21st century education

Someone asked me for my ideas on what should the Governor’s new 21st Century Education Commission recommend. And to do it with no more than four recommendations. Difficult assignment.

Before getting to the two lists I did, a bit of context. I start with two pillars in thinking about education whether it is just k-12 as the commission is tasked with or more broadly from early childhood through higher education:

The first is that all kids deserve the same education no matter who their parents are. Without that we cannot live up to the core American value of equal opportunity for all. We are on the opposite track at the moment as both a country and a state. The education that is delivered to affluent kids is designed and executed differently than it is for non affluent kids. One system delivering a broad college prep (dare I say liberal arts) education, the other increasingly delivering a narrow education built around building discipline and what is on the test or now going back to narrowly preparing others’ children for a first job.

The second is that none of us have a clue what the jobs and occupations of the future will be. Today’s job are not a good indicator of what jobs will be when today’s k-12 students finish their careers in the 2050s or 2060s. We simply don’t know how smarter and smarter machines are going to change labor markets. So the purpose of K-12 education (maybe even K-16) is to build foundation skills that allow all Michigan children to have the agility and ability to constantly switch occupations. Our analogy: preparing rock climbers rather than ladder climbers in a world where known and linear career ladders are rapidly disappearing.

I answered the question with two lists of four recommendations. The first are the principles that matter most. I think this is the most important and impactful of the two lists.  The second four specifics.

My principles are:

  • The goal of K-12 for all kids, not just affluent kids, is a broad education that prepares them for good paying 40 year careers (unpredictable and nonlinear) anywhere on the planet
  • To do that non affluent kids need an education that is, at least as, focused on non cognitive skills and the rigorous 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity) as the content specific cognitive skills that are on the test.
  • Non affluent kids need/deserve more funding than affluent kids
  • Unregulated markets lower, not raise, student outcomes. We need choice+regulation with high student outcomes standards.

Build an education system around those four pillars and all kids have the best chance to enjoy middle class and above careers. If not you end up with the education caste system that we increasingly have today. Where kids growing up in affluent households are prepared to succeed in the 21st century and other kids overwhelmingly are not.

My four high leverage specifics:

  • Organize schooling around the 4Cs, not what is on the test. And use assessments that are aligned to the 4Cs.
  • Increase funding for all non affluent kids by $5,000 per year from birth through high school.
  • Make MDOE the only authorizer a la Massachusetts (the state with the best student achievement by far)
  • Measure K-12 schools by post secondary success of their graduates, not tests. (You need a better data system to do that. Florida and others are way ahead of us on that. If you don’t have a high school––which all charters should be required to do––still hold them accountable for the post secondary success of their 8th graders.)


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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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