Capstone Keynote: “Beyond the Elections: Politics, Policy, and Education”
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Capstone Keynote: “Beyond the Elections: Politics, Policy, and Education”


– I’m delighted to introduce
our next two guests. Michael Feuer is dean of the George Washington
University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. And James Fallows is the
national correspondent for The Atlantic. We’re thrilled to have both of you here. Jim, I’ve been a fan of your
writing for a long time, and we have something in common. You’ve written extensively
about Middle America, and when I came to the US, I spent eight years in
central rural Illinois. So obviously I see the world
through corn-colored glasses. (audience laughing) Let’s start with the
million-dollar question, what can we expect in
terms of education policy. Michael, you want to take that? – I get the first one and it’s
a million-dollar question. Well, I think it’s an
opportunity for us to reflect on some of the basic policy
issues that are going to come before us, and ask, to what extent do we know
enough now to actually predict with any kind of sensitivity what is actually going to take place. Prediction is certainly one
of the, perhaps, casualties of the recent election cycle. Even without a lot of statistical armament on me here, I would say, one has to be cautious about this. But, that said, I’ll tell you what I’m worried about. I am worried about this resurgent preoccupation, or almost fetish, with privatization. At the expense of what I consider to be one of the most important
cultural, historical, political, educational economic advantages
of the United States, which has been an investment
in public education, going back almost two centuries. So I worry about this recurrent
over-emphasis on this. On the other hand, the data are quite interesting about that. In spite of all of this
pressure toward privatization, and its most extreme version, vouchers, it is still the case that fewer than 10% of American children are
actually in private school, only 5% of American kids
are in charter schools, and there is a general
sense that there may be, in these experiments with
various types of privatization, some things that we can
learn that would be of use in the public system. So, I can, live with that. The other thing that
I’m most worried about in terms of education policy now, is whether this rhetoric of, I don’t know what to call it, it’s a rhetoric of negativity, and it’s a rhetoric of exclusion, that I hope we, as a
community of educators, and teachers, and scholars of education, and political people, and policy makers, have the courage to push back against. Rhetoric turns into behavior. On that, the history is pretty clear. And that’s why I hope that
we can face this rhetoric, again, with a certain
amount of appreciation that what may actually
happen will not match the most vicious parts of the,
and you can name the group, I think every one of
the groups was included in one part of this campaign or another, against whom the rhetoric
was ugly, and debasing, and fundamentally I think un-American. So we’ll have to just
hope that we can push back against some of that. How’s that for an optimistic, – Well, talking about optimism, Jim, I want to quote something
that you had written in a recent article in The Atlantic. “I believe that Donald Trump
is clownishly unprepared to be president, and even
less suited by temperament.” Have you changed your mind at all, anything to be hopeful about? – This was an article in
The Atlantic that came out, every four years, I do a story
about presidential debates. And how to think about the
collision of personalities, of rhetorical styles, and all the rest. I was long ago a
presidential speech writer for Jimmy Carter. So this was my way of
saying, and the set up to an article about the
Trump Clinton debates, that you shouldn’t be confused
about who I’m supporting in this election. I think that Donald Trump,
in my view, then and now, is the most unsuited person for this job who has ever been prepared to take it. And my opinion has only
gone down since then. But he is apparently
going to take the office. As a performer, which was
a lot of these judging in the debates, he was
a remarkable performer, and I was trying to explain how I quoted Jane Goodall at length, about what she’d learned
from studies of the primates. And she said that she was
exactly, and I’m just quoting now, she was saying that she
was exactly reminded of chimpanzee dominance rituals, when she saw Trump dealing
with his Little Marco, and Lying Ted, and the
others on the debate stage. So in terms of my feelings
about the president, which are not really our subject here, I am apprehensive for the nation. In terms of other sources
of American resilience, including education, I’m happy to join you in trying to look for the bright side. – One of the things about that article I found super interesting was, someone had analyzed the words used, and most of the candidates used words of third- and fourth- graders. I thought, that’s a whole different spin on telling 10-year olds, you can be president when you grow up. – So has anybody else
here been a speech writer? Many people here are speech writers. When I was working for President Carter, I actually got in trouble
with the lying press, as we now call it, because I pointed out that
some presidential speeches, you direct at a
seventh-grade reading level. And that was seen as being
somehow disrespectful, but in fact, public
discourse, advertisements, news broadcasts, that’s sort
of what you’re looking for. And that is if you analyze, I
think Jack Shafer of POLITICO this year did it, other
people have done that. If you analyze major politicians,
usually there’s the case, both with Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, and all the other
Republicans, except Trump, it was sort of that sixth-
through eighth-level discourse. And Trump was at the
third-grade discourse. And I quoted some of his things, saying, “It’s gonna be great,
we’re gonna have big deals, “We only lose, we’re gonna
win, it’s gonna be great.” Again, he has won the electoral college, so this is the reality
we are now dealing with. And I’ll say one other thing here. I got a, a long note from a person
