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.




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.

4 thoughts on “Personalized Learning: What The News Isn’t Telling You”

  1. According to the BMO Capital Market Education and Training Report, spending on school staff is down slightly, while spending on data management, equipment, digital tests and digital materials continues to rise. Other sources show a simultaneous drop in student services. Given financial constraints, gains somewhere mean losses elsewhere.


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