Transcription of the episode “Going public: Education scholars as policy advocates”

[00:00:15] Amy H-L: I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. 

[00:00:17] Jon M: And I’m Jon Moscow. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guest today is Dr. Kevin Kumashiro. Dr. Kumashiro is the former dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, a founder of Education Deans for Justice and Equity, and the organizer of the International Conferences on Education and Justice. His latest book is Surrendered: Why Progressives are Losing the Biggest Battles in Education. Welcome, Kevin. 

[00:00:44] Kevin K: It’s great to be here. Thanks so much for having me, Jon and Amy. 

[00:00:47] Jon M: You’ve organized and taught about the importance of education scholars publicly and collectively addressing policy issues. Why is this important?

[00:00:57] Kevin K: One of the areas that I look for for inspiration, as I think about what it means to try to help to work collectively to build a better world are social movements. And there are so many social movements we can learn from around the country and around the world. But one of the things that I think social movements do is they change how community or society thinks about certain things. Social movements can change laws and policies, but they also change consciousness. And the reason I mention this is because I feel like one of our roles as scholars and as educators is to try to leverage our research and our scholarship for these larger purposes, to change policies and laws but also to change how people think. And so the formation of these different scholar collectives was really trying to advance those kinds of goals, trying to insert or inject scholarship and research into the public space to see whether that can prompt different kinds of conversations, different kinds of mobilizing, and eventually different kinds of changes in policy and law. 

How do we work collectively as scholars, drawing on our scholarship, to change public consciousness? I think that’s really why some of these groups that I’m sure will be talking about formed, leveraging our expertise to have public impact. 

[00:02:15] Amy H-L: In addition to influencing policy as groups of scholars, you said that the process is important as an example of horizontal organizing. What is organizing?

[00:02:27] Kevin K: Yeah. The way I think about organizing is that we want to separate the audiences that we’re trying to reach. And many times organizing is what we might call vertical. We’re trying to reach policy makers. We’re trying to reach decision makers and so on, people in elected offices, people in administrative roles, to try to get them to lead differently or implement different kinds of policies and changes and practice. But horizontal organizing is really about building our critical mass. It it’s working with our constituents, it’s working with the we. And so whether that’s community members, whether that’s people in our profession, whether that’s people that we want to collaborate with on different kinds of initiatives and projects. 

To me, horizontal organizing is about building our base. It’s about getting more and more of the we, whoever that might be — educators, scholars, community members, organizers, to broaden how we understand, deepen how we understand the problem, and really strategize much more strategically with much more nuance and with much more research basis as we try to move forward.

So when I was mentioning the goal of horizontal organizing, one of the things that I was trying to think about is a lot of these collectives, a collective of scholars in Chicago, a collective of scholars in Hawaii, in California, Pennsylvania, and deans across the country. These are some of the groups that I’ve been involved in and helped to form a lot of the work that these groups do. It’s in some ways trying to speak to policy. So we’re doing research briefs or petitions or open letters, fact sheets that are speaking about a particular policy issue, trying to say, here’s what we think the research says on this and here’s the direction that we think we need to be moving in. So in some ways we’re speaking to the policy makers, but a lot of these initiatives are very broad collective projects. They’re trying to get hundreds or sometimes even thousands of educational leaders, educational scholars, or educators to sign on, and our goal in getting a whole bunch of people to sign on isn’t just to show that there’s a lot of people who agree with these ideas and who wanna push for them. It’s also trying to make sure that all of us are on the same page about these issues, because sometimes our argument is that sometimes even those of us who identify with the left, the liberals, the progressives, even sometimes our understanding of the problem, might be too narrow for us to embark on a solution that really pushes the envelope. So we have our own homework to do. So I think of horizontal organizing as that kind of homework, building the base, making certain that many of us understand the problem with much more nuance. 

[00:05:08] Jon M: What are some examples of public statements on policy issues by education scholars that you’ve worked on and that groups have issued?

