Earlier this week, the White House hosted its first ever summit on Next Generation High Schools, bringing together teachers, administrators, students, philanthropists, edtech companies, and entrepreneurs to discuss big, bold ideas on how to profoundly change the current state of our nation's public high school system. Attendees were invited to set aside the traditional schooling blueprint in order to make way for new, innovative educational models that puts the student first by empowering them through agile, creative, and endlessly relevant learning systems. 

Penn Foster was honored to be invited to take part in Tuesday's discussions. We had the privilege to hear from a diverse, highly credentialed and passionate set of experts in the space, in order to explore the myriad vantage points and shared purpose for redesigning the nation's schools system.

Below are our top 5 biggest takeaways from the summit:

1) Moving forward, it is critical to restore agency to our young people

The voices of students who spoke at the Summit were heard loud and clear, and were by and far the most insightful and inspiring. The most important takeaway, in our opinion, was that students should be empowered to be co-creators of their learning. Policy makers, philanthropists, school administrators and teachers alike were reminded of the critical importance of ensuring that all students, regardless of zip code, need to be given the chance to have a say in the way we shape Next Generation High Schools. The resounding agreement was that collectively, we need to design new opportunities for students to be able to engage with their education, gain the skills students need to thrive in today's economy, and have the space to creatively problem solve, collaborate, and think critically.

2) We must meet the needs of the students of this century, and the demands of the marketplace

Alongside fostering new avenues to ignite the passion of the student in ways that are engaging and relevant, there was agreement at the Summit that we need to prepare young people for the 21st century workforce. Students are entering a world where the majority of jobs haven't even been invented yet. This means Next Generation schools need to prepare students for lifelong learning: to be able to adapt, stay relevant by building upon transferable skills, and constantly strive to learn more. Some of the same educational tools that are effective in the workforce can also be effective in our schools, including micro-credentialing: stackable certifications in order to keep pace with the ever-changing demands of the marketplace. A focus on relevant career skills training opens up the opportunity for community members to participate by offering students internships, apprenticeships, and other career experience opportunities, so students may apply their interests in real-life settings to gain relevant career skills.

3) Promoting project-based learning is a key next-gen classroom tool

In order to prepare young people for the world of work through experiential learning, attendees discussed how to promote "making and doing' outside of the traditional confines of the classroom. Stakeholders discussed how to restore our learners back to their natural state of exploration and engagement, with opportunities to connect and create in order to nurture the minds of young innovators and creators. Teachers and students touted Project-Based Learning (PBL): a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge1. PBL also paves the way for blended learning environments, performance-based assessments, and personalized learning, thereby further revolutionizing the classroom in order to engage and challenge students.

4) Personalized learning and technology in the classroom is a must, not a luxury

Bringing technology to the classroom was another big theme throughout the Summit. Not only do students, teachers, and administrators want a tablet in the hands of each student, schools are demanding the technology can be tailored to the needs of teachers and students. Through personalized learning, students can learn at their own pace, and tailor the curriculum to their interests. Individualized learning plans support the use of blended learning environments, where the student is in charge of their learning, but also calls for a restructuring of the school year, so that students and teachers may dive into learning at a time that works better for them. Technology in the classroom not only brings schools up to the 21st century, but can game-ify lessons in order to make learning and teaching more fun and engaging. Personalization activates agency and ownership when learners drive the content and the process of learning.

5) Empowering teachers will be critical to implementing these changes

Teachers need to once again be able to teach with creativity and with passion, which has been squandered by strict regulations, outdated policies, and stretched resources in schools from lack of funding. A big theme discussed was how teachers can have the ability to create more opportunities to innovate. Stakeholders agreed that teaching can no longer be done in isolation; it is imperative for teachers, administrators, and school districts alike to work as a team, and to implement new planning processes where everyone is there to support and help one another. Through teacher-to-teacher networking, promotion of deep professional collaboration, and enhanced opportunities for professional development, a new ecosystem can lift teachers up so that they may also have the opportunities to learn and prepare for new ways of engagement, foster persistence, and continuously rethink and disrupt traditional notions of teaching.

Coming away from the summit, it's clear that collectively we have a lot of work cut out for us. The need to provide access to a quality education for all high school students is pronounced, and we must recognize the need to serve not only young people of traditional high school age, but those who have aged out of the high school system as well. Together, we move forward with a sense of urgency and commitment to build Next Generation High Schools that fit the needs of the students, teachers, and communities of present day.

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Resources: (1) What is Project-Based Learning (PBL)?