Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Yesterday's Council hearings: vague and confusing answers from DOE about the Renewal school initiative and my testimony

Yesterday, the City Council Education Committee and new chair, Mark Treyger, held hearings on the Community and Renewal school initiative of the NYC Department of Education.  This was a timely hearing as tonight at the Panel for Educational Policy there will be a vote to close, truncate or merge 19 schools, 14 of them Renewal schools.  Testifying for the DOE were Chris Caruso, head of the Office of Community Schools, Aimee Horowitz, executive superintendent of the Office of Renewal schools, Laura Feijoo, senior supervising superintendent, and Cheryl Watson Harris, senior executive director of the Office of Field Support.

There has been much criticism of the misplaced spending priorities and bureaucratic overload of the Renewal school initiative, including on this blog here, and here, as well as the huge cost of the program at $582 million so far.  Also often noted are the ambiguous and often seemingly arbitrary decisions made by DOE officials about which struggling schools were placed in this program to begin with and which schools they have decided to close, with uncertain and often shifting rationales and timelines.  Nothing said yesterday by the educrats from Tweed put any of these concerns at rest.

According to an email I received from Aaron Pallas, professor at Teachers College who has studied the Renewal program, “the DOE did not use a consistent set of criteria for selecting the Renewal schools -- at least, based on the most obvious selection criteria, such as test scores and graduation rates, as well as the other demographic factors I looked at.

 Pallas also looked at the most recent school Quality Reviews, because the DOE said that that was part of the selection process, but these Reviews didn't seem to be associated with their selection into the program either, once performance and demographic factors were taken into account.  

The DOE decision to close these schools has too often lacked clear objective criteria. Already, 16 of the original 94 Renewal schools have been closed or merged.  In many cases, Renewal schools that have made their performance targets have been closed or truncated anyway; in other cases, schools that failed to achieve their targets have been kept open.  

Too often explanations from insiders are that the district Superintendent lacked confidence in the principal of a certain school, or the principal wanted to get rid of some teachers, though certainly there are better ways of confronting these issues than wreaking havoc on hundreds of kids' lives by closing the school.  Many principals have been replaced at these schools already, according to DOE testimony at the hearings: Of the original 94 schools, there have been 70 principal changes at a total of 56 Renewal schools -- meaning some schools have seen two changes of leadership in the last three years.

At the hearings, CM Alicka Samuels pointed out that Brooklyn Community HS had just been taken off the state's priority list of struggling schools because of improved results when the DOE announced they would close the school.  Laura Feijoo of DOE said this apparently contradictory decision was made because the DOE has more "challenging" standards than the state.  Though  the Mayor announced a temporary reprieve for Brooklyn Community HS after pressure from state legislators, CM Treyger criticized the wording of de Blasio's announcement, in which the closure was put on "pause", which keeps the school under a dark cloud and makes it far more difficult to recruit students and retain teachers. 

CM Samuels asked how many schools currently slated for closure, merger or truncation are co-located with charter schools, which may be looking to expand.  Feijoo responded that of the 18 schools, only four were co-located with charters.  (I think that's what she said, you can check out the video yourself, at 2 hours and 10 minutes in.)  Actually of the 19 schools facing this fate this year, 12 of them are co-located with charter schools.  (See the list here.)

Aaron Pallas has also found that despite the considerable amount of funding spent on them, the Renewal school have not done any better than similar schools which are not in the program.  The data provided by the DOE at the hearing was not encouraging either -- showing that these schools in many cases have shown LESS improvement in graduation rates and test scores than other Community schools, despite all the additional funding, teacher training,  and extra learning time poured into them [though the data on graduation rates and test scores of Community schools in the DOE's testimony was represented as percentage increases, and the Renewal schools as percentage point increases, so even this is unclear.] . 

