Welcome to Together for Together for Change, the podcast where we explore the transformative power of systems change and civic infrastructure.
From schools to systems, we often talk about transformation as if it we were resetting or rebuilding things. But what if we instead approached this work as a rethink? What would this mean for our work in education, in policy, and elsewhere?
Hosted by: Monroe Nichols, Director of Policy and Partnerships at StriveTogether
Featured Guests: Frederick Hess, senior fellow and the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute
For more information on the Great School Rethink by Rick Hess, visit this page.
Hello, I’m Monroe Nichols, Director of Policy and Partnerships at StriveTogether and your host for today’s episodes of Together for Change. This season, focusing on our North Star of economic mobility by diving deep into how children and families are better off as a result of social impact work that treats the root cause of issues rather than only focusing on the symptoms. At StriveTogether, we do this by changing systems and building up civic infrastructure.
Today, I want us to take a moment to think about how we think. From schools to systems, we often talk about transformation as if it we were resetting or rebuilding things. But what if we instead approached this work as a rethink? What would this mean for our work in education, in policy, and elsewhere?
Joining me in this conversation today is Frederick Hess, senior fellow and the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Cradle to Career Network Convening. Rick, welcome to together for change
Hey, thanks, Monroe, good to be with you.
Great to have you. I want to begin with how we got here, and maybe even how you got here. Now you are an author of several books, but you got some of your starts as a social studies teacher, if I’m not mistaken. I’m curious to know like, how did that experience in particular, evolve into your role now where you are really challenging us to rethink schools, especially thinking now you went from a classroom to work with system leaders and policymakers? So share a little bit about the track from teacher to policymaker to leader in the field.
“I became a teacher because I hated school” – Rick Hess
Sure, at some levels, it’s all ancient history at this point. You know, I always say, I haven’t been in front of a K-12 classroom in this century. So, but yeah, you know, I started out teaching high school social studies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, East Baton Rouge Parish, back a very long time ago. Shaquille O’Neal was playing at LSU. You know, and it’s funny, I became a teacher because I, you know, I hated school. As a kid, I was a terrible student. I was like, 500th, in my high school class. But I got into college. And the thing that struck me was it turned out that learning was actually really interesting. I liked reading, I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, it was just that high school and middle school, we hadn’t done any of this stuff. And once I started doing that, I started substitute teaching for pizza money. And I said, I really liked this.
I love the motivation, pizza money, pizza money is what got you, I love it.
Pizza money, man, and some other stuff, mostly pizza. But the thing that struck me was, you know, what was so weird was learning is the most intuitive thing. You know, when you’re with your nephews, or nieces or your kids, like, what do you do, you’re just teaching, you’re teaching them how to, you know, you’re telling me about a movie or teach them how to throw a ball, you’re helping them ride a bike, you’re wrestling. And that somehow, it struck me just fell out of the educational experience, at least as I had it. And so I started teaching.
That was so much at the center of my mind. And what was funny was here I was with a lot of people, all of whom seem to do well, at least seem to mean well. But what we wound up with was one bureaucratic, frustrating situation after another, they hired me to start this AP economics class, but we couldn’t do it because the paperwork wasn’t there. And then the books hadn’t been procured. And after a couple of years of this, I was like, I just don’t get it. How can so many people do something that’s like, so obviously, important and all of these people mean well, and yet this result just feels like, you know, working in like a dysfunctional factory.
So I went back to do my PhD, tried to study how school reform works up at Harvard, and, you know, kind of got wound up flipping tracks, from somebody who was interested in being with kids and teaching to this other track where you write about people who are actually doing the important stuff.
Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s amazing. It’s really awesome to hear somebody talk about someone who’s a teacher, but also talking about how he didn’t really like school at first and just casually went back to get my PhD and went to Harvard and all this kind of stuff. It’s interesting to hear you talk about it, but I do think that is, and I don’t want to speak for you, but it really rolls into another question that I have.
