We are at a contended, yet much needed, inflection point in American education. It is almost universally acknowledged that we must renovate our nation’s public education system so that all students graduate with the knowledge, higher-order thinking skills, and social and emotional dispositions that position them for success in our pluralistic democracy and evolving economy.
However, policymakers, advocates, educators, and families are presented with conflicting views of how we must get there. We believe that we must step away from quick-fix soundbites and unproven solutions and lift our heads up to ask what kind of education our children need today for tomorrow—and how to deliver it equitably and effectively.
The context could not be more ripe for major change: Shifts in authority from Washington, D.C., to states, driven by the new Every Student Succeeds Act, are opening space for innovation. A new administration that will likely devolve even more authority to communities; the emergence of powerful, diverse, and innovative models of learning in schools and communities across the country; and, more broadly, the deeply felt sense of powerful demographic shifts alongside impacts of a global economy all add urgency to a moment for public education renewal and renovation.
A cross-sector group of foundations, researchers, nonprofits, associations, and networks have come together to discuss how to best seize this moment. We call our voluntary band of collegial organizations the Partnership for the Future of Learning and have collectively generated a frame that recognizes that our nation’s greatness is grounded in public education that serves both the individual and—importantly—the collective public good.
Education that serves the public good means that it needs to be publicly governed and sufficiently supported so that it can fulfill its essential, longstanding role as a strong pillar of communities. It is the surest pathway to deeper, more engaged learning for every child and for equity by race, gender, and zip code. In so doing, it will enable each and every child to have true freedom to participate in a diverse democracy and successfully navigate a future economy that we can hardly imagine.
This driving value of public education as serving the public good can best be realized when we pursue five other mutually reinforcing values that animate our vision for the future of learning:
- Deeper learning that cultivates academic competence, higher-order thinking skills, and commitment to learning and that readies young people personally and socially for responsible adulthood;
- Student-centered approaches to learning that enable educators and learners to work together to ensure that all learners become deeper learners through personalized, experiential learning;
- Resources, conditions, opportunities, and measures of accomplishment that ensure equitable and inclusive education for all of the nation’s diverse young people;
- Schools that reflect and reinforce the centrality of public education to a healthy and vibrant democracy and promote the practice of democratic skills; and
- Systems in which knowledgeable professionals work together with parents, local community members, and policymakers with trust, respect, shared responsibility, and mutual accountability to create and sustain schools where ongoing professional learning brings continuous improvement and to construct standards, curriculum, and assessments that reinforce collaborative learning environments.
We have expressed our shared vision and values1 in order to jumpstart a more positive, inclusive discussion around the future of our nation’s education system, and how we can act on those values in order to realize this larger vision of returning public education to its animating, public purpose.
One key path forward is through policy improvement. Hence this paper, which derives compelling and pointed policy suggestions from our values and integrates them into a comprehensive policy framework to advance a shift from the system of today to the system of the future.
We deeply thank the many and expert advisors to the process of developing the framework and offer special thanks to the principal authors (listed on the insid e cover). We hope you will find our ideas helpful, and we invite you to join the discussion—we see this as a living document, a shared policy framework among an expanding network in the education field. We welcome your action, if you are so moved, to further promote these ideas nationally and, most important, in your state and local community.
Cyrus Driver, Senior Director for Strategy and Program, National Public Education Support Fund Coordinator of the Partnership for the Future of Learning
Christopher Shearer, Program Officer for Education, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Chair of the Partnership’s Policy Working Group
Read the Partnership for the Future of Learning’s 2017 Policy Framework.