As a grantmaker, I get the opportunity to hear about how organizations are tackling some of the most pressing issues facing youth in our state. One of the events that I look forward to most is the annual Grantmakers for Education conference, because it gives me the chance to learn how other funders are thinking about systemic education reform, and highlights some promising practices taking place across the nation. This year’s conference brought together nearly 500 education grantmakers in New York City for keynote speeches, site visits and panel discussions. This format may sound similar to other conferences you have attended, but what do 500 education grantmakers actually talk about when they come together?
The hot issues at the conference are probably not surprising to anyone who follows education reform. College and career readiness, the Common Core State Standards, STEM, better use of data, collaboration, district-level reform and digital learning were all topics that had a lot of buzz. I was especially interested in a session on “College and Career Readiness: What Do We Mean?” that was moderated by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. The session featured an engaging trio of panelists including Nader Twal from Long Beach Unified School District, JD Hoye from the National Academy Foundation (NAF) and NAF alumnus Michael Durant. Frameworks developed by both NAF and ConnectEd were presented to describe what it means to be ready for both college and career.
What I found to be most encouraging, though, is that all the big issues being discussed at the conference — including college and career readiness — tied incredibly well to what we’re doing collectively as a Linked Learning field. For example, sessions on the Common Core were packed, and seeing that level of interest continued to reinforce that Linked Learning is ideally positioned to be a central way districts deliver the Common Core standards.
But that was just one of the ways that the main themes of the conference reinforced the timeliness of Linked Learning. As a Linked Learning field, we are learning how to approach this work with a systemic lens, forging support from broad-based coalitions, developing district-level infrastructure and professional development, creating supporting statewide policy, and using data to measure and advance our progress across districts and the Linked Learning District Initiative as a whole.
In the District Initiative alone, we are expecting to establish 150 high-quality Linked Learning pathways by 2015, approximately half of which will be STEM-related. And we will have a continuous improvement data system in place by the end of the year that will show pathway vs. non-pathway outcomes for approximately 150,000 high school students across all nine districts. All of that feels really systemic, and it’s directly tied to many of the big issues at the conference, such as STEM, data and district-level reform.
I found those connections to Linked Learning inspiring, and I hope it’s encouraging for everyone in the Linked Learning field. It serves as an additional vote of confidence that Linked Learning, when done well, is not only engaging for students and teachers but also takes a comprehensive and systemic approach to tackling some of the most pressing issues identified in education today.