First Things First

Setting the Stage


Biden and Harris speaking

As they take office, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the new 117th Congress face unprecedented challenges. We bring you a gallery of recommendations thus far from Teachers College faculty and students — and we look forward to adding more in the weeks and months to come.

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Crucial advice from the TC community


TC Faculty Panel on Biden-Harris Administration Priorities

Where to Begin? A faculty panel discusses the challenges facing the Biden-Harris administration

“Given the dynamics of the 2020 presidential campaign, the Biden-Harris administration may have a large reservoir of political capital to provide substantial changes in education policy.” —Basil Smikle, Adjunct Assistant Professor

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Where to Begin? A faculty panel discusses the challenges facing the Biden-Harris administration

“Given the dynamics of the 2020 presidential campaign, the Biden-Harris administration may have a large reservoir of political capital to provide substantial changes in education policy.” —Basil Smikle, Adjunct Assistant Professor

As the Biden-Harris administration nears its second month in office, the challenges it faces are formidable in every area of governance — and education and public health are no exceptions.

But the good news says, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education Basil Anthony Smikle (Ph.D. ’19), is that “thought leaders have regained prominence in decision making.”

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Watch TC faculty debate priorities for the Biden-Harris administration

Resume Standardized Testing graphic

Now’s Not the Moment: Resuming standardized testing amid the pandemic would be “foolhardy,” argues Aaron Pallas

“Standardized tests mandated by federal law “are not designed to identify what individual schoolchildren know and can do with any specificity, and the results are made available to teachers and parents long after they are of any use in modifying instruction in the current year.” —Aaron Pallas, Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology & Education

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Now’s Not the Moment: Resuming standardized testing amid the pandemic would be “foolhardy,” argues Aaron Pallas

“Standardized tests mandated by federal law “are not designed to identify what individual schoolchildren know and can do with any specificity, and the results are made available to teachers and parents long after they are of any use in modifying instruction in the current year.” —Aaron Pallas, Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology & Education

As the first-year anniversary of pandemic-related school closings approaches, education stakeholders are debating whether to resume universal standardized testing of students who, in many instances, have gone as long as a year without in-school instruction. In an opinion piece for The Hechinger Report, Aaron Pallas, Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology & Education at Teachers College, writes that testing this spring should be called off.

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(Photo: iStock)

Student protesting standardized tests

Advice to the Biden Administration: Encourage the use of data in order to create bottom-up education reform

“A revamped approach to data collection could help restore and re-energize a community focus on public education—and also help the incoming Biden administration avoid a bruising partisan battle.” — Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Poltical Science& Education

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Advice to the Biden Administration: Encourage the use of data in order to create bottom-up education reform

“A revamped approach to data collection could help restore and re-energize a community focus on public education—and also help the incoming Biden administration avoid a bruising partisan battle.” — Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Poltical Science& Education

Could data collection be the Biden administration’s key to successful education?

The thought might elicit a collective groan from educators left bruised by the era of “weaponized” standardized testing ushered in by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, acknowledges Jeffrey Henig in a piece recently published in Education Week. But, asserts Henig, Professor of Political Science & Education, “a revamped approach to data collection could help restore and re-energize a community focus on public education — and also help the incoming Biden administration avoid a bruising partisan battle.”

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ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING Educators and others came to fear data from standardized tests and other sources during the No Child Left Behind era, but TC’s Jeffrey Henig argues that implemented wisely, a culture of data use could lead to bottom-up education reform. 

Bridge building (iStock)

‘Declare Your Intentions’: Peter Coleman urges the Biden administration to tackle polarization head on

“Deeply divided societies are most likely to transform ‘when leaders take office after a major political shock has destabilized the status quo and lead in a way that differs dramatically from the leadership that instigated the divisions”. —Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology & Education

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‘Declare Your Intentions’: Peter Coleman urges the Biden administration to tackle polarization head on

“Deeply divided societies are most likely to transform ‘when leaders take office after a major political shock has destabilized the status quo and lead in a way that differs dramatically from the leadership that instigated the divisions”. —Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology & Education

In a letter published in the January 15th issue of SciencePeter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology & Education, asserts that “piecemeal” tactics will be insufficient to reverse “a 50-year trajectory of runaway division” that have led to toxic polarization in the United States.

Coleman, who directs TC’s Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation & Conflict Resolution, argues instead that deeply divided societies are most likely to transform “when leaders take office after a major political shock — like the COVID-19 pandemic or the 6 January storming of the Capitol by political extremists — has destabilized the status quo and lead in a way that differs dramatically from the leadership that instigated the divisions.” He adds that in societies where “distrust and suspicion reign,” new political strategies are more likely to succeed when introduced with “a public declaration of intention.”

