The Electric Future Of Education Transportation

The 2030 education transportation system is flexible, cheaper, and greener–and it’s (mostly) electric.

School systems and/or their transportation partners will use a combination of electric buses and vans (possibly shared with a municipality), youth rideshare services (like HopSkipDrive), and electric bicycles.

The system will leverage solar capture and will provide some evening surge capacity back to the grid to cover peak evening residential usage.

The switching costs of retiring those big yellow diesel buses and purchasing clean buses and vans is the big barrier but performance bonds could help with easy to predict cost savings.

“I can see school transportation going green in the next decade or two, with electrification and other modes of transportation playing an increasing role in student transportation,” said Dr. Ram Pendyala, Professor and Director, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University. “Having policies and incentives in place would certainly help advance the cause of electrification,” added Pendyala.

Speaking of incentives, the Biden infrastructure plan supports electrifying the 500,000 US school buses in less than a decade resulting in lower operating costs and reduced emissions.

HopSkipDrive is fully committed to supporting a greener education transportation system. Already schools are using our platform to lower their environmental impact by replacing inefficient bus routes with short-distance, multi-passenger HopSkipDrive rides. This allows districts to retire aging fleets while dramatically reducing students’ time in vehicles,” said SVP Corey McMahon. On the coming conversion, McMahon added, “Over the next decade, HopSkipDrive will help thousands of CareDrivers transition to electric vehicles and will expand its partnerships with transportation providers that offer electric vans and buses.”

Early Evidence

Pupil transport company First Student announced last month that it was purchasing 260 electric buses from Lion Electric Company for use in Quebec.

“We are not talking about pilot programs, but rather entire bus fleets going electric, with vehicles that meet the daily requirements of the industry’s largest operators,” said Marc Bedard, Lion CEO and founder.

Municipal transit systems across the country are replacing diesel fleets with compressed natural gas and electric. Los Angeles plans to convert all of its 2,300 buses to electric by 2028. San Francisco plans to have its 1,100 municipal buses all-electric by 2035.

King County Metro (Seattle) is an early adopter of a battery-electric bus fleet. Metro has committed to moving to a 100% zero-emissions fleet powered by renewable energy no later than 2040. Metro’s commitment to a zero-emissions fleet and renewable energy sources is key. It reduces the benefit of shifting to electric if the power source is coal or gas. The Pacific Northwest has a headstart on renewable sources with a large percentage of hydroelectric power.

Switching Benefits

The web of electric cars, buses, and vans that will evolve over the coming decade will also provide more flexible and affordable transportation options particularly for high school learners engaging in work-based learning, community connect projects, and attending in-person college classes.

Flexible, affordable, clean pupil transport will benefit regions like Kansas City where 75 high schools are adding internships, client projects, and entrepreneurial experiences that require some recurring and some point-to-point travel.

These dynamic pupil transport systems will be aided by AI-powered scheduling and routing apps that will quickly adapt to daily demands.

New Workforce Opportunities

In Rewiring America, Saul Griffith predicts the creation of 25 million new clean-tech jobs. As the shift to electric grows, high schools, community colleges, and career centers can support the transition by training electric vehicle mechanics.

There is also an opportunity for networked startups to offer electric vehicle transportation to municipalities and school districts. These EV transport companies also have some opportunity to contribute electricity back to the grid during peak evening hours.

With targeted training and access to capital, the shift to electric vehicles and appliances could boost business and wealth formation — not to mention health — in underserved communities.

For more, see:


This post was originally published on Forbes.

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8 Organizations Powering Positive Change in New Orleans

New Orleans has long been known for its rich and creative music scene, Creole cuisine, and French architecture and culture. As a port city at the southern tip of the Mississippi River, it became a vital transportation route and ultimately one of the most unique cross-cultural and multilingual destinations in the United States.

Pre-Hurricane Katrina, Orleans Parish public schools ranked amongst the lowest in all of Louisiana’s parishes. In the spring of 2005, the academic performance, the condition of school facilities, and the level of corruption were unbelievably bad. After the city and many of its public school buildings were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, there was an opportunity for the entire community to rethink its education system. The state board placed most of New Orleans Public Schools into the Recovery School District (RSD), an affiliate of the Louisiana Department of Education formed to turn around the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Today, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) is an all-charter district and New Orleans some 48,000 public school students attend one of more than 80 charter schools across the city. The transformation to a system of charter schools has been a city- and community-supported effort designed around three principles: educator run schools, parent choice, and public oversight.

Along with a group of parents from the Parent Power Lab, an initiative of the Kauffman Foundation, we visited New Orleans to learn from organizations and schools that have been a part of the movement to advocate for positive change. Many of the organizations we met with are focused on improving the quality of schools and options parents and learners have in the city.

1. Our Voice Nuestra Voz. OVNV “was founded in 2015 with the mission of organizing parents to expand quality educational access for students” and to help advocate for more equitable learning environments and experiences. Rather than provide an agenda to parents to push for, they want parents to activate around issues they care about. Mary Moran, its co-founder, is dedicated to supporting parents and to help address racism in schools and communities. They strive for three goals:

  1. Build the organizing capacity of parents
  2. Build institutional capacity within schools and school systems
  3. Build the case for continued engagement

2. Colloqate. Established in 2017, Colloqate Design is a multidisciplinary nonprofit Design Justice practice focused on expanding community access to, and building power through the design of social, civic, and cultural spaces. Sitting at the intersections of disruption, justice, design and creation, the organization’s mission is to intentionally organize, advocate, and design spaces of racial, social and cultural equity.

In 2017, the Colloqate Co-Directors Sue Mobley and Brian C. Lee Jr. began a project called Paper Monuments, a public art and public history project designed to elevate the voices of the people of New Orleans. In March of 2018, it was announced that the Paper Monuments process would be incorporated into the city’s planning for the future of Lee Circle, the central traffic circle in New Orleans that featured a controversial monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee until 2017. (See Paper Monuments and Paper Monuments Interim Report.)

