A looming crisis, Ted Dintersmith says, makes you do unusual things.
Since he began working on the 2015 book and documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed,” Dintersmith has been personally focused on the crisis that is America’s antiquated education system.
As he became increasingly aware that “our schools are training students for a world that no longer exists,” this successful venture capitalist and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations chose to find answers in a very unusual way: He spent one full school year on the road visiting 200 different schools throughout all 50 states.
He talked with teachers, students, parents, administrators and governors, and held hundreds of community forums and meetings, simply to learn. What exactly is happening in American childhood education, he asked, and what changes do we need to make in order to improve it?
The fruits of that research evolved into a powerful new book called “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America.” Dintersmith is coming to Pittsburgh on May 2 to discuss what he learned.
He hopes you’ll join him at this free public event, co-hosted by NEXTpittsburgh and Remake Learning.
In discussing this crisis in education and exploring his own efforts to support the cause, Dintersmith is disarmingly honest. In an early chapter of the book, he uses the phrase “my former expert self,” in talking about how much he thought he knew about American schools a decade ago.
Since then, his research and firsthand experiences have led him to be both encouraged and inspired by what creative teachers are doing, and also very sure that our country’s focus on test scores and century-old methods of rote memorization are a wholly wrong approach for today’s students.
It’s time, Dintersmith says, for “aligning what kids study in school with what’s important in life.”
He’s also sure that too many people are preaching solutions that they haven’t fully researched or thought through.
“A lot of business people tell me we’ll never fix schools without breaking up the unions,” he says. In the schools he’s visited, he’s found the opposite: “All I see are dedicated teachers,” he says. “It’s the wrong issue to focus on.”
He hears others say, “We need to give families choices” of schools. But he’s found no evidence that “pitting schools against each other on the basis of test score performances” improves their actual effectiveness.
“If you’re choosing on the wrong metric,” Dintersmith says, “you’re only reinforcing a failed model.”
We can do better, he says. And we must if we’re going to make sure the next generation of kids can be capable of succeeding at jobs in an era of automation and machine learning.
The encouraging news is this: When kids are given the chance to work on projects together and dive into subjects that they can see relating to the real world, they flourish.
Dintersmith talked with kids who are excited about school because their teachers have found ways of really helping them grow and learn.
“Give them problems they care about,” he says, and they will do well.
And cities like our own, where innovation is happening, can be a model for others.
“Pittsburgh is leading the way in bringing together their community to reimagine learning for their children,” Dintersmith writes in his book, praising the work of Remake Learning and its efforts “to give all Pittsburgh kids access to resources like makerspaces, robotics programs, toy design and multimedia tools to create works of art.”
As Remake Learning Days approaches, Dintersmith says this kind of public showcase of innovation is incredibly valuable for a community as it tackles the question of 21st-century education.
Sharing what’s working in Pittsburgh is imperative, he says, and teachers throughout the country can benefit from the example of Remake Learning.
“If you were the only teacher in a school trying to innovate, life is lonely,” he says. Knowing other teachers are doing exciting things can change everything. One teacher who gets inspired by what’s happening in Pittsburgh can then inspire another, and another.
“And it’s easier,” he says, “for 10 teachers in a school to innovate than one.”
Read more about the evening with Ted Dintersmith on May 2 at the O’Reilly Theater here. Our founder and publisher, Tracy Certo, will be hosting a Q & A conversation with Dintersmith on the O’Reilly stage, diving into his research and discussing his ideas with the audience. It’s free, with a book signing and reception to follow.