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Next Horizon Forum roundtable: Education and the Technological Singularity

An invitation to the next Horizon Forum meeting at the University of Minnesota:

Education and the Technological Singularity

January 27, 2010

11:30am – 1:30pm

250 Wulling Hall (U of M East Bank)

At the next Horizon Forum, you are invited to join the discussion, moderated by Arthur Harkins and John Moravec, with special guests, as we probe into the deep future of education.

The New York Times’ John Tierney published an interview with Ray Kurzweil on accelerating change:

Now, [Kurzweil] sees biology, medicine, energy and other fields being revolutionized by information technology. His graphs [of accelerating technological change] already show the beginning of exponential progress in nanotechnology, in the ease of gene sequencing, in the resolution of brain scans. With these new tools, he says, by the 2020s we’ll be adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves.

What does this mean for schools today? Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity is criticized for being technologically deterministic. But, are there relevant social and cultural aspects related to the human experience? At the Horizon Forum’s next open roundtable, will explore what changes could take place in our schools and learning institutions within the next 35 years as technology transforms the human mind and human potential… and what we can start doing today!

Lunch and validated parking will be provided. Please RSVP your attendance by 10am on January 25 to Carole MacLean at or call 612-625-5060.

The Horizon Forum is sponsored by the Preparation to Practice Group in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. For for information about the Horizon Forum, contact John Moravec at or call 612-625-3517.

Obama: Education is a national security issue

In this video from The UpTake forwarded to Education Futures from Bring Me the News, President Obama speaks on the relationship between education and national competitiveness (you can skip the introductions and jump to his talk which begins around 6:20 into the video):

President Obama: “So make no mistake: Our future is on the line. The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow. To continue to cede our leadership in education is to cede our position in the world. That’s not acceptable to me and I know it’s not acceptable to any of you. And that’s why my administration has set a clear goal: to move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade.”

Okay, so science and math education are important, but isn’t building a creative and innovative workforce important, too? Can we create a “race to the top” for creating meaningful innovations in education?

The impact of NCLB in the workplace

This year, Minnesota 2020 has released some exciting critiques of the state of education in Minnesota and nationally. And, by “exciting,” I mean sometimes scathing critiques … with a glimmer of hope. At the top of their hit list (and rightfully so) is No Child Left Behind. This morning, they blogged:

Last fall, the prestigious publication Education Week hosted an on-line chat about the federal No Child Left Behind law. One of the panelists was David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Ellen Solek of East Haddam, Conn., asked if Figlio was aware “of any current research that has, or is being conducted that determines correlation (if any) between K-12 student test scores, accountability, and future success in the workplace?”

This is a magnificent question because it goes to the heart of NCLB and how it relates to every Minnesotan. The question is simple: What difference does NCLB make?

Figlio doesn’t really have an answer. First, he says this: “It’s too early to know about the effects of accountability on workplace success.” Then he says “there have been a number of studies that have linked K-12 test scores to labor market outcomes as adults,” but then adds “these papers use data that are decades old, however.”

This is a great question: Does the government’s vision of education output products that are meaningful in today’s workforce? My hunch is that research will show that NCLB is failing to produce workers of the caliber the United States needs. NCLB is great at producing automatons that can parrot back responses required for tests (or make great assembly line workers), but not creatives that will power our growing imagination- and innovation-driven economy. Who will hire graduates from the NCLB generation?

No burger flippers left behind

About an hour ago, Maya Frost tweeted something utterly disturbing:

Not So Global: Share of US public elementary schools teaching foreign language classes drops by 40% in last decade

From the linked article (via Public School Insights):

The share of U.S. public elementary schools teaching foreign language has fallen by almost 40% over the last decade. You know–the decade when 9/11, globalization, and growing diversity at home fueled calls for greater knowledge of other languages and cultures.

Education Week published these disheartening preliminary results of a new survey by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). The full results will be available in autumn.

My fear is that is a part of a widening trend where the U.S. education system is failing to meet the needs of the workforce. If graduates from U.S. public institutions cannot function in a global, intercultural environment, what employment hopes do they have? A low level role at McDonald’s?

Is it too late to bring creativity to schools?

An interesting conversation on creativity is emerging on the blogosphere.

