We asked what students need to succeed. Here’s what we heard.

On Monday, December 9th, more than 100 state and local leaders, community representatives, parents, and students gathered at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury to share their view on the future of education at a forum hosted by the Rennie Center. Through lively small-group conversations, participants discussed how best to support the success of all Massachusetts students, responding to three questions:

  • What programs and services do students need to succeed?
  • What should students learn in school that they aren’t currently learning?
  • What other recommendations do you have to improve education in your community?

After brainstorming together, each small group recorded their top five responses to share with the full group.  Attendees then had the chance to vote for the areas that they feel represent the most critical priorities for the future of education.

Once all their choices were tallied, the areas receiving the most votes were:

1. Supporting the needs of the whole child 53 “Basic needs are met (food, shelter, heat, hot water, clothing, healthcare/mental health, socioemotional learning”
2. Infusing culturally and linguistically sustaining practices in schools and classrooms 47 “Pedagogy and curriculum are culturally responsive, accurate, inclusive (reflective of everyone), intersectional”
3. Promoting authentic family and community engagement 43 “Meaningful partnerships with families”
4. Amplifying the voices of students and families in decision-making 31 “Student voice comes first: i.e., student on school board has a vote. Authentic youth engagement”

Other areas with a significant number of votes included:

  • Hiring and retaining a diverse workforce (28 votes)
  • Promoting academic success for all students (28)
  • Supporting educator excellence (28)
  • Cultivating students’ life skills and career preparation (22)
  • Ensuring high-quality facilities (14)

Whole-child support was listed as a top-five priority by 92% of groups, making it by far the most widely represented priority (the next most widely reported priorities were family/community engagement and life skills/career preparation, both of which were chosen as a top-five priority by 46% of groups).

Click here for a full list of results, including each group’s brainstormed responses to the three guiding questions.

Before attendees shared their priorities, Executive Director Chad d’Entremont set the stage for the conversation by presenting the results of a 2018-2019 poll of New England states commissioned by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and conducted by the Rennie Center. The poll surveyed a representative sample of 2,400 individuals from across New England to gain information about the region’s views of public education, educational equity, college and career readiness and student-centered learning.

With the exception of Maine, over 90 percent of those surveyed in every New England state believe it is important that all students have the same opportunity to succeed, even if that means some students get more resources than others. Yet, over 55 percent of respondents to this same poll believe that all students, regardless of ethnicity, have an equal opportunity to succeed in school, suggesting a widespread lack of awareness around the racial inequities entrenched in our education system. Notably, the poll found a strong positive correlation between the percentage of a state’s residents who are white, and the percentage of state respondents who believe students of all races and ethnicities have equal opportunities for success.

On questions of college and career readiness, the percentage of New Englanders who believe that their state’s high school graduates are prepared for college and career has declined when compared to responses from Nellie Mae’s 2016 poll – despite the widely held belief that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed in school. And the survey found that 92 percent of New Englanders have confidence in teachers to improve public schools, more so than any other influential group with authority in the public school system, including federal policymakers, school leaders and parents.

Click here to access the slide deck from the event, which highlights key findings on education equity from the most recent poll of New England states.