Racial Justice Series: “Unlearning our Learning: Challenges, Change, & Future Directions for Equity and Justice in Education” SwatTalk
with Chris Edley ’73, president of The Opportunity Institute, and Jonathan Glater ’93, professor of law at UCLA School of Law
Recorded on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021
Maria Mello: Hi everyone. I was giving you a couple of minutes for people to begin and join in. I'm Maria Mello, I'm a Swat class of ‘08 and I'm also a current member of the Alumni Council. The SwatTalks are hosted by the Alumni Council. I'm gonna be moderating this SwatTalk. I do want to just share. I'm an Assistant Professor of Special Education at St John's University. So I'm really excited to be having these conversations with Chris and Jonathan. Just a brief about our format. In the first 30 minutes Chris and Jonathan will present and talk, and I'll ask some questions. And then in the second half we'll do a Q&A. Please write your questions for Chris and Jonathan in the chat box. I will be moderating the chat box and we might not get to all the questions. So I'm gonna try to ask similar themes or consolidate some of the questions as well. And then also when you do write a question, please write your name and if applicable your class year when you ask a question. So I'll get started. I'm really excited to be moderating this talk with two excellent Swat alums who are experts in the field of education. So first is Chris Edley. He's from the class of 1973. He is a distinguished Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law. He served as the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law from 2004 to 2013. Prior to that, he taught at Harvard Law School for 23 years. He served in the White House Policy Budget positions under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. He has held senior positions in five presidential campaigns including Senior Policy Advisor for Barack Obama. He served on Obama's Transition Board with responsibility for education, immigration and health. His prolific work is in the areas of administrative law, civil rights, education policy and domestic public policy. And Chris works both in academia and public service. He is also the Co-founder and President Emeritus of the Opportunity Institute, which works to increase social and economic mobility and advance racial equity through partnership and collaboration with those seeking to promote systems change. And then we have Jonathan Glater, class of 1993. He is a Professor of Law at UCLA, where he currently teaches education law and policy and disability law. He previously taught at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. He received his JD from Yale Law School. And after graduating from law school he worked in private practice both in Argentina and New York City. And he's also worked as a reporter for the New York Times for nine years covering business law and higher education finance. His scholarship focuses on law and higher education with a particular focus on accessibility of higher ed and the implications of student debt. And his work has been published in Stanford Law Review, the Harvard Civil Rights, Civil Liberties Law Review, California Law Review and the UC Davis Law Review. And so before we begin or I ask my first question to Jonathan and Chris, I do wanna acknowledge the context for which we're having this conversation and sort of bring to the foreground the events that really impact our conversation on education, racial justice, equity and reform. So currently we're in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic as many of you know. This past year has really highlighted and exacerbated, the present inequities and inequalities for students in regards to race, class, disability, and many other things. And then the other context I want to acknowledge two other things is there has been like a current political crisis and with the assault on the Capitol a few weeks ago. And then also another political context is that Biden tomorrow is his inauguration and he's gonna take office. And so I think all of these contexts are really relevant when we think about the future of the American education system. So my first question is considering all of those things that I highlighted, all of those contexts I highlighted, what do you think are the main concerns impacting education? And what do you think is maybe the most challenging aspect in addressing change and reform, especially in terms of equity and justice?
So I'll turn it over to Jonathan or Chris. One of you can start.
Chris Edley: Youth before beauty. So go ahead Jonathan. (laughing)
Jonathan Glater: I was wondering who you were referring to, okay. It's really an honor to be here. And I'm flattered to be asked to be part of this discussion tonight with all of you. And I guess Maria, the situation that you laid out really already highlights the issues that are of most concern of the moment. Because the pandemic in particular has just ripped the lid off so many dimensions of festering inequality that we have seen both in the K-12 area and in higher education. And what seems to be happening that is kind of promising coming out of this horrible moment is a recognition of the extent to which the challenges students face at all these levels are not of their own making. And what that means in turn is that the responsibility for helping students to thrive is something that all of us can take on, that all of us can help with. So even as I worry about the health challenges to our teachers. Not the law teachers, we have it relatively good because we're doing so many things remotely. But when I think about again, K through 12 and really preschool through 3rd, 4th grade teachers, I take heart from the degree of concern for the teachers and concern for the students. The attention to inequalities that were there, that I think is a promising sign that there'll be more attention to trying to close gaps that are sadly not new.
