“Onward to the Brave New World of Competency Based Education–Or Not!”

I’ve been looking through some of the papers that I’ve written to bolster myself when making public comments to the RI Board of Education, the RI Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, and community forums on education. My mind is so full of musings about education issues that I can’t trust myself to speak coherently without a prepared speech, so I’ve inadvertently left myself a written record of my thoughts and judgments. I know that David Coleman won’t possibly be interested in what I think and feel about what is happening to public school children, their families, their teachers, their schools, and their communities. But I’ve decided to plug away anyway and publish my concerns. Please leave feedback in the comments section!

These are the remarks I intended to make to the RI Council on Elementary and Secondary Education on December 9, 2015, regarding Competency/Proficiency Based Education. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the meeting, so I emailed my remarks to the members of the CESE. To my recollection, I received no reply.

Good Evening,

My name is Sheila Resseger, and I retired from 25 years of teaching English Language Arts in the middle school and high school at the RI School for the Deaf in 2011. Since that time I have been researching the education reforms coming down from the federal Department of Education and the RI Department of Education. I am more than concerned—I am dismayed at the technocratic direction of our public education system, and the dismissal of humanistic values embedded in this direction. I have spoken out in public forums against the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing. The next stage of the technocratic agenda is now upon us, and it does not bode well for our students, and particularly for the most vulnerable students that everyone is rightly concerned about.

If it seems too good to be true, well, it probably is. No Child Left Behind and Common Core were a boon to the educational testing corporations, Race to the Top was a boon to for-profit charter schools, and the RI Strategic Plan is a boon to ed tech entrepreneurs who, without any training or experience in child development or authentic diagnostic assessment or curriculum design, have the hubris to believe they can provide digital learning tools for an entire generation.

Now that there has been a hue and cry about the over-testing of our students, here comes the antidote: competency/proficiency based education, aka personalization, aka student-centered education, and community partnerships. While this sounds on the surface like a welcome relief from the one-size-fits-all standardization of curricula and high-stakes standardized testing, it comes with its own pitfalls.

A perusal of the new “RI Strategic Plan for Public Education: 2015-2020” turns up a number of appealing-sounding but troubling buzzwords: personalized instruction, one-to-one computer technology, blended learning, online learning, community partners outside of the school, and particularly, proficiency-based instruction and assessment. In an ideal world, these buzzwords could be a refreshing approach to teaching and learning in a dazzling world of opportunity through technological advances. Very unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world.

We need only look as far as the state of Maine to see what the ugly reality of competency/proficiency based education looks like in real schools with real students and teachers. Maine has plunged ahead with this agenda, though there is no research (peer-reviewed or otherwise) that justifies transforming teaching and learning into a digital/online enterprise. My take is that the PR for so-called proficiency based, personalized learning is actually riddled with code words that translate into outsourcing education to ed-tech vendors, marginalizing classroom teachers, holding students accountable to pre-determined, inappropriate standards (Common Core or Core-like), not allowing them to progress until they have achieved “mastery” of these inappropriate standards, feeding them game-like academic programs that foster zombie cognitive processing rather than real learning, and using extrinsic motivation like rewards and badges, all the while scooping up reams of sensitive data that will go who knows where and be used for who knows what.

[Watch this video and be: amazed, horrified, disgusted, or all of the above.]

Is this rush to digital learning truly for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of the children in America who attend public schools? Or is it a bonanza for the hedge funders and edtech entrepreneurs who will rake in an exorbitant amount of money directly or indirectly on learning modules of dubious quality?

Please do your research, and follow the money. I suggest you begin with the blog posts of Emily Kennedy Talmage. She is a teacher in Maine who has researched the roots of the Competency Based Education agenda and written extensively about it–it is unnerving.

For starters, see this post by Emily Kennedy Talmage.

also see

“Testing All The Time” by Morna McDermott, Peggy Robertson, and Stephen Krashen (You’ll need to scroll down the page to find this article.)


Sheila Resseger, M.A.



Not only is this travesty happening here in America, but it’s going on globally. This just in from Knewton and Top Dog Math.  See here
“We understand that students need learning material that addresses each child’s preferences, interests and competencies. To do this, we are using automated algorithms that create bespoke [?] content on demand.”

Is ALL DIGITAL ALL THE TIME really better for children? Investigate! Ask questions of those in power! Find like-minded people who have the courage to resist this high speed, meticulously planned, outrageously funded, technocratic coup that is dismantling public schooling as we have known it, replacing it with disengagement empowered by algorithms. This agenda does not value the uniqueness of individually blossoming human beings.  We must truly put the well being of the children first, not the bottom line of multi-national corporations grooming workers for the global economy.



4 thoughts on ““Onward to the Brave New World of Competency Based Education–Or Not!””

  1. The line which resonates best with me is that Maine plunged ahead … with no research required. I endured this type of invasion every single year that our low-income school was repeatedly invaded by one “new” reformation idea after the next. We were all (the whole school or department) plunged into the reform du jour, only to watch whatever new idea had been suddenly implemented fall into disarray and failure at the expense of students and teachers. It is a pattern (one which I personally thought of as following the Recipe For Chaos) which apparently has no end. It certainly has no accountability.


    1. Thanks, Joan! And thanks for the link to Roxana Marachi’s research. Beyond everything we’re dealing with with the fallout of the corporate ed reforms, is the whole vital topic of the wifi radiation that children are being exposed to more and more. The powers that be are oblivious. Parents need to be informed, and schools need to protect children from this unnecessary threat to their health. Using wired devices instead of wireless would solve the radiation problem, but not all the other issues with learning from screens and modules adjusted by algorithm.


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