ANAHEIM-CA-JANUARY 5, 2015: Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda is photographed in a classroom on Tuesday, January 5, 2015. (Christina House / For Education Week)
ANAHEIM-CA-JANUARY 5, 2015: Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda is photographed in a classroom. (Christina House / For Education Week)

Everyone is talking about how to fix education these days.  Many pundits want more accountability but are struggling to figure out what that means.  Sometimes it takes someone outside the system to just add a little common sense to help us see the light.

I met a business executive by chance during a break at a conference.  He was attending a different conference but we shared a table drinking coffee and struck up a conversation.  He began by making a remarkable statement to me about education.

He said, “We’re tired of retraining your graduates. They’re not prepared for the work force. We don’t care about SAT scores. Keep on that path and you will be bitcoined.”

“Bitcoined?” I asked.

“Bitcoins are the money of the future. The inventors of Bitcoin developed a legitimate way to bypass banking and save billions of dollars.  Consumers and suppliers like it because transactions bypass the banks and all the credit card charges.  Bitcoin is making an end around an entire infrastructure. In the not too distant future, there may not be a need for banks. The way you’re going, there may not be a need for schools. Watch out or you’ll get bitcoined.”

I stared at him thinking about what he just said.

“Look, we need innovators.  We need problem solvers.  We need collaborators and communicators. What we don’t need is no stinking test score takers. Test scores are meaningless in the real world.”

“That’s sacrilege.” I muttered under my breath.

He sensed my discomfort, “You’re building a system around the wrong drivers.”

I wondered if he’d read Michael Fullan, the famed education expert who often talks about the right drivers for education reform.

“But the state has a new and better assessment. It just has a few bugs but the new and improved test is much better than the old one. And it’s entirely computer driven. ”

“Does it teach a kid how to work with others? “


“What about thinking out of the box?”


“Does it teach them how to care about people and not act like a know-it-all?”

I stammered, “Of course not. That doesn’t have anything to do with academics.”

“Dammit, does it teach a kid how to do a job interview?”

“Uh, no.”

“Case closed.  Sounds like this new test still won’t solve your problems which eventually become our problems.  Did you know that Google doesn’t care about test scores when they hire and doesn’t give a rat’s behind about where you graduated?”

“Even UCLA?” which was my alma mater.

“Princeton, Harvard, and even your beloved UC school, it doesn’t matter.”

I was getting real annoyed at this guy. ”Who said that?”

“A guy by the name of Lazlo Bock, Google’s head of hiring.  Google hires a lot of folks from the so called lessor schools.  Think for a moment.  Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were college dropouts. Lazlo says that grades still matter some but what really matters is the so called soft skills, the 4 Cs, communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. And I personally would add a fifth C-character.”

“Yeah but Google’s just one company.”

“A damn successful one that gets over two million applications a year.  But did you know that Kaiser is also bitcoining education?”

“Kaiser?  The health care company?”

“Yes. They’re creating their own medical school and not depending on the current pipeline.  According to Dr. Edward Ellison, their executive medical director, it also plans to integrate hands-on learning early on so that what you’re learning, you’re going to immediately apply. For example, Kaiser plans to train students as emergency medical technicians when they arrive at the school to give them a practical foundation in on the ground response and customer service.  Imagine that.  They actually want people with people skills who don’t work in silos.”

“That’s impressive. I‘ve had so many doctors who’ve had no personality.”

“Me too. It’s called bedside manners.  Daniel Pink, the bestselling author of a book called, “A Whole New Mind,” says that too many doctors and lawyers for that matter have become ‘knowledge workers’.  They are the result of what he calls the SAT-ocracy.”

“A what?”

“Too much SAT and test prep. And to get into grad school, students have to pass another ridiculous test, the MCAT or LSAT or GMAT.   Schools have become testing and homework factories.  Learning has become disconnected and meaningless.  Look, I’m a dad too.  My 16 year old gets decent grades but is rudderless. He doesn’t have any purpose or passion for learning. God forbid learning can be fun.”

I sighed. “I guess I better be getting back to the conference.”

The businessman smiled and we shook hands.

“Say, what conference are you attending?”

“It’s an acronym that stands for “The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Interim Assessment Workshop for the California Assessment for Student Performance and Progress Test.”

As soon as I said that I laughed, “I think I’m going to just skip it.”

Of course this is a fictional encounter, but I tell it in this way because many stakeholders including members from the business world, parents, and higher education leaders have big concerns about the emphasis on testing over real world applications.  AUHSD is up for the challenge and is leading the way to align our system with the needs of college, careers, and real life.

Mike Matsuda is Superintendent for the Anaheim Union High School District. Mr. Matsuda was recently named a 2016  “National Leader to Learn From” by the editors of Education Week.  He was one of thirteen leaders selected out of over 700 nominees and is the only one from California.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *