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Sherman Whites at New Profit Gathering of Leaders
Watch: "Sherman Whites at New Profit Gathering of Leaders" | 8:21

Designing the future of learning for all kids

Education is ripe for innovation, but how do we scale successful models to prepare the majority, not a privileged few, for a rapidly transforming economy?

Right now, there are pockets of innovation around college- and career- readiness in education. Models are sprouting up, experimenting, and thriving to better prepare students for life and learning after high school.

However, this kind of innovation – this kind of essential disruption needed to prepare all students for a rapidly transforming economy – is boutique in nature.

Last week, at New Profit’s 2018 Gathering of Leaders, Sherman Whites, Kauffman’s director in Education, put forth the underlying challenge: how to scale innovation to serve the majority rather than the privileged few.

Innovating education together

Whites offered that it starts with making the consumer – the students – the priority. Students, parents, educators and communities must have a valued voice in the design process of developing learning environments that will prepare for the future.

“What if we lifted up the voices of the communities we seek to serve, and leveraged them to generate a user experience, a learner experience, that is informed by students and parents, by teachers and school leaders, by middle class and modest income families?” Whites asked.

At the Kauffman Foundation, we invest well over a million dollars annually on community engagement activities, designed to catalyze discussion around current education issues, the future of education, and creating inclusive economies. We bring together a cross-section of stakeholders – from parents and faith-leaders to policymakers and leaders in business and industry – to learn together to ensure that all students are prepared to either get a good job or create one.

Who – and what – are we designing for?

The “who” can’t be somebody else’s kid.

And what does success look like? Being unable to distinguish or predict life outcomes based on a person’s race, gender, or economic status.

Whites said the narrative that college is becoming less relevant, that we can equip students with apprenticeships and industry badges and credentials so that, when a young adult graduates she can get a living-wage job and make a good life for herself, is often promoted by those working to design the future of learning. “But many of us are still preparing our kids for four-year university, and encouraging them to forgo the very opportunities we are designing for others,” Whites said.

He posited that designers embrace the challenge to be more thoughtful, bold, creative, and more inclusive. The varied pathways students may choose from shouldn’t be determined based on how well learning designers did, or did not, prepare them in the years leading up to high school, he said.

“Since we can’t predict all of the skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce, our charge is to equip students with mental agility… and a mindset toward a lifetime of continuous learning, retooling, and re-orientation for the ever-adjusting world around them.”

Ultimately, Whites said that success means “being unable to distinguish or predict life outcomes based on a person’s race, gender, or economic status.”

“Let’s measure up to the promise we have made to improve academic and life outcomes for all students. And let’s begin to invest in amplifying the voices of those who have the greatest stake in all of the work that we do.”


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