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Aurora Institute

The Learner Promise: A Paradigm Shift Whose Time Has Come

Education Domain Blog

The Aurora Institute today released A Promise for Equitable Futures: Enabling Systems Change to Scale Educational and Economic Mobility Pathways, a unique call to action with 14 recommendations for states to make a fundamental commitment that every learner will have access and support to pursue a certified pathway with system-wide opportunities that guarantee entry into a meaningful, chosen career that will build social and economic capital over the course of their lives.

Fewer than one in five American students follow a clear and uninterrupted path from high school through college to career. What’s more, no matter the path they take, they are shackled to a siloed, linear, and time-bound system that was designed more than 100 years ago to intentionally create the inequitable outcomes we observe today.

We can do better.

State leaders have the power, influence, and leverage to actualize what we are calling The Learner Promise: a series of policy and structural changes that mean every learner will exist within a supportive and personalized ecosystem, in which they have access to a universal system of pathways. They can certify their learning and mastery of competencies, receive timely and differentiated support, and their learning is meaningfully connected to community, work and career, and lifelong learning opportunities.

This is a major paradigm shift whose time has come. It examines how to scale innovations through breakthrough policies and practices.

A Promise for Equitable Futures calls for a coalition of states to enact major policy, governance and infrastructural changes, including:

  • State governors make a public commitment to the learner promise: a call to action, an appeal to hearts and minds, and an accountable guarantee that all learners and families in the state have educational and economic pathways.
  • State governors and legislatures authorize cross-sector, statewide governing bodies to oversee implementation of the promise, and also activate community-based governance across the state to ensure representation and drive essential change at local and regional levels. Governing bodies at all levels are representative not only of multiple sectors — K-12, postsecondary, workforce, and community — but of the cultural and racial diversity of the communities they represent.
  • Cross-sector governing coalitions create and certify statewide competency-based pathways for a diverse set of careers that are viable and important to the state’s economy and culture. Contrary to popular conceptions of vocational or career pathways, these include but are not limited to careers in the trades as well as across the sciences, teaching, law, arts, and more. Certification means that pathways are recognized and supported by institutions across the state, and that completing pathway requirements ensures access to subsequent education and employment opportunities.
  • Cross-sector governing coalitions develop statewide, universal qualification frameworks, recognitions of learning, and competency systems aligned to certified pathways. These frameworks define requirements for advancement at multiple milestones along a learner’s trajectory, from secondary to postsecondary to advanced and continuing education. By providing a universal and flexible system for certifying learning no matter when or where it happens, these systems enable learners to advance along pathways that criss-cross between school-, work-, and community-based learning.
  • States fund the development and/or expansion of robust, high-quality pathways programs: K-12 school-based pathways; work-based learning such as paid internships and certified pre-apprenticeships; postsecondary pathway programs and partnerships; and others. This may involve funding and technical support for internships, dual enrollment, and institutional redesign.
  • States enact the necessary and essential policies to create conditions for pathways at scale, including the enabling of anywhere anytime learning; development of new curricular and assessment policies; alignment of funding, resources, and incentives across K-12, postsecondary, and workforce; and investments that increase racial and socioeconomic equity.
  • States create or re-create professional systems that prepare educators to succeed in a universal pathways system. This may include new preparatory programs, new systems of licensure, and robust opportunities for embedded learning and professional mastery.
  • One or more coordinating agencies with national reach facilitate a knowledge-sharing ecosystem and continuous improvement community within and across participating states. Within states, these efforts ensure that learning flows freely between communities and state-level actors to drive continuous improvement. Across states, these efforts provide technical assistance, create a community of practice, and leverage lessons learned to advocate for broader change.

Universal pathways represent significant structural and cultural shifts from traditional education systems. However, dozens of communities around the nation are already showing that these shifts are possible. They are redesigning high schools and partnering with employers to provide learners with rich learning experiences that engage them in and prepare them for the world of work. We can scale this change so that every learner may benefit.

We are calling on state leaders — governors, legislators, and executives — to orchestrate, innovate, and advocate for these changes. Specifically, they can:

  1. Organize and coordinate state-level and regional pathways by creating shared governance structures.
  2. Streamline and align planning, funding, and accountability to support cooperative action across sectors.
  3. Develop integrated, transparent, and learner-centered data systems, including a universal learner record, to support cross-sector coordination and empower learner agency.
  4. Build a knowledge-sharing ecosystem by facilitating structures for shared learning, improvement, and sense-making.
  5. Stimulate innovation and create incentives that can help regions develop and oversee pathway systems.
  6. Build infrastructure that enables continuity of learning from K-12 through employment.
  7. Enable anywhere anytime learning.
  8. Redesign curriculum and assessment to support universal pathways.
  9. Invest in innovative, robust, and relevant systems of learner development and advisement.
  10. Support and scale innovative approaches to school and program design.
  11. Support and scale innovations that modernize and diversify, and prepare the teacher workforce.
  12. Engage diverse stakeholders to share stories and experiences.
  13. Invest in research, learning, and engagement efforts that build knowledge, will, and collective capacity to create universal pathways.
  14. Advocate for policy and systemic solutions that will promote social and economic equity.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll unpack the major themes, ideas, and actions called for in this new report. In the meantime, you may download, read, and share the report by visiting its resource landing page, here.