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Campus & Community

With revamped master’s program, School of Education faces fresh challenges

3 min read

Ambitious curricular overhaul to launch this summer

When the Harvard Graduate School of Education welcomes its next cohort of master’s candidates, it will do so with a revamped master of education degree that is being welcomed as a significant evolution for the School. The newly designed program aims to empower a new generation of educators to meet the emerging challenges of a complex, rapidly changing world.

The changes — which build on years of innovation, piloted coursework, and collaboration with field partners, faculty, and current and former students — will turn HGSE from an umbrella sheltering 13 disparate master’s programs into a customizable, one-year  course of instruction based on three interconnected pillars: foundations, programs, and concentrations. Students will apply to one of five programs aligned to specific roles and areas of practice, and begin with foundational courses in how people learn, evidence, equity and opportunity, and leading change. Thereafter, they will personalize their programs with context-specific concentrations and electives, creating for each student a program of core knowledge and context-specific expertise.

By establishing a model of professional training similar to those offered in law, business, and medicine, the redesigned program aims to modernize and define the critical knowledge, skills, and habits of mind that all educators — teachers, school and district leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, learning designers, and nonprofit leaders all around the world — should have.

“Today, we look out on an education landscape that is rapidly changing — with exciting advances in what we know about how people learn, with an untapped potential to harness data and technology in novel ways, and with demographic changes that are bringing unparalleled diversity to our schools,” said Dean Bridget Long, the Saris Professor of Education and Economics. “Even as we celebrate many of the opportunities these changes bring, we are constantly confronted with the unacceptable inequities that pervade our education systems, and with the unjust barriers that block too many learners from success.

“HGSE has engaged in this School-wide process to reimagine our master’s program because it’s clear that today’s educators need a new kind of skill base, one that’s grounded in what we know about learning development, how to assess what works, how to lead effective teams and organizations, and how to educate for equity.”

Work on the redesign started long before the global COVID-19 pandemic revealed new and ugly truths about perennial equity challenges. Those challenges — achievement gaps that are at risk of widening, school and student access to necessary resources that is increasingly limited or unjustly constrained, and existing school models that are fraying — add a new urgency to the overarching project: to elevate the profession of education. Given the diverse learning needs, opportunities, and challenges around the globe, the educator’s role is more essential than ever, Long said, and preparation programs must reflect that.

“This major effort stems from HGSE’s commitment to continuous improvement, to preparing our students as comprehensively as possible for their roles and their work, and to being responsive to the changing needs of the education sector, especially amidst ongoing worldwide challenges. Our fundamental educational mission is to train new generations of educators who will lead for improvement around the world,” said HGSE Academic Dean Nonie Lesaux. “As we’ve piloted many of the elements of the new program, it’s been exciting to see this mission really take root. And the events of the last year have shown us that the work is even more critical now. This is a moment in time that demands our innovation and inspiration.”

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