Many people saw Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on reintroducing creativity into schools, and undermine assembly line approaches to creating automatons out of students. On Sunday, North Carolina 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter countered, “Creativity is dead, Ken,” and outlined barriers in his classroom that makes creativity impossible:

  • States define MASSIVE curricula for our kids
  • No one is measuring creativity
  • Teachers are rarely encouraged to be creative
  • Progressive thinkers aren’t making policy

(More in Bill’s post…)

The Guardian, however, posted an interview with Ken Robinson last week, getting his take on the state of education after the UK abolished much of its testing regime:

He suggests the education system needs to be not just reformed, but transformed – and urgently. In times of economic crisis, we need to think more creatively than ever, he says. “Just about everywhere, the problems are getting worse.”

The history of education has been centered on educational “reform,” but very little has ever been reformed. If we have failed at reforms for so long that education needs a radical transformation, then would it be easier for us to work outside of the education system rather than inside of it?

Other people who put their two cents in:

Tapscott: Memorizing facts is a waste of time

Cristóbal Cobo forwarded an article from Brand Republic from earlier this year. It contains a few provocative lines from Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics:

Tapscott said: “Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge — the internet is. Kids should learn about history but they don’t need to know all the dates.

“It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. 

They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google. Memorising facts and figures is a waste of time.”

Absolutely! “Download”/banking style pedagogies are made obsolete by Google and Wikipedia.

In our Leapfrog series, we have argued that education should concentrate on “upload” pedagogies, based on knowledge production by students and collaborating faculty, together with augmentations provided by a new category of community-based volunteers. Using the most advanced forms of information search engines, networks, early artificial intelligence, and the aforementioned volunteers, there is an opportunity to leapfrog education beyond any of the competition. This will require fundamental changes in the mission, structure, and curricula of education at all levels.

Time to drop memorization and refocus education on the liberal skills?

Grim outlook on college affordability

Today, the New York Times reports that, “the rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans,” rapidly outpacing increases in family income … and even outpacing increases in health care expenses. Citing a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the paper reveals that, “college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.”

I touched on the “cost disease” of higher education a bit in my doctoral dissertation:

Baumol and Wolff (1998) state that, “improving education is the approach that is most likely to have substantial and lasting results” (p. 5). Education, however, is subject to his second prediction, a “cost disease” hypothesis, which describes a productivity lag in labor-intensive industries that struggle to keep pace with accelerating change (see esp. Baumol & Bowen, 1966; Baumol & Towse, 1997). This results in reduced growth in productivity, and, as a result, the cost of educational services increases. Writing on Baumol’s related work on rising costs in the performing arts services sector, Heilbrun (2003) states the cost disease problem is not necessarily bleak: “The problem of productivity lag exists only because there is persistent technological progress in the general economy which causes a rise in output per work hour and in real wages, in other words a rise in per capita income, which, in turn, increases the demand for the arts” (p. 99).

But, there’s more. The recession is impacting the ability of states to cushion against rising college expenses, with many considering reducing contributions to public universities. Coupled, however, with the unique element of this particular economic downturn that makes it difficult for students to secure student loans, the middle class is particularly stressed and may lead to a larger gap in higher education access. Is public education becoming a luxury for the wealthy?


Baumol, W. J., & Bowen, W. G. (1966). Performing arts, the economic dilemma: A study of problems common to theater, opera, music, and dance. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.

Baumol, W. J., & Towse, R. (1997). Baumol’s cost disease: The arts and other victims. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA, USA: E. Elgar.

Baumol, W. J., & Wolff, E. N. (1998). Side effects of progress. Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Education Futures censored in China

I’m back from China (jet lagged and blurry-eyed)!

One of the most interesting aspects of my visit to Anqing Teachers College for an international conference on Leapfrog Education is that the Leapfrog Institutes and Education Futures websites were non-accessible from within China, but were available to the rest of the world. The Golden Shield Project, more commonly referred to as the Great Firewall of China, is a censorship (and surveillance) system operated by the Chinese central government, designed to prevent Chinese citizens from reviewing or discussing anything that the government views as subversive or criminal. Despite the government’s investment in the system, an ecosystem of easily accessible technologies provide workarounds to Chinese censorship on the Internet. (See Wikipedia on the topic for more details.)

