Schools in every state are buzzing this year with talk of “personalized” learning and 21st century assessments for kids as young as kindergarten. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its innovative pilot programs are already changing the ways schools instruct and assess, in ways that are clearly harmful to our kids. Ed-tech companies, chambers of commerce, ALEC, neoliberal foundations, telecommunications companies, and the government are working diligently to turn our public schools into lean, efficient laboratories of data-driven, digital learning.
In the near future, learning eco-systems of cyber education mixed with a smattering of community-based learning opportunities (ELOs) will “optimize” a child’s personal learning pathway to college and career readiness.
Opt out families are being set up as pawns in this fake “assessment reform” movement. I began to realize this a year ago when our dysfunctional, Broad Superintendent-led school district was suddenly almost eager to help us inform parents of their rights to opt out. It wasn’t until the ESSA passed, and I started learning more about competency-based education, out-of-school time learning, and workforce badging that the bigger picture came into focus.
Here’s how we were set up:
- The reformers created a disaster in the form of end-of-year, high-stakes tests knowing that parents, teachers, and students would push back.
- By tweaking the details of how the disaster played out, they were able to provoke specific responses that could be turned to their advantage later.
- After a pre-determined period of suffering, they offered us “solutions.” (see ESSA)
- While the proposals at first glance seem to address our concerns, in reality they justify a transition to a standards-driven, digital curriculum that will create comprehensive online databanks of our children’s academic and social-emotional strengths and weaknesses.
The lines in italics below are what we, as caring parents and teachers, have said in response to the harmful end-of-year tests and test-prep imposed our children. Those lines alternate with the “solutions” we can expect to see forced on us as they implement innovative, future-ready schools. These “solutions” are appearing in low-income districts, as well as affluent ones. They may brand the messaging differently, but no one is exempt.
Children shouldn’t be standardized.
Right! How about a “personalized” education? It will use an online learning management system that pulls directly from your child’s own, unique academic, biometric, and behavioral data. It will know ALL your child’s strengths and weakness and record EVERYTHING for future optimization. And we’ll upload all the data into their personal Learning Record Store so it will ALWAYS be available.
Plus, hybrid or blended learning offers a great cost-savings for districts on a tight budget. By outsourcing instructional time to computers, we don’t need as many human teachers. Be assured that when your child DOES get to interact with his/her teacher, it’s going to be REAL quality time!
These end-of-year tests come back too late to meaningfully inform instruction.
Of course! So now we’re focusing on formative assessments-lots of them. We’ve built them directly into the learning management system (LMS) so the results appear effortlessly in your child’s personal data dashboard! As kids spend more and more time with the LMSs, our teachers (or “mentors” as we now like to call them) will be freed up to dive deeply into those piles of incoming data!
These tests are too stressful!
We hear you! And we’ve come up with a way to extract the necessary data as painlessly as possible. Our skilled psychometricians have embedded tests into the online curriculum. They’re called“ stealth assessments.” At any given point your child won’t know whether they are being tested or not. We’re even investigating ways to alter children’s brains through device interfaces to level the learning playing field for all!
I think it’s important to look at the whole child, not just a test score.
We agree, and to show you how committed we are to this new approach we’re dedicating ourselves to monitoring your child’s social-emotional learning and “soft skills,” too. We know that when it comes to workforce development, it’s not just WHAT you know, but who you ARE that counts.
Our goal is to start building that data profile from pre-kindergarten on to ensure accuracy and robustness. We want to ensure they get on and stay on the correct pathway to their future place in the workforce.
All this emphasis on testing has limited our children’s access to recess and their ability to play. We need more play in school, especially in the younger grades.
There are A LOT of studies that show the importance of play in developing skills like teamwork and resilience. It’s unfortunate that we don’t realistically foresee having sufficient funds to cover staff supervision of playgrounds. BUT…we have come up with a number of online games that are designed to build the same skill sets and hit our standards targets. And the side benefit is that they are integrated with our data collection system. It’s a win-win-win: fun, competition, AND data!
With all the money our district has been spending on technology required for testing, there isn’t enough left over to offer our children a curriculum rich in arts and electives.
We all know that money is tight. But we do value a well-rounded curriculum. And that is why we are working very hard with our “out-of-school-time” community partners to develop ELOs (extended, enhanced, expanded learning opportunities). The plan is to allow students to earn school credit OUTSIDE of school. Because in the 21st century, you can learn any time and any place!
Plus, we just don’t see having certified teachers for art and music, coaches, librarians as a good value proposition when we can outsource those functions to community-based nonprofits. Fewer humans on staff = lower pension payments and lower taxes in the long run, right?
Opt out families nationwide are encountering these same arguments, as though a pre-set trap is being sprung. Great. So opting out of end-of-year testing isn’t the silver bullet we hoped it would be. Now what?
Now that we know the whole story, go ahead and opt out of the end of the year tests. No child should suffer through them. But we have to expand our definition of opting out, to protect our children from data mining and stop the shift to embedded assessments and digital curriculum.
In addition to opting out of end-of-year testing, there are other important steps we need to take to safeguard our children’s access to human teachers and to protect their data, their vision, and their emotional health. There is no set playbook, but here are some ideas to get us started.
