Five Years of Shared Vision and Values

As the network and partners move into 2020, it is worth reflecting on where we have come in a little less than five years. In April 2015, the ‘New Models Working Group’ was a collection of seven funders who had invited a dozen field partners to help launch a strategy that might shift public education towards our vision and values. Since that time the network has blossomed to now include leaders from over 120 organizations and 20 foundations under the banner of the Partnership for the Future of Learning who are making the vision and values come to life by advancing shared priorities, actively shifting the narrative on public education, and tangibly advancing the vision in key states and systems.

The Partnership has a defined identity, purpose, and network structure that build relationships and alignment, develop needed tools, and support concrete shifts in places.  We remain guided by a North Star vision animated by values of racial justice, democracy, community, and public goods that undergird what is known about how children and adults learn and thrive in these places we call school.

Yet the moment compels us to move even more strongly in this pivotal year. The criticality of public education to our collective futures is still largely taken for granted in the public eye, and real urgency in the field as a whole to remodel this institution remains elusive. We are on the right track but must continue to strengthen the network in size, diversity, and strategic power so it creates greater gravitational pull to ultimately bring about needed shifts.  We are attracting new partners to the network’s tables—in particular young people, system leaders, and educators—and finding ways to connect with aligned efforts within K-12 education, and close fields like early childhood. Our network priorities must become even more powerful vehicles to grow the network, produce useful tools, and inform policy agendas, supported through weaving of Story, Policy, Places and Systems strategies.

A question I sit with today is how we best strengthen the network for the long run, for 2020 and beyond. The coming months will position us to best answer this question. We are thoughtfully evaluating our trajectory of development to date so we can best evolve from launch phase into deeper relationships, broader connectivity, more aligned action and greater power. We must work to broaden the funding table, knowing that new funders must join as others leave, and that financial resources are a life blood to many—but not all—shared strategies that our partners help drive. The Partnership’s organizational home, the National Public Education Support Fund, is also moving to strengthen core capacities under the leadership of its new Executive Director, Frank L. Gettridge, so the organization can best steward and support the Partnership and foster powerful and strategic connection with its other networks. These developments, and others, give me confidence that as the network matures our next wave of activity will be even more impactful, exciting and rewarding.

We’re having a fun ride together, but we’re just getting started!

Cyrus Driver
Senior Director, National Public Education Support Fund

Reflections from the Team

A group of staff and consultants who are leading work for the Partnership met to talk about 2019 and where we’re heading together next. Listen to their reflections on SoundCloud.

Thoughts from Frank London Gettridge, NPESF Executive Director

In getting to know the Partnership, I have seen how the network’s purpose, role, and positioning is growing within the education field. This was especially clear to me at the Assembly, where I witnessed the body of partners that gathered to work side-by-side to increase awareness around racial equity and justice in education, including the centering of community voice.

In my experiences, I have been the beneficiary of the power of the people and how the stories of parents and students who are directly impacted can come together to bring about successful change. I have also learned that this requires alliances, coordination, and communication across the aisles. I still stand by the words of Fred Hampton, a famous Black Panther from Chicago, “We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We are going to fight racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity.”

Therefore, I am devoted to not only bringing the Partnership’s work into greater visibility, but to ensuring the context of the work broadens and unifies with other networks that are part of the NPESF family. How can we take greater root and move a set of ideas together by foregrounding public education, not just in the Partnership for the Future of Learning, but also in the run up to the 2020 election and far beyond? As NPESF enters a phase of strategic planning and impact this year, I hope to speak with a number of you about the possibilities you see in front of us. Until then we must continue moving in solidarity!

Rolling up our sleeves for the network’s priorities

This year’s assembly marked a time of growth and strength around these centers of gravity to which we’re devoting thought and action. You may remember receiving this summary in December in which we identified possibilities growing out of the generative conversations had in November in Chicago. Below are the possibilities listed with some further refinement as we move into budget and governance conversations to shape our collaborative network’s path in the year ahead.

