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City Hall Joins Fight for School Change

When it comes to making change in school, we shouldn't look at educators alone to shoulder the burden.

By Lory Hough, on August 23, 2016 12:13 PM

City Hall Joins Fight for School ChangeWhen Dean James Ryan sat in Askwith Hall during the kickoff of the Education Redesign Lab’s By All Means initiative in May with a group of six mayors from around the country, he said something that is at the heart of what makes the new initiative unique: When it comes to radically rethinking education in the United States, having mayors lead the way could make all the difference.

“You are, as you know, a critical part of this work,” Ryan said.

Professor Paul Reville, founding director of the Ed Redesign Lab, agreed, saying that too often, we look solely at schools to “fix” the problems in education. But we shouldn’t expect teachers and principals alone to shoulder the burden of making change. They are already overwhelmed, Reville said, plus they may not have the expertise or the authority.

“If we’re going to get all kids ready for success,” he said, stressing the words all kids, “it’s going to take a broader community effort.”

This is exactly what the By All Means initiative is about. Over the next two years, the initiative will host a series of conferences at the Ed School, and work closely in the field with mayors and other city officials in six cities to create individual plans to tackle a specific childhood challenge. The cities — Oakland, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Providence, Rhode Island; and Salem, Somerville, and Newton, Massachusetts — will serve as labs as they test different methods of making deep change in schools and learning for all students.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said that it’s important for those working on the policy side in a city or town to break down silos and to see systems, like education, for what they truly are: hugely complex.

For this reason, said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, having mayors take a lead role in the By All Means initiative makes sense because “for better or for worse, mayors fly at an altitude that allows us to see the interconnectivity” of what impacts kids and families. “Just as educators alone can’t fix all of the problems in education, safety can’t be delivered only by the police. Health care can’t be delivered by just doctors and hospitals. No one system can do it alone.”

Absolutely said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “We need everyone jumping in.” The question becomes, how do you get people to understand that what affects schools affects everything in a community. This was the challenge he faced when he tried to get local businesses invested in schools. Eventually, some did, but for various reasons.

“Some knew it was the right thing to do; others got engaged when we pointed out that this is your future workforce,” Fischer explained. “We got them through the pocketbook.”

Salem Mayor Kimberly Driscoll said it’s also important to ask what it means when we say we care about kids.

“Everyone says, ‘We want to help,’ but how do we get a unified community vision and then get everyone to recognize that they need to play a role?” she said. “You need to have that shared vision” if you want to make change.

Reville admitted that all of this change and rethinking will take a lot of hard work and “is easier said than done.” But, he added, “This is the most important work of the 21st century. This isn’t miracle work. We’re not naïve. But pushing the envelope is really important work for all of us. This is the start. We have a long way to go.”

To learn more about the initiative and the lab's future plans: edredesign.org. To watch a video of the By All Means conference: gse.harvard.edu/ed/extras.

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