They always say don’t judge a book by its cover. But when there’s a book called The Great School Rethink, I think that’s one that the cover says you should probably open this book up a little bit. You say you want to offer a rethink rather than a reset? Can you talk a little bit about what brought this book to you? I think we, you kind of even drew some out when you’re just talking about the last question, but maybe dig into the rethink versus the reset, if you will.
Sure. And just for listeners I’ve got, so I’ve got this new book out, The Great School Rethink. So thanks so much for bringing it up. Well, one of the things that has struck me about the pandemic was how much it rattled the relationships between families and schools. You know, there have been people talking about how we have to reform and improve schooling forever. And there have been parents who get frustrated with this or that. But I think when all of a sudden, when schools shut down for months, or for some families for a year or more, when families suddenly were like told you’re on your own, we’re going to give you some online support, and otherwise figure it out.
I think teachers felt like they were suddenly just stuck in the barrel until they’re on their own. I think what’s happened is, if you look back at so much of the ambitious school reform of say, the last couple of decades, No Child Left Behind, or Race to the Top, or the Common Core, these were all efforts by smart, well-meaning people to pick up a big stick, and then beat American education into a better shape. And what happened was, all the people inside those schools felt like they were getting beaten by a big stick. Those teachers, you know, kicked back. Parents got frustrated. And I think what’s different right now is you see a lot of parents and teachers saying, we need somebody to help us figure this out.
Because kids are emotionally fragile. They’re socially tuned out. They’re way behind academically, schools are understaffed, they’re having trouble filling slots. So instead of somebody trying to beat on schools with a big stick, suddenly, we’ve got a whole lot of parents and teachers saying somebody help us. And what I worry about with this reset thing is when you get this, there’s a certain kind of well-meaning person, of the these TED talkers, and foundation executives and people like me and think tanks who were like, all right, it’s our opportunity to come in with our agenda, and like start fixing from on high. And I think that’s where we miss it.
“Our schools weren’t built for what we’re asking them to do” – Rick Hess
The real problem here, I don’t think is a need for some big, fancy national program. But to say, wait a minute, our schools weren’t built for what we’re asking them to do. We built out American schools in the common school era, because all these Catholics were coming in, and Horace Mann and his buddies in 1830s, Massachusetts, wanted to make these Catholic kids less Catholic, we built out the schools and the Progressive Era, because they’re trying to get kids out of factories.
And they needed someplace to make sure we had the kid safe all day. So he built out schools. Now we want schools to equip each of our kids to pursue their gifts to like, you know, be good citizens and productive workers in this post information world. That’s like a whole nother challenge. And I think we got to start it by figuring out what’s not working for real kids and real families, rather than what you can get a foundation to fund and kind of drop from on high.
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s really interesting. You know, and as I think about and I think you call it the great school disruption, and, and I believe you’re referring to COVID-19. But I’m always really interested in thinking through, you know, look, what we found through the pandemic is many things that a lot of us knew were leaks in the system became a flood, right? How much of that do you think?
And you mentioned the history, the origin of education, how much is what we what we’re left with right now is a system that needs to be changed rather than something to throw more money at or, you know, just another ed reform movement? Like what would be in your mind, what’s another offerings, a lot of people say the system’s broken, some people say, well, the system’s getting the results that is designed to get, wherever you fall on that. What’s your response to just the sheer volume of all the thoughts around? Let’s look at the system itself? And what needs to change about it?
Yeah, no. So I think I tend to be with the people who say the system is doing more or less what it was built to do. It was built for a world a couple of centuries old. And that’s not what we needed to do today. And one of the problems is we wind up yelling at each other, we say, who’s for the kids. And then we wind up in this thing that feels real removed from the lives of real kids.
Let me give you an example. When we talk about school choice, for instance, there tends to be two camps. There’s the camp who say we’re for empowering parents, and that families got to have the right to get their kid in the school or learning environment that’s right for them. And if you stand in the way of that you believe, you know, you’re opposed to empowering families. And then we got this other camp that says school choice is an attack on a public institution. We have to defend public education. It’s something that we do together. If you believe in choice, you believe in privatizing and destroying public ed.
