When Students Stay Up All Night Playing Fortnite and You’ve got to Teach Them in the Morning



There is something monstrously unfair about our teacher evaluation systems.


If your students fail because they were up all night playing video games, it’s your fault.




When students fail at academic tasks, there is no responsibility attributed to the students, no responsibility attributed to the parents and certainly no responsibility given to society.


It’s all just thrown on the teacher because, hey, someone’s got to be responsible. And it might as well be them.


I’ve written scores of articles about how standardized tests forced on students by the federal government are unfair.


They are developmentally inappropriate, culturally biased, and subject to a deep conflict of interest because the people making the tests get more money if test takers fail.


The tests drive the curriculum instead of the other way around. The scores needed to pass change from year-to-year invalidating annual comparisons. And many lawmakers pushing for these assessments are funded by the school privatization industry that uses failing test scores to sell its own fly-by-night brand of education.


These are real problems our education system faces every day.


But we mustn’t forget an even more fundamental one: we’re all responsible for student success or failure.


Not just teachers. EVERYONE.


Society, lawmakers, business people, parents – but those most responsible are the students, themselves.


Case and Point—


Over the last few months a word has entered my students’ vocabulary that hadn’t been there before: Fortnite.


It’s not that they’re so interested in an antiquated term for a two-week period. It’s the name of a popular multiplayer on-line shoot-em-up video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Players build forts with teammates to defend against other players or enemies.


Apparently, many of my students got it for Christmas. Or since there’s a free on-line version, they were turned on to it by others who had gotten the deluxe version as a present.


It started as an undercurrent of trash talk. “You suck at Fortnite.” “You can’t beat me on Fortnite.” “You just wish you could take me on Fortnite.”


And then it started to manifest physically.


Those same kids would come in to school with Fortnite Face – glassy red eyes, heads slumped on the table and the inability to stay awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.


It’s not all of my students, but it’s a significant percentage. Almost all boys. And almost all at a distinct learning disadvantage.


Teaching them is like teaching someone in a deep sea diver suit. They can’t really see or hear you very well. And any message you get back from them sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ocean.


When I noticed it, I cleared as much of my schedule as I could to call parents. It’s hard because administration decided not to fill positions in my department for teachers who retired last year – so all our classes are larger. And they gave me a new class I haven’t taught in years so the planning load is more cumbersome.


Plus I have as many special education students as legally allowed in every class, which requires mountains of extra paperwork and monitoring for each child.


And of course the phone in my room doesn’t call out and the cell reception is terrible, so I have to move to one of the few phones that will actually allow me to contact parents and try to communicate my concerns.


Most parents I talked to noticed the same things I had. Fortnite was taking over their children’s lives. Their kids were playing the game at every opportunity and ignoring most everything else.


However, most parents I couldn’t reach. Those cricket burner phones get disconnected quick. Others go straight to a voicemail box that’s so full it won’t accept new messages. Others allow me to leave a message that will never be returned.


But sometimes I did get through. And sometimes parents didn’t simply throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do. Sometimes a parent actually laid down ground rules or took the game away.


However, if I’m being honest, contacting parents did not solve my problem.


I’m not blaming them. Most of my students live below the poverty line. That means their folks are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Or they’re grandparents raising their sons’ or daughters’ kids. Or they’re foster parents with a full house.


They’re doing the best they can. But it doesn’t end up stopping the addiction.


And – let’s be honest – it is an addiction.


For the first time in 2018, the World Health Organization recognized video game addiction as a real thing. Not every video game. Not every time someone sits down to play a video game. But video games can lead to addictive behavior.


That’s what I’m seeing in my students.


So after talking with as many parents as I could, I came to a mostly dead end.


My next step was to try to use student interests to influence instruction.


We were in the middle of a poetry writing unit. So I allowed students to write their poems about Fortnite.


That perked up a few heads.


Here’s a cinquain about Fortnite. Here’s an acrostic, a narrative, a concrete poem in the shape of a soldier or his gun.


To be honest, none of them were masterpieces.


They were just the normal trash talk and braggadocio written down in verse.


So I got an idea. Use the heightened competitive urge to push artistry.


We came to limericks – a difficult but fun type of poetry with five lines, a specific rhyme scheme and meter.


We read funny examples, we sang the rhythm together in chorus – da Dum da da Dum da da Dum – and then I set them the task of writing their own limericks.


With one twist. Whoever wrote the best limerick would get a homework pass.


That got them going like a shot.


All of my Fortniters perked up.


They wrote like I’d never seen.


Each wanted to one-up the others. And no one wrote about the game.


By the end of class, we had some pretty good poems. I wouldn’t say they are the best ever written, but they were miles better than where we were before.


So what does it all mean?


When we talk about video games these days, the conversation usually strays toward violence.


Pundits caution that video games will desensitize children and make them more prone to aggression and acting out. It might even contribute to the creation of school shooters.




In general, video games don’t make children more violent. Fortnite is a game where students shoot each other with guns all night long and it hasn’t made my students any more aggressive or violent than they already were.


Many cultures like the Japanese are much more into video games than ours and they have fewer violent incidents or school shootings.


However, video game addiction is a real thing and it impacts learning.


Some corporations want to try to harness this addiction to push learning. Hence the move to personalized or competency based education. That’s pure rubbish.


