Needed: A 1984 Moment
What was the real innovation of the ’80’s that led to the .com and tech revolutions?
If you said the microchip, you’re less than a third right.
What allowed exponential change was largely a change in the legal climate that came with the breaking up of the AT&T like monopolies. It’s hard to imagine today, a ten minute phone call might cost $5 or more; forget about third party innovation getting around Bell.
And one more huge change, a change in our view of the problem space. A re-envisioning of the constraints that held back entrepreneurs and inventors. An awakening of the marketplace for innovation.
Michael Milken in 1984 essentially invented the financing of tech as we know it. So radical was his innovation that the status-quo pundits and regulators felt compelled to persecute, then prosecute him for his re-envisioning of the tech financial markets. He took what was once an auction-place for bonds of nearly-failed companies, and re-envisioned a marketplace for high risk, high yield securities of projects years from their hoped-for payoffs. These speculative grade bonds he used to fund companies like MCI unleashed huge sources of capital. New capital, in turn, gave us the competitive backbone infrastructure upon which the Internet age was born and grew.
Education needs such a 1984 moment. It needs a coupling of newly relaxed law with a re-envisioning of how everyday providers and consumers interact with the system as a whole. Just as we stopped seeing Ma Bell and her operators as the linch-pin connection to others, we today must totally rethink the role of the District and the teacher in connecting us with learning.
And we do need the District teachers and admins. Charter schools sometimes have advocates who see them as replacing District classrooms. Those advocates have not factored in rural voters in small towns where the high school is the center of the community, their very identity at times. Nor to they full appreciate the political power that will remain as the urban education establishment for years to come.
AT&T and the RBOCs are still with us, often bigger. Yet we’ve unbundled the phone call and repackaged it as a stream of data packets handled by perhaps dozens of companies cooperating companies between you and your niece in Peoria.
High school learning is deeply in need of such unbundling and rearranging. And deeply in need of the increased flow of resources (ideas, help, and money) that will arrive with such a new design.
This isn’t an “I wish” abstraction. It is doable, now. This fall. The law change and re-envisioning are done. The pieces are in place, merely awaiting time and resources to scale.
It is, in fact, right here.