Mike Matthews On Personalized Learning And Digital Technology In The Classroom

The upcoming Delaware State Education Association President, Mike Matthews, just wrote an excellent post on Facebook about the rise of digital technology and personalized learning in the classroom.  His post was in response to the recent announcements by various Delaware school districts of Reduction in Workforce notices going out to schools based on Governor John Carney’s proposed budget for FY2018.

For the past several years, personalized and blended learning have been strong dialogue points in education circles. The thinking behind personalized and blending learning is that it offers different environments to meet students’ needs for learning. One of those environments is digital, where some of the learning is done on devices as opposed to direct teacher instruction or small-group instruction.

There is a belief out there by some that many education reformers and corporatists are supporting personalized and blended learning because, ultimately, it could reduce personnel costs by getting rid of large numbers of teachers. Me? I’m a fan of “personalized learning” in a very basic sense: that all learning, in effect, should be personalized to meet student needs. However, I am beginning to have some concerns with the personalized and blended learning information I’m seeing as well as the propagation of 1:1 devices in classrooms across the state.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Technology is a must in today’s digital environment and students MUST be exposed to its responsible use. However, eight years ago, then-Gov. Jack Markell made a series of devastating cuts to education. And we still haven’t recuperated from that.

Governor John Carney is proposing a series of devastating cuts to his education budget now. We never saw Gov. Markell’s cuts come back to education. Will we see Gov. Carney’s cuts come back if they’re passed by the legislature? Will these layoffs — these hundreds of human beings about to lose their jobs — be victims to technology because it’s cheaper to purchase a Chromebook than it is to pay a teacher’s salary?

Two years ago, I had a very open mind about personalized learning when I was president of the Red Clay Education Association and some fellow members introduced me to personalized learning. And, to an extent, I’m still VERY open to what personalized learning is and can be. I made sure to share with those teachers that at no time should personalized learning EVER be seen as a means to layoff and cut teachers in our schools and the they agreed with that. However, I’m concerned that these heartless and cruel layoffs coming could only grow worse as policymakers embrace the idea that technology can do cheaper or better what humans can for children.

I will never accept a world where computers take the place of living, breathing, caring human beings. We must fight like hell to bring these positions back to our school districts as quickly as possible. Anything less should be cause for direct, organized action by educators and the public that supports us across the state.

Amen Mike, Amen!  With that being said, the reaction of the state and local education associations to this technology push in our classroom will be instrumental in making sure that future never comes to pass.  DSEA will have to be at the front of the line opposing this future.  When Mike said “some believe”, those numbers are growing fast and it isn’t just a belief.  It is happening in districts across the country and it will happen here if we don’t get enough educators, parents, citizens, and students to fight it.

In Delaware, the Rodel Teacher Council has been pushing personalized learning a lot in the past couple months.  They met with legislators and the State Board of Education.  As I have said many times, I don’t believe these teachers are the bad guys.  But I don’t trust Rodel at all.  For the life of me, with everything I’ve written, I can’t understand why these teachers continue to listen to Rodel and do their bidding.  These teachers spend a lot of time working for Rodel with little to no pay for their time and effort.  At the end of the day, Rodel is a corporation.  They may say they are a non-profit, but when their CEO Dr. Paul Herdman makes over $350,000 a year, that gives me considerable pause.

The personalized learning push goes beyond computers replacing teachers though.  There is the matter of massive exposure to screen time and what kind of effects that has on students.  There is the massive amount of data collection.  There is the presumption by many that the algorithms in many of these apps and learning programs are being used to push students toward certain types of future careers.  There is the competency-based education aspect of it all that has a severe danger of putting at-risk students even further behind than their peers.  While I don’t expect many to get this yet, they soon will.  Right now, I am John the Baptist, wandering around in the wilderness warning everyone.  A madman?  No.  One who would rather prophet for students than profit from students?  Yes.

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What’s So Bad About Educational Technology? Beware The Poverty Pimps!

Ed Tech.  It is everywhere.  Like the Vikings of yesteryear, it is invading every classroom in America.  It is pillaging the public education village.  For the Vikings, this was their way.  It was all they knew.  But for the Poverty Pimps, the companies who profit from students with the justification of fixing education for poor kids, it is disturbing on many levels.  If this technology is used in moderation and for the sole benefit of increasing the ability for students to learn, that would be one thing.  But companies are making billions of dollars off of our kids.  Even worse, the privacy of our children’s information is suspect at best.  One mom from Pennsylvania, Alison McDowell, has looked into all of this and she has found out a lot about what is going on with this aspect of the Ed Tech Boom.

A Skeptical Parent’s Thoughts on Evaluating Digital Learning Programs

With the school year beginning, questions about digital learning programs and computerized behavior management programs have started to pop up in my feed. Is X program ok? How about Y? Concerned parents are scanning privacy policies and trying to figure it all out. What does this mean for MY child?

