Local Teachers Tell Truth about “Personalized Learning”

Five years ago, the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education (now called Educate Maine) sent a copy of Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning” to all superintendents in the state.

The book-length sales pitch was purchased with funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation as part of its lobbying campaign for Maine’s proficiency-based diploma mandate.

In Auburn, Superintendent Katy Grondin urged all citizens in her community to also read the book. Grondin’s school district had recently partnered with the Gates and Nellie Mae-funded Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC), becoming one of a handful of districts around the country at Ground Zero for what is now a nationwide push toward the experimental, profit-driven model of education known more commonly as “personalized” learning.

As part of the district reforms, students in Auburn received iPads, and teachers, monitored closely by the Marzano teacher evaluation system, were encouraged to upload, administer, and track lessons and assessments with a program called Empower that students would use to work “at their own pace.”

Now, as districts around the country prepare to jump on board with similar “personalized learning” reforms, all eyes ought to be on Auburn.  Has their experiment worked?

The answer is a resounding no.

Test scores have not budged and many teachers are at their wits’ end.

In a recent survey conducted by local union leadership, teachers lamented the rigidity of the system they are implementing.

“The RISC and Marzano direction are creating target-spouting robots that cannot think or be creative,” wrote one teacher.

“When we can only teach students something attached to a “target,” we will never be headed in the right direction.  All spontaneity and passion is being removed from teaching, and we are being asked to be more ‘technicians’ than professional teachers,” said another.

One teacher wrote: “For a district supposedly doing ‘customized learning,’ we are getting more and more standardized.”

Teachers also expressed their sense of being silenced or dismissed by district administrators.

“They don’t want to hear opinion because they have their ‘orders’ and they have to carry them out,” said one.

Another wrote: “I am not comfortable sharing my opinions with district level administrators. They constantly tell us, that if we don’t agree with their policies or opinions, then we are working for the wrong school system.”

A few teachers, however, are finding it impossible to stay silent.

Along with seven others, Karen Letourneau, a fifteen-year teaching veteran, recently addressed the local school board about her concerns.

“I stand here tonight, terrified, both because you are all looking at me and for fear that my message be misunderstood in any way,” she said. “But I’m here because I care deeply about students and their learning.”

Letourneau told the board about her own struggles as a child, the way school became a haven for her, and how she decided to become a teacher to give students the same experiences she had gotten in school.

“When I began my teaching career at Walton School in January of 2000, I was with the kids I wanted to be with, kids like me, and I was doing for them what my teachers had done for me – creating a fun, safe place to learn and want to be every day,” she said.

She then expressed her concerns with the direction the school district had been heading.

“Change for the proper reason is good. Change made because it sounds good in theory or made solely for financial reasons are questionable,” she told the school board.

(One day later, school board chair Thomas Kendall, managing partner at Technology Capital Corporation, said that the teachers who had spoken were “misinformed.”)

There is no question that proponents of these reforms will argue that the problem is not with personalized learning, but with the district-level “implementation” of these practices.

But compare what is happening in Auburn with others also at Ground Zero– including Baltimore County, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Adams 50 Colorado – and you will see the same themes cropping up again and again: corrupt politicians and overzealous district administrators lapping up hollow corporate sales pitches; demoralized teachers fearful of retribution for speaking up; parents left mostly in the dark or dismissed for their concerns; and glassy-eyed kids hooked into devices that collect data on their every move.

No – the problem is not “implementation.”

The problem is predatory, corporate-driven education policies that are sweeping our country like a plague.

chumbunt.gif

Will more teachers have the courage to break the silence like those in Auburn?

Let’s hope.

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.

20 thoughts on “Local Teachers Tell Truth about “Personalized Learning””

  1. I read the Empower website. These folk really believe that they’ve turned water into wine.
    From the teacher accounts in your post I cannot figure out how much input the individual teacher has. I have to guess that the whole lot is provided by friends of Manzano. Are there any actual examples of the stuff the kids have to do? And is it just for math and ELA?

    Like

  2. I have purchased the “Inevitable..” book and attended a lecture given by it’s author in Gray, Maine. It contains a lot of preaching but not much specific or practical information about implementation. I’m glad somebody has spoken up about her concerns in Auburn and hope that more follow suit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi all – what is described in this article unfortunately does not meet the commonly understood definition of personalized learning. The trouble is, there are many definitions out there. How can something be personalized if it is also rigid and doesn’t allow for student voice, choice and agency? There are many, many successful models in place all over the country – especially models that have been supported and implemented because of teacher driven desire to see them happen. Look to CESA1 and the school blood Institute for personalized learning in south east Wisconsin for examples of a model network of schools doing this work.

    Like

    1. TSM, I had to read that “cheesy” book when I first started out in a local district 20 years ago…it was great bedtime reading as it did nothing to inspire me! If personalized learning is so great , why then has my son been way more successful having been transferred from, thanks to Governor LePages school choice initiative , a supposedly great SBG (standards based grading)(up posed lyrics the greatest in the state), to the school I currently teach in, in another district? In many learner centered schools, kids teach themselves, while teachers input data and there is very little direct instruction. There are many students that this model does not work for. Even in the district I work for, I feel more like a statistician than an educator and the hoops that we and students have to jump through, have done little to legitimately improve student success.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. LOVE the statement: A few teachers are finding it impossible to stay silent. Our best teachers are like seeds after a forest fire, simply waiting for their time to sprout and thrive all over again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. teacher in the SAD 15 system where this program was implemented with a crash course seminar. From the beginning I felt that this program was made to seem that it held all the answers to all learning problems. That we were s teachers only a resource. The students told us what they wanted to learn and we would design steps to make that possible. (that is if they knew what they even what they needed to learn) I wonder if it has gone by the wayside? Leap Frog was another long workshop day where Corporate America came in to promote their product.

    Like

  6. teacher in the SAD 15 system where this program was implemented with a crash course seminar. From the beginning I felt that this program was made to seem that it held all the answers to all learning problems. That we were s teachers only a resource. The students told us what they wanted to learn and we would design steps to make that possible. (that is if they knew what they even what they needed to learn) I wonder if it has gone by the wayside? Leap Frog was another long workshop day where Corporate America came in to promote their product.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s