Bryan C. Lee | Photo credit Matt Klienmann

3. BE NOLA. Founded for and by Black New Orleanians, Black Education for New Orleans (BE NOLA) works to ensure an education that creates better outcomes and opportunities for Black children in the city as a critical factor in building a thriving Black community that is politically, economically and socially strong. Adrinda Kelly leads with the belief that in order to build capacity for increased Black involvement in New Orleans education, the organization must focus on the following three core functions: Black-Governed, Black-Led Schools (BGBLS) support, Black Educator support, and Black Educator gatherings. (Read: Envisioning a Trauma-Informed New Orleans.)

Adrinda Kelly | Photo credit Matt Klienmann

4. YouthForce NOLA. A collaborative between education, business, and civic leaders, YouthForce NOLA is part of a momentous cross-country movement to better prepare youth for postsecondary success. With a vision for an economically prosperous and equitable future for New Orleans public school students, YouthForce prepares students by focusing on the three critical components they believe are needed to succeed in the growing fields of tomorrow: technical skills, soft skills, and meaningful work.

President and Co-Founder Cate Swinburn recently noted that “these factors are the keys to creating a more holistic graduate profile” and that by integrating them with rich academic preparation “we can ensure students are ready for whatever the future of work may hold.”

Read about LAUNCH, a Youthforce NOLA pilot program for newly completed New Orleans high school students

Imani Miller | Photo credit Matt Klienmann

5. New Harmony High School. One of the first 10 schools selected by XQ Institute as winners of the XQ Super Schools competition, New Harmony High School focuses on coastal restoration, preservation and sustainability through experiential and project-based learning. Students are able to research, think critically and learn by having direct access to the Mississippi River Delta, many times going out on a barge, into the water, and into the local community to be able to make place-based learning connections. The goal is for students to use their passions, talents and skills to address the very real challenge of coastal change facing South Louisiana. The “floating school” has already been making big waves since opening to Louisiana students and completing its inaugural academic year in 2018-19.  (See feature).

6. Rethink. Calling themselves the “Rethinkers,” the Rethink group of activists was formed in 2006 with a mission to reinvent New Orleans public schools with two simple ideas: serviceable bathrooms and decent cafeteria food. In 2012, they were featured in HBO’s The Weight of the Nation documentary, with an installment called “The Great Cafeteria Takeover” spotlighting the Rethinkers mission to improve New Orleans school food and cafeterias.

Today, the school reform organization has a mission to support youth of color in leadership development and taking action for transformative systemic change, using a customized model of youth organizing and development and offering a series of youth-led, adult-led and intergenerational workshops to schools, communities, and partners. (Read about Rethink’s two tier programming offering year-round programs for youth ranging from age 10-23 and check out their website.)

7. The Living School. The Living School is another example of hope and optimism in the educational ecosystem. The public high school is equity-focused, democratic and project-based. Check out this video to learn more about their work:

8. New Orleans Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI). New Orleans PLTI, part of a larger national organization, has begun to engage more in local education issues. This is another notable effort in the region to bring parents together for 20-weeks of training. Parents work to identify a cause they want to advocate for and receive training on how to organize, activate and lead.

If you make your way to New Orleans, be sure to check out these organizations. You also won’t want to miss having a meal at Liberty’s Kitchen, a place where “a place where young adults who had been neglected or criminalized could come for a hot meal, a job opportunity, and a support system.”

For more, see:


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It’s Time to Add AI to Your Robotics Competition

Most industrial robots are preprogrammed or remotely controlled. That’s starting to change with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI). Some robots operate autonomously and learn to improve task efficiency.

The same is true about elementary and secondary school robotics competitions—few involve real AI. Usually, the robots are teleoperated to perform a task like picking up objects and putting them in a bucket. The rules change each year but the scoring is the same—the most stuff in the bucket wins.

The World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth (WAICY) is different. The Cozmo robots, by Anki must be primarily autonomous, although human interaction is encouraged. Competitors must demonstrate the use of real AI capabilities including computer vision, face detection, speech recognition and synthesis, and object manipulation.

Challenging, right? But these technical features account for only 50% of the total score.

Dave Touretzky explains, “The remaining 50% comes from artistic considerations such as telling a coherent story or producing good game mechanics, designing a nice “set” for the robot to interact with, appropriate use of sound, and overall presentation.”

Touretzky calls it “STEAM-powered AI” because it combines technology with artistry. (STEAM is an education acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.)  He adds, “Not everyone on a WAICY team has to be an avid programmer; kids with an artistic bent also make important contributions.”

Students are given the scoring rubric in advance, and they study it carefully. Each category is scored from “needs improvement” to “outstanding.”

Last month a WAICY competition among 10 teams was hosted by the Montour School District, home of the first AI course offered by a public district. Innovation Director Justin Aglio said, “It’s a great competition and resource for classroom teachers.”

Students are interviewed after the competition (example below) about the potential impact of their project, what they learned, how they collaborated, and what they’ll do differently next time.

“Judging a WAICY competition is hard!” said Touretzky, a former judge. “It’s somewhat subjective—more like judging the Oscars than a car race. But this kind of rubric really unleashes student creativity.”

Touretzky is a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science. He’s also the founder of AI4K12, an initiative jointly sponsored by AAAI and CSTA with the goal of identifying what students should know about AI.

ReadyAI powers the WAICY competitions. Part of Pittsburgh-based WholeRen Education, ReadyAI created an “AI-In-A-Box” kit to teach AI to K-12 students. They use Touretzky’s Calypso software to power the Cozmo robots.

The kits retail for $2,999 and include enough robots, controllers, laptops, tablets, and curriculum to serve 6-15 students. ReadyAI is offering free teacher training sessions to introduce K-12 teachers to the Calypso software, the Cozmo robot, and their curriculum.

ReadyAI is also holding free Calypso sessions for students at Boys and Girls Clubs in Western Pennsylvania. Some of them participated in the first WAICY last July, and Touretzky expects to see them compete this summer. “It’s an interesting scene: middle school kids from low-income households using better robots—and doing more sophisticated things—than most computer science undergraduates because except at the very top tier schools, CS undergrads taking intro to robotics are still stuck with LEGO,” added Touretzky.

The next international WAICY will take place in July. Anyone interested in fielding a team should contact ReadyAI.

For more, see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.


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Design-Focused University–The Best Thing Since French Fries (Which Are Also Belgian)

Howest is a university of applied sciences with four campuses in Flanders (Kortrijk and Bruges), the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. It’s well known for an interdisciplinary approach to learning and research and close collaboration with industry and the social sector. Two world class programs make design central to their approach.

Senior projects are on display in June in the Industrial Product Design building (as you can see in the feature image above). Dean Ronald Bastiaens explains the user-oriented process that results in working prototypes. He points to examples of how work progresses from freshman year to sophisticated market-ready senior projects.

With 350 undergraduates and 150 graduate students, the Industrial Product Design program serves small and medium businesses in Western Europe.

Classes, offered in English and Dutch, include many different kinds of fabrication with areas of focus including prototyping, low volume production, and products for the disabled.

To help secondary teachers incorporate design focused project into their curriculum, Bastiaens’ team developed a STEAMkit with a game board (above) that plots project duration (short to long) and ownership (teacher to students directed). Cards represent project elements and phases help create a visual representation of the project for planning and mentoring.

The Best Game School

Howest school of Digital Arts and Entertainment (DAE) provides a three-year degree program for 900 students. Majors include film (3D production & VFX), game graphics and game development (mainstream and indie). The Rookies, an annual awards sponsored by Autodesk, called Howest the best game school in the world–by a wide margin.

Howest alumni work for the best game and entertainment companies worldwide. A few return to teach. Clips of alumni work product is a list of top selling games.

Howest is open admission for Belgian students (about 70% of total) so strong academic supports including tutoring and weekly study nights are required for student success. They also offer a creativity week and study visits to the US, UK, and Japan.

There are some lectures but a lot of lab hours. Students specialize from day one. “We’re very practice based,” said Kristen Balcaen, Director of DAE Global. Like industrial design, classes are offered in Dutch and English.

“We make students work really really hard,” said Balcaen. “We get away with it because they love it.”

The program includes four semesters of classes. Second year students work in teams of five to create their own game or short film in no more than 3 days. The fifth semester is a project that focuses on skill integration, teamwork, and delivering on a deadline. The sixth semester is an internship.

Each year in October, when seniors are looking for internships, there is a big job fair on campus where leading global employers come and give presentations. Every Tuesday, companies are invited to give presentations to DAE students and staff.

Degrees still matter in game design but the sector is becoming more competency-based. DAE backmaps from entry jobs at top employers every three years to maintain employment relevance. They scout job openings on an ongoing basis to assess required competencies.

All DAE students build a portfolio of their best work starting year two as they begin to specialize.

While there is a shift to more DIY learning in programming, the combination of art and production that makes the Howest program so successful would be hard to replicate learning on your own, said dean Rik Leenknegt (below).

Supporting Student Design

In addition to a design focus, both Howest schools share a commitment to outreach to elementary and secondary schools. Both Industrial Product Design and DAE have been for many years, partnering with the MyMachine Global Foundation.  

MyMachine is a unique and multi-awarded methodology that unites students from all educational levels to bring to life dream machine ideas invented by elementary school children.

College students are key to the MyMachine program–they help the children inventors to translate their idea into a product concept before they go to technical secondary schools that will actually build them.

Howest product design students help the elementary students turn their ideas into tangible small or large products. DAE students translate ideas into computer games.

MyMachine started in Kortrijk with Howest as the pioneering partner and has gone on to set up global chapters and win the United Nations World Summit Award (see feature).

Belgians take their pomme frites (otherwise known as French fries) seriously. The twice-fried delicacies are served with mayonnaise (not ketchup) and are as ubiquitous as Belgian flags after a World Cup win. Howest and MyMachine are making design thinking as common in Belgian schools as Frites are on dinner tables.  

For more see

This post was originally published on Forbes.


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How Cities are Getting Smart Using Artificial Intelligence

Spending on smart cities technology will be about $80 billion, perhaps $135 billion by 2021, according to a new report. These investments will make spread opportunity and make cities more convenient and sustainable. But they come with new complex challenges. In an interview with China Global Television, I discussed smart cities and the technology that’s driving them.

What makes a city smart?

The Smart Cities Council promotes three core values:

  • Livability: Cities that provide clean, healthy living conditions without pollution and congestion. With a digital infrastructure that makes city services instantly and conveniently available anytime, anywhere.
  • Workability: Cities that provide the enabling infrastructure — energy, connectivity, computing, essential services — to compete globally for high-quality jobs.
  • Sustainability: Cities that provide services without stealing from future generations.

To their list, we add Learnability, the equitable access to quality learning opportunities across a coordinated ecosystem from birth through careers.

What’s driving the growth of smart cities?

On the demand side, people are moving to cities to look for jobs and a better quality of life. More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and it’s projected to rise to two thirds by the middle of the century. Rapid urbanization led to big problems like pollution, traffic and crime. These all create demand for smart cities solutions.

On the supply side, access to cheap devices and broadband has connected more than half of the world’s population. Add sensors and cameras and we have billions of devices sharing data–the so-called internet of things.

Connected communities and cheap storage paved the way for the platform revolution–we work, learn, and play on platforms that get better as they get bigger (network effect).  

Big data and cheap computing also enabled the explosion of artificial intelligence (AI), code that learns, in software applications supporting every aspect of life. Add enabling tools like robotics, drones, and autonomous vehicles (as shown below), and you have a world of shaping tools.

“AI is the most important issue shaping society,” said veteran venture investor Ted Dintersmith.

