Where is the Future of Education?: A Pre-ISTE Blog Entry

I was scanning through an infographic the other day from Occupy Educated, called “The Illusion of Choice.” It tells the story of how six media giants control 90% of what we see, read and hear.

Because you’re curious, they are GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS.

Is this where the future of education is being planned –  corporate boardrooms?

I could go on and on, as many have already, about the threat this poses to a nation, formerly known as “Democratic.”

But – might there come a time, when we see at the bottom of this infographic how 90% of our schools are controlled by, say, three corporations, three boards of directors instead of local boards of education.

Thousands of educators, from around the world will be gathering in San Diego next week to share, teach and learn, tell stories, celebrate, eat and drink and leave, knowing more about supporting their students in their learning journeys. We’ll be talking about pedagogy, emerging and cool technologies, school and classroom management, creativity and games, and our students – and how to motivate them to want to make learning a lifestyle. We will also share stories about the multitude of barriers we face in promoting a progressive retooling of our classrooms.

But I have come to worry about a greater threat to the democratic foundations of education, a threat so big, so strange, and so insidious, that it is going largely Un-noticed.  It is so large and comes from such high places that I hesitate to do more than whisper it.  I am not a cynical person.  But people whom I admire and respect have gone this far and for some time now – and I will too.  I fear that there is, and has been, an organized and orchestrated effort by people in high places (and low places) to privatize education in America – to take over our classrooms.

Let’s look at this from a corporate entrepreneurial point of view.  According to a recent U.S. Census report, funding going to U.S. “public” schools in 2008-2009 totaled 591 billion dollars, with $55.9 billion coming from the federal government, $276.2 billion from states and $258.9 billion from local sources.  In many powerful circles, that translates to almost 600 billion dollars that are certainly being poorly spent by the “government” – and with zero bankable profits.

We’re being convinced that:

  1. The U.S. is falling behind other nations in education – that  our schools are failing.
  2. The success of schools and education can be precisely measured and quantified by a corporate testing industry and the constant testing of our children.
  3. Teachers, protected by labor unions, do not know what they’re doing.
  4. Business can do it better.

Each of these are so easily debunked.  But exposing their fallacies does not tell a story, and stories are what we need.  Are you a story?  Are you successful in your work and happy in your family and friends.  If so, then YOU are the measure of the success of your education – not the tests you took 5, 10, 15 or 40 years ago.

For me, I’m going to ISTE to find new language and new stories for proving that the purpose of education is not to prepare our children to be weighed and measured at the end of each year, but to prepare them for their future – and in ways that are as exciting as their future has the potential to be.

Oh yeah!   I’ll also be looking for cool new tech.

22 thoughts on “Where is the Future of Education?: A Pre-ISTE Blog Entry”

  1. Hi David, I often wonder if education is controlled by the needs of business rather than the dreams of the student. I remember your seminar in HK and the great thing about the Internet is that children can start to learn more about what they want to learn rather than what the school, business or teacher wants them to learn. After studying psych for the last few years it is aprant that children are influenced by vertical relationships like that of parents or teachers and hence will want to conform. So does learning become as you say a lifelong enjoyment, or just a means to getting a good grade, that gets a good job, that gives a good pay! Then the next question is how can we educate children with the love of learning when the pressure is on to do well in what seems to be an unfair measuring system?

  2. I am interested in how you can easily debunk the 4 points. Schools appear to be failing. College has to re-mediate most incoming freshman, and businesses need to re mediate most incoming employees. Not to mention what is happening in the poor districts near me.
    Public schools dumb down the masses and create compliant “acceptors” of whatever is put in front of them. Perhaps corporations will try to create innovative creative, thinkers. I am sure that is who they would rather hire.
    Or, are you subconsciously just protecting your job?

    1. @Paul, I’m glad that you’ve challenged me on this, because it gives me a chance to dig deeper into my own research and thinking.

      First, and perhaps the most continually touted and thoroughly debunked rant, is that the U.S. embarrassingly trails behind other industrial nations in education, most often pointing at 2009 PISA scores. The fact is that in Math, the U.S., number 17, actually reported identical scores as Poland and Iceland, 15 and 16 — making us tied for 15th. If we might consider some small margin of error, say 2 points, then we also tie with Norway, Estonia and Switzerland, for position 12. Other countries within that margin of error are New Zealand and Japan, and Netherlands and Belgium, putting us in position 10. Like Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies. Lies! Damn lies! ..and statistics.”

      If this sort of measure really were important, then we might dig deeper, comparing U.S. schools with specific poverty rates with other countries reporting similar rates. Then U.S. schools climb to or near number one in every range. Schools in the U.S. with fewer than 10% of their students living in or near poverty scored 551 on the PISA math test, second only to Shanghai, China. U.S. schools with between 10 and 25 percent in or near poverty scored 527, higher than Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, etc.

      I agree that in many ways our schools are failing. But I do not acknowledge claims of failure based on measures from standardized tests. There are too many innovative, passionate and inspiring leaders around us, who did not pass tests in school. There is too much evidence of curricula that’s become too wide and too shallow, because of these tests, for me to believe anything other than, we must end them –– if we are to save education.

