MTA vs. Personalized Learning: “We Can Fight This”

This May, the Massachusetts Teacher Association (MTA) broke from national union leadership by taking a bold stance against “personalized learning” initiatives.

In an email to members, president of the MTA, Barbara Mandeloni, announced the union’s opposition to a public-private partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and LearnLaunch, whose mission is to “catalyze personalized learning enabled by technology in K-12 public education.” The partnership, known best by its acronym, MAPLE, was established with seed money from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, whose influence in New England is hard to overestimate.

The unprecedented move also calls for the creation of a web page to to combat the harmful effects of unvalidated ed tech products on students and to “defend teachers’ professional judgment and standards against interference by business interests.” It also issues a call for the MTA to update its 2016 report, Threat to Public Education Now Centers on Massachusetts, to include a section on corporate support for personalized learning.

The announcement stands in stark opposition to recent moves made by leadership of the National Education Association, who have pledged to advance the tech-driven personalized learning industry nationwide.

“Personalized” or “blended” learning and its policy conduits such as “competency-based” or “proficiency-based” education have virtually no research base to support their implementation. The New York Timesrecently referred to the Silicon Valley-driven reforms as “a singular experiment in education, with millions of students serving as de facto beta testers.”

While ed-tech and data-mining companies see the personalized learning agenda as a potential cash cow, it has parents fearful over their children’s privacy and teachers concerned about the future of their profession.

Yet the agenda has been moving forward at warp speed, and until the MTA’s recent announcement, there has been almost no organized opposition.

“The blended learning support comes directly from the NEA,” said Mary Porter, who wrote the proposal for the MTA to formally oppose the MAPLE initiative.  “There are lots of little perks are tied in if you go along.”

In Massachusetts, she said, people “want to fight it, but the pressure is tremendous in target districts not to speak out.”

Porter’s comments echo those of her neighbors to the north.

In Auburn, Maine, where the public school district has also partnered with a private, Nellie Mae-funded organization to implement personalized (called “customized” in Auburn) learning, teachers reportedbeing unable to voice their concerns or objections to district reforms.

“They constantly tell us that if we don’t agree with their policies or opinions, then we are working for the wrong school system,” one teacher said.

“There is tremendous intimidation,” Porter explained.  “People are afraid of losing their jobs. There is a climate of fear imposed on teachers.”

Yet there is an even bigger obstacle facing those fighting the “personalization” agenda: money.

Nationwide, groups long known for their support of school privatization such as the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation, and newer organizations like the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, are pouring millions into the effort to bring “personalized” learning to America’s schools. Behind their grants stand millions of dollars in private ed-tech investments.

In New England, most of the money flows from Nellie Mae – a foundation with direct ties to the student loan industry. Their grants fuel an ecosystem of initiatives, ranging from grants made directly to school districts, to funding for non-profit organizations that lobby for policy change while consulting districts on their implementation, to full-time reporting positions at public broadcasting networks.

Many of their initiatives are designed to keep their influence unseen by the public.  In Vermont, for example, a communications plan from the Nellie-Mae funded Partnership for Change outlined the use of strategic messaging – including sample talking points, opinion editorials, PowerPoint presentations, letters to the editor, and even a template sermon for the faith community –  so that their message “eventually becomes second nature to the citizens of Winooski-Burlington.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, the Nellie Mae-funded “Educate Maine” non-profit took hold the the Maine State Teacher of the Year program in 2012, and then sent a letter on behalf of such teachers lobbying for the implementation of a proficiency-based diploma mandate – a policy serving as a “leverage point” for bringing personalized learning to school districts.

“It’s everywhere – entangling and threatening, confusing and compromising people,” Porter said of the money pouring into the personalized learning agenda.

But she is confident that teachers and community members can build a strong opposition.

“People are sick of dark money, and sick of profiteers bleeding our education budgets,” she said. “My hope is that every district and school in the country can pass resolutions opposing them, and turn the narrative around.”

“We can fight it,” she said.

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MTA vs. Personalized Learning: “We Can Fight it.”