Chris Edley: Well, I of course agree with all of that. When I think about the risks that are posed in our current circumstances, one that I think gets too little attention is that as the education sector tries to recover from the pandemic we'll use additional resources simply to fill the potholes to backfill from the cuts and the resource stresses that have come about as a result of the pandemic and declining state and local revenues, or will we instead to use the Biden slogan "build back better." From the perspective of equity advocates, building back the same system that we've had would be a tragic lost opportunity to take advantage of what we've learned about the nature of disparities and disadvantages, to take what we've learned about uses of technology, and not just rebuild but really reform, re-imagine education. I think the same is true even in higher education as well. And I'd like us to hold both our political leaders and our education leaders to a standard that says, you can't go back to business as normal. You can't go back to instruction and learning as normal. This is an opportunity to really improve over what we had before. And let's carpe diem, let's seize the day. Let me just add one other risks that I see. During the summer and early fall, I really felt that the nation was at a particular moment of possibility with respect to racial reckoning and a general civic discourse around issues of inequality. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that president-elect Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris, shortlisted racial justice as one of the top four or five white house priorities for their administration. That's literally unprecedented, at least certainly not in the in the 20th or 21st centuries. But in the wake of what's happened since the election and the insurrection of January 6th, I really do wonder whether some of that opportunity for a transformation in our framing of social justice, whether we've lost some of that possibility. Whether that moment has become tarnished, tainted if you will by the press, the desperate need we have to relieve ourselves of some of the toxicity that's arisen since the election. Yeah, I mean I think…
Maria Mello: Oh, if you were gonna say something Jonathan then go ahead. Oh, okay. I was gonna say I think you all brought up good points. And I think that then my next question would be. Given all of that, what's the first step that's necessary to address those challenges and those barriers. What does it look like in terms of actionable steps that we can take for a way forward in education, reform or re-imagining which I really like that you said that, and for both policy and practice for teachers?
Chris Edley: So whenever I'm working on policy issues, policy change issues, I always think in terms of what's the inside game and what's the outside game. With respect to the inside game, the question is whether officials, people with authority, people with power who hold these positions of influence, whether they set a higher standard for themselves and for what they can accomplish. We want them to I think have a mind set that goes beyond repairing. And instead recognized that especially for the most vulnerable populations; we were doing a pretty poor job, a quite poor job before the pandemic. And so going back to normalcy is not at all what we should want. This is an opportunity to break some old habits, some old patterns. In terms of the outside strategy, I'd say that advocacy groups, educational reform groups civil rights groups, et cetera, should demand that this not just be… The pandemic recovery not just be about repair. I always say that when interest groups, advocates meet literally or figuratively with policymakers, with leaders, they should have a specific list of asks. Go into the meeting not just with the list of complaints, but specific things you're asking for in return. And in these circumstances, the ask to education leaders at all levels should be tell us what you're doing. Tell us what your plans are to do differently things that you were doing poorly before. And how can we hold you accountable for making that leap in ambition. Jonathan?
