A Conversation With Diane Ravitch & Clarification On Opt Out

Since myself and several other education bloggers came out with articles yesterday pushing for parents to opt out of more than just standardized assessments, we are being questioned by several in the fight against corporate education reform and the privatization of public schools.  Many of us found that social media groups where we regularly post articles were censoring us by not posting our articles.  This led to some anger and hostility.  Some felt we were undermining their own group goals with opt out.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Those of us who posted yesterday have been sounding the alarm about the ed tech invasion taking place in our schools even before the Every Student Succeeds Act bill was fully seen by everyone.  We believe the once a year assessments will be replaced by constant “stealth” assessments in a competency-based education set up by a constant digital learning environment.  We also believe that the ability to opt out will not be so easy when this happens.  Which is why we want to stop this from happening in the first place.  Sometimes you have to draw people into a conversation.  This was our attempt and it appears it is working.

As part of my article yesterday, I wrote about Diane Ravitch’s role in all this and how some felt she wasn’t speaking loud enough about these issues.  Last night into this morning, I had a very long exchange with Diane on her blog about this.  I want to share this conversation so that some who were misled about the intentions of my article understand where it was coming from.  It began with a comment from someone called “Digital Skeptic” (which is not me nor do I know who it is).  There is one part of the conversation that is bolded for emphasis as I feel it was the most important part of it.  The full story behind where all this came from and where the actual exchange took place can be seen here: BIG NEWS! DISCOVERY! One (1) Funder That Supports Public Schools!

Digital Skeptic, 9/14/16, 10:43am:

Well, you need to get up to speed on digital badging and learning eco-systems ASAP then. Maybe set up a google alert for “personalized learning?” That would give you a lot of material to start with. Also Knowledgeworks is one of the main promoters of this new way of looking at “education.”

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 6:43pm:

Why is Diane refusing to answer questions about digital badging? She addresses everyone else but won’t answer this question. I don’t get it.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 9:50pm:

Kevin, I don’t understand your hayloft. I have written many posts opposing data mining, data tracking, Gates-funded galvanic skin monitors. I oppose any digital monitoring, tracking, badging or spying on children.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 9:56pm:

Kevin, I was driving from Brooklyn to Southold. Traffic was heavy. It took four hours. That’s why my response to you was delayed. Other than not commenting on digital badges, which I never heard of, what else have I not written about?

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 10:13pm:

Many of us are finding out about big things going on with Competency-Based Education tied to digital learning and personalized learning. Some of us have been writing about this since last year. A lot of us got involved when ESSA came out. We have tracked companies and documents and found more than sufficient evidence that leads to the death of brick and mortar schools and teachers being eliminated. I think it concerns many that you aren’t aware of this. People look to you as the go-to person on this kind of thing. When there is silence on the issue, it is concerning. The fact you haven’t heard about digital badges is even more concerning. To some, and I will throw my name out there, it feels like you pick and choose what to write about. That is certainly your right. I don’t know how much you read other blogs or engage on social media. There isn’t enough time in the day to read everything. Our fear is that Hillary will be a HUGE supporter of all this when it goes down. It is already taking place in pilot districts across the country. This is the next battle. ESSA is complex but embedded in it are easter eggs for the corporations that are going to continue to data-mine students. The career pathway programs being set up by the Feds is also not a safe thing. When you combine all this, it is a frightening future. I think it caught many by surprise with your post about that foundation you wrote about yesterday. The fact you didn’t name them, but when people looked into them a relation of yours appeared. It was a culmination of events that have been building up. I am begging you… you have a very wide audience… please start to write about this stuff.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 10:25pm:

Kevin, send me articles and I will post them. I am 78 years old. I spend 6-8 hours daily reading and blogging. Most of what I post comes from things that people call to my attention, either on my email, the comments on the blog, or Twitter. There have been nearly 400,000 comments on the blog. I have read all of them.  If you want me to write about digital badges, write a piece and send it to me.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 10:26pm:

