Tag Archives: Educational Leadership

Preparing, hiring, and supporting education leaders: The Lead the Change interview with Lauren Bailes

What does it take to support the development of a diverse group of education leaders? Lauren Bailes discusses this and other key issues of educational change in In this month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview. Bailes is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware who explores how organizational, social-cognitive, and leadership theory unite to promote the success of school leaders and K-12 students.The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb and colleagues from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Lauren Bailes: Two things come to mind for me in response to this call. First, I’m trying to stay connected to practitioners and stakeholders in my local contexts as much as possible in order to listen and learn about their needs in the midst of a rapidly shifting set of systems. I recently had a conversation with a state education leader in Delaware and he asked me, “Do you ever worry that you’ll do research for forty years and you will have become irrelevant?” I told him that I think about that most days. I think, right now, my responsibility—and the way to preclude that irrelevance—is to tailor my work to the espoused needs of education leaders and practitioners around me. I try to conceive of my research agenda as a way to be of service; that necessarily entails collaboration, flexibility, and pivots—all of which definitely keep things current and engaging.

For me, this has certainly meant attending to meaningful research questions using high-quality methodological approaches and publishing in respected outlets, but I don’t want to stop there. One of my favorite moments of my career thus far was when one of my EdD students (a Black woman who was at that time an assistant principal) saw the assistant principal findings from my and a colleague’s AERA Open piece (Bailes & Guthery, 2020) in EdWeek and reached out to me to say, “Hey! This is you, right? This is everything I’ve been trying to say in my district!” This encapsulated so much for me: research has to be multilingual and speak the languages of our research colleagues and our practitioner colleagues. For Sarah and me, this has meant writing shorter summaries of our research in plain language with clear action steps which follow the peer-reviewed research articles. This is not new information, but I take this responsibility very seriously. I’ve also tried to take on some responsibility for leader preparation in my state—both through our EdD program and through other initiatives like the Governor’s Institute for School Leadership (GISL), which is a year-long executive style professional learning experience for third-year Assistant Principals who seek promotion in the school system. My colleague Bryan VanGronigen and I co-wrote the curriculum for the year, and I also teach in the program. The woman who contacted me about the EdWeek writeup graduated from our EdD program then spent a year with GISL and is now a district leader. For her and others like her—in our preparation programs and in our statewide leader supports—the job of translating research clearly in diverse outlets, is incredibly important, as is the practical enactment of what I find and espouse in research.

LtC: Your recent work examines the impact of “disappearing diversity” on the hiring of teachers of color. You have also examined the path to the principalship for assistant principals of color. What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience examining the growing equity issues of school staffing?

LB: School staffing is the chief concern I hear among my practitioner colleagues. Whether it’s hiring a highly qualified teacher, finding someone to cover a special education classroom, identifying an instructional coach for the school’s one STEM teacher, or retaining a principal, staffing is at the forefront for many school leaders.

Staffing shortages are certainly not new to schools and the acuity of that challenge varies by context; in Delaware, for example, 41% of principals are eligible for retirement in the next five years. Throughout the educator pipeline, there is a profound need to get positions filled. But even in the midst of a staffing crisis, just filling positions is insufficient. We have to maintain focus on equitable and just practices associated with recruiting, hiring, developing, retaining, and promoting education professionals (Bailes & Guthery, 2021).

Having a racially diverse pool of educators is good for all students and not just students of color, even though we also know that students of color experience particular benefits when they are taught and led by people who look like them (e.g., Simon et al., 2015).

One thing that became clear to me as Dr. Sarah Guthery and I wrote about teacher hiring was that we lose so many teachers of color in their teacher preparation programs. Whether that’s due to the cost of those programs, biased systems of licensure and certification, or lack of support among predominantly white systems of preparation, we have to make teacher preparation not just attractive but feasible for people of color. These might include more incentives for early career teachers of color as well as induction supports.

“We have to maintain focus on equitable and just practices associated with recruiting, hiring, developing, retaining, and promoting education professionals.”

We know from literature, and from the experiences of our practitioner colleagues, that the challenges inherent to education careers are multiplied when those educators are the only or one of very few people of color in their organizations. So, networks and ‘taps’ matter a lot. It’s critically important that, as women and people of color indicate interest in school leadership, they are able to identify systems of support and mentorship to get them into those positions, to scaffold their skills as they move into leadership, and then take seriously their development in those positions in order to retain them.

Ltc: In your study of principal promotion in Texas, you find that Black assistant principals and women high school assistant principals have harder paths to the principalship than their White and male counterparts. What policies and practices can school systems put in place to ensure equitable promotion?

LB: There are a lot of things districts can do and they fall roughly into issues of perception and issues of preparation. It’s also important to note that our study has been replicated a couple of times and the exact promotion patterns vary in different contexts, so I strongly recommend getting familiar with those patterns in your context. However, some of the perceptions regarding the leadership of women and people of color persist across systems. One of the most interesting things that I learned in the process of writing that paper with Dr. Guthery was that, even though we did not find a difference in likelihood of promotion to the principalship for women, we found that women were far more likely to be promoted to principalships in elementary and middle schools than in high schools. Given that superintendents and other district-level leaders are often hired out of high schools, this renders a lot of women invisible for those promotions (and has lasting consequences for pay equity). Principals of lower schools may be perceived as less ‘tough’ or as having to contend with fewer complex organizational management issues and that’s just not true (see for example: Joy, 1998). This is a perception problem and one we can and should counter very directly.

“Efforts toward equitable principal promotion have to be paired with other issues of persistent segregation as well.”

Similarly, principal licensure exams function as a sorting mechanism for many principal candidates of color. Despite similar qualifications to their white peers, aspiring leaders of color may be removed from candidacy because of licensure exams. This is also an opportunity to use the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) in lieu of biased exams to enhance justice and equity within principal hiring and promotion practices. No standards are perfect, and they require careful training to be used well, but assessing principal candidates through the lens of standards rather than licensure exams may be one way to create more equitable access to school leadership for women and people of color.

Superintendents are best positioned to enact some of these reforms. They can call for audits, examine hiring records (including applicant pools that are often inaccessible to researchers), change job postings and hiring structures, and deploy resources for support and mentoring opportunities for people who are underrepresented in school leadership.

Finally, it’s important to recall that issues of segregation among education professionals do not occur in a vacuum—they’re influenced by racism, sexism, misogyny, and oppression throughout our systems of housing, medical care, higher education, and the list goes on. Efforts toward equitable principal promotion have to be paired with and are more likely to be successful as we concurrently attend to other issues of persistent segregation as well.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

LB: I see a tremendous amount of curiosity and willingness to experiment among many of my collaborators—both researchers and practitioners. My conversations with local education leaders suggest that the inequities and challenges associated with schooling in the last two years are not new—they weren’t created by the pandemic—but they were instead thrown into stark relief by the pandemic. Researchers have one set of language and tools to name those challenges, and I’m consistently impressed when I see researchers expand their language, outlets, and tools to be more inclusive of practitioners.

Similarly, I’ve seen practitioners take on some really brave and creative work regarding equity, school discipline, community engagement, instruction, and cycles of school improvement and they’re looking for research partners to support that work. Our practitioner colleagues spent two years creating systems to do schooling with unthinkable constraints on staffing, resources, and technology, so they’re empowered to innovate in ways that previously seemed outside the ‘grammar’ of schooling.

“Get close to a school and support the shared work of the teachers, families, leaders, and students there.”

We’ve seen systems that are breaking new ground in leadership preparation, team teaching arrangements, and school-wide equity training. So if you’re looking for partnership opportunities, get close to a school and support the shared work of the teachers, families, leaders, and students there. Their work is accelerating, rather than slowing, towards justice and equity—often in spite of profound barriers associated with resources and policymaking.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

LB: I’m learning a lot from thought leaders in the conversation about CritQuant (critical approaches to quantitative methods). I employ a lot of administrative data and I’m keenly aware of their limitations and the ways in which the assumptions embedded in those data perpetuate oppressions along dimensions of race, class, and gender. Categories—like those that currently characterize quantitative data— are necessarily limiting and so I’m trying to think about ways to acknowledge meaningful differences in how individuals are treated by education systems (for example, people of color are less likely to be promoted from assistant principalships to principalships than are their white counterparts) while also exploring ways to think beyond the limitations of the categories in those data. I’m excited about the conversations in this space and the ways in which we have more opportunities for collaboration across theoretical and methodological boundaries.

I’m also really excited about the recent emphasis on PSEL Standard 3, which addresses equity. As I mentioned above, I think there’s a real appetite among schools for concrete and creative steps to increase equity in their schools at every level. Standard 3— which includes skills like cultural responsiveness, an emphasis on each child, and inclusive decision-making—is really brought to life in the other nine standards. For example, what does it look like to carry out inclusive decision-making with instructional faculty or with families? How do leaders enact cultural responsiveness in their communications with families? How do school discipline policies attend to the needs of each child? As I’ve worked with school leaders, the overwhelming refrain is something like, “I’m committed to equity—I just don’t quite know how to do it.” It seems like some clear direction on how to bring Standard 3 to life will offer them some purchase as they engage equity work in their own contexts. I’m so excited to be connected to more of that work, and I’m really optimistic that such clarity will contribute to overall school improvement.

Overall, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by talented, committed colleagues at University of Delaware and nationally as well as in our surrounding communities and schools. I’m consistently encouraged by their technical expertise, courage, and optimism, and I’m confident that educational change is possible as we learn from each other and continue to prioritize students.

References

Sawchuk, S. (2020, June 15). For Black candidate and women, it takes longer to be promoted to principal. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/for-black-candidates-and-women-it-takes-longer-to-be-promoted-to-principal/2020/06

Bailes, L. P., & Guthery, S. (2020). Held Down and Held Back: Systematically Delayed Principal Promotions by Race and Gender. AERA Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332858420929298

Bailes, L. P., & Guthery, S. (2021). Disappearing diversity and the probability of hiring a nonwhite teacher: Evidence from Texas. (EdWorkingPaper: 21-447). Annenberg Institute at Brown University. https://doi.org/10.26300/qvmz-gs17

Joy, L. (1998). Why are women underrepresented in public school administration? An empirical test of promotion discrimination. Economics of Education Review, 17(2), 193-204.

Simon, N. S., Johnson, S. M., & Reinhorn, S. K. (2015). The challenge of recruiting and hiring teachers of color: Lessons from six high-performing, high-poverty, urban schools. The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. https://projectngt.gse.harvard.edu/publications/challenge-recruiting-and-hiring-
teachers-color-lessons-six-high

A Focus on (Imperfect) Leadership: Snapshots from the 9th ARC Education ThoughtMeet

The latest ThoughtMeet (TM) from the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory (ARC) featured conversations with Steve Munby and ARC delegates exploring “imperfect leadership.” Munby facilitates ARC events and is a member of the ARC Secretariat, and Visiting Professor at University College London Centre for Educational Leadership. Munby’s talk drew from his recently published book with co-author Marie-Claire Bretherton, Imperfect Leadership in Action: A practical book for school leaders who know they don’t know it all. This post highlights the key ideas and issues that were discussed in the meeting by representatives from the seven ARC member systems and its global partners. A summary, videos, and other resources from the March 25th ThoughtMeet: A Focus on Leadership. Summaries and materials from previous ThoughtMeets are available on the ARC Education Project website. This post was written by Mariana Domínguez González, and Daphne Varghese, ARC Research Assistants and Trista Hollweck, ARC Project Director.

“Nobody is ready for leadership. It is always a big step up. Imperfect leadership is neither a set of competencies to be mastered nor a body of knowledge to be memorized. It is a mindset to be embraced.”

Steve Munby

What is imperfect leadership? According to Steve Munby, imperfect leadership goes beyond how effectively a leader responds to ever-changing and dynamic work conditions to encompass who the leader is as a person– their personality, expertise, how they motivate others, respond to stress, etc. Leaders are not finished products; rather, they should strive to be endless learners which he describes as grown up & restless (as illustrated in the quadrants below). Munby reminded ARC delegates that “walking into a leadership role is a new playground for everyone. There is no such thing as perfect leadership when we step into a leadership role.” Thus, strong self-awareness is crucial for imperfect leadership.

Source: Quadrant taken from Steve Munby’s presentation: March 25th TM

In order for leaders to stay restless, Munby stressed the importance of developing and leading an open-to-learning culture. Leaders should review and reflect on events or situations that haven’t gone well, practice self-compassion, and use feedback processes (such as 360 degree feedback) in a focused and time-specific way to improve their leadership practices. 

