US Education Policy

Gratitude, Celebration, and Learning in Tumultuous Times

December 22, 2020  • Education and Society Program

Dear Colleagues,

As I reflect on the collective work of the education community in 2020, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the compassion and tenacity of our education first responders— from central office administrators to cafeteria workers and of course teachers and principals—who selflessly worked to support students, building relationships, belonging, and connectedness in a time of great disruption. While there were and continue to be great challenges to teaching and learning, I hope that we can all find time to celebrate these heroes and learn from their service.

As schools and districts began to shut down in March, the Aspen Education and Society Program set an aggressive pace in convening and creating resources for state and local leaders. Vision, values, and strategy are only more important during times of volatility and crisis, so we created spaces for leaders to lift up from the day-to-day to look both deeply and downfield. Our work, grounded in principles for recovery and renewal, addressed both short- and long term needs during the pandemic: fostering connectedness through support social, emotional, and academic development, ensuring students receive culturally and linguistically responsive education, providing concrete guidance to Governors and mayors to support schools in the recovery process, and to school leaders in rebuilding community, and wading into the contested space of ensuring assessments advance equity in the 2020-21 school year.

As we look to the future, we want to learn lessons from this last year and from the last 30 years of standards-based accountability. We look forward to engaging you in conversations about the role of schools in recovery and renewal, knowing that many important issues and decisions need attention in 2021. Some of the issues we’ll be especially focused on include the importance of a healthy school climate for student wellbeing and achievement; advancing culturally responsive education; and redefining the role of the principal to be more sustainable, more attuned to the science of learning and development, and more focused on their role as leaders for racial equity. For all of these issues, we are committed to working harder to center our work on authentic voice and agency of those most directly affected: students, families, and those who work directly with them in schools.

This has been a year of challenge and growth, with much loss to mourn and much resilience and learning to celebrate. We are deeply thankful for your partnership and look forward to what we can accomplish together in the New Year.

Ross Wiener
Vice President, Aspen Institute
Executive Director, Education & Society Program