iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching
iReady is an economically successful software product used in public schools, by homeschoolers and in private schools. It utilizes the blended learning practices endorsed by the recently updated federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). iReady employs competency-based education (CBE) theory which is also advocated by ESSA. The outcome is iReady drains money from classrooms, applies federally supported failed learning theories and undermines good teaching. Children hate it.
Public education in America contends with four dissimilar but not separate attacks. The school choice movement is motivated by people who want government supported religious schools, others who want segregated schools and still others who want to profit from school management and the related real estate deals. The forth big threat is from the technology industry which uses their wealth and lobbying power to not only force their products into the classroom, but to mandate “best practices” for teaching. These four streams of attack are synergistic.
Profiting from Education Law
A group of billionaires with varying motives are using their vast wealth to shape America’s education agenda to their own liking. The last rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 called ESSA was larded up with provisions like the big money for technology which is listed in Title’s I and IV. It also specifies generous grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” (See page 1969 of the official law.) Charter schools, vouchers and social impact bonds are promoted in ESSA. All these initiatives drain money from the classroom and none have been credibly shown to improve education outcomes.
Some of the Unelected and Untrained Billionaires Driving America’s Education Policy
iReady is marketed by Curriculum Associates (CA) of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. In 2008, their octogenarian CEO, Frank Ferguson decided it was time to hang up his spurs. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners was Ferguson’s unlikely choice to take the reins. Unlikely, because he came to CA from the equities industry famous for selling company assets while sticking the debt with the original company. (The results are profits for the equities firm and bankruptcy for the managed company. An obviously criminal enterprise made legal through lobbying.)
Previous to working at Berkshire Partners, Waldron had a history of developing companies that profited off education law. From his biography at LinkedIn:
- Northwestern: 1983-1987 BA American Studies
- Harvard Business School: 1990-1992 MBA
- Kaplan VP: 1992-1996
- Score! Education Centers CEO: 1996-2001
- Jumpstart CEO: 2002-2006
- Berkshire Partners Operating Executive: 2006-2008
- Curriculum Associates CEO: 2008 – Present
In 1946 at Brookline, NY, Stanley H. Kaplan started a test for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) takers. By 1984, when he sold the business to the Washington Post, Kaplan had more the 100 SAT prep centers nationwide. When Waldron took over as CEO of Kaplan, Stanley H. Kaplan still worked there. This was Waldron’s introduction to the testing industry.
In 1992 Score! tutoring centers started in Palo Alto, California. Four years latter, Kaplan bought Score! and Waldron moved over to become the CEO. Glen Tripp worked at Score!, the company his brother co-founded. He says of its demise:
“Over the next few years, we gained more resources and responsibilities than we ever could have dreamed of. We grew from 14 centers to 130 centers. But we lost our culture along the way. We brought in talent faster than we were able to absorb it. We invested less in our culture-building traditions. Our program got stale, and our performance faltered. Eventually, SCORE! was shut down. We had built something amazing and then watched it crumble.”
Kaplan and Score! profited off a provision in George Bush’s and Edward Kennedy’s 2001 rewrite of the Education Law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The United States Department of Education published this notice:
“This federal law allows parents to choose other public schools or take advantage of free tutoringif their child attends a school that needs improvement. … The law also supports the growth of more independent charter schools, funds some services for children in private schools, and provides certain protections for homeschooling parents.” (emphasis added)
I worked at a school in a poor and minority community and our school was designated as “needs improvement” by the federal government based on standardized testing. The school was forced to offer free tutoring services at places like Score! and write a letter to all parents indicating we were a “failing school.” I do not remember any positive results coming from the tutoring, but my workload increased. I had to provide the tutoring service regular updates about what my classes were doing.
Kaplan and Score! were shuttered in 2009.
Jumpstart was founded in 1994 as a non-profit aimed at providing children in poor often minority communities with pre-kindergarten programs. Waldron left the Washington Post family of companies to become CEO of Jumpstart in 2002. It is from Jumpstart, America got the infamous concept, “kindergarten readiness.” This relatively small “non-profit” has more than eight people “earning” over $125,000 annually.
Waldron timed his 2008 move to Curriculum Associates (CA) well. Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. That same year, as reported in Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed with Gene Wilhoit, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and David Coleman founder of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) to provide millions of dollars for the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (Schneider 140).
Two years ago (2016), a self-described soccer-mom form Florida, Deb Herbage, wrote a well-documented article about the CA flagship product iReady. She gave it the title Herbage wrote:
“i-Ready Diagnostic exploded onto the scene like … other “competency based education” (CBE) curriculums since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It is now believed by many that the implementation of the CCSS and the focus on the standardized tests that went along with the CCSS was yet another extremely, well-crafted and timed implementation to distract parents, teachers, students and some school officials while district and state officials put in place the many ed-tech companies, corporations, investors, foundations, and non-profit companies … who all quickly and methodically jumped on the CCSS bandwagon …. While we were distracted with the CCSS and end of year standardized testing – in school districts all across the state of Florida and across the country, i-Ready Diagnostic, owned by Curriculum Associates, implemented and deployed their much touted “progress monitoring” curriculum – i-Ready Diagnostic.”
iReady Utilizes Discredited Education Theory
A report from the University of Utah Reading Clinic describes iReady as “a technology-based diagnostic (i-Ready Diagnostic) and instruction program for reading.” It continues,
“The Diagnostic Assessment is adaptive in that it adjusts the difficulty level of the questions presented depending on student response to previous questions. Upon completion of the assessment, the program links the student to lessons to complete online.”
