Public schools are not only for students and their families, they are for the entire society. When we invest in the education of our young people, we express our values and hopes for the future: what should be passed on, what should change.
Our public school system can be, and should be, the foundational institution of our city. We should be known nationally as a city that successfully educates children and young people from every background, and that has a school system that is bold, idealistic, and not afraid to be in the forefront of public education.
To move forward with purpose and direction, we need to articulate a shared vision and a set of core beliefs. My own core beliefs start with:
1. For every student to succeed, we need well-resourced schools and classrooms. Much discussion about school improvement is based on top-down management theories designed for business and industry. Children and young people, however, are not workers who can be made more productive. If we want all students to be successful, our schools and classrooms need to be rich with learning materials, well-designed activities, and enough skilled teachers, specialists, and paraprofessionals to give all students the attention and challenge they need to thrive, whether they are typical or atypical learners, fluent or non-fluent English speakers, and whether their current academic skills are at, below, or above grade level.
2. Inclusive teaching and curricula benefit all students, not just “diverse” students. We love our diversity in Cambridge, but that’s not enough. Like all serious learning opportunities, diversity can give rise to conflict before understanding. Cambridge has a unique opportunity and responsibility, though: to teach our students how to seek out both difference and common ground. Our curriculum, what our students learn and how they learn it, needs to relate deeply to the complex lives of all of our students, whether rich, poor, or in between. This approach is not about political correctness and it doesn’t take time away from other subjects. It’s about asking questions, analyzing events and texts from multiple perspectives, looking below the surface, taking risks, and thinking about how to be a critical thinker and moral actor in the world.
3. Research and evaluation can lead us to better questions and better answers. Cambridge is a research town, where people learn how to ask questions and gather information to find answers. Our school system needs to operate with the same commitment to genuine inquiry and analysis. Good teaching comes from the same place as good research: from passionate curiosity. We need to consult research when we make decisions about our schools, analyze data from our own schools and classrooms, and we need an ongoing process of serious research and development in which our educators try out ideas and observe, discuss, and work with trained researchers to evaluate their effects. The discoveries made in our own schools will benefit Cambridge students as well as students in similar districts.
4. Engaging local expertise will keep our schools alive and grounded in Cambridge knowledge and values. It’s a little-known fact that Cambridge’s schools already have better outcomes than many of the districts we currently look to as models. Instead of looking elsewhere first, we should make full use of the expertise in our own city, starting with our students, their parents, our own educators, and community leaders in Cambridge. They are experts in their own experience, but are given little opportunity to participate in district decision-making. We also have scholars in Cambridge who have deep knowledge of mathematics, science, history, the humanities, and the arts, as well as in education, language, culture, and child and youth development. Ideas should flow in and out of our schools; not generic school reform ideas, but ideas custom tailored for our own amazing students and city.
Cambridge should do today what other schools will want to do tomorrow.