Stop! Don’t opt out. Read this first.


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:

  1. The reformers created a disaster in the form of end-of-year, high-stakes tests knowing that parents, teachers, and students would push back.
  2. 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.
  3. After a pre-determined period of suffering, they offered us “solutions.” (see ESSA)
  4. 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.”


Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should be Asking

As we enter this new era of blended/hybrid classrooms, the clamor of ed-tech entrepreneurs pitching their digital curricula is getting to be truly overwhelming for parents. Rather than critiquing individual programs, I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night. I’d love to know what the response is.

1. Does the program require aggregating PII (personally identifiable information) from students to function properly? And even if it doesn’t REQUIRE it, does the program collect PII?

2. Does the program supplement face-to-face human instruction, or function as a substitute for it? How many minutes per day of face-to-face human instruction is being sacrificed or substituted? Will it lead to increased class sizes?

3. Does the program encourage active student-to-student engagement and face-to-face discussion? How does it accomplish this? Or does it create an environment where kids are often working in isolation with their devices? How much of the time are students working alone with their devices?

4. What are the associated costs with respect to your district’s budget (not just the program fees, but the devices required to operate it) and how will participation in the program affect other areas of the student experience? For example given the austerity budgets many districts are experiencing, implementing a 1:1 device program to support digital curriculum could impact a school’s ability to offer art instruction, employ a school librarian, or provide a full range of extracurricular activities.

5. How much screen time is involved, per day? per week? Consider the health impacts of machine-mediated teaching, especially on elementary school-age children.

6. Does the program offer “training” or “education?” There is a difference.

7. Will participating in the program expand student awareness of the larger world and allow them to engage with it on their own terms, or is it a way to channel students into a particular workforce sector?

8. Does the program monitor, tutor, or assess behavior and social-emotional aspects of learning?

9. Assuming the program is used during the school day, what is this program replacing? What aspect(s) of instruction formerly offered will be eliminated if this program is implemented?

10. How does adopting a blended/hybrid learning program, which has been developed by outside interests, impact local control and autonomy within your school and district?

What percentage of instructional time being turned over to outsourced online education results in your neighborhood school no longer fully being YOUR school? 10 percent? 25 percent? 40 percent?

Many ed-tech proponents like Reed Hastings are looking to remove local control of schools due to their “inefficiency.” Would adopting this program in your school further that agenda?

Digital Learning Goes Back to School

So I had a back and forth online with someone recently who didn’t understand the significance of education/workforce badging programs and asked me to write something up. So my thoughts are below. Ultimately I think this is all going to be linked to the TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement) as they create a global market for digital education.…


How to create a global market for digital learning: (detailed background from Morna McDermott)…):

1. Create a common platform of educational standards. Don’t get distracted by CCSS-the uber set of standards is all pretty much in place now.


2. Make sure all the developers are using a common schema for educational item data tagging.…


3. Make PII data and data-collection a priority in schools. Don’t limit yourself to academic performance. Layer in SEL and bio-metrics, too. These are all important for workforce development. Gather it via embedded assessments and gaming to make it more palatable.…
4. Focus on closing the digital divide by providing low-cost technology to districts with a majority of low-income students and by expanding broadband access to rural areas. For global, digital education to work, inexpensive internet everywhere must be put in place.

5. Expand 1:1 device initiatives. Design learning management platforms to be run on less-expensive tablets and chromebooks. Baltimore’s STAT program is one of these. This is a parent blog with a lot of current information on concerns about the program:….

6. Systematically defund bricks and mortar educational systems. Allow facilities to decline, reduce human teaching staff, implement ongoing austerity budgets, etc.…


7. Use fiscal pressure to introduce programs like 4-day school weeks and learn-from-home “e-days.” Public support for later high school start times can also be used to help push initiatives requiring students to take an online class in order to graduate.…

8. Control the teacher training pipeline to make digital learning the primary delivery vehicle.

9. In response to growing teacher shortages, introduce blended/hybrid learning options into regular public schools. This enables increases in teacher/student ratios and allows “personalized” digital instruction to claim a growing percentage of the instructional day. Public monies are redirected to private companies through contacts for learning management systems and standards-based online education modules.

10. Drive families out of the public school system via punitive measures (high-stakes testing, IEP non-compliance, “No Excuses” policies, etc.) and create a perception of public education as dangerous and/or ineffectual so people withdraw to do home school or private school.

11. Set up charter cyber schools to accommodate the new “home school” families. This will further destabilize public school systems.

12. Start to build up “virtual” public schools. In PA they are doing it through the county intermediate units. These will be cross-district, regional programs. Students will be encouraged to enroll in a “few” classes online via these programs. They will brand them differently than the cyber charters. They will market it as a savvy cost-saving measure. See PA Open Campus.…


13. Global corporations purchase cyber charter companies to do R&D to refine their online learning platforms and extend their reach-see Connections Academy (Pearson owned) in 29 states.…


14. Convince the public that online portfolios are better suited to the 21st century “gig” economy workforce than traditional diplomas/transcripts. Make it difficult to procure and access traditional credentialing avenues. See rise of Naviance use in schools. Push badging for non-academic skills.

15. Convince people that badging has merit and is a trustworthy measure of true skill. Continue to break down the “seat time narrative.” Learning can happen “anywhere.” You can earn badges anywhere, too-not just in school. (see the links between bitcoin and skills-related badging around timestamp 40:00…)

***If you do nothing else, watch this 6-minute video on “edu-blocks.”***…


16. Have legislation passed that allows for an increase in the use of credit-bearing ELOs (extended, expanded, enhanced learning opportunities)-preferably unlimited. Initially these programs will be before/after school and in summer, but once the community-based learning framework is in place, it can begin to usurp the role of bricks and mortar schools. Reduce seat-time funding requirements at a state level. 17. Use philanthropic and government funds to establish a system student-oriented maker spaces, code gyms, and other spaces for “out-of-school-time” learning. Piggy-back on the 21st Century Community Learning Center program. Push a vision that you can “remake education” by taking it out of a school building and moving it into the community. Once badging is firmly in place, make the case that bricks and mortar neighborhood schools are obsolete and that a redesigned digital learning program (complemented with some community-based projects-ELOs) provides students with the best career/life pathways.……


18. Blur the lines between high school and college through dual enrollment programs, many of which are delivered digitally. Couch it as “lifelong learning.” Expand online AP classes to target niche markets and add legitimacy to the online learning model.

19. Get Federal legislation passed so for-profit online education providers can access student loan financing for online courses that will result in badges and micro-credentials.

20. Establish a common list of skill codes for the labor force that can be tied to the online portfolios and to screen job applicants more efficiently. There will be limited on-the-job training in the future. People will need to finance their own training.

21. Open up global education markets via TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement). Digital education controlled by multinational corporations (with a supplement of local project based learning) becomes the norm in the 21st century. If you are up for a short dystopian essay. It paints a compelling picture:…


*Don’t count on the non-profits to step up and save education. The ELO / Learning Eco-System model will allow them to significantly expand their programming, and once they accept philanthropic monies or funding via “Pay for Success” or social impact bonds, they will not be in position to fight back. Certified teachers will be replaced by Americorps/Vista kids keeping track of the online portfolios, and newly-minted college graduates will have temporary-grant funded jobs staffing project-based learning at cultural and job-training centers. No more need for certified teachers.…