Personalization or Profiling? Childhood in the Ed-Tech Era

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It was great spending time this afternoon with opt out activists in New York City discussing Ed Reform 2.0 developments and digital education. I created a slide share for that presentation, and because it contains a number of useful links and resources, I wanted to make it available to others. Click on the image above to access it. This is a work in progress, so feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

Trade you a backpack of badges for a caring teacher & well-resourced school.

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This is the third in a series intended to describe the process by which education reformers are transitioning us from neighborhood schools to learning eco-systems. For additional background you can read “From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade” and “Questions We Should Be Asking About Future Ready Schools.”

Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the drumbeat for “innovative,” “personalized” education has grown stronger and more insistent. Key to the successful implementation of Education Reform 2.0 is convincing the public that education in school buildings with certified human teachers is obsolete. The No Child Left Behind Act laid the groundwork. It created increasingly hostile working conditions for teachers, inhumane learning conditions for students, and emphasized standards and test scores above all else.

While the public was sold a story that national standards were about ensuring equity for all children, parents of children enrolled in predominately low-income districts know that is not true. Time and time again we have seen that the standards-based accountability frameworks established under NCLB focus on outputs, NEVER inputs. These laws did not secure additional resources for children in need. They were designed to raise expectations for college and career readiness while kneecapping, through ongoing austerity budgets, our schools’ ability to meet our children’s most basic needs. Imposition of Common Core State Standards, value-added measures, high school exit exams, third-grade reading guarantees, test-score based “turnaround” policies, data-walls, and the like, have gradually institutionalized a punitive, data-driven approach to education across our country.

So what exactly does that have to do with badges? Well, data-driven education and badges go hand-in-hand. It makes sense once you realize the end goal is to replace our current system of public education with individualized pathways geared to “anytime, anyplace, any pace” learning mediated largely through technological devices that collect and aggregate educational data. The data is all aligned to The Common Educational Data Standards and now xAPI or Tin Can has replaced SCORM to make collection of online and offline educational data easily trackable.

This is not limited to K12 or even P20, the powers that be envision this process of meeting standards and collecting badges to be something we will have to do our ENTIRE LIVES. If you haven’t yet seen the “Learning is Earning” video-stop now and watch it, because it makes this very clear. Badges are representations of standards that have been met, competencies that have been proven. Collections of badges could determine our future career opportunities. The beauty of badges from a reformer’s perspective is that they are linked to pre-determined standards and can be earned “anywhere.” You can earn them from an online program, from a community partner, even on the job. As long as you can demonstrate you have mastery of a standard, you can claim the badge and move on to the next bit of micro-educational content needed to move you along your personalized pathway to the workforce.

In this brave, new world education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new “personalized pathway/badging” approach to education.

The reformers needed to get data-driven, standards-based education firmly in place before spotlighting their K12 badge campaign. Low-key preparations have been in the works for some time. In 2011, Mozilla announced its intention to create an Open Badges standard that could be used to verify, issue, and display badges earned via online instructional sites. The MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) supported this effort. In 2013 a citywide badging pilot known as “The Summer of Learning” was launched in Chicago. 2013 was also the year that the Clinton Global Initiative joined the badge bandwagon. They have since agreed to incorporate badges into their operations and work to bring them to scale globally as part of the Reconnect Learning collaborative.

Other partners in the “Reconnect Learning” badging program include: The Afterschool Alliance, Badge Alliance, Blackboard, Digital Promise, EdX, ETS, Hive Learning Networks, Pearson, Professional Examination Service and Council for Aid to Education, and Workforce.IO.

The Chicago Summer of Learning program expanded nationally and has since evolved into LRNG Cities, a program of the MacArthur Foundation. According to their website: “LRNG Cities combine in-school, out-of-school, employer-based and online learning experiences into a seamless network that is open and inviting to all youth. LRNG Cities connect youth to learning opportunities in schools, museums, libraries, and businesses, as well as online.”

In some ways such a system may sound wonderful and exciting. But I think we need to ask ourselves if we shift K12 funding (public, philanthropic, or social impact investing) outside school buildings, and if we allow digital badges to replace age-based grade cohorts, report cards, and diplomas, what are we giving up? Is this shiny, new promise worth the trade off? Many schools are shadows of their former selves. They are on life support. It is very likely that expanding the role of community partners and cyber education platforms via badging will put the final nail in the coffin of neighborhood schools. But before that happens we first need to ask ourselves…

Do we really want pathway designers and non-credentialed mentors guiding our children instead of certified teachers who understand pedagogy and child development?

