In March of 2010, Yong Zhao, author, professor, and director of the Institute for Global and Online Education at the University of Oregon, praised the National Educational Technology Plan released by the US Department of Education by saying:
“’Personalized learning instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, pace of teaching, and instructional practices.’ What a vision! The group that worked for the plan must be congratulated for what they have done and the Department praised for releasing the report…I hope the recommendations of this plan will be taken seriously by the Department. Moreover I hope the same philosophy will be driving the reauthorization of the ESEA (now under the name of NCLB).”
Zhao, who has been celebrated by many (including Diane Ravitch), for his anti-standardized testing rhetoric and warnings that we are moving toward an authoritarian, Chinese-style system of education, must be very pleased with much of the language found in both versions of the ESEA rewrites.
“Personalized learning” is without a doubt the next frontier of educational reform – not only in the US, but around the world. There is a great deal of confusion surrounding what personalized education really is, but when stripped of the rhetoric that usually accompanies it, the concept is quite simple: students progress at their own pace, moving from one lesson to the next when they have proven “mastery.” At its core, it is a theory of learning based on behaviorist theories of B.F. Skinner. Many other terms, such as “blended learning,” “competency-based education,” “proficiency-based education,” “mastery learning,” “self-paced learning,” and “customized learning,” are in fact manifestations of this same theory of learning.
Despite the fact that a 2006 meta-analysis from the US DOE found no studies contrasting K–12 online learning with face-to-face instruction that met methodological quality criteria,and thus no evidence that it is best for our kids, technology and online learning companies have seized upon this concept, and for good reason: wide-scale “personalized learning” is only possible if we have their products in hand.
Ambient Research, a market research firm whose client list includes all the big players in educational technology, including Microsoft, Apple, Pearson, K-12 Inc, and McGraw Hill, uses this graph to show the massive investments that are being made toward “learning technology suppliers”:
and this graphic to illustrate the massive boom in the global adoption of learning technology:
Check out the circle at about 11 o’clock – “Education Policies Mandating Online Learning” – and now read this section H.R. 5, the House version of the ESEA rewrite:
From the amount of funds a State educational agency reserves under subsection (c)(3) for each fiscal year to carry out this paragraph, the State educational agency shall award grants on a competitive basis to eligible entities in the State to carry out blended learning projects described in this paragraph.
The term ‘blended learning project’ means a formal education program that includes an element of online learning, and instructional time in a supervised location away from home, that includes an element of student control over time, path, or pace; and in which the elements are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
Grants can be used for:
Planning activities, which may include development of new instructional models (including blended learning technology software and platforms), the purchase of digital instructional resources, initial professional development activities, and one-time information technology purchases, except that such expenditures may not include expenditures related to significant construction or renovation of facilities.
According to this report from Ambient Research, over 25 states initiated high-profile legislative efforts relating to PreK-12 online learning in 2011 alone.
Other states, like Maine, have implemented legislation that is less direct but equally targeted toward an expansion of digital and online learning.
If you are curious as to how your state ranks according to its online and digital learning legislation, you can check out your state’s report card issued by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which crafts much of the legislation we find in our states:
The Senate version of the ESEA is also less direct in its push toward personalized/digital learning, but it is there nonetheless in the opportunities it offers states to develop assessment systems based on “competency-based” models of learning.
Is it any wonder, then, that Zhao, who despite his inspiring anti-standardized testing rhetoric is head of an online learning company called “Oba” and is leading the global push toward “personalized” learning, would hope to find such legislation in the ESEA rewrites and our state policies?
Is it any wonder that he is praising China for their move away from standardized testing toward personalized learning, and touting an online learning company called ePALs, which – according to Ambient Research – is leading the globe in investments?
Is it ever about the kids??