This May, the Massachusetts Teacher Association (MTA) broke from national union leadership by taking a bold stance against “personalized learning” initiatives.

In an email to members, president of the MTA, Barbara Mandeloni, announced the union’s opposition to a public-private partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and LearnLaunch, whose mission is to “catalyze personalized learning enabled by technology in K-12 public education.” The partnership, known best by its acronym, MAPLE, was established with seed money from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, whose influence in New England is hard to overestimate.

The unprecedented move also calls for the creation of a web page to to combat the harmful effects of unvalidated ed tech products on students and to “defend teachers’ professional judgment and standards against interference by business interests.” It also issues a call for the MTA to update its 2016 report, Threat to Public Education Now Centers on Massachusetts, to include a section on corporate support for personalized learning.

The announcement stands in stark opposition to recent moves made by leadership of the National Education Association, who have pledged to advance the tech-driven personalized learning industry nationwide.

“Personalized” or “blended” learning and its policy conduits such as “competency-based” or “proficiency-based” education have virtually no research base to support their implementation. The New York Times recently referred to the Silicon Valley-driven reforms as “a singular experiment in education, with millions of students serving as de facto beta testers.”

While ed-tech and data-mining companies see the personalized learning agenda as a potential cash cow, it has parents fearful over their children’s privacy and teachers concerned about the future of their profession.

Yet the agenda has been moving forward at warp speed, and until the MTA’s recent announcement, there has been almost no organized opposition.

“The blended learning support comes directly from the NEA,” said Mary Porter, who wrote the proposal for the MTA to formally oppose the MAPLE initiative.  “There are lots of little perks are tied in if you go along.”

In Massachusetts, she said, people “want to fight it, but the pressure is tremendous in target districts not to speak out.”

Porter’s comments echo those of her neighbors to the north.

In Auburn, Maine, where the public school district has also partnered with a private, Nellie Mae-funded organization to implement personalized (called “customized” in Auburn) learning, teachers reported being unable to voice their concerns or objections to district reforms.

“They constantly tell us that if we don’t agree with their policies or opinions, then we are working for the wrong school system,” one teacher said.

“There is tremendous intimidation,” Porter explained.  “People are afraid of losing their jobs. There is a climate of fear imposed on teachers.”

Yet there is an even bigger obstacle facing those fighting the “personalization” agenda: money.

Nationwide, groups long known for their support of school privatization such as the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation, and newer organizations like the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, are pouring millions into the effort to bring “personalized” learning to America’s schools. Behind their grants stand millions of dollars in private ed-tech investments.

In New England, most of the money flows from Nellie Mae – a foundation with direct ties to the student loan industry. Their grants fuel an ecosystem of initiatives, ranging from grants made directly to school districts, to funding for non-profit organizations that lobby for policy change while consulting districts on their implementation, to full-time reporting positions at public broadcasting networks.

Many of their initiatives are designed to keep their influence unseen by the public.  In Vermont, for example, a communications plan from the Nellie-Mae funded Partnership for Change outlined the use of strategic messaging – including sample talking points, opinion editorials, PowerPoint presentations, letters to the editor, and even a template sermon for the faith community –  so that their message “eventually becomes second nature to the citizens of Winooski-Burlington.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, the Nellie Mae-funded “Educate Maine” non-profit took hold the the Maine State Teacher of the Year program in 2012, and then sent a letter on behalf of such teachers lobbying for the implementation of a proficiency-based diploma mandate – a policy serving as a “leverage point” for bringing personalized learning to school districts.

“It’s everywhere – entangling and threatening, confusing and compromising people,” Porter said of the money pouring into the personalized learning agenda.

But she is confident that teachers and community members can build a strong opposition.

“People are sick of dark money, and sick of profiteers bleeding our education budgets,” she said. “My hope is that every district and school in the country can pass resolutions opposing them, and turn the narrative around.”

“We can fight it,” she said.

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Massachusetts Teachers Take A Stand Against “Personalized Learning”

Wrench in the Gears

During the annual meeting in May, representatives of the Massachusetts Teachers Association overwhelming approved three New Business Items opposing the roll out of so-called “personalized” learning programs in the Commonwealth via the MAPLE/LearnLaunch initiative. Additionally, a commitment was made to expand research the MTA has been conducting on privatization to include “personalized” learning and to create a webpage to share information and document the harm being done by such programs to teaching and learning.

