Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gates Foundation and Their Education Failures

When thinking of the Gates Foundation's work in the public education arena, there are not many wins to point to except for Common Core.  Of course, that's quite a large win even though many publications either don't know Gates funded that whole mission or they just leave it out of their writing about Common Core.

I may have printed this editorial that appeared in June of last year in the Los Angeles Times  before but it bears repeating because of what the Gates Foundation says about itself.  About Common Core:

The Gates Foundation strongly supported the proposed Common Core curriculum standards, helping to bankroll not just their development, but the political effort to have them quickly adopted and implemented by states.

“Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards,” (CEO Sue) Desmond-Hellmann wrote. “We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators — particularly teachers — but also parents and communities, so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning.

Remember that thought from Ms. Desmond-Hellmann because you'll hear it again about InBloom.

Also, this thought:

“We’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make systemwide change,” wrote the foundation’s CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman. And a few lines later: “It is really tough to create more great public schools.”

Finally, this one:

The mission of improving education in America is both vast and complicated, and the Gates Foundation doesn’t have all the answers.”

According to this editorial, the Gates Foundation has spent more than $3B on public education since 1999.   Kind of takes your breath away.

The LA Times' editorial board said this best (bold mine):
Today, the Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning  philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run.
Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools. The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.
This brings us to this research paper from Data&Society, The Legacy of InBloom, dated February 2017.

(Editor's note from the study: 
Data & Society currently receives support from organizations implicated in this report, including Microsoft and, in the past, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. No funder played a role in the development, analysis, or production of this report.)

I had a good time reading this paper because, of course, the legacy of what Gates tried to do (and so miserably failed at) is an excellent example of the hubris of those who live in an echo chamber of wealth and pride and refuse to consider, well, the little people.  In this case, that would be parents of public school students and their teachers.

But again, the wealthy love to put forth ideas that they would never use for their own children.

What was really fun was the attempt to blame mostly two bloggers - Diane Ravitch and the force that is Leonie Haimson (she's out of New York state and the one who got me really thinking about data privacy).  Two bloggers against the firepower and brain trust that is the Gates Foundation and they won?

So what was InBloom?
InBloom was a $100 million educational technology initiative primarily funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aimed to improve American schools by providing a centralized platform for data sharing, learning apps, and curricula. In a manner that has become a hallmark of the Gates Foundation’s large scale initiatives, inBloom was incredibly ambitious, well-funded, and expected to deliver high impact solutions in a short time frame. The initiative aimed to foster a multi-state consortium to co-develop the platform and share best practices.

Ultimately, the initiative planned to organize existing data into meaningful reporting for teachers and school administrators to inform personalized instruction and improve learning outcomes.
By January 2013, the SLC counted nine states – Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina – representing over 11 million students. By February, five states had identified districts for pilot projects and one state, New York, had developed a substantial Race to the Top funded program, putting inBloom at the center of its conceptual and technical design. Even as many states were participating through one or a small number of pilot districts, the tally of supporting states increasingly became part of the narrative measuring inBloom’s progress and success.

Within months, the initial coalition of nine states began to shrink rather than grow.

But soon other states, under pressure from their own constituents and political dynamics, began to distance themselves from inBloom.
The initiative was initially funded in 2011 and publicly launched in February, 2013. What followed was a public backlash over inBloom’s intended use of student data, surfacing concerns over privacy and protection. Barely a year later, inBloom announced its closure.
From the Executive Summary (bold mine):
Why Do We Still Talk About InBloom?

Many people in the area of educational technology still discuss the story of inBloom. InBloom was an ambitious edtech initiative funded in 2011, launched in 2013, and ended in 2014. We asked ourselves why the story of inBloom is important, and conducted a year-long case study to find the answer. For some, inBloom’s story is one of contradiction: the initiative began with unprecedented scope and resources. And yet, its decline was swift and public.
What caused a $100 million initiative with technical talent and political support to close in just one year? 
A key factor was the combination of the public’s low tolerance for risk and uncertainty and the inBloom initiative’s failure to communicate the benefits of its platform and achieve buy-in from key stakeholders. InBloom’s public failure to achieve its ambitions catalyzed discussions of student data privacy across the education ecosystem, resulting in student data privacy legislation, an industry pledge, and improved analysis of the risks and opportunities of student data use. It also surfaced the public’s low tolerance for risk and uncertainty, and the vulnerability of large-scale projects to public backlash.
From that summary, we see that InBloom actually did have a good outcome - at least for parents - in raising the alarm about student data privacy.  As for that industry pledge, it's rather FERPA-like; there's not much in there in terms of real protections or punishment for those who err.

