There’s a Silicon Valley mantra that your need new product needs to be 10x better than the incumbent in order for you to displace them and have a shot at a market monopoly.
Uber, for example, is a 10x product. It vastly better than taxis on so many dimensions (price, easy of use, consistency, service, etc.).
In education, it’s unclear to me that we’ve built a schools that are 10x better than the median traditional district school.
We have built schools that are 10x better than failing urban schools, and it’s no surprise that this is where the entrepreneurial sector has seen so much success.
Why haven’t we built a bunch of schools that are 10x better than an average school?
I’m not sure, but some reflections below.
1. Educators are trying to be 10x at the wrong thing
Great tech companies usually initially succeed because their technology – not their operations – is 10x better than their competitors.
Often times, technology can be built by smallish group of highly talented people and then scaled at little marginal effort or cost.
So far, school operators have not been able to replicate this model of technological advancement and scale. This way of thinking is not in their DNA. They are still trying to squeeze 10x improvements out of areas such as program design, human resources, and operations.
It will be interesting to see if Summit, Alt School, Khan Academy and others can utilize a 100x tech backbone to scale an instructional program that, over time, evolves into a 10x better school.
2. There’s no profit motive
Perhaps. With companies like Bridge Academies, we are seeing interesting attempts at 10x breakthroughs in the for-profit international market.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of for-profit K12 and university operators in this country, and they aren’t launching 10x better schools that are displacing government and non-profit operators.
3. The education sector is over-regulated
Perhaps regulation is stifling innovation.
I’m sure that this is at least partially true, but the most in demand private schools are not very innovative. Rather, they tend to be highly selective, academically rigorous, extracurricular rich, and culturally strong.
And they also cost $30,000 a year.
So, to date, the private side of things is not exactly delivering a bunch of breakthrough innovations.
Maybe an expansion of education savings accounts will unleash some 10x products, but it’s hard to say this with great confidence.
4. The industry culture is risk averse
Education may be attracting and retaining professionals who are generally not willing to take the risks needed to achieve 10x products.
In some sense, given that children are involved, this culture is to some extent warranted.
But maybe it needs to be loosened up a bit.
5. This is (mostly) as good as it gets
Not everything can be made better. The fork I ate my dinner with today is not that much better than a fork from the 1970s.
Perhaps this is about as good as schooling gets.
I don’t yet have opinions that are strong enough to warrant action beyond the work I’m already doing.
But I want to keep thinking about this.