An interesting observation is that the Great Firewall of China is not uniformly oppressive. At the beginning of my stay, I was able to access Education Futures from the Holiday Inn-Downtown Shanghai, but was not able to access it anywhere in Anqing. Oddly, when I returned to the Holiday Inn several days later, the site was blocked at that location as well. (The Atlantic suggests that Beijing may have granted hotels greater Internet liberties due to an increased presence of foreigners during the Olympic Games.) A review of site traffic logs suggests that EF was censored sometime in June, 2008:

Education Futures visits from China (via Google Analytics)

Pre-Censure: January 1, 2008 – June 30, 2008

Post-Censure: July 1, 2008 – October 20, 2008

I’m not sure what content posted at EF would earn the blog a spot among sites censored in China, but curious readers can review China-related posts here.

My question: is being censored in China a great honor … or is it something to be concerned about?

A "New" Minnesota Miracle

This morning, the Star Tribune published a piece on a push by DFL legislators for a “New Minnesota Miracle,” through an injection of $2.5 billion into K-12 education in Minnesota. From the article:

The plan would pour money into basic education funding for schools to use as they see fit. There also would be more money to cover school special education costs, pay for all-day kindergarten for everyone who wants it, and reimburse schools for some of their lost revenues due to declining enrollments.

When I saw the phrase, “a New Minnesota Miracle,” I thought, “hmmm… that sounds familiar.” When I saw state Rep. Denise Dittrich’s name associated with the push, I thought that name sounded familiar, too. So, I did a little digging through the Education Futures archives, and discovered that Arthur Harkins and I presented a pathway for a second Minnesota Miracle to the House E-12 Education Committee Working Group on High School Redesign, chaired by Rep. Dittrich:

A key difference between the Leapfrog pathway and Dittrich’s scheme is that Leapfrog calls for no new money (or very little new money) to be injected into K-12 education by the state. Rather, as knowledge-producing institutions, schools and communities would be encouraged to develop new economic models for funding K-12 education by bonding schools with the innovative workforce. Following our presentation with the working group last January, we were asked how much money did we want. We said nothing – and the panel was astonished. Is it possible that innovation in education can be accomplished without legislative intervention?

At least she’s not calling her spending plan “Leapfrog.”

(And, yes, I think K-12 education need to be fully funded. I just don’t agree that we should expect money to create a miracle… unless if we have a plan. Our plan is Leapfrog.)

The adequate yearly conspiracy?

Whitney Stark at Minnesota Public Radio wrote me to ask what I think about the increase in schools that fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind:

Minnesota Public Radio News is interested in learning more about what is going on with Minnesota’s declining and low Adequate Yearly Progress results. What are the underlying factors in these numbers? What is contributing? We would like you to help us learn! Working wuth Education Futures, I am sure that you have an informed and connected insight. We would love to hear from you.

You can help us learn more about Minnesota education and our recent AYPs at:

And to learn more about the Public Insight Journalism Network, please go to:

We would also love if you could post some information on our query in your blog, or pass that link along to students, volunteers, parents, co workers, a neighbor — anyone you feel may have thoughtful and informed insight into the topic.

Here is some info and links you can post:

More Minnesota schools failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards. Why?
The Minnesota Department of Education shows that a greater number of state schools are failing to meet federal education standards, falling nearly 10 percent from the previous year.
The survey also shows that, for the first time, most of the decline was in suburban schools.
What’s going on in your school?
Help MPR News understand what’s behind the increase. Please click here.
While Minnesota students actually got better test scores this year, only half the schools in Minnesota made adequate yearly progress, according to federal guidelines.That’s down from two-thirds last year and three-quarters in 2006 (for more information, read this story).

Most of this year’s decline was in the suburbs, since Minneapolis and St. Paul schools showed little change. Only four more urban schools were added to the state’s watch list this year, out of about 160.
What are the underlying factors for these numbers? What would you say are the one or two most significant reasons for the increase in schools failing to make AYP?
From your vantage point as a student, a parent, a teacher or administrator, help MPR News understand the significance of these test results. Tell us your insights.

A colleague who works with the Minnesota Department of Education on projects responded, “don’t they know that AYP is a conspiracy?”

More on this story tomorrow…  that is, if I can get my colleague to guest blog…!