Forging a Learner-Centered Movement in Los Angeles Through Community-Based Philanthropy
Emerson-Zetina, Anthony J.
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CitationEmerson-Zetina, Anthony J. 2019. Forging a Learner-Centered Movement in Los Angeles Through Community-Based Philanthropy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractAs the US education sector moves into a post-No Child Left Behind era, many stakeholders in the field have begun to support an emerging movement to transform learning environments with a renewed focus on the whole child. This movement has become associated with the science of learning and development, 21st Century lenses of learning (i.e. socioemotional learning, deeper learning, etc.), a deepened view of educational equity, and the role of community in shaping educational change. Taken together, these ideas provide the basis for learner-centered education, which entails a school system built on student’s needs, interests, and aspirations.
Based at the long-established Southern California grantmaking body, the California Community Foundation, the project described herein wove together the concepts named above during a year-long effort to build the strategic groundwork for a learner-centered movement in K12 classrooms across Los Angeles County. The project leads’ belief in community engagement and racial equity prompted a focus on radically improving the learning experiences of the region’s Black and Latinx student populations in particular.
The work advanced through four stages: (1) researching local perspectives, gathering scholarly knowledge, and landscaping regional exemplar schools, (2) synthesizing the local and national research into a compelling vision for change, (3) convening grassroots and system-level leaders to facilitate thought partnership and build backing, and (4) designing a multi-year strategy for the foundation. Project findings suggest that the emerging movement for learner-centrism, though promising, faces challenges that relate to residual tensions among different groups as well as the present dearth of research on non-conventional forms of learning.
An overarching consensus among those involved in the project was that the key premises of the education reform movement - which saw the rise of systemic accountability, evaluation, and assessment - are insufficient as a basis for transforming education for our most vulnerable youth. Still, the same controversial issues that have marked the era of education reform - narrow definitions of student achievement, the role of charters, systems of privilege, and otherssurfaced throughout. Planners concluded that future efforts to promote a paradigm shift towards learner-centered environments are more likely to succeed if more members of the educationcommunity come to see the value that these environments hold for youth of color. To do so, the field must create more practical research and uplift examples of implementation that demonstrate learner-centrism as an appropriate strategy for realizing educational justice.
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