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:


Pssst…Mark, it’s me again.

Dear Mark,

First – my sincerest congratulations on the birth of your baby girl.  My son (now sleeping in my arms and making typing a bit difficult) was born just over a year ago, so I know quite well the wonder and fatigue of those first few weeks. I hope you and your wife have gotten some sleep since you’ve been home, and if you haven’t – don’t worry, it’ll get better soon.

When you get a chance to come up for air from your new life with little Max, I have another letter for you to read. (I say “another” because, if you’ve not yet seen it, I wrote you  this letter  a few weeks ago.)

Mark, without question, you said many lovely things in your open letter to your daughter. I know that you – like all parents – truly want this world to be a better place, as it is the world you’ll be leaving behind for Max.

But there was something you said, as you were describing your investments in personalized education, which was not lovely at all.

Here it is below:

“It will take building new technology and trying new ideas. And it will take making mistakes and learning many lessons before achieving these goals.”

Mark, now that you have a little one of your own, will you do something for me? Will you pick her up, put her sweet, floppy little head in the crook of your elbow, and then – just for a moment – imagine something you’d rather not imagine?

Imagine that Max’s mind – the most precious thing she has – will be experimented upon when she gets to school.

Imagine that you no longer have the resources to send her anywhere you like for school, and so she will attend your local public school.

And now imagine that your local public school is working with an out-of-state organization to implement an experimental model of education advocated by digital learning companies, because recently, your state  has quietly signed up  to be part of a lab network with the hope that your daughter and her peers will generate the “proof points” they are looking for.

Now imagine not knowing if Max’s education – the only one she will get – will be one of the mistakes that are made as philanthropists and investors such as yourself work to achieve their goals.

Imagine, too, not knowing for certain what these goals even are – as there has been little to no transparency regarding your state’s new policies nor where they have come from.  Imagine not knowing what will happen to the data your little girl generates for them. Will it be sold? Stored?  For whom and to what end?

This is my reality, Mark, and the reality of many parents in our country. Your friend, Bill Gates, whom I know you admire, along with a network of other organizations – all with corporate ties and funding – has used his money to do in Maine  precisely what I described above.

Please don’t get me wrong: I do not want you to turn away from education. Many schools are in desperate need of resources, and we could certainly use your help and generosity.

But we do not want nor do we deserve to be guinea pigs in corporate experiments.

You said in your letter that you want equality for all.   If this is true, then you need to know that treating humans as subjects in personalized learning experiments is not treating them as equals.

Our children’s minds, just like little Max’s, cannot afford to be “mistakes” that are made as you and other reformers seek to mold education according to the visions you craft behind closed doors. No child should have their education become a casualty that is made along the way as you and other digital reformers attempt to get this right.

My sweet son is now waking (no really – he’s learned to time his naps with mom’s blog posts), and I’m sure you are ready to get back to your wife and baby.  Enjoy every moment with your precious little one, and please let me know if this is something you’d like to talk more about.  I know a few people who’d like to chime in.


Emily Kennedy Talmage, Exeter ’03

P.S. – This is lovely photo.




For several months, I have been blogging like a madman about my suspicions that we are being ushered into a new era of embedded, competency-based assessment that has been planned behind the scenes for years by the testing, ed-tech, and student loan industries.

And now here we are.  The final bicameral version of the ESEA rewrite has been released for us to view, two days before the House intends to vote on it.

I wonder – are our Congressmen busy doing what many of us are tonight?  Searching this document madly to see what’s in it?  Trying to make sense of which clauses go with what, and what all the double-speak actually means?

Do they know what is meant by “competency-based“?  How about “instructionally embedded”?  Do they know the difference between community schools and Community Schools?

What will your representative think when (if?) he or she reads this section below?  Do they know who stands to gain from all of this, and what it may mean for our kids?

The term ‘innovative assessment system’ means a system of assessments that may include competency-based assessments, instructionally embedded assessments, interim assessments, cumulative year-end assessments, or performance-based assessments that combine into an

annual summative determination for a student which may be administered through computer adaptive assessments; and assessments that validate when students are ready to demonstrate mastery or proficiency and allow for differentiated student support based on individual learning needs.
Please call if you haven’t and ask them to delay this vote.  We need time to explain to them what all this means.


Here he is again, the No Squirrel: