In our fast-changing world, how should we think about the curriculum? For what macro competencies should education aim? And has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed any failures in our education systems worldwide?

Today we talk about digital education and the future of learning.  My guest is Ben Williamson, a Chancellor’s Fellow in the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. He wrote the book Big Data in Education: The digital future of learning, policy and practice (Sage, 2017), and is an editor of the journal Learning, Media and Technology.

In our conversation, Ben talks about the many ways data is being extracted inside schools and education systems and reflects on what that might mean for policy and practice. He warns that there are biases built into data.

 

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Ted Dintersmith is not your normal Silicon Valley venture capitalist trying to save the world through technology. He’s much more complex.

After producing the film Most Likely to Succeed, which premiered at Sundance in 2015, Ted embarked on a trip across America. For nine months he visited school after school, meeting teachers in ordinary settings doing extraordinary things.

Today Ted joins FreshEd to talk about his new book What School Could Be: Insights and inspiration from teachers across America.

Ted is currently a Partner Emeritus with Charles River Ventures. He was ranked by Business 2.0 as the top-performing venture capitalist in the U.S. for the years 1995-1999.  In 2012, he was appointed by President Obama to represent the U.S. at the United Nations General Assembly, where he focused on education.

Citation: Dintersmith, Ted, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 108, podcast audio, March 19, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/dintersmith/

Will Brehm:  2:03
Ted Dintersmith, welcome to Fresh Ed.

Ted Dintersmith:  2:05
Great to be here.

Will Brehm:  2:06
So in the fall of 2015, you literally went back to school for an entire school year, not just one school that you went to, but hundreds of schools across every state in America, what on earth made you decide to embark on this journey to go back to school?

Ted Dintersmith:  2:26
A lot of people ask me that, particularly my friends and my family members, because it is a little ambitious to go to all 50 states in a nine month period. And the trip really didn’t take entirely the shape I expected. So initially, I felt this, and I still feel I mean, every single day, I feel the urgency of anticipating what the future is going to be like for our young adults, and having schools adapt and modify and transform themselves to keep pace, which I think very few schools actually are doing for good reasons, because the innovation economy’s sprinting ahead. So I sort of said why didn’t I go on this really ambitious trip to make sure people understand there’s urgency here. But as I traveled and I took it very seriously, I heard the, believe it or not, the advance campaign planning team who did all the work for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. So it’s like, every day from morning, you know, breakfast till the end of the day, which would, the end of the day was typically 10, 10:30 at night with a community forum, I’m just meeting all these people, I’m going to all these schools. And yeah, boy, I just learned so much. I talked to so many interesting people, I saw so many interesting things. And so I thought, it’s like the classic thing, I thought I had something to say to America. And instead they had a lot more to say to me. And then that ultimately led to my writing a book about it.

Will Brehm:  3:50
So okay, so you went across the country speaking with thousands of people, what did you hear? What were people telling you about the state of education in America?

Ted Dintersmith:  4:01
Whether there’s just a million different perspectives on this, and you realize how incredibly complicated and intertwined our education system is, with schools, subject to all sorts of external forces, you know, state legislators, school boards, college admissions, parents, real estate agents, on and on, there are million different things that come into play, when it comes to the decisions that get made in schools. I’d say, if there’s one major takeaway is that in education, we largely have a system that is run by non-educators telling educators what to do, it’s sort of a few things in American society where that takes place. And you find that a lot of the people who project their views on the school really are thinking about the school they went to 30, 40, 50 years ago. And they’re not able to step outside of that kind of dated perspective on what’s to be accomplished in schools, or maybe more importantly, how to assess whether schools are doing a great job. And so you realize that, and this is similar, I think, to one of my perspectives from business is I generally learned a lot more about a business when I talked to the people actually kind of in the trenches doing the work than when I talked to senior managers, and I worked with some very good senior managers. But if you really want to understand what’s going on, talk to the people doing the work. And that’s what I was able to do. And I think it’s unusual because you know, I recognize I’m humble about the fact that I’m a person with a business background interested in education. And when I say that, as soon as you say those words, I have a business background now, and you’re interested in education, a lot of people in the classroom, you know, like the blood drains from their face, because they’ve seen that movie before. And it’s not a particularly good movie. But I found what I really put the time into, listen to them to hear about what they were experiencing. And in particular, to see some of the amazing things they were doing. It was really energizing.