whom I won’t identify by gender or location, but
whose job has been transcribing TV interviews over the last ten years. This person attested that he
or she had had more exposure to the content of Donald Trump’s
interviews and utterances than anybody else alive. And what was remarkable,
from that exposure, this person said, was there was no topic, with the exception of eminent domain, on which he had exhibited
any substance knowledge of any sort, beyond like, the first sentence is gonna be great. When it comes to what
is gonna be the forecast for education policy, or
North Korea, or whatever else, we are all rolling the dice. – Let’s get back to hopeful. You have traveled extensively
in Middle America. And you have great
examples of what’s working. Rural schools, small school districts, tell us about some of them. – To give you the 20-second
background version, for the past three-plus years, ever since my wife and
I moved back from China, we’ve been spending about
half our time traveling in the parts of America
we now think of as being not covered well by the media. And medium-sized and smaller cities, looking at the ways they
dealt with economic, environmental, cultural,
whatever dislocation, and generally, the
message we’ve been taking is that almost every place
we went, people thought, oh America’s in terrible trouble, but here in Columbus, Mississippi,
things are looking up. Here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, things are getting better. Here in Allentown, PA,
here in Duluth, Minnesota, and so one of the areas
where we’d ask people, typically, when coming into a town, is, tell us about an interesting school. And if there was an
answer to that question, or better yet, if there
were five or six answers, that was a really good sign. I can just reel off a couple of places in the Central Valley
California area, Fresno, Winters, California, too. There’s all these wonderful schools of training the children
of migrant laborers to become sort of ag-tech workers. With all the more, much
more water-efficient, and genomics-based
agriculture of that area. In inland Southern
California, where I’m from, in San Bernardino, there are areas where they’re
trying to do that, too. In Dodge City, Kansas, again, which is now a majority Latino community, because of the Kansas state cutbacks, the decisions of Dodge City, voted themselves a big school bond issue. They have a quite ambitious
school, which has, in addition to other
things, a bass-fishing team. They are competitive bass fishers, but they do other things beyond that. And they’ve had the last
two Teachers of the Year from Kansas, have been there. Holland, Michigan, has some
very interesting things. I’ll mention one other,
St. Mary’s, Georgia, the very southern-most
coastal part of Georgia, before you hit Florida,
they have a very, very large headcount high school, the
Camden County high school, which they keep very large, because they’re the perennial
state football champion. But they also have a really impressive career technical education program there. Everybody goes out with a
normal quote, unquote education, but they are welders, and
they are construction workers, and they are nurses, and they
are criminal investigators, and all that. Most places, we found at least a few innovative public schools,
I’ll mention one more, in Greenville, South Carolina, the A.J. Whittenberg Elementary
School for engineers. This is a downtown, low-income, minority, Greenville, South Carolina, and they train the kids as engineers. With these engineers from
GE, and Michelin, and BMW, teaching there. So it makes you feel,
stuff is actually happening in the fabric of the country. – You have lived abroad, and reported
extensively on China, and that’s my segue into my next question. So TIMSS has just come out, the international test
for math and science, the PISA results are coming out. There’s a lot of angst
about where America ranks, because we don’t do so well
in the rankings, typically. Is it all doom and gloom, is this something we should
be super worried about? – You wanna give the
official answer, I can give, – I’m in no position to
give an official answer, but I wanna just say that, I wanna hear your answer to this. – If you promise you’re
not going to change, based on Jim’s answer. – Well, no, the point here
is, it’s very important, because it ties to what
Jim was just saying about this experience in
visiting some of these places across America. That there is a rhetoric of failure, and comparative failure, that is very gripping, on the
political psyche, generally. Now, some of the people
here undoubtedly remember in 1983, the Nation at Risk,
which used some of the most potent language, to make the case that we were experiencing a rising tide of mediocrity,
but if a foreign nation, if a foreign power were found
to have been responsible for America’s educational condition, it would be considered an act of war. But compared to the rhetoric
that Jim was describing in the most recent campaign, Nation at Risk seems sorta mild. The point here, is that I
would like to hear Jim’s view on how to square whatever the results are in things like TIMSS and
PISA, with the experience of people in communities
that are really making a positive educational difference. – Let’s stipulate that the
US has problems of all sorts, including education. The starting point it is,
the second Gilded Age, all the extremes of wealth
and poverty, and corruption, and people being dislocated by technology, et cetera, et cetera, and
having highly unequal education, among other things. Everybody here knows
that, and that is no news. The main lesson I conveyed
from living in China for almost four years, is that the United States
has terrible problems, but anybody in China would
trade them in one second, for China’s problems,
including in education. I’ll give you a couple of illustrations. If you think under-privileged
American schools have a hard time, I’d say, go to China. I spent a long time in far Western China, sort of the equivalent, as
if, the most depressed parts of Appalachia were as far
away as Nevada, or something. The geography of China is like the US, if it stopped at the Rockies,
or if it stopped at Nevada, if there were no California. So the further in you go, the more desert-y and more