      In fact, it is partly this belief that success can be measured with multiple-choice tests and their demand for regimented (and life-sucking) schools that prevents success. ‘nough said.

      Certainly there are poor teachers – as there are poor engineers, electricians, farmers and bankers. But during a conversation I had recently with a group education leaders, all of whom had been principals at one time (in union states), they all agreed that firing a bad teacher is easy. It’s keeping the good ones that’s hard. I looked hard for a breakdown of individual states performance on the PISA and could not find any. I did find one report that correlated scores of another test with comparable PISA scores and Massachusetts and Vermont moved into positions 5 & 7, topped only by Shanghai, Korea, Finland Hong Kong and Singapore. Both states require collective bargaining. Of the five U.S. states that prohibit collective bargaining, only one showed up in the listing, North Carolina, dead last.

      Teachers do need to be better prepared, with more study and more time in classrooms with good master teachers before they are given their own classrooms — and they need on-going and on-demand professional development. Teachers also need to be empowered as teacher-philosophers, not held accountable as teacher-technicians. In Finland, they do not talk about teacher accountability. Their conversation is about teacher responsibility.

      Finally, business. Why should they be able to do it better? Does business not make mistakes. Does business not waste resources? Why should they know the answers any better than professional educators. In my consulting days, I worked with businesses in the education market, and they were just as clueless as everyone else. We do not need better run schools resulting in students who outscore the Chinese. We need different schools that are retooled to address a dramatically new environment. There’s no guarantee that Educators are much more qualified to accomplish this. But it’s where my money is.

      1. @David Warlick,

        When we compare ourselves with the rest of the world, we also forget that US teachers work with diverse students in one classroom. In many schools I visited, students of same economic group attend the school; students are sectioned by abilities and taught differently. Our teachers are trying to differentiate instruction within one classroom for students with multiple needs and abilities.

        Second, support from parents, grand parents, uncles and aunts are totally involved in a child’s education in other countries. Our families show up only for graduation or football games. How can we motivate parents to be involved when the student showcases his/her poster. science project, or debate etc? Our value system has changed? We need to inculcate the culture of learning and develop the mindset of parents that Education is an Investment for better quality of life for their children

      2. @David Warlick,
        Hi, David,
        Yong Zhao has thoroughly debunked the international scores in his books and blogs. He shows in his just published book that there is an inverse relationship between PISA scores and entrepreneurship. I am writing a book on similar topics and here are two little known facts: 1) today, test scores for all groups of students in the US are at their highest point ever on NAEP; 2) graduation rates for all groups are at their highest point ever recorded.
        Your original point is well taken. We are being fed a narrative of decline and it has a purpose: to de-legitimate public education and make it ripe for a takeover by private interests, ready to step in and “save” kids while making a profit.
        Diane Ravitch

  3. My Grandpa always did the cooking in the house, my Grandma always said, “If you do something bad enough, long enough, someone will take over the job.” Your post is making me think that you don’t even need to do a bad job, you just have to convince everyone that someone can do it better.

  4. I do agree that you can find a statistic to support just about any position on any issue if you look hard enough and tilt your head sideways just a bit. And I agree that educational successes can hardly be measured by systematic, standardized testing. But to call privatization an insidious threat to our democratic foundations of education and use a phrase like, “take over our classrooms” is overly dramatic and a bit harsh.

    Many smart people balk when they feel government tries to take too much control over their lives, healthcare reform being a recent prime example. But yet we as a nation readily turn over our greatest resource (our children) to a government-run veritable monopoly every school day. Why is this ok? We must be careful not to validate this government-run model by employing a “we’ve always done it that way” mindset. I happen to think a technology infused privatization of education could work if government would step aside. A little more detail on why/how I’m thinking in my blogpost from a few months ago http://darrylloy.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/josh-grizzelle-tell-me-again-why-our-education-system-is-run-by-the-government/ …but my bottom line is that I do believe that good businesses who strive to create value can do it better.

    I’m also concerned that unions do more harm than good in today’s marketplace. It’s less about protecting teachers who don’t know what they’re doing and more about how unions tend to drive a wedge between workers and management, or teachers and the administrators, creating factions who become engrossed in issues that have little to do with educating children and, as a result, artificially inflate wages/costs and promote mediocre job performance. As with the government-run education model, I think the union’s time has come and gone…essential in the beginning, detrimental in the end.

    I say it’s time to give privatization an unimpeded green light, get the government and the unions to step aside and let the free market work its capitalistic magic. We may not all become the next Larry Ellison and buy our own Hawaiian island but we are privileged enough to live and work in a nation where the opportunity does exist if we work hard enough.

  5. Your discussion on the future of education is a very interesting, yet frightening thought. I have been teaching for 12 years now and I have seen tremendous changes in how things are done in my town as well as the state. There is a tremendous amount of pressure put on students and teachers to do well on state testing. I believe too much emphasis is put on state testing, which is only one measure of a child’s performance.