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CONNECT THE CONNECTORS Peter Coleman urges the Biden administration to scale up the impact of “bridge-building groups across the United States” through federal funding, recognition, and coordination. (Photo: iStock)

School Children in Cafeteria Line (iStock)

The Pandemic’s School Nutrition Takeaway: All kids should eat for free – from now on

“The longer-term economic crisis will likely leave millions teetering on the brink of food insecurity for years to come.” —Julia McCarthy, Interim Deputy Director of TC’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

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The Pandemic’s School Nutrition Takeaway: All kids should eat for free – from now on

“The longer-term economic crisis will likely leave millions teetering on the brink of food insecurity for years to come.” —Julia McCarthy, Interim Deputy Director of TC’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

The expression “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” has been kicking around since the Great Depression. But since the COVID crisis hit last spring, the federal government has, in fact, been allowing schools to serve free meals to all students. And now, in an opinion piece published on the website of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, Teachers College’s Julia McCarthy is urging the Biden administration to permanently extend that policy, “making now the moment to end student hunger for good.”

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(Photo: iStock)

ABC Blocks

A Primer on Early Child Education and Care: Advice to the Biden administration from TC’s Sharon Lynn Kagan and Caitlin Dermody

“Childhood lessons are often worth revisiting. Invoking the nursery rhyme that imparts the rudiments of counting, we suggest that the Biden administration focus on what really counts — improving the well-being of America’s young children”.—Sharon Lynn Kagan and Caitlin Dermody, writing in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet

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A Primer on Early Child Education and Care: Advice to the Biden administration from TC’s Sharon Lynn Kagan and Caitlin Dermody

“Childhood lessons are often worth revisiting. Invoking the nursery rhyme that imparts the rudiments of counting, we suggest that the Biden administration focus on what really counts — improving the well-being of America’s young children”.—Sharon Lynn Kagan and Caitlin Dermody, writing in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet

Long before COVID-19 forced the shutdown of many early child care centers, early child care in the United States was in crisis, plagued by inadequate funding, lack of professional development for caregivers, and, in some places, ineffective oversight.

In an open letter to the Biden-Harris administration, published as in The Answer Sheet, a column in The Washington Post, Teachers College’s Sharon Lynn Kagan and Caitlin Dermody, Research Assistant at NCCF, offer a way forward.

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MAKING IT SIMPLE Sharon Lynn Kagan and Caitlin Dermody invoke nursery rhymes to lay out their vision for improving early childhood education and care in the United States. (Photo: iStock)

José Luis Vilson

A Spiritual Plea to the Biden Administration: ‘Every Child Needs a Great School’

“If God truly lives within each of us when two or more of us are gathered, then we need to make the spaces where we gather our youth the spaces we know serve them.” —José Luis Vilson

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A Spiritual Plea to the Biden Administration: ‘Every Child Needs a Great School’

“If God truly lives within each of us when two or more of us are gathered, then we need to make the spaces where we gather our youth the spaces we know serve them.” —José Luis Vilson

Growing up in Jesuit schools, José Luis Vilson was instructed to write the letters AMDG, signifying ad majorem Dei gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”) atop all his papers.

In a recent opinion piece in National Catholic Reporter, Vilson, a mathematics teacher and Ph.D. student in Teachers College’s program in Sociology & Education, frames the message in terms likely to resonate with educators of all faiths (or none).  “Every child needs a great school. We can't leave that up to the market,” he writes. “The Biden administration must create an educational system that allows for allocation of resources into every school regardless and because of their zip code and type. This means a system that holistically supports every school, not just financially, but spiritually as well.”

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ACTIVIST AND AUTHOR Vilson heads EduColor, an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education. (Photo courtesy of José Luis Vilson)

Integrated classroom at Anacostia High School

School Integration Isn’t Dead – and Why That Matters: Alumna Michelle Burris argues that the need to ‘get it right’ has never been greater

“School integration does work, and when done well, is one of the best tools we have to ensure a high-quality education for all Americans.” —Michelle Burris (M.A. '19) and Stefan Lallinger

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School Integration Isn’t Dead – and Why That Matters: Alumna Michelle Burris argues that the need to ‘get it right’ has never been greater

“School integration does work, and when done well, is one of the best tools we have to ensure a high-quality education for all Americans.” —Michelle Burris (M.A. '19) and Stefan Lallinger

The New York Times’ podcast series “Nice White Parents” may leave listeners convinced that school integration is a failed experiment, doomed by insincere White liberals and no longer desired by many Black families. But in an article for The Century Foundation (TCF), Teachers College alumna Michelle Burris (M.A. ’19) and co-author Stefan Lallinger argue that, in today’s “multicultural, pluralistic society, in which K–12 White students are no longer a majority of American students, both the opportunity and the need to get it right have never been greater.”

