Rhode Island’s Progressive Democrats (RIPDA) commend the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) for its courageous opposition to “Personalized Learning” in public schools. Although the definitions are fuzzy, Personalized Learning is related to Blended Learning, Competency-Based Learning, and Proficiency-Based Learning. All are grounded in digital activity or content. Personalized Learning is a misleading term when, for example, the only personalized aspect is the pace at which each student works through the same commercially-produced digital content modules. Here, the teacher neither creates nor delivers lessons. Instead they are purchased from makers of digital devices or on-line content.
MTA president Barbara Madeloni, believes that much more is lost than gained from this change of emphasis. “Teaching and learning are deeply human activities” said Madeloni, “We cannot let ed-tech companies depersonalize learning or make education a technocratic endeavor. We must assert the centrality of face-to-face relationships —community—and our professional knowledge and autonomy as essential to public education.”
Madeloni calls for an updating of the 2016 MTA report, “Threat to Public Education Now Centers ion Massachusetts,” but at present Personalized Learning and ed-tech influences may be more centered on Rhode Island. Governor Gina Raimondo‘s enthusiasm for public/private partnerships, along with the for-profit educational expertise and connections of her husband, her Lieutenant Governor, and her Commerce Director, ensure that RI embraces corporate reform and digital initiatives at the topmost echelons of state government. Mark Zuckerberg, a strong supporter, recently visited Rhode Island and discussed Personalized Learning with Governor Raimondo.
Raimondo also hired Robert Culatta, whose short term as Rhode Island’s Chief Innovation Officer was sandwiched between his position of Technology Director for the US Department of Education and his recent appointment as CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Culatta undoubtedly gave computerized approaches in Rhode Island schools a boost and in turn the Chan Zuckerberg Institute, through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, gave a substantial contribution to Culatta’s Office of Innovation.
Madeloni identifies the ed-tech industry and public-private partnerships as harbingers of school privatization, calling on teachers to “share strategies to combat the harmful effects of unvalidated ed-tech products on our students” and “defend teachers’ professional judgment and standards against interference by business interests.” It remains to be seen whether or not MTA’s vote will spark widespread response and whether Rhode Island’s teachers, so often advised to emulate their Massachusetts neighbors in other contexts, will speak out in support.