Today the Thomas B. Fordham institute and the Center for American Progress published Moonshot For Education: A Federal Policy Proposal to Spur Effective Research and Development for K-12 Education. This proposal calls on Congress to substantially increase investment in education research and development (R & D), and is the culmination of the Moonshot For Kids initiative—a joint effort to highlight bipartisan interest in education R & D and gather bold new research ideas. Over 150 contestants participated in the Moonshot For Kids competition over the summer of 2019, and in November, ten finalists presented their “moonshot ideas” that would benefit from a sustained R & D infrastructure.
Following this event, our teams discussed the many great ideas our contestants shared, what we learned from the competition, and our research about what an even larger R & D infrastructure could look like. We finalized this policy proposal in early March but decided to delay its release as educators, policymakers, and the country at large suddenly grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is far from over, and its impact on education will endure long after schools re-open, we still wanted to move forward with this pre-pandemic policy proposal.
We have not updated the proposal, but we felt it was important to contextualize its release. If anything, the events in the past several months have highlighted the need for additional student supports and additional research investments. For example, how can we best serve English language learners and students with disabilities in a remote setting? What training and support do teachers need to practice effective teaching during distance learning? How should students prepare for postsecondary success in a time of so much uncertainty?
Education Opens Doors, one of the competition's two winners, proposed “a comprehensive college and career program that raises self-expectations, increases confidence, and builds skills in students who lack access to this critical information.” Helping students understand and prepare for college and career opportunities in a tumultuous economy is now more important than ever, but what might need to change in classroom-based models if schools operate differently next year?
One finalist, Tyto Online, pitched a video game platform where students, especially those traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, could get fun, hands-on experience using science to solve real-world problems. It’s no Animal Crossing, but the game’s collaborative platform could build belonging in these isolating times and help students see the value and relevance of their STEM courses. The organization has already partnered with several districts, but needs connections to content partners to continue creating new in-game scenarios.
Other finalists, like CommonLit, Bibliomatic, and The Modern Classrooms Project, already leveraged technology to support and improve traditional instruction. Having funding structures in place to advance the research supporting these initiatives could bolster remote learning efforts as schools try to recover from the trauma and learning losses during the pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated already stark inequities and highlighted the need for increased flexibility and resiliency in American education systems. Recovering from it will take significant investment during this unprecedented moment, to say nothing of the emotional support, postsecondary preparation, and community rebuilding that will also need to occur in and out of K–12 schools in the years to come. A robust R & D infrastructure is no replacement for this investment, but it could complement those efforts and make more bold ideas a reality. And we need big, bold, moonshot ideas now more than ever.