CM Treyger and several of his colleagues asked incisive questions and follow-up questions, but few clear answers were provided by the DOE officials -- and in some instances, their responses suggested that the decisions to close these schools may be even more arbitrary in the future.  Instead of the  specific targets Renewal schools are now asked to achieve, in the future each school will have a "range" of targets, said DOE officials, whatever that means.  As to the subset of 21 improving Renewal schools that will graduate into the Rise program, the DOE provided shifting timelines as to when they will have to meet new targets.  At first they said these schools would have two years, but then it became clear that since they will not officially enter the Rise program until July, the deadline is only a year and half away.

There was also considerable confusion about the selection process of each Community school's Community Based Organization partner and the Community school leader.  The CSA and UFT representatives complained that this was often decided by the DOE, not the principal or the School Leadership Team.  The CSA rep, Henry Rubio, testified,  "Currently, it is unclear what, if any, role Principals play in evaluating and when necessary, replacing CBOs in community schools....In situations where it has not been made clear that CBOs are accountable to school leaders and leadership teams, the School Renewal Program has not been as successful as it otherwise might have been."  Yet the representative of one of the primary CBO partners, Phipps Neighborhoods Inc., insisted that these decisions were made with full input of the entire school community.

Also left unclear was the status of the numerous and sometimes conflicting directives confronting Renewal school principals.  CM Inez Barron stated that Renewal principals had complained to her about how they were forced to send staff to off-site Professional Development sessions, which play havoc with their teachers' scheduled classes and assigned responsibilities.  Feijoo insisted that the decision as to whether to send staff to these trainings was left completely up to the principal's discretion.

I focused in my testimony on the fact that the DOE has repeatedly promised the state to reduce class size in a subset of struggling schools since 2007, as part of its Contract for Excellence plans, but has never followed through in a systematic manner.  Since 2014, the DOE more specifically has pledged to the state to focus its class size reduction efforts on Renewal schools, and this hasn't happened either.

Instead, we found that 42% of Renewal schools haven't reduce average class size at all since 2014, and several have substantially increased class size.  But of the schools that did lower class size, most saw improvements in student outcomes and learning.

In fact, we found a substantial and significant correlation between the average class size of Renewal schools and their positive impact on student achievement, a rating that DOE calculates after taking account the need level of their students.

Rather than lower class size in all these schools and allow them a real chance to succeed, by closing them instead,  DOE will merely ensure that many more capable teachers will be placed on the Absent Teacher Reserve, which is already costing the city an estimated $152 million per year.  In the ATR, they will be used as substitutes or roaming teachers and never assigned to a permanent class where they could be used to reduce class size.

This is an entirely self-defeating and damaging policy.  My testimony is posted here and below; please take a look and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why PS 25 Eubie Blake should be celebrated rather than closed

Chancellor Farina has proposed closing many schools that don't deserve this fate, including the middle school at Wadleigh in Harlem and PS/IS 42 in Queens, whose communities have rallied to save them from extinction. 

Yet the most unfair of all these proposals involves the proposed closure of a small zoned elementary school called PS 25 Eubie Blake in District 16 in Brooklyn, which has gotten little attention so far in the media, save for a story in a small community paper.  Why?

According to the DOE's own analysis, displayed on its School Performance Dashboard, PS 25 is the second best elementary school in Brooklyn and the fourth best elementary school in the entire city when the need level of its students is taken into account.  It also outperforms every Success Academy charter school by the way in its positive impact -- except for Success Academy Bronx 2.  (You can check out the relative impact ratings of all NYC schools, both public and charter in this spreadsheet.)

If it closes, the entire building will be left to Success Bed Stuy 3, which is now co-located with PS 25.

The only three elementary schools which have a greater positive impact on student achievement, out of 661 elementary schools citywide, according to the DOE, are the Walton Ave. school in the Bronx, PS 15 in Manhattan (the latter recently taken off the Renewal list) and PS 172 in District 15.  It also recently was named a Reward school by the state.

(All the data below can be found on the school's performance dashboard, linked to above.)

Last year, PS 25 enrolled a large percentage (31%) of special needs students w/ IEPs, 10% with serious disabilities in self-contained classes, and its students had a high economic need index (85%).

