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One Size Does Not Fit All: Tailoring Education’s Next Steps

Matthew Nelson
Matthew Nelson, president, GreatSchools

It’s one of the most important questions for families looking for a place to live: How are the schools?

Long gone are the days when parents reflexively sent their students to the closest neighborhood public school. With a bevy of school options, parents often base important family decisions, such as where to live, on the perceived quality of the local schools.  

Matthew Nelson is president of GreatSchools, a nonprofit that publishes school ratings and school quality information for parents and families to better inform school choice decisions. With nearly 47 million visitors, GreatSchools has become a leading resource for families looking to closely consider their educational options.

We recently sat down with Nelson to ask him how public schools can stay vital to the communities and parents they serve–and how they can work to meet the needs of individual students.

Nelson outlined three big challenges for public school districts moving forward.

So, what’s next?  

1. Schools still have a lot of work to do to serve all students

America’s schools are growing increasingly diverse. But persistent achievement gaps mean many districts struggle to ensure that every student has an equal shot at success.

Says Nelson:

“Ensuring that all kids have a shot at a high quality education is a  fundamental value we hold in America. And while that doesn’t guarantee everyone will succeed, every child at least deserves access to a high-quality education–and we’re very far from living up to that value and that ideal for our country. This is why at GreatSchools, we’ve developed an Equity Rating to give parents a better understanding of gaps within schools and how different groups of students are performing. We hope this is a tool that can help all of us work to put all schools and children on a level playing field.”

2. Communities must continue to bring their schools into the 21st century

Technology is everywhere–in almost every part of our daily lives and our culture. Still, many schools struggle to effectively integrate technology into how they teach and communicate.

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With an emphasis on dismantling the traditional “one-size-fits-all” model of education, school leaders must adapt technology for students of all learning styles, Nelson says.

“There is a widely held understanding that a one-size-fits-all model is really not the best solution for serving all kids well. Many schools are adopting new, innovative, evidence-driven approaches to learning that others can learn from. Check out the series GreatSchools did on ‘Cool School Models.’ Recognizing that our students need to be prepared for 21st century jobs, schools are breaking the mold and moving away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. By providing students the opportunity to cultivate 21st-century skills, you’re really going to give the kids the best look at tomorrow’s economy.”

3. Too many schools still face serious resource constraints

“We need to invest in our nation’s schools and children like we invest in national security. Our future depends on it,” Nelson says.

“Proper funding and resources going into public education is an ongoing, very live issue that all schools grapple with and precious resources need to be spent wisely. This is why accountability is so important. A provision in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires increased visibility into school-by-school spending. This new data will inform decisions and shape how we understand the consequences of resource constraints.”

This was clear last spring after a series of teacher demonstrations and strikes in which public school teachers in at least five states demanded better pay and support for basic resources, such as textbooks and supplies.

For communities with large swaths of disadvantaged and minority students, resource shortages are often especially acute; these shortages contribute to persistent achievement gaps.

As we move forward, policymakers must continue to look for new ways to improve the resource base. At the same time, school leaders must innovate to address persistent challenges, even amid scant resources.

What steps is your school or district taking to close the achievement gap and provide a better experience for students and families? Tell us in the comments. Or, share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #WhatsNextTrustED.