Blog

Well informed decision makers are crucial to improving education for all students. That’s why we run the Massachusetts chapter of the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). One of seventeen national EPFP sites, we work with about 30 fellows each year during a ten-month professional development program aimed at fostering leadership skills, understanding public policy, and cultivating a network of local, state, and national fellows and alumni. Participants meet monthly and go on a two-day tour focused on Massachusetts civil rights history, a full-day session at the State House, and a four-day conference in Washington, D.C.

Too often, educators tend to tackle problems in isolation, whether in an individual classroom, school, or district. But when we come together to address challenges, we multiply our ideas, expertise, resources, and knowledge. That’s why the Rennie Center is working to harness the power of networks.

Over the past few years, we’ve teamed up with districts and partners across the state on a number of networks aimed at improving education in the Commonwealth. Through these experiences, we’ve worked with several kinds of networks, each with its own unique value.

On January 25, we released the fifth annual Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report to a room of nearly 300 state leaders, legislators, educators, and community members. This is an opportunity for the education community to reflect on progress made over the past year and recommit to improving outcomes for all students.

For the past five years, as part of our Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report, we have been tracking progress on 25 state-level indicators of school performance. We thoughtfully selected these indicators, which span the education pipeline, to provide a snapshot of where our education system is and an indication of where it’s going. We hope our data dashboard can act as a tripwire, alerting education leaders to problems that could otherwise fall through the cracks.
Our Change Management Framework lays out six essential elements to guide improvement in districts, schools, and classrooms. This winter, we're digging into the second step in the process: Establishing Projected Outcomes. The path to lasting improvements must include setting realistic goals and meeting benchmarks along the way. This means constantly asking, "How do we know if it’s working?” and collecting data to find out.
Schools where students feel safe, supported, connected, and engaged are vital to their overall development and ability to learn. A positive climate is linked to increased academic achievement, higher attendance, better psychological health, and lower rates of aggression. Fostering positive school culture starts with understanding how students feel about their learning environment.
If Amazon chooses to make Massachusetts the home of its second headquarters, will our workforce be ready? The majority of local employers report having trouble finding qualified candidates. What will happen if we add 50,000 more jobs? More must be done to prepare students for success after graduation and the education field knows how to do this. The problem is that many schools and districts don’t have the capacity or resources to put effective practices in place. 
There’s no shortage of innovative ideas in our education system. When it comes to the success of our students, everyone from educators to state policy makers is working tirelessly on new ways to improve our schools. But why do some new ideas stick and others don’t? Too often, well-intended policies unravel as they hit the ground. We want to change that. We know making large-scale improvements that are effective and sustainable is hard. It requires a thoughtful and structured process. So we've developed a step-by-step process that lays out six essential elements to manage improvement efforts.
Before any school improvement effort gets underway, those leading the process need to identify the problem they're looking to address. At the surface level, this is as simple as defining who is involved, who will be impacted, and why there is a need to fix or improve the system. But the process can be far more complex. Failing to include teachers' voices or look at the underlying reasons for this problem can lead to an ineffective effort.
Momentum is building around the need to address social-emotional learning (SEL) in Massachusetts. School districts eager to reduce achievement gaps, increase college and career readiness, and help students cope with anxiety, substance abuse, and bullying are looking for ways to make SEL part of every class. What’s next on the path toward widespread implementation? We’re teaming up with Excellence through Social Emotional Learning, Transforming Education, and Teachers 21 to launch the exSEL Network, a group of districts committed to expanding SEL.