Massachusetts Teachers Take A Stand Against “Personalized Learning”

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 highlighted a number of NBIs passed by delegates during the meeting, including those related to Personalized Learning. See the screenshot below.

MTA Personalized Learning

The email also acknowledged the need to incorporate “personalized” learning into the high-stakes testing discussion, since both further the privatization agenda and seriously impact the time teachers and students have for authentic, meaningful instruction.

MTA Email -2

As far as I am aware, this is the first instance of union members in the United States directly challenging the ed-tech takeover of our schools. I hope you will draw inspiration from the stand they have taken and build on it. I expect this work will have to come through grassroots organizing, since top leadership of both national unions have aligned themselves with a concept of “Future Ready” schools that prioritizes digital curriculum over face-to-face instruction with certified teachers. Read the particulars HERE, HERE, and HERE. Full text of the NBIs can be accessed below. If you are an NEA member and planning to be in Boston later this month come prepared. This is not just Massachusetts’s fight, it is a fight on ALL of our doorsteps. Let’s get to work.

Text of the NBI motions, shared with me by the submitters, includes supporting links and reference information: MTA Personalized Learning NBIs




What the NEA probably wouldn’t want you to know about “personalized” learning in Boone County, KY.

Just weeks before the 2017 Annual Meeting opens in Boston, an article from NEA Today, As More Schools Look to Personalized Learning, Teaching May Be About to Change, makes it clear NEA’s top leadership prioritizes digital curriculum over the right of a student to be educated without data mining and to have unconditional, full time access to a human teacher. For those familiar with NEA’s and AFT’s partnership with Ed Reform 2.0 interests on the Education Reimagined initiative this comes as no surprise, though seeing the propaganda in print is still jarring. If you’re NOT aware of this partnership, stop and read Emily Talmage’s Anatomy of a Betrayal now. Oh, and later check out the NEA’s 2011 Policy Brief in support of blended learning. Here Tom Vander Ark notes the content of the brief is largely drawn from the work of Clayton Christensen’s reformy Innosight Institute.

The general rule for ed-activists is to never, ever read the comments, though I encourage you to make an exception in this case. Over fifty heartfelt statements against digital curriculum have been logged thus far, though you should be aware that at least four other comments were posted and subsequently removed by the site administrator. One was from Emily Talmage and included a link to Anatomy of a Betrayal. Another was from a former NEA member and midwestern teacher “NEA’s motto-destroying public education from within.” A Connecticut teacher and NEA member wrote “What a deceptive article – shame on NEA Today.” And the fourth was submitted by Massachusetts Teachers Association member Mary Porter.

Mary’s comment included the full text of New Business Item 6, MTA Opposes the MAPLE / LearnLaunch Partnership with Massachusetts DESE. The NBI was approved at the state meeting of the Massachusetts Teachers Association on May 20, 2017, and as far as I am aware it is the first instance of a union taking an official position opposing digital curriculum. I am grateful to all who crafted, sponsored and supported this NBI, and I am sharing Mary’s comment below because this NBI is a landmark policy and a model other unions should look to as they develop their own responses to ed-tech’s assault on our nation’s schools.

MTA Opposes the MAPLE/LearnLaunch Partnership with Massachusetts DESE
NBI # 6 Adopted
Massachusetts Teachers Association Representative Assembly, May 20 2017

1.The MTA opposes the MAPLE/Learn launch partnership of the Massachusetts DESE, on the grounds that it reflects a predetermined plan to impose a new, untested “personalized” oversight system on the public schools. This initiative is privately controlled by LearnLaunch, a non‐profit consortium of for‐profit education technology ventures. The MTA will investigate the legality of this partnership and its appearance of being a crony arrangement to guarantee return to for‐profit vendors who would benefit financially from the policies being imposed through collaboration with the DESE.

The MTA will inform the DESE of our position in a letter, accompanied by a press release to the public.

2. The MTA will establish a MAPLE/Learnlaunch Toolkit Page, which will collect and review reports from members, describing instances where, in their professional judgement, the educational opportunity of students and the respect for teaching staff are undermined by the products and working conditions demanded by the consortium.