And we talk this way all the time, like in our world of like leadership, you know who does talk this way, like any actual parent, like if you look at the survey data 75% of parents give their kids public school an A or a B. They liked their kid’s public schools. It’s where they meet their neighbors. It’s where they, you know, your kids make friends. It’s where they go and watch, you know, Friday night football. But you know what 70, 75% of parents also support education, savings accounts, tuition tax credits, public school vouchers, what that means is parents believe that they can both like public schools, and believe that families ought to have a choice.
Now, this was always the case for families who were trapped in really lousy, unsafe schools and pockets of the country, particularly urban centers. But what the pandemic changed was lots of folks who before had said, You know what, my schools are fine, I suddenly felt frustrated and trapped. They felt like their school was closed long past when it needed to be, they felt like they were getting dragged into winner takes all fights about masking, or in, you know, mandatory vaccination, or fights about cultural issues.
And so what happened is, you’ve got a lot of parents who before were like, I liked my schools, that school choice stuff’s not real relevant. Now saying, I’d like my schools, and I want options. And so for me, kind of we think about this great disruption. Again, I talked about this change in trust between parents and schools between teachers and, and I think what we’re seeing is basically the board reset for what’s possible. And schools are not doing what they were designed to do. And we’ve been trying for a quarter century or more, Nation at Risk or longer, back to 1983, trying to slam schools into a new shape.
And what’s really different about this moment, is I think, instead of us trying to push schools into a new shape, suddenly we have parents and teachers and communities saying, hey, we actually want a new shape. And so when we start thinking about the partnership between parents and schools, we start thinking about how choice and options work we think about schools do with time or technology.
Suddenly, I think we’ve got opportunities to reimagine, rethink how schools work in a way that when I said the same things 10 years ago, people were just not they were not in a space where it felt like they were ready to have that conversation.
Yeah, hey Rick, I don’t know if you have a perspective on like, you know, at what level does this rethink need to happen? Right? Is this a DC thing? Is this a state capitol thing? Is this an every cmmunity thing? What’s the appropriate level in which, you know, we have to now think about how education is working in community? Where does that come from? And then how do we resource that, right? If it’s not a DC solution?
How does DC participate in investing in that solution that’s happening in your community, or my community, or wherever the case may be? You have any thoughts about at what level? Should we be having this conversation?
Yeah, and you know the money thing’s, what I’d encourage is, we come back to it, we certainly we want to, but I put a thumbtack in because I always say, look, we’ve doubled real per pupil spending after inflation over the last 35 years. We’ve dramatically increased school spending, but teachers aren’t seeing a pay raise. What we’re doing is adding bureaucrats, we’re spending dollars or, and we’re increasing the number of teachers per kids.
But that’s not actually translating into smaller class sizes. So I’m concerned that we’re pumping a lot of money into schools nationally, about $17,000 per kid, in a way that we’re not demanding that these dollars translate into impact for kids. So I’m open to talking about more money, but only when I’m confident that we’re actually doing a better job spending the money we got.
Yeah, that’s a great point. And I’ll just followed up with, I also served in the state legislature here in Oklahoma. And we were working we have a board member who was a founder of Maycomb Capital. And they talk a lot about how public decisions, I think it’s less than 3% of them are based on data or outcomes. There’s part of this, in my view, that’s a broader conversation about, you know, how are we making big policy decisions? On the front end? Are we thinking about outcomes? Are we thinking about what’s the highest impact of the dollar that we might spend?
I imagine because education is such a big part of every budget, right? I know, in our state, it’s 53% or 55% of the state budget. So you know, fifty two cents on every dollar spent goes to education. So with government having such bad behavior with how you spend, that means education naturally is going to be an area where we’re going to, you know, feel that a lot worse, because it’s just such a big part of the budget. Does that resonate? Is that fair to say?
Absolutely resonates. And so for me part of this rethink is I love the way you set this up, actually work from you know, part of the problem is we keep trying to solve problems. We don’t know what they are.