It’s a way to monetize education without paying attention to what’s best for kids. The same with gamification – using game theory to drive instruction.


And don’t think I’ve lost sight of my own use of competition in class. I haven’t.


Games and competition can be used to positive ends in moderation.


You can motivate reluctant kids to do things they wouldn’t normally do with competition. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t work all the time.


It needs to be a novelty. Any tool can be overused.


Even video games aren’t bad in moderation. I used to be a gamer, myself.


The problem is when it becomes an addiction.


Our social structures can’t handle it.


Game corporations only care if it makes money. Parents are often stressed to the limit just to provide the basics.


The only group we require to be responsible is teachers.


And that’s just not going to work.


Video game addiction is another area where it becomes painfully clear how much work we all need to do to help our children succeed.


Gamification – The Hottest New Trend to Monetize Education

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When I was a kid, Super Mario Bros. was my jam.


After school, I couldn’t wait to take on the role of plucky plumber Mario or his brother Luigi. I’d jump on a few turtle shells, bounce over a bottomless pit and smash just the right secret brick to get my flashing star power up and wipe the floor with endless levels of Koopa Troopas.


But through it all, I never really learned anything.


With the possible exception of a few Italian stereotypes, the only knowledge I gained was where the warp zones were, which blocks to hit and the muscle memory necessary to defeat the next bad guy.


However, now-a-days that’s all changed.


Someone in marketing and accounting has decided that the same techniques I used to save Princess Toadstool would make an exceptional method of pedagogy.


They call it gamification, the process of making academic lessons, courses and objectives look more like video games.


Sure, the process has applications in the business world and advertising, but its biggest market has been education.


In fact, the Gamification industry is worth $2 billion worldwide and some estimate it to jump to $22 billion by 2022.


Want to teach grammar? Welcome to the good ship Verb sailing on the seas of Nouns and Pronouns. Interjections, A-hoy!


Wish your students knew fractions? Let them blast away the wrong numbers so only the correct numerator matches with the correct denominator.


That kind of thing.


It’s incredibly popular in some circles.


Advocates claim it increases student engagement and enthusiasm, provides instant feedback and the opportunity for social interactions.


Critics say it reduces students’ attention spans, narrows the curriculum and replaces human interaction with canned interfaces.


But when something is bringing in this kind of cash for big business, it’s kind of beside the point whether it works or not.


It’s the latest form of snake oil out of the cobra factory, and your teacher may be forced to pour it into your children’s brains.


That’s just Education 2018. Under the old model, the hucksters would have to approach each teacher one-at-a-time and convince them to try the shinny new toy in the box. But when you remove teacher autonomy, that frees all the used car salesmen to go right to the one person in your district – often the technology coordinator or academic coach – who controls the purse strings and convince him or her to buy what they’re selling.


In short, I’m not a fan.


In fact, I think gamification is one of the dumbest fads to hit public schools since standardized testing.


Don’t get me wrong.


Games can have limited use in the classroom.


My students love reviewing already mastered material in teams or competing against each other individually.


But there’s a big difference between playing Jeopardy or Kahoot with soon-to-be-tested material and plopping kids on an app or software package that pretends to teach them the concept.

There’s a world of difference between a 10-minute detour and an entire curriculum structured around game theory.


The biggest problem seems to be this.


Games are not intrinsically valuable.


They are good or bad based on the amount of fun they provide the user.


Be honest. No one really cares if Link puts together the Tri-force. No one is losing any sleep over rampaging Metroids on the loose. No one is putting out an Amber Alert the next time Princess Peach is inevitably kidnapped by Bowser. The only thing that matters is if meeting these objectives and countering these fictional bad guys is fun and exciting.


However, the same is not true for the ends of education.


People care whether you can read and write. You may lose sleep over being unable to add, subtract, multiple and divide. Co-workers will be alerted if you don’t comprehend the basics of science and history.


And the higher the skill we’re aiming for, the greater the degree of importance.


Gamification divorces these two ends. It turns education from an intrinsic activity into an extrinsic one.


This is a big deal.


Students shouldn’t struggle through a reading passage so they’ll get a score or a badge. They should actually care about what they’re reading.


My students and I just finished reading Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” and they loved it.


After the first few chapters, they weren’t reading for a grade or to please me, their teacher. They truly wanted to know what would happen next. And to fully understand that, they had to exercise and refine their reading skills.


Look at it like this.


When I was playing Super Mario Bros., I often took a few warp zones to the last board so I could beat Bowser quickly and win the game. But that means I skipped over most of the first seven boards.


This didn’t matter because the only reason to play was to win. But if those first boards had included something important to the experience, skipping them would have greatly diminished my experience.


Gamification reduces learning until its meaningless. Why would anyone want to know something unless it carried with it a video game like reward?


And that’s merely the worst part.


In practice, most of the applications and software being pushed on kids to increase enthusiasm and motivation aren’t really very much fun at all. After a few times through, there isn’t much reason to plow through exposition heavy content with little to do. This material doesn’t connect to students’ lives, it doesn’t foster authentic competition, it doesn’t stoke their sense of wonder – it’s just a boring set of hoops to jump through to satisfy the instructor.


Admittedly, it does provide instant feedback, but that doesn’t matter if students don’t care about the matter at hand.


