“Preserving a common good”: Harvard faculty speak on challenges facing education

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What’s next for education under the Trump administration? That was the central question addressed at a one-day conference for education reporters at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) on April 26.

“We’re living in a time where we are divided, often bitterly,” noted Richard Weissbourd, senior lecturer on education at HGSE and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), in his opening remarks. He hoped, he said, that the conference would provide a way for attendees to make connections with one another, and think about how to facilitate conversations in the field.

The day began with a discussion on the role of education in preparing constructive, ethical citizens. Meira Levinson, professor of education at HGSE, expressed concern about the decline of civics education in the U.S. “We need a sense that life is about other people,” she said. “We need a recognition that democracy is hard.” She spoke of the failings of American government K-12 courses, and added, “We don’t know how to socialize our children into the messy, sometimes boring work of democracy.”

Much of the federal education discussion under Secretary Betsy DeVos has focused on school choice, including vouchers and charter schools. Paul Peterson, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government, and Marty West, associate professor of education, discussed the implications of increased options for school choice and the pressures that may create for school districts. The two are co-editors of Education Next, a journal produced through the Program on Education Policy and Governance at HKS.