Home > Uncategorized > Arizona Platform: Scam or New Model for Public Schools?

Arizona Platform: Scam or New Model for Public Schools?

September 23, 2020

I get a weekly newsletter called Cashing in on Kids, a spin off of In the Public Interest, that provides a digest of news stories about for-profit schools. The stories all have a negative spin on the way profiteers are scamming taxpayers. But in some cases, like Erin Clark’s recent post from Report Door, the profiteers are advancing ideas that public schools should consider.

Ms. Clark’s article opens with a description of a platform devised by Prenda that is getting widespread use in Arizona:

To its backers, Prenda microschools represents a “return to the one-room schoolhouse” of the past, empowering parents to educate their children in intimate settings away from the cruel public-school bureaucracy.

But looked at another way, the for-profit company is reaching for something more contemporary, to be the Uber of education.

Anyone can start a Prenda microschool of five to 10 students. And no certification or degree is required to be a “guide” — Prenda’s term for the adult who leads the class — only a passion for helping kids.

Guides use their living rooms as a schoolhouse, much like Uber drivers work in their own vehicles.

Prenda — which is largely based in Arizona but is “rapidly spreading all over the world,” according to its website — has seen a surge in interest during the coronavirus pandemic and doesn’t shy away from the Uber comparison.

Having read about the Uber and Air BnB model in Anand Giradharadas’ book Winners Take All, it was clear that Prenda was taking that model and applying it to the learning pods that are emerging as a “solution” to the remote learning problems faced by many parents. In doing so, as Ms. Clark observes, “Prenda is exploiting gaps in regulation and oversight in the hopes of growing so fast and large that it alters the industry it seeks to disrupt.” And in states like Arizona where the deregulation frenzy has taken hold in an effort to promote lower cost charter schools, Prenda is siphoning taxpayers’ funds to it’s bottom line the same way that Air BnB and Uber are siphoning funds for the “services” they provide to renters and ride seekers.

Technology investors who underwrite businesses like Uber and AirBnB see themselves as champions of freedom, “…fighting for the people against the corrupt power structure“. And free market libertarians see highly regulated “government run” public schools as part of the corrupt power structure and see their new ideas as liberating parents from their monopolistic hold.

But… in some cases the ideas advanced by these technology-based entrepreneurs ARE liberating and have the potential to change the existing structure for the better…. and Prenda’s platform might be a case in point. The idea of using technology to help parents form pods, provide each others’ children with an ungraded “one-room school house” structure is not that different from the Mountain Oaks model I witnessed nearly two decades ago in Calaveras County CA. The idea of matching tutors with students is not that different from the model Ivan Illich advocated nearly 50 years ago in Deschooling Society. The problem with Prenda, as I see it, is not the model itself. Indeed, the model could easily be adapted by public schools to assure that all children are taught by a qualified (if not “certified”) teacher and, I believe, result in a method of instruction that would be far superior to the traditional factory model in place today. The problem is that the profits the platform generates’ like the profits Uber generates, leave the community.

The solution? If community non-profits could develop and support the learning platforms like those developed by Prenda the taxpayers funds would remain in the community and any “profits” would be plowed back into the non-profit entity that manages the platform. That entity would not necessarily be a school district. It could be a regional cooperative group like a BOCES, a consortium managed by a college, or a regional planning commission that employs technologists capable of providing the necessary backroom support for individual school districts. These kinds of platform cooperatives could be a way forward for schools, a means of keeping taxpayers’ funds in the regional if not local economy, and a means of providing a better education for all students.

 

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: