The late business guru, Russell Ackoff, famously said, “It’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.”
At a time when many districts seem to be focused on doing the wrong thing right by working to raise test scores to the exclusion of anything else, we’re taking a different approach at Anaheim Union High School District — building a bridge to the future so that students can achieve their unique potential based on their passions and talents. We called it the “Unlimited You.”
We live in a time when economists predict some 65 percent of the jobs that current K-12 students will hold haven’t yet been invented. Locally, economist Wallace Walrod of the Orange County Business Council has warned that Orange County will need to better prepare a pipeline of talent to backfill over 100,000 white collar jobs lost to retirement with what he calls “new collar” jobs.
It is not only the kind of jobs that will exist, however, but the number. Billionaire philanthropists and thought leaders such as Working Nation founder Art Bilger, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk have warned of extreme disruptions in employment over the coming years, with Working Nation positing a 45 percent loss of jobs in ten to twenty years.
Yuval Noah Harari, futurist and author of several bestsellers on the effects of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, goes so far as to suggest a coming “useless class,” a large sector of society that will have no economic worth and will therefore need a “universal basic income” to divert possible massive social unrest.
With rising rates of teenage anxiety, depression and isolation, more emphasis on metrics like the SAT and standardized tests is not the answer, and legislation that would make the SAT a required state test for all high school students is more of doing the wrong thing right. It is time to build an innovation ecosystem in education.
At Anaheim Union High schools, we are working to ensure that our students are prepared for the “new collar” world, gainfully employed and able to achieve an unlimited future.
In partnership with North Orange County Community College District, Cal State University, Fullerton and UC Irvine, we have developed the Anaheim Education Pledge, which fundamentally changes the drivers for education from focusing on “college readiness” (through test scores) to “college, career and life success.” Nearly three years in the making, this agreement includes the region’s most comprehensive mentoring program involving dozens of corporate and nonprofit partners.
Our aim is to steer students away from a “one size fits all” future to one in which they find their passion for education and use it to solve problems and make the world a better place for all. One of our partners, Disneyland Resort, recently awarded our district $350,000 to help grow our internship program to 500 students as part of its commitment to workforce investment.
Academic metrics and test scores still matter, but the emphasis on the whole child and development of emotional and relational intelligence matters more. According to Dr. Harari and others, emotional intelligence is a vital skill to have as Generation Z faces that uncertain future.
We focus on 5 Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and character/compassion. These 21st century skills are embedded in daily instructional practices and have resulted in amazing accomplishments for students, including a 43 percent increase in admissions to UC Irvine.
This focus is also what attracts our business and non-profit partners, now numbering nearly seventy, from seventeen cities. Many CEOs and HR directors have told me that we are one of the few districts focused on developing better emotional intelligence and relational skills that will result in increased customer service, job satisfaction and happiness.
There is little doubt that we are headed toward rough waters, fraught with danger and uncertainty. Fear sometimes freezes people into the status quo, where it’s safer to do what we’re used to doing like rearranging the deck chairs.
But let’s not forget that FEAR may be met in more than one way: we can Forget Everything And Run, or we can Face Everything And Rise. At Anaheim Union High School District, we choose to rise, so that every child can achieve their “Unlimited You” in the journey called life.
Michael B. Matsuda is the superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District.
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