Episode 7: Education Cleavage

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Transcript of Audio:

Welcome back to Three Deviations Out!  Last week we talked about the distributed internet and how to cut the ultimate cord.  This week we’ll cover the very real and distinct split in our education system.  I will warn you this week was pretty hectic so the episode is short, because education is already a massive topic I will be revisiting at a later date, don’t worry.

Now, before I get all riled up, let’s cover the basics:

What: The failure and subsequent splintering of education ideologies across the country as we all try to figure out how to break away from our antiquated system that will ruin us in only a few years.

Who: United States Department of Education, Common Core Advocates, Charter School Advocates, Teachers’ Unions, Private Schools, Non-Profit Education Initiatives, the Montessori Schools, F-infotech, Eduventures, Codeacademy, Duolingo, Lumosity, IBM, P-TECH,

Why:  In just a few years there will come a cleavage point in our society where the majority will not be able to get jobs with the skills they learned in high school or college, and those already in the workforce will have their jobs automated.  The choice will be to either upskill or give up, fall back on the state.  Unfortunately, at the scale expected our country will not be able to support the number of individuals whose skills will not fit into the new economy.  When that happens, we need to have a fallback plan to ensure the ability to keep going, to keep innovating.

83.3% of full time, first time postsecondary students received some sort of federal financial aid in the 2014 – 2015 school year, up from 75% ten years earlier. Overall, 38.3% of undergraduate students received financial aid in 2014 – 2015 with the average loan of $6,831 annually resulting in $27,324 of total debt in the expected 4-year graduation.  In the graduation year of 2009, though, only 53.8% of students nationally graduated their 4-year program within 6 years of the start date. As for high school, over the course of 4 years an average of 3.6% of students drop out nationally, with the majority (4.8% overall) dropping out in their senior year. In 2015 the United States fell just on the average of OECD countries in reading and science, and was lower than the average in mathematics.  As a country we are also investing less over time in primary and tertiary education as other OECD countries spend more, with steady declines in investment rates since 2009 though since then the economy has only grown.  Our country’s teachers are overworked and underpaid when compared to others and have minimal time to lesson plan and give feedback to students because they are consistently in the front of the classroom, teaching.  That’d be like expecting me to have a six-hour blog post ready to go each day, all prepped and researched by myself.  I could maybe do it for a week.  If that.

So, what we get out of that ramble is what many of us already know.  Our country’s education system is broken.  It’s been broken for a number of years.  However, with the technological changes making their way to the mainstream right now and a major socioeconomic shift in how we perceive what a ‘job’ is just over the horizon, something’s going to break.  Estimates suggest that 38% of Americans could lose their job to automation over the next 15 years with the biggest hits suffered in routine tasks such as manufacturing, administration, transportation, and logistics.  Using August’s job numbers, that is the equivalent of nearly 60,000 people across the country losing their jobs with no chance of receiving another position in their field.  That’s a population the size of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Today’s theory: A technological revolution will upend the socioeconomic system we’ve been contentedly dealing with for the past century or so, and we are not prepared for that.

What we’ll cover today:

  • Informal Education, including Public/Private Partnerships and Technological Reform
  • Use Cases
  • Things You Should Absolutely Know
  • The Idealized World in Amanda’s Head

Informal Education:

Education has increasingly become an intrinsically motivated institution.  From Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to online universities, high skill apprenticeships, technology incubators, and education apps, online or informal education is a growing trend.  Because of easy access, with cost and other barriers to entry removed many are understanding that a traditional formal college education is not necessarily providing the skills a person needs to succeed in the workplace or in society after graduation.

Use Cases:

As a mature and widespread market, education has a wide variety of use cases I could choose from to talk about here.  Because of that, I’ve chosen just one to focus on for each of the categories I covered just a minute ago.  The real-world examples I will be focusing on are: BASIS Scottsdale, Onondaga Community College, P-TECH and IBM, and Coursera.

BASIS Scottsdale:

The number one charter school in the country started in 2003 with 138 students.  The goal of the school is to merge STEM ideals with a liberal arts education, idealizing the merging of the fuzzy and the techie.  While focusing on traditional STEM and liberal arts subjects, there is a high emphasis on time management and organization.  For 5 years the organization has been listed in the Washington Post’s ‘Top Performing Schools with Elite Students’.  The option to go charter is a difficult one that all families have to make at an individual level.  A student may have more availability to resources and be more challenged than in a traditional public-school setting, but in turn may also have a more focused academic path chosen for them instead of being able to choose it themselves.  This school has proven its clout though and this and the other BASIS charter schools are making this style of education very enticing.

