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.




Anatomy of a Betrayal

In 2015, the heads of the National Education Association (NEA), received an invitation from a newly formed group known as “Convergence” to attend a series of meetings sponsored, in part, by the  Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.

When Becky Pringle, Vice President of the NEA, looked at the list of attendees, she thought to herself, “I don’t think so – and by the way don’t take any pictures or tweet it out or I won’t be sittin’ here next year!”

But within only a few months, the presidents of both major teachers unions had signed their names to a document, along with representatives from Samsung, Microscoft, LEGO, Disney, and a variety of corporate-sponsored foundations, that all but pledges to do away with the very professionals the unions claim to protect.

The document reads like a promotional handbook for the decades long push toward “personalized,” competency-based learning, which puts a child and their electronic device at the “center” of the learning experience, while moving teachers aside in a new role of “facilitator.”

Gisele Huff, a member of Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Now leadership team who has dedicated her foundation’s fortune to driving the “personalized learning agenda,” said of the Convergence meetings: “It was amazing to me the ability of the facilitators to make us shed our paradigms… We weren’t allowed to say ‘This isn’t possible.”

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, David Bornstein wrote that Convergence’s work in education may “provide clues about how we might confront today’s hyperpolarization, a problem that underpins many other problems in the nation’s politics and policy making.”

But Huff’s and the Time’s positioning of the Convergence meetings as visionary, cooperative experiences belies the fact that the agenda they developed matches – to a tee – the technological takeover of our schools being pushed by some of the world’s largest and most influential corporations, as well as the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense.

(Be sure to check out: “How Exactly Did the Department of Defense End Up in My Child’s Classroom.”)

Pringle, however, seems to have been unfazed by the implications of this vision for the millions of teachers that her organization represents.

Said Huff: “At the end of the last meeting, Becky had to leave a little early, and she tapped me on the shoulder and asked, ‘Will you walk out with me?’ She embraced me and said, ‘You changed my life.’ And I said, ‘You changed mine.”

“It means something,” said Huff, “when two presidents of the national unions who represent three million teachers are willing to put their names to a document that doesn’t have anything to do with unionism.”

Indeed.  What it means is that teachers have been deeply betrayed by the very people whose generous salaries are paid by our monthly dues.

Time to” tweet this out” far and wide.

becky pringle.png


What’s the End Game? Watch this 4-minute video NOW.

Alison McDowell, author of the blog Wrench in the Gears , has put together a short 4-minute video that spells out exactly what will happen to our public schools if people don’t start waking up now.  Please watch and share.  If you find yourself feeling skeptical of any of Alison’s claims, follow the many hyperlinks in her blog posts and see the evidence for yourself.  This is happening.



Bad News Betsy

On Wednesday, President-Elect Donald Trump became the latest leader in a succession stretching decades into the past to prove that it matters not who is in charge: the Big Education Agenda – the real agenda – is all but indestructible.

With his pick of billionaire Betsy DeVos for the role of Secretary of Education, Trump signaled either his willingness to go along with the war being waged on our children by the Education-Industrial-Complex, or his ignorance of what is actually happening to our schools.

Either way, the troops march on.



 Despite claims that she opposes Common Core (an assertion that is not only dubious but also, given the Core’s ability to morph into whatever form it desires, largely irrelevant), DeVos is decidedly devoted to the cradle-to-grave, data-driven workforce development system that has been in the works since at least the 1950’s.

 This agenda, as I have written previously, is a chameleon – easily blending into its ideological surroundings depending on whom it is being marketed to.

Hillary Clinton, for example, spoke of her desire to expand “community schools,” leading many to believe that her priority would be investing in traditional, locally operated public schools.  With billions of dollars in support from foundations like the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and its subsidiary, StriveTogether, however, the term “community schools” has recently taken on a whole new meaning.

Across the nation, corporate and Wall Street-driven organizations are building data-sharing networks that, they hope, will allow the “community” – any business or nonprofit, corporate or otherwise, that is standards-aligned and willing to gather and share data with our Wall Street and government overlords – to actually be the school. Toting “data backpacks” with them from one locale to the next, the hope from on high is that most children will do most of their “learning” by way of virtual or “blended learning” programs.

Now, Trump and DeVos are promising more “school choice,” while leaving the masses to imagine, as Hillary did, what this might mean.

And so, as parents picture using their tax dollars to choose between the French immersion school on the corner and the Catholic school down the street that eschews all the heavy-handed federal mandates that burden their local public school, they are deliberately diverted from the fact that “school choice” will very likely look nearly identical to what I just described above: a system in which children will receive vouchers, or Educational Savings Account (ESA) debit cards, that can be used anywhere that is standards-aligned and data-minable. Most “learning” will happen virtually, as that is where the real money can be made and real Skinnerian brain-washing can occur.

