Thinking Forward in 2020

A new year is always cause for CRPE to look forward, not back. We think hard about how we can apply our analytical tools to pressing problems in our public education system. We try to do so with creativity, optimism, and urgency.

This year, some of our most exciting new research flows directly from our 25th anniversary project, Thinking Forward. We challenged ourselves and the education field to consider how public education must shift to prepare every student to solve the challenges of the future.

We predicted an even greater need to create educational opportunity for disadvantaged students. We imagined a system that would allow every student to tailor educational programs to their individual needs, and allow educators to create new solutions to problems students face—even if those solutions look nothing like conventional schools. We argued that individualized pathways for students can still serve the common good, but will require new investments, new approaches, and new funding and accountability policies.

This was not merely an academic exercise. In the year ahead, we will continue to test and refine our ideas by studying real efforts to put them into action.

We are supporting school districts to work through the most critical sticking points that arise under the portfolio strategy. We are also leading a network of organizations that are trying to radically customize learning.

We are studying efforts to rethink the state’s role in promoting local school improvement, and we are studying how state policy impedes or supports innovative career education pathways.

We are conducting an evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. We will soon announce an exciting new national survey of American school districts. We are studying innovative school models in Puerto Rico and Indianapolis. We are conducting several studies on how school systems can support students with disabilities more effectively.

We are studying political movements and challenging ourselves to consider how deep inquiries about race and privilege can fuel—not fragment—a strong education reform coalition. And we are marshaling evidence to counter false narratives about efforts to improve public education.

We have more than 20 projects underway. These seemingly disparate efforts are connected by a clear through line. More urgently than ever, our public education system must develop the talents of every student—especially those it has historically struggled to educate effectively. It must do this with constrained resources, at a time when politics are increasingly fractured. Our research will help meet these challenges by allowing us to learn how states, school districts, and charter schools can:

  • Prepare all students for rewarding jobs and rich adult lives with a more permeable high school, college, and career continuum.
  • Create more nimble funding systems that allow students to better customize learning.
  • Help school systems prepare for enrollment declines and an eventual downturn in the economy without sacrificing quality.
  • Ensure the most complex learners (and untapped sources of talent) achieve their full potential.
  • Empower parents and communities to drive new ideas and opportunity.

It’s truly a privilege to learn across so many different efforts to improve public education in such diverse state and local contexts, to posit and test ideas, and to work with people who challenge our thinking and inspire us to keep thinking forward.

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