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

 

Variation

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?

The Common Core: A Dream Come True for the Publishing & Media Industries

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Imagine what it would be like if every school district in the U.S. used the same core (standards) curriculum, and that every few years, new textbooks and media products needed to purchased.

If the Common Standards are fully adopted across the nation, then it will be a booming business for media and publishing companies.

But it is not as simple as that.  There are heavy hitters out there that have grasped control of not only digital and print publishing of text material, but also control over high-stakes testing that will be based on one of two systems, the PARCC Assessment System, or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

In an article by Beth Bacon over on Digital Book World, the environment for publishing is booming thanks in part to the adoption by most states of the Common Core.  Bacon also points out that falling tech prices, and the hunger for digital tools and materials has contributed to the boom.  Bacon uses the term “democratization of publishing,” but as I will show ahead, this is hardly the case.   However, it is the fact that American schools will be held accountable to the same set of standards that has propelled publisher ambitions.  In her article, Bacon quotes Justin Hamilton, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Amplify.  Here is part of that conversation:

“The Common Core is the equivalent of the transcontinental railroad,” said Hamilton, “We’ve moving from a patchwork of standards across the country to common standards from coast to coast. It opens doors to inspire the best and the brightest to develop new, effective curricula.”

These new Common Core-based curricula often integrate digital media and internet connectivity via tablets. Some of the curricula are being developed by new publishers like Hamilton’s company, Amplify. Other digital textbooks are being created by traditional publishers. Still others are being designed by innovative school districts that have developed successful programs and want to share that success with others.

In the past, Hamilton has observed, conventional publishers created textbooks for the largest four states (Texas, New York, Florida and California) then “tinkered around” with those main textbooks to create textbooks the other 46 states. “It’s like conventional publishing has been serving four entries with unlimited side dishes,” said Hamilton. With that model, the driving force in educational publishing had been marketing, not innovation. (Bacon, B. 3 Reasons Educational Publishing is Booming. DBW. July 13, 2013).

But there is something very interesting about Bacon’s article, and that is the companies that she gives a mention: Amplify (education division of News Corp), Khan Academy, c-K12, and Desmos.

But Amplify gets the lions share of space in the article, and here is why.

Amplify is the education division of News Corp, a multinational mass media corporation,   To expand on my concern about the connection between the Common Standards and publishing corporation, New Corp is a good example.  News Corporation owns the following: New Unlimited in Australia, News International in the U.K., The Times, and the Sun in the U.K, Dow Jones & Company, The Wall Street journal, HarperCollins, Fox Entertainment Group, 20th Century Fox film studio, and the Fox Broadcasting Company.  It was also the owner of News of the World, the company responsible for phone hacking.  This is a huge company that seemingly has limitless resources, as well as powerful connections in the world of education.  It’s revenue in 2012 was $33.7 billion, and 48,000 employees.

In 2010, Joel Klein, former New York City School Chancellor was named executive vice president for News Corporation, and then later brought with him executives from New York City to head-up News Corp’s education division.

Amplify, according to its website, is built on the foundation of Wireless Generation, a company that creates mobile assessments and instruction analytics to schools across America.  Amplify’s digital products are “data-driven” and they are rolling out mobile learning for a new world of digital curriculum and assessment.

Doesn’t this sound very familiar.  It sounds like Bill Gates was whispering in the ears of executives at News Corp.

So here we have a gigantic company with unlimited resources ready to create digital materials that will be matched to one set of standards in mathematics and English/Language Arts.

So, Amplify will not only develop digital curriculum (in English/language arts, math, and science) matched to the Common Standards, it just announced a new tablet that was designed by Intel Education.  The new Amplify ELA curriculum is integrated with the new tablet. The new tablet will be out for the 2014 – 2015 school year at about $199 per year per student for three years.   The content that students will use using the tablet will be preloaded and developed by Amplify partners including cK-12, Desmos and others.

The Common Core has created an environment in which big corporations with power and resources will take the largest share of the education market, a market which has become standardized.   But more than that, it will build and sell tools that will result in vast amounts of data being collected (tablets in a wireless environment) on every move a student makes.

In the Digital Ocean, which I wrote about earlier this week, the delivery of instruction in a digital era will make it easy to track and test students, more so than can be done today.

What do you think is the effect of adopting the Common Standards the nature of teaching materials that will reach the classroom?

Photo Sean MacEntee, Creative Commons Attribution

Using Computers and Related Technologies in an Age of Standards

The Dish2According to Allan Collins, Professor Emeritus of the Learning Sciences, Northwestern University, in this “age of technology,” the very technology which consumes so many of us, has had little effect on mainstream education. As he pointed out in his book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (library copy), which he wrote with Richard Halverson, schools spend a lot of money on technology, but this technology is on the periphery of learning, and has not really been used to help students learn. Indeed, we’ve spent so much on technology, that I remember a stunning visual experience visiting a science and technology center in a North Georgia school district.  I saw piles and piles of “old” computers stuffed into a closet taking up space, replaced with “newer” computers.  

The technologies that have emerged in society over the past 30 years (1984 – 2014) happen to emerge when the standards-based and high-stakes testing accountability model was put in place in the nation’s schools.  In 1984, when Apple released the Macintosh computer, it was essentially a stand alone machine that too many of us, did amazing things.

My colleagues and I have a long history using technology in teaching, especially computer and Internet-based technologies.  When we started connecting our classrooms to the Internet (c. 1990), and thus to each other, the technologies we used were primitive.  We had to rely on telephone lines, very slow modems, and not lightning fast computers.  We had lots of problems with the technology, but the major problems were not with technology.  The problem was how to use these technologies in schools, not only here in Georgia, but in other countries such as Russia, Spain, Australia, the Czech Republic and others.

But there is a side to technology that must be understood in the context of schools.  There are many who advocate technology as a way to not only make teaching more efficient, and cost-effective, but as a way to manage the implementation of a standards-based, high-stakes authoritarian accountability system.  Take for example tablet computing, in which every kid carries an iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook,  Chromebook, or Android tablet.  These are powerful tools that students can use to do a variety of things in school or at home.

The claim is that using tablets in classrooms will enhance learning and promote student-centered learning, exploration and research.  There is, however, little empirical evidence to support this.  Yet, for  some students, a tablet or a smart phone are ubiquitous.  So, for many educators, it only a question of when schools with provide tablets for each student.

Christopher D. Lehmann, founder and principal of Science Leadership Academy, was quoted in an Education Week article saying this:

Thousands of educators out there are trying to leverage these tools to let kids build, do, and create.   If the only thing we allow them to be is an evolution of ‘drill and kill,’ then the failure of our imagination would be great.

Strict adherence to the Common Standards without any flexibility for teachers to change, cut, or add standards will result in less imaginative ways to used technology, indeed to import new pedagogies that are more student-centered.

Simply putting tablets or any technology in the hands of students will not necessarily improve learning, or be an easy goal to carry out.

The problem is the authoritarian standards and test-based accountability system that keeps us entrenched in a pedagogy which can be simply explained as teaching for the test.

But there is more to it than pedagogy.  There is the reality that corporations have seen the potential for huge financial gains at the cost of students, their parents, and teachers.

Digital Oceans

The authoritarian accountability model that is implicit in a standards and traditional pedagogical approach is the perfect environment for “big data” and what Pearson refers to as Digital Data, Analytics and Adaptive Learning.  Mercedes Schneider posted on her blog today a Pearson report entitled Impacts of the Digital Ocean on Education.  As one of her readers commented that the report was chilling and dystopian.

When I first looked at the report, I thought I was reading a fictional story of what education might be in a futuristic world.  I imagined that each student in these futuristic schools would be connected to computer data systems by means of their use of all sorts of technology including computers, tablets, watches, and other devices.

In the scenario of learning sketched in digital ocean paper, students every move, and interaction can be monitored and data collected and stored on remote computers.

To the authors of the paper, the term “digital ocean” is the “vast amount of data that is available from interactions with digital tools.”  This vast amount of data can be used to create learner profiles which can be used to make predictions about learner performance based on statistical models.   According to the authors, these advanced models can be used to tell us about our student’s levels of skill.

This is very much like the thinking that is used to rationalize the use of the VAM (Value added model) statistical model used to decide a teacher’s level of skill.  As I’ve reported on this blog, VAM is not supported as a valid and reliable method to measure teacher effectiveness.  Are we opening the door to the same kind of thinking about students?

