Sponsored content on Edsurge, paid for by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, this week include an article on networks by the director of research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, an article on "giving kids a roadmap to their brain,“ an article encouraging people to run gratitude exercises, and an article written by CZI itself: ”The Case for Expanding the Definition of ‘Personalization’ to Meet the Needs of the Whole Child."

    Sponsored content on Edsurge, paid for by the Gates Foundation, this week includes an article on office hours.

    (Of the 23 stories Edsurge published this past week, 10 were sponsored. Damn. Other sponsors, in addition to CZI and Gates, included: Knowledgeworks, Edmentum, Amazon Web Services, Oneder, and Reading Plus.)

    Still more on Jeff Bezos’ philanthropic plans for edu: “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Ambitious Pre-K Move Sparks Wary Reactions,” writes Education Week. Disclosure: cites me.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    SoloLearn has raised $5.6 million from Naspers and Learn Capital. The learn-to-code company has raised $6.9 million total.

    Bamboo Learning has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Amazon’s Alexa Fund.

    ACT is acquiring“the automated item generation” technology from MGHL Consulting.

    Boxlight Corporation has acquiredEOS Education for ~$300,000.

    Common App will merge with Reach Higher, a college-access program started by Michelle Obama.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Via Techcrunch: “Chegg resets 40 million user passwords after data breach.” Phil Hill also weighs in.

    Wow. “How Students Learned to Stop Worrying – and Love Being Spied On,” The Chronicle of Higher Education argues.

    Colleges and Universities Have a Racial Profiling Problem,” says the ACLU, which is sure a nice counter to that Chronicle bullshit above.

    “The mutating metric machinery of higher education” by Ben Williamson.

    The NYT’s Natasha Singer writes about tech companies’ attempts to shape legislation that would give consumers more control over their data: “Just Don’t Call It Privacy.”

    “What Can Machine Learning Really Predict in Education?” asks Edsurge.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via Pacific Standard: “Childhood Poverty Is Linked to Poorer Cognitive Skills in Old Age.”

    The OECD has released its latest “Education at a Glance,” which is 460 pages long – a wee bit longer than a glance, I’d say.

    “The State of Homeschooling in America,” according to Pacific Standard.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “New data released by the Education Department Wednesday showed 10.8 percent of student borrowers who entered loan repayment in 2015 had defaulted within three years.”

    Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum takes a close look at a new report from TNTP, the advocacy group formerly known as The New Teacher Project.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The 2018 Surveys of Admissions Leaders: The Pressure Grows.”

    “A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying,” says the Pew Research Center in its latest report.

    Boys Don’t Read Enough,” says The Atlantic.

    Nature’s Nathaniel Comfort reviews the new bookBlueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are: “Genetic determinism rides again.” (These folks are coming hard for education. Watch and see)

    This is a great article on edu history in Science of Learning: “Insights from 200+ years of personalized learning.” Wait, so you mean AltSchool didn’t invent personalized learning?

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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  • 10/02/18--16:59: Why History Matters
  • This talk was given today to Eddie Maloney’s class at Georgetown University (specifically, its Learning and Design program) on “Technology & Innovation By Design”

    A couple of weeks ago, I saw an educator say on Twitter something about how the changes we’ll see in the next 30 years are “so radical” that history won’t be much help. “I’m beginning to suspect,” he tweeted, that history is “less and less relevant in understanding the near (and far) future.”

    I decided not to pick a fight on the Internet – not then, at least. But I want to talk a little bit today about why I think this claim regarding the irrelevance of history is quite wrong and perhaps even quite dangerous. (Obviously – full disclosure – I’m pretty invested in history being relevant as I’m writing a book about education technology in the mid-twentieth century, about the rise of education psychology, the automation of education, and teaching machines.)

    I do not disagree, however, that the next 30 years will likely bring about great upheaval. If nothing else, I believe that we may be facing a cataclysm of global proportions due to climate change. The planet could, quite conceivably in coming decades, become uninhabitable for many of its current life forms. Is this unprecedented? Perhaps. But we aren’t moving into the future without any knowledge or understanding.

    We have science, sure, But we also have history.

    We know – from history (and not just from climatology or paleontology) – what happens during environmental catastrophes; we know – from history – what happens during mass migrations and dramatic shifts in demographics. We know how these events have played out in the past – for rich people and poor people; for white people and brown people; for those from the Global North and those from the Global South; for men, for women, for children.

    Ideally, we heed science and history, and we recognize the implications of global climate change on the planet but also on people, on institutions. We act sensibly; we act responsibly; we act justly. We learn from the past. We try to do better. Scientists do this too, you know.

    The present can never be extricated from what’s come before. History will never be irrelevant (even if our leaders and musical guest stars on Saturday Night Live appear to be ignorant of it).

    Now, I’m not sure if this particular educator was referring to global climate change or not when he dismissed history. I don’t want to put words in his mouth – any more than I might have already – but I don’t think he was. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s far more likely that when you hear this sort of quip – that history doesn’t really matter any more – that it is in reference to some sort of other profound and unprecedented shift people believe we are facing: a shift in technology, in digital technologies in particular.

    “Technology is changing faster than ever” – this is a related, repeated claim. It’s a claim that seems to be based on history, one that suggests that, in the past, technological changes were slow; now, they’re happening so fast and we’re adopting new technologies so quickly – or so the story goes – that we can no longer make any sense of what is happening around us, and we’re just all being swept along in a wave of techno-inevitability.

    I’ve written previously about this. (And I probably should have recommended you read that article as I don’t want to get too side-tracked here.) Needless to say, I don’t think the claim is true – or at the very least, it is a highly debatable one. It depends on how you count and what you count as technological change and how you measure the pace of change. Some of this, I’d argue, is simply a matter of confusing technology consumption for technology innovation. Some of this is a matter of confusing upgrades for breakthroughs – Google updating Google Docs more regularly than Microsoft updates Office or Apple releasing a new iPhone every year might not be the best rationale for insisting we are experiencing rapid technological change. Moreover, much of the pace of change can be accounted for by the fact that many new technologies are built atop – quite literally – pre-existing systems: railroads followed the canals; telegraphs followed the railroads; telephones followed the telegraphs; cable television followed the phone lines; most of us (in the US) probably use an Internet provider today that began as either a phone company or a cable company. If, indeed, Internet adoption has moved rapidly, it’s because it’s utilized existing infrastructure as much as because new technologies are somehow inherently zippier.

    “Technology is changing faster than ever.” It makes for a nice sound bite, to be sure. It might feel true. (It’s probably felt true at every moment in time.) And surely it’s a good rhetorical hook to hang other directives upon: “you simply must buy this new shiny thing today because if you don’t then the world is going to pass you by.”

    That directive is a particularly powerful one in education as it often works in tandem with another narrative: the story that education hasn’t changed in one hundred (or more) years. It’s another historically dubious claim (and another topic I’ve written about– indeed, I have an article in Vice coming soon pushing back on this notion). Nevertheless, it is an incredibly popular claim, particularly among education reformers and education technologists and venture philanthropists – current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has invoked it, as has former Secretary Arne Duncan. Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of a famous Steve, has funded a massive initiative to “rethink school” that also rests on this narrative that school hasn’t changed. Khan Academy’s Sal Khan likes to tell this story too, as does the CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal. (He says education hasn’t changed in 500 years, which I think is supposed to be shorthand for “since the printing press.”)

    These are powerful, influential people shaping education policy, and they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    This story – that school hasn’t changed in a hundred or more years – has a corollary, of course: one that contends that this unchanging system was modeled on the factory. Schools look the way they do now – which is exactly how they looked 100 years ago – because Horace Mann went to Prussia in the 1830s and brought the “Prussian model,” “the factory model of education” back to the US – or something like that. There weren’t a lot of factories in Prussia back then, but no matter. People really like this story: the reason there are bells in schools, they tell us, is that it helps shape young students in preparation for work, so that they’re prepared to respond to the bells and whistles of the factory floor. (This story is wrong. And I’m sorry, but another aside: if you get your history of education from a guy who calls Thomas Jefferson’s slaves “employees” then you might have some real problems discerning the kinds of sources – primary or secondary – that you should take seriously.)

    Now, the popular (libertarian) story about bells should immediately give you pause – I hope it gives you pause – as education technologists and instructional designers, because school bells are, no doubt, “ed-tech.” And you should be asking, “what do school bells do,” “why do we have them,” “where does the technology come from,” “who sells bells to teachers,” “who makes bells for schools,” and perhaps even “how are we replicating and hard-coding this analog technology in our digital world?”

    Technology, as physicist Ursula Franklin reminds us, is a practice, not simply an object. “Technology,” she writes, “is not the sum of the artifacts of the wheels and gears, of the nails and electronic transmitters. Technology is a system. It entails far more than its individual material components. Technology involves organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and most of all, a mindset.” As such, technology always has a history – and not just a history of invention or adoption, but a much broader one: the whole context in which practices are imagined and developed and rationalized (and perhaps even rendered invisible, in a way, by becoming utterly ubiquitous, commonplace).

    Why bells? When bells? What kinds of bells? Who gets to ring them? How has this changed over time?

    Why windows? What kinds of windows? Which classrooms, whose classrooms have sunlight? Which doors have locks? Who has the key? Which schools have metal detectors? Which schools have surveillance cameras? When were these technologies installed, and why?

    Why blackboards? When blackboards? What kinds of pedagogical practices led to the adoption of blackboards? What kinds of practices have emerged from them?

