Last week I wrote about Innosight Institute Education Research Fellow Katherine Mackey’s case study on Wichita Public Schools and some things that jumped out at me reading the case. There were two other things that jumped out at me.

First, I’m always struck by the lack of data throughout the field of education, and the propensity of people to use what I’ve heard Roland Fryer call the “heart” test in education—can’t you feel that there’s good being done here? There is seemingly little data around the credit-recovery portion of the Wichita program, and it would be ideal to have more information here to understand better its full impact. In addition, people may be quick to point to the high number of people who start with the dropout portion of the program and don’t in fact graduate, but it’s important to keep in mind the context. These are students who the traditional system failed 100 percent of the time. Clearly this is better than the alternative—nothing at all—as it allows many people a second chance, but how much better is it than other alternative programs in the country? Why? Does it work better for some students and not others? As the case study says, it really would be nice to have a longitudinal study that tracked all of the students who enter the dropout-recovery centers to understand if and how their job prospects and earnings changed over time as a result of attending the program and depending on whether they earned a high school diploma or a GED compared to similar groups of students without access to this type of program.

Second, I’m struck by the possible incentives that could be in play here to push more people into this disruptive offering over time and thus transform the educational system into a more student-centric one. If traditional schools know it is unlikely that a given student will graduate and that this will hurt them, they are likely to try and go “up-market” (in the language of disruptive innovation) away from the least “profitable” students and be happy to see these students transfer into the disruptive offering, which would then gradually gain share and—if set up correctly—improve. If we put the right output-focused regulations on the disruptive offering around mastery rather than seat time and the like, that’s an exciting strategy potentially. I’m also once again taken with the power of starting by targeting nonconsumption. So many people say if only we changed this regulation or that, technology could make an impact in education. But it already is making an impact by targeting nonconsumption, and its influence is growing. Let’s focus there and make it even better as it gains share and touches more of the lives of students everywhere.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.