On Personalized Learning, Mark Zuckerberg, and Makin’ it Rain

Recently, I have written two letters (here and here) to my former classmate, Mark Zuckerberg, to warn him of the dangers of his educational investment plans. Both letters were as polite and friendly as I could muster – especially given the circumstances – and I took care not to sound too accusatory in either of them.

But of course – despite the fact that Shakira and Melinda Gates got personal notes on his Facebook page a few days ago – I am still waiting on a response.

So, while I wait for an explanation as to why he believes investing in a purely experimental, corporate-invented and corporate-driven theory of learning that has no proven track record of success is a good idea, I thought I’d offer readers more information on why he is such a strong supporter of personalized learning.

To start, let me show you who else is promoting this model.

This guy:


And this guy:

And this guy:



And this guy:



And all of these businesses and corporations:

new-google-logo.jpg             og.jpg           2000px-Dell_Logo.svg.pnght_microsoft_cc_120823_wg.jpg                     o-PEARSON-facebook.jpg532213790eafd.preview-300.jpg           ETSLogo.JPG         2000px-Dell_Logo.svgchi-textbook-publisher-houghton-mifflin-files-001              Connections Academy


And these guys:



Oh! And most of the people who work here, too:


(See ESSA, pages 462-465).
You see, back in 2010, Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise convened the Digital Learning Council to “develop the roadmap to integrate current and future technological innovations into public education.” Most of the individuals and organizations above were part of this council.

(No big surprise here: I was not invited – nor were any other elementary school teachers as far as I know – though this is probably for the best, because I would have definitely caused a scene.)

One of the main accomplishments of this Council was the development of the “Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.”

Element number three, of course, is “Personalized Learning,” which is defined as such:

All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.

Now, why would these companies and corporations have such an interest in this type of model, especially when there is no research to show that it is effective for K-12 students?

I’ll let them tell you:

“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.” – Global Education Futures, where Tom Vander Ark (advisor to Digtal Learning Now Council) is a board member


“It’s one of the few bright spots in the market. That’s why we are seeing this battle in education, they all know how important the education segment is, it’s critical…It’s basically a head-on fight for the entry level part of the market that is procuring huge volumes.” – Futuresource analyst Mike Fisher, regarding the explosive sales of Google Chromebooks to local school districts

“The worldwide market for Self-paced eLearning reached $47.9 billion in 2015. The five-year compound annual growth rate is flat at 1.0%, but revenues will reach $50.4 billion by 2020.” – Ambient Insight

And then there is, of course, this old gem from Rupert Murdoch, who has contributed handsomely to Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education:

“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching…”

So you see, what Mark Zuckerberg is doing is not for the children. It is for his fellow investors, who are anxiously awaiting the unbundling of this multi-billion dollar market.

Which means, of course, that as they continue to experiment with all their digital, “data driven” products brought to our schools through stealth-policies, our children will look like this:


And Mark will be doing this:


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.

4 thoughts on “On Personalized Learning, Mark Zuckerberg, and Makin’ it Rain”

  1. Thank you, Emily for another excellent post. Here’s a video on Democracy Now documenting the ALEC-based roots of digital/online learning designed to siphon public education tax dollars right back to the tech-based 1%: http://sco.lt/7If281. This is what we could call Philanthro-capitalism on fleek (er, uh, on phleek, for the creative minded). The full collection is searchable by keyword (grey funnel at the top right of the main page). I looked up “ALEC” and here’s what emerged: http://www.scoop.it/t/charter-choice-closer-look?q=ALEC.


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