Zuckerberg and the parent pushback vs Summit schools; inBloom reprised?

Update (2/12/18): The survey results of Indiana PA public school parents were released and the reveal even more negative views of the Summit learning platform (SLP) than expressed by their kids: “Parents/guardians generally agreed that SLP does not encourage or helps students learn. Additionally, most did not feel that SLP helps students be creative, prepares them for future education or future careers, helps them think critically or problem solve, helps them socialize or prepare them for future social situations, or strengthens the school community.”   More than 72% of parents do not want the Summit platform used at all at their schools next year or that it should be made fully optional.  Also, Indiana PA parents have posted a new website about their concerns.

Mark Zuckerberg recently posted a letter called Lessons in Philanthropy 2017 in which he recounted what he had learned over the last few years, and explained which education initiatives his LLC, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) would focus upon in the future.

The letter evinced no awareness of how his reputation and that of Facebook have been seriously tarnished in recent months, involving ongoing violations of privacy, the practice of hosting racially discriminatory ads as well as political ads bought by  Russians in an apparent effort to undermine our elections. Increasingly, commentators have recognized how despite its name, Facebook is a faceless corporation, which operates through profit-making motivations and unaccountable algorithms, without the empathy or wisdom that only human agency can provide.

Nor did Zuckerberg’s words show any trace of humility, given how a large share of his earlier $100 million “investment’ in the Newark school system was diverted to politically-connected consultants and appears to have had few positive results for students. Instead, he focused on how his LLC will transform education through the “magic of technology.” Speaking of himself in the third person, he wrote:

The magic of technology is that it can help social change scale faster. And because of Mark’s experience building a world-class engineering organization at Facebook, we are in a unique position to build a philanthropy with a great engineering team to help our partners scale their social change faster as well.

One challenge we’ve seen in education is that there are many brilliant teachers and school leaders who create new kinds of schools based on new models of learning — but those schools usually only serve hundreds of students, while most children still do not have access to them. There are very few examples of new school models that expand to thousands of schools today.

Our hope is that technology can help with this scaling challenge. We’re seeing promising signs of early success, where our partnership with Summit Public Schools has helped encode their teaching philosophy in tools that will be used in more than 300 district, charter, and private schools this fall.

Zuckerberg went on to discuss the research of Benjamin Bloom – which “suggests we need an education system where all students receive the equivalent of an expert one-on-one tutor” but then assumed that online platforms can substitute for the close feedback of human tutors.

I have written about the Summit’s learning system before, in articles exploring the lack of data privacy afforded students in using the platform, their negative experiences  of spending hours per day on computers, and most recently, my disappointing visit to a Summit charter school and the lack of any research showing positive results.

According to a CREDO 2017 analysis , Summit charter students showed no significant gain in reading compared to similar students at public schools, and exhibited a small but significantly negative effect in math.  The most recent Gates-funded RAND analysis of Next Generation Learning schools, of which Summit is a prime example, concluded there were small and mostly insignificant gains in achievement at these schools, and students were more likely to feel alienated and unsafe compared to matched students at public schools.  The overall results caused John Pane, the lead RAND researcher, to say to Ed Week that  “the evidence base [for these schools] is very weak at this point. ”

Yet Summit’s mediocre academic and survey responses have not dampened the enthusiasm of its promoters, including Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.  Gates continues to express support for Summit’s online platform, and in June, his foundation granted $10 million to Summit to “support implementation of the Summit Learning program in targeted geographies.”  Lauren Powell-Jobs awarded Summit another $10 million to create a new Oakland high school.  Finally, Betsy DeVos, the fourth member of this exclusive club, provided Diane Taverner, the founder of Summit, a prime speaking slot at her recent forum on “Rethinking schools.”

CZI’s education program is now headed by James Shelton, following stints at Exxon, McKinsey, various technology companies, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Gates Foundation, the US Department of Education, and most recently, a company called U2, for which he portrayed as “helping universities become better digital versions of themselves.” (In LinkedIn, he describes himself as a “Tri-sector Operator, Investor & Entrepreneur.”)