How can we help educators to improve and to develop as leaders? Munby stressed that all members in a team have the potential to be leaders. The key is to provide them with the confidence to step up and take a leadership role. Creating an imperfect leadership culture requires an investment in others, especially early career leaders. As the more experienced leaders, he explained “it is our responsibility to support the leadership development of others. We must support future leaders and provide them with opportunities to take on challenging tasks and feel supported to take risks. We also must be conscious to not reinforce one simple stereotypical view of leadership, but encourage potential leaders from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to lead.” Munby added that an imperfect leadership culture provides opportunities for experienced leaders to take on new and challenging roles in an effort to renew and re-energize them.

A Q&A panel discussion followed the ARC talk and delegates asked Munby about the role of diversity in leadership, the importance of co-leadership and distributed leadership models, how to deal with negative organizational cultures, as well as how to balance risk-taking and learning from one’s failures against stakeholder expectations:

What role do you think diversity plays in leadership? Munby noted that organizations need to go beyond the notion that diversity is solely about fairness. Rather, diversity creates better teams characterized by numerous perspectives and expertise. Organizations also need to steer away from a singular approach to leadership, as it can encourage specific group members to be leaders and deter others from stepping into a leadership role. Munby emphasized that conceptualizations of talent are narrow and fixed, and we need to find ways to challenge them.

How do we “row together” to create an expectation of sharing power and decision-making?  Munby described how stakeholder engagement is an essential collaborative strategy for systems to develop imperfect leadership and promote progressive policy leadership. 

How do leaders cope with negative organizational cultures? According to Munby, it is always important to try to find a way to internally influence the work culture. However, in some cases, if the negative culture becomes too fixed and unlikely to change, it may be best for the leader to switch to another workplace. 

Follow-up reflection questions for system leaders: 

  • What does imperfect leadership mean in a virtual post-Covid-19 context? 
  • What is the difference between leadership and management? 
  • How do we further develop adaptive leadership in our systems so that leaders are not only aware of their individual strengths and default styles but equally aware of how to respond when a situation needs a different approach? 
  • How do leaders balance the system/political aspect as well as the personal side of leadership? 
  • How do leaders manage the very real external pressures and expectations and also provide conditions for aspiring leaders to grow and make mistakes? 
  • How do we prevent or avoid burnout in leaders at all levels? What kind of support is most needed? 

About the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory: 

The (ARC) is an international policy learning network that was established in 2016 to advance educational change based on eight guiding principles: equity, excellence, inclusion, wellbeing, democracy, sustainability, human rights, and professionally run systems. Headquartered at the University of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) since 2019, ARC brings together senior public officials (i.e ministers and deputy ministers of education), professional association leaders (i.e. unions and inspectorates) and other key stakeholders from its seven education member systems (Iceland, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Scotland, Uruguay and Wales), global partners (International Confederation of Principals) and international experts and scholars to discuss, debate and exchange knowledge about educational policy issues and to formulate responses suited to their contexts. One of the founding ideas behind ARC is to tear down the walls between countries and regions, as well as between educational researchers and politicians, in order to pursue the most fundamental ideas of what it means to be educated in today’s world for the mutual benefit of all ARC-systems and future generations of students worldwide. Every year, ARC members meet at the annual Summit hosted by one of the member systems. However, since 2020, in addition to a virtual summit, ARC has also hosted bi-monthly virtual ARC ThoughtMeets (TMs) for its members. The TM outreach series was designed to stimulate and support a global educational movement for equitable, inclusive and sustainable educational solutions to COVID-19.

Leadership, research, and educational change in a time of disruption: The Lead the Change Interview with Rebecca Lowenhaupt

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features a conversation with Rebecca Lowenhaupt, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Boston College. Her research investigates educational policy and school leadership in the context of immigration.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Rebecca Lowenhaupt: As educational change scholars, we have long understood the complexity of shifting entrenched practices within organizations. We are well-aware of the many barriers to change that can keep reforms from succeeding, and we have had some success developing models and frameworks to support adaptable, learning organizations. The current call to focus these efforts on dismantling oppression and designing new, justice-oriented systems provides a clear purpose and direction for us in our scholarship and partnership work.

I am hopeful that we are well-situated to address these issues. While the pandemic has been devastating for educational institutions in so many ways, we have seen how, when faced with crisis, many of our public schools were able to respond nimbly, work in partnership with public health and government, and serve as hubs of support for many communities. We continue to grapple with substantial challenges in education from youth mental health to staffing shortages and the ongoing politicization of curriculum. At the same time, new forms of leadership and collaboration have emerged along with an understanding that the complex problems we are facing as a society require interdisciplinary, innovative solutions. For example, many schools implemented pandemic response teams comprised of educational leaders, local government and public health officials, and in some cases, concerned parents. These teams helped sift through changing state guidelines, emerging research, and risk management, to support educational leaders’ decision making. In some districts, schools partnered with community organizations in new ways to address food insecurity and technology needs among families (Lowenhaupt et al., 2020). And across states, state leaders partnered with one another and researchers to share guidance and tools for their respective districts, such as the work conducted by the English Learner Working Group led by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with nearly 20 state EL directors (Hopkins & Weddle, 2021).

During this generative, if difficult, time, our role as researchers has shifted. In many cases, we have been brought in to help our partners in the field make sense of the changing landscape. Our research-practice partnerships have become more important than ever and require us as researchers to engage alongside practitioners with our boots on the ground, not as outsiders simply documenting what we see. As we encourage our partners to try things out, it is our responsibility to help them evaluate and understand the impact of their initiatives. Because the pace of change accelerated so rapidly as organizations tried to respond to the pandemic, we were called on to speed up our processes as scholars to support our partners.

“Addressing injustice requires coordination across institutions.”

Several researchers rose to the challenge by finding ways to support partners as well as providing timely, relevant policy guidance to support educational leaders in the field. For example, the Annenberg Institute produced a series of policy briefs that brought existing research to bear on the current crisis through the EdResearch for Recovery Initiative. In one brief, Kraft and Falken (2021) offered a summary of research and recommendations for implementing high dosage tutoring at scale in response to school closures and disruption. Similarly, the Journal of Professional Capital and Community provided an opportunity for rapid response and engagement. A colleague and I contributed a piece on school leadership for immigrant communities during the pandemic, highlighting the role leaders play ensuring access for students and families and providing opportunities for collaboration among educators and across immigrant- serving organizations (Lowenhaupt & Hopkins, 2020). And capturing student perspectives, Reich and Mehta (2021) shared their insights about what post-pandemic schooling might, and should, look like in real time. These are just a few examples of the many ways our scholarly community sought ways to quickly and meaningfully respond.

Now, as we are gradually emerging from the crisis, it is important to keep in mind that unexpected (and expected) changes will continue to challenge us to keep pace with an evolving field. We also have much to learn about bridging fields to address such complex problems—a challenge one school faces is likely also a concern for mental health providers and impacted by community resources and local government agencies. Addressing injustice requires coordination across institutions. As researchers, we can help uncover barriers and map the intersecting systems that shape educational experiences. We can also engage with our partners in developing solutions and learning about how those solutions shape practice as intended.

LtC: Given some of your work examining how social-justice oriented leaders holistically support immigrant students in challenging contexts (such as under accountability pressure and during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

RL: Throughout my career, I have always studied change as an inherent, defining feature of schooling. Whether studying new immigrant destinations or the implementation of new curricula, I have found that educational change is the norm despite the multiple ways the organization of schooling is entrenched. If we acknowledge that things are always changing despite an understandable longing for stability, we will need to build educational organizations that are responsive and adaptive to change. Over time, the pressures facing schools continue to increase, particularly in the last few years as the ripple effects of the pandemic, alongside an increasing number of climate related disasters such as fire and hurricanes, demographic changes caused by global migration, and ongoing political unrest continue to challenge educational organizations. Tied to this broader context, internal pressures of schooling such as severe staffing shortages and contested curricula require organizations and their leaders to be nimble and responsive to a range of challenges.

Take, for example, a national study my colleagues and I are in the midst of conducting on school district practices to support immigrant-origin students. We launched our study in 2018 during a time of crisis for immigrant communities that not only impacted students and families, but also impacted the work of educators seeking to support their students (Yammine & Lowenhaupt, 2021; Lowenhaupt, Mangual Figueroa, & Dabach, 2021). At the time, both the education and research community were alarmed at the deleterious effects of policy changes at the federal level such as the travel ban on Muslim- majority countries and challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. Increased immigrant enforcement, the separation of children at the border, and other anti-immigration policies were found to impact students from immigrant families attending our nation’s public schools (Costello, 2016; Ee & Gándara, 2020; Rodriguez et al., 2022).

While our study’s inception came in response to one crisis, we quickly found ourselves in partnership with district leaders in the midst of another crisis caused by the pandemic. As we navigated our ongoing research through various disruptions that included school closures and then reopening, online instruction shifting to hybrid and back to in-person, and a halt to immigration that was then followed by a flood of recent arrivals, it struck us how change really was the only constant for our district partners. At the same time, we were impressed by the ways in which our partners were able to rely on existing routines and establish new ones that allowed for reflection, communication, and connection.

Our study found educational leaders with routines and structures in place that created a bridge between them and their communities prior to the pandemic were better able to respond in real time to changing needs and circumstances (Lowenhaupt et al., 2021). Relatedly, my research has clarified for me the importance of context even as it changes. Leaders who knew the contours of their community, its assets and needs, were better able to leverage and innovate in the midst of
crisis. They had routines in place to listen to and understand the unique histories and experiences of their community, and this allowed them to continue learning as the community context changed (Lowenhaupt et al., 2020).

“Leaders who knew the contours of their community, its assets and needs, were better able to leverage and innovate in the midst of crisis.”

In our work, we have seen that relationships and trust really matter during crisis, not just among educators, students and families, but also between researchers and practitioners. I know
that many of us have known this for a long time, thanks to Bryk and Schneider (2002), among others. But I think the pandemic really highlighted this and amplified the need to create and maintain relationships in purposeful, organizational ways. For example, the pivot to providing basic resources to families in need was easier in districts where educators had pre-existing relationships, not only with families but also with community organizations, food banks, and other service providers who could help establish new strategies for supporting community members. These relationships proved invaluable in navigating barriers and responding to emergent needs during crisis.

LtC: In some of your recent work, you use a large- scale survey across multiple states to examine educators’ beliefs and understandings about immigrant students. In the current political climate, how might we support educators in having justice-oriented and liberatory beliefs and practices?

RL: Often, there is a sense from general educators and even some school leaders that they are not responsible for addressing issues related to immigration, particularly issues that may arise outside of school such as those involving immigration enforcement or the need for various social services. This form of boundary management is incredibly understandable, given the number of demands and responsibilities on educators’ plates, especially in the midst of the pandemic. It also makes sense in terms of how educators may feel about bounding their work based on their expertise in education, not immigration policy or law, with some educators with awareness of their own limitations trying to tune out external distractions and focus on academics (Queenan et al., 2022). Those with a more holistic view of their roles may still see their work as bounded by the school walls, taking up issues of safety and belonging within school without considering, or lacking the confidence, knowledge, or skills to address the many ways external threats outside of school may impact their students (Lowenhaupt et al., 2021).

In our research, we have also seen a few instances of educators who support anti- immigrant policies or identify politically with those promoting these policies maintaining a boundary in their work. They do so as a way to manage the tension between honoring their professional commitment to care for all students with their support for policies that threaten those same students’ sense of safety and belonging. These educators avoid using the terms, “immigrant” or “immigration” when referring to their students, instead selecting other terms such as “Hispanic” or “English Learner”, perhaps as a way to avoid tangling with the broader politics and maintain a focus on educational categories and designations relevant to their work (Yammine & Lowenhaupt, forthcoming).

Our research team is currently working on a paper about the ways educators do (and don’t) view immigration issues as part of their roles in their work with immigrant-origin students (Queenan et al., 2022). Perhaps not surprisingly, we find that designated instructors of multilingual learners (MLs) are often the ones to feel that addressing issues is part of their job, as opposed to an added responsibility. We attribute this belief, at least in part, to the training and understanding these educators typically have about the communities they serve. We also have seen the many ways these educators identify personally with these issues, many of whom have themselves experienced immigration in their own or their families’ lives (Queenan et al., 2022).

“School and district leaders play an important role in establishing a sense of shared responsibility among all educators.”

