Above Photo: From emilytalmage.com
Across the country, teachers are being asked to collect, record, and slog through mountains of data that “experts” insist is meant to improve their practice.
There are pre-assessments and post-assessments, habits of work rubrics, writing prompts, social and emotional screeners, standards-based grading systems, RTI data, student learning objectives, professional growth goals, student surveys, self evaluations, administrator evaluations, office discipline referrals, results from progress monitoring programs …the data demands go on and on, and all of it must be entered and stored in learning management systems.
Recently, a few brave teachers have begun to publicly state the obvious: that we don’t need all of this data to do our jobs well.
Unfortunately, no one seems to be listening, as there is a far more powerful entity that does need all this data:
As Pay for Success schemes – also known as Social Impact Bonds – sweep the country, data collection in schools is reaching new heights.
“[It’s] an approach that has come of age,” Andy Sieg, Managing Director and Head of Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said of Pay for Success contracts. “We see the confluence of investor demand, government innovation and access to data leading to the dawn of this new market.”
Here’s how they work: private investors provide upfront capital to start a program (a pre-K, for example). If the program meets a set of agreed-upon metrics of “success” (reducing the number of children receiving special education services, for example), investors get repaid with interest.
Despite ethical concerns and doubts about the actual public benefit of these contracts, they are rapidly advancing nationwide due to promises of big payouts for lenders. Goldman Sachs, for example, put up $16.6 million to fund an early childhood education program in Chicago, yet it is getting more than $30 million from the city. According to The Rockefeller Foundation and Merrill Lynch, the impact investing market will reach between $400 billion to $1 trillion by 2020.
And they don’t intend for the profits to stop there. Investors also have plans to package these bonds up and turn them into a derivatives market. Using performance-based data to inform risk, investors will be able to gamble on these bond-backed securities just as they did with mortgages.
And so, unbeknownst to most of the public, our schools – and the teaching profession – are being remade in order to facilitate this market.
Organizations like the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), formed to advance impact investing, are developing banks of metrics on social services like education to help inform investors as they build their portfolios, while nonprofits like Strivetogether are building public-private data sharing networks across cities.
In addition to directing federal dollars to incentivize Pay for Success schemes, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2016 is jam-packed with grant money to shift schools to competency-based, blended, and/or personalized learning models – all conduits for data collection.
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley titans have grasped hands with investors to develop products and services that deliver data-based learning. Most of their products rely on behaviorist-based approaches – a controversial method of stimulation and reward to produce target behaviors that can be easily tracked and measured.
Nationwide, private foundations are seeding the investment market by funding lobbying, “will-building,” and “building public demand” campaigns to remake education into one that facilitates a tradable market. (See here for one example from education blogger, WrenchintheGears, of the networks that have been built between private foundations, research organizations, and investment firms.)
Teachers, who are being asked to navigate a profession that no longer makes sense, are now leaving in droves.
Fortunately, at least some organizations are beginning to take a stand against the Wall Street takeover of public education. The Massachusetts Teacher Association, for example, recently announced its opposition to a public-private partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and LearnLaunch. The partnership, known best by its acronym, MAPLE, was established with seed money from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation – the primary driver of data-based education reform in New England.
The question now stands: will other organizations follow suit?
Will more teachers get the courage to stand up and say enough is enough?
Or will Wall Street takeover public education once and for all?