Media Mentions

A College Completion Program for Both Sides of the Aisle

September 16, 2021   |   By Jerome Lucido and Nicholas Hillman and Donald Hossler

From Inside Higher Education:

The Problem

Virtually all the growth in the college-age population over the next two decades will come from groups that are currently excluded from or underserved by America’s colleges and universities. It is imperative that we increase both the number of these students accessing postsecondary education and the odds that they will graduate. This includes low-income, first-generation and students of color who stand to benefit the most from not just attending, but also completing a college degree. Unfortunately, colleges currently serving these students have the least financial resources—and colleges with the most financial resources enroll far too few students from these groups. This creates a public policy problem where our nation’s health—economically, politically and socially—depends on educating a far broader swath of society than we do today.

To get this done, many institutions will have to increase the number of low-income students that they enroll and, of critical importance, increase their academic success. After all, access without completion is a false promise.

Important policy proposals are being offered to address this national imperative, and we hear critiques from both sides of the aisle. Progressive Democrats have created proposals for free college and doubling the size of Pell Grants. Recently, the Community College Student Success Act was introduced by Democratic senators Brian Schatz and Sherrod Brown. This bill would provide funding for community colleges to develop robust student support services for low-income students. President Biden proposed a similar policy in the American Families Plan, which would invest $6.2 billion annually to support student success.

Similarly, the America’s College Promise Act proposes $1 billion annually in its Student Success Fund. These efforts are what Third Way and others often refer to as a “Title I”-type program for higher education that would provide a federal subsidy for colleges that enroll large numbers of Pell-eligible students. Outside the policy realm, coalitions have taken a different approach, advancing initiatives that advocate for expanding more Pell enrollments at highly selective colleges, which is a necessary but insufficient way to improve access and outcomes. The primary focus of these efforts is to increase graduation rates of low-income students.

There are good reasons for these proposals. Low-income students are most often awarded grants from the nation’s premier need-based aid program, the Pell Grant program, and are relatively easy to track. Unfortunately, only 49 percent of Pell students who enroll at four-year colleges graduate in six years. At community colleges only 30 percent of Pell-eligible students graduate, and only 20 percent of Pell students complete their program at for-profit institutions.

Simply pouring more money into our current Pell program, without funds for colleges to put in place successful student support programs, produces suboptimal results and could even have a negative impact on measures of student success. Tamara Hiler, director of education at the Third Way, has observed that unlike in K-12 education, the federal government does little to recognize and reward postsecondary institutions that enroll an above-average share of Pell students and to provide them with additional resources and capacity to help improve student success. This is why we are starting to see more proposals that support evidence-based strategies to strengthen completion and retention rates at community colleges and institutions that serve students from our most disadvantaged communities.

Republicans, however, have criticized proposals for doubling Pell Grants. They suggest that most of the money will go to subsidizing colleges rather than helping students to afford college and boosting graduation rates. Such critiques resurrect the Bennett hypothesis, which suggests that federal aid enables colleges to increase their costs, thus diminishing the effects of aid on access and success for low-income students. The evidence for this effect is mixed at best.

These proposals for federal funding are important steps in attempting to advance the need for the nation to establish a success agenda for all students seeking upward mobility through postsecondary education. And there is good reason to support them, since the evidence is increasingly clear: money matters, and when underresourced colleges receive new money, they boost completion rates. To strengthen the proposals outlined above, policy makers should ensure: (1) all public and nonprofit colleges are eligible to participate, (2) participation comes with accountability and program improvement standards, and (3) funding is sustained and meaningful.

The current proposals could go further to address these three issues. For example, the Schatz-Brown proposal excludes four-year colleges and universities, while free college proposals could integrate more accountability features. Such inconsistencies mean the institutions that enroll millions of Pell-eligible students will be ineligible from supporting them via Title I-type funding. Additionally, these Democratic proposals focus largely on access and improvement, while Republicans are likely to call for greater accountability. There are ways to meet in the middle by incorporating improvement and accountability measures to ensure postsecondary institutions do not simply enroll but also graduate more low-income students.


There is growing momentum behind the idea that higher education needs a Title I-type program. We strongly support these efforts. To maximize the policy’s potential impact, we believe any federal Title I-type program in higher education must establish both ambitious and achievable thresholds on two key metrics: (1) the percentage of Pell Grant students enrolled and (2) the percentage who graduate or successfully transfer to another postsecondary institution.

The design is straightforward: postsecondary institutions that reach these thresholds would receive a per-Pell-student federal subsidy. The more successful a college is in enrolling—and graduating—Pell students, the more student subsidy the institution would receive. This would not only reward those already serving low-income students well, but would also provide the needed resources to help colleges improve these metrics over time. If colleges simply serve too few Pell students, they are ineligible. And if they are not showing improvement over time, then they could become ineligible from participating. However, this wouldn’t happen overnight, nor should it be a punitive system of accountability. Instead, the policy would focus on improvement where institutions falling short of given metrics would develop plans for improving and be held accountable for making progress.

These thresholds will be determined by using an analytical tool we have developed that draws upon extant federal databases to identify empirically derived and realistic enrollment and graduation thresholds. This tool, which we will roll out to legislators and policy analysts soon, allows us to treat different levels of higher education differently according to their missions.

For example, different eligibility thresholds will be required for two-year colleges. In their case, counting students who successfully transfer and continue their education will be considered a successful academic outcome. Alternatively, four-year colleges and universities enrolling too few Pell students would be expected to expand access and not simply be rewarded for having high graduation rates. With this tool, we can also model the potential impact this policy has on minority-serving institutions and the number of Pell Grant recipients and students of color enrolled in eligible (or noneligible) institutions.

The design of our proposal is elegantly simple. It blends improvement with accountability, something both Democrats and Republicans care about. The metrics are easy to measure. And the program would create incentives and rewards for postsecondary institutions to both enroll and graduate more Pell students. The subsidy per student should be sufficiently large to enhance student support systems that are often needed for low-income, first-generation students to be successful. The subsidy would also be scaled by each college’s baseline performance levels and improvement on each. Ultimately, these incentives and rewards will help the very colleges that already play an important role in addressing a national priority—the need to enroll and ensuring the academic success of more low-income students. At the same time, it creates incentives for colleges to improve both access and completion.

Call to Action

If, as a nation, we are truly interested in educating a larger percentage of students who are underrepresented in colleges and universities today, then it is clear that we need to encourage and support two- and four-year colleges and universities to be engaged in this effort. This proposal is an achievable, effective and accountable way forward. It is imperative that we help less advantaged students climb the escalator toward upward mobility. As a nation we will be acting in enlightened self-interest. Our economy and our democratic institutions need them.


Jerome Lucido is a professor at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. Nicholas Hillman is a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Donald Hossler is Distinguished Provost Professor Emeritus at Indiana University at Bloomington.

Universal School Lunches Have Enormous Potential — If the Program’s Flaws Are Fixed

September 2, 2021   |   By Andrew Ruis

​From the Washington Post:

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the National School Lunch Program, the longest-running children’s health and welfare program in the United States — and due to the coronavirus pandemic, meals have been free to all children for the first time in U.S. history.

During the pandemic, the number of food-insecure children soared from 5 million to 12 million. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers school meal programs, has enabled schools to provide free meals to all children through waivers on program requirements and increased reimbursement rates, which were recently extended through June 2022.

Today, there is broad political support for universal free meal programs, which research has shown can reduce food insecurity and improve students’ diets, academic performance and future earnings. In August, California became the first state to pass a bill that authorizes providing free meals for all public school students with no requirement for means testing. Other states are considering similar legislation, and a national bill may not be far behind.