AI applications are now prevalent in healthcare (diagnosing disease and improving public health), transportation (traffic control), public safety (facial recognition), manufacturing (process control) and in online retail.

Will rising investments pay off?

Investing in and coordinating education opportunities is the right place for smart cities to start. Regions that skill up for the innovation economy will win.

Investments in sustainability and pollution reducing policies have already paid off for Chinese cities.

On infrastructure bets, focus and partnerships are key to a return on investment. Based on local assets, regions should pick a few areas of focus such as healthcare, logistics, or advanced manufacturing.

Who is making progress?

A recent AT Kearney 2018 Global Cities Report measured business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement. While the top of the list is dominated by cities you’d expect– New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Singapore–six cities in China were added to the list. Their progress was a result of “initiatives that have focused on business, governmental, and cultural activities, providing improvements that boost the quality of life for residents, increase the ease of doing business, and attract more investment and attention from global companies.”

What about privacy concerns? What are the other challenges?

We see 10 big tough issues heading toward cities fast: 

  1. Unemployment. We may be near “full employment now” but it doesn’t feel that way. “Workers who have steadily lost access to the economy as digital processes replace them have a sense of things falling apart, and a quiet anger about immigration, inequality, and arrogant elites,” said Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Things get worse from here. Automation will shrink the middle of the jobs market. New jobs will be created but that is even harder to predict than displacement which will vary by sector and geography.
  2. Income inequality. If you think people are ticked about income inequality last year, just wait. The folks that develop, finance, and own the robots are winning in the automation economy. Income inequality will accelerate and, combined with job dislocation, require broader income protection.
  3. Privacy. There will be 50 billion devices connected by 2020 including a billion cameras–all feeding data to artificial intelligence platforms. Perhaps you’ve noticed the marked improvement in facial recognition on Facebook this year. Police in Shenzhen are already ticketing jaywalkers using facial recognition. We are approaching radical transparency where every search, every move, every test informs a merchant, authority, or insurer. Want to preserve any privacy? That will take some new policies.
  4. Algorithmic bias. AI gets smarter the more data you feed it. But it quickly learns our biases and those embedded in our society. For example, cameras missed the mark on racial sensitivity and software used to predict future criminals showed bias against black people. Increasingly, AI determines who gets a loan, who is insured, and who gets hired. Bias prevention will require creativity and diligence.
  5. Access. The most powerful tools the world has ever known have been created–and they are getting smarter every day. But who will have access to AI tools? Google open sources  TensorFlow and last month Microsoft open sourced some tools but both require technical sophistication to use. OpenAI is a non-profit AI research company created by Elon Musk, Sam Altman and others to develop open source AI beneficial to humanity. All good news, but access to tools and the chops to use them will be an endless challenge.
  6. Machine ethics. John Giannandrea AI chief at Google is concerned that bias is being built-in to many of the machine-learning algorithms by which the robot makes decisions, “The real safety question, if you want to call it that, is that if we give these systems biased data, they will be biased.” Take autonomous vehicle (AV) policies as an example. AVs are on the road today and municipalities are scrambling to figure out if and how to regulate them. They surface moral dilemmas (e.g., kill the driver or the pedestrians?) and allow debate, but do we want 10,000 municipalities trying to figure this out on their own and building a patchwork of unique laws?
  7. Weaponization. Former President Obama kicked drone strikes into high gear–an opening salvo in modern mechanized warfare. Autonomous killer robots aren’t far behind the drones–and a global AI-powered arms race is inevitable. While the US walks away from global trade and climate treaties, do you see a new Geneva Convention for robo-war?
  8. Humanity. How do machines affect our behavior and interaction? AI bots are becoming better and better at modeling human conversation and relationships. This paired with better calibration and gamification are making video and mobile games more addictive. Will tech addiction be next addiction wave after opioids? If not an addiction crisis, will AI simply build alienation and resentment, will it threaten human dignity? The answers will be a mixture of practice and policy.
  9. Genome editing. Machines are learning to recognize tumors and edit genomes. This is good news if you think cancer sucks but it raises a bunch of tough questions about who can edit genes for what purpose. And which of the soon to be 8 billion people on earth will have access to precision medicine?
  10. Bad AI. Elon Musk thinks AI is more worrisome than North Korea. His startup Neuralink is building a brain interface so that we’re smart enough to keep up with super AI–what Nick Bostrom thinks may be the last invention humans ever need to make.

This is a few years out, but tech progress will continue to accelerate resulting in very powerful computers, advanced weaponry, space travel, human longevity (for some), realistic VR, and fine-tuned emotional and motivational controls. There are a bunch of ways this could go badly, very badly. Musk wants us to start considering limitations. Zuckerberg thinks he’s an alarmist. It’s worth having the conversation.

Smart cities are beginning to host community conversations about these issues and developing agreements that promote access and equity.

For more on the new economy, see:

This post was originally published on Forbes.


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Getting Smart on Reinventing Education: How a Pittsburgh Network is Remaking Learning

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This Smart Bundle was published by Getting Smart in partnership with the Grable Foundation. The content is part of a series on reinventing learning that features the Remake Learning network in Pittsburgh. Remake Learning is a loose network comprised of 250 organizations, which includes schools, 67 districts, universities, libraries, startups, nonprofits and museums. The network is focused on igniting “engaging, relevant, and equitable learning practices in support of young people navigating rapid social and technological change.”

In the Reinventing Learning Bundle, Tom Vander Ark shares his recent learnings from several members of the Remake Learning network: South Fayette Schools, Carnegie Mellon University, Montour Schools, and Propel Schools. The Remake Learning members profiled show the powerful and positive outcomes that can occur in teaching and learning when organizations are networked together and dedicated to a common goal. Highlights from our time with the Remake Learning network included:

  • Unpacking how South Fayette Schools has developed an integrated approach towards K-12 computational thinking.
  • Seeing a university (Carnegie Mellon University) partnership with districts in action, as CMU has worked to provide learning opportunities in areas such as educational research, AI computing and robotics.
  • Experiencing a variety of robust learning experiences for students in Montour Schools which include: LEGO Makerspaces, Minecraft Education Labs and sensory rooms.
  • Understanding how the Propel Schools Network goes about their work to provide innovative, student-centered learning for 4000 students in underserved Pittsburgh communities.

