Creative Destruction in Education

By 06/03/2011

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I don’t have time to write a post as long as the topic deserves, so let me just start a discussion by making a claim…

For the most part, organizations are incapable of innovating.  Most organizations are founded with a particular mission and method for pursuing that mission.  If circumstances require that the mission or method be changed, organizations generally can’t do it.  They’ll just keep doing what they were initially established to do until they can no longer continue operating.

Progress occurs not by turning around failing institutions, but by replacing those organizations with new ones that have a better mission and/or method. Of the original 500 companies included in the S&P 500 in 1957 only 74 (15%) exist today as independent companies.  In the private sector, innovation primarily occurs by replacing or fundamentally re-organizing organizations and not by “reforming” them.

And while U.S. real GDP has nearly quintupled since 1970, education achievement of 17 year-olds and high school graduation rates have remained basically unchanged over the same time period.  Perhaps the reason for progress in the economy but not in education stems from our willingness to allow new organizations to replace old ones in the private sector, but not in education.

Public school systems almost never close and the creation of new ones is highly constrained.  Plenty of our public schools are failing, but we almost never admit that they have failed and allow that organization to be replaced with new ones.

Let’s stop trying to fix Detroit, LA, or Chicago public schools.  Let’s let the reality of their failure become official.  They, like most organizations, cannot innovate.  They need to be replaced with new organizations with new missions and new methods of education.  That’s how we can reform schools — by replacing them.

– Jay P. Greene

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