Jonathan Glater: Yeah, I like the inside, outside paradigm. I have been thinking about it as almost micro and macro because the question Maria, is really at one level completely overwhelming. Because I think one of the things Chris is rightly calling for is we need to rethink what our goals are. Because if we don't think about what our goals are it's going to be very difficult to assure that we design the educational mechanisms, that we provide the right student supports to achieve those goals. And that's a kind of abstract difficult conversation to have. I don't think it's one that we have ever had. I mean, either to ask what is the point. Education at times is treated as a means to an end, to bringing the civic community together and things like that. But not in terms of well, who should be learning what, where and how? So I think that macro perspective is critical, especially now 'cause we are at maybe a transformational moment. If we're ready to know what should we be reaching for, that's the guidepost. But at the same time and I see some of the questions in the chat were related to this as well. There's the micro level. And that's even more overwhelming because there are so many things, so many problems, so many inequities to be addressed. The particular challenge is different kinds of students are facing right now related to the pandemic that have been worsened even from what they were before the pandemic. And so I have two kids and they're young enough that "Frozen II" was a relatively recent screening event for us. And there's a song in "Frozen II," "Do the Next Right Thing." We just start with what we know the next right thing is. So to be specific, one example I have been thinking about a lot is trauma informed teaching. Because whenever we get back to in-person teaching, we're gonna be dealing with a group of kids and college students and law students who are coping with varying degrees of trauma. And training teachers at all levels, what that means and how to support students who have been through a traumatic experience is going to matter tremendously. And that's a very specific ask as Chris articulated it. It is one of the next right things I think we need to do. But we need to do these things all at once. We need to fix the car while it's going 75 and possibly over a cliff. So it's a challenging and also in some ways exciting and terrifying moment.
Chris Edley: Yeah, beautifully put. Sort of I'd add if I may at least. Look, there changes looking at some of the chats, there changes that need to take place both in individuals with respect to mindset, with regard to their personal goals, and there changes that that need to take place at a systemic level. Personally, I work mostly at that level. I'm a lawyer, I think in terms of systems and institutions and regulation and statutes, I don't think in terms of volunteerism. I only think in terms of incentives if that's the most efficacious way to get towards a goal. But at the end of the day, issues of equity, issues of civil rights, it needs more than encouragement. It actually needs standards. It needs enforcement and it needs vigilance. So I wanna make that point, but the second thing and Jonathan touched upon something that I think is actually the key to the next generation of revolution in education. And that is to think about the personal familial community circumstances of the child, the chronic stress, the trauma that is experienced by children and the recent brain science over the last two decades that has demonstrated beyond argument that these kind of context has a serious impact on learning. On both social and emotional learning, as well as academic learning. And yet generally, when we think about addressing learning issues, we expect too little attention from our educators and from other child serving bureaucracies for that matter, too little attention to the problem of mitigating the effects of trauma and chronic stress. The best we do is maybe we think about, kind of wrap around services of an elementary school or a middle school. But too often we expect the school budgets to pay for that, or we set up wrap around services that are really based on the heroism of local leaders and ad hoc agreements with philanthropies rather than systemic changes that will make public health systems feel accountable for the health of students and the success of students. And I could go down the list to homelessness, to food insecurity, to violence. If we're gonna move the needle on education equity, close these gaps that have been almost impervious to reform efforts since we stopped trying to integrate schools. If we're really gonna move that needle, then I think we have to look at this issue that Jonathan raised about trauma, about chronic stress. And the standards should not be cure racism, cure economic inequality. The standard we ought to hold leaders accountable to is, are you doing what you can do? Are we doing what we can do to give children in need, the support and interventions that they need?
Jonathan Glater: Just I'm trying to watch the chat which is overwhelming here as I'm also listening. But I wanna add one that there is a connection. I wanna respond to a couple of things. But there is a connection between the observation about stress and anxiety and the chronic effects and racial justice. Some of the most depressing research I've read recently in biological sciences has looked at the physical manifestations of chronic stress related to instances of perceived racial discrimination. And that's depressing in terms of just the effect of chronic stress and anxiety on people over time, because it's cumulative. It also can be passed on to the next generation. So that kids as I understand it they're essentially pre-stressed. So these things are linked. When we think about trauma, when we think about stress, which makes all of it more daunting. It's one more dimension of the problem that we have to keep in mind. And the point was made in the chat and I wanna echo it. It's very critically important that the teachers are traumatized too. And the teachers may not have been trained how to engage in self care. They may not have access to the kind of support that they need in order to cope and support with their students as effectively as they want to. And that is just one more manifestation of inequality which is the big picture driver that we're so concerned about. I have more to say about that but I'll stop.
