TeachLab with Justin Reich

Paul Reville

Episode Summary

This week on TeachLab, Justin is joined by Paul Reville, founding director of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Redesign Lab, and former Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They discuss the future of education during and post-pandemic, the shift of involvement for parents in their child's education, and the need for communities to shift in order to support it.

Episode Notes

This week on TeachLab, Justin is joined by Paul Reville, founding director of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Redesign Lab, and former Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They discuss the future of education during and post-pandemic, the shift of involvement for parents in their child's education, and the need for communities to shift in order to support it.

“...it goes beyond just having higher expectations for families, and extended families. It goes to having higher expectations for our communities as a whole.”


Note to the audience:

The Teaching Systems Lab and the TeachLab team would like to thank all of our audience for their patronage as we attempt to shift our production and content in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We think it is of the utmost importance to continue distributing as much content as we can, and as widely as we can, to assist those who are in need of information in these difficult times. We are working to improve the quality of our content with these new constraints and get back to a more regular scheduling. Thank you for your patience.


Resources and Links

Check out “Broader, Bolder, Betterr: How Schools and Communities Help Students Overcome the Disadvantages of Poverty” by Elaine Weiss and Paul Reville

Learn more about The Education Redesign Lab

Check out “In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School” by Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine





Produced by Aimee Corrigan and Garrett Beazley

Recorded and mixed by Garrett Beazley


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Episode Transcription

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 your host Justin Reich. Today on TeachLab, we have Paul Reville, he's a former Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. He's a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and he's the author of Broader, Bolder, Better, a book about how schools and communities can help students overcome the disadvantages of poverty. Paul, thanks for being here on TeachLab.

Paul Reville:                 Justin my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Justin Reich:                 So Paul, you're also the director of The Education Redesign Lab. What is the design lab working on? What has it historically been working on and how is that changing with the pandemic?

Paul Reville:                 Actually, it's a perfect time to talk about the work of the Ed Redesign Lab, which I founded in 2013. After my long-term work both in government and outside of government here in Massachusetts, in terms of closing achievement gaps, creating an opportunity society for young people and feeling that schools alone weren't enough to do the job. That schools, as we currently know them are strong, they're important, they make all the difference in the lives for some children. But generally speaking at scale, even in our most improved school systems, we did as well as anybody in Massachusetts at boosting education results through school reform, we still have deep persistent achievement gaps. And in the United States, educational achievement and attainment are correlated with socioeconomic status. And that's not what we think of as an equal opportunity society.

Paul Reville:                 So we set up the lab to basically think about, what would it take if we were really to design a system that was intended to deliver on the policy promise of no child left behind or every student succeeds or all means all, which is my shorthand, what would that actually look like? And we came to the conclusion that it's a cradle to career pipeline, formal systems of preschool, K-12, and higher ed, wrapped around with systems of opportunity and support that make it possible for each and every child to each and every day, go to school, ready to learn. So that's the work we do in The Ed Redesign Lab. And the reason I say it's particularly relevant now is that these crisis, this Coronavirus crisis has revealed to the general public in a very vivid way the kinds of inequalities that exist in children's lives outside of school, that get in the way of them performing at high levels in school.

Paul Reville:                 Remember school is only 20% of the average child's waking hours between kindergarten and grade 12. The rest of life happens outside of school. Whether they're supported or makes a huge difference as those of us who have privilege know. Whether they have learning opportunities, enrichment opportunities outside of school is critically important. And we see that very clearly now where some kids are basically able to pick up right where they left off in schooling because their homes are so well supported and hooked up to all the latest technology and they've got parents who are free to guide them in the process, by contrast with others who have none of the above. So right now, these issues that we've been talking about for some time in terms of equity are on the front pages, and we have a chance to maybe do something about it.

Justin Reich:                 So Paul, the partners of The Ed Redesign Lab, they're not just schools, they're also mayors, community actors. Who comes together to work with The Ed Redesign Lab? How do you make these in-school, beyond school community connections?