3.  MTA members and staff will use our toolkit to share strategies to combat the harmful effects of and unvalidated edtech products on our students, and to defend teachers’ professional judgement and standards against interference by business interests.


1.  Office of Digital Learning Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education 75 Pleasant Street Malden, MA 02148-5023 @MASchoolsK12

Digital Learning Advisory Council Meeting Minutes Date: Wednesday, January 6, 2016:

a. MAPLE (Massachusetts Personalized Learning EdTech) Consortium is a public / private partnership emerging between ESE and LearnLaunch as an effort to catalyze personalized and blended learning supported by technology in districts and schools across the Commonwealth. MAPLE is having discussions with some philanthropic organizations to support this effort.

b. There will be a convening of the DCPS (Digital Connections Partnership Schools) Grantees at LearnLaunch Symposium and a second convening of the DCPS later in the spring.

c. The Commissioner set goal of 100% online testing in Commonwealth by 2019. ODL/DLAC will be involved in advising for this effort.”

2.  Promotional materials for the Center for Collaborative Education describe its agenda-driven out-of-state backers:

“In 2016, CCE launched the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network (MA PLN) to work with district leaders, principals, and teachers to design and implement personalized learning plans…

Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) is proud to partner with Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech Consortium, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Agilix. CCE is a regional partner with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) as part of a national initiative to scale up personalized learning schools. PLN is supported by EDUCAUSE through the Next Generation Learning Challenges, the Barr Foundation, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation, and IBM.” school-design/massachusetts-personalized-learning-network

3.   Learnlaunch is a “non-profit” consortium of for-profit investors and vendors, which specifically advertises to member investors that it has the capacity to maximize their financial return.


“Investor Path   Want to hear from other edtech investors on how they make decisions in such a fast-paced marketplace? Want to see demos from LearnLaunch Accelerator startups and pitches from our pitch competition finalists? Check out these sessions for a closer look into the trends, innovations, and companies that are shaping the future of edtech.”

LearnLaunch sponsors

Learnlaunch Accelerator for-profit member Companies:

Some supporting links:
Our Children @ Risk – Parents Across America Details the Dangers of EdTech
Follow the Money – Who is Nellie Mae? Save Maine Schools
Overview and Timeline of personalized learning drive in Massachusetts: Hybrid Learning, Cicada Killers & the Next Big Fight

Given that the NEA has tipped its hand on where leadership stands with regard to Zuckerberg’s “personalized” playlist education agenda, it’s time to shine a light on what is happening in Boone County, Kentucky. The Boone County School District is exactly the type of environment described in the article, and it’s imperative that teachers, parents and community members understand what reformers REALLY mean when they use terms like “personalization” and “innovation,” because it’s NOT what you think.

To give you some idea of the problems see the post below (shared with permission) describing a school meeting that took place last October in which parents expressed serious reservations about the implementation of the Summit Basecamp personalized learning platform in their local middle school.

Boone FB

Teachers in Boone County are members of the Kentucky Education Association, an NEA affiliate. The county, one of the fastest growing in the state, is located in northern Kentucky within the greater-Cincinnati sphere of influence. Cincinnati is where Knowledgeworks, the primary proponent of the learning ecosystem model, is based. I’m certain they’re paying close attention to how things are playing out across the river. There’s a lot of regional economic development, including recent plans by Amazon to establish a $1.5 billion worldwide cargo hub there. Amazon’s other major business venture is, of course, cloud-based computing which provides critical infrastructure for online learning management systems.

In 2012, Kentucky passed legislation creating Districts of Innovation to enable “rethinking what a school might look like.” “Innovative” districts are released from administrative regulations and statutory provisions and waive local school board policy. ALEC has developed model legislation for “Innovation Schools and School Districts,” which is being adopted in a number of states. Texas, for example, has seen a lot of activity around innovation districts over the past year. The flexibility offered dovetails nicely with complementary ALEC legislation that expands e-learning options. The following ALEC legislative templates have been created or updated since passage of the Every Student Success Act, which incorporated language in support of so-called “innovative” learning: Statewide Online Education Act; Digital Teaching and Learning Plan; Online Learning Clearinghouse Act; Resolution in Support of Student-Centered Accountability Systems;  and the Next Generation Charter Schools Act.

