RSU 18 schools embroiled in conflict over Mass Customized Learning

Inevitable, a book on Mass Customized Learning, details the system being implemented in RSU 18

UPDATE: The Maine Wire has learned that a member of the Messalonskee Middle School “Leadership Team” – a group of teachers and students run by Principal Mark Hatch – intends to voice objections to this story during Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Please be sure to follow The Maine Wire’s coverage of this very important debate unfolding in communities all across the state. 

Teachers at the Oakland area schools are objecting to a controversial new teaching system they claim has turned their students into guinea pigs in a failed educational experiment, but administrators contend that Mass Customized Learning (MCL) is inevitable.

According to letters obtained by The Maine Wire, there is widespread dissatisfaction in RSU 18, a school district comprised of eight schools in China, Belgrade, Oakland and Messalonskee, with the MCL program which has been implemented over the last four years.

One letter, written by an anonymous group of “concerned, dedicated teachers from RSU 18,” paints a dark portrait of the emerging conflict between MCL’s supporters and those who wish to conserve the traditional system of public education.

“We write to you as members of the RSU 18 faculty who want to express the feelings of so many who are afraid to speak up,” the group of educators stated in a May 5 letter to the district’s school board and several concerned parents. “We must report to you that MCL has shaken this school system to its very core.”

The teachers wrote the letter anonymously because they fear administrators in the district would seek retribution if their opposition to MCL became public. (Read the letter below)

“We are afraid to voice our opinions,” the teachers wrote. “We know the repercussions that would occur if we voiced our real feelings to the administration. We wallow in sadness at the poor educational model that we are forced to subject the children to. It is the children of this district that are suffering the most.”

The educational program in question is detailed in Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning – a field book for educators and administrators that has been provided to members of the RSU 18 community.

Education theorists Charles Schwahn and Bea McGarvey, authors of the field book, have stated that MCL “is about transformational change.” Under their program, there are no traditional grade levels or letter grades, no “home rooms,” and students advance according to their level of proficiency in a given subject.

MCL’s proponents argue that the system is not only inevitable, but a better alternative to the traditional model of education. However, according to some RSU 18 teachers, MCL has failed to live up to its hype, rendering the district’s students guinea pigs in a failed educational experiment.

“Students are receiving a hodge-podge of fragmented instruction that is nowhere near the level they were receiving in past years,” the teachers wrote. “Students are falling through the cracks as teachers scramble to put together shoddy MCL style instruction to satisfy deadlines and administrative expectations. Instead of personalized quality instruction as theorists explain MCL, students are receiving impersonal, rushed, superficial instruction because MCL deadlines need to be met and fake facades need to be created.”

“The primary purpose of MCL is to provide personalized and diversified instruction to each child that can be measured through a system of standards,” the teachers wrote. “The problem here is that the only people that truly believe this can occur are theorists. When we say ‘Theorists’ here, we really mean those who glorify [MCL] but don’t actually have to do it, such as our assistant superintendent.”

“It is an impossible task to provide this level of instruction to each child,” the teachers wrote. “It is very possible, however, to sit behind a desk at a central office and create propaganda and a false sense of success.”

In another letter to concerned parents, an RSU 18 teacher who asked to remain anonymous said Laughlin and Messalonskee Middle School Principal Mark Hatch have made it perfectly clear that the administration will not tolerate opposition to MCL.

“Linda Laughlin and Mark Hatch have both told staff, if you don’t like MCL it is time for you to be looking for a different job,” the teacher wrote. The letter also suggests that Laughlin is receiving compensation for consultancy work related to MCL. (Read the letter below.)

According to several RSU 18 community members interviewed for this story, MCL is a brainchild of Assistant Superintendent Linda F. Laughlin.

In an interview with The Maine Wire, Laughlin disputed the anonymous allegations. Laughlin said MCL is not a project of her own creation, but is instead a district-wide vision of education reform owned by a number of stakeholders.

“We’ve been working over the past four years to transform our system of learning,” said Laughlin. “There are folks making inaccurate assumptions and statements about MCL,” she said.

One of the most glaringly inaccurate statements, said Laughlin, is that students graduating from an MCL high school will not have a standard grade point average (GPA) to share with colleges and will thus be placed at a disadvantage.

She said RSU 18 administrators are working with independent consultants and a number of colleges to ensure that students are not disadvantaged when applying to college. This process, she said, would involve a yet undefined way of translating performance under MCL into a traditional GPA for RSU 18’s high school students.

As for the teachers’ fear of retribution should they voice opposition to MCL, Laughlin said she has not threatened any teachers. “I have communicated to staff that we have a vision for the district,” she said.

Laughlin acknowledged that a few teachers have left the district or retired early because of the implementation of MCL, but said many teachers are supportive of the MCL vision.