(By the way: when you hear hand-wringing from our national union leadership over the DeVos appointment, ask them why they signed onto this document, which describes the system above nearly to a tee.)

Recently, Mrs. DeVos told Philanthropy Roundtable:

“It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished.”

She also said that “digital learning is in its infancy relative to the influence that it can and will have.”

(Now take a look at what happened recently in DeVos’s home state of Michigan, where low-income students in Detroit were used as guinea pigs in an all-but-undercover plot to develop and market digital learning software.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that Senator Lamar Alexander, who sponsored the wretched reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act that is chock full of all the sticks and carrots and embedded legislation to kick this long sought-after vision into high gear, is so pleased with the DeVos pick.

Back in 1991, Alexander told EdWeek that he envisions a system where “school districts don’t have the exclusive monopoly to operate what we call public schools.”

Sound familiar?

Now, Alexander says he is eager to work with DeVos on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Which means we are in serious trouble.




Trump won. Now what??

Several weeks ago, I wondered in a blog post whether or not public education would survive the next administration.

Admittedly, I was all but certain at the time that Hillary Clinton would be our next president, and my predictions were more than dismal: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets, invasive school-wide and individual data collection, a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs, etc.

Ever since the big shock of Tuesday night, however, I’ve been scrambling to say something coherent about what we can expect now that Donald Trump really is going to be our next president.

Will public education survive?


Here’s the funny (and by that I mean incredibly scary) thing about federal public education policy: the big agenda – the real agenda – seems to survive no matter who is put in charge.

The real agenda – the ongoing march toward a cradle-to-grave system of human capital development that relies on the most sophisticated data collection and tracking technologies to serve its unthinkably profitable end – is fueled and directed by a multi-billion dollar education-industrial-complex that has been built over the course of decades.

It’s an absolute beast, an army of epic scale, and it’s a system that has the same uncanny ability to blend in with its surroundings as a chameleon.

Take, for example, the new “innovative assessment systems” that are being thrust on us every which way in the wake of ESSA.  Under the banner of free market ideology, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is promoting the very same assessment policies that far-left groups like the national unions and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing are now pushing. And though some claim that one ideology is merely “co-opting” the ideas of the other, the reality is that they lead to the same data-mining, cradle-to-career tracking end.

Consider, too, the massive push for blended, competency-based, and digital learning – all unproven methods of educating children, but highly favored by ed-tech providers and data-miners.

Most of these corporate-backed policies were cooked up in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and then made their way not only to the far-right ALEC, but also to left-leaning groups like the Center for Collaborative Education, the Coalition for Essential Schools, and the Great Schools Partnership. Depending on what sort of population each group is targeting, these wolves will dress themselves up in sheep’s clothing and make appeals to different values. For the right, they will package their policies in the language of the free market and choice; for the left, they will wrap them in a blanket of social-justice terminology.

Pull back the curtain far enough, however, and you will see they are selling the same thing.

There is, of course, no question that Hillary Clinton has been deeply entrenched in the education-industrial-complex for many, many years – even profiting from it personally – and that the big agenda was going to move full speed ahead if she were elected.

But what will happen now that we’re guaranteed to have a President Trump?

Unfortunately, we need look no further than the man leading Trump’s education transition team to understand how much trouble we are in.

Not long ago, Gerard Robinson, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was one of only eleven members of the Executive Team of Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now!” council, along with Joel Klein of NYC Public Schools, Gregory McGinity of the Broad Foundation, and Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Former Gates Foundation executive Tom Vander Ark, who sits on the board of the world’s creepiest education organizations while overseeing a giant portfolio of digital and online learning companies, picked Robinson as one of his top ten reformers to watch back in 2010.

It should be no surprise, then, that Robinson recently told EdWeek: “I see [Trump] supporting blended learning models, alternative learning models,” and that he will “likely want to continue significant investments in colleges and universities, but also closely track how well graduates do in the labor market.”

That’s all part of the big agenda right there, and here is no big surprise: for-profit education chains are already seeing their stocks rise.

For those of you now protesting that Trump said he would get rid of the Department of Education, well, President Reagan said that too, but then he sponsored a report called “A Nation at Risk” which kicked the role of the federal government in education into high gear. According to Robinson, Trump may “streamline” the department  …whatever that means.

As for rumors circulating that either Ben Carson or William Evers of the Hoover Institute will be tapped for the role of Education Secretary under Trump, I think we’re more likely to get someone akin to what Robinson told Edweek:  “Someone from the private sector, who may not have worked in education directly, but may be involved in philanthropy or some kind of reform.”

So what does this mean for us? For our kids, our schools and our communities?

More than likely, it won’t be much different nor any less dismal than what I wrote when I assumed Hillary would be president: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets to support one-to-one tech initiatives, invasive (way more invasive) school-wide and individual data collection, and a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs.


And this is a big unless..