    Many instructional technologists can answer none of these questions. Much more troubling, I’d say: they don’t think they should have to. They don’t think it’s relevant, when in fact, these questions – really, any deep and critical historical thinking about the objects and practices of everyday school life (recognizing that “everyday school life” has looked very different in urban and rural areas, in Black communities in the South, in Native communities in the Northwest, and so on) – can help to crack open all sorts of institutional legacies, on- and offline: what does a space look like, how are we supposed to move around in it, who has power and privilege and access? And I don’t just mean that we crack these open so we can mouth some pithy condemnations about “factory models” and “weapons of mass instruction.”

    I’ll skip the history of the school bell (although I’d add that with the increased focus lately on school shootings and on “school safety” and the adoption of more and more surveillance technologies, you should, as education technologists, know a bit about when and why bells and alarms came to be, and how that’s changed the culture and the environment of a school. And spoiler alert: the introduction of bells wasn’t thanks to Frederick Winslow Taylor). I’ll skip the history of the window too (although I’d add that with those safety fears and with the never-ending concern that students are suffering from “distraction,” perhaps it is worth thinking about historical arguments for more or less light). But I will talk briefly about the history of the blackboard, and I’ll talk about it for a couple of reasons.

    First: I think that too often, we rush through the history of education technology to get to the part about computers. Somehow, we’ve decided that computers are the pinnacle of technological (and even intellectual) achievement, that they’re the most innovative and influential and important thing we can consider, perhaps the only thing we need to consider. We talk about how these machines might augment human intelligence, might even display an intelligence of their own, without really considering the history – the ugly history – of intelligence quotients and intelligence testing, for starters.

    And when I say we rush through history to get to the part about computers, I really mean we rush to get to the bit about personal computers. We spend little time on the history of PLATO, for example, the educational computing system built on a mainframe at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in the late 1960s – and that’s even though PLATO provided a template of sorts for an incredible amount of tech and ed-tech that followed. (You should all read Brian Dear’s book The Friendly Orange Glow for a long and loving look at PLATO’s contribution to computer culture.)

    It is almost as though, according to how some folks tell it, computers suddenly emerged in the classroom, unencumbered by the past or by ideology – like Athena springing out of Zeus’s skull, fully armored, supernaturally intelligent, a god of wisdom and warfare.

    That’s another key piece to remember about the history of computing technology and the history of education technology: they are deeply intertwined with the military and with technologies of war. You know this, of course, because you read an article I wrote about the military’s role in developing the Link Trainer and learning objects, and you also read Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.” “Modern production seems like a dream of cyborg colonization work,” Haraway writes, “a dream that makes the nightmare of Taylorism seem idyllic. And modern war is a cyborg orgy, coded by C3I, command-control-communication-intelligence, an $84 billion item in 1984’s defense budget.” 1984 – clearly this is an essay penned at a particular moment in American politics and American culture, the mid–1980s: the time of Star Wars (the movie and President Reagan’s plans for a missile defense system); War Games; Terminator; the personal computer; that famous Macintosh “1984” Super Bowl ad; and of course one of the most important reports in the last 35 years, A Nation at Risk, a survey of various studies that concluded that the American school system was failing and in desperate need of reform. (A particular kind of reform.)

    “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people,” its opening paragraph pronounced. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves,” the report continues, underscoring how our education system had become a national security risk. “We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge.”

    Sputnik, another key event in twentieth century education technology, another time when education and national security were overtly linked: when in 1957 the Soviet Union beat the US in launching the first artificial satellite into space, resulting in (among other things) the passage of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and over a billion dollars in funding for science education and for the development of various education technologies, including but not limited to teaching machines. Haraway, with her PhD in biology, describes herself as a “Sputnik Catholic,” incidentally – her enormous contribution to feminism and to science studies in the 1980s (and since) stemming from this moment in the history of the American education system. The Sputnik moment – just one event that demonstrates a much longer shared history of the military, science, engineering, gender, and school.

    …Which brings us back to the blackboard.

    The use of writing slates dates back centuries; their origin, unclear. Larger slates, “black boards,” have also been in use for hundreds of years But historian Christopher Phillips argues that the US Military Academy at West Point played a crucial role in establishing the blackboard for classroom use in early nineteenth century.

    West Point was formally established in 1802 by Thomas Jefferson, who’d initially opposed George Washington’s call for a military academy on the grounds it would be elitist, anti-democratic. Nevertheless Jefferson signed legislation decreeing a “Corps of Engineers,” and thus West Point was to become “one of the premier science and engineering schools, producing generations of technically skilled graduates who populated the growing ranks of military and civilian engineers.”

    West Point was to be modeled on the recently developed French officer training and engineering schools – École Spécial Militaire and École Polytechnique respectively; and Phillips argues it was in the geometry courses of Claudius Crozet, who had trained at École Polytechnique and had come to the US after the restoration of Louis XVIII, that the blackboard and its particular pedagogical practices first came to West Point.

    Crozet taught descriptive geometry, believing, as did his own instructors in France, that mathematical understanding was central to military education, that military education was about engineering, and that descriptive geometry in particular was practical, socially and politically useful, and as such deeply republican. (Lower case r republican.)

    Geometry is, of course, also a subject well suited for work on a blackboard: you’re representing three-dimensional objects in two dimensions. But the use of the blackboard at West Point was not about facilitating large-scale lecture-based math instruction. Rather, the blackboard was used for recitation – cadets were taught in small group settings (about 8 to 12 young (white) men) and they stood at the board to answer questions from the instructor, something that became known as the “West Point Method.” The short period in which Crozet taught at the academy was one of many reforms in its curriculum, instruction, and rules, and by the 1830s, math education was a core part of that. The academy’s section rooms were furnished with blackboards on all the walls, not just at the front of the class. “It is on the blackboard where the workings of [a cadet’s] mind are chiefly exhibited,” one observer wrote in 1863.

    It’s not that they didn’t have paper at West Point. It’s not that they didn’t have textbooks or preprinted diagrams. It’s not that they didn’t hold lectures. But the blackboard was a crucial part of how students were drilled and examined – assessed not just on how well they could solve geometry problems, but how well they could perform this skill orally and visually, how clearly and confidently they could demonstrate their knowledge.

    (All this predates the establishment of psychology and educational psychology as a field, of course, but it’s worth pointing out that this idea of assessing behavioral comportment as a way to gain insight into the brain and into “the mind” certainly carried forward in behaviorism and is at the root of the development of teaching machines in the twentieth-century. Like I said, new technologies are built on old technologies; new practices are built on older practices. Everything has a history.)

    At West Point,

    Regulations required that students stand at attention on the side of the board farthest from the central line of the room; hold the pointer in the hand nearest the board with point downward unless in active use; face the instructor when speaking; and refrain from unnecessary motions or “nervous habits.” Rules specified every movement, with students at the front boards working on the main lesson for the day as students at the side boards demonstrated applications or particular solutions using those lessons. According to the regulations, each student began his board work by writing his name on the upper-right-hand corner of the blackboard and then proceeded to write his answer while the instructor orally quizzed any students not currently scribbling. Once a student at the board finished writing, he then stood at attention with his pointer in hand, awaiting the command to explain his work. … No extraneous writing was allowed on the board and the eraser could only be used with permission of the instructor.

    Blackboards purported to make visible what the cadets knew, what and how they were thinking; but they were also, Phillips argues, “tools for revealing cadets’ characters.” Blackboards demonstrated cadets’ intellectual and physical and moral discipline; they were disciplinary technologies connected to disciplinary practices – an example of what Michel Foucault talks about as disciplinary institutions (like the Panopticon, the prison) and the development, in the early nineteenth century, of a “disciplinary society.”

    The blackboard and the “West Point method” attracted a fair amount of attention, as influential educators, including Horace Mann, visited and observed the instructional practices at the academy – and it’s worth noting that the method puts both the teacher and the student on display. West Point graduate Nicholas Tillinghast became the principal of the Bridgewater Normal School in Massachusetts, a school founded by Mann in 1840. (This was the key lesson Mann learned from the Prussians, by the way: train school teachers.) Tiillinghast promoted the use of the blackboard, and the technology and associated pedagogy spread throughout New England. “If West Point had done nothing else,” one Massachusetts Board of Education member said in 1860, “it would not be easy to estimate the value to the cause of public instruction of the blackboard, the cheapest and most used and the most useful of all educational apparatus, and also of the West Point method.” Only a few decades later, reports from the region indicate that the blackboard was common in almost every classroom, used in almost every grade – from elementary school through college – and in almost every subject.

    No doubt, the pedagogical practices associated with the blackboard have shifted over the course of the past two hundred years. Now it’s more likely to be a device used by a teacher (a female teacher, a shift facilitated by Horace Mann’s normal schools) and not the student. Increasingly, I suppose, it’s a whiteboard, perhaps one with a touchscreen computer attached. But it is still worth thinking about the blackboard as a disciplinary technology – one that molds and constrains what happens in the classroom, one that (ostensibly) makes visible the mind and the character of the person at the board, whether that’s a student or a teacher.

    Indeed, the history of the teaching profession suggests we have long been obsessed with the morals of the latter. But obviously “character education,” as popular as it is with today’s education reformers and education psychologists, also has a long history – a history bound up in the technologies of the classroom. Grit, mindsets, behavior management – this push for disciplinary practices and disciplinary technologies is not new. Framing this in terms of engineering – behavioral engineering, social engineering, educational engineering, learning engineering – is also centuries old.