Last month in a blog post, Shelton wrote that his goal at CZI would be to provide disadvantaged children with the sort of personalized education that privileged children receive – the “kind of focus on individual needs and support that define privilege and make it available to all.”  Yet in a sort of shell game, CZI seems intent on promoting a mere simulacrum of individual attention for underserved children, rather than the sustained and concentrated human support afforded students in small classes at private or wealthy suburban schools.

Meanwhile, parents whose children have been subjected to the Summit platform are pushing back in at least seven states and have seen some success.  Parents in Cheshire, Connecticut posted a petition protesting the use of the program, criticized its low-quality at school board meetings, and finally persuaded the Superintendent last month to suspend the program midyear.  They cited the platform’s demoralizing effect on their children, the lack of teacher feedback, the risks to their privacy, and the haphazard quality of the online curriculum, including a reference to bestiality in one of the modules.

Just days later, it was reported that the Indiana Area school board in Pennsylvania ordered “a rollback” of the Summit program mid-year because of similar complaints from parents about its negative impact on their kids.  The district announced it will immediately drop the platform in two core subjects, and next year will allow parents to opt their children out of it entirely.

A subsequent survey of middle school students in the Indiana Area district using the online platform found that 39 percent said the Summit learning platform (SLP) should not be used at all, and another 31 percent said that it should be made fully optional.  The largest percentages of students found the platform annoying, frustrating, stressful and boring.

As the researchers summarized the results, “most did not feel that SLP helps students be creative, prepares them for future education or future careers, helps them think critically or problem solve, helps them socialize or prepare them for future social situations, or strengthens the school community.”  They also found that students “expressed a desire to spend less time on screens, and critiques of screen time often overlapped with critiques of SLP as a platform and teacher.”

Petitions opposing the use of the Summit platform have now been posted by parents in Fairview Park City in Ohio and in New Egypt, New Jersey.

As others have noted, this pattern of events seems similar to what occurred on a larger scale in the inception and ultimate collapse of inBloom, the Gates-funded $100 million online data-collection corporation that closed its doors nearly four years ago, because of parent anger at the risk it posed to their children’s privacy and its lack of proven benefits.

Just as the Gates Foundation used its vast resources to pay for the travel of state and district administrators for briefings and promised financial incentives of various kinds, so has the Zuckerberg millions enabled Summit to fly “the Cheshire administrative team to Oakland, California, for training and provided the district with 130 Chromebook computers,” according to the Associated Press.  (See Natasha Singer’s series called “Education Disrupted” in the New York Times, about how Silicon Valley corporations have successfully infiltrated the classroom using similar strategies.)

Like Cheshire’s sudden suspension of Summit, Louisiana State Superintendent John White pulled student data out of inBloom’s cloud in mid-year, after parent protests broke out and the opposition of state school board members emerged, who had not been told in advance of its implementation.  A few months later, Jefferson County Superintendent Cyndy Stevenson in Colorado announced that inBloom’s data collection would be made optional for students, and that she would leave this decision in their parents’ hands, just as has now occurred in Indiana, PA.

Yet this concession didn’t work to quiet the storm.  As Rachael Stickland, a leader of the inBloom opposition in JeffCo recounts, “The board had hoped the promise of ‘opting out’ would calm down parents and relieve the pressure. It didn’t. We kept pushing. Ultimately, it became a political hot potato and they had to vote it out.”

But the greatest similarity to the inBloom controversy is how Summit has led to its supporters to express the same sort of condescension towards parents, claiming that their opposition is based on unwarranted fear and confusion.  The Cheshire Superintendent blamed disaffection with Summit on “a substantial degree of misunderstanding and misinformation within the community.” Monica Bulger, a researcher at the Microsoft-backed Data and Society Institute, explained the parent pushback this way: “”There’s a powerful fear narrative happening” and that “We don’t necessarily want school content by popular vote.”

Bulger was one of the co-authors of a report released last year on the failure of inBloom, in which the vast majority of those interviewed and quoted supported and/or worked for this massive data-mining project.  Several reviewers of the report, including Audrey Watters and Peter Greene, noted its evident bias and the way in which the authors assumed the unproven value of inBloom’s data-collection while dismissing legitimate parental concerns.

