By Deb Herbage
Billionaires, Bill & Melinda Gates, Broad, Chan-Zuckerberg, Hastings, Bezos, Walton, Murdoch, Koch, et al, “non-profit” foundations, ed-tech companies, corporations and Government agencies (USDOE, DoD, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) are continuing to use our schools as their product development labs, our kids as their lab rats and our teachers as their product development specialists. This has been going on for many years but especially since the very first year Common Core was forced into our schools in the 2014-2015 school year. With the proliferation of ed-tech companies, these corporations are all lobbying to get their software, programs, websites, and applications into the hands of our kids and schools. How do they accomplish this? By way of “pilot” programs which they completely fund. Here is a sampling of some pilot programs that were approved by the FL legislators:
HB 1365 – Competency-Based Education Pilot (5 year pilot) – Approved and effective 7/1/16. 5 districts in Florida were chosen to participate in this pilot. Lake County dropped out of the pilot after claiming it was not helpful and was not “worth it”.
SB 824 – Childhood Music Education Incentive Pilot Program (3 year pilot) – Approved and effective 7/1/17. This is for children K-2.
SB 654 – Extends the Childhood Music Education Incentive Pilot Program which is managed by the University of Florida College of Education. The University of Florida shall evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot by measuring student academic performance (remember these are K-2). The evaluation is based on quantitive analysis of student achievement and qualitive evaluation of students enrolled (again these are K-2).
SB 732 – Renamed from the Competency-Based Education Pilot to the “Mastery-Based Education Pilot” (5 year pilot). If approved will become effective on 7/1/18. The P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School is heading up this pilot in Florida schools. The stakeholders for this pilot are local businesses and community members.
There are hundreds of pilots going on in all 67 school districts across Florida. Some of these pilots are conducted without parental knowledge let alone consent. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has poured millions of dollars into the state of Florida. $67 million to be exact from 2012 to present. Not surprisingly, Jeb Bush’s two foundations have received most of that $67 million. Here in my district, Pasco County, we have received $154,655,299.00 in grants, incentives and payments from the FLDOE, the USDOE and various foundations and universities since 2014. If Gates just gave each district $1 million dollars – they would be far better off. We received a $15 million grant from the “Mourning Family Foundation, Inc. School & Instructional Enhancements” in the 2014-2015 school year as well as $471,427.88 for “RTTT Digital Learning Support”. In the 2015-2016 school year, we received $1.2 million for “21st Century Community Learning Center” and $258,000 in the 2016-2017 school year for “2017-2020 Public Charter School Program Planning, Program, Design and Implementation”. And this year, 2017-2018, we received $408,230.53 for “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants”. I’m not sure where that money went or exactly what it is being spent on because our district and schools are no better off than we were before the infusion of money. Here are the sponsors and backers of on-line curriculum here in Pasco County:
Digital Promise is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and one of the biggest backers and supporters of ed-tech pilots in schools across the U.S. http://edtech.digitalpromise.org/ The data produced by your child taking part in these pilot programs to test their software, applications, websites and programs for the various ed-tech companies, non-profit foundations, corporations and agencies are being used to validate and perfect their programs, software and applications which they then sell to other schools and districts. An example of a pilot that took place and is still taking place in schools across the country is i-Ready. According to Curriculum Associates, the company that owns and sells i-Ready, they claim “Research PROVES that i-Ready can deliver transformational results for all students.” (my emphasis added). Not only is there NO research to back up this claim (I looked….and looked) they also claim that i-Ready can “accurately predict student success on Common Core assessments”. I could not find ANY research to back up that claim either other than the research they paid for in favor of their product. Considering Common Core was brand new in 2014-2015 and publishers were still frantically changing all materials over to “Common Core” branded…..that claim seems to be stretching the truth. Curriculum Associates has this to say about their product, i-Ready:
“Curriculum Associates is a rapidly growing education company committed to making classrooms better places for teachers and students. We believe that all children have the chance to succeed, and our research-based, award-winning products, including i-Ready®, Ready®, BRIGANCE®, and other programs, provide teachers and administrators with flexible resources that deliver meaningful assessments and data-driven, differentiated instruction for children.
Because we are independently owned and operated, we are able to provide the best prices so that every district, school, and educator can afford to bring top quality resources to their students. By maintaining our independence, we are able to channel our investments toward the things that really matter—like product development, research, and unmatched customer service.”
These companies are paying for the research that states their claims are true and accurate. We have heard from many parents about the horrendous experiences their children have with i-Ready. Here in Pasco County, we paid Curriculum Associates $13 million dollars for i-Ready. Here are a couple of comments from a teacher and a parent in regards to i-Ready:
“It’s a new program so there is little to no data collected yet on reliability. Our kids are guinea pigs.”
“All I know is that my daughter, in the 4th grade, read on a 4th grade level in 2nd grade never got past the 3rd grade work on i-Ready. Every time she made one mistake it threw her back to kindergarten. All it did was make her hate reading, hate the computer worse than she did and slowly destroyed all of the hard work we’d done building her confidence.”
Has your school sent a letter or email home stating your child must use i-Ready for 30 to 45 minutes a day? Your kids are taking part in a pilot that was approved for their school or district without your knowledge or consent. Our kids are being used as their lab rats to test their software, applications, programs and websites and our schools are being used as their product development labs and our teachers as their product development specialists. This is just one company. There are hundreds of pilots taking place in our schools. These ed-tech companies, corporations, non-profit foundations, universities and agencies can by-pass years of costly research, numerous iterations and trials by cutting corners and having our schools conduct these “pilots” for them. That is their “research-based” claim. In a lot of cases – the reward for participating in their pilots is a cash payout or “free” or greatly reduced pricing for their software/applications or programs. A cash payout that our kids and/or teachers certainly never see.
Here is a tweet on Twitter from March 6th by a teacher in regards to pilot programs:
“When you ask teachers to sign up for your #edtech app w/o district approval, you are likely asking them to violate board policy, state law, & FERPA -@MTebbenkamp #sxswedu” and here is another tweet in response to that tweet: “Any advice when you bring a security concern to a vendor who is unresponsive even after you direct them to all of the @usnistgov guidance on best practices for password policies? Been well over a month now trying to get XXXXXXX fix this with no luck.”
Our kids and teachers are helping these ed-tech companies and tech giants perfect their software, programs, applications and websites whether they want to or not. Parents are not being told their kids are participating in pilot programs. There is little time left for real authentic learning and teaching. Participating in these pilots is a win for the ed-tech companies…..not only do they get real-time data on their product – they also data mine our kids. Who is responsible for keeping our kids data safe? Who grants them permission to take our kids data? Our kids are not given the option to opt out. Our schools are not notifying parents of the numerous pilots going on in their schools. What cost is this to our kids? To their education? Not to mention the amount of time and effort these pilots consume. What if the software, application or program does not meet the criteria? What if after using it for a year or two the district or school decides not to purchase it? Then what? Oh well? Just bring in the next program and/or application for them to start all over with?
Parents need to start asking questions.
Parents need to know if their kids are participating in any pilot programs in their schools and if they are (chances are pretty high they are) how much time is dedicated to the pilot in place of actual learning? There are many important questions that need to be asked and answered.
Here are some Digital Promise backed pilots that you may recognize for NWEA-MAP and Achieve3000. Both also being used in our schools. http://edtech.digitalpromise.org/pilot-study-briefs/
Check with your school or district to see what pilots are being conducted and what pilot your child is being forced to participate in. What are the goals of the pilot? Who is getting the data and for what purpose? Are the pilots in compliance with FERPA? COPPA? PPRA?
They will continue to take advantage of our kids……if we let them.