The Future Demands Idea Economy Students

Elaine Menardi

Operating Systems

An operating system is that behind-the-scenes code written in C/C++/Objective-C/Swift that gives your electronic device a ‘brain’ to decipher all the apps and commands at your fingertips. We have iOS, the operating system developed and distributed by Apple. It is what makes your iPhone and iPad work. iOS is closed-source, that is proprietary, which is why Apple devices function unto themselves.
We also have OS. You will find this software on other devices like desktop computers/gaming consoles/webservers/supercomputers and the like. Programs such as Microsoft Office require an operating system to function and include names like Android, Chrome OS, Linux and Windows. These operating systems allow portability between various computer hardware architectures. In the case of Windows, we designate a new generation of OS according to its name, like Windows XP, 7, 8 and newly released Windows 10. Ideally, each is an improvement upon the previous version. All of our technological devices need some kind of OS to make them do what we want them to do.
Education has an operating system. Let’s call it edOS.

If we make the parallel connection to computer systems, edOS is the code that enables teachers and students to function.

Classes and teachers are the apps or programs—MS Word or Excel or even Snapchat. Students are the end product like pdf’s or jpg’s or docx’s (in a totally humanistic context, of course).
The operating system (OS) makes the devices work—a phone call connects people, Spotify spools out a playlist, a document is created. edOS is the framework for educators to give students the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, so we need to understand what edOS is and how it works.
The OS of education is the basic premise or philosophy upon which 300+ years of public schooling has been built.

Would we say edOS is about Common Core standards, test scores and teacher effectiveness? Or is edOS about critical thinking skills, problem-solving and digital citizenship?

How would you describe it in twenty words or less? The next question to consider is tougher to answer:

How do we know if our operating system is working well?

Look at our current product, then reverse engineer back to the code. Are we producing graduates who are going to succeed? If so, then edOS is working. If not, then we need to rewrite the code.

What the Stakeholders Are Saying

Identify the primary stakeholders in public education: corporations and businesses, universities and colleges, educators, parents, and of course, students. Take a listen to their essential concerns.

Corporations and Businesses

Employers influence public policy makers who create legislation that deeply impacts the lives of educators and students. Corporations and businesses are recognizing that employees need more varied skillsets than ever before.

“A demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”

It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success

Corporations want employees who can get the job done not only efficiently but with creative, innovative solutions. This is the only way their businesses will remain profitable in such a highly competitive marketplace. Some employers are recruiting workers without college degrees, choosing instead to create their own tests to determine ability and then training new hires themselves.

“We’ve found that traditional hiring, which is based primarily on credentials, is a terrible approach for junior roles,” says Nick Sedlet, the co-founder of HireArt. “The labor market is changing much faster than colleges can keep up”

The Best Job Candidates Don’t Always Have College Degrees

Universities and Colleges

University and college admissions officers are increasingly concerned about high school graduates being ready to enter the world of higher education.

A new national survey released by Achieve – Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work? – shows that approximately 50% of recent high school graduates report gaps in preparation for life after high school.

Research on incoming college freshmen shows that as many as 60% of students requires some kind of remedial instruction.

“Lack of readiness for college is a major culprit in low graduation rates as the majority of students who begin in remedial courses never complete their college degrees.”

Beyond the Rhetoric

Students get frustrated by not being able to jump immediately into courses of study in their desired career fields. The glaring question is: Why aren’t they ready? What happened in high school?


In addition to teaching core content, educators face an increasing myriad of challenges in the day-to-day experience with students all the way from working on basic social skills to acting as surrogate parents in the wake of broken family systems. The social-emotional responsibility placed—rightfully or wrongfully—on administrators and teachers these days is huge. Compound this with a stringent, rigid regimen of academic standards and an evaluation system that depends on student testing growth, it is no wonder these stakeholders are so loud in calling for a new edOS. They understand there must be a better way.

Above all, you’ll get the message every day that mediocrity, or even worse, is perfectly OK. Teachers who struggle to help their children learn at all are treated exactly the same as those who lead students to huge gains year after year—they get the same evaluation ratings, the same raises, the same job security, the same recognition (i.e. none at all).

