In 1982, former Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement for the US Department of Education, Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, blew the whistle on the Reagan Administration’s Project BEST (Better Education Skills through Technology): a techno-fascist plan to privatize the American school system by selling it out to Big Tech corporations that deliver B. F. Skinner’s operant-conditioning method of “programmed instruction” through computerized “teaching machines.” Almost thirty years later, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act” is primed to pump a flood of federal education funds into online charter school corporations, such as K12 Inc., KIPP, and Connections Academy, which deploy “adaptive learning” software that replace human teachers with artificial-intelligence courseware programmed with “Skinner-box” cognitive-behavioral algorithms geared to condition students for workforce training.
The CARES Act cares about robots
As teachers and students are forced to convert their coursework to online platforms during the COVID-19 lockdown, the CARES Act is creating deregulatory loopholes to expand the federal funding of adaptive-learning courseware delivered by online education corporations such as K12 Inc. (which was bankrolled by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) and Connections Academy (which is owned by the globalist Pearson Education PLC: the “world’s largest education company”).
According to a press release from the US Department of Education, “[t]he new flexibilities, authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, allow schools to repurpose existing K-12 education funds for technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning.” In particular, “[t]he CARES Act … now allows states and school districts to devote more of their federal resources to technology infrastructure to support distance learning for students and for professional development for teachers who are teaching remotely.” In brief, the emergency CARES Act authorizes schools to restructure their budgets by diverting funding for brick-and-mortar infrastructure and then reallocating those funds into new “technology infrastructure” expenses that pay for “distance learning” software delivered by online edu-companies.
At the same time, schools can procure more federal stimulus money by applying for CARES Act grants that fall under the provisions for financing “technology infrastructure” geared toward “distance learning.” Hence, the CARES Act incentivizes schools to increase their eligibility for more federal relief money by applying for grants that pay schools to “upgrade” their virtual campuses with commercial “adaptive learning” software, such as Smart Sparrow and Knewton, which have both been financed by the Pearson Corporation. To be sure, these ed-tech provisions in the CARES Act are written to favor online edu-corporations like the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which deploys adaptive-learning software, such as Dreambox and Clever, the latter of which has been bankrolled by Bilderberger Peter Thiel: Trump’s “shadow president” who has also invested in Knewton.
AI adaptive learning is a post-humanism: From social distancing to distance learning
While these CARES Act incentives funnel money into online ed-tech corporations, the new “Proposed Rules” for federal “Distance Learning and Innovation” (85 FR 18638) have been drafted to streamline federal funding for “competency-based” “adaptive learning” through “subscription-based” “artificial intelligence” that carries out “direct instruction” without input from a human teacher. In brief, this litany of jargon is a recipe for economically checkmating locked-down schools into competing for federal CARES Act funds to pay for online edu-corporations that substitute human teachers with adaptive-learning courseware modules which automate “direct instruction” through AI on a monthly “subscription” basis that can be rolled over indefinitely until the student completes all the course modules necessary to earn “competency” certificates at his or her own pace.
- Competency-Based Education: CBE refers to self-paced curriculums in which the student can learn faster or slower depending on his or her “competence.” 85 FR 18638 states, “CBE programs . . . measure student progress based on their demonstration of specific competencies rather than sitting in a seat or at a computer for a prescribed period of time. Many CBE programs are designed to permit students to learn at their own pace.” Self-paced CBE enrollment is being promoted so that students who are struggling to adjust to online learning during COVID lockdown will be able to spend more time completing their classwork without penalty of flunking if they miss coursework due dates.
- Subscription-Based Learning: To facilitate self-paced CBE, the new federal “Distance Learning” rules provide legal flexibility to extend course deadlines by converting credit hours on a semester enrollment basis to competency certificates on a monthly subscription basis. 85 FR 18638 proposes more efficient channels for federal financing of “students enrolled in competency-based programs on a subscription basis” in order to fuel the “[e]xpansion of subscription-based programs [which] provides students with the scheduling flexibility they may need,” especially while they struggle to reschedule life under virtual house arrest. CBE subscription fees can be paid for as many months as the student needs to complete all the online course modules required to earn his or her competency certificate.
- Adaptive-Learning Courseware: The self-pacing of online CBE subscriptions is further “personalized” by servicing students with 24-hour access to instant automated feedback from “adaptive learning” software, which is defined by 85 FR 18638 as “artificial intelligence” that “teaches” students with “feedback from technology-mediated instruction.” Adaptive-learning software, such as Desire2Learn’s Brightspace LeaP, is a digital version of B.F. Skinner’s “teaching machine,” which automates operant-conditioning methods of stimulus-response animal training. With 24/7 access to “Skinner box” methods of “programmed instruction” through AI automation, students can personalize the self-pacing of their own course progress as they can upload the adaptive-learning software anytime, anyplace, without having to wait for a human instructor to be available. 85 FR 18638 states, “[w]ith the introduction of adaptive learning …, a student enrolled in distance education is likely to be learning at his or her own pace” as ed-tech is “increasingly using analytics to identify struggling or accelerated learners in order to refer them to … additional adaptive learning experiences to support their learning needs.”