As someone who took a symbolic stand and opted her child out of Google Apps for Education last year (and she didn’t seem to come out any the worse for wear for it BTW), I’d like to share my current thinking on this topic. I am not a Luddite, but I am concerned that rather than being taught to use and control technology, many children (especially children in turn-around or transformation schools) are increasingly being put into the position of being used BY technology to further the interests of for-profit cyber instruction and workforce development. I’m sharing my thoughts in the hope of opening up a discussion and to see where other folks are in this brave new world.

For me the bottom line is this: Does the technology under consideration empower students to be the creators of the content? Is the power with THEM?

If the answer is “yes,” then it shouldn’t depend on tracking personalized data to function properly. Sure kids should be able to work on a project, save it, and go back to it, but online monitors shouldn’t be tracking all their data. Students own the work they do. It is their intellectual property. It should remain accessible and editable by them for the purposes of what the child and the teacher are doing in the CLASSROOM-that’s it. Storing student learning with PII (personally identifiable information) in the cloud for some unspecified future purpose concerns me.

Fortunately for our family, the above scenario is the norm at my daughter’s school. Mostly they use GAFE for open-ended word processing and there is a geometry program that allows students to render shapes. But THEY are doing the creating. The work is being done in THEIR brains. They are not consuming pre-determined content and having their micro-data tracked and aggregated.

If the sole purpose of the technology under consideration is to distribute content from an online learning management system based on prior data that a program has gleaned from a student interacting with the program, that is NOT an empowering educational experience.

Others may feel differently, but right now that is my framework for looking at this issue. That, and the fact that technology should not supplant funds for human teachers and there should be age-appropriate screen time limits during the school day.

What we need is more educational sovereignty and less educational surveillance.

In Delaware, personalized learning is pushed heavily by the Rodel Foundation with support from the Delaware business community.  Rodel, a non-profit company, has been pimping personalized learning and competency-based education for years.  I have extreme issues with the CEO of a non-profit being the highest paid education person in the state, with a reported earning of $343,000 as of 2014.  That is a lot more money than the highest paid state employee in education, Brandywine Superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick, who earned $217,000 as of last year.  Every state has similar “foundations” doing the same thing.

Delaware teachers are at a crossroads.  Do they embrace this technology knowing it could eventually lead to the end of their career as they know it, or do they resist it and fade into obscurity as districts and charter schools feel they aren’t supporting education?  The problem is the power  structure.  The teachers who are embracing this technology are regarded as education heroes in the press.  They are considered the “trailblazers” who will lead our children to “college and career readiness”.  They get the rewards and the accolades while teachers in high-poverty schools, who work just as hard without proper funding and resources in bloated classrooms, get labeled and shamed over the state assessment scores.

For parents, their rights to protect their child’s personal information have slowly been dismantled through federal regulations involving FERPA.  Outside contractors with state and local education agencies have certain allowances which allow them to see personal information.  The laws surrounding this are very vague and unclear.  On the surface, they look great.  But the loopholes embedded in these laws are the true tale.  For parents, opt out is no longer about the state assessment.  It is also about education technology.  But how does a parent opt their child out of entire curriculums that use computers and hand-held devices?  It’s not like schools can say “that’s fine, we will give your child a textbook.”

As the world slowly begins to embrace Blockchain technology, modeled after Bitcoin, serious questions are being asked about how this could transform the education landscape.  And what it means for our children.  Make no mistake, the initiatives and “ideas” are already in play and have been for years.  Blockchain is the end of the agendas.  It is the Rubicon of the plans that began in the early 1990s.  While these “futurists” didn’t foresee the exact mechanism of what is now Blockchain, they knew education would become a master and apprentice society, with earn to learn programs replacing the traditional classroom.  Common Core and the high-stakes testing were a means to this end.  We are hearing more and more talk about career pathways and early education.  The role of corporations in these areas is too large to ignore.  We are knee-deep in Education Incorporated, but we are about to be swallowed whole.

Last March, I created a Parent Bill of Rights for Education.  It began as a response to the Center for American Progress’ Testing Bill of Rights.  I found their platform to be insulting to the students, parents, and teachers of America.  Since then, things have changed.  I landed in Facebook jail when I posted this to the same groups I show my articles to.  With no explanation whatsoever from Facebook.  The idea took on a life of its own.  But I need your help.  Please look at it.  Come up with ideas on how to improve it.  Let’s make this a real thing and present it to Congress next year.  We must be able to exert parental control over what is best for our children before that control is stripped from us forever.  To this end, I have created a Parent Bill of Rights for Public Education group.  It will be a private group.  It will be by invitation only, which some may see as hypocritical on my end given my  rants about transparency.  But we don’t want the corporations getting their hooks into this.  This will be created by parents, for their children.  Not for profit or power and gain.  This is for our kids.  Because we love them better than any company ever will.