A.I.’s Impact on Jobs, Skills and the Future of Work: the UNESCO Perspective on Key Policy Issues and the Ethical Debate

A special issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Vol. 34, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2022) featured essays on the topic of the Future of Work which were solicited by the American Federation of Teachers for a conference on the subject it jointly hosted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Shanker Institute on July 13, 2022. This is the first of these essays.

In “A.I.’s Impact on Jobs, Skills and the Future of Work: the UNESCO Perspective on Key Policy Issues and the Ethical Debate,” Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO, discusses how artificial intelligence does not necessarily need to be a boogeyman. If AI is developed with people in mind, then the inclusive possibilities of AI are infinite. Ramos discusses these possibilities, and the path to get there, while focusing on the key issues of gender and discrimination.

NEJPP Editor's Introduction to the Future of Work Series

A special issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Vol. 34, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2022) featured essays on the topic of the Future of Work which were solicited by the American Federation of Teachers for a conference on the subject it jointly hosted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Albert Shanker Institute on July 13, 2022. Each week for the next nine weeks the Shanker Blog will feature one of these essays. This is the introduction to the series by NEJPP's founding editor, Padraig O'Malley.

New York State Continues to Lead the Way in Education Innovation through P-TECH Schools

New York State Senator and Chair of the New York State Senate Education Committee Shelley B. Mayer discusses her state's leadership in educational innovation and policies, particularly in the development of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School Program or P-TECH which are school to career programs that create a successful pathway from high school to college to career.

New York State has long been a leader in educational innovation and policies. In 1890, New York City’s first kindergarten was established; and, after World War II, New York State was one of the first states in the union to make high school mandatory. And while New York State continues to lead, particularly with a focus on equity for all students, regardless of zip code, we know we have more work to do.

Among our recent achievements, in 2021 and again in 2022, New York State finally fulfilled its promise of full funding under the Foundation Aid Formula. It was established almost 15 years ago based on the promise of a “sound basic education,” and as a way to depoliticize the funding of public education and base state funding for public schools on quantifiable need. And equally important, with strong leadership from the Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie, NYS has now begun to greatly expand full day Pre-k for 4 year old’s to hundreds more school districts, while New York City already led the way with federal funding and then local funding for full day Pre-K for all 4 year old’s several years ago.

New York State has also led with the development of innovative school to career programs that create a successful pathway from high school to college to career. The P-TECH program, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School Program, continues to grow stronger and expand to more districts. I am proud to support this program, which provides a grade 9-14 combined high school and community college program linked directly to real career opportunities. P-TECH began in New York City over 14 years ago and now has been replicated across New York State. Former President Barack Obama featured P-TECH in his 2015 State of the Union address and came to visit the initial school in Brooklyn, New York. And as a further sign of success, New York State’s P-TECH innovative model has spread now across 13 states and 28 countries with large numbers of P-TECH schools in Texas, Maryland and Colorado and other countries, including Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, France and Taiwan.

Does College Matter? Of Course

Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia Universities. At Duke, he also serves as Innovator in Residence. He previously served as Deputy Schools Chancellor for New York City and is President Emeritus of the IBM Foundation and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute Board of Directors.

Over the last 35 years, since the release of A Nation At Risk, the nation has focused on the need for school reform and used high school graduation rates as the single most important benchmark for measuring educational success. This is somewhat ironic, given that high school attendance in the U.S. was not made mandatory until the end of the Second World War. Before that, virtually every state had a requirement for school attendance from grade one through grade eight, but high school attendance, just like college attendance now, was strictly voluntary. Of course, in the first half of the 20th century, significant numbers of  well paying jobs in manufacturing and other areas of work only required an eighth grade education. Beginning in the 1970s and into 1984 and over the following three decades, the number of good jobs with competitive wages that were available to those who had only completed eighth grade began a precipitous decline. For many years, it has been clear that a high school diploma or higher is absolutely essential to achieving a pathway to a middle class life. America's response to the challenge of raising the percentage of high school graduates was far from perfect, but with exceptions, we have seen a steady increase in high school graduation rates in most though not all states. Beginning in the early years of the 21st Century, however, changes in the U.S. economy have made it crystal clear that high school diplomas, while still extremely important, are not enough to enable most Americans to achieve the “middle-class dream.”

