Next Level Transformation: Inventing Community-Based, Learner-Centered Ecosystems

Insights   08 October 2020
By Lindsy Ogawa, Education Reimagined

 

It’s time to build an education system that provides every single child access to what they need to thrive. Anything that falls short of that is simply not enough.

Lindsy Ogawa
Director of Practice and Field Advancement

Why Are We Calling for a New Education System?

The current education system is designed to produce inequitable life outcomes for young people. Decades of tweaking and patchwork solutions have proven we are dealing with a design feature rather than a design flaw. When such outcomes are embedded in the foundation of a system’s design, we must work to invent something entirely new.

The pandemic exposed an exhausting and growing list of inequities within education and our country more broadly—children and families were left without access to basic learning and life necessities, such as food, stable housing, child care, internet, and internet-capable devices. Even for those whose needs were met, the conventional structures of schooling still stood on shaky ground.

Educators, families, young people, and community organizations adapted the best they could to the new circumstances—many even creating or piloting new programs to support and organize learners. Yet, no degree of Herculean effort of an individual or organization can mitigate the insufficient, inflexible, and inequitable factors inherent in our current education system’s policies and structures.

Our education system, despite its good intentions to educate and prepare children for the future, too often fails to recognize the wisdom and potential young people already have today. And, all of our systems, including in education, often lack the nuanced and adaptable solutions necessary to fairly support the health and well-being of children and communities across the country, particularly those who are the most marginalized and underinvested.

 

What our children need and deserve is a public education that fully and reliably supports and values the unique child as a whole human being and unleashes their potential.

Lindsy Ogawa
Director of Practice and Field Advancement

The time has come to design an education system that honors every child and family, and unleashes their unique potential. And, whose purpose is to support each child to develop their self-knowledge, agency, and life literacies within safe and nurturing communities to be able to lead healthy and fulfilling lives now and into the future.

To do this, we must think beyond education as a siloed system responsible for independently educating young people and creating the solutions necessary for them to learn and be well, such as ensuring their access to food and housing security, transportation, internet, and mental health supports, to name a few.

We must think beyond racist systems that continue to segregate children and families by race, zip code, and socioeconomic standing; underfund schools with high populations of BIPOC learners; and suspend, expel, and criminalize BIPOC learners at rates that far exceed those of their white peers.

We must think far beyond an education system designed to transfer knowledge; rank young people’s potential based on compliance, seat time, and correct answers; silence confronting conversations; and devalue mistakes with remediation and lowering grades, rather than acknowledging them as opportunities for personal growth and learning.

It’s time to build an education system that provides every single child access to what they need to thrive. Anything that falls short of that is simply not enough.

This pandemic revealed to us what has been true for over a century: we are in a highly bureaucratic, inequitable education system whose purpose is not designed around the well-being of children and communities.

If we choose to let this realization move us, this disruption has the potential to be more than a slight detour that will soon lead us back to a familiar path. Rather, we could take it as a clear signal that a new road needs to be paved entirely—one that leads to the invention of a transformed public education system that enables community-based, learner-centered ecosystems to powerfully and equitably serve every child and community.

What Do Children and Communities Deserve from Public Education?

At Education Reimagined, we have always taken a firm stance that learner-centered transformation is needed throughout the entire education landscape, including within district, private, charter, homeschooling, and independent governance structures. And, with over 50 million young people (83% of our country’s young people) being served by the public education system alone—reflecting those in district and charter environments—we must give specific attention to this area of education.

What our children need and deserve is a public education that fully and reliably supports and values the unique child as a whole human being and unleashes their potential. An education that develops the outcomes and competencies that will make a difference—cultivating self-knowledge, belonging and relatedness, agency, life literacies, and a love of learning—rather than developing compliance or attainment of a standardized body of knowledge. An education that calls upon their unique interests, lived experiences, cultures, and aspirations, while simultaneously introducing them to new experiences, and building social capital they may not have had otherwise.

 

These ecosystems would embrace new views of what success is, what great learning looks like, and the conditions necessary to enable rich, meaningful learning for diverse learners…

Lindsy Ogawa
Director of Practice and Field Advancement

What our families need and deserve is a public education system that includes them as a critical part of their child’s learning journey, honors and addresses their unique circumstances and challenges, and enables them to make meaningful contributions that match their capacity to do so. An education that lives up to the promise of ensuring their child is healthy, happy, and prepared to navigate and thrive in an increasingly complex and interdependent world.

What our communities need and deserve is a public education system that creates space for those in the community to meaningfully share in, contribute to, and own the education of its children; fully utilizes the assets and infrastructure the community already supplies; seeks out and brings in assets not currently available in a local community; and honors the community’s history and the lived experiences of its people.