Social interactions are possible here but rarely have I seen this opportunity explored. A good group project will get students more engaged socially than messaging back and forth about the software challenge du jour.


Education can be so much more than this.


Students are being robbed of authentic interactions, authentic instruction and authentic learning.


Not all things should be turned into a game.


Gamification is another example of trying too hard to market something to people who won’t actually be using it in the hopes that they won’t notice it doesn’t actually work that well.


The consumer isn’t the gamer – it’s the administrator who buys the program. And the people best suited to assess the program’s success – teachers and students – aren’t even part of the equation.


It’s about monetization, not education.


Mario may grab a bunch of coins on his way to save the princess, but it is the corporations who are getting rich off this sad fad.


All that glitters is not gold, just as all that is new and technological is not cutting edge.



Can we stop letting big business drive the field and let education be determined by educators?



Otherwise, it will be game over for an entire generation of kids duped into accepting crap for curriculum.

My Students Are Addicted to Screens


Michael sat at his desk with ear buds inserted, an iPad balanced in front of his eyes and an old fashioned paper book open on his desk.

His head was bopping and weaving. His eyes were transfixed on a YouTube video of an animated soldier blasting away bad guys. And his book was laid out in front of him, largely ignored.

This was during our class’ sustained silent reading time – a period of 15-20 minutes where my 7th grade students were supposed to read self-selected books. Eventually, they’d have to complete a project, but today all they had to do was read.

Still, many used the time the same way as Michael did – lost in cyberspace, merely pretending their eyes gloss over the page.

“And what did the teacher do?” I hear some readers say indignantly.

“If you allow this type of behavior, you’re worse than the child doing it.”

So come with me as I redirect Michael.

“Hey, buddy,” I say.

“Huh?” he responds as if awakened from a dream.

“Are you reading?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“You’re not just watching that video and ignoring your book?”

“Nope,” he says now fully awake. And he proceeds to give me a canned summary of the text that he memorized from the Internet.

But I’m still skeptical.

“I’m going to take your iPad away just for SSR time,” I say.


“I just want you to be able to concentrate on what you’re reading.”

And as I gently pry the iPad from his curled fists, he stands up and gives me a look of pure hatred.

This is a look from a 7th grade boy who’s considering violence.

It’s the same look you’d get trying to take away a dog’s bone, or an addict’s crack pipe.

It truly depends on the child what happens next. Some will regain control, slam down into their seats and sulk. Others will whine and cause a scene. And some will lose all control and lash out.

This is what teachers deal with every day when it comes to technology in the classroom.

In point of fact, many of our children are addicted to their devices.
iPads, laptops, Smartphones – we might as well be giving them pills, joints and syringes.

According to Merriam Webster, addiction is defined as, “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance… [characterized] by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.”

For most students, their devices have become just that – a compulsion, the cause of a nearly irresistible impulse to check them, access them, use them to keep themselves entertained and plugged in.

With repeated use, it becomes habit forming, and separation from the device can lead to a kind of withdrawal.

From a neuro-psychological point of view, one wonders if repeated use is clinically damaging – especially to adolescent brains that have not yet fully formed.

From an educational point of view, one wonders if relying on such devices in class is pedagogically sound.

I’m not qualified to answer the first question (though it deserves much more study than it is receiving). But from my 15 plus years of experience in the classroom, I feel qualified to answer the second – and that answer is often a resounding “NO.”

In my kids’ everyday lives, this type of constant technology reliance doesn’t make them better students. It doesn’t give them access to more information. It makes them dependent on instant gratification and sensory overload.

Their minds are submerged in a soup of constant noise and conflicting demands for their attention. Stringing together thoughts and coming to reasoned opinions becomes increasingly difficult.

This isn’t to say that technology has no place in the classroom.

There are ways to use it that can enhance learning. However, in my experience these are NOT the ways it is being used most of the time. That takes, thought, planning, intention. Instead, many well-meaning administrators or school directors prescribe technology as an end in itself regardless of the goals of an individual lesson. They want to prove their buildings, schools or districts are cutting edge, and that only takes the constant use of technology – not surgical, intentional use.

It’s not that teachers don’t know how to apply it or don’t care. It’s that technology – especially the presence of a one-to-one device in the hands of every child at all (or most) times – creates more problems than it solves.

This is why the same people who invented these technologies strictly regulate them for their own children.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two of the biggest tech titans in the business, famously limited screen time for theirs sons and daughters.

Gates, a Microsoft co-founder, refused to let his children have personal technological devices until they were developmentally ready for them.

“We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal,” he told the Mirror. “We didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.”

Today, most children get their own cellphones at age 10. And if their schools have one-to-one initiatives like mine, they have their own iPad as early as 5th grade with less but still substantial hours of usage as early as kindergarten.

Jobs, an Apple co-founder, also limited screen time for his children.

When asked if his children liked the original iPad shortly after it was launched, Jobs said, “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

In fact, according to Walter Isaacson, who wrote a near-definitive Jobs’ biography, technological devices were only allowed at prescribed times.

“Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said.

“No one ever pulled out an iPad or a computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

And this practice seems common among parents in Silicon Valley.

According to educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, authors of “Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber,” those in the tech industry know the dangers of their own products on children.

