Mar 28, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Any stories we should be chasing? Hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Kaveh Waddell is at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

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1 big thing: Rebooting high school

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In high schools across the U.S., a quiet movement is underway to better prepare students for a hazy new future of work in which graduates will vie for fast-changing jobs being transformed by increasingly capable machines.

Kaveh writes: Breaking with traditional schooling, these new models emphasize capabilities over knowledge — with extra weight on interpersonal skills that appear likely to become ever more valuable.

The big picture: No one really knows what future jobs will look like or the skills that will be necessary to carry them out. But researchers and companies alike widely believe that, as a start, interpersonal and management skills will differentiate humans from machines.

High schoolers are often being taught skills that will soon be handed over to machines, and they're missing out on more valuable ones.

  • "The current system was created to develop a large body of people who can perform repetitive tasks in a strict hierarchy," says Scott Looney, head of Hawken School in Ohio.
  • "We're preparing young people for jobs that won't exist," says Russlynn Ali, CEO of the education nonprofit XQ Institute and a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.

Education research has largely overlooked high school, Ali tells Axios — but that's started to change. Among a new spate of efforts:

  • A new teaching method at Summit Shasta, a charter school just outside San Francisco, where students choose the skills they want to focus on — pegged to their college and career aspirations (see item 2 in newsletter).
  • A curriculum revamp at Lakeside School in Seattle, in which faculty and students are developing a list of future-proof skills they want to teach.
  • A "mastery transcript" under development by a group of top high schools — Hawken's Looney is the project's founder — that measures a student's skills, habits and knowledge as an alternative to the typical list of letter grades.

19 schools received large grants from the XQ Institute, an affiliate of the Emerson Collective, which invests in Axios, with the stated objective of inventing new ways of teaching future-proof skills.

To encourage the teaching of demanded skills in addition to knowledge, the "mastery transcript" gives students credit for attributes like persistence, teamwork and resilience — "characteristics that colleges and employers are actually looking for," Looney says.

But, but, but: High school is just one of the moving parts of education that experts say need to change. Colleges — especially community colleges — are vital for developing new skills, Harvard's Claudia Goldin tells Axios. And companies are experimenting with new ways of re-training workers whose school days are long behind them.

2. One school's experiment

Students at Summit Shasta. Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty

On a recent visit to Summit Shasta, Kaveh watched students in a science class assemble circuits and listened as English students read through a New York Times review before diving into a new book — Junot Diaz's "Oscar Wao."

  • As they worked, whiteboards displayed the skill each activity emphasized, like explaining evidence or modeling difficult problems.
  • These skills are among the dozens that students track through an online hub — something like a custom Trello or Asana for school.

Kaveh writes: This platform is at the center of students' lives. They use it to organize assignments, projects and goals.

  • Summit Shasta's principal, Caitlyn Herman, says students are meant to learn three essential things: content knowledge, critical thinking and habits of success.
  • These last two, she hopes, will get students better prepared for college and for work than if they were only learning traditional subject-matter knowledge.

"You can't just know stuff," Herman told Axios. "You have to develop these attributes that are going to work well with people. You need to be able to create a plan and be flexible with that plan when things change."

At the end of Kaveh's visit, he met with three Summit Shasta students who talked about how they'd personalized their learning, choosing classes, projects and internships based on their goals.

  • Josephine, a senior, said she wants to be a physician's assistant. She's lined up internships during the school year at a rehab center, and she spoke impressively about how her chosen field is likely to be transformed by AI and robotics.
  • "I probably have to work more on communication skills," she said. Even if robots are increasingly involved in medicine, Josephine said, she will still need to work with physicians and patients.
3. Sign of the times: Making ends meet

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The share of Americans who expect to postpone their retirement has jumped from 37% in 2015 to 52% in 2019, according to a survey of working U.S. adults by MetLife.

Erica writes: Americans who came of age during the financial crash — the Great Recession generation — are burdened by three times as much debt as their parents, primarily from student loans, and are less likely than any other generation to own homes.

  • Half of respondents to MetLife's survey said they are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • A third said they are dipping into their retirement savings despite penalties.
4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

13,000 CRISPR edits on one cell (Antonio Regalado — MIT Tech Review)

Huawei, the 5G boogeyman (Kim Hart, Alison Snyder, Sara Fischer — Axios)

Inside Google's rebooted robotics arm (Cade Metz — NYT)

How Facebook grew too big to handle (Hannah Kuchler — FT)

When it's cheaper to order in than eat out (Lulu Chen, David Ramli, Peter Elstrom — Bloomberg)

5. 1 embarrassing thing: Putting your laptop on the big screen

Photo: Getty

Office meetings have transformed from a group of colleagues around a table to a tech-infused extravaganza, with well-designed slide decks on flat-screen TVs and people calling in from all over the world.

Erica writes: One consequence of the new and improved meetings is the screen-sharing faux pas.

  • All over corporate America, employees suffer from the crippling embarrassment that washes over you when your laptop is on the big screen and a personal text message or email pops into view, reports the New York Times.

Some cringeworthy examples:

  • Tina Kolokathis of New York was presenting her work to a roomful of company executives when one of her friends texted her about a bowel movement. Tina had not turned notifications off.
  • Ashley Claire Earnest of Bethesda was mid-presentation when a raunchy email from her significant other appeared in the upper-right hand corner. Thankfully, her audience laughed it off.
Bryan Walsh