You’ve Got the Wrong Idea

Do a quick Google search for “disrupt education.” It seems 2013 in particular was a boom for companies looking to disrupt the current education system: MOOCs, apps, product launches, startups…pick your poison.

Disrupting the education space is the wrong way to influence change.

Disrupting has longevity issues. To be noticed in the startup realm, you need to make a big splash. Lots of big talk, lots of buzzwords, and lots of pie-in-the-sky ideas. All of which is geared to help that company get acquired by a larger entity (ahem Google ahem) with solid footing in education. These companies come and go, with lots and lots of money flowing through the door by venture capital. Don’t get burned by jumping on board too early.

Disruption minimizes impact. Because these companies are flying by the seat of their pants, there is very little research into the efficacy of their product on student learning. They all claim to raise scores, increase engagement, and do all the things you’re trying to do, all in one package. Yay! But, when it comes down to it, it’s a fun app for a few days, then it peters out. Students lose interest, teachers drop it. Many of these companies do not work with teachers (more are beginning to, which is nice) to see if the idea even floats in a classroom.

Disruption is niche focused. Our tools are becoming fragmented. You have your assessment app, the review game, the gradebook, and then the one giving you confidence levels…each of these companies focuses on a tiny niche slice of the everyday experience. Education is an artful science. We have to take the big picture into consideration when doing anything with students. As each new single-function app is released, we lose a piece of that picture and at the same time make our job much more complicated.

We need to transform education, not disrupt it.

Transformation is inherently different in scope and mindset than disruption.

Transformation is sustainable. Transformation is built around sustainability. We need to critically look at what education is now and how we can change it moving forward, planning for the future. There are things that need to come and go, but those decisions need to be informed by practice, data, and the impact on student learning.

Transformation is constructive. There are already seeds of change in schools. Administrators, in particular, are preparing for major change by laying a foundation of support for the teachers before student ever catch wind of the shift to come. Transformation is rooted in a community coming together and making a conscious decision to head in a new direction. These schools are building on their strengths and growing together.

Transformation has a wide scope. When you want to change an organization, you have to consider every component. How will it affect staff, students, parents, aides, administrators…without considering every stakeholder, you’re bound for trouble. That means the process is transparent and considers multiple avenues for problem solving. We’re undergoing a holistic shift, not treating symptomatic issues one at a time.

Clarification – I am not advocating that a single entity – company or school – can transform education on their own. True change takes collaborative action with flexibility and cooperation by many different groups.

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