Kids are back in school, routine testing has begun, and new data shows math and reading skills have plunged since the pandemic. How do we spend the $122 Billion in federal funding to combat learning loss? Andy speaks with Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Oakland Reach Founder Lakisha Young about the successful approaches they’re using to get kids on track, from high dosage tutoring to hubs that train community members to be “literacy liberators.” Listen and walk away motivated to do your part.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Learn more about Oakland Reach, a virtual hub that combines high-quality instruction for students with socio-economic supports for the whole family: https://oaklandreach.org/
- Read about how Tennessee student reading scores are largely back to pre-pandemic levels: https://www.tn.gov/education/news/2022/6/14/tennessee-releases-2021-22-tcap-state-level-results-highlighting-significant-learning-acceleration-.html
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Andy Slavitt, Lakisha Young, Penny Schwinn
Andy Slavitt 00:18
Welcome in the bubble, I’m Andy Slavitt. And it’s September 9, kids are back at school. And that means that the shoes are beginning to drop. And one of the most insidious impacts of the pandemic, is kids are back. Routine testing is beginning. And we’re able to measure what people in education circles might call learning loss. The first of what I imagined it’d be many new reports just came out showing that kids math and reading skills have plunged. Since the pandemic, math and reading among nine year olds declined at historic levels and in math, they declined for the first time ever, I think in reading it was depleted the first time in 30 years. Researchers are estimating that it could take the average student three to five years to catch up. But as we know, there is no average student. And we talked a little bit about this on Wednesday show with Annie cabinets about the issues that kids face during the pandemic. But today, we’re going to talk about solutions. Because we’ve got to take a hard look at the reality of where students are now. And what role parents, school districts and anyone in the community can play. No, just put this out there. The federal government is put out $122 billion to largest single investment to address schools that learning loss and apparently, up to about 25 billion of it can be spent on learning catch up. So we’re going to go into talk to two people who are doing that have been doing that even before that Monday started showing up, because we need to really basically show how it works. And we’re going to deep dive into two communities. We’re going to take a look at what parents are doing and we’re taking a look at what the state and the school districts are doing. So let me tell you about our two guests. The first is Tennessee’s Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. Welcome to In the bubble Penny.
Penny Schwinn 02:16
Thanks so much happy to be here.
Andy Slavitt 02:18
And Lakisha Young, who founded and is the CEO of the Oakland reach in Oakland, California, not far from where I am right now. That’s a parent led advocacy group. Hi, Lakisha. Thank you for being on.
Lakisha Young 02:31
And Andy, thank you for having me
Andy Slavitt 02:32
as well. All right. It’s gonna be good dialogue, because we’re going to talk about some of the things that can be done. Did you guys have done, but I first want to set the stage. And you’re even going into the pandemic, when you find your organization, Lakisha, things were not going smoothly for students to put it mildly. And so maybe you could talk about the situation that you saw kids facing in the Oakland schools, which causes you to start Openreach pregnant. Yeah, I
Lakisha Young 03:05
mean, I think almost even to start that story, Andy has to kind of start with my story, right? You know, I was born and raised in San Francisco, people love that city. But I spent the first My family’s from Jim Crow, South Mississippi. So my grandmother dropped out of school when she was in the ninth grade because she was pregnant with my mom. And her dream was really to have her kids go on to actually graduate from high school, and then my mom’s dream for me to go on to college. So I knew from an early age that education was the equalizer. And even though I spent my first early years in the housing projects of San Francisco, I went to great schools and those, that access just kept opening doors for me, which has allowed me to be in this place right now. So I’ve always been sort of fighting around education because I knew it kind of didn’t matter where you came from. If you got to get education, you could literally change your family tree. And my daughter is now a sophomore in college, like we are doing that. And so when we started reaching 2016, it was really around, bringing Black and Brown mamas and grandmas and aunties and uncles, who most have born and raised in Oakland, went to Oakland schools got horrible educations. But they’re like, I need to do something different with my child, like it has to stop with my child. It has to stop with my grandchild. It has to stop with my niece or nephew that I’m now raising. Right? And so our work was primarily focused on advocacy. And, you know, I’ll pause here to give space for Penny before getting into sort of what pivoted us like why did we pivot towards what we ended up doing right when the pandemic hit.
Andy Slavitt 04:45
Yeah, that’d be great. Yeah, Penny, we’d love to hear a little bit of your version of as you moved into the role. The tendency has, I’m not sure people know this. There’s quite a history of taking education quite seriously. Dating back The number of governors. But you know, what’s the situation that you saw? You know, because we went into the pandemic, just to set the stage for what began to occur.
