Are You Being Manipulated?

One year ago, representatives from the next-gen ed reform industry took part in the Partnership for 21st Century Learning‘s annual summit.

In one of the breakout sessions, the audience was asked to consider “embedded beliefs” about children and school while viewing a series of images like the one below:

Screen shot 2016-03-01 at 6.06.07 PM.png

The session, titled “A Transformational Vision of the Future of Learning: A Strange Bedfellow Collaboration” and hosted by Microsoft, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, KnowledgeWorks, Disney, and both major teachers’ unions, emphasized the need for a “paradigm shift” from the “industrial age” to the “networked age.”

It’s a message that suddenly seems to be everywhere.

Here is Arne Duncan:

Our K–12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education…But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century.

And here’s Michael Horn of Innosight Institute:

With the opportunity of online learning coming on, what we talk about is shifting from this factory model system to a student-centered one that personalizes for each and every child.

… and Mark Schneiderman  of the Software Information & Industry Association:

The factory model that we’ve used to meet the needs of the average student in a mass production way for years is no longer meeting the needs of each student as our student body diversifies.

… and Susan Patrick of iNACOL:

The three areas that intersect to create the perfect storm for this education transformation are: personalization, blended learning and competency education. The power of each moves us away from the monolithic, industrialized factory model of schooling and toward a rich, flexible learning environment in which students move through advancing mastery along learning pathways.

… and Tom Vander Ark of Learn Capital:

The alternative to the factory model is a more personalized learning environment where all students are engaged and learning at their own pace in the best way possible for each of them. This is achievable—at scale—with improved Internet access, new adaptive technology, and competency-based learning environments.

You get the idea.

The message is so uniform that it seems as though reformers are all being coached by the same marketing professionals.

And that’s because they are.

Using market research techniques, FrameWorks Institute – which recently helped California sell the idea of Common Core – discovered that the public is far more likely to agree with reform messages that start by invoking the value of “progress.”

“The value of Progress produced substantial and statistically significant increases in support on all policies and attitudes tested,” FrameWorks explains in this memo on ways to talk about digital learning. “Because it pedestals all the good aspects of technology and backgrounds all the bad, it helps inoculate against “back to basics” thinking about learning and skills.”

For those looking to sharpen their reform pitches (or, if you’re like the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education, you’ve gotten funding from Nellie Mae to take your state legislators on a retreat to sell them on the idea of proficiency-based education), FrameWorks recently released its findings as part of a “Core Story of Education” project.

The Core Story toolkit, called “Telling Stories Out of School: Reframing the Education Conversation through a Core Story Approach,” features message cards, talking points, sample editorials and twitter messages, and even a game to test your communication skills.

There’s even a handy chart you can use to anticipate how your message may go astray:


reformers chart.png

Because telling the truth about our schools has never seemed to produce statistically significant shifts in the public’s inclination to let reformers take our education system in whatever direction they please,  you won’t find much of that in this toolkit.

For those interested in such things, I recommend you read this post by Audrey Watters or this one by Dr. Sherman Dorn for a solid debunking of some of the myths currently being sold by the reframing reformers.

For everyone else, here’s a link from the toolkit to help you with your tweets.














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.

9 thoughts on “Are You Being Manipulated?”

  1. You would think they would get more creative wih the names: KnowlegeWorks, EDWorks, CompetencyWorks, FrameWorks… It all goes back to one super-funder– the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


  2. So we plan to have all students isolated in front of a screen, taking the same assessments in pursuit of the same standards, and earning badges for each one they achieve. Sounds a lot like a 21st century version of the factory/industrial model we’ve supposedly been using for decades. Except that it ‘works,’ is ‘personalized’ has a ‘core’ and ‘technology’ and is ’21st century,’ so of course, it is better. Real progress.
    I’m reminded of a former student who worked for a credit card servicer and tried very hard to help each and every customer he talked to. In his first performance appraisal, he was criticized taking too long with each customer contact and not meeting the quota for contacts for a given shift. The hell with excellent customer service, just meet the prescribed standard for the customer contact and move on to the next one. He quit the next day.


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