In the American education system, children are not doing well. Recent tests show that high school students have not improved in math or reading over the past 20 years and that high school students have declined in their comprehension. All of this comes after years of expensive educational programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which prioritized standardized test scores, not individual growth, to mark progress and prepare students for college.

Expert educators argue that schools need to bring more flexibility, creativity, and community into their practices for a diverse student body to be successful. We asked them to explain the steps for this radical classroom transformation.


We need to stop defining students by disability, disability, and disability, as the system currently measures neurological disorders, and instead embrace people’s interests and strengths. Organizations in countries like the UK and Russia create models in which a teacher can apply a student’s fascination with aviation, for example, to real math and guide them towards a career as a pilot.

The only way to keep COVID-19 from worsening inequality for an entire generation is to equip families to support learning at home. McKinsey’s most recent study estimates that black students by 10.3 months and Hispanic students by 9.2 months can fall behind due to school closures. But if we can get teachers to work with parents to set learning goals, provide support, and communicate more with each other, we can reach a tipping point to change the system forever.

—Alejandro Gibes de Gac, CEO of Springboard Collaborative, a nonprofit that trains teachers

City schools can tear down walls of natural and cultural environments and reap the health, social and emotional benefits of learning from rooftops, parks, cemeteries, and museums. Recent research shows that children who experience fresh air and sunlight during or between formal classes do better academically. In the pandemic, this could be even more so. Green schoolyards The forest kindergartens of America and Europe are beacons that others should follow.

—David Sobel, professor emeritus of education at the University of Antioch, New England

Each child has a unique shape, depending on the circumstances of his birth and the consequences of his life. It is estimated that about half of American college students have suffered trauma. But studies also show that only a supportive adult in a child’s life can reduce the impact of toxic stress on brain development and behavioral control. Schools that take a trauma-based approach, where personal relationships take precedence over curricula, can be a safe haven where children heal and grow.

—Jane Wettach, professor emeritus of education law at Duke University.

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