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BLOGS.harvardbusiness.ORG – It’s not surprising that some of the long-standing problems facing U.S. K-12 education took a backseat given the unprecedented turbulence of 2008. But the darkening budgetary picture may ironically provide an opportunity for the most promising disruptive innovations in education in 2008 to break through the din in 2009.

The most promising reforms hold the potential to move us away from the current monolithic education system to one centered on individual student needs. Efforts that have made noise in this challenging time focus on “disrupting class”–changing our fundamental assumptions about how learning occurs, when it occurs, and where it occurs. They are challenging and improving upon the long-established learning interaction between student and teacher in the traditional classroom setting, which has remained strikingly unchanged for generations.

Players like Education2020,, Connections Academy, Insight Schools, KC Distance Learning, Michigan Virtual University, and the Idaho Digital Learning Academy all offer full “class” experiences online or virtually.

But the question of which disruption was the “Best of 2008” is a difficult one–and one that, realistically, we won’t know for many years. That said, we thought we should stir up some controversy and throw out three nominees–and then hear from you about which one you think is the best!

Our three nominees for the very best education disruptor of the year are Apex Learning; K12, Inc., and Florida Virtual School.

Apex Learning: With a comprehensive digital curriculum that connects students to teachers over the Internet, Apex Learning has seen fast growth in enrollments over the past year from a range of educational programs serving the complete spectrum of students–from those struggling to succeed in traditional programs to those capable of accelerating their learning. One of the pioneers in distance learning and virtual schooling, Apex Learning has increasingly been pulled into the brick-and-mortar classroom to provide solutions for alternative programs serving at-risk and low-performing students.

K12, Inc.: In most industries, integrated players tend to dominate at the outset. K12’s integrated nature–from curriculum development to delivery to professional development to accountability for student results–suggests it may be positioned for even greater success in the near future. K12 also demonstrates the flexibility to chase different opportunities as they arise. Although it began by serving younger children in the U.S. home-school market, K12 now offers supplemental high school courses in the U.S. and has offerings overseas as well. It also is exploring how gaming and other cutting-edge pedagogical techniques can bolster student learning.

Florida Virtual School: Florida Virtual School is the leader among the state-sponsored disruptors. Among its many policy innovations, Florida Virtual School’s autonomous, self-sustaining funding model (it receives a percentage of the per-pupil funds for each completed enrollment) is a key element for this organization’s success. The group’s growth trajectory is impressive: From 6,765 enrollments in 2000-2001, it grew to 25,615 enrollments in 2003-2004. And in 2007-08 a whopping 137,450 enrollments were completed.

Now it’s your turn. Which of the three finalists do you think is the best education disruption of 2008? Let us know and we’ll discuss the results in a future post. Also, let us know if we’ve failed to acknowledge a radical educational disruption from 2008. Maybe it was so disruptive that it didn’t make our own radar screen!

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