The authors of the digital ocean paper would say that they do have a way to do this.  For example, here is what they say about monitoring others:

This emerging digital ocean,2 when combined with appropriate analysis and standards for use, opens the door to new types of naturalistic observation and inference that could help us to understand and improve ourselves. When extended to education, we expect such changes to advance our learning and our stewardship of the learning of others. (DiCerbo. K. E. & Behrens, J. T. (2014) Impacts of the Digital Ocean, London: Pearson, Creative Commons Attribution)

In the late 1980s, a group of teachers and professors in Georgia organized reciprocal trips to the former states of the Soviet Union, and through those collaborative experiences, designed one of the first computer-based Networks of learning between the US and the USSR.  We used computers that were connected to a very primitive telecommunications network to bring students and teachers together to collaborate and work on common environmental problems.  We saw the telecommunications network as a way to foster cooperation and collaborate learning, and together created a program using these technologies known as the Global Thinking Project.  We saw computers and the Internet as a way to humanize education.  Other groups saw the same potential, they independently developed powerful communication networks that were bottom up experiences, not mandated top down edicts.  Some examples include iEarn,  Global Lab, Flatclassroom Projects, and ePals.  Each of these projects uses technology to humanize education by bringing people together to solve mutual problems, talk to each other, share information about their culture, and co-plan activities and experiences.

Education as depicted in the digital ocean paper, paints a different picture.  Clearly, there is little evidence of people to people interactions.  It’s more like people to computer interactions.  The student appears to be there to generate data which is used to program student behavior on future tasks and activities.  In this light, here is what the authors say:

Looking into the future digital ocean, we can imagine schools and individual learners harnessing ubiquitous and naturally generated data to support decisions about learning. In this emerging space, learners use a digital intelligent math tutor that records each step in a learner’s response to a question, the scoring of each task, hints requested, and resources used by the learner. Learning is personalised based on learners’ knowledge states and trajectories, and the creators of the systems improve them over time as data helps them to understand the processes of learning  (DiCerbo. K. E. & Behrens, J. T. (2014) Impacts of the Digital Ocean, London: Pearson, Creative Commons Attribution).

What picture of the classroom emerges for you when you think about how the authors depict student behavior.  Is it a classroom bursting with groups of students working together on creative projects?  Is it a classroom in which students work at their own pace as they sit at a computer and use commercial software, gaming, and activities to prepare for the next computer-based assessment?

While smartphones are the most common computing device available to individuals in some locations, in many portions of the educational community learners interact primarily through general computing devices such as laptop and desktop computers. In this context, sensors are embedded into software, which is typically the data collection and management interface for the user. When working with online software through a web browser, much of the operational management may occur remotely on computers that are centrally managed for software updating as well as data collection and analysis. In other words, the local computer shares information about an activity with a remote computer that gathers information from many local computers. This magnifies the scale of data collection, frees owners of local computers from having to update and re-install software, and may lower operation costs.  (DiCerbo. K. E. & Behrens, J. T. (2014) Impacts of the Digital Ocean, London: Pearson, Creative Commons Attribution).

Delivery of Instruction

Certainly one of the attributes of traditional pedagogy is the idea that teachers, texts, videos, computers and such are used to deliver instruction.  Instruction is delivered to the student through activities that are used to check and test student learning.  Student learning is determined primarily by paper and pencil tests.  Of course, most teachers know that this is not the only way to check or assess student learning.  But for the present argument, it is suffice.

There is a general learning cycle that describes the process of learning as depicted by the digital ocean authors.  It is shown in Figure 1.  With the use of computers and digital monitoring devices, it is possible to use “big” data bases to profile every student.

Figure 1. Digital Ocean Activity Cycle. DiCerbo. K. E. & Behrens, J. T. (2014) Impacts of the Digital Ocean, London: Pearson. Creative Commons Attribution
Figure 1. Digital Ocean Activity Cycle. DiCerbo. K. E. & Behrens, J. T. (2014) Impacts of the Digital Ocean, London: Pearson. Creative Commons Attribution

There is much to look at in the Digital Ocean paper.  In an age of standardization of schooling, one has to wonder about the implications for such a wired approach to learning in a classroom of students.  We’ll explore computers and technology in the age of standardization in future blog posts, but for now, what is your view of the use of computers in the age of standardization?