Chris Edley: It's an interesting contrast, Jonathan, the way we have begun to think so seriously about the trauma felt by people in healthcare. The doctors, the nurses, the nursing assistants. But very little has been said about the trauma facing the teachers. And it's what people are going through now but it's also when students return to school, the expectations of how quickly we will be able to make up learning losses. Teachers are gonna be feeling extraordinary pressure, unprecedented pressure. Some of it generated by themselves, some of the generated by their circumstances. I think it's really a moment for teacher unions in K-12 to step up and really give full voice to the challenges that are facing their members all over the country. But especially frankly, in the communities that as always faced the brunt of these catastrophes.
Jonathan Glater: I mean, one of the, I'm not gonna call it a silver lining or an epiphany. But one of the things I think a lot of parents have realized as they're trying to hold down jobs hopefully and supervise remote learning by kids is how challenging the job of a teacher is. And hopefully that will translate into support for the kinds of teacher support that we're going to need, that we need now.
Chris Edley: I'm sorry, we're on a roll here. But I think the other thing is it is hard to be a great teacher. It's hard to be a good teacher even. It's hard to be a good teacher over the course of an entire career. But now we're saying that what an educator has to do is now more complicated, because we want instruction to be informed by trauma and chronic stress. We want teachers to monitor the emotional and psychological health of their students and be first responders when students or their families are in crisis. And if you go to a master's program to become a teacher, there's very little in the curriculum, a course or two that prepares you for those kinds of responsibilities. So we are expecting more of teachers and they deserve the compensation and the professional preparation to take on those challenges. But I think we have to also keep reminding ourselves it can't just be left to the teachers and to the schools. I doubt that there are many superintendents in the country that show up at the budget hearing for their County Health Department or the housing department and make the pitch that housing programs or mental health programs need to be oriented towards student success. So teachers, school administrators need allies beyond the school walls. And frankly, those of us who are outsiders, we always bemoan the fact that education governance is so fractured. Federal, state, local, county, municipal, district. The only plus side to that as far as I'm concerned is that it means that all of us can play a role. Because all of us can find an opening at one of those levels of governance, at one of those levels for healing. There's so much work to go around.
Jonathan Glater: Maria, we hijacked you, just go ahead.
Maria Mello: I know, I was gonna say, Chris, you answered my next question. Which was about what are the roles we can play in community for systemic change. Especially 'cause for my own teachers when I talk to them, they don't feel like they can enact institutional change. That's it's hard for them, their role as a teacher and to also be the person to change systems. They always often talk about that. And I feel like what can a teacher do than to be in that role to have that like to change, like to have that institutional change rather than just their individual change within their classroom alone. I'm gonna, I don't know if you wanna answer that or yeah.
Chris Edley: First of all, I say a good union local helps with that. I mean, unions, a part of their core mission is to organize. And the best unions today are not just organizing around issues like compensation, they're arguing around reforms. And they're not just arguing on behalf of themselves, but they're going on strikes to get more resources for textbooks. So I think the new teacher, the new model of teaching has some organizing skills. I would simply caution that for teachers, for civil rights folks, for lay folks like those that are in the chats, pay attention to evidence. This is not rocket science, it's harder than rocket science. Ideas should not be coming out of your navel. There should be opportunities to learn from the experiences of others. Learn the evidence that's been accumulated by others in framing the demands that you make of whatever insiders you come face to face with. It's hard to stuff, study before you leap. But what do you expect an academic to say, I suppose.
Maria Mello: Okay, so there are lots of great questions in the chat and I don't know if we're going to get to all of them in the next half hour. I think that I'm going to highlight a couple of them that have sort of had similar themes. And one of them was about budget and it actually highlighted, there were a couple of questions about money and budget. But that was also one of the questions that I got as well, that there was any hope for like a funding system for public schools to change that isn't driven by property taxes, but doesn't depend on income level of the community. And if there's hope, what would it take to get there? And then there were some people who are also and I can't… I'm overwhelmed by the chat, I can't see the other question. But if you wanna answer that one first and then I'll try to find this other question that's similar. (laughing) I'll hand it over to you.
