Bad News Betsy

On Wednesday, President-Elect Donald Trump became the latest leader in a succession stretching decades into the past to prove that it matters not who is in charge: the Big Education Agenda – the real agenda – is all but indestructible.

With his pick of billionaire Betsy DeVos for the role of Secretary of Education, Trump signaled either his willingness to go along with the war being waged on our children by the Education-Industrial-Complex, or his ignorance of what is actually happening to our schools.

Either way, the troops march on.

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 Despite claims that she opposes Common Core (an assertion that is not only dubious but also, given the Core’s ability to morph into whatever form it desires, largely irrelevant), DeVos is decidedly devoted to the cradle-to-grave, data-driven workforce development system that has been in the works since at least the 1950’s.

 This agenda, as I have written previously, is a chameleon – easily blending into its ideological surroundings depending on whom it is being marketed to.

Hillary Clinton, for example, spoke of her desire to expand “community schools,” leading many to believe that her priority would be investing in traditional, locally operated public schools.  With billions of dollars in support from foundations like the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and its subsidiary, StriveTogether, however, the term “community schools” has recently taken on a whole new meaning.

Across the nation, corporate and Wall Street-driven organizations are building data-sharing networks that, they hope, will allow the “community” – any business or nonprofit, corporate or otherwise, that is standards-aligned and willing to gather and share data with our Wall Street and government overlords – to actually be the school. Toting “data backpacks” with them from one locale to the next, the hope from on high is that most children will do most of their “learning” by way of virtual or “blended learning” programs.

Now, Trump and DeVos are promising more “school choice,” while leaving the masses to imagine, as Hillary did, what this might mean.

And so, as parents picture using their tax dollars to choose between the French immersion school on the corner and the Catholic school down the street that eschews all the heavy-handed federal mandates that burden their local public school, they are deliberately diverted from the fact that “school choice” will very likely look nearly identical to what I just described above: a system in which children will receive vouchers, or Educational Savings Account (ESA) debit cards, that can be used anywhere that is standards-aligned and data-minable. Most “learning” will happen virtually, as that is where the real money can be made and real Skinnerian brain-washing can occur.

(By the way: when you hear hand-wringing from our national union leadership over the DeVos appointment, ask them why they signed onto this document, which describes the system above nearly to a tee.)

Recently, Mrs. DeVos told Philanthropy Roundtable:

“It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished.”

She also said that “digital learning is in its infancy relative to the influence that it can and will have.”

(Now take a look at what happened recently in DeVos’s home state of Michigan, where low-income students in Detroit were used as guinea pigs in an all-but-undercover plot to develop and market digital learning software.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that Senator Lamar Alexander, who sponsored the wretched reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act that is chock full of all the sticks and carrots and embedded legislation to kick this long sought-after vision into high gear, is so pleased with the DeVos pick.

Back in 1991, Alexander told EdWeek that he envisions a system where “school districts don’t have the exclusive monopoly to operate what we call public schools.”

Sound familiar?

Now, Alexander says he is eager to work with DeVos on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Which means we are in serious trouble.

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#StopDevos

Trump won. Now what??

Several weeks ago, I wondered in a blog post whether or not public education would survive the next administration.

Admittedly, I was all but certain at the time that Hillary Clinton would be our next president, and my predictions were more than dismal: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets, invasive school-wide and individual data collection, a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs, etc.

Ever since the big shock of Tuesday night, however, I’ve been scrambling to say something coherent about what we can expect now that Donald Trump really is going to be our next president.

Will public education survive?

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Here’s the funny (and by that I mean incredibly scary) thing about federal public education policy: the big agenda – the real agenda – seems to survive no matter who is put in charge.

The real agenda – the ongoing march toward a cradle-to-grave system of human capital development that relies on the most sophisticated data collection and tracking technologies to serve its unthinkably profitable end – is fueled and directed by a multi-billion dollar education-industrial-complex that has been built over the course of decades.

It’s an absolute beast, an army of epic scale, and it’s a system that has the same uncanny ability to blend in with its surroundings as a chameleon.