Do we want a public education framework built on the constant input of data into devices in order to earn badges for the skills others value? Is that productive or emotionally healthy?

Do we want an integrated, holistic approach to teaching children that is attuned to their humanity or are we sticking with the data-driven version that has been thrust upon us?

What would the adoption of a “badging” approach to K12 education mean in terms of local control of curriculum? Are we really comfortable handing over the education of future generations to employers, museums, online games/simulations, and learning management systems that are unaccountable to voters?

What are the privacy implications for K12 badging? Are there going to be badges for social-emotional qualifications, too? Because that certainly seems to be the direction that CASEL and NAEP are headed.

Do we want to be that reliant on technology that has such a short lifespan, is vulnerable to hacking and technical problems, and is actually very expensive (cost and energy-wise) to maintain?

Badges appeal to our desire to accumulate and collect. They quench our craving for short-term gratification and allow us to indulge in healthy (and unhealthy) levels of competition. In an age of the quantified self, badges serve to create and reinforce our identity in the virtual world. Badges have their origins in scouting (oh those sashes) and later gaming and avatars. They seem so harmless, fun even. But would we really want to be reduced to the contents of an online backpack of badges? Is that something we want for our children?

I can see how badging could work as a SUPPLEMENT to a properly funded, equitable public education system that prioritizes developmentally appropriate instruction and human teachers and offers a rich, IN-SCHOOL curriculum for children up to the age of 18. IF you have ALL of that in place, feel free to supplement with badges during out-of-school time for children who choose to take advantage of such programs. But don’t require it. And don’t use it as a means to outsource education to community partners and cyber education companies.

While right now badges may seem an innocuous novelty, if they end up being used as a substitute for an independent system of public education we’re in real trouble.

More on badges:
The Business of Badging and Predicting Children’s Futures

Will Public Education Survive the Next Administration?

 

Dell, the NSA & Future Ready Schools

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Dell’s ties to NSA surveillance programs should give parents, educators, and students pause as they assess the idealistic portrayal of personalized online learning promoted in the company’s peppy video for “Future Ready” schools.

Snowden downloaded NSA secrets while working for Dell, sources say (Reuters, August 12, 2013)

“Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden began downloading documents describing the U.S. government’s electronic spying programs while he was working for Dell Inc in April 2012, almost a year earlier than previously reported, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the matter.

Snowden, who was granted a year’s asylum by Russia on Aug. 1, worked for Dell from 2009 until earlier this year, assigned as a contractor to U.S. National Security Agency facilities in the United States and Japan.

Snowden downloaded information while employed by Dell about eavesdropping programs run by the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, and left an electronic footprint indicating when he accessed the documents, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

The Snowden Saga: A Shadowland of Secrets and Light (Vanity Fair, April 23, 2014)

“In early 2009 he got the chance, accepting a job with Dell in Tokyo. In addition to making computers, Dell managed computer systems for hundreds of corporations and more than a few government agencies. In Japan, Snowden worked at the Yokota Air Base, outside Tokyo, where he instructed top officials and military officers on how to defend their networks from Chinese hackers. There he also designed a highly sophisticated data backup system called EPICSHELTER. It used an advanced technology to place a shield around every N.S.A. site in the world, ensuring that the N.S.A. would be able to recover information from any of its locations, even if that site were completely destroyed in the event of war or another calamity. The N.S.A., in fact, was one of Dell’s most important and secretive clients.

How Edward Snowden went from loyal NSA Contractor to Whistleblower (The Guardian, February 2, 2014)

“In February 2009, Snowden resigned from the CIA. Now he was to work as a contractor at an NSA facility on a US military base in Japan. The opportunities for contractors had boomed as the burgeoning US security state outsourced intelligence tasks to private companies. Snowden was on the payroll of Dell, the computer firm.”

Questions we should be asking about “Future Ready” schools.

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This is a follow up to my prior post regarding the danger of “learning eco-systems.”