So let me give you a for example, the New Mexico legislature just extended their school year by two weeks earlier this spring. On the one hand, that’s great, right, like more school for kids. And we talk forever about how we got to get American kids more opportunity to learn Here’s the thing, American kids spend more time in school already than their peers in advanced industrial countries around the world. You’ll hear about how we want a longer school year school day, average American kid spent 100 hours a year more in school from Grade K to 9 than kids in other advanced nations. Now what’s going on is two things.
You hear they have longer school years in Japan or Germany. It’s true, but they have a much shorter school day. So they spend less time in school. The big issue though, is I always wonder what are we actually doing with the time that we’re locking kids up in these buildings, because like, I got a couple of guys, I got a kindergartener and a third grader, and, you know.
That’s fun. But you know, they’re little boys. They like to run around. And so the idea that the way to make their lives better is to lock them in a school building for an extra hour a day strikes me as nuts. Now, if you tell me you got to plan for that hour, and it’s going to be partly they’re gonna be on the playground doing cool stuff.
There was a Columbia University study talk about data a couple years ago, 2015, they looked at what happens with that 1,080 hours American kids are spending a year in school, only about 650 hours of that are actually used for instruction. Where’s the rest of a going? Guy named Matt Kraft, professor at Brown University, did a study of Providence schools in Rhode Island a couple years ago, you might have even seen this. He and his co-principal investigator, a bunch of grad students, sat in Providence classrooms for a couple of months, this was before COVID, they found that the average Providence classroom had 2,000 interruptions a year, the results of just trying to get kids settled back down. This was somebody walking out a room out of the room, kids, you know, getting up disruptive, you know, all the stuff that happens in classrooms, kids are spending 10 to 20 days a year, that’s two to four weeks, just waiting for disruptions to go away.
So we’re asking taxpayers to pony up for two extra weeks in New Mexico. But what have we done to make sure that we’re using the time we’ve already got in a way that’s good for kids, that educators are actually not just being worn down and exhausted? That we’re actually making a school experience that’s engaging and challenging? And, and so for me, where do we start? We don’t start with big programs, we don’t start nationally, we start by saying, what are teachers doing all day? Where’s time going all day? What are we actually doing with these laptops and Chromebooks, that fell into kids or youth in school. And once we’ve had that conversation, it turns out that there are lots of ways I think, to fundamentally improve school, then we can start talking about new investments, and big or national programs.
This is another kind of off, a little bit of off topic question, it’s on topic but maybe a little bit different. You know, you mentioned what are kids doing every day with laptops, all this kind of stuff? In your research, your experience and the things that you’ve observed? What is the conversation with the teacher in these big rethinking? Do teachers really have a voice?
“Teachers oftentimes are the almost seen but not heard group in this conversation.” – Monroe Nichols
And then oftentimes, I mean, like, sometimes I think what’s lost a lot of these conversations is going to the person in the classroom saying, hey, how can we improve this classroom? And then that translating to actual change? I don’t know if that’s something that you also see, I’d be interested to hear. And I know you’re a former teacher, you may have a little bit of a slant towards… I was kidding. But seriously, I think the teachers oftentimes are like the almost seen but not heard group in this conversation.
I mean, I think that’s spot on. You know, one way to think about this is like, all of these famous kind of quasi BS management theories, like Six Sigma and all, the one thing that I think they really get, right, if you think about like General Electric’s famous Six Sigma motto, it was all about getting the folks on the assembly line, the folks on the floor, to be offering their insights, because they would notice that this machine was always breaking down. Or that, you know, when the assembly line went around that turn, these are things that people you know, with fancy degrees sitting staring at computer dashboards wouldn’t notice, because they’re just too removed from the real day to day.
So one of the things I’ve got a bunch in the Great School Rethink are these exercises I’ve done over the years, like teachers and school leaders, you know, one of the things I like to do with teachers, as I just I’ll take a group of teachers, and I’ll say, All right, I want you guys to list everything you’ve done in school in the last week. And like in 15 minutes, they will list 50 or 100 things, no problem. And it’s everything from putting a hand on a kid shoulder to mentor them to like refilling a coffee machine. And then what I’ll do is I’ll say, All right, let’s circle the five that you spent the most time on. And then I’ll say let’s put a star next to the five that you think make the biggest difference for kids. And tons of time.
