Bush’s Digital Learning Report Card: Misleading and Disingenuous

In March 2014, Jeb Bush’s organization Digital Learning Now (DLN), issued its 2013 Digital Learning Report Card measuring and grading K-12 education policies in the nation’s 50 states against its 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.

I found their report misleading and disingenuous.

Digital Learning Now released its report card grading each state on 41 criteria divided into 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.  You can visit their website to find interactive maps and a full report.

The ten elements are policy statements that the FEE claims are the essential elements for a high quality digital learning environment.  The 10 Elements are shown in Box 1, along with one of the criteria that states must adhere to or be marked down.

Box 1: Bush’s 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning & Sample Criteria

  1. Student Eligibility: All students must complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma
  2. Student Access: No school district may restrict student enrollment in a full-time online school or in a part-time individual online course through enrollment caps or geographic boundaries
  3. Personalized Learning: All students may enroll with more than one online course provider simultaneously.
  4. Advancement: All students must demonstrate proficiency on standards-based competencies to advance/earn credit for a grade/course and to advance to the succeeding grade/ course.
  5. Quality Content: All digital content and instruction must be aligned with state standards or Common Core State Standards.
  6. Quality Instruction: State accepts alternative routes for teacher certification.
  7. Quality Choices: Based on eligible statewide online providers, digital providers, are allowed to appeal decisions or revise and resubmit their applications after denial
  8. Assessment and Accountability: State-mandated assessments in core subjects, including annual assessments, end-of-course exams, and high school exit exams, must be administered digitally.
  9. Funding: Public funds are available for online learning to: all district public school students, charter school students, private school students, home-schooled students.
  10. Delivery: All schools have high-speed broadband Internet access.

According to the Digital Learning Now website, 41 criteria categorized into the 10 elements for their rubric which according to them, “allowed for an objective evaluation of policies across all states.  Using research-type language, they weight equally each of the 10 elements by grading each criteria (41 of them) on a 0 – 4 point scale.  Thus scores can range from 0 – 164.

Each state completed ONE survey and returned it to DLN for analysis, and follow-up, if needed.  According to the Bush group, staff consulted with several groups, none of which were universities or schools, but all were either private firms, or those with a financial interest in virtual schools and digital curriculum.  The Bush digital foundation would have us believe that have a survey instrument which can be used to check the state of state’s digital policies. They use terms such as metric, which when you see the criteria you will at once notice that most of the “criteria” are based on Jeb Bush’s “Florida Miracle.”

In her new book, A Chronicle of Echoes (Library Copy), Dr. Mercedes Schneider highlights the Bush plan (in three chapters) for corporate education reform.  Dr. Schneider shows who Bush, through several Foundations is using his model for self promotion:

One could consider Bush’s statement, that Florida education reforms are “now a model for the nation,” from two different perspectives.  First, one might view such a statement to mean the Florida education reforms actually work, and are “a model to the nation.”  Second, one might consider that, regardless of the efficacy of these Florida reforms, model legislation has been written and is being actively marketed to states across the nation as the panacea to “reform” education.  Bush himself promotes both views.

Digital Learning Now is a way for Bush to package his “reforms” but in the context of digital learning and virtual schools.  Schneider identifies the following as the six key parts of the Bush education reform plan:

  1. Grading schools on a A through F scale based upon student standardized scores.
  2. Using of high-stakes testing.
  3. Preventing student social promotion.
  4. Basing teacher pay upon student performance on standardized tests.
  5. Using nontraditional avenues for teacher credentialing.
  6. Supporting charter schools, vouchers for private schools, and online schools (“parent choice”)

These are all present in the Digital Learning Now plan, and in its survey instrument.

Box 2 shows three criteria which are used to assess the Eligibility, one of the 10 elements of high quality digital leaning.  Note the word “must” in the first two criteria, and note that criteria #2 says that the state must require every student to take at least one online course to graduate. Who will benefit from this criteria? We see here authoritarian tactics used to promote a political and corporate plan in a democratic society.

Box 2. Student Eligibility
1. All students must be provided opportunities to use online courses throughout their entire K-12 experience.
2. All students must complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma.
3. Student eligibility in digital-learning environments is not based on prior-year enrollment in the public school system.

So, one question to ask here is, How did the states do on “eligibility?”   Thirty states got a grade of “F,” 15 got a grade of “D,” and only 5 passed.  And by-the-way, Florida was rated highest, getting a 100% on this element.

You can see the results at the Digital Learning Now website.  Using a series of maps, you can click on an element and see at a glance how the country did as a whole, or zoom in on a state and see its grade.  Figure 1 are the grades for each state based on their overall score.  Notice that only two states got an A, a few Bs scattered here and there, a lot of Cs in the midwest, but Ds and Fs elsewhere.

Figure 1. Overall Grades on the Digital Learning Now Score Card, 2013. Source: http://digitallearningnow.com/
Figure 1. Overall Grades on the Digital Learning Now Score Card, 2013. Source: http://digitallearningnow.com/

Misleading and Disingenuous

The criteria that the Bush Foundation has identified to rate the states is designed to support their political views, and financial assets.  The Digital Learning Now group is nothing more than a politico-digital-wing of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

None of the data that they have collected would be acceptable if they tried to publish an article using the methods, tactics, and so-called “metrics” of their report.

