This history of public schooling in the U.S. is very telling. There's been a string of fear-based changes induced by rivalries with other nations. Most education between 1830 and 1900 was delivered in one-room schoolhouses. The rise of German industrialism at the turn of the previous century compelled the U.S. Congress to legislate the creation of high schools. This brought on a significant change in the enrollment and diversity of course offerings.
Whereas in the early twentieth century the typical high school had roughly 100 students enrolled, no the average high school enrollment approached 1000. From the 8 percent of students who graduated from high school in 1900, by 1960 that number was 69 percent. Both school size and and graduating numbers continued a slow climb. larger schools with more students generated capacity for greater diversity of courses and services. In 1890 there were only nine different course offerings across the whole of U.S. high schools; by 1973, high schools offered 2,100 classes under different headings... By 1973, more and more elementary schools had added the kindergarten year, and 60 percent of children we enrolled. (p. 56-57)In the 1970's, the US felt pressured by foreign imports of autos, copiers, televisions, VCR's and digital electronics. The Congressional response to this threat produced the report "A Nation at Risk". This brought on more classes in science and math, and increased accountability for school-wide progress measures. Most recently, the U.S. students have compared unfavorably to individual test scores in other industrialized democracies around the globe. School days and school years have been lengthened as if more seat time in classrooms will increase individual test scores. No Child Left Behind shifted the accountability to improvement by each student.
Obviously the impact of this series of changes has been huge. That does not mean all these adaptations to Congressional legislation have been disruptive. In spite of how much has changed, all these changes are what Christensen calls "sustaining innovations". They maintain the same commercial system that was used prior to the change. In education, it's as if we're still buying vacuum tube televisions in appliance stores, oil changes from a gas station with service bays, and cheeseburgers from printed, glossy menus in sit-down restaurants. Schools still sell their value inside classrooms. They continue to hire qualified teachers to stand in front of those classrooms. They persist in utilizing textbooks, handouts and homework to make learning happen. They test the learning after students do something called studying or at the end of the school year when instructing those in seats has stopped. They send home report cards with so-called objective grades on them.
I've been anticipating a more disruptive innovation in education than Disrupting Class foresees. I explore those differences in the next post.