Looking backward to move ahead: What we learned in 2023

Elizabeth Chu
December 13, 2023

We go into 2024 with eyes wide open: The urgency to make, manage, and sustain change in education is palpable – and offers incredible opportunity. While many of the challenges are familiar, new and big changes are on the horizon  – from the proliferation of AI to the widespread use of high-quality curriculum. Our task is to harness these developments to realize improvements that have long been on teachers’, families’, and students’ minds – joyful, inquiry-based learning; differentiated and learner-centered systems; effective, quick diagnostics, to name a few. 

As always, we enter this work with gratitude for past efforts and accomplishments and hope and optimism for the year ahead. In the past month alone, we have worked with well over 100 organizations and individuals to create schooling experiences and systems our students deserve, all while developing more than 50 aspiring leaders. Our model for participatory change that produces, improves, and sustains new system designs and solutions is taking hold and making a difference for students, families, and communities across the country. Just last week, we heard from two school systems who attributed CPRL’s model and support to transforming the trajectories of their lowest performing schools.

At the Center for Public Research and Leadership, our work with education leaders shows us how we can simultaneously make and manage change, respond nimbly to shifting conditions and needs, tackle complexities and uncertainties, and start to rethink how we do school. 

Here are a few of the strategies we see working and will continue in 2024. We hope they are as useful for you as they have been for us.  

Responsible experimentation

Whether leading a classroom, a school district, or a state education department, leaders are best able to identify strategies that work for their context when they test them, observe their impact, learn from that data, and apply that learning to improve. They treat every strategy as a hypothesis. One of our school district partners has been using this approach to roll out a year-round schooling option for families and has seen incredible gains in student reading and math achievement and growing enrollment. In another body of work, we are partnering with a broad coalition to responsibly experiment to identify innovative approaches to teacher contracts that can serve students and families well, strengthen the profession, and fortify our public school systems. 

"Our work with education leaders shows us how we can simultaneously make and manage change, respond nimbly to shifting conditions and needs, tackle complexities and uncertainties, and start to rethink how we do school."

Strategy-aligned practical measurement

Integral to responsible experimentation is using multiple data sources – quantitative and qualitative – to transform daily practice into strategic learning, particularly when each member of the system is able to contribute to the generation, capture, spread, and application of new learning. We see measurement's power as we design and test with states, school systems, curriculum developers, and professional learning providers a research-based framework and suite of measurement tools for supporting effective implementation of high-quality instructional materials and aligned professional learning. 

Consequential participation

When leaders partner with a broad range of stakeholders to co-discover, expose, take on, and transform a system’s flawed logic, people inside and outside the system can together produce a new logic that works for students, families, and communities. In 2023, we saw this approach adopted by philanthropies that are co-creating systems for measuring their impact alongside grantees and other partners; and by a large urban school district that is reimagining special education by engaging communities in expanding innovative specialized programs that allow students to attend school in inclusive settings close to home. Imagine the advances we can make if we all take a page from this playbook as we determine how best to use AI to enhance student learning. 

Talent development and application

Transforming systems requires people with particular skills, knowledge, and mindsets. In 2023, we saw many of the 700 CPRL alumni we have developed affecting real change in the public sector – like Cleo Hirsch and Alejandra Vazquez Baur. We supported school systems and states that are increasingly embracing the need for more and better curriculum-based professional learning to help teachers adopt and use high quality instructional materials. And, to address the shortage of effective educators, we are supporting a cohort of education stakeholders in Connecticut to research, develop, and build consensus around policy changes focused on transforming educator preparation and certification in their state. 

As we look ahead to 2024, we will put these strategies to work whatever the context. Join us. Together we can help meet the learning needs of each and every student.