Indeed the authors point to the rise of worry as Edward Snowden revealed what the NSA was doing as well as data breaches at Target, Staples, etc.  As well, it was the start of the push to use student data to assess teachers.  Also to note:
InBloom’s release also coincided with the availability of federal Race To The Top (RTTT) funding.
RttT was also largely an expensive failure.

What I find fascinating about this paper is there are many thoughts about why this didn't work but they never really say that
  • the Gates Foundation thought moving fast was the way to go (and it worked for them with Common Core as they muscled it thru state legislatures)
  • they did not talk to parents or teachers about this effort
  • they did not even consider the optics of this effort (which came back to bite them big-time in NY State when over 1M students had their data uploaded without any notification to parents)
  • and, most of all, they seemed to not think about public relations one whit
How does a big foundation miss all of this?

But here is how the Gates Foundation thought of this - from a technology standpoint - and rightly so:
As Aimee Guidera, President and CEO, Data Quality Campaign observes:

The storyline had not gotten to what we all had thought was going to be the game-changer, which is how do you actually use individual student information to guide teaching and learning and to really leverage the power of this information to help teachers tailor learning to every single child in their class. That’s what made inBloom revolutionary.
That is absolutely a great goal for technology but one that is fraught with issues like:
  • protecting student identity and information
  • how long should any given student in any given day be using technology to get that personalized learning
  • how do districts decide what program to use and where are the dollars for the associated costs
And naturally there is this:
Technology proponents characterized the education sector as a last frontier, both for innovative change and as an enormous business opportunity. The American Revolution 2.0 report estimated the value of the K-12 education market to be over $2.2 trillion and described it as largely untapped by technology-enabled innovation.
Thoughts on getting there:
In 2008, Larry Berger (CEO) and David Stevenson (VP) co-authored Slow Entry, Distant Exit, a paper describing eleven barriers to entry (and innovation) in the K-12 education market. Among the barriers Berger and Stevenson cited were, “oligopoly and decentralization.” With so many school districts spread across the U.S., few companies had the workforce required to connect with disparate decision-makers, which contributed to “three major publishers controlling almost 85 percent of the K-12 textbook market.” 
Berger and Stevenson criticized technology philanthropists as being part of the problem: “One irony of the current fashion in K-12 philanthropy is that the same entrepreneurs who made fortunes...through highly centralized systems that crushed local variation...have tended to focus on educational entrepreneurship in the form of local, decentralized, often boutique entities.”
To student data privacy issues:
Managing, processing, and safeguarding student data was part of the SIS vendor value proposition to schools. But inBloom’s model shifted and blurred the boundaries of data “ownership” and management. A senior technical expert who has closely examined the history of inBloom characterized the vendor perspective: “Right now the SIS’s are owned by us and you’re going to disintermediate us from our own SIS’s and start trying to charge rent on that? Before inBloom was killed, they were already dying on the buy-in because the vendor community was not interested in a disintermediated relationship with their data.”
The Bloggers
For Haimson and other activists, opposition to inBloom proceeded alongside resistance to other education reform policy debates. Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author of the 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education, had become a national voice questioning corporate interests and their roles in education reform. Ravitch had served in the Clinton and George HW Bush administrations, and had gone from Common Core advocate to one of the fiercest critics of the proposed national curriculum standards. Ravitch said, “with the No Child Left Behind Act, schools became data-driven, not mission driven,”recommending instead an approach by Deborah Meier, that schools be “data-informed, not data-driven.”

