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The Education We Need for a Future We Can't Predict

The Education We Need for a Future We Can't Predict

  • Thomas Hatch - Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University and Director, National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, & Teaching (NCREST)
  • Jordan Corson - Assistant Professor, Stockton University
  • Sarah Gerth van den Berg - Curriculum Designer and Doctoral Candidate, Teachers College, Columbia University

Thomas Hatch with Jordan Corson and Sarah Gerth van den Berg

Additional resources:

April 2021 | 248 pages | Corwin
Improve Schools and Transform Education

In order for educational systems to change, we must reevaluate deep-seated beliefs about learning, teaching, schooling, and race that perpetuate inequitable opportunities and outcomes. Hatch, Corson, and Gerth van den Berg challenge the narrative when it comes to the “grammar of schooling”--or the conventional structures, practices, and beliefs that define educational experiences for so many children—to cast a new vision of what school could be.

The book addresses current systemic problems and solutions as it:

  • Highlights global examples of successful school change
  • Describes strategies that improve educational opportunities and performance
  • Explores promising approaches in developing new learning opportunities
  • Outlines conditions for supporting wide-scale educational improvement

This provocative book approaches education reform by highlighting what works, while also demonstrating what can be accomplished if we redefine conventional schools. We can make the schools we have more efficient, more effective, and more equitable, all while creating powerful opportunities to support all aspects of students’ development.

"You won’t find a better book on system change in education than this one. We learn why schools don’t change; how they can improve; what it takes to change a system; and, in the final analysis, the possibilities of system change. Above all, The Education We Need renders complexity into clarity as the writing is so clear and compelling. A powerful read on a topic of utmost importance."

~Michael Fullan, Professor Emeritus, OISE/Universtiy of Toronto


"I cannot recommend this book highly enough – Tom tackles long-standing and emerging educational issues in new ways with an impressive understanding of the challenging complexities, but also feasible possibilities, for ensuring excellence and equity for all students."

~Carol Campbell, Associate Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

List of Figures
List of Programs
An Education in Schools

An Education in School Reform

Why This Book?

About the Authors
School Improvement in (Norwegian) Perspective

Improving Schools and Transforming Education

Design and Organization

Chapter 1: Increasing Access and Quality
What Has Improved in Schooling in the Developing World?

What Has Improved in Established Educational Systems?

Improvement Is Not Enough

The Bottom Line

Chapter 2: Establishing Equitable Learning Opportunities
Equity, Opportunity, and Education

The Vicious Cycle: Economic Inequality + Inequality of Educational Opportunity

Separate and Unequal

How Inequality Adds Up

The Bottom Line

Chapter 3: Learning With Purpose
What Are Schools For?

The Power of Unanticipated Learning

The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict

The Bottom Line

Key Ideas From Part 1

Chapter 4: The “Grammar of Schooling” Always Pushes Back
The Possibilities of Incremental Improvement

The Challenges of Radical Change

What It Really Takes to Improve

Chapter 5: Beliefs Endure, but Times Change
“Real School” and “Real Learning”

Real Differences in Values

Turbulent Conditions

Improving in “Niches”

Key Ideas From Part 2

Chapter 6: From Common Concerns to High-Leverage Problems
Identifying Common Needs and Concerns

From Common Concerns to High-Leverage Problems

High-Leverage Problems and Foundational Skills

From High-Leverage Problems to Systemic Improvement

Looking for Leverage: Finding Productive Problems

Chapter 7: Solving Problems and Developing Micro-Innovations
Micro-Innovations for Teaching and Learning

Expanding the Power of Educators

Micro-Innovations Across the System

Micro-Innovations Beyond the Classroom

An Abundance of Needs and Possibilities

Key Ideas From Part 3

Chapter 8: The Conditions for Learning
Plugging Into Schools

Finding the Right Fit

Scaling Into School Systems

Chapter 9: From Possibilities to Practice
Building the Infrastructure for New Forms of Learning

Evolution and Expansion of the Infrastructure for Learning

Spandrels: Planning for Unpredictable Opportunities

Creating the Conditions for Improvement

Key Ideas From Part 4

Chapter 10: Capacity-Building
Investing in Expertise and Materials

Relationships and Social Networks

From “Best Practice” to Comprehensive Support

Chapter 11: Coherence and Common Understanding
What Does Curriculum “Renewal” in Finland Really Entail?

Coherence Inside and Outside Schools in Singapore

Beyond Alignment

Chapter 12: Collective Responsibility
Trust in Society

Accountability, Answerability, and Responsibility

Building the Capacity for Collective Responsibility

Improvement in a Norwegian Context

The Mechanisms That Can Support Education Into the Future

Key Ideas From Part 5

Chapter 13: From Improvements to Movements
Pursue a Series of High-Leverage Problems

Develop New Approaches to Critical Challenges

Take Small Steps to Make Big Changes

Key Ideas for Creating the Education We Need

Condense Schooling and Increase Learning

Chapter 14: The Problems and Possibilities for Improvement in Every System
Improvement in Context

Steering Toward the Future

Between Nudges and Disruption

High-Leverage Leadership



For decades Tom Hatch has been engaged in school reform as an observer, researcher, and participant—as well as the involved parent of three children. He has surveyed efforts across the United States and much of the world—notably Norway, Finland, and Singapore—sympathetically but not uncritically. In this magisterial work, he presents the lessons he has learned and offers sage advice to those who seek to improve our schools—anywhere, everywhere.

