Four Recommendations from Clayton Christensen

Disrupting Class
Flickr Photo by Justin Benttinen

I started Disrupting Class a few weeks ago, but have not been able to get back to it.  However, I ran across this June 2 CNN article, which partly disrupts my own anticipation of federal spending coming to education  — not to mention pointing in some directions that may be difficult for a non-marketplace industry, such as education, to re-orient itself to.

In Commentary: Don’t prop up failing schools, Christensen and Michael Horn say,

There is great danger in the sudden and massive amount of funding — nearly $100 billion — that the federal government is throwing at the nation’s schools. District by district, the budgetary crises into which all schools were plunging created the impetus for long-needed changes. (( Christensen, Clayton M and Michael B. Horn. “Commentary: Don’t Prop Up Failing Schools.” CNN.com 2 Jun 2009 US. Web.4 Jun 2009. . ))

I recommend that you read the article for all of the insights shared, but I’ll list the authors’ four suggested “criteria” for developing programs and grants for states and district education initiatives.  I’m adding my own comments between the lines.

  1. Don’t fund technology that simply shoves computers and other technologies into existing classrooms.
    Well I wouldn’t turn down a laptop for every student or a ceiling-mounted projector and interactive smart board.  But anyone who believes that technology alone will save education — will save our children — isn’t really interested in solving the problem.
  2. Don’t fund new school buildings that look like the existing ones.
    When speaking at school board conferences, I frequently go to the exhibitor halls and, for sport, ask the architectural firm representatives to describe how school design has changed in the past 20 years.  The only answer that I (rarely) get, beyond, “Nobody ever asked me that before,” is a long spiel about “green” building materials.

    There are some interesting things going on in other countries about learning environment design.  Follow Stephen Heppel’s work.

  3. Don’t fund the institutions that are least likely to change.
    This is complicated and I’d like to hear more of what Christensen has to say about it.  But I suspect that the further up the hierarchy we go, the least likely we are to see change — with some dazzling exceptions (Think “The State of Maine” – and I’m not talking about the bear).  The fact is that the entire industry is designed to resist change — and this is not entirely a bad thing.  ..and I’m still not comfortable with completely ditching education as we know it and replacing it with something completely new — at least not yet.
  4. Direct more funds for research and development to create student-centric learning software.
    According to the authors, just “..1 percent of the $600 billion in K-12 spending from all levels currently goes toward R&D.”  Assuming that these figures are correct, that’s $6 billion.  That’s not an insignificant sum, and I wonder where it all goes. 

    I’m not an expert on budgets, so please share what I’m missing.  But in scanning the President’s FY 2010 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education, specifically the Detailed Budget Table by Program (PDF), I found that research, development, and dissemination are appropriated $224,196.  If you factor in statistics, the regional educational laboratories, national assessment, research in special education, statewide data systems, and special education studies and evaluations, you’re up to $689,256.  That’s an increase of only 72.081 dollars over 2009.  Looking at Nintendo’s 2008 Annual Financial Report (PDF), that one company spent $370,000 in R&D that single year.

    But that’s just the amount.  The far more interesting question, I think, is, what should that education R&D look  like?  Do we increase funding to universities and research laboratories.  I think we should.  But I think that we should also fund research at a more local level — in actually classrooms.  I think that teachers (and students) can learn a lot about best practice and we can easily disseminate that knowledge around the globe.  Now we’re talking about the potential for change.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.