A number of specialty Silicon Valley schools, say Clement and Miles, such as the Waldorf School, rely almost exclusively on low-tech tools to teach. This often means chalkboards and pencils. The emphasis is on learning interpersonal skills such as cooperation and respect – not the ins and outs of computer coding.

At Brightworks School, even the physical environment of the class is a tool to learning. Students attend class in treehouses and kids learn creativity by building things with their hands.

This is a far cry from the technological wonderland our kids are being sold by these kids’ parents.

No one really knows what effect it’s having on growing minds. However, psychologists are beginning to see alarming trends.

For instance, frequent use of social media makes an eighth-grader’s risk for depression 27% higher. Moreover, use of smart phones for at least three hours a day increases children’s risk of becoming suicidal. Some experts believe that increased use of technology has contributed to the teen suicide rate which for the first time eclipses the homicide rate.

We are jumping head first into an educational model that puts technological devices like a tablet at the center of learning.

Teachers assign lessons on the device. Students complete assignments on it. Projects are virtual as is research. Even conversations are conducted through a chat page, emails or messaging.

Why? Not necessarily because of any proven link to increased academic results. It’s because tech companies are marketing their devices to schools and students.

This is industry-driven, not pedagogically-driven.

There is an unquestioned bias that doing things with technology is somehow better simply because we’re using technology. However, an article written on a computer will not necessarily be better than one written with pen and ink. There are other factors involved.

Now Gates and company are pushing personalized learning objectives. Sometimes called competency based education, these continue to place the device in the center of what should be the student-teacher relationship.

Student learning becomes a video game and the teacher becomes a virtual avatar. Kids spend their time doing infinite standardized testing as if it were authentic education, yet it’s all on-line so it appears to be cutting edge. It isn’t.

It’s just another scam.

In my own classes, I’ve put the brakes on unquestioned technology. I only use devices, programs or applications that are (1) reliable and (2) when I know why I’m using them.

Even then, I find myself unable to even talk to students without beginning every lesson telling them to at least temporarily put their devices away so they can hear the directions.

Sure, I could give them a QR code to scan and get a written copy of the directions. I could upload a video for them to watch. But that limits direct feedback. It makes it more difficult for them to ask questions. And it makes it almost impossible for me to tell if 20-30 kids are actually doing the assignment before they turn it in for grading.

These are just kids, and like kids in any age they’ll take the path of least resistance. Often they’ll try to get through the assignment as quickly as possible so they can listen to music, or watch a video, or play a video game or chat on-line.

Lessons can be engaging or thought-provoking or spark the creative impulse. But you have to get students’ attention first.

That’s hard to do when they always have the option to crack their brains open over a virtual frying pan and watch it sizzle away.

To be fair, living in the modern world, we’re probably all somewhat addicted to technology. This blog isn’t written on papyrus and it isn’t being accessed in a hefty library volume.

I use social media – Facebook and Twitter mainly – to disperse it.

But there’s a difference between me and my students.

I’m an adult.

I know the concessions I’m making. I enter into this with eyes open. I have a lifetime of experience and knowledge with which to make such a decision.

Children don’t have that. They look to us to protect them.

We are their guardians. We’re only supposed to subject them to things that will help them learn, keep them healthy and happy.

But in our rush to be trendy and hip, we’re failing them miserably.

We’re letting business and industry take over.

It’s time to take a stand.

Our kids may be addicted, but we don’t have to be their pushers.

We need to get them clean and show them how to use this brave new tool with moderation and restraint.

Dear Teachers, Don’t Be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry


Dear fellow teachers,

Thank you for coming to this meeting on such short notice.

I know you have plenty more important matters to attend to this morning. I, myself, left a pile of ungraded papers on my desk so I could get here. Not to mention I urgently need to fix my seating charts now that I’ve finally met my students and know who can sit with whom. And I’ve got to track down phone numbers for my kids’ parents and go through a  mountain of Individual Education Plans, and… Well, I just want you to know that I get it.

There are a lot of seemingly more pressing concerns than listening to a teacher-blogger jabber about the intersection of politics and our profession.

Is that all of us? Okay, would someone please close the door?

Good. No administrators in here, right? Just classroom teachers? Excellent.

Let’s speak openly. There’s something very important we need to talk about.

There is a force out there that’s working to destroy our profession.

Yes, ANOTHER one!

We’ve got lawmakers beholden to the corporate education reform industry on the right and media pundits spewing Wall Street propaganda on the left. The last thing we need is yet another group dedicated to tearing down our public schools.

But there is. And it is us.

You heard me right.

It’s us.

There is an entire parasitic industry making billions of dollars selling us things we don’t need – standardized tests, Common Core workbook drivel, software test prep THIS, and computer test crap THAT.

We didn’t decide to use it. We didn’t buy it. But who is it who actually introduces most of this garbage in the classroom?

That’s right. US.

We do it. Often willingly.

We need to stop.

And before someone calls me a luddite, let me explain. I’m not saying technology is bad. It’s a tool like anything else. There are plenty of ways to use it to advance student learning. But the things we’re being asked to do… You know in your heart that they aren’t in the best interests of children.

I know. Some of you have no choice. You live in a state or district where teacher autonomy is a pathetic joke. There are ways to fight that, but they’re probably not in the classroom.

It’s not you who I’m talking to. I’m addressing everyone else. I’m talking to all the teachers out there who DO have some modicum of control over their own classrooms and who are told by their administrators to do things that they honestly disagree with – but they do it anyway.

