Of all the students we spoke to, perhaps Maggie explained the opportunity myth most explicitly: “I expect to be getting the knowledge I need to go to college and get a career, to do whatever it is I plan on doing.” It shouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation. And yet, most students will find themselves let down.
It’s time to change that.
What we’ve learned from students about their experiences has created a new center of gravity for our work. We hope it will do the same for others seeking fundamental changes to our school systems. We now have clearer answers than ever about how and why we’re failing to provide so many students with the experiences they need to reach their goals. If we stay focused on those experiences, we’ll be on a path to sustainable change because the work will be rooted in the experiences of those we serve.
We readily acknowledge that we don’t have a detailed operational plan to improve student experiences at scale. But we believe it’s time to move beyond important but narrow debates—from how to measure teacher performance to charter versus district to the role of standardized testing—and return to the basic guiding principle that brings us to this work: the right of every student to learn what they need to reach their goals. Over the next several years, we will partner with school systems, educators, students, and parents to build our expertise about how to give all students more of the key resources they need and deserve, in different communities and contexts. We’ll certainly share what we learn as we go, and we hope you will, too.
But we think we know where to begin, and it starts with making students’ daily experiences the center of our work. Students are at the heart of this report, and we learned some profound lessons through the process of asking them about their goals and experiences. They don’t have all the answers, to be clear—nor is it their job to tell us how to do ours better. But they proved again and again, through their nuanced, sophisticated, and practical observations, that they are the best experts we have about the current state of our schools. Above all, we heard from students that they want to be challenged in school, enjoy their learning, and be treated with respect, care, and dignity. They’re asking us to do better, so we should.