Jonathan Glater: I think the short answer is politics, but the longer but that's kind of a cop out. The longer answer is to say that in the past,pushes for educational equity in K-12 public schools have pursued one of two paths. The legislature in an effort to modify the funding formula, taking into account wealth disparities between districts and sometimes also taking into account differential needs across school districts. And the other is the courts. Although the courts have not been supremely receptive to arguments about educational equity, but sometimes they are. There's this Gary B case that was just decided was it last year, I'm gonna blank on the date. But it's relatively recent case in which a federal court found at least a basic right to some quantum of educational quality. And I won't go into the details about how much precedential weight that that opinion has. But it's a remarkable opinion that the court produced in reaching that conclusion, Chris.
Chris Edley: I mean, if we're gonna talk law for a second I think it's worth noting that the Supreme Court decided that in a case called San Antonio v. Rodriguez, that education is not a fundamental right guaranteed in the constitution under the U.S constitution. That decision was in 1973 and it was a five to four decision, five to four. So it's not inconceivable that a decade from now a different Supreme Court consensus supported by a social movement would come to a different conclusion on the constitutional question. Meanwhile, there are state courts and there are state constitutional provisions regarding education. And those have certainly been more fertile ground since 1973 for education litigants. But I wanna take seriously, Jonathan's notion that it's politics. And say, well, it's actually I think it's worse than that because it's not just education politics. It's difficult for me to imagine something as fundamentally important as education finance with K-12 being a huge portion of state budgets. It's difficult for me to imagine really transformative revenue measures just in education. So I think it is gonna have to be part of a broader progressive turn in our politics. And in that sense, that broader progressive term means an alliance between those of us who are fighting the education battle front, with those who are fighting the healthcare battlefront, with those who are fighting you name it. And I think that while it's good to generate energy about the possibility of new revenue sources, we should have pretty minimal expectations unless there's something extraordinary about the local circumstances. A particular political moment in some jurisdiction. Why don't I stop, I'll stop there. There was a question about higher ed earlier and we haven't talked much about.
Maria Mello: Yeah, there was a question about higher ed. I was actually trying to find that question. And then there were a couple of questions about vocational education and sort of if there's possibility of returning to that kind of focus also on vocational ed as well. I think there were a couple of questions about that. And then I'm trying to find the higher ed question too. (laughing)
Chris Edley: You'll find it. You want me to start? Why don't I say something about vocational education. Look, there are a couple of things that the education system is lousy at. And I think career technical education is one of them. We need, let me put it this way. There does not exist a broad plan for the systemic changes needed to yoke the community college and technical college experience with the labor market. It's very hit or miss. It works a third, maybe a half of the time. But there's been too little research, there's been too little accountability. People are diverted into this public versus private college morass. I'd say, forget the private colleges, let's just focus on the public colleges and try to get it done. The harder issue is how to do it well. And I mean, I could list 20 things that have to happen before we can do it well. But it's not just important for 19 year olds. Increasingly it's important for lifelong learning. Robots will come, what are you gonna do? You need to be trained to do something else. It's related to unionism. When we take on these other jobs, if we have more people aspire to voc-tech careers rather than so-called professional white collar careers, then we have to ensure that they can earn a good living. They can earn a middle-class living and without unions that's gonna be difficult to achieve. So these things are all interconnected, but I don't think that is really cause for despair. It's cause for being very intentional and analytical about what we have to accomplish. And then it requires different people focusing on different areas of battle. And we don't all have to fight on the same battlefield because there's so many battlefields if we're gonna win that war. But elites like everybody else on this Zoom, elites and the people who do research and the people who are policy makers have systematically undervalued voc-tech education and trumpeted the importance of a BA. And a BA has to be available but there have to be alternative pathways, there has to be lifelong learning. We can't even strike good trade deals because we don't have a lifelong learning system that will help workers affected by international trade make a transition into new careers. That's the theory, but in practice we abandon them. So voc-tech is really… (sighing) Bilingual education is another one, English language learners we do a terrible job.
Maria Mello: I don't know if you wanna add anything, Jonathan.
