Sad In(deed)

The common comparison to business and education is oil and water as  oil is immiscible in water.  The reality  is much more complex. Business and education are more akin to taking sludge from a landfill, adding it to  water  and wondering why nothing grows.  If the sludge has nothing living in it and can not photosynthesize food, it can not live and grow. Business people lack the understanding of why you need to start with something living and feed it or expect the organism to photosynthesize. What a business person sees is some dirt which they wish to monetize if they could just force it to grow……

A business person will do everything in their power to force the sludge to grow, in spite of every scientist stating it can not happen. Business people hire marketing teams and business development specialists who tell them to ‘plant trees’ and the sludge kills off the forest and then some. The board  will then hire more marketing and business development people (who tell them to plant different trees) and the routine continues as they make money off the planted trees while they stay alive.The problem of the murkiness in the water eludes them. Instead of talking to a scientist, they make up explanations and continue to believe they can sell their idea.

The best marketing, business development and sales teams are those which can help in suspending belief long enough for the business to metaphorically grow and be sold.

Not all businesses in education function this way. It is the indiscriminate use of resources which fails the business idea, not the fact it is related to education.  The resources are misappropriated as a business person can not logistically interact with an educator under any pretense other than money. An educator generally commodifies education as a process, journey, undertaking for life which has no explicit monetary value. In fact, education is seen as its own reward to most educators.

The best example I have of where business and education mixed to make something wonderful: Khan Academy. The dream started so small and became something so large AND the money followed instead of directed what Khan Academy did as an organizations.

My experiences of businesses and education have proven  out. at least twice, they do not work together and in fact, business is toxic to education. In addition, all I have to do is read the news about for profit schools and feel equally nauseated.

I have been involved with organizations who have knowingly done the type of ‘deal’ where they even obtained not for profit status, as if this would some how cleanse the soil, so to speak. Aspire Public Schools, a charter school venture and now Wyzant, an online tutoring site which decided to walk down Wall St. with Accel Partners have both attempted to grow the trees and neither one has a forest worthy of even making toothpicks.

Aspire Public Schools has used taxpayer money and investment money to mis-educate children under a premise they could never demonstrate as advertised/marketed when they began. They have not been able to do anything substantially different from any other public school, including getting kids THROUGH college to graduation. In the case of Aspire Public Schools, what is so insidious is the level at which they have marketed their program to the most dis-enfranchised and have not delivered.  In the case of Wyzant, I have hopes they will catch on to what will be part of their reputation if they do not right the ship.

Both organizations in my example were founded by people with a simple-minded and limited view of education.  In the case of Aspire, almost anyone of any worth ran far and fast from being affiliated with them.  This includes Stanford University and many people, such as myself, who taught at Aspire under what were found to be false pretenses. This involves professors from universities and principals/administrators who were misled.

With Wyzant, it was not until Accel Partners came in and laid down the behavior expected that things became turbid.  There was some degree of transparency and trees were being planted. Accel Partners ruined that by convincing Mike and Drew they could ‘sell out’. What started as something which may have had (I am not sure) some degree of morality, became a system to make a profit off of students and their families.

Wyzant went from allowing anyone access to a variety of tutors at different price points, even those of us who take on students and reduce price in many situations and try to work out a deal, to a system where Wyzant selects tutors who are at lower commission splits unless the consumer is SAVVY enough to do their own computer search and apply to different tutors.  By directing clients to these tutors, the vulnerable students/parents are given what Wyzant has not yet been able to shape or form with sufficient reviews and other metrics. This means in many instances, the student(s) are not getting the ‘best’ possible tutors, rather, they are getting the tutors which are profitable to Wyzant.

At first I thought this situation was unique to me. Then, suddenly, something which had been long brewing – allowing tutors to have access to one another, happened. We began to share our stories and found out we were all experiencing similar issues.

Amazingly, with the openness of the social media (LinkedIn) conversation, not once has Wyzant flinched at this conversation and probably has no intention of doing anything as they are happy to be rid of those of us who obtain too much of their asset pie. The real issue is, those of us who stuck around are the ones with the good reputation, the outstanding work with students and the tutors who are so much more than Kaplan and Mathnasium storefronts, etc.

Once you lose your reputation, it is a challenge to regain it. In the meanwhile, those of us who stick with Wyzant end up carrying the burden of their poor business decisions and some icky moral/ethical baggage.

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Weeding in the SPED Garden

I have multiple jobs – one foot is in ed tech and I do various consulting projects. My other foot is in tutoring. An elbow is in blogging, a wrist in various other non-education writing gigs. One shoulder and hip works with parents of special needs students who need help navigating the mystery maze within hacked up fields of IEPs and 504s. Other wrist and one hand quilts (to keep me sane). I do some volunteer work (also to keep me sane). The other body parts just try to keep up.  In each part of my life, I like to consider it a garden, getting ready for new crops, to grow and bloom and make great flowers, fruits and vegetables.

