Point of View

The 3-point player

In 1984, NBA teams averaged just two 3-point shot attempts per game. Today’s teams average over 30 attempts per game.

Clearly the game of basketball has changed over the last 40 years. Aspiring players and their coaches have changed the way they prepare, too. Because if you end up being a 2-point player in a 3-point game, you won’t make it in the NBA.

The evolution of the game of basketball is a good metaphor for the broader labor market.

A Gallup survey shows that only 11% of business leaders strongly agree that recent college grads have the skills and competencies needed for today’s work. This is a problem, one that many like to blame on dysfunctional schools and school systems. But the actual issue turns out to be a bit more complicated.

Education economists Frank Levy (MIT) and Richard Murnane (Harvard) argue this point: “American schools are not worse than they were in a previous generation. Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. [Test results show that] most American students now master foundational skills as defined 40 years ago… Today’s education problem stems from the increased complexity of foundational skills needed in today’s economy…” (emphasis ours).

In short, the game is changing. Our schools are better than they were 40 years ago, but they’re better at preparing 2-point players for what has become a 3-point economy.

So what’s driving the labor market change? Ginni Rometty, former CEO of IBM, says, “I expect AI to change 100 percent of jobs in the next 5 to 10 years.” Additionally, a Brookings report estimates that 61% of jobs will face medium- to high-level susceptibility to automation by 2030. Artificial intelligence and automation are disrupting the labor market in unprecedented ways, and Covid has only accelerated companies’ inclination to automate away tasks and jobs that were once done by people. This is forcing us educators to rethink what it means to prepare young people for work.

Carl Ryden, tech entrepreneur and education philanthropist, puts it this way: “We need to spend less time preparing our students to be bad computers and more time preparing them to be great humans.”

In other words, preparing our young people for a 2-point game is no longer enough. Yes, it’s critical that our students develop strong reading and numeracy skills, have the ability to acquire and recall important information, and learn to follow directions and predetermined protocols. But this is no longer sufficient. In today’s economy, they need 3-point range.

Employers — and much of the research on labor trends — tell us that good 3-point players will know how to do the things that computers can’t yet do:

Work in diverse teams to solve complex problems.

This is the uniquely human job description of the modern economy. We need to get our young people ready.

A Shift in Thinking

If we hope to prepare our students to be 3-point players, we need to change the kinds of learning experiences we offer them. The following shifts in thinking define District C’s education philosophy.

FROM set curriculum TO real experiences

We need fewer step-by-step, linear instructions and more unbounded, messy, and self-directed experiences. The real learning lies in this mess and uncertainty, and in figuring out how to keep moving forward.

FROM solo achievement TO team process

Traditional school rewards individual achievement, but modern work is collaborative by nature. We need to prioritize collective process and prepare students to optimize the performance of the team.

FROM facts & figures TO flexible mindsets

Instead of focusing on content acquisition and recall, we should emphasize the development of adaptable and transferrable mindsets needed to work productively with others to solve real problems.

FROM getting grades TO creating value

Students want their work to matter. Giving them opportunities to create real value for real people, businesses, and organizations is as good a motivator as any.

FROM on campus TO beyond campus

We should engage local businesses to bring real, meaningful, and urgent problems to our students. Setting the work in the community means our students become active contributors to the innovation economy.

FROM tracked cohorts TO real diversity

Diverse teams are the most successful teams. We should group students with different backgrounds and strengths, creating the right context for learning to leverage the power of difference.

FROM teaching TO coaching

Coaching is about observing the process that teams use to self-direct their work, and interjecting at just the right time to ask the right question, provide the right support, or suggest the right challenge.

FROM special access TO equitable access

Internships and other work-based learning opportunities are too often limited to students with social capital and family networks. We need to provide meaningful opportunities for all students.

What Industry is Saying

Automation and Artificial Intelligence

“With the machines doing the calculations and more and more of the analysis, human teams will be increasingly important to think across domains, brainstorm the next move, boost morale, work out the ethics, negotiate the deal, and otherwise make choices.”

The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap

“Our latest research reveals that a shift is occurring; executives’ views regarding the priority of critical skills have taken a turn from digital and technical to behavioral… teamwork and organizational flexibility top executives’ list of most important attributes for successful innovation.”

Organizational Performance: It’s a Team Sport

“The global trend toward team-based organizations is growing for a reason: It is a more effective model for operating in the dynamic, unpredictable business environment typically seen today. In the long term, we believe there will be no leading organization that does not work primarily on the basis of teams.”


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