Personalized learning: corporate reform hijacks another perfectly good idea

EdTechlogo3Everyone loves choice — it’s so all-American. And we cheer the idea of student-centered learning because it’s so clearly all about the children. And, of course, ALL parents want personalized learning because every parent knows that their child is unique and has special academic needs and interests.

At our parent leadership conference in July, we asked participants what they think of when they hear “personalized learning.” Here’s what they said:

“It’s personal to your child.”

“It is tailored to your child’s needs and interests, like you tailor a garment.”

“It involves one-on-one work with a teacher.”

“IEPs – an individualized learning program required under special education laws to be written and followed for every child identified as having special needs.”

“Relates to every child’s needs and strengths.”

“For the teacher, what does he or she know about the child that can help in teaching that child?”

Well, bad news. That is not what the corporate reformers mean when they say personalized learning. Yes, when the opt out movement checked the reformers’ high-stakes testing strategy, they made a strategic turn toward what their taxpayer-funded* five-star PR firms told them to call “personalized learning,” but which is only personalized like the ads for stuff you just bought that start to pop up on your Facebook or Google search page.

Our “EdTech buzzwords” piece unpacks more of this corporate reform-speak. For example:


Blended learning: Your child will no longer spend his or her day with a caring adult. They will be tied to a digital screen which will replace large chunks of human interaction with prepackaged programming. It’s blended in the same way as Star Trek’s Data was blended – you know, he cried that one time.
Competency-based learning: Competent means efficient and capable but not outstanding, and in this context it just means that your child has answered x number of questions correctly and can move on to the next set of questions. It’s just like earning a Girl Scout badge. But Girl Scouts also get to go camping and learn the best ways to sell cookies. Your child will just get to go to the “next level” of the EdTech video game.
Self-directed learning: It’s self-directed because the student will have to fend for him or herself. There will be no experienced, trained adult to guide learning. This will allow the actual situation of many existing EdTech ed companies such as Rocketship to hold “school” sessions of 150 children in one room, each on a computer.
Read more in our “Facts about EdTech: What those buzz words (and others) are really all about“which is just one piece in our series of reports detailing the dangers of EdTech (full list here).

*Massive “charitable” funding of these programs by Bill Gates and his ilk actually comes from money that would otherwise be paid in taxes and potentially provide resources to schools that would be under the control of elected school boards. See, for example, Joanne Barkan’s great essay, Charitable Plutocracy, where she writes,” A substantial portion of every tax-exempt foundation’s wealth—39.6 percent at the top tax bracket for filing in 2016—is diverted each year from the public treasury, where voters would have determined its use.

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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