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Saturday, July 30, 2016

If I wanted to send my kids to cyber school, I would've.

This is a wake up call to all parents. Stop believing the PR and marketing about "21st century learning", "anytime, anywhere learning", and "innovation." Most kids I know are already overly attached and probably addicted to their cell phones and have way too much access to technology.
For this generation, technology is NOT innovative. It is overly accessible & is limiting the way growing minds learn. Like everything, technology is good in moderation.

Diane Ravitch agrees with me.
We need to take a look at what is going on in states who are ahead of PA in implementing these terrible education reform ideas. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how wonderful you think your children's schools are, they are slowly but surely leading us down the path of cyber schools for all.

Even in Pennsylvania our Intermediate Units (and many of our very own superintendents) support the 21st Century Charter School.

The thing is, I moved to my school district because I wanted my kids to actually go to their schools and be taught in classrooms by human, professional teachers in brick & motor rooms with their peers. Disrupting systems does not work in education and is downright unethical.

I am turning to the beautiful state of Maine, and the implementation of Mass Customized Learning (MCL). MCL is defined as, " The capacity to routinely customize products and services through computer applications and technologies to meet the specific needs and/or desires of individuals without adding significantly to the cost of the product or service."

Clearly, this is attempt to make it seem like our kids will get more with less money. We all know how that story ends every time.

What concerns me is that teachers felt the moral and ethical need to speak up, but were too scared for their jobs to share their names. That is sad because teachers are the very people we need to be the canary in the coal mines for our kids. Many teachers want to speak up, but they need to pay their mortgages and feed their families, too. It is with much respect that I share the letter the teachers of the RSU 18 School wrote to their school board. But first you need to understand a bit about MCL.

Mass Customized Learning is selling itself as the panacea to "assembly line learning".  I can assure you that in my classroom and the classroom of many other teachers, there isn't an assembly line in sight. Once again, some slick marketing spin has found a negative image to put in the minds of the public in the name of profiting off of children.

Stop experimenting with our kids.

 Mass Customized Learning reminds me of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) fad that is already a failure and thing of the past at the university level. The infamously disruptive Clayton Christensen Institute has deemed them dead and is now pushing its latest fad – competency based learning online. In other words, investors in MOOCs your time is up. New edupreneurs have a newer idea to get their hands on the money of parents and tax payers. Rest assured that disrupting the k-20 education system constantly may not benefit students, but it sure will fatten up the wallets of those in the education market.

And public school parents, this is coming our way without a doubt. Listen for jargon (some are actually terms that have been coopted from their original intent) such as "Anywhere, anytime, learning", "21st Century Learning", "Personalized Learning", "Student Centered Learning", "Student voice", "Emphasis on skills", "innovation", "embedded assessments", "flexible and fluid schedules", "Flipped classroom", "Blended Learning", "Online learning", and many more. Look up your school district"s strategic plan and see what you find.

Back to the Maine Mass Customized Learning crisis. 

Do you want your kids to be guinea pigs in the latest education fad? THIS IS NOT INEVITABLE.

Teachers at the Oakland area schools are objecting to a controversial new teaching system they claim has turned their students into guinea pigs in a failed educational experiment, but administrators contend that Mass Customized Learning (MCL) is inevitable.

According to letters obtained by The Maine Wire, there is widespread dissatisfaction in RSU 18, a school district comprised of eight schools in China, Belgrade, Oakland and Messalonskee, with the MCL program which has been implemented over the last four years.

One letter, written by an anonymous group of “concerned, dedicated teachers from RSU 18,” paints a dark portrait of the emerging conflict between MCL’s supporters and those who wish to conserve the traditional system of public education.

“We write to you as members of the RSU 18 faculty who want to express the feelings of so many who are afraid to speak up,” the group of educators stated in a May 5 letter to the district’s school board and several concerned parents. “We must report to you that MCL has shaken this school system to its very core.”

The teachers wrote the letter anonymously because they fear administrators in the district would seek retribution if their opposition to MCL became public.

“We are afraid to voice our opinions,” the teachers wrote. “We know the repercussions that would occur if we voiced our real feelings to the administration. We wallow in sadness at the poor educational model that we are forced to subject the children to. It is the children of this district that are suffering the most.”