How far are we from the day we’ll be forced to rely on online education modules to inspire and excite the minds of young people; where badge collections replace diplomas; and virtual reality games substitute for Friday night dances, track meets, spelling bees, and school plays? How much time do we have before certified human teachers are replaced by “Task Rabbit” pathway designers and AI personal “tutors?” Before we lose all expectations for privacy surrounding how and when we access our educations? Before the entirety of our educational lives becomes consolidated under a unique ID number and its associated digital shadow?

Online learning is claiming ever-larger blocks of instructional time in bricks and mortar schools. Budgets prioritize technology purchases over investments in human staff and facilities. Increasingly responsibility for assessment is being taken away from teachers and placed under the purview of data dashboards and black boxes that monitor in minute detail our children’s academic and social-emotional “progress” towards standards we had no part in setting.

For all of these reasons, we need to take a critical look at school redesign programs that are showing up in communities across the nation. Our government is rolling these initiatives out right now in coordination with think tanks, philanthropies, and the education technology sector. If thousands of superintendents nationwide are signing on to “Future Ready Schools” it is imperative that as citizens we start considering the far reaching consequences a data-driven, technology-mediated system of public education will have for the health and wellbeing of our children and our democracy.

As we move into the era of the quantified self. I find myself worrying. I worry a lot. I worry that we should be asking questions, a lot of questions, and that our window for questioning is shrinking by the day.

Many who spend their days in our nation’s schools have been put into positions where they are almost compelled to welcome the concept of “school redesign.” They have been living for years in the test-and-punish nightmare that No Child Left Behind created. They’ve been coping with austerity budgets, toxic buildings, staff shortages, lack of respect, frozen wages, and the ongoing challenge of meeting the needs of students living in poverty with far too few resources at their disposal.

Current conditions in many of our nation’s schools are appalling, and that is by design. It is through this dissatisfaction with our current situation that they hope to accomplish a shift away from a “standardized” education based on a single high-stakes test given at the end of the year to a “personalized” digital education that employs ongoing online data collection as children progress through the curriculum year round.

So with that in mind, I invite you to consider the questions below. Hopefully they will give you some ideas you can use to start your own conversations with parents, teachers, and school board members in your own community. In my heart I believe the 21st century schools parents and human teachers desire for their children are very different from the version being pushed, behind closed doors, by the educational technology sector.

Questions we should be asking about school redesign and “Future Ready Schools:”

Technology-mediated education is considered to be a disruptive force. Many “innovative” 21st century education approaches seek to undermine traditional concepts like “seat time,” the Carnegie Unit, age-based grade levels, the centrality of teachers in classrooms, report cards, diplomas and to extend credit-based learning beyond the school building itself. Before moving forward with these ideas, shouldn’t there be a wider public discussion about which aspects of traditional schooling we want to retain moving forward? Disruption for the sake of creating new markets for businesses is an insufficient reason to dismantle neighborhood schools.

Why should we allow our children to be human subjects in this grand data science experiment? This is particularly troublesome given the fact that ethics codes for data scientists are not nearly as well developed as codes of conduct for bio-medical research.

What are the implications of expanded 1:1 device use and screen time on children’s health and emotional states?

How does the use of embedded “stealth” assessments contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society in the United States?

What overlap exists between data analysis used to monitor national security interests and data analysis used to assess educational content and activities in our nation’s schools? How does the Office of Educational Technology interface with the Department of Defense and how comfortable are the American people with those relationships? See xAPI or Tin Can or Douglas Noble’s 1991 extensively-researched book “Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, and Public Education” for additional background information.

As nano-technology advances make wearable devices more commonplace, shouldn’t parents have the right to refuse the collection of live data streams on behalf of their children? What types of monitoring (bio-metric and otherwise) have been enabled through the expanded presence of devices in our schools? Cameras, microphones, touch screens, and fit bits for example?

While personalized learning platforms tout their “individualization,” to what extent do these programs recognize our children’s humanity? As systems thinking becomes embedded within public education policy, are our children being valued as unique human beings possessed of free will, or merely as data points to be controlled and managed?

Feedback loops influence human behavior. In what ways could large-scale implementation of adaptive education programs and online educational gaming platforms contribute to the collective brainwashing of our children?

Personalized education means that algorithms decide what educational content your child CAN see, and what content they won’t see. Is it the duty of education to expose children to a wide range of content that will broaden their view of the world? Or is it the role of an adaptive learning program to feed the child information for which they have already expressed a preference? Consider the implications of a “Facebook” model of education.

