Justin Reich is joined by John Palfrey, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, former director of the Berkman Klein Center of Internet and Society, as well as an educator, author, and legal scholar. Together they discuss philanthropy in education, the work of the MacArthur Foundation, and the challenges of making large changes in institutions. “And particularly when we look at a society where I think most of us, anyway, those of us on the left, broadly global left, would say, ‘We're not where we ought to be, right, from an equity perspective, from all sorts of dimensions we want to improve. And certainly the quality of K-12 education in the United States, that's not something we're that good at overall. Therefore, we need to disrupt it. We need to do it better. - John Palfrey
Justin Reich is joined by John Palfrey, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, former director of the Berkman Klein Center of Internet and Society, as well as an educator, author, and legal scholar. Together they discuss philanthropy in education, the work of the MacArthur Foundation, and the challenges of making large changes in institutions.
“And particularly when we look at a society where I think most of us, anyway, those of us on the left, broadly global left, would say, ‘We're not where we ought to be, right, from an equity perspective, from all sorts of dimensions we want to improve. And certainly the quality of K-12 education in the United States, that's not something we're that good at overall. Therefore, we need to disrupt it. We need to do it better. - John Palfrey
In this episode we’ll talk about:
Resources and Links
Check out The Connected Parent by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser!
Learn more about the MacArthur Foundation
Check the MacArthur Foundation’s demographic report!
Learn more about Lever for Change
Learn more about the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society
Check out Justin Reich’s book, Failure To Disrupt!
Join our self-paced online edX course: Sorting Truth from Fiction: Civic Online Reasoning
Join our self-paced online edX course: Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices
Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley. Recorded and mixed by Garrett Beazley
Justin Reich: From the home studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab, a podcast about the art and craft of teaching. I'm Justin Reich. With me today is John Palfrey. John Palfrey's the president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He's the former director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. He's the former headmaster of the Phillips Academy at Andover. He's a former professor of law at Harvard Law, and a visiting law professor for the winter term. And he's the author of some great books about youth and education, Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age; more recently Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces, about conversation in schools; and finally, coming out very recently, is The Connected Parent: An Expert Guide to Parenting in a Digital World. John Palfrey, thanks for joining us on TeachLab.
John Palfrey: Justin, thank you. I'm thrilled to be here, and I love your podcast, and psyched to be a guest.
Justin Reich: It is an extraordinarily difficult time in the United States and around the world. And I think one of the most difficult things about it is the way that we're seeing inequalities in our society, both exposed, sort of revealed in ways that we don't normally see them, but then also expanded. As you look at that, as a head of a foundation, how do you think about that inequality? And what role does philanthropy have to play in addressing some of it?
John Palfrey: Well, Justin, it is, I think, absolutely central to the work that we do at MacArthur Foundation, and it is central to our mission to try to close those gaps and to be a part of the solution. We can't do it all on our own, despite having billions of dollars in the bank, which is a nice thing, but it's not enough, but we can certainly be a force for good and to make progress every day toward it. And so, it really is the North Star for us to focus on racial and ethnic equity in the United States and in the places we operate around the world.
Justin Reich: MacArthur doesn't do a lot in education funding, so you might be able to give us kind of an unbiased philanthropist's view, but we see in education these sort of yawning gaps appearing and expanding everywhere. If you're a philanthropist who does have some funding that's designed to address education, what advice would you give for folks? And this might work with people with millions of dollars, but it also might work for people with hundreds of dollars. What can people do with giving that can address these kinds of inequalities that are deeply embedded in systems?
John Palfrey: I think there are many things that philanthropists can do and that philanthropic organizations can do, but, as you said, we each can be a philanthropist right down to our households. So, I think there are many ways we can act in that way. So, you're right. MacArthur Foundation doesn't have a big education program. We have funded a fair amount in education in the past. Our Digital Media and Learning initiative was hundreds of millions of dollars on this topic. And I think having an equity lens on the grantmaking, as we did in that program, and for all of our things is important. So, I would say I would start there and basically say, when you're doing the grantmaking, are you paying attention both to who you're giving the money to, in terms of ensuring that it's not all white people or all straight white men, whatever, but also who is being served through that philanthropy. So, you need to think about the heat map of where the young people who are being served by that are based.