    Again, I don’t say this to suggest that “nothing has changed.” I don’t say this to suggest that ClassDojo is inevitable.

    So why then does the history of ed-tech matter? It matters because it helps us think about beliefs and practices and systems and institutions and ideology. It helps make visible, I’d hope, some of the things that time and familiarity has made invisible. It helps us think about context. It helps us think about continuity as much as change. And I think it helps us be more attuned to the storytelling and the myth-making that happens so frequently in technology and reform circles.

    Remember: “He who controls the past controls the future,” George Orwell famously cautioned. “He who controls the present controls the past.” The stakes are pretty high here – this is education, knowledge, democracy. Recognize, I’d say too, that the stakes always have been.

    Works Cited:

    Christopher Phillips. “An Officer and a Scholar: Nineteenth-Century West Point and the Invention of the Blackboard.” History of Education Quarterly. Vol. 55, No. 1, February 2015.

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  • 10/05/18--13:00: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. Sometimes I write a few comments. Really, this work is for me, but sure, I’ll share it with you. All this feeds the massive review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    There’s quite a bit of financial aid news in the “business of financial aid” section, as well as the court section below.

    Via The New York Times: “Senators Call for Federal Investigation of Children’s Apps.” Democrats. So don’t hold your breath.

    Via Buzzfeed: “The FDA Made A Surprise Visit To Juul Labs, Seizing ‘Over A Thousand Pages Of Documents’.” Juul sells e-cigarettes to teens. It also has a “mindfulness” curriculum, because why not smoke your snake oil.

    Via The Washington Post: “There are 110 kids in each class at a school Melania Trump visited in Malawi.”

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via AZ Central: “This lawmaker stands to earn at least $11M on his own charter schools. His votes helped lay the groundwork.” That’s Arizona’s Eddie Farnsworth.

    “How a Teacher in Rural Oklahoma Started a Science-Fair Dynasty” by The Atlantic’s Kristina Rizga.

    Via NPR: “Chicago Schools Lose Millions For Allegedly Not Shielding Students From Sexual Abuse.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “New York City greenlights Success Academy middle school after contentious space fight.”

    Immigration and Education

    Via The New York Times: “Migrant Children Moved Under Cover of Darkness to a Texas Tent City.” There is no schooling here, among other things (whereas there was school and access to lawyers in their previous detention facilities).

    I’m linking to the Inside Higher Ed story, even though The Financial Times broke the news because of the latter’s paywall. Sorry. “Report: Stephen Miller Pushed Ending Chinese Student Visas.”

    Education in the Courts

    A lot of Kavanaugh news. Again. Unfortunately.

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Brett Kavanaugh Will Not Teach Next Semester at Harvard Law School.”

    TFW someone didn’t do the reading:

    “No One Could Be Further From Atticus Finch,” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes.

    Via The Atlantic: “Brett Kavanaugh’s Friend Mark Judge Edited His High-School Yearbook.”

    Via The New York Times: “Justice Department Sues to Stop California Net Neutrality Law.”

    Apple wins appeal of UW-Madison patent infringement case,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Publishers Escalate Legal Battle Against ResearchGate.”

    Via The New York Times: “Teachers Union Sues Student Loan Servicer Navient.”

    I know, I know. It’s not directly education related. But it’s good news about a bad venture capitalist. Via The New York Times: “Billionaire’s Fight to Close Path to a California Beach Comes to a Dead End.”

    The Business of Financial Aid

    It’s FAFSA season!

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “New Tool for FAFSA Completion.”

    There’s more financial aid news in the courts section above.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    Via CBS News: “Some former students, employees say Apple co-founder’s Woz U doesn’t live up to promises.” Shocking.

    Via The Chicago Sun Times: “Little scrutiny in DeVry sale, as DeVos targets protections.”

    More news about for-profits in the accreditation section below.

    Betsy DeVos’s For-Profit Strategy Is Risky – for Betsy DeVos,” says an op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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

    There’s more MOOC news in the HR section below.

    Via Techcrunch: “MasterClass, the education platform featuring all-star instructors, will soon teach you how to run for office, too.”

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A $1-Million Fine for Violating the Clery Act? Expensive, but Not Unprecedented.” The University of Montana is appealing the fine.

    Via The New York Times: “Stanford’s Endowment Grew 11.3% Last Year, Beating Harvard but Not Yale.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Colleges Use Technology to Help Students Manage Mental Health.”

    “Education for All… Even a ‘Nazi’?” asks Inside Higher Ed.

    Yes, Guns Are Ed-Tech (and It’s So F*cked Up that I Had to Make This a Category)

    Perhaps this should go under the “surveillance” section below, but as the article references gunshot-detection systems, I’m putting it here. Via The Atlantic: “Police-Grade Surveillance Technology Comes to the Playground.”

    Via Education Week: “Security Companies Sell School ‘Hardening’ as Mass-Shooting Solution.”

    Via “Iowa company donates AR–15s to be placed in Bismarck schools.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Trump administration recommends restoring the controversial accreditor of many for-profits, citing a federal court ruling. Meanwhile, ACICS faces questions about its approval of a Danish business school’s degree programs.” Politico says that the Department of Education overstated endorsements of ACICS in its report.


    Via Chalkbeat: “As Indiana test scores remain flat overall, gaps are growing between race and income groups.”

    Go, School Sports Team!

    To be fair, this story shouldn’t go here. Because John Urschel isn’t playing ball right now. He’s a PhD student at MIT. Nonetheless, it’s a great profile, by Jordan Ellenberg: “John Urschel Goes Pro.”

    Labor and Management

    “Online education unicorn Udacity has quietly laid off 5% of staff – at least 25 people – since August,” says Techcrunch, proving that “unicorn” is really a meaningless label for tech companies.

    Adam Kissel is no longer at the Department of Education, Inside Higher Ed reports.

    Columbia University postdocs have voted to unionize.

    The Business of Job Training (and Educational Benefits for Employees)

    Via Education Dive: “Subaru to offer applied sciences associate degree.”

    Via Techcrunch, which never ceases to amaze me with how readily it acts as a stenographer for the tech industry: “As some pricey coding camps fade away, Codecademy barrels ahead with affordable paid offerings and a new mobile app.”

    Contests and Awards

    Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur Fellows, a list that includes William Barber as well as quite a number of academics.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Is it OK to spy on your child’s online life?asks The Telegraph.

    (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

    “Raised by YouTubeby The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal.

    Remember that story in Buzzfeed from a few weeks ago about teachers shilling products on Instagram? Well, here’s Edsurge, promoting Instagram: “Instagram TV for Teachers: A New Medium for PD and Inspiration.”

    Via The Hechinger Report: “These glasses give teachers superpowers.” (Narrator voice: they do not.)

    Via Techcrunch: “Apple’s ‘Everyone Can Create’ curriculum launches on Apple Books.”

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    The latest episode of the Have You Heard podcast: “Win/Win: Why Billionaire Philanthropists are Bad at School Reform.”

    Via QZ: “The amazing ascent of Priscilla Chan.”

    Sponsored content on Edsurge this week – paid for by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative– includes this and this.

    Edsurge, not with sponsored content, but surely with their sponsor CZI’s message: “Educating the Whole Child? Consider How Their Brains Work.”

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    This sentence, from Crunchbase, just kills me: “For parents, there’s never been more VC subsidized options to make your kid smarter.”

    BYJU’s has raised $100 million from General Atlantic India. That makes it a unicorn, says Edsurge. The test prep / tutoring company has raised $344 million total (making it one of the most well-funded ed-tech startups out there).

    Brightwheel has raised $21 million in Series B funding from Bessemer Venture Partners. Omidyar Network, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Eniac Ventures, GGV Capital, Golden Venture Partners, and Lowercase Capital. The preschool management software provider has raised $33.8 million total.

    Lingokids has raised $6 million in Series A funding from HV Holtzbrinck Ventures, JME Venture Capital, Sabadell Ventures, BigSur, Gwynne Shotwell, Reach Capital, Athos Capital, and All Iron Ventures. The language learning company has raised $12.5 million total.

    Caribu has raised $1.3 million from Be Curious Partners, John Cooper, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, and AT&T. The company, which offers an app so parents can video-call their kids and read to them, has raised $1.5 million total.

    A venture capitalist is buying DeVry University. Fun times. And more details in the for-profit higher ed section above.

    TurnItIn has acquiredGradescope.

    Achieve3000 has acquiredActively Learn.

    Via The Verge: “Toys R Us reportedly cancels its branding sale in favor of a reorganization.”

    Edsurge lists the latest startups participating in Camelback Ventures’ incubator.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Via The Seattle Times: “As facial-recognition technology grows, so does wariness about privacy. Use at a school in Seattle fuels debate.”

    It’s 2018 and I find it incredibly depressing that there are still headlines like this: “What Amazon and Netflix can teach us about learning, according to DreamBox Learning CEO.”

    Even more depressing, this look at behavioral modification to do corporations’ bidding offered by Edsurge: “What Do Edtech and IKEA Have in Common? Persuasive Design.”

    Also depressing, this NPR story on a coffee shop near Brown University: “No Cash Needed At This Cafe. Students Pay The Tab With Their Personal Data.”

    Via Techcrunch: “Apple adds student ID cards into Apple Wallet to access buildings, buy food and more.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Education Company Chegg Acknowledges Data Breach, Puts 40 Million Users on Notice.”