And yet its students have improved sharply on the state exams in recent years --  to levels far above even the city average:
The school met expectations in all framework scores, according to the School Survey and Quality Review, and exceeded in four of them  -- effective school leadership, trust, collaborative teachers and student achievement:

Here is the DOE chart, showing PS 25's positive impact compared to the other 661 elementary schools in the city:

The school outperforms other elementary schools with similar populations in terms of proficiency on the state exams by an astonishing  21% in ELA and Math.  

PS 25 students with IEPs in its inclusion classes especially shine, outperforming similar students by 47% in ELA and 20% in math.  PS 25 students in self-contained classes outperform similar students by an astonishing 53% and 51% respectively:

So why does the Chancellor want to close PS 25, given this exemplary, even stellar record of achievement?  The Educational Impact Statement says the school is being closed "based on low enrollment and lack of demand from students and family."   According to the EIS,  PS 125 is serving only 94 students this year.

Yet many of the public schools in District 16 are losing enrollment, in part because of the super-saturation of charter schools in the district. Moreover, families in these neighborhoods haven't been told that according to the DOE's analysis, the school is the second best in the Brooklyn in terms of its positive impact on student achievement, and the fourth best in the entire city;  if they had, they would be far more likely to enroll their children in the school. 

When I spoke to three of the CEC members, they too had not been informed of the DOE's assessment showing that the school's impact far transcends every other school in the district -- charter or public.  The Chancellor could also put another preK in the school, or place a 3K in the building if she wanted its enrollment to grow.

The fact that the school is under-enrolled is also likely one of the reasons  it has succeeded so brilliantly, with exceptionally small class sizes that range from 10 to 18 -- the sort of class sizes and teacher support that all high-need kids in poverty should receive. 

There are also legal issues involved in the proposed closure of PS 25, which is the only zoned elementary school in the neighborhood.  Any change in zoning lines, including the elimination of school zones, requires a vote of the Community Education Council.  So far no such vote has been scheduled, though members of the CEC have expressed support for its proposed closure because of its low enrollment.

If the school is closed, the teachers will likely enter the Absent Teacher Reserve, meaning they will be paid full salary to act as substitutes or rove from school to school, without ever being assigned their own classes or being used to reduce class size.  What a waste!

In any case, closing a public school which has provided its students with such a rare opportunity to succeed would be a travesty in my view.   The DOE should be celebrating, emulating and expanding this school rather than closing it. 

For more on what the DOE's own data shows about this school, check out the power point below.  The vote will occur on Feb. 28 at the PEP meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Must see Testing Opt out discussion at our Parent Action Conference

Check out the Testing Opt out panel from our Parent Action Conference on Jan. 27, with Brooke Parker from NYC KidsPAC, Zipporiah Mills, former principal PS 261, Jeanette Deuterman of NYSAPE/LI Opt out, and Jia Lee, teacher at the Earth School. 

There's very interesting discussion of online learning and assessment as well in Part II as well.

Opt Out Panel Part 1 from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Opt Out Panel Part 2 from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Video: de Blasio refuses to allow parent input in the choice of a new Chancellor; and Sen. Hoylman's letter in response

Three weeks ago, NYC parent leaders, including the co-chairs of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council and the leaders of the elected Community Education Councils,  asked Mayor de Blasio for a meeting to discuss how they could provide input towards the choice of a new Chancellor.  The Mayor still has not even responded to their letter, undercutting his claim that he respects parents and believes in real communication and collaboration.

See de Blasio's response to Sen. Brad Hoylman's questions in the video below,  about the Governor's proposal to increase charter school costs to NYC, and then about the Chancellor selection process.  Below that, Brad's follow-up letter to the Mayor about the latter issue.


NEW YORK, NY – State Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WF–Manhattan) sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio today urging an “open and inclusive” selection process for the next Chancellor of New York City’s school system that gives parents a “substantive role in the selection,” and calling on the Mayor to meet with members of the Citywide and Community Education Councils (CEC). Hoylman’s request follows a January 13, 2018, letter by CEC members to the Mayor requesting a meeting to discuss the selection process.

