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.” 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.

Powered by ScribeFire.

7 thoughts on “Four Recommendations from Clayton Christensen”

  1. Thanks for your post. You make some good points as well. A couple thoughts… 1) I think the R&D figure all in is like 0.2 or 0.3 percent of the $600Bn, if memory serves me correctly. 2) I’ll have to check out the new architectural work in other countries that you cite! That’s exciting. 3) I agree — it isn’t a bad thing that organizations in general and the school system in particular aren’t designed to change quickly for many reasons. That’s why I like the disruptive mechanism — it’s gradual and allows the new system to build in many of the things from the old system that work well and we would not want to throw out as it improves and figures out what does and does not work. Just switching to it and declaring it the future would be foolish for a number of reasons I think.

  2. David – on point 4, the numbers are expressed “in thousands” so $224,196 is actually $224,196,000.

    There’s also R&D funding scattered throughout the ED budget. There are programs in IES as well as the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The total number gets even larger when you include other agency funding such as the research and evaluation funding available through NSF.

  3. I too have started reading “Disrupting Class”. Christensen defines disruptive innovation – “is not a breakthrough improvement. Instead of sustaining the traditional improvement trajectory in the established plane of competition, it disrupts that trajectory by bringing to the market a product or service that actually is not as good as what companies historically had been selling. By making the product affordable and simple to use, the disruptive innovation benefits people who had been unable to consume “non-consumers”. Disruptive innovations take root in simple, undemanding applications in what is a a new plane.

    I don’t see that happening in public education by adding more technology. Not when you try to add disruption theory to public schools as Christensen says, “What is unique about public schools is that laws and regulations make them a virtual monopoly, which makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to compete for new measures.”

    True disruption would bring education to ‘non-consumers” the parents of very young children. Why not educate, equip and empower these families to lay a foundation for life-long learning in their own homes?

  4. I think the return on R&D dollars is higher with private enterprise than with public enterprise. So we should certainly look at education R&D dollars channeled to private enterprise, specifically SMBs. The amount of R&D that private enterprise typically invests depends on the revenue that the enterprise expects. For instance, a 20% investment ratio is not uncommon among certain sectors. One can argue that the revenue potential or the return for education is quite large, and hence the R&D investment should be proportionally large.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *