Public Education = Legacy Software?

Guest blog by Troy Miller, Director of Strategic Partnerships at IowaBIG.org.

MIcrosoft lost me several years ago. I currently use an Android operating system running on a Samsung smartphone, leveraging Google docs. As I type, I’m enjoying my Apple Macbook Pro while blogging on WordPress. This hasn’t always been the case, and furthermore, I contemplating the parallels with public education in the US.

Sometime during the mid 2000’s I was pissed at Microsoft. I was forced to make a conscientious objection that led to my abandoning their offerings. Microsoft’s online “Hotmail” email service was terrible. They had already illegally all-but-destroyed Netscape with a monopoly exercising “predatory strategies and market barrier(s) to entry” only to be surpassed by Google’s web browser. Their basic Office products were both too expensive and not web-based, and I was being forced to change away from Microsoft because of their apathetic approach to modernizing their offerings. I was pissed because I didn’t want the hassle of having to change, however the quality of Microsoft’s offerings compared to Google’s browser, Gmail and suite of free office tools was too great. I made the switch.

While Bill Gate’s legacy at Microsoft is one of the greatest entrepreneurial successes in world history, he ultimately dropped the ball. When outdated and overpriced software, along with dominant market share is all a company can offer, it’s referred to as “legacy” software. Such legacy software companies are typically so far embedded in a culture, that they internally experience a paralysis that prevents them from making necessary changes. They dig in until it’s too painful NOT to change. But in the meantime, people like me have already changed allegiances.

WinTel market share
Chart courtesy of The Atlantic’s article, “Why Steve Balmer Failed.” http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/08/why-steve-ballmer-failed/278986/

Fast forward to today. The Windows/Intel dynasty has collapsed. Microsoft has burned through Gate’s successor (Steve Balmer) and is trying Satya Natella on for size. More importantly, Microsoft has taken the past decade to reflect…and change. They now have quality offerings via both free Outlook for email as well as more affordable online Office offerings. I’m guessing their search engine, Bing, is a quality service also, but I don’t know for sure because I’ve never used it. In a sense, you can say that Microsoft’s bane…namely Google…is also it’s saving grace. Microsoft today would not be what it is without Google. Competition does amazing things to legacy software. The legacy is faced with a seminal moment where it either changes or dies…which brings me to public education.

You tell me. Is public education actually version 9.42 of a monopolistic legacy software? Does it need aggressive competition in order to save it? Obviously it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon due to guaranteed per-student revenues, so how do we change an institution that feels no urgency to change? Private schools have the autonomy to make radical changes, but let’s face it…most parents either can’t afford or don’t want to pay for education prior to college. That leaves charter schools, which will reduce public education’s already stretched budgets. Is that the necessary pain point in order to save public education?

@troykmiller