Moving Beyond “Ed Reform” – Insights from Kairos

Four hundred Massachusetts education leaders, including superintendents, elected officials, philanthropists and non-profits, gathered yesterday at UMass Amherst for the Kairos conference, hosted by MA Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Ed Jeff Riley.  

The Kairos conference, which name means “a propitious time for decision or action” in Greek, convened stakeholders across the education ecosystem to “help shape an early blueprint of how the Massachusetts education community can realign political, regulatory, and financial structures to support stronger, more engaging instruction for all students.”

During the conference, Riley expressed his concerns about antiquated education systems that stifle authentic learning and education innovation. He is worried that the nation-leading Massachusetts K-12 education system is comparable to Blockbuster….while we should aim for it to be more like Netflix. He gathered the group together to begin the conversation on how to get to a system in which “deeper learning”  is available to all, and not just to some.

The leaders participated in short session highlighting great experiments in the Commonwealth,  including sessions on coding, creativity and ST Math, as well as wraparound supports and family community engagement.  The “subarctic survival” exercise showed that 80 percent of the time, teams performed better than individuals.

Perhaps most intriguing was Charles Fadel’s session on building education in the age of AI.  He challenged educators to make sure that students leave high school with deep understanding of the different approaches that the different disciplines offer to understanding the world, but not necessarily the detailed content that someone specialized in the field would need to know.  While affirming that much content knowledge is needed for automaticity, he encouraged pruning the current curriculum in order to make room for new domains such as computer science and wellness. The audience was intrigued, especially when the Commissioner mentioned that the new history and social science assessments may employ a “task-based” approach.

Most attendees whom I talked to were eager to get down to what needs to change, and regretted that part of the afternoon was not used to engage the broad swath of stakeholders in attendance.  David O’Connor, Executive Director of the MAPLE Consortium, and Ann Koufman-Frederick, Chief Academic Officer of LearnLaunch, agreed. LearnLaunch hosts the MAPLE Consortium, and there are 45 districts representing 25% of the students in the Commonwealth, in which superintendents are trying to move to a system that is more focused on student-centered learning for the 21st century.  While the Commissioner may be encouraging educators to focus on deeper learning and to experiment, our members are moving forward.  The Commissioner promised that the Department would be less focused on compliance and more on support. We are eager to see how that will play out, and eager to participate in discussions on how to move forward.

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Eileen Rudden is Co-Founder of LearnLaunch.