On Thursday, March 12, 2015, the Texas State Senate Education Committee held a public hearing for SB 894, a bill that would expand students’ access to courses through the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN). I testified in favor of the bill at that hearing. My testimony is provided below.


Testimony to the Texas Senate Education Committee

Thomas Arnett, on behalf of the Clayton Christensen Institute

March 12, 2015

My name is Thomas Arnett, and I am an Education Research Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. The Christensen Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to develop solutions for some of the most vexing problems in the social sector. In our research, we look at education from a unique perspective. We work to understand how to make innovation in education far more predictable and successful.

Disruptive innovation is a term we use to describe how sectors get transformed so that life-improving technologies become more accessible. As one example, consider computing. In the 1950s, computers were huge mainframe machines that only large corporations and research institutions could afford. Fast-forward to today, and we all carry computers in our pockets that are far more powerful than early mainframes but that are sold at only a fraction of the cost. We’ve seen this type of transformation play out in sector after sector, such as in retail, steel, national defense, the auto industry, and health care.

As we’ve studied the education sector, we’ve found that online learning is an innovation with this kind of transformative potential. In our traditional education system, it is incredibly difficult for teachers to truly address the individual learning needs and interests of each student. Just think back to the moments in your own schooling when you were either bored or lost because your personal learning needs were not being met or when you couldn’t study topics you were interested in because courses on those topics weren’t available at your school. This isn’t a problem with our teachers or our curriculum. Rather, the problem results from a fundamental design flaw in our traditional, factory-model school system.

The good news is that we now live in a time when online learning has the potential to facilitate personalized instruction and provide students with much broader access to learning opportunities. With online learning, we can customize the pace and modes of instruction to meet students’ individual learning needs. We can also provide students with access to additional courses and teachers beyond those available within the four walls of their local schools.

As we’ve studied the emergence of online learning, our projections indicate that it will eventually become an integral component of our mainstream school system. It won’t replace teachers or schools, but rather it will transform the ways in which our teachers provide instruction, both within and beyond the walls of our school buildings.

Disruptive innovations that transform sectors often get their start by serving people in circumstances where mainstream alternatives are not available. For example, early desktop computers like the Apple IIE were not sold as replacements for corporate mainframes, but rather as toys for hobbyists or educational devices for children. These were people that just couldn’t afford a mainframe. Similarly, online learning plays the critical role of making educational opportunities accessible to students. For example, consider students who are homebound for medical reasons, who travel for sports or performing arts, who struggle to succeed in traditional schools, or who live in rural areas where the options provided by their local schools are limited. Course Access programs, such as the TxVSN, are critical for making these online-learning options available to students.

The policy changes put forth in this bill will further expand TxVSN’s ability to give Texas students increased access to educational opportunities. It will make additional courses and providers available to students and allow more students to participate in the program. At the same time, the bill smartly reinforces the power of the state commissioner of education to ensure that all TxVSN courses are of high quality.

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to support this bill to provide Course Access options in Texas.

Thank you.



  • Thomas Arnett
    Thomas Arnett

    Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on using the Theory of Disruptive Innovation to study innovative instructional models and their potential to scale student-centered learning in K–12 education. He also studies demand for innovative resources and practices across the K–12 education system using the Jobs to Be Done Theory.