Wednesday, January 9, 2019


Idaho Business for Education (IBE) is "a group of nearly 200 business leaders from across the state who are committed to transforming Idaho’s education system."

IBE works with the legislature and key Idaho stakeholders to help set our students up for success in school, work and life, and build the workforce that will lead to a vibrant economy for years to come. Our 2019 initiatives include the School Readiness Act, Career and Technical Education, and more.

They appear to work pretty closely with their elected officials for legislative goals. So, kind of like an Idaho-sized ALEC (although Idaho has had a pretty good relationship with full-sized ALEC). And like ALEC, IBE enjoys special access to legislators. That includes a "legislative academy" that traditionally takes place on the first day of the legislative session. While legislators were waiting to find out what their leadership is lining up for the year, IBE gets to brief them on business's thoughts and priorities.

This year, the bar is set high:

The world’s next industrial revolution presents a “huge opportunity” for Idaho, if the state can modify its school system to match it.

It's those teachers! They're the ones!

I love these unintentional scare quotes. Michael Schmedlen, Hewlett-Packard’s vice president for worldwide education, delivered the message of opportunity, because if we're going to reconfigure the entire education system, maybe we should talk about why.

Following the reform play book, Schmedlen started by telling scary stories.

Nearly two-thirds of today’s students will work in jobs that have not yet been created. Tomorrow’s workers will move much more from job to job. They will work in a competitive, diverse and global workplace. Students will need critical thinking skills, and they will need to learn to collaborate and innovate.

Sigh. It's been over a year since Matt Barnum decisively debunked the whole 65% of tomorrow's jobs haven't been created yet statistic, yet here it is again, still without any foundation.

The rest is interesting from a corporate honcho, because it's so cool and dispassionate and prescriptive ("workers will") while failing to acknowledge, as is usual, why this ugly future is on the way. Imagine if a corporate exec said it this way--

In the future, we will be offer no loyalty or job security to our employees-- we'll just keep giving the job who can do it well enough for the cheapest price, wherever they are in the world this week, and we'll dump those workers next week if we find a cheaper replacement. Workers had better be quick at picking up work requirements, because we don't want to waste time training them, and keeping meat widget costs down is more important to us than hanging on to experienced worker. I read the critical thinking, collaborate, innovate thing off some 21st century skills list thing, but yeah-- you need to be quick on problem solving and getting along because we expect you to cope with all this disruption and instability on your own-- or else we'll replace you with someone can. Meat widget problems are not management problems.

Schmedlen offered other keen insights.

Education should adapt quickly, he said. Schools need to offer highly sought-after skills — which can include traditional disciplines such as math, science and reading. But schools also need to improve their instructional approach and reform assessments.

While communities, states and nations need to change their education systems, Schmedlen cautioned against simply throwing money into technology, without studying the existing education system in detail. “Then you can create a roadmap for reform.”

Schools need to offer highly sought after skills because businesses are too cheap to do training (particularly if they have to do it often). What does the roadmap look like? Who knows.

But Schmedlen's co-presenter, Marcela Escobari, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, is there to add one little hint about what the subject should be:

Escobari couched the challenge in human terms. Too many workers are juggling multiple, part-time jobs to make ends meet — or they are dropping out of the labor market entirely.

“The low-skill jobs are becoming crappier,” said Escobari, to some nervous laughter.

Nervous laughter indeed. Because all the education in the world, even if it's designed by businesses to serve as their vocational training, will not turn crappy jobs into great jobs. IBE members will not be saying, "Well, now that you're so well-trained, we'll pay you better." It's not the K-12 education system's fault that businesses don't want to pay their meat widgets a living wage.

Here's the thing. Where I live, there's a popular welding program offered to our students, and plenty sign up to get that training because they know there are excellent jobs that pay really well available to welders. That's how it works-- you make a job attractive, and people line up to get the training for it. Train a bunch of people and then maybe we'll make the job better is not how it works-- but that is a good argument for shifting all responsibility for economic health from government and business onto education.

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