For children across the United States, academic success is often directly tied to their parents’ income. Other factors outside of the classroom—such as lack of access to health care and nutritious food, housing insecurity, and racial discrimination—can also impede children from achieving their full potential.
The Education Redesign Lab (EdRedesign) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) is working to improve outcomes by partnering with mayors, as well as educational and community leaders, across the country to develop personalized supports so that all children can flourish—no matter their race, socioeconomic status, or zip code.
Alarmed at the inequities and shortcomings of the public school system, Lisa Schwartz and her husband, Mark AB ’76, MBA ’78, MPP ’79, were compelled to bolster the mission of EdRedesign. “It’s clear to me that our public schools have fallen short of their goals and failed too many children, robbing them of future success,” says Lisa, who is an active member of HGSE’s Dean’s Advisory Group. “The educational establishment’s one-dimensional view of content and pedagogy—which ignores the complexity of factors that influence a child’s success—has derailed the system.”
By bringing communities all over the United States together to increase the opportunities that schools are able to offer children both inside and outside the classroom, EdRedesign is building a coordinated network of support, explains senior advisor Jennifer Davis.
“We have to recognize that schools alone are not equipped to ensure that all children—particularly those living in poverty and from racially marginalized communities—can thrive without a broader system of support,” says Davis, who previously served in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton administration and led former Boston mayor Thomas Menino’s citywide after-school learning initiative.
“The Education Redesign Lab is supporting communities to build these new systems that break down silos and link a broader set of supports for children in grades K–12, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, summer learning and enrichment programs, and access to higher education and career training,” she continues. “This is the only way we will reach our goal of helping every child succeed.”
EdRedesign’s work is guided by a holistic approach, from birth to adulthood, with the aim of breaking down barriers for children growing up in poverty or facing racial discrimination. Its largest program is the By All Means Initiative, which partners with mayors, community leaders, and superintendents across the United States—including cities in California, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee—to better meet the needs of children by leveraging public and private resources to invest in their full development.
For Schwartz, the By All Means Initiative represents a tangible way to address the multidimensional challenges facing public schools. “By All Means has a real shot at overcoming the complexities and silos that strangle the current system,” she says. “It provides a pathway to educational equity and student success.”
“Lisa and Mark believe that health and education are the two critical interventions we must strengthen in order for children and families to succeed.”
Thanks to the Schwartzes’ generosity, EdRedesign will be able to partner with more communities and focus on the policy barriers to building integrated systems of support. Over the last four years, EdRedesign has also hired over 100 Harvard graduate student researchers, who have strengthened the program while developing their leadership skills.
“Lisa and Mark believe that health and education are the two critical interventions we must strengthen in order for children and families to succeed,” says Davis.
In addition to their support of EdRedesign, the Schwartzes have donated to Massachusetts General Hospital in support of the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness (MassCPR) led by Harvard Medical School. The couple is also involved as donors and volunteers across the University, supporting multiple initiatives in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
EdRedesign will also implement ways of measuring impact that go beyond academic achievement to focus on children’s well-being. A key component of this work is the formation of Children’s Cabinets—a coalition of agencies, nonprofits, educators, and political leaders providing access to a broad array of resources and interventions that children and their families need, especially during the pandemic.
In many cases, Davis explains, EdRedesign has been the de facto “situation room” to address not only the challenges of education, online learning, and internet connectivity, but also food and housing insecurity. “COVID-19, the economic downturn, and the racial justice movement have elevated more prominently the importance of the work that we’re doing to address racial and economic inequities,” she says. “It requires a redefinition of what education is—and it’s a community responsibility.”