Thank you, I appreciate that.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 10:34pm:

Kevin, If you disagree with something I post or think I should post something different, write me. You don’t have to attack me to get my attention.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 10:34pm:

My son invests in many businesses, his specialty is sports and media. If you want to buy or sell a sports team, he’s the go-to guy. He is not a hedge fund manager. He doesn’t play the stock market. He invests in new companies that he believes in them. I don’t know what he invests in but I have his promise that he will not invest in anything that promotes or supports or builds charter schools. He doesn’t tell me what his companies he invests in, and frankly I don’t give a damn. A mention in my blog does not help or hurt a company. If it did, Pearson would be bankrupt.

One more thing: Ari Emanuel, Rahm’s brother, has a partner of my son. This has zero influence on me. I have never said a good word about Rahm. When I met him in 2010, he was rude, condescending, and offensive. I have never forgotten or forgiven. Karen Lewis is one of my heroes, and I have condemned Rahm’s destruction of public schools in Chicago.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16: 11:01pm:

Diane, I totally agree with you on the investments in charters being a very bad thing. But there are inherent dangers when firms like Raine invest in companies that will immensely benefit Pearsson and other ed tech companies. The charters are just one part of the whole equation. When I talk about digital badges, these are badges students will “earn” in the future based on curriculum provided by ed tech companies. It won’t be about what happens in the classroom because they will be digital classrooms where the teachers I fight for every day will become nothing more than a glorified moderator to ed tech developed and created by companies.

In 2011, the Family Educational Privacy Rights Act changed. It allowed student data to go out to education “research” companies. I firmly believe, as do many others, this was intentional. It allows student identifiable information to go from schools to state DOEs to outside companies. It is a complete invasion of private information that should stay in public schools. Students shouldn’t be judged like this. They are creative and wonderful children, not guinea pigs for companies to make a profit off of. 

We need to get FERPA restored to what it was before 2011. That will stop this and we need you to help us get people to understand what is going on out there. Our next President (God help us all if it is Trump) needs to do this. The plans are in place and time is running out for today’s kids as well as future generations of students.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:11pm:

Kevin, I strongly support the revision of FERPA to protect student privacy. Google my name and FERPA, and you will see that I wrote several posts condemning Duncan for weakening FERPA in 2011.

I am on the board of Leonie Haimson’s Class Size Matters, which sponsors Student Privacy Matters. Leonie and Rachel Strickland led the fight to kill Gates’ inBloom. It brought the issue of data mining to public attention. I supported their campaign to protect students. You criticize for not doing things that I did.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:19pm:

My son has read my books. He stays far away from the education sector. He invested in VICE, a youth-oriented media company that produces cutting-edge documentaries and has its own cable station, in connection with HBO. One of the companies he backs created South Park and The Book of Mormon. He introduced the NBA to China. He invested in the Yankees cable station. He financed a guy who was creating a free and independent news outlet in Afghanistan. I am very proud of him. He is a good man.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 11:21pm:

I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t get involved in all of this “destruction of public education” until about 2 1/2 years ago when a charter denied my son an IEP and I started digging to find out what was going on in education. A lot of what you are talking about is “before my time” so to speak. I can’t change anything that happened before. And those things you did, they are huge! I apologize for not knowing your role in those events. I have a lot of respect for Leonie and Rachel and I engage with them regarding these matters quite a bit through an email group I belong to.

I’m not criticizing you for President Obama weakening FERPA, but with your legitimacy, saying how important it would be to undo that 2011 change to FERPA would add great weight to the fight for student data privacy. Our next president could repeal the 2011 change. Do you think Hillary would do that? I don’t know if you are in a position to ask her, but if so, is that something you could do?

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/15/16, 11:23pm:

Well if he got the Yankees cable station into being, he is an awesome person!

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:47pm:

I promise you I will fight to restore FERPA, to protect your children, my grandchildren, and every child.

