Associate Professor of Education
Jal Mehta is an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His research explores the role of different forms of knowledge in tackling major social and political problems, particularly problems of human improvement. He has also written extensively on what it would take to improve American education, with a particular focus on the professionalization of teaching.
Jal is the author of The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) and the co-editor of The Futures of School Reform (Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2012). He is currently working on two projects: In Search of Deeper Learning, a contemporary study of schools, systems, and nations that are seeking to produce ambitious instruction; and The Chastened Dream, a history of the effort to link social science with social policy to achieve social progress. He is co-editor of the Learning Deeply blog at Education Week, and in 2014 was the top-ranked junior faculty scholar in the Rick Hess Education Week rankings. He is also the winner of the Morningstar Teaching Award at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was recently awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship and will be on sabbatical for the 2016-17 academic year.
The Human Side of Policy: Empathy and Perspective Taking in American Education Reform (2016-2016)
Scholars have explored potential reasons for the limited successes of reform policies, but few have explored the significance of the social and emotional aspects of policy implementation. Given that education is a fundamentally social enterprise (Gehlbach, 2010, p.349), we theorize that the human side of reform is a critical but under-attended to dimension in creating efficacious policy. In this study, we interview a vertical slice of actors (state, district, principals, and teachers) in two states and explore how they understand similar policies as well as how they understand one another. Preliminary results from our first state suggest significant difference in worldviews across levels, an absence of empathy and the ability to take the perspectives of others in the system, and lack of communication and human contact are key factors that impede the creation of inter-organizational trust that is critical for successful reform. We plan to extend the research to a second state, delineate the core elements of the worldviews of actors at different levels of the system, and identify what participants describe as the key barriers and facilitating factors to building empathy, perspective-taking and trust across levels.
Transforming Teaching (2015-2017)
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Transforming Teaching is an organization housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that promotes the professionalization of teaching towards deeper learning competencies. This grant supports work to build a movement across many organizations in support of that goal, specifically by developing a shared strategy, language, and set of frames that would unite actors in support of these objectives. It also supports the development of policy papers, as well as partnerships with other key actors to develop gold standard practices in support of these goals. This work accelerates the Hewlett Foundations goals of spreading deeper learning to more students by building the infrastructure, systems, and strategy needed to create teachers who can teach for deeper learning.
Building a Knowledge Base to Support Teaching (2013-2014)
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
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 (2013-2014)
National Center on Education and the Economy
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.