Future Agendas?

Three years ago, In the Public Interest – a nonprofit whose stated goal is to “ensure that government contracts and agreements and related public policies increase transparency [and] accountability” – obtained thousands of emails sent between Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and a variety of current and former state education commissioners (or the “Chiefs,” as they call themselves).

You can – and should – search these emails here for insight into the way next-gen ed-reformers  strategize.

Shortly after these emails were released, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post wrote an article about these emails here, as did Colin Woodard, an award-winning journalist here in Maine.

In his special report, Woodard exposed the collaboration of former education commissioner, Stephen Bowen (now Strategic Initiative Director of the Council for Chief State Schools Officers) with the FEE and members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to expand and deregulate digital education here in Maine.

In previous posts, I’ve written about one product of these exchanges – an executive order given by Governor LePage on the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital learning – and the role these elements play in the radical transformation of Maine’s schools into grade-less, “proficiency-based” systems designed to unleash a digital learning boom in our state.

Using crafty language, questionable lobbying practices, and plenty of out-of-state money by way of the Gates Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Element 4, “Advancement,” is now mandated here in Maine in the form of a proficiency-based diploma requirement.

Needless to say, Woodard’s expose ruffled a few feathers, including those of next-gen ed-reform mastermind, Tom Vander Ark.

Vander Ark, who is a partner at Learn Capital – a venture capital firm with a giant portfolio of online and digital learning companies and sits on the board of countless organizations related to next-gen ed reform – accused Woodard of being on a “digital witch hunt” and referred to his article in the Press Herald as a “crazy attack.”

In an article  that appeared in the Huffington Post, Vander Ark wrote: “Investigative journalism is important to our democracy but this was an example of something different and dangerous—a slanted political and personal agenda.”

Did I mention that Vander Ark is also on the advisory board of a multi-national group of elites called “Global Education Futures,” which puts out documents like this, called “Future Agendas for Global Education”?

Did I mention that Vander Ark also appears in these emails in a discussion of the new “assessment ecosystem” he envisions for our future?

“New tests will hinder rather than help competency-based models…In short, I don’t want one big cheap end of year test used for more than it should be…I don’t want it to lock in the teacher-centric age cohort model for another decade. I don’t want simple assessments, I want complex performance based assessments. I want a system that will incorporate all the performance feedback that students will be receiving a few years from now.”

 Mr. Vander Ark, by “performance feedback that students will be receiving a few years from now,” do you mean the “continuous assessment in gaming-like dynamics that will “transform education into a personal quest to boost a character’ that is discussed in this document  put out by Global Education Futures?

Do you mean the “competence profiles that would record current state and development of individual’s knowledge & skills across different domains of professional & social life, and would accompany individuals throughout their life”?

Do you mean the “assessment of learning progress through the use of objective physiological parameters, using real time biometry and neurointerfaces”?

Because, truly, all of this sounds quite a bit more different and dangerous than anything I read in Woodard’s piece.

And as for personal and political agendas…. surely you’ll admit that you’ve got some pretty lofty ones of your own?


Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

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