I have written about digital curriculum in Massachusetts HERE and HERE. Mark Zuckerberg’s “personalized” learning platform Summit Basecamp has been making its way into a number of Massachusetts districts as well as districts in neighboring Rhode Island, which reformers have targeted for conversion as the nation’s first “personalized learning” state. More on that HERE.

In an email to members yesterday, Delegates say NO to personalized learning and YES to funding, MTA president Barbara Madeloni…

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Personalized Learning: What The News Isn’t Telling You

Recently, a spate of articles have appeared in major news sources shining a light on personalized (competency-based) learning.  While it’s nice to see these topics being talked about in the mainstream press, they aren’t (shocker) telling you what you really need to know.

Take the claim found in the New York Times that Silicon Valley tech moguls are remaking America’s schools:

“Mark Zuckerberg,” the Times tells us, “is testing one of his latest big ideas: software that puts children in charge of their own learning, recasting their teachers as facilitators and mentors.”

There’s no question that Silicon Valley executives like Zuckerberg are playing a major financial and development role in current ed reforms, but let’s not give credit where credit isn’t due (especially to Zuckerberg, who already gets way too much of that). The idea of software that puts children “in charge of their own learning” has not only been around for well over sixty years (watch this video of B.F. Skinner explaining how it worked back in the fifties)  – it’s also been actively advanced by our very own Departments of Education and Defense for decades.

(Go here for all the details.)

Folks like Zuckerberg and Reed Hastings of Netflix are really just carrying water for a well established educational-industrial-complex that has long been attempting to get our kids to spend more time learning from electronic devices.

By pointing the finger at these tech moguls, the Times let’s the real power-players off the hook: federal agencies like the Department of Education and Department of Defense; our elected officials who are passing legislation cooked up in bill-mills like ALEC to drive this agenda forward; the drivers of public-private collusion in our communities; and the media outlets that have been busy obscuring the truth so that the reforms advance with little resistance.

Back in 2015, the New York Times gushed over the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, claiming that “[after] a decade of strict federal control of public education, President Obama on Thursday signed a sweeping rewrite of the No Child Left Behind act that returns power to states and local districts to determine how to improve troubled schools.”

In reality, any power that has been “returned” to our states and local districts is little more than the power to choose which personalized learning model to purchase from Silicon Valley. The new law is jam-packed with incentives to move our schools toward the “personalized”, competency-based learning agenda, including major grant money that will benefit the very tech companies the Times is now accusing of meddling in our schools.

Meanwhile, NEA Today recently came out with an article claiming: As More Schools Look to Personalized Learning, Teaching May be About to Change. The article, filled with platitudes about teachers “craving change” and students engaged in “higher order thinking,” generated major backlash from teachers (check out the comment section of the article) – in part because it fails to mention that the NEA has been actively colluding with Silicon Valley titans to advance the personalized learning agenda.

In 2015, Lily Eskelsen, president of the NEA, joined a long list “visionary signatories” after meeting with folks like Andrew Ko of Samsung and Sig Behrens of the 3D printing company, Stratsys, as part of an initiative funded by – you guessed it – Mark Zuckerberg.

There’s something even more basic, however, that these articles don’t tell you: that none of these reforms are necessary or what any of us want.

“What if you could know exactly what time of day your child learns best? Or if they were likely to fail tomorrow’s quiz?” asks Kayla Webley in Time Magazine.  It’s a “hot concept,” she claims.

No, it’s not – at least not outside the sphere of tech moguls, politicians, and lobbyists who are trying to shove this idea down our throats.  Do you know a single parent who wishes they had more “data” about their child so they know if should do their homework before dinner?  Do you know a single teacher who spends her days wishing for “real time analytics” in order to determine which of her students are struggling?

I don’t.

It’s all manufactured, and if we’re not careful, we’re about to give manufactured consent for them to do with our schools what they will.

truthbomb