Bulger and her co-authors repeatedly suggested that parents’ rejection of inBloom was “irrational,” even as the project’s explicit purpose was to accelerate the collection and dispersal of their children’s personal information to a wide number of for-profit ed tech companies, and to encourage them to build their products around the data.  As Watters wrote,

This juxtaposition of parents as “emotional” and inBloom and the project’s supporters as “scientific” and “technical” runs throughout the report, which really serves to undermine and belittle the fears of inBloom opponents.  (This was also evident in many media reports at the time of inBloom’s demise that tended to describe parents as “hysterical” or that patronized them by contending the issues were “understandably obscure to the average PTA mom.”) The opposition to inBloom is described in the Data & Society report as a “visceral, fervently negative response to student data collection,” for example, while the data collection itself is repeatedly framed in terms of its “great promise.”

We see this strategy repeated once again among Summit’s defenders, who portray parental apprehensions as uninformed, even as they provide no independent evidence of the program’s benefits and growing evidence of its harm.  The ed tech industry and the insistence of its devotees on patronizing parents and depicting their desire to have a voice in how their children are educated lacks any acknowledgement about the way in which venture philanthropists have used their wealth to circumvent democracy, with the goal of privatizing, standardizing and mechanizing education and student data.

Last year Mark Zuckerberg wrote,  “We’ll build technology where it can help, and we believe in listening to and working closely with parents, teachers and students to understand the specific needs of the communities we’re working in.”  In 2018, perhaps Zuckerberg, Gates and the other data overlords and their vassals should start making a real effort to listen to parents and communities, rather than belittle their concerns and try to force-feed their autocratic and technocratic model of education on children.

But I’m not holding my breath.  In November, the Alt School, a Zuckerberg-funded chain of private schools using instructional technology announced it would close at least three of its seven schools.  Yet rather than learn the obvious lessons from the observations of disappointed parents who pulled their kids of these schools, the Alt School CEO now says he will focus on marketing their software to public schools.  Clearly, parents will have to continue their battle to preserve classrooms focused on human interaction, discussion and debate rather than machine-centered reductionist forms of education.

Press Release: The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Supports the PROSPER Act’s Commitment to a Federal Student Unit-Record Ban


For Immediate Release

December 12, 2017

Contact: Rachael Stickland, rachael@studentprivacymatters.org, 303.204.1272

 The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Supports the PROSPER Act’s Commitment to a Federal Student Unit-Record Ban

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy thanks Representative Virginia Foxx, Chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, and her colleagues for their continued support of student privacy by maintaining the current ban on the creation of a comprehensive federal database of personal student information, known as a federal student unit-record system, in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, called the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act or the PROSPER Act.

The PROSPER Act authorizes a feasibility study which is preferable to more extreme proposals that would overturn the Higher Education Act’s 2008 ban on a federal student database. The study, which would investigate whether the National Student Clearinghouse could be expanded to be used to analyze student outcomes, should also examine the costs and benefits of any student data collection system. Other new and experimental proposals for federal programs linking data sets must also be studied carefully before implementation to ensure that the data-matching techniques proposed would indeed protect the privacy of the individual students to be included in the system.

Said Rachael Stickland, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy: “Congress is introducing data-matching bills at lightning speed, without proper study of whether the technologies being proposed would guarantee the privacy and security of the data. The PROSPER Act’s call for a feasibility study serves as a good example for Congress to move cautiously before adopting any new data systems, especially given the poor record of the federal government in protecting and securing personal data, as shown in the recent FAFSA breach.

“Members of our coalition, representing parents and privacy advocates from across the county, object to any legislation that results in the creation of federal dossiers that would track individual students through life. Individual-level data held in federal unit-record systems could be used in the future for currently unauthorized purposes, including to identify and deport undocumented students. We urge all members of Congress to keep students’ right to privacy uppermost in their minds while considering the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act.”


Update on Summit Schools including my visit to a Summit charter school

There have been new developments since I wrote about privacy concerns with the Summit online platform in September for the Washington Post Answer Sheet.  I followed that up with a longer piece  on this website of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, with criticisms and observations of parents at schools using the platform, saying that their children have become frustrated,  bored, and disengaged as a result of spending hours each day in front of computers, receiving very little feedback from their teachers.

Summit charter schools and their online platform, now used in over 300 schools across the country, both public and charter, have received millions of dollars from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; Zuckerberg has pledged to support the continued expansion of the online platform through his LLC, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.

Shortly after my Washington Post piece appeared, I was contacted by Diane Tavenner, the CEO of Summit charter schools, who asked if we could meet when she was visiting NYC.  I agreed.   We had lunch on Sept. 15, and I handed her a list of questions, mostly about Summit’s privacy policy, most of which my associate, Rachael Stickland, had already sent to Summit staff that she had met at SXSW Edu the previous March, and to which she’d never received a response.

Diane was perfectly pleasant, and emphasized her commitment to students and the value of the program, but offered few substantive answers to any of the questions I asked her at lunch.  When I asked her why Summit and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative felt the need to collect so much personal student data without parental consent, and why they couldn’t just offer the platform to schools if it was so helpful, she replied, “What do you think we’re doing with the data?”  I responded, “you tell me.”

When I asked her why Summit believed they could claim the work of public school teachers uploaded into the platform without compensation, she said that there were no schools where teachers hadn’t voluntarily agreed to use the system, and Summit’s right to their work was understood by them as the cost of participating in the system.

I asked her why in one place in the Summit privacy policy, they promise not to sell student data, but in another part of the document, they claim the right to transfer the data in an “asset sale.”  She said she would ask her people.  Since our meeting, I haven’t heard anything more from her on any of these issues.

During the lunch, I mentioned that I was going to be in Oakland the weekend of Oct. 14- 15 for the Network for Public Education conference, and that I would be interested in visiting some schools after that are using the Summit platform.  I said I was especially eager to visit public schools, since I’d heard from many public school parents in five states who told me their children had negative experiences with the program.  These parents were upset that Summit had withdrawn the right of parents to consent to the system shortly after CZI took over, and they were concerned about how their children’s personal data was being shared with Summit and then redisclosed with unspecified other third “partners” for unclear purposes.

Diane later emailed me and said that I could visit Summit Prep charter school on Oct. 16, in Redwood City, their flagship school.  An Uber would come and pick me up at my Oakland hotel, she said, and the drive would take about an hour each way.

I pointed out to her that according to the list on the Summit website, there were several public and charter schools in Oakland near the hotel where I was staying that had adopted the platform, as well as several Summit charter schools just ten minutes away.  Why couldn’t I visit any of these schools instead?

She responded that the principal of one of the Summit charters near Oakland was on maternity leave, and she didn’t want to put any more pressure on the school.  At the other two nearby Summit charters, she explained, the students would be on “expedition” that afternoon, visiting their out-of-school “partners”.   She didn’t explain why we couldn’t visit any of the other public and charter schools using Summit platform in Oakland itself.

Having no other choice, I accepted her invitation to visit the school in Redwood City, suspecting that this school was probably offered because it exemplified the best model of how the platform was operating. On Oct. 16 I was met by an Uber driver at my hotel, and we traveled south to Summit Prep, through the haze that was issuing from the fires then burning miles north in Sonoma and Napa.

At Summit Prep, I was met by two school leaders, and we talked in an empty office for about a half hour, where they explained to me about the platform and how it was designed. Then we briefly toured two classrooms.  In the first classroom, there were about thirty students engaged in “Personalized Learning Time”, gazing at computer screens and working on their individual “playlists.” These playlists include content in different “focus areas” delivered via various mediums, including online texts and videos.  When students have learned these materials, they’re supposed to take multiple choice online tests to show they’ve “mastered” the area.  In addition, in each of their courses, there are projects they are supposed to complete.

This is how it is described on the Summit website: During PLT, students grab their laptop and log into the Summit Learning Platform where they can view their goals, their projects, and their classes.  During PLT, students work through their playlists at their own pace, and take assessments for each focus area when they feel they’re ready.