The Bush group converts the scores they obtained from one questionnaire per state into a grade.  Not only does this lack condor, it misrepresents what the states are doing in digital learning.  For example, as I’ve stated, the largest score on the questionnaire is 164.  But the Bush group does not use real scores.  Instead they convert them to percentages, and then using a conversion chart of their making, they give each state a grade as follows:

Figure 2.  Grading scale used on Bush's Digital Learning Now Report Card. Source: http://digitallearningnow.com/
Figure 2. Grading scale used on Bush’s Digital Learning Now Report Card. Source: http://digitallearningnow.com/

There is no scientific basis to this conversion scale. The cut offs are opinion on qualitative and personal viewsof the Digital Learning Now staff. Nothing more. Nothing less.  There is no basis for deciding that a score lower than 59% is an F, any more than a score above 90% is an A.

In their report 27 states were graded “D” or “F.”  Or to put it another way, 54% of the states seem to be digitally challenged.  To to make matters worse, another 22% were graded “C,” meaning less than a fourth of the states digitally qualified.

What if the data was analysed in a different way?  What follows is an analysis of the Bush data using somedescriptive statistics and a more robust statistical process control.   If the Bush team did this, their report would read very differently.  But remember, if the Bush Foundation can show how poorly states are doing, then they put themselves into a position of pushing their reforms onto the backs of citizens in other states.  There is a lot of money to be made in the digital world, and if you study the Bush Foundation rosters, you will see that its stacked with people ready to make the move.

I converted all the percentages to real scores earned by each state.  Then, I examined the data using these raw scores.

The mean score on the questionnaire was 111 and median score was 118, and the standard deviation was 19.2.  The scores ranged from 67 – 151.

Figure 3 is a histogram of scores which shows a nearly normal distribution for how the states scored on the DLN score card.  It’s a normal distribution.

Figure 3. Histogram of Scores on the 2013 Questionaire
Figure 3. Histogram of Scores for States 2013



If we consider the variation in the scores, we find something very interesting about digital learning as measured by Bush and his team. Take a look at Figure 4. This is a flow chart of the scores that were released by Digital Learning Now.

Figure 4. 2013 Digital Score Card for All States
Figure 4. 2013 Digital Score Card for All States

There is variation from one state to another, but the variation is within Upper and Lower Control Limits.  No state (even Florida) fall outside the control limits.  The Bush report card is disingenuous because it fails to acknowledge that all states fall within expected limits, and that there is no state that needs to be “turned around,” or all of a sudden blamed for failing to meet their standards. Giving states a grade is dishonest.  Indeed, Figure 4 shows that all the states fall within expected limits using Bush metrics!

Organizations such as the Bush Foundation use tactics that are on the edge of being unethical, if not unscientific.  They use “instruments” to collect data from a few people, and then use these results to make outrageous claims about the state of education.  How can 50 questionnaires be representative of the nation?  Come on.

Do you think Bush’s Digital Learning Report Card is Misleading and Disingenuous?

Graphics of The Bush Foundation’s Influence on State Education Laws

The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) agenda has seven “reform” priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities.  The seven reform categories (shown in Box 1) are elements of the corporate and foundation led privatization of public schools, as well as the accountability system based on Common Core Standards and High-Stakes testing.  The reforms shown here are embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and the Race to the Top (RT3)

Box 1. Bush Reform Categories

  • Ccr: College and Career Readiness
  • Dl: Digital Learning
  • Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
  • K3r: K-3 Reading
  • Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
  • Sc: School Choice
  • Sa: Standards and Accountability

These categories of reform are focal points for the Bush foundation (ExcelinEd), and they have much financial resources, and lobbying connections to influence legislation around the country that is in the interest of “their reforms.”  One of the chief areas of reform is digital learning.

In an earlier post, I described a report by Colin Woodard, on The Profit Motive Behind Maine’s Virtual Schools which implicated the Bush Foundation, ALEC, K12, Inc, and Connections Education.  Woodard’s investigation won the George Polk Award for Education Reporting.   In his research, Woodard found that the state was directly influenced by Bush himself, who saw Maine as a great place to apply his Foundation’s Digital Learning Now.  I’ll discuss the Digital Learning Now program in more detail later this week.  But for now, its important to note that Maine’s digital policy was taken directly from the Bush Foundation.  The real problem emerges when we trace the principles of digital learning directly to companies that stand to make huge profits once the flood gates are opened.

Florida blogger, and educator Bob Sikes asked me in a tweet, who is  Patricia Levesque’s husband?  It turns out her husband is George Levesque, who holds the office of Florida General Council, which is responsible for providing legal advice to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and any Member, when in doubt about the applicability and interpretation of the House Code of Conduct or ethics laws, may ask advisory opinions from the House General Counsel.  In one post he wondered How Involved are the Levesques in Protecting the Fresen’s Florida Charter School Empire?  Ms. Levesque, who now heads the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and was Bush’s education advisory, also owns a lobbyist firm that represents many companies who have an interest in any Florida education legislation that is beneficial to their business.  In this particular post, Bob Sikes shows how family relationships and their connections between government and private companies either borders on ethics violations, or is simply downright unlawful.

