Replication isn't innovation

The meaning of “innovation” has been twisted, stretched and distorted, writes Eduwonk guest blogger Curt Johnson of Education/Evolving.

For Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, innovation seems to mean grabbing the lessons from schools with records of high performance and grafting them on to problem schools. Finding “what works,” adopting it, spreading it around. Why not call that what it is: replication?

But what works in one place may not work everywhere, Johnson writes. Schools and teachers need the freedom to try new things that might not work out as planned. True innovation won’t be “evidence-based.”  And it won’t be easy.

(Harvard Professor Clayton) Christensen’s career rests on his distinction between “sustaining” innovation — the constant improvements that successful enterprises make in their products or services — and “disruptive” innovation in which a new and different product or business model bursts through from a competitor the established firm cannot emulate.

This highlights a critical problem with ‘innovation’. These disruptive innovations, the truly new models, are never high-quality at first. They appeal just to people not being served well by the mainstream offerings.

“Most people aren’t ready for radical change,” Johnson writes.

We need some true innovators, but we also need replicators who will build on successful school models.

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  1. It’s a rather odd discussion, as it ignores that actual children’s educations and thus their futures, are affected by the quality of education they get. It’s one thing to be non-evidence based in innovating with iPods, it’s another thing to be non-evidence-based when innovating when the stakes are higher, such as in medicine, toys for toddlers (choking hazard), nuclear power plants, or childhood education. High-quality is important in those situations even for the disruptive innovations.

  2. The only thing odd about it is that the author seems to think that innovation occurs due to some unseen and inexplicable force, that the replacement of horses by internal combustion engine and typewriters by computers occurred via some mysterious, gravitational force.

    Consequently, it’s perfectly obvious that “We could have some schools in which” innovation would occur, driven by these same, mysterious forces and with similar results.

    Of course outside the reality-distortion field that emanates from the public education system horses and typewriters were replaced simply because they didn’t perform the function needed by their owners as well as the newer technology. The tipping point was reached by different people at different times but the decision was always up to the person most vitally interested in producing a legible page or hauling stuff from one place to another.

    The notion that “we could have some farmers who” chose to get rid of ol’ Dobbin would result in head-scratching since since the only person who ought to make that decision certainly wasn’t going to seek permission from anyone. When the decision was made the action would be taken.

    Contrast that situation to the public education system.

    Innovation is inherently disruptive and, as an effective monopoly, innovation is rarely welcomed and then only after it’s been determined that it doesn’t injure the monopoly. That’s probably a good deal of the reason computers have had essentially no impact on public education. The primary virtue of computers is in a reduction of manpower requirements and heck, who needs that?

  3. hardlyb says:

    For me the primary virtue of computers is that I can use them to calculate things that would be impossible without them. And for playing solitaire without having to shuffle cards.