The Demand for K–12 Alternatives is Rising. What Will it Take for Emerging Audiences to See the Power and Possibility of Learner-Centered Education as a Path Forward?

Note from Education Reimagined   24 April 2024
By Emily Bader


Now, it’s time to demonstrate this vision as a true spreadable, sustainable option for our public education system. This means increasing the ways in which more people can see, touch, and experience the work.

Emily Bader
Chief Communications Officer, Education Reimagined

Yes, when it comes to K–12 education, the yearning for something different is real. We’ve all experienced it in our personal lives and orbits. In my universe, my exasperated educator friends and family members monitor their “retirement countdown” apps with bated breath. Worried friends and neighbors have tried different options for their kids—homeschooling, microschools, and private schools. Nationwide, we see parents and young people voting with their feet—as reports detail sustained, chronic absenteeism across regions, demographics, socioeconomic levels, and communities. 

At the core, parents seek assurance that their kids will grow up to be OK—able to live productive, fulfilling, happy lives. They want an education that enables their children to discover who they are, find their purpose, and ways to contribute meaningfully to their worlds and communities. At the recent ASU+GSV Summit, a new narrative came through in several discussions: The demand is there for new modes and learner-centered options for education. What needs focus is the supply—vibrant, impactful, and sustainable options. 

At Education Reimagined, our quest is to fuel the development of this “supply”—to make learner-centered education available to every child in the United States, equitably, as part of public education. The headwinds in designing, spreading, and sustaining learner-centered environments are strong. Our work is to empower the tailwinds, creating ripe conditions of funding, policy, practice, and visibility to enable its spread.

It’s no longer enough for people to believe that learner-centered education is needed. We now need people to also believe that learner-centered education is impactful, its spread is possible, and that momentum exists to transform education via the development of learner-centered ecosystems. 

Education Reimagined has illuminated an anchoring, transformational vision. We’ve emphasized the power of shifting paradigms of education. And we’ve cultivated the people and places making that shift real. Now, it’s time to demonstrate this vision as a true spreadable, sustainable option for our public education system. This means increasing the ways in which more people can see, touch, and experience the work. We need to bring it down to earth and help condition enablers nationwide to see that supporting learner-centered education and ecosystems is an important investment of time, resources, and social capital.

It seems we are beginning to experience what Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone call in their work Active Hope, a “Great Turning.” In this “Turning,” in the context of social and ecological change, they talk about “reinventing the way we do things, developing systems and structures that support the flourishing of life.” It follows periods of “Great Unraveling,” in which interlocking elements of systems collapse, and a “Business as Usual” period of societal denial, during which there seems to be little need to change the way we live.


It’s our collective that empowers the data, stories, and connections to build this momentum for the learner-centered field, and enable conditions for systems invention and flourishing.

Emily Bader
Chief Communications Officer, Education Reimagined

I’ve been called too optimistic by some, but I’m beginning to see a turning in the K–12 education conversation. People are mobilizing. Evidence of possibility is growing. Choruses of voices from a variety of sectors are beginning to champion opportunities to pave the way for a learner-centered path forward for public education.

Our work is to reinforce this believability and fuel this Great Turning. This effort centers in three areas—so far.

1. Sharing data about the impact and power of learner-centered education and the viability of ecosystem development.

There are countless reports that underscore what’s not working with our education system.

There’s now a growing body of data that underscores the demand for public education to deliver on specific needs. The recent paper we published by Knowledge to Power Catalyst’s Karen Pittman and Merita Irby, Too Essential to Fail, documents this demand from many angles of society—learners and their families, workforce leaders, educators and beyond. We’re seeing waves of other documentation and anecdotes charting this demand in a variety of respects. We need to continue to beat this drum.

Most importantly, however, our collective charge as a learner-centered field is to document and track the impact of the field. How are kids more engaged in their daily learning and projects? How is learning relevant to their futures? In what ways has learner-centered education enabled young people to contribute to their communities and worlds—and prepare them for future pursuits?

Organizationally, we are committed to gaining a deeper understanding of this and engaging leaders and influencers with the impact realized among different sites and learning communities. 

2. Sharing stories and evidence that prove the power of learner-centered practice and progress in its growth.

Show versus tell. The best way for people to understand the power of learner-centered education and the ground-level promise of learner-centered ecosystems is to experience it in person. See it. Feel it. Meet the learners, educators, and community members who benefit from it. 

An ever-present and increasingly expanding part of our work is to bring forth this power through sharing and amplifying stories—we call it Learner-Centered in Focus. One manifestation of this is our film series, launched earlier this month. It documents the ways in which learner-centered education comes alive at The Met School (a Big Picture Learning school), FabNewport in Rhode Island, Rock Tree Sky in Ojai, California, and Iowa BIG and City View in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The series follows the journeys of several learners, illuminating how a learner-centered approach to education enables deeper learning, relationship-building, community connection, confidence, agency, and more. 

And as the systemic change driven by the piloting of learner-centered ecosystems unfolds, we are placing a huge priority on amplifying that work—the learnings, the victories, and the magnitude of the vision coming to life via efforts like Runway Green in New York and the Columbus EcosySTEM Initiative. While the vision for a new system of public education seems vast, the teams behind these projects are proving that the realization is possible, especially with the multiple layers of support and partnership that undergird each.

3. Amplifying the promise of this work and its prioritization across diverse sectors.

A new wave of high-level conversations with conditions enablers is emerging, and it’s thrilling. The dialogue about the power and potential of learner-centered education and ecosystems is making its way into actionable conversations about public education transformation and into other sectors beyond K–12 innovators.

Just this year, the path forward of learner-centered ecosystems has taken hold: 

  • In two formal conversations at the annual summit of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching—including a distinct Huddle Day session devoted to the topic;
  • During a two-day workshop led by Knowledge to Power Catalysts with academic researchers, thought leaders, policymakers, and practitioners in the field of Positive Youth Development;
  • With thought leaders in the workforce development and talent development community; 
  • Via policy leaders unpacking conditions needed at the national and state level to enable productive learner-centered and ecosystem design;
  • In the worlds of Montessori, microschools, and beyond; and
  • Via virtual events, including Getting Smart’s recent Town Hall with a vibrant discussion on what it’s going to take to make ecosystems a public education reality.

Deep partnership, of course, is essential with all of this work. It’s our collective that empowers the data, stories, and connections to build this momentum for the learner-centered field, and enable conditions for systems invention and flourishing. This is why we eagerly welcome any ideas, tools, stories, and opportunities to capture and build on this progress as we continue to illuminate the impact and possibility of learner-centered education and ecosystems. With these insights, our commitment is to spread the vision—underscoring the impact of learner-centered education, reinforcing believability in its future, and fueling this “Great Turning.”

New resources and news on The Big Idea!


We recently announced a new R&D acceleration initiative to connect and support local communities ready to bring public, equitable, learner-centered ecosystems to life.