You can read his posts on the Foundation for Excellent in Education here, and Jeb Bush here.


In the first graphic we have a display of how each state is affected by the Foundation for Excellence.  The seven reform categories are plotted against each state.  For instance, in Wyoming, one bill was passed in the Effective Teachers and Leaders (ETL) category.  However, if you drop down to Virginia, five of the reform categories are represented.  In fact, a total of 19 bills were in one or more ways influence by the Foundation.  Florida, however, leads the way.  As many as 95 education bills can be traced to the Bush reform categories.

Figure 1. Analysis of the Bush Foundation's Influence on Education Bills in the States.  Data obtained from the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Figure 1. Analysis of the Bush Foundation’s Influence on Education Bills in the States. Data obtained from the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The graphic in Figure 2 is an interactive map of the states and the District of Columbia.  Here you will find how each state is influenced by the Foundation.

I’ll report later this week on Digital Learning Now (DLN), a Bush initiative that rates each state’s digital education against ten priorities developed by the Bush Foundation. Be in for an awakening.

Bush’s Education Foundation and Influence Peddling: Any Truth to It?

The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is an organization founded in 2008 by Jeb Bush.  After reading about Bush’s claims that American teens were falling behind in math and science, and listening to his most recent speech at the Heritage Institute, I decided to investigate ExcelinEd, to find out what it is up to, and the extent of its intrusion into the various state’s education policies.  I also wanted to find out to what extent there is influence peddling going on, and any reports on the Foundation’s connections with private companies that sell products and services to public school systems.

According to the ExcelinEd website, the Foundation started out as a conservative group that now is bi-partisan and national in scope (according to them).  The Foundation works with state and local governments and legislative bodies to provide model legislation, rule-making expertise, and implementation strategies related to its reform agenda.  Does this remind you of the American Legislative Exchange Council?  According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC is uses corporate money to influence state politicians by not only writing “model” bills, but by providing expertise, and convening conferences for state legislators to learn the ropes of the legislation that they will propose in their states.

The Bush Foundation for Excellence in Education does the same.

The Bush foundation agenda has seven priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities.  The seven reform categories (shown in Box 1) are elements of the corporate and foundation led privatization of public schools, as well as the accountability system based on Common Core Standards and High-Stakes testing.  The reforms shown here are embedded in the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Race to the Top.  I’ve studied Georgia’s Race to the Top $400 million proposal and work plan; the state of Georgia’s education system is held in check by these categories of “reform.”

Box 1. Bush Reform Categories

  • Ccr: College and Career Readiness
  • Dl: Digital Learning
  • Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders
  • K3r: K-3 Reading
  • Obf: Outcome-Based Funding
  • Sc: School Choice
  • Sa: Standards and Accountability

Influence Peddling?

One of my first projects was to find out how much influence the Bush foundation has exerted on legislative efforts in each of the states and the District of Columbia.  The Foundation website has a link to its State of Reform which takes you to an interactive map of the U.S.  Clicking on  any state map will take you to a page that will reveal which of the “reform categories” the Foundation has “had the opportunity to partner with reformers (in that state) to support development, adoption, and implementation of as many of the Bush reforms as possible.

So, the Foundation website provides evidence of its influence on legislation in each state.

To make sense of this data, I created an Excel chart that included the number of laws per reform category that the Foundation had a direct connection with lawmakers in each state.  Counts of the number of laws per state by reform category were recorded.  I interpreted the number of laws reported as an indicator of the degree of influence that the Bush foundation exerts on each of the states.  In some states (including Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, and New York), there appeared to be no activity.  But there were many states where the Foundation has made inroads by either providing model education reform bills for legislators to use and propose, or by providing consulting services to encourage the passage of bills that are congruent with the goals of the Foundation.

The degree of influence ranged from zero (0) to ninety-five (95).  There are 18 states in which no education laws were passed based on any influence from the Bush foundation, while there were 16 states with some influence.  The Foundation for Excellence in Education is moderately to extremely active in the remaining 18 states.  It is clear from their own website that they are influencing legislation in these states that supports their intensions.

Figure 2. Influence of the Foundation for Excellence in Education from No Influence to Extremely Influential
Figure 1. Influence of the Foundation for Excellence in Education on U.S. States and the District of Columbia Ranging from No Influence to Extremely Influential

There is one state that stands out, and that of course is Florida.  Florida, which is home to the Foundation, had an index influence score of 95.  The Foundation influenced everyone of the reform categories in Florida as seen in Box 2.  In fact, there was more influence peddling in Florida than in most of the remaining states combined.

Box 2: Bush’s Florida Influence: Number of Laws per Reform Category 

  • Ccr: College and Career Readiness—21
  • Dl: Digital Learning—10
  • Etl: Effective Teachers and Leaders—9
  • K3r: K-3 Reading—16
  • Obf: Outcome-Based Funding—12
  • Sc: School Choice—20
  • Sa: Standards and Accountability—7

The influence of the Bush foundation in the states is shown in Figure 3.  For most states, the influence exerted by the foundation falls within expected limits, but Florida is the exception, and is several standard deviations above the other states.

Figure 1. Flow Chart Analysis of the Foundation for Excellence in Education's Influence on State Legislation
Figure 2. Flow Chart Analysis of the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Influence on State Legislation.  *Index Influence Score is equal to the number of reforms directly linked to the influence from the Foundation.

Although the graph paints a picture of evenness of influence throughout the country, don’t be fooled by these numbers.

All it takes is one case of influence peddling to call the organization out, and to expose them for what they are really trying to do.  Digital learning and virtual schools is one of the areas that the Foundation of Excellence is eager to support and influence, because of the lucrative profits that will be realized if states pass laws that require students to take at least one online course to graduate, or offer the possibility of students opting for online courses rather than brick and mortar classes.

Virtual Schools in Maine–Poster Child for Influence Peddling?

In an investigative report, Colin Woodard published the story The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine.  The Foundation for Excellence sponsors conferences for state officials in which presentations are made about the merits of the various reform efforts of the Foundation, especially virtual schools.

In 2012, according to the Woodard report, Maine’s education commissioner was paid to attend a three-day Foundation in Excellence conference in San Francisco.  At that conference, Stephen Bowen, was introduced to two things that excited him:

  1. Everything an educator needed to know about the merits of full-time virtual schools
  2. The Foundation for Excellence in Education Digital Learning Now report card, grading each state on its efforts in digital learning (Graded from A – F)

Mr. Bowen, when shown the Digital Learning Now, 2012 report card, soon discovered that the state of Maine received an overall score of D+.  Bowen’s goal was to improve digital access in Maine by deregulating online learning.  According to Woodard’s article, Bowen was overwhelmed and didn’t have a staff to carry this out.

Not to worry.

He met Patricia Levesque, head of the foundation, although she is paid through her private foundation.  It turns out she is paid as a lobbyist on behalf of online education companies.  Woodard writes about how their meeting in San Francisco led to a partnership (a favorite word of the foundation).  She writes:

Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

The Woodard investigation revealed much of Maine’s digital education agenda was being guided (and written) in secret by companies that stood to gain from any actions that Maine took with regard to digital education.  Here was a poster child for influence peddling.  K12 Inc. (an online company), and Connections Education (a subsidiary of Pearson) were involved, and there was evidence that thousands of dollars were spent to create “independent” boards who would run the digital and virtual programs in Maine.  Each of these companies not only influenced state legislators in Maine, they also contributed financial aid to the Foundation for Excellence and the American Legislative Exchange Council!

The actions in Maine by the Foundation for Excellence in Education overlapped with the action of ALEC.  But here is how influence peddling works, as revealed by Woodard’s investigation.  She says in her article:

The corporate chair of ALEC’s education committee was revealed to be Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education’s senior vice president of state relations, and members included K12, the International Association for K12 Online Learning, and Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Connections Education withdrew its membership in May.)

Bowen was also an ALEC member in March 2011, the month he was confirmed as commissioner, according to a second set of ALEC documents leaked to Common Cause and posted on their website earlier this summer. Bowen – then a senior adviser to LePage and the head of education initiatives for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center – served as a private sector member of ALEC’s education committee, where he worked alongside officials from K12, Connections and other interested companies evaluating and approving model bills – including one creating centralized state clearinghouses for the sale of online courses.

The leaked documents also showed that ALEC-sponsored digital education bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in recent years.

Foundations, such as the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the American Legislative Exchange Council have hidden agenda’s.  They use language, that as Gene Glass says (quoted in the Woodard article) is “the ideal form of crony capitalism.”

The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials.  Is the Bush foundation nothing more than an arm or a subdivision of ALEC.  Probably not.  But it certainly behaves as if it received its training and marching orders from them.

What do you think?  Is there any influence peddling of this sort going on in your neck of the woods?  Please tell us about it.


PISA Testing in the Year 2063: Fives Walk to School on Thursday

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Note: This is a letter written by a teen living in Atlanta in the year 2063.   Her name is Sklyer F., a 14 year-old girl living in Atlanta with her family—3 brothers, her father who home schools his children, and her mother who is an activist-independent-politician. 

The PISA test, developed by the OECD, is in its 100th year, and is now used by all nations of world to assess the performance of students.  The test has been shortened so that each student can be assessed in reading, mathematics, and science.  

What has been the effect of the PISA World League Competitions fifty years out from the 2013 release of PISA findings?

Dear Friends:

I learned that in America, in the year 2001, the Federal Government enacted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that required each state in the country to develop tests in mathematics and reading, but over time, the policy makers decided that science and history should also be tested.  Then, in 2009, the Department of Education created a national competition called The Race to the Top.   It pushed further the control of local schools by insisting on a common curriculum and mandatory exams.  As you know, this annual testing event became known as “The Testing Games,” a kind of spin off of the 2012 movie, “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins.  Every year kids compete in a series of tests that take on a professional sports type of mentality with league standings and tables.

