‘If kids don’t come out of high school today being innovative, they will come out being unemployed’

American high schools, according to venture-capitalist-turned-reformer Ted Dintersmith, were designed more than a century ago to produce efficient workers who could follow instructions. “Henry Ford did not need creative, bold, innovative assembly line workers,” he said.

Now, the U.S. economy has changed from manufacturing to innovation. Have schools changed with it?

Education reformer Ted DIntersmith wants more high schools to adopt the project-based approach of the vaulted High Tech High in San Diego.

Education reformer Ted Dintersmith wants more high schools to adopt the project-based approach of the vaulted High Tech High in San Diego.

Even with the technology revolution, most of us believed basic jobs — such as truck driving and delivery services — were immune. But along came Google’s self-driving car and Amazon Prime Air delivery drones.

As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address Tuesday, “Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.”

Over coffee in downtown Atlanta recently, Dintersmith contended most high schools still adhere to the industrial age model, only with greater intensity and more testing. The result: Disengaged students, unmotivated teachers and flat test scores.

“If we don’t have kids coming out of school being innovative, we are going to have kids coming out of school being unemployed,” said Dintersmith.

Dintersmith has invested some of his fortune, made from backing tech start-ups, and his time into finding high schools that believe teaching students to follow instructions sets them on a path to obsolescence. These schools don’t ask students whether they can factor polynomials quickly or list the elements in the periodic table — all of which can be done in an instant now with smartphones. Instead, these schools ask: Can you be creative? Can you be resourceful? “Can you innovate?”

Dintersmith is co-author of “Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Age,” and executive producer of the film “Most Likely to Succeed,” both of which showcase schools and programs that foster innovation rather than rote memorization.

Ted Dintersmith

Ted Dintersmith

Among them is the celebrated High Tech High in San Diego, which began with one public charter high school in 2000 and now includes a network of 13 schools using project-based learning that enables students to solve real-life problems by experimenting, failing and trying again.

In his quest to visit schools in every state — he’s been to 30 states thus far — Dintersmith encounters few schools that trust teachers and students enough to allow them to focus on what excites them. He sees students memorizing facts for tests and immediately forgetting them. “Life for students is all about jumping through meaningless hoops,” he said.

With a master’s degree in applied physics and a doctorate in engineering from Stanford University where he focused on mathematical modeling, Dintersmith values math. But he doesn’t think students ought to be forced marched into calculus under the rationale that understanding integral and derivatives enhances critical thinking.

“If there were 10,000 adults right now at a conference in Atlanta and you asked how many of them use calculus in their daily lives, the answer would be zero to three,” said Dintersmith. And those three people would compute integrals and derivatives on their computers.

With all the debt-laden college graduates complaining no one ever told them about the fine print on their student loan contracts, Dintermsith says high schools ought to teach financial literacy, along with probability, statistics and computer programming.

Dintersmith challenges the standard argument that advanced math improves critical thinking, saying that’s become the justification for piling on academic requirements that are inconsequential to the world in which students will live. Real critical thinking comes from analyzing and resolving real problems.

If high schools taught driving the same way they teach everything else, Dintersmith said students would review the parts of the car their first year, learn the history of tires the second, study safety regulations the third and memorize the brake system in their final year.

“They would have great grades,” he said, “but never learn how to drive.”

 

Reader Comments 0

20 comments
donosaur
donosaur

Much of what Mr. Dintersmith is reported to espouse could be taken to heart.No doubt schools, and teachers, need improvement.But that student who relies on a smart phone to factor a polynomial or, for that matter, to perform any simple mathematical function, will not understand the answer provided, nor even if it is correct, let alone whether it is a rational solution for the problem at hand.The notion that reliance on computers is a virtue already has non-technologically oriented school administrators and teachers focusing on the tools and not the substance of education.Allowing students to “focus on what excites them” will develop an outstanding generation of uneducated computer gamers.

Yes, use the available technology to its best advantage in educating those young skulls full of mush.But recognize that the technology is a tool, not an end in itself.As alluring as it is to them, most students are unlikely to make their way in this world as computer techs.Improve the education process, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

pokerjoe
pokerjoe

another great piece, Maureen....I'm making sure the principal at the high school where I teach sees this.

MiddleMan1995
MiddleMan1995

Checkout Henry County and what they are trying to do with personalized learning work. It's a public school system putting Dintersmith's points into action for their schools.

Tcope
Tcope

There are schools like what the subject of this article promotes, but they are all private.

Truth05
Truth05

They will most likely come out unemployed regardless. The US has reached a point where half the potential workforce is not needed and will have to find something else to do. Sadly because the US already has no safety net those who fall into the unemployed percent will probably live in poverty.

Starik
Starik

@Truth05 True. For every Ditch Witch, bulldozer, nail gun and every other time and labor saving device from the top of the economy to the bottom jobs are lost. 


We have one very successful safety net - crime. Crime does pay, and you can set your own hours.

Alberta
Alberta

Georgians just ain't the sharpest knives in the drawer.  In fact, we're ranked the 40th sharpest, as per the Best Educated index.  We've been ranked 40th on the best educated index for decades.  Seems everyone's happy with that.


No, most Georgians are much more concerned with religious liberty, bigotry and racism against Muslims and non-whites, hatred of a black man is in the White House, the Confederate flag and monuments, and their beloved guns. 


The fact that Georgia has produced the 40th best educated students in the US for decades and decades, with nary a hint of outrage from its citizens, speaks volumes to what's really important in their lives.  HELLO?????


At least we ain't Mississippi.  



Legong
Legong

Mr. Dintersmith makes much sense.

But sadly, our public schools are venues where political correctness often determines curriculum and the racial grievance industry holds the balance of power.

Alberta
Alberta

@Legong  Care to share some examples of political correctness determining the curriculum, and how the racial grievance industry holds the balance of power?


No, I think it's ignorant bigots like you, who were raised by ignorant bigots, and who are now raising ignorant bigots.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Surely Dr. Dintersmith did not deliberately forget the value of Readin', Writin' and 'Rithmetic to the HS grad in his/her quest for success in those several areas of life outside the workplace.

Reality Check here
Reality Check here

Grades and where someone went to college correlate poorly with financial success. That has been the case for decades.  However I would challenge the author to show credible statistics showing a high correlation between innovation and success. That would start with his definition of how innovation ability is measured. I am not talking about the people like Gates and Job and others in the dot com world have been successful. There are not that many of them. There are millions of "one percenters" who have been less innovative and more hard working savers in traditional professions that pay well. There have been studies that show a good correlation between success in math and success, but that is more likely to indicate a measure of intelligence than anything else as the author implies.


Truth05
Truth05

@Reality Check here Wrong. Nearly every successful startup has founders who came from a rich college. Why are they successful? Because their parents paid for their college, living expenses, and anything else they desired and they were able to focus 100% on their business idea. When poor people go to college they are forced into jumbo loans and have to work at the same time to pay for it, when they graduate they take the first job they can so they can make 'their payments.' The system is rigged from the start.

Q1225
Q1225

@Reality Check here 

“Grades…correlate poorly with financial success.”

“There have been studies that show a good correlation between success in math and success…”

So which is it?

Starik
Starik

Oh my, that is a good article. Does anyone think this can happen in Georgia?

Grob_Hahn
Grob_Hahn

@Starik It will likely be a decade or more AFTER the rest of the US has adopted the changes we need to see.  In Georgia students are taught "earth science" for most of their primary years.  By high school Georgia kids are experts on rocks and little else because the other sciences can be uncomfortable in a biblical sense.   Charter schools are slightly better but are plagued by cliques and cronies which drag students down in other ways.  

At some point maybe the actual students will top the agenda, but I doubt we'll see it for decades to come as the state keeps the educational "good ole boy/girl" system in full swing.  

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Grob_Hahn @Starik Nepotism, cronyism, sexual harassment, excuse-ism and worse are practices too widespread in GaPubEd. We'll see an end to such practices after we decide to put an end to them.