All the students were silently and solemnly staring at computer screens.  When I walked around and looked more closely, some were apparently researching projects in evolution, others were looking at a math problems, and still others were looking at Facebook pages or other websites which they hurriedly switched off when I passed by.  There was one science teacher towards the back of the room, talking to two students, but otherwise there was no student or teacher interaction in evidence.

While the projects have a specific deadline, as I had heard earlier from the school leaders, their “content” assignments, including passing online tests, do not.  I asked why this was the case, since it might be difficult for students to research their projects adequately without first learning the content or the underlying “facts” in any focus area or subject.  The school leaders explained they wanted students to set their own pace in absorbing content, but the projects had deadlines as students were supposed to collaborate with one another on this work.

I visited another classroom where 12th graders were engaged in peer-reviewing essays they had written at the beginning of the class, grading them according to the Summit’s complex rubric of cognitive skills.  When I asked why the essays were written on paper rather than on computers, the school leaders told me that this was because they were practicing for the California state exam in which students are asked to write essays on paper.

I noted that I had seen no classroom or small group discussions.  The Summit leaders said that was because none were occurring during my brief visit. It is true that the amount of time I spent in classrooms wasn’t sufficient to make an informed judgment either way, but what I saw did not encourage me.

When we returned to the office, I questioned why delivering content primarily online was an effective method of teaching.  Shouldn’t learning happen in a more interactive fashion, with the material presented in person and then discussed, debated, and explored?  Why did they have this comparatively flat, one-dimensional attitude towards content?  And how could math be taught this way, given that math requires helping students learn how to solve problems in a more interactive fashion?

They told me math is taught differently, and indeed had to be taught through teacher-student interaction, but that this isn’t true of any of the other subjects, whether it be English, social sciences or physical sciences.

Yet teaching content primarily online and separating it from assigned projects seems to me a strange idea, and likely to lead to superficial learning and disengaged students, as many parents tell me their children at Summit schools often feel.   Parents have also reported that because the online content and tests have no deadlines, their children often fall far behind, and are forced to catch up at the end of the semester by hurriedly taking multiple choice tests in many focus areas and subjects, rushing through in a panic.

I also mentioned to the Summit school leaders that I had been reading the latest Rand study  which analyzed results at a subset of “personalized learning” schools, those called the Next Generation Learning Challenge schools that are funded by the Gates Foundation.  I said that I assumed that Summit schools were a part of the study, since they are probably the most renowned of the NGLC schools.  The school leader nodded his head in agreement.

I recounted how the RAND study revealed that surveys of students at the NLGC schools were less likely to feel safe, less likely to say there was at least one adult at the school who knew them well, and less likely to feel they were an important part of their school community, compared to similar students at matched schools.  These findings are depicted in this chart from the study on p. 24:

I pointed out that while advocates for personalized learning schools like to portray students at these schools as more engaged and more in control of their learning, the RAND survey revealed that these students were significantly more likely to say that that “their classes do not keep their attention, and they get bored” compared to similar students at other schools (30% to 23%).  Only 35% of students at the NGLC schools said that “learning is enjoyable” compared to 45% of matched students. (These and additional survey results are from the appendix of the report .)

When I asked the Summit school leader if he thought the students are happy at their schools, he replied, “I think they realize they are engaged in productive struggle.”

The RAND study also found very small and mostly insignificant gains in test scores in the Next Generation Learning schools, which is somewhat surprising, since these schools have received millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation and other sources.  The lead RAND researcher, John Pane, who has spent several years studying the results at personalized learning schools, in work funded by Gates, was recently quoted in Ed Week as saying  “the evidence base [for them] is very weak at this point. ”

Since I’ve returned home, I have been contacted by teachers and parents at Summit schools with additional concerns.  A teacher in Massachusetts wrote me that he has grave doubts about the platform’s suitability for students at his school, particularly those with disabilities and English Language Learners.

Parents in Cheshire, Connecticut have also contacted me, dissatisfied with the use of the Summit platform at their schools, with their middle school children spending many hours on computers in class, working on assignments of uncertain quality.  They sent me a link to a document from their district Superintendent, called Summit Myths /Facts, which includes the following statement:

“The information we share with Summit is limited to student name, course and/or grade and email information for log-on purposes.  We share no other personal data.  Summit is also privy to student performance on the platform.”