Boone County School District, the third largest in the state and growing, joined the program in 2016 with the intention of creating an “Imagineering Academy” combining personalized learning platforms and work-based projects in a competency-based education framework. The district already had gone down the e-learning road, piloting a Spanish language program using Rosetta Stone software in 14 elementary schools between 2013 and 2016. In a press release touting this “innovative” digital world language program, Linda Black, director of Elementary Education, stated  “Like many public school districts encounter, it can often be difficult for us to find, and more importantly, afford certified world language educators.” Matt Hall, of Rosetta Stone, affirmed this sentiment noting “School districts don’t need big budgets to think innovatively and provide access to 21st-century skills for its students; Boone County is living proof.”

So let’s take a look at the language in the application and the waivers they requested to provide the flexibility to implement the “Imagineering” vision. You can read Boone County’s entire District of Innovation Imagineering Academy report HERE.

Boone County schools are very interested in optimizing their resources in a cost-effective way. Outsourcing instruction to online platforms and community partners through their early college program enables them to achieve these types of efficiencies. Both approaches reduce K12 student access to certified teachers in neighborhood school settings.

Boone Resource Optimization-1

The Imagineering model also directs students to specific career pathways directed by regional workforce needs including: design, robotics, advanced manufacturing and home building. The document clearly states that in addition to specific vocational skills they are looking for “employability traits.” A “Work Ethic Certificate” is referenced.

Boone Workforce-2

Boone Workforce 3

These excerpts describe plans to expand virtual schooling in the district. The intent is to decrease costs by using aides instead of teachers to oversee digital instruction and to reduce Carnegie Unit requirements, which means reducing the amount of time students need to actually be IN a school setting. The plan notes that in some classes “teacher contact is important, but not to the extent that in-class time has been traditionally established.” NEA members, consider how this blended learning approach will affect the amount of meaningful instruction time you will have with students.

Boone Virtual School-1

This excerpt touts supposed public interest in K12 virtual charters, specifically Ohio’s virtual academy. The plan is to increase virtual classes in the district “exponentially.”

Boone Virtual-2

Here we have Knowledgeworks’ trademark “anywhere, anytime learning” language. No need to limit your education to physically going to a school building with certified teachers. You can enroll in virtual courses any time during the year or sign up for performance-based credit opportunities at the maker space or home building campus.

Boone Anywhere Anytime

This portion of the application requests the number of hours of instruction required for a course to be counted towards graduation be reduced by a third, a 33% reduction in student access to in-school courses with face-to-face instruction by certified teachers.

Boone Seat Time

The waiver below is probably the most egregious with respect to the NEA Today personalized learning propaganda piece. Through this waiver Boone County is granted the flexibility of allowing teacher’s aides to take on the role of instructing and supervising students while they are using virtual or digital content. A comment left on the NEA article notes this is already happening in a Utah district.

NEA Comment

Given the sections above describing plans to exponentially increase the number of virtual classes, this policy could decimate the professional teaching force. There is no doubt that aides provide crucial support services in classrooms. I do not want to diminish in any way the importance of their contributions. However we need to recognize that the job description of a “Teacher’s aide” is fundamentally different when the “teacher” is, in actuality, a computer program. I can’t imagine such a situation would be satisfying for anyone-students, aides or the now-absent, certified teachers.

Boone Para

In 2013, the state of Kentucky commissioned a study of Performance-Based Credit through the state office of Education Accountability. Boone County was identified as having three courses that met this criteria. The report summary stated such course offerings tended to be technology-based rather than teacher-led. Once again, certified teachers are removed from the educational process, and student access to human contact and opportunities to learn in relationship is limited.

Boone Performance

The final waiver I’ll post is one where they request an additional reduction of ten instructional days to be replaced by virtual learning or performance-based instruction.

Boone flexible

The 43-page application concludes with an 8-page marketing and communications plan promoting “Imagineering Academy.” It was expected that members of the “Build Champions” leadership group would undertake speaking engagements, develop a website, manage social media campaigns and ad buys, cultivate positive word of mouth, interface with the media, schedule group text messages, even design promotional signage. But the media campaign seems to have backfired, since many families expressed ongoing concerns in public meetings and media outlets  regarding the adoption of the Summit Basecamp blended learning program in the district’s middle schools. See Facebook Program at School Causes Controversy.

