Monday, March 26, 2007


So Will goaded me into looking more closely at Karl's famous "Did You Know" powerpoint. I'll just hit a few points here.

First up:

20. If you took every single job in the U.S. today and shipped it to China . . .
21. China would still have a labor surplus.

Nobody really knows if this is true or false. The American work force is around 146 million. The CIA says "From 100 million to 150 million surplus rural workers are adrift between the villages and the cities, many subsisting through part-time, low-paying jobs," and that seems as good a guess as any. So it could be true in the abstract. But even if it is, what impression is that supposed to leave on the reader? If China still has over 20% unemployment after this decade or so of massive growth, that's not impressive. That's scary.

29. According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley . . .
30. The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004.
31. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . .
32. Using technologies that haven’t been invented . . .
33. In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

Here is the Bureau of Labor Statistics prediction for the 10 occupations with the largest job growth, 2004-14:

Retail salespersons Registered nurses
Postsecondary teachers
Customer service representatives
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners
Waiters and waitresses
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food
Home health aides
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants
General and operations managers

Here's the 10 detailed industries with the largest wage and salary employment growth, 2004-14:

Employment services
Local government educational services
Local government, excluding education and hospitals
Offices of physicians
Full-service restaurants
General medical and surgical hospitals, private
Limited-service eating places
Home health care services
Colleges, universities, and professional schools, private
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services

These are all jobs that exist, that solve problems and provide services that won't be going away any time soon.

This one is probably my favorite:

40. In 2002 alone Nintendo invested more than $140 million in research and development.
41. The U.S. Federal Government spent less than half as much on Research and Innovation in Education.

Karl picked that up from David Warlick, whose original quote is as follows:

In 2002, Nintendo alone invested more than $140,000,000 (USD) in research and development. That same year, the U.S. Federal Government spent less than half that much on Research & Innovation.
David provides this cryptic attribution:

“FY 2004 Budget for the United States Government” U.S. Department of Education U.S. Department of Education. 27 Apr. 2003 <>

The fact that Karl narrowed the scope from all research and innovation to just research and innovation "in education" indicates that he realized there was a problem with David's quote. The NSF alone spent 4.8 billion in 2002, or over 30 times what Nintendo spent. Even in education, the Ed Department budget shows $385 million in "State Grants for Innovative Programs" . Frankly, I can't figure out where Karl and David got their numbers. David's footnote is not very helpful.

Last one:

65. Predictions are that e-paper will be cheaper than real paper.

"Predictions are?" They just are? This one, quite frankly, is a good test at the end to see just how much you've managed to suspend disbelief. The idea that a sheet of e-paper (that is, a lightweight, flexible electronic display) would be cheaper than a piece of regular paper is absurd. Wouldn't whatever nano-tech magic you're imagining would produce the e-paper be able to make regular paper even more cheaply? Plus, it defies basic economics. E-paper would always cost more because people would be willing to pay more for it.

I could go on, but I don't want to seem completely obsessive, and I do have other things I could be doing with my time.

What is particularly disturbing is that this piece has been so unquestionably picked up and promoted by people who spend a significant chunk of their time preaching about "information literacy" and such.


Karl Fisch said...

Hey, it's about time somebody wrote this. I will point out that the sources were posted very quickly after I realized that others had picked up the presentation back in August - so have been available to everyone since then. I also modified a few slides when I couldn't verify what was originally on the slides - which I noted in the source list.

Having said that, the presentation was never meant to be "scholarly" or "authoritative." It was meant to highlight some of the changes that were/are happening, and give my staff an idea of the trends that I saw and what that might mean for our students. I still think the presentation does a decent job of that. (Also, keep in mind that the original presentation starts with 8 slides about my school, which I think changes the tone from the version that starts with the China and India stuff).

Now, to the specific statistics you mentioned:

21. China Labor Surplus - that's from Angus King, former Governor of Maine. Just because he's a former Governor doesn't make him accurate, but it certainly lends him some credibility. The impression I was going for was simply that there are a lot of folks out there who would like to work, a lot of folks that up until now maybe haven't had the same chance that students in the U.S. had. With some of Friedman's global playing field stuff going on, they may get that chance. (Not to minimize the huge problems China needs to deal with, but I do hope those folks do get that chance.) So I wanted my staff to think about that and what it meant for how we were preparing our students.

30. Again, just because Richard Riley is the former Secretary of Education (and governor) doesn't make him accurate, but it does give him some credibility. The point of this one for my staff was simply that many of our students will be working in jobs that we don't know much about, so we should be careful about assuming that if we do what we've always done, we'll be adequately preparing them.

