Money for what Mr. Kuhn? A Big Data, Future Ready Superintendent Promotes Funding Equity for NPE

This week the Network for Public Education launched another video in their series on the privatization of public education. The video featured John Kuhn, superintendent of the Mineral Wells Independent School District in Mineral Wells, Texas. Kuhn, an admittedly charismatic speaker, discussed the important issue of funding inequities and how lack of funding hurts students in low-income school districts. I was curious where Mr. Kuhn’s school district was located, because I have been following the work of a number of intrepid parent activists in Texas who have been busy exposing the next wave of privatization in the state including: education savings accounts, social impact bonds for mathematics instruction, and districts of innovation.

When I pulled up the Mineral Wells ISD website, I was surprised to see a link for “Future Ready” in the “Learn More About Us” footer of each page. I had shared my concerns regarding the “Future Ready” pledge last October. You can read about them here. If you want the short version, the program is affiliated with the reform outfit The Alliance for Excellent Education and funded by the Gates Foundation, Google, Apple, Pearson, Summit Learning and the Carnegie Corporation, among others. Those who sign the pledge commit to “implementing meaningful changes toward a digital learning transition.” The “About the Effort” page of the Future Ready website makes it clear pledge signers support the idea that “personalized” learning is about adoption of digital technologies: “We believe every student deserves a rigorous, personalized learning environment filled with caring adults and student agency. District leaders must recognize the potential of digital tools and align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning.”

The Future Ready link on the Mineral Wells ISD website takes you to a page promoting many elements of the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda: flipped classrooms, hybrid-distance learning, and gamification. The first thing that struck me was a description of how the district is using Google hangouts for so-called “peer” learning experiences. I found the associated image really upsetting. The district was promoting a pre-school age child being plugged into a headset and tablet doing a read aloud with a fifth grade student. Where are the children’s teachers? Where are the actual books? What data is being captured from this online interaction and for what purpose? There is absolutely no pedagogical reason this “Future Ready” approach should be imposed on young children. It is not developmentally appropriate, it erodes teacher autonomy in the classroom, and it is dehumanizing.

Kuhn 3

Kuhn signed the pledge while working at his former district Perrin Whitt in Jack County, Texas. Gail Haterius, who preceded Kuhn at Mineral Wells, signed the pledge on behalf of her district at the time. Kuhn, upon taking over Mineral Wells, maintained the district’s “Future Ready” status. If you’re wondering where NPE stands on the “Future Ready” pledge, Diane Ravitch’s blog lauded it in a post from February of 2015 featuring Thomas Ralston, a superintendent from my home state of Pennsylvania. Ralston was at the launch of the initiative in Washington with Arne Duncan. At the time “Future Ready” was being pitched as an antidote to high stakes testing, though we later figured out the Ed Reform 2.0 agenda was designed for technology-based all-the-time testing, including data collection on workforce-aligned soft skills. If you read the comments on Ravitch’s post, it is clear parents and teachers know something is not quite right and push back against the program’s technology focus. It turns out Ralston is part of the “Remake Learning” initiative in the greater Pittsburgh region, a program that aims to implement badge-based learning ecosystems as part of the MacArthur Foundation/ Collective Shift funded Cities of LRNG program. This foresight document “The Future of Learning in the Pittsburgh Region” from Knowledgeworks is a real eye opener, I assure you.

Future Read Kuhn

Many have said Mr. Kuhn is a wonderful person. I am certainly willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is why I tweeted him a few questions about this Google hangout peer learning program and what his funding priorities would be as an avowed “Future Ready” school superintendent. I was also curious about an infographic promoting “grit.”  I am still waiting to hear back, because neither he, nor NPE, nor Diane Ravitch have acknowledged or replied to my tweets as of the time of this post. See: link, link, link, and link. If you would like to hear their responses, consider helping me out by retweeting. If I get an answer, I will be happy to post them here.

John Kuhn

Kuhn says he wants equal opportunities for poor children. Ok, so if he were to switch places with the superintendent of the poor district described in the video, and the funding inequities were addressed, how exactly would he spend that money? All children deserve cruelty-free education. Having more money doesn’t guarantee the education being purchased is humane, especially if it is spent on devices that are designed to employ learning management systems, gamification, and big data to profile students based on their academic performance and behavioral compliance. See Kuhn’s opening remarks in this piece written for other school superintendents.

