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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Introducing Your Guest Stars, Coronavirus Fall Edition

By Rick Hess — July 30, 2020 4 min read
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Hi all,

I’m about to take my regular summer sabbatical. Most years, I find August a good time to clear my head and try to stumble onto something resembling an insight. This year, after all we’ve been through in the past few months, that’s doubly so. Meanwhile, I need the time to focus because I’m entering crunch time on the book I’m writing with the inimitable Pedro Noguera (tentatively titled Common Schooling) in which we go back and forth trying to find understanding—and even common ground—across a raft of tough education debates. While I’m away, we’ve got a stellar lineup of guests who’ve kindly agreed to step in—with a decided focus on the unique challenges that await this fall.

First up, the week of Aug. 3, is Alex Baron, resident assistant principal of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. After starting his career as a preschool teacher at KIPP DC, Alex earned his Ph.D. at Oxford. He then returned to the classroom in the Denver public schools before taking up his current post. Alex will be diving into why students hate school, how to enhance student autonomy and curiosity without sacrificing order, and how COVID-induced innovations could actually help us achieve the kind of schooling that allows students to study what excites them.

The week of Aug. 10 will feature Teach For America’s renowned chief, Elisa Villanueva Beard. Elisa started her time with TFA as a 1998 corps member in Phoenix. After joining staff in 2001 to lead the organization’s work in her hometown in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, she went on to become chief operating officer, and in 2015, she was named CEO. Elisa will spend the week reflecting on what’s at stake for students in low-income communities as they head back to school amid the pandemic, sharing what she’s hearing from TFA’s network of alumni and corps members as they address this forced disruption, and describing TFA’s response to COVID-19.

Aimee Eubanks Davis, founder and CEO of Braven, will join us the week of Aug. 17. Previously a 6th grade teacher, Aimee has also led Breakthrough New Orleans and held various leadership roles at Teach For America over the course of her career. Aimee’s work at Braven focuses on helping underrepresented college students develop the skills, confidence, experiences, and networks that prepare them for success after graduation. In the coronavirus economy, these things may be more important than ever. She’ll spend the week explaining why transparency in higher ed. has never been more important, sharing tips for strong virtual learning for college students, and passing the mic to a first-gen grad who will share a bit of insight regarding what it’s like to jump-start post-college life in the midst of the pandemic.

Taking over Aug. 24, Brendan Bell and Cody Christensen will share some reflections on what it’s like to be starting graduate school this coronavirus fall. Both have just stepped away from hugely successful turns on my AEI Education team. Brendan was a high school social studies teacher before serving as my program manager and is now starting up as a law student at the University of Pennsylvania. After three years with AEI’s Center on Higher Education Reform, Cody is entering the Ph.D. program in education policy at Vanderbilt. Drawing on their experience in ed. policy, Brendan and Cody will talk about returning to school amidst a global pandemic and the various issues it raises.

The week of Aug. 31, we’ll be joined by the inimitable Dylan Wiliam, the eclectic Wales-native and emeritus professor at University College London. Dylan began his career as a math teacher in London (having followed his “jazz-folk” band to the capital city) before eventually stumbling into academe. His books include Creating the Schools Our Children Need and Leadership for Teacher Learning. Across a varied career, he has taught in urban public schools, directed a large-scale testing program, spent three years as senior research director at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and served a number of roles in university administration, including dean of a school of education at King’s College London. Dylan, whose advice usually costs a pretty penny, will spend the week offering pro bono thoughts and tips to educators struggling to get school going this fall.

Closing out, the week of Sept. 7, we’re fortunate to be joined by the flat-out funny Julie Gunlock, director of Independent Women’s Forum’s center for progress and innovation. If you don’t know Julie, who isn’t really an “education” professional, you’re in for a treat. A onetime congressional staffer, Julie is a contributor for outlets including the New York Post, Washington Post, the LA Times, USA Today, and Forbes; author of From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back; and a mother to three boys. She’ll be putting on her parenting hat and will spend the week sharing her questions, concerns, and frustrations with how “back to school” has been handled this year.

I trust that you’ll enjoy their thinking as much as I always do, and I’ll look forward to being back with you in September.


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.