Monopoly Technology Platforms are Colonizing Education

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Monopoly Technology Platforms are Colonizing Education

By Larry Kuehn

The exposés of abuse by social media corporations like Google and Facebook have finally brought attention to the dangers of monopolies over our communications. The way these monopolies have been colonizing public education has, however, gone almost unnoticed. This is rampant privatization sneaking in as essential to “21st Century learning.”

The top five global capital corporations are technology platforms—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook. Platforms are a host for a variety of services and uses. All of the big five platform corporations have become too large in a short period of time to have any significant competition outside of this group. They compete against one another, adding services to secure their monopoly by offering users everything they do online.

If a new service is developed that seems to be gaining users, or that competes with an element of their platform, it is purchased and integrated into the platform—avoiding new competitors. Alternatively, they use their massive resources to develop a comparable app and push the potential competitor aside.

Snicek, in Platform Capitalism, points out that the development of these monopolies “introduces new tendencies within capitalism that pose significant challenges to a post-capitalist future.” Building public cooperative platforms becomes an impossible dream.

No surprise—these platforms have moved to colonize education. Public education represents a big chunk of potential revenue. Just as importantly, schools are where one can find most of the future potential consumers and users of the platform services.

Colonization is a process where a significant force moves into an area and dominates. It takes over not only the production and resources, but imposes—often by stealth and power—the processes and approaches and even values of the social and cultural environment. And, dominate is what the monopoly platforms are on track to do in public education.

The most successful colonizer has been Google. A recent report indicates that Google’s G-Suite for Education is being used by half the teachers and students in the U.S. Canada is fast approaching the same level of use. It includes a range of free software tools that can be used by students and teachers—word processing, presentations, spread sheets and the like. G-Suite incorporates “Classroom,” an integrated learning management system that keeps track of grades, attendance and more. And, of course, YouTube is linked to student use.

New elements are added frequently. “Google Sites” is promoted for student e-portfolios, because “every student should publish for the world.” Google acquired Workbench, integrated with Google Classroom to give “lessons connected to a variety of ‘maker’ activities focused on STEM.” It is part of Google’s plan to “help schools and educators address their universal needs around education content.”

Google, rather than democratic public institutions, therefore shapes what is on offer. Google’s position as colonizer is strengthened by the hardware increasingly used in schools—the Google Chromebook. It is less expensive than other computers because much of what it needs to operate is supplied by Google in the cloud—operating software, applications and memory. No need to build those into the computer.  According to market reports, Chromebooks make up the majority of all computers sold to schools in the U.S. and are marketed globally.

However, one must have a gmail account to use these Google tools—so if a parent wants to protect the privacy of their child and refuses a gmail account that kid is left out while the rest of the class works away on their Chromebook and other Google tools. (See here the kind of consent form parents are asked to sign, giving Google access to acquire and store student information outside of Canada.)

Google has even taken up teaching “internet safety,” with a program aimed at reaching 5 million students. Its core is a game for students in Grades three to six to teach them to avoid “schemers, hackers and other bad actors.” However, as critics point out, it doesn’t talk about privacy concerns when users’ personal information and actions are tracked online. Google conveniently ignores its role as a “bad actor.”

A Swedish study of Google’s strategy concluded that “By making an implicit demarcation between two concepts (your) ‘data’ and (collected) ‘information’ Google can disguise the presence of a business model for online marketing and, at the same time, simulate the practices and ethics of a free public service institution.”

In “The Weaponization of Education Data,” Audrey Watters points out “the risk isn’t only hacking.  It’s amassing data in the first place. It’s profiling. It’s tracking. It’s surveilling.”

Google isn’t alone in the business of colonizing education and student data—just the most successful so far. One competitor is Microsoft 365 Education, with a promise of “empowering every student on the planet to achieve more” and that it will “unlock limitless learning.”

It’s not an accident that it is “Microsoft 365” that is being pushed. It offers a cloud-based software and cloud storage for your work. It is the new business model for Microsoft: they don’t sell you software, you rent it—and you keep paying for it. And your work isn’t saved on your own computer, so you have to keep up your subscription. Like Google, they are hoping that students will keep using their tools when they finish being students.