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19,223 victims of gun violence

On NPR, Sonali Rajan Calls a Record Year for Gun Deaths a Window onto Deeper Issues

“I am hoping that President-elect Biden and his administration will prioritize the prevention of gun violence as the public health crisis that it is.” —Sonali Rajan, Associate Professor of Health Education

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On NPR, Sonali Rajan Calls a Record Year for Gun Deaths a Window onto Deeper Issues

“I am hoping that President-elect Biden and his administration will prioritize the prevention of gun violence as the public health crisis that it is.” —Sonali Rajan, Associate Professor of Health Education

Speaking on National Public Radio’s Weekend EditionSonali Rajan, Associate Professor of Health Education, reflected on a record-breaking year for gun homicides in America, when nearly 20,000 people lost their lives due to gun violence.

There were several reasons for that nearly 25 percent jump from 2019, said Rajan, Co-Founder of the Columbia Scientific Union for the Reduction of Gun Violence (SURGE). Certainly the “collective trauma, grief, economic anxiety, stress that all were exacerbated because of the COVID-19 pandemic” was a contributing factor. So, too, was the increase in gun sales, with 2 million firearms sold in March alone. Rajan also noted that “public resources simply were diverted due to the pandemic,” resulting in “the work of violence interrupters, social programs and support services not being as readily available.” And she pointed to the role of institutionalized racism, exacerbated by police violence against people of color. “Police officers are three times more likely to fatally shoot a Black individual than a White individual, for example. And we saw this year racism intersecting in a way with gun violence and with the COVID pandemic that really took its toll on Black and Brown communities in particular.”

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MORE THAN WE CAN BEAR The number of people in America who died as a result of gun violence rose by 25 percent during 2020. (Background Image: iStock)

Child signing in office

More than a Footnote to History: A paper by two TC alumnae is central to the Biden disabilities policy

“The research was definitely there, but we needed to get a seat at the table for deaf academics, deaf educational leaders and hearing allies. We were thrilled to find out that deaf education is already on Biden’s agenda”. —Jodi Falk (Ph.D. ’17, M.A. ’95), Executive Director, St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Brooklyn

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More than a Footnote to History: A paper by two TC alumnae is central to the Biden disabilities policy

“The research was definitely there, but we needed to get a seat at the table for deaf academics, deaf educational leaders and hearing allies. We were thrilled to find out that deaf education is already on Biden’s agenda”. —Jodi Falk (Ph.D. ’17, M.A. ’95), Executive Director, St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in Brooklyn

Like all researchers, Amanda Howerton-Fox and Jodi Falk understand that citation of their work by others is one of academia’s gold standards — proof that their ideas are not only intellectually stimulating, but have recognized application to problems in the real world.

Citation by the nation’s incoming presidential administration, however, wasn’t on their radar. So the two doctoral graduates of Teachers College’s Deaf & Hard of Hearing Program were happily stunned when they received word that their study, “Deaf Children as ‘English Learners’: The Psycholinguistic Turn in Deaf Education,” published in 2019 in the journal Education Sciences, has become a cornerstone of President-Elect Joe Biden’s federal disability policy.

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EARLY INTERVENTION A paper by two TC alumnae, highlighting the need focus on English language development in deaf children, is a cornerstone of President-Elect Joe Biden's disabilities policy. (Photo: iStock)

Student Debt Illustration

Default Response: On NPR’s Consider This, TC’s Judith Scott-Clayton Explains the Real Dangers of the National Education Debt

“Student loan default can have implications for your credit, your ability to borrow, and potentially even your ability to get an apartment or get a license for some professions in some states”. —Judith Scott-Clayton, Associate Professor of Economics & Education

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Default Response: On NPR’s Consider This, TC’s Judith Scott-Clayton Explains the Real Dangers of the National Education Debt

“Student loan default can have implications for your credit, your ability to borrow, and potentially even your ability to get an apartment or get a license for some professions in some states”. —Judith Scott-Clayton, Associate Professor of Economics & Education

It’s a number that’s increasingly in the news: $1.6 trillion, the amount of student debt in the United States.

But what does it really mean?

That was the question put to Teachers College education economist Judith Scott-Clayton by National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro on a recent edition of the show Consider This.

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OVER THE LINE Student loan debt has become so massive, and with such severe consequences for the economy, that it’s time for a change in policy, says TC’s Judith Scott-Clayton. (Images: iStock)

The views expressed in these articles are solely those of the speaker to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, staff or Trustees either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

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