We also found that school and district leaders play an important role in establishing a sense of shared responsibility among all educators, not just those focused on supporting MLs. The extent to which leaders speak openly about these issues, signal support to their community and staff, and ensure that educators have access to information and training shapes the ways educators view their roles and responsibilities when it comes to engaging with students, families, and even the broader community about the particular challenges facing immigrant communities as they evolve.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

RL: In the midst of the pandemic, I have given a lot of thought to my role as a researcher and scholar during such a time of disruption. What can we do? I have come to realize that there are a few things we can do that are absolutely necessary in our current circumstances: first, we can facilitate meaningful reflection, helping make and hold space open for our partners to make sense of their efforts, consider the resources and barriers that may help them achieve their goals, and interrogate their own assumptions and habits that may get in the way of transformative practice. For example, when initial school closures took place in the spring of 2020, our research team pivoted to facilitate online conversations with our district partners as opposed to the design work we initially planned. Instead, we offered time for job-alike pairs from districts around the country to commiserate and share strategies with one another. We also invited individuals to share a practice that they were proud of and work across districts to brainstorm how to deepen or expand that practice. Leveraging our skills as facilitators, several colleagues and I have developed other opportunities for practitioners to gather, pause, and reflect in the midst of a busy time. I think we need to do the same for ourselves, finding ways to build our own practice of reflection and recalibration in the midst of change.

Second, I see an important role for evidence in the midst of educational change. What kinds of data will we help our partners attend to? How can we contribute our research skills to help gather and interpret evidence about change as it is enacted? Decision-making is hard enough during times of upheaval, and one role we can play is to help our partners bring evidence to that process. Sometimes, that is as simple as taking notes in a meeting, pulling out themes, and reflecting those back to leaders as they plan for next steps. Other times, it is a matter of gathering and interpreting practical measures as we did in our district-university partnership focused on expanding family engagement practices where we documented participation rates in Parent-Teacher Conferences (Lowenhaupt & Montgomery, 2018).

“What kinds of data will we help our partners attend to?… We have the tools, skills, and time to expand what counts as evidence.”

As research partners, we have the tools, skills, and time to expand what counts as evidence, and I encourage us to continue innovating in this regard. Sometimes, our partners have particular habits or biases when it comes to evidence. In public schools, for example, we are accustomed to looking at accountability measures, graduation rates, and other formalized and generally quantitative metrics
that while useful, can be dehumanizing and don’t attend to the individual perspectives and experiences of those who matter most. We can help round out the array of evidence that matters for educational change decisions, sometimes providing the elbow grease to gather additional information, qualitative data, or help design new forms of data that are more directly linked to the decisions at hand. For example, while it is students who are most impacted by the majority of decisions, schools often lack the mechanisms to gather their perspectives on particular, emergent issues. We can help our partners by developing questionnaires or engaging in interviews with students in response to current dilemmas. We can also help identify relevant practical measures, drawing on the tools of improvement science to identify and generate quick, accessible forms of evidence that can help ascertain the impact of changes (Bryk et al., 2013). Of course, this isn’t easy especially in the midst of various disruptions that can demand educational leaders’ full attention. In the context of crisis, we cannot always design the most rigorous study or gather as much evidence as we may want. However, we can still step in and gather information to help our partners use some form of evidence to develop strategies and innovations.

Third and relatedly, we can help document and learn from the process of our partnership. Working alongside practitioners, we can support the process while also taking notes, writing up next steps and identifying barriers and mechanisms to contribute not only to change efforts in one particular context, but also help extend our learning to other contexts as well. Essentially, we can study educational change at the same time that we find ways to support the change process as research partners.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

RL: I think this field is incredibly relevant, now more than ever, given the major disruptions we have experienced and can anticipate in the years ahead. Given the many tools we have now to study organizations as organic, evolving entities, I think we have much to contribute to an evolving field. As educators and researchers, we are also learners, and I hope that we are well-positioned to learn from what is happening now and apply those lessons to what comes next.

Thinking about my own trajectory, I’m excited to continue exploring how to involve communities in more meaningful ways in the change process. This is happening in some contexts organically via engagement and protest, as families on different sides of the political spectrum have made their voices heard about topics ranging from temporary and permanent school closure, masking, safety, policing, and racism in schools. While I certainly agree with some movements more than others, there is no doubt that communities are actively engaging in educational change.

In this politically divisive context, I have thought a lot about how to partner more purposefully in ways that lead to coordinated, collaborative change. In the current moment of pandemic recovery and racial reckoning, I have seen among some of my partners a willingness to seek the input and wisdom of youth and families. In particular, I’m excited to think about strategies to bring more youth voices to the table as we recreate a vision of schooling that is more holistic and expansive building on the traditions of Youth Participatory Action Research (e.g. Camarotta & Fine, 2008) to think creatively about supporting youth leadership for change. I am also excited to pursue new partnerships beyond schools and think collectively within communities across organizations, local government, and families about addressing complex social problems together. These are new areas of research for me, and I think increasingly relevant given the various crises we are facing. Education alone cannot solve the problem.

The challenges are daunting, but I hope we can leverage some of the strategies I talked about above to support our practitioner partners as we work to envision and enact real change. As we navigate the uncertainty of a future that will likely continue to challenge our commitments and capabilities to address longstanding and growing inequalities, rise of global migration, and climate change, we will need to continue to innovate across sectors and continue to adapt. As Bryk et al. (2015) put it, we need to continue learning to improve. I do believe that as a community of scholars, those of us working on Educational Change are up for the task!

The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association; Jennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

References

Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools: A core resource for improvement. Russell Sage Foundation.

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s
schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Costello, M. B. (2016). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools. Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

Ee, J., & Gándara, P. (2020). The impact of immigration enforcement on the nation’s schools. American Educational Research Journal, 57(2), 840-871.

Hopkins, M. & Weddle, H. (Eds). Restart & Recovery: State Leadership Guide for Engaging Stakeholders in Continuous Improvement of English Learner Programs & Services During COVID and Beyond. CCSSO: Washington D.C. https://learning.ccsso.org/engaging-stakeholders-in-continuous-improvement-of-english-learner-programs-services-during-covid-19-beyond

Kraft, M., Schueler, B., Loeb, S., Robinson, C. (2021). Accelerating Student Learning with High-Dosage Tutoring. Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://annenberg.brown.edu/recovery/edresearch1

Lowenhaupt, R. and Hopkins, M. (2020). Considerations for school leaders serving US immigrant communities in the global pandemic. Journal of Professional Capital and Community. 5(3/4), 375-380. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPCC-05-2020-0023

Lowenhaupt, R., D.B. Dabach, Mangual Figueroa, A. (Online, 2021). Safety and belonging in
immigrant-serving districts: Domains of educator practice in a charged political landscape. AERA Open.
https://doi.org/10.1177/23328584211040084

Lowenhaupt, R., Mangual Figueroa, A., Dabach, D.B, Gonzales, R.G., Yammine, J., Morales, M., Tesfa, E., Andrade, P. and Queenan, J. (2020). Connectivity and creativity in the time of COVID19: Immigrant serving districts respond to the pandemic. Immigration Initiative at Harvard Issue Brief Series no. 4, Cambridge MA: Harvard University.

Lowenhaupt, R., Mangual Figueroa, A., Dabach, D.B, Tesfa, E., Andrade, P. and Queenan, J. (2021, November). “We’re already doing it”: Expanding leadership practices in support of immigrant communities in times of crisis. Paper presented at the University Council for Educational Administration Annual Convention. Online.

Lowenhaupt, R. & Montgomery, N.* (2018). Family engagement practices as sites of possibility: Supporting immigrant families through a district-university partnership. Theory into Practice, 57 (2), 99-108. DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2018.1425814

Queenan, J., Andrade, P., Lowenhaupt, R., Mangual Figueroa, A. (2022, April). Supporting Immigrants in School: Educators’ Personal and Professional Identities in Context. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association. Toronto, Canada.

Reich, J., & Mehta, J. (2021, July 21). Healing, Community, and Humanity: How Students and Teachers Want to Reinvent Schools Post-COVID. https://doi.org/10.35542/osf.io/nd52b

Rodriguez, S., Roth, B. J., & Villarreal Sosa, L. (2022). “Immigration enforcement is a daily part of our
students’ lives”: School social workers’ perceptions of racialized nested contexts of reception for immigrant students. AERA Open, 8, 23328584211073170.

Yammine, J. & Lowenhaupt, R. (Online, 2021). Educators’ perceptions of immigration policy implications on their schools: A mixed-methods exploration. Teachers College Record.

Yammine, J. & Lowenhaupt, R. (Forthcoming). Leveraging existing educator expertise: Serving Latinx students in the rural Southeast. In E. Hamann, S. Wortham, & E. Murillo (Eds.), Re-engineering Education in the New Latinx Diaspora. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Collaborative Community-Based Research, Leadership, and Counter-Movements: A Conversation with Ethan Chang

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Ethan Chang’s discussion of his work on Collaborative Community-Based Research, social justice leadership, and counter-movementsChang is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems.

To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities.

Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of
thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Ethan Chang: This is a big and important question. I would agree that there is consensus that we must all do more. But before asking what more we might do, I think there is a prior question: What have we as education scholars been doing? And to draw on Tuck (2009), have these various scholarly doings actually worked? In posing Tuck’s questions to myself and thinking about the urgent, but daunting work of dismantling oppressive systems, I choose to concentrate my work in three areas: (1) Collaborative Community Based Research (CCBR); (2) learning and social justice leadership development; and (3) critical studies of countermovements.

Collaborative Community-Based Research.

Collaborative, Community-Based Research (CCBR) is an approach to inquiry thatstrives to produce knowledge that emanates from, and isaccountable to, those historically excluded from knowledge production processes (Cammarota & Fine, 2008; Glass et al., 2018; King, 2016; Kirshner, 2015). It
refuses prevailing theories of change that insist more and better knowledge automatically leads toward justice (Tuck, 2009). As a process and a product, CCBR facilitates new epistemic relations, identities, practices, and concepts to prefigure the kinds of futures we hope to bring into the world (Curnow et al., 2019).

One way that Leiʻala Okuda and I have taken up CCBR is by engaging in the political education project of “recuperación crítica” (critical recovery) or “harnessing historical interpretation to the formulation of organizing strategies” (Rappaport, 2020, p. 94). We had the privilege of sharing in the insights of elders and former youth activists whose community-based struggles sparked anti-eviction and ʻāina-based
movements throughout Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. In partnership with elder-activists-researchers, we have sought to understand how and why they became lifelong activists (c.f., Conner, 2014) and focused on the organizational environments in which they were inducted into movement work as one way to access this question. We have undertaken this work because we believe it will take intergenerational work to undo centuries of oppression. As Miʻkmaq scholars poignantly remind, social transformation requires “thinking seven generations ahead” (Julian, 2016). Our CCBR activities—hosting virtual events, crafting academic and popular articles, authoring new identities for ourselves and each other (Catania et al., 2021)—represent various ways that we have attempted to enact this long-term theory of change, particularly amid a global pandemic that has strained intergenerational ties.

“It will take intergenerational work to undo centuries of oppression.”

Social Justice Leadership.

Another way I understand how change happens is by cultivating broad-based, collective leadership. Many scholars have productively challenged traditional definitions of school leadership underpinned by military and corporate models of organizational administration (Ishimaru, 2019; McGhee & Anderson, 2019). My work aims to extend scholarship that pulls the field away from assumptions about leadership as an individual act of heroism and toward models of leadership as a praxis of organizing (Ishimaru, 2013); that is, an exercise of analysis and action that co-designs bold and transformative visions of community self-determination and emphasizes building the leadership capacities of others (Anderson, 2009; Anderson & Chang, 2018; Awaachia’ookaate’ & Chang, 2020; Lac & Mansfield, 2018). We have been particularly inspired by Horsford (2012) and her scholarship that amplifies the lessons and insights of Black women leaders and educators like Ella Baker and Septima Clark. We feel there is so much to gain and so little to lose by turning to fields beyond education such as Social Movement, Black, Indigenous, Chicanx, and Asian American Studies. These fields offer generative locations for thinking about how change happens and how we might dedicate ourselves to meaningful projects of education
and social transformation in our lifetimes.

Countermovements.

In my scholarship, I have also focused my energies on countermovements, or movements that aim to
undermine gains made by progressive social movements (Meyer & Staggenborg, 1996). Over the past several years, we have witnessed Blue Lives Matter rallies surface in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. We have also observed symbolic performances like the 1776 Commission emerge in response to expansive curricula developments like the 1619 Project (Hannah-Jones, 2019). These possessive investments in status quo racial hierarchies are not new (Harris, 1993; Lipsitz, 2006). But my
work has sought to illumine how these patterns of retrenchment play out on the shifting terrain of education politics today.