In Jefferson County, Colorado, parent Rachel Stickland was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “It’s a new experiment in centralizing massive metadata on children to share with vendors and then the vendors will profit by marketing their learning products, their apps, their curriculum materials, their video games, back to our kids.
Former Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Stevenson recalled:
It started with this one mother and it spread to a couple of our schools and they were schools with parents who were very active in ensuring that this stopped. And they were convinced that we were selling the data on their children and we would give it to all kinds of large organizations and their children would be ruined. I mean, I don’t know how else to put it. It was not rational.
In trying to fill in the blanks based on the limited information available, some opponents came to the conclusion that powerful players, like Bill Gates, were intentionally obfuscating. 
To Ms. Stevenson's point, in the absence of real information/answers, you can call it "not rational" but many parents would say it's being a pro-active protective parent.
Ultimately, there were never adequate assurances as to the safety of these data practices. In addition, inBloom representatives had difficulty in articulating what the concrete value would be for individual students. With public doubts about safety, and no clear success case to show, proponents of inBloom lost control of the narrative. Regardless of whether inBloom could have fulfilled its promise, without a clear narrative of its potential benefits for education, it failed.
Instead of seeking to build trust at the district level with teachers and parents, many interview participants observed that inBloom and the Gates Foundation responded to what were very emotional concerns with complex technical descriptions or legal defenses.
And again, how does a well-funded foundation, juggling both world health challenges and public education issues, fail to understand this?  They don't hire dummies to work there.  I think this failure should be seen as arrogance and a belief that the name "Gates Foundation" should solve all the PR issues.

After the coalition of nine states started to whither, there was just one left - New York State.
Here, Haimson and her allies were willing to sacrifice time and energy to battle inBloom, as she recalled the results, “it really was a testament to what parents can do with no resources, no funding, no organized support, and very little information.”
During the same month UFT called upon the state to terminate their contract with inBloom. UFT Vice President Catalina Fortino testified before the state Assembly Education Committee stating, “the UFT is not opposed to gathering data on public school students; in fact, it’s a valuable tool,” but added that “releasing sensitive, student-identifying data points in 400 categories...” and “share[ing] some or all of that information with private companies” was problematic, concluding with, “how can we possibly countenance that?”
Meanwhile, earlier in November, a group of New York City parents had filed a lawsuit against NYSED sharing student data with inBloom that was dismissed by the New York Supreme Court in early February. However, the court victory was only a brief respite for NYSED and inBloom as the final blow came just weeks later in March when the state legislature approved a 2014-2015 state budget with some unusual fine print. The budget included a clause making it illegal for the state to share personally identifiable student data with any shared learning infrastructure service provider via a private, cloud-based, or state operated student datastore.
 The study's authors blame consultants who ran the PR, lack of real leadership as InBloom was passed off to different entities, moving too fast and not setting the stage for parents and teachers as well as the visceral, fervently negative response to student data collection.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned
  • In the wake of inBloom, several data privacy advocacy groups built communities for dialogue, established best practices, and engaged in research projects around the benefits of data-driven instruction and also teacher and parent attitudes toward student data use. 
  • Participants reflected on how, with a clear value proposition, users willingly engage in sharing personal data, citing Google Maps as a common example. Google Apps for Education, Edmodo, Clever, Class Dojo, Amplify, and Knewton were mentioned in interviews as engaging in differing levels of data use.
  • Streichenberger added, “inBloom led some companies, districts and states to take a deeper look at their data privacy and security. Until then, a very large percentage of the edtech companies and institutions had no or maybe a very vague privacy policy and at best a limited focus on security.
  • There’s trading experiences and there’s also the sharing of subject matter expertise, as well as assets. There could be a particular technology or implementation asset that was created by one of the members that they found to be very effective for solving their problems and another member of the federation could say ‘Hey, I have that same problem. Let me see if I can’t leverage what you’ve done and apply that for myself.’ Thus saving time, research, cost, etc.
  • In the Fall of 2015, the Student Data Privacy Consortium (SDPC) was formed as a collaborative of schools, districts, regional and state agencies, policy makers, trade organizations and marketplace providers to address practical day to day data privacy concerns faced by on-the-ground practitioners. SDPC aims to act as a clearinghouse of student data privacy resources and develop new, shared tools and resources.Recently, the Data Quality Campaign published policy guidelines to create a culture of support for data in classrooms. The four priorities they outline are: measure what matters, make data use possible, be trans- parent and earn trust, guarantee access and protect privacy. 
  • Since 2013, over 400 pieces of legislation have been introduced across state legislatures. Mary Fox Alter reported that New York State now mandates a data privacy officer. 

