Sign the Petition - Say NO to NY Permanent Virtual Education
Hoping to capitalize on Corona pandemic school closings, ersatz school reformers are “reimaging education” to shift it online and towards private profit. Unfortunately, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has provided admirable national leadership during the Corona pandemic, is buying into their magical promises. He announced a plan to partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “to convene experts and develop a blueprint to reimagine education in the new normal.” Cuomo is also working with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who will head his “blue-ribbon” reimaging commission. So far, I have not been invited to contribute.
Advocates of permanent online instruction in K-12 schools include a line-up of usual suspects. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Jeb Bush, former Republican governor of Florida and chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, attacked teacher unions and school officials while promoting online learning as the wave of the future, not just as an emergency Corona response. Bush wants Congress to fund a transition so public education can “continue without access to classrooms,” and incidentally, as a $200 billion bonanza for edu-tech companies. The Bush initiatives one million dollar plus funders are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Walton Family Foundation. Other big donors are Facebook, Pearson, News Corporation (Fox), Charter Schools USA, and the Koch brothers through their Charles Koch Foundation. This is a galaxy concerned with profit and their own agendas that should be allowed nowhere near children and schools
“Microsoft Bill” Gates, who championed small schools and then abandoned the idea, who funded teacher development programs that he then dropped, who views schools, teachers, and students as “customers,” and financed Common Core and its testing mandates to promote “market forces,” is now in the “reimaging education” business. Gates pushes online programs like Gooru, which he funds through his foundation and which has financial ties to Google, Cisco, and Pearson. Microsoft is funding the research and development of Gooru’s Learning Navigator.
In one bit of educational ingenuity, Gates actually compared the way children learn to electrical sockets. In a push for standardization, Gates wrote: “We don’t have 50 different kinds of electrical sockets—we have just one. And that standard unleashed all kinds of innovation that improved lives. The same thing will happen with consistent standards for what students should know.” But as every parent with multiple children and every teacher with 30 students in a classroom knows, children are not standardized like electrical sockets, they learn in different ways and at different rates and they have different interests. Bill Gates has three adult children. I wonder what they think of his analogy.
Eric Schmidt, the anointed head of New York’s ‘blue-ribbon” commission, is not an unbiased educational philanthropist either. He owns $5.3 billion stock shares in Google’s parent company, Alphabet, so his push to take education permanently online will only make him richer. Naomi Klein, author of the book The Shock Doctrine, calls the push to take everything online the “Pandemic Shock Doctrine” and dismisses it as the “Screen New Deal.” She fears a high-tech dystopia that will lead to increasing wealth inequality, shifting so much power to elites that democracy is threatened, mass layoffs, ignoring the impending climate catastrophe, and invasions of privacy that will put fundamental human rights at risk.
Pearson, formally an educational textbook and testing company, is trying to salvage itself and its profits by pushing online education. The Corona pandemic has brought Pearson an “explosion” in demand for its online learning products. The company claims traffic across its platforms quadrupled as millions of children were closed out of schools and families turned to home schooling including 500,000 new Pearson customers in plague ravished Italy. If celebrating the pandemic and 300,000 deaths as a boost to business sounds ghoulish, that’s because it is.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in the appetite for digital resources,” he said. “Across all our platforms globally we are seeing about a 400% increase in activity (...) and that demand is growing day-by-day.”
Pearson, which provides textbooks, assessments and digital services in 70 countries, trained an additional 24,000 teachers in online learning and gained 500,000 new learners in Italy, he said. Italy is the country with the most deaths, and the second most cases after China, to date in the pandemic.
Jumping on board the online bandwagon, the New York Times published an extremely well-written op-ed piece by a middle school student who complained about student behavior and teacher frustration in regular school classes. In the essay, she explained why she felt she learned better online without other students around to interrupt her.
But what works for this young woman may not be working for other students, especially those who lack adequate computer hardware and Internet connection at home or parents who can help them with their schoolwork.
There are other things about education that the young woman and advocates for online instruction didn’t consider, the value of social interaction in a classroom setting and the importance of human connections between teachers and students. Middle school is a difficult period in the life of young people as they mature physically, intellectually and emotionally. School and teachers provide guidance and support to help young people navigate those changes.
Maybe the most important lesson you learn in middle school, probably more important than math or social studies, is how to work with others in a team, to negotiate, assist and share. These are skills that become increasingly important as you progress through school, enter the work world, and develop adult relationships. These are skills students don’t learn working in online isolation.
Educational research continually demonstrates that most students, but maybe not all students, learn best in intensive groups, with teacher feedback, and when teachers they are related to have high expectations for their success.
The Network for Public Education conducted a survey that supports the value of in-class learning experiences for students and underscores the limits of online instruction. An article by its director, Carol Burris, in the Washington Post discussed interviews with educators and parents and survey results. “Over 80 percent of parents reported that their child misses his/her classmates, and over 60 percent reported they miss their teacher. Fifty-eight percent of parents told us their child misses sports and extracurricular activities, and 39 percent said he or she regularly expresses feelings of loneliness.” Only 9.5% replied that “their child prefers remote learning to classroom learning.”
A Florida parent with four children commented on the difficulty of managing multiple children in a remote learning environment. She reported that although she and her husband have sufficient tech equipment in their home, they are “juggling to keep their children on task” while they struggle with having to work remotely from home. In contradiction to the New York Times op-ed, the women told the interviewer that “Distance learning for middle-schoolers is probably the worst possible choice.” she said with a laugh.
According to New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta “Remote learning, in any form, will never replace the important personal connection between teachers and their students that is built in the classroom and is a critical part of the teaching and learning process. If we want to reimagine education, let's start with addressing the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state.”
Governor Cuomo, you’re doing such a good job helping us understand and survive the Corona pandemic. You warn us not to make hasty decisions, to listen to experts, and not accept miracle cures without scientific testing. Don’t get into bed with online snake oil salesmen.
Sign the Petition - Say NO to NY Permanent Virtual Education
Follow Alan Singer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ReecesPieces8