While a universal free meal program would go a long way toward addressing critical inequities that shape the landscape of public education in the United States, the history of school meals suggests that to maximize the value of the program, such legislation must also address issues beyond financing and confront many of the long-standing problems with school meal programs, including a history of racism, poor labor practices and serving meals of dubious nutritional value.

School meal programs in the United States began at the end of the 19th century as a response to the effects of rapid industrialization on the health and welfare of children. Through the passage of compulsory education laws (which all 48 states had enacted by 1918), more children walked into schools each morning than into factories.

Accordingly, schools increasingly took on expanded social roles. Compulsory education facilitated an expansion of state influence over children and households, leading to state involvement in matters not only of education, but also of labor, welfare and other once-private domains like health. Public schools transformed into central civic and social institutions, offering health services like vaccinations and medical inspections, playgrounds and organized athletics, special classes and other supports for children with disabilities, and meal services.

This expanded role turned schools into a setting for the negotiation of social policy that redefined the boundaries between home and state, private rights and public welfare.

Early school meal initiatives operated in the quasi-official space between autonomous private agency and public entitlement. They launched in larger cities around the turn of the 20th century as an early form of public-private partnership: Schools typically provided space, equipment, water, power and in some cases, labor, while private charities provided the food and operational logistics. These “penny lunch” programs provided free meals to poor children and charged those who could afford them. The menus were often tailored to the ethnic and cultural preferences of students — for example, predominantly Jewish schools in New York City and other locations served kosher meals — and cooks were often hired from the communities served.

Most of the architects of such initiatives hoped that they would become permanent, publicly funded programs, with free meals for poor children as well as commensurate efforts in nutrition education, medical inspection, social work and more. These efforts met with varying degrees of success, but most schools did not have regular meal programs until the federal government began to subsidize meals — first through food and labor provision, and later through cash reimbursement — as an emergency measure during the Great Depression. Federal aid significantly expanded the number of meal programs nationwide, and their popularity grew to the extent that Congress made them permanent when the emergency measures were set to expire in 1946.

The passage of the National School Lunch Act in 1946 reflected a new era of more direct federal involvement in both education and public health — domains that traditionally fell under the purview of the states. Proponents were successful in securing legislation that permanently supported school meal programs and even provided free or reduced-cost meals to poor children. But the final legislation contained no anti-discrimination provisions, an effort to appease segregationists whose support was crucial to passing the bill, and, to appease the farm bloc, it prioritized agricultural support over children’s health.

These choices had long-lasting effects. In 1969, the Black Panther Party began a free breakfast program for children that ultimately served tens of thousands nationwide because poor Black students were not getting meals at school. Numerous cities that received federal money to provide free meals often cited inadequate kitchen equipment or other issues as an excuse for providing inexpensive cold lunches to poor students while providing warm meals in affluent districts.

Poor and minority students faced other indignities as well, including unhygienic lunchrooms. Parents in the Bronx, for example, advocated for plastic utensils and disposable plates because schools lacked dishwashers, and staff often had to buy soap themselves. Experiences such as these spawned the Right to Lunch movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Low federal reimbursement rates and local austerity policies also led to the airplane-style meals so emblematic of school meal programs since the 1970s. This shift significantly lowered costs — as scratch cooking required more equipment, space and time, as well as both culinary and dietetic expertise — but it also devalued and de-skilled the school meal labor force, incentivizing schools to hire workers part-time at very low wages, often without benefits, to simply heat and serve pre-prepared meals.

As a result, the very people charged with caring for children found themselves exploited by an uncaring system. Today, local school districts around the country grapple with the consequences of this penny-pinching as they face shortages of cafeteria workers, who play a significant role not only in children’s nutritional health but also their social and emotional well-being.

The covid-19 pandemic has made truly universal free meals politically permissible, much as the Great Depression did for a national school meal program nearly 90 years ago. But federal legislation can also permit significant local variation in implementation, which has historically harmed those who most needed the benefits. As recent debates over masking in schools and the challenges of establishing school vaccination clinics illustrate, schools continue to occupy the contested space where public health and private autonomy collide.

These debates revolve largely around who should bear responsibility for children’s health and welfare, and the extent to which individual choice should be prioritized over communal goods. It was not long ago that simply improving the nutrition standards to which school meals must conform sparked a vicious political debate over a program that has traditionally had broad bipartisan support. And at the end of last month, the Waukesha School Board in Wisconsin opted out of free and reduced-price meals on the grounds that students would “become spoiled.” Although the decision was ultimately reversed, it reveals that the feeding of children in schools is anything but a simple matter of financing.

Universal free meals have real potential to address inequities due to structural racism and other systemic causes of poor health, but the nutritional requirements, labor practices and general quality of school meal programs will continue to reflect societal valuation of health and well-being. More than just expanding funding, local, state and federal policymakers need to grapple with these issues to maximize the benefits of school meal programs.

Waukesha And The National School Lunch Program

September 1, 2021   |   By WPR's Central Time

Andrew Ruis, a researcher in WCER’s Epistemic Analytics Lab and an expert on the history of U.S. school lunch and nutrition programs, was interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time program on Aug. 31. He discussed the effectiveness of the current national school lunch program’s ‘Seamless Summer Option’ during the pandemic, and why Waukesha’s school board had initially opted out of the program that offers free lunch to students of all income levels.

Listen to the full interview here.

Critical Race Theory: Debate over Classroom Instruction in Wisconsin

August 17, 2021   |   By Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

MADISON - Wisconsin lawmakers, educators and parents spent hours Wednesday (Aug. 11) debating whether school districts need more rules over what can be taught in classrooms and whether parents should have broad access to teachers’ materials.

At the heart of the daylong hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol was the explosive controversy of critical race theory even though the legislation under debate doesn’t mention the concept, which argues racism has permeated American institutions and created disadvantages for people of color.

The bills were introduced earlier this year by Republican lawmakers as part of a national movement among conservatives against teaching children that systemic racism exists, a fight against an ambiguous threat that has educators concerned teachers will be pressured to whitewash history lessons.

“Teachers do not deliberately set out to make students feel bad about themselves. The problem this bill seems to identify, that Wisconsin’s teachers intentionally or otherwise want to make students feel bad, is simply not real,” said Jeremy Stoddard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison curriculum and instruction professor (Note: reading a statement authored by School of Education Dean Diana Hess).

“What I fear is that if it becomes law, it will have a chilling effect inhibiting teachers from teaching a full account of history.”

Republican lawmakers and parents on Wednesday said their support of the bills was rooted in finding inappropriate classroom materials and lessons. They argued parents should be provided immediate access to everything teachers plan to use in classrooms and that white students shouldn’t be told they are to blame for their ancestors’ role in slavery or that the U.S. is inherently racist.

“It’s not our duty to control school boards or school board philosophies or agendas,” bill author Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, said. “The bill gives parents recourse that if someone is breaking the law, that they have access to those materials ... this bill does not restrict teaching history.”

Alyssa Pollow, a mother of children in Germantown schools, said she supports the bills because “some of your educators are not focused on objective academics, but instead are using classroom time and school resources to push harmful political agendas.”

Rarely did anyone participating in the hearing agree on what the bills actually did or what critical race theory means. When asked, Wichgers declined to provide his definition of the concept.

“I think we’re talking past each other right now,” Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, said at one point.

“(We) want history to be told as it was and as it really happened and something that we have to recognize. But at the same token, that history doesn’t make you as a Black person a victim. That history doesn’t make me a racist with white privilege either,” she said.

At another point, Assembly Education Committee chairman Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, barred Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, from asking Wichgers if he believed Wisconsin was the worst state to raise a Black child — a designation the state has received in the past based on measures of children’s well-being.

“No, we are not going that route,” he said.