There’s almost no overlap between the things that they think matter for kids, and the things that they are expected to spend a lot of time on. And so for me, it’s not just asking teachers, how do you feel all that stuff is nice, but what I’m really talking about is what are we doing with teachers time all day, teachers are the most valuable thing in schools and systems. We spent 55% of the typical school district budget on teacher salary and benefits 80% of personnel and benefits. So this is where we’re putting our money.
Here’s one way to think about it. You know, you walk into, say, a K-5 elementary school and you’ll ask a principal, hey, can you show me your best reading teacher, in second grade? And they’ll take you to a classroom and the teachers teaching or teaching reading for maybe 90 minutes a day. And teaching math for 90 and watching kids eat lunch, and doing hallway patrol the rest. You say, take me to your worst second grade ELA teacher. And that teacher is teaching 90 minutes of English a day.
And I’m not saying like there’s a whole ‘nother conversation about should teachers specialize in elementary school. That’s not what I’m talking about. But I am saying if you go to a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and you say, hey, can I see the best pediatric surgeon in the state? And that pediatric surgeon is doing pediatric surgery for 90 minutes, and then starts peeling off the gloves. And you say, oh, doc, you’re still operating on a kid, what are you doing? And the doctor says, oh, it’s my turn to go serve jello, but don’t worry, we’re gonna let the worst pediatric surgeon in the state takeover. That’s just crazy.
That’s a very clear analogy. But also it just, there’s part of this rethink we need to talk about that, there’s like some obvious answers to some of this, right? Like, it’s not all, I mean, it’s a very complex system, we all understand that. But there’s some low hanging fruit that we just choose not to take until it’s really interesting to, to bring that out. And I wonder I was thinking about doing that same exercise. And schools probably could do a lot of organizations. But yeah, I mean, that’s amazing. To me, the lack of overlap and lack of alignment between those things that you struggle with things you start just strikes me.
Yeah, my general take is the things, teachers, that matter most for kids are the things that the kids are going to remember, they make a human connection. So that’s sitting down to talk to a kid about their essay, that’s asking a kid about like that math worksheet, and like, why they didn’t get it, right. And what happens is, teachers, this is what teachers want to spend their time on mostly. And what you find out is, they’re spending a lot less time on this human stuff. Because they are spending so much time on all the routine stuff, they need, you know, by the time they take attendance and get kids settled and figure out who forgot their laptop, and who didn’t remember their password, and then get the smartboard actually turned on. And like they just spent all this time managing a classroom. And the question is, are there other ways to do that? So they can spend more time being present for individual kids?
That’s great. Yeah, I think I think it’s great. Okay, so we’re gonna shift gears slightly to something that I mentioned to you before we started freaks me out. And that’s AI. I saw a tweet of yours, which I think was just a couple of days ago, where you were asking is AI, this is a tweet from the one and only Rick Hess unless you have, unless you have like somebody who’s impersonating you on Twitter, which is possible, but you say is AI going to gut the kinds of jobs that CTE, career and technical education for everybody listening, will prepare students for our CTE a key to prepare students for AI infused future.
As we rethink schools, you know, I’m always thinking that’s got chat GPT. How’s any teacher gonna know the kid actually wrote the essay, right? So even different from some of the hands on jobs, but just the other stuff. This is a major disruption, I think, in the world of education and major disruption and how we live our life overall, but certainly, in the world of education. I mean, how do we rethink that? Right? So both on the, both on like, the career and technical education side, but also just across the board? What do we do? How do we make sense of all this stuff?
Yeah, you know, I think fortunately, I do think, you know, it can all be so overwhelming. And it’s obviously totally different from, you know, so much that we’re used to, but I think there’s two kinds of analogies that can be really helpful here.
