As DOE expands controversial online platform, partners now hidden

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The Maine Department of Education (DOE) is expanding an online learning platform that drew criticism for teaching kindergartners about transgenderism and for labeling President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan racist.

In defense of keeping the video calling Trump supporters racist on its platform, DOE officials stated the video, which is no longer available, had been made by an organization outside the government and that no students were forced to watch the video. But only some MOOSE modules disclose the organizations with which DOE partnered in developing them and the agency hasn’t responded to questions about its expanded content offerings.

The Maine DOE’s Maine Online Opportunities for Sustained Education (MOOSE) platform was launched in August 2020 to provide learning continuity while schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic but has since grown to become a supplement to in-school education.

In a press release announcing the platform’s launch, Maine DOE stated MOOSE would “provide free access to a-synchronous, interdisciplinary, project-based learning modules aligned to the Maine Learning Results for all grades, PK-12.”

Since its launch, the number of modules hosted on the platform has expanded from the 300 originally offered in its first year and have undergone 5 rounds of development. DOE now says the platform has “become a growing repository of quality content and resources that are used as support-rich enhancements to school based education.”

On two occasions, the content of MOOSE modules has been a source of controversy. In May, DOE removed the “Freedom Holidays” lesson from the MOOSE platform over concerns it did not contain age-appropriate content.

Aimed at kindergarteners, the lesson taught about holidays that celebrate expansions of freedom, including the Fourth of July and Juneteenth. It also discussed Women’s Equality Day and expansions of freedom for the LGBTQ+ community, then discussed different gender identities

At the time the video was taken down, Gov. Janet Mills denied having any knowledge of the lesson but said she supported DOE’s decision to remove it.

In September, a MOOSE module on inclusivity in communities, which included an image saying former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan is an example of covert racism and white supremacy, also became a source of controversy.

The video was created by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine (HHRC). A link to the video containing the image within the lesson is no longer functional, nor is the link to the webinar, hosted the HHRC’s website, within the lesson’s resources functional. 

The MOOSE website notes that modules are developed by Maine educators, with the support of the DOE and “additional content specialists.”

The site currently hosts five learning progressions, described as modules designed around a single topic with a “purposeful sequencing of teaching and learning expectations along which students move incrementally through stages of increasing competence across multiple developmental stages and grade levels.” Learning progressions include lessons for each band of grade levels on the platform.

Currently, MOOSE has progressions for career readiness; climate education; computer science; science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM); and the history of genocide and the Holocaust. 

Excluding the progression on career readiness, which directs people to the DOE’s Career and Education Development-Life and Career Ready Standards for more information, MOOSE’s current learning progressions were developed in partnership with outside organizations.

DOE partnered with the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance to develop its climate education, computer science, and STEAM learning progressions. The progression on genocide and the Holocaust was developed in partnership with HHRC.

According to the DOE, the learning progression on genocide and the Holocaust also exists to help schools fulfill curriculum requirements introduced by LD 1664. The law was signed into effect by Mills in June 2021. It requires African American studies and the history of genocide to be a part of state-wide curriculum and graduation requirements. 

Lessons that are part of each progression are marked as such on each lesson’s title page. Standalone lessons contain a placeholder for identifying the module’s creator but that space is currently blank across the platform.

Maine DOE did not respond to a request asking department officials about whether it publicly lists all the organizations it partners with to develop platform modules.

A number of modules, uploaded during the platform’s first year, are currently being updated. 

“MOOSE is continually evolving so existing modules need upkeep and updating from time to time. You have found a module from the first year of MOOSE that we are actively working on updating, which may mean that you encounter broken links or other things that make it hard for you to work on the module.” the website notes.

DOE did not respond to a request for comment about when updates would be complete.

In the past year, DOE has added an iteration and improvement team to staff working on MOOSE. According to the DOE, the team, which the agency says “reflects how far we have come as a project,” is working on updating modules from the platform’s first year. Changes include “fixing links, improving tools, updating files and work flows…anything that helps improve the project-based, interdisciplinary experience for all students and makes modules more accessible following Universal Design for Learning principles.”

The team will be a permanent part of MOOSE moving forward and will update all modules as needed.

Content hosted on the platform is divided by grade level and topic. Users can select modules for students in prekindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, sixth through eight grade, or ninth through twelfth grade.

Within each grade band, modules are organized under the headings exploration, nature/environment, culture, community, life, and citizenship. Each module is also tagged with a number of topics, such as activism/advocacy, citizenship, communities/neighborhoods, culture/cultural traditions, global needs/perspectives, and others. Lessons also include a list of activities required by the module, such as asking/answering questions, drawing, exploring, and others, and a list of tools needed to complete the module. 

DOE states the modules hosted on the MOOSE platform are not a curriculum. According to the platform website, modules are a “collection of independent educational learning modules and materials that are aligned to the Maine Learning Results.”

The platform includes a page intended to guide educators in navigating MOOSE, which features a video for teachers of middle and high school students on how to choose models for student use.

 In the framework laid out in the video, lower level students are guided by teachers in choosing which modules they complete.

DOE also did not respond to a request for comment about whether any modules are assigned by schools, either as part of lesson plans or as supplemental materials.

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