John Palfrey: And I think we haven't done enough in philanthropy to be data-driven in that way, and to be honest and accountable. Shortly, and it may be already out before this podcast comes out, but MacArthur Foundation is releasing our first-ever demographic survey, looking at all of our grantees, and being as open as we can about our data. So, I would think being clear about what your benchmark is, and improving that over time, in terms of who is leading the work and who's being served, those would be a couple of quick things for big foundations.
John Palfrey: Another thing I would just add is, again, as you said, anybody can be a philanthropist. And I hope that everybody who has the means to do it will be giving money, in this COVID year for sure, but over time. And I think seeking out the kinds of organizations that ought to be supported and really need the support, and having an equity lens to your own giving is really important too, and not just giving to the organizations that you know and that are similar to you.
Justin Reich: Will the equity audit, the demographic audit, look both at the people you're directly giving money to and then also the people they're serving? Are you going to try to sort of quantify the demographics of the people who are the ultimate recipients of... you give money to organizations, and then organizations serve people. Are you sort of measuring demographics in the organizations, or in the people that you serve?
John Palfrey: Both of those levels matter a lot, I think, Justin, both in terms of ensuring that we're supporting people of color, people who are in marginalized situations in lots of different communities, as well as then focusing on who's being served. This particular thing that we're announcing next week is focused on the grantees, and the organizations, and looking at the heads of those organizations, the board, the staff, and so forth, and really just trying to set a baseline. We've never done this before, but we are eager to do it. And then to have something from which we can measure our progress.
John Palfrey: But we also, in other settings, and this is one very specific to Chicago, are looking at that second question, which is to say, who is being served. So, we have been a member of various partnerships in the COVID response in the last few months. One is with a group of organizations, philanthropies in particular, but individuals too, who have given to the immediate response to COVID. And then we're now with a group that's looking at equitable recovery. And we are mapping, using a heat map in the city of Chicago, to say what neighborhoods are being served, and what individuals are being served through that. And I think looking at both of those levels, not probably going to get it exactly right in every way, but having a baseline, and then saying, "Okay, does this look about right? Or is it way off? And how do we change it, and ensure that we're being a force for good?"
Justin Reich: Yeah. It seems like that data could be really powerful in the sense that we're often compelled to give to those nearest to us, and those nearest to us might have levels of affluence that's similar to ours. And so, affluent white folks might be really inclined to give money to organizations that mostly benefit affluent white folks, which is going to expand rather than decrease educational inequality. In the school settings, it makes me think of parent-teacher associations.
John Palfrey: Absolutely. It's a great example.
Justin Reich: ... where there's a really natural inclination. Of course, you want to give money to your kid's school, but if we only give money to the schools that are closest to us, then people who go to schools in affluent neighborhoods will have lots of philanthropy, and people who go to schools in less affluent neighborhoods will have less.
John Palfrey: Exactly.
Justin Reich: There are trillions of dollars that go [inaudible 00:07:04] education systems, just like there are trillions of dollars that go into healthcare systems and social welfare systems and other like that. And so, philanthropy, in some ways, ends up being a relatively small part of that. I mean, it seems like massive amounts of money. How do you think about what can be big amounts of money to an individual donor, but is actually small amounts of money in the whole system? If I was a philanthropist thinking about serving schools, one piece of advice you've given us is really think about who's the downstream recipient of funding, and how do we make sure that they're not just people who look like and are connected to us. What other guidance do you have for folks thinking about these big, complex systems, where money can be a lot to an individual organization, but not that much to the whole system?
John Palfrey: It's a great and crucial question. So, just to put it in context, MacArthur Foundation has a little under $7 billion, and that sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but if you take 5% of that, and we give out more than 5%, but let's just take the kind of basic math, that gives you 300-and-something million dollars a year. As you say, just in the city of Chicago, where we are based, it would be a drop in the bucket if we gave the entire amount that we're giving out even to just the Chicago public schools alone, right? It would not actually move the needle. It'd be helpful, I suppose, and it'd probably help some individual schools and some individual kids, but it would not change the system. And thinking of your book, Failure to Disrupt, and the way you're thinking about scale and leverage and so forth, you have to get some of that. You have to get some scale and leverage. So, one way to think about that is to support individual leaders who are operating in that way.
