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LAUSD 2040 and the search for our next superintendent

Russ Altenburg and Margeaux Randolph | March 12, 2018

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Dear Board Members García, Gonez, McKenna, Melvoin, Rodriguez, Schmerelson, and Vladovic:

Your choice for LAUSD’s next superintendent will be one of the most important decisions in the history of the district. No one envies the complex choices and tradeoffs you face in the years ahead as you navigate monumental decisions related to fiscal stability and student outcomes. Dwarfing all these issues, however, is the catastrophic risk of leaving so many young Angelenos vulnerable to the tidal wave of change from exponentially advancing digital technologies like artificial intelligence (A.I.), automation, and robotics. The storm is coming, and it will not discriminate.

LAUSD needs to act now to strengthen the connection between school and work so that our students are better prepared for a world defined by a labor force in flux.

A Brave New World

47 percent of current U.S. middle-class jobs are at risk due to automation over the next 20 years, according to an Oxford report. There is no dispute that the world is headed for a massive economic disruption in which whole categories of jobs will be wiped out. The only debate is to what degree.

Consider this list of the Top 20 jobs in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Santa Ana. (See chart below.) How many of these jobs are immune to advances in A.I. and robotics? How many parents are working in these jobs today? How many LAUSD graduates currently place into these jobs? As jobs — which provide personal fulfillment, economic stability, and often a pathway for upward social mobility — go away, the risk of increased income inequality and mass poverty is downright scary.

LAUSD 2040

A child born today will enter the workforce around 2040. She deserves champions who create learning experiences that more adequately prepare her for the future world of work. It’s our moral obligation to be those champions. Accordingly, we believe the most important criterion for evaluating and selecting the next superintendent needs to be that individual’s vision for LAUSD 2040.

LAUSD 2040 should be a shared vision for a learner-centered public education system in which all children are prepared and excited for their futures, are able to deeply engage in their own communities, their nations, and the world, and are able to fulfill their potential.

LAUSD 2040 must recognize that during the next 20 years, more may change in our employment landscape and the way we work than has happened in the last 2,000 years. It must confront the advances in A.I. and automation, recognize the disruptive impacts on global commerce and labor markets, and deeply evaluate three big questions:

  1. For what future are we preparing our students?
  2. What skills and behaviors will students need to succeed in this future?
  3. What is the purpose of school in this future?

LAUSD 2040 must also identify ways to harness opportunities that emerge from this disruption. It should anticipate the growth of key sectors, such as the imagination economy (i.e. VR, 3D printing, game design), neuroscience and bioengineering, technology ethics and policy, and renewable energy. These new technologies can help create high-paying jobs and positive life outcomes for all, but they will require advanced technical and interpersonal skills. LAUSD has the opportunity to lead the way in preparing students for these exciting industries of tomorrow.

Preparing Young Students for a World of Uncertainty

Today’s learners face an uncertain present and a rapidly changing future that demands far different skills and knowledge than we needed in past decades. In addition to foundational cognitive skills, students will need to increasingly develop emotional intelligence and agency in order to become lifelong learners and creators who can adapt. Having a strong inner self that is resilient, reflective, and able to develop positive connections and relationships will help form a foundation more ready to withstand the forces of change.

Building on this foundation, we believe it will be critical for students to develop the skills to: learn anything, anytime, anywhere; act ethically and empathetically; think entrepreneurially; solve problems; synthesize disparate data; take initiative and self-advocate; acquire professional networks; cultivate inclusive communities; communicate and create; and thrive in ambiguity. LAUSD schools will need to change in order to more deliberately focus on these skills.

Choose Wisely

Let’s not lose sight of the goal. Your job is to truly prepare students for college, career, and life, not just get them through K-12. Thus, each of you, as well as our next superintendent, needs to have a point of view on what LAUSD should look like in 2040. Our collective future depends on how well young people prepare for the challenges and opportunities of 21st-century life.

The next superintendent must confront the realities of the massive technological sea change that will completely remake the world, and in doing so, redefine readiness and articulate an expanded definition of student success. In a future that will see a seismic shift in global labor markets, a 100 percent high school graduation rate can no longer be our North Star.

Avoid the fate of the boiling frog. We ask you to consider three things:

  1. Answer the aforementioned three questions together during an upcoming board meeting. For what future are we preparing our students? What skills and behaviors will students need to succeed in this future? What is the purpose of school in this future?
  2. Make LAUSD 2040 a cornerstone criterion in evaluating superintendent prospects. While a focus on pressing issues like student attendance, collective bargaining, and fiscal stability is indeed important, know that you can succeed on all these issues and the Titanic may still very well crash and sink. The Age of Automation is our colossal iceberg.
  3. Host a convening to surface new ideas that strengthen the connection between school and work. Bring together educators, industry partners, civic leaders, students, and community groups to analyze the future of work and create additional avenues for experiential learning, professional exploration, mentorship, industry signaling, and job recruitment.

As the most diverse and creative big city in America, L.A. is uniquely suited to lead the nation in reimagining school to match with the demands of the future. Those cities that take quick and appropriate action toward implementing a new educational paradigm will be the ones where children prosper and flourish.

Russ Altenburg (@RussAltenburg) is founder/CEO and Margeaux Randolph is Vice President for Leadership Development of Reframe Labs, a nonprofit that supports diverse leaders to design and launch innovative public schools throughout Los Angeles County.

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