So, with whom do you stand Mr. Kuhn?

Carnegie or children?

Gates or teachers?

Pearson or Parents?

Future Ready Funders

As a Future Ready signatory would you spend increased funding on literacy coaches, librarians, real books, foreign language teachers, and reduced class sizes for poor children? Or, with the Alliance for Excellent Education and their cloud-based partners looking over your shoulder, would you instead spend it on intelligent tutoring systems like Dreambox, Duolingo, online classes, and grit training? The NPE video tells part of your story. It’s the story people want to hear. But buried underneath is a murkier truth; one you share with fellow superintendents as you pitch “ethical” Big Data solutions for childhood poverty. In various articles Kuhn’s language aligns very closely with that of social impact investing-stay tuned, my instincts are pretty good.

I encourage education activists to please pay attention to what is NOT being said as much as what IS being said. That is an important skill. Sins of omission are sometimes hard to spot. Knowing the onslaught of online learning that Texas teachers are facing at this very moment, it is telling that Mr. Kuhn does not speak to that threat nor does NPE surface it. My concern about TASA and online learning in Texas goes back almost two years, details here. As many unthinkingly consume superficial content that tugs at the emotions but doesn’t promote organized resistance, urgent new threats are taking over classrooms one chromebook, one tablet, one headset at a time. This is not the time to sit disconnected, absently clicking “like.” We must build communities of resistance and begin to take direct action. I will close with a comment I shared on my personal Facebook page about this situation. It’s time to do the work folks. It’s well past time.

“Future Ready schools are the next privatization threat. I’m sure it is very hard for people who have embraced Mr. Kuhn and his message to accept that they have been manipulated. For people who really need a ray of light, having a shadow cast upon it seems unfair and a huge blow to teachers who have lost so much. I get it. But his adoption of this corporate agenda that will further data-driven profiling of children, particularly the most vulnerable among us, means he cannot be the role model we need. We need to acknowledge that and move forward. I am offering no apology nor looking for others to apologize for actions taken or not taken. There is work to be done. It’s time to organize and do the work. We know what has to be done, and that is unplugging kids, protecting them from predatory community partnerships looking to profit from their data and “fixing” them via evidence-based programs, and standing up for humanity. For goodness sake, isn’t it about time?”


19 thoughts on “Money for what Mr. Kuhn? A Big Data, Future Ready Superintendent Promotes Funding Equity for NPE

  1. Kevin Ohlandt says:

    Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware 2017 and commented:
    If you read one article today, make this the one! I see this going on in some of our own school districts here in Delaware. Parents MUST be aware of what is going on. We talk about all this funding for schools but where IS that money going? I am not a fan of “gamification” and “coding” in our schools. When funding is being cut left and right, we are making sure funding is available for that. It isn’t right. I think our teacher union needs to take a very strong look at this kind of stuff. If they are saying nothing about it, they are a part of the problem. If they are unaware of this and being distracted with other things, there is a reason for that and they need to keep their eye on the big picture here. Folks like myself and this blogger have spent a lot of time looking into this. It is not for own benefit. We care about public education. We care about what is happening to the students of today and future generations. We care about teachers who may or may not realize part of these agendas are to end their careers as they know them. There is a great deal of smoke and mirrors involved with all this. I implore everyone to wake up and see things for how they really are.

  2. dianeravitch says:

    I can tell you where John Kuhn stands on Future Ready and technology in general. I asked him.
    He wrote as follows:

    John Kuhn responds to your post as follows:

    I don’t believe there is an either-or choice between personnel and technology. Last year, our district raised $1 million in new funding and we spent it all on increasing salaries.

    If my school were funded equal to the highest funded in the state, would I upgrade our technology, in addition to giving raises? Of course. I’d buy new buses too. There are all kinds of needs, and technology is only one of them.

    There are certain uses of technology that my students like, and so do I:

    1. Letting kids play games like Dragonbox
    2. Letting kids collaborate online

    I basically agree with most big data concerns (giant databases of test scores, VAM, inBloom, etc) but I’m not anti-technokogy. I don’t mind at all if a 5th grader read to a 2nd grader across town using Google Hangouts. To me, that’s a fun thing. Kids reading to kids and using a tool that they’ll likely use for the rest of their life–a computer. I know the critics are concerned about Google collecting data, but they’re all on Twitter, which probably collects their data, right? So that is confusing to me.