We compiled these experiences into a publication entitled Getting Smart on Reinventing Education: How a Pittsburgh Network is Remaking Learning. We hope that this resource will give schools, districts and organizations ideas for how they might develop or benefit from a network to transform the teaching and learning in their environment, and ensure it is engaging, relevant and equitable for all students.

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To learn more about what’s possible with the Network Effect, see:


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Connectivity in Educational Transportation – A Call to Action for More Coordinated Research

By Eugene Leventhal

Living in a place like Pittsburgh, one doesn’t have to look far to see the impact of Autonomous Vehicles, mainly thanks to Uber. Yet, despite all of the changes that other areas of transport have seen recently, one area still seems stuck in the relative stone age – educational transportation. As part of a report that two colleagues and I at Carnegie Mellon University put together for a course on Smart Cities (which can be found here), we reviewed the current state of educational transportation and made some suggestions on fleet upgrades. Our report touched on other topics such as the impact of ride-sharing and the impact of both electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. However, for the purpose of this article we highlight our findings and recommendations related to connectivity (GPS, sensors, and student tracking technology) and ride optimization.

An autonomous Uber vehicle

Current State

Let’s take a look at the educational transportation landscape at a high-level. There are a total of 480,000 school buses transporting 26 million students daily. Despite the large volume of passengers, most school buses have not gone through any major technological alterations beyond having added video cameras, and that’s only in roughly 50% of existing buses. This is indicative of an all-around shortage of routing software, GPS, and student tracking technology with only 54%, 33%, and 5%, respectively, of survey respondents stating that they have such technology in their fleets. It is important to note that school buses are doing a decent job at getting kids to school safely – “of the 327 school-age children killed in school-transportation-related crashes since 2004, 54 were children riding in buses.”

Given that the average age of a school bus in the U.S. is 9.3 years and some school districts deal with buses that can be 30 years old, the lack of the aforementioned technologies starts making a bit more sense. The students riding the buses aren’t the only ones feeling the results of the aging buses and the lack of funds to upgrade them – school bus drivers have generally seen falling wages relative to similar roles in non-educational transportation, and this has led to a shortage of drivers. The shortage has gotten so bad in the last few years that the average salaries are seeing an uptick, but not enough to compete with other transport jobs.

This mix of financial constraints and a steady decline in ridership has caused a 75%+ increase in the cost per student transported. As a result, there are approximately 250,000 school buses in the US which were manufactured before 2007, when more stringent emissions regulation went into effect. Still, total expenditures for education-related transportation, according to the Department of Education’s data, was $24,164,005,000 in 2012-2013, leading to a per-student budget of roughly $930 per student.

Our Recommendations

Our recommendation starts with a technological investment that would make more meaningful optimization possible.  The present lack of technology results in a lack of data as well, making such efforts very challenging now. By focusing on investing in GPS systems, student tracking systems, sensors, and then using all of this tech for route optimization across districts, then it will be possible to outfit all school buses with modern technology while saving money in the long-run.

Currently, there are a lot of companies providing GPS systems and student ridership systems for school transportation. For example, for 2017-2018 academic year, the Denver Public School system requires all school-bus-riding students to enroll in the +Pass RFID card ridership system. The cost for school buses to be outfitted with GPS systems should run in the vicinity of $80 million dollars without considering the system programming and maintenance cost  (for more information, see page 14 of our report). It’s important to note that this is a very conservative estimate with a baseline GPS estimate of $250, which should be possible to greatly decrease if this was a nationally coordinated purchase. Tracking all of the buses themselves is an important step in lowering the long-term cost of educational transportation.

Another major issue is student safety in the vicinity of the school buses themselves. Each year, there are 17,000 student injuries related to school buses and around 24% of them occur when students are getting on or off the school bus, known as being in the danger zone around the bus:

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/i-yLYBl9e0X-AQVxFmNsFiewZVdYytAxXA3g5EDCRhUQpKqhZhKEUV1yO0sk7iAxaJfQtkqVXoLEKuT5bXIB_ttlUmq2gCHlw9qnWuBQUj0zhaxcx3gJnrTs2ObS0pslsNJQ09ilBVQ
Image from US Department of Transportation

The total approximate cost to outfit the school buses that don’t have such sensor systems would be in the vicinity of $350 million (for more information, see page 15 of our report). The actual rate could be smaller given the fact that more schools may already be in the process of fitting buses sensors given previous legislation. This leads to a conservative cost estimate ranging from $400 to $450 million dollars to outfit buses with both sensors and GPS systems.

When adding student tracking systems into the picture, the associated total cost of getting existing school buses fully connected goes up significantly. Based on a price quote from Treker, Inc., adding student tracking systems would have a fixed cost of $500 million and an annual cost of running the systems of approximately $250 million  (for more information, see page 15 of our report). Thus, the total one-time upgrade cost would be in the vicinity of $1 billion with annual operations costs of $250 million. Again, this is a conservative estimate that is assuming no national purchasing coordination. The large price tags associated with such changes definitely calls for better solutions around route optimization, reducing costs via private partnerships including ride-sharing, and rethinking school-bus ownership models.

It’s also very important to note the potential savings that route optimization can offer. A group of researchers at MIT worked on creating models to help Boston schools route their buses more effectively. Approximately 50 superfluous routes could be eliminated using the new method, saving the school district between $3 to 5 million annually. According to a release, BPS transportation staff were building school bus routes manually, using pupil transportation software, a process that easily took weeks. MIT’s solution devised routes in approximately 30 minutes. Extrapolating the resulting from the MIT study, using such methods could save up to $3 billion (for more information, see page 16 of our report), potentially paying for all of the investments.