My days often start at 4:00 AM as I deal with international people; the day’s end late as I tutor. I work to balance my time since so much of me is drawn in many directions all week AND on weekends – by choice.  In many ways I think I am helping shift the fulcrum the world rests on.

Currently I am dealing with a ‘weeding’ project, which is very different from pruning, composting and planting. Weeding is step one so you can clear the land. In the background you compost so you can later add this to the soil. You plant when ready and prune as necessary.

If you are a parent of a special ed student, the following will resonate with you.:

Weeding out is intense – most especially in the SPED garden.  I have to read SELPA paperwork which had to have been designed by people who truly believe any information seeing the light of day is bad information and any information which could lead a person to better analysis, decision-making and planning must be buried and the person trying to make sense of it all, burned at the stake.  These weeds are so entrenched in the garden they are often irremovable and one just tries to garden right around them.

Weeding also  includes finding out why the garden has the following random stones and boulders in it: A teacher gave a math test on perimeter, area and volume in the following manner to a student with dyslexia and other processing problems.

(1)  All problems had a formula written next to it – except in the case of the complex polygon which was a square and semi-circle. Only the formula for the semi-circle was present so students could assume the area of the square need not be calculated.

(2) The question on volume of a cylinder had no formula…..was student to answer the question OR did teacher mean to leave off/scratch out and forgot?

(3) A cone was shown with apex point up and circle opening down. Student was asked what was at top……correct answer: circle.  In previous presentations, the cone was shown circle up. Students were supposed to interpret turning cone in space. Never mind the misconception of a cone having an apex point.

(4) Picture a two layer, four cube per layer form put on paper at an angle and three of the top cubes were removed, leaving five cubes total. Same said dyslexic student was asked to draw what they say on the various faces.  No one bothered to help student number the various faces and then list those numbers/positions on chart with front, side, top, face, etc.

The does not include the supposed ‘assessment’ of 17 pages given to student for IEP (IEP took two separate sessions so assessment was able to ‘slide in under radar’ as it had not been completed prior to original IEP) with none of the accommodations  as noted in original IEP.  There has been no way for me to perform error analysis of student work as it is impossible to sort out grading system/rubric, etc.

Weeding includes talking to school psychologists so they can tell me I should call the stones shale, gneiss and chert, not explain the stones are math problems. If I were to call them stones, surely it would all make more sense as I was weeding.

In addition, weeding involves trying to understand why, week after week for three months a student who should be getting math assistance in study hall can not obtain this assistance as ‘different teachers teach math in different ways’ and the study hall teacher (also a special ed teacher) does not understand how this students math teacher does math.

I am still weeding. Hopefully I can put weeds in a pile and burn add, the ash to compost and start over.

While I have been weeding, I have been planting brand new, fresh, non- gmo seeds with the student based on math the way one would teach a math major or, in layman’s terms, using the book(s) Math on Call and Algebra to Go for concept bases, referring to Khan Academy for process, painstakingly doing notes and samples in organized fashion with student.  I tutor the student two hours a week. By the way, seeds are producing seedlings at this point!

Working with the parent, I have been composting – anything which is not understandable to student (disorganized work in folder, crazy notes, etc.) is being composted. Parent is learning all about IEP  process and throwing out any previous notions regarding the school, the SPED teachers, SPED education programs. All of it is going to compost heap to be mixed with upcoming ashes.  Amazingly, like all good compost, there is no smell. I have not taught parent about schist and chert nor gneiss. It does not help the parent.  I have taught the parent how to look for orderliness in the garden, how to ask for help – with a spade (shovel if necessary), hoe, pruning shears. I had to explain to parent there will always be stones, rocks and occasionally boulders and give the parent tools to remove, even if it requires a tractor (like me).  The parent has earned the right to see their child in a beautiful, thriving garden. The student has earned the right to grow and mature and blossom.

The gardening goal is to have IEP furrows in fine form SOON, by at least last four weeks of school. This is so all teachers can be on board in September of next school year and begin pruning in October as necessary, rather than waiting until March to look at IEP and begin the weeding.

In the weeding process, I have almost had the metaphorical hoe taken to my forehead a couple of times, had dandelion seeds scattered about to see if I would catch them and water put in the garden to flood it. This gardener has stood steadfast.  What is interesting is this garden wants so desperately to grow it is happening before my very eyes.

Update:  After participating in a final four hour marathon IEP meeting, a reasonable IEP which can be understood and implemented has been achieved.  The effort was worth the fits and starts of achievement in order to get something which truly demonstrates where student is currently at academically and how to proceed forward. Overall, this particular IEP took a minimum of 15 hours between actual meetings, phone calls, e-mails, going to classroom to attempt to ascertain disconnect from school to tutoring.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat as this student is going to become a steadfast beautiful tree in a forest of strong, brave, smart and wonderful trees.