As one example, I studied an oppositional movement to Ethnic Studies, which is an interdisciplinary curricula and pedagogy that centers the insights of Black, Indigenous, and minoritized peoples (Cuauhtin et al., 2019). I spent extended time with white parents in a California suburb and attempted to understand how they positioned Ethnic Studies as “anti-American” and “anti-White,” forged a strategic coalition with disability advocates, and digitally sutured or bound their local countermovement to broader right-wing populist currents (Chang, in press). Telling the story of one local countermovement offers potential ways of comprehending, anticipating, and, as I ultimately concluded, weathering the next countermovement.

Each of these strands of inquiry cohere around a theory of change rooted in the lessons and insights of social movements. These projects have afforded productive tools and concepts to resist a swift desire to “do more,” and instead, to move with a sustainable (and sustaining) sense of urgency to build more humanizing and liberatory educational spaces.

LtC: What are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change might learn from your work and experience on critical analyses of education technology?

EC: My studies on EdTech raise similar questions about how we think change happens (Tuck, 2009). If there is one lesson I hope this work raises, it is that our imagined futures of a “twenty-first century education” demand attention to past and present realities of racism. My work in this space investigated how the institutional field of EdTech unevenly rewarded those actors and organizations who distanced themselves from acknowledging systemic oppression (Chang, 2019). In a familiar tale of American innovation, organizations who received significant funding and media attention were those who championed reform narratives about “fixing” the individual child in preparation for tomorrow’s society
(Chang, 2020; see also, Katz, 2020; Sims, 2017). By contrast, those who utilized digital tools to cultivate youth critical consciousness—to examine the historical formation of present inequities in an effort to
dismantle them—were underpaid, undervalued, and burdened by the day-to-day demands of organizational survival.

Like some of my current work on countermovements, this thread of inquiry into the EdTech landscape has proven profoundly ahistorical and deeply sobering. Most digital innovations rarely paid attention to “educational debts” that we know impact educational outcomes (e.g., adequate housing, nutritious foods, livable wages, to name a few; Ladson-Billings, 2006). Still, what keeps me returning to questions of digital technologies are pockets of hope and resistance such as cases in which youth appropriate digital tools for their own ends such as utilizing Google mapping technologies or social media platforms to build organizing power in their communities (Akom et al., 2016; Emejulu & McGregor, 2017). Our CCBR work aims to extend these insights. We seek to use digital tools to reconnect with prior generations of activists, leverage cloud-based platforms to cultivate place-based leadership, and co-create education and social futures rooted in the lessons of past struggles.

“Let’s move with a sustainable (and sustaining) sense of urgency to build more humanizing and liberatory educational spaces.”

LtC: In some of your recent work, you discuss the barriers to developing justice-oriented leadership development programs (i.e., moving beyond individual texts or courses to renovate entire learning ecologies). Your exploration of Highlander offers a number of lessons for leadership preparation programs. What would you consider as some of the most important lessons?

EC: The Highlander Research and Education Center (founded in 1932 as the Highlander Folk School) is an invitational, residential adult learning center for labor, educational, civil rights, environmental, and grassroots community leaders. It dramatically shaped the trajectory of U.S. history and culture, and for over the past century, survived and thrived amid ongoing state and vigilante attacks. Our work on Highlander surfaced in response to a white supremacist arson attack on the center in March of 2019 (Chang & Glass, 2021). We understood “recuperación crítica” (critical recovery) as one way to counter white supremacists’ literal attempts to erase Highlander. But in addition to studying Highlander on its own terms, we approached the school as a potentially illustrative case to “re-envision the ‘how’ and ‘who’ of leadership preparation” (Bertrand & Rodela, 2018, p. 28).

One of the lessons we feel Highlander offers is the power of bold, transformative visions, or what Kelley (2002) might call “freedom dreams.” Co-founder of Highlander, Myles Horton, put it this way: “You can’t develop any valuable leadership if you don’t teach people that they can deal with big problems” (Horton, 1990, p. 147). For Highlander, these big problems included Jim Crow segregation, poverty wages, environmental pollution (among others). This lesson is particularly urgent given the ways educational administration programs can, at times, focus on the small, technical, and managerial aspects of leadership. One of my strongest students recently graduated from our program and decided not to become a principal. She felt the state department of education kept principals “busy with mandates” and sought alternative organizational contexts to enact the kinds of leadership she felt in her naʻau (her gut; see Meyer, 1998). I offer these observations not to diminish the incredible and transformative work of school leaders, but to point the arrow back at my own teaching and scholarship and ask: How am I preparing aspiring education leaders to engage with “big problems”? In what ways am I working to transform the organizational contexts of schooling that so often discourage promising individuals from becoming formal school leaders? For me, Highlander provided a way to clarify the costs we pay, and the valuable people we lose, when we do not cultivate the conditions for aspiring education leaders to deal with big problems.

But Highlander also offers insight into how organizations might adapt to the ways big problems shift over time. Black woman activist, educator, and singer, Bernice Johnson Reagon, observed that Highlander possessed a remarkable ability to “move through time” (Phenix & Selver, 2009). Insights from unfolding social movements—for race, gender, sex, environmental, immigrant, and Indigenous rights (to name a few)—directly informed the organizational roles and routines at Highlander. By actively recruiting individuals that community members identified as leaders, Highlander invited students to infuse organizational structures with their values (Selznick, 1948). In this way, Highlander offers a concrete example of a leadership learning ecology rooted in and responsive to progressive social movements.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

EC: Like the first question, this question raises two prior concerns for me: first, regarding schooling as a privileged site of inquiry; and second, concerning how researchers might meaningfully support educators, activists, and organizers in ways that trouble an historical paternalism in our field.

“Highlander invited students to infuse organizational structures with their values.”

In the first instance, we know that schooling is only one way to organize teaching and learning (Varenne & McDermott, 1999). Nearly thirty years ago, Tyack and Tobin (1994) conceptualized the “grammar” of schooling to name the taken-for-granted school practices such as the single-subject, age-segregated classroom (p. 454). Like the grammar of speech that organizes meaning in language, the grammar of schooling organizes the everyday practices of teaching and learning in schools (Beckham, 2019; Mehta & Datnow, 2020). When we think of “deep and often difficult transformation” then, it involves changing this grammar. It entails rewriting inherited cultural scripts that so often reduce radical education reform ideas into modest additions to the everyday practice of schooling.

In contrast to studies that operate within the grammar of schooling, rich and exciting education scholarship has focused on learning in social movement (Curnow et al., 2019; Jurow et al., 2014; Shield et al., 2021) and community-based spaces (Baldridge, 2019; Terriquez & Serrano, 2018). Of course, these spaces are not insulated from oppressive roles or routines (Baldridge, 2020; Clay & Turner, 2021). But these studies allow us to consider— or perhaps more accurately, to recover— alternative grammars of teaching and learning such as learning spaces in which classrooms become intergenerational learning circles, teachers identify as relatives, or worksheets are replaced by visits with community elders (Kahakalau, 2020; Shield et al., 2021). These educational spaces represent promising local nodes for building and sustaining a national movement for education justice (Warren, 2018); one capable of realizing more than symbolic additions to the grammar of schooling (Rincón-Gallardo, 2019).

“Leadership as accompaniment stands in solidarity with youth and their struggles for a more dignified and just world.”

This question also raises important tensions concerning the meanings of “support” and the modes of association between “researchers” and the “researched” and between education leaders and the families and young people they aim to serve. Rebeca Gamez and I have been thinking through the idea of leadership as accompaniment as one way to specify social justice leadership in relation to youth activists. Accompaniment is a praxis drawn from social movement and abolitionist studies (Mei-Singh, 2021; Tomlinson & Lipsitz, 2019; Watkins, 2019). Like musical accompaniment, “It starts with careful listening, empathy, and identification” and “involves augmenting, accenting, and countering one musical voice with others” (Tomlinson & Lipsitz, 2019, p. 27). Educational leadership as accompaniment foregrounds an ethic of listening, attends to dominant forms of exclusion, and stands in solidarity with youth and their struggles for a more dignified and just world (Chang & Gamez, 2022). Awaachia’ookaate’ and I have also been interested in notions of accompaniment and aim to think through the challenges and risks inherent in articulating accompaniment toward decolonial ends (Awaachia’ookaate’ & Chang, 2020; c.f., Mackey et al., 2020). Across our projects, we aim to hold ourselves accountable for any recommendations we might pose to education leaders. In the words of Lugg and Shoho (2006): “To advocate for social justice, while being risk-adverse in practice, is the worst sort of professional hypocrisy (p. 205). We approach accompaniment as a generative research praxis that moves us to foreground deep listening and stand in solidarity with those whose lives and expertise have been historically disregarded.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

I prefer not to speculate on where the field of Educational Change is going but can comment on what excites me and where I hope the field might be heading. One hope is that CCBR will gain increasing legitimacy but in ways that resist shallow inclusion into academia. Scholarship that aims to produce knowledge that is answerable to those with most at stake, that values humanizing processes in addition to products, that is committed to a radical reflexivity is needed now more than ever. Engaged scholars like Sheeva Sabati, Emily Borg, Chrissy Hernandez, Saugher Nojan, Farima Pour-Khorshid, George Lipsitz, Diane Fujino, and Ron Glass are doing impactful work in this area. These scholars understand CCBR as a valuable methodology for producing rigorous and relevant scholarship and insist on CCBR’s foundational political commitments to intervene in the cultural and material contexts of injustice.

Another direction that I hope to see more of in Educational Change scholarship are studies that take seriously the lessons of past and unfolding social movements. Skeptics might comprehend this direction of inquiry as impractical or even impossible amid a global pandemic that has exhausted our school leaders and educators. But it is precisely this exhaustion that speaks to a need for something other than individual models of heroic leadership. In their analysis of the common activist statement, “I’m exhausted,” Emejulu and Bassel (2020) examine the social structures that demand exhaustion and exact a toll on the minds and bodies of women of color (p. 402). One social structure pertains to a patterned refusal to take women of color’sinsights seriously. Activists are exhausted because we keep rehearsing old missteps and mistakes. We continue to insist that we can build futures premised on the oppression of others or remain fearful of our differences instead of leveraging them as sources of collective strength (c.f., Hernandez et al., in press; Surviving Society, 2021). Education research that engages past and present movements can help us reach beyond this exhausting normal. I hope to continue to be a part of conversations that animate these important insights and build toward more humanizing and liberatory educational spaces.

The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

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“We are just broken”: The fate of education for girls in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover

This week, nearly 6 months after the US forces left Afghanistan, Naila Shahid shares some of the news and links since August of 2021 describing the impact of the Taliban takeover on girls’ education there. 

 With the Taliban takeover of the Afghan government last August, many expressed fears that the substantial gains made in girls education in the past 20 years might be lost.  Although an estimated 3.7 million children remain out-of-school in Afghanistan – 60% of them girls, according to World Bank reports, girls’ secondary school attendance increased 32% from 2003 to 2017. By 2018, girls made up almost 38 percent — 3.8 million — of students in the country; by comparison only 5,000 Afghan girls were enrolled in schools in 2001. Over the same period, the presence of women in higher education also rose, and the  gender disparity in higher education enrollment decreased over time in favor of female students entering Afghan universities. For example, there were only 1,000 female participants in the Kankor exam (the University entrance exam) in 2003, while this number jumped to an all-time high – 78,000 – in 2013. In 2020, Shamsia Alizada, the daughter of a coal miner from Kabul, received the highest score out of 170,000 students on the entrance exam.

When the US troops pulled out, however, and the Taliban seized control of the country in 2021,  many businesses and institutions, including schools, shut down. Since that time, public elementary schools have reopened again and in September 2021 the Taliban government announced the reopening of government high schools but only for boys, saying only that “a safe learning environment” was needed before older girls could return to school.  Private schools, including girls secondary schools and universities, only started operating again in 10 out of 34 provinces, after they negotiated with local Taliban leadership.  

 In  October 2021, Afghan officials announced that girls would be able to resume attendance in government secondary schools, but only after the development of a new educational framework. That statement did not give a time frame for reopening and made thousands of girls fearful about their exams, their plans to graduate, their university applications and their academic future in general. In November 2021, the Afghan government added a statement about reopening secondary schools for girls, simply stating“good news coming soon”. As of January of 2022, the  Taliban are pledging/promising to open all girls schools after the Afghan New Year in late March, offering a deadline for the first time. According to the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Culture and Information, the major barriers for reopening the secondary schools for girls have been the “capacity” as they plan to completely segregate girls and boys schools. 