    Via Edsurge: “To Bring Analytics to College Classrooms, New Effort Starts With ‘Data Laundry’.” Apparently this is different than “data laundering.”

    There’s more surveillance news up in the “guns are ed-tech” section above.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via “The Business of Ed-Tech: September 2018 Funding Data.”

    Via e-Literate: “North American Higher Ed LMS Market Share by Enrollments: A consolidating market.”

    Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “What’s Trending in New Ed-Tech ‘Top 40’ Digital Tools.”

    Via Education Week: “New Study Shows 1-to–1 Technology Improves Student Achievement in Math Over Time.”

    Via Edsurge: “Only 28% of Districts Have Enough Bandwidth to Use Digital Learning Every Day.”

    Via Education Week: “RAND: How to Do Personalized Learning With ‘Imperfect Evidence’.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Why Did These Scholars Suddenly Find Their Twitter Accounts Suspended?”

    A trio of academics decided to hoax a number of gender studies journals, because hahaha. Trolls. Hilarious. (Not hilarious.) Not sure who has time to write 10 fake papers on gender. Certainly not people who give a damn about addressing the deep problems with corporate influence on science and technology research, or questions of academic labor, or the role that trust plays in institutions, or the flaws in many other fields’ research and publications.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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  • 10/12/18--15:15: Hack Education Weekly News
  • Each week, I gather a wide variety of links to education and education technology articles. All this work feeds the review I write each December on the stories we are told about the future of education.

    (National) Education Politics

    Perhaps the disappearance (and reported murder) of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggidoesn’t seem like an education technology story. But it matters. In part, I am including it here at the top of my weekly news roundup because, as a journalist, I find the political climate right now to be incredibly frightening for people in my profession.

    But it is also, I’d argue, a story that is deeply connected to many of the people that I write about regularly. And that’s because, Silicon Valley has courted Saudi wealth. “Silicon Valley’s Saudi Arabia Problem,” as Anand Giridharadas puts it in The New York Times. “Technology companies can no longer turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses of one of their largest investors.” SoftBank’s Vision Fund is funded in part by Saudi billions. Among the fund’s ed-tech investments: WeWork, SoFi, and perhaps soon Zuoyebang. When the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman toured the US recently, he hung out with Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Sergey Brin, for example. Among those involved in bin Salman’s $500 billion megacity project, Neom, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

    Speaking of billionaires shaping the future, “Betsy DeVos was in Wichita,” says The Wichita Eagle, “but not many people knew about it.” She was, apparently, at Koch Industries.

    “The U.S. Department of Education at a convening here yesterday awarded recognition to 10 educational technology projects aiming to expand access to education and pipelines to the work force,” Inside Higher Ed reports. Edsurge was there too. And there’s a blog post on Medium, because I guess someone thinks it’s a good idea for the Office of Ed Tech to outsource its website to a for-profit company. (You can sorta see this attitude – the future is for-profit – in the winners of its grant challenge too.)

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Montana vote becomes a national referendum on public confidence in higher ed,” says The Hechinger Report.

    Via The Mercury News: “Turn schools into teacher housing? Unique idea sparks backlash in Bay Area community.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “With union’s blessing, students at 15 schools in the Bronx will take courses taught remotely.”

    Immigration and Education

    Via the AP: “Deported parents may lose kids to adoption.”

    Via The New Yorker: “The Five-Year-Old Who Was Detained at the Border and Persuaded to Sign Away Her Rights.”

    Via The New York Times: “Migrant Children in Search of Justice: A 2-Year-Old’s Day in Immigration Court.”


    Education in the Courts

    Via The New Yorker: “The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new lawsuit against UW Madison calls into question whether students can participate in the campus sexual adjudication process without implicating themselves in criminal proceedings.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “American Grad Student, Barred From Entering Israel, Remains in Custody Over Alleged Activism.”

    The Business of Financial Aid

    Via The New York Times: “How a Potential $1 Billion Student Loan Settlement Collapsed After Trump Won.”

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    Edsurge profilesStephen Kosslyn, a former Harvard dean, and his new for-profit university (as of yet unaccredited), Foundry College.

    As Sears looks to go bankrupt, DeVry University is moving into an old Sears store. The circle of life, or something.

    Via The Financial Review: “Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs tapped as BGH Capital bids for Navitas.” Navitas is a for-profit education company that runs courses in Australia (and elsewhere).

    There’s more for-profit higher ed news in the accreditation section below.

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

    From the edX blog: “Fully Online, Top-Ranked Master’s Degrees Now Available on edX.”

    Via Edsurge: “5 Ways MOOC-Based Degrees Are Different From Other Online Degrees.” Not listed: other online degrees simply aren’t hyped the way MOOCs are.

    FutureLearn Looking To Raise £40m, Announces a MOOC-based BA,” says Class Central.

    WeWork Helps Online Learning Take its Next Step Forward,” according to the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn. WeWork, let us recall, is funded in part by the Softbank Vision Fund. See the top of this article for why that matters.

    Via The Hechinger Report: “Experts call for an end to online preschool programs.”

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Inside Higher Ed on“The Scooter Wars of 2018.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Michigan Disciplines Professor Who Refused to Recommend a Student Heading to Israel.”

    Via WUSA9: “Transgender student barred from shelter in locker rooms during school safety drill.” A follow-up via ThinkProgress: “Mother of transgender daughter kept out of locker rooms during lockdown drill speaks out.”

    Via NPR: “Trying Not To Break Down – A Homeless Teen Navigates Middle School.”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Anonymous Website Aims to Out Sexual Assaulters at U. of Washington.”

    Via ProPublica: “Confusion for Prairie View A&M Students on the Last Day for Voter Registration.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an embattled national accrediting agency, has sanctioned Niels Brock, a Danish business college, over concerns that the college lacks approval from the Danish government to issue bachelor’s degrees.”

    “Most states are failing to address a fundamental driver of teacher discontent: A teaching re-licensure system that doesn’t encourage career growth,” says Pacific Standard.

    There’s more on the GED, that very old competency-based learning exam, in the research section below.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    There’s a court case involving a University of Wisconsin football player up in the courts section above.

    The Business of Job Training

    Edsurge on“The Flipped Hiring Revolution,” which if I understand the idea correctly means getting people to work for you before you actually hire them.

    Inside Higher Ed continues to investigate problems with the career services company Handshake: “University of Delaware is changing its policies after a student was able to fool career-services platform Handshake and the institution with a blatantly fraudulent job posting.”

    Via The Verge: “Amazon reportedly scraps internal AI recruiting tool that was biased against women.” Of course, the technology is biased because the data that Amazon used to “train” the algorithm was biased, which likely means that Amazon’s recruiting practices were biased in the first place.

    Via Techcrunch: “Upskill launches support for Microsoft HoloLens.”

    Contests and Conferences

    There’s more about the story of Jamal Khashoggi in the politics section above, but via NBC: “Media companies pulling out of Saudi conference after Khashoggi’s disappearance.” The conference in question: The Future Investment Initiative. According to the conference website, the only participating education company is VIPKID, a Chinese tutoring company (whose investors include Learn Capital and Sequoia Capital) that is currently one of the most well-funded ed-tech startups.

    Edsurge covers OpenEd: “Beyond Free Materials: OER Advocates Push For Inclusiveness in Teaching Practices.”

    Edsurge writes that“New Competition Wants to Bring Ethics to Undergraduate Computer Science Classrooms” just a few days after claiming that“The Most Important Skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution? Try Ethics and Philosophy.” Really nice set up there.

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Alexa, Should We Trust You?asks The Atlantic.

    Does OER Actually Improve Learning?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

    Teens Are Being Bullied‘Constantly’ on Instagram,” writes Taylor Lorenz. You’d think all those teachers promoting their wares on Instagram would notice, eh?

    Via Edsurge: “Drinking, Smoking and Sugar: How Unsavory Ads Wound Up on Edmodo.”

    Via Buzzfeed: “Google Is Shutting Down Google+ After It Discovered A Bug That Exposed Personal Information.”

    The Weekly Standard reviews the new book by Charlie Kirk, head of Turning Point USA, calling it a “hot mess.”

    This headline – OMG – from Chalkbeat: “In a tough business, startups vie to become the Uber and Lyft of child care.”

    Sponsored content on Edsurge this week paid for by Macmillan Learning includes this and this.

    Microsoft says it is open-sourcing its patent portfolio.

    Um, it does help that Juul’s product is literally addictive. (The e-cigarettes, that is. Not the mindfulness curriculum.)

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    Via Chalkbeat: “What happens when you pay students to get ready for college? One state is about to find out, with help from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.” The state in question is Rhode Island. And golly, behavior modification sure remains popular among this crowd, doesn’t it.

    Summit Schools to Spin Out Learning Program,” says Edsurge. The learning management system, which the charter school chain utilizes, has been built by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

    Sponsored content on Edsurge, paid for by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, this week includes this.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    RedShelf has raised $25 million from DNS Capital LLC, Tao Huang, and Rick Lane. The digital textbook company has raised $33.1 million total.

    Kahoot has raised $15 million from Northzone, Microsoft, and Datum AS. The “aren’t quizzes so much fun” company has raised $58.9 million total.

    Lambda School has raised $14 million from GV (Google Ventures) and Stripe. The learn-to-code company has raised $18.1 million total.

    Wiley has acquiredLearning House for $200 million.

    Trilogy Education has acquiredJobTrack and Firehose Project.

