CURMUDGUCATION:  Indiana Welcomes UPSTART Pre-K Cyberschool


You probably thought this was going to be one of those posts where I made fun of some trend in education by extending it to its logical yet absurd extreme. Sadly– I mean, really sadly– that is not the case.

“Seriously, dude. What the hell.”

Meet UPSTART, a company that… well, let me just quote from their home page:

UPSTART is an in-home, technology-delivered kindergarten readiness program that gives preschool-aged children individualized reading, math and science instruction with a focus on reading.

How does it work? Participants get a free computer and free internet, in return for which they to spend fifteen minutes a day, five days a week. The program is Personalized Learning for Tiny Humans:

UPSTART is designed for very young children. It uses large buttons, obvious directions, and support that helps children progress. Each child moves through a personalized learning path that is designed to meet his or her skills and needs. The software assesses the child’s progress at key milestones to determine what type of instruction each child will receive.

The family receives some training, and a personal care representative is standing by if they need help. Teachers are, of course, unnecessary.

UPSTART has been up and running for a while in Utah. I actually wrote about them back then, and has this explanation for why they were getting the legislative boost:

Why has Utah decided to launch this brave new world in which fifteen minutes of computer-and-mouse-time (because if there’s anything three- and four-year-olds are great at, it’s operating a computer mouse)? Well, Utah is one of ten states that doesn’t fund pre-school, and it is at the bottom of the barrel for per-student funding in K-12. So you could explain the appeal of this idea as the sponsor of the bill, State Senator Howard A. Stephenson,  does:

“We want to reach the greatest number of children with the resources that we have,” Stephenson said. “I don’t think we’re being cheap at all. We’re being smart.”

Or you might go with this theory:

“It’s wishful thinking by state legislatures,” said Steven Barnett, the director of the National ­Institute for Early Education ­Research at Rutgers University. “We want preschool, we want to get these great results, but we don’t actually want to spend the money.”

Yeah, why provide expensive high-quality preschool when you can just sign everyone up for some software?

Here’s a promotional video for the program. My favorite parts? Watching a small child try to use a touch pad on a laptop, and the part where we’re assured that UPSTART will provide “program sponsors” with data. Because, you know, it’s never too early to start building your tiny human’s data file, so that the trouble she had picking out vowel sounds when she was four flippin’ years old can follow her around for the rest of her life.

In Indiana, the legislature wants to make UPSTART part of the Pre-K expansion bill.

Senator Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, likes it because cyberschooling promotes family togetherness, and that’s what many Kids These Days are missing. He said, “This really engages the whole family. I just believe it’s a much more wholesome approach that will have a better lasting effect.” The costs is about $1,400 per pupil (all those freebies mentioned above do cost somebody– the taxpayers)– which is a big chunk of money for some learning software. Waterford boast a total 450 hours of lessons, but of course if the learning is personalized, no child will be getting all 450 of those hours, right?. Kenley is the head of the appropriations committee, and a fan of programs like outcomes based funding.

Meanwhile, teachers have spoken out against the proposal:

“Kids need to be together in order to socialize. We need to learn how to raise our hand. We need to learn how to respect other people’s space and time and you can’t do that in front of a computer,” American Federation of Teachers Executive Director Sally Sloan said.

Pre-K can be done in so many beneficial ways, but none of those ways are focused on academic achievement.What four year olds need to do is play, play slightly organized games, play unorganized games, play by themselves, play with others, and also play. If they feel inclined to explore reading or math or science or art or whatever, that should be encouraged. But enforced or required. No, no, no, and also no.

Supporters will say, “Lighten up– we’re only talking about fifteen minutes a day, five days a week.” And I agree that beats some Pre-K classroom where students are expected to sit and study academic subjects for hours, just as being hit in the face with a hammer is better than being assaulted in the chest with a jackhammer.

But UPSTART also gives tiny humans an early close connection with a screen, introduces them to the idea of learning as a chore that must be done to someone else’s satisfaction, and gets the whole family acclimated to being data mined. It’s a sweetheart deal of the Utah-based Waterford company which makes out well whenever it can get legislators to purchase its product in bulk. Is this good use of Indiana taxpayer dollars? I doubt it. If I were an Indiana voter and taxpayer, I think I’d seriously question the aims of any Pre-K program, and I think I’d want my tiny humans to be interacting with real live humans, not software.


Interactive map: See how districts are drawn in YOUR community | Bridge Magazine

President Trump won Michigan by the narrowest of margins in last November’s election – receiving just over 10,000 more votes than Democrat Hilary Clinton out of 4.8 million votes cast. But his fellow Republicans swept the state’s congressional districts, capturing nine of 14 seats statewide. Here’s a look at the results of 2016 congressional races. Click a district to see the results or type in your address or ZIP Code to see how the results of your district.

