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What is competency-based education? Twenty or thirty years ago, it referred to skill-based education, and critics complained that CBE downgraded the importance of knowledge.
Today CBE has a different meaning. It refers to teaching and assessment that is conducted online, where students’ learning is continuously monitored, measured, and analyzed. CBE is invariably susceptible to data-mining of children, gathering Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that can be aggregated and used without the knowledge or permission of parents.
The first time that I heard of CBE (although it was not called that) was in a meeting in August 2015 with The State Commissioner of Education in New York, MaryEllen Elia, after her first month in office. I organized a discussion between Commissioner Elia and several board members of NYSAPE (New York State Allies for Public Education), the group that created New York State’s massive opt out that year (and again this year). It was a candid e change, and at one point, Commissioner Elia said that the annual tests would eventually be phased out and replaced by embedded assessment. When asked to explain, she said that students would do their school work online, and they would be continuously assessed. The computer could tell teachers what the students were able to do, minute by minute.
This kind of intensive surveillance and monitoring is very alarming. Once teaching and testing goes online, how can parents say no?
A group of bloggers wrote posts last week to express their concern and outrage about the stealth implementation of CBE. The lead post warns that opting out of annual tests is not enough to stop the digitized steamroller. It’s title is: “Stop! Don’t Opt Out. Read This First.” The author argues that parents are being deceived.
The blogger warns:
Schools in every state are buzzing this year with talk of “personalized” learning and 21st century assessments for kids as young as kindergarten. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its innovative pilot programs are already changing the ways schools instruct and assess, in ways that are clearly harmful to our kids. Ed-tech companies, chambers of commerce, ALEC, neoliberal foundations, telecommunications companies, and the government are working diligently to turn our public schools into lean, efficient laboratories of data-driven, digital learning.
He or she recounts the ways the technocracy responds to parents’ concerns and fears. The new way, they will say, is “personalized learning.” Don’t worry. We know what is best. When the parent objects that the test results come back too late to inform instruction, the technocrat says, “embedded instruction provides real-time feedback. No problem.” Parent asks, what about the stress? Technocrat: “Children won’t even know they are being tested.”
The blogger doesn’t actually say to parents, “Don’t opt out.”
Quite the contrary:
“Opt out families nationwide are encountering these same arguments, as though a pre-set trap is being sprung. Great. So opting out of end-of-year testing isn’t the silver bullet we hoped it would be. Now what?
Now that we know the whole story, go ahead and opt out of the end of the year tests. No child should suffer through them. But we have to expand our definition of opting out, to protect our children from data mining and stop the shift to embedded assessments and digital curriculum.
In addition to opting out of end-of-year testing, there are other important steps we need to take to safeguard our children’s access to human teachers and to protect their data, their vision, and their emotional health. There is no set playbook, but here are some ideas to get us started.
1. Opt your child out of Google Apps for Education (GAFE).
2. If your school offers a device for home use, decline to sign the waiver for it and/or pay the fee.
3. Does your child’s assigned email address include a unique identifier, like their student ID number? If yes, request a guest log in so that their data cannot be aggregated.
4. Refuse biometric monitoring devices (e.g. fit bits).
5. Refuse to allow your child’s behavioral, or social-emotional data to be entered into third-party applications. (e.g. Class Dojo)
6. Refuse in-class social networking programs (e.g. EdModo).
7. Set a screen time maximum per day/per week for your child.
8. Opt young children out of in school screen time altogether and request paper and pencil assignments and reading from print books (not ebooks).
9. Begin educating parents about the difference between “personalized” learning modules that rely on mining PII (personally-identifiable information) to function properly and technology that empowers children to create and share their own content.
10. Insist that school budgets prioritize human instruction and that hybrid/blended learning not be used as a back door way to increase class size or push online classes.
Parents, teachers, school administrators, and students must begin to look critically at the technology investments we are making in schools. We have to start advocating for responsible tools that empower our children to be creators (and I don’t mean of data), NOT consumers of pre-packaged, corporate content or online games. We must prioritize HUMAN instruction and learning in relationship to one another. We need more face time and less screen time.
Every time a parent acts to protect their child from these harmful policies, it throws a wrench into the gears of this machine. The steamroller of education reform doesn’t stand a chance against an empowered, educated army of parents, teachers and students. Use your power to refuse. Stand together, stand firm, be loud, and grab a friend. Cumulatively our actions will bring down this beast!”