 

 

Technology as Cure-All for Standards, and Even Snow Days

 

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Technology is viewed by some as the elixir or cure-all for education, and school districts, with lots of money available through grants such as Race to the Top, technology investments from organization such the Gates Foundation, and law edicts,  have embraced technology as a magic bullet.  Virtual classrooms, digital textbooks, flipped classrooms (use of video), lecture-based content websites are examples of the types of technologies that have emerged.  Could it be that these are Trojan Horses being used to drive the Common Standards?

Ed Johnson an Atlanta systems educator and advocate for quality education wrote to me today and reinforced the last two blog posts connecting the Gates Foundation, Common Standards and technology.  He pointed out that the Atlanta Public Schools are using technology by setting up an “Inclement Weather Makeup Materials” website.

In “Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core,” I argued that,

There is a growing body of evidence that the Common Standards are not the solution to make America more competitive, to make kids smarter in math, reading and science, and any of the other ills that have been cast upon the education system. I’ve reported on this blog that independent research questions the efficacy of a standard-based approach to education as it is now conceived. The standards-based system is a top-down authoritarian system that disregards the professional decision-making ability of classroom teachers. I’ve reported research by Wallace that shows that this authoritarian accountability system is a barrier to teaching and learning.

And in “Is Technology the Trojan Horse of the Common Standard’s Movement?,” it was added,

It is quite clear that Gates is investing (his term) in technology in schools. It’s no surprise. But we must keep in mind the word technology is a seductive term, especially when used in the context of schools. But the history of top-down technology projects has not served classroom teachers very well. Too often, the technology is used to replace what was already going on in classrooms, or to use a tablet as a textbook.

Ed Johnson, then asked us to consider this:

Atlanta Public Schools has developed a comprehensive plan to increase time and opportunity for students to receive the critical instruction lost this school year during the district’s six inclement weather days.”  APS Launches Virtual Classroom for All Students, Reported by East Atlanta Patch

Is Inclement weather being used as a Trojan Horse to carry out Bill Gates’ technology-dependent common standards?

To explore this a bit more, I went to the Inclement Weather Makeup Materials website, which is shown in Figure 1.   There are links, such as, for 3rd thru 5th and 6th thru 12th make up materials.  When we dig deep into the site, we finally come to content links for language arts, math, science, and social studies.   It’s not a very imaginative way to engage students in make up activity.  I have to wonder why this is being done in the first place.

Figure 1. Inclement Weather Makeup Materials Site. Source: APS
Figure 1. Inclement Weather Makeup Materials Site. Source: APS

For example,  the 3rd grade science link brings you to a three column page.  The first two columns are 3rd Grade science performance standards written in technical language of the Common Standards.   The last column lists Online Learning Support and Activities for the standards.  Some links take you to sites where students have to watch commercials, while others take you to “activities” that lack any sense of wonder, imagination, or inquiry.

Figure 2. Example of an Inclement Weather Make-up Site. Source: APS.

Figure 2. Example of an Inclement Weather Make-up Site. Source: APS.

It seems to me that it might be better to ask students to read an interesting book, and not spent time doing these types of activities. What do you think?

Is Technology the Trojan Horse of the Common Standard’s Movement?

 

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Anthony Cody (Living in Dialog) and Mercedes Schneider (deutsch29) wrote articles on their blogs about the Arne Duncan – Bill Gates – Common Standard’s triumvirate.  Cody commented that Duncan and Gates are trying to woo teachers to support the floundering rollout of the Common Standards.  As he explains, teachers were not involved in the development of the Common Standards, but now Duncan and Gates are using their bully pulpits to lure teachers onto their bandwagon.  But as Anthony Cody says:

Remember, if Bill Gates and the Department of Education trusted teachers, they would not have had the Common Core standards drafted by testmakers instead of educators. If they trusted teachers they would not have created the pseudoscience of VAM to try to hunt down the “bad teachers” hiding amongst us. If they trusted teachers they would not create “teacher voice” organizations that require allegiance to their beliefs. If they trusted National Board certified teachers, they would not disregard their expertise until they needed it to sell their Common Core standards and testing system to the public. Cody, A. Cody, Anthony. “Gates and Duncan Seek to Use Trust in Teachers to Promote Common Core.” Living in Dialog. Education Week, 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. <http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2014/03/gates_and_duncan_seek_to_lever.html>

Over on Mercedes Schneider’s blog, she warns us to look for a change of name or tagline for the Common Core State Standards.  A name change or a re-branding, if you will, is because of the anti-common core movement that is hitting Gates and Duncan straight on.  Schneider suggests that technology will play a major role in the re-branding of the Common Standards, and we’ve seen evidence of this for years.  Jeb Bush and his minions are flying around the country selling states on virtual classrooms, technology-based curriculum, data systems, and all the rest.

