Section » Michigan Schools
Phil Power, the terrific founder of the Center for Michigan, recently wrote a column for Bridge entitled: Schools, colleges aren’t preparing students for careers in Michigan. I find the title quite troubling. It assumes that the purpose of schools and colleges is preparing Michigan students for Michigan jobs and careers. It is the same thinking behind the increasingly popular notion that education should be the supplier of workers to meet the demands of Michigan employers.
As we explored previously it seems to me that the education system that we should want for all of our kids is the one the affluent want for their kids. As I wrote, the common characteristics of the k-16 schools most of their kids and grandkids attend are: “An education that prepares students for adult life in all its dimensions, not just for a job or even a career. An education that prepares students to pursue their dreams any place on the planet, not just here in Michigan. An education that is about being a lifelong learner, not just someone that scores well on a standardized test today.” Those –– not preparing students for Michigan careers –– should be the goals of our education system for all Michigan students.
In another post I explored more directly the notion that Michigan schools and colleges should be about preparing Michigan students for jobs with Michigan employers. I wrote then (October 2011):
For more than a century what it has meant to be a Michigan resident and taxpayer is access at affordable rates to a world class system of public higher education that prepares students to better take advantage of life’s opportunities no matter where you choose to live and work after college. It was one of the great benefits of being a Michigan resident. And it served us well – both as individuals and as a state.
… Our Governor, Larry Page and Eli Broad are among the thousands of kids who grew up in Michigan, graduated from a Michigan public universities and made their fortune elsewhere. Were they well served by our public higher education system? Of course they were. Did they do something wrong – rip off Michigan taxpayers – when they decided to use their terrific education someplace other than Michigan? Of course not.
Limiting public higher education to just focusing on the current needs of Michigan employers or what some government analysts think Michigan jobs of the near future will be will inevitably reduce the quality of our public higher education system. Courses and other programming that make a university great will be eliminated because they are not aligned with the needs of Michigan employers. The consequence: the same proportion of the next generation of Snyder’s, Page’s and Broad’s will still choose to live and work outside of Michigan but now they will be far more likely to go to college outside of Michigan as well. They will want an education – as you do for your kids and grandkids – that prepares them for global opportunities, not just those available in Michigan.
Bloomberg Businessweek just published their New Rules for the modern workplace. Their list:
Rule No. 1: Your job is temporary. Where you start isn’t where you’ll end up. Your job, company, and profession may completely change because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control.
Rule No. 2: Do not let your job description confine you. … While you’re managing your role, you should be acquiring new skills to help carry you to your next role.
Rule No. 3: Your Rolodex is more important than your knowledge base. We’ve moved from the information economy to the social economy. Companies are hiring based on cultural fit, connections, and soft skills over a candidate’s ability to get the job done.
Rule No. 4: Your experiences matter more than your title.
Rule No. 5: Your personal reputation is your greatest asset.
Add these to the non job specific attributes that we have explored in previous posts that employers are increasingly looking for and that will most define who has successful careers in the future. And then ask yourself whether policy makers in emphasizing standardized test results, job specific skills and online learning are moving k-16 education towards or away from the economy of the future.
Harvard’s Tony Wagner in his interview with Thomas Friedman I wrote about in my last post clearly thinks the answer is no. Friedman writes:
“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. … More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.” (Emphasis added.)
… “Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”
Jack Lessenberry in a Michigan Radio commentary entitled Education for education’s sake also would answer no. (In the column Lessenberry is critical of remarks made by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. Mike –– a terrific member of the Michigan Future Leadership Council –– responds in a podcast that you can find here. I know they both agree that we need an education system that provides all students with broad, rather than narrow job specific, skills building.)
There’s nothing wrong with education for education’s sake—if that means teaching people how to think, and how to learn. There is also nothing wrong with knowing lots of things that are part of culture and civilization, even if they aren’t knowledge that can immediately be converted into cash. The schools cannot possibly teach students how to cope with the technology or the tax structure that they’ll need to know in the year 2035, because we have no idea what that technology will be.