Penny Schwinn 05:10
Sure. And I think that’s right. So Tennessee has had a long and storied history for gosh, now 1213 years across, you know, this is now the third governor, different administration’s and frankly, different political parties. But we were on those nape rankings, we were in the bottom five to seven states year after year in terms of student achievement and performance. And then you see this big shift that happens in kind of the 2009 to 2011 time period, lots of investment in rigorous standards, assessment, accountability, and additional supports for teachers and certainly supports for students. And we have this kind of meteoric rise from kind of going from the bottom five and to what we’re where we are going into the pandemic, which is that middle of the pack, we were right on the national average, I think one of the things that we’ve been talking about as a state, especially looking when we got in fall of 2019, the nape results from that year is that as a state, we had seen this incredible growth. And we were starting to kind of maintain that growth we weren’t necessarily seeing year over year progress, the momentum had slowed, we were actually starting, if you look at our state level data are starting to dip back down. And when you see that a lot people grow. And then they kind of fall back into what is going to be the status quo unless some other big spark happens. And so we saw that, especially in literacy and reading, a little bit in math, but just kind of that leveling off. And that had been in place for two or three years coming into the pandemic. What has not changed, though, in Tennessee, and something that I think has been exacerbated. Going into that spring of 2020 was really the achievement gap. We look at our students who are economically disadvantaged our English learners, our students with disabilities are students in larger urban communities, that gap and performance was 20 to 25 points that has not closed over time. And so we see the inequities that occur for students that we care deeply about and want to support. And I think going into the pandemic really gave us, I think, a very, very clear window about what that actually means for children and for families every day and how we have got to solve that, and an urgency that that we’ve always had. But it’s just I think, to the point made before the whole house is on fire, we’ve got to do something bold, very quickly.
Andy Slavitt 07:21
By the way, you’re referring to just the acronym you both use NAP, and […], just tell us quickly what that means in case the audience isn’t familiar.
Penny Schwinn 07:31
Sure, so National Assessment of Education Progress every two years, the country has a sample of schools and districts in every state to see how our students are doing collectively. And it allows us to kind of compare states with one another, but also see national trends of how we’re doing specifically in English, language arts or reading and mathematics.
Andy Slavitt 07:50
Great. So things were that were not great even going into the pandemic, particularly with the gaps between rich and poor, between white and non-white. And those gaps just made manifest themselves as we know, in so many ways. And I love your story Lakisha, because I think he should put the context on it you’d like if we don’t close this gap, closing this gap is the thing we can do to give everybody a chance in society, then the pandemic hits. So whatever progress you were making, Lakisha, whenever progress that you were on to Penny gets disrupted. And I want us to extract ourselves from the argument for a second over should schools have closed? Should they not have closed and put ourselves in the frame of just what happened to students? What happened, Lakisha? And how did the pandemic impact kids in Oakland?
Lakisha Young 08:42
Yeah, I mean, I will never forget the last day of school was Friday, March 13th. Right. And on Friday, March 13, our team of organizers and that’s what they were at the time, you know, we’ve changed so much since the pandemic, but we get on the phone with our families. And we were like, hey, something’s going on. You may be out for a while. Get informed, get on the news. Like just kind of gather yourself right over the weekend. We’re gonna follow back up with you guys on Monday, the 16th to kind of understand what this means. And that was like immediate for us. Right? And I will tell you about the 16th. Our families were feeling it, right? One because we have a lot of families who are frontline workers working in restaurants and things of that nature. So folks found themselves immediately not having jobs. By that Wednesday, which was the 18th. We were very, very clear that we needed to move pretty fast and trying to provide financial assistance and relief to families. We were finding that our kids are 50% and we obviously didn’t even find that out until probably like three weeks after the shutdown. But 50% of our families of our households had no internet access or computers. So you’re talking about kids and families have like lost complete contact with their teachers. So this was all happening literally in the first like five days of the pandemic. And as an advocacy org with close proximity to this work, like we went into, like what they call this like Maslow’s hierarchy, right, which is, we need to make sure folks can put food in the refrigerator, pay a cell phone bill and cover that rent. So that was March 16. By March 30, we were sending out over several 100 Venmo, PayPal payments checks, which resulted into $400,000 of relief funds for 1000 Oakland families twice. It was chaos, right? And while we were making sure folks kid and we had families like, I had folks where I was sitting on the living room floor, and I was like sending Venmo payments to folks and people were sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store saying I got it, I can now get groceries. Right. And so that was really kind of what was happening on the ground for our families is that complete disconnect from education, school districts trying to respond in that sort of like scarcity of like, you know, grocery and all of those things, and then providing funds.