    My understanding is that the jury is still out on ClassDojo and other similar software as far as data privacy.  Also to know, the Data Quality Campaign? Another Gates funded org that's trying to act as the only authority about data privacy.  


Parent 46 said...

This is really kind of shocking.

Anonymous said...

I have to go to dinner with a prospective job candidate tonight. I do not know what to tell him about our schools.


Anonymous said...

In the list of Gates failures, do not forget the small schools.

It took several years to realize this was a step backwards for many comprehensive high schools. Meanwhile districts were spending unwisely to follow Gates recommendations.

The Cleveland HS remodel would have been better without Gates influence.

Once again when the rubber met the road Gates recommended the wrong tire.

-- Dan Dempsey

Sarcastic One said...

Gates's limited small school experiment failed. After the failure, he decided to take his experiments- using our children- nationwide.

As always, Gates's initiatives involve public-private partnerships; a great mechanism for private entities to profit off of public education. Oh...the data that can be stored and the profit that can be made!!

dan dempsey said...

Gates failures are often due to a lack of pre-planning and failure to produce a prototype and evaluate results. Seems to always be in a big hurry. Repeatedly fails to take the time to experiment small and evaluate. Thus large scale disaster is becoming a Gates education hallmark.

The rushed Common Core State Standards were largely a Gates Foundation production aided by the Obama/Duncan US Dept. of Ed. Anyone believing the "fake facts" that the States created CCSS has failed to find the facts.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

@dan-also I've noticed a disregard for parent and teacher insights or advice. Gates really has no respect for the public school institutions and those who serve our students well. That is the fundamental flaw in my opinion.

Fix AL

Outsider said...

Wealthy VCs and techies have found they can disrupt other parts of the economy quite quickly. It's almost a point of pride with them. Also, most have no children, or no children in public school, so they have very little understanding of public schools or the people in them. The VCs and techies are also used to people surrendering their privacy and personal data willingly, even eagerly, in just about everything they do online. Imagine their surprise when the same parents and students who they track with cookies every second, who give them everything on Facebook, Snapchat, and their Android phones, suddenly get in a privacy snit about scores on a math quiz. I am sure their heads are still spinning.

The way that tech disruptors get rich is substituting AI and big data for human clerical work and human judgement. So ya, there is no way ed-tech vendors will bother getting involved if they don't get the data. You can't build a unicorn selling worksheets on the web.

Teachers might be naturally suspicious about what this means for them. At a minimum, ed-tech adoption would change the nature of their work the same way that computerized autopilot changed the work of airline pilots. Teachers might worry that ed-tech would ultimately replace some of their training and experience, and lower their status or pay. Good luck getting them to cooperate in that case.

But there are other dynamics present in the public schools that might tip the battle toward ed-tech, dynamics that MW and the PC crowd might not be comfortable talking about. In particular, the forced migration toward inclusive, no-discipline, no choice public school classrooms will change the nature of teaching anyway, and render a lot of formerly good teachers useless anyway. It's easy to imagine a future where the role of teacher shifts to being essentially counselor, child psychologist, and entertainer, while the educational functions are handled by computers. It's easy to imagine schools with a multi-functional counselor in every classroom just socializing and keeping order (no small task), and two or three education managers in a central control room who operate the ed-tech system and dispense assignments to students and analyze their performance and choose the next assignment, and perhaps a fleet of paraeducator tutors buzzing about among students whom the computer has identified as being stuck. If that sounds outlandish, well, isn't that essentially what SPS has in mind with MTSS?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Outsider, see my latest post on personalized learning. I have no problem talking about the ed tech battle.

Karen Walter said...

Students are human just like their parents. To control for all variables or even think that you could is ludicrous. Even doing that is small classrooms is difficult enough. Teachers are humans dealing with human children and can even tell you when one student is having an off day. AI cannot do that. No computer emulates human brains (yet) and the complexity of learning and teaching. So, teachers, like students, will not become obsolete from use of AI until the complexity and nuance of the brain can be incorporated. IMO