By Maureen Kelleher and Chyrise Harris
The key three factors most likely to change the nature of future work are: artificial intelligence/robots, demographic changes and concentration of talent in certain locations, according to a new study from America Succeeds.
It’s a good guess that lots of the jobs people currently hold will be drastically changed or eliminated. Estimates of how many jobs will be eliminated vary widely—the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development low-balls to 9 percent—but you can bet job descriptions and duties will change significantly.
Largely, the U.S. public education system is not ready to train current and future generations to succeed in this new working environment. While the workforce of tomorrow will reward people skilled in both creative, flexible, analytical thinking and emotional intelligence, it won’t be kind to those who lack basic skills, adaptability and tenacity.
Today’s schools must think beyond the traditional “3 R”s and reinvent themselves in order to meet the needs of the future workforce.
Yes, we have been through this before, when we moved from a farm-based to an industrial economy. Our education system adapted, largely by expanding high school. But the benefits of that expansion were not evenly distributed. Although attending high school eventually became compulsory, graduating didn’t. Even today we see more White students earning diplomas than Black and Latinx students. We have also seen inequities in graduation by gender: historically, fewer girls; today, fewer boys.
How can we make a similar shift in the 21st century more fair and equitable?
Maybe we need to look to forward-thinking businesses as models, like Subaru of Indiana in Lafayette. (See Carla’s Story in the Age of Agility.) Subaru expanded its hiring focus beyond sheer mechanical aptitude to look for soft skills like work habits and attitude. Can teachers similarly look beyond the obvious—the super-testers and the valedictorians—to find and build on the strengths of every student?
Some brand new K-12 models are emerging, like Idaho’s One Stone School, an independent, tuition-free high school modeled after Stanford’s d school, a hub of design thinking.
Public schools are also stretching themselves, pushing traditional boundaries to create transformational impact for kids in our most vulnerable communities. But, their reach can only extend so far on their own. We have to recognize the schools and teachers who are trying new approaches and fuel their pursuit of innovation with a real sense of urgency.
Awards like the Succeeds Prize in Colorado are helping educators and schools do just that. But, more teachers like Succeeds winners Deb Harding and Tara Hardman, from STEM Launch K-8 need the financial resources to start programs like MakerSpace, a STEM program that helps kids and families thrive together in our rapidly-changing economy.
Certainly more schools like Valdez Elementary, Denver School of Science and Technology: Green Valley Ranch, Bristol Elementary and Mountain Vista Community School, could use an extra $15,000 to make sure their students of color and low-income kids can compete in and benefit from an economy that is changing as fast as they are growing.
As more of these schools find success in their quest for transformation, we also cannot afford to debate the legitimacy of their school type. Any school that shows how a new and different approach is preparing kids for the jobs of tomorrow deserves our attention and support. But, as a sidenote, for those wondering about the recipients of the Succeeds Prize, schools were selected based on publicly-available student performance data—with their name and school type intentionally withheld from judges.
And, judges specifically evaluated how well each school could prove their ability to help kids from traditionally underserved backgrounds advance in their learning.
Now, while the data are crucial to proving kids’ success, we have to remember that the numbers wouldn’t even exist without a school choice system like Denver’s that allows all students, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, attend these schools.
Praised for its SchoolChoice enrollment process, Denver Public Schools has an entire team dedicated to making sure families have the ability to identify, choose and attend the school that’s best for them. And, while it’s not perfect, it’s working helping more kids attend great schools. Last year alone, 90 percent of students entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade got into their first or second choice school. For those closest to entering the workforce, 92 percent of the open seats filled at the high school level were filled with students who got to attend one of the district’s top-performing high schools
So if we’re going to realign the knowledge and skills that K-12 students across the country currently receive with what they actually need to contribute to our changing economy, we must make sure they have access to a variety of schools and educators who are unafraid to shift their thinking, adjust course and help other replicate their success.