HEWN, No. 309

If you were shocked this week to learn that college admissions aren't fair, wait 'til you hear about how K-12 schools are funded...

There is always an ed-tech angle to the week’s news, no matter how hard I try to ignore what’s going on and focus on writing the damned book.

This week’s big story was — in education circles, at least — the admissions scandal involving a scam consultant, a couple of celebrities, numerous other wealthy parents of apparently mediocre students, some college coaches, the standardized testing (and test prep) industry, and eight elite universities. There’s already been a ton of coverage — I recommend this “explainer” by Vox’s Libby Nelson; this article on how wealthy people buy their way into the Ivy League by ProPublica’s Daniel Golden; The NYT’s Dana Goldstein and Eliza Shapiro on how this might effect the test prep industry; and this article (from 2018) by The Atlantic’s Saahil Desai on college sports as “affirmative action for rich white students.” I’m also a fan of what Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote in her newsletter today on the whole Hallmark Channel angle, where one of the best-known celebrities involved in this mess, Lori Loughlin, is apparently a big star. Or was a big star.

I don’t watch Hallmark stuff, but I don’t judge; my TV channel of choice is no more high-brow, over on Bravo, where on Monday night — remember, this story broke on Tuesday morning — Kyle Richards, one of the stars of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, was shown escorting her daughter to George Washington University where she was all set to become a freshman. GW is not one of the schools involved in this whole brouhaha, but Richards apparently is friends with Loughlin and runs in that same B-list celebrity circle (on and off camera). Awwwwwkward. (Richards, for her part, insists that her daughter’s acceptance to GW was totally legit, as was her other two daughters’ to USC, which is in fact one of the schools in trouble.)

Like Tressie, I think there is something happening here with celebrity culture — something that’s much more pervasive, much more insidious than what’s going on with the daughters of the celebrities on Bravo’s various shows who are, much as Loughlin’s daughters, funding their world — “lifestyle empires” — and expanding their fame through online endorsements shared on Instagram and the like. Maximizing those new moneyed networks, all while still clamoring for access to older moneyed networks. Peak insecurity. Peak white womanhood.

But that’s for someone else to write about. Me, I’m not even going to write about that ed-tech angle: the indictment of the co-founder of The Rise Fund, “impact investor” Bill McGlashan, who apparently worked with the scam artist at the center of this fraud to bribe folks so that his son could get more time on standardized tests.

Well, I’ll write just a little. Because, if nothing else, I have one helluva side-eye for those who act shocked and surprised and so very disappointed that investment dollars in education and ed-tech are not actually going to make the world a more equitable place. JFC. Come onnnn.

The Rise Fund, for its part, has claimed its mission is to achieve “measureable, positive social and environmental outcomes alongside competitive financial returns.” The Rise Fund has invested in a handful of high profile ed-tech companies, including EverFi and Dreambox Learning, the former offering online “critical skills training” and the latter offering “personalized learning” software. So basically “the future of education” as seen through the eyes of philanthro-techno-capitalism. Among The Rise Fund’s education advisors are former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former Yale University president (and yes, Yale is named in this scandal) and former Coursera head Rick Levin. See? It’s the networks — new networks and old networks — once again, and the promise of powerful men and powerful investors to “fix” education for “good,” for the rest of us.

Meanwhile… “The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is … Google Docs,” says Taylor Lorenz. Miriam Posner on “The Software That Shapes Workers’ Lives.” Alexis Madrigal on all those “Uber for X” startups. (His list does not include many education companies, even though MOOC providers and tutoring and test prep companies have used this line repeatedly. Secretly hoping someone uses this catchphrase in this admissions scandal too.) Chloé Cooper Jones on Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed NYPD kill Eric Garner. And the great Ed Yong on pigeons — or at least on the evolution of pigeon lice.

Speaking of pigeons, this week’s is an English Pouter. There’s a Brexit joke to made here, perhaps. Or perhaps not.

(Image credits)

Yours in struggle,
~Audrey