Education has long been a hotly debated issue and with good reason — the policies and actions of education leaders affect our nation’s children, the future of the workforce and the day-to-day lives of families. But the struggle to improve the system has often left advocates in distinct camps, each believing that their solution, whether it be charter schools or blended learning or investing in teachers, is the best way to improve learning. That’s why it’s surprising to see a group of high-profile but strange bedfellows putting forward a new vision for learning, which they’re calling Education Reimagined.
The Education Reimagined vision statement comes out of almost two years of meetings where participants from very different sides of the education debate (labor representatives, charter proponents, district folks, business leaders, you name it) convened, left their individual missions and baggage at the door, and indulged in an exercise to imagine what a 21st century education should look like.
“People really wanted to get together to reimagine the fundamental system, recognizing that a whole lot of money has gone into trying to fix the system with no real results,” said Kelly Young, spokesperson for Education Reimagined. The nonprofit organization Convergence facilitated these meetings, helping to create a space of trust between people who have often fiercely disagreed publicly.
“We help people come in as people, not institutions, and they begin to see each other as part of the solution instead of as part of the problem,” Young said. She helped convene and run the meetings with the hope that participants could forge a new path forward for education.
Education Reimagined explains the thinking behind the initiative this way:
“Simply put, the current system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society. Our economy, society, and polity are increasingly at risk from an educational system that does not consistently prepare all children to succeed as adults and is least effective for the children facing the greatest social and economic challenges. Conversely, the Internet revolution has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity for new approaches to learning. Our growing recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions is also sparking a shift toward experiential learning. In short, we see both an imperative for transformation and many promising avenues for re-envisioning the learning experience.”
There are five core elements that Education Reimagined believes are crucial to transforming education:
- Personalized, Relevant, Contextualized
- Learner Agency
“We have to go to a learner-centered system, where a learner is equipped to have their own agency to decide what their education is going to be like,” said Gisele Huff, executive director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation. Huff participated in the Convergence sessions and is now on the advisory panel for Education Reimagined. She says the process changed her life. Previously, her foundation invested heavily in blended-learning solutions; now she has a much greater understanding of why and how skills and dispositions augment that work and are a necessary part of teaching the whole child.
“I’m a very opinionated person, not touchy feely whatsoever,” Huff said. “This shifted me into a different paradigm.” She said this initiative is unlike any other reform movement she’s seen throughout her long career in education, because a diverse group of people are united behind the vision, but aren’t pushing any policy recommendations. Instead, the group’s efforts will go toward highlighting pioneering work around the country, connecting innovators to one another and generating buzz for a movement that isn’t content to tinker around the edges of the system anymore.
“The reason this is different is it’s actually creating a new system that supports the kind of learning that we know works for kids,” Young said. Previous reform efforts have accepted the system as it is and have worked within its constraints to try and improve it. Education Reimagined wants a whole new system that embodies its core principles.
“It was actually very surprising that people stayed in this to the end, because I’ve been through several of these convenings where you get to an end and then I’ve seen someone pull out,” said Randi Weingarten, another participant and the president of the American Federation of Teachers. She said it was refreshing to work with a group that was oriented toward solutions instead of blame.
“This one is starting with a vision, not with a blueprint or a magic wand,” Weingarten said. “It’s starting with ‘this makes sense; this is what we need to do for kids in the 21st century.’” She said too many efforts to “reform” education have left teachers with all the responsibility but none of the authority to implement. She hopes Education Reimagined will be different because it’s a ground-up movement, meant to empower the educators already working to make this vision a reality.
Education Reimagined plans to publicize the work of pioneers already carrying out parts of this vision. But the first step is to catalyze a movement around that vision by getting some buzz, said Huff.
“Part of what the document is meant to do is raise people’s consciousness and make them understand that they’re working in a great thing that’s bigger than their classroom or their district,” Huff said. She believes this movement is different because it isn’t just operational, it’s a “moral and philosophical” mind shift.
She said participating in the Convergence meetings helped her come to respect and trust leaders like Becky Pringle, the vice president of the National Education Association. Huff has spent a good part of her career funding initiatives meant to shake up traditional school governance processes, but she and Pringle came to see each other as individuals who both want what’s best for children. In November, they will speak about this vision together at the iNACOL conference.
Huff believes that because this initiative comes from a place of trust, a strong network can be created. She referenced a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that highlights trust as a core part of collaboration. Authors Jane Wei-Skillern, David Ehrlichman and David Sawyer write:
“In our research and experience, the single most important factor behind all successful collaborations is trust-based relationships among participants. Many collaborative efforts ultimately fail to reach their full potential because they lack a strong relational foundation.”
Weingarten agrees with this premise, too. She’s excited that Education Reimagined isn’t just another initiative being foisted on teachers. “We had to do this work collectively in order to help kids individually,” she said.
Education Reimagined already has some examples of districts, schools and charter school companies who exemplify their vision. They’ll be adding more advisory panel members in the coming months and doing a lot of networking.
“This is something you can build a movement around because it’s about the child,” Huff said. “It refuses to let anything stand in the way to allow each child to develop his or her potential.” And as test-based accountability reform efforts lose popularity, Huff says, people are looking around for something else to believe in. She and the other advisory board members hope their vision of a transformed system that lets learners move at their own pace, values learning in and outside of school walls, and is grounded in relevant, real-world work will fill the void.