Can We Stop it in Time?

If Obama’s “Testing Action Plan” goes ahead as planned, be prepared for a massive expansion of online and digital learning and testing to sweep our country.

I mean massive.

As in – teachers?  You might want to start looking for alternative work.

Tom Vander Ark, former executive director of education for the Gates Foundation, is so ready for this.

Vander Ark, who recently gave a presentation at the Global Technology Symposium called“New Education: How to Unbundle the Potential of a Multi-Billion Dollar Market” and is now director of a venture capital firm called “Learn Capital” that oversees a giant portfolio of digital and online learning companies, knows that he is sitting on a goldmine – if only we can be manipulated into adopting the policies that will lead to the boom he has been waiting for.

“Coming from the business world, I thought this would all happen fast,” he said in this article. “It’s frustrating that 15 years later online learning is just beginning to mature.”

Poor guy.

Fifteen years ago, when he served as executive director of education for the Gates Foundation, Tom Vander Ark was here in Maine, awarding a 10 million dollar grant to shape schools in our state to his liking.

Never mind the fact that Maine was, at that time, number one in the country according to its NAEP scores (something we can no longer claim.)

“Consider developing two models for high school reform that specifically target rural high schools – one that uses digital technology and on-line courses, the other that is more traditional,” Vander Ark advised our then-commissioner, Duke Albanese.

Only two years earlier, Vander Ark was in Alaska, doling out millions for the state to develop a model of reform that would eventually become the Reinventing Schools Coalition – just one of handful of consultant groups which, with money from the Gates and Nellie Mae Foundations, has since shipped its disciples around the country in an attempt to remake our schools according to his (and his fellow investors’) fancy.

Recently, Vander Ark even appeared to be getting excited about the Opt Out movement.

 “New tests will hinder rather than help competency-based models,” he wrote in an email to members of the Council for Chief School Officers and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. “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 a system that will incorporate all the performance feedback that students will be receiving a few years from now.”

(Now go read the Testing Action Plan and see what it calls for.)

Vander Ark, as board member of an international organization called Global Education Futures, has some inside information as to what the future holds.

According to this document  from GEF (which, if you are prone to nightmares, you should not read) we’ll be looking at “performance feedback” systems that include “assessment of learning progress through the use of objective physiological parameters, using real time biometry and neurointerfaces,” and “continuous assessment in gaming-like dynamics that will “transform education into a personal quest to boost a character.’”

Sounds crazy, but Vander Ark and his cronies have been busy.

Using this “Policy Playbook” developed by Bellwether Education (with help from Vander Ark, of course!), corporate reformers have been setting up shop all across the country under the guise of friendly, state-run non-profits, generating demand in all kinds of deceptive ways for personalized (read: digital, competency-based) learning.

“Today, many areas in education, including new educational technologies, remain as hidden opportunities, potentially worth many billions of dollars, where first-movers will have a chance to corner this huge market,” the GEF document explains.

We are getting set up for a giant racket built on the backs of our kids.

Now the question is… can we stop it in time?


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.

3 thoughts on “Can We Stop it in Time?”

  1. Thanks for being on top of Vander Bunk! It’s hard to believe the American people have been so easy to fool thus far. Hopefully we can inform enough people with articles like yours to get this nightmare turned around!


  2. This is how I see it, school administrators will be forced to push teachers toward a curriculum driven completely by technology. However, they will expect teachers to run these programs on antiquated systems and hardware. They will use the “no funding” scapegoat in order not to update the technology. This will set teachers and students up for failure under unattainable goals and ultimately drive the privatization of American education system.


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