The Faulty Logic of Disrupting Class

I am reading Disrupting class, by Clay Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson. In the introduction of Disrupting Class, Clay Christensen, et al., give six possible reasons for why the United States education system does not appear to be doing well when compared with other OECD countries:

  1. Schools are underfunded,
  2. There aren’t enough computers in the classroom,
  3. Students and parents are to blame,
  4. The U.S. model of teaching is broken when compared to other models in other countries,
  5. Teachers’ unions,
  6. The way we measure schools’ performance is fundamentally flawed.

Unfortunately, this is a good example of how the question asked frames the answer (Question asked: Why isn’t the United States doing better in education compared as a whole to other OECD countries?).

When you compare the United States education system as a whole to other OECD countries (using PISA data, for example), you find the United States appears to be in about the middle of the pack. However, if you disaggregate PISA data and look at a state by state comparsion, and then compare each state to other similar OECD populations (in terms of average income), you find quite a different story. The high income and low income areas of the United States hold their own against comparison OECD countries. but the United States has a much higher poverty rate than most OECD countries, which results in an over-representation of low-income students in the aggregate U.S. data.

We know that all students can learn, when they are given the supports they need, so a better question for Christensen, et al., to ask is; why isn’t the United States doing more to combat the effects of poverty on its most vulnerable population?



Other notes:

In chapter 1, Christensen, et al., use the idea of multiple intelligences and learning styles to suggest that it is incredibly challenging for a teacher in a classroom to succeed at teaching all of his/her students. Unfortunately, recent research on learning styles and multiple intelligences suggests that they are not a useful framework for understanding student learning (except that all students probably benefit from experiencing ideas in different mediums).

In chapter 5, Christensen, et al., make the claim that their calculations show that by the year 2014 student centric learning (aided by technology) will become mainstream. The authors of Disrupting Class should probably have talked to teacher colleges before writing their book, where training teachers to use student centric approaches has been mainstream for decades.



  • If training teachers to use student-centric approaches has been mainstream in teachers colleges for decades, why aren’t we seeing more student-centric learning classrooms? Pretty much all of the teachers colleges that I know of aren’t doing too much to foster student-centric learning environments. Instead, their lofty rhetoric aside, they mostly foster the continued facilitation and replication of teacher-centric learning environments. Where are these teachers colleges that are doing a great job of training new educators to be student-centric rather than teacher-centric? Please share! 🙂

  • David Wees wrote:

    The University (UBC) I went to certainly aimed to instill a "student centred classroom" approach in their students, as it seems the rest of the Universities in British Columbia. In any case, Clay Christensen is talking about making the idea "mainstream" which, if the conversation on Twitter is any indication, it certainly is. We may need to continue having discussiong around what a student centred classroom looks like, but it’s no longer considered a radical idea from the fringes.

  • Not sure that the practice is more mainstream, though, at least not by much. [sigh]

    Let’s keep fighting the good fight!

  • There is certainly a lot that is faulty about Disrupting Class but I
    think if you look at the book as a jumping off point for change vs. a
    cookbook of recipes for actually implementing changes. I think the
    book works as a pointer on how to apply the theories of disruptive
    innovation constructively in schools, since much of the integration of
    technology into classrooms has not been successful.

    The problem that you point to is that you have an author who is a
    non-educator explaining the “problem” of education, rather than simply
    sticking to suggesting ways of using technology in a disruptive (and
    different way) in education.

    The problem with the book is that the author I think did intend for it
    to be a cookbook of recipes for change but doesn’t understand
    education well enough to actually fulfill that vision. I think it is
    on us as educators (the experts) to actualize that vision of
    disruptive innovation using our skills and knowledge of teaching and
    learning rather than following a recipe.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Actually, some of the coauthors on this book were educators, but I think they still missed some of the finer points. As for the need for great improvement in the US education system, I very much agree with that premise, but how we argue for the premise matters in terms of how we find solutions.

    1. The US needs to do a better job of addressing at least the symptoms of poverty so that children born into poverty are much less likely to end up in poverty.
    2. Teachers, through whatever mechanisms we can leverage (professional development, preservice training, etc…), need to learn more about some of the specific strategies which are known to be highly effective in the classroom.

    Neither one of these tasks is a small one, and I do not think either will be resolved within this generation, but I work toward making this goal closer to reality, inch by inch.

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *