Strange Bedfellows Reach Consensus on Leading “A Transformational Vision for the Future”

These days, as we watch Congress teeter on the edge of a government shutdown, it might seem like finding common ground in a national policy debate is a Sisyphean task.

Two years ago, however, a diverse group of national leaders embarked on what might have seemed like an impossible mission: to develop a vision for the future of education. And Tuesday the results of that work were released in a joint report, “A transformational vision for education in the U.S.,” which advocates for a commitment to “learner-centered education” and to helping schools encourage the mastery of skills and knowledge needed for the 21st century.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the report is the identities of the 28 people who signed it. They include the presidents of the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions – unions with members who have sometimes seen the addition of technology to classrooms as a threat to teachers’ jobs – as well as advocates for charter schools, often seen as the unions’ natural opponents. A variety of K-12, higher education and business leaders also collaborated on the report.

“It’s a minor miracle that such passionately diverse advocates set aside well-worn, if well-meaning, arguments to focus in a new way on serving the whole child, knowing that that whole child, well-served, will become a whole adult, ready to take on life’s challenges, responsibilities, and joys,” Lily Eskelsen García, one of the signers and President of the National Education Association, said in a statement.

A national nonprofit, Convergence, served as a disinterested third party to guide the collaborative work that eventually reached consensus. The project that emerged from these meetings, Education Reimagined, will facilitate putting this work into practice.

“The brilliance of this process is that it allows people to leave their egos at the door and be there as people,” Stephan Turnipseed, former president of LEGO Education North America, said in a statement. “We moved past the stereotypes to focus on the problem rather than our ideologies.”

What will this look like in the nation’s schools? It depends. The report emphasizes that each community should have the flexibility to adapt a new school model that fits local needs. The underlying idea: Education needs to change to adapt to modern life. Schools are not immune to the digital revolution that has reshaped the way we buy music, read news and socialize with friends. Among other tasks, Education Reimagined will be documenting case studies about schools that have had success in radically changing schools for the better. Among the schools featured now are those in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area and the Summit Public Schools in California, and the organizers want to hear from other people who believe they should be featured as pioneers.

Other national leaders are also calling on schools to reimagine the way they teach and learn. This month, Laurene Powell Jobs announced a $50 million effort, XQ: The Super School Project, to make over the typical American high school.

“High school hasn’t been reinvented in over 100 years,” Jobs said in an interview with NPR’s Marketplace. “It was designed for early 20th-century workforce needs, and as we all know, in the last 100 years the rest of our world has changed radically, but schools have not.”

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Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.