Admittedly, this was a cursory look relative to the required research. However, our findings were encouraging in that a solution is not just possible, it seems to be affordable. Very importantly, there needs to be involvement from the Department of Education and ideally the Department of Transportation to make sure that any attempts to resolve the current issues are done nationally and not in a few, more well-capitalized or more well-coordinated, districts. There also needs to be some mechanism for innovation in the school transportation arena as some pilots may be necessary to justify the large coordinated spending, but a lot of the data already exists between all of the districts. We cannot allow the main form of transportation that our nation’s kids use to get to school to become more outdated and, in turn, less safe. Now is the time to invest in the future and to make sure our kids will always be safer tomorrow than they were today.

View the full report here.

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Eugene Leventhal is Founder and CEO of edudao.org, a low-cost, fully accountable funding platform for underfunded education-related organizations. Connect with him on Twitter at .


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Capitalism that Works for Everyone

Private ownership of property and production, the profit motive, free markets and free trade–capitalism is an economic system and ideology. It made America the world superpower. The rise of capitalism promoted an 80 percent reduction in world poverty in less than four decades led by a 97 percent reduction in East Asia (as shown below).

The bad news is that capitalism is not working very well for most Americans. As David Leonhart illustrated, poor and middle class, who used to see the benefits from income growth, are now largely getting the scraps, left behind by the one percent, or really, the 0.001 percent.

“I think the greatest issue of our time is the disparity of wealth and the problems that exist for the lower 40 percent of the population,” said Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater is the world’s largest hedge fund, which about $160 billion in assets. According to Forbes, Dalio himself is worth about $17 billion.

“If you carve out that lower 40 percent, not only has there been no income growth, but death rates are rising because of opiate use, suicide, and because they’re losing jobs,” Dalio said. “This is the biggest issue of our time—the biggest economic issue, the biggest political issue, and the biggest social issue.”

Warren Buffett said “You really shouldn’t have an economy with over $50,000 in GDP per person and have lots of people living in poverty who are willing to work. I mean, that makes no sense and we need governmental policies to correct that.”

“Capitalism does not self-correct toward greater equality—that is, excess wealth concentration can have a snowball effect if left unchecked,” said Bill Gates.

Inequality Gets Worse From Here

Our new report on the future of work and learning illustrated how the combination of artificial intelligence, big data and enabling technologies like robotics are changing the employment landscape fast.

A PwC report predicts that more than a third of jobs could be at risk by 2030. A new McKinsey report says 400 to 800 million people will be looking for work (some predict bigger losses starting next year).

The combination of AI, big data and new enabling technologies is creating new jobs but most are small technical niches that are even harder to predict than displacement which will vary by sector and geography.

“Workers who have steadily lost access to the economy as digital processes replace them have a sense of things falling apart, and a quiet anger about immigration, inequality and arrogant elites,” said Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

The angst that fueled the 2016 election only gets worse from here. Financial returns are rapidly shifting from labor to capital–the people that own and finance the robots win in the automation economy.

Arthur notes that we’re at the end of the old production economy driven by free-market economics and old measures of growth and in a distribution economy where it’s all about who has access to what’s produced. From here on out, it’s all about sharing–who has access to the benefits and income produced by exponential technology–and that’s a political problem.

Learning to Share

Psychology (and Calvinism) suggest that young children are inherently selfish. Biology seems to boost the capacity for empathy by age six or seven leading to early-stage altruism or at least a sense of fairness. Early attitudes and habits can be influenced by adults that create terms of engagement and model fairness and generosity.

Middle-grade students learn to collaborate and work together on projects. Many high school students learn the importance of civic duty and community service.

Two current policy examples from Washington DC appear to look backward rather than forward and exacerbate hoarding rather than promoting sharing.

Not So Neutral Net. The FCC is set to vote December 14 to reverse Obama era regulations requiring internet providers to provide open access to their networks for all digital content.

The new rules would give network providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon new power to throttle distribution of certain content and charge more for better access. The proposed ruling is based on a bad definition and sets a bad precedent for sharing.

“Internet rights are civil rights,” said Jay Stanley, American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst. “Gutting net neutrality will have a devastating effect on free speech online. Without it, gateway corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will have too much power to mess with the free flow of information.”

School superintendents are concerned about the rollback of net neutrality regulations – concerns shared by SETDA and iNACOL.

There are arguments on both sides of this bill, but the proposed repeal appears to have little to do with the urge to share and the drive for equity.

Tax Cuts For the Wealthy. The Senate Republican tax plan gives substantial tax cuts and benefits to Americans earning more than $100,000 a year, while the nation’s poorest would be worse off, according to a report released Sunday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Whatever way the House and Senate reach a compromise tax bill, it is will exacerbate rather than narrow income inequality in America

Despite a 2016 election driven by populist angst, the DC dialog seems relevant to plutocrats rather than the broad interests of American’s facing automation economy.

Sustainable Capitalism

The innovation economy will produce tremendous benefit and wealth–and both will be concentrated unless we decide otherwise. To extend US leadership in the innovation economy we’ll need to update our form of capitalism.