Andy Slavitt 11:18
So that’s a picture of trauma, of fear, of parents without incomes, or knowing when the checks are going to come of inability to access, remote learning of not knowing when you’re going to go back. So let’s move forward to where we are today and what you all have been doing. And maybe I want to start in Tennessee, and then go back to you in Oakland, because I think these are examples of taking the bull by the horns and saying, we just can’t accept this, we can’t waste time. So Penny, tell us when the pandemic hit, what solutions you brought to bear? And what are the things really as you extend that out to the things, as you see the educational gaps that we just we talked about earlier? How are those some of those things potentially part of the solution, you see?
Penny Schwinn 12:11
Yeah, so you know, right before the pandemic, we had rolled out this big strategic plan. So you know, timing is everything. And then the pandemic happens. But, you know, what we found was that the things that we knew we needed to focus on before the pandemic were the same things we needed to focus on throughout the pandemic and still thereafter. And so when we think about the things that we are talking about as a country right now, its acceleration and extended learning time, it’s how do we make sure children have all their needs met in order to thrive in school, and it’s talking about teacher shortages. So we invested those federal relief dollars in a way that was intended to be number one, strategic and purposeful, of course, for the immediate needs. But number two, really trying to say we need to invest these funds in a way that is going to have long term benefits, so not just kind of one time.
Andy Slavitt 13:00
And what do you find are the most productive things that that are catching kids up?
Penny Schwinn 13:04
Yep. So we’ve seen, I think the biggest thing has been our Tennessee Alcor. We started high dosage tutoring immediately. So we actually had legislation passed in..
Andy Slavitt 13:14
Lakisha Young 13:16
Everything in a bag of chip.
Penny Schwinn 13:20
Because you think about it if a child’s behind what better thing than a highly qualified and in our state. It is a highly qualified a teacher or a very well trained, you know, future teacher and a pipeline. It’s not with all due respect anyone off the street can come and tutor we’ve got great teachers and we want great teachers tutoring also. So we do a lot of that tutoring during the school day high dosage tutoring. It’s 150,000 students in Tennessee plus an additional 50,000 students served through our community partnerships and our grants to families. So we have a large population of students and high dosage tutoring. That’s now codified in law forevermore, we have summer programming, we extended the school year for students who needed it by four to six weeks in first through eighth grade. That’s now codified in law. And then we did a lot of support for our teachers are especially around early literacy. So we have 10s of 1000s of teachers who have now done really deep dives into science of reading, making sure that we understand how to get a child to read by third grade. And that has been phenomenal. We’ve had 98% of teachers highly satisfied, which is the unicorn of professional development teachers. We never seen 98% of teachers love professional development, especially in a pandemic. But the results are what matters for us, right. So we got our test results back this year. And in every grade four through our high school grades, we are back to pre-pandemic levels of achievement, and in most cases higher than we were before the pandemic. We’re only one point lower in third grade than we were going into the pandemic. And that’s telling us that when we invest strategically in a way that is inclusive of our all of our communities and student focus, hyperly focus on students, we’re going to see results. And it has to involve teachers and principals, superintendents and families. I do think, though, that the one thing I’ll say, and I know Lakeisha feels strongly about this as I do is we are not seeing the gap close for all of our kids. And so we have as a state, essentially gone back to this pre-pandemic level and reading, but we have not been able to get the same level of acceleration that we want to see in those students that were struggling before. And that’s where our focus is absolutely going to be in terms of redirecting even more funds to students who need it the most. And I’m excited about that.
Andy Slavitt 15:38
Let’s take a quick break, and then head west to Oakland. And Lakisha, I want you to tell us what you did, because it’s one of the most amazing stories of the pandemic. So Lakisha, responded to what Penny had to say, as she was just talking about the ability to catch up, but not the ability to close the gaps that existed before the pandemic.
Lakisha Young 16:22
So when Penny was saying that high doses tutoring has been a game changer, I like finger clap and hallelujah dance to that. Right. I think it becomes an interesting part of the conversation is who can do that. Right. And so, Penny I did hear you say about folks being highly trained and highly qualified, right. I also think being highly committed. That’s right about it as a starting point, because what we did not expect. So, Andy, just to kind of loop back to when you were saying like, hey, what happened? Like when the pandemic what would happen to families, and then I started talking about that relief fund, we then immediately moved to this idea of like, you know, what, how do we create this as a moment for our families to be thriving and not surviving? Okay, because we’re going to be in this for the long haul. And so what was really big for us is that our kids actually did not experience learning loss. They experienced some of the best learning gains they have ever experienced. Being in schools. Well, one is to Penny’s point is making it the main thing, the main thing, which is students. So for example, in our first phase, which was the summer of 2020, right, our K12 students 60%, went up two or more reading levels on the district wide assessment, and 30% went up three or more in the first five weeks. So what we learned was, it was the community educators, the paraprofessionals. And those first five weeks that had those results.