“It goes to the heart of the bill,” she responded.


Note from School of Education Communications: On Wednesday, Aug. 11, UW–Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess submitted testimony to the Senate Committee on Education and the Assembly Committee on Education during a joint public hearing on Senate Bill 411 and Senate Bill 463.

Hess was unable to attend Wednesday’s public hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and her written testimony was read to the Joint Committee on Education by UW–Madison’s Jeremy Stoddard, a professor with the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Senate Bill 411 is regarding anti-racism and anti-sexism pupil instruction, and anti-racism and anti-sexism training for employees of school districts and independent charter schools. Senate Bill 463 is about requiring school boards to make information about learning materials and educational activities used for pupil instruction available to the public.

Know Your Madisonian: From Philadelphia Public Schools to President of the National Academy of Education

July 22, 2021   |   By Elizabeth Beyer, Wisconsin State Journal

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Gloria Ladson-Billings, UW-Madison professor emeritus and a nationally renowned leader in education, was raised in a working class family in 1950s Philadelphia where she developed a love of writing and history but struggled with turning her passion for the two subjects into work.

“You don’t just come home and say, ‘Ta-da! I’m a writer!’ You have to earn a living,” she said. “I was puzzling over that, and my friends at school were saying, ‘Well, you know, you could actually become a teacher.’”

She went to college in Baltimore, at Morgan State University, but it wasn’t until Ladson-Billings was in the classroom working with students that she really fell in love with teaching. After college, she went back to Philadelphia to start her teaching career. Years passed and she moved across the country to California to get a doctorate from Stanford University. She then became a coordinator of teacher education at Santa Clara University, where she also taught as an adjunct professor.

During that time, she became a Spencer Fellow with the National Academy of Education. The names and projects of her fellowship class were published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which got her noticed by a Bay Area publishing executive who encouraged her to turn her fellowship project into a book. That book, “The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children,” focuses on how to lift up African American children, and all children, in the classroom through culturally relevant and supportive curriculum.

While writing the book, Ladson-Billings continued to publish articles, one of which got her invited to speak at a conference in New York in the early ’90s. When she concluded her speech, Carl Grant, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the UW-Madison School of Education, dashed out of the room to catch her.

“He said, ‘You gotta come to Wisconsin.’ And I’m like, ‘To where?’” she said, laughing. She shrugged off Grant’s proposition initially, but agreed to give a talk at UW-Madison. Grant arranged an itinerary for Ladson-Billings’ visit, and the last item on her schedule was dinner at then-Chancellor Donna Shalala’s house.

Ladson-Billings, who was elected to a four-year term as president of the National Academy of Education in 2018, has written three books as a solo author, including the acclaimed “Dreamkeepers,” and has edited eight. Now a grandmother of five, she retired from the university in 2018, but has been busier than ever the past few years.

You’re the first Black woman to become tenured at the UW-Madison School of Education, can you talk a little bit about that?

I hadn’t even considered it. I just knew we didn’t have very many Black faculty when I came. … Dr. William Tate, Grant and I were the three Black folks in my department.

I don’t know that it felt a particular kind of way. There weren’t a lot of us at Stanford. I have gotten used to being the one-and-only in a lot of circumstances. People had mentioned it in different settings and you get a round of applause, and I’ve taken to saying, “Don’t applaud that, that’s embarrassing.” The university has been here since what, 1848. I tell people, “I am old, but I’m not that old.” The idea is that it’s taken until 1995 for you guys to do this? It’s embarrassing.

What are some of the projects that you’ve worked on that have had a lasting impact on you?

“Dreamkeepers” has taken on a life of its own. It is in its third edition, it’s a bestseller. … It’s become the basis for a majority of teacher education programs.

The work that now I’m getting pilloried over is the critical race theory work. I published one of the first articles on critical race theory in education in ’95, so here we are in 2021 and these people are having a fit over this.

I’m very proud to be affiliated with (anti-racist) work, and right now, the National Academy (of Education) has just released a new report on civic discourse and civic engagement, because we were seeing the deterioration of civic debate. This project is really a call to action for our schools to think about the role of civic discourse and civic engagement.

We’ve been arguing that civic discourse and engagement is something that cuts across curriculum. In a mathematics class you might ask a question about inequality in representation or something like red-lining: How does that happen? What do the numbers look like? Well, there are civic implications to creating segregated neighborhoods. Or in science: Why would you have an inordinate amount of people of color more impacted by COVID-19? So then you begin to ask questions about things like underlying conditions or questions about genetic issues. … It’s a way for us to have a deeper conversation about our civic engagement.

You retired from UW-Madison in 2018, but you’ve been busy since then. So what’s going on?

One of the real draws for me to stay in Madison is my involvement with Mt. Zion Baptist Church. I joined the church as soon as I came here, and they’ve just been a wonderful support for me, my family, and I’ve been actively engaged with them.

When I think about my own work, I think it is a combination of faith, family, community and intellectual pursuit. I think I’ve found a way to bring those all together.

You have said public education is the foundation of democracy. Can you expand on that?

I gave a talk for Stanford a couple of weeks ago and I used the quote from Benjamin Franklin coming out of the Constitutional Convention, and a woman asks him, “Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?” And Franklin’s response is, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” He didn’t say if we, the founding fathers in this building could keep it. He said if you as a citizen can keep it.

There is no way we can keep it without educated citizens, it’s just not possible. It’s in school that kids really learn democracy, in public school because it’s the place where everybody has access. It’s why the fight is so vicious right now around this notion of which history to teach? People mad about the 1619 Project curriculum materials coming out of New York Times versus the Project 1776 that the previous president wanted people to have. The thing about our history is that it isn’t pretty, but it’s real, and it tells us who we are, warts and all.

People say to me, “You seem to be down on the U.S.,” and I say, “No, you don’t understand. I am the greatest patriot you will ever meet, because I want the country to live up to its ideals.” The 14th Amendment says I’m supposed to have equal protection under the law. I look at something like what happened to George Floyd and he wasn’t given equal protection under the law, so I want (the U.S.) to live up to who we say we are and not just be content with where we are.

I believe school is the place that can make that happen.

Paul Fanlund: Racist Bogeymen and the ‘Limits of Liberalism’

July 19, 2021   |   By Paul Fanlund, The Capital Times

​From the Cap Times:

My columns regularly extend olive branches to conservative Republicans willing to push back against the noxious and at times violent cult of Donald Trump.

My rationale? A yearning for democracy to once again be safe, for a country that can debate taxes, spending and regulations without the specter of clownish thugs with automatic weapons and camouflage costumes threatening violence. Think Jan. 6.

To get there, Trump and his sycophants must be deprived of political oxygen. So we must win elections, especially in suburbs and other swing areas where capable left-of-center Democrats can campaign as safe and patriotic choices. If that puts me at odds with some on the Bernie Sanders left, so be it.

But I’ve been thinking: How would I feel were I not white and economically comfortable? What if I were Black, and reminded every minute of every day that racial animus remains a motivating factor for so many?

My demeanor, I’d admit, would be less sanguine.

Anyway, I’ve been observing a pattern recently. Those who traffic in racial division gin up outrage and then feign hysteria over one after another bogeyman, most recently that teaching the history of race in America makes white children feel bad.

Two years ago the target was “The 1619 Project,” a brilliant long-form journalism project developed by the New York Times and published on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved African-Americans in the Virginia colony. The project’s stated goal was “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”

The radical and racist right understands that most of its target audience will likely never read the project, but can be convinced the whole thing is unpatriotic and anti-white.

