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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Google, Microsoft & ALEC: "Things that make you go, Hmmmmm."

It is interesting that two corporations vying for public school tax dollars are dropping out of the conservative "lobbying" group, ALEC. Both Google and Microsoft seem suddenly concerned with ALEC's stance on the environment. The American Legislative Executive Council is made up of corporations whose products and services we may love and trust. It is hard to boycott ALEC member's products and services because they encompass so much that we consume.
Warning: Sit back and kick your feet up when you click the link above. It is a long list.

"ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through the secretive meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists and state legislators vote as equals on ‘model bills’ to change our rights that often benefit the corporations’ bottom line at public expense. ALEC is a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists and can get a tax break for donations, effectively passing these lobbying costs on to taxpayers."

ALEC has been writing model legislation on issues like the ones below:

Privatizing public schools and higher education
Limiting voting rights through voter ID laws
Repealing labor rights
Protecting tobacco companies
Stand Your Ground Laws (as in the Travyon Martin case)
Supporting the for-profit prison industry
Forbidding local governments to limit pesticide use
Privatizing local water and sewer systems
Protecting polluting corporations from civil and criminal liability
And the list goes on and on...
The link above goes to their education page, but note the left side bar for many more of their pet projects.

Bottom line: Google and Microsoft products that have wormed their way into our schools & corporations like these see our schools and our children's education as an untapped market (some say the influx of Google and Microsoft in US classrooms has multiplied exponentially in the past several years). Ask your children and their teachers & administrators what Google & Microsoft products are being used in your schools.

Is it that these corporations suddenly care about climate change, or does it give them some legitimacy to usurp our public school tax dollars if they drop out of ALEC? It must be awfully hard to act like you care about public school children and their communities when you are funding a group who writes model bills that would, "...  privatize public education... Among other things, these bills make education a private commodity rather than a public good, and reverse America’s modern innovation of promoting learning and civic virtue through public schools staffed with professional teachers for children from all backgrounds...  "

Vying for their piece of our public school tax dollar pie...

It must be hard for Google and Micrsoft to defend being associated with model bills that compromise protections to students with disabilities, like the one written by ALEC in Wisconson. 
"This bill strips special education students of due process rights and rights to services. It allows for the segregation of students based on disability. It will devastate funding for public education in select districts. It will result in the largest expansion of private school regulation ever seen in Wisconsin and, at the end of the day, no one will have any data to show if it resulted in a better education."

In Pennsylvania, ALEC wrote SB 51:The Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act (Scholarship Tax Credits),
another Orwellian-titled bill that means the opposite of what it proposes. It would benefit charter and cyber charter schools so much, that some of those schools pulled students out of school (which public schools could never do) to promote the bill. The irony here is that charter schools perform the same or worse on standardized tests and PA's cyber charters are notoriously horrific for most students.

So do Google and Microsoft really suddenly care about climate change? It is worth noting that neither company sited ALEC's attacks on public education or student privacy as a concern, even as they collect our tax dollars for their "innovative technology."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For Sale: Student Hopes & Dreams

It is an exhausting job putting together the pieces of the bi-partisan movement to standardize and semi-privatize public education. Part of the problem is that the maniacally beautiful plan that was set into motion bit by bit, so that the major changes to our schools stay below our radar. It is almost as if those behind the scenes have amazing insight to marketing and psychology and use it against us. In marketing there is a term used for the subtle changes to packaging and product, so that consumers don't consciously notice that they are getting less than what they expected or that a product is being re-branded. It is called the JND, the Just Noticeable Difference. You know that your favorite candy bar was bigger when you were a kid, but multiple times along the line it got tweaked and you got used to paying the same or more for a smaller product. That is what is being done to the tax payers with the aggressive push for charter schools and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Even in suburban districts the arts and recess are being cut little by little. This is a technique to set up demand for charter schools who will offer exactly what is cut from public schools.

And where are they hoping this will lead? They want charter schools instead of our suburban schools. We are not "failing", so why would they want this? Because it isn't about the kids... it is about profiting off of our pubic school tax dollars, which is what charter school are all about. Contrary to popular belief, charter schools are not true public schools. They are investor's dreams, called public private partnerships. They are bad for kids, but great for hedge funders.

