Demand Is Here to Stay (And Might Have Been There All Along)
Note from Education Reimagined 22 February 2023
By Kelly Young, Education Reimagined
The data soundly affirms what many of us have been feeling, that families want access to different public education options that nourish and support their children as full humans, whose potential and learning cannot be summed up in a test score or GPA.
Founder and President, Education Reimagined
Over the past decade and a half, I’ve been in conversations with thousands of families. From my days as Chief of Family and Public Engagement at DCPS to a visioning process I led at my son’s elementary school to my work at Education Reimagined, I’ve had the honor of listening to the hopes and dreams of parents when it comes to their children’s education.
And, it is through this listening that I’ve learned that families want an education that sees and honors their whole child. One that fits their unique needs, interests, and aspirations. One that supports them in building a secure and fulfilling life for themselves. A learner-centered education. Whether they’ve called it that or not, I hear it in parents’ questions and in their dreams for what could be — dreams that in most cases, include a commitment to the educational experiences of all young people (not just their own).
Yet, this desire is largely at odds with the options available in education right now. Families have to either stay the course with their conventional school or, through means, privilege, or access, augment the education or find an alternative. From what I’ve seen — desire is there; options, particularly publicly funded ones, are not. This was true before the pandemic and continues to be true today.
Recently, two critical studies have been released that validate these conversations. Moreover, they show that desire for something different in education exists not only among families who have already found learner-centered options but also among those who have remained in conventional settings. The data soundly affirms what many of us have been feeling, that families want access to different public education options that nourish and support their children as full humans, whose potential and learning cannot be summed up in a test score or GPA.
Learner-centered approaches to education are amassing evidence of their ability to deliver on the kinds of experiences and outcomes families are now prioritizing.
Founder and President, Education Reimagined
Public and Private Opinion Points to Wanting Something Different
Choose to Learn, a public opinion study done by Tyton Partners, points to a desire for new public education options. Of the over 3,000 participants in the study, 51% believe personal interests and needs should be the driver of their children’s educational experiences, and “79% believe learning can and should happen everywhere (as opposed to in-school alone).”
Findings also showed that parents’ views about the role of education are shifting away from being solely about academics. More and more families are now indicating that passions and interests ought to be a core part of young people’s learning experiences. Parents also valued happiness as the most important measure of the effectiveness of an educational program.
Participants also expressed wanting a system that sits more solidly at the intersection of what is traditionally taught in school and what is typically thought of as out-of-school experiences, so that families have learning opportunities that are “(1) capable of meeting broader outcomes and (2) accessible to all.”
Pursuing similar lines of inquiry, Todd Rose and his team at Populace conducted a “private opinion study of the American people.” While public opinion studies look to understand “perceived societal priorities,” these methodologies unearth findings that “…may not in fact be supported by private views and priorities of individuals.” In contrast, Rose’s team sought to illuminate private priorities about the purpose of the K-12 education system to “reveal what Americans genuinely want K-12 schools to be focused on when it comes to educating students.” The results were published in this recent report.
What Populace found was that people want education that is “tailored to meet each child’s needs (e.g. allowing children to learn at their own pace, providing unique supports, etc.).” Generally, this is in contrast to what we assume everyone else wants. In fact, when asked, people in this study asserted that the majority of Americans want a standardized, one-size-fits-all education system (regardless of their own personal views).
This is what Rose and his team call “a collective illusion” — where we assume the view we hold (that differs from the convention) is in the minority when, in fact, that view is actually privately held by a majority. This illusion often leads to inaction or the assumption that you have to just keep playing the game with everyone else.
We can see the impact of this illusion all over the place in the education space, despite findings like those of Tyton Partners and Populace. In fact, in his recent New York Times piece, David Brooks asserts that given these cries from parents (and a plethora of other data pointing to a need for change), we ought to be in the heat of a massive “schools” revolution — doing all we can to reinvent. Yet, by and large, it isn’t happening, at least not at any level of scale.
A Signal for Learner-Centered Ecosystems
This disconnect is what fuels our team at Education Reimagined. It is also what drives our hypothesis — that we must first invent and demonstrate what a fully learner-centered education system can look like, before calling for its spread. If what so many people are calling for already existed in a way that could be spread across communities, wouldn’t that be happening?
Learner-centered approaches to education are amassing evidence of their ability to deliver on the kinds of experiences and outcomes families are now prioritizing. We need to keep building that evidence base. But, these programs, schools, and environments are not spreadable or sustainable under the constraints and limitations of the current system, creating inequitable access for families.
To reach the 55 million children and youth currently served in the public education system, we must imagine, invent, and bring to life the education systems and infrastructure of the future. In a handful of communities, we must partner with families ready for something new, find and leverage the enabling conditions and policies, and build learner-centered ecosystems. Together, we can demonstrate that these ecosystems are an enlivening, safe, and reliable public education option that aligns with the hopes and dreams of our nation’s parents.
As Brooks states, “This moment of disruption should be a moment of reinvention.” The data is out there, validating this as a worthy path forward. Let’s go!
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