Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Superficial and biased coverage of the controversy over personalized learning in Chalkbeat


Matt Barnum has posted an article at Chalkbeat on the controversy over online learning.  I spent nearly an hour talking to him about its myriad problems, including the negative experiences of parents and students in schools where online learning predominates, serious privacy concerns because of all the data-mining by vendors that is involved, and a serious lack of research evidence  -- but the only quote he used from our conversation is one sentence: that the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy which I co-chair. has worked with allies in right-wing groups on the privacy issue.

Instead, when I spoke to him about this, I emphasized that the concerns about the expansion of online learning and its impact on privacy was shared by groups and individuals of all political persuasion, left right and center, and many parents with little interest in politics at all.  That's why our campaign against inBloom was so successful, and that's why in NY State and elsewhere, parents and teachers in all nine states and districts that were participating were able to force them from dropping out of the program to share their children's personal data and make it more accessible to vendors without parental consent.  But he left that part out of my quote and his story as a whole, because it did not fit into his pre-ordained narrative.

Indeed, Barnum seemed eager to mischaracterize the opposition to so-called personalized learning as led by conservatives.  He is also quick to frame the pushback vs Common Core in a similar fashion --as driven by many of the same right-wing groups -- when one of the most successful protests against the standards occurred here in NY state, led by NY State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of mostly left-wing and politically moderate parents and teachers who also oppose the expansion of ed tech.

Barnum didn't mention any of the other progressive groups, medical associations, and researchers across the country who are very concerned about the expansion of online learning in schools, including Screens and Kids, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the  ACLU, Commonsense Media, National Education Policy Center, Parents Across America, the Badass Teachers Association and many others. 

Nor did he bother to interview any of the many prominent progressive critics of ed tech like Diane Ravitch, Peter Greene or Audrey Watters.  Nor did he acknowledge that Silicon Valley parents themselves are increasingly rejecting computerized learning,  as reported in the terrific NY Times series by Nellie Bowles.

Instead, he quotes only one non-right wing critic of online learning by name– Merrie Najimy, the President of the Massachusetts teachers - while featuring many paragraphs of rosy spin from defenders of ed tech, like Diane Tavenner of Summit and Bethany Gross of CRPE, both funded by Gates and Zuckerberg. 

Barnum cites a CRPE report also paid for by Gates that apparently says, oh yeah, teachers really like personalized learning – while ignoring the survey results in our Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy, which showed widespread concern among teachers and administrators alike about the expansion of digital apps and online programs in our schools.  He also quotes Randi Weingarten who, surprisingly, has nothing but kind words about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which has done absolutely nothing that I can think of to earn her confidence.

Amazingly, Barnum also manages to write an entire piece about edtech and personalized learning, Summit, Gates and Zuckerberg without once mentioning the issue of data privacy, the widespread occurrence of breaches, the potential misuse of algorithms, and the over-reach of student surveillance in schools.  The only mention of the word “privacy” is in the one sentence that quotes me about working with conservative allies on the issue.

Quite an achievement and yet more evidence of a serious blind spot in Chalkbeat’s education coverage, reminiscent of their failure to cover the parent opposition against inBloom that started here in New York and led to such a firestorm across the country that more than 120 state student privacy laws have been passed as a result of the inBloom controversy since 2013. 

Student data privacy is still huge issue among parents in New York and throughout the US, but it has been almost entirely ignored by Chalkbeat, including in their failure to report on the recent Brooklyn student walkout against Summit that was covered by the NY Post, New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Fast Company , and other major outlets. 

Too bad; this piece will yet serve as more ammunition for the many  critics  who maintain that Chalkbeat, also supported by Gates and Zuckerberg, serves primarily as a PR outlet for corporate education reform.

Here are some antidotes: check out the NPE report, What Every Parent Should know about Online Learning, or our Parent Toolkit for Student PrivacyEducator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy,on or our many articles on the problems with the Summit online platform, starting here.  
Or the presentations that the brilliant Audrey Watters, the inestimable Peter Greene and I gave at the NPE conference this fall in Indianapolis. 

Or this terrific oped by Dipayan Ghosh and Jim Steyer in the NY Times last week, entitled Kids Shouldn't Have to Sacrifice Privacy for Education, or an excellent summary posted today by Ben Williamson, which concisely explores the many substantive problems with online learning, ignored in Barnum's superficial piece.

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