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St. Cloud, Minn., AI Summit Pushes for New Education Standards

A recent summit hosted by St. Cloud Area School District 742 put educators, business leaders and lawmakers in the same room to discuss the future of education policy in light of artificial intelligence.

Author Charles Fadel gives a presentation on stage at St. Cloud Tech High School
Charles Fadel, an author and founder of Center for Curriculum Redesign, speaks at a summit on artificial intelligence in education Monday, June 17, at St. Cloud Tech High School.
Jenny Berg, Star Tribune/TNS
(TNS) — The St. Cloud school district this week gathered educators, business leaders and lawmakers to learn about artificial intelligence in education — an event that district leaders say they hope is the start of a much larger conversation on state standards and how to truly prepare students for the future.

The event, a first-of-its-kind "thought leaders summit" at Tech High School, focused on AI's potential to improve student learning, as well as concerns such as data breaches and cheating.

But the event, which featured speakers from national education associations and state agencies, was just the first step in pushing the traditionally slow-moving education system to not only keep up with technology, but use it to revamp how schools teach students for a rapidly changing world.

"This isn't about the 'how to' of AI. This is the 'so what' of AI," said Laurie Putnam, St. Cloud superintendent, who organized Monday's summit. "How are we going to respond to make our education systems relevant to the workforce and future needs?"

Participants included about 200 local and national educators, business leaders, community partners and state legislators — a cross-section of stakeholders that Putnam hopes will work together to improve education policy.

"How do we make change? We know to do that, we need to bring people together," Putnam said. "We often learn and make decisions in isolation. We have education, business, policy conferences — but we don't come together to talk about how each of our expertise in those areas overlap."

The breadth of attendees impressed keynote speaker Charles Fadel, founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, who said he's visited companies and governments in 30 countries over the past two decades but never had educators, business leaders and lawmakers in the same room.

"We have a chance of actually making things happen," he said.

Fadel recently published a book analyzing education in the age of generative AI, which is a type of AI that uses algorithms such as ChatGPT to create new content like text and images. He said AI schools could use AI to better personalize learning for students, or automate things like grading so teachers can spend more time interacting with students. But education should really focus more on the skills AI doesn't do well such as entrepreneurship and social sciences like psychology and sociology, he said.

"If understanding ourselves and others is at a premium, why [aren't] we teaching these things? If entrepreneurship is the job of the future, why wouldn't we teach it?" Fadel asked. "We're frozen in the past. We're afraid of making these changes."

Fadel said admission standards at higher education institutions have "shackled" K-12 education for decades by narrowing the standards of success to grade-point averages and SAT scores. Similarly, standardized testing has narrowed the focus to teaching rote knowledge of math, science and English and doesn't evaluate critical thinking or creativity — something Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Willie Jett called "a snapshot in time disconnected from daily learning."

"I believe it's insufficient. So it's in my opinion it's time for a shift. It's time for a change," Jett said, advocating that stakeholders work together to revamp the standards over the next decade.

"Minnesota boasts some of the nation's best learning standards, yet they are not flawless. We have significant achievement gaps among underserved students," Jett said. "I'm just grateful to be sitting here in the room today addressing not just the technology but the fundamental question that it raises: What do we want our teachers to teach? What do we want our students to learn to succeed? And how do we ensure fairness in the system we create?"

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