Will Brehm:  6:05
So why is there a disconnect between the people running education and the people basically doing education, right? Like, why are the upper level managers so disconnected?

Ted Dintersmith:  6:17
In my book I talked about this, and the common denominator, and it’s not 100%, nothing ever in life is 100%, but a lot of the people that make their way to the top of these bureaucracies, you know, states, federal, you know, two things. One is they generally have very strong academic credentials. So school work for them, they expect it should work for everybody, they have no beef for the fact that they, you know, got into an elite undergraduate school and then went on to get their PhD from Harvard in the Graduate School of Education. So they are fundamentally aligned with the process of school. And they are also people that were able to work their way through and up to the top of large bureaucracies. So they know how to work a system, they have a mindset around policies and procedures and metrics, and they do what I think they’re inclined to do, what they’ve succeeded within their own personal life. And then they take that and apply it to schools across America. The problem is, a lot of kids have incredible gifts that go beyond the realm of the academic. And when you start to standardize education, so you can measure the progress of kids, I think you largely destroy the learning.

Will Brehm:  7:33
So on this trip of yours, was there anything in particular that you changed your mind about after meeting all of the educators and students and parents and principals? Like, what was the biggest thing that you came away saying, Wow, I really think differently about that now?

Ted Dintersmith:  7:50
Well, I clearly shifted not dramatically, but whatever respect I had for teachers going into the trip, which was a reasonably high level of respect only got higher. I mean, the number of teachers that would share with me, you know, in tears, you know, a variant along these lines, which is, every morning, I have to decide, do I do what’s best for my students, or what the state tells me to do? There are a lot of teachers in that category. You know, an incredibly moving day for me, is going to the national teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas, and you see this knoll where they have these plaques and monuments and, you know, not massive monuments, but commemorating the teachers who gave their lives in classrooms for their students. And it just hit me, you know, like, we trust these teachers with the lives of our kids, but we don’t trust them with their own lesson plans. I mean there’s something really wrong there. And so that was one of my biggest things was just sort of an increase in respect and appreciation. As well, you hear all the time people say, you know, well, our teaching forces are innovative or one that really troubles me is why our public schools can’t innovate. And, you know, you realize, you put public schools and No Child Left Behind straight jackets for 20 decade, in 20 years. You tell them what they can’t do day in and day out, and then you criticize them for not being innovative. I mean, that is not fair. Despite it all I met a lot of teachers doing incredible things in public schools that I write about that just blew me away when they were able to think differently about how they want to engage and inspire their kids.

Will Brehm:  9:32
I want to ask you a list of terms basically that are sort of these I don’t know popular faddish policy terms in education today that we hear a lot in the media and a lot of politicians and big education reformers, quote unquote, reformers talk about and I want to hear your perspective of these terms, but from the perspective of all the people you’ve met. And so the first one is 21st century skills. We hear this a lot these days, what is your opinion on 21st century skills?

Ted Dintersmith:  10:05
Would people listen to me? I don’t hear a lot that’s different from what happened back in the days of Plato. And so I think in some ways, thinking that you have to be a creative problem solver, a communicator, whatever. And putting that in the context of the 21st century is a bit of a misnomer.

Will Brehm:  10:23
What about college ready?

Ted Dintersmith:  10:25
You know, this one to me is, and I pointed this in my book as one of the biggest factors impeding innovation in our K through 12 schools, and disengaging so many students. And honestly, lots of the college ready content is not of intrinsic interest to kids, is not terribly relevant to adults, and is largely baked into a system because it’s easy to test. And so I feel like we need to step back and say, we have gone dramatically overboard and pushing college ready onto the agendas of our particular middle school and high school kids.

Will Brehm:  11:03
Stem, STEM education?

