Who Will Innovate in the Education Sector? The 1%? The 2.5%? Everyone?

A new report – “Dissatisfied but Optimistic” – just came out. You should give it a scan.

The paper applies a theory of change for innovation to the education sector. Here it is:

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You’ll see that the model is predicated on a small number of innovators creating new models that then get scaled.

Here’s how they predict the adoption curve will look:

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This theory of change, perhaps*, conflicts with another theory of change currently being applied in the reform field.

This theory of change goes like this: if we create incubators, accelerators, design shops, innovation fellowships, etc. in many cities across the country, we’ll launch a new wave of educational innovation in schools across the nation.

So which will it be? Will innovation be driven by the rare disruptors or by the empowered educator force? Or somewhere in-between?

I’m not an expert an innovation, but it does raise an interesting resource allocation for the reform movement: what percentage of funds should go towards capitalizing the coasts versus empowering the fly over states? Should we be concentrating resources in the top CMO (existing or emerging) management teams in the country or should we fund citywide school design efforts where small teams of principles and teacher leaders are supported to innovate in their own schools? Should we be investing in the top 1% of entrepreneurs or should we fund teacher innovation fellowships?

You get my point. I don’t have strong opinions on this. Others might.

But here’s my initial guess: breakthrough whole school model innovations will come from the top 1-2% of all-star management teams. Modest improvements in existing systems may be achieved by empowering and supporting innovation at the teacher / school leader level. But I’m not convinced the latter work (design thinking training, innovation fellowships, etc.) will lead to major innovative breakthroughs, though it may end up being useful for creating the stage for early adoption.

What do you think?

What am I getting right or wrong?

*You could make the argument that the “teacher design training / innovation fellowship” model could be used to identify the 2.5% of disruptors. But that’s not my read on it. Rather, I think it’s more about empowering teachers to innovate in their own settings, not become the next great educational entrepreneur.

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