My name is Vanessa Baker and I am speaking today as a concerned educator who taught in brick-and-mortar schools for many years and now specializes in online learning. It is as an online educator that I am extremely concerned about today’s vote to allocate $10 million for virtual classes and adaptive learning systems and $9.5 million for cloud-based content delivery, which will also extract students’ private data. Online learning can never replace what a classroom provides, such peer-to-peer interaction, a caring, human instructional leader (instead of corporate software) and dynamic classroom discussions, but that is just what this decision would prioritize.
This $19.5 million is an astronomical sum of money in our underfunded district, and it cannot be spent on a form of learning that is at best supplemental, instead of basics such as libraries, arts, smaller classroom sizes, newer textbooks, reading specialists, foreign language instruction and athletics, all of which lack sufficient funding. Alison McDowell, who writes the Wrench in the Gears blog, gathered feedback from parents and teachers, who spoke to the need for human interaction in learning as well as the lack of funding for extracurriculars that make students excited about school. In one of her videos, Ismael Jimenez, a PSD teacher, noted that students don’t retain information as well through online learning.
Another critical issue with this proposed allocation of funds is the data extraction that online learning entails. Data is “the new oil,” according to Google alum Eric Schmidt, and Philadelphia is currently a hub for the data mining business. Wharton School, Drexel, Temple, Impact PHL, Comcast, the Mayor’s Office of Education and the Chamber of Commerce are all working on new ways to earn money by selling student data to private corporations.
On January 29, the Mayor’s Office of Education met with Chamber of Commerce affiliates such as Comcast in a closed-door meeting to discuss the future of private business in education. Parents, students and teachers were not invited. This was not Comcast’s only recent closed-door meeting about education. On February 7, Comcast sent a busload of impact investors to Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, where they met with Superintendent Hite, Mayor Kenney and David Cohen. No parents, teachers or students were seen entering the building before the meeting. The meeting promised to explore, “a new incursion of data from software, from the intersection of technology with redesigning the physical environment, and more.
This event helps you make sense where it is all going.” Parents, teachers, students and community members deserve to know more about where this is all going before we spend nearly $20 million to head in that direction.