Take, for example, the new “innovative assessment systems” that are being thrust on us every which way in the wake of ESSA.  Under the banner of free market ideology, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is promoting the very same assessment policies that far-left groups like the national unions and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing are now pushing. And though some claim that one ideology is merely “co-opting” the ideas of the other, the reality is that they lead to the same data-mining, cradle-to-career tracking end.

Consider, too, the massive push for blended, competency-based, and digital learning – all unproven methods of educating children, but highly favored by ed-tech providers and data-miners.

Most of these corporate-backed policies were cooked up in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and then made their way not only to the far-right ALEC, but also to left-leaning groups like the Center for Collaborative Education, the Coalition for Essential Schools, and the Great Schools Partnership. Depending on what sort of population each group is targeting, these wolves will dress themselves up in sheep’s clothing and make appeals to different values. For the right, they will package their policies in the language of the free market and choice; for the left, they will wrap them in a blanket of social-justice terminology.

Pull back the curtain far enough, however, and you will see they are selling the same thing.

There is, of course, no question that Hillary Clinton has been deeply entrenched in the education-industrial-complex for many, many years – even profiting from it personally – and that the big agenda was going to move full speed ahead if she were elected.

But what will happen now that we’re guaranteed to have a President Trump?

Unfortunately, we need look no further than the man leading Trump’s education transition team to understand how much trouble we are in.

Not long ago, Gerard Robinson, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was one of only eleven members of the Executive Team of Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now!” council, along with Joel Klein of NYC Public Schools, Gregory McGinity of the Broad Foundation, and Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Former Gates Foundation executive Tom Vander Ark, who sits on the board of the world’s creepiest education organizations while overseeing a giant portfolio of digital and online learning companies, picked Robinson as one of his top ten reformers to watch back in 2010.

It should be no surprise, then, that Robinson recently told EdWeek: “I see [Trump] supporting blended learning models, alternative learning models,” and that he will “likely want to continue significant investments in colleges and universities, but also closely track how well graduates do in the labor market.”

That’s all part of the big agenda right there, and here is no big surprise: for-profit education chains are already seeing their stocks rise.

For those of you now protesting that Trump said he would get rid of the Department of Education, well, President Reagan said that too, but then he sponsored a report called “A Nation at Risk” which kicked the role of the federal government in education into high gear. According to Robinson, Trump may “streamline” the department  …whatever that means.

As for rumors circulating that either Ben Carson or William Evers of the Hoover Institute will be tapped for the role of Education Secretary under Trump, I think we’re more likely to get someone akin to what Robinson told Edweek:  “Someone from the private sector, who may not have worked in education directly, but may be involved in philanthropy or some kind of reform.”

So what does this mean for us? For our kids, our schools and our communities?

More than likely, it won’t be much different nor any less dismal than what I wrote when I assumed Hillary would be president: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets to support one-to-one tech initiatives, invasive (way more invasive) school-wide and individual data collection, and a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs.

Unless!

And this is a big unless..

 Unless parents and activists from across the political spectrum can mobilize now and stand up now to say enough is enough. We know what the big agenda is, and we aren’t going to manipulated by superficial policy change anymore.

This means that those who lean right can’t afford to go back to sleep once they hear talk of school choice and vouchers and the elimination of Common Core, and those leaning left can’t afford to throw in the towel or be led astray by phony anti-privatization movements run by neoliberal groups pushing the same darn thing as everyone else.

This time it needs to be us against the machine.

And if we can really band together, and really stay ahead of the curve rather than reacting to every crappy policy they put into place, then maybe – just maybe – we can take advantage of the confusion and uncertainty of an incoming Trump presidency to gain the upper hand.

If you’re shaking your head or laughing quietly at what probably seems like naïveté, please forgive me: I’m not yet 32, and have one young son and another on the way. I need to hang on to some kind of hope… and I’m guessing you do too.

For what it’s worth, I’m thinking that if this cat can do this, then we should at least have a shot at beating back the beast.

