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Aurora Institute

Aurora Institute Announces Federal and State Policy Agenda

Education Domain Blog


Today, the Aurora Institute’s Center for Policy published Future-Focused State Policy Actions to Transform K-12 Education and Federal Policy Priorities to Accelerate Education InnovationThese briefs highlight the key issues, including the need for continuity of learning as illustrated by our global COVID-19 crisis, and the need to focus attention on anytime, anywhere student-centered learning and systems change in K-12 education.

Education is an essential driver of prosperity and economic and social well-being. It undergirds our democracy and our way of life. However, our one-size-fits-all approach to K-12 teaching and learning is outdated. The restrictions imposed by time and place prevent learning from being responsive to the needs of learners, educators, and communities. Our students need to be prepared to succeed in a rapidly changing world of anytime, everywhere learning; our teachers need to be ready to lead in it, and our shared futures depend on doing all these things well. Providing our young people with equitable, high-quality learning experiences, orienting them toward lifelong learning, and equipping them with the requisite skills to be future-ready requires change at all levels of the system.

Policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels are uniquely positioned to take advantage of existing law and policy—or adopt effective strategies being piloted around the country—to move K-12 education toward its higher purpose.

The federal policy priorities call on national leaders to prepare educator-leaders for the future by re-imagining preparation programs to be competency-based and personalized. The Higher Education Act and existing federal programs can be harnessed for this purpose. We call on lawmakers and policymakers to modernize teacher and leader preparation.

In addition, the priorities encourage aggressive measures to open up the talent pool for teaching. In many states, students of color dramatically outnumber the percentage of nonwhite teachers. Representation matters. A teaching workforce that reflects the diversity and life experiences of today’s communities and schools is an integral part of closing achievement and opportunity gaps and ensuring all students are prepared to succeed in postsecondary education and beyond. Federal lawmakers can address the affordability, persistence, and completion challenges embedded in the process of becoming a teacher.

The Every Student Succeeds Act invites states to build better, balanced assessment systems. We view assessments as a chief enabler of educational equity. The Innovative Assessment pilot authorized under ESSA encourages new approaches to enable competency-based assessment to measure learning credibly. However, as is, regulations for the pilot burden states with inadequate planning and implementation time and too little funding. We offer recommendations to these and other policy barriers.

A final area where federal policymakers can make a difference is ensuring broadband connectivity through the E-Rate and Lifeline programs. The digital divide persists in schools and in homes; therefore, access to the internet and the technologies enabled by that access contribute to creating equity in educational opportunity. We provide recommendations to ensure funding keeps pace with demand and need.

At the state level, the policy priorities make 10 broad recommendations for governors, state legislators, education agencies, school leaders, and other policymakers to work together with their communities to:

  1. Establish Profiles of a Graduate as a more holistic definition of student success.
  2. Launch Innovation Zones to free schools from burdensome policies that are barriers to anytime, anywhere transformative learning experiences.
  3. Create Competency-Based Education Task Forces & Pilots to build the capacity of teachers and schools in redesigning learning models.
  4. Offer Credit Flexibility to enable multiple ways for learners to demonstrate they’ve mastered standards, as a more meaningful alternative to seat time.
  5. Make Credentials Meaningful by ensuring they transparently demonstrate what learners know and can do based on mastery.
  6. Align Pathways between K-12, higher education, career and technical education, and the workforce — and make them competency-based.
  7. Modernize the Educator Workforce by investing in a competency-based teacher preparation system.
  8. Diversify the Educator Workforce by prioritizing ESSA funding and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion across the workforce.
  9. Produce Balanced Systems of Assessments to certify students’ knowledge and skills and offer timely feedback on where they are.
  10. Create Next-Generation Accountability Systems to ensure school systems are continuously improving.
  11. Ensure Continuity of Learning for preparedness during emergencies.

Our education policy agenda is grounded in the knowledge that every child can achieve at high levels, and each one deserves access to high-quality learning opportunities. It is not offered as a cure-all but rather a strategy guide for important players in the education policy landscape. It is an open and living document, and we invite stakeholders from every part of the education universe to use it to inform their own work and offer us feedback. You are encouraged to share the documents with your community of educators, administrators, school board members, school leaders, education agencies, advocates, parents, researchers, and students who are seeking the language and vision for a better K-12 system.

Download and share Future-Focused State Policy Actions to Transform K-12 Education and Federal Policy Priorities to Accelerate Education Innovation.

Learn more from these Aurora Institute resources: 

Susan Patrick is President and CEO, Natalie Truong is Policy Director, and Alexis Chambers is a Policy Associate at the Aurora Institute.