"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Getting Personal with Michael Horn in Indy

 By Doug Martin

 “In 15 years from now, half of US universities may be in bankruptcy. In the end I’m excited to see that happen. So pray for Harvard Business School if you wouldn’t mind.”  Clayton Christensen (2013)

Thank God for Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn.” Jeb Bush

(NOTE: Michael Horn also is helping Mitch Daniels, but that topic goes beyond the scope of this blogpost)

When Michael Horn keynotes the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township’s Blended Learning Forum in Indianapolis at Creston Intermediate/ Middle School on July 20, 2017, the Harvard Business School graduate will be welcomed by the school reform crowd, since it won’t be the first time his Christensen Institute has mingled in Indiana. 

Horn and his mentor Clayton Christensen* specialize in convincing educators and politicians that personalized learning, through technology, can save a so-called failing and outdated school system.  The two co-founded the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation (formerly known as the Innosight Institute*), now a San Francisco Bay area think tank.  Although he has shuffled into a new job with Entangled Solutions, Horn is still listed as a distinguished fellow at the Christensen Institute. 

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard business professor, is glorified in the business community for his theories supposedly explaining how disruption “takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” In the case of education, the “established competitors” to be displaced by “personalized” computer-based learning are public school teachers, since blended learning and online educational environments allow for a reduced labor force and will eventually lead to the elimination of brick-and-mortar schools altogether, edtech leaders hope.  

Besides pocketing over $3.4 million in Gates Foundation money over the years, the Christensen Institute has received high esteem from those determined to privatize public education from pre-school to university.  For the Christensen Institute and the billionaires, the end-game plan means first gaining access to the schoolhouse itself then using administrators and educators (like those at the MSD of Warren Township conference) to spread the technology and so-called personalized learning from school district to school district.


Michael Horn and the Christensen Institute have connections at the Indianapolis-based Mind Trust.  Horn was a member of the Mind Trust/Public Impact advisory panel for the October 2015 report, “Raising the Bar: Why Public Charter Schools Must Become Even More Innovative.”

The Christensen Institute’s  senior research fellow, Thomas Arnett, an earlier Teach for America member and author of “Teaching in the Machine Age: How Innovation Can Make Bad Teachers Good and Good Teachers Better," was at the Mind Trust-hosted Marian University conference in Indianapolis on January 6, 2017, where “top national and local education thought leaders and pioneers, converged upon” campus “for a ‘Teacher Innovation Pipeline Convening’ event to discuss The Educators College teacher preparation program changes.”

With a few national players, the Mind Trust Marian event was attended by a who’s who of Indiana school privatization forces:

--former state school chief Tony Bennett*, listed as a consultant for MGT

--Mind Trust’s David Harris

--former Indianapolis mayor’s charter school director Beth Bray, now the Walton Family Foundation’s program officer

--Public Impact’s Bryan Hassel

--Marian president and prior Indiana state board of education member Daniel J. Elsener

--Republican lawmaker Robert Behning, who is Marian’s director of external affairs

--Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School’s Scott Bess

--longtime school reform ally Claire Fiddian-Green

--Indianapolis Public Schools’ human resource officer, Mindy Schlegel
--Brent Maddin, the founding provost at the Relay Graduate School of Education

--Teach to One Math’s Christopher Rush

--Maggie Runyan Shefa, the co-CEO of New Schools for New Orleans

--Derek Redelman, now vice president of research and policy at USA Funds

--Bellwether Education Partners’ Andy Rotherham

--Scott Jenkins, the Lumina Foundation’s strategy director and a former policy director for past Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels

Previous Mind Trust operative Ken Bubp, now commanding the Arnold Foundation’s education unit, also attended the Mind Trust Marian event. 

The Arnold Foundation, a Mind Trust funder, handed Christensen and Horn’s Innosight Institute $274,075 from 2011-2012.  In October 2011 at a Philanthropy Roundtable event* in San Francisco, the Innosight Institute, the Arnold Foundation, Education Elements, and the NewSchools Venture Fund unveiled their  K-12 education technology market map, “designed to help investors, donors, and entrepreneurs better evaluate today’s landscape of education technology ventures.” Michael Horn, at the event, shared the stage with NewSchools Venture Fund’s then-CEO, Ted Mitchell, who later became Obama’s undersecretary of the Department of Education, and Education Elements’ Anthony Kim, introducing the map to, as Horn himself has written, “an audience of foundations and venture capitalists.” 

Michael Horn and the Christensen Institute also have friends at the Mind Trust-spinoff CEE-Trust.  In September 2012, when the Christensen Institute was still calling itself the Innosight Institute, Horn was on the “Launching an Inner-City Blended Learning School” panel at the Philanthropy Roundtable conference in New York City, an event where Ethan Gray, head of CEE-Trust, also presented.  In 2013, Michael Horn did a CEE-Trust webinar on disruptive innovation with host Carrie Douglass, a past Broad Foundation resident and chief strategy officer for CEE-Trust.  With the Gates, Broad, and Dell foundations, the Charter School Growth Fund, Silicon Schools, and a few others, CEE-Trust and the Christensen Institute developedA Working Definition of Personalized Learning,” now accepted as industry gospel.  