The first is a guy, Bror Saxberg, who used to run learning for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. And I did a book about 10 years ago, in which we said, we only know of one education technology that delivered on its promise. It did two really cool things. One, it said that you didn’t have to be in a classroom with a teacher to be able to learn. You could go home and learn and then come in and talk about stuff. And the other was it meant that you could learn from anybody around the world, you didn’t just have to learn from somebody in your school. Talking, of course, about the book, right? Like once you had the book, you could go home, read and come in and discuss it. And even if nobody in your country understood like algorithms, somebody could.
Now this was introduced like five centuries ago. And we’re still not very good at using it in a lot of schools. So what it did was it flipped the classroom about five centuries before we started. Khan Academy flipping the classroom. But you will walk into classrooms, and teachers will ask kids to read a book at home. And then they will still make them read the whole darn thing out loud, paragraph by paragraph because they don’t trust it, they read it. So having cool tools doesn’t necessarily make learning better. That’s the first thing. Second thing is one thing that I think is real similar in some ways to GPT, at least our mindset, was the calculator was introduced in the 1970.
You know, I have to say, Rick, I’m really frustrated. There’s a teacher that I had, I think, in third or fourth grade, who said you got to do it by hand, because you’re not gonna have a calculator everywhere you go. And I do. My cell phone, I have a calculator everywhere I go.
Right, right, well, but here’s the thing, right? Like, and you have this, these two schools of thought, like back then and even now, I guess, one is A, you can’t use the calculator in school, because you got to learn it all by hand. And that’s really kind of dumb by the time you get to like trigonometry and stuff. On the other hand, there was also this feel good hippies school of thought that like, okay, you don’t need to learn how to do computation anymore. You just gotta learn how to mash buttons. And that strikes me as crazy dangerous, because if you don’t know, like, about a dozen people a year die in American hospitals, because somebody gets the dosage wrong. You should have a good feeling of whether those numbers look right.
And I think with like ChatGPT, or other kinds of AI, one way to think about it is look, if teachers are telling kids to write essays at home, there is no earthly way to know if the kid did the work or not. So kids can all just come in, tell ChatGPT to write it, hand it in. But that was always bad. That was always bad assignment. Because if you had enough money, you were buying papers online anyway, or you were cutting pasting from Wikipedia.
So what teachers should have been doing all along, and hopefully AI will really force them to, is you got to say to the kid, all right, you got to come in, you got to give an oral presentation on the question you’re going to ask. And then you got to come in, and you got to explain to me, the three key arguments you’re going to make. And then you got to come in…. And so like, partly what it’s doing is it’s breaking down the process into the pieces.
So just like if you ever hung out on the sideline of like, you know, a good football practice or basketball practice in high school, and you’ll see the coach breaking it down, piece by piece for the offensive lineman hand position here, elbows here, foot here, that’s ought to be how we’re teaching this stuff in English class in ninth grade. And we haven’t been, but maybe this will force us to get serious about English teaching, as we’ve been about, like, you know, coaching kids to play ball.
You know, I was smiling over here, because I am freaked out about a lot of it. But now that you tell me this is just like the new calculator, I can sleep better at night. You know, that’s what, I’m gonna tell them, I’m gonna reinforce no but it’s okay, you’ve had a calculator your whole life. This is, it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. I do really wonder also, though, like, you know, for specifically on the kind of the career tech end. And I know, we got robots and all kinds of stuff, I mean, if you go look at a manufacturing shop floor now, it looks a lot different than it did 40 years ago, 20 years ago, probably even a lot different than a decade ago.
What do you think that means for, you know, the young people or even folks who are coming back? There’s a lot of adults who are coming back and re-skilling about what that looks like, both on the education side. And in the economic side, right? Like, is, I didn’t have an opportunity to read the article that you lift up in your tweet, but I don’t know if there’s some that you would even offer up on that end specifically.
Yeah, and actually, that was an article written by a fellow named Cameron Sublett at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He’s real smart about this stuff. And he was breaking down kind of the federal reporting on CTE. And one of the things you’re going to see is, you know, I certainly don’t mean for folks to go, oh, it’s like the calculator, we’re cool. Because like, you know, I never, I was never worried that a calculator was going to take over.