How much data is too much? Data is never neutral. Who is collecting the data and to what end? Data is always a reflection of the ideology in which it is collected. Why should we trust data more than the professional expertise of human teachers?

We caution children about their online presence, but through the imposition of digital curriculum we are forcing them to create virtual educational identities at very young ages. Should that worry us? What are the implications of our children having digital surrogates/avatars that are linked to comprehensive data sets of academic and social-emotional information? Do we really understand the risks?

Who owns the intellectual property that students create on school-managed cloud-based servers? Do they have the right to extract their work at will?

What roles do teacher education programs and certification policies play in furthering a technology-mediated approach to public education?

Will students enrolled in private schools have their data collected at the same level as public school students? Is privacy something that will become ultimately be available only to the rich and elite? Will we allow that to happen?

Should it be the basic human right of all children to have access, if they choose, to a public education model in which humans teach one another in (non-digital) community in an actual school building?

 

From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade

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If we hope to preserve neighborhood schools for future generations we must recognize how reformers are reframing the idea of public education in dangerous new ways. A coordinated campaign of ALEC legislation, philanthropic investments, and slick re-branding is underway with the ultimate goal of replacing school buildings and certified, human teachers with decentralized, unregulated learning eco-systems and non-credentialed mentors and/or AI “tutors.”

It is a challenging concept to grasp. Therefore, I have decided to work on a series of posts. Taken together, I hope they will provide a base of information that people can share with others. This initial post will provide a framework for understanding the concept of a learning eco-system. Subsequent ones will cover: school redesign, digital badging, credit-bearing ELOs, Social Impact Bond financing, and changes to teacher training/hiring.

What is a learning eco-system?

Proponents of a data-driven, technology-mediated approach to public education see 21st-century learning as a “quest” in which participants diligently work to assemble proof that they’ve obtained the assorted skills and bits of knowledge they need to compete for jobs that pay a living wage. Rather than a humanistic approach that values individual creativity and civic discourse, the focus is on gathering data and shaping children to become standardized cogs in service of the global economy. The intent is to maintain the status quo, not to develop thinkers who might tip the apple cart and create a future that better serves the needs of the masses. Screen time trumps face time.

By shifting how we think about education-from a human process that happens within a community of learners to a game in which students demonstrate standards and accumulate badges-reformers aim to move much of the  K12 education process out of physical school buildings where face-to-face interaction is the primary mode of instruction, and into virtual classrooms, game environments, cultural institutions, and work settings. This is how they will attempt to replace neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems.

By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.

As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.  But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.” Katherine Prince, Knowledgeworks

Financialization of the education sector requires separating “education” from school buildings that remain under the control of local school boards and unionized teachers and administrators. Free market principles cannot prevail if educational experiences remain subject to local oversight and trained, veteran teachers continue to be part of the conversation.

Reformers propose to replace our “outdated, factory-model” neighborhood schools with learning eco-systems. There is considerable talk about redesigning education for 21st-century learners. The Ed Reform 2.0 landscape for K12/P20 is built upon the premise that “anytime, any where learning” is the best option to train students to navigate the gig economy. Proponents of learning-ecosystems seek disruption and radical reinvention. They picture a future where big-data and algorithms create efficient pools of human capital for use by global markets. For them grade levels, peer groups, report cards, and diplomas are a thing of the past.

The above quote, by Katherine Price, Director of Strategic Foresight at Knowledgeworks, indicates that even the private sector has qualms about how this transformation may play out. The essay “A Learning Day 2037,” by Elizabeth Merritt of the American Alliance of Museums uses Moya’s story to show what happens when the “vibrant learning grid” doesn’t exactly fulfill its promise, especially for children on the margins of society. It is interesting to note that Knowledgeworks, a long-time partner with the Gates Foundation, is a major player in the push for learning eco-systems. Knowledgeworks is also involved with community schools initiatives through their program StriveTogether that promotes data-driven decision-making for children from “cradle to career.”

Widespread adoption of “personalized” digital education platforms underpins the learning eco-system model, as does reliance on big-data (academic and social-emotional) to guide students on their appropriate workforce “pathway” and reinforce desirable behaviors like “deep learning.” They see children as dynamic sets of skills, competencies and personality traits that can be quantified, sorted, and placed in digital portfolios.