1. Opt your child out of Google Apps for Education (GAFE).
2. If your school offers a device for home use, decline to sign the waiver for it and/or pay the fee.
3. Does your child’s assigned email address include a unique identifier, like their student ID number? If yes, request a guest log in so that their data cannot be aggregated.
4. Refuse biometric monitoring devices (e.g. fit bits).
5. Refuse to allow your child’s behavioral, or social-emotional data to be entered into third-party applications. (e.g. Class Dojo)
6. Refuse in-class social networking programs (e.g. EdModo).
7. Set a screen time maximum per day/per week for your child.
8. Opt young children out of in school screen time altogether and request paper and pencil assignments and reading from print books (not ebooks).
9. Begin educating parents about the difference between “personalized” learning modules that rely on mining PII (personally-identifiable information) to function properly and technology that empowers children to create and share their own content.
10. Insist that school budgets prioritize human instruction and that hybrid/blended learning not be used as a back door way to increase class size or push online classes.
Parents, teachers, school administrators, and students must begin to look critically at the technology investments we are making in schools. We have to start advocating for responsible tools that empower our children to be creators (and I don’t mean of data), NOT consumers of pre-packaged, corporate content or online games. We must prioritize HUMAN instruction and learning in relationship to one another. We need more face time and less screen time.
Every time a parent acts to protect their child from these harmful policies, it throws a wrench into the gears of this machine. The steamroller of education reform doesn’t stand a chance against an empowered, educated army of parents, teachers and students. Use your power to refuse. Stand together, stand firm, be loud, and grab a friend. Cumulatively our actions will bring down this beast!
I am one of a number of bloggers who decided to collaborate and post our reflections on the opt out movement and where we need to head next. As the pieces go up, I will link to them here. I encourage you to check to the other posts and they fill out the picture, raise other questions, and offer additional strategies.
Peggy Robertson, Busted Pencils: Opt Out is Dead
“The key is refusing the online testing and curriculum IN MASS. One person trying to do this alone has a hard road and a slim chance of succeeding – ultimately this online curriculum will be tied to grades (and already is in many cities), therefore making it more challenging to refuse. Parents and citizens, in mass, who speak to the school board, who publicize their desire to refuse this online curriculum, can win. Expose it. Gather support. And REFUSE IT. Demand authentic learning by authentic teachers in democratic classroom settings.”
Cheri Kiesecker, Missouri Education Watchdog: ABCs of Classrooms at Risk: Don’t Just Opt Out
“Ask your school what online vendors (like Knewton) they use. Ask to see data contracts, the data collected and shared. Ask why your child is exposed to more and more screen time, and industrial strength Wi-Fi at school. Ask to have the radiation levels measured, and ask to follow these best practices when using Wi-Fi. Ask to have amount of screen time documented and limited to pediatrician recommended limits. Remember your child’s classroom, your child, is being subjected to much more than just one end of the year test. When you think Opt Out, think big. Think more. Think Protect the Child….all year.”
Dawn Sweeney, Opt Out Pennsylvania: Opt Out of Opt Out
“High quality certified teachers will be deemed unnecessary in a classroom with increasing class sizes, replaced by facilitators who just need to monitor that students are on task on their devices. Think about that for a moment. Teachers who have 6-8 years of college education, and years of teacher experience in classrooms with student interaction will be obsolete, replaced by low-pay, inexperienced, untrained facilitators. Then add the harmful impact of children being on a device for many hours a day to the physical, mental and emotional health of students – things are moving in the wrong direction, fast!”
Kevin Ohlandt, Exceptional Delaware: Opt Out as we know it is dead. Long live the badge.
If you are with me and agree, join me. Join those of us, across the country, who believe children should not be guinea pigs for futurists and their money-making agendas. Talk to your legislators. Find out what upcoming legislation would allow this future, whether it is Blockchain technology or something else. Look for “Pay for Success” legislation which has corporations hedge bets based on student outcomes, otherwise known as Social Impact Bonds. Tell them to fight this and advocate for the restoration of FERPA to pre-2011 levels. Speak out and share information with other parents and friends. Opt Out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment is dead. It is now time to opt out of anything which will bring this future to pass and will cause more harm to your children than anything before.
Emily Talmage, Saving Maine’s Schools: Parents: Time to Step Up Our Game
“It’s time for us to dial up the original Opt Out spirit – the one that wasn’t afraid to say hell no – and realize that we’re going to need to extend this fight way beyond the big end-of-year-test.
Data-mining. Key-stroke tracking. Collection of sensitive personal information that ends up in the hands of advertisers. Digital badging. Unhealthy amounts of screen time. Growing class sizes. Depleted school budgets.
If I sound alarmist, it’s because I’m a mom and a teacher, so we’re talking about my kids here. I am seriously alarmed.”
Jim Horn, Schools Matter: How Opt Out Could Remain Legitimate, But Won’t
“You see, the new personalized testing paradigm on the horizon, if implemented, will not only change the face of school as we know it, but it will jeopardize the physical and mental health of children, as well as abridge their rights to privacy and the integrity of children’s future goals. The dystopian dream by the dangerous crackpots who are advancing the new “competency based” business model for schools will be realized when graduating teens have electronic dossiers that include longitudinal testing data, behavior data, attitude data, and character data, all of which will be available for steering young adults into the most appropriate cell to serve the global economic hive.”