We’ve got to stop doing it.

Corporations want to replace us with software packages. They want to create a world where kids sit in front of computers or iPads or some other devices for hours at a time doing endless test prep. You know it’s true because your administrator probably is telling you to proctor such rubbish in your own classroom so many hours a week. I know MINE is.

Listen, there are several reasons why we should refuse.

First, there’s simple job security. If your principal brought in a Teach for America temp and told you this lightly trained fresh from college kid was going to take over your classes, would you really sit down and instruct her how to do your job!?

I wouldn’t.

That’s the entire point behind this tech industry garbage. You are piloting a program that means your own redundancy.

You are engaged in an effort to prove that they don’t need a fully trained, experienced, 4-year degree professional to do this job. They just need a glorified WalMart greeter to watch the kids as they push buttons and stare at a screen. They just need a minimum wage drone to take up space while the children bask in the warm glow of the program, while it maps their eye movements, catalogues how long it takes them to answer, records their commercial preferences and sells all this data to other companies so they can better market products – educational and otherwise – back to these kids, their school and their parents.

This isn’t about improving educational outcomes. It’s about bringing the cost down and pocketing the savings as profit.

It’s about replacing the end-of-the-year standardized test with daily mini stealth assessments that are just as high stakes and just as effective at providing an excuse for the state or the feds to swoop in and steal control, disband the school board and give the whole shebang to the charter school operator who gives them the most generous campaign donations.

Do NOT be a good soldier here. Do not just follow orders. Doing so is weakening our entire profession. It is putting our jobs in jeopardy. And it’s about time our national teachers unions figured this out instead of conceding the point so their leaders can keep a seat at the table. Someone needs to tell them they shouldn’t be sitting inside the building. They should be with us, outside surrounding it with signs and pitchforks.

The EdTech shell game is not about improving student learning. It’s a commercial coup, not a progressive renaissance.

Think about it.

They call this trash “personalized learning.” How can it really be personalized if kids do the same exercises just at different rates? How is it personalized if it’s standardized? How is it personalized if it omits the presence of actual people in the education process?

It’s teach-by-numbers, correspondence school guano with graphics and a high speed Internet connection.

But we give in. We don’t want to rock the boat. We’re rule followers, most of us. We do what we’re told.

Most teachers were good students, and obedience is too often a defining quality of those who succeed in our education system.

I get it. You don’t want to be a fly in the ointment. You don’t want to make yourself a target.

Me, too.

How dearly I would love to be able to just comply. But I can’t simply go along with something I know in my heart to be wrong. And this is wrong on so many levels.

I sat through a meeting much like this one earlier this year where I was told exactly which programs to force on my students. All the while good teachers whom I respect went through the motions as if nothing was wrong. They talked about how to organize our classes in the system, how to assign test prep and how often, and how to access the data.

But we never discussed why.

We never discussed if doing so was a good idea. That was all taken for granted. It was a decision reserved for someone else, someone from a higher pay grade.

Yet classroom experience is rarely commensurate with salary scale especially once you cross the line into management. Nor is the experience of a handful of administrators equal to that of a plentitude of staff!

No. I’m sorry. At very least that is a discussion WE should be having.

It is the TEACHER’S job to determine what is educationally appropriate. Not the administrators. At most, the building principal should be part of that discussion in her role as lead teacher. But the resolution to go ahead or not should be made together as a staff.

And if an individual teacher thinks based on their own experience with their own students that they should go in a different direction, they should be respected enough as a professional to have the autonomy to do so.

Teachers have to abide by best practices, but test prep in any form is NOT a best practice.

It’s time we stood up en masse and made that clear.

We are our own worst enemy in this regard.

We are too submissive. Too meek.

This world requires teachers to be revolutionaries, to be radicals.

And that doesn’t end in the classroom.

We need to educate parents and the community about what’s happening. The classroom doors are too often closed to the public. The only information they get is from anemic administrators and a mass media that invariably just reports whatever propaganda the corporation puts on the press releases.

We are responsible for our students. We must protect them from the vultures out there trying to water down their educations and reduce the quality of their learning.

We are not the only ones who can take a stand. In fact, IF we are the only ones who do it, we will certainly fail.

But, along with parents, students and concerned citizens, we MUST be part of that resistance.

We MUST take a stand for our children and our profession.

Because without us, there is no hope of success.

So we can no longer afford to be good soldiers in someone else’s army.

It’s time to have the courage of our convictions.

It’s time to rise up, walk hand-in-hand to the front of the staff meeting and tell our administrators:


Because if we don’t, no one else will.

Personalized Learning Without People – An Education Scam from the 1980s Returns

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Sometimes it seems that education policy is nothing but a series of scams and frauds that becomes untenable in one generation only to pop up again 10 or 20 years later with a new name.


Take Personalized Learning, the latest digital product from the ed-tech industry to invade your local public school.


It’s cutting edge stuff.


Except that it isn’t.


It’s just the same old correspondence school nonsense of the 1980s thrown onto an iPad or a laptop.


It was crap back then, and it’s crap today.


But it sounds nice.


Personalized Learning.


I like that.


That’s exactly the kind of educational experience I want for my own daughter.


