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Putting Students on a Better Path to Opportunity

June 19, 2018
The time is now to create new visions of schooling

Education is America’s path to opportunity – and with opportunity out of reach for many children today, we as a nation must find a better way.

That clear belief motivated my grandparents to start the philanthropy that is now the Walton Family Foundation. Three decades later, the foundation, along with America’s educators, commit to this belief daily, and its potential to demonstrate what is possible for all kids.

The path my uncle, the late John Walton, established for our family recognized that the inadequate opportunities available to low-income families required fundamental change to how education works in this country. We’ve made progress toward that vision, but there is so much further to go. Too many families still can’t send their children to a good school. For them, the American dream remains that much further out of reach.

The idea of schools reliably preparing children in America’s poorest neighborhoods for success in college and careers – not just one or two “miracle schools,” but hundreds and perhaps thousands – was a far off, idealistic dream to Uncle John thirty years ago. Even the idea that great schools could change a life might have been debatable when he started. Today, these are inarguable truths. The result is young people with more fulfilled lives, families more deeply connected with schools, new opportunities for teachers and stronger communities.

While we will continue to support proven models, we believe the time is ripe for new visions of schooling, for schools both pedagogically and culturally diverse, and for schools that offer more thoughtful supports for students with special needs. The future of school can and will look radically different from the way it has for the last century. We are overdue for finding new ways to foster the creation and growth of schools led by entrepreneurs, educators and leaders of color; deeply rooted in the communities they seek to serve.

This kind of vision feels far off today but is vitally important. It will require fresh thinking from policymakers, districts and community leaders. It will require a next wave of bold philanthropy, based on deep relationships and many partners. And it will require careful thinking about how we build new and sustainable measures of school success that complement those we have today.

This paper shares some of our thinking about what’s next with supporting new schools. Whether you are a teacher, an innovator, a philanthropist, a district leader or simply a person who cares about children and opportunity, I hope you’ll see this document as an invitation to participate, to hatch new ideas, to work with us and help make our thinking smarter and better. The work of improving education in this country is everyone’s work.

Three decades ago, my family pledged resources and energy to the vital task of ensuring great educational choices for every person in America. Now, in a new generation, I’m thrilled to affirm that commitment. We take it on with a humility and seriousness about the scale of the task – and enormous optimism for what’s possible.

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