Paul Reville:                 Well, in the field work that we do Justin, we're working with whole communities. So we start actually with the mayors. We don't see the solution to this problem of persistent equity and opportunity gaps being the sole responsibility of the schools. Schools play a critical role, but this is a community problem. It's really a society-wide problem. But, in terms of doing place-based local work, we go to the mayors, mayors convene all the actors in a community who are leaders in the work of caring for children and educating children. So the superintendents at the table, the Health Department, Criminal Justice may be at the table, Housing may be at the table. A lot of the philanthropies, businesses, community based organizations, parent organizations, unions, these kinds of folks populate a Children's Cabinet.

Paul Reville:                 And it's up to the Children's Cabinet to conceive of a vision for, how do we build out the architecture of this cradle to career pipeline? How do we build up the opportunities and supports that wrap around our formal schooling institutions? And how do we sequence a plan to move from where we are, which is usually a lot of gaps in that pipeline, to a more ideal world where all children get the support that those of us who have privilege are able to provide to our own children?

Justin Reich:                 And you just had a huge national convening over the past week, bringing these various children cabinets groups together. What are you hearing from them about the challenges that feel most urgent right now? Or what are the questions they have about planning for the fall that seem like the things that we ought to be talking about and trying to figure out as educators, as people who care about children?

Paul Reville:                 Well, I think in particular, people are in positions of leadership, running city government or running school systems are dealing with a lot of the emergencies in the aftermath of what's the equivalent of an earthquake in our world. And I think public schools and teachers and educators across the board have really stepped up to provide care and nurturance, whether it's food, whether it's healthcare, whether it's reaching out and trying to make up some of the gaps in the digital divide and things of this nature. People are still doing kind of emergency response work in a lot of our districts. And are frankly overwhelmed by it, overwhelmed by a sense of loss that goes along with this, overwhelmed by the practical exigencies of putting systems back into place, that address people's basic Maslovian needs, just fighting brush fires from one end of the day to the next.

Paul Reville:                 So, one of the needs that surfaced at the conference is, if we're going to not simply settle for building back the status quo that existed prior to the COVID crisis, and we want to envision a new world of child support and education, child development and education, we're going to need some space and time in which to think about what those pivots and changes might be like. And we're really dealing with some radical shifts in paradigms in education and educators of course, in the middle of it. Let me just mention a few of them.

Paul Reville:                 Number one is, as teachers know better than anybody right now, anybody perhaps except families, we've suddenly been catapulted into the internet world kind of remote instruction. And that brings with it, first of all, it brings the digital divide to the forefront. Some people can access some don't. One of our communities, the superintendent stood up and said, "I have 40,000 children. Only 10% of them are online. Only that percent are online." This is 10 weeks into the crisis. So you're dealing with those kinds of issues right off the bat. And then a myriad of other issues with respect to how do we embrace this technology, which platforms and applications are most effective? How do I transfer what I was doing in person to this modality and not having the space and time and guidance to do all that. So what we've got in the world of technology is again, kind of an emergency response. It shouldn't be confused with best practice by any means. It's just the best we can do since this happened overnight. Our field had been kind of a laggard in the adoption of technology anyway.

Justin Reich:                 The education field.

Paul Reville:                 The education field. We've been behind, woefully behind the private sector in adoption for a variety of reasons, but suddenly overnight, we have to do it. And that's a huge shift. So that entails all kinds of needs for teachers, for professional development. And then to a second topic, I'd mentioned families, suddenly families are in the middle of the education enterprise.

Paul Reville:                 Families were always important and we gave lip service to family involvement in education, but now they really are at the center. And if one size fits all didn't work very well for students, which is one of the things that we contend. One of the weaknesses of our kind of factory model batch processing school system, then one size fits all works even less well for families because their circumstances particularly we can see in this crisis are so highly variable in terms of their capacity to support their learners online and in a technology based instruction modality. So I think teachers and educators are very mindful now of the challenge of how do we do a better job of connecting and partnering with students.

