The promise of public education is that every student should have a meaningful opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are or where they come from. A rigorous education should encourage learners, prepare them to fulfill their own aspirations, and become engaged members of their communities and contributors to our democracy.
But, in the United States, our K-12 public education system — with more than 100,000 schools in 14,000 districts — is not designed for this purpose. Rooted in the industrial age, school has historically been a place where students are sorted into specific roles in society. The teacher covers a broad set of facts and subjects, and learners are encouraged to memorize these, follow instructions, and compete to give the correct answers. That’s why, in today’s polarized political environment, the public education system is struggling to provide solutions that work for everyone: whether it’s teachers, families, future employers, or higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school shutdowns only highlighted the deep inequities and shortages that public education has been dealing with for decades.
Since 2010, Hewlett’s Education Program has been working to change this system. We make grants that promote the adoption of high-quality educational experiences in public schools and seek to realign the nation’s K-12 system around what we call “deeper learning” — learning that combines content mastery with skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, communications, and collaboration. We invest in approaches that center student success and collective experiences in schools because we know that when systems of learning center student identity and shared achievements, all of society benefits from the outcomes. Our goal is to transform what educational success looks like and how to measure it in American K-12 schools.