In education circles, people like to use the word "breakthrough" a lot. It's to be expected, given that the space is a bit evangelical right now with people trying to come up with transformational ideas.
But what, really, would a breakthrough mean?
If we think about technology, breakthroughs tend to mean better performance for less cost. An iPhone does a lot of the stuff people use their computers for, but costs less and can travel in your pocket. A digitally-delivered magazine could have more interactive content, and not have all the distribution costs.
Viewed in that light, a real education breakthrough would mean something that raises achievement but also cuts costs from the current model.
I think that last part is going to be critical in the near future. It's no secret that many state budgets have suffered a lot in the last few years, and also that the political interest in raising taxes is, well, minimal. Some states like California are already re-working their per pupil allotments and given the benefits and pensions costs that small class sizes will come with, this is likely not going to be sustainable long-term.
That's why many people are so excited about blended learning models -- doing digital/online learning for some coursework, and redeploying teachers as tutors. A teacher who can track students in real time and let them all work at their own pace can cover more students (with non-teachers running interference and doing crowd control). Most blended learning schools are pretty new. So we'll see if their cost structure turns out to be lower or not (particularly once all their equipment is taken into account). Few things in the history of education reform have turned out to lower costs.
Sustainable financing models might be another approach to lowering taxpayer costs. The Cristo Rey Network has thrived with its urban Catholic schools by having kids work one day a week as temps at local offices. It's interesting to think if there might be ways students could raise money for their own education at other schools. I don't know, but perhaps that will be the real breakthrough someday...