It’s now 2063 and we’ve elected our first woman president, Maya Armstrong Fusaro, an independent candidate from Georgia. People are very optimistic because of President Fusaro’s political philosophy, especially with regards to economics, education and equity, and ideas about the environment.  Although we had another great recession eight years ago, we are on the road to recovery, much like what happened in your day.

But, right now things are much different than you might realize compared to 2013.

Life in 2063

trainLet me tell you a bit about my life in the year 2053.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Skyler, and my number that I use for identification purposes is 897502415.    I am 14 years old and I live in the United States in a very large southern city.  It’s very crowed in the urban areas of the U.S., so much so, that parents have been asked to either home school their children, or enroll them in online schools.  There is simply not enough room in our schools.

The students who do go to schools come from very well-to-do families.

I do most of my studies online from my room in our apartment, and my father also helps us (I have three brothers) as a home school teacher.  There are so many courses to choose from, you simply can’t believe it. But, as my father keeps reminding me, I have to take courses that will prepare me for high-stakes PISA test, because—well, you know—politicians in the first decade of 2000’s decided that all kids needed to be tested to prove that that their teachers were good or bad, and that their schools were doing the job, not to mention to tell me if I passed or failed.  Then, in collaboration with the European organization OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development), nations decided to use PISA like tests each year for all kids at the high school level.

New Reform Was Nixed in 2015

Things changed very fast during the second term of President Obama.  He tried to implement a new education reform agenda that would have eliminated high-stakes testing, and replaced them with low-stakes tests.    He met with several education activists during your day, including Diane Ravitch, Mayor Bill De Blasio, Jean Sanders, Anthony Cody, Audrey Watters, P.L. Thomas, and many others.  They convinced President Obama that the Department of Education was leading the country in the wrong direction and that it would be the interests of American families to turn the tide away from the corporate led education agenda.

He also proposed that curriculum (the stuff we study and have to learn) would be developed by teachers at the local level and that teachers would use formative assessments (weekly tests, projects, laboratory reports, portfolios, questions, participation) to determine how well students do in school.  End-of-year tests could be given, but they would be only used to see how the system was doing.  They were never to be used to evaluate teachers, or principals, or determine if schools were good or bad.

These ideas never were realized.

Instead politicians and business leaders continued to lead our country along the same path developed earlier that we call the authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing reform movement.  Not only did they insist that all schools adopt the Common Core State Standards in English/language art and math, but they added science, and history to the common core.

My father has told us that extending this policy was an awful mistake.

The Climate Changed!

But something else happened which had a profound impact on schooling as you knew it.

imagesClimate change ravaged our country in ways you couldn’t image.  If you continued to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists at the Hadley Centre in London in an article in Nature in 2000, predicted significant changes in climate would occur.  According to one report that I read scientists in your day predicted that sea level would rise because of the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets, and that the general warming that was in effect would lead to more and more really hot days, and many less cold days.  Your scientists also predicted that warmer temperatures would upset or accelerate the water cycle which would lead to more extreme droughts, and/or floods in some area, and less severe droughts and/or floods in other areas.

All of these predictions were unfortunately accurate, especially droughts and/or floods, and how they have affected the North American continent.  From Texas right up through Oklahoma to North Dakota and into Canada, and spreading east to Indiana, and west to Utah, a huge desert has been formed after years of drought.  States in the far west, south, and east coast have received sufficient to extreme rainfall causing unusual flooding.  But at least they are not what you called The Dust Bowl.

Our family was forced to move from the New Orleans area to Atlanta and we started a new life here.  We live near the city center in a high rise apartment building, from which I can see Stone Mountain to the East, and Kennesaw Mountain to the West.  I’ve never been to either, but I’ve seen close up pictures, and stories about people who actually visited these parks, and climbed to the summits. Oh, well.

Learning in 2063

UnknownThe apartment I live in with my brothers and parents is amazing.  You thought that technology in 2013 was cool, you simply can’t image the technology we have today.  Our house runs with power that we generate as part of the residential solar power project.  We actually generate so much power, that we sell the excess back to Georgia Power.  We spend most of our time in our apartment, as Atlanta is so crowded with people, and we don’t use the kinds of cars that you used–you know the ones that used fossil fuels.

We didn’t run out of fossil fuels, we simply were forced to use other energy sources because with an increased population, we were polluting the air at rates never seen before.  Plus, as I told you, we have had massive climatic changes in North America caused by Global Warming.

Why didn’t you believe the scientists in your time that Earth was heating up at an alarming rate?  I just don’t understand your thinking back then.  The evidence was all around you.  Glaciers were shrinking at alarming rates.  Fires were ravaging huge parts of the Earth.  The weather during your lifetime was getting more extreme—remember all of the tornadoes, hurricanes, and huge blizzards?  Oh well.