Microsoft is imitating much of what Google offers, but by charging for the service rather than trading it for data. It offers apps, educator training and STEM lessons “to enrich science, technology, engineering and math classes.” They offer “budget friendly” Windows 10 devices with licences for Microsoft 365 Education.

The other major tech corporations have programs as well. Apple, for example, was the first into education with the Apple IIe and the “Apple Classroom of Tomorrow” way back in the 1980s. More recently it depended on the ease of use of the iPad, despite its cost, to sell classroom sets along with Pearson curriculum in an ill-fated project with Los Angeles schools.

Venture capitalists are hoping to find the magic app that will make a fortune. The potential market is indicated by expenditure of hundreds of millions each year on developing new products. The “winners” are likely to be bought up by one of the major corporations—or find their product idea taken by the monopolies.

Not enough attention is paid by education authorities or researchers to the shaping and distortion of education that is possible—even likely—by this colonization of education by technology monopolies.

Larry Kuehn is an IPE/BC Fellow, IPE/BC director and Director of Research & Technology for the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. 

THINK TANK: Privatization and Public Education

On December 7th, IPE/BC (with the support of Your Education Matters) held a Think Tank to discuss the wide range of issues around privatization in public education in British Columbia. IPE/BC Fellows, teachers, researchers, and community leaders came together to consider what issues to address and how strategically to do so. Joel French, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, started the conversation with a keynote address, Anti-private and Pro-public Advocacy in K-12 education: Lessons from Alberta.

IPE/BC will be considering the many ideas generating in moving forward with its strategic goal of supporting the public in public education.

 

IPE/BC Fellows on privatization and distributed learning

On Saturday, September 22, 2018, Larry Kuehn and Liz Blackwood will be participating in a forum, Public Education: Championing Lasting Change,  sponsored by First Call and Your Education Matters.

Their presentation…

Privatization and Distributed Learning in BC: Impacts on Educational Opportunities for Special Needs Students

With parental dissatisfaction with learning opportunities for their special needs children many are turning to private, for-profit schools that offer education primarily through distance strategies. There is a conflation of issues here including privatization and the appropriateness of distributed learning strategies that need to be more public and better understood to facilitate change.

Are Private Schools Better than Public Schools?

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Are Private Schools Better than Public Schools?

Perception Versus Reality

By E. Wayne Ross

Last year the BBC ran a story with the headline “How Canada Became an Education Superpower.”  The BBC pointed out that Singapore, South Korea and Finland usually get mentioned as the world’s top performing education systems, “but with much less recognition, Canada has climbed to the top tier of international rankings.”

Whenever the OECD releases the Program for International Student Assessments (PISA) results, breathless reporting usually follows. There are many reasons to be skeptical of international rankings based upon a single test given to 15 year-olds.

Despite its international “superpower” status, a majority of Canadians don’t believe their public schools measure up to private schools. Less than seven percent of Canadian students attend private schools, but the majority of Canadians believe private schools provide a better education than public schools. In a 2012 Ipsos-Reid poll, 58% of respondents stated they believe private school education is better than public school education; 63% said they would send their children to private schools if they could afford it.

In British Columbia, there has been a 12% drop in public school enrolment since 2000. Meanwhile private school enrolments have increased from nine percent in 2000 to 13% in 2017, almost double the national average (Source: FISABC).

Between 2000–01 and 2016–17, the full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrolment in BC independent schools increased from 57,462.7 to 81,180.6. This is an increase of 41.3% (Source: BCTF)

So, if more parents in Canada and BC are choosing to send their children to private school is this an indication that private schools are really better than public schools? Not necessarily – indeed the research evidence suggests the answer is “no.” I will come back to this point in moment, but first let’s explore the conventional wisdom that private schools are better than public schools.

In BC, key factors that coincide with private school enrolment increases is an historic era of labour conflict, budget cuts, school closures and overcrowding in the public school system from 2000-2016.

