The “Techno-Scholastic Complex”

In this post I’m primarily responding to this article from EdWeek on the The “Techno-Scholastic Complex,” featuring comments from Texas education chief Robert Scott. There’s a lot to talk about, given what was said and the position of the person who was saying it, but for one thing it was a high-level indictment of the increasing influence of organizations from beyond the local education infrastructures.

The blog post mentioned six collaborators in this “Techno-Scholastic Complex”:

  1. Ed-tech vendors, including both hardware and software vendors.
  2. Standardized test publishers, and publishers of test-oriented curricula, such as Pearson.
  3. Prominent education non-profits, such as TFA and TeachPlus.
  4. “Hedge fund managers” acting on their own or on behalf of their funds.
  5. The media.
  6. US DOE, due to its “cozy” relationship with the Gates Foundation.
  7. The Obama administration.

I left teaching to get an MBA, so I’m fascinated by this issue. All we really know is that these outside organizations are going to change the game. How that happens is still up for debate–the rules of engagement are being written right now.

As with nearly every education issue, it’s also a political and ideological debate. But it’s also unique, in that there are supporters and opponents on both sides of the issue:

Increased presence of outside organizations on public education:

Progressive Reasons Conservative Reasons
Pro -Increases support for schools and students that need it the most-When implemented properly, creates autonomy for teachers

-When implemented properly, allows for innovative, student-centered instruction

-Increases accountability-Reduces influence of teachers unions

-Opens market to many providers, allowing public schools to select the best resources for their needs

Con -Corporatization of public education, schools as profit centers-Standardized testing stifles students and teachers

-Outside influence of nefarious right-wing people and organizations

-Reduces local control-Standardized testing stifles students and teachers

-Outside influence of nefarious left-wing people and organizations

-Sometimes requires higher spending on education (e.g. technology)

Whew, who knew it was so hard to put a table in WordPress? The boxes took me longer than the content. Anyway…

There are bound to be strong reactions on both sides of the issue. I know because I have them both. The teacher in me wants to man the barriacades and fight off the corporate blood-suckers as much as anyone. Our schools should be terrible places in which to maximize shareholder value.

Then the MBA in me sees all the ways our students, teachers, and communities can benefit from the things that outside organizations can do. We do things very differently outside schools than we do inside them. That gap has never been bigger than now, but it will be even bigger tomorrow. Schools should have access to new ways of teaching students, especially ones who are not succeeding in our schools right now.

So much of this new innovation comes down to implementation. Because they’re tools to be used by the craftspeople–the teachers in the classroom.

As happens so often, well-run schools and districts will be able to get the best services and will sacrifice the least for them. They will be well-implemented in a way that empowers students and teachers. We have to make sure that this includes as many underperforming schools as possible.

Poorly-run schools and districts are at risk of being co-opted. The shortest job interview I ever had was at a school system south of Atlanta that had a curriculum designed by a for-profit company to maximize test scores. They lost their accreditation soon after due to the lack of effective leadership. There’s plenty more of that for districts who lose focus on what matters most–the entire student, not just the part of them that gets test scores.


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