Ted Dintersmith:  11:06
Another trendy thing you’ll read all the time, every kid you know, you are not going to do well in the 21st century without a STEM background, which is I think pure baloney. I actually think liberal arts is really important, you know, because they do teach these fundamental things that are important. You know that just as Plato and Socrates took on very challenging issues, kids are immersed in some of these complex ideas you find in literature, or history or philosophy, or any one of a long set of disciplines can be great vehicles for developing skills that are really important. STEM, first of all, and this is in my book as well, as I talked about the fact that, you know, for instance, MIT students on graduation day, somebody had the great idea which I think it actually is a really great idea to videotape these students on graduation day taking on this incredibly difficult challenge, which is they give the students a light bulb, a wire and a battery and say, can you light up the light bulb and kid after kid after kid, you know, cap and gown, you know, degree from the most prestigious Engineering Institute in the world, five on AP Calculus BC, five on AP Physics, 800 on the SAT and MIT blah blah blah, I mean, like, these are the best of the best, they can’t light up a light bulb. What you know, with a wire and a battery, they can’t do it. And, you know, right up the river, I talked about Eric, Missouri at Harvard in what he learned in his physics courses at Harvard. And so I’m actually deeply skeptical that when we say kids are really getting great at STEM, that in a lot of cases, I don’t know that it really goes much beyond memorizing formulas, memorizing definitions would be facile with being able to spend them back on an exam and slightly varied forms. And so, you know, like, I feel like if a kid’s passion is STEM, it can be a great path forward. But I think we need to start blending the academic with a lot more the applied, you know, that kids that are interested in physics need to be shadowing a master electrician and wiring things up and actually making circuits work instead of just memorizing Coulomb’s law and Kirchoff’s law, because I think we’re fooling ourselves when we think we’re producing great scientists and engineers in our colleges, the employers often tell me, they get here, they don’t really understand much of anything, we got to teach it to them as if they’ve never taken these courses.

Will Brehm:  13:29
It reminds me of that one part in your book, where you talk about this presidential summit that you attended when Obama was president. And there was all sorts of discussion all the way up to the Secretary of Education about calculus. You know, calculus is the thing we need to put back into the curriculum and get more kids taking calculus. And, you know, so why is that sort of this narrative that reaches all the way up to the highest levels of policymakers?

Ted Dintersmith:  13:58
Well, I put it back on the policymakers, the people that say things like that, and don’t know what they’re talking about. And they really don’t. I mean, you know, if you can google my background, I mean, I published papers written back before computational resources were really much of anything. When I had to do clothes for medicals by hand, you know, so I’m not without a fair amount of perspective on when calculus actually was useful, and how it’s a lot less used today. I mean, you know, and kids will get done with AP calculus, and you ask them when would you ever use this? Their answer is, I have no idea, you know, but they might be able to, if they’re particularly good at it to a hyperbolic cosine transformation. But Photomath or WolframAlpha does that instantly on your smartphone so we have these kids spend nine months replicating what a smartphone can readily do without ever making a mistake and they never quite get to how to apply it and actually calculus is something that has very limited applicability. You know but if you’re one of these bureaucrats, it just sounds good. You know, oh, well, kids, you know, isn’t it a tragedy that half the kids in America in high schools they don’t offer calculus. And college admissions officers, oh, we really look for kids that have taken on the rigor of calculus. You know, it’s just mind numbing, because most of the kids that take calculus are not taking statistics. You can get great jobs with statistics, it’s important for career, it’s important for citizenship, it comes into a lot of your personal decisions that are consequential and yet, we’re telling kids take something that almost no adult in America uses and don’t take something that’s indispensable across the three most important things in your life, work, citizenship and personal decisions. You know, it’s like and we just owe our kids better than that, we owe our kids a more informed perspective on the things we advocate as being important.

Will Brehm:  15:55
Okay, so going back to this list of buzzwords and ideas and policies. What about charter schools? What did you find about charter schools as you were crossing America?