Another factor related to increased private school enrolment is marketing. Extensive marketing campaigns touting a private school advantage cannot be underestimated.

In addition, while BC public schools were under a funding siege for the first 16 years of this century, private schools were enjoying significant funding increases and a wealth of positive (and free) press from publication of school ranking schemes, which consistently placed private schools at the top.

Between 2000–01 and 2016–17, funding for BC independent schools increased by 95.9%. This is larger than student enrolment increases by 54.6%, and larger than funding increases for public schools by 90.0%. (Source: BCTF)

All of these factors feed the idea there is a private school advantage.

But, reality is more than appearances and focusing exclusively on appearances—on the evidence that strikes us immediately and directly—can be misleading. This is particularly true when we examine school rankings because private schools’ higher average test scores are at the heart of the conventional belief that private schools are better than public schools, along with their typically well-funded programs.

Anyone who scrolls through the rankings of BC schools will find evidence that students who attend private schools have better on average academic performance than public school students. But the key question is to what degree do private schools actually produce those results?

There is a growing body of research evidence that attempts to answer this question.

In 2011, OECD’s analysis of PISA results found that while students in private schools tended to outperform their public school peers, the difference was primarily the result of the higher socio-economic status of private school families.

“Students in public schools in a similar socio-economic context as private schools tend to do equally well,” according to the OECD report, which concluded that “there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help to raise the level of performance of the school system, as a whole” (OECD, Private schools: Who benefits?)

In their 2013 book, The Public School Advantage, University of Illinois researchers Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher Lubienski found that compared to private schools students, public school students performed the same if not better on achievement tests once demographic factors were taken into account.

Statistics Canada echoed these findings in a 2015 report, which found students in Canadian private schools have more educational success than their public school counterparts because of their socio-economic characteristics, not because of private schools themselves.

The StatsCan report identifies two factors that consistently account for differences between public and private school student academic outcomes. “Students who attended private high schools were more likely to have socio-economic characteristics positively associated with academic success and to have school peers with university-educated parents … School resources and practices accounted for little of the differences in academic outcomes” (Statistics Canada: Academic Outcomes of Public and Private High School Students: What Lies Behind the Differences?)

And, in a study published last month, University of Virginia researchers Robert C. Pianta and Arya Ansari examined the extent to which enrolment in private schools between kindergarten and grade nine was related to students’ academic, social, psychological and attainment outcomes at age 15. This longitudinal study of over one thousand students concluded:

“… children with a history of enrollment in private schools performed better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. However, by simply controlling for the socio-demographic characteristics that selected children and families into these schools, all of the advantages of private school education were eliminated.”

In addition, Pianta and Ansari found no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools, benefited from private school enrolment.

Are private schools really better than public schools? Conventional wisdom may say they are, but the evidence suggests that is a myth.

Parents send their children to private schools for a variety of reasons that make sense for them. But, there is substantial and growing evidence that there is no value-added in private school education.

For more research-based resources on private schools see “Resources on Private Schools” by National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

E. Wayne Ross is a Professor of education at the University of British Columbia and an IPE/BC Board Member and Fellow.

What do we teach while the world is burning?

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

What Do We Teach While the World is Burning?

by Lizanne Foster

I usually spend August thinking about what I’ll do when I’m back at school again in September but lately all I can think about is 48 C rain. I keep wondering about what lessons would prepare my teen students for a world where hot water falls from the sky, where oceans are too warm to cool nuclear reactors, and when road surfaces  from India to the UK keep melting.

What kinds of skills will be needed in order to thrive if a domino effect of deforestation and thawing tundra turns our planet into a hothouse?

I suspect that knowing how to parse a sentence or how to solve for x aren’t going to be essential skills in such an environment.

But what will be?

I’d be willing to bet that teachers in 1918 were confident that a liberal arts curriculum would prepare students to fit socially and economically into a rapidly modernizing, industrializing world. An essential skill then was probably a sensibility to not stray too far beyond the boundaries of conformity while thinking critically about established ideas in literature, math and science. For most of the 20th century, high school graduates who had mastered this skill could look forward to decades of socio-economic rewards.