Online Learning

But lets shift gears again.  Online learning is now the standard for most American’s today.  Today’s computers are not only faster than the ones you used, but we think of them as an extension of ourselves.  My computer has the processing power of our brains, and scientists have developed software that led to an “intelligence explosion” and interestingly, a better way to participate in the actions of our government.  President Fusaro was the first American President elected when all eligible citizens voted from their computers in their homes or in public libraries.  Don’t worry, every citizen in our country has all the technology I spoke about.

We have great courses to choose from.  However, we are accountable to the government in four areas of learning: reading and language arts, mathematics, science and engineering, and history and political science.

My Favorite Lessons

My favorite lessons on my computer are in courses that combine activities from different fields of study.  One course I took was entitled: Why People’s Ideas Don’t Change?  This was interesting to me because I wondered why people in the early part of this century wouldn’t change their ideas about climate change, evolution, and how children learn.  Seemed as if everyone was stuck in the muck, and resisted changing their ideas.  Climate change is real.  Life evolved on the Earth according the ideas laid out the famous Charles Darwin.  And we humans are not robots.  We learn in many different ways.  What happened back then to turn your back on solid research supporting these ideas?  Well, let’s take a look.

The course was based on research done early in this century that found that beliefs about controversial factual questions (such as climate change, evolution, or how children learn) was closely linked to one’s ideological preferences or partisan beliefs.

The teacher used a teaching method that I really like.  It’s called the “Case Study” method, and using this approach, we learned the basic ideas of people’s resistance to change, but in the context of a real issue or problem.  One of the controversial questions that we studied in our course was the question of whether or not Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) prior to the Iraq War invasion.  Honestly, I had not read much about this war, but once I did, I realized how controversial the war was to Americans during the early part of the century.

The researchers who conducted the study on the Iraq War found that people’s pre-existing ideas are preserved even when they are presented with contrary information.  The first mechanism that they shine a light on is that individuals may “engage in a biased search process, seeking out information that supports their preconceptions and avoiding evidence that undercuts their beliefs.  A second mechanism is called the “backfire effect.”  In this case, individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly—i.e.–the backfire effect.

The fact that people’s pre-existing ideas influenced whether they would accept new information was also related to their ideological beliefs—liberals tended to accept the new information; for centrists, it didn’t matter, but for conservatives, they tended to push the new information away, and hold more solidly to their exiting ideas.  Even when people were given information that Iraq did not have WMD, most of these people did not accept the information, and even became more resistant to alternative explanations.

Well, this course helped me understand why we have held on to your education reforms that so many researchers in your day showed were not supported by research.  I read about one of your researchers by name of Diane Ravitch.  At one time she did support the standards-based high-stakes reform movement, but in mid-2005, she wrote a book that showed how the reforms starting with NCLB were ruining American education.  It was in your day that you actually decided to use student test scores to determine if our teachers and schools were good or bad.

So many people have held on to their preexisting beliefs about how we learn.  They continue to believe that everyone should learn the same material, and that the way to find out if we learned the stuff, is to take a multiple-choice test.  It’s like they think that ideas can be stuffed into our heads!  Don’t they know the work of Jean PiagetLev Vygotsky, or Marcia Linn?  All of these educators discovered and taught you that we humans learn from experience, and that we actually build up our ideas through interaction with the content and other people.  Why did the education reformers of your day ignore this research, and instead listen to corporate types who knew nothing about education, let alone how people learn?

Enough of this.

Few Schools, Lots of Kids

During the early years of this century, school districts all around the country closed one school after another.  They blamed it on budget short-falls.  But their decision led to a real problem for us.  Remember I said that because of the radically changing climate, many people had to move to safer areas, and these tended to be cities in the far west, in the south, and along the east coast.  The cities filled up, but there was very little space for kids to go to real brick and mortar buildings.  There just weren’t enough classrooms for all of us.  We only get to go to school once a year.


Back in the day, I found out that the OECD used the term PISA Day to refer to the day when the results of the PISA assessments were announced.  It was a world event.  As I understood, newspapers clamored to get ahold of the League Standings so that they could write stories about how bad or how good kids did on the test.

We now have PISA Week.  Its a week during every year when all kids around the world take several PISA tests that are now used to assess student learning around the world.  That’s right, every kid takes the same test.

I know that there were many educators in your day who opposed this, and fought hard to change the law.  But they were outspent and didn’t have the political support to adopt ideas that were based on learning theory and cognitive as well as humanistic psychology.

Fives Walk to School on Thursday

The NEW EDUCATION law insists that all students must take the exams in a school building under very tight security measures.  I read an article published on the blog site, The Answer Sheet that said that testing days were like a “lock-down” rather than a normal day at school.  The author of the article, Larry Lee, visited an Alabama school when the state reading and math tests were given (NCLB act).  According to Mr. Lee, there was “no laughter, no smiles, no hugs, too many straight-faced youngsters, too many with stress that the nurse was on call.”

The teachers picked up the their tests from a secure room.  After signing off for the tests, the teachers returned to their rooms, and opened the big plastic box that contained the exams for the students.  The students started bubbling in their answers.

Believe it or not, the same system is still in effect today.

