Age of AgilityEducation Policy and Advocacy

How can we scale Agile School Systems? Policy Recommendations for Agility and Resilience

When we released our first Age of Agility report in 2017, we obviously had no idea just how much of an agility test for schools and districts was ahead due to a global pandemic. We envisioned a new paradigm for schools that was just around the corner, rolling in over the next decade or so. The coronavirus pandemic, on the other hand, arrived with more…immediacy.

Our latest report, Agility Thriving: Education Adapting in a Time of Disruption, analyzes school and district responses to the COVID disruption through a framework built around elements of an agile organization. Through that analysis, we distilled a set of policies and practices that, if adopted and implemented, we believe will position our education system to better serve students as the current pandemic continues and in the face of likely future disruptions.

To be clear, there is no way for schools to make disruptions obsolete. However, they can be more ready and able to deal with them – they can become more agile and more resilient if they focus on the following policy recommendations for agility and resilience.

Policy Recommendations for Agility and Resilience

  • Know who you are and why now – Every school and district must have a strategy, mission, and values in place, and a team that has bought into pursuing them.
  • Put decision-making where it belongs – States and districts must empower schools with the flexibility and autonomy to make the decisions needed to meet the challenges faced in their communities.
  • Prioritize development and time for talent – States and districts must coordinate the provision of professional development resources and training opportunities, and ensure that every school has a professional development plan in place, and makes educator collaboration time a paramount priority.
  • Embrace technology and remove barriers early – States, districts, schools, and community partners all have a role to play in supporting educators, students, and families with the tools and training they need to remain connected and engaged in teaching and learning through any disruption.
  • Commit to transparency – School and district leaders should establish regular practices for sharing data, soliciting feedback, and incorporating input from their teams and stakeholders in order to cultivate buy-in, power agile decision-making, and ensure lasting cohesion around the organizational strategy.

One important takeaway from the report overall is worth mentioning: it’s not a coincidence that the schools we found to demonstrate the most agility – IDEA Public Schools – are part of a high-performing charter network. When all is said and done, we believe charter schools will rise to the top in terms of their responsiveness to the pandemic and their ability to ensure their students stay on track in terms of achievement and development. We’ve heard this anecdotally among school system leaders and policy wonks already, and survey results released just last week indicate that parents feel the same way.

The 2020 Education Next survey surveyed public opinion among parents on a variety of topics, including their thoughts on their children’s education over the course of the pandemic. According to the survey, parents of charter school students were more satisfied with their child’s school’s response than district parents. 

What led to higher satisfaction? For starters, 61 percent of public charter school parents reported that their students had 1:1 contact with teachers at least once per week, compared to just 37 percent of district public school parents. Charter parents were also more likely to report that their children were exposed to new content (as opposed to reviewing previous lessons). Apparently these factors pay off; significantly fewer charter school parents report learning loss for their students as compared to district parents. In fact, charter parents were nearly three times as likely to report that their students learned more during the pandemic. 

We believe the key to charter schools’ success during this crisis has been their ability to capitalize on their design and respond with agility. Without the burden of a prescribed instructional model and inflexible staffing plans, school leaders are able to reshape what school looks like to fit the current context. And because charter schools typically place a far greater share of student funding at the school level, schools can deploy resources more rapidly to address the needs of their students and educators. This kind of agility could benefit every capable principal and team of teachers. Policymakers and education leaders should take notice.

The pandemic painfully exposed and further exacerbated many of the problems and existing inequities within our schools. At the same time, the past several months have underscored the urgency of creating adaptable and flexible school systems that can serve the diverse needs of families, put students at the center of their learning, and offer multiple pathways into the future of work. Agile education systems have a critical role to play in getting us there and so do we – our roles as business leaders, policymakers, educators, community members, and advocates are to support and scale the policies and practices that allow agility to thrive.

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