But is this skill still enough for students who will graduate into the third decade of the 21st century?

What do my 15-year-old students need to know?

Certainly there’ll be discussions about the socio-cultural impacts of artificial intelligence and the economic outlook for a “world without work,” but I’m not quite sure where in our curriculum we’ll be addressing living in a world where new colours have to be added to weather maps to display unprecedented heat.

Should we be teaching them how to recover after wildfires or rising seas have destroyed their homes?

Should they consider how they’ll respond to the millions of migrants whose homes will have become “the mouth of a shark” as the poet Warsan Shire so eloquently describes?

A century ago a few teachers may have encouraged teens to question militarism in the aftermath of The Great War but any suggestion that relentless economic growth would lead to millions of deaths and an uninhabitable planet would likely have resulted in a referral to an asylum. After all, the age of mass consumerism was just beginning and there were all those newly electrified gadgets to buy.

Any day now the back-to-school ads will be popping up on screens everywhere. We’ll keep being reminded to buy, buy, buy. The tragic irony is that we have created an economy that is utterly dependent on consumer confidence and yet it’s mass consumption that is leading us to a new norm of rain that falls at 48 degrees Celsius and rivers too warm for salmon to spawn.

And there’s the rub, isn’t it? When our education system is a product of, and is sustained by a consumerist society, is it hypocritical to challenge conformity to consumerism?

What role do teachers have in the necessary transition away from our fossil-fuel dependent economy?

Within the next 24 months, my Grade 10 students are going to have to make choices about future education and careers. What should they know about how their lives may be affected given that many experts are predicting that the “oil bubble is about to burst“?

Does my teaching role include preparing my students for a post-consumer society? Can we actually return to a time when we were known by our “societal roles (parents …doctors, plumbers, etc.) or political status (voters),” not just by our roles as consumers or customers?

I don’t know.

What does one teach when the world is burning?

Lizanne Foster is an IPE/BC Fellow and a secondary teacher in Surrey.

Inequality and International Student Tuition

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Inequality and International Student Tuition in BC School Districts

A just released BCTF Research Report, International student tuition income increases—and inequality grows, authored by IPE/BC Fellow Larry Kuehn describes the increase in international student enrollment in BC schools, resulting in a substantial increase in resources for schools in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

The policy has been a success in an economic sense. International education is the third highest “export” from BC, behind only forestry products and minerals. Education—K–12 and post-secondary—is considered an “export” because it brings in income from across borders for tuition and living expenses. However, given the way it is structured, the increases in tuition revenue also increase the inequalities.

A few report highlights:

  • Eleven school districts (out of 60) received 73% of the total funds in 2016–17: 10 districts in the Metro Vancouver area and the Victoria area.
  • International student tuition is generally $15,000 for an academic year, twice what BC provides for each Canadian student.
  • West Vancouver and Coquitlam school districts benefit the most from international student tuition revenue.

Tuition from international students was promoted by the previous administration to increase financial resources during a period of government austerity policies. The question now is how the inequality this revenue stream has created will be addressed in the future school funding formulas.

Click here for the full report.

The Many Faces of Privatization

IPE/BC has released this occasional paper introducing and providing examples of ways privatization intrudes on public education.

The paper can be accessed HERE.

Public funding for private schools may be the most obvious way public education in British Columbia is being privatized, but there are other less obvious privatizing strategies at work. This is a working paper for an IPE/BC workshop that offers analysis of 1) the common narratives that legitimize and promote privatization thus drawing the public into a manufactured consent of privatization and 2) specific contexts in which this privatization in manifest, such as personalized learning (especially with technology), choice programs, school fees and fund raising, business principles of school administration, corporate sponsorships, fee paying international student enrollment, and publicly funded private schools.

