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Molly Osborne is away this week attending the Aspen Institute’s Executive Seminar on Leadership, Values, and the Good Society. Mebane Rash, the CEO of EducationNC and the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, is filling in for Molly for this week’s Friday at Five.


This spring, both Molly and I have had the opportunity to attend Aspen’s executive seminar. Like our work for the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, the readings for the seminar “serve three complimentary functions: they provide analytical tools for thinking about the world, they offer a mirror in which we can see ourselves, and they provide a springboard for talking about contemporary issues.”

One of the readings for the seminar is an excerpt from Martin Ford’s “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.” It discusses the new, emerging worldwide economy, “the fundamental shift in the relationship between workers and machines,” and the potential stress on our society.

Research as an analytical tool

The work of think tanks looks different now than when I started as a policy analyst at the Center back in 1994. We still study the most important issues facing North Carolina, but we don’t publish reports that are hundreds of pages long. In this information age, out research is published in ways that everyone from people to news outlets, from philanthropists to policymakers are more likely to read it and do something with it. This has the invaluable benefit of creating a real time feedback loop for our researchers. Sometimes our research is published on the Center website as an article. Sometimes you will find it featured in an EdExplainer on EdNC.org. Other times we publish it as series. Last year, our series on youth suicide, for instance, was published as an issue of Insight on the Center’s website, on the EdNC website, and by The News & Observer.

Ford’s article is comforting to us wonks, predicting that in the new economy those of us who engage in what he calls “blue-sky thinking” will still get paid. Robots, it turns out, aren’t so good at public policy research. Even as they get better and better at crunching data, they can’t layer very well the data with political and policy analysis much less our visits into communities across North Carolina to better understand how issues play out in the lives of the people who choose to call North Carolina home.

Research to help us think about ourselves and our work

At my Aspen seminar, I met Shalinee Sharma, the CEO of Zearn, a K-5 math curriculum and classroom model with a focus on equity and a belief that all children can learn to love math. Read more about Zearn below. Shalinee helped me think about how we grow companies, how we grow leadership, and how we build the educational system of the future. We hope she’ll come visit North Carolina so we can learn more.

I’m a big fan of mentors younger and older. This week, the Public School Forum of North Carolina honored another one of our mentors, Ann Goodnight, with the Jay Robinson Education Leadership Award. Please share the article about Goodnight below. Many of our colleagues, like SAS and the Goodnight Educational Foundation, work to connect philanthropy, policy, and practice to build a better educational system, economy, and state. Here is some research we conducted on Union County’s classrooms of tomorrow and other innovative practices.

Providing a springboard for talking about contemporary issues

In one of my sessions at the Aspen seminar, I scribbled in the margin of the readings, “it’s not clear that the tools we have inherited are adequate for the challenges we face.” myFutureNC, the Governor’s Commission on Leandro, and a study of North Carolina by WestEd are thinking about just that when it comes to our state and our future. The next meeting of myFutureNC will be in Cary on Friday, June 15, and the next meeting of the Governor’s Commission will be in Raleigh on Wednesday, June 13. We will be there to let you know what is happening.

North Carolina has 20+ boards, commissions, and committees working on different education issues. Here is our most recent update.

Going forward

The Aspen seminar focuses us on asking the right questions. Coming back from the seminar, the question they pose is what’s next? We’d like to know what’s next in your mind and what you wonder. Let us know at AskNC.

What We're Reading

  • Review of Zearn Math, K-5

    Ed Reports | 10/18/2017

  • Which States Contribute the Most Domestic Migrants?

    Carolina Demography | 05/09/2018

  • Ann Goodnight declared ‘North Carolina’s No. 1 citizen and leader for education for all time to come’

    EducationNC | 05/22/2018

  • Traditional Teaching May Deepen Inequality. Can a Different Approach Fix It?

    The Chronicle of Higher Education | 05/06/2018

  • Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education

    Johns Hopkins University Press | 11/01/2017

  • Peter Hans: People Who Are Bettering Their Lives

    Higher Education Works | 05/23/2018