Ted Dintersmith:  16:05
Well, I think that charter schools, public schools, private schools, take the category, I don’t care which one it is, you can find some great examples of schools, some okay examples and some bad examples. And I actually don’t think those percentages across the type of school that is are all that different. Yet, you know, you read in the newspapers, you look at where a lot of philanthropists direct their money. And so charter schools are dramatically superior to public schools, despite the data that says there’s really not an appreciable difference in performance. And those are performances measured by standardized tests. And there’s a lot of evidence that charter schools are doing, you know, two things. One is they’re trying to somehow dot the kids that are going to test as well, I think you see some of that. And also they are relentless about test prep. And so I think there’s nuance to these things. But we often just try to simplify it. And so there are charter schools out there, my film Most Likely to Succeed is about High Tech High in San Diego, a really spectacular school. It’s a charter school, it was started back in the days when there was a small number of charter schools formed to really prove out bold in different types of innovations. And I think most people would say there’s a role for that. That’s an important thing to have in our education system. Today, though, most charter schools are co-opted by people who are just going to try to grind out better test scores from their students and hold that up as a measure of success. And I think it’s such a shallow view of things that, you know, we just, again, we need to think harder when millions of kids lives around the lines with the policies and decisions and the massive amounts of funding we direct to schools, you know, are tied to things that just don’t reflect careful plot.

Will Brehm:  17:54
So on your trip, when I read your book, it is very, it’s much more optimistic than I actually imagine that would be before I started reading, and I want to get into some of that optimism about you know, there are many schools and systems in America that are basically doing everything different than what you’re just talking about before, you know, I mean, they’re not trapped in this old way of thinking. And there are many educators trying their hardest to innovate within the constraints of the system that exists. So can you tell me a little bit about, you know, the inspirational features of some of these schooling systems? And, you know, what do these really innovative schools look like that you visited and met the teachers and students who attended?

Ted Dintersmith:  18:43
Yeah, it’s so interesting because one of the challenges I faced in writing the book and I hope I met it is that the specifics of the things that blew me away, you know, when you looked at exactly what these kids were doing, there was no rhyme reason they were really quite different. But there were general principles that undergirded them that really made the difference between, you know, a kind of same old same old classroom where kids, you know, just kind of go through the motions and the occasional question is, will this be on the test, versus these classrooms, these schools, these even out of school settings, where kids are just racing ahead, you know, the learning is deep and retained and joyful, and you just sort of say, man, they have got this and which is why I found the whole trip so inspiring, and why I think and remain deeply hopeful that we’re going to make enormous progress in, you know, a relatively short period of time, because we don’t need to invent what works, I mean, it’s being done, you can find something really great in any school in the country, certainly, any community has its great proof points. And so we don’t need to travel to Finland to see better education, you know, we don’t need to travel to Shanghai, you know, I mean, it’s like it’s being done in the US, it is being done in lots and lots of places. And I think one of the things we need to do a better job of celebrating those successes, which is a goal of my book, and encouraging other people not to copy it, but to in their own way, embrace things that help their kids, you know, have better learning outcomes and be better prepared for a world that’s going to be full of opportunity for the people that are creative and bold and, you know, think outside of the box and curious and a bunch of other things that often get left behind in the process of school. But that world for somebody that’s just conditioned to jump through hoops for somebody that’s just good at memorizing content, replicating low level procedures that kid’s going to be in a world of hurt point forward. And so I think it’s that pattern. And that’s why intentionally wrote the book picking things from every state in the country to really reinforce the point that it’s not just in, you know, actually I found Palo Alto I found California to be not that innovative you know, but you can find these great things in places that many people don’t think of its innovative you know, that North Dakota is, you know, the country that Kentucky’s, you know, these there these really great people fighting in every single day to advance learning for their kids.

Will Brehm:  21:22
And do you think all of the different models and systems that you’ve seen that were inspiring? Are they scalable? I mean, you said don’t copy it, right. But how then can it be scaled even a whole school district or a whole state, you know, maybe not think about the national level?