Its primary author, Nikole Hannah-Jones of the Times, recently became immersed in a tenure controversy even though her 1619 work won her a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Her role sparked such right-wing backlash at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that she was initially denied tenure. By the time UNC reversed its position, she opted to instead take a tenured position teaching journalism at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Since last fall, the bogeyman for the racist right has been “critical race theory,” which, again, is probably not understood by most of its critics, but serves as a convenient catch-all for white grievance and racial animus.

“Whatever it is, it sounds bad and we can use it to scare people,” seems to be the Trumpist tactic.

Enter Gloria Ladson-Billings, respected professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, current president of the National Academy of Education and a longtime national expert on critical race theory.

She was interviewed recently on National Public Radio. Host Audie Cornish asked: “So first, tell us. Someone lands on this planet. They’ve never heard of it. How would you describe your scholarship on critical race theory?”

Responded Ladson-Billings: “So critical race theory is a series of theoretical propositions that suggest that race and racism are normal, not aberrant, in American life.”

Wow, that’s controversial: Race and racism are a part of American life. Who knew?

Later in the interview, discussion turned to the worry that teaching the centrality of racism in American history might make white kids feel bad.

Ladson-Billings said “the Little Rock Nine, they were feeling bad too,” referring to Black students who integrated a previously all-white Arkansas high school. “I think about the young woman who integrated the New Orleans schools for us. These brave people were willing to fight against racism in a very direct way, put their own bodies on the line. And yet what I’m hearing bears no resemblance to the work that I’ve been dedicated to studying for the past 30-plus years.”

The roots of blame for the white sensitivity around race precede Trumpism by decades, in my experience.

Schools taught baby boomers like me that America is perfect, that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and not slavery and that there were, as Trump might say, “very fine people on both sides.”

We were taught America never lost wars (this was pre-Vietnam) and that Americans won World War II in Europe almost single-handedly, even though the Soviet Union had many more troops and defeated many more Nazis.

America’s acts of genocide against Native Americans weren’t discussed but George Armstrong Custer’s “bravery” was. Defenders at the Alamo were uber-patriots, we were taught, even though a prime motivator for the Texans was their desire to own slaves.

And so on.

So I posed two questions to Ladson-Billings, whom I’ve known for years. First, how do she and other Black leaders stay committed and not grow cynical or despondent, as I suspect some might?

By taking the long view, she responded. “I am old enough to remember the hate that was spewed at Martin Luther King,” she said. “Now there is practically no major city in the country that does not have a street named for him.” The same for Malcolm X, Paul Robeson and Muhammad Ali, she added, referring to prominent African-Americans of the past.

“One of the hopes I have for Joe Biden is that he could do stuff that Barack Obama never could,” she added. “I’m not kidding myself as to why he can do it and Obama could not.”

I then asked her about white liberals and racial progress.

“I use this phrase with students — the limits of liberalism,” she said. “Most of them (liberals) will express what I think of as good democratic values, but they are only willing to go so far.”

She pointed to how as president Bill Clinton felt it politically expedient to support right-leaning positions on welfare and crime.

“You get invested in society and there are certain elements you don’t want to lose,” she said. “Everyone is for the most part self-interested. You can only go so far before people start seeing it as an erosion of something they have or have access to. There are those limits that we can’t seem to get past.”

She summed up the attitude: “I’ll do X and Y, but please don’t ask me to do Z.”

I think she’s right. We’ve all done that, not wanted to do Z, haven’t we?

Video Games for High Quality Equitable Learning

July 12, 2021

David Gagnon, Director of the Field Day Lab at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison, discusses the educational advantages of using video games and simulators as teaching tools. Games offer opportunities to actively learn new concepts and to fail without real world consequences.

Watch the full video here.

The Roots of ‘Critical Race Theory’

June 29, 2021   |   By Frederica Freyberg, PBS Wisconsin

From PBS Wisconsin’s Here and Now program:


Meanwhile, earlier this month a group of state Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would prohibit public schools, the UW and tech colleges from teaching critical race theory, a decades-old academic theory that holds that racism is systematic, built into societal institutions since the days of slavery. Gloria Ladson-Billings is one of the academics who first applied the critical race theory to her education policy research. She’s an emerita professor at UW-Madison and now the president of the National Academy of Education. But how does critical race theory cross over into today’s politics? To that, we ask Emeritus Professor John Witte. He’s a UW-Madison education policy expert who says the concept is widely misunderstood. And they both join us now and thanks for being here.


You’re welcome.


A pleasure.


Well, first to you, Professor Ladson-Billings, in layman’s terms, what is critical race theory?


It is an attempt to begin to understand racial disparity. If you look over the history of the nation, we started out in 1600 up into the mid-20th century literally saying that the reason that there were racial disparities is because there were biological and intellectual deficiencies. We’ve finally put that myth to rest and eugenics has fallen out of favor. I would say in the next few years we began to look at issues of equal opportunity. So we had the Brown decision. Certainly we had Reconstruction, we had the Brown decision, the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act. So we’ve had opportunities but they all get rolled back. We can show you clearly in the history of the nation that we roll those back. So critical race theory is yet another way to think about how do we understand racial disparity.


So Wisconsin U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman has introduced a bill banning its teaching saying the purpose of this retelling of American history is to try to set American against American, he says, and that, “the CRT curriculum that enlightened educators are regurgitating teaches our children hate – to hate each other and hate their country. There are no boogeymen holding people back because of where they or their ancestors are from.” Professor Ladson-Billings, what is your response to that?


The boogeyman is that CRT is in K-12 schools. It’s there as much as unicorns are there. It is not taught in the curriculum and I would probably advise Representative Grothman to go up Bascom Hill and look at the plaque about sifting and winnowing which sites an 1894 report that says this is a state that will not prohibit the search for the truth. They didn’t want Professor Ely in the 1800s to teach socialism. I’m very heartened by the fact that we had the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said the other day that he had read Mao Tse Tung. He’d read Lenin. He’s read Marx. It didn’t make him a communist.


Does critical race theory teach to hate white people?


Absolutely not. In several of the interviews that I have done before I’ve done interviews with print reporters, I’ve sent them articles I’ve written and then when they contact me, I said, what in the article says that you should hate white people. They all agree, it’s not there. It is not there.


Professor Witte, we know that President Trump banned any federal training in critical race theory, white privilege or other what he called propaganda. A ban that is now rescinded but was that directive the genesis of politicizing critical race theory?


Oh, yes, it was. That and of course January 6th. It goes back to the whole problem, starts with January 6 and then Trump gets involved. But there are misunderstandings about — very different misunderstandings about what it means, I think. While Gloria I think has laid it out accurately, different people just simply interpret it differently. So the people that are proponents of it, again they point to the historic origins of it, slavery, and they also argue that it’s still a present problem now with inequities. The difference is that the opponents say that there’s a blame game here, that the current generation is somehow to blame for what happened historically and it’s their responsibility to rectify it. That’s where you get the huge divide and you get the very strident differences between those positions.


So what should we make of the way that proposals to ban critical race theory as a school subject are sweeping the nation?


Well, my view has been that because of the differences in opinion what it means, you should be very ginger about teaching it. I would not introduce it to elementary students or even middle schools. I do think it should be introduced in high schools because it’s part of current events. It’s all over the newspapers. It’s all over the news. It’s going to be all over this show tonight. And I hope that there are some high school kids out there watching and reading those things. I think there you can discuss it in a reasonable manner. But again, you got to approach it in a gingerly manner because you can get very bad feelings on both sides, both for African-Americans and for white people.


Professor Lawson-Billings, is it part of school curriculum now at the K-12 level?


It is not. It is not. I would not even introduce it in high school. It’s a theory. Who needs theory? Graduate students. Having spent 27 years on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, I never introduced it even to undergraduates. I worked with graduate students who are looking for a theoretical frame to bolster an argument and that’s where it resides.