Justin Reich:                 We had a meeting in my hometown of Arlington, Massachusetts, and the elementary school principal said, "Before the crisis, we had 458 kids who came into one shared space. And now we have 458 kids learning in different spaces. That's one of the core challenges that we're wrestling with."

Paul Reville:                 And we've expanded the teaching core to include all these families, all of a sudden. So that's huge. And the role of teachers is shifting. I've just written a piece for Education Week, which showed up today, which is really saying we're going to promote en masse a whole grade, a whole cohorts of students to the next grade, whether they're ready or not, because we can't add another cohort into our schools. There isn't enough room or capacity to deal with them, but now they're going to arrive in the fall, whether we're in person or remote at even wider levels of difference in terms of their readiness for the next grade level. We're going to have to customize our approach and personalize our approach in education. That's a big shift to go from kind of the factory model of equity is equality to a more nuanced like healthcare model, where we meet you where you are and give you what you need. And so this notion of personalization is coming into the sphere in an important way.

Justin Reich:                 One of my biggest fears for next fall is that in doing some of that personalization work, kids wander back into school and we say, okay, whether it's metaphorically wander back in remote or they're actually buildings. And we say, "Okay, students from low income backgrounds whose families can't afford the internet connections, you all file in into these spaces over here and get remediated, and affluent students you all wander over into these classrooms and these spaces and we're going to keep kind of teaching you in a regular way" and that in order to deal with the heterogeneity of the people's experiences, we start segregating students the moment they walk in the door. Do you have thoughts about risks or whether you think that would happen, if it will, how would we do ameliorate it?

Paul Reville:                 It's a great question Justin and it's a real risk if we're not careful in terms of how we segregate people, how we on the one hand tailor to meet students' needs and meet them where they are, but at the same time, don't fall into the trap of stigmatizing people. Here, I think one of the things that will help is the fact that we have new tools for working now. So whether we're in person or remote, the technology does allow us to break down the barriers of space and time that confine us in the school day and school year. So I think it's quite possible to give students who need it extra tutoring systems and support offline in a very private way that enables them to catch up if they're way behind, because they basically got nothing in the fourth quarter of this school year.

Paul Reville:                 We have to recognize, we can't gloss over that problem and pretend it doesn't exist and they don't need more help and that makes them different from some who won't need it. What we really need to come to grips with is how are we going to supply that? Who's going to do the tutoring? I'm loving a lot of the suggestions that are coming forward on national service and bringing a lot of young people who are going to find themselves unemployed, college graduates and others, and giving them the opportunity to perform community service much like our City Year program does or programs like that, where we have AmeriCorps volunteers come in and do some of this kind of tutoring work with students, helping them catch up, work with families.

Paul Reville:                 Our family connections are going to have to be much tighter than they've been in the past. And we need connective tissue between the schools and the families. So I think there are some ways if we're sensitive, thoughtful, and responsive to do both things at once, to both be personally customizing what kids need, meet them where they are, give them what they need and at the same time, not segregating or stigmatizing young people.

Justin Reich:                 So I want to drill down on the service core idea and the family idea. Those are definitely things I've been thinking about a bunch. And I'm glad to have a former Secretary of Education ask this of because one idea I've been thinking about is I think some of the people in the best position to play a major service role around tutoring, around IT support, around other things, are seniors, people who are entering the 12th grade next year. What would it look like to say any junior, anyone who ends this academic year as a junior in good standing, instead of meeting next years senior graduation requirements, you could just perform a thousand hours of community service over the year, whether that's in schools, whether that's in contract tracing programs. It wouldn't take a full 12th of our students, but it would reduce the number of students.

