When hundreds of education technology innovators converge at the Grand America next week for the Arizona State University-Global Silicon Valley Summit, the hottest and hippest thinkers in the education technology field will be sharing their ideas and products. Many of those ideas are exciting and promising, but a strong current runs through this ed tech wave that is very concerning for people who value American political principles.
In sessions that cover topics from expanding access to higher education through online learning to apps that help K-12 teachers communicate with parents, entrepreneurs and ed tech thought leaders will display and discuss the best that innovation has to offer. Most of them are there because they’re excited about the possibilities technology opens for education. And what’s not to get excited about?
For those who value representative government, local control of education and diversity of educational options, some ideas articulated in the official white paper produced by the organizers of the event could very well dampen the excitement. Also, possibly, the $2,795 ticket price. You’re not likely to see many current teachers at this event.
The white paper titled “Vision 2020,” was authored by Global Silicon Valley, the investment company sponsoring the event. It’s a pretty frank blueprint for the corporatization of education. It moves well beyond advocating innovation in educational technology and into redesigning education as a permanent, captive market for technology vendors.
Included is a strategic plan covering 15 years. It begins with advocating the adoption of Common Core as its first plank and moves through a couple dozen more, including universal preschool, “No Child Left Behind 2.0” (passed in December 2015 as the “Every Student Succeeds Act”), a tablet for every child and eliminating locally elected school boards.
Actually, the elimination of school boards is advocated multiple times in “Vision 2020.” In another white paper produced by GSV in 2012 titled “American Revolution 2.0,” the matter is explained this way: “We (need to) eliminate locally elected school boards, recognizing that the process by which they are elected doesn’t correspond with either strategic planning or longer term results.”
This is obviously problematic for those who value representative government and keeping education decisions as close to home as possible.
But there’s a second concerning current which runs strongly through these two publications: support for standardizing and centralizing education, currently embodied as support for Common Core and its Common Education Data Standards.
When it comes to its praise for the Common Core, these movers and shakers of the ed tech industry highlight their understanding that national education standards are essential for vastly increasing scalability for industry products. Without a common national market, products must be tailored to dozens of markets, and the return on investment has nowhere near the potential.
But is the profit motive sufficient justification for aiming at the destruction of the community-governed school and the beautiful if sometimes messy diversity it creates?
Take note that K-12 education isn’t the only target. If higher education allows itself to be aligned to the Common Core, there will be no more choice in education. Even though students may get to progress at their pace, they will still be required to ride on the same train track. If they want to ride on another or choose a different mode of transportation, it will be difficult to qualify for college admission under this standardized system.
Arnold Toynbee, the distinguished British historian who authored the 12-volume work, “A Study of History,” observed that, “Civilizations in decline are consistently characterised by a tendency towards standardization and uniformity.” The elimination of school boards and continuation of national standards — in the current form of Common Core but potentially in another future form such as competency-based education — would be a decisive move toward this bellwether noted by Toynbee.
Development of educational technology could take a number of positive directions, but innovators and educational leaders should categorically reject any goals that would effect the elimination of school boards and the continued implementation of national standards.
Autumn Foster Cook is a freelance journalist and elementary school teacher's aide.