Monday, May 23, 2016

The Future Ready Pledge

Has your superintendent taken the pledge?

Probably not-- the Future Ready Schools pledge is yet another one of those federal bully pulpit PR initiatives that must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but refused to go viral.

But the pledge, whipped up in October of 2014, is worth a look because it tells us what the USED thought the future would look like back in those halcyon days of Almost Two Years Ago.

FRS got tangled up with the Alliance for Excellence in Education in 2015. A4EE is one of those groups that exists in a magic land, the place where the revolving door between government agencies, private interests, and "advocacy" groups is spinning so fast that it looks like all three types of organizations are really just the same people wearing different party hats. A4EE is headed by former WV governor Bob Wise and includes Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford), Frederick Frelow (from the Ford Foundation), N. Gerry House (former superintendent, current big cheese at Educational Testing Services), some tech guys (amazon), and some policy wonks. A4EE loves it some reformy stew, from Common Core to digital learning.

The Alliance "partnered" with the USED to push Future Ready Schools through the first half of 2015. They sold the pledge hard, along with the various policies attached to it. What is the pledge, you ask? Let's take a look.

The opening is simple enough:

I, _______________________, Superintendent of _________________________ do hereby affirm the commitment of this district to work with students, educators, families, and members of our community to become Future Ready by engaging in a wide range of activities such as:

And then we get to the List of Goodies. 

Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning Within Our Schools.

The language here is plenty familiar. Leaders are supposed to use "the power of technology to help drive continuous improvement."

Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.

The pledging district is supposed to do analysis of tech connections, which is not a biggy. I regularly analyze my students' access to high-speed connectivity by a technique I like to call "Asking them." FRS are supposed to "work with community partners to leverage local, state, and federal resources to support home Internet access outside of traditional school hours." What do you mean, "leverage?" High speed internet connections cost money, both to pay for the connection as well as the equipment needed to connect. That equipment will have to be upgraded, maintained and replaced on a regular basis. Again, this is not rocket science-- it takes money. In rural areas like mine, a big pile of money that nobody here has to invest.

I do get tired of this vague blather about connectivity. It's not vague. It's simple. It costs money, and the companies that provide it expect to make money and keep making money. You want to hook everybody up? Go find a big money tree.

Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.    

Sigh. This is one of my favorite dumb reformster ideas-- if we could just plug the right professional development into teachers, then awesome things would happen. Common Core tanked because we didn't plug in the right PD. Testing is a hard sell because we haven't "supported" it with the right PD. In this model, getting programs to work with the teachers we have is like getting the VCR to stop blinking 12:00.

This is the thinking of people who don't have much understanding of carbon based life forms. This is the guy who thinks that if he writes a poem and sends the right flowers, the girl will totally fall in love with him. This is the guy who, with a straight face, writes sentences like this:

Future Ready Schools districts provide tools to help teachers effectively leverage learning data to make better instructional decisions.  

Leverage learning data, my butt. This is the guy who leans over at the end of the date and says, "After careful study, I am prepared to leverage interpersonal interaction data to make better decisions about placing my lips up against yours."

Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.

Again, there is absolutely no mystery here, and no amount of government blatherspeak will create one. If you want a "quality device" in every students' hands, somebody is going to have to pay for it. And then pay for it again every two or three years when the quality device has to be replaced/upgraded. But no-- the pledge has to talk about how we'll "develop tools to support a robust infrastructure for managing and optimizing safe and effective use of technology, so students have opportunities to be active learners, creating and sharing content, not just consuming it." And as much as I love computer tech, I will poop on this party enough to point out that all of those stated objectives can be achieved with the technology or pen and paper.

Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.

Future Ready Schools districts align, curate, create, and consistently improve digital materials and apps used in the support of learning. Future Ready Schools districts use carefully selected high quality digital content that is aligned to college and career ready standards as an essential part of daily teaching and learning. 

Not be redundant, but-- money. Money, money, money.

But we've slipped over another line here. Aligned to CACR standards? Daily? An "essential part"? Before we all try to round up a giant mountain of money to support your grand vision, do you have any evidence to offer that the vision will actually yield results worth the huge investment?

Offering Digital Tools to Help Students And Families #ReachHigher.

Oh, well, there's a hashtag, so you know this must be serious. Basically, we're talking about using internet tools to help get into college. Fair enough.

Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.

Kind of like a chain letter.

There's also a Five-Step Process (so, eight fewer than twelve) for implementing all this. Those steps are

1) Create a Future Ready Leadership Planning Team
2) Take the Future Ready District Leadership Self-Assessment
3) Gather Input from Stakeholders: Analyze Gaps and Strategies
4) Create Your Future Ready Action Plan
5) Export, Share, Connect, and Repeat

There seem to be at least two steps missing-- the step where you figure out how to pay for all this and the step where you look at the convincing evidence that the expense will be worth it and will actually produce better lives for all your students.

But there's not a lot of room for discussion in the future. Elsewhere on the FRS site, we're told that "this roadmap can only be accomplished through a systemic approach to change, as outlined in the Future Ready Framework." All must be assimilated, and all must be assimilated in the One Approved Method.

Piling model on model, the FRS looks at seven main gears all placed around the central hub-- personalized learning.

Some of this sounds like it could be exciting (Use of space and time!! Can we go back in time to study dinosaurs??!! Because that would be awesome.) but mostly it's the same batch of gobbledeegook. See the gear about budget and resources? Do you imagine that's where I'll finally get my explanation of how to pay for this in a world where state's are cutting education budgets and public schools are having their financial throats ripped out by charter school wolves? Nope.

The transition to digital learning will require strategic short-term and long-term budgeting and leveraging of resources. All budgets at the district and the school should be aligned to the new vision, with consistent funding streams for both recurring and non-recurring costs to ensure sustainability.

And so on. In plain English, "This will cost a lot of money. You should find the money. We think maybe the technology will save you money."

They recognized that data privacy is a sore PR spot, but again, the framework's advice boils down to, "You need to collect and crunch a lot of personalized data for the personalized learning. Everybody should probably try to be careful with that stuff."

By November of 2014, the White House was happily launching a whole raft of superintendents into the future, and then in December of 2015, Phase Two was launching. On that occasion, at least, EdSurge was offering a list of actual issues that needed to be addressed (like cultural competency, equity, access, and actual training that would be useful to teachers).

But the Future Ready Pledge still seems to be a-- well, not exactly a trojan horse. You know how you buy one simple tool and it comes packed in fifteen layers of plastic and packing materials and a hard sheath that you have to break through with a hatchet. This seems kind of like that, only we're packing Computer-centered Personalized [sic] Learning in layers of bureaucratic baloney. If this is the future, I'm not ready for it yet.


  1. I absolutely love it when the visual "gear" model is applied. Here's what I get from this diagram:

    1) Student learning isn't an active participant in this machinery; rather, it sits at the center, to be slowly ground away by the cogs.

    2) The Four Arrows of Inconsistency are noun, verb, verb, and verb. Would it have been too difficult to cut and paste one of the billion boilerplate circles of continuous improvement that already exist? "Plan->Do->Check->Act"?

    3) The gear part is what I really love, though. Whenever you see gears, it really means that the designer just phoned it in. This one is particularly bad as they didn't even bother to position the gears so that the teeth mesh. Which is just as well, because if you go through the exercise of trying to turn the gears here, you realize that as put together, this is a machine that is stuck, that won't budge, every gear constrained by every other, never changing, never moving.

    4) It's a good thing they list what the "gears" are supposed to represent, because those icons are horrible. Even with the 7 definitions given, I'm still stuck on figuring out a couple of the gears. And note to designers: use a gear model when something is supposed to "drive" something else. Not just as a random collection of buzzwords to throw at people. Or are you really telling me that "data and privacy" drives "community partnerships"?

    5) At least the diagram gets the role of "leadership" correct; that is, to contain the whole hot mess.

  2. The very first thing I zeroed in on was that the gears would not work as a machine. The irony of the rest of it was just too delicious.

  3. Man! You are so dynamite at deconstructing bullshit! Go, guy!