In this light, the recent report, "Building a Grad Nation," is an important read. It documents the progress that the nation has made in higher high school graduation rates—the overall high school graduation rate showed an increase from 79 percent in 2011 to close to 85 percent by 2017. This statistic represents an increase of 3.5 million U.S. students who graduated from high school instead of dropping out over the last 15 years.

Perkins And The Benefits Of Collaboration

Our guest author today is Stan Litow, a professor of Public Policy at both Duke and Columbia University. He is a former deputy chancellor of schools in New York City, former president of the IBM Foundation, a trustee of the State University of New York, and a member of the Albert Shanker Institute’s board of directors. His book, The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward, was published this year.

This July, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, after a dozen years of inaction, unanimously passed legislation to update the Federal Career and Technical Education law. By doing so, Congress increased funding for Career and Technical Education to nearly $1.3 billion in the coming year. The law is called the Perkins Act, named after a former member of Congress. It can go a long way toward addressing America’s skills crisis and providing many of our young people with real economic opportunity. Given the contentious Washington climate, broad bipartisan support for Perkins—including strong private sector, labor union and education backing—is truly noteworthy. But as we consider how this happened, it brings to mind another action that took place more than 80 years ago involving another Perkins: Frances Perkins.

On the 25th anniversary of Social Security, Frances Perkins, America's first cabinet member to be a woman, said "It would not have happened without IBM." Many who saw her on film were surprised. President Roosevelt was usually critical of the private sector. What had IBM to do with Social Security? Actually a lot. After the bill to establish Social Security was signed, the Labor Department under Perkins had to implement it. She sought outside help to design an implementation plan, yet everyone she approached said it would take years. When she approached Tom Watson Sr., IBM's CEO, she got a different answer. His team of engineers told him it might be possible to implement it sooner, but it would require the investment of several million dollars (about a hundred million in today’s dollars) to create what they called a "collator."

The Early Origins Of The STEM Achievement Gap (And What Can Be Done To Help)

Every year, like a drumbeat, more articles, studies and reports detail the reasons that a disproportionally low number of people of color are employed in the well paid science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. One result has been a myriad of programs designing to attract, prepare, mentor, and retain secondary and college-age underrepresented students into the STEM fields. An interesting new study, however, suggests that solutions to this problem need to begin much earlier, prior to kindergarten in fact.

First, it should be noted race or ethnicity, per se, are not really what’s at issue in terms of students’ relative success in the STEM fields, but rather the historic and persistent lack of opportunity afforded to certain segments of U.S. society, resulting in the overrepresentation of people of color among the ranks of the poor.  And further, it is not poverty in itself, but poverty's accompanying life conditions that help to explain performance gaps that begin at home and extend into schooling and beyond.

In this case, the study’s authors, Morgan, Farkas, Hillemeier and  Maczuga, argue that “the strongest contributors to science achievement gaps in the United States are general knowledge gaps that are already present at kindergarten entry. Therefore, interventions designed to address science achievement gaps in the United States may need to be implemented very early in children’s development (e.g., by or around school entry, if not earlier) so as to counteract the early onset of general knowledge gaps during the preschool and early elementary years.”

Innovating To Strengthen Youth Employment

Our guest author today is Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, President of the IBM Foundation, and a member of the Shanker Institute’s board of directors. This essay was originally published in innovations, an MIT press journal.

The financial crisis of 2008 exposed serious weaknesses in the world’s economic infrastructure. As a former aide to a mayor of New York and as deputy chancellor of the New York City Public Schools (the largest public school system in the United States), my chief concern—and a significant concern to IBM and other companies interested in global economic stability—has been the impact of global economic forces on youth employment.

