- Wouldn’t it be great to come home to a house whose heating levels match your desired level, whose lighting levels are ideal from your perspective, but whose energy use is optimal?
- Isn’t it convenient that Google retains your recent searches so that you don’t have to type in a lengthy url to get back to a web page you visited 5 days ago?
These questions are easy to answer because these are conveniences that make life easier for us… but both of them are indicative of the kinds of “personalized data collection” done by machines and computers that could ultimately lead to a world where machines ultimately define our desires and every message we read on-line is intermediated by an algorithm. Based on an article in today’s NYTimes by Quentin Hardy it appears that at least two CEOs see us headed that direction and have no hesitation to go that way. In “Business Technology Starts to Get Personal” Hardy describes the visions Apple CEO Tim Cook and GE CEO Jeff Immelt shared at a recent conference where they matter-of-factly described a future where personalized technology is used on every technological device and on every piece of equipment manufactured and the information gathered on each individual is fully integrated. This led me to pose these two questions, both of which reflect existing technology applications:
- Wouldn’t it be convenient for teachers to be able to determine how much time a students spent trying to solve a mathematics question?
- Wouldn’t it be ideal if meetings held in a conference room could be reduced to writing and disseminated instantaneously?
With education theorists and policy makers touting the virtue of “personalized learning” and the expanded availability of low cost web-based laptops, it is not inconceivable that teachers could require all classwork be done on a laptop and, in so doing, determine if students are spending sufficient time trying to solve a particular kind of problem or a sufficient amount of time writing a five paragraph essay. This would enable all teachers to help the student develop persistence, help the teacher determine the best way to present a particular concept to each individual child, and to help curriculum developers determine the optimal way to sequence the materials each student is expected to master.
A part of the “personalized learning” model is for parents, teachers, and the student to confer to develop a de facto IEP for them. This has been perceived as a daunting task… but with “…(e)quipment and software like whiteboards or conference-call phones record who is in a meeting or tag what was said” the paperwork associated with this undertaking suddenly disappears.
Neither of these potential education apps was described or discussed in Hardy’s article… but the article did note “peculiarities” about massive data collection foreseen by Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the authors of “The Second Machine Age,” which he describes as a “…book on an industrial world enchanted by computing.”
“With enough data, you can infer drug use or political persuasions,” he said. “These are things that are racing ahead, and we haven’t thought them through.”
There will be benefits like buying a used car and knowing how it was driven and what is likely to go wrong with it. There may also be challenging effects from companies that collect and manipulate their data the best.
Mr. Hardy concludes his essay with this:
If it turns out like the consumer Internet, we’ll be delighted with the rewards of being spied on, even if we don’t know what they are yet.
At a conference I attended recently on climate change, one of the speakers talked about our culture’s blind faith in technology, which he called “technology fundamentalism”. He asserted that many believe there is no reason to be fearful of what we are doing to ourselves by spewing toxins into the atmosphere because eventually we will develop some kind of technology that will mitigate it and we’ll be able to continue living the way we are today. In effect, our belief that all data collection will ultimately be used for benign ends is a form of technological fundamentalism, and like all forms of fundamentalism based on faith, such a perspective requires us to collectively drop our guard. I believe we should move ahead with technology applications, but we should also heed Mr. Brynjolfsson’s implicit warning and think things through NOW before we collect the billions of objective data points that could ultimately be used as dossiers that limit the ultimate development of each individual’s potential.
The NYTimes just reported that Arne Duncan will be stepping down in December and will be relaxed by John King, who stepped aside recently as Commissioner in NYS. I can’t wait to see Diane Ravitch’s reaction AND the reaction of her commenters…. and I am willing to bet Mr. Duncan will soon be heading a Think Tank or maybe an urban school district seeking a privatizer par excellence.
A Truthout article by Cynthia Liu describes Eli Broad’s plan to create charter schools to house 130,000 Los Angeles students as an act of “philanthrocapitalism”, which she defines in this sentence:
“Philanthrocapitalism describes a certain kind of “weaponized generosity” where donors offer their self-interested charitable giving to remedy the very lack they create elsewhere.
Liu offers this description of how philanthrocapitalism served Eli Broad in another venture in LA:
For example: originally, Broad wanted to lease the expensive downtown Los Angeles parcel the Museum sits on for $1 a year over 99 years. Said one county supervisor, “Instead of a project that generates sales and property taxes, we’ll now have an art museum that generates no property or sales taxes and Mr. Broad will get the land for free.” It’s now leased for $7.7 million a year for 99 years, and the 501c3 Broad Foundation housed inside the museum still doesn’t put much by way of revenue back into the city.
Liu shows how Broad, like many “philanthrocapitalists”, funds opposition to initiatives that are intended to provide additional funds for public education and funds support for initiatives that are designed to undercut unions. The ultimate goal in this case is to ensure that their taxes are minimal so that their profits can be maximized.
I look at philanthrocapitalism as a means of giving away seed money to garner profit… in some cases the money goes to political leaders to pave the way to enable for-profit charter schools to thrive and in other cases giving away technology that is on the cusp of being obsolete to prime the pump for future acquisitions. Eva Moskovitz’ benefactors made large campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo and the apparent quid pro quo was assurance that Ms. Moskovitz’ schools would continue receiving rent-free space in NYC public schools and Mayor de Blasio’s control would be limited to one year at a time. The bait-and-switch with computer donations is also a way for technology companies to reap multiple benefits. They get a tax deduction for the giveaway; a de facto tax deduction because the school district budgets in their community do not require the district to spend on the initial acquisition of computers, and the added benefit of effective dictating the operating system and software a school district will be using for years to come, providing them with a new revenue stream.
As Liu suggests, “(t)he cure for oligarchy is more democracy“, which means that parents need to get engaged in the governance of schools. When parents stay home on election day, opportunistic oligarchs will seize the opportunity created by apathy to gain control of the local school board and open the doors for profit-making charters to move in. And school boards, PTAs, and administrators should beware of corporations bearing gifts or grants that require the use of technology: the strings attached will likely cost more money in the long run than the size of the gift. The ink purchases for your printer might be a guide for this reality!
In one of the most disingenuous ploys ever concocted, High Achievement New York, a self-identifed “coalition of teachers, parents, civic, civil rights and business groups who share a commitment to a brighter educational future for every child in New York” is advocating that the state stay with the Common Core standards and offer a seven step plan for implementing them. Here’s the first step of the groups plan:
- Renaming the Standards: Several states have dropped the “Common Core” moniker to put their own stamp on the standards, something Chancellor Tisch suggested last week. For instance, the standards in Arizona, Florida and Iowa are now known as “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards,” the “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” and “The Iowa Core,” respectively. Survey after survey shows strong support for higher learning standards in ELA and Math, and annual assessments of college and career readiness, but support drops when those components are called Common Core.
One of the Uniserv reps I worked with in MD had a great aphorism for this kind of thing: “You can’t paint C-O-W on the side of a horse and expect to get any milk”… and re-jiggering these standards or shortening the time for summative assessments will not address the fundamental problem, which is the use of common core test results as the sole metric for determining “success” in school and now, in NYS, “success” as a classroom teacher. Nor will it address the fundamental assumption of the common core, which is that all children are expected to develop at the same rate intellectually in all content areas, an idea that is preposterous on its face yet implicit in the way the common core is presented. We won’t get better performance from a re-branded set of standards any more that we could get milk from a re-labelled horse.