Justin Reich:                 You'd have you have 1/12th of faculty, 1/12th of students who wouldn't need building space in the same way. A lot of those students don't have particularly rich learning experiences in the second half of the year anyway. They're kind of doing okay in the fall and then senior spring comes along. What do you think of the possibility of really releasing a whole bunch of the nation's seniors from their typical responsibilities and putting them to work tutoring elementary school students, or helping other parts of the system?

Paul Reville:                 I actually think it's a great idea, Justin. I think you should write it up and make a policy proposal. At first, when I thought you were talking, I thought you were talking about senior citizens, which I think is actually another great population to, I just got off a call in which we were talking about the city of Boston and how we could, in addition to the summer jobs program, build in mentoring and create mentoring matches between city employees or corporate employees virtually with young people who need guidance and help during these troubled times. What you asked me earlier about the conference, and one of the themes that came out of a lot of the work that we did at the conference, whether it was neurological damage that comes about to young people as a result of toxic stress in early childhood or another keynote we had about helping the helpers, helping people like teachers and daycare providers, and those who are reaching out and helping people is the power of relationships.

Paul Reville:                 And so, I think relationships more than any technology, more than any academic interventions that we might design ought to be the top priority as children come back to school literally, or remotely in the fall, is we've got to set up ways for them to connect with other people who can help provide them with advice and guidance, and support as they go forward in very troubling and uncertain times. So I think your idea is a great one.

Justin Reich:                 Hearing you talk about relationships, I just had a meeting with a eighth grade middle school teacher where we took her 15 civic students, and started asking them the question like, "What do you want next year to look? What's most important to you? How do we begin designing for your needs?"

Justin Reich:                 Adults in the system know all kinds of things about teaching and learning, but there's only one group of people on this planet who have been students during a pandemic, and it's the kids who are in our systems right now. And relationships was the number one thing they said about next year.

Paul Reville:                 Interesting. Yeah. I love your process. It's something that we teach in design courses, we do in design thinking is the place you should start is talking first to the people who are the presumed beneficiaries of what you're planning to do with an intervention designed to quote unquote, "Make things better."

Paul Reville:                 So starting with students and giving student voice in this, I think is critically important. And those of us in policy positions are all too guilty of ignoring that a lot of the time.

Justin Reich:                 Have you heard from your network about how those folks are planning on talking to students, talking to teachers, talking to families, bringing them into the various kinds of redesigned tasks forces, and other things that are being created now?

Paul Reville:                 More than anything I've observed that happening, I've observed... We've run some events at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where students are featured prominently in responding. And I've seen that, whether it's the State Board of Education with a student member who plays an important role on the board, or in other settings where people are coming together in this crisis, much more than it would have happened five or 10 years ago. Let's put it that way.

Paul Reville:                 Could we do more? Yeah, I think the answer is yes, we could be more intentional and deliberate about it, but we're making some headway. And I also think that's good guidance for teachers. I mean, I've suddenly had to teach online myself, and if I didn't stop my class periodically to ask the students, "How could I do a better job of teaching here? Are we making best use of...? Give us your feedback."

Paul Reville:                 I mean, otherwise I'm flying blind. So if we don't survey for customer satisfaction and suggestions, we're going to be lost. And the same applies in making education policy.

Justin Reich:                 Great. No, I think that's incredibly important.

Justin Reich:                 Now I'm really excited too, to hear you talking about families because one math equation I've had in my head is that student learning equals school learning, plus home learning.

Paul Reville:                 That's right.

Justin Reich:                 And school learning is going to go down next year. With our very best efforts, no matter what we do just the American school system cannot suffer economic cuts from recession, and operate new models of remote learning, and operate new models of limited-residency-sanitized-building-learning, and be as successful as we've been during the past 10 years.

Justin Reich:                 There's going to be a learning curve, and we should expect a kind of innovation dip, learning dip. Which means if we want to hold student learning constant, the home is going to have to be a place of greater learning. I've been thinking of it like a family learning victory garden project. Or a family learning Manhattan project, like a national initiative to help families see that they're going to... for this to work for a generation of kids, we're going to have to have every mom, and dad, and caregiver, and aunt, and uncle, and cousin, and older sibling be more involved in young people's education maybe than ever before.