Andy Slavitt 17:51
You set up these hubs, tell us about these hubs, the hubs partly responsible?
Lakisha Young 17:57
It was one big virtual hub. So our kids were out of schools, right, you know, our families for a very long time, whatever my personal views again, around school reopening, it was really around listening to families, and our families didn’t want to go back, right. 70% still didn’t want to go back at the end of 2020. So everything that we did was virtual. So it was a city wide hub. And our parents, and our kids were literally attending school, their regular school, from nine to three, and then participating in our hub from 3:30 to 6.
Andy Slavitt 18:28
How did the hub work for people who don’t know about it.
Lakisha Young 18:31
Yes. So the hub is what we call this integration of both the academic and socio economic needs and aspirations of families. So parents, we had parents learning technology skills, we had parents going back and getting their GED, we actually had some family parents going to get their BA degrees. But the hub also had a huge academic focus on reading on literacy and math and science. Many of our kids lost access to science during the pandemic, especially if they weren’t in schools. So we partnered with Berkeley’s like Lawrence Hall of Science. Our kids were getting science kits and learning science. This was some in some cases, Andy, this was the first time that our families were experiencing education privilege. I just want to like stop and name that we had kids doing, you know, animation. We were working with the, the guy who was like the animation lead for Bob’s Burgers, right. We had kids doing art, we had science. We had martial arts and cooking. This was all in our hub. We called it the porterhouse steak. So I think I wanted to kind of link on to what Penny said which is yes, high dosage tutoring game changer. We have seen it over the past few years. Every time we implement a pilot, kids shoot up, it is not the babies. We do need to change the way our adults are positioned around this to make sure that kids get what they need. But we also are in a talent desert. Like I have not spoken to anyone across any state or country like it any state or city that is not experiencing hundreds of vacancies. So what we’re saying is that what we built does a lot of things in one. One is it builds the asset in the communities that are hardest hit, right by low literacy rates and math rates, like Penny said, yes, we’ve closed some gaps, but we haven’t closed the gaps the way we’ve needed to, and some of the hardest hits communities. That’s what the parent liberators we call them parent liberators. They focus on literacy and math and advocacy. But what does it look like? Can you imagine a world where you have a mom that has been deeply invested in, is getting paid, is now a paid literacy or math Liberator inside of a school? Right? Working in supporting the classroom, not in a way that is sort of tokenized, which I think we do a lot when it comes to parents, and especially Black and Brown parents, go do lunch duty, right? No, we’re coming to actually be educators.
Andy Slavitt 20:59
Sounds like us, the pandemic is an opportunity not just to think about how to close the gaps, but to figure out how to build something more ideal. I remember talking to Janet Jackson, the superintendent of the Chicago Public School District. Over the course of the pandemic, he was telling me that our teachers were getting picked off by suburban, wealthy families to teach them at pandemic pods. And that they were basically using that to keep their own children, at least level with where they would be, and everyone else falling further and further behind. It sounds like what you did in Oakland, was just sort of one up that you sort of said, we can do even better for our kids now. And it sounds like what you built, in fact, was accessible capability for these pods and correct me if I’m wrong, but they would they started out as virtual. But did you continue them in person? And if it as we continued them as things unfolded? And where does it stand today?
Lakisha Young 22:03
Yeah, that’s a great question, Andy. So yes, it started off as a virtual citywide hub that you could be anywhere to access as long as you had a computer and internet access. And we also made sure that every single one of our families had computers for every child. And this was even before our city responded. And I called T Mobile and was like, we’re not government. But you need to treat us as government and give us that government right on those T- mobile hotspots. So we can get I mean, this was in I’m telling you any This was in May of 2020. Right? We were we weren’t playing any games. So when you start talking about where we are now is we’ve actually worked and partnered with our districts. And I think this is also you know, Penny and I have been on a webinar before together. But I think that this is really, we have an amazing opportunity to create a better sense of collaboration and interdependencies between systems. And folks like us on the ground that have built these kinds of solutions, right? People always ask, like, why do you guys bother with the system? Why do you bother with the district and I’m like, because that’s where our kids are. That’s where our babies are looking at the numbers. And actually, some of our most vulnerable kids, our foster youth are in these systems. And if they are able to get great reading and math instruction, they have a shot, have created a life different than the ones that they came from. So what we’ve been able to do, and I gotta give, you know, a superintendent of Oakland, a shout out on this is that we have expanded our model inside of our school district. So we now have a contract with our school district where we are training and recruiting. And by the way, Andy will be hitting the streets in about 30 days, corner to corner to recruit more literacy, liberators, right, that Penny, we will go deep in with training and paying to do so right. But we need to focus this stuff on what’s best for kids. But where we are at is at a city wide, hopefully a nationwide movement, right? To bring community to the table to really get skilled around literacy and math. So our kids have a shot so that we actually can put in a real solution that’s long term, sustainable, innovative, and close the gaps that even Penny can admit that most folks weren’t closing before the pandemic and not closing now. So our focus is really on expanding. We have a plan to have almost about 100 literacy liberators in Oakland Unified Schools before the close of the 2020 to 2023 school year, which I believe will serve up to about two to 3,000 K12 students in the highest needs schools.