Horn has also praised Carpe Diem’s blended-learning enterprise, which now operates in Indianapolis, writing in 2011 that the charter school chain “is one of the best-executed in terms of everything, to have rethought curriculum, instructional delivery, teacher role, and student supports.”  To create “smarter demand” in edtech, Horn notes, foundations must “Create more examples of exemplar blended-learning school models, such as Carpe Diem’s schools and Rocketship Education,” educate “the general public, media, and parents around the potential of digital learning,” and “Help educate school leaders, states, and districts, for example, to know what questions to ask as they implement online and blended learning,” since disrupting the K-12 market means going “beyond input-focused metrics–around such things as seat time and student-teacher ratios.”


Along with the Jeb Bush and Tony Bennett-founded Chiefs for Change and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), Michael Horn and the Christensen Institute are big advertisers for Course Access, available in Indiana after the 2017 passing of House Bill 1007, which “creates a course-by-course voucher program to enable students to enroll and pay for online courses funded by the student's public school.”

At the Texas statehouse on March 12, 2015, Christensen’s senior research fellow Thomas Arnett testified before the Texas Senate Education Committee in favor of SB 894, a Course Access bill allowing students to grab classes through the Texas Virtual School Network, as did a representative from iNACOL, and favorable testimony from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education followed the next day.  

Course Access is meant to disrupt traditional public schools, siphon school funding to private online companies, allow cash-strapped districts not to hire or replace teachers, and help consulting firms land money by training schools on how to manage their outsourced courses. 

Michael Horn has praised the tactic, stating “it takes school choice and ‘puts it on steroids.’” In an interview with Ron Matus at redefined, Horn says the MOOCs (the massive open online courses used at universities) and Course Access (also referred to as “Course Choice”) programs “blow up the geographic … scheme we’ve had for where someone goes to school.” He adds that students may still need a school of record to help students and parents manage their options. 

Patricia Burch, an associate professor of education and policy at the University of Southern California, worries that the Course Access maneuver, which has already been adopted by ten other states, can have a major impact on school districts’ budgets, since money for online courses will be sent not only across districts but also state lines, she told the Atlantic. 

Course Access, no doubt, could be a boon for K-12, Inc. and other online companies and platforms.  In fact, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Chiefs for Change, where IPS’ Lewis Ferebee is now a member, the new ESSA federal law permits states to use 3 percent of their Title I funding—which amounts to $425 million—for programs which include online courses, personalized learning, and Course Access programs. 

In the introduction to a 2014 Course Access brief, Jeb Bush writes that “Having a high-quality education must no longer depend on location.  For the next generation of students, the international stakes are too high to restrict access to great courses based on zip code.” In reality, trends in Florida, Utah, and Texas show that wealthy and white students are the ones using Course Access, not the low-income minority kids Bush and other edtech supporters claim.


* Horn, who worked at America Online “during its aol.com re-launch,” has directed the hedge fund-affiliated $25 million Robin Hood Education + Technology Fund in New York City and was a member of the New York Education Reform Commission and the $100 million Gates-funded student data-collecting failure, InBloom, for starters. 

Clayton Christensen, too, has mingled with school privatization players.  In 2013, the Harvard business professor keynoted Jeb Bush’s the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 6th annual summit on education reform in Boston, that year sponsored by, among others, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, ExxonMobil, Scholastic, Target, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, K12, Inc., State Farm, CharterSchools USA, Edgenuity, Microsoft, the Oberndorf Family Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Intel, and Pearson.  In a promotional video for the Christensen Institute (“About the Institute,” published on June 5, 2014), Jeb even says: “Thank God for Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn.”

* The Innosight Institute should not to be confused with the Innosight consulting firm, which Clayton Christensen co-founded in 2000 with Michael Overdorf, now Eli Lilly’s vice president of corporate strategy & business transformation. 

* Besides edtech champions Tom Vander Ark, iNACOL’s Susan Patrick, and Rocketship’s CEO John Danner, the Philanthropy Roundtable conference in New York City also included the Mind Trust-backed Seton Education Partners’ Scott Hamilton and Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, the NewSchools Venture Fund-backed enterprise that MSD of Warren Township hired to launch its personalized learning program. 

* In 2011, when then-Indiana superintendent of public education Tony Bennett sat on the Council of Chief State School Officers’ taskforce on Next-Generation State Accountability Systems, Horn was one of several advisors who reviewed and gave feedback on CCSSO’s Roadmap (page 38). 


  1. Anonymous10:24 PM

    Thanks for this excellent post. For readers interested in more of the ALEC connections, this page has some good information: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Education_Task_Force#cite_ref-EdMeetingAgenda_16-21

    Note that Horn, iNacol, Innosight, Christensen, and many of the other players listed above also appear to be integrally involved with the ALEC Education Task Force. Here's more on the DeVos/ALEC connection: https://eduresearcher.com/2017/02/05/alec_devos/

    And for more on Rocketship, see the following keyword search subset from the Charter Schools & Choice: A Closer Look page:
    http://www.scoop.it/t/charter-choice-closer-look?q=Rocketship [<---Rocketship subset]
    http://bit.ly/chart_look [<--- Main page]

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks, Roxana! I will check out these links.