Read this article in The Maine Wire for the full story.

In this world it can be hard to know who to trust. Are you going to go with the people who spend their days with your kids in their classrooms or put your trust in the profiteers? The choice is yours.

I say trust the canary in the coal mine.

Education & Business don't mix

Like oil and water, education and business don't mix. And they never will. This should be obvious, but "news" articles across the country are confusing readers. This shows just how talented marketing departments are at spinning data. I should know, I used to work in one.

It is pretty simple why education and business don't mix and never will. Business people do not have an innate understanding of what goes on in a classroom, which includes the ever important interpersonal interactions and relationships, which is why we are seeing the push for flipped classrooms, blended learning, and on-line learning. It is profitable to sell schools more tech products and claim it is "innovation".  However, actual research tells us children don't learn as well these ways, despite marketing claims for "21st century learning".

Edupreneurs do not view education through the lens of developmental psychology, but instead see niche markets and opportunities for profit. Our last US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was no exception. Ironically, he has no degree in business or education (BTW, I have degrees in both). Duncan graduated from the elite, private, Chicago Lab School and then Harvard, where he majored in sociology. (This makes me chuckle, as Duncan & the DOE have pushed STEM and has undermined the liberal arts, like his own major.)

Business people like to take data and spin it in order to make the sale, which may be fine for consumer products. As they say, caveat emptor. That said, educating our nation's children should not be a buyer beware situation. 

Diane Ravitch shared this article, where the author reports the following:

"Thanks to Arne, many entrepreneurs were encouraged to sell stuff to schools. The U.S. Department of Education is a marketing machine for the tech industry. Wanna buy a new ap? Check with ED. How else to explain the transition of almost every public school in the nation to online testing, even though studies show that students test better when they use paper and pen/pencil? Did anyone ask for that? Other changes that Arne was responsible for: an explosion of publicly funded private schools (charter schools); Common Core; closing thousands of public schools in black and brown communities; massive collection of personally identifiable student data; data mining.
How many billions were wasted on ed tech and Common Core that might have been spent to reduce class sizes and improve teachers’ salaries or to encourage desegregation?"

 There is no doubt the US Department of Education have sold out our public schools. As we all know, they started with our cities. Kids and families of color are still reeling from the reforms that cut the arts, then closed their neighborhood public schools to create demand for charter schools. The marketing experts knew that cutting the arts, physical education, etc. would allow for charter schools to pop up and fill that niche. That's what marketers do; they create demand and try to convince people they want the product, even if it a poor quality product.

However, there are no public schools that are safe, not even the ones in the leafy suburbs. Duncan showed us his hand when he came after white suburban moms who are well-educated and rejecting the neoliberal ed reform ideas, like weeks of high stakes standardized testing. New York state is the leader in opt outs, especially Long Island. About HALF of the students on Long Island opted out of their state tests this year. We knew he was full of it when he tried to discredit the moms. He misogynistically stated, “The opt out movement consists of white suburban moms who are disappointed to discover that their child is not as brilliant as they thought he was.”

 As any well-educated marketer should know, "Moms hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to household purchases. They are the primary decision makers, influencing a $2.4T in spending every year (yes, $2.4 trillion dollars!). This buying power alone qualifies moms as one of the most critical demographic segments for brands."

Sorry, Arne. Moms seem pretty powerful to me.

We need to pay attention and question all of the latest and most "innovative" ideas that are creeping into our schools. We need moms (and dads – please dads, speak up with us) to ask the tough questions and demand our locally elected school boards stop the implementation of bad ideas that sound too good to be true.

"There is a sucker born every minute." Don't let it be you.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Parents, we've been duped.

It isn't about the kids. It's about the money.

It is no longer enough to opt out of the stand alone state tests, such as Pennsylvania's PSSA exams. Parents must realize that our kids are seen as data generators and that data is worth its weight in gold. Stand alone standardized tests are already in the process of being replaced by sneaky, low-quality, stealth testing, which I previously wrote about here. If you want to stop the dumbing down of our children's education, we need to opt out of adaptive technology, also known as "personalized learning." Personalized learning is directly tied into comptency-based learning.