The Big Day. But in my day, things are a bit different.  Remember I told you that I take all my courses from home using my computer.  My computer screen delivers all the content that I need to prepare me for the Big Day.  On the Big Day, each kid takes a walk to the closest school building.  There are so many people living in the our urban areas, that not all the kids can come to school to sit down and take the bubble type examination on the same day.

My test day is Thursday, because on Thursday Fives go to school to take their high-stakes PISA test.  That’s right.  On the last Thursday in April, those kids whose numbers end in 5 get to walk to school and take their PISA tests.  There just isn’t enough space for all the kids in the neighborhood to come to school on the same day.  When we get to school, we are assigned a room where we will spend six hours taking our exams.  We also get a 40 minute break for lunch!

This is an exciting day.  It’s the one day that I get to go to school, and see the kids that I have been communicating with over the Internet.  Its a great experience.  As that last Thursday in April gets closer, I get more and more excited.  Not only do I get to walk to school, but I get to walk through the Green Spaces near our apartment, and see the beautiful buildings that surround these spaces.  We can visit the Green Spaces, but only on allotted days and only for a couple of hours.

I can hardly wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow is Thursday, and we Fives walk to school on Thursday.  We’ll get to take our PISAS tests, and see our friends!

Well, that’s the way it is in the year 2063.

Best regards,

Skyler F.

P.S.  I found the following articles valuable in my research to write this letter to you.  You might want to check them out.

This is a fictional story written by a 14 year-old student living in the year 2063 in Atlanta.  She brings us into the world of the future by writing a time travel letter telling us about life, education and testing in her day.  

Is Skyler’s world a forecast that has any believability?  Is the convergence of the effects of global warming and the effects of a failed education policy a coincidence, or could they be related?

Note: This post was adapted from Five’s Walk on Thursday, published by Science Workshop, Inc., Atlanta, GA, and published in print in by Jack Hassard, Science Experiences, Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1990.


The Race to Top P-20 Data System: Is it Petrology or Pedagogy?

Every state that was a winner in the Race to the Top (RT3) has millions of dollars to develop a P-12 Longitudinal Data System (LDS). And sure enough, our friends over at Achieve, developed RT3 primers that states could use to write their proposals. The Gates Foundation also provided help to states to write their proposals which were then submitted to the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Georgia was one of the winners of the RT3, and since I have lived and worked in Georgia for about 40 years, I have made a point of examining and writing about Georgia’s RT3.

In a recent post, I described how the funds that Georgia received ($399 million) are distributed among the four main goals of the project.  The Georgia Department of Education has $39,000,000 to develop a P-12 Longitudinal Data System, one of the main areas of work. The purpose of LDS is to “build data systems that measure student growth and success, and tell teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction” (Georgia Department of Education, RT3).

uploadIf you dig deeper, you will find that, according to ED and Achieve, educators need the “right data” and it must be put in the “right hands.”  In the Georgia RT3 plan, as well as in other states that received funding, “the idea is to develop a warehouse to host data across the P-20 spectrum. This data warehouse, known as the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), will support statistical and business intelligence tools as well as reporting (Georgia Department of Education, RT3).

Further investigation indicates that the greatest purpose or goal of the SLDS in each state is to improve educator’s decision-making to “improve student achievement.”

According to the latest performance report, Georgia RT3 has hired a vendor to develop the P-20 system.   All of this is organized through the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA).  In order for teachers to really use this system, technology training is the first order of business (after the Warehouse is built).  Early reports show that some of the 26 school districts cooperating in the Georgia RT3 are not accessing the present data system.  Apparently the State will give more resources.

But, please keep in mind, if the goal is to “personalize education for each student” then every teacher needs to become an expert in “data mining,” and instructional innovation.

Is Data Mining the New Oil?

Credit to Marvin Bredel, Flickr
Credit to Marvin Bredel, Flickr

On Hacked Education, Audrey Watters writes about the emerging fields of education data and learning analytics in her post, Student Data is the New Oil: MOOCs, Metaphor, and Money.  The post is a speech she delivered at Columbia University, on October 16, 2013.

At the beginning of her speech she questions the promise of large data systems and learning analytics.  She says:

The promise of learning analytics, so we’re told by education researchers and — with much more certainty and marketing finesse — by education companies, is that all this data that students create, that software can track, and that engineers and educators and administrators can analyze will bring about a more “personalized,” a more responsive, a more efficient school system. Better outcomes (which we can translate cynically as: higher test scores, higher class and college completion rates).

The claims about big data and education are incredibly bold, and as of yet, mostly unproven. Watters, A. (2013, October 17) Student Data is the New Oil. [Web log post]. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://hackeducation.com).

In my view, we have to wonder how a high school chemistry teacher with 150 students can use data analytics to personalize chemistry for each of her students.  What about the mathematics teacher, who not only teaches algebra, but also teaches geometry and advanced math?  How does he personalize mathematics for every one of his students?  And how about the art teacher?  Is personalized learning in art the result of using analytic data to direct the students?  And the special education teacher.  How does she use results to help her students?

If technology is used to mine the data, is the solution to personalized learning, technology?

