New View EDU Episode 36: Reinventing Education Beyond 2020

Available April 18, 2023

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No one can deny that the events of 2020 changed education, both in America and worldwide. But three years after COVID-19 closed schools, what is the actual state of our education system? What lessons did we really learn, and what mistakes have we made? What opportunities lie ahead for transformation? Michael B. Horn returns to New View EDU to share the findings from his new book about education after the pandemic, From Reopen to Reinvent.
Michael B. HornMichael sits down with Tim Fish to share his thoughts on how schools have chosen one of two paths since 2020: either open back up and get back to business as usual, or forge a new way forward out of the complexity of the moment. Contrasting the different approaches, he identifies this as a moment of great optimism and opportunity for many independent school communities, which have the flexibility to create and innovate. Public schools, Michael says, are mostly facing a “depressing” challenge, where the push to just reopen and return to the status quo has potentially missed the mark in responding to the needs of students, teachers, parents, and communities.
Tim notes that his key takeaway from the book was “this isn’t working for anybody,” and Michael says that his hope is for readers to come away with a new perspective on what the educational system is actually doing to, and for, kids. He stresses that while there’s a greater moment of opportunity for independent schools to innovate and reinvent themselves, he’s not positioning this conversation as a referendum on the shortcomings of public schools—rather, it’s an invitation to consider how all schools, and all students, are in need of greater creativity and responsiveness to truly meet the needs of the future.
In response to Tim’s invitation to design an optimal school from scratch, Michael leans into the idea that there is no single right answer, and even when it comes to content and curriculum, there must be flexibility based on the needs and priorities of the community. He discusses the merits of micro-schools with different approaches within larger school communities, and espouses the benefits of differentiated learning that allows students to work to their individual level of challenge. Productive struggle, Michael says, is too often missing in our educational systems, replaced by ideas about one-size-fits-all “rigor.” If one child needs to learn to read, and another needs to learn to apply their reading skills to an area of curiosity, both should be equally served and valued. 
Just as there’s no singular approach to designing a school or serving students, Michael encourages independent school leaders to protect their uniqueness as a community and reject the idea that they should attract all potential students. Citing the example of Northeastern University, where a strong identity as a co-op school has differentiated the college from other institutions of higher education, Michael says that independent schools would do well to consider what they’re “obsessed with.” What makes their school stand out from others? What do they do on a daily basis that contributes to the core identity of the school? And, accordingly, what makes their school a fit—or not a fit—for any given learner? Knowing and adhering to those principles, he theorizes, can help tamp down the competitive nature of the independent school landscape and instead provide a unique opportunity to be collaborative and truly help each child and family find the right place to learn and grow. 
Coming out of the events of 2020 and beyond, Michael sees parents and families having a greater sense of empowerment than ever before. Having seen education upended—and in many cases, fundamentally changed—by the pandemic, more and more parents are turning to innovative educational models to serve their children’s needs. Coupled with the rapid evolution of new technologies and platforms, from ChatGPT to virtual reality, the education system is going to have to evolve to keep up with the needs of students who have to be prepared for life beyond school. And while there are many ways to get there, Michael believes that the bottom line that should undergird any school’s efforts is to teach students habits of success—the mindsets, skills, dispositions, and interpersonal tools that transcend curriculum and lead to lifelong learning.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Michael explore in this episode include:
  • Given the pandemic, political climate, and other cultural factors, where are we with education in the U.S. right now?
  • The core premise of From Reopen to Reinvent seems to be that school as we know it isn’t working for anyone. If that’s the case, why not? What is it about school, structurally, that needs to be changed?
  • How would you design a perfect school model for the future? What would you build to inspire curiosity and instill habits of success?
  • What do school leaders need to consider as far as vision and strategy in this moment? What can they do, beyond the traditional five-year strategic plan, to reinvent their schools for the future?

Episode Highlights

  • “I hope everyone walks away from it and says, Wow. This is not like a ‘some’ problem. This is everyone. We can be doing better.” (14:46)
  • “And then the part that I would require then comes back to where you started, which is to me the habits of success. Curiosity, executive function, agency, growth mindset, grit, perseverance, a sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem. A sense of attachment. Those things, I would say, are the baseline. And I wouldn't call them social emotional learning, although that's a common phrase for them. …I think some of the fights that we have in communities right now are, there's truly some weird stuff being pedaled under each of those monikers, but I don't know any parent that doesn't want their kids to be curious about the world.” (25:09)
  • “We framed schools for kids as this zero-sum experience. I win. I get the seat in the precious college, you lose. You don't. Or, you get the A, I got the C. We're doling out scarcity. And I want us to shift to a positive-sum system where the goal is not for you to beat me on some narrow yardstick, but instead for you to be the best version of [you] that there is, to be the most unique version of you that has a place to contribute in the world.” (39:58)

Resource List

Full Transcript

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 About Our Guest

Through his writing, speaking, and work with education organizations, Michael B. Horn strives to create a world in which all individuals can build their passions and fulfill their potential. He is the author of several books, including the recently released From Reopen to Reinvent: (Re)creating School for Every Child; the award-winning Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns; Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools; Choosing College; and Goodnight Box, a children’s story.

Michael is the co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a nonprofit think tank, and an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. He co hosts the top education podcasts Future U and Class Disrupted. He is a regular contributor to and writes the Substack newsletter The Future of Education. Michael also serves as an executive editor at Education Next, and his work has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, and NBC. 

Michael serves on the boards of a range of education organizations, including Imagine Worldwide, Minerva University, the LearnLaunch Institute, and Guild Education, and is a venture partner at NextGen Venture Partners.

Michael was selected as a 2014 Eisenhower Fellow to study innovation in education in Vietnam and Korea, and Tech & Learning magazine named him to its list of the 100 most important people in the creation and advancement of the use of technology in education. Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.