Diane Ravitch, 9/15/16, 11:52pm:

Kevin, I hope you will reconsider your dismissal of the power of opt out. 20% of kids opted out in 2015, 21% in 2016. Lots of new kids added because the 8th grade moved on. Because of the opt out, Cuomo shut up about his plans to break public schools. The State Board of Regents has new progressive leadership. Opt out is powerful. The legislature is back pedaling. Suppose they gave a test and no one took it. No data. No data mining.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/16/16, 12:23am:

I don’t dismiss the power of opt out at all. But opt out as we know it has to evolve. I spent a considerable amount of time in the first half of 2015 fighting for a bill in Delaware that passed overwhelmingly in our House and Senate. It codified a parent’s right to opt out. And also would have made sure our DOE and schools didn’t punish students. Our Governor vetoed the bill.

In the competency-based education arena, tests like SBAC and PARCC will change. The once a year test will be gone but will instead morph into mini-tests. Delivered online, but they will happen weekly, or bi-weekly, or at the end of each unit. Delaware put out an RFP for our new Social Studies state assessment that our Secretary of Education said will be delivered throughout the year. Make no mistake, these will be the same type of standardized tests parents are opting out of. But if they replace teacher created tests and student’s grades depend on them, it will make opt out very difficult.
Tom Vander Ark, who used to be an executive for Gates, and is now with Global Futures, told everyone about this here: http://gettingsmart.com/2015/05/the-end-of-the-big-test-moving-to-competency-based-policy/

This is happening now, in real-time, and it is only a matter of time before the “pilots” go national. I don’t want that for my son or any other child in this country. If it stayed the same as it is now, I would still be fighting the same fight. But ESSA will deliver this into our schools. Once that happens, what can a parent do? This is why I am so passionate about this stuff. Time is running out. ESSA calls for more pilot states for many things. My philosophy has always been the same, if it isn’t good for kids, I can’t support it. But when I see teachers fully embracing ed tech like it is the best thing since sliced bread, it is very worrisome.

Diane Ravitch: 9/16/16, 8:25am:

Kevin, I totally agree with you about the dangers of online assessment. I have written many posts criticizing online assessment. Among other things, they will be data mining students nonstop. The same parents who fought for opt out will fight against continuous online assessment. Saying opt out is dead demoralizes them and takes away the most powerful tool that parents have: the right to say no. The opt movement in New York has achieved incredible results. They will keep fighting against online assessment but they need support not negativity.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/16/16, 9:04am: 

Diane, You keep talking about New York. I live in Delaware. While I think New York tends to set the pace for the rest of the country, followed closely by NJ, opt out is not as big in my state. The title of my article was “Opt Out As We Know It Is Dead”. Meaning it has become so much more than just opting out of assessments. Opt out is very powerful, but somewhere along the way the reformers learned how to take advantage of it. As opt out grew, so did the need for “reduced assessments”. What I found hysterical was that the state assessment, at least in my state, was not allowed to be on the table for change or elimination. It was talked about in meetings, but nothing came of it in the final report. I don’t underestimate the power of the parent voice at all. But I see so many parents who don’t seem to have a problem with the technology in classrooms. The biggest complaint from the opt out crowd in the beginning was too much assessment. And then certain civil rights groups (who get tons of funding from Gates et al) started speaking out against opt out. All I’m saying is parents need to use the tool they have and make it louder, much louder. To be very clear, I am NOT against opt out. We haven’t come this far to throw it all away now.

It was my idea to have multiple bloggers write about this topic yesterday. It was meant to draw attention to other issues going on besides just the state assessment. It is creating dialogue and conversation in the past 24 hours that many didn’t even know about. While I don’t think a “shock and awe” approach is always appropriate, in this situation I felt it was needed. Every single state will be submitting their ESSA plans in the next six months. A crucial part of that process will be what they hear from parents. By alerting parents to the dangers embedded in ESSA, it is my hope they will really look into what the entire law means, and not just the parts that the State DOEs and the reformers are choosing to show the public. The law was meant to give states more education power than the feds. But far too many states are aligned with what the feds have been doing. It will only solidify the power the reformers have. Sometimes you need to wake the sleeping giant.

Kevin Ohlandt, 9/16/16, 9:12am:

To illustrate what is going on with ed tech, I just got this email from Ed Week about ed tech in early education and a webinar next week. The assumption is already made that ed tech is a part of these environments. It is already there. They are trying to mitigate that by showing “hands on” approaches as well. I see more and more of this happening every day. Early education should be about many things, but I don’t think having ed tech for toddlers and pre-K students is the right way to go. These are developing brains getting flooded with screen time and things they may not neurologically be ready for. Event Registration

Digital Skeptic, 9/16/16, 10:09am:

“My son invests in many businesses, his specialty is sports and media.” Raine Group is also invested in Parchment, an online credentialing company. From your comments, it sounds like you talk about his business investments as they relate to education. I think it’s important that you follow up with him about that particular investment as it relates to digital badges and the changes that are coming under the new ESSA roll out. http://venturebeat.com/2014/03/19/credential-verification-startup-parchment-raises-10m/

Diane Ravitch, 9/16/16, 10:21am:

Skeptic, I don’t discuss my son’s investments with him. He told me he does not invest in companies related to charter schools. The company you mention stores graduation diplomas and makes them available. From what I read in the article you sent, if a person tells a hospital he has an MD, they can check if it is true. There are frauds, and I assume this service is a verification to prevent fraud. I saw nothing that suggests this company awards credentials. In any event, he doesn’t ask me what he should invest in, and I don’t tell him what to do.

Digital Skeptic, 9/16/16, 10:32am:

Actually, it is much more complicated than that. Arthur Levine, formerly President of Teachers College at Columbia University-now working with MIT and the Woodrow Wilson Institute on a Competency-Based Education Teacher Training Program, gave the keynote at the annual Parchment conference on “innovating academic credentials.” It’s a pretty fascinating talk, and in it Levine poses a pretty radical idea of calling for a “DSM for Achievement.” https://medium.com/learning-machine-blog/a-dsm-for-achievement-9e52fd881428#.1byckgdps

The push for standards-aligned workforce development by reformers goes from “cradle to gray” as they say. Through blockchain and other means (Kevin can talk about recent developments in Blockchain/Bitcoin legislation in DE), they are looking to break education down into these bits and pieces. People will accumulate them through “lifelong learning” as they call it. Which is a pretty unpleasant take on the concept. The goal is that there will be a seamless experience, no preschool, elementary school, middle, school, college, post-secondary, workforce certification—just badges and micro credentials that define you as a digital citizen.

“My son has read my books. He stays far away from the education sector.” I think once you look into what Parchment is really about, you will see how it is tied into the education sector. These are really new markets, once that the average person is not necessarily family with unless they enjoy delving into topics like block chain and learning eco-systems.

Diane Ravitch, 9/16/16, 10:48am:

Skeptic, I have no control over investment decisions by my son’s company. I don’t think he is a Pearson stockholder. Actually, I bought 10 shares so that my vote could be cast against present management. But you are wasting your time haranguing about Raine investments. I don’t know about them. My son doesn’t support me. His investments don’t affect my views.

This was where the conversation ended, but I certainly hope it continues.  It is far to important not to.  To point out one important thing: I am not Digital Skeptic nor do I know who it is.

This morning, the United Opt Out National group came out with the following position statement, in large part, I believe, as a reaction to the blog posts from yesterday:

“As the opt out movement grows, we grow – sometimes in different directions and sometimes together – as we adjust to policy changes that impact our schools.” United Opt Out National. Growth is necessary to ensure we continue to refuse to accept the privatization of our schools and communities.  As a form of resistance, opt out threatens those who seek to push their toxic brand of reform on public education.  And as the tactics change and evolve, opt out is needed more than ever.  

