Guest post by Kimberly Rusnak, Project Director for the Children's Opportunity Fund
What is leapfrogging in education? The concept was explored with a group of Community Foundation donors at our most recent President’s Forum in Montgomery County. It is the ability to jump ahead or disrupt existing paradigms to make rapid and non-linear progress. It is the possibility to transform what and how children learn so that young people can develop a broad set of skills needed to thrive. The concept is discussed by Rebecca Winthrop, a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institute, in her new book, Leapfrogging Inequality: Remaking Education to Help Young People Thrive.
The first major point covered during the talk sought to answer a critical question: What is the goal of education? Though it seems like such a simple question, the answers in the room were vastly different. Some of the answers were: the goal is to teach basic skills of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. This was countered with the goal to ensure sustainable employment. Or is the goal to provide young people with the tools for a fulfilling life and to encourage active civic participation? Or all of the above?
The answer posed to the group by Ms. Winthrop was called, “Academic +,” also known as The Breadth-of-Skills-Movement. While an education system must prioritize knowledge acquisition, there must also be a strong emphasis on developing skills needed to use that knowledge in different settings overtime. This includes academic subjects, plus globally relevant topics, communication skills, problem solving skills; and trying to prepare students for the future. It’s a tough job—and no single approach is the perfect solution because learning happens everywhere—at home, at school, in the community.
In an average year, an elementary school student only spends 14% of their time in school (based on a 7-hour school day, 180 days per year). Roughly 33% of a student’s time is spent sleeping, and 53% of their time is spent awake and out of school. If the majority (53%) of learning happens at home, in the community and among peers, think about what that means.
For many families that cannot afford quality early learning and pre-K access, fee-based out of school programs, private tutoring and costly summer camps, the opportunities and exposure to academic and non-academic skills and knowledge are very different compared to affluent families who can. The families who cannot afford expensive out-of-school supports are often immigrants and people of color; which is why the opportunity gap and racial inequity exists in almost every county and city in the United States. Race and poverty are not the same thing, but there are strong correlations in the world of education. As Kevin Beverly, a Trustee of The Community Foundation reflected:
“Encouraging educators to open the aperture and look beyond the standard approaches is a key to helping our at-risk youth excel.”
In order to make major strides and changes in education, we must take big leaps and major calculated risks to achieve greater change for children and address this inequity. We must do our work differently so that we can achieve different results. Incremental change is not enough; we must find ways to leapfrog. As Shirley Brandman, an Education Advocate in Montgomery County reflected:
“Our commitment to equity will only become real when we can invest in tangible strategies that catch students up and keep them on track academically. Making more than a year's worth of progress in a year of schooling is key and the insights shared about how we can harness innovation to leapfrog or accelerate learning should inspire us to rededicate our efforts.”
There were several examples of this idea shared at the President’s Forum last week. An initiative called, LEMA (Literacy and Math Education Labs) has created board games that teach literacy, numeracy, teamwork and collaboration at the same time. Another example was Wonderschool in California who works with families, educators and childcare providers to helps individuals start their own businesses by assisting with licensing, marketing and everything in between.
I have spent my entire career working in education and the field of out of school time. I am excited for the opportunity to take my experiences and knowledge and put them to work in Montgomery County through the Children’s Opportunity Fund. It is our goal to help every child succeed. The Fund focuses on supporting and scaling evidence-based initiatives that are meeting gaps in Montgomery County.
Thank you to Rebecca Winthrop for sharing her knowledge and expertise. Our community will use these learnings and others to help investigate opportunities to innovate and address inequity in education in Montgomery County, and across the region.
Kimberly joined The Community Foundation in the summer of 2018. Through her previous experience as a Program Officer with the Social Innovation Fund, she oversaw a portfolio of innovative interventions ranging from cradle to career. Kimberly came to The Community Foundation well-versed in program development, nonprofit management and community development. She is a passionate advocate for young people and believes it is critical that we provide equal opportunities to all.