Too many state legislators think that technology is the answer to what ails education.  However, if they would study the research on the way that eduction has not embraced technology, they might put their mouths somewhere else.  Yet, in today’s culture, information and research does not seem to affect the way legislators vote, or the policies they enact.

Schneider is right on target to suggest that the Common Standards will enter the classroom on the heels of our infatuation with technology.

Yesterday I reported the results of  a search of the Gates Foundation College-Ready grants for 2009 & earlier – 2013 using the terms Common Core, and the search returned 161 results.  The largest grant was awarded to the Kentucky Department of Education for $9,800,877, and the smallest grant was awarded to Benchmark Education Company for $25,000.  Using an Excel spreadsheet of the 161 programs that focused on the Common Core, I found out that the Gates Foundation has awarded grants totaling $204,350,462.  That’s $269 million for 161 programs.  The average grant was for $1,269,258.

Today I want to report what I discovered when I went back to this data base about technology grants.  I searched the 161 programs for the term technology and the search returned 131 results.  I found that of the $204.3 million that Gates awarded for Common Core programs, $151,966,216 was spent on programs that were technology-based.   For example, the Alliance for Education, a Seattle-based group, received the largest grant which was $25,464,998.  It was funded to improve teaching and learning by enhancing student access to technology.  There are 130 more examples on the Gates Awarded Grants webpage which you can explore here.

Figure 1 identifies five different types of groups that were funded including organizations (public and private), public school districts, universities, state education departments, and private and charter schools.  Figure one also shows that public and private organizations got the lions share of Gates technology funding, followed by state departments of education, public school districts, state departments of education, and private and charter schools.

Figure 1. Technology Grants Awarded to various groups by the Gates Foundation 2009 & earlier - 2014
Figure 1. Technology Grants Awarded to various groups by the Gates Foundation 2009 & earlier – 2014

It is quite clear that Gates is investing (his term) in technology in schools.  It’s no surprise.  But we must keep in mind the word technology is a seductive term, especially when used in the context of schools.  But the history of top-down technology projects has not served classroom teachers very well.  Too often, the technology is used to replace what was already going on in classrooms, or to use a tablet as a textbook.

The paradigm of learning is normally not addressed when the “influential ones” such as Bush and Gates tote their ideas into America’s schools.  Teachers know this.  That is why the most articulate explanation for why the Common Standards should not be pushed into classrooms, come from classroom teachers.  Simply read Mercedes Schneider’s blog.

Schneider says this about how technology might be used to prop up the Common Standards:

It makes sense, then, to “rebrand” CCSS into a technological savior. Turn the public’s attention away from the spending of so many millions on CCSS-assessment technology while programs and staff are being cut.

So, one of the ways that CCSS can morph and can make the money spent on technology appear tied to the “standards” (whatever they might be called in an effort to not call them CCSS) is to refocus on how useful untested CCSS will certainly be (tongue in cheek) for Promoting Technological Prowess Necessary to Compete in the Global Economy.  Schneider, Mercedes. “Common Core As “Technologically Necessary”: A Looming Shift In Sales Pitch?” Deutsch29. N.p., 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2014. .

Finally, one more thing.  The Common Standards are embedded in the U.S. Department of Education program, the Race to the Top.  It was almost impossible to get a RT3 grant if the Common Standards were not a part of a proposal.  The RT3 program that I’ve investigated is the Georgia RT3.  Georgia received $400 million.  Keep in mind that half of this amount was distributed to 26 participating Georgia public school districts.  Those funds support the primary goals of RT3 which is to set in motion a technology driven system, which involves millions of dollars for Common Standards implementation, and the creation of data systems to manage schools.  Take a look at the way the $400 million is being spent in Georgia (Figure 2).  More than half of the money is being used to support data driven education.  I’d say that Mercedes Schneider’s warning about a re-branding of the Common Standards is well underway.

Figure 2. Georgia RT3 Budget 2010 - 1014.
Figure 2. Georgia RT3 Budget 2010 – 1014.

What do you think about technology and its role in the Common Standards movement?

 Trojan Horse Image,tams Leever, Creative Commons