    It appears to be a purity test deal. I can’t reject the use of technology in schools because our students are living and will soon be working in a world where technology exists.

    My two cents.

    John Kuhn

    • Mary Porter says:

      John and Diane, these are specious and evasive answers to a very serious threat to children’s well being.

      Diane, when you say you oppose business tech products (like adaptive algorithms) as the ” sole instrument for instruction and assessment”, that means you are willing to let your powerful “allies” subject children to them, without complaint, regardless of the harm they do. They just have to put up some hype about “blended learning”.
      When Cody first proposed NPE, the few hundred dollars I contributed came out of a teachers salary. It crushes me inside, every time you shelter “allies” who are part of the forced imposition of corporate control . The idea at the time was that NPE would be independent of corporate-connected allies, remember?

      John, Kids together, reading to kids from a book in front of them is a “fun thing”. Google Hangouts from a tablet is a voracious business plan.
      You say serious people are “concerned about Google collecting data, but they’re all on Twitter, which probably collects their data, right?” You are advancing your career by imposing a lifelong servitude to Data vendors on children. You have an obligation to think and speak more honestly than that.

      Mary Porter (chemtchr)

  3. dianeravitch says:

    I can tell you where the Network for Public Education stands.
    We support responsible use of technology in the classroom.
    We oppose data mining and the use of technology as the sole instrument for instruction and assessment.
    One of the founding members of our board is Leonie Haimson, who is one of the nation’s leading advocates for student privacy. Leonie and Rachel Stickland together killed inBloom.
    NPE believes that human interaction is crucial in good education.
    We support experienced teachers. We support unions. We support reduced class sizes.
    We oppose privatization. We oppose charters and vouchers. We do not support schools that replace teachers with teaching machines.
    Diane Ravitch

    • Texasmom says:

      Diane, I agree 100%. Having worked with special ed kids, technology is a game changer! I have worked with quadriplegics. One student ,lcoulf use her hand just enough to move her mouse so she could search the internet and open programs independently. She cannot read a book on her own without her computer! She cannot write without the computer . I thank god programs like dragon allow her to dictate so she can Journal and express herself. Computers absolutely have a place in schools when used appropriately and
      I am outraged that people want to deny kids like these access to a free and appropriate education.

      • wrenchinthegears says:

        No, we have not suggested depriving children of assistive technology. We have called out Mr. Kuhn for participating in a national initiative that prioritizes digital technology to “personalize” learning for all students, an initiative that is underwritten by Pearson, Google, Summit Schools, Gates, and the Carnegie Corporation. If a student needs these supports, they can be written into their IEP. Mr. Kuhn has not promoted this specific use, but rather using such programs because they are “fun.”

      • Texasmom says:

        What was stated is that technology used sparingly and correctly can make learning fun. Not used just for fun. Sorry that kids learning and having fun at the same time mortifies you.

      • wrenchinthegears says:

        No TexasMom, there was no mention of sparingly, and I would be interested in your definition of “correctly.” Who gets to determine the “correct’ use of technology. And should technology be pushed on children whose parents do not want it? There are many major concerns regarding health impacts of technology, especially on young children. Perhaps you are not aware.

    • Texasmom says:

      Please continue to micromanage teachers and tell them what technology thy can and can’t use in the classroom. They love being micromanaged by internet trolls who don’t live anywhere near them.

      • wrenchinthegears says:

        Future Ready is a national initiative. My own superintendent has signed on to their pledge. This is much larger than any one district, which is why NPE’s support of Mr. Kuhn as a spokesperson for them while being a signer is so problematic. I am not micromanaging. I am sharing valuable information. As a parent I hope you would understand that where health and safety are concerned as well as data-mining and curriculum, parents should have a say in what happens to their children. It is my responsibility as a parent to speak out on this topic. You have made it very clear where you stand, but you do not represent my interests and you will not shut me down.

  4. Texas mom says:

    The person who wrote this needs to do their homework as well. One if he “activists” has two “nonprofits”. One is called women on the wall and the other is called Voices Empower. Racism reared its ugly head when a woman on the wall rep. made racist comments a while back, so there’s that. See link : Also, Who exactly donates to these alleged “nonprofits”? Well the heritage foundation for one! They were proud sponsors of a Women on the Wall event…see link..