    Not ed-tech, but certainly a company that gives you an idea about what Silicon Valley thinks about the future of family and work – the story via Techcrunch: “YC-grad Papa raises $2.4 million for its ‘grandkids-on-demand’ service.”

    Also not ed-tech-related, I suppose (except for the story above about how DeVry University is moving into an old, abandoned department store), but “Sears Hires Advisers to Prepare Bankruptcy Filing,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

    There’s more for-profit education business in the for-profit education section above.

    SoftBank is considering a majority stake in WeWork,” says Techcrunch. This is part of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which is funded in part by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. See the very top of this article for more. And for crying out loud, be wary of people who are claiming that WeWork is the future.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    Good thing no school would be stupid enough to put one of these devices in a classroom or dorm.

    Speaking of terrible ideas that get foisted onto schools, there’s more on Google+ in the upgrade/downgrade section above.

    Via The Guardian: “Facebook Portal smart screen to launch amid concerns over privacy.”

    Great time to launch a creepy home surveillance device, Facebook, as Buzzfeed reports that “The FBI Is Now Investigating Facebook's Security Breach Where Attackers Accessed 30 Million Users’ Personal Information.”

    Larry Cuban on“Facing the Trilemma of Classroom ‘Data Walls’.”

    Babysitter screening app Predictim uses AI to sniff out bullies,” says Venture Beat. What could possibly go wrong.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via The Washington Post: “Percentage of young U.S. children who don’t receive any vaccines has quadrupled since 2001.”

    Falling Confidence in Higher Ed,” says Inside Higher Ed, explaining the results of the latest Gallup poll.

    Via The Hechinger Report: “GED and other high school equivalency degrees drop by more than 40% nationwide since 2012.”

    I’m tracking the genetics claims being made about education (what is arguably a return of eugenics). Related: this review of Robert Plomin’s new book, Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are, in The Guardian.

    The latest version of How People Learn is out.

    More from The Outline on that academic journal “hoax” bullshit.

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    This talk was presented (virtually) to Nathan Fisk’s class on digital media and learning at the University of South Florida.

    I’m currently working on a book called Teaching Machines, and I think that means my thoughts today are rather disjointed – this talk is one part ideas I’m working through for the book, and another part ideas pertaining to this class. I’m not sure I have a good balance or logical coherence between the two. But if you get lost or bored or whatever, know that I always post a copy of my talks online on my website, and you can read through later, should you choose.

    Ostensibly “working on a book” means less travel and speaking this fall, although I seem to have agreed to speak to several classes, albeit virtually. I’m happy to do so (and thank you for inviting me into your class), for as an advisor once cautioned me in graduate school when I was teaching but also writing my dissertation, “students will always be more engaging than a blank page.” Students talk back; the cursor in Word just blinks.

    I am doing some traveling too, even though I should probably stay at home and write. I’m visiting the archives of the Educational Testing Service in a week or so – maybe you know the organization for its exams the GRE and TOEFL – to continue my research into the history of education technology. The history of testing and technology are deeply interwoven. I’m there to look at some of the papers of Ben Wood, an education psychology professor at Columbia and the president of ETS after his retirement from the university. I’m interested, in part, in the work he did with IBM in the 1930s on building machines that could automatically grade multiple choice exams – standardized tests. I don’t want to rehash a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago to a class at Georgetown on why history matters except to say “history matters.” Education technology’s past shapes its present and its future.

    Design matters. Engineering matters. But so too does the context and the practices around technology. Culture matters. All of these systems and practices have a history. (That’s one of the key takeaways for you, if you’re taking notes.)

    Why does the cursor blink, for example? How does the blink direct and shape our attention? How is the writing we do – and even the thinking we do – different on a computer than on paper, in part because of blinks and nudges and notifications? (Is it?) How is the writing we do on a computer shaped by the writing we once did on typewriters? How is the testing we take, even when on paper, designed with machines in mind?

    The book I’m writing is about the pre-history of computers in education, if you will, as I am keen to help people understand how many of the beliefs and practices associated today’s education technologies predate the latest gadgetry. “Personalized learning,” for example, is arguably thousands of years old, and we can date the idea of individualizing education by using machines back to the 1920s. The compulsion for data collection and for data analysis might seem like something that’s bound up with computers and their capability to extract and store more and more personal data. But collecting data about schools and classrooms, measuring student performance, measuring teacher performance are also practices with very long histories.

    A side-note here on the topic of data collection and information accessibility: there’s nothing quite like visiting a museum or archives or library and seeing all the objects that aren’t digitized or even digitize-able to recognize that the people who tell you “you can learn everything on the Internet” are, to put it bluntly, full of shit. Moreover, visiting these institutions and working with their artifacts serves as a reminder about how fragile our records of the past can be. They are fragile as paper; and they are fragile when digital.

    I say this as someone who thinks a lot about her digital profile, about the data that she creates, about what she can control and what she cannot. I pay for my own domains to host my scholarship, my “portfolio” – something I would encourage all of you to do. I try to build and run as much of the infrastructure as I can. (You need not do that.) I do so with a lot of intentionality – I don’t have comments on my site, and don’t track who visits my websites, for example – the latter because I think a lot about security and surveillance, the former due to spam and trolls. I post my thoughts, my writing on my own websites, even though social media has really discouraged us from doing this. (Stop and think about the ways in which this occurs. Much like the blinking cursor, there is always intention to the design.) If you go to or, you can see hundreds of essays I’ve written; you can see how my thoughts have changed and developed over time.

    So while there’s a record of my writing on my websites, elsewhere I have become a “deleter.” Over the past year or so, it’s become very clear to me that, as a woman who works adjacent to technology, as a woman with strong opinions about technology, as a woman with a fairly high profile in her field, that it’s not a bad idea for me to start deleting old social media posts. I delete all my tweets after 30 days; I regularly delete everything I’ve posted to Facebook; I delete old emails. I know full well this doesn’t prevent my data from being used and misused or hacked or stolen; it just makes it harder to take 140 characters I typed in 2011 and rip them from their context. Instructions for making risotto that I sent someone in 2015 – god forbid – will never be part of some Russian conspiracy to alter the course of US politics.

    I confess, however, when I visit archives, I do feel bad that I delete things. I feel bad that I haven’t saved a lot of the papers and letters my mum assiduously kept as a record of my childhood and teenage years. When my little brother and I cleaned out my dad’s house a few years ago after he died, I threw a lot of that stuff away. And I worry sometimes about the essays and letters and Very Official Documents that perhaps I should have saved as an adult – not just the papers, but the digital files that are now (or perhaps soon to be) inaccessible because a file format has changed or because a disk became corrupted or because the Internet company that I used to store the stuff has gone out of business.

    I felt particularly guilty about all this when I visited the archives of the famed psychologist B. F. Skinner at Harvard University. (Not that I much like the idea of or see the need for having my papers gone through by future scholars. But still.) Skinner’s papers fill 82 containers – almost 29 cubic feet of stuff. Correspondence. Newspaper clippings. Data from his labs. Photographs. Notes. Lectures. An abundance for a researcher like me. I spent a week there in the Harvard University Archives, snapping photos of letters with my iPhone, and I barely scratched the surface.

    It would be a mistake to see something like Skinner’s papers as providing unfettered access to his thoughts, his life. An archive is collected and curated, after all. Items are selected for inclusion (either by the individual, by the family, or by the university, for example). These materials tell a story, but that story can give us only a partial understanding.

    Even if you, like me, balk at the idea of your papers being housed at a university library, it’s worth thinking about what sort of record you’re leaving behind, what sort of picture it paints about you – about your values, your beliefs, your habits, your interests, your “likes.” I don’t just mean your “papers”; I mean your digital footprint too. I don’t just mean your “legacy”; I mean what data you’re leaving behind now on a day-to-day basis. It’s worth thinking about how digital technologies are designed to glean certain information about you. Not just the letters you’ve written and the data about what, when, where, to whom, and so on, but a whole raft other metadata that every click generates. It’s worth thinking about how your behavior changes (and does not change) knowing (and not knowing) that this data is being recorded – that someone on Facebook is watching; that someone at Facebook is watching.

    We are clicking on a lot of things these days, flashing cursors and otherwise.

    There’s a passage that I like to repeat from an article by historian of education Ellen Condliffe Lagemann:

    I have often argued to students, only in part to be perverse, that one cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.

    (I am assuming, I suppose, that you know who these two figures are: Edward L. Thorndike was an educational psychology professor at Columbia University who developed his theory of learning based on his research on animal behavior – perhaps you’ve heard of this idea of his idea, the “learning curve,” the time it took for animals to escape his puzzle box after multiple tries. And John Dewey was a philosopher whose work at the University of Chicago Lab School was deeply connected with that of other social reformers in Chicago – Jane Addams and Hull House, for example. Dewey was committed to educational inquiry as part of democratic practices of community; Thorndike’s work, on the other hand, happened largely in the lab but helped to stimulate the growing science and business of surveying and measuring and testing students in the early twentieth century. And this is shorthand for Condliffe Lagemann’s shorthand, I realize, but you can think of this victory in part as the triumph of multiple choice testing over project-based inquiry.)

    Thorndike won, and Dewey lost. I don’t think you can understand the history of education technology without realizing this either. And I’d propose an addendum to this too: you cannot understand the history of education technology in the United States during the twentieth century – and on into the twenty-first – unless you realize that Seymour Papert lost and B. F. Skinner won.

    (I am assuming here, I admit, that you have done some of what I think is the assigned reading for this course. Namely, you’ve looked at Papert’s The Children’s Machine and you’ve read my article on Skinner.)

