Thursday, January 09, 2014

Common Core and the EduTech Abyss

Michelle Malkin

The Common Core gold rush is on. Apple, Pearson, Google, Microsoft and Amplify are all cashing in on the federal standards/testing/textbook racket. But the EduTech boondoggle is no boon for students. It's more squandered tax dollars down the public school drain.

Even more worrisome: The stampede is widening a dangerous path toward invasive data mining.

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the ed tech sector "is expected to more than double in size to $13.4 billion by 2017." That explosive growth is fueled by Common Core's top-down digital learning and testing mandates. So: Cui bono?

In North Carolina, the Guilford County public school district withdrew 15,000 Amplify tablets last fall. Pre-loaded with Common Core apps and part of a federal $30 million Race to the Top grant program, the devices peddled by News Corp. and Wireless Generation were rendered useless because of defective cases, broken screens and malfunctioning power supplies.

Last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District dumped $1 billion of scarce resources into a disastrous iPad program. Educrats paid $678 per glorified Apple e-textbook, pre-loaded with Common Core-branded apps created by Pearson. As I've reported previously, Pearson is the multibillion-dollar educational publishing and testing conglomerate at the center of the federally driven, taxpayer-funded "standards" scheme. Pearson's digital learning products are used by an estimated 25 million-plus people in North America. Common Core has been a convenient new catalyst for getting the next generation of consumers hooked.

Students breached the LAUSD's iPad firewalls and made a mockery of their hapless adult guardians. Despite hefty investments in training and development, many teachers couldn't figure out how to sync up the tablets in the classroom. Taxpayers now realize they were sold a grossly inflated bill of goods, but the district wants to buy even more iPads for computerized test-taking. School officials recklessly plan to use school construction debt-financing to pay for the new purchases.

Los Angeles taxpayer Planaria Price summed up swelling outrage perfectly in a letter to the Los Angeles Times this week: "Cash-strapped LAUSD -- which in 2012 cut libraries, nurses, thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff ... is spending more than $1 billion on one of the nation's most expensive technology programs. ... I would say that 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark,' but few would understand because the teaching of Shakespeare has also been cut."

By its own account, Apple dominates 94 percent of the education tablet market in the U.S. Microsoft is pushing its own Common Core-aligned Surface RT tablet and app suite, along with "Bing for Schools." Rival Google wants in on the game on the taxpayers' dime, too. The company's "Chromebooks," which use a cloud-based operating system mimicking the Google Chrome browser, are gaining market share rapidly. While they are cheaper than iPads, they depend on reliable WiFi. Google offers a suite of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for "free."

But is this really about improving students' academic bottom line -- or Google's bottom line?

In one school district, the Google devices are used as glorified whiteboards. A recent news article touting Chromebook adoption in Nebraska's Council Bluffs school district described how kindergarteners drew "dots on the rubber-cased tablets clutched in their hands. Then they wrote what they'd done as a math equation: 3 + 3 = 6." No one explained why pencil and paper were insufficient to do the elementary math, other than a teacher gushing that she likes to "mix it up" and provide a "variety of experiences." The district is one of 50 across the country piloting Google Play for Education.

Google is building brand loyalty through a questionable certification program that essentially turns teachers into tax-subsidized lobbyists for the company. The GAFE enrollees are "trained" on Google products. They take classes, attend conferences and hold workshops (some, but not all, funded by Google). After passing GAFE tests, they earn certification. Next, the newly minted GAFE educators open up consultancy businesses and bill their school districts (i.e., the public) to hawk Google's suite of products to other colleagues. And they tell two friends, who tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on.

Google can collect student/family data to target ads through related services outside the GAFE suite, such as YouTube for Schools, Blogger and Google Plus. These are not covered under the already watered-down federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Under the Obama administration, Grand Canyon-sized loopholes in FERPA have already opened data mining to third-party private entities.

One parent shared her kids' experience with the Chromebooks online: "The biggest problems to date are that kids figured out quickly how to bypass security so they could look at non-approved web material and that kids have problems drawing figures when taking classes such as Chemistry or Physics. ... Many preferred traditional textbooks; others resented the teachers being able to spy on them with the software embedded in the Chromebook."

Another savvy mom noted: "If you think Google won't be handing over any and all data it gets from your kids using their Chromebooks, you're nuts."

Let's be clear: I am not opposed to introducing kids to 21st-century tools. My 13-year-old daughter taught herself Java, HTML and Photoshop. My 10-year-old son mixes music on Logic Pro. I support competent, focused and practical instruction exposing school kids to coding, 3D design and robotics. What I'm against are bungled billion-dollar public investments in overpriced, ineffective technology. Fed Ed's shiny education toy syndrome incentivizes wasteful spending binges no school district can afford.


Bobby Jindal beats Eric Holder, Obama

By Tom Toth

Since 2008, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's reform efforts to give the opportunity of an excellent education to each student through school vouchers have hit Democrats in the most damaging way possible: Success.

As of the fall semester in 2013, roughly 8,000 Louisiana students in families with economic hardship are attending scholarship schools through the state's voucher program with improved test scores, graduation rates, and 93 percent satisfaction from parents. The average family income in-state for voucher scholarship applications is $15,564 and nine in ten of participating students are minorities.

Desperate to deter the rest of the nation from following Jindal's leadership in teacher union-hated alternative education tools, the Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Eric Holder and his boss Barack Obama, last August filed a lawsuit against Louisiana's school voucher program on questionable grounds.