- AI Deregulation: If adaptive-learning software is more convenient and efficient than a human teacher, why not “outsource” the entire profession of human teaching to a digital faculty of artificially intelligent bots? The new “Proposed Rules” redefine the legal terms and conditions for “academic engagement” so that it “need not be exclusively with a human instructor.” The new rules on “Innovation” also “remove barriers” to AI ed-tech progress by allowing educational institutions the “flexibility” to effectively write blank checks for new AI courseware programs without prior regulatory approval from the Department of Ed. As AI teacher-bots, such as IBM’s Watson, are programmed to get progressively “smarter” as they evolve over time through “machine learning,” 85 FR 18638 greenlights “future innovations” for Watson and other AI bots to “move forward” with the development of humanoid “artificial general intelligence (AGI)” that can completely replace human teachers “without undue risk of a negative program finding or other sanction.” It should be noted that a Government Relations representative of the IBM Corporation, Edgar McCulloch, sat on the “Accreditation and Innovation negotiating committee” which helped draft these proposed rules. It should also be noted that IBM’s Watson partners with the globalist Pearson Education.
In sum, these emergency COVID deregulations are being touted to purportedly accommodate students during this virtual-online overhaul of the locked-down school system by expanding CBE curriculums so that course deadlines can be rolled over by converting credit enrollment into competency subscriptions. Due to physical classroom capacity and human staffing limitations, brick-and-mortar classes cannot indefinitely roll over student registration on a monthly subscription basis, which means brick-and-mortar schools are being cornered into permanently converting to virtual-online campuses in order to become eligible for more CARES Act money that subsidizes subscription CBE curriculums. At the same time, human instructors who teach online classes cannot provide 24/7 instruction to fully “personalize” the self-pacing of every student’s CBE curriculum, which means online schools will be encouraged to “hire” adaptive-learning AI instead of human beings. In the final equation, online schools will have an unfair advantage to rake in federal CARES Act funds for replacing human teachers with artificial intelligence while brick-and-mortar schools and human instructors are rendered obsolete as they are held hostage by the economic lockdown without the ability to fairly compete for stimulus money from the CARES Act.
The techno-fascist history of Project BEST: The department of ed in bed with ed-tech corporations
To set up the institutionalization of Skinnerian adaptive-learning computers, the Association for Educational Computing and Technology (AECT) was awarded an $855,282 federal grant in 1981 to implement Project BEST (Better Education Skills through Technology), which laid out the blueprint for the public-private techno-fascist schooling system that is currently being rammed through by the CARES Act and 85 FR 1863 under the duress of COVID-19 lockdown.
Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt blew the whistle on this corporate-technocratic education initiative in 1982 when she was the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement for the US Department of Education under the Ronald Reagan Administration. Iserbyt leaked several internal documents from the Department of Ed pertaining to Project BEST, such as an informational brochure that states, “Project BEST is a cooperative effort involving both the federal, state, and local government and the private sector in the planning and use of modern information technologies to improve the effectiveness of basic skills, teaching and learning.” This document reveals that Project BEST, which was buoyed by President Reagan’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, spent almost one million dollars of federal tax revenues on public-private political-economic plans to plug students into Skinnerian IT computers that psycho-behaviorally condition learning outcomes to fulfill job quotas for corporate-technocratic workforce planning.
Project BEST was pushed by President Reagan’s secretary of education, Terrel Howard Bell, who was formerly the US commissioner of education, which headed up the Office of Education of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) before the Office of Education was assigned its own separate Department under President Jimmy Carter in 1979. At the end of Reagan’s first term as president, Secretary T. H. Bell passed the technocratic teaching torch to his successor, Education Secretary William Bennet, who later went on to co-found the K12 Inc. corporation until he had to resign from the online schooling company after public backlash from racist eugenics comments he made on his conservative talk radio show, Bill Bennet’s Morning in America.
It should be noted that Secretary Bennet’s speech writer was Peter Thiel, who would become a key financer of adaptive-learning courseware such as Clever and Knewton. According to a Freedom of Information Act report, on July 19, 2017, Thiel met privately at his “residence” with the current secretary of ed, Betsy DeVos, who was also a key investor in Bennet’s K12 Inc., although she divested her shares in the online edu-company before taking her cabinet seat under President Trump. It should also be noted that DeVos has spent millions of dollars bankrolling virtual charter schools with the help of her cronies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which created the Virtual Public Schools Act: a template bill which lawmakers use to draft boilerplate legislation establishing “virtual schools” that deliver instruction “via the Internet in a virtual or remote setting.”
In sum, Billionaire Betsy DeVos and her Bilderberg crony, Peter Thiel, are carrying the torch for former Secretaries Bell and Bennet as DeVos capitalizes on the COVID-19 lockdown to ram through the next phase of Project BEST.
John Klyczek has an MA in English and has taught college rhetoric and research argumentation for over seven years. His literary scholarship concentrates on the history of global eugenics and Aldous Huxley’s dystopic novel, Brave New World. He is the author of School World Order: The Technocratic Globalization of Corporatized Education (TrineDay Books); and he is a contributor to Intrepid Report, the Centre for Research on Globalization, OpEdNews, the Dissident Voice, Blacklisted News, the Activist Post, News With Views, The Saker, and Natural News. His website is schoolworldorder.info.