John Palfrey: So, MacArthur is best known perhaps for the MacArthur Fellows Program. And that's a way in which we give to 20 to 25 creative individuals each year who are going to have a major contribution over time, and to disrupt or to add to, through their lifetime's work, systems. And what we do is we give them totally unrestricted money. So, if you win a MacArthur Fellowship, for which you can't apply, you receive five years of $125,000 a year. So, you receive $625,000. No strings attached. We don't ever call you again. We're always happy to see you and talk to you, but basically you don't have to do anything for us. No reports. And we just are believing in those unbelievably talented individuals to make big change, see what they do. So, that's one way to think about it.
John Palfrey: But I think another way is to say, "Let's look at the particular things that are out there that you could do, as a philanthropist, that would then make sure that other things flow to them." So, MacArthur has the advantage of being famous in our field, and so sometimes when we give money to an organization or a person, it helps them raise other money. And so, we've launched an organization called Lever for Change, which is a affiliated organization, and through that, we are helping to ensure that others who are changing things are able to raise more money and to lever up what we're doing.
John Palfrey: Last thing I'd say is your point about literally trillions this year of stimulus dollars going out to help people recover from this coronavirus issue. And if we are able to ensure that that money goes to others who are needing it and can shape the way that that recovery money goes, that can be really helpful. So, one thing we're focused on in Chicago, as an example, is giving money to organizations that are led by black people and brown people in our city to ensure that they have the technical assistance to be able to apply for funds, whether that's through impact investments, which is one part of what we do, or in terms of other kinds of support, like the money that's flowing in, tens of millions of dollars, to do contact tracing as an example. So, those are little grants from us, but where the technical expertise can really help unlock really big dollars. So, I think there are a bunch of ways that you can get scale through philanthropy, but you have to be clever about it.
Justin Reich: And I think this notion of philanthropy as kind of pushing snowballs down the hill that can grow, I mean, I do think that can work at smaller, local levels, that small donations to parent-teachers associations can give people the freedom and flexibility to write grants for larger amounts of money.
John Palfrey: Yeah.
Justin Reich: I know in the city of Boston, there's an organization called EdVestors, which celebrates the school on the move each year. They give one school that's doing interesting things a grant that also helps them attract more attention. It gives them an award. It helps them raise more money from other sources and things like that. It probably helps them negotiate and be recognized by the city and so forth. And so, yeah, it's great to think about... again, our individual philanthropy is going to be less than $300 million a year, but the scope that you describe is sort of this... I just looked up that the, you're right, that the Chicago public school system spends $8.6 billion a year.
John Palfrey: Right. That's more than our entire corpus. Our entire endowment we could de-capitalize in one time, and it would just... it would help, but not change-
Justin Reich: [crosstalk 00:11:40] less than double the budget [crosstalk 00:11:41] 300 million a year, whatever that is. It's going to be 120. It would be a 5% boost to the budget. So, I really like that idea about thinking of philanthropy as ways of celebrating, gathering attention, building capacity to be able to negotiate for more funds. I think that's very helpful.
Justin Reich: So, you and your colleague, Urs Gasser, have a book that's coming out this month. Will probably be already released by the time that this podcast comes out.
John Palfrey: I have it. The Connected Parent. Absolutely.
Justin Reich: Got it in front of us. You've got copies.
John Palfrey: They exist.
Justin Reich: The Connected Parent. You've already written some books about digital learning and digital youth. What got you thinking and writing about parenthood?
John Palfrey: Well, truly, being a parent was where it really started. And this is a familiar story to anybody who has a kid. All of a sudden, you're in a conversation about how am I supposed to do this? And there's famously no manual for how to raise a kid when you come back with them out of the hospital. And-
Justin Reich: But there's really no manual to raise the kid in an internet-connected era. I mean, so many of our parenting strategies come from our own parents.
