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best ed web gates

In 2010, Bill Gates is quoted in this article as saying, “Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Gates said at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, CA today. “It will be better than any single university.”   That was over 5 years ago and might explain why our education system is being transformed (disrupted) to personalized, online competency based learning, at such a break neck pace.  Obviously, some folks like Gates think this is where the future lies. [They are pushing for more screens in schools, even though this NEPC report out TODAY states that virtual online schools under perform brick and mortar schools. Interestingly,  blended learning fared equally as bad or worse than online schools.]

Speaking of the current rushed marriage of education-technology-workforce, you may want to check out this San Diego ‘Davos in the Desert’ summit happening now.  The NYT says it is “The Must-Attend Event for Education Technology Investors.” This year, more educators and representatives from school districts and community colleges will attend, [event organizer] said, “because that’s where the leverage is.”

But does education’s reliance on technology to test and measure (and data badge) a child’s  “21st Century Skills and Competencies”  and determine if  students are  “Workforce Ready”,  mean that future students will leave high school knowing the basics,  like math facts?   Maybe not. 


       The quotes above come from a 2011 interview, entitled, “Five questions with Steve Midgely“,

“Our conversation began with Steve with questions about the nature of information access and education. In envisioning a “recommender system” and community of educators sharing resources, we were curious about Steve’s perception of value in this space. Earlier in the semester, we had read Unlearning How to Teach by Erica McWilliam, where she makes a point that factual information is of decreasing value in the digital age, because facts can be easily looked up.  We wondered: “how will digital archives and recommender systems lead to a change in experimental innovation in the K-12 classrooms?”

Steve was inclined to agree that factual information is losing its importance in the context of education, specifically meaning that it has become far easier to quickly look information up online through any of a variety of tools. Sites like Wikipedia are continuing to gain credibility as ways for students to find answers to questions, as well as contribute additional material that they themselves have researched.

Steve compared a system like this to how Amazon’s recommendation system works

                                             [personalized learning=recommender system]

Steve Midgely  is the Founder and Director of the Learning Tapestry. He was a consultant with the Federal Government …and developed some very interesting if sometimes controversial approaches: Learning Registry, Race to the Top and Race to the Top Assessment.–So you might say Steve is involved in Education and has an idea where all this is headed.  (You can and should see *more on Steve at the end of this post. )

But back to this idea of personalized or recommender education and not needing to know facts because you can look them up or they will be presented to you.  In the age of technology, education is surely going to change, but this interview brings up some very serious questions for parents and our society.

How do you feel about relying on technology to deliver or recommend information to your child based on his or her profile?  What information will be personalized and presented (or not presented) to a child based on his or her data?  Maybe his data says he is not a good reader, so he won’t be recommended challenging passages or books. Maybe her talent survey says she should be an acupuncturist but she really had her heart set on Engineering.  Is computer based personalized learning going to shape preferences and bias how our kids are taught and what opportunities, pathways they are  offered?  Are you comfortable with unknown, hidden algorithms   governing your child’s future?  

Have you ever had Amazon Kindle or Netflix offer you a book or movie that they think you will like based on your profile?  Have those choices ALWAYS been accurate?  Would you like the direction of your child’s future career path or curriculum to be determined by these same type of recommender algorithms that you cannot see? 


How do you feel about the decreased need for facts in education and instead relying on technology?

Consider this:   How many kids (and adults) use a digital watch or smart phone to tell time, instead of a wristwatch with a clock-face number dial?  How many schools have stopped teaching hand writing (cursive) and instead started encouraging keyboarding, often in kindergarten?  How many times have you been at a store and the cashier taking your money does not know how much change to give you?  It seems to be happening more frequently. 

Ask most any business owner or employer and you will hear, “I just want someone who knows how to count change.”  Interesting.


Which brings us to : What is Workforce Ready? 

Maybe sharing a child’s videos, photos and personal data will tell us.

One major aspect of aligning Workforce with school is to align all state databases, to make them interoperable and allow sharing across agencies without parental consent or knowledge,  including sharing a child’s lifetime of  personal data held in each state’s SLDS database, starting in pre-school.  

Do businessmen and women supporting this School to Workforce Innovation  know that “Workforce Innovation” is set up to share massive amounts of children’s personal information across statewide systems? 

Do business people really need (or even want) to see your  3rd grader’s behavior or medical record, their  homeless status, family income or IEP disability status?  If these databases are aligned, as laid out in this state Workforce blueprint, (for starters see pages 10, 38, 44, 70, 87, 92), the student data would be interoperable, shared between state agencies and, as  you can see, page 70  states that the  proposed interoperable statewide system (which would include student’s information from SLDS database) would allow real time  data reporting to the US Dept of Labor,  and would allow tracking at the individual client level.    Is that what “Workforce Ready” means, tracking everything a child does from preschool-grade 12,  in real time?

gov wdqi


We think business people want skilled workers who can do math facts without a calculator and business people have no desire to dangerously share children’s data. 

Perhaps these same business people who support the school-to-workforce innovation  need to be asking what “workforce ready” will mean. 



Does Workforce Ready mean passing an online test?

electrical construction

What skills will the student have?


If Workforce Ready will mean online training courses (Like SkillsUSA)  for say, electrical construction wiring,  and the online test to measure the student’s competency in that skill (and earn a data badge), that test has a cut-score of 60%.  Does that mean that 40% of the time your electrician student might not be fully competent in that skill but they still passed, earned their badge?  Does competency as an electrician mean the student will know math facts? Or should we not worry because the student will know how to use a calculator or look up  these and other facts on the internet?


In Closing…

Sure, we want our children prepared for the world. We want them to have opportunities to explore apprenticeships, colleges, careers.  We do not want their personal data shared widely so that opportunities may cherry pick or exclude children based on their data. 

Sure, our digital world is rapidly changing. Technology is useful, when appropriate. However, in this author’s opinion, technology should never replace the need to learn facts and children should be evaluated by a human being teacher, not a robot.

Many parents will continue to quiz their children on math facts, encourage them to know how to print and do cursive–not only because it has been shown to help cognitive development and relieve anxiety–but because someday, the power or the internet might go out, and then what?




*More on Steve Midgely

Steve Midgely was the head of the Federal Learning Registry, a joint student data gathering project between the Department of Defense and the Department of Education.

We reported on Steve Midgely and the Learning Registry’s 2011 video presentation that explained how the Federal Learning Registry plans to collect data on school children, while using help from outside data gathering vendors like Prometheon, Microsoft. We also shared the 2015 White House’s press release on “free” online, data collecting, Open Ed Resources for schools. These online vendors/ OER programs will be sharing the  data they gather  (data and meta data from students while online ) with the Federal Learning Registry.

Steve Midgely,  is also the Founder and Director of the Learning Tapestry: “He has served in government as a senior adviser to the Secretary of the US Department of Education for education technology, interoperability standards and educational infrastructure and as the Director of Education at the FCC, where he headed the team that developed the Education policy for the National Broadband Plan. …Steve has also run the private technology consulting firm Mixrun, providing consulting CTO services to organizations including the California Department of Education project Brokers of Expertise, a platform to share and build the expertise of educators, as well as Pearson, Amplify and the Hewlett Foundation.”





Cheri Kiesecker