Yet the Summit Learning Participation Agreement with Cheshire  , which the parents also sent me, reveals that the district has agreed to give Summit access to an huge amount of highly personal information not mentioned above,  including but not limited to student names, addresses, grades, test scores, race, disabilities, disciplinary history, personal goals and narratives, their communications with teachers and other students, scores on college admission exams, college attendance and work force records and more:

In the performance of the Agreement, Summit may have access to or receive certain information provided by Partner School that is not generally known to others….and includes, but not is limited to, Student Data (defined below) and other data that identifies a specific User, such as a name, address, student identification number, phone number, email address, gender, date of birth, ethnicity, race, disabilities, school, grade, grades and grade point averages, grade level promotion and matriculation, coursework, test scores, assessment data, highest grade completed, attendance, school discipline history, narratives input by students about their own goals and learning plans, communications with teachers and other students, notes and feedback o or about students, observations from students’ mentor about individual students, college admission test scores, AP and IP test information, college eligibility and acceptance, employment, Partner School financial information, and Partner School business plans.

All this data may be accessed by Summit and potentially shared with other unspecified third parties, without parent consent.

In addition, while the Summit agreement with Cheshire promises “No Marketing and Advertising to Students,” this is immediately followed by the following conditionality: “Summit shall not advertise or market to a student or his/her parents/guardians when the advertising or marketing is based upon any of that student’s Student Data that Summit has acquired through the Platform [emphasis added].” This is not the blanket prohibition of advertising or marketing that the headline would imply.

And while Summit claims the right to access a wide range of sensitive student information, the Cheshire agreement also reveals that the corporation demands extraordinary secrecy when it suits its own interests.  For example, the contract bars school officials from communicating any “Summit Confidential Information” to parents or the public at large, which it defines as “all technical and non-technical information concerning or related to Summit’s products, services etc.”  The only individuals to whom the school can disclose any information about Summit’s products or services, including presumably their own views concerning the program, are other school employees who “are bound by non-disclosure obligations that are no less restrictive…”

If a member of the public requests information about the Summit program via a public records or Freedom of Information request, the school “shall notify Summit of such request promptly in writing and cooperate with Summit, at the Partner School’s reasonable request and expense, in any lawful action to contest or limit the scope of such requested disclosure.”

These contractual terms are unacceptable, and violate the obligations of the administrators at these schools to serve the best interests of students and taxpayers, in a transparent and accountable manner, rather than subject themselves to the corporate interests of Summit Charter Schools or Chan-Zuckerberg LLP.

These sorts of non-disclosure provisions have been seen in other contracts of ed tech companies, for example a non-disparagement clause in a New Classrooms contract that apparently prevented California school officials from criticizing the program.  The Gates Foundation also tried to insert similar language into their service agreement with the NY State Education Department, which would bar the NY State Commissioner and other education officials from making any public statements about inBloom without prior written consent from the Foundation, even pertaining to information already in the public record.  (I only learned about this demand –eventually rejected by NYSED –from FOILED emails I received after inBloom’s collapse.  I received the emails more than a year after I had FOILed them,  the day after Commissioner John B. King resigned to take a job at the US Department of Education.)

Cheshire Connecticut parents have now posted a petition to their school board, signed by 278 other parents, asking that the Summit pilot be suspended in their children’s schools The comments posted below the petition are especially illuminating about their observations about the negative impact of the program that they’ve witnessed on their children.  Parents in the Fairview Park City School District in Ohio are demanding that the Summit Program be removed and that parents be part of the decision-making process from now on, in a petition signed by over 400 people, with 105 comments.

There is also an organized push-back against Summit in Pennsylvania, at Indiana area middle schools.  Parents there have repeatedly urged their school board  to stop the the program  introduced at the start of the school year.  A video of the December 4 school board meeting is here, and a reporter’s account is below.