Familiar computer programs, like Dreambox, Achieve 3000, ALEKS, Project M3 and hundreds of other "personalized/adaptive technology" programs are collecting our kids data, replacing teachers with algorithms, and lowering the quality of instruction our children receive.

Sadly, elementary students often enjoy these game-like programs and are easy prey for their Pavlovian reward systems. (In fact, anther term for this kind of technology is gamification.)
By middle school, many children complain about programs such as TeenBiz or Study Island. High school students are often worn out from the "rigor" and amount of homework schools are assigning which is difficult to balance with sports, part-time jobs, and the sleep deprivation teens experience from trying to get it all done. This makes them vulnerable to marketing schemes that promote the idea of "anytime, anywhere learning" AKA online learning. Our kids have good instincts and seem to acknowledge that they need more sleep, but many are too inexperienced to understand that with "anytime, anywhere learning", they will not get the same high quality learning experiences as they would by being present in school. I admit that I would probably have been one of the kids who just wanted to get my credits done and not realized that my educational experience was short changed.
It takes maturity (which children develop at different rates) and experience to realize this truth.

 Be wary of competency-based education. Be very wary.
 This Delaware blogger is spot on:

"Welcome to the Competency-Based Education era!  Instead of your child advancing through grade levels, they will now advance once they master the material.  Don’t get me wrong.  The state assessments will still be there.  But parents most likely won’t even know when their child is taking it.  Because it won’t be the same test.  It won’t be students cooped up taking the same test over a period of weeks in the Spring.  It will be all year... They laid the trap, and we all fell in it.

How is this even possible?  Through modern technology.  Through personalized learning.  Don’t be fooled by the term personalized learning.  There are actually two kinds.  The concept has been around for decades.  More one-on-one instruction from teachers, personalized on that student’s strengths and weaknesses.  A very humanistic approach which I don’t have an issue with.  But what the corporate education pirates want is the same thing, but take out the teacher.  Substitute it with technology.  With computers, and the internet, and cloud-based systems, and blended learning.  The teachers will still be there, but they won’t be the in front of the classroom teachers anymore.  They will facilitate, and guide the students through what the computer is teaching them.  Some states may push back a bit on this, and compromise with a blended learning system, which is a mix of both.  But make no mistake, the eventual destination is the demise of... public education as we know it."

Read the full short story by Isaac Asimov here.

Almost daily I find myself shocked to realize yet another science fiction idea from the 1950's is upon us. George Orwell and Issac Asimov were not merely creative writers, they were dystopian prophets.

The simple truth, if we don't wake up and opt out of computerizing our children's education, they will be cheated out of a real education. And the more money your school district has, the more the tech companies are positioning themselves to get their hands on your tax dollars...

Unless, of course, your district has been purposely financially starved and the sharks are still implementing ideas to make themselves rich. Think Chicago.

It isn't about the kids. It's all about the money.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

No such thing as a "public charter school"

You need to know this.

Charters are not public schools. The term “public charter school” was developed by a PR firm to reframe the way we understand schooling in relationship to “public” and to democracy. Any public institution—school, library, zoo—is, at least in theory, funded by 
taxes from all the people in its jurisdiction—local, state and national—and is accountable to those who pay the taxes.
Most public schools are accountable to an elected school board made up of community 
members. Residents of that community have the right to be present at Board meetings, weigh in 
on votes and debates, and access public financial documents.

Charter schools are run by executive boards, committees or corporations whose members often 
live outside the community in which they are located and are not accountable to parents or 
the taxpayers/community members who fund them. 

If you don’t like what your traditional public school is doing, you can make your voice heard by 
addressing administrators, voting for new leadership or taking a leadership role yourself. If 
you don’t like what your child’s charter school is doing and you express yourself, you may be 
asked to leave. There is no democratic mechanism for spearheading policy change.

Public institutions are the motors of democracy. Their purpose is to 
promote and preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society: liberty, equality and 
the public welfare or common good. 