    It is also very concerning that so many people want to make education like a business. If a business does not do well, they let people go. If children don’t do well, we cannot let them go. It is the educators job to do whatever it takes to educate these children. I have always struggled with how decisions are made for school systems. Very rarely are teachers every consulted.

    I do agree that changes need to be made to the educational system. A tremendous amount of money is spent, but not always wisely. However, I do not believe privitization is the answer. I also do not think making education like a business will fix the problem either. Another problem I see is that every school district in every state across the nation is different. They all cannot be run the same. The population of children always changes, which alters how material is presented. I believe there is a lot to do to help perfect the educational system. I just wish I had the answer.

  6. Allow me to comment on: ” The success of schools and education can be precisely measured and quantified by a corporate testing industry and the constant testing of our children.” Logically there can never be any “real data” for “student learning.” Teaching and learning belong in the logical category of “quality”. Logically speaking one cannot determine quality in terms of quantity, they are two different things.
    “There are ten apples” does not tell us anything about whether those apples are any good to eat. Johny got 11 out of 20 answers correct on the test tells us absolutely nothing about the quality/characteristics of Johny’s learning. But in most school systems that score would be labelled “failing”. We add to the falsehood by adding the label. Any attempt to quantify student learning-grading, standardized testing, “real data”, etc. . . is a falsehood. When one bases a practice on a falsehood the results will, more likely than not, be false. (Every now and then one may obtain a correct answer/conclusion by chance).
    The educational practices of grading, labeling, etc. . . are so ingrained into us that to question the practices is to be considered by most to be a question of a mentally deranged person. I know, I’ve seen the looks teachers and administrators have given me when I bring this up. When I point out the fact that so much of what we in public education do, especially with regards to “data driven decisions”, in essence is a falsehood and therefore a huge waste of time and energy that could be better spent on the actual teaching and learning process. They think I’m nuts. And sometimes I do to because people don’t want to know that “the emperor has no clothes”.

    “Why do we rely on assessment instruments, i.e., standardized tests and grades in evaluating what a student has learned when those methods have been proven to be riven with error and are invalid? See N. Wilson’s “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” found at: http://epaa.asu.edu/ojs/article/view/577 or for a shorter version of the “validity problem” or invalidity see his “A Little Less than Valid: An Essay Review” found at: http://www.edrev.info/essays/v10n5.pdf .

    Another aspect: The fact is that all the major testing organizations, APA, AERA, NCME, and I’m sure the College Board, say that using a test (and by extension a test score) for any purpose other than for which it is designed is invalid and UNETHICAL.

  7. I think you need to reframe this. Your schools aren’t “failing”. Your schools are being destroyed.

    The poor PISA showing, low literacy scores, etc., are the *result* of attacks on the system such as private schools, charters, and the rest of it.

    They are what happen when the business community works together to *undermine* public education in an attempt to create a new profit centre.

    The countries that have outstanding graduates and high achievement? These are countries with strong public systems, a commitment to equity, and virtually non-existent private systems.

    It’s not that schools are failing. Schools have worked exceptionally well, all things considered. It’s that *your* schools in particular (in the U.S.) are being destroyed.

  8. (1) Education historian Diane Ravitch who commented earlier is one of the best analysts of the situation – She’s been writing about this for some time. She’s the Noam Chomsky of the Ed world!

    (2) Many state governments – notably Wisconsin – are creating laws to remove collective bargaining rights from teacher unions. Whoa!

    (3) Another crazy thing happening – wealthy hedge fund managers are investing in charter schools and the companies that run them — to make a profit off the kids. Wait – I mean a profit off the PUBLIC TAXES rolling in to those schools. And they can go to bed at night feeling “good” about their “social philanthropy”.


    or this one:


    (4) And don’t think Waiting for Superman was just some movie – it was a purposeful media attempt to discredit public schools in the name of the charter movement.

    Don’t be scared – it’s just an attempt at shifting power, but do believe your hunches are right on the money!

    1. @MCK, In a sense, it’s our fought, Educators’ fought. Because we have come to treat our children like widgets, placing them on assembly lines called Kindergarten, first grade, second grade… and installing math on them, and language arts, science… If we started telling the story of compassion, humanity, family, and overwhelming degree to which our future depends on education, then perhaps we could head this off. I’m not optimistic.

  9. I am new to your blog and new to blogging and new at becoming an educator of adults. I fine your writings very informative, entertaining, and engaging. I notice that your writing speak alot about children learners. Are you posts applicable to the adult learner and if not have you considered a different color pen to show that topic is applicable to adults.
    Cindy L

    1. @cynthia lightner, This is an interesting request. Not to discount the pedagogies involved in the education of young children, but much of my thinking and writing follow the belief that the learning that happens in classrooms (K-12) should follow the learning skills that we all must practice after school is over. Learning is part of our lifestyle now, and those skills, practices, and habits need to be developed as youngsters.

      It’s a good idea to color-code my writing, but there is so much overlap that it would be impossible — at least for me.

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