Ted Dintersmith:  21:40
Yeah, and I write about districts. So, you know, I’ve got a great chapter, a great profile of what’s going on in Charlottesville, Virginia, great district level innovation, the state level New Hampshire, so not only can it I mean, it is being scaled but it’s being scaled at a meta level instead of at a prescriptive level. And so what the people that are really thinking carefully about this are doing is scaling a set of conditions instead of scaling, you know, a cookie cutter model of a particular classroom or school. And I think that’s really the difference between, you know, two decades or more of US education policy, which is decided on behalf of everybody across the country, you need to do X and so now we’re going to make you do it. And we will hold, you know, Title One funding out to sort of bribe you to make sure you, you know, march to the right tune on this versus the really informative, thoughtful leaders like, you know, Jenny Barry in New Hampshire who are looking at how do you put in place the conditions that led superintendents and principals and classroom teachers do the things they entered the profession to do? And how do you trust the teachers to lead the way in far more informed assessments. And so to me, that’s really incredibly encouraging, you know, where you look at a model that is not being scaled, as I say with you, Will, on October 17, study x in class y, which, I mean, who the heck wants to live in a world like that students don’t want to, teachers don’t want to, I mean, when we micromanage a curriculum, and say that all kids need to study the exact same thing for the exact same high stakes test, we really are undercutting any real chance of learning and proficiency development among kids, as opposed to putting in place a condition. So let people run with things, set their goals, really just knock it out of the park in terms of accomplishment.

Will Brehm:  23:44
So what are some of these conditions, right? Like, there must be some sort of, I don’t know, more abstract conditions that that might be able to be scaled to the middle level, like you said?

Ted Dintersmith:  23:55
I put it at the top of the list where it works. There’s a high degree of trust, you know, and if you, you know, it’s one of the things that happens, the bigger the bureaucracy, the more the machine moves away from trusting people to implementing policies and procedures to keep something bad from happening. Once you take trust out of the system, once you, you know, look at what we did our brilliance of holding teachers accountable to standardized test they didn’t believe in and I think, shouldn’t have believed in. You know, we’ve really, you know, cut the legs out from under, you know, what our schools are capable of doing, you know, so that’s the first thing I’d say trust. Second thing is having clarity about where you want to get with kids. And, you know, I talked about, you know, schools, districts, even states that are thinking very carefully about what are the, what are the competencies, what are the skill sets and mindsets you want your students to be developing and be clear at that level. And then working back from that, to understand what school experiences will lead to that. And for sure, the competencies that are going to matter going forward are not memorizing content, replicating low level procedures, following instructions. Machine intelligence is already far better at that than any person could ever be. But it is things like, you know, creative problem solving or aspects of citizenship or aspects of character like never giving up. And so the question is, then how do you embed those in the school experience but not fall prey to this cockamamie thing, like, we’re going to have standardized test of grid, you know, like, you know, like we would someday be here, we’re going to have standardized test of creativity, which honestly, kind of falls in the category of a profoundly bad idea. But, you know, and then really tying the student work to authentic accountability, are they producing things they’re proud of that beat some level of some standard, you know, if a kid is really going to be held accountable to their ability to do great work in language arts? How do you test that? Well, you know, it turns out, you know, and this is another thing that I think is so interesting is that, that if you don’t feel the need to roll all these things up into a particular number, it turns out there are easy ways to, you know, make sure the kids are held accountable. I mean, I often share the story that in 25 years in venture capital, I never want to ask somebody what their SAT scores were, what their grade point average was, but I always ask them to send me three or four writing samples of work that they’re proud of. I’ve learned so much, it didn’t take me five hours to read three or four writing samples. And I actually think that that approach said a lot about my successes as a venture guy is I can read their best examples in, you know, a few minutes, 5, 6, 7 minutes, I can read them. And if they were interesting, I could pick up the phone and talk to them and say, you know, of the things you sent me the third one really struck by interest. Tell me more about it, ask him some questions. If it was really their work. If they really mastered it, they had great answers. And so you think about something like the SAT essay question, right? I think this is so telling is that for 12 years, the College Board gave essay questions on the SAT, it’s actually something really useful to do, you know, kid has no prep, you know, no help from any adult, they can’t anticipate the topic, there’s a proctor you really get to see the kids on writing.

If they had just said for all applications, admissions officers, if you want to see an authentic example of the kids work without coaches, without parents, without tutors, click on this and you’ll see their essay. They didn’t do that. No, they said, we got to put a number on it. And so they ran these essays through these, you know, out of work people they’d hire off of Craigslist, who in interviews will say, I didn’t even read the work I just scan it, people have debunked it by taking great writers and having right sheer nonsense and getting a 750 to 800. If they just were, you know, five paragraphs, four to five sentences per paragraph, invert the sentence structure, introduce some vocabulary words that you know, that are unusual or challenging. Bingo 750 to 800.

And you realize like we obsess about rolling it up and do a few numbers when we’re really letting the easy measurement tail wag the learning dog. And so like New Hampshire, there are digital portfolios with these students, teachers lead the way in authentic assessments but they can be audited. So if your school board and your school is saying most of our kids are doing anywhere from well to outstanding in these areas, you can say I want to look at 10 at random portfolios, see for yourself, teachers cross check each other. To me, that’s far better in terms of getting kids to work on authentic, you know, projects and essays and you know, they value creativity, they really do align with developing skills that matter with a thoughtful assessment system or assessment framework as opposed to boom, high stakes test. They’re generating multiple choice or formulaic essays, somebody somehow turns them into a number. And then when they go up 0.7%, everybody says, great, when they go down 0.3%, everybody says the bottom is falling out. I mean, it really makes no sense.

Will Brehm:  29:26
America is sort of known maybe in a more negative way for having very different funding levels between schools based on these property taxes, and then also deeply segregated schools even after Brown versus the Board of Education. How do you think America is going to be? Or do you think America is going to be able to overcome some of these race and class divisions that we find in schooling?

Ted Dintersmith:  29:56
Yeah, it’s a huge issue. And I talked about being, you know, two different schools 10 miles apart, in Mississippi and, you know, it’s just night and day. One is in a building that anybody would probably say should be condemned. And the other one had, you know, just football fields, fields, plural, you know, practice fields, the main stadium I mean, it’s just most beautiful place in the world you can imagine and you find that all over America. I’m not picking on Mississippi is that it’s almost anywhere you go, you can, in 10, 15 miles you can find two school particular here, urban, suburban area, you can find two schools in close proximity with dramatically different amounts of budget, you know, funding is really this, you know, Rodriguez versus the San Antonio decision more than Brown versus the board that drove all that because local property taxes tell the story. And that’s a very difficult gap to get people to face up to, because the ones with the cloud, the ones with the power, you know, are the ones that you know, have their kids going to the better resource schools. And so it’s a huge issue. But then we take something that’s an enormous challenge. And we make it that much worse. Because if you look at the data on how much time kids in the under resourced schools spend doing worksheets. I mean that’s their day, they’re doing worksheets around the clock. They’re giving material that they have no interest in, material that we can’t really explain how it will ever matter them in life, you know, we block them from getting a high school degree because they can’t pass Algebra Two. I mean, you know, like, I got a PhD in math modeling from Stanford. And I’m not sure in my career I ever used anything from Algebra Two. I mean, you know, like, it’s just really astounding the things we pile up block kids from getting a high school degree, because nobody ever steps back and thinks about it. And so what I found, which gave me encouragement, actually, quite a bit of encouragement is when the heart and soul of school was far more aligned with challenges that were messy and ambiguous and connected with the real world where it wasn’t clear what you needed to do to get an A where you knew you were going to fail multiple times and had to just keep coming at it where you know, where it required real out of the box, you know, out of the box thinking that you know, again and again, people would tell me oh my gosh, you know, these underperforming kids, the at risk kids, the kids that we’ve sort of viewed as being not on the right side of the bell curve, they actually blow us away when they’re doing something they care about. And oftentimes a really rich, you know, micromanaged kids fall apart when they’re given that kind of ambiguity. I mean, they paralyzed, they’re paralyzed when they think they might fail. And so it suggests this view that we could better prepare all kids by connecting more of their school experience with taking on, you know, creating and carrying out initiatives that one way, shape or form make the world better that do have lots of ambiguity and lots of messiness, and lots of challenge with them, that’s actually better preparation for them later in life, and starts to make real progress and reversing that achievement gap.