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Ed Reform 2.0: If You Can Train a Pigeon to Detonate Bombs…

Back in 1977, Superintendent James Guines of Washington D.C. explained his district’s competency-based education pilot program like this:

“The basic idea is to break down complicated learning into a sequence of clear simple skills that virtually everyone can master, although at different rates of speed. If you can train a pigeon to fly up there and press a button and set off a bomb, why can’t you teach human beings to behave in an effective and rational way?”

“We know we can modify human behavior. We’re not scared of that,” he added. “This is the biggest thing that’s happening in education today.”

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HA! Those crazy 70’s!  Boy did they have some crazy ideas back then.

But wait…

Now check out this recent video from Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman:

 

Here’s what Milkman has to say:

“If you repeatedly reward good behavior, and pair it with memorable cues, positive routines become instinctual.”

Duckworth adds:

“We’ll use technology to make good decisions easier…If we can solve enduring behavior change, we can address every major social ill that confronts humanity.”

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The video above is part of Duckworth’s and Milkman’s application to the MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition, which promises to award 100 million dollars to fund a single proposal that “promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.”

And if I had to guess, I’d say Duckworth and Milkman have a pretty good shot at winning the grant.

Lately, the MacArthur Foundation has been everywhere that Ed Reform 2.0 (personalized, competency-based, digital learning) has been – sponsoring conferences at the U.S. Department of Education on the merits of Social Impact Bonds, awarding grants to promote digital learning efforts, and even gaining recognition for their work with Mozilla and HASTAC in advancing the competency-based “digital badging” agenda from the Clinton Global Initiative.

(Yeah – the Clinton’s are involved in this too, in a big way.)

Just as it was back in the 70’s, behavior change – which now operates under the far friendlier banner of “social emotional learning” – is a major part of next-gen ed reform.

But parents need to beware: in Ed Reform 2.0 doublespeak,”social emotional learning” does not refer to kids simply learning to play well together at recess or turn in their homework on time.  Instead, the real agenda is more akin to what Duckworth and Milkman describe above:  using technology to reinforce “good behavior” through the same system of rewards-based behavior modification that B.F. Skinner used to get his pigeons to detonate bombs.

And “good behavior,” of course, may or may not mean what you think does.  For Duckworth, good behavior means grit;” other desirable behavior traits depend on what computer programmers and their financiers deem desirable for an effective, efficient workforce.

(Curiously, despite her statements in the video above, Duckworth recently backed out of a social-emotional assessment pilot program in California, suggesting that she might have moral reservations about what she’s promoting.  Perhaps the opportunity to earn a 100 million dollar grant is just too much to turn down.)

Now, for those of you who may be thinking: how bad could this really be – a little positive reinforcement never hurt anyone!  I encourage you to take a look at the disturbing way behavior modification by way of technology is currently being used in China:

Under the auspices of corporate giants Tencent and Alibaba, Chinese citizens will be required by 2020 to earn a character credit score based on their actions on social media. If you post government-approved articles, for example, you’ll earn points that you can then show off to your friends.  (It actually gets even creepier than that, so make sure to watch the video above.)

And if you’re now thinking: but that’s China! That could never happen here!  consider the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg  – now a major investor in personalized learning initiatives across the country – is quite fond of Sesame Credit’s sponsor, Jack Ma of Alibaba.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zuckerberg said he was optimistic about China’s future development because the country focused on science and technology education.”

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And now consider that one of Zuckerberg’s pet projects, Summit Public Schools (where, according to digital learning Guru, Tom Vander Ark,  students will have “college and career readiness system will track growth trajectory of knowledge, skills, and success habits against college goals, and “students falling short of their planned growth trajectory, on any front, will see a big red warning system”) has partnered with Duckworth and Milkman as part of their MacArthur 100&Change Proposals.

Yikes.

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Is Your District Changing its Grading Policy? Here’s the Real Reason Why.

All across the country, teachers are suddenly learning that their grading practices are rubbish.