I’d like her schooling to be tailor-made for her. Teach her in a way she can best understand and that will best engage her mind and build upon her competencies.


However, that’s not what Personalized Learning means.


It’s a euphemism for Competency Based Education or Outcome Based Education.


It means plopping a child in front of a computer screen for hours on end while she takes standardized tests and standardized test look-alikes on-line.


Cartoon avatars lecture students how to answer multiple-choice questions in mind numbing detail before making them go through endless drill-and-kill practice. If kids don’t get a question right, they do it again-and-again until they do.


And somehow this is personalized?


I’ll give you a little tip. You can’t have personal learning without people.


This is personalized the same way Angry Birds and Candy Crush is personalized. Except it’s way less fun – and much higher stakes.


Imagine if all of your classes were taught at the end of an automated help line. That’s really what this is:


“If you don’t understand because you need me to define a word, press 1.


If you don’t understand because you need me to explain punctuation, press 2.


If you don’t understand because you need the question repeated…”


What if your question isn’t on the menu? You have no recourse other than to just keep pushing buttons until you hit the one that’s supposedly “correct”.


Forget for a moment how ineffective that is. Just imagine how boring it is for a growing child.


Nothing stifles a young person’s natural curiosity more than being forced to suffer through hours of tedium.


And what’s worse, we already know this.


We’ve tried this kind of garbage before with similar results.


Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration deregulated everything it could get its hands on, especially education.


This opened the floodgates to for-profit corporations to offer mail order correspondence courses with little to no accountability but funded by the federal government.

For nearly a decade, student aide systems were systemically pillaged and looted by unscrupulous vendors offering correspondence schools as a trendy alternative for trade schools and credit recovery programs. They charged hefty tuition and fees for nothing more than sending students boilerplate instructional materials, multiple choice tests, and worthless diplomas in the mail.


The blatant fraud was documented by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in the hearings held by then-Chairman Sam Nunn of Georgia. This lead to eliminating correspondence schools from participation in federal aide programs.


Congress realized that sending students a book wasn’t the same as actually teaching them.


But by the late 1990s and early 2000s, things began to change. With the popularization of the Internet, the defunct business model could rebrand itself simply by offering similar materials on-line. And after significant lobbying efforts over the subsequent decades, Congress conveniently forgot its objections to almost the same kind of fraud.


However, this kind of malfeasance was at first mostly confined to credit recovery programs and on-line colleges. In K-12 this was primarily a way for students who had already failed a grade to pass the required core courses over the summer on-line. It was a way to boost graduation rates or even provide resources for students to get a G.E.D.


The poor quality of these programs has been demonstrated time and again.


But instead of limiting, fixing or eliminating them, we’re pushing them into the public school system.


This is seen as a way to save money by teaching without teachers. Sure, you still need a certified educator in the class room (for now) but you can stuff even more children into the seats when the teacher is only a proctor and not responsible for actually presenting the material.


The teacher becomes more of a policeman. It’s his job to make sure students are dutifully pressing buttons, paying attention and not falling asleep.


Moreover, this is sold as a way to boost test scores and meet the requirements of the Common Core. You can easily point to exactly which standards are being assessed on a given day and then extrapolate to how much that will increase struggling students’ scores on the federally mandated standardized test when they take it later in the year.


In fact, students’ answers on these programs are kept and recorded. They are, in effect, stealth assessments that can be used to judge and sort students into remediation classes or academic tracks.


In effect, the year-end high stakes test can be entirely forgotten. Students are given a standardized test every day. Even those whose parents opt them out of the federal assessment have no escape because the tests have become the curriculum, itself.


And all the while tech companies are raking in the cash.


Education policy is not concerned with how best to teach children. It is about how best to open the trough of tax dollars to education corporations – book publishers, test manufacturers and now tech companies.


Meanwhile, the public has almost no idea what’s going on.


Educators are sounding the alarm, but well-paid corporate shills are trying to silence them as being anti-progress.


Calling out bad educational practices conducted on a computer is not Ludditism. Certainly there are better ways to use the technology to help students learn than THIS.


Moreover, there are plenty of things from the ‘80s that deserve being revisited – new wave music, romantic comedies, even the old Rubik’s cube.


But putting crappy correspondence colleges on-line!?


No, thank you.

National Education Association Seems to Endorse Replacing Teachers With Computers



When all the teachers are gone, will America’s iPads pay union dues?


It’s a question educators across the country are beginning to ask after yet another move by our national unions that seems to undercut the profession they’re supposed to be supporting.


The National Education Association (NEA), the largest labor union in the U.S., published a shortsighted puff piece on its Website that seemingly applauds doing away with human beings working as teachers.


In their place would be computers, iPads, Web applications and a host of “devices” that at best would need human beings to serve as merely lightly trained facilitators while children are placed in front of endless screens.


The article is called, “As More Schools Look to Personalized Learning, Teaching May Be About to Change,” by Tim Walker.


Teacher-blogger Emily Talmage led the charge with a counter article on her site called “Anatomy of a Betrayal.” She outlined the NEA’s change from being critical of such initiatives to joining with the likes of Jeb Bush and various foundations, tech firms and school voucher advocates in celebrating it.


Make no mistake.


This is not merely an examination of changing teaching practices. It is a movement by tech giants to further standardize and privatize America’s public schools.


