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Askwith Education Forum

Beyond Recovery

National education leaders gather at HGSE to explore meaningful, actionable solutions in the wake of COVID-19

Education leaders from HGSE and beyond convened in Askwith Hall on October 14 to discuss how districts, schools, and families can emerge from the challenges of COVID-19 and shift from recovery mode into a transformed field. 

"We know that significant opportunities for transformation are standing within our grasp," said Dean Bridget Long as she welcomed guests (both in-person and online) to the convening, called Beyond Recovery: Seizing Opportunities to Transform Education in a Post-Covid Era. "The goal is not to get back to where we were, since where we were reflected so many inequities and shortfalls that were just not acceptable. We look ahead because we believe there is a higher standard we can meet for all students."

>> Read more about the convening in the Harvard Gazette.

Throughout the "solution-oriented, forward-looking day," experts explored the effective practices, innovations, and chances for progress open to the education field. Sessions focused on strategic and integrated approaches to recovery, learning acceleration, mental health and wellness, and supporting and bolstering the teaching profession. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joined the convening with an energized address that warned against falling into old ways of doing things and calling for educators to meet the challenge of today.

Other highlights from the daylong convening included:

Kent McGuire and Peggy Kemp

Long moderated the opening session with Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, and Kent McGuire, program director of education, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in which they stressed that an integrated approach is the only way in which solutions will be reached. It will take people with varying perspectives and skillsets to confront the challenges the education field continues to face, and there needs to be data that is defensible to help chart the path. 

"All inequities are not created equal," said Carr (pictured, right). "We need to know what works and what works best and then put the resources where they need to go. … If the resources aren’t being targeted to the students that need them, to the communities that need them, it’s going to be harder to make the progress that we need."

Although there is no "silver bullet," the panel warned, they remain confident there is way move forward.

"Don’t surrender to the idea that the system is broken – it is not," said McGuire. "If we can get that straight, then almost anything is possible."

Penny Schwinn

The related topics of learning loss and accelerated learning were addressed in a session in which perspectives of district and state leaders, parents, and researchers and data analysts were all considered. Professor Paul Reville moderated the discussion between Professor Thomas Kane, faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University; Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools; and Penny Schwinn, commissioner of Tennessee Department of Education.

"If we don’t start with a set of interventions that even on paper are way too small to get there, we are going to find out next year at this time the kids are still way behind," said Kane, stressing that his messaging is for district leaders that have available federal funding available to put interventions in place now — not parents. "The sooner we started on a larger scale catch-up effort, the better off we’ll all be."

Lisa Herring

Senior Lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer led a discussion on mental health and wellness, with Professor Stephanie Jones and public school superintendents Joseph Davis (Ferguson-Florissant School District) and Lisa Herring (Atlanta Public Schools). Questions of leadership, the capacity of school counselors, and equity were addressed and continuing pain points for both schools and students were explored. All panelists agreed, it is critical that the wellness of both students and educators must be considered now, in order to effectively make any progress.

"The trauma still resides. So all of this is critically important," said Herring. "If we are not addressing the issue of trauma in real time for children and adults, I don’t think we are doing ourselves a service, to be honest, around how we can accelerate the learning. How do you learn in brokenness — whether you are a child or adult?" 


Miguel Cardona

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona addressed attendees by stressing that "reimagination is vital to our future."

"Do we have the will to match the unprecedented resources with unprecedented urgency? Are we willing to embrace the disruption and combat the complacency with the same fervor with which we fought COVID for the last two years?" asked Cardona. "One of my biggest fears as secretary of education is that we go back to how education was in 2020. That didn’t work for too many students who looked like me. We’ve normalized disparities in opportunities and outcomes as a country and we cannot go back. Returning to the same system would be failing our students."

In conversation with Dean Long, he challenged the educators in the room and watching the broadcast to dig in and fight the complacency that people are allowing to creep back in. It will be tough to fight the tendency to go back to how things were, but worth it. "If your job is easy in the next 5 years, you’re not pushing hard enough," he said.

Beyond Recovery panel

The day's concluding panel brought together Professor Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell, Brown's Matthew Kraft, and Heather Peske, president, National Council on Teacher Quality, to talk through ways in which we can support the teaching profession. Academic Dean Martin West moderated the discussion that highlighted existing concerns around the profession, including waning interest, and presented possible solutions, such as creating more discernible career ladders within teaching and encouraging innovative teaching practices.

"It is true that we are not where we need to be," said Bridwell-Mitchell, "but if we think about where we are right now as an opportunity to do the kinds of things that have to happen for professional work to thrive, then we are in a situation where we can ask ourselves questions like, What are the kinds of relationships that have to exist amongst the teachers in school buildings to make school the kind of place where not just where students want to go to, but people want to go to work? What are the kinds of things that we can do to create a shared body of knowledge?"

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