Howard Gardner, Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education

You won’t find a better book on system change in education than The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict. It addresses all the key issues and does so from the ground up. We learn why schools don’t change; how they can improve; what it takes to change a system; and, in the final analysis, the possibilities of system change. It has remarkable geographical range based on lived-in familiarity of the countries in question: the US, Finland, Singapore, South Africa, Norway, and more. Above all, The Education We Need renders complexity into clarity as the writing is so clear and compelling. A powerful read on a topic of utmost importance.

Michael Fullan, Professor Emeritus
OISE/Universtiy of Toronto

It is highly unusual and wonderfully refreshing to read a book so carefully pitched to our turbulent times as Tom Hatch’s The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict. This magnum opus masterfully blends a moving personal memoir, trenchant social and political analysis, and an inspiring vision of a better world. This is must-reading for all serious educators and change leaders in the age of the coronavirus and beyond.

Dennis Shirley, Duganne Faculty Fellow and Professor
Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College

The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict is an absolute must read for everyone interested in effective and equitable educational changes. Drawing on Tom Hatch’s extensive expertise from research and direct involvement in educational improvement work, this book provides wise advice and practical actions ranging from micro-innovations for teaching, learning and equity in classrooms, to school improvement and reform, and large-scale change to transform education systems. I cannot recommend this book highly enough – Tom tackles long-standing and emerging educational issues in new ways with an impressive understanding of the challenging complexities, but also feasible possibilities, for ensuring excellence and equity for all students. 

Carol Campbell, Associate Professor
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Tom Hatch has been ‘in the arena’ where policy, programs, people, and power converge to educate children. In his fantastic, informative new book, The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict, Tom travelled the globe to study how individuals, classrooms, schools, school systems, and nations ‘try with despair and hope to change and transform educational opportunities.’ Whether you’re a parent, practitioner, or policymaker, this book is written for you to take action to improve schools and communities; and to create new educational possibilities.

Pablo Muñoz, Superintendent of Schools
Passaic Public Schools

This educational odyssey is a fascinating story about why we need, now more than ever, to both improve our schools and transform education systems at the same time. In the era of global health crisis, political instability and economic uncertainty, Tom Hatch and colleagues bring us a much-needed message of optimism and hope: We can change schools for better and improve education systems if we really want to do so. This book is a must-read for those who want to think differently about the education and what it takes to have schools that our children need for a future we can’t predict.

Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy
UNSW Sydney

Tom Hatch has worked at the center of some of the landmark school reform initiatives of our times. He has inside knowledge of the promise and the disappointments of school reform. In this perceptive book, Hatch shares his well-informed vision of what can work in efforts to improve our schools. The book is a timely and valuable contribution to our literature on school improvement.

William Damon, Professor of Education
Stanford Graduate School of Education

Very few books on school reform contain so many ideas and insights into how to develop and improve education and educational systems for the future challenges. This book underlines in a very interesting and absorbing way the fact that we do not know about the future and we can’t predict it. We can, however, create a future together by offering a right to good teaching and learning in our systems. In this task, our education must focus on humanity, equity, democracy, sustainable way of life and at the same time to take into account the uniqueness of a person and the richness of multi cultures.

Mikko Salonen, Educational Leadership Consultant, Coach
Konsulttipaja Oy

There are many reasons to feel discouraged about attempts to substantively transform public education these days. The grammar of schooling has proved remarkably hard to change, most reform efforts have failed to prepare our children for the messy world we’re passing on to them, and we’re now entering a world where disruptions to life and work will likely become part of our everyday realities. If you’re one of those unwilling to give up to hopelessness, or if you’re already on the verge of losing hope, you have to read this book by Tom Hatch. The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict is at the same time thoughtful and pragmatic, American and global, micro- and macro. Tom provides a thoughtful analysis of why it is so hard to change schools and what it takes to make meaningful change stick in classrooms and across entire education systems. Tom’s book is a good reminder that our way out of this mess and towards a brighter future is to be found in our human agency, understood as our capacity to exercise choice in the face of uncertainty. And it shows, through example, how and why it is so important - even urgent - for the United States to look beyond its borders to learn from the amazing educational transformation work going on abroad, all the way from Europe to Africa, from South-East Asia to Latin America. 

Santiago Rincon Gallardo, Education Consultant
Author, Liberating Learning: Educational Change as Social Movement

Education is plagued by an absent of knowledge on the intricacies related to “making change happen” in education focused governmental and non-governmental organizations. Tom Hatch provides numerous examples of change efforts in the United States and in numerous countries that dot the globe. Global and local change approaches are described in ways that are helpful to leaders struggling to design strategies to inform strategic and tactical approaches that are evidenced based and relevant to common struggles organizations face in diverse geographic, demographic and political contexts. The lessons learned draw upon research and practical knowledge derived from the vantage point of a highly skilled researcher and his family’s real-life journey in educational systems in Norway, Sweden, and the United States.

The various conceptualizations of change strategies included in this book provide a much-needed resource for practitioners, reformers and policy makers to consider in planning and implementing change in complex times in a variety of educational settings across the globe. Tom’s personalization of research offers excellent case studies offer a variety of ways to think about making change happen. Readers are certain to identify with a rich array of relevant research and practice whether planning change for an education oriented non-profit, schools, districts, or state and national change projects. 

Larry Leverett, Retired Executive Director
Panasonic Foundation, Former Superintendent, Greenwich, CT, and Plainfield, NJ, Former Assistant Commissioner of Urban Education, New Jersey Department of Education

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ISBN: 9781071802083

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