The theory of disruptive innovation is attributed to Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard University. He describes disruptive innovation as the process by which a sector that has previously been served by a limited few (such as public education) is transformed into one whose services are simple, affordable, and convenient. The transformed service serves many no matter their wealth or expertise. The transformed service does so by redefining quality at first as a simple and often weakened application and then by gradually improving. Eventually, it takes more market share over time as it tackles more complicated challenges.
Public education is challenged by disruptive innovations. Tutoring services are expanding rapidly as a result of NCLB, charter schools and on-line courses and schools. In many states, virtual schools are growing at a fast pace and improving quality at the same time. If one believes that public education has been an important ingredient in building the strength of American democracy and our economy, disruptive innovations threaten both in the long term.
Public K-12 education is faced with the perfect storm. Seven complex problems provide significant challenges to the quality of education and possibly even to its existence. The seven complex problems are a major hurdle, but with collaboration and vision public education must rise to the challenge.