mountain-y and poorer it gets. We’d see these schools where
the children would walk from their villages, on Monday morning, 10 or 12 miles, they would stay the whole
week at this school, literally 14 or 15 teenagers per room about the size
of a shipping container. And they’d have their little
books and everything, it was, hundreds of millions of people in China, it’s still a poor country,
with a lot of people, doing that way, where
their faces are sort of, permanently red from frostbite. I was in Shanghai, as
of about 36 hours ago. In Shanghai, where I think
these TIMSS measures are taken, you can find a layer of the very most sophisticated students. And if you compare the most
privileged people in Shanghai, with the run-of-the-mill
in Pennsylvania, or Iowa, you can say, oh, we’re falling behind. If it’s useful in directing
our attention, fine. You shouldn’t be dissuaded
and to think, oh, let’s have the Chinese schooling system. I’ll tell you one other anecdote. The reason I was in
China, this is a secret, it’s just between us here. No one will know. Back in my dim past, I’d
been a Rhodes Scholar. I’d gone and studied in Oxford. Through a long backstory,
we’ve established a Rhodes Scholarship program for China. So I was there for the second
selection of a winning class from the Chinese universities. These, as you can imagine,
were a very impressive group of young people, whom
we were choosing from. There were four winners we chose
from the entirety of China, among 14 finalists. Even if you assume the
raw talent distillation of four people, out of a
country of 1.4 billion, still, the way in which
they were looking forward to either going to Oxford, or if they didn’t win the scholarships, getting their graduate
fellowships at Yale, or at University of
Chicago, or at Berkeley. The gap between what is available
in the US in particular, in the western world in
general, and Chinese education, is so enormous, that yes. If comparisons with China make
us try harder, that’s fine, but don’t be fooled. – I just wanna segue from
that into a related point. And that is, international
comparisons in education have been around for a long time. And there’s a great deal
of good that can come from this kind of cross-national analysis, and introspection, and comparison. There’s also a certain amount of mischief that can result from an
over-reliance on certain kinds of scores, and an
over-reliance on league tables, and all the rest. There was a time when the
United States government, contemplating its involvement in international comparative studies, turned to an independent
scientific organization for advice. Which was a smart thing to do. There was a time when the
United States Congress, and this is when I met
Jim Fallows, ’cause I was at the Office of Technology
Assessment, rest in peace, and that was an example of
Congress turning to, essentially, a scientifically expert community for independent objective advice. So here you have a good example. Will there be an appetite, on the part of this new government, and I ask that, I’m trying to
be rhetorically neutral here, and ask it rather more empirically. Will there be an appetite
for something that resembles credible, objective evidence, in the service of improved policy-making. – The answer is, let us hope so. – Okay. (laughs) That’s the short version of
the answer, yes, let us hope. – What do you think are
some of the most urgent, if you had to give the new
administration a wish list, what would you say are the top three education, kind of policies,
we need to look at? – Jim. – I’m going to answer a different
version of that question. And again, I’ll introduce it this way, in the current issue of The Atlantic, I have a long story about
how to deal with China. Whether the assumptions
of dealing with China for the last 40 years
need to be reexamined, because things are constricting
so much there internally. And the premise of that piece, which went to press about two
weeks before the election, was that the United States
would be carefully judging its options, and the consequences
of dealing with China. I’m not sure that that
premise applies anymore. So, too, with education. The question I’ll answer is, what do I hope, not what I expect this
administration will do, what I hope the United States would do, I’m not an education expert,
so my answers, therefore, will be obvious. The first is the obvious
point about everything in the United States at
this moment, which is, the simultaneous effects of
polarization and denigration of the public. In my view, the greatest
moments of the United States have been when there was a coincident respect for the public, and
respect for the unifying. Ways to create
opportunities for everybody. All of my forebearers came
from non-college families, who went to college because of
World War II and the GI Bill. There was entirely different
opportunities for them, that’s my understanding
of American History. If there is some way the
United States could restore its sense of the public and
the chance for everyone, That would be my first goal. A second goal I would have,
I was really impressed around the country by two
phenomena that you all know about, but I’d paid no attention to. And that was number one, the career technical education wave, and also the roles of
community colleges in that. I’d known all about the
commanding heights of education with our research universities, which are so important
in the United States, but in place, after place,
after place around the country, we found that the opportunity for, if you have people of my
generation who are displaced from their factory jobs, and people of their children’s
generation and below who wanted different opportunities, it was mainly career technical training and community colleges
who were connecting them with these highly paid skilled
jobs that actually exist. And where there’s a lot of demand. They’re different from
the jobs that are going, but that’s been the long
story of our country. I’m saying, public in the middle, career technical and community colleges, an end to such bad-mouthing
about education. It is a better unifying
thing than we think, and most people recognize that
about their own communities. If they didn’t imagine
their successes locally were these anomalies, anyhow, that’s my non-expert view. – What about you?
– Do you want my three? I’m so glad that you got him first, ’cause that gave me a chance to think. He’s too fast. First of all, I want you all
to know, since I’m a dean, I’m allowed to give
homework assignments, right? You all should get your
hands on the March 2016 issue of The Atlantic, where Jim
and his wife Deb have an essay which essentially describes
their visit to these places across the United States, it
is, besides everything else, a brilliant piece of writing, as we’re accustomed to from Jim. But it is so relevant to
what we are facing now, not just in education, but in
the future of this country, that that’s my homework assignment. For me, the three things would be, I would’ve said this
to either party winning this presidential election. One is to get serious about inequality. Economic inequality, wealth
inequality in the United States, and its effect on educational opportunity. And what we have allowed
to happen in the economy of the United States, in terms of the quite outrageous gap between
the poor and the rich. It’s something that has
long-term and very, very deep impacts on education and on opportunities. So I would emphasize inequality. Now I realize that in the
light of the administration that is about to take office, the probability of my ideas being adopted is on the low side, but you asked for my, the second is another
word that starts with I-N and that would be the word investment. Here, actually, maybe there’s some hope, because at least the leader
of the party that won claims to have made his fortune
by being a smart investor. Let’s see some of that
investment mentality when it comes to
education, by which I mean, not just investing in the
ideas that the private sector can handle at all, but
investing public resources in the service of what is a public good. That’s gonna take a
little bit of lobbying, let’s just say, with this group, but I still think that
would be my second thing. And the third is another
word that start with I-N, and that’s inclusion, and
for that I think, again, the American experience,
and the American experiment, in universal education and in access, and in expanding the franchise. I was telling some of my
faculty earlier today, pretty soon I’m gonna be
starting to wear a lapel pin with the Statue of Liberty. And I’m not kidding. And I think the idea of American education as being inclusive, and I don’t mean it in the rather more jargon-y way, in which even that word has been hijacked, but the idea of inclusion
in the American experiment in education. People of color, people who
come from different countries, people with disabilities. People with different gender
and sexual preferences and all the rest, that’s
what made America great, and that’s what needs to
continue to make America great. And now it’s just a matter
of, if anybody over there picks up the phone, I will
be glad to tell them that. – Let’s go ahead and take some questions, if anyone has questions,
please come to the mic. – While someone’s coming to the mic, I’ll give a 10-second edition
to what Michael was saying, that I’m about to write the
story of Erie, Pennsylvania, where the cruelest kind
of funding inequality you can imagine, people there are trying so hard, but the rules of the funding
in Pennsylvania are so unfair. And that is a story replicated elsewhere. – Go ahead. – [Audience Member] Hi,
uncertainty and volatility. Two things that investors
typically don’t like, but from your view, Mr. Fallows, from either Middle America schooling, or from 36,000 feet up in the air, what advice do you have for
educators, with those two terms. – Of preparing children to deal with that, or of coping themselves.
– Yeah, just the uncertain, you know, education environment we face under a Trump presidency. – Again, you all are
much more expert in this than I am. The volatility I actually worry about from this administration
is in the realm of the judgement calls a
president inevitably makes countless times per day. And these are mainly in
the foreign policy realm. The 15 second backgrounder here is, the main thing I learned
about the presidency from working for Jimmy Carter is that the only choices a president gets to make are the impossible ones. ‘Cause all the other ones get
made down the line someplace. And so, volatility I worry
about is international. Because that depends
on his judgement calls. I wouldn’t think that on a whim, he can change that much in
the educational perspective. Unless he decides to
carry out some of these, like getting rid of DACA,
and starting to expel people, which I think would be
horrible for the country, for the reasons Michael
was saying, but also, that’s something I
could imagine him doing. But I don’t think the funding, it’s not subject to his
whim in the same way, so I would worry less
about that, than if I were, say, a soldier in the
DMZ, in Korea right now. – [Audience Member] Good
afternoon, I’m Nora Holloway, I’m a consultant, which is
an evil word here in D.C., but I’m also a doctoral student. 30 years ago, I was doing education-based community organizing, and one
of the kinds of communities that you talk about visiting, Mr. Fallows, I think one of the hardest
things we had to face, was that the people who we needed to vote these educational spending bills, which are becoming more and more important at the state and local level, didn’t see the kids who
didn’t look like them. These were kids of a different
color, a different language, they didn’t see those kids as their kids. That their community should
be investing in them. Given the level of really hateful rhetoric that has come out of this campaign, and given what we’ve seen in our schools, and yet given that we
need states and localities to step it up, what do we do to achieve
more of those kinds of places like the ones you described. – So this obviously is a hard question. I guess the starting point
repertorially is that we were surprised by how
much existing traction and sense of us-ness there already was, compared with what you
would think by listening to the rhetoric. Just to give a couple of illustrations, in Dodge City, Kansas, the city barons are still mainly white, population is now majority Latino, the school district is almost all Latino, but even there. The communities sort of
pulled together to vote this school bond issue, something similar happened
in Holland, Michigan. Holland, as you might suspect, used to be mainly white Dutch
people, who are enormous. Kirk Cousins, of the local
football team, is from there. It’s now just about majority Latino, from agricultural
interests, but there too, they have found a way to