Andy Slavitt 24:33
One of the things that I’m hearing consistently, number one, making a learning loss is about more learning hours, and so find the qualified people to spend time with students. Secondly, I’m hearing when you see high dosage, what comes to mind are small groups of students per teacher, per educator, which is something that kids have historically never enjoyed. And then it’s intense focus in Oakland, that is closing learning gaps. So let’s take a quick break. And come back. We’re going to talk about, yes, we have all this federal money. But now we need to turn it into real solutions and we need to urgently. So now, all across the country, we talked about, you know, $25 billion or so available to catch up on learning loss, and a commitment by the Biden administration to recruit I think 250,000, tutors and mentors. Sounds like that’s a big challenge. help us think about how other districts and what you would advise both in your own state, but in other states and districts around the country, what should they be doing? And then we’ll come back and ask you the same question by parents, because I bet you there’s a lot of parents out there listening to this now going. I wish I lived in Iowa. I wish I had Akron reach or Cincinnati reach or whatever they wherever they live.
Penny Schwinn 26:14
Yeah, you know, I think that one of the biggest lessons learned is that so many of these initiatives get siloed. Right. So there’s a grant for this, or there’s funding for that it doesn’t actually make cohesive sense at the state level, and then it doesn’t transition down to the district level. And then parents are just grasping at straws about I want to be involved in my child’s education, because that is my child. And we had a big conversation at the beginning of the pandemic. And I talked about one of my former students, Anthony, it was a student who, every Friday was a tough day, because he loves being at school schools where he got a lot of his meals. It was where he was brilliant, loved math and reading. And so it was this whole thing we would say to them, which is, you know, Monday is going to come Monday is going to come and we would get him you know, get them books and get them ready. And his parents were so excited to help them on the weekends. But it was this this love of education and love of learning. And we said now in the pandemic, like what happens when Monday doesn’t come? There’s too many kids were that that doesn’t, that didn’t happen for them. And so you think about the power of what Lakisha was talking about when you have all of these families can come together and get access in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. And parents who I think for the first time, were genuinely and authentically empowered to be actively engaged and really meaningfully engaged in education. When I think about that, at the state level, we’ve been really trying to figure out how do we codify big bold initiatives, not everything, but a few big bold initiatives. And make sure that that is not just about the state, quote, unquote, telling the district what to do, but empowering district leadership and teachers and parents to all be a meaningful part of the solution. And so, you know, when I think about what comes next and what I would advise, and what I do talk about with my colleagues is it has to be cohesive approach. So when I talk about reading, in professional development for teachers, our families, 150,000 families are getting the same readers that our teachers are getting professional development on. So our families are reading the same books at home with the same strategies. When we’re talking about our Grow Your Own program, we became the first state where now you can become a teacher for free and get paid to do so, we’re not just talking about your traditional teacher, we’re talking about the paraprofessionals. We’re talking about the moms and dads and aunties and uncles and grandparents who want to be able to get into schools, and they should be compensated to do so. And so now we pay for them to get their AAA, their BA their credential, to us help to frankly, get highly qualified tutors, who then become great classroom teachers help solve some of those shortage problems, and give that accelerated learning summer programming tutoring that I was talking about. But you have to have it all work together. And I will say from the state perspective, in partnership with our general assembly, we didn’t want this to be a flash in the pan this thing that we are doing to address the pandemic, we have to reshape the way that we do teaching and learning in a way that is very different that gets to all of our students equitably. That involves parents. And so we’ve seen a lot of things codified.