Our new paper on the future of work and learning suggests a couple solutions:

  1. Build a stronger social safety net. There are likely to be waves of dislocation and transition. Vulnerable populations will be at risk more frequently, putting new demands on social services including transitional housing, job training and mental-health supports.
  2. Build a new civic infrastructure. Given congressional gridlock, cities and states will be the laboratories of a new social compact in the U.S.–and they’ll need new public-private-philanthropic partnerships that frame challenges and run experiments on topics ranging from basic income protection, to job training, to autonomous vehicle regulation.
  3. Build lean public agencies. Taking a page from the Silicon Valley playbook, government entities will need to become more nimble by surveying and convening stakeholders to develop temporary agreements—a form of iterative social development. (The Finns changed their constitution to allow this form of active experimentation on basic income.)
  4. Build smart cities. Every region needs to develop learning ecosystems that help people skill up fast around distinctive capabilities. As we noted in Smart Cities That Work for Everyone, learning ecosystems include innovation leadership, public and private partnerships, aligned investment, talent pipelines and multiple affordable-learning entry points that recognize prior knowledge and certify new skills. Lots of small colleges will go bankrupt in the next few years, smart cities will find ways to transform these campuses into lifelong learning centers focused on emerging job clusters.
  5. Provoke youth contribution. There’s never been a better time to build an app, launch a campaign or start an organization. The ability to build large datasets around big problems and aim open source machine learning tools at them is unprecedented (like TensorFlow Lite and an iPhone X). Schools and community groups should invite young people into the problem solving, infrastructure building and agreement crafting process.

The debate in Washington is disappointing and irrelevant to the challenges we face. Cities and states will need to lead the way into the innovation economy. It starts with learning together about what’s happening and making decisions our kids will be proud of.

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Philadelphia Is Reimagining Arts & Creativity Education Programming

By Erik Day and Emily Liebtag

The School District of Philadelphia recently unveiled a new multi-phase Arts & Creativity Framework, which establishes a path forward for a comprehensive redesign and integration of arts education in the city. The Framework was developed based on 16 months of comprehensive analysis of local and national arts efforts, executive workshops with 50 local arts organizations, and conversations with key stakeholders such as students, teachers, principals, community members and civic leaders.

We’ve all heard story after story of districts and schools cutting art programs due to budgetary constraints, even though students who participate in arts and music programs are more likely to graduate high school. Philadelphia’s project is laying a foundation for change.

We believe that arts education is one of the best ways to teach kids how to learn, tap into their passions, manage projects, persist through difficulty and build their own agency. So naturally, we jumped at the chance to speak with Frank Machos, Executive Director of the Office of The Arts & Academic Enrichment for the School District of Philadelphia, Dan Berkowitz, chief strategy officer for the Neubauer Family Foundation, and Dr. Martin Ihrig, professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education (a partner in the research that led to the Framework) and at Wharton, who have lead much of the research and planning for Philadelphia’s initiative. We were impressed with their approach.

“The groundwork research itself included talking to key beneficiaries and not making any assumptions, and trying to understand from their perspective what might be happening and what might be possible,” said Ihrig. “The beautiful thing about the project was that it was bottom up and not top down… We did it differently and really convened everyone that was important, on both the arts and education side of things and let them talk,” said Machos.

They found that students wanted more opportunities, teachers were eager for resources and relevant training, principals needed more support in scheduling and training, and partners hoped for easier ways to connect with schools.

Philadelphia then began to explore new approaches to how it could increase access and drive connectivity to quality, sequential arts education through:

  • Redesigned scope and sequences for art classes and courses;
  • School-based arts planning teams;
  • Increased access to music and art classes for all elementary school students and multiple college and career aligned arts pathways and activities for high school students;
  • Enriched learning experiences and engagement through integration of arts activities into non-arts subjects like reading, math and history; physical education; and
  • Alignment of Community Arts Partners with schools and articulated needs to supplement and enrich student experiences.

As part of their work to make these plans a reality, they developed an interactive map (based on their initial research) that illustrates schools’ current arts education resources ranging from instruments to technology to teachers. “We unpacked the arts ecosystem in the city to reveal the groups that may not be as big, say, a non-profit engaging students in R&B music, and tried to see how those could be resources for the students and teachers in Philadelphia,” said Berkowitz.

The map has given them the ability “to identify the disparity in the District’s arts education resources and develop real solutions to address this critical issue.”

Not only are they being strategic about the effort, but they also are rethinking what arts education means and bringing it into the 21st century by working to incorporate the specific interests students have when it comes to arts and not solely focusing on traditional content found in music and fine arts programs.

“We have an incredible opportunity to redefine arts education to be more reflective of the diversity of our students and city, building on an already strong foundation and legacy of arts programs in our schools while increasing accessibility and engagement. This Framework provides a pathway and structure to better align efforts, articulate roles, provide support and ultimately serve the greatest needs of our students and teachers,” said Machos.

They could even, said Dr. Ihrig, “do the same thing for the sciences, and map out the big companies that have labs and other players in the city, and figure out how they can leverage their resources for science education.”

What we think is so cool about Philadelphia’s program is that it is developing a model for circumventing (or at least alleviating) the budget constraints that so many districts and schools face with their art programs. By involving all stakeholders from the start, sharing out the knowledge they found about existing resources and potential partnerships, and setting a strategy for better connecting those resources to the various areas of their education system, they’ve developed a straightforward path for making community and district resource allocation vastly more efficient.

Supported by the Neubauer Family Foundation in partnership with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the University of Pennsylvania, we are excited to see what’s next for Philadelphia’s Arts and Creativity Framework.

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On Beautiful Shared Places

We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own…We demand windows. ~ CS Lewis

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., or Chicago lakefront parks; Grand Teton National Park or a park near your house; the bright lights of Time Square or the grandeur of the Champs-Élysées in Paris; the Smithsonian Museums or the Tate Modern in London–these public spaces are communal, awe-inspiring and essential to the life of a region that is more than survival.

We recently assembled a list of the 32 most pressing issues of our time–hunger, poverty, climate change, just institutions, sustainable development and the like, based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and a few other efforts to enumerate Grand Challenges.

Overflowing with problems, the list seemed short of opportunity so we added human dignity, enterprise and innovation, mindfulness and character. A topic that just wouldn’t stay off the list was beautiful shared places: social and cultural infrastructure, art and architecture, open spaces, parks and museums.

The topic of beautiful shared places kicked off a rich dialog with Getting Smart team and friends. Following is a recap.

Do beautiful shared places belong on a list of important issues?