Laughlin serves as co-chair of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, a group of administrators dedicated to sharing MCL best practices with other schools. She also teaches a course at the University of Maine in Farmington on MCL. While the former position is voluntary, the latter is paid, meaning Laughlin receives compensation for teaching future teachers how to teach under the system she helped implement.

Read the teachers’ letters below:

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter



  1. Wow! From what I hear the administration and the school board are refusing to hold a special meeting requested by the concerned parents/taxpayers. They need to be held accountable.

  2. There will be a special meeting of the RSU 18 School Board on Thursday, May 30 at 7pm, to be held at the Messalonskee Middle School Cafeteria. Please attend, there is strength in numbers!

  3. Just as we have seen in other states that have been blackmailed by the Obama Administration to implement the progressive agenda produced, revisionist Common Core and CSOPE curriculums, progressives in Maine are seeking to force feed these revisionist curriculums down our children’s throats. The result will be the further dumbi

  4. .. the further dumbing down of our students, putting them even further behind the rest of the modernized world.
    Texas just threw out the CSCOPE curriculum. Other states are in process of throwing out Common Core. Ehy? Exactly for the same reason we see here, because teachers, under threat of loosing their jobs, along with concerned parents, are standing up and demanding a change. The parents and teachers of RSU 18 are right to oppose this.

  5. “Mass Customized Learning presents a desirable and doable vision that allows learning systems to leave the Industrial Age, time-based approach to instruction and replace it with an Information Age, learning-based system that:”.
    Wealth is not produced by information; products need more than info to become a reality. Try producing a product with no tools… or tools without other tools! We need a manufacturing (Industrial) based economy, not just “information”.

  6. The LePage-appointed Commissioner of Education, Stephen Bowen, is (and was as staff for the Maine Heritage Policy Center) a strong supporter of Common Core, MCL, virtual schools and similar measures. They are hardly Obama’s, let alone “progressive”.

  7. MCL & Common Core are both Marxist propaganda machinations to “dumb down” America – and create a society that is dependent on its government for sustenance. If that ain’t slavery, then I’ve got a bridge plus some ocean front Arizona property I’d like to sell you! Communism is abundant in our Republic!

  8. The parents who are leading this campaign to squash MCL have had meetings, answers, responses – you name it. They are feeding off of this drama. There are dozens and dozens of parents who are sick of their toxic messages, lies, and the disrespect they show our leaders and administrators. I sincerely hope the readers of this newspaper do not believe this to be the general consensus of our community.

  9. I am disheartened to read some of the comments here. Fact 1) MCL and common core are not the same. 2) MCL is not the only way to conform – it is not required 3) the parents that have questions are articulate, caring and concerned parents who have not had their questions answered and are being meanly portrayed for advocating their children and their community. 4) when a person or group blows the whistle on something that is wrong there will always be finger pointing from those who choose to drink the kool-aid. These parents are not creating drama but rather being labeled because those that do not see it the same way have no facts or data to back up MCL. 5) we have teacher, parent and student letters as well as proof of the problems that MCL has created for our children. Share facts, not hate:)

  10. That is a typographical error, the date it was written was actually 5/5/13. It is not a year old. A year ago MCL hadn’t been implemented yet, this letter reflects changes which definitely occurred during this school year.

  11. Really? Answers? Where, when? Where is the proof that MCL works? It is all THEORY. How will this program be evaluated for success? When will that evaluation occur? It IS the general consensus in this community that this is not right for our children. Our teachers are leaving at an unprecedented rate, students are transferring to other schools by the dozens, people are selling their homes and moving from the district so their kids can attend different schools. These are not lies, they are facts, and the only thing I see that is toxic is the forced implementation of MCL in RSU18.

  12. Erika, I’ve often thought how great it would be if I could teach to mastery, rather than the calendar. I even figured out a way to do it if the district would let me have class sizes under 10 or so. I just don’t understand how it can work on a large scale — of course I don’t have all the information. But from what I’m hearing, it’s more of the same old, same old.

    Adminstration pushes the latest fad on teachers who are expected to work their a$$es off implementing it, measuring it, assessing it, not questioning it, all of which takes away from what we DO — TEACH! The fourth or fifth time we began to rewrite our “assessment” to measure student progress, I said, enough. We’ve WASTED $2 million on past changes, none of which were EVER implemented fully before they were scrapped for the fad of the week. And when one certain person who used to be the high school principal was questioned, she totally ignored anyone who didn’t support her ideas 100%.

    Change IS hard, particularly when it comes to the way our kids are educated. Our education worked out fine, so we really can’t see the need to change the system. But sometimes there IS a better way. Unfortunately, few of these fads have actually addressed TEACHING, they only address ASSESSING teachers and students.

    And, Tracy Snowden, frankly the 1950s weren’t that bad for teachers and students. At least TEACHERS were in control of their classes then.

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