Professor Witte, you have said you think actually a different term altogether should be used to discuss racial disparities. Why?


I would drop critical race theory and find other terms – whatever the faculty member prefers to deal with it – racial differences, inequities in race — however they want to phrase it. I don’t think — I disagree with Gloria here. I don’t think you should avoid it. Now, that’s partly what I do. I bring — for my whole career I’ve brought in controversial — the most controversial things I could find. We talked about abortion for example at the undergraduate level, very heated issues. I talked — I studied vouchers, educational vouchers, very heated issue in the education world. I talked about it straightforward and both sides given. I think the same thing should happen here. I think again you have to be very sensitive to doing it. I agree with her there. I agree with that because you got to always watch the faces of people to see who’s being harmed and who’s getting very angry. You can tell that when you have a discussion in the classroom. You can see it and watch for that.


I want to ask one last question quickly of you, Professor Ladson-Billings. Apart from the brouhaha over critical race theory, what is the importance of teaching culturally accurate history?


I’ve been very fortunate as the current president of the National Academy of Education that we have just put out a report on civic discourse and civic reasoning. That’s the place where I think we have to go as a nation. As John mentioned, January 6 showed us clearly we don’t know how to sit down and talk when we disagree. So that’s the work that we have to do, is figure out how do we have civil discourse, even when we don’t see the world the same way.


We need to leave it there. Professors, thank you very much for your insights.


Thank you.


Thank you.

Badger Talks: Is the pandemic affecting our memory?

June 22, 2021   |   By Veronica Rueckert, University Communications

​From University Communications:

If – over the past year — you’ve had trouble finding the right word, remembering to pick something up at the grocery store, or recalling something that happened a few months ago, you’re not alone.

It turns out, the pandemic has been challenging for the memory. In this Badger Talks, Haley Vlach walks us through the reasons why the pandemic has been so challenging for our memory.

Vlach is an associate professor of educational sciences and an expert on how memory develops. Vlach says the pandemic robbed us of our “memory cues,” in-person reminders of things we needed to do or to recall that are typically part of our daily routine in non-pandemic life.

“Turns out,” she says, “that the pandemic is a perfect storm for causing forgetting.”

Another cause of forgetfulness is the uptick of multi-tasking brought on by the pandemic. Many of us have combined aspects of our life in a way we’ve never done before, like parenting and working, and that means we’re likely to forget something in both those arenas.

Other factors that have contributed to pandemic-related memory glitches are social isolation and the background noise of anxiety, according to Vlach. But there’s good news. As restrictions ease and life returns to normal, Vlach says the memory will bounce back. But there may be a silver-lining to all the forgetfulness of the past year. All the unpleasant stuff you don’t want to remember? Some of those memories may be gone, too.

Watch full video here.

LaVar Charleston named UW–Madison’s next chief diversity officer

June 22, 2021   |   By Doug Erickson, University Communications

​From University Communications:

LaVar Charleston, an innovative leader and accomplished researcher with nearly two decades of experience related to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education, has been named to lead the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Since June 2019, Charleston has served as the inaugural associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Education, where he is a clinical professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the department in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

“It is with gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility that I take on this new role,” Charleston says. “UW–Madison means so much to me — it’s where I grew as a scholar, a researcher and an administrator. I want every member of the campus community to feel welcome, accepted and supported here.”

Charleston will serve as the university’s chief diversity officer, also holding the titles of deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, vice provost, and Elzie Higginbottom Director of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA). He will begin on August 2.

“This is a role of utmost importance as we continue to work toward a day when every member of our campus community is able to thrive, with no barriers to success,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Dr. Charleston thoroughly understands the challenges ahead and brings a comprehensive and impressive set of skills to address them. I’m excited to see where his leadership takes us.”

In his new position, Charleston will provide overall leadership for the university’s efforts to create a diverse, inclusive and successful learning and work environment for all students, faculty, staff, alumni and others who partner with the university. He will partner with schools, colleges and other administrative units across campus while supervising the units that comprise the DDEEA.

Charleston will serve on senior leadership teams at the university, including the Chancellor’s Executive Committee and the Provost Executive Group.

Charleston says he will approach his new role with an acute awareness of how racial and social unrest and a pandemic have made the past two years very difficult for many members of the campus community, especially students and others in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities.

“These are hard and challenging times, but they are also encouraging times, because there’s a renewed energy on our campus,” he says. “We have more allies than we’ve had in recent times, and there’s a renewed sense of ownership and accountability when it comes to anti-racist practices and making sure our environments are inclusive.”

Charleston says his job will be to “look under the hood” and determine what’s working and what isn’t.

“For folks in diversity work, we’ve been really busy, but that’s a good thing,” he says. “We’re synthesizing our role in shaping the culture and instituting the structures that need to be in place so that everyone feels they belong. There are so many groups around campus doing this work, and everyone from the chancellor and the provost to our deans is making a concerted effort around diversity and inclusion. It’s a hopeful time.”

Charleston earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Ball State University in 2002. He came to UW–Madison in 2005 as a site coordinator for the Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE).

Other positions at UW–Madison followed, including a long affiliation with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, where he helped found Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB). He served in numerous capacities at Wei LAB, including assistant director and coordinator of the Research and Evaluation Division. Charleston’s research focuses on diversity, access and inclusion within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. He is the author or co-author of 50 manuscripts, including the book “Advancing Equity and Diversity in Student Affairs.”

From 2017-2019, Charleston served as the inaugural assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, engagement and success at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. He returned to UW–Madison in 2019 to become the associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion in the School of Education.

Charleston says he wants students to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to the spaces they inhabit. He plans to lead by example.

“What people need to know about me is that I’m a diehard Detroiter – born and raised,” he says. “A lot of who I am comes from my parents and grandmother and siblings and the blue-collar values they instilled in me. They helped prepare me for this moment.”

Charleston played Division I football and sings in Kinfolk, a local soul and R&B band. He enjoys boating, kayaking, biking and motorcycling. His wife, Sherri Ann Charleston, is his “No. 1 colleague and thought partner,” he says. She is the chief diversity and inclusion officer at Harvard University.

Cheryl Gittens has been serving as the interim deputy vice chancellor and chief diversity officer since July of 2020, having previously served as an assistant vice provost in the DDEEA.

“Dr. Gittens has done an outstanding job leading our diversity and inclusion efforts through an incredibly difficult and challenging time in our society and on our campus,” says Provost Karl Scholz. “We are in a stronger place because of her commitment to this institution, and I wish to express my deep appreciation for her work this past year.”

Jerlando F.L. Jackson chaired the 14-member search and screen committee. He is the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, department chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and director and chief research scientist of the Wei LAB.

Online Internships Fail to Meet Expectations

May 19, 2021   |   By Lindsay McKenzie

From: Inside Higher Ed

College students who participated in online internships during the COVID-19 pandemic did not get as much out of the experience as peers who participated in in-person internships, a new study found.

Academics at the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions, which is housed within the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research, published the findings of their research into online internships yesterday.

The study, which included survey data from nearly 10,000 students at 11 colleges and universities, found just 22 percent of respondents participated in an internship in the past year. Of these internships, half were in person and the remainder online. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research program, known as RAPID.

When the pandemic hit the U.S. in spring 2020, interest in online internships grew, said Matthew T. Hora, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at UW Madison. Many people naturally assumed that most in-person positions would be shifted online, he said, but that does not appear to have been the case.