“What does a 72 even mean?” they are asked in PowerPoint presentations delivered by well-paid consultants from Gates and Nellie Mae-sponsored nonprofits. “The problem is that it doesn’t mean anything.

Then they find out that it’s actually even worse than that.  Teachers, the consultants explain to the teachers, have been factoring behavior into the grades they assign and it is damaging children irreparably. (Of course, you should be grading behavior, they say – all that social emotional stuff is very valuable data  – but you must keep it separate.)

Finally, teachers are told that the real issue at hand is ethics.  Our current practice of assigning A’s and B’s is simply wrong.  (Just ask grading “expert” Douglas Reeves – and be sure to overlook his own history of significant ethical breaches.)

Teachers, of course, who are painfully accustomed to hearing that most of what they do is wrong, listen patiently for the 1000th time to find out what they must do in order to be right.

And at last they are introduced to the solution, which has been in search of all these grading problems from the beginning: competency-based grading.  Of course.

Forget that 1-100 scale that allows teachers dangerous levels of subjectivism.  Instead, reduce the whole thing to a much simpler, much more standardized system of 1-4.

And stop scoring subjects too.  Instead, assign each student a score for each and every one of those handy standards we’ve given you. Nevermind when parents don’t have a clue what you’re talking about when you tell them their child is getting a 2 in “CC:ELA:4:RF.3a: Use combined knowledge of all letter-sound correspondences, syllabication patterns, and morphology (e.g. roots and affixes) to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context.”)

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Trust us – this system is much more transparent than the one you were using.

Soon enough, you can forget that big-end-of-year-test too. Instead, you can assess your students whenever you like – daily, hourly even – and you can even make your own assessments if your district allows, as long as they are properly aligned and approved by your higher ups, and as long as you enter all the data into the “learning management system” that has been purchased for you with money that could have been used to hire more teachers, but wasn’t because this is far more important.

Oh and by the way?  If all that ongoing assessing and scoring feels like too much, as long as your district has purchased 1:1 digital devices (and they will) you can use our learning management system to assign online learning playlists, assessments and assignments. If you go this route (which you should), you can feel free to sit back and be the “guide on the side” that you’re really meant to be anyway.

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This is what the shift in your district grading policy is really all about: laying the groundwork for the corporate-driven shift to “personalized learning,” where digital devices can be put in front of each child and data can be mined for the millions of dollars it is worth.

For your friends who don’t believe it, I say simply: follow the money.

 I assure you: it’s really not about the kids.

 

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Leaked Emails Shed Light on Hillary’s Education Agenda

Not long ago, I wrote a letter to my former Exeter classmate, Mark Zuckerberg, begging him to reconsider the corporate-driven education policies he had recently vowed to support.

Of course, I never heard back.

Zuckerberg was far more interested in hearing from elite political insiders than from teachers or those with young children like me.

Among the recently leaked emails from Wikileaks is a request from Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg to John Podesta for a meeting with Zuckerberg:

“Mark is meeting with people to learn more about next steps for his philanthropy and social action and it’s hard to imagine someone better placed or more experienced than you to help him,” she wrote.

“Happy to do,” Podesta replied.

Five months later, in an open letter to his newborn daughter Zuckerberg announced his commitment to helping “schools around the world adopt personalized learning.”

This, of course, was no coincidence.

Though education issues have been buried throughout the campaign (Common Core was deemed a “political third rail” and standardized testing referred to as an “elephant in the room” by members of the DNC and Clinton campaign), it is clear that a Clinton Administration would be poised to advance the ed-tech and Wall Street driven “personalized learning” agenda if Hillary is elected.

Young people cheer when Hillary talks about making college more affordable, but few seem to realize that the policies she is advocating are actually designed to favor the multi-billion-dollar online and digital learning industry (along with, ironically, student loan providers). Even fewer seem aware that in the future, “college” may not mean what most think it does.

The Clintons, who have benefited enormously from Bill’s speaking engagements with online learning giant Laureate Education, have used their foundation to drive the shift away from traditional credentialing to the far more profitable and corporate-friendly digital badging system, where students earn online “nanodegrees” and certificates to demonstrate their ability to perform workforce-aligned “competencies.”