IPE/BC presents workshop at Advocacy Works 2.0

On Saturday, April 21st IPE/BC Fellows Larry Kuehn, E. Wayne Ross and Sandra Mathison presented a workshop titled, “The Many Faces of Privatization in Education.” Speaking to activist parents and teachers, the panel outlined both obvious and more hidden ways that privatization occurs in public education and what the consequences are.

 

Navigating Educational Technology

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Navigating Educational Technology

by Vis Naidoo

In 1998, Shafika Isaacs and I introduced the concept of the value chain for the use of technology in school education. We reviewed various projects in South Africa at the time and noted that unless key elements of the education system are functioning at a basic minimum level, no matter what technology is thrown at it, we would not attain the expected learning outcomes and improve quality. We stressed the need to focus on education and not on the technology and be strategic about how we use it to enhance learning in schools, universities and other spheres of life.

Two key research conclusions about the impact of educational technology are:

  1. Technology itself cannot improve learning and instruction but it is the effective use of technology that will see better education impacts.
  2. Technology developments will continue to influence and change our lives, the way we work and live. It will also change the education landscape.

Technology on its own cannot improve education systems and require other elements to be functional and focus on the effective use of technology. Yet our education systems continue to invest in technology, often based on what seems to be the latest and greatest. How do we address this so that the education system can achieve the results we expect with current and innovative technology developments? How do we avoid our education becoming too influenced by the latest technology development and ‘carpet-baggers’ peddling the latest technology with promises to revolutionize education?

Perhaps a good starting point is to have an agreed understanding of educational technology. I draw on the research work commissioned by DfID where they define edtech as ‘the use of digital or electronic technologies and materials to support teaching and learning.’

For education technology to have an impact is to enable its effective use. Technologies have and will continue to emerge and offer new possibilities to impact learning and teaching, enable large-scale support of learning leading to improvements in learner progress and quality of education. For this to take place the policy environment, school management, digital content and teacher development are important. The report on the impact of educational technology notes the following:

Therefore, useful research on the impact of educational technology should focus on the complete system, including the teacher, the content taught, the technology used, the school system or environment in which the teacher is working, and the environment in which the learning is taking place.

I have developed a framework to consider when looking at ICT integration and use within the school system. Based on this framework, it is useful to consider the following questions to determine what constitutes an effective and cost-efficient edtech program:

  • Is this within the policy framework of the country/province and does it help to advance the strategy leading to the achievement of the national/provincial goals, including the country’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)?
  • What are the learning outcomes, how is the curriculum structured and where will technology be used to enable learning and the achievement of outcomes?
  • What learning support materials and technology will be used?
  • Is there an effective teacher development and pedagogy focus so teachers are able to use technology to improve their teaching methods?
  • What evaluation methods will be used to determine the value of the edtech program and whether it supports the achievements of the outcomes?

When determining the educational technology that will best work for schools, perhaps it is important to note the criteria that will hold the edtech companies to greater accountability. Any edtech purchased needs to have effective support for teachers and their professional development, so there are no further fees required for this. Of course, having the education product developed with the central involvement of teachers is another imperative that helps to deliver relevant learning materials and methodologies in edtech programs.

When choosing an edtech products or services, it is important to understand how these will be used and the kind of after-sales customer service available. This helps ensure it is easy to install and use and there is an effective support to troubleshoot and address system-level problems. Once a purchase of a product or service is made, there should be no need for further purchases to make the edtech tools work.

There is increasing evidence of the value of edtech in support of attaining educational outcomes, the impact on teaching and learning and changing the way learning is taking place. Further evidence is required to understand ‘what difference was made to the educational experiences of the teachers, students, and communities involved.’ This further illustrates the need to ensure the design and implementation of edtech programs are carefully planned to improve educational quality and collect data and conduct analysis to determine the impact.

See also:

Power, T., Gater, R., Grant, C. and Winters, N. (2014). Educational Technology Topic Guide. The Health & Education Advice & Resource Team (HEART) with funding from British Government’s DfID.

Vis Naidoo is an IPE/BC Fellow and education technology expert .

