Educators, community members, and policy-makers across the state are working tirelessly to find the best path forward for schools. They debate what policies will have the biggest impact on student outcomes and what practices will help reduce the achievement gap. They come together to discuss new ideas to improve education. But all too often these conversations are missing a crucial perspective: students themselves.

The Excellence through Social Emotional Learning (exSEL) Network is included as an exemplary approach to supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development in a report released this week by a prestigious national commission.

For many students, classroom instruction is not enough to ensure success in school and after graduation. For children living in poverty, facing physical or behavioral health challenges, or struggling with academic or social-emotional learning, coming to school ready to learn is not always possible. To give all students the chance for success, we need to find ways to break down barriers to learning. One promising approach known as Integrated Student Support focuses on providing out-of-school resources students and their families.
Standardized tests like the MCAS are certainly not the only way to measure student or school success. There are many factors that go into assessing the quality of a school. But MCAS results do provide a tool to track growth and a window into existing achievement gaps. That’s why 3rd Grade English language arts and 8th Grade Math MCAS are two of the 23 indicators we use to measure progress on our Condition of Education Data Dashboard. The state recently released the latest round of MCAS scores, giving us a chance to dig into these two indicators.
Educators know that academic skills are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the success of their students. Understanding math and science is important, but to be prepared for life after graduation students need to understand how to navigate relationships and make healthy decisions too. In fact, research finds that social-emotional skills like these are more indicative of success than IQ. Despite this knowledge, making SEL part of everyday learning is not easy. While many teachers work on these skills in their classroom, the education system as a whole is not yet set up to support widespread implementation of SEL practices. So we're bringing 19 districts together to tackle this challenge in the second year of the Excellence through Social Emotional Leaning Network.

The Rennie Center has made long-time board member Celine Coggins its new board chair. Dr. Coggins, who has been involved with the Rennie Center since its founding in 2005, was recently appointed Executive Director of Grantmakers for Education. She previously led Teach Plus, a nonprofit with a mission to empower educators. She originally launched Teach Plus as a subsidiary of the Rennie Center and has since overseen its rise to a national network of more than 24,000 teachers.

A crucial step in making lasting improvements in schools and districts is assembling the right team to make it happen. Sustainable change requires a thoughtful approach that includes building consensus around the problem you are looking to solve, setting clear goals, and choosing a strategy to get there. But none of this can happen without a team that is committed, trusting, diverse, established, and safe for all members.
Massachusetts has made significant efforts to improve access to high quality early education and care over the past two decades. But significant challenges remain, particularly in the state’s lowest-income communities. Our 2018 Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report looks at how Springfield increased the number of vulnerable students attending preK and improved the quality of early education by creating a partnership between preschool providers. On June 5, we brought the education and business communities of Western Massachusetts together to delve deeper into the success of Springfield’s early education programming.
It’s no easy task for schools and districts to keep up with the ever-changing world around them. Preparing an increasingly diverse student population for the global and digital economy of tomorrow means setting a new vision for schools. This takes significant planning, resources, and a commitment from the whole community. This year, we had the chance to help the city of Worcester plan for its future. The school system and community came together to chart a new course for Worcester Public Schools by creating the district’s first new strategic plan in 25 years.
Making lasting improvements in classrooms, schools, and districts takes a thoughtful and structured approach. You need to have consensus around the problem you are looking to solve and a clear set of goals your team wants to reach. The next step is to choose a strategy, or intervention, that will help you reach your goal. In this crucial element of our Change Management Framework, the key is to look for a solution that has worked for others and customize it for your unique context.