In his latest Global Ed Talk interview, NCEE CEO Anthony Mackay spoke with Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, and a member of NCEE’s Center on International Education Benchmarking advisory board. The two discussed what it might take, in this post-pandemic moment, to strengthen our public education system and ensure that it supports social cohesion, economic prosperity, and individual and collective well-being. Darling-Hammond explained that historically there is an “anatomy of inequality” in the U.S. education system. Poverty and segregation, unequal school resources, inequitable distribution of well-qualified educators, and lack of access to a rigorous curriculum work against too many of our students.
Darling-Hammond points out that the dual challenge in the U.S. is that “we have so much inequality in the system and we haven’t designed it in a coherent way in most states.” She believes we have an opportunity to “restart” our school system, by redesigning it based on what we know from the science of learning and focusing on equity. This would, she suggests, require us to think beyond the school doors to include a broad foundation of supports for children, including healthcare, housing, and food. It would require us to rethink our school funding system, how we train and prepare a well-qualified educator workforce, and how we ensure that all students have access to a rigorous and relevant curriculum and assessment system. While there are plenty of examples of innovative and effective schools in the U.S., she suggests those schools tend to “live at the margin of the system, often in a hostile policy environment.” Strong governance and leadership are needed to design an equitable system of high-quality schools for all students. Darling-Hammond, who has been a close advisor to President Biden and led his education transition team, is optimistic that the country is well positioned to address the multiple levels of inequities built into our education system. Existing money already available to states, alongside additional dollars that have been proposed, give states a real opportunity to build education systems that attend to the full needs of every learner.