Looking for Innovative Policy Solutions from Voices Not Always Heard

This summer marked the launch of a new initiative called Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future aimed at producing a catalog of locally inspired policy proposals to meet the needs of state and local education leaders.

The centerpiece of the effort is an open call for proposals for innovative policy solutions that are tied to the needs of specific communities—but could be valuable to other communities around the nation. With less than a month remaining until the submission deadline, Education Next editor-in-chief Martin West sat down with P2T’s leader, former New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, to discuss the initiative’s origins, its aspirations, and what makes it unique.

Martin West: There’s been a lot of talk of late about the fact that the broad political consensus around an education reform agenda centered on principles of standards, accountability, and choice that prevailed for much of the past several decades has broken down in recent years. Do you agree with that analysis? And, if so, in what sense is P2T a response to this development?

Hanna Skandera: No, I don’t think it’s broken down, but I do think we must recognize that the ed reform space is evolving. Standards, accountability and choice are pivotal pieces of the foundation—they are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient on their own. It is time to build on that foundation and cast a forward-looking vision that is responsive to local and regional needs, which was the impetus for Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future. For example, we have to recognize we have a long way to go when it comes creating 21st century educational models that are more responsive to individual student needs and simultaneously more responsive to workforce and economic needs.

MW: You haven’t been just an observer of education reform in recent decades; you’ve been a participant, most recently as the state chief in New Mexico. How has your experience there and in prior roles informed this new effort?

HS: Too often we framed the foundational pieces—accountability, high standards, and choice—as everything. As I mentioned before, they are absolutely necessary, but they cannot be the end point. Once these foundations are in place, we must build upon them. It’s time now to build, and as we do, we must be more responsive to local needs, more innovative, and more inclusive in our approach.

MW: The P2T initiative is starting with an open call for proposals. The end goal is a catalog of ideas that education leaders around the country can and will draw upon to fulfill the commitments they’ve made to the communities they serve. What comes in between? What is the process by which initial proposals will be vetted, developed, and disseminated?

HS: The call for proposals aims to discover bold and innovative solutions to transform education outcomes. The initial call for proposals is designed to identify those ideas at a very high level and select the most promising ones to develop into more expansive policy papers. Some ideas may be completely outside the box while other may address basic challenges we’ve failed to create adequate solutions for to date.

The process to develop the policy papers may be unique to each selected solution, and P2T and its Partners will work to support the submitter in the development process as needed.

Once the final policy catalog is compiled, P2T will use a variety of channels to circulate the ideas for implementation, including local coalitions to inform strategic priorities and implementation plans, partner organizations to distribute aligned solutions in conferences or events, and publication of solutions in various mediums.

MW: Your website emphasizes that you want to receive proposals from “voices not always heard” in the conversation around education reform. Who exactly do you have in mind?

HS: We believe that great ideas are out there but that people with those ideas may not have had the time, means, or expertise to develop their ideas fully in a way that is well-positioned for implementation. We hope our process lowers that barrier to entry so anyone with a good idea can share it—teachers, parents, students, entrepreneurs, advocates—we want to hear all ideas that can help us impact students faster.

MW: What sorts of ideas are you hoping to receive? By what criteria will they be evaluated?

HS: We hope to receive ideas across the spectrum spanning K-12, higher education and early learning. We’ve highlighted some topic areas that many prospective governors are talking about, for example, career technical education, personalized learning, early college or college affordability, however, all ideas are eligible.

Proposals will be reviewed by a cross-professional group of peers (local educators, leaders, and advocates) and evaluated using 5 criteria: evidence of need, alignment with available research, innovativeness, feasibility of implementation, and expected outcomes/results. While we have specific criteria, I’d like to emphasize that the evaluative process values the promise of the idea, not the scholarly nature of the prose.

MW: OK, so let’s say I want to propose an idea. What exactly is required? How heavy is the lift? And what happens after I submit?

HS: The initial proposal, due August 31, is limited to 1 to 3 pages. We’re intentionally trying to reduce the barriers to participation so that we hear from all voices, especially those who don’t develop proposals frequently. We have a sample proposal available on our website to show the high-level overview of the solution.

After you submit, the review panel will select proposals for advancement. Those selected will work with P2T and its partners to develop more expansive policy paper including more details on the solution and what it would take to scale. The authors of those policy papers would receive a $15,000 stipend.

MW: You announced the initiative at the end of June. What kind of a response have you seen so far?

HS: The response so far has been great. We have well over 50 partner organizations and even more supporters who agree that we have a critical need for fresh ideas and support the P2T initiative. We’ve been encouraged by the various organizations and individuals who have reached out with questions and signaled they are preparing their proposals for submission. There really are some great ideas out there!

We have heard that some people are hesitant to submit because they don’t know how to write a policy paper and want to emphasize that we are looking for the promise of the idea, not the language with which it is presented. And if you’re looking for support to translate your idea into a policy paper, Whiteboard Advisors, a P2T Partner, is offering coaching for interested submitters, as well as a policy boot camp webinar on August 8th. More information on both of those opportunities is on our website.

MW: This sounds like an ambitious initiative. What would success look like? And how are you setting the effort up to succeed?

HS: It is ambitious—but we are taking on this ambitious initiative because our students have no time to waste. The extensive, broad base of partners and supporters is the backbone of this initiative. They signal the need for P2T and will support it in its future phases. The P2T team is intentionally lean, as we draw on the expertise of various partners to support the activities.

Success would be a robust catalog of solutions that are truly innovative, locally responsive, and scalable. Ultimately, we would like to see locally-driven coalitions work together to implement these solutions in a way that addresses their local and regional challenges and closes educational and economic gaps in their communities. P2T is a unique opportunity for states and communities to work together to create solutions that are locally inspired.

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