If we want an equitable future for education, we need to take action. William Gibson wrote, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” This is no more evident than in education today. More often than not, students who need the most support to propel their learning receive the least. The New York Times recently illustrated that sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.
KnowledgeWorks’ latest future forecast presents a range of future possibilities, and it encourages us to take action to shape the kind of future that we want for all students. There are things we can do right now to ensure equity in the future of education, and it starts with how we think about how we teach and learn.
- Focus on relationships. This work ultimately comes down to the interactions between a student and a teacher. As my colleague Sarah Jenkins wrote, “it’s not just about changing the system, but changing people’s hearts, changing the way we think about people who are different from us.” For our relationships to evolve and be authentic, we need to challenge our assumptions about race, class, and access.
- Elevate student voice through personalized learning. It can be as simple as offering students a variety of ways to prove they’ve mastered something (for example, a test, a project, or a paper), honoring their voices and respecting where they’re coming from. By giving students greater autonomy, you’re not just closing the achievement gap, you’re closing the opportunity gap.
- Be optimistic – and realistic – about access to technology. While access to technology is a real barrier to equitable education right now, it becomes cheaper and easier to access all the time. According to my colleague Jason Swanson, today “you can pick up a $99 smart phone and have access to the world.” Ten years ago, this would’ve been unheard of. What seems cutting edge now is very likely to be mass market in 2025. Still, equity isn’t a given – just as we do now, in the future we will need to be intentional, to be aware of our most vulnerable students in everything that we do.
- Include parents and students in the decision-making process. Often times in the traditional model of schooling, decisions are made behind closed doors and are handed from the top down to the classroom. This approach is outdated, out-moded and, frankly, counter-productive. The student and parent perspectives are vital not only to making sure we’re representing the needs of all students at the table, but also in ensuring student and community buy-in. The more everyone knows about what students are learning, why they’re learning it, and how they’ll be assessed, the more supported and empowered each student will be.
- Learn how to use data and make it available to students, teachers, and parents. We have more data on our students’ academic performance than ever before, and that data goes beyond test scores. But it doesn’t matter how much data or how focused a picture it gives us if we don’t know how to use it. Teachers should always have the most accurate picture of each student, and we must give teachers the best training possible to support their development in using data thoughtfully. Without it, how can they support them in the right ways? The same goes for parents. Simply put, data and effective data usage are the foundation for personalized learning.
We all need to do our part to shape the future for our children. It’s not fair to expect educators to do this work alone. From parents to teachers to business and community leaders, we all have reason to want a more equitable future. We also have the means to make it happen.
I recently visited Boston Day and Evening Academy, a student-centered alternative school in Boston that serves students who’ve dropped out of a traditional school setting, whether due to attendance or behavior challenges or something else. Many are overage for high school and want a chance to earn their diploma. While there, I had the chance to talk with a student who claimed that the school “gave [them] their voice back.”
Now, shouldn’t we give them a chance to use it?