Senator Brad Hoylman said: “Under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor FariƱa, New York City’s public schools have made marked progress. The search for a new Chancellor offers a unique opportunity to build on progress by giving parents a substantive role in the selection process. We cannot let this opportunity go to waste. As an elected official and a public school parent, I urge Mayor de Blasio to meet with representatives of New York’s 1 million public school parents to ensure they have a voice in choosing the next Chancellor.”'

In addition to calling for a more transparent selection process, Hoylman, who represents more than 60 public schools as representative for the 27th State Senate District, endorsed a number of qualifications for the next Chancellor proffered by the citywide CECs:

  • An educator with experience teaching in classrooms and serving as a school leader and someone who does not require a waiver;
  • Experience managing or working in an administrative position in a large school district with diverse students and families;
  • Track record in collaborating with parent leaders … in development of policies, initiatives and programs;
  • Demonstrated commitment to and a good track record working with students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

A copy of Senator Hoylman’s letter can be found below.

February 8, 2018

Hon. Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

I am writing in connection with the January 13, 2018 letter (the “Letter”) to you from members of the Citywide and Community Education Councils representing public school parents urging you to select the next Chancellor of the NYC School System through an open and inclusive process. 

I strongly agree with the sentiment of the Letter requesting you create an opportunity for parents and other stakeholders to interview the candidates for Chancellor. I endorse the qualifications and characteristics put forth in the letter for candidates of Chancellor, including:

  • An educator with experience teaching in classrooms and serving as a school leader and someone who does not require a waiver;
  • Experience managing or working in an administrative position in a large school district with diverse students and families;
  • Track record in collaborating with parent leaders like us in development of policies, initiatives and programs;
  • An innovator who can work the bureaucracy to develop creative solutions;
  • Ability to use resources efficiently, equitably and creatively to maximize benefits for students;
  • Demonstrated commitment to and a good track record working with students with disabilities and English Language Learners;
  • Commitment to traditional public schools and to fighting privatization of our schools; and
  • Strong motivation to tackle challenging issues including school segregation, charter school accountability and transparency, and supporting our highest need schools.

As a State Senator and a public school parent, I believe we should embrace every opportunity to increase parent engagement. It is essential that our next Chancellor inspire confidence from parents and guardians through a transparent and inclusive selection process. At the same time, we have a new and exciting opportunity to deepen parent involvement by giving parents a substantive role in the selection of the next Chancellor.

I urge your administration to meet with members of the Citywide and Community Education Councils as soon as possible to discuss ways to include parent input in the Chancellor selection process. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Brad Hoylman
New York State Senator
District 27


Monday, February 12, 2018

Parent organizing 101: how parents can get schools built in your community or oust an abusive principal!

Check out the video below of our Parent Organizing 101 workshop from our Jan. 27 Parent Action Conference.

First Naila Rosario explains how the DOE failed to find sites or build schools for the overcrowded Sunset Park community in Brooklyn, even though funding for these schools had been allocated in the school capital budget for 20 years .  Yet when Naila, parents and community activists got organized, they managed to have all five schools sited and in the process of being designed and built in a year and a half.

Then Kaliris Salas-Ramiris and Bonnie Massey recount how the parents of Central Park East 1 in East Harlem managed to oust their abusive principal after a powerful organizing effort, which also took about a year and a half, in the face of huge resistance from the District 4 Superintendent Estrella and Chancellor Carmen Farina.

Naila's powerpoint presentation is here; and the CPE1 powerpoint is here, in case you want to take a look and share it with others.  Video thanks to Norm Scott.

Parent KidsPac Conf Organizing 101 Jan 27 2018 from MORE-UFT/GEM on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Powerful video with Johanna Garcia and Fatima Geidi speaking about charter abuses & DOE collusion

Perhaps the most moving of the panel discussions at our Parent Action Conference on Jan. 27 was the one that was held after the showing of the documentary Backpack full of Cash -- a must see film by the way.  Though Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa sent her regrets as she had a bad case of the flu, the conversation was powerful and important.