Depriving girls of their educational rights has contributed to continuing unrest. Reports have shared the stories of  women and girls in some areas of Afghanistan (mostly urban) who are raising their voices against the closure of girls’ secondary schools and taking action. Among those voices: 

Roya, 18,  who was supposed to graduate from high school and was preparing for the university entrance exam, declared: 

“I always dreamed of being a lawyer and had been preparing to get into law school, but now with the Taliban taking over I don’t think I have a future.”

Rahela Nussrat, 17,in her final year of high school and and unable to attend classes since the takeover, lamented:

 “When the Afghan government fell, I lost my right to education, this was the first time I cried specifically because of my gender.” 

Zakia Menhas, a medical student at Kabul university waiting for her college to reopen, told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro: 

“We really – just fed up – and it is really devastating for us. Like, we had hopes. We had dreams to chase. And now it is just a dark place. And we cannot find that light. And we are just broken.” 

Despite the challenges, some are managing to persevere. 

 Shabana Basij- Rasikh whogrew up in Kabul in the 1990s, has been operating Afghanistan’s only private boarding school for girls – the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), explained 

“Education transforms lives and societies. It’s transformed my life and it’s transformed my Afghan society these past 20 years.”

Angela Ghayour, who witnessed the civil war in Afghanistan in 1992 as well, could not bear to see girl’s deprived of education once again. After three months with little progress from the Taliban, she used social media to bring together 400 volunteers and started the Online Herat school to provide educational resources to women and girls. As she put it: 

“I feel this school is the result of all of my pain, my agonies and experiences. Our motto is, the pen instead of the gun.”

In the western province of Herat, the teachers’ union, 40 school principals and parents pushed back and reopened the schools in October. However, they had to negotiate with the local Taliban officials to have completely segregated classes and only female teachers. The parents are determined. Mastoura who now escorts her two daughters to school every day is resolute.

“We had concerns, and we have them still, But daughters must get an education. Without education, your life is held back.”

A timeline of the reported events: 

September 20, 2021- Afghanistan’s new government is likely to impose severe restrictions on girls’ education, The New York Times

September 24, 2021- Deputy UN chief urges girls’ education is a must for Afghanistan, Thompson Reuters Foundation News

October 11, 2021- What will happen to girl’s education under Taliban rule?, Thompson Reuters Foundation News

October 13, 2021- Amnesty International published testimonies from teachers and students in Afghanistan, Amnesty International

October 18, 2021- Taliban stops school for girls over 12, CBS News

October 22- 2021- Afghan girls determined to return to school, CBS News

October 29, 2021- Online learning (secretly) continues for girls in Afghanistan, Global Citizen

October 31, 2021- Afghan girls think their education doesn’t have a future, The New York Times

October 31, 2021- Afghan women’s education in limbo, Deadline

November 02, 2021- Afghanistan’s government says it will soon announce  “good news” about girl’s education, Reuters

— Naila Shahid

A focus on future generations: A Conversation with Carrie Sampson on school boards, research, and educational change

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Carrie Sampson’s discussion of her work on equity, research, school boards, and educational changeSampson is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University. The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Carrie Sampson: Many scholars come into the field of education because we hope to make a positive contribution. We have dedicated decades of our lives to learning and teaching. We read, listen, reflect, formulate questions, seek answers, write, and share knowledge. Trained to think critically about our field, most of us are excellent at finding flaws, issuing critiques, and pointing fingers. In doing this, we come to understand just how complex our educational system is, and we recognize that even if we fix one part, there’s still hundreds of moving parts that make it nearly impossible to fix an entire system. Sometimes we become disillusioned. At times, I have become disillusioned. Yet, as education researchers we have not come this far to sit in our disillusionment. It’s our responsibility to continue to find the best possible solutions to the many problems in our systems. It’s our responsibility to fight the good fight.

In building my good fight, I have focused on three major areas as a scholar. First, I constantly return to my “why” for the work I do. While it has always been rooted in the notion of “the personal is political,” my “why” has changed over the years. It has shifted from my own experiences as a mixed race, Black and Chicana, woman who grew up in poverty in both rural and urban communities. My success in education was too reliant on luck and cultural capital rather than a system that offered ample opportunities, a system that failed many of my peers and family members. 

These days my “why” centers on what I have experienced and witnessed as a mother-scholar of two school-aged children—one who is 8 years old and skipped the first grade and one who completed his kindergarten year online due to COVID. Since the time they entered preschool, my kids have faced racism and gender discrimination. Navigating these isms when they happen to me is one thing, but when they happened to my babies, it lit a fire in my soul like no other. The urgency and clarity of my “why” both shifted and soared. In an article about coalition politics, we cited Bernice Johnson Reagon, a Black feminist and activist (Sampson, Demps, & Rodriguez-Martinez, 2020). Her emphasis on the importance of doing what we do for future generations resonated with my “why.” Reagon (1983) said, “…most of the things you do, if you do them right, are for the people who live long after you are long forgotten” (p. 365). This work is not about us. Just like our ancestors before us, we will likely not reap the benefits of our labor directly. Instead, my children, our children, and those children who are not yet born have the chance to be impacted by our work. I believe this must always be the center of our “why.”

My other two areas of focus are simple. I hold on to the notion that “all politics are local.” This means I try to engage in my local community as much as I can. These communities are my home. I seek to understand the history and context of where I live. I am on advisory councils, I engage in political campaigning, and I meet with local officials to advocate for change. Relatedly, and more recently, the final area of focus for me has been gaining the skills to translate my research for a broader audience. As school boards are increasingly part of the broader conversation among the media, decision makers, families, and even youth, I have been increasingly called on to offer a research-based perspective on school board governance. I pursued this career largely because I liked research. And like most of us, I spent many years learning to do research, not translate it. Sadly, we don’t often teach our future academics to talk about their research in a non-academic context. Yet, it’s our responsibility as education researchers to bring our research to broader audiences and that must begin with learning the skills to translate our scholarship in ways that all groups of people can understand and apply what we learn.

In sum, the three areas of responsibility that ground my work and I believe should ground our field’s work are a) a focus on future generations as a major part of our “why”; b) engaging in our local community; and c) translating our research to those outside of the academy.

“It’s our responsibility as education researchers to bring our research to broader audiences.”

LtC: Given some of your work using critical lenses to examine political coalitions, district reform, and equity (or a lack thereof), what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

CS: I’ll share six things I’ve learned from my work and experience.

(1) The notion I mentioned above about “all politics is local” is from the fact that I’ve seen time and time again that local politics matter. Democracy and justice happen locally first. Without political players and policies that make sense at the local level, educational change for the better will never happen.

(2) We need to work on being more proactive. From my dissertation research that explored school board policymaking for English learners, two of the school board members I interviewed said that they, as board members, were always putting out fires and never got a chance to work ahead of the fires to prevent them (Sampson, 2016). While reacting to the inequitable experiences voiced by minoritized communities is critical as a school board member, the idea of being proactive about ensuring that our children have equitable educational opportunities (and not just reactive) always stuck with me. Consequently, I carefully consider what it means to be proactive in terms of my research implications toward educational equity.

(3) Building critically conscious coalitions is needed to sustain the work. As someone with several minoritized identities, I have come to realize that groups are too often in competition mode. Moreover, as one of my research findings illustrates (Sampson, Demps, & Rodriguez-Martinez, 2020), competition can water down the end result for all groups. Instead, coalitions that are rooted in the unique needs of the communities these coalitions intend to serve have a better chance of achieving more relevant and adequate outcomes.

(4) While I center race in much of my work, knowing and acknowledging how race intersects with other identities is critical to how I shape my scholarship. Aligned with Crenshaw’s (2017) concept of intersectionality, I gained significant insight on why this concept and reality matter from my studies in feminist theory and research. While pursuing my graduate certificate in Women’s Studies, I was assisting on a study examining the history of school desegregation in Southern Nevada (Horsford, Sampson, & Forletta, 2013). As I learned about feminism, I began to ask deeper questions aimed at exploring why a group of mostly White women from The League of Women Voters became one of the leading organizations to advocate for racially desegregated schools (Sampson, 2017). I learned that their efforts were often largely informed and shaped by their racialized, gendered, and classed experiences, and more importantly, their efforts influenced the outcome for Black children who were bussed from their neighborhood schools for nearly two decades.

(5) As frustrating as it might be, change is often incremental. Maybe it was my economics degree that trained me to believe that when systems change quickly and drastically (for good and bad), these systems often experience push back aiming to disrupt those changes creating little to no real change. My studies on school boards taught me the same thing (e.g., Sampson, 2019; Sampson, 2019b).

(6) Specific to my research on school boards, I have learned that school governance matters to educational change, and yet, many states and localities have fallen short when it comes to electing and training strong candidates for these positions. Nonetheless, district leaders (i.e., superintendents, other board members) who can help create a heathy foundation on which a school board can grow and develop cohesively can contribute to setting a vision for positive change. I’ve seen board members who clearly don’t understand issues of race and racism shift their thinking and be willing to compromise once they understand the stakes of their decisions, and that usually happens through both training and developing a trust among district leadership. We must do a better job at creating pathways and training for board members so they are equipped to govern toward positive change (Sampson, 2019a, 2019c).

“As frustrating as it might be, change is often incremental.”

LtC: In some of your recent work examining district reorganization in Nevada using a critical lens, you find that marginalized communities are excluded from the policy process, resulting in anti-democratic and inequitable processes and outcomes. You explain that other efforts to decentralize districts in Chicago, New York City, and Houston, seem to have similar results. Is there a way for districts to restructure in an equitable and democratic fashion given the current political climate?

SC: This is a tough question. Our political climate is highly divisive. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I still think many local communities, when given the opportunity to really engage in open and honest dialogue, can agree on some fundamental areas of education that can move school districts in the right direction to improve educational opportunities for all children. The problem in these districts mentioned is that the push to reorganize typically came from outside

of the district, often from the state-level, not from within or at the local level (Sampson & Diem, 2020). While it might take longer to make change from within, informed by those most impacted by the change, I think it’s the only way to prompt the change necessary particularly with the aim of improving educational equity.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

SC: We must be in conversation not only with those directly in schools but also those connected to schooling. One thing I hope we all learned from COVID-19 is that schooling happens beyond the walls of classrooms. Not only do teachers, staff, and school leaders matter but without the families and youth they serve, schooling is nothing. And yet, as my coauthors and I noted in a blog we wrote during the beginning of COVID (later published in a book), school systems often overlook and dismiss families (Sampson, Wong, Cervantes-Soon, Estrella, & Demps, 2020).

Moreover, as researchers, being in conversation with communities impacted by schooling can make our scholarship better. This shapes our research methods, including the questions we ask and how we make sense of the problem we are studying. As an example, one recent study I co-conducted was heavily influenced because my colleague and I were in conversation with a

community-based organization advocating for change. We began by thinking that maybe we could help them. But more so, they helped us develop a keenly relevant study by offering us deeper context and helping shape our overarching research questions and the purpose of this specific study on school board meetings (Bertrand & Sampson, 2020; Sampson & Bertrand, 2020, 2021). Without these conversations, our work can miss the mark of being applicable toward any positive change.

“Being in conversation with communities impacted by schooling can make our scholarship better.”

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

SC: I think we are at a crossroads. COVID-19 and the many uprisings prompted by racism and white supremacy have brought to the surface several deep-seated problems in education. To sit in optimism and hope that educational change can offer improvements to these problems keep many of us motivated to fight the good fight. Yet, those of us whose work is rooted in critical theory and who have lived in marginalized spaces, know that the systems holding these problems hostage are too complex and unjust to adequately change without being completely dismantled. I think what the future holds is much of what the author Octavia Butler wrote about in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. After the world as they knew it fell apart, she envisioned change as the opportunity to plant new seeds, using their talents to create a community rooted in a collective vision of liberation. Although these texts paint a bleak picture in some ways, I think they also show that change is inevitable. Our crossroads is figuring out how change can offer us the opportunity to collectively envision and engage in efforts that result in an educational system or systems that can support future generations to solve our most pressing problems, such as racism and climate change, that will continue to haunt us for years to come.

References

Bertrand, M., & Sampson, C. (2020). Challenging systemic racism in school board meetings through intertextual co-optation. Critical Studies in Education, 00(00), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1765823

Butler, O. E. (1995). Parable of the sower. New York: Warner Books. Butler, O.E. (1998). Parable of the talents: A novel. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Crenshaw, K. W. (2017). On intersectionality: Essential writings. The New Press.

Horsford, S.D. Sampson, C., & Forletta, F.M. (2013). School resegregation in the Mississippi of the West: Community counternarratives on the return to neighborhood schools in Las Vegas, 1968-1994. Teachers College Record, 115 (11). 1-28.