The DOJ alleged that, because the vouchers were being used mostly by minority families, and therefore sending a high amount of minority students to alternative schools with the state vouchers, the program violated federal laws of school integration from the 1960s.

Indeed, Holder and Obama argue that too many poor minorities are receiving a good education by escaping failing schools.

The ridiculousness of the administration's accusations didn't go unnoticed; many in the media criticized the merits of the suit, Jindal's administration was well-prepared to fight it in federal court, and the nation watched Holder and Obama run — with proverbial tails between their legs — from the fight, abandoning their lawsuit only weeks later.

Presumably, the administration calculated that the impending embarrassment of arguing that case in court was worse than the humiliation of abandoning a federal lawsuit.

Whatever the case, Obama's rep tape regulatory firepower will now try what either the administration's legal teams couldn't accomplish or public relations teams couldn't spin. The DOJ has mandated that Louisiana send the federal government information on all voucher scholarship applications and hold acceptance on said applications for 45 days while administration officials reviewed them. In addition, each school district involved with the program must provide "an analysis of the voucher enrollments … with respect to their impact on school desegregation."

No such requests from the federal government investigating the disproportionate amounts of minorities attending failing schools in poor districts have been forthcoming.

Programs like Governor Jindal's are effective, progressive solutions to 21st century education problems in states like Louisiana. Democrats are at a distinct disadvantage to fight for better education results given the millions in campaign contributions that teachers unions account for.

Democrat solutions, therefore, must necessarily also contain union-demanded stipulations such as no teacher accountability or achievement records, unfair seniority advantages for faculty, and damaging tenure requirements from the status quo that are direct contributors to states' education problems.

Conservatives like Jindal face no such constraint.

Conservatives are free to pursue unbridled innovation with the purpose of giving every child in every school district the opportunity for a quality education, regardless of family income, ethnic background, or zip code. Jindal's plans are working for Louisiana. Other states will have different solutions to different problems, and Conservatives exclusively own the full field of possibility.

Because of this, the left will pursue any means necessary to stop his leadership and discourage other governors, state legislatures, and school boards from following suit with successful policies that consequently work against Democrat interests.

So far, Conservatives like Jindal are winning.


Military-style discipline to raise standards in British state schools

Military-style discipline will be introduced into state schools under sweeping government plans to train more ex-soldiers as teachers and dramatically increase the number of cadet forces, it has emerged.

The Government is investing at least £19 million on programmes designed to develop an Armed Forces “ethos” in the state education system.

For the first time this month, former servicemen without university degrees will be able to take part in a new training programme designed to fast-track them into the classroom in around half the time taken by most other teachers.

Ex-military personnel will be be able to gain full teaching qualifications within just two years as part of the Troops to Teachers course. Most teachers take at least four years.

The Coalition suggested that evidence showed former soldiers made better teachers than those recruited through conventional routes.

In further changes, the Government also pledged to create an extra 100 cadet force units in state schools within the next 12 months – boosting overall numbers by around a third.

The move has been condemned by teachers’ leaders who claimed that the recruitment of soldiers without degrees risks undermining the profession.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said schools should “welcome applicants from all walks of life who feel they can make the commitment to teach”.

But she added: “Teaching involves a complex mix of knowledge, skills and understanding of child development and trainees need both a high level of education themselves and thorough teacher training before they can take on the demands of educating our young people.

“The NUT believes that teaching must remain a graduate profession.”

But David Laws, the Schools Minister, said evidence from the United States showed that "troops can make outstanding teachers who are likely to have a more significant result on the achievement of children and to remain in teaching longer than teachers recruited through other routes".

“The development of military ethos, such as self-discipline, resilience, teamwork and leadership, lead to positive outcomes both for individual young people and for society as a whole," he added.

Former members of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force who have degrees have already been able to enrol on one-year graduate teaching courses. Thousands of forces personnel have lost their jobs as part of swingeing cuts at the Ministry of Defence, with the size of the Army alone being cut by 20,000 to 82,000 by 2020.

Questions have been raised about its success to date. Previous figures showed just over 200 former soldiers with degrees have made applications to training courses since March 2012.

But the Department for Education hopes numbers will grow significantly with the introduction of a new training programme – launched in mid-January – specifically for those servicemen without higher education qualifications.

Training programmes will involve four days in school and one at university, with courses centring around seven institutions: Brighton, Bath Spa, Canterbury Christ Church, Huddersfield, Reading, Southampton and Staffordshire. Trainees receive a £11,200 training salary for each year of the course.

Service leavers taking part will be the only people allowed to start teacher training without a degree while being qualified within two years, the DfE said.

The move forms part of a major plan to promote a military ethos in state schools.

Some £11m is being spent to create an additional 100 cadet units by 2015 in a move that is intended to provide training for up to 5,000 teenagers. There are currently just over 300 Combined Cadet Force, Sea Cadet, Army Cadet and Air Training Corps units in state secondary schools across England.

The first new unit opened as part of the programme was based at the City of London Academy, in Islington, north London, with sponsorship from the Honourable Artillery Company.

Other initiatives include investing £8m over two years for charities run by former servicemen to provide Armed Forces-style obstacle courses, team-building sessions and confidence-building exercises in schools across England.

Answering a recent Parliamentary question, Mr Laws said: “Military ethos is about improving educational attainment – and those things that support it such as good behaviour and attendance – through instilling positive qualities and values such as confidence, resilience, self-control, loyalty, agency, teamwork and problem solving."


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