I need, I need to be able to sleep man, don’t take it away from me now,
You know but the problem is, we’ve all seen Terminator, man. Like, once you’ve seen, I never saw a calculator takeover, like, you know, the US defense system.
But here’s what, think about it, like, AI is really unique in some ways, but not in every way. Like we’ve been through explosive technological change before. We talked about this, with like the internet. And we talked about this with the automobile. And with the steam engine. And each time we were like, whoa, I mean, how many people are going to be out of work, because now you’ve got these steam engines that can move all of this stuff across the country at once, who’s gonna need workers anymore. And each time over the centuries what’s happened and it could change but the past is usually pretty good predictor. Each time we found out that we created lots of new opportunities for each one that kind of went away.
So that’s one thing that you know, it’s hard to imagine all of the cool stuff that is going to need to be done. It was for me what that means, educationally is we need to be real humble. I worry when people start saying, you know, they say they were saying 10 years ago, robotics means we need to have programs and this and that, and that, and we don’t need to study that. Well, turns out a lot of those assumptions are robotics change radically once you get AI.
In fact, just 10 years ago, we were saying there would be no truckers in the US by like, 2025, 2030. So that’s 3 million high school graduate men who are gonna be out of work. And well, now it’s looking like there’s going to be truckers well into the 2030s, 2040s. We’ll see how this goes. Turns out…
Almost can’t find enough now.
Yeah. So for me, I mean, I think the key thing is, we need to understand that some jobs are gonna go away, and a lot of jobs will be created. And we’re really bad at predicting exactly which ones. So we need to make sure that we have schools that are nimble, that are teaching skills, but we also need to like not psych ourselves out, when you’ve got technology that can do these crazy deep fakes.
When you can make video or articles it looks, it’s actually more important than it used to be that kids know, when the Civil War was fought, that kids know. Because if they don’t have some piece of information to judge the internet against, they’re going to be sea. You can’t just go and check the encyclopedia on your shelf anymore. So you’ve got to know what you can trust and can’t trust. So when you hear people start saying, we don’t need to teach kids anything that’s about history, or, you know, great works of literature, because they can find it on the web. I’m like, I’m afraid you guys got this exactly backwards.
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. We’re getting close to closing now. And you talked about something that I think is it’s something that we’ve all seen across the country, just watching the TV, and how education, and I think particularly, I think COVID had a lot to do with this is become, you know, the top issue, but it’s different, right?
You’ve mentioned No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and for their pluses or minuses, those are all things thinking about, you know, what are these forward-thinking things we’re going to do as it relates to education? Right now, education is polarized for all different reasons. Education used to be a feel-good issue for everybody. We’re going to make it better.
Now we’re having a lot of political arguments on like, what should be taught in schools? And what should we do here? And what should be banned and what shouldn’t and you know, when school, it’s a different conversation we’re having about education. You know, it seems like every year is an election year. But certainly we have a big election coming up in 2024. And I imagined education to be front and center. What are some ways that you think in a perfect world, which we don’t live in, but ways that we can be centering the issue in a way that doesn’t make it driven by partisanship?
Now, what are the things that we should be talking about, that are going to move the needle for kids and students and children and I think families more broadly, that they can maybe you know, where we can bring in these different approaches, differences of opinion, but it’s not going to drive the kind of divide? It’s driven over the last three years in particular?
Yeah, no, man, it’s a great question. I think one way to think about this is, you know, all of us who are like less than 70 years old, grew up in a world where education felt generally bipartisan, like you’re saying, going back to really Nation at Risk during the Reagan administration, so 40 years ago. And one of the things that was striking was this was when the Cold War was at its hottest and wound down. And then we had kind of this era of American prosperity.