[00:05:18] Kevin K: I’ll point to maybe several groups and some of the projects that we worked on. One of the groups that I was involved with about 10 years ago is called CREATE. This is the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education, I think was the name. But it was a Chicago group of education scholars in universities in the greater Chicago area. We initially formed because there was a mayoral campaign happening. This was the mayor race of 2012 and or 2011 actually. We felt that even candidates who were saying pretty progressive things about other issues — criminal justice, healthcare, so on, were kind of repeating the kind of tired, same, problematic rhetoric around what’s wrong with schools. How do we improve things? We need more measurement. We need to hold people accountable. So the whole testing and regime sort of solution was what was being put forward by a lot of the candidates. So that was sort of the genesis. We wanted to see, well, if we really pushed the conversation as scholars, what might result, and that it involved a number of experiments, really, like trying to get out different kinds of public statements, different kinds of research briefs.

But the project I thought I would mention with this group, one of the projects we wanted to do was to see what would happen if we spoke about some of the upcoming legislation. So this was the year 2012, and we were looking at the legislation that was coming up that fall in the state, at the state level. And we identified five topics, like charter school funding, testing, teacher evaluation, things like that. And we issued these two-page fact sheets that were really trying to say, here’s what we think the latest research tells us about these different topics. And they were distributed to lawmakers, but they were also distributed to community organizers as to see whether they might be interested and able to use these in their own advocacy work. And it led to a symposium. It led to some conversations with both organizers and with elected leaders and their staffs. And I think that was one example of trying to bring together scholars to speak about the research that we think is behind or isn’t behind different policy initiatives. 

And just to fast forward a few more years. Some of the other groups I’ve been involved in have done parallel kinds of projects. So I think about, for example, in Hawaii, there was a constitutional amendment that was a ballot referendum to amend the constitution, to sort of talk about funding and basically what it was, what it was trying to do was tax investment property on Hawaii and use the proceeds to fund public schools. And as you might imagine, this was getting a lot of pushback from people, places like Airbnb and you know, other places that have a lot of investment properties. So the scholars in Hawaii were trying to say, well, here’s what we think is the research around funding, around taxing, around what’s happening in public education. How much money are we talking about? Who does this actually impact? I think that was an effort to try to speak to something really timely, about policy issues. And they brought together dozens of scholars to sign this brief. It got some attention in the media and so on.

And I’ll give a third example. Here in California, where I live now, there were hearings coming up at either the state Board of Education or at the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, where there were opportunities for the public to chime in on different policy debates that were happening by these decision making bodies. And so the California group issued a number of open statements that hundreds of scholars throughout the state would sign on. And then we encouraged people to submit written or present oral testimony in these public hearings that would draw on these statements, um, but would allow people to give their own two cents as well.

I think all of these are examples of scholars… Did they necessarily lead to the kinds of policy changes we wanted right away? Well, probably no, but I think it was a chance to do some horizontal organizing, right. Getting more scholars and educators aware of the range of issues behind these topics. And it was a chance to try to mobilize and push the conversation and engage people more in the policy making process. And I think that’s the kinds of experiments that we’re trying to engage in in these groups. 

[00:09:43] Jon M: As you’re doing the horizontal organizing, and you mentioned that sometimes even people on the left have too narrow a picture. Do you aim in these policy statements for the broadest possible positions that will attract the most signatures? Or do you put out very specific statements that may have a more limited number of people who agree with everything, but that generate conversation, or do you try to do a mixture of these?

[00:10:12] Kevin K: I think we do a mixture. I mean, I would say with some of these groups, the earliest statements we put out were strategically ones that we chose as things we thought a lot of people would get behind, not super controversial. So for example, one of the first statements the Chicago group put out and the California group put out was around high stakes testing and standardized tests and using tests to make high stakes decision making and things like that we knew a lot of people would get behind. And so it was an initial action that helped us to bring together a larger group into this network.

