Action Guide

A key piece of our Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report, the Action Guide provides research-informed recommendations for statewide actions—policies, investments, and the expansion of best practices—that have the potential to improve student outcomes.

Rethinking Education: Reimagining When, Where, and How Learning Happens

This year's action guide looks at ways to rethink education to better align with the realities and needs of the modern world. This report looks specifically at three core components of learning—people, place, and time—and delves into promising examples of how each can be reimagined in Massachusetts schools and programs.



A Time for Change

Our world has changed so vastly over the last century, from the way we communicate, to the way we get around, to the way we work. But schools and classrooms today remain strikingly similar to those of the 1920s. In many schools, learning still takes place within a single classroom, with students grouped together in age-alike cohorts and overseen by a teacher whose role is to deliver content and facilitate knowledge-building. Data shows the current model of education is not meeting the needs of the 21st century. Chronic absenteeism and teacher burnout are high. The non-academic needs of learners are more acute than ever, and many students are graduating underprepared for the demands of the modern workforce.  

To address the root causes of these challenges, we must begin to rethink the education system entirely. We believe the place to start is with three core components of learning: people, place, and time. Over the past year, our team has been learning more about these essential elements, their current state, and how they can be reconceptualized to better meet the needs of today’s students and educators. By conducting research in the field, convening groups of educators and policy makers, and combing through data on the current status of teaching and learning, we’ve uncovered a number of bright spots within and beyond Massachusetts.

In these innovative schools and programs, child development is recognized as an individualized process that takes place continuously and across multiple settings, rather than within the constraints of a classroom or school day. Educators receive ongoing support that helps them balance the demands of their profession with their own personal needs. And young people earn credentials that prepare them to enter their chosen career pathway while gaining hands-on experience. We also found that it can be extremely difficult for anyone—even the most visionary leaders—to think beyond the limits of how education has been perceived and delivered for more than a century. 

This year's Action Guide aims to advance conversations on rethinking education and inspire education leaders to think differently about when, where, and how learning happens—and, ultimately, to help build a new vision for education that aligns with the realities of life in 2024.


Rethinking People

To better empower educators, we need to move away from a one-teacher/one-classroom model that too often isolates teachers, especially novice teachers, and treats experience and expertise as scarce commodities that cannot be shared across schools and districts. Instead, imagine more dynamic learning settings where teachers move freely in and out of classrooms, stepping in when student strengths and needs best align with their training, talents, and ambitions. More flexible staffing and scheduling is now the default in most other professions and can better facilitate ongoing collaboration, provide support for new teachers, and create meaningful growth opportunities for experienced teachers that fundamentally transform the range of learning experiences accessible to students.

Bright Spots

Opportunity Culture works with districts across the nation to create small teaching teams led by a Multi-Classroom Leader. These leaders are highly effective, experienced teachers who provide their team with ongoing guidance and job-embedded coaching. 

Map Academy, an alternative charter public high school in Plymouth, has made thinking creatively about teachers’ roles a core component of the school’s success. Teachers have the autonomy to structure their day and play a facilitating role, working with students individually or in small groups based on students’ unique needs.


  • Reevaluate the rigidity of school schedules

  • Establish team teaching models

  • Provide opportunities for teachers to take on leadership responsibilities as part of their core job functions

  • Invest in robust teacher development programs to address the prevailing shortage of qualified educators


Rethinking Place

To adequately prepare Massachusetts students for the ever-evolving digital age, we must reevaluate traditional learning spaces and embrace technology as a tool for developing critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, while promoting digital literacy skills and nurturing the next generation of innovators. Rather than using technology to replicate schools as they are, we should instead use it to deepen and expand the types of learning experiences that could be. Suddenly, artificial barriers like student attendance zones, which can limit access to essential educational resources, become far more permeable. Building students’ facility with the use of technology can support more personalized learning experiences, organize learning around real-world challenges, help learners pursue passions and personal interests, and create opportunities for students to move to and through college and career with expanded and sustainable networks.


Bright Spots

Campus Without Walls works with teachers who excel in their field to create exciting, credit-bearing units that can be shared virtually outside their school or district. These teachers are matched to partnering teachers and classrooms, enabling students to participate in more diverse and advanced coursework than may be offered in their home school.

Northeastern University designed its college-going experience around the goal of bridging higher education and industry, reconfiguring its academic calendar so that students can spend up to one-third of their degree program building meaningful skills in the workforce. Recently, Northeastern has expanded its offerings to include virtual experiential projects, where students complete remote assignments for employers.


  • Leverage technology to break down school and district boundaries that segregate students and limit access to essential resources

  • Invest in a state learning management system or other digital platform to share resources and materials among districts and schools

  • Fully integrate experiential learning opportunities throughout high school

  • Invest in closing the digital divide, with a specific focus on expanding access to educational opportunities.

  • Embrace the transformative potential of technology


Rethinking Time

Despite the widespread understanding among educators and parents that children are individuals developing at their own pace, school structures and schedules assume all students will reach developmental milestones at the same age. Because of this, teachers must differentiate instruction and scaffold tasks so the content is accessible to students across a wide range of interests and learning levels. This section explores a number of strategies for organizing instruction that more closely aligns with students’ individual needs and abilities, including rethinking traditional school schedules, implementing Individualized Learning Plans, and shifting to a Competency-Based Education model.


Bright Spots

Springfield International Charter School uses a high school schedule that mirrors the college experience. Classes operate on different timelines depending on the day of the week, with more opportunities for student choice in course selection and greater flexibility for students to participate in courses across grade levels. 

The Modern Classrooms Project works with K–12 schools to leverage a hybrid learning approach across all subject areas that includes three components: blended instruction, self-paced structure, and mastery-based grading.


  • Rethink how students are grouped and accelerated through their learning

  • Remember that learning doesn’t halt when the academic calendar concludes