    One of the founders also endorsed failed SBOE candidate Eric Mahroum, Who is pro voucher. The most hysterical endorsement was Mary Lou Bruner. You may have actually heard of Mary Lu because of her ridiculous social media posts. She even made the John Oliver show. I cannot find that link but here’s one it’s pretty funny… Mary Lou was pretty insistent that Obama was a gay prostitute! I have to admit our textbooks would be very interesting /funny and kids might want to read them if that was in them but it’s not appropriate nor fact based. And yes, Mary Lou was endorsed by one of your sources!

    Yep, your sources of information are quite flawed. That’s OK, you are clearly not from this area. Most of us already know better and ignore her. Or better yet, ask Alice who her donors are…

    • wrenchinthegears says:

      I presume you mean this part of my post?

      “I have been following the work of a number of intrepid parent activists in Texas who have been busy exposing the next wave of privatization in the state including: education savings accounts, social impact bonds for mathematics instruction, and districts of innovation.”

      I’m not sure why you feel you need to grind an axe against specific persons who are not even mentioned in this piece. I know of MANY parents in Texas who are doing significant work exposing the ruse of Future Ready and other elements of TASA duplicity. Yes, Alice is among them. So does this mean you are in support of the next wave of ed reform? ESAs? Districts of Innovation? SIBs? Would you seek to bring down people fighting these changes? That would seem to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. I find it very interesting that you choose not to actually comment on the substance of the post.

      I had a long Twitter exchange with Mr. Kuhn in which he made clear that he is in support of online literacy activities for young learners, gamification of education and online dual enrollment courses. The data issue is not such a concern. He feels it’s all about “fun.” He sees value in adaptive learning management systems like Dragonbox and Duolingo, the latter a “free” program that data-mines students. He signed the Future Ready pledge. He wants for his teachers to use data-driven formative assessments. I have serious concerns about that as well as his affiliation with an initiative funded by the most prominent groups supporting Ed Reform 2.0. That is why I elected to share this information with the broader public, and many have thanked me for it. I invite people to read the information and draw their own conclusions. As I have said before, there was more to the story that the NPE video offered. I want to know how a Future Ready superintendent would elect to spend increased funding should it arrive. That still has not been answered.

      My sources of information are primary sources, namely the writings of Mr. Kuhn, posts from his district’s web page, and Diane Ravitch’s blog post. Are those the ones you are disputing?

      As we move forward, it is important for people to understand that the shift to learning ecosystems with e-portfolios and digital wallet voucher systems will kill neighborhood schools. But they will ALSO impact homeschool and unschooled families. Many community providers used by those families (libraries, makerspaces, community art centers, museums, etc.) have aligned their programs to standards. Once a system is in place for them to accept voucher payments and award badges, there will be no aspect of education, outside the kitchen table, that is free of outside control and surveillance. You need to be aware of that. This is a broad fight and one that crosses political lines.

  5. Texas mom says:

    So the fact that Women on the Wall is connected with the Heritage Foundation and promotes “starving by the beast”/defunding public ed should be overlooked because of the data issue? I hope you find the courage and wisdom to dig deeper.

  6. Texas mom says:

    Still dodging my questions?! Yea, I can see now why you post so little on FB. You can control your message easier on a website. But I understand the Allure of Alice. I mean, why not get paid to do what you do? And being a mom-profit you can hide who donates. Win-win.
    In the end, You are both are like abusive parents. Badgering and berating the child you claim to love “education”. Focusing only on the negative, making skewed claims and accusations, never acknowledging the positive, micromanaging your message. And you wonder why so few visit your website.

    • wrenchinthegears says:

      People reveal who they are through how the treat others in public, including public comment sections. I trust those who read my blog can make their own intelligent assessment of the facts and judge who is coming to the problems we are facing with a willingness to do the hard work of educating the public about Education Reform 2.0 and who is merely interested in causing unnecessary distraction. You have elected not to respond to any of my inquiries, so I will take that to mean that you support the TASA new vision for public education and all it involves. Or perhaps you are so bogged down bullying people that you don’t have time to engage with the facts. We are entering a new landscape. Those who are mired in old grudges and can’t see future dangers will be left behind. There is a significant group now working to collaborate and share information that will better position us to take a stand against the technocrats. Lots of work to do this morning. I wish you the best in your efforts fighting Ed Reform 1.0. That ship has long since sailed.

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