The Future of Education
Steps away from the Massachusetts State House, Strategies for Children, a non-profit advocacy and policy organization seeking to have a positive impact on young children and families, held a conversation reminiscent of NISCE Professional Conversations.
The panel discussion was titled Education Reform at 20: What Lies Ahead and was supported by the Boston Bar Association. Panelists acknowledged the impact of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, noting that it had mandated major changes to education: guidelines for building Common Core curricula in schools, creating state-run standardized testing (MCAS), elevating standards for graduation, building ‘foundation budgets’ for all schools, developing more charter schools and placing an emphasis on improving student time and learning, teacher certification standards and district performance standards. It was an ambitious undertaking.
The panel was composed of representatives from a variety of sectors and included Noah Berger (Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center), John Bissell (Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education), Eileen Rudden (LearnLaunch) and John Jackson (Schott Foundation for Public Education). Their presentations provided valuable insight into their views on the future of education. In an effort to be forward-facing, panelists chose not to focus on what was wrong or missing from the Act, but instead explored proactive ideas for the future of education.
All acknowledged the key challenges that continue to exist in providing every student with the opportunities and resources they need to succeed. Panelists cited data reflecting funding issues, unequal access to education, underrepresented educational voices (those of parents, student and teachers), lack of shared belief in the value of technology innovation, lack of clarity around what instructional methods are effective, the lack of communication between interested stakeholder groups, a workforce that is falling behind and the impact of inflation as critical challenges facing all those that want to create better educational results.
Solutions and Action
During the discussion, most attention was placed on thinking of solutions. It quickly became apparent that the diverse crowd of educational stakeholders were already working on solutions and generating ideas to drive this important agenda forward.
There were key messages that seemed to cluster by professional sector:
- Financial Sector – explore what it really costs to develop high quality and accessible education for all.
- Business Sector – continue to work with the educational sector to see what best practices of business management can apply or be helpful to education.
- Technology Sector – explore how EdTech innovations might be effectively applied in the educational environment.
- Philanthropic Sector – explore our current understandings of what it means to have equal access and opportunity and the costs involved in providing both to all students.
A general tone developed affirming, above all else, that none of this can be done in a vacuum. So, we must work together to create the culture shift required to bring about education reform.
The robust discussion that developed between panelists and participants led to a wide range of suggestions:
- Build communication links with all who care about education—teachers, students, community members, etc.
- Work to develop supportive standards at the level where you, personally, can effect change (i.e., If you are in government, advocate for child-focused initiatives).
- Expand upon efforts to develop ways to recruit and retain high quality teachers.
- Develop equitable resources and access to education, especially for early childhood education.
- Focus on student-centered education practices when building better educational models.
- Develop a compelling message for why we need to care about what’s going on in education.
- Invest in what matters most, the future for our children.
- Create disruption at the state level that is heard at the federal level (like what was done during the recession in the financial markets).
- Don’t cut funding to education, reevaluate what’s being done and fund approaches that are shown to work.
- Develop programs and approaches that are aligned with our understanding of individual variability—social and emotional, ESL, and health checks.
All agreed that there is and continues to be a tremendous amount of work being done to dramatically improve education in this country. Creative solutions were offered. For example, it was suggested that we try to figure out how to depopulate prisons as a means of increasing funding for education. We need to appreciate the contributors to the well-known “achievement gap,” but also begin to think critically about the lesser understood ”opportunity gap” that severely limits student achievement.
Participants agreed that creative ideas for change need to be talked about, shared, developed and made available to debate and test. That will require all to find ways to collaborate and work together. Sharing “best practices” relevant to the field of education—the application of new and effective technology, the development and maintaining of sound budgets and financial practices, the integration of business techniques and relationships and distribution of philanthropic dollars for research is essential. Finding appropriate and meaningful roles for students, parents, teachers, administrators, district level leaders, state-level leaders and federal leaders will create the synergies and connections needed to make the dramatic changes in education.