Learning Machines


New Yorkers today enjoy the best educational system in the United States, and pay less for it than almost any other state with comparable success rates.

The revolution began in 2014, the year the very first of these Smart Schools Commissions met, with three key ingredients: voters' passage of the SMART bond act, the Regents Pathways to Graduation, and the re-election of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The simultaneous technical and structural improvements of the first two led Governor Cuomo to center his 2018 campaign on offering the "best education in the United States at the lowest cost in the country."

Enthusiastic voters leapt at the opportunity, and brought us to the school system we have today: school is something you do, not a place you go. Students can learn any time. Subsidized childcare and community athletics and culture programs provide the social functions of schools, often using the same facilities, but education is now something that happens anywhere, any time.

The Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department supervise multiple curricula developed and managed by Pearson-Disney and Bloomberg McGraw, with infrastructure provided by Google and Microsoft-AWS. Separating the the infrastructure from the curriculum and mandating competition in both avoided vendor lock-in and created incentives for efficiency. Open interfaces have allowed a market for extension classes beyond the core to thrive within the system.

Teaching systems follow the student, thanks to RFID wristbands that simplify access and minimize cheating. Students can pick up screens, glasses, and immersive environments and instantly find themselves in a media and learning level appropriate experience. Students can switch gears or sharpen focus at any point, with automatic guidance to ensure that they achieve Need to Know (NTK) goals. When students become distracted or disruptive, Electronic Hypnotic Sedation (EHS) brings them back to learning.

Parents no longer need to worry about the fortunes or whims of their school district or individual teachers affecting their child's education. Parents can take an active role in choosing curricula on a broad range of subjects from a wide variety of perspectives, while students can find their own pathways through the coursework, and work with other students across the state who are at a similar level. Continuous Performance Assessment (CPA) ended the high-stress testing challenge by providing daily feedback on student progress. Parents can see how far their children have come, every single day or even during the day.

Past Smart Schools Commissions have reflected on the challenges posed by disgruntled former employees and the glories of reduced tax bills. Those challenges seem far away now, and the glories obvious. While there are still disparities across the state in equipment readily available to students, and occasional weather-related interruptions in broadband service, this tenth Smart Schools Commission would like to take this occasion to celebrate the success of a remarkable system.

Retired Teachers Association President Jonny Lynch responds:

2014 was the beginning of the end for education in New York State. 2018 was the year in which New York assumed a leadership role, showing other state governments how best to wreck their education systems to minimize cost. New York blew through the settlement money we'd collected from the banksters on a mad quest to punish teachers and make education cheap.

Cuomo dodged indictment in 2014, but the stench lingered. US Attorneys all over the state started finding reasons to look into New York State's comfortable arrangements. They didn't quite reach the Governor's own office, but by 2018 he had enough aides locked away that he and the voters were nervous.

He had plenty of enemies, but he needed to pick a fight with one and win. As the only monopoly he didn't like, public education was a great target. Sure, he'd cranked up charters and testing, but most of what he'd managed to do was make schools even more expensive than before. The whole system had to go.

2018 became 2014 with a vengeance. A new "Smart Schools Commission", another bond act to dump money to his tech donors, and that big lie, "the best education in the United States at the lowest cost in the country." He just made teachers and parents and kids pay the tab.

We tried, but voters didn't see past his glossy fliers and endless ads. He put his energy into building a Board of Regents with the same agenda, and the Department of Education turned into an ad agency for tech. The Regents 'revisited' their earlier work on multiple pathways - which a lot of us had liked! - and demanded the creation of hundreds of different pathways to fit different students. Even a regional system couldn't handle that, and they used it to force all students to electronic systems centralized at the state level.

Systems run by the Governor's donors, of course. They poured ever more money into his campaigns and those of his allies. They filed suits his courts used to warp the "sound basic education" doctrine. Our amicus briefs couldn't penetrate.

By the mid-twenties, it felt like filmstrips and Choose Your Own Adventure books had taken over classrooms, using glossy computer screens to monopolize student attention. The electronic hypnosis started early, and getting kids to pay attention to anything else got harder and harder. They barely paid attention to each other.

Even though "negotiations were continuing", 2027 saw the sudden demise of the "free common schools" that had served as warehouses for students working with "learning machines".

Parents still needed warehousing for their kids, so the state sold them "subsidized" private childcare in the same schools. Athletics couldn't stop, so they handed over the facilities to local associations, preferably associations connected to local legislators and their friends. 90% of the costs shifted to parents, the wealthier of whom hired us retired teachers as tutors.

The weirdest part was watching other states follow New York. Once the textbook companies had repackaged their wares as "educational software and management", other states bought in. They'd added customization features to guarantee the support of homeschool parents afraid their kids would learn about communism and sex. Those worked magic when they wanted to sell beyond New York.

New York even got a bonus when it became clear how much graft the companies had indulged in the early years: another major settlement, paid for out of the profits made in all of those other states! Of course, it all went right back to more gadgets, more Need To Know, and, of course, lots of Electronic Hypnotic Sedation.

Are kids learning more or less than we used to teach? It's hard to know. Well, someone knows, but the companies aren't telling and they keep 'refuting' anyone who dares question their numbers - with lawsuits.

I didn't exactly expect to be appreciated when I started out at Lawrence Avenue Elementary, but I did expect a career that would last more than a decade before dwindling into caretaking and a very sudden retirement. I certainly didn't expect decades of press releases dancing on the grave of a system that once valued teaching.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Simon St.Laurent published on November 20, 2014 8:26 AM.

Repentance and Reformation was the previous entry in this blog.

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