Community College

Community colleges are on the rise.  42% of undergraduates were enrolled in a community college in fall 2014.  Compared to the lofty price of a public or private four-year college, community college tuition ranges from just under $1,500 (California) to just over $7,500 (Vermont).  And depending on which state you live in, a community college will give you the same quality of education and access to resources as a full-time university while offering more flexibility and less expense.  Many community colleges offer partnerships with full-time universities to ensure credits transfer if you decide to move from the two-year program to the four year program, and business partnership allow these institutions access to internships and apprenticeships that may not be interested in those working toward a full-time degree.


There are 56 P-TECH schools in the country.  P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, and these schools span from grades 9 to 14, instead of the traditional 9 – 12 model.  IBM has developed these schools to allow students an opportunity for a no cost associate’s degree in a subject area that has been deemed business necessary.  The focus is in STEM but also incorporates other necessary workplace skills like communication and business analysis.  Students are focused on a path toward a career from day one of 9th grade and can easily see the path to graduation with an accredited degree, removing the stressors of college application and tuition.  This public/private partnership allows for a different path than the traditional high school, and is offering an interesting use case study on what tailoring education to business needs actually accomplishes.


Coursera is a great meeting of the altruistic and the capitalistic minded.  The site does a great service; it provides high quality education through lecture, tutorials, class discussions, and interactive exams all available online.  Mostly these courses are free, or some aspect of them is free.  But in instances where someone wants to have a bit more recognition for what they’ve done there is the ability to ‘purchase’ a class and receive a certificate at the end indicating they’ve obtained that skill.  This allows for the more traditional university feel, with a type of degree received at the end, with a much lower price and more flexible hours than available traditionally.  Coursera has offerings spanning from deep learning to linguistics to art history and software development.  There are tutors available, study groups within each course, and access to top tier academic scholars.  Right now Coursera partners with 145 post-secondary institutions, has 25 million active users, over 2,000 courses, and four full-length degrees.

Things You Should Absolutely Know:

It’s hard to guess what skills we humans will need to have in the next decade or so.  With technology moving as quickly as it is I and we can make a lot of assumptions but really, it’s all up in the air until it actually happens.  There are a few things that are always key when interacting with one another and moving our society forward.  First of all, the ability to simply interact is key.  Communicating effectively and being able to effectively understand others when they’re trying to communicate with you is a skill that will never go away, and will become more important as many of us work in more collaborative settings today than we would have 10 years ago.  Another key skill will be the ability to access and assess our emotions in a positive way.  This goes along with communication but also ties in creativity and out of the box thinking.  By access and assess our emotions I don’t mean get all touchy feely all the time.  What I mean is the ability to be in a situation, check yourself, and make sure your reaction is appropriate to what is going on around you.  For example, if you are giving an important and widely watched speech, don’t allow yourself to get worked up into an angry fit and call people names.  Again, as we get more collaborative in our work spaces and communities, situational awareness and empathy are key skills.  Lastly, everyone should know how to use a computer.  I’m not saying you need to be able to code in C++ or hack into classified documents.  Just know the basics, and be willing to learn more as you do more in your online life.  Maybe take a Coursera on web development or html, or do some reading on the history of the semiconductor.  Tech is pervasive now, there’s no escaping it.  So know something about it.

The Idealized World:

There’s a realization we have to face as a society, and we have to do it quickly.  That is, we don’t know what skills will be needed in the job market in 10 years.  The majority of us are just making wild guesses while a few very impressive humans are making more educated predictions.  Especially with robotics and AI automation potentially able to more successfully complete a lot of tasks that make up entire current industries, we need to approach education differently.  Instead of the outcome of education being a specific job we should consider the types of traits and skills we want to see in our overall society, both professionally and socially.  We need to consider what it means to be uniquely human, and what kind of humans we want to mean.  And this especially means that education, either through formal or informal channels, does not stop at adolescence.  Learning new skills and being introduced to new ideas as a lifelong endeavor needs to become the norm, not the exception.  As we move to a less ‘job focused’ socioeconomic system we need to change our habits and preconceptions or risk falling into the proverbial pit.

Thanks for joining me for another episode of Three Deviations Out.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Leave comments, concerns, questions and arguments below, and follow me on Twitter @greaterthanxbar.  Next week we have a special treat, Jen Hamel will be joining us as Three Deviations Out’s first guest!  Follow her on Twitter @jenhameltbr and join us next week to talk about Artificial Intelligence.  The Robots are Here!