This is an important article about the Silicon Valley billionaires who want to remake America’s schools, although none has any deep knowledge of children or cognition or the multiple social issues that affect children and families. Being tech entrepreneurs, most of them think there is a technological fix for every problem.
The article focuses on several billionaires and what they aim to achieve.
The writer, Natasha Singer, is careful to add red flags where necessary and seek out evaluations. She also is alert to the possibility that the tech entrepreneurs are building their portfolios and enriching themselves. And she points out that much of what they are doing challenges democracy itself in the absence of public debate and understanding.
“In the space of just a few years, technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning….
“The involvement by some of the wealthiest and most influential titans of the 21st century amounts to a singular experiment in education, with millions of students serving as de facto beta testers for their ideas. Some tech leaders believe that applying an engineering mind-set can improve just about any system, and that their business acumen qualifies them to rethink American education…
“Tech companies and their founders have been rolling out programs in America’s public schools with relatively few checks and balances, The New York Times found in interviews with more than 100 company executives, government officials, school administrators, researchers, teachers, parents and students.
“They have the power to change policy, but no corresponding check on that power,” said Megan Tompkins-Stange, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “It does subvert the democratic process.”
Furthermore, there is only limited research into whether the tech giants’ programs have actually improved students’ educational results….
“Mr. Hastings of Netflix and other tech executives rejected the idea that they wielded significant influence in education. The mere fact that classroom internet access has improved, Mr. Hastings said, has had a much greater impact in schools than anything tech philanthropists have done.”
Hastings’ Dreambox software depends on constant data-mining:
“DreamBox Learning tracks a student’s every click, correct answer, hesitation and error — collecting about 50,000 data points per student per hour — and uses those details to adjust the math lessons it shows. And it uses data to help teachers pinpoint which math concepts students may be struggling with.”
This is the same Reed Hastings who just spent $5 million helping charter entrepreneurs gain control of the Los Angeles school board.
“Another difference: Some tech moguls are taking a hands-on role in nearly every step of the education supply chain by financing campaigns to alter policy, building learning apps to advance their aims and subsidizing teacher training. This end-to-end influence represents an “almost monopolistic approach to education reform,” said Larry Cuban, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University. “That is starkly different to earlier generations of philanthropists.”
“These efforts coincide with a larger Silicon Valley push to sell computers and software to American schools, a lucrative market projected to reach $21 billion by 2020. Already, more than half of the primary- and secondary-school students in the United States use Google services like Gmail in school.”
Singer goes through each of the entrepreneurs’ programs. The only one that impressed me was the program in San Francisco that created a Pricipals’ Innovation Fund, “which awards annual unrestricted grants of $100,000 to the principal at each of the district’s 21 middle and K-8 schools.” The key word here is unrestricted.
Mark Zuckerberg’s dream is to sell his digitized approach to enable children to learn via computer and use teachers as moderators. He calls this “personalized learning,” since the computer algorithm adjusts for each student. Singer’s subtitle for Zuckerberg’s dream is: “Student, Teach Thyself.”
““Our hope over the next decade is to help upgrade a majority of these schools to personalized learning and then start working globally as well,” Mr. Zuckerberg told the audience. “Giving a billion students a personalized education is a great thing to do.”
Please, Natasha Singer, do a follow-up that explains that learning from a machine is depersonalized learning.
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