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Norman Atkins Looks to Next Generation of Ed Reformers

If education reform were a football game, then America has made some progress but still has quite a ways to go – 80 yards to be exact.

“We are on the 20 yard line and have 80 to go to create a just society,” said Norm Atkins, the cofounder and president of Relay Graduate School of Education and founder of Uncommon Schools.

At the Askwith Forum, “Reforming Education Reform: Opportunities for the Next Generation,” Atkins outlined his hopes for future plays in the education field. The education reformer – who has also played a role in North Star Academy Charter School of Newark, N.J. – reminded the crowd that we are not the only education reformers but that many came before us, just as there will be many who come after us.

“The baton is being passed to a new generation to get us down the field,” he said.

Who is the next generation? According to Atkins, it is those students in college now – many of whom were part of the first year of Uncommon Schools.

As the next generation of reformers prepares to take hold, Atkins encouraged those in Askwith Hall to bring the same rigor to the field as they do to study. He told them to go out and learn – visit schools – and not just talk about education.

In fact, Atkins put forth a list of 20 items to bring into the next generation of education reformers to tackle, including: 3. “Reform education is not just for poor children, but for all children;” 6. “Consider teaching for four years;” and 18 “Radically differentiate – move away from a ’factory model’ and think about serving all students as individuals.”

The last item he listed was, “If you do all other things described, then start thinking about creating a cohesive cultural American experience.” This, Atkins noted, is the ultimate goal to bring people together in a way in we are “truly American – not just products of a neighborhood.”

He encouraged students to think about their missions. “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” he said, emphasizing that the second justice was necessary because one was not enough when looking at outcomes today.

An audience member asked Atkins whether there was anyone currently rethinking education in a “promising” way. To which he responded, “I fear not.”

While Atkins admitted that he is a fan of mayoral control and accountability, he stressed that there is so much more that needs to be done. “It will take people to stop blaming the tests, or [considering] Common Core as the end all be all objective,” he said, noting that it’s time for the field of education to start looking at what else fills a school. “I think we have a lot of work to do with that.”


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