“McKinsey, Nellie Mae, CBE, Digital Badging, and Us”

Despite spending many years lacking confidence in my ability to write anything of consequence, in the last few years I’ve managed to turn that self-doubt around. The impetus was a profound dismay at the direction that public education has been pushed by neoliberal technocratic/corporatist/elites, a profound respect and gratitude for the many articulate, knowledgeable, dedicated, and compassionate bloggers who have amassed a vast investigative expose of the privatizing neoliberal global workforce soul-sucking agenda, and a newfound receptive audience for my musings on facebook. (A few of my favorite bloggers are Mercedes Schneider, Morna McDermott, Peggy Robertson, Emily Kennedy Talmage, Raschelle Holland, Jo Lieb, Nancy Bailey, Ciedie Aech, Russ Walsh, Peter Greene, and Robert D. Shepherd.) So, for my 4th blog post I set myself the task of illuminating the pernicious effects of the philanthropy pouring from Nellie Mae into New England, and into RI. Unfortunately, I found myself stumped and once again doubting my ability to pull this off. The tentacles are so prolific and so reasonable sounding and so well orchestrated and financed and entangled in public and civic organizations that I feel that I’ve more than met my match.

So what I’m going to endeavor to do is to pull together what I consider to be key information from several sources that hopefully will shed light on the various tentacles that are callously closing in on all of our children, and most particularly on the most vulnerable, whether due to poverty, ethnicity, language status, and/or special education needs.

Let’s start from the top of the RI power establishment, and cast the spotlight on the RI connection to McKinsey, the global consulting company. According to their website, here are their global themes:

  • Digital Disruption
  • Leadership
  • Employment and Growth
  • Long-Term Capitalism

What does this have to do with RI? The First Gentleman, Andy Moffit, has been an employee of McKinsey since 2000. He co-authored a book (Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Educational Leaders) with Sir Michael Barber. According to Wikipedia, “Barber served as a partner and head of the global education practice at McKinsey, advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair and a global expert on education reform and implementation of large-scale system change. … [He] is a British educationist and Chief Education Advisor to Pearson and the Managing Partner of Delivery Associates.” See here  As you probably recall, Pearson is the corporation that supplies Common Core aligned curriculum and test prep materials to schools, as well as being responsible for the administration of the PARCC.

By the way, Andy Moffit’s educational background that entitles him to hold such a key current position as Director of Industry Learning at McKinsey is two years as a TFA elementary school teacher in 1991-1993.

So what does McKinsey envision for the future of “corporate academies”? (i.e. continuous training of employees by large corporations). See the graphic here

“The authors [of the accompanying article] wish to thank Jacqueline Brassey, Andy Moffit, Nicolai Nielsen, and Silke-Susann Otto for their contributions to this article.” [emphasis added]

As an aside, Mr. Moffit spent this past spring as an adjunct professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education teaching:

A-610A Workplace Learning and Leadership Development, and Technology. The course description states: “Limited to 25 students to ensure sufficient opportunities for robust engagement and involvement.[but small class size is a luxury that k-12 public schools can’t afford and don’t need, according to Bill Gates and friends]

See here

OK, so maybe online learning, real-time feedback, big data and continually improving learning via analytics is viable for adults working in the corporate world. By what stretch of the imagination does it translate to k-12 education? Hold that thought.

Even for adults, McKinsey cautions: “Similarly, for all of the notable advances that digitization promises, comprehensive learning cannot be based on the cloud alone. Companies still have compelling reasons to locate significant elements of corporate learning in tangible, specialized educational facilities—increasingly, with ergonomically designed furniture, plenty of light, and interior design geared specifically to learning. In our experience, any successful educational program allows employees to unplug and enjoy a respite from an always-on, 24/7 tempo.

“The importance of this physical separation from the daily grind should not be underestimated. If employees have no opportunity to step away from their working environments, the same old behavior, for good and ill, is constantly reinforced, and the chance for more reflective, committed learning is lost.”

See here

[So why did RI parents have to overcome tremendous resistance from the RI Department of Education and Commissioner Wagner, and from the General Assembly to get a bill passed requiring schools to provide a measly 20 minutes of recess for students up through grade 5? FYI—Commissioner Wagner dismissed the need for recess for elementary school students as not worthy of enshrining in regulation, especially considering the poor scores of third graders on the PARCC!]

