Parents Beware

A growing number of legislators, lobbyists, and investors are either unaware or are unconcerned with basic research ethics, and they are signing your children up to be used as guinea pigs.

Across the country, states are adopting corporate-driven policies to experiment with “competency-based” and “personalized learning,” even though there is no sound research proving that these are effective educational models.

In Florida, where a bill to implement competency-based pilot programs recently passed, the Tampa Bay Times explained: “Several [legislators] said they support the program, because they want to see first whether it works.”

Mark Zuckerberg, who has recently poured millions into CBE/personalized experiments, told EdWeek: “We don’t know for certain that it’s going to work. All we can really hope to do is provide an initial boost and try to show that this could work as a model.”

Thomas Rooney, superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District, admitted in this article: “I have received three requests over the past week asking for evidence of success from competency education models.  The truth of the matter is that we are not swimming in proof points.”

Here in Maine, our state is part of the Council for Chief State School Officer’s “Innovation Lab Network,” which hopes to “generate proof points” that will help bring competency (proficiency) based learning “to scale.”

The Gates Foundation calls competency-based learning a  “nascent” and “still emerging” field, and has vowed to invest in its development.  (Most competency-based and personalized learning experiments are now at least partially funded by the Gates Foundation.)

When researchers in university settings conduct studies involving “human subjects,” there are two categories of people that always get extra special protection: pregnant women and children.  Even if the research involves minimal to no risk to the child (a survey, for example), an Institutional Review Board must certify that the investigators meet certain criteria, including obtaining permission from children’s parents or guardians.

Competency-based and personalized learning experiments, which typically rely heavily on digital and online learning, involve a number of potential risks – including those that are health-related (impact on vision, over-exposure to wifi radiation), academic, and social/emotional (what happens when students spend less time with teachers and more time with devices?).

And yet most parents are utterly unaware of these risks, and none of have been asked to give informed consent before their districts are given over to experimental restructuring.  When it comes to public school policy – especially when there are billions of dollars on the line – decision-makers seem to have decided that research ethics need not apply.

Are your legislators signing your children up to be guinea pigs?

Find out before it’s too late.


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.

10 thoughts on “Parents Beware”

    1. U.S. Department of Education
      Institute of Education Sciences

      c) Gaps in Education Technology Research
      Through this funding mechanism, the Institute supports field-generated research that meets the requirements for the Education Technology topic and the requirements for one of the Institute’s research goals (see Part III Goal Requirements).
      While the Institute supports field-generated research, the Institute has also identified critical research gaps in the Education Technology domain (described below) and encourages applications that address these issues. The Institute’s independent peer reviewers are asked to consider whether an application addresses any of these gaps in their evaluation of the Significance section because, if found to have scientific merit by the peer reviewers, such research has the potential to lead to important advances in the field.
      • • The Institute is interested in research on technology that provides students with personalized and adaptive learning opportunities. Such technology may be able to log responses and systematically identify more demanding content or skills to be acquired. Data may be used to measure a student’s learning outcomes as well as to provide insights into the students’ thought processes and learning strategies (Aleven, Beal, and Graesser, 2013; Baker and Siemens, 2014). Research is needed to clarify which types of data gathered through education technologies reliably predict student learning and reliably recognize a student’s needs. Future research is needed to optimize what features may enhance these technologies, such as embedding assessments, including audio and video cues, or improving the user design interface.
      • • In 2010, over 4 million students participated in online learning programs (Staker, 2011), and those numbers continue to rise. Despite the popularity of these types of programs, very little research has been done. The Institute is interested in research on hybrid learning models, which blend classroom instruction with technology delivery. The Institute is also interested research on widely-used educational Apps, games for learning, or social media platforms, such as ones like Khan Academy, that could be employed out-of-school to supplement students’ understanding of concepts covered in class, or that flip the classroom environment by preparing students ahead of classroom instruction.
      • • In recent years, games for learning are gaining support among educators who recognized that effectively designed games can facilitate engagement and persistence, and stimulate learning. A recent meta-analysis indicated that digital games significantly enhanced student learning relative to non-game control conditions (Clark, Tanner-Smith, and Killingsworth, 2014). The Institute is interested in research to further understand game elements, mechanics, and conditions that promote learning across prekindergarten through grade 12.
      • • The Institute is interested in research to determine the effectiveness of education learning technologies. Given the pervasive integration of technology into school practice and the widespread use of web-based technology products, the infrastructure now exists to recruit a potentially nationwide sample of students and teachers and administer large efficacy trials to evaluate many of these education technologies that are in wide use but have not been evaluated to date. Although technology offers great promise in improving educational outcomes, there have been relatively few rigorous evaluations of technology products (e.g., Campuzano et al., 2009). The Institute encourages rigorous evaluations of education technology interventions, both newly developed and in wide-use, under the Efficacy and Replication goal.
      For more information on this topic and to view the abstracts of previously funded projects, please visit: Please contact the Program Officer for this topic to discuss your choice of topic and goal and to address other questions you may have.

      Click to access 2016_84305A.pdf


  1. Here in Georgia, the largest county in the state, Fulton, is going all out on “personalized learning” and “competency based assessment.” The Gates Foundation has given the $ for personal devices. The teachers are being told you will be doing this!


  2. The 2nd largest county in Georgia, Fulton, is all in for “personalized learning” and “competency based assessment.” The Gates foundation is providing some funding for devices. Teachers are being told you will do this!


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