I came into education through a temp job. True story. After college, my parents naturally wanted me to get busy with some work. So, I took a temporary job at the Oregon Department of Education. In my role there, I answered questions from school leaders all around the state. It was fascinating to see the intersection of policy and practice, and I was hooked.
I was thinking about those experiences as I read the recent commentary from Margaret Spellings, who served as Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, and Arne Duncan, who was Barack Obama’s first Ed Sec. This line in particular caught my attention:
“Education is what makes America the country it is. An educated populace, versed in civics, trained to reason and empowered to act is what safeguards our democracy. Equitable access to education — our greatest force for economic mobility, economic growth and a level playing field for all — is what underwrites the American meritocracy.”
I so believe in this fundamental truth. That’s what caught me all those years ago, and it has propelled me forward, wanting to make sure that every child in this country (and beyond) has access to the transformative power of education. That’s why I joined NWEA in January, because this organization has the mission-fueled passion and smarts to lead this work in the 21st century.
Regardless of what you think of Spellings, the architect of No Child Left Behind, or Duncan, who gave us Race to the Top, it’s important to hear their key point: The foundational role of education as a vehicle of opportunity is at risk. As they put it:
“At a moment when students are marching in the streets for their right to a safe, quality education; when teachers across the country are demanding attention and investment from their political leaders; when every economic indicator confirms the growing importance of a sound education in forging a full, productive life, what is our shared national vision for our children?”
So I want to say this: NWEA is all in to answer the Secretaries’ call to forge a compelling vision – and make it a reality. We are committed to making sure the students who have been marginalized, whether by economics, language, or other barriers, have the same opportunity to grow into their potential as the most fortunate children. It’s a birthright and a civic imperative. For us, this starts with empowering teachers to know every student’s learning needs.
Having the information to know when we get there and how we can help all kids is what we do at NWEA. We help teachers track how far their students grow, regardless of their grade placement. Teachers need to know that to do their powerful work. But we’re not satisfied with that. We also know schools are accountable to hit proficiency benchmarks, so our teams are innovating in that space with partners like Nebraska. We’re a long way from achieving the vision outlined by both Secretaries, but I want our organization to hold that goal up as the north star. What we do every day here needs to be aligned with helping all kids have the opportunity to choose their path.
This is just the beginning. I’m excited and humbled by the road ahead. But we can’t do it alone. We need your full participation, just as we commit ours. Partnering to help all kids learn. This is the work. Let’s get to it.