Jal Mehta is an Associate Professor in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His primary research interest is in understanding what it would take to create high quality schooling at scale, with a particular interest in the professionalization of teaching. He is the co-editor of the recently released The Futures of School Reform (Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2012), and the author of the forthcoming The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). He is currently working on two projects: The Chastened Dream, a history of the effort to link social science with social policy to achieve social progress; and In Search of Deeper Learning, a contemporary study of schools, systems, and nations that are seeking to produce ambitious instruction. Jal received his Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard University.
Building a Knowledge Base to Support Teaching, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, (2013-2014) The quality of teaching plays an important role in shaping school outcomes. Studies confirm what parents have long known, which is that teachers are the most important educational factor influencing student trajectories. In light of these findings, in recent years there has been increasing policy attention to all aspects of the human capital pipeline, including recruitment, selection, and evaluation. Noticeably absent from these discussions is teaching itself. Much of the writing about better schooling has nothing at all to say about the specific practices involved, relying solely on outcomes to gauge effectiveness. There is much more discussion about how to do teacher evaluation than there is about the kinds of teaching we are evaluating.
This project seeks to accelerate the building of a knowledge base for teaching. The project includes interviews with key stakeholders, commissioning essays on how knowledge is developed and used in other fields, the writing of a white paper laying out what a functioning R and D system would look like in U.S. education, and a convening among key stakeholders to discuss this proposal.
Proposal for International Benchmarking Support, National Center on Education and the Economy, (2013-2014) The National Center of Education and the Economy, through its Center on International Education Benchmarking , is working to build a community of researchers interested in investigating how a small set of countries and states have managed to build and sustain educational systems that manage routinely to produce higher and more equitable outcomes for children and youth. Over the course of the project, NCEE will support HGSE as it builds the kind of critical mass of faculty and doctoral students needed to advance this field through a collaboration with NCEEs CIEB. This work will position both NCEE and HGSE to play leadership roles in helping build this new field.
Futures of School Reform, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, (2008-2011) This initiative aims to spark an important and lacking national conversation about future directions for school reform. Discussion of educational reform today is stuck in three critical respects: 1) our current strategies are insufficient to meet our rightly ambitious goals of eliminating gaps in achievement; 2) our current discussion of the ends of schooling is too narrowly focused around testing to the neglect of other important purposes of education; 3) our current approaches are too removed from ideas in other arenas about how to improve practice and adapt to change. To generate a new round of thinking that addresses these limitations, this initiative will bring together 30 national educational leaders and thinkers with a broad diversity of experience and capabilities (i.e. school leaders, urban superintendents, educational entrepreneurs, technology experts, experts on teaching and learning). This group will engage in a series of intensive structured discussions over two years, following by the production of a written product in the third year. In this volume, working groups of the larger set will lay out five different visions for the future of school reform. Results of the work will be broadly disseminated. This work will be distinctive from other national panels in several respects: 1) its charge will be to think broadly about the future of school reform as opposed to remedying failings of existing law; 2) the committee will be widely diverse in its knowledge and expertise; 3) its mission will be to avoid banal consensus and instead to lay out competing ideas about what a better future might look like. Interim success will be measured by the degree to which the ideas receive coverage in the education press and the broader media; longer-term success will be measured by whether these ideas penetrate educational policy and practice.