John Palfrey: Absolutely. Our own experience, or our grandparents, or whoever's close by, the auntie who is so important in the niece's life and so forth. And those are all good things, but you're right, that none have grown up with this amount of connectivity and certainly not with a COVID-level of connectivity.
John Palfrey: And so, the source of this book really was Urs and I, we were, at that time, partners across great seas. Urs was in Switzerland, and I was at Harvard, and we were running research centers that were collaborating, and we both had kids of kind of the same age, and both were engaged in similar conversations with our partners. And we decided to do our homework in public, basically, and to see what we could learn about young people as they were growing up.
John Palfrey: And Born Digital, which came out in 2008, really was a research book. It was sort of a research synthesis, more or less looking at what we could know about how kids were growing up in a digital era. And that was primarily meant for researchers, and that conversation.
John Palfrey: The Connected Parent, which is our new book, is really an outgrowth of the many, many, many conversations we've had with parents and teachers in the last decade or so, who often said, "I'm glad that research says that, but what's your advice?" And we would say, "Well, we're researchers. We don't give advice." And at a certain point, that became hard to stand behind. And also, our publisher said, "Hey, it would be great if you could just update and do a book that actually has the advice and really in a simple way according to [inaudible 00:14:16]." So, when people say, "Okay, so those are the data about screen time. What am I supposed to do as a parent at these different ages?" We decided to give it our best shot.
Justin Reich: What are the key pieces of advice in the book, or what are the pieces of advice of the book that sort of most surprised you while you were writing it?
John Palfrey: Well, I think a lot of it is how commonsensical all of this is actually, right? Most of it does have to do with balance and being led not by fear, but by your sense of what the data say. And so, we approached this as social scientists. And so, there's not that many surprises in it when you think about what we try to do as parents, which is we balance some sense of independence for kids and agency and so forth, while also keeping them safe enough and giving them the skills that they need. And also, that it does change over the course of somebody's life. So, what you do for a 1-year-old is very different than what you do for an 18-year-old, now having an 18-year-old at the end of his high school career. And thinking about how the data help us along the way in sharing those things.
John Palfrey: And nothing, I think, for parents, no matter who you are, and realizing all families are different, and challenges are different in different environments, nothing in the research is actually all that scary, but it's helpful, I think, to think about it, to step back from it and to look at data-driven advice, and then at least make your choices on the basis of those data.
Justin Reich: Is there anything in the book that you feel like you wish you could've revised during the pandemic? Is there any way that having us all forced at home and spending much more time, both with our families, but also with our screens and our families with our screens at the same time often, does the pandemic change your thinking or highlight certain parts of your advice more than others?
John Palfrey: Well, I've had a laugh with many different researchers on the topic of screen time, of course, because it's now gone way out the window. If you try to have particular limits on screen time when a kid is in entirely virtual school, how are you supposed to say, "You shouldn't have X hours," right? It's completely ridiculous. So, that's certainly one where, for those of us who are working from home and have that great privilege and can stay safe in that way or where our kids are in a virtual school, you have to think about that completely differently. And you have to not worry that much about screen time. Now, we say in the book, and the data say very clearly, focus on the quality of the screen time, not on the quantity. So, the data give you a guide for that. But that's certainly one way in which the conversation has just dramatically changed in the COVID era.
Justin Reich: One of the things that struck me, I don't remember where I saw this, it was connected to research that came out from the American Pediatrics Association and some surveys associated with that, that if you survey parents, or maybe it was surveying kids and ask them what kinds of rules they have at home for using technology, kids, with alarming frequency, will say, "None." As I understand, the American Pediatrics Association basically have two pieces of advice, which is really try to limit screen time for kids below the age of two, and have some kind of rule. Not totally clear what those rules should be, but some kind of rule. For families that don't have rules yet or guidelines, but should probably start having something, do you have advice on sort of where to start that conversation?