“Striving for truth, beauty and goodness, to quote Howard Gardner, has been the aim of education since the time of the Ancient Greeks,” said Ron Berger, CAO of EL Education. “Beyond just schools, I live in New England where almost every old town is built around a Town Common–a Town Green–with lawns and trees and perhaps a gazebo or plaza. These spaces bring people together for meetings, festivals, celebrations, sports, events – it makes the town feel like a community.” He added that new suburban communities often have no space like this–the center of town is usually entirely commercial.

“Beautiful shared places you can experience with other members of your community builds and contributes to a shared sense of trust, optimism and empowerment,” said Getting Smart editor Erik Day. He also stated that coming together in public can be useful when it comes to more complicated or divisive issues.

“Shared places creates a sense of awe and wonder,” said Mary Ryerse, director of advisory at Getting Smart. She noted that philosopher Paul Woodruff called it Reverence, the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control.

“Designed places (museums, buildings, ocean fronts) are exciting in that the beauty is defined through the eyes of each individual who walks through the door, onto the sands of the ocean beach or navigates the landscape of an incredible forest,” said Adam Kulaas, director of school coaching at Getting Smart. He added, “They inspire reflection and growth by expanding through a lens what ‘was’ and more importantly the possibility of what ‘could be’.”

Fostering a sense of awe is linked to positive mental health in many studies. “This could come from a museum, cathedral, top of a mountain or on a beach,” said Nate McClennen, Teton Science Schools. He added that “preserving these spaces in the world is important for long-term human health.”

Andrew Meyers ran City Semester, an interdisciplinary, experiential program at the Fieldston School that takes eleventh and twelfth-grade students out into New York City to construct their own learning experiences and address urban policy challenges. He urges caution around the definition of beauty in cities where it may be more associational than aesthetic given the robust cultural and political dimension of urban life. “There are also the questions of power, access, memory and meaning: who decides what a place means, which memories are sustained, how do the cultures and cultural associations of the less powerful survive?”

Meyers dives into the essence of place-based learning, saying, “Beautiful, shared places such as these hold the DNA of a diverse, dangerous, inclusive, sublime city that is under threat. That DNA is what makes the city a place where we can encounter each other with a degree of civility and common purpose.”

What knowledge and skills are associated with the curation of beautiful places?

McClennen notes that shared spaces “connect to the global goal of sustainable communities, as sustainability always includes economy, culture and ecology.”

Day values the focus on design that shared spaces evoke–the design of place, of experience and of human organizations that create and sustain shared spaces.

Kulaas takes a “choose your own adventure” approach where youth have the autonomy to find the beauty through their eyes and capture reflections that it provides. This learner-driven approach “allows them to navigate the learning and find ownership in protecting the ‘place’ and the experience.”

place-based educationJanice Walton, project manager at Getting Smart notes, “Beautiful spaces can be found anywhere, perhaps they are not the “beautiful” in the traditional sense but they have some level of meaning and worth to the students who live there. Students should be allowed to define beauty for themselves and mindful that beauty can exist anywhere.”

“Shared public spaces are where contestations over power and meaning are expressed and (at best) worked out, where collective meaning and memory reside,” said Meyers. An advocate for global competence and critical thinking, he worries about a sterilized, sanitized and privatized view of urban life where “we lose the messy, multi-vocal and specific beauty of urban places.”

Berger looks at how we view beauty created in the past as the definition of a culture’s knowledge and skill level. “When we value ancient civilizations–Chinese, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan–it is not typically for their political leaders but for the beauty of their art, their architecture and the beautiful spaces they created,” said Berger.

Are curation, preservation, design and advocacy going to become more important?

“Open and shared spaces will become more valuable over time as the world becomes more and more curated, technological and automated,” said McClennen, adding that preservation and advocacy are going to become even more important as well.

On almost every street in Seattle, Day says “old, beautiful homes are being torn down and replaced with large, bland soulless units with eight to ten 350-square-foot efficiency studios.” He notes that as space becomes increasingly constrained, it will be more important for people to have access to community spaces. “Humans are social beings, and connected screen time cannot provide a satisfying replacement.”

“As our world continues to change rapidly and unexpectedly, we’ll want and need to preserve things we can control, and beautiful spaces are one of the few things we can design and preserve,” said Catherine Wedgwood, managing editor of Getting Smart. “There is a shared comfort in working together to keep something beautiful and available to everyone to enjoy.”

As more of us crowd into megacities, what are the implications for shared space?

Meyers is concerned about draining the local meaning from place as a result of gentrification, globalization and the emergence of a trans-national urban elite. “The walking tours and urban analyses that my students participate in will have less and less meaning, less and less to teach, as our spaces become homogenized and upscaled.” An example is Essex Street in the Bronx, where not long ago students could see and experience tenements, pickle stores, graffiti, clotheslines and Orthodox Jews next to Iranian nut-sellers and Dominican musicians. But now the street is filled with artisanal coffee shops, luxury condos (sold to absentee owners) and empty high-end clothing shops.

“As cities grow more dense and complex, urban planning and development are of the utmost importance,” said Emily Liebtag, director of advocacy at Getting Smart. As transportation shifts to ride share and autonomous vehicles, Leibtag sees less need for major train stations leaving more room for repurposed space like the Manhattan Highline.

As auto-curation fills every screen we view, what should we be concerned about?

“[We should be concerned] with the ease in which it is possible to accidentally fall into a cultural bubble or niche that makes it increasingly difficult to connect with your neighbor, who is likely to have gone down their own rabbit hole,” said Day.

“I worry about auto-curation decreasing the sense of discovery that I think is important for human development and learning and decreasing the open-mindedness that comes from seeking our own truths rather than being handed auto-curated collections built on our previous activities,” said McClennen. He added that preservation (and exploration) of the common spaces–built and natural–leads to long-term human well-being.

Given the importance of public spaces and the emerging importance of design and curation, we think beautiful places belongs on the list of big issues that young people should grapple with.

For more on beautiful shared spaces, watch the Netflix series Architecture Top 10.

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