Public schools recognize that the welfare of everyone’s children and grandchildren is 
intimately linked to the welfare of all. Through support and oversight by the community, 
public schooling is intended to serve the common good and preserve fundamental qualities that sustain 
democracy beyond getting students “college and career ready.” If public schools have not always lived up to their promise then it is necessary to redouble our efforts to have them do so, not to abandon them.

When students leave public schools for charter schools they take their per pupil expenditures –which in California averaged $9, 794 last year–with them, leaving public schools with less revenue but the same overhead. The federal government also spends millions on charters at the expense of public schools. Taxpayers paid one consulting firm nearly $10 million to the U.S. Department of Education Charter Schools. That’s $10 million fewer federal dollars for public schools. The law forbids local districts, which in California are the main authorizers for new charters, from taking into account the potentially crippling impact of new charters on district financing when considering approving new schools. So even if you find an excellent charter to send your own child to, you are reducing the chances of every student remaining in the public school having their own excellent education.

Charter schools’ claim they enhance democracy is disingenuous. The highly touted freedom of individual parents to choose their child’s school comes at the heavy price of reducing two other essential functions of democracy: providing for the general welfare of a society that requires well funded public schools and insuring equal opportunity for all children. Competing with traditional public schools for space and funding reduces the quality of the remaining public schools, and ignores patterns of clear advantage for the children of savvy parents, thus assuring that some children will be better schooled than others.

Being publicly funded, charters cannot be considered private. However, their private governance and their marginalization of fundamental democratic values disqualifies them as public.

The most accurate label for charters is “Publicly–funded private schools.” 

Don’t let them abscond with our language. 

There is no such thing as a public charter school.

Monday, July 11, 2016

High Tech Takeover of Our Schools

If you are a public school parent, even in the tree-lined suburbs, you need to know the facts below. If you like what you hear, that is fine. If you don't, it is time for you to speak up and let your school district know.

No matter what your district may call this, its real name is Competency Based Education (CBE).
As you can see below, Pennsylvania is near the top of the process in implementing CBE. One can't help but wonder why the roll-out of CBE has been so covert. Are they afraid parents won't want it?
Why not simply tell parents that these changes are happening instead of implementing them bit by bit?

In this Baltimore County blog, the bloggers describes themselves as, "A grassroots education coalition working to slow down the high-tech takeover of Baltimore County Public Schools." Is it inevitable that our schools be the targets of a hostile takeover by the tech industry, which want to get its hands on our tax dollars?

So what is Competency Based Education?

“CBE delivers curriculum, instruction and assessments through online programming owned by third-party (corporate) organizations that are paid for with your tax dollars. Proponents of CBE use catchy language like “personalized” and “individualized” learning. Translation? Children seated alone interfacing with a computer, which monitors and adjusts the materials according to the inputs keyed in by the child.”

Let’s summarize what the outcomes of the CBE paradigm of public schools will be:
  • Disenfranchises teachers who are replaced by computers and third party providers (now LEAs with access to student private data). This erodes a unionized teacher workforce.
  • Eliminates collaborative interactive learning activities in favor of individualized one-on-one learning with a computer program
  • Course credit will no longer be counted by credit hour but by completion of a series of exercises, tasks or data driven curriculum which provides the student with a “badge of completion” (see Pearson).  The amount of time spent in a classroom experience is no longer a determining factor in evaluating success.
  • And I add to this list: the push for blended learning, online learning, and flipped classrooms.

Here, Emily Talmage blogs about the slick marketing and PR used to manipulate the public into thinking that CBE is what we want. While private schools are teaching creativity, joyful learning, critical thinking, and learning to question world issues, public school parents are being manipulated that "back to basics" is what our kids need. They just don't want parents knowing that CBE is exactly back to basics, compartmentalization of skills and passive learning.

Read here to see how they provide a toolkit so leaders can reframe "... the education conversation through a core story approach."

They even suggest ways to tweet:

There is a place for technology in our schools. It is an important aspect of learning, research, and communication in the 21st century. That said, technology should be the slave, not the master.

The PR people want you to think their ideas are "valid" and that anyone who questions them is a "critic" who is soft or self-interested.


Should a bunch of parents and people who care about kids be labeled soft and self-interested? Only if you are interested in making money over doing what is best for kids, I guess.