John Palfrey: That sounds exactly right. And I think you frame it in precisely the right way, which is have the conversation. The idea of being a connected parent is actually having a conversation in times that are not dire, and that are not scary and that it allows you to have the conversation when things are trickier. So, I think that's a big part of it. Letting kids have some degree of agency in those rules. They can't make all the rules, but they can certainly talk to you about it.
John Palfrey: We have a few stories in the book where we describe ways in which our own kids told us, "The rules you have are stupid. This would be a better rule." We then said, "All right, we'll try your rule." And you know what? They tend to be right when they give you a better rule. And they're thoughtful kids. So, I think there's a lot there.
John Palfrey: But absolutely, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and I'm a big believer in much of what they do, and I should admit, my mother was the president of the AAP when some of these things came out, so I feel connected to the rulemaking. I think ensuring that there are some rules, and then, over time, noting those rules are going to change.
John Palfrey: And one thing that's very difficult is starting rules when kids are 16 or 17, right? That's just not going to happen. So, having some rules that you then can relax is actually the way to go. So, start with a conversation when kids are three, four, five. Make sure that they know that there are rules associated with it. When they get that first smartphone, maybe around age 13 or so, then there's a different set of rules. And then they go on to be much more on their own. And as later teens, they're going to have many fewer rules, but at least you will then be able to relax it over time and have them make sense for the age of those children.
Justin Reich: One of the things that I tried to write about in Failure to Disrupt is this notion that informal learning can be really profoundly changed by new technologies, that my kids are very young. When they're interested in anything, they have this terrible habit of defaulting to asking Siri, which is, of course, perfectly normal for them, but in my crotchety old age, I just hate having that voice in the house and having them turn to it. Although, I recognize it is one of those things, which is like, yeah, well, Socrates hated writing too, so you just get used to these things.
Justin Reich: I argue that school systems really struggle to incorporate new technologies into learning because it requires too many adjustments to routines to be really powerful and effective, and that, in fact, for a lot of the things that we want folks to learn, humans remain kind of an indispensable part of the equation. You are the headmaster of a school, and I'm wondering what kind of parallels you see between being a connected parent, having technology operate in some kind of thoughtful way in the home versus being a leader of a school community and having technology be incorporated into a much larger, more complex system.
John Palfrey: Absolutely, Justin. So, one little anecdote, if I might-
Justin Reich: Please.
John Palfrey: ... on your Siri point, and then I'll answer your question directly. But a few years ago, I was writing a different book, which was called BiblioTech, and it was about libraries, and I decided to write the book while sitting in libraries. So, I was sitting in a particular library, and it was in a reading room, and it was about 3:00 PM, which is, as anybody who sits in libraries knows, a magical time in a small town because kids come in from school at that moment. They come streaming in. And one of the reasons I love libraries is they are public open spaces where any kid can come, and they get warmth in the winter and they get cool in the summer, and they get maybe a safe place to sit and so forth, and they also learn something.
John Palfrey: So, I was sitting there, and about 15 minutes later, some kid was trying to figure out what terminal velocity meant, and so grabbed his phone and he said, "Siri, what does terminal velocity mean?" And at that moment, I saw the librarian who was sitting there just looking just completely amused at this whole thing. Siri didn't actually give a good answer to terminal velocity, but here you have this kid who's in a library with a librarian, a person right there who could actually give them this great way to figure this answer. And, of course, what's he doing? He's turning to Siri, who is not giving a good answer. Anyway, that, for my mind, encapsulated a moment in time. Now, maybe someday Siri will actually give a really good answer, and that makes the librarian's job more complicated, but that's a different story.
John Palfrey: I think your question about the ways in which parents and schools adapt is really essential. And I would say one thing about the connected parenting approaches is that we need to connect what happens in the household to what happens in third places, like libraries, and outside in ways they're learning on playing fields and so forth, and what's happening in formal schooling. And I would say this is one of the key contributions of MacArthur's Digital Media and Learning investments, was focusing on that informal set of learning that was called connected learning. So, exactly what you're describing, that trajectory, is what we're trying to capture from a parenting perspective and in connected parenting.