Key Findings

Researchers came away with several key findings:
A Need to Work With Employers

  • Internship participation during the COVID-19 pandemic was low, with 22.1 percent of students taking an internship. Of these, roughly 50 percent took online positions, and 50 percent in person.
  • Online internship networking programs are pivotal to connecting students and employers, but there were many more students registering for these platforms than open positions, with demand far outstripping supply.
  • Students who participated in online internships tended to have high grade point averages and come from upper-income families, suggesting that online interns represent a narrow slice of the student population.
  • A higher percentage of online internships were unpaid versus in-person internships—42 percent unpaid online versus 34.9 percent unpaid in person.
  • Online interns report lower satisfaction with their experience than in-person interns. Online interns also reported lower scores for both academic and developmental value, as well as networking opportunities.
  • Online internships need to be designed with greater attention to task design, supervision and communication.
  • Employers and postsecondary institutions will require training to improve how online internships are designed and implemented.

Internships can vary widely by their organization, their objectives and their usefulness to students and employers. Many of the challenges with online internships highlighted in the report are consistent with the challenges experienced by employees who switched to remote work during the pandemic. They include navigating new communication channels.

“Without in-person opportunities, it’s extremely difficult for students to establish strong connections within a work environment, namely through networking or casual water-cooler talk,” said Kevin Davis, the founder and executive director of First Workings, a nonprofit organization that connects high school students in New York City with paid summer internships.

Losing out on in-person networking opportunities is particularly detrimental for students coming from first-generation or low-income households “who may not have social capital in the student’s aspiring career or industry,” Davis said.

When the pandemic hit, First Workings made the difficult decision to shift from in-person internships to one-on-one virtual mentorships instead.

“Our main priority was providing opportunities for students to build social capital, while mitigating the disengagement seen in a virtual environment,” Davis said.

The mentorship program included frequent meetings between students and First Meetings staff, mental health check-ins and a stipend to help mitigate the lack of in-person work opportunities available, he said.

“Creating an environment that encourages mentorship is a vital step to ensure your online internship is a successful one,” Davis said. “If an internship does not include set mentorship programs, students should reach out to professionals at the company and ask for advice on how to find an appropriate mentor.”

In addition to employers thinking about how to build connections between supervisors and students, Hora, the report’s co-author, recommends that colleges start engaging more with companies to discuss how to design meaningful learning experiences. Problem-based learning, where students are given a real-world problem to solve, works particularly well for internships and benefits both the employer and the intern, Hora said.

The study highlights an employer called TreeHouse Foods that offers an online internship program that Hora and his colleagues feel is particularly well designed. Unlike some other employers, TreeHouse Foods treats its online internships as an important recruitment pipeline—not something they are doing as a service or to find cheap labor, according to Hora.

Before the pandemic, the number of online internships was growing, Hora said. He expects online internships to continue to grow as companies gain experience operating remotely. That said, there are some professions that are unlikely to transition to fully online internships.

“I don’t think we’ll see many welding internships move online, for example—or at least I hope we don’t,” Hora said. There are some experiences that will remain important to have in person, particularly for hands-on and STEM-based professions.

Over the past five years, online recruitment platform Handshake has also seen the number of remote internships available to college students increase, said Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at the company. She said that employers appear to now be engaging in a more deliberate “remote-first internship strategy.”

“Between 2019 and 2020, the number of remote learning internship postings on Handshake increased almost 500 percent,” Cruzvergara said. “Looking into the future, it is clear that COVID-19 has made a lasting impact on the way employers and students conduct internships, prompting employers to build the infrastructure and systems to support remote arrangements.”

Employers are realizing that online internships and online recruiting more broadly can help them expand their candidate pool and diversify their teams, said Cruzvergara. Employers can now “truly include those qualified and not just those who have the means to travel and live somewhere different for three months,” she said.

Though Hora acknowledges that online internships could help to plug equity and opportunity gaps for students from lower-income backgrounds or who are unable to travel, he says there is little evidence so far that online internships are particularly beneficial to students, nor that they are leveling the playing field.

Students who completed online internships in the past year tended to be from wealthier families and have higher grade point averages than their peers. They also tended not to be first-generation students or students who are studying STEM subjects. Hora and his colleagues plan to look further at these demographics and examine more data on online internships as part of the upcoming National Survey of College Internships, which is due to launch in October.

“While remote work and online internships will remain a reality for many professions and sectors, it is clear that colleges and universities need to work with employers to ensure they are as effective learning experiences as an in-person position,” Hora said in a statement accompanying the release of the study.

“Until then,” Hora continued, “the online internship should be viewed with caution as a form of experiential learning—one with great potential to reach thousands of students unable to take an in-person position, but something that is clearly a work in progress.”

Wisconsin schools look to continue, expand future virtual options

April 22, 2021   |   By Amanda St. Hilaire, Fox 6 Milwaukee

From Fox 6 Milwaukee

Students across Wisconsin had no choice when school buildings shut down one year ago. Now, even as school districts point to the rapid shift to virtual learning as a factor in declining academic performance, administrators are exploring the idea of expanding future online learning.

“Districts that are able to get on top of that more quickly will be much better positioned to meet families’ needs,” Wisconsin Center for Education Research scientist Dr. Bradley Carl said. “And conversely, districts that don’t get going with that are going to lose enrollment.”

The demand for virtual

Public records from the ten largest school districts in southeast Wisconsin show grades took a hit across the board during the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, even in the districts among the first to offer fully in-person options.

Interactive map

While there are several reasons, with unique factors in each districts, administrators say the sudden shift to at-home and virtual learning in March 2020 played a role.

“I don’t think it’s so much that there’s something inherently awed about virtual learning,” Carl said. “We had large numbers of teachers that, with very little preparation, suddenly had to take everything that they had done for a period of years in an in-person environment were told, ‘Now you have to deliver this with very little preparation.’”

“It’s harder to engage students meaningfully in virtual environments,” Carl continued. “And the speed at which we were asked collectively, K-12 in particular, to ramp this up and scale this up was not conducive to delivering the most engaging kind of content.”

Carl cites research showing before the pandemic, demand for virtual learning was steadily increasing. However, he points out those were courses designed for online with teachers who were used to the platform. In other words, pre-pandemic virtual learning was a far cry from what most Wisconsin students got when buildings shut down. Some students saw noticeable declines in their grades; some, like West AllisWest Milwaukee freshman Izabella Barrera, did well academically but still found it more challenging to stay on top of her grades.

“While I was in virtual, my motivation really went down,” Izabella said. “It plummeted. And that was one of the reasons why I went to in-person once I had the choice.”

But some students say they like the freedom of learning virtually. For other families, virtual allows them to mitigate the risks of health concerns.

Racine Unified School District senior Hailey Mattek says virtual learning took a toll on her mental health, but she chose to remain virtual once the school district gave her the choice to go back to in-person learning. “I have two parents that are both high-risk, and I took it very seriously,” Mattek said. “I made a decision to keep my family safe.”

“We had several family members who suffered from this disease and several family members that died from this disease,” Adija Greer Smith, whose sons attended Milwaukee Public Schools and Mequon-Thiensville this year. “So the emotions of the decision, with the risk of him going to a place where he could bring it home and having an elderly grandmother who is already extremely ill having to make those hard decisions was something that we had to do and we had to look at it from a safety perspective, with the hopes and the prayers that his academics would not completely fail.”

Carl says going forward, the key will be whether districts can offer quality virtual options so they don’t lose families like Greer Smith’s; she says she moved out of MPS school district because she was dissatisfied with the resources available to her son during online learning. “A parent should not have to go to going to the extreme of trying to move into an area just so that their children can have a quality education,” Greer Smith said.

What does the future look like?

In interviews with FOX6, Kenosha, West Allis-West Milwaukee, West Bend, and Sheboygan school district administrators all brought up continuing, and in some cases expanding, virtual options for students next year.