And so our Republicans and Democrats were trying to accommodate themselves to this new world. And what happened was education for Republicans became the way that the showed that they meant it when they talked about equality of opportunity. They were like, look, yeah, we don’t want to spend more. But we’re actually sincere, about equal. And so that’s where George W. Bush, No Child Left Behind, was so powerful. And for Democrats, they were coming out of an era of tax and spend liberalism, kind of the Mike Dukakis problem. And so for Bill Clinton, for Barack Obama, this was a way where they were saying, look, we’re about investment, we’re about opportunity. We’re not about…
Well, there was about a 25 year window there, where the parties were really agree, we agreed on opportunity on hard work, that America was basically a good place. And that schooling was about making sure that people had the chance to earn their way forward. And what’s happened is that larger social consensus has unraveled in important ways. Maybe this is healthy, I tend not to think so but whatever. But that’s the world we live in. And so right now, leaders in both parties, instead of using education to kind of show how responsive they are to that centrist kind of agreement, they use it to go to their base. So if you’re a Democrat, you talk about spending more money on, you know, forgiving student loans and more money for teacher pay. If you’re Republican, you talk about gender issues, and 1619 Project, because your base is worried that schools are preaching anti-American values. How do you find common ground here?
This guy Pedro Noguera is the Dean of USC School of Education. We wrote a book couple years ago called A Search for Common Ground. For me, the big lesson out of that whole experience was, you find common ground, not by trying to talk in platitudes. But by trying to actually dig down and drill into this stuff. What is actually happening in early childhood education, which kids aren’t getting the supports they need. Some of this is about giving families more options. Some of it’s about investing in places that don’t have any functioning programs. Some of it’s about each side agreeing to keep their wackos and check so that this doesn’t become a football, but it’s actually about solving problems.
And so I think part of the problem is we tend to try to do bipartisanship right now, by coming up with buzzwords, and then saying, we’re gonna agree to this. And the problem is, in a world where there’s so much distrust, and where there’s so much frustration on both sides, as soon as they hear politician start talking and buzzwords, they start to go, if they’re on your side, they start to say, what are you selling us out? And the other side says, I don’t trust you. And so I think we actually need to go the other way. We got to get real practical, real concrete. And I think that’s one of the things you’re seeing with like some of the expansion of, say, education savings accounts, is when you start talking to families about exactly what this is going to allow them to do.
It’s possible to get let, and I think those are the states that raise teacher pay effectively, when you’re talking about this very concretely, not as a broad bipartisan statement. But what’s it mean for kids? I think there actually is an appetite among parents and teachers. But we don’t necessarily see that when we’re operating at 30,000 feet.
That’s great. That’s great. Well, I appreciate that. It’s been great to have you on the podcast today, I’m going to give you, we’re going to play a little game to officially close you out. And it’s going to be hope and concern. I want to hear from the good Dr. Rick Hess, greatest hope for education in this country, and maybe your greatest concern that you have, as we wrap up our time together today.
“I think there’s a real appetite to make sure schools are serving kids and families and letting
teachers do their best work” – Rick Hess
I think greatest hope is what we’re talking about that I think there’s a real appetite to make sure schools are serving kids and families and letting teachers do their best work. And I don’t think that’s always been true. Over the last 20, 30 years is how we thought about it. And I think that’s an incredibly important thing. And I hope we take advantage. biggest concern. Honestly, teens are spending seven and a half hours a day online, two thirds of it in gaming or social media. Tweens are spending six hours a day. Kids are staying up late into the night.
I think just getting, you know, inviting bullying online, having virtual relationships rather than real ones. They’re checked out a lot of the time in their day to day. And I think we have to find ways to make sure we’re getting kids reconnected to their families, to their teachers and mentors to their peers in the real world. So that the virtual stuff becomes a plus and a compliment, rather than a distraction.
Great. Well, Rick, with that, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. If you’re listening, you can go out, I bet you can find on Amazon and your favorite bookstore, The Great School Rethink by Rick Hess. Rick, I’m very much looking forward to hearing from you in September in San Francisco, at the annual convening, and get an opportunity to finally meet you in person. But thank you for being here so much. Thank you for the work that you do. And I know our network members and the folks who follow us and listen this podcast are really going to enjoy this. I imagine you may get some folks reaching out to you. So thank you very much for sharing this time with us. And thank you all for joining us today. Stay connected with us by visiting strivetogether.org where you can get the latest information through our monthly newsletter. You’ll also find transcripts of our Together for Change podcast series, case studies and more.