Ezra Howard over at Bluff City Ed has some thoughts on whether disruption ought to be the goal of education reformers. In short, the answer is no. But, here are some more of Howard’s thoughts from his recent article:
Disruption Commodifies Children:
Disruption is a term largely borrowed from economics and market theory. I personally don’t like applying market theory to education. It lends itself to the commodification of children, perceiving communities as markets, and turning families into consumers. In short, it dehumanizes the very personal and communal experience of teaching and learning. As a result, when disruption is applied to education it often has a very different and negative effect on students and communities than that seen in free market business.
Disruption Has Been Problematic in Tennessee:
At the local level we’ve seen several cases of disruption run amok here in Tennessee, the most prominent example being the disastrous results of virtual charters run by K12 Inc.,a for-profit out-of-state company. And this isn’t limited to virtual schools; it’s starting to happen in brick-and-mortar schools, most notably with the California-based Rocketship Education. Rocketship advertises the blended learning model of instruction proposed by Horn. Rocketship rotates students between computer-based lessons monitored by non-certified instructors and direct instruction led by certified teachers at a 30+ student-to-teacher ratio. While arguing their approach is cost effective, the charter company has come under fire in Nashville for its questionable business practices and its test scores, which since its decision to expand have dropped . It is also experiencing a steady decline in achievement that is directly correlated with its expansion, from 80.5% proficiency in ELA to 51.0% and 91.3% proficiency in Math to 76.7%.
An Alternative to Disruption
I argue for an alternative business model to disruption, known as sustaining innovation. It’s used predominantly to discuss the strategies of established enterprises seeking to remain current by evolving their services and products. Emphasizing sustainability, local school districts can provide innovative approaches to instruction that are intentional, results-oriented, and research-based. Local school districts should expand upon initiatives proven to increase not only students’ long-term achievement but also their quality of life. Some examples are Pre-K, instruction in the arts, early and persistent instruction on foreign languages, and participation in after-school programs and extra-curricular activities
Howard’s arguments are sound — when we experiment on kids, and the experiment fails, kids don’t get those years of school or life back. When we disrupt a community by altering or eliminating its school, we forever change the face of that community.
And, the solutions proposed are sensible — sustaining (and sustainable) innovation make sense for schools. Thinking of education policy in the long-term — 10 to 20 years — makes sense. Focused, incremental results over time better serve communities than short-term gains that are not sustainable. Or, worse, short-term experiments that fail, leaving kids and communities behind.
For all of Howard’s thoughts on disruption, read here.
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