Focus On Learners In High-Need Areas, Including Prison, Crucial In Building Equitable Future For Education

KnowledgeWorks releases paper exploring importance of “ecosystems” to support all students

Topics: Future of Learning

This paper focuses on four high-need areas: low-income urban neighborhoods, disrupted suburbs, low-income rural communities and incarcerated settings.For the future of education to be an equitable, vibrant environment where every child succeeds, there needs to be a greater focus on the kids and communities most at risk, including those in poor rural areas and juvenile prisons.

But today, only about 64 percent of rural students pursue postsecondary education. And a survey of educational offerings for juveniles in adult prisons found that only 60 percent offers some kind of learning opportunity for youth, meaning there’s more work to do to build an equitable system.

A new KnowledgeWorks paper, Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems, explores how to build truly equitable learning environments for all students, regardless of zip code, background or income bracket.

“As we look at the future of learning 10 years out and think about ways the learning ecosystem is expanding, we see great potential to create radically personalized learning environments that promise to be vibrant for all young people,” said KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince, who co-authored the paper. “But a critical uncertainty is whether those learning ecosystems will be vibrant for everybody or only for learners with means.”

Throughout the paper, Prince and co-authors Jason Swanson and Andrea Saveri focus on four high-needs areas: low-income urban neighborhoods, disrupted suburbs, low-income rural communities and incarcerated settings. By creating connections between various education partners, providers and stakeholders, the future of learning may more likely offer learners the resources they need through vibrant learning ecosystems.

For example, in an incarcerated setting, learners may not be able to access resources or learning materials to help prepare them for life outside prison. The Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco, which the paper explores as a signal of change, operates within a correctional facility and supports the education of inmates. By connecting resources and leveraging community partners and providers, learners have a better chance to successfully re-enter society after their release.

“These learners are in the most restrictive setting you could think of,” said Swanson, who is the director of strategic foresight at KnowledgeWorks. “There are constraints with learning materials and resources, but the biggest constraint is the societal narrative that tells people that prison is a place for punishment rather than education. But it’s a broader societal good that we help educate these learners, which, in turn, helps prepare them to re-enter society.”

To help all learners succeed, change is needed throughout the system. KnowledgeWorks advocates for creating innovative policies that eliminate seat time restrictions, standards of learning to help provide common goals, and new compensation structures appropriate to educators and learning agents.

New data-sharing mechanisms are necessary to create learning ecosystems centered on personalized learning, while also developing alternative funding structures that enable learners to access the right experiences and supports.

“Education initiatives can’t work in silos any longer,” KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Judy Peppler said. “This is clear through our community work with StriveTogether, and it becomes even obvious through our strategic foresight work. To ensure all students have personalized, vibrant learning opportunities, we need to foster connections and educational opportunities throughout communities.”

About KnowledgeWorks

KnowledgeWorks is a national nonprofit organization advancing a future of learning that ensures each student graduates ready for what’s next. For 20 years, we’ve been partnering with states, communities and leaders across the country to imagine, build and sustain vibrant learning communities. Through evidence-based practices and a commitment to equitable outcomes, we’re creating the future of learning, together.