    Skinner won; Papert lost. Oh, I can hear the complaints I’ll get on social media already: what about maker-spaces? What about Lego Mindstorms? What about PBL?

    I maintain, even in the face of all the learn-to-code brouhaha that multiple choice tests have triumphed over democratically-oriented inquiry. Indeed, clicking on things these days seems to increasingly be redefined as a kind of “active” or “personalized” learning.

    Now, I’m not a fan of B. F. Skinner. I find his ideas of radical behaviorism to be rather abhorrent. Freedom and agency – something Skinner did not believe existed – matter to me philosophically, politically. That being said, having spent the last six months or so reading and thinking about the guy almost non-stop, I’m prepared to make the argument that he is, in fact, one of the most important theorists of the 21st century.

    “Wait,” you might say, “the man died in 1990.” “Doesn’t matter,” I’d respond. His work remains incredibly relevant, and perhaps insidiously so, since many people have been convinced by the story that psychology textbooks like to tell: that his theories of behaviorism are outmoded due to the rise of cognitive science. Or perhaps folks have been convinced by a story that I worry I might have fallen for and repeated myself: that Skinner’s theories of social and behavioral control were trounced thanks in part to a particularly vicious book review of his last major work, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, a book review penned by Noam Chomsky in 1971. “As to its social implications,” Chomsky wrote. “Skinner’s science of human behavior, being quite vacuous, is as congenial to the libertarian as to the fascist.”

    In education technology circles, Skinner is perhaps best known for his work on teaching machines, an idea he came up with in 1953, when he visited his daughter’s fourth grade classroom and observed the teacher and students with dismay. The students were seated at their desks, working on arithmetic problems written on the blackboard as the teacher walked up and down the rows of desks, looking at the students’ work, pointing out the mistakes that she noticed. Some students finished the work quickly, Skinner reported, and squirmed in their seats with impatience waiting for the next set of instructions. Other students squirmed with frustration as they struggled to finish the assignment at all. Eventually the lesson was over; the work was collected so the teacher could take the papers home, grade them, and return them to the class the following day.

    “I suddenly realized that something must be done,” Skinner later wrote in his autobiography. This classroom practice violated two key principles of his behaviorist theory of learning. Students were not being told immediately whether they had an answer right or wrong. A graded paper returned a day later failed to offer the type of positive behavioral reinforcement that Skinner believed necessary for learning. Furthermore, the students were all forced to proceed at the same pace through the lesson, regardless of their ability or understanding. This method of classroom instruction also provided the wrong sort of reinforcement – negative reinforcement, Skinner argued, penalizing the students who could move more quickly as well as those who needed to move more slowly through the materials.

    So Skinner built a prototype of a mechanical device that he believed would solve these problems – and solve them not only for a whole classroom but ideally for the entire education system. His teaching machine, he argued, would enable a student to move through exercises that were perfectly suited to her level of knowledge and skill, assessing her understanding of each new concept, and giving immediate positive feedback and encouragement along the way. He patented several versions of the device, and along with many other competitors, sought to capitalize what had become a popular subfield of educational psychology in the 1950s and 1960s: programmed instruction.

    We know that story well in education technology. I know I have told it a hundred times. Skinner probably told it many more than that. It’s sort of the archetypal story for ed-tech, if you will. Man sees problem in the classroom; man builds technological solution. Man tries to sell technological solution; schools don’t want it, can’t afford it. The computer comes along; now teaching machines are everywhere. There’s a nice narrative arc there, a nice bit of historical determinism (which, for the record, I do not subscribe to).

    The teaching machine wasn’t the first time that B. F. Skinner made headlines – and he certainly make a lot of headlines for the invention, in part because the press linked his ideas about teaching children, as Skinner did himself no doubt, to his research on training pigeons. “Can People Be Taught Like Pigeons?” Fortune magazine asked in 1960 in a profile on Skinner and his work. Indeed, pigeons weren’t the first time Skinner had made the news. The public was arguably already familiar with the name by the time the teaching machine craze occurred in the late 1950s. Although Project Pigeon – his efforts during World War II to build a pigeon-guided missile (yes, you heard that right) – wasn’t declassified until 1958, Skinner’s work training a rat named Pliny had led to a story in Life magazine in 1937, and in 1951, there were a flurry of stories about his work on pigeons. (The headlines amuse me to no end, as Skinner was a professor at Harvard by then, and many of them say things like “smart pigeons attend Harvard” and “Harvard Pigeons are Superior Birds Too.” Fucking Harvard.)

    Like Edward Thorndike – and arguably inspired by Edward Thorndike (or at least by other behaviorists working in the field of what was, at the time, quite a new discipline) – Skinner worked in his laboratory with animals (at first rats, then briefly squirrels, and then most famously pigeons) in order to develop techniques to control behavior. Using a system of reinforcements – food, mostly – Skinner was able to condition his lab animals to perform certain tasks. Pliny the Rat “works a slot machine for living,” as Life described the rat’s manipulation of a marble; the pigeons could play piano and ping pong and ostensibly even guide a missile towards a target.

    In graduate school, Skinner had designed an “operant conditioning chamber” for training animals that came to be known as the “Skinner Box.” The chamber typically contained some sort of mechanism for the animal to operate – a plate for a pigeon to peck (click!), for example – that would result in a chute releasing a pellet of food.

    It is perhaps unfortunate then that when Skinner wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal in 1945, describing a temperature-controlled, fully-enclosed crib he’d invented for he and his wife’s second child, that the magazine ran it with the title “Baby in a Box.” (The title Skinner had given his piece: “Baby Care Can Be Modernized.”)

    Skinner’s wife had complained to him about the toll that all the chores associated with a newborn had taken with their first child, and as he wrote in his article, “I felt that it was time to apply a little labor-saving invention and design to the problems of the nursery.” Skinner’s “air crib” (as it eventually came to be called) allowed the baby to go without clothing, save the diaper, and without blankets; and except for feeding and diaper-changing and playtime, the baby was kept in the crib all the time. Skinner argued that by controlling the environment – by adjusting the temperature, by making the crib sound-proof and germ-free – the baby was happier and healthier. And the workload on the mother was lessened – “It takes about one and one-half hours each day to feed, change, and otherwise care for the baby,” he wrote. “This includes everything except washing diapers and preparing formula. We are not interested in reducing the time any further. As a baby grows older, it needs a certain amount of social stimulation. And after all, when unnecessary chores have been eliminated, taking care of a baby is fun.”

    As you can probably imagine, responses to Skinner’s article in Ladies Home Journal fell largely into two camps, and there are many, many letters in Skinner’s archives at Harvard from magazine readers. There were those who thought Skinner’s idea for the “baby in a box” bordered on child abuse – or at the least, child neglect. And there were those who loved this idea of mechanization – science! progress! – and wanted to buy one, reflecting post-war America’s growing love of gadgetry in the home, in the workplace, and in the school.

    As history of psychology professor Alexandra Rutherford has argued, what Skinner developed were “technologies of behavior.” The air crib, the teaching machine, “these inventions represented in miniature the applications of the principles that Skinner hoped would drive the design of an entire culture,” she writes. He imagined this in his novel Walden Two, a utopian (I guess) novel in which he envisaged a community that had been socially and environmentally engineered to reinforce survival and “good behavior.” But this wasn’t just fiction for Skinner; he practiced this throughout his science and “gadgeteering,” inventing technologies and applying them to solve problems and to improve human behavior – all in an attempt to re-engineer the entire social order and to make the world a better place.

    “The most important thing I can do,” Skinner famously said, “is to develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us,” adding that he intended to develop “the social infrastructure for community – for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all.”

    Oh wait. That wasn’t B. F. Skinner. That was Mark Zuckerberg. My bad.

    I would argue, in total seriousness, that one of the places that Skinnerism thrives today is in computing technologies, particularly in “social” technologies. This, despite the field’s insistence that its development is a result, in part, of the cognitive turn that supposedly displaced behaviorism.

    B. J. Fogg and his Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford is often touted by those in Silicon Valley as one of the “innovators” in this “new” practice of building “hooks” and “nudges” into technology. These folks like to point to what’s been dubbed colloquially “The Facebook Class” – a class Fogg taught in which students like Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the founders of Instagram, and Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, “studied and developed the techniques to make our apps and gadgets addictive,” as Wired put it in a recent article talking about how some tech executives now suddenly realize that this might be problematic.

    (It’s worth teasing out a little – but probably not in this talk, since I’ve rambled on so long already – the difference, if any, between “persuasion” and “operant conditioning” and how they imagine to leave space for freedom and dignity. Rhetorically and practically.)

    I’m on the record elsewhere arguing this framing – “technology as addictive” – has its problems. Nevertheless it is fair to say that the kinds of compulsive behavior that we display with our apps and gadgets is being encouraged by design. All that pecking. All that clicking.

    These are “technologies of behavior” that we can trace back to Skinner – perhaps not directly, but certainly indirectly due to Skinner’s continual engagement with the popular press. His fame and his notoriety. Behavioral management – and specifically through operant conditioning – remains a staple of child rearing and pet training. It is at the core of one of the most popular ed-tech apps currently on the market, ClassDojo. Behaviorism also underscores the idea that how we behave and data about how we behave when we click can give programmers insight into how to alter their software and into what we’re thinking.

    If we look more broadly – and Skinner surely did – these sorts of technologies of behavior don’t simply work to train and condition individuals; many technologies of behavior are part of a broader attempt to reshape society. “For your own good,” the engineers try to reassure us. “For the good of the world.”

