PAA-Roanoke Valley leader, Laura Bowman, recently spoke at a Virginia Board of Education Hearing on changes to graduation requirements, school accreditation, and the Virginia Standards of Quality. She reports…
Several Southwestern Virginia superintendents advocated for Personalized Learning at the hearing. This was alarming to me, as Parents Across America has just come out with a detailed report on the pitfalls and serious problems with so-called “Personalized” Learning.
I wonder if the Superintendent who spoke the most fervently about Personalized Learning realizes that parents are alarmed by what’s happening in his district. Personalized Learning is not based on valid research and doesn’t take into account what is developmentally appropriate for children. His school system uses a program called Edgenuity from iNACOL that is absolute rubbish. We know this because one of PAA’s chapter leaders convinced her child’s school system to scrap it.
I’m increasingly concerned that Personalized Learning, Digital Badges, blurring the line between high school and college, online for-credit classes, and the “flipped” classroom, when combined with shrinking budgets and less teaching staff, is a recipe for the end of our neighborhood schools and beloved, qualified teachers. This is not a wacky conspiracy theory, this is the trajectory we’re on in America. I’m scared for our future generations. Our kids, right now, are the experimental guinea pigs. I wake up every morning thinking about how I can push back against, and protect our kids and future generations from, the predatory privatization movement.
Technology is a wonderful TOOL. I love it and so does my child. It cannot, and should not, replace human interaction. We need to urge our superintendents and school boards to stay their course of supporting our human teachers, and thus our children, and not be lured by the glossy marketing campaigns waged by privatizers and profiteers. The language a superintendent used last night to promote Personalized Learning was language that’s been co-opted and hijacked from parents and educators and he morphed into something completely different from our original meaning. For example, it’s highly dishonest to say our schools are the same as they were 100 years ago as they look and operate in a vastly different way. He’s been bamboozled by the EdTEch snake oil sellers and is now trying to sell it himself.
Two superintendents asked the Virginia Board of Education to do an update to teacher certification. This is cause for concern. Look at what’s happened in Utah: There’s a teacher shortage and schools can hire teachers with no training whatsoever. I can’t believe I just typed that. It’s outrageous. A better idea: Give teachers the respect and autonomy they deserve, increase their pay, and provide them with time to plan and collaborate with other teachers. Then, maybe we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage in America.
One of the superintendents said he’d like the Virginia BOE to provide a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) platform. This is quite troubling. The focus on SEL in our schools is warranted and should be encouraged. We should absolutely recognize the impact of SEL in student learning and character building. We should incorporate it into instruction and of course many, many teachers already do this exceedingly well. What alarms me is the push to standardize it. California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington are going to do this. SEL and a student’s emotional quotient (EQ) are vital to success, but to attempt to wrap them up into a neat, sell-able and quantitative package is the height of absurdity and flies in the face of what is appropriate for our kids, not to mention the alarming impact on student privacy it would create.
I’m to the point, as a parent, where I’m saying, “Leave my kid alone.” Even well-intentioned and highly intelligent people are falling for unproven and harmful methods of education and I can barely keep up with the bad ideas. For example, I almost fell out of my chair last night when a school board member at the hearing said we should provide career counseling in elementary school. My child just started 6th grade. He has not one clue as to what he wants to do after high school or college…because he’s eleven and he’s still a kid. Let him be a kid and find his strengths and pursue his interests in his own time.
Of note: Although some exceptionally bad ideas were shared at the hearing, some incredibly good ones were also shared: A reduction in verified credits needed to graduate, local alternative assessments and portfolio assessments to replace high stakes tests, taking financial and program equity into account when looking at school accreditation, more guidance counselors, support for libraries, student health, and the arts, an increase in CTE opportunities, a cap on the time a child is allowed to take a Virginia Standards of Learning test, more school nurses, keeping the personal finance course requirement, and an assessment audit for all schools to ensure they aren’t over-testing. These are common sense recommendations that parents and educators can get behind versus the costly and harmful experiment that was proposed by a few speakers under the false moniker of “Personalized” Learning.