Twenty years ago, “disruptive innovation” was introduced to educational lexicon by Clayton Christensen largely within the context of technology. Personal computers and rapid new technological inventions were going to fundamentally change the system of schools. A decade ago, flattened global economic relationships were going to fundamentally change schools as we shifted learning to prepare students for jobs of the future that do not even exist today. Both of those drivers–technology and economics–have had significant impact on some, but certainly not all, schools and the learning experience of students.
A third major driver–politics–may turn out to be the most significant disrupter of schools, and in ways that are the least equitable, even, or easy to predict. In this overview in The Atlantic, Laura McKenna scratches the surface of potential impacts of not only a Trump presidency, but, more importantly she believes, the combination of Republican power at both the federal and state levels. While it is too early to predict actual impacts, the 2016 elections have dramatically elevated the level of VUCA (volatility uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) for education. Schools have been notoriously slow to change in the past, which makes them poorly adapted to succeed, or even to function well, in VUCA world.
There is nothing inherently fair, nice, or equitable about VUCA world. On the contrary, as I and others have continued to argue, VUCA world has more features of natural ecosystems where evolution results in winners and losers, not based on human perceptions of good and bad, but as a function of natural selection. In human VUCA systems, winners and losers may be chosen by changes in political, social, and economic power which, as we have seen this fall, can turn extremely quickly, and with highly unpredictable outcomes.
Schools of all types will be fundamentally impacted in highly VUCA ways by decisions made in Washington, ranging from a Secretary of Education with little affinity with traditional public school interest bases, to a likely shift of funding from federal to state or local control. Steep increases in school choice over the past decade in many cities and regions may increase even faster. Individual schools will win, lose, sprout up, and disappear at an increasing rate due to a combination of market conditions (vouchers?), school choice, and political forces. If history is a guide, some states, unburdened by the carrots and sticks of Washington, DC will revert to policies of the past that foster racial segregation and economic inequity. Others will support innovative school models that allow greater access to an education that breaks down barriers to upward social and economic mobility.
Impacts ranging from enrollment management to labor laws, health care for employees, and curriculum standards will vary widely depending on the type of school, location, demographics, and market demand. The constant for all school leaders is to understand that VUCA world is fundamentally different from the education world of ten or fifteen years ago. School cultures that thrive in VUCA world are staffed with people who have the skills to manage VUCA, not just the skills to teach subject material to students. VUCA can feel like constant whiplash, or it can feel like a learning laboratory. It can be all pain, or it can be a combination of pain and gain. By definition it is not going to be simple or predictable, other than we can predict it will be VUCA, and the rate at which changes that impact your school is only going to increase.