The School Superintendents Association (AASA) recently met in San Diego. Superintendents from around the country gathered to discuss what they saw as important to school leadership and public education. The future of education was a prominent theme of the meeting, with the overall focus on one word, transformation.
They saluted digital and futuristic learning, reflected in the meeting’s title, “The Personalization of Education.” Other titles might have been, Who Needs Teachers When You’ve Got Screens? Or How can We Help Your Company Make a Profit on Students?
Was the teacher shortage a hot topic? No. Finding college degreed, qualified teachers wasn’t high on the leadership radar screen. Some mentioned teacher recruitment. One session dealt with teachers’ strikes. They offered a session highlighting AmeriCorps (they support Teach for America) and the Senior Corps Resources to employ a pipeline of school volunteers. Another meeting showed-off the New Teacher Center, which makes its own brand of teacher. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funder.
Did discussions concerning the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act take place? No. Aside from a session or two about the worthy topic of underrepresented gifted students, the issue of students with disabilities didn’t seem high on the agenda.
Diversity was alluded to in the many discussions of equity. Equity was one of many buzz words at the meeting. Equity through technology was a theme.
Personalization is, of course, digital instruction. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates stole the term from special education. Students are plugged into subject material at their academic level on a machine. They work mostly alone, seated next to each other. Or, at best, the goal is for children to teach each other without a teacher.
There’s lots of money to be made from the public education trough and this was clearly demonstrated at the AASA meeting. There were tech vendors for everything, safety, equity, and online curriculum, including early childhood instruction. It was a vendor lovefest. For example, have a problem with student vaping? Check out Fly Sense (TM) the award winning vaping deterrent solution. This all would have made school voucher guru and market enthusiast Milton Friedman proud.
The meeting was all about data. Forget standardized testing. Every answer, provided with a key click, is an embedded reply to a question. This is a way to obtain lots of data.
No one questioned the dearth of research to show digital is better than teacher instruction. No one questioned the health concerns of young children when they face screens for long periods of time, or teens who face problematic tech addiction. No one asked who’s benefiting by placing students in front of screens for all of their schooling.
The closest anyone came to pushback was Stanford University and Learning Policy Institute’s Linda Darling Hammond, a keynote speaker at the event, who spoke of the possibilities and challenges of personalized learning, mentioning that tech should not replace teachers.
Darling-Hammond’s Keynote was sandwiched in-between David Brooks’s “Educating the Heart and Soul” and Mawi Asgedom who spoke about “Social Emotional Learning That Changes Lives.”
Mawi is the developer of MAWI Learning, which has the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) stamp of approval. Linda Darling-Hammond is also a board member emeritus of CASEL.
The AASA meeting heavily emphasized social-emotional learning (SEL). Almost every other session had to do with fixing behavior in children, not to help them lead happier lives, but to ensure they show results. Driving student results was a prominent part of the AASA meeting. Emphasis on SEL also is proof, that getting students to self-regulate their behavior pairs nicely with sitting in front of a screen and staying focused. Career and workforce talk surrounding middle and high school dominated the conference along with emphasis on SEL programs.
Behavioral data might raise privacy concerns for parents who’ve been following online SEL assessments, and how they collect information about their children in their schools, but it’s big business for vendors. No one asked why there needed to be so much data, or how it helped children.
Everyone seems to understand that public schools are currently ill-equipped to be mental health centers. When children need help, virtual telepsychiatry is seen as the gap filler.
The use of Social Impact Bonds (SIMs) or Pay for Success plans could be seen interwoven throughout the conference. These plans have increasingly become a common way to fund programs in schools.
To learn more about SIMs, Martin Carnoy and Roxana Marachi, through the National Education Policy Center, recently authored “Investing for ‘Impact’ or Investing for Profit? Social Impact Bonds, Pay for Success, and the next Wave of Privatization of Social Services and Education.” Please read the report in full. It helps to better understand what drove the AASA meeting.
Here’s a sample:
Our review finds that SIB projects are designed to promote financial investments in low-income communities while concurrently shifting service delivery, data gathering, and evaluation processes to the private sector. Thus, in the current policy landscape, SIBs are poised to substantially alter how public resources are deployed to address social issues. The newest forms tether success metrics to digital smart contracts designed in ways that allow investors to profit from the social service projects. One layer of such future privatization will involve contracting with private entities for the actual delivery of public services, eliminating current public oversight. Another will involve allowing data from youth/participants in studies to be siphoned into private tech firms’ databases, allowing those firms to sell the data in increasingly valuable longitudinal data markets. By design, such models make social service programs accountable to investors, but not necessarily to the communities ostensibly being served. The new structures are also likely to involve the outsourcing of research to third-party evaluators, who may not have the best interests of the public in mind nor be required to ensure participant protections throughout the research process.
Here were some of the sponsors of the AASA meeting.
Apptegy helps to market a school brand.
EAB (Education Technology, Services and Research) partners with education executives. EAB wants to accelerate progress and drive results with sealable and proven strategies or toolkits [there were lots of toolkits at this meeting] to focus on college career readiness.
MAWI Learning now part of ACT’s SEL portfolio, is to empower educators to derive academic growth and student wellbeing. Mawi was a big part of the AASA program and all about helping students feel good. His toolkit involves a Turbo Button which gets students on the well-being fast-track.
Sanford Programs (T. Denny Sanford) are created through the National University Systems, establishing themselves as being different from icky for-profit schools and their bad lending schemes.
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is advertised as a new kind of philanthropy that’s leveraging technology to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges – from eradicating disease to improving education to reforming the criminal justice system. Across three core initiatives focus areas of science, education and justice, and opportunity, we’re pairing engineering with grantmaking, impact investing, and policy and advocacy work to help build an inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone.
The priorities of America’s school superintendents seemed disconnected to current reality. Much of it sounded surreal. It wasn’t about repairing the damage done from years of corporate influence on public education. It wasn’t about how to support teachers helping students, but creating instead a steady stream of public funds directed to the marketplace.
Making money on schools and children is the current rage, and technology is the conduit in which to do it.
In the meantime, America’s children are missing out on what they truly need. They are simply cogs in the money-making machine. Sadly, the future of schools is now, and today isn’t working out well for schools and the students they’re supposed to serve.