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Ted Dintersmith is putting education to the test

Josh Ortega in “Most Likely to Succeed.”Gabriel Patay

Ted Dintersmith is a man on a mission. It has taken him to cities and towns in 25 states, including Orem, Utah, which is where he’s calling from.

Ted Dintersmith (left) and Greg Whiteley collaborated on “Most Likely to Succeed.”Victoria Will/Invision/AP

His mission is to transform the way we teach, and to that end he has produced the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed,” directed by Greg Whiteley (2014’s “Mitt”). It argues that the current philosophy of standardized testing as the measure of education is doomed, and investigates an experimental high school in San Diego to see what the alternatives might be.

After his success as a partner at Charles River Ventures in Cambridge, Dintersmith felt it was time for something new. “At a point in my life where my wife and I could say we’re just going to have fun, I’m cold-calling school superintendents in Rapid City, S.D.,” he says. “The problem is urgent. If 10 years from now we have 50 million chronically unemployed young Americans, $100,000 or more in debt, really bad things are going to happen.”

“Most Likely to Succeed” is the opening-night offering of the GlobeDocs Film Festival. It screens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre as part of HUBweek, which is founded by The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Dintersmith will be there with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Jim Peyser for a post-screening panel event. We asked Dintersmith a few questions of our own, ahead of that discussion.


Q. So this is how you’ll be spending your retirement?

A. Indeed. As a venture capitalist I could see how fast things were changing and all these jobs vanishing and I realized that if you were just good at following instructions and memorizing things, which is what standardized testing calls for, those will be the skills that will go away the fastest. That’s what computers are good at. Watching my own kids and what they did at school it seemed as if the schools were trying to drive the creativity out of them.


Q. How did we end up with this system?

A. Back in the 1890s, the country did something really smart when they realized we’re moving from an agricultural economy to manufacturing so we need workers with manufacturing skills. They saw that schools should prepare people to do repetitive tasks under time pressure with no errors, because if you were Henry Ford the last thing you want is people thinking out of the box on your assembly line. And that’s what standardized tests measure: repetitive tasks, done quickly under time pressure without mistakes. By and large most of education is learning things you’ll never remember and if you do remember them, you’ll never use them.

Q. So what’s the alternative?

A. Teaching that is student-centered instead of system-centered. We want kids with a sense of purpose to make the world better with the confidence that they have the skills to do so. If we have a society of millions of new problem-solvers, it not only works in the best interests of the kids but in the best interest of society.


Interview was edited and condensed. For more information on the GlobeDocs Film Festival, go to www.boston