Reagon, B. (1983). “Coalition politics: Turning the century.” in Smith, B. (Ed.) Home girls (p. 356-368). New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Sampson, C. (2016). The role of school boards in addressing opportunity and equity for English

learners in the U.S. Mountain West (Dissertation). University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Sampson, C. (2017). So it ‘‘became White activists fighting for integration?’’ Community

organizations, intersectional identities, and education reform. The Urban Review, 49(1), 72-

95.

Sampson, C. (2019a). (Im)Possibilities of Latinx school board members’ educational leadership toward equity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(2), 296–327. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X18799482

Sampson, C. (2019b). From a lighthouse to a foghorn: A school board’ s navigation toward equity for English learners. American Journal of Education, 125(4), 521–546.

Sampson, C. (2019c, August 26). In school boards we trust? The potential for educational equity in public education. Equity Alliance Blog. Retrieved from https://equityalliance.stanford.edu/content/school-boards-we-trust-potential-educational-equity-

public-education

Sampson, C., & Bertrand, M. (2020). “This is civil disobedience. I’ll continue.”: The racialization of school board meeting rules. Journal of Education Policy. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2020.1778795

Sampson, C., & Bertrand, M. (2021). Counter-storytelling, metaphors, and rhetorical questioning: Discursive strategies of advocacy toward racial equity in school board meetings. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 0(0), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2021.2002268

Sampson, C. & Diem, S. (online first, 2020). Democratic (dis)engagement in school district decentralization: A critical analysis of actors and coalitions. Leadership and Policy in Schools.

Sampson, C., Demps, D., & Rodriguez-Martinez, S. (2020). Engaging (or not) in coalition politics: A case study of Black and Latinx community advocacy toward educational equity. Race Ethnicity and Education, 00(00), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2020.1842346

Sampson, C., Wong, L.-S., Cervantes-Soon, C. G., Estrella, A., & Demps, D. (2020, May 13). A Call from Black and Brown mothers for true family engagement. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/a-call-from-black-and-brown-mothers-for-true/a-call-from-black-and-brown-mothers-for-true-family-engagement-bbfda3e7f72d

Equity, Inclusion and Educational Change: The Lead the Change Interview with Patricia Virella

This week, Patricia Virella discusses her work on equity, inclusion and educational change in the December Lead the Change (LtC) interview. Virella is an Assistant Professor at Montclair State University who focuses on urban educational leadership. The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with antiracist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call? 

Patricia Virella: I think, for me, the idea of dismantling oppressive systems comes with a collective agreement that the systems in place ARE, in fact, oppressive in nature. I’ve observed, in some of the research I’ve read, researchers ignoring this important and blatant fact in their work. For me, when I am writing or teaching, I always try to embed something that addresses oppressive systems and include how equity, diversity, and inclusion should be part of school leadership or research implementation to encourage change. I draw on a variety of texts such as the canon of critical education work as well as Courageous Conversations by Singleton (2014), bell hooks, Toni Morrison and Paulo Friere. I also talk a lot with my dear friend Jonathan Foy who is on the ground continuously challenging what equity and inclusion looks like in the NYC Public Schools. He always tells me that I have to enter into the conversations around equity with a genuine curiosity and understanding that this work is progressive and demands careful attention to how we move the needle. As a collective group of scholars, we have to all agree that educational change happens through risks and bold actions. Audre Lorde (2018) said “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Change cannot happen if we continue to do the same things as a field. Meaning, if we are seeking true social justice and liberation, we must liberate and open up the ways we research, where we research, and admit to the white supremacist nature of academe. I recently read an article about how a librarian developed citation templates for Indigenous oral teachings (Kornei, 2021). This is the change and inclusion we need to move the field along, inclusion of the diverse ways people make meaning of the world to capture it authentically in our research. Furthermore, there is no change if scholars use methodologies that maintain the status-quo of our inequitable society. One example is when I work with other scholars and they may say “but I’m not a critical scholar,” my response to them is “but are you here to transform this system?” Criticality is one element, and equity is much bigger than one element, and they are not mutually exclusive. But also, isn’t our job as scholars to always be critical and examine the world so we can make dutiful change? Equity is necessary because some population will always be excluded, thus you cannot rest on one identification or classification as a researcher (i.e.: a critical scholar). We must always fight to bring the oppressed as Freire (1970) said and stoke the fires of liberation. Otherwise, as a scholar, you are helping to maintain the systems of oppression designed for exclusion. Change takes bold risks and equity and inclusion must be at the heart of the work researchers, policymakers, and leaders do.

Change takes bold risks and equity and inclusion must be at the heart of the work researchers, policymakers, and leaders do.

LtC: Given some of your work examining educational policymaking in Puerto Rico, what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?

PV: I love researching Puerto Rico because there is so much happening on the island that needs to be highlighted, and there is a huge gap in the literature that uses Puerto Rico as the setting. Most people have no idea that Puerto Rico is the 3rd biggest US school district if you add the territories to the continental rankings. Puerto Rico is a geopolitically and socio-politically complex space given its political status with the United States as an unincorporated territory. This complexity makes Puerto Rico appear to be a very different context than any stateside school district, but there are many similarities to New York, Chicago and L.A. school districts. Thus, the field can learn from Puerto Rico’s education system. Specifically, we need to understand the challenges, the oppression, the bountiful culture and the fight for authenticity in the face of neoliberalism – which I believe many urban districts are constantly battling.
One thing I think educational change as a field can learn from my work is how policies implemented in Puerto Rico affect a population in an unincorporated territory that is clearly delineated as a “postcolonial” space, and yet still has many of the functions of being under colonial rule. That complexity, in and of itself, is something we can learn from. As a field, we’re narrowing our scope in deleterious ways by not looking at where these policies are taking place and where there are spaces of experimentation that can further educational change. Finally, the rich traditions, history, and orgullo (pride in Spanish – but we always say orgullo in PR) of Puerto Rico should be seen as strengths, and researchers should consider how these strengths support students in Puerto Rico. There’s a lot we can learn from Puerto Rico and by not studying it, it leaves a blind spot in understanding educational change across the entirety of the United States and its territories as well as globally.

LtC: In some of your recent work examining equity- oriented principal leadership during a crisis, you highlight the importance of an equity-orientation from both individuals and systems in order to fully support students. In the current political climate, how might districts support the development of equity-oriented leaders?

PV: I think this is a very interesting question because what I find is that districts generally have a very clear sense, at least on paper, of what they want as far as equity in their districts. They have a mission statement that talks about equity oriented pedagogical practices or disability services for their students, or they may have diverse curricula that includes lgbtqia+ perspectives as well as diverse racial and cultural perspectives. But where I don’t see districts going far enough is in how they help their leaders to enact equity-oriented leadership practices. That really comes down to the individual leaders and what their values are and how those values come out in their leadership. For example, I found in my research that school leaders act equitably based on their values and beliefs about social justice in schools. The data suggested that the equity-oriented responses were not driven from district initiatives or even what the principals learned in their preparation programs. This is inherently problematic because, in my mind, equity should always be part of a leader’s lens. So, what you see is a disconnect between an espoused theory of equity and a theory in action or use – of principals who lead equitably. This disconnect explains a little of why I saw so much variance in how leaders responded to a crisis in equity-oriented ways. I argue that again, as a field, we need to prepare leaders through an equity-oriented lens and develop their ability to execute equity-oriented leadership in concretized actions and activities.

“Equity should always be part of a leader’s lens.”

If school leaders don’t believe in equity- oriented leadership, that’s not a viable option because our children live in a diverse world and deserve an equity-oriented learning experience and setting. Thus, one thing I’m currently working on, and I’m very excited about, is how we train leaders in an equity-oriented leadership model that moves away from simply focusing on their personal values. Equity situated transformation is about the district getting clear about what an equity-oriented leader does, how they respond to crises, and how they respond to the day-to-day challenges of leading a school. Also, it’s important for districts to give leaders, who are equity-oriented and doing the work in this space, trust to continue on the path they are on and perhaps even become models of what equity-oriented leadership concretely looks like. In one study (Virella & Woulfin, 2021), I found the highest level of equity orientation was this idea of modeling equity so the leader is showing the faculty and the district what equity looks
like. This framing is based in Galloway and Ishimaru’s (2017) work. One participant was incredibly bold and challenged the district’s equity orientation calling attention to the fact that the mission statement in her district said that they are an equity-oriented mission-driven school; however, when the participant looked at, and peeled back, the layers of what that looks like in their schools it was just lip service. And so, instead of being chastised by the district for questioning the status quo, this leader was bolstered by the district and ended up leading an entirely new school under this equity-oriented model.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?

PV: I think about this a lot because the work that I do specifically, researching how equity-oriented leadership intersects with crisis leadership in schools, is incredibly difficult. I think oftentimes scholars walk into schools to encourage diversity, equity, inclusion, and access and yet this may be the first time these difficult conversations are happening for those schools. And so, how do researchers and leaders, as a collective, debrief and share best practices and really think about both the impact we’re having on the schools and the emotional and cognitive toll this work has on us? As a Black woman who is an Afro-Latina doing this type of equity work and having these difficult conversations, I’m confronting racism right at the head. It is not always blatant racism, but rather passive aggressive racism because the participants are disengaged from learning about the nuance of POC, or they don’t find value in the culture of POC, or they have a Eurocentric notion of what intellectual curiosity looks like and how that appears in students. There are times where as a group of scholars we have to find a way for us to unpack what’s happening so that we can keep marshaling change in schools. It’s particularly important for scholars to support the next generation as they navigate the academy. One way I’ve found to do this is to create an authentic community. I have been very fortunate to work with professors such as Dr. Sarah Woulfin, Dr. Ramon Goings, Dr. Monica Byrne-Jimenez, Dr. Roman Liera, Dr. Jennie Weiner, and Dr. Blanca Vega to name a few who help me develop my writing so I can be my authentic self. To pay this forward, I have developed http://myacademicwritingroutine.com/ to support future scholars who are championing to make the world more equitable and bring out voices of the subaltern. It is also a space to learn how to develop writing routines with academia in mind and break down the Ivory Tower (Freire, 1970) where so many of us are held back or kept away. I want this space to be a place where scholars can converge, learn from one another and feel they can do the work that they feel will transform and liberate their field.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

PV: Right now, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for educational change and there are some discourses around racial and social justice, equity, and inclusion across scholars and school communities. There is great work discussing decolonizing educational research from Leigh Patel in her book Decolonizing Educational Research: From Ownership to Answerability (Patel, 2015) and from Venus Evans-Winters
(2020), and Introduction to Intersectional Qualitative Research (Esposito & Evans-Winters, 2021. These are important because we must challenge white, Eurocentric research methods. We also need to bolster voices like Rosa L. River-McCutchen who wrote Radical Care: Leading for Justice in Urban Schools (2021). So, this path of research excites me, but what I worry about is the way that education, as
a field, has ebbs and flows. When I look at the research and I see how much large urban districts are surveyed, researched, and quantified, I worry that, as scholars, we are researching for our benefit and not researching for the greater good of the children in urban communities, for the families who have to go through so much to get a fair shake because of the rampant racism in our country. What I hope to see in the future is scholars en masse asking, how does this research help to dismantle these oppressive systems? I want that to be on the minds of all researchers, not just critical scholars, not just ed change
scholars. We need to be really thinking, not necessarily about the scholarly metrics of our work, but of the possibility of transformation and liberation of schools and children as Paulo Freire would see it. Researchers, leaders, and policy makers must help to liberate oppressed communities and honor their inherent value.

References

Esposito, J., & Evans-Winters, V. E. (2022). Introduction to intersectional qualitative research. Sage. 

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum. 

Galloway, M. K., & Ishimaru, A. M. (2017). Equitable leadership on the ground: Converging on high-leverage practices. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 25 (2). https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.25.2205

Kornei, K. (2021, November 10). Academic Citations Evolve to Include Indigenous Oral Teachings. Retrieved from https://eos.org/articles/academic-citations-evolve-to-include-indigenous-oral-teachings 

Lorde, A. (2018). The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. Penguin Classics.

Patel, L. (2016). Decolonizing educational research: From ownership to answerability. Routledge.

Rivera-McCutchen, R. L. (2021). Radical care: Leading for justice in urban schools. Teachers

College Press.

Singleton, G. E. (2014). Courageous conversations about race: A field guide for achieving equity in schools. Corwin Press.

Virella, P. M., & Woulfin, S. (2021). Leading after the storm: New York City principal’s deployment of equity-oriented leadership post-Hurricane Maria. Educational Management Administration & Leadership. https://doi.org/10.1177/17411432211022778.

