Home > Uncategorized > In Amazon’s Pre-K World, the Child is the Customer… and Schools are the Marketplace, but in the End, Shareholders are the Ultimate Winners

In Amazon’s Pre-K World, the Child is the Customer… and Schools are the Marketplace, but in the End, Shareholders are the Ultimate Winners

October 4, 2018

Self described “ed-Tech Cassandra” Audrey Watters wrote a guest post for Larry Cuban eviscerating Jeff Bezos’ plan to use his billions in accumulated wealth to open a chain of Montessori pre-schools where “the child will be the customer”. She writes:

The assurance that “the child will be the customer” underscores the belief– shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a “marketplace of ideas.” (There is no community, no public responsibility, no larger civic impulse for early childhood education here. It’s all about private schools offering private, individual benefits.)

This idea that “the child will be the customer” is, of course, also a nod to “personalized learning” as well, as is the invocation of a “Montessori-inspired” model. As the customer, the child will be tracked and analyzed, her preferences noted so as to make better recommendations to up-sell her on the most suitable products.And if nothing else, Montessori education in the United States is full of product recommendations.

Ms. Watters describes the low wages Amazon workers receive and the notoriously stressful working conditions they experience at all levels of the organization and notes that those wages and working conditions are currently mirrored by preschool employees. She also notes that preschools are now being eyed as a potential cash cow by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs:

Bezos is not alone in eyeing the early education “market,” which has received quite a bit of attention from ed-tech investors in recent years. So far this year, three companies have raised venture capital to help people run preschools and childcare facilities in their homes: Wonderschool, WeeCare, and Procare Software. Last year, VCs poured millions into similar sorts of companies, including Tinkergarten, Sawyer, and Kinedu. Investors in these startups include some of the “big money” names in Silicon Valley: Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Andreessen Horowitz, among others. (One of these companies, WeeCare, says it’s also planning to train and license childcare providers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the micro-certificate, online education, nanodegree folks also jump on this bandwagon. “Uber for Education” or something.)

After noting the demonstrable need for more and better preschool education, Ms. Watters poses the bottom line question:

But are private preschool chains really the path we want to pursue, particularly if we believe that access to excellent early childhood education is so incredibly crucial? Can the gig economy and the algorithm ever provide high quality preschool? For all the flaws in the public school system, it’s important to remember: there is no accountability in billionaires’ educational philanthropy.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, just made national news by raising his minimum wage to $15.00/hour. My hunch is that he made that decision after determining that he can realize sufficient savings by replacing enough staff with robots so that he can make a profit after making these raises. That’s the way the marketplace works: efficiency dictates operational decisions… and as long as the customers are happy any damage to employees and, in this case, the sense of community that public education brings, are collateral damage. Unfortunately measuring the “sense of community” cannot be reduced to dollars and cents or a cold metric like a standardized test score. Anything immeasurable is lost when the path of privatization is pursued.



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