John Palfrey: But within the context of an official school, I will say I was struck by, at a really extraordinary school, unbelievable stories, I can tell you about wonderful teaching, really just over-the-top, wonderful teaching and learning, but also how hard it was to change the pedagogy at all. Now, in the case of Andover, it is a school that has been operating for 240-something years really, really well, at the top of its game, at a global level. And there are reasons why not to change stuff when you are really good at what you do. And I stand behind lots of what's going on. On the other hand, you need also to be improving at it at all times.
John Palfrey: And, in fact, I think that's one of the things that a great school actually does, is disrupt: disrupt itself, and its own systems, and its own approaches. And particularly, when we look at a society where I think most of us, anyway, those of us on the left, broadly global left, would say, "We're not where we ought to be," right? From an equity perspective, along all sorts of dimensions, we want to improve. And certainly, the quality of K to 12 education in the United States, that's not something we're that good at overall. Therefore, we need to disrupt it. We need to do it better. And that's actually not something that most teachers and most schools are that good at doing within the bounds of the institution.
Justin Reich: Yeah. My hope is that technology can sometimes be one of the best entry points into those conversations about change. In fact, it's probably the main reason that I've remained interested in education technology. I agree with everything that you said, that sort of change in institutions is hard. Changing schools is hard because they're just very complex places. Changing them where teaching is excellent, or at least has really excellent outcomes, is also really hard. Learning technology seemed to be one of the few things that can at least get people to sit up from their routines and look around and go, "Oh, this thing is kind of different."
Justin Reich: And I'm interested in the degree to which the pandemic will play a similar role in that of saying, "Oh, we did have to do some things differently with remote teaching and learning. And a lot of them were bad, and a lot of them we weren't happy with, but some of them were actually pretty good." I mean, I guess I've sort of been disappointed to some extent at how few schools have really taken the opportunity to say, "Oh, there are a bunch of things we really could get rid of now as we boil down to the essentials." Though I'm certainly sympathetic to those places as well, as they try to navigate all of this complexity.
John Palfrey: Absolutely. As I was reading through Failure to Disrupt in the galleys formats, I was so struck by one line you had that's in the introduction. You say, "Finally, most importantly, I remain convinced that even though technology alone will not disrupt systems," I certainly agree with you there, "Technology can abet system change." And thinking kind of where do you see those biggest opportunities? And can this COVID moment be one where, in fact, the change does come about in some meaningful and sustainable ways?
Justin Reich: And hopefully, those conversations are deeply intertwined with conversations about equity, conversations about who has access to learning resources, who has access to safe places to learn, how do we treat people in similar ways or different ways in classrooms and online circumstances, and other things like that. So, I'm hopeful that... I'm not much one for sort of silver linings for the pandemic. I think it is mostly really, really, really bad. But yeah, I'm certainly curious if there are ways that schools are going to figure out how to use technology, how to use this experience of profound change to ask good questions about what might we do differently if we had the opportunity.
John Palfrey: And, Justin, as a researcher of this, and I know, of course, when HarvardX launched, you were the kind of in-house, but independent researcher of that project and have done this otherwise. I was thinking about the opportunity of this natural experiment, that so many kids are in classrooms, and so many kids are out of classrooms, and there are a whole bunch of different pedagogical approaches going. Are we running the tape, do you think, well enough in terms of capturing what's working, what's not, where those possibilities are to abet system change?
Justin Reich: I think we'll have two big challenges. One is a really long-term one, which is that we often actually don't know what is, in fact, happening in schools. And this is something that predates the pandemic. There are a lot of classrooms. They're very small. They're very separated from one another. They're not instrumented very well, oftentimes by design. I think we're finding all kinds of ways during the pandemic that it turns out that having cameras running all the time is not good for teaching and learning. But it does raise, I think, a real serious concern that we just don't know what's happening.
Justin Reich: We were talking earlier today with Dan Meyer, who developed a piece of software with others called Desmos, and he said something like, "If you know a teacher who's doing really well under these circumstances, then they must be on performance-enhancing drugs because I don't know how to find that person." And I have the same thing of having lots of conversations like, "Have you heard about a district that's doing this really well?" And most people go, "Nope," which is not a critique of teachers and is not a critique of districts. It's just, it's a really hard time. We don't know that many practices that are going on.