Will Brehm:  33:14
So when I was finished reading your book, I kind of I was left feeling to be honest, that a lot of what you’re saying is about education is really for getting children prepared to enter a workforce that is going to look radically different in the future than it does now. And I just wanted to ask on your journey, did you experience or witness in a sense civics or citizenship, or the ability to learn how to be in the world? Right, like, so how does citizenship education fit within public schooling? I mean, is education only about jobs? Or is there more?

Ted Dintersmith:  33:52
Yeah, and you know, I do write a lot about school experiences, where kids are connected to the world and in different ways, making their world better. And in some of those ways, it’s directly aligned with the career path. And that’s important to me, I mean, I feel like we have given a kid an enormous gift if they come out of high school with the skill set to directly get a job that pays well above the minimum wage. And by the way, I think that’s doable for most kids in school in America today, and their K through 12 years.

And you know, so as opposed to spending the entirety of K through 12 on college ready, which means that the kid leaving high school really has to choose between a crap, a lousy minimum wage job or college, they pick college. You know, the math on that is pretty dreadful with, you know, only half finishing in six years or less. And then of those that finish, only half of those get any kind of a job we normally associate with a college degree. So it’s sort of like you start down the four year path, four-year degree path. And it’s one chance in four in a reasonable time frame, at least the kind of job everybody thinks a guarantees, and of those kids, no matter who they are, you know, 70% are taking on substantial amounts of student loan debt. And trying to pay off student loan debt, if you don’t have a very good job is a nightmare. And so, you know, I look at that. And so I feel like in a ruthless economy, and people need to try, I mean, if they google me, you know, like, I know a lot about innovation. People need to really recognize the fact that machine intelligence is just advancing at a blistering pace. And you know, I tell this story about the team that got funding at Google for the driverless car, which is now I want to say, maybe eight years ago and so they put their careers on hold, they made this big bet on driverless cars, you would think that they would be by and large really optimistic about being able to pull it off and the most optimistic person in the founding groups said that it would take at least 20 years before we’d have driverless cars. So you know, three years ago, driverless cars were three times safer than human driven cars. So if it’s been talked about today, it will be real in 10 years. I mean, it’s just will be real.

So that’s why I push so hard for making sure kids have an ability to plug in to the economy and make their way forward. I don’t think by the way, it’s either or, I don’t think it’s just and actually really celebrate and focus on schools that blend the academics with the career that learn about electricity by shadowing a master electrician instead of studying Coulomb’s law that captured documentaries, you know, the right docu.., produced documentaries to capture aspects of their local history. I think there’s a way to blend.

Experiences are really give kids a career lift with experiences that get them thinking about intellectual ideas. And that’s one of the great roles these teachers play is to say, oh, you’re interested in this, What about this, is sort of move that initial interest to something broader and to really get at the core thing of citizenship you know, I mean, what is it mean to be a citizen i mean, is it you know, AP US history, right? But everybody says that the gold standard for history classes in high school in America is AP US history. You know, it’s like less than a class period on the Constitution. I mean, the number of adults that can explain to you anything about the Constitution is, you know, like you’re lucky if it’s one in 50. And so we give lip service to preparing kids for citizenship, but I don’t think it’s happening. And yet if kids suddenly start proactively identifying opportunities, challenge problems in their community and learn that they can take their own talents and their ability to learn and their ability to just keep going at it with support from their community and they can make a positive difference in their world. That to me is the most important citizenship lesson we can deliver to our kids.

Will Brehm:  37:54
Well, Ted Dintersmith, thank you so much for joining Fresh Ed and best of luck promoting the book.

Ted Dintersmith:  37:58
Well, thank you, thanks for having me and I really love what you’re doing so I hope we get a chance to meet in Tokyo and I’m just cheering you on from afar.