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  • 10/19/18--12:15: 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. I’m assembling this week’s news roundup on a flight with patchy WiFi, so I’m probably missing a bunch of stories.

    (National) Education Politics

    Via Education Week: “Betsy DeVos: Lack of Civics Education Draws Students to Ideas Like Socialism.” What is leading them to fascism, Betsy?

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “DeVos Calls Democratic Senator’s Public Criticism of Draft Title IX Rules ‘Unbecoming and Irresponsible’.”

    Via ProPublica: “GOP Senator Pushed VA to Use Unproven ‘Brainwave Frequency’ Treatment.” That would be Nevada Senator Dean Heller.

    Digital Promise Global has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to address equitable access to computational education in public schools,” Education Week reports.

    There are more Department of Education stories in the financial aid section, in the accreditation section, and in the “guns are ed-tech” section below.

    (State and Local) Education Politics

    Via The New York Times and ProPublica: “‘You Are Still Black’: Charlottesville’s Racial Divide Hinders Students.”

    Via The Oregonian’s Bethany Barnes: “Portland police inaction on child porn case against teacher ‘concerning’.”

    Via New York Magazine: “Mark Zuckerberg Is Trying to Transform Education. This Town Fought Back.” Or at least CZI is trying to convince schools to buy into its Summit learning management system.

    Via The New York Times: “Homelessness in New York Public Schools Is at a Record High: 114,659 Students.”

    Via Chalkbeat: “Maine went all in on ‘proficiency-based learning’ – then rolled it back. What does that mean for the rest of the country?”

    Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “How This Sociologist’s Research Led a State to Abolish the Death Penalty.” “This sociologist” is University of Washington’s Katherine Beckett. The state, Washington.

    Via Chalkbeat: “Eve Ewing explains why some communities just can’t get over school closings.” Buy her book on school closures in Chicago, Ghosts in the Schoolyard.

    Immigration and Education

    Via Chalkbeat: “School health clinics could take a hit under rule to restrict green cards for immigrants who receive public aid.”

    Via Politico: “A proposed rule to change the H–1B visa lottery registration process also could change the educational composition of visa holders, according to a DHS official with knowledge of the regulation.”

    Education in the Courts

    Plenty of stories in the news this week about the court case alleging bias in Harvard admissions. Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Harvard Admissions Trial Opens With Arguments Focused on Diversity.” Via NPR: “Harvard Student Discusses Why She Opposes The University’s Admissions Process.” Also via NPR: “Harvard Student Discusses Why She Supports The University’s Admissions Process.” Via Buzzfeed: “Harvard Wants To Admit Donors’ Kids, Even If That Makes The School More White.” More via The Atlantic and via The Washington Post.

    James Damore is moving his lawsuit against Google out of court,” The Verge reports.

    Via The Washington Post: “Jury awards $1.3 million to professor in American Universityage-discrimination case.”

    Via KRQE: “Charter school founder sentenced to 5 years for fraud.” That’s Scott Glasrud, founder of the Southwest Learning Centers chain of charters.

    There is more legal wrangling in the for-profit higher ed section, in the financial aid section, and in the “guns are ed-tech” sections below.

    The Business of Financial Aid

    Via Politico: “Court win for student loan protections a setback for DeVos.”

    NPR on“Why Public Service Loan Forgiveness Is So Unforgiving.”

    More financial aid stories in the for-profit higher ed section below.

    The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “In lawsuit filed against Betsy DeVos, Education Corporation of America argues that it needs major financial restructuring but that campuses will have to close without federal student aid.”

    Jon Marcus writes in Education Next about the future of for-profit higher ed.

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

    Via Forbes: “This Company Could Be Your Next Teacher: Coursera Plots A Massive Future For Online Education.”

    There’s more MOOC news in the “business of education” section below.

    Kara Swisher interviews2U CEO Chip Paucek.

    Meanwhile on Campus…

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Clark College, a community college in Washington State, has announced that it will call off classes and other activities on Monday, the day that Patriot Prayer, a far-right group whose rallies have been violent, will be holding one on campus.”

    How many colleges and universities have closed since 2016?” asks Education Dive. It’s only interested in for-profits, I guess.

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “MIT Announces Plan for $1B Effort on Computing, AI.”

    Yes, Guns Are Ed-Tech (and It’s So F*cked Up that I Had to Make This a Category)

    Via The Appeal: “Secretive Campus Cops Patrol Already Overpoliced Neighborhoods.”

    Via “Patriot Prayer, fresh off wild street brawl, to talk guns at Vancouver colleges.” There’s more on this white nationalist group up in the “on campus” section.

    Via The Huffington Post: “U.S. Department Of Education Is Sued For Withholding Information On Arming Teachers.”

    Via The New York Times: “Mad Magazine’s ABCs of a School Shooting Give It a Boost of Relevance.”

    Via the BBC: “Crimea attack: Gun attack at Kerch college kills 19.”

    Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies

    Via WCET Frontiers: “The Department of Education’s Plans for Overhauling Accrediting and Innovation Regulations.”


    Via the AP: “Math Scores Slide to a 20-Year Low on ACT.”

    Via the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Tests Taken by High School Students 58 Years Ago Could Predict Whether They Get Alzheimer’s.”

    Go, School Sports Team!

    A sneak peek at Joshua Hunt’s new book in Pacific Standard: “The Secret Betrayal That Sealed Nike’s Special Influence Over the University of Oregon.”

    Labor and Management

    Via The New York Times: “Original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Leaves ‘Sesame Street’ After Nearly 50 Years.”

    Via The LA Times: “Teacher who recounted Trump aide eating glue as a child is placed on paid leave.” That would be Stephen Miller, anti-immigrant glue-eater.

    The Business of Job Training

    Here’s the Boing Boing headline on a new journal article about the Manne seminars at George Mason University: “A data-driven look at the devastating efficacy of a far-right judge-education program.”

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “Google Brings Computing Courses to 10 Colleges.”

    I’m not sure this article goes in this section, but anyway… Via The New York Times: “Could an Ex-Convict Become an Attorney? I Intended to Find Out.”

    This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines

    Can blockchain transform credentialing?asks eCampus News.

    (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

    Via Motherboard: “The iPhone’s New Parental Controls Block Searches for Sex Ed, Allow Violence and Racism.”

    Coming soon to a “flexible classroom” near you: “Panasonic’s human blinkers help people concentrate in open-plan offices,” says Dezeen.

    “How a 5-Decade Old Education Company Reinvented Itself” – Edsurge interviews the CEO of the company formerly known as Curriculum Associates.

    Congratulations to Edsurge, which just realized that “free textbooks are not always free.” There is still labor involved. Pay writers.

    Sponsored content on Edsurge this week, paid for by MacMillan Learning, by ReadingPlus, by Google, and by Gutenberg Technology. Despite reading like an ad, this apparently is not sponsored content.

    Robots and Other Education Science Fiction

    “A Humanoid Robot Gave a Lecture in a West Point Philosophy Course,” says Wait wait wait. The robot presents as a black female? JFC.

    (Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Education Reform

    Sponsored content on Edsurge, sponsored by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, includes this on wellness programs,

    Via EdWeek Market Brief: “Money Is Flowing to Social-Emotional Learning: Allstate Foundation Dedicates $45 Million.”

    Via “This Group is Giving Away Art Robots to Public Schools.” “This group” is the Conru Foundation.

    Venture Capital and the Business of Education

    Mrs. Wordsworth has raised $11 million from Trustbridge Partners, Reach Capital, and Kindred Venture Capital. The literacy startup has raised $13.5 million total.

    Devonshire Investors has acquired MOOC startup NovoEd.

    Veritas Capital has acquiredCambium Learning Group from Veronis Suhler Stevenson for $14.50 per share.

    Inside Higher Ed onChinese companies buying US colleges.

    Data, Surveillance, and Information Security

    “More than 500 law students at Georgetown University have signed a petition asking the law school to scrap its new exam software,” Inside Higher Ed reports, due to privacy and security concerns. The software in question: Exam4.

    I’m keeping an eye on stories related to genetic testing, because I do hear some low-level rumblings about how this can be tied into the future of “precision education.” So bookmark this and this, I guess.

    Research, “Research,” and Reports

    Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new report from the Urban Institute used federal data to analyze the ‘mix-match’ between the share of residents with four-year degrees (or some college) and the share of jobs requiring college educations in 387 metropolitan areas. The institute found that mix-matches are common, and that this challenge is unlikely to change soon.”

    Edsurge published a story by folks from Entangled Solutions, writing about a report they wrote, funded by the Edsurge funder Omidyar Network. Small world. But anyway, the headline: “As Alternative Higher-Ed Pathways Take Off, We’re Still Forgetting Parent Learners.”

    Larry Cuban on“The Standardized Classroom (Part 1).”

    Dan Cohen on“What We Learned from Studying the News Consumption Habits of College Students.”

    “New research study finds more modest benefits to a Mooresville, N.C., laptop program that was once lauded as a national model,” says The Hechinger Report.

    Via Chalkbeat: “What our local education reporters learned when we collaborated with ProPublica to look at equity data.”

    Paging the grievance studies trio! Look at this problematic research! Via The New York Times: “Harvard Calls for Retraction of Dozens of Studies by Noted Cardiac Researcher.”


    Bill Gates penned a remembrance for Paul Allen, fellow co-founder of Microsoft: “What I loved about Paul Allen.”