41. Nintendo vs. U.S. - you're right, when I went back and looked at what David had, I wasn't completely comfortable with it so I changed it slightly. But I don't think including money from NSF makes complete sense either, in terms of they typically aren't funding basic research and innovation in education in the same sense I get Nintendo is.

65. ePaper - as I noted in my sources, I changed that slide as well, because I couldn't find anything specific in Ian Jukes' stuff to back up a date for that. Having said that, I still think this is something worth thinking about. I certainly don't know enough about paper production versus nano-technology of epaper, but I think you might be underestimating the flexibility and information-delivery capacity of ePaper. Yes, I imagine a single piece of paper might be cheaper than a single piece of ePaper for quite some time. But that "single piece of ePaper" could conceivably hold hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, who knows how much information compared to real paper. So maybe a better phrase would've been "cost per bit of information" or something, but that just doesn't roll off the tongue . . .

So, yes, I've been surprised at how few folks have digged any deeper, but I would still argue that the presentation works as intended - if it's the start of the conversation (originally just for my staff). If it's presented as the entire conversation, then that's a bad thing. And while I was certainly aware that anything that gets posted on the web can spread, I really, truly had no idea this would happen (now I know - pun intended). When viewed outside of its original context, the Did You Know presentation can certainly be misleading or misinterpreted.

I'm still hoping to get that post together that I mentioned in the comment to Will, and it will include much of what I said above, but I felt like I should at least try to address some of your concerns here. Thanks for taking the time to dig a little deeper.

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Karl,

Yes, I tried not to jump down your neck too much, since I knew this was something you put together for your teachers, not your thesis. What's a little weird is everyone's enthusiasm for cherry-picking the most extreme predictions and statistics they can find. I'm afraid it says something for the underlying weakness of the position of educational technology right now, that we have to reach so far to try to make an impression.

Karl Fisch said...

I appreciate the restraint. You would think that after seven months of sometimes brutal comments on the web, I'd have a pretty thick skin, but not so much.

It's funny, because I see "Did You Know" to be not so much about technology in education (although I think that's a critical piece), but about approaching teaching and learning differently. Assuming I get that post together, I'll talk about that some - I'll come back and link so that you can add your thoughts if you wish.

Lee Kolbert said...

Interesting and very indicative of how bloggers hold each other accountable for the information either posted or gleaned. I like that there are people out there checking the facts, Lord knows I don’t have time to. I also agree that Karl’s intention was to provide a staff development for his teachers that a lot of us were hoping would start some very real conversations about how we are preparing our students. I like the suggestion to change the title to, “Is it true that…?” I would not change anything else (other than the title) and I would still promote using the slideshow as a conversation starter. I would even go one step further to show the evolution of Karl’s slideshow and evidence of the conversations taking place in the Blogosphere on account of his original posting. IMNSHO, this is exactly the kind of discussion Karl was hoping for!

Richard said...

What is so troubling about web products is how they take on a life of their own. I received Karl Fisch's slideshow from an educator friend of mine. I was one of hundreds of people he forwarded this presentation to. The presentation has an enormous web presence as well. And many people take the info at face value.

I looked through a number of the citations and found a number of errors, simplified descriptions of study results, and data that cannot be verified. I find this very troubling. The presenation is authoritative and presents these data as real and concrete. Closer examination shows that they are not at all as concrete as they are presented. I think this is a disservice both to the original audience and to all those who saw the presentation on the web and unwittingly repeat all of this as if it is real.

Most troubling is the almost identical presentation copywrited by another group, the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group. You can see their presentation at

Personally I cannot determine who copied whom.

If you would like more info on the errors, omissions, and data that I could not verify, please let me know and I'll provide it to you.

Tom Hoffman said...

For the record, Karl's version was first.

Richard said...

Just for the record as well, out of the 24 claims made in the presentation, 7 are correct, 6 are wrong, 7 are not confirmable, 1 is so reductively reported that it is misleading, and several misreport what the claim's citation reports. This is just terrible. A school report this sloppy and with so many errors would be rejected by any conscientious teacher.

Tom Hoffman said...

What's odd is that some of the key points right at the beginning that get people's attention don't prove anything other than "China (and India) are really big countries," which they've always been compared to us.

Richard said...

Information packaged stylishly often distracts consumers from the veracity or novelty of the information.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle" ---George Orwell