Jonathan Glater: I was gonna jump to the higher ed. 'Cause we haven't really talked about that yet. But I don't know if… I have some thoughts but if you have a specific question that you were able to track down.
Maria Mello: I was able to track it down. You can share your thoughts but I can also address higher ed if you want to. Whichever way you wanna go.
Jonathan Glater: Okay, I'll share my thoughts. You tell me if it answers the question. In any of the conversations about higher education especially at this moment, student loans is one of the biggest issues that we're dealing with and it implicates both who pays for college. It's really a cost allocation problem. It's a financing structure problem, but it also implicates the life impact of indebtedness on students. And so there was this element of the Biden platform of calling for a degree of cancellation of student debt, which would fix one of those but not the other. It wouldn't fix prospectively the problem of college costs. And I think this is one of those places where there are a number of useful insights that need to inform our conversations more effectively than they have in the past. And one of them is to see that it is a cost allocation problem. To see that what has happened over the past really 30, 40 years has been a reallocation of college costs away from the states and the federal government and onto students and their families. And that was a political development. Not one that I think was especially considered, but it was a political development. Which means it's something we can just decide to do differently. We can just decide to do it differently. And did the impact of the outstanding debt, we're still getting more and more information, more data on the effects of student indebtedness on borrower's lives after they graduate, after they don't graduate, but still face the repayment obligation. Frequently in some of the debates over cancellation of this indebtedness, the argument is made that this is regressive. Which I think starts from… And I wanna address that 'cause if no one's asked, they will ask about that concern. And what I would say is if we're in a world where we can do one thing to try to narrow an aspect of inequality, worrying most about graduates, especially heavily indebted graduates who tend to be the graduates of professional programs, medical schools, elite higher education, maybe that's not the best place to allocate funds. But we're not in that world where that's the only thing, the only step that we can take. And there are ways we can cancel debts that are a little more nuanced than we currently do. And the last point I would make 'cause it ties to one of the things Chris was talking about with respect to revenue. To the extent that we are worried about income inequality and student loan cancellation providing a windfall to people who don't actually need it. We actually have a very effective redistribution mechanism for income in this country. And it's called the internal revenue code. And I find it interesting that it's not played a larger part in the discussions about student debt. again, that macros flying very high up to see the different aspects of a phenomenon under study, as well as the micro policy consideration. This idea of canceling some finite amount of debt.
Chris Edley: We are still in the Reagan era in the sense that there's still so much political force behind the idea of a smaller government and no tax increases. That's a starting difficulty for anything certainly in the domestic policy arena. But let's put that to one side, I think we all recognize that. I think Jonathan makes some great points. There's an alternative path that I'm particularly interested in which is just blowing the whole thing up. Because it seems to me, we should conceptualize higher education as something along the lines of social security. And the way social security works as I hope you all know is that the retirement benefits I'm looking forward to soon will be paid by people who are currently working through a payroll tax. So as you work, you are paying for people who are retired. And the intergenerational deal is that then when you're retired, the workers at that point will be paying for your retirement. If you think of it the other way, in reverse. The idea would be if you're working, you pay for the tuition of current students, and current students don't pay tuition. But when they graduate, those students become workers and then they pay the tuition for the succeeding generation. So that is sometimes called a "pay it forward" structure, which is a term that confuses me. But it's a different kind of intergenerational deal. The amount that you pay back when you're working would be scaled to the cost of the college that you attend. But just like social security or just like a big insurance program, you can't opt out. Everybody in a state's public university system would have to participate. The people who wanna become teachers, as well as the people who wanna become Wall Street bankers, everybody has to be in the system. And the current money that we spend on financial aid should still be used, just not for tuition. It should be used for housing, for other kinds of non-tuition costs of attendance. But the broader abstract point is that if we think of an investment in higher ed, whether it's voc-tech or a BA in Celtic poetry, it's an investment in human capital. And paying for an investment in human capital the way we're doing it now does not make sense it seems to me. And the system I'm proposing would also have the benefit. You can think of it as socializing the debt on the back end, but it's in a way I think would open up enormous opportunities to people for whom tuition is… And I'm only talking about public universities. So if we're gonna make dramatic progress, we need dramatic kinds of changes.