Education and Innovation 2021: The WISE Education Summit

The 2021 WISE Summit hosted thousands of education stakeholders and innovators from around the globe for a discussion of the current state and the future of education. Featured sessions included the importance of STEM for the next generation (Gitanjali Rao), the role of philanthropy (Naza Alakija) and girl empowerment through media (Jessica Posner Odede).

The 3-day WISE summit has been held every 2 years since 2009 as part of an effort to revitalize education and provide a global platform for the development of new ideas and solutions. Under the theme: “Generation Unmute: Reclaiming Our Future Through Education,” sessions were built around five thematic tracks: 

  1. Leading for the Future: Transforming Education to Thrive in a World of Uncertainty
  2. Mute/Unmute: Edtech and the Promise of Personalized Learning
  3. Learning to Be Well: Putting Social and Emotional Learning at the Heart of Education
  4. Learning for Life: Bridging the Education to Employment Gap through Equity and Inclusion
  5. From Globalization to Glocalization: Leveraging the Creative Potential of Local Learning Ecosystems

This year’s 2021 WISE Prize for Education Laureate Wendy Kopp was recognized by WISE for her contribution to quality education through creating Teach For All, a diverse global network building collective leadership in classrooms and communities and sharing solutions across borders to ensure all children can fulfil their promise.

Additionally, each year, the WISE Awards recognize and promote six successful and innovative projects that are addressing global educational challenges. These projects represent a growing resource of expertise and sound educational practice, such as:

https://www.wise-qatar.org/project/the-happiness-curriculum/

The Delhi Government’s Happiness Curriculum, India

Dream and Dream partnered with the Delhi government to include social emotional learning in the school curricula. The Happiness Curriculum aims to address the well-being and happiness of students with a strong emphasis on mindfulness, self-awareness, critical thinking, reflection & other social-emotional skills.

https://www.wise-qatar.org/project/lets-all-learn-to-read/

Let’s All Learn to Read, Colombia

The Luker Foundation is a comprehensive and innovative model for learning literacy for elementary school students. Using face-to-face and digital strategies such as:

https://www.wise-qatar.org/project/onebillion/

onebillion, United Kingdom

onebillion children delivers a comprehensive numeracy and literacy software, known as onecourse, to adapt to the level of any child, providing personalized learning sessions with no need for login.

https://www.wise-qatar.org/project/profuturo-digital-education-program/

ProFuturo Digital Education Program, Spain

The Telefonica Foundation and “la Caixa” Foundation focuses on teacher training and support, to help them strengthen their teaching practice, their capacity to manage the classroom, and their digital skills so they can integrate technology in the classroom and offer the best education to their students.

https://www.wise-qatar.org/project/taleemabad/

Taleemabad, Pakistan

The Orenda Project offers a highly localized and contextualized animated series aligned with the National Curriculum of Pakistan that teaches children English, Urdu, Maths and Science across the K-6 spectrum.

https://www.wise-qatar.org/project/trauma-informed-schools/

Trauma Informed Schools, Turkey

The Maya Vaikh Foundation aims to promote trauma-informed education within Turkish public schools and transform these schools into a safe space for children suffering from traumatic experiences. The intervention applies a multi-pronged approach targeting the children and the entire community surrounding them, including their caregivers, teachers, school administrators and school counsellors.

Related links:

Everyone speaks the language of football, Street Child United CEO says at 2021 WISE Summit, The Peninsula

2021 WISE Prize for Education is presented to Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach For All, Yahoo Finance

‘Generation Unmute’: WISE education summit convenes in Doha, Aljazeera

WISE calls for innovative solutions for education, The Peninsula

‘Education needs to be changed in design and delivery’, Gulf Times

Academic experts discuss future of education in post-Covid-19 scenario, Gulf Times

Oppression, Trust, and the Development of Change Leadership: The Lead the Change Interview with Morgaen Donaldson

This week, Morgaen Donaldson discusses her work on the development of educators, policy and educational change in the November Lead the Change (LtC) interview Donaldson is Associate Dean for Research at the Neag School of Education, Director of the Center for Education Policy, Analysis, Research and Evaluation, and the Philip E. Austin Endowed Professor of Education Leadership and Policy at the University of Connecticut. The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?   

Morgaen Donaldson: Educational change scholars are vital to the effort to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions. Educational change is about new principles and processes of operating, and it seems to me that scholars in this space often think and act with this mindset. For me, this work means trying to think of new ways to conceptualize problems and solutions across various disciplines or domains. For example, when confronting a problem in the workplace, I examine individuals’ needs, motivations, and incentives as well as organizational structures and cultures in identifying possible paths forward. I love this work; I’ve always loved puzzles and big, complex challenges without easy solutions. Conceptualizing new ways of thinking and doing is exciting. Trying to shift the culture and structure of our higher education institutions to embrace these novel approaches is often frustrating and takes a clear vision and great leadership skills. Within the organizations with which I am affiliated, I try to ask the question “Why not?” more often than the question “Why?” For example, my colleagues and I recently moved our Center for Education Policy Analysis, Research, and Evaluation out of a department and into the Neag School of Education writ large. In discussing our new mission, committee members advocated for including explicit partnerships with community members. At first, I shied away from this idea. It sounded too difficult and time-consuming for a center focused on policy research. With urging from one of my colleagues, I started asking why not involve community members? After all, they feel acutely policies’ impact (or lack thereof). Yes, it requires faculty members to think and act differently, but maybe this is exactly what we ought to be doing.  I also try to spend time examining problems before I start conceptualizing ways to address these challenges.

Dismantling oppressive systems is even more difficult because the layers of these systems are multi-faceted and oppression pervades and refracts through them. Educational change scholars must examine how oppression functions through these layers and commit to challenging and eliminating oppression at all levels, from the societal, to the organizational, to the inter-personal, to the intra-personal. This is hard and continuous work and scholars must commit to working over a lifetime to eradicate this oppression. Within my work, I try to keep equity in the forefront of my decision-making. I try to ask about how my actions will recreate, erode, or upend oppressive systems. Our actions and inactions often have inequitable reverberations, and I am working on anticipating the impact of my words and choices on equity and making decisions and consciously advance equity through my voice and my actions

LtC: Given your work focused on teacher and now principal evaluation and the challenge of ensuring the organizational and institutional infrastructure and capacity to engage in this work with fidelity and to ensure better outcomes for adult and student learning alike, what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?   

MD: I think policymakers, practitioners, and researchers are often looking for simple answers to complex problems. When I started my book on teacher evaluation (Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Teacher Evaluation), I was interested in learning what could help teacher evaluation make a difference in teachers’ instruction and students’ learning. Was it better feedback? More observations? More opportunity for structured reflection? Peer review? I learned that the answer to the complex problems plaguing teacher evaluation was in itself complex and somewhat unglamorous. My work uncovered that the best way to improve teacher evaluation is working over months and years to develop a clear, strong vision of effective teaching and deep learning and then maintain that focus across all initiatives in the school. Schools that lead with a strong vision of teaching and learning and incorporate teacher evaluation as one arm of their efforts towards these ends wind up implementing teacher evaluation relatively robustly. Schools that set aside everything to focus only on teacher evaluation generally do not do it that well. When schools prioritize good teaching and deep learning and this vision pervades everything the school does, teacher evaluation ends up working well.

“When schools prioritize good teaching and deep learning and this vision pervades everything the school does, teacher evaluation ends up working well.”

More recently, my colleagues and I conducted a five-year study of principal evaluation in three states. We have learned a great deal from this project. Overall, we found that about half of districts implemented principal evaluation as part of a suite of activities meant to bolster school leadership. In these districts, both district leaders and principals reported that principal evaluation helped them develop as leaders. In the other half of districts, principal evaluation was said to have marginal effects on practice, or effects only for the struggling principals. We further found that principals report more positive effects of principal evaluation when they perceive their principal evaluation system to support their intrinsic motivation. Lastly, we found that district leaders tend to implement principal evaluation differently in higher- and lower-performing districts. In higher-performing districts, leaders tend to implement evaluation processes organically, with little attention to the evaluation rubric or weights, but maintain a focus on instructional leadership. Their counterparts in lower-performing districts enact the processes as specified in the state guidelines and district policies but widen their lens beyond instructional leadership to include managerial, logistical, and community-oriented leadership (Donaldson et al., 2021; Mavrogordato et al., under review).

Ltc: In some of your recent work on teacher evaluation, you highlight the need for better understanding of whether and how evaluation can lead to improved teacher practices. Given your findings regarding the need for trust between evaluators and teachers and the development of social capital, what do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these issues in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike?   

MD: Trust is essential for the success of every organization. It may be even more important for schools, given the segmented, egg crate structure of the organization (Lortie, 1975) and the fact that its chief purpose is to guide the learning and development of other people’s children. Moreover, in the case of teacher evaluation, lack of trust has often hampered its implementation and dampened any positive effects. Trust is central to teacher evaluation and the broader success of efforts to improve teaching and learning in schools. 

“Trust is essential for the success of every organization.”

So how could trust among teachers and between teachers and school leaders be deepened?  For one, schools can provide more opportunities for teachers and leaders to struggle together and in partnership about thorny problems of practice. When teachers and leaders come together on equal footing to examine a problem from multiple perspectives and in different dimensions, everyone plays a role in coming to a shared understanding of the problem and a shared commitment to solving it. Collaboration around problem-diagnosis and problem-solving can build a partnership among teachers and between teachers and leaders that also fosters trust along the way.

Trust between educators and caregivers is also incredibly important. I think this may be the relationship that is most in need of enhancements to trust. In preschool and the early grades, schools are generally welcoming to parents and caregivers, but parental/caregiver involvement gradually wanes as children grow older (Murray, McFarland-Piazza, & Harrison, 2015). To build trust, schools could open their doors to caregivers on a more regular basis, inviting parents into classroom lessons, asking students to share work and involve parents in creating projects. This will build trust between teachers and parents/caregivers and also help educators learn more about students’ families, which can then inform their teaching. There is a lot of work to be done in this area.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?    

MD: There are two ways that scholars in the field of Educational Change could better support these individuals who are spearheading deep and difficult transformation. First, I think scholars of Educational Change and other researchers need to work harder to translate their research into practice and reflect practice in their research design and methods. To me, the impact of my scholarship in schools and school districts is more important than the number of times it is cited. I think the field could and should do a much better job identifying topics that are meaningful to practitioners and communicating findings to the world of practice much more deliberately through ongoing engagement with the field. Educational Change scholars can also advocate that the practical impact of scholarly work should be recognized and rewarded in university promotion and tenure decisions. Second, I think scholars in the field of Educational Change have a responsibility to study and understand what it takes for individuals to make change and investigate the toll on these changemakers. COVID-19 has heightened our collective awareness of the challenges facing educators and the day-to-day struggles that many of them experience. I think the field of Educational Change should pay more attention to the resources and experiences of change leaders and examine the consequences of playing this role for them, their health, and their careers.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

MD: COVID-19 exacerbated the inequity and inequality that has plagued education systems worldwide. I think it is becoming more difficult for defenders of the status quo; the evidence that students and schools are struggling is stark. After a year and a half with educators and students struggling mightily to engage in a version of schooling, education cannot afford to start up again with “business as usual.” This provides a window for Educational Change scholars to reconceptualize how school and schooling are done. Educational Change scholars can and should partner with practitioners to envision and enact a new system that addresses persistent and pronounced inequities in schooling inputs and outcomes. No one would wish COVID-19 to have occurred, but Educational Change scholars have an opportunity to speak up and share their knowledge about how schools could radically reconfigure how education is done to provide greater benefits to students.

References

Donaldson, M.L. (2020). Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Teacher Evaluation: Understanding the Research and Theory. New York: Routledge.

Donaldson, M.L., Mavrogordato, M. Dougherty, S. & Youngs, P. (2021). Doing the ‘real’ work”: How superintendents’ sensemaking shapes principal evaluation policies and practices. AERA Open, 7(1).

Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. University of Chicago Press.

Mavrogordato, M., Youngs, P., Donaldson, M., & Dougherty, S.  (under review). “Principals experiences with principal evaluation in 22 small and mid-sized districts.”

Murray, E., McFarland-Piazza, L., & Harrison, L. J. (2015). Changing patterns of parent–teacher communication and parent involvement from preschool to school. Early child development and care185(7), 1031-1052.

School Improvement, Educational Inequality, and Politics: A Conversation with Beth E. Schueler

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Beth E. Schueler, an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. She studies education policy, politics, and inequality with a focus on efforts to improve low-performing K-12 schools and districts and previously worked on legislative affairs at the New York City Council.  The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call? 