Continuing to Advance Community Schools

The Community Schools sessions brought reflection on network accomplishments and to identify possible next steps. There was strong energy for advancing organizing and advocacy to increase the prevalence and sustainability of Community Schools. Possibilities for consideration included:

  1. Build on the playbook model by creating companion brief(s) on topics such as effectively serving language learners, students with disabilities, immigrant students and ways Community Schools can disrupt the school to prison pipeline.
  2. Provide platforms for learning and gathering both in person and online, such as hosting a webinar for people in the network who are new to the topic and inviting partners to share advocacy and organizing tools and capacity supports, such as “Hill Day” toolkits, advocacy how-to’s, and more.
  3. Continue investing in Shared Story media about rural community schools, a timeline and history, a day in the life, and other possibilities.

Building Resource Equity and Adequacy

The Strategy Council adopted education resourcing as a shared network priority in Spring 2019, recognizing that the variation in state funding structures meant that this issue would not lend itself well to a playbook. Thus, the first task is to identify how the Partnership can add value to the longstanding, deep work that has been underway on this issue in the field. At the National Assembly, approximately 30 field leaders and funders drew on an initial outline of potential routes for the Partnership to add value as they explored possible directions. We heard a strong appetite for connecting across places and across roles – organizers, advocates, researchers, funders, and others want to learn from and strategize with each other.  An immediate step will be to set up a few video conferences on high-interest topics, such as community visioning and narrative strategies. With additional funding, this could grow into an ongoing community of practice with in-person meetings and collaboration.

Attracting and Retaining a Strong and Diverse Teaching Force

The next playbook the Partnership will develop will be focused on “Attracting and Retaining a Strong and Diverse Teaching Force.” Feedback from the assembly showed urgency and interest around elevating strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers of color. Also raised was the importance of complementing the research base with the experiences and voices of teachers and the work of partners, including grassroots groups working with Black and Brown and Native American students and families.

While we are still processing the ideas and their implications for the publication, some preliminary ideas for next steps include:

  1. Hold a series of focus groups in strategic places to engage with teachers of color and students and families and elevate their voices/experiences in the Playbook.
  2. Tap the rich work of the network and elevate initiatives and programs aimed to support the Playbook’s goal (particularly, around diverse, supported teachers).
  3. Begin focused discussion on the Playbook’s release/launch, with a focus on elevating teacher voices.

Watch, Read, and Share

  • Our network was active around the public forum for presidential candidates on public education at the end of 2019. Network partners American Federation of Teachers, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Journey for Justice Alliance, National Education Association, Schott Foundation for Public Education, and others convened the forum; Keron Blair, director of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, and  Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, gave this interview in DemocracyNOW! Davonte Johnson, featured in the AROS and MediaSutra film “Better Days are Coming” asked a question of the candidates at the forum.
  • Reaching Higher NH just released “The Whole Picture of Public Education in New Hampshire,” a report that uses data from New Hampshire state and national databases to provide communities with comprehensive research into student learning and outcomes, community factors, and school finance. The project also includes articles exploring interactive data visualizations and individual school district and town profiles, with the goal of helping readers build a better understanding of their own communities.
  • NEPC recently released a policy brief, “The Starts and Stumbles of Restorative Justice in Education: Where Do We Go from Here?” summarizing research on restorative initiatives, with a focus on implementation and outcomes in U.S. schools. After examining the evidence, the authors offer recommendations for comprehensive RJE models and strategic implementation plans to drive more consistently positive outcomes.
  • Did you see and share the recently released animated short film that serves as a companion to the Community Schools Playbook? If not, take three minutes and watch!
  • The Partnership congratulates the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on their new proposed grantmaking strategy, made public in October 2019 and followed up with an Inside Philanthropy op ed titled, “It’s Not Our Money to Control” by Gislaine Ngounou. An RFP is now open for “Supporting Organizations Led by People of Color.”
  • Partnership ambassadors have been quoted the New York Times, Chalkbeat, and other outlets on the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue Supreme Court case.

See the Partnership’s Twitter for additional updates.