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 firstname.lastname@example.org www.doe.mass.edu/odl @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.” http://cce.org/work/district- 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.” http://learnlaunch.org/investorpath/
LearnLaunch sponsors http://learnlaunch.org/sponsor2017/
Learnlaunch Accelerator for-profit member Companies: http://learnlaunch.com/accelerator/accelerator-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.