think of these people as us. San Bernardino has done something similar in their recent votes. I guess my point is,
there is still a sense of place in this country, of being able to imagine there
is a community of interests that we’re all involved in. Erie, Pennsylvania, I
mentioned, is the other example. Pennsylvania school
funding is a nightmare, as any of you from Pennsylvania know. But the city of Erie is
a little tiny island, in the middle of suburbs,
which are much more prosperous, and the poorer both the
residents and the students of Erie city become, the more
people go to the suburbs, and there’s this downward spiral, but they’re trying now to deal with that, and all over Erie are signs
saying Erie’s children are our children. And they deserve better. I don’t know the actual how-to, but there’s still some of
the glue left, city by city. – Yes ma’am. – [Audience Member] Hi, I’m Heidi Gibson, I’m a student here at the
International Education Program, a grad student. My question sort of revolves around one of the central ideas behind universal education to begin with, in the United States
was educating students for democratic citizenship. And in light of the recent election, not just the election results, but more the anger we’ve seen,
the distance people feel, the distrust for the government,
are we failing at that? And if we are, or even if we’re not, how can we do better? – So, short answer, are we failing? Yes. Just when I got in D.C., yesterday, I was on the Diane Rehm show, which I recommend to all
of you, to listen to, me, Glenn Thrush from
POLITICO, Margaret Sullivan, that used to be the New
York Times public editor, and Scottie Nell Hughes, of
the Trump surrogate team. And the axis of discussion
was Miss Hughes, saying again and again, “There are no such
things as facts anymore. “And it’s all a matter of opinion.” I did an item on The
Atlantic site about this, which sort of highlights the time. In our systems of providing the sea in which Democratic citizens swim, whether it’s education, or public media, or official journalism,
whatever, obviously, we have had a very
important systems failure. It’s one where, just
like the 2000 election, a hundred things had to
go in a certain direction for the result to be what
we have now, but obviously, we need to think about this. My sense is that journalists
and entertainment people have a more urgent
problem than educators do, because it’s been a more
acute failure for us. We all have a problem that
we all need to think about how to deal with, and I think everybody in
the press is thinking, what can we do? – Yes, sir. – [Audience Member] I’m Mark Sin-oh-is, I’m a grad student here in
secondary education at GW. I also wanted to circle back
to your comparison with China, and some of the things both
of you had talked about. It just strikes me, as
someone who’s preparing to go into the schools, and
I’ve been spending some time in Northern Virginia, that
even in places that are not like Erie, Pennsylvania had been, that are trying to do the right
thing, schools are swamped, and because of this amazing
draw that the country’s had, and immigrants have come in, and are changing the whole dynamic, and teachers are struggling
to deal with that, is a comparison with China
really the most illustrative? Or should we be comparing ourselves to western European
models, but even there, are they struggling with
the same problems we are? What do we do? – That is another very
interesting question, and something I wrote when I
was living in Japan long ago, is that one of the hardest
things for Americans to do is to take any other country seriously without being afraid of it. You pay attention to other
countries only when you think they’re going to blow you
up, or take all your jobs, or something. That’s why China was this
frightening comparison, with Shanghai, when actually
there is almost nothing in common between Chinese
education and ours, the population base they have
to deal with, their resources, et cetera, et cetera. You’re right, it might be
more instructive to look at, I think probably the two
most relevant comparisons would be Canada and Australia. In that both of those,
like the United States are invented countries. That have committed
themselves for a long time to absorbing different
cultures, unlike Germany, unlike Hungary, unlike France, where it’s something that is done, but in a very different
way from the United States. I spent a lot of time in
Australia, less in Canada, but I would think, those
would be the places whose lessons, pro and con, I
would find most interesting, Canada and Australia. – Yes, sir. – [Audience Member] Jim Williams,
department of education. If each of you were to assume
a current services budget for the next four years, or 10 years, how would you reallocate the
money at the federal, state, and local levels to get the
best bang for your buck? – I will leave this to the dean. – I’m sorry, my hearing isn’t great, I missed the first part. – If you assumed a
current services budget, how would you reallocate the money? – This is not an area where
I have too much expertise, so I’m not gonna even try to fake it on how to allocate these resources. My general predisposition on this, and I think this is actually borne out by some of the historical data. That sustained investments in the allocation of resources toward communities that are
relatively disadvantaged, does us all a lot of good. And beyond that, it’s a
matter of the technicalities. But I believe that the federal government has to maintain its role in
overseeing and monitoring little things like the Civil Rights Act, and the implementation of civil rights law in this country. I think the federal
government has to sustain a significant investment
in research related to the improvement of education, because neither the private
sector, nor at the state level, will there be resources
to actually do that at the level that it requires. And I think the federal
government has to continue to provide the nation with a reasonable program of accountability that essentially keeps us focused on steady, even if it’s somewhat gradual, and frustratingly slow, but improvement on the basic goals of education. As far as the services budget, that I’ll turn to some of my faculty, who study that stuff much more closely. – Okay. Ma’am I’m so sorry, but we
need to wrap up the session, – We don’t need to wrap up the session? – We don’t need to wrap up? – We’ve been given the don’t wrap sign. – Okay. – So you can ask a really long question. – [Audience Member] I’ll
make it short, then. I like your comment about investment, and wanting the president-elect to invest, but he’s not paying his taxes, or feels that’s not important, I don’t think he’s
investing in our education. My question is, what do you
see being the largest hurdle for minorities in education, with this new president in office, what do you think some
of those hurdles may be for minorities, and also, how
can the state and district support students in being
able to pretty much compensate for some of that. – Well, that’s a great question, are you one of our students here, too? – [Audience Member] I’m not, actually, I’m a compliance manager for KIPP DC. – Oh, great, okay. Let me suggest that on one
question that has arisen since the appointment of
Betsy DeVos as the secretary, or the impending appointment. That has to do with the relative
emphasis on privatization models, and on charters,
and even voucher programs. In the campaign, Mr. Trump
talked about 20 billion dollars to go towards something
that sounded like vouchers, but it wasn’t quite as coherent
as some of the other things that he was describing in
sophisticated policy terms. (audience laughing) I think that this is an example of where I would start to pay close attention to whether this rhetoric of privatization actually does result in
fundamental reallocations of resources, and an even
greater disengagement on the part of the federal government from the prospects of inclusion and for disadvantaged and minority and underrepresented populations. The data about charter
schools is very interesting, to summarize it, I would
say there’s probably as much variance in quality
within the charter sector as there is between
charter schools as a whole, and the traditional public schools. So that should at least give us a sense that this categorization,
charters versus the other, is a bit vulgar, and isn’t going to advance our agenda. On the other hand, we
have pretty good evidence of places that have tried different kinds of charter and voucher programs, and we have seriously
good research evidence that shows us what works,
and what doesn’t work. The basic answer on this,
given the administration that we are going to
inaugurate in January, is that we have to pay
very close attention to the ways in which a word like charters, or a word like even vouchers,
is actually implemented. Because it means a lot
very different things in different places. The latest data, the latest
really excellent research on charters and private
education in America, one of the findings is,
that even though overall, the percentage of kids in
charters is only in the 5% range, there is tremendous variability
in the extent to which states actually monitor and regulate their charter schools. If I were again to be asked, what’s a big ticket
question that I worry about, it’s not the average performance
of education in America. It’s not the mean. It’s the variance. And I would love to
see any administration, especially at the federal level, sustain its focus on
narrowing the variance on the assumption that
the mean is gonna continue to rise anyway. Does that help you a little bit? – It’s so interesting
you should bring that up, because I remember, D.C. had
a school voucher program, and I remember covering a federal hearing, and there were some
kids using the vouchers to go to certain schools,
and were doing great, the outcomes were clearly
better than they were in the traditional public schools. And there were others where I remembered Senator Dick Durbin just
going purple in the face, because he could not even find information on who was enrolled, and so he sent his staff
out to take photographs of the addresses where
these kids were supposedly going to school. And some of them were
clearly empty storefronts. He had them blown up, and so, it’s so interesting you say that. We have time for more questions, if you would like to come to the mic. – And I can volunteer a
brief additional answer to that other question. A process point, and then a theme point. The process point is, on
educational inequality, and I think almost on the other issue, we don’t assume that
the incoming president has very fixed views himself. So it becomes a matter
of who gets empowered to do these things. On theme, among the reasons I was
not favoring his election, is that to me, I say
this from living outside the United States for a lot of years, the magic of the United States
is precisely its inclusion. The historic struggle of the
United States is the legacy of slavery, but the magic of
the United States is including all the different ranges of
talents from our own country, from around the world. Anything that is hostile to that, as I assumed his entire campaign to be, I am sorry to see, and I
hope that we can locally, and in our institutions and
state by state, resist that. And emphasize what it is that really makes America great again. – Yes, ma’am. – [Audience Member] Hello,
my name is Rebecca Sheffield, I do policy research for the American Foundation for the Blind. And I have a background
in working in schools as a specially trained teacher
for students who are blind or visually impaired. So I know about professional
preparation in this field, and I think it applies
to teachers in general. Teachers are aware, all of
this action takes place, and we are worried about
personnel preparation, and funding for personnel preparation. And then the professionalization
of our field, and making sure that people
want to continue to be teachers. Do you think this is an area
we should be concerned about over the next four years, and what can we do to continue
to support and encourage more people to enter
teaching as a profession, to make all of this happen. – Michael, you should take that. – Yes. (laughing) – If someone’s thinking
of applying, should they? – There has been a
rather sustained assault on the quality of the teaching profession in the United States, going back decades. Some of it, unfortunately,
does pick up on the point that we do have some teachers
who are not doing a good job, and who are not effective, and who should be held accountable. But in that somewhat sweeping over-judgement of the teaching profession, what we have done, is
played with a very risky, with a very risk outcome, which is that people will hesitate about joining the profession. That said, the evidence now suggests that actually more teachers,
more working teachers today answer positively about job satisfaction, and how they’re doing. A surprising number of teachers actually are not quite as worried about the high-stakes accountability
movement as some of us watching from the outside may have been. And the problem of teacher preparation, by extension, is of course, my professional
and to some extent, personal biases will have to show here, but as the dean of a school of education that is preparing future
educators, among other things, the idea that we are not
doing a good enough job is something that I take very seriously. As far as I’m concerned, I’m totally open to a sensible program of evaluation and accountability for teachers
and teacher preparation. Where I draw my own sort of
line in the sand, so to speak, is with metrics and measures and systems that are flawed from the get go, and that are based on the
idea of finding fault, rather than on promoting
professional development and improvement. That’s why I said that the
federal government has to sustain a smart role in the funding of innovative and useful mechanisms to hold our teachers
and our teacher preparation systems accountable. With respect to the
very special populations that you’re dealing with,
all I can tell you is this is another example
of one of the under-sung, I don’t know if that’s a proper
word, unsung and under-sung, things about American educational
history that requires us to all pause and start
celebrating, and that is that we have done more
on behalf of disabled and children with
disabilities of various sorts than almost any other country
in the world that I know of. And that’s something, again, that if you’re worried
about that, being sustained, you’re right. ‘Cause that’s a national
treasure that we should be cultivating, nurturing, and reinforcing. – Ma’am, before we get to your question, I’m curious, Jim, what you would say, this is a non-education question, but if we had someone come
up to the mic, and say, I’m thinking about becoming
a journalist, should I? What would you say? – Yes, yes. This is by far the most interesting way you can spend your life. Being that it’s sort of like
deciding to go into sports, or acting, or music, in that
it has never through history been a stable or dependable
way of making a living, and that’s been the case
anyway, at any time. But here are the reasons
why, if any of you are thinking of becoming
journalists rather than teachers, or having your students, here
are the reasons, number one, it is just the most
interesting thing you can do. Because you go into other people’s lives, at sort of finite intervals, I
was in the Chinese coal mine, for a while, then I was not in
a Chinese coal mine anymore, I could learn about other things. So it is interesting, second,
it’s a field traditionally much more shaped by young
people, than other fields, almost every innovation you
can think of in journalism, somebody in his or her
twenties came up with, and that’s happening now, too. Third, if the students you’re
talking with like the idea of being tested for performance, if they like the idea of having
to take their turn at bat, or throw the pass, or
whatever sporting metaphor, you have to keep doing it. You have to keep writing the stories, doing the broadcasts, and
finally, you can think that if you do your work well,
it makes some difference. The only way we know about
places we haven’t seen ourselves is because somebody went there
and described them for us. Yes, anybody that wants to
be a journalist should do so. – Okay. Let’s get back to questions. – [Audience Member] My name
is Katrina Dar-chit-ko, and I’m from Ukraine,
and work in SIC group, and our company invests
some resources, money, to educational program, which connect with democracy development, and also with government relations, but, for example, 10 years
ago, we have programs with George Washington Universities, and other American Universities, when we have periods
after our own revolution, and these program were very effective. For now, we have this
program, for example, between your K universities
and Ukrainian K universities. And the people who want
to work in journalism, who want to work in political consultant in government relations, public efforts, they can only do education on course-air-ah and some international medias, but not in such discussion
like today, for example. How, in your opinion, it’s
a programs of cooperation between, for example, Ukrainian universities and
George Washington universities, or it might be a national program, or foreign education, because it’s also parts of
ideology of United States, it’s my question, thanks. – You can answer from the
university perspective, – Okay, from the university perspective, I think I understood the question about to what extent have we, and
will we be able to continue, to invest in programs
that enable our students and students from other
countries to work together and learn together, and
find mutually reinforcing, is that an adequate summary? This remains a very high priority, I can only speak about GW, it remains a high priority for us, and we are a little bit concerned, in the light of some of
the campaign rhetoric about, shall we say, the
inclusion and the immigration and the other, that came
up in this campaign, whether this will somehow
discourage students from overseas from thinking about coming to study here. That’s got all kinds of, again, it’s speculative at this
point, we don’t really know, I’m hoping that people
understand in other countries that the university, independent of whatever the
administration’s point of view might be about this, that
the university maintains a very abiding commitment to the ideals of cross-national collaboration and international engagement. One can only hope that
that continues to be one of the great things about
being in a big university in this country, is that we have this wonderful hodgepodge, of
people from all over the place, and I find that to be one
of the most thrilling things to be about this university, is if I’m sitting in a restaurant at the corner of 21st and Pennsylvania, I hear all kinds of
languages just during lunch, and some of it is from students, and some of it’s from faculty,
and some of it, by the way, is from people who wander
over from the World Bank. So it’s not only that,
geographically we have that additional advantage. I just hope that we find
ways to sustain that, and that people overseas
shouldn’t worry too much about it yet. – One of the rare advantages
of being as old as I now am, is I’m able to see, over the generations, the difference it makes, exchanges like you’re talking about, just the effect it has on
Americans of having lived in Europe, or Africa, or
South America, or wherever, and the effect it has
around the world of people having spent time in the United States or even been connected online, as we say, some of the courses. I will do everything I can