“Throughout everything, we’ve tried to preserve and protect choice for our families and our students,” West Bend superintendent Jennifer Wimmer said.

“Our superintendent and leadership is not operating with the notion of getting back to what it was,” Kenosha Unified School District Chief Information Officer Kris Keckler said. “We don’t think it will ever be that way again.”

Keckler provided FOX6 with additional student performance data, including numbers showing a higher amount of virtual students failing classes than students who chose the hybrid option.

“I think a lot of parents are going, ’Well, then why even continue with the virtual option when the pandemic is over?’” FOX6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire asked.

Keckler, who previously served as a virtual school principal, said the current data reects a quick switch to online learning; the goal is to provide a more stable, planned virtual option that could benefit students who learn well in that format down the road. “Knowing that it’s not for everybody, I’m not going to make a blanket statement to say virtual education failed everybody,” Keckler said. “That’s not it.”

“I’d be hard-pressed to say that if a student was failing virtually right now, that we banish them to never operate virtually again,” Keckler added. “In the same sense that we’ve had students that fail horribly in person but we don’t tell them that they can’t come in person anymore.”

Classroom stability

As school districts plan future virtual options, one challenge will be ensuring they choose a model that is sustainable for both families and educators.

“My concern is these teachers are going to get burned out,” Oak Creek-Franklin parent Jennifer Heiges said.

For the last year, teachers have been rapidly shifting platforms while trying to keep students engaged. They’re already tasked with revamping curriculum next year to catch up struggling learners, all while trying to help students manage increasing mental health issues.

As districts started to give families choices of virtual or in-person learning, the result was often teaching students face-to-face and behind screens simultaneously. “It felt like the work hours became longer than just that eight-hour day, where kids were able to access you late into the night and early in the morning, whenever they needed,” Waukesha South High School instructional coach Alyssa Behrendt said. “And the managing of both students at home and students in front of you was a big learning curve for everyone.”

“Teachers are having to do so much more work this year,” Behrendt added. “And it’s good work in that they would do it for the kids and we are always keeping the kids at the front. But it’s a lot, yeah. You have the re-teaching the current curriculum, you have the students who are always virtual, you have the kids that are coming face to face and it is definitely a lot to manage.”

“How do you avoid burnout?” FOX6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire asked.

Behrendt paused, then laughed.

“It’s been impossible this year,” she said. “Honestly, I think that everybody has hit the wall at some point and needed to take a step away…this has been the longest school year of my life. It’s also been a very powerful school year in seeing the resilience of students and sta. It’s one of those situations where we only come out of this stronger.”

Administrators like Keckler say they recognize the challenges of simultaneously teaching in multiple formats, and hope to iron out solutions as they figure out how to expand virtual options.

“This will ripple for years to come,” Keckler said.

New projects study root causes of inequalities and how to reduce their effects

April 15, 2021   |   By Natasha Kassulke, UW-Madison News

​From UW-Madison News

Fifteen projects — from improving doctor-patient communications for high-risk patients, to using data to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, to better understanding the factors that influence success and well-being of Hmong-American students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison — have been chosen for the Understanding and Reducing Inequalities Initiative.

The projects were selected from 73 proposals. The initiative is funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

“The proposals we received are evidence of the exceptionally wide breadth of research on our campus targeting inequalities based on factors such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and geography,” says Lonnie Berger, associate vice chancellor for research in the social sciences. “The projects will help build a body of evidence that can contribute to addressing these varied and complex inequalities with implications for reducing both them and their ill effects. They stand to produce real-world, actionable knowledge about how programs, policies and practices can be leveraged to reduce inequalities in U.S. society.”

The initiative is designed to support research that moves beyond scholarship that just describes the causes and consequences of inequalities; the emphasis is also on producing real-word, evidence-based solutions for reducing a host of inequalities on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, economic standing, language, minority status, country of origin and immigration status.

The chosen projects rely on a variety of methods ranging from surveys, field experiments and in-depth interviews to collect new data and on analyzing existing data, evaluating training programs and assessing case studies.

“Although inequality is pervasive, these projects provide innovative ideas about how to meet some of society’s greatest challenges. The research portfolio supported by this initiative is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on ideas and tools from sociology, psychology, pharmacy, education, law and beyond,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “These projects will greatly enhance the UW­–Madison research landscape in an area of critical societal need and engage with our broader communities in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.”

For example, one project — Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients — examines how to improve communication between white doctors and patients of color and how to build patients’ trust in their doctor.

A second project — Race, Class and Gender Inequality and Access to Civil Justice — launches a pilot designed to understand racial differences in how Americans handle civil legal problems, why they do and do not turn to law, and with what outcomes. The project speaks to the growing effort to stimulate a movement to reform American civil justice, potentially mirroring on the civil side the robust and influential movement to reform America’s criminal justice system.

Another project — Essential Immigrant Workers, Inequality and COVID-19 —

builds on a partnership with the Milwaukee-based community organization Voces de la Frontera to examine occupational health and safety issues and housing insecurity by training research assistants and members of the communities most directly affected to document problems and generate knowledge that can contribute to solutions. The project further addresses threats to health and safety that essential immigrant workers have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the home and in the workplace.

A fourth project — Amplifying Marginalized Voices in Public Deliberation: Inclusive Community Conversations About Inequities in Partnership with Journalists and J-School — partners with the national nonprofit Local Voices Network to assess whether training journalists and journalism students in reaching out and facilitating discussions with marginalized groups can amplify these groups’ voices in public dialogues about the inequities to which they are disproportionately subjected.

Research grants were supported in two categories: projects less than $100,000, and those up to a maximum of $250,000.

The projects and their principal investigators and co-PIs are:

Amplifying Marginalized Voices in Public Deliberation: Inclusive Community Conversations About Inequities in Partnership with Journalists and J-Schools
Susan Robinson, professor of journalism and mass communications

Doctor-Patient Communication and Shared Decision Making with High-Risk Patients
Markus Brauer, professor of psychology

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities During the COVID-19 Crisis
Christine Durrance, associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Jessica Pac, assistant professor of social work
Deborah Ehrenthal, professor of population health sciences and obstetrics/gynecology

Psychedelic Outcomes: Interaction of Environment, Self-Identity and Success
Cody Wenthur, assistant professor of pharmacy

Transgender, Two-Spirit, and Nonbinary Populations
Stephanie Budge, associate professor of counseling psychology

Essential Immigrant Workers, Inequality and COVID-19
Armando Ibarra, associate professor with the School for Workers
Carolina Sarmiento, assistant professor of civil society and community studies
Revel Sims, assistant professor of planning and landscape architecture

Reducing STEMM Inequality Via Culturally Aware Mentoring
Angela Byars-Winston, professor of medicine
Christine Pfund, senior scientist for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

The Foundational Inequality — Race Differences in Equal Opportunity in the United States
Jason Fletcher, professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Eric Grodsky, professor of sociology

Impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Intergenerational Health Mobility
Yang Wang, associate professor in the La Follette School of Public Affairs
Katie Jajtner, assistant scientist for the Center for Demography of Health and Aging

Teaching Local Socio-Scientific Issues to Latinx English Learners
Diego Roman, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction

Understanding and Reducing Inequalities in Higher Education: Lessons from Hmong American College Student-Engaged Participatory Action Research
Matthew Hora, assistant professor of liberal arts and applied studies
Stacey J. Lee, professor of educational policy studies
Bailey Smolarek, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research
Matthew Wolfgram, associate researcher for the Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Using Social Policy to Promote Financial Inclusion: Minimum Wage Policies and Families’ Access to Financial Services
Megan Bea, assistant professor of human ecology

A Parent-Led Intervention to Reduce Children’s Racial Biases
Patricia Devine, professor of psychology
Kristin Shutts, professor of psychology
Colleen Halliday, professor at the Medical University of South Carolina

Race, Class, and Gender Inequality and Access to Civil Justice
Tonya Brito, professor of law

Understanding and Preventing the Reproduction of Gender and Racial Inequalities in the Big Data Era
Kangwook Lee, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering
Eunsil Oh, assistant professor of sociology

Report: Outcomes-Based Funding Models Need to be Made More Equitable

April 7, 2021   |   By Sara Weissman, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

​From Diverse Issues in Higher Education

More than 30 states have outcomes-based funding models, which allocate money to colleges and universities at least partly based on various metrics for student success. But a new report by The Education Trust – examining outcomes-based funding formulas across the country from 2017 to 2020 – argues that these models perpetuate inequities in the ways they’re currently designed.

