Why don’t we have a 10x better school?

10x

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.

My guess? 

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.

3 thoughts on “Why don’t we have a 10x better school?

  1. stevepeha

    Meera’s,

    Is it possible that 10x schools don’t exist. because of two things:

    1. Human learning doesn’t scale by orders of magnitude except via neurological evolution?

    Homo Whatevericus has been on the planet for a very long time. But sooken language seems only to have arisen in the last 100,000 years. Then we waited another 90,000 years or so to get to the beginnings of written language.

    When it comes to our most human qualities, and learning is certainly one of them, order of magnitude change happens only on an evolutionary time scale. Our capacity to learn grows slowly and is capped by evolutionary change in intellectual capacity.

    2. Formal schooling teaches only a tiny fraction of what human beings learn in total—even during their school years?

    The assumption here is a kind “cup of water vs the ocean” problem. If it turns out that school learning is a very small part of all learning then even a 10x jump would be hardly noticeable. In which case, we might have many 10x schools. They just wouldn’t be valuable at societal scale.

    Also, our cultural conception of school, being so narrow and so tightly ruled by orthodoxy, leaves little room for improvement we would notice across a group of people in a particular cohort.

    Or is it that AltSchool, Summit, and other more innovative schools are incredible but they’re more like traditional schools than we want to admit? I think perhaps this is the case.

    I have only seen extraordinary gains in kids’ learning when I have used highly unorthodox methods of instruction with them. The gains are repeatable and probably scaleable but what I do wouldn’t be recognized as “schooling” by most people in our country—or any country.

    Another thought experiment: Are Americans 10x better educated today than they were in 1916? One could argue yes very easily. But the same person could argue that culture and environment rather than schooling did most of the heavy lifting.

    Thanks for the great topic today. Very much worth thinking about.

    Steve

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  2. Ciro Curbelo

    I wonder If parents at schools like Brooke (in Boston) think their schools are 10x better than their district alternatives. I’d venture to guess many do. And that is with all of the regulation highly effective charters need to comply with.

    Neerav- an interesting thought exercise you might be able to get leaders of high performing schools to do. Ask them which regulations they most want lifted in order to cut cost or improve quality (however they define “quality”). Strikes me like that type of input would be valuable for the (hopefully) upcoming emphasis on deregulation.

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