It is as though we’ve gone out of our way to construct a profession that attracts people in spite of itself, or that we’re just hoping the intrinsic rewards that come from working with students (which are very real) will trump everything else.

How Do We Raise The Quality Of Teachers?


Parents in the opt-out movement are firing shots at policymakers and their voices must be taken seriously. Most acknowledge that school performance cannot be accurately assessed unless nearly all students participate in the testing process. To test or not to test is an important issue to consider, but this group of vocal activists is posing an even deeper question: How can it be a good idea to link the high-stakes use of these exams to everything from teacher evaluations to school ranking and funding?

Opt out is far bigger than a test refusal event. It is the repudiation of a host of corporate reforms that include the Common Core, high-stakes testing, school closings and the evaluation of teachers by test scores. These reforms are being soundly rejected by parents and teachers.

Why The Movement To Opt Out Of Common Core Tests Is A Big Deal

Parents have a growing dissatisfaction with the system. They too are calling for a new operating system. Only a small minority are as intimately familiar with the inner workings of schools as are educators, but parents see the end product firsthand—their struggling sons and daughters. Parents want to upgrade the OS. They are shouting ‘REWRITE THE CODE.’

The state tests inevitably lead teachers and schools to teach to the test and spend inordinate time on test prep. This robs children of effective and creative pedagogy and rich curricular content. Majority poor and nonwhite schools that tend to have lower test results are even more likely to organize around test prep, at the expense of a broader curriculum.

Defending the Opt-Out Movement


Rarely do we acknowledge the most important group of stakeholders—students. There are isolated pockets where student voices play a part in systemic change, but by and large in public forums, adults believe they have all the answers. We would serve our own best interests to listen to the wisdom of young people with more than a Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul attitude. The message from students is simple and clear: Stop wasting my time. Even young people believe their time and energy is valuable. They want to learn, but education must be authentic, relevant and engaging.
Read more about how to give students greater accountability for their learning in: Students Center Stage: Focusing Classrooms on Challenging Work
We can flatten these layers of the prevailing operating system into three simple words: Learn-Test-Forget.
Multitudes of voices are joining the already deafening cacophony about how to fix/improve/renew/change the face of American education. While everyone seems to have an opinion, there exists no common vision around which we can gather to strategize and formulate a good plan to move forward. If we had a better edOS, we would probably have a lot more faith, confidence and overall satisfaction with education. We might even call it great.