Source: Interactive map: See how districts are drawn in YOUR community | Bridge Magazine

The GRPD, White Supremacy and Community Accountability

The GRPD, White Supremacy and Community Accountability
by Jeff Smith (GRIID)
The recent actions of the Grand Rapids Police Department, where they profiled black youth after an incident at the KROC Center is not only infuriating, it is the most recent example of how deeply entrenched White Supremacy is the norm when it comes to the police. — read more —

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

The recent actions of the Grand Rapids Police Department, where they profiled black youth after an incident at the KROC Center is not only infuriating, it is the most recent example of how deeply entrenched White Supremacy is the norm when it comes to the police.

What happened to those young African Americans is unacceptable and should never be tolerated. The response from the community to demand some form of accountability has been admirable, but we see how the GRPD is simply unwilling to be questioned on their behavior. Both the Chief of Police and the police union have made it painfully clear that they do not care what the community has to say about recent events or what many others addressed during last Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, which was to talk about the collective experience from people of color as it relates to the GRPD.

The recent incident and…

View original post 1,047 more words

Outside groups pour $8.2 million into Georgia 6th

Democrats came surprisingly close to seizing a red seat earlier this week in a special election in Kansas. But filling HHS Secretary Tom Price’s seat in the Georgia 6th in another special next Tuesday is the battle where they may have a real shot.

Frontrunner Jon Ossoff raised $8.2 million in the just over three months he’s been in the race

Ashley Balcerzak

Source: Outside groups pour $8.2 million into Georgia 6th

Election 2016: Trump’s free media helped keep cost down, but fewer donors provided more of the cash

Election Day, 2016? Now an ancient memory from a distant time. But the intervening months have allowed us to do some math and determine, finally, the price tag for the whole shebang. We can now report that the total cost of the election was nearly $6.5 billion, a 3 percent increase from 2012’s figure of just under $6.3 billion.

read more.

by Niv Sultan

Source: Election 2016: Trump’s free media helped keep cost down, but fewer donors provided more of the cash

Flurry of spending in Kansas 4th

When President Trump tapped the Koch brothers’ darling, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), as CIA director, there didn’t seem to be much reason to believe the District 4 seat would be filled by anybody other than another member of the GOP.

Still, though the southern Kansas district has been represented by a Republican since 1994, the national party spent six digits to back its candidate, Ron Estes.

read more.

by Ashley Balcerzak

Source: Flurry of spending in Kansas 4th

Nevada (Potentially) Dropping Students’ Test Scores from Its Teacher Evaluation System | VAMboozled! Blog


This week in Nevada “Lawmakers Mull[ed] Dropping Student Test Scores from Teacher Evaluations,” as per a recent article in The Nevada Independent (see here). This would be quite a move from 2011 when the state (as backed by state Republicans, not backed by federal Race to the Top funds, and as inspired by Michelle Rhee) passed into policy a requirement that 50% of all Nevada teachers’ evaluations were to rely on said data. The current percentage rests at 20%, but it is to double next year to 40%.

Nevada is one of a still uncertain number of states looking to retract the weight and purported “value-added” of such measures. Note also that last week Connecticut dropped some of its test-based components of its teacher evaluation system (see here). All of this is occurring, of course, post the federal passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), within which it is written that states must no longer set up teacher-evaluation systems based in significant part on their students’ test scores.

Accordingly, Nevada’s “Democratic lawmakers are trying to eliminate — or at least reduce — the role [students’] standardized tests play in evaluations of teachers, saying educators are being unfairly judged on factors outside of their control.” The Democratic Assembly Speaker, for example, said that “he’s always been troubled that teachers are rated on standardized test scores,” more specifically noting: “I don’t think any single teacher that I’ve talked to would shirk away from being held accountable…[b]ut if they’re going to be held accountable, they want to be held accountable for things that … reflect their actual work.” I’ve never met a teacher would disagree with this statement.

Anyhow, this past Monday the state’s Assembly Education Committee heard public testimony on these matters and three bills “that would alter the criteria for how teachers’ effectiveness is measured.” These three bills are as follows:

  • AB212 would prohibit the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers, while
  • AB320 would eliminate statewide [standardized] test results as a measure but allow local assessments to account for 20 percent of the total evaluation.
  • AB312 would ensure that teachers in overcrowded classrooms not be penalized for certain evaluation metrics deemed out of their control given the student-to-teacher ratio.

Many presented testimony in support of these bills over an extended period of time on Tuesday. I was also invited to speak, during which I “cautioned lawmakers against being ‘mesmerized’ by the promised objectivity of standardized tests. They have their own flaws, [I] argued, estimating that 90-95 percent of researchers who are looking at the effects of high-stakes testing agree that they’re not moving the dial [really whatsoever] on teacher performance.”

Lawmakers have until the end of tomorrow (i.e., Friday) to pass these bills outside of the committee. Otherwise, they will die.

Of course, I will keep you posted, but things are currently looking “very promising,” especially for AB320.

Source: Nevada (Potentially) Dropping Students’ Test Scores from Its Teacher Evaluation System | VAMboozled!