Thursday, August 12, 2010

Response to M. Horn's comments

I appreciate very much the engagement of Michael Horn with my post about the book he co-authored with Clayton Christensen and Curt Johnson (see previous post and his comment there.)

So, Michael, why then did you focus so much in the book, Disrupting Class, on computer based student-centric instruction that substitutes or replaces teachers? You barely mention blended (computer and F2F) classes in the book, the model that is growing the most. You also didn't really pursue how computers might enhance the student teacher relationship and improve both teaching and learning; you stuck with the notion of using computers to substitute for or replace teachers. Then, you noted that when you consulted with veterans of the battles of school reform you learned that these veterans didn't think that 80% of courses taken in 2024 would be online because teacher unions wouldn't allow it. The evidence cited by these veterans who were consulted was their battle scars. On page 102 you write, “Veterans of the battles of school reform with whom we've consulted for this project have been uniformly skeptical about these predictions, primarily because, as evidenced by their battle scars, the teachers unions will not allow it.” Really !

I think there's more than one problem with the above assertion, but let's look at where you go with it. You say that if the substitution is managed disruptively, it will happen, even though these institutions, the teacher unions, can wield self protective power in the political processes. You then go on to explain why a change in the political (governance ) structure of schools is necessary. What exactly is the evidence of battle scars? This argument for a regime change is shakier than the weapons of mass destruction one used by you know who.

Your logic also got a little fuzzy when you started speculating about all of the student-centric individualized software that would be developed by user networks. I suppose that might make sense if all we wanted to do was get students to pass standardized tests on a standardized core curriculum. If everyone were home schooled or conveniently placed in the little boutique schools you envision, having a broad selection of software packages that you could take off the shelves of the new user network supply warehouses (probably a branch of Wal-mart) might actually make sense. But as I've pointed out earlier, I don't think the primary political organizations of our society (school districts) are going to go along with your schema. Standardized tests on standardized curriculum are a long way from reality (that's a long discussion that got cut way too short in your book.)

And, then, you say that “the influence that teachers unions can wield over textbook and instructional software adoption decisions looms so large that many would-be school reformers have abandoned hope of significant change.” (p142) You're kidding me, right? That must be another of those facts based on somebody's scars. Come on, at least try a little evidence on me before you jump to the conclusion that “administrators, unions, and school boards will CAPITULATE to the FAIT ACCOMPLI of larger and larger numbers of students acquiring and using superior, customized learning tools on their own. That sounds like the pyramid scheme model. It's certainly not something that's based in any experience that I've had when it comes to text book or software adoption. I've been very active on the District Technology Advisory Committee and have pretty much given up on me or any other teacher ever being consulted again before any kind of acquisition. That's consistent with what I'm hearing from teachers in other districts, too, so I'm really curious where you got your 'fact.' Usually the 'teachers' who are consulted are TOSAs (teachers on special assignment) who are really administrators in training still being counted as teachers for purposes of tax referendum public relations.

I do think you're on the right track some times, but you've confused yourselves with theories, as you were warned. You provide insufficient evidence, in my opinion, for jumping to governance change, which is another name for highly nuanced teacher union bashing. Can I get in on the next book in this series?


  1. This started out as interesting, but I stopped reading when you referred tied your opinions about teaching and teachers with George Bush, WMD, and Iraq. Pitiful.

  2. Rich,
    I was simply using the regime change argument of 'you know who' as an example of another poorly constructed argument. If you would like to explain how either of the arguments are soundly constructed, please have at it.
    Telling me that you stopped reading doesn't further anyone's understanding.