“I’ve offered a few suggestions to make sure we are a bit stronger on accountability, we lead with our promise to families and students when we describe our compact, and we highlight innovation and on-line learning a bit more,” policy advisor Ann O’Leary wrote to Clinton’s speechwriters, just before Hillary unveiled her “New College Compact,” calling for “experiments allowing federal student aid to be used for high-quality career and lifelong learning programs with promising or proven records.”

Other leaked correspondence indicating Hillary’s education priorities include a note from Stanford professor and education insider Linda Darling-Hammond to Podesta, thanking him for his advice and guidance in setting up her new think thank, Learning Policy Institute, where Podesta’s close confidante, Susan Sandler, is a board member.

Darling-Hammond has been a strong advocate of forms of school accountability that enable personalized learning, especially for assessment “dashboards” that encourages data collection that goes far beyond standardized tests. (Think social-emotional learning and “school climate” data.)

“I love the idea of the dashboard,” Hillary said in a recent speech to leaders of the National Education Association.

(So does Arne Duncan, Tom Vander Ark, and CEO of Pearson, John Fallon.)

And then there are emails suggesting who will be a priority for Hillary: one from Code.org asking Hillary to make a statement of support for computer science; another from Laurene Powell Jobs requesting a meeting with Hillary and a group of ed reformers, include Netflix executive Reed Hastings and Silicon Valley venture capitalists – all strong proponents of “personalized learning.”

So, what can education activists expect if Hillary is elected?

Here’s my dismal predication: more screen time for even our youngest children; inflated local budgets to support one-to-one tech initiatives; more (way more) invasive school-wide and individual data collection; a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs; and (of course) ongoing meddling and experimentation on our kids by our country’s billionaires.

Moral of the story?  Keep your boxing gloves on.

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Dear Personalized Learning Salesmen: Please Join Us!

By now, most people know that the Common Core State Standards have not only been an epic failure, but that the PR machine designed to sell the standards to the public was a botched job as well.

Unfortunately, not as many folks realize that our billionaire reformers have been working equally hard to sell the public on a make-believe need for “personalized learning” (which also goes by “competency-based” or the highly deceptive term “student-centered” learning) along with the one-to-one digital devices that will make (they hope) this highly lucrative K-12 transformation possible.

Here is just a sample of what the corporate and foundation-fueled agents of the personalized learning PR machine have done over the past few years:

  • Leveraged and even gone undercover as members of the Opt Out movement to encourage parents to opt in to personalized learning

Thankfully, despite the millions of dollars being spent on the propaganda effort, the growing number of parents  and teachers voicing their concerns over this research-devoid, massively expensive effort to remake our schools suggests that reformers might very well be botching this job too.

And there’s no question that increased pushback from parents already has personalized learning salesmen wringing their hands:  recently, Bruce Friend – the Chief Operating Officer of iNACOL, dedicated an entire session at a Pearson-sponsored conference to a discussion of one New Jersey mom and teacher who raised concerns about the efficacy of her district’s “blended learning” program.

At the upcoming Digital Learning Show in Dubai, former Gates Foundation executive Tom Vander Ark will host a session on how to “take your institution into the 21st century.”  This, of course, includes ways to “overcome challenges encountered in the implementation of blended and personalized learning” – which no doubt means dodging those pesky informed parents who don’t want their children learning from a tablet all day long nor do they appreciate having their state education policy manipulated by corporate profiteers dressed up as local organizations.

With all that said, I’d like to personally invite Mr. Vander Ark, Mr. Friend, Mr. Gates, and anyone else involved in their reform efforts to join a group of parents and teachers who know exactly what they are planning for us and are not happy about it to a webinar sponsored by Parents Across America this Sunday, October 16th, at 7pm.   Perhaps they’d like to take some notes to prepare for their upcoming workshops.

Parents, teachers, and anyone else interested in the latest reform efforts that are now flying at us fast and furious are, of course, also encouraged to join.