Justin Reich:                 I saw the census had just released some data yesterday that families reported they were spending 12 or 14 hours a week on their children's education across all kinds of different levels of income, across other kinds of differences. Which to me resonates that... I assume that those numbers are much higher than would have been four months ago, or five months ago.

Justin Reich:                 But what can we do to engage families in our cities, and our communities across the United States? Like what are the most promising ways that teachers especially can build productive relationships that help families support students at home? And what do we do about the students who really don't have that kind of family support at home?

Paul Reville:                 Well, it's a critically important question, and is what I was talking about earlier. I mean, suddenly parents are at the center. And we as educators, who often taken families all to casually, regarded a family engagement is a nice to do thing, if not a nuisance, now suddenly our co-creating an education pathway for students with families. And the families need support. As I said earlier, one size fits all doesn't work for families.

Paul Reville:                 So it goes beyond just having higher expectations as you articulated for families, and extended families. It goes to having higher expectations for our communities as a whole. If 80% of their waking hours is outside of school, that involves everybody in the community, employers, taxpayers, citizens, business owners, neighborhood organizations, community-based organizations... we're going to have to come together as communities, which is the basic premise behind our work in our By All Means initiative. Whatever it takes, and everybody in the communities involved. It isn't just about schools.

Paul Reville:                 If we put this on schools, it's just too much to ask of schools in the six hours a day, 180 days a year they have. So we're all going to have to get engaged. And we've got to create mechanisms, whether they're children's cabinets, or other forms of civic coming together to meet the common purpose of doing a better job with rearing our young people under these conditions of maximum uncertainty and stress. So we've got a lot more to do as communities there.

Justin Reich:                 What are some lights that we should be looking at around this? What are some exemplar neighborhoods, communities, schools? I'm not asking you to pick favorites amongst all of your different partners, but for people who are listening now who want to say, "Oh, I want to read more about what that looks like, or see more about what that's like," where can we learn more?

Paul Reville:                 Well, first of all, if you're interested in learning more, edredesign.org, that's edredesign.org. We have there a lot of documentation on our By All Means initiative, which is 10 cities, which are basically laboratories trying to design these cradle-to-career pipelines that I described earlier. And there's a lot of research and documentation there on that, as well as a map, and some case studies of a local children's cabinet network in 50 or so cities around the country that have been trying to put these local cabinets in place.

Paul Reville:                 So I think that would be a good place to start. There's a lot of research there too, that will talk about a more holistic approach to what children need. And then doing some thinking with others who are considering, not just as we are the business outside of school, but what might happen in school, and ways in which you can work differently.

Paul Reville:                 My colleague, Jal Mehta runs a program called Deeper Learning, and has just written a book by the same name. And looking into that, this is suggestions for educators, but they can apply equally to families about how do we bring in deeper, more engaging, more project-centered, more applied-learning into the lives of children. So we have that opportunity now because people are going to be at home, they're going to be outside of their homes in the community. There are things that they can do that in the old system, they might not have been able to reach out. But now some of those barriers are down. But the question is, how do you make constructive use of them? How do you use that time well?

Justin Reich:                 And those are tremendous opportunities for teachers to explore new ways of doing teaching and learning. A lot of things are going to have to change next year and the pandemic, the remote learning, it gives us some opportunities to rethink a lot of different things.

Paul Reville:                 Just one comment on that. I do think we need communities of practice and we try to do this with our members. And I think it's really important for school departments and communities more broadly to create a space, if you will a container, in which people can come together, who are working on the problem of, okay, if this is the new reality in education, if we're going to have two weeks off in the fall where people are going to be at home, how can we be helpful to the students and their families during that time? What does that look like? And we have to have practitioners sharing their hunches, their experiences, their research on how to be effective there. It's only in that way will we develop a practice in an area where we never had one before.