Petrology or Pedagogy?

Will the mining of the mass of student data lead to pedagogies that will help students understand chemistry, mathematics, or art?  Will the mining of data simply be an exercise in petrology, or will it uncover new pedagogies?

Audrey Watters cites the online company, Knewton, which claims to provide personalized solutions using their technology to move students through course material “at their own pace.”  She points out how Knewton uses PR spin to claim that they offer “adaptive learning” by means of its technology.  She says:

Take Knewton, for example, one of the corporate leaders in the sector. Once in the highly lucrative business of test prep, Knewton has rebranded to offer “adaptive learning” — partnering with publishers to create content delivery and assessment software that moves students through educational materials “at their own pace.”

That’s the PR spin, at least: with big data, Knewton engineers can now precisely identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses and “learning styles” (ignoring, I should add here, the evidence that learning styles do not exist) and guide students through the next-best content nugget so as to learn with maximum efficiency. As a recent story about the company put it, “If you learn concept No. 513 best in the morning between 8:20 and 9:35 with 80 percent text and 20 percent rich media and no more than 32 minutes at a time, well, then the odds are you’re going to learn every one of 12 highly correlated concepts best that same way.”

Knewton boasts that over a million data points are created by students on its platform every day (emphasis mine), all of which feed its algorithms and its recommendation engine, all in turn in the service of delivering lessons that it claims are perfectly and personally adapted to each and every student (Watters, A. (2013, October 17) Student Data is the New Oil. [Web log post]. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://hackeducation.com).

As I noted earlier in this post, the Georgia RT3 intends to develop a data warehouse that can be mined by researchers, educators, administrators, and policy makers who will be provided resources and professional development to encourage better data-driven decision-making.  I’ve reached out to the GOSA asking for permission to use the data warehouse, but so far I haven’t heard from them.

What Student Data?

One of my reasons for wanting to use the P-20 Longitudinal Data System is find out what student data they are using and storing in the data warehouse.  No doubt they will include transcript type data such as grades, attendance, behavior, age, etc.  And no doubt we will find student test scores accumulated over the years in every subject that was tested.  But what kind of data, beyond these, will enable educators to “make better data-driven decision-making,” especially to personalize student learning?  Will this data be valuable to the day-to-day teaching of our chemistry, math, or art teacher?

If you read Audrey Watters speech, you will be astounded by the amount and kind of data that could be collected on students that data-driven decision makers will mine.  I read through her speech and assembled the following list of student data (Table 1).

Types of Data Created by Students for Data Mining Warehouses

Transcript Attendance Cafeteria purchases
Demographics Behavior Minutes from student meetings
Major course of study Disciplinary record Times in and out of school
Courses Library checkouts E-mail sent and received
Course grades Gym visits Pages read in digital texts
Test scores Intermural sports Pages highlighted
Individual assignments Clubs Search engine history
Social media history Time spent on Facebook Videos watch on Kuhn
Where videos were paused Exercises completed Wikipedia visits
Downloads Uploads Keystrokes and mouse clicks
Games played Level on games Tweets

Table 1. Types of Data Created by Students for Data Mining (Watters, A. (2013, October 17) Student Data is the New Oil. [Web log post]. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://hackeducation.com).

How will this kind of data be helpful to a teacher?  How will this data be helpful to education companies such as Pearson?

The phrase data mining should not be taken lightly.  It is built into the $4 billion Race to the Top, and those states that received funding must create data warehouses that can be mined by many constituent groups.

What if We Had More Data?

Watters argues that we should imagine what if we had more data?  How would the data be used?  What predictions about student behavior or performance could be made?  She says (from – Watters, A. (2013, October 17) Student Data is the New Oil. [Web log post]. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://hackeducation.com):

  • We could identify which students are likely to be the most successful academically. (In a future where graduation rates are tied to financial aid availability, imagine how this might shape schools’ enrollment policies.)
  • We could identify which students are likely to be dropouts. (Of course, then we have to ask: what do we do then? When do we intervene? How do we intervene? To what end?)
  • We could investigate how students’ performance in Algebra I is tied to their credit score later in life. We could investigate how their performance in The History of Western Civilization is tied to their voting patterns.
  • We could identify the lessons and the lectures and the assessments sets that “don’t work.” (You hear this from the folks at Coursera a lot who argue that MOOCs allow them to “fail fast” in this respect. Or, as my friend Mike Caulfield argues in response, you could actually hire good instructional designers and produce quality work from the start.)
  • We could identify which students are likely to make great biochemistry majors. (You have to wonder here, if the folks who write these algorithms would even suggest people become art history or creative writing majors.)
  • We could identify which students are likely to be successful entrepreneurs. We could identify which students are likely to become wealthy alumni and reliable donors back to the school.
  • And to bring things full circle, we could identify which students are likely to become radicals and dissidents. We could share that data with administrators and/or with authorities.

Whether this is an exercise in data mining, petrology, or uncovering new pedagogies, we wonder how the millions of dollars being spent by the RT3 in Georgia will benefit students in its schools?

What do you think about data mining?  In what way will this data be effective in personalizing learning?