Will Brehm:  38:06
Thank you so much

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Ever since the 1983 Nation at Risk report, America has seemingly gone through one educational reform after another. Have these reforms worked? My guest today, Paul Reville, thinks the reforms have correctly focused on the goals of excellence and equity but have not addressed the systemic problems impacting schools.

Paul Reville is the founding director of the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard. Prior to his time at Harvard, he was the Education Secretary for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As Governor Patrick’s top education adviser, Paul brings valuable insights to his work of the real-life political challenges that sometimes slow educational change.

Paul is the Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Citation: Reville, Paul, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 96, podcast audio, November 20, 2017. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/paulreville/

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Today we look at entrepreneurship education in Tanzania. You might be asking yourself, “Hey, didn’t FreshEd recently discuss entrepreneurship education in Rwanda?” You’re right. We did.

Obviously, the idea of entrepreneurship education is a global phenomenon, found in many different countries. As such, we need to understand what it is in each local context, who is promoting, how it is spreading, and what it means for education and society.

My guest today is Joan DeJaeghere. She has a new book out called Educating Entrepreneurial Citizens: Neoliberalism and youth livelihoods in Tanzania. For Joan, entrepreneurship education cannot be separated from neoliberalism, the contemporary form of capitalism that emerged in the 1970s.

Her book explores the multiple and contradictory purposes and effects of entrepreneurship education aimed at addressing youth unemployment and alleviating poverty in Tanzania.

Joan DeJaeghere is a Professor of Comparative and International Development Education in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development at the University of Minnesota.

Citation: DeJaeghere, Joan, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 84, podcast audio, July 31, 2017. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/joandejaeghere/

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One of the primary goals of education is to prepare youth for the labor market. This task is infinitely difficult because economies are constantly changing. What will the global labor market look like in 30 years and how will it impact specific countries? It’s impossible to know for sure, which therefore makes deciding which skills to teach inside national school systems difficult to pinpoint. It’s a major public policy question facing many governments.

But there are some skills that employers want right now that they feel schools are not teaching. Plus, with the labor movement in decline worldwide, jobs have become precarious for many people. This reality requires laborers to have the grit and tenacity to be flexible in their job choices as economies change. Can schools teach these soft-skills to students?

My guests today have recently co-edited a book that dives into the subject, looking at the skills deemed necessary by employers but lacking in students. The book is entitled “Bridging the Skills Gap: Innovations in Africa and Asia, which was published by Springer earlier this year.

With me today are two of the co-editors, Wambui Munge and Shubha Jayaram. Wambui is a Communications Officer at Results For Development where Shubha is a Senior Program Officer.

Rwanda is perhaps most well-known for the genocide it experienced in the 1990s. In its post-conflict development, the country has had to balance colonial legacies, state centralizing tendencies, and the zeitgeist of neoliberalism. This has made for a careful balancing — one that has left the government regulating the society and economy while simultaneously reducing its responsibility to citizens.

In education, this balancing act manifests in the government’s three aims: credentials, controls, and creativity. The education system is based on credentials awarded through examinations, a colonial hangover, and controls students as part of the state’s centralization efforts; yet, somehow, the system promotes creativity so students can pursue a learner-centered education tailored to their own needs, preparing them for the 21st century labor market of precarious work.

My guest today, Catherine Honeyman, has a new book that explores Rwanda’s opportunities, challenges, and paradoxes in post-conflict development through the policy of mandatory entrepreneurship education, which is believed to be the country’s beacon for economic growth. Catherine Honeyman is a visiting scholar at the Duke Center for International Development and Managing Director of Ishya Consulting. Her new book, The Orderly Entrepreneur, takes us inside both policy making circles and classrooms to understand part of Rwanda’s social transformation. The Orderly Entrepreneur received an honorable mention from the Globalization and Education SIG’s 2016 Book Award.

Citation: Honeyman, Catherine, A., interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 64, podcast audio, March 13, 2017. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/catherinehoneyman/

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