If you’ve not yet heard, public education as we know it is on its way out.
While we toiled in the trenches under No Child Left Behind, a massive infrastructure was built to support a shift toward competency-based, “personalized learning” – just in time for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education (now called ESSA).
With its reliance on one-to-one digital devices, digital courseware, artificial intelligence, and massive data collection, personalized learning promises to reap big rewards for investors and corporate executives.
Just how big is the beast? Let’s take a look.
Hydra Head #1: Digital Infrastructure
Remember PARCC and Smarter Balanced? Those tests that were supposed to tell us whether or not our kids were “college and career ready”?
Here’s what they were actually intended to accomplish, according to the program from the 2012 National Conference on Student Assessment:
The Federal Government’s strategy to transform the Education Assessment industry by investing in standard technology platforms led by multi-state consortia such as Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has required unprecedented collaboration among consortia members, SEA and LEA representatives, assessment companies and the greater IT vendor community.
This well hidden technology agenda is why, even if your state has pulled out of these consortia, it has been replaced by an assessment made by one of the companies contracted to build the PARCC and SBAC tests (Questar, Measured Progress, AIR, etc). It’s also why the new tests look remarkably similar to one another.
Another consortium, IMS Global, which includes most of the testing companies above as well as giant tech companies like Microsoft, Samsung, and Intel, also been busy building standard technology platforms to support the digital, personalized learning market.
Here’s how Rob Abel, CEO of IMS Global, explains it:
“When integrations cost time or money that nobody has, that stops progress from being made. The theory is that if we take the friction out of going digital, that helps the market develop for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Defense to move the personalized learning market forward by creating a “Federal Learning Registry” of standards-aligned resources that will interact with the products the companies above plan to sell you.
“By making learning resources available within a common approach,” the Learning Registry website explains, “we may see more innovation in the marketplace because finding and assembling high quality solutions may be easier and cheaper.”
Even the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the Department of Defense is helping to build the infrastructure to support “personalized learning.” A recent Request for Information from DARPA asked for submissions for possible “educational tools [that] would adapt to individuals over time” and would allow “student assessment [to] be embedded within the application as a seamless part of the overall instructional process.”
“An important aspect of this program is the development and integration of tools to monitor cognitive or physiological response of users while learning,” the DAPRA request states, and adds: “The system may monitor a variety of cues to determine the user’s attention and emotional states.”
(Does anyone else wonder what else the Department of Defense may want to do with this information?)
Hydra Head #2: Legal Infrastructure
Although we were assured that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was intended to restore control to states and local districts, the truth is that much of the document was carefully crafted to enable a proliferation of “personalized learning.”
KnowledgeWorks highlights the many ways that ESSA “opens the door” for personalized learning, including its Innovative Assessment Zones, resources for “21st Century Community Learning Centers,” and grant money for technology available in virtually every section of the document.
As for state and local policies, the Foundation for Excellence in Education and American Legislative Exchange Council have been busy meeting with politicians and executives from the testing and digital education companies to craft model bills that will move your state toward the competency-based framework that will support “personalized learning.”
Bellwether Education (where the wife of our newly minted secretary of education, John King, wife recently took a job) even has a book of personalized learning “policy plays” for state policy makers.
As for ensuring that all the data that fuels the personalized learning machine can flow freely from one location to the next, privatizers made certain to revise the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in 2011 to give third parties access to your child’s information.
Hydra Head #3: Teacher Preparation
What do you do with teachers in a digital, “personalized” system where they are no longer needed?
Figuring that out has been one of Tom Carroll’s jobs at the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
“We’ve had a lot of talk lately about managing the human capital more effectively,” he explained at 2009 conference called Redefining Teacher Education for Digital Age Learners. “We need to move to a very different workforce model.”
“Schools of education [need to] get out of the preparation business, actually, and into the workforce development business in partnership with school districts.”
To help with the transition to “personalized learning,” KnowledgeWorks has prepared a document offering future job opportunities that displaced teachers may want to pursue, including “data tracker,” and “micro-credential” analyst.
Hydra Head #4: State-Based Non-Profits
These are the shepherds: the ones funded by corporate foundations, fueled with market research, and charged with orchestrating “will-building” campaigns to get the locals to think that competency-based, “personalized learning” is all a grand idea made just for them. Here in New England, the Nellie Mae and Gates Foundation have funded the Great Schools Partnership, Educate Maine, Voices for Vermont Children, the New England Secondary School Consortium, the Center for Collaborative Education, and others to help usher the masses toward this brave new world of schooling. Have you looked to see who the shepherds are in your state?
Hydra Head #5: Consultants
Someone must have given Dr. Marzano the heads up, because he now offers consulting services to move districts toward “competency-based,” personalized learning models. Here in Maine, we are home to the Great School Partnership, which also promises to teach your district how to implement a competency-based system. No doubt there are others, waiting for you state to pass the right ALEC model bill so that they can swoop in and offer their snake-oil services.
There is more, of course – so much more – to the hydra.
But what’s missing?
Research. Proof that this will actually be good for your kids. Transparency. Parental consent. Sound pedagogy.
The question is: can we conquer it?