📑 Fables of School Reform

Bookmarked Fables of School Reform by Audrey Watters (The Baffler)
Over the past five years, more than $13 billion in venture capital has been sunk into education technology startups. But in spite of all the money and political capital pouring into the sprawling ed-tech sector, there’s precious little evidence suggesting that its trademark innovations have done anything to improve teaching and learning.
Audrey Watters brings together a tangled narrative of innovation associated with educational technology. She explains how in search of the mercurial solution, computers and coding are brought in with the only clear outcome being privitisation:

Outfitting struggling schools with computers was a self-evident bid to render the public education system more efficient and effective—and the entirely foreseeable fallout from that blitz has been the recent push toward vocational training that prepares students for a technological future: “everyone should learn to code.” The tech-mogul variant of that directive is “everyone should learn to privatize.”

This is all built on the back of networking between the same names for the last thirty years:

You know the old aphorism: those who don’t learn from history are condemned to network their way into well-connected luxury and clout.

This is a useful read alongside Ben Williamson’s Big Data in Education.

Marginalia

Outfitting struggling schools with computers was a self-evident bid to render the public education system more efficient and effective—and the entirely foreseeable fallout from that blitz has been the recent push toward vocational training that prepares students for a technological future: “everyone should learn to code.” The tech-mogul variant of that directive is “everyone should learn to privatize.”

The financialization of education, that is to say, is not particularly new nor is it coming from a particularly innovative crowd—just a decidedly persistent one.

Any sort of “review” in the ASU+GSV framework would be a kind of networking or power brokering—it’s who you know, not what you know; it’s not how you wield the findings of your own research (or learn from that of others) as much as it’s how you wield your relationships.

Still, what hasn’t changed, it seems, are many of the figures involved in funding these ideas—together with the ideas themselves, which have remained stalwartly gadget-obsessed and market-centered for the past thirty-odd years, despite all the talk about innovation.

What was the appeal of Theranos to a group more commonly associated with education policy and education technology investments? Perhaps it was simply that Theranos promised the same kind of miraculous technological fix that continues to dominate the reveries of ed-tech investors. It is, after all, much the same story that startups usually peddle: incumbent players in an industry—be it health care or education—have little interest in disrupting status-quo arrangements. No, only a bold, outside innovator can see beyond the constraints that expertise typically places on those working within a field.

But you know the old aphorism: those who don’t learn from history are condemned to network their way into well-connected luxury and clout. Besides, why dally with the notion of history at all when everything is moving so very fast along such clearly delineated pathways to personal success? There’ll be an app for making the past entirely irrelevant soon enough—peddled as new and “disruptive” by the same diligent entrepreneurs who’ve been vying to privatize every last public school over the last three decades. And with any luck, it’ll be the toast of next year’s ASU+GSV.

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