Boone Summit

More problems are cited in Carrie Cox: Some parents don’t like the new ‘Summit Personalized Learning Platform,’ want to opt out including: teachers being unable to meet the expectations of providing individual mentoring and differentiation; students completing curriculum modules too quickly; and concerns over privacy and sharing data with third parties. Evidently Summit has dealt with the latter issue by no longer requiring parental consent for students to use the platform.

Boone Summit-3

Boone Summit-4

Summit 6

Indeed many parents spoke critically of the Summit Basecamp program at a November 10, 2016 Boone County Board of Education meeting. Minutes here. Unfortunately there was little the superintendent or elected school board members could do about the curriculum, because those decisions are under the purview of the SBDM or Site-Based Decision Making Councils. Issues with how SBDM’s operate are detailed here.

While “personalized” learning is promoted as an “innovative” opportunity for the 21st-century, the reality is that Zuckerberg, Hastings, Gates, Dell and their ilk are selling us a cyber-parody of education where children are compelled to give up not only their data, privacy and autonomy but also the opportunity to learn from and connect with other human beings in meaningful ways. Certified teachers who have undertaken extensive study, training and credentialing to take up the vital work of educating future generations are being systematically marginalized, while the leadership of both national teacher’s unions actively partner on the ed-tech roll out. The NEA Today article is one more example of those at the top of the “business union” pyramid sacrificing members to advance their own political agenda. I hope everyone in Boston between June 25th and July 5 will take this information to heart. Draw inspiration from NBI-6 developed and approved by members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (see below), organize your colleagues and arm yourselves with tools you’ll need to salvage your profession and protect our children. Come prepared and be stalwart.

New Business Item 6-Approved at the 2017 Massachusetts Teachers Association Annual Meeting: MTA Opposes the MAPLE:LearnLaunch Partnership with Massachusetts DESE. Meeting summary HERE.


Scholarchip IDs: Convenience but at what cost?

I’m grateful to the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools for keeping tabs on the Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission’s monthly meeting agendas. They recently alerted me to a resolution about student ID cards, that in turn started me thinking about ubiquitous computing, digital classrooms as nodes within Smart Cities, and the role big data, payment systems, public-private partnerships, and Blockchain ledger-based finance could play in Ed Reform 2.0.

The SRC passed the Philadelphia School District’s 2017-18 budget last month, and the upcoming meeting on June 15 is packed with resolutions for new contracted services. Among these is a 5-year, $6.5 million contract with Scholarchip, the company that manages the district’s student ID and automated attendance system. Philadelphia is transitioning to a new student information system, Infinite Campus. A perfect name for the learning ecosystem age; no need to restrict learning to schools when the entire city can be your “campus.” One reason the district gave for deciding to extend Scholarchip’s contract was their use of smart card technology.

“The School District has maintained a good pulse on the state of the relatively limited market space for student identification card systems, having conducted previous RFP solicitations in 2005 and 2011. Many of the solutions available utilize radio frequency identification (RFID) as opposed to smart card technology. As a card technology platform, smart cards differentiate themselves by allowing data to be programmed and modified directly on the card itself, thus permitting greater functionality and flexibility such as use with fare systems (i.e. SEPTA), storing lunch money or fee balances, and documenting student health conditions or restrictions. Under this contract, ScholarChip would continue to implement its kiosk station architecture at school building points of entry/egress, and would utilize its cloud-based service to manage and administer kiosks, control access, collect/maintain data, and provide a web-based administrative interface to the system.” See page 51 of the June 15, 2017 School Reform Commission Public Meeting Proposed Resolutions.

