On March 27, 2012, The Atlantic hosted the “Jobs & Economy of the Future: Educating the Next Generation to Compete” town hall, underwritten by Microsoft. The town hall continued on themes from last year’s “Finding Work, Finding Our Way: Building the Economy & Jobs of the Future” digital town hall, bringing together a live audience of over 120 people with remote audiences joining the conversation via Skype from a group of key stakeholders gathered at the Microsoft offices in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on America to "invest in a vision of reform.” “There are no good jobs for high-school dropouts,” he said, but "we have over 2 million" high-skill jobs “we can't fill.” Woodruff pushed Duncan on issues like boosting teacher morale in the face of the increasing demands national standards place on those the profession. Duncan advocated for doubling teacher salaries, higher selectivity during teacher recruitment, and more intensive job training. Additionally, he attempted to reconcile what some consider competing values in education. The country needs thousands of new STEM teachers, he said, while acknowledging arts education as “key” to engaging students. Following the interview, Microsoft Vice President Brad Smith and Chief Executive Officer of the International Youth Foundation William Reese took the stage to unveil the “Opportunity for Action” report. The report, commissioned by Microsoft, analyzes the rising unemployment levels of the largest population ever of youth ages 18-24 worldwide. The report identifies several reasons behind this global “opportunity divide” and recommends public-private partnerships as way to provide educational economic opportunities to disadvantaged youth.
The Atlantic’s Washington Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons then moderated a panel on rethinking higher education that included Michael Greenstone, Director of The Hamilton Project; Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of DC Public Schools; Robert Mendenhall, President of Western Governors University; and Amy Rosen, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship. Clemons directed the first question to Greenstone, who elaborated on The Hamilton Project’s findings about the jobs gap and the increased demand for skilled and highly educated workers. Clemons asked Robert Mendenhall to explain the competency based learning model used at WGU, which “measures learning rather than time.” He said the need to “align the higher education system to employer needs” was a major impetus for the formation of Western Governors University. Henderson, who advocated for innovations in education to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology and culture, said that DC Public Schools is “working toward competency based” graduation standards. Amy Rosen cautioned that we should be “much more tactical” about the types of higher education we encourage the next generation to pursue. She encouraged teaching skills like financial literacy from an early age to provide children with greater real-world opportunity in the long run —opportunity that she referred to as the “magic ingredient” often missing from education today. In closing, all parties agreed that the higher education system should be as innovative and adaptable to change as many local K-12 districts, like DCPS, have been.
Speaking again with Judy, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) suggested that our fiscal approach to the K-12 system should mirror our fiscal approach to higher educations. He supported the idea of distributing federal aid to individual students who demonstrate the greatest financial need (like Pell grants), instead of granting federal funding to states, school districts, and schools. Senator Alexander also presented a contrasting view to Sec. Duncan. Although both agree on the Race to the Top initiatives that distribute money to states and school districts, Alexander vehemently opposed imposing uniform national education standards. He argued that “pioneering” state and local leaders, rather than federal lawmakers in Washington, accomplish “most of the action” in education. He defended individual, local, and state choice, even when a question in the audience raised the high default-rate among recipients of federal student loans to attend for-profit colleges.
The “Jobs & Economy of the Future: Educating the Next Generation to Compete” program convened major stakeholders in American education policy on key policy and social issues related to education and the workforce to further the conversation at a crucial juncture in the nation’s economic, political, and demographic development.
Check out the online conversation by following @Atlantic_LIVE and using #FutureEd
Watch the program by accessing the player below: