Tuesday, March 19, 2024

A couple of more red flags for "the Tesla of education companies"

Something about this tweet was familiar...

It took me a minute to realize that we had written about Bridge in two posts back in 2017.

Bring red flags, lots of red flags – part I: "the Tesla of education companies" 

Bring red flags, lots of red flags – part II: Maybe too-good-to-be-true claims might be too good to be true

Now, based on this article from the Intercept, I realize I was still a couple of flags shy.

Start with this quote, particularly the part at the end the NYT omitted.

“Technically, we’re breaking the law,” May said in a 2013 article in the education publication Tes — a quote that was reused [but not in its complete form -- MP]  in a mostly favorable 2017 New York Times profile of Bridge. “There would be more people and more organizations willing to try and push the envelope and get higher pupil outcomes if the regulatory and legal framework was less restrictive,” May went on. “You have to be extreme. You have to take real risks to work in those environments. Often there are [laws] preventing most companies from trying to figure out how to solve these problems.”

Those who follow Silicon Valley thought leaders have heard this refrain far too many times. We could make life perfect if not for all those silly rules and pesky regulators. This line is bullshit most of the time. Yes, there are overly restrictive rules and overly eager regulators, but most regulations exist for good reasons. The mindset that it is primarily rules that are holding us back is both wrong and dangerous. It is doubly dangerous when those rules apply to the safety of children.

That's a big red flag, An even bigger one is swatting your critics.

“You Need to Come With Us” 


You can read a detailed account in the Intercept piece or in the CBC or this from the Washington Post.

Here’s one for the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up files: A Canadian doctoral student who was in Uganda to research the operations of a for-profit outfit called Bridge International Academies (BIA) was arrested after complaints about his work by the company.

Curtis Riep, the University of Alberta researcher, was in Uganda to research BIA’s operations for a study commissioned by Education International, a federation of 396 associations and unions in 171 countries and territories. He was arrested in late May by Ugandan police on charges of impersonating a BIA officer and trespassing, but he was cleared of all charges and released two days later. He has now returned to Calgary, but the episode has put a spotlight on the company and how it works.

BIA co-founder Shannon May's statement ("When we received word that an unknown foreign gentleman had visited a number of our academies under false pretense you can imagine our alarm and immediate fear for our pupils.") might have been a tad more believable if

1. She had produced any log-in books (or any evidence period) that had him signed in with a false name or credentials.

2. He wasn't in a meeting with the national director of Bridge, Andrew White when they had him arrested (White was recorded during the arrest claiming not to know anything about what was going on which is almost certainly a lie).

or (and this is my favorite)

3. If they hadn't correctly identified his affiliation days before when they put out the ad in the local newspaper.

If you read the Intercept, it might help to visualize White...

Shannon May is also startlingly Caucasian. As with so many Davos darlings, there's a patronizing and somewhat creepy white savior feel to the whole enterprise. There is also a tremendous amount of money at stake. 

Everything about this business demands scrutiny, particularly from independent and sometimes critical observers. The fact that people like White and May will go to these lengths to avoid that transparency tells us quite a bit.

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