What we all need and deserve is a public education system designed to honor the uniqueness of each child, family, and community; value each child’s life goals and contexts; and prepare them to provide for themselves and their families. This future requires an education system whose purpose is to support each child to discover their gifts, passions, and talents and to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. 

Imagine if this kind of education were available to every young person—of all racial and cultural identities, socioeconomic standings, zip codes, ages, sexual and gender identities and expressions, neurodiversity, physical abilities, and family and caregiver dynamics. What kind of future might we create together?

Exploring a Community-Based, Learner-Centered Ecosystem

No matter how much effort is put into transforming a single district or school, so much more would be possible if learner-centered programs, people, and experiences were supported by a broader community-based, learner-centered ecosystem. Such an ecosystem would create a new future for learning that connects community and global assets in ways that are responsive to the agency, interests, and diverse needs of our children and families.

To be clear, this is not about creating more “choice” in learning opportunities that are still constrained by the structures and norms of the standardized system. Rather, these ecosystems would be designed to produce fundamentally different results that our current education system was never designed to produce.

These ecosystems would embrace new views of what success is, what great learning looks like, and the conditions necessary to enable rich, meaningful learning for diverse learners—particularly youth of color and other youth who have been underserved in the current system.

Built with the trust and input of learners, families, and community and global members who make up these ecosystems, community-based, learner-centered ecosystems would comprise of organizations, institutions, and individuals whose work or mission have a concern for children. This goes well beyond those currently employed in the “education sector.” It includes “out-of-school” time youth providers, parks and recreation centers, grandparents and retirees, advocacy groups, religious centers, residential facilities, businesses, cultural centers, and other youth and family serving entities.

 

If you look at the current education system and understand everything within it had to be created from scratch at some point in time, you already have proof that this magnitude of invention is possible.

Lindsy Ogawa
Director of Practice and Field Advancement

This level of transformation and invention in education will require repurposing and redesigning just about every public education system—accountability, assessment, credentialing of learning, funding models and financial management, education workforce roles and preparation, and cross-sector collaboration across state agencies, amongst others.

And, as we embark on this work, intertwined in every aspect of the transformation effort must exist an uncompromised commitment to take action in service of equity and the liberation of our youth and communities who are most marginalized and underinvested. Anything created that does not fulfill this commitment will simply fall short of the learner-centered vision.

What’s exciting is that early makings of community-based ecosystems may already be bubbling up. Partnerships between schools, nonprofits, youth organizations, and local government agencies are happening. While what exists today may be far from what an ecosystem needs to be such that it’s learner-centered, stable, and equitably available to every child, several communities across the country already seem to be thinking beyond “school” for possible solutions.

Likewise, the work practitioners have been undertaking for decades to discover not only what it takes to bring a learner-centered experience to life but how to engage their community to see the value and legitimacy of such approaches to education will be pivotal to drive and inform what is next. And, the moment we are in now presents an opportunity, perhaps for the first time ever, to leapfrog school-by-school transformation to get to nationwide, systemic transformation. 

You Are Already a Leader in this Work

To imagine, invent, and bring to life a fundamentally transformed public education system that by design enables community-based, learner-centered ecosystems is an enormous undertaking. And, at first glance, it might seem implausible. However, if you look at the current education system and understand everything within it had to be created from scratch at some point in time, you already have proof that this magnitude of invention is possible.

Related Reading: How to Become an Expert Systems Thinker

To realize this transformed future, we need to engage with what could be. Rather than using the boundaries or limitations of the current system as constraints.

What would be possible with an ecosystem designed around the well-being of BIPOC youth and families, and our most marginalized communities? What would be possible for young people if they were supported to work on issues that mattered to them and their communities right now? What would be possible for our economy and society? 

We can also engage in the kinds of questions that force us to see outside of the “box” of education to discover new sources for invention and collaboration. 

What have been the longstanding barriers to equitably providing safe and inclusive learning and supports? Who are the people who’ve been the most marginalized and who must be co-designers of these community-based ecosystems? Who are the community partners and institutions “outside” education who must be involved to develop and maintain safe and accessible ecosystems? What structures and adult roles and workforce must be created to support thriving and equitable ecosystems? What funding models would equitably support children and communities who have been the most underinvested?

Many of the longstanding barriers within education and our society are being called into question. The pandemic and inequities we see sweeping our country not only suggest a need for change but demand it.

Inaction stemming from fear of failure or unintended harm will position the existing system, which is designed for some and not all, to persist and expand its inequities. In order to build the kind of world we want to live in, communities must become clearer about the vision they are seeking, and we must each be willing to roll up our sleeves, lean into discomfort, learn from generations before us, and embolden ourselves to try on what’s never been done before.

Now is the time to explore what the future of public education must be for every child.

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