The truly sad thing is that the Common Core State Standards isn't at all about our kids or their education. It's about the money. The debate I hear in my well-educated community often includes the perspective of people I really like defending the CCSS because, they say, we need standards. Of course we need standards, and we had standards. In fact, our schools have been recognized for their standards for years, and are the magnet that brought many of us to the historic, tree-lined streets where we live.

Pennsylvania teacher and education activist, Peter Greene, is connecting the dots for us. He explains that the Common Core standards are integrally connected to the collection of data. Diane Ravitch comments on Greene's post,"...Their purpose is to tag every student and collect data on their performance. They cannot be decoupled from testing because the testing is the means by which every student is tagged and his/her data are collected for Pearson and the big data storage warehouse monitored by amazon or the U.S. government."

In this post, Ravitch shares how covertly collecting data from our children is making money for businesses k - 20. "'Big data will open the way to the future of education,' says the CEO of Knewton. The company is piloting its products at Arizona State University. Whatever we used to call education will cease to exist. Big data will change everything." Watch this commercial from Knewton. Listen for when they boast that they "...track everything each student does..." at 0:50. Then watch this video, which bears the US Department of Education Logo. It is a speech by Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton, who "...shares his vision for a future where every student receives a truly personalized curriculum best suited to his or her needs." He is talking about plunking our kids down in front of computer screens and letting adaptive technology "teach" them. His first line is, "So the human race is about to enter a totally data-mined existence." And that is just the first 2 seconds.

In other news, "Google has admitted that it automatically scans and indexes the email of Apps for Education users even though ads are off by default, in order to provide features such as virus protection, spelling checks, and Gmail's 'priority inbox'." Since a law suit for data-mining student emails, Google states it has stopped this practice. "The suit, which plaintiffs hoped to turn into a class action suit, accuses Google of violating federal and state anti-wiretapping law."

To add to the quandary of our children being "totally data-mined" is the law suit brought against SAT and ACT for selling—you guessed it—student data. "Students assume that their names and scores will be shared with colleges to which they apply, but it turns out that far more is disclosed about students, and it is sold, not just shared." Parents assume that, as well. Politico recently reported, "The recent flurry of interest in updating federal privacy law focuses on preventing children’s personal information from being sold without parental consent. Left unnoticed: The huge and lucrative market of peddling profiles with student consent — even when that consent may not be entirely informed."

It is shocking to read that "[S]tudents taking the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams and other standardized tests are asked to check off a box if they want to receive information from colleges or scholarship organizations. Depending on the exam, at least 65 percent — and as many as 85 percent — of test takers check that box, according to the College Board and ACT. That consent allows the College Board and ACT, both nonprofits, to market students’ personal profiles for 37 cents apiece. Those profiles can include information about the students’ grades and academic coursework — and also religion, ethnicity, citizenship status and expected need for financial aid in college. The ACT also lets customers filter student profiles by family income, parents’ education levels and student disabilities. Because the profile data does not come from students’ official school records, but gleaned from their answers to survey questions attached to the exam, no parental consent is needed. Federal privacy law only requires parental consent for the release of school records or the collection of data from children under 13."

Remember, David Coleman is the President of the College Board, which owns the SAT & ACT. He is also the architect of the CCSS and is now infamous for stating his immortal line that no one “…gives a *#!*” about what people feel or think. That line of reasoning was supposed to justify the denunciation of personal expository writing by the Common Core.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given grants to Knewton and many other corporations who want to profit off of our kids data. The Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations seem hell bent on working together to castrate public education, though they may have different reasons. Ravitch reports, "The philanthropic sector–led by Gates, Walton, and Broad and their allies like Dell–prefer disruptive organizations of charters to public schools. Indeed, they are using their vast fortunes to undercut public education and impose a free market competition among competing schools. As they go merrily about the task of disrupting an important democratic institution, they work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, which has assumed the task of destabilizing public education.
Big money–accountable to no one—and big government have embarked on an experiment in mass privatization. Do they ever ask themselves whether they might be wrong??"

So the question isn't really, do we like the CCSS? The question is, do we want our kids in front of screens, innocently working hard and clicking away, each click being tracked and sold to make millions for corporations who have designed this Orwellian nightmare for each of their own personal agendas? The even bigger question is, do we want our great suburban schools replaced with charter schools with no local school board to oversee our tax dollars and our children's education? I certainly do not.