Jonathan Glater: So there's a question in the chat about the extent to which cost is dominating conversations around education reform, K-12 and higher ed. And I share that concern. I think the rhetoric is incredibly powerful. And one way to respond. there's an economist Walter McMahon who went and looked at spending on higher education versus the return on… It's not just higher education, education. And the return on the investment and concluded that there was radical under-investment given all the benefits that come from wider dispersion of higher ed. So that's one response. The other way is to recapture the idea of education as a public good, the way Chris is articulating it. As opposed to a private good. The idea being that education provided to others is of benefit to each of us. And therefore we should all be willing to subsidize extensively the availability of the education. It produces benefits for all. That has not been the way that education has been predominantly talked about I think in recent years. It is framed more as a private good. And I use this language too. When I talk about education as an investment for the individual student, I'm now using the language of individual return. I'm gonna pay tuition and then I'm gonna get a job that pays higher income. And that's the benefit of education, It's a benefit for just for me. And we somehow have to move away from that in order to build support for the sharing of the subsidy to make education more accessible. And that's difficult to do. That reframing is difficult to achieve. Because so deeply entrenched is the idea that I'm educating myself for a benefit to me.
Chris Edley: On the cost issue, I think that obviously Jonathan's 100% correct. On the cost issue though I also think that… And there are places where the cost issue is just an unbelievable barrier. I mean, I point for example to early childhood learning and childcare. If we really wanna have a system, a quality system that is universal, it's a large investment. Special education, underfunded. A huge problem for local school budgets. But here's what I think about proposals that cost a lot of money. It may just be that the politics is telling you you can't do it all at once. And what we should argue about is not whether to do it at all, but maybe the pace at which it can be accomplished. If we can get started on it, and I always believe in starting with the hardest part of the problem, not the easiest part of the problem. So the neediest population, not the most politically powerful population, if you can. But if you can at least get started, then you have a chance to build momentum and build broader support and ultimately accelerate the funding as it's needed. So I think the argument about cost is instructive but not determinative. It should change our strategy but not our vision, full-stop.
Maria Mello: Okay, we have nine minutes left. (laughing) That was wonderful, I wish we had more time. We do have… So here a couple of topics that were kind of similar across the board. There was one topic about BLM and restorative justice. And then the other one was about Biden's pick for the secretary of education. And then I liked this question maybe to end on with all the complications that we've discussed throughout this past hour, what would you say are any of the priorities that are sort of uniform across the country? Or do they vary by locality? Was there anything a uniform priority across the country or should it be locally focused?
Chris Edley: Whose turn is it? (laughing)
Maria Mello: Any of you. I don't know.
Jonathan Glater: If the spirit moves you, go ahead. (laughing)
Chris Edley: Well, what should be a priority and has a good chance of becoming a priority almost everywhere in the country is equity. By which I mean narrowing disparities between student subgroups in opportunities or resources on the one hand and outcomes on the other hand. I chaired a committee for the National Academy of Sciences that did a report on this recently, and tackling these equity issues in education has to begin with defining and measuring it. If we're gonna build accountability for narrowing those disparities, then we have to have some agreement with the national Academy of sciences was trying to jumpstart on how to characterize the inequality, helps us focus. So that's my answer on the national universal priority, if you will. on the Biden appointments, they're good people. They have substantial accomplishments. The "but" is that I always worry with appointments of this sort that you take a state or local official who's done a great job. You put them in a federal cabinet position, and they think the right thing to do is to get everybody to do what they did in their jurisdiction. And if what they did in particular, if what they did was escape federal regulation, then they think the right thing to do is to minimize the federal role. My priority is equity. If you minimize the federal role, just like if you minimize the federal role in civil rights, it's less likely to happen. So my concern would be a superintendent or deputy superintendent who believes, "hey, I was a beautiful flower. Therefore my federal policy is to let 1,000 flowers bloom." No, no. So they have the experience, but I hope they're open to really adopting a genuinely national perspective on power, on finance, on aspirations or vision if you will. Well, I missed one of your three, but I think I've said enough.
