The world did not stop in 2020–21, and we did not stop moving forward with important work.

A case for optimism
May 19, 2021
Carole Basile

Two weeks ago, we graduated 1,500 students and had the good fortune to put together some in-person ceremonies that allowed us to celebrate our graduates. It was wonderful to see our students and faculty together, even if in socially distanced groups of 40 or fewer. It was restorative.

And it reminded me that the world did not stop in 2020–21. We did not stop moving forward with important work.

I am optimistic and hopeful that we are moving beyond COVID even if the consequences of COVID remain before us. The pandemic has made the severity of many of our most daunting education challenges both morally and practically impossible to ignore.

And yet I find myself optimistic about our chances of addressing those challenges in ways that are significant and sustainable. Some of my optimism flows from the fact that, at long last, there appears to be a chance that we will marshal the public will and resources to address long-standing and long-lamented challenges in education, including and especially the educational inequities that continue to vex our society.

The American Rescue Plan allocates $129 billion to help elementary and secondary schools. For that kind of investment, we should aspire to transformational innovation that begins to build an education system that’s both more responsive to learners and more supportive of educators.

And even there, I see cause for optimism. Even as our district partners navigated the disruptions of this past year, many of them continued to work with us on important, long-term challenges. Even as COVID ravaged the country, a growing and national network of education thinkers and practitioners advanced both thought and action around the Next Education Workforce.

In January, more than 270 people attended our event, The Next Education Workforce: Building the Next Normal. Out of that convening, two national working groups have grown. One is devoted to education policy. The other is devoted to sharing outcomes.

Additionally, we are working with Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in Arizona, to build Next Education Workforce models. We have a shared goal of introducing teams of educators into half the district’s schools by 2023.

All told, factoring in our work with Mesa, as well as our partnership with ASU Preparatory Academy and other schools, we anticipate a robust and expanding community of schools fielding Next Education Workforce models. In Fall 2021, we expect to count 26 schools engaging 232 professional educators on 75 teams designed to meet the personalized learning needs of 5,865 students. That number does not include the thousands of P–12 learners we reach through our own teacher-prep students working as interns and residents in schools.

Many of the professional educators on those teams are coming together for a summer institute at the end of June, during which they will develop practical operational plans for distributing expertise in order to deepen and personalize learning for students. It’s our hope and expectation that this summer institute will help us launch a formal Next Education Workforce Professional Learning Network that builds a robust community of practice that provides continuing learning and multilateral support for professional educators.

We couldn’t do this work without the engagement of systems leaders. And we shouldn’t do it without building a rigorous and relevant research agenda.

We have both.

We are building networks of superintendents who will share data and best practices. Our district partners are as committed to research as we are, knowing the most effective and successful Next Education Workforce models and practices will be shaped by evidence. We have data sharing agreements with districts. We are gathering a critical mass of qualitative survey data from educators working on teams. We are engaging our faculty and our doctoral students in the research agenda. Ongoing work has been supported by both local and national funders, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kern Family Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and others.

So, yes. Color me optimistic. Not just about the state of our college, but about the efficacy of the work we do and about the opportunity to build a transformative, national community of educators whose positive impact on the lives of learners will be felt beyond our college.