Now back to the link between the Moffit/McKinsey vision of continuous/digitized training for the corporate work force and k-12 education. For a brilliant expose I highly recommend a full reading of Morna McDermott’s insightful blog post, “CBE and ALEC Preparing Students for the Gig Economy.” I’ll just present her first few paragraphs here to tantalize you. (By the way, ALEC has been a major player in state houses across the country pushing their corporate-friendly anti-union, anti-regulation, anti-humane policies in education as well as other areas necessary for a civil/civic society.) http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed

From Morna:

Pearson, of course, was ahead of the pack as usual… developing a school- to -labor pipeline that suites [sic] the corporate masters.  As this blog explains, Competency Based Education becomes the framework for “badges” instead of credit hours and prepares students for career and college which is code for the new “gig” economy. According to Pearson: ‘Alternative learning credentials including college coursework, self-directed learning experiences, career training, and continuing education programs can play a powerful role in defining and articulating solo workers’ capabilities. Already badges that represent these credentials are serving an important purpose in fostering trust between solo workers, employers, and project teams because they convey skill transparency and deliver seamless verification of capabilities.’ …

“First, a brief background: Competency based education (or CBE) has been a rapidly developing alternative to traditional public education. While proponents tout it as “disruptive innovation” critics examine how disruptive translates into “dismantle”, meaning that CBE is a system by which public schools can, and will be, dismantled. This is not ancillary. It was designed to create a new privately-run profiteering model by which education can be delivered to “the masses.” Think: Outsourcing.

“CBE delivers curriculum, instruction and assessments through online programming owned by third-party (corporate) organizations that are paid for with your tax dollars. Proponents of CBE use catchy language like “personalized” and “individualized” learning. Translation? Children seated alone interfacing with a computer, which monitors and adjusts the materials according to the inputs keyed in by the child.” [and continuously collects data from these students that goes into “personalized” profiles to profit ??]

See here

Now to more about badges and the link to the Nellie Mae Foundation, which operates in New England and is already here in RI. So who/what is Nellie Mae, where did it come from, and what is its connection to public schooling?

According to Investopedia:

“DEFINITION of ‘Nellie Mae’

“A non-profit organization that provides education loans in the United States. Nellie Mae was founded in Massachusetts and is the largest non-profit provider of student loans in the United States, helping student across the country pay for their education. It has been a wholly owned subsidiary of SLM Corporation, known as Sallie Mae, since 1999.

“Nellie Mae stands for New England Education Loan Marketing Corporation. [more students graduating from high school college ready equals more students  needing more college loans]


“Nellie Mae was created in order to purchase student loans, securitizing them to be sold off to investors. Student loans were guaranteed by the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), with further financial backing by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).”

See here

Despite spending much time going around in circles trying to find out more about Nellie Mae, I haven’t been able to square the above information with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s self-description as stated in their white paper on badging:

“The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education. The Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning (SCL) at the middle and high school levels across New England—where learning is personalized; learning is competency-based; learning takes place anytime, anywhere; and students exert ownership over their own learning. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a four-part strategy that focuses on: building educator ownership, leadership and capacity; advancing quality and rigor of SCL practices; developing effective systems designs; and building public understanding and demand. Since 1998, the Foundation has distributed over $180 million in grants. For more information about the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, visit nmefoundation.org.” (p. 25)

See here

According to Emily Kennedy Talmage, a 4th grade teacher in Maine who writes the powerful and exhaustively researched blog “Save Maine Schools,” which warns against the harm of Competency (Proficiency) Based Education/personalized education/student-centered learning/badging/anywhere, anytime, any pace learning—

“Nellie Mae appears to be behind the “assessment reform” movement that has attempted to attach itself to the Opt Out Movement’s coat tails [against end of the year high stakes standardized assessments such as the PARCC]. With KnowledgeWorks, the Center for Collaborative Education and iNACOL [International Association for k-12 Online Learning] (both Nellie Mae funded) were instrumental in developing ESSA’s “innovative assessment” option that encourages states to shift toward competency-based models.”

See here

Note the extent to which “personalized” learning is enshrined in the RI Strategic Plan for Public Education 2015-2020. See the plan here

Please read Carole Marshall’s jaw-dropping Op-Ed in the Providence Journal from last summer. Carole is an investigative journalist who also taught English for many years at Hope High School, retiring several years ago. Her sleuthing paid off as she exposed the lack of integrity of RIDE and its spokepersons when they declared: “that the Rhode Island Strategic Plan 2015-2020 was created by thousands of Rhode Islanders ‘through a process that is built upon the principles of transparency, engagement, empowerment and respect.’” On the contrary, her investigation turned up this unsavory connection:

“Rhode Island’s Strategic Plan for Education … is the product of a California organization called The Learning Accelerator, founded by a Christiansen devotee, whose sole mission is to promote blended learning through disruptive innovation. The Learning Accelerator has put together a detailed set of steps a state ‘must take’ to promote blended learning.” Voila—the RI Strategic Plan!

See here

The following key points about Nellie Mae, badging, and RI connections are taken from the white paper on digital badging linked here

“In PK-12 settings, students can earn badges by mastering math skills and completing

other badge-worthy challenges with online curriculum providers like Khan Academy or

BuzzMath. Their teacher may issue badges for classroom participation, attendance,

or academic performance using digital badging features integrated into the school’s

learning management system or included in a growing number of products like

ClassDojo or ForAllRubrics. (p. 4) [a data privacy nightmare]


“This push for better credentialing systems is coming from forces associated with

workforce development, professional training, and with higher education. People

simply have more choices about where, when and how they learn and employers

generally value current skills over a past degree and an employee’s ability to keep his

or her skillset up-to-date and relevant in a rapidly evolving workplace. Supporters like

EDUCAUSE, the Lumina Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Mozilla and IMS Global, a

technology standards organization focused on higher education interoperability, are

involved and playing important advocacy and convening roles for various projects. (p. 8)

[some info on Lumina: “In order to land a seat on its Education Task Force in 2008, Lumina gave $300,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, to kick in gear the complete privatization of state universities across America.”] See here

“Teachers are often required to be continuous learners. In a world

where a Master’s degree and other ‘macro’ credentials don’t

necessarily translate into gains in student achievement and where

educators are frustrated with staid, largely ineffective professional

development methods, micro-credentialing can support teachers

as they create their own personalized, competency-based learning

pathways and get recognition for a wide range of valuable, career significant

learning experiences. Equally important is the belief

that teachers need to experience the power of personalized,

competency-based learning in order to create similar experiences

for their students. (p. 9)

“New England also has an emerging badging and micro-credentialing scene. In fact,

the Providence After School Alliance in Providence, Rhode Island, was among the

first pilots in the country funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and Maine hit the

headlines notably this past year. (p. 13)

Rhode Island: Providence After School Alliance [PASA]

“Providence is home to one of the country’s first badging projects. PASA was

awarded one of the original Digital Media Learning Competition / MacArthur grants

to experiment. Funding for the project ended in 2014 but PASA decided to take a

“second dive” into badging with support from the Noyce Foundation. PASA has issued

STEM badges as part of their middle school AfterZone program, will issue them again

during their summer STEM program for 500 youth, and plans to expand badging to all

of their middle and high school expanded learning programs in fall 2016. (p. 15)

“Alejandro [Molina from PASA] is also incredibly articulate about lessons learned from their first badging pilot and implications for their current effort. The most important adjustment has been to focus on establishing the value and culture of badges, not just building the system (value vs. functionality). Offering badges to middle schoolers that “would be great for college” didn’t hook them. Badges need to have more immediate value to students. He also points out that badges don’t work in a vacuum, and you have to factor this in: “You can ask a student, ‘What do you value more, badges or a caring adult?’ and guess the answer. A better question is, ‘What if the badge is given to you by a caring adult?’” (pp. 15-16)

Rhode Island: Assessment for Learning Project (ALP)

Performance Assessment Micro-Credential System

“Rhode Island will also serve as the proving ground for one of the New England

region’s newest PK-12 badging efforts – the development of a micro-credentialing

system designed to validate teachers who have honed the specialized of skills

it takes to design high quality performance-based assessment tasks and serve

as leaders who embed the practices in districts.” (p. 16)

“Research on the impact of badging and micro-credentialing is

in its infancy, especially for PK-12, and is based on very small

sample sizes. (p. 17) [no evidence it works—no problem!]

“Even the language and positioning of badges in PK-12 seems to have shifted. People often opt not to lead with the word “badge.” Instead they talk about personalized learning, connected learning, project based learning, or credentialing. Badging is still there as a tool and strategy but it isn’t necessarily the headline.” (pp. 19-20)

So there has been a lot going on, and most of us have been in the dark. How do we get the word out, and how do we mobilize to thwart these allegedly good intentions paving the way to hell?

Please leave comments and suggestions!

P.S. Sorry for the formatting irregularities. I’m still new at this!








3 thoughts on ““McKinsey, Nellie Mae, CBE, Digital Badging, and Us””

  1. The tentacles of the digital empire are showing up everywhere. It is here in CT as well. Thank you for putting this together. The more we expose this scheme, the better chance we have of thwarting the take over of public education.

    Do we really want our children’s education controlled by the digital puppet master?



  2. A lot to take in. I am ever more convinced that Competency Based Ed. practices are simply a vehicle being used by Tech billionaires as the means to “hard-wire” and own our students’ intellectual property; teaching students to function without interaction with CARING adults turns them into more compliant machines for this process.


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