Across the United States and around the world, youth unemployment is a staggering problem, and one that is difficult to gauge with precision. One factor that makes it difficult to judge accurately is that many members of the youth population have yet to enter the workforce, making it hard to count those who are unable to get jobs. What we do know is that the scope of the problem is overwhelming. Youth unemployment in countries such as Greece and Spain is estimated at over 50 percent, while in the United States the rate may be 20 percent, 30 percent, or higher in some cities and states. Why is this problem so daunting? Why does it persist? And, most important, how can communities, educators, and employers work together to address it?

A New Twist On The Skills "Blame Game"

It is conventional wisdom that the United States is suffering from a severe skills shortage, for which low-performing public schools and inadequate teachers must shoulder part of the blame (see here and here, for example).  Employers complain that they cannot fill open slots because there are no Americans skilled enough to fill them, while pundits and policymakers – President Barack Obama and Bill Gates, among them – respond by pushing for unproven school reform proposals, in a desperate effort to rebuild American economic competitiveness.

But, what if these assumptions are all wrong?

What if the deficiencies of our educational system have little to do with our current competitiveness woes? A fascinating new book by Peter Cappelli, Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It , builds a strong case that common business practices - failure to invest adequately in on-the-job training, offering noncompetitive wages and benefits, and relying on poorly designed computer algorithms to screen applicants –are to blame, not failed schools or poorly prepared applicants.

Are Stereotypes About Career And Technical Education Crumbling?

The stereotypes, bias, and misunderstanding that have for many decades surrounded and isolated Career and Technical Education (CTE) may slowly be crumbling.  A recent report by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) argues that traditional CTE typology -- the way in which CTE students are identified and classified -- is obsolete.  The distinctions between “CTE” students and “academic” students are no longer useful. Today, nearly all high school students, including the highest achieving academic-track students, enroll in some CTE courses.

Moreover, a significant number of students complete “high intensity” CTE courses as well as academic courses, in patterns that cross SES lines. In order to understand the contemporary high school experience, these researchers argue, we need a new typology based on the reality of today’s classroom, students, and curricula.

The October 2012 study, “A Typology for Understanding the Career and Technical Education Credit-taking Experience of High School Students," proposes a new, more nuanced classification system --  one the authors believe would more accurately capture the high school experience and needs of today’s students. The researchers argue that these long-overdue changes could alter experts’ views of what students actually study in high school, break down the obsolete conceptual barriers that currently divide CTE and academic curricula, and help educators work with students to devise the most appropriate pathways to academic and career success.

Literacy For Life: The Role Of Career And Technical Education In Reading Proficiency

It is well established that a student’s reading proficiency level in elementary school is a good predictor of high school graduation success. The lower the reading level, the more likely it is that the student will not graduate on time. Against this background, it is sobering that many U.S. students reach high school without the reading and comprehension skills they need. According to NAEP data, in 2011, more than a third (33 percent) of 4th-graders were reading at a below basic level; among 8th-grade and 12th grade students, the percentage of students who were stuck at the below basic reading level had dropped, but only to about 25 percent. Many of these students drop out; many go on to earn a diploma, but enter the work world singularly unprepared to earn a living.

What is to be done? Certainly, intensive remediation is part of the answer, but so are practice and motivation and interest. The challenge for struggling readers at the high school level is hard to overstate; by the time they enter high school, they often display a negative and despairing attitude toward school that has been hardened by years of failure. Furthermore, most high school teachers are not trained in literacy instruction, a specialized skill which is theoretically the purview of early elementary school. Indeed, for many urban teachers, motivating kids just to come to school is the major challenge.

How do we motivate these kids, who sometimes exhibit stubborn resistance to reading or to any other kind of schoolwork?  One effective strategy is to make the purpose of reading as interesting and obvious as possible. For many youngsters, that means access to high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE).