Saturday, April 12, 2008

Neil Bush: Ignite's Formula - Bait, Switch, Deposit Tax Dollars, Repeat

The truth about the curriculum that is sold by Ignite is obfuscated by the lack of review of the product's content and the persistence of misconceptions about the quality and attributes of the course-ware as well as a complete misunderstanding of the worth of a machine that has no internet connectivity.

After all what school system would be dumb enough to spend $4K+ on a fancy slide projector instead of investing in, say, 10-15 laptops/COW expenditure?

Some schools do and the this is somewhat understandable. In July 1999 Ignite, Inc. purchased a University of Texas incubator business, Adaptive Learning Technology, a company dedicated to individualized learning courseware.
Adaptive Learning founder Mary Schenck-Ross said the software's interactive lessons allowed teachers "to get away from the mass-treatment approach" to education. When a student typed in a response to a question, the software was designed to react and provide a customized learning path. "The original concept was to avoid 'one size fits all.' That was the point," said Catherine Malloy, who worked on the software development.

"It breaks my heart what they have done. The concept was totally perverted," Schenck-Ross said.

Mary Schenk-Ross left Ignite! in September of 2001 and the remarks are worth paying attention to not for their hyperbole but for their factual basis.

Neil Bush's proclamation that, "Ignite! is designed to make learning fun for "hunter-warrior" kids who don't like reading." could make any person concerned about education wince. And recent studies that question the educational effectiveness of presentation style slide shows like Microsoft's PowerPoint only serve to legitimize the concern.

Coupled with quality of content and methodology concerns is the bottom line cost of buying/pushing such a product into cash strapped school districts.
At a standard price of $3,800-$4,200 per unit, the COW is a very expensive device with limited use. A recent New York Times article about the use of the COW in Spotsylvania, Virginia, put the cost into perspective: each school in the district receives $1,000 "to cover all the lab supplies, equipment and other expenses connected with science for an entire year." Adding to the initial expense, schools must pay an annual $1,000 licensing, upkeep and upgrade fee in order to retain the COW for more than one year.
My guess is that the $1K/year cited in actuality is $1K per subject per COW per year expense.

But here is an actual lesson that should make every American alarmed. The subliminal message of this one is that the loss of a republic to an emperor is no big deal - in fact, things are good for centuries.

This unit on American and Canadian Art manages to completely avoid actually taking about any artists, attributing abstract expressionism to Canadians, and talking more about arts funding than art.

Viewing the YouTube vault of sample lessons shows us exactly why critics are alarmed. By basing an entire curriculum on lessons such as this, reading is minimized and middle school learning material is reduced to near moronic levels of understanding. This is bullet-point information that may reflect the testing industry's idea of high expectations but clearly this represents a dumbing down of American children, teachers, and society.

Numerous videos in this series celebrate war, war spending, and the suspension of human rights simple as that. Media Mindfulness expresses concern about the Habeas Corpus video, "...view the sample lesson from their COW (Curriculum on Wheels) system in the above video. It’s on the history of “Habeas Corpus”; you may agree the lesson is in dire need of some media literacy. It’s curious how it repeatedly justifies the suspension of the law."

The subliminal perversions do not stop there. The content and delivery intended to educate Jr. High school students is more appropriate for an elementary grade student struggling with reading or having a learning disability. But to treat entire Jr High school social studies, science, and math classes to a steady, unrelenting battery of this stuff is to believe these kids are all morons or worse. Neil Bush's dream of developing graduating classes of "hunter-warriors" who "hate reading" may be fulfilled in Houston before too long.

Another aspect of Ignite's presentation that I find disturbing is the implicit racism of the characters who narrate the information. Instead of intelligent, well-dressed teachers presenting the information children are treated to sugar-coated, hip-hop, jive-talking and singing characters who not only distort the content into labored jingoisms but promote an idea that minorities in America cannot be viewed by white America as anything more than modern-day caricatures of persistent, racist stereotypes.

The Adaptive Learning Technology courseware was dedicated to individualized learning, adaptive learning, multiple intelligences, and so on. That continues to be the marketing rhetoric despite the bleaching out of any such high-minded educational development ideals. By September of 2001, Ignite!'s business model first pursued selling itself as an aide to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and more recently as a political NCLB compliance testing inoculation.

