“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.'” ~ Matthew 21:12-13
True, pure education is never about the money. Yet money can certainly help spread the gospel to the meekest of the flock…
(Pardon the biblical puns…being among venture capitalists made me a touch self-righteous)
I kept thinking this as I strolled in with my colleagues into a resort too rich for any of us, to register at a conference many of us never heard of, to talk to power brokers who usually wouldn’t give us the time of day.
This is how it feels to be a TEACHER at an EDUCATION technology conference–now you see how warped this world can be.
I joined my old buddies at LearnZillion in Scottsdale, Arizona for a weekend of pre-conference analysis, test drives of new processes and formats, and nailing down of logistics for TeachFest, our big shindig in San Francisco in a few weeks. As a second act, we were featured at a panel discussion at the nearby ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit, a showplace for up and coming ed-tech entrepreneurs to introduce their new products for venture capitalists eager to take a ride on the next big thing.
The first was fun, exhausting, exciting…definitely worth the trip. It’s the second part of the trip that concerns us today.
The Phoenician, a monstrous resort hugging a rugged desert peak, with golf carts, pools, fountains and lushness everywhere, screamed of moneyed wealth. Even the toilets practically demanded gratuity for their customer service. It was the type of place where amongst the hot tubs, golf outings, cocktails and mixers, factories would close, jobs would be lost, lives would be ruined, souls crushed; basically par for the course (no pun intended) for a conference focused on education.
From the first steps in, you could tell who didn’t belong. Everyone had their blazers, suits, state-of-the-art smartphones and Italian loafers. Our LearnZillion t-shirts (mine was a size too small…possibly a deliberate move to make me look more menacing) coupled with khakis and skirts of varied tones and wear made us look like pimply-assed pages at a teen clothing store.
It didn’t help that I would go through this sober.
I’ve been to conferences, workshops, seminars, conventions, you name it. The amount of noise–useless, soul-crushing noise–can only be assauged through copious amounts of alcohol. I had a full plate of a schedule: presentations and our panel discussion, so a quick trip to the bar wasn’t happening.
The first hour was a series of presentations by start-up companies who openly, and sometimes quite frankly, were shilling for a bite on the tit of a lucky billionaire. All of them said some blather about how their company has a “proven track record”, or creates “quality data-driven analysis.” One company (who will remain nameless…nah, I’ll go ahead, it was called A2i) claimed they used “randomized control models” of students to test their work–a claim so ensconced in bullshit it struck me dumb (a rare occurrence). I didn’t have the heart to tell him that “randomized control model” is (a) an oxymoron, and (b) statistically impossible if you want an ACCURATE representative sample of a large body. Randomness doesn’t ensure objectivity–it just ensures chaos.
“There goes the next undersecretary of education” I chortled as A2i-Man sauntered off to his seat.
The other presentations continued in the same vein, and unlike my more polite colleagues, I made no bones of demonstrating my pleasure or disgust (at least facially).
Agilix tauts a “learning infrastructure”, a combination of data management, learning system and course registration without actually showing a product.
Aristotle Circle, a fantastic name for a not-so-techy product, is basically a staffing service for tutors, with a Powerpoint so text-heavy the Wall Street Journal would find it verbose.
A teacher training program called Better Lesson showed promise, until a certain founder of a certain charter network (which rhymes with “skip” or “Crip”) showed up on their board of advisors. No one’s making me shame a kid publicly or clap in unison like a fucking Blackshirt, thank you.
Then came BloomBoard, a company founded by a friend of the LZ founders, Jason Lange. Now, a friend of mine at the conference, God bless him, is a great teacher, a real motivated go-getter and an invaluable asset to our team. That said, he was really excited about this product as he saw it on SBSW Edu this year and, to be honest, I didn’t see the value. Maybe he valued other things than I did. Maybe it was that cute Midwestern tendency to trust anyone with a clean haircut and a nice jacket.
Whatever it was, something about Lange really bothered me. He really came across as kind of callous, and by the end I wanted to throttle him. Lange started with a graph showing that the new frontier was the management of data needed for teacher evaluation systems. His system would organize data for teacher evaluation and crunch numbers into an evaluation for me based on a numerical score in any number of criteria. If the price was right, my supervisors could then assign the appropriate support programs for that specific numerical flaw that I have.
People around me saw this as a breakthrough and revolutionary. Lange certainly was proud of his baby. Yet…forgive my ignorance, but isn’t this just a system to move a bunch of numbers into new buckets of numbers–buckets that put the livelihoods of teachers at stake without any thought to genuine, REAL feedback?
So I get a 2 in point 4.5, but a 4 in point 4.7. What determined that? What determines the system? How can I know what to actually DO to become better? This system isn’t helping me at all in this regard.
By the time I left, I not only was bewildered, I was beside myself with rage. Apart from some rare exceptions, I didn’t see a single individual who gave a shit about education, just a pack of fly-by-night snake-oil salesmen looking to cash in.
What’s even worse…those in charge of education in America are looking to these hucksters for the answer to their problems.
Later that afternoon, we’d get a chance to address these esteemed captains of Edtech industry–and you’ll be shocked at some of our responses.
More on the EIS 2013 tomorrow.