Anya Kamenetz, lead education blogger for NPR and the author of The Test
Reason for despair: The continued tacit acceptance of deep racial and social segregation across most of our school system, from prekindergarten through colleges and grad schools. All this year we have been hearing eruptions of despair across the country from students who have climbed the heights of elite education only to brave chilly winds of hostility and aggression. Some members of the highest court in the land seem to believe that the status quo is just and right. I believe this comes from a basic confusion about the nature of excellence in education. A high-performing institution can’t be defined any longer by who is barred from its doors.
Reason for hope: The requirements of No Child Left Behind, with its insistence on math and reading benchmarks, have been softened. Thanks to the work of countless researchers, policymakers, and educators, I see real and serious attention being paid to cultivating and measuring the human tasks of education: communication, collaboration, empathy, creativity, self-awareness, and self-management, to name a few.
We have a lot to learn, but it seems that schools that excel in building these qualities are places where students are loved and supported by highly engaged teachers, where they work on getting along better, play together, satisfy their curiosity, make art, try new technologies, and explore new ideas. I believe this work will continue to build momentum. Measuring what matters can help tug schools in the right direction.
David Kelley, founder and chairman of IDEO and founder of Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design
Reason for despair: In my work across different domains and disciplines, one of the biggest sources of frustration for me has been the dismal state of K-12 education. Today’s public-school system is the same one we’ve had since the Industrial Revolution, and it’s no longer relevant. Sure, there are great ideas and initiatives scattered here and there, but they’re not making a large enough dent in the system as a whole. And one of the main reasons the current system is not working is because we don’t value teachers enough. Though we all collectively say we value education and that we value our kids, somehow that esteem is not reflected in the reality of the salaries and status of our educators. And when we don’t value teachers, the system as a whole suffers. Plus, with more emphasis on grades and test scores, we don’t make the necessary time and space for the things we actually want for our kids—things like social and emotional skills and creativity.
Reason for hope: As a designer, I have had the great pleasure of seeing the impact of design on some of the most important innovations of our time. The biggest surprise for me was realizing that the innovations themselves are not the most exciting outcome of design—it’s seeing what happens when people are able to unlock their creative confidence. Whether it’s a business leader, a politician, the head of an NGO, or a student, anyone who has opted out of believing that they’re creative, it’s exciting to see that sudden spark of realization. We see that glimmer in their eyes and they’re thrilled by the ability to flex those creative muscles to solve just about any challenge. With a little help, that confidence grows, and it can have a profound affect on their lives and what they are able to accomplish. From where I sit, the more people who have confidence in their creative abilities, the more hope I have for our future.