Motivation 2.0: Extrinsic Rewards

Where did this OS of Learn-Test-Forget originate?
Dan Pink’s NY Times best-selling book Drive begins at the most basic human level: Our biological drives power our behavior. We are hungry, so we find food. We are thirsty, so we find drink. We are lonely… and umm… yea… so we find a mate. These biological motivations come from deep within and have lived in our DNA since the dawn of humankind. Pink calls this Motivation 1.0.
Then scientists began to understand extrinsic motivation as a second kind of force driving human behavior. When I behave in a positive way, I receive rewards. When I behave in a negative way, I receive punishments. It did not take long for parents to learn how well this system works when rearing children. Pink calls this operating system Motivation 2.0 (Drive, page 16). Humans are still humans and are still driven by biological needs, but extrinsic rewards matter, and not coincidentally, also play a significant role in healthy and unhealthy self-image and self-esteem.
Sir Ken Robinson helps us put Motivation 2.0 into perspective regarding education. In comes the Industrial Revolution. Technological development required the right work to be done in the right way at the right time. Economic progress needed a machine and people were the machine parts. The carrot-and-stick approach of Motivation 2.0 assured the advancement of technology by capitalizing on the reward/punishment impact on human drive. Workers were rewarded for good job performance with a steady paycheck. Then long-term contracts assured them of more steady paychecks. Equity rose as groups organized to negotiate new contracts with higher wages. Paid vacation days emerged along with health care, maternity leave and performance incentive bonuses.
As the business world and the nature of work developed, employees needed more knowledge and more skill. But employers still needed workers who would comply, doing the right work in the right way at the right time. Public schools became a necessity to ensure economic growth. It was a happy medium for all. Business gained better employees and employees in turn were compensated based on their performance. Balance was achieved.
Motivation 2.0 has generated many a benefits package over the past two centuries. In fact, it is so embedded in our culture that we do not even recognize the carrots-and-sticks anymore. Most of our businesses and organizations—and our schools—are built solidly upon the assumption that the best way to achieve excellence is to reward the good and punish the bad. Good employees get more perks; good students get more perks, too. It is not necessarily wrong; it is just the way things work today, but we need to recognize how the system impacts our motivation. Rewards will lead to short-term success but long-term sustainability requires a deeper sense of personal accomplishment and investment.
Contemporary business is showing us that the Motivation 2.0 OS is not as good as we thought it was. “It crashes—often and unpredictably.” (Drive, page 19) The economic meltdown of the late 2000’s forced a deeper human drive to emerge from the shadows. The rise of entrepreneurs and small startups demonstrates not only the ingenuity and resilience of the American spirit but also the trend surpassing Motivation 2.0 or what we might term “workin’ for the man”. It is simply not enough anymore to do the right work in the right way at the right time in order to make a buck and have health insurance. We will not always be able to recover with more carrots-and-sticks.
Pesky scientists kept digging until they realized we had a third drive: intrinsic motivation. I do something for the sake of doing it and doing it well. To satisfy my own curiosity and sense of accomplishment. Because I can. I will prove it to you and to myself. Intrinsic motivation fuels people’s passion for making a positive contribution to the world. Young Millennials especially, are attuned to solving present-day crises and using their talents for the benefit of humankind.
People are no longer content making widgets for the masses, even if the widgets are indeed necessary and valuable. They want personal satisfaction in the work they are doing. They want the freedom of creative thinking to put out ideas that make the world a better place. This is above and beyond Motivation 2.0. This is Motivation 3.0 and more. The same holds true for educators today. It is simply not enough to impart knowledge to students. Educators want to drive young people toward lifelong success by inspiring curiosity and self-initiative. They recognize the need for Motivation 3.0 in students. But the education institution has not yet made the leap.
Education is on the verge of being forced to jump that chasm. We are nearing the tipping point. Pressure is mounting from all stakeholders in the education debate about how best to prepare young people for life. No single perspective or voice has a lock on the solution. It will be a unique combination of all these viewpoints that will be born and forged and realized through the collective effort of those who champion for students. The world and how we live in the world has evolved because of technology. Motivation 3.0 is changing the modern work world. We need edOS 3 to change education world.

Information Economy

The information economy is one in which knowledge is the primary raw material and source of value.. American business has been living this model for generations and a great many executives have thrived on their pedigrees of where they obtained their knowledge. In past eras, knowledge was a scarce commodity owned by the privileged few. But internet has become the great equalizer bringing information to the masses. Businesses that hold up information as a primary source of value will struggle to stay afloat as the global world evolves.
edOS 2 is information-economy education. Knowledge is King. The primary goal is to make sure that students graduate high school with 12+ years of content. Common Core standards, standardized assessments and teacher effectiveness rating all point toward achieving that outcome. The education institution espouses information as the primary raw material and source of value.
Just as Motivation 2.0 is beginning to wane, so is edOS 2. All of the stakeholders clamoring for change are telling us that they want something better for students. Knowledge has changed. How we get knowledge has changed and how we use knowledge has changed. Information economy is not going to lead any of us toward sustainable success in a postmodern world.