Andy Slavitt 29:19
Is there a roadmap that other states can use to follow Tennessee’s steps and I think acknowledging what you did, which is earlier, which is that you haven’t done everything that you still have equity gaps, and that we’re going to continue to come back to, but at the very least for the makeup of time and learning, which seems like it’s really about throwing effort and discipline and good people and a program and a process at it. That’s right. It feels like something that 50 states into in all our territories should be able to follow within when I looked at the data. So far I’ve seen data which says that about only 40% of states are talking about actually putting money in vesting into tutoring learning doesn’t mean that the other 60% aren’t. It’s just that there’s no visibility into it.
Penny Schwinn 30:05
Yeah. And you know, I think my push and will always be is that be bold. Don’t think about we say on the team, what we say is it’s how not if, like stop saying, if we can’t if we can’t, it’s how are we going to? And I’ll tell you, we decided to do tutoring, we said, we’re going to do it. And we’re going to do it large scale 150,000 students, and we’ve got about 950,000 in the state, and that 150,000 is just our elementary and early middle school that got rolled out in three and a half months, we were able to roll that out, get really quality, supports implementation, etc. And I would say everyone should be able to do that, we’ve got to think about it with not just the urgency, but depth and breadth of the quality of implementation that our students deserve. And there’s no time to waste. Is it hard? Yes. Is it a silver bullet? Absolutely not. I think people are looking for the easy thing I can do, or the quick thing that I can do to get a quick win. And if we’re actually serious about solving what can be a generational crisis for some of our students who may not recover, who may not get back to where they otherwise would have been. It is our responsibility as educators as systems as families and communities to do everything possible to have big bold action, measure it against actual outcomes, and continue to push every single day. So our kids get what they deserve. And that’s why I think, you know, the work in Oakland is phenomenal, like what Lakisha and families in Oakland are doing, it is possible, we just have to challenge ourselves on how not if.
Andy Slavitt 31:33
Lakisha, I want to understand how the relationship the parents might have with their school district, in this environment. And it goes forward. You know, I think about the culture in school districts around the country is got to be the strangest thing ever. I mean, you have these very toxic environments, where it’s arguments between teachers, parents, school board members. And by the way, a lot of these arguments existed because there was no perfect answer. There were a lot of very valid feelings on all sides. But that also made the communication for a lot of people much more challenging. And so if you’re a parent, and you’re in a situation where you don’t feel like, you know, how to influence the school board, or you’re in that kind of environment, like what do you advise?
Lakisha Young 32:24
Okay, so I think we’re an advocacy work. So I love me a good board meeting. But we don’t go to board meetings anymore, unless we have board meeting matters, right? Because at the end of the day, it’s a huge burden to ask a parent to work all day, take care of their kids, and spent four hours at a board meeting where folks can’t even respond to you. Right. So I think that we have a responsibility to make sure that we are creating the conditions for parents to truly step into the power that they are begging for our parents are willing to do almost anything, are doing anything to get their babies, I gave you the scenario of the nine to six. We have parents right now, who are training to be literacy, liberators, who are in our district schools. So it’s really creating a pathway for that power. You know, the reality is, we are in a tough scenario, you can go yell at a board meeting, if you want to, you can go yell at a board meeting. But we really are in a talent desert, we really are dealing with a great resignation. Right? So these problems have to be solved in a more collaborative manner. So I think the biggest thing that I would actually say, it’s not so much to parents, I would say parents keep fighting the good fight, and get our model over to your city, right? Let’s figure it out. Right? Because and let’s push on the systems, let’s push on the Penny Schwinns. Right, let’s push on folks to make sure that we have these type of models that scale so that our parents are not constantly having to show up at board meetings, fussing when they can actually be at the table building real solutions. We are going to have to work together Andy, if we’re going to get out of this, we are going to have to work together.
Andy Slavitt 34:12
What have been your conversations with teachers and how teachers are feeling right now? And how they felt about how the pandemic impacted them how they’re feeling it as you say, the reason this question matters so much is because we just lacked qualified individuals, we finally have the money. The country has put the money aside for folks. We have, you know, an initiative, supposedly to create 250,000 paid mentors nationally, we have vacancies and school districts around the country. Help us unlock a little bit of what you’re hearing from teachers and where do you think they sit right now in all this?