    Icon credits: The Noun Project

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    These are my prepared remarks, delivered on a panel titled “Outsourcing the Classroom to Ed Tech & Machine-learning: Why Parents & Teachers Should Resist” at the Network for Public Education conference in Indianapolis. The other panelists were Peter Greene and Leonie Haimson. I had fifteen minutes to speak; clearly this is more than I could actually fit into that timeframe.

    I want to start off my remarks this morning by making two assertions that I hope are both comforting and discomforting.

    First, the role that corporations and philanthropists play in shaping education policy is not new. They have been at this a long, long time.

    Companies have been selling their products – textbooks, workbooks, maps, films, and so on – to schools for well over a century. Pearson, for example, was founded (albeit as a construction company) in 1844 and acquired along the long history various textbook publishing companies which have also been around since the turn of the twentieth century. IBM, for its part, was founded in 1911 – a merger of three office manufacturing businesses – and it began to build testing and teaching machines in the 1930s. Many companies – and certainly these two in particular – also have a long history of data collection and data analysis.

    These companies and their league of marketers and advocates have long argued that their products will augment what teachers can do. Augment, not replace, of course. Their products will make teachers’ work easier, faster, companies have always promised. Certainly we should scrutinize these arguments – we can debate the intentions and the results of “labor-saving devices” and we can think about the implications of shifting of expertise and control from a teacher to a textbook to a machine. But I’d argue that, more importantly perhaps, we must recognize that there is no point in the history of the American public education system that we can point to as the golden age of high quality, equitable, commercial free schooling.

    My second assertion: that as long as these companies and their evangelists have been pitching their products to schools, they have promised a “revolution.” (Perhaps it’s worth pointing out here: “revolutions,” to me at least, mean vast and typically violent changes to the social and political order.) So far at least these predictions have always been wrong.

    Thomas Edison famously predicted in 1922, for example, “I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.” He continued – and I think this is so very revealing about the goals of much of this push for technological reform, “I should say that on the average we get about two percent efficiency out of schoolbooks as they are written today. The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture… where it should be possible to obtain one hundred percent efficiency.”

    Educational films were going to change everything. Teaching machines were going to change everything. Educational television was going to change everything. Virtual reality was going to change everything. The Internet was going to change everything. The Macintosh computer was going to change everything. The iPad was going to change everything. Khan Academy was going to change everything. MOOCs were going to change everything. And on and on and on.

    Needless to say, movies haven’t replaced textbooks. Computers and YouTube videos haven’t replaced teachers. The Internet has not dismantled the university or the school house.

    Not for lack of trying, no doubt. And it might be the trying that we should focus on as much as the technology.

    The transformational, revolutionary potential of these technologies has always been vastly, vastly overhyped. And it isn’t simply, as some education reformers like to tell it, that it’s because educators or parents are resistant to change. It’s surely in part because the claims that marketers make are often just simply untrue. My favorite ludicrous claim remains that of Knewton’s CEO who told NPR in 2015 that his company was a “mind reading robot tutor in the sky.” I don’t care how much data you collect about students – well, I do care – but that does not mean, as this CEO said at a Department of Education event, that “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.” (My man here does not even know how to use the word “literally.”)

    This promised “ed-tech revolution” hasn’t occurred either in part because the predictions that technologists make are so often divorced from the realities of institutional and individual practices, from the cultures, systems, beliefs, and values of schools and their communities. No one wants a machine to read their children’s minds, thank you very much.

    There is arguably no better example of this than the predictions made about artificial intelligence. (No surprise, that includes companies like Knewton who like to say they’re using AI – data collection, data analysis, and algorithms – to improve teaching and learning.) Stories about human-made objects having some sort of mental capacity are ancient; they’re legends. (I’m a folklorist. Trust me when I say they’re legends – exaggerated stories that some people do believe to be true.)

    The field of artificial intelligence – programmable, digital computers functioning as some sort of electronic “brain” – dates back to the 1950s. And those early AI researchers loved the legend, making grandiose claims about what their work would soon be able to do: in 1965, for example, Herbert Simon said that “machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do.” In 1970, Marvin Minsky said that “in from three to eight years, we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being.” Fifty, sixty years later, we still don’t.

    Sure, there have been some very showy achievements: IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov at a game of chess. IBM’s Watson won at Jeopardy. IBM loves these sorts of PR stunts, and it continues to market its AI product-line as hinged on Watson’s celebrity – it purports to be the future of “personalized education.” It’s working with Sesame Street, which kills me. But Watson is not remotely close to the “artificial intelligence” that the company, and the industry more broadly, likes to tout. (A doctor using Watson for cancer treatment described it as “a piece of shit.”) Watson is not some sentient, hyper-intelligent entity. It’s not an objective and therefore superior decision-maker. It’s not a wise seer or fortune-teller.

    None of AI is. (And I don’t think it ever can or will be.)

    Mostly, today’s “artificial intelligence” is a blend of natural language processing – that is, computers being able to recognize humans’ language (either by typing or speaking) rather than being programmed via a computer language – and/or machine learning – that is, a technique that utilizes statistics and statistical modeling to improve the performance of a program or an algorithm. This is what Google does, for example, when you type something like “how many points LBJ” into the search bar, and you get results about LeBron James. Type “what percentage LBJ,” and you get results about how much the 36th president of the United States increased government spending. Google takes the data about what a website contains, along with how people search and what people click on, in part, to determine what to display in those “ten blue links” that show up on the first page of search results.

    In some ways, that’s a lot more mundane than the hype about AI. But it’s an AI I bet we all use daily.

    That doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.

    To be clear, when I assert that the push for technology is not new and that the claims about technology are overblown, I don’t mean to imply that this latest push for education technology is irrelevant or inconsequential. To the contrary, in part because of the language that computer scientists have adopted – artificial intelligence, machine learning, electronic brains– they’ve positioned themselves to be powerful authorities when it comes to the future of knowledge and information and when it comes to the future of teaching and learning. The technology industry is powerful, politically and economically and culturally, in its own right, and many of its billionaire philanthropists seem hell-bent on reforming education.

    I think there’s a lot to say about machine learning and the push for “personalization” in education. And the historian in me cannot help but add that folks have trying to “personalize” education using machines for about a century now. The folks building these machines have, for a very long time, believed that collecting the student data generated while using the machines will help them improve their “programmed instruction” – this decades before Mark Zuckerberg was born.

    I think we can talk about the labor issues – how this continues to shift expertise and decision making in the classroom, for starters, but also how students’ data and students’ work is being utilized for commercial purposes. I think we can talk about privacy and security issues – how sloppily we know that these companies, and unfortunately our schools as well, handle student and teacher information.

    But I’ll pick two reasons that we should be much more critical about education technologies (because I seem to be working in a series of “make two points” this morning).

    First, these software programs are proprietary, and we – as educators, parents, students, administrators, community members – do not get to see how the machine learning “learns” and how its decisions are made. This is moving us towards what law professor Frank Pasquale calls a “black box society.” “The term ‘black box,’” he writes, “is a useful metaphor… given its own dual meaning. It can refer to a recording device, like the data-monitoring systems in planes, trains, and cars. Or it can mean a system whose workings are mysterious; we can observe its inputs and outputs, but we cannot tell how one becomes the other. We face these two meanings daily: tracked ever more closely by firms and government, we have no clear idea of just how far much of this information can travel, how it is used, or its consequences.” This, Pasquale argues, is an incredibly important issue for us to grapple with because, as he continues, “knowledge is power. To scrutinize others while avoiding scrutiny oneself is one of the most important forms of power.”

    I should note briefly that late last year, New York City passed a bill that would create a task force to examine the city’s automated decision systems. And that hopefully includes the algorithm that allocates spaces for students in the city’s high schools. How to resist: demand algorithmic transparency in all software systems used by public entities, including schools.

    The second reason to be critical of AI in ed-tech is that all algorithms are biased. I know we are being told that these algorithms are better, smarter, faster, more accurate but they are, as a recent RSA video put it, “an opinion embedded in math.” (Indeed, anytime you hear someone say “personalization” or “AI” or “algorithmic,” I urge you to replace that phrase with “prediction.”)

    Algorithms are biased, in part, because they’re built with data that’s biased, data taken from existing institutions and practices that are biased. They’re built by people who are biased. (Bless your hearts, white men, who think you are the rational objective ones and the rest of us just play “identity politics.”) Google Search is biased, as Safiya Noble demonstrates in her book The Algorithms of Oppression. Noble writes about the ways in which Search – the big data, the machine learning – maintains and even exacerbates social inequalities, particularly with regards to race and gender. Let’s be clear, Google Search is very much a “black box.” And again, it’s an AI we use every day.

    That Google Search (and Google News and Google Maps and Google Scholar and so on) has bias seems to me to be a much bigger problem than this panel was convened to address. We are supposed to be talking about ed-tech, and here I am suggesting that our whole digital information infrastructure is rigged. I think we’ve seen over the course of the past couple of years quite starkly what has happened when mis- and dis-information campaigns utilize this infrastructure – an infrastructure that is increasingly relying on machine learning – to show us what it thinks we should know. Like I said, it’s not just the technology we should pay attention to; it’s those trying to disrupt the social order.

    We are facing a powerful threat to democracy from new digital technologies and their algorithmic decision-making. And I realize this sounds a little overwrought. But this may well be a revolution, and it’s not one that its advocates necessarily predicted or is it, I’d wager one any of us want to be part of.