Click here for all the info you need.

 

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Parents: Time to Step Up Our Game

Just over two years ago, a letter to the editor appeared in our local paper that sent teachers into an uproar.  Our schools are failing! a man named Mr. Sabine had written, and the only way to fix them was to get “tough on teachers.”

Educators from across the district wrote in to defend the hard work that they do each day. Many called the author ignorant – which he was.

But I fumed for a different reason.

For seven years, I had worked in schools deemed failures based on the rules of No Child Left Behind.  My first year, I was determined to raise my students’ test scores and lift us from an F to an A.  By year seven, I knew that I was playing a rigged game.

Our schools were deemed “failing” because standardized tests said they were – not because they reflected any truth about our schools other than the economic background of our student population.

Mr. Sabine’s perception of our schools was proof that the planned attack on our public schools was working: the public believed what the tests said about our schools.

And so I wrote my own letter pointing out the problems with using standardized test scores to determine the success of our schools, and warned that things would only appear worse when our students took the made-to-fail Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Within a few days, a mother wrote to me to thank me for my response, and invited me to join her local Opt Out group.

Opt Out? Parents were actually having their children sit out of these wicked tests?

My spirits soared.

As a classroom teacher, I learned quickly that there was only so much I could say or do without risking my job, but I pushed the envelope as far as I could to spread the word about Opt Out.

When one of my letters about testing was published by the Washington Post, I felt certain that we were winning the war.

I was, of course, dead wrong.

The more I researched, the more I came across documents that made me wonder if there were people on the other side – the reformers and profiteers – that actually wanted us to opt out.  One article written by Tom Vander Ark – one of the Kings of Corporate Reform – called for the “end of the big test” all together, in favor of more frequent, “formative” tests.   When I did a search of these emails, I found one from Vander Ark expressing his worry that PARCC and SBAC would end up being just another “cheap” end-of-the-year test.  What he wanted was a testing ecosystem. 

Then I read another document predicting that standardized tests would soon be obsolete, to be replaced by continuous data feeds that would scoop up all sorts of personal information about children.

And so  I started watching the testing scene carefully, wondering how much truth there was to these predictions, and sure enough, corporations like Pearson and McGraw Hill began to announce that they were moving away from the “big test” toward the burgeoning “formative assessment” and “personalized learning” market.

Then came a huge punch in the gut:  this document from the Gates Foundation made it clear that the weird “proficiency-based diploma” mandate that had recently entered my state through the Nellie Mae Education Foundation was directly linked to the high-tech, research-devoid “personalized learning” experiment that was being unleashed on our children.

To my horror, I also began to discover that there were actually moles in this war:  groups pretending to represent parent voices and operating under the banner of Opt Out, but whose agenda was actually to herd us toward new ways of tracking, monitoring, and profiting off our children.  For these groups, Opt Out was an opportunity to lobby for their version of  “assessment reform.”

Recently, a group called NYSAPE published a document titled, “What Does the Opt Out Movement Want?” and I shuddered at some of its language.   Lexile benchmarks?  State-wide digital learning platforms?  Time limits on state assessments?

Since when did Opt Out become about all this compromise?  

Don’t get me wrong: I still believe in Opt Out.  I don’t think any child should have to sit for any of these state mandated tests.  I am a classroom teacher, and I can assure you that they do not provide one lick of useful information about your child’s abilities.

But here’s what I also know:

It’s time for us to dial up the original Opt Out spirit – the one that wasn’t afraid to say hell no – and realize that we’re going to need to extend this fight way beyond the big end-of-year-test.

Data-mining.  Key-stroke tracking.  Collection of sensitive personal information that ends up in the hands of advertisers.  Digital badging.  Unhealthy amounts of screen time. Growing class sizes. Depleted school budgets.

If I sound alarmist, it’s because I’m a mom and a teacher, so we’re talking about my kids here. I am seriously alarmed.

And you should be too.

It’s all happening, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t step up our game.

For more specific information on what you can do next, check out this post from Alison McDowell and this document from Parents Across America.

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