Throughout The Innovator’s Solution Christensen and Raynor seek to ground their assertions regarding the formulation and impact of disruptive technology in practical examples from companies and organizations across multiple sectors, fields, and industries. In providing these concrete examples of disruptive technology in action they develop a strong case for it’s influence and impact. As a result, one begins to find it very easy to find evidence of disruptive technology in any field. Based on my personal background and experience, the area of k-12 public education is no exception.
Point 1: Disruptive Technology in American K-12 Public Education
One quote from Chapter Three of the Innovator’s Solution that particularly resonated with me was:
When managers position a disruptive product squarely on a job that has been poorly addressed in the past that a lot of people are trying to get done they create a launch pad for subsequent growth through sustaining innovations that build on the initial platform (Christenson & Raynor, 2011 p. 79).
One can very easily see that American k-12 public education is clearly something that “a lot of people are trying to get done” and there are certainly those out there that argue that it has been “poorly addressed” in the past. This impression that k-12 education is “poorly addressed” in schools across America has created a climate ripe for disruptive technology. In considering this climate through the lens of my lived experience in American k-12 public schooling (as a student, teacher, administrator, and parent) I immediately begin to see ample evidence of the growing presence of disruptive technology. Specifically, the rise of public charter schools as an educational option for American families serves as a significant example of disruptive technology within the educational environment.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics:
From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, the percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from 1.7 to 5.8 percent, and the total number of public charter schools increased from 1,500 to 5,700. In addition to increasing in number, charter schools have generally increased in enrollment size over time. From school year 1999–2000 to 2011–12, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 0.3 million to 2.1 million students. During this period, the percentage of public school students who attended charter schools increased from 0.7 to 4.2 percent
(retrieved from: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=30).
As I ponder this phenomenon I cannot help but be struck by the parallel that appears to exist between the rise of charter schools and the rise of another disruptive technology described in great detail within The Innovator’s Solution.
Christensen and Raynor provide a powerful example in their exploration and analysis of the American steel industry. The huge American steel firms (U.S. Steel, Bethlehem, etc.) were challenged and gradually undone by small, nimble producers that Christensen calls “mini mills,” which began by producing low-end products (“rebar”) that the big companies were glad to quit making because they weren’t very profitable anyway. While larger companies were happy to allow mini-mills to take over the rebar market while they focused on more profitable rolled steel, they failed to recognize that mini mills were utilizing profits from the rebar industry to consistently improve their product. By the time the large rolled steel manufacturers realized that the mini mills were ready to compete with them on higher end products like rolled steel it was too late. Mini mills had already developed ways to produce rolled steel of equal quality, and eventually forced the large steel manufacturers out of business (Christensen and Raynor 35-39).
While I do not believe that public charter schools are going to drive public education out of business any time soon, it is…