Monday, December 3, 2012

Disruptive Innovation or Distracting Profiteering

I've written before about how personalization and technology can be read as a dream or a nightmare. I've also written about how Curtis Johnson & Clay Christenson's book Disrupting Class might contribute to rethinking school as a dream.

Here's the nightmare that we need to avoid.

In his post A call for President Obama to change course on education, Arthur Camins writes:
Innovative companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple have rapidly revolutionized how we all communicate. Their success is not just the result of invention, but rather in designing the integration of multiple technical and process innovations, as well as successful marketing to the public. Their transformative power is measured not only in winning over customers from rivals, but in changing the entire landscape so that their rivals must change what they offer and how they operate in order to survive. The thinking of market-based reformers is that we need to make similar rapid and dramatic change in how we educate students. The need for dramatic improvement, especially for children from low-income families, is assailable. But, for every new private sector idea that was transformative, there were thousands generated that were not. In addition, not every idea that is transformative is necessarily good for society. For example, market-supported product and process innovations in the fast food industry have transformed how and what families eat. Consumers “choose” MacDonald’s. Is this a healthy desirable outcome? Ideas rise and fall, as do the fortunes of their developers and investors. This is, I think what reformers have in mind when they push for increasing the “market share” of charter schools that will need to compete for enrollees. Customers decide whether they want to buy an iPhone or a Blackberry. As a result, Apple stocks flourish and RIM’s plummet. For reformers, schools are just another market choice. However, is this the best way to decide on the form and content of schools for children in a democracy? What happens to kids when schools open and close? Instability in the restaurant marketplace may be acceptable, but disruption in schools and teachers is a disaster for students whose lives are already too chaotic. 
There is no evidence in the United States or anywhere in the world that market-driven choice among competing charter schools is a successful systemic strategy to improve learning for all students — not anywhere! Arguably, the likely result of charter school proliferation is that some students will get to go quality schools, while many others will not. This is hardly transformative. It is a replication of what we have now. In addition, rather than mediating current geographic segregation patterns through more integrated schools, it will exacerbate racial and socioeconomic isolation.

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