But that wasn’t sort of the criteria that we always use to issue statements. So there are times where we put out things that we knew were quite divisive, but that we, or that the community, was divided on, but that we felt we needed to take a a position on. So some examples would be the there’s this organization called the Education Deans for Justice and Equity. It brings together hundreds of current and former deans of education that are trying to both support one another to be leaders that can advance justice, but also brings us together so that we can speak collectively on different policy issues. And one of the policy issues we took on, which was very controversial, we got a lot of pushback, including from our members, was about different reform initiatives in teacher preparation. And so we looked at seven different initiatives that were happening around the country regarding how to prepare teachers. And we were trying to say that there are actually commonalities across these, even though some of these initiatives come from the right, the political right, or the corporate sector and some come from teacher educators who identify as racial and social justice educators. And we were trying to argue that overlap between these various initiatives. So a very controversial position, but one that we thought was really important to push the conversation. 

Another would be, the California group is called CareEd, the California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education. And CareEd put out a brief at the beginning of the pandemic, so this would’ve been fall of ’20. We were concerned about how schools were pivoting to online education or online delivery of instruction. And while we weren’t concerned about that per se, we were concerned about how people were talking about this shift as the solution. Maybe this is the way that we should continue and it’s going to solve all these problems. And what was happening was we were relying more and more on technology to both be the provider of education, but also to address longstanding inequities. Or not. And our argument of course, is that the reliance on technology can actually exacerbate inequities in education, and here are some of the ways that happens. So where we tried to push, though, was a common response by many educators, including on the political left, the more liberal ones would say we need to expand access to technology.

And so one of the arguments we made was we agree that we need to expand access, but actually, if all you do is try to expand access, what you might be doing is fueling the opportunities to privatize and profiteer in the midst of this moment. What we should be looking at is whether, if we’re saying that technology is a necessary part, instructional technologies are necessary for high quality and equitable education, then actually technology production and access should be a public good. So what would it mean for us to federalize the production of technology rather than to fuel the profits going to the private sector and corporations and stuff like that who providing the hardware and the software. Same with internet access. We’re saying let’s subsidize internet access. Subsidizing means that the money is still going to private providers. You’re not necessarily changing the infrastructure of internet access. What if we were to save that we want to see municipal broadband, and internet access being a public good, provided by the public sector. So those are some of the arguments, I think, that are examples of where we’re trying to push.

And it actually does push back on what some are arguing, but we think it. We think it’s an important intervention to make. And whether or not you agree, it at least is an opportunity for us to, as a group, try to engage in that debate, engage in that conversation and challenge and push ourselves to think about what do we really think is the direction we want to move. And I think this is the struggle with so much of trying to do equity and justice work in education. I think our job is to constantly question whether what we’re arguing as the better alternative is moving us as forcefully in the direction that we want to move in as we can.

You mentioned my latest book. One of the things that I try to do in this book, called Surrendered, is look at where I think the left often falls or the arguments we’ve often put forward, and try to argue that actually, maybe we need to push a little bit more. Maybe this isn’t bold or broad enough, maybe it isn’t bolstering the public sector enough, it isn’t bolstering community capacity enough, and so on. And I think that’s what these groups are trying to push us toward. 

[00:15:18] Amy H-L: If I’m not wrong, it sounds as though these campaigns are really at the intersection of mobilization, public education, and advocacy. 

[00:15:30] Kevin K: Yeah. Yeah. That sounds great. Great synthesis.

[00:15:35] Amy H-L: I’m also in California. Would you speak about CareEd? 

[00:15:39] Kevin K: So CareEd. A bunch of us started it, right when I moved to California, which would’ve been almost 10 years ago, I think, when some of us were starting to have a conversation about what does it mean for us to try to bring scholars together. I’ll begin by saying that we had a debate I think probably all these groups have had, which is who is the we that we’re trying to bring together. And, you know, just like in Chicago, when we first came together, there were folks who were saying, well, should this be a scholar network or should this be scholars and educators or scholars and unions or scholars and advocates. And I think where these groups felt is that we haven’t done enough as scholars acting as a collective of scholars. 

