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The Wall Street Journal's Anniversary Predictions for Education

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The Wall Street Journal celebrated its 125th birthday on Monday, with a special section on "The Future of Everything," including education.

"Leading thinkers, innovators, and artists share their visions of where the world is heading," the cover of the section says. That leading thinker for the education piece is Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education during President George W. Bush's second term and now the president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

Spellings predicts that in 20 years, U.S. students will be served an "à la carte education" rather than a "fixed-price menu, where a student attends a school based upon geography and is offered few alternatives."

Ever-expanding technologies and the rapid flow of information will lead the transformation, Spellings says. Parents and teachers will have real-time data on student performance and will use it to tailor individualized approaches to learning.

Students won't move in groups from grade to grade, but will move ahead when ready, especially in high school, she predicts.

Teachers will be less like employees of a traditional school and "more like independent agents who contract to get a job done with students."

"Teachers who excel ... will be deployed to the most difficult schools and classrooms," Spellings writes. "They will receive more pay for taking on harder assignments."

Meanwhile, more companies will test prospective employees to see whether they have the requisite knowledge, "badging" those who are deemed to be proficient, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math.

"The only reason we will not reach this better place is if the status quo prevails," Spellings concludes. "But the market-oriented forces that have changed so much of our world—competition, customization, technology, modern management, and customer focus—are too powerful for even an entrenched educational establishment to resist."

The special section says in 1989, on the occasion of its 100th birthday, the Journal offered a host of predictions for the next couple of decades or so. The paper notes that it got a fair amount wrong, predicting widespread travel by space plane, Prodigy Services playing a key role in running the Internet, and Thailand and Bangladesh emerging as world powers.

But on education, the 1989 report correctly predicted that poor U.S. educational performance would harm the nation's competitiveness. (There are only a couple of such brief references to education in the current special section's story on the 1989 predictions.)

In my next post, I'll discuss another newspaper's special anniversary section and its discussion of how to improve education—from 1976.

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