to fight for the continuation of these exchanges. Not every one of them goes perfectly, but they really matter on both sides, make the world a lot more stable place than it would be otherwise. – One of the things about
being an education reporter, is that everyone has an opinion
about how public schools should be run, because they’ve gone to
public schools themselves, and now we have a situation
where the education secretary has not gone to public school herself, and her children have not
gone to public school. Do you think this is going to be like, public schools under assault, or could this be an opportunity
for a breath of fresh air? Someone with a totally
different perspective. (audience laughing) – This is perhaps like
having a commander in chief whose public service was
military high school. Let’s look on the bright side. That’s my answer. – Okay. – Looking on the bright side is more and more a challenge, but yes, I think we need to look
on the bright side here. There are reasons to worry about these kinds of questions
that are coming up, and about whether a Secretary of Education
who has had very limited personal experience in public schools, will have what it takes to lead a large, existing bureaucracy dedicated to the improvement
of public education. That said, we’ve had other
secretaries of education who have had very limited
experience in higher education, for example, but who’ve done really well. And they’ve surrounded
themselves with people, and they’ve kept an open mind,
and they have had an appetite for advice, and for things, and on that, truly, I don’t yet have enough data to know what to say about it. I just think we should
all, as a community, be willing to proactively provide advice. Because even if they don’t ask, we should be puttin’ it out there. – On the business of cabinet selection, which is interesting, when the George W. Bush
cabinet was assembled, now 16 years ago, there was
some article in the Post saying that this was a
cabinet of multi-millionaires, and someone calculated today, that if you took all of the assets of all the cabinet members together, they were 1/10 the holdings
of the man proposed for Secretary of Commerce. So this is a whole different level, but we’ll try to look
for ways to be inclusive and provide advice. – I think one has to be cautious also, because I know it’s fashionable to look at the concentration of wealth, and to blame Wall Street for all of the ills in this
country, on the other hand, there are people who
have made great fortunes, who have turned around and
done spectacularly good things for our country. I think we shouldn’t
lose sight of the fact that just because somebody happens to be a mega-gabillionaire, that that person is necessarily suspect. There may be other evidence
to bring into this equation, but again, looking for the bright side, if it weren’t for Bill Gates
putting 50 million dollars down in a single quick check, we’d still be arguing in
the federal bureaucracy about how to combat the Eboli crisis. This is an example of concentrated wealth to the public good. Whether Mr. Mnuchin has those
instincts, I don’t know. Whether Wilbur Ross has those instincts, I really don’t know. Surprising things happen
when people have positions of high authority, sometimes. – [Audience Member] Hi, oh dear, this is a very complicated
system, this microphone. Elizabeth Rich, from Education Week. This is a question for you, Michael. And it can be a yes, no answer, as somebody who heads
a private institution that deals with a large
public bureaucracy, I am wondering, going forward, if you’ve been thinking at all about adjustments in your program,
given the fact that, we’re about to enter a
different kind of experience for at least four years. – I’ll give one rather, slightly
flip answer to the question about what it’s like to be living in a country where
approximately half the people think higher education is too
expensive and doesn’t pay off. And the other half think
that schools of education are in particular the problem. So I’m running a school of
education in an expensive private university and sometimes I wonder, maybe I should’ve stayed in journalism. But now the serious answer. Yes, we are already giving
serious consideration to adjustments in our regular curriculum and in our regular programs
of research and engagement that can get to some of
the issues that have arisen because of the campaign
and because of the outcome. That said, we are sustaining
our commitment to being an organization devoted to
scholarship, and independence, and objective analysis of data, and I believe that
issues of civic society, the role of government, the
importance of academic freedom, those are issues that I want us to pay even more attention to, the whole set of problems
related to inequality in American society and
its effects on education, those are all issues that
we were already workin’ on, and now we think even more,
we’ve gotta double down on some of those issues. What will be the effect
of this administration on the management and financing
and long-term enrollment prospects for the George
Washington University, way too early to tell, I actually think we’ll
be pretty much okay. I worry more about schools where there is a much higher reliance
on federal financial aid, because some of that seems to be at play, at least rhetorically. But yeah, we are a graduate
school of education, quite committed to the ideals
of putting research knowledge into the service of improved
practice and policy, number one, and number two,
with an abiding commitment to furthering the agenda
of enhanced opportunity, especially for underrepresented
and disadvantaged youth. On those matters, we’ve got an
interesting few years ahead. – I am looking to Matthew to
see how we’re doing on time. – We are apparently turning
this into an all-nighter. (audience laughing) It’s because our next
guest is in transit, right? – Yes. – I have not meant to
sound as politically, I didn’t intend to talk as
much about politics as I have. I’m sorry if I’ve offended
anybody with that. I’m happy mainly to talk about China, or the texture of the
country, which is promising. And you all are helping
create, so thank you. – I just wanna say one thing, Matthew. What a great honor it is
for me to share the stage with Jim Fallows. Now I’m talking as a GW guy. – I’m honored to be here.
– You should know, this is very, very special, he came back from Shanghai 20
hours ago, or 10 hours ago, and has agreed to be with
us, and thank you so much. – Thank you all, thanks
for those questions.

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