The woman with whom I share my life spends her days digitizing archives and designing and creating online catalogs for special library collections. These are not things she learned in high school or college, because the technology hadn’t been invented, and partly because she hadn’t developed an interest in that field. Instead, she studied languages and comparative literature. She didn’t learn how to do modern computer coding till she was in her 50s. I didn’t study journalism until graduate school. But I studied other things that equipped my mind with a set of intellectual furniture and the tools to try to keep learning and figuring stuff out.
… whenever I hear people say that education should be geared to the needs of a particular set of employers or a specific job, I think of Aldous Huxley’s nightmare novel, “Brave New World,” where humans were rigorously selected for certain tasks before birth, and the lower orders kept dumb and ignorant.
… Doug Rothwell, the CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan does understand what education is, and said so yesterday. “We need people with the skills to adapt to changes in their careers,” he said, adding, “A lot of that comes from a good liberal arts education.” From where I sit, I couldn’t agree more.
Our policy makers have a lot to learn from folks like Wagner, Lessenberry, Rothwell and so many others –– including most importantly many employers –– who understand that it is broad skills –– many not cognitive or job specific –– that matter most to success in the economy of the future. Until they learn those lessons we are in real danger of preparing our children and grandchildren for an economy that no longer exists with a huge cost to both them and our economy. Not smart!
As I have written previously we need an education system that prepares students for the economy they will live in, not the economy that their parents and grandparents experienced. Unfortunately increasingly education policy is moving towards the economy of the past.
Both David Brooks and Thomas Friedman wrote recent columns that illuminate what the economy of the future will be like and what skills matter most to do well in that economy. Both worth reading!
Friedman in a column entitled Need a job? Invent it writes:
This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. … My generation had it easy. We got to “find” a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to “invent” a job. (Fortunately, in today’s world, that’s easier and cheaper than ever before.) Sure, the lucky ones will find their first job, but, given the pace of change today, even they will have to reinvent, re-engineer and reimagine that job much more often than their parents if they want to advance in it.
In the column Friedman interviews Harvard’s Tony Wagner on the education that our kids will need to succeed in the economy he describes. Wagner says:
“Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.” … Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.” (Emphasis added.)
Brooks in a column entitled The practical university explores the skills students need most from higher education. He writes:
… universities are places where young people acquire two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge. Technical knowledge is the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task — the statistical knowledge you need to understand what market researchers do, the biological knowledge you need to grasp the basics of what nurses do. Technical knowledge is like the recipes in a cookbook. It is formulas telling you roughly what is to be done. It is reducible to rules and directions. It’s the sort of knowledge that can be captured in lectures and bullet points and memorized by rote. … Practical knowledge is not about what you do, but how you do it. It is the wisdom a great chef possesses that cannot be found in recipe books. Practical knowledge is not the sort of knowledge that can be taught and memorized; it can only be imparted and absorbed. It is not reducible to rules; it only exists in practice.
Brooks uses Sheryl Sanderg’s book Lean In to explore the practical knowledge one needs to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s economy. He writes:
Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t. These skills are practical knowledge. Anybody who works in a modern office knows that they are surprisingly rare. But students can learn these skills at a university, through student activities, through the living examples of their professors and also in seminars.
Play, passion and purpose. The ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t. Think about how aligned our education system is with these skills that may well matter most to doing well in a career of forty years or more. Think about how well you can learn these skills –– in what is increasingly becoming the preferred delivery system of policy makers and pundits for future education –– online or in a virtual school. And then be very worried that we are headed in the wrong direction.
I have written previously that the state budget policy on a bipartisan basis for two decades has made tax cuts, corrections and health care the priorities. Which by necessity –– or as Bill Clinton says math –– has meant that education, particularly higher education, and support for local governments have been devastated.
Every time I write this I hear from my conservative friends that the Democrats don’t really believe in tax cuts. What matters, of course, is what they do and how they vote. Now we have more evidence of tax cuts as the priority on both sides of the aisle. The House Democrats have just released their budget priorities with more tax cuts front and center. And, what matters most, no replacement revenue. Its one thing to favor shifting the tax burden away from low and middle income households to corporations or upper income households. (Or as Governor Granholm and Business Leaders for Michigan previously proposed a sales tax on services.) But that is not what the House Democrats proposed.
If implemented, these tax cuts, just like those of the last two decades, would have the same effect: diminish the state’s ability to make public investments in education, infrastructure and quality of place. The things that matters most to growing the economy. Saying you are in favor of these public investments while proposing large tax cuts with no replacement revenue means you are not really in favor of increased public investments in education, infrastructure and quality of place.
- Spending cuts followed by spending restraints (Michigan, not the nation, has already done the spending cuts)
- Making public investments that grow the economy, particularly education and infrastructure
- Higher taxes
It’s the framework Governor Blanchard followed successfully and that President Obama proposed for the nation in his latest budget. They agreed with Friedman and Mandelbaum who wrote: to assure our “… economic future we will have to spend more, not less, on some things: infrastructure and research and development, and probably education as well.” And to produce the revenue to make those strategic investments requires both spending restraints and tax increases.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released data on unemployment and average wage by education attainment for 2012. As their education pays chart (below) demonstrates the evidence is overwhelming that those with a four year degree or more work and earn more than anyone else. End of story!
And yet its not end of story. There continues to be a constant barrage of stories that getting a college degree is no longer a good investment. That there are too many college graduates. That the real job demand is in lower skilled occupations. Its malarkey!
To make matters worse, in addition to too many of us are giving our kids bad advice, policy increasingly is moving in the wrong direction too. Politicians from both parties run on more and better jobs platforms and then when in office cut funding for the driver of more and better jobs: higher education. Not smart!
Jordan Weissman in the Atlantic in an article entitled A Truly Devastating Graph on State Higher Education Spending writes about states across the country slashing higher education funding since the onset of the Great Recesssion. (Only energy rich states Wyoming and North Dakota have increased higher education funding since 2007.) The result: much higher tuition. He presents data (below) that demonstrate “deeper budget cuts did generally correlate with bigger tuition increases.”
If more and better jobs are the goal: support for higher education is one of, if not the most, powerful lever available to policy makers. We need to end this disconnect between policy and the economic reality.
Two important editorials highlight how far off track too many state policy makers are when it comes to education policy. And that the consequence of bad policy is harmful not just to Michigan kids (what matters most) but also to employers and the economy. Both are must reads!
The Detroit News in an editorial entitled Michigan kids deserve a strong educational foundation: Weakening state curriculum would make Michigan students less competitive makes the case against lowering high school graduation requirements. Adoption of those standards seven years ago was one of the signature accomplishments of the Granholm years. They passed with broad bi-partisan and business community support. They represent a major step in educating all Michigan kids for the economy they are going to live in rather than the one their parents and grandparents lived in which is in irreversible decline.
That is now under attack in the legislature where bi-partisan legislation is under serious consideration to roll back the standards in favor of reemphasizing vocational training. Not smart! As the News writes:
The Grand Rapids Business Journal in an editorial written by Carol Valade –– Gemini Publications’ editor –– entitled Current education policy creates another generation unfit for jobs makes a powerful case that preparing college students for specific occupations that policy makers believe are in high demand is not good for either students or employers. Valade writes:
What matters most is that Snyder (and politicians everywhere) is attempting to set long-term public policy, believing that the government can solve the problems of business and force colleges and universities deplete their dwindling state revenues to pump up student levels and programs the politicians believe are necessary to fill the “skills gap.” It is especially embarrassing — and inexplicable — to see Snyder, especially given his business background, walk this state into such an abyss. … But the bottom line is that no one knows — especially not politicians — what skill sets will be needed next. Such is often the theme of columnist Thomas Friedman, who cites “the curiosity quotient” as being more important than IQ in a “world guaranteed to change in unpredictable ways” and the continuing suddenness of such change as has been witnessed for more than 10 years.
