On Aug. 3, Vicki Phillips of the the Gates Foundation announced the creation of an "amazing" new software program that will be like a "huge app store -- just for teachers -- with the Netflix and Facebook capabilities we love the most."
"There are few times in life when we are fortunate enough to be part of something amazing," she wrote. "I believe this is one of those times, and I am especially excited because the 'something amazing' is being led by states."
Really? This was led by states, and not by the Gates Foundation? Hmm... we've heard that one before.
The announcement continues:
As part of our contribution, the foundation took an important first step a few weeks ago and selected a vendor to build the open software that will allow states to access a shared, performance-driven marketplace of free and premium tools and content. That vendor, Wireless Generation, will create the software, but it will be owned by an independent nonprofit, so that any school, school district, curriculum developer, or tool builder can contribute to the collaborative.
Did it really have to be Wireless Generation?
Already, Wireless Generation, owned by Rupert Murdoch and run by Joel Klein, has encountered much controversy, because of privacy concerns, among other issues, arising from the phone-hacking scandal in Great Britain. On Aug. 5 it was revealed that the teacher unions wrote a letter to the New York State Education Department, asking that the proposed no-bid contract with Wireless be withdrawn.
Earlier I posted a column and a petition to state officials, expressing many of the same concerns -- as well as the fact that ARIS, the $80-million data system that is the model for this new, statewide system, is widely considered to have been a huge waste of money.
And now Gates is going to fund a nationwide data system with the same defects and potential risks?
Dr. Ed Fuller urges us to note the words "free" and "content" above. So Wireless Generation and Murdoch are poised to make a buck off of this project -- and the content they receive from teachers, who are expected to share their ideas free of charge? See below:
So what is the Shared Learning Collaborative?
The Shared Learning Collaborative is a new, state-led project the foundation is helping to fund. Think of it as a huge app store -- just for teachers -- with the Netflix and Facebook capabilities we love the most. It's something that enables teachers to communicate with each other, to share applications and tools, and to give their students differentiated instruction -- all aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Imagine being a ninth-grade math teacher with a student struggling in Algebra I. Now, imagine that you could get your hands on a tool to understand exactly which concept is giving the student such a hard time. Then imagine you had several options of specialized online tools, at your disposal, that have been proven to help students like him who may struggle with, for example, polynomials.
What if you could communicate with other Algebra I teachers in other states who have the same challenges, and share the lessons you've learned? And what if the student enjoyed polynomials now because the tool was a game-based learning application that's actually fun? Pretty cool, huh? Well, we think so, too.
Why does this sound so familiar? We've also heard this story before. This is the same line Jim Liebman used to offer, when he was head of the Accountability Office at the New York City Department of Education, trying to sell the public on the $80-million ARIS program, also designed by Wireless Generation: that it would be a huge help to teachers by allowing them to share lesson plans and instructional tools. This is from an interview with Liebman in 2009:
Liebman gives an example of a teacher who wants to know how to teach multiplication of fractions to English Language Learners. Teachers can simply type into the search feature keywords like "multiplying fractions and English Language Learners," and they will receive links to teacher blogs and ARIS communities that share best practices. Teachers, if they wish, can create their own ARIS community and write their own blog about what works or doesn't work and what their experiences have been. These interactive components of the system are similar to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
Ask any NYC teacher, but ARIS has been a total failure at doing this, and this new "app store" will likely fail, as well.
Teachers don't tend to have a lot of extra time, writing up and sharing their lesson plans from coast to coast, when they have 30 kids per class or 150 students overall. What teachers really need to differentiate instruction is not more money going into the pockets of Rupert Murdoch, but smaller classes. Unfortunately, class sizes are rising throughout the country, with the support of Bill Gates.
Vicki Phillips claims that they just chose the vendor "a few weeks ago," but in a letter that NYSED wrote the State Comptroller almost three months ago, in support of their proposed no-bid contract with Wireless, they revealed how the Gates Foundation, "in partnership with WGen ... [will] build a national non-proprietary data platform ... a Shared Learning Infrastructure ... that will integrate and store the instructional data of participating states/large cities."
Of course, this was information that NYSED likely got from Wireless, so I guess the decision was made months earlier, before the Murdoch/News Corp scandals erupted.
Watch out for these data platforms and "collaborative" app stores. Watch out for the unholy alliance between Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein, ceaselessly devoted to expanding the educational-industrial-technological complex at the cost of real support to teachers and children. Watch out for more wasted money being spent on data systems that don't help differentiate instruction, but that have huge potentials for abuse.
Teachers, what do you think of Murdoch making money off your lesson plans? Please leave a comment below, and/or on the Gates Foundation website, called "Impatient Optimists," now!