 Unless parents and activists from across the political spectrum can mobilize now and stand up now to say enough is enough. We know what the big agenda is, and we aren’t going to manipulated by superficial policy change anymore.

This means that those who lean right can’t afford to go back to sleep once they hear talk of school choice and vouchers and the elimination of Common Core, and those leaning left can’t afford to throw in the towel or be led astray by phony anti-privatization movements run by neoliberal groups pushing the same darn thing as everyone else.

This time it needs to be us against the machine.

And if we can really band together, and really stay ahead of the curve rather than reacting to every crappy policy they put into place, then maybe – just maybe – we can take advantage of the confusion and uncertainty of an incoming Trump presidency to gain the upper hand.

If you’re shaking your head or laughing quietly at what probably seems like naïveté, please forgive me: I’m not yet 32, and have one young son and another on the way. I need to hang on to some kind of hope… and I’m guessing you do too.

For what it’s worth, I’m thinking that if this cat can do this, then we should at least have a shot at beating back the beast.


Ed Reform 2.0: If You Can Train a Pigeon to Detonate Bombs…

Back in 1977, Superintendent James Guines of Washington D.C. explained his district’s competency-based education pilot program like this:

“The basic idea is to break down complicated learning into a sequence of clear simple skills that virtually everyone can master, although at different rates of speed. If you can train a pigeon to fly up there and press a button and set off a bomb, why can’t you teach human beings to behave in an effective and rational way?”

“We know we can modify human behavior. We’re not scared of that,” he added. “This is the biggest thing that’s happening in education today.”


HA! Those crazy 70’s!  Boy did they have some crazy ideas back then.

But wait…

Now check out this recent video from Angela Duckworth and Katherine Milkman:


Here’s what Milkman has to say:

“If you repeatedly reward good behavior, and pair it with memorable cues, positive routines become instinctual.”

Duckworth adds:

“We’ll use technology to make good decisions easier…If we can solve enduring behavior change, we can address every major social ill that confronts humanity.”


The video above is part of Duckworth’s and Milkman’s application to the MacArthur Foundation’s “100&Change” competition, which promises to award 100 million dollars to fund a single proposal that “promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.”

And if I had to guess, I’d say Duckworth and Milkman have a pretty good shot at winning the grant.

Lately, the MacArthur Foundation has been everywhere that Ed Reform 2.0 (personalized, competency-based, digital learning) has been – sponsoring conferences at the U.S. Department of Education on the merits of Social Impact Bonds, awarding grants to promote digital learning efforts, and even gaining recognition for their work with Mozilla and HASTAC in advancing the competency-based “digital badging” agenda from the Clinton Global Initiative.

(Yeah – the Clinton’s are involved in this too, in a big way.)

Just as it was back in the 70’s, behavior change – which now operates under the far friendlier banner of “social emotional learning” – is a major part of next-gen ed reform.

But parents need to beware: in Ed Reform 2.0 doublespeak,”social emotional learning” does not refer to kids simply learning to play well together at recess or turn in their homework on time.  Instead, the real agenda is more akin to what Duckworth and Milkman describe above:  using technology to reinforce “good behavior” through the same system of rewards-based behavior modification that B.F. Skinner used to get his pigeons to detonate bombs.

And “good behavior,” of course, may or may not mean what you think does.  For Duckworth, good behavior means grit;” other desirable behavior traits depend on what computer programmers and their financiers deem desirable for an effective, efficient workforce.

(Curiously, despite her statements in the video above, Duckworth recently backed out of a social-emotional assessment pilot program in California, suggesting that she might have moral reservations about what she’s promoting.  Perhaps the opportunity to earn a 100 million dollar grant is just too much to turn down.)

Now, for those of you who may be thinking: how bad could this really be – a little positive reinforcement never hurt anyone!  I encourage you to take a look at the disturbing way behavior modification by way of technology is currently being used in China:

Under the auspices of corporate giants Tencent and Alibaba, Chinese citizens will be required by 2020 to earn a character credit score based on their actions on social media. If you post government-approved articles, for example, you’ll earn points that you can then show off to your friends.  (It actually gets even creepier than that, so make sure to watch the video above.)

And if you’re now thinking: but that’s China! That could never happen here!  consider the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg  – now a major investor in personalized learning initiatives across the country – is quite fond of Sesame Credit’s sponsor, Jack Ma of Alibaba.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Zuckerberg said he was optimistic about China’s future development because the country focused on science and technology education.”


And now consider that one of Zuckerberg’s pet projects, Summit Public Schools (where, according to digital learning Guru, Tom Vander Ark,  students will have “college and career readiness system will track growth trajectory of knowledge, skills, and success habits against college goals, and “students falling short of their planned growth trajectory, on any front, will see a big red warning system”) has partnered with Duckworth and Milkman as part of their MacArthur 100&Change Proposals.