Penny Schwinn 34:50
You know, I think that we are in you know, teachers started out as heroes at the beginning of the pandemic, and that shifted and there are a lot of reasons that shifted and the dialogue has pretty significantly shifted. I think that if we are serious about solving these big bold problems that we’ve had, and I think teachers have had for years, but now it is punching us in the face, and that we cannot hide from it anymore as policymakers as education leaders as communities, one of those big, big bold problems is our teacher kind of shortages and not having enough people in the pipeline. And so if we’re going to solve these problems, we have to look at teacher compensation. We have to take it seriously. And that includes total compensation, that’s benefits, not just salary, I think we have to make sure that we are thinking very critically about how we talk about educators. And the way in which we talk about educators, as professionals, I think we have to really make sure we’re supporting our teachers and helping them to engage effectively with families. It’s not something we actually do a lot of training on, and our EDD prep programs. And so you go in, you want to be an educator, you want to care about kids, you want to make sure that they’re achieving, you want to make sure there’s you’re supporting them to their end goals. But we aren’t necessarily speaking about them getting, you know, college students in high school students who actually want to go in the profession, because it’s turned into, it’s turned into a national dialogue that I think is completely unproductive. So, and I take it personally, right, like, I hope all three of my kids end up going into the education profession, I’m very proud to be a public school kid and a public school teacher and now in public service here in Tennessee, but I have a lot of concern that we cannot just put band aids on the problem. And I actually think that, you know, increasing salaries, sure, we have a long way to go. But to me, that’s, that’s still a band aid. Because ultimately, a teacher is going to want to support his or her family. And they also want to be treated and respected as a professional. And I don’t know if we are on track to do that nationally, and the way that we must if we actually are going to solve this problem. And I consider that significantly urgent.
Penny Schwinn 35:05
So come into a place where we’re devaluing teachers, what are you hearing in Oakland, Lakisha?
Lakisha Young 36:27
I mean, I think I agree a lot with what Penny said. I mean, I would not be where I am today, if it wasn’t for great teachers. So I do believe that we have such a long standing kind of twist imperative on like, how we pay and how we reward teachers for sort of the job that they do to inspire us to be better people. You know, I think of Miss Bryant, who was the first, you know, after I went to a Catholic school, Andy, from first to eighth grade. And then when I went to a private school in San Francisco, and there weren’t a lot of kids of color, there were very few Black kids. And so you can imagine my sophomore year having my English teacher be an African American woman with lox was sort of game changing for me. So I do think like, representation is huge. But she changed the game, I ended up becoming an English major. So I really have never ever understood and do not think it’s okay that like teachers are not valued in the same ways as doctors and engineers, because it’s teachers that have inspired folks to become doctors and engineers, right. But to Penny’s point to like money’s actually not enough, you know, I think your work conditions need to be favorable, especially if you are a good teacher, you want to be successful, right? You want to be in scenarios where you’re set up for success. And I think that, in so many ways, is probably such a big reason for folks leaving the classroom is not just because of pay, because teachers haven’t been paid well, forever. But it’s because that coupled with such the deep learning loss and the conditions, and I think what we’re trying to do is change those conditions. Right, that I think could also be huge for retention in attracting teachers back to this profession. People want to be successful.
Penny Schwinn 38:54
Yeah, the only thing I because I totally agree with that. And I think that one of the things I just I want to add is that it is that balance of if we’re going to elevate the profession and say we’re going to treat teachers like the professionals they are then we have to stop what sometimes becomes a little bit of a condescending narrative that they’re just doing it for the good and like it’s some it is about service, it is about love of kids and they are still professionals and so it is not that it is this kind hearted, you know, this, you know, doing it just only for this wonderful volunteer opportunity. These are well trained, you know, multiple degree in off in a lot of cases, professionals and we also need to, we need to treat them like that respect them. And then we can have the accountability, conversation on progress for kids and how do we move the needle forward? But we can’t we can’t we can’t talk on both sides of our mouths and have and have it both ways. So I want to push on that.
Andy Slavitt 39:48
My best teachers, my best teachers were not kind hearted and will tell you that.
Penny Schwinn 39:54
Mrs. Gate one was not either.
Andy Slavitt 39:56
They were not kind hearted and I remember them and they change me. That’s real talk. So as we close, I’m struck by a couple things. One is that things are still bad, that we cannot assume, hey, this is over, let’s go things go back to normal, we don’t need to act. I’m also struck by the fact that there’s opportunity here that we may not have had in a long time, and that both of you jumped on that opportunity like this and said, we’ve been waiting for a moment, we’ve been waiting for a moment, and we’re going to take it. And that out of crisis, you can build something better. And that’s, I think, where there’s a lot of promise, and I think there’s analogies that we all probably relate to, in our own lives, when you go through hard times, can you come through it better than if you’re just kind of going through a steady state. So I want to give you both the last word here to point us towards the future. And the future were the things we talked about today. Closing equity gaps, not just catching up with where we were. But moving to a new place becomes possible that we have budget. And yes, we have challenges, we got to recruit people, we’ve got to rethink the profession. We got to rethink the structure, we got to add more learning hours. But we have these resources now. And we can sit here three years from now, if we’re having this conversation, we need to look back and say see what kind of good change we brought. Or we can see yep, back to normal. So paint a picture of what has to happen next. And maybe I’ll start with you, Penny and Lakisha give you the last word.
