U.S. Department of Education Enters the Twilight Zone

Last week, in a move that coincided so perfectly with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that it almost made you wonder if the whole thing was pre-planned behind the scenes, the U.S. Department of Education released its five-year technology plan.

No big surprise here: rather than offer sensible suggestions and grant opportunities for states and local districts to implement technology in ways proven to be beneficial for kids, the plan instead reads like a blueprint for a complete overhaul of our national educational system.

It also mirrors the plan being pushed by the testing, charter, digital/online learning, and student loan industries, as most of its recommendations appear to come straight from “Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning” – a list of recommendations developed by a council of executives from testing giants like Pearson and McGraw Hill, charter chains like Rocketship, tech companies like Apple and Microsoft, and – of course – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Personalized learning (Mark Zuckerberg’s other new baby), competency-based education, and embedded, stealth assessment – including assessment of “non-cognitive competencies” – all play prominent roles in both the “Ten Elements” and the U.S. DOE’s new technology plan.

But if that alone doesn’t give you shivers, there’s more.

Despite an admission that research on the effectiveness of technology-enabled programs and resources is still limited, the technology plan also suggests that “the roles of PK–12 classroom teachers and post-secondary instructors, librarians, families, and learners all will need to shift as technology enables new types of learning experiences.”

Yes – you read that right.  According the U.S. DOE, not only our schools, but also our families will need to change to make way for the Brave New World recommended by the edu-profiteers.

The plan also says that we will need to consider the “redesign of physical learning spaces to accommodate new and expanded relationships among learners, teachers, peers, and mentors,” and that “leaders should take stock of current systems and processes across learning systems and identify those that can be augmented or replaced by existing technologies.”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “redesign of physical learning spaces,” I think of this poorly executed plan (below) that a principal in the Bronx had, where she demanded that teachers throw out their desks to make the rooms more “student-centered.”



The plan also suggests that we, in our states and local districts, conduct research and development to “explore how embedded assessment technologies such as simulations, collaboration environments, virtual worlds, games, and cognitive tutors can be used to engage and motivate learners while assessing complex skills” – meaning, of course, that we should use taxpayer money to do the work of private companies – using our children, in their classrooms, as lab rats in these projects.

Frankly, the whole thing makes me wonder if the U.S. DOE has been “foresighting” with the organization that developed this graphic below:


Does anyone else wonder what kind of strange twilight zone we seem to be entering?







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.

15 thoughts on “U.S. Department of Education Enters the Twilight Zone”

  1. Yes indeed – I do wonder! Controlling and manipulating the children isn’t enough, now they have to get their tentacles to reach into the home to influence, manipulate and control parents as well. This is what you call a managed society!


  2. Thanks for another excellent post, Emily. For readers who may be interested, here are the roots of legislation that paved the way for corporate profiteers to siphon public funding back to tech through takeovers framed as “personalized” learning: http://sco.lt/7If281. There appears to be a complete lack of care and perspective on the potential risks and impacts of these initiatives on whole child development: http://www.scoop.it/t/educational-psychology-technology?q=screen

    These issues also intersect with corporate charter school expansions. See the interconnections throughout articles in this collection (search for TFA, Rocketship, Summit, K12Inc, and you’ll see each loop back to the 1% funding roots). These organizations are all part of the same profiteering-pitched-as-philantropy network pushing for heavier tech, testing, and charter-based “reforms”: http://bit.ly/chart_look


  3. Now of course, with the monumentally stupidly named ESSA, they have, on paper, handed the stick to the States, but with all the packing of State education departments by the one percenters this will all happen. I expect a shambles which will make the BST seem like a storm in a teacup.


  4. Currently we have a system of education that was designed in 1892 by the Committee of Ten. When sixth grade was the goal and agriculture the rule it worked. Since that time nothing has really changed, other than the evisceration of teachers through the dictation from on high (local Boards and Superintendents duped by special interests) about what to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it while ignoring the voices of the teachers and the reality of student diversity.
    Now, thanks to technology, we have an opportunity to re empower teachers and our children by addressing the child’s, cognitive strengths , natural abilities to learn and interests creating a lifelong love of learning – the attitude out current system destroys in most students creating instead excellent sheep to be manipulated by hucksters and charlatans. (Such as the Big Four testing companies, politicians and pushers of stem versus steam).

    Khan Academy works, the school in the cloud works, competency based and blended learning focused on outcomes and mastery instead of grades (let’s end our love affair with meaningless grades & numbers) allows the child’s diverse cognitive ability engage in meaningful learning instead of the academics twilight zone of pure content for content’s sake!


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