Idea Economy

Idea economy drives innovation. The corporate world calls it disruption because new ideas wrench the natural flow of business. It is the ability to think beyond what our eyes see today and envision something new for tomorrow. To move from impossible to possible to create a new reality. There have always been idea-economy people among us doing amazing things. In the age of information, these agile brains were able to assemble seemingly unrelated factoids and connect them in ways that astounded the world with elegant solutions to complex problems. We all know the classic success stories of Post-It notes and WD-40 and microwave ovens. There are thousands of lesser known stories: personal computers, the optical mouse, ATM’s, iPods, cell phones and even internet itself. Huge advancements in modern life because people with ideas made them happen. Yet, most of these we take for granted anymore, not able to remember the ingenuity and skill that originated in idea economy thinking.
This is our future. The world will not stop evolving. Humanity will push the bar higher and higher and the drive to innovate and disrupt the natural flow of business will propel us all into yet another era of advancement.
This future demands an idea economy student. An eager young mind that has been educated to discern and decipher and distill relevant information into creative, problem-solving processes, procedures, and models that change the world.

Information economy means “You hire me for what I know.” Idea economy means “You hire me for what I can do.”

Idea economy people are born from edOS 3 and thrive in Motivation 3.0. These are the people who will move us forward.

edOS 3: Ask-Think-Solve

We can define edOS 3 with three more simple words: Ask-Think-Solve—the fluid exchange between curiosity, critical reflection and design-thinking. These are the skills that idea economy students need to cultivate. Knowledge will only get them part way to the finish line. They will need a new ethos to go the distance.
The leap from edOS 2: Learn-Test-Forget to a new edOS is an organic process and will precipitate from a similar occurrence as in business economics. Education is on the cusp of recognizing the need to leap and then formulating practical strategies to facilitate the jump. When we can wholeheartedly embrace and integrate concepts like project-based learning, design thinking, problem-solving and critical reflection into the every-school-day curriculum and stop worrying about how we will quantify and assess students in these intangible skillsets, we will move closer to a new edOS. Their own internal desire to learn and grow—their intrinsic motivation—will take over. A new edOS will emerge.
It is not a matter of if we move to edOS 3—it is a matter of when. The whole education institution is shifting its stance these days. The key will be to get educators/parents/legislators/employers all on the same page. We are too fractured by disconnected opinions today to forge a common vision that unites us in offering students what they need to succeed in these modern times.
Our new operating system, edOS 3: Ask-Think-Solve will emerge from students. They will start asking the questions and solving the problems they see in the world. We must be astute enough to hear them, wise enough to listen to them, and adept enough to feed their creative minds and spirits. Students will be driven by their own desires to satisfy curiosity and achieve a sense of accomplishment. In the end, we will produce better students in edOS 3 if we point the way now. Before we know it, Motivation 3.0 will be so deeply embedded in our schools that we will not even notice or think twice. It will just have always been that way.
For more check out:

Elaine Menardi is Co-Brain at Never Summer. Follow Elaine on Twitter, @ELMenardi.

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1 Comment

Ed Jones

Elaine, some very thoughtful stuff here.
You likely know Grant Lichtman is working on this 'K12 OS' meme: So am I:
At its nub, the purpose of an OS is to 'manages computer hardware and software resources and provides common services'. In a school system, the available resources are 1) teachers, 2) space, 3) curricular materials, 4) physical learning resources like ovens, dissecting trays, Oculus rift glasses, musical instruments, Bunsen burners, art museums, aquatic ecosystems, electron microscopes, a home plumbing stack, an auto engine, disectable computers, bandsaws, etc. 5) money for these and more, and 6) political capital to continue operating.
The great stuff you address here comprises not the whole OS, but the 'top' layers. 'User interface' would be the computer equivalent. What in DOS was the command line, in Windows the, well, window, and on an iPhone, the Cocoa-Touch services or even the app design choices above.
Many people believe that changing this 'user interface' layer in schools is enough. That we can essentially keep the school-in-a-box approach we've had since the comprehensive high school evolved. That, through enough tours and blog posts, learning will change in all of the 100,000 schools and three million classrooms across the US.
From what I can see, however, the deeper part of the EdOS will also have to be modified to achieve the gains you seek. Any of us who lived through Windows 3.1, '95, '98, and ME know the parallel: strapping a new UI on top of an ancient kernel only goes so far.
We need to, today, be doing the R&D to see how changing those other, lower, layers will evolve.
Thanks for writing this!
Historically, the very limited quantities of these resources have determines, as much as anything, how school was designed.

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