Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Arizona Platform: Scam or New Model for Public Schools?

September 23, 2020 Leave a comment

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.


In a World of Remote Learning, What Constitutes Truancy?

September 22, 2020 Leave a comment

NY Times writer Amy Goodnough’s article, “As Schools Go Remote, Finding Lost Students Gets Harder“, wrestles with the question posed in this title and fails to come up with a clear answer. Are the 22% of Detroit students who failed to log in this year “truants” or are they challenged to connect on line because they lack an internet connection? Or challenged because they don’t have a device that they can use? Or are they providing child care so their parents can go to work? Or are they working because their parents are incapable of working? Or are they missing because they realize they CAN miss and prefer staying home playing video games or playing with their friends? Or… and this is the hardest question to answer… are they avoiding school because for  the years they’ve attended school, they’ve gotten the message that they can’t learn and therefore it is pointless to even try to connect— especially if there are no adverse consequences?

I believe that the pandemic has shone a light on the reality that there are a core of disengaged students for whom school was difficult and pointless. A core of students who sensed that they had been sorted into the school system’s reject pile and found daily attendance painful. Just as there are some workers who know how many years and months until their retirement date, there are a group of middle school and high school students who know how many years until they reach the age where they no longer need to attend school… and the pandemic has offered these students an escape from the system that branded them as “failures” from the day they set foot in the door. Even if these students had computers and high speed internet the lure of avoiding an environment where their failures are emphasized would compel them to avoid logging on… especially if they can log into a world where their manual dexterity can enable them to conquer a virtual world.

Student engagement has been been a problem for generations… the pandemic is bringing that problem to light and the only way to solve it is to change the way we organize and assess students. The current rate of absenteeism is the result of the current model of sorting and selecting students based on their rate of learning as compared to an age cohort. Until schools look at each student based on their unique skills we should expect “truancy”… especially from those students who are avoiding school because they’ve heard and gotten the message that they can’t learn.

Much to My Surprise, McKinsey Gets It Right on School Reform

September 16, 2020 Leave a comment

Like many who decry the neoliberal “run government like a business” ethos, I tend to be skeptical of anything that comes from McKinsey Consultants. But apart from some of the examples they use to illustrate their points (the one praising KIPP is especially egregious), a slight tilt toward technology-as-the-ultimatesolution, and the implication that school is about career prep, the recommendations in this article mirror those I would make. They strongly advocate mastery learning, using a more wholistic approach to teaching, abandoning the factory school model, and– most importantly—- acknowledge and call out the need for more funding:

Achieving Sustainable Development Goal number four—to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all—will require a significant increase in investment for the students most at risk of falling behind.

Mastery learning, blowing up the factory model, redefining the roles and responsibilities of teachers, and providing more equitable funding! Sounds like a good formula for reform to me… FAR better than the test-and-punish model that currently has bipartisan support. Despite the problems cited above, this might be a direction both parties could support going forward.