Public school parent and CEC District 6 President Johanna Garcia spoke about how our public school students are still being cheated of the education they deserve and their schools underfunded, while more and more space and funding is being peeled away by charter schools.  She also told how the DOE is illegally colluding with charters by making public school student personal information available to them for recruiting purposes, without parental consent.  Here's more about the FERPA complaint she filed in November.  She also spoke about how the only one of her three children to be recruited by charter schools was the one who tested gifted and did not have an IEP.  This puts at doubt the DOE claims that they only make student names, addresses and grade levels accessible to charter schools for their mailings. Others in the audience expressed similar experiences of their children being selectively recruited by charter schools.

Fatima Geidi spoke about the abuse her son suffered when he was enrolled at Success Academy charter school, abuse that he still has not fully recovered from, including being suspended  more than 30 times when he was in the first grade.  After Fatima was interviewed on the PBS News Hour about how her son was treated, Eva Moskowitz, Success CEO, retaliated against her and her son by releasing his disciplinary file to the public, full of trumped up charges.  (Just recently Fatima was informed that Success charter schools is now being investigated by the US Department of Education for violating federal privacy laws.)  Fatima became understandably emotional recounting her experiences,  and we did too.  Take a look.  (video thanks to Norm Scott.)

KidsPac Class Size Matters Conf Afternoon Panel Jan 27 2018 from MORE-UFT/GEM on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Zuckerberg and the parent pushback vs Summit online platform; Gates & inBloom reprised?

Update (2/12/18): The survey results of Indiana PA public school parents were released and they reveal even more negative views of the Summit learning platform (SLP) than expressed by their kids: "Parents/guardians generally agreed that SLP does not encourage or helps students learn. Additionally, most did not feel that SLP helps students be creative, prepares them for future education or future careers, helps them think critically or problem solve, helps them socialize or prepare them for future social situations, or strengthens the school community." More than 72% of parents do not want the Summit platform used at all at their schools next year or that it should be made fully optional. Also, Indiana PA parents have posted a new website about their concerns with the program.

Cross- posted from Parent Coalition for Student Privacy/Student Privacy Matters.

Mark Zuckerberg recently posted a letter called Lessons in Philanthropy 2017 in which he recounted what he had learned over the last few years, and explained which education initiatives his LLC, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) would focus upon in the future.

The letter evinced no awareness of how his reputation and that of Facebook have been seriously tarnished in recent months, involving ongoing violations of privacy, the practice of hosting racially discriminatory ads as well as political ads bought by  Russians in an apparent effort to undermine our elections. Increasingly, commentators have recognized how despite its name, Facebook is a faceless corporation, which operates through profit-making motivations and unaccountable algorithms, without the empathy or wisdom that only human agency can provide.

Nor did Zuckerberg’s words show any trace of humility, given how a large share of his earlier $100 million “investment’ in the Newark school system was diverted to politically-connected consultants and appears to have had few positive results for students. Instead, he focused on how his LLC will transform education through the “magic of technology.” Speaking of himself in the third person, he wrote:

The magic of technology is that it can help social change scale faster. And because of Mark’s experience building a world-class engineering organization at Facebook, we are in a unique position to build a philanthropy with a great engineering team to help our partners scale their social change faster as well.

One challenge we’ve seen in education is that there are many brilliant teachers and school leaders who create new kinds of schools based on new models of learning — but those schools usually only serve hundreds of students, while most children still do not have access to them. There are very few examples of new school models that expand to thousands of schools today.

Our hope is that technology can help with this scaling challenge. We’re seeing promising signs of early success, where our partnership with Summit Public Schools has helped encode their teaching philosophy in tools that will be used in more than 300 district, charter, and private schools this fall.

Zuckerberg went on to discuss the research of Benjamin Bloom – which “suggests we need an education system where all students receive the equivalent of an expert one-on-one tutor” but then assumed that online platforms can substitute for the close feedback of human tutors.

I have written about the Summit’s learning system before, in articles exploring the lack of data privacy afforded students in using the platform, their negative experiences  of spending hours per day on computers, and most recently, my disappointing visit to a Summit charter school and the lack of any research showing positive results.

According to a CREDO 2017 analysis , Summit charter students showed no significant gain in reading compared to similar students at public schools, and exhibited a small but significantly negative effect in math.  The most recent Gates-funded RAND analysis of Next Generation Learning schools, of which Summit is a prime example, concluded there were small and mostly insignificant gains in achievement at these schools, and students were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe compared to matched students at public schools.  The overall results caused John Pane, the lead RAND researcher, to say to Ed Week that  “the evidence base [for these schools] is very weak at this point. ”

Yet Summit’s mediocre academic and survey responses have not dampened the enthusiasm of its promoters, including Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.  Gates continues to express support for Summit’s online platform, and in June, his foundation granted $10 million to Summit to “support implementation of the Summit Learning program in targeted geographies.”  Lauren Powell-Jobs awarded Summit another $10 million to create a new Oakland high school.  Finally, Betsy DeVos, the fourth member of this exclusive club, provided Diane Taverner, the founder of Summit, a prime speaking slot at her recent forum on “Rethinking schools.”

CZI’s education program is now headed by James Shelton, following stints at Exxon, McKinsey, various technology companies, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Gates Foundation, the US Department of Education, and most recently, a company called U2, for which he portrayed as “helping universities become better digital versions of themselves.” (In LinkedIn, he describes himself as a “Tri-sector Operator, Investor & Entrepreneur.”)

Last month in a blog post, Shelton wrote that his goal at CZI would be to provide disadvantaged children with the sort of personalized education that privileged children receive – the “kind of focus on individual needs and support that define privilege and make it available to all.”  Yet in a sort of shell game, CZI seems intent on promoting a mere simulacrum of individual attention for underserved children, rather than the sustained and concentrated human support afforded students in small classes at private or wealthy suburban schools.

Meanwhile, parents whose children have been subjected to the Summit platform are pushing back in at least seven states and have seen some success.  Parents in Cheshire, Connecticut posted a petition protesting the use of the program, criticized its low-quality at school board meetings, and finally persuaded the Superintendent last month to suspend the program midyear.  They cited the platform’s demoralizing effect on their children, the lack of teacher feedback, the risks to their privacy, and the haphazard quality of the online curriculum, including a reference to bestiality in one of the assignments.

Just days later, it was reported that the Indiana Area school board in Pennsylvania ordered “a rollback” of the Summit program mid-year because of similar complaints from parents about its negative impact on their kids.  The district announced it will immediately drop the platform in two core subjects, and next year will allow parents to opt their children out of it entirely.

A subsequent survey of middle school students in the Indiana Area district using the online platform found that 39 percent said the Summit learning platform (SLP) should not be used at all, and another 31 percent said that it should be made fully optional.  The largest percentages of students found the platform annoying, frustrating, stressful and boring.

As the researchers summarized the results, “most did not feel that SLP helps students be creative, prepares them for future education or future careers, helps them think critically or problem solve, helps them socialize or prepare them for future social situations, or strengthens the school community.”  They also found that students “expressed a desire to spend less time on screens, and critiques of screen time often overlapped with critiques of SLP as a platform and teacher.”

Petitions opposing the use of the Summit platform have now been posted by parents in Fairview Park City, Ohio and in New Egypt, New Jersey.

As others have noted, this pattern of events seems similar to what occurred on a larger scale in the inception and ultimate collapse of inBloom, the Gates-funded $100 million online data-collection corporation that closed its doors nearly four years ago, because of parent anger at the risk it posed to their children’s privacy and its lack of proven benefits.