I don’t think we have a lot of those examples, you know, that you have, like the Union of Concerned Scientists and, you know, you have these other groups and other professions that are bringing together scholars to speak as scholars on different policy issues. And we wanted to see what would happen, what could we accomplish if we tried to speak collectively as scholars. And part of this experiment was also trying to push back on what it means to be an academic or a scholar in higher education, because so much of academia privileges or prioritizes scholarship that is produced by individuals or that you’re at least the lead author on a publication. And it’s published in outlets that are read by other scholars. And I’m not saying that’s not important. We do need to continue to further the field of research, but we also need to have more of a public impact. So I think the groups early on were all struggling with, well, is this what we’re trying to do. Are we trying to speak as scholars and are we trying to speak in the public space? California definitely grappled with those questions and I think what we began doing were these briefs that we felt spoke to the moment, broadly speaking, standardized tests, ethnic studies in schools, like debates that were happening, controversies that were happening in the state.

And we wanted to try to make certain our voice was out there. And some of these maybe coincided with educational events on campuses of universities. Some of these got maybe some mention in media, but I think in recent years we became, at least over the last two years, I think, we became far more focused on trying to really speak to decisions that were being made right now by decision making bodies like the board of education or the teacher credentialing commission or things like that.

And so our work became much more focused on putting out statements and organizing people to speak and testify public hearings were available. And, you know, sometimes these meetings or these publications have led to some interesting meetings. So we’ve met with leaders of the Department of Education. We’ve met with elected leaders at the state house. We’ve met with community organizers. We’ve met with teacher activist groups to try to figure out how to either push the conversation or can serve as resources. And I don’t think any of us would say we figured out quite how to have the kind of impact we want in ways that are measurable, that have the successes that we’re looking for.

But I think it’s energizing us and we’re learning a lot on the process. And it gives us hope because it makes us feel like we’re part of that. We’re part of the process. We’re part of organizing. We’re part of consciousness-raising. One final thing I’ll say about this is I’m thinking of, I was listening to one of my dear friends, Bill Ayers, who runs this podcast, another podcast, just as awesome as yours. And he was asking someone about what is freedom. And they’re talking about how, for some folks, you’ve heard people say that, oh, I’ve never felt as free until I’m in the midst of a struggle, until the sort of constraints of freedom are most obvious and most apparent. And when I’m fighting against these constraints is when I feel the most free that, you know, freedom is really a, a sort of an action.

And it’s a very situated sort of action. It’s against something. It’s against constraints of freedom. So I kind of feel like for us, some of the times that we feel most engaged in justice work is when we can really name the moment, name the issues or the constraints of high quality education or equitable education and really kind of mobilize against it. That’s been some of the context that we’ve found energizing and perhaps that’s the context that brings people with most passion together. 

[00:20:12] Jon M: So we’ve been talking about the Education Deans for Justice and Equity. Can you talk a little bit more about who they are and what their theory of change is?

[00:20:22] Kevin K: So the Education Deans for Justice and Equity, E-D-J-E, we pronounce it “edge,” because we like to say “we’re on the edge.” This group formed in 2016 and it was almost 20 deans that came together. We were at a big education conference and I just wrote to a bunch of people and I was like, Hey, let’s get together. And the initial conversations were about what do we want to try to accomplish if we were to form a network. And there are these two big desires among the initial group of almost 20 folks. 

One desire was most of us are not trained as institutional leaders. We began as faculty. We gradually worked our way up. Most of us don’t study leadership. Most of us don’t have a lot of role models. Like we are all good at complaining and critiquing our institutions, but it’s hard to find a lot of leaders that we can say, this is an example of like a justice-oriented leader. Part of the job we felt of this network was to support us in trying to be this different kind of leader. And not just that, but to build a different kind of institution, a college of education or school of education that has a different impact in the world. I think that’s what we were trying to figure out. What does it mean to do that and how do we support each other in doing that? 

One of the things that we created was this tool called the framework for assessment and transformation. We call this the EDJE framework, and it’s actually being implemented now in dozens of colleges. And we’re doing some self studies to try to figure out, well, what actually happens when we try to use this tool. So that’s half of, or one big part of what this network is trying to do, support us as leaders.

And then there’s this other part. So an equally large number of people and equally sort of vocal group of us were trying to say, in addition to supporting one another, this should be a network that speaks publicly, that says we as deans, we as at first dozens and then eventually hundreds of deans, feel we need to be talking about a particular issue differently. And so early on, the network would release these statements that hundreds of deans would sign on to, that would speak against maybe things that the Trump administration is was doing or the appointment. It wasn’t specifically about the Secretary of Education, but it was about the position of leadership in education. And then eventually we take on policy issues like the so-called science of reading, or these seven trends in teacher preparation or things like that. This network has also signed on to amicus briefs that were going before different courts. We did letters to the editor for the New York Times and we’ve appeared in the Washington Post.

So part of what we’re trying to do really is scholar collectives in some ways. You could get some attention as one scholar, but I think people pay a lot more attention if you said, well, actually 2,000 scholars have actually signed onto this thing. And I think same thing with deans. A dean can get some attention, but if you were to say 400 deans signed onto this statement, I think you’re more likely to get people to pay attention. And I think that’s why we’re able to get into some of these outlets. We’re able to collaborate with other professional associations, we’re able to get people, we’re able to get some funding to support the development of our framework. And I think it’s because these are kind of collective initiatives.

So that’s how I think about that leadership network. There’s really these two goals. And if you think about it, that’s kind of how I define all of these networks. All of these networks, even the scholar networks, like in Chicago, in California, in Hawaii. There is a public facing aspect to what we do speaking collectively as scholars about the research on different policy issues. But there’s also this internal, or horizontal, aspect of what we do, that’s trying to bring people together, do our own homework, build our own base. And I feel like all of these networks are trying to straddle both because we see that both are necessary for us to transform not only our work, but the kind of impact we aim to have. 

[00:24:22] Amy H-L: So there’s sort of a think tank aspect to this. 

[00:24:25] Kevin K: One of the things I like the most about these networks is that it does function kind of like a think tank. It’s a chance to bring together folks that we normally don’t work with to really think through different issues. So for example, the California group is, I think, a really energizing example for me. Some of these briefs we’ve put together have had 10 folks working on them. And we, as a group, have had to kind of hash through, what is this gonna look like? What are the arguments we wanna make? And we have some interesting debates. Like there are some of us, I’ll put myself in this category, who often want to cherry pick the studies and say, I have my point, I want to take down this policy. So I’m gonna find the studies that back up my argument. We’re all really good at that. And then we also have scholars who will say, look, our job is to be scholars. What do we do as scholars is we look across the research base, we look across the literature, and we pull it together, including things that may speak against what we want to do, but that gives us some credibility. And I thought that was a really important argument. So sometimes what we’re summarizing in these research briefs may actually be a little bit contradictory, but our goal is to show that actually the research field does have contradictory findings. And our job is to say, when you put it together, what does the sum, what does the summary of this sort of point us to, what do the contradictions point us to? 

And of course, as one of my other colleagues would argue, when we recognize that there are these tensions and contradictions, it makes clear that values, conceptual frameworks, principles, that these also have to shape and be in conversation with the research. We are not merely ideological, but we are also not merely data driven. We are sitting at the intersection of this conversation and that’s why these kind of debates are so important to kind of hash through. 

[00:26:18] Jon M: Really fascinating. Can you talk a little bit more in detail about the framework for assessment and transformation? What does it actually say? What is it calling for?

[00:26:26] Kevin K: We early on recognized that the, we meaning the, there are maybe 20 or 30 early on, who started to talk about this, develop this framework. And eventually we became several dozen, but early on, we recognized that there could be no one toolkit in the sense of what I do in a small, private college is clearly going to be different than in a large urban public school or something like that. So instead, what we decided was let’s create a framework that engages the college in a kind of a collective critical inquiry process. And so our vision was that transforming a college is not about simply having a transformative leader who has this vision and changes policies, that transforming a college requires that the collective, the faculty, staff, the leaders, maybe even the students and partners, are engaging in these kind of critical inquiry. We’re trying to deepen our understanding of what’s happening and what are some alternative ways to move forward as a college.

So what we did is we identified 13, I believe, what we called “priority areas,” so big chunks, big buckets of work that colleges do, things like curriculum, the student experience, partnerships, governance, and strategic planning, budgeting, and the faculty experience and recruitment and pipelines, so all the major buckets of work that colleges do. And what we wanted to try to do was give a set of maybe a dozen questions that we urge a college to dive into. 