Beth E. Schueler: The pandemic, high-profile anti-Black police violence, and threats to the health of our democracy have had me, like many other scholars, questioning whether my research priorities are the right ones to make the greatest contribution toward promoting race- and class-based equity. Recent events have only reaffirmed my belief that greater attention to the politics of education is critical to making progress toward these goals. For example, politics played a comparable, if not larger, role in shaping post-COVID school reopening plans than public health factors, with some comparisons showing partisanship to be a stronger predictor of in-person learning offerings than case rates. There continue to be substantial differences in parental preferences for learning modality by race while we know not all modes are equally effective. There are strong partisan and racial/ethnic differences in opinion over how much time should be devoted to studying the causes and consequences of racism and inequality in schools. 

In many ways, educational inequality is a product of political inequality. For instance, it is difficult to revamp Title I federal education funding formulas when those who benefit from the status quo have greater political influence than those who are getting the short end of the stick—often low-income, Black, indigenous, and Hispanic families. It is difficult to get these students appropriate resources when adults in their communities are underrepresented in elected office, at least in part due to disenfranchisement of various sorts, and when voter turnout in local school board elections is so low as to not represent the public interest. It is impossible to implement and sustain public policy that effectively mitigates social inequality if there is not the political support for those reforms. Therefore, I am doubling down on a research agenda that seeks to understand the relationship between political and educational inequality with the goal of helping justice-oriented leaders learn how to effectively navigate the politics of education to implement policies that sustainably promote equity.

One challenge for me—and I would guess other educational change scholars—has been finding the right balance between keeping my head down to make progress on this research agenda while also being open to the need to periodically rethink, refresh, overhaul or even abandon aspects of that agenda based on new learnings, awareness, or shifting trends. There is sometimes a temptation to switch course entirely based on current events but there is also a danger in doing so without thought and intentionality. After all, most of us got into this field in the first place because we care deeply about fighting educational and social inequality, so there is likely value in our ongoing projects. Successful efforts to dismantle oppressive systems require sustained attention over the long run. High-quality research takes time. A key part of the battle is about maintaining an unwavering commitment to racial and economic injustice by “putting our heads down” and doing the work, day in and day out.

“Successful efforts to dismantle oppressive systems require sustained attention over the long run.”

The challenge is to keep up that long-term persistence without getting complacent and while being open to recognizing when we are devoting our energy in the wrong direction. Educational change scholars have a responsibility to stay the course on worthy projects but also to “put our heads up” periodically to make sure we are not wasting time on low-impact endeavors, to be aware of new evidence that could change our perspective or priorities, or to recognize action or inaction we are taking that, worst case, contributes to upholding the oppressive systems we seek to dismantle. This is a difficult balance to strike because the time horizons for producing high-quality research are long while the need to fight racial and economic injustice is urgent. I cannot claim to have found the perfect balance, but I am always trying to find it and welcome constructive critique or advice from colleagues who share a commitment to equity.

LtC: Given some of your work focused on the political viability of school takeover and turnaround for low-performing schools, specifically the model in Lawrence that yielded positive results for students, what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?     

BES: Lawrence, Massachusetts represents a rare case of districtwide takeover and turnaround where things went well both in terms of the policy effects and politics. Leaders were able to generate meaningful academic gains in the early years and there was much less opposition and more support for the reforms than a stereotypical case of takeover. The public narrative around improving low-performing schools and systems has been notably gloomy in recent years. In contrast, one of the major lessons from Lawrence is that it is indeed possible to dramatically improve outcomes in a politically viable way for low-income children of color in low-performing educational contexts. 

How were leaders able to improve outcomes? Half of the gains in math and all the gains in ELA were concentrated among children who participated in “acceleration academy” (sometimes called “vacation academy”), small-group programs where talented teachers work with a small group of roughly ten struggling students in a single subject over a weeklong vacation break. I have since replicated these findings with a field experiment of a similar program in Springfield, Massachusetts. These programs have high-potential for supporting students who lost learning time due to COVID-19 disruptions and are more affordable than high-dosage tutoring programs (which tend to be highly effective but challenging to implement widely due to cost). The remaining gains in Lawrence were due to a package of reforms (and it is hard to disentangle what mattered most) involving funding being pushed from the central office to schools, greater school-level autonomy (tailored to schools based on strengths and needs), extended learning time, data use, and a focus on improving administrator and educator quality.  

How were leaders able to generate political support for reforms? Part of the explanation had to do with the context in which reforms were implemented. The public perceived not only low-performance but also mismanagement, and this led to more openness to dramatic change (a finding we have replicated with national public opinion data). The district was medium in size, allowing leaders to get their feet on the ground in all schools and tailor reforms at the school-level. The teachers union and district leaders were willing to collaborate with each other. The majority of teachers were white and came from outside the district, so there was not a lot of overlap between the teaching force and the majority-Hispanic local community, making it difficult for the union to mobilize parents to oppose reforms. 

There were also ways the leaders designed, implemented, and framed their policy choices to minimize opposition and increase support. I describe this as a “third way” approach (Schueler, 2019)—blending the favored ideas from the traditionalist and reform perspectives in education politics to overcome criticism from either side. For instance, leaders focused on bolstering academic expectations and instruction, and on fleshing out extra-curricular offerings meant to support whole-child well-being. Leaders handed over a small number of schools to be managed by charter groups and one school to the teachers union, showing a willingness to work with groups on both sides of major education policy debates. They did not formally convert any schools to charter status, however. Even those schools that were managed by charter operators retained neighborhood-based student assignment and a unionized teaching force, addressing concerns of the charter critics. Leaders replaced nearly half of the school principals in the early years of reform but only actively replaced ten percent of the teaching force and deployed notably strong pro-teacher rhetoric. They implemented a merit-based career ladder while simultaneously giving nearly all teachers a salary increase in the process. The case provides a proof point that it is possible to overcome polarized debates in education policy to implement politically viable change.  

“Lawrence provides a proof point that it is possible to overcome polarized debates in education policy to implement politically viable change.”

LtC: In some of your recent work examining the effects of state takeover of school districts nationwide, you find that takeover does not lead to improved student academic performance. Given your findings and the heterogeneity of takeover models and outcomes, why do you think takeover persists as an improvement mechanism and how might successful models, like those in Lawrence, be brought to scale in more districts nationwide?

BES: Having studied a rare positive case of state takeover and turnaround, I wanted to understand whether the Lawrence experience was an outlier. In a subsequent study, we examined the average effect nationwide of state takeover on academic outcomes and inputs. We found no evidence of positive effects and some evidence of disruption in the early years of takeover, particularly in ELA. We conclude that, despite the positive Lawrence experience, leaders should be very cautious about deploying takeover as a mechanism for improving achievement outcomes, particularly in contexts that are very different from those in which takeovers have previously been successful. More specifically, takeover appears least likely to generate academic improvements in majority-Black communities and in districts that are not among the very lowest performing in the country. 

My guess is that takeover persists (and indeed has increased as an improvement strategy over time), despite this evidence, in part because research does not provide a ton of easy answers for how to improve low-performing school systems. Given education is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, states are responsible for school district performance. Therefore, it is somewhat understandable that states would feel a responsibility to take action when a district has been low performing for many years, and especially in cases where there is evidence of mismanagement or corruption. However, again, some of the research that I have contributed to suggests that there are also political factors at play. We find that takeover is more common in contexts where states are paying a larger share of educational expenses, and in majority-Black districts regardless of academic performance. While our study does not provide definitive evidence of intentional racial targeting, it is certainly consistent with such a story. Furthermore, in work on public opinion, we find high levels of support for state takeover among members of the public as a whole, but lower levels of support among teachers and those in low-performing districts most likely to be under threat of takeover. Therefore, statewide pressures can lead to takeover despite local opposition. 

How can successful models of district improvement be brought to scale? If and when considering state takeover, leaders should pay careful attention to local contextual factors that have historically predicted the success of takeover reforms on average, including the racial/ethnic makeup of the district, the extent of academic underperformance, and the political landscape.  The contexts ripe for these types of reforms are rare and therefore state leaders should be cautious about using this authority. For instance, they should be especially careful about takeovers of majority-Black districts and districts that are not among the very lowest performing in the country. Leaders should also consider research on the most effective reforms for improving low-performing schools and districts, such as extended learning time and efforts to improve teacher quality. Many of these reforms could be undertaken in the absence of state takeover. 

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?    

BES: In my view, one of the biggest barriers to educational improvement is that it is very difficult for educational leaders (or anyone for that matter) to admit that they do not actually know what works. The political dynamics incentivize certainty and on a micro-level it is hard to acknowledge that what we are doing for the kids we care about might not be best for them. However, research and learning requires an acceptance that there is something to learn. Educational change scholars can support leaders through this process by encouraging a culture of continuous learning in which it is not only acceptable but expected to admit that we don’t always know what works. This is at the heart of the research enterprise.

“Research and learning requires an acceptance that there is something to learn.

I recently partnered with an organization to study a phone-based tutoring intervention delivered in the context of Kenya while students were engaged in remote learning due to COVID-19. We were surprised when our research revealed that the well-intentioned program had actually negatively impacted math performance among some groups of students by causing them to spend less time studying with family members at home. It is therefore fortunate that the organization had the humility to rigorously study the intervention, so that it could improve its future offerings and so that the field could learn about the importance of carefully designing interventions to align with best practice and of targeting programs to groups of students most likely to benefit. These learnings should help maximize impact and minimize unintended consequences, particularly of inevitable upcoming efforts to address lost learning time due to COVID-19. My hope is that the field of educational change can play a role in encouraging research and learning in these unprecedented times. 

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future? 

BES: Two things come to mind. First, I am encouraged by the recent interest and enthusiasm around individualized instructional approaches—such as high-dosage tutoring and small-group instruction—to supporting students who have experienced COVID-related learning disruptions. It is the right time for these programs to gain traction, not only because a large and rigorous body of evidence indicates that they can improve academic outcomes in a range of subjects and grade levels, but also because these more personalized programs have the potential to support students’ social and emotional well-being and to help them reconnect with schools and teachers after a time of relative isolation. That said, we have a lot to learn about how to modify these programs for the given context and how to implement them in ways that will mitigate rather than reinforce inequality, such as through careful targeting that avoids stigmatizing students in need of support. 

The second future direction for the field that excites me is the renewed interest in civic education. Given politics shapes policy, it is paramount that schools play a role in developing students’ abilities to effectively participate in collective decision-making, particularly students from groups that have historically been disenfranchised or otherwise excluded from the political process. In my view, these civic competencies include the ability to make a complete argument supported by reasoning and evidence, the ability to critically interrogate others’ arguments, media literacy, social perspective taking, and civic engagement. I am energized to see the field thinking about how to incorporate these competencies into measures of school quality and to cultivate these skills, particularly in ways that will reduce the political inequalities that are at the root of so many of our most pressing social challenges. 

References

Brenneman, R. (2021). Poll: Calif. Voters worried about pandemic’s impact on K-12 students. https://rossier.usc.edu/poll-calif-voters-worried-about-pandemics-impact-on-k-12-students/

Schueler, B., Goodman, J. & Deming, D. (2017). Can states take over and turnaround around school districts? Evidence from Lawrence, Massachusetts. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39(2), 311-332. 

Schueler, B. (2019). A third way: The politics of school district takeover and turnaround in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(1), 116-153. 

Schueler, B. (2020). Making the most of school vacation: A field experiment of small group math instruction. Education Finance and Policy, 15(2), 310-331. 

Schueler, B. (2020). Summer “vacation academies” can narrow coronavirus learning gaps. Education Next. https://www.educationnext.org/summer-vacation-academies-narrow-coronavirus-learning-gaps-springfield/

Schueler, B. & West, M. (2019). Federalism, race, and the politics of turnaround: U.S. public opinion on improving low-performing schools and districts. Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 19-129. 

Schueler, B. & Bleiberg, J. (In Press). Evaluating education governance: Does state takeover of school districts affect student achievement? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Also Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 21-411.

Schueler, B., Asher, C., Larned, K., Mehrotra, S. & Pollard, C. (2020). Improving low-performing schools: A meta-analysis of impact evaluation studies. Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 20-274. 

Schueler, B. & Rodriguez-Segura, D. (2021). A cautionary tale of tutoring hard-to-reach students in Kenya. Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 21-432. 

Robinson, C., Kraft, M., Loeb, S., & Schueler, B. (2021). Accelerating student learning with high-dosage tutoring. EdResearch for Recovery Design Principles Series.