Outsourcing is the business practice of hiring a party outside a company to perform services and create goods that traditionally were performed inside the company by its own employees and staff. Usually this is done to cut costs and save the company money, it can affect jobs ranging from customer support to manufacturing to the back office. The company may be able to pay someone (or another smaller company) less money to perform a task or service than it would cost them to pay someone in their own company. Oftentimes companies will outsource work to other countries where they can pay workers lower wages. Outsourced instructions means that rather than having teachers or other public workers perform tasks and provide services in public education, the school district pays outside workers/companies to provide those tasks. Art programs, music programs, library services, extracurricular activities, and especially nursing and counseling services for vulnerable children have been cut severely. This has created openings for outside partners and the foundations and investors that fund them. Privatization is happening incrementally, one essential service at a time, in schools that have not been closed or put in turnaround or charter networks.
Q: What kinds of services and industries have been outsourced to private companies? How does that transference of decision-making negatively affect democratic decision-making and rights of the citizen?
“Full-Service Community schools” operate on the theory that opportunities and supports will be offered through partnerships with vendors assigned to the school. For efficient and cost-effective delivery, these partnerships must be scaled up and centrally administered, with a range of service vendors to choose from. Community health dollars could be outsourcedto vendors in low-income districts, while music teachers might be chosen for a showcase school.
What supporters of outsourcing say: “Years of top-down mandates and relentless suppression of minority children’s rights have ensured families and educators are primed to embrace our new privatized version of the community school concept. People are going to think we’ve finally come to our senses and decided to invest more decision-making power at the local level. The truth is that by starving schools of resources over the past decade we’ve ensured countless opportunities for non-profits and other interest groups to step in and provide services that were once part and parcel of normal school operations in wealthy districts.”
Organizations like Communities in Schools have built close relationships with social impact bonds. At the same time entities like Strive Together are positioning themselves to facilitate partnerships and guide children from “cradle to career” while collecting data at every turn. As this version of the community schools model is adopted, new markets will open up for health, mental health and out-of-school time providers to capitalize on childhood poverty and trauma.
At first glance, most will think we mean “Little C” community when talking about community schools, people who live in the neighborhood and who work in the school. In reality it will be the “Big C” community that stands to benefit; partners like the United Way, institutions of higher education, chambers of commerce, regional-health and social service providers and even local employers. Children accessing wrap-around services, out of school learning (ELOs) and workforce training will generate the data that these predatory partners will use to manufacture their profit. All of this is predicated on continued defunding of public education.
Anytime, Anywhere Learning
The reform vision of twenty-first century education is one of “lifelong learning” run through devices that deliver digitized content and aggregate personal data for credentialing and predictive analytics purposes. This will decrease expenses for children whose predictive analytics suggest lower level career placements. Of course the data will also be used to evaluate return on impact investments in education, which drives our profits.
Adopting this model diminishes the need for physical school buildings and formally trained teachers. Our pitch is that with a device children can “learn” “anywhere.” The trade-off is the surveillance that goes along with it and the isolated nature of life on your own individualized learning pathway. Are you ready to trade in neighborhood schools for cyber-learning and centralized drop-in centers where students check in occasionally with a mentor to review their data dashboards and assess their progress? How comfortable are you that children with special needs, those whose first language is not English, those without reliable transportation, those with complex medical conditions, the children who are the most vulnerable can just pick up a device and learn “anytime” without meaningful, face-to-face support from a trained professional?
The MacArthur Foundation and Knowledgeworks are pushing the concept of learning ecosystems where “The city is your classroom,” but they aren’t going to come out and tell you these ecosystems with their cool maker spaces are intended to replace schools, not supplement them.
Before we can implement “anytime, anywhere” digital learning we must normalize the idea that education can be removed entirely from school buildings. Many states have laws that require a specific amount of instruction take place in a school or link funding to “seat time.” Our aim is to eliminate the concept of “seat time” and replace it with mastery or competency based education (CBE).
“Seat time” is the term used for spending time in a classroom with a teacher for a certain duration (year or semester) during which you complete assignments, are given grades and earn credit for a course. With a competency model you simply need to demonstrate you have met a standard through some sort of performance-based task. Theoretically a student with prior knowledge could demonstrate mastery in a subject without ever participating in coursework at all.
Implementation of a competency model enables the removal of all age-based grade cohorts and even the idea of school progression (elementary, middle, high school). Once we move to this model and have credit-flexibility legislation in place, students can earn credit for exclusively online courses or credit-bearing Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) run by out-of-school partners. Eventually this “hackable” education model whereby students put together various online and offline learning experiences will make neighborhood schools obsolete.
ELOs/Extended-Expanded-Enriched Learning Opportunities
ELOs provide students with opportunities to earn credit in out-of-school (OST) settings. They can take many forms including volunteer work, non-school sporting activities, and work-based learning-even family trips! Those are the types of activities we promote often as “project-based learning,” but we’ve ensured online courses also qualify.
Ultimately we’d like to see widespread adoption of unlimited ELO credit-bearing policies. In the meantime, however, we’re happy to promote them as elective or recovery credit. Ohio’s Credit Flex Program, set up in 2010, is a solid model that supports the shift away from “seat time” to “anywhere, anytime” learning. Requiring teachers to manage burdensome paperwork associated with custom learning contracts while at the same time reducing school funding commensurate with the amount time students spend in an ELOs, has the potential to disrupt already weakened public education systems on a massive scale.
Community partners have been promoting ELOs as a solution to address very real opportunity gaps for children in low-income communities. Much of this work is coordinated through 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Partners develop standards-aligned programs that are implemented in after school and summer programs. Such efforts provide cover for the credit-flex, “hackable” education agenda that is our long-term goal. Another strategy we’re using is to promote ELOs as a way to expand access to “extras” like art, music, and foreign languages have been systematically eliminated from neighborhood schools. Philanthropic support flows freely, because Out of School Time (OST) settings are optimal environments for scaling digital learning, character education, and collection of social emotional learning (SEL) data. Partner dependence on funding also makes them easy to control.
Regionalization / Consolidation
Consolidation is a tool to create more efficient markets for education impact investments. Small districts, strapped for funds and often under threat of take-over for low scores, are increasingly forced to trade local control for the opportunity to cost-share with nearby communities.
What reformers say: “That suits us just fine since it means there are fewer school board elections for our PACs to get involved with. Education Service Agencies are key players in this enterprise and operate in over 80% of public school districts in the nation. These entrepreneurial organizations have historically provided support in the areas of professional development and special education. They are now moving into the delivery of 21st century education services, namely cyber education and work-based learning opportunities. Both activities complement the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda.”
Q: How does the consolidation of decision-making away from local agencies and citizens into more distant and larger groups affect the “voice” or effect that individuals can have in making decisions that affect their own communities? Why would privatizers want to dismantle local decision-making?