Justin Reich: And if there are practices that are really good, it's sort of hard to identify them because we don't know... they're not kind of rising to the surface as obviously good, which is connected to the second problem, which is that if a school is doing really well right now, we're going to find out about it 10 years from now when their students have slightly better six-year college persistence rates. This seems like a classic case, where I think it's very unlikely that, say, the schools that have the best test scores in 2021, 2022 are also the places that did the best job managing COVID. It's really hard to figure out what should be the indicators we should be looking at right now, which I think is difficult.
Justin Reich: I think about you as a philanthropist in trying to do good, kind of data-driven grantmaking. Who would you reach out to in the city of Chicago that you felt like would be leaders on these issues? I think both descriptively, just in terms of what is happening, and then from a outcomes perspective, life outcomes, learning perspective, all this stuff is really hard to know right now.
John Palfrey: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that.
Justin Reich: But it is the task of researchers to try to figure this out. I mean, in our own lab, the way that we started was just, we said, "Let's just start interviewing teachers. We're going to find 40 of them across the country, and just have them describe what's going on." I think there's a huge debate in lots of states about whether or not we should restart our testing infrastructure. In some ways, it seems like having kids focus on standardized tests in the midst of a pandemic is probably not the best use of their time. It also seems very, very-
John Palfrey: Do many people argue that particular point?
Justin Reich: Oh yeah, no, I think across the states, there are... I'm sure there are advocates in almost every department of education. There's certainly advocates on the kind of center-right education policy platform that say, "We need to have these tests right now to figure out what's working and what's not." And yeah, they're really strong advocates of that perspective. And I think if there's some there... it seems like there conceivably is some truth to the idea that if we're going to find out that certain techniques are working better than other techniques, maybe that will show up in testing data. It also seems like overwhelmingly we're going to find that students who weren't connected to the internet didn't learn very much over the last nine months.
John Palfrey: That seems like the kind of research question you do not have to ask, but anyway.
Justin Reich: There it is. Well, good. Well, John Palfrey, enormously helpful to have this conversation with you. The book, The Connected Parent, is coming out very soon. Is there anything else that you want our audience to know about where to find the book, or how to read more about it, or things like that?
John Palfrey: Oh, you're so nice. No, I mean, certainly, the Berkman Klein Center, which is your neighbor in Cambridge, Mass., has more in its Youth and Media lab, and certainly check out the MacArthur Foundation overall, but mostly I look forward to seeing Failure to Disrupt on the bookshelves as well, Justin, and hope people will buy that as well, as you say, in your nice introduction, that they'll find a good local bookstore to grab it at, rather than just reading it on screen.
Justin Reich: That's right. It has been seen at least once on a Cape Cod bookstore on a shelf.
John Palfrey: Awesome.
Justin Reich: So, I know that it's possible. And we'll put links to MacArthur, and to Berkman Youth and Media, and to The Connected Parent in the show notes.
John Palfrey: I appreciate that. Thank you.
Justin Reich: Great. Well, thanks for coming.
John Palfrey: Appreciate your time.
Justin Reich: That was John Palfrey, the president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Our conversation spanned topics about parenting, about schools, about philanthropy. And certainly, I think one really important takeaway is to think about ourselves as philanthropists during these challenging times, and to really think about not just how we give to the people who are closest to us and most like us, but how we give to people who are in different life circumstances than us as well. John's book, The Connected Parent, is out now, and we'll have links to it in the show notes so you can check it out.
Justin Reich: I'm Justin Reich. Thanks for listening to TeachLab. Please subscribe to TeachLab to get future episodes on how educators from all walks of life are tackling distance learning during COVID-19. I've also just released a new book, Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education, available from booksellers everywhere. You can read reviews, related media, and sign up for online events at failuretodisrupt.com. That's failuretodisrupt.com. If you have a book and you're enjoying it, go ahead and leave a review on Amazon or on Goodreads.
Justin Reich: This episode of TeachLab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley, recorded and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe. Until next time.