Why Not Abolish School Property Taxes Altogether?

Perspectives is an opportunity for Fellows and others to share their ideas in short, accessible essays. IPE/BC Fellows hold a range of views and interests relative to public education.

Why Not Abolish School Property Taxes Altogether?

by John Malcolmson

People concerned about Vancouver’s speculator-driven rise in real estate costs might have been encouraged to see the NDP government impose a special property surtax on high cost houses in last month’s provincial budget. This tax is estimated to raise $50 million in the current fiscal year.

Obviously, anything that makes the well-heeled pay a little extra or tames profit-taking in the housing market should benefit the push for increased affordability.

Of particular interest is that monies raised by the tax are earmarked for the public schools. After all, our hard-pressed school system can use all the funding support it can get, right?

It is useful to pause and consider the underlying facts with property taxes. The BC School Act mandates that all school property taxes raised in the province are to be used to fund public schools. But will the extra money raised in Vancouver, where most $3 million+ valued homes are located, go to the beleaguered District 39?  Not a chance. This is where the story gets interesting.

For years Vancouver has raised more property tax than is needed to fund its budget because school property tax tracks assessed property values not school expenditures. What this means is when all Vancouver taxes are counted and the value of homeowner grants to School District residents is deducted, the District brings in more money than is required to fund its entire provincial grant. In 2015, the district raised $447 million in property tax in support of returning provincial school grant payments of $434 million, a surplus of $13 million. The current surplus is likely higher than 2015 because of the past two years’ rapid run-up in city real estate prices.

This is a curious because the provincial government controls tax rates applied to the various classes of property and residential rates are specific to each district. The province could tweak rates further down in a revenue surplus district like Vancouver to reduce the take and bring tax receipts back into balance with what is needed. But it doesn’t.

The net result is that “surplus” taxes raised in Vancouver are shipped to other districts around the province to subsidize their budgetary requirements. This is because the provincial government controls and fixes the size of budgetary allocations to BC’s sixty school districts. There is no more room for additional property tax dollars in the Vancouver school district budget because the District already overfunds its budget. Paradoxically, layering another property tax onto upscale city real estate will only make the current imbalance worse. Because the overwhelming majority of new surtax revenue will come from Vancouver, this is very much a revenue measure that singles out the city, its school district and its property owners.

(See here, for this analysis of Provincial Property-based Taxes in the Metro Vancouver Region prepared by Cascadia Partners.)

How can this problem be solved?  Returning property tax control to each district may sound like a solution, but it is not. Property tax assessments are unevenly distributed in this province and giving control to local districts would be a retrograde step, one that would move BC in the direction of many American jurisdictions where the gap separating rich and poor school districts is wide. For obvious reasons, we do not want a situation where some BC districts can raise new taxes this way and others simply cannot.

A real solution would be to abolish property taxes earmarked for school purposes, or at least the residential property taxes which currently account for close to 40% of total property tax receipts. There is no good reason to maintain a tax levy created a century ago when districts lacked access to other sources of revenue. Today, districts have recourse to the provincial budget and the province is responsible for properly funding our public schools. School property taxes on residences are an anachronism that should be done away with.

Most, but not all, Canadian provinces still rely on property tax support because changing tax systems is difficult and runs the risk of unsettling local governments and taxpayers. Nonetheless, BC has an opportunity to break new ground here in efforts to reform public school finance.

Another real benefit in this proposal is that it could allow local governments in Vancouver and elsewhere to access tax room for other priorities. Our local governments are perennially starved for funding to support important transportation initiatives or the development of low cost housing. Both are key to the development of livable and affordable cities.

Property taxes used to be a keystone of public school finance in this province. Now they are an important revenue base held hostage to an antiquated system. The province needs to accept its responsibility for fully funding all schools equitably, and local governments need the revenue tools to fix urgent problems that threaten urban affordability and livability. Both problems could be addressed through this needed reform of the school property tax system.

John Malcolmson is an IPE/BC Fellow and was formerly the CUPE K-12 sector research analyst.