Just as the Gates Foundation used its vast resources to pay for the travel of state and district administrators for briefings and promised financial incentives of various kinds, so has the Zuckerberg millions enabled Summit to fly “the Cheshire administrative team to Oakland, California, for training and provided the district with 130 Chromebook computers,” according to the Associated Press.  (See Natasha Singer’s series called “Education Disrupted” in the New York Times, about how Silicon Valley corporations have successfully infiltrated the classroom using similar strategies.)

Like Cheshire’s sudden suspension of Summit, Louisiana State Superintendent John White pulled student data out of inBloom’s cloud in mid-year, after parent protests broke out and the opposition of state school board members emerged, who had not been told in advance of its implementation.  A few months later, Jefferson County Superintendent Cyndy Stevenson in Colorado announced that inBloom’s data collection would be made optional for students, and that she would leave this decision in their parents’ hands, just as has now occurred in Indiana, PA.

Yet this concession didn’t work to quiet the storm.  As Rachael Stickland, a leader of the inBloom opposition in JeffCo recounts, “The board had hoped the promise of ‘opting out’ would calm down parents and relieve the pressure. It didn’t. We kept pushing. Ultimately, it became a political hot potato and they had to vote it out.”

But the greatest similarity to the inBloom controversy is how Summit has led to its supporters to express the same sort of condescension towards parents, claiming that their opposition is based on unwarranted fear and confusion.  The Cheshire Superintendent blamed disaffection with Summit on “a substantial degree of misunderstanding and misinformation within the community.” Monica Bulger, a researcher at the Microsoft-backed Data and Society Institute, explained the parent pushback this way: “”There’s a powerful fear narrative happening” and that “We don’t necessarily want school content by popular vote.”

Bulger was one of the co-authors of a report released last year on the failure of inBloom, in which the vast majority of those interviewed and quoted supported and/or worked for this massive data-mining project.  Several reviewers of the report, including Audrey Watters and Peter Greene, noted its evident bias and the way in which the authors assumed the unproven value of inBloom’s data-collection while dismissing legitimate parental concerns.

Bulger and her co-authors repeatedly suggested that parents’ rejection of inBloom was “irrational,” even as the project’s explicit purpose was to accelerate the collection and dispersal of their children’s personal information to a wide number of for-profit ed tech companies, and to encourage them to build their products around the data.  As Watters wrote,

This juxtaposition of parents as “emotional” and inBloom and the project’s supporters as “scientific” and “technical” runs throughout the report, which really serves to undermine and belittle the fears of inBloom opponents.  (This was also evident in many media reports at the time of inBloom’s demise that tended to describe parents as “hysterical” or that patronized them by contending the issues were “understandably obscure to the average PTA mom.”) The opposition to inBloom is described in the Data & Society report as a “visceral, fervently negative response to student data collection,” for example, while the data collection itself is repeatedly framed in terms of its “great promise.”

We see this strategy repeated once again among Summit’s defenders, who portray parental apprehensions as uninformed, even as they provide no independent evidence of the program’s benefits and growing evidence of its harm.  The ed tech industry and the insistence of its devotees on patronizing parents and depicting their desire to have a voice in how their children are educated lacks any acknowledgement about the way in which venture philanthropists have used their wealth to circumvent democracy, with the goal of privatizing, standardizing and mechanizing education and student data.

Last year Mark Zuckerberg wrote,  “We’ll build technology where it can help, and we believe in listening to and working closely with parents, teachers and students to understand the specific needs of the communities we’re working in.”  In 2018, perhaps Zuckerberg, Gates and the other data overlords and their vassals should start making a real effort to listen to parents and communities, rather than belittle their concerns and try to force-feed their autocratic and technocratic model of education on children.

But I’m not holding my breath.  In November, the Alt School, a Zuckerberg-funded chain of private schools using instructional technology announced it would close at least three of its seven schools.  Yet rather than learn the obvious lessons from the observations of disappointed parents who pulled their kids of these schools, the Alt School CEO now says he will focus on marketing their software to public schools.  Clearly, parents will have to continue their battle to preserve classrooms focused on human interaction, discussion and debate rather than machine-centered reductionist forms of education.