Nancy Faust Sizer is no stranger to rethinking everything. As a teacher, author, administrator, and, with her late husband Ted, a partner in launching of the Coalition for Essential Schools (CES), Nancy has spent her career championing a progressive philosophy of education. Throughout its 33 years, the Coalition was a beacon of innovation and leadership in education and a source of inspiration and role model for the Mastery Transcript Consortium.
A few weeks back Nancy spent an hour with me talking through her experience pushing progressive change in schools. We covered a great deal in our conversation about MTC, but a story she shared with me from her time teaching at Phillips Academy was particularly revealing. While chatting with a colleague about the college admissions process for students at PA, the colleague shared his belief with her that “by senior year, the table is already built. You are simply trying to varnish it and make it pretty.”
This pragmatic observation about the world of college admissions struck Nancy “as a sad way to navigate your senior year.”
When talking about the MTC’s goal of designing a mastery transcript to change the college admissions landscape for the betterment of students, Nancy was quick to point out the college admissions game is not new. It is, however, “worse today than it has ever been.”
“The massive and ever growing numbers of college applicants playing this ‘game’ will make encouraging change in the process difficult right now,” she said, “but success can be found if we can shift the focus of education toward lifelong learning and away from the singularly focused lens of college admissions.”
Nancy believes that many independent school kids are even “more susceptible to getting sucked into the dispiriting nature of the system we have created.”
Given her own experience with a disruptive change in education, Nancy has some advice for the MTC:
- “Recognize both the increased possibilities and the increased challenges of getting bigger.”
- “Be ready for criticism and develop a thick skin.”
- “Start writing. Keeping track of your organization’s thinking will only help speed your work with the ever-shifting growth and development process.”
- “Pay attention to the people providing financial support for your work to be sure they will stay committed through a period of radical change”
- “There is a spiritual piece to this that must be watched and nurtured over time.”
Nancy also cautioned about the challenges that lie ahead — the naysayers, the critics and even the early adopters who get cold feet — but stressed that this is important work that needs to get done. “Find a compelling way to tell your story and make it clear why this matters,” she advised. “Listen to the schools looking to join to understand how deep their level of commitment truly goes.”
That is sound advice that we will heed.