Justin Reich:                 And you're saying don't just do that within a district or within a town, but try to get 10 like-minded communities to be able to come together and say, "What are we learning in these different, but related spaces to be able to share amongst us."

Paul Reville:                 Exactly, across all kinds of boundaries. You can have role alike people. In other words, teachers from different communities come together, principals, superintendents, health care directors in the different communities, mayors, superintendents, and so forth. So we just need to find time in the midst of responding to all the urgencies of the emergency, if you will, to find time and space and leaders have to create this for those who are in helping positions to do some thoughtful consideration of where we're going with this, how we're going to change our practice to take into account these new realities.

Justin Reich:                 Yeah. If we have a choice between sort of putting a hundred percent of our energy into today and saving some of that energy and thinking about continuous improving and planning, there'll be some costs that we pay today, but we'll reap those benefits over the course of the weeks and months ahead. So our colleagues in the South, some of the schools are getting ready to end for the year. Here in Massachusetts, we've got three or four more weeks left. Why do you hope teachers should spend a bunch of their summer resting? But if you had any advice for teachers this summer about what they ought to be doing to think about and plan for next year, what would be your parting words for some productive things to do over the summer to make progress on all the things that we've been talking about?

Paul Reville:                 Well, a couple of things, Justin. I'd say, number one, put some pressure on school leaders in your region to clarify what kinds of platforms and applications you're going to have at your disposal in the fall. Secondly, whether it's formally organized by the school system or not, take the lead in bringing together colleagues to think together about how to get this done. This is an emergency and people are stepping up from all different walks of life to go beyond the bounds of our usual expectations for workload and things of that nature, to be able to sit down with your colleagues. Let's say all the fourth grade teachers in a school just informally decide, we're going to meet an hour a week over the course of the next month to talk about how we're thinking about rolling out curriculum next fall, whether we're in the contingency of in person or we're in the contingency of online. I mean, creating communities of practice intentionally, I think ought to be a top priority for teachers.

Paul Reville:                 And then finally, to the degree that time and schedule and structure allows for it, connecting with students and thinking hard about how we're going to connect with students and families and how we're going to put in place relationships. For example, in secondary school, we have one to 400 guidance, one guidance counselor to 400 student ratios. We have, teachers teaching 150 kids a day. How are we going to break that down into advisories or something, so every kid is known and supported? How are we going to build those structures and make sure that happens? So I think educators coming together of their own initiative this summer is going to be critically important.

Justin Reich:                 Coming together to talk with one another and coming together to really try to stay connected to our students and families, listening to them, hearing what they've learned, hearing how we can help them. Those sound like fabulous things to work on the summer. Well, Paul, I'm super grateful for your time with all the other things that are going on, grateful for your work to support all these different networks and really looking forward to staying in touch in the months ahead, as we all try to help schools figure out how to navigate these challenges.

Paul Reville:                 Well, thanks for the opportunity to talk Justin. Great questions. And we're all in this together and there's a lot of uncertainty, but if we use this situation properly, I think we can ultimately make an even better, more effective education system than we had in the past.

Justin Reich:                 That was Paul Reville, founding director of the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Ed Redesign Lab, and the Former Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He's the author of Broader, Bolder, Better: How Schools and Communities Help Students Overcome the Disadvantages of Poverty, coauthored with Elaine Weiss. These themes of building community connections, involving families, they're going to be so important for all of us educators to be thinking about the summer and planning for the fall. I'm Justin Reich. Thanks for listening to TeachLab. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Be sure to subscribe to TeachLab to get future episodes on how educators from all walks of life are tackling distance learning during COVID-19. If you've been enjoying the series, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or wherever you're listening to the show. This episode of TeachLab was produced by Aimee Corrigan and it was recorded and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe, until next time.