And a lot of these questions, or a lot of these lists of questions, begin with some very big picture kind of historical question, like how historically has research served the interests of the elite. How historically has research furthered the goals of say colonization or imperialism? How historically, or how generally, do curricula function to reinforce white supremacy? Like we begin with these large kind of historical structural questions, and then we filter it down. We get more and more into the nuts and bolts of your particular institution.

And then we don’t conclude by saying “here’s the better way.” What we actually hope is that through the collective process, the college comes up with, you know, you are doing your work. You’re looking at other models. In fact, I think sometimes the questions are, what are other models or what are other templates or what are other experiments that institutions have tried that you can learn from. So we’re also pushing people to do your own homework and your own kind of external inquiry as you come up with your own solutions. 

How do we bring people together to work collectively on an inquiry process where you’re, you’re diving into this kind of homework in order to identify paths that you wanna move forward on? This really sound like an organizing tool because that was the basis. That was the genesis. The framework that we’re we’re drawing on is to engage folks in a kind of an organizing process where we’re together, doing the homework together, trying to push each other. And so that’s the way we think about this framework, and the that’s the bulk of it. The middle dozen pages or so of this framework is these 13 categories on these questions. We open up the framework with a couple of pages that talk about some theoretical concepts. And then we end the framework by talking about some suggested protocols and the protocols would be exactly what I just said, that this needs to be taken to the college, the college as a whole, meaning faculty and staff need to be together chiming in on how do you wanna use this framework? Where do you wanna begin? What have colleges been doing over the past few years? Many colleges paused or greatly slowed down during the pandemic because we’re online., But they’re trying to allocate time to dive into these questions and see what comes up and see what that suggests for how they want to move forward. And I think we’re now in the process of trying to document what has resulted from these conversations and how might we adapt the framework or how might others adapt it.

And the final thing I’ll say by the way about the framework is that K-12 leaders, nonprofit organizations, and even universities or colleges outside of colleges of education have seen the framework and wondered how do we adapt it for a different kind of institution or organization? So I think that’s part of what we’re also trying to look at is how folks are adapting it. What I tell people when I work as a consultant is,” You don’t have to use the framework. But what do you think about the concepts behind the framework, the assumptions the framework makes about change that you might be able to use, like collective critical inquiry or looking at different priority areas, these big buckets, and asking how you might do things differently.”

I think that’s been the exciting part as we see where this framework is going. I’m sure it’s time to revise as we get more data about how people are actually using it. Yeah. It’s an interesting and exciting time. The last thing I’ll say is that about this framework is that I think so much of reforms in higher education, particularly over the past few decades, have come from the corporate sector. And while some of that might be helpful, I think it’s important to argue or to look for other spaces where we can get ideas for reform such as justice-oriented, community-based organizations or social movements. They also offer ways for us to think about transforming an organization or an institution. And so the framework was our way of trying to operationalize that perspective. 

[00:32:02] Jon M: As you say that a lot of the proposals for change over the last few decades have come from the corporate sector, it sounds as though this is some of what you’re talking about in your book, Surrender. What are some of the ways in which you see the progressives are losing some of the biggest battles and what should progressives be doing instead?

[00:32:23] Kevin K: Yeah, I think one of my main arguments in that particular book was that the alternatives put forward by progressives sometimes still remain at the level of the individual, of building the capacity of individuals, rather than looking at larger system changes or changing systems. So examples would be when the 2016 presidential debates were happening, and the 2020. What we heard from Democratic candidates were proposals to make higher education more affordable, and the critique by some on the right or some on the center was that this is socializing higher education. And so what I tried to argue was, well, here’s a parallel, right. If we look at single payer for in healthcare, what some would call socializing medicine, single payer actually doesn’t socialize medicine. What it does because it actually doesn’t touch the healthcare system. What it does is it socializes how we pay for the healthcare system, but the healthcare system itself remains a highly privatized industry, right. You, you’re not making doctors and hospitals agents of the public sector, doctors don’t suddenly become public employees, right. So that to me is an example of how single payer might enable individuals to access healthcare more broadly, but it’s not necessarily changing the entire healthcare system to be kind of a public industry and a public good. Same with higher education. We can make higher education more accessible for individuals by relieving debt or offering scholarships or making it free for the first so much money, but you’re actually not making higher education a public… you’re not changing higher education as a whole, right. So that’s one way that I think about this. 

