Ed Disruption - why it's different

Earlier today I read this post by Eliot Horowitz, founder and CTO of MongoDB.

Eliot titled the post "Innovate vs Appropriate" and talks about the importance of knowing when to come up with something new vs when to use the accepted tool, technique, or method. Eliot, of course is discussing this as it applies to MongoDB and it's well worth a read but it got me thinking about the ever popular need to "disrupt" education.

I've witnessed this disruption or Ed Reform for the last decade plus. The basic notion that public education isn't working so we need to disrupt things. We've suffered through:

  • Vouchers
  • Charters
  • Online "learning" replacing teachers
  • Teach for America and other temp type efforts
  • Merit pay
  • VAM for teacher evaluation
  • and more

These disruptions are brought to you by your friendly neighborhood billionaire "philanthropist" or your politicians.

By and large, they haven't worked.

Bill Gates got us to close down community schools and create small ones. While we did need more small schools, overall it didn't work (link, link). VAM teacher evaluation is arbitrary and capricious, merit pay has never worked, nor does the online thing. Meanwhile, charter schools by and large don't do better than public schools.

Rather than saving our schools, these efforts have lowered teacher morale and done little for our most vulnerable children.

So, what's the difference between ed disruption and the tech world? Well, for starters, those disrupting education totally ignore the very advice that Eliot posted about today.

Disruption to and of our public schools hasn't been a matter appropriating what works and innovating what needs to be innovated but rather a playground for pet projects of politicians and well meaning rich folk. Rather than looking at something simple that works, like, say, smaller class sizes, we get computerized testing. Instead of experienced teachers, we get inexperienced newbies that leave after their commitment is up.

Why the difference? It hit me while reading Eliot's post. When a founder is "disrupting" he has skin in the game - it's his company - sink or swim. Not so for education reformers. Politicians merely need to be re-elected.Sso as long as something looks good short term, it is good. Those who disrupt schools are never held accountable. We got small schools and VAM from among other places, Bill Gates. He admitted his reforms didn't work but was there any penalty for disrupting so many lives? Nope. For politicians, it's the same story. As Mayor Mike Bloomberg once said "If they don't like my education policy, they can boo me at parades."

Can we fix this? Sure, but not unless those forcing the changes have real skin in the game. Will it happen? I'm not holding my breath.

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