Our Work

A Richer Vision of Student Success

The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program is committed to ensuring the benefits of public education extend to all students, with a special focus on rectifying the inequalities faced by students of color and students from low-income families. We pursue this work by informing, influencing, and inspiring education leaders.

Public education is essential to America’s aspirational identity as a land of opportunity and democracy. In an equitable education system, all individuals can attain sufficient knowledge and skills to pursue the college and career path of their choice, develop a sense of self, and become active and contributing members of their communities. Every student deserves an education that prepares him or her for lifelong learning, success in the world of work, and participation in representative government. Schools are not only places for acquiring knowledge and skills, however; they are also places for identity formation, where young people begin to understand who they are and how they relate to others and society at large.

Unfortunately, far too many students are not receiving the high-quality educational experiences needed to help them reach these goals. This not only hobbles their individual chances for success, but also undermines shared growth in an economy where most jobs that pay a living wage require some form of post-secondary credential.

As a result, Aspen Education is prioritizing social-emotional development and equitable learning environments that are safe, purposeful, and foster belonging. Because we bring deep expertise and connection to policy, practice, and research leaders, we see strategies to support social and emotional development are often treated as additives disconnected from academic instruction. Neither social and emotional development, nor a focus on equity, can succeed without considering how to fully integrate these elements throughout the school day. To accomplish this requires examining issues of race directly. Our Call to Action is an explicit focus on race and equity in this work.

While there is a near-universal commitment to “equity,” the term divides people, and much equity work only strives to improve standardized test scores to close achievement gaps.

Education research, neuroscience, and practical experience confirm that learning is a social and emotional process. It is the goal of Aspen Education to influence, support, and connect education leaders to integrate the social, emotional, and academic dimensions of learning.

Featured Tools, Publications, and Blogs on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

Tools and Publications


Human Capital and Professional Learning

Teachers are far and away the most important resource for student learning. Aspen Education partners with education leaders to develop strategies that strengthen the recruitment, development, and retention of effective educators. The Aspen Education Program advances a vision of professional learning that integrates teacher evaluation, teacher leadership, and organizational learning to elevate the teaching profession and improve instruction at scale.

Through our work with federal and state policymakers and district practitioner leaders, Aspen Education surfaces practical policy solutions to support robust professional learning and educator evaluation systems. We identify opportunities to forge coherence and embed a vision of excellence across the myriad policies that shape the teaching profession.

We also work within our network of large urban school districts and charter management organizations to explore how they can cultivate effective professional learning practice in their systems.

Featured Tools, Publications, and Blogs on Human Capital and Professional Learning

Tools and Publications

  • Practice What You Teach: Connecting Curriculum & Professional Learning in Schools (April 2017) – To improve teaching and advance student learning requires weaving together the curriculum that students engage with every day with the professional learning of teachers. This paper describes the research supporting this argument, profiles three examples of educators integrating curriculum with professional learning, and provides key takeaways for state, district, and school leaders.



      Leadership Development and Support

      Policy provides resources, regulations, and reward structures that shape the work of schools. Aspen Education draws on the lessons learned in our deep work with practitioner leaders to create learning opportunities for policymakers and to facilitate policy development discussions.

      Across the country, states, districts, and national partners are working hard to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the most recent reauthorization of the federal education law. The Program’s position at the nexus of policy and practice helps to strengthen and inform our work on ESSA implementation. Aspen Education supports these efforts by providing thought partnership, convening leaders across contexts, and publishing tools and reports. The Program is primarily focused on two main area of ESSA implementation:

      • Focusing attention on ESSA’s core purpose of advancing equity in education and
      • Developing frameworks for state and district leaders to clearly define their relative roles and responsibilities, and facilitating coordination of efforts across traditional silos of work and different levels of governance to improve policy design and implementation.

      For more than ten years, the Program has convened seminars, retreats, and site visits for senior Congressional education staffers, creating a safe space away from the partisanship of Capitol Hill for them to learn from practitioner leaders and state policymakers about how federal policy affected practice. Likewise, our ongoing work with networks of senior leaders in large urban school districts and charter management organizations across the country provides a venue for practitioner leaders to develop their skills as leaders on policy and to surface their perspectives on how policy can improve public education.


      Featured Tools, Publications, and Blogs

      Tools and Publications

      • Changing of the Guard: New Opportunities for State Leadership (December 2018) – We convened a broad bipartisan group of stakeholders to create new resources for policymakers, parents and students to design and implement effective, research-based education policy. The tools focus on creating true equity in education with parents, students, and the state’s workforce needs placed front and center.
      • Leading for Equity: Opportunities for State Education Chiefs (February 2017) – Leading for Equity outlines 10 commitments state chiefs and their state education agencies can make to advance educational equity for all students, regardless of background.
      • Advancing Equity through ESSA: Strategies for State Leaders (October 2016) – This framework is designed to help states make the most of this important opportunity. This framework examines eight equity priorities that states already are pursuing and identifies multiple provisions in ESSA that states can use to address each priority.
      • Roles and Responsibilities of the State Education Agency (December 2015) This discussion guide challenges state chiefs and their leadership teams to consider their local context and capacity in determining essential, possible, and unsuitable roles for their agency.
      • State Education Policy Checklist (updated 2018) This resource, co-developed with the Council of Chief State School Officers, Education Commission of the States, and the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, offers a clear framework for state legislators to aid the development of new education policies.