Affirmative action was another topic that I took up because I was trying to argue that there was this paradigm shift that happened with the first Supreme Court case in the 1970s around admissions to higher education, using race as one of the criteria. And what we saw in that decision was a change from how affirmative action was talked about in the 1960s under Kennedy. When affirmative action was first talked about, it was seen as a remedy for historic and structural inequities. But by the time the seventies came around and we talked about admissions, affirmative action was seen as a tool to ensure diversity and representation, right. The argument was, well, if you can have the salad bowl, this melting pot, that actually is the, the goal of affirmative action. Well, that wasn’t the original goal, but it was a very important strategic move to, in many ways, weaken affirmative action. Because now we see an end point. The end point is if you have a diversity institution, you no longer need affirmative action, right. And we’re at that point. It’s why I think the Harvard affirmative action case is so is such a strategic, smart, strategic move on the right. Because the argument is affirmative action, not just hurting white people. The argument here is that it’s hurting Asian American people. So what I try to argue, however, is that where the left, I think, has gone wrong or at least maybe thought they were being strategic and pragmatic, but have sort of weakened our own base, is by really trying to push forward on the argument, what is sometimes called the diversity rationale of affirmative action, which is that affirmative action helps to ensure diversity and racial diversity is necessary for a high quality educational experience. That’s sort of the rationale of affirmative action right now. And it’s a conservative one because there’s an endpoint and it doesn’t actually address historic injustices. So the left is constantly trying to show that affirmative action. Yes, it does increase diversity. Yes, diversity does improve educational experiences. It’s all about however individual access and individual representation.

So what is another way, however, that we should be responding? Well, I would argue that what we should really be arguing is that the notion that admissions should be based on merit is the problematic argument. What if we were to argue that higher education has a much bigger role than building capacity of individuals? If the role of higher education is to build the capacity of individuals to flourish, then your individual merit makes sense as the eligibility or the criteria for admission. But what if we argued that the role of educational institutions, K-12 and higher education. Is to advance equity, is to advance justice, is to build community capacity rather than merely individual capacity? Well, then I would argue that individual merit no longer carries the weight that it has historically carried in admissions. We would have to be looking at other kinds of criteria for admissions. And so that would be one way to think about what would be a progressive response around admissions. Let’s not simply keep in place the admission structure and ensure that affirmative action gives more people access to it. We actually want to change the system of higher education and change the system of what we think of as the goal and therefore what we think of as eligibility. 

And I think there are so many topics in education that we can make similar kinds of arguments around. I’ll give one final, quick example. During the Obama administration, there were these proposals put forward called the teacher preparation regulations, teacher prep regulations. And, what the proposal was was, it was basically saying we have about 20,000 teacher preparation programs out there, most of them in universities. And we don’t know if they’re working. This is the Arne Duncan argument that teachers are mediocre and therefore doesn’t that mean the programs are mediocre, so we need to hold them accountable. We need a way to measure. So the proposal was this value added method. We’re gonna look at whether a teacher, in their first three years after graduating from a teacher preparation program, can raise student test scores. If that teacher can raise student test scores, that means that teacher is effective. And if that teacher is effective, that means the program that prepared them is an effective program. So it not only has this value added backward sort of modeling to evaluate teachers, it then traces even back to the programs. Now there’s no actual science and lots of statisticians, lots of measurement and assessment people said this makes absolutely no sense. Methodologically, it definitely lacks reliability. But the reason I’m bringing this up is because teacher educators, including liberal progressive ones, responded by saying relying on student test scores is a problem. You know what’s a more robust way to measure student learning? Portfolios. So let’s get a portfolio assessment of how students learn so we get a bigger picture of what students are learning. And then we can say whether teachers are effective and then we can say whether or not the programs have prepared them are effective.