Maria Mello: Go ahead Jonathan.
Jonathan Glater: Okay, that's hard to follow. But I guess my message in particular for this audience would be to take what Chris is saying about inequality as the core focus and to implement it by questioning policies and practices that produce those inequalities. And this is one of the things that the pandemic is forcing us to do. We're doing things now in response to the pandemic that institutions resisted for decades before the pandemic. When I look at the number of institutions that dropped use of the SAT in admissions for example. Something that has been called for quite a long time because of the racially disparate effects of taking those scores into account, excuse me. And now attitudes are changing. So this is an opportunity to question, what are the things that have been done a particular way with a particular effect that have been taken for granted and unquestioned and untouchable for so long? Think about how else might we do it. I think Chris has offered a couple illustrations over the course of the hour of how we could imagine things differently. If we thought about the course of education, K-12 all the way up as not trying to sort students, not to recreate a hierarchy. 'Cause remember once you've got a hierarchy, you gotta have inequality. Otherwise there's no point. There's gotta be a reward for being at the top. So if you're trying to address the inequality, you gotta start looking for ways to undo the hierarchy and the other way around. Which brings me back again to looking at those policies, practices, ways we do things that contribute to inequality and saying. Well, wait a minute. What if I try to do something else? What tools would I use.
Chris Edley: Beautifully put. If I could add just two last things. One is...
Maria Mello: Yeah, just go ahead.
Chris Edley: There is a hugely, I think, important question that Meg Slotkin asks in the chat. Does it do any good at all for me, an experienced and currently stressed teacher, to spend an hour after school helping kids in need. I feel daunted and ineffective in solving the big systemic challenges. I hear you. And this is where I think you have to apply the cliche, "different strokes for different folks". Not everybody is good at one thing. An orchestra does not have all violinists. Somebody has to play the piccolo, somebody has to pay the bass drum. And so I think each of us needs to find our instrument. (sneezing) That's one point. But having said that, I mean I for example, I know I could never be a teacher. I mean a real teacher not a law professor, that's easy. Being a teacher is really too hard for me. It has always been too hard for me for a whole variety of reasons. Mostly having to do with my deep character flaws and the rest. But I do think in terms of systems and institutions and law and mathematics. If you are a teacher, whatever you're doing, you should not only find your own instrument but you should also to mix metaphors, look for ways to have a force multiplier. So you as an individual, if you're an experienced teacher. Sure you can tutor a kid or a couple of kids. But another thing a teacher might do is train some high school students on how to be tutors for middle school students, or for fifth grade students. Be a teacher of teachers, if you will. That's what I think of as a force multiplier. You're using your talent to have a broader impact while remaining individualized. So I think each of us needs a strategy of that sort. And the last thing I'd wanna say and this is just by way of closing, is that it's especially important at this moment to speak up for the importance of evidence and research. Truth about what we need and what we do and what we accomplishment is important. Telling the truth, not making all the decisions based on intuition or politics but looking for evidence to guide us on important choices. What I'd also say is if you look at the miraculous success in finding a vaccine in less than a year for COVID-19, supported by strong science and evidence and attention. Suppose we had a similar goal in education. What's the project warp speed that we would want in education. And do we have the wherewithal to accomplish in anything like the timeframe we saw for the urgency of COVID-19? Well, I think the needs of many of our children are almost as urgent.
Maria Mello: Chris, that's wonderful. Jonathan, do you have any final words before we sign off?
Jonathan Glater: Chris just dropped the mic, I'll go with that.
Maria Mello: Yeah, he did, he really did. (laughing) So I want to thank you both Jonathan and Chris for the wonderful conversation. I really wish we had hours to talk about this. I think I could sit here and listen to you both talk for a while.
Chris Edley: Come to law school, change careers. No don't do that, stay where you are. (laughing)
Maria Mello: So thank you both very much. And I hope you have a wonderful evening over in California. (laughing)
Chris Edley: Thank you
Jonathan Glater: Thank you, Maria.
Maria Mello: Bye Swatties!