This isn’t to say that technology can’t enhance learning. But classroom teachers with any kind of experience know that simply plopping a child in front of a computer screen is a terrible way to do it. It’s the equivalent of having all your questions answered by an automated voice on the telephone versus being able to ask questions of a living, breathing person.


And they have the gall to call it “personalized learning” as if it were meeting all the needs of students one-on-one. It isn’t.


It’s one-on-one, but it isn’t meeting anyone’s needs except bankers, hedge fund managers, charter school operators and tech investors.


It’s a way to drastically reduce the cost of education for poor and minority students by removing the need for a teacher. It’s the educational equivalent of an automated cashier in the grocery store, but unlike at Giant Eagle, it doesn’t just tally your bill, it pretends to teach.


This is the definition of a McEducation. It’s the logical extension of policymakers who think that 5-week trained Teach for America recruits are equivalent to education graduates with four-five year degrees and years of classroom experience. They’re just replacing TFA recruits with Apps.


Don’t get me wrong. America’s public schools have a lot of problems. They’re segregated by both economics and race. The poor and minority schools are inadequately funded and inequitably resourced. They are forced to compete for what little money remains with charter school vampires who are allowed to spend it however they like with little to no accountability or transparency. More money disappears down the gullets of voucher schools to subsidize the rich and indoctrinate Christian fundamentalists. And to top it all off, our public schools are forced to give scientifically invalid standardized assessments that are incentivized to fail as many students as possible so the same corporations that make the tests can sell districts remediation materials. Meanwhile, a large portion of these profits earned off public schools are reinvested in lawmakers reelection campaigns so they’ll pass legislation that continues to treat our children as golden geese for business and industry.


The NEA should know that. We have more than enough enemies to fight. But instead of taking arms, our national unions have been racing toward the bottom to compromise and keep that proverbial seat at the table. They’ll fight for teacher tenure. They’ll fight right-to-work legislation. But policies that undermine the very fabric of the profession? NAH.



We saw the same thing with Common Core. Educators knew you can’t teach higher order thinking skills to children without first doing the groundwork of process. But the book publishers had new textbooks to market so the NEA backed a horse they knew was dead at the starting gate.


And now we have the tech giants – the Zuckerbergs and Gates – slobbering over the profits they can make by callously removing teachers from the equation.


I’ve seen this first hand.


My district has a one-to-one iPad initiative. For two years, each of my students has had a device in every class. It hasn’t dramatically improved learning. At best, it’s increased students’ computer literacy. At worst, it’s a toy that actually distracts from authentic learning.


They allow me, the teacher, to give all assignments digitally. But that requires the network to function perfectly, the devices to be fully charged, the assignments to be entered precisely, the students to engage with them correctly and creatively – when handing students a paper and having them hand it back is actually much more efficient.


They allow students to look up unfamiliar vocabulary quickly, but they rob students of the context skills necessary to know which definition is appropriate, and experience using prefixes, suffixes and roots.


They allow students to easily access infinite information but without the skills to critically read it. More kids read the summary on the Internet than read the book – and even then, they don’t understand it.


They allow students to make colorful Keynote presentations and iMovies, but do nothing to prepare them how to intelligently organize the materials.


And – worst of all – they convince number crunching administrators that assignments, tests and lessons can be given digitally with hours of screen time. As if that was equivalent to authentic learning.


That is the end goal.


Everyone knows it. Isaac Asimov wrote about it in 1954 with his classic science fiction story “The Fun They Had” about a future where computerized home schooling was the norm. But even in his story, kids felt like they were being cheated out of something important that their ancestors had experienced in a traditional public school setting.


Instead of heeding his warning, our unions are rushing to make that world a reality.


You don’t strengthen unions by undercutting the professionals they’re supposed to represent.


Somebody needs to tell our union leaders – preferably by replacing them.


The Child Predator We Invite into Our Schools


There is a good chance a predator is in the classroom with your child right now.

He is reading her homework assignments, quizzes and emails. He is timing how long it takes her to answer questions, noting her right and wrong answers. He’s even watching her body language to determine if she’s engaged in the lesson.

He has given her a full battery of psychological assessments, and she doesn’t even notice. He knows her academic strengths and weaknesses, when she’ll give up, when she’ll preserver, how she thinks.

And he’s not a teacher, counselor or even another student. In fact, your child can’t even see him – he’s on her computer or hand-held device.

It’s called data mining, and it’s one of the major revenue sources of ed-tech companies. These are for-profit business ventures that produce education software: programs to organize student information and help them learn. They make databases and classroom management tools as well as educational video games and test prep software.

As schools have relied more heavily on technology to enhance lessons, they’ve invited big business into a space that is supposed to be private.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects student privacy, but it also gives school districts the right to share students’ personal information with private companies for educational reasons.

Companies are supposed to keep test scores, disciplinary history and other official records confidential. They’re not supposed to use them for their own ends. But the law was written in 1974 before the Internet went mainstream or many of these technologies were even conceived.

It’s unclear exactly who owns this data or whether FERPA protects it.

For every child utilizing these programs, there’s a good chance their data has been put into a portfolio with their name on it. That portfolio could be sold to advertisers and other business interests so they can better market their products to young consumers. With this information, these companies are turning children into guinea pigs so they can improve the profitability of their products.

