Broader, Bolder, Better: We’ve come a long way

When the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) was launched over ten years ago, EPI—Lawrence  Mishel and Richard Rothstein, in particular—hoped it would have a major positive impact on the education policy field, but we could not have predicted how big that impact would turn out to be.

Over that decade, BBA became an anchor for the growing chorus of voices pointing to poverty’s impacts on teachers’ ability to do their jobs well and students’ capacity to learn effectively. We stood with teachers, principals, and school district leaders to push for policies that alleviated those impacts. We collaborated with leading scholars to produce seminal reports that revealed the major flaws of policy strategies that rely heavily on student test scores to make decisions. And we used the results of those reports to arm student and parent organizers with evidence to defend their schools from threatened closures and to advocate, instead, for their conversion in New York City, Newark, Chicago, and Philadelphia, to full-service community schools.

We have lifted up the voices of teachers, in those reports and elsewhere. In a series of blog posts, we collaborated with dedicated educators from across the country to document the impact of student and community poverty in their classrooms every day. We wrote about the shame hungry high school students feel and their teachers’ anger and frustration at their lack the resources to help. We illuminated the consequences of structural racism in the Mississippi Delta, where African American students still rely on leftover books and supplies that wealthier white students and the schools serving them literally dumped. We shined a spotlight on innovative strategies principals are employing in rural Appalachia to compensate for their students’ extreme social and economic isolation, like Skype mentoring and field trips that provide their first visit to a city, college, or prospective future job.

Perhaps most powerful, BBA worked with school and community leaders to produce a series of case studies that illustrate how diverse school-community partnerships are narrowing opportunity and enrichment gaps for some of our country’s most disadvantaged students. The goal was to demonstrate that, not only is a Broader, Bolder Approach an effective education reform strategy, it is feasible in a broad variety of contexts. These studies are the basis for the book that Weiss and former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville recently published with the Harvard Education Press (HEP).

This book represents a key legacy of BBA. But it is much more than that. It illustrates the shift we had set as an ambitious goal—of moving integrated student supports and a whole-child education from the margins toward the middle in education policy. Moreover, its publication by the nation’s premiere education press—and its top billing in the spring HEP catalog—provides a strong signal of BBA’s move into the mainstream.

Broader, Bolder, Better sets forth a series of strategies—from leveraging faith communities at the local and national levels to advance a whole-child approach, to tailoring integrated student supports to the rural contexts that are too often neglected in conversations about the impact of student poverty on schools—that will help districts across the country improve their delivery of public education. It also speaks to timely aspects of the education policy debate, like early childhood education and college and career readiness, and provides diverse real-world illustrations of the power of attention to children’s social and emotional development to counter the toxic effects of poverty. Finally, it should help put to rest, at last, the misguided notion that merely by raising standards for students who are already struggling to reach the academic bar, and by testing them repeatedly to see how far behind they are, we can fix what ails our public schools.

Our book is grounded in community voice and celebrates teacher activism. It calls out the consequences of structural racism and urges community leaders to translate their daily witnessing of the impacts of poverty into partnerships with the schools that are on the front lines of combatting it. It thanks the local and community leaders who are already walking this walk and asks all of us to find ways to further support them. And it reminds those of us in various types of leadership positions in this field that we need to tamp down the turf battles and amp up the collaboration.

We have come a long way. Let’s not let this pivotal moment go to waste!