And what some of us argued in response was that alternative still buys into the story that the way you evaluate a teacher preparation program is you look at individual output. You look at how well the teachers perform. How do you evaluate teachers? You look at individual output. You look at how well their students perform. Value added is all about trying to get rid of all other factors to see what the contribution or value of that individual input is, whether it’s the teacher or the preparation program. So what if we went the opposite? What if, instead of saying, let’s look at individual output, we say it takes a village, right. What educates a child is when the educational system is working well. And so what I want to know is how does the teacher contribute to the larger system that is educating students. Or what I want to know is how well does the preparation program contribute to the larger system that is preparing teachers. That, to me, is a very different way of thinking about he contribution and therefore how we assess, but I would argue overall what it’s doing is turning our attention away from individual accountability and more to kind of system reform.

So all three examples, I think that’s what I’m trying to do, is argue that we’re still buying into someone else’s framing of the debate, of the question. And our job is to actually step back and say, if we actually reject that question and we ask a different question that looks at the larger system, what are the different, much more robust, and I would argue, much more promising reforms that we would come up with?

[00:40:59] Amy H-L: The 12th international Conference on Education and Justice takes place this October. Tell us about the conference.

[00:41:07] Kevin K: First of all, thank you for asking me about the conference. This is the 12th conference and this year it will be online because it’s still so scary to gather. These conferences over time have become increasingly focused on all the themes that we’re talking about today, like how can education be more a part of movement building, how can our work as scholars look more like we’re engaging in organizing, and how can we be much more public facing with our work, much more policy oriented? So this year’s conference is actually focusing very specifically on these themes. It’s kind of a new, I sometimes experiment with new things. And so this year I’m experimenting with the idea that all of the presentations, all of the proposals that people submit need to be examples of what we’re just talking about. So I’m not actually looking for solo presentations. I’m looking for people who are trying to do things collectively, and it could be scholarship, it could be public scholarship that speaks to policy. It could also be arts interventions. It could also be different kinds of organizing efforts. It could be popular education initiatives. It could be youth centered, popular education initiatives. In other words, involving youth in kind of speaking to the community.

So that’s sort of what I’m trying to look at is how, how are we engaging, producing, and using scholarship in collective and public facing ways. And then see what kinds of conversations evolve. I think I’m, you know, partly wanting to encourage and incentivize that kind of work, but I’m also super curious just to see what, what are folks engaging in and, you know, I’ll just say that part of the inspiration for this idea came from a group of scholars I learned about through the grapevine, but they were group of scholars in the Bay Area speaking to what’s happening in the Bay Area. And I just found that work to be so smart and nuanced. And the follow up question is just like you are asking me, well, how are they getting this work out there, and who’s paying attention to the work? And, you know, it’s so preliminary that I don’t know how much the work is getting out there, but I feel like that is their next step. Like they’re generating this amazing work. Now they need to kind of get it out there. So I think that was part of my inspiration in terms of saying. There’s so much of this kind of stuff happening around the country. And unfortunately, you know, because it’s not often funded, it doesn’t often count as much towards tenure and promotion and things like that. You know, there isn’t a support system for this kind of work in higher education in many places.” 

I also want to try to get our institutions and our professionals to say that this kind of work is no less important, no less valuable, than what typically counts in higher education. And so let’s create the spaces, let’s create the funding mechanisms, let’s create the celebration for when we engage in work that is really trying to support movement building.

[00:44:12] Jon M: Thank you so much, Dr. Kevin Kumashiro. 

[00:44:15] Kevin K: It’s such a treat to be able to join both of you. Thanks so much for having me on this podcast. 

[00:44:20] Amy H-L: And thank you, listeners. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and giving us a rating or review. This helps others to find the show. Check out our website,, for more episodes and articles and subscribe to our monthly emails. We post annotated transcripts of our interviews to make them easy to use in workshops or classes. We work with consultants to offer customized SEL programs, with a focus on ethics, for schools and youth programs in the New York City and San Francisco Bay areas. Contact us at We’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ethicalschools. Our editor and social media manager is Amanda Denti. Until next week.

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