For one thing, these formulas often penalize underresourced institutions, creating a cyclical “self-fulfilling prophecy,” noted co-author Dr. Kalya C. Elliott, the Education Trust’s interim director for higher education policy.

“…Institutions that do the lion’s share of serving students of color and low-income students – and already have fewer resources – continue to receive fewer resources and smaller allocations through the outcomes-based funding model, giving them less and forcing them to do more with less,” Elliott said.

In particular, research shows minority serving institutions, like historically Black colleges and universities, “tended to lose more money” in states using these models, compared to their predominantly White counterparts, said Dr. Nicholas Hillman, associate professor of educational leadership and policy analysis and director of the Student Success Through Applied Research Lab at University of Wisconsin. He co-authored a 2018 study called “The Equity Implications of Paying for Performance in Higher Education.”

In Tennessee, for example, he found that Tennessee State University, the state’s only HBCU, gained virtually no new funding since a performance-based funding model was put in place, while other campuses made significant gains.

“That was, I guess, on some level, not at all surprising because a lot of these formulas at the time didn’t try to make any adjustments for students’ race or ethnicity or the profile of students served by colleges,” Hillman said.

The Education Trust report suggests that, overall, performance-based funding models still neglect to sufficiently measure and incentivize positive outcomes for low-income students and students of color.

It found that 26 states base funding partly on whether institutions are increasing success for students from low-income families. But only 19 states include success metrics for students of color. A mere six states incorporate minority student enrollment as a part of their formula, and only four states include or allow a measure for campus racial climate.

To Elliott, that’s a significant omission.

“Entry and exit, enrollment and completion, are the bookends of a students’ experience,” she said. “What happens in between is incredibly important, and what happens in between captures their lived, day-to-day experience. We think it’s important that institutions provide campuses that are safe, that are welcoming, that are inclusive and that prepare students to engage with their peers and in their careers in ways that are based in equity and justice.”

In the absence of an equity focus in these formulas, the report points to cases where universities actually became more selective, decreasing their low-income student and minority student enrollment, or pushed students toward associate and certificate degrees, rather than bachelor’s degrees, to keep success metrics up.

To avoid this, Elliott recommends states bake equity into their success measures, but that’s just a start.

“A state has to have the right metrics, it has to have the right funding and it has to have the right implementation,” she said. “There are states that have equity metrics for race but are assigning so little funding through the system that it’s not enough to actually incentivize changes in institutional behavior and it’s not enough to actually give institutions enough resources to invest in the type of student success models that would improve completion.”

The report lays out a detailed step-by-step guide to designing – and implementing – more equitable and stable outcomes-based funding models. It advocates for mandatory equity metrics that include race and socioeconomic status, giving extra weight for enrollment of low-income students and students of color and incentivizing a positive racial climate.

It also calls on states to reward schools making incremental progress toward larger student success goals and to give them a grace period to adjust to new requirements, so underresourced institutions can build up their capacity.

The report asserts that, to do this, state-level officers need to be diverse, seek input from the schools disproportionately serving underrepresented students and invest in their student supports, among other strategies.

Outcomes-based funding formulas can be a powerful tool for change, Elliott said, if crafted correctly.

Discussions about outcomes-based funding “can be narrowly focused on graduation or completion as success, and this report was an opportunity to broaden that …” she said. “Outcomes-based funding can broaden the definition of student success to make sure the institutions that are serving low-income students and students of color have the resources they need to do so.”

For Hillman, looking at performance-based funding through an equity lens, as this report does, feels like a “natural evolution” for policymakers and an opportunity to jumpstart a “growth process.”

“I’m so excited that the field is warming up to these conversations and having these conversations,” he said. “I don’t think a few years ago we would be talking about this … Metrics are socially constructed. They’re politically constructed. Metrics by themselves are not fair. There are people making choices about what metrics go into these models. [And] these models should be reflecting on the distribution of who benefits and who’s burdened by the formula.”

The School of Education Sponsors Lecture Promoting Ideals of Antiracism

March 25, 2021   |   By St. John's University

​From St. John’s University

Our society faces many concurrent challenges in addition to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anti-Black racism, the threat of financial collapse, and the frequency of environmental disasters often co-exist. Taken together, these four crises have a devastating effect on the nation’s young people of color who confront a variety of daily fears, including eviction, poor air and water quality, racism, and food insecurity.

That was the message conveyed by Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D., during her virtual lecture, “Developing Asset-Based Approaches to Address Racial Trauma in K–12 Schools.” The lecture, sponsored by The School of Education, primarily sought to define how institutions and individuals can adopt the tenets of antiracism. Dr. Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

She noted that diversity is celebrated in nature, yet it is something with which humanity has always had a problematic relationship. “Systemic racism and implicit bias continue to help deny African Americans the same opportunities as their white peers,” she said.

Dr. Ladson-Billings added that the concept of race is to rank, or create, hierarchy. “It’s an organizing principle for distributing benefits.” She noted that more African American and Latinx individuals have succumbed to COVID-19 because of less access to adequate medical care.

Dr. Ladson-Billings added that the concept of race is to rank, or create, hierarchy. “It’s an organizing principle for distributing benefits.” She noted that more African American and Latinx individuals have succumbed to COVID-19 because of less access to adequate medical care.
Schools play directly into the racial narrative, Dr. Ladson-Billings stressed, through the use of tracking and ability grouping, special education referral, suspension and expulsion rates, and lack of access to enrichment programs. In order for this to change, teachers, administrators, and policy makers have to take deliberate and affirmative actions.

“We have to get in front of this problem,” she said.

Race does not biologically exist, Dr. Ladson-Billings emphasized. “Yet, how we identify with race is so powerful that it influences our experiences and shapes our lives.” She added that in a society that privileges whiteness, racist ideas are considered normal throughout our culture, and racist views justify the unfair treatment of people of color.

Dr. Ladson-Billings said that racism is not only about individual mindsets and actions; racist policies contribute to our polarization and threaten the equity in our systems and the fairness of our institutions. “To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being antiracist in all aspects of our lives.”

Dr. Ladson-Billings noted that people who do not speak up for Black and Latinx people, do not socialize with them, and do not advocate on their behalf, cannot attest to being antiracist.
Dr. Ladson-Billings promotes the notion of culturally relevant pedagogy, which is comprised of three important elements: student learning, cultural competence, and socio-political or critical consciousness. “At its heart, it’s about social transformation, not about getting more aid or more services,” she stressed.

“No one is born racist or antiracist,” she explained. “These result from the choices we make. Being antiracist results from making a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, and equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life.” In the absence of making these choices, people perpetuate white supremacism.

After the lecture, David L. Bell, Ed.D., Dean, The School of Education, stressed the need for these ongoing conversations. “It is about more than just K–12. Higher education also needs to look at trauma and the challenges with the curriculum. We need to ask, ‘how do we see teaching and learning through the eyes of students?’”