The story of your personal evolution as a thinking, questioning, curious member of society? Not important except to the extent that you can put a badge on it, and they can use it to profile you. Learning in community, learning in relationship to others, also not important. If they can’t match it with a data tag, it does not factor into the equation. Those life-changing memories we hold in our hearts from our time in school are not the kinds of things you can easily upload to a “Learning Record Store.”

So, what types of experiences could a learning eco-system contain? Really, almost anything to which you can assign a standard and slap on a badge. Sample personalized playlists might include:

Watching a video

Listening to a podcast

Completing an audiobook

Playing a online-game

Participating in a virtual reality experience

Going to a museum-even a “virtual museum tour”

Participating in an online community forum

Doing a webx chat with an online “tutor”

Completing a virtual “lab” experiment

Working at your after school job

Participating in a after school club

Going to a rock-climbing gym

Providing “volunteer” tech support to your school district

And you can see how this approach to education expands to encompass workforce development in this eye-opening video from the Institute for the Future “Learning is Earning.” Data and proof of achieving mastery or competencies tied to standards will be tracked and documented through software like xAPI. The items in the above list are not “bad.” It is the idea that they could, in the present climate of austerity education budgets, become substitutes for authentic, in-school learning that concerns me. I’m sure in the hands of a thoughtful educator, many of the ideas noted could be used in moderation to enhance a school-based educational experience.

BUT the learning eco-system model is designed to MARGINALIZE the human teacher. Teachers are meant to be “guides-on-the-side,” staying in the background, checking the playlists, pathways, and portfolios, rather than providing direct instruction to students, building relationships with them, or creating classroom community. Most of these activities do NOT depend on children actually being IN a school building. As 1:1 device initiatives become the norm, students can demonstrate their “mastery” from almost any location that has Wi-Fi. And this is how we end up outsourcing oversight of our children’s education to unknown parties. I fear the day we allow education to become an elaborate game of Pokémon Go, where “anyone can grant an edu-block.”

In the personalized learning environment, children, young children who have very limited experience in the world, are expected to find their own direction, their own passion, which is incredibly troubling. Or worse, they may have their direction chosen FOR them based on analysis of unknown data generated from online stealth assessments or third-party survey tools. It is scary to consider a child may have their future life choices constrained by unknowingly expressing an interest in an academic subject in elementary school. Perhaps the high school junior will be denied access to a graphic design class after having expressed an interest in medicine as a ten year old? If children step off the assigned path, will they be castigated for not being gritty or resilient and then remediated until they comply? The government has set up a maze of developmentally inappropriate standards, and now the “personalized” learning model is forcing teachers to take a spot on the sidelines and watch as things unfold.

Is it not the purpose of K12 education to provide a rich set of experiences and material that children can draw upon to craft, adapt, and refine their identities based on their own ways of being in the world? Aren’t connections to their teachers, classmates, and school staff paramount? We know that economic circumstances will require coming generations to be creative problems solvers, so why put our kids in educational and emotional straightjackets under the guise of giving them “personalized” cyber educations? It is about control, limiting access to information and human contact, and monetizing our children’s data.

It would be very naive to think given the limited public funds being invested in children, we would EVER have the resources required to maintain THREE systems of education: neighborhood schools, virtual schools, AND community-based learning eco-systems. If past experience is any measure, bricks-and-mortar neighborhood schools are going to get the short end of the stick. Which may be why districts seem intent on investing in so much technology as their facilities fall into decrepitude.

In the land of learning eco-systems everyone goes it alone. You might mix with others here and there, peers or mentors or pathway guides, but it is a “personalized” journey. They seem to be tapping into some sort of warped American ideal of individualism. I am special. I have an education “playlist” designed just for me. It is exclusive. It is one of a kind. And the reformers are thinking…Don’t ask questions. We will optimize you based on our exhaustive knowledge of who you are. We know all your 1’ and 0’s. We know more about you than YOU know. We will put you in your place, but we will be very careful in making you believe you had a choice in the matter.

Neighborhood schools are among the last public spaces where open, civic discourse can take place. They are supposed to be safe spaces where children are nurtured. They are spaces where people can come together. It is imperative that we fight for their continued existence. Trading them in for learning eco-systems or community drop-in learning centers would be a very bad idea. Next up-Future Ready Schools.

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Stop! Don’t opt out. Read this first.

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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.”