The National School Boards Association (NSBA) recently announced a new bold initiative to reimagine and improve learning for students so they are better prepared for the modern world. NSBA held the inaugural event for its “Public School Transformation Now!” campaign on October 27th, 2020, bringing together national education experts for a conversation around reinventing school, closing the education digital divide in education, commonly called the homework gap, personalized learning, students with disabilities, and the role of teachers and professional learning. The broader campaign aims for public schools to transform learning for each student by providing a more student-centered and personalized learning approach that better promotes real world and twenty-first century skills.
The need for a fundamentally different approach to schooling has never been more pressing than today, with the recently released 2019 NAEP scores for 12th graders highlighting a growing divide between the highest and lowest performing students and an overall decline in Reading scores. With districts across the nation dealing with disrupted schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school leaders have already had to make significant changes to instructional delivery, curriculum, professional development, and more. This presents an opportunity to implement equity-focused, transformative practices that improve student outcomes long-term. Former WV Governor Bob Wise likened COVID-19 and the resulting economic situation to a natural disaster, saying “There are three stages to any natural disaster. There’s triage, there’s transition to what is next, and if you’re very fortunate and deliberate, then transformation…We either take this very disrupted, very tumultuous year to plan and build a system that we want or we stumble along, always transitioning but rarely improving.”
The key role of technology in advancing school transformation efforts was a common theme throughout the event. Former NC Governor Bev Perdue spoke directly to the school board members NSBA serves, saying “All 90,000 of you school board members should become the best cheerleaders in your system for technology. And when I talk about technology, I don’t talk about just your run-of-the-mill technology. I talk about technology like you talk about water and electricity and natural gas and sewers. It has to become part of the basic definition of infrastructure in America.” Former WY Governor Jim Geringer also spoke to the importance of technology, with a caveat: “You start with a vision first and technology last. Conform technology to want you want to do – don’t conform yourself to technology.”
Roberto Rodriguez, President and CEO of Teach Plus, and Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of the Learning Policy Insititute, both spoke to the importance of teachers and involving key community stakeholders in plans for school transformation. Rodriguez spoke to growing and retaining a talented and diverse teacher pipeline, noting over half of students in public education are students of color, but only 18% of teachers are of color. “The school culture and climate matters a great deal to retaining those teachers. They want opportunities to lead and receive professional development and grow their practice with the same opportunities that are afforded to their peers,” he expounded. Dr. Darling-Hammond explained that districts need to “listen to students and families about their experiences. Listen to educators about what they’d like to see in their schools...Develop community-oriented schools that bring people together.” Since their participation in the campaign event, it was announced that Dr. Darling-Hammond was leading the Biden-Harris education transition team and Mr. Rodriguez was also named as a team member.
We are at an inflection point in K-12 education, and NSBA is committed to being the leading advocate for student-centered, personalized learning for each child in every district nationwide. We look forward to engaging our members and partnering with the incredible organizations doing this work to further make this a reality.
Rishabh Chatterjee is an LEE Policy Fellow in NSBA’s Federal Advocacy department.