Natasha Singer—this time with colleague Danielle Ivory—have released another in the New York Times’ series ‘Education Disrupted.’ The most recent piece, entitled “Inside Silicon Valley’s Playbook for Wooing School Superintendents,” is another must read. Seriously, read it now if you haven’t yet.
The nature and consequences of conflicts of interest in decision making about technology in education is a theme to my work. Real and apparent conflicts are rampant and decidedly unhealthy for the education sector and for kids. Recently, I reflected on the current state of affairs:
I’d hazard that most anyone who has worked in the education and technology arena for any length of time has had to navigate conflict of interest issues. Leading a national non-profit in the field as I did, I faced perhaps more than a typical share. Some of the greatest angst I’ve had on this issue may be because I believe that while public-private partnerships can be important to helping schools advance education through technology – and to fostering innovation – that the interests and motivations of the two sectors are distinct. I also held – and continue to hold – views about issues such as evidence, privacy, security, and open licensing (open educational resources and open source software) that are not always in sync with school vendors and other private interests.
It has been my experience, and it is my opinion, that when I raise conflict of interest issues related to educational technology in K-12 education too often the response to my inquiry has been a blank stare. It is as if I am speaking a foreign language. Indeed, a desired discussion about where and how to draw the lines of ethical behavior too often turns into one about whether such a line is even necessary or fair…
I don’t claim any special moral authority here. I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn to address real and perceived conflicts of interest. I just think it’s past due time we collectively agree there should be an ethical line. The good news is that we aren’t working from a blank slate: model conflict of interest provisions could be adapted from the health field (because surely we don’t believe doctors are inherently less ethical and caring than teachers) or even from within the educational technology sector itself (e.g., How to make sense of the new eRate gift rules).
Expect more from me on this issue. The sector has shown no serious interest in self-regulating. It is past due time to take action.