I admit to having concerns about “smart” technology. My husband anxiously awaited the roll out of SEPTA’s smart card system, but I find myself reluctant to give up on tokens, which though inconvenient to purchase provide a level of anonymity smart cards do not. Cory Doctorow put RFID chips on my radar. Predictive policing via transit cards was part of the plotline of Little Brother, a book I highly recommend. Beyond monitoring attendance, access, and location services, Scholarchip’s smart cards also come with payment capability. There is a level of convenience there, but if you can put lunch money and transit fare on a card, you can just as easily put an entire Education Savings Account (voucher) on one. In fact education debit cards are already being used in Arizona.

Scholarchip handles student ID cards for private schools, and their payment gateway system is set up for tuition payment plans. The learning ecosystem of the future will have different requirements than the traditional voucher. There will be no up-front, lump-sum tuition payment, because the plan will be for students to chart their own educational pathways as they go along, cobbling together a combination of online and community project-based options. For that reason the industry needs a mechanism, like a card (or at some point even a chip in your finger? See Eggers The Circle) that can handle micropayments to multiple providers. In all likelihood those money transfers will be linked to meeting academic or non-cognitive student performance measures through a Blockchain or smart contract process. I’m sure those pushing ledger-based educational finance will say that it offers security, transparency and accountability, but at that point the process of education simply becomes transactional. Students’ lives are digitally transferred to the ledger, and the money follows the child and his or her performance in a very public way.

Even more concerning is the resolution’s off-hand reference to putting student health conditions onto a smart card, especially given the push to gather social-emotional data on children through gamified classroom behavior management apps and surveys. Plus, there is growing interest in bringing outside health and mental health providers into schools as part of community school initiatives. I would hazard a guess that most parents do not realize HIPPA protections do not apply in school settings, and that FERPA protections are woefully inadequate. This link indicates Infinite Campus student information system has the capacity to store health and mental health information on students. Will these cards eventually pull in that type of data, too? Do parents know?


In 2014 Scholarchip acquired ABE Systems, a web-based behavioral intervention software platform. The card syncs real time truancy, tardiness, and class cuts with the student information system and assigns students to online remediation behavioral remediation programs. See below:

Scholarchip Behavior

Scholarchip Behavior Photo

So what might start out as an attendance tracking device could actually evolve into a school policing mechanism. Much of the language found on the Scholarchip website evokes security, policing and student management. Even the image of the kiosk feels impersonally authoritarian to me, but I admit I may be biased.

Scholarchip 4While this is not part of Scholarchip’s card services, I want to mention Clever badges at part of this discussion. Clever, based in San Francisco, has developed software allows students to access hundreds of online educational apps through a single portal with one login and password. The company connects a district’s student information system to online learning programs associated with various rosters. As blended learning programs have pushed down into K-2 classrooms, remembering even a single password presents challenges. The solution? Badges (cards) printed with QR codes that when held in front of the device’s camera logs the student into the software programs automatically. See this video of students using Clever badges at a Rocketship Academy charter school. A simple card can be used to aggregate a lot of data.


Looking at the Scholarchip resolution, we owe it to our children to consider its broader implications. This is not just about making attendance taking easier, is it? No. It is about investing in an infrastructure that has the capacity to alter education payment systems and mine children for ever-increasing amounts of data that will be channeled into insatiable student information systems. It atomizes the educational experience; each student’s identity embedded into a card, layers and layers of data that can be used to track, manage and optimize them to the needs of the workforce. Or, profile them in ways that guarantee they have no place in the workforce.

A child’s transit patterns, eating habits, health needs, academic scores, career profiles? Is there any guarantee that this data, stored in the cloud and subject to hacking, will not eventually end up in a predictive analytics platform? Jose Ferriera’s Knewton talk from Datapalooza (see below) once seemed amusing, but not any more. That authorities could speculate on how well a student would do on an exam based on what he or she ate for breakfast? If it’s all tied into a child’s Scholarchip card, you can see how that could come to pass.

We should not be investing millions of dollars to mine student data, break down data silos and pull together information across all of these domains. We should protect our children from harmful predictive analytics. We should avoid creating mechanisms that could be used to link educational payments to performance measures. Instead we must invest in the human side of education. We should spend public funds to reduce class sizes, reinstate shuttered school libraries, and expand electives offerings and teacher-led extracurricular activities. Human relationships are paramount. That is what we should be spending $6.5 million on, not Scholarchip, not big data.