One Size Fits All is Back!

Individualization and self-pacing are gone except as cosmically co-incidental mishaps. Ignite's agenda is NCLB's agenda. And that agenda is best summarized by Gene Hickock, the under-secretary of education, "One of the virtues of NCLB is leverage, leverage at the state. . . at the local level . . . We don’t mind being the bad guys... I am very concerned that we will . . . underestimate the potential that we have to redefine everything."

And "redefine everything" means writing laws compliant to the testing and educational lobbyist's desire. Education is no longer driven by the needs of children or the desire of taxpayers to provide a cost-effective public education.

As Bill Gates discovered at Microsoft, he who writes the specifications can near monopolize the procurement of product by consumers who must comply. The perfect storm of corrupt politics and more corrupt corporate interests is creating a manufactured market for ineffective but highly profitable testing monopolies and accessories.

That the Bush family has a hand in that multi-billion dollar tax swindle is no surprise.

next - soon

Previous: Neil Bush and the Origin of Ignite!


Mary's Thinking Cap said...

Exaggeration makes great story, but I do need to clarify two important things about this story.

I am the person misqouted in this story by the writer of the original LA Times business section article. Neil Bush acquired my company, Adaptive Learning Technology, as reported. However, I never said they "perverted the concept". I said Ignite "changed the concept". Yes, it became "one size fist all" which IS the total opposite of our goal for the original move away from passive viewing. While I was Chief Design Officer, the students were to make presentations, do inventions and stories with consequences to explore facts and discover for themselves the various points of view of the times... and the impact. When the individualization and the interactivity was removed, I and others were asked to leave.

Second incorrect fact in your story is that Neil Bush had any connection to his brother's influence on NCLB. I was there. The two were totally independent.

I hope even though I have discovered this story late, some folks can see the correction.

Mary Schenck-Ross
Former CEO & Founder of Adaptive Learning Technology, Inc.

The Caretaker said...

Nice to hear from you, Mary.

I emailed you two years ago almost to the day asking you to be a guest blogger so that I could get your side of the story.

I quoted the LA Times article that you're correcting. Your experience was to be shown the door after everything rich and wholesome about your product was surgically removed with a blunt political instrument.

To say that the concept 'changed' is an understatement but its yours. And I think you misrepresent the 'change'. It went from an attempt to individualize instruction to just 'one size' and to hell whether it fit anyone. The videos speak for themselves. The eventual end product was sanitized crap.

Neil's connection to his brother transcended the Ignite! takeover. While I accept your anecdotal evidence that you saw no connection at work, how close to Neil were you?

Given your dismissal, I'm guessing you weren't an insider.

Thanks for the feedback, though.

Mary's Thinking Cap said...

Thanks for posting my comment. I must not have gotten your email 2 years ago, unfortunately. I am not saying the concept was not radically altered, I am just correcting the statement I made. I was surprised at being misquoted for drama. Also, I was very much an insider, very close to Neil from Day One. That is not respectful to me to imply anything different. I am reaching out to you to correct inaccuracies. His heart was and is in the right place. The "change" I referred to had more to do with the take-over by his then CFO and the desire to assemply-line the product development in order to grow quickly, than anything to do with Neil or his relationship to his brother's goals. I am just stating fact. I very much agree with you that the final Ignite product (Schoolhouse Rock-style media) when it was taken out of the context of the original design was silly stuff. It does deeply sadden me that the individualization and constructivist qualities were tossed out. Thank you for your interaction on the history of Ignite! Learning and Adaptive Learning Technology.

The Caretaker said...


When I read about what you were trying to do originally, I was very impressed. You were right on the money.

The place to really make your correction is with the LA Times but I'm happy to post your correction.

Finally, I would love to have you post a guest entry about what happened at Ignite! - what you were trying to do, what you thought selling the company would accomplish and your reflections in retrospect. That is what was always missing in this story.

I'm making you an author based on your existing gmail address. You can log into this blog using your own uid/pwd and say whatever you like.I'm sure that there are people still interested in what happened.


Frank Krasicki