Penny Schwinn 41:45
Yeah. So I think that the number one thing you need to do is start holding ourselves accountable for action and not just talking about the problem, right. And that’s something that we do a lot in Tennessee, where it’s we have known that this was that this was going to be the data, I did not find the nape results that came out to be surprising at all, we know where that we have a problem. We know we have to catch kids up and accelerate them further. What are we doing about it? And how do we ensure that the investments we are making are strategic and will last for generations, we have money, we have opportunity. And I think we have this national urgency, let’s go do something with it, and then have the conversation about the outcomes and the return on those investments, and a very critical and really critical way for not just education but our country.
Andy Slavitt 42:29
And you have a plan that didn’t just theoretically work yet a plan that actually has caught people up.
Penny Schwinn 42:35
It’s working in real time.
Andy Slavitt 42:37
It’s working in real time and Lakisha, since it’s not just about catching people up, because we’ve catching up with the place, it wasn’t so great, and it was very unequal. Tell us what we can do to close the rest of the gap that we need to close.
Lakisha Young 42:49
I think you’ve got to bring power to the folks closest to the problem to solve it. Right. I mean, I think to Penny’s point is that we’ve stopped talking. And we’ve been created, you know, we’ve created a solution. And we’ve seen that solution be game changing for kids. But again, we’re not just trying to catch our kids up. And our families, we’re trying to put them in an environment of thriving because that’s the only way that we’re going to change this for the long term. I think the other part I’ll add is that normal sucks and normal sucked for our families, like the pandemic has been horrible in so many ways. But it did create an opportunity for us to blaze a new pathway. It like totally fundamentally changed me as a human being as a leader, and the way that we see power in our communities. And so when you ask the question, Andy, and again, I just appreciate you creating the space to talk about solutions. What’s ahead is, and Penny, I think you said this a little bit earlier, which is, every time we talk around, like turn around, somebody’s talking about a new innovation, let’s focus on a few things that work well and have the potential for systemic change, know that this is not going to happen overnight. But it actually happens, change happens much quicker. And we have results with kids and five weeks. Okay, so I don’t know, that seems pretty rapid to me. So if we could sort of coalesce our energies, and stop trying to like shine a new carrot that’s confusing everyone around what the play is, and take a few things and really go deep. I think we could see a lot of change for kids and families and even our educators right across the country. So I think the time is now like you said the money is there, but money is not a miracle. The money is showing us how disjointed how all over the place, right? That we were and I said this, I was like, Oh, well, they’re about to find out just how much this wasn’t about money. Right? To begin with.
Andy Slavitt 44:54
Well, my hope is Penny Schwinns and several 1000 locations and every school district in the country, because I think you, you both show me something that I’m not sure I even knew was possible, which is rapid results and rapid dedication in a place where people were not holding that a lot of hope. And now I’ve I feel hopeful. I feel hopeful after talking to you, and I hope thank you, but you are inspiring to the many people who could do the same thing that y’all did.
Lakisha Young 45:27
Andy, I wake up every day hopeful. And we’re in the middle of something really tough. And I wake up every day with a fire in my belly. So I’m glad that you are filling that hole, because we’re in it and we feel hopeful.
Penny Schwinn 45:40
And we have to for kids. We have to.
Lakisha Young 45:45
Thank you, Andy.
Andy Slavitt 45:46
Thank you guys. Thank you.
Andy Slavitt 46:01
Wow, I’m inspired. I’m inspired going into the weekend, I thought, hearing what those two had done in Oakland and in Tennessee. When for so long. I mean, it’s just the issue that frustrates everybody. Everybody feels like you can’t make progress. In education. You can’t make progress at the state level. And that just opened my eyes to the fact that you know, out of this crisis, someone like these folks come along, who can rethink things. Got a plan and they were ready. Beautiful thing. All right. Some great shows coming up. We have the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain coming up with a big powerful show. We also have Dahlia Lithwick, the law professor, she has got a new book coming called Lady Justice. Very cool. She’s really interesting. You probably seen her on TV, but we read her columns, like her a lot excited to have her on the show. And then we have a show on a topic, which I think is a great perspective around. What do we owe future generations? How do we think about the people 102-100-500 years from now as if they were the people next door? Really amazing perspective from a philosopher, William McCaskill. So those shows many others. Of course, our Friday conversations. September and October are gonna be busy, busy, busy as we lead up to the election. We’ll be talking to you a lot. Thank you for tuning in.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.