Technology Cannot Disrupt Education From The Top Down

Marion Herbert's picture
Monday, December 19, 2011

Computer technology has penetrated the classroom for thirty years with little impact. After hundreds of “disruptive” education startups, the best innovation in education is still the chalkboard.

This isn’t the fault of the entrepreneurs, but the fault of an education system which resists innovation at every turn.

Many K-12 education technology startups target teachers and administrators by offering tools to become more productive: Lesson plan sharing, gradebooks, training tools, whiteboards and more. Devin Coldewey called them “practical” in his TechCrunch post “If I Were A Poor Black Kid” Inadvertently Touches On Sad Education And Tech Truths.” Coldewey concludes that education needs top-down reforms that utilize these practical technologies. He sincerely believes these technologies can improve teacher and administrator efficiency so the “overworked” staff can gain control of their “oversized” classes in the “pitifully insufficient” resourced schools.

Unfortunately, the top down “practical” approach won’t work for some very good reasons. Essentially, the education establishment doesn’t want to be disrupted and they will leverage the $597 billion spent annually on K-12 public education to prevent true disruption.

To innovate in education, entrepreneurs need to understand some key education statistics. The fact is, despite thirty years of technological progress and innovation, American schools provide the same results with more resources at their disposal. Between the 1959-60 and 2007-08 school year, per pupil spending grew from $2,741 (in 2009 dollar values) to $11,134—an inflation-adjusted increase of 306%. Over that same period the number of students per teacher fell from 26 to 15.3 while the number of students per school employee fell from 16.8 to 7.8.

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