WORCESTER – As the state’s secretary of education from 2008 to 2013, Paul Reville oversaw a public system that, thanks in part to landmark reform adopted in the early 1990s, was producing student success that ranked among the best in the nation.

It wasn’t nearly good enough, Mr. Reville, now a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said Wednesday during this year’s annual Lee Gurel ’48 Lecture in Education at Clark University.

Across the board, test scores and other metrics show that students’ academic and career achievement is still largely tied to their family’s income – a reality that means the state’s poorest students are still being left behind.

"We should work at continuing to improve schools," he said, explaining that his intent was not to portray the state’s education reform attempts as fruitless. But the data show that "despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to erase that correlation."

Instead of continuing practices that have defined reform in Massachusetts over the past two decades – and in many ways perpetuated an "outdated and outmoded" system of education that originated over a century ago, Mr. Reville asked the dozens in attendance Wednesday to consider a "mind shift in the way we think about public education."

Specifically, he advocated for a more holistic approach to instructing and nurturing students, one that focuses not just on their time in the classroom, but their time outside it as well.

"The goal is right," he said of the state’s recent efforts to improve its education system. "We’ve got the wrong delivery system."

Aided by a PowerPoint presentation, Mr. Reville cycled through dozens of slides showing just how little has been accomplished in closing the achievement gaps between high- and low-income students, and between white students and students of color.

In terms of academic measures, such as National Assessment of Educational Progress scores and SAT results, as well as longer-term ones like graduation rates and degree attainment, students from better-off families have much better odds of success, the data showed.

A major contributing factor, Mr. Reville said, is that students at the upper end of the family income spectrum tend to have many more opportunities to learn. They have a higher probability to participate in extracurricular activities, receive tutoring and, especially important, he pointed out, take part in enrichment activities during the summer - a key period that can exacerbate the achievement gap for students who have no opportunity to continue their learning over a long break.

That gap begins to form even before students arrive at a school for the first time, Mr. Reville said; children in higher-income families tend to be exposed to more words in their early childhood years, for instance, and thus have a bigger vocabulary than their less well-off peers.

"In other words, the battle’s over before it’s even started," he said.

The bigger problem is that public schools today largely don’t account for their students’ different life experiences and opportunities, Mr. Reville argued, instead treating them mostly the same. While other industries have evolved since the turn of the 20th century, "schools persist almost as an anchor against all those other changes."

Mr. Reville’s presentation, meanwhile, did not focus much on the funding inequities that many school officials around the state have pointed to as a major contributor to poor outcomes for students. But he did say that because of an ever-mounting assortment of tasks that schools must take on for their students, today’s public education institutions are being asked to do too much. "They can’t possibly succeed with the weight of the expectations we put upon them," he said.

He concluded his talk by laying out a three-pronged approach that he believes will address some of the major areas of inequity that continue to hinder school reform efforts: focusing on more personalized education, better integrating students’ academic needs with their health and social needs, and creating more out-of-school learning  opportunities.

In particular, he highlighted the work of Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab, which has partnered with cities across the country to launch a new framework around those priorities.

"This isn’t a case where we don’t know what to do," he said. The hard part, he added, is pushing through change in an industry where the people involved are often unwilling at times to abandon the comfort of conventional practices.

The current time provides an opportunity to do just that, however, as local governments take the reins of education reform while the federal government appears to be backing off, Mr. Reville said.

"We’re at a moment where we need to rethink where we’re going," he said, "We need a new vision."