“i-Ready is a blended learning program. … with downloadable, teacher-led lessons that correlate with the online lessons.”
iReady mathematics uses the same approach as the reading program. The lessons are CCSS aligned delivered with competency-based-education (CBE) principles.
The United States Department of Education promotes CBE claiming:
“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”
CBE is the updated name for outcome-based education which was the 1990’s name for Benjamin Bloom’s mastery learning. Dr. Bill Spady, sociologist and director of the International Center on Outcome-Based Restructuring, defined the connection between OBE and Mastery Learning in an article entitled “On Outcome Based Education: A Conversation with Bill Spady” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 1992-Jan. 1993):
“In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there – Jim Block, John Champlin – had a strong background in Mastery Learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name ‘mastery learning’ in the network’s new name because the word ‘mastery’ had already been destroyed through poor implementation.”
A 2015 Journal article by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway is called “A Brief Critique of Mastery/Competency Learning.” In it they make this important point:
“Our objection to mastery/competency/personalized learning is about how a learner comes to develop that mastery/competency. Reading a website, listening to a podcast that may or may not be complemented with a PowerPoint presentation and viewing a video-recorded lecture are various direct instruction strategies. And, it is well known that children can be drilled, drilled, drilled to successfully pass standardized tests: ‘… [there is] conclusive evidence that an appropriately instituted mastery approach to instruction yields improvement in student achievement…’ But there is no evidence that the type of ‘knowledge’ gained through direct instruction enables students to solve ‘uncharted problems,’ the sorts of problems that arise in living in our globally connected world. Just the opposite. “Knowledge” gained through direct instruction is memorized, so that information remains inert and unconnected to all the other knowledge in a learner’s head. And as Dewey points out, the core of learning is the ‘…intentional noting of connections…”’
The CBE theory of education has a long history of failure dating back to the 1920’s, however, it is one of the few methods available that can be delivered economically by digital means.
Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and demonstrate competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning” is a euphemism for a computer-based course delivered in isolation.
It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another lifeless digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers.
Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.
The educator known for his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, wrote:
“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, a teacher from Virginia, recently published her article, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Teachers like Kassia exist in almost every school and district. It is professional educators like her that children need and not corporate software packages. Wedekind shares,
“When I started working for Fairfax County Public Schools twelve years ago I knew very little about math or how children learn math. But I was lucky to end up in a district that invests in teachers. I had amazing math coaches (who inspired me to become a math coach!) and support from the Title I office, I took courses in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) and Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI), learned how to use the Investigations curriculum well, and wrote a book about nurturing young mathematicians through small group instruction. I say this to point out that tremendous resources were poured into me (and many others!) as a classroom teacher and a coach to help me learn to listen to students and teach and assess responsively.
“The best ‘screener’ is a knowledgeable teacher and our first question of any potential assessment should be, ‘Does it provide a window into student thinking or is student thinking hidden behind scale scores and graphs?”’
Children Hate iReady
Top three iReady definitions from the Urban Dictionary:
- A stupid online computer program that supposedly brings your grades up but, instead, brings your grades down when you forget to do them. But worst of all, it’s built for common core.
- A website for students that teachers think will help their grade, but in reality it makes them want to kill themselves.
- A website that causes suicidal thoughts, depression, ptsd, anxiety, and adhd.
Valerie Strauss of the Washington post reports on 7-year-old Saige Price’s having gone at the New Jersey Board of Education. Saige is in second grade at Briarwood Elementary School in the Florham Park School District, New Jersey. Sage’s final comment was,
“When I got a low score [on the iReady] I would have to go back to the computer lab until I got a higher score. I hated it. It should be against the law.”
Deb Herbage shared several parent responses in her article:
“My son hates it because if he gets a question wrong, it throws him back a couple of levels ….. it “reads” to the kids, therefore taking away any reading practice they may get ….. and it is a huge data mining program. The license with the county states that although the data belongs to the county, Curriculum Associates have a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free license to use that data!”
“It’s a new program so there is little to no data collected yet on reliability. Our kids are guinea pigs.”
“All I know is that my daughter, in the 4th grade, read on a 4th grade level in 2nd grade never got past the 3rd grade work on IReady. Everytime she made one mistake it threw her back to kindergarten. All it did was make her hate reading, hate the computer worse than she did and slowly destroyed all of the hard work we’d done building her confidence.”
iReady is Popular in Schools Led by Privatizer Friendly Administrators
On December 14, 2015, the Atlanta school board authorized superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen (who I have chronicled) to execute a $350,000 contract to purchase iReady Diagnostic.
In 2016, a local Baltimore blog tracking the implementation of STAT an ed-tech initiative advanced by the criminally indicted superintendent, Dallas Dance, carried a guest blog called “Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA.” It began,
“Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country. BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT.”
If your school system is using iReady, someone in leadership is drinking the Kool-Aid or is corrupt. These programs are an absolute waste of education dollars and they harm students.
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