Parents packed the board conference room elbow-to-elbow for the [school board] Academic and Extracurricular Committee meeting and committee members heard concerns for almost twice the usual one hour allocated for the panel’s agenda.  Summit was all they discussed. Parents have protested at the board and committee meetings since early October…

Parents’ concerns have ranged from the complexity of the online program, increases in the amount of time their children spend looking at computer screens rather than listening to teachers, and their kids’ mastery of the subjects.  Lately the board has heard an increasing number of complaints about the quality and appropriateness of the online resources, mainly YouTube videos, that Summit provides for the pupils to study…”

Yet the juggernaut that is Summit will be difficult to stop. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation  gave $20 million to Summit in 2016.  The Gates Foundation awarded Summit $10 million in June 2017, “to support implementation of the Summit Learning program in targeted geographies.”  In September, the day before I met with Diane Tavenner, Summit was one of the ten winners of the XQ Super High School prize, receiving another $10 million from Laurene Powell Jobs’ LLC, the Emerson Collective, to create a new high school in Oakland .

And just a few days before my visit to Summit Prep, Betsy DeVos, the US Secretary of Education, visited a Milpitas public school using the Summit platform , also in the Bay Area.  DeVos explained that the Summit platform “came with great recommendations” and that the “personalized learning approach was something we really wanted to get a handle on.”  After her visit, DeVos said, ““I got to see creative approaches toward empowering students to take control of their learning.”

Avoid Facebook’s New Messenger App For Kids To Protect Your Family’s Privacy & Future

Facebook has announced that it has launched a new messenger app for kids under the age of 13 that is controlled by parents that will allow children to send texts, videos, photos, and partake in other digital activities. While the app is advertised as helping protect the privacy and security of kids, parents shouldn’t be fooled and should not trust this new platform.

Facebook’s history demonstrates it just can’t be trusted with our personal information; especially when it comes to our kids’ data.  For example, Facebook lobbies state and federal lawmakers and regulators to weaken our digital privacy laws so it can better utilize our kids personal information for profit. I watched Facebook’s lobbyists gut the Maryland Student Data Protection Act of 2015 so the company would be able to collect more personal data about our kids in school to sell to data brokers, insurance companies, colleges, employers, etc.

Additionally, Facebook planned to allow Admiral Insurance (which has a U.S. subsidiary: Elephant Auto Insurance) to utilize teens’ private Facebook activity to price insurance polices; only after a swift public backlash did the company back down. Facebook was also caught helping advertisers target teens who had emotional issues. These actions followed Facebook manipulating users’ emotions for science in 2014.

What is even more troubling is that Facebook has lobbied for years to ensure that they don’t have to be accountable and transparent when it comes to the political ads that target their users. Since at least 2010, Facebook has spent a tremendous amount of money on lobbying so digital ads are not treated in the same manner as television, print, and radio ads. Their position helped create the situation that allowed Russian backed ads to manipulate U.S. voters during the 2016 U.S. election.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zukerberg is one of the biggest hypocrites in the world because his actions demonstrate that he believes his kids and family deserve privacy but not his users.  For example, several years ago, he bought four of his neighbors’ homes so his family could have more privacy. Additionally, he mentioned after the birth of second child earlier this year he provided the impression that his kids should limit their screen time. In contrast, Facebook is intentionally opaque when it comes to whom it sells your personal Facebook to and how the information is used against users.

While Facebook is claiming the data they are collecting about kids in this app won’t be used for advertising, it doesn’t promise not to use the data to build profiles on our kids and their families that will later be utilized against them in the future by insurance companies, employers, colleges, law enforcement, governments, etc.

The bottom line is that if parents want to protect their children they should JUST SAY NO to Facebook’s new app for kids.

Survey of ed tech start-ups show low priority given to protecting student privacy

In 2017, a team of Carnegie-Mellon graduate students surveyed ed tech start -ups to see how the individuals involved in creating these businesses viewed the importance of protecting  student  privacy in the design of their products.  They found that it was a low priority for most of them — primarily because their investors did not appear to have a “meaningful interest” in the issue.

These are important findings with real -world consequences. Perhaps the low priority placed on privacy by ed-tech venture capitalists flows from the fact that the stronger the privacy protections, the less potential there will be reap profit from monetizing personal student data.

The results of the study were covered widely here and here.  Yet the link to the summary on the CMU website no longer works, so I asked the authors for a copy and it is posted it here and below.