            Opt out is a type of civil disobedience. It is a form of protest where parents, students, and teachers refuse to submit to the perverted use of high stakes standardized testing. We never wanted permission to opt out.  We never asked for an opt out clause. We promoted opt out as a tool for stopping the corporate assault on public education. Opt out was to be the first domino that sends the rest falling down. If a whole class opts out then there is no need for test prep and if a whole school opts out then there is no need to use valued added measures (VAM) to evaluate teachers.  And one by one the dominoes fall as we get closer to tearing down the school reform house of cards.

            Since ESSA was passed, we at United Opt Out National have encouraged parents, students, and teachers to refuse indoctrination through digital learning. As we became aware of how the reformers would use ESSA to push through their new scheme we restructured our goals to include:

Push for protections for quality pedagogy, the teaching profession, and public school funding that the newly legislated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) attempts to tear down via the push toward isolationist computer based digital instruction that facilitates indoctrination, free for all data mining, and compromised cognitive, physical, and social development; the alternative teacher certification programs that place unqualified people in classrooms, and the unregulated charter industry that strips public schools of resources, increases segregation, and allows for theft of public money.

 Instead of only opting out of high stakes standardized tests, we have promoted opting out of all digital learning and assessments. In fact, given the documented negative effects of excessive screen time on children’s healthy development, our revised opt out letters must call for no screen time or a very limited amount each day (see sample letter below).  We must make it clear that no matter what legislation is passed or what new gimmicks they create; we will not be tricked into thinking that corporations have our best interest at heart.

            You see, those who seek to privatize education are always promoting choice. They promote charters because it gives parents choice. They support competency based education and personalized learning because it is tailored to the needs of children and gives them choices.  Well we support choice too. And opt out is a choice. A choice to just say no. No to the privatization schemes. No to turning education into a business. No to replacing teachers with computers. No to non-educators controlling education. As parents, students, and teachers we get to choose what type of education system we want. And when we opt out our choice becomes crystal clear.

In fact, we at United Opt Out National are working to broaden the opt out movement by hosting a Civil Rights Summit in Houston, Texas October 14-16. Our goal is to work with Houston AFT and civil rights groups who have historically misunderstood the opt out movement, to determine if we can build common ground around the harmful effects high stakes standardized testing is having on black and brown communities. Broadening opt out to be more inclusive of the needs of communities of color is another way we keep opt out alive and well and counter the myth that opt out is for white soccer moms. Opt out is about reclaiming our people power to fight back against what we know is wrong.  Opt out is only as strong as the people who use it. And the more we continue to resist the stronger we become.

I think we are all looking at the same book, but some of us appear to be on different chapters or pages within those chapters.  I agree with every single thing in United Opt Out’s statement.  Things have been very heated in the past few weeks.  It is more important that we talk with each other and reach out to each other.  We aren’t always going to agree, but our end goals are all the same: to get this horrible corporate invasion of public schools to come to an end once and for all.  Some feel that the discussion is the solution.  I don’t always agree with that.  I feel finding common ground or compromising only gives more power to the “other side”.  It is my contention they (the ed reformers and their legion of supporters in positions of power and commerce) put stuff out there knowing it will be sacrificed to make themselves look good.  But there are some who straddle between us (the rebellion) and the reformers (the empire).  There is value in swaying those groups, parents, and power figures to our side.  Some of us (like myself) take a very direct approach and the result isn’t seen as a soft touch.  Trust is a fragile thing in this environment.  I’m sure many groups and people who have been fighting this fight can attest to this.  This is what prompted the Diane Ravitch conversation.  I am taking Diane at her word that her son stays away from the education sector with the business he co-founded.  Even though others in the very same company are investing in ed tech, it is not my place to get involved with a son’s word to his mother.  I very much appreciate Diane engaging in this conversation.

 

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3 thoughts on “A Conversation With Diane Ravitch & Clarification On Opt Out

  1. Thanks for taking the time to walk us through the latest stuff Coming Down The Pike; I have seen with my own eyes how years and years of educational “reform” invaded our district’s low-income schools only to immediately shape-shift and re-write the game over and over…and then over again.

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