Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should be Asking

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears


I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night.

As we enter this new era of blended/hybrid classrooms, the clamor of ed-tech entrepreneurs pitching their digital curricula is getting to be truly overwhelming for parents. Rather than critiquing individual programs, I have laid out a set of ten questions that parents should be asking their child’s teachers and school administrators. Feel free to share and/or print it out and bring it with you to back-to-school night. I’d love to know what the response is.

1. Does the program require aggregating PII (personally identifiable information) from students to function properly? And even if it doesn’t REQUIRE it, does the program collect PII?

2. Does the program supplement face-to-face human instruction, or function as a substitute for it? How many minutes per day of face-to-face human instruction is being sacrificed or substituted? Will it lead to increased class sizes?

3. Does the program encourage active student-to-student engagement and face-to-face discussion? How does it accomplish this? Or does it create an environment where kids are often working in isolation with their devices? How much of the time are students working alone with their devices?

4. What are the associated costs with respect to your district’s budget (not just the program fees, but the devices required to operate it) and how will participation in the program affect other areas of the student experience? For example given the austerity budgets many districts are experiencing, implementing a 1:1 device program to support digital curriculum could impact a school’s ability to offer art instruction, employ a school librarian, or provide a full range of extracurricular activities.

5. How much screen time is involved, per day? per week? Consider the health impacts of machine-mediated teaching, especially on elementary school-age children.

6. Does the program offer “training” or “education?” There is a difference.

7. Will participating in the program expand student awareness of the larger world and allow them to engage with it on their own terms, or is it a way to channel students into a particular workforce sector?

8. Does the program monitor, tutor, or assess behavior and social-emotional aspects of learning?

9. Assuming the program is used during the school day, what is this program replacing? What aspect(s) of instruction formerly offered will be eliminated if this program is implemented?

10. How does adopting a blended/hybrid learning program, which has been developed by outside interests, impact local control and autonomy within your school and district?

What percentage of instructional time being turned over to outsourced online education results in your neighborhood school no longer fully being YOUR school? 10 percent? 25 percent? 40 percent?

Many ed-tech proponents like Reed Hastings are looking to remove local control of schools due to their “inefficiency.” Would adopting this program in your school further that agenda?

-Alison McDowell

2 thoughts on “Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should be Asking

  1. Diane Ravitch posted my analysis of the Gates School 19 Improvement Network grants. One reader came up with something I had missed on a grant that would make students in Selby County Puvlic Schools (TN) not more than guinea pigs for experiments in “continuous improvement” with a focus on “computer delivered instruction” in math. Here is the privacy notice parents would be asked to sign, with much sweet talk about supporting students and permissions for varieties of data not fully spelled out.
    Máté Wierdl ( comment) says:
    September 8, 2018 at 12:35 pm
    After reading about the “seeding success” organization in the post, I went to its website. It’s pretty interesting to see the creative jobtitles there—they look good on any CV
    network facilitator
    continuous improvement specialist
    But the most interesting for me was this so called “online Informed consent form” for shelby county schools which begins as
    Seeding Success requests access to information connected to a student’s identity, including a
student’s grades, test scores, progress reports, attendance records, discipline records, student
 ID number, and registration and enrollment records. Seeding Success may share student 
records, information, or data with education partners that can provide Seeding Success direct
 support in delivering education support services to Shelby County Schools. The purpose for
 accessing or sharing education records, information, or data related to your student is to better
 provide education support services throughout his/her academic career.
    I hope no parent will check the “consent” box.

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