Let me be clear. It’s not that technology is essentially evil. There are many ways in which it can be used to enhance student learning when provided under the supervision of a trained educator. But the current laws offer little protection for children and parents from rampant abuse by the ed-tech industry.

In most cases no one explicitly gives permission for student data to be shared. No one knew it was even happening.

This is an area that is almost completely unregulated. Hardly anyone is investigating it. After all, why should they? It’s just harmless big business. It’s just corporations we invited to the party; we may even have paid them to be there.

Individual school districts could write privacy protections into their contracts with ed-tech corporations, but few do.

According to a nationwide study by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University, just 7 percent of the contracts between districts and ed-tech corporations barred the companies from selling student data for profit.

Few contracts require companies to delete sensitive data when they are done with it. And just a quarter of companies clearly explain why they need personal student information in the first place, according to the same study.

To make matters worse, the publicly stated privacy policies of these corporations can be extremely dense and full of provisos. You may need a lawyer specializing in this field to truly understand what they’re promising to keep private and what might fall under a loophole.

For instance, even if a company promises not to share student information for nonacademic reasons, it can farm out some of its services to third party companies that have no such compunction about student privacy. These third party vendors or even the primary ed-tech company can put cookies on your child’s computer or device that continue to gather data on her and report back on it indefinitely. Moreover, even if the ed-tech company is diligent about protecting student privacy, that policy can change without notice and without parents being notified. For instance, many of these ed-tech companies are rag tag start-ups that are just hoping to be purchased by a bigger organization. In that case the privacy policy will almost certainly alter, possibly without notice.

Data mining isn’t exclusive to education software applications. If you’ve ever passed up a product on-line and then immediately saw an advertisement for that product on a different Website – congratulations – You’ve been data mined. Many of the applications adults use every day in their virtual lives practice this to some extent – Facebook, Google, Netflix, etc. However, there’s a difference between an adult user who enters into virtual relationships with eyes wide open and a child just completing the classwork her teacher assigned in school.

But even beyond the philosophical difference is the extent to which our children are being data mined. No where is it more pervasive than in our schools.

A really efficient ed-tech firm can collect as much as 10 million unique data points on each child, every day. That’s exponentially more than Facebook, Google or Netflix collect on their users.

Moreover, the ed-tech industry hungers for even more data on our children.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a $1.4 million research project to provide middle-school students with biometric sensors designed to detect how kids responded on a subconscious level to each minute of each lesson. Like Common Core State Standards – Gates’ attempt to force uniform academic standards on the nation’s public schools – data mining is all about turning real children into information. Intelligence and knowledge are reduced to numbers. Biological functions, heat indexes, even eye movements are tabulated as a function of a salable commodity – your child.

In the not too distant future, ed-tech companies could sell information about which prospective job applicants or college students have the proper aptitude to be successful. In some ways, this is just an extension of the ways standardized tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are used to unfairly label students worthy or not of a post-secondary education. However, those tests are taken by high school juniors and seniors. The coming data mining boom would judge children based on their performance all the way back to kindergarten or even pre-kindergarten.

As usual the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is already planning for this dystopian nightmare. The conservative lobbying organization has drafted a model bill to make this a reality.  If picked up and offered in any state legislature, the bill would set up a central database for student records and allow colleges or businesses to browse them in search of potential recruits.

In addition, these student portfolios could allow corporate vultures to prey on customers vulnerable to particular sales pitches. For instance, young adults who had struggled at math in high school would make dandy targets for high-priced payday loans.

In the meantime, hedge fund managers and other investors are pouring money into the ed-tech market. More than $650 million flowed into technology firms serving K-12 and higher education each year for the past three years. That’s nearly double the $331 million invested in these markets in 2009. The national market for education software and digital content is nearly $8 billion, according to the Software & Information Industry Association.

Yet there is little evidence these applications are truly helpful in educating children. Even the technology-loving Gates Foundation, found in a national survey that only 54 percent of teachers thought the digital tools used most frequently by their students were effective.

Let’s get something straight: the reason most of these firms exist is not education. It is spying on children. It is stealing their valuable data for corporations’ own ends.

The ed-tech market is intimately entwined with the latest fad in education policy – Competency Based Education (CBE).

This has come to mean teaching and assessment conducted online, where students’ learning is continuously monitored, measured, and analyzed.

However, the goal seems to be replacing big end of the year standardized tests with daily stealth assessments. In this way, it would be more difficult for parents to refuse testing for their children. It would hide the ways in which a standardized curriculum narrowed student learning to the very basics. It would hide how children’s every tiniest action is being used to judge and evaluate their schools and teachers. And this information of dubious validity could be used to close public schools and replace them with shoddy but more profitable charter schools.

Education historian Diane Ravitch talks about a meeting in August of 2015 with The State Commissioner of Education in New York, Mary Ellen Elia, and several board members of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a highly successful state opt out organization.

She says:


“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.”

The plan has been laid bare. Our students privacy has been compromised and is being used against them. If big business has its say, our children will be forever pawns in a system that reduces them to data and profit.

That’s not what public school should be about.

It should be a place centered on learning not earning.

It should be a place that values the student and not her data.

It should be a place of creativity, imagination and wonder.

But as long as we allow ed-tech companies to run unregulated in the shadows, it will always be susceptible to these dangers.

The only one who can stop these predators in your child’s classroom is you.