When it comes to education the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Geoffrey Canada has it right when he says he wants for Harlem’s kids what his rich donors want for their kids. Its a lesson worth remembering as business and education leaders meet for the Economic Summit.
Seems like the most important question for the attendees should be “what kind of education do you want for your kids and grandkids?” Rather than asking employers only “what kind of skills do you need to fill available jobs today and for the foreseeable future?”
We have explored previously the kind of education that Michigan’s affluent want for their kids and grandkids. The New York Times wrote about this as well in an article entitled A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute. Its about the Waldorf School of the Peninsula where some of Silicon Valley’s tech elite send their kids to a school. Its “one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks.” Where “the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.”
David Arsen in his terrific open letter to the Governor writes about Greenhills where many of Ann Arbor’s affluent send their children. He writes:
Students at Greenhills do not take standardized tests until they apply to college. The school’s educators sympathize with their public school colleagues whose professional lives now revolve around tests. Greenhills does not accept credit for online classes, nor offer classes for credit in the summer. It takes a firm position against students taking courses at other institutions, including colleges or universities, unless they have already taken the school’s most advanced course in a subject. Greenhills students don’t graduate early, but rather all together at a spring commencement. The school is designed around remarkable physical spaces devoted to “forums” for students in each grade to meet, deliberate and socialize. The school has a thoughtful rationale for these decisions: it wants students to interact with one another and faculty to establish a durable and supportive community.
The bottom line for all these schools as I wrote: “An education that prepares students for adult life in all its dimensions, not just for a job or even a career. An education that prepares students to pursue their dreams any place on the planet, not just here in Michigan. An education that is about being a lifelong learner, not just someone that scores well on a standardized test today.”
Even more than machinists and welders we have been told over and over again by policy makers and the business community that American has a critical need for more scientists. The consequence of the so-called dearth of scientists threatens the American economy. And therefore we need government action to get more kids to go into science. With some of options on the table that not only provide carrots to go into science (more broadly STEM) but also sticks not to go into the liberal arts.
One problem: we may not have a shortage of scientists. In two terrific articles the Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman explores the labor market for those earning Ph.Ds in science. Entitled “The Ph.D Bust: America’s Awful Market for Young Scientists” you can find them here and here. Worth reading!
Weissman writes: “In brief, we keep graduating more doctoral students in subjects like engineering, biology, computer science, and mathematics, and progressively fewer of them seem to be finding work by the time they have a diploma. The overwhelming majority (of) these bright minds probably land good jobs eventually, but the chilly hiring environment seems to undercut the idea the U.S. is suffering from an overall shortage of scientists.”
Weissman reports of those American citizens earning a Ph.D in engineering 43.7% had a job when they graduated, 27.7% were going on for further study and 28.5% had nothing. In the physical sciences it is 32.3% had a job when they graduated, 40.7% were going on for further study and 27.0% had nothing. In the life sciences it is 21.7% had a job when they graduated, 42.6% were going on for further study and 35.8% had nothing. (For the foreign born those who had a job in each category is substantially smaller than American citizens.)
As Weissman concludes: “Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America’s scientist shortage — the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it’s time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead. … Most (of) these Ph.D.’s will eventually find work — and probably decently compensated work at that. After all, the unemployment rate for those with even a college degree is under 4 percent, and in 2008, science and engineering doctorate holders up to three years out of school had just 1.5 percent unemployment. But next time you hear a politician talking about our lack of science talent, remember all those young aerospace engineers, chemists, physicists who will still be casting around for a gig after they’re handed a diploma. There’s no great shortage to speak of.” (Emphasis added.)
Does the labor market long term need more scientists? Almost certainly. Is it a good long term investment to get a college degree in science? Almost certainly. But what is far less clear is if the demand for scientists over the long term is greater than the demand for those in non STEM professions or that the return on investment over the long term is going to be greater for those with science degrees compared to those with liberal arts and/or other professional degrees. A good reason to keep government out of the business of picking occupation winners and losers.